Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Most Thankless Job


Sick Eyes
Originally uploaded by LisaPal.
Well, it's been a couple of weeks since I last posted. Blame it on the job. The workload has been pretty heavy lately. Not sure which job I'm referring to? It's the big one, the most important and most thankless of all jobs- parenting. Notice, I didn't say mothering? That was no accident, as it would have implied that there was also someone doing the fathering part. But the fathers have opted out. Well, I will give Willie credit for pitching in a little here and there, but I mean a little. And Mother's Day has come and gone with not even a thank you from these men for doing my job and theirs. (Well, Willie gets credit for at least calling and saying "Happy Mother's Day," as he does every year, whereas it's been years since Rachel's dad made any kind of acknowledement of the fact that I am over here raising one of his children. A simple little acknowledgement and a thank you would mean a lot to me. Hah. Maybe I'll get a Father's Day card.)

So, I celebrated Mother's Day by watching Rachel turn into a human inferno with a sore throat. I took her to the pediatrician the next day where she presented with a fever of 104.7°F (40.3°C) and a positive test for Type B Influenza. (Thankfully, the B doesn't stand for bird and I got a flu shot this year.) For the next four days, her fever never dipped below 102°F and the tribulations of getting her to swallow a spoonful of nasty-tasting Tamiflu suspension was enough to make me run and lock myself in the bathroom in the hopes that my mother would deal with it, lest I pull out what's left of my hair. (And many times, Mom did indeed save the day.) On the positive side, I did enjoy spending many hours with Rachel curled up in my lap while I rocked her and stroked her head. And now she's all well and her drama teacher won't have to recruit a last minute understudy to take over her part as Rapunzel in the big production this weekend.

And then there's Alex who, true to his end-of-the-school-year tradition, is teetering on the brink of the "retention" abyss at his school. If you don't make a 2.0 average or better (and they don't count the extra point credits that he earns in his giften classes when calculating retention average), you will not be retained as a student at Benjamin Franklin High School. Yes, we go through this every year, but it's never been this bad. And never has a school year been this different.

First of all, they will not count his grades from Monticello High as part of his retention average. Second, the school's solution to the disruption caused by The Storm was to cram the entire school year into the four month period between January 17th and May 26th. (And we didn't arrive back in New Orleans until January 20th, so he got a late start.) Here's how it worked. Because of a state standardized test they's have to take, the school required juniors to take the "full year" of Chemsitry and American History at Franklin. So, they completely disregarded Alex's efforts (and grades) at Monticello for these two classes. For all the other classes, he'd receive one half credit, but they would not count the grades he earned toward retention average/ He'd have to make up the other half-credit in one of the two semesters (each approx. 8 weeks long) of the mini "school year." Students would take 5 classes each "semester" (yeilding the equivalent of 10 classes for the mini "school year rather than the usual 7 for a regular shcool year) and the school day would be extended by about an hour. Complicated? You bet.

Now, lets add a little more madness to the situation. In our old life, our house was two blocks from where Alex would catch the bus to school at around 7:20 AM. Now school starts earlier and ends later and I have to drive him to the bus, which means he has to get up by about 6:15AM to catch the bus just after 7:00 AM (usually by the skin of our teeth, but he won't -or can't get up any earlier.) He gets off the bus just after 5:00PM and walks to our house, where I'm working on things after having picked Rachel up from her school. We get back to my Mom's at around 6:00PM +/-. So, his days are LONG. He's hungry and exhausted. After he eats, he has homework to do, usually enough to keep him up until somewhere between midnight and 1:00AM. So, he's getting about 5-6 hours sleep every night, max. He's been sick with some kind of respiratory ailment that produces intermitent sinus congestion and an almost constant cough, plus a persistant flair-up of his GERD (G.I.reflux) since we've been back. Now, let's add the death-blow to this equation. He's been depressed. I mean depressed. Profoundly so, at times. To the point that he just shuts down. Have you ever felt this way? I have. You just cannot find whatever it is that you need from inside to pull yourself up to do what you need to do. It's just not there and you can't seem to summon it, no matter how important the task is, and no matter how dire the consequences. I've really been working with him on getting through this and he seems to be making some strides, but we're really late in the game for it. And it's finals week and he's been studying, but who knows whether or not it will be enough.

So, now it seems that, with only one year left to go, he may not be able to finish at Franklin, which is recognized as the best high school in the state and one of the best in the country. I've spoken to the counselor and she didn't offer much help or encouragement. And it just doesn't seem fair to me. Kids who elected to stay in schools outside New Orleans for the whole year have their "displaced" grades count toward retention, even of those schools set academic standards far below those of Franklin. I know of one kid who is attending a school that he described as a "joke" compared to Franklin. But his shining and easily-earned grades will count toward retention whereas Alex's will not. It seems that if they can make this kind of concession, they should be able to just throw out the whole retention thing this year. It certainly would be justified. I can't imagine how depressed this child will be if he can't finish there, nor have any clue where I can send him to finish. Maybe he should just get a GED and move on. At this point, I'm willing to consider that option just to be relieved of the stress that this has wrought on us all. (I'm sure with the education he's gotten at Franklin, he could pass the GED test.) Whatever the outcome, it will be over at the end of the week when school's out for both kids. I think we'll all be ready for a break, just in time for the beginning of this year's hurricane season.

(Picture Caption: Alex takes out his frustrations in the form of angry abstract art on a t-shirt.)

Friday, May 12, 2006

It's Come and Gone, But the Tradition Lives On

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, or just Jazz Fest, as we call it, an event that I once looked forward to with great zeal, came and went, mostly without me. CNN called it a Jazz Fest like no other, and it was definitely not like the Fests of old for me, but not quite for the same reasons.

In the old days, my friends who work for the festival used to give me tickets and parking passes. That ended several years ago, but I could always count on at least a couple of free tickets from a) performing with someone else (background vocals for Renard or Kirk Joseph; b) one or more of my clients performing there; c) going with Renard when he was playing with some other artists; d) a ticket or two from Willie (my former husband, and drummer for the Neville Brothers, for any of you who might have recently tuned in.) Well, this year, the choice was e) none of the above.

For the most part, the festival looked the same. But it was not. First of all, I used to attend at least 2 or three days each weekend, but this year, I barely made it one day each weekend. Tickets have now hit the $40 mark at the gate for adults (anyone over 12) and $5 for kids. Plus, parking will run you about $25 if you want the convenience of a short walk. Otherwise, you might find a deal for less but you'll have to hoof it quite a distance. The distance from the fest and any free parking spots is measured in miles. Once you're inside, as music goes, it's an all-you-can-eat buffet of every flavor, but the real food and drink can drain your resources pretty quickly. So, I scraped enough cash together for one day there with Rachel, (accompanied by Renard and several members of his family) the first weekend, and lucked upon one ticket for the second weekend after someone gave it to Renard and he decided not to go. I took Rachel and her friend, we took the free-park-long-walk option, and because the food lines were too long, we just had snowballs. So, we managed to attend the last couple of hours of the last day for about $20.

One of the biggest incongruencies of the day for me was the absence of the Neville Brothers as the closing act of the Festival. This has been a long-standing tradition- for all but one of the last 25 years that I've attended the festival, (when Fats Domino closed it because it some kind of special anniversary for him) and the reason for their conspicuous absence has been attributed to Aaron Neville's asthma (allegedly, too much dust, etc. in New Orleans for him, though that contention has been debunked by all kinds of experts and specialists). However, some have speculated that this Cyril Neville interview may have had something to do with it. Who knows. I was just as happy (maybe happier) to see Ivan Neville close the Fest's Congo Square stage with his band. Rachel and her friend were delighted to be able to watch his performance with about a half-dozen others from on-stage. We usually did this every year on the main stage when the Neville Brothers closed it. And because of their absence, I was unable to execute another one of my Jazz Fest traditions: inviting Ed Bradley to dinner and being turned down.

It started as a half serious thing several years ago, as Ed can always be found at the Neville's closing performance. I knew that he probably had plans, but on a whim, I invited him to accompany us (usually me and some out-of-town friend and/or Renard and one or both of my kids) on my annual ex-post-festo dinner at Maximo's, one of my favorite restaurants. Naturally, he politely declined. So, I did it again the next year, last minute, as usual. He declined. And again and again I did it, year after year just for the fun of the ritualized rejection. I really looked forward it. But with no Neville Brothers at the close of the fest, there was no Ed Bradley. And worse still, there is no more Maximo's ex-post-Katrino! (Damn you, Jason! Just kidding. No, I'm not!) I'll spare you the details of what a fine place this was, since you can never have the experience- though I hear Jason is now in northern California and maybe he'll open a new place...but I doubt it. Ah, but the evening wasn't over and I did get my chance later that night when Ed Bradley and his wife Patricia showed up at Tipitina's, despite the fact that at 1:00 AM, dinner was pretty much moot. But I asked anyway, just for the completely absurd fun of it. I wasn't even sure that Ed had ever made note of the fact that this happened every year or whether or not he'd caught on that it had become a ridiculous sort of joke. So, because everything seemed so completely out of whack this year, I decided to go ahead and point it out. And there was some indication made that we might actually have a post-fest dinner one year...maybe even next year, if another hurricane or bird flu doesn't wipe us all out first.

It occurs to me that you might be wondering why I would be inviting Ed Bradley to dinner in the first place as if, perhaps, I just do this kind of thing randomly. Well, it was sort of random the first time, but I do sort of know him -not that well, but he's been around the Nevilles long enough (and not just at Jazz Fest) for Willie to have become rather chummy with him. I was married to Willie when we first met him. During the time that Willie and I were separated, Ed sat him down one day and talked to him about the value of our marriage and of saving it. He'd even offered us the use of his place in Snow Mass, Colorado if we wanted to get away. For about two weeks after that, things were really great and I thought Willie and I might be able to work things out. Then it went right back to the same old problems. But I'll always be grateful to Ed for taking the time and consideration to communicate whatever he did to Willie to try to keep us together.

So, that was Jazz Fest for me. Yeah, there was music, too, but I'm just too tired now to write more. I'll probably edit this and add a few more pictures and links later. And I'll try not to be absent for as long next time.

Signing off for now.....