Saturday, May 30, 2009

Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner

When babies start having babies the world becomes one big nursery in which it remains unclear who is responsible for taking care of whom, who makes the rules, and who lives with the repercussions. We’ve watched Jamie Lynn, Bristol, and plenty of others as their bellies grew rounder and rounder, finally resulting in an actual living and breathing child: a child with a name, a personality, and a future. It seems completely unfair to these children that they should be raised by other children, people who have yet to grow up, experience life, make mistakes and learn. Even if this young mother can miraculously afford thousands of diapers, expensive medical costs, and countless other necessities that accompany the responsibility of a baby, the possibility that this mother is emotionally ready and mature enough to guide another life seems absolutely preposterous.

I know that I have been called out on my beliefs on teen pregnancy before. I never mean to disrespect anyone nor would I ever deliberately judge another person. The last thing I want to provoke is a personal attack on any person or her choices, which are completely individual and legitimate.

However, from my point of view, I see absolutely no value to teenage motherhood. Would you rather spend your twenties changing poopy diapers and responding to screams for breastfeeding in the middle of the night or spend time with your friends, enjoying the freedom in your life, still growing and learning about the world before bringing another life into it? And once the baby is grown up, then what? Can you really enjoy your twenties in your forties or fifties? Go to college parties, clubs, stay out all night? I think not. You can never regain your youth, and I find it almost heartbreaking that so many young girls are willing to throw it away so quickly.

Sure, we all make mistakes, some with more drastic consequences than others. And there are ways to fix most mistakes, some more extreme than others. I respect a woman’s right to refuse an abortion and I can only imagine how difficult it is to give up your own child, yet the incredibly selfless act could considerably improve a child’s life, merely by having her raised by someone qualified to parent.

In the most diplomatic way possible, I do not mean to bash teen mothers. Everyone has a right to her own decision yet it terrifies me that new generations are growing up under the care of such thoughtless young adults. It seems utterly selfish and impractical to introduce another life into society when you have much to learn about yourself and your surroundings.

When a girl adds a rainbow tint through Photoshop to sonograms of the fetus inside her belly, names the frog-sized being and then posts the images on Facebook, bragging to all her 14219 friends about the pride and joy in her life (which still has another 8 months living off an umbilical cord), I question her ability to raise this child in a morally ethical manner.

We are never done learning and growing, even the greatest of parents continue to learn from their children everyday, yet there is so much value in age and patience and merely waiting for the right time to make dire life alterations. And who am I to say what is right? With each individual being truly unique, I have absolutely no business telling her what is right from wrong, bad from good, honorable from disgraceful. I watch people make, in my opinion, poor decisions everyday, yet I keep my mouth shut because they are entitled to their own paths. (This is false, I never keep my mouth shut, but for argument’s sake…)

But when another life is involved, I suddenly feel a more personal connection, knowing that we have absolutely no control over the circumstances into which we are born. It is completely unfair for a child to grow up in a family who cannot provide adequate care, whether that be emotionally or financially. When I look and see the destroyed potential of these insanely young mothers I am truly distraught, upset to know that while I believe in their true, deep love for their child, they failed to see other options, other opportunities, and a gain a greater sense of perspective.

Age is much more than a number; it is a sense of being. I encourage anyone who is remotely thinking of bringing another child into a world plagued with so many problems to question her ability to not just love the child unconditionally but to provide her with lifelong inspiration and ambition, exceeding all her needs, and tending to her every problem, and never feeling like the child made her miss out on any part of life.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's Over?

A little over a year ago, I found myself sitting at a mahogany table at Sunrise Assisted Living (with a special community for the memory impaired) with a root beer float and a bingo card. Surrounded by musky perfume-clad ladies wearing what seemed like century-old blouses with hankies haphazardly tucked into the pockets, I felt more than a little out of place. Sure, I had visited the home before, yet each visit seemed more like the interview portion of a documentary I would watch in AP U.S. History than a community service project. Sometimes, I would be dismissed as an unnecessary visitor, other times, I would be offered money for my services. Altogether, the experiences were less than inspiring.

On this particularly cloudy afternoon, a woman with curly white hair in a silky yellow button down top began interviewing me: “Why are you here? Where are you from? Do you know so and so?” I was used to the routine and politely answered each question concisely. She continued telling me about her late husband, her daughter, and the good old days when a picture show only cost a nickel. It wasn’t until she mentioned her daughter was seventy two years old that I started truly paying attention. Quickly calculating the years in my head, I realized this woman must be truly ancient.

We engaged in conversation about both World Wars, the Great Depression, Vietnam, and everything in between. Her hand shook uncontrollably, Alzheimer’s acting up, as she praised Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie O, recounted her old addresses, and recited memorized movie quotations. The impressive thing: she could barely remember my face, my name, or where she currently sat. As she led me through the trials and tribulations of her life, she constantly reminded me, “Don’t say, ‘I can’t wait.’ You can wait. There is never enough time.” Constantly interjecting her anecdotes with these words of wisdom, I occasionally found myself rolling my eyes at my peers who accompanied me on this voyage.

“Don’t say, ‘I can’t wait.” By the end of my visit, I left Sunrise Assisted Living with the words engrained in my memory. For days, I would find myself beginning to use to phrase in reference to an upcoming weekend festivity or social event yet would stop myself midway: “I can’t—I mean, I’m so excited for your party!”

Until this Friday, I am unsure I truly understood what my Senior Citizen friend meant.

At the beginning of high school, I remember one of my senior advisors advising, “Enjoy every minute, four years goes by so quickly!” I listened to the advice yet still remembered the three years of middle school dragging on endlessly, and never stopped to believe that my senior advisor could actually be speaking the truth. I pranced down the hall that first day in a pink mini skirt and lacy tank top, surrounded by friends, feeling like the Queen of the World. Soon I figured out the mysteries of Boe Wenolo, joined more clubs than there were days of the week, and learned the proper methods of writing theses and lab reports. In a blink, I found myself overwhelmed by the anxieties of Sophomore year: my first AP test, multiple accelerated classes, and newfound freedom in drivers licenses. Faster than you can say ‘I can’t wait,” Junior year tumbled in with its inevitable stresses of ACT tests, additional AP courses, and changing social dynamics. Before we even found the audacity to hate The College Board, Senior year arrived, pushing us to the top of the High School ladder. I found it hard to believe that each month started with a 1st because before I knew it, the calendar read the 20th and I had already attended my last football game, turned eighteen, finished visiting colleges, travelled to Peru, completed my final honors recital, and more.

Inexorably, Friday, May 22, 2009 arrived. A day we all starred and decorated on our daily planners yet never believed would arrive. The previous night, I invited the Culties over for our last last-day-of-school sleepover (a long lasting, long treasured tradition) and we celebrated wholeheartedly. At the sound of the morning alarm, we each slipped on the t-shirts of our respective colleges, oblivious to the separation each unique garment symbolized, and headed off for our last nine period day.

Upon receiving our yearbooks, we smiled and laughed about the images from the past year, read Senior Tributes out loud, and laughed at the baby pictures of our classmates. An hour later, specially colored pens were whipped out of backpacks and the signing commenced. But what to write? “HAGS” would not suffice, as we would not see each other after the summer. “It’s been a good year” seemed to brief and inadequate to summarize the last twelve. And “Have a nice life” just felt to final (although I am sure more than a handful of people decorated their peers’ yearbooks with these thoughtful last words).

I paused with my uncapped pen and met the eyes of some of my best friends. Silent tears fell down and we laughed and hugged, assuring each other that this was silly, of course we would still be friends, of course we would see each other all summer, and a juvenile yearbook note could not possibly summarize eighteen years of friendship.

The day passed in a blur. The excitement. The anxiety. The relief. The sadness. We said goodbye to despised teachers forever, we hugged other educators promising to see them at graduation, upset we would no longer learn from them. Bells marked the ending of each period from the last time; we socialized at the much desired Senior Barbeque, enveloped by the scent of charcoal and the sounds of the Naval Band playing rock covers, as we rejoiced in ignorance or denial (I’m not sure which) of what was yet to come.

I will never say, “I can’t wait.” I find myself absolutely shocked at the rapid speed of the last four years. By urging time to move faster, we miss out on the most important moments in life. We rush home from the bus forgetting to engage in conversation with our friends or stop for greasy carry-out egg rolls, we watch the clock tick slowly minute by minute rather than learning a new lesson for the day, we count down days on the calendar rather than enjoying every moment.

I can wait. I can wait to go to college, to move to New York, to grow up. I’m excited, I’m thrilled, I’m overwhelmed, but I can wait.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


I had fun at prom. There, I said it, okay? I HAD AN AMAZING TIME. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. And while I still have a billion problems with the idea of “prom” itself I’m glad I went.

The weeks leading up to prom, always referred to as Prama, were filled with fights, worries, tears, and much frustration. I serenely watched as my fellow seniors, some of whom were sane at one point, arguably, became crazed Prama fanatics. Over what? Honestly, I couldn’t really justify a dance that encouraged, no, practically enforced overindulgence, solidified social hierarchies, and was so overpowered by heterosexism that it seemed like more of a pre-wedding than a senior send-off. It seemed like everything I’d learned in the last four years became irrelevant yet again as the big p-word on May 16th approached.

And then it happened. I decided to go.

A few weeks before the dance, I asked my best friend to go as my date; I had our teacher open a slide in the middle of our art history lecture to ask her; upon viewing the surprise image a mixture of shock and delight took over her and I felt like I finally made a good decision. Eight periods later, the gossip cycled its way back to me: “Are they dating?” “Is she her girlfriend?” “I always knew they were together.” “They’ll get married…”

Hold the phone. How many of you plan to marry your prom date? How many of you even know anyone who actually plans to marry her prom date? And, if I’m not mistaken, weren’t most of the “couples” at prom just friends who chose to go together but have never actually dated?

Why did anyone care with whom I went to the dance? Why did people to whom I haven’t spoken in seven years suddenly confirm a relationship I had no idea existed? My best friend is like my sister. Absolutely, not even a question. Even my parents began referring to her as my “girlfriend.”

Frankly, I was bit taken aback by all of the tumult. I had done the random-dance-date thing before and it was less than fun. Guess who I spent the entire evening eating brownies with? Yes, the not-girlfriend prom date. It took me a while to adjust to this choice. Over the years, I’ve become more immune to gossip and more satisfied with following my own prerogative, but it still takes an extra boost, an additional confidence to cheer myself on and remember that I am making the best choices.

Prama continued with arguments over payments, reservations, appointments, and parties. Before I knew it, I bought a dress that cost more than the amount of money I had spent months raising for Breast We Cancer, a pair of shoes in which I could barely walk, and overfilled my calendar with times and places to get polished, cut, sprayed, and painted. One part of me felt overwhelmed by guilt, just a month ago I stood on the side of a dirt road giving ham sandwiches to starving Peruvians and the next I was ignoring price tags and booking all the unnecessary extravagances that accompany Prama. Every time I popped a cupcake into my mouth I would think, "size 2 Betsey Johnson, size 2 Betsey Johnson," and then immediately scold myself for thinking in that mindset. But the other part of me was too caught up in the glamor, and honestly, the competition, to notice—if I was going to do this, it was going to be done right.

Almost instantaneously, senior ditch day came and went, and I found myself spending my entire Saturday in and out of florists, salons, and department stores. By the time my nails glimmered a hot pink, my hair had been tightly curled, re-straightened, then formed into stiff waves and pouffed, and three layers of eyeshadow weighed down my lids, I felt exhausted and cynical about the whole event. We took the traditional hour of pre-pictures with fresh smiles and a gigantic variety of groupings: Culties, Chorale, Dual Language, etc… the massive white Hummer limo pulled up.

For a brief second, I remembered my concern for the environment (this monster couldn’t have gotten more than 1mpg), my distress for the Vietnam Vets on Madison and Wacker for whom I bring granola bars to relieve them from their hunger in the cold Chicago winters, and then I heard Juanes blasting from the magical vehicle with an artificial fireplace and color-changing ceiling. All twenty eight of us sang at the top of our lungs and passed the wave up and down the endless rows of seats, ignoring anything and everything from the outside world.

The dance was a blast. It was somewhat relieving to jump up and down psychotically alongside tons of sweaty classmates, ignoring any sense of personal space and ignoring the fact that many of us had made each other’s lives miserable for far too many years. The three hours spent in that tent flew by like a couple of minutes as a fawned over my elegant friends dressed to their best and perhaps even played a few rounds of “Who wore it better?”

After the dance, we climbed back into the limo and trekked out to Michigan Avenue for food. Seeing prom groups from across the city was somewhat of a unifying experience: we were all up for the night of our lives, all ending a chapter in our lives but still partying with our best friends like nothing would ever change. “Happy Prom!” we shouted to girls in shimmery taffeta gowns and boys in sharp tuxedos.

Following various rides in the limo, in which crazy raving to Girl Talk was completely necessary, we arrived at our final destination. Because on Prom, 3:00AM is actually pretty early to start partying in a basement…

I could not have hoped for anything more last weekend. Everything was perfect. Everything was fun. Everything was memorable. (Yes, I will even bring my souvenir frame to college). Regardless of the fact that the money spent in our prom group could have fed an underdeveloped country for the next decade, I can justify Prom as a once-in-a-lifetime, extravagant yet meaningful experience. I will never forget the sleepless night spent with best friends who never stopped having fun. And as a wise pterodactyl once said, “I have a dream…”

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Perú: Con Besos y Abrazos

It’s been over a month since I walked on the dusty grounds of Peru: since I’ve indulged in their endless variety of potatoes, bargained an alpaca hat down from crazy cheap to insanely cheap, brushed my teeth with bottled water, and been close enough to the sky to touch the clouds. In the thirty days since I left South America there hasn’t been a day I haven’t thought about what I’ve learned, how much I took away from the experience, and what I wouldn’t give to go back and discover even more.

My senior spring break was better than your senior spring break—I’ll bet you 100 soles (that’s about $30…). At the beginning of April, I was accompanied by the most beautiful, talented, and lovely singers on a trip that was destined to change us forever. I can go on and on about what I saw, tasted, smelled, and how new and interesting everything seemed but I’ll keep it to the essentials…

This was my fourth overseas trip this year. And as much as I love travelling, sometimes I worry I will take it for granted, that I will only have brief memories of each place I have visited but never really grasp the full concept. False. Everything in Peru was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

I’ll never forget the day we took a bus ride over the mountains, whizzing past unfinished houses constructed from rotten wood and rusty aluminum, observing dogs eating out of dumpsters and barefoot families stripping corn in the dust. We learned that some of these children walked up to two hours each day to attend a somewhat decent school, walked two hours back, and still had loads of housework to accomplish. I squinted to clarify that the glimmers in the sun were indeed broken beer bottles put around roofs and fences as a type of security mechanism. I stared wide eyed as I watched women in traditional Incan dress herd sheep up the mountain. People still do that? What? (It turns out, they even make their own clothes from the wool of these animals…)

To say the trip was a culture shock would be an extreme understatement. To say it was the greatest surprise of my life could not do justice to the extent to which the trip educated and inspired me.

The morning we landed in Cusco we had the majority of the day to relax and adjust to the altitude. After a few too many cups of coca tea, I trekked out with a couple of friends to find lunch in this foreign city. Upon our trepidation that we would not find vegetarian food anywhere, I accepted a woman’s invitation into her homely restaurant and explained our situation. She graciously brought us a delicious corn and homemade cheese and set to work with two other women on making French fries. Homemade French fries. Sliced potatoes, greased skillet, salt. Unbelievable. We sat at our quaint table wide eyed as we somewhat incredulously observed the generosity and hospitality. The fact that they ran this restaurant out of a sense of friendliness and a desire to feed others rather than merely make a profit, stunned me. That a business would actually care about its customers as people rather than money disposing entities baffled me.

Later that evening, while most of our heads pounded and stomachs growled due to our inability to breathe, we found ourselves standing in front of a large group of orphans, expecting us to sing our hearts out. We gasped for air, leaned on each other for support during breaths, closed our eyes temporarily to ignore the pounding pains in our heads, but we performed each song with precision and joy. It was completely moving to me that as a group, we all came together and unified to make these children’s lives just a bit better. Through all our misery, we knew that their lives must be so much worse, immensely more difficult and continually painful, and full with unimaginable struggles.

Through the trip, I learned to appreciate music to an extent I never believed existed. I realized that our performances actually made a difference in people’s lives that it brightened their day to an extent that would never had existed had we not brought our music to them.

On our first afternoon, I was waiting in line for the bathroom and had a brief conversation with a woman from Argentina. She asked me if our group was visiting for a cultural exchange and I responded no, we’re just here to sing to the Peruvians. How wrong I was!

After each concert, the local audience would give us homemade treats and have us watch a performance they arranged. Each performance was more stunning, more shocking, and more inspiring than the next. The fact that we could share our music with each other, to truly interchange our cultures, our talents and joys, without a doubt made the trip worthwhile. I’ll never forget our reed boat ride in Lake Titicaca: as we sat huddled in North Face jackets, seven women in traditional dress stood on the side of their floating island sang to us in Quechua we laughed and clapped along until the tune changed to “Row, row, row your boat.” They then broke out into “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” As they approached the chorus, the twelve of us in the reed canoe joined in, “Bring back, bring back, bring back my Bonnie to me, to me…”

The sound continuously echoes in my head. I’ll never forget the uniting of the two distinctly opposite culture’s voices, the vibrato of trained opera singers melding with the sweet tones of a native Quechua tongue. I’ll always remember the grandeur of Machu Picchu; the bustling streets and colliding cars in Lima, the endless amounts of livestock, potatoes, and buffets (yes, you pronounce the T); the fun of bargaining; but most importantly, I will never forget the people of Peru.

They say you learn Spanish to communicate with the world. (At least, that’s what I was told for as long as I remember being forced to watch movies with Spanish speaking birds, singing songs about Hispanic children, and sticking impossible amounts of stickers onto every surface imaginable when all I really wanted to do was watch Arthur, listen to the Spice Girls, and play outside.) But all those countless years of Spanish lessons (am I thanking Sra. Rivera in this? 3rd grade was a good year…) end up honestly making the biggest difference in the world when you can talk to Dora from Peru about her solar powered, one room hut which houses her three person family, when you can bargain for a hand-woven sweater on the street in Puno, when you know what signs actually say, what announcements actually announce, and exactly what is going on at all times. I am forever grateful for my ability to communicate with the brand new world I entered and will never forget.

Peru taught me an appreciation: an appreciation for what I already have and what I am possible of obtaining. An appreciation for the ability to see and learn from different realities, never feeling stuck in my own. An appreciation for friends who are willing to explore foreign destinations in search of the perfect Alpoutfit. And, above all, an appreciation for experience. For new experience, old experience, and everything in between. For my ability to learn and continue progressing, for my passion to share stories from Peru with everyone, to teach them even more than what I learned on the trip, and inspire them as Peru inspired me.

And for now, Peru, you really do lie over the ocean, but I know through my photographs and elaborate memories, my Bonnie will always be brought back to me.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Power, with a side of Control

Today, I received the ultimate power. Today, I was given complete control over the clicker. After struggling to pause and restart the DVD, Señor ultimately handed over the remote to me. "Mira su cara," he announces, and I know that I displayed an irresistibly large grin. It seems that the smaller amount of power we receive, the more appreciative, even the more manipulative we are over it.

I've fought my friends to be the one to hail the taxi. (Note: Taxis are only late at night, due to parental safety demands. Take the train. Walk. Save the world.) Because when we have this small amount of power, when we can forcibly cause another person to submit to our demands, listen to what we prefer, indulge in what we crave, this minute capacity elevates us to a completely new horizon. Because making an obnoxiously bright yellow vehicle pull to the curb on North Michigan Avenue proves our talents rather than just boarding the scheduled train. The self-satisfaction of knowing, I did this, I made this car stop, without me, it would just keep going...

But I have to wonder, how do these miniature acts of despotism lead us in the future? After controlling one element of life, must we strive to have power over more and more? Does Michelle experience this same satisfaction when flipping through the channels on an Obama family movie night?

Everything is relative. There are some battles that need to be fought and others that we need to learn to abandon. And as tough as it is to sacrifice the potentiality of winning, we have to learn that we cannot possibly have our way all the time.

When I turned 16, the last thing on my mind was getting my license, which seems, especially now, crazy. I was annoyed that the state of Illinois mandated I take driver's ed, as I would never really need to drive, and attending an extra class before school every morning to learn the red means stop seemed irrelevant. On my half birthday, I went straight to the DMV to take the daunting test and get the plastic card that would grant me the ultimate freedom, provide me with the power of escape. My first time alone in the car I had no idea what to do: sing? remain silent? flip through the radio? Without anyone to talk to, I felt lost and somewhat distracted. I ended up popping in a CD and focusing intently on the laws of four way stops.

But what does this have to do with the remote control? Well, my objection to driving soon became a desire: I was in control, I could do anything I wanted. I soon became the one to volunteer rides, suggest that I control our route, our speed, our music, and everything in between. I became accustomed to sitting behind the wheel, watching my friends buckle up, and allowed myself to make all the executive decisions.

Leading a Key Club meeting of 100 people doesn't faze me, yet holding the ultimate power over 18 pairs of eyes seems to provide me with a rush of excitement. Knowing that the ability to awkwardly pause the image of a nude woman riding a horse or start the movie again from the beginning, just to cause endless teacher exasperation, with merely the tap of a finger, provides me with a transcendent superiority.

I may be described as bossy. I actually know for a fact that adjective pops up every so often in association with my name... But who isn't? (Don't answer that.) Everyone searches for that little pocket of power somewhere in her life. Whether its choosing the font style on a group project or deciding what type of milk your family drinks for the week (skim, always skim, buying 2% is just rude...) each person has that single act which heightens her status, if even in her own mind.

One of my friends has two remotes to her main television. It's always a war: ANTM or Rachael Ray? Tyra Banks or Animal Planet? Charmed or Charm School? We wrestle each other for both remotes, try to negotiate over who chooses the show and who subsequently eats the extra Oreo. But it's all part of the fun... what's better: getting passively handed a remote by a man who keeps up to five Blackberries in his pants pockets to ensure that his students won't send mensajes de texto or chasing a girl around the house until she agrees to sit through 30 minute meals? I think fighting for your own power just gives it that extra yum-o, and with a topping of EVOO, delish!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Little Girl. Big Mouth.

I’m baaaaaack! Yes, it’s been awhile and yes, I apologize for my inconsistency, but I truly appreciate everyone who has asked for more entries and pondered where I was. (Thanks!)

Anyways, in the past weeks, I’ve come to realize that I don’t always think before I speak. I hold no regrets over what I’ve said in the past, and I will try to better comprehend what I am about to say before I articulate it in the future.

But here it goes: I like to talk. (Gasp!) I like to share my thoughts, my feelings, my emotions, my beliefs, my humor…

I’m honest. I try not to offend others, but I guess I don’t always process what I am about to say before it slips away from me. The last thing I ever want to do is hurt anybody else. Anybody. And I also think there’s a lot of merit to honesty, not censoring what I say, providing the world with my true impressions.

When I was on Speech Team, I participated in an event called Impromptu Speaking. Basically, you are given a topic on a note card such as “Abraham Lincoln” or “Carpe diem” and create an eight minute speech based on the subject. While other students would spend half their time plotting outlines and citing previous research, I would march my Calvin Klein shiny black stilettos directly in front of the judge and say whatever came to mind. Whatever was relevant, whatever resonated in my conscience at that very moment. And I usually ended up doing pretty well in the competition…

My point is (and yes, I do have one) is that stating the truth may be the very best way to live your life. While we can hide in fallacies and fantasies for who knows how long, without ever giving voice to our true selves, how can we ever expect to progress in life?

Last night I went to see the opening night of Star Trek. Upon being asked if I was a “Trekkie” by one of the seemingly endless amount of middle aged men, I respond: no, I’m just a second semester senior looking for something to do. Honest. To the point. Crazy.

“That’s not equivalent,” Ann reminds me. Oh, well…

And in addition to talking, I also like listening. I want to hear your stories, your impressions, your values and hopes. I’m not intimidated by knowing or sharing the truth, nor am I reluctant to provide my own insights.

I’m not sure if I have just justified anything or merely rambled for 500 words, but I hope to convey that I am not shy, afraid, or silent. I don’t intend having to censor myself while I do understand that I can sometimes be more thoughtful and will put that into effect.

And with that, live free and prosper, my Trekkies/Second Semester Seniors.

(I promise a more fun post next time!)