Friday, June 10, 2011

Northside Family Restaurant Values

To celebrate the last days of elementary school, my mother (visiting from MD) offered to take daughter D to any restaurant in Madison - cost was no object. Anywhere she wanted to go!

I started salivating. We have some pretty awesome restaurants in Madison. L'Etoile! Harvest! Fresco!

But my daughter had something else in mind. She named a strip-mall restaurant, down the street from us.

"Oh sweetie," I said, "We can go there any time. This is a special dinner! You only 'graduate' from elementary school once! Pick somewhere nice!"

But she held to her guns. See, last week her class received a nice surprise from this restaurant. The waitresses at the restaurant, together with the owner, pooled their money together to donate hundreds of dollars to the 4th/5th grade field trip to Green Bay. Then, the owner paid for a school bus to go to the school and bring the kids to his restaurant, where he offered them ANYTHING ON THE MENU. For free. The kids were beyond excited.

He explained to the kids that he came to the U.S. from Armenia and when he arrived, people were kind and helped him out. He wanted to give back to the country that gave him so much, and was reaching out to our school to do that.

In no uncertain terms, my 11-year-old daughter told me that he had something more important than a fancy menu with over-priced wines. He had character and values.

So we went. To the unpretentious strip-mall restaurant. Where we had a lovely dinner. (And bonus: turns out they serve Spotted Cow!)

As we left, my son turned to me and said, "You know, that restaurant doesn't look like much on the outside. But inside, where it counts, it is really nice."

I blinked back a few tears (mothers are allowed to be a bit overly emotional when their eldest is leaving elementary school behind, no?) and told him that was exactly right. And I was so very glad that my daughter didn't listen to my recommendation to go to the fancy restaurant instead.

I'd like to think that I'm the one teaching my kids that what is on the inside matters more than what is on the outside. But I suspect that perhaps, they are the ones teaching me.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Solidarity Forever

It is rare for me to concur with David Brooks. But in this column, directed at college graduates, I found something we agree on. He says that graduates are being told:

"Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture."

He continues:

"The graduates are also told to pursue happiness and joy. But, of course, when you read a biography of someone you admire, it’s rarely the things that made them happy that compel your admiration. It’s the things they did to court unhappiness — the things they did that were arduous and miserable, which sometimes cost them friends and aroused hatred. It’s excellence, not happiness, that we admire most."

We all want the best for our children. But what if it turns out that providing them with the best of everything isn't the answer? What if allowing them to experience some of the struggles that life invariably contains, actually helps them?

Last night, we went to the school picnic of the middle school that daughter D will attend next year. The school has a 71% poverty rate, so most of our neighbors choose to attend a private school, or open-enroll to another public middle school.

But while we were there, we met a group of 7th graders who went down to New Orleans to do an incredible service learning project. We also met a really neat young man who demonstrated his complicated science fair project in both English and Spanish. (Something I certainly could not do....either the science or the Spanish!)

Finally, we headed downtown to the interfaith coalition solidarity singalong.

I know there will be enormous obstacles in the upcoming year. There will continue to be unique challenges at a high-poverty school.

But standing with my fellow Madisonians at the Capitol last night, singing "We shall not be moved" and "Solidarity Forever," it felt, for a few minutes, like we were part of a community that valued the rights of all citizens over the individual happiness of a select few. I felt hope.

David Brooks should come a sing a few verses with us.