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Friday, March 02, 2007

Friday round up – good stories

Lucky sevens
I didn't realize the significance of July 7, 2007, other than it's the date that our very good friend and long-time bachelor Big Mike is getting married. According to today's New York Times, the date 7/7/07 is considered lucky enough to cause resorts to fill up, Vegas to go bizerk and couples to be financially exploited by the increased demand for the date.

Teaching love
Katherine Boo wrote this incredible story about The Nurse- Family Partnership, which helps new parents particularly in poor areas to succeed. Boo paints an amazing picture of a young Cajun mother's trepidation and hopes at being a good mother.

"How he doing?" Alexis asked uneasily, as Luwana's fingers explored Daigan's soft spot.

"You're the mama," Luwana responded. "You tell me."

"He's got a big head like his father," Alexis said under her breath. Then she rallied: "He's not as cranky as he was. And one thing I learned already is how he cries different when he's hungry than when he's wet." Luwana bestowed on Alexis a dazzling smile that she had thus far reserved for Daigan. "Making that distinction is important," she said. "You're listening to him, and in his own way he's explaining what he needs. Pretty soon now he'll be making other sounds, and when he does you'll want to make that noise right back. He'll babble, and then you'll talk to him, and that's how you'll develop his language. Now, what you may also find, around five to eight weeks, is that he'll be crying even more -- it's a normal part of his development, but it can also stress out the mom, so we'll want to be prepared for it. The main thing will be keeping calm. And if you just can't keep calm -- if you find yourself getting all worked up and frustrated -- well, then what?"

"Put him down? So I don't hurt him, shake him, make him brain-dead?"

"Put him down and . . . ?" Luwana drilled her girls hard on this particular point.

"Call someone who isn't upset? Let the baby be, and get help."

Luwana turned to Daigan and clapped. "See, your mama is getting it," she said, using the high-frequency tones that babies hear best. "She's surely going to figure you out."

There was a trick that Luwana relied on to stave off dejection: imagining how a given scene would unfold if she weren't in it. In Alexis's case -- one that, in terms of degree of difficulty, fell roughly in the middle of her caseload -- she knew that slight improvements had already been made. At Luwana's urging, Alexis had stopped drinking and smoking when she was pregnant and had kept her prenatal appointments. So she wasn't incapable of changing her life on Daigan's behalf; the odds were just long.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor now, Luwana sang "Clementine" and made faces at Daigan, and for a moment Alexis studied this demonstration of engagement with her child. But then her gaze drifted over to her sister and the ex-con, who had emerged from the bedroom to chop the rest of the chicken. The young man, whose tattoos included white supremacist ones, put on mirrored sunglasses for this task, a fashion choice that made Alexis giggle. Luwana's primary subject that day was infant attachment, a topic she tailored to fit Alexis's limited attention span. "A funny thing about the axe murderers," she said casually. "Usually something missing in the love link." And, indeed, axe-murdering seemed to register with both Alexis and the former prisoner, who set down his knife and came over. "I need to hear, too -- mines is horrible," he said. "We whup him but since he turned two he don't do nothing we say, probably 'cause his mama on drugs and sleeping around and getting locked up -- well, she's a whore."

"You hit a two-year-old?" Luwana asked, her eyes narrowing. "You teach him how to fight and are surprised when he turns around, starts fighting you?" She then fixed her stare on Alexis, who began examining the brown linoleum floor.

"The love link," Luwana began again. Now the room was still. "It's a cycle. When there's no safe base for the baby -- when you're not meeting his basic needs, satisfying his hunger, keeping him out of harm's way -- there will be no trust, no foundation for love. And that's when you might just get the axe murderer. Maybe sometimes we have a baby and expect that baby to comfort us? Well, sorry, it works the other way around. It's on you now to comfort him, earn his trust, because that's how Daigan is going to learn how to love."

Rebuilding a school system
In the March issue of Quill magazine, I interviewed Jim Amoss, editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. One of the things he talked about is the extraordinary complexity of rebuilding a city infrastructure from the ground up. While it may seem an impossible task, Amoss says there are some extraordinary New Orleanians who are doing amazing things with education, persevering in ways that weren't natural to the New Orleans way of life. "We New Orleanians were never like that (before Katrina). We let all the drudgery slide and paid a big price for it," he says.

Amy Waldman explores the school rebuilding effort in the January/February issue of Atlantic Monthly
The schools that were taking shape would bear, far more than those in a traditional system, the imprimaturs of their creators: each school’s driving force sought to apply his or her own beliefs, experiences, and ideas of how to make public education work. Some were outsiders who thought they could save New Orleans not just from Katrina but from itself. Others were locals, with personal or ideological investments in the city’s education system. Their success or failure would not be known for several years, but the decisions being made in the summer and fall of 2006 would long reverberate. So would a still-unanswered question: Can you rebuild a school system when you haven’t decided whether to rebuild a city?

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