23 February 2011


Yesterday dawned snowy in Park City.  That's a good thing.  We suited up and piled into the car to take the short drive to The Canyons Resort, just about two miles from our little condo.  There are several places in Park City to ski, and The Canyons is Sam's favorite.  It's vast, with miles and miles of intermediate and advanced terrain.  A skier could spend a week there and still not conquer every trail.  And when the sun comes out, the mountain is heavenly.  People sunbathe in the Adirondack chairs that are set up at the bottom of the lifts.

It just happened that one of Sarah's buddies from middle school was vacationing at The Canyons, so Sarah was excited to meet up with her to ski.  By mid-morning, the sun was out, Sarah and Lily had hooked up and taken off together, and Sam, Becky and I were scrutinizing the trail map for good runs.  (Bobby was back at home, having decided to take the day off.)

We found some beautiful groomed "blues" (trails of intermediate difficulty) off a lesser-used lift.  Sam and Becky can handle very advanced terrain, but I am a slightly wobblier skier than they are, and so they accommodate me by choosing steep but smooth slopes, and we all stay together. We spent the morning zooming down the blues and jumping back onto the lift to do it again and again.  The mountain view from the top was spectacular, so we stopped occasionally to take a few pictures.

After a while we got hungry, so we paused for some lunch and hot chocolate.  There is nothing like dining al fresco in 17-degree-Fahrenheit weather.  It makes you feel alive and invigorated.  It may sound corny, but it gives you a sense of belonging to the landscape, of being part of the scheme of creation.  Becky gave a bit of her hamburger bun to a chickadee, who consumed it right next to us, without fear.

Then it was back up on the lift.  We moved to some different slopes and kept going, all afternoon.  I felt euphoric.  My heart was pounding.  This could be the best skiing day I had ever had, and I was certainly skiing the best I had ever skied.  I even beat Becky and Sam down some of the trails.  I had been thinking about taking a lesson once I got really warmed up and into my game.  I knew I was ready, so I made plans in my head to arrange for a lesson tomorrow.  I hopped off the lift and followed Sam down a new trail.

When Sam got back to the lift, I was right behind him.  I must have been going 40 miles per hour as I approached the designated slow zone near the lift.  With just a few hundred feet to go, I tried to slow down, and the edge of my ski caught in the snow. I lost control.  I swerved, wobbled, and finally tumbled.  My ski bindings gave way, as they are designed to do, and I lost my poles.  I slid down the remainder of the slope and landed on my right shoulder.  Pop.

A group of skiers who had been right behind me gathered my gear and brought it down to me.  Becky was there in an instant.  "Are you okay?" asked a man who was handing me my poles.  "I think so," I replied.  I tried to stand up.

A searing pain tore through my shoulder.  "I don't think I can get up," I said.

"I'll get help," the man said, and quickly took off.

"DAD!"  screamed Becky as she held my hand.  "Mom's hurt!"

Sam ran up the hill.  I told him someone had already called the ski patrol.  We both reassured Becky that whatever was wrong was minor.  (Becky was a fan off Natasha Richardson, the actress tragically killed when she hit her head in a freak skiing accident in 2009.  I constantly invoke Ms. Richardson's story as we all put our helmets on before a skiing day.  Helmets are not optional in my family.  Skiing is a high-risk activity, and anything could happen at any moment.  Human skulls are fragile.)

But I had not hit my head, just my shoulder.  A trio of ski patrollers named Sarah, Johnny and Joey appeared and ran me through the basic slopeside first-aid exam.  They loaded me and my skis onto a sled, hitched the sled to a snowmobile, and towed me to the mountainside clinic for x-rays.  Sam and Becky followed on their skis.

The Canyons has its own little medical office at the base of the mountain, and it is staffed by a full-time orthopedist, radiologist and nurse.  The nurse peeled off my jacket, sweatshirt, and t-shirt, took a quick medical history, and gave me some Advil.  "Did your shoulder go pop when you landed on it?" he asked.

"Yes, that's exactly the sound it made."

"Okay.  I know what you did; let's see how bad it is."  The radiologist took some formal portraits of my right shoulder.  I sat and waited for the Advil to kick in (man, it was painful) and for the pictures to be developed.  The nurse and the orthopedist told me funny stories about dumb snowboarding injuries, and I wanted to laugh, but it hurt too much.

When the pictures were ready, the orthopedist showed me, Becky and Sam what I had done.  The outer, round part of my shoulder bone was cracked all the way through, but it had not detached.  I had fractured the greater tuberosity of my humerus, a very common skiing mishap.  Because I had not detached it, I would probably not need surgery - just immobilization until it healed. I was warned:  "If you move it suddenly, you could detach it, and then it will need to be screwed back into place."

I promised to keep it still.  I did not want my shoulder to get any more screwed than it had already been.

I gave the ski patrollers a one-armed hug and left with my x-rays, a script for Vicodin, and a handsome black sling.

Sarah and Bobby were worried and a little disappointed that they had missed the action.  They vowed to help with the small bits of housework around the vacation condo and to fetch whatever I wanted at the dinner buffet last night (which they did).  Becky was also a trooper, helping me every step of the way.  I can't get dressed or do my hair by myself, so I look a little funky.  I have a new appreciation for the trials of people who are permanently disabled.  This will just be a couple of weeks, and then I'll be fine again.

I am a little sad that my ski season is over, but what a way to end it:  in the cold, glorious sunshine, with my heart pounding, on the best day of the year.

Much love to all of you,

21 February 2011

Presidents' Day

Greetings to all my loyal readers from the snowy slopes of Park City, Utah.  For those not familiar with this part of the country, it is absolutely unmatched in natural beauty,  which is what brings us back again and again.  Each time we touch down at the Salt Lake City airport, I am astounded by the mountains which rise, seemingly unreal, across the horizon.  I have taken many pictures over the years, but none have ever done these mountains justice.  You really have to see them to believe them.

Everyone arrived happy and ready to go, and even though we brought tons of gear with us, we still wore our snow-loving smiles.

Our primary purpose in being here is, of course, to ski, which we do with great enthusiasm.  Every February, all five of us wax down the skis, warm up the boots, and take a break from city life in the wilds of Utah.  We often bring friends with us, since our little condo has some extra space, and it's fun to be able to share.  This year, it's my little godson Nicky and his family.  Nicky is skiing for the first time ever this winter, and I have to say he is looking awfully smart in his goggles.

But it's not just skiing.  There's some creativity going on, too.   I was astounded at what Sarah did, absent-mindedly, with an empty plastic cup in the ski lodge:

That's a little dish pretty enough to store jewelry in!  I finally finished knitting a pair of slippers for her, too.  They are very easy to make, and warm, but I don't love the pattern (from this book):  it always seems to have a little hole at the toe.

I hear there's more snow back at home - everyone is complaining about it.  When you're in Park City, though, there's nothing to complain about when it snows.  You just sit by the window and watch it fall -

- and then, when you're ready, you head outside to enjoy it!

Wishing you and yours a very happy and healthy Presidents' Day.  Stay warm, and remember your helmet!


17 February 2011

The Opinion Pages

I am discovering that one of the most difficult things about practicing law full-time and blogging on the side is the lack of freedom to express an opinion in my writing.  The media are full of stories of people who have lost their day jobs because they kept a personal blog in which they expressed an opinion offensive to their employers, made statements that were later attributed to their employers, or offended the general public.

For example, a Philadelphia teacher was fired last spring from her job at a private school because she wrote a personal blog post in which she criticized a student.  (She did not name the student in her blog, but the child's identity was apparently obvious nevertheless.  The story is here.)  Similar things have reportedly happened to CIA contractors, Starbucks baristas, bus drivers, academics, and even Burger King employees who were found to have expressed political views or engaged in rants contrary to their employers' interests.  I know many, many people who express political views on Facebook and Twitter, and I often follow the discussions with interest.  Sometimes I even comment or ask questions.

But I need to be very careful about the content of my blog, and here's why.  Lawyers, like everyone else, need to be sensitive to the concerns of the firms they work for, but they are bound additionally by ethical considerations that can cast a wide web.  I not only cannot criticize my immediate employer, but I cannot make statements that might reveal the identity of or even possibly offend clients or investors.  I know that I stepped dangerously close to this line in my "Career Girl" posts, where I talked about people I once worked for, and I worry about that from time to time.  I'm pretty sure the guy who threw fruit at me is never going to hire me again, and I am never going to work for the gentleman at that antitrust firm who crumpled my resume during my "interview."  Closing doors behind me is one thing, but violating ethical standards is another.  This writing business can be tricky in that regard.

If you are having trouble understanding how hard this is, I can phrase it in another context.  My father is an Episcopal clergyman.  (He has some really, really interesting stories, which I can share another time.  He was, for example, a civil-rights crusader in the sixties.  More on that story, which I will be very proud to recount, later.)  He is also a gifted writer and a well-educated man with keen insight into the world and the people who live in it.  I am sure that he would have a lot to contribute to the blogosphere.  However, he could never, ever write anything critical about the bishop who is his boss.  Doing so would be stupid and would put his livelihood - one that he loves - at risk.  Moreover, he cannot tell tales of people's personal problems and transgressions.  To do so would be to breach the confidence that serves as the very basis of his profession.  He can't even say, "I once knew a man who came to me and told me..."  That stuff is just off limits.

It's not all that different for lawyers.  We are a less virtuous bunch than priests, but we too have our ethical limits.

So I post pictures of my new laundry machine and the socks that I knit, and I reminisce about the experiences that made me who I am today.  I would be thrilled to be able to write something weightier.  Like you, I have opinions about pending legislation in places like, oh,  South Dakota, for example.  I am interested in and have thoughts about the current Middle East crisis and people like Hosni Mubarak and the King of Bahrain.  Once, when I was a junior lawyer in my first job out of law school, I sent an e-mail around the firm urging people to sign a petition in opposition to Mayor Giuliani's proposal to do away with free criminal defense services for the indigent.  I was called into the managing parter's office and given a tongue-lashing; that partner's brother, unbeknownst to me, was a member of Giuliani's staff and the architect of the plan to abolish free legal services.  Oops.

I think we are all against bullying, and we all recognize that there are hurdles that working mothers face along the road to their own definition of success.  No one can argue with a straight face that the world isn't full of problems, on a large and small scale.  We differ, however, in our opinions about how to solve those problems.

I have some light and entertaining content to post in the near future.  I'll also write about my dad's arrest in Selma in 1965 after I have a chance to talk to him about it at length (I want to be sure I have the facts right before I start running off and telling other people's stories).  I have a nice vacation planned with my family; I am making some knitted slippers for some cold-footed members of my household; and the crockpot is brimming with late-winter roasts and stews.  I hope, for now, that all that will be enough both for you, as reader, and for me, as writer.


13 February 2011


Today is my husband's 45th birthday.  But that's not what I am going to write about.  You have already heard enough about my husband; it's time for you to hear about another important man in my life.

At the end of the summer in 2005, there was a terrible hurricane in Louisiana.  The floodwaters rose and rose, drowning many people and rendering many more homeless.  People fled inland in droves, leaving the streets abandoned and lawless.  Many people left their pets behind.  Robyn Urman, who runs a local animal rescue organization called Pet ResQ Inc., hastened down there and came back to New Jersey with dozens of homeless animals, and, with her own particular brand of crazy-dog-lady love, she got them the medical attention and the homes they needed.  (You can read more about Robyn here.)

It just so happened that I lost the canine loves of my life in 2004.  Their names were Roxanne and Chester.  They died just a few months apart, Roxanne of old age and Chester, after a few months of searching for her to no avail, of a broken heart.  I had a broken heart too, and though I did not die of it, I swore I would never again have another dog.

Then, one day in October 2005, a note appeared in my mailbox.  It was from my neighbor Julie, who was familiar with my love for dogs.  "Robyn Urman has rescued dogs for adoption.  Don't know if you're ready yet, but she could use some help and supplies and stuff.  Here's her number.  xo Julie."

It happened to be Yom Kippur, so the local schools were closed.  The kids and I piled into the minivan and drove to PetSmart, where we bought a big pile of leashes, dog beds, and Milk-Bone treats.  We brought them to the local grooming salon, where we found Robyn and her dogs.

"These are for you," we told her, handing over our donation.

"Wow," she said, moved.  "Thank you!  Would you like to see the dogs?"

NO, screamed my heart.  "Yes," said my mouth.

She led us into the back of the shop, where a dozen or so dogs were sleeping or sitting in crates.  She let one of them out.  He was mostly black, with some caramel-colored markings.  He stood about knee-high and was disproportionately long for his height.  He was young - maybe nine months or so - and of indeterminate breed.  The very first thing he did was steal my heart.  I didn't even have time to think about it.

"What's his name?" I asked.

"We've been calling him Sparky," she said.

I got a text message from my husband.  "What are you guys up to?" he asked.

"We are at Pet ResQ looking at the dogs available for adoption," I responded.

"Cool.  We can talk about that later," he said.

"No," I said.  "It's too late to talk.  His name is Sparky."

Sparky came home with us that afternoon.  We toyed with giving him a better name, since we all agreed that Sparky was a pretty dumb and unoriginal name for a dog.  But he was used to it and responded to it readily.  He was happy, and when I say that I am not just describing his mood that day.  I am describing his temperament as a whole.  I have never met anyone who is as happy to be alive as Sparky is.

Our vet loved him right away, too.  He performed the surgery necessary to ensure that Sparky would not be burdened with fatherhood, and he pronounced him healthy and well-adjusted.  Whoever had owned him before had gotten him his first set of shots.  They had also taken him for a lot of car rides.  Sparky loves riding in the car. 

I tethered Sparky to the belt loop on my jeans, and he had no choice but to follow me everywhere.  He was housebroken in no time.  He walked to school on a leash.  He rode shotgun in the minivan to pick up the kids from their afterschool activities.  He accompanied me to the supermarket and waited patiently in the car while I shopped.  He slept at my feet, no matter where my feet were.  I had to step over him when I was cooking or cleaning.  He dozed on the bathroom rug while I showered.  He had taken it upon himself to become my shadow and my guardian.

I had not thought that Roxanne and Chester would be so easily replaceable, or that my heart would have room for another dog.  He's a small dog, but his soul is huge.  He has taught me a tremendous lesson about the nature of love and devotion.  He wakes me every morning at an unmentionable hour to go for a walk around the block.  I can't be angry at him, no matter how tired I am.  His sweet face looks at me earnestly.  I wonder what his life was like in flood-ravaged New Orleans, and as I scratch his fuzzy little ears while he dozes in his dog bed, I sometimes think he is very, very lucky.

But he's not as lucky as we are.

Here's hoping your week ahead is a good one, with someone warm and devoted sleeping at your feet.

Jennie and Sparky

08 February 2011

Things I've Made

My new blogging friend Judy (DIY by Design - see her button below right) has a "Winter Blues Wednesday" party on her blog.  She encourages people to share their creativity on Wednesdays.  Though I am not yet a savvy enough blogger to know how to participate in blog parties, I thought I'd just post a few pictures.

Stained Glass Window Cookies are among my kids' favorite treats:

Here is a silk baby sweater I made for a dear friend's new daughter:

Socks for Becky (you remember Becky, from my "Math" post):

Socks for my older daughter (the one who was learning to drive in my "Accelerating" post):

A few fruit pies.  I used to be the chair of the baking booth every fall at my church's autumn fair:

That's all for tonight.  If you enjoy my blog, please sign up to follow me, or at least send me a note or post a comment.  I am extremely interested in your reactions, and I promise to respond if you ask me to!



In the course of a twenty-five year friendship that has deepened into profound love, I have had only one fight that I can recall with my father-in-law.  It started over a dinner conversation.  The question being discussed was why some children grow up to be ambitious and intellectually curious, while others seem to be less so.  The people he was thinking about, who are not particularly professionally driven, had been raised in the suburbs, so my father-in-law theorized that it had to do with the place in which the children were raised.  Children raised in the suburbs, he said, are not intellectually stimulated in the same way that children raised in the city are, so they grow up to be less driven and more frivolous than their city-raised counterparts.

Though he was not talking about me or anyone in my family, I took offense.  I used the word "disingenuous" to describe his theory, and he replied, "You shouldn't use a word if you don't know its meaning.  That just reinforces my point."

I know what "disingenuous" means, even though I was raised in the suburbs.

Now, my father-in-law is a very, very good man, and I love him dearly.  He is definitely one of the top five people in my life of the male gender.  (I knew you'd ask.  My husband, my son, my brother, and my own father.)  But on this particular point, he is extremely wrong.  Wrong wrong wrong.  Way, way wrong.  The right answer, in my not-so-humble opinion, is that the number-one factor in determining a child's intellectual prowess and later drive to achieve (two qualities I am not convinced are that closely related - I know a lot of brilliant lazy people and a lot of stupid people who are very driven) is the child's innate ability.  A close second is the parents' attitude toward learning and achieving, combined with the extent to which they pass that attitude on.  Both my in-laws and my parents are extremely education-oriented people with strong personalities and drives to achieve, and they have passed both of those qualities down to us.  That's why Sam and I are so brilliant and successful, and why we're raising such obviously perfect children.


That being said, there were some opportunities my husband had, growing up in the city, that I did not have in the far-off wilds of Bergen County, New Jersey.  For example, he had almost unlimited opportunities to experiment with gravity.

My husband grew up in a tenth-floor apartment.  His mother used to buy him those instruments of torture known as dress shoes, and Sam hated them with a passion.  Little boys hate dress shoes.  They want to be barefoot, or at least in ratty sneakers, as much as possible.  One night, Sam's mother came home from work and asked why Sam was wearing only one shoe.  What had happened to the other one?

"I threw it out the window," he said.

Sam also experimented a lot with paper airplanes.  He was convinced that he could launch one from the kitchen window and have it land in the kitchen of another apartment across the alley.  Paper airplanes are light, though, and though they are graceful in flight, they don't usually go far.  In the alley behind the apartment building, paper airplanes soon joined the pile of cast-off dress shoes.

As he got older, Sam launched increasingly complex things out the window.  These included fresh and rotted fruit, pumpkins, and, in a spectacular coup de grace, the contents of a 5-gallon fish aquarium.  (As he retold this story to our children last night, he reassured them that no animals or pedestrians were permanently harmed in the course of these shenanigans.  The man drenched by the aquarium water as he strolled down Broadway on a sunny day, however, did come up to the apartment, bang furiously on the door, and give young Sam a piece of his mind.)

As you can see, my father-in-law does have some support for his theory that Sam's vibrant and intellectually-stimulating childhood led to his successful career in criminal defense.

What did we do in the suburbs?  We played a game called "Spud."  On summer evenings after dinner, we gathered in the middle of the street with a plastic ball.  Each child was assigned a number.  Whoever was "it" threw the ball into the air and hollered a number.  Everyone ran away, except for the child whose number had been called.  It was that child's job to catch the ball.  As soon as the ball was caught or retrieved, everyone had to stop moving, and the child with the ball was allowed to take four steps in any direction, and then to tag another player with the ball.  If you got hit with the ball, you became the next "it."

The game was simple and not particularly challenging, but it was fun, and we bonded over it.  It was inclusive - everyone was allowed to play, regardless of age or size.  We let the little kids cheat, and the bigger kids tried not to throw the ball too hard.  What we lacked in gravitas, we made up for in camaraderie.  I am still in touch with many of my Spud-mates, and I assure you that despite the unfortunate circumstance of having been raised on a quiet street with few cars but millions of stars, we all turned out pretty much okay.

Have a good day, and teach your children well.

06 February 2011


Greetings readers.  I hope you like my new design.  I have been thinking about it for ages, and last night I worked on it for hours.  I took a picture of a blue baby blanket I recently finished, and then I sat and learned how to manipulate the photograph into a beautiful background, a pretty new banner, and, most exciting of all, a "grabbable" button (see the right sidebar).  If you have your own blog or website, I would very much appreciate your "grabbing" my button and putting a link to my blog on your site.  For step-by-step instructions as to how to accomplish all these things, look no further than the blogging tutorials available on Debbiedoos Blogging and Blabbing (see her button over on the right?  She has sent me a fair amount of traffic, and I hope that, with her button on my blog, I will be able to return the favor).

I think I was about eight when my maternal grandmother, Grammy, taught me and my whole Brownie troop to knit.  We made little potholders out of white acrylic yarn.  I knotted my yarn and dropped stitches and generally distinguished myself as Least Likely Ever to Knit Anything Again.  Grammy was a great knitter.  She produced beautiful cashmere socks that Lord & Taylor tried to buy from her.  (She refused; they could never resell the socks at a price high enough to compensate her for her time.  Anyone who ever tried to make a living from their handicrafts could understand that.)  I also recall her making beautiful baby layettes for my sister and brother and several fabulous sweaters for her son-in-law, my dad.  Grammy had a great collection of knitting needles and bags and bags of yarn stashed into her bedroom closet.  I admired them, but I could never hope to be a good knitter like Grammy.  By the time she died, when I was a teenager, I could produce a knit and purl stitch competently, but I hadn't made anything useful since that potholder.

Knitting was something only little old ladies did.  I did sew throughout my adolescence, with some fairly impressive results.  I made a few dresses, many pairs of pants and skirts, interview suits during my senior year in college, and then, later in life, a lot of maternity clothes.  I always enjoyed sewing.  It gave me a sense of both creativity and control.  I could make exactly the outfit I wanted, and I could control everything about the finished product.  I still own and often wear a black wool cape that I made in the winter of 1999, when I couldn't find a coat that would stretch to cover my very pregnant belly.  It's a little more formal than I usually need, but it comes out of the closet for formal occasions and Harry Potter premieres.

In the winter of my junior year of college, I lived with a family in Berlin, and they had a daughter approximately my age.  I'll call her Annika (mostly because that was her name).  Annika could knit beautifully, and she often sat on the couch on a cold evening whipping up a pair of socks.  I admired her work very much, and finally, one evening, I asked her in my halting German if she could teach me how to make socks.

"Can you knit?" she asked.

"Yes, and I can purl too.  But I haven't ever really made anything."

"Doesn't matter.  If you can knit and purl, you can do this."  She set up a sock for me on double-pointed needles and watched patiently as I worked on it.  She picked up the dropped stitches (there were many), and she turned the heel.  She showed me how to knit "continental style," because it was faster than my Grammy's old "English style."  I returned to New York in March with a pair of beautiful homemade socks.

I didn't knit much when my children were small, but recently a local friend named Lili, an expert knitter herself with her own blog and Etsy shop, got me back into it, and I was knitting up a storm in no time.  I tried joining a couple of knitting groups, first one in my little town and then, after I returned to work, at my office, but it's hard to set aside the time.  I knit now mostly by myself.  I make a lot of socks - they make terrific gifts, and the variations in yarn and patterns are  nearly endless.  I have also made several baby blankets, with varying success.  (I once made a baby blanket as a surprise and mailed it off to the recipient's address in my husband's contact list.  It turned out she had moved a year earlier.  The blanket has not yet been recovered.  If you have ever made something as big and effort-intensive as a baby blanket, you can appreciate what a tragedy this is.)  I have made two or three sweaters as well.  They're hard work, but they tend to impress the recipients a lot.  One year I made scarves as Christmas presents for all the kids' teachers.  That was a very busy November.

What I enjoy about knitting is the peacefulness of it, its meditative quality.  I still get ribbed teased a lot for being a knitter, because it does have that little-old-lady reputation.  But the fact that one must sit comfortably to do it, preferably with a cup of tea, is calming.  It is eminently portable; in fact, as I sit here blogging in a Starbucks, I have my knitting bag at my feet.  I can knit anywhere, even on the New York City subways.  I can do it while watching TV or a movie.  And I always have something nice to show for my efforts.  (By the way, there are two types of people in the world:  those worthy of receiving knitted gifts and those not.  Making a little-old-lady knitting joke is a pretty safe way to mark yourself as a member of the latter group, i.e., not "knitworthy.")

My  husband forces me to photograph every finished project before it gets mailed off to its recipient.  This gives me a nice little album of completed work.  Here, for example, is the only record I have of that lost baby blanket:

A few years ago, my mom gave me all of Grammy's old knitting needles.  There are many, so I now have all the equipment I will ever need.  I like to think that Grammy somehow knows that I have finally lived up to her legacy.  My mom knows, and I think she is very pleased to have a knitter in my generation.  So far, none of my children have expressed an interest in learning, but if they ever do, I will be armed and ready, with Lili's skills, Annika's patience, and, of course, Grammy's needles.


02 February 2011


This is Becky.

She is just a month shy of fourteen years old, and she is in the eighth grade.  Her real name is Rebecca Claire.  Rebecca, because I think that's the most beautiful girl's name on the face of the earth, and Claire for my husband's mother.  But everyone has called her Becky from day one.

Becky's strong suit is determination.  When she decides she is going to learn something, she bites into it like a fierce dog, shakes it, and refuses to let go until she's an expert.  For this reason, Becky is an advanced brown belt in karate, probably just a few months away from earning her black belt, and she is also an authority on all things having to do with ancient Egypt.  She can read and write hieroglyphics.  I once sat with her while she memorized a Shakespearean sonnet in less than an hour.  She's really quite talented and driven, and she does very well in school.  Once she sets her mind to it, she can accomplish anything she wants.  Unfortunately, one thing Becky wants to be good at is math, and math is still hard for her.  (She comes by this honestly.  I have always been terrible at math.)

Back when I was Becky's age, when I went to the public middle school (which we called "junior high"), everyone in school was put into a class according to intellectual ability.  In seventh grade, the 20 or so smartest kids were put into a group called 7-1.  The next group was 7-2, then 7-3, and so on, all the way down to 7-7.  You knew how smart you were by which class you were put into.  We walked as seven individual packs through the halls, the nerdy kids in 7-1 and 7-2 trying to avoid being beaten up by the jocks in 7-6 and 7-7. I don't know who decided which kids went into which group, or how the determinations were made.  It was just accepted practice.  We were typecast at an early age as either smart, or not.  There was no movement between groups.  You did  not move up from 7-5 into 8-1.

Now, things are a little more humane and flexible.  Becky is in a lot of top classes at her middle school, but, to her great distress, she has been assigned to "Core Math."  The core class is a class for children who need to go at a slightly slower pace than the others, because it takes them a little longer to absorb the material.  While the mainstream math class is forging ahead into algebra, the core kids are still learning what integers and variables are, and they are still working on basic arithmetic skills, like multiplying and dividing fractions.

Becky didn't care that she was in the Core Math class, or at least she never mentioned it, until some kid at school told her she was in "Sped Math."

Becky told us she needed to get out of the "sped" class because she was not stupid.  I tried to explain to her that it had nothing to do with being stupid, but more to do with the speed at which the materials were covered.  This did not make her happy.  "Are you saying I'm slow?" she demanded.

"I...um...no..." I stammered.

"I'm going to ask to be put into the mainstream math class in ninth grade," she said, and she meant it.

Now, things are better for Becky and her peers than they were for us, but it's still not that easy to move from core to mainstream.  You need to master the material thoroughly and demonstrate that you can handle the more challenging pace.  I told Becky that her goal was admirable, but she would need to show the teachers that the core class was not challenging her sufficiently.  She would have to excel in the core class.  She was not currently excelling; she was maintaining a B+ average.  There was no hope of promotion, I told her, unless she was getting at least an A.  Then, we could go into a planning meeting and demand to be put into the mainstream class in high school.  But without that A, we had no ammunition, and there was no chance they'd take us seriously.

Becky started getting up earlier in the mornings and going to meet the math teacher before school.  She sat for hours alone at her desk in her room, poring over her math homework.  She drilled herself.  She got her older sister and her older sister's friends to drill her.  She fell asleep with the math book covering her face.  She turned in perfect homework day after day.  She did all the extra credit problems.  She was knocking herself out.  Although, after years of watching how Becky operated, I knew her well, I was still worried she'd be disappointed.

We don't get paper report cards anymore.  Now, the parents get an e-mail from the school district announcing that grades will be available on the school website at a certain time on a certain date.  Midwinter reports from the middle school came out on January 31 of this year, and I logged in and took a peek.  Becky watched over my shoulder as I typed in her name and password.

I was pleased - but not surprised - to see that she had gotten an A in everything.

Except math.

In math, she had gotten an A+.

I said, "Becky, I think you are headed for mainstream math in high school."

She shrieked and gave me a high-five.  

I don't think mainstream math is going to be this young woman's last stop.  From what I know of her and where she's been, I think it's reasonable to expect that great things await her where she's going.  I can't wait to see what she decides to accomplish next.