Doing my taxes and hoping for some spare change

Author: natalie  //  Category: Issues, National


With the April 15 deadline for filing federal income tax returns looming ahead, it’s time to gather the W-2’s, 1099’s, etc. and sit down face-to-face with our monetary contributions to the greater good.

I usually complete and mail ours the first week of February. I ran a little late this year. I was procrastinating because I didn’t even want to look at it, but finally sat down on one of our recent, rainy days and got down to business.   

Much to the chagrin of professional tax preparers, I complete our return. (I know, I’m busted; recall a couple of weeks ago where I semi-proudly confessed to skipping out on my children’s math homework. I, too, stand in disbelief that Jeff hasn’t caught on that I’m able to navigate the maze that is the IRS and our tax return while brilliantly feigning ignorance when it comes to math homework.  Am I good, or what? And, no, we’ve never been audited.) There are plenty of people who don’t want to touch their taxes, so I figure I’m not doing too much harm to the economy in saving a few bucks instead of a headache.

Some wonder why I put myself through the torture of reading Form What-Ever, being directed to Schedule What-the-Heck and finally routed to Publication Who-Knew?  Others would say I’m intentionally inflicting pain upon myself. I do it because in the age of direct deposit, who really sits and pores over a check stub anymore? I used to look at mine way back in the day as I waited in the drive through at the bank. It was a bi-weekly reminder of what I was giving to Uncle Sam. Now, I know the exact dollar amount that will be deposited every other Friday, and there is no need to study it further. Ignorance is bliss!  

The taxing task was particularly stressful this year. We’re tightening our belts while our federal government dines on an unprecedented amount of pork. I wonder how much longer those of us who actually know how to hunt and slaughter swine will continue producing their fatty meals. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind paying for services rendered, but it seems fewer and fewer are being forced to pay for our government’s “benevolence”. But I digress . . . sigh.   

Before the nitty-gritty hard part, it’s always necessary to clean out the financial files of the Whatley Estate.  As I go through each folder gathering the most recent statements and necessary papers, I throw all the outdated items in a special pile. My heart begins to race because I know the fun part is coming.      

With pertinent papers set aside, I drag out my trusted friend: the shredder.  We have loads of fun together. It’s quite cathartic to review what once was on the 401(k) statements and then send them through the grinding teeth.  It’s almost as if our balance hasn’t been cut in half . . . the proof is gone.   

I finished the job as the “stimulus” package was signed into law – what a warm, fuzzy feeling that was. I’ll bounce back because I believe in America and Americans. But right now, self-responsibility, capitalism, and the very fabric of this country are being forced through a shredder. Take a good look at who’s enjoying a catharsis in doing it. If we as a country allow this to continue . . . all we’re going to have left is hope for some spare change.

Punch bowled over

Author: natalie  //  Category: It's all about me

Sometimes life throws punches that leave profound marks.  My eyes are nearly swollen shut.

Thursday, February 12, started out like any other weekday. The only pressing item on my agenda was my daughter’s fourth-grade Valentine’s party. As the room mother, it was an event I had been working on with other parents for a couple of weeks.

The sweet social event was to have a menu of cheese, crackers, fruit, cookies, and pink raspberry sherbet punch.  The punch was my contribution as I’d decided a bowl full of pink punch would look very nice atop a red-covered table and be tasty to boot. I purchased all the ingredients early in the week and didn’t give it another thought.

After getting all the kids off to school that morning, I began gathering serving dishes and supplies. Perched in the far recesses of my cabinets was the punch bowl given to me by my late grandmother, Joyce King, at least ten years ago. It wasn’t the gift of a brand-new punch bowl, but rather the handing down of one that was very experienced in the beverage containment business.  

 I carefully pulled the bowl from its secure location. Holding it brought many images of Maw Maw King to the surface of my mind. I was bowled over.  I sat down with it cradled in my hands and the waterworks started. Then I succumbed to a full-blown bawling session.  I hadn’t had the bowl out since she passed away almost three years ago.

She loved to attend parties. I can see her, standing by that punch bowl, corsage pinned to her dress, making eye contact with the shyest person in the room and calling out, “Come have some punch!”  By second nature, she ladled out refreshment to the soul and the body.

The bowl appears to be ordinary, standard glass. But its ornate design is beautiful nonetheless.  Brand new, it came with matching glass cups, most of which I have.  Over the years she added an assortment of other glass cups. That eclectic mix mirrored her welcoming ways; somehow I know she didn’t want a lack of cups to keep anyone from making their way to the punch bowl. And a Depression-era upbringing caused her to bristle at our modern disposable-cup ways.

After some very emotional moments, I got myself together and finished the task of packing up the items I’d need at the school.

The pink punch was a big hit, and the party went off without a hitch. My simple recipe was requested, and I gladly shared: half a gallon of raspberry sherbet, thawed slightly; two liters of cold ginger-ale; and 33 oz. of chilled pineapple juice – mix and enjoy. An old punch bowl adds some magic to the common fixings.  

I enjoyed the company of my daughter’s class along with some moms and grandmas I’ve come to know and love throughout my daughter’s elementary years. And I’m glad Maw Maw’s bowl punched me in the eyes . . . reminded me to look at what’s really important instead of fumbling around with disposable cups. 

© 2009 Natalie Whatley  

I’ll admit pies are round

Author: natalie  //  Category: Issues, Life with children

Since I went on such a rant last week about what I perceive as the unfair TAKSation of students, teachers and parents, it’s only fair that I come back and spell out the parental shortcomings that caused my children to show up at school unprepared for educational enrichment. Their educations are extremely important to me. I could get all mushy about how I want them to reach their full potential and . . . blah, blah, blah. Honestly, I just want them to reach adulthood and be able to support themselves in full, happy lives – outside of my home.

First, as I’ve now heard from countless experts, I allowed too much technology into their young lives. Scientists say that I negatively and permanently changed the way the synapses fire in their brains by allowing television, computers, and gaming systems to be a part of our days. The moments of sanity I enjoyed while I had two in diapers came at a heavy price. The guilt is incredible!

Next, I don’t check all their schoolwork all the time. Horrible, I know.  When the oldest started school, I was on top of everything. With my youngest, I’m on top of nothing. Call it lazy, but I tell you I’m just wore out.

Sometimes my kids go to school without eating breakfast. I realize this one is particularly disturbing, but school starts at a certain time every day. What’s a mom to do when she’s bouncing between three bedrooms . . . one gets up, but sneaks back in bed the moment she’s gone, and the cycle repeats itself until there are just enough minutes to dress and catch the bus. (Hi, Mom! I know you’re reading; don’t laugh at me. It’s not funny!) On top of that, I’ve got one who swears she’ll be sick if a morsel of sustenance touches her lips before ten a.m., Monday through Friday. Because she made a believer out of me, I stopped forcing the issue.

School projects: I helped way too much and mostly because it pains me a great deal to have an entire weekend ruined over something that could be done in a couple of hours. Enough said.

Then there’s the availability of my children’s grades online. It’s a wonderful service, but I found myself with a bad habit and came close to entering a 12-step program to break the addiction. “Hi, my name is Natalie, and I checked my children’s grades daily, OK, several times daily, until I drove them and myself nearly crazy.”  In a very liberating move, I taught them how to login and check their grades themselves. They know what needs to be done and what the consequences will be when report cards come out. LOAD off my shoulders.

Homework: My children are well-versed in “don’t ask Mom to help with math homework.”  I can look at the textbook and figure it out, sometimes before midnight, but Jeff handles it all with the greatest of ease. Math is his department, and I have no interest in being cross-trained.  Just this week Jeff explained to me how to find the area of a circle. “Area equals Pi times the radius squared. A = Pi   r  squared.” Because I don’t even want to know, I replied, “Pies are round”.

There. I owned up to doing some things I knew were not producing the desired results. I’m anxiously awaiting Texas’ legislators doing the same in regards to standardized testing.  

© 2009 Natalie Whatley  

No TAKSation without representation!

Author: natalie  //  Category: Issues, Life with children

If there’s a school-aged child in your life, you’re no doubt aware it’s TAKS season. (TAKS: Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills – Texas’ brand of school standardized testing.) I’ll drag out the biggest soapbox I can find. Feel free to join me. And know my rant is directed beyond the local level; those toiling in our communities are hamstrung while a select out-of-touch few sit from on high and tax the minds of our greatest commodity.

There are stirrings of new educational developments here in Texas.  A group of school superintendents and administrators interested in education reform comprise what is now called the Public Education Visioning Institute. They’ve been meeting for a few years and last summer released a 48-page work-in-progress report entitled “Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas”. It’s an interesting read, and the ideas and concepts explored are quietly making their way to people willing, able, and ready to start a revolution.

Sociologists, psychologists, and educators are converging on a theory that the way the human brain processes information is changing due to young children’s exposure to technology in their everyday lives – long before they sit behind a desk in a classroom. Instead of working to change the way education is delivered, much time and money has been spent making sure each individual is accountable for one-size-must-fit-all standards. There’s a disconnect, and it’s easily apparent to any layperson who visits a classroom.  Creative teachers do what they can, but they’re fighting a losing battle against a massive push to sameness.

Keith Sockwell, CEO of the education consulting firm Cambridge Strategic Services says, “When we look at our public schools today, I’d say they’re doing a dadgum good job of preparing our kids for the twentieth and nineteenth century.” How unfair is that to a person charged with getting us through the twenty-first century?

Educators at local levels and school boards alike blame the loss of local control and autonomy in their respective schools, while state and federal agencies want accountability in exchange for tax dollars sent. Our children and our future hang in the middle. The new vision report by Texas educators states that the current accountability system has indeed narrowed curriculum. It was refreshing to read such an admission. I think we’ve all heard it categorically denied.

I’ve sat through many parent nights where standardized testing was an instructed-from-above talking point. There’s always at least one renegade parent making his displeasure over “teaching to the test” known. The rote response is always the same. “We can’t really teach to the test because we don’t know exactly what the state will include each year.”

While it may be true that the content of the new test each year is somewhat of a surprise, those of us with school-aged children know all too well that fact doesn’t stop the how-to-TAKE-the-test instruction.  The code word for that: strategies.  And “strategies” leave no room for any thought process other than the one the child is told to have.

Forget having strength in a particular subject area and being able to reason your way through to the correct answer. Not allowed.  And weakness?  That child will need extra practice circling, underlining, bracketing, “erasing” irrelevant information and finally solving the problem. On the test, all that matters is getting the correct answer . . . not good if you’re a nine-year old who gets too bogged down in the “process” of test taking to ever reach that answer.

With educators who know the system leading the charge, maybe the time is right for a revolution of sorts. Parents, teachers, and administrators whose lives are intertwined with children daily know this isn’t working. The world’s problems won’t be solved with homogenous thinkers armed with little more than No. 2 pencils and scan tron answer forms. Communities need to get behind this group and with one loud voice state, “No more TAKSation without representation!” 

© 2009 Natalie Whatley