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TODAY

Monday, December 9

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Airbags

Are you currently holding a tiny baby? Or perhaps you've finally gotten one to sleep for 10 minutes and are reveling in your freedom by surfing the internet and drinking coffee. Someday that sweet little angel laying in a sunbeam will be old enough for you to think, hell, we live in a city, can't he/she take the bus already? Logically I knew that at some point that small girl would get bigger and would, hopefully, become capable of doing all sorts of things, like making sandwiches, babysitting, cleaning a bird cage. Getting herself to and from various locations independently was something that seemed impossible, a daydream at best, and yet here we are, at the bus stop of the cross roads, change in hand.

In Tokyo 5-year-olds traverse the subway unattended, navigating a complex train system everyday to get themselves to and from school. It's expected and safe. Here, the thought of a 5-year-old waiting solo for a train at Lake and State seems shocking, preposterous. Unbelievable! And yet, we must press on. Independence must be gained, or we'll wreck the kids. We've spent years preparing to send a child a half block down the street to board a bus that will take her in a straight shot to her destination. What's next? Transferring?

This past week was Girls Rock! Chicago. Girls Rock! Chicago is a weeklong summer camp, held at a rented CPS school in Logan Square. From their website:

Girls Rock! Chicago is a 501(c)(3) non-for profit organization dedicated to fostering girls' creative expression, positive self-esteem and community awareness through rock music. Through our week-long summer camp for girls ages 9-16, we are committed to educating girls about the musical, technical, and creative aspects involved in musicianship, because we believe that young girls are rarely encouraged to learn about or participate in rock music and are less likely to be given access to musical instruction or equipment.

Our camp is organized around motivating girls ages 9-16 through instrument instruction, music composition coaching, recording workshops, song-writing workshops, hands-on activities, technical equipment workshops, guest speakers, team-building activities and band performances. We seek to provide positive and supportive role models for campers though interaction and participation by volunteers who will share their experiences as women involved in some form of making music.

We believe in maintaining an emphasis on accessibility to ensure that girls have access to equipment and instruction regardless of their socioeconomic background, race, ethnicity, or neighborhood. Our application is based on a sliding-scale tuition and no one is turned away for lack of funds.

Clearly not to be missed. We scheduled our summer around this week, and crammed 30-plus days of traveling into most of June and July to ensure that we'd be planted right here for the week.

However, the thought of getting the whole crew up and dressed and out door at the crack of dawn, when all of us are in full-time camping recovery mode (which involves a lot of cereal in front of the TV first thing in the morning) was just too much. Too much entirely. Especially when a ride directly there drove past us every 8-10 minutes. Git along little dogey, we're going to stay right here and watch the "Thunderbirds."

We all started out the week confidently enough. We teamed up with another Girls Rock!er, and both girls rode the bus the first day with her mom, so they could see where to get off and where to get back on. We coordinated with yet another family walking to Girls Rock!, who would meet them on the way there, and walk back to the stop with them in the evening. The two girls were given a cellphone for the week. Short of arming them with flak jackets and Lo-jak, they were well prepared. We watched them get off the bus that first evening and walk toward us, looking unimaginably self-confident and beautiful. My friend, who coincidentally was celebrating her 40th birthday that very day, and I watched our approaching daughters in stunned amazement. This was a snap!

On Tuesday morning as I was preparing to see the girls to the corner, I read in the paper that a 7-year-old girl was snatched off of her bike and molested in the alley in a neighborhood not far from ours. She was riding her bike in front of her house. Seven years old. They have a description of the man, but he still has not been caught (Still! As you are reading this!). Male, dark hair, mid 20s, silver car with a tan interior. The car was filled with trash, and the windshield is cracked. Yes, let's all reflect for a moment on where the description of the car's interior came from.

OK, no one is leaving the house, ever, to go anywhere or do anything ,because some crazed child molester in a trash-filled car is on the loose. No Girls Rock!, no theater, no playing outside, no nothing, we're putting the house up for sale and moving somewhere where there are no child moles... oh damn. There is no place like that. Let's go back to plan A, where we prepare the kids to be aware and confident and able to scream, run like hell and fight like a demon hell-cat if anyone ever lays a finger or an eye on them. I walked the girls to the bus. It was so early that there weren't many people out, which is normally pleasant, but felt creepy. I asked the girls what they would do if anyone in a car stopped and asked them a question. "Run away!" was the answer I was given, well coached girls that they are. What if someone whistles or yells something at you? "Ignore them!"

Tell them to go fuck themselves and die with all of the rage and power you can muster is not the advice you give to two young girls (mostly because they wouldn't say that, yet) though it's what I would do, have done, for all of the good it's done me, which is not much good at all, other than making me feel momentarily less powerless. Then comes the next round: "dyke!" or bitch, or fat, or ugly — you know the list, as if any of those things are worse than being objectified and harassed by some pathetic loser.

The thought of any man disturbing the peace of any girl or woman, no matter her age, especially our daughters, was suddenly (once again) so infuriating that I am not sure how I continued walking down the street. The lady selling breakfast from a cooler was out, it was good to see her on the corner. There was the instant zing! of recognition that this person would let no harm come to these girls, and my acknowledgment of that attention. The international silent language at work in our fair city. The bus arrived, the girls boarded, and the bus pulled away. I watched until I couldn't see it anymore.

Girls Rock! was completely empowering. Every girl was assigned an instrument from the mighty three, guitar, bass or drums, and divided into bands. Each band worked with a counselor, all volunteers, women musicians and feminists, the coolest of the cool. If I could wish a future for my kids, this is a prime example of what it would be: doing what they love, working with other people collaboratively to make positive changes and having a blast.

Each day there were scheduled activities (zine making, silkscreening, etc.), instrument instruction and band practice, all led by these amazing women. I gather that lunch was a big event each day, and every day ended with a band playing a 45-minute set for the girls. The culmination of the week would be a show at The Metro.

They rode the bus successfully all week. By Friday it was old hat, and I barely looked up from my coffee when they headed for the stop. Twenty minutes later the phone rang, it was my daughter, they had missed their stop! I tried to talk to her while attempting to staunch the bleeding from the giant peice of glass I stepped on just as the phone rang, the 4-year-old was freaking out about something and the cat got out, and was "stuck" in the neighbors tree. (Cats don't actually get stuck, they just decide to be giant assholes about coming down.) So much for all of the nonchalance and coffee.

She had the right idea, get off, cross the street and take the bus west. I pictured them gabbing away as their stop went sailing by. Lesson number one on the CTA, pay attention to your stop. There's really only one way to learn that one. So they got off at a major street, crossed at the light and waited for the next bus west. They had to walk a bit because the Diversey bus takes a jog, but that's OK, because lesson number two is don't wear stupid shoes.

They made it fine, though a little late. I stayed on the phone until they hooked up with their pals, and while they were walking I asked what they would do if those people weren't waiting for them. "Walk by ourselves, I know the way," said the voice of reason and maturity on the other end of the phone. I could hear her girlfriend in the background, making high pitched noises. I said "ask Anoif what she would do if she were alone?" Anoif, clearly wigging out, said that she would run around in circles and scream. Oh, how luxurious it is to have friends! The best thing about friends is that if you are freaking out, most likely your friend is not, and vice versa.

I don't believe that she would really run around in circles and scream. I think that while it would have been momentarily panic-inducing, she would have collected herself, taken a look around and figured out exactly what to do. Ask the bus driver. Call home. Trust in yourself, work it out, watch your step, and always, always, always be aware of your surroundings. Lessons learned. If I was the grading type, the girls would have gotten an A in Mass Transit 101.

And all of a sudden, the week was over, camp was done and it was time to show off some finished art work, as my old friend AMR once said. All of the girls stood on stage at The Metro, looking out on an almost packed house, and played a song with their band. There were purple and red and orange and white lights, and there was a little smoke blowing. There were the most beautiful instruments: a blue bass, a pink into white electric guitar, a perfect drum set. The songs were all originals, from Screaming Candy's shout-out to the candy isle at the Jewel, to the Mango Lassi's Hatfield-esque love ode to reading. 13 Black Cats brought in the spooky, and Hot Pink Streaks delivered the Riot Grrl. And who could forget Carlos? Carlos, Carlos, Carlos. Carlos the Watermelon.

When each band was finished they got to hear the crowd roar their approval. The girls were all well prepared to take the stage and play their songs, but none of them was prepared for the cheering. All of them stood there, looking out the crowd with amazement. My girlfriends and I stood there in the crowd, giving it our all, wondering what would it have done for us, to have a crowd of people clapping and screaming for us at age 11, or 14, or 9? Where will that applause take these girls?

When my daughter hit the stage with the Pink Streaks, my old friend put her arm around me and didn't let go for a long time. I think she got where I was at, parentally speaking. Maybe how the mother of a particularly cool butterfly would feel when she saw her butterfly child land on the most delicious rose in the garden. It was the ultimate recital, complete with proud parents, little brothers and sisters running around in the VIP area for those under 4 feet, or falling asleep, bizarrely enough, which is what my 4-year-old did. Only the punkest of the rock children can sleep through 16 bands. The bar, thank god, was open.

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About the Author(s)

Lori McClernon Upchurch lives on the far Northwest Side in a house that's overflowing with books, kids, pets and too much stuff from the thrift store. She is a proud member of Team Upchurch, a family of multi-talented unschoolers. She can generally be spotted driving around with a bunch of kids, not all of them hers, looking for someplace fun to get out and play.

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