Category: Personal Perspectives

For My Father: A Muslim Immigrant and a Fellow American

Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi
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My Dad 8/15/1948-5/3/2008

You probably came to this blog today to find fun things to do with your family during this holiday season. And on any other day, you’d probably find just that. But not today. Today I have something else to say.

I generally try to keep this blog light-hearted. I purposely stay away from controversial topics so as not to alienate readers. Because no matter what views you hold, I believe we share a common denominator–a love for our children. And that’s what this blog is really about.

But when I sat down this evening to start working on this weekend’s event listing, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Sometimes there are just more important things to talk about.

Instead, I’d like to tell you about my father. A Muslim, who immigrated to this country after facing religious and ethnic intolerances in his home country. His story is my own. And I’m proud to tell it.

My father put himself through MIT and devoted his considerable talents to the field of aerospace engineering. His contributions still strengthen our country’s defenses today. He married a Christian woman, and raised his children to understand both religions–so we would be open-minded enough to see common truths across faiths. He was well-respected in our community and loved by Jews and Christians, whites and blacks, rich and poor, straight and gay. By all accounts, he preached and practiced tolerance, peace and love. And he was an American–just like you and me.

Today I remembered my father’s story and felt anger. Trump’s call to ban all Muslims from entering this country is an outrage to my father and to the millions of Muslims like him–men and women who came here to build honest and decent lives for themselves and their families.

And I felt fear. For what’s next? Will Trump’s statement elicit backlash for innocent Muslims living in this country? Will it stir up even more anger amongst extremists who don’t need another reason to hate us? If Trump gets elected, will my family or others be punished for our Muslim heritage? Will the Latinos be next? The Jews? Blacks? Women?

And I felt sad. Because polls seem to show that a considerable portion of our country agrees with this hateful bigotry. How have we fallen this far?

If you presume to clump all Muslims into one extremist bunch, I don’t believe this blog post will change your mind. In fact, I bet you’ll never visit this blog again.

But if you believe in teaching your children to see a different way forward–a path for this country that’s based on the value of religious tolerance, cultural diversity and the fundamental equality of all people–you will always have an ally in me.

Because that’s the kind of American my father taught me to be.

Hope in the face of hatred. How will we teach our children to see this country?
How will we teach our children to see this country?

Why aren’t schools letting parents in?

Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi

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Suddenly it’s November. Over the past few months, my brain has been focused elsewhere than this blog.  Mainly, navigating the new world of having a school age child. We watched our daughter get on the school bus for the first time and waited eagerly for her to come home that first day—and every day since. She seems happy, talks about friends and has settled into the new routine. The buzz has died down—and I finally have the room to think again. And I have A LOT of thoughts. Bear with me. And then please share your own.

First off, some context. Though I’m not comfortable sharing the name of my daughter’s school, it’s a large public elementary school in a relatively affluent suburban district close to the city. And though our district may not be exactly like yours, I still think we as parents can engage in a discussion about the nature of our schools in the region and the nation.

So here goes…

I’m shocked at how LITTLE I see my daughter. Our district has a full-day kindergarten and she is gone from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.  The mornings are a blur and by the time she gets home from school in the evenings, we have no more than a couple of hours to interact with her. Weekends feel sacred.

Naturally, we ask ourselves “What’s she doing?” during the many hours she spends away from us. And though it feels WRONG, I can’t really answer that question. However, based on the little information we get, I know she’s NOT doing enough of:

  1. Free play: shortly after my daughter started kindergarten, I read this article in the Atlantic by Tim Walker. Walker has spent considerable time studying the education system in Finland, where children don’t start learning to read until beyond kindergarten. Instead, they engage in hours of unstructured play per day. “Play is really the work of childhood,” said Fred Rogers, and I couldn’t agree with him more. I firmly believe that children learn best through play, even when they’re beyond kindergarten. So why is it generally perceived that play time detracts from learning time? Is it because the skills that kids learn through free play and exploration aren’t as easily testable? Sometimes I think so…
  2. Hands-on learning: I recently interviewed an educator at the Winchester Thurston North Hills campus. We discussed the curriculum for Little House on the Prairie, where students read the books in their English class, and then head out to the “Outdoor Classroom,” to learn how to build a log cabin like Pa using real tools. This sort of hands-on, cross-curricular learning has to be superior to worksheets and other traditional educational tools so prevalent in our schools. But why is this style of learning only accessible to families who can afford an expensive private school environment?
  3. Physical activity: I have had several discussions with friends who have school-age boys recently diagnosed with ADHD. “I don’t think there’s actually anything wrong with my son. He’s just not in the right school environment,” said one. In many cases, I must say I agree. I don’t think our kids are getting enough time to run around and be active. Concurrently, we have an ADHD and obesity epidemic. Could they be related? I think so…

I’m not pointing fingers at any particular district, school or teacher. I think we are all facing similar pressures. No matter what district you live in, there’s simply not enough money devoted to education. As a result, many of our public schools don’t have the room to think outside the box. Also, schools must deal with the weight of standardized testing and the Common Core. Student performance in these arenas directly impacts school district rankings, which can influence funding decisions and the very fabric of an area’s economy. People want to live in “good” school districts. And when they live somewhere, they spend money there.

These are true challenges. But–I don’t think–insurmountable. In this case, I think school districts are sitting on a gold mine—Mom and Dad.

The success of this blog has proven to me beyond a doubt that parents (and other caregivers) in our region are truly invested in the education of our kids. You have read about, shared and participated in many of the educational activities that I’ve highlighted in my weekend listings and my other articles. I am thoroughly convinced that parents universally dream of nurturing a well-rounded and happy child. And of course we do. There is no one who cares more about a child’s success than a parent. It’s evolutionary biology 101.

So, why can’t we take matters into our own hands? Partially, I think it’s because schools aren’t letting parents in. PA Clearances aside, I don’t think we’re told enough of what is going on in the everyday lives of our children in the classroom. What are they learning in Science? Math? Social Studies? How can parents effectively supplement this learning both in our homes (through books, hands-on projects, etc) and within the community (structured museum programs, events etc.).

If schools could help bridge this gap, I believe we could overcome some of the limitations of our educational system. Because, unlike teachers, parents can provide more individualized attention based on the specific interests of a child. Also, unlike teachers, parents can provide more opportunities for hands-on, play-based learning. Finally, unlike teachers, parents don’t need a paycheck. We just WANT THE BEST FOR OUR KIDS!

So I ask you—why can’t we find a way to efficiently integrate in-school and out-of-school learning so that parents can take a more active role in helping schools overcome their limitations? 

And now, I’d like to hear from you because I know I’m not alone. Please email me at pittsburghmommyblog@gmail.com, send me a message on the Pittsburgh Mommy Page on Facebook or comment below. And if your child’s school is doing a particularly good job of involving parents, please let me know. I want to hear more!

Addendum: I received some feedback from this article that it was “anti-teacher.” I want to explicitly state that I do not believe that the problems I’ve mentioned above have anything to do with my own child’s teacher or any others. I wrote this article purely to start a conversation about the issues–and to determine a way that we can work together to advocate for our children’s interests. 

Kindergarten Parent Orientation and I’m already a basket case

Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi

We recently went to Kindergarten Parent Orientation for my 4-year old daughter. We filed into the auditorium at her future elementary school and heard about the in’s and out’s of a kindergarten day. The school bus. Snack time. Free play. Reading. Even a short rest time. I left feeling really excited for my daughter. But now I’m a basket case.

I think I’ve always been a little more sensitive to the passage of time than most. I can distinctly remember sitting in my bed bawling on the night I turned thirteen years old. I should have been happy. But I was mourning the end of my childhood. I was mourning what I could never get back.

I feel a little bit like that right now. I remember when I first decided to stay home with my daughter, the dreams I had about the years we had together before she went to school. I hoped for long nature walks, trips to the library, adventures in Strip District markets, long afternoons reading books besides the sunny window in our guest room. Four years later, we’ve had some of those moments. Probably more than I remember now. But I just can’t shake this thought that perhaps it wasn’t good enough for her. For me.

Did I lose my temper too much? Did I let her watch too many movies when I should have been playing with her? Was I too disconnected when I should have been savoring the time I had with her? Is it even possible to send your child off to kindergarten without some regrets?

“Time can do all sorts of things. It’s almost like a magician. It can turn autumn into spring and babies into children, seeds into flowers and tadpoles into frogs, caterpillars into cocoons, and cocoons into butterflies. And life into death. There’s nothing that time can’t do. Except run backwards. That’s its trouble really, it can only go one way.”
― Alex ShearerThe Stolen

Yoga in the Square, I Need You!

Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi

Last Sunday morning, a glorious “om” rang forth from hundreds of Pittsburghers, including myself. Comfortably ensconced in the warm and naturally-lit Wintergarden at PPG Place, we did a one-hour, mild-to-moderate intensity free yoga workout in the Vinyasa style. It was fantastic. And when that final om broke out, I felt relaxed and connected to the community around me–a feeling that is not easy for me to find these days.

When I first heard about Yoga in the Square, I thought I would take my kids. After all, it would be a cool experience for them. Plus, every preschooler could probably use a bit of mindfulness training-right? But as the week progressed, I decided to go by myself.

“GO!” My husband said on Sunday morning, practically pushing me out the door, “You need to do something for yourself,” he said. And he was right.

Yoga in the Square at the Wintergreen at PPG Place
Yoga in the Square at the Wintergreen at PPG Place

Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken a hard look at my life and realized something sad. I have virtually NO TIME for myself. If I’m not working on my blog, or shuttling my kids to and fro, or worrying about my husband, money, our careers, our future, then I’m sleeping. And I’m feeling stretched. Stretched thin. What makes it even sadder is that I wasn’t always this way. I used to enjoy things I did for myself. I used to think about my mental health and prioritize it. Trips to the museums, nights out with friends, date nights, workouts. I made time for it all.

I know I’m not alone here. As mothers, we put everybody’s needs above our own. And after awhile, the stress lines start to show. My experience at Yoga in the Square was about taking a step back and acknowledging that what is best for me, is best for my family, too.

I was back at the house within an hour and a half. And I jumped back into motherhood and all that comes with it. After all, it’s my life. I chose it. But I brought a fresh, new perspective to the day and that was good.

If you are so lucky to be able to get away at 10am next Sunday morning, I’ll be at Yoga in the Square. Get there early! And if you want to bring your family along, they will be welcome too!

Look for the Helpers, Pittsburgh

Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi
Fred Rogers Statue, Photo by Jonathan Plum
Fred Rogers Statue, Photo by Jonathan Plum

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” -Fred Rogers

The Fred Rogers statue pictured above sits on the North Side of our city, overlooking the Golden Triangle of Downtown Pittsburgh. The statue is a reminder to us that our city was privileged-however briefly-to rub elbows with one of the most inspired individuals of the last century, Fred Rogers.

Known to most of our generation simply as Mister Rogers, he was a man who first influenced us in our pj’s on our living room couches as mere babies. We found comfort in the characteristic exchange of his work jacket for his home sweater, of his shiny work shoes for his blue sneakers. We waited with bated breath for him to feed his fish and to get his special deliveries. And we learned about his neighborhood–and indirectly our own–through the field trips we took with him in our imaginations.

I was recently asked to take another field trip through my neighborhood by Mister Rogers–or, at least, by an important piece of his legacy–the Fred Rogers Company. I am lucky enough to live in Pittsburgh–the same place that Mister Rogers frequented–and the people of my city are as beautiful today as they were in my imagination all those years ago…

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This photo, which has become the image associated with my blog, was taken at Randyland–the home of Randy Gilson on the North Side. Randy has transformed previously vacant and poorly maintained lots into havens of art and greenery. I’m so glad Randy Gilson and Randyland are a part of my neighborhood.

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 This photo shows Homewood’s Art House–a project of Vanessa German. Vanessa has created a safe space for children to be creative and form positive relationships within a dangerous part of our city. I’m so glad Vanessa German and Art House are a part of my neighborhood.

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The photo above shows Free Store 15104–a completely FREE store located in Braddock, PA. Started by Gisele Fetterman, the Free Store redistributes donated and surplus items to those in need. The only requirement? Pay it forward when you can. I’m glad Gisele Fetterman and Free Store 15104 are a part of my neighborhood.

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The photo above was taken after a snack drive I hosted for Jeremiah’s Place, the city’s first emergency nursery. Started by a group of local mothers, Jeremiah’s place offers free childcare for up to 72 hours for families in crisis. I’m so glad Jeremiah’s Place and its founders are in my neighborhood.

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The photo above is our Little Free Library, built a couple of years ago by my husband to commemorate the 5th anniversary of my Dad’s passing. Our Little Free Library brought our neighborhood together through a shared love of books.

The truth is that I could go on forever with photos and stories of my inspired neighbors in Pittsburgh. I believe my city is full of them. In fact, I believe every city is full of them. And I know Mister Rogers would agree.

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”
Fred Rogers

Won’t you #BeMyNeighbor?

Visit wontyoubemyneighbor.org to find out how ordinary citizens everywhere are taking Mister Rogers’ message to heart and changing the lives of their neighbors every day. You won’t be disappointed. And please remember to share your own stories with #BeMyNeighbor.

Let’s look for the helpers, Pittsburgh….

This blog post has been generously sponsored by the Fred Rogers Company and the Motherhood. However, my support of Mister Rogers and his beautiful message is 100% my own.

Full Circle at a SIMPLE Giving Snack Drive

Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi

This blog post was generously sponsored by Champions for Kids and the Motherhood. All opinions are my own.

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A couple weeks ago, I held my first Champions for Kids SIMPLE Giving Snack Drive to benefit Jeremiah’s Place at the Bloomfield Saturday Market. As I was collecting snacks that day, I met a lot of people–a local farmer, an allergist from Children’s, an elderly lady who bizarrely grabbed a piece of my pizza right off my plate and ate it. In the sea of faces that fill my memory of that day, one particular individual stands out: a young mom with two little kids. Like me, she was short, perky, excited to be there. Our similarities didn’t end there.

“I worked for 10 years,” she told me, “But I just recently decided to leave my career and stay at home with my kids.”

She then leaned across the table, lowered her voice, and confessed, “I love being with my children, but there’s a piece of me that still wants to do something else, too. Something that benefits families besides my own.”

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First snack donations

“Something like what you’re doing here,” she said and motioned to the healthy snack drive around us.

Her words hit me like a thunderclap. Two years ago, I stood in the same metaphorical place. Happy to be with my kids, but feeling the slightest stirrings of discontent and “What next?” All I knew: I wanted to help families in Pittsburgh.

So…I started the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and nurtured it like a third child. In the process, I’ve learned a lot. The most important lesson rang loud and clear at the Bloomfield Saturday Market that weekend:

 I am not alone!

It’s humbling. This city is full of people and organizations that share my dream of helping families. The woman who drove all the way from Greensburg to drop off snacks for the kids at JP. Genevieve of the AP Collection, one of the city’s most talented artists, who volunteered to do free face-painting for kids. The Volunteer Princess who sat in the beating sun and entertained children all morning for free. The retired preschool teacher and the medical student who both committed to volunteering at JP. All those people who brought snacks. And that mom.

Me and LouAnn Ross, Executive Director of Jeremiah's Place
Me and LouAnn Ross, Executive Director of Jeremiah’s Place

And it’s not just individuals. Champions for Kids has a beautiful mission–to inspire people to hold SIMPLE Service Projects, where they collect items that are needed by families in their communities. The Bloomfield Saturday Market brings families together to celebrate community and healthy lifestyles. And, of course, Jeremiah’s Place, a safe haven for Pittsburgh families that guarantees us all: “You Are Not Alone” in a time of crisis. This city is full of people and organizations that I’m proud to call partners. We truly ARE becoming the most livable city for families.

To the mom that I met at the Bloomfield Saturday Market that day: I gave you my business card. Please email me. I want to help you to help others. Whether it’s organizing your own SIMPLE Service Project, starting a blog, or something completely different, I want you to know–you are not alone.

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Healthy snacks, safely delivered to Jeremiah’s Place, the city’s first crisis nursery

And to anybody else who reads this post and wants to join me in my efforts to help Pittsburgh families, please email me at pittsburghmommyblog@gmail.com so we can brainstorm ideas.

After that weekend at the Bloomfield Saturday Market, I’m convinced that my blog has come full circle. It has evolved into exactly what I always hoped it could be–a way to genuinely impact and better the lives of local families. Thank you, Pittsburgh, for helping my dream come true!

The Pittsburgh Marathon, The Friendship Carnivale, and Why I Love this City

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Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi

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April 15, 2013.  A day that many of us will remember forever.  The city of Boston grieved the senseless violence that destroyed one of the most joyous events of the year:  The Boston Marathon. I grieved, too.  After all, I was raised in Boston and watching the Marathon was a huge part of my formative years.  I knew what the Marathon meant to Boston.  I knew what it meant to me…

But what about the Pittsburgh Marathon? What does it mean to our city and to my family? I’ve been here nearly ten years now and I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never taken the time to find out. Until this year.  This year I was asked to be a Neighborhood Correspondent for the Marathon.  My assignment?  Pick any neighborhood that I wished, join their celebrations during the Marathon, and chronicle them.

So–which neighborhood did I choose?

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Friendship and its “Marathon Carnivale.”  This neighborhood has a very special place in my heart.  I lived in it for my first three years in Pittsburgh.  I met my husband there.  I lost my dad there.  I grew catnip on my roof there and then watched the sun rise over East Liberty as my kitty ate it.

Friendship is a quirky place filled with secret beauty, rebirth, and freespiritedness.  In other words, Friendship is a microcosm of the Pittsburgh that I love.  And celebrating the Marathon in my first Pittsburgh neighborhood reminded me of the reasons why I’m so glad that I chose to leave Boston and make this city my home.

 *****

 

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 People can be who they want to be

(Street puppets from Puppets for Pittsburgh)

 

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 I can be who I want to be (that’s me on the left!)

 

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We include our children in everything we do

 

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And our elders, too

 

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We have awesome music in the most unlikely places

(Band: Lungs, Face, Feet)

 

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 And food, too! 

(Food truck: Franktuary)

 

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We’re funny

 

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And we’re not afraid to stop and dance sometimes…

 

And…during our walk through Friendship afterwards:

 

pghmarathon2Always a new neighborhood to check out

 

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 We’re GREEN!

 

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 Random kid-friendly art discoveries 

(The Octopus Garden: 133 S. Aiken Ave)

 

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More randonmess

 

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 And BEAUTY.  It’s everywhere…

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Thank you, Friendship, for reminding me that I’m so proud to be a part of this amazing city.  It was magical to feel your energy yesterday as we cheered on those runners.  There’s a reason why the Pittsburgh Marathon is one of the fastest growing marathons in the county.  There’s a reason why Pittsburgh is becoming such an inspirational place to be.  And I felt it with YOU :)!

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