Now this is a sign of good communication

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-ColorMy seven-year old daughter, Donae, and I just finished a Mommy and Me American Sign Language course!
That wasn›t the official course title but that’s what we called it. 
Balancing the needs of my two little girls, Donae, and four-year old Rhonda-Rene, is an ongoing challenge. Donae’s a bright, confident, theatrical, orator with an actual speaking schedule. Rhonda-Rene’s a loving, happy-go-lucky free spirit with minimal verbal ability due to Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) caused by a mutation of the FOXP1 gene. Like many parents, my husband, Don, and I are faced with balancing their unique needs to ensure each child develops at their fullest potential. 
Taking ASL classes was a great way for our family to bridge the disparities in our girls’ communication. Donae was able to learn the fundamentals of a new language while helping to teach Rhonda-Rene an alternative way to communicate until she can become a verbal communicator.
We concluded the nine-week course March 17. It was offered by the Eisenhower Cooperative 5318 W. 135th Street, in Crestwood.  PAGE-12-with-Cluadia-col-Donae-and-Stephanie-Dustin-Interpreter-for-the-DeathDonae Parker, left and instructor Stephanie Dustin pose after a sign-language class. Photo by Claudia Parker.
We met once per week from 4:00 to 5:30pm. It was only $20 for everyone in our household, but it’s free for Eisenhower Cooperative and member district employees. Member districts include 125-128, 130, 132, 143, 143.5 and 228.
The class is co-taught by instructors Mallory McGreehin, a Hearing Itinerant who goes from school to school servicing deaf and hard of hearing students fully mainstreamed in their home district and Stephanie Dustin, an interpreter for the deaf. 
“Originally these courses were for families of our student’s that were deaf or hard of hearing and our teachers with deaf and hard of hearing students in their classroom.” Dustin said. “But, we expanded our offering as a workshop so teachers could get CPDU credit hours.”
Upon Dustin learning we weren’t affiliated with their district through any of those means she smiled. “How’d you hear about us?” Dustin asked. “We don’t get many people from the community. I guess they don’t know about us.”
“Oh, I can help with that.” I thought to myself. I can’t stand it when a good thing goes unnoticed. “My daughter’s elementary school principal, John Stanton gave me the information.” I told her.  
Rhonda-Rene attends half-day preschool at Evergreen Park’s Northwest Elementary in a Special Education classroom. The entire team of educators at NW have been incredible about offering additional support for her development. It’s a collaborative effort between the school district, private therapists and Don and I to get this little girl everything she needs to thrive.
There are more than just children and adults with disabilities benefiting from ASL.
Babies can gain an advantage in language when taught to sign. I taught Donae a collection of signs when she was about six months old. She gradually learned 50 signs from watching a Baby Einstein “My First Signs” DVD regularly.
It proved remarkably useful. One evening she awoke in the middle of the night crying. I expected to shush her back to sleep, but instead, I found myself adding a layer over her pajamas because she signed the word, “cold.”
At the time, she wasn’t able to verbalize that word. I was grateful for having given her the ability to communicate non-verbally before her expressive language developed.
We discontinued signing once she began communicating verbally. Not that it’s required but having basic signing knowledge helped Donae and I comprehend during the ASL course. We really enjoyed it. It’s geared towards individuals who are beginning signers who want to further their knowledge in sign language. They also have an advanced signing course designed for a signer aiming to become more fluent.
Donae and I aren’t quite ready for fluency. I’d get so nervous when our instructors would ask us to practice sentences; mine were in slow motion.
Donae let me have it one day. “Mom, this is embarrassing. You’ve got to practice more.” She said.
Agitated by her unintended insult I replied. “Excuse me? You’re signing at the same pace as me.”
Undeterred by my rebuke, continuing to practice she blurted. “But, I’m seven.”  
McGreehin and Dustin did a great job keeping us engaged and giving equal attentiveness to everyone in the class. The structure is broken into pieces, there’s a short verbal/signing lecture, group work, games and lots of on-the-spot practice. 
The course is offered twice annually, once in the spring and fall. Registration is handled online through the Eisenhower Cooperative website Contact, Kristen Kozik 708-389-7580 extension 221 for more information.
Donae began bonding with Rhonda-Rene while she was in my womb. Seemingly, at the most inopportune times, she’d come meddling with my pregnant belly.
“Hello? Lil sister, are you in there? She’d ask. “If you can hear me, give a little kick.” It was like surefire magic because right on cue I’d feel those tiny feet kick. Donae would get such a rise out of that. “I’m going to be the best BIG sister ever.” She’d tell me.
Don and I couldn’t be more proud of how Donae is handling being a big sister. She’s identified Rhonda-Rene needs extra help. Instead of allowing herself to be bitter about the extra time and attention focused on Rhonda-Rene, she looks for ways to be involved. She said, “Mom, I’m glad we took this class. Now I know how to help my sister communicate better.”

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author, runner whose columns appear the second and fourth Thursdays for the Reporter.

Comedy sketch writing isn’t all that funny

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-ColorChasing a dream to earn a sustainable income as a writer is proving to be a hard-knock life for me. Failure is trying to suppress my writing aspirations.
Recently, I cranked open my Toshiba laptop to find an e-mail from the writing program coordinator at Second City. “Thank you for your interest in Writing 5. Unfortunately, your submitted scene didn’t qualify for you to continue at this time.”
For the previous eight months, my cheeks have been in Second City’s seats learning to write sketch comedy. There are six, eight-week terms in the program.
I completed four.
To gain entry to Writing 5, a sketch scene audition is a prerequisite to ensure ones work is worthy of such an advancement. Of 12 classmates, I’m one of three that didn’t make it through.
“What?!” I thought. “I’m a professional writer! How does that happen?”
The e-mail continued: “This doesn’t mean you aren’t a great writer.”
Crossing my arms I mumbledpage-12-with-Claudia-colClaudia Parker, front row, right, poses with a group of comedy sketch writing hopefuls at Second City. Most of her peers will move up a level while Parker was rejected but said that rejection will sharpen her determination to get better. Submitted photo.

submitted   “You’re darn Skippy it doesn’t.”
I read further. 
  “...just that you may need more work on the principles of scenic sketch.” said the program coordinator.
My emotions dipped back to a time when my husband Don and I took our daughters Donae (7) and Rhonda-Rene (4) to Grand Geneva’s Timber Ridge Lodge and Waterpark up in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
At the time, Rhonda-Rene was only two and just getting acclimated to exploring water independently. Forcing the natural progression of her comfort level, I placed her at the top of the toddler slide and scurried over to the bottom to catch her.
Most enthused, I petitioned her to slide down.
“Come to Mommy! Rhonda-Rene! Come?” I suspect, from her vantage point, plummeting into cold water didn’t look appealing.
Ignoring my lure, she abruptly scooched backward and tumbled headfirst down the stairs of the slide.
The stairs were softly padded, as was the toddler surface where she landed.
Nonetheless, a concerned lifeguard escorted us into a warm, towel-filled back room.
He proceeded to examine Rhonda-Rene and completed an incident report. She hadn’t sustained any injuries and didn’t cry but a minute. Yet, I stalled to leave that room. I wear the badge of stay-at-home mom with honor. I take great pride in caring for my family. I didn’t want to face the people who saw me fail to protect my child.
Likewise, I’m a passionate writer. I exercise at this craft like a fitness guru does their body.
Failing to advance to Writing 5 was not only disappointing but embarrassing. I wanted to go find that warm, towel-filled room and not come out. But, there’s a danger in that line of thinking.
When entertained long enough, feelings of failure morph into fear. I don’t believe we fail because we’re supposed to quit. I believe we fail when we need to grow. Those who quit shut off their creative energy stunting their expression of joy that only shines through when it’s shared with the world.
When we stop operating in the purpose of which we were created out of fear, we can become unfulfilled, miserable people.
Failure is not an option for me, I will press forward elsewhere!
But, first, I felt I needed the specifics from the folks at Second City. I wrote a small note to the head of their writing program asking for a detailed explanation for why my scene failed. For peace of mind, I needed to know how far I was off the mark. Turns out, it wasn’t a near miss -- it was more like a WIDE gap.
I responded as such, “I appreciate the raw feedback. I’m going to be honest, I never desired to write comedy. I just wanted to learn how to write for the stage and ultimately film. I came to Second City because of its reputation as being one of the best training centers in the business. Thank you for giving me a playwright foundation. However, for what I need to fulfill my personal endeavors, I think its best I seek my training in an institution not comedy specific.”
As a writer, this experience will sharpen my determination. As a mom, it will become a priceless teaching tool for my little girls down the road. Our kids only listen to us for so long.
After that, they model us. It’s easy to show our children how to celebrate success, but don’t forget to show them how to celebrate opportunities to grow.
In failure, there is growth, for the plants that thirst for watering. And that, I do!

Juicy and frantic memories of Harpo Studios

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Claudia Mug Shot-Color


Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios closed their doors after 26 years in the Windy City.

Oprah and her executive staff are taking permanent residence in her OWN network headquarters, located in West Hollywood’s The Lot.

            I’ve sat in the audience at Harpo Studios many times. Some tapings were more memorable then others.

            For example, you may or may not know, President Thomas Jefferson, allegedly, fathered children with his bi-racial slave, Sally Hemings. Well, during this taping, Oprah arranged for some of Jefferson’s decedents to meet a few of their alleged, black family members.

It got juicy! 

            On a different day, I had myself a little speaking-on-camera action during a taping about workplace stress. I’d just gotten braces. I remember totally over-enunciating my words to avoid speaking with a lisp.

            The most awkward taping I attended was when Dr. Phil appeared promoting his book, “Relationship Rescue.” He had the audacity to go on this rant about how men in their 20s shouldn’t marry until their 30s because they haven’t discovered themselves yet. Well, I happened to be with my soon-to-be husband Don, and my not-yet mother-in-law, whom loudly applauded Dr. Phil’s suggestion. For a single woman hoping to seal the deal with her, then in-his-20’s man – it was not good!

            My vote for most disturbing was definitely the taping where Oscar Winner Mo’Nique’s, older brother spoke about molesting her. Don and I were ready to hightail it home to our kids. “If you can’t trust family, who can you trust?” I thought. 

            The last time I entered Harpo studios was for Oprah’s LifeClass, April 30, 2014. I’d only learned of the opportunity for last-minute seats the day before. By some miracle, I was able to secure childcare on short notice. However, getting to Harpo that morning proved strenuous. Rain and rush-hour makes a slow commute. Couple that with not being able to find parking and you’ve got panic. I literally sprinted, in the rain, wearing high-heel boots, a half mile from where I parked, barely making it to the studio before they stopped allowing entry.        

            In previous cases, arrivals were numbered and correlated to entering the studio for seating. I figured I’d be in the top bleachers. Yet, somehow, I landed in the front row, inches from Oprah. Her special guest that day was Bishop T.D. Jakes.

He’s the pastor of a non-denominational church called The Potter’s House with over 30,000 members. Some say he’s one of the most influential black leaders in America. He’s certainly influential to me. I record his services and watch them regularly. He’s authored multiple bestselling books and was there promoting his new title, “Instinct: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive.”

            I was selected with a few others for an on-camera illustration he conducted during the taping. You should’ve seen me springboard from my seat when he asked for volunteers. Gleaning from his intuitive lecture on how to use instinct to seize opportunity, I decided to apply it. The taping had concluded and audience members were coming out of their seats to get pictures with him and Oprah. My window was closing but I caught it. “Oprah, I need to say something.” I said faintly.

            She took steps toward me and yelled to the audience. “Everybody. Quiet. She needs to say something,” Then she looked me square in the eye. “What is it?” Oprah said. The entire audience quieted and huddled around us.

            I was thinking of a more private discussion but okay, I went with it.

            I told Oprah and Bishop Jakes that I’d written a book, “Becoming a Mother While Losing My Own.”

I explained, “I’ve been working tirelessly to get it exposure but lack the platform to do so.”  I stretched with opposite hands, putting cards with my book’s information in each of their palms.  “This is me, reaching to touch the hem of your garment.” I said.

It’s a metaphor I took from a Biblical story to express my faith in their capability to do what my labor, time and resources hasn’t. I don’t remember if Oprah responded, but I recall the baritone voice of Bishop Jakes, after a chuckle, “We’ll look into it.” he said. 

According to my girlfriend, the audience applauded for me afterwards. I don’t remember that, I was in a fog. I retreated into my seat while everyone around me took selfies with him and Oprah. I went into the bathroom to collect myself and a lady approached me. “I was really moved by what you just did. You’re going to get your platform, believe me, it's coming.” she said. 

            Harpo Studios may be gone but my last day there will be etched in my memory forever, I had a powerful experience. I haven't heard from Oprah or Bishop Jakes but they proved something to me that day.

If we just muster up the courage to use our voice, the most influential people in the world will use their influence to make sure we get heard. Knowing that leaves me with an exhilarating hope that one day, my life’s story will reach millions.            


I Claudia: Photo finish -- The highs and lows of covering AGT auditions

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-Color

Working the auditions for “America's Got Talent” elevated my credibility, but only for a spell.

Are you confused?

I was!

The auditions were held Jan. 24-25 at McCormick Place.

I was there for the second day. As I followed the signs leading to registration, I was obstructed by an AGT crew member. “Are you auditioning?” she inquired. I wasn't looking at her. I was testing the operations of my new Nikon D5200 camera lassoed around my neck. I glanced up.

 “I'm a reporter.” I replied. “I'm here to write a story about someone who is.” I pointed toward 14- year-old Kennedy Bordeaux who was standing nearby with her family.

This crew member directed me to a waiting area and then spoke into a walkie-talkie, “Lindsey? Someone get Lindsey. A lady from the press is here!”

Have you heard the saying? “Follow your passion and you'll never work a day in your life.”

Or “Choose a job you love so much, you'd do it for free.”

I believe the unknown author of these statements desire us to find the vehicle that brings our lives fulfillment so we can drive that baby til' the wheels fall off.

For me, one of those vehicles is writing. I've authored a couple of books and have an open relationship with various newspapers and magazines as a freelancer.

But, my main squeeze is The Reporter, where I enjoy being a correspondent reporter and columnist. I'm fortunate to have a boss like Jeff Vorva, who exclusively assigns me inspirational stories to write. However, there's one benefit I'm missing as a correspondent -- a press pass!

Presenting a press pass eradicates the need for individual verification and qualifications.

Unofficial journalists, like me, require separate letters of confirmation from the editorial office to prove legitimacy when covering large venues, which is what was required of me to gain press access to the “America's Got Talent” auditions. Nevertheless, when I got on the premises, I felt like 'special correspondent' Jenna Bush, from “The Today Show.”

AGT gave me my very first PRESS PASS!

It read, “America's Got Talent. The Reporter. Claudia Parker 1/25. PRESS”

Then, I got the rules.

“You can interview and take photographs of anyone except our crew,’’ they said. “Those in blue shirts are our support team, black shirts- are producers. If you need anything, let one of them know and they'll find me.” said Lindsey, an AGT press coordinator.

I went there exclusively to write about Kennedy Bordeaux's audition experience. But since I had my PRESS PASS I figured I'd interview Cris Judd, their official season 10 dance scout.

Judd is a Hollywood Choreographer and former New Zealand's Got Talent judge. In my opinion, he's most known for having been married to Jennifer Lopez.

My request was denied. They said Judd left after Saturday's auditions.

 “But, speak to our publicist about using statements from our press release.” said Lindsey.

I wanted a live interview, not clipped statements from a press release.

“Alright, I'll contact the publicist.” I said disappointingly.

I spoke to two warm and professional publicists on site. I felt we had a connection. I got the impression they were interested in my photography skills. Somewhere within our conversation it was insinuated if I e-mailed them the photos I took from the auditions, they'd be published to the AGT website. I even thought I heard them say, with photo credit!

AGT is one of NBC's top rated realty shows. It has over three million likes on its Facebook page and 357,000 thousand twitter followers. It was a no-brainer. I suddenly christened myself the official, 'unofficial' AGT event photographer.

I worked that room!

I started off asking, “Would you like to be photographed for 'our' AGT website?” Then I'd give a little tap to my press pass.

My reputation began to precede me, at one point, I had a small wait.

Time escaped me.  I intended to be at the auditions two hours but stayed nearly eight. When I got home, sleep was imminent, but not before I downloaded my photos and e-mailed them to the AGT publicist. After all, they'd be expecting my work.


For several days following the auditions, I checked their website looking for the fruits of my labor and nothing!

Upon my inquiry, the counterpart of the publicists' I'd met said, “Uh, yeeeah, there's been a miscommunication. We post articles from journalists to our social media but it's not our usual practice to post their pictures to our official website.”

This is the part where I looked around in confusion with the phone attached to my ear.

“Oh wow!” I responded. “But, I told all those people they could view their photo's on the AGT website!”

I took those pictures for the prospective contestants in the spirit of supporting the event. In doing so, I felt like a part of the AGT team. However, without their platform, the intended audience was lost therefore making the pictures, useless.

What do you do when your time, energy and talent isn't displayed on the stage you expected?

Personally, I analyze my heart’s true intention with the aforementioned statements above. Did I love what I was doing? Did the passion behind my effort bring me a sense of fulfillment? Did I learn something new during the process?

Yes, I did.

Perspicacious-ness is acquired more often through our disappointments than when things go perfectly as planned. For those who've been toiling to share a gift with the world that isn't being recognized, here's my advice, stand and wait. Be immovable! Eventually, someone has to come out of the door you're trying to enter.

Pitchers and catchers have reported and shorts and tulips are on the way

  • Written by Bob Rakow

We’ve endured freezing cold temperatures for several days and continue to look at the snow that fell on Super Bowl Sunday. Face it; winter is getting old real fast. But four magical words help me cope and realize that the frozen tundra won’t last forever: “pitchers and catchers report.”


Cubs and White Sox pitchers and catchers reported last Thursday and Friday, respectively. The rest of the players arrived in camp on Tuesday.


Warm, sunny days in Mesa, Ariz. Plenty of people make vacation plans to attend spring training, but just watching the games on television can take your mind off winter.


If you’re not a big baseball fan, the fact that pitchers and catchers reported to spring training might not mean much. It should, however, because spring training is about much more than just baseball.


The start of spring training signals a new beginning. Spring is around the corner. The temperature may not have reached double digits for a week, but don’t worry, that first warm day will be here soon enough. The snow will melt, there will be long lines at the car wash and you’re bound to see someone wearing shorts.


Sooner or later a tulip will pop out of the ground. If you have young children, it won’t be long before they have their first baseball or softball practice. Have fun with that. It won’t be winter any longer, but standing outside for an hour or two watching kids play baseball takes endurance. Dress like it’s still winter.


I am not a big spring training guy. Wake me up when the regular season begins and the games count.


My dad, on the other hand, loved spring training. He’d watch the televised games not for the outcome, he’d say, but to keep an eye on player development and find out which players were coming north as part of the part of the 25-man roster.


It’s fitting, I suppose, that the Cubs first spring training game will be played on his birthday. He’d be 90 years old. I know he’d be excited about this season more so than most. And with good reason. All Cubs fans are excited.


Still, opening day is not until April 5—38 days away. We can talk spring training story lines all we want, the nationally televised, Sunday night game against the rival St. Louis Cardinals is still a ways off.


So what to do in the meantime?


If you’re a sports fan, there’s plenty on your plate. For instance, there are only 24 games left in the Blackhawks schedule. Half of those contests are on home ice, including tilts with the defending champion L.A. Kings, the surprisingly hot N.Y. Islanders and the rival Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues. The Hawks will make the playoffs, but there’s still a lot to play for. Plus, I love watching all the NHL teams jockey for playoff spots as the season comes to a close.


I’m not a huge Bulls fan, but I follow the team. The storyline for them is much the same as the Blackhawks. They’re all but in the playoffs in a very weak conference, but where they finish will determine whether or not they have home-court advantage in the first round. Again, I love the NBA storylines as teams battle for playoff spots.


Of course, the mega sports event each spring is March Madness—the NCAA college basketball tournament. The tourney is sports at its best because it has all of the elements sports fan love: endless games, drama, upsets and a Cinderella team. Oh how we love the upsets.


Selection Sunday is March 15. Is there anything cooler than watching players from a team that’s on the bubble leap from their chairs in delight when they learn they’ve been selected for the Big Dance? Of course, the selections are immediately followed by debate about which teams got screwed.


Sixty-eight teams make the tournament—there are four play-in games before we arrive at the 64 teams that have been norm since 1985. I remember the tournament having only 32 teams when I started high school and slowly expanding over the years as the networks and the NCAA realized that it was money machine.


Still, it’s widely popular, everyone fills out a bracket and there are often stories about man hours lost at companies as employees spend more time paying attention to scores than doing their jobs.


The Masters begins April 6. I’ll admit there’s real drama on the final day when two or three golfers are battling for the Green Jacket. As far watching the rest of the tournament—or any golf tournament—not interested. But golf fan or not, Augusta National is one of the most beautiful venues in sports with stunning Azaleas blooming everywhere.


You may never get your own backyard to look so good, but you’ll get a chance real soon because spring is on its way.