Monday, October 24, 2016

Parenthood: Week 175 – Do you love me when I’m mad?

Ollie didn’t run up to me.

Usually when I look into his classroom during pick-up, and make eye contact with him, he gives me a big smile and runs over to me, sometimes forgetting to carry his lunch box in his excitement. As soon as he gets out of the classroom door, he gives me a hug, sheds his backpack and lunch box, expecting me to carry them for me. Then he grabs my pointer finger, holds it in this hand and leads me out of the school.

Today was different. Ollie saw me in the doorway, and he smiled but that look receded quickly as he walked over to me. He didn’t take off his backpack or drop his lunch box. He only grabbed my finger when I offered it.

I asked Ollie how his day was and he didn’t respond. This isn’t unusual for Ollie. He’s never been one to recollect his day to me, but this silence felt different. As we walked through the playground, Ollie asked me a question.

“Daddy, do you love me when I’m mad?”
“Yes, I love you when you are mad.”
“Do you love me when I’m sick?”
“Yes, I love you when you are sick.”
“Do you love me when I’m sad.”
“Yes, of course, I love you when you are sad.”

I stopped walking and knelt down in front of Ollie. “Ollie, I love you when you are mad, when you are sick, when you are sad and when you are happy. I love you when you yell at me. I love you when you are sleeping and when you are being silly. There’s nothing you can do that will every change that” I reassured him.

I picked Ollie up and gave him a hug and I felt his small fingers reach around the back of my neck and his head relax into the nape of my neck. “I love you daddy,” Ollie whispered in my ear. “So, you want some bread? I got some pretzel bread from the grocery store,” I asked. Ollie enthusiastically answered, “Yes!” He jumped out of my arms and gave me a huge smile that was so big that it made his nose wrinkle.

I tell Ollie that I love him and that I’m proud of him multiple times a day. Part of me is a little sad that Ollie questioned my love, however a bigger part of me is proud that he was thinking about what love meant and felt comfortable expressing his thoughts and concerns.

The most important thing we learn how to do in this world is to be loved and to love others. In order to do this we must first learn to love ourselves. This self-love comes from every hug and “I love you,” we hear from our parents.

So go give your kid a hug and and say "I love you."  You may regret not saying these words enough, but you will never regret saying these words too much.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Year 7: Week 9 - Let’s Here It For The Admin!

It was five minutes before the concert started and I noticed that there were a bunch of empty violin cases in the corner of the stage. It wasn’t a big deal, but when parents are taking pictures of their kids on stage, it’s nice for the stage to be neat.

As I started moving cases, I heard my principal ask me, “Can I give you a hand?” Before I could respond, he had an armful of cases and was carrying them backstage.


Every morning, no matter what the temperature, she was outside welcoming students and parents to the school. With a handshake and a smile, she looked people in their eyes, and greeted people by name. She explained to the faculty that this is what we do in our school. We demonstrate love and respect by showing that we know the people in our school and that they are always worth our time.


No, we didn’t need doughnuts that morning and frankly, I wasn’t in the mood for carbs covered in sugar, but it was more about the gesture. The whole music department had been working for months on this festival and it was finally here. Seeing the box of doughnuts with that supportive note put a smile on my face, which got me ready for the insanity of the day.


At first I thought it was strange how often the administrators thanked the faculty. We got a big thank you at the opening year. Almost every time the faculty collected, even in smaller groups, the different members of the admin team expressed gratitude for our work.

Why do I need to be thanked for doing work that I’m being paid to do?

Then I had one of those days. The last thing I wanted to do was go to a meeting after school. I found a seat in the back of the auditorium, frustrated and tired from the day. As I slumped down in the seat, the principal started thanking us for our work. In that moment, I sat up and let the words effect me. He wasn’t thanking me for himself; he was expressing the thanks and the gratitude from our students’ families.

Yes, teachers do get paid, but the extra time we give and the effort we put into our jobs cannot be monetized. It is this dedication that needs to be recognized, it needs to be nurtured. Administrators most important job is to do this, to make sure that the extra hours are noticed and that the teachers’ are supported.  Great administrators get their hands dirty, say yes more than no and never forget to say thank you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Monday, October 17, 2016

Parenthood: Week 174 - What does Buffy say?

This week Ollie became aware that we speak for Buffy. Many dog owners speak for their dogs, giving them opinions and voice. We started doing this as a cute playful thing when Buffy was a puppy. While at first it was silly, now we do it as a way to empathize with Buffy and consider her thoughts and feelings.

Ollie started to ask us what Buffy is saying as he became aware that we sometimes speak for her. He knows that Buffy doesn’t talk besides her whines and her barks and simply accepts that we interpret her thoughts for her.

Walking around the living room this morning, he asked me every couple minutes what Buffy was saying. First I explained that she said, “I’m hungry, where’s my breakfast?” and later “I don’t want to play, I’m eating.” Ollie wants to be able to understand and communicate better with Buffy and he uses us as translators in an effort to make a deeper connection to Buffy.

A couple nights ago, Ollie asked for Buffy to come into his bed for the first time. It was story time and Ollie asked me what kind of books Buffy liked to read. Answering for Buffy I replied, “I like books with doggies in them.” Ollie then jumped out of bed and came back a couple with “Dragons Loves Tacos,” Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri and “Doggies” by Sandra Boynton.

Ollie usually is a pretty, “start from the beginning of the book,” kind of reader, but this time  he flipped through the pages of “Dragon Loves Tacos,” and each time he found a page with the dog in it, he pushed the book over to Buffy, “here’s the doggy!” “Doggies” is a counting book with different dogs and a variety of barks and growls. Ollie took turns counting and making the doggy sounds, and he made sure to point out to Buffy the one dog that looked like her in the book.

Buffy jumped off the bed as Ollie got under his covers and he protested that he wanted Buffy to stay. I explained that she wanted to go on the floor and we needed to give her space. He eventually calmed down after I brought Buffy back up to the bed so he could give her a hug and kiss goodnight.

Buffy and Ollie's relationship continues to evolve and it's wonderful to see them interact and spend time with each other.  Buffy is not the type of dog who jumps up and licks Ollie every time he comes home.  However when Ollie is with grandma and we’re home with Buffy, she is often unsettled and whines worried about Ollie.  This is a reminder that as much as Buffy is Ollie's puppy, Ollie is Buffy's special little guy.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Year 7: Week 8 - The Question

“Why did so many people write down that it was a woman singing in that video?  On the videos when men were singing, people didn't write down that men were performing.”

One of the projects I do in the beginning of the year is an observation exercise.  I have my 5th graders watch four different covers of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” and make objective observations about the different versions. This connects with the theme of observation that is discussed in their homeroom and in science class.

5th graders (and many adults) jump immediately to opinions when listening to a piece of music.  After deciding whether a person likes a piece of music, people often become closed off to details. To address this and help our 5th graders think deeper about music and the world around them, we teach about objective observations.

After studying John Fogerty’s original Creedence Clearwater Revival version of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” and working as a class to make lists of objective observations, I set them off with iPads to watch four other versions of this song and list the most meaningful objective observations of these covers:

Juan Gabriel

The Drivers

Joan Jett

The Barton Hill Choir

I collected all of my students’ observations when they were done and made a word map using I typed in all of my students observations for each song into this website (I modified some observations that were similar). The words that are bigger appear more times in the list of word that I inputted, which represent the most frequent observations students wrote down. Fewer students wrote down the smaller words.

Here’s the Wordle word maps for each song:

Juan Gabriel:

The Drivers

Joan Jett

Barton Hills Choir

I pointed out some of things that I saw, highlighted some of the smaller words and answered some clarification questions. Then that 5th grader raised his hand and asked that question. At first I was surprised. Even I saw how large the word “woman” was on the Joan Jett version, I didn’t think a second thought about it. To give myself a minute to think, I asked him to ask his question again, explaining that it was an important question that deserved more thought.

Looking around the room, I noticed a mixture of shock, confusion, and worry in my students' faces. My instincts when things don’t feel right in the room are to make my students feel better but this was an instant that I think the students’ discomfort was okay. Now was not a time for false platitudes.

I asked the class why they thought that they had written down “woman” so often and except for one small instances had not written “men” as an observation. Students talked about pointing out what was not the norm, how the original was sung by a guy, then one students said, “ well, because most people who are singers are guys.”

The students looked at me in silence. It was like they were hoping that I could somehow comfort them saying that the student was wrong and that woman were not underrepresented.

In response, I asked them to help me make a list of their favorite musicians.  After vigorously writing for a minute, I had about twenty names of bands and artists written on the board. I circled four names: Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Rhianna, and Adele. I explained, “These four are women, the rest of the names that you stated were men. That’s four out of twenty, that’s less than a quarter. Woman make up more than half of the world population, and the majority, by a couple students in this class are girls, but you only named four woman musicians.”

I continued, “I’m not mad at you. I’m not disappointed. Your observations and your list of musicians is a reflection of our culture. And yes, this is disappointing and this makes me sad and I see that this bothers you. We need to do something about this. This is why, I have you listen to artist like Brandi Carlile and why the last two concerts I went to featured female artists, the Dixie Chicks and Adele. I can’t explain to you right now, why our culture and why your experiences have led us to this place where woman are so underrepresented in music. It’s very complex.  But more important than knowing why, is the fact that you are asking questions.  If this makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s okay, because when this feeling leads to questions, it leads to change.

This was a difficult moment.  It would have been easier to sidestep the question, but the student took a chance and asked a great question, so he deserved me taking a chance as a teacher.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Monday, October 10, 2016

Parenthood: Week 173 - Dear Son, Why I'm Voting For Hillary, Election 2016

Dear Ollie,

The world is opening up to you every single day and you are doing a great job exploring the world, asking great questions, and we are so proud of you. There are things that I show you that you are not aware of like that beautiful dew-covered spider-web in our back yard or how to make French toast to broaden your understanding of the world, but there are some things that will have to wait.

The things that I keep from you, I hold back because your brain and your heart aren’t quite developed enough. We gave you time to learn how to walk before introducing your tricycle, and we will give you time to deepen your understanding of the human condition before talking with you about more mature subjects. We do this because as parents, it’s our job to protect you. Know that any feeling that you have that I am overprotective of you that may cause you frustration is a sign of love.

The other reason that I don’t talk to you about certain things is because I’m not ready.  For example, you’ve asked me about your skin color and talked to us about how you have different colored hair than me and your mom, but I’m not ready to tell you how these differences will make your life more joyous and more difficult.

I don’t feel ready to talk to you about this election, but I feel that it is important that I try, not for you as a 3 year-old but for some moment later in the future when you ask me how I felt during the election of 2016.

We live in a pluralistic society. This means that people can express different views and opinions. This freedom, which enriches our lives, also creates tension. Many of us are ok with people being different, while others, unsure of the decisions they make look for strength by trying to convince others that they are wrong. There is no strength to be found by telling others that they are wrong, strength comes from acknowledging our doubts, and being open to what is different.

It is very hard to know how to be accepting of America’s pluralism while also fighting for justice and freedom. Throughout American history, people in our country have exploited those who appear to be weaker. Groups of people have fought against the freedom of others to maintain comfort in traditions that oppress. Insecurity, greed, and fear continue to motivate many people to believe that they have more to lose than gain by expanding freedom and opportunity to all people.

These forces, these groups of people will always be present in American and will always be wrong. Plantation owners didn’t look at the pain of their slaves and decide to free them. Factory owners didn’t decide to value the lives of children and not allow them to work in dangerous working conditions. Industry didn’t look at the pollution in waterways and regulate their output of waste. And heterosexual Caucasian people, on their own, did not look at the love between people who didn’t have the same skin color and people of the same gender and fight to ensure that they had the legal rights to marry.

All of these freedoms that we have gained did not come from those who would exploit and those who would discriminate. The story of America is the story of individuals and small groups of people who fought and died against forces driven by the darkness in their hearts. The story of America is not done because right now in the election of 2016, these forces are still at play and individuals are fighting for freedom.

More than anything else, my votes this election are about who is truly fighting for freedom and who is trying to maintain the status quo, which needs to continue to improve.

The Republican Party is filled with compassionate, patriotic, empathetic and hard-working Americans. However, a vocal group of people (who I believe is the minority of the party), whose desire to go back to a time when minorities had less rights. Bill O’Reilly, an entertainer, which many people view as a journalist recently featured a grossly racist segment about Asian Americans. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory continues to fight a law that discriminates against people who are transgender.  And the Republican Presidential Candidate, Donald Trump, throughout his adult life and all through the election says sexist and misogynist comments about woman, objectifying them and trivializing the feelings and struggles of women in America.

I want to believe that the vast majority of Republicans do not agree with the racism, trans-phobia and sexism that these three men express through their words and their actions. The reason I “want to believe” but cannot state that I know for a fact that the vast majority of Republicans believe in the rights and freedoms for all Americans is because these three men, O’Reilly, McCrory and Trump have been raised into positions of power by other Republicans and have not been rejected by their party as a whole for the hateful, racist and hurtful comments.

The Democrat Party is also filled with compassionate, patriotic, empathetic and hard-working Americans. Democrats like many Republicans want freedom and equality for all. They have proved this through actions like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, the first bill that President Obama signed which helped ensure equal pay for woman in the workplace. The Affordable Care Act, which brought health insurance to millions of Americans, was the work of Democrats.  And this year, in response to gun violence Rep. John Lewis led sit-in on the house floor to bring attention issue of gun control.

There are flaws in the Democratic Party. While social programs, which are an expression of our humanity and empathy, are important, they need to be improved and spending associated with these programs needs to be carefully examined. The Affordable Care Act was a great first step, but the health system in our country continues to be convoluted. While the Democrats have made statements about issues related to racism and gun violence, they have been ineffective in creating policies that have significantly improved these problem. These flaws show places from improvement, which lie in effectiveness of actions, not in the hearts and intentions of Democrats.

Hillary Clinton, like President Obama represents a movement towards a more inclusive country that values its diversity.  She has a depth of experience professionally and personally that provides her with a unique perspective that we have never had before in the White House.  Clinton has continued to work to improve the lives of others, keeping in perspective her privilege while fighting for the rights of others.

This is why I’m a Democrat. I will not vote 100% for Democrats on my ballot but the majority of the people I vote for will be members of the Democratic Party.  And I will continue to proudly identify as one.

Ollie, this land was not made for you and me, but individuals have shaped this country against great resistance into a place where the majority of Americans embrace me as the son of an immigrant and you as a mixed-race child. We must keep moving in that direction because without actively fighting for diversity and inclusiveness in the American experience, we could lose the freedoms that led to your very existence.

I love you more than I can express. I didn’t think that I could ever feel more love than I felt when I first held you, but I do, because every single day you have been in my life, my love for you has grown. When I think about politics and who I vote for, I think about you and what my choices mean for your life.  Hillary Clinton's vision of America is a world not ruled by fear, but motivated by hope and this is a world I work every day to build for you.

As I'll always be with you, for this election, I’m with her.