Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Monday, June 19, 2017

Parenthood: Week 209 - Father’s Day '17

I woke up not to the plastic edge of a Thomas the Tank Engine toy being pressed into the side of my face, or the feeling of a four-year-old pushing me off of my pillow. Instead I woke up to the peaceful sound of Diana breathing next to me. For the past week, Ollie has gotten up early. REALLY early. Now early for us is pre-5 AM. So, it’s not unreasonable for us to want to sleep in until, oh, I don’t know, 6:30!! At least Buffy, our dog isn’t an early risers. . .

I listened carefully for signs of an awake Ollie, but all I heard was the light clacking of Buffy’s nails on the hardwood as she stretched, walked in a small circle, and settled back down in her bed.

Excited at the prospect of beating Ollie up in the morning, I got myself dressed, had a great walk with my puppy and proceeded to go for a nice long run. I hit a personal best on distance (6.2 miles!), and felt pretty good after the workout.

When I woke up Ollie after cooling down it was 7:40.

Not a bad way to start father’s day.

Later in the morning, we met up with my brother, my sister-in-law and his two daughters, one of which I had never met before. We met up to go strawberry picking, which in Ollie’s mind is strawberry eating. We arrived there first and when my brother’s family came, I was overjoyed to say hello to my first niece and excited to meet my second one for the first time.

I remember the moment when I met my first niece. I didn’t really feel like I knew how to hold her. I was nervous but excited. She was simply amazing. I was overwhelmed with joy and pride, proud of my brother and my sister-in-law.

I reached my mom and she carefully handed me this wonderful little one. The feeling of holding such a little baby and how to support her head and the body quickly came back to me after hours of practice when Ollie was a baby. As soon as I got her situated in my arms, she immediately started crying. This didn’t prevent me from crying tears of joy meeting this special one for the very first time. I knew in that moment as a dad what she would mean to my brother and my sister-in-law, and how she would change all of the lives she touched. Fatherhood has made unclehood mean so much more.

In the afternoon, my brother came over with his daughters and Ollie played with the older daughter while we took turns holding the younger one. Ollie fed the baby a bottle a little bit and Buffy got some quality time sniffing the baby and cuddling with the baby.

At one point in the evening my dad took the baby, his new granddaughter to another part of the house. We could hear the baby crying from the other side of the house, but he worked with her and didn’t ask for help. Eventually the baby stopped crying and I walked over and saw him calmly singing to her as she lay sleeping. No one would have faulted him for tagging in my brother or my mom, but my dad kept with her and helped her get relaxed. In that moment I realized where I got my determination as a father. I’m proud of myself for being the kind of man that cares for babies with such patience and love. And I’m proud of my dad for being that kind of man and teaching me to be that kind of dad.

My brother left our house with his daughters and left a bag of stuff for his older daughter behind. He texted to me that he would come by later after the girls had gone to bed to pick it up. I mentioned this to my mom and without hesitation, she told me that she was going to drive over and drop the bag off at their house. She texted my brother and immediately left.

Earlier that day I was talking to my mom about how stressful it was when I would come home from work. There was so much to do to take care of Ollie, the house and Buffy. It seems like a mad rush to get things done, sometimes almost all the way up until Ollie’s bedtime and beyond. However, on these days, I go to bed feeling satisfied and proud that I took care of my family. She agreed that when you push to take care of the people in your life, you find meaning.

My mom quickly figured out that it would be less for her to drive over than for my brother. He had work in the morning, two kids at home and lots to do. So my mom did this thing for my brother reminded me that parenthood doesn’t end when your children reach adulthood. You might think that this thought would seem burdensome and intimidating, but in the context of seeing how my parents care for me and my brother and the love they share with their grandkids, being a parent of an adult sounds like a great chapter in the adventure of fatherhood.

Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 16, 2017

The 1000th Mile

[click here for previous posts on running]

Two 5K’s in two weekends.

One I thought I was doing for myself, and while my time wasn’t bad, it wasn’t a personal best. The second one the next weekend, I did for my aunt-in-law, and during that one I hit the personal best time.

During that 5K, I ran my 1000th mile.

It took 4 years, 9 months, 23 days. to hit this running milestone. In that time, I changed jobs, moved into a house, my son was born. There was one foot injury, ankle issues to work through, three foot doctors, two rounds of physical therapy with great therapists. It’s taken three pairs of shoes, one trusty treadmill, and a trusty iPad (that has thankfully not fallen off the treadmill). While many miles were on that treadmill, hundreds were ran all over Evanston and the campus of Northwestern University, a dozen miles in Bellevue, many more recently in Skokie and five 5K’s in Chicago.

I had an almost four month break from running as I dealt with a long lasting cold that led into pneumonia. After recovering, I looked the 5K’s dates and saw that I had two months. I decided to not sign up and see how training went first. I was happy with how I progressed. This wasn’t the first time I had started running after taking a break. Unlike previous times, I think I set my expectations well and was patient with myself as I got going. The first 5K was the one I had done in years past. It was the Bunny Rock 5K. It’s a nice event because it is family orientated, and pretty chill, but it is a chipped race, so you can get an official time. The second 5K was different.

One of my wife’s paternal aunts had been suffering from brain cancer and recently passed away. To show support for her, one of this aunt’s daughters organized a team to participate in the Chicago BT5K. My two brother-in-laws, who also run (they’ve both done a marathon) and most of her dad’s side of the family came to participate.

The Bunny Rock 5K went ok. The weather was hotter then I had ever raced in, I rushed into the starting area and ended up too far back when the race started. It was a race that didn’t feel great when it happened, and starting in the back of pack and spending so much energy and focus on passing people led to my third best 5K time.

I spent the next week debating what I was going to do at the BT5K race. I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to really race. I didn’t want to go full out and not beat my best time, but I really wanted to hit a personal best. It really felt like a cliché that I was living. Take a chance and go for it, and you could be happy, but you also could fail. While I know I could find meaning in not getting a great time, I had my doubts that I could be satisfied in failure. I felt really bad about not doing great during the Bunny Rock 5K and as much as I change that into a positive in my head, I couldn’t.

I don’t know what made me decide to go for it, but when I got there, and saw all of Diana’s family there and Diana’s wonderful aunt I knew it was the right decision. I got lined up early, started near the front and I went for it. I pushed myself, I attempted to keep up with my brother-in-laws (which I accomplished for about 5 seconds), and I beat my best time by 8 seconds.

When I hit the finish line, my brother-in-laws were there waiting. We decided to walk backwards through the course to find the rest of the family, many of whom were walking the course. What followed was a wonderful hour and talking, catching up and being together as a family. The idea of running a race to raise money for something really didn’t make sense to me before the BT5K. Why not just donate money directly and not spend all the time and energy organizing an event?

What I know now is that when someone you love is dying cancer, there’s very little you can actually do. The feeling of powerlessness is really hard to accept. Yes, you could just write a check, but organizing, racing, walking, doing something that brings people together can help raise funds to cure cancer. More importantly, as you run with people you love, for someone that you love, you feel connected to others.  You are reminded that simply being there for the person that you love is the most powerful thing you can do.

I got more miles in these legs.  I'm working up to a 10K and I am aiming to get my best times in my life in the future.  The more I run, the more I take with me.  What's amazing is that these things aren't weights, but rather they are wings that propel me.  They are miles the I've ran, the pride of my parents and my wife, the hope I have for the future, and now the memory of my Aunt.    

Monday, June 12, 2017

Parenthood: Week 208 – Number 2

When you have one kid, people really like to ask you about having another kid. . . .people like asking you about having a first kid when you are married. People just asking you about incredible personal life choices related to children. In general, I try to be polite and leave it open with something like, “maybe some time in the future,” however other times I’m a little bit more sarcastic, “so when are YOU having another kid?”

I would highly recommend that you don’t ask people about their plans related to having children, ever, unless it’s someone you are really close with that you know is thinking about it. Having children is a complicated issue that brings up very deep and someone difficult feelings about one’s one childhood and identity. While many people are blessed with having children without a lot of difficulty for many others, the journey to having children can be long and arduous. It’s best to play it safe than to ask a question about having kids that could trigger some very difficult emotions.

The decision to have a child is not simply a decision. It’s not like ordering a burger. It’s a journey, it’s a goal and in more ways than you can imagine, it’s something that you do not have complete power in making happen.

I also get that the many, many times I was asked about having another kids came from a good place (Diana was probably asked even more times about this than I was). More people than not love their siblings and more parents than not are glad that they have more than one child. One of the things I started doing was sibling answering their questions about me having a second kid with why they have more than one child. People talked about enjoying the baby process again with less stress. Seeing the interactions of the siblings with each other. More than anything else, people talked about a feeling of completeness.

Every single person who encouraged me to have another kid had siblings themselves. Part of our concept of what makes a complete family comes from what we grew up with. I can’t imagine being in a family with more than two kids, but Diana my wife can imagine three kids. This is probably due to the fact that she has two brothers.

There’s a degree of having multiple kids that comes from societal pressure. I hate the assertion that kids who are only children are somehow weird or messed up. In my anecdotal experience as a teacher for ten years having taught close to one thousand students, I have found that only children are not any weirder or less well-adjusted than children who have siblings.

We have friends who have one kid and are super happy with one and don’t have any others and they have been some of the coolest people to talk about having kids. They are totally happy in the choices they made, the size of their family and they are good. For some reason their security and happiness made me more resolute in our decision to have a second child.

In talking to them, there was no pressure, no expectation, just a very genuine, “we are happy with our choices, I understand your doubts about having another kid but we will be cheering you on if you go for it.” Like every other part of parenting, insecurity is around every corner, and there are no guarantees. A lack of judgment and a genuine expression of support can go a long way in overcoming these insecurities.

Lots of planning to do, lots to think about, but right now, when I think of the little one, more than the work that needs to be done, I feel proud of my wife and excited to meet this special little one.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Year 7: Week 37 – A Year Shaped By One Day

This is the year where I stopped waiting, and I stopped hesitating.

Units that I had been waiting for years to do, I pushed my doubts aside and just did. There was a dance to “Hoe-Down” by Aaron Copeland, which I taught and got up on stage and led my 3rd graders through on stage. Also there was the dulcimer project in which, those same 3rd graders made dulcimers from a kit in art and shop class. I’ve never taken a dulcimer lesson in my life and it took three tries before I figured out how to teach these kids how to hold a pick, but I figured it out and we had a great time.

Those 3rd grade ideas were things that I need a slight push to do, but I felt I could handle. There was a lot of learning that I had to do to get both of these things going, but I had been planning to do both of these things from the summer before.

Then there were these other projects. These were nuggets of ideas. These were ideas that I felt more comfortable waiting to take on because they needed development, and I knew there was only so much new stuff I could handle in a year.

One single event changed all of my thinking that pushed these ideas into reality, which transformed my school year it to one that should have been relatively simple to manage into one of the my most challenges years of teaching. It was a time when feeling overwhelmed and uncertain of outcomes became a norm.

After Tuesday, November 9th, the day after that guy was elected President, I committed to getting to work.

That night began months of planning, coordinating and music arranging. I pulled members from our entire school community to put together a Presidents’ Day assembly reading of Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama. I created a unit examining the underrepresentation of women in music leading up to a visit from some amazing women musicians for my 5th graders. There was the performance of My Shot thatI coordinated and conducted that featured more than two hundred middle school and high school students. I also collaborated with the choir teacher and the 6th grade history teacher to create a brand new 6th grade presentation that integrated our curriculums.

All of these projects, all of this work was a direct response to the election. These projects were about embracing diversity, creating equity and being inclusive. It was about citizenship, community, identity, and making our country more just, honest and fair.

The election was a harsh reminder that we have so much work to do as educators. It was a reminder that we can’t be complacent and that we can’t wait. We need to educate our students to be citizens right now. While this extra work was hard and less sleep was had, I never questioned the worth of what I was doing. In thinking about my students and what they needed, I also thought about my own son, Ollie.

I refuse to leave this world in a worse place than it is right now for my son. It has become clear to me that I can actually do something as a teacher to make sure that I don’t let my son down.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017