Monday, June 18, 2018

Parenthood: Week 272 – Father’s Day 2018

Fatherhood takes the challenges of adulthood further, with more complexity, and more depth of emotions. Yesterday, father’s day, was a perfect example of this. It was day filled with many different emotions, and experiences.

I got to spend father’s day weekend with one of the father’s I respect the most in the world, my brother. He came in on Saturday morning to watch two profession wrestling shows, one on Saturday night and one on Sunday night. Now if you don’t understand the appeal of professional wrestling, that’s fine. All you need to understand here is that wrestling is an interest that me and my brother share. It’s something that we enjoy together, and connect through discussions, jokes, and debates. Professional wrestling enriches my life, and strengthens my bond with my brother.

Last night, we enjoyed a really fun show together, WWE Money In the Bank, in the All-State Arena. The crowd was really hot. While not every match was amazing, they were all entertaining, and there were some truly awesome moments, that we shared together that will become memories that I will never forget.

While the show was going on, I was aware that Diana was watching both of the boys by herself. Ethan was fine, but had thrown up earlier in the day.  During the show we texted about that, and I was a little worried about him. Ollie had a meltdown earlier that afternoon in a book store that we worked through. This moment brought up frustration, and required me to play the tricky balance of patience and firmness to get him out of that store. How the day goes often contributes to how the evening goes.

On the best days, evening with two kids I tough, on a challenging day, it can truly be an amazing feat to get the kids in bed. While I had 100% confidence in Diana, and I knew that she had this covered, part of me wished I was home to help her out. This happens every evening I’m away from my boys and even while having a great time with my brother at this show, that feeling was still with me.

Diana completely understood that it was important that I did something for myself, and had some time with my brother. These shows were my celebration that the school year was over, and was the first time I had gone out to do something fun without Diana since Ethan was born. Time alone away from the family is essential to parents’ mental health. It sounds weird to state it this way, but for me it’s kind of like medicine. I know it’s good for me, but sometimes I don’t want to take it. And like good medicine, I always feel better about myself when I’ve had time away, which I felt yesterday. Involving myself in the drama of the show and talking to my brother about parenthood got me more excited and motivated for the time I got to spend with my kids during this summer.

I also knew in my head, and felt it in my heart, that in America, there was a father, probably around my age, with kids who weren’t that much older than me, worried sick, broken-hearted, because he was forcibly separated from his children, because of a despicable, inhuman, unjust, and, irrational policy the 45th administration had enacted. The current administration has done so many terrible things, in many different degrees of severity, it’s hard to keep track of them of all, but this current policy is one of the worst (and that’s saying a lot). It’s racist, it’s anti-family, it’s anti-children, and yesterday it hit me that this is anti-father.

Fatherhood is the most difficult and meaningful role a man will ever take on, (and if it’s not, than you aren’t doing fatherhood right). To create and enforce policies that tear at the fabric of this role for those who want to become American, reflects a lack of value in what fatherhood should and can mean for American fathers.  How we treat other fathers reflect how we view our own fathers. What these policy makers and the 45th thinks about themselves as father is truly sad. Thankfully from the overwhelming response against these policies, it’s clear that Americans refuse to let these polices because a reflection all Americans, just the worst among us.

When my heart grew when I held both of my boys for the first time, and I became overwhelmed with joy, something else happened. My empathy for other dads grew, and I feel for these dads who are suffering so much, longing to be with their children. It hurts. I want to look away, but I can’t not, no matter how painful. Because as bad as it is for me, it’s far worse for these father’s who are suffering. So I will refuse to turn away.

All of this, the joy I got from spending time with my brother, the challenges with my boys, and feeling deeper for other fathers, make a life more meaningful, lived and felt with more emotions, and depth.

This is fatherhood.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Year 8: Week 30 – Viva La Vida

Grades are turned in. Music is filed (except for this stack right next to my desk, I just noticed. . . ugh). My classroom is clean-ish. It’s good enough for now, and it’s going to be used for summer camp, so whatever. Most of the loose ends are tied up, (ok a lot aren’t but when is my plate ever empty?)  And while I do have some work to do to plan for summer projects I’m doing for my school… CLOSE ENOUGH. I’m going to say that the school year is done!

It seems every year has something unique that sets the tone for the year. These are moments that disrupt, or inspire, and somehow make the scope of the school year make more sense. There was my first year teaching at school, which was a moment in and of itself, my grandmother dying meant I missed much of the first month of school on year, Ollie being born which happened at the end of a school year, and being the father a baby which effected the following school year. Sometimes it’s world events, like the election, or the ever-present tragedy of school shootings. Other times it’s cultural moments like Hamilton, and the Black Lives Matter movement that make education more meaningful.

This year my second little one come into this world. I took paternity leave in the fall, which was the most amount of time I’ve taken off during the school year in my twelve years of teaching. This of course meant that I had the new experience of being the father of two. There were tragic school shootings and the ever-present guy, the 45th who continues to create policies and say things that directly contradict what it means to be a citizen.  This create a shadow over everything we do as a school. Voices of women continue to rise that challenge what it means to be a man, how we must treat women, and face the reality of the lives of women in America.

All of these things tie into each other. They create a picture, a well to draw from. My motivation to do something about this world is heightened knowing that my sons will be inheriting what my generation leaves behind. While there is negativity and tragedy, we have to look straight into the problem, unblinking to understanding that in every problem there is an opportunity to do right by my students, my wife, my children, and myself.

There is one other thing about this past school year: my most important mentor, my co-music department chair retired. She was “my mirror, my sword, my shield.”

She was the greatest “boss,” I’ve ever had, and I’m really going to miss her. Every other mentor I’ve had has left this school or retired. Each time this happened, I comforted myself with the knowledge that she would be back next year.

In her presence, I could be insecure, and indecisive. I could always be a first year teacher when it was just me and her in a room. This was a wonderful space that I could escape to when I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, which believe it or not happens far more often than I let on.

In a way next, the last eight years has been preparation for next year, the first time I’m really on my own.


I feel some of the excitement of being a first year teacher. It’s going to be hard, there will be things I don’t know how to handle, but it’s also excitement, and new.

Year 8. Done.
It was a great year, at moments it was really difficult.
She persisted, and so did I.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Parenthood: Week 271 – 6/8/18

Ethan is now on the move.

He’s not quite crawling, but when he really wants to get going, he can scoot, faster than you expect, and with a determination unfettered by me picking him up and putting him on the ground back where he started…repeatedly. Scooting by the way is kind of like an army crawl except he’s lifts up his bottom when he moves.

So what is Ethan excited scooting towards? Me? Not really. He’s motivated to get to our shoe tray in the front of the house. There’s a heating vent that he is really fascinated by, and of course like a moth to a flame, he has been really interested in exploring iphone charger cords and electrical sockets, by sticking them in his mouth.

This brings our minds back to babyproofing. We did a good amount with Ollie, but we didn’t do everything that was suggested. Every house, and every kid is different, but it’s becoming clear that we need to get on this babyproofing thing sooner than later. The thing is about babyproofing is that it doesn’t guarantee safety. It mitigates risk, while this is very helpful, and meaningful, at the end of the day if the kid isn’t secured in a crib, or some kind of playpen, than in order for your child to be safe, you have to actually watch them.

It’s wonderful to see how much Ethan works to move around and explore the world around him. To watch him go from rolling over to being mobile, is really amazing and it happens in a really short period of time.

The milestones feel different this time. With Ollie it was like watching a flower bloom for the first time. I had an idea of how it would grow and what it would look like, but I had lived it, and seen it day to day. Each day was new and amazing, and it’s cool to watch him move through each stage. With Ethan, it’s still exciting but it’s different. I’ve seen it before so the novelty is gone, but I know that it’s new for him and that’s special. Also, when I see Ethan going through stages that I remember Ollie go through, it brings them together in my mind and in my heart. I love that Ethan reminds me of Ollie as a baby. In the swirl of 5 year old land, sometimes it’s easy to forget how much he has grown, and the journey we’ve been on together.

We got a new stroller which has a kickboard so Ollie can ride-along. This puts Ollie in the perfect position to entertain Ethan, and he often this does when he’s on the kickboard. These are really cute moments that really make me happy, because I know that whenever Ollie makes Ethan smile, Ollie is learning what it means to be a big brother and Ethan learns to know that Ollie cares about him.

Summer is here. Ollie is going to have adventures in summer camp. I’m still working but much less. An exciting thing realization that we made recently is that this is Ethan’s first summer. We already had his first visit to the beach, which was delightful. So more exciting firsts for him in the coming months, more quality time with the kids, Buffy, and Diana.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Year 8: Week 29 - Dear Band Parents

Dear 6th grade band parents,

I wanted to send you a note about this great year we’ve had in band class.

One of the ideas we’ve talked about since the beginning of the year is that the someone’s character as a person, and their musicianship is not defined by their mistakes but rather how they react to them. In the music classroom as well as in life, it’s not a question of whether you are going to make a mistake, they are inevitable, it’s a question of what you do when mistakes happen.

During the last song the 6th grade band played during the 6th grade performance evening presentation, Udala’m, the band almost fell apart. Some students were playing slightly faster than other students, and the groove of the song that we established earlier in the song started to fall apart. As a conductor, I quickly started making calculations on whether or not I was going to stop the song and restart, or = let the band keep going. But something magical happened, every single person in the band kept playing, no one gave up, and the band pulled back to together, the groove lined up, and we ended strong.

As I told the students right after the performance, this was a special moment. This was on each of the students in the ensemble, feeling something not going right, experiencing a group mistake, and with determination, and focus, pulling the band back together. This amazing musical moment, and the way they fixed this by themselves (nothing I did in that moment fixed the issue), was a wonderful example of their strength and growth as musicians.

The musical progress this year is tremendous. Starting at the beginning of the year, we were teaching students how to hold the instrument and creating sounds that could only loosely be defined as musical. Starting from there to where we ended the year, playing music as a large ensemble is a significant accomplishment. I am very proud of this musical growth.

There is one more accomplishment I left the 6th graders with that I want to share with you. The 6th grade band was open and excited about learning music from other cultures. By studying music of other cultures, and performing this music with reverence and care, the band students expressed to people of those cultures in our community that they are valued and important. At the same time, their work gave an important window to all to the wonderful diversity in our world.

I hope you all have a great summer, and that your time is a productive, and as restful as you desire. Thanks for your support, and for the privilege of teaching your children.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Parenthood: Week 270 - Selfishness and Sleep

Saturday began with Ollie getting up at 5:30am and climbing into bed wanting to cuddle/play (not really sure). Somehow Ollie got in his head that weekdays are for sleeping in (Diana sometimes has to literally drag Ollie out of bed on weekdays), and weekends are for getting up early. Ollie is five, so he can entertain himself, and he is fine early in the morning on his own. Most mornings when he gets up early, he’s okay with just playing by himself for a little bit but something was going on Saturday where he was not okay with me not getting up, and he did not react well with my efforts to “remove” him from our bed.

Diana and I talked to him about this later that day, and he seemed to understand that he needed to give us space in the mornings and that if he got us up super early, then we would not be in a good mood. Ollie asked Diana after she explained things, “but what if I want to cuddle?”

That’s part of the issue for me. The end of the school years means that I’ve worked a lot long hours and have had many evenings away, so I do feel guilty, and I do not want to turn him away. Even when it’s super early, part of me does like that he wants to play with me first thing in the morning, but yes, I do need sleep, so the trade-off often has pretty rough consequences later in the day.

Sunday was much better, he still woke me up earlier, but when I asked him to go downstairs and play, and give us space, he did without argument, which meant that me and Diana could greet him later in the morning with a smile.

Speaking of sleep. Ethan is in the process of settling in on a nap schedule. We haven’t been able to make this a priority, but hopefully this summer we can create more structure for him. For the most part Ethan’s sleep has been pretty good. He usually goes to sleep on the later side, 9ish, but when he is down, he’s really sleeping hard.

Last night, Ethan had issues sleeping. He was pretty restful in our arms but as soon as we put him down he would wake up. This would have been more comical if this process did take us from 8pm to past midnight. At a certain point, Diana took over for the night and suggested wisely I just go to sleep, so at least one of us was rested.

This was one of the most difficult nights we have had with Ethan’s sleep, but the experience of going through this with Ollie gave me comfort knowing that this type of struggle would pass. There’s a feeling of exacerbation, mixed with sympathy, and helplessness when a little one is having trouble sleeping late at night (or early in the morning). While my brain did start making bargains with the universe, I still felt grateful to be able to be there for him, and with him. I initially wanted to stay up and fight the good fight, but Diana was right. While I do have a certain touch with him, Diana has different and effective ways of getting Ethan to go to sleep.

Brandi Carlile sings in her amazing song "The Mother," "The first things that she took from me were selfishness and sleep."

Giving up sleep for your little one truly is an act of selflessness.  Even though at times it can feel like the most difficult thing to give up for your little one, they have a way of making you feel like it's worth it...most of the time...

Friday, June 1, 2018

Year 8: Week 28 - How We Come Together (2nd draft)

Progressive education at my school obliterates the idea of a single teacher standing in front of a class of students having them repeat math problems in chorus. A walk through our school on any day reveals teachers working with individual students, small groups of five or six students or larger groups, sometimes as a whole grade of more than 60 students. These educational environments address the diverse learning styles of our students and helps them, at times, focus more on their work, and in other situations, understand their learning in the context of a community. One important and unique way our students learn is in a group much larger than most classrooms: assemblies.

In the same way some concepts and ideas are best taught in small groups, many educational experiences are best experienced during assemblies with peers, students in other grades, faculty, administration and staff. It may seem strange that a less focused, broader experience might have benefits, and sitting with hundreds of students when learning the difference between a noun and a verb may not be the most productive way to learn that concept. At my school, learning in assemblies is never about a singularity of concept or learning a skill to check off in a box. In assemblies the multiplicity, the depth of learning, takes place every week.

When students sit in the auditorium during assemblies, and give energy, time and attention to the people on stage, they express to everyone around them and those on stage that they matter. When a senior leans forward to listen to a 3rd grader describe the ways she is thankful during the Thanksgiving assemblies, that senior is affirming the importance of that 3rd grader’s words. When a JK student looks up in awe at the seniors marching around them during the Big Brothers/Big Sisters assemblies, that Lower School student is telling those seniors, “You are my inspiration.” And when an entire student body waits patiently as one of their own pauses in silence to find the bravery to perform during a talent show, they are saying, “It’s okay, we see you, we’re here for you, and we are proud of you.”

As an audience, when we express to those on stage that we care, that we see and value them, we reinforce the foundation on which we build our sense of community. It is one thing for a single person to tell another that he/she matters. That’s adding a brick to our house. Doing this together in an assembly, showing openly with pride that we support and care about who is on stage, is creating another floor in our house, it’s creating another space and another way people see themselves as valued members of our school community.

Like looking through a window during sunrise, assemblies provide a reflection, a mirror and a view of the outside at the same time. Students see a reflection of themselves but also what’s in the background—the philosophy, values, choices and people who are integral to the development of the learner. At the same time, that window of assemblies is a view of the outside world, beyond the walls of our school, that enriches the way students see themselves as active citizens in our democracy. Like the magic of a window, assemblies is both reflective and transparent, and at just the right angle, students see themselves and the world at the same time: a vision of progressive education, a vision at the core of our school’s experiences, a vision of hope, self-worth, diversity, curiosity, justice, kindness, inclusion and community.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Parenthood: Week 269 - 5

Last week, Ollie my oldest son turned 5 years old. He is no longer, a baby, a toddler, or in early pre-school age. He is officially a young kid. While Ollie is excited about this I’m not quite sure that I’m ready for this.

Every developmental stage has its unique challenges, and until you work through them, they can often seem daunting and intimidating. For example, I was not looking forward to potty training Ollie. I actually delayed doing it a couple month later than I should have. However, after I got him through this stage, I realized that it wasn’t that big a deal, and that I could have handled it months earlier.

This cycle goes on and on, because that’s is the nature of parenthood. It’s not the same challenges days after day, it's different ones, that have to be handled and managed differently. Things that worked in the past often no longer work, and it can feel defeating as your child gets older, but you got to have faith, keep at it, and know that it truly is a cycle.

The thing that is difficult for me to know how to manage as Ollie becomes a kid, more than anything else is the outside world. When Ollie was a baby, his world was our family, and friends. As he got older, pieces of the world would creeped into his consciousness but only through me and Diana, and in ways that he often didn’t completely understand so they would just fly over his head.

As Ollie’s senses have developed, his awareness of the world has developed. When people say things to Ollie, he has a deeper understanding of what these words mean, when Ollie sees things, they stick with him, and his feelings are deeper and more complex than they ever have been before. When I used to listen to songs from the broadways show Hamilton, he would bounce around and maybe pick one phrase like “my shot” to sing. Now he can sing along to almost all of the words from “You’ll Be Back,” and the way that he carefully articulates “send a fully armed battalion,” has me concerned.

The expectations of how he socially interacts with the world have grown. Once upon a time, it was socially acceptable for Ollie to not say “hello,” to someone when they spoke to him, like when he was . . . y’know, one month old. Also, back when he didn’t really know how to talk, we never said “use your words,” when he got angry, because he literally didn’t have the words to express himself. Also, haring things with others and playing with his peers have also gotten more complicated.

The older Ollie gets, the more he has to face challenges by himself. The classes that he takes, no longer have the parent sitting there right by him, and during birthday parties, parents don’t hover like they did during toddler birthday parties.

All of this stuff is hard to deal with. I don’t have all the answers for Ollie, it’s difficult helping Ollie through social stuff, and even though I love that Ollie does so much by himself, part of me wishes I could always be there when he falls.

Each one of the challenges has another magical sides. The other day Ollie asked me “’immigrants, we get the job done’? What’s an immigrant?” which led to a wonderful conversations about his heritage. Childhood friendships is more complex that toddler friendships, but it’s still adorably simple. Ollie got into a conversation with another kid his age in the neighborhood, simply connecting over a Transformer toy, without pretense or hesitation, just a simple connection. Last weekend, Ollie went to a drop-off birthday dance party. When I walked in he was sitting there with a piece of cake in front of him. I noticed that he wasn’t eating because he didn’t have a fork. I was about to walk up to him, to get him a fork, but he asked another adult for one politely,

I don’t know all of the challenges that I will face with my 5 year old son, but I know who he is. We’ve been through some difficult times, but we’ve always done it together and through it all there’s been more laughter than tears and more "hugs than ughs."

Happy Birthday Ollie-Bear. Daddy loves you, I’m very proud of you, and you’ll always be daddy’s special little guy.