Monday, December 30, 2013

Parenthood: Week 31 - A Jolly Holiday With Ollie

This was our first Holiday season with Ollie. In past years, we pretty much followed what our families did for the Holidays. Diana and I tried to carve out some time for each other and would save one Christmas present to open without our families. With this being Ollie's first Christmas we felt that we wanted to take this a step further and really make sure this holiday season meant something to our family. 

When you are a kid, your parent split special occasions between your moms side and your dad's side.  Then when you become married, you as an adult have to negotiate how these two sides work with your spruces families. You can't do four thanksgivings in one day, so you have to compromise. So Diana's father side got together, the Sunday before Christmas, Diana's immediate family spent Christmas Eve together and Diana's mom's side spent Christmas afternoon together.  Then we spend new years with my side and the time we had for ourselves as a family was Christmas morning.

Many of the things that we do surrounding the holidays we do for our children's sake. We want to create an atmosphere of wonder and an element of awe. The problem is that sometimes in the pursuit of fulfilling our own expectations and the expectations we think others set for us, the stress can overshadow the point of holidays.

Ollie doesn't understand what is going on with the decorations, the music and the gifts. As much as he enjoys his toys, there is nothing that makes him happier than when Diana and I are both around. When talking about what Ollie would enjoy the most we realized a lot of the time when we are both home with Ollie we are tag-teaming. I'll be doing the dishes when Diana is putting Ollie to bed or I'll be playing with him while Diana is doing work. So we decided to make a point of spending Christmas morning together with our full attention on each other.

Christmas morning was really nice. While the presents were fun, it was even more special because we spent time together as a family. Knowing that people all around us were doing the same thing made it feel great to share in this tradition of being together for each other.

Ollie's world is his family. He is at the point when he can scoot around on the floor. Often when I'm playing with him, I'll put a couple toys around for him to scoot towards. While he has toys that he really enjoys, often he will scoot toward me or Diana instead of a toy. Ollie is almost always excited to see one us when we come home to him and many times after he wakes up from a nap, he is smiling at us. That's the way it should be for all of us. Unfortunately many families become soured by bitterness, regret and misunderstanding that causes a family to become less of a refuge.

Ollie like other babies remind us where our center should be, where our instincts draw us to to find comfort: our families. When our biological families fail us, we can find other people to be our family to find the comfort we find in our parents when we are younger.  The potential lies deep inside of us to be that comfort for other people. It is up to us to keep this alive in our children and spread it to the people in our lives.

Friday, December 27, 2013


One of the most important things that you learn as a human being is how to validate other people's feelings. This isn't an easy thing to learn now to do, but it is one of the cornerstone of healthy relationships.

 Responding to people's emotions is challenging for many different reasons. Often emotions are illogical and irrational. Because of this, many people when faced with other peoples emotions respond by invalidating other people's feelings. Here's the thing, emotions are never wrong. They may seems crazy and fleeting, but they are never wrong.

When you are told that your emotions are wrong, you are being told that your reactions to the world, your perceptions and all of your life that contributed to this emotional reaction don't matter. Our emotions and our feelings are not only a reflections of our perceptions but also our souls.

When you tell someone about the way you feel about something and they tell you that your feelings are wrong, what they are doing in either trying to control you or not deal with you. If you convince someone that what their feelings are wrong then it places you in a position of power. If you can judge someone else's emotions as being good or bad then you must know better than them.

There is no faster way to make someone stop talking about their emotions then telling them that they are wrong. It ends the conversations and leaves the person trying to express themselves feelings at a loss. When you disregard someone's emotions, you make them questions their own self-worth and if you do this enough, you tear them down into a shell of themselves.

Learning how to validate someone else's emotions isn't easy. It takes patience, work and time. You can't fake caring about someone and without opening up yourself and sharing your own emotions, the people in your life will never open up to you.

When someone tells you how they feel about something, don't try to figure out why they are feeling the way they feel or how to make them feel about it differently. Just listen and try to understand what they are saying . Don't focus on how you would feel if you were them, focus on what they are feeling. Don't worry about what to say in response, this isn't about you, just listen.

Repeat back to them what they told you and see if you got it right. Acknowledge any lack of logic in their emotions but tell them that their emotions are important for you to discuss regardless. Try to get them comfortable talking by not interrupting and only responding with supportive language. Take the time to do this, it's important.

The range of human emotion is intimating and uncomfortable sometimes and it's natural for us to want to avoid these emotions. But we have to try and not turn our heads away, but lean into the storm.

There is no truer reflection of the way that we treat ourselves than the way we treat others. More important than validating other people's emotions is validating our own emotions. If we don't ever learn to understand our own feelings we have no hope of understanding other people's feelings.

Be open to others and be open to yourself. Don't rush to give advice and don't try to change emotions. Understand others as you wish to be understood yourself. In this way, you will find the moments, the light and connections that turns an existences into a life worth living.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Parenthood: Week 30 - Introducing Ollie To My Other Kids

I've been touched by my students' enthusiasm about Ollie every since I announced that my wife was pregnant. Of course some students cared more than others, but the overall vibe of the room whenever I mention Ollie is filled excitement.  While I knew that my students would be excited to meet Ollie for the first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I had concerns about bringing Ollie to my school. First off, my school other schools is a building where hundreds of students walk through the hallways. With this many students going through a building, germs are an issue, which is why we didn’t bring Ollie to my school when he was very young.

Ollie actually visited my school during the summer l as out and met some teachers and a couple students who were around. Teachers like most adults know how to be polite and respect boundaries when it comes to babies. The few students who met Ollie could take instructions from me about how to interact with him, so that visit went fine.

This visit was going to be different. Diana was bringing Ollie to our Holiday music assembly. This meant that there would be an auditorium full of people.   From previous experiences we learned that Ollie didn’t really like crowds, so I worried about how he would handle the situation.

Then there are my students, my kids. While I have no doubt that theu would be respectful when they met Ollie, I wasn’t sure how they would act around Ollie when they were in a large group.

The fifth grade had just ended the assembly by singing “Auld Lang Syne.” I instructed them to sit on the stage in the places they had just performed and let the audience leave before they were excused. As they were waiting for the other students to leave, I went back to my wife at the back of the auditorium, took Ollie from her and walked him onto the stage.

Before I knew it, Ollie was mobbed. My students forgot their directions to stay seated on stage and a crowd of kids huddled close reaching out to greet Ollie. I immediately panicked, worrying that Ollie was being overwhelming by the crowd, but as I looked at his face, I saw him smiling and giggling at the smiling faces.

At a certain point, I asked my kids to give Ollie some space and the fifth grade teachers helped settle the students down.  Then I handed Ollie off to Diana who had made her way to the corner of the stage. She had similar concerns that I did about how Ollie would handle a crowd, but I assured her that he did fine.

Ollie can sense a lot of things about the world around him. While he doesn’t like crowds just like his mom and dad, I think this experience was different. The energy and attention was positive and supportive. Ollie knew that these people were delighted to see him and instead of panicking at this new situation, he basked in this moment.

There was something very special about Ollie meeting the other children in my life. It’s difficult sometimes to share my time between my school kids and Ollie but it’s helps knowing how much my students are excited about Ollie and how much Ollie enjoys my students.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Year 4: Week 16 - Herding Cats . . . a lot of cats . . .

We all have different challenges as teachers.

The high school English teacher has stacks of essays to grade, the pre-school teacher sometimes has to help kids with going to the bathroom and music teachers, well, we have performances.

I appreciated the level of respect that other teachers expressed to me this past week. Our music department had elementary school performances yesterday day and that same evening we had our middle school and high school choir concert.

For the whole week we had adjusted schedules so that we could get all students in each elementary school grade together (about 60 kids in each class) and also we had rehearsals with the older kids as well.  This whole week we had the daunting task of getting large groups of kids on stage and trying to get them to perform.

“Daunting” may be the wrong word. Once upon a time the idea of putting 60 third graders on the stage and get them to perform was not only daunting but also highly stressful and fear inducing. Now, as I tell my students, it’s exciting.

We get to go on stage and rehearse and perform together. The opportunity to come together on stage in a large group is a privilege; it’s a special and awesome moment. And yes, teaching kids during the past week is incredibly taxing, but it’s also incredibly rewarding.

So how do I manage teaches kids in large groups?  Here's a couple tips:
1.  Set expectation before you put them on stage, even before they enter the performance space.  Spending five minutes in the hallway explaining how to respect the performance space will pay off later.

2.  Teach your students a clear signal to be quiet and pay attention.  This year I went with the "when you see me raise my hand, raise your hand and be quiet, don't try to get other people to be quiet by shushing them, just raise your hand."  Raising your voice to give directions often sounds like you are angry when you are not.  Don't forget, it's only important that they are quiet when you have something meaningful to say. 

3.  Have a sense of purpose in your lesson plan without making the kids feel like you are rushing them through the lesson.   Panic doesn't engender good results.  Your kids sensing that you have a plan will make them feel more relaxed and more focused. 

4.  Explain to them how their behavior needs to be different when they are in a larger group (i.e. there will not be time for questions, they need to quiet down faster).  There are adjustment they need to be walked through so that they can operate in a different context.  

5. Express to your kids with your face and with your words how much fun you are having when they are creating music together.  Making music together in a large group is a joyous occasion, make sure that your students sense this from you. 
I talk to my kids a lot about each how each class leading up to the performance should be as meaningful as the performance itself. One reason I do this is to remind myself to be conscience about how I teach leading up to the performance. If I give my students all the tools they need to be successful before getting on stage, then putting them on stage, isn’t that big a deal.

The way they rehearse as a large group is a direct reflection on what I’ve provided them as a teacher. Every time I’ve had a rough full grade rehearsal, it’s usually because kids are confused or don’t know their parts and well, that’s on me.

It’s all part of the gig. It may seem crazy and nigh impossible to handle, but it's actually a lot of fun.  I'd rather rehearse large groups of kids over grading a huge stack of essays any day.   

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

Parenthood: Week 29 - The Car Ride

The sound of your child crying brings up the feeling of urgency to do whatever you can to make that crying stop. Sometimes you can take your baby in your arms and make them feel better. Even though you may not be able to make your child stop crying at least you feel them close as you try. Sometimes however you just have to listen to them cry and there’s nothing you can do about it.

One of the things I hate the most about being a parent is driving in a car with Ollie and hearing him cry in the back seat. Sometimes I’m alone and other times there’s someone else in the car with me. During the times that I’m alone, it’s torture. Often I will pull over and check to see if his diaper is wet or if he needs something. Other times he’s fine and he just needs a couple minutes to calm down. Those times are not fun as I try to focus on driving, but all I can think about is how much I want to make Ollie feel better.

The other night was different. Diana was in the back seat with Ollie. He was upset and crying. His nap schedule had gotten mixed up that day and he had spent more time than ordinary in the car as we drove back form a holiday outing. For what seemed like an eternity, but was more likely ten minutes I drove in unfamiliar territory as Ollie cried and Diana tried to calm him down.

Diana told me to focus on driving us home safely while she took care of Ollie. But I couldn’t block out Ollie’s cries as I willed myself to focus on the road. There was nothing I could do for Ollie that Diana wasn’t already doing, but I wished in vain that there were. There is no one I trust with Ollie’s care more than my wife and my desire to do something had nothing to do with my lack of trust in Diana, is was just my primal reaction to the sound of his cries.

You don’t know the depth that you have to draw from both physically and emotionally as parent until you have a child. In this same way I have continued to be impressed at the strength and ability of Diana as a parent. As Ollie continued to cry, Diana remained calm. Like a prayer, Diana reminded Ollie that we were all together as a family in the car.  Diana told Ollie about all the people that loved him and how so many people in this world cared about him.

As I struggled to focus on driving, tension built inside of me.  Diana’s voice continued to be calm and soothing. I imagined her calm face lovingly looking down into Ollie’s sad face full of tension and wet with tears. As I felt tears well up in my own eyes hearing him cry, Diana's voice gave me strength.  If she could hold it together in this moment than so could Iß.

Before I knew it I was out of the car pumping gas and Diana was nursing Ollie in the back seat. Standing in the sub-zero weather, I felt relieved as Ollie cuddled up to Diana. Entering the car there was the soft sound of Ollie nursing and when I turned around I saw Diana leaning close whispering to Ollie.

For the rest of the car ride, Ollie slept and Diana joined me in the front of the car. Those ten minutes were hard but we got through it. 

Being a parent is all about going through these struggles all of the time.  We find strength in our partners.  They who show us the potential we have inside and our capacity to work through tough circumstances.  I always knew that Diana would be a great parent but until that night I had no idea how her strength as a parent would save me as well.     

Friday, December 13, 2013

Year 4: Week 15 - Working 7 to 3

There are teachers who work late at school long after students have left. There are teachers that after a long day at school go home and grade papers. And there are teachers who spend their entire weekend planning for the upcoming week. These are the teachers who take their job beyond the seven hour school day and give it their all.

Then there are the teachers who get to school right before the students get there and leave immediately after school.

When I first started teaching I was one of those teachers who worked the long hours, gave many of my weekday nights to school events and would work at least one day per weekend. While there were many rewarding moments, when I look back at my personal life it feels like a blur. At the end of it all, after two years of being a teacher who gave so much more than those seven hours a day, my contract wasn’t renewed and I was fired.

I knew that things weren’t going well and that it wasn’t the right fit. But I hoped that if I worked long enough hours and show my commitment in that way, it would make up for my deficiencies. It didn’t and that was really hard to accept. I did the best I could, and it wasn’t enough.

Then there were my years as an assistant. I got to school about fifteen minutes before the kids got there and left about fifteen minutes after they left. As an assistant, I had no papers to grade that I couldn’t get done in the day, and no planning to do.

Yes, I was underpaid and it wasn’t my idea job, but what this job allowed me to have a life outside of my job. It was during this time that my wife and I enjoyed our first two years of marriage, we got and raised Buffy and we had many great adventures together.

When I was interviewing for my current job four years ago and I was asked about working long hours and putting in time during weeknights and weekends, I didn’t give an enthusiastic, “yes, I’m willing to put in whatever time is necessary for this job.” Instead I told them that I had to talk to my wife.

I knew that this job was going to take more time outside of the workday than being an assistant but I didn’t want to completely lose having a life outside my job. I made it clear to this school that a work/life balance was important to me, and they still hired me.  

My first year was an adjustment. I was one of those people who would stay later and I took pride in that. I volunteered for committees, met with other teachers after school and went to community events. I managed to be able to give a lot to this school while still having time at home. There were days that I would go home right after school, but since Diana usually got home later than I did, there wasn’t a strong feeling that I had to get home quickly. I could hang out after school for an hour and still get home with have enough time to get dinner on the table before Diana got home.

There are so many teachers at my school who put in the extra time that sometimes I felt that the teachers who got to school later than me and left earlier, weren’t pulling their weight.

Then Diana got pregnant and everything changed.

There was so much to do. Diana being pregnant would have taken up most of our time but on top of that we were trying to sell our condo and buy a house.  While I needed to be home more, Diana could handle things if I had to work late. Now with Ollie being born, it all feels different.

Five minutes hanging out after school is five minutes less that I have with Ollie. After being away from him for a whole day, any extra time that I’m away is difficult. It’s not just the emotional stuff. Diana has things to get done and if I don’t get home at agreed upon times, it effects her job.

This year, I’ve left right after school more than I ever have. I don’t think this makes me a worse teacher or a less valuable part of the community.  Now I feel ashamed for looking down at other teachers who I witnessed leaving right after school when I didn’t.  Maybe they were slacking off, but much more likely they had as good a reasons as I do to get home.

I want to do a great job, but I want to be home with my son. This balancing act isn’t easy. This tension inside of myself has made me more thoughtful about the way I use my time at school. I want Ollie to know that the time that I choose to be away from him means something. I don’t want him to ever think that I care more about my kids at school than I care about him, and I hope that one day he'll understand that I am a better father for him because of the work I do at school.

It's hard to leave Ollie in the morning as he is waking up and it's hard to leave work after school with tasks left undone.  However, I do this every work day and somehow its all working out, it's hard but I'm doing it.

As difficult as this is, I wouldn't give it up for anything.  This challenge is a reminder of how blessed I am with a great job and a beautiful son. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Parenthood: Week 28 – Ollie On A Plane

As much as I was looking forward to going home for Thanksgiving, I wasn’t looking forward to taking Ollie on a plane. We’ve all heard the tortured screams of babies on a plane and seen their parents walking up and down the aisles desperately trying to calm their children down.

A plane ride is an uncomfortable situation for all of us. The close quarters, the smells, the sounds and the turbulence create a situation, which is challenging and exhausting. The coping mechanisms we have to get through the uncomfortable situation of being on a plane are inaccessible to infants.

Ollie doesn’t understand when we tell him that the experience will soon be over or that if he does certain things he will be more comfortable. For Ollie, he’s in a strange place with odd smells that is affecting his body in a way that he doesn’t know how to cope with.

This sets up a situation for a six month old like Ollie that can only  go so well. He can only sleep for so long on the plane and he can only sit in our lap without fussing for so long. Ollie is too young to be entertained by watching Elmo on an iPad and is too old to sleep the length of the flight and not need stimulation.

Ollie cried, he slept for parts of it and Diana and I both took him up and down the aisles to entertain him.  He ate through most of the corner of the emergency information card and he enjoyed ripping pages out of the in-flight magazine (I think he had issues with the quality of some of the articles).

We struggled to get him to sleep when he was cranky and somehow found success. At one point I had Ollie pressed up against my chest with both of our heads underneath a swaddle cloth with one hand pressing a pacifier to his mouth and the other hand holding my iPhone blasting a white-noise into his ear.

It wasn’t until after he fell asleep that I realized that I was sitting in an incredibly uncomfortable position. I was slouching so the small of my back took my body weight, my legs were propped up against the seat in front of me in an awkward angle and my arm was beginning to ache having to balance his body weight.  Then I realized I had to go to the bathroom.

But I sat that way and let Ollie sleep on my chest for 45 minutes.

The hardest thing about flying with Ollie was the fact that Diana and I were constantly on. Usually on a plane you can relax and read a magazine. You can zone out in front of an iPad and chill out. When there’s a baby involved you are never relaxed and settled. Forget trying to get sleep, read a book or watch a show, you are one the ENTIRE time. This is exhausting.

Here’s a couple tips that worked for us with Ollie on the plane that helped us get through this experience:
  • Give your kid some baby Tylenol before the flight.
  • Nurse or give your kid a pacifier on the way up and down (helps with the change in air pressure).
  • Carry-on as a little as possible (except for diapers and wipes). It’s worth the extra fee to check bags in.
  • Pack plastic bags.

Ollie already has more plane flights planed for this year. With family in Seattle and Chicago, this is just going to be part of his life. Yes, flying with Ollie was challenge but it was well-worth it. 

Taking a baby on a plane is hard.  Every parent has stories about struggling through this situation.  Be realistic about your expectations and be thoughtful about your preparation.  Don't forget, the most important thing, the thing that will help your child get through a plane flight is your attention, your calmness and your love.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Year 4: Week 14 – Learning To Embrace What I Can't Unknow

Once upon a time I came to this school and my world was the students that I taught and now it’s much bigger.

I’m on committees that have revealed to me the inner workings and politics of this school. The careful balancing act of priorities and the allocation of funds and resources create a pressure and a stress that I cannot escape. Even if I wasn’t responsible for being parts of these discussions and making decisions related to these issue,s I wouldn’t forget what I knew.

In the same way that you can never go home again, I can never go back to the way that I knew my school my first year I came here.

If this sounds like that I’m mourning my current situation, it’s because I’m exhausted. This past week I’ve had three afternoon meetings, which required high a level of my participation which was far from passive. I come home after being at school for ten hours and I don’t feel like I have much left and that’s difficult.

At the same time I enjoy my job and I feel I have a responsibility to contribute to this school in this way. The issues we are discussing are challenging and don’t have easy answers, but that’s one reason they are so stimulating to tackle. When I first started taking on this role, I felt like I didn’t have the perspective or the knowledge to being an active member of these discussions. I don’t feel like I have a choice anymore. When I’m representing the thoughts of people I represent, remaining quiet is not a choice.

Knowing the inner workings of my school has made me a better teacher. I have a better understanding of my role in the school and I can frame what I teach to my students in relation to the larger community. In some ways, my broader perspective hasn’t changed my teaching but it has changed the way I think and reflect on my craft. Everything I do is connected to the community.

However, it all feels crazy sometimes and it’s a lot to balance. At this stage in my life with Ollie waiting for me at home, it’s hard to be working late but it’s not like the work I’m doing is a waste of time. I know that I’m doing good things and while it doesn’t completely make me miss being at home, at least I feel good knowing that this time away from him means something.

This deeper and wider perspective of the school makes me feel like I understand so much more than I used and while sometime this knowledge seems like it is too much to handle, deep inside, I know that I got this.

With more knowledge comes more responsibility. With more responsibility come stress and pressure. However, there also comes more opportunities to make positive changes and have a wider impact on the school community. As tired as I am right now, it feels good to know that in some small way I’m making a difference.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Monday, December 2, 2013

Parenthood: Week 27 - Ohana

Ohana means family, family means nobody gets left behind. Or forgotten
-Lilo from Lilo & Stitch
For the past four years, Buffy has one of the most important parts of our lives. We chose to have Buffy be an active part of our lives and we are committed to making sure Buffy has a full and rewarding life.

If you have read my blog posts about Buffy during that first year, you know about the obedience classes, the adventures in the dog park, the time we spent training her and how we integrated Buffy into our lives. You also probably remember this blog post about Buffy going on a plane for the first time.

In her life Buffy has been on a plane about ten times. When we visit my family in Seattle, Buffy almost always comes with us. Before Ollie was born we talked about the possibility that Buffy might not be able to come to Seattle with us if we were bringing Ollie.

We knew things with Buffy would change when Ollie was born and they have. We don't do as many outings centered around Buffy and her walks are a little shorter. As much as we'd like to do an agility class with her again, right now we have our hands full. One of the thing that Diana didn't want to change was bringing Buffy to Seattle.

Of course I would love to bring Buffy with us, but I was worried having never flown with Ollie before. So last week as I was stressing out about traveling with Ollie for the first time to make it home for thanksgiving, I wrestled with whether or not it would be a good idea bring Buffy. Diana thought that it would be fine but she was willing to leave Buffy behind with her parents if it's would make me feel more relaxed about the trip. We've never had issues with Buffy on a plane, but I couldn't help feel that at some point our luck would run out.

Then I remembered "Ohana."


Lilo & Stitch is one of the greatest Disney animated films of all time. It centers around two sisters who live together after their parents die in a car crash. They struggle to stay as a family as an alien lands on earth and befriend Lilo. This idea of Ohana takes on different meanings as the film follows their struggle to make sense of the situation in their lives are in a understand what it means to be a family. For Lilo, family means, no one gets left behind and I didn't want to leave Buffy behind.

So we did it. We traveled as a whole family on Thanksgiving morning to Seattle. It wasn't easy (I'll write a blog post about taking Ollie on a plane later). But when I saw my mom's face light up when she hugged Ollie and then lovingly petted Buffy, everything felt right. Buffy is part of our family.

At some point, we will not be able to travel to my parents' house in Seattle with Buffy and Ollie. It's going to make me sad when we that happens but I will be happy to know that we did it when we could.  Even though we will need to leave Buffy behind, she will have the memories of us traveling as a family to comfort her and the knowledge that we take her with us in our hearts wherever we go. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Year 4: Week 13 – Understand Parents As A Parent

What’s the big deal?

This week I was part of a 5th grade evening presentation and the 3rd graders Thanksgiving assembly. One of the questions that parents often ask me at these events is where they can sit to get the best view of their child.

Is it that important that you have the in the optimal seat to see your kid speak two lines into a microphone?

Before Ollie entered my life, I didn’t quite understand what was going on here.  I love my kids and they do a great job (of course, I mean they are MY students), but it’s not like these are professional production. Are you really going to re-watch this thing? Do you really think that other people want to see these videos?

Well, after video recording almost ever possible activity Ollie has done from turning over to breathing and showing these videos to people who probably don’t care (but are too nice to tell me so), I'm beginning to understand what is going on here.

I’ve always made an effort to empathize with the parents of my students. Sometimes when they ask for advice on child-rearing, I attempt to give them some perspective. Even though I’ve studied child-development and watching all of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, I often feel unqualified to speak to parents about their children.

This year my interactions with parents have felt different. First off, I have received an overwhelming amount of enthusiasm and interest in Ollie from the parent population at my school. They ask me about Ollie and respond with baby stories about their own children. Some of these stories are humorous and others are poignant.

In one conversation with a parent I was talking about how Ollie loves being on his stomach. This mother proceeded to tell me about how much her daughter disliked being on her stomach. When I asked this kid about what her mom said, she told about other struggles she had as a child. While she initially seemed annoyed at the fact that her mother had to told me about her as a baby, it ended up being a very personal and meaningful conversation.

I’ve been putting kids on stage to perform for their parents for the past 8 years and this past week when I looked out into the audience I noticed something for the first time. Instead of simply seeing a sea of smart phones and waving parents I saw in the parents’ eyes a familiar look.

It’s the look that I see in Diana whenever she greets Ollie after being away. It’s the light in her smile when Ollie interacts with her and does something cute. Seeing this energy and love projected at children on stage is one of the most heartwarming things I have every seen in my life.

Parents, I think I'm starting to get it.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

Parenthood Week 26 – Are You Ready?

“How did you know that you were ready to have kids?”

This is one of the hardest questions about parenthood which like “when did you know you were ready to get married?” is a mixture of logic and understanding the unexplainable parts of the human heart.

I’m not exactly sure when Diana and I first started talking about the possibility of having children. It wasn’t something that we obsessed about but it came up before we got married as part of our life plan.

Many family members and friends advised us to not have children immediately after we got married so we didn’t. There were things that we wanted to do that we knew would be hindered by having a child. So in our first couple years of marriage we had our European adventure (read about it here), we raised our puppy and had many experiences as a married couple which really enriched our lives.

For the longest time, having a child, was just one of those things that we would do later, and before I knew it, later was now and it felt like the right time.

Here’s the logical side: before you have children you should have a good living situation, have your finances in order and have a career that you feel good about. Here's the thing: almost everyone I have met either moved right before having a baby or right after. We did that too. It would be idea to be settled down in the perfect house before having a baby but it’s rarely the case.

Finances and the job should be in a good place. However if you wait for these things to be in a perfect situation you will never end up having a baby. Part of having a baby is learning how to reallocate your household budget and that’s something that’s difficult to understand or do before having a baby. Yes, you should be in a better situation with your money and your job, but don’t wait for things to be perfect because that will never happen.

No, we didn’t have the perfect place to bring Ollie home to but our checkbooks and our jobs were doing okay. Then there’s the basic division of labor, which is also a big issue.

One of the things that made me feel most comfortable and made me excited about having a kid was the way Diana and I handled raising Buffy. When Buffy needs to be fed or walked, someone does it. It doesn’t matter if I’ve fed Buffy every day for the past week, if it needs to be done I'll do it. Taking care of Buffy has never been about keeping score. It’s not important who walks Buffy, it’s just that she needs to be walked. We both chose to bring her into our lives and it’s not fair that the care of a living being be thought of as a chore.

When I thought about all of the diapers and feedings, I felt confident that it wouldn’t be about who’s turn it would be to take of our baby, just that we would both step up when things needed to happen and we do.

All of this was great, but there’s one more piece which speaks to the human heart. I asked Diana last night when she felt we were ready and she said it was a gut feeling. I agree. At a certain point I looked at Diana and when I thought about the idea of having a child with her, my excitement overshadowed all of my nervousness and worry about having a kid.

The idea of having a kid is crazy. It’s a journey that you don't have full control over that is filled with uncertainty and extreme emotions. Even in our modern age, the risks surrounding having a child are very high and changes that you have to make when you become a parent are incomprehensible.  Somethings has to help you get over that.  

I’m a worrier and Diana’s always motivated me past my worries to experience life to the fullest. I’m not sure how she helps me get over myself, but she does it all of the time and my life is so much more full for it.

When Diana asked me last year if I felt like it was the right time to have a kid, my mind immediately flooded with all of the reasons not to have a kid and then I looked into Diana's eyes.  When my eyes met hers, things felt right.  My worries didn't go away but I felt safe and excited.

For me, it wasn't so much about knowing that I was ready.  It was about sharing this experience with Diana.  This made me feel confident to continue this next step in my life's journey, knowing that we would take each step together.  

Friday, November 22, 2013

Year 4: Week 12 - Stress

This week felt weird. It was like there was a too much stuff to do in too little time but somehow it all got done. There were a lot of issues that I was dealing with that really had nothing to do with the act of teaching but that is how the gig goes sometimes.

There aremany things that fills a teacher’s day. A lot of these things are part of what I do because of a level of involvement that I chose for myself in this community. I volunteered for the committees that I’m on. No one forced me to be a co-department chair and I actively seek out projects and performances to do with my students that often involve other teachers.

So why am I feeling stressed out about all of these things that I volunteered to do?

Eh, maybe it's because I’m an idiot. I don’t know.

Look, sometimes things just stack up in a certain way and they seem like they are overwhelming but they aren’t. I guess part of it is also the fact that I’m the kind of guy who over-worries about things but that’s part of what makes me good at my job.

If you work in a school you become part of a amazing dramatic production. Every day there’s a new plotline and other plots continue over long periods of time. We are having conversations about our schedule that is part of a long project and at the same time there’s the expected student behavior issues that must be addressed. It’s ongoing, it’s crazy but it’s all kind of fun if you take it with the right attitude.

Too bad, it wasn’t until today that I was able to get my brain into that space.

I enjoy the challenge and all of the issues. Well, I don’t enjoy the fact that they happen, because a lot of the time these things could be prevented or helped with better communication. The creative problem solving and the collaboration that these issues often require are some of the most enjoyable parts of the job.

Behind every email is a person who cares as much as I do about our kids and our community. All they are trying to do is make things works better for all of us. These emails are a reminder that people out there in my school really care.
One of the hardest parts of about not only my job but growing up is accepting the fact that there is never enough time. Every day I leave work with something left undone on my to do list. Every night before I go to bed I know there’s something else that I need to take care of around the house.

That’s life.

This is a very difficult thing to accept, but you’ve got to come to a level of peace with this fact or else you will go crazy because it’s never going to change. So what did I do that helped me chill out and realize this fact?

Instead of doing work, for half an hour I hung out with a group of my 6th graders while they ate lunch. It was a lot of fun but it used up time that I needed to spend on other things. But you know what? It was worth it. Sometimes the greatest stress relief, the splash of perspective you need to get over yourself is in the laughter and silliness of the children that you teach.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

Parenthood: Week 25 - The Reunion

The reality is that the most meaningful part of going to Lorado Taft was not figuring out how to deal with a bunch a 5th grade boys (which I wrote about in this previous post). It was the experience of being away from Ollie for such a long period of time that will made the trip so unique. I’ve done the long days at work where I leave before Ollie gets up and come home right as he’s going to bed, but I’ve never been away from him for a night.

So I knew that being away for three nights was going to be tough.

While Diana was going to be home without me, I felt good knowing that my mom, who was flying in from Seattle was going to spend the week to help out with Ollie. At the same time, knowing that my mom was going to be visiting only made me want to be at home even more.

A couple people at work asked me if this trip was going to be the first time that I was going to be away from Ollie so long. And while their sympathetic looks were comforting, they didn’t have really any advice on how to deal with being away from Ollie.

How was it? Well, I think it helped that the trip with my 5th graders was a very busy one. There’s not a lot of down time and I spend almost 22 hours of every day with kids. The fact that I was never off helped keep my mind off of Ollie and Diana. At the same time, my brain keep traveling home wanting to see my little boy and imagining what it would be like to hold him.

I never knew what it was like to miss my mom until I went away to college. When I started having feelings for Diana, I missed her as well when I would go home for break, but this feeling was unique. It was like somehow my heart expanded allowing more people to be close to me but in different ways. And as silly as it sounds, the same thing happened when Buffy entered into my life. My heart got a little bit bigger to let that fluff ball into my heart and the feeling I get when she runs up to me is also unique.

It’s easier to be away from my mom, Diana and Buffy than it used to be. But the amazing thing is that when I do see them after being away, that rush of emotion, relief and love is the same that I felt after missing them years earlier.

When I got home Diana rushed up and gave me a big hug and it was like seeing her after being apart during winter break in college all over again. It felt like my day could finally start. My mom gave me a hug and I felt the comfort that can only come from being close to someone who has known and loved you your entire life and Buffy, with her ears flattened back on her head waited for me to bend down to give her a hug.

Then Diana brought me Ollie, who had just woken up from a nap. As I hugged him I pretend to eat his ears and neck making silly growling sounds causing him to laugh and squeal in joy. Feeling tears in my eyes, I looked at my smiling baby and everything felt perfect.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Year 4: Week 11- Boys Away From Home

For the fourth year, I went to the Lorado Taft Field Campus with my fifth graders. Along with the homeroom teachers, science teachers, the teacher assistants and an art teacher we traveled to Oregon, Illinois for four days and three nights of outdoor education. Every year I've written about different memories from the trip. The first year it was a the campfire, the second year it was singing "Edge of Glory" after the rain and last year it was the the experience of being "on" for the entirety of the trip.

So what was the takeaway this year?  Managing the craziness boys.

We stay in a dorm rooms that have eight beds each. One or two adult shares a the room with about seven kids. Of course we separate them by genders so I have a room with seven boys.

Now keep in mind these are fifth graders that we are talking about. Even the most mature fifth graders need reminders on how to dress and how to share a room and a bathroom with a group of boys.

As someone who never went to sleep away camp, I was shocked at the insanity and the "Lord of the Flies," vibe. The general silliness goes beyond logic as the most quiet kids during the school became giggling messes when they catch the glimpse of another boy's butt when they are changing after taking a shower.

Now managing a group of boys sharing at room, making sure they get ready in huge morning and get to bed at night is the part of this trip I dislike the most. But this year, it actually went pretty well. There was still a level of frustration and it was exhausting but we got it done and it went a lot smoother than in previous years.

Here's a couple things I've figured out:

Set some ground rules: I only had two rule for them. Keep the floor clear so that people can walk and not trip and take care the of the reason that we are here. I don't care how silly they are being just along as they are getting dressed when it's time to get dressed.

Story time: Nothing quiets down the boys more than a bedtime story. At first I was really concerned about finding the the right story. However I've found that even when I read a story that isn't that great, the kids still really got into it. This year I used a collection of short stories. I started reading it with the lights on then turned off the lights off and read by flashlight. Not every kid actually listened to the story, but they were quiet while I read and it really helped them wind down.

Manage bathroom time: Seven boys sharing a bathroom with two stalls, one shower stall and two sinks is utter chaos without some direction. You have to help them create a shower schedules and make sure the kids are going into bathroom for a reason. All I know is that there was far less monkey sounds coming out of that bathroom than in the past.

Now I still don't understand the general insanity pf what happens when fifth grade boys get together at night. They were really into singing "Wrecking Ball" with different lyrics and thought they were hilarious. Part of learning to deal with this is just accepting this silliness and focus on helping them get done what they need to so they are ready and prepared for their experience.

Managing groups of boys and trying to get them going is still not my favorite part of this trip, but I'm getting better at it.  Maybe this will all make a little bit more sense when Ollie is older or maybe I just need to stop trying to figure out the craziness that is fifth grade boys.  Maybe I just need to stop trying to figure these boys out and try to find some joy in their fascination with deodorant, the inability to organize their clothing and the joy they get from the adventure of being away from home.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013

Parenthood: Week 24 – The Bottle

Much in the same way that people have unrealistic expectations about the ease of breastfeeding (which I discussed in this post), I had no idea that learning how to eat from a bottle would be such a challenge for Ollie and I.

In the first week of Ollie’s life he had a combination of breast-feeding and getting formula from a bottle. He took the bottle with minimal effort. Then we dropped the formula and had Ollie exclusively breast feed.

After breast-feeding got established we wanted him to start getting used to a bottle once a day so that other people could feed him. This did not go very well. I would get the milk warmed up, get a bib on him and proceed to try to get him to eat from the bottle. He would immediately start screaming in frustration and any milk that came out of the bottle would dribble down his chin.

So we tried different bottles. At some point we had  five different bottles we were rotating through. One time I kept switching bottles during one feeding in the vain hope that one would click. That was a bad strategy that only produced more tears from Ollie.

Our doctor told us to stop trying different bottle. He said most of the differences are gimmicky, just choose one and stick with it.  So we did.

Slowly things started to work. We figured out a couple things that helped. If Ollie was very hungry then a bottle would be a bad idea. He needed to be hungry but not to the point that he was really uncomfortable. The process I started to use with Ollie was to stick my finger in his mouth and get him to suck on it. Then I stuck the nipple of the bottle in his mouth without any milk flowing in it and got him to suck on that. At this point I gently tilted the bottle so a little milk filled the nipple.

At first, he got like two or three sucks, then couldn’t deal with the speed of the milk so I would tilt the bottle the other way to stop the flow of milk. Sometimes I could only get two or three good sucks before he got frustrated so I just stopped.

I did this every day, for about a month before I could stick the bottle in the mouth and he would immediately start eating.

No one told me that this process was going to be so arduous. There was a lot of crying from Ollie and a lot of frustration from me but we worked through it. One of things that was especially hard for Diana was that she would not be in the room. Usually she would be on the other side of the house while I gave Ollie a bottle so she wouldn’t distract him. Diana had to resist the urge to intervene when Ollie would scream as I tried to feed him.

She stayed away every time, no matter how frustrated Ollie got, she wouldn’t get involved until I asked for her help.  This was tough for her but the space she gave me meant the world to me as a father and a partner.

Teaching Ollie how to take a bottle seems like a distant memory.  It was so hard at the time and so stressful, but all of that is gone now when I feed him.  That's the greatest reward as a parent.  Something about Ollie and what he does now, makes the struggles of the past evaporate.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Year 4: Week 10 - Taking Care Of Fee-fees (or Social Emotional Learning In Music Class)

When I first started teaching I didn't think about social emotional learning. I was so caught up in teaching my kids music and getting them ready to perform that I didn't really have the space in my mind to consider their social emotional needs.

It wasn't that I lacked empathy for my students. I spent hours after school talking to my high school students about job problems, boyfriend issues and social issues. However this wasn't a deliberate or thoughtful part of what I did I the classroom.

Like the progressive style of teaching that lay deep inside or me, actively addressing social emotional learning as part of what I taught didn't come up until I saw it in action at my current school.

In the first couple weeks while observing other teachers, it all started to make sense. Teachers took the time to have conversations with students. Things that happened in recess and in the lunch room were as important as the learning that happened in the classroom. The way that teachers about talked students at my school was not based one their academic progress or test scores, but who they were as people and where they were socially and emotionally. Whenever I would ask someone about a student their academic progress would come up later in conversations or sometimes not at all, because their SEL simply mattered more.

Part of what made me feel comfortable diving into SEL was the fact that I was backed up. When I told one of my third grade classes about how we respect each others' opinions in small group work, the homeroom teacher echoed my sentiment. The fact that I felt like I was part of a team that was concerned with SEL made me feel that it really was my place to take the extra time to teach about so much more than music.

The thing is that I could teach music without weaving SEL into my lessons.  They could be motivated to sing a certain way simply by my intimidation. If they weren’t given freedom to work in small groups, create music and share their art there really wouldn’t be a great need for SEL.

Instead I ask my kids to be creative. They work in small groups and they are expected to share what they create with other students. Also, I want them to enjoy performing music.

All of these things require that I integrate SEL into my classroom. They can’t work in small groups if they aren’t guided in how to interact with each other, and given tools on how to settle disagreements. The only way that students are able to share their compositions is if a level of care and empathy are created in the class so that they act as respectful audience members. Yes, children can perform amazingly well when they are motivated by fear. However, if you want genuine and joyful musical performances, teacher intimation doesn’t really work. Students need to value their own contributions to the group as well as the contributions of others.

Sometimes I’m explicit when I’m addressing SEL in my class. When I talk about being an audience member, we disucss about empathy, closing your eyes and imagining what it feels like to perform. I have students reflect on moments when they felt really supported by their classmates and what specifically they can do to create these moments. These audience to-do lists are much more effective than a list of what not to do because it communicates to students that they have power to make a positive difference in the class.

More often SEL is interwoven into classroom activities. For example, if a student laughs at a joke when I’m giving instruction, I’ll tell them how it made me feel and let them communicate to me that it wasn’t their own intentions. When we are working on singing as a group, I make sure everyone is singing, not by punishing kids who aren’t but rather by expressing value in their contributions. It’s because as I tell them “everyone is important and everyone matters.” During small group work, I let students work out their own disagreements, and when they need my help, I’m happy to intervene, but I’m careful to guide them to a compromise as opposed to simply telling them what to do.

While I try to address SEL in my class I don’t know how to deal with many issues. I regularly ask the classroom teachers and the school counselors for help in addressing these types of issues. I care about my students enough to know that I don’t always have the answers and guidance they need.

It is more important to make a group of students feel valued than to learn another verse of a song. It is more important that a student feels safe to share his or her music with a class than to have a polished performance and it is more that students learn to know their own feelings and the feelings of the people around them better than to know the great musical composers of the past.

Integrating SEL learning into your instruction, your curriculum and your assessment is a choice. It’s also a challenge. It asks incredible emotional maturity out of teachers, a great deal of patience and a willingness to take a chance and put aside a lesson plan to address what is most important to your students, not the subject you teach, but the emotions they are feeling.

The most important thing to do with SEL is show and tell your students that you care about the way they feel and the way they treat each other.  They need to see it in the way that you listen to them and they need to hear that you care.  All the SEL seminars and programs are useless without communicating this level of care.

Take the time to address SEL is taking time to treat your students as full human beings with dignity and respect.  It's the least we can do as teachers and at the same time the most powerful and meaningful action we can do for students. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Parenthood: Week 23 – Date Night Or Divorce?

One of the common pieces of advice Diana and I received before Ollie was born was to make sure that we have date nights. Once a week or so get a babysitter and do something fun without the baby. Time away from the baby will remind you to focus on each other and also why you wanted a baby in the first place.

The implication is that by doing these date nights you will keep your relationship healthy through the process of raising a baby. However, if you don’t, you may end up being part of a disturbing trend.

The divorce rate has steadily gone down since hitting a peak in the 1980s but the divorce rate amongst couples 50 and over has doubled in the past two decades (this article goes into this issue in more depth). Not all of these divorces have to do with kids leaving the nest, but it’s an important factor.

Diana and I were together for 5 years before Ollie was born. If we have another kid in a couple years that would be 20 years of having kids in the house. This leaves a solid 25 years as empty nesters. Half of our time together will be without our kids in the house.

That’s a huge part of our relationship so I get why people encourage Diana and I to spend time focusing on each other even when Ollie is an infant. However I don’t think that date night a couple times a month are enough.

It’s in the process. Diana was looking for winter clothing for Ollie. She picked out something that was great but made sure to ask my opinion on the color. Chances are that asking me only made the process longer and I think she probably got the color that she initially liked better, but it was nice that she included me.

If we get too focused on the product, decisions about the baby and don’t include our partners in the process, we are setting ourselves up for problems. Yes, it’s less productive, but if you’re not working with your partner in raising your child, the same way that you want to address other issues in your life as a team, than it’s going to catch up to you. Yes, it’s important that Ollie is taken care of, but it’s equally important that Diana and I feel good about how we care for him.

Then there are the priorities that sometimes gets confusing. Sometimes Ollie feels like the most important person in my world, but he wouldn’t exist if not for my relationship with Diana. As much as Ollie has changed my perspective on my life, Diana is who brought meaning to my life. My love for Ollie, all that I do for that little boy grows out of my relationship with Diana.

It’s not a question of who is more important. Diana and Ollie are both important to me in my life but in different ways that both require my attention and consideration. What I do for Ollie benefits my relationship with Diana and what I do for Diana benefits Ollie. For example, if I change my share of diapers Ollie has a clean butt but Diana also feels less stress, which in turns gives her a better focus when she is being a mother to Ollie.

Couple’s shouldn’t make decisions to try to prevent divorce. They should do for each other and themselves so that they can be happy together (for some people, this actually leads to a necessary divorce). This can be hard when a kid enters the picture, but it’s got to be done. Don’t give everything you got to your child, you may not have anything left 18 years later.

Go on date nights, but also find time to honor each other every day, even if it’s only for the five minutes before you go to sleep.  Date nights don't guarantee a thing if they don't reflect the love and respect that is shared every day.

Find joy in caring for your child, laugh at the mistakes, and don’t make it a big deal if your partner does something with the baby in a slightly different way than you would. Moms, if your husbands want to dress the baby, let him, no matter how bad it turns out and Dads, do whatever silly outing your wife wants to do even though you know that your baby will never remember it. Do these things for your baby, do them for your partner and do them for you.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Year 4: Week 9 - Playing the Emotion Card

My instincts as a teacher are to not make conversations around students making error judgments focus about my own feelings, while I often express my own positive feelings when complementing my students.

 I think my students would respond to me saying that I am disappointed with them, or that they hurt my feelings or offended me. I’ve gone there a couple times, like when a student made an Asian joke in the middle of class, but that’s rare that I pull out that card.

Part of my hesitation is that I want my students to work hard, enjoy learning not for themselves. The thing is that if you make goods connections with kids, be authentic and work hard for them, they will like you. Many students will feel motivated to learn because of your presence. This is a great thing, but it can become a mess if the focus becomes focused on pleasing the teacher and not other internal motivations.

If my kids aren’t doing things simply to make me happy, then it’s not going to make a big difference if I tell them that you are disappointed in them. Also, if there’s not a strong connection or teacher-student bond, then saying that you are disappointed in a students action ends up disingenuous as your relationship with them isn’t at a point where this is an honest statement.

My students don’t do things to offend me personally when they misbehave. To them I’m not a full human being. They don’t relate to me like they do with their parents or their peers. Most of the time when they misbehave it’s nothing against me personally and the rare times it is, there’s usually another issue going on that has nothing to do with our relationship.

However, I think there’s a place for that tough talk, when you tell a student how their actions affected you personally. This is a card that has to be very carefully played, because it has to come from an honest place and genuine place. This conversation can’t be about what they meant to do, but how it made you feel. These feelings have to be articulated clearly and not be focused an expression of anger, but rather an expression of vulnerability.

Students need to learn that their actions create certain emotional responses from the people in their lives. Teachers can play a role in this by helping them understand this but these reactions have to be controlled. I’ve seen teachers snap at kids or express anger at students. Sometimes it works but other times, it only makes things worse. You have to be in control of your emotional reactions as a teacher. If you do snap at a student, it has to be a calculated action, not an impulse.

Maybe an expression of feelings as a teacher should simply be a way for students to learn about you as a human being and not a card that you use to correct a students’ behavior. I’m not sure.  How we use emotions in our teaching is a question worth asking.  Sometimes in teaching thinking about the question is more important than finding an answer.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Monday, October 28, 2013

Parenthood: Week 22 – Judging Other Parents

Almost every parent judges over parents

Yes, we shouldn’t judge others. There’s no need to make ourselves feel superior as parents by putting down what other parents do, but it’s part of our nature.  Like other instincts as parents, denial of these thoughts isn’t really productive.

Parenting is a unique experience for every person. You can’t really compare two parents because each kid is different and the parents themselves are different. You can reasonably compare two football teams that are playing each other by the same rules. However, you can’t really do that with parents because often, they are not even playing the same sport.

So you hear a parent talking about something they do with their child and you think they are making a bad choice. Of course at the same time you reflect how you are making a better decision with your kid in a similar situation with great results. What do you do we this?

If the other person is receptive you can give your opinion. Of course if you are very close to them and what they are doing could seriously harm their child you have a responsibility to speak up. Otherwise, you keep your mouth shut. They probably know that you are judging them, because they are probably judging you, so just keep quiet.

The choices we make as parents are fraught with insecurity. None of the baby books and n doctors can tell you 100% that the choices you are making will lead to the absolutely most positive outcome for your child. So you do your best and you make a lot of decisions, most decision based on your parental instincts and faith.

This is one of the most difficult things about parenting. Sometimes, the best way to work through insecurity is to see at someone else and think that you are doing better than them and that you know better than them. Is the best way to make you feel more secure? Not really. But sometimes, it helps.

We should never make ourselves feel bad because of the way that we react to the world around us in our thoughts. If a parent does something that we think is strange, chastising ourselves for thinking this, creates a negative feedback loop that only ensures that this these judging thoughts will only lead to self-hatred. Instead, turn that judging instincts into an role play exercise.

What would you do differently and why? What part of the picture are you not seeing that might prevent this other person from doing what you would do? What does your reaction say about your own insecurities about being a parent? Let these judging thoughts lead you back to yourself so that you can ultimately become a better parent.

Nobody’s perfect. We all think things that we are not always proud of. There’s no shame in these reactions. The problem comes when we articulate these thoughts in inconsiderate ways and beat ourselves up as opposed to examine them as expressions of the challenges and insecurities in our own lives.

We create stories so that we can judge fictional characters and do this less in our personal lives. But sometimes this isn’t enough. When you are a parent, the insecurities can be overwhelming and it seems like you can’t help but to judge other parents. So go ahead and judge them, give yourself that relief and that reassurance, even if it’s fleeting. Later come back and reexamine those thoughts and through this process, these thoughts of superiority will ebb.

Judging other parents shows that you are insecure about being a parent yourself. Being insecure as a parent means that you are thoughtful about the choices you make and love your kid enough to worry about them all of the time.

As my mom told me, "it's a parents' job to worry."  So do your job and judge away. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Year 4: Week 8 – Putting The Teacher In Music Teacher

Once upon a time I was a musician, but now I’m a teacher.

Within the community of music teachers there is a wide variety. There are some teachers who only teach because they aren’t financially stable otherwise and there are music teachers, who teach not as a fall back from playing professionally, but as their profession and true love.

These are two sides of spectrum and many teachers fall somewhere in-between their devotion to their art as a musician and their love of teaching.

Is being a great musician and a fantastic teacher mutually exclusive? Can you have both? Sure, of course, but even if you find someone who has both qualities, in order for them to become a master teacher, their musicianship needs to take a back seat to their passion as a teacher.

If you asked me about why I wanted to be a teacher when I first started teaching I would probably talk to you about my passion for music. This is not as much in the forefront of my brain. Especially after the years that I taught special education (which I talked about in this previous post), I realized that I would still be a teacher even if I didn’t teach music. The only reason I teach music is because it’s my personal area of expertise. I wonder how many other music teachers feel this way?

I know I’m not a great musician. I don’t play any instrument good enough to gig professionally, I don’t have the ears to  evaluated an advanced high school or college group and what I studied in college, music composition, is something I have no desire to pursue any longer.

However, I’m all about talking to other teachers about the ways children develop, reading about innovative ways that music teachers relate to their students and writing arrangements for my students to perform. As much as I love music, I love getting to know my students even more.

If being a teacher is a close second to being a musician for you, it doesn’t stand in you way of being a great teacher. However if brings a perspective to your craft that places what you teach over who you teach. For some circumstances this could really connect with your students but in many others it will not hold up over the long run.

For me it wasn't an active choice but a mindset that evolved over time.   I wanted to be a great musician at a certain point and then I wanted to be a master teacher.

Now, I just want to be for my students, a present caring force in their life first and a teacher second. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Monday, October 21, 2013

Parenthood: Week 21 – The Crying Game

Every time Ollie laughs it makes a unicorn dance and every time Ollie cries that unicorn is staring at me with angry eyes getting ready to charge.

Dealing with Ollie when he is crying is the most exhausting thing about being a parent. Nothing else in the world seems to matter when he’s crying and I want to stop doing whatever I’m doing and comfort him.

When Ollie cried when he was first born, it was mostly tearless screams. His eyes would shut his eyes tightly and tense his whole body. This was tough to deal with but it’s a lot easier than a fourth month old crying.

Now when Ollie cries, there are tears, big tears. He cries with adult sized tears and when they show up on his baby-sized face, it’s the saddest thing you have ever seen. The tears alone wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t paired up with that look in his eyes. Whenever Ollie is crying and I pick him up, he calms for a second, just long enough to open his eyes. He’ll looks directly at me with these desperate and longing eyes that pierce into my heart.

Part of me is freaking out and panicking every time Ollie  melts down. But I know I can’t panic. So I try to stay focused and calm for Ollie’s sake. This is really hard to do and takes an tremendous amount of emotional energy and control, which manifests itself as physical exhaustion by the end of the day.

What’s even worse is when Ollie cries and I have to let him keep crying. If he has a dirty diaper in the car, he sometimes has to cry and wait as I find a place to pull over. When he’s hungry, sometimes he  has to wait for Diana or for a bottle to heat up. And sometimes he starts crying while I’m going to the bathroom. It feels pretty horrible hearing your baby cry while you are in the middle of doing your business.

Hearing your baby cry when you can’t immediately make them feel better is also exhausting.

The amazing thing about babies is that when you figure out exactly what is upsetting them and you take care of whatever was making them cry, they can switch to happiness really quickly. Most of the time, laughter isn’t too far behind tears.

Being disturbed by Ollie’s crying is one of those things like missing Ollie when I’m away from him that I’m probably never going to get over.  They show I’m connected to my son and invested in his well-being in a very powerful and personal way.

For every time he cries, we've got to make sure he laughs.  I don't think the laughter will make him cry less but it'll help him continue to experience the range of human emotions and keep the unicorns at bay. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Year 4: Week 7 – Good Intentions

It’s common to tell kids that it’s their actions that we dislike, not who they are as a person. While this is an important message, I’m finding that embracing the action and more importantly having faith in students' intentions helps us speak more directly to our students. 

I held one of my third graders after class earlier this week because he was making funny faces during an activity. I asked him what he was trying to do. He was worried about being in trouble so he didn’t respond.

“It looks to me you were trying to make other people laugh,” I told him.

“No, I wasn’t,” he replied.

“Well, I really like people who make other people laugh, I love making people laugh, it’s a lot fun, so it’s not a bad thing,” I explained.

“I guess I was trying to make people laugh,” he said.

“That’s great, I like that about you, the problem wasn’t that you were trying to make people laugh, you just did it at the wrong time, which instead of being funny, ended up being rude.”

I told my 5th grade students that the vast majority of things that they get in trouble for are things that they do not do with bad intentions. Most of these things are stuff that really aren’t bad by themselves, it’s mostly about timing.

When I talk to kids about speaking out of turn, I almost always follow it up with reminding them how much I want to hear what they have to say, I just can’t have a conversation when they are speaking out of turn.

It’s challenging for students to understand how something that they do that they don’t intend to be bad can get them in trouble. That’s a harsh reality but it’s also affirming.

Our intentions are at the root of our interactions with the world. If we put faith in these intentions, then we are putting faith in children themselves. If we can see the actions, however inappropriate, as expressions of these longings to know others better and make ourselves known, we find ourselves in conversations with students built on a foundation of belief that they are a good person.

In the same way that we should never question the intentions of our co-workers, we should never question the intentions of our students. They deserve that level of respect. Of course, it’s important in these conversations to help students understand that your intentions as a teacher are not to get them in trouble but to help them grow as a student and a person.

We all need to find a way to "love the sinner," and maybe it's in the intentions that we find the student we can learn to love. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Parenthood: Week 20 – The Things I Miss & The Things That I Can’t Imagine Living Without

There are some things that I miss about my life pre-Ollie but there are also some things that I can’t imagine living without that Ollie has brought to my life. So let’s start with the 5 things I miss pre-baby (in no particular order).

1.  Uninterrupted Television Viewing: There was a time that Diana and I could watch full episodes of hour-long television shows without interruption. Now it’s more like fifteen-minute chunks here and there. Our DVR is more full than it's ever been. Ollie has a way of interrupting things.

2. Weekly Poo-Free Laundry: We used to do laundry once a week and rarely if ever were there poo or puke stains on any of the clothing.  Now, we do laundry once every two or three days and those stains I was talking about, that’s part of almost every single load.

3. Doing Nothing: There’s rarely nothing to do around the house related to Ollie. Beyond the laundry, there are bottles to clean, diapers to take out, laundry to fold, and things to read up on. If I’m sitting at home doing nothing, I am ignoring something that needs to be done, sometimes this is okay, but I ache for the days when I truly had nothing that needed to get done.

4. Quickly Getting out of the house: “Wallet, keys, phone, you good? Let’s go.” Now when we go out, first off we have to make sure that someone is watching Ollie and if we are taking Ollie there’s a whole production. We have to make sure that we are going during a time that is good for Ollie and pack all of the stuff he needs. Now it’s “diaper bag, carrier, car seat, extra outfit, stroller, burp cloth, you got the baby? Let’s go.” Prepping to leave the house used to take 2 minutes, now it’s closer to 10.

5. Sound Sleep: We are blessed with a baby that sleeps really well. However, even when he does sleep for long lengths of time, it’s a different kind of sleep. Part of my brain knows that he may start crying and I don’t feel as relaxed when I sleep because of this. The whole slowly waking up and crawling out of bed thing, yeah, I miss that. Popping out of bed immediately as painful as it can sometimes be is now a regular occurrence.

Now here are the 5 things that Ollie has brought to my life that I would never want to live without.

1. Baby Talk: I love talking to people about their experiences with babies. It’s like I’m part of a special club that only people who are parents can be members. The things I’m learning from people around me has helped me bond with people I never expected to and in ways that I never imagined.

2. Perspective: There’s the whole “well, eat your food because other people in a foreign country are starving,” approach to forcing kids to live their lives with perspective. That didn’t really have a big effect on me. Having a healthy baby while knowing about the struggles other babies and their parents go through, that level of perspective is the most powerful I’ve ever felt. Every time I hear about a child suffering or dying, it hits me in an emotional way that reminds me of my blessings and provides a level of perspective that has made me a better and more thankful person.

3. Feeling Needed: Everyone needs to feel needed. Ollie needs me. He can’t do anything by himself and while this is sometimes exhausting, it’s a really special feeling knowing that someone relies on me so much. Yes, the responsibility can be overwhelming, but knowing how important I am to him, validates my life.

4. Riding The Roller Coaster: Yes, life is different every day, but when you have a baby, that difference is impossible to ignore. Every day as Ollie grows, how he sleeps changes, the way that he moves develops and every day brings new challenges. Yes, like a roller coaster, it can be a little scary, but at the same time not knowing what’s around the next turn is the best part.

5. The Partnership: Diana and I have worked on projects together. There was our wedding that we planned, raising Buffy, the European vacation and buying a house. All of these things we did as partners.  These projects had their challenges and rewards but none of those things required us to work together with the amount of teamwork and cooperation that we share with each other every day as parents. I feel closer to Diana than I have ever felt in my life.  I am proud of not only how well Ollie is doing but how well Diana and I have worked together to help Ollie.

Of course, the good outweighs the bad. That doesn’t make the bad things go away and it’s important to complain sometimes and get that stuff out of your system. As petty and as silly as the annoying things about parenthood can be, it’s important to acknowledge those feelings and work through them. The good things don’t cancel out the bad and make them disappear; they just make them seem like not as big a deal.

. . . and feeling a little hand squeeze your finger helps a lot.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Year 4: Week 6 - Paternity Leave

 Last Fall, I took time off at the beginning of the school year to attend my grandmother’s funeral in Taiwan (I wrote about this in this post).

 For the past two weeks, I’ve also been away from school as part of my paternity leave.

This is the second year in a row that I’ve taken time off from school in the beginning of the school year. Last year it was unexpected and this year it was planned. Even though I knew that these leave was coming it was still difficulty to plan for and it’s been hard to be away.

You don’t realize how important it is to take time off to be at a funeral until you do ,and I didn’t realize how important taking my paternity leave was until I was spending time with my family.

I love my job and it’s important to me that I express my commitment to the school. This is why taking time off is something that I don’t do without a lot of thought. So there was a time that I considered not using up all of my paternity leave in the Fall because there simply didn’t seem to be any good time for me to be away from school.

After much thought and discussion with my wife, I realized that taking my paternity leave was not disrespectful to my school or and wasn’t negligent to my students. If you really care about being a good teacher than you have to start with having a balanced life at home and one of the ways I could do this was by taking my paternity leave and taking care of my family.

Beyond the financial benefits of not having to have a babysitter, me being home and spending time with my family has been one of the most important experiences that has helped me grow as a teacher.

I taught for seven years before having a kid and I got pretty good at what I did without having the perspective of being a parent myself. I’m not saying that you can’t be a great teacher without being a parent, but for me it has helped a lot.

If I truly value children, parents and families as a teacher, than that needs to start with how I treat my own child and my own family. My school has put their money where their mouth is and providing this time because they feel it’s important as well.

I’m looking forward to seeing my students next week. While I’m not looking forward to being away from my son, my time as a teacher has made me a great dad in the same way that my experience as a dad has made me a better teacher.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Why I’m a Democrat (as opposed to "Why I’m Not a Republican")

I believe that we are defined by what we do, not what we don’t do. In the same way, our political choices should be made on who we support, not whom we dislike. In the wake of the government shut down this week, I began to question: am I a Democrat because of what I don’t like about the Republicans or is there something about the being a Democrat that relates to who I am in a positive way?

My parents have more often voted Republican than Democrat. Part of this had to do with the fact that my father was had a small business and Democrat tax policies seemed to hit him harder. Lately in my discussions with them, they have been increasingly annoyed with the Republicans stance on homosexuality and woman’s rights. I doubt that they would call themselves Republicans at this point, but I don’t think they would put an Obama bumper sticker on their car.

It was never clear in my household where my parents felt I should be on the political spectrum. In high school I started developing views that social welfare and public services were essential to our country and I remember my dad arguing these points with me. But at the end of it, I always felt he respected my opinion.

In college, I would say, I was pretty apolitical. I wouldn’t get into discussions about politics with friends and even though most of my friends were Democrats, it didn’t make me lean towards that side any harder.

The first time I felt truly proud to call myself a Democrat was during Obama’s first presidential run. People joke about “so how’s that ‘hope’ working out for you?” For me, the spirit of that election still energizes my passion for this country, my interest in politics and my belief on America.

Today, I am proud to call myself a Democrat, and here’s why:

The Platform: The 2012 Democratic National Platform is a fascinating read. Anyone who claims to be part of either party really needs to read the party’s platform. The foundations of this platform are based in the idea that everyone deserves a quality of life if they work hard and play by the rules. Gender, sexual orientation, access to health care, and education should not hinder people’s ability to fulfill their American dream. It is our collective responsibility as a people and a government to ensure that everyone is given a fair chance.

The platform recognizes critical programs like Head Start, values the roles of great teachers and the rights of workers to organize. It asks for equity in law so that a minority because of money and influence cannot get away with crimes and acknowledges immigration not as problem, but as part of the American tradition that has made our country great.

For the Democrats family values are about allowing people to have flexibility in their jobs to care for their children and protecting children in foster care and adoption programs. In one of the most touching parts of this platform, the Democrats continue to work to offer men support to be good fathers and help them create stronger bonds with their children and their families.

The part of the platform that hit home the most was about women. From making sure women have fair pay to having access to protecting reproductive rights, the Democratic platform addresses one of the most important social issues of our time. Gloria Steinem’s words echo in this document:

Whether or not woman can determine when and whether to have children is the single biggest element in whether we are health or not, whether we are educated or not, how long our life expectancy is, whether we can be active in the world or not.

The Heroes: Hillary Clinton is taking on global changes with optimism. Dan Savage is the most important voice in human sexuality tirelessly spreading the idea that sexual expression is a freedom and universal right. Oh yeah and you can’t forget Bruce Springsteen. Many of my heroes, the people, I respect most in this world are Democrats. These are people who understand facets of our society in deeper ways than I can comprehend. I respect their work and in this way, I honor their beliefs and support the causes and the party they hold dear.

The President: I am proud of President Obama. As a political leader he has weathered a storm of political turmoil with grace and honesty. His instinct is to take the high road without being afraid to point out the truth, which while is sometimes unpopular is necessary. As a Commander-in-chief he has navigated some of the most challenging conflicts of our time while representing the best in American diplomacy opening lines of discourse without compromising our safety and security. As a legislature he has made steps forward to protect the rights of American woman, workers, families and children through economic acts like the Libby Ledbetter act and the Affordable Care Act.

And as a moral leader President Obama epitomizes the best in the American spirit embracing the plurality of the citizens of America with his statements on Gay marriage, Civil Rights and immigration.

The reason I’m a Democrat is because my optimistic belief in the American people is the same belief I have in the American government. The government is not some demon out to destroy our society; it’s an expression of our shared beliefs. To say that government in the problem is to say that our values are the problem, and I simply don’t believe that.

The Democratic Party is not flawless. However these flaws are not in the philosophy of the party or the values that are defined by this philosophy. The flaws are in the choices that are made by politicians. As frustrated as I get when Democrats make bad choices, I know that their motivation lies in the values that are important to me politically and in my personal life.

If the reason you are a Democrat is because you hated Bush or the reason you are Republican is because of your disdain for Obama then you are not what you claim to be.  At best you are simply being a contrarian.

Go beyond the headlines and the talking points and find the party that resonates with your beliefs.  Be with the party that lays out a path that will make for a greater America and challenges you beyond your fears to be a better American.