Friday, May 31, 2013

Parenthood: Week 1 – Three Moments

Here’s three of my favorite moments from the first week of Ollie’s life.

1. Some Light Reading - I’m so excited to share the world of books with Ollie. For the past couple days I’ve been reading books to him and its been a lot of fun. Also we got this great Art For Babies book  as well as this Lamaze High-Contrast Crib Gallery  for him. Now when he is laying in his crib as he falls asleep he can do a little bed time reading (don’t worry we’re not leaving this stuff in his crib overnight). Newborns can only really track black and white contrasts so these are perfect for him. It’s never too early to get the love of reading started in your children.

2. Bath time – Along with feeding your child and keeping him or her warm, keeping your kid clean is one of those innate parental instincts. It’s not like I’m a germaphobe, but it’s important to me that Ollie is clean. So when Diana and I gave him his first bath, it was a really cute family moment. For most of it, Ollie was not happy with us but then as Diana gently washed his hair he closed his eyes and calmed down. Diana wrapped him in a dry towel when we were done and I left to get his baby comb.  Immediately,  Diana called me back over. Ollie had just pooed all over the towels and himself.

Awesome, right after we had just got him cleaned up.

Also, we ended up using two washcloths and three full sized bath towels to do his bath.

How did that work out?

3. Saying Goodnight – Every night before I go to bed I crawl on the floor wherever Buffy has settled down for the night, kiss her on the forehead and tell her that I love her and pet her gently. Then I say goodnight to Diana and say I love you and we drift off to sleep.

Now there’s one more person for me to say goodnight to. It’s not like where the Walton’s or anything, but this adjustment is one of my favorite parts of having Ollie in our family.

Saying goodnight to Ollie has reminded me to not take this ritual for granted.  The last words we say to the ones we love before we go to sleep are thoughts that we hope comfort them through the night and stay with them for the rest of their lives.

It's been an amazing week and I can't wait to see what adventures we have in store with Ollie next week.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dear Ollie - A Father's Promise

Dear Ollie,

Right now you are five days old and are sleeping cradled in your mother’s arms. It seems like just yesterday your mom and I were referring to you as our little poppy seed because of how small you were early in your life and now you are something so much more: our son.

There’s so much that I want to tell you about the first five days of your life, but I don’t really know where to start. All the events that have led up to you being in your mom’s arms right now are important because of what they meant to your mother and I. At the same time, those stories don’t seem as relevant right now because what truly matters is that you are safe, healthy and with your family.

So right now I’m going to tell you a couple things that I’ve been thinking about when I’ve been holding you.

Like any other father I have my hopes for you. I want you to be happy and healthy, but I also know that there will be times when you will be sad and very sick. I want you to find meaning in the bonds of friendship and love and also in the ends of relationships and the heat of anger. I want you to know yourself, and define your life not through comparisons with others, but by how true you are to yourself.

More than anything else, I want you to find meaning in sharing life with the ones that you love.

In the past five days you have changed the life of the people that have met you and even touched the lives of those who only know you through pictures and videos. You have brought light, joy and happiness into the world. In this way you will always be in our hearts. This will happen throughout your life as long as you let the spirit inside of you shine on the people you encounter in your life.

Your mother and I promise you that every single day we will tell you that we love you and that you are beautiful because of who you are on the inside. If there’s ever a day when we can’t say this to you in person we will think it as we close our eyes and go to sleep at night. Some day far from now when we have left this world, you will hear our voices inside of you fulfilling this promise and in this way, we will always be a part of you.

The future is like the darkness. It’s hard to know what’s beyond the light. Sometimes that makes us afraid. But every time I have stepped into that darkness, it has only brought more light into my life. In this way, the future is not something to fear, rather something to be excited about: an adventure.

Let's go on that adventure and don't worry,

 I'll be there with you every step of the way.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Oliver Jameson Tang - My Son

On Friday May 24th, at 1:39am, Diana and I welcomed our son, Oliver Jameson Tang into the world.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Year 3: Week 33 – One Day More

One of the signs of a healthy school is that once in a while the teachers and administrators get together to have some fun and show the student body that while they take their jobs seriously, they don’t take themselves too seriously.

At my school there’s the annual M&D show. It’s a combination of mash-ups, sketches and music videos. Two years ago, I was in a music video, last year I helped arrange a rap song on elementary school music instruments and this year I taught a group of seniors, juniors, administrators, teachers and staff members a parody of “One Day More” from Les Miserables.


“One Day More” is the “everyone sing about the conflicts they are currently dealing with at the same time”-song which echoes back to Bernstein’s “Tonight,” from West Side Story.

This was literally the last idea I came up with for the finale of this show. When the people organizing the show asked for some ideas I came up with about twenty and on a whim, I threw in “On Day More.” And of course it ended up being the one they wanted to do.

So we met a couple times and re-wrote the lyrics. The seniors were going to sing about leaving the school and the juniors were going to sing about becoming seniors. The administration and staff sang about the fact that they have to work over the summer when the teachers and students are away and the teachers sang about finishing their grade reports. (I walk on from the left side of the screen at 1:50, in a dark blue vest and red tie).

Teaching juniors and seniors was kind of refreshing, even though we met an hour before school started. I taught high school for two years at my first teaching job and I was pleasantly surprised at their attention and the how quickly they learned the music.

The administration, staff members and teachers were a different story. It wasn’t that they didn’t learn the music well. It was just tricky to teach them. I couldn’t really “teacher" them, because I wasn’t acting so much as a teacher but something completely different.

We wanted to have the adults sound good on stage but the rehearsals needed to be fun. We met multiple times early before school and it was important that this time was productive but also fun. This was our time to bond, to catch up and to really enjoy being together as a community by doing something kind of absurd.

Instead of waiting for everyone to be quiet before starting as I would with kids, I just barreled through conversations. Between repetitions, I let the group chat and I didn’t try to quell laughter when someone would made a joke. With some sarcastic yelling coming from me, weird analogies and over the top conducting we got it done and put on a good performance.

While it was a challenge to teach the group this song, it was a lot of fun. It’s a weird feeling to teach teachers, but it’s also really rewarding because they get what you are trying to do. Putting this together took a lot of time and some people may think that we are crazy for spending so much time on something like this.  They're wrong, because it's doing things like this that makes a school a community and brings meaning to what we teach.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Third Trimester

You know you’ve reached the third trimester of your wife’s pregnancy when a Superman trailer makes you cry.

After reading Superman comics my entire life, I never thought about how incomprehensibly difficult it was for Jor-El to send his son to earth and the challenge of Superman's earth father in raising an adopted child.  Seriously, this trailer gets to me every time.

The third trimester has the feeling of a continued "hurry up and wait."  There are times when I feel like the baby could come at any moment.  Everyday things like getting a haircut become questions of timing: "What if I need to leave this haircut because Diana goes into labor?"  So you rush to prepare some things and then . . . nothing happens.

The closer the due date got, the more I got used to this feeling of uncertainty.  To a certain extent you just have to live your life normally.  Most of the time this works, but every time my phone vibrates in my pocket, part of me starts panicking making me realize that my life has completely changed.

I still am doing good stuff at my job and I'm still keeping my hobbies like this blog and running going, but all of it seems to be simply activities that I'm doing to pass the time before my baby comes.  It's not that these things aren't significant, they just don't seem as central to my life right now.

Just because my son hasn't been born doesn't mean he isn't with us.  I gave Diana a mother's day gift because in my eyes she's already a mom.  He's been with us for most of the past year.  As much as I know it'll be different to finally hold him in my arms, we have a son right now and he has already brought so much joy into our lives.

Facing the coming of a baby forces your life into perspective.  You think about yourself as a child and then you think about your parents and how you will fit that role.  The beginning of your relationship with your partner comes to mind as you remember that moment when you decided that there really is something there that makes this relationship worth pursuing.

In the present you have to make choices of what to do with your time as the minutes go by faster and your responsibilities heighten.  Your thoughts about the future weaves through your memories as your past transforms into hopes for the future.

While most of the time these thoughts and memories are flowing through my head, every once in a while there's clarity, a silence.  In that moment, there is simply emotion.  It's not an image, but a feeling of meaning, peace and contentment.  It's like everything in my past and everything I hope for my future is right.

Son, thanks for changing my life, bringing light into my heart and being the peace at my center.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Come On Eileen by Dexy’s Midnight Runners

The year I was born was a crazy year in music. There was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Working for the Weekend” by Loverboy, and Willie Nelson’s “Always On My Mind” (I’ve written about all of these songs, just click on the song title.” These three songs have maintained status in pop culture in film and television commercials (Soprano’s, Zoolander, jeans commercials).

One song that really deserves a resurgence in pop culture is one of my favorite songs from my birth year “Come On Eileen.”

There’s so much that is weird about this song in such an awesome way. First off, Dexy’s Midnight Runners is named after the drug Dexedrine, and midnight running was the idea about dancing all night when using that drug. With this kind of band name you expect some kind of club, synthesized dance music. Instead you get a unique folk-inspired song, full of heart.

This song doesn’t really sound anything like the other songs that came out that I mentioned earlier in this post. Well none of those songs sound at all like each other which is one year 1982 was such an incredible year in music. “Come On Elieen,” has musical allusions throughout its structure from the opening violin playing the irish folk song “Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms,” to mentioning of Johnnie Ray a 1950s singer-songwriter.

“Come On Eileen” kicks in with a myriad of instrument including a piano, accordion, trombone and saxophones and violins. Nothing about the groove feels like something that would chart on a the U.S. Billboard charts but it became a number 1 hit, sandwiched between “Billie Jean” and “Beat It,” by Michael Jackson.

The lyrics are often misunderstood.  Even when I follow along with them its still hard to understand what is being sung. Basically it’s a reflection on the previous generation and being amazed at how much this girl Eileen has grown up. The chorus, which I grew up thinking, was:
At this moment,
take off everything,
You in that fress
Oh, it falls on your breast,
Oh you’re dirty,
Oh, come on Eileen
Is actually a much sweater sentiment:
At this moment you mean everything,
You in that dress,
My thoughts I confess,
Verge on dirty ,
Oh, come on Eileen
There’s an amazing and sudden change in the groove into the chorus that happens with a shift in the meter dropping two beats that you expect to hear. Then there’s one of the most unusual musical devices in pop music an accelerando. Pop songs rarely speed up and slow down. There’s only a handful of examples when this happens. The moment when “Come On Eileen,” slows down and slowly grinds ups up makes you feel like you are hearing a live recording of the band.

I remember dancing to this song in college, twenty years after it came out and feeling the dance floor slow down and pick up towards the end of this song. It’s really a beautiful musical moment that is rarely experienced in pop music.

“Come On Eileen,” is a beautiful song with so much spirit and heart. There’s a reverence to the past in its words and music and also an innocence that makes this song shine like the  smile of a close friend.

Let’s bring this song back to the center of pop culture. It’s well-deserving of the attention and primed for a new generation to misinterpret the lyrics as they dance along to the sweet sounds of Too-ra-loo-rye-aye.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Year 3: Week 32 – The Best Part Of The Concert

Last night I stood in front of seventy band students and conducted them through an arrangement of “Some Nights,” by Fun that I arranged for them. This group combined the three middle school bands as well as the high school band. The song was awesome and the energy my students brought to their performance reflected the great hard the work they put into learning and rehearsing this song.

I feel incredibly proud of this performance and the work all of my students leading up to that moment, however this performance was not my favorite moment of the evening.

That’s one of the things I love about concerts. There’s all these moments that happen around a concert beyond a performance that really make nights like this for me special.

After we warmed up I talked to one of my high school students that I started on the flute two years ago. She is now in the high school band and I was looking forward to working with her again. As we sat catching up on things, she asked me why I chose to teach middle school students. As I explained middle schools’ students potential for greatness, I realized how much I missed teaching this student and I remembered back to starting her on the flute and teaching her how to hold the instrument.

Then there was the moment when I watched my 6th grade band students enjoy watching the 6th grade choir. The 6th grade choir performed an African piece of music, the 6th grade band students started moving to the music. I was initially concerned that they were being disrespectful, but they were genuinely feeling the groove. The applause that group of students gave the choir was genuine and heartfelt and made me really proud of the admiration and musical respect they expressed to their peers.

My favorite moment of the evening involved my 8th graders. This was a class of students I had known since they were in 6th grade. As a band we worked really hard to bond and learn how to work together as a team. We went through a lot of different challenges but through it this entire band bonded as a group that had become one of my favorite to work with.

Last night was the last time they were going to perform with me and as I watched them after they performed sitting the audience, I realized how much I was going to miss them. I was sitting on the left side of the balcony with my 6th graders and my 8th graders were on the far right. From my spot sitting with my 6th graders, I looked over to my 8th graders and saw them laughing, smiling and genuinely enjoying spending time with each other.  At that moment I felt proud and grateful to have had the opportunity to work with these amazing students. 

The performance was great but it was these moments that made the concert special for me and an experience that I will never forget. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Student Ideas For Baby Names

After I told my students about the coming of my baby students from across the grades started to give me name suggestions for my baby boy.  Here's the list so far:

Reasonable suggestions:

Hairy Orangu
Simon Says
The Doctor
Mel (as in Mel-tang --> Melting)

William the Conqueror
Cauliflower, but since it's a boy just Flower
The Wall
Sugar Plum

Oh yeah and you can't forget this actual list one of my 5th grade girls made for me:

Monday, May 13, 2013

She Drive Me Crazy by The Fine Young Cannibals

Before I knew the difference between falsetto and chest voice, I knew there was something weird and kind of awesome about “She Drive Me Crazy.” Rarely does a singer make as a dramatic shift between singing styles as Roland Gift does in this 1988 hit.

While this switch from head voice to chest voice is notable, there are many other things about this song that are memorable. There’s the sparse but fitting instrumental background, the incredible hook and the overall “you can’t help but smile,” feeling you get when you hear this song. If you looked at the lyrics by themselves, they would seem a little dark. The first verse is about a feeling that he can’t control and feeling tortured by the fact that he is waiting for her. The lyrics of obsession continue in the second verse and by the third verse he states, “I can’t make it, on my own.”

The weird thing about love is that these feelings that seems like torture make you feel like you are alive in ways that you could never imagine which you feel when the words are placed to the music.

Part of the way that you know you are in love with someone is the fact that you don’t feel like you are in complete control of your thoughts or your feelings. This kind of drives you (and often your friends) crazy because you really can’t help but talk about this person. Yes, this can get a little annoying sometimes but more that this feeling of craziness is accompanied with a kind of joy that only comes from that first burst of love.

Than there’s Kermit’s version. . .

This verson plays the verses against the chorus, which flips this song into a conversation. Wait a second, is that what the original song was going for? Are the Fine Young Cannibals portraying a person with multiple personalities who is literally driving himself crazy?

Mind = blown.

Man, who isn’t in this video? Was that Dick Clark and Little Richard? Ok, anyways. Fine Young Cannibals created one of the greatest feel good rock songs of all time. While some may think of them as a one hit wonder, they had some other great songs like “The Flame” which my brother and I spent a couple months in high school believing was the greatest song of all time.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Year 3: Week 31 - Missing The Destination

When I'm preparing my students for a performance, I often tell them that we should feel satisfied with the work we do, even if the performance never happens. I believe that in education, it is in the journey that we find meaning and learn the most, not the destination, so I deemphasize the importance of performances and really focus on making the rehearsals leading up to the performance as meaningful as the performance itself.

In my time as a teacher when I've preached this idea, these quality rehearsals have almost always led to a great performance. The reality for me is that it's not a question of whether I'm going to miss one of my students’ performances because of the coming of my son, it's a question of how many performances I will miss.

The inevitability of missing out on these performances has really put my words to the test. Can I create meaningful experiences during a rehearsal so that even though I miss the performances, I feel satisfied with the work that I've done with my students?

Performances bring a level of excitement that often leads to better focus. Dressing up, playing for peers and family members and simply knowing that it’s a concert changes the feeling of playing with a group. As great as performances are, they are fleeting. They are moments of sharing that are more about the audience than the musician.

I can't really create this in a classroom but I'm okay with that. If I had to choose what to be a part of, the rehearsals leading up to a performance or a performance itself, I'd go with the rehearsals.

During rehearsals you get the time to explore and get to know how your part fits in with other people. This is the time that you can work on a section of music and hear improvement over a small period of time that you can stop and celebrate. The personal satisfaction that follows the hard work of a rehearsal is unlike anything.

If you sacrifice the quality of a rehearsal experience for the quality of a performance you are choosing, product over process and ego over learning. Are you pushing your group to sound good for you or for them? Because if you really want them to feel satisfied about a performance they need to feel that the hard working leading up to the performance is rewarding.

Ideally you have great meaningful rehearsals and fantastic performances, but having both can be difficult. All I know now is that I want to make these next couple rehearsals as productive as meaningful as possible for my students and myself.

This is about truly being in the moment for my kids, praising the effort my students put into their work and not taking the opportunity to connect with each other through music for granted.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Second Trimester

It sounds weird, but over the past two trimesters, our baby has become more real to us.

It’s not that I didn’t believe it when Diana told me that she was pregnant. For some reason it just didn’t sink in.

Then I heard the heartbeat and I felt like a dad for the first time. After that there was the sonogram pictures where I could see our babies head, hands and feet. Then we found out that “it” was actually a "he" and he began to “kick.”

All of these things are mind-blowing and emotionally unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. There’s nothing like feeling your son kick, or do whatever kind of motion that he’s doing when you touch your wife’s abdomen. I know that he probably doesn't know it's me when I’m near but I can’t help but think that he’s saying hi.

The second trimester in some ways is easier. Some symptoms weren’t as bad as during the first trimester and our families and close friends know about the baby so they share in our joy.  Also there’s the excitement about preparing for the baby. In other ways it’s a lot harder. Other symptoms are more difficult, the stress of preparing for the baby rises and I feel like Diana needs more help from me on a daily basis.

No, I’m not saying that Diana isn’t doing anything around the house or that I’m waiting on her, but she’s more tired and therefore needs to be more selective about what she does with her energy.  Some of that means that I’m doing more dishes and dogs walks than usual. That’s okay, she is carrying our little boy around all day long.

Now I’ve always felt protective of Diana but these feelings have reached a new level these past couple months. I trust Diana and she’s doing an amazing job of taking care of herself and our boy but I still worry. At this point a bad fall could have devastating consequences and at any moment something can go wrong without any warning and we could be on our a way to the emergency room.

The shift in my life this whole last trimester is centered on the fact that everything I do has significant consequences. Before Diana got pregnant, if I lost my job, it would effect myself and Diana. Now there’s a baby coming. With everything I do, I feel like I have to be more careful so I don’t put the baby in a bad situation.

This feeling of responsibility is almost petrifying, but I can’t take a pause. The baby is coming and he’s going to need me to have my life together. There’s so much swirling in my head right now, and every minute seems to matter, because each passing minute is one minute closer to holding my little man in my arms.

I jokingly tell people that this whole being a dad thing is terrifying, and it is. I’m not afraid that I’ll drop him or not know what to do. What’s scary is that there is much unknown and so much that could go wrong. The worst scenario is unthinkable and I’m worried that my luck will run out. Nothing in my life has tested my faith more than watching Diana experience pregnancy.

Then there’s the moments when we are sitting on the couch and Buffy’s head is in Diana’s lap. Then Diana will take my hand and bring it over to feel our little boy moving around. All that other stuff, all that pressure, all the worries and all the fear, just disappear and everything feels right because we’re a family.

I’m beginning to think this is what parenthood is going to be like: constant struggling, unexpected problems and an endless list of things to do. And then sprinkled throughout that are moments of love and joy.

That doesn’t seem so bad.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Father of Mine by Everclear

“The classic parent attitude with a kid is like, ‘I brought you into this world, I gave you life.’ . . . I just think completely opposite, my kids gave me life."
-Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Some say that we are destined to become like our parents when we become parents ourselves. This is a scary for many people, even those who have great parents that they love.  The things we hate about our parents are the things we don’t like about ourselves and in becoming a parent we are forced to face these insecurities.

Thankfully for kids all over the world, people can fight that destiny and become better than their parents when they step into that role. The film The Other F Word takes a look at punk rock musicians dealing with fatherhood.

At first this film simply seems like a comical look at seeing guys with tattoos deal with doing ordinary things like helping their daughters pick out clothes for the day. What is revealed however is that this is a group of men defying destiny to become great dads.

Punk is a genre of music that takes the rebellious themes of rock music and amplifies them with anger, hatred and an uncomfortable rawness. A lot of these emotions come out of the fact that these musicians had absent, abusive or emotionally distant fathers. This bitterness and anger led to their music but also their choices as fathers.

Art Alexakis of Everclear is featured playing “Father of Mine,” in this film as he tells the story of the relationship he had with his father.

This song tells the story of his father, leaving Art and his mother at a young age. Art fills out this story in the film talking about sexual abuse he suffered as a kid and the feelings of never being sane or safe which he sings about in the song.

You can hear anger in this song but there’s more than that. There’s a sadness and a determination as he sings towards the end, “With a child of my own . . . I swear I’m not going to let her know all the pain I have known. “ It’s seems somehow tragic but also triumphant as Art unpacks his feelings but then turns this frustration and hate into love.

The most powerful thing about "Father Of Mine," and The Other F Word is that shows us that no matter what we are born into, we are not destined to repeat the sins of our fathers.  It's not easy but its possible.  Abandoned children can become great parents, outcasts can contribute to our society by raising great children and anger can become love. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Year 3: Week 30 - Being A Teacher For Ourselves

Sometimes I'm nicer to my students then I am to myself.

When a student is upset and working through an emotion I make a point to not minimize their feelings at their moment. Yes, often what they are feeling is based on a misunderstanding or an insignificant event (in the long run) but in that moment that student is feeling something very real and very strong.

Our first instinct is to try to solve the problem or try to get the student to feel differently, but that can come across to the student as making feel them that what they are feeling is wrong or that their experience is not significant.

This is a difficult thing to do as adult because so often the things that they get upset over are seem silly and completely lack perspective. It's really not a big deal as an adult if your friend from third grade decided to play with someone else during recess, but when it happens to a third grader, it can take over their whole world.

The process I've learned is to first validate their feeling, then let them experience the feelings, give them space to be sad, angry or frustrated and finally when they are ready to move on, help them along. When I say "validate" their feelings, I'm not saying that you tell them that their irrationality is appropriate, but the emotion itself, what is being manifested is something we can all understand and once that connection is made then you can unpack the reasons behind what is happening.

Lately I haven't been allowing myself to feel angry or frustrated about things in my life. I've been skipping over to, "well, this isn't a big deal, it will work out for the best." In doing this, I'm forcing myself to move passed emotions as opposed to allowing myself to work through them.

I’ve always felt as a teacher that in order to be effective you need to be genuine. If you preach things to your students that you don’t honestly believe or practice, your students will realize this and not go along with what you say. This forces teachers to not only act the part, but also to live it. While this is challenging, it transforms teaching from a job to a motivating factor for self-improvement.

Maybe a similar thing needs to apply to the way we treat ourselves. What does it say about us when we treat our students with more patience and understanding than we treat ourselves with? This reflects our feelings of self-worth.

If we don’t think as carefully about the way that we disregard self-talk that we don’t agree with or push away emotions that seem illogical, the same thing will happen to us that happens to our students when we do this. We feel lost and alone.

We must practice what we preach beyond explicit actions. I don’t know if students can get a sense that we are disingenuous when we treat them better then we treat ourselves. What I do know is that we deserve the best of ourselves more than our students. For us to be the best that we can for others, we have to be the best that we can for ourselves.