Friday, June 28, 2013

Parenthood: Week 5 – Celebrating The Small Things

Being the parent of a newborn kind of sucks.

There’s the lack of sleep, the endless diaper changing, feeding him like every two hours (which Diana takes care of almost all of the time) and the fact that your schedule, and your life is no longer under your control.

You do all of these things for a little baby that doesn’t smile at you, barely acknowledges you when you come in the room and doesn’t even know his or her name. While you can’t describe the enormous amount of love you feel for your child, he or she has no real way of showing that love back to you.

So how do you handle all of this? You got to celebrate the small things.

When I taught special education, one of the things I learned was to get really excited about small accomplishments, not only for the students case, but also for your own happiness. In teaching, the accolades are rare so you have to celebrate the small accomplishments because that’s all you got to get you through the day.

The same thing goes for being the parent of a newborn. Graduation is a long ways away, college or preschool. So what do we have so far to be excited about?

There was the moment after we got home from the hospital and could see Ollie’s eyes tracking a book full of black and white high contrast images. As we watched his eyes dart around the image we saw him taking early steps to explore the wonderful world around him.

There was the moment when he grabbed my shirt for the first time. Ollie had held my hand (well more like my finger) from the first day he was born, but when I held him and tried to put him down and realized that he had grabbed my shirt it felt like for a moment that he needed me.

Then there was his one-month doctor visit.

We have been truly blessed with Ollie’s health this past month. While we didn’t have anything specific to be concerned about before this visit, I still worried. I was happy to hear that his weight was good and that everything looked great. But it was when the doctor showed us a couple exercises to do with Ollie that I’ll never forget.

Our doctor showed us an exercise where he held Ollie’s torso and let his legs try to take the weight of his body. Ollie had no problem doing this and the doctor told us, “Wow, he’s doing great, he has really strong legs.”

From the first time I heard Ollie’s heartbeat, I knew that he was strong, but to hear this confirmed by the doctor and to see him working at supporting his weight, I felt a mixture of relief, pride and overwhelming joy.

You don’t have to love everything about being a parent to love being a parent. And yes, being of a parent of newborn isn’t fun sometimes, but I love this experience. Like I tell Ollie, every day is a new adventure.

Amazing moments happen every day; you just have to take the time to celebrate them.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Ok, I'm going to try to do an entire blog post on my iPhone. Since we moved I haven't had Internet except for on my cell phone.  We did the whole sit at Starbucks thing which is how I got my last post up but I felt like a hypocrite because of my rants is about people who work on their computers at Starbucks.  Do you really think that you are cool because you are doing work in a coffee shop? That was SO ten years ago.

Prop 8 and DOMA: unconstitutional.  I can't believe it. One of the first posts on this blog was about "Under Pressure" which was an letter I wrote to my future child about my friend Jen's homosexuality and the validity of her love.  Now, here we are a couple years later in a country divided on this issue but making important steps forward.  

Unlike the Brown Vs. Board of Education case that struck down segregation, both of these decision were not unanimous.  Much will be written and analyzed about how this votes played out, but in my book a win is a win.

While all of this was happening I was teaching my third day of summer camp (which I will write about at a later time).  I spent last night trying to comfort Buffy as a apocalyptic thunder storm freaked out my puppy while Ollie cried as most babies his age at certain times in the night.  

This morning I struggled to get Buffy outside to go to be bathroom, which I did in the dumping rain (I followed her around with an umbrella like a golf caddy).  Even through she got fed, she was tired and nervous and right after I left for camp, her whining woke up Ollie.

The to-do list in my head has been ridiculous since we moved and it has only gotten worse, but knowing that this decision was coming filled me with excitement and hope.

Sometimes we think what happens in Washington D.C. doesn't effect us. It's like all the arguing and debate on the bill is the surface of an ocean in a hurricane while the rest of us are on the bottom of the ocean in the calm waters going about our business just trying to survive.

Things trickle down to the bottom and sometimes on way down they completely change the context in which we are living.  The writing on the wall is now the decision of the highest court of the land and this itself hasn't changed the way we as a country feel about marriage for most individual, but it's an important step.

There will be those who will continues to misuse God's word to argue against marriage equality the same way that people used the Bible to argue for slavery and segregation. And a generation from now there will still be many people who feel that gay marriage is wrong just like how many Americans still live with racism in their hearts today.  For some reason, people's fears and insecurities will continue to keep people from living and letting others love.

With all of battles left to fight I am proud to be an American today.  The march to protect rights is progressing as it has throughout American history.  It's in the fight that Wendy Davis refused to give up in Texas and the decisions by the Supreme Court today. Like Harvey Milk said so many years ago, you got to give them hope, and today that is exactly what the Supreme Court did today.  This hope is beam of light that shines through the darkness of the ocean to touch all of our lives.

Man, do my thumbs hurt . . .

Monday, June 24, 2013

Moving Day - Finding Home

If there’s anything that makes you feel like an adult, and not in the fun way, it’s selling a house, applying for a mortgage, buying a house and then finally moving.

We did all of these things last week.

Owning your own house seems like an integral part of the American Dream. From the pioneers to Terra in Gone With The Wind and the sprawling suburbs, the pursuit of happiness seems tied up in the ownership of land and a house. Things seemed simpler in my parents’ generation. A house was something that even with high interest rates you could afford, especially knowing that you could very likely sell the house with a profit a couple years later. Through different markets changes and adjustments, buying a house seemed like a safe investment. Then the housing market went bust and the mortgages became something that instead of enabling people to have more purchasing power were used by some banks into manipulating people into signing up for a ride that they could not handle.

The vast majority of the houses that Diana and I looked at in the past year were overpriced, many of them significantly so. I had sympathy for people who bought a house thinking that it would be an long term retirement investment who had to face the reality that their house wasn’t even at 70% of the price they purchased the house. My generation is left with a different paradigm. We can’t lean on a house to grow in value. We have to get a different kind of value out of a house. The enjoyment of living in the house is almost as important as the price. It can’t just be about the bottom line anymore. The world has changed.

At the same time, I have to be able to pay the monthly mortgage and I can’t buy a house that I know has fundamental problems, which will inevitably lead to it being sold at a loss.

One of the most frustrating things about the house buying process is that things are only worth what people are willing to pay for a house. Yes, I’m aware that’s how most things in our economy are priced out but with houses there’s such volatility and that it’s difficult to get a feel for what something is worth day to day. This is the world we live in and we got to do the best with the cards that we are dealt. Everyone is part of the real estate industry. You don’t have a choice; you need to live somewhere and the choices you make actively influence the price of houses around you.

Within the frustrations, the stress and the compromises there’s a sense that all of this will be worth it and even though you are stepping into a seemingly convoluted mess of price fluctuations and paper work all of that stuff is somehow worth it because the goal is so worthy.

Diana and I spent a year looking for a new home for our family, to be safe and happy and to make a more beautiful life together. It was a difficult process but as I lay in bed on our first night in our new house, surrounded by boxes and listening to the chorus of Diana, Ollie and Buffy softly breathing, I felt like I was home.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Parenthood: Week 4 – Sleep?!?

In the months leading up to Ollie’s birth many people talked to me about sleep, more accurately the lack of sleep associated with a having a newborn baby. People said to “bank” sleep by sleeping more before the baby came and to really enjoy the sleep you can get. So how are we doing with sleep?

Well, it’s kind of an adventure.

First off, it’s not like you can actually “bank” sleep. I found that even if the human body worked in a way that you could bank sleep, getting a lot of sleep the month before your baby is born doesn’t really happen. Between the ridiculous amount of things that you need to get done, most woman who are nine months pregnant do not sleep soundly and when Diana would get up, I would sometimes wake up. Also there’s the whole “it could happen any minute now,” which makes the sleep less relaxed.

The first three nights of Ollie’s life I slept in the hospital room. There was this big blue recliner chair. The top part reclined all the way flat and combined with the foot rest created a mostly flat sleeping surface. It’s was kind of like one of those seats on international flights that flatten all the way down. It worked as a sleeping surface but let’s just say by the third night, my back wasn’t very happy.

When we finally got home, it was nice to get some sleep in our own bed but newborn parent sleep is a unique feeling. I wanted to sleep but I was also worried about Ollie. I probably got up to check on him twenty times the first night he was home. While I don’t do this anymore, I find myself getting up in the middle of the night sometimes just to watch him sleep.

This wouldn’t be such a crazy thing to do besides that fact that we are getting up every couple hours to feed Ollie, correction: Diana is getting up every couple hours to feed him.

I don’t need to get up with Diana but the first couple nights I tried to. It takes time for babies to get in the swing of feedings and there’s a lot of little things that are a challenge when dealing with a newborn during the night. And honestly, it’s hard to ignore a newborn crying and sleep through it . . . or at least that's what I initially thought.

This past week I haven’t been getting up for the middle of the night feeding. If I hear that he’s being especially fussy, I’ll get up to help Diana out. Most mornings I’ve been getting up around 5am to help change diapers and settle Ollie after his early breakfast.

It’s working out pretty well, and it gives Ollie and I a chance to bond in the early morning when Diana goes to sleep for a couple hours. We watch television, I sing songs to him and we talk about life.

Yes, I feel sleep deprived. While I feel ok in the early morning, the late morning and afternoon can be brutal. We’ve learned to sleep when Ollie sleeps and family nap time is a great idea. Buffy is really good at helping us all get some shut-eye. She’s always in the mood for a good nap.

I miss getting a good night’s rest. While things are tough for me, It’s even rougher for Diana and she’s doing a great and powering through these last couple weeks without whining about not getting sleep.

Sleep feels different now. I’m listening for Ollie and for Diana when I sleep and I never know what kind of night it’s going to be. Maybe Ollie will get up many times or only once. Maybe Ollie will cry and it will not get me up or maybe I’ll sleep through it.  It’s different every night. 

So to expectant parents:
  1. You can't bank sleep, so don't bother trying. 
  2. Brace yourself: the first couple nights will be rough.
  3. Sleep when the baby sleeps.  This is much easier said than done, but try.
  4. Sometimes the sleep seems like a small price to pay for being a parent and other times it feels like a huge sacrifice.  Dig deep, you have a bigger reservoir inside of you than you think.  It's part "suck it up and deal," part "make it happen" and part "your baby is totally worth it." 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Buffy & Ollie: Weeks 1-3

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 3
Week 3

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Reflection On Laura Wallace

Laura Wallace’s blood alcohol level was 0.15% almost double the legal limit. She was driving above the speed limit, without a seatbelt, than lost control of her car and died in a car crash at 4:12 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon, March 20th, 2001. While I was navigating freshmen year at Northwestern University, Laura was working through her senior year at my former high school, Mercer Island High School. In response to this tragedy I wrote the following letter that was published in the Mercer Island Reporter about a month later.

I really didn’t want to believe that drugs and alcohol were a part of Laura Wallace’s death.

I am a freshman at Northwestern University and I heard the news from a friend over the phone. I really didn’t want to believe it, but reality crashed down pretty hard on this one.

I can’t claim to have seen the world or to have gained some great wisdom, but looking back at my years in high school, I feel I have a different perspective on all of this. There is a lot of “garbage” that students at Mercer Island High School deal with. What I mean by “garbage” is a lot of the stuff, which seems to exist only to make life more difficult but in reality really isn’t that way. It’s very stressful; the push for excellence is a great thing, but sometimes the push is a little too much for some people to handle.

Through four years of “garbage” it’s very easy to become disillusioned, to just stop caring. I’m not saying that teachers are putting on too much stress, or that counselors aren’t doing enough. I don’t have a clue why things seem to have gotten so difficult. All I really know is that something aren’t quite right.

I want to challenge current students of Mercer Island High School to think about what they are doing with their time in high school, and to think about what they are doing with their lives. It’s easy to take all honors classes, be in thousands of clubs and assume you are on the right path.

And it’s really easy to never go to class and party way too much and feel you are doing the right thing “experiencing” life as a teenager. But neither of these paths really guarantees anything.

There’s too much to lose.

I never knew Laura Wallace, and I’m not saying that if she had questioned her life she would be alive today. Looking back at all my time in high school, watching my friends struggle and helping friends who still struggle, I feel we must try to figure out what the point of high school is.

I believe that high school is a unique time when teenagers start having adult experiences while having their parents as a safety net. What we learn in class broadens our minds so that we have a basis for understanding. And what we learn out of the classroom is when you start to figure out what friends really are.

Don’t let this tragedy go; make it mean something. No amount of revelation can overshadow this death, but it can bring something of it.

Try to figure out what your life means to you. I hope by thinking about it and letting things like this tragedy help me question my own life, I can come to some understand of what we are all really doing here. It’s always easier to look at someone else’s life and see what’s wrong. But look within, because the person who most needs saving might be yourself.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Parenthood: Week 3 - Adventures In Diaper Changing

How to change a diaper:
  1. Remove dirty diaper
  2. Wipe clean areas of any urine residue of fecal materials
  3. Apply any diaper rash paste, cream of ointment (if necessary)
  4. Put on new diaper
Seems pretty simple, doesn't it?

If you are talking about changing the diaper on a plastic doll, then it's a piece of cake. Changing a diaper on an actual baby is another issue.

Changing a diaper isn't hard but sometimes it can be an adventure.  When legs start flailing, you are half awake and the little one isn't quite done with his or her own business it becomes more than a simple chore.

Changing diapers have never really phased me. I don't remember the first time I changed a diaper. It just seems like something I've done in the past and known how to do. When it came to Ollie though, we reached a new level of "fun," changing diapers more times a day than I can sometimes remember.

The first couple diapers I changed for Ollie were exclusively poopy diapers. The first couple days of a baby's life they poo meconium which is a black sludge-like substances. This stuff isn't really that smelly but it can be a pain to clean off sense it's so sticky. What is astounding is the amount that came out of Ollie's little body. I know he's been holding it in for nine months, but man, sometimes when I would open up his diaper I would just look at the pile of black sludge and just be impressed.

Now that Ollie's system has transitioned with a diet of breast milk, there is a grainier yellow poo which is easier to clean, but it comes more often, sometimes without warning.

Then there's the pee.

Anyone who has had a son has been peed on by their son. Little boys penises point straight up when you open their diaper. In the hospital, we were told storied about how Ollie peed on nurses and doctors but he never peed on us, until that first diaper explosion.

Ollie was crying so I took him to the changing table.  I saw that the wetness indicator on the outside of the diaper was blue so it meant that it was go time. I pulled the diaper down and saw a pile of poo. I pulled the dirty diaper out from under him, lifted is legs with one hand and wiped is butt with my other hand.

As soon as I finished wiping him clean, he pooed. I had slightly pointed his butt towards me so I could get a better angle of to look at is butt, so the poo arched over the side of the changing table onto my shirt. After letting out an audible scream (kind of like when Lando Calrissian's legs gets grabbed by the tentacle from the sarlacc pit) I managed to wipe him clean again and place a new diaper under him. At this point Ollie started to pee. Before I covered him up with that new diaper, pee got all over myself, Ollie and the wall.

Then I grabbed a new diaper and half caught another stream of poo. I cleaned Ollie off again, and quickly got another diaper on him and in one final release let out one last stream of poo.

Looking at the stack of baby wipes, diapers, the stained changing table cover and my own shirt, I felt like I wanted to cry. I probably would have if Diana wasn't laughing so hard watching this whole thing play out. She came over after manly Lando cry of surprise.

So here's a couple tips that I've learned about changing diapers.
  1. Get everything setup that you need before you open the diaper. Pull a wipe out, open the butt paste container and lay out the new diaper with how the baby is lying.
  2. Fold the old diaper under the baby while you wipe. You don't need to wipe the same part three of four times, it's better just to do one going over carefully.
  3.  Get the new diaper covering up the baby. I usually just hold it closed as my other hand gets some butt paste ready and then open it only for a second to apply it and then close it down.
  4. Have a sense of humor about this. While I'd don't think Ollie enjoys my commentary calling the diaper change a game show and that if he has a dirty one he wins a new diaper, but it makes it more fun for me. Pee and poo sometimes gets everywhere.  Don't forget clothing can be washed, changing tables can be cleaned, lamp shades can be thrown away and replaced (yes, you read that right, a lamp shade, he managed to get poo on a lamp shade.)
As gross and tiresome as changing diapers can be, it's  satisfying. Every time in change his diaper I making him feel better, I'm taking care of him. It's a very important part of his care and it is a way of showing that I love him. Sometimes it's frustrating, other times it's the last thing thing on the planet that I want to do.  But when I'm done and I pick him up, he almost always seems like that he feels better and somehow that makes it worth it. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

Parenthood: Week 2 - The “Transition”

In a couple of parenting books and websites I’ve read articles about the transition into becoming a parent. The more I think about this idea, the more humorous I find the concept of this “transition.”

It’s not like you ease in to parenthood. I mean you can prepare as much as you can and that helps the initial stages of parenthood but the bottom line is that at one moment you are not a parent and the next moment you are in the thick of it.

There’s no easing into taking care of your baby. Yes, we had nurses in the hospital who helped us out and there was also the nursery which was a huge help, but that only took us you so far. This doesn’t really feel like a transition time because you are so out of it from the experience of labor that those couple days feels become a blur.

It’s when you finally come home that everything gets into high gear and you realize that you have to get to work. Tasks aren’t able to be scheduled, things just have to get done. Diapers have to get changed, laundry needs to get done and the baby needs to be fed.

Now that we have worked through the second week of Ollie’s life, things are a lot more chill. Well, actually they aren’t, but they feel more relaxed. If anything he seems to need more diaper changes and more attention. During the early days of Ollie’s life I could ignore other things in my life, now I have to jump back into other parts of my life.

So why do things feel more relaxed? Maybe it’s the sleep deprivation talking but I’m getting used to the lifestyle of having a newborn, and I kind of like it. Yes, there are more chores and less sleep but everything is exciting and new for our family. The responsibility can feel overwhelming at times but when you lean into it and get things done, even if they are small things, it feels good.

How do you handle the transition into parenthood? Well, give up on the idea that there is even a transition and get ready like you are at the beginning of a race. Have an idea of the course and the obstacles and when the race starts run as fast as you can. This pace may feel like a stretch but once you get a couple miles in, it doesn’t seem so bad.

Just don't stop running.

Nothing meaningful comes easy and no experiences that are truly memorable happen as they are planned.  Sometimes when we just get thrown in the mix without any transition.  We struggle to keep our head up, but through the struggle we learn how to swim. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Year 3: Week 35 – The Presence

I wasn’t really sure how it would feel to come back to school after being away for two weeks.

I’ve been on paternity leave.  The last post Year 3: Week 33, I actually wrote a week early and then I scheduled it to be posted. That post ended up being published the day that Ollie was born.

Diana was due on a Wednesday and we found out earlier that week that Ollie would come to us on Thursday or Friday so I planned to start my paternity leave on Thursday. I didn’t tell anyone but my administrative team and a couple teachers who were close friends.

As each day got closer to Diana’s due date the part of me that wanted to be a part of the school year all the way to the end got slowly overshadowed by my concern for Diana and Ollie.  In a way, the last day before my paternity leave felt like the right time to go. It didn’t feel like I had it in me to go two more weeks. I’m sure I could have handled it but my mind and my focus really wasn’t at school, so I was glad that my feelings lined up with the timing for me to make my exit.

I came back to school to grab some things I needed at home a week after Ollie was born. It felt strange walking in and seeing that things went on without me. It was comforting to know that the life of the school didn’t rely on my presence but it felt weird to not be actively involved. I made an effort to see a couple people but I avoided seeing my students as to not cause too much of a stir.

One of the teachers I told about my leave asked me if I would come back for the last day of school. He said that he understood if I couldn’t but that showing up would mean a lot to my kids.

I talked to Diana about this and she said that she was fine with me going. Things with Ollie were going really smoothly and anyways, her mom would come over and help if anything came up.

I recognized the last day of school buzz as I walked into the building. And then my student started seeing me around. My middle school students tried to give me awkward hugs, and had me sign their yearbooks. My third graders mobbed me in a huge group hug without hesitation and my fifth graders wooed and awed when I lifted my iPad high over my head and played videos of Ollie for crowd of them.

It was a little overwhelming but it was a lot of fun.

After I helped the fifth grade students find their seats for the all school assembly I wandered over to the sixth graders and a group of them waved me over to them. I decided to sit with them for the assembly. I showed them pictures of Ollie during breaks between speeches and participated in a fun game of “poke the person in front of you and pretend that you didn’t do it.” Halfway through the assembly one of my flute players sitting near me said, “Mr. Tang, I’m really glad you came to school today, it doesn’t feel like school without you. “

Year three has been full of amazing moments, frustrating conflicts, and personal changes. It was a time when my attention became split and my priorities shifted. It was also the year that I felt truly embraced by my school and felt comfortable for the first time in my teaching career as something more than a rookie teacher.

What that flute player told me perfectly summed up what this year was about. It’s our spirit and our presence that makes a school feel like a community.  To be that presence for a student is a humbling thing and even more than the applause after performance and the positive written evaluations, it was those kind words that reassured me that my work during Year 3 means as much to my students as it did to me.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway) by Billy Joel

At the crossroads of science fiction and rock music you have the good:

 . . . the bad:

Yes, I am categorizing this song as “bad.” You want to make something out it?

Then there’s the um. . .

Science fiction and rock has melded into some amazing musical creations and some  painful musical atrocities. Rock music like science fiction often works as a commentary on society reflecting the future of as a way to examine the present. So while throughout rock music there have been some misguided attempts at melding these two genres, there have been some really amazing ones like "Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)."

After spending time in Los Angeles and becoming disillusioned by the music scene and the culture there, Billy Joel returned to New York. He marked this by the release of his album Turnstiles. This album featured songs reflecting this move like “Say Goodbye To Hollywood,” and odes to his hometown like “New York State Of Mind.” This album ended with “Miami 2017,” which portrayed a despotic post-apocalyptic New York, where people had fled to Miami for refuge.

Joel wasn’t that far off. The New York of 1976 was not the Disney Store-Giuliani cleaned up time square that we know now. It was the Taxi Driver, crime-ridden and about to default city that many viewed as a hopeless center of sin.

Loving a city that many disregarded as falling apart, Joel responded with “Miami 2017” singing about watching the city burning down, but continuing to play a concert regardless of the destruction. This was a song about how that even in the apocalypse of iconic buildings and the sinking of Manhattan itself, the spirit of the city lived on through a concert that would not stop.

When the attacks on the World Trade Center buildings on 9/11 occurred, people became cautious to show images of these buildings and the destruction of New York. Instead of going along with this, Billy Joel proudly performed “Miami 2017,” at The Concert For New York.

While his words seemed less prophetic and more like a reflection of actual events, when he sang “we went right on with show,” it meant something to the city and the rest of the country.
instead of mourning the fact that Joel and all of New York witnessed 9/11, the song reminded all of that we are survivors and to take pride in living through this experience.

Through the clouds of dust there’s the music and the spirit that no destruction could silence.