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.