Friday, January 31, 2014

Year 4: Week 20 - Fighting the Good Fight

Teachers have to fight all of the time.

Educators in America have to advocate for their clients (the students) and their value in society. Some of the things we wage war over are seems more personal like salaries and benefits.  However, fighting for a higher salary effects people looking into being a teacher and how other teachers feel valued, so even those issues is more than just a personal one.

I often wonder how much other people have to fight in their jobs. Many of my friends who aren’t teachers negotiate their own salary and have to argue for materials and what they think is best for their client. I don’t find many people though who have to argue for their job's value in society.

Some of my friends who work in finance who got heat for the economy collapsing have to defend their jobs but at the same time, the level of financial compensation they get convinces most people that there is value in their work. If you are being paid a high a salary, that is a justification in itself because it means you are helping other people make money . . . theoretically.

What would teaching be like if we didn’t have to fight for enough money to buy basic materials for our students? How different would this profession be if teachers had high salaries that made people in other fields like medicine and business feel devalued by society? How much better would American education be if teachers spent less time fighting for our kids and more time teaching them?

The lower salaries mean that most teachers do their jobs for the love of the job. That’s the single greatest motivator for teachers, which means that you have less teachers in schools who are there for the wrong reasons. However lower salaries also mean that you loose amazing teachers who can’t afford to be a teacher so they go into other fields instead.

Every time someone says that teachers are overpaid, shouldn’t get the benefits that they do or are the nexus of the problems in American education it grates at our souls. One of the reasons that teachers are so optimistic is because if they weren’t, the negativity and lack of respect and value that people express towards teachers would crush them.  Many people in society only see value defined by how much someone gets paid and those people need to see that expression being directed towards teachers in order for these people to taking teaching seriously.

Yes, there are plenty of bad teachers out there. There are deplorable business people in every major city. There are amazing ethical professional athletes and then there are ones who cheat. Judging all teachers by the worst among us has a negative spiritual effect on the teaching population.  

The fight for pencils and basic school supplies is not a fight teachers should have to wage. We shouldn’t have justify why small class sizes are better and we shouldn’t have to spend out time convincing people why would should be paid a wage that is both fair and communicates a place of value to ourselves and people outside our profession. We shouldn’t have to fight to make sure kids have enough food and clean clothes every day.

We should spend our time in difficult conversations with parents over what is best for their chidlren. We should debate the value in federal versus locally mandated curriculum and healthy tension between them. We should work in a school focused on our jobs, to teach, education and facilitate the development of individual students as human beings and not as products.

American education succeeds on the energy, optimism and hope of teachers coming every day and fighting the good fight.  If we're not careful, if our teachers are not buoyed up, those things that teachers bring, that light may run out and what we would be left with . . . well. . . would be nothing.

We have changes to make and battles to be won and teachers in America aren't giving up even though these fights take away from the energy our kids, your children need from us.  We do it because it's right, it's what needs to be done.

We spend money out of our own pockets so kids don't go hungry, we can't ignore this need, so don't ignore our battles and think twice before you decide to take the other side.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I'm Goin' Down by Bruce Springsteen

There’s a lot of reasons that I want to be like Bruce Springsteen when I grow up. One of the main reasons is because he has so much fun doing what he loves.

Seriously, look how much fun he’s having during the last chorus. You can’t fake that kind of joy.

Watching this recent performance of “I’m Goin’ Down” it’s clear that he is having the time of his life. Springsteen has many different songs that cover so many different styles and watching Springsteen perform this album cut from Born In The U.S.A. reminded me of another layer of this amazing artistry.

“I’m Goin’ Down,” is a simpler song than “Thunder Road,” or “The Rising.” It has a simply four chord pattern that is repeated through out the song and the melody, while catchy doesn’t have a lot to going on. Sometimes Springsteen channels Bob Dylan, sometimes he channels Motown artists like Smokey Robinson. With “I’m Goin’ Down,” Springsteen is challenging The Beatles when they first came to America in 1964.

You can hear it in the structure of the melody and even see it in in the way Springsteen bobs his head side to side just like Paul did back in the day.  There’s an innocent joy in this song that is reminiscent the youthful joy that The Beatles came across the ocean with and inspired many American including Springsteen himself to be a musician.

The lyrics of “I’m Goin’ Down,” are kind of . . . down. He’s singing about a passion that has fizzled. There’s no turn around in this song or resolution. It just goes on and on about how things aren’t going very well. So what is Springsteen so happy about?

This song isn’t one of those “let’s sing a happy song with sad lyrics to deal with the pain” –songs. It’s more like “hey, there are these issues, but I’m naive enough and young enough to think that my pleas will turn you around, because chances are you are actually still into me, but you’re just playing a game, right?" It’s capturing a level of innocence and hopefulness, which from an older perspective seems ludicrous, but hey, that’s what it means to be young.

Another way you can look at this song is a man getting payback and stating “look, at what I used to do for you, if you’re not careful, you will loose this amazing man you see before you.” “My kisses used to turn you inside out,” has a sly wink, which makes this song feel more like a flirtatious game then a reflection of a relationship falling apart.

It’s so remarkable how a song can feel so good and be about something that doesn’t seem that happy. In some ways, this dichotomy makes the song even more joyful. There’s dirtiness and there's tension.  It’s not an ideal love, it’s something you can relate to. All relationships ebb and flow and we fight to stay in the game because of how good we know it can be.

That’s really what this song is about. It’s about that feeling that is lost but brings us so much joy in our memory that we can’t help but smile when we think about it even when we are faced with sadness.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Parenthood: Week 35 - Learning To Ignore Crying

I still remember the first time I heard Ollie cry. The sound of his voice crying out to the world right after he was born filled me with relief, joy and a euphoria that I had never felt before. Even though there was a sense of anguish in his voice, the overwhelming feeling of joy overcame any other feelings knowing that he was okay after being born.

In those first couple weeks after he was born, my reaction to his crying was less about joy and more like sheer panic. I would rush over whenever I would hear any sign of crying to see what was wrong. Any thought that he had to suffer for a second longer than necessary haunted me and I did everything I could to attend to him every single time he cried.

Then there was the first time that I slept through his cries. Diana and I realized at a certain point that one of us needed to get sleep for our family to function. As Diana was nursing Ollie, it made sense for me not to get up every time he needed to eat in the nighttime. Even though I agreed with her, I still got up after we had this conversation but one night I slept through his cries.

I heard him crying, but I knew Diana would take care of him and the sense of urgency now dissipated.  This sound no longer roused me up out of my half-sleeping stage as it did before.

Over the past eight months of Ollie’s life, my reaction to him crying has become far less panicking and depends much more on the situation. Part of this has to do with the fact that I can now kind of identify his different cries.

When Ollie has a dirty diaper he has a whimpering cry. When he is tired, his cry is whinier and when he wants attention his cry is louder and more demanding. It’s not that I don’t attend to these cries as immediately as I can, but sometimes I just need to worry less about comforting him and more on fixing the problem.

Ollie doesn’t like having his diaper changed, nor does he like wet diapers. So let’s say he starts crying because of a wet diaper. As I change his diaper, he starts crying louder because I’m holding him down, which he really doesn’t like. All my focus at that moment is on getting the diaper changed as quickly as possible. I’ve found that I can’t really focus on comforting him at the same time. I just need to get the diaper changed.

I don’t feel bad about his crying in these moments because even though I’m doing something that makes him upset, things need to get done.  He hates putting on his winter jacket and cries whenever we put it on. Well, we live in Chicago, so he was to deal with it. So he cries and someone it doesn’t bother me because it’s for his own good.

Other times I need to ignore his cries for attention when I place him in his playpen and I need to use the bathroom. I know he’s fine and I only need him to wait for a couple minutes, so surprisingly, he cries at the moment don’t really have a strong emotional effect on me.

Part of the initial panic about crying is that you don’t want your child to be permanently scarred from crying too much. But the reality is that babies, even if they are attended to 24 hours in a day, cry.  So as heart breaking as it is something, a reasonable amount of crying really doesn’t hurt a baby.

I’m not advocating ignoring your baby while he or she cries. I just find it interesting how a sound that once instilled such panic in me, now hardly phases me. Well, that’s not entirely true.

Remember how I mentioned the different types of cries earlier in this post? Well, when Ollie cries a “I’m in pain and I’m scared,”-cry, it brings tears to my eyes. The volume of this cry is unbelievable and it’s not so much a series of cries but a full out scream. Hearing this thing is really rough. Thankfully I’ve only heard it a couple times but when I hear it, I panic.

We have a lot more crying ahead of us.  Diana and I will have to be thoughtful how we react depending on the cries as we deal with sleep training and toddler crying which requires varied reactions from parents depending on the situation.

Right on cue, there's Ollie crying.  It's a dirty diaper cry.  Time to head over and take care of this diaper change.  He'll probably cry a little bit while I do it, but it'll be okay.  As soon as its done, I know, I'll be able to get a little smile out of him.  


Friday, January 24, 2014

Year 4: Week 19 - Hiring Season

Like many schools we are in the hiring season. This process continues in the spring as summer and people’s lives change and develop and lead them away from our school.

As a young teacher, I was insulated from the hiring process and the hiring cycle. When I was getting years of experience as an assistant, my position did not allow me to be an integral part of the process. Now in my fourth year at this school and a department chair, hiring has become part of the yearly cycle of events just like the Winter Assembly and the last day of school.

Being put in a position to be part of the hiring process is like many other things about being a more experienced teacher. The ability to give more feedback and have a voice in the direction of the school allows me to influence change and help foster ideas. The flip side is that there is a lot of responsibility and there’s fewer people up the ladder that I can lean on to make the tough decisions.

It’s easier to let other people make decisions. You can complain about these decisions, they weren’t yours, someone else made the call. However, when you make a decision about hiring, there’s no one you can blame if things don’t go well.

I’m glad that my school does a lot of these hiring through committees and that’s great but doesn’t necessarily spread the responsibility if something doesn’t go well. There is still a hierarchy of responsibility and like any organization certain people make the final calls and are accountable for those decisions.

In my younger years I thought, well, if you hire someone who is wrong for a position, just fire them and hire someone else, what’s the big deal? Well, it is not easy to fire somebody.  It’s something to be avoided, not relied upon as a way out of mistakes.

If you understand that approach then it puts much more pressure on the hiring process to get it right. The interview process for my first job included them calling my references and interviewing me for and hour and half and then offering me that job, that day.

The interview process for my current job included three teaching samples in front of students and about three hours of interviews over three different days. Only after all of that did the school invite back to be officially offered the job.

At the time I thought this was crazy. At a certain point, it seemed like they were taking advantage of me for free teaching. What, they are too cheap to get a sub? And every time I was interviewed there were at least four people in the room asking me questions.

The downside to this process was that it took a lot of time away from the tasks of being a teacher. Also, many people are part of this interview process who may not have a lot of experience or training on how to interview someone.

The positives however outweigh the negatives significantly. You get different perspectives from other people in the community and it becomes shared experience with the faculty, which is important. The teaching samples are key. They need that “it” factor that you can only gleam from watching someone teach.

It’s a crazy time of year and these are long and involved processes, but our kids are worth it. The worst thing that happens if you get the hiring wrong is not that you fire them but that they stay on because they aren’t bad enough to get fired but are doing damage. The best thing that happens in inspiration to kids and the community that goes beyond expecatations.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Parenthood: Week 34 - Pushing Ahead and Missing The Moment

When a kid starts crawling around some people start getting obsessed with their kid walking. That’s kind of silly, enjoy your kid crawling around, one of these days you will miss how your kid used to crawl. Don’t be in too much of a rush to see your kids grow up.
-Electrician who came by today to fix a broken dimmer switch.
Developmental milestones are exciting for parents. Moments like the first smile or the first time a baby rolls over demonstrate signs of health. More than this, these new “tricks” (as one of my friends called them) are important moments in life marking accomplishments and the passage of time.

As someone who studied child psychology and child development, I get extremely excited to see Ollie hit these milestones. I’m probably worse than most parents as it’s not only the big things like rolling over that gets me excited but also little things like Ollie holding something in his hand and turning his wrist.

One thing that bothers me is how sometimes people seem more obsessed with pushing babies to the next milestone than simply enjoying the place that they are at right now. I remember people trying to get Ollie to smile right after he was born. Why are you pushing so hard for this? It’s not going to happen. Stop trying so hard and enjoy the wonder that is newborn smell, the way that their little hands tighten and up and their bodies can be swaddled up into a cute little ball (oh, how I miss those newborn days).

I’ve heard of parents pushing their babies to sit up before they are ready or lead them around the room holding them by their shoulders in an attempt to get them to walk earlier. There’s people who try to get toddlers to do math that’s far too complex for their little brains and others who potty train their kids way too early.

I get it that it’s important to challenge and stretch babies capabilities. Right now, Ollie is really into saying “da.” It’s super cute but I don’t only talk to him with that syllable. I speak to him with other words. At the same time, I don’t sit him down in my lap and say words at him repeatedly hoping that he’ll replicate them.

I see this in parents of the students that I teach. They want so much for their students to be ahead of the curve, to master the next step and then immediately move onto the next point. While the motivation is great, wanting their kid to succeed and growing, constantly pushing onto the next goal in life seems to miss the point of . . . well. . . life.

Many people have told me advice like that electrician did jokingly referring to the fact that once you teach your kids to talk, you will wish that they never learned how to talk. While I get this joke, I think there’s something more to this comment.

Don’t worry so much about your baby’s next milestone. Yes, be aware of what your baby should be doing and help them learn to do new things.  Remember, the meaning of the milestone isn't in making it there but rather in  the process of getting there that you share.

Every stage of your child’s life will have things that you will wish you could experience again.  Each stage has their little special moments and magical things about them.  Enjoy those moments for what they are, not where they lead.

Don't love your child for what she can do or who she will be.

Love her for who she is.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Year 4: Week 18 - Curriculum

In an in-service day earlier this week, my department discussed articulating our own curriculum. We were asked some questions to consider at the beginning of the day. Here are some of my answers:

1. What sort of curriculum do we need?

Curriculum works in concert with assessment and instruction to inform these other parts of teaching as they inform curriculum. Curriculum is a reflection of the philosophy and priorities of not only the school but also the larger community of education and the broader society.

The need for curriculum is to organize our thoughts and also to express to others the viewpoints, the perspectives and the ways of thinking that best reflects the values we hold dear.

The sort of curriculum that we need is a framework for us to work from and build, not the kind that is a cage that limits us as teachers. It should inform us when ideas are sparse but also steer the ship when ideas are plentiful. It should be holistic in thinking about the broader perspective between grades but should also hold value by itself in isolation of what came before and what is coming after.

The fluidity of curriculum is based on different possibilities that can come as an expression of these values and should not come from a lack of clear understandings of philosophy and priorities of the school.

Curriculum are choices are made based on the values which grow from the philosophy of the school which is both structured enough to provide guidance but fluid enough to allow teachers to respond to the reality of the human condition and not the idealized student.

2. What form should curriculum take?

Curriculum should take the form of a multi-layered document that shows the broad scope of the department with other additions that can provide details. Examples of repertoire are important but also fundamental character building is vital. This form should reflect other forms that curriculum take on in other parts of the school. For the form must serve not only the teachers but also the wider school community.

3. What will we do with it?

Leave it on shelf and forget about it. Kind of. . .

Here's the thing, if the curriculum is done well and truly reflects the philosophy of the school and the teachers, then the curriculum is not something that needs to be opened up every day for a guidance. Many things in the curriculum should be innate in who we are as teachers.

This document should be used used long term planning and also helps when someone is absent. So yes, leave it on the shelf, most of the time. I feel that curricula hold their value more in the process of creating them, than in their everyday use.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wasted Time by The Eagles

“All relationships ends.”

We have this idea in our society that the perfect relationship starts in your twenties and lasts until you are on your deathbed. Then magically you and your partner die at the exactly same time and no one is left alone to mourn the other person.

This idealized version of a relationship places more value on the length and the way the relationship ends than on the relationship itself. Saying a relationship that lasts a month is not being significant and having a relationship end in betrayal makes us seems like it’s all just wasted time.

Eagles Wasted Time by alfa_blond

For Christmas I got a collection of the Eagles’ studio albums. I know this band from their reunion concert Hell Freezes Over, and I’ve enjoyed their music ever since. I was excited to listen to Hotel California and hear some of my favorite songs in the context of one of the greatest albums in the history of rock music.

While many people (including myself) mock the title track as being a party killer and putting crying babies to sleep (which I swear works for Ollie), “Hotel California” is a beautiful and haunting song. However, the song that really stuck out to me as being truly remarkable was “Wasted Time.”

Like Henley’s later solo song “Heart Of The Matter,” (which I wrote about in this previous post), “Wasted Time,” in an insightful and powerful song that illuminates truths about relationships and the complexities of love.

The song begins with Henley comforting a friend who has recently gone through a breakup. He sings  gently “you can’t believe it’s happening again . . . and it looks like the end.” Like a patient friend Henley works to validate his friend's feelings before helping her feel better. The way that Henley sings “you’re afraid it’s all been wasted time” hints at an understanding that he later reveals.

The way this friend’s relationship ended is one of most painful. It’s not that she was betrayed. In some ways she did everything right and it didn’t work out. She simply “loved the boy too well.” Henley shows off the subtle and effortless acrobatics of his voice with line, gently soaring up and resting on the word “well.” As he continues, he reveals that he too is trying to stop worrying if it’s all been wasted time.

Henley then flips around the advice she gave to him “sometimes to keep it together, we got to leave it alone.” By reflecting back her advice at her, he reminds her of her own inner strength. This leads to the resolution “maybe someday we will find, that it wasn’t really wasted time.” While the song starts with lonely piano octaves, it ends with a sweeping rush of strings and Henley’s voice rising like a sunset.

It can't all be wasted time.  As painful as things may feel and as bleak as the prospects are in the future you can't forget at the the beginning of the relationship there was a spark or some magical shared experience that brought you together.  You can let the way the relationship ends invalidate that moment and all the good times that happened later or you can choose not to.  Yes, there's a time for us all when it feels like wasted time, but it's up to ourselves to move past that and see the value beyond the end. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Parenthood: Week 33 - Poo

You don’t have to love everything about being a parent to love being a parent. I most definitely do not love changing poopy diapers even though I love Ollie to the moon and back (multiple times).

Diana and I started talking about poo way before Ollie came into our lives.  It started with Buffy. I learned that when you are caring for a living creature that can’t talk, besides energy level and the brightness of their eyes, all you got to tell how they are doing is their appetite, how they are sleeping and of course, their poo.

So yes, Buffy’s poo is a topic of daily conversation and when something seems weird about her poo, it’s important that we share with each other the details. Yes, this may seems weird and gross, but hey, that’s part of the gig.

With Buffy’s poo, we pick it up with poo bags, throw it out and once in a while we wipe her butt (there’s a lot of fur down there). Ollie on the other hand requires more intimate butt care.

I have a special relationship with Ollie’s poo. In the first week Ollie was home, he pooed on me (if you’re curious how, I’ll draw you a diagram). While Diana was recovering those first couple weeks, I did the laundry. It seemed like almost every single load had poo stains that I had to scrub out.

When I would complain about this my brother would mock me and say, “Just wait until Ollie starts eating solid foods, it will make you miss the breast milk poo.”

Now that Ollie has started eating solid foods, I don’t miss the exclusively breast milk diet poo.  However, I got to admit that solid food poo is pretty nasty.

What was once liquidity yellow and wiped off easily is now a thick brownish sludge. It does not wipe off easily and it smells,  REALLY smells. The smell and the sight of wouldn’t be so bad if not for the quantity. I’m not joking, it seems like Ollie poos half his body weight sometimes.

One reason I would never want to live in another time period is because they wouldn’t have as advanced diapers. Yes we have blow outs but for the most part, the diapers somehow manage to keep this deluge of brown sludge in his diaper. Keeping all of it in means that this stuff gets all over Ollie’s crotch, but hey it’s better than getting it all over his pants . . . and me.

I still volunteer to change diapers because no matter how many diapers I change, it will never make up for the amount of child-care Diana has done and continues to do.  Even though I volunteer, there’s a moment of hesitation and a silent prayer that the diaper will just be a pee diaper. Here’s the thing: I want Ollie to have poopy diapers. A constipated baby is NOT a happy baby, but I really don’t want to clean up the poo. There is nothing in my life that I’ve wanted to happen and dread at the exactly same time like a poopy diaper.

In addition to Buffy’s poo, now we talk about Ollie’s poo.  My parents even recommended to me that Diana and I tell each other about our poo.  Well, I do this in some cases especially since I have Crohn’s disease (read all about it in these posts).

There's always going to be "poopy diapers" to take care of for Ollie.  I imagine teaching Ollie to drive and having certain "talks" with him will not be fun for me but will need to happen and in the end will be good for both of us.

Acknowledge the parts of parenting that you don't like.  If you say that love everything about being a parent, you're not being honest with yourself.  Not enjoying changing poopy diapers doesn't mean you don't care about your kid.  Changing them despite the fact that it's disgusting shows how much you love your little one. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Year 4: Week 17 - Lesson Plans

I haven’t written out a formal lesson plan in six years.

It’s not that I don’t plan out the scope and sequence of what I teach, I just don’t write out formal lesson plans. I have various documents and calendars that map out the year. I make notes of what I want to teach and how I want to teach things . . . sometimes. More often than not I teach from objectives that I have written out or have come up with in my head.

In college, I wrote out lesson plans all the time because I had to.  I would carefully fill in each box on the form so I would know the materials, how long it would take to teach each thing, the sequences of instructions, assessments and more. Yes, these epic three page lesson plans would often cover a 10-minute teaching experience, but I was really prepared and really thorough.

As much as it was a pain sometimes to write these things out, I think it was good to spend the time to do these things. The probably was trying to actually follow these lesson plans.

During these early years of teaching, instead of reacting to my students, thinking about how they were learning and how I was teaching, my concern was following my lesson plan. Sometimes when you are a new teacher and you are teaching, which is often a terrifying experience, following a lesson plan is all that you got to get you through the lesson and make yourself feel like that you have achieved some level of success.

Great, you’ve followed your lesson plan! Yay! But your students are horribly confused and you didn’t interact with them in a meaningful way, but the lesson plan was completed.

As I got more experienced, my lesson plans became less formal and I began to stop caring that I wasn’t following my plans carefully. Making lesson plans became a mental exercise to help me think through my teacher more than script or a plan of attack. In some ways the most beneficial lesson plans were the ones I thought about for a long time and then proceeded to ignore when it came to actually teaching.

At this point in my teaching, lesson planning happens quickly and mostly in my head. The reason I can do what I do without writing out lesson plans is probably because I had so many years when I did write out detailed plans. Like someone learning how to swim, the life preserver of a lesson plan, something for me to hang onto when things didn’t go as planned, is no longer necessary now that I can swim.

Young teachers: write out formal lesson plans. Use this exercise as a way to teach you how to think. Don’t let these plans tie you down or pull you away from your students.  Teaching is not about following a plan.  A monkey could do that.  Be more than monkey.  When you've had a couple years under your belt, try some different ways of organizing yourself and see what works.     

Great lesson plans do not guarantee success in the classroom.  They help, but if you can still make great things happen in the classroom without formal plans, consider giving them up and spend that time you would have spent writing out plans eating lunch with your students.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Overlooking Buffy

I’ve always known that Buffy was a good dog.

From the day I met her, she has enriched our lives with meaning and joy. She’s a family member, a partner and one of the most important living creatures in my life.

Sometimes we take the people in our lives for granted. When people do great things for us everyday we get used to these things. While it’s good to expect great things out of the people around us, we can’t forget to show gratitude for who they are and their presence in our life.

Like with other people in life, there are times that I have overlooked great things that Buffy has done. Especially in the past year with Diana’s pregnancy and Ollie entering our lives, Buffy's greatness has sometimes been overlooked.

Even when she didn’t get as long walks as she should or wasn't played with as much as she deserved, she was always there with us and for us through the past year. This was clearly displayed over and over again on our recent trip to visit my parents in Seattle.

We took Buffy and Ollie with us to visit my family in Seattle for the week of New Years. With all of the stress of taking a baby on a plane, Buffy did exactly what we needed her to do. In the past she has had issues being settled during take off and landing. Also, right before going to the airport sometimes she didn’t understand that she really had to do her business because she wouldn’t get another chance for hours. All of these issues that we had with her on past plane flights weren’t there. Somehow she knew that we needed to focus on Ollie.

Buffy continued to be great with Ollie when we were at my parents’ house. Now that Ollie is scooting around he moves towards Buffy, grabs handfuls of hair and often swats at her. Buffy is very patient with him and lets him do this and when she is tired of him, instead of growling she simply walks away. What I didn’t expect is how great Buffy was with my niece.

My niece is about one and half, so when the idea came up that she would walk Buffy I wasn’t sure how this would go. Buffy in general does a great job walking on a leash but if there’s a squirrel or another dog, she will let you know that she wants to move in that direction. So I was a little nervous when this toddler held Buffy’s leash and started walking down the street.

I had walked down this street previously with Buffy and knew there were spots that she liked to sniff but she ignored them as this little girl held her leash. Buffy perfectly matched her pace and when she dropped the leash (which happened a couple times), Buffy simply stood there and waited for her to pick it up again.

Buffy was being completely selfless and patient with my niece. I’ll never forget the smile my niece had on her face when she held Buffy’s leash and I’ll never forget the way that Buffy stood there like a mother looking after her puppies. 

Buffy is amazing every day but this moment reminded me of this in a way that I never thought about before.

My mom always told me that it was important to fill my life with people that I admire, people that I want to be like. I admire Buffy and one day when I grow up I want to be just like her. Buffy is smart and caring. She is giving but she’s not a doormat. She stands up for herself and lets you know what she’s thinking. Buffy believes that every person or dog has the same warmth that she does. She’s amazing with children and lives only to bring comfort into people’s lives.

I hesitate to tell people that Buffy is my dog, because she’s so much more than an animal I own. I don’t even know how to describe what she means to be me because no label fits.

Buffy is and always will be one of the most beautiful souls I've been blessed to share my life with. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Parenthood: Week 32 - Bringing Ollie Home

After I graduated from high school I left my home in Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle, and went to Northwestern University in Evanston, just north of Chicago.  For the past thirteen years, I've brought things home to share with my family.  There were stories, books, pictures, videos, Diana, Buffy and now Ollie.

My parents have been amazing grandparents and have done a great job overcoming the distance between Bellevue and Evanston to be a part of Ollie's life.  They came out right after Ollie was born and again in July.  My mom also came out by herself in September and early November to visit.

Diana and I decided that for Thanksgiving we would bring Ollie home to my parents house for the first time.  As I discussed in this previous post, there were a lot of concerns about taking Ollie on a plane.  

It's difficult for Ollie to be comfortable in a new place so we all tried our best to help him be feel settled.  My parents setup a crib in my dad's office, Diana and I carefully packed bringing things to make him feel comfortable like his sleep sack and we made sure not to schedule too many things during his trip so that Ollie could get his naps in and not feel too overwhelmed by the experience.

Whenever my parents have visited us to help with Ollie, it's been amazing.  It's like there's another two people are added to the partnership that me and Diana have developed to take care of Ollie. Being at my parents house with Ollie is like that but even better because it feels like we are surrounded by that support all of the time.

I will forever be grateful for the effort and care that my parents have put forth to take care of Ollie. my mom cooked a bunch of baby food that was frozen and ready for him to eat.   My dad adjusted his work so that he could be available to help with Ollie and they were always ready to do whatever we ask of them to help with Ollie.

The house my parents currently live in is not the house I grew up in.  My senior year of high school my parents moved into a new house.  At the time, I wasn't very happy about this.  Because of this move I had to commute to high school and I felt uprooted right before I knew that the transition to college was ahead of me.  My dad told me that a building does not make a home, the people do.

It's not that simple though.

Presence of a family contributes to making a house feel like a home, but it's the effort that the family in the house makes to take care of each other that makes it truly a home.  Bringing Ollie home, watching the energy and love that my parents direct towards Ollie has made this house feel like a home in a profound way.  Ollie is beginning to sense this as well.  The more time Ollie spends in this home, the more he feels safe to explore the house, the faster he goes to bed and the more he smiles.

My parents' house is not my childhood home but it has become something even more special.  This house is not filled with memories fragmented by time gone by, but rather by times that are not so far in the past.  We are looking forward to bringing Ollie back to this home.  With the care we all share with each other in this house, moments in the future will continue to make this house a home.  

Friday, January 3, 2014

Parenthood: Week 31.5 - Parenting By The Book Vs. Parenting With Your Instincts

The first time that I watched this sketch, I thought it was funny but I didn't really get it.  After seeing the  piles of parenting books and the significant pile of books that just were about getting your kids to sleep this sketch no longer seemed funny.  Suddenly, it all started to feel way too real.

Diana read a quite a few parenting books.  Bear in mind that Diana is a very fast reader and has an amazing ability to synthesize and analyze knowledge she acquires from the written word.  So for her reading a lot of books about parenting wasn't a huge chore and this was a significant help for myself being a much slower reader.  We've always read books about children and their development for fun as we are both fascinated with children and issues related to them.  It seemed natural that we would read books about parenting.

The amount of parenting books on the market is intimidating and some people react by simply ignoring all of these books and going with their instincts.  The other extreme is only going with what you read in a book and ignoring your instincts.  The reality is that you need some of the knowledge that comes from these books and without using your instincts you will not know how to temper this knowledge to best serve your child's needs.

There is an enormous amount of knowledge that is out there about parenting.  I don't use the term "wealth of knowledge" because a lot of this knowledge is useless and unfortunately some of it can be detrimental.  You can't let the overwhelming amount of books deter you from familiarizing yourself with material written by doctors and health professionals that is backed up by sound research.  When Dr. Weissbluth suggest that you put your child to sleep earlier in the evening, it's because it reflects his own research and practice as a doctor.

Ignoring this kind of advice puts parents in situations where they are reinventing the wheel.  While discovering how to be a parent is a great part of parenting, building upon the experience of previous generations, which parents have done throughout human history is vital to your sanity as a parent.  Even with reading a lot of books, there will be new things that you will discover, trust me.

You can't go simply with what you read in a book even if it is well-researched.  Being a parent is a combination of finding the parenting approach that fits your child's needs and your own personality as a parent.  It's less about being the type of parent that you want to be, but rather being the parent that your child needs you to be.  This is where instincts come into play.

No book can tell you how to read a child's mood or to tell you exactly when he or she are satiated after a meal.  Every kid has different sleep signals and learn how to interact with the world in different ways.  When you spend as much time with your child as parents do, you learn how to distinguish between dirty diaper cries and I'm hungry cries.  Your instincts as a parent are a product of millennia of evolutionary biology that should not be ignored.

Most of the time.

When your child gets a vaccination (which I wrote about in this previous post), your instincts as a parent will be to punch the nurse that makes your kids scream but the knowledge you learn will tell your instincts to chill out so that your baby doesn't die a horrible death from rotavirus.

This balancing act isn't easy, but it's necessary.  Sifting through all of the information in books and online is difficult.  Especially online, there is a lot of crazy out there.  Just because something works for one child doesn't mean it will work for yours, no matter how much you may want it to.  Focus of researched material and books that give clear explanations.  Read books that other parents you respect recommend and when there's serious issue don't look on message boards, call your pediatrician.

Embrace the tension between what your instincts as a parent tell you and what your are told to do by society and by books.  Like in most parts of your life, a little tension is a good thing.  Tension product of being conscientious, intelligent, well-read and in touch with your feelings.  This tension will drive you crazy sometimes but leaning into this struggle may be the best thing for your child.    

Here are the parenting books we found most helpful:
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth M.D.
The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems: Sleeping, Feeding, and Behavior by Tracy Hogg
The Girlfriends' Guide to Surviving 1st year Mother by Vicki Iovine

Wednesday, January 1, 2014