Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Fourth 100 Mile

One year and ten days.

That’s how long it took me to run my last hundred miles.

The last two sets of 100 miles took me about three months to complete. So what happened? (Here are my previous running post about running).  

In early November I went on my annual school camping trip with my 5th graders. After five four days are hard hiking and spending more than twelve hours a day in stiff hiking boots my right big toe was really sore.

I’m used to having sore feet and it felt like it just needed to be stretched and have a good knuckle crack, but it never cracked. After a couple days, I tried to run and realized something was wrong. I couldn’t role through my foot comfortably while walking and running only made the discomfort worse.

The first podiatrist I went to diagnosed me with sesamoiditis. This is the inflammation in the big toe joint. He gave me some drugs that were supposed to help that area calm down. Also I needed to take a break from running. Hey, at least my toe wasn’t broken, right?

After going through the course of medicine, it was better but I still wasn’t fully functional. I asked around for recommendations for another foot doctor and one of my friends pointed me to the Running Institute of Chicago.

Most foot doctors do enough to get people on their feet but the Running Institute was different. They aimed to help people get beyond just walking and to be really active. In my first visit I met with a doctor, a sports trainer and a physical therapist.

They didn’t see any signs of the sesamoiditis but they found some other issues. I over-pronate like crazy (I’m flat-footed) and while I had orthotics that helped with this, they weren’t doing enough. The doctors saw in my x-rays that one bone in my foot wasn’t quite the right length in proportion to another bone, which may also be contributing to my discomfort

My doctor didn’t prescribe any more drugs but instead prescribed me physical therapy. I was to go therapy twice a week for four weeks to strengthen my hips and ankles, which was suppose to help my running stride.

I had no idea what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised with what I found. The trainers at Accelerated Rehabilitation Center in Evanston were really nice and helpful. They encouraged me while showing a lot of patience. It was a very chill atmosphere that was a nice respite from my day even though at times it was really hard work. I was introduced to the world of balance boards, “clams,” and the use of big rubber bands for what seemed like a limitless amount of activities. Some things were difficult like doing bridges (a hip exercise using an exercise ball) while other things were frustrating like moving marbles with my toes.

Over time I improve at every task they gave me. The rubber bands changed colors as I was able to do exercises with more resistances.

All of these sessions were during the work week.  A lot of the time I’d get home from work, spend an hour with Ollie and Diana and then go off to physical therapy. It was hard having an hour taken out of my already limited evening hours. At the same time it was good that I was forced to have some time to do something for myself.

Before the injury my running routine had become much less frequent. Between May 20th and June 14th, I didn’t run at all. This had to do with Ollie being born on  May 24th and all of us moving to a new house in June. For a long time, besides writing this blog, I wasn’t doing something solely for myself. This physical therapy really reminded me how important it was that I do something like this to take care of myself.

After five weeks of therapy I started doing a return to run program. It’s similar to the Couch To 5K program. It was scary at first. I hadn’t run in months and I was really scared that I would start running and feel the same pain in my foot. That pain would mean that all those weeks of therapy didn’t work. If the therapy didn’t work, what options did I have left?

For that first run, I took it really easy and I made sure not to run a second longer than the plan directed. Some parts of my body were sore, but my foot was not. I steadily worked through the return to run plan and after one more therapy session, I was ready to start running again.

The four hundredth mile wasn’t the fastest mile I’ve run. It was part of a 30 minute workout with 22 minutes of running and 8 minutes of walking that added up to 2.2 miles. At my best I could run a 5K under half and hour and a 10K in 1 hour 10 minutes.

I thought I’d be frustrated at the fact that I couldn’t run as fast or as long as I did before the injury and before Ollie was born. But I’m not.  Last weekend I just finished my first outside run and it felt great.

I felt that familiar chill as my body adjusted to the night air. I felt muscles tighten up and relax as my body compensated to the surface of the road. Most of I felt freedom.

Working in therapy taught me that things we loose we can get back. It may take months of time, hard work and patience, but you can regain what you have lost. It’s possible.

I took for granted the time I had to run and the ability I had to run when I was working through my first 300 miles. Maybe that’s why I need this last 100 miles to go the way it did and not how I had hoped it would.  However like with everything else in my life for the past year, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If it takes me two months or a whole year to get to 500 miles, I will get there and I’m going to make sure to cherish every single step of the way.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Parenthood: Week 48 – The Wedding: Part 1 --> Getting There

Diana and I have been on a lot of crazy adventures with Ollie. We’ve chosen to do things that are difficult for Ollie and us. There’s been the plane flights, long car rides, and other situations that have really tested our ability to operate as a family. Taking Ollie to my cousin’s is one of the more ridiculous adventures that we have shared with Ollie.
My cousin was getting married in Dallas. We live in Chicago, so we there was a plane ride. We’ve done longer ones to visit my parents in Seattle. However when we got to Seattle, we stayed at my parents house which is perfectly set-up for Ollie. In Dallas, we would be staying in a hotel room. Also we would not be on our own schedule but the schedule of a wedding weekend, which doesn’t really work for babies.

Planning for this trip was a whole different challenge. My parents made it so easy for us to come visit. They bought diapers, have plenty of extra clothing and are around all the time to take care of Ollie whenever we need a break. When I’m staying with my parents, the two-person partnership between me and Diana expands to include my parents.

We had to pack for Ollie much more carefully. One way we dealt with this was deciding to rent a car so that we could make grocery and drug store runs, which we did almost every day we were there.

Next was the car seat. We used my niece’s car seat in Seattle, so what were we going to do in Dallas? We calculated how much stuff we would need carry through the airport and could not easily imagine also carrying a car seat. So we decided to rent one through the rental car company.

If you do an internet search for car seat rentals through rental car companies the horror stories will frighten you. You get the impression that the only thing that is available is a puke-covered, outdated and damaged seat that will permanently cripple your child if he simply looks at it. I decided a long time ago, that I wouldn’t let the internet scare me out of doing what seemed reasonable so decided to rent a car seat.

The airport drama getting to Dallas was annoying but nothing out of the ordinary. The last four times we flew with Ollie, Buffy was with us too, so in some ways this trip felt easier. It’s not that Buffy does anything in the airport that causes stress, but she is another part of our family to worry about, which for me can be very taxing.

The rental care was fine, but the car seat was an issue. I got it latched in but it wouldn’t tighten. I went back and switched with a brand new one and after what was close to an hour of trying, we finally got it in there. Tip: pull across, not straight up to tighten the strap.

About an hour later, Diana and I were sitting on the floor in the hotel room bathroom splitting a burrito while Ollie slept soundly in the crib the hotel provided for us. Somehow we made it.

Yes, the day was crazy, long and stressful, but Ollie was sleeping soundly, and man that burrito taste good. There were rough moments in the day but there was one moment in particular that made the bad parts, not seem so horrible.

When we finally got to the hotel, I was exhausted. I could barely summon a smile when my sister-in-law who had gotten there earlier greeted me. My reservoir was empty. Somehow Ollie’s wasn’t.

As I walked into the lobby, Diana handed Ollie to my parents and the amount of joy the three of them shared in that moment made all of the weariness and stress melt away for that moment. I can’t remember the last time I saw my parents that happy. As they hugged Ollie and he giggled in delight, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of peace. At that moment I knew that all the effort it had taken to come to this wedding would be worth it. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Year 4: Week 31 – Divorce

Once upon a time teachers could safely assume their students had a mother and a father at home. Teachers could write letters home and not have to check if there was an additional address they had to send the letter. Once upon a time divorce wasn’t “normal.”

When I was in grade school I knew of at least three of four of my classmates who had divorced parents. Honestly, I was envious. They talked about having multiple, houses and multiple parents. One of my classmates had two dads and three different moms and spent time in three different houses because of divorces and his parents getting remarried. The way he talked about it made it seem like an adventure.

From a child’s perspective, all it seemed to mean was that this kid had more parents and another house. I loved my parents and my house so how could having more of this stuff be a bad thing.

For a while, I didn’t really think about divorce until I became a teacher.

When I started off as a teacher I was surprised when I saw more than one address listed for a student and often more than two parents listed in the directory. At times, I was told that I needed to make sure to send emails to both parents because they didn’t live together. You just couldn’t assume anything as a teacher about a kid’s family.

Instead of being the exception that we don’t have to think about, children of divorced parents have become the minority that we have to ensure does not feel disenfranchised. For example, when they study the family tree in Spanish, all students are encouraged to use celebrities and cartoon characters as family members instead of their own families so students of divorced parents don’t feel awkward about the complexity of their branches.

The reason this is coming to mind now is because of a rant by one of my students in class this week. He didn’t have his materials for class because he had just switched houses for the week. The students sitting next to him asked him why he didn’t simply have doubles of this material (which is something we often provide students who live in different houses). Try as he did, he couldn’t make this other kid understand that you can’t simply have two of everything. Underneath these words was the feeling that he didn’t want to need two of everything.

The other student couldn’t understand his frustration, not because he wasn’t trying, but because there was no way he could. His parents were not divorced.

This is one of those teacher moments when I express empathy but I don’t deign and say that I understand how he’s feeling, because I don’t. My parents are not divorced and I don’t get how it feels, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t help.

Divorce is not always a bad thing. Many times, it’s the best thing for a couple. However often there’s fallout that we as teachers deal with everyday.  The world is extremely unfair to children. They don’t choose the family situations they are born into but they have to deal with the consequences of their parents’ choices.  It’s our job as teachers to help students work through feeling bad and blaming themselves for parts of their lives that they can't control.  You may not  know what to say but you can always be there for them and sometimes that can make all the difference.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Monday, April 21, 2014

Parenthood: Week 47 – Easter Sermon For New Parents

Can you imagine rushing to a hospital when your wife is in labor and being turned away because they do not have space? Can you imagine fleeing right after your baby is born because the government has decided to start massacring innocent babies in an effort to kill your child? Can you imagine your son being executed in one of the cruelest ways in human history?

Joseph and Mary endured unimaginable challenges to bring Jesus into this world and then Mary had to suffer the incredible pain of watching her son be crucified (which I discussed in this previous “Easter Sermon For Non-Christians).”

Out of all this pain and suffering, Jesus’ message of love and understand changed the world. But what does this story mean to us as parents?

As parents we hope. We hope that our kids will be happy and healthy. We hope that they surpass our expectations is ways we can’t imagine and we hope that they find peace in this world, in their live and beyond.

We do everything in our power to make sure our kid’s lives our perfect but we fail at this over and over. Sometimes natural childbirth isn’t an option. Sometimes accidents happen and kids get injured and sometimes the best we got, the well of patience we draw from just isn’t deep enough.

The story of Jesus’ birth reminds us parents is that great things can come from imperfection. Sometimes things not going as planned end up being okay. Maybe not going with the birth plan, in the same way that I’m sure Mary didn’t plan to give birth in a manger, doesn’t hinder kids reaching their full potential.

The story of Jesus’ death teaches parents that there is no greater pain than seeing your child suffer, but that even in this pain, there is hope. The tears of a baby after a vaccination shot, the sounds of anguish of a daughter going through childbirth, and in death, even the passing of a child, there is hope.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a promise to parents that if we make it through the trials of childbirth and if we are strong enough to hold the hands of our children as they cry, we will give them hope. While we will never forget the tears we will be comforted knowing that through sharing in the suffering of our children, we have brought peace into this world for not only our children but for ourselves.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Year 4: Week 30 – Three Moments

6th Grade Giggles
In the middle of a sixth grade band lesson some of my girls thought it was really funny when one of them put her trombone mouthpiece completely in their mouth and made a funny expression. It was one of those times I had to laugh with them even though I was about to start a piece of music.

The amazing thing was that these five girls refocused their attention very quickly and got right back to work. Sometimes when you let go, they will come back to you even faster. It’s important that your students are reminded once in a while that you find their silliness hilarious as well.

After a day full of teaching I found myself sitting in a colleagues classroom listening to songs produced by Phil Spector. I had wandered into his room looking for someone to vent to about the frustrations of teaching middle school boys. He was in his room and when he saw me walk by, he waved me in. He heard my complaints and validated them in a way, well only that he could do. This teacher is one of the smartest people I have ever met and the way he applied his thoughtfulness to my feelings meant a lot to me.

Our talk turned to our shared passion for popular music. He played a couple Phil Spector songs that I had been into and we geeked out about how incredible these songs sounded.

The next day when I checked my mailbox, I found it stuffed with five different CDs from him for me to borrow. Sometimes it’s small gestures like this that mean the most.

The Hug
The accommodation I figured out for this student meant that she could better participates in class and that she would feel more included.  Like many accommodations, it took only a couple seconds to setup.  This adjustment was a big deal for this student and her parents even though the accommodation took very little out of me as a teacher. 

We have been trying to encourage this girl to advocate better for her own needs but it’s hard at any age to put yourself out there and ask for extra things from a teacher. So sometimes we need to make the first step forward as the teacher and show students that we truly care.

As I was leaving school, I saw this mom in the playground. She waved and walked up to me. She reached her hand out and then hesitated as she said, “Mr. Tang, I got to give you a hug, thank you so much for what you did for our daughter.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Conditional Love

A husband promises to love his wife on his wedding day. A mom gazes lovingly at her baby and whispers, “I love you.”
Examples of unconditional love? Maybe, but maybe not.

The husband promises to love his wife assuming that she will be faithful to him. He can’t imagine that she would cheat on him so when she does, it’s a shock to him. The husband promised to love his wife on the condition that she would be monogamous to him. She broke that condition, and the love they share and their marriage is now over.

The mother thinks of her baby as an angel. She does everything she can for him knowing that he is a good person. Then as an adult he does the unthinkable. With a group of friends he rapes and murders a teenage girl. She can’t bring herself to go to the trial or the sentencing, because he has broke the condition of her love. He has caused unimaginable pain to others and she can’t look past his sins.

Unconditional love is something we strive for but few of us ever attain. There are situations and deal-breakers that create conditions for our love to exist and be shared with others.

We need to be aware of our struggles with conditional love.  When this kind of love is used to manipulate other people and not honor who they are, it is insidious, hurtful and damaging.

There’s the father who doesn’t let his son who has recently come out of the closet come home for Christmas unless he is willing to be “cured” of his “gayness.” There’s the mother who refuses to help pay for college unless her daughter agrees to not live with her boyfriend. And then there’s the son who refuses to speak to his father because he is in an opposing political party.

Sometimes the way to face this damaging situation is to make conditions of your own. As long as these conditions encourage acceptance over intolerance, then this response will lead to a more open kind of love.

Think about the people that you love. Is there truly nothing that they could do that could make you no longer want to love them?  Is your well of belief in your loved one deep enough to overcome any sin and any amount pain they may cause you?

It’s easy to love someone when they treat you well, speak to your respectfully and always do the dishes. How do you feel about your loved one after a stressful situation, after a fight, and a traumatic shared experience? After all the dust has settled do you love that person more or less?

If you love a person more after a challenging situations, then there are fewer conditions to your love.  If you love them less, maybe your love isn't as pure as you believed.  

We have more conditions to our love than we want to admit and when things get bad we have to face these limitations we have created. We can get scared and run away, or we can find the strength to accept, to put our pain aside and share our love unconditionally.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Parenthood: Week 46 – Advice To Expectant Fathers: The Time To Be Rude

It doesn't matter who's feelings you hurt, or who you anger, your job more than anything else is to protect your wife and child.
This was the best piece of advice I got about being a dad and it came from my brother. My brother was talking about the first couple weeks after a baby is born, but it has come to mean so much more.

Right after your baby is born, friends and family members with the best of intentions will want to visit, congratulate you and your wife and meet the new baby. When I say right after, I mean literally hours after the baby is born.

You may be sleep deprived as a guy but your wife has gone through a tremendous physical ordeal. If it was a caesarean, then there was a major surgery involved, if not there's still a high chance that drugs will be involved. Even if the childbirth is done naturally, your wife will have hormones going crazy as her body goes through a transition and a healing process that will take weeks.

During this time your wife may not in a physical or emotional space to make difficult decisions. As the partner it is critical that you are there to make decisions. Some of these can be serious medical choices while others may simply be a lunch order.

So it's up to you to be the gatekeeper. You have to decide who comes to visit and when, also you have to be assertive and kick people out in a timely manner. This will annoy people and it may make people think that you are being unreasonable. That's fine. It's not a bad thing if people think you are being overprotective. People would be more concerned if you didn't seem overly concerned with your child's and wife's well being.

We were lucky. Since Ollie was born early in the morning and hospital visiting hours were not until almost noon, we could shut visitors out and use the hospital policy as a way to give us space. Yes, people came and visited, but I had to be very careful to make sure not too many people came. There were some awkward moments when I kicked people out, but we needed this time to ourselves.

At one point, one of Diana's uncles who came with his wife stayed in the hallway and didn't come in the room with everyone else who was visiting. When I asked him why, he explained that he had three daughters and five grandchildren and knew how important it was to not overwhelm the mom and child during the first couple days. I really appreciated this sign of respect and it affirmed my isn't instincts to preserve the time in the hospital for Diana and Ollie and not for visitors.

Everyone is different and some people may not mind having visitors all of the time in the hospital right after giving birth. However from talking to friends about their experiences, I feel that it is best to keep most visitors at bay until the baby is three weeks old.

If you want to come visit a friend or a family member with a newborn bring food, only stay for a short amount of time and expect very little from the baby. Chances are he or she will be sleeping when you visit and even if the baby isn't, it's not going to interact with you that much at all. The visit is not about your experiences, it's about what you can do to help.

Lots of people want to visits a newborn and come by to congratulate new parents. True friends will give you the space you need and will show their support over time month after month. The friend who is there for you when your baby is six months old is often more helpful than the acquaintance who visits when your baby is a week old just to cuddle a new baby and make an appearance.

This job to protect continues in different ways. It's being their for doctors appointments, spending hours to make sure that the toddler seat is installed correctly. It's making sure your baby always has enough diapers and it's insisting that events that can be reasonably adjusted work around nap time.

I've always tried to protect Diana and I have learned to let go of this instinct  as she is an adult and she can fight her own battles.  However Ollie does need my protection and sometimes Diana needs me to watch over her so that she can do what she needs to for Ollie.

Protect your family. Other people's feelings are secondary. It's not your job to validate other people's role in your child's life. Your child is not something to show off and you have no obligation to share any moments or milestones with anyone else. Even if it means making your own mom feel excluded, don't let her visit if it's a bad time. Those first couple weeks go by so quickly. Don't spend them trying to please others, spend that time with your family and for your family, completely.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Year 4: Week 29 - The Teacher Life I Planned For

Some people claim that teaching is their life.  For me, it's a job, but once upon a time it felt like it was going to be my whole life and that didn't seem like such a bad thing.

When I was in graduate school, I dived deep in the world if academia and I loved it.  I went to conferences, read hundreds of pages of education books and wrote about education all of the time.  I was surrounded by brilliant professors and other amazing graduate students.  Everything I did was focused on my graduate studies and it was a blast.  Education felt like the most important thing in the world and it was fun.

While there was pressure to succeed academically, I wasn't teaching,  I didn't have Buffy or Ollie and while I was with Diana back then we weren't married.  As stressed out as I got writing papers and preparing presentations, everything felt manageable and safe.

I figured that if I could get through graduate school which was far more challenging than my undergraduate degree, then I could handle anything.  I could focus my life and all of my passion on education.  Why not?

My first job teaching high school band started the same time me and Diana moved in together.  The job took much more time than graduate school did and my learning curve could not keep up with what I needed to know how to do.  I figured out how to "do" graduate school but I couldn't figure out the high school band teacher gig.  It took up my weekends and weeknights and while I wanted to devote this time, it wasn't as fun as graduate school.  There was more at stake, it wasn't about my degree it was about my students' education.

Diana and I settled in the suburbs away from our friends so it was difficult to meet up with people and get into the city.  This combined with trying to manage living together for the first time made our home life a challenge.  It wasn't incredibly stressful or difficult, it was actually a fun adventure, one that took more time than I had predicated but was also more rewarding that  I imagined.

I tried to keep up with reading the same education journals and go to the same music teacher events but it was harder than during graduate school.  At my next job as a teacher assistant, I pulled further away from living my life completely for teaching.

Now my life as a teacher is focused on my own school.  I know I need to branch out and renew the connections is made with the larger teaching community but it's difficult with so much on my plate.  I want to be that teacher who is well connected in the community and knows all the major players, but the best I can do right now is be that kind of teacher in my school.

There is greatness in being the kind of teacher I thought I would be when I left graduate school.  However for me, it just wasn't genuine.  I don't find high school marching band competitions all that interesting, concert band music is not my favorite genre of music and there many other things I'd rather read than education journals.  I don't eat, live and breathe being a music educator.

Maybe, I lacking drive and passion for my craft, but I don't think that's it.  I care about my kids and being the best teacher that I can be, I just need to do this in a way that is genuine to who I am and the life that I want to lead for myself and my family.

Sometimes I miss the simpler days of graduate school, but I'm happy with the teacher I am today.  If I had pushed myself to devote my life to teaching completely I would have missed out on the best parts of my life.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fine Fine Boy by Darlene Love

The greatest musicians in popular music aren’t always the ones that are the most popular and some of the most popular musicians owe their success to people who are not credited for their work.

20 Feet From Stardom is the Oscar winning documentary that explores the role of back-up singers and reveals the struggles of a generation of singers who contributed to some of the greatest songs in popular music history.

While their names may not ring a bell, their voices and the songs that they contributed to are unforgettable.

It’s a story like the film “Standing In The Shadows of Motown,” (which I discussed in this previous post), which seem tragic and victorious all at the same time.

The sad part is that these singers never “made it.” There are stories of singers who sang on songs while other artist got credit for them. Some of them rationalize this as a good thing but you can tell that there’s sadness, a feeling of regret as they reflection of their careers.

The amazing part is the music. These singers sound amazing from back when they were teenagers to now that they are past middle age. The passion and the shear joy that they express in their singing is simply breathtaking.

Phil Spector gets so much credit for his production work with songs like “Unchained Melody.” However his songs would not have had nearly the impact they did if these songs didn’t feature some of the best voices in pop music history. This becomes clear when you hear Darlene Love perform “Fine Fine Boy.”

20 Feet From Stardom ends with Darlene Love performing this song with Bruce Springsteen at the 25th Anniversary Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Concert.

Springsteen states in the documentary that one thing that made Spector productions so great is the youthfulness of these voice and yes Darlene Love sounds different than she did in her twenties:

Her voice is deeper now with more soul. After watching 20 Feet From Stardom, you know her struggle and how she went from singing to cleaning houses and finally came back and owned her true destiny as a singer. This knowledge gives her voice much more depth. Yes, “Fine Fine Boy,” is a teenage-centric song, but it’s about joy. It’s about hope and Darlene Love, expressing this so beautifully after all that she has gone through is truly inspiring.

One of these days Ollie will ask me about "Fine Fine Boy," after years of me singing this song to him.  Then I'll explain to him who Darlene Love is and we'll watch some of 20 Feet From Stardom.  He may not understand what it's all about, but he'll understand the joy that comes from these amazing singers.  I can't think of a better tribute to their work then to pass their music and their stories on to one more generation. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Parenthood: Week 45 – 2 Hours

I just spent the last two hours trying to get Ollie to bed. Am I sure that he’s completely down right now? No, but I’m hoping.

Ollie had an amazing afternoon nap. So it made sense that he would go to sleep a little bit later. The thing was that around his normal bedtime he showed his signs of being tired: sucking his thumb, becoming cuddly and having wild mood swings. So I started the getting to bed process.

I got him changed into his pajamas while I warmed up some breast milk for him (Diana was out this evening). After he finished his bottle and read him a book, I started rocking Ollie to bed.

Once you figure out how to do something, life throws you for a loop and introduces something to you that you have no idea how to handle. This feeling of not knowing what to do happens weekly with parenting.

The worst part of this is that often the things that you are figuring out how to do are thing that you felt you already figured out. One of the things I’m really good at is putting Ollie to bed . . . or was good at. I really enjoy the process of rocking him down, singing to him and feeling his body relax in my arms.

Ollie has gotten bigger, so rocking him my arms things is harder and he just doesn’t need to be rocked all the way down to bed. About ten minutes ago, he was still awake and not quite settled so I just put him in his crib, maybe because of my exhaustion and after a couple murmurs he’s been quiet ever since.

I don’t like this. I wish that what worked before, what made me feel like a competent dad still worked but it doesn’t and that is frustrating.

I tried my best to rock him down. He wasn’t having it. The pacifier, which used to calm him down wasn’t working and he just kept crying. I did laps around the room, around the hallway, checked his diaper, and changed positions.

Nothing worked.

At a certain time, I fell asleep while he was fussing and awoke to him crying. Yes, you can fall asleep when a baby is crying, if you are THAT tired.

So after the first unsuccessful hour, I decided to get him more milk. So I warmed up another bottle in the kitchen, while he was crying in his playpen. While I stood in the kitchen, I didn’t really feel like trying to calm Ollie down. I was pretty frustrated and if holding him was going to have a calming effect then it should have worked for the past hour, so why would it work now? So I let him be.

Ollie drank the second bottle incredibly quickly and for a couple minutes he seemed to calm down. I started rocking and felt that we might actually get there.

Then everything fell apart.

Usually I hold Ollie’s arms to his side while I rock him but he really wanted to raise his left arm over his head, so I let him. This calmed him down a little bit, but then every time he moved it down he got frustrated so I had to help him hold his left arm up and also hold his right hand close to his mouth so he could suck on his thumb. Does that sound ridiculous to you to help an infant find his thumb to suck? You wouldn’t if periodically your son would move his arm and then not be able to find his thumb and start SCREAMING.

I was pretty done at this point. Maybe he needed another bottle or some baby Tylenol, or maybe . . . he just needed mommy. Well, mommy’s not here, so I told my little guy we’d have to get through this together without mommy.

I made some progress in calming him down but he wasn’t asleep or even drowsy. I told myself that I would put him in his crib and leave and if he didn’t go to sleep in the next ten minutes I would give him another bottle.

I laid Ollie in his crib and he looked up at me and smiled. He had his head up eager to crawl around and I tried to gently push his head down to encourage him to lie down. After some rolling around I eventually got him to settle his body down and find his thumb and helped position his arm over his head. I left his room and start writing this post.

That was seventeen minutes ago (yes, it takes me seventeen minutes to write 869 words) and he’s been quiet most of that time.

It may have took two hours, I may have felt like I had no idea what I was doing and for a while there I felt like a complete failure as a parent, but you know what, my boy is asleep. AND there’s only ten more minutes until Diana gets home and can take her turn if he wakes up.

Two hours to get Ollie to bed is nothing compared to what other parents have to deal with. I had food to give to Ollie to calm him down. Many parents, right now on this planet have to hear cries of hunger and can’t do anything for their kid but hold them and pray that God will comfort their baby.

I’ve had days when I left work before Ollie woke up and got home after he’s gone to bed. As good as those days went at work, they were incredibly difficult. It weighed on me that I wasn’t going to spend any time with him all day and when that happened, my day felt meaningless.

Without hesitation, I would give up the best part of a day that I didn’t see Ollie for two hours of frustration with my special little guy.

Why? Because Ollie is my son.

. . . and he’s still asleep!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Year 4: Week 28 – Doing Too Much

Wednesday was frustrating. For my sixth grade band, class I write the whole lesson on the board. The idea is that they walk into the room, sit down, get their instrument out, put their music in the order that’s on the board and start to warm up. If they find that there’s any issues with their instrument or if they are missing music they can ask me for help within the first two minutes of class.
This seems pretty reasonable, right? How hard can this be?

One of my band classes took 13 minutes to fully get ready for class. After the first warm-up I had people asking me what we were playing and other students had issues with their instruments they didn’t tell me about at the beginning of the class.

This was really frustrating. We’ve been working through this same routine in my class since late September. As annoyed as I was in the moment, I’ve been realizing that some of this is my fault for not helping my students understand what this is really all about.

We do for our students so that they will eventually do for themselves. We help little kids zip up their jackets knowing that eventually they will learn how to do this. We set up art supplies so students can do art projects, again, knowing that some day they can handle all of this set up.

The tricky part is that transition from doing things for kids and teaching them how to do it themselves. The thing is that this takes time. Also, it means that the jobs that we ask kids to do will be done very poorly as they learn how to do them.  This  as a teacher can get very frustrating. So often, we figure it’s not worth the time and then we just do it for the students so we can get on with the lesson.

We all fall into this trap of over helping students because we care and we want to help them. We’re teachers, our natural instinct is to help and to assist. However at the same time we need to keep the long range in perspective and know that at some point we have to teach kids how to take care of their own business.

The following day in band class I wrote the lesson plan on the board and we got to work and when a student asked me what we were doing I didn’t help him. I had already pointed out on the board the plan and verbally gave the directions so I told him that his confusion was his fault and to try to figure out what to do himself.  If he was lost, well, that’s his consequence of not taking responsibility for what he needed to do as student.

That wasn’t something I enjoyed saying, but sometimes we can only do so much. If we help too much then students will rely on us to give them what they need as opposed to having them seek out what they need from resources outside of the teacher.

If you ask students to do something, then you need to let them try to do it for themselves.  Sometimes this means that they will not get it done in a timely way.  Sometimes you help them figure it out and other times you have to let them struggle.  Often it's not easy to know how much help to give.  So we have to make sure we focus on the students as people and help them grow as a human being.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Out In The Street by Bruce Springsteen

The interesting thing about Springsteen’s works is that they don’t all necessarily immediately capture your attention. “Thunder Road” immediately enraptured me from the very first time I heard it and so did “Promised Land.” Other songs didn’t really speak to me until I heard them live like “Born To Run” and “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day.”

Then there’s the songs I’ve listened to that don’t really capture my imagination until one day when I become obsessed and listen to northing but that one song over and over for a week. “Out In The Streets,” was that song for me last week.

Springsteen has started selling his live shows on his website and I got his Cape Town, South Africa performance. It’s an amazing show and its great t hear Springsteen work a crowd that doesn’t necessarily react the way that he expects.

There’s so many great moments on this show but his performance of “Out In The Streets” really stood out to me.

This song has it all. It’s got that blue-collar perspective, the amazing sax solo, and the vocalized crowd response in the chorus right after “out in the street.” The lyrics don’t have any metaphors. It’s very straight forward, but there’s something so beautiful in its simplicity. Someone works all day and when they hit the streets they feel freedom. That’s it.

Like in so many other Springsteen songs, the music of “Out In The Streets,” captures the feelings of this song as much as the words. Some of the lines hold so much meaning in live performances like “in the crowd I feel at home.”

Like “Thunder Road,” this song starts with an invitation, and it’s less poetic but it’s somehow more immediate. This song puts you so quickly in a place to hope and freedom that’s very different than “Thunder Road,” or some of Springsteen’s deeper songs.

The great appeal of Springsteen is that he allows himself and his music to be different things to different people. Not every song will have the same level of appeal and accessibility. While I love analyzing his most complex lyrics, I also am in awe of a song like “Out In The Streets,” and his ability to capture a different type of feeling so effectively.

There’s this family feeling when Springsteen performs this song. When he brings everyone up to the microphone at the end it feels like a musical group hug. When Clarence comes up, it’s just beautiful. It’s hard to explain what seeing him up on the stage means, but it’s really special. There’s something profound in their friendship and the sound of his saxophone as a musical counterpoint to Springsteen’s voice.

Everything in life is worth taking a second look at. You never know when something comes alive to you in a way that you never expect.