Monday, June 30, 2014

Parenthood: Week 57 - Snot and Awe

Warning: This post includes explicit descriptions of a baby with a stuffy nose and his snot.   There are also mentions of baby poo. 

Kids are disgusting. Now, I love kids, but they are disgusting.

Whenever a student gives me a piece of unwrapped food with his or her bare hands, I graciously accept the piece of food, or handful of popcorn, walk away, turn the corner and throw the food in the garbage. Why? Have you ever looked at a third grader’s hands? Yes, some of them are clean, but a lot of them are dirty.

Seriously, kids are nasty. But I do, truly love my students and I’ll put aside the ickiness of working with hundreds of kids a week when it is necessary. For example, when a crying student sneezed on me, I didn’t pull away but I stayed there and comforted him. You put aside your initial reaction because you care.

Last week Ollie had croup. He woke up with a horrible cough and sounded like Darth Vader. Not the whole James Earl Jones low voice part but the labored breathing part.  We  took him to the doctor first thing in the morning. They gave him some steroids and sent us home.

Croup is a respiratory virus. It’s like a cold. It hits baby boys worse than girls because their windpipes are narrower. When the windpipe gets swollen boys are the ones with this labored cough and breathing sound. Girls get the virus but it doesn’t usually hit them as badly.

Diana and I were glad we got to the doctor when we did because the steroids made a huge difference. By the end of the day his breathing was much better and his cough sounded more productive.

The next day the mucous came. It flowed out of Ollie’s nose, non-stop. When adults have this issue they know to wipe it up with a tissue. School age kids know to wipe it off but often use their sleeve or bare hand.  Ollie didn’t even do that. He just let it flow into his mouth.  Ollie didn’t seems to mind.

It was so gross.

For the first half of the day, I just kept wiping his nose every couple minutes. The problem with that was that Ollie finds tissues and baby wipes fascinating and wanted to play with them after I had used them. My solution was to just have him wear a bib, all of the time. I could just reach over flip it up to wipe his nose and let him crawl away.

How long do you think it takes for a bib to become completely soaked with a baby’s running nose? An hour? Half an hour? Try ten minutes. This thing was soaked. I could have wrung it out and gotten mucous coming out of this thing. EWWW!!!

Then the poo got weird. Lucky for us, Ollie had a good appetite throughout his sickness but there was weird stuff going on downstairs.

There are people, God bless them, who don’t mind cleaning up after strangers they don’t know. I don’t know if I could ever do that kind of job. What is it that makes us okay cleaning up gross bodily liquids for people we care about? Yes, it grosses me out to clean up after Buffy when she poos or worse vomits, but I don’t hesitate to do it. The same thing is true for Ollie. Part of you cares about the grossness but most of you focuses on just taking care of someone that you love.

The worst part about Ollie being sick was that he wasn’t himself. He was just tired and seemed like he had a headache. His eyes didn’t sparkle like they usually did. While I found it cute that he wanted extra cuddles, it made me concerned to see him need this extra comfort. The grossness of the mucous was unpleasant but the sadness in his eyes was close to heartbreaking.

Within a couple days Ollie was feeling a lot better. He was crawling at lightning fast speeds and giggling at every little thing.

Croup with Ollie was not fun, but we got through it. There are things that are far worse than a running nose and a gross diaper.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Frat Boy: Why Mu Alpha? - Part 1

I never thought that I’d join a fraternity.

In high school I never drank a drop of alcohol at a party. I actually only went to one party all four years of my high school career. I wasn’t into the idea of wasting my time by getting drunk and partying. At that time, that’s all I thought fraternities were all about.

The other thing was the fact that I never really felt like I was part of social group. Only when I was in fifth grade did I find a social group that was mostly fourth grader. For the rest of my primary and secondary school time, I only had individual friends. Well, I guess there was a group in middle school that I hung with during lunch and recess but honestly I was mostly a “hanger-oner,” a person who really wasn’t part of the group but hung around them.

I didn’t really want to party in college and I had given up hope with the idea that I would ever be in a group of friends. I accepted that I just wasn’t going to be that kind of guy.

In some ways this made me sad but I didn’t let myself dwell in that emotion as I ignored more and more parties toward the end of my senior year. Instead I built up a superiority complex. I thought I was better than the other kids in my high school graduating class. I had gotten accepted early-decision into Northwestern University, which was a college everyone talked about getting into, but no one else did.

In a way, getting into Northwestern, solidified my superiority complex. I was better than everyone else and it was because of this fact that I didn’t get invited to parties. How could I be part of a social clique when everyone was so far below me?

Why did I choose Northwestern? Well, it wasn’t because of how great the visit went, because I never visited the campus before applying. Northwestern was a top 10 school on all of the college lists. It was a smaller school but most of all it was near Chicago. My brother, Ed, went to NYU and survived in a huge city. If Ed could move across the continent, the least I could do was go halfway across the country to Evanston, Illinois. I couldn’t imagine living in the middle of one of the biggest metropolitans in American, but I could picture myself in a suburb. So Northwestern made sense.

There was the music composition program, which was strong, which was what I wanted to study and there was the Northwestern University Marching Band, otherwise known as NUMB.

I fell in love with marching band in high school. I did orchestra sense middle school but after watching the high school jazz band record the fight song for the cheerleaders to practice with, I knew I wanted to be in the band. I learned the saxophone and joined my sophomore year.

I had never been a part of a sports team so doing things as a group, teamwork activities and cheering each other on was brand new to me. I was immediately part of a larger group when we were out on the field and in the stands and I loved it. As I rose to a senior, I held onto traditions, trained the underclassmen on how things went in the band. During my last marching band game senior year, after standing in the rain for hours I found myself dancing around our school seal with the other seniors as the rest of the band surrounded us in a half circle playing their hearts out for us.

When my marching band director told me that college band was like this but even better, I knew I wanted to keep marching.

What attracted me to NUMB isn’t that kind of band. NUMB is a group that doesn’t ask its members to audition for a spot to march. They take in everyone regardless of their experience. When I watched videos of bands Iike USC, I couldn’t imagine having the ability to play in a group like that. However when I saw the video of NUMB doing pregame on their website, it looked like something I could do.

Northwestern had Chicago, it had the major I wanted and it had the right kind of marching band. That was enough for me.


The weirdest thing to thing about NUMB was that from the moment I registered at the music building before band camp, everyone was really nice to me. I had already gotten a letter from my upperclassmen NUMB-Buddy, which gave me one person to connect with. This was only one example of the warmness and friendly spirit, I felt all the way through band camp.

On one of the last nights of band camp, we collected in an auditorium space for skits. Every section had been working on some kind of skit and now it was time to share. I was in the alto saxophone section. We did a play off the Brady Bunch theme song, which was really cutesy and was applauded as such. The reputation of the alto saxophone section was that we were the tamest and most virginal section. By my senior year, we had effectively changed our reputation and held the status as the raunchiest and most politically incorrect section in the band. Our skit my senior year featured . . . well . . . it’s best to ask my in person what it involved. There are some things I never want to write down.

Toward the end of the night it was announced that the sisters of Sigma Alpha Iota were to come to the stage. I had seen Greek letters on t-shirts the whole day but I had no idea what they meant. Now it started to make sense. It seemed like every girl in the room went up on that stage. In reality it was only a minority of the girls in NUMB on stage but the way they came out from every instrument section made them seem like they were everywhere.

Then it was Phi Mu Alpha’s turn.

Up there on stage were section leaders, the most confident members of the band and all three of the drum majors. They seemed like men up there. I was just a boy and I couldn’t imagine being a man like those guys. They were poised and confident and as they sang what I would come to know later as “The Red and Black,” I was shocked at the quality and power on their singing.

I thought to myself, “Was this really what a fraternity was all about? Wait a second? Did he just say that we could join in the winter? What’s this rush thing? Could I really be a member of a fraternity?”

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Drive All Night by Bruce Springsteen

How do you read the end of The River? “Drive All Night” is an outward in its expression of emotion. Bruce is melodramatic and not subtle at all in that song. It’s incredibly repetitive with a rather simplistic and obvious expression of love. This is immediately followed by “Wreck On The Highway, which is a beautifully subtle and nuanced way to describe how much he cares about her through observing a tragedy. It’s the most jarring contrast in the album.
I’ve been struggling with this question for the past two weeks as I tried to understand what Bruce was thinking. So I went through my “how to understand a Bruce Springsteen"-process.

Step 1: Listen to the song
Step 2: Listen to the song again
Step 3: Read the lyrics, analyze them
Step 4: Listen to the song again
Step 5: Google the song and read various people’s commentary on the song
Step 6: Sing the song, either a capella or with the recording
Step 7: Watch a live performance of the song.
Step 8: Go back to Step 1and try again.

It wasn’t until I got to Step 7 when this song started to make sense to me.

Bruce standing on a stage declaring his love in a darkened stadium in front of a sea of lights is a beautiful image. There is something so honest and so real.  On the studio album, "Drive All Night," comes across as drawn out as Bruce's voice strains toward the end of the song.  On stage Bruce comes across as one of the Bobby Hatfield singing "Unchained Melody."   

“Drive All Night,” isn’t a look into the internal dialogue of a man’s deepest feelings like “Wreck On The Highway.” This is a love song, a persuasive letter, a desperate plea from a man to get back the girl he has lost. Something has happened that has torn them apart, and now she is in tears and he’s doing, and saying everything he can to get her back.

He’s a man telling his woman how much he love her.  

The chorus seems a little trite. He’ll drive all night to get her shoes? But quickly this line go into wanting to sleep tonight in her arms. Sometimes things we do for the ones we love seem ridiculous but there’s something romantic about this moment. Sometimes it’s not the big grand gestures, sometimes it’s a small thing, almost an inside joke. The whole thing about the shoes echoes a memory, a crazy act he once did for her that he’s willing to do again.  When you watch Bruce sing these lines live, you realize like the greats soul-singers of the past, he could be singing a page out of the phone book and it would still feel romantic.  

The verses don’t seem that intricate until you see them on paper. With songs like “Thunder Road,” the speed of the text brings out the symbolism but with “Drive All Night” it's different.  You still have great poetry but the slow tempo the lyrics are sung makes them seem more like something a regular man would say, not a poet.

The second verse brings in angels calling for strangers that she needs deal with. These are ghosts, regret and everything that keeps us from our dreams. It’s powerful that this man has the insight to her trauma and has the desire to help her work through this tough part of her life.
There's machines and there's fire waiting on the edge of town
They're out there for hire but baby they can't hurt us now
Cause you've got . . . my love heart and soul.
The power of love is described with so much conviction that even if we don’t believe that his love can conquer her life’s issues, these words make us want to. 

I wrote in my post about “Wreck On The Highway,” that it ended abruptly. After listening to a double album, we need an epic Springsteen ending. We get that with “Drive All Night.” Bruce’s repetition, the way he builds towards the end of the song is the perfect way to reflect on all of the drama and the characters that we experienced throughout The River. Except for “Point Blank,” and “The River” this song is almost twice as along as every other song and is the longest song on the album.

“Drive All Night,” draws The River into a stunning and powerful climax. “Wreck On The Highway,”  are the credits. It’s our time to pause and reflect. It’s our transition back into reality. It’s how we actually feel as opposed to the unattainable romanticism we long for from "Drive All Night."

Sometimes when people ask me what’s so great about Springsteen, I’m at a loss for words. There’s just so much he does so well. But the one thing more than anything else that makes him special is that when he sings, you believe him.  I still don't believe him when on the studio version of "Drive All Night," but watching this live performance I'm taken to that place where music breaks the walls of logic into the depth of the human heart and I believe. 

I believe Bruce and I believe in love.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

Parenthood: Week 56 – That Girl

Look, I totally understood why that girl gave me that annoyed “does that baby really have to sit so close to me?”-look.  No, it wasn’t a crowded restaurant but because the way the tables set up one of the only places that I could feasibly put a high chair was at the table two down from that girl.

I live in a college town, so it’s not unusual to go into a restaurant and see a student camped out at a table with a laptop and other books spread across a table. This girl clearly had been at the table for a while and was planning to stick around from the way she had settled in. She had slid off her sandals and had carefully tucked her feet under her legs as she sat there working.

From the moment I turned the corner with Ollie and my diaper bag I could see that look of annoyance in her eyes. She happened to be sitting right next to the stack of high chairs and I swear I heard her sigh as I struggled to get one off the stack with one hand while carrying Ollie in my other arm.

We settled down in that table, not right next to her but one away and she looked down at her laptop and continued to work. Diana brought our food over and we proceeded to eat lunch. Ollie’s back was to that girl while me and Diana portioned out parts of our food that would make up his lunch.

Ollie wasn’t making an unreasonable amount of sound but he was enjoying himself as he usually does when he eats. He made satisfied hums as he enjoyed the texture of the avocado, grunted annoyingly when he wanted more food and giggled as he watched food that he dropped splatter on the floor.

As Ollie finished his lunch he started turning around in his high chair to look at that girl. And he didn’t stop after he got a good look. He wasn’t being subtle at all. Ollie has no sense of social norms and will sometimes stare at strangers. What makes this even cuter is that often when he does this he smiles and waves in his own way, which is either opening and closing his hand or lifting his arms up and down repeatedly.

The third time Ollie turned around to look at that girl, she waved back and smiled at Ollie. His smile, which I didn’t think could get any bigger, got a little wider and he bounced in his high chair in response to her greeting.

As we cleaned up and left, he continued to look over to her and smile because every time he did, she smiled back.

Ollie has that effect on people. Even when they aren’t exactly thrilled to be around a baby, Ollie has a way of bringing out a little smile in them.

I love that about my son.

So next time a baby or a little kid stares at you for way too long and smiles, please smile back. Show them that the world is kind and that if you try to brighten up the day, you will receive joy in return.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Frat Boy: Introduction

Who was Kingsley Tang in college?

I was a music composition major, I was in marching band and I was a proud member of Phi Mu Alpha.

When I tell people I was in a fraternity it surprises a lot of people. Our society has a very narrow idea of what it means to be a member of a fraternity. While my brothers and I did have our share of fun, we did not live as they did in Animal House.

I’ve only been an undergrad on one college campus and I’m not really familiar with what fraternity life is like for people across the country. All I can do is speak for my experiences, which does not fit the fraternity stereotype of drunken debauchery that is portrayed in popular culture.

Just because my time as a Sinfonian (one of the names we identified ourselves with) wasn’t spent partying all of the time didn’t mean that we didn’t have our share of fun, craziness, insanity and drama.

So for the next couple months, I’m going to post stories about my time as a member of the Iota chapter of Phi Mu Alpha at Northwestern University. I’m going to use pseudonyms, but probably anyone who was in this fraternity or a member of the NUMB-Mu-Alpha-Iota social group will quickly figure out who I’m talking about.

These are my imperfect recollection of events that happened more than a decade ago. The purpose of these stories is not historical accuracy. I’m going for “story truth” so conversations and timelines of events may be modified and embellished upon to get capture the emotion and the meaning of the moment.

I’m going to tell you about my brothers. There were gods like Joseph, who seemed to have everything figured out. There were people like Harry whose life drama I became quickly swept up in and others like Tony who only now I’m beginning to understand.

I’m going to tell you about the girls of Sigma Alpha Iota, the sorority we hung out with the most. There’s Grace, one of the people who made me feel most welcome as part of this social group when I was a freshmen who ended up being one of the few people in my life I ever hated. And then there’s Chrissie, the senior girl who took me under her wing and who taught me what dignity really means.

I’m going to write about the good times: rushing, pranks and the Chipotle challenge. And I’ll try to describe the hard times: the politics, the social cliques and the drama that sometimes seemed to overtake the brotherhood.

Stay tuned on Fridays for tales of Phi Mu Alpha from this past and present frat boy.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wreck On The Highway by Bruce Springsteen

“Wreck On The Highway,” the closing song on Springsteen’s epic The River album describes what it means to love somebody in a unique and unexpected way.  Much like the Barenaked Ladies’ beautiful “Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep At The Wheel” (which I discussed in this earlier post), “Wreck On The Highway,” a car crash become a catalyst for the expression of true love, without using the word “love.”

Both of these songs take the challenge of describing love, not through metaphors, or poetic devices, but rather through events that happen in life. This requires subtlety, carefully constructed lyrics and truly remarkable performances. “Wreck On The Highway,” blows this challenge out of the water.

“Wreck On The Highway,” has very simple lyrics. Springsteen who is known for amazing poetic imagery lets the music set the mood and speaks not as a poet, but rather as a simple man.

The protagonist comes across a wreck. There’s a man, lying on the side of the road who asks for help. An ambulance comes and takes the man away. As the main character drives away from the wreck, he imagines a girlfriend or a young wife receiving the news that her loved one died.

At this point in the song our protagonist imagines what this tragedy means to people who may have loved this man in the wreck. This isn’t something people thick about when they are teenagers or even when they are early adults. Immaturity narrows our focus on ourselves so we don’t think about how things effect others. One of the things that draws us out of this bubble is having someone in our lives that we truly care about.

To love someone, to truly be in a meaningful relationship is to understand that one’s actions resonate with people who love you. This man has reached this point. It is this imagination that leads us to think that there is something deeper going on in this man.

The last verse is one of the most beautiful that Springsteen has ever written.
Sometimes I sit up in the darkness
And I watch my baby as she sleeps
Then I climb in bed and I hold her tight
I just lay there awake in the middle of the night
Thinking 'bout the wreck on the highway
What is he thinking when he watches her sleep? Does he fear a loosing her? Is he grateful for the time they have together? Is he concerned that one day he will cause her pain, or has he already made a mistake that caused her to be hurt that he regrets? We don’t know, Springsteen, doesn’t lay it out for us, so it forces us to wonder and project our own feelings on these lines.

It may seem strange to think of a tragedy when you hold someone you love, but think about it for a minute. Whenever something sad happens, whenever we feel pain, we long to be held by that one person in our lives that provides us with meaning and comfort, the one person who completes us.

Sadness and fear are like every other emotion. They are meant to be shared with people we love because when we go through these emotions with other people, they give these emotions meaning.

After the length of a double album, we expect a long outro to “Wreck On The Highway,” but it seems to end before before we get a chance to reflect on the lyrics. This is jarring but so is seeing a wreck on the highway. Thankfully, Springsteen adds a little bit more music after the pause to give us a little bit more time, like that the one more moment we wish we could have had with someone we've lost.

“Wreck On The Highway” challenges us to think about what it truly means to know love and share love with others. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Parenthood: Week 55 – Father's Day

My mom told me that life for a woman in Taiwan, where she was born, was simpler when she was growing up. A woman had two choices, have a career or have a family, one or the other, no mixture of the two. If you had a career than you were either a teacher or a nurse.

This lack of choices made life a lot simpler and gave woman a clearer sense of direction in their lives from an early age. The downside is that woman’s potential for personal growth was greatly diminished and that this lack of choice reflected the sexism and chauvinism in society that made life unpleasant and very difficult for women.

Fathers are in a similar situation. In generations past, dads went to work and came home and weren’t expected to be as involved in the child rearing as women. There was less ambiguity of what was expected of fathers.

Modern fathers have more choices. There are men who are heavily involved in their children. They change diapers, do laundry and know as much if not more about the care of their children as their wives. Then there are the fathers who have little to no role in the raising of their children.

These choices are influenced by other factors like the mother's expectations, and the expectations of friends and other family members. Also society still has a lot to do with this. A husband who cooks sometimes is an amazing husband where a wife who cooks all of the time is simply doing what is expected. This unfortunately translates to childcare. No woman will get props for changing diapers or making baby food but a man who carries a baby into a public bathroom to change diapers gets props as some kind of hero.

With all of this swirling around, how do we know if we are being a good father?

The reason why I believe that I’m a good father is because my wife and my mom have told me so over and over. As someone who is self-critical and it’s hard for me to step back and assess success sometimes.  So it's really important that I'm told that I'm doing a good job.

The reason why I know that I'm a good dad is because of what I get back from Ollie. 

Being a father is the kind of job that you can do poorly and get by. You can put on the TV, put some electronic toys in front of your baby and zone out.  As long as you check in on your baby once in a while, feed the baby and change her diaper, it’ll be fine. You’ll be really bored and not get much out of the situation, but it’ll be ok.

If you are a good dad, and you pay attention to your child and make an effort to interact in a meaningful way you will be satisfied and content. If you give your all during the time that you have with your child, you will feel like a good fathers.  Moments will come when you can step back and reflect and the joy that only comes from loving your children.

Beyond society, beyond the influence of your family, choose to be a good dad.  It's not an easy choice but it's the right one.  Your child is worth the extra effort and so are you.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Year 4: Week 38 – Music Camp

Last year, I put in a proposal to do a music summer camp at my school. It didn’t run but I did find another camp at a different school, which I wrote about in this post. Well this year, the camp actually happened.

The camp I did last summer was four days a week. I would see two different groups of students for an hour each for that week. The next week I would get a different group of kids. This camp was different. I had the kids for three hours for five days.

I was really excited that this camp was going to happen, but leading up to the camp I wasn’t sure it was such a great idea. At the exactly same time I should have been planning for this camp, I was doing grades. My grades were actually due the Thursday of my camp week.

This probably would not have felt as insane if I had a clearer idea of what this camp was going to be like. I knew what kind of activities I wanted to do. The issue was that I wasn’t sure how I was going to pace a three-hour chunk of time.

After discussing this with my wife, who is one of my most important collaborators when it comes to formulating ideas related to teaching, I figured out a way to approach my time with these kids.

My wife, who went to camp and was a counselor at a camp, helped me understand the tricky and unique feeling that is a camp program. Yes, there needs to be structure, especially a varied schedule, however it can’t feel like school. Kids need to have fun and they should have a level of freedom to explore things that interest them.

In order to provide these kinds of experiences, the kids need to take a certain level of instruction and follow directions. This requires that kids do what is not fun at times and simply sit and listen. However if there is too much of that, then it doesn’t have that feeling of camp.

This past week was really tricky, but it worked. During transitions I told myself to be okay if they weren’t moving as a whole group. I gave students more freedom of choice then I would in the classroom, but the kids were fine because they were given the opportunity to do what they wanted to do.

While this was a music camp, I gave them time for a mini-recess as well as a snack time. During these chunks of time, kids were able to be off task and socialize. I saw friendships form, observed kids get sick of each other and watched them gel as a group.  We had a performance at the end and I was thrilled to seem nice crowd full of parents come to watch their kids perform.

Yes, it was one more thing to plan for in the busiest time of the school year and I had to dig deep to keep myself going, but it was worth it.  A week of making music with kids who all really love music?  It there really a better way to start a summer?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Fade Away by Bruce Springsteen

What are we really scared of when someone breaks-up with us? Maybe it’s the loss of companionship or loosing emotional security of having a partner. Or maybe it’s the fear that somehow we will be forgotten, somehow we will fade away.

Springsteen's songs about break-ups take a mature and interesting approach to this subject. One of my favorite Springsteen songs “Bobby Jean” (which I discussed in this earlier post) is a song about a break-up but it’s more about wanting to wish the other person well than wanting them back. It’s a mature reflection on a break-up and demonstrates how someone should feel if they truly care for the one that they have just lost.

In “Fade Away,” Springsteen pleads for a relationship not through apologies or descriptions of pain and hurt. Instead he sings about understanding and his fears.

The opening is about how the girl has found another man “who does things to you that I can’t.” This reasoning for a break-up should be enough to send any man into a rage but instead, there’s a sorrowful disbelief in his words.

The organ is almost ghostly and sets up a mellow and beautiful texture for this slowly undulating melody. The background music reminisces about the good times in the relationship, which juxtaposed against these sad lyrics expresses the emotional complexity of a break-up.

The chorus is a simple plea. He just wants to know what he can say or do, not because he “wants” her back, he just doesn’t want to “fade away.”

In the second verse, he continues to validate her feelings. He knows that he has messed up and with great humility he accepts the situation. This continues in the next verse, when he expresses that he misses the good times as well. He’s not shifting blame but saying that he understands.

When he sings about not wanting to “fade away,” he is saying that he doesn’t want to be another “useless memory.” He wants their time together to mean something. He doesn’t feel like he did enough in the relationship, to feel comfortable leaving it just yet. He hopes that she will carry part of his love with her for the rest of her life.

One of the fears we have about death is that we will be forgotten. If we aren’t remembered than that somehow means that our life didn’t have any meaning. That search for meaning comes through in relationships as well.  It’s one thing to accept that we will have relationships fail in our lives.  But the idea that we will fade away, that our time in these relationships don’t have meaning reflects the loss of meaning in our lives.

We can’t ensure that people we meet in our lives will carry us with them after our time with them is over. You can never know what brief encounters in life will hold a pernament place in our hearts forever and which long, seemingly significant relationships will fade. What Springsteen captures in “Fade Away,” is a very honest and revealing look at fears that we all share but we don’t want to acknowledge.

Fears should lead us not to speculate or worry about things that we cannot know instead they should motivate us to do the best we can in our lives, in the moment. That’s all we can do. Fading away is a scary thought, but it’s doesn't reflect a loss of meaning. Just because we don’t remember someone doesn’t mean that they didn’t have an impact on our lives. If we truly care about someone, it’s not important that they remember us but that the love that we gave them helped make them a better person.  In that way, we will never fade away.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Parenthood: Week 54 – One Year Later

Ollie’s a year old.

We had a party.
Ollie attempted to eat some cake.

It was cute but it wasn’t a major milestone event for me as a parent. Nothing happened on that day that changed our relationship. My perspective on being a father didn’t change on that one day and Ollie didn’t start walking the minute after we sang “Happy Birthday.”

Yes, it’s a big deal that Ollie has made it to a year old. There’s been a lot of challenges for him and he’s had to persevere. Being an infant isn’t easy.  Milestones like learning how to take a bottle, crawl or roll over are full of joy but they are also times of struggle. Ollie is a happy baby and he takes on challenges in life with a positive attitude. However he’s had to work and he accepts this and because of this, he’s grown in a lot of different ways.

It’s also a big deal that my partnership with Diana has made it through the past year. More than “made it through,” our partnership has flourished. It’s commonly said that the first year of your first child is your hardest year of your marriage. All of the ways that you work together as a team are put to the test when there’s a baby involved. It’s not that big a deal to keep score on whose turn it is to do the dishes. When it comes to taking care of a baby that scoreboard needs to completely disappear. And that selflessness and that whole, not caring who’s right must happen.

This last year has probably been the most difficult year of my life, but I would not say that it was the most difficult year of my marriage. We have had a blessed life and there’s not another year of our marriage that was marred with any major tragedies, so it’s not that there was clearly a harder year in the past.

Each year of our marriage, we’ve faced challenges and we’ve learned how to deal with them, support each other and persevere. So much of these situations, moving, living in an apartment and then a condo, going on vacations, traveling to Taiwan for my grandmother’s funeral, changing careers, and raising Buffy all prepared us for this past year with Ollie

I experienced the most powerful and extreme emotions of my life this past year from incredible feelings of joy and love to petrifying frustration and horrifying fear. Yes, my heart expanded and I found more capacity to love and care for Ollie than I ever thought possible, but my mind is still catching up to be able to handle all of the stress and the never-ending to do list that comes along with being a parent.

Through all of this, I've never needed to worry that Diana and I wouldn’t make it through whatever we faced. She always had my back, and I always tried to support her in everything we did for Ollie.

We will never be able to express fully our gratitude, to our friends, family and the nannies that helped us through this last year. I am so proud of Ollie. He’s one of my favorite people in this world and all I want to do every day is spend time with him, more than anything else.

I didn't just want to have a kid, I wanted to have a child with Diana.  Sharing this past year with Diana has brought meaning to every moment of being a parent.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Year 4: Week 37 – And In The End

Year 4 is over.

Every year is different, every year is unique and this year was in many ways more different than any other year I’ve had at this school. Year 1 felt like a rush of energy and drama, but there was a sense of accomplishment at the end, a sense of arrival. Year 2, was where I felt like I hit my stride and Year 3, well that was the year where real life came crashing into the walls of my school life. My grandmother died in September so I missed school in the beginning of the year. The rest of the year was over-shadowed by Diana’s pregnancy and then when Ollie came in May, my school year was over.

Like the cliffhanger at the end of a television season, the beginning of this year dealt with the situations that the previous school year set-up. I took paternity leave, spaced out on Mondays and in some longer chunks of time. I had to more carefully balance my time at work with my time and school. Because I was in such of a groove as a teacher I was able to dedicate my time and energy into other projects and being department chair.

Right now, I'm in the middle of finishing up grades.  I don’t feel like I’m still running the race. I have the longest list of things to do over the summer than I’ve ever had to do before. I’m doing a music camp at school next week, which has left me no respite. Instead of feeling like the end of the school year, it feels like another part of the year is beginning.

Last summer, I told myself that I would devote myself to Ollie and that I wouldn’t think about school until August. I probably will not be able to do that this summer but I think I will be able to find some time and space away from work. Though my mind will probably not be able to turn off thinking about school like I did last summer.

I’m proud of all that I did this school year and there were a lot of accomplishments. I had many great interactions with students, some truly amazing performances I put together and some lessons that really worked for my students. There were also many things that I felt I had to not give as much attention to as I would have liked. And there was more time away from my students mostly related to the process of hiring a new teacher in my department.

The balance between being critical of ourselves as professionals and allowing ourselves time to enjoy our accomplishments is difficult. Right now, with the looming deadline of grades and comments, it’s hard to allow myself to enjoy this time as much as I would like.

While my mind swirls around with the stress of deadlines, summer plans and critical self-reflection, there’s one other feeling that shines through this storm storm: I’m really going to miss my students this summer. As much as I am looking forward to this summer and having time away, I know that I’m going to really love coming back in the fall and being with my kids.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Monday, June 2, 2014

Parenthood: Week 53 - No Sacrfice

I hate it when parents talk about the sacrifices they make for their children.

If being a parent is an active choice that you make, then any choices that you make in respond to the consequences of having a child are just, that: a choice.

A sacrifice is giving up something you want to someone else. By that definition we sacrifice money to by Cheetos, but when most people use the term sacrifice there is a stronger implication. We choose to spend money on Cheetos; a soldier sacrifices his life to save his comrades. When parents use this word, it just reeks self-pity and a need for recognition, which should not be expressed, especially towards children.

If parenthood was thrust upon us by nature and was something that we could not control, then I would understand if people had a stronger need for recognition. “Hey, this baby is in my life, I HAVE to take care of it, so now I can’t do all of the things I wanted to do in life. I didn’t want this right now.” This person would feel that he or she is making sacrifices, and would feel a lack of justice.

For many people, like my wife and I, we chose to have a baby. We knew our lives would completely change, our budget would be turned upside down and many things that we enjoyed we might not be able to do in the same way. How can I complain about the choices I made to be a parent when I chose to be parent? It’s like wearing a sweater and then complaining that its’ itchy. No one forced you to wear that sweater and no one forced me to be a dad.

There’s two main problems that lead to people feeling this sense of sacrifice and not in a good way. Too many, WAY too many people don’t feel like they actively choose to have a baby. America’s abysmally sexual education and the misogynist and primeval view many Americans have on reproductive rights leads to children born every day that are not fully embraced as a life choice.

If that baby comes before you are in a place that you are ready to embrace the life changes of becoming a parent, of course there’s going to be a feeling of bitter sacrifice. I can only imagine how difficult it is to get over this feeling. A parent should look at a child and see all the possibilities of the future, not all the things this child prevents the parent from doing.

The other problem is the fact that many parents not feeling acknowledge for the great things they do every day for their children. There’s an old Chinese saying that instructs that a parent should never tell others what they do for their children or expect gratitude from their own children. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t teach your kids to be polite and gracious. However expecting your children, at any age, to give you the positive feedback and recognition so that you feel like a great parent will leave you constantly disappointed.

Children even at older ages don’t have the capacity to truly understand the choices that you make as a parent. Even when they themselves become parents they only have a vague sense of what you went through because chances are, their situation as a parent is going to be completely different.

Friends and extended family can help with this feeling of “hey you are a good parent,” but the majority of this encouragement lies on the shoulders of your partner, your husband or wife. In the same way that the worst insult comes from the person who knows you the best, the most amazing complement comes from the person who loves you the most.

Even with a grateful kid and a supportive partner, it can be tough to accept all of the choices we make for our kids. The strongest motivation to embrace these choices is our children themselves.

Telling your kid that you made sacrifices for him, doesn’t engender respect. It makes a kid feel like a burden, like something that stands in the way of happiness. "Sacrifice" implies that the choice of staying home over a career hasn’t panned out well. If you tell your children of all the sacrifices you made for them, instead of giving their lives meaning, you are taking meaning away.

I don’t believe the choices my parents made were sacrifices. My mom never used that word to describe the life choices she made as a parent. Do I feel gratitude for everything she did for me? Yes, every single day. How did she get me to appreciate her as mom without making me feel guilty by talking about the “sacrifices” she made for me? Through showing care and acting out of love, she taught me to do the same and in my actions, I feel gratitude for her kindness.

The greatest satisfaction you will feel in the act of caring for another soul is not in the recognition but in the action itself. Embrace your child not as a burden that weighs you down but a comforting breeze that can lift you up.

We make choices for our children every day. For most of us, it’s eating dinner a little quicker, not having as much time to watch a television show or not getting as much sleep. When you think about it, for the light that our children bring into our lives, these choices seem less like a sacrifice and more like the greatest deal in the universe.