Friday, August 29, 2014

Year 5: Week 0 - The Feeling That Rises Above

As the school year has begun to gear up, I find myself doubting my ability to handle it all.

Part of it is being away from working at a certain pace. It’s hard to get stuff done over the summer because you lack the energy that you get from the students. As we prepare for the beginning of the year, it feels like we are running on empty but we’ve got to get moving. Then when the kids enter the door, it’s like we finally get a full tank. Before you know it, it’s go time and you’re moving at that faster pace.

This year I’ve a got a new teacher in my department to mentor. We’re trying new things with our curriculum, lining up band and choir in a way that we’ve always wanted to but never actually did. We’re fully integrating Smart Music, an amazing computer program into our band program. We’ve completely rearranged our elementary school music room and instead of having all five of us in three different office spaces, my entire department will for the first time, share one large office space.

It’s a lot of changes and I’m expecting a pretty chaotic beginning of the year. All that craziness isn’t throwing me off balance and kicking my confidence down a notch, it’s who’s not there. Last year we had one new principal, and this year we have two more new principals. The three administrators who I worked closest with, who mentored me and got me to the place I am are no longer at my school.

Last year it became clear to me that they had trained me well so that I didn’t need them as much as I did when I first started here. Regardless I checked in with them and simply knowing that they were there, that they had my back, gave me strength.

These three new administrators have been fantastic. I know they have my back, but I also know they need my help to get to know the school and I find that I support these new administrators in a way that I never supported the old ones. I really like having something to give to them in this way, but sometimes I miss being the new kid.

I know I got this, and I know that my doubts are silly. So much of this feeling of being without is ridiculous. There are so many people at this school who support me every day but there’s still a feeling that I want to go back to Neverland.

It’s not a bad thing to be nostalgic and to being worried about the future. Being nostalgic gives you comfort and being worried means that you care.

There is one feeling that rises abouve my worries and my doubts. I am so excited to see my kids again whom I get to teach again and meet my new third graders. As much as things change every year I get to relive these ages with my kids. Every year I get to experience the wonders of this time in their lives. So in a way, I never have to grow up and that may be one of the greatest things about being a teacher.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Buffy As An Adult

Buffy is getting older.

This last May, our little puppy turned five years old. This means that she’s thirty-six in human years. As much as we would like to think of her as the little puppy that she once was, she is now an adult dog.

Buffy is not a puppy and this is one of the hardest realities that I face and one that I’m most in denial about when I think about my life. It’s obvious. Buffy is not as needy as she was when she was a puppy. She doesn’t need to be walked as often, she doesn’t demand to be played with like she once did and that limitless well of energy that exhausted us, sometimes runs out before ours does.

As an adult, Buffy is a happy and healthy dog. She gets walks every day and she still goes on has adventures, even though they are more focused on Ollie. We don’t have as much time to go on outings that are just focused on Buffy or take classes with her but we do the best we can to make sure she is included as much as we can in our lives. For example, she went with us to Seattle these past couple weeks.

There are a lot of great things about Buffy being an adult. She doesn’t have accidents around the house, she’s more attuned to the needs of our family and she is less impulsive as she was when she was a puppy.

Often when I think about Buffy being a puppy, I focus on the cute things, the new discoveries and how much every little action she did charmed us. Along with all of those things, it was a lot of work. I don’t think our family could handle having a puppy along with Ollie and the other things going on in our lives. In this way, Buffy has grown up to be exactly what we need in our lives right now.

As much as I like to reminisce about our cute puppy, it’s not the puppy that I love but our dog. I loved Buffy as a puppy, I love her now, and I’ll love her when she’s an old dog.

Yes, she was cute and adorable as a puppy, but now Buffy is beautiful.

When you bring a dog into your life, you are embracing the arc of life. You are committing yourself to be part of a life, and see the milestones that human’s take 80 years to work through in the span of twelve years, maybe longer if you’re lucky.

Just because you signed up for this, doesn’t make it any easier. All the stages of life are wonderful and meaningful, but they are finite and fleeting and with a dog, they go so much faster then you can possibly imagine. People say that life go by quickly with a child, but not nearly as quickly as they do with a puppy.

The passage of time is painful sometimes, but it’s the price we pay for the joy and happiness of life. As hard as it is to see admit that our time with Buffy that once seemed finite really isn’t, when I think about this fact, I feel proud. We’ve had a great time with Buffy, we’ve lived through a lot together and she’s been more than a best friend. At times she’s been the most important soul in our lives. There’s nothing we could have done better for her in the last five years. This makes me proud of the life we shared with her and excited for the rest of our lives together.

I know, Buffy’s no longer a puppy but for some reason calling her “our puppy,” makes me feel better, because she’s always going to be my puppy. Just like how Ollie is always going to be my special little guy. Not because I don’t love how Buffy is as an adult, but because it’s when she was a puppy that she found her way into my heart and has never left.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Parenthood Week 65 - 8/23/14

After lunch Diana headed out for her cousin’s wedding shower leaving Ollie and me together for the whole afternoon. Recently we got a toddler dish set that Ollie loved playing with. It included a small drying rack, plastic plates, cups and flatware. Ollie’s favorite part of the set was this miniature soap bottle. It’s a plastic hollow thing, so when you squeeze it a small puff of air came out the top. Feeling this puff of air blown in his face is one of Ollie’s favorite things.

I did it a couple times and each time I did it Ollie would giggle and squeal in delight. As soon as I put it down, he picked it up and then tried to put it in my hand. One of the most amazing things about Ollie recently is that he is requesting things. He’ll bring specific books and toys to us to read to him and play with him. This is a small but really meaningful way that he is communicating to us and of course especially with the books, I’m delighted to oblige him (the other night this resulted in us revisiting the same book almost ten times during his bedtime story time).

After puffing air into Ollie’s face for about five minutes I announced that it was time to go grocery shopping. I checked Ollie’s diaper bag, gave Buffy a hug and the two of us headed out.

It was an usually humid day, which usually means a storm is coming but the forecast only predicted a 20% chance of rain, so I didn’t think much of it.

One of my favorite memories growing up was going to the grocery store with my mom and this is probably why it’s one of my favorite things to do with Ollie. The grocery store is a wonderland of flavors, possibilities, joys and hidden treasures.

I talk to Ollie nonstop when we are in the store. I explain to him how to pick the best fruits and vegetables, I let him choose which kind of apple he prefers. We discuss the different cuts of meat and explore the boxes full of different staples.

At this point Ollie rarely talks back so often people who don’t realize that I’m talking to my son think I’m crazy. Probably people who do know I’m talking to my son also think I’m crazy too. The thing is that people don’t really talk in the grocery store unless they are on their phone or with their spouse, which is rare.

I don’t care if people think I’m crazy, I love talking to my son about food. Every so often, between the crazy looks, someone gives me an approving smile. Sometimes being a little crazy is exactly what your kid needs.

As I checked out, I realized that the sky had turned black. As I neared the exit, I saw a crowd of people at the door looking out at the downpour. I grew up near Seattle and it rained a lot but it was mostly pretty painless mists or steady rain. When it rains in the summer in Chicago, it’s like being in a shower, actually no, it’s more like being dumped on with buckets of water. It’s the kind of rain that would soak you completely going twenty yards from the exit of a store to your car. These rains don’t usually last that long which is why most people were waiting it out.

Here was my problem. It was almost Ollie’s nap time. If I waited this storm out, then we might get home past Ollie’s nap time which could result in a melt down and Ollie having a harder time getting to sleep. In rare cases when we are a late getting him down for a nap time, he skips a nap which results in a cranky baby for the rest of the day.

Or we could get soaked and I could get him home in time for his nap.

I chose the latter.

I pulled Ollie out of the shopping cart seat figuring that it would be safer for me to run holding Ollie then push him quickly in the cart. I held him close to me with one arm, positioned the shopping cart behind me, planning to pull it with my other hand.

I looked down at him and he looked up at me quizzically. I managed to find a smile and told him that we were going to get a little wet. As I ran through the parking lot telling Ollie that this wasn’t going to count as a bath, I realized that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

I threw the cart into the rear bumper of my car, and plopped Ollie into his car seat. I got the groceries in the car, put away the cart and went to the back seat to check on Ollie.

We were both soaked.

He looked at me nervously as I took off his shirt (no shirt is better for warmth than wet cotton) and I dried him off. After a couple tummy raspberries, I got him giggling and we headed home.

The drive home was insane. I could barely see through sheets of water. Getting Ollie and the groceries into the house was an ordeal, but we got back in. One of the few things that gets Buffy nervous is thunderstorms and she looked at me critically when we got in the door wondering why we weren’t home at a time like this.

Buffy followed me closely as I changed, got Ollie changed and heated up some milk. As I started feeding Ollie his bottle in his nursery, Buffy settled down in the center of the room watching Ollie intently.

After hearing the sound of Ollie sucking air through the empy bottle, he pushed the bottle aside, and replaced it with his thumb. After a couple minutes of rocking, he was out. I placed him carefully in his crib and starting walking out the room. I whispered to Buffy to come with me. She stood up and hesitated. She looked at Ollie, looked at me and then after a couple seconds she followed me out of the room.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Frat Boy: Saga Dining Hall - Part 2

When we walked into the east side, the workers always warmly greeted us. They would swipe our student IDs which also kept our meal plan accounts. We would walk through a doorway and enter the line of food displayed exactly how you would expect in a cafeteria. First there were the plates. You always grabbed at least two plates, sometimes three. There’s nothing worse than being halfway down the line and needing to ask someone to hand you another plate. The first thing on the line was always the main dish, which sometimes was awesome (chicken parmesan, chicken nuggets) often mediocre (hamburgers, grilled chicken breast) and at times disgusting (unidentifiable mystery meat mixed in with some grey-ish yellow sauce).

Inevitably some worker would be checking the temperatures of the food. I guess it’s great that the food was safe, but that doesn’t really help the fact that it sometimes tasted like paste. Then there would someone who would walk around and carefully drop pimetos on the vegetable. Chrissie always ranted about this, “maybe they could focus on making the food better as opposed to dressing up a turd.”

In addition to the main course there were standbys that they always prepped because we inevitably would skip the main course the vast majority of the time. These included: grilled cheese sandwiches, pasta with marinara sauce, cheese quesadillas, pizzas, French fries and the salad bar.

Drinks were watered down sodas and Minute-Maid juice selections. There was a soft-serve machine, pretty fresh coffee and usually a decent selection of cookies and brownies.

Most of the time I loaded one plate with a cheeses quesadillas, fries and hardboiled egg from the salad bar and the other plate with a grilled cheeses sandwich and marinara sauce. I’d grab a couple cookies and grab a glass of cranberry juice. I’d place the egg and fries in the quesadilla and roll it up and dip my grilled cheese in the marinara sauce.

I literally ate this for a meal, hundreds of times. Yes, it was kind of gross, but it was how I figured out how to make this eating situation work for me. My friends all had their own ways to cope with the mediocrity of the food. Some people used a lot of hot sauce, others focused on the salad bar and used tons of dressing while other simply drank a lot of coffee.

Sharing food is one of the most important ways that human beings bond with each other. What I learned at the Plex is that the quality of the food doesn’t necessarily negatively affect the fellowship of a meal.

We laughed about trying to eat some of the worst meats, being disgusted at overcooked hard-boiled eggs, wilted lettuce and rock hard cookies. We celebrated steak night, gorged on chicken nuggets and made mad dashes for the cookie tray whenever a fresh batch came out of the oven. It wasn’t about what we ate, it was the fact that we ate together as family that made the Plex so special.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

Parenthood Week 64 – Lessons From My Mother

The person who has taught me the most about being a parent is my mom.

There is so much to know when it comes to being a parent. Yes, there are books that cover almost every single facet of taking care of a kid. While these books are often backed up by research, they aren’t informed by family tradition. Genetics often means that something that worked for your mother as a parent has a higher possibility of working with your own child.

I went to an infant care class, and have access baby-rearing books and the all-knowing Internet. However when things got tricky and I wasn’t sure how to handle something, after talking to Diana, I’d look to my mom for help.

All mothers raised kids, but not all moms are really knowledgeable about the art of raising children. You don’t have to keep up with the latest research and products to be a great parent but you do have to know what’s going on with developments in parenting philosophy to speak intelligently with to new parents.

My mom is that person who always seems to have a baby in her arms at family events.  She is also the person who makes and effort to know in what is going on in the world of parenting. It’s this combination of passion for children and her openness to keep learning about kids that has made her an incredible resource for me.

There are many little things that she has taught me like how to burp Ollie (raise one of the babies hands up to lengthen the esophagus and gently rub the small of the back) and how to give Ollie a bath. She taught me the best way to hold a baby to put them to sleep and the signs to watch for when Ollie is ready to be put in the crib.  She provided an approach to food that we could use to help create Ollie’s diet from her modern knowledge of food and nutrition. And my mom also passed down traditional knowledge from her parents on how to handle thinks unique to people in my family like Asian cradle cap.

Every time I talked to my mom it seemed like I picked up on one more nugget of information that was helpful in handling Ollie’s every-changing needs as a baby. When she didn’t have a solution, she was always understanding and sympathetic.

People battle the insecurity of being a new parent by buying books, refusing to buy books, asking everyone for advice or asking no one. There’s a sense that our parents figured things out by themselves so we should. If we can’t then somehow we are damaging that ever-present comparison we make between our parents and ourselves.

Your parents didn’t figure out all of this parenting stuff themselves. No one does.  Asking for help may mean that you have to put your pride aside. The longer you are a parent the more you don’t care about pride. There’s no feeling about preserving pride when you are in hour two of trying to put your baby to sleep for the night.

Success as parents is not based on our independence but how we are for our children. If our focus really is on our kids, then asking for help is something we do against our own pride but for our children.

The most important thing that my mom taught me about being a parent is that taking care of other people is where we find our meaning and taking care of our own is where we find our purpose.

I still have a lot more to learn about being a parent and my mom has a lot more to teach me and one day I’ll take on this part of being a parent and teach Ollie what my mom has taught me.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Frat Boy: Saga Dining Hall - Part 1

For four years, almost every single week day of my academic career at Northwestern, I endured mediocre dining hall meals that were sometimes borderline inedible and I loved every minute of it. It’s hilarious how prospective students wonder about the dorm food. Yes, you want to go to a college that has decent food but is that really the deal-breaker? I guess my perspective has to do with the fact that if I based my choice to go to Northwestern on the quality of the food I would eat during my time there, I would not have chosen to go to that university.

Part of it was my own choosing.

One of the reasons I chose to live in the Plex because there was a dining hall on the bottom floor of the dorm. This seemed really convenient and it was especially nice on days when the weather was bad. Only a minority of the dorms on campus had dining halls on the bottom floor.

Eating at dining halls wasn’t the only option on campus. There were a caf├ęs and different dining options a Norris, our student union. You could use credit from meals at these different places. For the most part I ate at the Plex dining hall.  

The Plex cafeteria was split into two sides. The west side had made to order meals. You could ask for a specific kind of salad or sandwich and the person behind the line would make it ready to order for you. This food was fresh and with the addition of a small convenience store near the entrance of this side, made for a nice dining experience.

I ate on the west side a couple times, but in general, I stuck to the east side, the worse of the two, because that’s where my family, my frat and my social circle, NUMB-Mu-Alpha-Iota would gather.

Why did we choose to eat at this cafeteria? There were better cafeterias not too far away and it’s not like we didn’t have a better option on the west side of the building. Honestly, I have no idea, why, it’s just the way we did things. When anyone questioned this choice over an especially bad dinner, we would laugh off this very reasonable and logical question like they were asking us why we had heads.

It was like the bar in Cheers.  Whenever I walked in, I’d see someone in our social group happily greet me. Even though I almost always had morning classes, coming to lunch and seeing everyone there felt like the true start of my day.

It wasn’t perfect but it was ours, and oh, how we made it ours. Sometimes it was in small ways, other times it was in big ways and one time our effort to make this place our own got us kicked out.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Monday, August 11, 2014

Parenthood Week 63 - The Party: Part 2

Click here for part 1

“Did you drive? I know parking’s awful bc of Billy Joel concert nearby?”

With this text on my phone, I knew that I couldn’t make up an excuse and go home. The fact that she noticed I wasn’t there meant that she cared that I was there. Even though I felt that I had failed because of how late I was to the performances, she didn’t seem to think so or else her text would have been a lot more annoyed and less understanding.

So I turned around, and texted  her I had just parked and was on the way over. As I approached the apartment for the second time that night, I still felt the feeling of hesitation and insecurity but I had told LaJuanda I was on my way and I couldn’t break my word.

I climbed up the back steps of the apartment as LaJuanda directed. As I entered the back door of the dining room I heard the sound of girls singing an arrangement of “Long Hot Summer,” coming from the living room. As I walked through the apartment, Mike, LaJuanda’s boyfriend waved to me and whispered that they had just started.

There were people crowded into the living room sitting on the floor and couches and watching the group performing standing against the far wall. I squeezed behind someone sitting on a bar stool and there I saw LaJuanda in the back corner of the room.

Our eyes met and she smiled at me. In that moment, the tears of depression and failure that were welling up earlier came out in tears of joy. As the girls sang “The only place that I want to be is where you are, ‘cause anymore than a heartbeat away is too far,” I realized there really wasn’t anywhere I would rather be at that moment.

During the intermission, I gave LaJuanda a hug and made an awkward attempt at small talk.  I was out of practice and felt like I had no idea how to chill out at a party but for some reason, I didn’t really care.

The girls had a great second act with a really clever T.G.I.F. sitcom theme song arrangement. No, these weren’t professional singers but they had fun and were really into what they were doing. That energy is the most important thing in any performance and they had that going for them. It was clear that everyone in the room was feeling what they were feeling, no more hoping and wishing.

After the performance I chatted with LaJuanda and Mike for a little bit. I told her that I felt silly that I was worried that I would be late and that I thought that she was texting me in the middle of the performance. She asked me how I thought that her group did and I told her how much I enjoyed the song selections, the transitions and their energy.

I explained to LaJuanda I had to get going because I was off on a road trip early the next day and while she was sad that I couldn’t hang out, it was clear that she appreciated that I had come.

When I’m out with Ollie and Diana, I don’t have to think about my own feelings. My focus is on their needs. When I get frustrated that I can’t find parking and Ollie is in the car, I ignore those feelings for Ollie’s sake and power on.  Going out by myself forced me to confront my doubts and insecurities and if it wasn’t for that text from LaJuanda, expressing to me that I mattered, I would have given up on myself.

LaJuanda and I aren’t best friends. I have no illusions about that. But you don’t have to be best friends to have a significant and important impact on each other. You don’t have to be someone’s best friend to make a difference.

Some of the hardest moments of as a parent are when you aren't with your child.  It's important to remember that while these times are tough, you don't have to go through them alone.  

Friday, August 8, 2014

Frat Boy: Chrissie - Part 2

When I rushed PMA, Chrissie was proud and supportive. At PMA parties she would make sure to introduce me other people and always made sure that I was included on the dance floor, even though I had no idea how to dance at that time.

Chrissie wasn’t in SAI. I remember asking her why she never rushed and she brushed the question off as not a big deal. It just something she wasn’t into. So I was surprised when she rushed SAI that spring and joined.

I was full in. I went to every PMA meeting and almost every event. I dove right into the deep end. Chrissie didn’t.  When she joined spring being her last quarter at college; many other things were on her mind.

I remember questioning her loyalty to the group, when she wasn’t enthusiastic about SAI events. Why join if you are not going to give it your all? So I asked her after coming back from a PMA & SAI joint event why she didn’t show up. Being a freshman, I asked in a callous and judgmental way.

I’ll never forget the look in her eyes as her eyes met mine. It wasn’t that Chrissie was sad but it was that she was worn down. Yes, SAI was fun, but it was more of a undergrad's game. The general plan was that you join as a freshmen, do your major work as a sophomore and junior and then senior year, you watch the fruits of your labor and get to step back. Chrissie was a weird place where undergrads in that organization had seniority as a sister over her. As Chrissie explained all of this and how hard it was sometimes to be in a group but not feel like she was a totally a member, I realized the biggest similarity between us.

Chrissie always seemed like the life of the party. She always had friends around, right? Then why did she choose to live in the most anti-social dorm on campus. Then I remembered how many times I greeted her as she walked alone on campus and how many times I joined her as she sat alone in the cafeteria. Here is a senior girl, hanging out with a freshmen boy. If she was really that central in any social group than she wouldn’t be hanging out with me.

Chrissie and I both didn’t fit in with large groups. We didn’t have groups of friends. We were both searching for this by joining SAI and PMA but I did it earlier in my college career and somehow it worked for me in a way joining SAI didn’t work for Chrissie. Even after being initiated into PMA, that feeling of being on the fringes never left me completely and I think that’s something that Chrissie and me always shared.

I didn’t realize this at the time. I just knew that my friend just didn’t feel like she belonged. It would have been easy for her to walk away from SAI. She didn’t have to follow through with her obligations, but she did.

After four years in PMA, I found myself in the same spot that Chrissie was in the end of her senior year. That feeling of being in the center was no longer there. My time in power had passed and the rest of my life had taken priority. How do you deal with this? You can be dragged out kicking and screaming and complain about how the underclassmen don’t know what they are doing or you can do what Chrissie taught me by her example:

Leave with grace and dignity. Accept the consequences of your actions and accept the hand that life has dealt you. Hold your head up high to those that would tear you down and always leave them with a smile. Dignity doesn’t mean you are a doormat, rather it means that you are never a victim and you never feel sorry for yourself.

In the last couple weeks of the school, Chrissie put away the college clothing and dressed more professionally. She complained less about others and she seemed to walk with a stronger purpose. The confidence that had once intimidated me had transformed into a maturity that impressed me.

Chrissie was my older sister in college and she took care of me. She was proud of whatever accomplishments I managed, no matter how small. I never told her so, but I was proud of her. When I told people in college that she was my friend, I felt like somebody, a person that mattered and as I write about her now, I still do.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Monday, August 4, 2014

Parenthood Week 62 - The Party: Part 1

I don't get out much.  

It has been almost two years since I went out and did something social without Diana or Ollie. I was very protective of Diana during her pregnancy and the craziness of Ollie’s first year of life didn’t leave a lot of free time. I was okay with this fact but I knew that I was important that I push myself out of this pattern. So when LaJuanda invited me to come over for a party that would include a performance of her acapella group she sang in, I told her that I would come, but I no idea the struggle that night would bring.  

LaJuanda had invited me to parties earlier but I either declined because Diana was pregnant and I had to take care of her or I’d laugh it off because the performance would be at 9pm and that’s WAY too late for this new parent to be out. The thing is that LaJuanda kept asking me to come and in this way, I realized that it would mean something to LaJuanda and our friendship for me to come.

I met LaJuanda when she was a freshmen her first night on campus. I had graduated at that point but my wife who is two years younger than me was in marching band with her. I remember LaJuanda being timid and displaying a quiet thoughtfulness.  I saw her around that year and we would be friendly with each other but mostly our interactions were limited to an exploding fist bump.

Years later, we ended up both working as assistants at the same school and we agreed to car pool to and from work. Over the twenty-minute drive we bonded over marching band memories, stories about mutual friends and puppies (this was the first year we had Buffy). We became friends over this time and I would regularly invite LaJuanda to social gatherings and to hang out.

There’s many great traits about LaJuanda. She’s smart without being cocky, she’s funny but also sensitive and she is empathetic with a incredible capacity to understand people of all ages.  The most amazing thing about LaJuanda is when she looks at you and smiles; she makes you feel like you belong.

The performance was at 9pm. I wanted to get their early around 8:30, so I would need to leave the house at 8. Ollie goes to bed at 7pm, so I could take a shower around 7:15.  Parents, as you know plans rarely go as hoped. Ollie didn’t get to be until 7:30, then I had to unclog our bathtub which was in really bad shape. By the time all of this was done it was 8:15. Okay, forget the shower.  I threw on a clean Doctor Who t-shirt, combed my hair, washed my face and I was out the door.

The driving went fine. I was in the area around 8:50, but then the parking was killer. Billy Joel was doing a concert near-by which meant is was nigh-impossible to find an open spot. Usually in Chicago, all you have to do is circle the block a couple times and something will open up.  It wasn’t like that this night.

After not finding parking in the immediate area, I worked my way outwards. Every block I went through, every open spot then ended up being a fire hydrant frustrated space. As the minutes passed, I was feeling more and more like a failure. How could I not be able to make this evening work?  By that time, I found a spot, it was 9:30, a half an hour after the performance was scheduled to start. 

By the time I parked, I wanted to go home. How could I show up this late to a performance that was probably already done? None of these people are married or have kids, how could I survive at this party? I walked down the street towards the apartment crossing my arms, holding myself and feeling tears well up as the warm summer evening breeze felt cold and made me shudder.

Standing in front of the apartment building, I could hear the party and I could see the light upstairs.  What was I going to do? Show up after the performance? Apologize awkwardly? I can’t do this. I can’t even make it to the event on time, let alone be social. Maybe the reason I haven’t gone out on my own with friends is because I don’t know how to anymore, maybe I’ve been using Diana and Ollie as an excuse.

So I turned around and headed back to the parking lot. I started formulated an excuse that I would send to LaJuanda. I could blame it on Ollie. Chances are, LaJuanda didn’t even notice that I wasn’t there for the performance.

As I crossed the street to the parking lot LaJuanda texted me. . .   

Friday, August 1, 2014

Frat Boy: Chrissie - Part 1

There’s nothing more intimidating to a freshman boy than a senior girl.

I remember coming to campus my freshmen year and just being in awe of these woman. Part of it was the way they looked and the way they dressed but most of it had to do with the poise in which they carried themselves and walked around campus.

I usually don’t have issues talking to girls. Most of my friends are women, but walking onto campus, I had no idea whatsoever how to interact with these seniors, which is one reason why my friendship with Chrissie was so remarkable.

Chrissie was in color guard. Those are the people that wave big flags during marching band shows. Like the other senior girls I met through marching band and SAI, she walked around campus with an ease and confidence that I envied, but there was something more approachable about her. That feeling probably had to do with the fact that she’s the one who first approached me.

We both lived in the Plex and I would often see her at meals in the cafeteria we called Saga (I’ll go into the whole craziness that was eating with the NUMB-Mu-Alpha-Iota Magnum tables later). One day she just started talking to me. It was one of those conversations where one person talks a lot while the other person responds with one-word answers that keep the conversation going.

Chrissie quickly found out that we had some things in common besides the fact that we lived in the same dorm. We both liked comic books. This was a time that geek culture was just starting to become mainstream so when this came up someone at the table made a derogatory comment about comic books. Then Chrissie lowered her chin and opened up a can.

Chrissie didn’t take crap from anyone. She always had a response, had a death stare at the ready and could drop an insult that could put someone in his or her place as easily as breathing. But she wasn’t mean. She just didn’t like it when people disrespected others for no reason. She was the first person to laugh at a humorous jab at someone else’s expense but she was also the first person to jump in if a line was crossed.

As our friendship grew, I started talking more, while Chrissie continued to talk a lot. She had a parent who was on disability and there was a lot less money in her family than her. My parents paid my way through Northwestern. Her parents did not. She had to work to pay tuition sometimes at work-study jobs at the university and other times at places like Burger King.

When I came to Northwestern University I assumed most people there had families that could afford to send their kids there. There are a large percentage of folks on campus who are in this situation, but there are also a lot of students who take out student loans and work their entire time they are in college.

I didn’t have a sense of this my freshmen year and I assumed everyone was like me financially, because no one seemed to talk about this stuff except for Chrissie. It’s not like she was whining, but this kind of stuff was on her mind.

Chrissie knew how different our families were but it didn’t matter to her. There was no guilt she laid on me because of my level of privilege. We were born into different families and at the end of the day, what was most important to Chrissie wasn’t the circumstances that you were born into but the way you handled whatever crap came to you because of it.

I had a myriad of things to complain about freshmen year. I’m sure that Chrissie had heard it all before but she always validated my complaints, as ridiculous as they were in retrospect.

That was what we built our friendship on. We were very different in many ways, but we were there for each other. We made each other feel like what we were both going through in our lives mattered. For a new freshmen trying to his way and for a senior staring down the reality of life after graduation, what we were for each other as friends, could not have meant more.

As much as we supported each other there were things that were difficult for me to understand and it was joining PMA and Chrissie joining SAI that led me to question my friend . . .