Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) by Darlene Love

The categories of Christmas music includes almost all genres of music. There are incredibly beautiful songs like “Silent Night,” that fill this category of music with musicality and beauty and then there are atrocious and annoying songs like “Holly Jolly Christmas.” Talk show host David Letterman feels the same way about Christmas music except for one exception, Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).

This was a special year for this song. After performing this song for almost thirty years on The David Letterman Show, she sang it for the last time earlier in December.

Also, this was the first year, I brought this song into my music classroom and helped my 5th graders perform this song at their Holiday assembly.

I was reminded of how great this song was when I watched 20 Feet From Stardom last summer (I wrote about this film in more detail in this post).  One of the most powerful stories in this film is about Darlene Love. She was working as a maid after giving up on her singing career. She heard “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on the radio and decided that she recommit herself to music.

This was the story I told my 5th graders when I introduced this song to them. I also told them about how Darlene Love was not given credit for some of the greatest songs in pop music like “He’s A Rebel,” and how only recently she got her due for being one of the greatest singers in the history of popular music.

I taught them how to sing the back up part and the lead vocals. We explored the form and learned how to play the chord progressions on xylophones. At first some of the students who weren’t Christians were no comfortable singing this song. However after discussions on how other classes were going to sing music from different cultures.  Also, the fact that this song was more about the universal value of togetherness and family more than Jesus Christ, my 5th graders really bought into this song.

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is one of the greatest Christmas songs and probably the greatest Christmas pop song because it embraces and reflects its genre authentically and beautifully. Like Phil Specter’s other masterpieces like “Unchained Melody” (which I discuss in this previous post), “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), features and unbelievable production featuring and incredible, groove, depth of sound and most importantly, soul.

Darlene leans into the melody with a mixture of Gospel, teenage heartache and emotional depth. Throughout all of this there is joy at the thought of being together with the one that she wishes would come home. It is this mixture of feelings, which reflects not what Christmas used to be about, but what Christmas and holidays in general have become for so many people in our culture.

There’s nothing saccharine, cheesy or campy about “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."  It’s spirited in expression, and its rocks.  What else could want in a Holiday song?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Parenthood - Week 83: Christmas And Then Some

We really enjoyed our time with Ollie this past week of Christmas. For us it just wasn’t one day,. First there was dinner with Diana’s immediate family on Christmas eve, then we had our own family Christmas time on the morning of the 25th, there was the gathering with Diana’s maternal extended family and then a Christmas gathering at my parents house a couple days later. Oh, and I can’t forget the Diana’s paternal extended family who got together the weekend before. So in total Ollie had five Christmas gatherings.

Ollie did really great this year. He can handle staying up pass his bedtime better than he did last year. Now that he can walk, he can more independently through a room and with the words he learns everyday he can better advocate for himself. While we make sure we know where he is at all times, we feel less of a need to be watching him for the entire time we are at one of these gatherings.

Ollie is starting to get the idea of what this whole holiday season is about. He got more excited about gifts then he did last year, but he also got bored of the process of opening them. Ollie met Santa Claus for the first time and cried angrily through most of this experience (though he loved Mrs. Claus). Every morning when he came downstairs and our Christmas tree lights were not on, he got very concerned until one of us plugged in the strip of lights.

This holiday seasons Ollie decorated his first gingerbread man, made his first tree ornament and made Christmas cookies with his grandmother for the first time. He also learned the song, “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” figured out where his ears are and learned how to put his dirty laundry in the hamper.

Overall it was a fantastic week. Yes, it was a little crazy but we got through all of the various family get-togethers and still managed to carve outßß some time for us to enjoy this time as family.

This will probably be the last year we slept in on Christmas morning because Ollie didn’t realize the emphasis on opening presents this year. This is probably the last year he doesn’t have specific request Christmas presents. However, we can still emphasize with Ollie what was the most important part of this holiday.

The desire to share life together as a family is at the center of the most important holidays from different cultures. This is why we get onto planes with toddlers and drive hours through snowstorms.

I’m not sure what Ollie got out of this past. I hope he enjoyed the energy and positivity o this time of year, but more than that I wish that he left this past week with beautiful memories of his family.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Challenge Of Atticus Finch

When Atticus Finch told Scout “you never understand a person until you consider things from his point a view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it,” he was challenging his daughter and the rest of the world with an impossible task.

Yes, we can consider things from another person’s point of view but this is limiting because try as hard as we can, many of us cannot climb into another’s skin. A man will never face with the choice on whether or not to have an abortion, someone without children will never understand what it means to be a father, and most Caucasian people will never know what its like to be discriminated on the basis of their own race.

We live in a world where we live in constant tension over critical issues that remain unresolved in our society. There’s marriage equality, health care, the death penalty, abortion, welfare, rape culture, religious discrimination, gender issues and racial inequality.  These issues seep into every facet of our society. They are so present and so pervasive, sometimes we forget that they lie in the back of our minds and the conversations with people we encounter every day.

We play nice with family member and know better than to talk about religion and politics but things come up. We try to steer the conversation to another place or simply walk away but it’s tough, because as much as we try to understand someone else’s perspective, often we fail at this challenge

There is a place in our discussions for accepting plurality and acknowledging that all viewpoints are valid and should be respected. However some opinions that lack reason, that embrace a complete lack of consideration for opposing viewpoints themselves do not deserve the tolerance that they are often afforded.

Almost all modern Americans will not accept Nazis' view on exterminating the Jews as reasonable and the Priest arguments based on Bible quotes that advocated slavery leading up to the Civil Wars. People went to jail, fought wars and died because they would not tolerate the existence of these paradigms.

Are there opinions in our current debates that we will look back on generations from now and will not accept like we do not accept the practice of slavery? I’m sure there are, but it’s difficult to know.

When do we try the impossible and walk a mile in someone else’s skin and when do with do we give up, pick up arms and wage war?  Can we understand those who are unreasonable? Can we accept what we can’t understand? How do we know when to stand up and fight with the courage of our convictions and how do we know what to walk away?  Some look to God for these answers, while others look to history.

There are no easy answers but that's no excuse to not struggle with these questions, but we've got to try.  There are battles being fought every day and we've got to do what's right for ourselves, our family and our country.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Monday, December 22, 2014

Parenthood – Week 82: High Heels, Blush & Purses

Ollie often gravitates toward Diana's shoes when he looks inside the front closet. After picking them up and carrying them around, he sometimes tries on a tan high heel shoe and attempts to put his own feet in the shoe. He took this a step further in my mom’s house and managed to get both of his feet into a pair of her dress shoes and shuffle around the house.

Ollie usually entertains himself when Diana is getting ready for the day and sometimes he gazes up at her as she does her morning routine. One morning I noticed him pointing up at Diana and saying “blusssh.” Diana looked down at him and gently brushed her make-up brush on Ollie’s cheeks.

The other day when Diana was checking out at Old Navy, I was watching Ollie as he walked around the store. Before I knew it, he had pair of hoop earrings in one hand and a small black purse in the other. I only held him back when he tried to grab four purses off the rack at the same time.

In all of these situations Ollie was overjoyed, almost to the point of giggling. So what do we do during these moments? Smile.

It’s not like all of Ollie’s interests are “feminine.” One of his favorite toys is a small play wooden tool set with little screws, nails, a hammer and a screwdriver. Get him near a toddler basketball hoop and he will spend a good chunk of time trying to get a ball through that hoop. He's obsessed with throwing "baaa" or balls. Did we push these toys on Ollie? Not really, he gravitated to the basketball hoop at my mom's house and learned how to use the tool set when we got it for him.

Diana and I are not on a mission. We are not trying to have Ollie be the person to break down gender roles and stereotypes. Our approach is to nurture Ollie’s interests regardless of the gender normally associated with that interest in our society. If that means that we support Ollie’s interest in fashion as well as his love of power tools, so be it. What is most important to us is not that Ollie subscribe to any gender roles but rather that he feels free to pursue whatever he wants regardless of gender stereotypes.

When I tell people about Ollie doing “girly” things, I often get applauded for being open-minded and progressive in my parenting style. I appreciate the support, but for me allowing Ollie to play with purses isn’t really a tough thing for me. Part of this has to do with the fact that I also enjoyed playing with my mom's things growing up. My mom did nothing to encourage this behavior but she didn’t discourage it, either. Do I question my own masculinity because of this? No, actually I think I have a better sense of what it means to be man and love myself because of these experiences.

The other thing that makes it not a big deal to support Ollie in his exploration is because of the support of our friends and family and the how much society has progressed. Once upon a time, parents were told that if they allowed their sons to engage in activities that weren’t stereotypically male, they would become messed up when they became older and worst of all they would succumb to the perversion and sickness of homosexuality.

Well, since along with Bill Gates, the geeks have inherited the earth and the consequences for letting your son play with make-up are non-existent.

In many ways its easy for me to be accepting of Ollie playing with purses.

Things will change. At a certain point Ollie will begin to see the differences between men and woman more clearly and he will start categorizing things as being things by gender. This is a stage that that is developmentally appropriate and necessary. At other points in his life he will not care of what is identified as being girly. As my students get older I see this go in waves, as it should.

The bottom line for me is what makes Ollie happy.  I'm not going to let anything stand in the of the joy he gets from exploring the world around him. The world is magical to him, there's a spark, a spirit in him that shines through when he pursues something he is interested in.  There is nothing bad that can come from that—only good.

Ollie can choose what he is into, and if other people in the world don't think his choices are right, that's their problem.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Year 5: Week 16 – Week Of Insanity?

And it’s over.

Like a sandcastle almost completely washed away by waves, the stress, the insanity and the joy of the passed week are almost completely gone, leaving memories of the times that are passed.

In some ways this is the most intense week of the school year for our music department. We have special rehearsals that changed around our schedules this week leading up with an elementary school performance in the day on Thursday and then a middle school and high school concert in the evening.

Yes, it was an intense week and there was a lot to do. Every day it felt like we had just enough time to get done what needed to be done, but we got through it all and we had a good time.

There’s a adage in music education that talks about how the most amount of fun and satisfaction comes from performing great music at a high level. The same goes for teaching.

As a department, we did a great job preparing our students and ourselves for this week. Students weren’t learning notes and rhythms this past week. That work we purposely did in weeks previous. This allowed us to have the students truly “play music,” and enjoy the preparing time we had in the auditorium.

Pushing the kids to have the songs mastered earlier forced us all as teachers to have a better sense of the passing and the process of our teaching. Having this planning done earlier meant that we weren’t focusing on coming up with lessons this week; rather we were following a plan.

The most important thing that made this past week wonderful was the fact that the members of the music department remembered one very important thing: these are all our students. Even though I have yet to teach the first graders, I have a responsibility to them and even though the other general music teacher hasn’t the a taught high school soprano in seven years, she is still her teacher.  Add into a mix one of the best student teachers we've ever had and a Jenga tower and you've got a good time had by all.

I'm looking forward to teaching without having a performance looming in January, but I'm also looking forward to this time next year.  If we can have fun and also work hard creating great musical experiences for our kids during this past week, then imagine the fun we're going to have during the rest of the year.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014

Parenthood – Week 81: Words

In the past week Ollie has said “Good girl” referring to Buffy, named three books by title: “Hat” for Red Hat, Green Hat, “Hop” for Hop And Pop and “Boom” for Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Ollie now uses “mommy” in his regular vocabulary and for the past couple days has been saying “bubbles” reflecting his current obsession. Ollie’s talking up a storm and he’s really been in the mood to imitate sounds that Diana and I make as we interact with him.

I don’t remember Ollie’s first word. Some people take the first sounds their children make as a baby and call them first words but Diana and I didn’t see it this way. When he first said “dada,” we both knew that he wasn't referring to me as he repeatedly made that sound crawling around the house and pointing to almost everything in the room except for me.

In the same way that Ollie’s first social smile was meaningful to us because it showed a level of interaction and affection, parents often look to first words as signs of care, and interest.  Sometimes this causes parents to interpret random sounds as words when the infant hasn't associated the sound with any object or action.

I’ve always loved listening to Ollie explore his voice. Sometimes after we put Ollie down for the night we will here him talking to himself. Diana calls this his “Dear Diary”-time. We will here him talk to himself joyfully like someone going over what they did that day with a friend. Then there’s the time when he walks around and joyfully screams at the top of his lungs the highest pitch I’ve ever heard a human being make.

There are times when it’s clear that he doesn’t have the word for what he’s trying to express and that can be frustrating for him, but he’s doing a good job at working at it. We taught Ollie some sign language and it’s been really nice for Ollie to be able to communicate with us better. Also it’s a way we can teach him to use his words. Instead of pointing to a food that he wants more of, I ask him to make the sign for “more” which gets him focused and forces him to be less demanding.

Toddlers learn words that they can’t actually speak. At certain points the muscles that control speech catch up with what they are trying to say and then you have an explosion of words. Right now, Ollie is giving us a bunch of new words and its super cute.

I remember Diana and I wondering what Ollie’s voice was going to be like when he started talking back when he was an infant. I got to tell you, it’s the cutest thing you’ve ever heard. It’s soft, light, and so full of spirit. When he talks, it’s almost like he’s singing the words.  Sometimes when he's talking I just want to pick him up and give him a hug and make him understand how much I love hearing his voice and proud I am of him for making himself heard.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Year 5: Week 15 – A Different Kind Of Pride

As I stood there watching the before school concert of our extra-curricular choral groups I felt a deep sense of pride. I wasn’t feeling the pride of at teacher because I didn’t help any of these students learn these songs. I was feeling the pride of an administrator who because of behind-the-scenes hard work had made this amazing experience happen for their children and their teacher.

I’ve worked to set up musical groups at my school. I’m the one who started our curricular band program, the extracurricular Wind Ensemble, and a music summer camp. All of these groups took an immense amount of work to get going and it’s all been worth the effort. I was intimately involved in not only he creation but also the running of these groups so while I was setting up opportunities for my students I was also setting up opportunities for myself as a teacher.

These extra-curricular choir groups were a different situation. This year we hired a new choir teacher to replace the teacher who retired last year. The teacher that was retired was involved in the extra-curricular choir groups. We wanted to set up a situation so that the new teacher could inject his own personality and musical interests in these groups while expanding the extra-curricular choir program to be more inclusive.

When you take something that has been successful and you want to help it evolve there are people with great intentions and concerns who want to help guide the future of that thing. This was the case with the extra-curricular choir programs, which engendered a great many discussions, and many email conversations.

We had a vision of where we wanted to see these groups go. It wasn’t that we didn’t like what had been happening previously. We loved it but there potential untapped and a desire for the group to become something different for our community, so I worked towards this vision.

It took months and at times I wasn’t sure if it was worth all of the work, but I couldn’t give up because the vision we were working towards directly reflected our school’s philosophy and we needed to make this happen or our children.

Seeing those kids sing their hearts out made me feel proud that I was able to create this opportunity for them. In addition, I watched my colleague, the new choir teacher, have a blast leading them and seeing the fruition of his hard work. Knowing that I had created a situation that allowed him to be successful made my feeling of pride and enjoyment of that moment overflow.

Yes, it’s a great feeling doing something yourself and being successful, but in some ways its an even better feeling setting up a situation so that a colleague can enjoy a high level of success and have a blast getting there.

I could get used to doing this kind of work.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Frat Boy: Thanksgiving - Part 2

I spent a lot of time in my mom’s kitchen growing up. I’ve seen fires in kitchens but I never saw the rolling plums of smoke coming out of every possible part of the oven. I had no idea what to do.

I turned off the oven, opened the oven door letting even more smoke fill the kitchen and the basement like water spilling into a valley freed by an opening damn. I ran upstairs yelling for Kerry.

This is where my memory is a little hazy. Something led Kerry and I to get in a fight. Maybe it was me panicking and being a “know-it-all” or maybe it was Kerry being stubborn. Either way we didn’t quite know what to do and we took this out on each other.

This was a time before smart phones or even cell phones for most of us. When we tried to call our parents for help we were doing this on a landline. Somehow we figured out nothing was on fire and grease had simply hit the heating element in the oven.

The turkey was on top of a foil pan and one of us when rotating the turkey must have ripped a hole in the bottom of the pan and grease dripped down onto the bottom of the oven and hit the heating element.

The good news about grease hitting a heating element is that eventually it will burn off and the smoke will stop. The bad news is that this process creates a lot of smoke.

When we were finally done screaming at each other, we got focused on the problem (even though we were still mad at each other). Kerry said she would see what she could do to ventilate the basement and I would go get a box fan from my room.

I ran back to the PMA house, grabbed my box fan and hurried back to SAI. Back then there was a call box that listed the first initial and last name of everyone that lived in SAI. You would dial the listed five-digit number and it would call up to that person’s room. I called the number and Kerry didn’t pick up and then I called again. After the fourth try I realized that she was probably in the basement nowhere near her landline.

I went around the back of the house to and looked into the window-wells that opened into the basement. All I could see was lots of smoke and there was no sign of Kerry. Desperate to get back into the SAI, I jumped into the window-well and tried to open the window from the outside. To my surprise, the window slid up easily providing an opening that was about a foot high. I squeezed through the opening, almost fell face first into the kitchen sink, and retrieved the fan I had left at the front door.  Kerry in the meantime was on the phone getting advice from her mom (these landlines didn’t have call waiting).

After about twenty minutes the grease had burned off and the fan had cleared out the smoke from the house. As the smoke cleared away so did the tension between me and Kerry and we sat on the couch exhausted from the ordeal.

A couple hours later the group had returned from the football game and we were sharing a Thanksgiving dinner. The mashed potatoes were grey because we had cut them up the night before and they had oxidized. We didn’t exactly have fine China, I believe we had paper plates and plastic utensils and try as we might, we could not get the smell of smoke out of the basement where we ate.

A couple things have changed sense then. SAI got smoke detectors that actually work, there is no longer a call box by the front door and the windows to the basement cannot be opened from the outside and can only open about six inches.

Since that Thanksgiving, I’ve shared this holiday with either Diana’s family or my own. In some ways it was strange to spend that day away from my family but I wasn’t alone. I was with my college family.

It was that Thanksgiving that showed me, that this group of people really was my family. Things didn’t go as planned, mistakes were made, disaster seemed inevitable, voices were raised and feelings were hurt but at the end of it all we sat down and shared a meal together.

That sounds just about right for a family get-together.

I miss Kerry.  She moved away to another state, got married and has a beautiful daughter.  We keep tabs on each other over social media but that's about it.  One of the most important things that Kerry did for me was that she never hesitated to call me out when I wasn't being the best man that I could be.  At first I didn't like this directness about her but over time I learned to value this because it came from a belief that I was a better person than I was presenting.  When I met Diana and saw this same quality in her, I knew I had found something special that I needed in my life which had been missing since Kerry graduated and moved away.

No, we didn't burn down SAI and Kerry and I got into a screaming match that day, but we are still friends and I'm grateful that I spent that Thanksgiving with her and my college family.  

Monday, December 8, 2014

Parenthood – Week 80: Hold My Hand

The first time I held Ollie’s hand, it wasn’t that special for me. Newborns instinctually clench their hands in tiny fists. Ollie did this so much that we would periodically pry his hands open to clean up the pieces of lint that would collect on the palms of his hand. The only way that I could get my finger in there was to work my finger into his teeny fist. While it was cute and like all newborns he had an impressive grip, those early handholding experiences never meant that much to me.

As Ollie started learning how to sit-up and crawl around, his hands relaxed and he would pull up on things around the house. Around this time, instead of lifting him out of the crib, I would invite him to grab my thumbs. I would count “1” and he would grab my left thumb with his right hand. On “2,” Ollie would reach up and grab my right thumb with his left hand and on “3” I would lift him out of the crib.  I loved doing this. It was cute to see him learn to understand what motion associated with each number and over time he began to smile in anticipation of being lifted up in the air on the count of “3.”

This was the extent of Ollie holding my hand through his crawling stage. Sometimes he would play with my hands when I was holding him, which was cute, but I still didn’t feel a strong feeling of emotion when he held my hand.

Ollie was what some people label as a “late walker.” This simply means is that Ollie didn’t immediately start walking when he turned a year old. In the process of learning how to walk independently he would grab reach up to me or Diana and once he got a hold of one of our hands or simply a finger he would pull himself and walk.  At first he needed two hands to make it a couple steps and eventually he was good with only one hand. Then on that magical day, he let go and walked on his own.

There was something very different about Ollie reaching up to grab my hand. It’s not like I was forcing him to hold my hand like I did when he was a newborn. He wanted a hand, specifically, my hand. Once he got a hold of my hand, it provided him balance and support. Later as he became more stable and it was clear that he actually didn’t need to hold my hand, he still would do so feeling a sense of security.

Now that Ollie can walk independently there are times that he doesn’t want to hold my hand. There are times when I grab his hand, and then sits down on the floor in protest realizing I’m trying to lead him in another direction. Then there are the moments when we are in sync and he holds my hand as we walk. Not because I’m making him, not because he needs me for balance, Ollie is holding my hand because he wants to. The feeling of his fingers wrapped around mine makes all of the responsibility, stress and fatigue of parenthood lift away and life is beautiful.

“All the king’s horse and all the king’s men, could not keep me from holding your hand.”

Friday, December 5, 2014

Year 5: Week 14 – Jesus Vs. Zombie Snowman?

Like schools across the country, our elementary school age students put on a Holiday performance before the winter break and like schools across the country we spend time examining what music is appropriate for children to perform for the community.

Some schools take the route of avoiding religious aspects of the holiday season and sing songs about zombie snowman and taking a girl out for a “sled ride.” My school on other hand leans into the religious and cultural traditions associated with this time of year. Here’s a selections of songs we’ve sang is past years: “Silent Night,” “This Little Light Of Mine,” “S’Vivon,” “This Is Kwanzaa, “ “Imagine, “ “Los Reyes,” and this year “Light One Candle.”

We live in a Christian-centric society. There are many parts of our culture where what is Christian has blended into our sense of what is means to be American. The holiday of Christmas itself has taken on a meaning that has little to do with the actual the birth of Christ. When you look back into to the history of this holiday, it becomes clear that Jesus Christ wasn’t even born during this time of year and that Christmas was melded to together with pagan harvest festivals.

We have to reconcile how we honor diversity in our communities while reflecting the predominant culture. Does this mean that you perform a specific number of songs in relation to the proportions of different cultures at your school? Is there a point to singing a song about Hanukkah if none of the student body is Jewish? What if a child isn’t Christian and who has parents doesn’t want their child to sing the word Jesus?

All of these questions are tough questions that speak to cultural difference, religious conflicts and the challenge of living in a nation that claims to be accepting on pluralistic in public but still contains many people who are bigoted, racist and xenophobic.

Instead of steering away from cultural traditions and religions for our holiday program we steer straight into studying, learning and performing songs of different cultures. When I taught my 3rd graders “Silent Night” we talked about the virgin birth. When we performed “Imagine,” we discussed why some people might see the absence of religion as a benefit and for the past week I’ve been teaching about the struggles of the Maccabees and how the story of Hanukkah relates to the oppression of people in the the present.

Have I had complaints from parents about our song choices? Yes.  However, most parents are fine once they realize the way we are teaching these songs and that their culture is represented somewhere in the program or in the larger curriculum. These discussions take time and can sometimes be tense, but we’d rather face the challenges of these conversations and have students have a meaningful experience with the winter traditions of a culture than sing songs about snowflakes.

This isn’t just me and the other general music teacher who is responsible for this approach to Holiday music. Our school's philosophy encourages this level of exploration and inclusion.  I also have administrative support whenever these discussions arise.

I understand teachers who don't have any choice but to sing songs about snowflakes because of their school community, but if you have the chance to be more inclusive and speak more directly to the variety of Holiday traditions in our cultures, it's worth the challenge.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Frat Boy: Thanksgiving - Part 1

I never went home for Thanksgiving when I was in college.

Relax, it’s not like there was some huge fight or drama. Thanksgiving wasn't a huge holiday for my family and since it was so close to winter break, it didn't make sense for me to fly home from Chicago to Seattle twice in the span of one month.

My freshmen year, my parents and my brother came out and we had Thanksgiving in Chicago. It was one of the coldest Thanksgivings in the history of Chicago and my brother and my parents have never let me forget this fact. The next year I went over to my friend Erica’s house and the year after well . . . that was an adventure.

There was a group of people from PMA and SAI who decided to stay in town for that Thanksgiving. There was a football game only a couple hours away that a lot of people wanted to go to so a group of us decided to have Thanksgiving as a college family.

Here was the plan: We would do prep the meal Wednesday and one of my best friends Kerry, would stay back from the game with me (neither of us was that into football) and take care of cooking the turkey and getting dinner set-up.

Kerry was an upperclassmen that I met through NUMB. She was two years older than me and was one of those girls from SAI who took me under her wing. Kerry took care of me like an older sister but not the "responsible" kind of older sister. She was the first person I ever took a shot (it was straight Southern Comfort). Immediately after that I had my second and third shot with her.

Kerry was one of the smartest people I've ever met in her life and while many times she would have great advise for me, often her responses to my problems were hilariously sarcastic. After my friend Chrissie graduated (who I discussed in this earlier post), it was Kerry who stepped up and wouldn't hesitate for a second to stand up for me.

Kerry was honest, almost to the point that it would hurt your feelings as a friend, but it was this clarity that taught me about the nuances of what friendship meant in this crazy place called college.

We decided to cook the food over at SAI so Thanksgiving morning I headed over to the sorority house. No one was in the house except for Kerry and I. Everyone either went home or was at the football game.

We put the turkey in the oven in the basement kitchen and went back upstairs to the living room to watch television. We had set-up the turkey in one of those self-basting plastic bags so we wouldn’t have to check on it as often but we figured we should keep tabs on the bird.

After an hour or so Kerry went to check on the turkey and she said everything was fine. Some time later Kerry asked me to check on the turkey. I whined a little bit not wanting to get off the couch but eventually headed downstairs. As I opened the basement door a billow of smoke entered the stairwell. I made may my to the kitchen and saw smoke pouring out of the sides of the oven and up through the cooking range and I panicked.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Parenthood - Week 79: Feeding Mr. Ollie Part 2

I guess Ollie throwing food I cooked for him on the floor is part cosmic justice.

 Diana and I were both picky eaters growing up. I was born without a fully developed stomach, which meant that I could only eat very small quantities of food growing up. This developed into some very picky eating habits and me rarely finishing the food that was put in front of me. I remember a break-through in middle school when I finished a bowl of noodles for the first time and how shocked my mom was when she saw the empty bowl.

The stories about Diana are different but similar. She didn't like her food to mixed together. So if she got served a casserole, she would take apart the different parts and only eat specific ingredients of the dish and usually not that much of what she was given. Diana as a child didn't like sauces and would rather eat bland things like raw oatmeal and milk.

We were both picky eaters when we were kids and we both caused our parents frustration with simply getting us to eat food. The thing is that we both turned out to be adults who have a healthy relationship with food, so as much as it concerns me at times that Ollie is being a picky eater, I know he'll be fine.

The first person I regularly cooked for was Diana. She is extremely appreciative of my efforts in the kitchen whether its Chicken Fricassee or boxed Mac 'n Cheese. Even though I welcome Diana's feedback on my cooking, it sometimes hurts my feelings when she tells me that she doesn't like what I cook. However in these situations, she is very careful with her words and she always speaks with respect and constructive criticism.

The second person I prepared meals for was a different situation.

Dogs' ancestors did not eat regular meals. This meant that when there was food, they would eat as much of it as possible and also they got used to not eating very often. For modern dogs, this means that a dog will eat the food they are given quickly (sometimes so quickly it causes digestion issues) or with Buffy, little interest in their food.

This was one of the biggest worries I had about Buffy when she was a puppy. At least half of the time when we'd give her food, she wouldn't eat it immediately. We were assured by our veterinarian and other people that she would eat when she was hungry, but still it was concerning. She was such a little puppy. At a certain point I crushed up some treats and seasoned her food with those crumbs, which did get her to eat her food. Later we mixed in a little wet food or Parmesan cheese into her kibble to peak her interest and eventually we got to the point where we are right now where Buffy eats her food as soon as we put it out.

Buffy was a picky eater and I think part of it had to do with her personality and her growth spurts. She's a very smart dog and at some point she figured out that if she held out and didn't eat her food I would eventually give in and do something to make her food more delicious. Like me and Diana, Buffy ended up being fine. Her weight has been fine her entire life and a couple years ago, she was even a little overweight (which has since been rectified). Now with the regular scraps of food flying off of Ollie's high chair, I know she's getting plenty of food.

So now I got a toddler who sometimes rejects my food. There’s a multitude of reasons that he might not want to eat what I give him. He might have had a snack too close to dinnertime or he's just not in the mood to eat what I'm serving. It's not like he can articulate to me what he's in the mood to eat for dinner the day before.

Even if Ollie is simply being moody and irrationally temperamental, he has no idea that there is an emotional component of rejecting food that someone has prepared for you. That's a lesson for him to learn in years to come. For right now, he is reacting to the food based on instincts.

After Ollie had a several instances when he rejected food that I cooked, I realized that cooking for Ollie was a unique and at time, fun challenge. I've figured out through trial and error how Ollie's food palette works. Sometimes I cook food for him, like a vegetable pasta sauce and other times I cook meals that I enjoy that I know Ollie probably will not.

Over time I'll learn to deal with Ollie as he will probably become a pickier eater. While I know this is going to be difficult, Diana and I want to make sure that this doesn't lead to eating becoming a battle. Yes, Ollie needs to learn to take polite bites of food, and show appreciation to the people who prepare for food for him. However we are not going to make Ollie sit and finish a plate if he's not hungry and we aren't going to fight him to eat. Yes, this may go against our instinct to make sure that he's fed, but he'll be fine and he can always eat later.

Food is an adventure, a cultural experience, and a way to understand the world. Ollie's experiences into the world of food has been difficult at times but it's always been an adventure and I'm looking forward to helping him along as he continues his journey.