Monday, August 31, 2015

Parenthood: Week 116 – One Of The Happiest Moments

Ollie stood in the hallway, tears flowing down his cheeks with a look of intense sadness and confusion on his face.

Most of the time when Ollie wakes up from his nap, he is a good mood, often being goofy, rolling around in his crib covering his head with his blanket. Every so often, he wakes up in a bad mood and this was one of those days.

I was home alone with Ollie when I heard his screams. I opened the door and tried to calm him down. He asked for me to put up the curtains and then immediately screamed that he wanted them down when I raised them. Ollie wanted to get out of the crib, but he didn’t want me to pick him up. He was discombobulated and he didn’t know what he wanted.

I reached towards him and moved him to the changing table against his protests. The new diaper didn’t calm him down and he continued to fight me as I put him on the ground in the hallway.  I offered him things that usually got him to calm down in the past like a book, some milk, a toy or a hug. With each offer, Ollie only got more upset and he pushed my hand away each time I tried to comfort him.

I had one last thing to offer Ollie that might calm him down, a change of scenery. Against his protests and attempts to keep me at a distance, I picked Ollie up and carried him downstairs.

Holding a screaming infant, requires support in your arms and also a feeling of softness. Carrying a screaming toddler is different. It’s an act that takes a more muscle, more force and an uncompromising stiffness, as you wrestle the toddler to stay in your arms.

I finally let him down at the bottom of the stairs.  I could feel the wetness of my shirt from Ollie’s tears on my shoulder as my brain raced to figure out what to do to help my son.

Then Diana walked through our front door.

Ollie reached up to her and she carried him over to the couch. Diana sat down held Ollie close to her. At first he continued to cry, but then he calmed down into soft whimpers and eventually, like the peace after a storm, there was silence in the house.

I went to the kitchen to do some dishes, exhausted from the ordeal, and thankful that Diana came home when she did. I don’t mind that Diana had the magic touch this time to help Ollie. Sometimes I’m the one who can help him soothe himself, sometimes its Diana. What matters is that someone can help him find his center.

After what felt like almost ten minutes of silence I heard Ollie soft and cheerful voice talking to Diana and Diana responding with patience and care.  Ollie had noticed Diana’s wedding rings and she was explaining to him how we got married, which led to Ollie and our family.

I stood back watching this conversation as Ollie sat up in Diana’s lap facing her, listening carefully to his mother. In that moment, both of them were so happy. It was like everything that they wanted in the world was right in front of them and in each other they fond true joy.

When I think about the happiest moments in my life life there’s Diana walk the aisle at my wedding and seeing Diana hold Ollie for the first time. Then there’s this moment, watching Ollie and Diana talking about our family, our love and our beautiful life.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Year 6: Week 0 – That Feeling Of Being Ready

I have never felt fully prepared for the beginning of the school year.

My wife makes fun of me for kind of being a boy scout when we go on trips. I always make sure to back extras of almost everything. This used to cause me more stress than benefit so with Diana’s help, I’ve eased off the craziness of trying to pack everything we could possible need and enjoying traveling a little bit more.

So why have I never started the school year with everything in its place and feeling ready to go?

The three times I was a new teacher at a school, it was impossible to be fully prepared. It is true as it is often said at my school that you really have to live through the year of a school and experience the year. You can prepare to a point but you have to be okay with not fully understanding events that happen in the school year and go with things as they come.

What about the other years, that I had ALL of summer break to prepare for the upcoming school year? There’s a lot of things that end up coming up like getting married, summer camps, moving, having a newborn baby at home and "life."   I’ve tried many different approaches to doing work over the summer and while things get done, work over the summer is never as productive as getting work done during the year. Other faculty and administrators may not be checking their email as often but the main problem is that without the energy of the kids, it’s really hard to stay focused and motivated.

I’ve learned to accept and be at piece with this feeling I get every fall when I don’t feel prepared at all for my kids. A lot of this is a feeling. I have music ordered; I’ve done a fair amount of organization in my classroom. I’m actually not in bad shape. But I would like to be further in my curriculum planning and I still have a bout sixty names to learn and seating charts to make, and music to learn, and photocopies to make, and supplies to order and . . . ugh.

Embracing the experience of being a teacher means that we understanding that teaching is a practice and that it is an art form that is never fully mastered and therefore can never be done.  Preparing is critical as a teacher and we should strive to set-up our classrooms and plans for our students' success.  But if you keep chasing the feeling of having every little thing in place, you will continue to be stressed out because you can't prepare for kids you don't know yet and the crazy unexpected events that happen every day in schools.

I get it y'all, it's super-stressful to get prepared for the beginning of the school year.  We all share that feeling of being of not being as prepared as we would like when the kids enter the room.  It's okay.  This feeling comes from a place of care and not feeling this way is a sign of apathy.

Be as prepared as you can be.  If not everything gets done, it's okay.  Work with what you got.  The most important thing we offer our kids it not an immaculate bulletin board or a perfectly planned lesson.  What makes the impact in our students' lives is our attention, our presence and our sincere interest in our students as learners and wonderful human beings.    

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Monday, August 24, 2015

Parenthood: Week 115 – The Little Chatterbox

“Do you have any idea what he just said? No? How about you? Anybody?”

Sitting in a friend’s backyard, eight of us, all parents of toddlers were completely confused trying to figure out what one of our kids had said. Usually the parent of the toddler can figure it out but at least a couple times during a get-together, we are all stumped.

Sometimes it’s frustrating for the toddler to not be understood and sometimes it’s frustrating for parents who can’t understand their child, but most of the time, toddler-speak is endearing and adorable.

I remember Ollie’s first "word" that he said. It was “da” and of course people jumped to the conclusion that he was saying “dad,” but there was no meaning connected to this word. Ollie’s first real expression of communicative language with a handful of baby sign-language words we taught him. The speaking went in spurts. Sometimes he would make a lot of sounds, and then there were other stretches when he wasn’t so chatty. Now that we’ve entered toddlerhood, talking has been a big part of Ollie’s self-expression.

We are currently in that wonderful stage where we can encourage Ollie to talk but we don’t have to worry about correcting him when he mispronounces words like umbrella (or as Ollie calls it "biyaya").  At first Ollie just worked with nouns. Verbs became part of his understanding and now he’s putting together sentences that sometimes have direct objects! Ollie often leaves out articles and he doesn’t grasp the concept of pronouns. So we are often treated to Ollie’s third person narration of his own life.

Ollie often makes up words for objects, which makes senses, since to him, it probably seems like we are making up names for things all of the time. Sometimes we repeat back the words correctly to Ollie and other times we just go with his word. Now our conversations are sprinkled with toddler talk, sometimes when we aren't even with Ollie.

It can be challenging to figure out what Ollie is trying to say when he is upset and we are trying to help him. It’s in these moments that I need to remind myself of how far Ollie has come. Once upon a time, he didn’t talk at all. While his vocabulary and his ability to form sounds into words is amazing, there’s something about the way he talks that is really touching.

Ollie doesn’t just talk to us when he wants something from us. He tells us about what he is doing and what he did earlier in the day. He talks to us when he is happy and he talks to us when he is sad. Ollie loves talking to us and we love to listen to what he has to say.

It took me a long time to realize that sharing your life with people that you love is what brings meaning to life.

Ollie already has this figured out.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Walls (Circus) - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

We walk through guarded. We learn as we grow up that we need to be cautious, that sometimes we can’t fully be ourselves with the people in our world. We put walls to protect ourselves.

Every time we have an emotional connection with someone, a brick of that wall evaporates. Sometimes it’s because we take a chance to share something about ourselves and other times it’s because we take the effort to look further beyond the wall.

I’ve been listening to Tom Petty’s “Walls (Circus)" non-stop since my wife and I had to say goodbye to a dear friend who was moving way. “Walls (Circus)” has always been my favorite Tom Petty song. It’s from 1996, the age when movie soundtracks ruled the charts and while I didn’t even see the Jennifer Anniston film She’s the One that this song is from, I’ve never forgotten this song.

There are times when a song so perfectly matches how you feel that even though you don’t fully understand what you are feeling.  And by listening to the song that somehow fits, everything just makes more sense.

The lyrics don't perfectly describe this person and our relationship. However, there are lines that resonate.  Our friend does has have a huge heart, and the lines about things being over and things moving on really do seem to speak to this difficult transitions in all our lives.

This song is about the dichotomies in life and how difficult it is to make it through. It’s about how we have these barricades and walls not only between people we meet but also with difficulties we face in life. It’s an important reminded that as distant as we may feel from the people around us and as difficult as life can be, walls do fall down.

This song is about more than hope. It’s about believing that with the love we share, joy in life is inevitable.

Distance has been a part of relationships in my life for as long as I can remember.  I had family in Taiwan, I moved away from college and after college people moved away from me.  It doesn't get easier.  You can choose to keep your distance from people for fear that they will move away or that a friendship will end.  It's so easy to game out how something will not work and it's so hard to look past these doubts.  It's a choice, and the hard choice is what life is all about.  Every time you take down a wall with someone else, it makes it that much easier to do it again and embrace the people in your life.

There is a wall between who you see yourself as and who you really are and only with the love of people who really see you, can you bring down that wall and love yourself.    

The distance between our friend will cause challenges, but it is a wall that will fall down.  Once upon a time, all I knew of this person was her name, and less than two years later, I'm having trouble imagining her not being around.  As past walls fell down, I know this new one will fall as well.

Some days are diamonds and some days are rocks.  But these days while lived apart, are more meaningful and beautiful, because we know there is someone out there thinking of us as we hold them in our hearts.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Monday, August 17, 2015

Parenthood: Week 114 – Loving The Child You Have

Accepting the people we love and embracing every facet of who they are is tough

It’s not uncommon for spouses to complain about their partners and voice that they wish they would do more housework or be less controlling. Most people complain about their parents wishing that they were less stubborn or watched less Fox News.

These thoughts don’t come from ugly or derogative feelings. When you spend so much of your life with someone, there is bound to be things that you don’t like about the people that you love. Because love isn’t about enjoying every facet of someone’s personality, it’s about accepting things you don’t like about someone and loving despite these minor annoyances.

This acceptance is a process that takes time and patience. Sometimes we can voice what we dislike and our partners can change but most of the time we keep these thoughts inside. Because it’s the person who is being annoyed who is responsible for accepting their partner. It’s not the partner’s job to change themselves to fit their partner’s expectations.

We are okay with talking about how we wish our partners, friends and parents could be different, but most of us would never voice wishes that our children were different.

When you bring a child into this world, you are supposed to accept them and love them unconditionally. Like developing the love of our partners, this is really difficult. Many, many, many parents struggle at this (check out this blog post if you want to understand the challenge of unconditional love). There’s the dad who wishes that his newborn who refuses to sleep, slept as well as his niece. There’s the mom who struggles to manage a reckless toddler at a playground yearning to have a child who will play more calmly. And then there are the parents who sit watching other kids walk, while their child of the same age struggles to crawl.

It’s this horrible, unspeakable thing to voice these feelings, to say that you wish you could change something about your child. But this is a feeling that most parents feel at some point in time, because parenting is so goddamn hard and there always seems to be some other parent with a kid out there who’s is not dealing with the same frustrations and struggles you and your child are facing.

There’s a fear that if we voice and validate these feelings than somehow our child will pick up on them and they we feel that we love them less. However, like any feelings, if we don’t voice and validate them, we will never learn to deal with these feelings. If we never let ourselves feel these doubts about our children, we will never accept them and learn to move past them. By not dealing with these feelings and processing them, they will come out to our kids in ways that we don't expect.

In the same way that you should be mindful of who you complain about your husband to, you need to be very careful to whom and how you voice your frustrations about your child and how you wish he or she was different.

One reason people laugh when Louie C.K. or Jim Gaffigan make jokes about how much of a pain it is to be a parent is because voicing these complaints so publicly is shocking. Parenting is supposed to be this wonderful, blissful experience and if it sucks at times, then you are doing something wrong. I can’t stand parents who do nothing but complain about their kids but I think we can reach a better balance.

It’s hard to love an infant who keeps you up all night. It’s hard to love a toddler who seems to be having melt downs every five minutes and it’s hard to love a teenager who won’t give you anything but attitude.

Loving your child is an active process that is most difficult when it is most necessary.

Now if your wish came true and your kid was different.  If she was better at sports and was easier to manage, you wouldn't love her as much.  It's the work during the worse of times that builds the bonds of love that we enjoy in the best of times.  Learn to embrace the frustrations, and tribulations of parenthood, because it's theses moments that help us learn to love the child that we have.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Dear First Year Teachers


You’ve gotten through your degree; you’ve managed to navigate the impersonal (and sometimes dehumanizing) process of finding a teaching job and now, finally, after all of that you are starting this school year as a first year teacher.

You will likely be underpaid. You will be expected to provide a meaningful educational experience for your students without an adequate budget or resources. So you will continue the tradition of teachers in America of reaching into their own pocket to purchase white board markers, books, pencils and paper for your students.

Your friends who are not teachers will not understand your job.  They will probably have a more comfortable workplace. They will have access to stocked supply closets, free facial tissue, company cell phones, up to date computers, water coolers, flexible break times, bonuses, free snacks, complimentary lunches and dinners and you probably will not have any of these things. And in their minds, these little daily annoyances aren’t a big deal because you have a “summer break,” which you will likely spend working because the work of the school year is not done or because that teacher salary isn’t high enough to pay the bills.

Most of the people in your life will respect you (to your face) about your decision to be a teacher, but some will not. And far too many with much less knowledge about your job will talk about the downfall of American education (unions, liberal-biased textbooks, overpaid teachers) and will offer no realistic solutions.

Don’t expect anyone but other teachers to understand your life as an educator.

You will meet master teachers who seem to effortlessly teach with grace and insight. Don’t forget that this is a result of hard work and study and once upon a time, they had no idea what they were doing.  The best teachers still feel this way after decades in the field.

You will meet teachers who are lazy, indifferent and incompetent. Don’t judge them too harshly because we all have that potential to in ourselves. While it’s easy to look down on these teachers, don’t. Your insecurities are your own and should not manifest in negative judgments. Give all of your fellow teachers your highest level of professionalism because you never know what led them to their current situation.

Administrators will sometimes put up roadblocks and other times they will take them away. While they care about your students, they have a different set of priorities. It’s their job to create a necessary tension that keeps a school running. For example, if teachers got all the money they wanted out of administration, the school would run out of money, but if the teachers didn’t push for more resources, the students would suffer. Embrace this tension, and lean into it.

Most parents will love you and a few will misunderstand you. But the ones who dislike you will be louder, so it’s easy to forget how many parents believe in you. No matter the age of a student, that parent will always see in their child that helpless baby that they rocked in their arms. In parents conversations, let parents say their say, express objective observations, be careful to not make conclusions that you are not trained to make, don’t assume anything about a students’ family life and always express your belief in their child with optimism and hope.

Your students will love you if you are present and work for them. Most of them will not express this love to you but it’s there. And you will love your students because of how much work you put into their experience in school and because of the fact that kids are amazing. There will be some students that will be difficult to like. Focus on these kids early in the year; spend a lot of time with them. Trust me. That kid is worth the effort.

Don’t let a lesson plan be a cage, let it be a framework to build from.  The quality of a lesson is not based on how close you stick to the lesson plan but rather how well you helped your students make connections.

You will have bad days. But chances are something worked for at least one of your students; so don’t let your self-pity blind you from that. There’s always the next day and you can always repeat a less (some students actually enjoy it when teachers do this). There aren’t any problems, challenges or situations that you will encounter that have not been tackled by some other teacher. You will feel alone when things get tough, but you will never be alone.

You are part of a fraternity, a group of professionals who see the world differently than most people in our society. We see the meaning in human connections over the motivation of a financial bottom line. We believe that it is more important to help people learn how to think rather than what to think. We devote ourselves to serving the most important resource in our world not because it is glamorous or prestigious, but because it is right.

You have my respect and the respect of the over three million teachers in our country who are rooting for you.

Celebrate the small moments.  Laugh with your students and laugh at yourself.  If you ever feel like things are falling apart, reach out.

You will always have this teacher to lean on.  


Monday, August 10, 2015

Parenthood: Week 113 - Hanging With The Dads

We move through different stages in our lives. When people we know are not in the same stage that we are in, it is often difficult to understand what these people are going through. When my brother was in high school and I was in middle school, we didn't connect very well; however, when we were both in college things really clicked.

These stages in our lives often define our focus and our perspective. A parent of a newborn often isn't thinking about much else, and a high school senior is often focused on end of the year rituals like graduation and prom. These events in these stages are all these people talk about, because it is all that's on their mind. With care and an open mind we reach outside of our own concerns but it's difficult. While the support of someone outside of your life stage in helpful, that person doesn't completely understand what you are going through.

There are things about my experiences as a parent that only Diana understands.  Our mutual empathy and support has really helped us through these first two years of parenting. But there are things about being a mom, that I cannot fully relate to and things about being a dad, that Diana doesn't completely  understand and that is why we are so grateful to have our group of mom and dad friends.

I've had female friends in my social group my entire life and I believe that gender roles should not define our friendships. However there are biological differences between men and woman that go beyond the social construct of gender roles. It is because of this that the support from other parents who have kids around Ollie's age has been so important in our lives.

Diana helped foster an amazing group of moms through a breastfeeding support group and various other connections.  Through those moms, I've been blessed to get to know a great group of dads. We hang out with both moms and dads often but we've also made an effort to have times that we socialize separately.

There are things that I cannot not fully empathize about being a mom with Diana like breastfeeding, pregnancy, societal pressures and sexist comments people make to her about woman and motherhood. I was so happy when this group of moms started coming together. I could see how these people made Diana feel supported and understood in a way that I couldn't. So I did everything I could to make sure she had time with these great women.

When we got together with the moms, dads and our kids, I started befriending these other dads and finding a unique camaraderie I wasn't getting anywhere else. At first it was just guys talking about guy stuff like sports but also mentioning other topics like how our kids were sleeping, paternity leave and work life balance started creeping in. Yes, I knew parents of older kids who had been through these things but it was different with these guys.

We made an effort and got together as a group of guys like the woman had and we had some good times. As our wives had similar parenting philosophies, so did we.  And like with the woman, there was a healthy amount of venting but also reassurances that as difficult as some things were, we all had awesome kids and wives.

It's really hard to find the time. It seems like I'm rushing home from work. I don't have enough time with Ollie, Buffy or Diana, let alone hobbies and simply taking care of the many challenges of life and adulthood. It seems crazy sometimes to try to squeeze in the time to go out for an hour in the evening to just hang out with some other dads. It's difficult sometimes to make this happen. However as I've encouraged Diana to get out there and have some time for herself she has done the same for me.

Time spent with great people who really understand what you are going through as a parent helps make the time you spend with your family quality time. Even though being out late, may make me physically tired the next morning, I always wake up the morning after hanging out with the dads looking forward to being with my family with a renewed sense of purpose and positivity.

Gentlemen, thanks for all the support, looking forward to more good times with y'all.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Frat Boy: Gracie - The Gala Part 2

“Where is Gracie?”

I stormed through the ballroom looking for Gracie, yelling as I asked for her whereabouts. Jessica rushed up behind me as Diana and other friends came up to explain what happened. Diana and Gracie had gotten into an argument. Things got heated and Diana didn’t take Gracie’s lecturing and stood her ground. People stepped in and got the problem settled. Diana was a little annoyed but she knew Gracie’s deal from what I had told her so she let Gracie’s condescension roll off her back.

I was relieved that so many people had Diana’s back. Not only undergraduates but also alumni who had the perspective that Gracie lacked. I was proud of Diana that she stood up and that she didn’t let Gracie win this round. But I was still furious at Gracie. After I heard the whole story, I finally got the answer I was looking for: Gracie went down to the bar.

I ran out of that ballroom, down the hallway and down the stairs into the bar and angrily screamed “GRACIE! You do not get to mess with Diana!” Gracie was sitting at the bar with some alumni and calmly turned around to face me. She had a look of satisfaction in her eyes as she held a martini glass. I again yelled at her as I came into the bar and before I knew it two security guards immediately were at my shoulders, “Sir, I need to ask you to leave.” “Fine, no problem here,” I replied breathlessly as I turned around and walked back to the ballroom.

As I walked back into the hallway, I saw Diana and Jessica coming up to me having tried to follow me out of ballroom and hearing all the commotion in the bar. “Let’s calm down,” Diana stated calmly. She looked at Jessica confidently and Jessica left us knowing that while she was once the person who knew me best in this world, it was now Diana.

I was still fuming. “Gracie can mess with me and she has for years, but she doesn’t get to mess with you! For years she’s gotten away with stuff because everyone just explains her crap as ‘Gracie being Gracie,’ but that’s not fair.  We can’t get away with her behavior. This needs to end.” I exclaimed.

Then there was Diana’s hand on my shoulder. Then there were her calm words. She put her hands on my shoulder and looked straight into me eyes and promised, “Gracie gets away with being ‘Gracie’ and you don’t, because you are better than that and all of us here believe in you.”

The anger passed and we walked back into the ballroom holding hands. Jessica came up to me and gave me a hug and whispered, “it’s okay, little man. We still love you.” She led Diana and me to the dance floor and we enjoyed the rest of night dancing with our friends, past and present.

To this day, I have never gotten that angry and I have never let someone get to me in that way. I still don’t fully understand why Gracie made me so angry and I hoped by writing this post that I would figure it out, but I still am not sure what happened inside of my head that night.

I do know that I lost control and in that way Gracie won. The thing is that whatever happened between us that night wasn’t what has really lasted. The reason that I’ve never lost my temper like that ever since that night is because Diana is has never stopped believing in me. She talks about how angry I got that night and reminds me how much she didn’t like what she saw.  I take this reminder knowing that she stuck with me despite of what happened because she knew that this moment wasn’t all I was about.

I think about Gracie sometimes and I still bristle at the thought of her, but then I refocus on the present. Part of me feels hate for her and it’s really sad to hold negative feelings about someone else. I know that the only person I’m holding back is myself.  Gracie let me down in a big way. Once upon a time she seemed like a rock in my life and then she revealed herself as a flawed human being, just like anybody else.

We learn from the past and I have and maybe someday I’ll see Gracie and hash this out. That might be nice but it might only make things worse. Like the colors in a photograph, my feelings towards Gracie are fading. They are not given more depth like the feelings I have for the people I love in my life.

It’s getting harder and harder to remember how I felt when I stormed in that bar, but I still remember like it was yesterday the feeling of her fingers squeezing my arm when she said goodbye after taking me out to ice cream.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Monday, August 3, 2015

Parenthood: Week 112 – Easier With Age?

“Parenting gets easier as kids get older, right?”

Hope is important in parenting. It’s what gets us through the tough moments, the sleepless nights and the feeling of “I have no idea what I’m doing.” In the past two years I have found myself seeking reassurance from parents of older children that things do in fact get easier. The crazy thing now is that I’m finding parents of kids younger than Ollie looking to me for this affirmation. For so long, Ollie seemed like one of the younger souls on this planet and now there are all these babies younger than him. This is something my mind still has trouble grasping.

When you have an infant, you get this reassurance all of the time. People tell you how your baby will learn to sleep, will be easier to understand and will in general, be easier to parent. Than as toddlerhood appears over the horizon, the portrayal of the your future as a parent becomes ominous with sayings like “the terrible 2’s.”

First off I completely reject the notion that an age or stage of life, infant, two years olds or teenage years should be generalized as being a “good” or “bad” age. This sets our expectations in an negative way and closes us off to the full potential of children of these ages. Teenagers know how much people talk down kids their age and it can’t possibly have a positive effect when people in our culture associate the age of two years old with the word “terrible.”

Back to the main point . . .

While I understand and appreciate the idea of parenting becoming easier, the notion itself is flawed. All parents have different ages that they really click with. Some parents really love the teenage years, while others flourish in the toddler times. It’s not that these parents aren’t great parents in these other years; it’s just that something about that age really clicks with a parent’s style.

Including the factor of “life itself” parenting isn’t a direct trajectory. It goes in waves. With each new stage, there are new things to learn. While the day to day care of Ollie hasn’t necessarily gotten easier, it’s easier to deal with each new stage because you know in the back of my mind that I handled these changes in the past and mastered the new challenges.

The act of parenting doesn’t become easier with time but taking on role of being a parent does. It never stops being a roller coaster but eventually, you learn how to brace yourself for the turns and the loops, and enjoy the ride.