Monday, November 30, 2015

Parenthood: Week 129 – Toddler On A Plane

Ollie went on his first plane flight when he was about six months old (I wrote about this experience with this post).

Last weekend, Ollie went on his 18th flight.

In retrospect, those first couple flight weren’t really that bad. It was stressful, but a lot of that had to do with my own anticipation and worry. After we got through a that first flight, I realized that we could handle having Ollie on a plane.

Then things got worse.

As Ollie got passed a year old he was moving around a lot more on the plane and sleeping less. With his more developed senses, he required more stimuli. This meant that we spent a lot of time walking Ollie up and down the aisles and attempting to entertain him. He was too young to pay attention to an iPad or iPhone so we ended up having him play with things like plastic cups and scotch tape. As weird as this sounds, there were flights that he would spend almost an hour playing with this kind of random stuff.

We’ve had a number of rough moments. One time I went to the back bathroom to change Ollie’s diaper. When I got out, we ended up being stuck behind a beverage cart being pushed by a not-so-accommodating flight attendant. I ended up standing in the back of the plane trying to keep Ollie entertaining and calm for forty-five minutes before I could get back to my seat.

Diana and I would take turns holding Ollie and trying to keep him entertained. We did this in half and hour chunks of time so that we could each get a break. Before a kid is two years old, he or she can be a lap baby and we did that for as long as we could.

Now that Ollie is almost two and a half things are a lot different. He is comforting eating most solid foods and he know has the attention span and the interest to watch a television show or a movie on an iPad. I bought Ollie a used iPod touch and put it in a case designed for a toddler but of course he wanted to use my iPad instead, so now I watch a show on my iPhone while Ollie enjoys the glow of the larger screen of the iPad.

We don’t feel great having Ollie watch an iPad for most of a plane flight but it keeps him calm and entertained. Also, it allow me and Diana to relax ourselves for part of the flight more than we ever have since Ollie started flying.

Yes, flying with your kid does get easier. It was tough when he was 6 months old, really hard when he was a 1 year to a year and a half and it has gotten steadily easier ever since then.

Here’s some tips for flying with a toddler:
  • Bring a cheap umbrella stroller to the airport and gate-check it. Baby carriers are great, but once a kid gets a certain size, a stroller is more practical. Getting a toddler to walk through an airport is really tough, so just use a stroller. You don’t realize how much walking you do in an airport until you have a toddler in toe.
  • If you fly a lot get this harness for your kid. If you need to bring a car seat, consider checking it. It’s a lot to handle on a plane. This harness works great and takes up very little space in your carry-on.
  • Load up a video device with something your child likes to watch. Most likely they will want to watch the same thing over and over, but you never know.  I recommend multiple shorter shows if your child doesn't have a current obsession.  These headphones are key. They are a good size for kid and have a volume limit to protect your child’s hearing.
Taking Ollie on a plane is still challenging.  He still had some minor meltdowns during these last two flights, and I'm sure we will hit other challenges flying with Ollie in the future.  Children grow up really quickly and while a lot of things get harder when kids move into different stages in their lives, sometimes things get easier.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Year 6: Week 13 – Being Married To A Teacher

Why was I shopping for fruits and vegetables that had seeds 9pm on Monday night at the grocery store? Because I’m married to a teacher.

Diana’s third graders were doing a science project exploring different kinds of seeds and I decided to pitch in and help by going out to buy some fruits and vegetables. I like going to grocery store anyways and we needed some other food. And it’s a good feeling knowing how my contribution will benefit Diana’s students.

While I’m in my tenth year of being a teacher, Diana is in her first year as a teacher. Throughout my career, Diana has provided incredible support. There is no way that I would still be a teacher without the hours of conversations we’ve had about school and my students and the countless number of tasks she has done to help me with my job. Every school that I have worked at owes Diana a salary as an educational consultant. Her ideas, insights and expertise consistently enrich the educational experience of my students.

Diana’s efforts as the spouse of a teacher while meaningful and special to me are not unique. Supporter partners of teachers are the unsung heroes of education.

There are teachers who can only afford to be a teacher because of their spouse’s financial support. Spouses of teachers do extra housework as their spouses grade paper late into the night due to an unreasonable amount of preparation time. They make bulletin boards, sift through stakes of used books, put together bookshelves, make costumes, clean classrooms, pack snacks, edit emails, help create lesson plans and more, making the overwhelming job of being a teacher manageable.

Now I know first hand, after being the recipient of Diana’s support for a decade, what it’s like to be the one on the other side. There’s always something I can do to help Diana. We talk about her lessons, problem-solve concerns and we laugh about the things that kids do that only teachers find hilarious.

I support my wife’s career because I love her but also because I know that my help is positively effecting Diana’s students. There is great satisfaction in the work I do with my own students but there is a different type of gratification knowing that I am able to assist Diana in doing the same thing. Empowering the people that you care about is one of the most meaningful way to show love.

So, to the spouses: Keep at it. Support you wife or husband who is a teacher. Be their strongest ally, and be their most enthusiastic supporter. Every little thing helps.  No job is too small.  In sharing this work, you will more acutely experience tribulations of being an educator, but you will also find more meaning in sharing the joy of teaching.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Monday, November 23, 2015

Parenthood: Week 128 – The Real Message In The "Big Boy" Compliment

Alex: Well, the boys and girls are, like, afraid of each other. They're acting like a bunch of…
Lisa: Kids?
Alex: I know! What is up with that?
Lisa: It's because they are kids! And so are we! Come on, Alex, we've only got nine, maybe ten years tops where we can giggle in church, and chew with our mouths open and go days without bathing! We'll never have that freedom again.
-from The Simpsons, Season 10, Episode 1: "Lard Of The Dance"

When you listen to teachers and parents compliment toddlers, one of the things you often hear is praise associated with being more like older kids. For example “wow, you put your shoes on all by yourself, just like a big boy” or “good job, you used your potty like a big girl. Now you can wear, big girl panties.”

These kinds of comments come out of myself as a teacher. Since I teach grades 3-8, I’ve found that positively comparing my younger kids as doing something as well as my older kids as praise that many of my students find motivating, but does that mean it’s right?

If we consistently praise positive behavior and actions, as being indicative of being an older age, then what are we telling our children about the age they are currently experiencing?

Kids already have this idea that adults have it made. They don’t see the responsibility and the stress that restricts our actions and our choices. Kids see a magic plastic card that can buy anything, which represents this unrestricted freedom in life.

So we work off of this idea and work to keep out kids going by making them feel like their positive actions are making them more like what they idolize.  If we are not careful, and our children focus more and more on acting older, than I fear that they are missing out on enjoying their current age.

We don’t want our kids wishing that they were taller or that they were a different race. We want our kids to learn to accept and love who they are. Why not extend this to their age? It would make me really sad if Ollie spent a lot of time, wishing he was older as opposed to taking pride in his age and reveling in the glory of being two.

Aren’t we working against this idea of self-acceptance if we use being like an older age as praise?

I believe strongly in praise.  In order for children to develop a strong sense of self-esteem and positive inner-dialogue they need to hear loving and supportive comments all of the time.  However we need to be careful how we are helping construct this internal dialogue.  What do we really want out kids to think when they do something good?  "I'm proud of myself because I cleaned up my toys like an older kid" or "I'm proud of myself because I cleaned up my toys all by myself."

I used to think that things would be easier as Ollie got older.  This attitude translates into parents complimenting their kids for being like older kids.  Now I know that while many things are easier, as whole, parenthood is actually more difficult.  Once you accept this fact, enjoying your time with your children becomes about accepting their age and not wishing they would be older.

Youth is wasted on the young when they spend their time wishing to be older.  So let's help our kids enjoy being kids and let's look to other ways to compliment our children, not based in acting older but rather based in independence, pride, and joy.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Year 6: Week 12 – Seeking Shelter From The Storm At Taft

Click here for a link to last year’s post about Taft that has links to previous posts about this trip.

Right on cue, the rain started to come down.

We were planning on going on a hike in the evening but we knew a storm was coming. Rain, we could handle, but lightning and thunder and sideways rain was a whole different deal. Around lunchtime we made the call to stay inside that evening and figured out a plan for the evening.

Half the kids (about 30 kids) were working with in one space and half the students were in another building.

As we finished up our time, the rain really started to come down. The other groups weren’t there yet, and my kids were starting to focus on the storm and the lightning. So I thought, “what would Bruce Springsteen do?”

When I saw Bruce Springsteen at Wrigley Field a couple years ago, it started rain and the way that he got his audience through that moment was by standing strong in the rain, not ignoring the storm but rather embracing it leading the stadium in singing “Who’ll Stop The Rain.”

After a couple quick searches on my iPhone to get some lyrics down, I placed a chair down at the end of the room, gathered the kids around me and asked them to repeat after me “yeah, I wonder, still I wonder, who’ll stop the rain?” And then I started playing my guitar and I began to sing. Every time I we got to the end of the verse I reached out and I heard my students reply “yeah, I wonder. . . ”

We sang a couple more songs and as I noticed that the art group was joining us, I started “Who’ll Stop The Rain?” again and finally for the first time this year, we sang together as a whole class.

Every class I teach has a group vibe, a group energy that doesn't really reflect individual behavior, intelligence, or kindness.  It's just that magic something that makes a group click.  This year's 5th grade has a harder time clicking as a large group.  I've known this ever since I had them as 3rd graders.  I value all these students as individuals but when then are working in larger groups, they can be really challenging.  Classroom teachers don't really have to consider how they work as a group of 60, but as music teacher, I do.

This moment when I heard them all sing together "yeah, I wonder, still I wonder, who'll stop the rain?" was really important for me.  When you work for a group of students, sometimes you forget the magic of how amazing students can be.  This trip was a great opportunity to think more clearly of my students as individuals and not as a challenging larger group.  It was great to remind myself of that and then to hear their voice singing out to me in a beautiful unison was inspiring.

Yes, I was exhausted after the trip, but I was more excited to get back to working with my 5th graders in the classroom the following week than I've felt all year.  We got a lot of work to do with my 5th graders, but I know we again share a feeling of being together, seeking shelter from a storm.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Monday, November 16, 2015

Parenthood: Week 127 – Another Reunion

This past week, I spent most of my time away from Ollie. I went on our yearly fifth grade outdoor education trip, which was from Tuesday through Friday.

Two year agos, when I first went on this trip as a father, my mind kept coming back to Ollie and wanting to be at home to help Diana (I wrote about this in this post). I knew that Diana and Buffy would miss me but I didn’t worry at all about Ollie missing me. He was only a couple months old and he didn’t have a developed concept of time.

Being away from Ollie, now that he is older is easier and harder all at the same time. It’s easier to be away from Ollie because I know he is more independent and his ability to advocate for himself has continued to grow. It’s harder to be away from him because he is much more aware of when I’m away and the amount of time that we spend together. Also, while toddlers are stronger and more durable, they can also get into a lot more trouble than a newborn (newsflash: toddlers do not innately know to not run into traffic).

I told Ollie that I was going on a trip the Sunday before. At first he assumed that he was going to go on the trip with me. When I explained that Ollie was going to stay home and that my parents were coming to visit at the same time, he had a meltdown. Later, Ollie and I had a Facetime conversation with my mom and explained the situation again and this time he didn’t have a meltdown and seemed excited to see my mom.

Part of me would rather leave without having these tough conversations but I know that it would make it harder for Diana. Having your kid meltdown about a situation before it happens means that they are having time to experience these feelings, which is important as they process their emotions.

Ollie did pretty well being away from me. He didn’t seem to outwardly express that he missed me that much.  I missed him a ton and I couldn’t stop thinking about him. But I was able to focus and I had some really nice moments with my fifth graders.

When I got home on Friday evening, Buffy ran up and licked my face when I picked her up, which is something she only does after I come back from a trip. Most of the time when I greet her, she looks up at me and allows me to pet her before walking away. After Diana said hi to me and gave me a hug, Ollie ran up to me, noticed that I had my guitar and requested that we play together. No dramatic hug or greeting, he just wanted to get down to having some father-son time. And that’s exactly what we did.

I was exhausted, hungry, and dehydrated, but as Ollie strummed my guitar, I felt content, happy and for the first time since I left for the trip, complete.  

Friday, November 13, 2015

Year 6: Week 11 - Looking The Part

I've given up trying to look like a teacher. 

At my first teaching job, where I taught high school, we were instructed told to dress business casual and then on Fridays, we could dress down in jeans and a polo shirt.  The idea was that it was important to dress-up to distinguish ourselves from the students.  So I would wear khakis, a dress shirts and sometime I wore a tie.  Yes, this did separate me from the students but as most of the kids were taller than me and a lot of guys had more facial hair than me, simply dressing fancy didn't really help me get authority as a teacher. 

More than anything I was uncomfortable and I felt like it I was putting on an act.  This only added to my feeling that I couldn't authentically be myself at this job and I think that many of my students sensed this. 

When I entered elementary school land at my second job, more than the abundance of scarves, I noticed that teachers dressed my pragmatically. Teachers wore clothing that allowed them to comfortable sit in little chairs, and sit on the floor.  At this school teachers still dressed up but there was more individuality.  One teacher always wore varying colored converse sneakers and there was one teacher who had matching earrings, vest and sock sets for every single has holiday.

On my first day, I was told to wear comfortable pants like jeans and athletic shoes because the student I was working with was a flight risk (a kid who 
previously tried to run out of the school) and I needed to be ready to chase him if he ran.  I went with jeans and a nice shirt and this felt more natural.  

My current school is a JK-12 school.  While the administration dresses formally every day, the faculty dresses in all kinds of different ways.  Some teachers dress formally, others in t-shirts and jeans while others like myself are somewhere in-between.

Faculty members' dress seems to reflect the individuality we value in our students.  One English teacher wears suits with quirky shoes, one teacher only wears purple clothing and some of our teachers dress in traditional ethnic clothing.  

For me this means this means that my earring is in, I got jeans on, I wear colorful dress shirts and matching colored Qalo silicon wedding ring (my current obsession).  In years passed I wore friendship bracelets too, which I'm getting interested in revisiting.  

We still need to have a certain level of professionalism in our dress but that doesn't mean that we can't be individuals at the same time.
My school doesn't place high value on us looking like teachers.  This is clear in the way that teachers dress.  For us, it's more about helping students know us as people than seeing us as authority figures. It's interesting that while this has never been explicitly stated during my time at the school, the teachers and the community have picked up on this. 

Teachers are at their best when they are able to be themselves in front of their students.  For some of us, what we wear helps teaching become an expression of who we truly are, which helps our students embrace their own individuality.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Monday, November 9, 2015

Parenthood: Week 126 - 10,000 Frames


That’s a conservative estimate of how many photos I’ve taken of Ollie. That’s about 10 photos for every day Ollie’s been alive. Mind you, this is a estimate is on the low side, since I’ve deleted thousands of photos of Ollie that were blurry or out of focus.

Ollie’s generation is the most photographed and video recorder of all time. The digital camera cut people loose from the restrictions of film and the smartphone added a level of accessibility to cameras that most people had never experienced.

I wasn’t all that into photography. Even after getting my first digital camera, a Canon Powershot, I didn’t use it that often. What got me really inspired with taking photos was Buffy.

A puppy is the perfect model to learn how to use a camera. They look good at almost any angle; they are constantly doing things that are interesting and cute. As much as they run around, they also can be very still.

I learned a lot from taking pictures of Buffy. There was no need to limit the amount of shots I took so I started taking a ton of pictures and got comfortable with only having a minority of the shots turns out. Since Buffy’s eyes didn’t respond well to flash, I focused on utilizing the light in the room, which made for much better pictures. Buffy’s size as a little puppy forced me to take many pictures lying down the floor, which taught me a lot about perspective.

My brother, Ed started getting into photography and I was really impressed with the quality of shots he was getting with a higher end digital camera. With the SmartPhones on the market, point and shoot models were becoming less relevant so camera companies started making DSLR cameras which combined the ease of use of a point and shoot with the functions of a higher end camera. A couple years before Ollie was born I got a Sony DSLR and my photography world exploded.

Shutter speed, white/black balance, and aperture became parts of the way I thought about photos. The possibilities of this camera seemed overwhelming at first but like a larger palette of colors, the control I had over the images became liberating.

I loved the way that people reacted to my photos and I loved how the world looked through my lens. The stillness of the photos allowed the meaning of moments to express themselves in ways that memory overlooks.

When you are taking photos, you are pulling yourself out of a situation. For a couples seconds you are no longer participating in the moment. While there have been many magical moments I’ve captured on photos, there have been others that I’ve purposely not photographed (often through Diana’s suggestions) that live in our memories.

Some photos bring back memories but others don’t. They are just reminders of things that we’ve forgotten. In this way the memory of the photo itself sometimes takes over the memory of the event.

Yes, I partially take photos of Ollie to show off to people. He’s pretty damn cute. Photography is an important way that my mom, family members and other friends who aren’t local, stay involved in Ollie’s life.  I don’t think I’d take as many photos of Ollie if the only people who saw them were Diana and me but I would keep taking photos.

It’s true, kids grow-up really fast. Looking at photos helps you take a moment to reflect. Pictures of Ollie help us remember how much he has grown as a child and how much we have grown as parents.  They are documents of the blessing of parenthood, the ultimate adventure in our lives.  I don't know how much these photos will mean to Ollie when he is older but they mean a lot to me.

The hope for the future is motivating and the present is an exciting ride, so much of the meaning of parenthood comes from the past.  Our memory is imperfect and photographs don't fill in all the gaps, but they help a lot.  

But 10,000 frames?  Really?  Well, that's what happens when you take a weekly photo of your kid and your dog . . . more details about this with a later post.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Year 6: Week 10 – Being A Teacher Of Color

I was hired to be a music teacher. A couple years ago, I took on the role as a co-department chair. I have explicitly stated responsibilities with these two roles. There’s another role I have at this school that is not in my contract, a role I don’t get paid any extra money to fulfill, and a role that it feels like it is becoming more and more vital to my job: being a teacher of color.

Race is a clear and present issue in America. Anyone who discusses “moving past race” is trying to placate people who desire an America where the white majority enjoys the benefits of racism without dealing with people of color advocating for equal rights. Issues around race in America are like cancer in this way. You can ignore it and refuse to address this issue but that doesn’t mean that it’s not there eating away at the soul of our country.

When I started as a teaching professional, I knew that Asian-Americans like other racial groups were underrepresented in education. Every time I was the only teacher of color in a meeting or a conference, I was reminded of my race and I felt a slight twinge of marginalization. This really wasn’t all that different than my life outside school, as in almost every situation in my life, I am a racial minority, and when I’m not, like when I’m around my extended family, I’m a minority in another ways.

Being reminded of your race, and having this reminder not always feel good is part of life as a person of color. It’s draining and I never realized how much this would be part of my job as a teacher until I started at this school.

This is the first school I taught at that explicitly talks about racial diversity. I appreciated this but I didn’t really know what to do with this fact. Over the years, I’ve gotten used to Asian kids confiding in me. I’ve come to really enjoy when students who aren’t Asian ask me about my racial heritage and I’ve become more at ease expressing my own Asian heritage in classroom conversations.

When issues surrounding race come up in my school, I get drawn into conversations with administrators and faculty. I enjoy problem-solving and discussing most issues at this school so why wouldn’t I want to talk about issues surrounding race? Because dealing with race in my own life, and facing racism in the wider society is sometimes more than I can handle.

At these moments of fatigue and frustration, being a person of color feels like a burden.  But then I think about my kids and I'm reminded that what may feel like a burden to me is a blessing for them.  Their exposure to a me as part of a diverse teaching population is important in my students' lives.

So I dig deep and lean in.

I've learned to embrace my role as a teacher of color and while it's taxing, it's important.  While being reminded of my race as a teacher is challenging at times, when a reminder is accompanied by a 7 year-old's excitement to find a teacher who is from Taiwan just like her parents, I realize how proud I am to be a teacher of color.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Monday, November 2, 2015

Parenthood: Week 125 – Levels Of Giving

My high school senior English teacher taught me about the idea of three levels of giving. The first level of giving was when you would give something to a person but only if you were sure that they would know if was you and would acknowledge your gift.

The second level of giving was when you saw the recipient feel joy from your gift as validation but you didn’t need that person to know the gift was from you. The third level is when you give something to someone but you don’t require any validation from that person. You are motivated not by any feedback from the other person but simply by the feeling of knowing that you are doing something for someone else.

I feel like most of time, I’m at the first level, sometimes I hit the second level and rarely I’m at the third level. That’s the case for most people. It’s hard to do things for others and not get recognition or even see the positive benefits of your actions. Giving for most of us, most of the time really isn’t about the other person, it’s about what we have to gain. Our baser instincts are selfish and it takes a lot of reflection and effort to rise above this.

Parenthood whether you are ready for it or not, places you squarely in the second level and often in the third level. An infant gives you little to no recognition for the time and energy you give to it. Most toddlers have no idea that after they go to bed, dishes are done and houses are cleaned. The reality is that most of the hard work we do for our kids contributes to their life-long development which has many results we will never witness.

Toddlers don’t understand gratitude intuitively and infants have no memory of the times that we scrub their clothes and spend hours rocking them to bed. Because of this lack of awareness, it’s actually not that hard to be a mediocre parent.

If you’re ten minutes late to a kid’s first birthday party, she won’t notice. Your kid will not remember all of the times that instead of reading a book to her, you got lazy and turned on the television. So what is it that keep you going, that gets you to that third level where you do things for this little person who doesn’t say thank you and sometimes doesn’t realize that these good deed are coming from you?

When we do things for our kids, we are nurturing a relationship. When you put in the extra effort to get a stain out of a onesie, you are exercising that part of your heart that gives. Each time you do a small action for your kid, it makes you care that much more, and it motivates you to stay involved. It’s a feeling of pride, it’s a lack of regret and it’s the emotion of love.

We cannot look to our children for gratitude. Yes, we need to raise our kids with a sense of graciousness but we can't look to them for validation. I wasn’t getting it from Ollie when he was an infant, I’m barely getting it now that he’s a toddler.  I don't expect that this will change any time soon.  It’s frustrating at times, because I yearn for that first level, the recognition, but then I have to calm myself and remember that I’m a parent and I need to find a deeper sense of the goodness inside of me to keep myself going.

Push yourself to give all that you can to your child.  Go beyond your comfort level, and make the extra effort every day.  It is aggravating and exhausting, but each time you give, it gets you closer to that third level, where we are at peace with finding the meaning of giving not in what we receive but in the act of giving itself.