Wednesday, December 30, 2015

30 Days Dry – Part 3: Drinking Like A Man

Don Draper drank “Old Fashioneds,” James Bond had his martinis, Wolverine drank beer like water, Frank Sinatra loved Jack Daniel’s whiskey, and Ron Swanson loves his scotch. The only manly man that I can think of who doesn’t have drinking as part of their mystique and identity is Batman, who in his Bruce Wayne persona would drink ginger ale pretending he was champagne.

In America to be a man, a real man, our culture tells you that you have to like sports, enjoy shopping for power tools and drink booze. I discussed what it means to drink like a man in this post 

As I’ve grown up as an adult, being able to drink “like a man,” has been one way that I’ve been able to bound with other man and feel more “manly” in conversations and in parties. I’m not a typical man’s man and wile I’ve come to terms with this, I’d be lying if I claimed that I was completely over feeling of masculine inferiority because of the fact that my identity and interest do not fit what most people typically consider as being “manly.”

Knowing the difference between scotch and bourbon, being able to understand the nuances of different hops in IPAs, and being able to not only drink my vodka straight but enjoy it this way made me feel more masculine. All of these actions connected me with the male heroes in our popular culture and provided an entry point into conversations with other guys.

Last week, at a holiday party, I realized that I was the only guy in the room of about 30 people who didn’t either have a beer or glass of wine in my hand (most of the guys had beers), while only about a third of the woman had a drink (only one woman had a beer). I saw for the first time that like make-up, hair care, nail care, whether a person was drinking and what they were drinking was an expression of gender. I’ve been going to these kinds of parties for years but I didn’t make this observation until I took a step away and wasn’t contributing to these trends.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with men or woman having a topic that they are more typically interested in that they discuss as a way of bonding. At the same time it’s important to think about these subjects and their implications.  A group of teenage girls who always talk about dieting and how to improve their bodies may be expressing some insecurities that need addressing and a group of boys who bond over making racist jokes need to understand the implications of their words.

Our view on alcohol in our culture is full of gender stereotypes. Masculine heroes often drink while feminine heroes often do not. There are girly drinks and manly drinks. Drinking for men is viewed as a rite of passage, while many people view drinking as not being lady-like.

In this month off, I've realized how much drinking is part of my masculine expression, which is one reason I've missed booze.  I don't understand why I need my masculinity affirmed, but I guess that's part of my biology.

Shouldn't something deeper, more lasting connect me with my feeling of being a man, like being a good father?  Maybe we've focused too much on the imagery and external things like booze to give us a feeling of strength that we really should be getting through our accomplishments and our achievements as loving family members.  I don't mind the idea of drinking beer as helping me feel more like a man, but the idea that alcohol could grow to define what it means for me to be a man is disturbing.

Maybe Don Draper drank to feel like a man because he was an inadequate husband.  James Bond's martini's maybe covered up his guilt for the deaths he caused, Wolverine had decades of pain and regret he tried to escape, and Frank Sinatra was an absent father.  And Ron Swanson, he's not really an example of man but a caricature of the worst stereotypes of masculinity, flaws and all.

And the sober one, Batman is even more messed up than all of these guys, but whatever. . .  

Monday, December 28, 2015

Parenthood: Week 133 – Putting On Christmas For A Toddler

Parenthood transforms a person from being a spectator during the holidays into an active participant.

When you are kid, your parents do most of the shopping, decorating and planning that goes into making holiday events and traditions a reality. When you are kid you “help” but it’s the parents who really make thing happen. When you become an adult and get married you start taking on a more active role in the holidays. You are expected to bring a dish to holiday parties, and with your own place you have to take on decorating, getting a tree and establishing your own holiday traditions with your spouse. While all of this takes work, it’s stuff that you and your partner are doing for yourselves. The consequences are not that great if you mess something up.

Parenthood changes all of this. Without a kid you can show up for family party whenever you feel like it, drink and eat carelessly and leave when you feel like it. You can really party. With a child you have to carefully plan your arrival and departure times around naps and bed times.

At these events you are constantly tag teaming with your spouse to make sure that your kid is doing okay. When you have an infant, you have to watch who is holding your child and make sure your baby are not being overwhelmed. With a toddler you have make sure that they do not run into things, break random things and eat too many cookies.

You and/or you spouse are “on” the entire time you are at a party. You are more concerned about what you kid is eating for dinner and you curb your drinking to make sure that you are in a sound mind to handle the inevitable meltdown as your child’s bedtime comes and goes.

At home you and your spouse are part of the holiday production team. You figure out a list of events and activities, decorate the house and create “Christmas magic.” You try to make something special for your little one because as adulthood teaches you, nothing about Christmas is inevitable; all of what is special about this time of year is a result from careful work and planning.

This was the first year that Ollie really understood and looked forward to Christmas, I felt more pressure this year to make this time of year special for Ollie. Diana did most of the work taking the lead with decorations, present shopping and wrapping. While there was stress involved with this process, there was also a lot of excitement.

After all of the parties and the craziness, we are exhausted.  Putting on Christmas for a toddler is really tiring and having a kid, like with every other part of your life, changes everything.  It's about taking on the work that your parents do for you in a way that feels meaningful.  It's not about obligation but the sharing of joy.  It's about doing work for someone you love and finding joy not in receiving but in giving.  Maybe it's through this process from experiencing the holidays first as a child and then as parents do we truly understand the meaning of this time of year. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

30 Days Dry - Part 2: Drunk History

I was never much for underage drinking.

I think I only had a drink one time when I was at a high school party. It was a wine cooler, didn’t taste very good and I didn’t get the appeal. The sneaking around just felt weird and I felt like I had better things to do with my time.

Did I have a superiority complex in high school? Oh yeah, you better believe it. I didn’t really see my time in high school as time to be messing around. I wanted to get into a good college and prove to my classmates that this music stuff I was doing wasn’t something that make me dorky, but something that made me special.

When my brother turned 21 (I’m three years younger), my parents would let me have a glass a wine with dinner, but I was apprehensive and didn’t really get into it. I’ve never developed a palette for wine. I respect the art and craft of creating wine and the complexities of the flavors, but the snobbery and overall sweetness of most wines didn’t appeal to me.

Then I went to college and joined a fraternity (read more about this in this series of posts). No, the floodgates did not open up. I was at Northwestern University. None of my friends wanted to waste their time being drunk all of the time. We understood and valued that freedom away from adult responsibilities afforded us time to do explore new experience and live life to the fullest. However, for my group of friends this meant join marching band, joining clubs and take extra classes.

Don’t get me wrong. I had my moments. There were emails sent when I was drunk that I regret sending, close encounters with university police and nights that left more of an impression than clear memories. While I had fun, I didn’t really enjoy drinking alcohol my first couple years at college. I just drank to party and to loosen up.

When I turned 21, I really felt like I grew up in my understanding and appreciation of the culture of drinking. I started to develop a taste for beer and drank mixed drinks that instead of hiding the taste of the alcohol, and eventuated the nuances. Drinking at bars legally was far more fun than standing in a crowded dorm room holding a red plastic cup filled with some mystery punch. That type of situation made me feel like a high school student playing pretend. Sitting in a bar made me feel like an adult.

Like most people I went through phases in my drinking. First it was Southern Comfort, than whiskey, than beer, vodka, than back to beer, a weird phase where I was all about Rieslings and lately I’ve been into craft beers.

When I was in high school and early college, I drank because I wanted to fit in. I enjoyed it on some level but I could live without it. It wasn’t until I got to my mid-twenties that I enjoyed drinking for what it meant culturally. There was the tradition, and the history but more anything else for a guy who felt like a sissy for most of his life, drinking made me feel like a man.

Lately, this fact has been bothering me.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

30 Days Dry - Part 1: Why?

I’m writing at my computer at home, with a pint glass full of tonic water, just tonic water, no vodka or gin. Right now after 28 days without a drop of alcohol, I could really go a beer.

In mid-November I decided that between Thanksgiving and Christmas I wasn’t going to drink any alcohol. I saw that one of my co-workers was doing this and after some Internet browsing, it became clear that going dry for an extended period of time was something a lot of people were doing. Some people were doing it for their health, others as a social experiment and some were going dry because of the challenge.

I liked the idea that it would be good for my health. I tried to stick with only drinking on the weekends but sometimes I drank during the weekends, when after a tough day, I “deserved” it. Most of the time I felt fine but especially since entering my thirties it feels like a gamble when I drink. Some mornings I feel fine, and others I feel slightly hung over. My body just doesn’t process alcohol like it used to. I wanted to get my body cleaned up.

Every time I get back from winter break I feel like I need a week to get over all of the drinking that happens around the holiday season. Between rewarding myself for stressful workdays and all of the holiday events and parties, there’s a lot of drinking that happens.

I wanted to test myself. Thanksgiving to Christmas is one of the most stressful times of year for my work and in my personal life. All of the holiday performances are difficult to handle and especially now with a kid, the holiday season requires more active planning and participation from me as a parent. Did I really need booze to help me handle all of this stress or was I strong enough to handle this myself?

The main reason that I wanted to go dry for a month was Ollie. One of the unfortunate things about drinking especially at parties is that it sometimes it makes you less present. In awkward situations, drinking can pull you out of the discomfort and this is really helpful at times, but I’m not sure how this affects Ollie. I never feel like I get enough time with Ollie and the time that I spend with him, I really want to be there with him and for him, fully, even if that means I have to deal with more feelings of social awkwardness.

This last month has been hard. I miss the flavor of a good beer, the aroma great whiskey. I miss the ritual of drinking, pouring a beer into a glass, mixing up an old fashioned. I miss the warmth of relaxation and the feeling of freedom that comes when the first wave of alcohol makes the world seem more vibrant and accessible.

I don’t miss wondering how I’m going to feel the following morning after a night of drinking. I don’t miss the feeling of being drunk and I don’t miss the fear that somehow I will loose control.

In the past I’ve taken a couple weeks off to make sure that I can live without booze that I’m not somehow slipping into alcoholism. I irrationally fear this possibility, because taking time off drinking has never been a big issue. The challenge of this month off though really makes me wonder. Why do I miss alcohol? What does alcohol really mean to my life? To all of our lives?

I’m going explore all of this in the next couple posts from my first drink to being the only man at a party without a beer in his hand.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Parenthood: Week 132 – All They Want For Christmas

There’s this bar that we set for ourselves as parents surrounding holidays. We create this Norman Rockewell-eque idea of what the holiday experience should be like for our kids. Then we judge the quality of the holidays more on accomplishing a to do list than the quality of the experiences themselves.

My family was never huge on Christmas. We aren't Christian and most of what we did around this holiday was simply taking parts of the secularized American Christmas mythology that we enjoyed like presents and family dinner and doing it ourselves.

Since I’ve met Diana, through her family I’ve experienced in a many different activities around Christmas time. There is cutting down a Christmas tree, driving around to different neighborhoods to see Christmas light displays, making Christmas cookies, wearing matching Christmas sweaters, caroling, going downtown to see window decorations, seeing the train display at the Chicago Botanical Gardens, seeing the Christmas tree display at the Museum Of Science and Industry, going to Santa’s Brunch (to meet Santa, of course), holiday concerts, Christmas morning church service, Christmas eve dinner, Christmas morning breakfast, fruit-cake toss, white elephant gift exchange, and multiple family Christmas parties.

Does this seem like a lot? Well, it is and even though there was never a year that we did all of those things, there were years which we did most of them.

All of that stuff is fun but it’s time consuming and when you have a toddler, every activity has added prep time. There are naps to schedule around and time is more precious when you are a parent. Also, you start asking yourself, how much your kid is really going to enjoy an activity. Are you doing it for yourself or your child’s enjoyment? While there is nothing wrong with dragging your kid along to do something that only you enjoy, you have to do this carefully. There’s only a finite amount of times in the span of a month that you can do this and often the whole “dragging your kid” part makes it less fun for you.

Then there’s that bar I mentioned earlier. It’s the idea that unless you do certain Christmas activities you are robbing your child of a meaningful holiday experience. While it’s great to be thoughtful about sharing things you enjoyed as a kid with your children, doing this at the cost of your own stress and sanity, may not in fact be worth it. If buying your Christmas tree from a parking lot as opposed to driving two hours to cut one down from a tree farm means that everyone is better rested, than you will all probably enjoy the tree a lot more when it is up.

A certain amount of stress around the holidays is self-generated. If gift giving and the related Christmas shopping is too stressful, than cut back on gifts. If you find large family gathering stressful, than organize smaller ones and if you’d rather not do certain Christmas activities, than just don’t.

Here’s the thing, if you stress out too much about that holiday check-list, trying to reach that bar you set for yourself, than that’s all your kids are going to focus on as being meaningful this time of year.

It’s already an uphill battle, trying to find the any hint of the story of Jesus Christ in most of the secularized Christmas traditions in American culture. So let’s not add to that for our kids. Let’s reflect, take a step back from the lights and think about the time we spend together.

Yes, there was a miracle in Bethlehem, but what seems like even more of a miracle is that in our modern culture, we have an agreed upon time of the year that we can stop, and if we choose, be truly present with our families.

More than anything else that is all our children really want for Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Year 6: Week 16 – The Hardest Day Of The Year

One of my fellow music teachers asked me if yesterday was stressful. In the morning, we had our JK-5 Holiday assembly and in the evening we had our middle school and high school winter concert. I teach 3rd and 5th grade general music and 6th and 8th grade band, so I was involved in both concerts. In addition as one of the department chairs, I had responsibilities to organize and run these concerts.

I wasn’t completely truthful when I told this teacher what I’ve been telling other faculty and administrators all week, “it’s not so bad, it’s just another day.”

Philosophically, I strongly believe that yesterday wasn’t any more important that any other day that I teach. The meaning of music education, the true learning happens every day in the classroom. Performances are opportunities for students to share what they learn and get validation from people in the community. While these experiences can be meaningful and memorable, adding important layers of motivation for some students, they are not an end point but only one part in the process of learning.

If you deemphasize the importance of a performance than your stress level should go down. It does help. Having conducted groups in schools that put a lot of stress on the performances and results from competitions, there is less stress in my current school’s philosophy of music education. However that doesn’t mean that all of the stress goes away.

The performance of the students represents their developmental level and their learning. If a kindergarten student forgets lyrics on stage or a middle school band student plays a couple notes out of tune, it’s not a big deal. It’s what we expect to happen. However the organization, structure and overall experience of these performances are a reflection of our level of professionalism as teachers.

This means that we have clear directions for kids that other teachers can help support and well planned transitions. It’s about having enough programs copied for parents and making sure that we enable our students value the audiences’ time and attention.

In many ways, this is the piece of the puzzle that caused me the most stress. I don’t see stress as a bad thing as long as it helps me focus on tasks. Even with this attitude and my philosophical perspective, truthfully yesterday is one of the hardest days in the year for me.

In the midst of everything going on yesterday, I had the though flash in my head, “would I rather not deal with this day of craziness every year?” And I quickly moved that thought to the side and dived back into what needed to be done.

Hard isn’t bad and neither is stress. Because the kind of challenges I dealt with yesterday, I didn’t deal with alone. I had my department who had my back and the administration and other faculty were constantly asking me what they could to help. These were difficult but manageable. But what makes me embrace yesterday more than anything else is knowing that all of challenges of that day come from a desire to innovate, and create something special for our community. It’s the same motivation we have every day, it’s just cranked up a couple notches because there are more moving pieces.

Yesterday went really well.  A lot of things went really well and one of the best signs of success was how all of us as music teachers were inspired by the work we did yesterday for our work in the future.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that yes, it is a stressful day, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Monday, December 14, 2015

Parenthood: Week 131 – Ollie’s World

I listened carefully as Ollie explained to me the different colors of the "butterflies” (they were actually fireflies) on his mobile that hung above his crib. He told me what colors each butterfly was and how some had stripes and others had polka dots. He leaned his head tenderly on my chest as we lay there together in his crib watching his butterfly friends slowly fly through the air.

After I greeted Ollie after his nap, he asked me to come into his crib. I carefully climbed in. He pated the right side of his pillow and said, “daddy sleep here.” I somehow managed to maneuver myself in the crib and settled in next to him. We talked about his mobile for a little bit, and them attempted to touch the fireflies with our feet.

Ollie then asked me to help him make a tent. He wanted more pillows and an extra blanket. After receiving more pillows, Ollie giggled in joy. I placed a fitted sheet over his crib and Ollie exclaimed, “I’m hiding in tent!” And no, I don’t really understand making a tent requires more pillows either.

I called Diana upstairs and told her that Ollie was hiding. When Ollie heard Diana’s explaining how she couldn’t find Ollie in the closet or under the chair, Ollie spoke while giggling “Ollie hiding in tent. Ollie quiet.” Diana lifted up the sheet to find a little laughing toddler.

Ollie then asked me to come back in the crib and for Diana to put the tent back up. Again, I carefully climbed into his crib and Diana pulled the sheet over top creating a glowing white canopy covering world full of soft pillows, and cuddly blankets.

Ollie rolled around on top of me telling me things about the tent, and his pillows. Some of his words and phrases I understood. What I didn’t understand, I didn’t ask for clarification because I could tell through his energy and joyous expression, what he was trying to communicate to me.

Ollie brought his face close to mine and carefully examined my face with his fingers delightfully observing “daddy’s eyebrows.” He followed up on Diana’s earlier requests that day and practiced giving me kisses on my cheek, some of which were more slobber than kisses but were no less cute.

We all try to create our own world in this life, a smaller part of this bigger world that we can understand. To a toddler, the world is big, confusing and often scary. Ollie has to spend so much of his day trying to interact with this larger world. I can see in Ollie’s eyes how difficult this can be when after trying to explore the world, all he wants is a hug.

There are times when our little ones invite us into their world. Sometimes it’s a tent, other times its a playhouse or at the trunk of a tree. If you enter their world with an open mind and let them share their world with you, there is great beauty to be seen. You may not understand their little world, but you don’t have to. Toddlers find joy in the wide world filled with things they don’t understand but they find happiness in that wonder because of what you show them and teach them about that world. So let your toddler do the same and enjoy their world.

It’s a beautiful place to visit.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Year 6: Week 15 - Thoughts Before Concert Week

Next week is going to be crazy.

We have our middle school and high school music concert on Thursday night and our JK-5th grade Holiday program i Thursday during the day. All of our teaching schedules will be different, there will inevitably be last minute issues that will arise before the performances and logistical concerns will distract us from the business of making music with our students.

It’s going to a week full of hard work and challenges, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun at the same time.

Yes, we are progressive teachers. We all believe in process over the product. At the same time, we are part of a school community and it is important that students represent themselves and the work they do in class at a high level during these performances. No, the performances aren’t the point of what we do, but they are a window into the process and its important that this glance reflects the best of our preparation, care and musicianship to our community.

In this swirl of activity, stress and worry, here’s a couple things to keep in mind.

We will always get further with the carrot than the stick. Yes, there is a time to let kids know where the boundaries and to have stern conversations. But for the vast majority of our kids, genuine and specific compliments will motivate them far more than any punitive feedback. The most powerful teaching tool we have is a genuine joyful smile that comes from helping our students make great music. So let them see you  that smile.

Make the rehearsals meaningful. If there was a massive snowstorm the day of our concerts would the rehearsals leading up to the performance feel like a waste of time? Every rehearsal has the potential for students to grow, have new and interesting experiences and to find personal meaning in their work. Pride of a successful performance starts with pride in a productive and satisfying rehearsal.

Have fun. Every day, we have the privilege of working with great kids and exposing them to the joy and wonder that is music. Next week, we get to share what we do every day with our community. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun. So don’t forget to take a moment next week to just enjoy the music and our students' energy and enthusiasm.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Monday, December 7, 2015

Parenthood: Week 130 – Coming Around

My relationship with Ollie is starting to turn back around.

Like with any relationship, my relationship with my son has ups and downs. During October and into November things were going really well. He would seek me out to do read books and do activities. Then I went away for a week in early November for my 5th grade trip and since then things have been a little rocky.

Over thanksgiving break when we traveled to Seattle, he was very clingy with my wife Diana. If she was in the room he would immediately want her to hold him. In order to give her some space and time for other people to play with him, she would have to go to a different room.

When we got back from Seattle, he started doing this thing where he would protest “no, dad NO!” when I would offer to read a book with him or take a shower with him, an activity, just a couple weeks earlier, he would ask for enthusiastically. There were even times in the car, when he would just scream, “no, dad, NO!” in response to nothing.

This has been a difficult one to decipher. Having me be away for a week obviously threw him off, which is understandable. Ollie doesn’t have the language skills to express how that made him feel, so even though he seemed fine right when I came back, it makes sense that there may be some other feelings that later came out about the trip that he is working through.

Ollie’s language is developing at a rapid pace and there’s a good chance that he doesn’t actually know what the meaning of what he’s saying when he rejects me. At the same time, it’s important, as we have been doing, to let him know that this is not the way to talk to people that we love in our family.

It’s frustrating and it’s hard not to have my feelings hurt when Ollie protests against spending time with me. At the same time, I know he doesn’t fully understand the meaning of what he is saying especially when he feeling different emotions or dealing with being tired or other physical issues.

Last week has been good though. We had three nice bath times and he happily let me read him a book without insisting that “mom do it."  It’s not like we had some long talk followed by hugging it out. He’s two years old and I don’t know what helped, but things are better.

Maybe it was the fact that I didn't loose my patience with him (though I got close at times).  Or maybe he just needed time to work out his emotions.   Either way, I really enjoyed some really nice moments with him last week.

One thing that helped was sending him "love bombs."  I continued to do things to take care of him, many of which he didn't notice like cleaning stains out of his clothing.  This allowed me to feel good about what I did for him, which made it feel like, that Ollie coming around was inevitable.

I know that things will continue to go with waves with Ollie, and that things once again will get rocky between us, but more importantly I know that things will eventually get better.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Year 6: Week 14 - Lessons From A Muslim

I was going to write about how I was inspired by one of my fellow teachers to really pour on meaningful praise on my students and how much this has changed the feeling in my classroom. However, with all that has been going on in the world, there’s something much more important that I need to address: Muslims. 

After the Thanksgiving weekend we had a teacher in-service day on Monday. Theses days can sometimes be very meaningful and other times less so. The time between Thanksgiving and the Holiday break is one of the most stressful times of year as preparations for Holiday concerts go into high gear. Entering this week, I was feeling stressed and part of me was feeling resentful that we had this in-service day instead of a productive day of teaching with my kids.

I didn’t really look closely at the agenda thinking, “well, it’s not like I can do anything about it, so why bother think about it.” I must have saw the topic about Islam, but it didn’t really sink in until I walked into our first meeting and saw our presenter Chaplain Omer Mozaffar, a Muslim Chaplain from Loyola University Chicago. His warm presence made me reconsider my attitude about the day and as he started speaking, I was immediately engaged.

Chaplain Mozaffar gave us a beautiful overview of Islam. He talked about how his father would point out that the architect for Willis Tower and the John Hancock buildings was Muslim. The statistics he provided helped us understand that stereotypes about violence being central to Islam was illogical. There’s no way a religious tradition could have survived for so long and be so widespread if it was based on violence.  Chaplain Mozaffar broke down every single negative stereotype about Muslims with patience and a lack of anger.

Chaplain Mozaffar confirmed facts that I knew.  More importantly, he framed Islam in a way that showcased the beauty of the soul of what it means to be Muslim.

At the end of his talk, I asked the Chaplain how the Islamic community is dealing with hateful rhetoric being expressed towards Muslims.  He talked about how Muslim leaders are studying the struggles of other minorities from the past for perspective like Catholics in early 20th century America and Jews in pre-world war II Germany. He said that they expected more hate in the coming months. Omer had every right to speak with anger and sadness but he didn’t.  Instead there was a strength and faith in his voice.

The talk didn’t have anything to do with pedagogy. There was no discussion in how we would talk to kids about Islam or how to use this information to make our curriculum more inclusive.  What was the point of having this presentation at a teacher in-service day?

Things seem pretty bleak right now.  Politicians are using hate speech to pander to the worst part of our souls turning fear into racism. Muslims in America are suffering as many minority group in America have experienced and they are suffering in ways that no other group has had to endure.

How is this knowledge about Islam going to help me be a better teacher?  I don't know right now but what I do know is that I've been thinking about this question the entire week.  With this question in my mind, I've been more conscientious to authentically teach my third graders about Hanukkah and have set-up a visit from a Rabbi to talk to my students.  With this question in my mind while reeling from another shooting that involved Muslims as suspects, I had an honest discussion with an African-American student about how the word "boy" can hurt.  And with this question in my mind, I have embraced my responsibility as an educator to rise above the ignorance and hate and be a model of understanding and empathy for my students.

Chaplain Mozaffar has every right to express anger at the injustice and prejudice Muslims are experiencing every day in our country.  But instead, he embodies one of the central tenants of Islam, the belief that deep down, all people are good.  This gives us hope, because if a Muslim can face a world so filled with darkness with this belief, than the rest of us can surely look past the fear in our own hearts to the goodness inside of Muslims in our community and in the world.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Missing Buffy

“I better make sure to close the front door as we unload, so that Buffy doesn’t get out.”

“Oh boy, Ollie is eating grapes, I better hold Buffy so that she doesn’t eat one that he drops.’

“It’s still dark, but it’s morning so I should get out of bed to walk Buffy.”
Each one of these thoughts this past weekend were followed by a forgotten fact, “Buffy is not here at my parents house, she’s back in Chicago.” While this meant that I didn’t have be extra careful or have to take care of her, instead of feeling relief, I felt sadness.

Most of the time when we travel to my parent’s house in the west coast we take Buffy with us (here’s a post about taking Buffy on a plane). We decided while flying with Ollie, that we would not take Buffy with us on shorter trips, like this past trip over Thanksgiving weekend that we would not take Buffy with us. Buffy spent a fun weekend with my mother-in-law.  Having one fewer kid to worry about on the busiest traveling weekend of the year is helpful. However this reasoning as sound as it is, doesn’t make us miss Buffy any less.

Lately, instead of just waving goodbye to Buffy in the mornings, I’ve been giving her a hug and a kiss. Also, I’ve been giving her extra walks more often in the past couple months. In any relationship, there are times when you feel closer to someone you care about than at other times and for some reason, I’ve been feeling closer to Buffy lately.

Some of this is guilt. I know that sometimes I take Buffy for granted. When someone you love, is so consistently supportive and is always there for you, this can be overlooked as a habit, when in reality, it’s a result of consistent effort and care. Dogs unlike most humans have an incredible well of loyalty and care to draw from that even when unreciprocated, will keep coming and coming. This is one of the most amazing things about dogs, but it’s also a blessing that we should honor through our own actions.

The turning point for me was a stressful day towards the beginning of the school year when I realized that my only interactions were Buffy were doing things to care for her that all felt like chores. Yes, I was being responsible and taking care of my dog but I was missing the entire purpose of having one.

I started talking to Buffy more, and making sure that my time with Buffy was not just about chores but enjoying and fostering our relationship. Buffy is no longer a puppy that demands our attention, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t need or deserve our love any less. With an older dog, it’s more on us to initiate interactions. This is what makes the arc of a relationship with a dog meaningful and special.

Missing the ones you love is bittersweet. While the longing can be painful, it is a result of true care and time spent together. Unlike the chores of being at home, I miss my Buffy because she is so much more than a chore. I’m embracing how much I miss Buffy because I know its because of how deeply I feel for my little puppy.