Friday, December 29, 2017


Last year I reflected on the year by listing ten people who most inspired and influence me. This year, while I do have a list, this way of reflecting doesn’t feel quite right or necessary. Instead, I’m just going to try to eulogize 2017 the best that I can, and try in a small way to make sense of what happened in my life in the past year.

The most important priority in my life, my family has been going great this year. We welcomed my second son Ethan into our lives, and he has brought our family closer together. While there are challenges with two children, the continued strength of the partnership I have with my wife, Diana has made the difficult manageable.  I would not be the proud father and husband without her support. 

Professionally, my role at my school has evolved with the honor to serve as one of the school Diversity, Equity, & inclusion chairs. This position has put me in the room where it happens, which has allowed me to grow as a professional and a human being. The work is hard, and it is taking me to places that I am unsure of how to handle, but it’s exciting work, and is truly essential.

The 45th has been a constant reminder of what is wrong in our country, and how much work we have to do. When it seems that he could not embarrass our country any more he sinks to a new low. He serves as an example of everything I dislike about masculinity, and capitalism. With every move that he makes, it’s a question to me about whether my feelings are a reflection of my own insecurities. Sometimes it is, but more often than not, it’s simply a confirmation of the strength of my moral character, and the quality of the different facets of my identity.

Too many people died in ways that could have prevented, whether was through gun violence like the shooting in Las Vegas or the hurricanes that ripped through the southern part of our country and Puerto Rico. We could have done better in the planning of cities like Houston, and we could have done more before and after the hurricane hit Puerto Rico. The government’s response to helping Puerto Rico, feels as tepid as our progress against gun violence. We can do better, we must do better.  There is great shame in our country in the inequity among the citizens of our country.

There was inspiring moments of strength.  Women across the country spoke out against men who sexually assaulted and/or raped them.  Individuals like the Doctor who delivered Ethan, perform amazing feats of humanity, and care every single day. Many citizens decided that they needed to vote, and more refused to vote based on fear, but rather on hope. The self-fulfilling pessimism that a government could not be effective, so it must be dismantled, is starting give way to the optimism of those who refuse to give up their belief in change. These are citizens who vote, and are running for positions in every level of government, many of whom are racial minorities, and women.

I’ve been telling my students about the power they wield. They can be minus signs who take away from other’s experiences. This is unacceptable. They can be an equal sign who don’t do anything to actively hurt others, and work to maintain the status quo. This is also unacceptable. Or they can be a plus sign, and seek out ways to make people’s lives better through kindness, understanding, strength, persistence, and determination. This past year, I’ve gotten closer than ever to being a plus sign, but there’s more I could have done, and more that I can do. This is not a statement of regret, but one of motivation, and inspiration.

The two most important things I’ve learned this year is that:

1.   Everyone has as story. This is something that I knew before but it became an essential way of looking at people, issues, and the world this past year. It’s a lesson that relies on patience, and grows empathy.

2.  Serenity is overrated.  I’ve learned is the flaw in the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. This prayer states:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
For too long people have learned to accept things that should not have. If accepting things that others view as unchangeable brings serenity, than I don’t want it.  Instead, I say, please grant me the courage to question and reimagine the things that others believe cannot change, but must change to make a more equitable society. The wisdom to see and nurture change in others and the serenity that comes from knowing that I’ve fought for what is right.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Monday, December 25, 2017

Parenthood: 236 – Christmas 2017

About a week ago during a discussion I was having with Diana, she asked me what I wanted to get out of the Christmas holiday. I was facing a number of days with different events, outings and family parties. With every one of these experiences, there was a level of stress and effort expended. Getting a baby and a four-year-old out of the house by 9:00am to get downtown to visit a museum takes a lot of doing. At the time of the our discussion, it was the “doing” that was on our mind.

I grew up celebrating the secular version of Christmas. We’d get a tree, get presents, put up decorations, and make cookies. This may have been partially prompted by the fact that one of my father’s jobs when I was a young child was working at a Hallmark greeting card store (yup, these used to exists), that sold, cards, ornaments, and holiday supplies.

I appreciate that my parents did the best they could to replicate what they viewed as a central American experience. My parents are not Christian, and while the capitalistic influence of Christmas for many is distasteful, it is exactly this influence which has seemed to create the secular version of Christmas which people of different religions embrace (e.g. the modern version of Santa Claus was heavily influenced by the Coca Cola company). At the same time, I've always been a feeling of being on the outside looking in, and this continued despite the wonderful warm way, my wife’s immediate and extended family included me in their Christmas traditions.

I’m not sure what I want Christmas to be for my kids, so I let my wife take the lead. Diana was raised Catholic and her family always made a big deal out of Christmas. So I’ve gone along with her ideas and suggestions. Before having kids, there was a novelty to getting the tree and doing other Christmas stuff, however now things feel different. We are creating an experience for our kids, and there is a feeling of responsibility to get it right.

This year got a tree, saw a Holiday play, visited Christkindlmarket, walked through the Wonderland Express model train exhibition at the Botanic Gardens, went to two extended family Christmas parties, did Christmas eve with Diana’s immediate family, and more. When I reflect on all the preparations, work, and effort me and Diana put forth to make all of this happen, it doesn’t seem that bad (well, many challenging parents moments quickly fade, so that's part of this). 

I see through Ollie’s eyes a sense of wonder that cuts through the challenges of this time of year. He doesn’t know about the commercialism, he’s just really interested in the reindeer names, enjoys looking at Christmas lights, presents, and playing with extended family members.  Ethan is completely unaware of what’s going on, but the look of joy, and love, that every family member who held Ethan had in their face as they enthusiastically welcomed him into the family, overshadowed the long dark car rides.

If all I get out of the Christmas season is the happiness of Diana, and my two boys, that’s more than worth it.  In my reading of the Gospel, it seems like this is where we are suppose to be as good people: feeling joy and gaining meaning through giving and doing for others. That’s enough for me. . . and getting stuff IS nice, (Diana got me an Lin-Manuel Miranda sweater!!!!).

Friday, December 22, 2017

Year 8: Week 17 - Imagine

I got about one hundred and twenty 3rd and 5th graders on stage to perform “Imagine,” at the end of our Winter Celebrations assembly. I had never put my 3rd and 5th graders together to perform a song, but this felt like the right year to do it. Here’s the thing, these aren’t horrible classes, but they aren’t the strongest 3rd and 5th grade classes, I have taught.  These kids performing “Imagine,” together meant they would have to learn two songs for this assembly when they usually perform only one.

I chose to do this with them not because they had a higher level of musical aptitude. I did it because, I felt like they needed to perform this song, our community needed them to and I needed this performance.

“Imagine,” is an audacious song. It breaks down the idea of “accepting what you cannot change.” It calls into questions what people perceive as things that you “cannot change,” and ask people to imagine beyond. In the frame of a lilting peaceful melody, Lennon call into questions many of the foundations of humanity: religions, tribalism, nationalism, and realism. It is both a call for peace, and a call for radical change in the context of optimism and belief that the peace that we want for ourselves and our families is shared by all of humanity.

John Lennon’s words “I read the new today, oh boy…” from “A Day In The Life,” have been an almost constant line in my head every single day for the past year. My students, and my job, have been one of the things that has helped me work through the challenges of this year. Yes, the other songs I taught “Light One Candle,” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” have great messages, but they were safe messages.

Before our last run-through the day before the performance, I stood balanced on top of an auditorium chair, and gave my 3rd and 5th grade students one final message about “Imagine.”
One person is powerful enough to ruin this performance for 119 other people. If one person is selfish, and doesn’t sing this song with care, they can ruin this performance. However, you are also powerful in another way. If you commit, focus and work as you sing this song, you have the power to create an unforgettable performance.

As we’ve studied “Imagine,” we’ve watched all kinds of different performers. We’ve seen people of different races sing this song, we’ve also seen people who can’t hear or speak, perform this song. That’s kind of a crazy idea, a sign-language choir. Someone had to use their imagination in an awesome way to figure out how people who could not talk or hear could perform music. That is what this song is about, imagining things beyond the way they are right now to make our world a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive society. 
We are singing this for ourselves, but we are also performing this for your families, your parents. There’s times when things are tough for your parents and it’s hard for them to get going in the morning and do things they need to do. You provide them motivation during these times, you give them hope. So when you sing this song, be that for them, and give them that energy, and that inspiration. They deserve it for all they’ve done for you, and you deserve a great performance because of all the great work you’ve done up to this point. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Monday, December 18, 2017

Parenthood: Week 235 – Highlights

Ethan is on the way from a newborn to a baby. His is helping him start to get into the rhythm of the day.  Ethan is sleeping more at night, is more active during the day. We are not at the point that we are making him take scheduled naps, but he definitely knows the difference between day and night.  How many hours he sleeps at nights still varies from day to day but the trend is that it’s getting longer, and it’s much easier to put him back to bed after he wakes up then it was a couple weeks ago (most of the time).

Ethan started smiling a little in his sleep and now it’s happening when he’s awake. He eyes are a lot more observant and active during the day (and sometimes in the middle of the night. . . sigh). Ethan has begun to coo a little and we are starting to see him reach out to things. I’m not sure how deliberate this is, or if this is him just trying to figure out him limbs. Either way, it’s cute, and delightful to see him flailing about and discovering what his body can do.

Ollie’s sense of humor, oh Ollie’s sense of humor. He finds flatulence hilarious. His new thing is that when someone else farts, he gleefully says that he did it. Ollie likes to laugh at jokes, but he doesn’t always know when to laugh. At the dinner table, sometimes me and Diana will laugh at a joke, and then he will burst out laughing. Then he will say a phrase or a word, as a joke and laugh at it hysterically. It’s not the best dinner time behavior, and sometimes we are trying to get him to stop. If it wasn’t for years of practice giving a “teacher face,” to students while laughing on the inside, I don’t think I could give Ollie a serious face while he’s giggling.

I’ll take a child who laughs too much over the opposite any day.

Ollie is transitioning form his interest into Transformers into PJ Masks. He still plays with his Transformers toys and wants to read the books, but his show of choice is PJ Masks. He doesn’t quite realize that there is a ton of PJ Masks merchandise. We may get there later.

We are deep into the Holiday season. Ollie is more into Christmas than ever before. He actually wanted to meet Santa and he didn’t freak out this year like he did two years ago. There’s specific toys that he wants like a Generation 1 Transformers Soundwave toy (I had to get it off of ebay for him). Ollie has an advent calendar he is working through, which is helping him make sense of the timing.

I’m worried about the lack of routine of the next couple weeks. Ollie not getting regular sleep and eating too many cookies leaves him feeling unsettled, and difficult to deal with.  This will probably exhaust me more than Ollie and I know that he will have special moments because of our efforts, but it will be tiring. 

There's special moments every day with these two.  I just need to remind myself to pause and enjoy them from Ethan's adorable toes and Ollie wrestling around with me and pausing to cuddle up to my chest before trying to jump on me. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Year 8: Week 16 - Boys Being Better Boys

Two times this week, I dealt with middle school boys giving unsolicited, and unwanted musical critiques to girls. In both instances, the girls didn’t say anything in defense of themselves. They did talk to me at a later, and I did talk to the boys about the inappropriate behavior.

I needed my boys to understand that they were not to express their insecurities to these other musicians, through offering unconstructive, (and in some ways mean) comments. I called both of these boys out on the fact that behind their comments was things that they felt unsure of as musicians.

To the girls, I ensured to them that I would be on top of this issue. I validated their feelings of social awkwardness, and gave them positive reinforcement for coming to talk to me. I encouraged them to be shoot down this type of feedback, but I also told them that I understood that this is difficult to do in the moment.

I opened up about being a parent. I explained that people like to give me unsolicited advice about being a parent. Most of this time it’s not helpful, and it'sannoying. But it’s less so when I realized that these interactions were more about the individual’s insecurities and fears than the choses I was making in my own life.

I talked to the girls how they should interpret these comments. For example if someone criticizes you and say that you tone isn’t very good, it’s probably because person making the comment doesn’t like his or her tone. This concept took some working out but they figured got it. They both left our conversation with a smile.

Yes, there are girls who express their insecurities in inappropriate ways. However, there was something about these two interactions that I can’t let go. Why do these boys feels entitled to be mean to these girls? What aren’t these girls doing provide appropriate negative feedback to the boys, and are we doing the best we can as teachers to discuss, explain and teach about these gender dynamics? Gone unchecked, what does this behavior grow into?

We all have a responsibility to change the negative dynamics between men and women and to actively work against sexism. The status quo is currently unacceptable, so simply doing no active harm to women is not enough. We need to actively and deliberately work to make things better.

If a boy criticized another boy in a mean way, I would still call it out, but I wouldn’t have taken as much time to unpack and discuss the incident. Whenever there is something between a boy and a girl, we need to take more time. These interactions are in the context of a society in which women are still treated as weaker, and under-valued. The boys are reflecting an accepted way of behavior in some corner of our society.  We need to be there to tell them that it’s not okay, and impart unto them the fact that they are showing their peers, their worst, not their best.

This isn't boys being boys, it's boys being something worse.  They can be better, we just have to believe that they can, acknowledge the sexism in our society, and help our boys be better boys. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Parenthood: Week 234 - The Age Gap

It seems like everyone has their theories about the best age gap between children. Most of this is based on the age gap individuals had with their siblings and an optimistic viewpoint on their own children. The reality is that the majority of parents nowadays don’t experience kids with varying age gaps, since most parents don’t have more than two children. So most people don’t have a point of comparison.

There’s a lot that contributes to the age gap between children. Sometimes things go exactly as planned. However, for many people, the timing of having a child is not something that cannot be controlled with much accuracy. However, many people do try to control this and some have some success leaning towards a preference of a certain age gap.

Some people desire having children close together (under three years). The pros I’ve heard is that their children will share the same interests, and that it gets the whole baby/toddler thing done in a shorter amount of time. The cons are that you have two children who are young (e.g. two kids in diapers), and the lack of space between the children can sometimes create a more tenuous relationship (closer age=sharing mommy=sibling jealousy). Of course there are many other pros and cons.

Having children further apart (over three years) has a lot of benefits. Ollie is potty-trained and unlike two-year old Ollie, four year-old Ollie is often content to play with his toys by himself while we are tending to Ethan. A wider age gap means that they older kid has more ability physically and mentally to care for the younger sibling. However, when the kids get older, it will be harder to find activities they both can enjoy together. A movie that is appropriate for a eight year old, may not appropriate for a four year old. One thing that can be a pro and a con (a pro in my opinion), is that the baby/toddler part of parenthood is spread out over a longer period of time.

One misconception about having children is that the timing is in your control.  In the same way that it is advisable to not make comments about people having children because you don’t know their story, watch the comments you make about the age-gap between children. This may be a result of careful planning, or some of the most difficult journey's in a couples’ life.

There’s more optimism than not when people talk about my boys’ age-gap. So I’ll take that. It’s what we got, so like most parents, we are making the best of it, enjoying what we can, the dynamics of the differences of these two kids and riding the roller coaster of parenthood.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Year 8: Week 15 - Kicking Away The Ball Of Stress

This week was crunch time for my kids to make good progress on their songs for their performance in two weeks. They don’t understand this fact, but it’s something that I have come to understand about the students in this community and the way that I need to work.

Students at this school in general do not respond well to game-day pressure. An approach that cranks up the stress the closer we get to a performance goes against the philosophy of our school. As a learning community, we focus on the process over the product and finding as much meaning in a day of class as the performance. We like to say that if the performance was cancelled that we wouldn’t feel that the work was for nothing.

There’s a personal issue going on here two. When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease (which you can read about in these posts), I realized that I needed to better manage the stress in my life. Some of my symptoms were psychosomatic that were triggered by stress. So I had to figure out a way to be on stage, teach students that regularly performed, and not be a ball of stress.

I did some therapy, learned some stress-management techniques (biofeedback therapy), and refocused how I taught. I was not going to be a teacher that placed undo stress and pressure on my students and myself to perform. I was going to focus on the act of preparation, aim for accomplishments that were made every class, that were rewarding and create an environment that would not negatively affect my health.

It wasn’t until I came to this school that I had a learning community that reflected this personal need to work in a way that reflected my personal health needs and my educational philosophy. If one of my bands plays three songs instead of four, no one is going to complain.  There is a different kind of pressure to make every class meaningful, but I don’t feel as much stress in that focus because if I fail in that, than we simply have a less meaningful class.

There are kids who respond to stress as a motivator. Maybe some of my kids need more stress motivation from me to succeed. Maybe I’m failing them in this way, but this is what works for me. Part of education is giving kids what they need to succeed, but another part of teaching is showing people another way, a better way. If a kid can learn how to succeed in an atmosphere of focus and relaxation, even though what they normally respond to better is stress, then they will learn a way, as I have to live a life that filled with more contentment, and smiles.

There’s more to do next week. Of course I’m behind in my preparation, which I always am (welcome to being a teacher). We had some meaningful times in class that I’m proud to say we don’t need a performance to justify. This is often referred to as the last push before Winter break. I prefer to think of it as a time of pay-off, when things come together and because of focused work, the rehearsals leading up to the performance are less about frustrations and stress, and more about joy and sharing, for myself and my students.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Monday, December 4, 2017

Parenthood: Week 233 - The Start of Brotherhood

The first time Ollie met Ethan in the hospital, we explained to him that babies didn’t know how to do a lot of things, and that we would help him learn to do things like walk and talk. Ollie looked at him carefully and asked, “why aren’t his eyes open?” Diana explained that he was tired and still hadn’t quite figured out how to open his eyes. Ollie thought for a second and then leaned in close to Ethan, and started opening his eyes as wide as possible and forcefully shutting them over and over, explaining “THIS IS HOW YOU OPEN YOUR EYES!”

It’s fascinating watching Ollie interact and grow to know Ethan. There are the times when he completely ignores Ethan, which isn’t all that different than parallel play he still sometimes does with friends. Most of the time when Ethan is crying Ollie doesn’t seem to notice.

Then there are moments that when Ollie takes one of his toys and explains to Ethan how it works. A couple days ago, when Ethan was crying, I looked out of our kitchen and saw Ollie talking to Ethan and putting a pacifier in Ethan’s mouth.

Like with anything, there are things that Ollie is leaning through experimentation and observation and other things that we are making sure to explicitly teach. We make sure that Ollie says hello, goodbye, and goodnight to Ethan, and we are encouraging interactions. In the same way that I don’t feel that it’s right to force Ollie to hug our friends, I don’t want to force Ollie to hug and kiss Ethan. However, signs of affection are important and they need to be learned. It’s important for Ethan to feel affection from Ollie, and for Ollie to know what it means to hug his brother. I’m not quite sure how to handle this one, but for right now, I’m trying to capitalize on small moments of affection, like when Ollie held Ethan’s hand the other day, and provide positive reinforcement.

I’ve been explaining to Ollie many of the fun things that he has to look forward to with this brother. I’m hoping that even though Ethan doesn’t give a lot back during their interactions, Ollie sees the possibilities for future fun, and some meaning in their interactions.

One of my friends who had his second son only a couple weeks before Ollie told me is that he wants his older boy to understand through helping with the baby, that a lot of people put in work and effort to raise him. I like this idea. Too often, we don’t realize how much, so many people did to get us to where we are today. I don’t think Ollie has the full capability to appreciate all that so many people have done to help him.  However, maybe through some small actions to help Ethan, and some reflections from us, he will consider that at some point that someone did the same thing for him.

There really hasn’t been any expressions of unkindness or annoyance from Ollie to Ethan. I know there will be other moments in the future, but right now they are in a pretty good place as brothers.

Just wait until Ollie teaches Ethan how to make fart sounds.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Year 8: Week 14 - Back To The Basics

It would seem logical that by December, classroom expectations would be firmly established and not need reinforcement. Teaching doesn’t work that way, and students don’t work that way. Creating a positive classroom community isn’t a building that is constructed in the first week of school that you and your students live in. It’s like a thing, um, that. Wow, I can’t come up with a metaphor, maybe because it’s Friday afternoon, or maybe because there really isn’t anything like this work.

Community is built up relationships. You need to get to know your kids, your kids need to get to know each other, and you need to let them get to know facets of your personality. All of this building happens through different lesson, and experiences. Relationships don’t develop in straight lines. Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better, and sometimes school years end on a sour note with some students.

Students grow up so much in the course of a school year, and understanding of seemingly basic things like, how to have a classroom conversations evolve through the school year as students grow. We teach to raise your hand when you want to be called on. However, some students aren’t as comfortable in the beginning of the year to participate, so they don’t really think about needing to work on this. As kids grow as learners their engagement and eagerness to participate may require that this basic lesson of hand raising will need to be reestablished. It seems ridiculous on the surface level, but there’s other stuff going on.

It’s easy to assume that when students are not consistent with what seems like basic classroom expectations they are being lazy, don’t care, or are being purposely disruptive. While all of those things may be true, I’ve rarely encountered this. I have found students appear to regress with classroom, it’s because they aren’t feeling included as a member of the community, and they don’t understand the power they have to contribute to the community and their individual importance to the school, to their peers and to their teachers.

Students are more powerful than they think. Teachers fear acknowledging their students’ power, but it’s there. Kids use this power all of the time, sometimes without realizing it. Not naming this, doesn’t make it go away, so talk about this power, teach about the responsibility that goes with it, because it’s not the teacher who makes the classroom community, it’s the students’ who have the power to make it happen.

So yes, in 8th grade band I had to remind them that when I stand on the podium, they should be quiet and my 3rd graders needed me to explain to them why when we stop a song, people shouldn’t tack on silly endings to the song. Sometimes it feels like a never ending battle, but it’s more like, SIGH wow, my metaphor back is empTY, it’s a process, it can feel annoying at times, but when you believe in the positive potential of students, this can be one of the most rewarding parts of teaching.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Monday, November 27, 2017

Parenthood: Week 232 – The First Month

Ethan was born a month ago. The most remarkable thing about this time is it has mostly felt unremarkable.

 It’s not that the moments that’s I’ve shared with my family during Ethan’s first month after being born, haven’t been special or meaningful. It’s just that we’ve fallen into a groove of how to function as a family, and while Ethan has had moments when he has disrupted moments in our lives (e.g. staying up last night from 11:30pm-2:00am), he hasn’t disrupted our lives.

My life is focused on my role as being a parent more than anything else. While I do mourn the freedom that was lost when children entered my life at times, more than not the life I’m living in the one I chose. You can see it in our house. In every room, there are books and toys stored in different corners for Ollie and Ethan. There is no space in our house, like a formal living room, that the children aren’t allowed to play in. Our weekends are focused around doing things as a family, whether it’s going to a children’s museum, or children’s play. While there are things that I do by myself, like running, part of the motivation to do this is so that I can be in better physical and mental health as a parent.

As Ollie has gotten older, we started to feel some of the freedom come back that we lost when Ollie was a baby and a toddler. Around the house, he doesn't need our constant attention, and we are more comfortable with him spending time away from us because of his ability to advocate for his own needs. However, we still chose to spend most of our time focused on Ollie because we enjoyed sharing our livee with him.

Ethan coming into our lives hasn’t felt like it has dramatically changed our lives. Instead it’s like we are simply adjusting back to the way things were when Ollie was younger, except in many ways it feels easier. Yes, it’s really hard to get out of the house with a baby, but we know that, and we plan for it. While this is difficult, it’s not as frustrating as it was when Ollie was a baby, because we know that it’s not that big a deal if you are late carrying a baby in tow for the most part.

Ollie’s feeding schedule as a baby never bothered me. We chose to stick by it closely for Ollie’s own good and it meant that we didn’t do certain activities, or avoided certain places to make it easier for us to care for Ollie. I find myself in the same place with Ethan, scheduling what we do around Ethan’s needs. At this point, I don’t really mind it. One reason,  I'm okay with this is because it was the adherence to a schedule that led him to having good sleep habits (which in my book, is totally worth leaving parties early, and going to events late).

There have been experiences in the past month that I never thought I would be a part of that Ethan’s needs have brought us to. There are emotions that this little one has stirred up in me that I have never felt before in the past month, and there are situations, that have challenged my creativity, endurance, and skill as parent.

In most ways, this has been every single month of my life for the past four years. If you choose to dive in and make parenting a central part of your life, you are choosing to be on that roller coaster, to experience new things all of the time, to feel things deeply, and to work hard for your child.

One more baby in the mix? It’s the same roller coaster ride, it’s just more of everything that makes that ride so much fun, so hard, so absurd, and so meaningful.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Year 8: Week 13 – Baby Pictures During Class

This was a short week, however there was a lot to do. My 3rd graders had one of their biggest performances of the year on Wednesday. We had Monday as a final rehearsal, Tuesday as a dress rehearsal and Wednesday was the final show.

I had pretty well dug myself out of all that I had to catch on from being away on paternity leave, but there was still some stuff to do. Also, I’m still dealing with the adjusting to being back at school, which while is not an unmanageable challenge, still has its difficulties.

I tried really hard to stay focused on my students, and the task of teaching. The busier I could keep myself, the easier it is to deal with the feelings of guilt and sadness from being away from my little baby. This is a hard thing to do, because as much as I can focus on tasks unrelated to parenting, my kids are always on your mind. What makes this even harder is the fact that students, others teachers, and other parents asked about Ethan, and want to talk to me about him constantly.

Teaching is an interesting job. As much as it is important to maintain some level of separation of personal life and professional life, a skillful blending of the two is necessary to create meaningful relationships with your students. No, you should never talk to your kids about your dating life, but talking to them about your family, as you ask them to do the same, is meaningful. No, you shouldn’t tell your third graders about how much you love Game Of Thrones, but it’s great to tell them how you waited in line for the release of a Harry Potter book.

Students need to be able to relate to you as a person, while maintaining a level of separation. Without connections, there isn’t trust, and without the students being able to see themselves in their teachers in some ways, they can’t become partners in education.

This is why my students know about Buffy, my dog, Ollie, whatever music I’m currently obsessed with, and my new son Ethan. As hard as it was for me to pivot from showing baby pictures to other parts of the lessons, the classes when I did this ran better, and the classes where I forgot to do this, or ran out of time, simply didn’t go as well. The classes where I didn’t mention Ethan at all were easier for me, but the ones in which I did, were better for the kids.

All of my students, 3rd, 5th, 6th & 8th graders were into the pictures of Ethan. I took time to explain the history of paternity leave and how my time off wasn’t a vacation. I didn’t do a great job at this, so I’m going to try this again later.

Earlier in my teaching carrier I did more sharing about my personal life with my students. This has become less over time, but in the last couple years I’ve been weaving my personal life back into my curriculum. But it’s different now.

When I talk about Ethan, I mention the history of miscegenation in America. I discuss the different terminology of mixed-raced, and multi-ethnic, and the problems with these terms. I talk about how paternity leave reflects changes in gender roles. After we watch a video of Buffy, I explain the problems with puppy mills, and why we got Buffy from a breeder, and not a shelter. As I’ve become fully awoken to social justice and the different facets of my identity, I realize that I’m living the challenges, the history, and values I’m trying to teach with my students.

There’s more to say to my students about my personal life, and so much they can learn from my experiences with Ethan.  So I'll make it happen, let them in a little and we'll enjoy the cuteness and challenges together.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Monday, November 20, 2017

Parenthood: Week 231 - Raising Men To Be Men

We are at a cultural tipping point with the issue of sexual harassment, and sexual assault. The mainstream seems to have evolved to a place where for the most part victims are believed more than doubted, and corporations see that acting to swiftly excommunicate those involved with this insidious behavior from their ranks is not only what is right, but also protects their bottom line.

The progress we have made as a culture is not a reason to rest, but this progress does engender hope, which we must keep alive to work through these challenging issues.

As a dad, the seeming daily revelations about crimes by men in our society tells me that in the same way that I need to deliberately help guide my son’s development of his racial identity (moving well-passed the idea of racial colorblindness), I need to proactively help my boys understand what it means to be a man, and how to act in an anti-sexist way to benefit the women in their lives and their own life experiences.

Masculinity in many ways is defined as not exhibiting feminine characteristics. This is problematic.  In our progressive mindset when we think about feminine strength, we talk about things including, but beyond physical strength. This is great, but this should also apply to guys. If there is these positive ideas that define both men and women, then what is the difference between men and women. How do we help our boys understand what it means to be a man?

Diana and I are very interested in teaching our sons about empathy, emotions, and feelings. Women are traditionally thought of as being more empathetic and verbally expressive about emotion. Are we trying to make our sons more like women? Not really, we believe that by helping our boys develop their empathy, and being more in touch with their emotions, they will be happier. This isn’t so much about being a man, but a good human being.

Maybe that’s where we need to end up: a place where we focus less on masculinity and femininity, and more about being authentically who we are in that spectrum, and being good humans. At the same time, I do believe there is a primal need to feel like men that should be nurtured. There are activities that I do that make me feel like a man, like watching professional wrestling and drinking whiskey. Flexing this masculine muscle adds balance to my life in the same way that hanging out with my group of dad friends balances out the fact that all of my close friends are women.

Some of these men who have done awful things to women are simply horrible people.  And maybe some of these men are a result of boys flailing about in a vain attempt to figure out what it means to be a man in a society that calls gender roles into question more and more. So instead of learning to express their masculinity through positive ways, they dealt with this insecurity by assaulting women. In no way am I trying come up with excuses, I'm simply positing an explanation.  If we accept that a man can be man, and take on traditionally feminine characteristics, then we need to help our boys through the inevitable confusion this paradigm sets up so they don’t go astray.

I'm worried about how I'm going to help my boys become great men.  I have a lot of questions about this process and a lot of concerns.  But like I tell other parents who worry about issues.  If you worry about a part of parenting, than you'll probably be okay.  Being worried is a sign that you care and will do the work.

What I do know is that it starts with me.  How I am a man, every day in every way.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Year 8: Week 12 – I’m Back

I was on paternity leave for the past three weeks, but I’m numbering these weeks by the weeks of the school year. Even though this is my 9th wßeek of teaching, it’s the 12th week of the school year, so I’m going with that.

The school was quiet, and very still as I stood in the hallway. The traffic on the way to school was abnormally light, so I had gotten to school earlier than most of the teachers and the students. The caffeine in my tea was starting to kick in bringing me more to normal, than energized, but it was helpful regardless.

It was different than coming back after summer break. I was away for fifteen working days when the rest of the school kept moving forward. The complex life of the school kept moving forward on without me. I fully committed to not be involved when I was away.

More often than not, especially this past summer, when I was away from school I’m working from home. For fourteen of the fifteen days I was on my paternity leave, I really didn’t do work. I’d be lying to say that I didn’t peak at my email once in a while, but with power of the email vacation message, I was free from emails.

It took me a couple hours to dig myself out of my inbox, the day before I was back in school, and once that was well in hand, I felt more or less ready to go.

There were moments today of great exhaustion (from living with a three week old), and moments of teaching that I was proud of (relating the story of Hanukkah to modern day systems of oppression for my third graders). I allowed myself to enjoy really awesome musical moments with my 8th graders, and I felt myself challenged by my students, forcing my brain into that higher teaching gear that pushes beyond following lesson plans.

The regular time crunches of trying to fit in too many tasks (and lunch) during my lunch break. As much as I tried to spend other times in my day focusing on my own tasks that had to get done, I ended up talking to other teachers catching up on how things were when I was gone and baby talk.

Through it all, it was a satisfying day. I worried about how Ollie would deal with me not being home. He had told me last night that he was sad thinking about me going back to work, and I told him that I was sad about it too. I wasn’t too concerned about Diana and Ethan. Diana was doing great with him, so I knew they would be fine.  I also knew that I would miss Ethan more than he would miss me, which made me feeling slightly feel better about being away from him.

It was great to see my students. Some of these were apathetic that I was back, but many were excited beyond words. There were some hugs, cheers, smiles, and questions about Ethan.

Standing in the hallway at the end of school, I felt at peace watching kids get ready to go home.  In that moment their presence was enough for me to be content. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Monday, November 13, 2017

Parenthood: Week 230 - The Drop-Off Revisited

I’ve written about the challenge of the drop-off in these previous posts (Week 119, Week 170). As with almost every part of parenting, this part of child-rearing has changed and evolved over the years. The first year that Ollie was in day-care, Diana did almost all of the drop-offs and pick-ups. This was difficult for Diana at times, not because the daycare was bad, or that Ollie or Diana had extraordinary separation issues. It was simply because it’s really hard to drop-off off young child sometimes, even in the best of situations.

When we enrolled Ollie in Chiaravalle three years ago, I took a more active role in the drop-off and pick-up. The school was on the way to my school, and this school had before and after care. Two days a week, I had prep time in the morning, so I did drop-off two days and most days I could do pick-up. So I had drop-off two days, Diana did two days and Diana’s dad did one drop-off.

There were tough drop-offs, but more than not, I really enjoyed this process. Because, I dropped him off for before care, there weren’t a lot of students, and it was really chill. I hated the days when I would have to literally pry him off him. I will never forget the sounds of him crying and being held back as a teacher, when I walked way, doing my best like Orpheus to not look back to Eurydice, knowing that it would only make things worse, if I made eye contact. On the best days, Ollie and I we would share twenty hugs, and he would give me a bonus hugs. He would run into his room smiling, and I would walk away knowing I had helped start his day off well.

This school year, we decided that Ollie would not do before care. It would make it easier on Ollie because he would not have to get up as early, and it would make my mornings less stressful. Diana has been doing drop-off, and it has been going well.

A couple weeks into the school year, me and Diana were talking after Ollie went to sleep, and I told her that while our drop-off situations was logical, I didn’t love it. Selfishly, I missed the good drop-offs and most days, instead of having quality time with Ollie before school, I left for work kissing him goodbye while he was still sleeping.

This is one of those things, that is better for our family, that has a negative side, that I just had to get over. So I was excited to do drop-off and pick-up again during my paternity leave.

Ollie’s school Chiaravalle, has a carpool system for drop-off and pick-up. There’s an alley behind the school, and at a certain time, cars go through the alley and there’s teachers who greet students once the cars reach the back door and help them inside. During pick-up, they coordinate numbers on the cars with students and bring students out to cars waiting in the alley. Carpool was set-up only during regular drop-off and pick-up, not for before or after care, so I had never done this during previous years.

Even though Diana said that carpool was really convenient, I wasn’t so sure about it. I liked walking into the school holding Ollie’s hand, helping him hang up his stuff, saying hi to his teachers and doing goodbye hugs.

After using carpool. I got to say that I really like it The not having to get out of your car part is really nice, but there’s something really special going on here. When the teachers open the car door, greet Ollie, and help him out, I can feel the positivity and inclusive community of the school coming into my car. The teachers happily greet Ollie, and he responds happy to see them. Ollie is eager to get out of the car, and every day I have had the joy of watching him happily walk into the school, all by himself.

Pick-up is even better. When the teacher walks Ollie out to the car, he is smiling, bouncing as he runs to me, and joyously exclaiming “daddy.” They say goodbye to Ollie, and he happily says goodbye back to me. There is very different than in previous years when Ollie would sometimes be exhausted from a long day ending with aftercare. There’s a difference between a child being happy because they dislike school and want to leave, and a child being happy because they had a great day in school and are excited for what’s next. I’m proud to say that I’ve seen the latter in Ollie for the past two weeks.

There's something magical, and so right about watching happy children come to school.  It's inspiring as a teacher, and as a parent it's life-affirming, and beautiful.  I never thought I'd be happy watching my child walk away from me, but now that I think about, he's not walking away from me, he's walking into a school he enjoys.

That's happiness.  

Friday, November 10, 2017

The 45th: One Year Later

One year later.

Here’s the thing. I don’t think that I have anything new or amazingly insightful about the past year with the 45th as president. But I think it’s worth taking a moment to reflect for myself, for my future self, and for my sons my thoughts during this moment.

There are many great people who do amazing things because they are seeking approval from unaffectionate, emotionally closed off parents. Can great things be accomplished with supportive, emotionally available parents? Of course. I would argue that great parenting doesn’t hinder accomplishments but also more meaning, and life-long satisfaction.

Did we need the 45th to win last year, and create a massive deficit in leadership, and embolden the worst amongst us, in order for us to have the results we had during last Tuesday’s elections? Does it take an accused sexual predator as president to give people the strength for others to come out about the crimes they suffered? Did it take openly racist, bigoted language by the 45th and policy proposals to bring forth a new awareness of racial issues, white privilege, and a clear need for socially progressive work? Did Americans have to be terrorized by the 45th with tweets that threatened proposals that would call into question their earned, and deserved rights as Americans for groups to mobilize and support each other as allies?

Did we need this guy as the 45th to motivate me to inject social justice as DEI work into every class I teach and take on the role as my schools’ DEI co-chair? Could all of the positive stuff happen in our country if he was not elected? Do we need to suffer oppression, and pain to reach a higher level of citizenship?

I don’t believe we need to experience the bad to achieve greatness. We could have made great strides forward without the pain, the fear, the threats, the gas-lighting, and the division. I don’t believe my students need to be made to cry to succeed. I don’t believe my son needs to be thrown into the deep end by surprise to learn to swim, and I don’t believe that whatever positive things happened in the past year, required the suffering of so many of us.

There is a trauma that we as a country are collectively experiencing, and that will take time to heal from. For those of us who acknowledge it and talk about it, we are on the important process of self-care. Those who ignore the trauma will have an even more difficult road ahead of them, and then there are those who truly do not feel what is happening.

There are people in this world whose opinions and world view will never change. When schools desegregated, many people fought this change, they eventually made private their bigotry, and these feelings died with them, while new generations see the light of truth and justice. There are people who will never change their negative viewpoints on racial equity, LGBTQ rights, social justice and feminism. However, there are many people whose minds can, and have evolved around these issues. This is where our focus needs to lie, not with the trolls, but the souls who care about our shared humanity, but don’t lack the tools and awareness to do this beyond their own communities.

In many ways it’s been a wonderful past year, despite the 45th.  As I write this, I see my baby boy sleeping next to me, and I smile when I think of my son at his wonderfully progressives, diverse, and inclusive school.  My wife and I are closer then ever.  I feel stronger, and more confident in who I and, more proud of the the different identities I embrace.

The biggest change for me in the past year is that everything that has happened in my life, and in this country has made me feel confident that I am an adult.  I'm 35 years old, but for the past fifteen years, I've felt like I was a kid faking my way in the world of adults who somehow know better than me, and have life figured out.  But now I know that I am right in my convictions.  I can take care of my family, and I can positively contribute to the various communities I belong to as a citizen.  I know this and I feel this because I'm know a better person, and a better leader, than the 45th.  And I know that I could be a much better President then that guy.  He may have the title, but we are the ones with the true power.
You do the best that, do the best that you can do
Then you can look in the mirror
Proud of who's looking back at you
Define the life you're living
Not by what you take or what you're givin'
And if you bet on love there's no way you'll ever lose
Take a stand, make a stand for what's right
It's always worth, always worth the fight.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Monday, November 6, 2017

Parenthood: Week 229 - The Motivation & The Meaning

Everything feels right, but man, I am tired. This morning Ethan (our wonderful week and half year old), wanted to “party” at 4:30am, and by “party,” I mean, "did not want to go back to sleep after a feeding."  During the day, I don’t expect that this little newborn will go back to sleep after every feeding, which he often does, but early in the morning, I’m determined to get this boy back down, for my sanity, and the sanity of everyone else in the house.

So I worked with him and finally got him to sleep around 5:20am. By then, it was too late for me to get any more sleep, seeing how Ollie, my 4 year old who is an early riser would probably be up around 6:20am. I did enjoy some moment in bed feeling my wife next to me and knowing that all of my kids, Ollie, Ethan, and Buffy (the dog), were sleeping soundly under the same roof.

My focus for the past week has been keeping the house running smoothly, and taking care of my family. The basics: laundry, food, cleaning, and trash has been cycling through my head the entire day. Being supportive of my wife’s needs is being proactive with this stuff, not waiting to be asked to do these things but rather getting them done before they become an issue.

This is challenging to balance out with what I’m trying to do for Ollie. My main goal is not for him to bond strongly with Ethan. I’m simply doing all I can to make sure that Ollie doesn’t see Ethan as having a negative effect on his life. In time the positive will come out, but it won’t if their relationship is built up on a feeling of resentment.

Since Ollie is four years old, Ethan doesn’t really effect most of what Ollie expects and wants. Ethan doesn’t mess up Ollie’s school schedule, he’s not into Ollie’s toys, and Ollie still gets to watch what he wants to watch on TV. I do feel bad at times that Ollie has to wait for me to finish a choir to play with him. For example, Ollie wanted to play hide and seek with me, but I was in the middle of doing the dishes, so I asked him to wait for me to be done. While I wish I could immediately give Ollie my attention, I do like the fact that Ollie is seeing me, as his man, being proactive about running the household. Ollie is picking up on this and joyfully helps me with things like laundry,

Buffy’s patience with her walks being delayed or forgotten has been great. However, even she has her limits. Ethan’s crib is currently in our bedroom, right next to Buffy’s bed. The other night, after he was being especially loud, Diana looked over and saw Buffy with her front paws up on the bed, whining as Ethan cried. We’ve left the door open, and told Buffy she can go downstairs and sleep on the couch, but she has stayed with us every night. If I was her, I’d leave, but she’s probably feeling like I do. Even though there is another room I could go to when Ethan cries in the middle of the night, I’d rather be there with him and Diana, and show support and help. That’s what it means to be a family.

Taking care of Ethan is a joy. The techniques of diaper changing, the process of getting him to sleep, which I learned from my mom, and different ways of holding him and calming him, all feel like second nature. I remember with Ollie, thinking about how to hold him as a newborn, and with Ethan, it’s all instinct. It feels great to use these skills again.

Diana and I have been watching the second season of Stranger Things. After all the kids are asleep and we get the house in order, often we barely have time to get through one episode, which is tough because we are both really enjoying this show.

A couple nights ago, even though we both wanted to watch this show, we ended up sitting at the kitchen table talking for an hour. We shared our feelings about Ethan, how we were enjoying this experience, and thoughts about the future. It was really wonderful. As tired as I am (oh man, was I tired today), I know that I have an amazing partner in Diana, who is on this journey with me. Yes, the squishy cute-ness of Ethan helps, Ollie’s wonderful giggles makes a difference, and Buffy’s quiet watchfulness is reassuring, but it’s Diana as my partner, that motivates me to be a better man, and brings meaning to this experience, as she does with every part of my life.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Frat Boy: The Museum - Part 2

I don’t remember all of the art that we saw that afternoon. I remember experiencing Monet’s “Water Lilies,” Zurbarna’s “The Crucifixion,” and Rothko’s beautiful untitled blocks of color, but that’s about it.

What I do remember more than the art was watching Debbie experiencing the art. Debbie danced with the works. She would move around the work, tracing the colors and shapes in the air with her hands. I could feel her mind and body settle when a painting pulled her in. Then she would refocus and quickly lead me into the next room, talking quickly in an attempt to capture what was incredible about what she had just experienced. While keeping up with Debbie was exhausting, I never got tired of watching her dance.

Even though Debbie talked a lot, she listened to everything I said with care and attention. She offered me space in the conversation. If I took it, she would listen, but if I didn’t, Debbie was happy to take that space and share her fascinating thoughts and perspectives.

When we got to campus, we walked over to Debbie’s room, and she asked casually, “Do you want to come up to my room?”

“What?” I replied in surprise.

“My room, c’mon, I’ll show you my drum.”

Before I could process what was going on, Debbie had opened the door and led me in her dorms lobby. I stood in her doorway awkwardly when she opened her dorm room's door. This was the first time I had ever seen the inside of a girl’s room. (And no, I had never been in a girl’s room either).

Debbie sitting in a chair looked up at me and coaxed me in like I was a puppy scared to come hither. I sat down on another chair and then Debbie did exactly what she said she was going to do. She pulled a conga drum out of the corner of the room and started playing it.

We talked for a bit, shared a pop tart, and then said goodnight. She gave me playful punch on the shoulder as she said goodbye. I thanked her for a great afternoon and before I left the room, Debbie leaned in and we shared a quick, but very cute hug.

I didn't follow up the museum trip by asking her out. I don't know if Debbie interpreted this as the fade away or was hurt that I didn't reciprocate. I didn't have the maturity to talk to her about our experience openly and I didn't have the confidence to put myself out there.

I don't know what she thought of that outing. Was it a date thing or a friend thing? I may have messed this up, and I hope that I didn’t hurt her feelings, because, I have always been grateful for her kindness and for reaching out to me.  In no time, we fast became friends. We regularly saw each other in marching band practice and during meal times. As the years past, we continued to share good times.

Debbie was always the life of party, first to dance and never one to let me stand against the wall. She was never afraid to tell me I was being an idiot, and she always did this with a smile confirming that all her words were an expression of care.

Debbie still loves to dance. She works as a choreographer, fitness instructor, personal trainer, and a dance instructor in the Philadelphia area. She’s spreads her love for dance, and her amazing spirit to others.

When I’m throwing myself into a dance with my 5th graders and coaxing them to get into it, I’m channeling my best Debbie smile. When I see a “wall-flower” sitting alone during lunch or awkwardly standing by themselves before a faculty meeting, I push myself to go out of my comfort zone, draw on the kindness that Debbie shared with me and reach out to them. And when I’m feeling unsure, and not sure where to go or how to be, I feel the sense of adventure that Debbie sparked inside of me so many years ago, and I face this uncertainty with optimism.