Monday, March 19, 2018

Parenthood: 259 – Real Love

I never bothered trying to make sure that Ethan and Ollie had equal experiences with me as a parent. I knew that it was impossible, and I figured the sooner I let go of this idea, the less guilty I would feel. It’s not that I’m ok with Ethan having less than Ollie, or feeling less loved, I just know that making sure they have the same things from me as a parent really isn’t something that can be done, and even if it could, is probably not the best thing for both of my boys.

I can’t be the same dad I was for Ethan as I was for Ollie when he was a baby, because I’m not the same man I was four years ago. While I lack the level of awe at every little thing a baby does that I used to have, I’m a lot more calm, and I’m taking the time to enjoy the moments in a way that I didn’t for Ollie. For example, every single night when I kiss Ethan good night, I spend a couple second smelling the wonderfulness that is baby smell. I noticed this with Ollie but I didn’t understand how special it was until that stage passed.

Ollie’s birth was quickly followed by summer break, which meant that I spent more time with him in the first months of his life then I have with Ethan. Also, the fact that there was no other kid around with Ollie also meant I was able to direct more attention to Ollie. When I think about it this way, I do feel bad that I haven’t been there for Ethan as much as I was for Ollie, but it’s the situation that we are in, and I’m doing the best that I can. I tell myself that it’s about quality of time, and not quantity of time. I hope it is. Right now, I don’t feel too guilty about this disparity, maybe it’s just because I don’t have the time or the energy to be guilty.

What Ethan lacks from me in time, he’s making up in other ways. I am beyond a different dad than I was four years ago, I’m a better dad. I’m calmer, and for the most part I know how to handle almost everything Ethan throws at me and up on me (though it’s mostly Diana that Ethan spits up on).

The most amazing thing that Ethan has in his life that Ollie didn’t, was a wonderful big brother. There are times when Ethan just watches Ollie play. He’s fascinated by Ollie.  I witness these wonderful moments when Ollie is talking to Ethan about his toys, or something else (I can’t always understand what Ollie is saying), and Ethan intently listens. Because of Ollie’s activities, Ethan goes on adventures that we didn’t take Ollie on when he was a baby.

Things will get more complicated with the boys as they get older, and develop a sense of what is “fair.” Right now, it’s not too bad since they are in such different developmental stages. Also, I think that Diana’s perspective as the oldest child, and mine as the youngest will help us be aware of issues related birth order.

Ethan and Ollie are different people, and they need different things from me as a dad. Love isn’t about treating people the same, it’s about being there and giving people what they need to feel love. Knowing how to show love is one of the most difficult and important things to learn how to do in life. I still got a lot of work to do, but what I do know is that love doesn’t need to look the same, or occupy the same amount of time to be real love.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Year 8 - Week 28: A Tipping Point

I’m used to people having an opinion about my profession. Now, I’ve never taken on a different professional identity other than a teacher, but it really seems that everyone has an opinion about teachers and education, in a different way than other professions. It makes sense, since everyone has vivid memories of teachers from their childhood, and parents put an incredible amount of trust in educators. People should have opinions about educators, but it would be nice if the conversation started with teachers' perspectives.

In a week when students walked out in protest, and the national conversation around schools safety continued, teachers kept at it, and engaged in the work, like we do every day, no matter what happens in our country.

In the same way that a group of men discussing issues related to women’s reproductive health is preposterous, not actively involving teachers in conversations related to education is absurd.

Are we at a tipping point in the way that we look at schools, students and teachers? We will not know until years from now but I can’t help but be hopeful. As young people find voice and validation around issues related to school safety, their power can extent to other issues related education. Teachers are not giving up fighting as unions for their own professional respect, but also what is best for our children. And an incompetent Secretary of Education, is inadvertently revealing the flaws in a system that is being damaged by profit-motivated choices that fail to help our children.

Teachers are a different breed motivated in a way that seems un-American by some, less by money but more by hope, the hope that we can make a positive difference in our students’ lives. Teachers' commonly spend our own personal money on our students, not because we have get some kind of massive tax break, but because we see a need, that simply is not being met in other ways. There’s no way to measure the most important things we teach, and believe it or not, mo  st teachers still do great innovative work without the motivation of monetary bonuses. Instead, many find comfort, including myself, in an union agreement that ensures that the money we make is agreed upon as a community of educators, and more often than not, does not come to mind.

As we continue to do our work, it must be acknowledged that teachers in America have experience a unique trauma. It comes from being talked about and talked to by those who have no idea what our jobs are actually like. It comes from messages of support and thanks that fail to be expressed in allocation of resources. It it is felt when teachers have to argue for the basic needs for students from administrators and city officials, which too often results in the indignity of teachers needing to dig through second hand materials or try to raise money like a charity.

And it’s felt sitting in a darkened classroom full of students, during a lock-down drill, hearing the door knob rattle, and trying to not imagine, the incomprehensible.

It makes me sad that as a community of teachers we failed to bring the changes that our students are demanding this week.  Sometimes I wish that my son didn’t have to struggle, but sometimes that is the best way for him to learn. So maybe in our failure, we’ve created a space for real leadership, real change to happen. Could this the greatest lesson that this next generation will learn?

Some things will never change. People will keep talking to me about my job, and teachers will continue to fight for our students like few others in society. What is changing, what is different is that now I don’t need to be alone in advocating for my students. The most important lesson I’ve learned this week is that we can should direct people to our students, and let them speak for educators in America and for themselves.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Monday, March 12, 2018

Parenthood: 258 - The Ethan Journal: 12/16/17

When Ethan was born, I noticed quickly the skin tags on his right cheek.  At the time they were only a minor concern, but as we found out, they were a sign of his hearing loss. Ethan's ear microtia is noticeable however it’s these skin tag, hanging off of his right cheek that are more noticeable.

The ear develops close the mouth in utero and develops traveling back across the head. In Ethan’s case, the ear left piece of cartilage behind during this process leaving behind these skin tags on Ethan’s cheek.

This week the skin tags were removed by a plastic surgeon. The skin tags are harmless and mostly a cosmetic issue. We were concerned that the more mobile he would get, that he would accidentally tug at them or have them come off in a more painful circumstance. So we opted to get them surgically removed.

It wasn’t a major procedure, it took less than twenty minutes. Some local anethetic was injected, a snip with surgical scissors got them off and two stitches were quickly done.  After two days, there’s barely a mark. That’s one of the wonders of babies, their skin often heals at amazing speeds.

The first sign, the first hint of Ethan’s condition is now gone. He will not remember having these skin tags, or having them removed. There’s a possibility that he may remember very little of his own struggles and ours.

At sixth months old, Ethan is going to be fitted with a bone conduction hearing aid. The best case scenario is that at age five after getting an MRI, he is determined to be a good candidate for a ear canal drilling, which would potentially correct his hearing loss, so that he would have “normal” hearing. The MRI could find that this procedure would not work for Ethan.  Also the surgery ear canal drilling (I know, it’s like the worst name possible for a surgery on a little kid) has its risks. So right now nothing is guaranteed.

Let’s say we have the best of all situations. This means that Ethan will have some memory of wearing a hearing aid, and maybe the procedure, but his new normal will be a life when he isn’t actively reminded that he had hearing loss.  But I’m never going to forget this about Ethan. We’ve had our challenges with understanding and working through this disability, and it’s only going to get worse. While hearing aids continue to advancing at an amazing pace, trying to keep a hearing aid on a baby, who will become a toddler, and then a pre-school age child is not going to be a piece of cake.

Ahead of us is issues with batteries to deal with, malfunctioning technology, battles with insurance, educating family, friends and schools about Ethan’s needs, and most of all helping Ethan understand that his condition is not a hindrance on his journey to get where he wants to go in life, it’s simply a detour.

Diana and I have both joined a Facebook support group of parents whose children have unilateral hearing loss like Ethan. It’s filled with wonderful pictures and hopeful stories. The challenges of insurance, the devices, and other people, I know I can handle, but it’s the part of helping Ethan grow to understand, accept and love this part of himself that I feel is most important and will the be most challenging. Getting an insurance company on board doesn’t take subtlety, it takes persistence. Helping Ethan get “it” about himself will take, heart, love, and support.

Diana and I are looking into being part of social gatherings of families with children like Ethan so we can get some support, and Ethan can be around kids who he can see have hearing aids just like he will. I’ve already picked out some headbands so that Ethan will not feel like he’s the only one in the family who wears one. Maybe, just maybe, he will be more excited to where his hearing aid (which will be supported by a head band), if he can be just like daddy. Oh, and we’ve already ordered him a wonderful Christmas present. It’s a little crocheted stuffed rabbit. The rabbit’s right ear is a little smaller just like Ethan’s and it has sewn in a little headband and hearing aid.

I’m still not sure how talking about his condition will come out. I’ve considered telling more people close to me to practice, and work through this, but right now, part of me still doesn’t feel ready. Family holiday gatherings will bring this challenge to the fore. At least I know that with many of these people, it won’t matter if I cry. Each time I talk about it, it will get easier to discuss. It’s worth leaning into this challenge, because it will help me work through it and process this for Ethan.  I know that everyone who has Ethan in their lives will be more better and more empathetic people through understanding, and learning about Ethan’s hearing loss.

In this way, Ethan right now, can change the lives of people that he touches. His family and our friends will listen a little bit more carefully when they hear stories about hearing loss, the will stop to read articles about the deaf community they would have previously passed over, they will slow down a little bit more when they see a road sign warning that there is a deaf child in a neighborhood, and they will pay a little bit more attention when they someone is using sing language. In this way, Ethan will help strengthen their muscle of empathy and compassion, and bring the hearing loss community into their own.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Year 8 – Week 27: She Persisted

Sunday night, like I do every night, I checked in on Ollie before I went to bed. He had gone to sleep a couple hours earlier and was laying there peacefully. I leaned in to complete the nightly ritual of telling him that I loved him, that I’m proud of him, and that he is my special little guy. After kissing him on the forehead, I added, “I’m going to make you proud of me tomorrow.”

The next day, Monday morning, my presentation of Chelsea Clinton’s book, She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World was presented to my school’s community during an assembly. This presentation was in recognition of International Women’s Day. I started thinking of this presentation last year after presenting President Obama’s book, Of Thee I Sing as an inter- disciplinary presentation.  I knew I wanted to do a similar project again. I was considering doing Obama’s book again but with different students and songs. However, I had the feeling that it needed to be different next year.

Then something happened on 2/7/17. Senator Elizabeth Warren refused to stop speaking against Senator Sessions nomination by the 45th to be District Attorney. Senator McConnell in response, while describing Senator Warren’s actions, uttered this important phrase, “nevertheless, she persisted.”

This phrase became rallying cry that immediately filled me with pride and respect for Senator Warren. Chelsea Clinton also heard these words and was inspired to write her children’s book, She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. As soon as I heard of this book, I knew this was going to be my follow up to Of Thee I Sing.

I followed the same format as the Of Thee I Sing presentation. I was going to have eight speakers representing different parts of the school, reflecting the diversity in our school. I felt it was important that our students see men and women of different races and disciplines celebrate women. This allows our kids to understand that men celebrate women and that math teachers value literature and reading too. I tied in different disciplines from around the school to bring this presentation to life.

The presentation was bookending by four senior girl singing “She Persisted” by Drew Fornarola.

Our 3rd-5th grade extracurricular choir honored Claudette Colvin with a rendition of “If You Miss Me From the back of the Bus” popularized by Pete Seeger.

The upper school Advanced Wind Ensemble performed “Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30,” a tone poem by Richard Strauss to reflect on Sally Ride’s space exploration. A group of 7th grade students created a video talking about the life and work of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Our JK students were featured in a wonderful video describing how they would show support and stand with Ruby Bridges as she integrated her school, William Frantz Elementary School. In reflecting on Helen Keller’s accomplishment, one of the high school choirs performance of “Through the Dark” by Andrea Ramsey, which sets Helen Keller’s writings to music. Also, I featured a video of one of Florence Griffith Joyner's record breaking sprints. We were fortunate to feature Elise Paschen, who is an alumni and parent of our school to speak about her mother Maria Tallchief.

In the weeks leading up to the presentation, I wrote out the script and created a powerpoint presentation for the assembly and got all of the projects organized. I got together a fantastic group of adults in our community to speak, and found others who were willing to help run the presentation. There was a rush of work and emails last week to put together this presentation and them last Saturday night, I was done. There was nothing else for me to do.

For the presentation itself, I was an audience member, sometimes cueing speakers but mostly sitting back and watching what I had put together. There were times that I smiled, cried tears of inspiration and felt great joy looking back at the audience full of students and my colleagues’ coming together to celebrate these amazing women.

It’s hard being away from my kids, and I’ve tried to explain to Ollie what I do when I’m not with him.  Being able to do this kind of work makes it easier, because it means that I can tell him honestly, that I'm making the world a better place in a small but meaningful way for him and his brother. 

This project was extra.  No one asked me to do it, nobody expected me to put in the time, but I see the world.  I see the struggles of women in my life, in the world and I see men who don't get "it," and continue to support the sexist status quo.  I can't sit back and do nothing.  That's not an option.  There's too much at stake.  There were times late at night, trying to pull all of this together, when I though about how much easier to just cancel the presentation.  But word I typed, every email I wrote, I felt the spirit of these women, and I persisted.

I'm not sure what is the project for next year, but it will happen, it will celebrate diversity in our world, and it will inspire myself and my community, and make my son proud of me. 



Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Monday, March 5, 2018

Parenthood: Week 257 – A Change In The Routine

The usual routine works pretty well. I go upstairs with Ollie and do his bedtime routine with him while Diana takes care of Ethan. Ollie and I wrestle a little bit, I help him with his bath, and brushing his teeth. Then we snuggle up in bed and read a book. When we are done reading together, Ollie goes downstairs to get Diana, while I hide underneath his covers. Diana and Ollie come upstairs with Ethan. Ollie jumps on the be and makes a joke about how lumpy the bed is, then I make the bed come alive, and wrap him up in covers.  Eventually Ollie extricates himself out of the covers. Ollie hugs me goodnight, gives Ethan a kiss goodnight and then I go downstairs with Ethan.

Diana and Ollie have some time together. They read together and often carry out of their wonderful bedtime traditions. Since Ollie was a baby, Diana would tell Ollie what he did today. Now that he is older he participates in this reflection. It’s like a verbal journal, that helps Ollie understand his world, and his life.

It’s a good routine. Ollie ends his day with giggles, hugs, smiles, and Ethan gets the attention he needs.

Now trying to do this routine when one of us is away is a challenge, which I experienced for the first time a couple days ago. Because of concerts and evening events, Diana has had a number of nights when she has had both boys all to herself, and I have had time when I’ve had both boys to myself, but not in evenings. Taking care of the boys during the evenings is trickier than taking care of them in the morning or the afternoon. Ethan is general is most fussy at night and during the day, I don’t feel as much pressure as I do during the evening to work through routines.

As expected, Ethan was fussy. Sometimes he would cry loudly and other times he would whimper softly in discontentment. It was getting late, so I we skipped Ollie’s bath and managed to get his teeth brushed while Ethan cried in the other room. Holding Ethan in my arms and trying to console him, I read Ollie a book. Ollie helped by holding the book open for me while rocked his brother. As I was reading, Ollie would cover his ears when Ethan got louder, but he tried to make it work.

After we finished the book, I said goodnight to Ollie. He leaned over and gave Ethan a kiss on his forehead, and said goodnight to his brother. I walked out as Ethan starting crying louder in my arms. Then I heard Ollie behind me asking softly, “can we talk about what I started today?” I answered over Ethan’s cries, “I’m really sorry honey, but Ethan is upset, and I need to calm him down, so I’m going to take him downstairs and we can talk tomorrow.” “It’s okay daddy, I understand,” Ollie replied as he lay himself down and pulled up his covers. 

After eventually getting Ethan to sleep, I went up and checked on Ollie and say him peacefully sleeping.

Ollie reminded me that night how wonderful he is, but part of me wished I didn’t have to put him in that position.  Ollie doesn't ask for a lot, and when he asks for something as simple as my time, and I can't give it to him, it makes my heart ache.  Yes, I know that Ollie has to learn how to share me with Ethan, but that doesn't mean that this learning process isn't difficult.

The next morning before Ethan got up, Ollie and made waffles together and spent some time in the morning playing Transformers together.  Did it make up for the night before?  I don't know, but we had some good times. 

That's something.