Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Monday, April 16, 2018

Parenthood: Week 263 - Horns At the Wall

I had given Ollie fair warning.

He knew that his nighttime routine was beginning soon. Ollie had already started cleaning up his toys, but was stalling as he fiddled with some of his Transformers.

“Ollie, I’m going to count to ten, you need to clean up, or you are not going to watch your tooth-brushing video.”

As part of this nighttime routine, after brushing teeth, I regularly show I’m a short video. This highlight was a way I could often get him moving through his nighttime routine. As I started starting counting, instead of cleaning up, Ollie focused on not wanting to stop playing, and the idea of losing his video time. He expressed this by screaming, louder and louder as I calmly got to 10.

Screaming and sobbing, Ollie resisted going up the stairs, so I picked him up as he went “boneless,” and carried him if the stairs. I sat him down on the floor, and sat across from him and watched him scream.

I studied Ollie’s face and the tone of his screams. As he continued, I started noticing that he would wind down, take a breath and start up again with earnest. The rising and falling of the dynamics and energy in his screams made it clear to me that this was no longer an impulsive response, but rather a concerted effort. Like the horns blaring at the walls of Jericho, Ollie was trying to break down the wall that was keeping him from his video, which he created himself.

As Ollie ran out of steam, I asked Ollie if he wanted to skip his bath, which he sometimes sees as a bonus, and he said yes. He got changed into his pajamas, as got his teeth brushed, and washed his face. During this process, he was clearly sad, and managed to keep it together. Then when we finished brushing his teeth, which is usually followed by the video, he started crying again.

I quietly explained to him that I would be happy to read him his bedtime stories, however, I was not going to unless he took some deep breaths and calmed down. I told that I would be in the other room and he could come get me when he was ready.

Ollie squeezed his eyes closed, concentrating, and started taking deep breaths. Then he walked over to me, and told me that he was ready for his story. I asked him to pick out two books (we usually do one), and he picked out Mr. Grumpy, and Pokey Little Puppy.

I laid down in bed with, and he cuddled close to me and I read. I was surprised how this little one, who had been so angry only a couple minutes ago was now laughing at the funny voices I was making as I read the books to him.

After we were done with the two books, I asked Ollie how he felt about not being able to watch his video. He said that he was sad. I told him that it was okay to be sad and that he could be happy about the being the possibility of watching a video tomorrow. He smiled at the thought. I told him that he needed to listen to me and that I’m trying to help him. I don’t think he fully understood this, but he listened. I held him close and told him that I loved him, and he softy responded, “I love you, too daddy.”

We cuddled for another minute, and said goodnight.

Friday, April 13, 2018


I’m sitting here on a Friday night, the last night of my spring break with my youngest son Ethan asleep in my lap. He is transitioning into needing a more structured sleep schedule and going through a sleep process. In retrospect, I should have put him in his crib while he was on the way to sleep, so he can practice falling asleep in his crib. Instead, I let him fall asleep in my arms and, gently let him settle in my lap. A missed opportunity? Yes. Am I going to sweat it right now? No. I’m simply going to enjoy his warmth in his lap, and the almost impossible to detect, but truly incredible feeling of his heart beat as his chest pushes up against my abdomen.

I hear the dishwasher going through its wash cycle, a reminder that chores are done enough for the night. I look over as a basket full of clean clothing feeling satisfied that this afternoon while I watched both of my boys…somehow.

As I look over toward the living room through the legs of the dining room table and chairs, I can see Buffy’s shape in the darkness. Even though I am too far away to hear her breath, I can feel her presence.

I see her little snout covered in dirt and can hear myself chastising her for trying to roll her newly groomed body into patch of dirt. She always leads with her nose and then flops her back onto the ground and joyously kicks her legs out as she rolls. Sometimes she does this when she smells something wonderful in her mind. Other times it’s a sign that she is shedding. I’m not sure what it was today but as her nose dipped into the dirt, and her body began to roll, I yelled at her, and she abruptly stopped. The with royal dignity and grace she trotted over me as if she had done nothing wrong, with dark earth hanging off of her whiskers.

My annoyance with my puppy has long sense passed. Freshly groomed dog means extra cuddles, which means tonight I will cuddle with her as I fall asleep in bed tonight. She will sit near me when I bring her up to the bed. As I get her positioned underneath my arm she will cooperate at first, however once she is settled she will stay there, and relax in my arms. Buffy will only leave later when Diana picks her up and then puts her in her bed in Ethan’s room.

Ethan’s arm just flopped off of his chest and now is hanging off of my lap. I see his fingers, delicate and soft. The skin is perfect and little fingernails seem almost impossibly small. It’s these hands, these wonderful fingers which are the biggest different I’ve noticed between Ethan and Ollie today.

What I brought my face close to Ethan’s face earlier today, he reached out to grab something. I’m not sure if he was going for my lips or my nose. I felt his cold and wet fingers, having just come out of his own mouth, and his little finger nails. He giggled and smiled as he gazed up at me.

Then there’s Ollie’s hands moving carefully with increasing accuracy as I taught him how to play paddy cake. At times, his hands were relaxed and at other times they were tense as they flowed through the pattern. I could see Ollie concentrate on my hands and what was once flailing became a steady pattern.

Diana came downstairs a little while ago, to chat before working out. She touched my hand gently, and told me that she was glad that she married me. Holding Diana’s hand has always been special. I wouldn’t describe holding her hand as electricity, but rather touching something that has inner warmth. Her hands feel like the way that your arms need to be when you hold a baby, strong but gentle, caring and loving.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Monday, April 9, 2018

Parenthood: Week 262 - Vichyssoise

There’s always stuff to do around the house. The end of chores isn’t really a point when everything is done, it’s a point, when things are good enough. It’s a point when food is put away, dirty things are cleaned, and most things are put in their place. It takes a lot of teamwork between me and my wife to keep the house together.

When I’m home, I want to spend time with my boys, but there’s always things to do. Yes, I want to play with Ollie when I get home from work, but sometimes it’s my responsibility to cook dinner, so I have to tell him to wait before I can give him my attention. Sometimes instead of helping him build something, I’m sitting next to him folding the laundry. While it is important to have time when I’m 100% focused on Ollie and Ethan, there are times that this doesn’t happen. This is modern life with two kids. This is my life.

Ollie is at the age that he can help out with things. He’s a fan of doing the laundry, putting clothes in, transferring them to the dryer, and his favorite: turning on the machines. He’s okay at folding hand towels and kitchen towels, and enjoys sorting socks, but he often loses interest before the load is done. He’s getting better with cleaning up his own toys, and bringing his plate into the kitchen after he’s done eating. While part of me wishes we lived in a reality where taking care of chores wasn’t interwoven into daily life, I think the work provides meaning. When you work on something, like a house, you care more about it, and it means more to you.

Sometime I put things off in the evening like doing dishes so Ollie can get my undivided attention in the evening, and we can share the limited waking hours we have together. Often this is my instinct, but I’ve realized that when I do stuff around the house when Ollie is awake, even if he’s not helping, it benefits him (I’m talking about a benefit beyond having a clean house).

Ollie lives in a house where he sees both parents take care of the house. He sees a dad come back home from work, spend two minutes getting settled and get started on dinners. Ollie knows his mom cooks as well and share in the duties. There’s no one parent who is solely in charge of anything. While I currently take the lead with helping him with his bath, it hasn’t always been this way and Diana is just as comfortable doing bath time as I am.

Are the chores around the house split evenly between me and Diana? No, but we try, and there’s nothing that one of us never does, or doesn’t know how to do.

I’m proud of the fact that Ollie and Ethan live in a house where the “second shift” of housework, isn’t placed solely on the women because her work taking care of the kids or working from home (as Diana currently does) is not as valued as the husband’s job.  I’m proud of the fact that my boys will know a home where both parents understand how the house runs and that gender roles don’t determine the work that we do. And I’m proud of the fact that my boys see us work as a team, more focused on getting stuff done than on who’s job it is to do the work.

One of my goals as a parent is to raise my boys to be feminists. This motivates me to push myself to get off my butt and do stuff around the house. Yes, I like having a house that’s put together, I enjoy supporting my wife, and some things like cooking I genuinely enjoy. However, it’s all for naught if my boys don’t grow to understand through our example how partners can and should share a life together the responsibilities of sharing a home.

This is about more than housework.  This is about how my boys will work with girls in grade school. This is about how my boys develop and nurture friendships with girls. This is about my boys navigate workplace politics, and this is about how they honor, understand and appreciate themselves and their life partners.

This is about changing the world in one small way by taking out the trash without being asked to, folding socks, and cooking vichyssoise.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Year 8: Week 31 – Any Dream Will Do

On Monday, my 3rd graders performed selections from Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with one of our high school choirs. It was a lot of kids one stage, almost one hundred total, and the coordination was tricky, but it worked.

I did this a couple years ago with my 3rd graders and a middle school choir. I did tell the story to the kids, and when students who knew it from Hebrew school mentioned that they knew it in that context, I acknowledge this, but I didn’t explore the religious context of this music.

That was almost four years ago, and I’ve changed, the world has changed. The illusions that once existed of accepting plurality in American culture have been demolished and the I feel an impetus to do teaching and learning that addresses the conflicts in our society. Steering away from issues that are important, but are hard to talk about is no longer an option.

To introduce our performance, I organized three faculty members their experiences with the story of Joseph/Yusef, from their own personal experiences and religions backgrounds. We started with a teacher who identified as Jewish followed by a Christian teacher and then a Spanish teacher who is Muslim. Then I talked about my perspective learning about this story from a secular musical theater experience.

I knew that bringing forth the idea that this story was shared by these three major faith traditions and that is lived in the secular world was an important connection. I didn’t realize until college that Islam shared so many stories in the Jude-Christian tradition. However, framing this presentation took a lot of time and thought. Here’s the thing, I don’t belong to any of major American faith traditions. I don’t fully understand the religiosity of American culture and why there is so much conflict around religion in our society. I was really afraid that somehow I would offend someone.

I wrote a couple drafts of an intro, sent it to our principals and other teachers for ideas, and here’s what I ended up using:
Good morning. The Special Chorus, the 3rd grade, and some special guests are excited to present to you selections from the musical Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

The story this musical is based on the ancient story of Joseph.  Joseph overcomes the cruelty of his brothers and rises to a position of power, because of his ability to tell the future by interpreting his own dreams, and other people’s dreams.  Initially, Joseph tests his brothers, and he forgives his brothers after he sees that they have changed.

The story of Joseph is a unique story because it is included in the religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The musical presents this story in a secular, non-religious setting.  When we explore this story from different perspectives, we may see ourselves in these faith traditions. As we learn more, we begin to better understand other religious traditions around the world.

We include the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as an act of inclusion, to bring together voices of different faiths through a shared story.  It’s important to acknowledge that the themes in this story resonate with religious traditions, and philosophies around the world that are not represented here.     
Three of our teachers are going to share how they have experienced this story in their own religious traditions in chronological order.  Their sharing is representative of their own personal experiences and beliefs, and these experiences are not meant to be generalized across the great diversity within each of their religions.  After they speak, I will share a secular, non-religious viewpoint on this story.
What the teachers shared was thoughtful, personal and powerful. The Jewish teacher provided insights into details of the story and talked about learning from your mistakes. She also touched upon the idea of you can change, and that you can always become a better person. The second teachers talked about teaching this story in Sunday school and how the themes of suffering and forgiveness. The third teacher gave some insights into how the idea of patience can be learned from this story and how it ties into Ramadan.

I've been working on this music for the past month, and after hearing these introductions the music sounded different.  There was a new energy knowing that this music was connected to other religions, and other cultures.  The music felt more inclusive, more immediate and more powerful.

How we think about music is as important as the music itself.  If we think about music in the context of diversity, and inclusion, maybe it can change more than how we think about music.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018