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