Monday, August 21, 2017

Parenthood: Week 218 – Hugs

“Hug your children.”
 - Dr. Spock

Sitting in the parked car, I heard Ollie whimper. I looked back and him and he looked tired, sad and distant. I had just driven him from one activity to another. Ollie had been doing a great job this whole summer managing different camps and activities, but that afternoon it seemed like it too much for him.

I wasn’t sure what to say to him, so I asked him “Do you need a hug?” He nodded silently in reply with sad eyes and a tense lower lip.

I leaned the drive seat back as far as it would go so I could reach back and unbuckle his car seat. He crawled out of his seat, and positioned himself on top of me. I felt his arms reach under mine as I gently hugged him.

After a couple minutes, Ollie pushed himself off my chest. With a energetic smile, exclaimed, “let’s go!” And he headed for the car door.

Ollie is four.  He’s no longer an infant, he’s no longer a baby, and he’s no longer a toddler. While mentally I still sometimes think of him as a toddler, I’m proud of how he has grown into a preschool-age child.

We are working with him on the same things we did when he was a baby: being independent, learning to understand and embrace the whole spectrum of emotions, being kind and empathetic to others and developing communication skills (e.g. talking, listening, reading).

Recently, we’ve been working on teaching him to clip his own seatbelt in his car seat, making his bed, sounding out short words, applying his number skills to the world around him (e.g. elevator buttons), and greeting people with a gesture of his choice (high five, wave, hug, fist bump, or hand shake) and good eye-contact during these interactions.

Ollie’s getting to old to whine, to pout and be rude, but he’s not getting too old to get a hug when he needs one. I don’t know at what age, cuddling in bed when reading a story, or other types hugs stops being developmentally appropriate, but I don't really care.  I’m not a rush for him to stop him from seeking comfort in my arms, and I don’t know if this will ever be a priority in my life.

When we talk about things that I do that Ollie can’t like drive and drink beverages with caffeine, Ollie thinks of these things happening when he’s twenty-years-old (not sure why). While I think it’s good for Ollie to look forward to these things, I want him to understand that there are great things about his life right now.

So the other day, I explained, “Ollie, when you are 20, you will get to drive and drink stuff with caffeine in it, but you will be too big for daddy to carry you.” Ollie, with a concerned look on his face asked me, “But when I’m 20 will you still be able to give me huggles?”

 “Don’t worry little guy, daddy will always be able to give you hugs.”

Friday, August 18, 2017

Frat Boy: Kerry - Part 2

Kerry was quick to tell me when I was being silly, annoying, or overdramatic. She also never hesitated to tell me when she felt like being by herself, and wanted space from me. While these words stung at times, I grew to appreciate her honestly. As fast as she was to tell me these things, she was even faster when defending me. She always had my back and never hesitated to defend me fiercely to anyone.

Almost every day of the school year, we chatted over instant messenger (online text messaging), and shared meals together. We went to concerts together, went out to eat, and partied together. In the social group that was my family in college, Kerry was one of my closest sisters. She didn’t care about the fact that our relationship was unconventional, a college girl hanging out with a guy who was two years younger, a different major, and a different race. If people ever said anything to her about it, she never let on. I’m grateful to her that she valued our friendship more than social conventions, and the norms that in our society that too often pull people apart.

Kerry started going out with Josh before I met her. I knew who he was through Kerry and because he was in marching band with us. Josh soon became closer to me when we both pledged PMA and became pledge brothers. As this pledge class of about a dozen guys went through the process of becoming full members we all became closer and became to know each other as fraternity brothers. (follow these link for more about the pledge process part 1, part 2).

The pledge process is about understanding the values of the fraternity. Brotherhood was a value that was often discussed and talked about and one saying that got thrown around was “bros before hos.” This was a crude way to express that the bond between brothers was more important than relationships with girls. There was this idea that girlfriends were short-term (which was often true, but not always) and brotherhood was a bond that lasted a lifetime (which was often not true, but sometimes proved to be real).

There was an awkwardness being friends with women who were going out with my fraternity brothers. Many of the girls my frat brothers went out with were good friends of mine.  I heard things about these guys from my female friends, which proved for some awkward encounters. Josh had a sense of this. Whenever, he and Kerry had a fight, I would hear about it from Kerry and Josh knew about this. However, beyond a tacit acknowledgement, we didn’t really talk about his relationship with Kerry . . . until the break-up.

If was different when I saw Josh at the next at a fraternity event. When he saw me, he asked me how Kerry was doing. I responded angrily, “how do you think she is doing?” I chastised him for not having the guts to break up with her in person. This was the start of a series of encounters when I would either ignore him or express anger to him for breaking-up with Kerry.

Just when this feeling was beginning to ebb, I found out the rest of the story.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Monday, August 14, 2017

Parenthood: Week 217 – The Week Away

Dear Ollie,

It’s so great to be back at home with you. Last week, we were apart for almost the whole week and that was hard. You had a great time with mom and had a lot of fun with your friends, but I know that you missed me as I missed you.

You demonstrated that your maturity in the way that you reacted to our discussions about me being away and how well you managed your feelings when I wasn’t there with you. You are an amazing, wonderful little person and it makes me feel proud and brings me comfort in the fact that you can find joy in life without me.

I told you that I was away learning with other teachers about how we can work together as teachers to help people be more kind to each other. That really was what my time away from you was about.

Last week, I traveled to San Mateo, California to attend the Equity and Inclusion Institute at Nueva School. We worked from Monday through Thursday focusing on topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We discussed race, social justice, racial identity development, systems of oppression, healing and self-care, school culture, and other issues. You may not recognize these topics, but we have already begun talking about these topics as you have come to know yourself.

More than anything else, what made the institute meaningful were the other people who attended. There were people who identified in many different ways.  There were people who just like you had parents who identified as being members of two different racial groups. They had their challenges growing up and still do, but they were so happy. These people work hard every day to make the world a better place for everyone but especially people like you. In their eyes, I saw your future and it was beautiful, full of love, optimism, and service.

This experience develops the work I’m doing at my school, and it supports the development of myself as your father. I’m not done with this work. I’m still working on knowing and loving myself. As I develop my skills as a teacher to address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in my classroom and help other teachers do the same, I am becoming a better father for you and your little brother.

Sometimes we have to travel and be away from those we love to do this work, to learn and to grow. That’s hard to understand, but know that I wouldn’t have gone away if I didn’t think that it wouldn’t have made your life and our world a better place.

We were asked to bring something to inspire us and grounds us.  So I brought a picture of you. Your very existence is an amazing example of the love and progress our society has made.  When the morning is dark, your warm hug and bright smile in the morning motivates me to get out of bed and when the world feels hopeless, your spirit gives me the strength to stand up and continue the work.

Love, Dad

Friday, August 11, 2017

Frat Boy: Kerry - Part 1

Click here for link to my other posts about my college fraternity life.  And that time Kerry and I “cooked” thanksgiving dinner: part 1 & part 2.

I wasn’t fully asleep when the phone rang. Even though most people in college went to bed around midnight, it was rare to get a call this late night especially on a weeknight. After the first ring, I didn’t move, but then I panicked.  Maybe it was my mom and that there was some kind of family emergency. After the second ring, I rolled out of bed, stumbled to the phone at my desk. At the other end, it wasn’t my mom.

It was Kerry.

She was angry, sad, confused and in disbelief. Kerry’s boyfriend had just broke-up with her. When you are on the other end of a line when someone is in this moment, part of you is glad from the feeling your friendship affirmed. However, the rest of you, most of you, feels powerless, frustrated at that the fact that while you are there over the phone, you can’t physically be with them in person.

I listened to her, trying to make sense of the situation between her sobs and as soon as the story became clear, I got angry. Her boyfriend Josh told her that he wanted to break up with Kerry because he was into another girl. Josh wasn’t just some other guy he was my fraternity brother. The crude saying “bro’s before ho’s” seemed more hollow than ever.

Kerry was part of our marching band, PMA, and SAI social group. I don’t remember how we first became friends. It may have been through Molly who took me in and took care of me who was one of Kerry’s best friends. Most likely, we were sitting at our social group’s lunch table and I said something sarcastic, Kerry as she often does, probably complemented my comment with a her own layer of wit and flash that smile at me.

Kerry had a beauty that reminded me of Audrey Hepburn, with a gentle curve of her cheekbone and her intelligent eyes. This combined with the directness and the intelligence of Holly Hunter’s character from Broadcast News fascinated me.

 (BTW y’all, people really need to this movie).

Kerry loved being Kerry and she embraced facets of her life that didn’t go along with people’s expectations. She had no shame of her love of the greasiest Philly Cheese steak sandwiches and Bugle corn snacks. Kerry freely mixed expletives in her sharp comebacks and commentaries.

Kerry wasn’t fake. When we were eating lunch and someone said something that was offensive or stupid, while everyone else at the table was processing how to react, I would look over at Kerry and without fail, her face would express annoyance, disbelief, or disgust that would confirm my own feelings and make me laugh. Some people may have seen this as being rude; I saw it as being real.

As Americans we are conditioned to smile no matter how we feel on the inside. I’ve found that the women in my life who defined what it means to be a strong women don’t give out their smiles for free. It’s about not compromising one’s own feelings for the sake of making other people feel comfortable. Kerry didn’t smile all of the time, so when she did smile to me, it was significant.  Her smile was an affirmation of that I meant something to her as she meant something to me.

I remember her smiling when she taught me how to take a shot of alcohol. It was Southern Comfort, straight. Then she handed me my second shot of alcohol, another shot of Southern Comfort. At this point she was laughing uncontrollably as I steadied myself against the wall

I remember her smiling when she came to my room as the beer fairy. A couple days earlier a guy who liked Kerry, who she only liked as a friend, asked her what she was up to the next night. Kerry said, “nothing.” So when he invited her out to a movie, she had no way of rejecting him. While Kerry was direct, she was very kind. So she accepted his invitation.

A couple hours later Kerry pulled the same line on me. When I told her I wasn’t doing anything that evening, she invited me out to a movie and even though I had no plans, I told her no. I had homework to do and I didn’t feel like going out on a weekend and I wasn’t interested in seeing the movie she suggested. Kerry sighed and explained her situation and pleaded with me that I go out with her and this guy so it wouldn’t be a date. I hesitated, and then she said that I would get a visit from the beer fairy if I agreed to go. So I sat awkwardly between her and this other guy in a half empty theater. I don’t remember what we watched, but I remember it was long. I’m not sure if the beer was worth it.

I remember her smiling through the crowd in that ballroom.  Even though Kerry was away on her internship she decided to fly in and come to her sororities formal.  As Kerry walked into the ballroom disheveled and carrying her luggage, her sorority sisters huddled around her, screaming in delight to see her and giving her hugs.

I stood back from the group, giving her space to have a moment with her sisters. I was about to walk away, and then through a gap in the crowd she caught my eye. She opened up her arms to me, smiled, and we embraced.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Monday, August 7, 2017

Parenthood: Week 216 – Fear Itself

While Ollie’s little body shuttered, he squeeze me around the neck tightly as I held him, I reminded him that the life-size dinosaur animatronic robots were just pretend. He repeated to himself, “this is just pretend” as I carried him through the Jurassic World exhibit at the Field Museum.

Ollie was awestruck by the dinosaurs, but he also expressed a lot of fear. The darkness of the first couple rooms made him come him walk close to me and ask me to hold him. I carried him through the different rooms, through the exhibit and felt him cling to me with each roar and sudden movement of these big mechanical creatures.

Part of me wanted to get him out of there, and relieve him from feeling of fear, but when I asked him if he wanted to leave, he shook his head no. Ollie chose to be brave, so I let him lean into the fear and hang on to me for comfort.

My wife, Diana assured me afterwards that this exhibit wasn’t too scary for Ollie, but I was still worried that we had pushed him too far. I was reassured of this fact when the next day, Ollie asked to go back to the exhibit. I asked him about being scared, and he said that while he was scared it was okay, because it was pretend and he had fun.

We have been very conscious and deliberate about helping Ollie embrace all of his emotions. The lesson from Inside Out, that emotions like fear ad sadness, often avoided and considered “bad” emotions are just as important as joy. However this is a lesson that me as an adult have yet to fully learn. My instincts when Ollie is sad are just try to make him be happy as soon as possible or when he’s fearful to make this emotion go away. Instead, I force myself to hold back and help him articulate what he feels and experience them as part of his whole wonderful emotional self.

Teaching joy is one of the first things we do as parents from early smiles and giggles. There are parents who literally throw their kids in the deep end to teach them how to overcome fear, but I’m not that kind of parent. All of the times that we have brought fear to Ollie, it’s been inadvertent. Ollie has been scared when watching in movie theaters and in some museum exhibits, but he’s always worked through these moments and reflected that he wanted to have these experiences again.

Helping kids learn about fear is hard, because while you can’t make a kid too happy, you can bring too much fear to a kid. Emotional scars are real and children are far less resilient than pop culture psychology would like us to believe. I’m not sure how best to help him explore fear, I just know that I’d rather be overly careful in exploring this emotion than regretful.

In being afraid, Ollie comes to know that he can find comfort in others, that the way he feels about experiences can change and that as we love him regardless of what he feels, he will learn to love himself.