Monday, June 26, 2017

Parenthood: Week 210 – Thomas The Magic School Bus

Ollie carries it with him around the house and he lovingly cuddles with it when he goes to sleep.  He brings it into the car and we have to convince him not to bring it everywhere. It’s not a blanket or stuffed animal, it’s a Thomas The Train, pullback racer. It’s a plastic version of Thomas The Train, which is bigger than the toy that can fit on the tracks and it has wheels that wind back when you pull him backwards and upon releasing he moves forward.

I picked up this toy on a whim when Ollie was just about a year old and while it’s been around the house he has never shown great interest in this toy.  Something happened a couple weeks ago. I’m not sure what, but every since then, it’s been all about this toy train.

We have a couple theories about what may have led to his love of this toy. I think it may have had to do with his decision to stop sucking his thumb, but Diana’s theory is probably closer to the truth.

The story of how Ollie came to love and snuggle with a Thomas The Train toy after never seeing the television show is revealing about Ollie and our parenting style.

Diana and I were getting pretty tired of Moana. Ollie had been watching this film whenever we gave him his half hour of television time a day and was listening to the soundtrack all of the time. To get him onto something else, Diana watched the Pixar film Up with Ollie. The part of the up that stuck with Ollie the most was not the talking dogs, but the clouds. At a certain point in the film they describe the clouds as being "cumulous nimbus" and this stuck with Ollie.

What followed can only be described as a “study in clouds.” Ollie would sit down and draw clouds, over and over. We were getting backpacks full of pictures of clouds he drew at school. One day, I literally pulled out a dozen sheets of paper on which Ollie had drawn clouds.

To nurture Ollie’s interest in clouds, I showed him every clip I could find that talked about clouds and the different types. Then I remembered a Magic School Bus book that talked about the water cycle that I had when I was a kid. I also remember the television show, which I never watched, but I new existed. Not having the book, and wanting to nurture his interest, I bought the water cycle episode of The Magic School Bus and showed it to him. Ollie loved the episode and when I explained that the show was based on a book series, Ollie got really excited.

The next day I took Ollie to the library and we checked out almost every single Magic School Bus book we could find. For the following week, Ollie was obsessed with the Magic School Bus books and the television show.

At some point, Ollie decided that this Thomas The Train toy was a good substitute for the Magic School Bus, so he stared to carry it around pretending it was the Magic School Bus. This pretending game would sometimes last for a solid ten minutes of Ollie running around the house, holding this toy and pretending that it was the Magic School Bus exploring space or the water cycle.

Now, Ollie carries that Magic School Bus toy around everywhere.  Now you know why.  We could get Ollie an actual school bus toy or explain to him the story of Thomas The Train, but right now he seems content playing with this toy as if it was the Magic School Bus.

It's somewhat baffling, wonderfully charming and awesomely four-year old.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: The Letter

Next school year I am taking on a new role as one of my school's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator Co-Chairs.  The following is a version of the letter of interest I wrote to apply for this position.    

To Whom This May Concern

I am writing this letter to express my interest in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Coordinator Co-Chair position.

We are in a critical moment for our school. Our competition, much of which has lower tuition, or no tuition at all, is getting better. When we consider how we define our school’s place in the educational community, we need to think beyond test scores and technology initiatives. What sets up apart and what will keep us in front of the curve is our mission of creating citizenship through our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

When I first came to this school, the DEI work was an add on for me, like a ornament on the Christmas tree. Over the past seven years, mentoring and professional development opportunities have changed my educational paradigm. DEI work is now the tree — the basis for my curricular, instructional, and assessment choices. I am motivated by my success, my relationships in this community, and the school’s mission to contribute to the growth of other faculty members through the DEI Coordinator Co-Chair position.

My DEI work is found in my classroom, like with the 5th grade unit on the underrepresentation of women in music. It’s in my work as a department chair mentoring a teacher who when first arriving at Parker did not consider the race of the composer in choosing music, and who now actively considers racial representation in his curriculum. And it’s in projects like the Presidents’ Day Morning Ex, based on Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama, which included teachers and students from all of the divisions to celebrate DEI.

I have worked to create meaningful relationships with teachers throughout the school. I have the wonderful opportunity to work with five different grades over three divisions and regularly collaborate on projects with over a dozen teachers.

I have made opportunities out of unanswerable questions and I know how to make an individual’s vision into reality. I am excited to continue to learn about the fears that cause us to hesitate, the optimism that motivates us, and the passion that lies in every teacher at this school to make our school a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community.

I am excited about the opportunity of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator Co-Chair position. It is an opportunity to serve our school that I have examined with careful consideration of my other responsibilities at this school and the important and sensitive nature of DEI work.



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Monday, June 19, 2017

Parenthood: Week 209 - Father’s Day '17

I woke up not to the plastic edge of a Thomas the Tank Engine toy being pressed into the side of my face, or the feeling of a four-year-old pushing me off of my pillow. Instead I woke up to the peaceful sound of Diana breathing next to me. For the past week, Ollie has gotten up early. REALLY early. Now early for us is pre-5 AM. So, it’s not unreasonable for us to want to sleep in until, oh, I don’t know, 6:30!! At least Buffy, our dog isn’t an early risers. . .

I listened carefully for signs of an awake Ollie, but all I heard was the light clacking of Buffy’s nails on the hardwood as she stretched, walked in a small circle, and settled back down in her bed.

Excited at the prospect of beating Ollie up in the morning, I got myself dressed, had a great walk with my puppy and proceeded to go for a nice long run. I hit a personal best on distance (6.2 miles!), and felt pretty good after the workout.

When I woke up Ollie after cooling down it was 7:40.

Not a bad way to start father’s day.

Later in the morning, we met up with my brother, my sister-in-law and his two daughters, one of which I had never met before. We met up to go strawberry picking, which in Ollie’s mind is strawberry eating. We arrived there first and when my brother’s family came, I was overjoyed to say hello to my first niece and excited to meet my second one for the first time.

I remember the moment when I met my first niece. I didn’t really feel like I knew how to hold her. I was nervous but excited. She was simply amazing. I was overwhelmed with joy and pride, proud of my brother and my sister-in-law.

I reached my mom and she carefully handed me this wonderful little one. The feeling of holding such a little baby and how to support her head and the body quickly came back to me after hours of practice when Ollie was a baby. As soon as I got her situated in my arms, she immediately started crying. This didn’t prevent me from crying tears of joy meeting this special one for the very first time. I knew in that moment as a dad what she would mean to my brother and my sister-in-law, and how she would change all of the lives she touched. Fatherhood has made unclehood mean so much more.

In the afternoon, my brother came over with his daughters and Ollie played with the older daughter while we took turns holding the younger one. Ollie fed the baby a bottle a little bit and Buffy got some quality time sniffing the baby and cuddling with the baby.

At one point in the evening my dad took the baby, his new granddaughter to another part of the house. We could hear the baby crying from the other side of the house, but he worked with her and didn’t ask for help. Eventually the baby stopped crying and I walked over and saw him calmly singing to her as she lay sleeping. No one would have faulted him for tagging in my brother or my mom, but my dad kept with her and helped her get relaxed. In that moment I realized where I got my determination as a father. I’m proud of myself for being the kind of man that cares for babies with such patience and love. And I’m proud of my dad for being that kind of man and teaching me to be that kind of dad.

My brother left our house with his daughters and left a bag of stuff for his older daughter behind. He texted to me that he would come by later after the girls had gone to bed to pick it up. I mentioned this to my mom and without hesitation, she told me that she was going to drive over and drop the bag off at their house. She texted my brother and immediately left.

Earlier that day I was talking to my mom about how stressful it was when I would come home from work. There was so much to do to take care of Ollie, the house and Buffy. It seems like a mad rush to get things done, sometimes almost all the way up until Ollie’s bedtime and beyond. However, on these days, I go to bed feeling satisfied and proud that I took care of my family. She agreed that when you push to take care of the people in your life, you find meaning.

My mom quickly figured out that it would be less for her to drive over than for my brother. He had work in the morning, two kids at home and lots to do. So my mom did this thing for my brother reminded me that parenthood doesn’t end when your children reach adulthood. You might think that this thought would seem burdensome and intimidating, but in the context of seeing how my parents care for me and my brother and the love they share with their grandkids, being a parent of an adult sounds like a great chapter in the adventure of fatherhood.

Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 16, 2017

The 1000th Mile

[click here for previous posts on running]

Two 5K’s in two weekends.

One I thought I was doing for myself, and while my time wasn’t bad, it wasn’t a personal best. The second one the next weekend, I did for my aunt-in-law, and during that one I hit the personal best time.

During that 5K, I ran my 1000th mile.

It took 4 years, 9 months, 23 days. to hit this running milestone. In that time, I changed jobs, moved into a house, my son was born. There was one foot injury, ankle issues to work through, three foot doctors, two rounds of physical therapy with great therapists. It’s taken three pairs of shoes, one trusty treadmill, and a trusty iPad (that has thankfully not fallen off the treadmill). While many miles were on that treadmill, hundreds were ran all over Evanston and the campus of Northwestern University, a dozen miles in Bellevue, many more recently in Skokie and five 5K’s in Chicago.

I had an almost four month break from running as I dealt with a long lasting cold that led into pneumonia. After recovering, I looked the 5K’s dates and saw that I had two months. I decided to not sign up and see how training went first. I was happy with how I progressed. This wasn’t the first time I had started running after taking a break. Unlike previous times, I think I set my expectations well and was patient with myself as I got going. The first 5K was the one I had done in years past. It was the Bunny Rock 5K. It’s a nice event because it is family orientated, and pretty chill, but it is a chipped race, so you can get an official time. The second 5K was different.

One of my wife’s paternal aunts had been suffering from brain cancer and recently passed away. To show support for her, one of this aunt’s daughters organized a team to participate in the Chicago BT5K. My two brother-in-laws, who also run (they’ve both done a marathon) and most of her dad’s side of the family came to participate.

The Bunny Rock 5K went ok. The weather was hotter then I had ever raced in, I rushed into the starting area and ended up too far back when the race started. It was a race that didn’t feel great when it happened, and starting in the back of pack and spending so much energy and focus on passing people led to my third best 5K time.

I spent the next week debating what I was going to do at the BT5K race. I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to really race. I didn’t want to go full out and not beat my best time, but I really wanted to hit a personal best. It really felt like a cliché that I was living. Take a chance and go for it, and you could be happy, but you also could fail. While I know I could find meaning in not getting a great time, I had my doubts that I could be satisfied in failure. I felt really bad about not doing great during the Bunny Rock 5K and as much as I change that into a positive in my head, I couldn’t.

I don’t know what made me decide to go for it, but when I got there, and saw all of Diana’s family there and Diana’s wonderful aunt I knew it was the right decision. I got lined up early, started near the front and I went for it. I pushed myself, I attempted to keep up with my brother-in-laws (which I accomplished for about 5 seconds), and I beat my best time by 8 seconds.

When I hit the finish line, my brother-in-laws were there waiting. We decided to walk backwards through the course to find the rest of the family, many of whom were walking the course. What followed was a wonderful hour and talking, catching up and being together as a family. The idea of running a race to raise money for something really didn’t make sense to me before the BT5K. Why not just donate money directly and not spend all the time and energy organizing an event?

What I know now is that when someone you love is dying cancer, there’s very little you can actually do. The feeling of powerlessness is really hard to accept. Yes, you could just write a check, but organizing, racing, walking, doing something that brings people together can help raise funds to cure cancer. More importantly, as you run with people you love, for someone that you love, you feel connected to others.  You are reminded that simply being there for the person that you love is the most powerful thing you can do.

I got more miles in these legs.  I'm working up to a 10K and I am aiming to get my best times in my life in the future.  The more I run, the more I take with me.  What's amazing is that these things aren't weights, but rather they are wings that propel me.  They are miles the I've ran, the pride of my parents and my wife, the hope I have for the future, and now the memory of my Aunt.    

Monday, June 12, 2017

Parenthood: Week 208 – Number 2

When you have one kid, people really like to ask you about having another kid. . . .people like asking you about having a first kid when you are married. People just asking you about incredible personal life choices related to children. In general, I try to be polite and leave it open with something like, “maybe some time in the future,” however other times I’m a little bit more sarcastic, “so when are YOU having another kid?”

I would highly recommend that you don’t ask people about their plans related to having children, ever, unless it’s someone you are really close with that you know is thinking about it. Having children is a complicated issue that brings up very deep and someone difficult feelings about one’s one childhood and identity. While many people are blessed with having children without a lot of difficulty for many others, the journey to having children can be long and arduous. It’s best to play it safe than to ask a question about having kids that could trigger some very difficult emotions.

The decision to have a child is not simply a decision. It’s not like ordering a burger. It’s a journey, it’s a goal and in more ways than you can imagine, it’s something that you do not have complete power in making happen.

I also get that the many, many times I was asked about having another kids came from a good place (Diana was probably asked even more times about this than I was). More people than not love their siblings and more parents than not are glad that they have more than one child. One of the things I started doing was sibling answering their questions about me having a second kid with why they have more than one child. People talked about enjoying the baby process again with less stress. Seeing the interactions of the siblings with each other. More than anything else, people talked about a feeling of completeness.

Every single person who encouraged me to have another kid had siblings themselves. Part of our concept of what makes a complete family comes from what we grew up with. I can’t imagine being in a family with more than two kids, but Diana my wife can imagine three kids. This is probably due to the fact that she has two brothers.

There’s a degree of having multiple kids that comes from societal pressure. I hate the assertion that kids who are only children are somehow weird or messed up. In my anecdotal experience as a teacher for ten years having taught close to one thousand students, I have found that only children are not any weirder or less well-adjusted than children who have siblings.

We have friends who have one kid and are super happy with one and don’t have any others and they have been some of the coolest people to talk about having kids. They are totally happy in the choices they made, the size of their family and they are good. For some reason their security and happiness made me more resolute in our decision to have a second child.

In talking to them, there was no pressure, no expectation, just a very genuine, “we are happy with our choices, I understand your doubts about having another kid but we will be cheering you on if you go for it.” Like every other part of parenting, insecurity is around every corner, and there are no guarantees. A lack of judgment and a genuine expression of support can go a long way in overcoming these insecurities.

Lots of planning to do, lots to think about, but right now, when I think of the little one, more than the work that needs to be done, I feel proud of my wife and excited to meet this special little one.