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.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Summer Camp - 5 Years Done

Camp. Done.

I’ve been working at this summer camp for five years. I started this gig the summer after Ollie was born and it’s been part of my life ever since. I’ve seen a lot of the same kids year after year and over time, this experience has helped me grow as an educator.

The way the camp is set up is that the campers have two sessions each morning and then they have afternoon activities. For example, a camper might have survival skills as their first session in the morning and then music for the second session. The campers have these classes four days a week, Monday through Thursday.

I’m one of the people who teach sessions in the morning, I see two groups of kids, put together by age groups for 50 minutes each. The size of these groups varies from as low as 7 or 8 to maybe 15, and the kids range from rising 1st graders to 6th graders. There are camp counselors who accompany these groups and often help out during the sessions.

I’ve played with a lot of different formats over the years, but I’ve settled on this sequences that works well. Kids come in, I invite them to sit on the carpet and I lead them in singing a camp song. Usually I do an add-on song like “Hole In The Bottom Of The Sea,” and go off script and stack up weird things on the log like dinosaurs and race cars. I love doing “She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain,” and have her bring robots, lions, dump trucks, and magicians. The motions the kids come up with and their sound effect are often hilarious.

Song time is followed by drum circle. Depending on the kids' age, the activities on the drums vary. I make sure to weave in time for us to jam together, opportunities for students to be leaders, space for the them to explore, and activities that have encourage them to compose.

After drumming, we do story time. I read a picture book that has some kind of musical theme like The Drums Of Noto Hanto or Sing, Sophie! Often I’ll pick a book that relates to the next activity. After the book, there’s a variety of things we might do. We’ve taken drumsticks out the playground and explore making music by hitting monkey bars and slides. I’ll teach them how to play cup passing games, or we might play musical charades. I take a lot of the games and activities I do with my kids during the year and have fun with them with my camp kids. Because there is no set curriculum and I’m not trying to “teach them,” I can take the campers’ lead on their interest and focus more on simply having fun with music.

Kids can choose what weeks they want to go to camp so the kids I get week to week along with the variation in ages I get assigned requires a lot of flexibility. Instead of having one plan, I need to have five or six different directions I can take the session in case I have kids who I’ve seen earlier in the summer or if the children have a unique vibe that requires a different kind of activity. I love the challenge, it keeps me on my toes and gives me the chance to try different things while continuing to be responsive to the needs of the campers.

It’s camp and it’s kids and stuff happens. I had a kid get his head stuck, temporally, in a tambourine. This last summer I worked with a group of Chinese students who I waited ten minutes into the session to inform them that while I didn’t speak Mandarin Chinese, I understood much of what they were saying. They weren’t saying anything all that bad, but they did say a couple things they wouldn’t have said if they knew I understood. There’s been kids who think that I’m crazy, some who respond to me really well, but mostly, I get along with the campers just great and we have a good time.

Year 5 is in the books. I first took on this jog really as a gig, but it has proven to be more than that. It’s an important way I keep up my practice, it’s a privilege to work with these kids, and it’s provided important moments of reflection as I enjoy my time with these campers.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Monday, July 31, 2017

Parenthood: Week 215 – Other People’s Children: Part 2

A while back, I wrote (in this post) about how even though I love my own son and care deeply about my students, I’m not that interested in other people’s children. I would actually prefer that there are no other kids when I take Ollie to a playground of a children’s museum. While there have been really cute interactions that Ollie has had with some children we don’t know (like this adorable one I wrote about in this post), for the most part, other kids get in the way.

There is a group of kids between Ollie and other kids. It includes my nieces (I haven’t written about my new niece, but now I have two!), and the special group of Ollie’s friends. This group of friends started from a social group that was formed out a breastfeeding support group. Over the past four years, Diana and these other women have continued to develop friendships and I have had the blessing of become friends with their husbands.

All of our children are friends and we have continued to get together and be an important support system for each other. Sometimes just the women hang out, sometimes it's just the guys, sometimes it’s two couples out of the group, and other times it’s all of us with our kids. Regardless of the combination of people, whenever we get together, it’s special and really important.

These kids, aren’t “other people’s children” to me. For example, we were at a children’s play area last weekend. One of these kids was walking around and another kid walked up to her and started poking here with a stick. She expressed to him that she wanted him to stop but he persisted. I physically got in this boys face and asked him to stop. He smiled at me and started making poking motions towards her and I told him with the nastiest teacher face I could muster “NO! Stop it, and GET away from her!” Scared, he run off, and then pushed another little kid over. (Don’t worry that other little kids’ mom was on top of it too).  I was ready to go with this boy and his parents.  

I’ve wiped these kids faces, picked them up when they are crying, helped them with juice boxes and watched over them happily.  These kids  are extensions of the wonderful love and friendship we feel from their parents. It’s these families that have in a large part make  parenting the joy that we experience every day. These kids are important to Ollie, they are his friends, and I value them because of what they mean to him and what they mean to their parents who I feel indebted to for their kindness.

When we are all together, it's a kind of family and these kids are all of our kids and they will always hold a place in my heart. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Workshop: Part 2 - The Group Lunch

Stop me if you heard this one. A Taiwanese-American, a Filipino-American, a African-American, and a Latina-American walk into a noodle shop for lunch . . .

After my lunch with the African-American teacher, I came back the second day more open to socialize but still feeling introverted. The adventure from the day before put me in a better mind frame to respond more warmly to people, however I chose to retreat into solitude and had lunch by myself.

As we broke for lunch the third day of the workshop, he came up to me an invited me to join his group of colleagues. While I didn’t know him, he was known buy everyone there. Almost every workshop I’ve been too, there’s a younger teacher whose outward expression of enthusiasm hasn’t been dampened by the struggles of teaching. This is the person who always sits up straight when he sings, and is eager to answers questions and participate (even in a workshop full of complete strangers).

I loved watching him take in the workshop. He had an energy and an outward expression of optimism, that is no longer inside of me as it was ten years ago, but is something I admire. He was that guy, he was the life of the party, and he was the only other Asian-American man in the room. I’m not sure how we connected, but I think it was singing gospel music next to him and feeling our voices blend together as we picked out harmonies.

His group included the African-American woman I had lunch with on Monday and one more woman, a Latina-America teacher. She wasn’t as extroverted in her participation in the workshop as my Filipino colleague, but she displayed the same thoughtfulness that I had seen in the African-American woman days earlier.

The four of us clicked immediately as we walked to a small cafĂ© for lunch. We quickly entered into conversations about our teaching practice in relation to our own layers of diversity. Sometimes we misspoke in our use of terminology when talking about identity, and while we were quick to correct each other, the manner at which we did this expressed a belief in the other person’s thoughtfulness and positive intentions.

We had lunch together for the next two days. Feelings about challenging situations at our schools were validated, ideas were shared, and laughter never stopped in our conversations as a way to deal with the seemingly absurd and at the jokes we made to help us cope with our feelings.

Meeting these amazing teachers was the greatest part of the workshop for me. It was so encouraging seeing other teachers of color in a different places in their career sharing the same values, passion, and drive to make education more diverse, equitable and inclusive.

I’m lucky. I get to go back to a school where there is a significant amount of teachers of color with an administration who expresses through their words and actions a belief in the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion. This is not the case for all of these teachers, and the time I spent with them was an important reminder of how blessed I am, but also how much things needs to change.

Sometimes all that needs to happen to help make this change a reality is eating lunch together, followed by a joyous toast.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Monday, July 24, 2017

Parenthood: Week 214 – The Need For Another Arm

We went over in this post how Ollie ended up walking around with a Thomas The Tank Engine toy and calling in The Magic School Bus. The story isn’t over.

A couple weeks ago, we visited some friends. They have two children, one a year younger than Ollie and one two years younger. They all got along really well and had a great time playing together. At some point, Ollie found a school bus toy, and he got really excited. As we were getting ready to leave, the older kid offered the school bus to Ollie. After double checking with her and triple checking with her parents, Ollie finally had a school bus toy.

Now Ollie started carrying around both Thomas and this school bus toy everywhere. He seemed to manage it pretty well, but he would sometime ask for help carrying stuff because his hands were full with his toys. He slept with both toys in his bed and played with them together.

A week later, Ollie came home with another school bus toy, grandma got for his during an outing. It was very nice of her to get him this toy, and Ollie was delighted to have another school bus.

Overjoyed, Ollie tried to pick up his two buses and Thomas. Somehow managing to cradle them all in his arms, Ollie explained, “Daddy, I need another arm.”

We thought that maybe Ollie would transfer his love of his Thomas toy to one of the buses, but instead, his little heart grew to love all of these toys equally. With some effort, he manages to carry them around with him all throughout the house. We limit him to only bringing one of these toys out of the house and while we let him play with them in the car, they don’t leave the car when we are out.

So that’s the deal with the two busses, and the little blue train our boy is determined to carry around with him. However, this fascination may have already changed.

Earlier today, we had some people doing some work in the house, so I showed him some footage of a Transformer changing from a car into a robot. Ollie was awestruck by this. When I explained to him that he had a transformer toy he got really excited.

About two years ago, I bought Ollie a little fire truck Transformer. This toy was designed for toddlers and could change from robot to car in one easy step. Ollie showed no interest in this toy for two years. And guess what he’s been obsessed with for the past four hours? Yup, the little fire truck. At least for the afternoon, he has completely dumped his two school buses and Thomas.

It’s been fun watching Ollie make-up adventures with these toys in his imagination. I don’t always understand what he is doing with his toys but it brings him joy. At first the intensity seemed like a bit much, but then I realized it’s not any different than how interested I get into a piece of art, it just looks different. No, I don’t sleep with my Hamilton soundtrack the way Ollie sleeps with this Thomas and bus toys. I can hold this fascination in my head, but Ollie isn’t there developmentally yet.  Holding these these toys in his arms as he sleeps bring him comfort, reminding him that something he cares about, something that gives him meaning is with him throughout the night.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Workshop: Part 1 - The Lunch Break

“I’m not here to make friends,” I thought to myself like a good contestant on Survivor as I sat in a desk in the far back corner. The other thirty-some educators in the room were walking around introducing themselves to each other. I opened up my laptop and tried to look busy as I browsed through my social media accounts.

As the class began, I scanned the room. I was getting a sense of the gender ratio, the age breakdown and the racial make-up of the classroom. Why? Thinking about these categories and representation is one of the things that you do when you are a minority, racial or otherwise. When there are three women in a room, they often notice this while the men often do not take note of this. People who aren’t minorities don’t take notice of this, because it doesn’t affect them as often.

When I’m uncomfortable in a room, and I identify that I’m the only minority in the room, it helps me realize process my feelings. These questions and this information are critical to social interactions and understanding experiences as a minority. There’s nothing racist about realizing that you are the only person of color in the room. Not noticing this, ignoring the race of people around you, making that facet of their identity invisible to your eyes propagates a damaging ignorance. As long as your observations lead to more questions, and openness to understand, noticing diversity creates a more equitable environment for all.

She stuck out. She may have been the one of the few or the only person who identified as African-American in the class. She was younger than a fair amount of them and she had awesomely colored hair. More than appearance, there was something in the way that she responded and took notes that showed me that there was was something interesting and significant going on in her head.

I pushed these thoughts aside and for the rest of the morning focused on the discussions and the music that was being taught.

We broke for lunch and many of the people in the class formed groups. I got out of the room, avoiding conversation and started heading to where I thought there was some food.  And then here she was walking in the same direction. I asked her where she was heading, she sounded like she had an idea of where she was going, so I asked if I could join her. With a nod and a “let’s go,” we were off.

As we walked we did the normal get to know you verbal dance. As we revealed things about our school and our values as teachers, I decided to take a chance. I began dropping thoughts and anti-racist education in my teaching practice. She confirmed over and over that she agreed with me, I got a little braver and a little deeper. Before I knew it we were going full in talking about issues of diversity, equity and inclusion and our experiences as teachers of color.

We didn’t make the most direct route to the restaurant and we got a little bit lost on the way back to class. We also barely made it to class on time and had to eat during class when we got back. (Bear in mind we had a solid hour for the lunch break). But it was a blast and really cool to connect with a really cool teacher.

No, I didn’t come to make friends or meet new colleagues, but something felt different and necessary with this other teacher. When you are a teacher of color, you are likely in a minority in your school as you are in society.  Being with another who shares your values and your experiences gives the strength and hope to work through the moments when you feel most lonely.

Taking a chance to make these connections was worth getting out of my shell, for myself and later, I would find out for her as well.

That lunch break was an important reminder that while I wasn’t at this class to make friends, that didn’t mean that I couldn’t or I shouldn’t.

It didn’t end with just her, as I find out later from the Asian-American teacher, who reminded me a little bit too much of myself. . .

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

Parenthood: Week 213 – What’s fun about age 4?

Ollie has firming transitioned in my mind to being a 4-year old. While this change was gradual, it has taken until the past couple weeks for me to really see what is different and unique about this age.

My time with Ollie as a parent seems more focused on helping him learn how to be with the world around him. When he was a toddler, there were conversations about taking turns, but they didn’t go very deep because he was often satisfied with parallel play, which isn’t the case anymore. When Ollie’s verbal skills were first beginning to develop, we didn’t focus on what Ollie said and how he said words and phrases. Now we are teaching him explicitly how to use words to utilize social norms and self-advocate. He reached beyond the layer of differentiated between a dog and cat to understanding that there are different types of dogs.

We are moving past exposing Ollie to books to explicitly helping him learn how to read and draw letters. We aren’t being too pedantic, but as his awareness of the English language grows, it’s important that we help him interact with English in deeper and more meaningful ways. Ollie enjoys this for the most part like when we were in an elevator today and told him to find the letter “m” for the main floor. He found it after a couple seconds and enthusiastically pressed the button.

There are some parts of this work like doing handwriting worksheets that he doesn’t love, but it’s good for him to do the work. While I don’t want to make him do things he doesn’t like, it’s important that he is pushed to challenge himself, which sometimes means he has to do things he doesn’t like to do. This isn’t anything new. He didn’t like taking the bottle initially when he was a baby, but I taught him how to do that (which I explained in this post) and he was better for working through that process.

Ollie’s more advanced ability to understand the past and the present means that we can better use the past to bring him comfort and the future to motivate him to move forward. Along with this comes more stalling tactics, but overall this awareness helps him see that the important interconnections between the people and events in his past, present and future, that makes relationships and experiences more memorable and meaningful.

What is most fascinating and most rewarding at this age is helping Ollie work through and understand his own emotions and the feelings of other people.  Ashe experiences the world and feels things in deeper and more complicated ways, helping him work through these nuances is more challenging but very rewarding.

Ollie is still my special little guy.  The one who wants to make people smile, who sometimes is hesitant to jump in until he figures things out, and who is fascinated by the wonders of the world.  While the facets of his personality have not changed, the way these parts of himself are expressed continue to evolve.

I've loved every age, and developmental stage of Ollie's life.  Four feels different, but after having gone through each stage, it's a challenge I'm excited to face.  As hard as each stage has been, each one has brought me and my son closer together helping me know my son and myself and grow together in our relationship as father and son.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Inclusion From Special Ed To All

I first learned about inclusion in education during my special education course in graduate school. We were discussing mainstreaming, the change from having students with special needs be in completely different classrooms the whole day to being in the classroom with other students who do not have special needs.

I experienced this first hand as a teacher, when I had students in my classroom who had aids to help them participate. Later I experienced this from the other side as one of those aides who made inclusion and mainstream possible.

Separate is never truly equal. Including students with special needs addresses their right to an equitable educational experience. The feeling of being included is powerful for students with special needs who were once separated. This inclusion is also critical for the students without special needs to have a better understanding of their community, the human condition and diversity.

Inclusion in education has grown to address the many different facets of diversity by creating an education environment where all feel valued. A community can be diverse racially, but unless a school actively works to make sure that the school embraces these racial differences, it won’t be inclusive.

Students feel included when they see teachers who mirror parts of their identity. This is why many Asian-American students like to come up and chat with me, even if I’m not their teacher. I saw this in the excitement in the eyes of a girl who was dealing with Crohn’s disease-like symptom, when I told her that I myself had Crohns. I experienced this first hand when we worked on a song about the Civil Rights movement in 8th grade and had students who previously seem uninterested in music class, want to perform solos.

Inclusion is also in the things we say as teachers. When you refer to a mix-gendered group of students as “guys,” girls feel less included. Students may not explicitly noticed this but gender-biased language does have an effect on how people feel valued. When you refer to parents as mothers and fathers when there are students whose guardians are aunts or grandparents, this makes students feel excluded.

It’s the pictures on the walls, it’s the books on a shelf, it’s making sure that boys aren’t called on more than girls. It’s providing students of color with affinity groups. It’s about reaching out to those who feel excluded by society and actively making sure that a school environment does better than the outside world.

Inclusion is about helping students understand the value of other’s diversity. It’s about seeing how different people in the community through feeling valued can enrich the experience for all.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Monday, July 10, 2017

Parenthood: Week 212 - (Grand)father Of Mine-Part 2

As a teacher, one of the things that helps me understand my students is when I meet their parents. Often students share rhythmic speech patterns and hand gestures with their parents. My students just make more sense, just like anyone you meet when you get a sense of where they came from and how they came to be the person that you know.

In a similar way, seeing my father as a grandfather has helped me understand myself as a father.

I see it in the way that both my dad and me love trying to make babies laugh (he was one of the first people to get Ollie to laugh). There’s the determination I saw recently when he worked for a long time with a lot of patience to get my newest baby niece to go to sleep. I was similar when Ollie was a baby, refusing to give up on trying to get Ollie to sleep, even when the best call would be to let Diana tag in and give it a try.

I get my sense of humor from my dad and Ollie experience the same silliness, the same kinds of jokes from both of us. The pride that he has in Ollie, and the fascination he has in Ollie’s development, perspectives and who Ollie is as person mirrors the love I have for my special little guy.

Ollie sees the similarities in us as well and looks to both of us for similar things. When we are eating dinner, Ollie is more than happy to sample our food, sometimes eating half of our plates. While I get more annoyed at my father about this because it happens more often to me than my dad, we both end up sharing what we have with Ollie. My dad often finds Ollie watching him brush his teeth. Ollie wants to join in with my father and like Ollie watching me get ready he is fascinated by this process.

I remember my father teaching me how to ride a bike and how to drive and many other things. He’s a great teacher and I get many of my instincts as a teacher from my dad. However, my dad never explicitly taught me how to be a dad, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t learn how to be a dad from him.

I know how I feel about my dad, because of how he loved me and how he raised me. I want my son to have that same feeling. Something deep inside of me knows what my father did to foster that feeling inside of me.  That knowledge no longer a memory in my head, became an instinct in my heart.  When I see my father make the same silly face that I do to get my son to laugh it all comes together in a meaningful feeling of completeness. Through the love I see my father express to my son, I get a glimpse into how my father loved me as a child.

This is an incredible view into my past, my present and my future.  I have my son to thank for all of this and so much more.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Equity Over Equality

I was born left-handed. Instead of going through the incredible amount of work that my mother did (who is also left-handed) to learn how to write right-handed, I embraced the fact that I was left-handed. When I walk into a classroom with chairs that have built in desks designed for right-handed people I am experiencing equality. This “fairness” puts me at a disadvantage. For me to be as comfortable and successful as other right-handed people in the room, I need something different, a left-handed desk. I need equity.

Equality and equity are two different interpretations of what it means to be fair. Equality means that everyone gets the same or are treated the same. If there are ten pieces of candy and two students, each kid gets five pieces of candy. Done. Equity means that people are provided with what they need to be successful. If a parent gives one of his kids glasses because that child is near-sighted and doesn’t give his other child glasses who isn’t, that is equity. The parent is treating each kid differently, but this assures that time they see a movie, both children can enjoy watching it.

Equality makes perfect sense in a situation where everyone is the same and gets the same things in life. If two people are the exactly same intelligence level, and have the same personality, and are treated by their parents and other people in their lives in the exactly same way, equality works. Giving them exactly the same thing in this case would make sense because sense they are the same in all ways, they don’t need different things to be successful. In other words, if people start in the same place, they need the same things in life.  However, no two people start in the same place.

If people are the same, then we treat them same.  Equality works. However when you embrace the many facets of diversity I discussed last week in this post (otherwise known as reality), than equity becomes the essential paradigm.

Equity in many situation is in our lives without much thought. People are fine with handicap parking, many restaurants clearly label vegetarian dishes on the menu, and motorist wait patiently when elderly people cross the street. These are accommodations, ways we treat people differently so that they can be included in our society. These are points of diversity, physical difference, diet and age that most people don’t have any issue acknowledging.

Where things get difficult, where equity becomes challenging is when we start treating people more equitably because they are not starting at the same place because of their race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual identity, and gender expression.

Example: women on average have hire health insurance/health care cost because of childbirth and other procedures and care related to reproductive health. In order to prevent women from being economic disadvantaged, men pitch in with part of their insurance payments so that women pay for insurance/health care at a cost closer to men.

To accept this level of equity, it requires that you acknowledge that there are differences between women and men and that these differences have given men an economic advantage. Once you’ve come to this understanding, conversations around equity can move forward.

The same goes for race. There was a generation of people who were taught that being “colorblind” and not openly acknowledging issues surrounding race was the right thing to do.  If we can reject this notion, see racial diversity, understand different of layers of racial privilege, and systemic racism, than we can work on racial equity.  However, these things are not easy to do.  For some, being told about their white privilege is akin to being told the sky is green.  This is not a reason why we shouldn't do this work, but this is important to understand as we move forward.  

There is insecurity and skepticism around the topic of equity, because so many want to hang onto the notion of the American dream, this idea that all it takes to make it in this country, to rise from being poor to rich is hard work. It’s a great dream, and it’s something to strive for, but it’s not a reality. People have advantages and disadvantages in our country as a result of parts of their identity that they cannot control. We can get better at making this inequity less, but only by acknowledging that this inequality exists.

Equity doesn’t mean that we have to give up on the American dream, we just need to think about it differently. It’s a dream where everyone, because of how we embrace diversity and treat each other with equity, that hard work can lead to success for all.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Monday, July 3, 2017

Parenthood: Week 211 - (Grand)father Of Mine-Part 1

What makes a great grandfather?

I never had a conversation with either of my grandfathers. I never played catch with them, they never took me out on any outings by themselves and I never heard them say, “I’m proud of you,” or “I love you” to me. By most people’s idealized visions of grandfathers, mine would appear to not have been very good grandparents. They would be wrong.

They both lived long and full lives. Both of them saw me go off to college and one of them lived to see me get married. They showed care and support organizing family vacations, and supporting my interests financially at different points in my life. Between us there was a language gap and a culture gap that was too much for us to overcome. My grandfathers had limited English skills and I had limited understanding of Mandarin Chinese, which they spoke. Even more than the language, we lived in very different worlds. They were both born and raised in Taiwan, lived through the conflicts of WWII.  They drank from the cup of Americanism, but they never embraced the identity of being American.

My parents came to America in the late 1970s. Years before I was born in 1982, my parents had decided that they wanted me and my brother to be American. We ate American food, adapted American customs like Christmas (even though weren’t Christians), and primarily spoke English. My dad passed down one to me the parts of American culture that created his own American dream growing up in Taiwan, inspiring a love of 1960s popular music (especially Motown), and the heroics of American cowboys.

We didn’t ignore our Taiwanese heritage, but we didn’t let the food, the art and the customs of Taiwanese culture take overshadow what made my parents love about American culture.

The difference between Taiwanese and American culture is more than food, and films. It’s the way children are raised, the careers that people choose to pursuit, and the way that people receive and show love.

My grandfathers & I were of different countries, cultures and even though we shared history, what we identified as our own history was very different.  I believe my grandfathers did what they could with this space that lay between us.  I have the memory of wonderful hugs my paternal grandfather gave me and the look of pride my maternal grandfather always displayed when he saw me play violin or piano.

I don’t know if my grandfathers could have done more to be involved in my life. I’m not sure if they even wanted to know me better. What I do know is that as I said during my paternal grandfather’s funeral, I am proud of my grandfathers, I am proud to be their grandson and I am proud to know them.

More than anything else, it is this feeling that ensures me that they were great grandfathers.

Next week: Part II, what I've learned from watching my father and as a grandfather to my son.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: The D-Word

When asked about the inspiration for the diversity in the casting of the new Spider-Man Homecoming film, the producer Amy Pascal, answered “I would say the inspiration for it was reality.”

The word “diversity” engenders groans for some, inspiration for others, and confusion for many. It’s a word that some see as part of their identity and others find exclusionary. It’s a word that helps us understand our countries greatest struggles, failures and triumphs.

In early human civilization, visual markers like hair color and other cultural expressions like clothing were important ways to identify who was in a tribe and who was in a different tribe. This identification was often critical for the survival of a tribe. This is the frame that evolutionary biologist use to help us understand some of our instincts that bring us to stereotypes and prejudicial thinking.

Embracing diversity goes against some of our more primal instincts and in many ways makes creating a peaceful society more difficult. Consider the biblical story of the Tower Of Babel. God saw that people were making a tower and realized that when people had one language, nothing would be out of their reach. So he made it so they couldn’t understand each other and spread them across the earth.

People have understood for more time in our history than not that diversity makes life more difficult. Examples of people trying to make away with diversity are seen in the history of almost every culture. It’s not just in the Nazi Holocaust. It’s the cleansing cleaning in Georgia in the 1990s, and Mao Zedung’s murder of decedents. In every single era of American history we see effort to tamp down diversity from the Americanization of Native Americans, the discriminations of Irish immigrants, laws that limited marriage to being between white men and women and the current wave of anti-Muslim xenophobia.

Guess what? A lack of diversity in some ways makes teaching easier. If every single student in your class is at the same reading level, then you don’t have to spend as much times creating reading groups. If every single student in your class were on the same club soccer team, teaching soccer as a PE unit would be easier to instruct since many basics would be well established. And if every single student came from the same cultural background, lessons in social studies would be a lot more straightforward since all of the students would be coming to class with the same perspective.

If every music student came in with the same level of musical skills and the same learning styles, I could probably get them to perform more difficult and technically impressive music than with my current cohort of students.

Efforts to create a less diverse society have failed over and over again due to the tremendous efforts by courageous individuals that have inspired other individuals to embrace their own authentic identity. As our human society evolves, it has become unethical and immoral for education to not reflect the progress in our world to create more a diverse and meaningful educational experience.

You can put your head in the sand, and move into a gated community, only hang out with people who go to your same church, and try your best to only be with people that are just like you. You can try, but it’s a loosing battle. You want to have kids? They will likely mess up your perfectly homogenous existence. You want to make money? You will probably have to deal with people who aren’t like you. You want to experience art and culture? When you take away all of the foods, and television shows, that are influences by other cultures, there’s not a lot left. Forget music. It’s nigh impossible find a song to rock out to that isn’t an amalgamation of different cultures.

As the producer spoke about, diversity is reality. Our reality. To ignore what is the current state of our world is to reject what is factual, what is real and what is our shared reality.

Because you can’t ignore diversity is not the reason to embrace diversity. It’s a reason to stop trying to ignore it. The reason to lean into what is different is multifaceted and tremendously rewarding and meaningful.

When we think about the different facets of diversity in the human experience, the list speaks to every facet of the human experiences: race, ethnic, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, socioeconomic, biological sex, geography, learning styles, political beliefs, heritage, careers, hobbies, philosophy, religion, exceptionalities, ideas, and physical ability.

In these ways, and even more, we are different from the each other. We rely on what is similar to find human connections initially, but it is what is diverse in our interactions that inspire thinking, interplay, conversations and the building of human relationships.

We come to a sense of comfort, a feeling of ease when we are with others that allow us to be ourselves, people who embrace our differences. Whenever we hide or hold part of ourselves back there is at the least mild discomfort, and at its worst, great pain and depression.

When we are told that parts of our own diversity are inferior, and not to be expressed with pride, it builds a level of insecurity that is far too often expressed through intolerance, and meanness. Our work to embrace diversity is as much about ourselves as the people we encounter in our lives.

Yes, it is work. It is difficult, it is inconvenient, and it is complicated. Being brave enough to embrace what makes you different, things that you were told aren’t right, is very difficult and it can feel very lonely. It means going up against the expectations of friends, norms of society and the words of the ones who claim to love us. Embracing diversity in others means learning to embrace discomfort, and seeing for people for who they truly are, not for what they are in our eyes. It means that we go beyond live and let live and move to truly living together.

On the other side of this work is great joy, unimaginable beauty, and a society that is stronger together.

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 clichĂ© 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.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Year 7: Week 37 – A Year Shaped By One Day

This is the year where I stopped waiting, and I stopped hesitating.

Units that I had been waiting for years to do, I pushed my doubts aside and just did. There was a dance to “Hoe-Down” by Aaron Copeland, which I taught and got up on stage and led my 3rd graders through on stage. Also there was the dulcimer project in which, those same 3rd graders made dulcimers from a kit in art and shop class. I’ve never taken a dulcimer lesson in my life and it took three tries before I figured out how to teach these kids how to hold a pick, but I figured it out and we had a great time.

Those 3rd grade ideas were things that I need a slight push to do, but I felt I could handle. There was a lot of learning that I had to do to get both of these things going, but I had been planning to do both of these things from the summer before.

Then there were these other projects. These were nuggets of ideas. These were ideas that I felt more comfortable waiting to take on because they needed development, and I knew there was only so much new stuff I could handle in a year.

One single event changed all of my thinking that pushed these ideas into reality, which transformed my school year it to one that should have been relatively simple to manage into one of the my most challenges years of teaching. It was a time when feeling overwhelmed and uncertain of outcomes became a norm.

After Tuesday, November 9th, the day after that guy was elected President, I committed to getting to work.

That night began months of planning, coordinating and music arranging. I pulled members from our entire school community to put together a Presidents’ Day assembly reading of Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama. I created a unit examining the underrepresentation of women in music leading up to a visit from some amazing women musicians for my 5th graders. There was the performance of My Shot thatI coordinated and conducted that featured more than two hundred middle school and high school students. I also collaborated with the choir teacher and the 6th grade history teacher to create a brand new 6th grade presentation that integrated our curriculums.

All of these projects, all of this work was a direct response to the election. These projects were about embracing diversity, creating equity and being inclusive. It was about citizenship, community, identity, and making our country more just, honest and fair.

The election was a harsh reminder that we have so much work to do as educators. It was a reminder that we can’t be complacent and that we can’t wait. We need to educate our students to be citizens right now. While this extra work was hard and less sleep was had, I never questioned the worth of what I was doing. In thinking about my students and what they needed, I also thought about my own son, Ollie.

I refuse to leave this world in a worse place than it is right now for my son. It has become clear to me that I can actually do something as a teacher to make sure that I don’t let my son down.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Parenthood: Week 207 – Krushing It

Dear Ollie,

Right now you are in your bedroom sleeping peacefully. You had your 4th birthday party this morning at the Skokie Exploratorium. At first you were a little overwhelmed but you ended up having a great time. In the afternoon you played with your friend Betty, while your me and your mom were at a funeral for Aunt Krysia.

I’m writing this letter to you because there are things you need to know about your family that you can’t understand right now, and there are thoughts in my head that I fear will be lost in time that are important for you to know. These thoughts and feelings will be here waiting for you when you are ready and need to understand what Aunt Krysia means to your life.

There have been so many times I’ve felt like an outsider in my life. While I hope that these times are you are few, I know that you will face these times and they will be difficult. However, these feelings are sometimes and with kindness can be overcome and lead to something amazing.

When I first met your grandfather’s extended family it was very intimidating. There were more names than I could remember, and while everyone was very nice, the room was very loud. After all of the initial introductions, it was hard to know who to talk to, what conversations I could join. Before the apprehension to set in, Aunt Krysia came up to me, invited me to sit down with her and we talked.

Aunt Krysia asked about my family, my work, and my heritage. She responded to me like a person fascinated by a wonderful book, wanting to know more and being excited about everything she learned. Here she was spending her time at this family event talking to someone who was at that time, just a boyfriend of one of her nieces.

She never had to say that accepted me for who I was and approved of me being part of the family, she showed me that every time she saw me.

While that moment was amazing what followed the next fourteen years of our relationship was incredible. Aunt Krysia always made a point to talk to me during family events, never forgetting details from our previous conversations, asking about my parents, my life and joyfully sharing her wisdom and life experiences with me. At my wedding, she was the one, language barriers be damned, who talked to my Taiwanese grandparents and my other relatives.

Aunt Krysia understood that family is not a closed group of people connected by blood. She saw family as something that grew through love, that only had meaning through actively making others feel included and valued.  For Aunt Krysia what was different about me, my heritage, and my religion was what would make her family and her life better. It felt like she loved me despite our differences and because of them all at the same time.

Aunt Krysia was one of the first people that you met when you came into this world. She was so happy to hold you. As one of the biggest supporters of me and your mother’s relationship, her joy in holding you was proof that by being kinder than she needed to be, and sharing love with us was what made us a family. It seemed so fitting that the same person who welcomed me into her family, would welcome be one of the first people to welcome you into the world.

I am proud to call Aunt Krysia my aunt.

Never hesitate to ask about your Aunt Krysia.  The stories that you hear will only make you feel more proud of your family and your own heritage.  In these stories and in your heart she will always be with you as she is with all of us who were blessed to share our lives with her.

In that feeling of love and belonging that only comes from being with family you will feel Aunt Krysia.

Goodnight Ollie,



Friday, June 2, 2017

Year 7: Week 36 – To Be Human

Students do not see teachers as human beings. Often they don’t see anyone who is significantly older than them as having the same range of emotions and challenges that they do. This is why when students see their teachers in the outside world (outside of school), they usually freak out a little, “WHAT? What are you doing in the…GROCERY STORE?!!” Yes, teachers eat food too and need to go to the grocery store too, and the reason why such a mundane task can be mind-blowing is that most students don’t see teachers as being anything but a teacher.

There are times I let them into part of who I am. Almost all of my students know about my dog, Buffy, and many of them have seen pictures and videos of my son as a baby. These glimpses into other facets of who I am, helps make me more relatable, more interesting and more human. For the most part this is a good thing, but it’s not always a slam-dunk.

Sometimes students have fixated on Buffy and keep bringing her up in class at inappropriate times. I’ve had other classes that simply could not transition from watching a funny Buffy video to doing work in class, so I’ve had to cut out sharing these things. I’m always a little sad when classes can’t handle these things, but it’s part of being a teacher your kids need you to be.

While distance between teachers and students is necessary, efforts to cross gap in appropriate ways is important to help the student see some depth in who their teachers are and build empathy for them as human beings.

The fact that students do not see us fully as human being is essential to remember when students do things or say things that feel hurtful. I’ve had my share of students say things about me to me and behind my back that weren’t nice.  Also, I am constantly seeing students do things like tear apart a bulletin board display that I worked hard to create. It’s hard to not take these offenses personally.

As teachers we spend our energy to empathize with our students and take care of them. When students, the other party in this relationship don’t show empathy to teachers or don’t seem to care about how their actions might make a teacher feel, it can really sting. However as teachers we must remember that none of these things, no matter how personal they might feel in the moment, is about you as a human being, it’s about you as a teacher. And if, (which they shouldn’t) students saw and knew you as a full human being, they probably wouldn’t do things as often that are received as being hurtful.

Knowing this doesn’t meant that we don’t call kids out and push them to speak with more care and empathy, and knowing this doesn’t mean things that kids do, don’t hurt, even after a decade of doing this gig.  Sometimes we show that pain to our kids, but more often than not we need to mute it and let them see it in a way that we can control.  This is hard a lot of time and takes a great deal of energy all of the time.  It's what we do for our students, but it is what makes it essential that we have the rest of our lives outside of teaching to be known and cared for as a human being.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Monday, May 29, 2017

Parenthood: Week 206 – Four Years Old

When you become an adult the passage of time is different than when you are a kid. Each year when you are a child, you are in a new grade each year, you constantly grow out of clothing. There clearly defined milestones like graduation that mark the time as life goes on.

When you become an adult, your job unlike school for most of us doesn’t have a clear marking of time. As a teacher, I have the structure of the school year but most people do not have. And like most people, my job doesn’t have an end point like high school graduation for a high school student. As an adult clothing wears out but slower than when you grow out of clothing as a child.  This marker of time moving forward becomes less significant.

Life as adult becomes a wash of days, months and years, and there are moments like weddings and funerals that mark life moving forward. However, time is felt differently because the personal growth is not as easy to notice and in the morass that is often adulthood, we focus less on time and more on life.

When you have a child, all of this change. It’s not your clothing, and these aren’t your milestones, they are your child’s, but you feel them as partially your own. It’s often said that the first birthday party is as much as a celebration is for the parents who have gotten through what is often one of years of one’s adult life, as it is for the child. Time moves more clearly from tummy time, to crawling, to walking and finally to running. Clothing that once was adorably oversized becomes comically undersized in what seems like, no time at all.

Everyone tells you to take the time to enjoy the moments with your baby, your toddler, and your pre-school age child because they say it will go “so quickly.” It’s hard to believe that when you are struggling to put your child to bed and can’t wait for the time when your child is potty trained and you don’t have to change diapers anymore. In the moment when the struggles are the worst, the age of your child, the developmental stage that she is in, seems like it will last forever. But it doesn’t. And as soon as you master whatever parenting struggles you feel at a certain developmental stage, your child grows out of it.

The thing is, they are right. It doesn’t feel like Ollie was born four years ago. It feels closer to a month ago. It’s not that I don’t remember all of the amazing moments of the past four years. I do, but it just went so fast. I made sure to stop myself, and take the time to do nothing but watch him breath as a baby, and play as a toddler. However it still feels like it got away from me. I love Ollie as a four year old, but I cherish the memories of how he was as a baby and if I could experiences of holding him as a baby, even in the worst of a crying fit, I would pay handsomely for that experience.

Ollie turned four last week. I don’t feel like I’m completely ready for this. I felt more comfortable with him being three even right when he turned three than I do with him being four. But I’ll get there.

Parenthood is accepting change, knowing that the best is finite but also yet to come. It’s knowing that experiences may never be able to be revisited but also having faith that while these memories may be forgotten, these moments will have impacts that will last forever.

Ollie, you are still my special little guy. I am so proud of you and I hope that I earn your pride with the choices I make. I love you more than ever. Never forget that you matter and that you are powerful. You can change the world for the better. I know that for a fact because you have changed my world and brought happiness and meaning to my life and for this, I will always be grateful. Happy Birthday.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Year 7: Week 35 – Holding All The Different Feelings

In the documentary, Hamilton’s America, Christopher Jackson talks about struggling with how we think about George Washington. He explains how we have to be able to admire him for his great work for the country, and at the same time, acknowledge the fact that he owned slaves.

This past week, there has been moments with my students with my students when I am holding different feeling and thoughts about my students at the same time. During a 3rd grade class, a student joked that I had an Afro hairstyle. I was annoyed at this interruption and that fact the students were inappropriately laughing at his comment and at me. However, as I began explaining the history of the Afro and the meaning of hairstyles in different cultures, I began to feel pride. The way the student listened and were receptive to my lesson, showed that they more than interested in why the Afro joke was not appropriate. At a certain moment there interest turned into a genuine interest and fascination with what hair means to culture and people’s identity.

My 6th graders have been making great progress. However, they are struggling to maintaining attention to the lesson after we are done playing. It was actually really effective when I told them that I had two conflicting thoughts in my head. I was proud of them musically and at the same time I was frustrated that we weren’t able to properly frame the music in silence.

Both of these examples are when you holding two thoughts in your head have a tension between something that is good and something that is bad. What happened with my 8th graders today was a different kind of collection of thoughts.

What my 8th graders shared with me today was amazing. They were speaking to me about a shared experience they had together as a full grade (almost 70 students crammed in a band room, that comfortably holds half that many students).

After I expressed my feelings about the topic, I gave the floor to them. What followed was everything I love about teaching middle school. The students’ comments were honest and real. Some had unintentionally comical comments while other share mature thoughts far beyond their years. Students made sure that I called on people who had been patiently waiting to be called on, while others helped each other stay quiet and pay attention.

One of the most powerful comments was when a student talked about how the experience led to other students making undesired comments. This girl was opening up in front of her whole class, which possibly could lead to the kinds of comments she was talking about.  However, there was something else more powerful at play here. I could see in her eyes a desire to make herself understood to me. I could see that she was taking a moment to be brave because it was more important that I knew how she felt than anything else in the world at that very moment.

The quiet in the room, the space that the students gave her was a powerful validation of her feelings and experience, more powerful than any words I could have spoken. It’s one thing to say that you validate a person’s feelings it’s a whole different thing to actually validate their feelings by creating the space and the feeling of safety so that a person can express themselves.

This discussion made me feel so proud. I felt inspired by these kids, and more than anything else, I felt admiration for them.  Feeling all of that at the same time for a group of kids is something I'll never forget.