Wednesday, February 27, 2008

When it’s good, it’s really good.

We’ve been here just under three months. There have been good days, and there have been some tough days, but overall, there have been a lot of days. The transition to life here has been rough at times, as I’ve written about in this space before. My transition to being a stay at home dad has been rough at times, and great at times, as I’ve also covered pretty well here.

To think about the fact that we have been in Hawaii 79 days is somewhat bewildering. To think about the fact that over a month of that time was spent in a drafty 2 bedroom apartment in Honolulu, and that we have not yet been in our home for 50 days is staggering. It feels like we have been here a year.

I don’t mention that fact to imply either a positive or a negative feeling: it is simply surprising to realize how little time we have in fact been here. In many ways, adjusting to life here has been a full-time job in itself, in addition to every other change we’ve gone through. Although Hawaii is a state in the Union, it does at times feel like we have moved to another country. Or planet.
But, I mention the above only in relation to the fact that when I get the chance to focus on some of the reasons we came here, as I did today, it becomes clear to me that no matter how difficult it can be at times, when it’s good, it’s really good.

The kids have adjusted better than I could ever have asked for, though truth be told, they are still 3 and 1 years old. Such ages do apparently come with unique and fun developmental accoutrements, such as the twins feeding off each other and running amok in their Gymboree class, or the baby deciding that she has to stand on the table during dinner and pick at the twins food. These are things that had been, and would have been challenges back in Jersey, but I would have been too busy doing my old job to have participated much in any of that. But truth be told, it has become clear that the twins may need to start doing some activities separately. And that presents a challenge, managing all three of them separately, and Gymboree, as great as it has been, may not be the answer as we look to have the kids into some other things on their own. (plus, it is rather pricy, truth be told) It may be that we stay with them, but we’ve been exploring other options.

Today, the wife took the twins to a Cooperative playgroup/pre-pre school sort of program that is connected with the Armed Services YMCA. I was at swim lessons with the baby. They run three days a week for an hour and a half. It had been free, but this March, it will start to incur a fee of one dollar per kid, per session. That will add up to around $36 a month for all three. The program has areas that the kids can do things on their own, or together, and there are other kids of comparable ages and levels, and its simply a bit more free-form, considering where our kids are in their “group activity participation” development. There is some cooperative stuff and teacher-led stuff towards the end, after they’ve had a chance to run amok for a while.

Long and rambling story short, they loved it, and we will be going back tomorrow. Gymboree, which saved my life when we first got here, may be on the way out. We may reconnect with them in the summer, when I assume this program is off, as it’s held in a school, but today, with that program as the day-starter led to one of the better days we’ve had since we’ve been here.

After the class, we came home, had a snack, took the wife to work, went by the post office for some business there, picked up lunch, stopped by Pearl Harbor to walk around the free exhibits there, went to open play at Gymboree, (we are paid up thru the middle of March…) and came home.
Side note about the trip to Pearl Harbor. We pass by the site several times a week, and I’ve taken the boy to tour the USS Missouri, which was a lot of fun. I don’t think they are quite ready for the boat trip to the Arizona yet, as it’s a very solemn site, and I would hate for a meltdown to disturb the event. We will take them at some point. We looked a number of exhibits, and there was a lot to see that is free. We went through the gift shop and the boy insisted on telling everyone what Daddy’s rule for the shop was: “Don’t touch anything.” which got quite a few chuckles.

There is an area near the USS Bowfin Submarine (which I’ve not yet toured…next one to visit us here gets to go…nudge nudge) where all of the ships that were involved in the initial attack on Pearl have a small stone that recounts their role in the action, and their hands lost. It was fascinating, and it was a good opportunity to talk to the kids about what a memorial is, and why we don’t climb on them or run around them. They listened, and followed directions and for a stop that I’d not planned, it made for a really, really good part of the day. Oh, and did you know that Elvis helped to fund the USS Arizona memorial?

Gymboree open play was fun as always. Quiet time was brief. Dinner was barely touched (the girl ate a bunch of noodles, but they had a decent lunch) and they were in bed by 7:30. The twins have taken to reading or playing a bit before they either fall asleep in action, or, they put out their light and go to sleep. They are growing. If you listen to music, try to get a copy of Trace Atkins "You're gonna miss this." I heard it last night in the car, and it's really a song that rings true on my better days, and I have to remind myself of it on our rougher ones.

It was a good day, and I think this new morning program could be a real positive for us all, as it just seemed like the right balance of structure and fun to set them up for the rest of the day. Guess we will find out tomorrow, but one of the main reasons we came here today was for more time together and if today is any indication, when it’s good, it’s really going to be good. I can only imagine what it might be like when I really get a handle on what the heck I’m doing…

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Would you like to add a side of Guacamole to your order?

Well, I am an official “Chilihead.” After five days of training, I have passed by exams, and completed the equivalent of 3 shifts on the floor. My first official shift, where I get to keep my tips, is this Thursday. I’ll do dinner shifts Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week.

In all honesty, the exams were pretty rigorous and although I passed, there is a tremendous amount of information I need to get more comfortable with to be effective. The menu is more extensive then most people realize. That, and each item has specific things about how it’s prepared, what it comes with, how it’s presented, how long it takes. There’s a lot to know, and I’ll admit that although this is the third restaurant I’ve worked in my career, it is by far the most extensive menu and highest learning curve. The people on staff at my place in general are hard-working, fun, helpful, and smart. My new coworkers include a professional surfer, a med school grad, some students, some career servers, and a bunch of people I’ve not yet had the chance to talk with extensively. Thus far, I’ve been having a good time, and everyone is positive and friendly, and helpful. I’ve not had the “ick-another new guy…” attitude that can happen in any job, but I’ve seen before in several of my past positions. I interviewed with a number of other restaurants before I got this position, and can honestly say that I found most of the managers at the other places unpleasant and inflexible. Their attitude was essentially, ‘It’s great that you take care of your kids,” but if you’re not available 24/7 then we can’t use you.” That is of course their prerogative, as it’s their business, but it was irritating. My new bosses are very cool, and from my perspective, have the approach of it being more important that you can do the work and bring something unique to the restaurant. So, they get my services, and the other places can wallow in their soon to be dwindling sales. They had their chance.

As I write this, I’m listening to 610 AM: WIP in Philadelphia, online of course. It’s late there, but it really is a nice change of pace from listening to the local sports talk here in Hawaii, as I’m really not finding much interest in the local college basketball. Apparently no one else is either, as the entire sports page in the Honolulu Advertiser is devoted to the local high school basketball championships.

The current topic is, “Oh my God” moments in Philly sports-bad ones…no one had yet mentioned the big one in my opinion, the horrendous ending to the 1993 World series where Joe Carter hit a walk-off home run to send the Phillies home. So, I called, and got on the air and talked with the guy about a number of things, including living here in Hawaii. My point for the Phils after talking about ‘93, was that I don’t think the organization ever recovered, and that maybe if they spent more time building a winner than ribbing Kyle Kendrick, we might have a shot at winning.

But probably not. It was fun to listen and get on the air.

Hawaii continues to be a beautiful place to live. Having some work outside the house will be good for us all I think, and thus far, it’s been fun, but as I said, the training was no joke. They asked a lot and expect a lot. The tests were more rote memorization than I have done since Honors Chem in 11th grade. And, as I recall, I wasn’t a real whiz at it then. But, we pulled it out, and the real work will start on Thursday.

Perhaps next time, we can discuss the strategies for upselling! Stay tuned.

Oh, and we will be coming back to NJ for just under two weeks in May. Stay tuned on that as well. I’m looking forward to it.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Did you know that they have 4 types of Wings at Chili’s? Oh, and by the way, do you know who you are?

I’ll bet you didn’t know that. I’ll bet you didn’t know that they also have 6 different styles of Ribs and that the “Awesome Blossom” is only available when the “Colossal Onion” is in season.
Did you know that every item on the menu has a specific menu code-name designation, that I will have to know by Monday?

I know these things now, and many more fun facts, as I have obtained a part-time position at Chili’s Waikele, Store #515 of the ever-expanding Chili’s empire.

In addition, I’ve got 60 some pages of material that I have been asked to study and be tested on. The material varies from understanding menu items, being able to visually identify them, getting familiar with the corporate Lingo of the place and the manner in which the cooks expect the orders to be written….I’ve made flash cards.

In the end, I know that I, like most people, have in the past been driven towards an identity that was work-induced; “what do you do?” that was the question asked anytime I met a new person, whether it be at church, at Target, or at a bar…it was always the question that people drove to, as it does have a lot to do with who we are perceived to be.

To date I have spent:
15 years of my life as a professional educator including: Teacher, Assistant/Associate/Dean of students, Theater Director, Coach (head and Assistant), summer camp director, Swimming teacher, Camp counselor, rock-climbing teacher, Dorm Parent, Administrative intern, NHS Committee member, and various other roles.

14 years of my life in the Hospitality Industry as: dishwasher, Waiter, Bartender, Bar-back, banquet server, counter guy, sandwich maker, beer and wine guru, croissant maker, waiter, bouncer, host, bartender, waiter and now waiter again. And of course, there were those two days at “Chicken Holiday.” If you’ve never cleaned a grease trap, well, I’ll try not to think less of you…I also mowed a lot of lawns, played a few clubs, shoveled a ton of snow, raked my share of leaves, and just worked.

I remember the summer that I had my first official job. I came home on the last day of school, and was looking forward to a long and slow summer of hanging out with my friends and relaxing. I had studied hard for my finals, which were gratefully done, and when I walked in the door, I was expecting to waltz down to the Family room and watch “Hogan’s Heroes” or “McHale’s Navy” (we didn’t have Cable then).

I hadn’t yet put my bag down when Mom said, “get in the car, I’m taking you to your new job.”
15 minutes later, I was washing dishes at the Cranbury Inn. I learned a lot that summer, and among those lessons that I learned was that I really could get through pretty much anything I put my mind to get through. I just did what I was told. That worked for me most of the time while I worked there, but I learned soon enough the hard lesson that some people are lazy and will leave any work they can for someone else if they are able to get away with it. This became an issue at the Inn when a much older gentleman server would give me his plates without clearing them. I let it go a few times, but when it became clear that, even after being reminded by me and some of his serving colleagues, he had no plans to start clearing his plates before he put them up to be cleaned, which was my job, I stopped cleaning his dishes. I just put them to the side, and let them pile up. It seemed to me like the non-aggressive thing to do, as what I really wanted to do was somewhat brutal and unbecoming a gentleman.

The line cooks, who were positioned right across from me, who were older and some of the wiser men I’ve ever known, picked up on my silent protest and slowed up on his food orders. Eventually, it trickled down to the Chef, who pulled this douche of a waiter aside, and said, “looks like the kid needs you to clean your plates.”

That guy never gave me a problem again-nor did anyone else in the kitchen. I was 14. Where else but a restaurant does that happen in America?

I worked a lot of jobs outside the restaurant industry, including postal work, garbage man, I’ve moved stuff and I’ve painted stuff, and a lot of landscaping jobs. If I learned anything from those places, it’s that the only thing that mattered was if you were ready to get to work. If you worked hard, you earned respect. I’ll save my Garbage truck stories for another post, as I’m not sure that there’s not a book there.

The long and the short of it is that I know how to work hard. I had little choice but to learn how to work hard in my house growing up. There was no other acceptable option, and I’m glad for that, now Whether it was something I was good at or something I was bad at, my parents gave me the chance to try it, and if need be, fail spectacularly. Or to succeed. But I was always to try.

So, when you’re not “working,” how do you define yourself? Most of the parents that I encounter think I am there as a fill-in with my kids. Mommy got sick or something. When I tell people that I am a stay-at-home dad, they are quite often put off my it. I’ve been working hard in a new way at home since we moved here. There are some parts of the job back in Jersey that I really miss, though I won’t go into that here. I was good at things there. I’ll admit that the district politics pissed me off more than I’ve ever said, and that I have a real problem with people putting politics in the way of kids learning. That in many ways sums up why I was willing to step away. I just want better for me and mine. I was working 12-14 hours days most days, and working in some capacity at least 6 days a week. My kids were asleep when I left, and on many days, were either asleep or ready for bed when I got home.

So, I’ve stepped away from education to raise my kids, and I’ve picked up a new job at Chili’s. I start training tomorrow. Stay tuned for further details on the next chapter of my employment saga.

This entry got away from me a bit, but feel free to enjoy it anyway.

Oh, and as a follow up to last entry-I’m writing again.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

What do you do when you like to do everything?

Being a stay at home parent has its joys and challenges, as I’ve discussed ad nauseum in this space to date. That is not the topic of today’s discussion.

I will not admit to having a plethora of free time, but I will say that the wife and I have done very well of late in trying to give one another time to do things for ourselves when we have the chance to do so. Days off together have been great, and as I’ve discussed, is a new concept to us, as even before we were married, we shared common days off very rarely. Now that I am home with the kids, we have more opportunities to do things together, and separately, both of which I think are necessary to be healthy and happy. But with that, comes a dilemma, and that is what I want to discuss today.

I have been both blessed and cursed with an insatiable desire to do everything. Doing said things well has never been a requirement, as evidenced by my parents tortuous experiences watching me play CYO basketball in Junior High, and my brief “knitting” stage where I endeavored to knit a Christmas scarf for my High School Girlfriend, who was Jewish. (My knitting sucked, and it later became a dust rag, and the holiday gift became a mediocre Calligraphy rendering of her favorite poem from Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River Anthology. Perhaps I should have stuck with basketball?)

I have spent various levels of time in my life engaged in the following:
Participating in the study of/training towards, with intent to pursue a potential career in the following: Vocal Music, Music History, Instrumental Music (piano, guitar, bass, tuba, trombone, drums, and a great night in Oberlin where I was taught to play the Dulcimer-long story), Music composition and theory, Astronomy, Physics, Black Studies, Archeology, Anthropology (wow, was that a rough two days), Education, Psychology, Religion and Spirituality including: Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, and a brief foray into Quakerism (they were awfully nice people, but if you know me, you know I can’t be quiet that long), Restaurant management, Acting, Theater Management, Lighting and stage design. I also considered but did not then pursue careers in the U.S. Coast Guard, Stained Glass Art, Dentistry, photography, working for UPS, and entering politics. There was also that period that I wished I could go back in time and work with Dogs, but I blame Gracie for that one.

I have participated in the following organized sports/activities/hobbies /interests/obsessions: Literature, Dinosaurs, theater (dramatic, comedic AND musical) swimming (both instructive and competitive), martial arts (Gun Yuk Do and another form), crew, soccer, baseball, basketball, volleyball, Water Polo (Garden State Games silver Medalist, scoring two goals…), Knitting (see above), pinochle, Euchre, Dance, Poker, the Physics Club, the HHS Black Awareness Forum, Also, Rap Music (RUN DMC were the bomb, yo) Dungeons and Dragons, I was President of my Junior Class, and was voted most Musical in the Senior yearbook. I was into Computer gaming, Wrestling (pro…yes, I still watch it too), Science Fiction, architecture, Egypt, Bruno Richard Hauptman, (My sister’s obsession), Thoreau (went to Walden too!), Model UN (won an award in College-woot!), Amnesty International, the SPS “Kool and the Gang” Fan Club (it was me and the Baptist Kid), Golf, Floor hockey, 18th Century Church Windows (it was about a girl), and painting and pastels (that was about a lot of girls). I’ve always loved to write as well. Both for school and for myself.

I have held the following jobs in my life: Landscaper, dishwasher, counter-boy/hoagie maker, dishwasher/pastry guy, “Chicken Holiday” whipping boy (that was a rough two Saturdays), tour guide, garbage man, mailman, Upscale deli Sandwich boy and Beer expert, landscaper again, freelance moving guy (moved the same iron piano twice…), valet, bellhop, Police Animal control Officer, bartender, coach, dorm parent, Artistic Director of a theater, bartender, bouncer, Concert Security (I handled “The Bob’s” and “The Tannahill Weavers); Assistant, then Associate, then Head Dean of Students at a private school, assistant coach, Teacher of: English, Spanish (badly), Theater Arts, the History of Jazz, Public Speaking, and ESL. I have been an Assistant Principal in both High Schools and Middle Schools, have been a High School Athletic Director, waited tables at both a five-star restaurant and an Irish Pub in NJ. I also worked at a Barnes and Nobles one summer.

Now, the above listing is not about showing how broad I am or anything other than an attempt to illustrate to myself if no one else, that my interests, for better or worse, have been well-explored and enjoyed. I do not regret any of those choices, (the knitting thing I’d love to revisit) but I’m left to wonder if perhaps such a broad range of interests is indicative of perhaps not only an active mind, but a restless one as well.

I am in a unique position here in Hawaii. While I hope to pick up a part time position somewhere to bring in a little extra cash, my primary job is and will remain caring for and teaching my children. But, the pacing of life here, and the rhythm that we are developing for our lives seems like it will allow some level of opportunity for exploration of some of my interests over the time that we are here, which will have an end as much as it had a start.

So, what do I do with the time I will have, which while it will not be much, will be mine? Do I get back to work on that book of short stories I’ve been working on for the last few years? Or do I put some work into that novel I was working on? Do I pull out my guitar and get back to performing? (It's been 15 years since "In My Nature.) I’ve got a load of material since I was last recorded and was actively performing. Do I explore something new? I’ve got the chance to catch on as a volunteer with the local Independent Wrestling company-that could be fun. Do I learn to do Island Canoeing? Take up Fishing or actually learn to surf on a board?

I won’t be so grandiose as to say that this is some kind of crossroads, because I do not think I see it that way. But, I have the opportunity to take some of the energy left from caring for the kids and put it towards something else, other than a professional career-it would seem irresponsible to not figure out something productive to do in addition to what I’m doing already.
But in a life that’s had so many interests, with such varied results, what does one focus on? That’s what I’m thinking about today. Recommendations welcome, although any suggestions that I learn to knit or finally learn the words to “American Pie” will be deleted immediately. Happy Valentines Day this week, and Happy Birthday to Gramma.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Being a “Stay at home Dad” is way different than being a “stay at home Mom.”

The dynamics between men and women are truly an interesting area of discussion and exploration. Woody Allen has made a career of exploring that area of human experience. For better or worse, I’m not Woody, but I feel of late that being a stay at home dad really jumps at the heart of the roles of men and women.
I am a good father. I know that, and to be frank, it’s really one of the only jobs I’ve every wanted to be good at. I’ve got a long way to go in this role, but I do feel like I’m doing a good job overall.
I am clearly an oddity here on Oahu, and as I’ve come to believe and have been told by several of my respected counterparts of the female persuasion, I’d be an oddity back home in Jersey too. The ladies at Gymboree have accepted me, and after a few weeks seem to genuinely like me. One of the instructors praised me glowingly in front of the Baby’s music class a few weeks ago, saying among other things, that she “really commends me” for not only supporting my wife’s career but to have committed to caring for all three of our kids and not being afraid to “get out of the house.” I can’t tell you what that meant to me, and I thanked her later and she said, “you’re doing a great job.” That meant a lot, as that is a person who’s seen me operate in this role, and I really appreciated her perspective.
That said, I have not, nor I guess should I expect to be invited to any playdates since we arrived. This is not unexpected, as I have played the following scene out in my mind long before we moved here, staring the Nice mother from Class/gymboree/park, (we’ll use Gymboree for example sake) and her husband:
Nice Mother: Hey honey, I met this great guy at Gymboree! He was really nice and he’s a stay at home dad for his three kids!
Her husband: What?
Nice Mother: Yeah, I was thinking that I should have him over for a playdate!
Her husband: um, another guy here while I’m at work? Um, No.
And in all honesty, I can’t say that I’d react any different in that situation.
Now, to be frank, I know that most women would not bring this conversation home to their husbands. They don’t see me as a viable option when it comes to generating connections for their kids. It’s disappointing to me, but I suppose it’s to be expected when one considers the fact that the “stay at home Dad” is not only an oddity, it’s a flat out rarity, and most people don’t know how to respond to the fact that I’ve chosen to be at home with my kids. I’ve actually had someone say to me, with a look that would freeze water, “are you here to pick up women?” I was really there so my kids could play. Overall, I hope that I can develop enough of a rapport with people that they might allow our kids to be friends without worrying that I’m a guy. I am more in love with my wife every minute that I breathe, so they really don’t have to be concerned, but I guess I should not expect anyone to bother to talk to me that long to figure that out. There are several “mom’s” groups here, one of which the Wife has gone to. But I am kind of alone here in my own regard.
Hawaii is a strange place. Before we moved here, we came here three time: twice to see the wife’s sister and her husband (he is a Marine who was stationed here and is headed soon to Iraq as a reservist) and once to look for a house here after we had decided to move. On all three of those visits, we were essentially tourists. And we were treated as such. Treated well and the Aloha spirit was well represented.
Now, we live here. We are not tourists, and in all honesty, to many here, we are not welcome. There are people in our little development that I’ve tried to speak to, who have responded with a blank stare. As though I’d not spoken. It makes me think that the Aloha Spirit seems to really only apply to people who are here short term. An odd perspective as a truly small percentage of the population can claim to be native to this state. I won’t dive into my thoughts on that issue today.
Overall, the pace here has been a definite positive to us and our family life. We are together on Friday and Saturdays, and that has been amazing. That alone, with perhaps the fact that I’m home more, has made all the difference in our family life. And, as that’s what this was supposed to be all about, I welcome it.
I hope that we can make friends, but in the end, this move was as much about coming together as a family, and about being thankful for the blessings that we have, as it was about the Wife’s work.
I’m not yet the Dad I want to be. I’m working on it. I appreciate so much more the work that the Wife and our cast of characters back home did for us.
I’ve learned that the next step in my life is really yet to be determined. So, stay tuned.