Friday, April 25, 2008

What I just learned I don't want to do

We’ve been here on Oahu since December 10. That’s just over four months. In the grand scheme of life, that’s not very long at all. That’s less than half a school year; a season and a half as I might have reckoned it back as AD. I know I’ve brought up this point before, but I think I’ve figured out a rather significant piece of the puzzle as to why our time here seems to have moved in such a different manner than time back home. Coupled with that, was another interesting realization this week, but I am once again getting ahead of myself, gentle reader…

Of course things are paced a bit slower here. That’s generally a good thing I suppose, though I will admit frustration with some aspects of that truth. Services and businesses move far slower here, to the point of irritation at times. Mail can be either lightning fast, or ridiculously slow. But, so it goes I suppose.

This is the first time in my life, since perhaps the age of four or five that I’ve not had the bulk of my time structured around school. From Kindergarten, up until this past December, I have been engaged in some kind of school community. My life was built around the Monday-Friday, 7am-3pm, September through June, with holiday and summer breaks, American school-based structure. Any vacation I took or plans I made were built around school, whether it was as a student or later on as an educator. Heck, we got married in the summer, so we could go on our honeymoon while school was on break.

This is the longest stretch of my life without that structure, and now that I see that, I realize that there are other ways to look at the world. It’s been a little weird some Thursdays, where we generally go to the library for story time at 10am, and have that be the first time we leave the house. Back home, I’d have been at work for three hours already. That crosses my mind less than it did when we first got here though.

The other realization I’ve had is that my entire mindset as it relates to work has shifted dramatically. I would like to think I’m a hard worker, and feel that I had good parental modeling in that vein. I worked very hard in my career, and feel like I was doing good work at the last school when I resigned for us to come here.

That said, I worked that hard because I had to. I worked in education because, well, I guess you could say that I felt I had an aptitude for it, and it seemed natural. But countless are the times I recall having the discussion on the ever popular topic: what would you do if you didn’t have to work?

As a side note, if you’ve not seen the movie “Office Space” you really should. I feel it is an American Classic. Peter Gibbons, played by the erstwhile Ron Livingston, was a cinematic hero to me. Perhaps not at the same level as film heroes like William Wallace, Frodo Baggins, and The Scorpion King, but a hero to the American worker. Peter has a conversation with his neighbor, Lawrence, played by the always funny Diedrich Bader, where they discuss “what would you do if you had a million dollars?” Peter’s response? He says, “Nothing. I would relax. Sit on my ass all day.” Now, with three kids and me bucking for “father of the year,” that’s not really an option, but I think that the debate really boils down to the point of how does one define who they are and what they want.

I have begun to realize that many people become defined by their jobs, and I wonder if that is a good thing. Although, I still enjoy the reactions I get when I answer the time-tested “So, what do you do for a living?” Most women I meet seem to really appreciate that I’m working at home with the kids, and on the side at Chilli’s. (“Margarita Madness” remains in swing…Check your local store for details.) However, most men seem to take my answer as a cue to start talking about who they know and what jobs they can help me get. When I explain to them that this was a choice that we made as a family, that’s when my favorite part, the glazed “that does not compute” look creeps onto their faces.

The truth of the matter is, I don’t have to work right now. I don’t need to earn a huge salary and provide health coverage for my family. The wife’s position is enough for us to live on, and so, I suppose, I have myself been faced with the same inherent question that Peter and Lawrence debated in the film. (which also includes a great performance by Steven Root as “Milton,” and a very nice early performance by Jennifer Aniston) The wife and I have put ourselves and our family into a position where I don’t have to have a career right now. So my answer to that question was, and remains, I’ll raise my kids. The cash I bring home from Chilli’s goes to paying stuff here, so we can continue to kill off debts that we were building while I was making a pretty high salary, working a six days a week, oftentimes 12 hour a day, driving 80 miles a day and shot gunning 64 ounces of Wawa coffee a day so I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel, and never seeing my family. ( I do miss Wawa though) We’ve killed off 50% of our debts in the past three months here, by simplifying our lives and spending better.

There continue to be people in my life who can’t understand how I don’t want to go back to work full time in education. I’ve had more people approach me here with, “Hey, I know so-and-so, who you should call for a job.” I appreciate their efforts, but I just don’t want to go back anymore. At least not now. I don’t know that I really came to peace with that until I just wrote it. Don’t get me wrong, when we first got here, I missed it a lot. I still miss the kids, and many of the staff. I miss the school setting, at times, which as I said earlier, has been essentially my “normal” for the past 30 years. That’s a long time. Too long maybe. To say I have been disillusioned at times by working in education will surprise no one who knows me. I know I could never have kept up that wild pace at the last school. I’m not afraid of hard work. But the price was too high back home.

This is not to say that I don’t have stress being at home with the kids. In all honesty, between our regularly scheduled activities, teething, potty-training, getting a three-year old boy to wear his glasses, and trying to simply raise them right, I’m working pretty damned hard right now. There are days that going to work at Chilli’s is a relaxing break to my day. But I think one of my colleagues at the restaurant helped me piece some of this together during my shift today. We were talking, and she said, “Do you like working here?" and when I said, "Of course I do-what's not to love?" she replied, "Doesn't working here stress you out?” And I thought about it, and the answer was simply, “Not even a little.” I asked her to elaborate though. She mentioned difficult customers, and the occasional bad tip (which is becoming gratefully more rare). I told her what I used to do, and how on a daily basis I had to discipline kids, deal with angry parents, often the media, teachers, and virtually no job security. Add to that an irritating commute, and hours that kept me away from home way too much, and I said, “what’s the worst that can happen here? Outside accidental food poisoning, what’s the worst I can do-give someone Beef Quesadillas when they wanted Chicken?” (Which I did today, and the customer thanked me, saying it was great! We called it a Happy accident, and she left me a nice tip as well) to do my job well there, I need to be organized and, as "Office Space" might suggest, Full of "Flair," which apparently I don't have much of a problem with.

So, I smiled at her, and told her, “even when it’s crazy here, it’s a good crazy, and in terms of stress, with where I came from, this is nothing.”

And I think only now am I starting to see that. But then, it’s only been 4 months.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

“John and Kate plus 8” is a TV show. I live on Earth.

Everyone who does so thinks they are the first person to tell me that "Kate" from "John and Kate Plus 8" is a great show, and that I should watch it and make notes-especially about potty training. I've seen the show. I don't care for it for a variety of reasons, the nicer of which can be summed up with the following: How many cops watch cop shows to unwind? Of the cops I know, it's not so common. The wife doesn't like prison shows. I didn't like school shows. So, I don't like "John and Kate," but really, I kinda seriously don't like "Kate." She's nasty, mean and condescending. But I digress...

Training twins to use the potty has turned into a daunting task. While we have had some early successes, it is clear that I am not “Kate." I put her name in quotes, because she is a character on a TV show, and in my opinion, not a real person, at least in regards that nothing filmed for TV is “real.”

Honestly, how real can you be with a camera crew, lights, and director, and likely a few lawyers bopping around your house? I submit, not all that real.

But I digress. Kate’s MENSA kids are clearly all classically potty-trained and I’m sure ready to pass the bar exam, while the twins and I continue to vacillate between 10-second sitdowns, followed by “I’m done” and a desperate run to the newly instituted “Prize bag” for successful attempts, only to be reminded that the prize bag is only for when they actually go. I’ll spare you, gentle reader the particulars of our vocabulary in those interactions. Or, maybe I just don’t want to type it…

But we keep trying.

This project has coincided with the boy’s recent acquisition of eye glasses. If you’ve ever tried to get a three year old active boy to keep his glasses on, please send me your secrets. He does well with them overall, and he clearly sees better with them, but he’s a boy, and he and his twin sister are both now going through a spectacularly wonderful “But I don’t want to” and “I want to now” phase that I’m finding particularly pleasant. When I was the Vice Principal, I could send a kid home for such defiance. Times have changed, not that anyone at my old school would notice, but that’s another topic entirely.

This phase has been further complicated by the tremendously exciting development of the little bear. She’s doing wind sprints now, dancing (with impressive rhythm) to all the right songs, kicking during swim lessons, floating on the aqua-noodle by herself, and fully embracing new words including Duck, snack, Mommy, Daddy, and perhaps most in line with her siblings, the word “no.”

Needless to say, I think they’ve learned, much to my chagrin, that they outnumber me.
That said, the boy can now count to ten in Japanese. The girl can do it in Spanish. Both twins can do addition up to 1 + 10=11, most of the time.

Oh, and I believe that I am now the first male member of a local MOMS club. They’ve been very nice, and I think will present us with some very cool outlets for the kids.

The wife brought the twins to their morning program today. All the other moms greeted her with, “oh, you’re the Mom.” They were of course nice to her, but it seems they’ve gotten used to me. A little scary.

So, in my reflective moments these days, I try to remember what it was like to not know how to use the potty, so I can relate. But, I think it’s one of those things we block out once it clicks. Here’s hoping for click-age. I’m sure “Kate” has it all figured out for herself, but in the episodes I’ve watched, she’s not real nice to her husband…or anyone else for that matter.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

So, how have things Changed?

Someone asked me this the other day, in reference to how things have changed since I left my career in educational administration to take care of the kids. Things have changed a lot since we moved here, but the first thing that came to mind at that moment was: I have very different conversations now.

By way of example, here are some recent subjects that I have engaged in active conversation with others. The lines in quotes are things that I have actually said recently. Explanation or riffing will be added where appropriate. You can decide for yourself if things have changed.

1) “Is there anything better for cleaning than the “Mr. Clean Magic Eraser?”
-No there isn’t. This one was easy.

2) “You vacuum your house every day? I thought I was uber-dad because I do it twice a week!”
-She has very hairy pets though…although especially now that the bear is dropping food all over, I really could vacuum daily. But, I don’t.

3) “We had fun at Gymboree, but it just got to be too expensive, and we’ve found other outlets.”
-Well, it was, and we have. The first few months here would have been tough without them though. Plus, I have some issues with the way they structure their classes.

4) “Oh, the Honolulu Zoo is WAY better than the Waikiki Aquarium!”
-Not even close. The Zoo is huge, and has both a playground and a “Kid Zoo” on the grounds. The aquarium is essentially 4 fish and a piece of coral for twice the price and no food on the grounds. Took us 12 minutes to walk through. We were members of the NJ State Aquarium, went there loads of times, and still have not seen it all.

5) “Well, if you notice anything different about us here at Chili’s tonight, we are in the midst of “MARGARITA MADNESS!”
-Well, we are. Check your local Chili’s for details. I’ve sold nearly 40 so far.

6) “Well, your MOMS group are the only group that called or wrote me back…so, sign me up.”
-They were, and I did. I am now a member of the MOMS group in our area. We had a new member breakfast today, and it was nice-a lot of other moms who have kids in our kids age brackets, and they hold a lot of monthly events that I think our kids will get a lot out of, plus they run a cooperative babysitting program…stay tuned.

7) “Folding the check? I didn’t know that.”
-I had a customer last week who’s bill came to $29.28. She left $30.28 in the Check Presenter, waited on her $1 change, took it and left. I was irritated. I mentioned this to one of the more veteran servers and she said that in some cultures, Asian in this case, if the check is folded, it is a sign that gratuity is not included. If it is not folded, there is an assumption that it has been included. I wasn’t sure about this, but I’ve started doing it and have not been stiffed since. In fact, the day after “the dollar incident” I had the best night I’ve has since I started there. Sold 15 Margaritas alone that night…

8) “Well, the SAFEWAY diapers are crap, but their all-surface cleaner is really pretty good.”
-Safeway is akin to ACME back home. The rest is just true.

9) “The Kapolei Library’s Storytime is MUCH better than the one in our town.”

10) “Big Kids who go to preschool with other big kids use the potty.”
-The training continues and does not go well.

11) “How do Princesses dance?”
-I was then shown. It was lovely.

12) “Of course Panda Bear can wear her seatbelt.”

13) “Well, the only two parks on the island that have any shade at all are at the Zoo, and the Makakilo park, but only if you go in the mid afternoon.”

14) “Why did our community pool have to order pool parts form the mainland? Hawaii doesn’t have enough pools and water-related attractions to warrant one pool store?”
-Still waiting on the answer to this one.

15) “Oh, cool! It’s raining!”
-Although of course the weather is lovely-the same of anything gets tiresome without reprieve.

16) “WOO! The Flyers made the playoffs!”
-Series starts, and will air here on Friday! Regrettably, I was the only one who seemed to care. The boy said “wow, Daddy” but I think he was just being nice.

17) “Only psychological”
-This was my response to our teller at Safeway the other day, who asked if I “needed any help,” as I was checking out with a cart full of groceries and three screaming kids. She thought it was funny.

That’s all I can think of now. I’m sure there are others. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I’ve gone halfway around the world.

If you had told me a year ago I would be writing at my grandfather’s desk on the Island of Oahu, I would have asked what you were drinking. These days, I might ask the same question, and perhaps even ask where you got it. This is simply to reflect on the fact that I have been in Hawaii fewer than 200 days, and yet it feels as though several different lifetimes have both started and ended.

I’ll admit, I felt great peace in leaving my job in education. I was beyond tired, and I think I personally kept the Wawa at exit 10 on NJ 295 open with my sometimes twice daily coffee purchases. I knew there was a problem when I would come home and the twins would say, “Daddy’s home-it’s bedtime!” and head upstairs. That is assuming I got home before they were put to bed.

Much like anything else in life, my job as a high school Assistant Principal and Athletic Director was great when it was good, and subsequently hard when it was hard. There were long stretches of days that the wife and I would not see one another, and equal to that if not beyond were the days that I would not see the twins, and their baby sister.

Incidentally: I’ve called her the “baby” here. She’s not a baby anymore…so, I’ll now refer to her by one of her nicknames around the house-she more often than not is “the bear” so that is what she will be in this space.

I liked my work at the last school, and I was good at it, I think. With Spring sports about to kick off in NJ, I am definitely jonesing for the rush that came with a new season, and the joy that a new season offered-we had some great kids and great coaches, and I do not think the sports aspect of my job was a genuine source of unhappiness…save for the ridiculous hours. I digress a bit I think.

I spent the last week alone with the twins. The wife took the bear to visit her sister back in PA, and I was left to be superdad to the twins. We had a lot of fun, and it was a very different experience being just with the two of them.

We did a lot-we went to the Zoo, explored a new playgroup, did story time at the library, took a ride on the Pineapple Express train, went to the discovery center, cleaned the house with the Flyers game on, and visited a few restaurants, and parks all over the island.

We had fun.

I worked hard to see that they had fun, but they taught me something this week. I tried to not overdo the activities, and we achieved a nice balance I think. The evening were always low key, and we listened to music, as we always do, and a few nights, we ended the evenings looking at family pictures and or movies. One night, we spent walking about the house, with the twins, the girl at the lead, pointing at the myriad pictures we have up here, and her asking who they were, or, in the case of most of our family, pointing and identifying them unsolicited. The boy knows Sam Cooke and Bruce Springsteen on hearing them, and they both know our family photos just as well.

The boy can name most of Bruce’s band as well, which is a little scary, but that is another entry I think. The first time he said “Clarence plays the Saxophone, Max plays the drums…” I had a moment…but we encourage knowledge in our home, regardless of genre.

I took the twins to Pali Lookout (“Nuuanu Pali”) this week. Pali is a tremendously sheer cliff, where, as the story goes, King Kamehameha I fought the final battle (The Battle of Nuuanu) in his campaign to unite the Islands of Hawaii in 1795, and defeated his rivals by driving them over the cliff at Pali. It remains a very wild and windy spot, and one that is very impressive to stand upon.

The Pail trail road was open this week, when we went, which meant either it was open, or someone took the sign that said “road closed” and threw it away. Either is possible. Either way, I took a long hike with the kids down the Pali trail. It was a lot of fun, and as the Girl said, “it’s a little mysterious.”

We filled our days with fun, and our nights were filled with music. I was impressed and humbled a bit when the girl didn’t want to go to bed the other night until “daddy played the guitar” for her.

Whatever else I will say about living here in Hawaii, and there is a LOT I can say about the experience of living here, I will say this:

-I am now a full time parent. I was barely a part time parent back in Jersey.
-I am a better parent than I was. Beyond the simple fact of showing up, I am more creative and engaged in their daily lives than I have ever been.
-Our family has regular and significant time together.
-I watched 2 Flyers games live on TV this week.
-My kids Have a good sense of humor, and know who the Eagles, Phillies, and Flyers are (screw the Sixers).
-They can look at family photos, some of which are 100 years old and recognize those in them.

I’ve done just fine, I think, and I mention this not to pat myself on the back, but more to remind myself that regardless of the challenges that we have faced here, and there have been some, the positives of our life here outweigh them. More time together. A simpler life. Streamlined expenses. Time as a family and a chance to be together is more important than anything else, and we have that now. This move to Hawaii was always planned as a short-term thing, and that hasn’t changed. That said, I’ve had to force myself to remember what’s important here, in lieu of waiting for the next move at times. I’m not going to waste our time here waiting to come home.

Do I miss Jersey? Of course-more than I thought I would. Will I be excited when we get the chance to move back to the East? Yeah, I will.

But I’m going to milk this experience for all it’s worth, for all of us.