Friday, June 20, 2008

So, when does it end?

I check up on the papers back in Jersey and Philly pretty much daily. Usually, I’m checking to see news on the Eagles, Flyers, or Phillies.

And I check up on my old school/job in the papers as well. Few if any from the old place return my correspondence anymore, which I will admit is tremendously disappointing personally. Regrettably though, it is not totally unexpected. Schools, both as a student, and as an employee were always places steeped in the “who’s here right now” mentality. It has occurred with virtually every school I have left, and every relationship I built there. Outta sight, outta mind one might say, and I suppose there is some grain of truth there. Schools tend to be the kind of places that are driven by the people who show up and give a damn. You leave-you’re old news.

“So it goes,” as Kurt would say.

I’ve enjoyed reading about how my old teams did this season, and was really pleased to see them do well. It was a year that athletically I think the school should be proud of, and one that I would have had a lot of fun being a part of. The kids and the coaches came off great in the local papers, and they brought a lot of distinction to the school and the community. The last few weeks, were I still there, would have been filled with more banquets and mediocre pasta than I could stomach. But it was always fun. I always enjoyed the moments where the kids and their parents got to feel special. There’s nothing like an awards or commencement ceremony to remind one that these kids do go forth, and they move on and grow. To this day, among the best moments I recall in each school I’ve had the honor to work in, is walking into graduation in my robe and hood. Still have my hood. I’d like to wear it somewhere, to be honest. I miss that I think-being part of an academic program. I miss being engaged in that debate-how best to teach and engage kids.

But, much like that pal you made at summer camp, and that girl you met at the concession stand during CYO basketball in Junior High, it seems that with this school year at my old place ended, so might my claim on it. There are still a lot of people I respect and care for there-much like at every other place that I’ve worked. But over time, when you’re not there, you don’t much matter. I think that’s really kind of the way of things, but I wonder if that’s a school thing, or really just a work thing. I wouldn’t know really, as outside the restaurant industry, there’s no structure I know as well as a school.

Schools are far more freaking political than they should be. It’s a damn shame that adults cannot simply get together to focus on the educational and developmental needs of children. Maybe they can, but I’ve not had the luxury of working in a school that could look past it’s own ass to figure out that that is the only thing that matters. People take school seriously, as they should, but schools are sometimes so all encompassing that they dominate your time and energy like a family or a serious illness.

I mean that both positively and negatively. As a student, a young person-up to high school, education is your job-it’s your career that leads to your career. But it’s not a great practice for life, as unless you spend the rest of your life in a school, I’m not sure that style of structure lends itself to living in the real world.

Now that I’m outside of it, there’s a whole world that is not working from 7-2:30 with 30 minutes for lunch, five days a week, 180 days a year. I mention this not as a slam to the educational community, but more out of embarrassment for the level at which it seems I got institutionalized by the work. As I wrote about in this space recently, I’ve had trouble connecting with that sense of time that exists outside the school world. Going to the library at 10am has taken some getting used to, but that’s when story time is, so we’ve adjusted.

So, while there are people and students at the old place that I care about and wish well, there’s no pulse to the relationship, and little to no contact anymore. While I have found this disappointing, I am not as hurt as I am regrettably unsurprised by the manner in which I stopped mattering almost immediately. So, when do I stop checking the papers? When does a life one is no longer living and/or welcome in, truly end?

I wonder if this question, that I alone may be the only one curious about, may boil down to one larger question: How does one measure the impact of a life? Or a career? Is it measured by lives touched? Is it measured by money made or projects completed? Lives saved? Students taught? Customers served? Miles traveled? Paintings sold? Enemies killed? Medals won? Hall of fames inducted in? Honorary degrees earned? Children sired? Songs written? Points scored? Converts baptized? Pages written?

I honestly don’t know. This transition to life here in Hawaii has been both more complicated, and less so than I had anticipated. I think there are little footprints of our lives back in Jersey that pop up now and then, and make it harder sometimes to truly lay claim to the fact that we, as a family, took a huge step together, and are still learning how we all fit in here. The vast majority of people in both my personal and professional life thought I was out of my mind to even entertain this venture. I might have been. But we have only been on Oahu six months and 10 days. Our whole lives have been changed. And much of our old life in Jersey has fallen away as though it were the single piece of cake left on the plate that no one cared to eat, or to be seen eating.

Not all of that life, but most of it. So when does it end? When do I stop checking the papers on how the old school is doing? When do I stop reaching out to people who clearly no longer have the inclination to maintain contact? When do the local news of the old town no longer resonate?
And beyond the school life, when does one stop expecting a reconciliation and rehabilitation of a relationship that isn’t likely to occur?

I guess it ends when I decide it ends, and I think that’s now, for me, in a lot of ways.

So it goes, indeed.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Return of the “Littlest Houseguest,” Father’s Day, “What if?” and other Tales from Potty Central (Day 15).

The girl went through this phase back in Jersey where she would wait until her brother and baby sister were put to bed, and then she would all of a sudden “need” stuff. “I need water,” or “I’m hungry. I want to eeeeeeat!” She’d tiptoe her way down the steps, and hop into the living room with a “Ta-Da!” kinda feel, and wait to be paid attention to. It was endearing in its own way, if somewhat of a challenge to the wife and I ever completely watching a movie. It was clear that she wanted to spend a little time being the only kid in the room, and it’s hard to argue with that logic. For the most part, all three kids are together all the time. The bear got a little solo time when we were in Gymboree, and during her swim lessons. The twins are actually pretty good at being in the same space, and doing different things, like at some of our playgroup type activities. But in all, we are all together. A lot. And sometimes it must get to be a bit much. For all of us.

So, back in Jersey, we started calling her the “littlest houseguest.” I’m not really sure why, but it made me laugh, so it stuck. I bring this up today, as she seems to be making a return engagement over the last week or so. Once the other two are nestled snug in their beds…out she comes. Whether its “I want my light on,” or “I wanna play Chutes and Ladders,” it’s clear she’s not ready to go to sleep, and wants to be attended to, as one would attend a houseguest.
Her requests are reasonable, mostly, but its more the timing of it all: she’s seeming to burst with energy when the rest of us are just about tapped out. I’m not sure where she gets it from, as on average, she sleeps less than her brother and sister. Her brother is very easy to get to bed these days-he likes to sleep, and when he’s tired, he’ll pretty much put himself in bed. The bear is pretty easy, unless her teeth are bothering her, and since she seems to have been cutting teeth like a Great White the last few months, there have been days of challenge, but in general, she’ll go down to sleep when asked. But big sister? Only when she’s either good and ready, or she simply drops. Not a lot of bargaining…last night for example…there was a need to, once the other two were down, eat more noodles, drink water, discuss why it gets dark outside, look at her globe and ask the names on every island on it, and where all our family and friends live, read some books, play a few rousing games of “Dora Chutes and Ladders” (Dora won) with me, and then she wanted to play a few rounds by herself, telling her dead old dad to “Leave me alone now Daddy.”

She feel asleep soon after I left her alone. She woke up early today, although it was after the other two had gotten up, and first thing was, “I’ve got the box-time to play Dora.”
She’s consistent. It does serve as a reminder that we do need to try and make time to do things with the kids one on one. All of the kids benefit when we get the chance to do such things, and although logistically, it is a real challenge at times, especially with only the one car, they are different kids when we can do things one on one. Every time the boy sees a bus, he says, “That’s the bus we took to Aloha Stadium, Daddy.” Any time the girl sees a movie poster, she talks about how Mommy took her to see “Enchanted” and they got candy and popcorn. The wife has talked about how different the bear was when she flew back to the mainland with her alone. She seems to get the short end of things, as the youngest, but that will likely ease once the twins start their new preschool program in August. Two days a week, three hours a day. They need to go. I need them to go. The bear will then get some much needed solo time, and obviously the twins are ready to have some structure without me and the wife there. Some of their friends from swim class are in the same program, so there is real potential for all of us both academically and socially. Apparently, I’ve been signed up already to be a classroom parent helper. My triumphant return to education, indeed…

It seems simple, but between our work schedules and everything else, its been a real challenge, but if the “littlest houseguest” has shown me anything this week, it’s that you need to make the time, even when you’re tired, to give the members of your family what they need. Even if it’s a discussion of how the Earth’s rotation causes it to get dark, and how it’s a different time in Iraq, where her Uncle is, and another time on the Mainland, where her Aunts are. Despite being tired, I figure I’ve got to enjoy this time when they want to be around us. They’ve grown so much in the last few years already-hard to believe that someday they’ll be teenagers…who might not want to do quite so much together, with Dad…

So, I’m going to try to get to bed earlier from now on. Might mean it takes me a little longer to get through movies and stuff, and it might mean that some of my projects have to take a backseat. But I think I should take advantage of when they want to be with me, even if it’s a little past bedtime.

That and they keep waking up so darn early…I’m tired.

On another note, my old school had their graduation last week. If we had not moved, this would have been a fun yet stressful couple of weeks. The coming weeks would likely have been heavily stressful, or not stressful at all, depending on a few circumstances I won’t go into here. Needless to say, I’m not sad to be missing that level of stress. There are a lot of “What if’s” to consider there, but in all honesty, I imagine that my career would very likely be in flux right now. I am happier having walked away on my own terms.

Father’s Day involved breakfast at Denny’s, and then after dropping the wife off at work, I took the kids to the Zoo for the day.

Potty training continues. There are occasional accidents, but we are becoming more mobile by the day. I think we will be in fine shape by the time we are heading to preschool in August. It’s been frustrating at times, and there are days that if I had heard the word “potty” one more time, I think I would have totally lost it. It’s a lot of stress on them I’m sure, being such a big change, but they are getting there. I think starting in the new school will be a big deal for them, and I think we are all looking forward to it.

This one rambled a bit, but that’s what I get for trying to wax poetic while the kids are afoot. As always, comments welcome.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Who remembers wearing diapers, anyway?

After our return from the mainland, the wife and I took time and stayed home, starting the process of potty training in full, meaning no more diapers, except at night. We’ve been working the edges of this process for a while, but we decided to go cold turkey last week.

Been a long week.

Day one was rough. While the kids were excited to wear their big kid undies, they were perhaps so excited that they…um, well, showed their excitement. Over, and over and over. And over. We had a lot of cleanups on Day one. It was a rather trying day for all, but over subsequent days there was improvement and success, in addition to regressions and frustration, sometimes in equal measure. We made some adjustments, like buying a new “Disney Princesses” potty for the girl, and letting the boys put “Thomas the Tank Engine” stickers all over his potty. That helped a lot. We then moved the units into the living room, and tried using the TV as both an incentive and reward…just to get things moving. So to speak.

We found some progress there, but I think our early mistake was by thinking that hunkering down in the house and essentially staying in for a week was the way to go. It was simply way too much time at home. I got frustrated, and so did they. I’ve talked about scheduling and over-scheduling in this space before, and I think what I fell prey to this time was no schedule at all. The kids were kinda floundering around, and so was I. I think we all overdosed on “Thomas” and “Angelina Ballerina” not to mention the surprisingly singable, “Elmo’s Potty Time,” which features classics such as “Accidents Happen” (And That’s OK!), and “Dirty Diaper Blues.” Truly, a modern masterpiece.

So, the last few days, we’ve worked towards getting back out of the house. Day seven, we went potty, and then left the house for a daring journey down the road to McDonald’s for a “Kung Fu Panda” Happy Meal. We would have done that on day 6, except the mere suggestion of leaving the house on day 6 for some reason inspired the boy to tear off all his clothes and roll around the floor in a ball. The girl responded by running upstairs and hiding behind Snoopy.

Day 8 involved a longer drive, and a trip to the park. Day 8 also involved the first usage of the new “Trunk Potty system.” We simply put their potties in the trunk of the Van, and bada-bing: Instant travel system. They hop on their potties before we leave the car and when we get back in. We had two accidents at the park, but they were rather minor all things considered. Getting on the playground was like meeting my kids again for the first time in a week-I hadn’t seen them smile and laugh in a little while, and they were so happy to be outside running around. Even though we kept it short, it made all the difference, and I knew that we were ready to turn the corner and get back to our lives again. It was then I realized that it was mistake to hunker down in the house, and that we were done with that philosophy entirely. Maybe it worked for “John and Kate Plus 8,” but as I’ve said before, they are characters on a TV show, and in my opinion, “reality TV” tends to be anything but real. That said, if anyone from a network wants to write me a check and follow me around with a camera, I’ll give them a show they’ll enjoy. I’ll be happy to accept suggestions of titles in the comment section. Perhaps we’ll have a poll. Or not.

Day 9, today, which happens to be our wedding anniversary, has been a pretty solid day from the potty-preparedness front. The kids demeanor has settled down, and they appear far less stressed than they have been. We hit the library, drove thru Starbucks, and then went to our MOMS club playgroup at an outdoor park. I knew we were going to keep them all short visits, but in general, they did very well. We had one tiny accident earlier today that may actually have been a spilled cup…circumstantial evidence at best, so I’m calling today a high-success day indeed. Their TV dependence is down, their frustration is down, as is mine, and we are getting back to some level of normalcy.

We still have a ways to go. The kids are going, but we are still prompting them regularly. I look forward to them moving to the potty on their own more than they do. But they are doing well and are proud of themselves.

I think there’s a reason that most people don’t remember wearing diapers: I think we block it out once we’ve learned to handle it ourselves. It’s like a relative that you know exists but pretend doesn’t. Like that drunk uncle you don’t talk to at family reunions, or that co-worker that you pretend you don’t hear while you’re walking to the car and simply have no interest in their pictures of the rare Borneo dung beetle from their trip over break. Or perhaps its like that ex-girlfriend that you pretend you don’t see at the Dairy Queen with her new boyfriend, and he’s spooning her a bite of his Blizzard resting his hand on the jeans that still have your name written on them in a little red heart and….

Ok, maybe it’s not like that. But I think it’s probably a bigger transition than I realized. And I think there’s a reason most people never remember wearing diapers. And there are certainly aspects of this process that I won’t wish to remember, but will. And when we are done I’ll know that the twins have taken a big step into a larger world, and maybe I will have as well.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

“The magnetic pull of home.”

I spent about 12 days back on the mainland with the wife and kids, doing among other things visiting family and friends. It was an odd trip in many ways. I could write about a number of different topics ranging from the joys of finding decent pizza, the disappointment surrounding friendships that appear to have ended due to our move, the ease with which other friendships continue to grow and prosper, the fun of being able to listen to Philly Sports talk in the car and discuss the teams with strangers in the supermarket. I could talk about how nice it was to wonder what the weather would be like, how uncomfortable it is to sleep on the floor, how grown up the kids were in their behavior and demeanor overall, how I’m not planning on flying with all three kids again anytime soon, or even how irritating it is to potty train twins.

But I’m not going to write about that today. I’m going to write about home.

Thomas Wolfe wrote a large novel called You Can’t Go Home Again, which I haven’t read. He also wrote a novel called Look Homeward, Angel, which I have read. (I once starred as W.O. Gant in a stage production to somewhat positive reviews…) Angel was essentially a biographical account of Wolfe’s own youth and struggles to leave home and find his way in the world. You Can’t go Home Again appears to be his take on returning home after being out in the world. Apparently, the protagonist, author George Webber, has had great success with a novel written about his hometown, and those in it. When he returns home, he is essentially driven away by the fury and outrage of his former friends and neighbors, who are not pleased with having been the subject of his work. He spends the rest of the novel searching for “home” in NYC, Paris, Berlin, before returning to the US with a new perspective his country and home.

I’m skimming it online now: which you can do to at: Google Books-novel link I’ll have to get around to reading it one of these days. It’s one of those books, like James Joyce’s Ulysses, that I’ve always felt like I should have read, but that won’t stop me from referencing it as though I had. I’ll just be honest about it now, as opposed to say how I might have faked it during AP English.

Anyway, what I found interesting in reflecting on this concept is that since we’ve been in Hawaii, now six months, whenever I’ve talked about “home” I’ve been talking about Jersey. Although my wife, kids, and all my stuff are in Hawaii, I’ve been holding onto Jersey as “home.”

So what is the definition of home then? A quick Google gave me this:
1- residence: the place where a person, family, or household lives
2- family group: a family or any other group that lives together
3- birthplace: the place where somebody was born or raised or feels that he or she belongs
4- native habitat: the place where an animal is most common or indigenous

I think that covers the word as most people would use it. The first two pretty much indicate what our situation is now-Hawaii is home in the literal sense. There’s something under that third one that resonates though. During my life, I‘ve resided at each of the following: Cranbury, NJ; Wooster, OH; Devon, PA; Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY; Morristown, NJ; Wildwood, NJ; Beverly, NJ; Moorestown, NJ; Honolulu, HI; and finally Ewa Beach, HI. Does that mean that each place listed felt like “home” to me? I would venture to say that some places, like Devon, PA for example, never felt like home. I was only there a year, and it was not a banner year for me. Cornwall had moments, but I always kinda knew that I would leave there eventually. Turned out to be three years of living, four years of work. I left there disappointed. We were only in Wildwood as residents for a summer, and were in that apartment in Honolulu only a month, so I don’t know that I’d count those.

We loved living in Moorestown, but after our visit, it seems that in general, Moorestown has moved on without us, and truth be told, with the economy doing what it’s doing, it would be an expensive place to live. All told, we’ve killed off 75% of the debt that we left Jersey with through the life changes we’ve made since moving.

We liked living in Morristown. I liked my job up North. But, the wife’s job opportunity was too good to pass up.

Loved Wooster. Would go back to Ohio tomorrow I think. Go to Cleveland once a year, and will be returning for Oktoberfest this Labor Day for the 11th year. That’s as much about my pals as it is about Ohio, but I enjoyed my time living there.

So, although I’ve lived in North Jersey, Central Jersey, and South Jersey, and until this week would have called it home, is that really what it is? It’s where I was raised, which hits the first part of definition #3. But what about the second part-is Jersey still the place that I feel I belong?

This was a strange trip. Between strained familial and friend dynamics, exacerbated I’m certain by the large distance between us all now, and other general travel drama, this was a more difficult trip than I have ever experienced- on many levels. While we have been here in Hawaii, changing everything about our lives, some people in our life changed. Some stayed the same. Some relationships have ended or soon will I fear. Some have grown stronger. But all have been affected, which I suppose is not surprising. But what about New Jersey?

I noticed a lot of different things about being back. I still like the state. I could live there again. But the things I like have more to do with the availability of my sports teams, Yuengling Lager, XM radio, and comfort things of that nature. Decent pizza, wings, and bagels were a bonus. I noticed that I was clearly the mellowest guy on the checkout line at Acme. Milk was cheaper as was my favorite deodorant. It was nice to be in the Eastern time zone again and actually talk to some friends at a normal hour. All of these things were swell, but I’m not sure they are what one builds a life around.

Maybe that’s what home means to me now. New Jersey might be where I’m from, and I think there are clearly aspects of my persona and my outlook that are definitively of that place. We still own a home (there’s that word again) in Wildwood, and as such, I think we will always have at least a root or two there, regardless of where we land in the future. Truth be told, when it was time to go, I was ready to go. Home. To Hawaii. That’s where we’ve built our life and where our stuff is. It’s funny how that happened, because as I’ve discussed in this space in earlier posts, my personal transition here has not been an overly smooth one. I’ve been resistant to being here at times, and I know told several people that if the chance came for us to move back to Jersey, if we could live the lifestyle we’ve adopted here, I’d do it tomorrow. I’m just not sure that’s true anymore. Don’t get me wrong-when it’s time to go, which will be determined by the wife’s job, I think I’ll be ready. I’m not interested in having our kids go to school here, so I think that puts a timeline on things, at least in my head. I’m as surprised as anyone that this place, with the xenophobia we’ve experienced, and the high milk prices and limited Philadelphia sports access (we do have a dish though…), has become home. Funny how that happened. I never thought it would, and to be honest, wasn’t sure I wanted it to for a while there.

But it’s where my wife and kids are. It’s where my stuff is. It’s where I reside, but more than that, it’s where my family and I have chosen to make our life at this time. So, bada-bing: it’s home. For now. We’ll be back on the mainland at some point, but while at one time I would have bet money on me pushing to live in Jersey again right away, I’m not sure that I want that anymore. It was where I was born and raised. I had a lot of good years there as a kid, and later as an adult. But if I’m honest, if I learned anything from my time there these past weeks, it’s that I’ve changed. While I’ll always be Jersey-born…I think I get what Thomas Wolfe was driving at when he wrote about his protagonist George Webber:

“But why had he always felt so strongly the magnetic pull of home, why had he thought so much about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy, if it did not matter, and if this little town…was not the only home he had on earth? He did not know. All that he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day men come home again.”

I guess you can’t go home again, when it changes, as all things do. It’s that word “Again” that makes it not work for me. I suppose, you can go home for the first time? Over and over? Perhaps I’m overdoing the semantics, but I think home for me has become a more dynamic and fluid concept then it used to be. I guess when you look at it in this manner, one is never really going home, as much as they are bringing home with them. Over and over again. I guess I just surprised myself by being ready to come back here to Oahu. Guess there’s something to be said for learning new things about yourself.

This post got away from me a bit, and I think it would have been better if I’d written it right when we got home. But I didn’t, and now my brain is addled with three days of cold-turkey-no-diaper-except-at-night potty training. That’s another topic altogether.

But in the end, Jersey is where I’m from, but at least for now, it’s not home. Not anymore. Not after this trip. Not sure what is left there to spark that magnetic pull anymore, so to speak.