Wednesday, July 30, 2008

From the Desk of the “Duck” Class Mom

They are changing the name to either “Class Parent,” or “Class Coordinator,” but whatever they choose to call it, I be it. In a stunning electoral moment, I was, following a short, yet moving speech, elected “Class Mom” at the twins Pre-school orientation.

The position will essentially serve as a liaison between the parents and the school, and I’ll work on field trip organization and paperwork, and so forth, manage the “class helper” schedule, and participation points, as it is a cooperative pre-school, so during the year, each family is responsible for a certain number of activities. It’s a nice school and the parents in our group are very nice as well.

So, while I didn’t expect there to be a speech, I knew going into the orientation meeting that I was going to pursue the job, as it would be a nice way to stay connected to what the twins are doing in school, plus there’s a slight tuition reduction for taking on the job, and with two tuitions to pay, it’s worth the extra time and energy.

So, I signed up that night, and a short while later, myself and the other candidate were asked to give a statement of who were are and what we’d bring to the job. The other mom got up and gave her statement, and then it was my turn.

Now, I had little prepared, except for the speeches that I’ve been rehearsing in my head since I was a kid-the one where I win my first Grammy, my interview with Oprah about my new novel, and of course, my interview from the sidelines of the Superbowl after the Eagles win. I’m the owner in that one. But, rarely at a loss for words, I got up and said my bit.

I introduced myself, the wife, and talked about our kids, told them where we live, and what brought us here. Then, I went into my background:

“I’m a retired school administrator from New Jersey. I left that career when we moved here for my wife’s job. My last position was as a high school Vice Principal and Director of Athletics…”

At this point, the assembled parents all collectively said, “Ooooo….” which made me pause a moment. “Well, I’ve never gotten that reaction before…might have kept me in that job if I had…” which got a nice laugh.

And I continued: “Well, my passion in my career was education. My passion in my life is my kids, so I see this position as a chance to combine them both. Thank you for your time.”

And I sat down. I don’t know what the vote tally was, as I had to leave the room to attend to the girl who was playing next door and had, well, she needed my attention briefly.

When I returned to the room, the wife informed me that I’d won. And so...dramatic pause...has begun my new position as “Class Mom.” Thus far it’s been mostly organizing information and sharing it with the other parents. Each day has a “Parent Helper” so I maintain that schedule, and thus far that’s been the primary responsibility. I’m also working to coordinate help for those parents who had a younger child that needs watching while that parent is “helping” in class. Overall, it’ll be about communicating and organizing, but I don’t think I’ll get dragged in front of the board because they don’t like the color of the football uniforms I ordered…ok, that’s a throwback to the old days.

So, while I won’t go so far as to say I’m out of retirement, as this new position is nothing quite that grandiose, I’ll say it’s kind of cool to find myself in a position to help my kids and their classmates school experience run well.

That, and it’s a chance to put my time where my heart is.

Updates on a few other items and responses to recent questions:

For those of you who’ve been asking for an update on the “potty training,” I’ll say this: it continues. There are good days, and then there are the other ones. It’s frustrating for me, and I’m sure it is for them. Here’s hoping the experience of being at school helps. They start on Tuesday. Actually, all schools here are starting this week and next. That’s taken some getting used to. Still feels like there’s another month of summer, but not so here. I’ve mostly gotten out of the “school-based rhythm” I wrote about a few blogs back.

Those of you who’ve wondered about the novel, it progresses slowly. I’ve not had much time to write of late, but the pieces are floating around in my head and falling into place. I spend a decent amount of my time driving everyone around writing in my head. (It worked during grad school…) Usually when I sit down, I’m able to hammer out either some highly productive notes, or some actual text. I imagine I’ll spend some of my flight to the mainland in August, by myself, doing some real work on it. Thanks for the encouragement.

I was really humbled by the responses I got regarding the “Perilous Patterns” post of a few weeks ago. It’s encouraging to hear that other people have faced that. Thanks for the words.

I’ve been flying solo since Monday, as the wife’s been away. She’s back in a few days, but nothing quite like 24 hour kid duty to help calm the nerves…

I’ll be taking Saturday night off. From all my jobs. Stay tuned on that. Suggestions on how to spend my time are of course welcome, as are all comments.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Gotta be the shoes?

The twins start preschool in a few weeks. They will be going two mornings a week, three hours a session, and it’s really been the major motivation for a number of things in our lives of late, in particular the drive toward potty training independent-minded-twins, which has been a subject here on several occasions. Update on that of course, is that they are doing really well. Accidents are becoming more and more rare. (Knocking the wood on Grandpa’s desk…)

I’ve been telling anyone who would listen of late how excited we all are that school is starting. The twins need it. The little bear needs it. I need it. We’ve spent a lot of time together in the eight months we’ve been here, and as good as it’s been, it’s been a lot of time together. I think they are ready to interact with a different group of adults and make some friends on their own.

The good news is that we already know a lot of the kids in our class, and their parents from our swim lessons. There’s been this nice crew of families that we’ve connected with through the pool, library time, and a few other activities that we all happen to participate in. I’ve been very direct about the fact that I’m excited for them to go, in part because it will give me the time to not only focus on the little bear, but to maybe clean the house without three “helpers” playing jump-rope with the vacuum cord and playing football with the “Murphy’s Oil Soap.” I’m excited also because, I liked school, and to see them as students, even at that level is something I take great pride in. As I’ve discussed in this space, until the move, I spent the years from age 5 to 34 participating in some form of a school environment. With varied results to be certain.

We took them shopping to one of the few WalMart’s on Oahu for some school clothes: Boyo wanted a “Thomas the Tank Engine” shirt. Actually, what he really wanted was a shirt of Thomas’s friend “Peter Sam,” who’s a minor character, but pretty cool nevertheless. His sister, of course, is, as she has said, “all about the Princesses. Disney Princesses.” Yeah, that’s a direct quote. She was able to find a nice “Princess Ariel” shirt, and some lovely Princess sandals, and a loverly pair of Princess sunglasses, and she was quite content.

That said, we were unable to find a Thomas shirt, much less one of poor Peter Sam. Lots of “Cars” shirts, so we felt we could fall back on that if need be.

I should preface this with the fact that the twins are really excited about going to preschool. We’ve been pumping it up with them for over a month now, and they’ve bought into the fact they are “big kids who go to pre-school!” It’s turned into a mantra here. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more of a “Rah-rah” personality in hyping them up. I mention this only to illustrate that a partial motivator in the “rah-rah” campaign has been this shopping trip we took yesterday, and to walk out of there Thomas-less would have had potentially disastrous consequences, as the Boyo has decided of late, on occasion, to truly and scientifically test the boundaries of his vocal range both octave-wise and within his volume dynamics. I was a high Soprano in my days as a Boy-Chorister, and he’s got the range of his Dad… It’s been a touch harsh at times.

So, where there had been two full racks of Thomas apparel not eight days earlier, there were to be found a grand total of zero items to be had in this particular establishment. Zip. Nothing. There was much consternation.

But, we regrouped…perhaps in the bigger kid section…we could always try and shrink it….and, nope.

Hats? Socks? Underwear? Muumuu’s? Nope. Zilch.

We were beginning to plan what would have gone down in history as the great “Cars shirt acceptance bought with an unplanned toy purchase for leverage.” Then, in a flash of brilliance, the wife remembered shoes.

Gotta be some Thomas shoes right? So off we went.

Now, if you’ve ever been in a WalMart, you might know that their shoe shelves are extensive, and you’d need your own personal monk to help you navigate the aisles and miles of shelving. So, while we were at first daunted we pressed on. And we looked.

One thing about shopping in Hawaii is that, there are regular shopping trips where you will go to a Walmart, or even a grocery store, and find huge chunks of the aisles completely empty. Devoid of even a bottle of “Corn Nog.” While there were areas of the store low, they seemed pretty much stocked on what they had available. So we held out hope, and we looked. And looked.
We were about to settle on a pair of “Lightning McQueen” shoes, and were half-way through the hard sell on the Boyo, when his sister cried out, in a loud and clear voice, “Look! Thomas shoes!”

And I followed her outstretched arm as she pointed towards a slim stack of boxes, in the deepest corner of the aisle we were on that shone clear like a light in a tower on a clear night, in the midst of all the “Spider-Man,” “Hulk” and “Diego” shoes, my first-born saved the day. We would have walked by them, as amidst the plethora of characters, we weren’t even looking where she had looked.

And, as was once said in a great movie, “There was much rejoicing.” Not only were they Thomas shoes, they were his size, and they lit up when he walked. And jumped. And ran. All of which he tried out as he put them on and has nary taken them off since.

He was so appreciative to his twin sister for seeing them, as were the wife and I. He said thank you a bunch of times. I said thank you. I think even the store employee that was near us said thanks too, but there was something about the way that the twins talked to each other in that moment that really hit me.

They are going to school. It’s genuinely their first step into a larger world outside our home. Yeah, we’ve done drop-offs with swim lessons and Gymboree in the past, but this is the first step that they will be taking away from our home since I’ve taken over as “stay-at-home-Dad” as opposed to “work-six-days-a-week-twelve-hours-a-day-and-hope-they-are-awake when I get home-Dad.” I’ll admit it, here, in this space, only for you gentle reader, that I got a little choked up about it: the combination of the twins so thoroughly looking out for each other in that moment and so tremendously connecting with one another, coupled with thinking of them taking that next step out into the world, yeah, I was forced by my genetic disposition to take a few deep breaths and pretend I had something in my eye.

I know how fast it goes. Before I left it, I’d seen tons of kids grow up in front of my eyes working in education. But it’s a whole different beast when it’s your own kids. Especially two at once.

All at once I got a vision of both of them graduating from this and moving onto that, and it’s enough to make you feel like your eyes are open for the first time, and you don’t want to blink for fear that you’re not quite clever enough to hang onto that moment of clarity. And it was a heady rush; tough to blink away, especially when you factor in all the other gunk that one might be carrying about familial relationships and the like. Being family and being friends are different things. The moment that the twins shared there in that store rang true for me as a pair that were both twins and friends, and when they woke up this morning, the Boyo was still thanking his sister for it…and that was pretty freakin’ cool too. She, for her part was quite magnanimous.

Looking back, and yeah, it was only yesterday, it’s kinda cool to have moments where we surprise ourselves. A year ago, on most of my July days I’d have been sitting in my office either interviewing teachers and coaches, or talking to vendors about getting a good price on football jerseys or mouth-guards.

Here, in Hawaii; a place that I never planned to live; in a place that I have admittedly have had more than one moment since we moved here where I wanted to get the hell back to Jersey; perhaps here and now I’m starting to get to heart of what really matters:

Those uniforms I bought as AD might still be really a source of contention to someone today.
But you know what? That person’s not me. What’s surprising is that I’m not only not who I was when we left, I’m not who I expected to be upon arriving here.

And that doesn’t suck… Who wants to know everything anyway? Hell, I’m happy enough right now to now know much of anything about anything, except I took my kids to the Zoo today. And the Komodo Dragon was really active, the Hippos were tremendous as always, and the Chimpanzees were all excited to see this little boy who’s Thomas shoes lit up when he hopped up on the step to look at them even closer today. The Alpha Chimpanzee came over to see the shoes, and then sat on the window right where we were standing, and just kinda hung out. And then the rest came over and hung out nearby too.

Not bad at all for a pair of Walmart shoes that we almost missed I, guess.

Friday, July 18, 2008

And he stood right up to the little Turd.

We have a regular playgroup at a local park. I take all three of the kids there after we go to the library story-time and pick up lunch. It’s a nice group of parents and kids, and overall it’s been a really positive group for us. As it’s based out of the MOMS club, of which locally I am NOT the only male member, it’s pretty well organized and managed, and we all tend to do pretty well there.

The park in question, up in Makakilo is a pretty solid park. It’s one of the few on Oahu that have both shade and swings. (Don’t ask…) We’ve never had much trouble there, although there have been a few xenophobic moments on the part of others.

There’s been a summer camp using the facilities there for the past few weeks, but we’ve been pretty much outside their schedule most of the time, but not all. It’s kind of overwhelming for the younger crowd in our group, but we have managed during the times that we have all had to share the space, and in general, we’ve done fine.

Had a ‘lil wrinkle today. There was a boy from the camp, I would guess to be six or seven. From the minute he ran out onto the playground, my educator instincts cued on him, even though I am retired. He was bossy, pushy, and even threw a rock at someone. But the teenagers who were the “adult supervisors” were a bit preoccupied with their friends who had show up to hang out on the benches off to the side and catch up on their summer reading assignments, it would seem, as they were quite intently discussing something of great importance, leaving the youngsters to their own devices….

So this little turd ran roughshod over the park. He kept himself focused on the kids in his own circle, until my boy happened to be sitting on the ground, playing in his favorite little sand-pile in the shade over by the tree by the swings. “Turd Boy” was on line to use the swings, and walked over to my Boyo, and said: “You go home! You don’t belong here! You go home now!” and waited for him to go home, it would seem.

And my Boyo stood up, and at three, was equal to this six year old in height. (and yes, God help me I totally beamed on that!) He looked him right in the face and said “NO! I WON’T go home!” and stood there right in his grill. He didn’t hit the kid. He didn’t lose his cool or his mind, which, having been party to some of his tantrums, I was a little concerned about, but I chose to take the “Crush” from “Finding Nemo: Let us see what [the boyo] does flying solo” approach.

“Crush” of course is a Sea Turtle, or as they call them here, Honu, who helps Marlin and Dory get through the EAC, and thus closer to finding the aforementioned, Nemo. He totally spouts off a solid amount of wisdom in a very short scene, which you can refresh yourself on here:

So I moved closer, watching what the Boyo did, now face to face with his first bully. The little camp turd again said, “You go Home!” to which my boy said again, “NO! I Won’t go home, I won’t!” and stood there as tall as a three year old can do.

The turd boy didn’t have a response to that. At this point I took my Boyo’s hand and led him back towards our group, saying “That’s right pal, we’re not going home.” It was at this point the little turd picked up a rock and chucked it at someone, regrettably unnoticed by his teen counselors.

Now, I like to think of myself as a pretty mellow guy, especially since we relocated here to Oahu. I’m retired from the grind and politics and foccactedness that was working in education and living in a place with a much slower pace than suburban New Jersey, God bless it. But I’d be lying if there wasn’t a part of me that didn’t want to punt that little turd across the playground.
But, something came over me, and I decided to see what the Boyo would do flying solo. He stood up for himself. He said "no" to an older kid who was trying to bully him, and I would imagine, by association, his sisters and the other kids in our group.

Now, I may be overstating it, but damned if I didn’t beam with pride seeing my boy stand up for himself. I pulled him aside after and told him that I was proud of him for standing up for himself, and that no one deserves to be bullied. I reminded him that he shouldn’t bully other kids, but that I was proud of him for standing his ground.

Now I know that he and his sister are three, and the bear is 1.5, but I always try to talk to them directly. I’m the last guy that’s going to nominate myself for Father of the year, but I make a point of trying to always tell the truth, even if sometimes the concepts or words are a little beyond them. They seem to pick up more often then not, and I’m not one to dumb it down. I didn’t do that when I was teaching Vonnegut, so why would I do it with my own kids? After all, the Boyo and his sister told me the other day that Kellog's Raisin Bran was "Delicious and Nutritious." I'm not going to frack around with that vocabulary.

It’s late, and I should probably have written this right when I got home, but well, with three kids and a wife and house to manage, I really didn’t get a chance until just now. So I guess I'll have to settle for this level of verbosity.

So-my kid stood up to a kid twice his age. I was proud of him. This island is a strange place in a lot of ways, and this won’t be the last he, or any of us face a bully, or discrimination. That’s been a hard truth to realize coming to live here. I was proud that he stood up, and more proud that he didn’t attack the kid. Maybe I’m making too much of it, but I think if you’re a parent, and you’ve got a kid who‘s had a similar moment where you got to see what they‘d do facing that hard choice, and been proud of them, you just might get it. I hope it’s not just a guy thing-I admit that might be a part of it…I can’t deny the testosterone factor…my Boyo was strong...

But he’s a good kid-just like his sisters, and with the twins starting pre-school in three weeks, I’ll admit that there is a part of me that has been wondering who they might be once they start that experience. Would they be bullies? Would they be the kids that cry all the time? Would one of them be that kid that never talks? I suppose I don’t yet know any of that, but I was pleased to see my kid look a bully dead in the eye and say No!

He said, "No-I won’t go home." And we didn’t.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The challenges of retirement; or, Avoiding the perilous patterns.

According to our good friends at, the word ‘retire‘ carries the following connotations:

1) to withdraw, to go away or apart.
2) to go to bed.
3) to withdraw from office, business, or active live, usually because of age.

There are others listed as well, but I thought that might give us a head start on today’s discussion. See, I have decided, that for now, I am retired from my career in education. In my retirement, I am raising my kids, and working a couple of nights a week at a local dining and drinking establishment.

Sports fans the world over are debating future Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre’s decision to un-retire himself and try to play another season as a Quarterback in the NFL. His team, the Green Bay Packers, are waffling at having him back, as they are ready to move on. They feel that he was disingenuous with his representation of himself in previous discussions of his desires. Brett feels differently.

In the end, the guy is not ready to stop playing yet. He is not ready to start a new routine.
As a fellow retiree, I can only relate a little, but then, my career mirrored very little that of the legendary Brett Favre.

I feel like I walked away from my career while performing at a high level, and making a good living. I feel like I left for all the right reasons, and on my own terms, in my own time. And I don’t feel like going back anytime soon.

I won’t pretend to understand that manner in which the mind of a professional athlete works. People like Favre, and Tiger Woods, and Michael Jordan, and other great champions, are wired differently than the rest of us. Jordan is another one who retired, only to come back. Some say he was addicted to the game, the competition, the routine. I don’t know him, so I won’t speculate.

I know that although there have been moments since December, I’ve pined for the good days in education; as I’ve missed being a part of a school community at times. In the end, breaking the pattern of work and stress that we were living as a family back in Jersey has been satisfying.
Except when I fell right back into it.

I’d been working at the restaurant 5-6 shifts a week, when I had only asked to do 2-3. They’ve been short-staffed and training a lot of new people, and as tends to happen in the restaurant business, spend five months in a place and you’re a senior member of the staff.

I found myself about two weeks ago putting the kids to bed with the wife, and I could not remember the last time we had done that together. We fell into a pattern of me being with the kids, and then when she came home, I left for work. She’d go to bed and be gone before me in the morning. And just like that, I was right back into what we moved here to avoid. Although I was still spending days with the kids, I was not seeing my wife, and I was not spending time with the entire family. I was simply exhausted, and feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of the work, which had been fun up to that point. I was feeling increasingly irritated, and in the end, unhappy.

Once I realized what had happened, I talked with the manager and told her I needed to cut back shifts, which she understood. And the last week, I’ve taken some extra time off, and my hope is that I’ve learned my lesson. But what is that lesson exactly? Is it that the perilous patterns that we try to avoid can creep up like a thief in the night? Is it that we are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past regardless of our desires? I fell right back into an awful pattern in a part-time job…I’m still irritated with myself.

But maybe it’s that pattern, that rhythm of one’s life that Brett is having a hard time letting go of. He was home for a few months, and with his body telling him it’s time to get ready to play, his head much forced to follow, who knows what drove him to this moment.

For me anyway, I’m glad we caught it and did something about it, as I am not interested in or willing to get dragged down into that cycle again. I was working some weeks 5-6 shifts, sometimes 5 days straight. It’s not that I’m afraid of hard work. I’ve been working harder as a stay at home parent than I ever have at any job I’ve held to date. It’s just that doing that, and then doing what felt like another full time gig on top of it at the restaurant was not what we came here for. So, we had to pull back and reclaim time together.

And we’ve had some good time together this week, be it swimming lessons, or the discovery center, or just playing together upstairs. I’m continually impressed by the manner in which the kids can simply play with their stuff and be entertained for hours. The twins imaginations have blown up big time in the past few months, and they create all sorts of worlds and games in which to play in.

The “littlest houseguest” just came down from bed as I’m writing this and needed help taking out her ponytail, which she didn’t want to wear for sleeping. In addition, I was called upon to give a horseback ride upstairs to bed. That would have been hard to pull off if I were checking on table 7’s Kickin’ Jack Nachos. (New menu item-very tasty.)

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve appreciated the work, and the additional cash, and I have no plans to leave the restaurant. I like the people, and I like the work, and truth be told, it’s usually my ‘quiet time’ of the week. I just got a real hard slap in the face that I was falling back into that perilous pattern of work, work, and sleep. After that, there was little time for anything else.

But as for Brett, and some other people in our lives that are facing retirement, I say, welcome to the club. Take this as an opportunity to make some changes and challenge yourself in new ways. I’ve come to some peace about my life in education, and while, like Brett, I can’t promise I’ll never work in education again, as never is a very, very long time, I can promise that for now I consider that part of my life in the past. I’m retired from it.

I’ve just got to stay extra vigilant about falling into the same routine…Don’t get me wrong-the work had it’s run. But it was time to move on, and this last month of work was a truly moving reminder that I am a parent first, and there is nothing more important than that. I got caught in the pattern of doing the work. And we corrected it.

I can’t imagine putting anything before my relationships with my wife and children. I’m retired from work right now. I’m a family man, and that’s that.

But I made that choice with my family. If Brett wants to play, who am I to say he shouldn’t? All I’ll say is that when you’re really done, be done pal. It will be hard enough to break the patterns once, much less over and over again.

Oh-and potty training continues to go well. We have days with no accidents, and some with 1 or 2, but overall, the twins have rallied in the weeks leading up to preschool, which starts next month, and quite honestly, is really looking like a great, great thing for them and for us. Everyone is looking forward to it, including the little bear, who just might get a word in once they are in school 6 hours a week.

Guess retirements’ not so bad.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

In case anyone's actually reading this...

Here's what I have to say at this exact moment.

Potty training continues with some success. I think we'll be ready for preschool.

Swim lessons have been eventful.

The new Coldplay album is a real departure, but worth listening to. It's quite a transition album for them I think.

I have a new idea for a novel and have started working on it. I think it's a bigger than I have time for right now, but so it goes.

55 Days until I travel to Cleveland for Oktoberfest.

Dr. Who has been great on the SciFi network this season, as has BBC's Robin Hood. Eureka comes back to SciFi this month, and I'm looking forward to it.

I was very excited and very much enjoyed CM Punk becoming World Champion on Monday Night Raw last night. I enjoyed his work in the Philly-based "Ring of Honor" promotion when I watched him there, including a 60 minute draw with "Fallen Angel" Chirstopher Daniels a few years ago at the Armory in Philadelphia. I hope WWE gives him a chance, as fans have very much been clamoring for something different.

Guess the Phillies are doing well. Don't get to see much of them now.

My IPOD is old and the battery sucks.

If you don't, you should watch "The Soup" on the E! network on Friday nights. It's funny.

Next time you're at Chili's, order the Quaesadillas, but have them add mushrooms. It's delightful. It's now SAMUEL ADAMS maddness, as opposed to Margarita Madness. Please make a note of this.

And that's what I have to say about that. Perhaps I'll have something of substance another time, but I'm not sure anyone's reading anyway, so there.