Saturday, December 31, 2011

As another year ends...Reflections from Aloha Kugs

Well, 2011 has been a year. Some of it good. Some of it not, but say whatever else you want about it, 2011 has been a year.

And along comes another. I’ve not posted as much in this space as I had hoped this year, but hope that what I’ve posted has been worth your time to read. Thank you as always for your kind support and indulgence.

So what has this year been all about? In no particular order, I share the following observations on the year:

Starting it off with an anger management lesson courtesy of a broken hand was pretty rough as far as beginnings go. This summer’s “unpleasant incident” that led to a nifty ride in an ambulance was another banner moment, but we have persevered. Therapy helps.

We started the year not understanding what our Asperger’s child’s issues were (Our first theory was hypoglycemia-what a difference a year makes…). We end it with a far more understanding and sensitivity. I’ll touch on this more shortly.

I started the year with huge aspirations of selling my novel, of which I remain quite proud, and end it having shelved it and all other publishing dreams, save of course this ‘lil blog. Lucky us, I know…

My Phillies, Flyers, Eagles, and Buckeyes failed to win championships.

The twins have done Taekwondo for a year. Broke a few boards along the way too. They’ve played two seasons of soccer and the Boyo played Rugby. They do well at school. The Boyo is among the top readers in first grade and the Girl was called “A dream child” by her teacher. They have both been featured in the school art gallery.

The Bear played T-ball, more or less, and has turned into a seriously good artist. She does well in school and gives excellent full speed hugs. When she’s not screaming her head off, she’s a genuinely fun and funny kid. Baby Ruff-Ruff has had a year filled with adventures as well.

The Muppets came back! Now bring back “The Muppet Show!”

I single-handedly did two plumbing repairs that would have likely cost us about $200 each to have a pro complete. And to date, they appear to be working.

CM Punk and Daniel Bryan (“American Dragon” Brian Danielson) are both World Champions.

I lost weight and chopped off my long hair. Then I gained some back and my hair is long again. Both will be addressed in the New Year.

My Emmy-award winning sister just won another award. She’d want me to mention that.

REM broke up.

My wife still likes me.

Clarence Clemons, Patrice O’Neal, Hubert Sumlin, Bill Keane, Joe Frazier, Randy Savage, and Pinetop Perkins all died. Other people did too. Clarence and Patrice passing were particularly disheartening.

I believe I saw seven movies in an actual movie theater. Best of them was Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” Great movie. Honorable mention goes to “The Muppets,” “The Descendants,” and the final installment of the “Harry Potter” series.

We watched a lot of DVD’s, as we have children and are old, and that’s what you’re supposed to do since you can’t ever leave the house. Off the top of my head I remember enjoying Woo classmate Duncan Jones’ “Source Code” and “Horrible Bosses” had a few yucks.

Was a very solid year for TV in the Aloha Kugs home. HBO’s “Game of Thrones” was an answer to prayer. I also enjoyed “Boardwalk Empire.” AMC’s “Walking Dead” was great as well, and I’m not really a zombie guy. FX series “Louie,” “Wilfred,” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” were tremendous, and I’m excited that there is a network out there that is allowing creative people to be funny. I haven’t seen “Breaking Bad” yet, so don’t yell at me… Doctor Who and Merlin get a nod as well from the BBC.

I read a ton this year. Notable highlights: “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline. Although it’s not a new book, “World War Z” by Max Brooks was transcendently good. I also enjoyed Martin’s “A Dance with Dragons” (took you long enough George…), and Rothfuss’ “The Wise Man’s Fear.” I inhaled the “Hunger Games” series and made headway towards finally finishing the History of the Yuengling family.

Didn’t buy a ton of music this year, as it costs money, but The Decemberists “The King is Dead” is probably my favorite for the year. Honorable mention to the new Coldplay and last year’s Mumford & Sons, which I was late getting to. Have an ITunes card burning a hole in my pocket though…

So, in all, it’s been a year. What does 2012 have to offer? Hell if I know, but I imagine we will face many of the same challenges and questions we faced this year. We will learn more about Asperger’s and apply it to making the life of our family more positive and productive. I won’t discuss the incident from Thanksgiving here, because I don’t want to, but it was rough and resulted in a 7 hour drive home in the middle of the night. We survived and continue to learn how to cope.

Will I go to work? I don’t know. I don’t really want to wait tables again, though I think I could bartend in the right circumstance. I may look into those tutoring places. A little extra cash is always helpful, but not sure what I’ll be able to do before the Bear starts Kindergarten in the fall. I think I’ve covered this question pretty well here this year, but it will likely continue to be a topic for discussion in the future.

I have a whole pile of unfinished columns for this space that I shelved for a variety of reasons. Some were too personal involving members of my extended family. Some of them just stopped being interesting as I wrote them. Others just stunk. I may revisit some of them but my hope is to have new and interesting things to say in 2012.

In the end, it has been a year and I enter 2012 much as I entered 2011: uncertain what the future holds for us, but hopeful just the same. In that spirit, I wish you and yours a Hau’oli Makahiki Hou with much Aloha.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I made the right choice

It is now four years since I left my career in education. Prior to that, I had spent nearly thirteen years as a pro, not counting my three years in the minors as a student teacher and undergraduate. During my tenure, a term I use with rather purposeful irony, I have taught: English, History, Language Arts, Spanish, Music, Theater: Performance, Theater: Technical Arts, Jazz History, ESL, Public Speaking, Literature, and Creative Writing.

By way of full disclosure, I should note that I have also served administratively as: Artistic Director of the Theater Program, Assistant Dean of Students, Associate Dean of Students, Dean of Students, Assistant Principal, Director of Athletics, and Head Dorm Parent.

I have served in many ways, though to be frank; most of those titles were earned by simply showing up, clearly giving a damn about the students, and not being a real obvious asshole. What happened after the shine faded is a matter for history to decide. I maintain that I held onto my idealism and genuine belief in education, including the fact that schools should serve the needs of the students and their families. If I had a dollar for every time that one of my bosses told me that I was too idealistic, and that I’d last longer in the business if I learned to “go along” and “let go of the ‘change the world crap,’” then I would have been able to leave the educational industry with far more financial security that I actually did, as it happens.

I have no real complaints about my career as a teacher. I was appropriately awful when I first started out as a young teacher. Deeply inspired by “Dead Poets Society,” Alice Burnett, and my dead father, I spent years imitating and pretending, accomplishing little until I eventually figured out how to I was meant to teach. I learned a lot at SKS, where I was blessed with a group of students who had no problem telling me when my bullshit didn’t work. They were a tough audience, but a fair one. They forced me to give them something that mattered, and I still look back on my years there as among the better years I’ve had as an educator. My students at SKS made me a better teacher. The two years I then had at PJ, which I still consider the greatest teaching I have ever done, were only possible because of the four years I completed at SKS.

PJ was about the happiest time I ever knew as a teacher. I was valued and given freedom to teach the books I wanted to teach in the manner I wanted to teach them. It was really exciting for me as a teacher to be asked, “What do you want to do?” There are many things I miss about my life as an educator, and each school I have left behind has a place in that lexicon, but to date there is nothing that stirs me in the same way as remembering that moment when Fitz told me, “Well, it’s your class…do what you feel called to do. We believe in you.” I would go back there and teach tomorrow if I could.

But, as life happened, I left PJ as I left SKS, and that other place before it. I became an assistant principal in the Boro, and then finally in the Grove. There were a lot of very positive moments during my time there and I felt like I made a difference at times. But I was never really able to shake that sense of dedication to the students and in turn, the families and staff members that genuinely supported them. I still believed that schools were in place to serve students and their families. But as I rather painfully learned, over and over again; schools, just like any other enterprise, will only serve others as far as their leadership will allow them. Leaders, despite our hopes and dreams, sometimes don’t think of others first. So many of the people I “worked for” had lost sight of what a school was really for.

So, Headmasters sometimes think of money before campus peace and personal morality; Superintendents think of their political aspirations before they think of their constituency; Principals sometimes think of themselves before they think of the people who paved the way for them; Some teachers think of their pensions before they think twice about passing a student who truly believes that Delaware is the capital of New Jersey and Hillary Clinton was the Vice President for George W. Bush. Sometimes an elected Board of Education will persecute a teacher who has had a positive impact on her students, simply because that teacher is a graduate of their districts arch-rival. And sometimes they call an educator “uppity” when they don’t think anyone is listening.

All of those things happened. I know this because I saw them happen.

When I left PG, I did so for two reasons-the most important of which is that my wife was receiving an amazing promotion and chance for advancement in her career, which gave our family an amazing opportunity to have an adventure on Oahu. But, the second reason, which I’ve never spoken of in this space, is that I was in my tenure year at PG as the Assistant Principal and the Athletic Director, and while I feel I had done well and felt like I had some support from the staff, kids, and community, and that the programs were doing well overall, I was told, in no uncertain terms, that my renewal in the position beyond the tenure year was very much “undecided and up for debate.” I was told, very directly, that despite my performance, my tenure in the coming year was dependent on the decision of the Superintendent, who after hiring me enthusiastically, had soured on me after I chose to respect and admire my direct supervisor, the Principal at PGHS. I was told “you picked the wrong side.” In retrospect, I know in my heart, and in all other manners that I made the right choices for myself during my time there. There were good people that I worked with there in PG and there are good people there now. I wish them nothing but the best.

But, I didn’t trust the Superintendent, or the Board, with the kind of power that they were capable of exerting on my life. As it was, I was working a minimum of six days a week, nearly twelve hours a day, and driving at least 100 miles a day for events and meetings. I was leaving my home before my children awoke and returning after they had gone to sleep. Most of those days, I didn’t see them. If I was lucky, I would come home just in time for bedtime.

I remember vividly a night I came home on the earlier side due to rainouts. As I walked in, the kids saw me, and cheered, “Daddy’s home, it’s bedtime!” and they ran upstairs to their room. They had learned to equate my arrival with bedtime. I remember more nights than I can count where I drove home only to see the lights in their rooms off. The worst of them all would be seeing the lights on as I pulled up only to see them turn off as they had clearly just been put to bed and I had just missed it, by only a moment. That happened a lot. Countless bedtimes missed.

And so, I’m left with my own reflection now on the fact that four years ago, I left my job to stay home with the kids. At the time, the twins were three and the Bear was one. I left my job, gleefully (and providentially perhaps) as it happened, and arrived in Hawaii with absolutely no idea what the hell I was doing.

The Bear just turned five and the twins turn seven on Sunday. I’ve been home with them for most of their lives. And now I feel like I finally get it.

I made the right choice back in 2007. I left my career behind and while I truly don’t know what would have transpired back then had I played things out, I cannot imagine in any way that it would end up being more significant than the life I have chosen. I took a beating from a lot of people in my life back in 2007 when I left my job and chose to stay home. Hell, I still get grief from certain pockets of my family about being a stay-at-home dad. There are those who still don’t understand me. But, I made the right choice and I know it now. The last four years with my children has been amazing in ways that I fall regrettably short of having the talent to describe. I still get grief for “not working” and yet, I somehow manage to have more to do than I ever did when I “worked for a living.”

I made the right choice. I won’t go so far as to say that I am done with education, as I have found myself feeling the itch to teach again, now and then. I think it is safe to say that education, at least as it manifested itself in the old days of my career, may itself be done with me. I’m not who I was then. I have good memories, and I’m quite content to leave those memories alone.

But, as Vonnegut would have said, “So it goes,” and so it does. I have never felt more strongly that my choice to be home with my children was the right one. I had an amazing adventure in Hawaii with them and then another one here in Northern Virginia. My youngest, who I’ve been hanging out with for almost 4 years now, is heading to Kindergarten next year. I can’t believe how quickly it has gone. She and I have been together for her whole life, at least most of the time. While the twins have been at school a year or so now, and readers of this space will know that they have some challenges as well, we have spent a lot of time with one another and worked hard to maintain a sense of togetherness.

The way I see it, had I stayed at PG, I would likely have had to go in front of the board to fight for my job. I truly believe it would have come to that. I honestly feel like I would have been incapable of kissing the amount of asses it would have taken to have avoided that showdown, and in truth, despite it all, I would likely have lost. Without tenure, I served at the pleasure of the Board and the Superintendent. I liked it there, but it was made clear to me that my tenure was a pawn on a rather insidious chess board. I was never so glad to take my piece off the board. I miss the staff and the kids. I could have been happy there for a long time. But it was made clear that I was not going to be welcome, as I had a shelf life in PG. They told me so. It made me sad. I would like to have stayed. But I was not wanted, and so when the chance to move on to be home with my kids arose, I took it. I used to feel guilty that I left during the year, which I know is difficult for a school. I don’t feel that way anymore. I just saved them the trouble of having to watch me fight for my job, which I would have done. I would have fought them. And I would have lost. So, I don’t regret it. My choices have been discussed in this space for nearly four years, and whatever can be said, I will say this: I am imperfect, as I have always been, but I am good at what I do.

Maybe I don’t get paid, now. Maybe I don’t get the prestige of a “title” and the honor of a “business card.” Perhaps I may not be anyone’s idea of an impressive adult, but I truly and finally have come to the point in my life that I really don’t give a turkey. I am a man, and my children are my life. I’ve been with them constantly over the last four years. That is time that I would never have been able to get back. So, I am grateful.

I am grateful for my life. For every district I worked for or wanted to work for that rejected me; I am grateful.

If any of you thought I was worth hiring or keeping, I wouldn’t have had the last four years flying solo with my kids. And I wouldn’t trade that for all anything, including that offered stay at the Waldorf-Astoria.

I chose a different path, and I'll admit that I've struggled with that choice at times over the years. But I know now that it was the right one for me and my family and I'm thankful each day with my wife and children.

I had the chance to make a choice about my life and I made one, as Steve would say, 'way outside my comfort zone.'

I suppose, and that, as Frost said, “Has made all the difference.”

Well said, dude. Aloha.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Waking up to an Asperger’s World

Readers of this space will know that I’ve always guarded the privacy of my family. They will also know that I recently went through a rather difficult ordeal working to obtain services for my child at their public school here in Northern Virginia. While I will continue to guard the privacy of my family, I think it is safe to reveal something that I and my family have known for some time now, though the clinical diagnosis is more recent than the one of the heart. I have a child with Asperger’s Syndrome. I’m fine with it. I love my kids. That said, I hope you will excuse my occasionally ‘more awkward than usual’ prose as I figure out how to navigate the line between productive and unproductive sharing. I thank all of you for your comments on the last post, most of which were sent directly to me. Your thoughtfulness is appreciated. Moving on…

The more I read about Asperger’s Syndrome, the more I find myself disappointed that my dad is not here. Since he’s been dead over 21 years, there have been a lot of moments along the way where I have been disappointed that he’s not around.

My dad had a Master’s in Education from SHU, and I followed him so diligently that I got one from there too. He, however, dedicated his career and focused his attention on adapting the principles of physical education for kids with special needs. He was never happier than when he was teaching the most challenged students, both physically and developmentally, in his district. When he was developing his program back in the 1970’s and ‘80’s, there was debate as to whether it was prudent or appropriate to attempt to offer PE to special needs students. Dad felt that it was not only appropriate, but vital and necessary for the health and development of all kids, regardless of disability or challenge. I feel that history has proven him right on this point.

Dad didn’t talk about school all that much with me, which saddens me a bit in retrospect. I wish he had been more emotive about the great passion of his career and about his frustrations, which would so later perfectly mirror my own frustrations in my own career: I became disillusioned when the people in power forgot about reaching kids, just as he did. But, I was a kid then, and dad was always one to separate home and work very clearly. I wish I hadn’t had to hear stories about his work almost exclusively from other people, but I suppose I am grateful that I heard them at all. He was good at what he did and worked with each child individually to find a way to push them and reach measured goals. He taught them to enjoy sports and exercise and to accomplish things that most people not only said they could not do, but things they would never have dreamed possible for them. I’ve often told the story of the blind girl that he trained to run the 50-yard dash-something I assure you she was exempted from in her IEP. She wanted to do it and he wanted her to as well-and so she did. My favorite part of that story was always how they got started, which involved all the other kids in the class spreading out and lining the lane on the track to help steer her straight if she drifted. Heck of a teachable moment for an entire class. I wasn’t there and I get chills telling the story-I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be part of that moment.

Dad was inducted into the Hall of Fame for his North Jersey school district. Posthumously, of course, but I remember it as a nice event. It was an honor he would likely have rolled his eyes at privately, yet accepted with grace and humility. I know I was very proud that day and somewhat inspired, already a few years into my own educational career at the time.

Outside of all that, though, I do find that I mourn, just a little the fact that he’s not here to interact with my children, one of whom was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. There have been a lot of moments that I’ve felt like Dad and that child in particular would have gotten along really well. Heck, there are times, now that I know more about Asperger’s that I wonder if my dad may have been on the spectrum himself. Not sure it’s that far off to say so. As a grandparent who might have been uniquely positioned to be of help to us now, to provide assistance and help from a career spent working with challenging kids and his own innate talent, I miss him. I regret that dad can’t help us, and I imagine he would have done so enthusiastically, as it is right up his alley. He was not a perfect parent, just as I am not. There were times that I felt he could be quite closed off and distant when I was a kid. That said, I know that he would have stepped up for his grandchildren and I wonder at times what he might have said about them.

As that voice remains silent as it has since 1990, I and mine will do as we’ve always done. We will do our best and make it work. The family and friends who are in the trenches with us now are invaluable and life would be far more difficult without them.

I have learned a lot recently and have found some strategies that started helping immediately. The “When/then” thing I read about sounds so simple: Presenting requests and orders as “When you do this, then this will happen,” etc. It seems so simple, but once I started using it, the results were dramatic. I’ve used it to explain things as well. Just yesterday they were on the computer and my Asperger’s child was getting a little pushy while a sibling was having their turn. I said, “When it’s someone else’s turn at the computer, then they get to choose what they do.” The reply? “Oh, that’s right, I forgot,” and everything settled down and they had a delightful time. I almost fell out of my chair, as in the past, such moments would lead to a meltdown or at the very least an occurrence of the “Boo-boo face” as I like to call it. This time, there was understanding and acceptance and we all moved on.

Another tactic I read about that I have had success with is delineating choices very clearly. I can’t ask, “What do you want for dinner?” That’s too broad a question and simply can’t be answered by my Asperger’s kid in a way that’s effective. So, I give three choices. We haven’t argued about food in days.

One of my other favorites is what I’m calling the “Five second blackout.” If something I’ve asked to be done isn’t getting done, or if something minor has occurred that isn’t really helpful, I’ll say “OK, I don’t like what’s just happened, and I’m going to close my eyes for five seconds, and I’ll bet that when I open them, you’ll have figured out how to make it right.” And so I close my eyes and count to five. And it works. We’ve had a really good series of days.

We are admittedly only at the beginning of this journey and, as great as these tactics might be, they may not work forever. Heck, they may not work when they all get home from school today. But it’s clearly shown me that I can adapt and change and that there are strategies that can help us all navigate the world around us in a more comforting and peaceful way. While I do believe my dad would have had some good ideas and I would very much welcome his insight, I know that there are a lot of parents and children dealing with the very same things our family is facing. The wife and I will do our best and learn everything we can learn from other parents and the copious amount of books and websites dedicated to the topic of Asperger’s and Autism Spectrum disorders.

There will be great days and there will be rough days, and we will face them all as a family. Whatever comes we will manage it, and while I wish I could tell you that I will always do so with grace and overwhelming calm, I think that’s unrealistic. But we’ll face it together.

And I’m again reminded that I have to try and stay healthy as I’d prefer to not have my kids forced to have to write drivel like this about their own lives someday. That said, I am learning to navigate a whole new world and a whole new perspective. And I’m embracing my role as stay-at-home dad with a renewed passion. My other aspirations may return at some point in the future, but for now, nothing matters more than my children and my wife and the life we are making together. There’s a lot to learn, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to be outworked on this one. And I love my family. That helps a lot, too.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I can't do it all: why I'm no longer an aspiring novelist

I can’t do it all. Of course, no one can, but I can really only speak for myself right now. My family and I have been through a pretty challenging time of late in dealing with a medical/learning issue with one of the children. I’m not going to get into specifics here, as it’s personal to my child and not appropriate for this space. Feel free to ask me privately if you wish. In the interest of understanding, we are seeking an IEP for one of them, and the process of getting to this point has been at times exceedingly difficult, including a very difficult meeting yesterday at the school. But we are where we need to be at the moment.

In preparing for the meeting yesterday, I called on every bit of experience and knowledge I have from my former career in education. I spent hours doing research and practiced many of the things I was to say out loud and in my head in the days leading up. It was a difficult meeting but the school agreed to begin the process with us, and it would seem that our hard work as a family, through copious amounts of testing and medical appointments, occupational therapy, and all of my preparation for the actual meeting, had paid off.

And it did. But it almost didn’t. It was a fight, tooth and nail, the whole way. I almost failed, and that would have really been unfortunate. So, the extra time I put into preparation was worth it, especially the three hours I spent in the library yesterday morning researching and further organizing my materials. It was time well spent. When I entered the meeting, I felt ready. I was ready. When it was over and I left, I felt like I had been in a 90 minute fistfight. I most certainly got my dander up and fought like hell for my kid. I would do nothing less for my family.

But it almost wasn’t enough. Fortunately, at this point it was, but this is by no means the last meeting of this kind we will have. There will be more and some of them have the potential to be contentious as well. I am grateful to the school for the support they have shown and hope it continues. But I almost wasn’t good enough.

And that leads me to a real reflection and accounting of my life as it is right now. I am a full time parent and caretaker of our home and family. I am now also moving into the role of full-time advocate for the specialized needs of one of my children. Truth be told, one of the other ones may end up needing the same level of advocacy in the coming years, but thinking about that hurts my head right now. So, between full-time parenting and housekeeping and advocacy, and trying to exercise and take care of myself so I’m around to advocate and care for them, I’m realizing that something has to give. And that will be my aspirations to become a published writer.

I imagine no great gnashing of teeth, but it’s a small loss for me nonetheless. While it has long been a dream of mine to write a good novel and share it with the world, and to be interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR, and so forth, I think it’s time to shelve that dream. Maybe I’ll write for fun on occasion, but I think the time has come for me to abandon this aspiration, of acting like a working writer, and realize that my talents and abilities are needed on other things. My attention needs to be on my family. If I had spent yesterday morning hammering out the rough draft of chapter two, I would have failed my child. I would not have been ready. Fortunately, my head and heart were focused.

Being a good father has long been my greatest aspiration. I’m not exactly where I thought I would be at this point in my life, but I’m in a good place. Perhaps I’ll get back to trying to write novels when they are older. But I simply can’t do it and meet the needs of my family and of my own health. There aren’t enough hours and something has to give.

I think I’ll always write and in turn, perhaps putting the fiction away may open me up to write in this space more again. Perhaps that’s a good thing, I don’t know. Not sure it’s all that important right now, but we will see. In the end, my aspirations were mine and they are mine to put aside, so I’m going to stop pretending I’m a writer waiting to happen. Perhaps someday, but not today. Today, I’m going to be a Dad who gets things done and cares for my family.

And perhaps I’ll get back to the gym too. I’m going to need to have my game face on for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

So, what’s next?

Aloha again from the wilds of Northern Virginia. While I’ve had an awful lot to say over the last few months since my last column, none of it has really been suitable for this space. All are as well as can be expected here despite recent bouts with Lyme disease, school ending, and a myriad of kid issues both common and uncommon. But this is not really a column about the kids. This one is about me, your host here at Aloha Kugs. Sort of.

Next year, the twins will enter first grade and the Bear will be in preschool five days a week for three hours a day. It will be the first time that all three of them will be at school at the same time, albeit for about 2.5 hours each day. Despite this dramatic influx of “kid-free time,” it looks very much like my day-to-day life is unlikely to change all that much next year. I have plenty of responsibilities and tasks at home that will likely eat away at that time pretty regularly. I imagine I’ll be able to get my chores done more effectively without someone, who shall remain nameless, constantly yanking the vacuum cord out of the wall while I’m cleaning. I will probably also be able to help out with more at the kids schools than I have previously, but in the end, I imagine that this year will be very similar to years past in terms of what I’m able to accomplish on a daily basis.

I am hopeful that I will be able to carve out time to write both next year and this summer, as I have two projects going right now that are fighting for my attention. The truth is that my writing has taken a back seat to other issues over the last few months. I have moved on from the completed novel, although I did learn recently that a sample I submitted to a small independent publisher back in February is currently under active consideration. It was nice to hear, but I’m not holding my breath, nor am I actively sending it out anymore. I am also not pursing self-publishing at this time on that one either. (Update: the novel was declined by the publisher before I completed this column)

So, while my life is unlikely to change a ton next school year, I still find myself thinking about the future. That and the question I keep getting from every corner of my life including family, friends, and random strangers at the library and Safeway is: What are you going to do once the kids are in school? Are you going back to work? What’s next? An interesting question for which I have no real answer.

It seems a strange question to ask at my advancing age. What am I going to do next with my life once my current position is rendered less significant by full-day schooling starting in fall 2012?

I suppose that it may very well depend on what the needs of my family are, but if I had my choice, I’d love to be a wildly successful full-time professional writer by that point. That would be quite nice, thank you, though the lack of time to write makes it somewhat less likely, as does the rather precarious state of publishing these days. But, to say I will be making as much of a go at it as I can in the coming year would be an understatement.

Should that not happen, then what? How long can I justify staying home and working to be a writer if it doesn’t happen? At what point do I need to find something else to do with my life? What can I do? What do I want to do?

Truth is, I don’t really know. I’ve been out of the Education business for nearly four years now. I hadn’t stepped foot onto a high school campus since 2007 before this morning, when I dropped the kids off at soccer camp. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t get a little charge when I walked into the stadium this morning. I definitely had a few flashback moments as I entered the facility and came out onto the track, the gleaming stands to my right, a sea of kids and coaches getting ready to train. It felt like it could have been just last week that I was right smack in the middle of all that business back in Jersey.

Except that it wasn’t. It was four years ago and four years is a very long time to be away from any industry, especially one as dynamic as education. Although it was definitely a good feeling to step onto a campus again, I don’t know if I even have it in me still to do that work. I don’t know that I want to dive back into the pressure cooker that working in a school can be, should anyone even really want me down here, after I jump through the VA Certification hoops. While I have some very good memories of my thirteen years in both public and private education, there were reasons I walked away, and I don’t imagine they have changed that much in four years.

I suppose I could go back to restaurant work. I was a pretty good server/bartender in my day. That’s an option, isn’t it? Again, it’s not one I really feel called to do, but it’s something I’ve done.

So, what’s next? I really don’t know. I suppose for the moment it’s not really a question that I have to have an answer for, but that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it quite a bit. I can’t be the only person in the world who’s faced/is facing it, so, what’s your story?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Moving forward, and yes, I was overthinking it...

I appreciate all of the feedback I received after my last posting. The general consensus was that I needed to get a grip about my writing about family issues. Some family and a friend, both in Europe, in particular really brought the issue home for me.

In a nutshell, I need to relax and remember that this column was supposed to be a fun outlet. Also, if a situation that I'm writing about won't be helped by writing about it, I probably shouldn't publish on it. So, going forward I hope to still write about important things in our lives, but will likely keep a few things in house, despite how important they may be to my life and family.

And if this space stops being fun, it will be time to move on from it. I don't think that time is here yet...

I thought in that vein I would revisit a column from the old days where I discussed things I've actually said recently as it relates to my days as a full time stay at home dad, which I am pleased to say I have been doing now for going on four years.

1) "Nobody needs to see your bottom!"

Said in response to all three of my children at different times, circumstances, and regrettably, locations during the last month. That might be worth its own column.

2) "I don't want to hear one more poopie buttbutt fart poop bottom diaper stupidhead comment come out of you mouths!"

See comments for #1 unfortunately.

3) "Well, I actually do have a job..."

My reply to an inquisitive kindergartener who lives in my house. He wondered why I don't have a job like Mom. I explained that I had chosen to stay home and take care of them. Not sure what he thought of it, but his sister happily chimed in that she was glad I was home. That was cool.

4) "I am NOT a pogo stick!"

The Bear, my youngest, was treating my foot like one. It was unpleasant.

5) "Well, for my money, Trader Joes is far superior to Wegmans."

Said in discssion with a few of my colleagues last week. Was a point of contention with a few but was amicably debated. I'm right though, and not just because of "three buck chuck."

6) "Is there any chance you will stop treating my foot like playground equipment?"

Said a minute ago as I write this. The Bear is being persnickety today.

7) "I'll give you a dollar and a Dora if you take a nap."

Me to the Bear, yesterday. She respectfully declined my offer. Tougher than the NFL labor crisis...

8) "Yes you do!"

My reply to the Bear who claimed she didn't want to play tball as she does not in fact like it. She respectfully disagreed at the top of her lungs through the fourth inning.

I may post more later but Karate class is over and I've got to get back to work. Until then, thank you for reading.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Perhaps I'm overthinking it? Privacy vs. Truth in Blogging.

I have enjoyed writing in this space over the last three years. When I first started Aloha Kugs back in December 2007, I planned for this blog to be a place to share my family’s experiences in Hawaii with those on the mainland. It has moved away from that over the years to the point where I see it more now as a medium through which I can comment on not only what has been happening with my children and our family, but also the world in general. I’ve written about sports, music, wrestling, and whatever else has moved me. The focus of the blog remains the family and I’ve always tried to be honest in my writing and interesting at the same time.

As I review the 87 entries that I’ve shared over the years, I see in many ways how our lives as a family have played out. 2008 in particular was a prolific year and I’m rather proud of the work I did in chronicling that first year on Oahu. While the number of posts declined, I like to think that I chose my topics more carefully and thoughtfully over the subsequent years, and in general I am glad to have had this space in which to share my thoughts and words.

But, the truth is that I’ve been holding back. I have always taken very seriously the thin veil of privacy that exists here and have never used the real names of any of my friends or family, as I felt it was unnecessary in getting my point across. None of us are famous people, so real names never seemed to matter. In all honesty, there are a number of columns that I’ve written that will never be posted here because, well in some cases they just stunk-- Full disclosure on that point. Beyond that, the truth is that I’ve been unable to share a lot of the more urgent issues in my life due to the fact that I’ve tried to respect the privacy of my family and friends. There have been some monumental problems and moments of real personal crisis over the last years and I have not shared that in this space, although I truly wish I had been able to. To have done so would have in some cases ended a relationship, or at the very least complicated it dramatically. It simply wasn’t worth being seen as “airing dirty laundry” in this space, so I kept my thoughts to myself. This seems to have been a prudent choice, as last year, when I shared what I saw as a positive experience with my extended family in a column, an unfortunate misunderstanding of a single word led to a world of hard feelings, the end of one family relationship, and the straining of several more.

So, I’ve kept a lot of my thoughts and feelings about the things that have been most pressing in my life to myself and away from this space. I bring this up because, upon reflection, I feel as though there was a real problem with my last blog.

I got some wonderful responses both public and private to my last post where I discussed my broken hand and my currently stalled efforts to get the novel published before focusing on the awesome way that my children connect and the amazing ability they seem to have to create and explore together. I truly appreciate the comments. While every word of that blog still rings true to me, it is not the whole of the story. In truth, things have been really challenging for us over the last several months, and when I re-read that last column, it seems a bit hollow to me.

Yes, my kids are amazing, but what makes the way they played together in inspiring the column all the more outstanding to me was that it came on the heels of a series of very difficult and challenging days with the kids. Again, I am hesitant to share too openly here, as the issue affects all of us in our house and one child in particular. We are working with an Occupational therapist now in an effort to improve things and are having some success. In the end, the issue we are facing is not life-threatening, nor is it without treatable options, but if I put this out there about my specific child, then it’s out there forever on the internet. What if he/she wants to run for office someday and dear old Dad’s blog pops up? I know that’s overly dramatic, but I do wonder how they will feel if I write about our challenges in this way? I’m less worried about how they will feel about the funny stories and the good memories, though I suppose the kids could resent that as young adults. The potty training stories alone might get me in trouble someday, but I’m not afraid of that, though perhaps I should be. The line is a little less clear for me and I am struggling to balance my desire to process both the great and the difficult through sharing my writing, while at the same time allowing the people I’m both directly and indirectly writing about to not feel targeted. Perhaps I’m overthinking it, but I feel hamstrung by the fact that I want to be fair to the people in my life who have not chosen to write an online column about their thoughts and feelings while at the same time, telling the whole story of the life I am living. So, I’m debating the future of the blog again. I’ve enjoyed writing it, but unless I can find a way to tell the whole of the story that is our lives right now, I fear the columns will become more and more trivial, and that is not what I want it to be.

I want to be able to write about my life, the good, the bad, and the ugly as well, but I want also to respect the privacy of my wife and children, and my extended friends and family who might occasionally be a part of the story I want to tell.

I really do want and in some ways need to keep writing in this space so I likely will, regardless. But, if nothing else I guess I just wanted you to know that it’s not all Christmas trees, awesome and creative play, and the occasional sports story that exists in our lives these days. I hope I can find a way to make it work so I can keep writing like this, as it’s helped me both in my life and with my fiction projects. But, perhaps again I am overthinking, as I was recently told: “you are no John Steinbeck.” Perhaps it’s a moot point.

So how do I write about my family without violating their privacy? I’ve got some ideas, but should you have any suggestions, I’m game for hearing them.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A broken hand, publishing dreams, but more so: the magic of my children

It seems the longer I go without a post, the more difficult it is to get motivated to catch up. So, as the twins are off to school and the Bear is apparently playing nicely upstairs, I will try to catch up on a few topics I’ve wished to discuss including my own stupidity, the status of my publishing aspirations, and the awesome way in which my kids (usually) relate to one another.

I broke my right hand New Year’s Day. While I wish there were a grand and exciting story as to how it happened, something involving Ninjas would have been cool-hell, I’d settle for one of drunken revelry that was at least a humorous cautionary tale of new year’s debauchery-but the truth is I broke my hand as I unleashed a great deal of pent-up anger and frustration at a great many things, in the form of a single punch directly to the floor on which I was sitting.

Floor won. I was in a cast for four weeks. It just came off this past Tuesday, and while I’m glad to have it gone, it’s still very sore and a constant reminder of the fact that I am a royal idiot.

The truth is I, like everyone else in the world, gets angry. But, as you may have surmised, I probably could manage it a bit better than I do. I like to think of myself as a generally peaceful person, not overquick to anger. I’m not certain that’s true, but I like to think it. I let some things fester to the point that I lost control for that brief moment-three seconds in all-and am paying for it now. I haven’t lost my temper since, so I guess that’s growth. I hurt myself so bad the wife didn’t even give me grief. But I know that going forward I need to deal with my irritation and anger in a more proactive and positive way, and not to let it fester until it boils over. I’ve been re-reading THE TAO OF POOH with the Boyo, and that’s helped gain some perspective as well.

As far as my publishing aspirations, after a very educational and productive Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC last month, where I pitched THE GEOGRAPHY OF HOME to five agents who all asked for partials, I have heard back from two who do not feel it is for them, and have heard nothing yet from the other three. I have also queried six others who were part of the conference that I felt might be interested. To date, I’ve not yet heard from them either, but that’s not unexpected, and if I get to March and that’s still the case, I can assume they are passing and I will move on.

Move on to what? Well, I will likely enter the novel in a few contests and may query a few other agents. If at that point there’s still nothing happening, then the book will be shelved. I am not interested in self-publishing it, as I do not really have the time, money, or inclination to take that on. For me, that would really be a more pride-driven endeavor than anything else. Perhaps it isn’t ready for publication or perhaps it simply isn’t good enough, but regardless, I have other things I want to work on, and have come to accept the fact that while I believe in the novel, I am not going to sacrifice future projects and my other responsibilities in an effort to see it in print. That said, I’m hopeful one of the remaining nine agents will be interested in it. But I’ve prepared myself either way.

I’m currently having a lot of fun storymapping and writing a preliminary draft of my next book. All I’ll say here is that the main character is named Freddy Pinkerton and the majority of the action is set in Morristown, NJ. The early and frantically creative days are often the most exciting for me and it’s been fun to start losing myself in Freddy’s world. I’ve been stuck in GEOGRAPHY for a very long time. It feels good to start something new, and it’s definitely taken my mind off of waiting to hear back from the other nine agents.

My primary responsibility and career continues to flourish in the arena of domestic engineering. The twins are enjoying half day Kindergarten and the Bear is loving preschool. The transition to cold weather has been a bumpy one, as our county seems to close school if five snowflakes fall. We had a series of days off last week that were unexpected, but we managed them well, creating a series of sled trails in the yard and did our best to channel our inner Shaun White. We’ve visited Mount Vernon quite a bit, and it is truly a wonderful site in the snow. They do an amazing job there and the kids have yet to tire of it, which is a real bonus. We’ve been busy with the library reading program, Tae Kwon do classes, and dance classes, and Daisy Scouts, and playgroups, and other activities, but what I wanted to touch on in closing here today is how awesome my kids play together.

As the twins go to school in the afternoon and the bear in the morning three days a week, they generally have a decent amount of time together. I'm driving a lot, but in general, there's a decent amount of time where they are able to be together. While they have their disagreements and difficulties, and we’ve faced some behavior challenges we’ve been dealing with lately, I am constantly amazed at the worlds and games and characters they create together. It is a real pleasure to watch them interact with their animals, or cars, or the recent discovered “Sports ball family” and witness just how much joy there is for them in being together. With the twins off to full time first grade next year and the Bear headed to five mornings a week at preschool, I wonder if some of that magic could be lost as they grow older. I worry that their relationships could change, especially the twins as they inevitably have different teachers and make different friends. My hope is obviously that they grow to be good and happy people, but also that they always retain some sense of the magic and the closeness that they have now, as kids. They are still with me most of the day, and while, trust me, there are days I pray for the bus to come early, I hope that I too never lose sight of the incredible gift that I’ve had these last years being home with them. Being able to greet several days a week with, “OK-what would you like to do today?” has been a real pleasure, and one that is easily lost sight of when one is focused on other things, like the budget, the schedule, and yes, the writing.

I need to remember that whatever may happen with my other interests, the job I’ve most wanted to excel at is stay at home dad. I hope I’ve done well. I also hope that as they invariably grow up, they never forget the magic they shared at play with one another. I know I’ve never seen anything quite like it and I’ll carry it with me forever. Especially if I feel my temper rising. Much better to focus on them than hitting the floor. And, it is still seven months until first grade. I think we can create a lot of magic between now and then.

I think the three of them will always maintain a sense of closeness, I really do. I know they’ll have their rows too, but I think when you share something as they so clearly do; it finds a way to thrive. And I’ll enjoy watching them grow. Not too fast though.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Day Two: Writer's Digest Conference, NYC

I am exhausted. It has been a very long day.

But it has been a good day. I had the chance today at the "pitch slam" event to present myself and my novel to five agents, all of whom liked me enough to request a formal submission of text. I'd never done a pitch before, and although I will admit I had some nerves, once I got started, I felt like this was something I could really do.

So, today was a real success for me. Now, the agents I met with today may look at my work and decide it's not for them, but for me, stepping ever so carefully into the publishing world, one that I freely admit I am new to, was the real goal here, and I feel like, even if these agents don't turn into partners for me now, I've shown that I can represent myself and my work in a positive way. And maybe there's a place for me.

After the pitches were over, a large contingent of us discovered the hotel bar and did our best to stimulate the economy. A group of us ended up going to dinner and then to some other hotel with a good view before we all went our own ways. It was a lot of fun just allowing the social gravity of it all to move us into an adventurous evening, and I hope to be able to describe it better tomorrow, but for now, I'm too tired to emote.

I'm pau. But, regardless of the next step in the process, it was a good, very good, and significant day.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Day one, part two, Writer's Digest Conference, NYC

Well, the first sessions were generally very good, although I felt bad for the gentleman that passed out and fell down. I understand he's OK, which is of course very good news.

At the very beginning, day one at the conference felt a little like that first day of high school when you walk into the lunch room and aren't sure where to sit, and you stand there with your tray in your hands, and your brow and milk carton start to sweat as you try to figure out where to sit...

And, in fact, I started off with a poor choice. I sat by myself off to the far side of the ballroom. I realized my mistake almost immediately, but because I'm a little dim, I sat there alone trying to look interesting while everyone else was talking and networking.

So, after a few minutes, I called a do-over and left the room, re-entering and heading left instead of right, eyed a table of people who looked interesting, and asked to join them. As it turns out, it was a great selection. Soon we were playing business card poker and chatting away. Linda, Carol, Fifi, BJ, and Lloyd were a neat group and I look forward to seeing them in the morning. It seemed as though we all shared the same level of quirk, and got along very well.

The first session, led by Richard Curtis was very informative. He talked a great deal about the digital influence on publishing and about the soon to be everywhere "publishing on demand" phase of the industry. I took it to mean essentially there will be a "Red Box" for books as there is for movies these days. He illustrated some aspects of self-publishing that I hadn't thought of before. He made me think of self-publishing as of course, a mixed bag, but also somewhat akin to the "Napster Revolution." I think with time, energy, and resources, self-pub could be an interesting option for people in the dynamic world of books these days.

Chuck Sambuchino, who writes at was tremendous. He broke down the process that most of us will go through tomorrow during the "Pitch Slam" and really, for me at least, demystified it. I've got a decent amount of work to do to feel like I'm ready to nail it, but he was beyond helpful and encouraging. Two brave souls got up and tried their pitch in front of the entire conference, and he was really very cool. I hope I get a chance to speak with him tomorrow, but regardless, I feel like I've got even more of a road map towards representing myself well tomorrow.

Off to dinner with Pelf! More to come. Thanks as always for supporting me!

Day one, part one: Writer's Digest Conference, NYC

I am in New York for the first time in at least 4-5 years. Registration at the conference starts in about 30 minutes.

There are over 400 attendees and somewhere near 50 agents expected. In all honest, I'm not certain what to expect. The topics are all interesting to me and the chance to pitch the novel to working agents is a real special one.

Having never done it before, there are moments of uncertainty as I prepare to do so. I've read every blog I could find on the subject of pitching to an agent, most of which were genuinely helpful. But, the truth is I've never done it.

But then, the one common theme I've discovered in reading up on this process and industry is that, in the end, it's about developing a relationship. I'm selling two things this weekend-the novel of course, but myself just as much.

I have a lot to learn about this industry. That I will know more in a few days is for certain. What it thinks of me is as yet unknown.

So, game face on. More to come. Aloha.

En route to NYC

I am on a train. It's very dark and very cold out but I am encouraged to learn that I can post to the blog from my phone.

Will have more later today. Despite the early hour I am excited to see what the conference brings. Stay tuned.