Cousins

August 4, 2014 2 comments

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There’s something especially awesome about the cousin relationship. Somewhere in between sibling and friend, It’s beauty is in both it’s significance and it’s ambiguity. It can imply a straightforward familial connection, as is the case with first cousins, or it can also get more vague and harder to quantify once the various delineators (second, third, once removed, “cousin’s cousin,” cousin through marriage, etc) get thrown around. And if you’re like my wife and I, certain non-blood-related friends of ours get the honorary “auntie” and “uncle” status, leaving their kids to be our son’s technically unrelated, but unquestionably bonded cousins. They say you can’t pick your family, and this is true of cousins, but it’s okay to have some favorites, or feel close to them even when the actual relationship may not be the closest according to the family tree.

Growing up, I never lived close enough to any of my cousins to see them on a daily basis or be in the same school or activities with them. Our opportunities to interact were left to holiday get-togethers and family occasions, so when we had the chance we went all in. Age difference sometimes affected the nature of how things went down (my paternal cousins are all older than me, while my maternal cousins are all within four years), but through sports and games, or less structured fun and shenanigans, I always loved being able to see my cousins.

One of my favorite parts of being a parent is to see my son in these same cousin situations. It takes me back to when I was a kid. Like me, he has some who are significantly older, and others who are very close to him in age. Whether he’s playing age-appropriately with his similarly aged cousins, or engaging his older ones to bring the play down to a level that can include him, he has fun, just like I did with mine. And even at age three, I can tell that he understands that his cousins are special.

Categories: Family, fatherhood Tags: , ,

Helping others.

June 24, 2014 3 comments

 

“I don’t know him that well.”

“I don’t have extra money right now.”

“I’m sure that others will help.”

Those three things are all true.  I have never met Oren Miller.  I’m aware of him via his blog, and the fact that he started an online group for us dad bloggers to connect to share ideas about both fatherhood and blogging.   I’m sure we’ve participated in some of the same discussions that have arisen over the years, but I can’t recall more than one time in which I wrote a message directly to Oren.

The part about the money is true as well.  While we are not even close to poverty, we tend to live paycheck to paycheck, and this month we got smacked with the need for repairs to both of our cars.  Still, when the next payday after I heard the news arrived, I consulted with my wife and we gave.

My assumption that others would help was true in this case but often not true in others.  When news that Oren was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer hit our group, the response was overwhelming.  I’m sure Oren got hundreds of cards in less than a week, and when Brent of DesignerDaddy started a GiveForward fundraiser to help raise money for Oren’s family, people stepped up.   While it was true in this case that others have helped, making that assumption in general is often what causes folks not to get help.  Called “Bystander Apathy,”  when everyone makes the assumption that someone else will help, the less likely it is that someone will actually step up and do so.

Bystander apathy is probably one of the reasons why gaining up the courage to ask for help can feel so difficult to do.  We all want to feel self sufficient, and it’s hard enough to gain the trust in others needed to disclose that you have a need without feeling shame.  Then when you add into the equation that with asking likely will come rejection, it’s no wonder that most folks will shy away from asking.

So how do we overcome this?  I’m no expert, but I think the insurance commercial which shows that helping others can be contagious is on to something.  Obviously we can’t do everything for everyone, but if more of us took opportunities to help out where and when we can, we would all be better off.  This will also show our kids the benefits and importance of helping and giving, and hopefully work toward reducing the stigma involved with making the decision to ask in future generations.

Note: While what I wrote above about others stepping forward to help Oren and his family is true, this is a long and hard fight and they have only just begun.  If you would like to read more and consider giving to Oren, please do so here. Sharing this and other posts about Oren is also a free and easy way to help. Thanks.

Richard Durrett

June 18, 2014 2 comments

I woke up to terrible news this morning.  While my son was eating breakfast, I went to Facebook and saw the words “Richard Durrett” and “died suddenly.”  It was a post in our Dad Blogger group by Carter Gaddis of DadScribe, who like Richard, was in the baseball media, but gave up what many guys would consider a dream job so that he could be around his family more often.  After reading Carter’s post, I just couldn’t believe it.  Shock quickly led to sadness, and that’s where I’m still at now.

I first became aware of Richard via Ben and Skin, two Dallas natives who host an extremely successful sports talk show.  At the time, their show followed Mike and Mike in the Morning on the ESPN Dallas affiliate, and Richard was often a guest whose appearance was preceded by this simple but unmistakeable intro song.  Richard’s appearances seemed somewhat out of place on the show.  The Ben and Skin show works so well because the two guys are engaging personalities and friends, and their brand of sports talk comes with lots of laughs in the process.  Richard, on the other hand, was plain vanilla in his delivery.  He just flat out knew his stuff.  He knew anything going on in baseball from both the on-field and front office perspectives and was able to break it down so that the average fan could understand.  With that as my intro to Richard, I periodically checked in to what he was writing on ESPN.com, and would read things just because he wrote them.

All of the above being said, I’m not going to front like I’m the world’s biggest Richard Durrett fan.  If he had gotten a better job in another city I would have been happy for him, but would have quickly gotten over his absence in the Dallas sports scene (which isn’t even really my scene, just where I happen to live now) without much further thought.  This is as much about Richard being a dedicated 38 year old father, just like me, whose time ended way too soon.  Calvin Watkins, a fellow ESPN Dallas guy, wrote that Richard was dedicated to his family first and foremost, with unique ways of balancing family time with the demands of his job.  Without knowing Richard at all, that’s not the least bit surprising.

While on the way to work today, I heard Colin Cowherd, another guy whose show Richard appeared on often, give a heartfelt tribute to Richard, ending with the words “a kick to the gut” to describe how he felt.  Obviously for Richard’s family and close friends, this loss is much more devastating than that.  However, for the rest of us, especially dads with young kids, it’s exactly how it felt.  A class act of a guy and a father was taken far too soon in a way that hit a little too close to home for me today.

Rest in peace, Richard.

 

Loving the Library

June 5, 2014 1 comment

Note: This post is written in conjunction with the #DadsRead campaign.  Learn more about it here.

About two years ago, the Montessori we send my son to called us early on a Monday morning.  Over the weekend there was a plumbing failure, and for the whole weekend water had been collecting on the floor.  It was a nightmare for the owner, who had to close the school for a week and a half and to get everything dried out and cleaned up, and for licensing to be satisfied there was not a mold issue.

It was also a burden for us parents, who all of a sudden didn’t have a place to take our kids.  My wife and I both work full time, so we had to split taking time off from work to be home with our son while the school was closed.  For a few days, I became a stay at home dad, and quickly had to figure out what to do all day.  Through some online searches, I learned about all of the benefits of my city’s public library system.   We love books, and my son’s bedtime routine includes us reading three books to him each night, so we are not strangers to reading.  What I was a stranger to was all of the awesome programming the libraries do during the day for kids.  I’m sure this is old news to stay at home parents who might be mentally writing me a late pass right now, but I had never sought this out before.  I found that each branch runs several story time activities each day, with different sessions targeted for different age groups.  At that point my son was not even two, and for that age group the sessions consisted of reading some short stories and mixing in some singing and movement to nursery rhymes.  Then at the end they bring out a bubble machine, just because toddlers love bubbles.

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Bubbles stuck in my son’s hair during the end-of-storytime bubble machine madness.

During that time, we went to almost every branch in the city to participate in what each of them offered.  Each branch’s story time was a little different, but all within the same theme, and all with the beloved bubbles at the end.  For older kids, the libraries had even more to offer, including puppet shows and programming related to animals and science. And it was all free.

Being full time working parents, we try to make the absolute most of our weekends and do lots of different things.  We don’t use the library programming in the same way as we did during those days off, as most of their programming is during the week.  We take my son occasionally to check out some new books, and we still keep our eyes open to what they offer from time to time. When we saw that one of the branches was having a party based upon Mo Willems’ Pigeon Character, we were there.

Fast forward to two nights ago, and the evidence that the library experience has stuck with my son.  I mentioned that I needed to return the book Spork, which I had borrowed to read to my son and also to review it for my post on culturally themed books.  When I mentioned that I had to return it sometime this week, my son’s face lit up and he asked if he could come with me when I went.   I have some extra time off from work this week, so I picked him up early from school yesterday and we went.

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Yesterday at the library, kicking back and reading some books.

 

Unfortunately with budget cuts, some cities’ libraries are being threatened with reduced hours and services, and even closure.  I was proud of my friend and then-Boston City Councillor Felix G. Arroyo when he stood up to threatened library closures in my former city.  It’s up to all of us to show our cities and towns that our libraries have our support, and if you haven’t checked out all that yours has to offer, go for it!  If you’re a dad, check it out during the #DadsRead campaign and let me know what you find.

I Think I’ve Created A Monster…

June 3, 2014 Leave a comment

“Do you want to watch the Longhorns play baseball?”

The question took him by surprise, and made him pause to process the revelation that, in addition to football and basketball, his beloved Longhorns also play his favorite sport (at the moment), baseball. Once it all computed in his little three and a half year old brain, the excitement displayed itself on his little face and his answer was an emphatic “Yes!” It was a typical weekend late afternoon in our house a few weeks ago, maybe 5:30-6pm-ish. My son had yet again refused to nap, and so we were just entering Crankytime, the overtired zone he gets into on days when he doesn’t nap, and everything becomes a whine, a cry, and/or a tantrum. My goal was to try to buy a half hour so that we could respond to the “I’m hungry” whines by getting dinner ready. And the random Texas vs. TCU baseball game I found on TV did exactly that.

Longtime readers of the blog know I love sports and actively share them with my son. We love it all…the Boston teams of pro sports, college football and basketball (and apparently now baseball too), soccer, tennis, golf, the Olympics, and all else.  We play it all too, both indoors and out.  Every Friday during basketball season when I’d pick him up from school, his first question would be if we could go see the Panthers (the local high school team) play that night, something we did five times this past season. Upon waking up in the morning, a typical question of his is if the Red Sox won the night before.  He used to get excited about wearing his Dusty Crophopper t-shirt, but now it sits in the closet while he requests to wear his Tom Brady jersey or one of his Red Sox shirts.  I love that my son loves sports, but am wondering if I created a monster.

Part of it is my own stuff.  I don’t have many hobbies or interests outside of sports to pass on to him. Back in Boston I was an avid fan of the hip hop scene there, and that was my balance to sports. I still love the music, but I moved far away and can no longer be out at a show that ends at 2am and still be able to get to work and be functional at 9am. The part of my life in which I was a regularly active participant has ended.

I don’t have the same interests that some other guys do. I lost interest in video games somewhere during the transition from the Sega Genesis to the first Sony Playstation, whose controller had too many buttons for me to try to master. Even as a kid, I was never into DC or Marvel comics. I played with Legos as a kid, but don’t understand why they’re now in video games and movies. I only know of the existence of shows such as Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, etc, because they trend on twitter while I’m on there trying to get reactions to the game I’m watching, while also wondering why so many guys I know are live-tweeting about those rather than watching the game that I am.  And, at the risk of getting my dad blogger card removed by some of the other guys, I could care less about Star Wars, Star Trek, or anything else intergalactic.

So perhaps it’s only logical that as my son grows out of the “big things that GO!” phase, he gravitates toward sports as a follow to my lead. He does love music, and we have and will continue to cultivate that. I am sure he will get exposed to some of the other stuff by friends, some of whom are already Spider Man fanatics at age three.  If he decides he doesn’t like sports anymore, or only to a lesser degree, he will have my support. But yeah, as of right now, I’ve created a monster and I’m okay with that. He’s not a big scary destructive monster, but rather a fun loving sports fanatic monster.  Kind of like the Green one in Boston, who also wants to wear his Red Sox stuff every day.

 

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Culturally-Themed Children’s Books: Three Short Reviews

May 21, 2014 2 comments

Note: This is not a sponsored post.  I have no business interest in any the books about to be discussed and received nothing for discussing them.  I don’t know anyone involved with them personally.  I wish I knew Sharon Robinson, but I don’t think that counts as an official disclosure.  

 

A recent post on a fellow fatherhood blog got me thinking about some of the various books I’ve read to RJ that involve culture in one way or another, and thusly the idea for this review post was born.  We read him three books every night, and obviously not all of them deal directly with culture.  That being said, I feel like we’d be doing a disservice to him if we didn’t try to address culture with him, so we are always looking for good books to aid in this process.   Here are some mini-reviews of three books we’ve enjoyed so far.

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First up is The Colors of Us by Karen Katz.  This is a very popular book in the genre, and it does well at honoring the fact that none of us are actually “white” or “black,” but rather various shades of brown, as a young girl learns from her mother as she is trying to create artwork of herself and others.  The girl just wants to use brown paint, but her artist mother tells her that we all come in different shades, and that brown paint just won’t do it.  She needs to mix different shades by using red, yellow, black, and white paints.  To illustrate her point, the mother takes the daughter out into the city to see various people they know.  The skin color of each character they come across is described using food items (cinnamon, peachy tan, chocolate, peanut butter, etc), and the girl gets the point, goes home and does the artwork well.  The ultimate message was well received by my son., as evidenced by the day he put his hand, my hand, and my wife’s hand all together and described their different tones.  This book has taken some criticism for stereotypical portrayals of some of the characters, most notably the dark-skinned female babysitter and the spice-selling Indian man.  I wish these were avoided.

 

Next on the slate is Jackie’s Gift by Sharon Robinson (Jackie Robinson’s daughter), and illustrated by E.B. Lewis.  Anyone who knows me well or avidly reads this blog knows that the “J” in RJ is after Jackie Robinson, and #42 is a hero of mine.  This true story is set in Brooklyn during Jackie’s first year with the Dodgers.  Jackie befriends a kid in the neighborhood, and invites the boy over to help decorate his Christmas tree.  During the decorating, Jackie asks the boy about his own tree, and the boy replies that his family doesn’t have one.  Jackie, presumably assuming the boy’s family can’t afford a tree, brings one over to his house the next day, only to be embarrassed when he finds out that the reason the boy’s family doesn’t have a tree is because they are Jewish.  I love the irony here, that Jackie Robinson, the ultimate symbol of civil rights and cultural tolerance, made a cultural mistake.  It just goes to show that no matter who we are or how culturally competent we think we might be, cultural competence is never perfectly achieved by anyone.

 

Last and absolutely not least (it’s actually my favorite of the bunch), is Spork, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault.  The concept is genius in its simplicity; in a kitchen of personified utensils, Spork has a fork for a father and a spoon as his mother.  He sticks out in the crowd, gets asked “What are you, anyway?” a zillion times, gets accused by the forks of being too round, gets accused by the spoons of being too pointy, and like the random spork that many kitchen drawers still have from back when KFC was still known as Kentucky Fried Chicken in the 80’s, he doesn’t get used.  He becomes sad and envious that the other utensils get to play in food, while he sits in a drawer.  Then a toddler hits the scene, and Spork becomes the perfect culinary instrument of choice for the little dude.  He finds out that he was just right all along.

 

Any thoughts on these books?  Other books I should know of?  Let me know by leaving a comment!

 

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week

I think we all have certain teachers who were special to us and we remember fondly throughout the rest of our lives. I wrote about one of these teachers of mine, Mr. Tefft, in a post you can find here. My 11th grade English teacher is another who, as long as my memory stays sharp, will always be with me. For one thing, the dude’s actual first name is Brainerd. I’m pretty sure there’s a rule in the universe that says any time you have someone whose name is some combination of the words “brain” and “nerd” they must grow up to be in academia. True to his name, Mr. P. LOVED books. Thinking back, it seems like every day he was talking about some new-to-him first edition he found by accident at an obscure used bookstore. Moreso than his name or his book collection, I remember the passion with which Mr. P. taught. In high school I was much more of a math and science guy, and English and Spanish were my worst classes.  But with Mr. P., English became my favorite class that year.  He wouldn’t have it any other way. I fed off his passion to really try to see what was so great about the books we read, and to try to understand them on a level that I could write something about them that Mr. P. would find compelling. Mr. P. was a tough grader too, and I was always walking the line between a “B” and a “C” in his class. When my final grade came out to be a “B-,” I felt proud of that, and stayed more proud of it than I was of the “A” I pulled off in English the next year, with a teacher who went through the motions and wasn’t nearly as tough or engaged.

Although he’s not even four yet, RJ has already had a variety of teachers. I’m not sure if this is typical of Montessori or just something his school is working through, but there seems to be a high turnover rate. His favorite teacher last year left the school abruptly after a dispute with the owner, a month before RJ was scheduled to move on to the next level of classroom. When he did move, the particular classroom he went into was having such a hard time finding a consistent lead teacher that the director is currently teaching the class herself. There is a new teacher hired to step in and take the lead role, although secretly I wish the director could just stay there. She’s to preschool Montessori what Mr. P. was to 11th grade English. I often can’t help but to think beyond the preschool years to wonder what RJ’s schooling will be like once he moves into the public school system. We plan on having him in public schools for elementary through high school. I see what both kids and teachers have to deal with in the “Stakes is high” ((c) De La Soul) environment of public education, with standardized testing results serving as a measure of performance for both students and teachers.  I see the emphasis that schools are putting on the testing at the expense of other things.  As I write this, I’m wondering how Mr. P., and some of my other favorite teachers would have done things in this current era of standardized testing.  I wonder if the backdrop of standardized testing would have stifled any of the creativity with which he taught, in favor of making sure we knew word definitions and analogies.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week to all teachers out there.  You clearly have your work cut out for you and you have my respect and admiration for rising to the challenge.

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