Loving the Library

June 5, 2014 2 comments

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.

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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.

The Classics…

March 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Tonight was a special night in our house, where my son got exposed to two classics from my childhood.  Now that he’s a little older and has enough of an attention span to sit through a movie, my wife and I have been thinking of different movies for him to see.  We’ve done “Planes,” “Cars,” Toy Story,” and most recently tried “Finding Nemo” (which turned out to be a big mistake, that’s the scariest animated kids movie ever).  When my wife noticed that the classic animated Disney version of Robin Hood was on TV last week, she set the DVR to record, so that we could watch it with him whenever we wanted.  With the culmination of me being able to unexpectedly come home earlier than my typical Wednesday evening work schedule and a relatively simple plan for dinner that could be eaten in the living room, tonight became the night.  Overall, I think he liked it.  It took us needing to explain some context to him, for example why when Robin Hood and Little John were taking the gold away it was for good, but when the Sheriff took the gold from the people, it was for the greed of Prince John.  I’m not sure how much he understood, however as with the other movies, I’m sure we will watch it again and again and eventually he will learn the whole story.

After the movie was over, I decided to lighten up the mood and have a few moments of silliness before bath/bed time.  Since my son was an infant, I’ve done a thing with him where I’ve had him stand up while I hold his hands and use my hands to dance him as I sing “The Hockey Song” by Stompin Tom Connors, ala the Bruins mascot in this commercial.  As he’s gotten older, it’s become less of a thing, but tonight I tried it for the first time in a while.  RJ is currently on a basketball kick.  We’ve done two sessions of a basketball clinic for toddlers at the local rec center, and after seeing how much he loved that, I took him to five of the local high school’s basketball games.  So when he asked for a basketball song rather than the hockey song, I figured it was the perfect time to pull out the phone and bring up the classic Basketball song by Kurtis Blow on youtube., and the result was two words:  Instant. Classic.

Exploring Fatherhood Through Hip Hop

February 16, 2014 2 comments

As I return from a long and unexcused hiatus on the blog, I figured what better way to make a comeback than with one of the themes with which this blog was started, hip hop music.  For those readers who aren’t into hip hop, I am guessing you may have a negative opinion of it based upon what the mainstream media sells to kids as “hip hop” these days, and I don’t blame you at all.  I do ask that you stay with me, however, as there’s much more to hip hop than what you may see.  Follow along as I discuss three hip hop songs that I feel emulate the power of fatherhood in different but equally effective ways.  This will come as a surprise to nobody who knows me…I’m staying with local artists from Massachusetts.  As I went through the possibilities, I discovered that fatherhood is covered in hip hop much more than I had realized.  I’ve already given immense love to Edo.G and his song “Be a father to your child” on this blog, including naming the blog after the first line of the song, so we’re going with other songs this time around, from artists that are worthy of the shine.  Please click on the links and listen to the songs as you read along to get the full effect.

First up is Daniel Laurent, AKA DL, a longstanding respected artist from Boston.  He broke out onto the scene with his song “MASSterpiece”, famous for it’s sample of the Cheers theme song in the beat.  His appeal is in his genuine and honest lyrics, which touch a range of subjects, backed by an equally broad range of beats that span from hard hitting to soulful, depending on what the mood for the song requires.  In his song “Lovin’ You,” DL sets it off with a verse about mothers, so as not to be neglectful of them, and then unleashes his heartfelt salute to fatherhood in verse two.  DL’s positive and uplifting verse offers both encouragement for, and expectation of, fathers.  He acknowledges both the benefits of fatherhood and validates the challenges before giving the ultimate message of the importance and impact of being involved.  My favorite gem he delivers goes “It don’t matter what your title weighs, rapper, doctor, cab driver, your kid loves you anyway.”  It serves as a reminder that no matter what our adult lives are like, where we stand, or what our stressors are, when we are with our kids, we’re all just “daddy,” and we can be looked up to regardless.

When outsiders think of Cambridge, Massachusetts, they probably think of M.I.T. and “pahking the cahh at Hahvahd Yahd.”  But as well as Cambridge is known for it’s educational prominence and affluence, there’s another side to the city as well, and that is where the duo IroQ and John D.O.E. hail from.  In contrast to DL as the present father in “Lovin You”, their song “My Life” (fair warning, the lyrics here are harsher than the other songs) shows the importance of fatherhood from a different, but just as important angle.  The story is one that has been told before in media, of the boy with the absent father who gets sucked into the street life.  However, what IroQ and John D.O.E. do better than anyone (in my opinion) is create emotion through their music.  Good music has the ability to make us feel a certain way.  Some songs have a happy vibe, some are upbeat and create an energy that helps us get through a workout, and some are introspective and make us think.  In this case, I felt angry at the father, which of course was their intent.  In my career, I work with kids and teens, and I’ve come across many kids with absent fathers.  Their situations vary widely, from kids in trouble with the juvenile justice system to kids making straight A’s in school, but the anger and confusion described in the song is a common feeling.  By porting this so vividly, IroQ and John D.O.E. make the strongest statement of how fathers impact their children’s lives negatively by their absence.  However, this isn’t just a “F-you, absent dad” verse, as John also steps into his dad’s head and predicts the pain his dad likely feels when he thinks of the son he doesn’t have a relationship with.  It’s a lose-lose situation.

Last up is Ea$y Money, most well known as a member of ST. the Squad, a group he started with Termanology when they were teenagers. They are both grown up now, and while Term has a longer resume at this point, Ea$y has dropped some classic mix tapes, and I expect nothing but big things from him now that he’s officially aligned with Term in Statik Selektah’s show off camp. I don’t have too much to say about the song “Biggest Mistake,” (featuring Lee Wilson) because it speaks so well for itself.  That being said, there are two lasting gems here: The first is Ea$y’s story of how being a father has changed his life, and a reminder that fatherhood is one of those things where you get from it what you give to it. As much of an impact as we can have in our kids’ lives, they can also have on ours.  The second is the way he takes responsibility for his past mistakes in the song.  It’s something we all need to do better and role model for our kids.

Now it’s your turn: What did you think of these songs?  What other hip hop songs have a strong fatherhood message? Leave a comment and if I get enough, I’ll review them in a future post.

Categories: fatherhood Tags: ,

Competition with my three year old.

October 25, 2013 Leave a comment

It’s been a while since I’ve written in this space, for several reasons, but I felt compelled to get back at it after having a new experience with my son.  To update, RJ is three now, and for his third birthday party (for which we had over 20 kids from the ages of 0-4 at our house), in addition to the usual assortment of trucks and other things people typically give little boys, he also got two games which are meant to be played competitively.  In the past, whenever we have played, it’s been cooperatively, without the idea of a winner and a loser.  He has a basic understanding of the concept of winning and losing through following sports, but this was the first time we have actually competed against one another.

My wife and I feel it’s important to teach him that in life, sometimes things will go your way and sometimes not so much.  Sometimes people win and sometimes people lose, and he will have to know how to handle both situations.  He got the hang of first game we played, Uno Moo (basically Uno but with colored animal figures instead of colored numbered cards) rather quickly, especially the concept of the Wilds, and he was able to win several of the times we played.  The other game he was given, “The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game,”, is really fun to play.  The basic premise is that there are five different colored acorns you need to collect to win.  The game has the added theme that you can sneak (steal) an acorn away from an opponent if your spin lands on the “sneaky squirrel” spot.  Of course, this became his favorite aspect of the game, and the first order of business was making sure he would spin the spinner fairly rather than just putting the arrow on the sneaky squirrel spot with his hand.  A few turns in, when I landed on this spot and was able to steal an acorn from him, he put his head down and sulked.  I stopped the game, sat him in my lap, and talked to him about this being part of the game, that I still loved him even though I stole his acorn, and that if he got the sneaky squirrel he could steal one from me.  I also made it a point to role model how to react whenever he stole one from me.  Later in the game when I stole one again, he took it better.

As for actually winning, in both the Uno Moo game and the Squirrel game, whenever I won, he tried to keep the game going by taking extra turns so that he could “win” also.  I purposely stopped him to explain that the game was over and he couldn’t win too, but we could start over and he could try again.  That’s setting the table for the next lesson, which is about trying again and not giving up.

Categories: fatherhood