Perfect Birthday

Wake up 5:30am.

Practice yoga and seated meditation (listen to my body speak to me in a chorus of creaking sounds).

Take out dogs (Spike, who knows the sound of my meditation timer jumps on me and licks my face when it rings its ending zen tone).

Make M-ito’s breakfast (challah bread with peanut butter, strawberries, glass of milk) while Mom-ita tries to wake him up and get him out of bed (I have the easier job by far – but then it is my birthday).

My son gives me a birthday hug. Ahhhhh…

Make my tea (English breakfast with honey and milk) and take first sip.

Drive M-ito to  school while talking about books for half the trip (Mom-ita told him he had to talk to me – sigh – for half of the trip before he started to read which is what he usually does on the car ride in).

Realize I forgot M-ito’s cleats at home. Plan return trip in my head and call Mom-ita to prepare her for early journey back.

Come home.

Drive back with Mom-ita to M-ito’s school to drop off cleats.

Go to Dolphin Bookstore and order the perfect latte.

Order Andrew Smith’s new book, Passenger (arrival in two days) for me.

Write two new pages of WIP (I am Nobody).

Pick up M-ito early at school so we can watch him practice lacrosse. He is awesome. The coach speaks and my son listens. It never works that way with me. Ahhhhhh.

Drive to Starbucks. M-ito does homework. I shop for new messenger bag… and order it from Timbuk2. Ahhhhh…

Take M-ito to Tae Kwon Do and write while he kicks and punches his way towards his black belt.

Drive home.

Feed and take out very appreciative dogs.

Order in from Louies Pizza (Margarita with chicken).

Read Andrew Smith’s King of Marbury (absolutely awesome).

Check Facebook birthday wishes. Overwhelmingly sweet.

Watch presidential debates and try not to scream or throw things at the TV (Go Obama!).

Sleep.

A Perfect Day

They don’t happen too often but when they do they tend to be simple, just like this past Saturday.

  • Wake up at 6am to do yoga practice and prepare for morning class. Asana and seated meditation then shower and get dressed for class.
  • 7:15am take Spike-ito out for a walk.
  • 8:30am leave to teach morning yoga class. M-ito and Mom-ita are still asleep.
  • 9:15-10:45am teach class – students are back from vacations, class is packed, and life is good.
  • 11:30am back home for brunch with Mom-ita and M-ito.
  • 12:30pm take Spike-ito out for walk with M-ito. We talk about Warhammer games (our newest father son obsession), school, life in general.
  • 1:30-4:30pm lazing around on couch with M-ito, him watching Saturday afternoon TV shows, me napping on and off, Mom-ita reading, napping, cleaning.
  • 5pm head out with M-ito to the dog run for the first time. Mom-ita is napping.
  • 6-6:45pm Watch Spike-ito make friends and play at the dog run. M-ito at first watches from the bench trying to read his book. Then after five minutes of watching Spike-ito run, wrestle, crash into cement pylons, run, run, and run some more with his new pals, M-ito gets up and joins in. He chases Spike-ito then meets the other dogs, moves our stuff next to the other owners on the other bench, and starts up conversations with the other owners like, “What kind of dog is yours? How old is he? Where did you get him?” It’s hard not to smile while you’re at the dog run. It’s a pretty happy place and the happiness is infectious. I marvel at my son and how he, as an eight year old boy holds himself and interacts with adults. As the dogs start to get tired we collar Spike-ito up and walk him home. All the way home we talk about the experience, what we learned about Spike-ito (he’s a high energy dog, loves to run, is faster than the average dog, gets knocked over a lot but like the energizer bunny keeps on going, loves, loves, loves to play, and how much he needs a bath after all the slobbering from all the other dogs and the dirt and dust) and what we’d like to do when we get home.
  • 8pm our pizza from Louie’s arrives. M-ito loves their pizza.
  • 8:15-10pm we watch Diary of a Wimpy Kid, all three of us and sometimes four of us (Spike-ito included) seated across the couch, laughing. Ice cream included as dessert.
  • 10pm Mom-ita takes Spike-ito out for his final walk and M-ito and I head to bed. We read for a few minutes then its lights out.
  • 11pm Mom-ita joins us.

Disney in August

With M-ito 8 years old these are  some of the things we did right this time:

  • We went for 6-nights and 7 days which was just enough time, not too much and not too little (though we’d rather have stayed on vacation another week). We left on a Tuesday, early so we could go to a park in the afternoon and evening. We left in the evening on Labor Day so we had the whole day to play before we loaded up and got to the airport. Mom-ita planned everything out and it was just about perfect.
  • We slept in almost every day and didn’t get to the parks until 11 or 12 each day which was just fine with all of us. I got up and did my yoga practice as the sun rose, before Mom-ita and M-ito got up. We hit two parks almost every day but one in the afternoon and one in the evening. It didn’t feel rushed that way.
  • We spent a lot of time in EPCOT exploring the countries, the attractions, and the fireworks. There’s still plenty more to explore on future trips. I am amazed at how much there is to explore there.
  • We used fast passes only once but that was because it wasn’t too crowded and the most we waited for anything was maybe fifteen minutes. Mostly we walked on rides without a wait or a five-minute wait.
  • We came the last week of August when kids in Florida are back in school. The parks were pretty empty (as empty as I’ve ever seen them) which meant there were minimal lines.
  • We spent a lot of time at the hotel pool almost every day.
  • We went to Wilderness lodge – a good choice even if the food choices are not the greatest (Animal Kingdom lodge had the best food as far as we’re concerned). It’s beautiful and the rooms were good size – the staff very nice and helpful.
  • We found a ride we liked and went on it again and again. This trip it was Buzz Lightyear’s ride. M-ito loved it and going on the ride (with no line) meant we could actually get better and better at ray-gunning invading aliens so that by the time we finished with it all of us felt like we had some proficiency and M-ito’s confidence on rides in general was boosted.
  • Half of our trip was with a friend of M-ito’s and his mom. M-ito and K-ito played well together and were good company for each other. We all got along and had a good time together. The second half of the trip we were on our own and had some good alone family time. It was a nice balance.

Some things that didn’t work out:

  • As great as it was to have empty parks and few lines for most of the time we were there it is HOT HOT HOT in August. So we sweat alot and we found ourselves doing the it’s-ninety-plus-and-we’re-sweating-shuffle. It’s a slow walk from shade spot to shade spot, cooling station to cooling station. M-ito had a little trouble with the heat on our second to last day, needing to sit down, drink, and cool off. Mom-ita bought him a canvas hat. I soaked it in a vendors ice water and put it on his head. Then I had him put his hands up to his wrists into the water. Along with drinking lots of water these things brought him back to himself.
  • The middle restaurant at the Wilderness Lodge was okay but not something we looked forward to eating at so that left us with the fast food area (crowded and an okay selection but again not something I looked forward to every day). Note, we did find the expensive restaurant to be excellent and had our last evening meal there – well worth it but not feasible for every day because of the price.
  • Bus to Animal Kingdom took an hour each time – way too long.
  • We never made it to Disney Studios – M-ito just didn’t feel like it so we skipped it this time.
  • We never made it to Harry Potter at Universal – different park experience, and needs its own trip to do. Also we heard it was packed and the lines were too too long.

Some things we did that were either new or just fun:

  • We took small two person motor boats out onto the lake for an hour. Very cool.
  • We could take ferries to Magic Kingdom and back. Very cool.
  • Pin trading again was a blast.
  • We did two Kim Possibles (Japan and Mexico – both were excellent and lots of fun) at EPCOT.
  • M-ito went on his first official roller coaster – Goofy’s Barnstorming – which looked very slow but once you got on was really a good ride and a good one for him to go on first. We went on once and that was all but M-ito said he really liked it. This was the same roller coaster we tried to get on in April and left after one look at the coaster roaring by. Good confidence builder for M-ito. Plus I had fun.
  • We spent an hour in Dino Land at Animal Kingdom in the Boneyard playground playing hide and seek then digging for fossils. Some things never get old.
  • We went on the Animal Safari at Animal Kingdom 2x and it was just as good as all the other times we’ve been on it over the years even if the “poacher” chatter is getting a little old.
  • Pangani Jungle Walk was a great experience and the gorillas were awesome. This trip M-ito seemed to want to see all the animals in Animal Kingdom – which was great, if tiring for Mom-ita nd Dad-dito.
  • Buzz Light Year at Magic Kingdom was a great surprise. A large shooting video game with a real skill factor that we all enjoyed about eight times (I think).
  • We also went on Soaring at EPCOT which was great. M-ito loved it and it was also a great confidence builder as it dealt with heights (even if imaginary), movement, and the feeling of flying.
  • We went on an hour guided tour with a naturalist/botanist behind the scenes at The Land in EPCOT that was really great. They showed us their hydroponics gardens and fishery. Great for ideas about future science projects even if it was hot in the hot-house.

School tomorrow. First day of Third Grade. So it goes. We’re all breathing big sighs and preparing ourselves for the fall. We’re going to pick up Spike today also! Dog in the house again!

Recipe for a Bad Dad-dito

  1. Take a week of little sleep.
  2. Toss in a pinch of sick child with stomach and lower back pains, lots of throw-up, and little movement from his bed.
  3. Add a tremendous amount of worry over said sick child.
  4. Throw in a sprig of racing heart one afternoon as I dash home from work worried I’ll have to take my son to the hospital because he still hasn’t moved from his bed.
  5. Twist in a doctor’s visit and a small dose of relief over the diagnosis of a “bad stomach flu” that’s going around.
  6. Add in a grant proposal and two overdue budgets at work.
  7. Mix together with a similarly grouchy Mom-ita who has been home five days in a row taking care of our sick child with very little break.
  8. Pour in an unexpected cup of dying laptop computer (and the need to purchase a new one).
  9. Measure out a teaspoon of M-ito, this evening unable to close his eyes because his upper lip is so sore from a running running nose.
  10. Plotz one large Dad-dito on the bed next to M-ito, his eyes closing (Dad-ditos not M-itos), yet struggling not to go to sleep because he has Mom-ita’s computer to back up before it finds its final resting place, and work of his own to do before he goes to bed.

Mix all in a large mixing bowl. Cook at 350 degrees for half an hour. What do you get? Dad-dito in the kitchen heating up Mom-ita’s left over chicken soup while M-ito struggles to go to sleep, tears in his eyes because his father has yelled at him, “Will you close your eyes!” just one time too many.

Fortunately, Mom-ita has more patience and helps our son to sleep with a hug, a kiss, and another twenty minutes of Moon Moon Moon. It’s a much better recipe.

A Day in the Life

6:31 – Wake up having overslept.

6:32 – Roll out mat and do short yoga practice

6:47 – Wake up M-ito and Mom-ita (Mom-ita already awake)

6:50 – Make breakfast for M-ito (humus on toast, hard-boiled egg from yesterday that Mom-ita made, glass of milk)

7:42 – Out the door and drive M-ito to school with Mom-ita

8:35 – Stop at Starbucks near M-itos’ school for tea for the trip back into Manhattan

9:55 – Park car in parking garage – finish tea

10:05 – Sit down at desk to work while Mom-ita goes off to work

4:45 – Leave parking garage with Mom-ita

5:05 – drop off Mom-ita in Woodside at friends – Mom-ita has PTA meeting at M-ito’s school

5:20 – Arrive in Murray Hill to see M-ito’s Tae Kwon Do practice and meet his Grandmother (who picked M-ito up from school to take him to practice)

6:15 – Leave Tae Kwon do and head home

6:40 – Open front door

6:50 – Start cooking dinner

7:10 – M-ito finishes practicing piano

7:30 – M-ito finishes homework

7:50 – Dinner finished

8:15 – Both reading books in bed – M-ito The Magic School Bus “Volcanos”  and me a book on Meditation and Yoga

8:35 – Lights out

9:08 – M-ito finally falls asleep

9:30 – Dinner cleaned up

9:35 – Mom-ita comes home from meeting

11:15 – Finished answering emails

12:14 – Blog entries done – off to bed

Tomorrow morning… start all over again

Classroom Blues

One of the most difficult tasks I’ve had  as a father has been to choose a school for my son. It should be simple. You have a good public school nearby  and you send your child there for free. That’s what I did where I grew up in Nassau County. I didn’t like school too much – there was a lot of drug traffic and some violence and I was glad, breathed a huge sigh of relief, when I left High School. I remember two friends burning their books in the school yard our last day. I can still see the flames in my mind’s eye. I loved books too much to burn them, but I understood the significance of their act. I was tired of learning and had been for a while.

M-ito’s last day of first grade at his school was yesterday. There was a small party – his class had only twelve kids – and a meloncholy air. A good third of the children, including my son, will not be returning next year.

For pre-K we sent him to public school, one for which we were zoned. We found it not to be a good fit for M-ito. I’ve learned that fit is important. A good school for one child will not be a good school for another. M-ito got lost in the pre-K in our neighborhood. He follows rules, raises his hand, does what his teachers tell him, doesn’t speak out of turn, and listens to what his teachers say. What happened to him in pre-K? His teacher didn’t pay attention to him. She didn’t know M-ito outside of his trouble getting his coat on by himself. (He liked it when she helped him put his coat on because she paid attention to him and talked to him, listened to him tell her stories, while she helped him put that jacket on.) He knew how to put his own coat on and he also had figured out a way, within the rules set out for him, to get a little attention for himself. In his class there were three other kids who had behavioral problems. The only other way for my son get attention was to hit others, yell, take other’s toys, push kids in the hall or on the stairs – but that’s not his way. The kids who did this took up 90% of both the teacher and teacher’s aide’s time. The teacher tried to shame the children into leaving their stuffed animals at home in preparation for kindergarten. I still can’t forgive her for that. The school had no idea how to use parents to help them with the children. They said they wanted parental involvement but they didn’t. We pulled him out of there after one year. Many other parents pulled their kids out too.

M-ito didn’t get into the charter schools in our area. He didn’t win a seat based on either of the two lotteries we entered him in. We didn’t have any contacts or “know anyone” who could influence our chances either. We looked at private schools. I still can’t believe it. Both Mom-ita and I went to public schools and I just assumed M-ito would too. After one year’s experience with public school as a parent I don’t want to do it again.

So I starting saying yes to every consulting gig I could get. I still say yes to them all. Private school is expensive – but we both think it’s worth it.

In kindergarten we sent M-ito to a local private school and it was terrific. The school seemed good and the kindergarten teachers were excellent. But around the kindergarten class, in the classes above, there were problems with bullies, and there were behavioral problems that we encountered and heard about throughout the year. We stayed in our kindergarten bubble and tried to ignore the other problems. A child was asked to leave the school in the grade above. A younger brother in M-ito’s grade left with him. This happened past the half way mark of the school year. The administration took a long time to act – but eventually did.

In first grade M-ito overall had a good experience. His teacher was good and the small band of classmates created a nice bubble again within which learning could occur. But another bully appeared in the grade above – and M-ito’s class had recess and gym with him. There was an outbreak of stomach aches in M-ito’s class in the fall because of the upper grade’s less supervised and rough play. They were switched to have recess with the kindergarten. Gym was still held with the upper grade and the threat of the second grade bully was felt all year. He made M-ito’s classmates cry, making fun of them or calling them names when the teacher wasn’t paying attention (which seemed often), and the bully’s own grade suffered his behavior too. The last day of school my son had a long discussion with us about whether he could wear a favorite shirt – a tie-dye shirt – or not. Was the bully going to call him names? Make a comment to him? M-ito stopped wearing any colorful shirt by winter’s end. Pink left the list of his favorite colors. It wasn’t worth it to him to deal with the bully commenting about what he wore. It was safer to go below the radar. M-ito knew which teachers were good in afterschool class (ie: kept control of the kids and didn’t allow bullying) and which did nothing and let the kids run riot. I’m still amazed he made it through ballet all year, walking from his classroom to the music room one floor above in t-shirt and black tights – his leotard hidden underneath. He must have really wanted to dance.

Bullying in a private school is a challenge just as it is in a public school, but the school had and still has no comprehensvie approach to address it. It’s done on a teacher by teacher basis. But not all teachers are good at classroom management. It seems most are not. Private schools also have the issue of  dealing with troublesome children whose parents make large donations of money to the school. Behavior that should not be permitted sometimes is. That’s another thing I learned.

And there are good teachers in good schools, bad teachers in good schools, good teachers in bad schools and bad teachers in bad schools. It’s tough to get a match. Friends of ours with kids in an upper grade suffered through a year with an abusive teacher. the teacher will not be coming back next year. There was some disturbing violence done to a teenager in an upper grade also. A teacher was fired. A child was expelled. What is the atmosphere of a school in which all these things happen? How is it taken in and absorbed by my son? Should I pretend that it doesn’t affect him? I know that it already has. But how much? Is he safe in his school? Administration dealt with each problem, but always seemed slow to react. I’ve found that administrators of schools are always slow to react. It’s not easy running a school with all these variables.

It’s been hard to pretend my son’s in a bubble when events happen around him. I can pretend but at a certain point I need not to. I worry what will happen next and whether it will happen to a child I know or if it will happen to my son. I wonder if every school is that way. Many people have told me it is so and that I just need to take the good with the bad and leave it at that. Others say, “boys will be boys.” I hate that. Boys are “boys” because parents and schools allow them to be. It is fostered by the school environment. There you have it. That is part of what is eating at me.

When I was in junior high school my best friend was hit by a train walking home from school in a downpour. I witnessed a kid I played football with – who later overdosed in high school – beat up a bully he’d been paid to take down. I witnessed it and walked away. Many of my friend’s lunches had been stolen by the bully. Many of us had been pushed around in the halls by him and his gang, had our books knocked out of our hands by him. I played football so was exempt from much of it. My smarter friends who didn’t play sports were not. 

For this upcoming year, the tuition went up a significant amount. We were notified only a few months ago. We’d already been looking at other options for a school but that was just about the last straw. We decided M-ito would be going to another private school in the fall. 

M-ito will be leaving behind friends as will we. Many families are leaving for similar reasons. Many are just tired of fighting and advocating again and again for slow and only partially satisfactory responses. Is this the way all schools work? Does change move so slowly? We’ve tried to find a school that matches the needs of our son. Will it be the right school for him? We hope so. We’ve investigated this new one in depth but the truth is you never know. There are so many variables. There is the school itself. What the school says it does and how it says it functions and how it in reality acts and functions sometimes are two different things. How teachers will be with your child may or may not work. What will be the mix of children? Will there be bullies? Will the staff be capable of handling him or her? How will my son fit? These are the thoughts that wake me in the early morning hours and stare at the ceiling with my heart racing.

We went to M-ito’s last day of first grade with heavy hearts. Other parents who are staying are not happy with us for leaving. Lines have been drawn, pickets thrown up and demilitarized zones created. It’s been lonely for Mom-ita. These are women she has called friends. Now some won’t talk to her. That’s another tricky part of your child’s school. You meet parents and develop new friendships. Your child’s friendships bring on new relationships for you as a parent also, whether you want them to or not.

I’m sure the parents who are keeping their children in the school are questioning themselves just are we are questioning ourselves. Should we stay? Should we leave? They care about their children and we care about our child. M-ito feels it too. He played Uno with his teacher and friends most of the party, smiling and laughing. But he has told us he’s scared about going to a new school and having to make new friends. We’re scared too. It’s a daunting prospect. Change is a scary thing. But sometimes status quo is even scarier.

And change is not only about loss, even if today it’s hard to see around it. It is also about growth. As a parent I have to remember to honor this both for myself and for M-ito. And for us, we hope, it will bring about a better education for our son.

Make-and-Mend Sunday

“What do I do when I’m not doing legos?” M-ito asks. He’s lying in bed, trying to keep his eyes open and failing, though giving it his all. Mom-ita is on one side and I’m on the other. We’re talking about our make-and-mend day – our Sunday. With snow outside (and me disappointed not to go sledding) we stayed in all day. M-ito had a bit of a cold so we decided to play it safe and do no-thing. This entailed the following some-things (not particularly in any order):

  • Working on the “Death Star” lego model that his pop-pop bought him as the big christmas gift of the year. This is an over 3,000 piece model that is taking up a whole corner of our living room as he rummages through the pieces (and constantly asks us to help him find a piece) and the 200 page instruction manual. We figure it ought to take him a good two weeks to finish.
  • Watching Animal Planet.
  • Wrestling and jumping on the bed.
  • Me reading him four chapters of Far-Flung Adventures: of Fergus Crane by Stewart and Riddell (a great read-to and read-along with book for a 6-year old with spectacular pen and ink drawings on most pages).
  • Mom-ita reading him Max’s Words by Banks and Kulikov (a terrific picture book about the power of words and story telling).
  • Watching the gerbils as I cleaned their cages (the two mommies fought so they’re now in two separate tanks of two mother-daughter pairs) and as they watched him play with his Star Wars lego characters.
  • Watching the second half of Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace (we’d watched the first part earlier in the week).
  • Watching the Secrets of the Furious Five (a sequel to Kung Fu Panda that we got as a boxed set over the holidays) two times along with learning how to draw Po, checking our Chinese new years and zodiac animals (M-ito is a horse, Mom-ita a tiger and yours truly… an Ox), watching different styles of kung fu based on the animals in the movie – moves modeled by kids, and finally each of us taking a quiz that determined which style of kung fu was most suited to us (M-ito the serpent, Mom-ita and me the crane). The movie, by the way was short at 45 minutes but really excellent and quite a good surprise. It is Po telling five stories, one about each of the furious five and a lesson each learned in order to become a master (courage, patience, etc…). 
  • Taking a shower and had a huge meltdown (M-ito, not me this time).
  • Eating breakfast and linner (lunch and dinner combined).
  • Playing with his Didj (that’s for another column – ugh).

“What do I do when I’m not doing legos?” he asks again, cocking his head to the side, one eye closing. Mom-ita and I list what we remember of the day.

“Oh yeah,” he says and lays his head down on his pillow, Puffy the Puffin, his new favorite stuffed animal, close by his side.