April 22, 2018

Bob and Shelly

When I was a kid I had a turtle.

I had several cats. An iguana. And a cage full of finches. At various stages of my development I took care of these animals. Changed tanks, litter boxes and newspaper covered in poop from the bottom of cages. I watched the finches lay eggs and raise families in the nests that I bought for them. I hand fed strawberries to the turtle while it “exercised” on the bathroom floor. I designed an elaborate atrium for the Iguana in the bird cage, only to find him back-broken one day after school as he tried to fit through the bars.

Looking back on these experiences, I saw them as positive. I learned responsibility while also making close bonds with nature. They came and went, died and were given away, but overall I feel I was better for having had them.

This was the attitude I had when, after weeks of begging, I relented and told Kaia and Skye that they could have two turtles a little over a year ago. They were tiny and cute and fit inside a relevantly small tank.

I figured that Kaia would also learn the lessons I learned and perhaps make that connection to these tiny animals. I admit that I did not think that our commitment to these terrapin would be eternal. I figured, we’d have them for a while and then we wouldn’t. I know, I know that pets aren’t temporary and if I ever forgot, Mairin was there to remind me. She never thought our foray into the world of reptiles was a good idea.

Last March, we brought the little guys home, and from the start I realised that the tank, when full of water was, way too heavy for Kaia to lift on her own, so every Sunday I would have to help her empty the water. I also quickly realised that she might not be able to really clean the filter to the level that it needed to be cleaned. So I ended up doing that too.

Since it turned out that I would basically clean the tank, we agreed that each Sunday while I did the heavy lifting, the girls would at least take Bob and Shelly downstairs and run them around the grass. I figured if they weren't learning the responsibility aspect of this little experiment, they could at least do with some bonding. They never seemed super excited about this, however, and so the turtles became a bit of a burden and a chore for everyone.

Fast forward to now- we have three big problems.

1. They are too big for their tank and need a bigger tank or some kind of outdoor pond. I have neither the desire, skill or time to run this type of habitat.

2. The kids are not really as connected to this experience as I had hoped and as a 43 year old man I am not loving having a turtle as much as I did when I was ten.

3. We no longer have a live-in helper and we don’t know what we would do with them this summer while we are in the US for seven to eight weeks.

The turtles had to go.

A few weeks ago, I started to prime the girls on what this might look like and how and why they should prepare themselves. They were upset, but seemed to get it.

Today after I cleaned the tank, I put an ad on Carousel, a classified app, and offered the tank, all the accoutrement and the turtles to what I hoped would be a responsible pet owner. Within minutes, I had a few bites and the guy promised to be at our place tomorrow.

I prepped the girls. Revisited the very logical reasons for giving them away and after a few tears, they seemed fine. That is until the dude sent a message saying he was downstairs. He had thought our rendezvous was for tonight. The kids were already in bed.

We had to get up, empty the tank, get the turtles ready for their departure.

Skye did not handle this well. There was crying and anger. Kaia was fine during preparation, but then after they were gone, she was a mess.

I am currently sitting in her dark room, as they whimper themselves to sleep feeling like a pretty shitty dad.

“I never liked this turtles,” has been Mairin’s mantra from the start, but I honestly thought that they would serve a purpose for our kids. Be some kind of reptilian memory, but now I am not sure the fond memories will outweigh the dramatic scar that might remain after I gave away Shelly and Bob in the middle of the night to a stranger.
He promised that he has a bigger tank and he wants the smaller tank for some fish. I asked that he send a picture, so the girls can see that they are fine, and he promised he would.

I experienced so much loss as a kid that I became used to it. I guess that I saw dealing with loss as my ladder to adulthood.

But to hold Skye in my arms tonight and feel her shaking, made me realise that maybe my kids are still a bit too sheltered. And the ripping off this band aid may have been too much.

We will have to wait to see the repercussions of this experiment, but I can see all of us sitting around some table when they are adults, still cursing me for the night I packed up Shelly and Bob under the cover night.

I hope I will have done a few things to make up for this. Man parenting is hard work.

April 19, 2018

Sick Of Doubt

The next time I write some bullshit post about how sad I am or if you catch me allowing myself to wallow in insecurity and self-pity, please tell me to shut the f#@k up.

Why can’t I remember that for every day I allow to melt into a morose mess, there will be days like today when I can’t help but notice the sheer perfection of my life?

Today was magical in its ordinariness.
I taught a group of thirteen year olds the power of pacing and music when making a short film. It was a simple concept, taught simply, understood and executed minutes later. The kids were engaged, excited and working with passion and purpose. It’s moments like this when you wonder to yourself why and how we make school so complicated.
I caught up with colleagues and email and started to make my back to school to do list. I wrote my parent news letter and general got caught up after a break.
I worked with Martin tying to map out our last few weeks with the Daraja GC. Things are looking a bit vague and confused, but the kids seemed interested in doing whatever needs to be done. Now to see what they (we) come up with to showcase our action part of our service learning. Forces beyond our control have altered our course and we will adapt and move forward.

I worked with Anne Marie in a coaching session to try and improve my craft teaching kids reading skills. We completed a very simple and pragmatic task. Simple. Done. Next step?

I met with Off Tangent, the literary magazine I run with a group of thirteen middle school kids. I had a moment of panic because our launch date is May 3rd two session away. I was sure that I had dropped the ball and we wouldn’t be ready, but after our one and half hour session, I was blown away by their dedication, hard work and efficiency. We will send the manuscript to the publisher tomorrow, marketing is ready with posters and other media for promotion, and the launch party committee did a nice job of mapping out our venue and getting ready.

This is what school should be like- A small group of kids, with little guidance from a teacher bringing to life something that would not exist without their collaboration and love.

I was reminded that when I get down on myself for all the things I get down on myself about, it is good to remember that on any given day I might be feeding the fire in the hearth of a future author, artist, activist or film maker. My seemingly mundane daily activities might have lasting effects on hundreds of kids.

How else will the world change?
How else will tend these fires?

The work we do as teachers, every single day, is heroic and important. It is crucial that we do not forget that, or devalue what we do.

I came home and put in some vital work on my novel. Reading a writing book, I started to outline my protagonist's dilemma- which is her strong desire and false beliefs. I finally began to explore some structural possibilities and the dead end I was feeling a few days ago, is suddenly a wide open road of possibilities.

Maybe I am not worthless and talentless. Maybe I do know what the f$#k I am doing. And maybe I don’t, but forty three years and I’m still following my own path and figuring it out.

Years ago, whilst living in NYC, one Halloween I dressed up as fat Jim Morrison. I wore a weak beard and stuffed a pillow into the shirt tucked into a pair of black leather pants. I followed the party around town and felt like a fraud, because while the girth and the beard were meant to showcase some kind of wisdom, I was still a youngish man, wearing a pair of aviator ray ban glasses at night in a city that never sleeps.

But tonight, as I looked into a mirror I saw a beard and an actual gut that was real. I was no longer wearing a costume. I have some how become my authentic self. Staring back at me from the mirror was a face I have been looking for since the darkness of my youth.

He knows some shit and he is figuring the rest of it out.

Wow, I'm sick of doubt
Live in the light of certain
South Cruel bindings.
The servants have the power
Dog-men and their mean women
Pulling poor blankets over
Our sailors

I'm sick of dour faces
Staring at me from the TV
Tower, I want roses in
My garden bower; dig?
Royal babies, rubies
Must now replace aborted
Strangers in the mud
These mutants, blood-meal
For the plant that's plowed.

March 18, 2018

Thoughts on Time

At some point during the day I had a few epiphanies about time, and because I didn’t stop and jot them down, I can only remember them in bits and pieces, and because I am pretty tired at the moment, my reflection will most likely be pretty nonsensical.

I wanted to just forget it and just go watch TV, the latest season of Love has begun and I want to watch it, but instead I just spent thirty minutes staring at Twitter and losing myself on a downward spiral on social media and a ten tweet rant about how I no longer like technology; so it might be a good idea to try and salvage some semblance of clear thinking.

Today wile I was driving the highways of Singapore, listening to the latest Decemberist album, I thought I had discovered something profound about time and how we allocate it. It might have sounded something like this.

There is a direct correlation between happiness and joy and how we use our time.

Here are some facts:

1. We need time on our own that is purely dedicated to ourselves, our interests, wants and needs. When we have this time we must be invested in it one hundred percent and not worry how we might be spending our time in other ways to please other people.

2. We must also dedicate large chunks of our time to other people and when we engage other people with our time, we cannot be worried about how we might be spending that time alone.

When I first became a dad, many years ago, I wrote a blog post about how being a parent would make me less selfish and how my time would be purely dedicated to my new daughter and wife and family. Well that was clearly unrealistic and wishful thinking, and what I realised today is that not only is it not true, but that it doesn’t need to be.

We do not need to dedicate all our time to others. We need to find time for our own comfort. And when we are enjoying that time, we cannot be thinking about other things.

This is also true for teachers. So often, my students and work are on my mind. Even when I am trying to spend time with my own kids or family or by myself, I will be thinking about how to solve problems at work, or how I might respond to that one email, but really, by allowing my time to be confused with my work time, I am doing a disservice to both. The opposite can also be true.

When I am at work, I should be aware that those hours are dedicated to my students. I cannot be thinking about the next holiday or how I wish I was taking a nap or at the movies. I owe it to them to be there completely.

This understanding that time dedicated to others should be focused on others, must be understood completely.

Let me give you an example closer to home. Yesterday, I was at the Family Festival where I dedicated most of my time to my own kids, students, other teachers etc…I was at peace with this, because I knew they needed me to invest my time. I was not worried about being any where else, because I had chosen that part of the day to be there.

It felt great. I tried not to complain. I had a good time and felt useful and needed. When I came home, I decided that Skyelar needed more of my time. Would I have preferred to maybe go have a drink with a friend, or watch TV alone in my room? Maybe, but as soon as I decided to be there with her, we watched a movie she wanted to see and I felt so at peace with just being there. I blocked out any thoughts about what I could be doing with that time if I were thinking of my own needs.

This is the key to happiness. Be here now and be aware of of who you have dedicated your time to.

If you're in a meeting- be in that meeting.
If you're driving kids to basketball- crank up the tunes and make that a great ride.
If you're alone and on your way to get a haircut, enjoy that solitude and ride.
If you're with your wife at dinner, invest your attention in that time.
If it's early and you are running, count your breaths and footsteps.
If you have two weeks of school then make those two weeks special.

Not sure if I am making sense, but in conclusion here is the bullet point version. Again:

If you are feeling tired and stretched thin, make time for yourself and do not dilute it with the commitments you have to others. Own your personal time and live it fully.

When you are committed to share your time with others- kids, wives, students, coworkers, then be there fully too. You owe them your complete attention just as fully as when you are committed to yourself.

Anyway, I owe myself some time tonight with a book and maybe an episode of Love before the week starts. I have a feeling I have already allocated much of my time to others this week and the next.