Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Eleven-TEEN (rough draft)

“Daddy! I’m Eleven-TEEN”, my youngest twin said with the incredulous and perfectly executed eye-roll of a seasoned adolescent. I can’t recall what we were arguing about. It doesn’t really matter anyway. Facts are inconsequential relative to the greater truth of “I’m right and YOU are wrong”.  I am playing the role of YOU this evening. In fairness, the role belongs to my wife. I am merely the understudy. Tweedle B has been affirming her status as a teenager these days, drawn to all things adolescent and salacious. It hasn’t been all that bad. She and I have been having some interesting conversations lately, that is…..when I can get her to talk. With Twin B I have to employ stealth parenting.

Last night we had a good one, here is the gist:

We were stargazing and snuggled up. For some reason we got on the subject of ancient Greece and I began to tell the story of Icarus. She decided that Icarus flew too close to the sun out of “Pride and Arrogance”.  She arrived at this conclusion after speculating that Icarus was about her age, Eleven-TEEN. In her opinion, boys her age are inherently arrogant and way too proud of themselves. With great effort I resisted the urge to point out the pinch of arrogance and pride the whole "I'm right YOU are wrong" sensibility requires. Instead, we started talking about “pride” in both it’s positive and negative aspects. Finally, and stealthily, I asked her what she was proud of.
         “My difference!”, she replied without a trace of hesitation.

I found this curious, given that she is an identical twin. As an identical twin myself, I know first hand how hard it is to hold on to a sense of identity independent of your clone. As a very young child I had to grasp at straws to find a defining characteristic. It mostly came out in statements like, "I’m the one with the BLUE sneakers, not the RED ones", or more importantly "I like Batman, he likes Superman". We never did agree upon who got to be John and who got to be Paul when we played air guitar in synch with  Sgt. Pepper’s. It was a forgone conclusion that Butchy, our Lhasa Apso, got to be Ringo. He had the eyes for the part and was, in all likelihood,the better drummer.

         Twin B feels proud of her “difference” and I suspect Twin A might be a little resentful of it. The twins simultaneously feel compelled to differentiate from each other and feel rejected by the distinction that creates. I don’t envy their journey into adulthood, but I do empathize with their experience. My twin and I, unknowingly, struggled with the very same issue. I wish I could remember how we made some peace with it; how we moved from competitors to a relationship of mutual respect? The simple fact is, Glenn is among the best men I know, and anyone saying otherwise is itching for a fight.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Birds of a feather (Re-write)

      When I was a student at the School of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York I made frequent visits to the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. The place was fascinating and had all the elements of a true wilderness experience while still being close enough to “Doug’s Fish Fry and Cheap Beer” to satisfy my sensitive college palate. For me, it was the eagles that made Montezuma such a special place. There was a nest on the refuge that was shared by two males and one female, along with their offspring that had not yet fledged. Gene Houcut, the District Manager in charge of Montezuma claimed that it was the single most successful nest in the state, and I have no reason to doubt it. I always saw fledging when I was there. However, the fecundity of this breeding group was not what made these birds special. Up until then, it was largely believed that eagles were monogamous and mated for life. These birds had quite a different idea. On this nest everyone mounted everyone. It was not unusual to see the female mount both males, nor was it unusual to see the males sharing an intimate moment together. Leave it to me to find the sexual deviants of the species.

         I was thinking about these birds as the young man sitting next to me on my flight to visit Grandma Jane began to unwind his life story. He introduced himself with a name that I know his Mama didn’t give him. Suffice it to say that my first impressions were that either this young man was compensating for his shortness of stature or he had an uncommon attachment to his favorite comic book hero. His adopted name was punctuated by matching tattoos, like name tags.  I always like nametags, it makes things so much easier the morning after. But I digress…..

         During the five-hour flight I grew quickly to admire this unique man. For now, let’s call him Spidey. Spidey, like my birds, danced to a different beat. His stage name(s), are alternatively Mystique and Wolverine. His characters are adversaries who don’t realize they in habit the same body. One dances as a woman and the other dances as a man. He intermingles break dancing and hip-hop with the erotic forms of dance involving poles. Spidey arrived at these characters after some tough times, including a bad injury. While his stage life and his drag life were interesting, what I found most compelling about Spidey was how multifaceted he was. His nine-year-old son was playing quietly in the seat next to him and Spidey seemed to have an easy caring way with him. His son was an adorable and intelligent kid, clearly deeply loved. Apparently he spent a few weeks with his Dad every summer, before returning to his mom and stepfather. The two had just finished a trip to visit a quickly fading father/grandfather. Spidey was raised in a sleepy town deep inside the blue-line of the Adirondack State Park. As a younger man he made his living as a professional skateboarder and snow boarder prior to coming out as a drag racer. I’m not sure what he meant by drag racing, but I’m pretty sure it involved pole dancing in women’s clothing rather than cars. He mentioned something about RuPaul’s drag race, and I just can’t picture that seven-foot tall goddess behind the wheel of a racecar.

         The thing I found beautiful about Spidey was that he is not someone to be defined. He is openly bi-sexual, he is both masculine and feminine without being androgynous. He challenges the norms without being a rebel. He seems to refuse to play the “queen”, but genuinely inhabits Mystique’s character as a real woman. In his own brave way he is redefining what a drag queen is just by existing. Perhaps, my eagles are a bit like Spidey. I’m pretty sure no one explained to the Montezuma Eagles that Bald Eagles are suppose to be monogamous for life AND they certainly don’t mount same gendered birds or have multiple partners. They changed our ideas about what being an eagle is by simply existing.

         Now comes the really interesting question; how will Spidey’s offspring and the Montezuma fledglings turn out? I can’t wait to find out.

[i] My apologies to Spidey if I misunderstood or misrepresented him in anyway. This post was the result of my impressions of a chance meeting on a 5-hour plane ride. In telling the story, I am sure there are inevitable inaccuracies.
[ii] I make absolutely no apologies to the Eagles at Montezuma Wildlife Refuge, all statements regarding them are accurate.
[iii] At Spidey’s request, I have removed the original post entitled “Birds of a Feather” With respect to this request, I have changed names and removed places that might identify him. I hope I have conveyed the spirit of the original piece without compromising his request for more anonymity. This is a story about paradigm shifts and power of being an individual.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Welcome to my Free Fa…….THWUMP!!!

      In November of 2010 I began The Chalk with a post entitled "Welcome to my Free Fall".  I had just submitted a letter of resignation, effective June 2011, to my long-time employer and given myself seven months to “create a new livelihood and find a new direction.”

         It’s June 2011, so I thought I should update all three of my readers on what is happening career-wise. You can decide for yourself if there was an authentic change. I’m not entirely sure.

         I rescinded my resignation in late December at the urging of the Director of Human Resources. He was kind and appreciated my intentions for giving the administration so much time to prepare for my departure. I truly wanted to leave on the best of terms. Tom, the head of HR, was protective of me and asked me to hold off on the resigning until I actually had a job (DUH!!!). It was fortunate, because there was not much out there worth quitting for. Instead, my public school system made some big concessions towards making my program better and my life easier. Next year we are positioned to be a very strong program. The truth is, things had to get pretty bad before the administration saw the need to change. Without going into too many details, suffice it to say it was a very tough year at work, punctuated by a dangerously low student-to-staff ratio. Next year will be much better. The concessions that were made are thoughtful. I just wish things didn’t have to hit rock bottom before meaningful changes took place.

         As I looked for work this year, I stumbled upon an opportunity to become a certified Motorcycle Safety Foundation Rider Coach, i.e. a nationally certified riding instructor. Sponsored by Training Wheels, I went through a real meat grinder of the MSF training in early March. I started teaching in April and now spend most of my weekends on the motorcycle range. I can’t believe people actually pay me to ride motorcycles!

         I’m set up for one of the best summers of my life. I’ll spend my summer teaching drums at a local arts camp on Monday’s and Wednesday’s and coaching riders on the weekends. The rest of the time, it’s just me and my son (and possibly Blue).

         So I did not have a wholesale change, nor did I stay stagnant in an untenable position. I’m somewhere in between. 
I’m going back to run my program for another year, but if someone asked me what I do for a living I also mention that I teach and ride motorcycles.

         I’m still searching. In the meantime, I hope that the personal cost of doing what needs to be done for my students is not too high. I don’t think it’s too dramatic to acknowledge that the effort and commitment it takes to be successful with students who have severe emotional disabilities takes its’ toll on caregivers. I’m not a religious man, but….. Lord, give me strength!!

         I think I landed from my free fall. Unfortunately I landed on a cliff jutting out over the abyss. Still looking for a parachute in the right color.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Hero turned villain

Was winning worth the price?

Will the ring become a burden?


I think you are brave

to play your game

To play YOUR game

Again, at what cost?
*My third graders were writing poems and one of my students asked me to write him a poem about the HEAT. This is what I gave him.

Friday, June 3, 2011

What is

      The other day I had an unpleasant close call on my motorcycle. I ride a very tame Honda Rebel. It’s the laughing stock of the Rider Coaches I teach with, all of whom drive machines the dwarf my 1986 250cc Rebel. The chain was pretty loose and it came off the rear tire. I was going fairly slow and had no trouble quickly pressing the clutch and taking the power away from the back tire so it did not freeze up and send me flying. It did not feel like such a big deal at the time, but it was.

       Before heading to Greater Boston Motor Sports (a.k.a the only motorcycle mechanic around) I joked with my wife that I might accidentally buy a new motorcycle. She did not say “ Are you F***************** crazy!! No way can we afford this”, which I immediately interpreted as, “love of my life, you should do this! In fact I insist!”

       When I brought the bike into the shop and my mechanic heard what happened he went green. “Corey you must have very good reflexes”. No, I thought, I just got lucky.  He knew I was a Rider Coach and invited me test drive any bike in the shop. It was like having free range in a museum. I tried a lot of bikes. I wasn’t surprised that I fell in love. I was surprised that I fell for a 2010 Shadow Phantom 750 with beautiful leather saddlebags. I fell deeply in love. I never have felt so in tune with a bike. It felt like it was part of me.

       One little problem. I did not/do not have $7000. What I did have, or at least thought I had (cue foreboding music) was my Grandfather’s 18K Gold Patek Phillippe watch. My brothers inherited Rolexes, and I got the Patek Phillippe. Whenever I had need of money over the last ten years since Grandpa’s death I have struggled with the idea of selling it. Instead I have treated it like a sacred relic, sitting unused but cherished in my underwear drawer[1].  But this was different. I had come to a hard decision, I was going to sell it. It was meant to bring joy to the owner. I think Grandpa would like this use. For those of you who know about these things, a true Patek Phillippe could easily cover the cost of this bike.

       I put $100 down on the bike and spent the next week researching how to sell the watch. Here is what I found out. The watch was an imitation worth about $200. Heart-broken but not defeated I am still going to find a way to buy the Phantom (which I can write off as a legitimate expense now that I drive motorcycles for a living).

       The funny thing is, I think my wife must have seen this coming. The night before I walked into the bike shop sheread a passage from Pemo Chodron to me that helped me deal with just such a situation. In brief, Chodron says that we become overly attached to a story line and we fail to see what is truly in font of us. Better to be fully aware of this moment and the truth of this moment, than become attached to a narrative of what should be. My narrative was that I had this safety net that I could sell if need be. After I went through the very real disappointment of learning the truth, I had to smile and say to myself, wow you bought that story hook, line, and sinker! So now you have to deal with what is.  

[1] You would be amazed how many men keep their most beloved and valuable possessions next to their threadbare Fruit-of-the-Loom’s. 
[2]The Phantom, sans the beautiful leather saddlebags that are on my future bike.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011



COREY: Wise old daddy I am
BLUE: You’re cheating
COREY: I promised not to SAAAAAY anything  :-p

She rolled her eyes at me. What does it say about a 40 something year old man when his teenage daughter has to say, with hand on her hips, eyes facing heaven, “Daddy, grow up!”
Fact checking time: She didn’t actually say that, but Blue can think VERY LOUDLY.

I think it says that I’m doing something right. At least I hope it does, because I’m not going to suddenly transform into a fully-fledged, humorless grown up anytime soon. Fully-fledged, yes. Grown-up: not so much… only momentary episodes of adultness and only under extreme duress. Unfortunately DURESS lives down the block from me.

Funny, I used to walk out to say hello whenever I saw DURESS walking down the street. I still do that on a bad day. However, these days I have learned to wave hello from the other side of the street without engaging it. DURESS will knock on my door soon enough, without me inviting it inside for coffee.

I digress. I was thinking about how as an adult, I’m at my best when I am childish. Blue, on the other hand, believes she is at her best when she is most mature. Perhaps we are both right. Most assuredly we are both wrong. Go figure.

Blue’s Rebuttal

No rebuttal, although your last sentence has me curious now...

Dad’s Reply:

         Being both right and wrong is my nod to how complex the world is. It’s a false dichotomy, right and wrong. We can’t really separate our best selves from our worst, we carry our whole selves with us wherever we go.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

It Ain't Me

          I see a lot of angry ranting people in my line of work. I try not to rant too much. It never really turns out well for me.  I still do it, of course, but at least I’m slowing down. The other day a student of mine was trying to tell me about a rant he witnessed at recess.

ME: “Can you tell me what he said?”

KC: “No Mr. Steinman, I’m not aloud to say those words”

ME: “It’s okay if you are reporting it to me calmly, I just want to make sure I know what we are dealing with. I don’t want to over-react”

KC:  “Well you know when you are stuck in traffic and you’re Dad is getting really mad. He said THOSE kind of words”

Got it. It sent me back to a rant I had while I was still working in a residential program, circa 1996:

I was fairly new to teaching and had the kind of fire in the belly that makes rookies simultaneously endearing and annoying. I was getting pretty self-righteous about something, which now escapes my memory. My boss, Larry, patiently listened to me for a full ten minutes. Larry was a giant twig of a man, with eyebrows that didn’t so much arch but pointed upwards towards spiky hair. Everything about him was sharp. His long goatee exactly mirrored the chevron of his eyebrows. His smile can only be described as wicked.

         Smiling, he put his arm around my shoulder to signal that I was done talking and said something that has become a sort of mantra to me.[1]

Larry:  “Corey........... you’re not that important”

ME:  “Gee, Larry, I’m touched. Ummm what the f***?”
Larry: “I’m not that important either”

ME: “So what is the important thing here?”

Larry: “The thing that's important to remember is …… What Is  Important” pause.......waiting for me to get it…..

ME: sledge hammer makes cotact…….”and it ain’t ME”

Larry:   “Nope…….it ain’t me neither”

         It’s hard to hold on to this mind-set, but I’m there right now. It’s my wife’s smile that completely fills me up. I love her voice and wish she was here to talk too. It’s the way the twins are petting a reluctant Sam-the-Cat. It’s the way the sun is landing on the Dogwood blossoms. It ain’t me.

         Later today, something is going to tug on my ego. Someone is going to cut me off while merging on to 128 or say something unkind. I’ll want to rant. All the good stuff will disappear if I start cursing. Please let me hear Larry’s voice again before I get a head of steam going-

“Hey Corey, you’re not that important”




[1] At least on a good day. On bad days, I forget the lesson learned and keep ranting, lunatic style until someone slaps me upside the head.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Old Men and Basketball

      There comes a time in every ball players life when we should gracefully leave the court and take up a game that does not involve grinding our knees into pulp. We don’t of course, but we should. Instead we find new ways to become effective on the court, by which I mean we cheat.
      It starts off innocent enough, a little shuffle and lean while setting a pick, a few extra steps on the way to the hoop. But then it gets ugly. Let’s just call it, for sake of argument, DG ugly.
         DG ugly means camping out in the paint for hours beyond the three-second rule without even pretending to move your feet. DG ugly means calling a foul on every single shot you take regardless if anyone is near you. DG ugly means criticizing every move your teammates make while standing still on a fast break. Let’s just avoid the entire subject of elbowing your opponents in the post.
       When I was in my thirties I swore that I would never become one of those guys. But last night with the game well in hand, one point away from the walk off shot I crossed over to the dark side. It could have been a foul, the kid didn’t argue the call, but I knew it was cheap. I was chasing down a loose ball, and got one hand on it, when out of nowhere this twenty something flew by me and stole the ball. True, he took half my arm with him and he reached in, but I never would have called it ten years ago. I just would have shrugged and said to myself “self, protect the ball next time”.  I called the foul and then hit the walk off shot next time down the court…………it was not a proud moment.         So what’s the moral of this tale? Cheaters prosper? Of course they do. In fact, it’s part of the game. No one even raised an eyebrow! ARRGGGGG!!!!!

         It is not too much of a leap to say that basketball mirrors life.         I’m reminded of a moment I shared with the lunch lady in my old school. Cathy is a big-hearted Eastern European woman with a very thick accent. One day I came into the kitchen and said, “Hey Cathy, I’m stealing an apple”.

         “Corey, you know vat happens vhen you steal?”
         “Yeah, I get stuff for free”

         Sigh…..why is being bad so rewarding?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Scarlet "J"

         In February of 2008, the New England Patriots lost to the New York Giants in the final moments of Super Bowl XLII. The loss solidified my place in the family as “THE JINX”. [1] Whenever I make a sports prediction the universe has an equal and opposite reaction. I swore, after being teased relentlessly, that I would keep my mouth shut. But my family still insists celebrating my faults. I kept my mouth shut since that humiliating day[2]. That is, until last Monday when the Celtics played the New York Knickerbockers in game one of their 2011 playoff series.  While the aging Celtics were generally outplayed by a rapidly improving Knickerbockers, Ray Allen drained a three point shot in the final seconds of the game to put Boston ahead.  I posted one innocent word on my Facebook status; “RAAAYYYY!!!!!”.

         My father and brothers responded by writing me long letters about how happy they were that I was rooting for the Celtics. Once again they dusted off the old Corey Jinx and wrapped it around me like a straight jacket. Stupidly, I responded. I took the bait and wrote back.

         I think if I sat down with my father and four brothers and said “hey enough with the Jinx”, they would say it was all in fun. They would, rightly so, point out what an insufferably big mouth I had and that I was practically  begging for their ridicule. Point well taken, even if it was not actually made.

         So what’s the big deal?  The big deal is that when they play the Jinx card, they are putting a spotlight on a fault that I have been working pretty hard on. I know they don’t see it that way, I’m not sure I was fully aware of it until this week. You see, I have been trying to cultivate a more keen sense of humility, which in part means keeping my mouth shut on things I really don’t know much about. This is harder work than you might imagine. My oral cavity is a foot magnet.[3] Still, I’m working on it. So when I say something that I think of as pretty innocent like “RAAAYYYY!!!!!” and the reply I get is, “hey Corey remember all the times you said really stupid things about sports”, I find myself way back at the starting line of that journey. Part of me wants to lash out and say, “yeah, I remember that- thanks for the reminder, I appreciate it. Hey, while we are in the neighborhood, shall we go visit some of the moments you wish you could take back?”

         I took the bait and responded. Dumb, dumb, dumb…….. It’s like taking that old soup of sports angst that you were about to throw away and putting it on the front burner. I set the table by saying anything regarding sports. I wish it weren’t so. I wish I could acknowledge Ray’s achievement without inviting the Jinx Card. He is a class act. Now for the remainder of the NBA playoffs, win or lose, I will wear the scarlet J.

[1] I suppose it bears repeating that I support New England teams while my father and brothers support teams from New York.
[2] @Adam: just for the record, I think three years of silence is a huge achievement. I sincerely invite you to match that benchmark..........starting last Monday.
[3] I suppose it could be worse, but there is only so far I am willing to go with an orifice analogy.

Monday, April 11, 2011

“Stories are data with a soul” – Brene Brown

Recently I watched a YouTube snippet of Dr. Brene Brown speaking at a TED Conference[1]. She said a few things that resonated with me, besides how cool her name is. If you don’t know her, she is a researcher and a story-teller who studies issues like vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame.

I’ll cut right to the chase, Brown says that you can’t selectively numb. When you numb yourself or repress an emotion, it impacts the whole system. I’m pretty sure she is right about this, which is a shame. Why can’t I just be open-hearted and loving without also being angry and cantankerous? It would be so much easier just to live in a bubble of the good stuff. But the truth is, I find people who have banished negative feelings and just float along in a fluffy cloud of happy really annoying. Particularly if it is an evangelical-religious or new age cloud of fluffy-happy.

No, life is messy. Very, very messy and you have to get your hands dirty to live it fully. So here is my dilemma; I am like many men; socialized to repress anger, shame, and fear. Stuffing these emotions into an over-full cerebral closet has become a reflex. Like blinking, something makes me angry it gets buried before I even have a chance to see if it is a real threat. How does one begin to turn off that switch? It’s like a fist that has been clenched so long that the muscle memory of how to relax is gone. I’m not saying that I am an emotional cripple, far from it. But as I get deeper into the work of being in the real world, I am aware of this huge internal vault of repressed emotions. Right now I do not have the key, nor am I willing to use a sledge hammer hard enough to penetrate much further than the Celtics last losing streak. I have to admit, back-to-back losses last month against the Clippers and Philadelphia cut deep.

I hope you all forgive me for the posts that are likely to follow. I’m going mining for deep down emotions. It’s slow going and I’ve got a hard head to crack.

Well worth the twenty minutes if you are interested in watching the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Because He Can

         You know the old joke; “why does a dog lick……………..?”

         It’s more than just that he can. I’m sure there are humans out there who have achieved the necessary flexibility, but you just don’t see them casually reaching down to satisfy themselves while the rest of the household is trying to have a family meal.

Dogs might be on to something.

As far as I can tell, Conventional Dog Wisdom goes something like this:
-      Uninhibited equals Happy Dog  (see: scrotum licking, garbage eating, squirrel chasing, sniffing)
-      Inhibited equals Sad Dog (see: tail between the legs, it wasn’t me really, the cat made me do it)

I’m not advocating that we all become so uninhibited that we are free enough to put our hands down our pants before passing the rolls across the dinner table. I have a close relative who does this and I can assure you that it is not a pretty sight. We have to consider our impact upon others and measure our behavior in terms of that impact.  Never the less, I think letting your inner DAWG out might not be such a bad idea.

I say this with a nagging thought in mind. I spend a lot of time apologizing for the way I am built, tail between my legs. The world tends to beat down the dog, when all he is doing is being what nature has made him. AND there is so much potential to be a “bad” dog if you spend your entire day in a room with flowery wallpaper, paisley upholstered couches, and an Oriental Rug just begging to be marked.  How would I, and my figurative dog, feel if we where to reside in a more natural habitat? Would we even recognize it?

No wonder the dog finds solace in his ability to lick.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ruby Slippers

When I first started blogging I used an analogy of a free fall to describe my journey into a new career or at least a new stage in my career. I’m still there.

I’ve made some progress. Tomorrow I start training to become a certified motorcycle instructor. It won’t pay the bills, but it will help. And of course, I’ve been writing a bit. Nothing spectacular, but at least the writing has been consistent. The things that have not made it into The Chalk have been really dogmatic. There is a lot of Dogma in my notebook and it is difficult to edit all of it out. You see, I have a strong inclination towards arrogance. I’m working on that and being dogmatic doesn’t really help things out.

With that said, I can’t help sharing an idea that has resonated with me for the last couple of weeks.

It came from my wife. We have started going to a yoga class together. As we drive to class she often reads quotes from Pema Chodron, just to get us into the spirit of things. The last one she read talked about how we all have this kind of internal jewel, which I interpreted as an innate goodness, that doesn’t ever lose it’s luster or brilliance. Our defense mechanisms, our shame, and our life experiences hide it, but it’s still there underneath those layers of yuck- undiminished. As I write this, that statement sounds very earthly crunchy. Just tap your heels three times and you will be a luminous creature. Maybe not, but it is a comfort to me to imagine that if I can do the hard work of becoming vulnerable and open-hearted than I might tap into my better self. It’s not a leap of imagination to say that when I am reacting to things from a defensive posture, I am surely not at my best. For the moment, I’m going to try and make that leap of faith that people have an innate goodness. It’s folly, I know, but the alternative is that humanity has no internal potential for compassion. That kind of thinking certainly makes me want to reach for my ruby slippers.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Does this question make my ass look big?

      I’m writing this with the sincere hope that my mother never reads this. She doesn’t know it, but she is a Jewish mother. Maybe not the kind you see in sitcoms, but underneath the Santa Fe, new age, sunset watching, pot smoking, sakki drinking, hippy skin lies the heart of a Jewish mother from Merrick, Long Island.

       Last week she crashed my party with Grandma Jane. When she heard I was heading out to Arizona to visit the family matriarch, she bought tickets and said she would try to coordinate her arrival with mine so we could share a cab. “You don’t mind waiting an hour or two for your mother- why spend money on two taxis” (do you see any question marks in those quotes?).[1] Once she arrived, she asked me if she had intruded upon my weekend with Grandma. If you ever hear a Jewish person say “OY”, now you know from whence it came.

       “Mom, I’m a nice Jewish boy from New York, there is only one answer to that question: of course not, you’re my mother, and Grandma is you’re mother. The doors to our family should always be wide open to each other”

I knew once I said the word “mother” what was coming next. It amounted to ‘was I a good mother?’. It comes up almost every time I see her, especially if she is feeling blue. We were in the car, going on an obligatory shopping trip in search of that nice shirt she saw in a Gap add. For the first time in ages I did not want to follow the script.

“Mom, you’re asking what my wife calls “do these make  my ass look fat” questions. There is no right answer. Say yes, and your calling her fat. Say no, and you are not being honest.  It’s just not fair to put anyone in that position. I’m not going there any more”


“You really like shopping with me, though, right?”

“Mom, does this question make my ass look big?” [2]

[1] Just for the record, she arrived a day after me, and I was able to spend almost twenty-four hours with Grandma Jane (see my last post Jane’s Choice). In fairness to Mig, these are not direct quotes- I am taking liberties here to make a point (and making footnotes to cover my ass in case she learns how to use a computer). 
[2] In fairness to me, this is a direct quote.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Jane's Choice

Last week I was in Scottsdale, Arizona, visiting my Grandmother. I still had something of a fire in the belly about the nature of resiliency, so I asked her about times in her life when she was faced with a crisis that she thought that she would not overcome. Mind you, this is a woman born in 1916. She has been THERE and chances are, she has done THAT. Without hesitation she recalled her early years of marriage. Her daughter had just turned two and her husband was gravely ill.

“I was told that Herb would not survive the year. Facing that, I made a decision to have another baby. I don’t think it was resilient, stupid maybe, because I had no idea how it would turn out. I believed Herb was going to die within six months. The decision was made on my own.”

Against all odds, Herb lived a long life, and their son is beloved. Jane thinks of it as the best decision of her life. She might not call it courageous, but it certainly looks like courage from where I am standing. It was something that she knew she had to do. No job, one young child, one dying husband, and Jane decides to have another baby. It seems uncharacteristic of this measured and deliberate woman that in her most trying moments she leaned on her emotional intuition. I’m not entirely sure she felt that it was even a choice. It was something she had to do to keep herself whole.

I’m on the cusp of that kind of moment in my own life. One that feels annihilating. My life as a teacher is coming to an abrupt end. But something is missing. Where did Jane find such clarity and sense of purpose? I don’t know about you, but when I try to pin down just what it is that would make me whole again I come up empty.

Jane’s resilient, almost defiant, act of self-preservation had an element of “calling” to it. Where does that come from? There was a piece of the impossible in Jane’s decision.

Resilience is a mystery to me, although I think I have some resources to call upon. One thing I can take away from Jane’s choice is that you don’t achieve the impossible by thinking about it. Courage, resilience, inspiration, these are unencumbered by the thought process.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Back-off Qwerty!

I am writing this to the child who is, at this very moment leaning over my shoulder watching me write. How do you explain to this little appendage that writing is not a spectator sport? It is dam near impossible to think with someone breathing on you. Well at least she is not correcting my ……..Okay, now she is my self-appointed editor. Great.

Please, some one rescue me from this child! I do not want to be the personal entertainment system now. My morning duties are done. I have prepared a serviceable breakfast, although soooommeone says that the bagels I cooked, FROM SCRATCH my mind you, are somewhat tasteless and she prefers Bruggers Bagels to home-cooked. The kitchen is clean (mostly), the laundry will not need to be put in the dryer for another 50 minutes. 

“This would not have happened if you didn’t take away the cable”, says the intruder- still in her pajamas.

“It’s a nightgown Daaaady, Hurumph”

I know, but “pajamas” is more fun to say than “nightgown”.

“Well than at least say PJ’s”



You know how certain people take up all the oxygen in the room? Now, CERTAIN people are taking up all the virtual oxygen as well.

Sigh: I give up. Here is a video of the twin now knows as Qwerty in this blog (she gave herself the name because my wife does not want her to use her real name on the internet. Now I have to call her Qwerty everywhere. Also, don’t call Qwerty “cute” unless you are itching for a fight! She has decided that she it NOT CUTE!)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

De-prioritized at this time.

resilient |riˈzilyənt|
able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed.
(of a person or animal) able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.

I have come up with a big idea. It may not be original, but I think it may become my life’s work.

Lightning struck last week as the School Council discussed our new School Improvement Plan.

Excerpt from the recent School Improvement Plan:

Identify resiliency skills (such as ability to handle disappointment, stress, change, etc.) in order to develop and incorporate teaching strategies related to building resiliency in students

De-prioritized at this time.

It took me a second for this to sink in. Our school and schools in general do not teach kids to deal with adversity. In the same week that our community was once again devastated by the loss of a high school student, whom tragically took his own life, we “de-prioritized” our aspirations to teach kids how to cope with adversity.

Think about how essential resilience is to learning and living. If you had to choose only one set of skills to teach, wouldn’t “resiliency skills (such as ability to handle disappointment, stress, change, etc.)….” make the top two or three on your list?

Now think about this:

We largely ignore this skill set, we do not have curriculum or pedagogy that addresses these skills directly in public schools.

Schools are not alone. Well meaning parents do not allow their children to be exposed to adversity. If I had to prescribe a single set of skills that could improve our learning, our health, our community, and even our nation, it would include a thoughtful approach to building our capacity for becoming resilient.

There are a few models out there that touch on these skills, such as Outward Bound and similar experiential learning schools. However, there is nothing that reaches into early childhood and primary grades that can meaningfully be applied to a public school curriculum.

Imagine building a curriculum and a culture around Resilient Learners.

We can do this, we can teach children to strive, and to understand that a great deal of success is predicated upon how well you cope with adversity.

The evolution of this idea I think warrants a separate blog. One dedicated to Teaching and Parenting rather than stories dear to my heart. In truth, I wish I could spend the next year researching and developing this idea in order to bring it back into the school system. I don’t have those kind of resources. Blogging maybe a good start.

I’d love feedback on this one- plus a catchy new title for a teaching Blog

Next up: What our Heroes know about Resiliency.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Quintessential Blue

      There are a few Blue stories that get repeated often in my house when we feel the need to explain our oldest to the uninitiated.

1), Whose the Boss?

      We were living in a tiny apartment near Central Square in Cambridge shortly after Doc was born. Blue was a precocious two and a half year old and really not much bigger than a peanut. I had just put Doc down for his nap when the doorbell rang. I answered the door to find a man trying to deliver a king sized mattress to our upstairs neighbor. Our neighbor was not home, but I offered to give him a hand up to the second floor platform. As we wrestled the mattress up the stairwell, the man started trying to sell me a mattress. Turns out, he owned the stored. I tried to put him off, but he was very persistent. Finally I said, “Look I really have to talk to the Boss about this.”

Enter Blue into the hallway, naked of course.

         “Daddy, whose the Boss?”

         “Well, honey, Mommy is the Boss.”

She thought about this for a moment, then put her hands on her hips defiantly.

         “I thought I was the Boss!”

2). Just Because

         Shortly after that incident, we were visiting my older brother in Maine. It must have been July, because the Black Flies were swarming around us. Blue wanted to stay out in the yard and I was trying to get her inside without donating any more blood to the invertebrate population. She stood on the picnic table, naked of course, hands on her hips with a well reasoned argument at the ready:

         “Daddy, just because you’re older than me it doesn’t make you SMARTER than me!”

         “Honey, no one would ever mistake me for being smarter than you. But…….I am bigger and stronger than you!!”

Exit one Daddy, with screaming naked child over his shoulders.
BLUE's Rebuttal:
I will keep it brief - It's all true. I am the boss.

And also, at two years old (and three, and four, and five, and six) being naked was just about the best thing ever.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Black and Blue

      I have made a promise to my oldest daughter that if she gets mentioned in The Chalk, I will give her either the opportunity to bowdlerize any portion of the blog she considers “not going to happen” or better yet she can insert a rebuttal at the end of the offending post.

          I will call my oldest daughter Blue here. Not the most original name given her electric blue hair, but well earned. With the notable exception of her blue hair, she is the kind of person I want to be like when I grow up.

         You know how children will inevitably challenge your sensibilities and discover the hang-ups that you didn’t even know you had. Just when you think you are sooo cool and laid back, your kids will bring home a trans-gendered homeless best friend with multiple personalities all of whom are in need of detox and a place to stay for a couple of days. Maybe you’re not quite as cool as you thought. But I digress. Blue managed to challenge my sensibilities in a much more subtle way a few years ago.

         Blue was going through her RENT stage and wanted to dress-up as Angel for Halloween. I love Angel! He/She is a Hispanic drag-queen living and dancing her way through the East Village of the 1980’s, living with A.I.D.S. Angel is the moral and rhythmic center of her eccentric community, saving Collins from a street gang and nursing him back to health. They of course fall in love, it’s still a Broadway musical (actually it’s based upon La Boheme).

         Now picture Blue; she’s got the zebra tights and found the sexy red “Santa” jacket[1]/miniskirt with black vinyl boots. Now I’m still cool with all of this! Barely, but I’m hanging on by a thread. Then she comes up to me and says we need to go out and by a short black wig. Let me say that again. A black wig. A BLACK WIG for my BLUE HAIRED DAUGHTER!!!!

         It’s funny what sends you over the edge. My train of thought ran right off the tracks, into a brick wall, through that brick wall and into three more brick walls before I could find the brakes. I just could not wrap my head around the absurdity of buying a wig the same color of one’s natural hair. It’s like buying ice instead of using an ice tray. My wife helpfully rolled her eyes at me, which I interpreted as “your coolness has definitely left the building old man”. So with my delusions of laid-backness successfully shattered, I forked over the cash and went looking for the plaid Lazy-Boy recliner that I’m sure miraculously appears in front of his television set when a man reaches a certain age.  

         A few years have passed since then. Now, when Blue wants to go incognito, she can dawn her Angel wig and her shades and walk anonymously through Harvard Square. In fact her wig collection has grown quite a bit since that first costume.

Blue’s Rebuttal:

         First of all, it is a BROWN wig right now. And a very classy wig at that. It is my firm belief that everyone should try wearing a wig around at least once in their life. It is a very good experience to have. Especially if it is a brown wig that you order from China, wait three weeks to get, and receive a cheerful card when said wig arrives, thanking you for your purchase in broken English complete with cutesy internet smiley faces (ex: ^-^ ).

Second of all, I also believe that challenging one's parent's sensibilities is not only a crucial part of being an adolescent, but that having your child challenge your sensibilities is a crucial part of being a parent. In one beautiful stroke, it allows the child to feel super cool and "bad", while also letting grandparents have the satisfaction of all those years of "I can't wait until your kids do _____ to you" to be fulfilled. It is a growing experience!
... for the parent that is.

[1] It was only later that I found out that my wife had actually made the jacket-miniskirt;  TRAITOR!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Ooops, did I say that out loud?

    Last week I did a workshop for a well-known school, which I  will not divulge the name of. It went well. Afterwards, the staff and I shared lunch with the director of the school. My topic was how to work with students who have emotional and behavior based disabilities, so naturally the lunchroom conversation turned towards treatment of mental health issues. Unfortunately it took a sharp left and turned towards drugs everyone had tried[1]. It seemed like everyone at the table under the age of thirty had been diagnosed with something at some point in their lives. They all started to tell their stories and compare the experiences of different psycho-tropic prescription drugs.

         My eyes met the director’s mid-way through a long story about what side effects Luvox had upon one of his newer teachers. The director's clean-cut face was a mixture of embarrassment and confusion. I would bet very good money that he was wondering how he was going to refine his screening process in the future. You know that cringe moment when all but the speaker knows that he has crossed the line? Poor kid! The young teacher speaking about Luvox had become an instant cautionary tale- note too self, remember that even if you are not working, your boss is still your boss. Remember too that you can’t unsay a thing spoken. I did cut the kid off and divert the conversation with a funny and sincere observation. I said that this conversation was remarkably contemporary. When I was a kid, people were talking about recreational drugs! 

       The truth is that younger people grew up with a very different perspective on mental health issues than I did.  It was hardly a mainstream conversation when I was a kid. Shrinks were still blaming everything on our mothers back in the early 1980's. I walked away from the conversation with a very odd sensation. There was a generation gap operating during the post workshop lunch AND I WAS ON THE WRONG END OF THAT CHASM!!!!! I've never felt that before. 

[1] Yours truly had the sense to keep his mouth shut, mostly.