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.