The Wonders of Science (or, How to Gross Out Your Child With Education)

When I was eight or nine years old, I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up.

Someone gave me a scientific microscope for my birthday around that time, which was probably one reason why. I would use the tweezers to pull out a hair from my head or tear off tiny pieces of leaves, put them on the slides and examine them. I’d fiddle with the covers for the slides as I tried to figure out how the professionals were able to flatten out a piece of twig between two small pieces of glass or plastic, often breaking the slide covers in the process. I’d play around with the focus and the zoom lenses and pretend I was doing experiments even though, in my head, I was wondering why it mattered what a leaf looked like when it was magnified at 16x. Continue reading “The Wonders of Science (or, How to Gross Out Your Child With Education)”

A Compliment From a Giant Teddy Bear

Shannon reminded me a bit of Jupiter Jones from The Three Investigators, the pre-adolescent detective novels I read as a child. “Jupe” was always somewhat touchy about his weight, given that his choice word to describe his body was “stocky.” The common physique was where the similarities ended, though; Shannon never gave the impression that his weight bothered him. He wouldn’t have been considered fat, per se, but he was a bigger guy. Aside from their clothing – Shannon was very much a t-shirt and jeans guy, while Jupe was more business casual – Shannon was also built exactly as I would have pictured Jupe as an adult: stocky, bald and bearded. Continue reading “A Compliment From a Giant Teddy Bear”

What If, Revisited

I sat in the large ballroom of the Westin Riverwalk Hotel, the site of this year’s Dad 2.0 Summit, simultaneously listening to the opening keynote address from fitness personality Shaun T and tweeting what I thought sounded like poignant quotes. He talked about being caught by surprise when his children were born – the surrogate carrying his twins went into labor early – and how he and his partner reacted when they received the news. He spoke about being privileged enough to be home with his brand new babies during their first few months of life and how he dealt with the feelings of anxiety and self-doubt that often threatened to overwhelm him. He brought up the emotions he experienced as his children grew, the advice he had been given and the lessons he had learned.

I was mid-tweet when my phone began buzzing furiously. The Twitter app disappeared and the screen went black as the call came in, leaving only the red and green circles at the bottom and my wife’s name at the top. I swiped to answer the call and ducked out of the ballroom as quickly as I could.

She was calling from the hospital. Continue reading “What If, Revisited”

Isolation in a City Full of Life

The streets were crowded, but not unbearably so. Families of tourists walked slowly, single-file along the San Antonio Riverwalk, keeping their children closer to the wall to prevent an accidental swimming lesson. Groups of teenagers shouted, laughed and cursed at various passersby, enjoying the oyster that was their world on a Saturday evening.

I assumed my identity as a tourist was fairly obvious; I was a lone, white man, dressed in khakis and a blue and white striped button-down shirt, carrying a plastic bag from a souvenir store. I figured people looked at me and thought to themselves, “Oh, he’s not from around here.” I didn’t speak to anyone, aside from the tired high school junior at the store who sold me the books for my children, but no one tried to engage me in conversation either.

Which was just fine with me. Continue reading “Isolation in a City Full of Life”

Doing the Work During Black History Month

I was nine or ten years old when I met Larry.

He was younger than me by a few years but I remember being struck by how small he was. I think he was only six, but I was still surprised that the top of his head barely reached my shoulders. He had a short buzz cut, within a centimeter or two of his scalp, a toothy smile and significant difficulty pronouncing the letter “L,” which meant that I spent a good ten to fifteen minutes wondering what kind of parents would name their son Warry. He lived up the block from me in a small, freestanding house with his parents and older brother.

He was also the first black child I remember meeting. Continue reading “Doing the Work During Black History Month”

The Five Words That Change Everything

I walked out into the hallway and met the parents in the waiting area toward the front of the building. I invited them to follow me with a smile and a “Come on down!” worthy of Bob Barker. Each parent made idle small talk as we made our way back to my classroom, making reference to the weather, apologies for the late evening and, in one case, commenting about feeling like they were meeting their executioner. I laughed at that last comment and reassured the mother that she had nothing to worry about, but I’m not sure she was convinced.

The classroom where I teach religious school is set up differently than most. Four rectangular white tables stand on light green area rugs in the business half, surrounded by grey auditorium chairs. The other half includes two charcoal grey couches that look softer than they are, plus a row of three cushioned lounge chairs. The chairs and couches sit in a U around a set of small turquoise coffee tables. In fact, the only obvious sign that the room is part of a school is the large green chalkboard that takes up most of one of the walls. The furniture provides a more relaxed atmosphere for my students, which is critical for helping them to maintain their focus; if they’re already taking time away from their increasing loads of homework or their precious moments to relax from school and other activities, at least they can be comfortable doing it. Continue reading “The Five Words That Change Everything”

Starting a Relationship as a Well-Meaning White Man

He sat cross-legged on top of the mattress, his back leaning against the wall behind him. Even seated, I could tell that he was tall and athletic. He hardly had the frame of a bodybuilder but his late-teenage muscles were still noticeable under his loose fitting t-shirt. His eyes followed me, expressionless, as I entered the living room and accepted his mother’s invitation to sit on the small couch opposite him. His mother sat on the other bed for our conversation – it was hardly the first home I had visited that had two beds in the living room – and began telling me about her experiences raising her son over the last few years.

I kept glancing back at the young man as his mother and I spoke. I asked him all of the usual questions – What was therapy like? What’s worked for you and what hasn’t? How do you get along with your peers at school? – and received the usual one- or two-word answers. His mother supplemented his responses, as mothers often do, but I made sure to look back at the young man frequently as I listened.

It was his life, after all. Continue reading “Starting a Relationship as a Well-Meaning White Man”

Becoming a Child on the Count of Five

Her back was straight, a perfect 180 degrees, without the slightest bit of slouch that eventually comes after years of slumping back in chairs or hunching over cell phones. She sat cross-legged on the high, plush white chair, her small body fitting on the seat perfectly. Her eyes were focused upward toward the television – why else would she be sitting so still? – but her face lacked the dazed and empty expression usually found on zoned-out high school students and brain-hungry zombies. I smiled slightly at the thought of her surrounded by “celebrities” at Madame Tussaud’s; she could have been, if not for the almost undetectable rise and fall of her shoulders and the end of her ponytail drifting in the flow of air from the vent.

“I can’t believe how nicely she’s sitting,” Valentina, the owner of the studio, remarked to us. “Most of the kids that come in at this age are running all over the place, even with the television.”

Trudy and I chuckled and shrugged. “The television is a big help,” Trudy answered, “but yeah, she’ll sit. I’m probably more worked up about this than she is.” Continue reading “Becoming a Child on the Count of Five”

Onward and Upward in the New Year

It was a good thing the wall was inflatable; otherwise my anxiety would have been even higher.

It was only her third try but she scrambled up, finding hand and footholds quickly, as though she had made the same journey hundreds of times before. I assisted her sparingly during her first two trips, giving her a boost when she needed, but usually just directing her to find the next small ledges to plant her feet. I didn’t touch her on that third time, although I was ready to catch her as she went over the curved outcropping halfway up. I hadn’t thought much of it at the time, aside from being amazed at how rapidly she had mastered the climbing wall, but she apparently noticed that I wasn’t holding her anymore.

“Are you still behind me?” she had asked. Continue reading “Onward and Upward in the New Year”

A Marvelous Lunch With Mrs. Maisel

I grinned as I saw the young man talking to the customers in line ahead of me. He carried a beige, old-style newspaper bag over his shoulder and wore a folded paper hat over his tousled black hair that he grabbed frequently to keep it from blowing away. He bounced slightly as he spoke, making quick comments and keeping the conversations brief. The banter seemed to come easily to him as he pinballed from person to person, his overdone, nasal New York accent remaining consistent throughout.

“Ah, see, this one’s got the right idea,” he said as he arrived next to me and gestured to Shayna, fast asleep in the stroller. “All bundled up in there, sleeping through everything around her. She’s got no idea how cold it is out here, does she?”

“I hope not,” I said, chuckling. “I want her to stay asleep as long as possible.”

“Good luck, buddy,” he answered. “It’s a little noisy in there.”

Continue reading “A Marvelous Lunch With Mrs. Maisel”