A Revelation

as a teacher at an alternative high school, i regularly find myself critical–or worse, cynical of young people and the choices they make every day. but, over the last couple of months i’ve seen something that is truly astounding–young people discovering their voices and finding their true power — standing up and speaking up — for what they believe in — their right to life. it is inspiring. and, no matter your social or political leanings, you’ve got to be moved by that, you’ve got to respect that. for me, it’s been a while, if ever, since “i looked up to a teenager”–but, that’s exactly the way i feel today. good speed and carry on, youngins! cheers!

i swear

i have a language problem, and anyone who knows me knows it’s true–it’s no secret…it’s been something i’ve been trying to work on since we’ve had children–and there was one day, in the not too distance past, when i knew–things had to change…here’s that story…

it was a day after many long weeks–we had sold our house and just moved into a new house–and at the same time that we were dealing with that major life transition, my wife and i were trying to keep up with our kids and our jobs…anyways, one day after work, i picked up our kids from daycare and headed home–they were tired from all of it, too…and it showed in their behaviors, as they were crabby with each other and with me for the whole ride home…

[author’s note: when we got home my kids were demanding snacks and juice and having to go to the bathroom and 100 other things…meanwhile, i was running through a mental checklist in my brain of what we had in the liquor cabinet, because daddy was going to need some “juice”, too!  🙂 ]

so, here’s what went down on that fateful day in october…

jack: daddy, i have to go poopy.

me: go ahead and head into the bathroom, i’ll be in there in a minute.

he goes into the bathroom and gets to work and i get grace some juice and a snack…

jack (after a few minutes): daddy, i’m done!

daddy (walking towards the bathroom): o.k., i’m coming. 

jack: can you wipe me?

daddy: yep.

i say this as i turn towards the toilet paper holder…unfortunately, i don’t see any toilet paper on the holder…i look to the basket where “backup paper” is kept and it’s empty, too…then, i hear my son’s voice again…

jack: can you wipe me, daddy?

me: yes, jack.

then, i hear my daughter crying for more snack from the other room…and i shout to her…

me: in a minute, gracie.

feverishly, i start going through the cabinets, looking for the almighty tp…it’s not looking good, i can’t find any…and i hear jack again…

jack (impatiently): daddy, i need to be wiped.

daddy (more impatiently): i know.

frustration is mounting on all sides when i go to the last cabinet…no dice…no toilet paper in there either…and that’s when i say it, that’s when i swear…

me: fuck!

i realize i’ve said it “out loud”, but it’s too late…because jack speaks up again, to my chagrin…and this is how it goes…

jack: fuck!

[then again]

jack: fuck! fuck! fuck! fuck! fuck!

[then]

me: no! no! no! no! no!

eventually, i locate some tp in our bathroom and use it on him and get them their snacks and juice…and eventually, everything settles down…

but, deep down, i know that parent fail #76 just happened…

in the months that followed, i tried, really hard, to regulate my language…that experience was enough to startle me into some efforts for better behavior…i mean, having my son mimic me like that, like a little mockingjay–what the fuck?! 🙂

then, recently…i was startled again, when i heard my daughter say…

oh my God!

when i heard her say that, i stopped right in my tracks (again, i was making them their after day care snack) because she said it like an expletive–not in a praise to the Almighty kind of way…

here’s our exchange…

me: hey, now…we don’t say that.

gracie: oh, o.k.

me: we say, “gosh” or “golly”, right?!

gracie: o.k.

me (not really wanting to ask): where did you hear that?

jack and gracie are silent and then look at each other…then, gracie sings…

oh my God, i’m coming home.

at first, i don’t get it and am a bit confused…

me: what? wait?! from the song we play?! 

[we have an i-home where we play all kinds of music, and what i realized–in that moment–was that she was referencing a song called, “Oh my God, I’m Coming Home” by the christian musician david crowder.]

after a short conversation about the differences between singing it like the way he does and using it in everyday life as an expletive, my kids go off to play and think/say nothing of it going forward…

but, i’m still worked up about it, i’m still ticked…mostly at david crowder…mr. pop-christian musician...in my mind, i envision confronting him and throwing down…damn you, crowder, damn you!

since the most recent incident, i have mixed up the playlist…and substituted in–“Mama I’m Coming Home” by ozzy osbourne…

rock on!

🙂

fury road (chicago)

part II – the windy city

we did laundry, re-organized the van, had the scheduled maintenance done on the van–and slept in our own beds for two nights…and less than 48 hours after our trek to utah and back…we (mom, dad, son, daughter) continued the epic road trip of our lives…this time, we headed east, towards chicago…to see my sister there (for more details on my sister–see the post titled, “my sister, chris”)…

we knew we could make it…heck we just drove several thousand miles together…we made it through that trip, successfully, in large part to ‘how the kids did’ (and with the mercy of the Lord, of course)…yes, it was intense, and yes, our son had an ear infection…but, they managed surprisingly well…way better than i thought…i think ‘they did well’ because “my wife planned well” and had (in addition to episodes of “paw patrol” and “jake”) a lot of ‘low-tech’ activities for them…reading books, coloring/activity sheets and books, white boards, cars and action figures, etc. – and we had two “blessed bags of saving grace” from my wife’s coworker and friend, kate…thank you, kate…your stuff + my wife’s stuff made it fun for the kids!

anyways, this is my first person account of the second phase of fury road:

1. 1130am – we leave the twin cities (we had planned to leave at 9am).

2. 630pm – we arrive in chicago (one of the all-time great american cities) – making extremely good time (the drive seems like a snap after the previous adventure).

3. my sister, chris, makes pizzas.  we eat, talk, and relax.

4. we “hit the hay” – and set up camp in her two room apartment.

bedtime.

bedtime.

5. meltdown #1 happens – jack “goes ape” during breakfast at the lucky platter (we see the first signs of life on the road).

6. we recover.

7. we drive down to millennium park and hangout, play and eat italian ice; it turns out to be a fun day, especially for the kids…and it is great to have some time to catch up with chris and hear how her life is going and for her to hear the same from us…we’ve never had the kids with us in chicago before…it is great to see!

millennium park.

millennium park.

(more) millennium park.

(more) millennium park.

8. nap time.

9. meltdown #2 happens – jack and grace “go ape” after nap time (we see the next signs of life on the road).

10. the travels are catching up with the kids.  they are on the ropes.  minutes from a knockout. it looks bleak.

11. my wife uses her magic powers to “rally the kids”.

12. we recover.

13. we go to dave’s italian kitchen for my sister’s birthday dinner – great food; we come home, open presents and “face-time” with my parents–who are on face time for the first time, which makes the entire call all the more entertaining.

14-18. the day is good.  we have brunch, take naps, and ride the “l-train”.  jack and grace can hardly contain themselves (it’s as if thomas himself shows up).  the train pulls to a stop in front of them and we jump aboard…we ride the train for a “whole 15 minutes” (and it is worth it…just to see the looks on their faces).

L-train

L-train

19. 830am, the next morning, my wife and i exchange a “knowing look”–translation: yeah, we’re ready to be home.

20. 835am, i give jack his antibiotics and have a flashback to the utah trip (and feel a flash of anger)…medical school is not worth it...then, i try to coach myself back…thinking…let it go, let it go

21. 836am, i can’t let it go.

22. 837am, i think to myself, i should’ve asked for some “meds”, too.

23. 838am, an ed sheeran song starts playing in my head–loving can hurt, loving can hurt sometimes…

24. 839am, repeat #22

25. 840am, i “dial it back in” and make 100 trips up and down 50 flights of stairs. to pack the van, i haul an amount of luggage/gear that would normally accompany a professional baseball team.

26. 9am, after a brief stop at dunkin’ donuts, we head home.

27. noon, we stop near madison, have lunch at panera with my wife’s friends.

28. on the drive back, i daydream about a novel new show for TV–amazing race–family style.

29. the idea causes me to have a minor panic attack on the road.

30. i recover.

31. i keep the idea to myself until now.

32. 530pm, home sweet home.

33. happy birthday, chris!

34. jack and grace are presented with their “road warrior” badges – way to go, kids–you’ve earned ’em!

i can’t believe that we just did all that…honestly…we made it…and, at the end of the day…upon reflection…it was insane, but it was also good–we also know that we are fortunate to have the time to do that together, as a family…to be able to be there (in person) and celebrate the people we love–first, with jamie and steve in utah…and then, with chris in chicago…it’s a gift…

fury road

part I – the wild west

about a month ago, my wife and i were invited to the military ceremony of our brother-in-law (steve) who was being honored with a special promotion at hill air force base in utah…my wife was excited about the invite and wanted to be there for the ceremony…

so, i thought that she should fly out there and represent our family for the event…she thought that we all should go…but, not by plane (because that was too expensive)–instead, she thought the four of us (me, my wife and our 3 year-old twins) should drive out there…wouldn’t it be great if we could all be there for the ceremony, she said wistfully…

but, i was hesitant for 4 major reasons:

1. driving out there with our kids, with the age they’re at, sounded like suicide.

2. we had a timeline–we needed to be there by june 5th at 1444–and we wouldn’t be able to leave until after work on june 3rd (because we’re teachers and that was the last day of school with the kids in our classes).

3. it’s the end of the school year…and as any teacher can attest to, it’s not a time of the year when you’ve got extra energy in reserves.

4. we had already agreed to go to chicago to see my sister at about the same time as we’d be getting back from this trip…

[fyi…we live in minneapolis, people…which means we’re talking about an 18+ hour drive to get there in time]…

but, my wife really thought we should do it…

and, i gave in…tempted by the open road, propelled by my wife’s passion…

the following is a first person account of what went down, best as i can recall:

1. we leave the twin cities at 5pm on june 3rd.

life in the van

life in the van

2. we arrive at rapid city, south dakota at 230am.

3. we leave rapid city at 11am, and drive and drive and drive.

4. detour in wyoming.

5. we realize that there are only 5 roads in wyoming (and one of them is closed today).

6. the detour means we must drive north, then west, then south.

7. we drive and drive and drive (we see a lot of wyoming–almost all of it–beautiful state).

8. we arrive in layton, utah at 130am.

9. 8am, our son, jack, wakes up crying and with a fever (complaining of a sore throat).

10. 830am, jack and i go to urgent care (in utah it’s called ‘instacare’).

11. 850am, strep test done.

12. 9am, strep test = negative.

13. 915am, ears are checked–after 15 minutes of cleaning, 1 years worth of ear wax is removed from his ears–no wonder why he didn’t respond when i yelled at him ‘not to run into traffic’ 🙂

14. 920am, observation – “slightly red”.

15. 930am, diagnosis = virus.

16. 930am (continued) confirmation that…medical school could, in fact, be a waste of time and money.

17. doctor: “running another strep test” – “will let us know tomorrow”.

18. repeat #14.

19. because of the “not sure if it’s strep or not” diagnosis — the wife attends the ceremony solo.

20. let me say that again, the wife attends the ceremony solo.

21. i let out an insane laugh–from somewhere deep, deep inside.

22. the kids and i set up camp in the hotel room…i drink one (or more) jack and cokes throughout the day and keep “a close eye” on my children who happily watch the disney channel.

23-27. we have a great “next couple of days” (the nights were a little rougher)–hanging out with family and celebrating–we see ‘antelope island’, plenty of bison, have a bison burger, swim, eat, drink coffee, discuss the similarities between obi-wan and Jesus, see ‘devils slide’, wrestle john (my father-in-law), have some laughs and make some great memories–and we get the doctor to o.k. antibiotics after my son is unable to sleep for two nights–his ears were in bad shape, but his legs worked fine…he kicked me, repeatedly, in the back for two nights…now, that’s worth the trip right there...

bison!

bison!

great shot at antelope island!

great shot at antelope island!

the families at devils slide.

the families at devil’s slide.

28-32. we drive back. we take an extra day. first to casper…then, the round-about way to rapid city…the detour is still on…and since we’re pushed north we opt to take it a little further and see “longmire country” — stopping in buffalo, the city that the “longmire” books and show are based on–and we see more of wyoming–but not all 🙂 ….it is a great day on the road…not only are the antibiotics kicking in (oh, and i haven’t mentioned gracie, our daughter, in this regard because she has been a rockstar traveler–taking it all in stride)…but, buffalo is an amazing little town that sits snug on the edge of the big horn mountains…and the vista tempts the traveler to turn west along scenic highway 16 towards the tetons and yellowstone…hard as it is, we resist the pull west…and turn towards south dakota…that same day we reach mount rushmore (which is a sight of it’s own)…and jack says, of mount rushmore, ‘i liked the guy with the beard best’…and then to rapid city for the night.

the busy bee cafe as featured in 'longmire'.

the busy bee cafe as featured in ‘longmire’.

the presidents!

the presidents!

33. the next day, we cross south dakota, with a sneak peek at the badlands.

34. then, home sweet home.

35. “cheers, steve (and jamie)–way to go!”

[stay tuned for “fury road” part II – the windy city]

love hurts

‘love hurts’ (by the band nazareth) was one of my very good friends, one of my brothers–einar monstad of bergen, norway–favorite tunes back in the day, back when we went to college together (in the early 90’s)…einar loved and stills loves music…back then, he even achieved legendary status on campus for singing and bangin’ a drum at the crack of dawn throughout the dorms to celebrate norwegian independence day…he was/is a great and unstoppable force of nature…

anyways, i was reminded of the song this past summer when my kids (jack and grace) were playing together in the backyard…they were running around chasing each other as my wife and i sat nearby talking quietly (it was a warm summer day–far from the arctic smackdown we’re getting this week–winter in minnesota hurts, too)…

as they were playing, i looked up to see jack push grace to the ground…grace wasn’t happy about it and started to cry…

i said, “jack, that’s not o.k., help your sister up, please”…

he paused for a moment and then tried to help her up…but, what he did next wasn’t the most helpful thing in the world…

he really tried to help her, truly….he really tried to help her up off the ground…but, not by the hand…and not by the arm…

but, by the throat–he grabbed her right around the neck, with both hands (like you would do if you wanted to choke the life out of someone) and tried to pull her up that way…

what the what?!

so, my wife and i bolted out of chairs shouting “no, no, no…” and separated him from his sister (while we tried, at the same time, to keep ourselves from laughing…because it was pretty hilarious)…

though not evident by his actions–we could tell that it wasn’t intentional and that ‘what he really wanted to do’…was to help her up

chances are, you’ve been there…maybe with your own kids, maybe with your family at home or on vacation, or maybe with your colleagues at work …sometimes, you try to help someone and it doesn’t turn out that way, it doesn’t end well…sometimes, someone tries to help you and the situation goes from bad to worse…

it’s in these moments, when you realize that…

sometimes…

love hurts.

teacher blob

i love the movie freedom writers…it is one of the most inspiring movies about teaching that i’ve ever seen…

there’s one part (see below) that gets me every single time–can’t help it…

 

at the same time, one of the things that “smells funny” about the story freedom writers is that…

you get the idea that there’s no student erin gruwell can’t connect to, can’t reach, or can’t teach…

maybe that was true–in her case (if so, it makes the whole thing all the more remarkable)…but, in my experience…working with kids for 16+ years…i’ve never known it to be so–for myself…or for any other teacher/youth worker i’ve had the privilege to know and work with…

[importantly, this isn’t me taking shots at that movie, that story, erin gruwell or anyone connected to that amazing tale…their story is one that we should celebrate after all]

but, what has been true for me and others is…the reality that no one can make it on their own–in this line of work–no one can do it all for all kids…that’s the plain truth…

simply put–and as much as i hate to admit it–i cannot reach all kids, though i try…i cannot teach all kids, though i try…i cannot impact all kids, though i try…

[day in and day out]…

but, there’s a good chance one of my colleagues can…

and that’s good news…

we’re not alone, we’re not on our own…

there have always been (and always will be) students that my colleagues relate to and teach better than i do…and, i’m glad that they can do that…i’m glad that they’re there…for many reasons…but, especially for the fact that they can reach those kids…

truth be told, i didn’t always feel that way…in my early days, i thought i should be able to reach all kids, no matter what…i was overly optimistic to say the least…but then, i was young and naive, too…now, i’m older (much older) and wiser…and i know what lies at the heart of the matter…

ultimately, i know now that…despite the fact that i can’t reach all students…the story doesn’t end there…some things are yet to be written…on their hearts and minds…and those students (most of ’em)–can run, but they can’t hide (heh, heh)…

from the great, unstoppable, inescapable…

teacher blob…

somehow, somewhere, sometime…

we’ll get you 🙂

 

note: the term “teacher blob” was coined by my wife, who also happens to be a teacher

what we’re up against

i love stories, storytellers and storytelling

it’s no surprise then, that this blog came about…eventually…it was created, after all, to share stories…with my children, family, friends and the world at large…

the stories recounted here are about the up’s and downs of working with kids…what i refer to as herding cats

and often times, the stories i share deal with the challenges of this kind of work…

in reading these (non-fiction) tales, you can begin to understand this kind of work from the perspective of someone who has done it for nearly 20 years…from someone who still enjoys it, despite the demands inherent in the job…

but, reading about these challenges is quite different from…seeing them, experiencing them, or navigating them–in the moment…for yourself…like a youth worker, teacher, counselor, or parent has to do every day…

in truth, the best thing for a person to do if they really wanted to see what we do–in real life–would be to follow us around for a while…shadow us in our work, if you will–however, that’s not always an option, that’s not always possible…

so, to help in the understanding…i would like to share a movie clip with you…from one of my all-time favorite flicks…good will hunting

[the entire film is ‘quality’ and still holds up to this day–check it out]

and despite the fact that the movie itself is fictional, matt damon’s ‘troubled young man’ is the absolute closest portrayal, the most accurate rendering of what we’re up against…when we encounter a young person who has come up through some hard knocks in life–a young person who wants to challenge us, be defiant, put up a fight, push our buttons, test us, or make mischief…just because they can…

take a look at this scene where will meets his counselor (played by robin williams) for the first time…

q: is this scene a bit dramatic?!

a: sure

q: i mean, can we strangle or ‘choke out’ the kids in our charge…who push our buttons?!

a: no–well, maybe at some of the schools in ‘the south’ 🙂

q: have there been times when we-professionals-have imagined strangling someone–in those moments when we’re pushed to the edge?!

a: absolutely! (if you’ve been a loyal reader/follower of the blog…then, you already know the answer, my friends!)

in my experience (especially, from what i’ve seen in schools and juvenile prisons)…this is exactly the type of behavior and attitude you can expect to be up against…with a difficult young person…it is very true to life…

so much so, that what you didn’t see…in the next scene (and i’m really glad they included it, because it also rings true)…was will’s counselor…who, while he was at home (with a stiff drink in hand), stayed up until all hours of the night…thinking about will…because of what went down in those few moments in his office…

and that’s a really important thing to realize–the stuff you see, the stuff you have to deal with, the stuff that’s said to you…can be some of the most brutal stuff you’ll ever encounter in your life…it sticks with you…it sticks to you…it’s not something you just shake off or leave at the office…not at all…

not only that, but the whole idea (that’s casually passed around) of having thick skin…and ‘how you’ve got to have thick skin’ in this line of work–that’s bullshit, people (as my friend, kip, would say)…it’s a lie people tell themselves…and that’s not to say that youth workers, counselors, teachers, coaches, paras, and parents aren’t tough…they are…the good ones, the ones who stay in the fight–the ones who still work, strive, hope, pray and care for their kids…day in and day out…have some serious stones

but, make no mistake…we also take with us…the scars from the battles we’ve won and (most often) lost…

from what we’ve been up against

hot pursuit

i grew up in a lutheran family…we were church regulars (every sunday)…it was important for us, growing up…we would pray before dinner and at night before bed; we would talk about religion and faith (in addition to politics) at the dinner table…and my sister and i actively participated in “youth group” (monthly meetings for kids at church where we would do a variety of activities–some faith related and some not)…

but for me, when i was thirteen, the main reason why i got up and ready for church every sunday wasn’t for the love of Jesus–and it wasn’t to deepen my faith

it was because i thought the pastor’s daughter was ‘hot’

she was two years older than me and i had the biggest crush on her…so, every sunday…i really, really wanted to go to church–crazy, right?!  i wanted to, though, because…i hoped to catch a glimpse of her…a glimpse of beth is all i wanted…and sometimes i did see her there…when i did, my heart would start to beat a little faster and i would see (and hear) blue birds flying around and chirping (the cartoon version)…everywhere…zippity do da day…

and, i tried to get close to her and talk to her–i wasn’t subtle…

i was thirteen…

my motivations, my intentions had to be blatantly clear to everyone… including beth…in fact, anyone who saw my face on those sunday mornings knew what i was feeling, knew that i was love struck

to give you an idea of my mindset…let me take you to a prayer we used to recite at church (nearly) every sunday…the Apostle’s Creed…the opening line went like this…

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth; 

my version went like this…

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and beth;

🙂

well, time went by…and beth and i became friends…nothing more, nothing less…it was an infatuation that came and went…though it took up a lot of my ‘mind time’ and focus at that point in my life…especially, on sundays…

years later, i realized that while i had been going to church…i really hadn’t ‘been there’ (fully)–at all…i had spent a lot of that time focused on the wrong things…not that relationships and romance aren’t great…they are…i am a hopeless romantic, after all…but, my heart and mind were always preoccupied…caught up in the ‘shiny object of a teenage crush’…

at the same time, i realized that as intensely as i was seeking out and pursuing beth…God was intensely seeking out and pursuing me…i was just too foolish to realize it then…still, God (through the Holy Spirit) was laying the foundation, working on me, whispering to me…and it stuck…a lot longer than what i had hoped for with beth…

but, it is a greater love, after all…

when i think back to that time, i think of an onion…and realize that, back then…when i was  at church or contemplating my faith…i was just living on the surface…enamored with the ‘surface things’ of life; the superficial and material world around me…over time, i began to see the layers, see what i was missing out on…

and, go deeper…

and, eventually, turn to and embrace the God that had been pursuing me for years…

that doesn’t mean that my gaze hasn’t faltered or my faith hasn’t wavered since that realization…it has happened, periodically, througout my life course…when it has, i find myself on surface again…apart from what’s really important…distracted by other shiny objects that come along (whether it is something from within, like my anxiety and fears…or something outside of myself, like my career, household projects, sports, media and entertainment, or other material pleasures and possessions)…

thankfully, God’s gaze does not falter, God’s faith does not waver…

God does not give up the chase, He continues the pursuit…the desire to know and love me…and the world…

i know this because it’s in these moments when He calls me ‘to go deeper’, to come back home (sometimes with a whisper, sometimes with a shout) and return to His loving embrace…

and, somehow, some way…i make my way back…

[and now, as parents, becks and i are passing on our faith to our kids…slow and steady like…because we know what that relationship means to us; how important it is in our lives…how it has and continues to transform and change the way we see and love people…and we want that for jack and grace…so maybe, just maybe…as they get older…they’ll see what’s below the surface, see the layers, see what they might be missing out on…and, go deeper…into the loving arms of God…who is relentlessly pursuing them (and has been doing so, since the day they were born)…]

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