Evolution of Thankful

As I sat at the Thanksgiving table last night with my kids, my mom and friends I realized while the meaning behind Thanksgiving doesn’t change, we can (and I’d argue should be) aware of the evolution of thankful wrapped in the day.

Without going through my entire history – Risa and I were married a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. After our honeymoon, we came home, ate turkey with our families and headed off for Dallas and what we expected to be the start of our lives together.

Before we got to celebrate a Thanksgiving in Dallas (or fly home for Thanksgiving), Risa was diagnosed with a brain tumor – and to the best of my recollection we were in our apartment with friends and co-workers that first year.  Risa had her first surgery shortly after that.  There was a lot we did not know about what was ahead of us – but in the evolution of thankful we were happy to be together and with people who cared.

By the time our second Thanksgiving in Dallas rolled around – Risa’s condition was mostly stabilized and we started a tradition I try to maintain today.  At the time I was still working in broadcast news and November is a tough month to get time off.  So we invited the migrant folks from the station for Thanksgiving.  These were the Dallas transplants who did not have family in Dallas.  Again, my hazy recollection is about 15 or 20 people in our relatively small apartment.  But we had a lot to be thankful for and the evolution of thankful had changed again.

Over time we moved back east, had kids, moved into a house.  All the while our Thanksgiving dinner has been a mix of small gatherings and larger “events” always open to pretty much anyone we come across.

Our second Thanksgiving in Boston was our first as parents, and the evolution of thankful had changed again as we had a healthy girl to share the day with.

By the time we added a second child we were back in metro New York and had a lot to be thankful for.  Our youngest was born about six weeks before Thanksgiving and despite the looming shadow of a brain tumor – to the outside world we were a young family and had a lot to be thankful for.

I can remember eight years ago, Risa’s last Thanksgiving in the house with us.  I can’t remember who else was here because I realized the evolution had occurred again, and while we were together as a family, I also realized that image would not last.  Although we had a lot to be thankful for I realized the next evolution would be bigger than a move halfway across the country.

So last night as I looked around the table – I saw the start of the next change.  For Thanksgiving 2018, I’ll have a college freshman coming home for a few days.  15.0 and I will have to figure out what our life at home will be like without her sister.  17.5 will have to figure out how to acclimate back in after her first four months away at school.  I’m sure we’ll be thankful – just another evolution of thankful to come.

I have a pretty good idea what I think the evolution will be after next year – but as I’ve learned you need to roll with the punches and be thankful for the evolution.

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Aging and Now This

arthritis hipAs if I didn’t have enough issues with April and just the realization I was getting older – along came a moment of “again, and now this” to deal with.  The this being arthritis.  And yeah, at 49 I am a little young for that.

So this story really probably started back in January or February (if not earlier) when my left hip started bothering me.  I am mostly aware of how my body feels during and after working out – and I knew that the discomfort was something more than just post workout strain.  But it wasn’t awful so I did some rest, some stretching and “worked through it.”

Some rest here, thinking about a running schedule (no more than every other day), lots of yoga and stretching and I’ll be OK.  Then came time for a 5K race and a week of business travel right before it.  In looking at my meeting schedule for the business trip and how it would lay out – a few days of running on the road, a short run in Vegas and I’d be lined up for the 5K.

So in Vegas the first day I could not get my hip loose enough to run.  Not a problem.  I’ll go a day off running and then do a long run the following day – the show I was at had a 4K associated so I signed up.  Downside for me is a business need arose, so I had to skip the 4K and just run on a hotel treadmill.  Although I was never comfortable, I got through three miles – enough to make me think a 5K 4 days later would be OK.  So over the next 4 days I focused on stretching, strengthening and building up endurance (lots of really boring elliptical time).

Home, and then the event.  It was a boardwalk and beach 5K.  Three quarters of a mile down the boardwalk.  Three quarters of a mile back up the beach and repeat.  After the first leg I felt like my leg was going to collapse from under me – that would not be good.  So I did something I haven’t done since I blew out my knee just about four years ago – I actually walked away.

I stopped my race knowing something was wrong.  I made an appointment with a highly recommended hip specialist and the verdict was arthritis in my hip.  No telling why it happened – I can guess a combination of catching for years, being over weight for years and just plain bad luck.  But I have to deal with it.

And in my case the inflammation now is pretty bad – but I got through a 5K survival race over the weekend with the girls (and placed 7th in my age class (out of 42 entries)).  But still I have to figure out how much I can push and when I have to take a break.  I really want to play in a hockey tournament over Memorial Day weekend, and I will do the Tough Mudder in July.  How much more I can do is an open question….

April is the month that keeps on giving.  Bad memories, aging and now this…

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It’s A Generational Thing – I Get It

Between Christmas and a long post-New Year weekend skiing I did something I had never done before – I saw a Phish show.  (Wikipedia has an overview for the completely uninitiated).  There is a lot of crossover from the Grateful Dead to Phish – but it’s not something I had ever caught onto.  After seeing the show I’m pretty sure it’s a generational thing.

The New Year’s Eve Phish show at Madison Square Garden had a party atmosphere and I really didn’t know what to expect.  As the lights came down and the band opened the whole house was up and dancing around.  It was not unlike how I remember the first Grateful Dead show I saw somewhere in the mid 1980’s.

At some point during the evening the contrast to the  Dead shows at the same venue in early November was pretty stark.

For me (not necessarily a purist), I thought the Dead and Co. shows were great.  The band sounded tight and the music flowed.  But looking around the crowd, I was toward the younger end of the spectrum and there were a lot of folks sitting through show (some were at a point where standing and dancing during a whole show is just not physically possible).

At Phish, there was no one sitting – even during the breaks between sets.  When I looked around, I was among the older demographic at the show – which is when I realized it was a generational thing.  I’ve heard it said that Phish is the next generation of the Dead – and there may be some truth to that thinking.

As the show went on – I realized 15.5 would actually like this music if she gave it a chance.  Both girls tend to cringe when I flip the radio over to the Dead channel – but if they are not traveling with their headphones they tolerate it.  But now as 15.5 gets ready to think about college I kind of hope she opens up her musical library some too.

It may not be Phish, but the “next” Phish which would be the “next-next” Grateful Dead – and that’s fine.  Because as was often depicted on TV shows like Happy Days music is a generational thing – and I don’t have to like what my kids listen to.  The good news for me, is generally I like their choices today.

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Mocking Jay Movie Night Reunion

Hunger-Games Mocking Jay 2The opening of the final movie in the Hunger Games trilogy (which in Hollywood became a four-part story somehow) was a pretty big moment in our house.  13.0 avidly read the books well before the first movie, and has been tracking the releases of the movies since. (I have to admit, I did not realize that after third there was going to be a fourth, but that’s just me).  And once again, I need to call out and thank her sixth grade math teacher for taking 13.0 and the rest of her class – two years removed from being their teacher for a Mocking Jay movie night reunion.

It was this time last year when the sixth grade math class reunited for the first time to see the third movie in the series.  I admit, when I got the email from the teacher that she was planning a second class reunion, I wasn’t too surprised.  So 13.0’s weekend started Friday night with a screening of Hunger Games Mocking Jay Part 2.

It’s a benefit of the small district we live in – but also a sign of the dedication of the teacher to her students.  Obviously, the kids see each other pretty much every day – and they are still in the same school building as their sixth grade math teacher.

However, there is nothing that would compel this teacher to give up her Friday night to be with her former students other than caring about what she does and the lives she touches.  When I mentioned this to several people elsewhere in NY and throughout the country – they were surprised that a teacher would do this.

But I am kind of used to it by now in this district – but still it’s important to recognize the extras that the teachers in district do.

13.0’s current math teacher (8th grade) offered to pay the admission for kids who wanted to walk a 5K drug awareness day at the high school recently.

15.5’s track coach (also an 8th grade social studies teacher) has spent time working with her on hurdles – to the point where she’s ready to take them on during a meet.

As the son of an educator I know first hand there is so much that goes on outside of the classroom.  As a parent of a high schooler and middle schooler in 2015 in the age of Facebook I can also see how maligned teachers can be.

I don’t begrudged anyone their opinion and generally don’t weigh in on the “debate.”  But I am thankful that the teachers who spend time with my kids enjoy what they do and want to make a difference.

I’m not sure if there is another movie night reunion in the making – if there is, I’m sure 13.0 will attend.  I’ll also say thank you to the dedicated teachers and staff at the school who are part of the lives of my kids.

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The Ski Trip

Jimminy PeakAs we head into the winter months in the Northeast – my girls and I are about to embark upon what has become one of our family rituals since it became the three of us.  The ski trip.  This is something we’ve done three of the last four years – the only year we missed was when I had both knees operated on, and not surprisingly they match exactly against our lives in a one parent home.

Although it was four years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday – Risa had passed away and the girls went back to school.  The next week I went back to work.  The next week was Christmas vacation, and there was no way I was staying in the house for more than a week with all that we had been through.  I looked at Florida, I looked at Jamaica, I looked at California.  None of them as a last minute trip in December made sense.  But skiing did.

I had talked about skiing with my kids the year before – but because of the state of flux we were living in then, we couldn’t go.  I had skied for years before 14.5 was born.  But at that time, had not skied in 10 years  The girls were into it though.

With an invite from my cousin – we rented skis on Black Friday in 2010 and that Saturday set off for skiing.

I put the girls in lessons with their cousins.  I set out to recapture any level of skiing I could and we had a great weekend.

With the exception of the year I was recovering from surgery to both knees – we’ve skied every year since.  So, this year, with more than a foot falling as I type in the Berkshires at Jimminy Peak we’ll head out tomorrow afternoon to ski for the weekend.

This year will be a little different though.  14.5 is going to snowboard. So I have to put her back into lessons.  12.0 is bringing a friend.  So my hope is she and the friend will ski together, 14.5 will work on her snowboarding and I can ski for fun.  We’ll have a lot of together time as we spend the weekend at the mountain.

The ski trip is on.  First of the season.  More to follow.  See you on the mountain.

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Feeling Old About My Halloween First

Kids are Growing UpI suppose the day was inevitable – but still I’m not sure I was quite ready for it.  For the first time I did not do the trick or treating walk with either of my kids.  A moment I’ve shared with one or both of them for 14 years has come to an end.  I’ll admit it, I’m feeling old about my Halloween first this year.

Although I’m feeling old, I’m actually OK with it.  The reality is, these moments I’ve shared over the years will come to an end, and there are new moments that will (and have) replaced them.  We can’t live in the past, and we have to keep evolving and changing – and I’m OK with that.

But still.  I can remember racing home to meet the bus and getting the girls and starting the trek.  In our neighborhood – there are 110 homes close together.  You can do the lap around our community in about 40 minutes (closer to 90 with five-year olds).

This year 14.5 was off with friends.  I’ll admit a Friday night Halloween was reason to worry.  A lot of drinking, and a lot of drinking and driving.  But I know she knows right from wrong and I was able to talk to her about my concerns and she understood.

12.0 went off with a friend after school, and was then in our gated community after dinner.  Many fewer worries about her being local in the dark – and she and her friend are responsible and understand the importance of looking out.

So, my Halloween was answering the door and handing out candy, and not the usual walk about the my neighborhood and the ones nearby.

Out with the old, and in with the new – but looking at the micro of this situation, I still can’t help but feel old about this Halloween first.

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All New But The Same Again

Change HappensMuch like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, as this Labor Day rolls by it’s tough not to think I’ve been here before.  But as in years past, it’s all new but the same again as we get ready for the fall and all it has in store for us.

The school year starts on Wednesday.  For 14.5 its year one of high school.  For 11.5 it’s into seventh grade and her first year of foreign language and we have to start to get a little more serious about her Bat Mitzvah.

Add into the mix softball for 11.5 and this year JV soccer for 14.5 and we should have a busy fall into winter season.

Yet, we’ve done this already.  The book bags are ready for the first day of school.  The new clothes have been purchased and are ready for wearing. Haircuts have been accomplished – now all we need to do is finish up today and tomorrow and we  are into the new school year.

Yeah, we’ve done it before, but still its all new but the same again.

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Debunking the Opt-Out

opt-inWhen it comes to education around our home town, the thing that seems to get parents more riled up than Common Core is the state-issued standardized testing that is upon us.  These tests are in the week ahead, and many parents have already opted their kids out of the test.  For a moment, I’d like to debunk the opt-out.

To start, the state tests are a loosely tied direct result of the No Child Left Behind Act.  In order for the state to qualify for federal education funds (which is a lot money) the teachers, schools and districts have to be rated.  Here in NYS, that rating system has emerged as a series of tests.

The argument is the teachers feel pressure from the principals, who feel pressure from the superintendents and simply teach the test.  Add to that a sense of pressure that the kids may or may not feel as these tests approach – after all the teachers are rated on the result, as are the principals as are the superintendents.

Now, there is nothing new about using the children in the school to map funding needs from the federal government to the state to the districts.  The tests simply set a tangible criteria – whether fair or not, it is a constant.

Now to debunk the opt-out.

We all go through life and face ratings by outside forces.  For those of us who work for a large company there are one or two performance reviews a year.  Our raises, bonuses, options – total compensation is based on those ratings.

For those who own their own business (which I also do), the rating is even simpler.  Do  you have new business?  Do you have repeat business?  That is a very direct rating of the way you go about doing your job.

Back to the classroom.  These tests don’t have any impact on grades.  My kid can do really well or really poorly and the reality is, the grade that goes into the books at the end of the year is unaffected.

Isn’t this a way to get our children ready for the world – where results matter?  Let them take the test.  For us, it’s a free evaluation.  For our kids, it gets them used to having their performance reviewed.  For our schools, why should you be exempt?

My kids don’t get an opt-out.  To me as a parent, there is value in opting-in that has nothing to do with the school, and everything to do with the real world.  There is no way I could ever see going to my boss and saying, “You know, I’m feeling the pressure, I’m going to opt-out of this year’s review.”  Debunk the opt-out and lets position our children to be successful in the world they will graduate into.

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Single Point of Failure

Single Point of FailureIt’s been two-weeks since I updated here, which is not unprecedented but is unusual.  As is usually the case life kind of takes up time and things get pushed to the back burner.  One of those “life” moments was a three-week process I was involved in at work, where the term single point of failure was used often.

In the use-case of work, the single point of failure was something to be avoided.  This is where one breakdown somewhere in a daisy chain of events could cause the whole project to come to a halt – and in this case impact paying customers.  The single point of failure must be avoided.

Across the last couple of weeks, that paradigm persists.  We had 13.5’s Washington Trip to get through.  While that was not a huge impact, it did require making sure she was packed, had some healthy snacks to add to the assortment of Oreos and candy that made the trip with her class.

Then 11.0 talked me into signing her up for a second travel softball team.  So now we are deep into a pair of concurrent softball seasons.  The schedules start next week and the practices are already underway.  This gets mixed in with school, Hebrew school and all of her friends.

Add to that I had a week in Santa Monica for work where I managed to come down with a cold.  That cold has slowed me down since getting home Friday night.

Then there was the two-plus weeks my sitter didn’t have a car which really did not give me the peace of mind I try to maintain when I am not home.

All those items above are not earth-shaking.  Cars break, I’ve been sick before, travel isn’t new, the girls do spend time away from home and work has pressures.  But all together, with one parent, there is a single point of failure.

11.0 had back-to-back practices yesterday.  About four hours of softball.  During that time I saw a mix of parents and siblings coming in and out of the ball field – switching up and getting things done.  With only one parent, there is a single path for accomplishment.  So, I was checking in with 13.5 via text (the preferred communication medium) to see if she need a ride somewhere and that she ate.

So, at work I learned the importance of avoiding the single point of failure.  At home I realized a sitter without a car is a single point of failure.  And the reality is, I can be my own single point of failure too.

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Surviving Travel With Teens and Tweens

ski tripAs the annual winter break comes to an end for the girls, and we get ready to get back on schedule and do the long stretch (relatively long stretch) to the spring break – I look back at how surviving travel with teens and tweens this week.

There were five days off from school (Monday to Friday), add two weekends and it’s nine straight days off.  We spend three night’s in hotels in two cities and five days on the road.  This is not the first time I’ve traveled with my girls, but I realized during our ski trip to Lake Placid there are things I do in the name of surviving travel withe teens and tweens.

Normally, I don’t do lists and top fives etc, but if you are a single dad, traveling with girls in the teen and tween years – I feel your pain.  So, here is the official Dad the Single Guy survival guide:

  1. It goes almost without say, but bring your patience.  Just because you are on the road doesn’t change anything.  Chances are as far as your kids are concerned you are still wrong.
  2. I’m not ready (financially or practically) to give the girls their own hotel room.  So get two keys and set expectations.  Respect privacy as best as possible and try to stay above the sibling fray.
  3. Make as many decisions as possible. Don’t open everything from timing of events to meal choices up to a debate.  It will only give you the chance to be a referee and you’ll never enjoy your time away.
  4. When you decide to cede a decision be ready to support several choices. Try to allow creative decision-making.  For breakfast before skiing I sent the girls into a store and told them to make a choice, knowing what the options were there were no bad choices, and they did not have to choose the same thing (although they did).
  5. These kids are from the digital era, headphones go in and phones are always present. It’s not a slight, its part of life today.  Accept it, and when you need attention ask them to disconnect.  We have a rule in the house, if you are not making money with you phone there is no texting during meals.  I enforce it equally.
  6. Share as much time as you can.  Remember this is still a family vacation, treat it as such and share the time and experiences.
  7. Teens and tweens are very different.  Where you can allow for those differences and respect them.  Let the teen be a teen while allowing the tween her space as well.
  8. Set expectations and keep your goals in reason.  It’s their vacation too, let them relax and feel like they are getting away too.
  9. Pay attention to what they pack.  We were in Lake Placid and neither of my girls had the right boots to walk through snow and slush.  And we had one emergency trip to a Rite Aid for a forgotten item.
  10. Expect help.  Don’t play servant.  My kids have chores at home, on the road they have responsibilities to make sure we all enjoy.

I have no idea if the above works with boys, and no thoughts on if having two parents present makes a difference (my guess is probably not).

And remember, these are official for Dad the Single Guy only – your results may differ.  It would kind of interesting to find out how you go about surviving travel with teens and tweens.

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