Day 21: Today’s the day

I can’t believe it’s here.

The planning started nearly two years ago, when we received the date for the kid’s B’nai Mitzvah, March 21, 2015. That’s today! The day has come.

The planning and organizing has become a way of life.  A day hasn’t passed in the last six months where we haven’t had at least a passing conversation. It feels as if this day would never come, just an unattainable circled event on the calendar.

We are just hours away from creating memories that will last my family and I a lifetime. I’m so excited for my family and me.  I’m looking forward to sharing in the coming days.

Day 20: The B’nai weekend is here!

The B’nai weekend is here. We’re awaiting our guest for the first event of the B’nai, a casual dinner for out of town guests at my home.

While I’m excited for the festivities to begin, I had the most random revelation at lunch today. It’s about Kale…Kale, the vegetable. I’ll share my thoughts about this over rated vegetable next week. Stay tuned!

Day 19: Two days from the B’nai

The planning is done for the big day. My children are having their B’nai Mitzvot on Saturday. Over 120 people are gathering to celebrate this coming of age ceremony. My wife and I are so grateful that friends and family are flying from as far away as England and California to honor the event.

Family has started to arrive, entertaining has begun. So, I’ll spend the next few days gathering ideas and stories for future posts.

Day 18: Treatments

My wife and I recently renovated our kitchen.  It was a project we had been hoping to do for years, as the area was incredibly dysfunctional but at the same time, the hub of our house.

When it was finally done, we were thrilled.  The best part were three big new windows on the side of the house that overlooked the back garden.  While the space was no larger, the windows seemed to bring the room right out into the flowers.

Of course then came the question of window treatments. What color?  What style?  We couldn’t seem to come to any agreement, because really, deep down, we didn’t want to cover the windows.  We wanted to keep that bright, open space which brought the beautiful outside in.

That was in the summer, so we decided to wait, figuring that by fall the back yard wouldn’t be as pretty, and we’d come up with a window plan.

When fall came, with all its raging colors, the kitchen was suddenly awash in yellows and reds.  Even on those cold, windy fall days, the outside played with the room in a warm and wonderful way.  Surely by winter, when the trees were bare, we would come up with a plan.

Then came the first snowfall.  The bare, grey trees turned a soft white, and the blanket outside once again seemed to somehow embrace the interior, making us feel cozy and protected.  As the wind blew and the mercury dropped, our windows accentuated just how protected we were from the elements.  We could see winter in all its bitter fury, and yet feel once again embraced by our home.

Now, two days before the official start of spring, we still have no window treatments.  As the buds begin to peak out of the tips of the branches, they taunt us, almost laughing, knowing that once the cherry blossoms erupt, we will put all thoughts of covering our windows away for good.

But then our daughter walked up to the windows, looked out, and said, “When are we ever going to cover up these windows?  I mean how am I supposed to feel comfortable walking around in my underwear?”

My wife opened up the Pottery Barn catalogue and began scanning the pages for shades.

Day 17: Observations from a few days in 5th grade

For the past week, I have proctored (PARCC) and led a 5th grade classroom, not my typical 4th grade class. The time has given me a chance to reconnect with my students from last year. I have walked away with a few observations.

First, it was interesting to see how they’ve changed in the past year. They’ve grown so much as not just as students, but people. Their interests have diversified and their ability to initiate higher order conversations has grown exponentially since working with them last year.

As the oldest grade in the school, the 5th graders have positively embraced the ‘we are the top of the pyramid’ attitude. As a whole they set a nice example for the younger kids in the school. They are considerate, thoughtful and respectful. However, it’s clear that they are ready to move onto middle school next year.

While they are not defiant, it’s clear that are tiring of elementary school rituals, routines, and games.   They are still willing to participate, but it’s with a wink. It’s as if they are saying we are too old to participate in elementary school activities, but we’ll do it anyway. I imagine this is normal. Starting to distance oneself from their elementary school life as they prepare for the next step of school.

These 5th graders are great. I have enjoyed my few days with them. However, I’m very excited to get back to my 4th graders, who still love the routines of elementary school. At least they will for the next few months.

Day 16: Playing Catch with My Son!

“Dad, can we play catch?”

While my son, Noah, repeated these words thousands of times, they never stopped being anything less than music to my ears. When my son was young, he never grew tired of throwing the ball back and forth with me. Whether talking about our day, answering his questions or just listening to the sound of the ball hitting the glove, I treasured these times. Just thinking back, brings a smile to my face. The ritual brought us closer together.

There was one game of catch that made an indelible mark. It was the first time that Noah and I played catch, wearing our baseball gloves and standing as far as 20 feet a part. He was 5 years old. At this age, we usually tossed a tennis ball or whiffle ball back and forth. On this day, when he asked me to play catch, he wanted to do something different.

As I put my shoes on to go outside, he asked if I could bring my glove, he was already holding his, as well as a baseball. I approved with a little hesitation. I suggested that we stand very close to start, only a few feet apart. We under handed the ball back and forth, catching the ball in our gloves. This was huge progress. He like most kids his age, were not totally comfortable catching with a glove, instead opting to use the bare hand. Noah was having success using his glove, not giving in to instinct of using his bare hand. As he seemed to have this down, he was ready for the test.

I backed up about twenty-five feet, waiting for Noah to toss me the ball. He wound up and made a nice accurate, looping throw that landed in my glove. As I got ready to throw the ball back, I prompted Noah that the ball was coming, so get ready. He had his glove open and outstretched toward me, waiting for the arrival of the ball. I hesitated, thinking for a moment about how angry my wife would be if Noah got hurt playing catch. Then, I softly launched the ball on a looping path toward Noah.

As the ball left my hand, I could see his eyes open wide. He tracked the ball with his eyes as the ball flew toward him. He outstretched his glove hand toward the incoming ball.   Just the way, he was supposed to do it. Then something strange happened. While bracing to receive the ball in his glove, his non-glove hand circled behind him, eventually resting on the side of his head. From my view, his hand resting on his head and elbow locked out formed a triangle. This unexpected arm motion distracted me somewhat from watching him catch the ball.   Seeing the way he caught it made me chuckle and feel great pride. My son caught the ball!

We continued to play catch without saying anything to him about his actions with his non-catching hand. He had never seen anyone catch a ball in that way. I wondered if he knew that he was doing it. So I asked. He was not aware of it. I demonstrated what he was doing when receiving the ball. At first, he didn’t believe me. Not until I told him to take pay attention to his movements when catching the next ball.

As Noah does with most things, he saw it as a challenge, which he was going to attack and overcome. We continued to play catch. He became more aware of his action. About a half hour later, the arm motion was less pronounced, he was aware of it. He refused to stop playing until he stopped the non-throwing arm motion.

This was so Noah. He was determined. He wasn’t going to stop until he was successful.   An hour after we started, his non-throwing arm rested at his side when receiving a ball. He did it!

Day 15: Today in History

As writers, I’m sure that we agree that words carry incredible power.

Cliché?

Yes.

However, there are times when stories and ideas have the shear force to change the way that we view the world and ourselves. These occasions are rare, but they are important to remember and reflect upon their significance.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of what was perhaps Lyndon Johnson’s finest moment as president, eight days after the world was riveted by police violence against peaceful protesters in Selma, Alabama. Johnson delivered a speech that stands out as one of the most important presidential declarations on racial justice in American history.

The speech was titled the American Promise. In the speech to a joint congressional session he talks about how America is at a crossroad and it’s up to the American people to choose the right path. The speech is best remembered for its final line, “We shall overcome.” With those final words, the president legitimized the civil rights movement’s catchphrase.

I have attached a link his speech at the bottom. It is one of the most important and powerful speeches given by a president in the 20th century.

goo.gl/1bPDYm

Day 14: Musings After a Principal Search Meeting

This morning was unlike most weekend mornings. I went through my typical weekday routine — workout, breakfast, shower and off to school. My eight-minute drive passed without enough time to get lost in thought. As I entered the school, my destination was not my classroom, but the gym.

I was meeting about forty fellow teachers, parents and administrators. We were coming together to kick off the process to find a new principal. Our current principal was leaving to start a new middle school after a successful six-year stint. She had implemented a clear vision during her tenure. I had always admired her desire to instill and feed what I called a growth mindset. This meant that she expected students and teachers to approach every day with a passion to learn and grow.

Preparing for the process has me thinking about organizational change, not just for a school but any organization. Replacing a principal or successful leader in any profession is an enormous undertaking. It challenges the organization’s key tenets and beliefs. The process begins to provide clues about a leader’s. Did the leader drive change with shear will and determination, forcing employees to adopt desired behaviors and practices or make the case for a set of shared values, leading people to believe and buy in?

For me, this morning provided some insight into that question. The forty attendees were divided into distinct groups. For example, teachers worked with teachers, administrators with administrators and parents with parents. Each group went through an identical values and future vision process.

The groups came together at the end of the morning to share our discussions. Everyone reported very positive, enthusiastic and lively conversation and, most interestingly, the themes were almost identical. Each group had shared similar values and an enthusiasm for a future vision for the school. The discussion was a testament to our out-going principal’s hard work leadership qualities as well as the faculty and parents who shared a set of values, beliefs and visions. We’re all on the same page. Having everyone’s ideas and values aligned is critical to thoughtful, decision-making.   This gives me a lot of confidence moving forward in the process. Let the interviews begin!

Day 13: The day I confronted my scary Rabbi

Watching my kids prepare for the upcoming B’nai has brought back a lot of memories from the days and weeks before my Bar Mitzvah. A few weeks ago, my kids, wife and I met with the Rabbi for a rehearsal. It was similar to the meeting I had thirty plus years ago in the weeks leading up to my big day. My meeting is forever etched in my mind because I dreaded it for months.

My Rabbi was this large, big chested man. He never smiled and my one interaction with him was when he yelled at me when I was ten. Thinking back, it was because I was running through the sanctuary during Sunday school. His scolding terrified me. I remember his booming Charlton Heston’ stopped me in my tracks and struck fear in my heart. “SCOTT, STOP RUNNING RIGHT NOW! It sounded as if Moses was yelling down from the top of the mountain.

His office was located in the bottom floor of the synagogue.   I remember walking down the stairs in silence. There were no sounds, no people around, just my fears and me. It felt as if I was heading into a dungeon, not sure what was awaiting me.

As I approached the doorway to his office, I noticed a framed Fiddler on The Roof poster hanging on the wall directly behind him. The production starred my Rabbi. That didn’t do anything to calm my nerves.

“Come in,” he said in his booming voice. “Have a seat and tell me how you’re feeling about the Bar Mitzvah preparation.”

As I made my way slowly toward the chair opposite the Rabbi It took all my strength to muster an answer. “Good,” I whispered.

I was so nervous. I started to sweat. The walls felt as if they were closing in on me. Running out of the room wasn’t an option. However, I couldn’t have a conversation with him, let alone recite my Torah portion if I felt this terrified. My only option was to confront what the fear. So, I did it. I said what had to be said.

It felt like an outer body experience. The words rolled off my tongue slowly. “Rabbi, sir, I have to tell you something.”
“Ok, Scott,” channeling his inner Charlton Heston.

“I think…you’re scary,” I said. I wasn’t sure what he was going to say. My head was spinning. Was I in trouble? Was he going to call my parents?

The Rabbi paused, stared at me, and for the first time, I saw him smile. He winked and put me at ease when he said “It’s the voice, right?”

The wink and words put me at ease. My fear was replaced with confidence. Just like the Bar Mitvah, perhaps this was another sign that I was growing up

Day 12: “Don’t worry, grandpa. I’ll get the ball!”

A few days ago, I posted about how my grandfather inspired me to become a better writer long after his death. (Click here to read that post.) https://iamcurious4.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/day-9-my-grandpa-and-slice-of-life/

Retelling the story has me thinking a lot about my grandpa. I have a lot of nice memories from my childhood. There is one in particular that stands out.

My parents, grandparents and I were relaxing in the backyard on a pleasant summer day. I wasn’t paying too much attention to the adult conversation. Instead I kept myself busy, doing what many 7 year old boys did at the time, played with action figures and cars.

As I grew tired of my toys, I turned my attention to playing baseball. I loved the game. I spent most spring and summer days playing whiffle ball in the backyard. A whiffle ball bat and several balls were permanent fixtures on our lawn.

My grandfather also shared my love of baseball. I was a Red Sox fanatic and he was a diehard Brooklyn Dodgers fan. While he never recovered from the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn, he adopted the Mets over the Yankees. I used to ask why he loved the Mets, not the Yankees. He was clear. “Scott, a Dodger fan can never become a Yankee fans.” We shared a dislike for the Yankees and love of the game.

I asked my grandfather to pitch to me. He was all too happy to oblige my request. However, my grandmother was not thrilled with the idea due to my grandfather’s failing health. He survived two significant heart attacks, so he was supposed to limit physical activity. My grandfather ignored my grandmother’s concern. He slowly lifted himself out of his lawn chair and approached me with a smile. My mother stepped in and said “Scott, grandpa can pitch, but you have to bring the balls back to him after you hit them.”

That didn’t faze me. My grandparents lived in New York City and we didn’t see them too often. They stayed with us for a month in the summer.  I cherished the time when my grandfather gave me his undivided attention.

We took our positions. While my grandfather was standing about 10 feet away on the pitching mound, I held my whiffle ball bat in my carefully crafted batting stance.

He had three balls in his hand. He pitched all three then I put my bat down and said, “Don’t worry, grandpa. I’ll get the balls!”

I retrieved the balls sprawled across the yard and handed them back to him. We repeated this routine at least fifty times that day. He must have thrown 150 pitches. I remember being overwhelmed with happiness. I wanted the moment to never end. I had all of my grandfather’s attention.

As I think back, it was one of those moments in life when everything slowed down and my mind was focused on the moment, not distracted by anything else. It felt so special. This was the last time that we played ball together, as he passed away a few weeks later. While he was gone, he left me with a memory that will last me a lifetime.  For that, I am grateful.