Monday, October 18, 2010

An Encounter

Part of why I enjoyed the show "Seinfeld" as much as I did during its nine-season run is because of the parallels I found between the lives of the characters and my own.  I speak in particular of the random occurrences and coincidences that served as the comedic cornerstone of many episodes (and, truthfully, of my life as well).  I seem to be a magnet for these sort of experiences, as my wife and many of my friends can attest, if for nothing other than the sheer quantity of episodes they have been a part of or have been privy to.  It seems as if I cannot pass a single day without having at least one random and often unintentionally humorous moment.  Something as seemingly innocuous as a trip to the grocery store has the potential to turn itself into a blog entry with one chance encounter.

How was that for a segue?

So in my last post I drew a parallel between babies and puppies, referencing, in particular, their seemingly fail-safe ability to spark a conversation with someone, usually a woman.  The traditional example is of a man walking in a park with a puppy and drawing the attention of numerous nubile young women.  They will approach the man and comment on how adorable the puppy is, thus opening the potential for conversation, either flirtatious or casual.  I can confirm the validity of the latter type of this example from personal experience.  I had taken my sister's unbelievably cute pure-bred Jack Russell terrier to the park one summer afternoon.  Heather had jokingly warned me that I better not talk to any of the pretty girls who would likely come up to me wanting to pet the cute puppy.  Having never owned a dog and obtaining only cursory knowledge of the supposed allure of a puppy, I rolled my eyes and headed out. 

My plan had been to walk to the park near the neighborhood elementary school, then up the block that leads to the larger public park a half mile away.  The former park was literally a two minute walk from my sister's house.  Needless to say, a half hour after leaving my sister's place, I was still in the elementary school park.  I had gotten stopped by a total of eight women (many of whom were walking dogs, themselves) and engaged in conversation.  Much of the dialogue was about how cute Dylan was, what breed was he, how old he was, and other mundane bits of information.  Whether or not any of the women flirted with me was lost on me; I was somewhat oblivious to such moments as I was spoken for and did not actively pursue any such conversation...much like today.

But was unequivocal.  I was hit on and it was all because of Timmy.

"Of course!" you say.  "He's a cute baby--what woman wouldn't come up to you and say something or strike up a conversation?"

And I would say: who said anything about a woman?

That's right.  I mean exactly that.

Now, before I continue, I need to make reference to the photograph that I posted at the beginning of this entry.  In order for you to appreciate fully what is to come next you need to know not only who Leon Phelps is but specifically how he speaks.  So if you find yourself unfamiliar with his body of work, I can find no better sample of his elocution than this:

It happened after I collected my cold cuts from the deli section of the local supermarket.  I had Timmy in his jogging stroller (incredible maneuverability--indispensable in stores with smaller aisles) and found myself stuck behind an octogenarian right next to the frozen treats freezer.  Ordinarily, my Aries nature would kick in and I would seek the quickest route around him and storm past, angered that he would deign to rob my life of precious seconds by making me wait.  Today, though, I found myself in a calm enough mood and decided to wait it out.  He was asking a store employee where something was.  I don't remember what it was but I knew it was on the other side of the store and that he would probably get his ass in gear sooner than later so as to reach and acquire said foodstuff before Thanksgiving.

Needless to say, he got his cart a-rolling and I pressed forward two more aisles until I reached the one with the milk and bread.  Unfortunately, there was a traffic jam of sorts as a woman with a shopping cart blocked most of the aisle and another one attempted to pass her from behind.  There was also an employee stocking the dairy and juice case.  I found myself at this impasse and knew that I could not make it down to where the milk was at other end of the aisle with my gigundous stroller and said shopping carts needing the same space.

And that's when it happened.

"Aww!  Look at him!"

I swear to you--he sounded EXACTLY like the man in the video above.  Same lispiness and underlying sexual angst and virile self-assuredness.  Yeah...not what you want to hear when that someone is speaking to you.

I look up and find myself speechless.  (Please understand that this is an occurrence rarer than a blue moon and a total solar eclipse happening in the same month...or Paula Abdul and Lindsay Lohan being sober simultaneously.)

The guy looks like a scrawny Lou Gossett Jr. wearing sunglasses...inside a supermarket.  He's wearing snake-skin boots...a really flashy, blinged out white hoodie (unzipped), and a blue shirt...that is completely open.  Yeah...

Then he speaks again.

"Aww...I bet he just zips around in that thing thurr--am I right?"

I say yes and note that the stroller is great for getting around supermarkets.  I don't know what else to say.  I try to escape by pressing forward down the aisle but the women are blocking the way with their carts.  I have no choice.  I back up.  Which spurs the snake-skin boot adorned troubadour to continue his conversation.

"That must be great for joggin' and such..."

And then it happens.

"...and for workin' out. you work out?  I bet you like workin' out?"

I won't lie--I blushed.  Not because I was flattered but because this is happening in front of two women and at least one if not two store employees.  And I'm trapped.  (There is no Murphy/Mahony to come running across the field to save me; I'm on my own.)

I mumble some reply in the affirmative hoping he will simply walk away; he does not.

"Yeeeeaaahhh...I get it [the stroller] is real good for joggin' and runnin'.  You jog and run too, right?"

Trapped.  I nod again.

"Yeeeeaaahhh...I can tell.  No excuse not to exercise with that thing thurr!"

Finally, the woman at the back of the aisle passes the one blocking my way, smiling and thanking me; I am convinced she smiles not because of my polite gesture of backing out of the aisle to allow her passage but more as a result of a benevolent pity.  I can almost get through...but now I have to back up to let the first woman out.

And that's when he sees Timmy.


That's him sucking in his breath.

"Oh my! (Seriously--he said, "Oh my!")  Aren't you a handsome guy?  What's your name, little man!?"

I should have said something like Peggy or Crawl The Warrior King but instead I said only, "Timmy."

And that's when he flirted with the baby.

"Aww, well hey there Timmy!  Can I climb in there with ya?"

He chuckles jovially.  I smile, nod, and bolt down the aisle to grab my milk, hearing him say, " more walkin' fo' me today!  Wish I had one of those to be pushed around in!" over my shoulder.

Let's recap: first I thought he was just a friendly guy.  Then I thought he was a friendly homosexual man who took a shining to me.  Finally I conclude that he is a friendly creepy homosexual man who wants to climb into the stroller with my son.

I get to the register...and find myself stuck behind a different octogenarian.  The register-boy is staring at him, nonplussed.  I see the early-bird-special-lover attempting to count his money.  I hear the register boy repeat (likely for the third or fourth time) the gentleman's total.  The man seems confused.  He is holding a large quantity of small bills. 

I notice (as I look over my shoulder to make sure that Lou Gossett Laides Man isn't seeking intercourse with me ("I'll take an entendre," says Sucio Sanchez to the bartender.  "An entendre, it is!"  "Wait wait!" Sucio Sanchez interjects.  "Better make it a double.")) that the woman working the next register over is smiling and waving at Timmy.  She seems nice...and not interested in my genitals...(or Timmy's?) I ask her if her register is open and then make a hasty escape from the old man (still counting his money...hell...I'll be he is STILL there right NOW counting it!)  The woman and I banter a bit about Timmy and the importance of organic milk over regular milk (she explains to me, confidentially but kindly) before I swipe my credit card, grab my packages, and begin to depart the store. 

On the way out, though, I see the Ladies Man at the first register...with a woman who is dressed as outlandishly as he is.  And now I am thoroughly confused.  Is she his wife?  His twin-sister?  Just a friend?  The implications of each are expansive.  Ultimately, I realize that the exit is in front of me and my remarkable encounter behind me; it's time to beat feet and go to the bagel store to grab my lunch and continue my ordinary day.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mission Impossible 2010: Coffee, A Cell Phone, And A Sleeping Baby

The further along I travel on the path of parenthood the more I find parallels between parenting and teaching.  In a way, this is beneficial for me because I can fall back on my pedagogical training at certain points and, I would imagine, I will be able to utilize my parenting skills in future classrooms.  In both professions (if you will) you are entrusted with the lives and minds of youngsters and it is your task not only to instill their porous, receptive brains with knowledge but also to shape their very persons; every thing that you say and do around them has an impact, positive or negative.  Teachers and parents both want the best for their children and often lose sleep thinking of ways to ensure that said youngsters are receiving the best care and instruction that can be offered.  Both serve as instructors, disciplinarians, mentors, friends (if you're lucky enough to earn your kids' trust), and any other number of roles.

It's amazing when you consider the way the dynamics of the parent/child and teacher/student relationships change on a daily basis; some days, as the adult, you're off and just don't have it--other times it's the kids who are impish and who will test your patience and wits.  The funny thing, though, is that one day might not necessarily have an impact on the next.  If a child is bad one day, he or she might be punished, but (ideally) the parent will not hold the incident against him or her, nor will the child begrudge the parent (once the punishment has ended); the same goes for teachers.  I remember one day when I was doing my student teaching that my cooperating teacher was out and it was up to me to run the show.  I had been teaching for a few months by then and was comfortable as the sole instructor (a substitute was also present but did not participate in the lesson).  I had encountered this situation before and everything had gone smoothly.  This time, however, things were horrendously different.  I don't know if it was the fact that it was a rainy day, if there was something going on amongst the students overall, or if people were just in a general funk, but I found myself fighting with nearly all of my students.  Nothing I had prepared was going over well and the class was listless and paying me little attention.

I left the school that day feeling dejected--as if I had let my students down, somehow.  I dreaded going back the next day but I recalled some advice I had received from a veteran teacher earlier in the year.  He had told me not to worry about having an argument with a student or a bad day in the classroom--that we (as teachers) spend far more time worrying about it than the students do.  In fact, they wouldn't even remember it the next day.  Silently, I hoped that this would be the case and, sure enough, when I reentered the classroom the next day, the students were all back to their normal selves and everything went off without incident.

One of the challenges of being a parent or a teacher is the innate need always to be "on."  This means always having the perfect lesson, always engaging one's students, as well as always keeping one's children entertained and having the most amazing ideas for fun things to do.  What I learned as a teacher is that it's okay NOT to be on all the time--nor is it expected!  I'm not sure about parenting but I suppose we'll see as Timmy gets older.  I hate when he and I fail to get along (much like today--more on that) or when he seems bored and I'm unable to perk him up.  I suppose the latter is the worst, though, because he is still too young to speak, to tell me what he wants to do.  It takes some clairvoyance on my part to be able to decipher from his body language what's going on inside of his head and what he'd most like to do.  I'm finding that I'm becoming more attuned to him, though, and I'm building a checklist or dossier of sorts that I can fall back on when I'm not having success keeping him happy.

I know what you're thinking--what the hell does this have to do with Mission Impossible or the other things from the title?  Has he lost his mind?  Maybe he's just trying to snag us with a snazzy headline only to bore us to death with his droll musings on parenting parallels?

Stick with me: I'm just building up the suspense.

So yeah...parenting is like teaching...but children are also like puppies.  How's THAT for a parallel?  It's true though and it's also something I realized today.  I had been sitting at my computer typing up an email, reading things online, and listening to some music when I realized that it had grown awfully quiet behind me.  Timmy had been in his Exersaucer bouncing happily about, playing with his toys...but then the silence came.  I turned around, unsure of what I would find...only to see Timmy standing up in his Exersaucer staring at me with (you guessed it) puppy dog eyes.  He was just staring at me.  So I said, "Hey buddy!"  He lit up and started jumping up and down.  I asked him if he wanted me to pick him up.  He grinned his gummy little grin and jumped up and down some more. 

I picked him up and brought him back to the computer with me.  And then I got to thinking about the baby/puppy connection.  Both drool a lot.  Both will amuse themselves with the simplest of toys.  Both are incredibly adorable (an evolutionary trait meant to dissuade the father animals from eating them--true story and seem to elicit an "Aww!" reaction with almost everything they do.  Both utilize chew toys.  Both are great conversation starters (mostly with women).  Both enjoy sleeping in your bed...and then taking it over.  Both need to be potty trained and taught other basic elements of life.

And this is where it all comes together.

See, being a teacher, a parent, and a pet owner all have one fundamental thing in common: you think that you have taught your student/child/puppy something and that they have mastered that thing, without fail.  You find out that you are wrong, however, only when attempting to demonstrate this to others or at an incredibly inopportune time.  Teachers think that their students "really got" those lessons on algebra/grammar/the Revolutionary War/...until the tests come back...and not a single student scored above an eighty.  You could argue that the test was too difficult...but you can tell from the responses that these kids just didn't have a clue.  You train your puppy to perform a particular trick that it has repeated dozens of times...until you try to show a friend.  And the dog just stares blankly at you before walking away.  And then your friend does the same thing. 

For the parenting example, I will refer to my personal experience and thus finally segue into the bloody beating heart of this blog entry.  See, one of the largest difficulties I was having with Timmy since May or June was getting him to take his naps during the day.  I could tell (roughly) what times he would be getting tired and, as they began to grow more regular, I figured that it would be easy to get him to lie down.  Only it wasn't.  In fact, it got progressively worse.  He hated his swing and he gradually began to refuse to sleep in his pack and play.  Forget about the crib--he would have none of that one.  The only way that he would fall asleep with any consistency would be if he fell asleep on me.  He could be asleep on me for five minutes or an hour--the moment I would get up to place him down somewhere else, he would wake up and cry out in indignation.  The only way I was able to get him to fall asleep would be to put him in the swing (which he hated) and wait for him to pass out and stop crying (the latter of which he would do incessantly to the point that I worried I was scarring him mentally or emotionally). 

I did my due diligence, asking other parents for advice, reading up on messageboards online, and reading through the Baby 411 book.  The only consistent elements that I found were a) not to let him sleep on me and b) not to let him cry himself to sleep or to cry for longer than ten minutes at a stretch.  Some days he would fall asleep in his pack and play, other days in the swing (of his own volition), but most days found me reaching the end of my patience and getting frustrated more at myself than at him; I just couldn't figure it out.  He would sleep fine for a few days and then spend the next few fighting me viciously. 

Finally, he and I figured it out and, for the last two weeks, he was sleeping like an angel.  No fights, no moments of frustration, and no bloodcurdling Banshee screams from him.  Until today.

At first, everything was going according to plan.  The boy was sleeping and I was working on various computer projects, keeping an eye on him via our camera/video monitor system.  He went in for a nap around 1:40 (he usually begins sleeping anywhere from 12:30 until 2:00) and slept peacefully until around 2:30.  He needs much more than fifty minutes of sleep for his nap and usually sleeps two hours or more.  Occasionally, he will wake himself up but, if left alone, he will fall back to sleep.  Not this time.  Watching him through the monitor, he was sitting quietly but was very, very much awake.  He was playing with his pacifier, staring into the camera, and looking around the room serenely. 

Or so it seemed.

I went down and picked him up, taking him back upstairs with me.  I placed him in his Exersaucer figuring he would want to play.  He balked.  I picked him up and had him on my lap while I typed.  He fussed and squirmed.  I thought maybe he had a dirty diaper; all was clear in the underbuggins.  I placed him back into the Exersaucer.  He cried.  I picked him back up and laid down on the couch with him.  He fidgeted and cried, struggling to fight sleep; he won.  I placed him in his swing, figuring that he was exhausted and would be out cold within a few minutes; ten minutes later he was still awake, smacking his little hands on the plastic snack tray-portion of the swing.  Back in the Exersaucer.  More crying. 

Finally, I had enough.  I brought him back downstairs and got him set up for his nap.  That was when he decided to start screaming.  I went back upstairs and could hear him not only through the monitor but through the floor.  I had made coffee and was trying to enjoy it while I worked on a music project but Timmy's screams of mutilation were too much.  I went downstairs and snapped at him...then HE snapped and began to scream like I was skinning him with a cheese grater.  Seriously--it was so bad I had to close the windows because I was afraid the neighbors or passers-by would think I was attempting to cannibalize my boy. 

I put him back in his swing and decided to cancel my plans to work on my music project upstairs.  Instead, I shut the light, left him screaming in the swing, and headed downstairs to read.  I know--it sounds callous and heartless...but I know my boy and I knew that he wouldn't last this time; he would run out of gas.  So I sit down to read...and hear him screaming through the walls this time.  My resistance is low at this point since I have had exactly one doughnut and one small Celeste pizza all day.  I turn on the fan to try to cool me and calm me down and I begin reading.  After a few minutes I listen and realize that all is quiet.  I open the door and slink upstairs to check for sure and...sure enough...he's out cold in the swing.

Mission accomplished.

I head back downstairs and get myself comfortable on the bed with book in hand.  I crave a warm sip of my strong brew...only to realize that I had left it upstairs on the computer desk before I placed Timmy in the swing.  And therein lie my dilemma: if I were to go upstairs I would risk waking the boy and thus defeating the efforts of the past HOUR PLUS...but, on the was a goodish brew...could I really just leave it to die a cold, lonely death on my desk?

I decided to test the water.

Slowly, I walked up the stairs to the upper level of the house, stopping on the third step from the top.  I could see Timmy but he could not see me; he was fast asleep.  I took another step up and the stairs creaked beneath my wait...and the boy stirred.  Then he opened his eyes.  I dropped down to my belly on the stairs and listened as he let out a lone whimper.  I watched as his eyes rolled...rolled...rolled...until finally, he was asleep once more.  I knew that there was no way I could make it across the room to my coffee without waking him and, once spotted, I knew that the jig would be up; he would awaken fully and begin screaming once again.

Thus began my Mission Impossible scenario.

I knew what must be done.  Taking a deep breath, I brought my foot off of the third step from the top and rested my knee on the floor above me.  I lowered my torso to the ground and slowly brought up my lagging leg; I would military crawl across the room to the desk.  It was a great plan...until I realized that I wouldn't be able to return the same way.  I decided that I would cross that bridge when I got to it.  At that point, my only concern was to get to the computer.  And thus, in the relative darkness of the room, I began to crawl.  Left-forearm forward with right knee...then right-forearm and left knee...keeping my eyes on the sleeping boy the entire time, as if he were a dragon that would ignite me with his fierce dragon...breath...were he to waken.

I'm trying to shift my weight as best I can so as to prevent the floor from creaking...and...surprisingly...I'm doing a decent job.  I try to coordinate my forward progress with each peak of the swing's movement: crawl when the swing comes all the way forward and creaks, crawl again when it reaches its backward-terminus.  I realize that I'm wearing all black and I figure that if I stay low to the ground and stop moving completely if Timmy wakes up and opens his eyes that he won't see me.  I'm using Jurassic Park logic, figuring that an infant's vision is like that of a T-Rex's.  I figure my logic is sound...because there's no one there to tell me otherwise.  Plus it sounds really cool and enhances the faux-danger level of my mission.

The danger though isn't so much that Timmy will wake up and see me but that he will wake up and sense me.  I swear to God, this kid came with built-in preternatural ninja skills.  He can be in a dead sleep and the moment someone enters the room he will wake up.  I mean, I could have heavy music blasting and a fan or air conditioner on so that there is no WAY he could possibly hear me come in...and he will wake up and look right at me!  Incidentally, when this has happened and he was really exhausted, if I stood stock still and held my breath, eventually his eyes would begin to roll back into his head and he was pass out once more.

Anyway, so I'm crawling across the room and I put up my sixth-sense-firewall so that his psychic probe can't detect me.  Finally, I draw closer and closer to my computer chair, which is right near my desk; the mug of delicious coffee is in sight...then it is almost within reach.  I stand up ever so softly and turn around with bated breath; he has not stirred.  Using my advanced ninja skills, I take three ginger ninja hop-steps until I am right by my desk; I do not hesitate for a moment.  I grab the mug and then gingerly ninja hop step back across the room, all the while simultaneously watching the boy, monitoring my proximity to the stairs, and ensuring that the coffee doesn't slosh and escape its container (I actually managed not to shake it even a little--it was pretty impressive).

I reach the stairs and bolt.  I realize that he might wake up but I find that I do not care; I have obtained the coffee and will now enjoy some quiet time, whether he wants to cooperate or not.  I return to the bedroom downstairs feeling invigorated and self-satisfied.  Okay...maybe I felt a bit smug...but, minus the laser alarm system, I'm pretty sure I just recreated perfectly that scene from Mission Impossible.  More or less.  At least in my mind.  I close the bedroom door behind me and place the mug down on a coaster on Heather's nightstand next to the bed.  I get my pillows set up on the bed and get comfortable, looking forward to some good Ulysses reading time and some quality joe.  I realized that I had shut the blinds in an attempt to help Timmy to fall asleep and decide that I wanted some natural light to read by instead of just the overhead ceiling light; this was my tragic mistake.

I'll admit it: I got greedy.  I couldn't be happy just with getting the coffee and getting the boy to fall asleep.  In a way, I almost deserved what came next.


I swung my feet over towards the floor...jauntily.  Maybe that's the worst part--I was in great spirits and would have bounced up off the bed were it not for what happened next.  I could tell you that I knocked over the full mug of coffee...but that wouldn't do the event justice.  No no--I damn near obliterated the mug.  I mean, I absolutely nailed this friggin thing with my foot.

Now I know what you're thinking: okay, so you knocked the mug over and spilled coffee everywhere--what's the big deal?

To understand fully what occurred next, you must have been reading carefully.  I didn't just swing my legs over...I swung them over with zest--with a real joie de vivre.  Needless to say, I got double-teamed by two of Newton and Nature's laws.  Fucking Newton.  You see, my momentum carried my forward even though I knew that I had knocked over the coffee.  In fact, as I was pulled into a seated position I saw the mug hit the floor and roll emptily away.  Though I did not see it I am convinced that the mug made at least two full revolutions mid-flight as it deposited the warm liquid of my java-nectar into the splash zone.  I saw this because it landed outside of this area and yet its outside was covered in spilled coffee, which could have come only from its airborne procession towards the floor.

Remember though--I said two of Newton and Nature's laws.  Acceleration pulled me forward but it was that spiteful bitch gravity that prevented me from applying the brakes.  Instead, my feet landed firmly--I mean dead center--in the puddle of coffee that is, at this point, sinking slowly into the carpet; my then-white socks absorbed a fair amount of said brew, however.  In the next moment I surprised myself with my reaction: I laughed.


Then I shook my head in disbelief.  I was grateful that the coffee cup didn't break (as it is my favorite coffee receptacle) and that the coffee splash radius covered only the carpet, the base of the fan, my socks, and Heather's tanktop.  I realized that I had to act quickly to try to mitigate the staining of said clothes and carpeting so I ran immediately into the kitchen to grab paper towels.  I daubed up what I could and then realized that I would need to get some wet paper towels to loosen what had already settled in.  I placed the tank top and the socks into the bathroom sink, which I had filled with hot water.  I won't looked like some invisible midget had diarrhea the second I swished the socks and shirt in the basin.  Gagging, I let the water out, and repeated the procedure until the water no longer maintained a fecal consistency and hue.

Returning to the bedroom, I realized that I would have to use more than half of the roll of paper towels if I wanted to dry up the entire area.  I decided to grab a raggy towel from the closet and use that to soak up what I could of the coffee.  This time, though, it looked like a giant had mistaken said towel for toilet paper.


So I'm doing my best to dry up the stain and, feeling like I have made significant progress, I stand up...without realizing that I'm right beneath the doorknob.  Oh, don't worry--it broke my fall...if I were falling upward as I attempted to stand up.  It caught me right on the bony part of my shoulder.  Now I get annoyed, mostly because of the shooting pain that is coursing through my arm and neck.  Then it subsides and my jocularity returns.  I decide that this would make a great blog entry.  I then decide that I would like to call Heather to tell her about it.

Then I realize that my phone is upstairs.  This time the dilemma is less of a quandary: if the phone goes off, it will almost surely disturb the boy's slumber.  I must go after it.  I slink up the stairs and decide at the top that I don't need to use any subterfuge in pursuing my bounty this time.  I take a step towards the center of the room...and the floor creaks...and Timmy opens his eyes...and looks right at me.  As any good soldier would do, I fall back on my training.  And by training I mean numerous viewings of Jurassic Park.  I become a statue.  I don't so much as blink as I stare right back at him from across the room.  He swings back staring right at me.  Then he swings forward, still looking me in the eyes...almost looking through me.  I think, "I'm wearing all black and I'm standing perfectly still...there's no WAY he can see me."  I summon all of my ninja energy and use it to convince myself that what I have just thought is true.  I no longer think I am a black-clothed ninja statue...I AM a pitch-colored column of nothingness floating in the vast expanse of darkness in front of a tired, swinging, baby.  I stare at him as he stares at me.  I will him back to sleep.  And...slowly...he closes his eyes...and returns to sleep.

I drop to my belly and crawl over to that damned couch, grab the phone, stand up, and gingerly ninja step my way to freedom.  I call Heather immediately upon returning downstairs.


Story of my life.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Return To Simpler Times

I look at my last two posts and I am disgusted with myself.  I sat and whined about how Facebook was ruining my life and how it's impacted so many of my friendships in negative ways.  I knew the entire time that I was using the social networking site as a scapegoat and yet the true thrust of what I was ruminating on was resting just beneath the surface of my awareness.  Thankfully, yet another Facebook encounter last night served as the catalyst for me to a) understand what the true problem is and b) to develop a suitable course of action to help me to transform myself from a mewling whiner into what I generally pride myself on being: a man of action and decision.

My hypothesis: the advances in communication technology over the past ten years have greatly improved the quantity of my communication with people while simultaneously destroying its quality and, thus, a replacement of the quantity of virtual communication with meaningful, personally-interactive communication, will improve the quality and reduce the quantity of communication-related issues.

I know, I know--it seems as if I'm using technology as a cop out (or scapegoat, yet again), fingering it as the source of all of my social problems.  Believe me, I know that I am at the root of every situation but I believe that I can plead a solid case as to why the aforementioned advancements have acted like a cancer in many of my relationships.

Here's what I think: for every degree of separation that we undergo from actual face-to-face communication, we lose multiple levels of meaning, we experience an increasing lack in the human element of our conversations, and we forfeit an ever-increasing number of opportunities for truly meaningful discourse with each other.  Don't believe me?  Here's my argument:


  1. Being present and sharing physical space and energy (remember--we are in-tune with each other in an extra-sensory way and benefit from being in each other's presence.  Don't believe me?  Try to be around someone who is constantly negative in their worldview and commentary on things for an entire day. Then do it for a week.  Very few people can endure that without it impacting their psyche and emotional well-being.  Then think of that person with the infectious (but not overbearing) positivity and glass-is-half-full outlook on life.  Surely you know at least one (again, not the bubbly, overly perky, "Ohmygod isn't this little tomato AWESOME AND AMAZING!!!!" type).  Don't you find yourself gravitating towards that person when you're feeling down or out-of-sorts?  They replenish you just by being in their presence or just by the physical act of hearing them speak).
  2. Seeing someone's facial expressions as they speak.  When you speak to someone face-to-face you can see how they react to something you've said or how they look when they speak.  It really allows you to understand exactly how they are feeling and, in most cases, precisely what they are saying.
  3. Hearing someone's voice.  Combining this with being able to see their face affords you a nearly complete picture of what someone is intending to say; the only thing you are lacking is their thoughts.  When you can hear the person's intonation and the emotion in their voice, you can also understand better what they are saying; they may physically say one thing but mean something entirely different based solely upon their mood (which you can see and sense) or the way they say something.
  4. It is difficult and emotional.  Why is this a positive?  Because it shows that both people have a certain amount of trust for one another.  Things that people would say under the cloak of anonymity on the Internet would NEVER be said in person, which means that what is said face-to-face is often more genuine and heartfelt.  You are showing someone a great deal of respect when you elect to speak to them in person instead of hiding behind the shield of technology.
  1. It is difficult and emotional.  Some people cannot handle their own emotions let alone other people's.  It can be a challenge to hold a conversation with someone, face-to-face, when there are strong emotions flying around, particularly anger and sadness.  It can be tough speaking to someone knowing that you have made them cry or to withstand someone yelling at you because you have angered them...but it's also incredibly rewarding.
  2. It can get awkward.  Mostly when it comes to the end of a conversation, specifically when you end it and the other person doesn't get the hint.  You don't want to make someone else feel uncomfortable by telling them that you're done speaking with them...but sometimes you have to (or you can try just to walk away). 
  3. It can be difficult to depart gracefully.  This is related to number two but in a slightly different way.  Sometimes you wind up speaking with someone for far longer than you anticipated and you need to cut them off because you're running late.  Or maybe they are that person who just doesn't get the hint and will follow you as you walk away or ignore your subtle communication and body language that is saying, "I'm done talking, homie!"


Pros:  #s 3 and 4 from Level 1 (hearing someone's voice and dealing with potential emotional difficulty)
Cons: Same as Level 1 PLUS the loss of Pros 1 & 2.
Pros:  None from Level 1--only the following:
  1. It is instant.
  2. It is private.
  3. It is simple to end a conversation (just don't answer or respond!)
  4. It is possible to hold multiple conversations at once.
  5. It is easy to retrace earlier conversations.
Cons:  The loss of all pros from the first two levels and:
  1. A lack of clarity (MUCH easier to misconstrue something that someone says).
  2. An impersonality that removes the human element from the conversation.
  3. A complete lack of verifiable emotion (outside of text style editing...but even that is not foolproof).
  4. An increase in brazenness (more likely to say something offensive or upsetting through a level 3 method than in either level 1 or 2 simply because you can tune yourself out if the emotions run too hot).
  5. A lack of verifiability of identity (you don't know for sure that the person you think you are communicating with is actually the one writing; it is, however, undeniable when you are speaking face-to-face or over the phone).

Pros:  Same as Level 3 except that it is public instead of private
Cons:  Same as Level 3 plus the following:
  1. All comments are public (something that might not embarrass someone in a one-on-one conversation might now be blown out of proportion.  Also, someone else might be upset by a comment you make to a different person)

The bottom line is that the further removed you are from a one-on-one, personal, face-to-face conversation with someone, the more likely you are to encounter misunderstandings, a lack of regard for propriety (mostly as a result of the anonymity associated with virtual conversation), and an abhorrent disregard for common decency (you would never ignore completely someone who is right in front of you and yet, with frighteningly increased frequency, people leave emails, text messages, IMs, and Facebook comments unacknowledged). 

It is unequivocally the latter-most element that has caused me the most grief and that has contributed the most to the nonsense melodrama that I have had to endure over the past two years.  People seem to think nothing of leaving an email or text completely unaddressed, or they hide behind the excuse of convenience--"Sorry man, I read it on my phone and forgot to respond."  It doesn't matter whether it is something important like a question being asked or sort of emotional sentiment being conveyed, or completely inane like an anecdote or quip that is being shared--many people fail to recognize that it is just plain rude to ignore someone's communication, particularly when it is for no other reason than sheer laziness or habitual forgetfulness. 

We engage in so much virtual communication that the value of any individual thought or sentiment shared by someone has fallen away.  Habits and simple courtesies that we learn in grade school are lost by the time we reach the age where we can text or go online--things that, for the last several thousand years, have been unquestionable and often unconscious: when someone calls you, you call them back; when someone writes to you (whether it is a postcard, a hand-written letter, an email, text, instant message, or Facebook post) you either write back or at least have the decency to acknowledge that something was written. 

Imagine if people handled business communications the way they do their personal ones--nothing would get done simply because people would be in a constant state of arguing!  It's simple: if you're going to answer things in a timely fashion at work, why can't you do it outside of work, with the people who really matter to you!?  I'm not even speaking of INSTANT or IMMEDIATE replies--I'm talking about within a few days, maybe a week or two at most.  How long does it take to say, "Hey, got your email/text/whatever" or even just to reply with an "okay" or "yeah"?

Anyway, I presented my hypothesis and now it's time for the experiment.  I cannot control the people who refuse to engage in the simplest of gestures (acknowledging communication) but, earlier today, I realized that I CAN control MY level of engagement.  And thus therein lies my experiment.  Since I am growing increasingly disheartened and disgusted by the quantity of miscommunication, of hurt feelings (on my end by people ignoring my attempts to converse and on others' ends by misunderstanding things that I have said), and of general immaturity as a result of Level 3 and 4 communication, I have decided that, for the rest of the month, I will engage in ONLY Levels 1 and 2 with the people in my life.  That means precisely the following:

I will not be checking my Facebook account until at least the beginning of November.

I will not be emailing anyone nor will I be acknowledging any emails sent to me (except in a few rare situations).

I will not be text messaging anyone nor will I be acknowledging any text messages. 

The only two ways in which I will communicate with anyone will be either over the phone or in person.  If it's worth texting me or emailing me for, it should be worth calling me--and vice versa.  I figure that, this way, I won't have any hurt feelings by waiting like a dope for weeks on end to see if someone will respond to something I have said via text, email, or Facebook, and, conversely, everyone knows, right up front, that I definitely won't be responding (thus removing that limbo-waiting phase that always pisses me off), I won't be able to upset anyone with a comment or joke in a public forum, and I will greatly increase the quality of the communication that I have with my friends.  At the end of the day, I'd rather hear your voices than read your words; I'd rather get together to catch up than keep an email chain going.

I'm not sure of what to expect but I do know the following things:

It will be difficult, challenging me to break habits that I have spent years developing. 

It will be enlightening, helping me to understand both my friends and myself and how we interact on a much deeper and meaningful level.

It will allow me to show my son that we don't have to be reliant on new technology and fads simply because they are popular and pervasive.

And, perhaps most importantly of all:

It will be a return to simpler times.

September: A Reflection

September is a month that holds a magic and mystique all its own.  It is a month that signals drastic change--both in the weather and in the lives of schoolchildren everywhere.  It is also a month with great reflective power.  Sometimes it is a wistful reflection, as in Billy Joe Armstrong's song about the passing of his father called "Wake Me Up When September Ends"--other times it marks the symbolic end an era in one's life--usually the end of the innocence of childhood (which is usually associated with summer)--as in Daughtry's "September." 

There is just something about the month of September that stirs the cauldron of my emotions.  It was always my least favorite month as a kid, mostly because I found myself filled with the nervousness and apprehension that are brought on by the challenge of returning to school.  I suppose this has been ingrained in me since I was four years old and first began pre-school; until only very recently, I have ebbed and flowed with the tides of September, experiencing numerous physical, mental, and emotional transformations with the coming of each autumn.  To this day I still view the cycle of the year as beginning and ending with September--I suppose that is what twenty-three years' worth of time spent in school (eighty-five percent of my time on this earth) will do to a man.  As a matter of fact, last September (2009) was the first one since I first stepped foot inside of a classroom in 1987 that I did not have school come Labor Day; this September is the second such one but it is also the first in thirteen years that I am also not working outside of the home.  No school and no employment simultaneously essentially for the first time definitely made me stop and think back to how I've gotten to where I am at now.

I should begin by noting that I view my situation in a completely positive light: I have finished school and am actively and fully employed in my parental role; I am completely at peace with where I am at--something I could not say a year ago.  Last September was one of the most difficult months I have ever had.  I had earned my Master's Degree in Education back in May and had just finished teaching in a collegiate environment for the first time.  More importantly, though, I was beginning my quest for full-time employment as a public or private school teacher.  I found myself engrossed completely by my job search and stressed beyond description as September came and went and I remained unemployed.  I worried about the plans that my then-pregnant wife and I were trying to set up for ourselves and how my lack of a job would impact those plans (ultimately it worked out perfectly as it alleviated a number of stressors that Heather and I were sharing about our post-maternity leave plans for who would take care of Timmy by giving me that job).

But that was last year.

It goes without saying that the last twenty-one months have been the most exciting and eventful of my life.  In some ways, I have been so busy experiencing everything--taking it in all year and processing the myriad changes my life has undergone since January 2009--that I have not really taken a moment to look back on everything and to reflect on how I've changed as a person and how my life has changed overall.  At least, I hadn't until the beginning of this month.

This September, I have found myself looking back and marveling at all of the changes that have come to my life--many good, some bad...but even they had positive elements.  I was present for the birth of my son and served as my wife's Lamaze coach; I adjusted to the rhythms and chaos of the early months of parenthood; I shoveled my way out of at least two blizzards if not three (I'll include The Festivus Blizzard from December '09 in that...what an entry THAT story would make!); I saw my wife demonstrate true courage, determination, and sacrifice the day that she returned to work (as I experienced simultaneously the most gut-wrenching guilt and self-loathing that I have ever felt as I watched her walk towards the ferry terminal and look back over her shoulder and me and Timmy); I became a self-published author for a second time but found that my status as a stay-at-home-dad generated far more interest as I was interviewed for a documentary following the lives of Macaulay Scholars (post-graduation) and by the Staten Island Advance for an article on "The Modern Family" that can be found and read here: ; I survived the hottest summer I can ever recall; and I saw my entire social landscape reshape itself in ways I never dreamed it would.

I suppose that it is this last element that is most on my mind and is what I reflect most on as I sit here and type.  My introspection began on Saturday, September 4th when I went to Jones Beach for a Stone Temple Pilots concert.  Thinking nothing of the weather, I threw on a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, some wristbands, and headed out to Wantagh.  It had been 81 degrees when I left--the essence of a summer's day--but by the time I reached my seat (four rows from the top--a VERY windy area as I came to find!) I realized that the temperature was dipping.  And the sun was still out.  And then it got windy.  And dark.  And for the first time since April or May, I felt a chill in the air; summer was waning as autumn prophesied its impending arrival.

If you will allow me a brief tangent--I think that it's the weather change that I associate most with September; it reflects almost perfectly the feelings that I had as a kid and that I have now as an adult.  As a school-age child, I associated the fading warmth and the earlier nights with the same thing that every child does: the beginning of the school year.  I remember wearing jeans for the first time since May as I experienced what my Mom would call the "end of summer blues" during the final week or two of my summer break.  I associated the chill in the air with the one that would be flowing through me during those first few weeks of uncertainty.  Would I like my classmates?  Would my teacher be nice?  Would I do well that year?  Who would I be sitting next to?

Back then, September seemed to drag on forever; I remember looking forward to the first half-day that would usually come after two or three weeks, just to be away from school for awhile.  October would drag along too as the nights grew darker and the chill deepened...but then something magical would happen around Halloween.  For the first time, with the beginning of school behind me, I wouldn't focus on the dread that I would be feeling about the uncertainty of the school year (or the depression of having to be back in school)--instead I would actually be looking forward to something else.  Then, after Halloween came and went, time seemed to fly.  Before I knew it, it was Thanksgiving and then Christmas break.  January would fly by and I would get that blessed week off in February...but then "the big one" would come: that stretch from mid-February through mid-April where there would not be a single holiday to save me from what was then a grueling grind in the classroom.  Fortunately, my birthday is at the end of March so I always had that to look forward to...and then it was Easter.  By that point, there would be only eight or ten weeks left of school and it was all about the countdown.

(No--not this one:   )

Once I got to college, things changed a little bit. Now I was going back to school in August...but getting done in May. September still held that "first-day-of-school" feeling but it didn't seem to have the same bite or urgency that it did when I was younger. Suddenly, I was enjoying the month of September--especially at night. There was something refreshing about the crispness of the autumnal air on a twilight stroll to and through the park. The wind rustled through the leaves with a different timbre than in the summer--a faint crackling that seemed to be Fall saying "I am here." Or maybe it was the sound of the chlorophyll changing colors, announcing that the vivid greens built up by the spring and summer would soon be turning yellow, orange, and red. The air would be clearer and the moon's silver effulgence seemed to grow in brightness, filtering through the branches of trees growing ever more bare with each chilled gust of wind. The orange glow of the Harvest moon would signal that, yes, summer was gone and winter lay on the horizon; there would be cold, dark nights to come but with them would arrive the welcoming warmth of a mug of hot chocolate, the scents of cinnamon and pumpkin spice, and the sating replenishment of hearty meals like thick beef stew and chicken pot pie.

Actually, when I got to college, things changed a lot that first September.  I found myself a part of an exclusive and warm community of fellow students as members of the charter class of the then-CUNY Honors College.  I had forged many friendships during the orientation events in July and August, particularly with my fellow scholars at Baruch.  Two weeks after beginning classes, my whole world was shaken (as was every other New Yorker's) and I found that those same friendships were galvanized by a feeling of togetherness and a desire to do something in the wake of what occurred on that beautiful Tuesday morning.

As things began to settle back down, I found that I enjoyed a tight-knit circle of friends that was nearly ten in number (including me)--easily the largest group of close friends that I had ever found myself counted among.  Things were great within our group as our individual and communal friendships flourished and we found ourselves "growing up" together.  Then, somewhere in 2004, something changed; it was as if a current shifted suddenly and we ten were moving in different directions.  I watched as, one by one, those flourishing friendships floundered, growing stale and crumbling.  A few people just faded off--whether by circumstance or just a natural progression in personality that rendered us increasingly incompatible--but a few others left or were left on more contentious grounds.  By the time I graduated in 2005, I found that that circle of ten had shrunk to a group of four..and then three in 2006...and then two; in the end, only Heather and I maintained (and improved) upon the friendship that we had embarked upon back at the beginning of the decade (I must note, however, that the tides of Fate did bring us back together with one of those original ten and that that friendship has blossomed into something wonderful and far better than it ever had been; it's one of those chance occurrences that Heather and I both smile at and are both thankful for!)

It wasn't until this past May that I really began to take stock of how much my social landscape had changed.  Many friendships that I had enjoyed throughout college appeared to have been too close to the fault line of adulthood; once we graduated and began "the rest of our lives," many of those friendships just faded away.  Friendships that we swore would never end did just that--even ones that I never could have envisioned finding a conclusion.

I suppose that the climax of my social existence came in July of 2007 during my wedding.  That afternoon and evening were arguably the best of my life and were lauded by many who had attended the reception as being an exceptional time as well.  I was surrounded by my closest and most beloved family members and friends, by those who had fallen away but who returned to celebrate with my wife and I, and by those with whom I had had a falling out but managed to find reconciliation.  Naively, I felt like things would stay that great forever and yet here I stand, just a few months more than three years into the future of that day and I stare in amazement at the scene I see before me.  Of the seven members of our wedding party (three bridesmaids (one of who's friendship did not even make it to the wedding) and four groomsmen) I am still friends with (or even speak to) exactly two; it's unsurprising that one is a man I've known since we were in elementary school and who has been among my best friends for almost fifteen years and the other is a man I met on my very first day of high school and who has been among my best friends ever since--almost fourteen years.

I have been used to having close friendships end for some time now but to see each of the aforementioned people fade away (either in a blaze of fury or a silent sizzle as the fuse ran out of line) has been a humbling experience and one that I am only just now learning, truly, from.  I took each situation personally and physically, losing days, weeks, or even months of sleep.  Each one affected my mood, my appetite, and my very personality...but I think I'm finally understanding the flow of things a little better now.  I, like many people, I would imagine, clutched to friendships and valued them as treasured gems (often times in a one-sided fashion) but, in actuality, life dictates who stays in and goes from our lives; what we want or what we think will be the case are both irrelevant.

As I reflect on my seeming social misfortune I find that I am dusting myself off, picking myself back up, and uncovering nuggets of wisdom with each instance; I am hoping that the cumulative knowledge and experience that I will undoubtedly gain throughout my years will assist me in becoming more intelligent in determining who I care about and who cares about me and will NOT render me guarded and misanthropic--turning me into a bitter hermit of sorts.  I am hopeful that the latter will not be the case, though, because I am finding that, for every friendship from my college days that I am losing, I seem to be gaining new, more adult friendships.  I am fortunate to have made a number of meaningful and satisfying connections from my employment experiences--ones that stand in direct opposition to the norm that I have always experienced in my relationships.  Both of my bosses at Baruch as well as some of my office-mates have become great and valued friends.  The interesting thing to note here though is that all of them are older than me and thus I am rendered the youngest one on the totem pole.  I am used to being the older one in the group, the one to whom everyone else turns to for advice, the one who experiences things first in life and then imparts experience and perspective...but not here.  All of these new friends are or have been married, have themselves or have siblings who have children, and are successful and well-experienced in their respective careers.  To be considered a peer by them is something that humbles me and fills me with reverential awe that these people who I look up to value me enough to go out for drinks, or lunches, or whatever we happen to do together.

I suppose that this is a natural progression--to move from childhood friendships, to adolescent ones, to collegiate ones, and then on to circumstantial adult friendships.  I am fortunate to have loved nearly everyone that I worked with at Baruch and to have come away with a number of wonderful friendships and a few cherished ones that have become a part of my weekly if not daily life.  I suppose, again, though, that my problem has never been with the former (wonderful friendships) but always with the latter (those who are brought into the every day world--the inner sanctum, if you will).  It is the betrayal or simple departure of these people that is always at the core of my heartache.  It's opening myself up to each person, baring it all, and finding an eventual rejection or indifference (I'm not sure which one is worse) that cuts deeper and hurts more than the happiness and good times could ever reach.

All of this is coming to mind because of a connection I recently made between my experiences with dissolving friendships and my parents' own such events.  Each, in his and her own right, has led a life filled with scores of acquaintanceships and run-of-the-mill friendships but with very few long-lasting, meaningful, individual "best" friendships.  I find that I am slowly encountering a similar fate and it leads me to wonder whether or not it is simply destiny (or perhaps the attrition of adulthood) that is leading me down this path or if it genetics--that I am only carrying on the family tradition.

I guess when all is said and done it doesn't matter; I will do what I do with every other difficult and emotionally/mentally/physically/spiritually depleting challenge that I face: I will keep moving, putting one foot in front of the other, and never stopping, not even for a moment.

They say that no man is an island...but, if I can live there with my wife and my son, is it really so bad?  The food is fresh, I can feel the fresh air blowing through my long, flowing, epic hair, and, who knows, maybe we'll even get a visitor or two.  And if not?  It's still one hell of a view.