Monday, June 25, 2012


Knock, knock. 

Who's there? 

Poopie! Hahaahaha! 

Yeah, honey (I shake my head, disapprovingly, like the prude I am), that's not funny. "Poop" is a disgusting, yucky word. 

Oh. Ok... Daddy? 

Yes, sweetie. 

Knock, knock. 

(Sigh. I put on my game face and a genuine smile.) Who's there? 

Poop, fart, pee. 

(Why the heck can't I STOP laughing? Oh Gawd, make me stop!!!! I'm five years old, dangit!!)

That's it. She's ruined for life. Let that be a lesson to us all. NEVER open the door for an innocent-sounding Candygram, unless you're absolutely sure there's really candy on the other end.

pics on Sodahead

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

When Testing Your Toddlers for Drugs Goes Wrong

We had a strict no-drugs policy at the JasDye household. Beginning from when she was old enough to recognize shapes, I trained my daughter to know the dangers of illicit drugs and how to avoid them.

We went through in-home "Baby Just Say No!" lectures and role playing seminars. I taught her about the dangers of the smack and the H and the X. I repeatedly told her, in no uncertain terms, that if one of her playmates offers her dope, that is no real playmate in the first place. "Just crawl away, honey. Just crawl away."

But then one day I decided that even the strongest rhetoric and fear tactics may not work. So I did what any loving, nurturing parent would hope to do in my situation. I started mandating random drug tests.

She passed the screenings for cocaine and PCP just fine. I was relieved at how this was going, even as she was crying from the needles (the urine samples were easy though. We just took her diapers and squeezed them into a tube). Anything to make our home a safe and happy place.

When the results came back from the marijuana test, however, we were stunned. She turned up positive. I thought it might have been the corrupting influence of our downstairs hipster neighbors. I wanted to believe that there was some logical explanation for my baby's lapse in judgment. Rather than just call the cops on her, I decided to confront her myself first.

One day, when she got up from her nap, I decided the time was right for a powwow. I had her sit down, and then told her the findings from the test. I asked her where she got the nerve to bring the wacky tobbacky into our sacred home. Her response was unexpected.

"I got it from YOU!"

And at the time, I didn't know what she meant because I never used nor bought weed myself. And also she couldn't quite talk yet.

But then recently this report was brought to my attention. Turns out that infants can get positive marijuana reports in their urine samples from baby shampoo and bathing products. Oops.

So, Jocelyn, if you're reading this, daddy's sorry for turning you in to the fuzz.

Prisoner 4100

On a serious note, some hospitals, according to the Yahoo story, perform drug tests on up to 40% of newborns, looking for trace amounts of drugs that may have leaked into the child during pregnancy. The study was done because they found a large amount of children were turning up positive for marijuana. And while I hope to God that nobody smokes anything while pregnant - or near a pregnant person - I also believe in justice and not ripping families apart. If the hospitals are going to do these tests, they are going to need to check for false negatives. If they find those tests to be too expensive, well, since when has expense ever stopped them before? But even beyond that, the idea of taking a child away from his or her parent(s) because of such use is harmful and negligent in itself. From the article:
To remove children from their home at birth because of a positive marijuana test is immediately and inexorably harmful, says Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. "Even when the test is accurate, there is no evidence that smoking pot endangers children," he says, adding, "There is overwhelming evidence that needless foster care endangers children.”
Wexler explains that the odds of abuse and neglect are higher in foster care than they would be at home for the babies. “These infants are being taken from homes where there is no evidence of abuse, and placed in a situation where the odds of abuse are at least 1 in 4,” he says. "The odds of this kind of separation doing emotional damage are nearly 100%. Children risk enormous emotional trauma when they are torn from their mothers during a crucial period for infant-parent bonding.”
One study of infants who were exposed to cocaine in the womb found that their physical growth and development increased when they remained with their biological mothers, compared with being removed from the home because of maternal drug use. “For the foster children, being taken from their mothers was more toxic than the cocaine,” Wexler says.
You would think the people in charge of handing us our kids would be more responsible, no?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Longly Anticipatedly Book, Pedestrian Parenting, Is Now Finally Available!

Note: There have been some big and stupid formatting issues with the book that have made it impossible to read on various devices. That issue has been cleared up, I believe. So please, if you bought the book already, please get the new, revised version as it is available for free until Thursday, June 14th.
My newest book, Pedestrian Parenting, is finally available for download onto your Kindle or Kindle app accessible device. It is free this Wednesday and Thursday the 13th and 14th of June. If you have Amazon Prime, you can use that to purchase the book for free (though you only get one book a month. Fair warning that this book is only $2.99 starting Friday. But if you don't want to get The Hunger Games or 50 Shades to Lose Your Lover this month...). At under three bucks, I think you'll really enjoy it. Maximum valuety, and all that.
The recurrent theme in both this book about being a dad and in my book about being a teacher is this constant worry that I don't quite measure up, that I'm not just learning on the job, but on the ropes. It may be an inadequacy complex that I should really get looked at, but I also have a nagging feeling that it's very universally shared. If so, this book is dedicated to you. I started the germs of this latest book a few years ago, blogging various stories, collecting others, tweeting and facebooking several other little interactions. Through it all, I don't think a single sentence survived the knife, no piece looks like it did a couple months ago, no joke has quite the same set-up or take-down. But the skeleton was there, and is there. Every piece is still meandering, every story not quite complete - partially because life isn't complete and I never feel a burden to make everything have closure. Maybe that will irk some people, but I've always enjoyed the traveling as much as if not more than the destination itself. And maybe that's what this book is really about - the paths of parenting. Meandering and detouring and finding your way while purposefully getting lost. And since we're meandering anyway, here's a short selection.
When We Bring in the Big Dogs Parenting media is a funny business. Magazines, television episodes, and blogs shouldn’t be a go-to place for new parents to learn how to prepare for or raise children any more than WebMD should be a place to learn that one has congenital herpes. Television and reality meet to show us how boring the Kardashians are, or how many hot dogs a one hundred and fifty pound man can stuff down his pharynx - not to lecture us. It’s where we observe, point out, and ridicule how horrible other parents are, not where we come to feel remorse for our own failures and shortcomings. I do not come to this beacon of soft, beautiful light to feel any sympathy for the Basketball Wives or for Snookie’s pa. That defeats the whole purpose. But there you have it. Since most of the West no longer lives in multigenerational community, even diaper changing can be learned through such educational fare as “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” That’s not how I learned to change a diaper by the way.
Primarily, I hope you get a chance to enjoy and dig this book. And if you do, I would like to hear back from you. Perhaps you can even submit a review for Amazon. And if you don't, well, I'd still like to hear some feedback.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Top o' the Mornin', Office Friendly!

Joss looks up during her treatments, which we're performing at the train station. She spots a cop and she yells, "Look! A police office!"

Living in the big city all my life, I wonder at her malaprop.

Well, first I laughed at her malaprop. But now I wonder, too.

I wonder what's so new and exciting about seeing a police officer that got her so anxious. And then I remember that we don't have walking cops on the beat anymore. Even though she lives two blocks from a police station, seeing a cop outside of her cruiser is rare and maybe a bit odd.

At her age, most kids still view all cops as heroes. Mostly because that's how the police are presented to them. They keep them safe. That - at this stage - is all they need to know to make them heroes. I certainly don't want to shatter that image, certainly ot when she's of an age to not understand nuance.

But it'd be nice if she and her friends could see these heroes walking around a bit more often and being a bit more human.

I'd love for fewer urban preschoolers to be astonished when they see a cop. It'd be nice and reassuring to hear more say, "Good morning, police office!"

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Should Be a Fun Read

These books that I've been working all have their geneses a few years ago, when I was looking for work and figured I should start turning my talent into some sort of payday.

That didn't really work out so well for me, but it allowed me a chance to sprout ideas that I'm capitalizing on now - which may or may not themselves turn out to fruition. But I've been having some trouble with this last book. I'm realizing that these works are gonna need some more wood-shopping than I had originally planned. And the these works about fatherhood are a lot darker and cynical than I find necessary or appropriate. Which is not to say that I don't value honesty, and, honestly, I was going through some dark, deep underground funks in those days.

But those were days before I realized I had clinical depression. A time before I had some positive outlets. And so I unwittingly scribed my therapy with the aim of publishing them.

Emigranten: tranen bij afscheid 
Some of the greatest writers and artists have turned their darkest terrors into fantastical fables. But they're fables, metaphors in story - one thing representing many people or events. To write a memoir is to tell the truth. And the type of truth I was telling was partial, clouded, self-serving, arrogant even. It was bitter, though I never wanted to be.

The good thing out of this mess is that now I have perspective. My story not just as a father, and often a StayAtHomeDad, but as a daddy struggling with chronic depression and trying to figure what that means. As a papa trying to protect my daughter not just from the ravages of the world, but more so, from my own worst tendencies.

 Should be a fun read!

Post Script:
That book has been released. Pedestrian Parenting, now on Kindle. Usually for the low, low price of 2.99. Today, for free! Get it.

Monday, April 2, 2012

It's Highly Personal

Freedom vs. Slavery.

photo © 2008 Tony | more info (via: Wylio)
That was the main meta-story in the US of the mid 1800's. Except it wasn't just the Northern abolitionists saying that about the Southern slave states. It was how Southern plantation owners framed the struggle to their poor white neighbors. "If the slaves were free, they would take all of your jobs, rape your wives, be a drain on the economic system, raise your taxes to serf-like levels. A free negro is a threat to our great civilization and will end your freedom as you know it, as well as their own."

Any of this sound familiar?

About a year ago I discovered that my daughter has what could be described as a "pre-existing condition." After several months of a persistent, standing pneumonia that doctors could never quite figure out, over Thanksgiving weekend we found out she has bronchiectasis. There is no cure. We have to treat her half an hour two or three times a day by hooking her up to machines.

Each and every day.

For the rest of her life.

I've lied awake at night, putting my ear to her chest as I hear her struggling to breathe. I can feel her air trying to go through her airways; they're blocked up with mucus that she can't get out of her system easily and automatically like most of the rest of us.

There are others who are in worse situations, of course. And I've long advocated for universal, affordable health care (preferably Single Payer, the system Canada uses). I'm not arguing for the Affordable Care Act nor saying that you should yourself. Good people can disagree and fight over what method best suits us. Yet, I can't, for the life of me, figure why we are arguing against the aim of universal health care.

Now it's intensely, deeply personal. If the little gains we received under the recent health care reform bill were rescinded (without a better plan in its wake), my child's health will be affected intensely.

I can't imagine a parent who wouldn't also take this personally. Or a brother or a sister or an aunt or a niece or a daughter or a son. I can't see someone with a heart just not caring enough to demand an immense change in the way Americans insure our own.

I wish that the current Republican crop weren't just trying to score cheap political points by comparing health care reform with slavery, or death panels, or whatever current lie is fashionable. Because it seems obvious to me that 1) universal health care works in every developed nation but this one; 2) leaving one-tenth of all Americans without insurance is disgusting, uncivilized, and un-neighborly - it leaves tens of millions of Americans without recourse but intense debt and allows easily preventable diseases to build until they become lethal; 3) arguing against universal health care is immoral and indecent.

As a former Republican, I find this policy to be anti-life - the main reason I was ever a Republican in the first place.

Much of the rhetoric being used against the new reforms assume that covering everybody is murderous. It's the double-speak of the 1840's all over again. And again, the people that profit most from these lies are not those that are defending them (with their votes or lives), but those at the top that spew them. The ones deploying this rhetoric actually have the most to lose. Consider the white sharecroppers who barely got by on the sweat of their brow but were led to believe it was the Africans' fault that they may die as poor as they entered into the world, if not worse.

The lie was, if the dark-skinned ones get free, the white worker will become their slaves. Forget the fact that they were just a step above the slaves themselves because of the practices and policies of the ruling class...

The lie is, if the uninsured are covered, there will not be enough medicine for the middle class, the working class, and senior citizens. Forget the fact that the cost of insurance is rising astronomically every year so that businesses cannot afford to keep up with premiums. Forget the fact that insurance companies employ teams and teams of numbers-crunchers to figure out how to deny care costs to people with "pre-existing" conditions (sometimes including being pregnant. Or, as happened to a friend and mother, having some minor difficulty with one child at one time). Forget the fact that it's a public health issue. Forget the fact that we spend twice as much of our GDP as other countries (that actually cover everyone) do on health care, yet still 1/10th are uncovered, a significant fraction is under-covered, and many more claims are unfairly, unjustly denied. Forget the fact that racial and economic disparities in coverage lead to tens of thousands of deaths a year.

I can't help but feeling that every time someone argues that any viable progress in reform leads us all to slavery, they are arguing that my daughter doesn't deserve to live.

Please explain this to me...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Those Moments When You Pull Her Close

I take my daughter to ballet and tap dance class on Saturday mornings - far away from any internet connection or ability to lose myself in a cafe. Last Saturday, the mother of one of Jocelyn's school friends, "Jan", asked if we cut Jocelyn's hair. We didn't, I assured her, and the last time it was cut was a disaster - because few people know how to cut curly hair correctly. I looked over at a now-veteran dancer to my left for validation.

The ten year old, "Brenda", (whom I remembered had said something similar in a previous conversation when a relative brought up Jocelyn's hair) agreed, adding her own traumatic experiences. We both noted that there was a salon across the street in this little desert that advertises their propensity for cutting the curly hairs. Brenda added that her mom was going to take her... and then her voice sort of trailed off.

Being partially hearing impaired and used to voices trailing off to indistinguishable noise, I didn't think much of it. I tend to nod my head and agree - landing me in a lot more trouble than I ever need to be in, but in less trouble than continually saying, "Huh? What's that you say?" with large shells protruding out of my ears.

 Brenda is one of several individuals and families that practically camps out at the dance studio between classes, so she's often there for the entire hour that Jocelyn has class. Along with a few other girls and a few parents, including Jan. This time, the girls were joking in the dressing/coat room. Being the only non-Hispanic, she comes out of the giggle-fest to ask the other moms in the room, both of whom are Latina, how to say "stupid" en espanol. Both of the other parents wouldn't bite, telling her that it's really offensive and mean. She lingers, just long enough for me to look up from my typing and tell her, matter-of-factly, "Bella." She runs back to the closet and we three crack up. Almost literally rolling on the floor. "'Bella'? Really? That's a nice insult. If anybody gets really upset with me and tells me, 'You're bella,' I'd say, 'Thanks, you think I'm pretty?'"

After class, Joss and I ride the bus with her friend and Jan. The mom looks at me and asks if I know about the curly-haired girl, Brenda. I know who she's referring to, but not much else about her. And then she shocked me. Out of my pants. The girl's mother had just passed. Quickly, with little warning. They buried her on Friday. Yesterday. And the very next day, Brenda goes to dance class as if nothing had happened to fundamentally shift her world.

I don't know how she grieved, or when, still. Heck, I don't understand how I grieve. There are the stages, of course. But we all pass through them differently, in communion sometimes, but mostly alone. And I am not a part of this child's life: I can't mourn with or for her. So I wonder, for a brief millisecond, what I can do.

I can watch my daughter play on the bus. I turn to her, and I try to burn images into my mind of my daughter enjoying herself with her friend as they watch the streets pass them by.

 I can live in the moment and love deeply and madly and not have a single regret. That's what I can do as a parent. That's what I can do as a human being.

 That's what I do.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Destruction of Potted Plants (vol. III)

But anyone should be aware that growing, maturing people need fresh air, sunlight, water, nutrients.

A little bit of fertilizer, perhaps. Maybe some worms to aerate the soil. Maybe occasionally we can throw some coffee beans and dirt in their direction. Whether or not they receive it at home, they should receive it in the classroom.

 Or somewhere.

There are those that argue that teachers have too much responsibility, wear too many hats. That it is the teacher's job to merely instruct. That it is the parent's job to parent. That it is the community's job to safeguard. And I agree, for the most part. But our society is deeply broken: parents often work two to three jobs just to keep from being kicked out of their apartments; gangs often run streets and hypes the alleys; houses are run-down; rats are frequent; neighborhoods are red-lined based on economic and racial factors, which means that the poorer, more disenfranchised have less and less access to essential resources; true communities are often a hard-fought prize when families are shuttled in and out on a regular basis; the poor are often criminalized when they cannot find decent-paying jobs and feel a need to resort to other means of money-making; and when the wealthy do come to the 'hood, it is often with the sad attachment of displacing current residents.

Reality in America is different now then it used to be. For starters, we are more self-serving and self-interested (and improbably shorter-sighted) than we used to be. While we have made tremendous progress in human rights, those of us with a progressive bent realize that we have to constantly remind ourselves and our neighbors that we have yet to arrive, that there is immense disparity and inequality between the haves and the have-nots, that basic human rights like life and shelter and sustenance - let alone qualitative education - are viewed as privileges for the elect few who can afford them. Children of the poor specifically suffer as a result of our collective selfishness.

  Timken Roller Bearing Co., calendar, September 1950, teacher at deskphoto © 2009 George Eastman House | more info (via: Wylio)I realize that I cannot be all things to all people. No person can. Most of those mythological teachers, the superheroes who get books and movies glorifying and simplifying their beautiful careers, grow tired soon and do not last long in this treacherous game. And who can blame them? They are overworked and undernourished, pushed on all sides even when given full support from staff, administrators, community leaders and parents*. No real success happens as the result of one person against all other odds. I know it makes for good Hollywood, but teaching isn't friggin' Indiana Jones. It's more like gardening.

 A true horticulturist weens, shelters, feeds, develops, supports, prunes, staves off predators and disease, and gives proper and timely amounts of light, heat, and water to an immense amount of plants at any given time. And although he may recognize patterns and adapt better to them, he cannot account for every species of fauna in the same manner. I advocate for a broader base to support the under-served urban and rural students. I advocate, necessitate that each child and student should be raised with plenty of sunshine and nourishment. Teachers often are left to grow kids on their own. And we will fail if that is what is expected of us solely.

This is a sad state, even for a broken neighborhood. Any organization that has a place in the neighborhood needs to function as a support system for the schools around it. This includes the synagogues, mosques, store-front churches, food and liquor stores, the companies that sell products in those stores, certainly the lottery companies that do so much business in impoverished neighborhoods, local and chain restaurants, office buildings, police officers, fire fighters, postal carriers, aldermen. It behooves us all to act in the best interests of the present as well as the future health of our economy and humanity.

It not only behooves us, it will also beheeve us. We have been behoven.
*Of course these elements are overlooked in the Hollywood remakes. It is always presented as Super-Teacher Vs The World. And you wouldn't want some pesky involved parent getting in the way of a good narrative device.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Destruction of Potted Plants, vol 2

part 1 is here

There were some fights in that classroom. One fight occurred in the passing period, between two hot-headed students who each would be involved in several other verbal and physical fights the next two years. It started in a flash (although I suppose the warning signs were there if I had known how to search for them) and effectively ended when I was able to wrangle the struggle to the other side of the room to waiting security.

I don't remember much else about that confrontation.

I don't recall if there was further action directly related to that fight - though I should, by any rights, know. And I don't remember if other students were trying to get involved with the fight (though I doubt it), were trying to stop it or were merely passively awe-struck by it. But I do remember the toll that the wildly swinging appendages took on the nearby plants. Because that was all I could bring myself to focus on. I remember looking at the floor and being angry at the destruction of my potted plants. And yet I missed the big, easy picture - the metaphorical writing on the wall, if you may: the destruction of the idea of the classroom as a safe place. The two students (as volatile as they proved to be) exploded primarily not over property rights or religious views. I don't think they were arguing over who makes the best frozen yogurt. They were both at the precipice of fear and danger and one nasty or innocuous interaction led to another, escalating to the boiling point. At this point their own sharp-edged, protective words and body language were not enough to make them feel guarded from the dangers that they represented to each other. They would reconcile their apprehension at each other with many moving fists and pointy appendages.

  Struggle to Survivephoto © 2009 Adrian Gonzales | more info (via: Wylio)

The students' social interactions were not cultivated properly. And for this, I sit here, at the center of the blame. I am responsible. I cannot release myself. I cannot excuse nor recuse. The fact is, as much as it is needed in my environment, I do not know how to greenhouse my students. I was not taught that in Rhetoric 401 or Pedagogy 315.

You can go back to read the first part here.
For more along this line, check out this, please!

The Destruction of Potted Plants, pt 1

part 2

My primary plant is ivy. Partially because ivy reminds me of my old home on the north side of Chicago. It covered the brownstone like an exoskeleton in the winter, an old, leafy friend in the summer. And the ivy also represents, in Chicago at least, Wrigley Field. Wrigley Field itself (not to be confused with the home team that happens to occupy Wrigley) is the last bastion of hope for baseball as it was meant to be played - as the ultimate beer garden; a deliberately rural-esque past-time in the midst of an urban and rushed setting. Which is how I envision my plants to function and exist.

  ivyphoto © 2005 stephen jones | more info (via: Wylio)

Not as an image of beer gardens, so much – but as a pastoral icon – a reminder to slow down and enjoy your days while you can. The ivy (at home and in the classroom) reminds me that life and growth happen all around us, even in inept and regrettable situations. Like the Cubs organization and the overgrown frat boys who infest the spot like so much used hygienic products. No disrespect mean to used hygienic products...

My first classroom came pre-fitted with potted plants. To this day, I don't know what type they were, only that they - like cockroaches - could theoretically outlast a nuclear Armageddon. They were nearly indestructible, which they needed to be at the time because they were under my care. I think they were a variant of purple cacti, with leaves that dry up under the hot summer sun. I soon realized that these thingymabobs are so hard-to-kill that all I needed to do was water them on a regular basis and they were fine. And when I say, "regular basis", I mean, "once or twice a month if I remembered." Or course, they never lived up to their full potential. Which reminds me of too many report-card conferences.
Second grade Teacher: Jason is a very smart and capable young man. 
Mom: Why, thank you. (Pregnant pause) But, what else can you say about his progress? 
Teacher: He doesn't live up to his potential. 
Father: That's what we figured. 
Jason: (Scratching the back of his pants.) This doesn't sound good. 
Father: You're right. And it won't sound good on your behind either. 
Jason: Oh, drats! (Pulling up underwear from the back.)
This scene repeated twice a year for most of the rest of my formative education.with slightly altered language as I was further removed from my "Leave It to Beaver" years. College was different primarily because I was not in a mood to squander perfectly good money that I either earned or borrowed and would pay back through several years of incremental payments. These loans would, I knew even then, come back to haunt me like Kathy Lee Gifford haunts Regis. Cryptic envelopes, monthly payoffs, promises of eternity, ill-timed phone calls. The odd purple plants managed to survive through the year. But not intact. And, like any group of war combatants, they lost some brothers (or is it sisters - or rather, brosters, being that plants don't really have a gender, only gender-parts. "Sothers"?).

*You know, wearing the knickers, and the little bow-tie. I was a cute little kid. Unfortunately, I was still scratching my nellies to the very end

Please read part 2 here

Monday, March 26, 2012

Every Day Always So Pretty

We're riding the bus on the north side going back to my house and we're playing sight-seeing, one of Jocelyn's favorite games. Later we'll play Spot the Pretty Flowers on the Lawns, which is an odd game to play in Chicago in March, but here we are, in full bloom and looking at leaves and flowers blossom with the type of fascination I've never had for them before - the type of fascination reserved for fathers talking their nature-loving, tree-hugging daughters out for a nature walk - and maybe for arbor-biologists, I guess. If that is such a thing.

But for now, we're on a a business-dominated street and there's just boring stores and restaurants. But then I see a young woman walking by herself and Jocelyn spots her too and she says, "Ooh! That girl has on boots. The same boots that Claudia has."

Claudia is her best friend forever's mother. We met when they lived next door to each other and we found out they shared an affinity for princess wear and smashing bugs.

"Are you sure those are the same boots?"

If the fate of an innocent man were to be decided on my proclivity for remembering fabrics, cuts, colors, or even types of articles of clothes, I would buy some candles and say a few prayers. So I'm always amazed when someone else can remember anything about any piece of clothing that another person wore. In fact, I'm amazed when I remember my own articles. Jocelyn only notices them when I'm wearing my boat shoes. "Haha! Daddy, you got the same shoes as the principal, daddy! Ha ha."

For now, though, she's reminded of a fellow fashion maven.

"Claudia always has the best clothes. She always looks so pretty! Every day she always looks and dresses so pretty."

There are a lot of moments when parental jealousy can come creeping in. This, thankfully, is not one of them.