Friday, May 17, 2013

Bethlehem mayor race

Disclaimer: This post doesn't represent the views of my household or my employer. It's just a Bethlehem resident talking.

I've avoided political issues in this space for the most part, but I want to say something about the race for Mayor. We vote on May 21 (find your polling place), and we'll have a new mayor for the first time in several years.

I'm voting for Willie Reynolds, and rather than get into the specifics on issues and such I feel it's important to note that my stance is more based on my new perspective as a father than it is any one issue. As a homeowner, I've had a stake in Bethlehem's future for almost four years now. Now that I have a son who will need a thriving city to grow up in long after I'm gone, the stakes feel higher for me every time I cast a ballot.

Bob Donchez probably had my vote at the start. He seemed a good enough guy and his positions on many issues weren't far from mine for the most part. The fact that he'd served a long time on the City Council was part of that too. It seemed like a good vote.

Then the negative ads started. One estimate from Reynolds says Donchez has spent $100,000 to tear down Reynolds, a fellow Democrat, in the primary. Aside from wondering where that money comes from and who Donchez owes for just that part of the advertising push, I have to wonder about the wisdom of the ads themselves. The ads use false claims about Reynolds' attendance at meetings and positions on the issues, and they're laden with attempts to mislead and scare seniors. Donchez seems to be running a classic playbook-style campaign to turn voters off to politics, knowing that negative ads disgust people into staying home and that a suppressed vote historically means generally it's a vote dominated by seniors (and thus good for him). Why else would he keep stressing the word "mature" in his ads? The whole thing drips of ugly.

Reynolds, for his part, has parried the ads and run a campaign of ideas. I have yet to see a negative mailer from Reynolds. It's about vision. The more Donchez filled my mailbox with negative ads, the more I started to look at Reynolds. What was Donchez so afraid of that he had to run a scorched-earth campaign? And the more I looked at Reynolds, the more I liked what I saw on both issues and tone.

It's quite a contrast. One is someone stooping pretty low just to win a primary, the other is about ideas. If I needed reason to solidify my position, it came in this exchange from Thursday's debate:

It's politics.

Donchez accepts that distortion and negative campaigning are part of the game. And perhaps it is, but I really don't like that a candidate will cynically buy into this as part of his public approach. Maybe it is politics, but that doesn't make it right.

Candidates for office are supposed to take us new places, tell us of a future we should be striving for and goals we should try to achieve, even if it feels impossible. Donchez talks about leadership and Reynolds' readiness, but he has missed a golden chance to lead on campaign tone. Even if it is "just politics," Donchez isn't forced to play by that rulebook. He could lead instead by running a different kind of campaign.

The kind of campaign Reynolds is running.

To be honest, I have no idea if Reynolds is ready for this. I don't think anyone really can know if they're ready for such a complex job until they're in the hot seat, not even the candidates themselves. He certainly isn't aligned with me on every issue (a single hauler for garbage services certainly is one of them). But if I'm going to vote, it's going to be for someone who has a vision for where they want to go, not a vision on how to win a race at any cost.

What will Donchez do when as Mayor he needs young people to help on important initiatives? He's already talked about youth in terms of immaturity and unreadiness. Young people will be an important part of moving this city forward. How can he work with them after poisoning the well like this? How are we going to convince young graduates at Lehigh and other higher ed institutions to stay and help us build something great here in the Lehigh Valley when the entire message is "wait your turn?"

I like Reynolds' proposal for equal representation. It's ridiculous that the South Side and West Side have nobody on the Council to speak for them. I like his goals for neighborhoods for economic development. Mostly I just like that he's talking about working together without tearing people down.

I'm not going to tell you how to vote. But I have skin in this game now that we have a family, and I am certainly going to vote my hopes and not my fears.

If you're turned off by negative campaigning, the last thing you should do is stay home. We need to go to the polls and stop rewarding people who run a campaign from the gutter and shrug it off as just being about politics, and we need to get behind and support those who strive to live up to higher ideals.

To me, that means a vote for Willie Reynolds.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

New languages

"Nana" (bananas) and "Gack" (milk) are his favorite things
to have when it's lunch or snack time
Our little guy just passed 19 months. Can you believe it? I still remember when he was little enough that we just swaddled him up and laid him across my chest, and he'd sleep there for hours. Now he's just this bundle of energy, running around the house in nearly nonstop fashion.

He's a happy kid. He has a big smile on his face when he's playing, and when his mommy or daddy come into the room after being away for a bit we're often greeted with a big smile and a big "Dah-dee!!!" or "Mo-meeeee!!!" I recently came home from a short trip to Florida, and he was all smiles and hugs after I'd been gone for a while.

That he is so happy is pretty much the only thing I care about right now. After our challenge with the milk allergy issue, it took him a while to get his feeding and weight where it needed to be, but he always had a smile despite it all. He's a resilient kid if nothing else. I think he got that from his mom.

He has many words and phrases:
  • Mommy
  • Daddy
  • Austin (he pronounces it "Auten")
  • Blanket
  • Ball
  • Squirrel
  • Banana
  • Apple
  • Book
  • Milk
  • Doggy
  • Hi
  • Hat (although anything that goes on his head is a hat to him, including food)
  • Please
  • Thank You
  • Juice
  • Bus
  • Truck
  • Car
  • Shoes
  • Box
  • Bubble
  • iPod (that isn't a typo)
  • Brush (he says that when he wants to brush his teeth)
  • Nigh-night
  • Bye-bye
  • Diaper
  • Poop (he points to his butt too)
  • Go
  • Cookie
  • Buddy
  • Applesauce
  • No
  • Yes
  • Yeah
  • More
  • This
  • Oh my!
  • Baby
  • Jacket
  • Shirt
  • Socks
  • Uh-oh
  • Twinkle
  • Eyes
  • Sticker
  • Ewwwww (and he makes the crinkle nose face - usually happens at diaper time)
  • Bath
  • Button (he points to his belly button)
  • Up
  • Boo
  • Window
That's 52 by my count. At this age, about 20 is a bare minimum and most kids have anywhere from 50 to 100. He probably is higher than 52, it's just we don't always pick up on the words because he's saying them wrong or is saying them wayyyy wrong. There are, for example, the words where we don't quite know. He has a singsong thing he does where he says "beeebawww" over and over. We know it means something but we have no idea what it is, and he's done it for about six months now. It took us a while to figure out that "dabi" was blanket.

That's been the most challenging part. He's at an age where he can point to what he wants and, failing that, ask for it. But if we don't know the word, we can't respond to it even though he thinks he's communicating clearly. It has to be frustrating to him, like being in a country where everyone supposedly speaks your language but nobody can understand you.

The books all said you'd pick up on the words they make up and eventually figure them out, and for the most part they're right. On our end it's like learning a new language immersion style. Once we hear it enough times and in enough contexts, it starts to come out and then we have a smack-my-head moment when we realize what he's been saying all along.

He does love reading his books.
I wish I could say there's a magic formula to this but a lot of it is just trial and error that comes with spending time around him and listening to him babble while he's playing. Every once in a while a word escapes. The vocabulary is coming because he's hearing words though, and we've tried to be good about reading to him and engaging him in conversation even if we are being nonsensical to one another. The habits are working, I hope. Spending time with books is one of his favorite things to do.

The babble is sort of fun though. He likes to squat down where our VCR is and babble for a few minutes and our joke is that he's like a salesperson at Best Buy talking about all the latest features, because his tone is so matter-of-fact even if what he's saying is completely unintelligible.

But every new word is kind of a cool moment. I marvel at where he was a year ago, when he was severely underweight and unable to keep food down. He's come so far in the past year and is this little social butterfly who loves life and loves being the center of attention around people, and now that he's got language to go with it that just means he's able to connect more with people around him. I have no idea where he gets that from.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

First Christmas

I have a lot to be thankful for this year. Another year with my wife and in good health (minus a currently balky back, but the steroids are TOTALLY taking care of that). I love Christmas more than any other holiday, though, and as we've gotten into the season it has been a treat to watch my newborn son experience it for the first time.

He loves staring at the Christmas lights, both on the tree and in the garlands and ceramic houses that sit atop the entertainment center in our living room. I love sitting there watching him just stare at those things, in awe of what lights can do to his visual senses.

I didn't really even ask for anything this year in terms of presents; it would have been selfish given how enormously blessed we were this year. My wife sketched it out pretty beautifully in her last post and I won't duplicate that (read it - it's good), but for reasons I've already gone into my son is a miracle baby to me. Life itself is such a miracle because of all the random things that have to go right to make it all work, but then given all the other challenges we were facing it always felt improbable-to-impossible that this was happening.

This hasn't ended since he was born. I still look at him and marvel at all the ways he experiences the world for the first, and the ways he teaches me things about myself as I watch him struggle and learn.

I mean, just look at the grin in that photo. Kind of hard to get worked up about much else.

Steve Jobs had it halfway right when he said death is life's change agent, that it forces you to take stock about what you really care about and purse that with your whole being. I think having a child does the same. I find myself more motivated in everything - being a professor, being a dad, being a husband - because there is so much riding on this. His well-being and ability to navigate this crazy world are riding on me being my best. I have figured out a way to squeeze more from my normal set of motivations.

I've also become a bit more in touch with my own weaknesses and my own mortality. I've done the math in my head (protip: NEVER do the math). When he's my age I'll be 72. There is a chance I won't be around for his biggest moments and triumphs. It saddens me but makes me realize what I have is the time I have, and that I want to make the most of it.

The biggest example of how I've been changed by this probably came as I was walking through Target a couple days ago looking for a couple quick stocking stuffers and such. As I walked the aisles, looking at shelves and shelves of cheap plastic crap I found myself making mental comparisons. Nothing compared to him, to the late nights of holding him as he fell asleep. Nothing beats those killer smiles he gives me when I change his diaper or hold him on the couch. Nothing at all.

In that moment it reaffirmed what I've long known: we don't need any of this stuff. I'm already giving him the best gift I can give, and that's my love. And he returns that every day. Grabbing a bunch of random toys off the shelf would only complicate that; I've been conscious about not teaching him a connection between love and material goods.

I don't want to knock buying gifts, obviously. We've been enormously blessed by folks around us who gave us things in the early going that helped us get going on this journey. And of course we buy gifts and give just as others do. It's just that I had such a hard time looking at how commercialized the holiday has become. Bill O'Reilly complains about a "War on Christmas" but the culture thinks little of materialism creeping into a holy day. Religious observance is restricted to the beautiful candlelight service we attended tonight, while the other days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are a buying frenzy.

Christmas is a beautiful season because it's a reminder that God walks among us (literally the translation of Emmanuel). My favorite moments are the ones of quiet solitude where you realize the extraordinary meaning of all this. Staring at the Christmas lights or a snow globe, realizing how small we are but how big our opportunity to do others good truly is. Christmas isn't magic. It's a state of mind that we can have 12 months a year.

I hope my son grasps that someday.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Expanding the universe a bit

The coolest thing happened Saturday night. For the first time, our little boy reached out and grabbed an object, in this case his rattle. We've seen him lunging at things but not with a great deal of control. Most of it felt more like instinct. In this case I watched him almost will his arms to move toward the rattle, and as he approached it with open hands he slowly started to close his fingers in anticipation of grabbing on.

It's interesting to watch him change as he gets older. Six weeks ago we could barely get him to sleep four consecutive hour. Now we've gotten four nine-hour overnight stretches in a row. We saw our first smiles about six weeks ago, and now he goes through periods where he grins and laughs along with us.

A month ago he hated baths. I mean hated. Now he sits there in the tub and is borderline having a good time. Once he realizes he can kick-splash and make it more interesting, it'll go to another level.

He changes every day. More personality every day. My wife and I have been eating it up, marveling at how we used to take for granted the mundane tasks that he struggles to perform.

I'm reminded from watching him every day that the basic unit of life is struggle. Struggle to do new things, or things we once found easy. Struggle to get better in a world that expects so much more from us if we are to survive and grow. Struggle to turn the extraordinarily difficult into routine, and then struggle to tackle new big impossible challenges.

A downer mentality? Hardly. Struggle keeps us grounded and keeps us vital. I wonder how many of our problems we face today are because we forgot this, forgot the value of knowing struggle forces us to exercise our minds and muscles, to problem-solve and think critically. Sometimes doing your best isn't good enough, damn it. We've turned the word "failure" into something shameful rather than seeing it for what it is - a reason to get up, dust ourselves off, and try again until we get it right. Not every struggle or fight is worth the effort, but we have to have some of it. And how we deal with it is really where we start being able to define character.

So far the kid struggles on with grace and aplomb. If there's a word that sticks out about him it's that he's got spunk. He's a fighter. He fights us on diaper changes or even our desire to hold him still after feedings so he doesn't lose his lunch to spit-up issues. He's stronger than I thought he'd be, and he uses it to challenge us every step of the way. And I dig that about him.

Which leads me to tomorrow. He's going to his first day of daycare tomorrow morning (the plan is three days a week to ease him in, then full time next semester). I've already done the midnight calculations while I couldn't sleep - a third of his day spent with strangers, a third of his day sleeping overnight, and a third of us his day with us. And that third with us has most of it spent getting ready to go to and from school. Really we get 4 hours of fun time at most with him during the weekdays starting in January.

I don't want to drop him off. If I could keep driving and take him on a roadie to some amazing part of the country, I would.

Everything we know about Lehigh child care is it's amazing. Everyone we've talked to not only praises it but has glowing reports. So we know he's in good hands.

Still, I don't want to drop him off.

The more I think on it, the more I realize my reasons are selfish. I don't want someone else to experience those firsts and moments with him. I want him to learn from just us. I don't want to share. I want to keep him all to myself.

Who's the baby again?

While the feeling might be natural, I realize my instinct (if followed) will only harm him. I'm really talking about restraining him, trying to keep him just as he is, rather than growing. Day care will give him new experiences, new people, and allow him to expand his world in a way he can't do if that world is just our family of three. I know diversity and community are better for him in the long run. He'll learn a lot more and grow a lot more.

So it's for the best that we grow his world a little, three days a week this semester and five days next semester. I don't like it, but I realize that is the voice of my worst nature. I have too many hopes for this boy, too many dreams that he'll find something he's passionate about and apply the values of hard work, curiosity, and problem-solving to turn those passions into reality.

I want him to be a difference-maker. If that starts at daycare, so be it.

At least that's what I'm telling myself, even if I'll be a puddle of emotions tomorrow.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hazy days

Right now the hardest adjustment with the baby has been on the job end. For lack of a better way of saying it, I worry that I suck at my job right now. Being good at my job requires having my mind be sharp and focused, and I'm still learning how to do that.

Part of this is how my mind works. It's always been difficult for me to partition parts of my mind off from other things or ignore things that are going on in life as I attempt to focus in on one or two tasks. I've done as much as I think I can on the mental discipline end; at some point, this is how I'm wired.

Teaching has been tough. I don't feel as sharp in the classroom as I usually do. Explanations of concepts and ideas during my Media And Society lectures that once came easily now are tougher as I fight through the lack of sleep. On the negative side, these are ideas I know like the back of my hand so it's worrisome I struggle with the words to explain them. On the other hand, how screwed would I be if I vaguely knew about this stuff?

On reading and research, I'm learning how to do this. I do better with research when I have large blocks of time to write and work, and that's one thing I don't have right now. So I'm learning how to do this in smaller chunks and steal a moment here or there, but on the balance this has been the struggle. I feel like I'm making small progress on this, but it has been hard to adjust to this.

Mostly I am adjusting to the feeling that I'm sapped of energy all the time; not physical energy, but the kind of mental energy I need to rock it as a professor. I can deal with being tired, but when I don't feel like my mind is there all the time that is harder. I'm an energy guy and feed off the energy of those around me; not being at school is probably not helping in this regard because I'm not around that creative spirit as much.

In some ways I'm wishing I was teaching Multimedia Storytelling this term instead of M&S because at least I'd be around that creative energy in the classroom a couple days a week. The class I have is more of a lecture-based course so it's harder to tap into that.

All this will come in time, I'm sure. Perhaps when my wife returns to work and he goes to daycare three days a week. We'll figure it out. Thank good news my students and colleagues have been so patient with me.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ninety

Well, here goes #90. Ninety days ago I took the 90-in-90 challenge, partially as a way to jumpstart this blog (I wasn't posting enough here) and partially as a way to motivate my students to keep writing and stay vital. The idea isn't mine (it comes from Brad King at Ball State University in Indiana) but we made it our own.

Along the way we found a tribe. What started as two grew into a group of people who were blogging. Today I reach the finish line, and others will be trickling across in the next days and weeks. I think I might be the only one to actually do 90 posts in 90 days, but that's really not important. What's important is to keep writing regularly. But I want to encourage those who fell off the pace to finish. Doing it in 90 days isn't the point.

That said, I like to prove to myself I can do things. I was always going to complete this. I'm wired that way.

I've realized some things along the way. In part, my poor academic blog has been neglected due to time issues. Posts take a while to write. So I've realized that writing every day comes at the expense of other blogs for which you write. I'll be seeking more balance in the coming days; I won't stop posting here but it'll be more varied as to where I'm writing.

I've also rediscovered how much I love writing. I'm an emotional guy, as those of you who know me have learned, and writing is cathartic for me. My posts have been varied in these 90 days, from thinking and analysis of what kind of parent I'll be to fatigue-laden frustrations about how our baby wasn't liking what we were feeding him.

There was always a plan for post 90; I planned on highlighting my favorite work from these past 90 days. Not everything I posted was amazing, and I get this. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Some days you do the workmanlike post while working on a bigger one. But three stand out:

1. My post from the day Austin was born. This one is probably my favorite.

2. My post on 9/11. I wasn't sure what to make of it but other than the first one, this got a lot of good feedback and I've come to see it as a declaration of goals for this dad. Make the world a better place.

3. My post reflecting on being a dad in light of my own experiences growing up. This was my big-risk post during the three months because I shared some things that were pretty personal. I had a few folks with similar experiences write to me and thank me. I think it's good to reflect on the good and bad of family life. I do love my family a lot but that post had to be written.

And that's sort of the point. Writers write. They write things that are uncomfortable at times. They ruffle feathers at times. Writers have stories and observations in side that are begging to get out, and if you're doing it right you're figuring out how to let it out. Ideally you keep your sense of grace at the same time, and learn to balance it out with voice, humor, personality .... be, you know, interesting.

If you have a favorite post of mine from these 90 days, I'd love to hear about it. Leave something in the comments.

These 90 days, in my view, are one giant love letter to my son. Someday he can read through this and see what was going through my head the two months before he was born and the month afterward. Hopefully he'll learn a bit about his old man, what makes him tick, why he's so nuts at times. But I hope love leaps off these pages too. Even in moments where I'm tired, love is the overriding emotion for all of this.

Yeah, I'm a sap. Sue me.

Anyhow, this blog isn't going away. I came back from SXSW last March inspired to do this after sitting in on a great session about dad bloggers (how to connect and what a huge opportunity there is because of the dearth of dads actually blogging), and I'm more committed to it than ever. But I'm going to take a couple days off. Posts won't come every day, but there probably will be less filler.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

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Post #90(!) in my 90-in-90 blog challenge. Blog with us and join the fun. I'll be blogging both here and on myprofessional blog for the challenge. For more about the 90/90 challenge, read about my call for participants. The blogs participating are on the list at the right, or follow us on the #LUBlogTribe hashtag on Twitter

Monday, September 12, 2011

Distractions (the good kind)

Babies are such distractions. Especially ours.

It's hard to work upstairs when I know our son is downstairs. He makes cute sounds and he's so much fun to hold and interact with that I feel drawn to come down and hang out a bit every so often even while I should be doing other things. This leads to a more stretched-out work day and later nights.

This says nothing of sleep time either. When I should be sleeping I find myself awake, wondering what he's up to and whether I'm missing anything.

I saw his first smile on Saturday morning, for example. It was a real, legit smile, not some stomach churning or something. I was talking to him and grinning and he smiled back. It was interesting; it was like he was thinking hard about how to position the corners of his mouth and it was by no means natural, but the look in his eyes matched the grin. He was having to force it, but he was returning the look on my face.

I got to be there for that, so with every new thing the thought of missing some first here or there is hard. So my work is more strung out than normal and I probably am not taking full advantage of sleep time.

But it's worth it. These moments go by so fast and I want to experience them all.

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Post #89 in my 90-in-90 blog challenge. Blog with us and join the fun. I'll be blogging both here and on myprofessional blog for the challenge. For more about the 90/90 challenge, read about my call for participants. The blogs participating are on the list at the right, or follow us on the #LUBlogTribe hashtag on Twitter