Friday, July 6, 2012

(A Post from the Superman Samuel  blog for my Son, Sam)

The waiting in the near silence of murmuring machines while the cellular war is waged within my Sam is enough to drive me mad. We can all grasp Sam's life being weighed in the balance here. But few can truly grasp the numerical size of the war being waged.

On the outside we witness a boy struggling to maintain his spirit and wit without completely telling the adult world where they can stick their food, stethoscopes, bells and whistles. On the inside his cells wage a war numbering billions easily, perhaps in the trillions. The goal is to eliminate all the leukemia down to the very last cell while keeping Sam alive. The doctors, nurses and their chemicals are doing everything they can to vanquish Sam's foe valiantly so he may live to thrive for many decades and see his own children run about his legs.

The boy cares for none of this. Surely he wishes to live above all else. But he dreams of home, family and friends, not this world of strangers where his loved ones visit in trickles rather than the torrents of friends and family always flowing through his home.

We all have our banners raised for Team Sam as we wage and win this war with love, spirit and prayer in addition to medical prowess, technology and magical potions.
Sam is a true warrior inside and out. May we all be inspired to understand the wonders that live within us and the blessings those wonders allow us to bring into this world.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

On disappointment

Our children today can't fathom the world we actually grew up in. The moment I begin describing a world without iPads, iPods or XBox 360s their little eyes glaze over and their ears shut down as their defense mechanisms take over to protect their delicate spirits. When it truly sinks in that I grew up in the Dark Ages they look at me with such saddened eyes. They can't imagine how I managed to cope all those years without modern technology.
Modern technology fails to prepare our children for disappointment. Everything is so readily available at any given moment. They can no longer fathom having to wait for something, save up for something or God forbid understand if something is unavailable.

Now, I know it is my responsibility to teach my children delayed gratification and saving up for something big versus wasting all their money on small trivial objects. And it must be stated clearly that every piece of technology described in the rest of this piece and owned by my children has been either purchased with their own savings or received as a birthday gift from an overzealous relative (no names to spare the guilty).

My five year old daughter was funny the other day. She has a game for making cupcakes and a game for making breakfast on her iPod. She asked for the game for Lunch. I looked. There was no such game. She looked at me as if I had grown a second head. "Why not? There is breakfast and cupcakes? Where's lunch?" "In the kitchen, I think I just heard your mother, go eat" (It was 9am in the morning. It took her a good five minutes to figure out it wasn't lunch time yet).
In my six year old son's world disappointment comes in the form of his last generation iPod. It seems his little technological marvel can't play some of the new and current games. He doesn't care that he can borrow his older brother's or play on an iPad. He wants an upgrade now. He hates when I tell him to get a job and start saving the $200 for a nextgen iPod. "I'm too young to get a job! You never pay me allowance on time! How am I to save for a new iPod when I can never earn enough allowance."
"Go clean up the toys the baby just spilled all over the living room. I will pay you an extra dollar."
"Did mom just call me for lunch?"
He thinks I don't know it is 10am and no where near lunch time.

Seriously though, my kids are incredible about doing their chores and I almost never have to pick up a toy unless I am helping them clean up a baby devastated living area that looks likes Kansas after Dorothy's taken a trip. The immediacy of media and entertainment however is setting them up to always desire and need something newer, shinier and faster at the youngest age possible. Thank God for free games and vast amounts of storage space on their devices. As digital natives they can't fathom the true work involved to create, provide and maintain their technological desires.  My children all know the value of work and chores. But I am not looking forward to the constant battles over technological disappointment or the day when they realize the true cost of wanting something that symbolizes nothing in the end. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Champion Baby Wrastler!

I am a champion baby wrastler. I know how to wrangle. I know how to hog tie. I know all the good tickle spots. I can hide and I can seek. I can prepare dinner with a baby in one arm and mac and cheese boiling on the stove. I have spent the last eight years learning to be a champion baby wrastler. I’ve never met more determined creatures struggling to be free in their will to explore everything safe and dangerous. It is hard work, but someone has to do it.

At 3:30 am the sound of the baby crying is the last sound I want to hear piercing my blissful silence. I pray to God he will fall back asleep, but can tell by his shrill cry, that this isn't one of those nights. I pray to God to give me strength. I completely understand why some animals eat their young and I roll out of bed glad that I am not hungry. My loving wife could sleep through Armageddon. That or she plays possum really well and pretends to snore louder when she hears the baby, in hopes that I will hear the baby and be annoyed enough to attend to the young cuss.

I put a sweatshirt on, knowing that the downstairs gets cold. I walk across the hall and enter my fourth ring of hell. He immediately stands up in bed and announces in his determined voice “Done.” I scoop him up, smell for poop, fail to be disgusted and know I have three more hours on this diaper. He knows his life is on the line so he makes sure to suck up to me with a jubilant “Da-Da!” to make sure I understand he loves me and he means no harm. In those two syllables he conveys love, adoration, appreciation, expectation and excitement to be reunited with me once again after so many ours of separation. My heart thaws a little and I decide that his cuteness and unconditional love help guarantee his survival and good health at such an ungodly hour.

We go downstairs in the dark as I do my best not to pitch headfirst down the stairs. He uses sign language to place his order for his midnight snack. He signs that he wants something to eat and some milk to drink. I load some cheerios (WHO CAN BE CHEERIOFUL AT #$%! THREE THIRTY IN THE MORNING!), and raisins in a small cup and fill a sippy cup with milk. We adjourn to the tv room where we watch season four of Top Shot on the History Channel. We sit together, Wrastled Baby eating cheerios and raisins, contentedly, both mesmerized by world champions shooting things. Thus we prove that it is possible to carve out a small piece of heaven out of seeming moments of hell.

Animals Who Eat Their Young – ZERO : My Humanity - ONE

Friday, February 10, 2012

"Why does the baby have the iPad?"

Not the words I expect to hear at seven in the morning. You would think I would be tearing into the family room at breakneck speed to reclaim my technological marvel and you would be wrong. My one year old son has a profound respect for all things technological. As a digital native he already knows how to press the button to activate any iPad or iPod. He doesn’t know how to unlock the screen once he has activated it, but for now pressing the button amuses him to no end.

At this point I am not sure which of my other mini-reprobates left the iPad on the floor for the baby to claim as a major ground score. I walk casually into the living room, scoop up baby and said iPad and go sit in the heart of the family room with both. This is where the wheels of my plan came flying off. I try to help. I unlock the iPad and begin to access the baby’s favorite touch activated visual app, Tesla Toy. The baby screams and flails about in his “What the hell are you doing ruining my fun?!! What? Do I look like a baby who needs help with everything?” I try once again to appease him, he continues to scream and flail, I remove the iPad from his meaty paws and put it on a high shelf, ten years out of his reach. Lose-lose for all parties involved.

In this day and age, as parents, we are raising digital children who have no concept of the last fifty years of technological advancements. Tech history means nothing to them. It all exists now and it exists to amuse and entertain them. When our iPad came into our house, for my birthday last year, my kids were all like, “It’s about time, we’ve been waiting forever to get one of these!” I was like, “Yeah? Me too! Try waiting 42 years for someone to invent something this cool!” To them the iPad always existed since to them it is just an enlarged iPod touch. To them TVs have always been large and flat, DVDs have always been blue ray, and movies were always portable on an iPod. They can’t conceive of a world where on demand didn’t exist or when children existed for the sole purpose of changing the channels for dad (in order to peruse all three of said channels).

In this digital and media-centric age adult television programming and children's programming exist simultaneously. Before cable television there was children’s programming on TV at certain hours of the day followed by the news, prime time and then adult programming. Today, children’s programming is available from the moment they wake up to the moment we force them to go to bed. And it isn’t just in one format anymore. Now kids can be stimulated by media on an iPod, iPad, iPhone, television, computer, Wii, xBox 360, PS3, DSi 3D, Kindle Fire, other mobile phones or any other tablet. They can access thousands of kid videos on Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, and on Demand beyond the kid friendly DVD collection most parents have on hand. If you don’t already own it and can’t stream it instantly you can own it immediately via iTunes or Amazon instant downloads.

We no longer live in a world where we see something once on TV or at the movies and move on to the next distraction. Now we live in a world where we can access almost everything and our kids are fully aware of how much the world caters to them. We are parenting in a world of digital instant gratification. My six year old can turn on the television, switch to the appropriate Xbox input, turn the Xbox 360 on with the controller, find Netflix, find an age appropriate show and hit play.

Parenting in today’s digital world presents us with the great difficulty of controlling the digital life of our children. We must teach them the beauty of digital moderation while instilling in them a love of reading and learning. As parents we must create a vibrant world in real time to prevent the loss of our children’s minds to virtual worlds and challenges the real world cannot compete with on such a large scale. In the digital world a child can always find colorful worlds and planets to explore. In the real world we can’t always be hiking in the Grand Canyon or white water rafting down the Colorado River. In the digital world you can play in the NFL, NHL or NBA every day. In the real world we can watch the dream of playing professional sports live or on TV while so few achieve the dream. We used to read fairytales to children before bed time and the difference between stories and the real world was tangible. Now fairytales and dream worlds come alive on our televisions, computers or handheld devices any time we choose. Children and adults conscientiously choose whether to stay in real time or enter the digital dreamscapes of World of Warcraft, Modern Warfare 3, Pokemon, Assassin’s Creed or any number of digital realms worth exploring.

Parents and grandparents today watched and built the digital realm surrounding us. We see the potential for both greatness and trouble in raising children as digital natives. While it is too late to turn the magical metal, silicon and glass genies back into sand and ore it is never too late to teach our children human values. As parents we always hope that we will keep our children’s feet grounded in the real world while allowing them enough freedom for their heads to explore the dream space of the digital worlds in the cloud.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A response to Aimless: Teach Your Children Well

My good friend, Amy Kite, is an amazing writer. She writes a wonderful blog about living and parenting called Aimless.

Below is a link to her post "Teach your children well," and my response, a few thoughts on modern relationships and the shape we find them in today.

It is my firm belief that the paradigm for relationships is broken. Unhappiness, on a large scale, is the bane of any life. Unhappiness exists in many key moments that shape our lives, but as a whole, we often stay too long stuck in relationships we don't know how to get out of. As adults, many of us critique our every mistake and evaluate our every decision harshly. When spouses critique each other's every mistake, and harshly evaluate each other's every decision it is a recipe for disaster.

 We are the creators of our lives, of our happiness, of the dreams and visions we wish to make real. There are happy adults and sad adults, happy children and sad children. There is very little proof that adults living unhappily forever after can raise happy kids. Sometimes happy adults living happily ever after can't raise happy kids. Each relationship and each interaction has to be met by each individual. Adults must teach themselves how to be happy before they ever have a chance of trying to teach their kids how to be happy. Even then we may all end up on a therapist's couch one day or another. We also have to show our kids that they are responsible for being happy about themselves and their lives. I have a six year old who in my eyes has the greatest life in the world with everything he could ask for (except his own room) and he can only complain that his cup is half empty instead of half full. I can't make him be happy, but I hope some day I can open his eyes to the fullness of his life.

I truly believe that the paradigm of relationships is broken and has been for a very long time. There is a huge break down in communication that we see on an intimate, local and global level each day of our lives. Only adults who understand what an actualized relationship is can communicate their needs and begin to make themselves happy in order to allow a similarly happy person to share their life with them. Too often we are not taught how to have healthy relationships. Often we aren't even taught how to have healthy familial relationships let alone adult relationships with healthy, honest, open communication.

I've been married and divorced (three years, no kids - whole different ball game). Two years after my divorce, I married the wonderful woman I've called my wife for the last twelve years (Happy Anniversary honey!). When I got divorced there was no one there to tell me that a divorce without kids is just a healthy break up that costs more. In my eyes it was a relationship that ran its course and we needed our freedom to find true contentment and true companionship in our lives. I had no adult role models who were there to tell me this at the time to assist in helping me feel less like a failure and less like a complete idiot.

My freedom gave me the chance to find a partner who understood me and shared all of my core values. Have the last twelve years been smooth sailing? No! We are human. Some days are great, some good, some not so good, some bloody awful. It is what it is. No one needs to tell you that every day isn't a fairytale, but we often wish it was just some great fairy tail. But it isn't. Finding contentment in ourselves and our lives is the beginning of the path. It should lead us to the knowledge necessary to create healthy and communicative relationships that we are happy to be part of. As parents it is paramount that we teach our children how much we love them as much as we need to teach them that our love doesn't end when mom and dad change their "I dos" to "I don'ts."

The relationship paradigm is broken. Only we can fix it by building a modern model that works for us individually. Person A meets Person B (it isn't just boy meets girl anymore, and really I am not sure it EVER was just boy meets girl). They talk about their likes, dislikes, core values, belief systems and dreams. They agree to build a life together. It will be filled with laughter, tears, smiles, frowns, good times and bad. If they can continue this conversation honestly for the rest of their lives they just may be able to build the perfect system that allows them to live happily ever after.

Monday, January 30, 2012

"No love for this six year old today!"

Ok. He didn't exactly say it like that with a thick R&B accent. But he did actually say "I didn't get ANY love today." Oy, my poor Sammy has such a hard life. His five year old sister, Yael stayed home sick (after an entire night with her head burried in a waste basket hurling her little guts up. I remember my freshman year at College too).
"Sammy would you rather you were sick and puking so you could stay home too?"
"YES!" (You would think that four kids in I would have known the answer to that question and skipped to question 2).
"Sammy, Yael was very sick and couldn't go to school. We all hope she feels better soon so she can go back to school."
"Yeah, tomorrow!"
I swear my six year old lives in an entirely different universe. He is the only relatively grown child
(the one year old just doesn't count. Still totally in puppy phase - play fetch with me, feed me, water me, change my papers I've pooped myself again)

who gets to stay home with his Uncle half the day. He has to share a few days with his puce colored sister and you would think that we asked him to walk on the moon without a helmet. I can't even make up the things he thinks of that come rolling out of his mouth. In his world his cup isn't just half empty, it has been stolen by his siblings and spit in twice for good measure.
He should live and be well. For some people, there is no making them happy.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The "F" word in my house is "Fair"

I hate the phrase "That's not fair." I hear that more from my six year old son than almost any other phrase from his mouth. Growing up with the Brady bunch, if you had told me I couldn't avoid causing middle child syndrome I would have said "Oh no, there will be no middle child issues in my home. I will love all my children equally and fairly to insure Shalom Bayit" (a peaceful home). Yeah that worked like floating a lead balloon across the English Channel.

Last night my my four year old daughter ("I'm almost five" she will tell anyone who will listen) was sick to her stomach and vomiting every two hours starting at about 9:30pm. Clearly not a candidate for preschool today (maybe they have a sick school where all the slightly sick kids get sent so they can commiserate and be sick together? No? My next business venture!).

Sammy, my six year old, was outraged. "It's not fair that she gets to stay home from school and watch more screen than me. I don't want to go to school either!" I tried to reason with him, I tried to remind him that he has afternoon kindergarten and gets morning screen when two of his other siblings have to go to school. I tried to remind him that he owed me his life since he had puked on my floors not once but twice in a five minute period and lived to see another day. He barely tolerated my reasoning and only looked me seriously in the eye when I threatened to make everything fair and take away all his morning screen time for eternity.  

This rational conversation took place only after I had come out of the shower to a screaming, blanket over the head six year old son wailing about the imbalance in the world caused by his sister's illness. There was no rationalizing with him. He didn't want to get dressed, didn't want to tolerate his ill sister's presence and didn't want to contemplate the hours of television she would be allowed to watch the three hours he would be at school. I began getting dressed while reminding him:

"Sammy you are wasting all of your morning screen time throwing this tantrum."
"I don't care. It's not fair. How come she gets to stay home."
"She threw up all night and is sick."
"So? It's not fair."
"Would you rather be throwing up all night?"
"No. But it still isn't fair"

And really this has been going on for at least two years. He looks upward to his older brother or down to his younger sister (the baby hasn't suffered his wrath yet) and sees a world out to rob him of some sense of fairness.

"How come he got a game on his ipod?"
"How come she gets a playdate?"
"How come he gets to stay up later?"

From the first moment the word "Fair" ever crossed Sammy's lips it hit my ears like the loudest "F" bomb a small child could throw. "OMG!" I screamed in my head. At times I find myself yelling back "There is no "fair!" Life isn't fair!" But I don't want to create this all to true image in his head. At the same time I want him to grow up enough to see all the incredible things he does have in his life so that he can stop screaming about inequalities that only exist in his head. He has parents that love spending time with him and a loving Uncle he adores as his primary caregiver. He has playdates some mornings while his siblings are tucked away at school. He has special mornings practically all to himself where he gets morning screen time no one else gets and his Uncle and the baby all to himself. I want him to see his cup as not only half full, but overflowing with individual attention he hasn't had since his younger sister was born.
This is the first time in five years that he has had his adults to himself (minus the baby who really takes up a minimal amount of time and space considering he still takes a morning nap).
And yet my wife will constantly remind me "He is six. This too shall pass."
"He may not see seven." I grumble, or "Not soon enough" might also be heard rumbling past my lips.

In a world where we as parents can easily provide so much for our children without breaking a sweat it is hard to comprehend that in their small minds it will never be enough. There are days I would like to strip the house bare of any toys, books or electronic devices and force my children to earn each amazing trinket of fun and creativity they own one by one. Of course this isn't realistic, where would I keep everything hidden (in the basement of course - my own hoarder's paradise!!!)? Perhaps they should live their lives with only pens, crayons, pencils and an endless supply of paper. Then they can draw all the horrible things I have done to them to make them stop and think about how lucky they are to live in a home where people actually love them unconditionally. I'll show you FAIR!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Whoever said being a parent would be easy?

No one said being a parent would be easy. Also, few parents ever tell their children exactly how challenging parenting is lest they dissuade their own kids from having kids and what fun would that be. No one can prepare you. No book will have all the answers. And, no two parenting experiences are ever alike. Being a parent is one of the greatest miracles I could ever imagine participating in. It is also the hardest job I ever volunteered for . . . four times. I was in the U.S. Army briefly, that was way easier than this. My children are the greatest blessings I could ask for and the worst bosses I've ever worked for. I can't quit or be fired, my contract only has a God given end date and very little time off for good behavior. Everything they need is needed five minutes ago and all demands are life altering emergencies. Most contingency plans I've come up with don't even begin to cover all my children's wants, needs and desires. There are days I think parenthood is the biggest con ever pulled on humanity. We grow up being raised by our parents, believing that they know what they are doing. We then get old enough to have kids of our own, vigorously encouraged by our parents to do so, and we believe parenthood will all come naturally. We also have the false sense of confidence that we can figure it all out because we are way smarter than our parents and that we know how to be "cool" parents while doing a better job than they ever did. Meanwhile, as newly minted grandparents, our parents sit back laughing themselves silly while we scramble to keep up with the controlled chaos we call parenting.

On top of all this my wife and I are both full time reform rabbis trying to raise four kids with the assistance of my brother and mother who live next door.  Other than that we are your normal every day family trying to get by like everybody else. So welcome to the carnival that is my life. Hold on tight because the ride certainly gets rough at times.