Fathering a Korean-American girl, two years in

I wanted to be a father.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I had to be a father, to realize a subconscious image of myself: the vital Dad, in the midst of his loving and active family.

But my mind was near capacity, with little room for fatherhood duties. I spent more time preparing for job interviews than I spent deliberately preparing for fatherhood. Still, I felt pretty sure that fatherhood — like marriage — is what you do, if you’re an upstanding gentleman. And I sure wanted to be one.

I decided we would have two kids, for two reasons: One, I was raised in a two-kid family, which was — in retrospect — a not-too-chaotic family unit. And Two, from an Earth-stewardship perspective, replacing myself and my wife with two equally-fantastic specimens was an attractive plan. A pathway to a kind of conservation of cosmic energy. Soon after my daughter was born, a third reason to stop at two kids revealed itself: childcare is exhausting.

On the spectrum of fatherhood, I gravitated towards a more-involved Dad image. “Naturally I’ll be better at it than my Dad was,” I thought smugly. I don’t know what led me to believe this, as my Dad was already ahead of his time in the 1970s. His résumé included fathering two kids, a stint as a widower, and then a second stint as Dad, fathering two more beautiful kids. He also helped to found a children’s puppet company in the 1980s, a fact that instantly differentiated him from the other dads.

My own kids would come, I figured, but I wasn’t in a hurry to initiate the process, content instead to enjoy the freewheeling DINK lifestyle (Double Income, No Kids) with my wife. She wasn’t anxious to start popping out kids either. She was smart, driven, and determined to bring home income — fast. The end of graduate school and her entry into the workforce brought a welcome spike in that regard.

My specs for the Dad role looked good on paper: married, MIT graduate, healthy (at least physically). But I had zero years of experience. I spent zero time visualizing the real nature of the work: sleepless nights, long days hanging around the house, and frequent bouts of in-law exposure.

Before my daughter was born, I didn’t appreciate the many ways a father can provide for his kids. A counselor once told me — in a manner clearly unperturbed by political correctness — that a man’s role in the family is threefold: leader, provider, and protector. “So old-fashioned,” I thought as the counselor tried to drill those three words into me. Try as I might, I couldn’t dismiss them outright.

My wife and I were active DINKs, and her pregnancy barely impacted our social schedule. Some days she didn’t feel great. Other days she had oddly-specific cravings, like the day we went to the farmer’s market and she spotted a big, expensive jar of pickled purple cabbage that she had to have.

The B.C. era (Before Child) continued regardless: domestic and international trips, fooling around now and then, and eating out at top-rated restaurants exhaustively researched on Yelp. Sex during pregnancy was awkward (though not much more so than usual). Maternity clothes hid her belly most of the time, but it wasn’t all that big to begin with. She seemed to expand in all the normal places.

I was nervous around my in-laws from the beginning, for reasons perhaps only a student of Korean culture can fully appreciate. I became infatuated with Korean culture and my wife around the same time. But as years passed, my gaze settled on certain imperfections in the culture. One was the honorific form of speech used by younger Koreans to address their elders. It was a product of the hierarchical Neo-Confucianism that dominated Korean thought throughout the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910). Honorific Korean was designed to create distance between people. My rudimentary understanding of the language only made the perceived distance between me and my in-laws greater. When the right words didn’t come, I tensed up. I didn’t hear their jokes half of the time, and the rest of the time I didn’t get the humor. I was stuck in a cultural limbo. So when my in-laws arrived to help out three weeks before the baby’s due date, a new layer of anxiety descended onto my already-thin skin.

I read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”. Cover to cover. My wife read just the most relevant sections (did I mention that she’s smart?). I also spent undue time attending classes and reading parenting blogs — time I wish I could get back. To pass the time in waiting rooms, I started creating new titles for “What to Expect”, like:

“Well, It Could Happen…”
or
“Developing Your Pregnancy-related Anxiety for Dummies”

If you feel your life is lacking in anxiety, I recommend that book.

I enrolled us in a couples’ program called Centering Pregnancy at Kaiser Permanente hospital, because I thought it might be fun to experience pregnancy in community with other couples. Each Centering session started with quick individual check-ups with the OB/GYN in a private cubicle, followed by an interactive class and forum for the couples to ask questions. It was fun, for the most part, to commiserate and laugh with some new faces instead of doing all the doctor’s visits just the two of us. The excruciating part was listening to endless pregnancy-related hearsay from the other couples.

The classes ended and our daughter was born, and then a weird thing happened: I became obsessed. The build-up to labor and conversations with friends and family had convinced me (at least intellectually) that it would be a life-changing event. But I was unprepared for how much I loved my slimy frog-of-a baby, and I wanted to protect her. At times I even felt an urge to protect her from her own mother. (Mother bears have been known to consume their young, FYI.) I became defensive about every little thing grandma and grandpa — or, in Korean, Hammi and Abua — wanted to do for the baby. Hammi wanted to co-sleep with her every night, and I resented being ousted from the protective role. When the umbilical cord fell off, my wife and Hammi wanted to wash the little pink nub every day. I just kept my mouth shut.

I couldn’t get used to the sound of my baby crying. It stressed me out beyond belief, a dull heartache lingering after every crying session.

My wife pumped and breastfed and pumped again. It was brutal. In the maternity ward, our daughter’s postnatal weight had dropped by more than the allowable ten percent, so we met a lactation consultant. She stressed the urgency of getting our daughter to feed at the teat. Ah, the lactation consultant. A midwife, with a very particular set of nipple-related skills. When I was born, a solitary midwife helped my mom to deliver me in our own apartment. At Kaiser hospital, there was a baby-measuring nurse, a bathing nurse, a lactation nurse, and a nurse named Wilma, to hold mom’s right leg in the stirrups.

When we first came home from the hospital, I had watched with Hammi and Abua, fascinated by the sight of my wife and daughter wrestling each other. Two weeks after breastfeeding began, I was 99% desensitized to the sight of my wife’s breasts. We stopped fooling around, but I didn’t mind for the first two months. I wanted to care for the baby.

So I learned how.
It was mostly about being present and committing certain movements to muscle memory. I learned to change diapers. First, the disposable Pampers at the hospital, and later, the cloth tri-folds we bought to reduce the guilt of watching disposable diapers pile up in the trash can. Rather than admitting when I was ignorant, I felt obliged to stand on a pedestal and criticize. (After all, I read “What to Expect” cover to cover). It seemed important to confidently proclaim a hodgepodge of facts acquired from the pregnancy books and blogs, because that’s what our other childless friends were doing.

I wanted to protect my daughter from harm, and also from stupid parenting trends. To that end, I prepared diatribes on various topics, but most them proved useless as the Koreans seemed to have studied from a different parenting manual entirely. Some of their methods struck me as odd and I watched disapprovingly, occasionally summoning the courage to voice my concerns. For instance, Hammi believed that after childbirth, my wife should eat miyeokguk (Korean seaweed soup) at every single meal — including breakfast — for approximately two months straight. When my wife’s breast started hurting, the baton passed to my father-in-law — and then to me — to administer a vigorous breast massage, the assumption being that a clogged milk duct was causing the inflammation, and massaging it would clear the blockage. I grabbed the flesh reluctantly and started to mash it between my hands, administering the cruel and unusual punishment like a lowly soldier ordered to torture an innocent civilian.

My family came for a short visit, and I relished the chance to relax and reconnect with them. The baby’s routine relaxed in kind.

Our simple rancher house, chosen to optimize cost, comfort, and commutes, was transformed into a Worry Zone, its air polluted with excess anxiety. I inhaled too much perhaps, and soon found myself plagued by health issues. Morning vertigo episodes floored me for a couple of hours at a stretch, until the room finally stopped spinning. I entertained the romantic notion that I might be suffering from Couvade syndrome, also known as “sympathetic pregnancy”. But in reality there was no “sym” and the pregnancy was over, which left… “pathetic”. I began sleeping on a single mattress pad on the floor, because I couldn’t handle the stress of waking up every time my wife awoke to breastfeed with her mother in the other room.
I know what you’re thinking. Poor you.

One night, I awoke around 3am and puked into a trash can beside my bed. I hadn’t been drinking since before my wife got pregnant. Quitting drinking was a good solidarity move, and in my early thirties alcohol had stopped agreeing with me anyways. My wife and her parents began to worry about me almost as much as they worried about the baby. “Take a rest” became their mantra during the first few months. They didn’t intend to ostracize me, and yet I stewed on the sidelines, looking for outlets for my blame. The language barrier had seemed a minor hurdle, but it suddenly transformed into a high-jump bar. I could barely express my desires for my daughter’s care in English, let alone Korean.

Before the baby was born, I had asked my boss what to expect, since he was Dad to two grown kids. He said he remembered driving people around a lot. Sure enough, I took charge of carting everyone to Korean stores (and American ones) to buy ingredients, medicines, and other infant-related gear. My father-in-law went to the gym regularly in Korea, so I got us both memberships at 24 Hour Fitness during his stay in the U.S. Despite his kind disposition, my father-in-law still gave me agita, a feeling that diminished only slightly when he came to the U.S.

Five months after our daughter was born, the grandparents returned to Korea and I took over daytime childcare duties. Airborne anxiety levels decreased measurably at home. Still, the in-laws’ childcare style left an indelible impression. My wife and I exhausted ourselves for the first week after they left, trying to maintain the same standards. Then we gave up, and cleanliness at the dinner table — and pretty much everywhere else — dropped a few pegs. The nervous feeling of invisible Korean laser beams on the back of my neck lingered, because we still spoke with the grandparents daily on Facetime. As we fed the baby her dinner, the grandparents watched, chiming in in Korean. “Give her some water, please.” “What’s that on her chin… Can you wipe it?” I had inculcated in myself a Korean-style absolute filial piety, and yet I had to pause sometimes, allowing my individual will to surface for air. My backbone — not particularly stiff to begin with — seemed as soft and malleable as the baby’s.

I spent a lot of time watching my baby girl. The nice part about watching her all day — besides the angelic moments — was discovering (and learning to accept) my parenting style. Some dads are content to work for the boss, I think, while others are more entrepreneurial. Watching the baby on my own, I observed the following differences:

Quicker house entries and exits.
More time outside at the park randomly exploring, blissfully unhindered by contingencies.
More naps.

Our daughter didn’t sleep as much when the grandparents were around, perhaps because they were light sleepers themselves. But during full days with Daddy, we napped. Hard. I needed the naps to relieve that first-time-parent tension caused by the problematic pair: inexperience and overambition.

My image of dadhood was relaxing in the living room, laughing, singing, and playing games together. That came much later, around the time our daughter turned two. Before two, it went something like this: Find the nearest wet wipe and clean baby’s nose. Change baby’s diaper. Change baby’s clothes. Prepare baby’s food. Prepare a contingency bag. Struggle to put baby into the car seat. Hover around baby at the park to make sure she doesn’t hurt herself. Coax baby into leaving the park before she gets too tired and starts wailing. Put baby to sleep, without putting yourself to sleep in the process. Forget the idea of working while baby sleeps, and pass out next to her. Take pictures and document everything for your spouse and extended families. Deal with the guilt of missed picture opportunities. A benefit to staying at home with my daughter was having some additional time to observe and master my guilt. Now I take pictures when I want to.

After tending to our daughter all day and making dinner on my assigned Daddy-dinner nights, I was too tired to devote much energy to my wife. Many nights we watched one short TV show and then slept, or caught up on chores.

It’s said that women begin to nest after giving birth, and in our house the twigs and leaves (i.e. hand-me-down toys and clothes) piled up rather quickly. In an unexpected twist, the owners of the house we were renting decided to sell it, offering it to us directly a few months before our lease was set to expire. After much deliberation, we bought the house from them before our daughter’s first birthday. In less than a year, I went from freewheeling DINK to frightened dad with an adorable little creature to protect and a big, ugly structure to maintain. My wife would probably be happiest in a brand-new house, airlifted straight from the factory to an empty plot of land on our move-in date. But instead we got an old, post-WWII rancher that scores high on location and “character” — and I love it.

My wife and I have different priorities about what needs to be fixed. My wife: “The sink is not draining fast enough.” Me: “I think we need a tree house.” Don’t get me wrong, I like fixing stuff when I’m able. It’s the satisfying part of an otherwise thankless job.

My wife’s the primary breadwinner in the family, but I still believe that fatherhood is basically a leadership position, as that counselor hammered home to me years ago. I am starting to get the hang of the leadership part. I’ve also started to accept that my daughter is a reflection of me. She’s a sponge and she learns everything by example, so caring for her and caring for me are inseparable tasks. In those moments when vertigo put me out of commission I missed out, but so did she. Other times, I relaxed, laughed, and connected with her at a deeper level, and she fed off of my energy. There are many ways to provide for your child. She needs food, sure. But she also needs energy. She needs Fun. Smiles. Confidence. Direction. Clearly-articulated Positions. All things that I — the Dad — can provide.

Why Our Sons Should Definitely Be Watching Carmen Sandiego

It’s not every day, or even every month that my son and I are infatuated with the same TV show, but the new Carmen Sandiego changes everything! I’m feeling pretty damn hip right now TBH because Netflix’s new re-boot of the iconic character has only been out for a few weeks and I have seen it all. Cutting edge — à la mode — Zeitgeist — finger on the pulse — that’s me.

The show impressed me so much, I’d watch it again. I can’t wait for the live action movie and the next season to come out! Season two is already confirmed! I’m becoming a total fan-girl and getting a red coat and fedora for my Halloween costume (maybe for everyday wear,) maybe even a temporary tattoo!

I don’t usually get this excited about a TV show. Is it nostalgia? Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego stands out in my memory as a show I used to watch on PBS when I was little. But all that’s left of it is the song and some vague notions about geography and maybe math?

So, how do I love this iteration of a character that has morphed from several game versions to TV and now streaming on Netflix?

This is Carmen. Still image from Carmen Sandiego on Netflix.

Let me literally recount for you the ways:

  • Carmen (Red), the eponymous hero, is a female main character who is confident, daring, whip-smart, talented, principled, and a kick-ass thief for a good cause. She has close trusted friends who all stick together, but none of them are perfect. They make mistakes, they experience conflict, they improvise as needed, and they learn.
  • Carmen is Latina. Representation matters! There just aren’t enough strong mainstream female characters, let alone Latinas out there. Carmen is an Argentinian orphan who was raised on the Isle of VILE, the hideout/HQ for a secretive group of criminal masterminds and their crime school.
  • Carmen Sandiego, the show, in addition to the hero, is Feminist AF. It gives feminism a well-deserved place in the spotlight with action, wit, intelligence, and equality all wrapped up in a trendy, modern bow for the viewing pleasure of children and adults alike. My six-year-old son LOVES this show and I am thrilled.
  • Even though she leaves them behind when she realizes what they’re really up to, the people who raised her are highly diverse — villain representation matters too! There are three women and two men: a large, imposing, yet maternal white woman, an eccentric (possibly) Indian woman mad scientist, a glamorous countess, an Asian male martial arts master, and a pale creepy old psychopath guy.
  • Good and evil isn’t portrayed as black and white. Carmen’s tech angel, Player, is a “white-hat” hacker. Carmen is a shadowy thief who steals from other thieves and returns the spoils of her work to their rightful owners. But she only becomes a “good” thief after she does some soul searching when she discovers that VILE’s mission hurts people and takes cultural treasures away from the masses. ACME functions “in the grey” or something to that effect is explicitly stated at one point.

Ivy & Zack. Still image from Carmen Sandiego on Netflix.
  • Zack is an admirably NON-TOXIC white man with a sensitive stomach who isn’t afraid to take orders from a woman and even to dress in drag to help execute a mission successfully. His older sister Ivy gives the viewer another positive representation on the femininity continuum with her more butch fashion choices, and demeanor.
  • ACME, the super secret organization trying to stop VILE, is headed up by an unapologetically fierce black woman, Chief, who appears exclusively by hologram projection. She recognizes the intelligence of underling Julia Argent. When this happens, Argent claims she was not working alone and refuses to take all the credit for herself. Her deductions are almost always right on the money — as her name would seem to suggest.

Agent Devineaux asserting his undeserved authority over Julia Argent…AGAIN. Still image from Carmen Sandiego on Netflix.
  • Agent Chase Devineaux, former Interpol agent turned ACME investigator, is a hyper-masculine, mansplaining, French douchebag, who rarely listens to his more thoughtful female subordinate, Julia Argent, and he frequently suffers the humiliating consequences of his stubbornness. (I’m married to a wonderful Frenchie who is nothing like Devineaux, for the record.) While he doesn’t change his behavior much, Devineaux seems to gain some consciousness of his problem throughout the season admitting that his assistant will probably be running ACME one day.

Dash Haber. Still image from Carmen Sandiego.
  • Dash Haber is another refreshing male character. He may be working for Countess Cleo on the wrong side of crime, but his dandy/fop persona is deliciously non-binary.
  • There is cool educational content: difficult moral quandaries, geography, problem solving, culture, humanity in general…
  • It gets kids thinking. My son remarked to me, “That inspector should be able to follow the clues better if he’s an inspector. Argent is much smarter. Why would they choose him if he’s not good at the job?” I’m still swooning from his budding feminist powers of observation. Later he asked, “Did you know that Ivy is a girl? And that other one with red hair is a boy? So, there’s two girls and a boy?” I reminded him that player is a boy, too. He’s still way into categorizing as best he can to understand his world, but I love that he’s seeing multiple ways of being female, male, non-binary, good, bad, and somewhere in between.

I could go on…for a while. But instead, I’ll wish you happy viewing and let me know your thoughts.

Thanks for reading!

A slightly different version of this post originally appeared on www.livingimperfection.com.

Mantua residents remembered at Mullica Hill Library

Betsy and her late husband Chris Groody were honored for their dedication to the community

By KRYSTAL NURSE

The Sun

Nestled in the children’s section of the Mullica Hill Branch Library is a playroom where a plaque honoring two lifelong Mantua residents resides.

Betsy Groody’s (nee Hengel) brother Joe Hengel photographed her and her late husband previously, and he and his partner, Allen Reese, decided to turn it into a plaque to honor the two and their dedication to the Mullica Hill and Mantua communities.

Besty, said Reese, came from a Mullica Hill family of nine siblings, and her husband Chris came from a Mantua family of one brother, Michael, and sister, Ann.

“Betsy and Chris are warm and kind people,” he said. “I wanted something for the both of them when Chris passed away, and we wanted him to be remembered for the guy he always was. It’s how we developed the plaque and the wording on it.”

Chris passed away in November 2018. He is survived by his wife Betsy, daughters Melissa, Kristina, Mary and Kelly, six grandchildren, siblings and other nieces, nephews, and in-laws.

The plaque reads, in part, “lifelong residents of Gloucester County, Chris and Betsy, have always shared their warm hearts, generosity and kindness with all who have crossed their paths.”

Reese added various children’s programs are being funded by his family’s fund through the Philadelphia Foundation because of how involved Chris was with his children and grandchildren.

Chris, Reese added, was active in the community from coaching his daughters’ various sport teams and the Clearview Youth Basketball team.

“His grandson always goes to the library and so we thought it’d be a great spot,” said Reese.

He said in his family’s foundation, they’re able to give away money each year to a family or organization in honor of a person or family, and it “felt fitting to do Chris and Betsy.”

The funds donated by his family’s fund, he said, will also go to remodeling the playroom at the library.

He went on to add Chris always listened to people and “wanted to know everyone’s story.”

“He was always there to help people if they needed help and he was always first in line,” he said. “Betsy is the same exact way. The two of them were perfect for each other and were kind to everyone they met.”

He said the two “couldn’t do enough good for people” with them always reaching out and spending time with people who were close, and strangers.

“I would say that they’re kind people who left the world in a better place than what they found it,” he added. “I can’t say enough good about him.”

A Father’s Daughter My Favorite Essays for 2017

I am in the business of rediscovering myself. I’m fascinated by my inner child. I like that girl. I haven’t like me for a very long time. So I’m trying to learn as much as I can about her.

This is me in December, 2016. I am visiting my Grandfather at my Father’s old home in Moscow. He arrived here when he started playing for CSKA. This apartment was given to him from the government. That is how things worked in the Soviet Union. You are rewarded for being someone. That was ingrained in me from childhood.

I am holding a picture of myself. I am around 7 or 8 years old. I’m in San Jose, California and if my math serves me right, this would be house # 9. I’m attending Challenger School. This would be school #4. This is the very same school which held me back a year for messing up the “other” name for a rabbit. Not bunny. Hare.

This is the wall in the main room of my Grandfather’s apartment. These are some of the medals and awards my Father has won. Please note that I used the word some. There are more. In fact, the most impressive ones are displayed in my Father’s office- the first room one encounters when entering my Family Home. Whenever I visit here, I stand and stare. This time is no different. I wonder, how do I come from someone who has done so much? How did he win all of this? What kind of superhuman is this man? And how do I carry his DNA and the Soviet mentality of “being someone”, yet I am no one. How could I have failed him?

This is what it looks like to be from a generation where things don’t happen if they’re not on instagram. He didn’t say this, but I will assume that my Grandfather feels that this is a bizarre concept. I too feel this way and I try to refrain from this but since I consider myself a story-teller, I cannot help but document all that is around me.

My Grandmother, his wife, aforementioned in previous posts, is no longer alive but he keeps up with her table-setting traditions. The silverware, the dish ware, the napkins, and the tablecloth. The kinds of food we eat. He is 90 years old and he washed the curtains for my visit. The place is clean as can be.

These are the results of my incessant documentation. There are few things in this world that make me happier than Russian Bread, Russian Butter, and Russian Caviar. All together. All at once.

The phone rings and reveals that my Father is calling. He says it’s a total coincidence. We all take turns speaking with him, and I realize that I am amongst the Larionov men.

My favorite part of my visits is the time when we can dive into old photographs and newspaper cuttings. My Grandfather is a collector, like me. As I have boxes of memorabilia, so does he. Pictures have notes written on the back of them. Dates. Locations. Descriptions. Details to keep the memories alive. I dive headfirst into time traveling through my relatives lives. I see a younger Grandfather. I see a younger Uncle. I see a younger Father. I watch through a series of photographs as he matures into the man he is today.

I peak over to the wall on my right. It is a constant reminder of who I am not. But in seeing my Father’s life story, I am able to understand that our paths do not have to align. I start to release my self-made pressures of BEING somebody. I start to have empathy towards the struggles he must have faced in finding himself. I wonder if the Soviet System was the reason he is so hardened. I feel lucky that I do not have to abide to any particular societal laws. I can choose to be the woman I want to be. I am free. And through that thought process comes a moment of healing. I let go of the expectations which weigh heavily on me. I am a separate being. I don’t have to be anybody except for me.


For more log onto www.alyonkalarionov.com / Listen to TELL YOUR STORYPodcast / Attend a Wo/Men Workshop / Follow on Instagram, Twitter, andFacebook / Email: alyonka@alyonkalarionov.com

For Grandpa

A year ago yesterday was opening day of little league. We were probably running late. I was probably trying to tightly tie my son's cleats while nursing a barely three-month-old baby while simultaneously trying to convince the four-year-old that watching her brother play baseball was fun to do on a cold Saturday morning in March. And it was just as we were throwing that baseball bag in the car that I got the phone call: Grandpa died.

I knew it was coming. We all did. He had the stroke and got a little better, then a little worse again and then he stopped eating and communicating and it was just a matter of time. So, since right now, opening day of little league, had to be the time, I chose to go hardcore mom. I asked my son if he had his hat, told everyone to buckle up, put on a smile and got through the day. Then I came home and I wrote this. I read it at his service, through very shaky tears, for a small group of family and friends. I remember the last time I saw him, my baby, Sloane, was barely two months old. He hadn’t been awake in days but when we walked in the hospital room, he was actually awake. I took the baby out of the carrier and my Dad held her up and said “This is Sloane, Dad. She is your new great-granddaughter” and he looked at her and smiled. I’d like to believe he knew who she was at that moment and it made him happy. So I am sharing what I said about him today because I would like to think if there is even the slightest chance he could see this, he would read it and it would make him happy.

Such a handsome devil

If you’re an Andersen, you know what it means when I say, “fifteen, two, four, and there ain’t no more,” “count your measley,” and “do you smell a skunk?” If you are an Andersen, you know that the hearts are the best part of the chicken gizzards and dumplings stew. If you are an Andersen, you know that the “peach room” is where all the toys were, and the best hiding places for kick the can were on the roof and up the telephone pole. If you are an Andersen, it wasn’t weird that you slept in the shed on Thanksgiving. If you are an Andersen, you know that the cookie jar will always be full, and you know that the best kliners west of Racine, Wisconsin can be found in Auburn, California. If you are an Andersen, you have said this phrase countless times:

“Last name is Andersen, with an S-E-N.”

These are just a handful of memories that have pushed their way to the front of my brain over the past few days. There are so many more from all the times spent with him and together as a family. When I think of them, I always come back to one common theme that binds all the memories together: Pride. My grandpa was so very proud of all he’d accomplished throughout his 97 years. Proud of the little things like his cribbage game. He was proud of his cooking, his kliners, and his home. But mostly, he was proud of his family and proud of his name.

I remember when my oldest son, Charlie, was a baby and we were up visiting him, sitting around the dining room table chatting and eating a variety of snacks (including but not limited to mayo and onions on toast, and smoked oysters in a can), and grandpa looked at me and the baby and said, “You know what is such a miracle? That one single sperm and one single egg made that perfect little boy.”

Now I am not a religious person and I don’t pray in the Christian sense of the word, but at that moment, I prayed. I thought to myself, “Oh dear lord help me because my grandfather is talking to me about sperm.” I wasn’t sure where this conversation was going, and quite frankly, I wanted it to stop. But he went on and I nervously listened for what was to come next. He went on to say, “And if it hadn’t been for me, you know, there would be no Charlie.”

Well, Grandpa, I thought to myself, that is not exactly how this all works. But what he meant (and liked to remind us of often) was that it’s because of the choices he made and the paths he took in life that got us all here, including my son. Obviously, he left out some other very important factors, namely the role Charlie’s father played in the whole thing. Perhaps it was an oversimplification of how we all came to be, but in some ways, he’s a little bit right.

It’s because of him that we are his family. It’s because he came to California. It’s because he “convinced” (or as he often said, “nagged”) my grandma to marry him. It’s because he looked out the window one day at Shoreham Park and convinced my Dad that Allison Blair was someone worth fighting for. It’s why I’m here. It’s why my kids are here. And that is just my story. We all have one that comes right back to Grandpa.

I’m terrible at cribbage. I’ve never made kliners. And I’m pretty sure I couldn’t pay my kids to eat chicken gizzard stew. But I do know that despite this, my grandpa was proud of me. He was proud of all of us and proud to call us his family. And no matter the challenges we faced or the mistakes we made his pride and love for us never wavered. And I find comfort in that knowledge. Because no matter who I become, or where I go, I know my grandpa would be proud. Because thanks to him I am here, and I’m an Andersen. With an S-E-N.

I Have My Father’s Y’s

Every time I write the letter ‘y,’ I’m reminded of my father. That letter, in particular, I write the same as him. As I’ve matured and grown older, I’ve often weighed and considered the characteristics I hope to keep that I’ve subconsciously been passed down from him and also those that I’ve needed to define on my own. To me at least, it’s unclear why I write this letter the same. Perhaps, when I was a child I noticed it looked distinctly different from how others wrote it (similarly, I often write my capital ‘Js’ the same way he does) or maybe it’s just that I saw it often enough on notes scribbled in-between the pages of his Bible or the pencil marks on 2×4’s used to build many of the houses we lived in. It’s entirely possible I only wanted to be like him; who’s to say why I’ve been gifted this trait and not others.

We’re similar, him and I, and it wasn’t too noticeable until I struck out after high school and had been on my own for a few years, but we are. There have been seasons of embracing this reality and others of running from it. However, I’m distinctly his. We each have hair that curls up along the tops of our necks when it gets too long, and our body shapes and heights are nearly identical. The faith in Christ I hold so dear is because of him. Although my faith and journey have looked entirely different than his, it’s without a doubt a credit to him for bringing me up under a roof and fatherly protection that sought after God. When I was a teenager, I didn’t care to be like him. I often saw his outlook on my life to be in direct opposition to my own and my desires for it. To be fair, we were in direct opposition at times. Our love looked more like a tennis match that never resolves due to the aggravated batting of hurt and frustration toward the other until our bodies give way to defeat from exhaustion, not resolution.

There were a handful of instances I embarrassed him, brought discomfort, and disappointed him. He felt how he felt though and faulting him for those emotions is something I can’t do. The thought that he perhaps stopped loving me never crept into my mind or heart, but in hindsight, I’m able to see that I wasn’t mature enough to consider him having emotions like you, or I or anyone else has emotions. It’s strange how easy it is to think parents are like robots and function only to provide and discipline, but not feel. My interests weren’t his, or at least not how he pictured them developing, and I get that. Thinking about having children myself one day, I, of course, want them to care about what I care about. I desire that connection. The relationship existing between a parent and child is never secure, and only speaking from the viewpoint of a son, I’m confident my understanding will be destroyed and rebuilt on this topic over and over once I walk into fatherhood.

Throughout each up and down that every parent and child go through, and now that the dust has settled, I see so much of him in me. Despite my previous rejections of this possibility, I am filled with thanks and gratitude for it now. It’s easy not to pay attention to or understand how challenging it is to be a single parent in an expensive town or make career decisions that build equity in the bank of relationship and not self-indulgence & personal security. No parent is perfect, and for many, parents aren’t a part of the equation at all, which is devastating. The simple choice is never to consider what others have done for us and pretend that we’ve made it on our own; or, that each problem or deficiency is a result of wounds brought on by others, often by those who raised us. There may undoubtedly be truth running through those veins, but in this moment, on this misty mid-afternoon day, I’m thankful for both the strikes and the gifts bestowed upon me by him. I am his, and he is mine; tied together by DNA but not without love and friendship.


Stay up-to-date with all of my writing as well as things I’m currently into and what I’m finding inspiring on my site iamcartermoore.com

Mom, I hope I’ve made you proud

From understanding my mother’s tough disciplinarian stance to appreciating her as the world’s greatest friend — the journey to knowing my mother has been tremendously rewarding — and as today marks a new chapter of her life (she is 71 years old), here is hoping that the woman who birthed me and has lived a remarkable life, finds all the joy the world can bring for her.

My mom (in green) and her family.

There are so many stories to tell about my mom and I don’t even know where to begin. Do I start from the time she called me on the phone at 5 a.m to wake me up for my 6 a.m appointment while she is in Ibadan and I in Abuja? Or do I tell the story of that time I called her, my teeth chattering, to tell her how cold I was in a foreign country and her response, laced with genuine concern, being: “would you like to take the next available flight home if that place is too cold for you?” I laugh every time I remember that time in my life.

I could start with that time, 30 years ago, when she threatened to report me to father because I had done something wrong. I don’t remember what the offence was, but I do remember the terror of being whopped by father (not that he had ever at the time) and the way her face softened after she must have realized I was shitting myself.

Going back in time, I can now see the undeniable and undying love my mother has for me, I was just too stupid to realize it sooner, and for that I am very sorry. I am truly sorry for the grief I caused her, and for the disappointment she must have felt with each and every stupid decision I have ever made in my teenage and early adult life. But I hope today, that she looks at me and she’s proud of me.

I have always known my mother as a tough disciplinarian who never took no for an answer, and at those times, I never imagined that she loved me. Yes, I was stupid, I know; I said that already! Our mother was so tough that it never occurred to us, her three daughters, to disobey her even in her absence. If she told us to do something before she got back, we did it and if she asked us not to do something while she wasn’t there to watch over us, we just didn’t do it, at all. For instance, growing up, the standing rule was never to eat out. God help you if you thought you were going to die of hunger and someone — even a family friend — offered you food and you ate it. One time in Ibeto, Niger state, a couple we had gone visiting came home with us, packed jollof rice in tow, to report my sisters and I for refusing their meal. It’s hilarious now thinking about it, it wasn’t back then.

At certain phases of children’s lives, they begin to think they know better than their parents, and I was one of those children. Naturally, life became a lot more contentious between my mother and I but in all of that drama, she never failed to love me desperately. There are no in-betweens with my mother, and so was the time of love she has for us, for me, especially because if I am being honest, I was an atypical first daughter a conservative African woman would raise.

The very first time I saw my mother in a different light, as a friend more like, was one of the darkest period of my life. Prior to this, I’d always seen her as a formidable disciplinarian, a woman who you could not mess with. Don’t get me wrong, she is as steadfastly caring as they come, at the same time, she’s relentlessly demanded of highest form of discipline, something I struggled to live up to. Consequently, we would fight bitterly. But on this day, something shifted from the way I saw my mother; the strongest woman I have ever known.

“Mum, Oluyomi is dead” I sobbed, crumpling into her arms. It must have taken her a minute to process what was going on. For instance, “who is Oluyomi and what did he mean to you, my daughter?”, were possible questions that must have raced through her mind. But she didn’t ask. She just sat there, with me in her arms, my heart threatening to tear itself out of my body.

Oluyomi was the man I had planned to spend the rest of my life with, the man I planned on introducing to her, my mother. He had been killed in an accident, it was so sudden, his death felt brutal. I still can’t explain why my mother’s reaction to my sadness was a defining moment in my relationship with her, but for me, it just is. I mean, this was a woman who had stood steadfastly behind me like a rock when I had my son (out of marriage I might add), the woman who gave me her shoulders to stand on when the world was unspeakably overwhelming. This was a woman who forgave me time and time again, and never failed to amaze us with the strength of her deep commitment to her family and the world she lives in. If anyone was to judge the events of my life differently, they’d pick the time she stood with me as I brought a whole human into the world as on obvious choice, not when one was taken from me.

It was that moment in unimaginable grieve that I knew my mother was my friend all along, I had just failed to see it sooner. Today, I am living a life close enough to what my mother had imagined for me — a happy and successful life, that is — and I hope she sees me today and she is happy that the daughter she birthed nearly four decades ago is turning out to be who she wanted her to be.

Happy birthday, mom. I, your daughter, call you blessed. And I love you so steadfastly.

My daughter would still be alive if I’d known about the danger that killed her

Essay by Jordan Magill. The views expressed are the opinions of the author.

A little foreknowledge, plus about $50, and my daughter would have lived to see 13. The amount keeps me awake. Many of us spend more each month at Starbucks. Not pocket change, it’s not enough to change your life. Or so I thought. Like every parent, I’d received a dumpster full of child-rearing warnings. The warnings started with pregnancy. They continue to the present day. Why then is my daughter not in her room texting friends, but in the cemetery? It was the warning never given.

To begin near the end, one morning last May while I was showering, my wife burst into the bathroom. Our daughter, then 12, wouldn’t wake up. I ran downstairs, naked and dripping, and found her on the floor, unresponsive. I pulled her into the middle of the floor, began pounding on her chest. Our other daughter dialed 911. The EMTs pulled me — still dripping, still naked — off her and rushed her to the hospital. The ER doctor, a soft-spoken woman who looked half my age, put her hand on my shoulder. My brilliant, bubbly daughter showed “no brain function.” Ever full of life, she was dead.

A mom’s fight against her child’s lethal brain cancer leads to Mexico

PERSPECTIVE | A mother’s desperate attempt to keep her 12-year-old alive

thelily.com

My wife and I pieced together the course of events from the autopsy report. A day earlier, sometime around 5 p.m., our daughter swallowed a palm full of my prescription anti-depressants, more than 10 times my daily dosage. Right after, she vomited. That evening, she told her friends and us about vomiting. Like any parent, we took her temperature (normal), got her some fluids (ginger ale), and put her to bed early. She never told us about the pills. Critically, this particular drug is time-release. Once capsules rupture, the medication cannot be purged. Vomiting does nothing to rid the body of the poison, a fact to which we are sure she was ignorant (since we were). The same pharmaceutical magic that allows for steady time release holds the black dog of my depression at bay — tiny particles of slow-dissolving medication designed to pass with ease and rapidity into the intestines — makes them unpurgeable. Irony, meet tragedy.

Our daughter plainly expected to wake up in the morning. Last texts with friends speak about weekend plans. She wrote with youthful excitement about an upcoming trip. My wife tucked her in, gave her a kiss. During the night, she slipped into a coma. A massive seizure. And she was dead. The crazy parental nightmare: tucking a child in bed, finding her dead come morning. So many questions.

We will never know what she was thinking. Why she took those drugs. Why she vomited. These unknowns haunt us. Her social media was unremarkable, rife with all the usual drama of adolescents. We will never know that “why.” The question haunts us, and still we have no idea.

Much of what we do know applies to every adolescent: Her brain was a teenager’s brain. Despite abundant cleverness, she lacked an adult’s grasp of consequences. Mature decision-making was still eight to 12 years away. Emotional tumult often rules teenagers’ lives. Things that, for an adult, might seem minor, even trivial, can provoke terrible actions. The possible act, not the incendiary, is the grave risk. That’s why many parents who don’t own guns choose not to, why gun-owning parents lock up weapons.

But few parents think about the pharmacy in the bathroom. Few are ever warned. The pediatricians tell everyone of dangers: grapes (halved!), electrical sockets (covered!), promiscuity (don’t!), screen time (not too much!). Sure, we read brochures about toddlers mistaking pills for candy, and kept caps well secured. That, however, was years ago. Yes, we knew of the danger of opioids (and therefore kept none in our house). No one mentioned securing other pharmaceuticals from adolescents and teens. Our medicine cabinet, the unlocked arsenal of our family tragedy. Now, at a friend’s house, spotting a vial of medicine for convenience sake left on a windowsill is enough to bring a panic attack. Medicine bottles on their bathroom counter look like shotguns.

Statistics quash any notion of this as hyperbole. Children suffer staggering death and injury rates from legal prescription medications. In 2013, according to the CDC, almost 60,000 children arrived at the ER due to overdoses. More than 1,700, in 2014, based on NIH research, died due to prescription drugs. These rates are all rising.

Women far outpace men in their use of opioids. Surgery is one gateway to dependence.

Nine in 10 patients receive opioids to manage post-surgical pain

thelily.com

The issue isn’t good kids vs. bad kids. It isn’t whether your kid is smart. Or kind. Or behaves. The issue is young brains being undeveloped. A kid at home with an unsecured medication might just as well be left with a loaded gun. No child should be so vulnerable. Nor can you assume “I’d know if it were my child.” Research shows that, contrary to conventional wisdom, almost 25 percent of suicide victims go from decision to attempt in a mere five minutes, and 70 percent take less than an hour. One impulsive moment explodes into tragedy. We secure guns. Likewise, we should secure medication. Because it isn’t just opioids that can kill.

Two children now sleep in my house, where once slept three. A locked medicine chest now sits beneath my sink. The price online was $48.99. Not having it earlier — that was the real cost. It is a price no parent should pay.

Jordan Magill is a writer living in Silver Spring, Md.

This essay originally appeared in The Washington Post.

The Family Engagement Playbook

Welcome | How to Use The Playbook | Overview

Welcome

The Family Engagement Playbook is a collection of promising research-based approaches to strengthen individual competencies and organizational support for meaningful family engagement. The playbook offers ideas, models, and tools that can be easily integrated into training, continuing education, and organizational learning opportunities. All of the methods put families at the center―especially those that are most marginalized in our society―and hold the promise to change individual mindsets and organizational policies and practices.

We developed the playbook to create a dialogue about a question we raised in our report Joining Together to Create a Bold Vision for Next-Generation Family Engagement:

How do we work with families and communities to co-create the next generation of family and community engagement?

The playbook pulls together the information shared with us over many years by faculty members, practitioners, community leaders, and researchers. It is designed to be used by those who seek new ways to co-create family engagement practice.

We encourage you to share your ideas and practices and contribute to making this a living document.

How to Use The Playbook

The playbook is divided into three section:

  • Change Mindsets
  • Build Relationships
  • Transform Organizations

Together, they present a framework to build the capacity of people and organizations for family engagement.

Family Engagement Playbook framework

Users can:

  • Use the framework to design courses, workshops, and continuing education.
  • Refer to the section on approaches to apply them singly or in combination to achieve learning goals.
  • Learn more about the approaches from the resources found at the end of each description.
  • Contact us at info@globalfrp to share innovative methods and approaches.

Overview

Family engagement is a shared responsibility and partnership. It is about the many ways families promote their children’s learning: as guides and mentors, co-learners, and advocates for better educational opportunities for all. It is also about schools and communities supporting these roles and providing opportunities―in and out of school―for family engagement in children’s learning.

We believe that capacity building has to do with the spread of effective skills and practices among those who serve families and organizational processes that commit to learning, testing, and improving family engagement. Given widening educational opportunity gaps and the new research confirming the existing knowledge base about the benefits of family engagement, the Family Engagement Playbook is designed to be a resource for those exploring new possibilities to enhance the teaching, learning, and practice of family engagement. The playbook focuses on changing mindsets, building relationships, and transforming organizations.

A Parents Advice

I’ve always been a more tactile person needing to understand how things work and how to create. My father was a major source for that, as were many of my early influencers and mentors. He was a Cinematographer and I wanted to follow in his footsteps… but this was beacuse my father could do anything!

Like Father, Like Son
‘Gone in 60 Seconds’ premier (2000)

You see, my father is somewhat of a renaissance man. He taught me from a young age that to be successful you need to learn many skills, especially if you’re looking to get into the entertainment industry. His direct approach to just about everything was grounded in his confidence that he could do anything. As such he was a carpenter, mechanic, handyman, pilot and many other things in addition to cinematography. Most of those other skills were what actually paid the bills… and still are for him.

I took every chance I could get as a child. I used to rummage through reel to reel tape decks, cameras, tools and general oddities and learned how to use most of it… By thirteen I had fixed my older sisters car (the carb needed to be tuned and the timing was off), I was creating short videos (Long live Betamax!) and radio programs, helping on construction projects, etc…

Flash forward to now… Im currently looking for a new adventure in my career and while searching I have built a guest house, a custom composite deck, consulted on digital strategy & development, volunteering at my daughters school, repairing golf carts & electric boats for my neighbors…

I am confident that I will find the right fit, hopefully sooner than later, but grateful for having a father that taught me the importance of diversification.