Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Sorceress’s Apprentice

There’s one thing I’ve always wanted to say publicly but rarely get the chance to mention. My wife is a fabulous cook.

She has the ability to plan her menu out days in advance, make one trip to the grocery store, and then get everything ready. On days when she hasn’t had time to shop, she looks in the pantry, selects a few items, and puts together something amazing. She’s a sorceress in the kitchen.

My kids, particularly my younger one, think their mom is a fabulous cook, too. Almost once a month, my younger son tells his mother that she should open a restaurant. Often, while my wife is cooking, my younger son will hang out in the kitchen and help his mother as best he can, particularly on foods that my younger son wants to eat.

So, with my wife needing to take it easy on Monday and asking me to take over dinner duties, she mentioned a pork tenderloin in the fridge and then said, “(Our younger son) can help you.”

The little guy didn’t want to help. He wanted to take over. So, after I made sure he washed his hands, I let him do just that. He grabbed the salt, pepper, Jimmy-spice (a special rub made by his grandfather’s butcher), and bacon and then set to work. He gave me directions, mostly on things dealing with the oven as he knew his mom didn’t let him touch the over when he helped her.  He also assisted with the potatoes and the gravy, doing all he could to avoid the broccoli.

My wife staggered down to enjoy the meal, lured by the smell that had wafted to the bedroom. She had her fill then headed back.

One day my son may also be a master chef, preparing food for a girlfriend or wife the same way he does his mother. That girlfriend will be a lucky woman, to have a man whose mother taught him well.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Checking A List More Than Twice

My teenager got braces on Monday.

Most of his friends probably slept in on the holiday, but my wife and I chose, almost two months ago, that he would get his braces on the day where he wouldn’t miss any school. We tried to prepare him that it would be painful for a few days and that he wouldn’t be able to eat certain foods for about 16 months. We have a list we go by at the house. As his dad, I feel sorry for him.

Part of my pity, though, stems from his history. When my son was very young, he was a picky eater. He wouldn’t touch meat and ate limited number of foods. My wife and used to tell people that he was a vegetarian. I was grateful that he at least ate peanut butter.

Then came that fateful day when he was spending a little time with his grandfather. He helped his grandpa prepare ribs, including generational male bonding over the big green egg (see below).

When the time came to eat, there was no way my son was going to upset his grandfather. He bit into the ribs…and discovered he liked them.

Since then, my son has grown to like many foods. And though he doesn’t eat everything, he’s willing to try anything. Now, for the next 16 months, his choices are limited. He can still eat peanut butter sandwiches, though he worries about eating them at school. (At home, he can brush his teeth.) Having a Japanese mother, my son has been raised on a wide variety of noodle dishes. He definitely won’t starve.

Still, he checks the list every so often to confirm what isn’t there. For a kid who took a long time to learn the joy of eating, it’s going to be a grueling time.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Mound of Reality

My younger son recently turned 11.

One of the gifts we promised him for his birthday was a few pitching lessons from a pitching coach. We got the idea when he attended a baseball clinic last fall and met two former major league players, including former Braves reliever and current Braves minor league coach Vladimir Nunez. He lit up at the idea of getting a few lessons from Coach Vlad, prior to the start of spring baseball in 2013.

Last Saturday was my son's first lesson. He was nervous, afraid he wouldn’t do well. I told him not to worry, as the coach knew he was only 11 and that it was only his first lesson. He expected to get a lot of pitching help.

What he didn’t expect was all the stretching and calisthenics both before and after the session.

I knew my son was working hard when I saw the sweat drizzling down his neck as he worked to get his form correct and hold his balance. I saw how he struggled to keep his arm at the proper position to increase the acceleration of his throws. And, I saw his nods as the coach reminded him more than once how to finish, so that my son was in a proper defensive position if the ball were hit back to him.

I knew by the end of the session that my son would be sore the next day. However, he was sore by the time he got home. We should have iced him on Saturday night, but we didn’t. By Sunday, he was in pain, limping around the house. I am hopeful her can throw this afternoon, if it’s not raining.  

He said it was harder than anything he’d ever done. I told him welcome to what it takes to be a major leaguer.

Given his pain, I asked him if he wanted to go back to Coach Vlad.

He grimaced a smile and said yes.

My son learned that dreams can be hard, but now he has a better understanding of what reality requires.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Gunny Highway Theory of Education for Parents

One of my favorite Clint Eastwood movies is Heartbreak Ridge. In it, Eastwood plays a crusty marine gunnery sergeant named Thomas “Gunny” Highway. He’s in charge of a new unit, but the major that runs the base won’t allow him to train the unit as he sees fit. This issue prompts the following question from Highway to the major. 

“How can I fix it if I don’t know what’s broken?”

I thought about this statement recently as I tried to help my older son, who has struggled in his first year of high school. He started out well and made good grades. However, as the semester progressed, his grades began dropping and my wife and I grew concerned. We worked more with him on his homework and helped him study for tests. We also asked to look at the work where he was receiving bad grades.

All he could give us was a Scantron sheet.

We discovered that we couldn’t review his tests with him. At my son’s high school, tests are created on a department basis and are not allowed out of the building. Teachers go over the tests in class, but that’s the extent of it.

I contacted his teachers, looking for ways I could assist him at home. I also asked to see the exams. My question to them:

“How can I fix it if I don’t know what’s broken?”

The teachers allowed me to review the tests with my son, provided I do the reviews at school. This meant meeting teachers before 7:00 a.m. and working with my son for 30+ minutes until the bell rang for class. It also gave me a chance to meet with the teachers and discuss strategies to help my son succeed. I ended up doing this twice last semester, trying to get my son ready for finals. He finished well, though I credit my son’s dedication to his studies and his teachers’ willingness to meet me before school more than my two visits. However, if my going to school is the only option I have to review my son’s work with him, I’ll continue to do so until I find something better.

I know the issue with tests won’t be the first issue my son faces, but I have 3+ years remaining to teach my son to roll with challenges before he goes to college and I’m no longer there. That’s 3+ years to teach my son (borrowing a line from the movie) that when one is faced with a problem “you improvise, you adapt, you overcome.”

I’m calling it the Gunny Highway Theory of Education for Parents.

For those interested, there are number of Heartbreak Ridge clips on YouTube that showcase the quotes from above. Please be warned that they are laced with profanity.