Category Archives: Life Lessons

I Say High, You Say Low…

… You say why, and I say I don’t know
Oh, no
You say goodbye and I say hello
Hello, hello
I don’t know why you say goodbye
I say hello

– The Beatles

“It’s an acquired taste.”

For the first fifteen or so years of my life, when I would hear that statement attached to description of food, I would immediately assume it tasted weird or bad. I never even took the time to break down the meaning of the entire sentence. It just entered my mind phonetically–its eyn uh-kwahyurd teyst–then my mind would spit out meaning: don’t bother.

Can you blame me though? Think back to your eight-year-old palate. Now, think about how you felt about beer, asparagus, salmon roe, brussel sprouts, coffee, licorice, and liver. Did you like these foods? Well, I sure didn’t. They were foreign and unpleasant flavors to me, and when grown-ups described how it tasted, they used the word, acquired. Maybe I just assumed it was a word with double meaning like fine, or right.

"No thank y--I mean, thank you!"

In any case, as I got older, I developed a liking for many of the aforementioned foods, and the meaning finally clicked: Ah, you acquire a taste for the food over time. Now, I cannot imagine turning down liver pate or fish eggs of any kind, and asparagus and brussel sprouts are among my favorite vegetables.

Looking back on it now, I think I was jarred by the unknown. I was uncomfortable with the new experience of consuming these unfamiliar flavors, and I immediately cast them aside, categorizing them as other, weird, disconcerting, and ultimately not worthy of my time.

I have come to realize that people, too, can be an acquired taste. A perfect case in point would be one of my good friends, whom I met six years ago, roughly around this time of year.

I was working in Burlington, Vermont at the time, and I was finishing up my last day at work. It was blazing hot, and I was just trying to put in my hours, which were all but pointless, since there was little I could do on my last day. It was explained to me that this particular day also happened to be one of the first days of work for the office’s new summer intern from Maryland, and we were to share an office space for about six hours. Honestly, I did not care. I was heading off to my new job in San Francisco in a few days. It was hot. I was in the office, but not present–just going through the motions while in a bit of a foul mood due to the circumstances.

After getting settled in at my desk, trying hard to move as little as possible so as to avoid sweating further, a tall, thin Black man, with neatly trimmed hair, and a big smile came walking into the office. It was the new intern.

Two things struck me immediately. First, despite the fact that this man seemed to be over six fee tall, he took remarkably quick, tiny, careful strides; it was as if he were literally walking on egg shells. Secondly, along with a snappy polo shirt and matching belt, he was wearing the tiniest shorts I had seen on a man, since the 1980s. His long legs, which had clearly been treated with liberal amounts of body lotion (as the chocolate glossy shine suggested), and deck shoes worn without socks (coordinated with the outfit, of course), actually made the shorts look tinier (if that was possible).

The Intern and the Captain shopped at the same store for shorts.

So here I was, in the midst of a pointless day of work, with sweat dripping down my brow, and I was being greeted by a giant chipper pair of legs from straight out of a recent J.Crew catalog.

He introduced himself with a kind handshake; his giant, cool, dry hands made me even more insecure about my sweaty palms. We exchanged pleasantries, and I began to take notice of his pronounced and intentional Southern twang.

Sitting about six feet away from me, at his desk, the intern engaged me in a bit of small talk. I commented on how hot it was. The intern explained that he was from North Carolina, and it was, “hot as Hades,” back where he grew up. I asked him about going to school in Maryland, and he told me that it had been a challenging transition, but the journey had been rewarding, he was appreciative for the learning he was experiencing, and I am pretty sure he mentioned that God or Jesus put him on this path for a reason. When I asked him how he felt about his new internship, he poured on the praise for the woman who helped him secure this opportunity, and he accentuated his complements with, what sounded like, a bible reference. All the while, the intern did not show a sign of discomfort with the heat. Maybe it was the shorts.

In any case, I pegged him as very Southern, conservative, religious, exceedingly positive, with teeny-tiny shorts. For this Berkeley raised, hippy-influenced, decidedly nonreligious, pragmatic wearer of over-sized shorts that extend below the kneecaps, the intern was very foreign, and completely indigestible. We spent much of the rest of our day in silence. And, while we were both at a gathering that weekend, I pretty much avoided him.

Flash forward one year, and I am coming off of some time away from work. My supervisor tells me that the division has a new hire, and this person in the new position mentioned that he knows me. She mentions his name and nothing clicks. She mentions that he interned at Vermont, and… it clicks.

“Ah,” I say with a smirk, “that guy is… special.”

"I'm sorry, what's not to love here?"

When his first week comes around, I go down to greet him. He is very well dressed, and on this occasion, wearing pants. One thing leads to another, and for some reason, I end up offering to take him to lunch later that week. The day of our lunch comes around, and I take him to pick up Good Luck Dim Sum, one of my favorite bargain bites, down on Clement Street in the Richmond District of San Francisco. Knowing he is from the South, I do my best to pick out the items that are most palatable for the every-day person. We leave with three huge boxes of dim sum–enough to feed a small family. Upon arriving back at work, we find a place to sit down, chat, and eat. He is polite, but eats very little. Apparently he does not have a taste for dim sum. I’m a bit put off, as unadventurous eaters easily annoy me. He does little to change my opinion of him. To me, he still is not quite my cup of tea.

Over time, we continue to find ourselves in each other’s company. By the end of the year, I realize that he is one of the brightest professionals in our division, and I want to work with him whenever I can. By the end of the next year, he ends up being one of the few people from work with whom I feel close enough to invite to my wedding. By the end of the following year he becomes one of the only people in my life with whom I can argue, debate, and/or engage in authentic dialogue. We mainly argue about the compatibility of a conservative agenda, and social justice, and it does get heated, but we stick with it. Now he is one of my closest confidants, and I cannot really imagine my life without him.

My perspective on the “Intern” has clearly shifted over time. I do not think I would describe my friend as weird. Rather, I would say he is quite unique, especially by California standards.

I have adjusted to his cyclical way of speaking, and now recognize that his style is conducive with great storytelling. I find it charming, the way he uses similes to explain everything under the sun. I smile inwardly as I watch him tiptoe around situations in which he is tempted to speak unkindly of another (“Well, his inability to finish his end of the project provided me with an opportunity to explore creative options within a short window of time”). I have begun to repeat many of his favorite sayings, such as: “teamwork makes the dream work,” or, “it takes a village to raise a child.” When my friend references his Christian faith to thank me for something I may have done–“Brother, there is a place in The Kingdom for you”–I take it as one of the highest complements I could possibly receive. I have witnessed him become a more adventurous eater (though he still wouldn’t touch the tuna tartare when we went out to eat the other day). We laugh together often, reenacting the scene with Randy Watson and his band, Sexual Chocolate, from Coming to America. We greet each other every day with another Coming to America reference, asking one another if one’s “soul is aglow,” in honor of the infamous product from the movie. I have even mastered the Southern art of carrying on a conversation with him about one thing; when in reality, we are speaking about something else all together. The two of us can carry on a twenty-minute conversation about coffee, while we are actually talking about his dating life.

Clearly, over time, I have come to acquire a taste for my good friend. I now realize that my previous distaste for him had less to do with how weird or foreign he was to me, and more to do with my own xenophobia and bigotry. I may have thought of myself as open-minded, but in reality, I viewed him through a lens of judgment, bias, and perceived supremacy. I was the one with an unadventurous palate.

Only happenstance brought us back together. Had our interactions been limited to those few hours in Vermont, I would have missed out on developing a relationship with one of the kindest, funniest, most brilliant, and most thoughtful individuals with whom I have ever had the pleasure of crossing paths. He has changed me. I am a better person for having known him.

Alas, our time together is now limited. My good friend will be headed back to the South for graduate school in less than a week. He will be missed.

Recently, during a conversation about his upcoming migration to the South, I asked him if he was excited about being closer to home, and around people that were more like him. “Aren’t you excited about blending in? Aren’t you looking forward to being with your people?” I joked.

“Well, Brother,” he exhaled with his Carolina drawl, “I worry about that,” he said, adding a long pause. “I think they may not get me. My ideas might be too liberal for their liking.”

The irony of his statement was not lost on me.

I hope that he finds a home in the South. For as Maya Angelou says so eloquently:

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.

My good friend shared that quote with me. He taught me that this understanding of home should guide the way we co-construct community for all. He is very wise.

If I could write a letter to the people of the community for which he will shortly be a part of. I would kindly request that they sooth my good friend’s ache for home. Moreover, I would ask that they give my friend time to grow on them. For in my opinion, a taste for my good friend is well worth acquiring.

Oh, What are You Thinking of?

… What are you thinking of?
Oh, what are you thinking of?
What are you thinking of?

-Air Supply

What do I know about the thoughts of a baby?

Apparently I think I know a lot, because I catch my self acting as our son’s spokesperson all the time.

My dad caught me the first time about three weeks ago, as I was describing the symptoms of the little one’s illness.

“He has a stuffy nose, and a sore throat.”

“How do you know he has a sore throat?” my dad asked.

“Well, his throat sounds scratchy and irritated when he cries…”

“Hmmm.”

I guess I didn’t really know if his throat was sore, I just assumed it was because of the way it sounded. Yet, I have done this numerous times over: he’s hungry, his stomach hurts, he has gas, he enjoys company…

A few days ago, in an effort to stop our  son from crying, I cranked up some Michael Jackson music, and started dancing around the living room with him in my arms. It worked! In my moment of triumph, I declared that our son loves Michael Jackson, and being held while one dances around to the Beat It, was his new favorite pastime.

"Book 'em, Danno."

After thinking about it a bit, I realized that we could have played type of music, while dancing, and  he would have been fine. This was best exemplified by playing the theme song to The Hawaii 5-O, and moving enthusiastically to the beat as our son stared blankly at my hair. In all likelihood, I probably could have looped some flatulence noises for ten minutes while bouncing up  and down and he probably would have been satisfied.

This desire to know what my son is thinking has me yearning for cartoon technology.

I remember there was a Simpsons episode in which Homer’s estranged brother, Herb, invented a baby translator, which, of course, translated a baby’s various sounds into plain english (voiced by Herb, who was played by Danny DeVito). The first test on Maggie goes like this (quote from http://www.snpp.com/episodes/8F23.html):

Lisa: Maggie? Maggie? [covers her eyes]

Maggie: [babbles]

Translator: [monotone] Where did you go?

Lisa: Peekaboo! [uncovers eyes]

Maggie: [laughs]

Translator: [monotone] Oh, there you are. Very amusing.

Surprisingly, the cries of our child are becoming somewhat translatable; we can sort-of differentiate between the I’m hungry-cry, and the I’ve got gas-cry (So we presume).

This, of course brings me back to, wondering what is going through my child’s head during his silent moments, and his inconsolable moments. In Pixar’s Up, collars are attached to the dogs of Charles Muntz, which translate the thoughts of all dogs into a variety of languages (with one’s choice of accents, too!).

The Cone of Shame

The translations would be very literal and elaborate, as in the case of Dug, the golden retriever, who explains during his introduction, “My master made me this collar. He is a good and smart master and he made me this collar so that I may speak. Squirrel!  [looks to distance for a few seconds]”

A collar like that would be awesome! However, while I may be underestimating our son, I don’t think he would be thinking anything so complex. The monkey in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, with a similar thought translating headband, probably had thoughts that were more in line with my son’s thoughts. The monkey’s translator would mainly articulate singular thoughts that were most central to its focus. Thoughts like: “Yellow!” or, “Gummi bears!” or, my personal favorite, “Muuuuuustaaaaache?”

"Muuuustaaache?"

Maybe babies think about very complex things. Maybe their thoughts are very primal and elementary.

Recently, my partner and I were watching our child staring around at the room quietly; throwing his limbs around every so often. She posed the question to me–the question that I have been ruminating upon for a while–“What do you think he is thinking?”

“Honestly,” I replied, “I think he is shifting his eyes from shape to shape, object to object, face to face, and thinking, ‘What the eff is that? Wait… what the eff is that? Hold on… what the eff is that?!'”

Again, I may be projecting, especially with the choice of language, but it certainly is fun to think about it.

Still When I’m a Mess, I Still Put On a Vest…

… With an S on my chest
Oh yes, I’m a super woman

-Alicia Keys

This past Monday marked the day that our son turned one month old. He is gradually getting bigger, but I cannot, for the life of me, figure out who he looks like. I think his face changes every few days. The good news is, he does not look like a wingless bat anymore. Sadly, as it was to be expected, he does not do to much beyond crying, sleeping, pooping, and eating (in that order… maybe with some extra crying and pooping in between).

During this past month, I have discovered learned a bit about my own limits, which mainly correlates with our son’s sleep patterns. My main realization: women are stronger than men… well, at least my partner is stronger than I am.

How did I discover this? By trying to rock our son to sleep.

Last week, I get home from work, and our son is crying. My partner had been getting tiny fragments of sleep over the previous twenty hours, so I take it upon myself to put him to sleep, thus allowing my partner to grab a bite to eat and maybe a few extra consecutive hours of shuteye.

After swaddling the little one, I whisk him away to the other room, where I assume the relative darkness and silence will quickly put him to sleep. Goodness gracious, I could not be more wrong. The blanket-wrapped infant will not go to sleep. He cries, grunts, then relaxes–staring off at the shadows on the wall, then repeats the cycle again.

I try a variety of repetitive movements to lull him to sleep. First I rock him back and fourth by hinging my arms at my shoulders–the universal movement for rocking a baby to sleep in sing-alongs. Doesn’t work. Next I try twisting back and fourth. Unsuccessful. Next I attempt walking. No dice.

As my frustration grows, I begin reflecting on the considerable lack of exercise I have been able to fit in since his birth. It was at this moment I decided to kill two birds with one stone–I will rock him to sleep while doing a series of yoga moves I have learned from our “Yoga Conditioning for Weight Loss” DVD.

Gradually, I begin incorporating lunges and twists into the rocking. Making sure to “breathe deeply in through my nose, and out through my nose,” while “feeling my feet rooted to the earth,” as instructor, Suzanne Deason likes to remind me.

Ten minutes pass; he is staring at my hair like it is the most fascinating entity on the planet–isn’t that cute. Fifteen minutes pass; the little one is nodding off a bit, but can’t seem to commit to sleeping, and my joints are cracking. Twenty minutes pass; our son seems to be fighting the sleep just to spite me. Furthermore, I am attempting, without any success, to

Are you amused by my discomfort derived from the incorrect practice of your teachings, Ms. Deason?

“focus my intentions without hardening my mind,” and wondering what the f#c% Suzanne Deason means when she commands me to do such a thing. Forty minutes pass; he finally seems to be asleep, which is good since my back hurts, and I am barely able to make any discernible rocking movements at this point as I am seriously fatigued.

Upon exiting the room, I pass a mirror. Perspiration is dripping down my sideburns, my cheeks are a bit flushed, and my shirt is sticking to my back and chest due to the sweat I have just worked up. Nevertheless, I am feeling pretty good about “working out.”

Just as I am about to sit down to relax, I hear a cry from behind. Our son is awake again.

I will spare you the details of this particularly epic diaper changing and just sum it up with the following statistics: one swaddling blanket change, two outfit changes, five diapers used, in a seven minute time frame; plus forty more minutes of hushing the little one to sleep.

Once he goes to sleep, what do I do? Take a nap? No. Lay down for a bit? Nope. Zone out on the television? Uhh… negative. I sit, hunched over in a chair, doing useless things on the internet.

Now, in a previous life, this would have been semi-acceptable. I mean, I might sleep in a bit the next day, maybe wake up a bit more fatigued. But on this night, such a simple act turned out to be a major miscalculation. I stay up for the eleven o’clock feeding, do yoga-lite to put him to sleep, and finally hit the hay at midnight.

Three in the morning marks the moment of painful enlightenment for me. Our son cries out for a feeding. I jump out of bed and my lower back locks up into one giant knot. Simultaneously, I am hit with a severe spell of dizziness, and I almost crash to the floor. With my stomach clenched to stabilize my back, and the room reeling a little bit less, I scoop up the little noisemaker, and make my way to the kitchen to prepare a bottle.

Everything hurts–my back, my head, my ankles–and wait, do I need to pee too? Shifting my weight from one foot to another, doing the rhythmic pee dance I have been practicing since I was two years old, I clumsily get a glass of water in the microwave (man, I need to pee). Dropping the small container of breast milk into the warm water, I spin in search of a clean nipple (why won’t you stop crying?). In a state of near-panic I try to unscrew the breast milk container with only one hand as the other side of my body is committed to the task of getting a hungry baby to refrain from waking the entire neighborhood (please don’t spill the milk).

After what seems like an eternity, I make my way back to the couch–baby in one arm, bottle in the other. My partner passes by silently on her way to her scheduled pumping.

“It hurts,” I whine, in a state of borderline delirium. My bladder feels like it is going to explode, and I am somehow, through the fog of relative insanity, weighing the relative merits of: a) rocking back and forth to keep myself from peeing, but disturbing the feeding and evoking the wrath of the back spasms; b) engaging my back muscles to stay still enough to feed, which will certainly be painful, while putting me in risk of peeing in my pants; c) engaging my stomach muscles as I recline, which will place baby in reclined position as well, which usually leads to hiccups and gas, and does nothing to keep me from using the floor in front of me as a urinal.

From behind me in the kitchen, I can hear the rhythmic, almost techno-esque, beat of the breast pump at work. Using the bass line as a distraction from the need to relieve myself, I stabilize myself enough to feed the little one. “It hurts,” I whisper to nobody in particular; referring to no specific pain in particular.

The breast pump, masquerading as an electronic drum machine, goes silent. “I need to pee,” I say, my stomach cramping. Through the darkness I can see my partner giving me a knowing smile. Gracefully, with outstretched arms, she gathers up our child in one fluid motion.

I rush off to the bathroom to take care of one of my numerous pains. Upon my return to the dark room, in between gentle hushes, I hear, “go to sleep.”

Feeling a mixture of relief, defeat, gratitude, and shame, I make my way to bed, and fall asleep. During the few moments between the instant I laid my head upon my pillow, and the second I fell asleep, only one thought repeated in my head, she does this every day; man, is she strong.

Teach Your Children Well…

… Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you’ll know by.

-Crosby Stills Nash and Young

Last week my mom was honored with an award for being teacher of the year in her school district! Alas, distance and baby care made witnessing this event unfeasible, which was sad, because my mom said that the people who preside over this event wear hats that look  like upside down ice cream cartons. So not only did I miss my mom’s big day, but I missed seeing people in ridiculous hats.

While I was not physically present at the banquet, I’d like to think that I was there in spirit. On the day leading up to the event, and during the evening of, I thought about my mom and what a truly great teacher she is.

While in middle school, I tagged along with my mom to work when my vaccation days didn’t quite line up with my mom’s. Mostly, I think I just played with legos in the corner. However, I do remember the kids seemed to get their work done when it was asked of them, and they seemed to be happy and entertained in between assignments.

Not a stellar review? Well, seeing my mom teach on two random days isn’t really a fair way to evaluate her teaching. Moreover, the smiles and engagement were just subtle indicators of that which I already knew–my mom loved teaching, she approached teaching creatively in order to best figure out how to help students learn, and students reflected her passion and effort in their own love of learning.

How did I know my mom loved teaching? How did I know she approached teaching with out-of-the-box thinking? It could be that I developed this knowledge over time as I would be part of my mother’s captive dinner time audience. Every night my mom would talk about what she was doing in class–what one particular student said, the upcoming project she was looking forward to–as she literally could not keep her excitement to herself.

"Cheese, Gromit! Cheeeeeeese!"

One night she would talk about one of the boys dressing up as Coco Chanel for the class report and assignment during Women’s History Month. Another night she might talk about the puppets they were making for a show as they learned about storytelling. Some nights she would talk about how she got the entire class to imitate Wallace’s reaction to cheese from the claymation series Wallace and Gromit. Other nights she would talk about how epicly inept she was at math, yet she was finding ways to teach them nonetheless. On occasion, my mom would talk about story time–I believe she called it “Stupid Story Time”–which she would use as a reward when the entire class behaved well. Stupid Story Time consisted and continues to consist of less than five minutes of my mother improvising a story with almost no point whatsoever. There was no end to her sharing.

Still, my mother’s utilization of oral tradition during dinner time to chronicle her adventures in the classroom does not fully inform my knowledge of her excellence as a teacher. I know she is a great teacher because, along with my dad and brother, she has always been one of my best teachers.

Story time was a staple in our home before it became a regular element in her classroom. My mom would read us stories, changing her voice, and infusing emotion and excitement into the dialogue. My brother and I had nearly every Roald Dahl book read to us. I think we asked her to read The Phantom Tollbooth to us about eight times over. Had the Harry Potter series come out during our childhood, I don’t think there would have been any way that my brother and I would have not become writers, as I am sure my mother’s readings would have become mesmerizing events.

It was my mom, not my elementary school teachers, that truly taught me how to write. She always told me, “Make it easy. Write the way you talk.” And in order to assist me in in writing “the way I talk,” she would explain how a comma was “a short pause,” and a period was “a breath.” So while I may not be the most creative, competent, or grammatically excellent writer, I definitely have her to thank for being able to string words together in any sort of semi-coherent form.

It was my mother that was my primary teacher of empathy. Whenever my brother or I wronged another person (and usually it was the two of us wronging each other), it was my mother who asked us to reflect upon how we might feel if the wrong had been done unto us.

She might have actually been too good at teaching us empathy. My brother, during his toddler years, actually took to repeating my mother’s rhetorical questioning when he found himself being scolded. With his fists pinned to his waist, he would ask, “How would you like it if I yelled at you for not putting away your toys? How would you like it? Would you feel good?” I, on the other hand, now often internalize the hurt of others so deeply that I am paralyzed with guilt for causing others even the slightest bit of discomfort. Yet, I probably wouldn’t change a thing. As one of my mentors once said, “Your weaknesses are often your greatest strengths gone awry.”

Yes. It was my mom who taught me my multiplication tables in the car, as we would drive from place to place. It was my mom who taught me mnemonic devices in order to attach dates to important events in history, and to remember the correct spelling of fundamental words (“You wouldn’t want to fri the end of your friend–friend.”). It was my mom who taught me my sense of humor (for better or for worse).

So congratulations, mom. The award you have just received is long overdue. A committee of people wearing ice cream cartons as hats has finally validated that which hundreds of children and parents already knew: you are a truly extraordinary teacher.

Just remember, before the ice cream carton hat people, two decades worth of students, and their accompanying parents had any clue that you might be the most excellent teacher of all time, your children were already well aware of your greatness.

You Spin Me Right Round, Baby…

Right round like a record, baby
Right round, round, round

-Dead or Alive

Last Monday, my partner and I transitioned from being a couple, to being a family of three. Despite our best efforts to educate ourselves on the birthing process, and general care for tiny sleeping infant, the last week and a half have been a bit of a whirlwind filled with joy and discovery.

Personally, I do not think I am an adequate enough writer to convey the range of emotions tied to labor, birth, and the first week of taking care of an infant. I can, however, share some moments and my accompanying thoughts regarding things that may only interest me. So here they are:

  • There are some examinations and anatomy-related processes that go on leading up to birth, which can simultaneously be TMI and take the intimacy of a relationship to a whole other level. I will leave that statement as it is.
  • After a complicated and semi-traumatic birth, to me, the most beautiful and relief-triggering sound on Earth was the sound of our son crying.
  • Being thoroughly uneducated on the details of cesarian birthing, I placed myself in the position to be completely shocked by its realities. Thus, as I sat behind a curtain, which separated me from the gory surgery, the statement, “Okay, now let’s put the uterus back in,” caught me a bit off guard. [Two statements that could have been worse: 1. “Wait! Where’s my sandwich? It was sitting right by the scalpel a minute ago…” 2. “Why do we have extra pieces here? This never happened in the video game.”]

    "Jeez... picking bit of lettuce and onion out of here is going to be a pain in the ass."

  • Apparently epidurals are no joke. My partner had  one, which definitely helped with the contractions. During her C-section, they numbed her from the neck down. During recovery, she could move, but couldn’t feel anything, which lead her to punching herself in the face in an effort to move hair away from her eyes. This traumatized her so much that she refused to hold the baby for a few hours afterwards.
  • It is scary holding an infant’s neck while it is so weak and floppy. I thought its head was going  to roll off.
  • I was grateful for the chair that turns into a bed at Kaiser Redwood City, but it gave me the worst back spasms.
  • Speaking of Kaiser Redwood City, their staff–from the nurses, to the, anesthesiologist, to the doctors–were all awesome. I had my concerns with Kaiser, and still have some regarding the organization as a whole,  but their Ob Gyn and pediatric care professionals were amazing.
  • Our son came looking like a miniature version of my partner. He also came out with peach fuzz that extends over his entire forehead–eyebrows to the “hairline” as well as on his back and arms,  and a cone-head, thus making him look like a harry alien wingless bat. A friend pointed out that when I pair these two observations together, I seem to be suggesting that my partner looks like a large harry alien wingless bat. Just to set the record straight, this is not the case.
  • I try to avoid cafeteria food at all costs, so when my partner’s sister asked what she could bring for me as I was being contained within the walls of Kaiser, I would answer, “a burrito!” every single time. Over the course of forty-eight hours, I ate five burritos. I have decided that they are the perfect self-contained meal, and there is little that anyone can say to convince me otherwise right now.
  • Six pounds, three ounce–we knew our baby was small. With the exception of his freakishly long fingers and toes, everything about him was miniature… including his tiny little cry. Nothing solidified these observations in our mind more than when a second mother moved into my partner’s recovery room. Her baby seemed to be a giant next to ours, and his deep throaty cry was like a tuba in comparison to our infant’s kazoo-like yelping.
  • Being super excited about all the free stuff we were being given by the hospital, I haphazardly packed anything up that was still in its wrapping. My partner almost split her C-section stitches with laughter when she discovered, not only did I pack the hideous pink floral hospital gown that leaves one’s entire back side exposed, but I also packed three bed pads meant to absorb anything that leaks out due to one’s water breaking.
  • Our newborn’s nails were sharp little razors. I think they could have cut through class.
  • Wow! Not all bottle nipples are alike! Some can actually cause an infant to get really painful cry-inducing gas. Good to know.
  • I have found that a bottle de-sterilizer can actually act as a semi-functional crucible. I can now see all of the brown murky impurities that come from tap water despite the usage of a Brita filter.
  • On day two I was changing the baby’s diapers, and I turned away to get a fresh diaper ready. When I looked back at the little one, I found a wet splotch on the couch seat. “Wow!” I exclaimed, “You managed to spray all the way over there. Amazing!” As I continued to adjust his clothing for changing I noticed the legs of his outfit were soaked. The following stream of consciousness observation ensued: “Incredible! The legs of this outfit are soaked through… and… how did you pee on your own chest? Wait a minute… your cap is soaked… did you pee on your own head? How did you pee on your own face?” Needless to say, he required a washing that day.
  • Friends and family know me well. We were gifted four separate copies of Goodnight Moon (which I love). I was going to to take it off of our registry, but I wanted to see how many copies we might receive if we didn’t say anything. Furthermore, my brother explained to me that you can never have too many copies of a book. Children tend to slobber, chew, rip and do any number of destructive things to books.
  • The little one pretty much just sleeps, eats, poops, and cries. Trying to facilitate or clean up after such functions can be exhausting… but it is amazing, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

We’ve Got Stars Directing Our Fate…

… and we’re praying its not too late
cause we know we’re falling from grace
Millennium

-Robbie Williams

I once went to a presentation that outlined research on the behavior of males of the millennial generation. Two of the findings that stuck out to me most touched on motivation. According to this research millennial males are best motivated when:

  1. They can be gratified by their work instantaneously.
  2. They can see how the work is tangibly beneficial to them.

In other words, the questions that might often be floating through a male millennial’s subconscious when considering the merits of a situation before him might be: I just put in work, where is my reward? and, Why should I do this? What do I get out of this?

Therefore, planting tulip bulbs in the ground might not be a satisfying activity for a millennial male, as he would not get to see the flowers, or benefit of such work for months. Moreover, suggesting that a male millennial take a volunteer course in conflict resolution might not be very appealing. That is until you explain to him that such an experience would look very good on a resume when they graduate, which might ultimately lead to a job.

Now, how might one identify one of these self-serving millennial males? There is a debate as to which date marks the the birth of the the millennials. Some say children of the eighties, others stretch the boundaries back into the seventies. I have always cautiously considered myself an out-group member with a secret concerns regarding my millennialishness (apparently that is a new word that I just invented).

A seemingly insignificant addition of a new household appliance has shifted my perception of self. As a result of our recent vacuum cleaner purchase, I have strong evidence that leads me to believe that I may be of the millennial generation.

I am obsessed with our new Dyson vacuum cleaner.

All of my loved ones can attest to the fact that I have always had an aversion to household chores. It used to be that getting me to vacuum was a chore unto its self. Our Dyson vacuum cleaner, however, has changed everything. The reason being: it is speaks to my male millenialishness.

This particular vacuum cleaner has a large clear canister into which all of the dirt, hair, dust, lint, and who knows what else gets sucked; I can see everything I have vacuumed up in a nice, clear, cylinder container.

The millennial part of me says, “I just pushed a moderately heavy yellow contraption around the house. Where is my reward?”

The Dyson vacuum cleaner responds, Right here! You get a cleaner carpet; this large fuzzy dust-ball you have accumulated in my canister here is evidence of your hard work!

To which I ask, “Why should I do this again? What do I get of this?”

In an exasperated tone, the Dyson vacuum cleaner responds, Pay attention here! I just told you: A cleaner carpet, a giant dust-ball, and ummm… you also get to dispose of the dust ball, using this snazzy red button on top of the canister and a trap door on the bottom.

“…….”

What do you think?

“I accept the terms of this deal. Now, please excuse me as I must now go update my resume.”



I Can’t Get No Satisfaction…

I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no.
-The Rolling Stones

There is the cliché saying, Money can’t buy you happiness.

Then there is the counter to that saying, Those who claim money can’t buy you happiness clearly have never been without money.

Philosophically, I find that I fall somewhere in the middle. I have never really been without money, so I cannot speak to the level of happiness I could achieve with a complete void of funds. And, I have had some great times in my life that required no entrance fees, nor purchase of any type of merchandise. Yet, I would be lying if I were to say that I have not experienced a great deal of happiness where money was involved.

Maybe I feel this is so due to my less than solid connection with the earth. It is possible that I could improve my relationships with other human beings to facilitate greater happiness. It could be, that in a society where everything has become commodified, money is required to purchase things that had always been priceless facilitators of happiness.

Admission must be paid to enjoy certain aspects of nature. Many relationships are facilitated or maintained through costly digital means and services connected to such technology. Furthermore, if we are to get technical, money is required to purchase fundamental needs–water, food, shelter, clothing–all of which could be perceived as prerequisites for many potentially happy experiences. But I digress (I am working on my brevity, and such a topic could go on for paragraphs, if not posts).

It was actually an evening spent with my family on the day of Christmas that got me thinking about the correlation between money and happiness. In retrospect, the entire night could have been a case study exploring the dynamics between money and happiness.

This year, my parents, my partner, and I went to go visit my brother in New York for the holiday break this year. He has been living in Brooklyn going on three years now, he wasn’t planning to come home for the break, and I had yet to go visit him. Thus, a visit back east was long overdue.

On the day of Christmas, we found ourselves trying to pick out a restaurant at the last minute for a “nice dinner.” Well, we definitely over-shot the mark and ended up with reservations at Morimoto’s restaurant (of Iron Chef fame).

After going with my dad, the landscape architect, to visit some reclaimed elevated train tracks that have been turned into a park, and wandering through the over-priced, yet culinarily extravagant, Chelsea Market, our family ended up at Morimoto.

The restaurant was beautiful. Long clean lines of brushed steel, polished concrete, and lightly (if not completely) unstained wood make up much of the interior of this multi-tiered space. Soft, yet dramatic lighting, sand-colored upholstery, a wall of clear, blue, and teal-colored glass bottles sections off part of the space, and the rippled curve of the ceiling whimsically references the lips of scallop shell–all elements that that contribute to a feeling of being inside of some sort of fantastic sea cave. (Special note to anyone thinking of visiting Morimoto in New York: check out the bathroom stalls. Best bathroom stalls ever.)

The meal, of course, was amazing. The food Masaharu Morimoto creates is brilliant. Simple reinterpretations of soul food such as bi bim bop, or beef curry and bread highlight the ways in which a little bit of outside the box thinking, and high quality ingredients can enhance dishes that have been around for a long time. (I actually went home to try to create his “Buri Bop” with some hamachi I purchased from the Japanese market the day we got back. The dish was decent, but the hamachi Morimoto used was on a whole other level, and that made all the difference.)

Some dishes required a certain level of playfulness to consume. The nigiri sushi was without flaws. My mom had the most perfectly prepared sea bass I have ever tasted. Once the food arrived, almost all of our conversation focused on the food and the wonder it facilitated. The meal was just… fun.

I think everyone had a good time. My mom said it was one of the best dining experiences of her life. My brother enjoyed it nearly as much as an individual who lives off of microwavable green chili burritos and Cheerios could possibly enjoy a plate of steak and raw fish. My dad said it was one of the better meals he has had outside of Japan. My partner and I definitely enjoyed our meals.

The ambiance was  memorable, the food was spectacular, and the service was seamless. What could make this experience better? How about meeting the legend himself! We met Masaharu Morimoto! This was actually a huge deal for me, as it was the Iron Chef television show that shifted my interest in food from passing curiosity to legitimate obsession. Moreover, my visit to Morimoto in Philadelphia marked my greatest food epiphany–I came to understand what food could be. Up until that point, I understood that creativity and plating could make a dish seem interesting on television, and I could imagine the flavors. However, on that day I learned that an interpretation of a dish could be revolutionary, and with precise execution, the consumption of such a creation could actually be sublime.

Now that I think about it, Masaharu Morimoto actually had a huge influence on my life, and up until this evening, I had never met the man in my life! The ponytailed man came to our table gave us all warm fleshy hand shakes, posed for some pictures, and had a brief conversation in Japanese with my dad. I was too awestruck to say anything more than, “nice to meet you.” Nevertheless, I will be hard pressed to forget that moment.

At the end of the evening, while I was taking a look at the bathroom (it is a weird habit, but I do this at every interesting restaurant or hotel I visit), my mom walked up to Chef Morimoto as he was observing the restaurant from the entry way.

“All of this must make you really happy.” She stated with a smile.

To her surprise, his response was, “Not really.” He went on to explain, only my mother couldn’t really understand what he was saying. A bit embarrassed, she thanked him for the meal and we all left the restaurant.

My mom felt bad because she thought he didn’t understand that which she was trying to say. However, I think he understood exactly what my mom said. As hard as it is to imagine, he probably just wasn’t happy with the scene before him.

From our prospective, we see a beautiful restaurant, and dozens of people following Morimoto’s lead as they create a enjoyable experience for hundreds of people each night. We see the Iron Chef, a television personality, with multiple restaurants around the world. He must be incredibly wealthy! How could he not be happy?

Maybe he was responding to the display in front of him. He could have been been upset that his beautiful restaurant was not completely full. The tremendous cost of his ultra-fancy restaurant, bearing his name, attached to Chelsea Market (not a cheap piece of real estate), probably weighs heavily upon him, as it is unlikely that the profit margin anywhere close to comfortable.

Morimoto may have been saying something even more profound to my mother. With sweeping gestures of his hand, he could have been saying, “None of this makes me happy. It is rare that I do that which I love most, and actually cook anymore these days. I am caught in an endless cycle of risking my empire to expand my empire. All of my money is tied up in these business ventures, and it stresses me out. Alas, now that I have many of the things I always wanted, I have no time to enjoy them with the people I love.”

In my mind, money and happiness seem to have a precarious relationship with one another. I imagine that that in the United States (if not all over the world)  if one has too little money, life becomes difficult to enjoy. So much effort must be put into its pursuit, as its absence, in many cases, can be life-threatening. If one is focused, one may find one’s self successful in the game of money chasing. Yet, the spoils of victory may be seductive, and enough may never seem like enough. The pursuit of money risks becoming the only game in town, rather the means to a well-meant end.

I don’t necessarily know how to work through the money/happiness conundrum. It is far more complex than I can articulate, and far more insidious than my rambling mind  can fathom.

I do however appreciate the experience that led to my wonderings.

On a freezing evening in New York, I was able to have an incredible dinner with the people I love most in this world. Money set the stage for our memorable evening (thanks, Mom and Dad), but it was sharing the experience with my family that made me really happy.

Maybe I should have pulled up along side of both of my parents as we were finishing dessert and said, “All this must really make you happy.”