The Third Row

It was one o’clock in the afternoon during the middle of the week. I was not giving writing instruction, engaging in literary discussion, overseeing group work, or even watching the clock anxious for an unruly class to be dismissed.

Instead, I sat in the third row and watched a performance. While, it was not quite Broadway, I was mesmerized throughout the entire twenty minute production. I did not check my cell phone, consider grading papers, or mentally review a piece I am writing.

It was SJ’s kindergarten graduation. The children sang and danced and said the lines that their teacher had been drilling into their minds through many practices.  During the performance, I wore my proud sentimental dad hat. The teacher and freelance writer hats were off.

SJ performing at his kindergarten graduation.

SJ performing at his kindergarten graduation.

A big part of being a good employee is to be responsible, productive, and efficient.  In this day and age where it still feels like job security is tenuous, it is natural to feel pressure to constantly be on.  Therefore, some may be thinking, while a kindergarten graduation is sweet, is it worth taking a day off from work for this?  My internal debate over this question lasted seconds. I had the time, and this is exactly what I wanted to use it for.

These days there is much talk about balancing work and family. It used to be that women were the ones who were primarily responsible for child care and or struggled in this balance. However, recently a Pew Research Center survey (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/03/14/modern-parenthood-roles-of-moms-and-dads-converge-as-they-balance-work-and-family/) found that “50% of working dads say they find it very or somewhat difficult to balance these responsibilities.”  According to the survey, “46% of fathers say they are not spending enough time with their children.” Yet, they also want to work full time at a high-paying job. By the way, this conflict is occurring for men in all types of jobs including professional athletes (http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/eagles/20130605_Sconce_shopping_puts_Eagles__Cary_Williams_in_a_bad_light.html)

Something has to give.  And ultimately, each of us has to make his or her own decisions on how to balance family and work. There is no right answer.

While I feel some sense of contentment at work, sometimes, I think I could and should be further along in my career. I question whether I am reaching or on track to reach my full potential. Isn’t part of my job as a parent to demonstrate a work ethic? Then, I wonder if I made more money, would my family be better off? It certainly would relieve certain stresses (and bring others – I know).

My job allows me to be home early. For three days a week, I am the parent in charge. Dinner, homework, bathing are all my responsibility.  While this may leave me grunting and frustrated at times, I enjoy the bonding time and recognize its importance. I know my boys. I know their best friends’ names. I know their favorite television shows. I know what they like to read.

It’s nine o’clock and the boys are in bed (normally).  It should be time for winding down – maybe watch some television, read, surf the net or talk with my wife. However, I don’t take this luxury. Instead, part two of my work day begins. It’s time for lesson planning, grading papers, or writing an article, blog post, etc.

So, I struggle like many others with balancing work and family. I strive to give my children the best of me and find meaning in work. Either way, I am happy to sit in the third row knowing that is where I should be.

Standing Up

My older son has had some issues with bullying during this school year. Thankfully, they have not been major, and I am hopeful that they are over.  My wife’s advice to our son is, “Walk away, and tell someone.”

Bullying image courtesy of Google.

Bullying image courtesy of Google.

The advice I offer is a bit more nuanced. I recently advised him about an incident at his lunch table. I told him to firmly say to the bully, “Get up or shut up,” and to report it to whoever is in charge.

BR is passive (except when he is around his little brother). While I certainly don’t want him to turn into a bully himself, I don’t want him to be afraid or feel uncomfortable standing up for himself in whatever walk of life.

The purpose of Memorial Day is to remember the veterans who have fallen during war. These courageous individuals paid a terrible price to protect our country and the freedoms that we enjoy. They deserve our respect, admiration, appreciation, and attention. However, I wish there was no need for this day. How many lives have been wasted because of war? The number, whatever it may be is too terrible to count. As Bob Dylan said in Blowin’ in the Wind: Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died.

 

Courtesy of Google

Courtesy of Google

Yet, sometimes fighting/war is the absolute right thing to do. No, it should not be the first option. No, it is not something to be aspired to. But it may be the only solution.

We are in the middle of the war on terror. Iran is racing towards a nuclear weapon. North Korea continues to provoke its neighbors and the US itself. I wish these things were not occurring. I would prefer that we could reason with these entities/countries. I would rather we find an accommodation that would satisfy everyone. Unfortunately, all indications including recent negotiations, offers, and discussions point to these entities/countries being unwilling to be reasonable. They are bellicose in their ways and expect the U.S. and the West in general to roll over and allow their desires to come to fruition.

President Obama has apparently decided that the war on terror is in a new phase, that there is still time to negotiate with Iran (before they acquire nuclear weapons), and that North Korea can be handled. I believe that the president of the United States is the most powerful person in the world.  While the president can attempt to amend and convince other countries of a course of action, he can not decide the desires and the goals of other countries. Nobody has that kind of power.

I don’t envy the president. He (and someday a she) has to make the decision when force is necessary. He has to decide when to put soldiers – young men and women – in harm’s way. I hope and expect the president to recognize when force is necessary and pray that he will take appropriate action.  There will be more soldiers to mourn and miss on future Memorial Days.

I want my son to stand up for himself. I want him to know that he can take care of himself. I want him to use reason and be firm. I want him to work with the authorities that be.  If all else fails, I expect him to use force. Maybe not a nuclear weapon, but if he has to throw a punch to express his confidence, I’m ok with that.

There are times when one must stand up for one’s self. Memorial Day reminds us of this difficult lesson.

Small Town

Well I was born in a small town And I live in a small town Prob’ly die in a small town Oh, those small – communities. John Mellencamp “Small Town”

A cool song. I was born and raised in Philadelphia. As an adult, I moved to New York – Brooklyn to be exact. I lived in Brooklyn for more than 4 years. From there, I lived in Manhattan for the same amount of time. I then spent a little over two years in the Bronx.
Besides being a bit of vagabond, you’ll note there is no small town in my past. So, unless you count my time at my college (State College, PA – the main campus of Pennsylvania State University), I am as big city as you can get. Well, that is until my family, and I made our way out to the suburbs of North Jersey nearly six years ago.

THE MOVE

I couldn’t take it at first – the suburbs, that is. I don’t like mowing the lawn (http://larrydbernstein.com/sort-of-green/), and I like noise, and thrive on activity. Yet, I’ve adjusted. There is peace and quiet and space. I love the space. So even though a part of me will always miss the city – Manhattan in particular – I am okay here in the burbs.
There is a sense of community in a small town. When I think of small towns, I think of familiarity. When I lived in the various boroughs of New York City, I was in high rises (some were higher than others), and I would see the same people coming in and out of the building. Yet, I knew very few if any of them. We shared hallways but not lives.
It’s not like that here in the suburbs. Now, it’s not like I know everyone, and we get together for brunch once a month on a rotating basis. Still, you can’t help but see people around whether it’s at the bagel store, the dry cleaner, the bank, or the town pool. At one point in my life, I probably would not have cared about this or even found it suffocating. Now, there is something about it that I find nice, decent, and comforting. It’s as if because of our proximity, we are bound together on some level.

OUR TOWN ACTIVITIES

Our town does some nice things to foster this sense of community. There is a Memorial Day Parade. The fire engines, police cars, EMTs, local servicemen, and high school march. You can watch the whole parade in less than an hour. There is nothing cool about it. But we’ve gone multiple times and enjoy it every time. We get to see and appreciate those who support our community.
Yesterday we attended a carnival at the local public school. The carnival was simple – none of the rides is about to make its way to Six Flags. We were there only a short while, but the boys had a lot of fun. They went on some rides, ate some popcorn, and drank some Coca Cola. We saw past and present classmates of SJ (who attends the school). Also, my wife volunteered to work at one of the booths. The tickets and snacks were pricey. But we didn’t complain. After all, the purpose of the carnival was to raise money for our local schools.

My wife hard at work at the booth and dealing with two clowns.

My wife hard at work at the booth and dealing with two clowns.

SJ & BR - two swingers

SJ & BR – two swingers

The boys and I enjoying the fair.

The boys and I enjoying the fair.

This big city guy is content. “It’s good enough for me.”

Sometimes, I Feel Old

Sometimes, I feel old when…

Don’t tell me you never have this thought rumble through your head. Maybe, it arises when cars pass you on the road, or when you think three times about a particularly decadent dessert, or you hear yourself saying, “In my day…” I could go on, but you get the idea.

Most of you who read this blog are somewhere in your 20’s, 30’s, or 40’s. None of which is old. However, if you are like me, you do things that you thought you wouldn’t do when you were younger. Or maybe, you do things that at one point you would laughed at someone else for doing such a thing.

In my most recent post, I once again alluded to food shopping (http://larrydbernstein.com/the-need-for-speed/). As I mentioned, this is one of the household chores that falls under my domain. And I really don’t mind handling the food haul. Now, I don’t think that makes me old. Weird maybe, but not old.

Courtesy of Google.com

Courtesy of Google.com

However, there are some weird things that occur on my food shopping jaunts that make me utter the words, “I feel old.”

Last week – and it wasn’t the first time – I found myself singing and bopping my head along with the music that came over the supermarket sound system. I don’t remember the song, but you know it came over a station such as 99.4 Happy or 101.1 Sunny, or 104.8 Back in my Day. Of course, it could have also been some preprogrammed list of all your ‘favorite soft hits’.

Are you kidding me? Me? Now, I was never some long haired, leather sporting, ripped jean wearing, tattoo exhibiting, ear ring dangling, head banging guy. Shocker – right? Hey, but I had a Black Crowes poster in my apartment at college, I slept out for Who tickets, I blared Twisted Sister’s, We’re not Gonna Take It till my father said, “Turn down that damn music.”

Courtesy of Google.com

Courtesy of Google.com

Now, I’m bopping down the aisles of Shop Rite while trying to select the best looking bananas, hoping for sales on my family’s favorite items, and praying there will be no line at the checkout counter.

ShopRite.com

ShopRite.com

Oh G-d, I am getting old – aren’t I? Don’t answer that. Please. Imagine what I’ll feel like when the 2050’s come around.

Is it just me? What makes you feel old?

P.S. Please note I now have a Facebook like button and a WordPress like button. I had wanted a WordPress compatible like button since I started the blog. I’d like to thank Ingrid from http://nowathomemom.com/ for her alerting me about such a button. By the way, I highly recommend her site. I am not a do it yourselfer but do enjoy her blog.

So, continue to make your comments and feel free to press like as well. Thanks.