Thursday, March 25, 2010

Inspired in Oakland, CA

(Graffiti next to Chiodo Art Development in Oakland.)

This last Saturday I enjoyed an inspirational day.  I wasn't excited about it at first.  Occasionally, my night classes also meet for all-day Saturday classes and on this particular day we were to meet in Oakland.  I was not looking forward to the hour long drive nor the neighborhood.  When we got there, however, we were in for a treat.

When the three teachers I carpooled with arrived we were warned, by someone outside, to not leave valuables in our vehicles.  Soon we were also told that whatever we imagine as bad about this part of Oakland is true and it is probably worse than we were thinking.  Interesting, why would someone have something here, of all places, that we teachers should see?  But the story gets better.  We didn't know why we were in west Oakland for class but when we walked into a warehouse we were greeted to a magic land of 15 foot bronze fairy creatures, giant colorful toads, plaster Abraham Lincoln heads, clay soldiers around a flag, and so much more.  Some pieces were fantastic and some pieces were emotionally moving.  Turns out we were at the work space and design studio of Mario Chiodo (pronounced: key-oh-dough).  Let me tell you a little bit about this guy.

Mario started out in this same neighborhood in Oakland.  He was part of an experiment in school where under performing young children were given the chance to play with art supplies for two weeks with no other educational concerns.  Then, as they were hooked, they learned more academics.  Mario ended up learning quite a bit academically and artistically.  He went on to become quite wealthy designing and creating statues, masks, casinos, monuments, exotic restaurants and more.  So many of the masks you find at Wal-Mart were designed by his Halloween mask company.  He worked for Lucas to create several Star Wars pieces including a special edition life sized Yoda series.  Ever been to Caesars Palace in Vegas?  Check out the statues and fountains; his work. Children's Fairyland park in Oakland?  The Aladdin Genie popping out of a bottle at the entrance is his work (he paid for half the costs to create it himself when Fairyland could not afford it).

(Mario Chiodo's design studio.)

Mario built his business right in the west Oakland neighborhood he came from.  He takes his interns from the same school district he was part of.  He brings in under served students and teaches them and inspires them with art.  What is his current project?  The Remember Them monument.  For over four years Mario has devoted himself to this project by working on the sculpture for no pay, selling off his lucrative Halloween Mask business, not taking on new paying projects, selling off buildings that he owned, using his own wealth and getting donations from others to maintain progress on this impressive project.  Mario is honoring 25 people from around the world who changed their lives to make the world a better place.  These people devoted themselves to something great.  The Remember Them memorial statue is in four pieces and will be completed and installed in Oakland at the end of 2010.  I can hardly wait to see it installed.  Mario worked hard to ensure that it was installed in Oakland so that it will inspire exactly where inspiration is needed most, in the city.  The work is amazing.  Some of these larger than life characters are always looking at you wherever you stand.  One character only is life sized and that is the little girl Ruby Bridges.  Mario wanted people to be inspired by these great people but he also wanted children to see someone their size and know that they too can become one of the greats.  To completely tell you all that went into this project, from what little I do know, would take a lot of writing.  Let me just say that it is well thought out, very symbolic, and moving.  It is also huge!

(Segments of Remember Them statue in various stages of the process to becoming a four part, 60,000 pound bronze statue.)

I am inspired.  I am inspired by the people honored in the statue, some of whom I had never heard of before.  I am inspired by Mario who decided to give up some personal wealth to make a good thing happen, to open his business in a neighborhood that needs him when he could have located anywhere, for taking on students who deserve more than they are given.  I am inspired to remember that I can make a great change in this world through huge sacrifice but also through smaller sacrifices.  Mario used his personal talent to make a difference with children and to inspire many.  He gave up extra wealth but he didn't go broke, neglect his family, or become destitute to do something important.  He didn't need to become as sacrificing as Mother Teresa to make a difference in this world and I am glad to be reminded of this.  He must feel good about his life, he deserves to.  And now, as the project comes to an end, he is starting up his business again and taking on clients.

I can't stop asking myself what I can do to make the world a better place with the resources and talents I posses.  How can I use my skills to make a positive difference?  This is what I am thinking about regularly.

(Mario Chiodo outside his design studio and warehouse in west Oakland.)

Check out these websites:

Maya Angelou Talking about the project:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Talented Enzo Raines

Guess who flipped himself over?  While at work on Monday, I got a call from Tami telling me that Enzo had lifted himself on his elbows and flipped over to his back.  It was fun to hear about Enzo's accomplishment but it was also just great to be interrupted in my day at work to think about, and hear about, my son.  That night in class, another student/teacher, whom I have rarely spoken to, asked me about my child.  I was SO excited to tell her about Enzo and about him flipping over.  I was smiling and after our brief discussion I found myself thanking her for giving me a reason to talk about my son as it makes me so happy.  A mother herself, she just smiled and said "Yes, I know."

On Sunday my parents and my sister joined us for a walk around the lake at Vasona Park in Los Gatos.  It was good to get out into the world on such a beautiful day.  I think my mom got a kick out of watching Enzo pee on a tree.  Yes, he is only 12 weeks old tomorrow, but he pees outside once in a while.  Tami learned about how, if you pay attention, you can tell when a baby wants to pee or poop, not just react to the fact that they have already wet a diaper, but tell before they go.  Then, you can remove their diaper and they can go.  It's cool because, besides having less diapers to wash, our child spends a lot less time in wet diapers.  It's neat how Tami can tell so often.  There are days when Enzo will go half the day without sitting in a wet diaper once.  Neat.  I'm only just starting to get the hang of noticing before he wants to go.  It's interesting, he gets a little fussy but not so much as if he has wet his diaper.  It's the kind of thing you might not notice if you were not looking for it, if you didn't know there was a sign or meaning to it.  You might just go "What's up Kid?" then pick him up and he would go back to normal.  But, a couple of minutes later he would fuss again, uncomfortable, and you might try distracting him then except that this time he will have a wet diaper.  Or, you could know what that little initial frustration means, understand it as a sign, a communication, and help him go to the bathroom.  At home we have a little potty for him that Tami supports him on when she picks up on Enzo's signals.  But sometimes, out in nature, he goes on the trees, just like his daddy!  It's so funny to me that he learned how to pee outside from his mom first.

Impressed with my wife, I am trying to develop my own senses in understanding my child's subtle communication.  Last night I think I may have actually read his mind!  Well, I can't be sure but a thought popped into my mind that seemed to be coming from Enzo.  Just as he was finished eating, and getting ready to doze off, he unlatched, looked up at his adoring mother and thought "I wonder where the boob is that mommy eats from.  It must be huge!"

To the ever increasing list of things I love about my son, I have added another experience.  It's always such a warm feeling to hold him close with his head looking over my shoulder.  I love it.  But there is something even cooler.  Sometimes he puts his other hand, the one not on the shoulder he is looking over, up as though to hold on to my shirt, chest or neck.  It's a subtle difference but somehow it feels even more awesome.  It somehow seems to imply to my psyche that he is reaching out to me, not just a passive observer over my shoulder, but that he also wants to actively hold and touch and love me back.  I'm okay with knowing his mind is not thinking these things, but it triggers the feelings within me as if he were.  And, I love it.  I took a picture of this when I got home last night so you can see what I am talking about.  Fantastic!  As tired as I was at that moment, holding Enzo energized and soothed me.  That little gesture of his hand made it even better.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tough Kid

(Just minutes after shots.)

Enzo received his first shots yesterday and handled them with little drama.  It was almost as though the shots were little more to him than a wet diaper.

Tami prepared Enzo by explaining to him what would happen at the doctor's office.  She told him in her own way and in Spanish.  When I got home, Tami drove and I sat with Enzo explaining to him what would happen as I saw it, in my own way and in English.  

Roughly, what I said to him was:
We are going to the doctors office to get shots for you.  The doctors office is where we go to see doctors who help us stay healthy and get healthy.  The shots were designed to protect you and help you stay healthy.  They are important for everyone, to help protect all the people we meet.  Mommy and daddy have had our shots too.  Shots are uncomfortable but you will probably get use to them in time.  It's normal that they hurt a bit, it's normal to cry, it's normal that they don't feel comfortable, but the pain goes away.  I love you.  Mommy and daddy wouldn't take you for these shots if we didn't believe they are a good thing.  We will be there with you the whole time, before, during, and after.  It will all be okay and the pain will go away.

I know Enzo does not speak Spanish or English yet, but he does communicate with us and we do our best to pay attention to him and interpret his needs.  I wanted to communicate to him all that I did tell him in words, but in that subtle way of body language and mood that he could partially understand.  I don't know how to imply my intentions directly in those ways but I know we all betray them when we talk.  So, I figured that if I used words that are honest to my thoughts then my body's betrayal of my mood and intentions would communicate the essence of my message to Enzo.  That's one of the reasons it was important to me that I tell Enzo all that I did.  He smiled, he listened, he talked back making sounds and being adorable.  It was good.  It was honest.  I also told him all of the above because I think it is good to talk openly with children.  The other reason is because it was good for me to prepare myself for the experience.  I knew the shot would be uncomfortable.  It certainly goes against the animal body instinct to view such a piercing of our flesh as a beneficial act.  It takes intellect to rationalize that and babies are dependent on the intellect of their adults until their own intellect develops.  I didn't want to betray his trust by delivering him to the pain of the shot without him knowing, as much as possible, that it was not in fact a betrayal.  And, I didn't want to set the precedence that when I am concerned for him that I would just deal with it in my head and let my son go through a traumatic moment in my silence.

Clearly, I was prepared for an ordeal; a right of passage for my son to make it through.  I suppose I imagined that 10 minutes of unconsolable tears and torture would begin at the first shot. As it turned out, however, the ordeal was not nearly so tramatic for Enzo as I was prepared for.  It went like this:

(Enzo on table, Tami and I each holding one of his hands gently)
(Shot one went in)
(A second goes by)
(Shot came out)
Enzo back to normal within 2 seconds, just hanging out.  Wow, I expected more pain.
(Shot two went in)
(Shot came out and instantly shot three went in)
(Shot came out)
"aaa..aaaa" and then calm.

It was like nothing happened and the whole thing lasted only seconds, it seemed.  Enzo's level of discomfort was similar to him having a wet diaper, maybe like having two wet diapers at the same time, if that is possible.  It felt worse for Tami and I then any wet diaper but Enzo looked instantly recovered from the shots.  I was reassured, and surprised, by how quickly Enzo went back to every-day-relaxed-baby mode.  The last vaccine, after the three shots, was a liquid that the nurse gave him to swallow through a little squeeze tube that she put in his mouth.  It looked neither like a boob nor a hand and so Enzo was not happy about it.

(Liquid dropper into mouth)
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! aaaaaaa aaaa aa AAA! AAAA! AAAAAAA! aaaaa AAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa"
That was more annoying to him then the shots!
(Liquid dropper out)
And back to normal and in my arms.

And that was that!  Really.  I almost teared up during the third shot, a mixture of relief and sympathy.  But the whole thing was so quick and his complaints were equally short.  In the end, I was just amazed at how little this seemed to disturb Enzo.  Tami had fed him while at the doctors office and that always makes him mellow so I can not tell for sure if he was less animated on the way home only because he had eaten or partly because he was a little tired or sore from the event.  He didn't look angry or scared.  He did not seem emotionaly frustrated.  I was plain relieved and happy at how well Enzo handled the experience.

Hours later, into the night, he did become uncomfortable.  By then his legs, where the shots were injected, were red.  We were told to expect redness and swelling in the legs and to give him Tylenol if he developed a fever under 102 and to call if 102 or above.  His head seemed a little warm to us but the thermometer showed that he was not warm so we did not give him medicine.  He was a bit fussy and he did not want to be put down.  That's not a problem for us.  So, we loved him and we held him and we gently rubbed his legs do disperse the vaccines as we were told to do.  Eventually, Enzo fell asleep.  We checked on him through the night but he slept fine.  This morning, his legs looked normal and Enzo looked as content as a happy baby.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Day in Santa Cruz

(Is this kid cute, or what?  Enzo smiling in Santa Cruz.)

I woke up this morning feeling a bit "antsy"... a lot antsy, really.  I get this feeling often enough, usually to a lesser degree, and it indicates some approaching change I will feel compelled to make.  The change is sometimes big (move to a new state) and sometimes small (find a new coffee shop to read at) depending on what it takes to satisfy the psychological itch.  Manifestations of this feeling vary and have included break ups, quitting a job, changing hair and/or beard, moving, and various other rockings of that great ship named Stability.  I wonder how it will manifest this time?  I've already shaved my face recently, will the sideburns go?  I have no intention or desire to break up my relationship.  Moving could work but not this year.  So, as far as the big ship-shakers there is a job and a pony tail that could get cut loose.  Maybe the need for change is not so great as all that this time.  Perhaps I can sate the antsyness by finding a new route to and from work or by painting my bicycle a bright color or learning something new.  Still, the job and the hair seemed on the line going into my day.

Greg had invited us to join him at his cousin's new cafe in Santa Cruz called the Windmill Cafe next to Twin Lakes Beach.  It's not difficult to convince me to go to Santa Cruz anyway but with the weather of a day like this and the inherent obligation of exposing my son to the magic of the world that only exists near that narrow band of our planet we call the shore, Tami and I decided to take Greg up on that invitation and head to the coast.  The cafe was excellent and Greg's cousin Mary was super sweet.  There are people that just exude goodness and she is one of those people.  Sitting in the sunshine with my friend, wife, son, Mexican hot chocolate, magical coastal air, and easy conversation, I forgot my antsyness of the morning.  Like all good Sunday's in Santa Cruz, our intended short visit turned into an all day event that, in this case, ended with dinner at an Italian restaurant on Soquel.  Enzo, I believe, had a good time in Santa Cruz.

After such a good day, driving home full of delicious artichoke ravioli goodness, I started to think about my antsyness from the morning.  By this point the Randy on a hammock in the back of my mind was considering and weighing the possibilities of a new career entirely, spiked hair, transferring to a downtown school, green hair, an administrator position, shaving off all of my hair, a new school district, and the hair of the guy that hosts "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" on the Food Network.  My mind eventually worked it's way to what I think is the bigger question; not how this desire for change would manifest, but why was I feeling this way in the first place.  What was my motivation?  Before what force of my psyche was my mind marching?

Was it out of the healthy motivation and powerfulness of life inspired by the approaching Spring? I am about to graduate after two years in a Master's program.  I am full of new confidence and knowledge.  I have been watching my effectiveness as a teacher and agent of positive change develop.  My aspirations to make a difference in my field have grown as well and there is arguably more that can be done at other school sites and in other capacities than in my current location and position.  Could this desire to do more drive me?

Was it out of fear that I wished to retreat?  I do sometimes have to fight those horrible worst-case-fathomable thoughts running through my mind.  I wonder if some of them have gotten to me.  They make the world seem like a giant wheel of torture and precariousness.  Am I beginning to fear threats to the balance of my life, holding on too tight as they say?  When scared of an enemy, real or imagined, running in any direction can feel the only substitute for hiding in a safe cave that doesn't exist.  Could this desire to be safe propel me?

Was it out of a healthy desire to keep life fresh and to avoid a rut?  I haven't had short hair in a couple of years.  I've been teaching similar students similar material with similar colleagues at this particular school four years and in this district for seven.  Could a desire to keep fresh pull me?

Was it my shaken confidence in the classroom last week?  I did, this last week, face a situation with a student where I felt helpless to make a positive difference.  For all of my experience and training, I simply felt like crap that I was having such a horrible time helping a particular student, a student who needs the attention and help more than so many others.  With a focus on equity, it was difficult to recognize and accept the limitations of my personal skill to overcome a circumstance I do not control.  It was worse recognizing that in my effort I was making matters worse.  Did this shake me, make me vulnerable where I want so much to succeed?  Undoubtedly, yes.  Could this realization of limits chase me?

I can't say for sure.  Do I want change out of strength or out of vulnerability?

Does it really matter?

I would like to know.  And then, I've always assumed goodness when I make dramatic changes and life has been an interesting adventure because of it.  I don't know if spending the day in Santa Cruz, acknowledging the antsyness,  or analyzing my thoughts on the drive home made the  difference, but by the time we got home I did not sense so much of the antsyness left in me.  When I saw myself in the mirror my hair looked just fine as it was.  I don't know what will happen with work but I didn't feel the need to start searching online for career options.  Maybe I just exercised the energy right out of my mind today.  Maybe it's still there and the Randy on the hammock in my mind became confident that, whatever the change coming is, all is well.  Maybe he decided to relax and let the winds of change massage his resting eye lids.  Maybe the only change he sought was a change in focus and perspective like one finds near that magical band of Earth where ocean and land come together.