Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Making the Grade—Part II

     Here we go again. We've been asking Braden throughout this school quarter how he's doing and whether he's keeping up with his grades and his answers have always been “Fine” and “Yes.” Three weeks ago we get a prerecorded message from his school announcing a mid-quarter report card was sent home that day. Deanne asks him for it and he says, “Oh, yeah...” and retrieves it. Turns out his grades are far from fine. Not even close to fine with C's or worse in Math, English, and Science and a border-line B in History—all honors classes, but nonetheless, all grades unacceptable. This is especially unexpected and unpleasant 'cause he's had so much time throughout his days at home to get in trouble with Jaren, do lousy jobs with dish washing, lie around, do nothing, misuse the computer, give us bad attitude, and in general, look as if he hadn't a care in the world. (Perhaps he's fit to serve in Congress?) We ask him to bring home a print-out of all his grades for every assignment this quarter and through such discover he's been getting tomes of C's, D's, and F's for all these classes.
     Regular readers of this blog (real or imagined) may know the routine for such sub-B grades: Redo all such assignments, show the redone work to the teacher, and ask, “Will this have gotten me a B or better? My father wants to know even if it does not change my grade.”
     I ask which of the sub-B assignments he redid and he says, “None.”
     Why not? I ask, veins in my eyes throbbing like sea slugs.
     He attempts to feed me bovine feces, which I decline because I've already eaten and put him in time-out and make him do all the chores for all eternity.
     I then look at all his redone sub-B work to see that they're up to snuff, but what he shows me looks and smells an awful lot like equine feces (with heavy emphasis on the word awful).
      It takes him billions of attempts at each assignment to finally get them to where I believe they might warrant B's or better. All the while, I'm fuming, he's fuming, Deanne's fuming, and the family (and ozone layer) is suffering! I don't know how else to get it done. Just let him get lazier and lazier and lazier, with a worsening “Who cares?” attitude? I don't even know what he's thinking, sometimes wondering (assuming) he's doing it all just to irritate me and show me up.
     I start reading a book that I find on a library display called The Teen Whisperer 'cause it sounds so nice to be able to whisper to Braden to get him to put in his best effort the first time every time and follow-up on sub B grades with an attitude of excellence and responsibility without having to be told (shouted at, disciplined, threatened, etc. etc. etc.) as if he were completely ignorant on the matter even though this has been our ongoing routine during the beginning of every school year since he was in diapers. What must I whisper to him? I love you? Please? Pretty please with sugar on top? I know this must be difficult for you? How can I help you? Is there anything bothering you? I hope (though I know I shouldn't) that there is some magic incantation that I can whisper to him in his sleep that will solve all his life's ills...
     Turns out the book's pretty reasonable (but not earth-shattering—Where's the magic bullet?) and even softens my heart some, so after he breaks down and cries in anguish (over the difficulty of learning—Yes, learning and thinking are difficult, they're some of the most difficult things there are to do, that's why jobs that require such are some of the higher paid (excepting rock star, pro athlete, CEO, and hedge fund manager), I've told him. But the upside is that they're also some of the most rewarding and doing without thinking and learning makes life far more difficult. I realize, eventually, that he's just going through typical teen angst, of which I had more than my fill when I was a teen, and yes, I do remember and empathize.) I give him a choice: Do what needs to get done by quarter end and he gets to keep all his classes. Don't do adequate, and I'll have him drop Honors Science in favor of regular Science. (The most recent grades listing shows marked improvements in Math (low A territory), English (low B territory), and History (a solid B). Science has dropped to D territory, however, with Fs and an ungraded “redo” for recent assignments, one of which he spent hours on, including a Saturday afternoon taking a bus to and from the library to do internet research. He's trying fairly hard, I see, but is still struggling in the class. A change must be made—I don't want this to be the beginning of a long downhill slide...) If the school demurs, I'll insist he drop his favorite elective: JROTC, which is demanding and at times distracting, taking time and attention from academics (though he may resume it next year, assuming he earns decent marks in all his core academic subjects).
     He isn't pleased, but then again, what does he expect? He can no longer score A's and B's with minimal effort like in the past, he's going to have to work much, much harder to thrive and enjoy school, which are critical at his age should he desire higher education later, 'cause it's not going to get any easier, it's going to just keep getting tougher and tougher. I don't like laying down the law this way, but under the circumstances, I feel I must. It's what helpful dads do (or so I deceive myself). Leastwise, we can scarce afford to send him to adult play school (college) with no expectation of return (a useful diploma). However, if he finds a way to perform well, we will do our best to provide. But time is running out... (which is why those sea slugs in my eyes are thriving!)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Worship Band

     About a year ago, I asked if I could play bass in the keiki worship band our church had, comprised of an adult leader that played guitar; kids that played percussion, piano, guitar, and violin; and youth vocalists. I felt it could use more low end and that I could have fun interacting with the youth.
      The leader said, Sure. The church has a bass, do you have an amp?
      I said, No, I'll check around and maybe buy one.
      The next week I showed up expecting to see the bass (I already knew where to buy an amp from), but he instead said, You'll play the washtub bass. And he showed me two different ones to chose from: large and small. Both were made by a church elder years ago from old-fashion aluminum washtubs, each with a string attached to the middle bottom and a stick to pull on to adjust the string's tension, which was plucked. I said, This is great. I love it! And I selected the big one to practice their songs, one of which we played in church one Sunday. I never did get to play my favorite song that we practiced, though, Lean on Me, with it's distinctive bass line because the kids were having trouble with the vocals.
      Then that worship leader left our church and a new leader stepped in. I was no longer particularly welcomed to continue playing, so I stepped aside.
      Then several months ago, our pastor told me, “I have a gift for you,” and gave me the church's Ibanez electric bass and asked me to join the keiki worship band (soon to be renamed praise band with all ages welcome). So I bought an amp and joined the group.
      We played our first song in church this past Sunday, even though we were originally scheduled to play in November. On seeming whim, our pastor last Sunday at practice said to the group just as I arrived (they started practicing early and were already finishing), So let's have you all play next Sunday, alright? (meaning we were on).
      Fortunately it was a song I knew well enough and we got to extend practice that day for those in the core of the group (sans drummer, who rarely shows up for practices these days).
      The day of the show, my family and I got to church an hour early—good thing because I had to set up the electronic drums, mics, music stands, music, bass, bass amp, and drum amp, and do sound checks. Fortunately the backup guitarist and drummer showed up fifteen minutes early so we could do a couple of run-throughs. Pene was supposed to play violin following notes I wrote for her. (She picked favorite notes from the chords I wrote out—mostly whole notes and a few half-notes. We'd practiced a few times at home and she'd sounded fine.) But during rehearsal, she started to put away her violin. I asked why. She said she wanted to sing, instead. I said, Play violin, you sound great. So she unpacked and the rehearsal went fine.
      Before service, I asked Deanne how Pene sounded and she said she was just standing there with violin in hand, not playing.
      Before we played, I asked Pene to play. She did and sounded fine (I heard her this time), and the song went fine, though when I asked Deanne about how Pene sounded, she said her violin was drowned out by the bass. I knew then that next time, we'll have to mic her just as the past violinist was always mic'd whenever he played, for one acoustic violin just can't compete with a plugged-in band.
      I wonder though if my playing style and volume was appropriate for our mostly senior audience and our church's conservative service (we sing mostly hymns accompanied by organ). My incentive for rockin' the bass line (with slaps, plucks, treble boost, some overdrive, slides, and bass chords) was to engage the youngsters and waken the baby boomers so it wouldn't seem so boring. For some of our youth are very iffy and indifferent toward the group and worship in general. I'd hate to see the band dissolve for lack of interest. Anything, then, to ignite the interest of these youngsters so that they would want to come and/or join—that's why I'm involved, that and of course to spend time with my kids doing something we can all get into and share happy memories of.
      We must not have been that bad 'cause our pastor asked (told) us to play again next week—same song. Amen to that!
     I later asked Pene why she didn't play during rehearsal and after a long pause she said because she didn't feel quite ready. I asked was it because the whole notes were boring to play? She said no. I said I can change them to quarter note scales. She said that's not necessary. I said if you're playing first in orchestra, you have to play out—I made lots of mistakes, no one cared. She said yes Dad. For some reason, she didn't seem quite into it, but once she's mic'd, perhaps she'll get more excited then. Or perhaps she's just imitating the ho-hum attitude of some of the other youth—she's like that: she'll pick up vibes and imitate. Her loss, though, if she's unable to enjoy due to the disinterest of others.  It's my job to try to make her like it!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Bypassing Promotions

     I might do it again—bypass the opportunity for promotion. Others must think I'm unambitious, lazy, or crazy to not want the additional prestige, responsibility, power, career advancement potential, and cash. In truth, I just want to make best use of my limited time on earth. As no one on his or her death bed has ever said, “My one regret in life is that I didn't spend more time at work.” And prestige, responsibility, power, career advancement potential, and cash come and go and are soon forgotten (once one dies, say) but time spent with family, friends, and loved ones is eternal, never forgotten or regretted, so I believe.
     The night I first noticed the posted vacancy, I imagined what it would be like to take the promotion—this in a different department with tons more responsibility. There would be lots of documents to sign—super long documents that would be impossible to read in their entireties before signing. A retired judge, who was a family friend, once told me, “Don't ever sign anything unless you read it first.” It's one of the best advice I have ever received and I've taken it to heart. It gets merchants (auto mechanics, rental car agencies, landlords, etc.) annoyed at times, but such practice has saved me from regretting hasty “I trust you” decisions, so, no signature from me until I at least get the gist of the document. I imagined the incumbent in the position either signing off on numerous such documents at a glance, or calling the author and asking, “What's this all about? A lot of this technical stuff is over my head”—e.g. for technology department approvals, legal contracts, etc. I know were I in the incumbent's position, regardless of what the author told me, I'd still feel uncomfortable signing off if I hadn't read or understood it. I know good managers trust their co-workers and staff; I wouldn't be so ready, at least at first.
     Also, there would be lots of urgent deadlines. “We have to get this out by today, please let me know ASAP”—I imagined receiving this via employer-provided iPhone some Sunday afternoon as I was assembled with a bunch of kids to practice in our new worship group (I play bass). I'd have to excuse myself, read the thing, respond, and maybe even dismiss myself from attending altogether in order to get the work done, cursing under my breath for having to do such boring, responsible business stuff I really don't want to have to do and forgoing doing the fun, meaningful stuff I really do want to do.
     Also, there would be lots of meetings. I'm not big on non-productive meetings where senseless banter and beat-around-the-bush small talk prevails and perhaps the real issue gets addressed in only the last few minutes, if at all. And I detest meetings dominated by politics, in-fighting, and put downs—especially of those not present. And I wouldn't want to have to put on a fake smile and feel obligated to contribute my own cynical views, and act as if I enjoyed it all and believed that what we were doing was all sooo important and that we were all doing such wonderful jobs, deserving of our disproportionate higher pays.
     Also, there would be lots of stress. None of the higher-ups at our workplace look happy—not one. Nearly all seem stressed-out. Some act completely uncivil and shrill at times. Not something I wanted to be a part of.
     Also, there would be lots of overtime, meaning less time devoted to family life at home, time spent with those whom I love most, doing what makes life enjoyable and meaningful, far more than work ever could. And as our kids are growing so fast, do I really want to miss the next several years of watching them and actively engaging with them—especially Braden who may be leaving home for good in less than three years?
     My current job allows me to arrive early and leave early, thus, I arrive around 6:15 a.m. and leave work shortly after 3:00 p.m. and arrive home before 4:00. No doubt this would be a thing of the past should I take the promotion, not that they'd likely select me, for no higher up has encouraged me to apply or sent signals that I'm their anointed one.
     But I don't mind. What's a twenty percent pay raise (or so) compared to having a job one enjoys (I enjoy mine, overall, 'cause it has enough responsibility, meaning, challenge, and fulfillment, but not too much stress and no overtime or super-tight deadlines). Also, coworkers at my level and below are fantastic—humble, professional, and helpful—and I hope to be like them throughout my career. And the closer I am to them, the more likely I'll be like them, I feel.
     Most important, I don't feel God's peace about the position, whereas I feel tons of God's peace about staying. He's been blessing me and our family in my current job. Decades ago, I bypassed two offers of advancement (due to similar, though different reasons—neither felt right) and have never regretted it. God was with me after those and I believe he's with us now, praise God!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

School Gripes

     I've often said that the two most important and underpaid jobs on the planet are pastor and teacher. I've also said that they're two of the most difficult jobs to do well and that I doubt I'd last more than a couple days as a teacher and perhaps a couple months as a pastor, depending, as I don't feel equipped for either. So such practitioners deserve huge amounts of respect for dedicating themselves despite low pay, long hours, and persistent underfunding, all for the intangible benefit of growth of students/parishioners that they may never see.
     Deanne and I have always been very satisfied with all our three kids' public schools and teachers, so it was a huge disappointment to learn of reduced middle school and high school hours and periodic replacement of academic class periods with study hall. For Pene, school hours were reduced from ~8:00 to ~3:00 to ~8:00 to ~2:00 and she now has study hall four days a week. For Braden, hours were cut from ~8:00 to ~2:30 to ~8:00 to ~2:15, and study hall, which meets twice a week, is this year considered optional, thus school days are in essence ~8:00 to ~2:00 for students that choose to skip study hall.
     At Pene's open house, I learned that last academic year, students attended each of six enrolled classes four times a week but that this year such meetings have been cut to three. Teachers emphasized that with this reduction, it's critical that students not fall behind and that they get the most out of each class session because there won't be many opportunities to catch up otherwise, and that the new study hall class is essential to keep on top with the reduced classroom hours and class attendance days.
     The good news is that study hall permits students to get a hall pass and go to whichever teacher they need help from. It's a decent idea in theory, but in practice, I doubt many students that need help use it as designed to improve their grades or understanding—it's expecting an awful lot of students (slackers) to recognize the need to study more, request a hall pass, walk over to the designated teacher, wait in line, ask the teacher for help, sit through explanations, perform additional exercises as necessary, get the pass signed, walk back to study hall, return the pass, and mostly to recognize the need for tutoring and drum up the courage to pursue it in the first place without being told or forced to by a parent or teacher. This is especially true at Braden's high school where study hall is scheduled the last period of the day and is now optional. Will kids voluntarily stay after school dismissal to pursue help? Wasn't this always an option last year before this ill-advised policy change?
     I told Braden that unless he's getting straight A's, he is to always attend and study hall, especially since he's taking a foreign language for the first time, and this from a disciplined teacher with high expectations.
     Pene's school fortunately mandates attendance at study hall, but most of the time she just does homework or reads in it since she always stays on top of her academics. Nonetheless, study hall has effectively reduced her classroom instruction time since there is no teaching in study hall for students like her who don't need additional help. I feel that's short-changing her for being responsible and staying on top of her work.
     I asked one of Pene's teacher, “Whose idea was it to reduce the number of times each class meets per week?”
     He said, “The teachers. After each school year, the faculty discuss how the year's schedule worked and how it might be improved. Last year we ended close to three o-clock and everyone was just dragging by the end of the day—it was just too long. So the idea came up to shorten each day and class meetings per week and make up for it with study hall. We had study hall in the past; for some reason it got dropped.
     This explained a bunch. Last academic year, especially toward the end, Pene's and Braden's classes each had tons of slack days when all they did was watch non-academic movies or only very loosely related Hollywood fare during class time. Some of their classes showed movies in series, too, multiple class sessions in a row.  And sometimes the kids did nothing but attend class parties and watch movies all day long! When I was their age, this never happened.  They even had do-nothing periods, when all they did was “whatever”—as long as they stayed out of trouble. Pene tended to read and Braden tended to put his head down or “do nothing.”
     By the way, Pene's teacher also said that next school year, the schedule will change again due to state legislature mandated increased classroom hours. I hope this doesn't mean more movies, parties, and do-nothing days to give teachers and students a break.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Good Fights

     I read a column awhile ago about a marriage based on mutual respect and love, wonderful in every way, where the advice columnist's only advice was: “Once in awhile, have a really good fight so you don't get bored with each other.”
      I wondered about that. Is it really necessary for a happy couple to have occasional fights to keep things alive?
      Not that that ever applied to our marriage. Such peaceful nonaggressiveness between Deanne and me has never been enduring (perhaps occasional stretches of a couple months or so at most), so we have had fights aplenty. Most have been quite minor over day-to-day matters and preferences: helping out with the kids and chores, and scoldings/arguments over errors, misunderstandings, relationships with relatives, moodiness, attitudes, tones, and so forth. So there's little threat that we'll ever get bored of each other due to lack of fights.
      But I do see the benefit and necessity (at least for us) of fighting the good fight—the fight to improve things, not to tear down; the fight for what's good and right; the fight for hope and a future, not despair and surrender to the world's selfish, messed up ways; in short, the fight to preserve peace and wholesomeness in our lives and encourage growth in God as individuals, a couple, and a family. It's not automatic to do such things, as people have moods and frailties, so Godly success comes and goes. We must thus catch ourselves. Sometimes she or I needs to remind the other where we both belong and truly want to be. But pride or laziness or worldliness sometimes puts up a bad fight that makes the true good fight necessary, for if these things aren't worth fighting for, what are?
      Though I feel our marriage has been heavenly blessed, I also have had the dread feeling—too often to recall—of being on the edge, when things could have gone either way, depending. There's no blame involved, but we all have our limits and sometimes when it feels like she or I is at that limit and no motion for the better is forthcoming, that there's little option left. That's when I've prayed like crazy. And talked. And fought the good fight as necessary. (It has gone as often or more the other way, too, where Deanne was the one that led by example, mostly by submitting to Godly authority—mine—when she'd felt certain I'd been following God's lead.) Such times were soooo scary because I could foresee the bleak, dark future on the other side, a place I never wanted to go, especially since our marriage, when working well, is wonderful (I hope as much for Deanne as it is for me). And God has always come through, not once failing to provide for our needs in such dire circumstances. Praise God almighty for his faithfulness!
      As for fights with the kids, I don't tolerate it. If they wish to disagree with civility, I'm happy to listen, but no shouting back. Braden, now age fifteen, on occasion (usually before or after big trips away from home) sometimes loses control and challenges with angry cynical shouts. But it's not a true fight because by then he just defies to make a show of independence, which is unacceptable since it's at our expense, so as long as he keeps it up, he suffers consequences: chores, groundings, time-outs in the carport, and walks up and down the street. It's his choice: say “Yes, Dad (or Mom)” and go in peace, or shout back and get consequences leveled upon him for as long as he continues.
     When I was Braden's age, my mom tolerated my angry, vehement shouting at her and for awhile encouraged it by shouting back at me without leveling consequences. Partly as a result, I never learned to fully control my temper, which has hurt me numerous ways throughout my life. I don't want that to happen to Braden or any of our kids, so that's why I insist that they not vent their tempers on us, the authority figures. (By the way, my temper is mine to control and it's not my mom's fault that I still haven't mastered it, but it reminds me of a story I heard of Swede Bjorn Borg, the tennis great from the 1970s who was the picture of cool, calm composure for anyone of any sport or profession. As a youth, he once lost his temper during a tennis match. His dad took away his racket for awhile and Bjorn never lost his temper on court again. Fine dad. Fine results. Is it naive for me to hope for comparable?)