Happy 6th Birthday Jackson

Dear Jackson,

As I sit here and contemplate the words that are needed to wish you the happiest of happy birthdays during this unbelievably unprecedented time we are living in right now, I am struggling to even come up with a way to start. How do we explain to a six year old that he can’t be with his friends, or go somewhere for a birthday party? That’s what 2020 is for you at this point… an everlasting, unexplainable time that you have somehow become accustomed to.

So I guess this is where we start. During a time that even grown ups can’t understand or handle. Yet, you, a six year old, have handled it with humor and confidence. You ask questions and want to learn what is going on. That’s who you are. That’s who you’ve become these last six years. From the little boy who brought joy and happiness to everyone around him to the six year old… not so little boy who brings joy and happiness to everyone around him even in the darkest of times.

I enjoy being around you more than you know (yes you drive me insane sometimes but then again I had a hand in creating you! I never realized how annoying I could be until I created a miniature version of myself and started arguing with it daily). Yet, even in those times I never stop loving you. Your mom and I will never stop loving you.

Tonight, as we readied you for bed as a five year old one more time, you called us back to your room fourteen-million times. You just wanted is to lay with you and talk. You apologized for keeping us up so late, but wanted us to know you were just being a “chatterbox” tonight. How do we stay mad at you when you come up with things like that?!??

What has stood out to me the most in this past year is how you have taken your little brother under your wing. I’ve written about how you love him, but recently you have become a mentor, the way an older brother should. Today I listened in as you taught him how to play bingo and smiled as he just threw the balls across the table, not once did you lose your patience with him. That’s a lie, you lost it a few times, but never gave up hope that he’d get it in the end (he didn’t).

While we have been distance learning/ homeschooling you have been teaching Oliver how to hold a pencil, how to do reading centers and most importantly have been a shoulder for him to cry on when he is upset. You share with him and always tell him you love him.

The last month and a half has defined the year 2020 so far. The CoronaVirus will forever be tied to your kindergarten school year and your sixth birthday, but it will never define you. You are creative, passionate and caring. You want to do things for others and recognize that something as simple as making a heart out of red construction paper to hang on our window makes other people smile. You are stronger than any virus, hell you’re stronger than me in many ways too.

I love the big boy you have become, but wish you could slow down growing up so fast. This family is lucky to have such a loving little boy, who’s smile lights up a room and who’s laugh can brighten even the darkest of days.

Happy QUARENTINED Birthday, Jackson. We all love you very much!

Love Always,

Dad

April 27, 2014
April 27, 2015
April 27, 2016
April 27, 2017
April 27, 2018
April 27, 2019
April 27, 2020

“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” -Albus Dumbledore

Distance Learning Potty Training

Distance learning has its benefits and it’s downfalls. Being home everyday, while also being almost completely unavailable is the perfect definition of what I mean.

BENIFIT: Being able to help potty train your three year old.

DOWNFALL: Being able to help potty train your three year old.

We’ve had many trials and tribulations with the whole potty training thing with everyone in this house. Hell… the dogs are still strategically placing landmines all over the house. We’re a clean up crew around here.

But then there are days that make the landmines all with it…

Oliver walked calmly over to Mom and said he needed to go potty. It was a clear potty training win. People all over the house, from far and wide screamed, danced and bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Amazing right… Fast forward a few hours…

I was summoned by the screams of an almost six year old… “Dad, Oliver is POOPING!!!” The same child that hours earlier had calmly walked inside and properly asked to use the restroom to do his business, now smiled, half hidden behind the coffee table.

Potty training… The highs are so high, but let me tell you the lows are so low (and messy, as well).

It Had to Happen

It was inevitable, the hair that sits on top of the three boys in this family is thick and wavy. Our barber sees us four weeks on the dot, otherwise we look like three of the original Beatles.

Today… two of the three original Beatles are no more thanks to the Coronavirus Shutdown.

Emails to Babies; A Guest Blog: Allison Berlin

Every so often I’m lucky enough to come across someone as nuts as I am and even more rare is someone who is willing to admit it. Allison Berlin is a great friend who has an interesting way of recording her children’s life events, so I asked her to write a guest blog to share her story with everyone…

Allison and her boys

On a recent weekend when pigs flew and 3 couples escaped together, kidless, to the mountains of Vermont, I shared an email with Peter that I had written to my 3 year old. Once he stopped laughing at said email, I explained the story of how and why I first started emailing my young kids, and he asked if I would share that story here.

When I was pregnant with our first son, my mother in law shared with me the journal that she kept when she was pregnant. I was immediately inspired – she wrote such thoughtful entries about her feelings as a new mom and current events. The entries were incredibly entertaining to read up on 30+ years later – a real-time look back to Reagan’s election and my father in law’s trip to the library to research the family’s first VHS player (seriously).

The day we found out we had a little boy on the way, I bought a journal, left it on the coffee table as an invitation for anyone to contribute, and vowed I would have something similar to give my son and his family to look back on. I was diligent – I wrote often, with my feet propped up, exactly the way a naive first time pregnant mom would. I passed that journal on to grandparents and my husband, prodding them to share their thoughts with their future grandson / son.

Fast forward to this new mom drinking coffee standing up at the kitchen counter, stuffing some semblance of food into my face to sustain any energy possible. With an actual live baby to now take care of, it became increasingly clear how little time I would have for those uninterrupted sessions of reflective journal writing. So I did what any (borderline) millennial would do – I made a new vow to continue the written journal up to his first birthday, then turned digital. I created an email address for my son that would allow me to jot down a quick message or send a photo “to him” on the fly. Stuck in a boring meeting at work? Shoot your 1 year old a funny picture from the night before with a note about a fun bath time (and maybe some life advice to find a job in his future that will not result in endless, boring meetings). Now this I could do.

My boys are now 5 and 3. They each have a written journal to account for their first 12 months (and admittedly a bit beyond, as my mother in law has not made the digital jump and continues to write) … and an email address that has kept up with them for the remaining years. I started these emails to give them the memories (and let’s be honest, maybe exactly the content they’ll need for future therapy sessions). Though, every so often, I take a look back at the emails I’ve sent these boys and realize they’re a small gift to myself.

Some subject lines along have the ability to elicit those mom tears of time moving entirely too fast: “Brudder,” followed 1 1/2 years later by “Brudder no more.” An account of my love of our youngest solely referring to his brother as “Budder”, and the sadness when he inevitably learned his actual name.

Others remind me that what you think is so trying at the time, truly is just a phase. You know – those times that prompt people to remind you, “this too shall pass”, while you smile kindly back, though make a mental note that this person is clearly deranged. “Is this a test?”: A quite lengthy letter to my youngest, wherein I find myself pleading with a young child’s email to PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD SLEEP for at least a few hours at a time!!!

Then there are some of my personal favorites – the ones that contain those little moments of life that are so easily forgotten, but oh so precious.”Mustard”: Conveying my son’s deep (if not sincerely confusing) love for mustard, accompanied with a picture of him eating, you guessed it, straight up mustard.”Your dad”: A moment in time when my husband was setting out to really wow, and inspired an email detailing why these boys should set husband / dad aspirations to their dad’s level.”Top bunk”: Because seriously, who knew how happy a surprise bunk bed at our vacation rental could make a kid.

Lastly, not to be forgotten… “Wobbly pants”: The email I shared with Peter that inspired this guest post, as he realized I had written a summary of my son’s love of skin tight pants (and relative hatred for what he refers to as “wobbly pants”, also referred to as simply “pants” by the rest of human kind).

It is these look backs that make me keep going and remind me how to answer the question of, “why the heck do you email your children?”. I picture them with their own babies on the way, gifting them this treasure trove of emails from their youth where they will find memories of wobbly pants and mustard alongside annual Christmas summaries. Then I remember I’ll be doing the same. I fast forward to a time when quick meals with kids running under foot are a faint memory. I’ll be all too aware of how fast time moves. Though I know I will have gifted myself these same distinct memories – and man, do I know those mom tears will be flowing.

A huge thank you to Allison as I am reviving the Chronicles Guest Blog Series, where we will “attempt” to show off some other authors and their thoughts on parenting, children and life.

Dear Kindergarten Class of 2020

Dear Kindergarten Class of 2020,

You might not be a high school senior, but this was a big year for you also. You began your journey as a student. You met new friends, began to learn in a whole new way, and set the foundation for your educational career.

We know how much you are missing so many things that were new and exciting to you, like riding the bus, learning a schedule, having lunch with your peers, and developing relationships with others who may become life long friends.

We know that this whole situation is hard for you to understand. We know that you miss your friends and teachers. We know that you were looking forward to so many fun things that were promised to you, like school trips, field day and even your hot lunch day… pizza on Friday. We as your parents have been looking forward to that too.

For us parents, we have been so excited to watch your journey begin this year. We have watched you mature and navigate a new experience. This has been the beginning of a whole new chapter for you and us as well.

We want you to know that no matter what, we will do our best to make sure that this time, although a time we could have never prepared for, will not damper this special time in your life. We promise to make this time as memorable and happy as possible.

We love you Jax!

Sincerely,

Mom and Dad

I read this on Facebook and wanted to share. It says everything perfectly.

“TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE DISTANCE LEARNING”

T’was the night before Distance Learning, students asleep, their lunches set out.

Then there were teachers who were ready although with some doubt.

Their outfits were hung by the closet with care.

In hopes that the Zoom App was ready when they were there;

The students were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of Google Classroom danced in their heads;

And teachers in ‘PJs, and I in my shorts,

Just settled down after finishing reports,

When out in the yard there arose such a clatter,

Everyone sprang from the bed to see what’s the matter.

Away to the window we flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon shown a shadow on the still of the yards

We yawned and we shuttered over ethernet cards .

When what to our wondering eyes should appear,

But a memory of a normal school day so distant and clear.

We cried and we sobbed as we packed up our laptop bags

We were exhausted and beat, time to wave the white flags.

We spoke not a word, but went straight to sleep,

We laid down with questions, but spoke not a peep.

Yes, we were sad that distance learning was coming so fast,

But we knew it was time to move on from the past.

While we wanted to take time and move on real slow,

We realized our students were ready to go.

So now as we sleep, we wish them the best.

And all we can hope is all these students and parents can get some real rest.

Dear Students, and my own two boys…
I’M READY IF YOU ARE!!!
-Mr. Fragola/Dad

A New Normal

Everyone’s normal life has quickly grinded to a halt as governments across the globe and here in America set new guidelines and restrictions in order to try to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. Stores are selling out of everything, toilet paper is worth more than gold and silver and for the most part people are getting ready to stay at home for a long time. Everything is different and life has been disrupted and altered. If you cough in public (and you shouldn’t even be out in public), but if you are and you sneeze you might as well be wearing a scarlet letter!

I’m a glutton for punishment in all this mess. After all the conference calls, ZOOM Meeting and emails, the homeschooling, the questions, the concerns and the news briefings… I had little of any time to just try and be mindful of what is in my control and what is not. I tried to take a few moments and breath. I tried to fit in 13 seconds on me time. “And on the seventh day he rested.” Even the Lord took a day to himself. Now I’m not comparing myself to God, but if anyone deserves a rest you’d have to vote working from home parents with two little boys as a top candidate.

I’m tired. I’m really tired. My back is causing excruciating pain and my brain is spinning in circles trying to figure out how to balance our new (for now) lives. All I needed was some quiet time. Do some yard work, fix a few squeaky doors and watch a movie or two.

Problem being so far during this I’ve chosen… Shawn of the Dead, Deep Impact and always a fantastic choice while facing a global pandemic… Outbreak. Even the voice of Morgan Freeman can’t undo the damage done from those three movies. The damage is done and there’s no coming back from it.

Its scary. I know that I have never been part of anything like this before. I guess the only thing we can compare it to was the weeks and months after 9/11. People were scared of further attacks, there were schools and businesses scared to open and people looked at each other differently. I cant figure out how to deal with this, because I can not figure out what is even going on.

I am a teacher again, I am a parent, a principal, a health care worker… I am not sure what I am from minute to minute. This world, the world as we know it has been turned upside down… actually when you think about it, upside down would be easier to deal with.

I can not, CAN NOT IMAGINE what it must be like to be a child right now. A kindergartner who needs routines and rituals, and a three year old who is used to playing with friends and looking to his preschool teachers to help him learn to navigate the social aspects of a toddler, practicing how to say please and thank you, play with others, share and how to advocate for himself. Those things are gone. Imagine being a senior in high school and not being able to finish your sports career. Imagine not being able to participate in graduation and walk across a stage with your friends.

Schools are closed across the country, people are not allowed to go outside… and daily The President comes on TV to tell us how amazing he and his staff are handing this pandemic. The thing is… who else is? I do well during crisis. I am dealing with 75+ staff who are so nervous and not sure what their careers will look like tomorrow. We have students who are trying to figure out who their teacher is, and why they are not allowed back into their classrooms.

I deal with children everyday, I have dealt with every single kind of tragedy you can imagine with my students. I know what to say when a parent dies, or a classmate has to move to a new town and wont get to see their friends anymore. I have had to talk with students about horrific events that have happened in their lives. Yet, I have no idea what to say to my own children. All I have been able to do is calm them, reassure them that their teachers love them and that we are going to do the best we can.

It’s been an interesting few weeks… it’s been an ever crazier few days. Stephanie, who runs an entire financial department for a school district during this impossible to predict financial crisis, is now a kindergarten teacher. Great teaching is something that can’t just be learned. It’s the hardest job I have ever done. This new “thing” so many of us are embarking on… teaching at home… (even for a veteran educator and current principal), is so hard. What she has done has been amazing. A mom and kindergarten/preschool teacher/ school district financial director/food service manager… she’s doing it all.

Speaking of teachers, Jax was able to participate in a ZOOM Meeting with his teacher this week. All his classmates were on and they all were talking to each other. It was so amazing. He couldn’t sit still. He was rocking back and forth. They shared about their weekend. It was good to know that I could watch him (even for a few minutes) still access his social curriculum. He can still tell jokes and tell his friends he misses them. Basically he can still be awesome. I guess social interaction with his friends VIA a computer screen are his new normal. They are everyone’s new normal.

So new normal it is… everything has changed… and we just have to deal with it.

Educators… MOUNT UP!!!

As the reality of homeschooling, home offices and quarantines sets in it’s easy to forget what we’ve left behind. On Friday, I walked the silent halls of my Elementary School. I was alone, everyone had left for the day… maybe for the year.

There were no colorful backpacks hanging on their hooks, or any voices of students working together on a rigorous task. Students’ chairs were turned upside down on their desks and the SMART boards were dark.

However, school was in session. Teachers were hard at work. They’re preparing for a completely new way of teaching the children they love so much. They’ve had no time to prepare for this. These educators,the ones I work with everyday, took what public education has been for centuries and flipped it upside down and inside out. The school district I work in has taken on the task with determination.

Washington, DC didn’t tell us what to do. The state didn’t tell us what to do. It was the public educators. The ones in the trenches. We are going to “war” with traditional teaching and also with the “virus” that has become a world wide pandemic. And… there is no one… not one staff that I would rather go to war with than my staff at Huntington.

There’s little we can do, us educators on the front lines. The teachers, principals and central office staff members want nothing more than to be on the front lines. We want to visit our families and help serve grab and go meals. But, we know there are people on the front lines already… the nurses, doctors and medical professionals who need us to stay back and help from afar.

So that’s what we do. We do what we can from afar. I’ve been lucky enough to have the platform to do that. From this blog I’ve been able to reach out to so many of my school families. I decided last week to do a live read aloud each night to help keep some sort of connection to my students.

The funny thing is I was hoping to reach a few students, maybe even a few from my last school… but then something happened. Hundreds, thousands of people tuned in. Channel 8 News asked for an interview and Chronicles of a New Dad and Jax were lighting up the 6:00 news.

It become a family affair, a way for a community to gather (or at least I see it that way). I feel that it helps me do “my part.” While I joke about another 15 minutes of fame, the message is clear… educators are doing their part to keep their students engaged and in the end, as a society, that’s all we can ask.

Coronavirus scare: Teachers, administrators, and students turn to social media for traditions like storytime

Has it Been Two Weeks Yet?

We’re on day two of the coronavirus pandemic which has canceled much of society. Schools are closed, libraries are empty… and most businesses are so full of panicky people you’re better off staying home.

That causes quite the quandary when you have two small children who have the attention span of a fly. The number of activities they can breeze through in even a small amount of time is incredible. We’ve read, we’ve drawn pictures, we watched a movie. We’ve taken the dogs for a walk and we rode our bikes. That’s it. We’re done!

That is until the oldest of my brood had the idea to write happy messages to the neighbors in chalk on their driveways. While some of the messages are less inspiring then others, it’s the thought that counts.

So friends and neighbors check your driveways for something special courtesy of Jax and Ollie.

I Almost Lost My Son

Almost six years ago I became a father and it’s been a long six years of worrying! I still check on the boys when they are asleep just to make sure they are ok. I cut grapes and hotdogs into tiny bite size pieces because I’m afraid of them choking, which they did do (and still do), so I panic and lose it after every single bite.

We had a pool installed and now I‘m afraid of them drowning. I had a pool my entire life. Growing up my parents were diligent in ensuring we were safe. We were always supervised and even as a teenager, someone was always around just in case, but still now it’s my kids… so I worry. I worry about them in the tub, and riding their bikes. I worry about them jumping off the couch and not being buckled in their car seats tight and/or loose enough.

All of this leads me to the ten minutes (which felt like ten years) that I almost lost my son.

The place we visited was split into multiple sections, divided and roped off areas and metal fences to separate the older kids area from the younger. A wall to wall adventure course, arcade games, flashing lights and indoor playscape. Trampolines lined the floor and the place was packed with sweaty little children and parents on their cel phones. The kids were having a blast and we were all enjoying watching them smile from ear to ear. It was great to see our friends again.

Jax. The oldest and easily the fastest of the group was darting from area to area. It was an overload of excitement. As soon as he entered the darkness that is the indoor playscape, I knew I’d never see him again. It’s weird, they say parents have a sixth sense. I felt it. It didn’t feel right and about three minutes in with no sight of his return… I didn’t think… I KNEW something wasn’t right.

I hurriedly walked from corner to corner. I began to move children out of my way like I was Ryan Reynolds playing ice hockey in “Just Friends.” Then… as time went on with no sign of him, I began to panic. I tried to think clearly. Where could he be? But I couldn’t. My normally clear thinking in times like this, I had nothing.

It took me a little bit to realize that I was there with other people… Of course Stephanie. And amazing friends that we’ve known forever… they share the same level of anxiety as me when it comes to parenting, so they were amazing in attempting to find Jax.

I was resisting the urge to shut the place down, go over the loud speaker and curse everyone out for not helping me find my son. The tension was palpable… I was losing it… and no one seemed to understand what was going on. Things at this point are at a boiling point, everything is fuzzy, and I’m not running at full speed and not even sure what I’m doing or where I’m going.

I tried to slow down, take a deep breath and clear my head, just as our friend came running towards us with Jackson in tow. I didn’t know how to react. Should I be mad or cry. I thought about situations I’ve seen, movies, TV, the news. I scooped him up and held him so tightly I was sure he’d never escape (to the neon lit ball pit and obstacle course on the complete other side of the building, or anything like it) ever again again.

It could happen to anyone. It was horrific. Losing him and finding him again… this was the lowest of low and the highest of high moments as a parent… and I don’t want to experience either of them ever again.

PS: Not to make light of the situation, but this is an almost realistic depiction of me running through the playscape looking for Jax…