Dear Teacher,

Two year ago today Stephanie and I were excited to celebrate with Jackson his Pre-K “graduation”. We were excited, nervous, yet most of all optimistic. Later in the summer we were notified of his kindergarten teacher. We didn’t know much about her, but we hoped for the best.

As an elementary school principal I have high expectations for teachers. One of the most important characteristics of an excellent teacher is the ability to create a learning environment for all, not just for their students, but for the families they serve as well. I firmly believe that the most effective educators are learners at heart and work diligently to create an overall culture of learning.

True teachers believe in everyone, encourage us to reach our highest potential, and convince us that we can do anything we set our minds to. They help foster a love  for reading, writing, and learning. They take pride in the little things their students accomplish and the milestones they make. They celebrate student accomplishments and although teachers know they only have their students for a short period of time, they are proud to see them succeed and move on. 

The past two school years for our son have been more than that. They have been a time for him to develop into the amazing little boy he is today. A leader, a kind soul, an inquisitive little boy who wants to know more about everything. That is part him and part her. Her being the teacher who has inspired him to ask questions (and to make sure the questions are on topic and relatively appropriate… I know my son and relatively appropriate is pushing it).

Mrs. G you are a saint. You are a true kindhearted and special person. I know my son. He’s not perfect (god knows none of us are), but he tries. He loves you, and I’d like to think that I know positive student/ teacher interaction. You helped support his love for learning, but more importantly his love of “wondering”. You never shut him down. You never made him feel like he was asking too many questions. You helped shape his inquisitive mind, while pushing him to want to know more. That, I will never be able to thank you enough for.

Mrs. G, as an educator I truly believe there is not better compliment you can give another educator than to say you want your children to be in their class… with that being said… do you have any interest in looping to second grade?!??

Sincerely,

A Fellow Educator,

but more importantly,

a Dad

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Our First Read Aloud)

This blog entry will Chronicle (pun intended) a father and son’s first time reading Harry Potter together. I’ll update it after each chapter so that I can capture the most memorable moments. Come back often and check in on our progress and leave us a note or feedback!

I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I know Jax and I will.

Finally! “I did my waiting! Twelve years of it!” (Ok maybe seven years of waiting)! But, the day has finally arrived!!! Tonight Jax and I begin our journey at 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging… to Platform 9 3/4 and finally on to Hogwarts! Wish us luck… then again, we won’t need luck… we’ll be with Professor Dumbledore.

Chapter 1: The Boy Who Lived

We first meet the Dursleys and learn of the peculiar happenings surrounding the arrival of Harry Potter on their doorstep.

Jax: “Wait, Harry’s parents are dead, why didn’t Voldemort kill him too????” “Why can’t they say his name?”

Me: Stop asking great questions, damn it! This is going to be harder than I thought!!!

Chapter 2: The Vanishing Glass

We finally get to see some magic happen (albeit unbeknownst to the new reader). Harry grows his hair back in one night, flies to the top of the school roof and helps a snake escape from the zoo after literally having a conversation with it, but Jax is most interested in the VCR Dudley gets for his birthday and “why the heck would a kid want to watch a movie on a tape when he could just use Netflix”.

Chapter 3: The Letters From No One

Tonight was a little difficult to get going on the reading (Jax wants to also read his other chapter book that he’s been reading), but I remember it took me a few chapters (and a few tries) to get into this first book when I started too. This chapter, luckily has a little of everything to really hook the reader. Give us a little bit of magic, some funny scenes (everyone getting hit with Dudley’s Smelting stick), a bunch of “bad words” and a shocking “to be continued” chapter ending! This may be the chapter that has him craving more!

Jax summary of this chapter: Harry gets in trouble because someone keeps sending him like two-hundred forty thousand letters. Uncle Vernon let’s Harry have a bigger room so he doesn’t have to stay in the cupboard anymore, but then says a bunch of bad words like “STUPID and DAMN!” (Jax needed to repeat these words multiple times to really drive home their importance, LOL). So then they tried to get away, so the mailman wouldn’t bring anymore letters to a house across the sea, but someone found them on Harry’s eleventh birthday! I think it might be Dumbledore!!!

Chapter 4: The Keeper of the Keys

Wait, Dad are you telling me I’m a wizard too?

Tonight, Jax was excited to meet Hagrid again. although not as excited to find out that my Hagrid voice sounded more like a defunct pirate. I

was worried a bit about this chapter as we hear a lot about death and literally get a visual of the green flash that kills Harry’s parents and almost kills him. Jax handed it well and inferred the flash of green light was from “Voldemort’s Stupid Wand!” I’d say even JKR herself couldn’t have described it better.

He also got to open the letter that Hagrid gave Harry which he was excited about. Since the book we are reading has lots of pop-up type 3D visuals in it, there’s some manipulatives that add to the experience as we read. After we finished the chapter I showed him the Hogwarts Letter that I had made for him when he was born. He was wide eyed when he asked if he had to start going to Hogwarts for second grade.

Chapter 5: Diagon Alley

I absolutely love this chapter more every time I read it. JK Rowling’s description of where to find the Leaky Cauldron completely throws the reader’s mind for a loop… it’s one of the most important and fascinating ideas about the wizarding world: “it has always been there, if one has the knowledge to find it.” This is the chapter that hooks so many readers, that makes the Lunas and the Nevilles feel at home. After a few reads I always interpreted this chapter (or more specifically the entering of Diagon Alley) as a place for anyone who feels different: that they can find the place where they belong, as long as they know where to look.

This chapter has really begun to peak Jax’ curiosity the most so far. So much so, that we only got through the first half of the the chapter tonight.

He realized it was the “same place” he had been two years ago and actually asked how people become wizards.

The following interaction actually happened:

Jax: “Wait, Dad. How do they all know him… did they read about him in the newspaper?… but I thought only old people read the newspaper?”

Me: “I guess wizards and old people read the newspaper.”

Jax: “But dad… you read the newspaper?”

Me: “That’s because I’m a wizard.”

Jax: “No, it’s because you’re an old man!”

Chapter 5 continued… After resuming the chapter Jax reminded me that Harry needed to buy his supplies and loved the “fold out” of Diagon Alley this book provided. (Maybe a trip to the Wizarding World at Universal is in store soon?)

The most intriguing part of this chapter was in Olivander’s Wand Shop. Jax face when Hagrid lied to Mr. Olivander about “never using his wand anymore” was priceless. He obviously remembered Hagrid’s pink umbrella. Of course then we learned that Harry’s wand’s Phoenix feather had a brother… and that feather belonged to VOL- He-Must-Not-Be-Named (I loved LOVED Jax catching himself, making sure he didn’t say VOLDEMORT! 💀

We ended the chapter with Harry heading back to the Dursley’s until the start of term and right as Jax’ eyes closed for the night.

Chapter 6: The Journey from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters

The chapters themselves are cliffhangers and illicit multiple questions during the reading… try reading a chapter after spending a day visiting Hogwarts, Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. I literally couldn’t read two sentences with out Jax interjecting or questioning something about a character or place that was mentioned… (and it was amazing), every single question gave me goosebumps! He’s starting to catch on.

Our trip to Platform 9 3/4 this past week added a special touch to this chapter

This is where so much of the book and really more importantly the entire series status to come together. we meet Neville and Hermione and Draco shows his true colors. The chapter is full of foreshadowing, things that I still sometimes notice for the first time all these reads later!

“Dad, wait!!!! Platform 9 3/4 we were there”… “Dad, remember when Harry, Ron and Hermione were outside our room on the train”…………..…. “OK, wait, Draco doesn’t like Hagrid? Remember we say him on the ride? He was holding his umbrella too!!!”

Every word he wanted to reread and every picture he wanted to inspect! It gave me goosebumps! I was closing my eyes as the chapter came to a close and Jax asked if he could stay up and look back at the previous chapters (he promised he wouldn’t read ahead! I hope he doesn’t… but I know I would if I were him!)

Chapter 7: The Sorting Hat

Damn you, Peeves! That damn poltergeist is such a minor character and used for comic relief… but according to Jax, “he’s the funniest so far!!!” Ok, yes he blows raspberries and makes farting noises, but geez Jax… grow up a little bit!

This chapter importantly introduces us to many new characters, the Hogwarts Houses and also forces us to really think about the preconceived notions that we bring with us as we read. Which brings us to the first really, really tough question of our reading.

“Why Slytherin Dad?”

It’s no secret that I’m a Slytherin. It’s tattooed on my arm:

Our hero, who we are experiencing the book through, has very strong feelings about Slytherin:

Harry gripped the edges of the stool and thought, Not Slytherin, not Slytherin. “Not Slytherin, eh?” said the small voice. ... You could be great, you know, it's all here in your head, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that — no? Well, if you're sure — better be GRYFFINDOR!”

Jax has a very valid question, “Why are you in Slytherin? Dad, that’s where the bad guys go!”

I’m having an existential crisis at this point in the book. This chapter doesn’t become so much about comprehension, foreshadowing or character introductions… I had to navigate how NOT TO explain the thematic elements, the changes in characters as they develop though a story and most importantly about not judging a book by its cover.

We’re just not there yet. Jax is not there yet. Harry isn’t there yet either and that’s OK.

Chapter 8: The Potions Master

Blank Calendar

There’s nothing in the world as a parent that’s worse than waking up in the morning to a list of things that need to happen… Four-year-old’s birthday party… play date at the playground on the other side of town… Or meeting some new people from your child’s class.

Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a parent we’ve met that I haven’t enjoyed hanging out with. We’ve met some of our best friends through the boys, but at what point do parents of young kids get a break. It never ends. Baseball, soccer, swim lessons… play dates…

As an aside… WTF is a play date? Merriam-Webster defines “playdate” as “a play session for small children as arranged by their parents.

First, of all any attempt to label the word play as “session” annoys me. Why is everything timed now a days… “hey boys, your play will commence now. You will have fun for the one hour that has been allotted for this activity.” Why do we need to formalize the word play? A session should be used for scheduled visits with your personal trainer or therapist (although I’m not sure which one I need more after this pandemic shutdown!)

But, I digress… I woke up this morning to this email. (It was the greatest email of my life):

I needed a day of this. Both parents needed a day like this. We just need to normalize not having anything to do.

_________________________

PS: We I wound up inviting multiple people over to swim in the pool this morning… so much for relaxing!

Tool Time

Apparently this whole Covid lockdown thing has driven people to want to remodel and do construction to their house the likes that no one has ever seen before. Many things have been put on hold due to the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), but home renovations aren’t one of them. I see neighbors putting in new decks, ripping out old cabinetry and installing new HVAC units left and right. How people are not going bankrupt with all this going on is beyond me.

While I understand most of the world is concerned for their health and well being and you and your family are just trying to get through each day right now… someone here is planning to turn the boys’ bedrooms into a reincarnation of the Palace of Versailles. The thing is I’m totally not up for making decisions about anything at the moment that includes random people making messes around my house that I (for all intents and purposes) can’t leave for more than a few hours at a time.

The thing is… I want to be able to be agreeable and more importantly help… maybe even take on these home projects myself (even if they are far from DIY). I wish I could. I try. I’ve done a lot recently… some plumbing and electrical, but I’m not so sure I should be the one operating a circular saw.

Even my boys know this. They tattle on me if I use a hammer around the house and god forbid I break out the screw gun. I wish I could do more. I have friends like this. They can just build an house in a weekend. I’ve gone to his house and he’ll hand me a beer and ask me to check out his new shed.

“Wait, you built a shed? When?” I’ll ask.

His response, calm, cool and collected,

“Today… I finished before you got here.”

“It’s 11:30am!!!” I’ll reply. Dejected.

Today… he built a shed today… I ran a few miles… maybe answered some emails… but he built an arc to save the animal kingdom overnight. I’m just not there yet. I built a bar/table for the basement. I’ve hung a couple of shelves and installed some blinds. But I’m just not ready to drive a flatbed truck and use saw dust as cologne.

I’m trying. I’m not perfect. But at some point we’ll have a new front door and maybe a shed. Hopefully I’ll come out of all of this with all ten fingers and the majority of my 401k.

My Dad’s the Principal

Imagine this: your dad knows every teacher you have, used to work with them and even evaluate some of them, knows your schedule (because he was on the team that created those schedules and hirings, knows the curriculum like the back of his hand, and know that you’re learning virtually has the ability to walk into your class at any given moment. In other words, your dad is the boss at school and at home.

You think virtualing leaning is tough? Try being the kid of an elementary school principal!

Happy Fourth Birthday Oliver

Dear Oliver,

Another year has come and gone, yet this one, this year specifically is like none other that any of us have ever experienced. This year you spent almost all of 12 months in lockdown. The Corona Virus Pandemic and this Quarantine led the way for an unprecedented time for a three year-old to grow up.

However, this day isn’t about viruses, Covid, or vaccinations. It is about you. A little boy who seems to have grown three feet over the past year. While you still might spell your first name with two Ls and forget the numbers 13 and 14 when you count (and maybe say your favorite number is “blue”), you have developed into a voracious reader, who can’t get enough Chica Chica Boom Boom or Paw Patrol.

You have survived as the second child, which has to be so difficult… just ask your uncle Vinny. The thing is, you are forging your own path. You aren’t just a shadow of someone else, you have your own personality. You are hilarious, energetic and so incredibly brave. Braver than I think I could ever be (I’m scared that the bravery is just craziness, but that’s for a different blog entry). You follow your brother’s lead when you want to, but also kick him down the stairs when you want to lead the way.

I watch how others act around you and how they they react to you. Your aura is invigorating. You can turn a lazy, snowy Sunday by the fire into a dance party. You can raise anyone’s spirit, even after the most stressful day… and for that I owe you. You make being a dad so worthwhile. You make being your dad so rewarding… and for that I owe you more than you’ll ever know.

Oliver Peter, keep asking questions and defying the odds, keep trying things that other people don’t think are possible, but most of all… keep being you.

Happy 4th Birthday.

I love you,

Dad

January 31, 2017
January 31, 2018
January 31, 2019
January 31, 2020
January 31, 2021

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

Into the Night to Save the Day!

Everything is different, so it’s pointless to make a big deal about the impact of Covid-19 on daily life and the impact on Halloween this year is no different. Masks and candy shoots seem par for the course in 2020.

However, for some reason (at least for a guy who really isn’t a fan of Halloween) this year seemed pretty fun. It was just enough and yet, it was still perfect for the kids.

A downtown stroll from small business to small business was just what the doctor ordered (pandemic pun intended). We ended the night with great neighbors and a lot laughs.

If there was ever a quote to exemplify our 2020 Family Costume this is it: “Night in the city, and a brave band of heroes is ready to face fiendish villains to stop them messing with your day.”

First Day of First Grade

First grade? First grade?!?? Wait what happened to kindergarten? This pandemic, this homeschool your kid even when it’s impossible to homeschool your kid when you’re prepared to do so… that… that was nuts, but not as nuts as waking up today and realizing we have a first grader in the house.

This little dude was up at 6:00am and got himself dressed and ready for school by himself. He even made me a cup of coffee. Granted he woke up everyone in the house in order to tell us he had brushed his teeth and was hungry for breakfast, but I digress. With only about three hours to burn before drop-off this morning, we were able to play catch, ride power wheels and change outfits four times.

I’ve taught first grade. I was a first grade teacher for seven years. It’s the (in my opinion) the most challenging and complex grade level to teach and in turn has to be one of the most complex grades to be a student.

This is going to be such an interesting and even more challenging year for Jackson (let alone mom and dad). Then again if this morning is going to be any indication of how the school year is going to go… I think we’re in for a successful year.

Back to Hogwarts

September 1st has a significant meaning and evokes deep “feels” for all those who follow the Wizarding World Calendar. September 1 is day the Hogwarts students return for a new term by boarding the Hogwarts Express (or occasional a flying a Ford Anglia).

While schools across the United States prepare to go back to school virtually, or in some sort of hybrid model, as J.K. Rowling has said, “Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”

So in keeping with tradition, for the 6th year in a row I tweeted @jkrowling to get some advice for parents dropping off their children at Platform 9 3/4. Every year September 1st rolls around, I tweet the same thing to JK Rowling “Dear @jk_rowling any advice for parents sending their little ones to #Hogwarts for the first time?!?? #BackToHogwarts”.

I never get a response or any advice from her, but maybe this year will be the year! So for now, Stephanie and I have to do our best as Muggles to figure out how this whole Platform 9 3/4 thing works.

Canon

… and he laid there, as quiet as a mouse still clutching the note as if it was the most important piece of paper a pencil had ever touched.

Earlier, he looked through book after book, he emptied two different shelves, but nothing could quite quench his thirst for poetry as the note that was slid under his door a few minutes prior. He tore through his favorites, cover after cover… title after title… Pete the Cat after Pete the Cat. The right text just wasn’t there.

Like JK Rowling with Harry Potter, or the Wyld Stallyns with the song that saved eternity, some people just have the gift. Tonight, after locking his brother out of his room, Oliver learned Jax is up there with the greatest authors of all time.

The note was slipped under his door in haste in hopes that it would convince Oliver to open up. But that note, three simple words turned into more than just a message. Like Michael Jordan before him… Jax crafted a note with so few words, yet it said so much.

As Oliver drifted off into a deep sleep he still clutched the note. Three words that his brother wrote him, the three words that he will treasure forever… or at the very least haunt his dreams:

LET ME IN!

————————-

Those three words may have formed the most impactful short sentence since Michael Jordan’s “I’m Back.”