Monday, June 29, 2015

Are you a Bigot? (A Simple Test)

Friday was a great day for people who love equality. The Supreme Court of the United States found that state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. This is a huge victory for equality. Of course resolving this one issue doesn't mean everything is fine, there's more left to do, but it was great being able to celebrate for one day.

Sadly, not everyone was happy about the ruling. The segment of the population that instituted these bans to begin with were pretty unhappy and irrational about the whole thing. (I'm looking at you Alabama.) With this unhappiness the word "bigot" has been coming up a lot. I never noticed this before, but people really hate being called "bigot." I found this out when I posted the following comment on a conservative Facebook page that found its way into my news feed, "Bigots lost. Sorry Bigots. (I'm not actually sorry.)" Many of the replies boiled down to this, "It's not nice to call people names just because they disagree with you." The sentiment there is correct, but it doesn't work in this context. If we support different football teams and I call you names that's terrible. If you decide that your religious beliefs mean that you should deny civil rights to others you're fair game. Still, a lot of people I came across wanted to believe that even though they were against equality, they were not bigots.

Over the course of the day I devised a handy test to help people check to see if their views on gay rights are bigoted. It's very easy to apply, but it assumes you are not a horrible racist. (If you are a horrible racist then there's no hope for you anyway.)

Here's the test: For any statement you make about homosexuals replace the word "gay" with "black." If the resulting sentence is shocking and horrifying you are being a bigot about gay rights.


I don't think ____ people should be allowed to get married

I don't think ____ people should be allowed to adopt children

I don't think ____ people should work in food service

I don't think ____ people should be K-12 teachers


See? It's not hard. If you wouldn't say it about African Americans (or Asians, or women, etc) you don't get to say it about homosexuals without being a bigot.

If you find that you are a bigot you have two choices.

1) Change. It might not be easy, but we'll all be better off.

2) Own it. Just admit what you are instead of having completely irrational arguments with people. It will be easier for you and for the rest of us.

You might be thinking, "But I have religious freedom!" Yes, you do. You can privately believe anything you want. You can sit in church and scream about it. I personally don't care what you choose to believe or who you hate in the privacy of your own little community. But if you try to institute laws based on your religion, and especially if those laws seek to discriminate against a class of people you just happen to not like, then you are a bigot.

In closing, I'm thrilled that no matter what anyone thinks about marriage equality, it no longer matters. The issue is settled. I no longer have to try to convince anyone because it's no longer up for a vote. I am thrilled that I may never have to have this conversation ever again.

Love Wins.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

#TBT: My Mom on Twitter

So right, my mom was never on Twitter. If Twitter had been a thing when I was kid I'm sure she would have been posting these quotes from her four-year-old son just like I do with my kids. Instead she had the first two pages of this journal where she put down some of her favorite quotes.

I think this first one was influenced by my love of West Side Story

I've written about my mother's journals before, and I've posted a passage from the diary I kept when I was nine-years-old. I'm still packing up for our move and I'm still looking through everything as I go.

So happy Throwback Thursday, here's the wit and witticisms of preschool Berto.

Sorry kids, I've been making these terrible jokes since I was your age

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Excerpt from Myself

I'm packing up for a move, so of course that means stopping and looking at everything before boxing it up. My mom encouraged me to keep a diary when I was a kid. I didn't stick with it for very long. There are about eight entries. This is the last one.

As an adult I wish the kid I was had kept with it. I'd like to read more of what I thought about back then.

I wonder if my kids would like to start keeping a diary. Maybe I'll ask them.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Pink Still Rules for Refs, Another Cool Experience, and a Lesson

Yes this has mostly been a parenting blog lately but as I mentioned in the renaming post there will be other content here and there. If you bear with me, I'm going to tie the whole thing back into parenting at the end. I promise.

I recently ran a post about the trend of rugby referees wearing pink, which got some good response. I promised a follow up from the Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s in the event that they also used a pink kit for the referees, and indeed they did. This means that three of the six jerseys I've been given this year have been pink.

It makes sense for referees to wear pink. You need to have something that contrasts with what the players are wearing. This is especially important in sports like rugby and soccer where the referees kit is essentially the same as what the players wear, unlike in baseball or football where the official's attire is markedly different than that of the players.

Still, pink can end up being too close to some reds or purples so the good people at USA Sevens Rugby gave out two jerseys with our kits.

Varsity Cup referee Kurt Weaver
I think I only ended up wearing the black jersey one time during the weekend, but we were glad to have it when we needed it. Some of the other refereeing squads wore the black fairly often. Of course I was perfectly happy to wear the pink, which I am not ashamed to say I love.

You may be able to tell the kits were sponsored and made by Rhino Rugby. Rhino made kits for most of the teams at the CRC as well. The dot matrix graphics are a thing at Rhino as you can see from the ref's kit at the Varsity Cup. Penn Mutual is the new tournament sponsor. My only wish is that the USA 7s/CRC 7s logos were featured more prominently.

CRC weekend ended up being huge for me in another way. In a small way I was able to finally fulfill the promise some saw in me when I started reffing. About nine years ago I was occasionally told, "You'll be on TV some day." I never believed it. I should have, but back then there was less rugby on TV and I didn't think I'd ever make it to the level of being an international ref, so I thought they were just being nice.

The world changed when rugby was added to the Olympics. Suddenly it was possible for a ref to be on TV in the US. By that time I was a little older and due to circumstances and life choices it seemed I had been passed up by younger refs. I understand why. I don't begrudge anyone their opportunities. Over the last few years I've been content to take higher level assignments as a lower level assistant (sideline) referee, but I did secretly lament that I'd likely never do a televised game in a stadium as the center ref.

Then I unexpectedly got an offer to referee a game in the stadium on Saturday. It wasn't a CRC match, it was a lower tier game in the City 4 Philadelphia Cup, a competition between four Philadelphia based universities. The game was on at 6:55pm and broadcast on Comcast Sports Net. In some areas it was preempted for hockey coverage and shown later on tape delay. I'm not sure if there were announcers. The video I have only has the stadium audio. But it happened. I did my TV game. As an added bonus I was an In Goal Judge for the Bowl Final on Sunday. The game was broadcast on NBC so every time there was a try scored on my end I was on TV for a few milliseconds.

I know the classy thing is to "act like you've been there before" and play it all off like it's no big deal. Maybe the real high level refs do that. Maybe I should be emulating it. But I think that for many of them it isn't a big deal. They expect it. They know it's going to happen for them. I don't. So it is a big deal to me.

For me it reaffirmed what I had been telling myself and my kids for years. If you keep your head up and work hard you can eventually achieve what you set out to do. It doesn't help to complain or get angry. There were times when I felt like I wasn't getting the resources I deserved. I certainly wondered what other refs had that I lacked. I felt periods of frustration over the last few years.

Instead of getting angry I asked questions. I watched the other refs to see if there was more to them than just youth (there was). I volunteered to help out whenever I could. I made myself available. I worked hard at improving my knowledge of the game and my physical abilities. I also tried to find ways to ask for opportunities without sounding like I was complaining. I asked for things based on my own merits, not by comparing what I had to what others had. I did all the things I tell my kids to do.

It worked.

I'm 38. I'm old for a referee. The refs my age and older who do high level games were already doing high level games when they were younger than I am now. I may never get a center game on TV ever again. But I got one. I'm happy.

It doesn't mean I'll stop trying to move up, but if this is it I'll be fine. If this is the only one I'll put the memory up on the mantle alongside my one hit, in my only at bat, in the only baseball game I ever played (an RBI single off a 60 year old Spaceman Lee). Mostly I'll have a real example to use when I tell my kids that hard work, showing up on time, and being polite really do pay off.

I was also able to snag one of these cool sky blue alternates from the Eastern Penn refs, so double bonus.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Review: Sundrops by The Harmonica Pocket

Welcome to another installment of my semi-regular music review series. As I've written previously I am on a quest to find kids music that won't drive grownups crazy. I wasn't raised with kids music. My mother decided she'd rather hear The Sound of Music 5,000 times over anything that had been marketed to kids in the 1980s, so I was raised on a steady diet of show tunes and The Beatles. Since becoming a dad my kids have been listening to a lot of mid-90s rock and hip hop. As they've gotten older and started singing along I've realized that I actually would like for them to listen to something with more appropriate themes for their ages. Still, I can't go full Disney. I knew I had to find something else to bridge the gap between Can You Feel the Love Tonight and Cold Hard Bitch, so I started exploring kindie rock albums. As always the reviews are written from the perspective of someone who wants to help you find music that your kids will enjoy and that won't make you want to stab out your ear drums.

Today's offering is "Sundrops" by The Harmonica Pocket. Musically the album offers your typical guitars, drums and violins that seem to be staples of kids albums, but is also delightfully arranged with walls of horns that are energetic without being overly aggressive. Comparisons can be fraught, but I'd say the album sounds a bit like Belle and Sebastian for kids.

The album emotionally arcs like a summer day, starting light and lively, sauntering through the afternoon, and then winding down with a lullaby. Within this arc it explores three sets of themes tied to common childhood experiences. The first four songs (Sing In the Sun, Raindrops, It's Gotta Rain -If You Want a Rainbow-, Sun Song) are about the weather and its effects on the world and our moods.

Keeth Apgar and Nala Walla © 2015 Jeff Eichen
These opening tracks remind me of the kind of songs we would have sat around singing at my hippie Berkeley preschool. If you close your eyes and listen to Raindrops you can see kids at Esalen dressed in white linens and daisy chain crowns dancing in a circle. This is a great image for me, full of the freedom and thrill of discovery inherent in, "the free-range childhood" the artists (and I) remember in the late 1970s and 1980s. You could imagine these songs getting mainstream airplay in the late 1960s.

The only miss in the first four is It's Gotta Rain, which my wife and I agreed is "aggressively kiddie." It's Gotta Rain is lyrically repetitive, and front-man Keeth Apgar's vocals involve the common, hey-I'm-singing-to-kids intonation that I'm specifically trying to avoid when searching out music to listen to with my kids. That said, It's Gotta Rain has a beautiful melody and arrangement behind the vocals.

Parents who can power through It's Gotta Rain will be rewarded by the next four songs, which touch on near universal themes of childhood. Are You a Monster Too? on its surface about an insecure monster, explores deeper themes of childhood social anxieties. I can see myself name checking the song when talking with my kids about host of potential issues, from understanding the behavior of others, to accepting our own insecurities.

Digga Dog Kid and Surprise are up beat celebrations of childhood exploration and flights of fancy. I don't want to oversell Ukelele, but it's our favorite song on the album. The joy in the song is in the discovery so I'll leave it at that. (I know, I sound like the endings of the book reports that Ramona Quimby hated most, but seriously you have to hear the song for yourself in order to love it.)

The album winds down with the perfectly toned, melancholy yet peppy Sun Drops, a mellow cover of You are My Sunshine, and the sleepily bluesy It's Getting Night Now. Also included in the wind-down final third of the album is Butterfly Away, another beautifully arranged song that misses somewhat when it comes to the lyrics. In the person of a caterpillar dreaming of its future Apgar croons, "I'll be beautiful someday." It makes me want to hug the little caterpillar and tell it, "No no buddy, you're beautiful right now." I can see the message of the song being in line with the "It gets better" philosophy, and there's a good chance it can teach kids about the solace of being a late bloomer, but it's still not my favorite.

In the end "Sundrops" is a fun album that adults will enjoy, as will their kids. The songs are upbeat, educational, and very well arranged and produced. The music and instrumentation is on par with any current alt or folk rock album. I definitely recommend it for parents with young (pre-tween) kids.

You can find more of Harmonica Pocket including music clips, lyrics and the stories behind the songs, and a performance schedule at their website. They also have a YouTube channel.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Having a Reader

 A cool thing happened over the weekend, my son learned to read. Not in a miracle phonics thing you buy off of late night TV way. He's been learning to read for years now. I'll admit, I was actually starting to get anxious about it. He's recently six-years-old and I remember that by six I was reading on my own, a lot. But until last week The Boy wasn't doing it.

It's not that he couldn't read. I was pretty sure that his not reading was due to his general abundance of caution. The kid doesn't like to do anything until he knows he can do it. He's not a huge risk taker. This is a kid who used to walk to the curb, sit down, swing his legs down and then stand up because he didn't trust himself to just step off the edge. So he kept asking that things be read to him, which is fine with books but can get tedious when walking down the street.

"Dad, what does that say?"

"Dad, what does that say?"

"Dad, what does that say?"

"Dad, what does that say?"

"Dad, what does that say?"

I DON'T KNOW!!!! No, not really. But buddy I believe that you can read it if you really want to. He's spent the last several months sounding things out as if they aren't meant to be words. He's been sounding like Dory speaking whale in Finding Nemo, "Puh Huh Own Buh uh uh Ka" No bud, it says "Phone Book."

I don't know what happened over the weekend. Maybe his curiosity finally overcame his fear of failure. The result is that he's reading. Ever since the weekend it's been,

"Hey dad, that says 'bike repair'."

"Hey dad, that says 'beer and wine'."

"Hey dad, who's Jim Beam?"

OK, I swear I'm making these examples up.

The point is that suddenly having a reader is awesome. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Now when I'm cooking dinner and he wants a story he can read one. All on his own. Even better, he can read one to his sister too. The other day in the car he read her Fox in Socks. That's some next level ish for a kid who just a few days before claimed he couldn't read the header on the Cheerios box. Now he's asking me what riboflavin is. (And of course I'm like, "Let's look it up!")

If you already have older kids maybe you know the joy of suddenly having a reader. If you have younger kids, I'm telling you there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Pretty soon your little ones will be able to involve themselves in the joys of textploration, which come to think of it probably comes with a whole other set of parenting pit falls.

But I'm not going to worry about that today. Today I'm stoked that my son just became a little more self sufficient. Me and my buddy Jim can figure out the rest as it happens.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Finding Cair Paravel

The absolute best part of being a stay at home dad is the ability to take spontaneous trips around town. Our area is thick with museums and historical sites. When we first started staying home last year we had a lot of breakfast conversations like this:

"Dad, what's a lynx?"

"It's a big cat, like a puma or something."

"Oh, what does it look like?"

"I don't know, let's go to the zoo and see if we can find one."

And off we'd head to the zoo, or the history museum, or where ever we thought we'd find the answer to that morning's question.

One of my favorite trips was our search for Cair Paravel. It started when I found this article about what are thought to be discarded masonry from an old renovation of the Capitol building. The pictures and article struck me as a chance to do something fun and to get some hands on history.

I think I'm particularly enamored of this trip because I don't often make up elaborate ruses to entertain the kids. I generally think that there are plenty of amazing and wondrous things about the real world that we don't need to add much. Not that I'm a total stick in the mud. I love make believe and fiction and movies. I just don't think I need to blur the lines between what's real and what's fanciful as a parenting technique. That said, for some reason I really wanted to have a magical archeological adventure this time. They were reading the Narnia books at bedtime and had recently read about the Pevensie kids returning to find a ruined Cair Paravel, so I went for it.

Another aspect of the stones is that most of the articles about them are circumspect about their exact location. Part of the fun of the stones is finding them. Also, as one jogger blogger noted, it's probably better to keep some mystery so the stones don't get overrun and ruined. (Though the idea of ruining ruins is interesting to contemplate).

So we set off. I told the kids we were going hiking and looking for the ruins of an ancient castle. Even with the information we had it was tough to find. We ended up doing quite a bit of wandering around, which added to the building excitement and mystery. We even went off the trails in an attempt to find a short cut to another trail head. Going off trail meant going down into a ravine, crossing a stream and then hiking back up the other side. It ended up being a much cooler approach than if we'd found it by taking the right trail.

The kids were mesmerized by the ruins and took to exploring them with the kind of abandon that can worry a cautious parent like me. In that regard it was a good exercise for me in terms of allowing them to climb and explore without me hovering and calling out "be careful" every few seconds. That's probably a whole other post, but even though I was a daredevil as a kid and only suffered one major injury I see danger all around when my kids play.

We played the Narnia angle for a while, with my son as Peter and my daughter as both Lucy and Susan depending on how she felt at any moment. I had to be Edmund, which was OK since I know how things turn out.

After some play time and a snack we talked about why the stones were really there, or at least what they really are. No one seems to know exactly why they're there. It was one of the best days we'd had during my SAHD time. It was a trip that included everything I'd wanted when I started staying home with them, make believe, exercise, and education all in one trip.

For me, that's where the magic is.