Teacher Collaboration Rarely Works


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I’ve played at this teaching game for 11 years now. For more than a decade, something called Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) has dominated the way teachers interact with one another.

It works like this:

Once a week, school administration requires that a group of teachers (typically of the same department or “house”) meet for a set period of time and presumably discuss student performance and data in order to inform their instructional strategies.

Except it doesn’t work.

It REALLY goes like this:

School administrators require that a group of teachers meet either at the beginning or the end of a school day. While approximately an hour is scheduled, teachers saunter in and out, arriving late and/or leaving early. 25% of the PLC is bitching and moaning about everything that’s pissed them off since the last PLC meeting. Another 25% is devoted to housekeeping matters that the administration has forced them to talk about (testing locations, Back to School night protocols, etc.). Add 25% to departmental business (textbooks, upcoming conferences, etc.), and that leaves about 25% to possibly work with colleagues on common assessments.


Let’s break this boondoggle down:

  • 1 hour isn’t enough time to take a satisfying shit and shower, let alone conduct the type of work that the administration (and the nation) demands of teachers. “Oh, but sir, what about all of those days off that districts reserve for professional development?” Those days are reserved for what the district deems to be important. Bring in a guest speaker! Spend 5 hours working on district committee work! Oh, but they’ll give the teachers 90 minutes at the end of the day to work in teams on PLC assessments, data, lesson planning, etc. Pardon. All the while, the district boasts that WE DO PROFESSIONAL LEARNING COMMUNITIES!! Uh, when? Throw a bunch of people in a room for an hour with huge objectives to solve student achievement woes, and what do you get? A bunch of pissed off people who realize they can’t solve anything in an hour and just want to leave.
  • Teachers are not created equal. They have different values. They have different styles. So when it comes time to actually establish something in common, you’d have more luck breeding a dog with a cat than producing fruitful discussions.
  • A common complaint among teachers is that they don’t have enough time for anything: lesson planning, grading, you name it. So to be mandated to collaborate means that teachers often resent having to meet — even with colleagues they like. Research shows that when leaders “mandate” collaboration, the quality of that collaboration goes down. Collaboration must be authentic and teacher-driven. How you do this within the confines of the school day and year is quite the conundrum.
  • Teachers look at data so much but don’t know what to do with it. PLCs were created primarily to transform the profession into a research-based practice that allows teachers to solve problems based on real data. Here’s the problem: The data teachers are looking at is meaningless. What good is it to look at ACT scores when the exam is created in a way so that students are not all supposed to achieve mastery? They are purposely supposed to be spread out over a scale of 1 to 36 — to separate the geniuses from the idiots. It’s a ranking tool. It is not something teachers can, or should, be teaching students to master — at least not during the school day. I’ve made quite a bit of money tutoring students on ACT strategies, but that’s been outside of my contract time and for the sole purpose of “beating a test” rather than teaching them any meaningful skills about college, career, or life. Teachers also look at attendance stats, tardies, numbers of D’s and F’s, PSAT, SAT, state assessments, formative assessments. Anyone in the business world knows that it takes months or more to unpack what data is suggesting. So when schools hand teachers a truckload of data, the task is so overwhelming that all they do is look at it and then move on with what they’re doing. Oh, and did I mention that they’re supposed to do this all in one hour a week?


And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t include the influence the community, politics, media, parents, and state budgets all have on setting the talking points for teacher PLCs.

I’ve worked in several schools, all of which employed the PLC model. None of those schools did it well, but not to the fault of teachers or department leaders. The system is so flawed structurally (time, purpose, parity among teachers, administrative goals) that the PLC model most likely will not work unless control of the PLC is turned over to teachers and not policy makers (something my dissertation proved to be true.)


What I’m Noticing About Teaching High School Versus College


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After spending four years teaching at the college, I went with my gut and made a return to the high school Language Arts classroom. With 100 days left in this academic year, I’ve made some observations:

Nothing on Earth matches the college professor’s lunchtime

My 25-minute lunchtime now consists of shooing 14-year-olds out of my room (of course, I had to teach a freshman class during my lunch block) and sprinting downstairs to the faculty microwave before other starving teachers, aides, and counselors call dibs. It resembles the Hunger Games bloodbath cornucopia scene:


Or, in the more common scenario, I speed to the nearest Subway and slaughter my meal in 5 minutes or less.


Contrast this with my lunch time last year at the college. Perhaps, at 11:30, after a 15-minute diversion to Facebook, I stepped out for a quick bite. Should I drive across town to my favorite wrap dive? Mingle with the pizzeria regulars? The food court at the mall (because why NOT do a little shopping)? Before I knew it, it was often 1:30 by the time I stepped foot back on campus. A 10-minute bathroom break. 15 more minutes of Facebook. Whew. I might need to call this a day.

And so I usually did.

Freshman Composition at the college is really just 13th grade

I get this question from my high school colleagues: “So do you miss the college?” Why would I? My high school students are oftentimes unintentionally ignorant — almost adorable really. My college students (whom I still teach online this year), are also oftentimes unintentionally ignorant — not at all adorable. When a 4-year-old tries to warm up a marshmallow on a stove’s flame and gets burned, it is tragic, sweet, heart-wrenching, a teachable moment. When a 12-year-old does that, he’s an idiot.

And that’s the difference. Same excuses. Same deficiencies in writing (almost worse at the college, if you can believe it). Same resistance to reading. Inability to self-regulate. At the high school, I work with them and try to identify the problem. At the college, it pisses me off and makes me wonder why the hell they didn’t stay awake in high school.

It is obvious that an education degree is meaningful, except when you teach at the college

I sat in a professional development meeting at the college and listened to an administrator in charge of something useless show us how to use something called a “rubric” to assess student learning. Many in the room looked like this:


Those of us who had spent at least a year teaching high school looked like this:


OMFG. A rubric? Wow! Be still my beating heart. And no. This was not in 1965. This was three years ago. I learned within months of working at the college that higher education remains buried in some inescapable tomb when it comes to assessing students. The young ones understand the importance. But the older ones with the elbow patches say, “don’t tread on me” and to get the hell out of their classrooms.

On the flip side, we at the high school say that we assess. And we do. But then we don’t know what the hell to do with the data. So we make more tests. With more data. We stare at the data.


And then we publish this data in order to pretend that we’re doing something meaningful with it. Some day I’ll devote an entire blog to this.

I applied for a full-time college position because, in case you didn’t know, nearly 80% of the faculty are “contingent” or “adjunct” or whatever stupid ass euphemism they want to use. “Yay! Apply for this job, Paul! You’re so qualified! Your evaluations are fantastic! Oh, but wait; you have a bachelor’s in English education, a master’s in English curriculum and instruction, and a doctorate in education? Sorry, sir. You are grossly unqualified to teach English for us. Please leave.” Apparently, being qualified to know how to TEACH English is frowned upon. Only English degrees (without the education attached) deem someone qualified. Because, yeah, THAT’S a degree students are busting colleges down to earn.

I just chuckle when high school teachers think they are not valued. Trust me. Once they dive into the cesspool of adjunct teaching for a while, they’ll change their minds.

Both are on a mission to improve student achievement

I consider the high school the “front lines” of the war on education. College is still at war, but it’s the “Al Gore as a reporter in Vietnam for four months” version of the war. Yeah, you’re doing a noble thing, but you’re not going to get bloodied up. For college professors, the worst thing that will happen to them is a negative anonymous review on ratemyprofessor.com.

At the college, I dealt with fighting over a computer space (since adjuncts share a bunker), whether someone would stick a sign outside my room when I decided to stay home, and making my syllabus lock-tight so that admin would support me. I was often invited to attend professional development (on my own schedule and preferences), and it always included brownies or goodies of some kind. And when a student failed my class, it’s because he earned that F (I miss that so much).

At the high school, students sludge their way in the room with every diagnosis known to modern medicine. Yes, teachers have a syllabus, but how parents, counselors, or administrators “feel” about an issue trumps that syllabus. There are bells. Schedules. Assemblies. Required gradebook updates. Forced professional development, usually by folks who could learn a thing or two from the folks they’re preaching to. Fire drills. Lock downs. IEP meetings. PLC meetings. <Insert acronym here> meetings. And filling out sub plans is totally not worth the absence.

What hasn’t changed, though, is the utter hilarity of working with students. The systems that surround education often muddy it to a fault. But the students and their quirks make it less of a farce and more of a mission. For me, it has always been about the students. Teaching at the college, I worked with students a couple of times a week for 16 weeks. Then they disappeared. At the college, I work with them for 9 months. Then I see them throughout the rest of their high school careers, perhaps even again in my classroom. I see them at school events, with their friends, with their parents, in the community, on the cross country course — the relationship doesn’t end after a 75-minute block of time each day. That’s what I missed in those four years. And that’s why I returned.

Of course, the $15,000 pay raise, with benefits didn’t hurt either.


The Name Game: My Son Luke — and What it Has to Do With My Classroom


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*Disclaimer. Several common names are explicated and tortured on this page. 

I admit that at the start of each semester, I pore over the names on my class rosters. Within seconds, and without seeing faces or meeting them, I can draw conclusions on which students stand to be pills. And I do this with about 71.4 percent accuracy.

Which is why when it came time in that BackYard Burger restaurant late in the summer of 2013 with Laura across the table, every name we said out loud nearly made my butt clench and my face flushed. You see, I estimate I’ve taught somewhere between 1,400 and 1,700 students in the last 10 years. Laura is not too far behind me. Between the both of us, we’ve taught students with just about every name, and just about every variation of spelling on those names. Nicole. Nikole. Nichole.

And with those names comes a buffet of delicious and nauseating memories, which makes baby naming quite difficult.


Dustin? Probably going to be a pretty good guy, you’d think. I remember my first newspaper editor at THS. Good kid. Ah, but that yet-to-be-serial-killer in my night class also shared that name.

Andy? Short for Andrew? This broke one of my rules (i.e. the name could not be shortened). It also rings out “family dog name” instead of a future CEO or president. Can you really take a name like Andy seriously? Not to mention everything it rhymes with, which never helps on the playground. Candy. Randy. Gandy.

Jordan? Loved this name initially, but it broke another of my rules (i.e. the name could not be unisex). Despite my historically good luck with students by the name of Jordan (including one sweet girl at SJA), the toolbag in my 5th hour class in 2005 shattered my faith in the name.

Dylan? To be honest, this name was in my top 3 for years. What an honor it would have been to pay homage to one of my favorite students from ONW. Then, another Dylan showed up in 2012. His contribution to my class included sexually harassing the disabled girl in the corner and filing a grievance against me because I wouldn’t let him turn work in late. I assume he’s either dead or in jail.

Zachary? This name met an important requirement: I wanted it to sound Biblical. But it also broke rule #1 (can’t be shortened) as well as another rule: It should only be spelled one way. Zac. Zach. Zack. Next.

Then, of course, I turned to the names in our families. Donald? That’s old. Have you met a Donald younger than 60? Howard? Sorry, but that makes me think of that weird 80s movie Howard the Duck. 


And have you met a Howard younger than 40? Thomas? Cool name, but can be shortened. Tony? I have a cousin Antoinette. A step-grandma Antoinette. Both go by Toni. My dad is Tony. My brother is Tony. My nephew is Tony. Clearly we have a creativity problem in my family. Or a fierce loyalty to preserving a name — a strong, Italian name at that. Either way, that was off limits.

And don’t even get me started on the girl names. During this marathon name-generating massacre, we had yet to find out the sex of the baby. Laura’s requirements included those listed above with one additional: It couldn’t sound too girly. That eliminated nearly every heterosexual-sounding female name. And we had permanently blacklisted the names Brittany (a beastly creature from my journalism teaching days), Courtney (someone on Laura’s $hitlist), and Danielle (just a terrible all around human being), among dozens of others. We also were adamantly opposed to the so-called most popular girl names like Emma, Isabella/Bella (Twilight is SO last decade), and Abigail/Abby (Have you READ The Crucible?).

My personal favorite for a girl was (and is) Adriana. Not pronounced AdriANNA, but AdriAHNA. Laura hated it because of this dumb B on the Sopranos who liked to shoot up heroin.


Laura loved the name Charlotte for about two weeks. Pretty, but …

wilbur and char

We eventually settled on a girl’s name, which I cannot reveal in case we, for some reason, decide to torture Luke with a sibling.

For the boy, I pulled out my ace card — the name that, throughout the years, never let me down. “How about Luke,” I mouthed in between bites of burger and fries. “I like Luke.”

It started with, of course, Luke’s gospel — still my favorite book of the Bible, filled with truisms that I still can’t seem to follow. It also is a variation of the name Luca, which is the boy version of my Nonna Lucia. And then there came the carousel of Lukes in my classrooms throughout the last 10 years. Never a jerk. Always an achiever. Predictably goofy. Slightly awkward. Fiercely loyal. Eyes always on the prize. And it offered me years of tirelessly uttering this phrase:


Perfect. Can’t be shortened. Everyone can spell it. Biblical. No A-hole students that bring about PTSD symptoms when I utter the name.

So there you have it: How We Named Luke. It works well on this little guy, don’t you think?



A Dad of 15 Days


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One unexpected advantage to our baby’s arrival is the ceasing of wish-I-thought-of-it-first phrases like “Your life is about to change forever” and “Get all the sleep you can now because you never will again!” I could take a sabbatical from work and pen a white paper on the absurdity and lack of originality of both of those comments.

Two weeks after our son Luke’s birth, life has indeed changed (sound the trumpets!) and sleep is a bit more disjointed (be still my soul!). But there’s more to it than that. Here’s what people didn’t tell me to expect:

1. Everyone Has the Right Answer

I admit, when it comes to parenting, I’m pretty green. But in terms of dealing with human beings, I think I do have some experience there. I also concede that the dozens of parents who have offered their perspectives on how to correctly burp a child, soothe a child, and feed a child — they probably know a thing or two.

I didn’t, though, realize that every parent thinks they have parenting by the balls. Or that any phrase starting with “Well, when ‘x’ was born, we …” would be so annoying. Add to that the phrases, “Well, OUR daughter slept through the night starting at week two,” or “Well, OUR son couldn’t adjust to his crib after [insert method of soothing a child here].” Or any phrase that implies how much better their child was than ours. These pieces of advice equate to instances when you try to tell an amazing story to your friends, and then “that one guy” always has to insert his two cents about how his story is better, thus stealing the story from you.


You know what? If I want my child to sleep in his swing for two hours while I scour Facebook, so be it. He’s asleep dammit. Praise the Lord. And if I tend to his needs every time he cries, just smile and admire how loving I am. If I neglect to tarp his penis while changing him and he baptizes me with his urine (like every boy does to his father), we don’t need your ten minute story of how it happened to you too. Let my experience be unique to me.

Now, I know that all of our friends are well-intentioned and only want to bond with us and Luke during these early days. What better way than to share stories? There exists a sharp division, though, between an amusing anecdote and an unsolicited piece of advice.

2. I Know More About Circumcision Than I Ever Wanted to Know

Because a little genital mutilation never hurt anybody, we did have Luke circumcised. Thanks to Shawnee Mission Medical Center’s policy of never separating parent and baby, I tagged along, Panera coffee in hand, to Luke’s first (and probably not last) humiliating experience being naked in front of another woman.

I didn’t think I could cross my legs any tighter than I did. Needles and scissors and foreskin. Enough to make a grown man both curious and terrified.


3. My Wife Has Unflinching Stamina

The Laura before delivery and the Laura after delivery are two different creatures. It used to be that the only sound that could awaken her from a deep sleep was the sound of urine trickling out of Grendel and onto our bedroom carpet. Everything else: thunder, fierce sunlight, nuclear blast — zzzz’s. Now, with a slightest chirp from Luke’s throat, she perks up with the posture of a meerkat. She has, bless her heart, taken on the burden of sleepless nights. If she’s tired, annoyed, or distraught, you wouldn’t know it. It’s to the point that the other day, when I let it spill how tired I was that I only soaked in 7 hours of sleep, the guilt from that comment kept me awake the next night.

I realize, now, why Mother’s Day exists.


…which leads me to…

4. I Suck at Getting Up In the Middle of the Night

While I do wake up nearly every morning around 2 or 3 to let the dogs out to pee, I have learned to accomplish that task without opening both eyes and without really having to acknowledge that I am, indeed, awake. I am blessed with the sick talent of sleeping while standing at the backdoor. And, to which many guys can probably relate and much to the dismay of our house cleaner, I can keep those eyes closed even while making a pitstop in the bathroom on the way back to bed.



A child, however, requires a much more alert presence from his parents. I’m not sure why Laura has only asked me once to change a diaper in the middle of the night. I can only imagine that my changing skills and level of coherence at such an hour was alarming enough to her to just do it herself next time. I’m a work in progress.

5. It’s More Awkward Than I Thought Reading To a Newborn

What one pictures those first nights to be and what they really are: a grand canyon of differences. I had this image of sitting in the rocking chair, next to the crib, lamplight on, whispering “Goodnight Moon” from the pages until Luke dozed off. Then Laura and I would both walk him to his crib, place him in gently, watch his smiling face sleep soundly before exchanging a small kiss of our own and heading to bed.

Hell naw.

Instead, Luke sleeps soundly from about 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., with a few feeding breaks and diaper changes to inconvenience him. The rest of the night is a series of g-rated expressions that could otherwise be translated to “Go the f-$% to sleep.” I sing to him. I play a silly game called “jump on the lily pad!” which is basically me interrupting his crying by lifting him from pillow to pillow on the couch to confuse the hell out of him long enough to stifle his sounds. Laura feeds him. Rocks him. The dogs lift their heads from their own naps wondering why the hell he just won’t go to sleep. And we pick up the book only to have to read it loud enough so that it can be heard over whining. Even when he does quiet down, he seems more interested in the corner of the bed post than on any clever text from “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?”


We teach English. We should be used to children not paying attention when we open up a book. But there’s something almost embarrassing about knowing with 100% certainty that your audience (i.e. your son) has no flipping clue what you’re saying, if you’re saying anything, and wonders if that book has a nipple that excretes milk.

6. I Clean a Lot of Dishes

In our nearly six years of marriage, it wasn’t peculiar for us to say something like “Wow, we’ve eaten at home three nights in a row!” Chinese food, bar food, Mexican, and pizza are rotating staples in this house. So when my mother in law stayed with us for the first week, it was the first time we had eaten at home for five consecutive days. Some realizations from that experience: There exists a bewildering ratio of spoons to forks (where are the forks?) in our kitchen. I need more whisks. Our dishwasher is the boss. I use nearly every pot, pan, cutting board, and knife each time I cook. I think Food Network should end each show not with the chef tasting the meal but with that asshole cleaning up the kitchen. Folks wouldn’t cook half the dishes on that network if they knew the countertops would look like the beaches of Normandy when all was said and done.

Needles to say, my crockpot starred in two meals in the last week. And, in a nod to my mom’s tricks when she didn’t want to dirty anymore dishes, I’ve busted out the paper plates. (Sorry, Earth.)


7. Changing Diapers is a Lot Like Changing Tires at a Nascar Race


It must be swift or else it will end in disaster. Take too long, you’re pissed on. Take longer, he cries. Admittedly, I had sweat beads on my forehead during my first diaper change at the hospital. After a few dozen diaper changes, it’s clear my son hates being naked (something not inherited from his father), he hates being cold, and he’d rather just wipe his own ass. In time, son. In time.

8. Eating Is a Sport


Because Luke’s internal clock tells him to wake up annoyingly close to our dinner time, we usually waste no time once food hits table. No more pleasantries like, “Wow, you really can taste the cinnamon, can’t you?” Or, “the subtle notes of apricot in the chicken glaze really bring out the fullness of flavor.” Instead, it’s “Hurry! Don’t go to the bathroom now! We need to eat! Bring in two glasses of water for each of us so that we don’t waste time running back to the kitchen! Sit down! Bigger bites!”

Remember the scene in Jurassic Park, when the insufferable characters knew of an approaching T-Rex based on the ripples in the water? And all was still? “Don’t move. Their vision is based on movement,” Dr. Grant would say.

Yeah, that’s us with Luke at 6:30 each night.

9. It Really is a Miracle

Despite the annoyances above, at the end of the day, it’s a miracle. The greatest blessing in my life has been this little guy:

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Yes, life is a bit more scrambled these days. But it’s also clearer. My job isn’t to teach students each day how to read and write. My job is to guide this boy to manhood. To love him with the love I have for my God and my wife. I know love. But I didn’t know the level of love that exists like that for your child. My love for Luke makes me appreciate my own parents. That love moves me to suffer with those parents who’ve lost a son or daughter. And that love helps me to realize that it’s not always about me.

Because, really, what could be better than this?

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“Kinda” Excited to Have a Baby


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The nostalgia of summer permeates nearly every thought in my mind this time of year. Years of summers had. Years of summers to come. But then I think of the summer that actually awaits me. And it causes much cognitive dissonance. Last night at BuyBuyBaby (a store run completely by untrained monkeys — a smear blog for another time), I asked Laura “Aren’t you so excited to meet him” (of course referring to our unborn child who will most likely cook for another 34 days). She gawked at a $20 price tag on a onesie and said “Kinda.”

To the casual observer, that might come across as her sounding like the Distant Mother or someone who Doesn’t Understand the Miracle of Childbirth. Whatever. When the word “kinda” oozed out of her mouth, my over-jubilant expression morphed into the same expression I make when someone walks in on me while I’m on the toilet — confused, vulnerable, bewildered, befuddled, amused. If you haven’t figured out Laura, it’s that she has an innate knowledge of Things that remain a mystery to the rest of us. She’s the Dumbledore of Decision Making. The Mufasa of Marriage. The Atticus Finch of Family. The Tinkerbell of Teaching. The Obi-Wan of <can’t come up with an alliteration>. If she said “kinda,” then she knows something I don’t. And because I was too confused by her response, I didn’t Jack-Bauer her into a tortured confession as to what she meant.

But here I am at 7:30 in the morning, awoken (awaked? awoked?) by the one word that slithered off her tongue so nonchalantly yesterday. Kinda.



I’m about to go upstairs where she is most likely sleeping with a relaxed smile on her face, shake her awake, and yell in to her face, “Tell me everything you know! Devil! Release her!”

Perhaps her “kinda” refers to the same cognitive dissonance that I’ve been trying to understand about my own feelings of the approaching summer. On one hand, to see my flesh and blood, hold him in my arms, play with his baby feet (a weird obsession) — I’ll finally experience fatherhood. On the other hand, I won’t be able to do what I did yesterday: Read upside down on the couch for hours without a care as to what anyone else in the world is doing. Sit on the porch by myself in the sun — staring at neighbors and making up stories about their lives. Work in the yard with headphones on before coming inside to … read. Get in my car driving wherever it takes me to eat something for lunch, listening to an audiobook. Then there’s the traveling. The “hey, want to go see a movie?” two hours before it starts and, yes, being able to drop everything to go do it. The Absolute Freedom to Be Absolutely Free.

That will be gone. That’s kinda exciting. That’s kinda unfortunate.

Laura and I have long been caught up in making each other happy. So when she says “kinda,” it’s perhaps an acknowledgement that we’re about to experience a new kind of joy that will bind us together like nothing has before. Instead of our focus aimed at each other, it’s aimed at our child. It’s also, perhaps, an acknowledgement that the change that’s about to occur is unknown — a beautiful change, yes. But unknown.  I catch her sometimes sitting in the rocking chair in his nursery holding his stuffed elephant. Her expression is usually serene. She rocks slowly, as if peacefully anticipating what it will be like to hold him here in just a little over a month. I like to read her “kinda” as an optimistic and anxious nod to our future.

Or maybe she’s just freaking out that a onesie costs $20.


An Exhaustive Salute to 2013


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It’s no secret that the holiday season (of which I consider to start on my birthday, November 20, and end on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6) is my favorite time of the year. Each day, I do that half-walk half-run thing to the mailbox to see who has sent the latest Christmas card. Not because of the card itself, but because of those fascinating holiday letters that some friends and family write. You know, the letters that have the photo on one side and a recap of the entire year on the other. I used to find these self-absorbing on the part of the sender, but in the last few years, mainly because of my flirtation with the grim reaper on the eve of 2011, I have taken an eager interest in what happens in people’s lives over the course of 365 days. And my 2013 was certainly one for the books as well.

It was one of those years during which I imagine God sat back with a bucket of popcorn watching the Restivos on one of his millions of spy cams, pointing every few days at the screen and shaking his head, laughing, crying, or shouting “What on earth are you doing?!”

The year started off with death. Our 9-year-old rat terrier, Finny, became sick and died in a short two-week period in January. And two weeks after that, Laura’s granny died. On more than one occasion, Laura and I muttered “This year sucks” to each other during those first several weeks of 2013. It was a somewhat maudlin month, simultaneously mourning the loss of a dog and a matriarch.





As is typical with many deaths, nostalgia settles in about the lost loved one. In our case (or I should say in Laura’s case) it was how perfect Finny was. And so throughout the month of February, Laura excavated the internet for the perfect rat terrier. And while I was away in Arizona in March, she drove an absurd distance, to some wonder of America called Texarkana, to pick up this little turd.

Basil, 2 months old

Basil, 2 months old

Basil has since marked our lives. And several of our underwear, patches of carpet, stuffed animals, blankets, and toilet paper rolls.

And the spring proved just as wacky when we sold our townhome earlier than expected (March), forcing our realtor Mike to lead these grand odysseys around the city, showing us this house and that. The pool of houses is kind of limited when you tell a realtor that you want to live in Johnson County, that you’re not rich, that you need four bedrooms, that you dislike split levels, that you hate open concept, and that under no circumstances should there be a homeowners association, which I firmly believe to be organized hate groups. Eventually, the seemingly endless checklist of wants resulted in the perfect home for us.

Unfortunately, the owners were not ready to move out, which forced us into temporary housing for the better part of five weeks. We moved everything into a storage unit, save a few bedsheets, a barely house-trained puppy, a reclusive cocker spaniel, and a couple of weeks worth of clothes, and played the part of drifters quite well. Our friends, Barb and Mike, gave up a bedroom in their home for us. No big deal, right? Except for the fact that they had just moved into this beautiful home and were still unpacking. And except for the fact that they have a one-year-old. And except for the fact that Barb was six months pregnant. Amazingly, we’re still friends. I’m still flummoxed at their generosity.

That was all in the first half of the year.

The second half saw me returning to my fraternity as an alumni board member for the second time, volunteering to teach weekly Confirmation classes to middle schoolers at the Catholic Church down the street, and embracing my family (and heavily Italian) roots as the New Jersey clan joined us for a weekend in early fall.


the cousins

the cousins

But nothing at all could compare to what dominated the final four months of the year. I still vividly remember walking in the front door one hot late summer day only to hear Laura say “Peej, come upstairs now.” I peeked up to the landing above the foyer to see her holding the pregnancy stick. And as they say, life changed course right then and there.

A year that began focused so much on death ended focused so much on new life. If I thought 2013 was a cornucopia of cheers and jeers, something tells me it has nothing on 2014.

And the Gender Is …


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No daughter wants this conversation to occur:

“So, dad. What was your reaction when you first saw me on the sonogram?”

“Well, dear. I was kind of hoping you were a boy. But I got you instead.”

No son, of course, wants that conversation to occur either. So I began mentally preparing myself for today’s sonogram. For years, even before I was married, I wanted a boy. Don’t most men want to have at least one boy? Someone to carry on the patriarchal seed? Or just someone with whom they can be equal around the house?

Yet soothsayers abound in my family and circle of friends. My dad never said “I hope you have a girl.” Instead, it was “You’re having a girl.” As if his words would end up in the driver’s seat of the sperm’s journey to the egg. And remember the moment when the pregnant Virgin Mary meets Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s womb jumps? Elizabeth immediately knew that Mary was full of grace and was carrying someone special. We had a similar encounter with my friend Mike. As soon as we walked in the door to his home, he gave Laura the once-over: “You’re totally having a girl.” And on it went. Relatives wishing for the girl. Friends insisting that Laura’s cravings and weight gain suggested two X chromosomes.

Naturally my grin was wider than normal today when the sonogram technician exclaimed the gender. I ultimately had the last laugh. Yes, I smiled because I was looking at my child’s face for the first time. But the smile was also one of triumph over the fortune tellers of the womb.

And they’ll be just as happy on May 10 when they meet my son.