Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

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The mentor gratitude project

August 28, 2019

In a recent post, I expressed regret at having failed to directly and fully thank my primary Ph.D. adviser while he was alive.

This regret has been useful in motivating me to identify and (when possible) thank others who have been unusually helpful and influential in my professional development. I’ve previously discussed a couple of them on this blog: George Kosaly (a former research collaborator) and John Peterson (a high school social studies teacher). Here’s the rest of my (imperfect, incomplete) list:

  • Pete Farwell. My college running coach, who was great running-wise but also encouraged my creative endeavors (poems and songs) for team gatherings.
  • Dan Lynch. My undergraduate research mentor, who demystified the enterprise of laboratory research for me.
  • Mary Lidstrom and Wes Van Voorhis. My postdoctoral research supervisors. Very different styles, but both excellent scientists who also found ways to support my interest in teaching.
  • Doug Meyer. My junior high school vocal music teacher, who gave me an excellent grounding in ear training and music theory.
  • Do Peterson. A friend who, in addition to introducing me to my now-wife, has been a musical mentor to me ever since we recorded Take Me to the Liver in 1996.
  • My parents. My dad especially for informing my development as a writer, and my mom especially for being my first teacher role model.
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A chip off the old block?

August 20, 2019

SCHOOL RULES AT HOME
by Jack Crowther
Rutland Herald
October 21, 1990

Living with an elementary school teacher means:

Being asked, out of the blue, questions like, “Do we have any green cardboard?” or, “Where can I find a picture of a wheat field?” Questions cooked up overnight or hatched during housework, when her mind was still in school. Questions like, “What’s that stuff from whales that’s used in perfume — amber what?”

Living with an elementary school teacher means being expected to know the names and quirks of 15 or 20 children whom you have never met, including several with the same names.

It means differentiating between the two Chads and among Sara, Sara, and Sarah using only context clues. Obviously, Chad-who-never-finishes could not be the same Chad who wrote the wonderful seven-page story about his pet duck.

Obviously.

Living with an elementary school teacher means learning a dictionary of educational terms, all of which have different meanings than those encountered in normal conversation. Terms like “chapter.” For example:
Q. “What does she teach?”
A. “Chapter.”
Q. “What?”
A. “She’s the chapter teacher.”
Q. “What chapter does she teach, and what book are we talking about?”
A. “No, no. She’s the teacher for the Chapter I program. You know that.”

Of course.

Living with an elementary school teacher means being expected to understand, without reference to an interpreter or glossary, terms like: Title I, basal, whole language, conference (as a verb), in-service (as an adjective), heterogeneous groups, self-contained classroom and cooperative learning.

Living with an elementary school teacher means being asked to color in 17 mimeographed turkeys while watching your favorite television program. This is impossible to do, but don’t expect sympathy. She would do it herself but she’s coloring 17 Pilgrims.

Living with a teacher means finding folders, boxes and stacks of learning materials all over the house. It means posters and charts suspended from hangers in closets.

It means learning that every scrap of paper worth saving is worth laminating to protect it from flood, smudge, slush, tearing, fraying and wrinkling. It means learning that a teacher’s greatest joy in life is in pulling out from a household cranny a fully prepared unit on dinosaurs.

Living with an elementary school teacher means appreciating the many kinds of meetings that one profession can generate. There are team meetings, faculty meetings and staffings, all different. There are parent conferences, district-wide meetings, curriculum meetings, committee meetings and level meetings.

If you wonder why the teacher in your family is not promptly home at the end of a school day, she is probably in a meeting. Missing at breakfast? It must be a before-school meeting. Gone after supper? A night meeting.

Living with an elementary school teacher means seeing her off to an endless progression of workshops and courses. They represent an ongoing quest to surround and contain the world of learning, not just what to teach but when and how to teach it.

Living with an elementary school teacher means literary discussions based on leading books of the day; books like “Bridge to Terabithia” or “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Forget the New York Times best seller list. It’s not relevant to grade school.

Living with a teacher also means learning that, for many reasons, some children will not fulfill the bright promise of youth. But it also means celebrating small triumphs just often enough to nourish optimism. It means rediscovering weekly and monthly and yearly a child’s capacity for growth.

Finally, living with a teacher means a vicarious enjoyment, tinged with envy, of school vacations. It means a chance, several times a year, to witness enormous relief, tempered by the knowledge that school, like the seasons, will come again.

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Happy 50th Anniversary, Mom & Dad!

May 30, 2019

As of tomorrow, my parents will have been married for 50 years! I hesitate to say “celebrating” 50 years because, at the moment, they’re mostly working hard on moving from their current home to a new place across town. But, anyway … 50 years! In recognition of this milestone, I am posting a relevant column — one of my all-time favorites — by my dad.

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THE MARITAL SHIP SAILS ON
by Jack Crowther
Rutland Herald, April 1, 1984

Contemplating the approach of our 15th wedding anniversary, my wife observed, “I think it’s pewter.” A pause. “I don’t like pewter. You can’t put it in the dishwasher.”

Such is the state of our marriage after a decade and a half. Sentiment hamstrung by convenience, tradition clobbered by practicality, symbolism outlawed by appliance manuals. Yet it survives.

In fact, the 15th anniversary isn’t pewter at all. It’s watches. But watches don’t go in the dishwasher either, so the point still applies. If it’s not dishwasher-safe, she has no use for it. I count myself and the children as exceptions to this standard, though a “dishwasher safe” label might improve our standing.

How to summarize those 15 years and the preceding courtship? Certain cycles have repeated themselves, as they do in the dishwasher. The quiet purposefulness of the fill cycle, the turbulence of the scrubbing, the fresh prospects of the rinse and the warm glow of the drying. It’s all there.

We met in the summer of 1967 at a public sailing club in Boston. They taught sailing and let out boats not far from the band shell on the Charles River. After you learned to sail, you taught the beginners. This offered a good opportunity for a chap to impress a young lady by showing off the arcane skills and colorful language of the skipper.

“Belay that purse,” I’d say with the authority of one who had battled wind and wave from Cape Horn to the Sea of Okhotsk.

My wife wasn’t the only female companion to sail with me on the Charles. Another possible romance had foundered when the boat had capsized. In some waters, tipping over might be as much fun as sailing, but not on the Charles. It’s too much of a working river, carries too much Bay State waste to be a swimmer’s place. An unplanned dunking was more taint than treat for my crew, and I never saw the girl again.

But I fared better with my future bride. We kept upright and avoided the treacherous Storrow Memorial Embankment.  Out of gratitude for her survival or interest, or both, she invited me over for stew.

The rest is history, though largely unrecorded until now.

I was new to the ways of love and underwent the usual bizarre changes in behavior. I made a cake and shared it with her. An ingenuous little pastry, it was yellow, one layer high and without frosting. But she loved me for it.

Well, at least she didn’t laugh.

At least she didn’t laugh loudly.

At least she didn’t laugh loudly in front of me.

Another time, I made dinner, served wine, and put on a tablecloth. Photographic evidence proves she was still smiling after the meal. She believes that I made spaghetti with store-bought sauce. That I could have pulled off such a culinary feat stretches credulity, but she’s not one to exaggerate.

Our courtship had its ups and downs. I moved to Vermont. On weekends she’d come up or I’d go down to Boston. Once we broke up for a couple of weeks. It was my doing, but I must not have liked it much. I broke down and called her up. After that things settled down a bit.

These things tend to reach a point of decision, and they did with us. I proposed. She accepted. Our parents accepted. Her church accepted. The Chicago city clerk accepted.

On a late spring day in 1969, the awesome ship of matrimony slid down the ways in a Chicago suburb and set its course, cheered by a waving throng and tacitly admonished as well: beware the conjugal straits; tempt not the storms of estrangement.

The crew of two somehow thought they could handle it. Why, they’d sailed the Charles River, hadn’t they?

 

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When is it fun to be married to a biostatistician?

April 27, 2019

Always, if that biostatistician is Leila. But especially during scenes like the following….

It’s dinner time for 7-month-old Ben, and two types of orange mush are on the menu: sweet potatoes and peaches.

Ben likes the peaches much better because they are sweeter, but Leila is trying to get him to eat both.

With a twinkle in her eye, she says, “This calls for … randomization!” And proceeds accordingly.

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A tiny rebellion

December 7, 2018

Sam, now 22 months old, is becoming really playful, with an exaggerated har-har-har laugh to match. But he is also becoming willfully defiant.

These days, when I give him his nightly bath, he takes a cup and scoops up some bathwater and dumps it on the bathroom floor. I tell him, “No.” He does it again. I take the cup away. And then he takes his toothbrush, dunks it in the bathwater, and sticks it out over the floor, transferring a drop or two of water in the process, while gently cooing, “Noooo.”

Unwilling to laugh or cry, I just shake my head — my usual compromise.

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…And re-introducing Sam

September 22, 2018

Here’s a bit about the current life of Sam, now 19.5 months old.

Thanks to persistent instruction by Leila, he knows and uses several signs (e.g., “more,” “please,” “all done”). This has been the case for months, but lately he’s been adding more out-loud words. Most of his favorites begin with B (“boo!”, “boo-buh” for blueberry, “ba” for ball, “bee” for frisbee) or end in a “Z” sound (“shoes,” “cheese”). I’ve been struck by how much of this learning depends on our intonation. If we say a word with an exaggerated flourish that he finds interesting, he is much more likely to learn it. “Boo!” is one example; another is “down,” to which I give the Howard Cosell “Down goes Frazier!” treatment. (“Sam, do you want to go DOWWWN the stairs?”)

His favorite books include Over in the Meadow by Ezra Jack Keats, Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, and — somewhat to our dismay — anything about Clifford, the big red dog.

His favorite pastimes (some represented below) include manipulating thin objects like tupperware lids and dominoes, visiting an owl decoy on a fence a few blocks from home, carrying multiple large balls simultaneously, and throwing and retrieving these balls.

His favorite comfort objects are burp cloths, a stuffed teddy bear and dog (which he often carries around in his mouth, as if he too is a dog), and the aforementioned balls.

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Introducing Ben

September 9, 2018

Ben Zelnick-Crowther was born on September 5th!

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The family joke is that “Ben” is short for a family name originating with his grandmother’s car: BEN5491.

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In fact, however, and as you might guess, Ben is really short for Benjamin.

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Conversation-wise

August 5, 2018

Sorry, what did you say?

Oh … well … thank you.

I credit my parents — both of them.

You know how you get some things from your mother and some things from your father? Well, I get my conversational style from both. I think their respective influences are about equal. It’s kind of a “codominant alleles” situation.

For my mom — and also her brother Scott — the basic principle is that you show someone that you care about them by asking them lots of questions. It’s a matter of fundamental politeness, like saying “please” and “thank you.”

Of course, everyone knows that it’s nice to ask people about themselves. But my mom is unusually consistent about actually doing it. I think she may have a three-question minimum; any less would be impolite. And the questions can’t all be totally generic, either. “How’s it going?” is a fine conversation-starter, but it doesn’t count toward the minimum.

It’s funny — peculiar funny, not ha-ha funny — that my mom’s parents, for all of their other marvelous qualities, were NOT great conversationalists. Her dad told tangent-filled stories that were not well-tailored to their audiences. Lots of details about which roads you should take to get from town-I’ve-never-heard-of A to town-I’ve-never-heard-of B. And her mom was generally terse, especially when talking about herself. Somehow my mom and her brother internalized a very different code of conversation — a code of gentle but persistent questioning. So I try to ask a lot of questions too.

Are you wondering how my dad fits into all this? Well, my dad believes in the same approach, to some extent. He once took a Dale Carnegie course on “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” which taught him that people like to talk about themselves, and that you should enable that by asking questions. But my dad is more relaxed than my mom about demonstrating his interest. He thinks the Dale Carnegie thing works best when you ask questions that you really care about. Don’t ask questions just for the sake of asking questions.

One other thing about my dad: he once was a newspaper reporter. It wasn’t necessarily the job he was best at or liked the most, but I like to imagine him sniffing out hidden truths, like Woodward and Bernstein, or David Fahrenthold. Rutland, Vermont did not have many presidential scandals to uncover, but my dad was there, just in case. I think once he got to investigate a suspicious fire.

Anyway, while I’ve only dabbled in journalism myself, I think I bring my dad’s reporter’s mindset to a lot of conversations. I try to get past the small talk to find the story that the person wants to tell AND that I will find interesting. My tendency to drill down like this may be off-putting; sometimes, if I’m getting overly journalistic, I’ll pantomime shoving a microphone into the other person’s face, just to make fun of myself. I think most people appreciate the questions, though.

While my tendency to “interview” people reminds me of my dad, I should note that my mom is a good reporter too. She’s often in an information-gathering state, anyway. I suppose it’s hard to say exactly where one parent’s influence ends and the other’s begins. Or, for that matter, where their collective influence ends and one’s own personality begins.

Hmmm — that was quite a lengthy monologue, wasn’t it? Not my best work, conversation-wise. But if you’ve ever wondered why I converse in the way that I do, well, now you know!

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Mom and Sam

December 31, 2017

Saying goodbye at the Albany airport on December 26th.

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The present of the future

December 19, 2017

This is quite possibly the coolest gift I’ve ever received.

What you’re seeing and hearing in that video is a Fisher-Price Music Box-Record Player from the 1970s … playing a custom 3D-printed toy record of a song I wrote about the birth of my younger son.

My wife used a free software program to create a music-box-style arrangement of the song and create a SCAD file. Then she used a different free program, OpenSCAD, to create an STL file that could be 3D-printed.

And how did she know how to do all this? She followed the directions in a hobbyist’s blog post, of course.

Amazing!