Conversations with Chino: Pops on Puente

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Ask anyone that knows Pops what comes to mind when they think of him and they’ll surely answer music, or more specifically, Tito Puente.

Nearly every memory I have of living with Pops involves music because he was always playing an instrument.  There were cowbells and congas and timbales and pianos and saxophones and clarinets and of course the infamous flute.  The flute was like a third appendage for Pops.  He played the flute EVERY SINGLE NIGHT for as long as I can remember for what he called “Jam Sessions.”  Can you imagine being six years old and it’s eleven o’clock on a Tuesday and there is literally a full on Latin Jazz “Jam Session”  going on in the other room?  Between the non-stop Latin music and the billowing smoke from my Ma’s chain smoking, I thought our home was a jazz lounge. (Update MA hasn’t smoked in thirteen years! How awesome is that?)

Pops didn’t just play the flute at home.  Under the front seat of his car he kept a TRAVEL FLUTE.  Yes.  You read that correctly and the travel flute was not like some hatchet kept behind glass for use only in case of an emergency.  The travel flute was constantly pulled out EVERYWHERE.  BBQ at a friends house? “Let me go get my flute” he’d announce and everyone would get that look on their face like they knew the get together was about to go up a notch.  But it wasn’t just parties.  We could be having a family picnic at a park and the flute would make an appearance.  We could be at a wedding or party or really just about anywhere.  Family cruise to the Caribbean? Yes, the flute came along.  That’s how he’d win talent shows and make friends with EVERYONE on the boat.  “Hey!  Isn’t your dad the flute player?” crowds would yell as my brother and I would run away.

His love of music flows into his love for the infamous mambo king Tito Puente.  Pops followed Puente throughout his entire career.  He followed him, he emulated him and he stalked (or met) him on several occasions. One of the more memorable times was when Tito was playing with The Florida Orchestra in the late ’90s while I was on staff.  Pops was backstage and at rehearsals and up close and personal at an intimate reception.  It was a great night that I’ll never forget.  I know Pops won’t either.

Here’s Pops on Puente.  Enjoy.

MA, Tito and Pops.

MA, Tito and Pops.

 

Conversations with Chino: NYC & the University of South First Street

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His name is Edgar, but they call him Chino.  To me he’s Pops.

Pops isn’t typical.  He’s not the typical dad or the typical husband or the typical grandpa.  He’s not the typical anything.  He marches to the beat of his own drum and he plays that drum LOUDLY.

Even though I’ve had a lifetime to try and figure him out I can’t.  But sometimes it’s fun to try and take a deeper look.  What’s going on in that head?

Here’s the first in a short series of conversations with Chino.  This one is about his beginnings in NYC.

 

When heading back to school is like walking a gangplank: For parents with kids that need more

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It’s been really quiet on the blog for the past two months. The reason?  Going back to school left me literally holding my breath and apparently writing is impossible when you’re not breathing.

For most families, heading back to school is full of excitement.  Anticipating new milestones is coupled with measuring growing kids and nostalgia.  This, of course, is balanced with unending supply lists, check ups and clothes shopping.  I could just park on the issue of clothes shopping with kids, but for the sake of everyone’s sanity let’s move on.  (Seriously stores need to install parental lounges during this season so we have somewhere to decompress during this process because KIDS CAN BE INCOHERENT ANIMALS WHEN IT COMES TO CLOTHES SHOPPING.)

Back to topic: There are typical families with parades of first day happy pictures and then there are some parents, such as me and the hubbs, that are still duct taping our brains back together after barely surviving the last few school years.  And the reality is that our tween is doing the same – with his heart.

If your kid has ADD, ADHD, OCD, APD, Autism, Anxiety, Aspergers, or any other of the dozens of diagnosis that are so prevalent these days, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  With these kids school can mean heartbreak far beyond the typical minefields of dealing with a class bully or having trouble fitting in.  This is a pervasive heartbreak that can squash all hope.  A heartbreak that comes when your kid realizes the teacher resents the challenge he presents in the classroom – or when she begins to feels different – or when getting through each school day is an exhausting marathon where they always seem to end in last place.

A parent’s heart can’t help but break when their kid’s heart is breaking.  And the truth is, a  heart that stays broken for too long has trouble hanging on to hope.

For us, the downward spiral at school was precipitated by horrifying side effects of ADHD meds. No meds led to low impulse control, morning meltdowns, horrific teacher punishments, and basically the upheaval of daily life as we knew it.  The sad part is THIS CAN BE THE TYPICAL LIFE OF A FAMILY WITH ADHD OR OTHER DIAGNOSED KIDS. Take these days and all their intense negativity and emotional drain and add to it the constant parental advocacy that is necessary at school and getting through the year can literally leave you all hanging on to sanity by a thread.

The reality is that school typically does not look the same for the child that struggles.  The educator that handles a myriad of students with nurturing and inspiring care can be the same one that becomes unglued and demeaning to a child who struggles.  The teaching efforts that are made in a general classroom setting – even stretching to include the IEPs and special needs – are just not going to always cover the kid who needs more.  While it’s easy to shift blame to teachers who continually forget our kid needs written reminders, or extra time, or extra patience – when you step back and look at all it takes to parent these kids – how can we realistically expect that a teacher caring for so many could possibly do it?  As one educator told us “We are simply not equipped to handle your child’s needs.  We are a round hole and your son is a square peg.”

BACK TO BASICS                                                                                                           After a failed school change, we decided to reassess our kid’s needs.  Our education plans had been whittled down to hoping for a positive school year where our kid could regain some confidence and love learning again. We were finally at a point of letting go and completely re-prioritizing what school should be for him.

RECOGNIZE WHAT’S NOT WORKING AND WHY                                                             Sometimes a failing situation can be of our own doing. For instance, we thought the calm, nurturing and open environment of Montessori would be exactly what our kinestetic learner needed for a positive change.  It failed MISERABLY.  A child with high anxiety shuts down in an environment of choice like Montessori and testing revealed our kinesthetic learner was actually an auditory learner.  We’d completely missed the mark.

TESTING IS KEY                                                                                                             Testing can assess more than smarts.  Do you know HOW HE PROCESSES information?  What is her RECALL SPEED?  Exactly what poses his biggest LEARNING HURDLES? WHAT IS HER OPTIMAL CLASSROOM ATMOSPHERE?  A psychological / educational evaluation is one route to try.  This exhaustive process provides a wealth of information that can be exactly what you need to pick a fitting school.  And these days most of us have school options with varied learning environments to choose from.  For us, this testing was definitive in telling us vital information we needed to make a school choice.

THINGS CAN TURN A CORNER                                                                                   With solid data showing that our child needed a school specializing in ADHD, we felt confident about making that change. Now, for the first time in a handful of years, we start our day with smiles. There is a deep understanding of our tween by his teachers – in fact, WE are learning from them also.  We see confidence where there was waning self-esteem and excitement where there was detachment.  It isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t solve all our problems, but it is absolutely nothing short of welcomed wonderful.  And since school is no longer a source of constant crisis, we are now free to address and move forward on other issues we need to tackle.

START OVER                                                                                                                Parenting a child with a diagnosis that affects their learning and personality is a really tough road.  It means grieving many of the expectations you may have had for your child.  They may have to go a different school path than planned.  Their sights may be set in unfamiliar directions and their interests may be well off the beaten path.  My advice?  Go back to the start.  Take your clenched hands filled with the things you planned and let them all go.  It’s not only okay, it’s the only way you can take hold of all the amazing, unexpected, quirky and wonderful that is in store.  Remember, this is their story.  Typical parenting means taking lead, but with these we must instead gently navigate the unfolding of their chapters.  While we may be scared of what the page turn will bring, we are meant move forward with hope and great expectation every step of the way.