Monday, January 14, 2013

What's in a number?

When I was a boy, I loved to sign my name with the #16 in the middle of my big, sweeping letter J, my first initial. 16 was the number of Dwight "Doc" Gooden, the 80's pitching prodigy on the NY Mets. I would fantasize about being a player on the Mets, like Doc, and of course, I needed to have a pretty cool autograph. I identified with it and what it represented - excellence, fame, heroism, and a blazing fastball. I wrote 16 on everything I owned - notebooks, shirts, my locker, the back of my algebra tests. That number signified something for me and I wanted the world to know about it.

This morning I noticed my son had placed #44 on his gym shorts. When he was four, we moved to Syracuse, where he was introduced to that number when I bought him a Syracuse football jersey. I remember him asking me, "why 44?" So I looked it up. In fact, it had an important history in S.U. athletics.  Since 1954, 11 players have worn the number and three earned All-America honors.  The three most famous #44s, Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little, rank among the finest running backs to ever play the game. And the town is crazy for the number too. Proof? The university zip code was changed a few years ago from 13210 to 13244.  In 1988, when the university changed phone systems, the exchange was changed from 423 to 443.  

As the University states, "Number 44 not only has come to represent greatness on the football field, it has become a part of the university’s and the community’s identity." It is much more than a simple number. It is about who we are and who we want to be, which is what I was seeking as an emerging adolescent with the #16, just as my son is now that he is a middle schooler with #44 - identifying with something great, something bigger than oneself. As parents and educators, we need to honor and respect these symbols - a number, a baseball hat, a backpack, a team jersey - that adolescents use to show us who they are trying to be. And most often, it's something fantastic.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Holiday re-reads: as good as I remembered.

Over the holidays I had the good fortune of returning home. Home is Upstate New York, and winter means snow and lots of snow means a good deal of time in the house. Our beautiful home has no TV, no internet, and no stereo right now - to my kids consternation - and it can be challenging when the white stuff comes hard and fast. But we do have the ability to make coffee, and the opportunity to dive into many, many great books. 
I took time to get into a few reads over the holiday that I had enjoyed before. A great book given to me by a dear friend a few years back titled The Boys of Everest, about famed British Alpinist Chris Bonington's escapades on Everest, proved again to be gripping stuff from the alpinist's canon. I also pulled off the shelf Jim Collins' book on leadership in the non-profit world, Good to Great in the Social Sectors. In October I had a chance meeting with Jim in Boulder while running some trails in the Flatirons and in our brief conversation he and I spoke on how important the building leaders are in each school. Jim feels they are essential to our countries educational success or lack there of. I am a devout reader of the Dalai Lama's writing and his guide book for the 21st Century, Ethics for the New Millennium, always reaffirms my faith in what is possible for our planet. I also picked up his latest, Beyond Religion, where he advocates for a system of secular ethics that transcends religion in order to call for a world based on mutual respect and tolerance. Finally, I came back to a great parenting book by Wendy Mogul, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, which uses the Jewish teachings to raise self-reliant children. As a parent of kids who are rapidly moving toward adolescents, I always value Mogul's affirming advice and wonderful sense of humor.
Are there books you picked up over the holidays worth a second read? I would love to hear about them.