fatherhood means your health is not about you


DSC_1098I am not as healthy as I want to be. I am out of shape. I am overweight—I have been all my life. Though my cooking and eating styles have evolved since my youth to be pretty darned healthy, especially compared to an adolescence spent sneaking breaded Tyson chicken patties for after-school snack when my parents weren’t home and covering up the evidence with Lysol sprayed near the microwave, I have a tendency to indulge. And after an autumn spent reveling in the fact that both kids were in school at the same time and using that time to finally get my atrophied legs back pumping some bicycle pedals, I have, ashamedly, fallen back into my natural tendency toward inertia. Yes, I admit to laziness. And I don’t like it. But it’s so hard to change.

So hard to change—and yet, I have all the motivation I need right in front of me, if only I’d  gather the wherewithal to harness it. Because as I am reminded on a daily basis, my health is not about me. Okay, yes, it necessarily is about me, but what I mean is this: as a father of two amazing girls, as the partner of a extraordinary woman, as the son of parents who spent their lives caring for me and now spend their lives caring for their own aging parents, I need to live better, stay healthy, for them. Not only as a model for my daughters, but I need to make changes, lasting changes, so that I will continue to be here, physically, mentally, emotionally, at my best, for those I love, for those who need me to be here.

Healthy living. Healthy eating. Exercise. Reflection. Prevention. It’s not just about or for the person doing it.

Today, besides all of the everyday things I need to be doing to be healthier for my family, I’m thinking about cancer. Cancer sucks. My grandfather died from prostate cancer when I was in college. My father has been a survivor of kidney cancer for over a decade. And my mother is a nine-year survivor of breast cancer. Countless stories of mixed-race kids unable to find bone marrow matches to treat their leukemia led me to register as a bone marrow donor years before I became a father, and to collect and store my oldest child’s cord blood when she was born. Every day, I hear my family physician wife talk about patients whose lives were saved because of early detection, because of things like my friend Jim Higley has asked me to talk about, the self-exam for testicular cancer detection. This is just one more small thing we can do for those who need us to keep on being here.

It’s Man UP Monday! 
I’m proud to be a member of the Single Jingles Man UP Monday BLOGGING TEAM!
Today, I’m doing my part to spread an important message about Testicular Cancer.
Did you know that Testicular Cancer is the #1 cancer in young men ages 15 to 35?
Did you know that Testicular Cancer is highly survivable is detected early?
Did you know that young men should be doing a monthly self-exam?
What can you do?
Stop by the Single Jingles website for more information on Testicular Cancer
Request a FREE shower card with self-exam instructions – it just might save a young man in your life!
And if you’re feeling just a little AWKWARD about this conversation, check out this video from some parents who feel the exact same way!
Thank you to Jim Higley of Bobblehead Dad for inviting me to participate in this important education campaign and for all the passion, dedication, and hard work he puts behind this cause.
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my daughter’s first funeral


This week my family buried my grandmother, my mother’s mother, who passed away a little over a week before at the age of 96. It was a long time coming, at the end of a long life, and while we are sad, we also know that the pain that plagued her in recent years and months can no longer hurt her.

It was my daughters’ first funeral. Not a milestone a parent can really prepare for, no matter how inevitable. I knew that my happy, dance-y four-year-old would be fine, seeing the event only as an occasion to meet new people and wear a new dress. I was worried about her eight-year-old sister, though, my sensitive, thoughtful girl who is old enough to understand what is going on but who seems to have inherited, for better or worse, her father’s tendency to both feel things deeply and be unable to easily express those feelings to oneself or others in a way that can help with processing those feelings and moving forward.

Though physical distance and my grandmother’s progressively worsening health had made visits with her infrequent at best, The Pumpkin had spent time with her at family gatherings over the years, especially before she became infirm enough to warrant nursing home care. The Pumpkin knows the woman we raised her to call “Bachan,” has memories of her. (To a lesser degree, her little sister does too—every time she would see the poster collage I made for the service from photos of my grandmother, The Button would point and happily exclaim, “It’s Bachan!”) She knows what death is, through her friends who have lost loved ones, but especially from the loss of our dear family dog, Waldo, who greeted her upon her arrival home from the hospital as a newborn, whose name was her first word, and who passed away after a long, quiet battle with cancer when The Pumpkin was six.

But death is not something I’ve talked about much with her, and so, a couple days before the funeral, as we sat side-by-side reading, I asked her if she had any questions, either about the end of life, or Bachan’s death, or what was going to happen at the funeral. That was more concrete, perhaps, more right-in-front-of-her, more graspable, and so she said yes, she wanted to know what would happen at the funeral. And so I told her about how there would be a ceremony in the cemetary chapel, with Bachan’s body dressed up and made up so that she looked like she was sleeping in a casket, and how it would be open so that people could look at her one last time to say goodbye but that she didn’t have to go up there if she didn’t want to. I told her that the Japanese American Buddhist minister who married her grandmother and grandfather would chant in Sanskrit and ring a bell, sort of like the hymns sung by the choir in the Catholic and Episcopalian services she’d been to. (My mother would later play them a video of such chanting so they would know what it sounded like beforehand.) I told her that different people and different religions have different beliefs about what does or does not happen after death, and just as she was familiar with the Christian beliefs of her mother and her family about God and souls and heaven, she would hear the
Buddhist reverend talk about a different belief, the one her grandmother was brought up with. I didn’t complicate matters by trying to explain what I do or do not believe, and luckily, she didn’t ask me. Maybe she just knew.

I told her that at some point, everyone would be invited to come up and drop a pinch of incense in a burner, bow, and then say goodbye to Bachan, and that, again, she could go or stay, or even go up with me, it was up to her and how she felt at the moment.I told her that my mom’s brother, father of her 9- and 5-year-old second cousins with whom she was excited to play, would talk about Bachan’s life, and that I would thank everyone for coming on behalf of the family and invite them to join us for a meal afterwards, and hat for some reason, the traditional thing to do after a Japanese American funeral was to go out for Chinese food, which she was excited about. And I told her that after the chapel ceremony was over, Grandpa, some other family members, and I would help move the casket to the big black car which would take it to the grave site, and all of us would follow it there, where we would say a final goodbye to Bachan. And I reminded her that it was important for all of us to be there for Grandma and let her know we loved her and were there for her. Did she have any questions, about anything? No, she said. We continued to sit there, reading, separately but together. I think just knowing what was going to happen when, the process of the thing, helped to set her at ease a bit.

Somehow, as the funeral got underway, we got separated. I sat with my parents, my aunt and uncle, and my great-uncle, who had lost two sisters in less than a month and was now, at 92, the last of five siblings left (six if you include the first-born girl who died as a baby not long after my grandmother’s birth and about whom no one of my mom’s generation had known until they started doing research for my great-aunt’s funeral a few weeks ago). My wife had taken The Button to a pew further back, near her parents, my dear parents-in-law who had come to show their support, in case she needed to take our rambunctious little one outside—we needn’t have worried, as the minister’s sutra chanting lulled her to sleep in her mama’s lap for an unexpected nap. But The Pumpkin had wanted to stay with her cousins, and so ended up across the aisle from us, sitting next to my uncle’s oldest while his wife had her hands full with the twins. I looked across, beckoning her to sit by me whenever she looked my way, but she shook her head no. I kept watching her face, worried, wanting her to be okay, wanting to be able to pull her close and nestle her by my side, arm around her, to kiss her hair and let her know that everything was going to be okay, that she was allowed to feel anything she needed to feel.

I watched her as she watched the minister chant, strike his bell, burn incense. I watched her as the family started to queue up to burn incense, bow, and approach the casket, holding my hand out to her to ask if she wanted to go up with me, but she shook her head no and stayed on the bench with her cousin. I watched her as my uncle gave a combination of a eulogy and the family history common at Japanese American Buddhist funerals, weaving the story of my grandmother’s family with the story of his own, at times rocky, relationship with his mother and what he had learned from her by the end of her life. I watched her face, serious and beautiful, as the minister read the Letter on White Ashes, a Jodo Shinshu text about the impermanence of life, and then talk about what the ideas about death held by this sect of Buddhism, which comprises a large portion of the Japanese American community, mean for the living.

Life is short. Wake up. Live.

Every funeral, every memorial service, every pinch of incense, every bow—each one is a reminder:

Life is short. Wake up. Live.

As I watched my daughter walk up to her great-grandmother’s casket with her cousin after the ceremony was concluded, as I put my arm around my mother’s shoulder, shook my uncle’s hand, hugged my great-uncle, as I helped my father and my cousins carry my great-grandmother to and from the hearse, as I watched my daughter happily hand out flowers to the assembled to place on the casket at the grave site and then place one of her own on both the casket and on the headstone of the great-grandfather she never got to meet, as I watched both my girls dance and run and play with their cousins in between mouthfuls in the banquet room of the Chinese restaurant, as I clasped my wife’s hand in mine in silent thanks, that is what echoed in my mind.

Life is short.

Wake up.

For them, and for me, live.

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and now, for some shameless begging: vote for me!!! (please)


I am proud to announce that I am one of eight semi-finalists in ReadySetEat and Dad 2.0‘s Great Dad Cook-Off dadblogger recipe contest. From 12 p.m. EST on Thursday, December 13, 2012 until 12 p.m. EST on Monday, January 14, 2013, you can vote for your favorite recipe (one vote per Facebook user ID/person per day, so please go back every day, and spread the word!) on the Great Dad Cook-Off tab on the ReadySetEat Facebook page (the main ReadySetEat Facebook page is here). The top four vote-getters will earn all-expense-paid trips to the Dad 2.013 dadblogger summit in Houston Jan. 31-Feb. 2 and will compete in a live cook-off to kick off the conference on Thursday, Jan. 31. Needless to say, a free trip to the second annual Dad 2.0 would be awesome, as would be the chance to cook in front of my colleagues and friends for a chance at a big prize, and so I’m asking for your support all month long.

Contest entries had to be original, healthful recipes for a weeknight family meal for four, completed in half-an-hour, and I submitted a weekly favorite in our home, teriyaki salmon with kale mashed potatoes (tweaked just a bit to use sponsor ConAgra’s LaChoy teriyaki sauce and Wesson canola oil). My 8-year-old and 4-year-old daughters devour this meal every time I make it, and the kale mashed potatoes, made with Yukon golds, dark Tuscan kale, and lots of garlic, are good and hearty enough to stand alone as a vegan meal. It’s quick, easy, and tasty, and a great way to get your kids to eat their dark leafy greens and get their omega-3s.

Last year I had the privilege of being on a panel about dads and community at the inaugural Dad 2.0 Summit, and I’m so excited to be speaking again this year, on a panel called “Cross-Cultural Communication and the American Understanding of Fatherhood.” The opportunity to connect and dialogue IRL with other dadbloggers and mombloggers was and is invaluable—and the only thing that could be better? Going as a Great Dad Cook-Off finalist. As the saying goes, vote early and vote often—and I thank you for your support.


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dude where’s my mo?

20121129-065936.jpgTwenty-nine days ago, I shaved off the mustache and goatee I’d had for thirteen straight years in order to participate in Movember, the global effort to raise funds and awareness for prostate and testicular cancer support and education through the cultivation of upper-lip hair. As you can see, what I have on my face today, at the end of a month of growing, resembles the Day 2 pictures of some of my esteemed teammates on the Dad 2.013/NYC Dads Group team, who now appear as if they are hosting large mutant woolly caterpillars on their mouths. I’m sure they (or, rather, their spouses) are anxiously awaiting the day-after-tomorrow so they can break out their razors again and return to normal. I, however, can’t wait until Saturday so I can stop shaving my chin and start hoping that my goatee grows back and that I don’t look even more strange and patchy and sadsack during the next month than I have during this one. Sigh.

[True story: last week, on Thanksgiving, my grandmother told me that I looked younger without my mustache and beard. She was standing right. in. front. of. me.]

You know how you can make me feel better and make it all worth it, though, right? You’ve got a little less than two days left to donate, so go to my MoSpace at mobro.co/jasonsperber now and give now. My poor, sparsely upholstered face thanks you.

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i just shaved off my 13-year-old goatee for movember (so give me money)

I just shaved off the goatee I’ve had on my face for almost exactly thirteen years. I haven’t been clean-shaven since I was 25. Holy crap.

Okay. Take a breath. [That was to myself, not to you.] Okay, now why would I do such a thing, something with the potential to scare (but which of course only provoked laughter from) my children, who’d never seen my top lip and chin before, and to scratch the beautiful spouse whom I’ve been kissing with this thing on my face for almost three-quarters of our life together?

Because it’s Movember, MoBros. And this year, this dad, son, grandson, husband, and dadblogger decided to step up and join the awesome Dad 2.013/NYC Dads Group team to raise money for prostate and testicular cancer awareness, education and research by growing hair on our upper lips for the month of November. I’m sure there are many fine MoBros who are normally clean-shaven who look at this month as some philanthropic fun that will end with a razor restoring their faces to normalcy, or others who are follicularly blessed with the ability to change their look at will. But when I jokingly say that I wasn’t sure about doing this, even with the great cause and the peer pressure, because I’m afraid this thing on my face [correction: this thing that was on my face until this morning] won’t grow back, I’m only partially joking.

My dad has had a full beard my entire life. I’ve seen photos of him pre-marriage and pre-beard, but I’ve never seen it in person, and I never will. His red-blond beard and mustache has gone grey over the years, but it’s never lost its fullness. His dad, my late grandfather, I remember as someone who switched between mustachioed and clean-shaven whenever it suited him, and he looked good either way. My dad’s younger brother has mostly stayed baby-faced, though I seem to remember a long-ago mustachioed period or two that is best left to distant memory next to his youthful Jewfro. My mom’s dad, who passed when I was in junior high, I seem to remember mostly clean-shaven, while his son, my mom’s brother and my uncle, has defied stereotypes about Asian men and facial hair to sport a pretty full mustache for most of my memory.

I first tried to grow a mustache and goatee when I was still in college and teaching over the summer while my girlfriend, now wife, was overseas doing research. It was an experiment and a lark, started after she left and expunged before her return, and I have no photographic evidence of it. When we got married three summers later, in 1998, I was as clean-shaven as always. But a little over a year later, when she left for a few months to do med school externships and residency interviews in California, I decided to try again. I started in October 1999, and when met her at the airport for Thanksgiving, she found her husband with a mustache and a goatee. [And an earring in his left ear that hadn’t been there before, but we don’t talk about that anymore.]

In part, I grew it then because I was getting ready to go to grad school to teach high school the following year, and I hoped that some facial hair would make me look older, if not to my students, then at least to the other staff so I wouldn’t get stopped on campus and asked why I was out of class. [And yeah, the earring… Never mind.] In part, I grew it because, I think, that was how I always thought I’d look. I knew I couldn’t do the full beard like my dad, but thought a goatee would look, I don’t know, grown up, distinguished, or something. And though the mustache has been a bit sparse in places for my liking, this has become how I see myself when I think of myself. When it’s a certain length, you can see flecks of reddish orange in the light, my mishmashed Hebraic/Celtic inheritance, and I always get a kick of being the Asian American guy with the (slightly) red(dish) beard. Though I’ve had it for less than half my life, I’ve had it for most of my marriage, all of my time in Bakersfield, and all of my time as a father.

And I really, really want it to come back. I’d finally decided, last month, to bite the bullet and do this, signing up with the Dad 2.0 team, before I found and read the rules:

Movember is about real men growing real, authentic moustaches. It’s the moustache which causes an average of 61 people to ask each Mo Bro why he’s growing it. To be a true Mo Bro you should start completely clean shaven on Movember 1st and grow a Mo. The definition of a Mo:

1.    There is to be no joining of the Mo to side burns – That’s a beard.
2.    There is to be no joining of the handlebars – That’s a goatee.
3.    A small complimentary growth under the bottom lip is allowed (aka a tickler).

Crap. So not only do I have to start from scratch, I have to wait until December to try to grow the bottom half back. And what’ll that look like, trying to grow a goatee to match an already growing mustache? Like uneven layers or something? I have no idea.

But you know what? My customary wordiness has made me push to the bottom the real reason to do this. A year before I got married, my grandfather, Jerome Leon Sperber, passed away from a short battle with prostate cancer. Actually, we’d been planning to wait to get married until after my wife-to-be finished medical school, but my grandfather’s death made us realize that waiting longer only meant the possibility that other loved ones might not be with us. So, I do this in the memory of my father’s father. And if, by chance, my facial hair grows back patchy, funny-looking, or not at all, it’s worth it.

So, please, in my grandfather’s memory, and for the friends and loved ones in your lives touched by prostate cancer and testicular cancer, and yes, in the hopes that you can bribe my facial hair to grow back properly through philanthrophy, please visit my Movember page and donate, and check back here and there over the month to see how funny I look.

Now, on a lighter note, some multimedia:

The last time I was clean-shaven, June 27, 1998 (1.25 years before I grew my goatee).

What I think I look like. (Because Karen Walrond makes me look good!)

And finally, here’s the main event, The Pumpkin shooting me shaving it off this morning before taking her and her sister to school, with The Button’s color commentary:

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Eight years ago on Halloween, two weeks before my wife’s due date, we got a trick-or-treat surprise.

Eight years ago today, my baby girl was born.

Eight years ago today, I became a father, and my world has never been the same.

I have watched her grow, learn, try, cry, fall, smile, and laugh. I have rocked her to sleep as a baby and carried her, sleeping, to her own bed after falling asleep in mine as a big kid. I have held her, encouraged her, yelled at her, been frustrated with her, apologized to her, tried to understand and support and validate her. I have witnessed her be a loving sister, a good friend, a curious and creative and knowledge-loving student. I have been amazed by who she is, has become, is becoming. Just as parents shape their children, her mother and I are who we are today because of her.

Happy eighth birthday, our Pumpkin. We love you.

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toddler gangnam style

The Button loves to sing, loves to dance, and loooooooves Gangnam Style. The first two weeks of preschool, she’d demand to watch the video, over and over again, once she woke up from her nap. This is just a taste of the entertainment we’re treated to on a daily basis. Baby. Doesn’t. Stop. (Heh.)

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i think i’m alone now

At the end of this week, my three-and-a-half-year-old babygirl will have been a preschooler for an entire month. Her big sister’s already been a full-fledged third grader for a month. And they’re both loving it—let’s get that out of the way first. The Pumpkin’s back in her gifted program with all her friends from last year and a creative, enthusiastic teacher. And The Button—after a couple accidents early on (she did just potty-train this summer so she could finally go to preschool, after all), the time-shifting of her nap, and some on-going work on following directions that probably comes from both being the baby of the family and being at home by herself with her daddy for her entire life up to this point, her transition, really, has been a non-transition. She loves school. No crying, no clinging—every drop-off concluded with a happy wave and a quick kiss goodbye, every pick-up marked by a wide smile and “two thumbs-up for a terrific day.” It’s been so fun to hear her sing school songs and talk about school activities and “works” (it’s a Montessori school), only to be reminded that her big sister sang us those same songs and did those same things just three years ago.

But enough about my kids—this is a parenting blog, after all, so I’m supposed to write about how my kids affect me, right? Heh.

And so the big transition is this: for the first time in three-and-a-half years, I find myself alone for a good chunk of time on regular old weekdays. By myself. Sans children. And while I’d been looking forward to this all summer, seeing it as a finish line of sorts, now that I’m here, it’s sort of, I don’t know, weird.

Friends ask me, “What are you gonna do with all that time to yourself?” And I knee-jerkedly respond that between drop-off and pick-up of two kids in two places it’s really only about four hours so it’s not really that much time… But really, I react like that because I don’t know.

The first two weeks The Button was in school, I crammed in all the appointments, all the “too busy to take care of myself” things that I couldn’t do with one or two kids with me: primary care physician, dentist, optometrist, optician, therapist, barber, dog groomer, car oil change. I bought a new bike to replace the one that came with me from Rhode Island twelve years ago and has probably been rusting on the floor of my garage since The Pumpkin’s birth almost eight years ago. I forced myself to ride for an hour three days in a row, clocking about 10 miles each time. Last week, I rode four out of five weekdays, going about 14 miles round-trip each time, and I’m continuing the routine this week (I’ve designated Wednesdays my mid-week day off to rest my poor out-of-shape legs).

Last Wednesday, when I gave myself the day off from cycling and mentioned the guilt-ridden battle-in-my-head I’d had over it that morning on Facebook, my friends rallied to reassure me that it was healthier to take a break, that I needn’t feel guilty. But what they didn’t get, and what I didn’t say, was that it wasn’t about the exercise, or feeling tired or out-of-shape. Or it was, but not totally. When I said I was giving myself permission to take a day off, it was because I know too well how hard it is for me to keep up daily routines that are important, and how easy it is for me to slip. I don’t know how many times over the last three decades I’ve tried to, say, keep a daily journal, or do daily or regularly scheduled writing of any sort. All the daily little chores of domestic life, the things that have to happen because they have to happen, they give an invisible structure to my life even when I get frustrated or tired of them. But this other stuff, this stuff that is ostensibly just for me…

To put it another way: It’s been almost four weeks since I’ve had four hours a day every weekday to myself, to do whatever I needed or wanted. And today is the first day I’ve written anything longer than a Facebook status update. Just like “husband” and “parent” and “SAHD” are integral parts of my identity, so, I’ve always thought, has been “writer”—and yet it’s been easier to force myself to ride a bike in the hot sun for an hour at a time on weak knees and out-of-shape legs almost every day than to sit my ass in front of my keyboard and create something.

Earlier this summer, when a friend asked what I was going to do once the kids were in school and I sheepishly mumbled something about a novel and she asked why I wanted to write a novel, I couldn’t give her an answer. A friend whose oldest was a preschool classmate of The Pumpkin’s and whose youngest is now a classmate of The Button’s, and who recently quit a long-time teaching job to write full-time, sat me down at the end of the first week of preschool to tell me that what we do is important, and worthwhile, and that I should just do it. Another SAHD friend who is a prolific presence in the parentblogosphere busted me on Facebook when I quipped, yet again, about wanting or needing to write more, saying that I keep talking about writing, so where is it?

When we moved to Bakersfield nine years ago and my wife went to work at her new job, I curled up and licked my wounds from my painful discovery that I was not good at, or good for, the career at which I had thought I’d spend my life, and sat for too many hours in our air-conditioned house watching bad science fiction television on cable. Part of me knows that it would be too easy for me to zone out in front of Netflix Streaming or Amazon Instant Video between drop-off and pick-up, to not try because of the fear of failing, of not being good at something so wrapped up in who I think I am.

But I can’t do that. On this, my day off from the bike path, I’m sitting here on the patio of the one Panera in town with my laptop and two glasses of water, out of the house where the temptation to lie down on the sofa and take a nap might be too great [and I’ve only done that once in almost four weeks, after my DTaP booster], writing.

Will I write tomorrow? I know better than to promise that, because I know from too many personal experiences that breaking that promise will only lead me down a spiral of beating myself up over breaking the promise (not, as would be logical, picking myself up and starting over again the next day with a clean slate).

But just like every day with my girls, and every day with the love of my life, and every day on the bike path, I’m gonna try.

It won’t be perfect, but I’m gonna try.

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training days

The project of the summer: potty training The Button, who turned three-and-a-half in July. Yeah.

When her older sister The Pumpkin turned two, I went back to work outside the home for the first time since before she was born. The preschool we wanted to send her to required students to be potty trained, so we naively thought that we could do one of those “potty train your kid in a (poop- and urine-stained) weekend” things. A year of fits and starts (and a wonderful in-home daycare we miraculously found a block from our house) later, we came home from her third birthday party at her grandparents’ house, got her ready for bed, and she refused to change into a pull-up. “Ohhhh-kay,” we said, anticipating the worst. But that, basically, was that. After a year of noncommittal tries and lots and lots of sitting by her side in the bathroom waiting for nothing to happen, she basically potty-trained herself. It was like she said to herself, “Okay, I’m three now, that’s it.”

At least, that’s how I remember it. I have no idea how close a resemblance to what actually happened that version of events bears. But anyway…

So last December, with The Button’s third birthday just around the corner, I ignored the “you’re not supposed to compare your children and their development, they’re their own individual people” voice in my head and made myself freak out a bit. Well, just enough to decide to spend one day of The Pumpkin’s winter break sequestered in-doors with The Button sans diapers, but not enough to not give up after that one day of multiple laundry loads and lots of rug spot-cleaning. In the intervening months, we’d try to get her interested in the potty, try to get her to sit on it, try to read potty books and watch potty apps and use candy bribery methods, try to get her to be inspired by wearing pull-ups instead of regular diapers (yeah, right!). But it was all so half-hearted. Because really, I was scared. Scared of change, scared of what I didn’t know. Because in my head, the story of The Pumpkin’s potty training was that she did it herself. And in my head, the biggest difference (besides, of course, innate personality and all that junk, but we can’t take that into account when we’re being self-pitying) was me. I went back to work and The Pumpkin went to daycare when she turned two. The Button has had a whole year-and-a-half more at home with daddy, and I’m afraid that I baby her—and she looks younger than her age, as it is. And so, for the last six months, I’d meet the dreaded “How’s the potty training going?” with a quick shake of the head and answer “Is she going to preschool yet?” with “Well, this fall, if….”

Then The Pumpkin’s school year ended the last week of May, and there was a dead week between that and the beginning of her summer activities. The start of preschool at the end of August loomed. So I stocked the kitchen counter with paper towels, rags, pet stain/odor remover, and Clorox wipes, bought a new multipack of toddler underpants, blocked off extraneous carpeted areas of the house, and told everyone we weren’t coming out of the house for a week. The Pumpkin drew up a daily potty chart and taped it to the bathroom wall next to the toilet. And for the next several days, we didn’t leave the house. I don’t even know how many loads of laundry I did. But over that first week, The Button learned to recognize the signs of imminent having-to-go and to signal such by exclaiming “I have to go!” accompanied by running to the bathroom. [I also created a rhyme to recite with her while quickly carrying her from living room to bathroom: “Hold it in your body/ Till you’re on the potty!” Genius, I know.] Over the next few weeks, the frequency of both successful trips to the potty and accidents recorded on the post-it wall chart each day declined until finally, by July, my dear wife decided that I didn’t need to record anymore and took down the chart [flashback to when I recorded The Pumpkin’s feeding amounts and nap duration as an infant and made photocopies of the chart in the back of the breastfeeding book to keep doing it long after the pages in the back of the book ran out]. [She’s also become a little bit addicted to my iPad and the PBS Kids streaming video app, which we’ve used as her incentive. But hey, it’s educational. Heh.]

Not looking forward to cleaning up accidents in Trader Joe’s or detaching the car seat straps in order to wash the cover, I was still hedging my bets on trips outside of the house by putting her in pull-ups. Actually, I was still doing that a week ago. I know, I know, lazy daddy. But an inexplicable regression after the Fourth of July freaked me out—for a few days, it was like that first week all over again, and I’m ashamed to say that The Button picked up the phrase “I don’t know what’s going on” from me during that time. I went from frustration to fear that preschool and its promise of a few hours alone a day were beyond my reach to guilt that I was making it all about me and not her. So I got over it, we retrained, and almost a month later, The Button is basically potty trained.

Accidents (knocking on my wooden desk as I type) are few and far between, though I know they’ll happen when she starts preschool. The portable travel potty we used when The Pumpkin was first trained is ready to go at all times in the back of my car, and my bag is crowded with paper towels, plastic bags, and extra clothes when we go out. Shopping at Target is a workout when you have to get from the far reaches of the store to the restroom—multiple times, of course, as the first three or four visits result in nothing but another “I have to go!” a mere five minutes after you’ve left the bathroom. And though her short little arms still can’t reach very easily, she’s getting a lot better at the whole wiping and pulling-up-her-own-pants thing.

She’s so proud of herself, she runs out of the bathroom (after flushing and washing her hands, of course) to announce to whoever is in the living room, “I peed in the potty!”

My baby is growing up.

And that’s what I did on my summer vacation.

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on our anniversary, honoring beginnings and building the future

Twenty years ago this September, Michelle and I met on our very first day on campus as first-years at Brown University, where we had arrived before orientation for the Third World Transition Program (TWTP), at which incoming students of color were introduced to the university, the community into which they were being inducted, and the history and legacy which they were inheriting. A year later, we were best friends who had become something more. And five years after that, on June 27, 1998, we got married in front of our family and friends, many of whom had been there with us since the beginning.

A month ago, a dear friend, whom we had first met when I was a second-year student and Minority Peer Counselor working TWTP and she was a first-year attending it, wrote to tell us that she had learned at her reunion (held concurrent with commencement on Memorial Day weekend every year) that the campaign to raise a $100,000 endowed fund so that TWTP would never have to worry about the security of its funding was still $25,000 short of its goal, with the June 30 fundraising deadline fast approaching. Learning this, Michelle and I talked about what we could do. TWTP has meant so much to us and our Brown experience, literally the starting point of our journeys as college students, as socially conscious activists, as life partners. And truth be told, we hadn’t ever given philanthropically to our alma mater in a way that we felt we should have. And so, because we were lucky enough to be in a place in our lives where we could do so, and because it mattered, we offered the Alumni of Color Initiative a $10,000 matching challenge with which to rally our peers. If, by June 30, they had raised $10,000, we would give a matching $10,000, leaving only $5,000 left to raise to reach the endowment goal.

On June 6, our challenge was announced at a fundraising event in New York City, and then on June 12, an email went out to alums of color in our name:

Twenty years ago this September, we arrived on campus for TWTP, 18-year-old first-years from California who knew no one and were 3,000 miles from home. But on that very first day, we inherited a community, a history, and a legacy, to own and keep and grow and carry forward for those who would come after us.

So many TWTP alumni call it a transformative experience, and so it was for us. Not only did we meet each other and the friends who would stand with us when we got married six years later, but the call to understanding, action, dialogue, and justice to which we were introduced on those emotional and inspiring days in September informed who we became and what we did in and out of the classroom during our Brown years and beyond, into our careers and communities and the values we pass down to our children.

And now it is time to give back so that those who come next will be able to do the same. The Alumni of Color Initiative campaign to create a $100,000 endowed fund to allow TWTP to continue independently and in perpetuity is so close to its goal, and we now ask you, our friends, our brothers and sisters, to join us in support of a program that has meant more to us than we can say.

As part of the Jason Sperber ’98 & Michelle Quiogue ’96 MD’00 TWTP Endowment Challenge, our family will match any donations to the Endowed Fund for the Third World Transition Program up to $10,000 until the formal end of the campaign on June 30.

Click here to help us ensure that future generations of Brunonians of color will be able to have their own transformative inductions into a community and a legacy that has been so important to so many of us.

In solidarity,

Jason L. Sperber ’98 and Michelle S. Quiogue ’96 MD ’00

It is the best 14th anniversary present we could receive to be able to announce that, in less than three weeks, our friends and peers, those who came before us and those who came after us, our fellow Brunonians of color met our challenge. Actually, more than met our challenge. As of this morning, there remains only $1,400 left to raise by Saturday, June 30 to meet the fundraising goal of $100,000 to fully endow a fund which will provide monies for the support and administration of TWTP in perpetuity. (So please, if you haven’t given yet, click the links above and give!)

Fourteen years ago today, as we pledged to love each other always, we were surrounded by friends who had journeyed with us in Brown’s Third World community and had been with us from the beginning. One of my groomsmen and two of Miche’s bridesmaids had been with us at TWTP, and if memory serves, we all met that very first day. Our ceremony pianist was another friend met at TWTP, and our ceremony violinist had been one of my counselees when I was an MPC in a first-year residential unit my second year. One of our ceremony readers was that very same woman who let us know about the dire need of the TWTP endowed fund, and she was accompanied by the man who would become her husband, who had been the very first freshman I had helped to move into the dorms on that very first day of the TWTP at which I was an MPC. We were surrounded and loved by friends whom we had met when we were first-years and they were older student leaders welcoming us into our new community, by younger friends we welcomed to campus as we had been welcomed who then became counselors and leaders themselves, by friends with whom we’d grown and struggled and studied and played side by side from day one. That day, it was beyond a doubt that we would not have been the people we were, and the people we were together, without our Brown experience, and our TWTP experience was no small part of that.

It’s been so gratifying to hear back from old friends in response to our campaign, from Facebook “likes” to reposts to emails from people we haven’t talked to in years telling us that they donated because of our challenge. 20 years after we met, 16 after many of us left Brown, we are still building community, making connections, and fighting for justice. But now, the nebulous “those who will come after us” we always invoked is more concrete. We do this for our children, and our friends’ children, and all the children who will come after.

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