Category Archives: Parenting

Resilience-The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Child

Boy waiting for his turn on a slideI got rejected today. Badly. As in 2 years of work that failed to make the cut that my previous work sailed through. An award we won on our first try, didn’t come through for us this time. Even though we were convinced that our latest effort was a big improvement over our first, award winning one. This award wasn’t just some ego boost. When you win this award, a media distributor buys up lots and lots of copies of your record to sell to public libraries. There are very real consequences to winning. I know, I’ve benefited from it before.

I’m not alone in facing rejection. Michael Jordan (a guy who I hear was pretty good at basketball) was cut from his high school hoops team. Joan Jett, who made a little record called “I Love Rock’n’Roll” was rejected by a whopping 26 record labels before deciding to put out that single herself. It later went to #1 and she didn’t have to settle for a tiny percentage royalty of those sales.

I’m not going to lie. The thoughts about giving up making music did make a cameo in my brain as I was brushing my teeth. Amy’s day started on a downward spiral with this disappointing news as well. As the day went on, I gradually came out of this, relying on my habits of doing something constructive each day – sending emails out to fans local to an upcoming show. Reaching out to venues about booking new shows. Thanking journalists who took the time to write stories that included us.

And then I grappled with this article posted by fellow dad Jeff Bogle, who also happens to be a foremost critic in the world of children’s music. The title was “Dear Kids, You Cannot Be Anything You Want.” Of course, that led to  a lot of soul searching: Is it time for me to give up the ghost? Pack it in? Expecting that only the more mundane aspects of my existence are worth something? Am I just unnecessarily subjecting myself and my family to the depression and anxiety that come with the failure of wasting my time and expectations?

Then I read between the lines of what Jeff was saying. And I integrated my own experiences into it. And I thought about what I want my own daughter to know about her own dreams and ambitions.  What I came up with was this: I’m not about to throw away the 3+ years I’ve spent entertaining you and the kids when something doesn’t go my way. Our family’s mission has deep roots and deep relationships. What I want to teach my child is this: if you have bold ambitions, you will need a thick skin. You’ll need resilience. Because rejection is coming. Over and over again. You’ll watch your peers sail through with a gatekeeper or tastemaker who is not all that interested in you.  You’ll watch your friends eat that hot fudge sundae that you wish was yours. Repeatedly.

If you can take that, if you can accept the necessity for other, less appetizing sources of income for years, if not decades, while you gradually develop your passionate “side hustle” and see income slowly trickle in, at first, less than what you spend on it, then yes, you can do what you love for more than just a hobby. Today, our dream, the Jungle Gym Jam is what supplies 25% of our family’s income (thanks, of course to all of you, who bought a concert ticket, an album, or even recommended us to your town library as part of their summer reading program!) – We’re grinding, we’re tough, we’re resilient, we keep trying when we get rejected, and we’re teaching that all to our 5-year-old daughter.

Back to Jeff’s article: If you compare what you and your co-workers are doing to what you said you wanted to do for a living when you were 5, I’m sure maybe one out of every several thousand will say it’s a match. For most of us, our idea of what we want to do for a living has evolved over time, as we figured out what we’re good at, what passions keep coming back to us over and over again, what we’ve actually been paid for and can support a family doing. It doesn’t seem to be an all-or-nothing proposition.

Bob Baker, an author of several books on do-it-yourself creative marketing (for music, self-published books, visual art), says it’s not about that cliché of waiting to be discovered by someone in power who will choose you (a record label exec showing up at your gig to pluck you from obscurity, winning America’s Got Talent, a famous singer discovering you). It’s about you choosing yourself. Every day. Over and over again. It’s about doing all that unglamorous stuff behind the scenes, like building and maintaining an e-mailing list. Posting to Facebook when you don’t feel like it. Following up with that librarian or club owner who hasn’t responded to your last three e-mails about booking a show. Courteously and professionally, not bitterly and desperately.

This is what I want to teach my daughter. Take a real shot at what you want to do with the majority of your time (what you do for a living). Choose yourself. Do all the unglamorous stuff behind the scenes that you wish a big gatekeeper would do for you. Plan for gradual growth of your livelihood and fan base, not a sudden windfall. Do you think Justin Bieber or Britney Spears were emotionally ready for their overnight success? Treat it like a business. Even if you do what you love for a living, you will mostly be doing stuff you don’t like in order to support it. And you will be rejected. Over and over again.

Every time you get back in that arena after a stinging rejection, you are growing a thicker skin and deeper roots. You’re building resilience. You’re building character.

This is what every parent can teach their child.

While We Were Performing at the Purim Carnival…

1625575_10153605607768042_1060745465918304437_n…Holly took her first steps in caring for a living creature.

When I woke up Sunday morning I knew very little about goldfish and their care except for a distant memory of winning a goldfish at a carnival as a kid and that fish lasting not more than a day in my fishbowl. So when our synagogue, Congregation Shomrei Emunah, added a win-a-live-goldfish game and Holly played it with Grandma and Grandpa standing by during our performance, I was very surprised to see her walking toward the stage area with a plastic bag in her hand and a little being swimming inside of it.

Holly took an instant liking to pet ownershipThe fact that Holly’s school friends also won goldfish seemed to make it a communal experience that all these children were now going to experience a rite of passage at the same time – the responsibility of caring for a living creature. Of course, my mind went immediately to…”We have to get a fishbowl!” – a notion that was quickly corrected for us at Brookdale Pet Center in Bloomfield where the salesperson guided us toward a more suitable habitat for a new goldfish — a small aquarium kit with a pump and a filter. Suddenly, I was plunged into a world of learning about how to more properly care for a goldfish. Holly picked out the “tie dye” colored gravel to line the bottom of the aquarium. There was so much to learn, like that a goldfish has the potential to live 45 years and grow to a foot in length, that their gender doesn’t become apparent until they;re at least a year old, that shelled green peas help them pass waste products more easily.

When we got home and got our fish, which Holly had named Rosie Elisa (She names every stuffed animal Rosie and the middle name Elisa is the name of a close friend of Holly’s), settled in the aquarium, I decided to do some more research on how to care for our little aquatic animal. I came across this article about the 12 mistakes new goldfish owners usually make. I discovered in the process that there were a few steps I could have done better or had more awareness of when getting our fish situated.

Rosie, Holly's first-ever petHolly sang to the fish, spoke to the fish and kept running up the stairs during dinner to go into her room and look at her cute new pet. I had taken this close-up picture of Holly’s fish so she could print it out and take it to school to show her friends. When she saw the printed picture yesterday morning, she laughed with delight at the full-page image.

When I left for work yesterday, that was the last time I’d see Holly’s goldfish alive. When I went upstairs to check on her after returning from work, our new friend was motionless and unresponsive. A few unanswered taps on the tank confirmed the worst. She was gone a little more than a day after being awarded to Holly in a carnival game.

In an impromptu memorial ceremony in Holly’s room, I thanked Rosie’s memory for teaching us so much about caring for a living being. Holly tearfully told Rosie’s memory that she loved Rosie and didn’t want her to die. Amy complimented Rosie’s memory on what a wonderful swimmer she was and how loved she was.

I then took Rosie outside the house for a dignified burial in our garden right near where some daffodils were shooting up through the ground and preparing to bud.

 Going On with Our Mission

Having been thrust into a scenario where we suddenly had to learn so much about care of a goldfish, I was prepared to accept the risk of loss. I was even able to accept the loss itself when it happened. What I was not prepared to do was give up and turn our backs on all we had learned. I proposed that we go out and get new fish, maybe two, last night. Amy and Holly were unanimous. We went out to Petco (they happened to have later hours than Brookdale Pet) and chose two comet goldfish. Holly named them “Rosie” and “Rosie.” I suggested “Rosie II” and “Rosie III” so we can keep a special memory of the original “Rosie.”

The new fish Rosie II and Rosie IIII applied more of the tips I had learned about acclimating fish to a new aquarium this time. Last night was Rosie II and Rosie III’s first stay in their new digs. These fish appear to have had an easier transition to our home than did our original one. They did not have to face the long hours in a plastic bag being bounced around during the carnival followed by the sudden shock of different water in an aquarium. These two new fish were in a larger double bag of water for their short trip home. This time I had the advice of Petco’s resident fish expert on how I could float their bag in the new water that would later become their habitat. This helps ensure the most even possible transition from the water in the bag to the new water. Shock from sudden changes in water temperature and therefore body temperature can lead to life-threatening complications.

It finally came time to introduce our two fish to their new home; I improvised with a bathroom cup instead of a net and cautiously proceeded to transfer Rosie II and Rosie III to their aquarium. They currently reside in a 2.5 gallon tank which is OK for very young goldfish, but they will soon outgrow this tank like toddlers outgrowing their cribs. It appears that our near future holds the need for a 30 gallon+ aquarium to comfortably sustain these living beings and see them thrive and grow.

I explained to Holly that pets are not replaceable – each living being has its own soul and personality. But we can love and care for these two new goldfish as a way to honor Rosie I and everything she had taught us, and all the ways she made us better people.

In the span of one day we went from unsuspecting new pet owners to diligent students of owning a pet to a grieving family to people who get back up on the horse and try again. Tell us in the comments about experiences you’ve had with your kids that relate to this story.

How Star Wars has Marked my Coming of Age…at Every Age

Jason and Holly Didner from Jungle Gym Jam engage in a lightsaber duel on Star Wars Reads Day in October 2013.With the release of every Star Wars movie, there was a special way that each film spoke to me at those points in my development.

I was six years old the first time I was transported to that galaxy far, far away, to a movie that was then just known as Star Wars, but is now called Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. That movie fueled my sense of pretend play with my brother Matt. We would fly our toy X-wing fighters on all kinds of missions until one-by-one, their wings would break off.  We’d improvise all kinds of new scenes between our action figures. I distinctly remember wrapping myself with a blanket and brandishing a Wiffle bat as Obi-Wan and then collapsing under that cloak after making the ultimate sacrifice for the Rebellion.

At age 9, I’d take in “The Empire Strikes Back” for the first time. As a student who struggled to focus attention on the task at hand but had a vague understanding of my natural talents, I experienced my share of achievements and made my share of excuses for the setbacks. I connected with Luke’s struggles and failures in front of his wise mentor Yoda.

Jason Didner instructing Holly on battling a remote with her lightsaber at Star Wars Reads Day at Montclair Public Library October 2013While the question hung in the air over the next three years over whether Darth Vader’s shocking revelation was truthful or a lie, our family moved from East Brunswick to Morristown. I was approaching the age of my Bar Mitzvah. What I believe I took away from Return of the Jedi, the completion of the original trilogy, was Luke’s repeated refusal to fight his father to the death and his assertion of his identity as a Jedi, even at the risk of his life. Darth Vader’s final act of compassion and sacrifice spoke to me as well. As an essentially non-violent kid, I took this conclusion as an affirmation that non-violence can be tremendous strength, not weakness or cowardice. Today, my daughter gets a kick out of dueling with me using pool-noodle lilghtsabers with duct-tape hilts as I admonish “You are unwise to lower your DEFENSES,” at which point I strike from above and she dutifully parries my attack.

My teens and college years would include an occasional re-watching of these classics in no particular order, as they came on HBO or if a roommate was watching a VHS tape, it would spontaneously become movie night. I felt those were occasions to bond with new friends over a shared youth experience.

I was a man of 29 when the prequels, namely Episode I: The Phantom Menace’s hype caught me in its tractor beam. Much was written about this upcoming film and I devoured it as quickly as I could, fascinated with imagining the state that galaxy in the decades before that famous civil war broke out. It was a particular thrill to see a vibrant, young Obi-wan as a Jedi-in-training exhibiting dazzling lightsaber skills against countless droids. I was also intrigued with the deceptive machinations that a certain politician from Naboo was devising as he appeared to be living a double life. As a politically active young adult, I believe I appreciated the political maneuvering in the film that others found frustrating or un-Star Wars-like. I believe I simply accepted this controversial film as a marker of where the beloved stories from my childhood all began.  Little did I know how my life would soon change in a profound way. Less than a month after Episode 1 came out, I’d meet Amy. We were married by the time the next prequel was released.

I remember our wedding day so clearly-a joyous celebration in front of our extended family and friends – a moment to publicly share our feelings with everyone who we felt close to – and the stark contrast to the secret wedding of Anakin and Padme in Episode II: Attack of the Clones. For me,  Anakin’s unrequited longing that suddenly became a mutual passion after some shared traumatic moments struck me as an image of doomed romances I’ve seen (and experienced) in real life. Seeing the city bar scene lay the early groundwork for Obi-Wan’s quick reactions in the cantina to protect Luke later in life was a satisfying callback.

Revenge of the Sith, the movie meant to connect the prequel trilogy to the events of our childhood memories from A New Hope, give us a concrete depiction of the moment we always imagined – the duel between the newly converted Darth Vader and his former master Obi-Wan. It was a solemn moment of reckoning. It’s the image that remains on my mind when I contemplate whether I would let my heart to go to the darkest place in the universe to protect my loved ones.  And would that change me into someone my loved ones could no longer accept. For the record, it makes no sense to me that Padme would die of sorrow at a young age without suicide or a disease that’s worsened by stress and grief (like the way cancer quickly consumed the life of Dayna Reeve after Christopher died). Within the workings of that galaxy far, far away, I’m more likely to believe that newly-crowned Emperor Palpatine sucked the life force out of Padme, much like Vader was able to remotely choke Imperial officers who failed to carry out his orders. The Emperor needed Padme, a senator who stood for peace and democracy, out of the way for his new dictatorship to go full steam ahead. He also needed to squash entirely the soft side of his newly-minted apprentice Darth Vader. What better way to do that than to bring an end to the very same loved one Anakin gave himself to the dark side to protect?

My overall experience of the prequel trilogy through my late 20s/early 30s was that it was different than the back stories that were in my head, but I accepted them as the back stories that creator George Lucas had been carrying in his imagination long before any of us would ever know what a landspeeder was. I learned through the experience of these prequels that other people have different stories to tell than I do.  During the period between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, I created an album of heartfelt singer-songwriter meets rock-n-roll fare and I gave lots of live performances in support of that album. I had my own stories to tell and I felt motivated and compelled to tell them. I still do. Star Wars would remind me of the power of storytelling.

As I write this, I’m less than 24 hours away from witnessing The Force Awakens, a movie I’ve been aware of since the project was first announced about three years ago. My inner geek is going a bit berserk here, so bear with me. I’m eager for the new stories and the way they’ll be told – and the chance to catch up with the primary characters of those stories that informed my own childhood so much – played by the original actors. The most important new development in my life since the last prequel is that I’m a dad now and sharing this saga with a child who is now the same age as my brother was when we first witnessed the original film as a family. I’m interested in what this new generation of the saga will say to me as a parent and how its tale of a young woman coming into her power will serve my daughter as this trilogy unfolds over the next six years.

One of the Three Most Important Things I’ll Do in my Life

I’m Donating a Kidney to my Wife Amy Next Week

by Jason Didner

Amy, Jason and Holly Didner in 2012

Marrying Amy and adopting Holly are the 2 most important things I’ve done in my life.

Marrying Amy and adopting Holly are easily the two most important things I’d done in my life up until now. These days, a new decision has been presented to me and the choice was clear. In order to preserve my wife’s precious life and give my very young daughter a mother who can get down on the floor and play with her unfettered by dialysis machines and chronic fatigue, the moment of truth has come where I have the power to give my family the future it deserves, just by saying ‘yes’ and accepting the experiences that comes with that choice. This is the choice that protects the other two most important choices I’ve ever made.

Amy and Jason Didner's wedding in 2000

Since before getting married we knew Amy's diabetes would present a challenge.

We’ve known since early in our marriage that Amy was experiencing steadily declining kidney functioning as a complication of Type 1 Diabetes, which she’s had since age 8. About 2 years ago, we were instructed to start seeing a kidney specialist regularly and consider the merits of a kidney transplant. Amy’s excellent diabetes specialist, Dr. Joseph Giangola, suggested that Amy could be a good candidate for a kidney-and-pancreas transplant. Both would come from the same donor, who would have to be deceased in order to donate the pancreas. Typically, victims of accidents who have indicated in their lifetimes a willingness to donate organs are the donors of these precious organs.

A kidney-pancreas transplant offers the added benefit of temporarily “curing” type 1 diabetes for as long as the transplanted pancreas functions, which is currently in the 5-10 year range.

Over the course of several months, we started making very frequent trips to Hackensack University Medical Center’s transplant team to get Amy checked out through numerous medical tests to ensure a transplant and its effects would likely be safe for her. All our efforts had gone toward becoming a recipient for a deceased person’s kidney and pancreas. A discussion with the transplant team’s kidney doctor, however, brought up another concern: As Amy’s kidney deficiencies made her progressively more exhausted while facing the daily challenges of raising a toddler, this was a sign that her kidney decline might be reaching a critical point – a point where perhaps she’d have to start dialysis until a matching kidney/pancreas from a deceased person might come along.

There would be only one controllable alternative to dialysis, given the unpredictable nature of deceased organs becoming available. A living, healthy person would have to consent to donating a kidney. That person could be a relative or a total stranger. The blood type would have to match and the antibodies would have to be compatible.
I agreed to become an option, a fallback plan, in case a deceased kidney and pancreas would not work out by the time she’d absolutely need either a transplant or dialysis. I began the process of getting tested and interviewing with doctors and social workers. It was discovered that we were in fact a compatible match and I could donate my kidney directly to Amy.

To the best of everybody’s current knowledge, my life expectancy will remain as it already is, even after donating a kidney. My remaining kidney will grow in size and capability in the coming months, able to effectively rid my body of toxins enough to last a lifetime. Now probably won’t be a great time to take up cage fighting or motorcycle racing, as I have to protect my remaining kidney from injury.
The transplant is set for Tuesday morning, 5/26 at Hackensack University Medical Center. Amy and I will be operated on in neighboring operating rooms.

Jason gives Holly the flight experience at Heroes Rock at Congregation Shomrei Emunah in February 2015

Lifting people and things will be off limits during recovery.

People ask me if I’m scared or nervous. I answer, “yes, but not about the things you might expect.” See, as far as the part where I go under anesthesia and wake up minus one kidney, feel pain and experience healing, I’m not particularly worried because I can’t control that. It will just happen. The part that does make me nervous is the process of suspending all the “doing” that makes up my day-to-day life, whether it’s carrying Holly on my shoulders (lifting is off limits for at least 6 weeks!), performing children’s music in a live setting, hosting weekly kids’ concerts by other musicians, visiting with my disabled brother-in-law or supporting the computer operations of the construction company that employs me. In the runup to the surgery, I’ll struggle with the process of applying the brakes to this constantly fast-moving train and preparing everyone (and myself) for the smoothest possible transition into a reality where I’m on the bench. That’s a new and strange experience for me to ponder.

There have been gigs to cancel, substitute performers to find, help to prepare (me asking for household help…YIKES!), documentation to write for a consultant who will be available to deal with the technological emergencies that come up in a workplace. There’s been plenty of worry that I can’t prepare adequately. But once we get picked up to check in to the hospital, all that will change to “just being. Just healing.”

Amy and Jason Didner on the tennis court in 2002.

Tennis is Amy’s favorite game – I hope she’ll return to it once recovered from the transplant.

For Amy that recovery process will take longer but I understand that by the 2nd day after surgery, she’ll really feel the benefits of the kidney working like it hasn’t since her mid-20s. I remember reading a story of a dad who needed a kidney and as his kidney function continued to decline, all he could do was sleep. Now after surgery he was playing basketball with his son for the first time ever. This story is strong inspiration to me that Amy and Holly can have an energetic relationship like never before. Amy’s favorite game since childhood has been tennis and I have hopes that she’ll rekindle that love for the game and share it with Holly.

Over the next several months I’ll continue sharing my thoughts and stories about this point in my family and personal life. I hope the sharing of these experiences bring you inspiration and knowledge that benefit you and your family as well.
What are your most important life decisions and what effect did those choices have on your life? What important choices lie ahead for you? I’d love for you to join in the discussion by commenting below.

For more information about organ and tissue donation, see the New Jersey Sharing Network.

Snow day—a good day to print our coloring pages

Open and print these PDF pages for some fun and creative activities:

Free to Be...You and Me Coloring Page
Illustration by Hannah Tuohy Illustrations
Everyone's Invited! Coloring Page
Illustration by Melissa Bailey
Free to Be…You and Me Coloring Page Everyone’s Invited! Album Cover Coloring Page
The Pick Song coloring page
Illustration by Rickman Graphics
Peek-a-boo Moon Coloring Page
Illustration by Hannah Tuohy Illustrations
The Pick Song Coloring Page Peek-a-boo Moon Coloring Page
Mimi_the_Ladybug_Coloring_Page_Thumb Five Sea Lions Coloring Page
Illustration by Emily Clapham
Mimi the Ladybug Coloring Page Five Sea Lions Coloring Page
Jungle Gym Jam song title word find
Find Jungle Gym Jam song titles!
Jungle Gym Jam Maze
Help the pick find its way to the guitar!
Word Find Maze

The weather will be much better to get around this Saturday 11/29 when we host Holiday Family Fun Day at Immaculate Conception Church in Montclair. The Snow Queen from Frozen will lead a sing-along of “Let It Go” and the Jungle Gym Jam will introduce a new song. Doors open at 1PM. Music at 1:30.