Category Archives: kids

I Hope You Know… 

I sure do spend a lot of time yelling. I spend a lot of time hugging and reading and cooking and cleaning. I spend a good amount of time playing, though not as much as I should. I spend a lot of time laughing and talking and a lot of time listening. But the yelling. 

It’s losing it’s effectiveness. When I do it in response to inappropriately timed or overly exciteable silliness, you have taken to smirking. I hate it, but sometimes at that point I get super serious and scary. It’s not real scary. At least that’s what I tell myself. I mean, I know for a fact I’d never ever hurt you. But that’s a justification. A true enough one, but one that intentionally uses a very narrow definition of the word, ‘hurt’. 

You’re our first ever 6 year old. I worry every day about what I’m getting wrong. I worry about how I’m going to handle all that I’ve yet to see. What is it gonna be like when you are 7 or 12 or 17. How am I going to protect you from a world you don’t fear enough and I fear too much. What kind of protecting is enough. What kind is too much. What does that look like. I don’t know. You know even less. You see, we’re breaking new ground, in some ways, with every new step you take. I want you to know, I’m scared too. 

I don’t yell as much as I used to. You’ve become a remarkably good little boy and a quite unique and kind and sensitive big boy. But it still happens, more than it should. 

On the flip side I don’t really share with you all that you mean to me. I’m so thankful to know you. As I’ve told you before, you are the person, the only one who will ever live, who made me a dad. Your dad. It’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me and I will never, could never thank you enough. I am so incredibly proud of you. When I was your age I was on my second year of kindergarten. It was an advanced kindergarten that required two years due to the incredibly high IQ’s of the special people selected for it. Okay, that’s not true. When I was first in kindergarten I cried all day every day for months. I was not 5 until Thanksgiving time and i wasn’t ready. I don’t fully believe that even now. To some degree it just felt like failure to me. Failure by me. It was, technically speaking. I’ve actually spent a lot of my life getting over that. I never recovered in relation to school. 

When you so bravely took on the challenge I died a little. I have always despised those parents who lived vicariously through their kids, but apparently I couldn’t avoid it. I said I was scared for you. I was. But I was scared because of me. You were a rock star. A rock star is what we called kids who opened toys on youtube when we were little. Except they weren’t kids and they were in bands. Still, think Evan. You were all kinds of EvantubeHD about the whole thing. 

You are so honest about your feelings and aware of them. You are brave. I struggle with that now. But you are the most sincere and loving hugger of goodbye’s I’ve ever seen. You’ll get silly with your brother when we are leaving, but when Mommy or I are heading out you are so so insistent on making sure you wish us a good day and hug us as many times as you can. We’ve trained some of that out of you by accident, but there’s some that lives in you that we’ll never be able to get to in order to save a few minutes in the morning. Evidence that sometimes wisdom is inate and not a thing that requires age and experience. 

I’m so proud of how thoughtful you are. How much you worry about others. How diligently you go about showing kindness to others. How you try to be creative about making others feel happier. You talk about it. You ask questions about it. You show up, day after day, brave, loving, kind and determined to make others feel how much you love them. 

I hope you know how much I love you. Because sometimes I yell. Sometimes I must look like a truly crazy person. Sometimes I’m imperfect and sometimes I’m scared and I’ll fail a lot. Thankfully I have time. But the years slip by fast and I’d be crushed if you didn’t know how proud I am of you. How much I love you. 

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One Summer and Water Gun Dolphins

One particular summer arrival sticks out. We were in the Carolin Drive house so I couldn’t have been more than five. It was summer so I was definitely four. I could have been three, I suppose, but it would be odd to remember it at all. It was sunny and to my memory we were waiting for my dad to get home. Derrell would be with him. My memory always has it as after work for my dad but it could easily have been Saturday morning. Who’s to say. So it was a terrible realization that we were seeing what we were seeing. No one batted an eye that dad parked in the street. This was suburbia and we had a perfectly good and perfectly empty driveway. Regardless, the trauma blocked this oddity from notice. You see, there he was, dad, just strolling across the lawn practically overflowing with aloofness as we all thought how terrible it was. Derrell would be wandering the airport all alone! Looking for Dad! How could he have forgotten! It’s all the bigger boys talked about for days!

Of course, D was in the back seat, lying on the bench, cool as a fan. Dad and D, well, they got us good.

This would have been in the heart of the years when D spent summers with us as a kid. He’d get on a plane, or maybe a bus, I have no idea, somewhere in New York City. He lived in the South Bronx, but to us Western New Yorker’s, far more familiar with Toronto than NYC, it was a behemoth not at all disassembled to the boroughs. D was from New York City.

I think I like best the thought of my dad and Derrell, perhaps 12 years old at the time, rolling down the road and hatching this plan. Derrell was already a skilled clinician of holding a room with funny. My dad was his perfect comedy partner, a classic straight man. Dry humor and perfect for the role he was cast in in this sketch. Everything is in that conversation that got them there. It’s the late 70’s so they didn’t pull over. There were no seat belts restricting movement and I’m sure D popped over the passenger seat to the back bench to test it as a hiding spot while they soared out 531 to Union in Spencerport. It would be a long time until it extended all the way to Brockport. Just a skinny, bearded, cool Dad looking like a hipster Abe Lincoln and the lean, long limbed black kid with fabulous and fabulously big and round specs plotting a prank on the way home.

img_4883Derrell was almost certainly a curiosity the first time he arrived on Carolin. I mean, how could he avoid being one. But I am equally certain that would have lasted all of 2 mins. He is, was and will forever be touched with an undeniable charisma that shrinks distance, bridges difference and effortly seizes the attention of those in his light. I’m sure that by his first morning waking up and pouring sugar on his cereal he was the brother we’ve all known him as, as I’ve only known him as.

‘That’s not a water gun.’ D said.

‘Yeah it is. Watch.’ And if the 40 or so years between now and then have been in anyway instructive as to who would respond by shooting a stream of water in his face, running away and laughing, it was my older brother Mike. It’s a tiny moment, so neither would remember it. But I do. I don’t know why what sticks out sticks out. When you’re a kid you notice at weird times and implant memories for no reason at all. I remember this tiny exchange followed by screaming (the fun kind), chasing, laughing, a sprinkler.

‘It’s a dolphin. It can’t be a water gun if it’s a dolphin.’

 We had water ‘guns’ shaped like sea creatures and in hindsight I’m glad we did. A dolphin spitting at you is funny, the bazooka like shooters that mimicked real guns from my youth, they were not as fun. At the time I wanted the water gun. The real one.

It was a disappointment. Like the length of wear for my sneakers or the irregular stamps on the tags of the Levi’s we got at Marshall’s. Silly, stupid kid insecurities that are now mildly amusing memories of things I wish I hadn’t been so hard on my parents about. Like when they got me the one speaker ‘box’ because the salesman explained it was higher quality than the two speaker cool ‘box’ I really wanted. 12 year old boys can be hard to please.

But other things were not done for necessity or by simple misunderstanding. Like the assorted wildlife shaped squirter’s whose triggers we pulled and had just as much fun as any of the kids playing with handgun looking cousins of our spitting animals. It was subtly communicated, explained when asked and a lesson I took.

D took to the dolphin. In the end, chasing one another with squirting sea life was just as fun.

The Madness of Prince Teddy

‘Ew, no Charlie! Wahhhhhh!’

The above is shouted. Sharply and insistently. It is my four year old son’s response to his brother eating yogurt. Or  an apple. Or drinking milk. Teddy is not one for subtleties. He cares not for the feelings of those who offend his olfactory senses and he will not be dissuaded from his opinion that the vileness of these things are rightly and roundly rebuked. No sir, he will simply prefer to spoon his ketchup into his mouth in a different room, thankyouverymuch.

Okay. He’s 4, it’s not like he’s great at thinking of others feelings, but you’d think there’d be some recognition that registering his disgust so broadly, and by that I mean in the ‘broad comedy of Jerry Lewis’ (May he RIP) sense of the word, might be hurtful. But no.

Just today we were in the car and he starts.

‘Drink it! Charlie, Drink it.’ The first sentence was shouted. This is white noise to all of us by now. It is ignored and as much registered as a first, ‘morning’ one says prior to coffee, still half asleep. But the second was screeched in the manner of the classic Hollywood scream queens. This is by no means reason for alarm though it does wake the rest of us up.

‘What?! What is happening! Why are you screaming! Is everyone okay! WHAT’S WRONG!!’ This situation clearly needs a bumbling, distracted, middle aged man to thunder in with volume and stress. It’s just the recipe to really get everyone calm quickly and I’m just the man to do it.

‘Charlie won’t drink his drink.’ Teddy says.

‘Teddy, that’s too far. You are not in control of when Charlie drinks his drink. Come on, buddy?’

Appeals to reason, I should know by now, are only passingly accepted and ONLY when they suit his need for utter and total control of all that he purveys. This statement, I should note, could easily be applied to myself or T so, you know, art is in the eye of the beholder, so whichever you prefer.

‘Charlie’s drink is empty.’ Says Developing Mom (a name I hasten to add is only employed in the most sophomoric of tongue in cheek fashions as she is a fully formed and wonderful mom) in a manner that is dismissing the dramatic nature of the 4 year olds clearly false claim, for which he has clearly been busted for his over dramatic ways. This is done so nonchalantly as it is de rigueur by now.

‘No!’ screams T, ‘The drink in his mouth!’

Come to think of it, Charlie has been suspiciously quiet. Good for him, don’t let him take you down, dude.

‘Teddy. He can swallow whenever he wants. You don’t get to control everything. But I will let you know something. The mare you ask and cry the less likely he is to swallow it. Just be quiet for a minute and I’m sure he’ll swallow it down. Besides Chocolate milk slowly turns into rotten chocolate milk if it stays in your mouth too long. Surely he knows that.’ Okay, I’m making up the last bit, about the rotting in your mouth. But I wish I said it.

‘Teddy, it’s gone now.’ said Charlie, finally entering the script from his pivotal though silent role as unwitting, though I suspect fully witting, agitant.

And like that we’re off, to our next dramatic flourish which is surely no more than a mile or two down the road. Teddy is like me in many ways. One is that he can be ‘over peopled’. Today we were at the Adventure Aquarium, one of his favorite places on earth. He loved it and behaved. He was all you could ever want from an excited and engaged four year old. His big brother was at his best as well. But, you know, now back in the car, away from the maddening crowd, he had to let some of that stress out. It was a huge relief to be home after periodic meltdowns all the way home. We said no to screens all the way home as well, so it was a bit.

But it was good to be home. Everyone reverting to their creature comforts. I with my whiskey (okay, that’s only happening now as I write in a quiet house at 1:14 in the morning), Teddy with his cheese stick to wash down his pizza (I can’t wait until I offer a menu item with mozzarella and he insists he hates the stuff) and Charlie with his apple and a yogurt. Yep. I was over done and I brought out two parts of T’s unholy trinity just like that and put it down right there, right where he could smell it (his claim to how it offends) and see it (the obvious actual trigger to his claims of fear and loathing).

I braced myself. But nothing came.

‘I eat apples like that at school.’ He said. School is daycare.

‘What?’ I said, incredulous.

‘I Like them at school.’ He said. Just like that. No biggie.

‘He said he likes yogurt there, too.’ Said Charlie.

When the hell were you gonna tell me! I didn’t say it, but come on!

‘Did you hear this, honey? Teddy eats apples at school. He likes them!’ I said as Developed Mom walked by.

‘I know.’ She said.

‘Did you know he likes YOGURT there too!’ Come on, share some outrage at this travesty I screamed with my eyes.

‘No, I know. He drinks milk there, too.’

What the hell.

Teddy’s Cheeks

Perhaps its just my nature to be wistful. That very well could be it. I could easily make the argument that wistfulness is my strongest suit as a writer. But wistful for me these days is honest. Because while parenthood is very very good at making you spend a good deal of your day living in the moment, it is also a role that is forever slipping through your fingers. 

There’s a lot that surprises you that first second. I became a dad in an instant. One second I’m a husband and about to be dad and the next I’m a dad. Full blown, card carrying dad. The card in this case was a Visa card and not some license to be a dad, though were there one my merely being a dad would not entitle me to the card. Nope. That comes later. I’m certified now, but still a newb. Becoming a dad is merely the starters pistol in your sprint to learn to be a dad. 

What I learned first, after the new brand of love, the overarching, in your bones kind of love that you learn in that first instant, what I learned was that life is fragile and mine will end. Hopefully some day decades and decades down the road when the loss will be real for my kids, but when it will be manageable. Still, this little boy had a story and it was starting right there, smack in the middle of the story I’d been only just getting accustomed to sharing with his mom. If everything goes right, if it goes as right as it can go I’ll get a few decades to overlap, 30 or 40 or 50 years to be in his story. Then, inevitably, I’d be leaving. Wrapping up my tale with tentacles lingering on the fringes of the stories they will be living. It’s the best outcome one can hope for and it is unavoidably imbued with melancholy. Sad is the wrong word. Melancholic. A sustained low level presence of unavoidable sorrow, that recedes to the background when joy is present and it is so so present so much, along with exhaustion and frustration and confusion and exhaustion. Did I say exhaustion twice? I did? Well, clearly I’m not as tired as I was a few years back. Then the entire list would have consisted of exhaustion and the list would hav been 7-12 items long. All of them exhaustion. 

My first son made me a dad. He came into the world and boom, I’m a dad. He cried, I messed up, I learned my error and I became more of a dad. This is a seemingly infinite loop. I mess up, I recognize it by something going wrong with him, I see that I messed up and I try something new and it gets a little better  and we do that all day every day forever. Which is true, but not true. It’s not forever. Time is very viscous and slides faster than I can keep up. You do eventually give the swing to sisters and brothers who will need it. You throw out the car seat that is beyond beaten and smelly and you recycle the last bottle you’ll ever have. Things disappear into the far back memories and then they go from there. Some of them go invisibly and without regret or a second thought. I’ll never change my kids disaster diaper ever again. The kind where you resort to cutting the clothing off to save everyone the terror of it coming off any other way. That piece of history is happily behind me, though I actually think I appreciated it for what it was at the time. Your mind and memory play little tricks like that. I know better. Just happy that’s in the past. Other things, well, I can’t let go of so cavalierly. Like Teddy’s cheeks. 

Teddy’s cheeks aren’t going anywhere. I trust he’ll have them for the rest of my story. But they are changing. He has epic cheeks. Anyone and everyone who has known him will tell you. They are squat and round and adorable. They are a feast for the eyes and they are so connected to the little misspeakings of an adorable toddler with the childlike voice that I’ll never fully have anymore. He is our last and when those cheeks go, they’re gone. Forever. And this time forever means forever. 

My Teddy’s cheeks won’t come back. So I am wistful. Nostalgic. Sentimental in the extreme because my life, my consciousness has a timeline and the horizon, though distant, is firmly in view and when I lose Teddy’s cheeks that horizon will draw ever so slightly nearer.  

 

Finding My Center

What is passing for ‘what I know’ today is that it’s pretty easy for small, practically imperceptible doubts that reside in the far reaches of my memory and dark corners of my conscience, upon finding one another, to amplify their small voices to such a degree that they can drown out all that confidence and self assuredness I’ve been gathering over the years. Doubt gathers in the dark and waits. It plans and attacks under the cover of propulsion, hidden by my aloof optimism and neverending schedule. But it can pounce.

There’s nothing in particular to note. Nothing I’ll signify here, and what my specific doubts are misses the point. Which for me is that more than anything I’m so grateful to my kids because they center me like nothing else. Like I guess my parents did when I was 5. In a way that is so massive and consequential in my life it’s a very good thing that they don’t have any clue that they carry this weight for me. They carry in them the ability for me to continue, never folding and never quitting. They are inspiration and reward. They are the end all and be all for me in a way no other people on earth could ever be. When they go to therapy to deal with the issues I’ll surely give them it will be something I hope they will be  able to take into consideration, how direly important they were and are and will always be to me. 

Really, I get a ton wrong. I yell like an angry, over the line drill seargent and immediately return to calm and measured. It’s effective and terrifying and surely I’m doing it wrong. Like the thousand other things I’m doing wrong. But they forgive and love me and let me stay here, in the middle of their universe. They give me everything by simply orbiting me. I won’t always be the sun and when it fades it will be my watching them venture off orbit that will center and sooth me. I don’t think I deserve it frankly, but it will happen that way and I’m forever greateful for it. 

I don’t know that I’ll be writing about them so much going forward. They are after all growing up  and the last thing I’d want is to hurt them in some inadvertent way. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but I’m likely to continue to shift the focus more to me and the forever becoming part of fatherhood that keeps me growing and moving forward. Still, I’ll be watching them and loving them every stop of the way. Worry is just starting to creep in. That’s a lie. Anyone who’s read my work knows I’m a worrier. But the fears of things that are unknown are becoming more serious. Why shouldn’t they be more serious. After all, the older they get the more tools they have. I will continue to write about my love for them. 

Amongst my greatest fears, and this likely says far more about me than it could possibly say about them, is that they will grow up and wonder if I loved them. If I thought of each one of them as individuals and was enamored and enthralled with them in the way that I should be. So I’ll tell them, in awkward and uncomfortable moments. I’ll relish the squirming of their tightly wound teen psyche’s recoiling from the embarrassing dad laying the ‘I love you’s’ on thick and frequently. At drop offs and pick ups and in front of friends. I’ll put it here so they’ll know I thought it before they ever knew it was a thing they’d wonder. But I’ll refrain from sharing them too much with the world. It is called Developing Dad, after all. It’s clearly a place where I should be sharing too much of me with the world. 

I wonder sometimes whether the dark visions that are making their way into my brain are a result of my aging. Am I’m simply going down the path I’ve so long been highlighting in my mind of old men who have become blind to the light, unable to train their focus away from the subtle dying of the light in order to see the abundance of good so clearly evident in the world. Am i simply a stereotype, a grumpy old man who sees a world growing ever more harsh and unforgiving. A world that doesn’t properly value love, empathy, responsibility or decency. A world devolving. It’s a world that’s easy to see these days, be it because I’m aging and falling in the trap I’ve so long focused on avoiding or because of a world that isn’t living up to the promises I thought it had made. Regardless, when I see my kids, when I’m with them or thinking of them I’m instantly back. Purpose returns. Love returns. Undeniable, unavoidable empathy and faith. It’s all in them. And to think, they think I’m the one they need. They couldn’t have it more wrong. 

Taken for Granted

More than anything in the world I’m grateful that we will have pizza this week. And vegetables. Fresh and frozen, canned. Whatever. I’m grateful that we know with near certainty that we won’t spend a minute thinking about whether or not we can eat.

I don’t always appreciate how safe I am. I lie in the dark and wonder if I left a lock unturned. I wonder if that was someone downstairs. I think about what is nearby that i could use to club a potential burglar or worse. Then I wait and wait and I forget about it and I go back to distracting myself with pictures of family and tales of struggle and memes that make me laugh. I watch highlights and listen to comedians interview each other on podcasts that I hear on my phone which can access, essentially, all human knowledge. I do all of it knowing I am not likely to have war greet me at the door. My children are not likely to learn the worst of life until they are ‘ready’ and then they will do so through books and movies and lessons and not life. I know the further out I project the less sure I can be of these things, but I’m confident.

I see pictures of children who are being greeted by a world that is roiling with chaos and violence the likes of which I can’t even truly imagine without a sheen of Hollywood staging and two dimensional falsehoods that are stored in my brain as images of war. Then a picture will turn up in the news of a child, a toddler, old enough to process but not enough to understand, if there is such an age, why the men are killing everyone, why these bombs are coming for them and I fall to pieces. I question everything. I wonder why I’m not doing more.

I didn’t know the gut punch of these pictures, these images until I had my boys. Until I had the identity of a parent. I could Identify tragedy, yes, but I feel it so very viscerally now. I see the confusion and fear and courage and bravery on the faces of children enduring war and I shutter at what they know. No 4 or 5 year old should know what these children know. I fall to pieces.

I don’t appreciate how good I have it and I never will. But at times it becomes starkly real when I see the world I’m protected from. The world I continue to place safely out of view. One I care about, want to change but am determined to not see. I don’t think this makes me a bad person, relatively speaking. Relatively speaking I’m fine. But I’m also selfishly and honestly and determinedly invested in keeping my boys out of those pictures. Out of harms way. Safe in this place where even the greatest tragedies, thus far are little more than inconveniences and mild disappointments when seen in the grand scheme of things.

I wish I was better than I am. I wish you were. I wish anyone who could would walk into hell and walk these children and their families out. I’d be so incredibly happy to help them, from here.

The Boys on the Trampoline

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I can’t begin to express how much I love this picture. I love that the tips of the pine are a lighter green, early spring and new. I love the underbrush, rich, lush and untamed. I love the slide you so long ago conquered now used solely as a ladder to a bigger kids toy. I love the soccer ball alone under the slide. Mostly I love the two of you, sitting with your backs to the house, both looking out and talking without us there.

I know that you’re saying things of no immediate import. Maybe Teddy is asking a question of you, Charlie, something he’s curious about. Maybe Charlie is imagining your boundryless stories that you offer in real time, words barely outpacing your synapses as you get yourself excited by the places your brain can take you, Teddy. Maybe you’re just taking a breather. 

Part of what I feel when I see this is a certain loneliness. It’s mine. It’s the kind many men feel as far as I can tell. Many people I should say. It’s a little scary to me because I’m seeing the seeds of future states these days in ways where I can’t help but project onto you my experience. The truth is I look at this and the first feeling is hope. Hope that you both will know how much you are loved. Hope that you will love each other. Hope that you will endure whatever is out there that we can’t see, that you will have to figure out. Hope that you’ll have empathy for each other and for yourselves. 

It’s easy these days to lose sight of what’s important. We live in an area and I daresay a time when parents are a bit too involved in the process of raising kids. It’s not a criticism, it just seems that way. There is so much being emphasized on the important things that aren’t all that important. Homework in kindergarten seems a harbinger of a severely out of whack system. I want you to learn that love and kindness and empathy are the best protection you have. I want you to know how to be loved and how to love. I don’t really care if you aren’t hitting milestones or excelling in the way you should be. I want you to learn to look inside for validation. I want you alone to determine what makes you happy. I want you to have extraordinary lives, not necesarrily over or overtly successful one’s. I want you to know how much is enough and to be grateful that you have it.

As you sit there side by side I want you to know that that is home. When you are 18 and 16 and one is going to college and one is staying I want you to feel the pain of loss but know you won’t be alone. When hearts are broken in minor and major ways I want you to sit on a bench like you are in this trampoline and just be brothers. I want you to be better at family than I am and I think you already are. 

You are our little boys and we will be here to protect you for what feels like forever to those two little boys in the trampoline. But watching you there together I can’t help but yearn for a snow globe to descend from above, covering you and us and our home and our yard and stopping it all from moving forward. 

I remember fifteen years ago like it was yesterday and time is only slipping faster from this particular vantage point. in a blink you’ll both be in your 20’s and I’ll be nearing 60. I’ll give you all the wisdom I can mine within me and I’ll keep searching and scraping for more, but when it fails, and it will one way or another, always remember that you have each other. 

None of life is guaranteed except for yesterdays. Collect as many as you can and hold them as long as you can. For me I’ll add this sight of you two figuring out life together from the comfort of your backyard and I will feel very lucky that I get to know you.