A Moment to Treasure

Some moments are just magical. They arrive unannounced and if you are lucky you recognize what’s happening in time to capture it in some way. This is not one of those moments.

‘Daddy? What’s your favorite butt cheek?’

Hmm. Thinking. Resisting every inappropriate joke running through my head.

‘My left butt cheek, I guess.’

Phew, dodged all bullets.

‘No. I mean between me and Teddy.’

‘I don’t have a favorite. I love all four of your butt cheeks equally.’

…and, scene.

I Wish I’d Met You Earlier

‘If I could change anything I’d go back in time and meet you earlier so I would have more time with you.’

imageOf course for that to work I’d actually have to go further back than you might think. I’d have to go back to the relationships before I met you, to the therapies and jobs and life lessons and various family functions when I festered with free floating rage and self loathing. The feelings that led me to some of the terrible decisions I made that left me looking for you in my early 30’s via the internet, wasting one Saturday night after another with the wrong people engaged in the same search. And of course you’d have to go back and relive all you’d lived to get back to the same place at the same time. In the end even that wouldn’t give us so much as a fighters chance of creating the events necessary to ensure another 5-10 years with each other.

The truth is had we met earlier I wouldn’t have been ‘the one’ yet and you may not have been either, though I have a harder time thinking that. Truth is we had to get to where we met, separately. In hindsight it was the only way it could have happened. Had you met me earlier you’d have met an even more imperfect man.

But we didn’t meet earlier. Life knew when and where you were going to be and made sure that I was ready. Made sure I had resolved my old and musty issues and was better able to understand how little I knew. Made sure I had learned, even if only in theory, that the person you love and commit to is not meant to be the end of the challenges and the resolution of all discomforts but rather they are your help and comfort while facing them. Life made sure I knew that it was my job to be that for you, too. That the dream of finding someone to love and be loved by was not the equivalent of going on permanent vacation. That it was not your pillows fluffed and your sheets turned down and rooms cleaned magically and freshly stocked paper products everywhere you looked. It was not nonstop nights of endless passion and wine and late night bathroom window cigarettes and days full of endless entertainment.

Wedding DayLife brought us to the same place at a time when we were ready to commit. To face the challenges and monotony and joys and unknown glories of having someone to do it all with. To commit not only to someone that could make the highs pure bliss, but also someone who could endure the lows, tell you your crazy and put up with the issues you haven’t resolved. Someone who will love you if you never resolve them. Someone who can write all these things at 12:51 in the morning after we didn’t have our best goodnight ever and never ever have to worry that that means anything other than we each have to figure out what it is we have to apologize for. Because this is real. I’m forever thankful for you. You absorb my frustrations and reflect my joys. You make the bad times quick and the good times permanent. I hope I can do at least some of the same for you.

None of this could have happened any earlier than it did no matter how much later it was than either of us might have expected it.

That said, it does leave me sad in one specific way.

I’m thrilled that Charlie is who he is and that Teddy is who he is. Specifically. Had it been another time they would have been other people. They wouldn’t exist as we know them. So in that sense I’m so happy it happened when it did.  But now I’m left looking at them and thinking…

‘I wish I could have met you sooner so I could have had more time with you.’

imageIt’s impossible for me not to project out now that they are with us. It’s hard to look down the road and know that at 20 I’m whispering to 60.  The math gets more unnerving from there. I’m not going to live forever. It’s something that hit me the second our first was born. Perhaps I’m dumb. We all know it doesn’t last forever. To say that it occurred to me at the moment Charlie was born is to somehow suggest I hadn’t known it all along. I did. I mean I knew people died and I knew I was a person. So, ipso facto and ergo and whatnot. But not like now. Now I’m going to die on my kids. I mean, even in the best case scenarios I die and leave them behind. But at my age the chance is it’s going to be when I would have been too young for my parents to go.

I didn’t learn to even start appreciating my parents until my 30’s. Not in the way they deserved. Not in the way that’s a bit more reflective of the amazing job they did  And my god, I’ve needed them more these days than I can ever remember needing them. I understand how silly and sweet that sentiment must sound to them. I ‘get them’ now that I’m a parent.  It must be cute to them to think I think I ‘need them’ now more than ever. Because those early days, my prehistory, the prehistory that is the equivalent to the one my kids are living now, concurrent with the peak of vibrant life for me are days they won’t  remember. They’re our days, actually, not theirs. Theirs come later. And I was their third. Of six. And there were a few more. I have two and I’ve needed them for all of it.

It worries me to no end that I’ll die while they still need me. The early days are just like that, and I’m still in the early days. But the deeper fear is that I’ll die without them being ready, without them being of an age or established in the life that will be there’s to live, that’s the one I can’t shake. I know no one is ever ready. I know I won’t be. But I’ll have a home, a wife and a job and my boys. I fear leaving them before they have any of this. Before they have roots.

There’s also a selfish piece to it all. I want to live long enough for them to forgive all the things we’ll get wrong and to see us as people, who loved them all the way through, even through the hard times when they couldn’t see why we did what we did. Through the times when we get it wrong. When they couldn’t see the love that was at the root of it all. Because having kids and being a parent and a spouse, it’s made me understand my parents in a way nothing else could. It made me love them in a way that’s oddly equivalent to how much I loved them when I was just Charlie and Teddy’s ages now, when they were my whole world and I was theirs and it made all of us special. There’s a symmetry now and I can see all that they did. I once again think of my parents as something so much more than ‘just people’. It’s your job to realize that they are in fact just people as you depart your family of origin. You have to see them for all their humanity and in that you find shortcomings and magnify them. It’s a part of your liftoff you have to exercise. It’s the balance to those years when they were the sun and the moon. It provides you perspective. But if you’re lucky enough, like I am, you get to come around on that later and see how superhuman their lives have been. I’m back to a place where I can tell them unabashedly how much their love means to me. How much I love them. I want that with my boys. I want to make it there.

‘I wish I’d met them earlier so we would have had more time together.’

How I Became the Creepy Dude at Walmart

 With great power comes great responsibility, sure. But with middling power and autonomy there comes some amount of privilege. When that power and autonomy is exercised at great distance, and when it is accompanied by insane committment and endless hours, so many that you move to work for a few months to attack the job at hand, well, it comes with the privilege of ocassionally taking liberties. In my case my great liberty was I skipped first breakfast. I brazenly entrusted my senior staff, their staff and the staff they supervised with breakfast for the 6-12 year olds.

It was understandable and in my defense I tried hard to be there by the end of Wawa breakfast to at least check in. My skills were rarely needed here and my support was hopefully felt in other ways. You see, the hours of a summer camp professional, roughly sun up to sundown to curfew to on-call until sun up, are the hours one keeps when they are a mythical creature or a college student. Being neither, being in reality a 33 year old man with a quite specific, though veiled case of Peter Pan syndrome, I felt it was within my capacity to do this job that I’d been doing in some capacity since I was the college kid getting up at the crack and getting my guys ready to be to breakfast on time. I was normally right. I did the job well, really well and by the end I at least maintained ‘well enough.’ This was probably the sunset of my ‘really well’ years and I knew how to operate.

There is a specific thing that goes by the wayside at camp. Vanity. Actually, now that I say that I realize it’s a lie. I was awash in vanity. It just looks different at camp. Vanity is masked in disgusting personal habits, lax hygeine, scattershot bouts of shaving and an overall bedraggled appearance that screams for attention with witty asides and hats that once spoke whimsy that now speak to tradition. I did all the things. I was a fully institutionalized man you could say, a camp guy. Complete with my own unique quirks and a signature style of management. I was a guy that by all accounts was camp basic. Standard issue to all who were more than an arms length away. I was quick with a smile, easy in conflict, ready to stand up to anything and ready to help whenever asked and happy to be invisible when things were good.

My day to day at the camp was as often at a desk as it was out and about. I loved getting out though. I loved stepping always from budgets, off the phone, away from my responsibility to my bosses who were based hundreds of miles away in the city. The camp day was a race to accomplish all the proactive planning one intended to do versus the reactive responding one was compelled to do and often it left you working until all hours. Then it left you waiting until the very end of the talent show to see the routine the cabin of 14 year old guys had been working on all week and responding to the girl who couldn’t understand why the girls she liked didn’t like her, or she didn’t think they did.

Then it was the counselors, the hardest working 17-22 year old kids you’d ever want to see finding you to tell you all that transpired that day and the week leading up to that day (for context) and why it was all so unfair to them. Then walking the smartest, most talented people I’ve ever worked with through the experience they lacked in order to build them up to earn the experience they’d get from facing the challenges that come with being accountable to 30-40 kids with special needs, the parents and caregivers of all those kids, the bosses, like me and others they were working with and all their friends who now needed so much from them now that they were supervised by them. This last part was my favorite.

On the day in question I was asked at breakfast, not the one I skipped, the second one, the older kids breakfast, If I’d be making a run. This was another one of my jobs. Making the hour plus drive to Walmart to get supplies. I wasn’t planning on it, but they were kind of stuck if I didn’t. It was for the girls cabin and I asked Lexi if it was stuff they NEEDED needed or if it was stuff that could wait til next week. I was home on weekends (more of that earned liberty taking) and had a busy day of commitments. She said yeah, it would be good if I could go.  She was uncommonly talented and knew at 20 how to gently tell her boss, ‘Yes, dummy, this is important.’ Being good at being the boss I understood her. I wasn’t going home til the end of the following day, so I was sure I could make it happen, even if it was at the end of the night.

The day proceded however it proceded. As it was getting to the end of second dinner I was telling Lexi I’d be heading out and would drop the stuff off at the girls cabins when I returned, after evening program.

‘Um, can you help me with something first?’ She said.

‘Sure. What’s up. Do we need to step outside?’ I asked.

‘No, but come with me.’ She grabbed her tray and radio and stood up.

‘Go sit with the STEP guys. Hang out for a minute. Tell me if you see anything.’

So I did. STEP was our older guys, 18-24 or so, who were capable of coming back and having a work experience be a part of their time here. It wasn’t for everyone. We had at most room for 10 per session. Kind of a graduate level camper. They had need for support, but they had a great deal of independent skills as well.

‘So, did you notice anything about Taylor?’ She asked.

‘Not particularly. Seemed to be in a good mood.’ I replied.

‘Yeah. I mean, he’s always in a good mood. But it took me a bit too. He shaved his eyebrows off.’

‘WHAT?’

‘Yeah. I asked him why and he said, my mom told me to shave my whole face while I was at camp.’ She said.

‘Oh my GOD!’ I said and started cracking up.

‘I know. I asked him how he liked his new look and he said he thought it looked cool.’ She said.

Now, I can’t tell you how much this is no big deal for someone like Lexi. She was poised beyond her years, emotionally and in all other ways intelligent and intuitive. But when you are 20 and you take your job of taking care of others kids seriously, and you are a tad shellshocked from being the point of contact for parents of kids with special needs, day and night for weeks on end, who are on ocassion quite nervous to be alone without them for what is often the very first time, well the potential for disaster in calling a parent to tell them their kids will be coming home with at best a five o’clock shadow where their should be eyebrows, well, it can call for some support from your boss.

We talked and laughed and talked and laughed and finally arrived where we needed to be.

‘How’s your relationship with his mom?’ I asked.

‘Great. I mean, until now.’ She said.

‘How about we just laugh. Life is short and she seems like someone who gets it. I mean, I’d be happy to make the call if you like, but I think we should just treat it with her like we’re treating it now. No one got hurt, it’s super funny. We could present it that way. I’ve always known her to get it. What do you think?’

She was down, and she would make the call. But this was a risky approach. We had faith that she would have a good perspective, but I was going to be there. So, once whatever the activity was that was going on that night was off and running we stepped out to the office to make our call. Being a pro I took the pro’s approach…

‘Oh no, I’ve done a ton of these kind of calls, you get used to it. You want me to do it?’

‘No, I think I got it.’

Phew. She bought it. Now, lets see how this goes.

Ding ding ding… We were right! His mom coulndn’t even stay on the line long enough to say goodbye in real words. She was in stitches. Crying, laughing. It was a highlight of my life hearing the volume of that laughter that came from that phone as Lexi joined her cracking up at something that was genuinely funny.

So, dusk upon us I told her I’d be heading out.

‘What do the older girls cabin need? In the hubbub of dinner I didn’t get a list.’

‘It’s not a list. They need a few cans of FDS.’

‘What’s FDS?’

Sometimes when you are young you forget that people who are right next to you don’t posess all your knowledge. She was dumbstruck.

‘um, really?’

‘Really.’

She hemmed. She hawed. I waited, unaware why she was so uncomfortable.

‘Our girls are a little older. You know, we go up to 18?’

Nope. I’m still staring at her blank faced and innocent.

How about this…

‘What does it stand for?’

‘Feminine Deoderant Spray.’

I was inclined to say something like, Oh, like ‘Secret’, but the implication was that it was not ‘secret’, and  it was.  Nuff said.

‘Where do I find that?’ Okay, one more question.

So there I was, a list from the younger girls cabin in my cargos, unshaven and unkempt in clothes that were wearing me headed off into the late night to do my little part that took a long time. An hour plus each way to the Walmart in Kingston where I would ocassionally see several people I just knew were there doing the same thing. Making time where there was none to do things important but not important enough to be done earlier than the middle of the night.

Now, all of this is context. I was away in the woods in a committed lifelong pursuit to make the world a better place. I was a man who cared about how he spent his time, but not so much how I appeared outside of this little world where all of us, dirty, tired and worn, understood who we were and why we were there. We were the good people, dammit. Breaking down barriers in the real world and in the minds of children who would go on to build on our small but hard earned successes. We were planting seeds and tending gardens that would bare fruit for our children. But to the other people in Walmart, I was just a clearly unwell man, one who could use some help taking care of himself. Someone to be cautious of, someone to perhaps be careful with. Who smelled funky.

But there is no one who was more concerned for who I was or what I was up to then the woman at the cash register as I lay my admittedly very small pile of items onto the belt for her to ring up. If there were a silent alarm system under the till I am both thankful and concerned that she didn’t activate it. You see my list consisted of three items and three items only. The aforementioned Feminine Deoderant Spray. A few packs of multicolored underwear for little girls. Candy.

I saw the look in her eye and rushed my way through all my explainations. I’m engaged to be married, I run a camp for kids, sleepaway. I was sent with this list. I didn’t even know what this stuff was a couple hours ago. Ugh. It was only making it worse. We both survived our one and only interaction, but we were both scarred, far as I could tell.

As I dug into the candy for the ride home I did something I never did on any of the other nights I was out and about running errands throughout the Catskills. I set the cruise control. For the exact speed limit. If ever there was a night when the cops might be looking for me it was this one.

Sometimes trying to make the world a better placed can be severely misunderstood.

On Magic and Memories

‘No’ is My Love Language

andrew-seaman-645932-unsplashI am spending the summer home with my sons. They are 5 and 7. I fully appreciate the unencumbered, freewheeling imagination of these bright young boys. I do. I say this as a disclaimer to be applied to what might be considered a hurtful thing to say did you not know how truly enamored and impressed I am with these children. They are the apple of my eye and the light of my life.

They are also the progenitors of the largest private collection of horribly conceived ideas I’ve ever come across. The tonnage alone makes their collection impressive. I am the sole arbiter of these ideas. I am the judge and jury and I can tell you, I could shout ‘NO!’ at the outset of any question beginning, ‘Daddy can I…’ and I’d feel justified and correct in my response 99 times out of 100.

Being a good person and modeling the patience I wish them to possess I listen fully to most of these proposals. Here’s a small sample of things I’ve said no to this summer.

‘Daddy, can we bring the hose into the trampoline?’

‘Daddy, can I walk to the store alone?’

‘Daddy, can Charlie drive me to Grandma’s house and you and mommy stay here?’

‘Daddy. Can you open my window so we can jump down to the top of the umbrella on the deck?’

‘Daddy, can we go by ourselves out to stop strangers with dogs to pet them, right by the road, around the corner where you can’t see us and ask them if they have candy and if they would take us for a ride in their windowless van?’

Okay, that last one wasn’t asked, the 5 year old just did it. Granted, it was just the petting strangers dogs around the corner part, but any decent parent fills in the rest and doesn’t allow them out to the back porch without supervision once they are reminded of the total lack of common sense possessed by a five year old.

These are the times when they think to ask. Other times it’s just luck that I caught them in the act.

‘What are you doing?’ I ask incredulous.

‘I’m putting sunscreen on my tongue.’

‘NO!’

Saying no to my kids was once a hobby. After this summer, seeing the decisions they’d make without me, I have come to think of saying no to my kids more as a passion. It is what I need to do, sure, but it is also what I love to do.

Besides, saying no to trying Fortnite is so much easier when it is part of a larger milieu.

 

Bidet to Day Marriage

There is nothing more exposed in me by our marriage than my pridefulness stubbornness vanity  my unending need to be right. This was a surprise to me. Before marriage I could delude myself into thinking myself nearly always validated. If not by actual confirmation of my rightness than by a complete and utter lack of having to own my wrongs. I could always just take my conviction with me, fully intact and unharmed by anything approaching a fair adjudication. This is the great privilege of being single; a deep and unloveable self righteousness that I miss. Sincerely. That’s the good shit right there. But marriage, with all its pleasures, brings with it a heavy dose of reality. Which in my case reveals the aforementioned, strickened attributes. Comeuppance for short.
Still, sometimes, backstage, my old self comes out. Unafraid of conflict and unmoved by evidence and I will stand my ground no matter how wrong I am. I should note that in what is to follow I’m not even certain I was wrong. She very well could have been. Most likely it wasn’t even a disagreement based on disagreement. 

Marriage sometimes requires subtle parries around simply who we are. We were likely just in need of some generalized disagreeableness. It’s okay. It might sound awful to one considering marriage. That’s okay. I’d have spent a good deal of time judging that when I was not married too. For sport I now realize. But at the time it was serious and important. Just know that your feelings are more important and I’m considering your reasoned scorn and doing some good hard thinking about myself, buttercup. And to my married friends, I think you know what I mean. Some good old fashioned, no blood, no foul, standard issue, Sunday morning silent sneering. It passes with some minor pointed statements, some purposeful planned ignoring and a good 15 minutes of alone time, usually under the guise of a trip to the bathroom on one or the others part. In this instance it was me who scrammed.

The last angry thought I had that particular Sunday morning was likely some 10-15 minutes later. I sat there largely cooled off before thinking, ‘Why the hell don’t we always have a spare roll on the back of the GD toilet like every other f****n’ bathroom in all of suburbia!’ Yes. There I sat, praying there was a hidden bidet we’d never noticed at purchase. This would be the PERFECT time to test out a bidet. I mean, I’ve never tried one, but god, it sounds luxurious. Besides, when better to take that private leap than when you are in desperate need of assistance but your personal shortcomings as an actualized person keep you from doing the only logical, only sanitary thing and calling down, in the age old tradition, and asking your spouse to come up and get you some TP. Well, needless to say I wasn’t doing that. I considered calling the kids, but that was too suspicious. Besides, they would sell me out somehow faster than I’d be caught out if I did call her for the help. 

Nope. I ‘prideful manned’ it out of the bathroom, through the bedroom, all the way to the linen closet and duck walked all the way back to my proper perch. It was the act of a desperate man. Immediately upon my return I realized how very, very stupid I am. It made me laugh. Than I meme’d it. Because I’m 44 and desperate for likes and smiley faces. This further de-escalated me and like that the disagreeableness was over. I came down, after washing my hands thoroughly of course, showed my wife and we were once again right back in to the lifelong laugh we are sharing. No worse and probably a little better for having asserted a little thoughtless ego preservation. 

  

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.