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.’

‘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.

 

I’m Sad Today and That’s Fine

joshua-earle-557-unsplashI’m sad. I wasn’t this morning. I won’t be soon enough. I’m sad right now.

I can’t tell you how much being able to recognize that and acknowledge it has changed my life.

When I was younger I would process a change of mood perhaps as often as once a day. Back then I might not even notice the presence of my feelings for a few hours after waking. That was true whether happy or sad or angry or whatever. I say whatever because I’m sure there are more than 3 moods. In general though it was one of these. For a long time there were just two since ‘sad’ would morph immediately into angry. I don’t know why. I guess it had something to do with a limited emotional palate and an abundance of youthful testosterone.

I once heard a person who had been abused talk about their decision to forgive the abuser that took so much from them. Initially I didn’t understand how they could ever truly forgive them. I thought perhaps they were still reeling from the abuse and reacting out of fear. But in their explanation I learned about what they were really doing when they chose to forgive. How it was actually an act of self preservation. 

‘Forgiving my abuser was very hard. I didn’t do it for a long time. Instead I held on to that anger and felt like it was my armor. I somehow thought that carrying and caring for my anger, keeping it alive, was what kept me safe. But it didn’t. He didn’t abuse me again. He didn’t have to. Carrying around that much anger and bile did all the damage he couldn’t do. In time I had to forgive him to let go. Think of it like this, anger is a poison pill. For me, holding on to my anger was like swallowing poison in hopes that it would make someone else die. But of course it doesn’t work that way. The poison was in me. It was killing me.’

The second I heard that my whole perspective shifted. 

I have not had to confront abuse, thankfully, but I could see myself holding on to anger. Compiling resentments and scorn and holding them close in order to keep them fed. In the years I’ve spent thinking about this piece of wisdom I’ve come to relish the opportunities I have to recognize and identify my feelings. My anger was my poison pill. Still is. 

It may sound silly, but to me feelings were an outside force somehow. That was how I perceived them and I’d guess I’m not the only man who has felt this way. My feelings felt like a threat to my stability, best denied or ignored. At least the negative ones. But that’s not how it works. I can’t deny my feelings away and the more I may try to do so the more I am at their service, providing them only enough oxygen to live but never enough to recover and heal. In that kind of cycle joy feels more like a liability and I treated it that way.

So today for some reason I started to feel sad. I recognized it, I acknowledged it, I’m feeling it and soon I’ll be moving on.

Sometimes emotional maturity is as simple as that. As simple as recognizing that which is evident and allowing space and time to do their work so I am not controlled by that which I struggle against and try to wrestle into submission.

Instead I just say I am sad today and I am thankful that I recognized it. Being sad now does not mean I’ll be sad tomorrow and it doesn’t mean I won’t be. It just means I’m sad. It’s a feeling and feelings change. Sometimes I’ll discover there was a reason I felt that way and other times I’ll discover there was no reason other than being human. 

In the Waves

Waves march on oblivious, unaffected and uncaring. They beat ever onward each disappearing into the next.

Focusing on my little boy, I am standing in the water, my back to the sea. He’s five now and there is an awareness that was completely lacking a couple years ago, but his faith is still that of an immortal.

I am standing in front of him looking back to the shore. The waves break past me, mostly. Some catch me unsuspecting. It’s remarkable how silent they are prior to crashing. Teddy is facing the waves, delighting in the excitement of the break and it’s power and the surging and retreating waters. The laughs are undeniable. They overwhelm him. Inside the chaos and devoid of fear all he feels is joy.

As I stand in the water looking back at him I marvel. I am blissful as I absorb the reflections of his giddy, playful happiness.

Waves march on oblivious, unaffected and uncaring. They beat ever onward.

I’m riding the waves as they pass. If I see them I jump. If they reach me before I look I let them lift me. Either way is fine. I’m in control when I can be and pliable when caught off guard. If I tried to stand my ground the wave would bury me and remove me from this perfect moment so I surrender whenever prompted and float up.

I come to shore after a powerful surge knocked him down and a close wave followed and crashed down on top. Any fear he lacked before has caught up to him and he’s off, running out of the foamy water as it recedes, toward the crowded beach. I yell his name but its no use. It just disappears in the surf and wind. I start to run in and ride a passing wave for a few feet to hasten the journey. He’s never gone from my sight, but he made good progress. I catch up and kneel next to him.

‘Are you okay, buddy?’

‘I was laying down and a wave flew on me.’

‘I know. I saw that. Did you get water up your nose.’

‘No. It just fell down on top of me.’

‘I know. Was it scary.’

‘Yeah.’

We get his mother and older brother whose play has left them surprisingly far from where they’d entered the water. The little one was done for the day, at least with the water. His curiosity now turned to the fisherman on the rock outcropping that bordered the far end of this section of the beach. We all followed along enjoying the beautiful weather as he followed his curiosity, stopping throughout to inspect mollusks and dried seaweed.

He learned something today about the ocean that I didn’t learn until much later. I wasn’t born near an ocean and our family didn’t visit the seaside much until I was older, closer to a teen. But I learned the same lesson long ago.

Truth is I’m still learning the nature of the sea. Still trying to find out when to challenge and when to yield. It’s hard for me even now to know what fears need facing and which are best left in place.

I’m enjoying a moment of riding the waves as they catch me. The waves keep coming and any one of them could carry me to safety or drag me down. Best I can do for now is try to relax and let the ocean do her work.

Playing Catch and Enjoying the Show

Charlie is playing with the regulation size basketball this summer. He is playing every chance he gets. We live across the street from his school where there are six hoops and two full courts on a patch of pavement where a group of neighborhood kids, the older ones, play a regular game of baseball. Charlie isn’t quite up to that game yet, but it won’t be long. It’ll be a different set of kids, different relationships, different ground rules, but essentially he will join them not too long from now. It was about three blinks ago that I was tossing gently the oversized wiffle ball underhand from a few feet away. It would hit his belly with a barely audible thud and shortly after he’d bring his hands together hoping to catch the ball that was already on the ground and rolling away from him. This morning we already tossed the softer but still relatively hard tee-ball ball for a half hour or so. Full speed, catching in gloves. That happened in the last couple weeks. Forget about hitting. I’ll never throw that boy another underhand pitch again. Haven’t for some time now.

I wasn’t much for baseball growing up. I was in fact rather anti baseball. I was a basketball player to the core. It was my first identity and one I will never fully abandon. I could go a decade without taking a shot and I’d always be a basketball player. A bit past my prime for sure. Rounder and slower. But so long as I have any control over my body I’ll be able to do something with a basketball to feel young and vibrant. It’s ingrained in me.

Teddy is not yet interested in sports. He may become an athlete and he may not. He loves his art classes and his dance class that he powered through for the entirety of the school year. Seeing him on stage with the rest fo his classmates at the recital at the end of the year was incredible. He was so nervous about it that for the weeks before everyone wondered if he’d be able to go through with it. But there he was, the ‘Tin Man’ dancing to ‘Ease on Down the Road’, hitting all his marks, even helping others. He was brave and graceful.

I so wanted to be that brave when I was little. My older brothers were in all the plays at school when I was Charlie’s age and I watched them so intently, wishing I could be up there. When they were done with their three day, four show run I’d collect the abandoned, worn scripts and read them cover to cover, over and over, reliving the story in my head for months. I loved Oklahoma so much that I went to the Seymour Library, nine years old, and would take out other Rogers and Hammerstein plays to read and imagine into existence as a production in my head. When I was of an age I was too self-conscious. I didn’t ever tryout. I wish I had his courage.

They aren’t ever going to be in strollers again. I’ve lived long enough to learn that parents are needed for a lifetime, but the need that they had before is gone. They need other things. They need someone to play catch with and casually chat about school friends and sports teams. They need a dad to take them to their dress rehearsal and talk about the music and where it came from and why its cool to be the only boy brave enough to be on the dance team. Sometimes they need a rebounder to feed them for endless shots at the playground hoop and tell them over and over how much better they are then when I was their age. Sometimes they just need me to get in the dirt and look for worms under the rocks.

Fireside Chat

I never doubted

Though surely I feared

That all I’d earned

Might disappear

The spigot can’t stop

‘But it can’ says fear

Who inches closer

As I hold hope near

Though silent she waits

Tucked under my arm

Assuring and wasting

My gifts and her charms

So parry and feint

I say to myself

Fear goes first

And offers her help

‘What matters my dear

What you surely must know

That here where you sit

Is easy and slow’

Nestled securely

Hope at my side

Fear made sense

Silent was pride

Though wisdom is surely

Fears winsome tone

Something inside

Grew restless and moaned

‘Fear, you old fart

What tricks you belie

Speaking of ease

As if she divine’

Ease is a fretful

And leery companion

Easy to welcome

Hard to abandon

‘Fear you must think

Me silly and twee

I surely know you

But you hardly know me’

‘Ease is a wasteful

Wanton old fool

But slow has none

Of her restful appeal’

‘Slow’ I laughed

‘Sparks nothing you heel’

Fear reeled back

Hope grew in my lap

The balance was shifting

But that wouldn’t last

Desperate fear gathered

Her strength on the ledge

Found logs for the fire

And rested her head

Finding her balance

She lazily said

‘You almost got me

But I still see your dread’

‘Your dreams are not real

Your not up to the task

Whatever you dream

It won’t come to pass’

Using my weakness

She scored such a blow

Hope hid behind me

I stared at my toes

Defeat settled in

And made a quick home

Shoulder foundations

Dimming the gloam

What confidence appeared

Left in an instant

I forgot that my fear

Knew my greatest weakness

Quiet I sat

for weeks it seemed

Feinting and faking

What I’d always been

A valid and winking

Preposterous self

Who faked his way to

The top middle shelf

Who only need fear

To settle, abate

Dragging self doubt

To add to the weight

But though she hid

Hope never was absent

Though silent she surely

Wanted for presence

But quiet I waited

Til fear took a nap

Finally betraying

Her weak, gentle grasp

Quiet I whispered

To my partner hope

I knew she was stronger

Than fears loosened ropes

So I fed her and nursed her

And quietly whispered

To hope all the dreams

My fear had withered

Hope found a ledge

Toes found purchase

In stoking my dreams

While fear lie useless

We worked and proved

Our dreams to ourselves

Plotting and planning

Like off season elves

But as we grew strong

We started to stumble

Would fear bring with her

Our final tumble

Feeding and building

And growing in strength

We finally committed

And slowly embraced

Our fear as she lie

Dormant by slumber

Embraced by the arms

Who needed her thunder

I drew her closer building courage

‘Fear’ I quietly spoke in her ear

‘Don’t worry, it’s hope and I

Who draw you near’

‘We will not release you

That you must know.

But worry not

You’ll come where we go.’

Fear jerked and jumped

Writhed in our grasp

Not knowing what strength

We’d built while she napped

‘Unhand me you slob

You ungrateful jerk.

I was trying to help

Your inevitable work.’

‘How do you figure?’

I started to blurt

But hope held my hand

And helped me divert

The rage that fear

Could bring to my bile

Reminded me of

Fears useful desire

‘You aren’t whoever

You think you are fear.

Hope has taught me

To limit and steer’

‘How can hope know

Fears mighty purpose?’

She blurted

Exposing her delicate surface

‘Fear you aren’t a driver here.

Now listen to me and sit in the rear.

I’ll call you to service when it is heeded

For now your presence is all that is needed’

So hope and I turned our eyes to the road

While fear settled in and shared the load

A tool that is useful to stoke the fire

That hope shall tend with me as the driver