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.

 

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.

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. 

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.

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. 

I Don’t Have the Words

I don’t know that I will ever be able to fully articulate how I love my kids. Were it a quantifiable thing I’d give you a number. As it is I don’t think any sophisticated adult has ever improved on the simple claim made by all of us lucky enough to have been loved as a child who have spread our arms wide and said, ‘I love you this much!’

img_4923Charlie is the sweetest boy and he will stop us to make sure we are listening, in the middle of getting ready for bed or when we are cooking or whenever, to tell us, ‘I love you. You’re the best daddy.’ or, ‘Mommy, I love you more than anything ever!’

‘Oh, Charlie.’ I gasp, ‘I love you so much, you are the most wonderful boy.’

I wish words were more evolved. I wish our minds, our full creativity could describe what flows through you as a parent. All of it is extreme. The frustrations, the joys the exhaustion‘s and elation‘s. The simple act of falling for your child, for me an act that happened in an instant, opens a vein you didn’t know you had. It pours from you in every way you can imagine.

I didn’t appreciate the love I was given as a child, not fully at least, until I discovered it from the other side. Until I looked intently at my own kid and marveled and recoiled and felt the bond between us so deeply that it seemed I could reach out and hold it.

img_5026Teddy is my little man and I can’t get over his curiosity. He’s trying all the time that his brother is around to compete, a thing that looks different in a younger brother than an older one. His focus primarily is on his big brother but his quiet moments are the ones that steal my heart. He can smile when your head shares a pillow with his and he wants to tell you about all the things he is thinking. About his ideas and plans, about how much he loves mommy and Charlie and me. He builds big and little bridges to you and everyone one at a time. It’s magic.

On the other side of this newfound entity of love for my kids is an equally newfound fear. One that could only exist in relation to my fondness for these boys. I’m terribly afraid of random tragedy now. While they have opened me up, have cracked the shell around my heart, they have also made me a vigilant hawk. See, I’m now and forevermore aware that there is something infinitely more tragic that can happen than there ever was prior to now.

The first week it paralyzed us to a degree. We had no idea that there was something so awful as the fears of a parent before they hit us. People can’t wait to tell you about the lack of sleep and the magic of babies. They don’t tell you that the most tragic of ends now comes to reside in your resting imagination.

I never so feared my own death before knowing that it would effect my own kids. It never occurred to me to think of it. Now if Karen so much as has a cold I’m worried, only for a moment at a time, but I worry there’s something bigger hidden in her cough. If I’m making dinner and she’s picking up the kids and they are a few minutes late my brain arrives, in an instant, at a place where I can imagine all three of them, struggling in an overturned car, or thrown from the car, scared and alone in their final moments. I know. IT’S AWFUL!!

But as quick as it comes it disappears and I’m back to worrying about whether or not I should use the last of the celery as it’s Charlie’s go to and whether or not T will eat the string beans or should I not bother to make them.

I don’t know what the word would be to describe these things, these rushes between otherworldly levels of joy and dread and monotony, but there should be a word. It seems to be a universal feeling and across the board it seems unknowable until the instant you fall for that kid and unshakable from that point forward.