The Curious Nature of Time

Time is immutable until it isn’t. For me it got all out of whack after kids.

  When Charlie was born I became a dad. That’s when time first shape shifted. From that point on I haven’t been able to get a hold on it. When I catch up to it and live and move with it, when it all sycnchs up it’s magic. Before long I’ve lost the thread again and even in my memory that moment has morphed from a point in time to a blessed eternal experience that will live outside of time and space for the rest of my days. Other times, times like the colossal journey of the early years are even more inscrutable. The days were repetitious and overwhelming. Too large to be effected by the spinning of the earth. It felt like one never ending day. Until a morning came that looked different and the remembrance of it all now seems to grow smaller, ever more brief the further I am removed. 

  The first moment, the instant I saw my first child broke all understanding and left me a mess. It is easy to look at it and see the 30+ hours of consciousness that buttressed his arrival and think that time was aided in her transformation. Perhaps. What flooded me in that moment though was not due to exhaustion or elation. The full scope of the allotted time for a person became very tangible that moment. I was alerted very directly in that moment to my exact spot on the line that starts with my birth and ends with my death which is now incredibly important that it stretches as far as I can hope out into the timeline of this little mans own linear track. Life was abstract and time accompanied it before. Not tied to anything, not rooted in another’s story. Now it was finite and fading and valued like never before. 

Soon after we were home. Days were like years. Almost literally. I may have conceded to times dominion before I knew it could be questioned, but I knew the differences the years made. I was different at 4 than I was at six than I was at 16. It basically tracked with a standard deviation, but each year brought more knowledge more understanding and dare I say, ocassionally some earned wisdoms. They were absorbed, the ones I could recognize, passively. The learning you achieve by breathing more. By the uncontrolled firing of synapses making connections inside and out. I may not have put it together, not have put words to it, but years came with more than numbers. They brought growth. I grew years in those early days. Not the journey around the sun years, but the equal of them in terms of learning about me, the world, what it all means, how to feed, clean and care for something more than myself. Those are years. And they happened every day their early on. Some days more than others, but every day brought something that gave time a new track to explore and play with. 

  Baby world melded together from one to two. Charlie was just at his first birthday when we learned there was a Teddy coming. So no sooner had we nailed a bedtime routine than we added competition to it. Regression met emergence and envy and competition and compassion and peer-ish relations entered our home. We rolled with the punches much better the second time which was somewhat by necessity as life seems oddly to respond to addition with multiplication in many ways. That said, whatever more there was, it was fed by more and more love and concern. To paraphrase myself from an earlier time, if Charlie came and taught us how long the days could be, Teddy was the child who taught us how short the years could be. 
  Now I am as much observer as participant. I’m a dad of kids who need a good deal of observing. I am also a dad who can’t stop himself from watching as they explore and navigate the world and ideas and their abilities and challenges. They are compelling. They demand attention and I’m now walking with them. I may still retain control but that’s mostly a height thing at this point. Honestly. Their instincts are what drive us now. We maintain rules of the road, but they are driving in every way other than literally, and in many ways they are doing so figuratively even at those times. 

Time is uncatchable for us now. It is surging forward too fast or stopping completely. Slowed to crawl or dancing to its own rhythm and we are learning to find some of the wisdoms we can find from its nature. But mostly, we are finding that the wisdom is knowing we are at the mercy of time and we try as much as we can to respect her and do as much as we can to invest as much as we can that is of value in her. 

Fragile and Brave

I have a picture of you from daycare. You are sitting quietly, legs stretched out in front of you. You are holding a board book, eyes down inspecting it. Your cheeks are so beautiful I can feel them just by looking, smooth, soft and pink with warmth. Your narrow shoulders are somewhere under the hood of your sweatshirt, a book open but ignored between your legs as you investigate this other book that has captured your curiosity. You’re wearing jeans and there are books scattered around you. You’re probably an old 2 year old in this picture, or maybe a young 3 year old. You are fully engaged, busy doing and uninterested in the person standing in front of you, probably unaware of their presence, who took the shot. I love this picture and it can make me cry.

You are the youngest and I can’t stop seeing the vulnerable in you. Sitting here with the picture and without you I can’t for the life of me imagine you look any different than that picture. Cherubic and intrigued. Tiny and determined. But you have grown. A lot. I still see the baby in you and always will. 

You still tell me about ‘tomachakes’ (stomach aches) and love ‘Sharlie’ (Charlie) and I don’t really want you to learn you are mispronouncing these things. I don’t want you to grow up. 

There are selfish reasons that mostly live in my subconscious. For one, if you’re getting older than I’m getting older. You don’t need to really know this for a good long time now, but I’m not going to be here forever and when I see you lost in discovering I want to freeze the world and stay in it forever. I didn’t have heaven until I met you and Charlie. Mommy made me come to life in a way I hadn’t, but the concept of heaven was one I rejected for lack of imagination. To be fair, who could conceive of something so wonderful and extraordinary as you. My heaven is here and now. 

Another reason I prefer you stay in this moment forever is so that I can always be what I am to you right now and you can always be what you are to me. We have challenging moments for sure, but they are fleeting. They revolve around simple challenges. This simplicity is balanced by an extraordinary frequency. You can have 5-8 crises before breakfast and without fail, whether we do so well or poorly, we get through every one.

Thirdly, I fall asleep next to you. You don’t like to fall asleep. You love to sleep, but the falling part, you are a resister. You get this from me. Each night, when I see you are tired, when we’ve been lying in bed for a long time I’ll inevitably say, ‘just close your eyes, buddy.’ Without fail, at least to this point in time it’s always met with your response of, ‘But it hurts to close my eyes.’ I could stop asking, but I just love the answer so much. You’ll start to drift and most nights you’ll pop your head up and say one last, half conscious crazy non-sequitir just before rolling over and falling asleep. Something like ‘I can’t sleep in parking lot frogs’ or ‘I look just like Fawzy.’ In case you’re wondering years from now what those things mean, well, I have no idea on the frog thing, but the ‘Fawzy’ thing is how you pronounce ‘Quazi’. He’s a character from Octonauts and your mispronunciation is adorable. I prompt it like five times a day. 

What I really don’t want to change is the you in this picture. You are a perfectly fine with the contradictory nature of life that becomes something so scary as an adult. You are exquisitely fragile and profoundly brave at the same time all the time. It’s amazing to see. Your brother was the same way, but you learn, you will learn any day now, to be self-conscious. You will wonder how other people will react before pursuing an interest. You will stop crying when mad and sometimes even try not to laugh when something is funny. You’ll toughen up and as a result you’ll be more cautious. That’s the confounding conundrum you’re going to wrestle with in the years ahead. It’s okay, you’re supposed to. But what is going on right here and now is beautiful and not be dismissed hastily. 

Being simultaneously fragile and brave has served you extremely well to now. It’s made you explore nature intuitively and voraciously. Left to your own free will you’d spend hours a day trying to find and transport every imagineable living creature from the dirt back to the house to show us. You explore whatever sparks your curiosity and you do it with abandon. You are excited when you see things you love, so excited you barely keep in your skin and you show it with squeals. They are pure joy and they are infectious to all who hear them. When you are upset, regardless of any reason or the presence of any others you let that be known too. Your emotions come out when they are felt and it’s incredibly healthy. In a sense you taught me these things. Charlie did too, but he’s teaching us other things. He’s at the tip of the spear, bringing us to new experiences all the time. He’s a boundary breaker and we can’t really enjoy as much of that process as we can with you. He’s desensitized us and you are showing us how to live an experience, not just survive it. 

I can honestly say that you’ve impacted my life more than I ever could yours. You’ve shown me the value of being unafraid. You’ve pushed me to challenge my fears to explore my world like you do yours. Thank you. 

I feel extraordinarily fragile these days. I also feel brave and curious. All these things were pushed so far down before I knew you that I often felt nothing, which was perfect for keeping invisible, but terrible for feeling alive. Living is pursuing your curiosity and finding your emotions and wrestling with all of it all the time. Living is not fearing feelings, but feeling them, saying it and processing them fully and with the help of those you love so you can put them down and not be ruled by them. Living is something you can only do if you are fragile and brave, just like you.  

My Thank You List Has Gotten Too Long

I’m sitting in the Grand Ballroom at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. I’m at an empty table sitting amongst 25 or so other empty tables as the familiar hum of this Dad 2.0 Summit remains strong even on this it’s last day. The conversations I’m not eavesdropping on but I can’t avoid hearing them. They are dads talking to other dads about being dads. The topics run the gamut from the funny foibles we’ve all experienced, to the money challenges to conversations about writing about your family and all the glories and pitfalls that can entail. There are men learning that they aren’t alone in the specific challenges they may face around diseases that have effected their families and challenges that feel slightly more manageable now that they know someone who understands. There’s a LOT of dad humor and no one here that finds it anything but funny. From the hall there’s the din of conversations with sponsors teaching about products and dads learning and building relationships with brands to try to create mutually beneficial relationships.

The formal learning has been exceptional. The challenges facing parents these days may or may not be any greater than they’ve always been. But what’s undeniable is that many of the challenges are new. A simple example is social media. My kids are only 5 and 3 and I’m already scared of all that it can do to hurt them. Of all people I should be able to see it’s benefits as I’ve truly found my voice in that space. But nope, I’m a dad and since the day that my kid was born I’ve adopted a new personality trait, I’m a worrier. So be it. 

Yesterday morning the keynote address was given by the novelist, children’s book author, comic book writer and all around raconteur, Brad Meltzer. I’ve strangely become a fan of his work through the podcast tour he did a few months back ahead of his most recent release. He is a genuinely thoughtful person and someone that really seems to get it. He understands that this is all a gift, all of it. His talk was on ‘Legacy’. He spoke about ways in which we will be remembered. His point, at least what I gleaned from it, was that we are how we treat people and how we treat people is how we will be remembered. It’s a message I agree with intuitively, but it’s always helpful when someone puts words to such a thing. One message he emphasized was that it’s critically important that we thank the people that have made a difference in our lives. Well, I have quite a few people that deserve a ton of thanks from me. I’m lucky, blessed, whatever you want to call it, to have had so many people that have made a truly amazing impact on my life who I’ve probably never fully thanked. I’d like to make a tiny dent in that list today. I won’t be listing the biggies, Mom and Dad, siblings and relatives, my amazing wife and my kids. I thank those folks all the time and will continue to. But sitting here it occurs to me that there are particular folks that I Have to thank who’ve played a role in my being here, confident about writing and sharing my life. People who’ve really built me up, had faith in me and pushed me to challenge myself. It’s a small list and there are so many who will be left out, but I have to start somewhere….

Sharon. Sharon was the camp director at Harriman Lodge, the summer camp for adults with disabilities that is amongst my favorite places on earth where I worked happily and ceaselessly for my entire 20’s. Sharon gave me chances and saw something in me that I suspected was there, but never knew. She identified me personally in my first year and told me she thought I had what it took to run a place like Harriman (a dream I haven’t YET realized but at this stage it’s largely been due to circumstance, and the fact that the current director is AMAZING!) Thank you, Sharon. Thank you for giving me true responsibility. Thank you for giving me the space to fail and to learn from it. Thank ou for believing in me. 

Briton, et al. Briton is a writer and a dad. When I first started writing about parenthood and my experiences I was pretty happy having my stuff read by friends and complimented from time to time. I was scratching at surfaces and feeling like I was getting somewhere. But Briton decided he had faith in me and thought I could do more, better work and he was right. Eventually, and he may only be learning this now, I started feeling competitive with him. With his work. He’s brilliant and his highs are things I still strive for and am inspired by. Beyond this, he literally built my support network of fellow writers and editors. While the original landing spot for these relationships has fallen apart, the core group of my writing friends who I can rely on for everything still exists and remains strong. You’ll know who these folks are as they will all, in some way, support this piece when it goes public. They are all exceptional writers and you should read them. Thank you, Briton. You are quite the generous scribe and you have been a beacon for me and so many others on the journey. 

My friends from home, all my homes. All of you. I see you on Facebook and I am overwhelmed by the constant and unceasing support. Every single time you write an encouraging commment you are adding years to my creative life. I couldn’t be luckier to have the Brockport, Elmira and Camp friends that I’ve had. Thank you all. 

I’ve been resistant to being active in the ‘Dad Blogger’ community. I’ve been completely turned around by my experience these last couple of days. To have the opportunity to read some words, to be vulnerable and supported, to laugh and to cry and think, I’m incredibly lucky. Thank you Dad 2.0 Summit. 

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