‘Do you believe in miracles!’
Al Michaels iconic cry as time expired in the semi-final game of the Olympic Hockey tournament in 1980 in tiny little Lake Placid, NY. The feelings this can stir in me are notable. They run the gamut from patriotism to belief to hope to astonishment. There was no way we were going to win. They were the best of the best of the Evil Empire, men driven by personal and professional and patriotic duty of their own against our upstart group of ragamuffins. A team of college stars in a sport, Division 1 Mens Hockey, that didn’t make stars. We didn’t even have all the stars. Get me on the topic for too long and I might start to tell you we even had some high schoolers getting valuable minutes. While not technically accurate, as far as narrative goes it would be true enough. We were a nation ready to believe, looking for a miracle and this team, this makeshift team did it. They gave us our miracle.
It’s a thrilling and stirring tale. One capable of inspiring tears and long bouts of sentimental nostalgia. Which is shocking and possibly troubling as I didn’t watch the game. I didn’t even know it was happening. I doubt I learned about it until perhaps 8-10 years later. As best I can tell, we didn’t have it on our radar at my house. I learned of the story by learning about it.
Still the story is worthy of everything it gets and at times I think it’s worth so much more.
I grew up in the height of the Cold War. Russian equaled bad. They were the big bad wolf out to get us, I guess. I mean I remember fearing the idea of that nuclear weapons were in the mix, but that was the extent of my analysis. I was a kid. I saw War Games and I cheered when Rocky beat Ivan Drago (the sonofabitch who killed Apollo Creed). I knew that they were the enemy. My mind and sights were clear, but really I was just a kid. As much as I’ve heard about the tensions of the time I have to say, they didn’t filter down to me.
I grew up in the heartland, really. It’s New York State, but it’s the Great Lakes part of the state. I loved and hated where I grew up. Had nothing to do with where I grew up, I’d have felt that way anywhere. But it was a GREAT place to be a kid. A stupid, oblivious kid. A great place to get your first real kiss while playing truth or dare. A place to get caught by kindly neighbors telling on you that they saw you buying cigarettes at the diner cigarette machine. A great place to fall in love for the first time and to lose your mind when you saw that girl making out with the cool guy who you could never compete with because he was two years older than you and he had not only a license but a car. It was a great place to play basketball, sun up to sundown in playgrounds where other kids were playing. It was a great place to ride your bikes uptown and get pizza or tacos or see a movie or just hang out with all the other kids that lived near, ‘uptown.’ It was a great place to walk to the neighborhood doctor who knew you since you were new. Or to catch crayfish walking barefoot through the crick. It was a great place. Still is.
It wasn’t a place for me to process the Cold War, despite all of it happening, apparently, the whole time I was doing all that other stuff. It wasn’t a place that was nervous or palpably anxious. It wasn’t a place that was out of step and it wasn’t a place that was in line. It was my American experience. I suppose the seeds of what has happened since were around. Factories closed. Our local economy had for generations been underpinned by Kodak and I did see that diminish a ton while I was growing up. Hard not to notice as it was kids parents you went to school with. Other things popped up, but nothing, no amount of things popping up could make up for losing jobs by the tens of thousands, seemingly every year for a couple decades there. Good jobs too. Union jobs for a labor force that often had only needed a high school degree. Just gone. I saw that. Didn’t know it would be such a harbinger of things to come for a pretty big stretch of the country. I imagine my elders did see it coming. Imagine those that stayed saw it coming and to some degree perhaps even got caught standing on the path.
I don’t know what my kids lives will be 30 years from now. My parents weren’t locals to where I’m from and their parents aren’t local to where they’re from. I suspect that trend will continue, but who’s to say. Perhaps my kids will love it here so much that they stay. I would be happy. I would be happy to know that they not only loved where we raised them and found a community of kind and caring friends and neighbors here, but also if they were inclined to stay because the opportunities look like staying was a good decision. I’d like them to have options.
I’m anxious. I’m scared about the direction of so many things. The economy. The hostility that seems to be so prevalent in so many. The rising social issues, some we considered if not resolved, heading inevitably in that direction in the America I grew up in. The role of America in a world in upheaval, without the terrifying order the Cold War provided. I’m hoping this anxiety that seems to be floating free in the world is resolved and my children grow up as I did. Happily oblivious to all that they will one day read about and wonder how they didn’t see it all. Nostalgic for that miracle that is awaiting us just around the corner.
Last night after dinner, before bed we were engaged in the ‘wind down.’ This is what we’ve come to call that time of night that was ‘the witching hour’, when they were younger. Now it’s ‘wind down time.’ I prefer to think that this is not an entirely misleading name for this time, but rather an aspirational one. As is the custom during this time, the boys were running wildly between floors, screaming and laughing and we were in the kitchen, ignoring them as much as we could.
Ignoring a couple of hyped up little boys is impossible, so we ignore them merely as best we can. This is quite the change over a relatively short period of time and frankly, there’s some serious growth that is to be admired in it. After all it wasn’t 4 years ago where we were so scared of anything happening to them that we lived as volunteer shut-ins. I know. It’s hard hearted to invoke the word ‘shut-in’ for the purposes of humor. Fine. We were new parent nut bags so engrossed in over parenting our little ones that we never slept, pulled the alarms for every cough and acted as spotters for the first 10-22 months that they were walking. And I mean every minute of them walking.
So, to be at a place where we can pay only minimal attention to them, to be able to hear patterns of speech without engaging other than to recognize where our required, ‘Sure, buddy.’, or ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’, were needed, well, that’s like Will Hunting fleeing all he knew to pursue his dream and his dream girl at the end of the movie, without so much as a note for Chucky and the rest of the gang knowing damn well they were family and would not only understand but be damn proud of him level of growth we’re talking about.
Well, like all good things this one too had to end, so we jumped back in at some point when we knew we really couldn’t hope to ignore them any longer. Notably, this usually occurs when one punches the other or the other grabs something they want from the other and they bite them instead of relinquishing something of such a precious nature as a tiny, long forgotten instruction booklet from a tiny Lego set we may or may not have ever had, or a found rubber band or some other precious booty they salvage from the flotsam and jetsam of our lives here on this pioneer outpost. But not tonight. Tonight it went the way it should. We ignored, they entertained each other, we re-engaged and voila, this is how you start the bedtime process a mere 2-3 hours later than you always swear you will tomorrow.
‘Did you sign up? Wait, are you signing up tomorrow?’ Charlie asks as I settle in to the couch and start to brush his teeth ten feet from a sink where he could do it himself, but instead we act as servants to these boys who pay only in affection and dependence. Granted, we make out on the deal, still, we may coddle a bit too much.
‘Oh, I’m signing up tomorrow.’ I say and tense up ever so slightly.
‘Okay’ he says.
Phew. I haven’t felt this good about faking my way through since telling my doctor, ‘yeah, I don’t know. I guess I have 2-3 drinks a week.’ Felt pretty good.
‘Remind me again what I’m signing up for?’ You can absolutely be this transparent. THEY DON’T KNOW ANY OF THE TRICKS YET!
‘Okay, spies. Sounds like fun. What is it?’ Seriously, you can be this blunt in your blatant disavowing of knowledge you ‘yeah buddy’d’ not 5 minutes earlier.
‘It’s a game.’ Charlie says.
‘Yeah, we are spies and we run around the house.’, said Teddy. He’s even less sure and more confident than me. I’ll have to keep an eye on this one.
‘That sounds fun.’ I say
‘Yeah and tomorrow we’re going to build a real rocket ship.’
‘What!’ I exclaim. This is really taking a turn.
‘Do spies fly rocket ships?’ I ask.
‘Yeah. We’re going to build a real one. A real rocket ship.’, says Charlie. He’s pretty insistent. This is a new and serious tone. They recently saw the Wallace and Gromit short where they build a rocket in the basement and spend the day on the moon, so I’m pretty sure this is real.
‘I believe you.’, I say. ‘What else do spies do.’
‘They fly to space and do experiments and build rocket ships.’ The ‘duh’ was implied.
‘Okay. When are sign ups?’ I ask.
‘Tomorrow. We’re signing up and so are you and mommy.’
Turns out Spies is a pretty great game. If you ever have the chance I highly recommend signing up.
The boom of the ‘Birthday-Industrial Complex’ is among the most under reported developments in child rearing in the decades since I was reared. The strip malls that seemed to pop up out of fields and abandoned lots when we were coming into our own can no longer sustain the retail markets that augured their construction. So, there it was. Open spaces, high ceilings, a dying market driving down rental costs. A vacuum waiting for something to emerge to productively use this formerly valuable space. Some genius came up with the idea of inflatables, kids parties and Ice Cream cake.
Well, this little history of the rise of the bounce house economy is all a little precursor to say damn, ain’t it crazy how many damn birthday parties you end up navigating on so many Saturday and Sunday mornings, afternoons and evenings now. It’s worth a double damn. I was at our local house of bouncy fun for dinner on Saturday and lunch on Sunday this past weekend.
It’s a strange ecosystem, the class birthday party. Clearly these are many of the kids your kids will be growing up with. More pressing however is the parents. The kids occupy themselves at these events quite naturally. Its us parents who have the true dilemma of figuring out how to be around others.
Maybe it’s not everyone. Maybe it’s just me who finds this so exceedingly forced and awkward. I’m pretty sure my own discomfort is projecting outward and making others uncomfortable. I mean, I have to look pretty sketchy, avoiding all eye contact, standing away from everyone, thinking I should be social for my kids sake then hovering around conversations I’m not meant to be a part of. It’s so awkward.
Here are some of the parents you will see at your kids friends birthday parties.
THE GHOSTER – You may never see this dad or mom. They would prefer to simply slow the car down and have their child tuck and roll onto the sidewalk and into the fun of the bounce house. Most at a minimum stay long enough to sign papers ensuring they won’t sue if there is an accidental dismemberment. Next time you see them is when the lights come on after the birthday boy or girl has blown out the candles. Or shortly thereafter. Or shortly after that. NOTE: Given any inkling that it is acceptable to disappear for the duration I am this dad.
THE HIGH STYLE PARENT – It is Saturday, late morning. Either you haven’t slept and look remarkably put together considering you’re wearing the same clothes you wore for date night last night, and it was like anniversary date night, a round number no less, or you have put a lot of effort in to looking good at the strip mall bounce house hut. Also I’m suddenly made hyper self conscious by my laughably dated, though equally imperfectly fitting cargo’s and maybe I should have skipped the Crocs. Yep. I’m that dad. I apologize for many things, but not comfort. It’s my prerogative as a middle aged dad.
THE LURKER– Standing at the outskirts, watching his kid nonstop, avoiding any and all contact with the other parents. This is always a dad in my experience, but I’m sure there are some moms as well. Just drifting to zero population centers in the grown up sections. I am this man though I’m getting better.
PTA PARENT – You know the type. The one who has followed through on all those things we say we’ll do when our kids get into school. This parent is pretty typically very nice and I’m thankful when they approach with a topic to discuss. I am not this parent. I may judge this parent silently as a defense mechanism as they are doing it right, which highlights my shortcomings.
OVERLY ENTHUSIASTIC DAD – This guy. You know this guy. ‘He’s just a big kid!’ is something someone who was likely annoyed with him said once and he has since taken it on as his identity. He is way too much. Sucks that my kid can’t stop talking about him and how awesome he is. I’m not jealous.. You’re jealous!
THE HOVERER – This parent is on the opposite end of the spectrum from The Ghoster. They are in a constant state of risk assessment and periodically intervening to avoid certain calamities that never happen. I know some of these folks and there hearts are definitely in the right place. Their anxiety, however, can run interference.
SCREEN DEMON – Finally. My tribe. We are determined to avoid interaction with any adults. We are Facebooking, Tweeting, Snapchatting and Gramming all while determinedly maintaining a scowl that tries hard to say, ‘this is very important work I’m doing. Important and private. I’m sorry I can’t talk, but me and my phone are saving the world.
Pick your strategy wisely folks! You may just have to maintain this personality for the duration of your child’s schooling!
Today I’m looking back and projecting forward as I look at my son on Picture Day. Click the link to see my story on Mamalode.
There are things you forget. Wisdom’s that disappear as you grow. Things you shed intentionally or coincidentally. Having my kids has reminded me that there is great benefits to be had by allowing the world in and letting it effect you.
Today I’m on Mamalode with my piece, Fragile and Brave. Please go there and take a look. I’d love to hear your thoughts. While you’re at it take a moment to look around. If you like my writing there’s a good chance you’ll LOVE the writers at Mamalode.
Thank you and I hope you have a wonderful day!
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.