Summer of Joy and Pain

Underlying what has been in fact my most enjoyable summer in decades, if not ever, is the reality that a part of me is struggling. I’m listing and drifting further and further from the confidence I recently took for granted.

As I write this I’m still in the shadow of a vacation in which I spent long evenings sitting up with close and distant relatives laughing and listening. I’m sitting at my dining room table while my sons play with legos at my feet. They’ve taken to making their own creations from the thousands of assorted blocks we’ve accrued over the years. I’ve had the entire summer home with them and I haven’t wasted it. Sports, days at the pool, a little shouting now and again, but all in all an opportunity I didn’t imagine I’d have when they were this age.

An opportunity that has left me worried about whether we will be able to maintain this life. Concerned and ashamed, honestly, that it’s my failings that are putting all of this at risk. I keep stoking the flames as I search for  the answer but I am finding less and less hot coals to revive. It’s the end of August and I’d say I’m at least a couple of weeks away from the search picking up again. People who hire people in my situation (too experienced and too expensive for most openings) are out of the office at this time of year. I guess we are all on a school schedule of sorts.

Our youngest will be entering kindergarten and his older brother will be starting 2nd grade in a little over a week. I know that they look up to me, but I’m having a hard time feeling admirable. I can appreciate my value beyond how it is defined by capitalism, but I can’t deny that on the capitalism front, I’m failing.

I have perspective and my day to day isn’t devastating by any means. I’m actually quite happy. If I could design life it would look like this. Long summer days spent playing and swimming and exploring with my kids. What could better. The answer, the obvious one, is I could have that start date for my next contribution sitting in my head, validating the part of me I always try so hard to deny. That part that knows ‘provider’ is not my strongest suit.

TIme to wrap it up. We are off to the pool this afternoon and we want to get there in time to get a good spot.

Losing My Cool

‘If Charlie starts telling you anything about a coin, there was some confusion, he told us what some other kids did and then they started making him feel guilty… Just, Charlie was a good boy. He did the right thing. Just in case he brings it up, just know that Charlie was good.’

While I was happy to hear that in the judgment of his amazingly wonderful Pre-K teacher my boy used good judgement, I’m thinking that we might be heading toward some murky waters.

imagePlayground justice is as powerful as any other form during childhood and having the teachers get your back, though definitely preferred by me, might not bode well moving forward. No one uses the term tattle-tale anymore, do they? Whatever. Truth is I want my kid to be the Narc, I just don’t want him to be known as the Narc. While it shows good decision making to my thinking, it also is a decidedly uncool position to be cast in. Perhaps uncool is a good thing. Probably not.

Your sense of who you are starts by what you see. Did for me. When I was little I learned what cool was by seeing it. It was easy to spot. It was the kid on the playground with all the other boys around him. The one who understood sports. The one that could talk about the Bills on a Monday and strike me out with a wicked curve in kickball. Yes. Kickball striker outer right here. These boys had it all. They could throw a punch and entertain the crowd by telling them about the witches that lived in the old, stone, windowless building in the corner of the playground. The one you’d come to realize was there merely as a shed for maintenance equipment years later, but one you would still keep your distance from now as you’d never seen anyone open the padlocked door to grab a rake or mow the lawn.

I don’t know what it feels like to be that cool kid in grade school. I know what it was like to see them. I know what it was like to study them. I know what it was like to be jealous of them

IMG_0144I was a baby. No two ways about it. I cried my way out of kindergarten and was  a mama’s boy through and through in those early days. The pendulum would swing as widely in the other direction as it could shortly, to the point where i was a full on tool dreading my mom coming to my games come 7th grade. I now thank god I had a mother who would have been hurt by me making those feelings known and ignoring me and coming anyway. But by 12 I’d figured out that having a mom wasn’t cool.

I had a lot of these stupid thoughts about cool and for the most part it worked. After my early days as a playground target who told on everyone because I thought it’s what everyone was supposed to do, I learned. Don’t say anything. Ever. To anyone. Now I was young and possessing an energy that couldn’t stick to such a plan around kids, but I could do it at home. I’d never tell on anyone anymore, wasn’t my business. Besides, didn’t always work out when people find out you told. Leads to some penalties on the playground. Punishments that would last until I left for public schools in the fifth grade where I got a fresh start and was, POPULAR. It was amazing. I wasn’t going to mess it up!

That led to the period of my life where I could maintain my cool by watchfulness. By never betraying vulnerability and by living up to what it meant to be cool, as defined by my peers. I’m trying hard to speak to it without being pejorative because I see now that it was a  part of getting down the path for me and having that popularity made me VERY lucky.

Anyone that tells you having a level of popularity in high school is bad is probably actually talking about the part you have to do next, when  you have to transition out of that life. That part can be hard. Finding coolness within you and of you, coolness that emanates from within, that might be looked at as decidedly uncool when seen by others. Getting to that, leveling up and determining your own cool, that’s the good stuff, but man, after years of depending on bankable external validation, it’s tough.

In my case it lead to some dark dark times. Times that lasted plenty of years. Times that found me reorienting my view of the world, who was important in it and where I could fit and who exactly I was when I stripped away the tyranny of coolness as defined by others. A thing I didn’t fully do, couldn’t have, until I had kids. My cool now looks like the furthest thing from cool and I’ve never been more sure of it, confident in it. My cool is in me and what isn’t in me doesn’t matter.

2013-02-05 10.40.55My kids gave me that final piece. They were the final step to self-actualizing my cool. A college professor once captivated me with his description of ‘locus of control.’ It was a time in my life when I was thinking a lot about who I was and who I would be. A thing you may have noticed is something I still enjoy working on. In any case, when it comes to cool I’d come a long way from those playground days when I had little clue as to where or what it meant to be cool. So I looked for it. It was easy to find, it was over there. Go be that. And I did and I was eventually successful. But that becomes hollow, because I’m a human, full of life and thoughts and ideas and my own particular set of traits and eventually that had to come out. I hated myself for this at first. I did. I tried everything to suppress and it worked. And I stayed a version of cool that I had grown to hate. On some level that time was important to as it forced me to acknowledge that I knew what my cool was even if I was determined to deny it.

Then I found others. Others who wanted to be more specifically like the me I wanted to be but wasn’t able to be due to restrictions I’d placed on myself in service to others sense of cool. Well, turned out a lot of what I thought was cool, who I thought was cool, wasn’t. It was decidedly mean. I was never going to be mean. Don’t get me wrong I’ve been mean to people a ton, but those were specific relationships and I was human and messed them up. Because I was young, selfish and stupid, but no more so than most. When I found others that wanted to be helpers it was great. It brought control of cool much closer to me. It was in reach. I still worked to serve it, but it was true to me and thus a new level, a more real cool.

Then I met my lady. She looked at me like I was cool. In my basic clothes, tucked in shirts and buzzed hair, she saw right through to the part of me that was smart, funny and creative and loved me for those reasons. For the real parts of me. The parts that were still to afraid to show the world, but were happy to come out and play with her. She really did save me.

Then my kids. They made me stop all pretense. My love for them was so complete that I wanted to be the truest me I could be so I will be able to both model that behavior in hopes that they can avoid some of the pitfalls that I didn’t. That way they might not make some of the stupid decisions I made and might be able to get to who they are, owning their own cool, unshakable by the whims of those around them. Self-actualized cool.

IMG_0077I know that the journey is murky. It has to be. The fact is life has to throw things at you that don’t have right answers. It has to make you make decisions that are yours and yours alone so you can find out who you are. So you can determine what is right for you, so you can make mistakes and grow and learn from them.

But from here, from this angle, seeing them start so young to enter the murky waters of figuring it all out, it does start to give me a little tightness in my chest…

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