Tag Archives: Life

Fathers and Suns

You perform a rhapsody

Day in and out

Of love and pain and laughs and tears

And I fall for every prop

You look at me for all

As if I caused the sun to shine

Told the moon to rise and sparkle

Were it asked you’d say 

I was the one. The one.

Who dragged the moon to the sky 

Who put the sun to bed

Who rose at dawn to wake the world 

Shook it out of bed

I won’t abuse you of this thought

Or fail it while you carry

A necessary delusion that keeps us all merry

That makes me large enough to carry

The love and pride and fear  and worry

That you alone have brought

I warrant a giants space

A gods all knowing visage

With all the pride and love you give me

The illusion won’t stand forever 

Soon you will discern

That who you thought were mighty

Were little but concerned

And eager and bemused

Agobbed at what life wrought

As soon as you arrived we knew 

The gifts that weren’t yet bought

The truth that we disguise

Is evident to other eyes

To any looking at you and the grown ups who can’t catch up

While you labor in a lie

One we all must cling to

The truth, it’s you not I

That we all revolve and cling to

You are the sun and we the earth 

As much as we can figure

But if that’s wrong and you’re the earth

Than that should only figure 

Of all celestial bodies it’s the moon that we must be

As the sun that shines and alights us

Is all that we can see. 

The Lodge, Part V: Figuring it Out

‘I really love it. It’s crazy. I’m here with people from all over the world, we work around the clock and we get one day off per 13. It’s perfect.’ I said. I meant it.

‘Joey, I’m so happy for you. I’m so excited.’

‘Thanks. It’s just a lot, but I think I really like it.’

This was my first call home after the guests had arrived. After the week long, 9AM-9PM trainings we were all ready to get to it, whatever it was. Even with that much time spent learning, with that many people who’d done it before there was no amount of preparation that was going to give me so much as a clue as to what that first day would entail.

‘I got picked to be on the bus that went into the city to pick up the guests. It was crazy. Unbelievable how much could happen in so short a time.’

This is not the staff picture from my 1st year. 3rd year, maybe?

About half of us staff were selected to ride the bus down to the city that first day. It really was a good omen, even if I didn’t know it yet. I’d be prepping the busses and coordinating the drop offs and pick ups within a couple of years and would continue to do them for many years after. You really had to trust the people on that crew. Any number of issues could arise, between the guests and their anxiety or separation or some other totally unexpected thing having to do with their diagnosis to random cars breaking down in front of you in the Lincoln Tunnel, car accidents, staff walking off never to be seen again (this happened more than once, place could drive you mad), incidents between guests on the bus, anxious, angry or just plain mean parents (as a rule they were ALL lovely. As a rule. Rules are ocassionally broken), mixed up medication, short fuses, insane heat, torrential rain. Whatever we ran into, whatever ran into us, we were there to check in 60 or so individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, process their personal effects and account for them, ensure they were fully stocked with meds, check in money get them on the bus and start to entertain them and continue to do so, and to be entertained by them for two weeks, sun up to well past sundown. It really was the most amazing thing I’ll ever do. Having and raising kids will mean more, but we can relate to so many others who’ve done it. But this, this was a singular experience.

‘Guests?’

‘Oh, yeah. Thing is they aren’t campers really. They’re grown ups and face it, grown ups don’t go to camps. They go on vacation. So they aren’t campers, they’re guests.’

‘That’s interesting.’ Mom said.

‘Yeah. Not so much, it’s just what it is. You forget about the word after a day of using it. Not even when you hear it so much during training. Truth is I was ready to see some guests by Sunday. They got here, Sunday.’

I was already spewing my person first language, practicing my committment to treating people respectfully and in line with their life experience and not the way I had before those trainings, which would have still been sensitive, but wouldn’t have been mindful of age appropriate language. In real terms I have learned a hand full of things in the 22 years since that week of training, some real valuable things, but none of it will ever come close to what I learned in those two weeks. Two because the training really didn’t end until after the first week that you were putting it into practice with the guys.

The training wea almost all centered around the arts and crafts room that was off the kitchen, the dining hall and the administrative/infirmary hallway. It was painted grey cement floors with knee to ceiling roller windows lining the walls to either side of our rows of chairs we lugged back and forth to and from the dining hall between meals to reset our classroom all day every day. I was given basic, sanctioned safety trainings, by the book and repeated yearly or near yearly since. I was given first hand trainings on what it meant to work in a field that was still populated with residents and former workers at Willowbrook State School. I met some of those who transformed our entire service system, from the inside, from one fraught and underfunded, filled with systemic abuse into one that was so truly person centered that we busted our asses to ensure that every person was given every ability to choose every single activity on their own and we would modify everything to ensure they could do it regardless of ability. I learned what it was like to be a sibling or a parent of a person with a disability from one of those parents. I met some of the heroic figures who said no to Doctors in the fifties who told them to put their child with a disability in the institutions and forget them. I met many of those children who found their way, through decades of darkness, both literally and in every other way and emerged on the other side heroic and still in touch with their tender and delicate humanity which had been so forsaken. They taught me. And I soaked it up. I loved it.

img_0191And I wasn’t alone. There was a core of us who made it through and reaped endless rewards because of it. There were at root about 30 or so of us who worked in cabins, lived with the guys. We were on call all through the night and working every waking minute (save the one hour break you lived for in order to shower and make a ten minute call to whoever to say how amazing the whole thing was or to cry because it was breaking you). Of those thirty about 16 or so made it through the summer. My cabin started with the full allotment of 6 staff. We lost Ausberto and Jim the Marine and I can’t remember who else, but one more. We made it through 3, two week sessions with just me, Mike and Tony. A suburban, an urban and a comrade. We cared for and loved 16 guys in that cabin every day. Two in wheelchairs? No problem, everyone will have what they need cause anyone of us would push ourselves miles past our limits to make sure of it. Truth is we did it to gut busting laughter much of the time. There were moments of discord and hot tempers, but they were over fast. Still love those guys and dozens more and would have the time of my life sitting around a fire all night reminiscing on those days. I can say confidently we all would. I met real family there.

‘Joey. I’m really proud of you.’

It’s still the most important thing I ever hear them say. Whenever they do I just eat it up.

‘Thanks mom. I think you would love it here more than anyone.’

And I’m sure I was right. It was a utopian society experimentation lab built on the ideals I learned from her. Love, compassion, understanding, committment, service and tireless giving that results in you getting so much after giving all of yourself.

Our Adventures…

img_4314I’m running out of nights like this. I lie in the dark trying to get comfortable in a single bed with a big four year old who wants me there and wants me out of his way all at once. We talk a lot about how he doesn’t want to sleep, how he doesn’t know how to sleep. We used to talk about how closing his eyes hurt him. I’ve since learned to stop asking him to close those eyes.

This is all after I’ve read the 6 year old as much Harry Potter (we’re on ‘Chamber of Secrets’ and he seems to love it!!) as I can before my eyes fail or his drift off. I love that we’ve gotten to the Harry Potter stage, even if I did rush it a little. The natural magnetic force keeping us ever connected is loosening as he ventures out in the world and our relationship is evolving, as it should. I’m happy we’re taking these nightly adventures to Hogwarts. I loved reading these books the first time around, but for me that was my 20’s and 30’s. Reading with him is making me acutely aware and evermore enchanted by all I am seeing now that I’m experiencing it all with a little guy who is more able to see the wonder and magic that Harry Potter and his friends and their escapades have to offer.

I haven’t always relished the putting the kids to sleep thing. Until recently we were each taking one kid and not getting out until real late, at which time we’d start the nightly cleanup. I’d be grumpy and tired and frustrated and my wife, far better at transitioning than I, would be left looking for adult conversation with a brooding lump who couldn’t be bothered to take his headphones all the way off. If you ask my wife I could still probably use an exit room akin to those ones I’ve seen in therapists offices on sitcoms. A place to process my feelings and decompress after putting the boys to bed.

Making the transition to the daddy that shares an interest with a kid from one who is the caretaker is one that happens organically. You recognize it piece by piece. You mark it in books first. Lifted his head, rolled over, first solid food, crawled, first words, first steps. Somehow they feel like your own accomplishments. To a small degree they are and in perspective they are amongst the most important minor roles you’ll ever take in any endeavor in your life. But they aren’t yours. These things, all of them, are there’s. We get the early credit as we should, but they are emerging. Each milestone marking a tick further along as they make it all the way to the people they will be. We are so caught up documenting every tree that the forest grows up around us and behind us and without us noticing we are wrapped up in discovering the life we missed along the way. Understanding the journey we made from lifting our heads and rolling over all the way to now. In doing so we learn that we were magical creatures once too. We were once the tour guides of life for the great adventurers we were once so unable to notice as they were disguised as our parents.

img_4321Eventually it’s an adventure inside an adventure inside an adventure out into infinity. We can look backwards and imagine our lineage as a seemingly never ending line, emerging and submerging each to the next all the way to the horizon. I find myself endlessly curious about the lives of all of them. I lie in bed wondering if my own parents felt this strange mix of weary burden and enlightened awe as they lie in the dark wondering if they were doing it right. Did they ever lie in that bed as the defiant and playful 3 year old while there parents wondered why they were given so much to carry and so much to be carried by. It’s all so obvious now, to me, this joy that I feel in the midst of the frustrations and among fluctuating confidence that can bounce so wildly between feeling absolutely assured that I’m nailing this whole parenting thing and the utter and obvious understanding that I am completely unequal to the task and am failing in ways that will inevitably go echoing into a future that scares me because I can’t know how it will all turn out. If it will all turn out.

Before long I’m back to the story. Back to the excitement of seeing what will happen to the boy who lived under the stairs. Excited to see how he will once again foil the indefatigably awful Dursley’s so he can make his way back to where he needs to be, with his friends, finding the life that is awaiting him. Full of adventure and meaning and life and love and tragedy. Hoping that he makes it through without the scars burdening him so greatly that he can’t be who he was supposed to be. Hoping beyond hope that there’s a story about the evil ones that makes it all make sense in a way that wasn’t just pure evil. Hoping the Dursley’s find peace and Harry can find forgiveness and understanding when he eventually gets to an age and thinks, ‘What the hell was all that about?!’ Hoping love will find each and every one of the people that matter. Hoping it will reach the Harry’s and Ron’s and Hermione’s, sure, but also the Neville’s and even the Draco’s and Crabbe and Goyle’s.

The adventure goes on far further than I ever imagined as a kid. It stretches out before me and beyond me ever morphing and suddenly surprising. The further I go the more I want. I lay in the dark adrift in adventure, wondering and wanting more than I ever could have thought imaginable while also knowing I won’t be around to see it all play out.

Picture Day on Mamalode

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.

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Fragile and Brave 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!

‘Good Schools’ on Good Men Project

Hello… I hope you are all doing well this fine day.

I’m one of those people who is on edge in America these days with this very ugly Presidential campaign so fresh in my mind. Today I’m talking about one of the issues that has been on the surface for the past year, one that has some very disturbing trends reemerging in a country that has some original sin it can’t seem to get past. I hope this piece, my perspective and some history can help in a tiny way.

We’re afraid of topics of discussion that can reveal things we don’t want to acknowledge but we can know longer sit out of the conversations we have to have. Too many Americans are scared for too many reasons to sit idly by and let the voices of hate and intolerance go unchecked.

I hope you read my post at The Good Men Project and share it with someone you think might get something from it…

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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.