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.

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.’

Thanksgivings

I’ve come full circle on sentimentality. It’s not that to some degree I haven’t always had the predisposition, I have, it’s just that it’s become something I embrace, even seek out now that I’ve got some road behind me.

Life is moving as fast as it ever has. Faster in many ways. But for some reason I’m less and less moved by it. I’m underwhelmed by momentous change. I’m not as easily energized by my own morphing and evolutions. I’m simply living it. I’m running full speed to keep up and I’m barely processing it’s going so fast. Who can make sense of this stage with the solid oak I grew from growing ever wiser and the seeds I’ve planted requiring constant tending. Not to mention the intentions I had for myself before the realities I never considered became the droning and pressing necessity of each day as I try to make a life I’ll be proud of.

I’m tired and busy and energetic and overwhelmed at all times. I’m looking at a life that is zooming past and trying to find any and all rest stops and exits that look like I can afford to take them. I’m trying to get as much of this finite life as I am able and it feels impossible to catch up to it.

So I find myself on days like today, Thanksgiving 2017, in a sentimental place where I can experience the benefits of compounding interest as I feel the past in the present. It’s easy to do as Thanksgiving has been a huge part of the magic of life for me.

The early ones were at home and had the tables, all that we could move, fold, setup and tear down, stretching against the grain and crossing transoms to stretch far enough to fit all the family who could be there. I was a kids table holdout who ventured rarely and always regretfully to the grown up table at least once before I was ready. As a result I was always more than happy to give up my seat with the big people to spend another year at the fun table. The food was warm, the air was steamy, small rooms filled with big people and warmed by a kitchen that never stopped.

Later, when we were a tad older, but still young it became Florida! We went every year to visit our grandparents in Vero Beach. It was there my dad pointed out the connection that it might not be pure coincidence that Nana and Papa moved to where his beloved (Brooklyn) Dodgers had there spring training facilities. There I saw the shuttle from the driveway and looked up with my dad who marvelled that his dad, staying warm on the enclosed deck had been around when horse drawn carriages and Model T’s were filling the streets and now we were here in his driveway watching the space shuttle. It was there where we snowy natives spent hours learning how to body surf and seeing my dad in shorts, something rarely seen, but always when there was an ocean to swim in. He liked to bob in the waves, floating with his toes popping out of the water, riding the tide in peace. It was there that I saw the dance between my mom and her husbands wonderful, but decidedly commanding mother play out with a remarkable amount of good humor, understanding and grace on all sides. It was there where the adults I’d know later were the kids I remember now. When we see each other I like to think they see that young vibrant me as well. Time has taken its toll and it always wins, but its nice to know their are cousins who’ve seen you all the way through and know you. The real you. And it was their that I learned I may be the funniest in a room now and again and that may be a very useful thing, but I should never forget that theres a family tree of funny that has deep roots and long and surprising branches. I come from funny stock. Thanksgivings with the Wershing/Medler’s were the funniest.

College came and the family tradition couldn’t last forever. We quickly redeployed and had the usual guests and local family holidays that are the norm. Soon I took to heading up to the mountains where some friends had established roots. Saranac Lake and environs. It might have been just three or four times, but those Thanksgivings were amazing. They were like a vast, tribal, artisanal, low culture-high culture blend you can really only achieve in your twenties. Full capacity, zero responsibility, unmatchable sociability and comraderie and a determination to be adult. To this day, no offense to anyone else ever those meals were the most succulent and delicious I’ve ever had. It was a 3 day party and there were late night shenanigans, beer fridges and high times indeed. It was a joy of being alive kind of feeling that I’ll always love.

Then we had the family gathering at my brother’s house in Poughkeepsie. It was like a perfect little blessing that for those years, with me in the city and my sister in the area as well. We would inevitably show up the night before, until there were kids. Mom and dad would show up at night, mom having cooked a meal for twenty and packed it all in the trunk and we would unload into the just gorgeous home he was always so generous with. We would each offer dish and be welcomed to bring it and make it. My mother always liked us to be involved, but it was her production for sure and it was perfect. Food on the piano for serving, table set to Rockwell like perfection and new family as funny as the rest in on the conversations and bringing new humosrs and smiles to our faces. I don’t know what was said, I may have even had a part in the sequence leading to the laughter, but a memory that sticks out for me is my mom removing her glasses and wiping tears, in full all out laughter, only at catch her breath to say, ‘I haven’t laughed this hard since last night.’, only to kick off another round of table wide guffaws. We were all a little grayer at these gatherings, but we still through the football around and stayed up late enough for our turkey sandwiches and movies. Resisting every urge we might feel to get going home if that was in our plans. This was our first real thanksgiving after the kids. The one where we could bring a baby and begin our families traditions in earnest.

Circumstance changed and kids continued to grow and we began to have our traditional Turkey days at Karen’s parents house. It was such a treat. They live on beautiful land outside Saratoga county. Youhonestly couldn’t paint a more beautiful picture of holiday land. The house was always full of all our favorite treats and every meal was a chance to sit and visit between indoor and outdoor adventures in a landscape carved carefully by nature and man over decades of tending and refining. There were sled rides in snow, treasure hunts, long adventures in the basement workshop and treats to fill the hearts of toddlers and middle aged men. These were magical visits that always started with Grandma and Koba greeting us at the car, as excited to see us as we were to be there. Travel is hard at that early stage, but they always understood and went so far out of their way to make sure the memories were of the wonderous variety.

Now, today, the tradition turned again as we went to a new gathering place in Maplewood. We’ve been passive observers of Karen’s sister and brother in law as they’ve put in countless hours making a warm and welcoming home, a dream home really since moving in years ago. Now once again the tables were laid out against the grain, traveling through the home from back to front, seating and feeding generations of family with more than a delicious meal. It was a magical day. The kids sat at the big table and did mostly great, when they weren’t crawling underneath. Hectic moments when all arrived and too many hands went on instinct to the kitchen, chaos slowly turning to perfection as the food was pulled together by my brother in law, the magician, casual conversations happening everywhere you looked between people who loved being with each other and can so rarely be due to the simple and never ending logistics of life. Good laughs and good food, great stories and long and luxuriant pickingat desserts that fed and fueled the days journey into night. Hugs and goodbyes and smiles and warmth. The tradition is beginning for these guys, the little ones. For me it’s settling into the pace where, seeing it starting again for the kids and watching it evolve once more for all of us grown ups, I can finally catch up to the sentiment. I can feel the nostalgia and the beauty of it all in real time.

It all leaves me so grateful to be sharing this journey with these fellow travelers, every one of them from each iteration.

Teddy’s Cheeks

Perhaps its just my nature to be wistful. That very well could be it. I could easily make the argument that wistfulness is my strongest suit as a writer. But wistful for me these days is honest. Because while parenthood is very very good at making you spend a good deal of your day living in the moment, it is also a role that is forever slipping through your fingers. 

There’s a lot that surprises you that first second. I became a dad in an instant. One second I’m a husband and about to be dad and the next I’m a dad. Full blown, card carrying dad. The card in this case was a Visa card and not some license to be a dad, though were there one my merely being a dad would not entitle me to the card. Nope. That comes later. I’m certified now, but still a newb. Becoming a dad is merely the starters pistol in your sprint to learn to be a dad. 

What I learned first, after the new brand of love, the overarching, in your bones kind of love that you learn in that first instant, what I learned was that life is fragile and mine will end. Hopefully some day decades and decades down the road when the loss will be real for my kids, but when it will be manageable. Still, this little boy had a story and it was starting right there, smack in the middle of the story I’d been only just getting accustomed to sharing with his mom. If everything goes right, if it goes as right as it can go I’ll get a few decades to overlap, 30 or 40 or 50 years to be in his story. Then, inevitably, I’d be leaving. Wrapping up my tale with tentacles lingering on the fringes of the stories they will be living. It’s the best outcome one can hope for and it is unavoidably imbued with melancholy. Sad is the wrong word. Melancholic. A sustained low level presence of unavoidable sorrow, that recedes to the background when joy is present and it is so so present so much, along with exhaustion and frustration and confusion and exhaustion. Did I say exhaustion twice? I did? Well, clearly I’m not as tired as I was a few years back. Then the entire list would have consisted of exhaustion and the list would hav been 7-12 items long. All of them exhaustion. 

My first son made me a dad. He came into the world and boom, I’m a dad. He cried, I messed up, I learned my error and I became more of a dad. This is a seemingly infinite loop. I mess up, I recognize it by something going wrong with him, I see that I messed up and I try something new and it gets a little better  and we do that all day every day forever. Which is true, but not true. It’s not forever. Time is very viscous and slides faster than I can keep up. You do eventually give the swing to sisters and brothers who will need it. You throw out the car seat that is beyond beaten and smelly and you recycle the last bottle you’ll ever have. Things disappear into the far back memories and then they go from there. Some of them go invisibly and without regret or a second thought. I’ll never change my kids disaster diaper ever again. The kind where you resort to cutting the clothing off to save everyone the terror of it coming off any other way. That piece of history is happily behind me, though I actually think I appreciated it for what it was at the time. Your mind and memory play little tricks like that. I know better. Just happy that’s in the past. Other things, well, I can’t let go of so cavalierly. Like Teddy’s cheeks. 

Teddy’s cheeks aren’t going anywhere. I trust he’ll have them for the rest of my story. But they are changing. He has epic cheeks. Anyone and everyone who has known him will tell you. They are squat and round and adorable. They are a feast for the eyes and they are so connected to the little misspeakings of an adorable toddler with the childlike voice that I’ll never fully have anymore. He is our last and when those cheeks go, they’re gone. Forever. And this time forever means forever. 

My Teddy’s cheeks won’t come back. So I am wistful. Nostalgic. Sentimental in the extreme because my life, my consciousness has a timeline and the horizon, though distant, is firmly in view and when I lose Teddy’s cheeks that horizon will draw ever so slightly nearer.  

 

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My Family at 50

My family turned 50 this past Saturday. My family is decidedly middle aged. My family threw a party and it was wonderful. There were husbands and wives and kids and parents and grandparents and all in all everything, it must be said, is wonderful.

Insofar as wonderful can ever be. Which, when looked at while trapped in a moment can be pretty great. On those moments when you can exist inside the amber, locked in the now with the wonderful thing, well, that’s just the meaning of life kind of blissfulness. That’s what this weekend was.

When I have the chance to see my kids with my parents, relishing their attention, showing off and sharing their pride with them, I get disoriented in a euphoric way. I get trapped looking at the past and the future in the same moment, at the same spot and I’m the fulcrum from which those states swing for a moment. It’s not a feeling that overwhelms or insists upon itself, it just takes over the air and settles in my nervous system. Everything coalesces and this distracted and distorted mass of confusion on which we work so hard to impose order on a day to day basis suddenly steps back and in it’s place is a harmonic convergence of a properly functioning human condition and purpose. Understanding settles in precisely my spot. I feel it viscerally and experience it in the moment, but I don’t recognize it until a beat after it’s stepped aside or moved to another host. Whatever it is, I would never pass up the opportunity.

We arrived late Friday night. The party wasn’t until Saturday afternoon. The kids had been in the car for most of the past seven hours and there wasn’t much that would keep them from bouncing off the walls, regardless of the hour. After some time to bounce and play, jump on beds and generally experience the child version of heaven that is a hotel room, we wound it down. Took a bit, even as we approached midnight. Now we aren’t good at the 7 or even 8 o’clock bedtime we hear so much about from other parents, but midnight is a bit crazy, even for us.

Shouldn’t surprise me though. I’m from a family of night owls and I’m in competition with my mom for the mightiest of the bunch. In fact my parents were just returning from Buffalo where they’d been picking up my older brother from the airport. I never see him and and since we’re all night owls, all jacked up on caffeine, after a few texts we decided it would be nice for me to drive five minutes down the road for us to all catch up for a nightcap of greetings. I had no idea I was going to get such a shot behind the scenes of the anniversary.

Shortly after arriving it struck midnight and my father wished my mother a happy anniversary. She noted the small gifts on the table and said she’d go get hers.

‘Tomorrow’s gonna be a big day, lot to do. I’d rather have this now.’ Said my dad.

The exchange was beautiful, the cards were warm and kind and loving. Filled with the evidence of the love that propelled them decades ago. The best part for me, for one who is only now getting a perspective on the relationship at the center of our family that sees them as real people, was my mother, reading a list of 50 things she loved about my dad. Things as simple as how he walks and as profound as how he cared for her, specifically, at the most needed times. It was profound for me.

I don’t know that I’ll ever fully grasp who these people were and how they did what they did. In fact for the first half of my life I’d have filtered all of it through the selfish, myopic lense that to some degree a child can’t avoid. But sitting there, listening to a moving and seemingly neverending list of personal sacrifice and of real, action filled evidence of love, I marveled. These people are giants. They are evidence that love is a bottomless pit, capable of sustaining itself in perpetuity if it is given generously, endlessly, always. I will treasure this small memory, hold close to my heart this profound lesson, forever.

The next day life returned to normal early. Charlie woke up with a fever of 103 and we were busy looking for local Urgent Care’s while also treating and hoping we could make it work. Thankfully the Advil took and he could join us at the winery for the lunch party filled with relatives he rarely sees and loves to be around.

Looking around at that party I was squarely in the meat of the sandwich with the rest of us who grew up together. My cousins. In there with us were our spouses and even some older kids who no longer really fit at the kids table. All of us a little greyer, a little more ‘mature’. Some of us, well me, a little doughier for the greys. It’s okay, it suits my bookish self identity. That said, there was a pro photographer and I will be sucking in in the future. I don’t mind it all hanging out, but no need not to put my best foot forward. Might as well hold that belly as tight as I can. These are the family photo’s after all that will be at my 50th.

Life is slippery. It’s one of the things I’m most struck by in my 40’s. I’m at peace with who I am and I’m aware that this won’t last forever. That said, when I see the residue of the love that propelled my family into existence I am able to see that the thread, the one that sews the generations of my family together.

The next morning, after checking out and before returning to our lives hundreds of miles away I was able to see Charlie read a book to my parents while Teddy sat with Nana and soaked up the same love I’d soaked up on that same lap forty years earlier. I saw Charlie beaming with pride as he impressed the papa who was the self same man who’s pride in me gave me the confidence I needed to be able to hold up my end for my kids.

For that moment the world was aligned and all was right in my world.

Notes from a Developing Dad

From the start this blog has been an art project for my kids. It was meant to be a place where I could document the process, from the start. I wanted a place where they could visit where they were before the memories were there own. A place to shade and fill in the memories they cling to years from now, when we are old and the world is there’s. To this day that remains the thrust of my writing.

Over time that initial idea has expanded. I want them to know who I was when they were little, but the further I went down that road the more I wanted them to know who I was when I was little like them. I want them to know who Nana and Papa were and why I think of them as heroes. I want them to have a place to learn the story of how I met their mom. I want them to read about the love we had for each other that lead to our family. I want them to read about how hard it all was as well as how fun and amazing it has all been. I wanted them to understand my flaws and see my imperfections. I want them to understand that I knew they were there and worried about how they’d be affected by them.

As you can see the sprig of that initial idea, to make an art project for them of our early family is at the root, but like any organic thing fed and loved, that idea grew and continues to grow. One way it grew was that it turned out that there was an audience for this kind of art. This project with a specific audience seemed to be relatable to many others feeling and experiencing the transformative nature of parenthood in a way that made others seek out some of my sotories. Some were funny and some tender. It was a huge day when outlets like Scary Mommy would accept these writings and publish them. I’m thrilled to have worked with amazing editors at sites like Mamalode, Good Men Project and Sammiches & Psych Meds, amongst others.

It’s been and remains a journey that I’ve enjoyed. It was only natural when I came to a point where I decided I wanted to collect the best of my writing, the most personal, the funniest, the most well written and turn it into a book. It was exciting to work on these pieces and in the process I started to see a forest amidst examining the trees. This process of growing into the dad I am now has been extraordinary and I’m so happy I have this place where not only they will be able to come to learn about us but Karen and I will be able to visit years from now when we want to visit this most vital and amazing time in our lives, when we are rich in memories and have time to collect ourselves and make sense of lives well spent I’m heartened to know this place will be here for us.

If you would like to purchase a kindle ebook or a paperback copy of your own with these stories you can find them here.