Tag Archives: parents

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.

I Don’t Have the Words

I don’t know that I will ever be able to fully articulate how I love my kids. Were it a quantifiable thing I’d give you a number. As it is I don’t think any sophisticated adult has ever improved on the simple claim made by all of us lucky enough to have been loved as a child who have spread our arms wide and said, ‘I love you this much!’

img_4923Charlie is the sweetest boy and he will stop us to make sure we are listening, in the middle of getting ready for bed or when we are cooking or whenever, to tell us, ‘I love you. You’re the best daddy.’ or, ‘Mommy, I love you more than anything ever!’

‘Oh, Charlie.’ I gasp, ‘I love you so much, you are the most wonderful boy.’

I wish words were more evolved. I wish our minds, our full creativity could describe what flows through you as a parent. All of it is extreme. The frustrations, the joys the exhaustion‘s and elation‘s. The simple act of falling for your child, for me an act that happened in an instant, opens a vein you didn’t know you had. It pours from you in every way you can imagine.

I didn’t appreciate the love I was given as a child, not fully at least, until I discovered it from the other side. Until I looked intently at my own kid and marveled and recoiled and felt the bond between us so deeply that it seemed I could reach out and hold it.

img_5026Teddy is my little man and I can’t get over his curiosity. He’s trying all the time that his brother is around to compete, a thing that looks different in a younger brother than an older one. His focus primarily is on his big brother but his quiet moments are the ones that steal my heart. He can smile when your head shares a pillow with his and he wants to tell you about all the things he is thinking. About his ideas and plans, about how much he loves mommy and Charlie and me. He builds big and little bridges to you and everyone one at a time. It’s magic.

On the other side of this newfound entity of love for my kids is an equally newfound fear. One that could only exist in relation to my fondness for these boys. I’m terribly afraid of random tragedy now. While they have opened me up, have cracked the shell around my heart, they have also made me a vigilant hawk. See, I’m now and forevermore aware that there is something infinitely more tragic that can happen than there ever was prior to now.

The first week it paralyzed us to a degree. We had no idea that there was something so awful as the fears of a parent before they hit us. People can’t wait to tell you about the lack of sleep and the magic of babies. They don’t tell you that the most tragic of ends now comes to reside in your resting imagination.

I never so feared my own death before knowing that it would effect my own kids. It never occurred to me to think of it. Now if Karen so much as has a cold I’m worried, only for a moment at a time, but I worry there’s something bigger hidden in her cough. If I’m making dinner and she’s picking up the kids and they are a few minutes late my brain arrives, in an instant, at a place where I can imagine all three of them, struggling in an overturned car, or thrown from the car, scared and alone in their final moments. I know. IT’S AWFUL!!

But as quick as it comes it disappears and I’m back to worrying about whether or not I should use the last of the celery as it’s Charlie’s go to and whether or not T will eat the string beans or should I not bother to make them.

I don’t know what the word would be to describe these things, these rushes between otherworldly levels of joy and dread and monotony, but there should be a word. It seems to be a universal feeling and across the board it seems unknowable until the instant you fall for that kid and unshakable from that point forward.

Me and My BIG MOUTH!

imageI have a booming voice. As a child my parents and grandparents called it a ‘stage voice’. I believe this was something that made me prideful. ‘Stage voice’ sounded so complimentary. Like I might someday find my calling in the theater. And that ‘theater’ in my mind was a 3-syllable word.

Well, in hindsight, I think it was a nice way of saying I was loud. Very loud. I’ve come to appreciate its usefulness as I’ve learned to modulate its resonance. I speak at a normal volume in meetings or on the phone or in conversation. I save the boom-voice for such times as it’s functional. Like the years I spent as a summer camp director and had to often address large crowds while outside. Then, a booming voice is like magic. It  cuts through the cacophony and retains it’s shape even in the open air. Now it is mostly spent getting the attention of two amazingly awesome little boys who occasionally need help coming to attention.

In the course of raising these boys it’s become evident that they are going to need to attend school. If for no other reason than we need them occupied so we can work in order to keep them sheltered, fed and amply supplied. Were it not for these things I’d be one of those hippie dippie’s that w0uld prefer them to spend their days in the woods foraging and exploring and learning by reading. I’d never follow through on these things as I’m temperamentally a conformist, mostly for the sake of ease. Still, the heart wants what the heart wants.

Dig a little deeper and there’s more to it. I had a terrible experience in school. I dropped out of kindergarten and dropped out of a master’s degree program, book ending my tortured schooling with decisive, empowered rejection. So last night as I was wandering through the halls of my kids school I was prone to flashbacks to crappy times in a place I didn’t want to be. I remember the physical discomfort that resulted from my constant self judgment. It was fun!

As the night went on, however, I came around. It is really a great school. We were all there as families engaging in some fun activities put on by the school. There were media projects and fun scavenger hunts and various games and activities. The scavenger hunt looked super intense. We opted for story time in the library. Charlie was used to it so he sat on the floor where his reading teacher was going to sit. His little brother was not so into that. He took off.

‘I’ll chase.’ I said to Karen.

So we were off. Thankfully there were screens computers made available across the room. It was GREAT! They had stories he could listen to on headphones while the pages of the book and the beautiful accompanying art was on the screen. He was excited to learn how to use the mouse. It never occurred to me the mouse would be foreign to him, but of course it is. He lives in a world of touch screens.

After a bit Char and Karen joined us and as they sat there something awesome happened. The very nice mom who I met at last weeks weekend of birthday parties was standing across from me and Karen. Karen was already friendly with her before we met. We got to chatting. About school, where we were from, what brought us to here, the challenge of neighbors. It was fantastic. We were speaking to adults. Adults who might become our allies for the next 12 years. Who knows, potentially even friends!

Then it happened.

‘Excuse me. Um, could you just be a little quieter? My sons trying to read me a story and I can’t hear him.’ said the mom sitting next to the computer next to the one Teddy was on. Right in front of me.

I of course said, ‘Sure, sorry about that.’ even though what I meant for that to convey was, ‘are you kidding me, this room, this whole building is crawling with kids and parents, making endless noise and running everywhere!’

So we finished up our conversation, wrapped up what might have been the start of a friendship with my tail between my legs and our ‘friend’ chastened and chased away.

Whatever. I actually feel sorry for her. She clearly didn’t appreciate that she was in the presence of one of the worlds great stage voices. Her loss… Back to viscerally hating being in school for me.

Spies and Rocket Ships

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!

‘Spies.’

‘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.’

Done.

Turns out Spies is a pretty great game. If you ever have the chance I highly recommend signing up.

The 7 Parents You Meet at Kids Birthday Parties!

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!

‘I Like That I’m Weird’

‘Tell me something you love about yourself. What is something about you that you really like.’ his mommy asked.

‘I like that I’m weird. I like ‘small potatoes’. I know it’s supposed to be for little kids, but I like it anyways. I like that I’m weird like that.’ Charlie said.

img_4893img_4891When Karen came down from putting him to bed she could barely contain how excited she was to tell me about this little conversation. She was right to be excited. I couldn’t have been happier to hear it.

‘I like that I’m weird.’ How great is that?

Getting comfortable with my weirdness is something that’s taken me a lifetime. First step for me was seeing that I was weird and trying with all my might to deny/hide it. Since then, since getting to a place where I passed as a normal I’ve been working like nobody’s business to try to unburden myself of my various insecurities and collected disguises. I needed to conform, emotionally. I needed to fit in first. It left me safe and sad. Once there I needed to get back out, which was harder. It was definitely harder to reclaim my ‘weird’ than it was to fit in.

So to hear this news, well, I just wanted to wake him up and tell him how proud I was of him. I wanted to tell him he’d discovered the secret to happiness. I wanted to tell him that loving things you aren’t ‘supposed to’ is something it took me forever to learn to do and longer to be comfortable saying I loved those things. I was so impressed with him. I wanted to open YouTube and start playing endless episodes of ‘Small Potatoes’ with him.

Furthermore I wanted to tell him that his life would forever be better as long as he is true to himself. If you like sports and that’s not weird, so what, it’s true. I guess that’s it. I felt shame around my weirdness. Still do from time to time. Then I come here, I tell on myself and I learn to get comfortable being me. My weird self. My journey is as much about meeting me as it is about meeting the world and he has a moment now, one he can call back on and know, being weird, feeling different, it can be a huge gift!

I love my little weirdos so damn much.