A Different View

My mothers voice is my native tongue 

And bells once broke cannot be rung

I’m told I’m forged of god and love

Though I never heard back from above
From games to names to tinder fell

Of angels that could never tell

Though sad and simple it remains

A fallen son in hope of claims 
Of missed and missing faith in thee

Not ever meant to turn the key 

That sowed a seed of fear in me

That love weren’t meant for you and thee
A bell twice broke again is rung

And truer now it sings its song

Not fleeing from the pain that mends

The cracks that forged a better man
Love is all I have for you

The pain that passed between is through

I’ll love you till your dying day

And to your god I’ll often pray
Cause love can bridge a different view

And words once spoke may still be true

That doesn’t mean a thing to me

Cause in your light I’ll always be

I Am Dad

I’m feeling kinda done with writing about parenthood. It was a massive transformation and now I’m transformed.

img_3451Parenthood is a sequence of workaday realities that once awed and floored me in a way that when not paralyzing, was heartbreakingly beautiful and expansive. Well, its still those things, really, I just can’t throw as much emotional energy behind it all anymore. I am still transported on a daily basis to a place of awe and wonder, but it’s often fleeting. It has to be. Any moment of daydreaming and self reflection is necessarily interrupted by the mundanity of daily life with a 5 and freshly minted 4 year old.

Gone is the exhaustion fueled deluge of emotional frailty and excruciatingly earnest expressions of fawning and perspectiveless love. It is not as sad as it sounds. These feelings are still there, behind all the work. Gone however is the constant feeling of being overmatched by the task at hand. It’s been replaced by a security you only have when you have a steady hand and a clear eyed confidence that you are up to the task.

img_3402Sure, we could feed them better food, we could replace TV shows and movies with family activities, we could certainly stand to reduce screen time and increase story time. We could even take better care of ourselves come to think of it. We could sleep more. We could drink more water and less wine (okay, I’m the wine drinker). We could be more physical and less sedentary. We could stand to spend less time on our screens and could be more patient and less prone to yelling. Where was I going with this… ?

Whatever. All of it is to say we got this. We get a ton wrong, but we’re doing it. Not everything is a trauma and drama. We’ve left the bubble where reflection and exploration were how we retained a sense of self as we changed to who we needed to become.

Being a parent, a dad, is now a fully ingrained part of me. It’s who I am and I’m no longer struggling to fit into this new uniform. Its on and worn in at this point. My mistakes are not as often the learning and growing experiences they once were. Now they are just human. Just what it’s like being this guy.

img_3373What hasn’t changed is the love. The fascination. The endless desire to be connected to these people. My tiny tribe. Karen and I have rediscovered each other and it’s never been better. We’ve never been closer or more in love. The kids are still orbiting us, tied to our motions and our decisions and our schedule but they are drifting. They have interests beyond us and it’s amazing to us what is so natural to anyone else. It amazes us simply because we have all of the wonder and awe of the first time they opened there eyes stored in our hearts and to see them venture and wander, well, it can make you swallow hard and hold back a tear now and again. Just as fast the moment passes and we are swept up into the day to day grind of running a house, a car service, a grocery and a restaurant (specializing in nuggeted nutrition of dubious value), a recreation department, an education system, social services organization, a health and safety inspection unit, a counseling service and cleaning service (which is a failing venture if ever there was one) and to a degree we never could have before, we love doing it. It’s our life’s work. For now the emphasis is on work but down the road, and not too far, it’ll be understood much more so as our life.


My Boy

img_2946A few weeks back my wife headed out to pick up some groceries on a Saturday afternoon. Left on our own some rules change without any acknowledgement or discussion ever being made. When mom goes away daddy lets some things happen a bit more, independently.
We were playing in the backyard when Charlie, 5, decided he wanted to come in for a snack and some TV. I probably asked him if he wanted to head in using a movie he’d recently got out from the library. It’s a proven tactic. But Teddy, he wasn’t having it.

‘Are you sure? We can watch Octonauts.’ I offered.

‘No. I’m staying out here.’ He’s 3.

I prodded a few more times and varied the snacks and the programs in hopes of arriving at an agreement, but he was not hearing any of my offers and had no interest in leaving the water table we’d made into a sand table which he was making into a mud table one cup of water at a time. He does that.

‘You sure?  I think it’s the Muppet Movie.’

‘I can’t like the Muppet Movie.’ He replied. He likes to play with words, too.

So I came in and I set Charlie up with his ‘cow milk’, what he calls those little boxes of vanilla milk from Horizon, what we all call them by now, I suppose, and a peeled apple and a movie to his liking. By the time I got back out I had already seen through the window that he had started climbing in and around the mud on the small table, clearly with a purpose. Not one discernible by me, mind you, but he was clearly not acting at random.

It was wonderful really. I loved seeing him all covered in mud and happy and engaged. So I brought out the corn muffin mix and makings and sat on the deck at the table where I could see him and his brother. They were at about a 90 degree angle using me as a focal point and they couldn’t see one another, one inside and eating and the other outside making mud.

Charlie is a pack animal. He’d probably be fine now, but if at Teddy’s age I’d let him stay outside he’d have wandered to any sound of other children, or even adults. It’s his nature. Teddy, not so much. He’s different. He’s a bit like me this way. He’s most comfortable while engaged with tasks. Without them he’s bored and rambunctious. Charlie needs others to play with, to socialize with. Teddy does too, but it works best if it’s a project that brings them together. Charlie has to be dropped off to the teacher every day at daycare. Teddy does what he needs to to greet them, the teachers, often grudgingly, then looks to be engaged in a task, blocks, stacking, coloring , puzzles and then he’s ready for me to leave. I get it.

So after I was done and ready to put my corn muffins in the oven I asked one last time if he wanted to join us inside. I knew he’d be fine and I could see him from the kitchen window. Nope. Wouldn’t even look up. By now he had trucks doing work for him, was creating conversations between imaginary workers and was knee deep in the project, whatever it was, and still shoulders deep in mud. No shirt, just swim trunks and mud.

I drifted for a minute while I cleaned the dishes and when I looked up, he had his pants half way down, standing by the sand table mud pit, fully knowing he was just doing what he needed to do.

‘Teddy! Wait.’ I yelled.

That’s just Teddy. I get it.

I’m seeing a lot of myself in him these days. The world and it’s crowds can drive me crazy. Crowds is not really the right word, but it’s the more sensitive one. Because really it’s the people in my life. And they don’t drive me crazy at all. I love them, all of them, deeply. But being with people, connecting and interacting with them, no matter how much I love them, it overwhelms me. By the end of the day my tread is wearing thin and showing and I need to be alone. It can get ugly when I’m not.

I’ve recently heard Teddy, when he’s tired, get angry because something isn’t being said the way he wants it to be said. The way, frankly, that he needs it to be said. He might even be getting the answer or information that he wants and still he is frustrated.

‘Say ‘Teddy get’s the green cup!’ I’ve heard him yell, through tears of frustration.

“Teddy, sweetheart, I said you get the green cup.’ Karen will say.

‘No!’, he will scream from the top of his lungs. He will turn red and it’s a full on squealing scream.

I’m sad to say I’ve said the same things to her in the past. It wasn’t about green cups. I don’t really remember what it was. But watching him there, so frustrated, so tired, so done with trying to connect to people, tired from navigating human interaction, I see myself. I see it exactly. There’s no way he got it from hearing me say it, but I’ve said the exact same things to her. I’ve told her to please say this thing. It’s not anything you’d think, either. It’s just phrasing of common things and it’s brutally unfair and horrible. I’ve said my sincere apologies and tried hard to make amends, but you can’t unsay things that have sunk so deep. So he may not have heard it from me, but he definitely got it from me. This inability to tolerate others when you’ve gone past your limit. This anger that results in outbursts that are all me just trying to gain control in order to get past whatever block is in my head keeping me in this moment of selfish exhaustion and anger.

I’m worried about that anger and what it can make us say. I’m worried about the accompanying loss of control and the subsequent loss of self respect. I’m scared of the way that not having the tolerance for human interaction can keep us from feeling and giving the love we need to receive and give away because we don’t know how to get out of our own heads where we can start to really think ourselves undeserving of these things.

I spend so much of my time writing about parenthood through the lens of concern for Charlie. He’s the first and he’s at the tip of the spear, with us, guiding us and orienting us as we navigate this journey for the first time. But I worry about Teddy just as much. It may not look that way at times as we spend our weekends talking endlessly about him starting kindergarten and all that it will entail, but I do.

You should know that once you figure it out and find people to love and love you, these traits of ours can be helpful. You should know that making the effort to get past  all the fears and inner road blocks for the people you love is more than worth it. You should be finding and following your truest interests because your ability to follow through is far greater than you might think. Your single minded focus is a thing that may make you miss out on some things, sure, but in the end that doesn’t make you different than anyone else. We all make choices. Ours are just informed differently than some others.

For the last few months I’ve had the best chance to connect with you. After it’s all over, after the day is done I get to lay in bed with you as you fall asleep. Like me you struggle to get comfortable and you aren’t always ready to go to bed when it’s time. We talk and giggle and once you are comfortable and winding down, which can take an hour or more, you will be quiet for a long time. Until you tell me about something you discovered during the day. You will say ‘Daddy’ very excitedly. I’ll open my eyes and say, ‘Yeah, buddy’ groggily. You’ll be beaming and the light will be bright in your eyes despite them revealing your underlying tiredness and you will recall something magical that you saw that day. Yesterday it was that you and mommy saw a new type of fish at the Science Center. I said that was very cool and you smiled. Then our eyes close again and you like to reach under my cheek and pull my head close to you for one big hug. It feels great and I love it. Then you roll over and drift slowly to sleep.

You are exactly who and how you are supposed to be and you are loved like crazy.

Little Man, Big World

2015-06-20 15.51.51I complain, mostly for comic effect, but occasionally sincerely, about the extremities of emotions displayed by my boys, who are 4 and 2. It can be overwhelming and exhausting at times trying to keep up. But lately the older one’s been starting to show shading. Middling not just between feelings but mixing them with thoughts and presumptions. Calculation and calibration. He’s developing nuance and forethought. His communication can be veiled by strategy. He’s different. He’s becoming a bit more independent in thought, developing an inner life. He’s becoming a little boy and revealing the nascent aspects of his character. The character he will be judged by independent of us.

All in all I’m sure it’s not a very big deal. We are all separate people. It’s a transition we feel lucky to be able to watch. We will be afforded endless opportunities to warn against danger, to praise the many wonderful examples we will surely see of his kind heart. We will be there to fight him when he thinks he’s right and we know he’s wrong. Hell, there’s even a far horizon, one perhaps not as far as I imagine, when we will be there to fight him when he knows he’s right and we think he’s wrong. That will be another transition. For all of us.

20150114-010501-3901911.jpgBut for a second I’m going to take a breath and be thankful. Stop to acknowledge how lucky we were before moving on to how lucky we are in a new, future present. Be thankful for the time when we were his everything. It’s going to dawn on him soon that we’re not infallible, but rather flawed. It’s been nice for us to be his sun and him to be ours, all circling one another. Providing each other with all the power and light needed for an entire universe that existed in the spaces between us. Before he grew and his light couldn’t be contained in our galaxy any longer.

There’s still time. He’s a very very big boy and often people think him much older than he is. Hell, sometimes we hold him to account like a kid twice his age. But he isn’t twice his age. He’s still a few months away from five years old. He may be the size of an eight year old but he’s still naturally inclined to climb up onto my lap and tell me he loves me. He knows what it does to me now. Knows how happy it makes me. There’s certainly something lost in the exchange now that he’s aware of how his words effect me, but there’s a ton more gained. His spontaneous proclamations of love were wonderful and pure. But the thought that he sees me and knows how happy I am made by him saying, ‘I love you, Daddy’ and he does so not only because it is true but also because he wants to exercise this newly discovered power of his to make me happy, that packs a pretty powerful punch as well.

We’re going to do our duty bound best to foster his independence and we’re going to try to teach him what we find to be most important; that he think about others and how to be a kind and thoughtful person. But for as long as we can, in the bubble that was once a universe, we’re going to try our hardest to pay attention to the times when he isn’t ready to be a small boy in a big world. When he wants to pretend like he’s still a big man in a small universe. After all for all his eagerness to venture out he still needs to know that whenever he wants to come home and pretend to be the big kid in a two kid world he’s always welcome. Besides, he’ll quickly learn that doing that will make his Mommy and Daddy very, very happy.

Mommy and Joey, XOXOXO

Mommy and Joey XOXOXOThe most transformative moment of therapy for me didn’t happen in a therapists office, or even in therapy. It happened in a walk in closet that I’d made my writing room in the third floor walk-up in Astoria, where I lived. Truth is I was in therapy to be able to have this moment so I could move forward in my life and let go of the things I had been dragging around with me since childhood. It was in this small room, within a room, within my apartment surrounded by the thousands of written pages I’d been creating and hoarding for years in an attempt to understand who and why I was and am that I called my mother to tell her how she’d failed me.

I recounted things said without thinking that hurt. I recounted the things she said that were so confusing that I couldn’t comprehend why she would share them with me as a kid. I recounted the times I’d felt alone and unfairly judged. I told her of feelings I’d been blaming her for for decades. Literally decades. This wasn’t as long ago as I wish it were. I told her things I’d latched onto and refused to let go of for eternity. I told her about feeling like I was ignored and left to raise myself. I told her about how angry I was at her and why.

I’m pretty good with words. Not to brag, but I have a pretty good vocabulary and the ability to take thoughts and convert them into succinct and coherent and downright concise sentences that cut to the heart of what I’m trying to say. At the beginning of our conversation I told her that I called to talk about the things that were between us. About our relationship because it had occurred to me that it was our relationship that was in fact sabotaging my ability to love and to feel loved. I unloaded on her the pile of blame that I could never get past. It was fairly brutal and brutally unfair. It was mean. Anyone listening would have said so. Anyone who wasn’t my mother.

My mother is perhaps the toughest person anyone’s ever met. She has bravely stared down a life I’ll never have to. She’s been processing horrible tragedies since her youth and finding evermore reason for joy and love. She is the strongest person I know. You have to be pretty close to see this and I was afforded a front row seat that night in my closet, crying to my mother at a makeshift desk, surrounded by endless papers containing a profound misunderstanding of what turns out was my very good fortune of being born to the family I now understand to be my greatest blessing.

I hit her with every unfair punch that night. I blindsided her. She took every single one of them and apologized. For mistakes she’d made, for my pain, for misunderstandings that she couldn’t have known were still hurting me until that moment. She apologized and said she loved me even when I’d blame her for things that I now see she couldn’t have been a part of. When I called and started swinging wildly and emotionally she let her guard down and allowed me to punch away, telling me she was sorry, telling me I was brave for confronting her, telling me that I deserved better. It wasn’t a lie. She meant it. Despite giving me EVERYTHING and being blamed for things that weren’t hers to own she heard not an angry and aggressive and unfair man treating her poorly. She heard her son hurting. She heard her little boy screaming and crying that it wasn’t fair. And she took it all. To make me feel better. She let me know that it was okay to blame her, even if it wasn’t her fault, because she was mom and I would always be her boy.

I grew up fully in that moment. Seriously. I can tell you when I emotionally became fully a man and it was that night. I knew almost immediately upon expressing my pent up feelings that they had tricked me. Wisely. My feelings made me blame the one person strong enough to handle my impetuousness and bullying if I ever chose to unload it. The one person that could guide me to where I needed to go.

By the end of the conversation she was crying with me. She was telling me about her pain and letting me know I wasn’t alone. Letting me know that I would always have someone who would understand. Her. Mom. She healed me that night. The cuts that bled at ten, the ones that mean everything to a kid, I had bandaged. Being a sensitive kid at heart, naturally the bleeding continued and instead of allowing these wounds to heal, instead of cleaning them and caring form them, I just kept applying more and more bandages every time the blood seeped through. Never healing, always covering up and hoping my cuts would one day stop bleeding through. But that’s not how it works. You can’t heal that way. You can only hide. That day my mother held my hand like I was a child and promised me that even though it might hurt, she was going to tear off my bandages and clean them up so I could heal properly. So I could put down the load I’d been carrying and move on.

I emerged from that conversation a changed and healed person ready to take on the next phase of my life. It just in time as I was about to meet the woman that has since become a hero to both me and our sons. My mother gave me life, love and security and when I misplaced her gifts she dove into the hole I was drowning in and rescued me, despite my resistance.

I love you, mom. Thank you.

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