Tag Archives: story

The Lodge, Part VI: Hello S–thead, How Are Ya?

‘Hello Sh*thead, how are ya?’ 

This was my morning greeting. Every morning. For two weeks each summer from 1995-2002. I can’t remember which session he came, but Devin was a legend. Well, maybe not originally. I think he was kind of a blender-inner prior to us boys of Lodge 12 meeting him and getting to know him in ’95. From that summer forward though, he was a legend. 

  I can tell you that he came session 3. There were five sessions and his was in my first as Lodge Leader. Yep, I was a camp counselor, the foundation of my 20 year camp career, for 4 weeks. Anyway, another story for another time. Just know that I was nervous. I was eager to do well, and as was and remains my custom, I really was very unprepared for what my position was. I work best when hiding panic and ignorance under a facade of confidence and competence. 

‘Oh, hi. You the leader.’ 

‘I am. Your Devin, right.’ I asked. 

We were outside the cabin after rest hour, before period 3 activity. I was all official, hiding behind my clipboard with my daily schedule and other forms I hoped no one would ask about. 

‘Did you take a shower, Devin? Like, just now?’

Devin was maybe 46. I was 21. Still, I was the Lodge Leader and he was the guest. 

‘Oh, no.’ He said, wistfully, voice drifting. ‘I haven’t showered in five f*cking years.’ 

I think I heard that right, but I better check. 

‘What was that.’

‘Five long, happy, Jewish years.’ Devin said.

I looked over at him and smiled. I then laughed. He reflected me. 

That was how I met Devin.

Devin lived with his mother, best as I could tell. He was the living and breathing definition of an ‘unreliable reporter’, so who’s to really say. He would often wake in the cabin, the one we all woke in, in sight of everyone all night, to tell his cabinmates and staff that he was hungover.

‘How are you hungover?’ we’d ask.

‘I was drunk last night. Oh, yeah. I had two Schaeffer’s beers.’ Everything he said was kind of sing-songy and benefited greatly from a delivery I can’t even begin to capture. He’d say these things, eyes getting big, face serious, holding your appraising eyes for a couple of seconds until his whole face would break out in a big jowly grin, eyes now softening and gleaming with mischief and humor. 

I came to seek out his familiar and always energetic salutation, ‘Hello sh*thead, how are you?’

  Devin, all our guys, they lived lives of limited independence. Limited, certainly, by their abilities. They required some level of assistance, some a good deal, some it took a while to find, but all of them were there for a reason. But they loved camp because we were new. New staff, kids and they were the old pros. Some might have seen all of us taking a guest ‘under our wing’ and developing real, lasting bonds and genuine connections. What you had to be there longer to see was them taking us under their wings, teaching us and grooming us. Befriending us and taking a shine to us. We got to know them and they got to know us and at some point we all had different roles to play and we loved playing them, but there really was just an ‘us’. ‘Them’ were left behind about half way through the first day the guests arrived.

Devin was funny. His sense of humor was a tool for him like it is for many of us. One that is hugely helpful and ocassionally misused and capable of getting any of us who use it into trouble. It helps us out of trouble more, though. It’s a powerful thing, the ability to make others laugh and I loved that he had it. Largely because it’s also a powerful thing to laugh and he made me laugh nearly every day. 

So when it came time to take him to the dentist I jumped at the chance when asked. I wasn’t in his Lodge anymore and I’m sure I had no idea what it was for. Whatever it was it wasn’t anything major. Still, I had to at least prep him for what was to come. I decided to do so in the van on our way down the mountain to the dentist. 

‘Now, Devin, I know you know this, but I feel like I have to say it.’ I said.

‘What?’ He said, in that overly expressive and delightful way of his. 

‘We’re going to be in the community. You have to mind your P’s and Q’s’ 

‘Yeah.’ He said, giggling.

‘Seriously. Gotta be careful with the language. At the lodge, we’re family, but these folks won’t know you.’

‘I know. Helen tells me not to swear at the dentist.’ Said Devin. 

‘Well, You have a very smart mother.’ I said. 

It was just that. He was more than capable of understanding and I was virtually sure that he did. The rest of the ride was just fun. If you haven’t worked at a summer camp you can’t know how fun it is to get in a vehicle that can in no way be classified as a bus, to go to that magical land known only as ‘off grounds’. To be doing so with a legend, well, that was just the cherry on the top of this already super awesome sunday of a ‘job’ I was asked to do on this day. 

I’ll skip the details of the appointment as they are not notable save this one factor; I can’t tell you the joy it brought me as ‘The Kaiser’, as he often referred to himself as, would just look at me sideways, smiling, ever on the verge of bursting, from across the room and in the chair. It was magical and sustained. He was giving me this look of not at all hidden conspiratorial mischievousness that was just great. And he did great. He was a model patient as I’m sure he always was. He was, after all, a simply lovely man. 

‘Sir. Can you sign this please.’ We heard as we approached the door to leave. 

‘Of course, I say.’, and we made our way back to the lobby window. It was a standard, midsummer, midday, midweek dentist office. Moms and kids mostly. Perhaps a few working people getting some work done on a workday. Nothing of note but the room was populated. 

‘Just sign here.’ I would have signed anything she gave me. I still have no idea how that appointment came to be and less of an idea of how it might have been paid for. I didn’t even look at or even for the number. But apparently, Devin did. 

‘Holy f*cking s*it, Helen’s gonna f*cking kill me.’ Devin sung. 

It. Just. Hung. There. 

Slowly I turned to look at him. I wasn’t angry or even bothered. I was just in awe.

‘What?’ He asked, eyes gleaming and smirk growing. 

 I know the moment now all too well. The moment when I am responsible for someone who is unaware of the proper way to handle a situation and I’m supposed to communicate something akin to, disappointment, I guess. The stern look of a dad to my child is what I do now but there are times where the overwhelming funniness of the thing they have done so outweighs the importance of the ‘teachable moment’ that we all just crack up in a ‘laughable moment’ of true and beautiful connectedness. Well, I can say for certain that the receptionist didn’t see the humor in this outburst. Her loss. It was instantly and remains one of the genuinely most joyous moments of my life walking out of there with him, both of us cracking up.

Advertisements

The Madness of Prince Teddy

‘Ew, no Charlie! Wahhhhhh!’

The above is shouted. Sharply and insistently. It is my four year old son’s response to his brother eating yogurt. Or  an apple. Or drinking milk. Teddy is not one for subtleties. He cares not for the feelings of those who offend his olfactory senses and he will not be dissuaded from his opinion that the vileness of these things are rightly and roundly rebuked. No sir, he will simply prefer to spoon his ketchup into his mouth in a different room, thankyouverymuch.

Okay. He’s 4, it’s not like he’s great at thinking of others feelings, but you’d think there’d be some recognition that registering his disgust so broadly, and by that I mean in the ‘broad comedy of Jerry Lewis’ (May he RIP) sense of the word, might be hurtful. But no.

Just today we were in the car and he starts.

‘Drink it! Charlie, Drink it.’ The first sentence was shouted. This is white noise to all of us by now. It is ignored and as much registered as a first, ‘morning’ one says prior to coffee, still half asleep. But the second was screeched in the manner of the classic Hollywood scream queens. This is by no means reason for alarm though it does wake the rest of us up.

‘What?! What is happening! Why are you screaming! Is everyone okay! WHAT’S WRONG!!’ This situation clearly needs a bumbling, distracted, middle aged man to thunder in with volume and stress. It’s just the recipe to really get everyone calm quickly and I’m just the man to do it.

‘Charlie won’t drink his drink.’ Teddy says.

‘Teddy, that’s too far. You are not in control of when Charlie drinks his drink. Come on, buddy?’

Appeals to reason, I should know by now, are only passingly accepted and ONLY when they suit his need for utter and total control of all that he purveys. This statement, I should note, could easily be applied to myself or T so, you know, art is in the eye of the beholder, so whichever you prefer.

‘Charlie’s drink is empty.’ Says Developing Mom (a name I hasten to add is only employed in the most sophomoric of tongue in cheek fashions as she is a fully formed and wonderful mom) in a manner that is dismissing the dramatic nature of the 4 year olds clearly false claim, for which he has clearly been busted for his over dramatic ways. This is done so nonchalantly as it is de rigueur by now.

‘No!’ screams T, ‘The drink in his mouth!’

Come to think of it, Charlie has been suspiciously quiet. Good for him, don’t let him take you down, dude.

‘Teddy. He can swallow whenever he wants. You don’t get to control everything. But I will let you know something. The mare you ask and cry the less likely he is to swallow it. Just be quiet for a minute and I’m sure he’ll swallow it down. Besides Chocolate milk slowly turns into rotten chocolate milk if it stays in your mouth too long. Surely he knows that.’ Okay, I’m making up the last bit, about the rotting in your mouth. But I wish I said it.

‘Teddy, it’s gone now.’ said Charlie, finally entering the script from his pivotal though silent role as unwitting, though I suspect fully witting, agitant.

And like that we’re off, to our next dramatic flourish which is surely no more than a mile or two down the road. Teddy is like me in many ways. One is that he can be ‘over peopled’. Today we were at the Adventure Aquarium, one of his favorite places on earth. He loved it and behaved. He was all you could ever want from an excited and engaged four year old. His big brother was at his best as well. But, you know, now back in the car, away from the maddening crowd, he had to let some of that stress out. It was a huge relief to be home after periodic meltdowns all the way home. We said no to screens all the way home as well, so it was a bit.

But it was good to be home. Everyone reverting to their creature comforts. I with my whiskey (okay, that’s only happening now as I write in a quiet house at 1:14 in the morning), Teddy with his cheese stick to wash down his pizza (I can’t wait until I offer a menu item with mozzarella and he insists he hates the stuff) and Charlie with his apple and a yogurt. Yep. I was over done and I brought out two parts of T’s unholy trinity just like that and put it down right there, right where he could smell it (his claim to how it offends) and see it (the obvious actual trigger to his claims of fear and loathing).

I braced myself. But nothing came.

‘I eat apples like that at school.’ He said. School is daycare.

‘What?’ I said, incredulous.

‘I Like them at school.’ He said. Just like that. No biggie.

‘He said he likes yogurt there, too.’ Said Charlie.

When the hell were you gonna tell me! I didn’t say it, but come on!

‘Did you hear this, honey? Teddy eats apples at school. He likes them!’ I said as Developed Mom walked by.

‘I know.’ She said.

‘Did you know he likes YOGURT there too!’ Come on, share some outrage at this travesty I screamed with my eyes.

‘No, I know. He drinks milk there, too.’

What the hell.

‘Shake It, Shake It, Hillary…’, The Miseducation of an Impressionable Young Man

‘It’s because Donald Trump is Mayor!’

There’s some subtle humor in the phrasing, but it doesn’t overshadow his tone. Charlie is not a fan of our current President. We kept the election from the kids but we haven’t been able to control the fallout.

Charlie came home on November 8th having learned about the process of voting. Apparently they held a mock vote in his class. Kindergarten. Whatever. Best I can tell he heard the names of the candidates the first time that day. Being our child he felt a great deal of guilt when he found out that he voted for a candidate he wouldn’t have had he been better informed. Than a kindergartener. Again, whatever.

‘Now Charlie, we disagree with President Trump, but we don’t get angry.’ I say, obviously causing some confusion as I’m certain he has met me before this moment and is aware of my Tuck Frump t-shirt I wear on my demeanor at all moments of the day. That said, I’m here to teach. ‘We have a job to do. We have to be extra nice to people. We have to show people that we love them and care about them. Right?’

It’s not that often, but it’s a routine conversation by now and we are all familiar with our script. Some of the older kids at the Y dropoff informed him one day that his brown friends were going to be kicked out of America. Strange conversations are being had with kindergarteners these days. Lots changed since either of my turns in Kindergarten in pre-Reagan America.

Over the weeks following the election he became more militantly defensive of Hillary than I was. I certainly liked her enough, to paraphrase my favorite POTUS. But we fancy ourselves decent people and as such we believe in equality. Some people call this many things, one of them being feminist. I prefer to think of it as decent, but fine, feminist is a badge we men in this family will wear well if a woman so chooses to place it on us.

So you could imagine my shock when I heard Charlie dancing around the house singing…

‘Shake it, shake it, Hillary.’

On it’s face this may be the exact antithesis of what we hope for our boys. It sounds objectifying. It sounds dismissive. It sounds sexist. And it would be if, say, I were the one saying it. It wasn’t me. It was a six year old kindergartner.

I got one of those Google Home things for my birthday. It’s amazing and can change how everything in your home, née your life, works. It can apparently simplify everything from taxes to exercise, provide onsite security and clean your house at the mere utterance of ‘ok, google.’ This is what the commercial will have you believe. For our purposes however it’s mainly a voice operated speaker. It plays music. Still, a great value for such a magical thing.

One of the magical memories of our brief, though memorable courtship my wife and I share were our many weekend trips from the city up to our favorite hippy dippy slow food gourmet restaurant in Woodstock. We used to luxuriate on the rides upstate. After our meals we would drive home, not a care or pressure in the world. After having kids I’m pretty sure I remember life before as pressureless. One of the things we liked to do on these weekend trips was listen to cool radio. We dated in our 30’s so sometimes this meant NPR weekend entertainment. Other times it meant college radio. WFUV was a favorite. You could get it for about the last hour or so of our ride back to Astoria, Queens.

‘This is a Dead song. I don’t know who’s playing it, but the dead played it as well.’ I said.

‘Hmm. It’s good.’ She said.

We enjoyed after the song hearing the story of the song, what the meaning of the song was and all it’s somewhat obvious storytelling. The history of the song was fascinating as well. How different bands had come to it, earliest known playing of it and the songwriters story. I could have this all wrong. Whatever was said, we both kinda fell in love with the song. ‘Sugaree’ was the name and it was one I’d always known but never really heard. It was like we discovered it together that night.

So fast forward eight or nine years and it was nice to finally have our magical voice activated jukebox be able to whisk us back to that awesome time. It was a more than risqué song, but it was buried under melody and metaphor and adult knowledge, and none of the words in themselves were bad, so what harm could it do to have it playing while we raised two little boys. Besides, could do worse than the Grateful Dead.

Until your burgeoning little man starts singing a woman’s praises by imploring, ever so innocently, to ‘Shake it, shake it, Hillary.’

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.

t1_picture-day-_medler-1

What’s In a Name?

  I’m in writer’s groups. Private groups that more than anything else have really made me feel like I’m a real writer. Really writing actually has very little to do with feeling like a ‘real writer’ in my experience. Being allowed, if not always invited, into these private groups on the other hand is validating.

In the past week or so a couple of these groups have had discussions about the names we’ve chosen for our blogs. After sharing my story, after telling all these cool writers why I chose ‘Developing Dad’, it occurred to me it’s a topic I’ve never fully addressed here. 

Developing Dad. It’s become a part of my identity. A part that feels so natural now that I’ve already gone through the phase of hating the name and have come all the way back around to thinking it’s pretty perfect. It’s me. Rather, it’s very very imperfect, just like me. 

So, anyway…

Let’s just start with the obvious. Alliteration. Alliterative titles sell. This piece of marketing wisdom, completely fabricated by me, is the full extent of my knowledge in the field. So there’s that. 

I started writing about what I was experiencing as I prepared to greet our firstborn. When my wife was about 3 or 4 months pregnant with Charlie I decided that I’d write about what the experience was like. I’ve always been a ‘writer’, but I’d never been so publicly. So that first venture, well, it was a dipping my toes experience. I created a ‘blog’ that literally no one, no one at all, read. I mean not a single time. Except for that terrifying time I sent it to someone who is a writer that I knew from work. She nearly immediately moved across country. I don’t think it was because I shared (ugh) some incoherent, self involved, unedited mouth vomit with her, but I wouldn’t blame her at all if it hastened her desire to return to whence she came. Sincerely, I’m sorry Rebecca. I thank you for protecting my dignity.

After we had the kid I went into a bubble and got lost. I fell in love, lost my mind, grew old and weary and eventually was so broken down that I needed to write to regain a sense of self. This all occurred in about two to three months. These writings, which grew in many cases out of my aforementioned mouth vomit, became passable, mildly succinct stories. Sincerely, Rebecca, I am so sorry I didn’t wait. I got much better. I must have sent you 10,000 words. I still lose sleep over it. 

One day I heard a story on NPR. It was about a site that was amazingly beautiful for readers called medium. It sounded great and it was free, so I culled through some stories and found one that summed up how I felt about becoming a dad and I put it on medium and I thought, what the hell, I got kids now, I have to pursue, even if meekly, my dreams. How else will I ever be able to tell them to do so. So I shared it on Facebook. Well, my friends really liked it. So many nice things to say. It was a buzzing charge to my brain and I started writing like crazy. Before long I looked around and knew I had to have a blog. A place to contain it all. 

I didn’t think of it for more than a day. I was thisclose to naming it ‘Daddy’s Issues’, but thankfully I laughed that one off and went with Developing Dad. 

One way to look at it, the way I see it on the surface it that I was about 2-3 years into this whole daddy thing and what had become evident to me was that every time I felt competent, every time I thought, man, I got this, well, my kids reminded me… nope. Being a dad is not something you become and then you are that. It is, but it’s also so much more than that. It turns out that dadding is something of a constant evolution. I’m in fact always, endlessly in the act of becoming a dad. I’m always developing as a dad.

Another way to look at it, the way I’ve looked at it for the most part, is entirely different. I’m an old dad. I am 42 at the moment and my kids are 5 and 3. I have a good long time left and I’m going to make the most of that time. But being this age I’ve realized some things I hadn’t realized when I was 22 or even 32. One of those things is that I want to know everything about my parents. I want to know how they met, what they were like before they met, how they made it through having young kids and no money, what life was like when they were young, what their parents were like, why they chose to do what they did, what made them laugh, what their favorite movies were, how they dealt with losing their parents, how much they loved me, how they did so even when I was awful to them. I want to know everything.  My kids questions might not be exactly the same as mine, but I suspect they will want to know more than they will ever ask. Will wonder what we were like when we had them, will look at our old bodies and wonder why we look at each other the way we do. It’s a cruel trick life plays, to put us with these people for the entirety of the time when we are solely interested in ourselves only to take them away before we’ve had time to fully know them. 

Well, I hope this collection of stories, about everything I am, my memories and my thoughts and my opinions and my love and my humor, I hope it’s something they can come to when they want to know more. I hope that it’s something they can read and hear my voice when they can no longer hear it anywhere but here, and in their memories. I hope that if they ever question what they are worth they’ll be able to come here and know that they are the entire world to me and their mom. When the memories are all that is left and they wish they had the chance to know me more I hope they can take some comfort knowing that I left as much of myself as I could right here, for them, to bring the picture they might have in their head, a picture they will think is not fully developed, into better focus. 

When I’m gone and all that’s left of me is this I hope it’s a tool they can use to more clearly see who I was and how much they meant to me. 

That’s what’s in a name. 

The Lodge Part Two; Faking It

I have a good deal of respect for the fraud I was at that time. My bravado and false courage was believable. I was 22, driving a 15 seat van from deep in the Catskills down to Union Square where I would pick up families that included at least one member who was diagnosed with an intellectual and/or developmental disability. Pick up was at 5pm on Fridays in the middle of Manhattan. I was the host and the boss. The looks I got. I ignored them, but they were evident. I would drive families that had never met before through the dark and snow to a camp in the mountains that was so remote that the road turned to dirt about a quarter mile out. No houses or light emanating from anything but the vehicle. It had all been arranged by a finely tuned, though still almost totally pen and paper bureaucracy that I had a good deal of responsibility for. They were startled and perhaps a tad frightened by me.

‘You’re Joe MEDLER?’ They’d ask. ‘This Joe Medler?’ They would hold the letter, sometimes pulled from the envelope with my handwriting on it, looking very official, with the logo for AHRC of NYC across the top and a list of board officers and members cascading down the left hand side and point to my name under my signature.

‘Yep. You’re in the right place. Is this Daquan, then? Hey man. Are you excited to head up to the mountains? We’ve got so much fun stuff planned for you.’ I’d say, moving right past the doubts of these now very worried people and instead engaging the kids. I had at least the accidental wisdom of engaging thoughtfully with kids without patronizing them. Usually at least.

Smartest In the World. And Robert.Thank god I didn’t recognize the doubt they must have been feeling. I mistook it for something I wanted to help change. It motivated me to be brave and bold and try honestly to change the world. Had I any of the wisdom I’ve gained since becoming a parent, wisdom that often is cloaked in fear and worry, I’d have known they were judging my youth and inexperience. I’d say they were right to have made such a judgment in general, but to this day, and I suspect for the rest of my life, this is the place and the job I was most perfectly suited to. Which isn’t to say this piece of the job was my strongest suit, but this place was the place that fit most perfectly with my emerging sense of right, wrong, fun, learning, priorities. It perfectly reflected my sensibilities. Harriman Lodge. Its my home, the one in my heart and it will always be to some degree.

I arrived at the place from across the state a summer or two ago. I don’t remember the timeline that well anymore. I was driven by my dad as it was the tail end of childhood and the leaping off point for my whole life. My confidence may have had little foundation, but it had good bones. I was a person taught to do what I believe even when it’s hard, especially when others aren’t. I had not yet applied these teachings, but somehow just being here, jumping in with two feet to a new and strange world and becoming a native felt like a stance. Taking the concerns of a person with disabilities as seriously as they took them, feeling like you were literally providing and caring for people that must have had innumerable amounts of ‘no’ and inadvertent and quite intentional discrimination heaped on them over a lifetime that often included severed family relations, neglect and institutional abuse felt world changing. It felt like I was making their lives better and as a result I was finally important. I was important for taking the care of and showing respect for people that needed help to have their voices heard. I was alongside the most wildly diverse assemblage I’ve ever been a part of, young people from all over the globe looking for a unique way to grow up while having fun and being the change they wanted to see in the world. It turned out that the people that were in our charge had a far greater impact on our lives those summers then we EVER could have had on theirs.

That first year was the moment I’ll always think of as my time of discovering the world and inventing myself. Leaping on opportunity and working 7 days a week, up to 20 hours a day, and no less then 16. Even when you were asleep in the cabin you always had one ear open in case a person that needed help was seeking it. You and 5 other counselors in a cabin of 18 guys. Then the leader of the cabin walks off the job, unable to deal with it. Then the Marine, couldn’t hack it. Finally it was me, Mike and Tony. The suburban, the urban and the Russian. And we did it. We had help, but we gave ourselves completely to our guys for more than half of the ten week summer. Ragged and bedraggled. Excitable and exhausted. It was and remains the greatest accomplishment of my professional life. I was 21, a knuckle headed post-teen finding purpose with the rest of us.

We’d all go on to have challenges and struggles. We’d resist the responsibilities of adulthood, shrink at times we should have roared and not use the springboard we were given to jump ahead in life. We’d all come back and do it again and again. I stayed 8 years, often through the long and lonely winters where I’d carry comfortably huge responsibilities only to crumble during down times that allowed me to wallow in ways I needed to in order to grow up. It was the formative experience of my life. One ONLY matched by becoming a parent.

Cheers 95For the first few years I identified as ‘Staff’. God that was awesome. We were weirdos and tough guys and earth mom’s in training and world explorers. Intellectuals bent on bending the world and lifelong service providers. We were on the one hand always ready to be silly and on the other hand so new at adulthood that we applied aesthetic judgment to the way we held our cigarettes. We were terribly vulnerable and horribly self-conscious and lacking the self awareness necessary to avoid embarrassment. I can look at the pictures for hours. When a new one shows up on Facebook I pray all of us will jump on and relive those times and speak of reunions. I can’t tell you how much I hope one comes to fruition. I love those people like my family. They were the people present at my coming of age story and I was present at theirs. I am of these people and I couldn’t be more proud of that.

Something strange happened over my time there. Fully integrated with the staff at 21 I started the slow move away from the group. It took a few years and a promotion or two, but before you knew it I was starting to realize that I was a lifer. I only stayed eight years, but in that time I became part of the permanent structure of the place. Before long I stopped having the bonds with the staff. The staff I’d always thought of as the ‘permanent structure’ that stayed in place as groups of ‘guests’ would come and go throughout the summer, two weeks at a time. I would be emotional when they’d leave and I’d reminisce with my fellow staff, the others left behind. You have no idea how much you bond with someone in this type of setting. How many emotions and experiences you can share in just a few days. But eventually as I got more involved in the year round operations my staff family became ‘big mama’ (Director), Big Joe (Caretaker extraordinaire of the facility) and Jessa-Lee (Year round rep for the AHRC NYC organization for the first couple years). To this day they feel like family to me. Jessa-Lee, though I haven’t seen her in ages, is still one of my very best friends. These people knew me as a pup and not only allowed me to grow up, they facilitated it. Put up with my shenanigans, the false starts and the inconsistencies and knew I was able and entrusted me. Partly because I was the only one who would do some of it, but lots of times because they had faith in me. So I had faith in me.

After that, my family became the guests themselves. My former self, my ‘staff’ self looked out to a horizon that went as long as the evening light. Perhaps into September. It was a short view. By the end I knew that I was with the guys. I was there every year, like they were. It was the staff that changed. Some returners every year, but eventually they all left. We stayed. At least until we didn’t.

There are times now when I look back and know I couldn’t do now all I did then. On the most basic level, it’s a young person’s game. The commitment, the hours, the emotionally raw feelings that come with the whole endeavor, it would be too much now. But I still wish I could do it. I still draw on it, like all of us who were lucky enough to have been there do. It provides a soulful foundation for me. Remembering the whole thing. It’s where I’d fall to if all else failed, if every imaginable tragedy were to befall me, I could always go back there and live out my days working for a roof and food. Sounds crazy I know, but it’s a real thought. It’s even a fall back plan in my mind for me and Karen. We hope to live out our days in our lovely home and have a fully realized vision for what our future will look like. But when discussing fall back plans in the event they should become necessary, the idea of camp has come up on several occasions.

I guess you have to fake it when you start. I did, at least. There wasn’t anything to draw on so you make it up. All of it. Then at some point you realize, I’ve been making it up for so long that in the process something has been made. The whole of the experience has to amount to something. It just has to. For me it amounted to me. I faked it, I made it and that made me.

Museum Pieces

2013-07-19 15.29.15 2014-05-25 14.41.04

 

 

 

 

 

 

The display is nearing completion. There are a few pieces left to be completed, logged, inspected and displayed. This exhibition is of my most productive period and will be in permanent residence in the grand hall. The room, the central hub and featured showroom has been closed to all visitors for nearly four years. That’s how long it has taken to produce and display the items that are to be featured. There has been a great deal of buzz generated by myself, the curator and a collaborator on this project, but the room itself has hosted only those crucial to the process. The grand hall in the museum of my life will be hosting the display, ‘our family, the early years.’

I’m forever curating the museum of my life. There is endless detritus that is logged once, noted and recorded for historical purposes and donated or outright given to others or placed in the cold, dark, vast warehouse of forgotten details and mementos. Of those items that I choose to display they are ordered by importance and their prestige is evident in how I choose to display them.

This room will feed me and fuel me through the times that lie ahead. Times that will so devastate me that they will make me wonder what all this was for. My aim is to curate an exhibit so stunning, so perfectly designed for my audience of one, for me, that I will be so enamored of it as to be unable to wander too far from it. That my compulsive need to gaze on the wonders of the world that were made just for me will hard wire the memories and the feelings that drove me to complete such an ambitious, albeit not groundbreaking, body of work. I will wallow in it, work in it, invest energy in keeping it pristine. All of this in the hopes that even in my feeblest state I’ll always know my way back to that room. That room filled with love and meaning and work and creativity and awe and beauty. Its the room that I intend to live in for as long as I can. When I can’t I intend to visit it often to marvel at it’s treasures and handle those pieces that so transformed and transfixed me. And when I can no longer manipulate the artifacts of my specific humanity anymore, I intend to nest in them once more as I did the first time, in order to feel that pride and love and warmth until I die, smiling at what was and what is.

This document is a map of sorts to a memory or two. An artists description of the work in real time to be used by me as a patron of the museum in the future. It will help me access more fully the pieces that are before me. I’m compelled to do this to make up for all those pieces I didn’t log in this way due to exhaustion and the foolish belief that the memories would be so powerful as to never drift away into the ether. Perhaps I thought them permanent in some way, a way that would make documenting it formally a waste of time. Foolish indeed and I should have known better. But, ours is not to wonder why, and so forth…

What follows is for you, yes, reader, truly it is. Knowing that you read, and that you are occasionally moved to engage with me has also added immensely to my experience. But it is also for me and for my wife and our kids. A log of sorts, though I hope an artful one, capturing this time. A fools errand to be sure, and likely a fruitless and hopelessly failing attempt to capture just a piece of its essence for our future enjoyment.

Teddy sits in my lap, every night sometime between 8 and 8:30. Bathed and brushed and comfy in his pajamas. He’s my little bedtime buddy. He’ll cry when I pick him up and momma gives him his Elmo doll. A doll too small to be his lovey, but it is what he has chosen and our many attempts to provide him with a larger, more plush and easier-to-find-in-your-sleep or in the darkness of waking at 2AM doll have been shunned. ‘Mo-mo’, as he calls him, is his guy. The rest are discarded, literally thrown overboard, if he notices them. Two dolls other than mo-mo stay in the bed, a floppy brown bunny and a standard issue bear, but they are so untouched as to be unnoticed. The routines are a dead giveaway now and he cries and lunges for mommy when it clicks for him that it is bedtime. She is a bit more pliable in terms of keeping to the schedule in general and he thinks if he could just get me to hand him over to her, he’d be able to avoid his fate. Neither momma nor I pay any attention to this complaint anymore as it ceases by the time we get to the stairs, a walk of no more than 12-15 adult steps from anywhere on the first floor of our small and perfect little suburban home, and usually not more than 5 steps from where he’s been picked up, in the living room.

Once to the stairs we make a dramatic flourish of thrusting our hands upward, toward the second floor, a show of bravado that he and I enjoy and one that always brings a smile to his face. Thusly we proceed up the stairs, following our outstretched hands and giggling when we get to the top. The theatricality of it all is just plain silly, but if you haven’t seen him do it it’s just not altogether possible to understand how adorable it is. He is not going to have these cheeks, these bubbly, adorable cheeks, for much longer, but for the time being anything I can do to make him smile, I will.

Once on the landing we turn left to the bedrooms. Theirs one to the right, but we loaded up all our stuff in it when we moved in and now only reference it if something is in there which needs to be extracted or if we need a place to shove things when people are coming over. It is now, and I imagine will forever be referred to by Karen and I as ‘the cottage’. We christened it when it became the place we flopped down in when we’d pushed enough crap to the sides to lay out a futon mattress and it became the place where sick parents slept, or where we’d lie during that glorious long weekend when we had managed to get them napping at the same time. Our room shared a wall with theirs and we weren’t going to risk even the possibility of being the reason they might wake up.) I plop him down and he runs into his room. Once there he looks around for a second spots the glider chair that was initially used for nursing but is now the rocking chair, and makes a break for it. I pretend to be outraged and shocked, every night, that he’s going to sit in daddy’s chair, and he struggles his way up there, climbing like a pro, sits proudly and takes in my displays of shock, both facial and audible, and laughs proudly. I don’t know if you have access to a two year old, but if you do, spend AS MUCH TIME AS POSSIBLE watching them walk around in pajamas. It’s just awesomely cute. Then I pick him up, turn on various, strategically placed little lights, turn off others, turn on a bit of white noise and proceed to work my way through his stack of books until he decides he’s done, or we finish all of them. To this point, we’ve only added and not yet removed any of his books. Little Blue Truck and Goodnight Gorilla are the musts but usually it’s all of them. I’ve dozed off while reading. One of the pleasant side effects of this phase of life for me is that I have no trouble falling asleep. It’s getting to be a lot. I always roust quickly enough, but his weight and warmth on my lap, the dim lights and the repetitive pleasantness of the books have a mildly narcotic effect on me. Once done I sing to him. Usually starting with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, then You Are My Sunshine… I may hum from there, I may move to the Beatles. Some Blackbird, some early parts of Hey Jude, maybe some God Only Knows by the Beach Boys. I usually put him down at this time, but yesterday he made me hold him for a bit and kept bringing my hand up to his cheek, so it rested on him, fully holding his face on the outside, while the inside was pressed against my chest while he sat in my lap. If a meaning of life can be said to be a visceral feeling rather than a thought or a defined purpose, this is one of the meanings of my life.

This is one of the routines that evolve early in life that feel like they will last forever, but tend to last a few weeks to a few months before necessity forces them to change or the child simply loses interest and the routine is no longer effective. While I haven’t done a wonderful job of logging them, as I’m doing now, I hope to do more in the near future. Hopefully this is a nostalgic dad’s lament, chapter 1. I want to go back to the old video’s and photos and jog memories and come back here and record them in detail, as much detail as possible, before they are all gone and I look at the photo’s and see my beautiful boy and remember everything he ever said, but start saying things like, ‘I don’t remember that apartment so much anymore. Was Charlie born yet when we moved in there? Was he only in the apartment for the first year or was it closer to two?’

2014-10-26 16.05.05-1 2013-01-01 13.55.04

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t want that fate. But it or some more addled version of that state, or some less benevolent version of it is surely approaching. Just as new and exciting and enriching phases of my kids lives are heading this way. So rather I log my memories, in pictures and in words in hopes that those triggers will trigger in me responses that will transport me in an instant back to that dark room, in our still disheveled, not fully occupied or appointed tiny little house where I can giggle with Charlie over the silliness of him pretending to be a dog named Sonny. Where I can pretend his carrots are puppy treats, a move I’ve stolen from his mother, in a multipurpose front room with makeshift changing stations and an unused fireplace and gates blocking every exit. To the place where my little boy won’t let me take my hand from his cheek. Where he will simply find the hand if it goes missing, and place it back on his cheek as he knows that is what’s needed. He’s right, and its one of the chief pleasures of my entire existence, and I will become a silly nostalgist adrift in gauzy memories and I will lose all currency and relevancy willingly if it will help me to remember this beautiful place of messy, sloppy, crazy love where our family began.