Tag Archives: writing

The Lodge, Part V: Figuring it Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Guests?’

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

‘That’s interesting.’ Mom said.

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

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

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

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

‘Joey. I’m really proud of you.’

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

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

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

3AM

I’m sick of everyone 

and their crockpot recipes. 

I’m sick of their Midwest mockeries. 

I’m tired of the constant cacophony 

of pained but righteous melodies 

sung by sparrows feeling entitled to everything 

and assholes baring their baritones 

and all the others who can’t be alone. 

Who won’t atone. Who sling their wares 

through country roadsides and broader thoroughfares. 

All the noise feels redundant but looks resplendent. 

Feels remarkable. But sounds insolent. 

I’m tired of wanting and wishing and playing 

never missing a moment I’m convinced is so vital 

to find it arrives and passes with no residue, no lasting. 

I leave wanting not more, not less. 

All I ever want is next. 

This can’t be me. It can’t be what it seems. 

I’m filled and fly on wings of dreams 

but ever I know and ever I try there’s nothing left but next. 

Next year and sorrow. 

Next pity and wallow. 

Next thing to be earned next feeling to burn. 

Forgotten piles amount to a life well mined 

by others who don’t give mine the time 

or the mind.

Funny Boys

Charlie: I like this one.

Teddy: I like pick pun

Charlie: What’s a ‘pick pun’?

Teddy: Um.. It’s a kind of pun?

Charlie: What’s a ‘pun’?

Teddy: It’s a type of berry.

************

These conversations happen all the time now. So often I don’t even hear them. They are part of the white noise of parenthood, the ever present hum that fills the background of our lives and colors the corners of the spaces we share. They are amazing and we hardly ever notice them. But we were in the car and I happened to note the entire exchange. Once it hit me I couldn’t stop laughing. Like, fully exhaled, tears coming, hysterical laughter. This was brilliantly funny.

First is the simple mock of ‘I like pick pun.’ This is a four year old’s greatest tool when confronting an irresistible force such as an older brother with whom he is endlessly enamored with and to whom he feels the yoke of tyranny. The force is strong in Teddy and he will be free the yoke sooner than I might even imagine, but for now the older brother is living up to his first born obligations as an authoritarian leader. He can’t and won’t be dissuaded. Though we do check his power whenever we see him abusing it. We’re even preemptive if we think any situation, from which order to eat his dinner to how long he is entitled to play with his own toys before ‘sharing’ them (like a feudal tax) to his (tor)mentor, the older brother.

Charlie, for his part, ever the straight man in this entire exchange, took his younger brother at face value. He was genuinely curious as to what a ‘pick pun’ was. The air of my second child changed. What was a playful, mocking tone immediately became something far more worthy of genuine consideration. His idol and hero noticed him. He asked him a question. He was interested in what was being said to him! I could practically hear his inner monologue as he pondered what to say now that he’d found himself here. ‘OMG, this is really happening. He want’s to know something that I can tell him… Don’t blow it… What is a pick pun, what is a pick pun.. ‘It’s a kind of pun.?.’ ‘

A good deal of the humor was in this shift from total silliness to serious.

‘What’s a pun’ said Charlie.

It worked! Teddy tested the waters with nonsensical logic and he bought it. He was on the line. This was more than a bite.. Now, how to reel him in..

‘It’s a type of berry.’

Talk about nailing the dismount…Brilliant! My boy is a creative genius!

Some might say that this simple exchange is not worthy of this level of line by line analysis. To them I say leave the assessment of my child’s genius to me. For now I will proceed knowing that regardless of whether or not these boys decide to develop this act, regardless of whether they choose the fame and riches of comedy genius, it doesn’t matter. Perhaps they will find more fulfillment in some other line of endeavor. But I’ll know, I’ll always know that they will always have this talent to fall back on. Not only as a career, but as a tool to navigate everything from meeting people to handling rejection. These boys are legit and the ‘yes and’ crowd should keep an eye on this up and coming improvisational duo.

What’s a pick pun.

It’s a kind of pun.

Gold, Jerry!

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More Than Life Itself

ILYMTLI. I love you more than life itself.

Real people have real tragedy. Sometimes unique and awful. Other times universal and awful. So when Michael ‘positivity’ Davies, he of the Men In Blazers podcast, thanked the many GFOP’s (fans of the podcast) who’d reached out through email and social media to send their condolences for the recent passing of his mother, I could feel his pain, even if he wasn’t sharing it. He remained positive, remained grateful. But in there I could hear the sadness and in the sadness I could see the love he had for the woman he credited with making him a football fan.

In wrapping up the discussion, before moving on to the weeks events in the Premier League, he noted that he loved how his mother always signed off on everything she wrote to him with ILYMTLI. It stood for ‘I love you more than life itself’, which both hosts agreed was practically a gushing paean to the love of a mother for her child for a woman of her generation in England. What with their stiff upper lip defiance of the decimating effects of the war. He knew he was loved and felt lucky to have been told so. He was made more aware of how appreciative he was when she passed.

I think love, in addition to all it’s other benefits, is a tool we have to understand life. At the moment while I’m in the middle, little ones to one side and wise old heads to the other, I’m starting to understand the scope of my life because I can see the most of it that I ever will. I am lucky that the bonds I have reflect what Mrs Davies so clearly felt and what was so clearly perceived by her son. My mother and my father loved and love their children more than life itself. I love my children the same way. I love them far more than I ever knew I could love anyone. Maybe love, the type that stretches out looking to connect, to understand, maybe that is running a deficit these days. Maybe our seeming lack of empathy, however it has come to be is creating negative spaces for unexpected and unrecognized compassion to grow.

There is love in the relief. Amidst the unwavering anxiety and stress is a love and empathy that is unmistakeable. I write often emotionally attached, perspective driven, heartwarming stories that satisfy fully ones need for warmth, my need for it. But if I’m being honest there is often a shadow energy of fear and sorrow and worry. It may be unspoken, or it may be hinted at but most times its there and it allows for my evocations of love and hope to have more impact. I’m not suffusing the stories or anything, that’s just the reality for me right now. All of this, life itself has only become something I can truly appreciate now that I am able to see that I can’t hold it forever. Now that I know that the stories I’m most intrigued by, most invested in, most in love with, my sons, are stories that must outlast my time here. That’s if I’m lucky. I won’t dare entertain other outcomes. But the slippery nature of life, the dawning understanding of my own mortality at the same time as I learn my purpose can lend an underlying air of sadness that is often the impetus to live more fully and more in the moment and can result in great joy and peace and love.

Love does important work when it is hiding in the background, allowing space for fear and anger and envy and anxiety. Love is smart and sees the long game. Love knows survival wins in the end and is content to wait quietly in the background for her moment while her more eager and urgent compatriots burn themselves out. Those other emotions for all their bluster are unsustainable. She stays steady in the air we breathe and finds just the moment to engage again.

Love, empathy, compassion. These are things that disguise themselves as wonderful frivolities but they are not frivolous. They are the ultimate payoff for our toils. Without them all of this, all of life, so grand and connected, is for nothing.

There is a lot of love that is going to be needed someday when all the anger and fear that are so ubiquitous in the air right now burns out. I hope it does so before it grows and causes irrevocable tragedy. I hope that we are able to correct our course before the whole world is set aflame. I’m doing my best to protect the spaces that are safe for tenderness and caring. But those spaces that feel safe are getting smaller and smaller.

I hope for an equal swing to love and empathy and kindness and understanding that will arise as the pendulum swings back the other way, whenever that my be.

Picture Day on Mamalode

Today I’m looking back and projecting forward as I look at my son on Picture Day. Click the link to see my story on Mamalode.

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Fragile and Brave on Mamalode

There are things you forget. Wisdom’s that disappear as you grow. Things you shed intentionally or coincidentally. Having my kids has reminded me that there is great benefits to be had by allowing the world in and letting it effect you.

Today I’m on Mamalode with my piece, Fragile and Brave. Please go there and take a look. I’d love to hear your thoughts. While you’re at it take a moment to look around. If you like my writing there’s a good chance you’ll LOVE the writers at Mamalode.

Thank you and I hope you have a wonderful day!

‘Good Schools’ on Good Men Project

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

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

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

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