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Leap On

by on Feb.29, 2016, under About Me, family

On this day 36 years ago my life changed in a way it would take decades to fully appreciate. I welcomed a second little sister into my family who happened to be one of those “leap year babies”. As with any new sibling, reception is mixed and it takes time to see the good in it. My sister had a new compatriot, which gave me occasional respite from her iron will. And I gained an ally against that iron will when it got out of hand (which it often did).

One of the truths of being a leap year baby is that birthdays are a pain. For all the great uniqueness that comes with it in years when the day occurred, also comes a hollowness to celebrations in years when it doesn’t. We’d always make the jokes about it (her only being a quarter of her actual age, not being able to drive being “only 4”, etc.) as humor was a common way to skirt reality in our household. But as much as most of us used that humor as a salve, for my sister growing up in it, it was real. She was a soul of delight and mischief who rarely went down the dark path – always a paragon of hope and optimism.

But then at the ripe age of 4 ¼ (17 in real years), darkness found her. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor – one that was nearly impossible to treat and even harder to remove. In spite of this turn of events, she remained bright and hopeful. She coerced her biopsy surgeon to do minimal shaving so that she could cover her scar with an updo for her senior prom mere days later. She happily moved in with me and my wife in our inarguably shittiest apartment ever so she could have an easier commute to her regular radiation treatments. Even at her lowest – having the swiss cheese memory of an advanced Alzheimer’s patient, she still made jokes and kept us hopeful for her state of mind and recovery.

And despite a bleak prognosis as a teenager, she made it to her 5th and then her 6th “real” birthdays, fighting the good fight all the way. At 24, while she was reliant on a battery of medications to replace every regulatory hormone her body stopped managing (she lost her pituitary gland with the radiation) and had double knee replacements due to the compound effect of her body failing to take care of her own joints or metabolism, she stole the show at her own sister’s wedding by walking down the aisle unassisted.

Twelve years later I still think of that day. And the day that came a month later when she passed.

I think of her in those times bucking every odd stacked against her. It’s easy to look back and feel sorrow for the years lost – both those she half-lost fighting her ailments and those she lost in losing the fight. It’s easy to feel saddened that we can’t still have her presence in the world. It’s easy to look at the day she left us and feel its loss.

But her light wasn’t lost: that light she showed on her prom night, at our sister’s wedding and so many other times in between. There is hope and optimism in me that I don’t think would be there if not for her. There is hope and levity and light that I pass on to my children (without the spectre of being about misdirection and avoidance, but rather about acceptance and joy of life) that I don’t know that I’d have in me if not for seeing it in her.

As much as I miss her, there are some truths that are more important about my relationship with my littlest sister: for the time I had with her in my life, I am better, I am stronger, I am bolder, and I am happier because she existed however briefly. I am a better person than I would have been if the world never had that leap year baby. And I may well be a better person in spite of the loss of her. There are so many things in this world that remind me of her and remind me that I miss her. But in that absence I know better than to regret it or be subsumed by it – she taught me that.

I’m sure not a leap day will pass in my life that I won’t be thinking of her. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Not My Place

by on Jun.03, 2014, under About Me, parenthood, The World

I’ll admit that I led a fairly sheltered childhood. I grew up in a small, semi-rural town in a small, semi-introverted family. We had small circles of friends and family that was distant. And in turn my own circles of friends have always been small and close-knit. I don’t consider myself a close-minded person by any stretch, but my experiences at least in my youth were limited. As a result, relating to the experiences of others has never been my strong suit. What I did have going for me is that I had no perceptual baggage and luckily very few inherited biases. So while I grew up in a fairly culturally uniform area, I absorbed no prejudices from it. But having had limited exposure, I avoid positing positions on cultural issues not my own. It’s not my place.

Through college and work experiences and just life, I’ve been immersed in a more diverse world. And still I’ve avoided picking up too many prejudices or preconceived notions. If anything, many of such notions I hear about often baffled me. So as I became comfortable, I’d challenge such assumptions with my fellows (at least with those I felt I was close enough to) … but not the world at large. It’s not my place.

Now that social media has changed the way we communicate with each other and the world, the opinions and views that I find myself exposed to are too numerous and contrasting to keep track of. And while I hold to the belief that most things fall into the gray, there are some ideas and practices I see in the world that are clearly in the wrong. And while I’ll stand by my fellow person’s rights and liberties, I don’t actively crusade against the wrong-headed idealists of the world. It isn’t my style, or my place.

But now I have children: young budding human beings who cannot possibly live as sheltered a life as I had or avoid the wrong-headedness that is (and really always has been) rampant. While I can teach them the right ideals and principles, good judgment and good values, it isn’t enough. I have to do more. As a parent, this is my place.

And unfortunately part of that job is to teach my kids hard lessons like: to be strong enough not to use violence and negative words against others, to be confident enough to stand by their ideas regardless of whether they are different, to be brave enough to call out others for hurtful or prejudicial behavior. I have to teach my daughter to strive for no less than she wants and deserves even though there are many forces that seem to be working against her simply for being a girl. I have to teach my son to be better than the baser instincts that are so easy to fall slave to and hold to principals of respect and fairness and equality. It will not be an easy road, but it is my place.

But this job has taught me something more – it IS my place to confront the demons of the world. If I can steer my children to a higher standard, why not others? Why not my friends, my family, my peers, my elders? We are living in a world with too much darkness, too much violence, too much victimization and not enough respect and individual responsibility. But it doesn’t have to be this way – we can make it better. We can stop tolerating the injustice and petulance of the lesser among us and start holding them to a higher standard. To live and let live. To take personal responsibility for one’s own words, actions, and station in life. To treat each any every one of us as equals regardless of gender, race, religion, body type, or capabilities. I think we can bring those values to this place called Earth and this race called humanity … if we can’t, then maybe this is not my place.

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Trek Into Darkness

by on May.19, 2013, under family, movies, parenthood

Being a fan of various shows and movies in the Star Trek franchise, especially it’s more recent phoenix-like rebirth, it would be an understatement to say I was eager to see the latest installment in J.J. Abrams treatment of the movie series. I attempted to rally the family around it (my wife and daughter were already on board, but my son seemed to need some persuasion), but when my son (probably wisely) proved too reluctant to endure the sound and fury of the theater despite how exciting the trailer looked. So my wife opted out to stay with Grasshopper while just Cricket and I made a go of it. While the movie left us with warm feelings of contentment, our post-movie conversation left me alone with a cold quiver down my spine.

As any parent can appreciate, drawing a detailed opinion out of a child (at least when it is wanted) is like drawing blood from a stone with ADD. So I’ve learned to ask more pointed questions than simple “What did you think of the movie?” Today’s Q&A went something like this:

Me: So which character did you like the best?
Her: Uhh…that’s hard to say…
Me: Okay, if you could be any character from the movie, who would you be?
Her: OH! I’d be Spock!
Me: Okay, how about if you could go out to dinner and spend time with any character from the movie, who would it be?
Her: You mean if none of the drama and stuff was happening?
Me: Yeah, just you and that person hanging out, no drama.
Her: Ooh – definitely the bad guy!
Me: Why the bad guy??
Her: I don’t know. I just like the idea of going out with the bad guy.

I had trouble coming up with any more questions after that.

My daughter has impressed me on numerous occasions with the characters that she has opted to adhere to in the media she watches. For instance last fall when we opted to go spend some of her allowance at the comic book store (her choice), she ended up deliberating at length between two POP! bobble-head hero toys. Her top choices were Nick Fury and Robin. She settled on Nick Fury and when I asked her afterward why those characters, it was because she saw them as leaders – Fury of the Avengers and Robin of the Young Justice team (based on watching the Young Justice cartoon that we until recently enjoyed watching on Cartoon Network). In this instance, it seemed no different with regard to the first question – she saw Spock as a logical and heroic character unafraid to take charge and act intelligently.

As for the second question, that one just felt too much like the kind of foreshadowing that I could easily have lived without. I love Cricket and enjoy that so far at her young age of 9 boy-related issues are limited to fleeting crushes. And I’ve told myself since she was a baby that I would try my best to be open and accepting of what teenagehood would one day bring. But there have already been touches of temperamental behavior that I can only assume will be exacerbated by puberty. So if there is also the possibility that she will also be a bad-boy chaser, I’m worried for my own resolve in the years to come.

Hopefully I’m reading too much into the statement and she just legitimately thought he would be the most interesting person to hang out with disregarding the potential evil streak. Perhaps like my wife she was captivated by his deep British voice that supposedly sounds like a jaguar trapped in a violin. Or maybe he seemed the safest bet as most of the rest of the characters had quite a handful of scrapes with death in the course of the movie – him comparatively the least often. Or perhaps I should just read less into the whimsical commentary of a 9-year-old and just continue to nurture the right skills and judgment in her until such fears either come to inevitable fruition or fizzle out as a vestige of an unrealized time-line.

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Fido Fear Factor

by on Sep.10, 2012, under family, home & stuff

I am not a dog person.  I’ve never been one and I don’t know that I’ll ever truly change in that respect.  I have always been very independent in nature and as such I don’t jive well with dependencies.  I don’t consider my wife an exception as she is a very independent spirit as well, so we mesh well.  I’ve made the exception with my kids (because ya do) but only so far as I’ll allow them to be dependent – I provide for them as a father does, but I expect them to become well-rounded and independent souls as well (in time).

But I’m not a dog person – I’m more of a cat person.  Cats tend to be more of a roommate than a dependent companion – they expect to be fed and occasionally pet if you have the time, but otherwise they can manage themselves.

By this point, you are probably wondering where this is all going.  Here it is – in spite of my nature, I’m considering getting a dog.  And I’m considering this for none of the reasons that one in my position would do so.  My dad was never really a dog person either, but he let us have dogs as kids because we asked for them.  My kids are not asking for a dog.  I’m not even entirely sure my kids (or my house for that matter) is ready for one.  My wife had dogs as a kid as well, but she isn’t really much of a dog person either.  So it isn’t her that is the motivating factor either – if anything she will see this and try to talk me out of it.

Here is the reason – my nearly 6-year-old son is terrified of dogs.  No, this is by no means an attempt to terrorize my child, but rather a potential means to abate these fears.  Not long ago, my son was a nearly fearless toddler.  And somehow he has transformed into this very fearful kindergartner – he is afraid of dogs, storms, the dark, water deeper than his waist without an immediate exit strategy, movie theaters, and anything that makes scary or foreboding noises, music or sound effects.  Most of these are avoidable elements (to a degree), but the dog fear has been recently having palpable impact on things such as play dates, visits to extended family, and even activities such as walking to school or playing at a park.

Is getting a dog simply to help my son overcome his fear of dogs perhaps overzealous?  I’ll admit the possibility.  I’ll even admit that I’m reluctant to enact it, that my wife will likely disagree with it, and that to do so would guarantee that I would be put in charge of its care (thus accepting yet another dependency).  But part of me feels that it may be a sacrifice worth making for the improvement of my son’s own independence and well-being in the long run.

So while I’m not a dog person, I may soon force myself to be one…at least for the greater good.

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Shake What Mattel Gave Ya

by on Nov.10, 2011, under family, home & stuff, parenthood

Naked BarbiesAs a parent, I’ve come to appreciate the various common experiences and rites of passage of childhood from a different perspective – one that often makes me yearn to remember what it must have been like to be so blissfully ignorant of so much.  Some of these, though, are a bit odder than others.  One in particular that I was recently reminded of is related to Barbie Dolls.

I’m sure I’m not the first to come to this revelation, but I find a certain level of irony in the fact that the very point of variability between the variety of such dolls one could add to one’s collection often ends up the first element sacrificed – their clothes.  My daughter has only about 4 or 5 Barbies (she was never hugely into dolls), and to my knowledge only one complete outfit still retrievable and intact – which, due to the tedium of application often is discarded anyway during play.  While I know that naked Barbie play is a fairly common trend – I had playmates in grade school who had collections of them, I know my wife and her sisters commonly played with them as such in their youth; the only example I know of to the contrary would be my own sisters (they were surprisingly prudish about such matters at the time – I was often sent from the room when outfit changes were in order) – what I find fascinating about this trend is the creative rationalizations built around it.

For instance, just a few days ago I come home to my kids playing with the collection of unclad dolls (the one dress only inches away completely ignored).  When I ask what they are doing, the explanation is that they are shopping at a special grocery store where moms are allowed to shop naked.  In conversations on such topics with my wife, their apparent go-to rationale was that all of the dolls clothes were somehow stolen and there seemed to be a lack-luster effort put into locating or retrieving said items.  My grade-school playmate seemed to have an array of dolls with painted-on underwear (which in most cases she seemed to scrape off).

While I know that Barbie has been used as a focal point as a gateway to the unrealistic female body-images that our daughters (and sons) are exposed to, it is hard to see that affect in the eyes of these children at play that are so innocent as to not fully understand body modesty (a point also clear in the joy they get from stolen moments of naked time after baths or in the mornings).  Don’t get me wrong – I do take the body-image issue seriously.  While we encourage our kids to play and be active, it is never backed by negative messaging (e.g., you need to lose that baby fat).  Hopefully my kids will only retain the positive aspects of these experiences – imaginative, cooperative, and care-free play.

By the way, the picture in this post was found via a Google Image search that was innocent enough in nature (naked barbie doll – with safe search on), and I come to find that someone actually made a calendar full of such images made to look like a pin-up calendar … which is just a bit creepy (also, this pic was the ‘tame’ one from the spread).  I believe that I had read somewhere that Mattel may actually be suing over this, so if the image suddenly stops working there may be a valid reason.

Anyway, if you’ve got any childhood memories of quirky justifications for clothing-optional Barbie play, feel free to share.  Or if you were more like my sisters and kept your dolls chaste, I’d like to hear your stories as well. And in either case, if you feel that your dolls’ proportions influenced your own body-image feel free to discuss.  Thanks for reading!

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