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family

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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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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Cape Crusading

by on Jun.24, 2011, under family, travel

Family vacation – 6 days, 5 nights in Cape Cod, bookended by a combined total of about 20 hours of driving.  Despite the latter, the trip proved to be a lot of fun and a welcome reprieve from the daily routine.  Sure the kids had their questionable moments and I’m coming to learn that there are some tensions that come with parenthood that will likely take years to uncoil (though I suspect the specific cause will simply shift over the decades until they are finally untethered and on their own), but all in all it was a great trip.

We started our vacation the day after school was out for summer – packed the car to the gills with food, toys and clothes (both for the destination and the journey), and headed out as early as we could with the hopes of being well past the major metropolitan areas before the afternoon rush.  As it turned out, Google Maps failed me in its default recommendation and led us most of the way there via I-95 – as a result we were moving at a rate between 10 and 40 mph from Northern New Jersey to mid-Connecticut.  We managed to get out of the congestion briefly just past New Haven only to hit rush hour shortly after and until Providence, RI.  Despite all of these transit setbacks, the kids were well-behaved, remained in good spirits, and generally kept themselves entertained for most of the journey.  For part of the trip I decided to stream Pandora through my iPhone – I had previously setup a number of stations to suit various tastes:  one with a variety of modern music that I like, one based on a number of feel-good songs that my wife likes, and one based on a playlist of songs that the kids have come to enjoy (containing songs from artists such as Ok Go, The Gorillaz, Pomplamoose, and “Give Up the Funk” by The Parliament Funkadelics).  I started by playing the kids mix and apparently got a stream of about 7 or 8 70s funk songs … which the kids seemed to enjoy much more than I would have expected.

The resort that we stayed at was a small collection of quaintly-sized homes (mostly single-story twins) that was situated right on a bay near Hyannis.  The unit we opted for had one bedroom with a twin and a full sized bed in it and a Murphy bed in the living room.  Initially the kids found the Murphy bed so fascinating that they opted to take that bed while my wife and I would get the separate beds in the bedroom.  But in less than a half hour they were fighting (Cricket kept whining because Grasshopper kept kicking her, Grasshopper kept kicking Cricket because she wouldn’t stop whining, etc.) which required them to be separated.  So the first night I got the bedroom with Grasshopper and my wife and daughter shared the Murphy bed.  For the rest of the week the kids took the bedroom and we took the living room and all was copacetic … except for the fact that the kids seemed to like to wake at the crack of dawn.

The first morning, Grasshopper was up at 4:30am.  He seemed unsettleable so I gave him some books and toys and told him to play quietly.  After about 45 minutes of that, he had to go wake up his sister, and by 6:00 they had my wife up and trooped on down to the beach.  At around 7:30 they returned so that I could take a shift and my wife could get in a little more sleep, so I took them back to the beach where the played happily until about 10 before we gathered to plan our day.  The rest of the week we got to sleep in until around 7 to 8 (one of the drawbacks to being somewhere with a wide horizon on some of the longest days of the year).

Most of our days were punctuated by day trips to various parts of Cape Cod.  On Father’s Day we drove up the National Sea Shore and spent the afternoon in Provincetown.  We managed to visit 2 museums (a pirate museum on the pier as well as a Cape Cod history museum at the base of the Piedmont Monument), climbed the tower, and I got Cricket to try seafood (which she insisted she hated, but after a bite of my lobster BLT, she ended up stealing a quarter of my sandwich and on a seafood quest for the remainder of our trip).   We spent the next day in Chatham enjoying the beach, perusing the shops, and watching the seals circle the fishing boats at the docks, and spent Tuesday enjoying the amenities closer to the resort (e.g., the pool, the beach, and various mini-golf courses) before finally packing up and leaving on Wednesday.

Looking back at the trip, I’m sure my wife and I would have had a more relaxing version of a vacation were we there without the kids, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.  Even when the kids were pushing their limits (e.g., hooting as they ran up and down the ramps in the Piedmont tower to hear themselves echo), we couldn’t help but take joy in their unbridled enthusiasm.  And the trip gave me a new perspective on all of the family vacations I remember taking as a kid.  In the end, I managed to relax and unwind a little and spend 6 days not touching a computer, not being concerned about deadlines or meetings, and not needing to know what time it was – at the cost of a little loss of sleep and a little sunburn.  And considering the kids (and my wife) wanted to know if we could move there, I’d imagine it was good for them too.  Now I have to figure out when we can afford to do it again.

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