Where Do They All Belong?

As I write this, I am in day two of a four day run where Steph and the kids are away and with their cousins. Having been a parent now for eight-plus years, these pockets of time are rare. It’s certainly odd to come home to complete silence, though any parent will tell you that these breaks are also quite liberating. It’s a strange combination of exhaling and enjoying the quiet and also feeling guilty for being able to exhale and enjoy the quiet while my wife has the kids. I joked with someone at work how weird it is to come home and just be able to put your phone and keys anywhere and KNOW it will be there, right in that spot, the next morning!

It got me thinking about solitude. My childhood was relatively normal. I was into sports, I ran around outside with neighbors, explored the woods behind my house, swam in the summer and rode my bike anywhere I was allowed to. It was also not normal in the sense that my sister was a pretty competitive figure skater, so much so that she went to school part-time for a while. This led to some odd work hours for my parents, who had to a) support her and b) make sure she got from point A to point B every day.

For a while there and if my memory serves me correctly, from the age of about 10 to 13, my mother was working midnight-to-8am shifts at some plastics company in Clinton for a while. Often times my sister would skate before school and my dad had to take her, then head to work himself. Since my mother wouldn’t get home until 8:15 or so,  I’d have to get up by myself, get food and get myself to the bus stop for 7:30. Not normal, but I guess I didn’t know any different. As I think about it and talk about it with others, this is/was very uncommon.

I have some specific memories of this time. Once in a while, my dad wouldn’t go right to work. He’d come home for some reason, I am not sure what. Maybe to see that I’d get off to school ok. And he would bring donuts. Ahhh donuts. It was always great to have those on school mornings, but the truth was it was better to have my dad there because I felt safer. As a 10-13 year old, your mind goes all kinds of places when you’re alone, especially in the winter when the sun doesn’t show itself until around 7am.

Another specific memory is hearing a loud crash and bang at the house while I was still in bed and it was dark. I was so freaked out and scared that I didn’t leave my bed until the sun came up and I literally had get up, get dressed and run like hellfire to the bus stop. Upon returning home from school, I found that the screen door to the backyard had come off it’s track and banged to the ground. That was the noise. But a little kid’s mind wanders, you know?

I think the oddest part of this was when I actually had to babysit a smaller kid. Her sister was a figure skater, too, and both of her parents worked, so it was decided between our  family and hers that I was the best possible option for babysitting her. Are you kidding me? I didn’t think it was a good option. So a few days a week, I’d be on the bus with this meek, skinny little kid (maybe 8?) and the two of us would be at my house until her parents came and got her after work. I can’t remember for the life of me how we filled the time, but I was glad on the days when it wasn’t happening.

It all goes back to the solitude thing. As I grew into an adult, I found that I really loved being by myself. Of course I still do. I remember promising some high school friends that I would be the last one to get married. I was right. I even had two friends from school who were married and divorced before I even got married for the first time! There was a time when I told them I would never get married, in fact. And I probably believed it.

But times change. I guess I could have gone two ways. I could have really been the hermit who moved to Vermont or Western Mass. with all my CD’s and vinyl and stuck it out by myself in a small log cabin (believe me, the thought crossed my mind more than once) or I could do the “normal” thing and get married, have children, etc.

Meeting my wife changed everything, of course. The emotional pull of having a wife and child, as it does with most people, won out. There is tremendous satisfaction in the whole thing, of course. Knowing that you have someone who loves you and is a teammate in everything you do and try – that’s powerful. I got a good one, too. And kids…..oh kids. Nothing in life is so maddening and yet so lovely and satisfying.

So I am enjoying the rare bit of silence right now. I am enjoying it because the solitude defines, to an extent, how I grew up. I found ways to occupy myself. I found ways to be happy. I spent a lot of time in my room, inventing stuff to play or build. It’s where I developed my love for music, which I still have today. It’s where I found my love of books. A kid who was alone as much as I was at home during this time could’ve really gone sideways. And trust me, I almost did go sideways for a while there. I can’t speak to whatever prevented me from doing so. I’d like to think it was a good head on my shoulders, but I don’t think that’s what it was. I think it ended up being a few good teachers in high school who cared about me and just…..maturing. But boy, it was close to going sideways.

We all deserve solitude. But 4 days is probably going to be plenty to get the need for solitude out of my system. By the time everyone gets home, I will revel in the noise, the commotion and the crisis of an 8 year old whose Legos fall apart. The reveling will not last long and then we’ll snap back into our normal routine of parenting….. and living. And my wife, my support system, my teammate, my friend, she will be back and we will continue along our path, still relatively early in our chapters, but writing our book together.

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It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry

There has been a lot of talk over the last few weeks in our house about death. You can’t really tread too lightly over this subject when there’s a couple of kids in the house on the cusp of four asking a lot of questions about it. But there’s a fine line – intricate detail is not needed, either. Obviously.

Stephanie’s grandfather died this week. An absolutely wonderful man. Right up until the day before he passed, he was talking with me about the Bruins and how his favorite player was Patrice Bergeron, because he was a good player on both sides of the ice. His mind wasn’t the problem, his body was – he was 97 years old. It was only about three weeks ago when he was over our house, playing catch with little Zachary. Zachary asked him a few times that day, “when can you come back and play catch?” The look on both of their faces was obviously memorable.

He will be greatly missed and as I understand it, the endless parade of visitors into his room during his last days clearly showed his reach – long and far. He was a man who gave all and asked for little. I am more than proud to have known him for 11 years.

The subject of death, though, had made its way into our house a month or two before this sad event happened. How do you explain death to a child? Really, you don’t. At least not now. The questions are numerous. Sometimes they are heartbreaking, like when Nathan broke out in tears at the dinner table last week because he didn’t want himself or us to die. Or Zachary – we were explaining to him how Stephanie’s grandfather was too old to drive these days so their grandmother (his daughter) did a lot of driving him around. Zachary’s response was one I will never forget in my life: “but Daddy, when I’m too old to drive, will you drive me around?” Of course, I said yes, I would absolutely drive him around. There’s no need to take it any further than that.

There’s also brief mentions of death sprinkled here and there. Of course, it all about processing. They are processing this topic, among many others, but sometimes to listen to all the questions and the worry – it really hurts my heart. You hear this all the time – the adages about how you never want little kids to lose that sparkly-eyed innocence. Indisputably, I feel it more now that I am experiencing it.

Then there’s the humorous. A lot of questions about why half of the Beatles are dead. This came about when the boys went through a phase of wanting the Beatles to come to our house and play their music and I had to explain to them that I would try, but it would be really difficult because two of them weren’t around anymore. There are repeated questions about why some NHL player from the 1950’s broke his leg in a game and eventually died (literally a 1 minute vignette that showed on the NHL Network a few months ago, but they’ve latched onto it). When they play hockey in the basement, there’s the occasional breaking of the leg reenactment (glad this hasn’t happened in a while).

Tonight, out of nowhere during dinner, Nathan turns to me and says “when am I gonna die?” My answer “not for a long long long long long long time, buddy.” And then – on to the next topic.

Believe me, there are plenty of times that I want to fast-forward a few years and get out of the whiny-nagging-tantrum phase that we’re in, but I know the game – one day down the line I’ll be looking back, wishing for “those days when they said and did the cutest things.” That’s the push and pull of parenthood, I suppose.

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My Life In The Game

I couldn’t but laugh as I walked down the supermarket aisle recently. I was just hopping along on my way to get orange juice (I’m back buying Tropicana again now that the cartons are back to normal) and on the way to the OJ section, you have to pass by the magazine section. I had no intention of stopping at the magazines until a casual glance stopped me. A Dustin Pedroia book sat on the shelves. Now, for those of you that don’t know or care, Pedroia is the Red Sox current second baseman.Now, by anyone’s admission, Pedroia has had an impressive first couple of years in the major leagues. All of 25 years old, he’s already won himself a Rookie of the Year trophy and was last years AL MVP. All well and good. But a book? Come on! A BOOK!? Even better, the book is called “My Life In The Game,” as if he’s 62 years old or something. He’s twenty-freaking-five! If I want to read “A Life In The Game” I want to read it from Hank Aaron. Or Sandy Koufax. Hell, even Ron Luciano (old school reference…..and yes, I saw him ump a game in 1979). OK, I get that kids might look up to him. I get it. But a book from a guy whose been a major leaguer for about 2.5 seasons? Cripes! Off my soapbox.

I know, I know. There are a lot of obnoxious parents out there who blog, talk and pontificate endlessly about their children. I try really hard not to be that guy, unless, of course, you ask me. Then I’m a proud, blabbering idiot. But today I’m posting this video, just because I feel like doing it. So enjoy.

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Chirp….Chirp…..Chirp

Huh. Flipping the lights on again in here – it’s been a while. Lots of dustballs and cobwebs….let me clean those out. Where was I? Well, two sick kids will quickly erase any blog ambition or hopes of having a few extra seconds, so much of my computer time went to twitter and facebook blips. Having sick kids is very bizarre. It is very much like you are in a time warp. You know how sometimes when you go on vacation you start to lose track of what day it is. That’s awesome. Not knowing or caring what day it is during a vacation is near-bliss. Having sick kids is like that, except there’s no awesome and there’s no bliss. And there is most certainly no vacationing. In fact, when they’re all better, work actually feels like vacation.

Now, onto blog stuff.

I’m in a phase right now where I really want to spend money. New cell phones, new sound system in the house, new computer, new car, new TV for the wall, new EVERYTHING. I almost pulled the trigger on Bruins season tickets for cripes sake. But I must say (with a very subtle, gentle pat on the back) that I am refraining. The Bruins thing was momentum from their “playoff run.” I held off. I’ve been eligible for a new phone for nearly seven months now, but I held off. My car, while boring, is now seven years old but only has 81,000 miles on it. I will hold off. The computer obviously still works. A new sound system is frivilous. A new TV, however, may be a necesscity as the kids are now able to reach buttons and we’re a little tweaked about them soon being able to pull it off the stand it’s on.

All in all, I am happy to report that my restraint has been terrific, if I may say so myself. I’ve learned a LOT about money management starting back in 1997 and I am happy to say that I am pretty conservative with it. It doesn’t mean I cheap-out on big-ticket stuff, it means that if I don’t really need it, I have the discipline to not get it. My wife is the same and that’s great – money has really never been a sore topic with us.

    Now, onto some must-see video.

    This first video is pretty interesting. It’s from a 1994 NBC news report with Tom Brokaw about “this new thing called “the internet.” Yes, it’s fifteen years old now, but it doesn’t feel like that long ago. You’ll definitely get a kick out of seeing some of the old screenshots and of course, Google’s Eric Schmidt (as a Sun employee) and Bill Gates, looking like a gangly young nerd. Which he was, of course.

    Now, this second video is pure genius. I have never heard of the “keyboard cat” meme until I saw this yesterday, but rest assured, I will now be going out to YouTube and finding every keyboard cat video I can. I mean, the combination of a coked-out Helen Hunt, a cat playing keyboards and Hall & Oates is just way too delicious to pass up.

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    A Systemic System of Systems

    Systems. It’s a word that has a very versatile set of meanings. An IT guy will have a much different gut reaction when he or she hears the word “system” than a football coach will. A lawyer or judge will have a 180 degree differing reaction when they hear the word uttered. The other night Steph and I got into a discussion about our kids, our “system” and how – for us – it’s made our lives easier.

    Having a young child is hard and having twins, well, I can’t say it’s twice the work because I’ve never just had a single baby, but if I had to guess, I’d say twins are at least twice as hard. I can’t speak for Steph, but I believe that we both obviously knew changes were afoot when the twins arrived. We wanted to avoid those situations where you wake up in the morning and bicker about who’s going to take care of the babies or get them up, dressed, etc. So we devised a system. When the kids were too young too have an established sleeping pattern, Steph and I would just pick one child before we went to bed and stay with them through the night. It was kind of like a lottery of sorts. Some nights you might only get one wake-up call. Others, well, you know. Several. For the record, Steph was the first one to sleep a whole night uninterrupted.

    After we (and they) got themselves into a sleeping pattern where they made it through the night (at about 4-5 months old), we then established certain days of the week where we’d get up and take care of their business. So since then and still today we do it this way: on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, I get up with the boys, get ’em dressed, feed them, etc. Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday are Steph’s days. For Wednesdays, we just take turns each week. For us, it works. There’s no waking up and deciding who will get them. If it’s your day, you’re up. It completely removes what could be a negative source of stress.

    So how did we choose the days? If you don’t care, you can skip to the next paragraph. Steph works three days a week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and those are the days our kids are at daycare. That means she spends the whole day with them on Mondays and Fridays. So it only makes sense for me to get up with the boys on Mondays and Fridays since she has to spend the whole day with them those days. It also allows her to sleep in a little bit on those two days and also on Saturdays, which she very much deserves. Pretty simple. I do the day care runs during the week because she’s at work. So at 8:00am and 5:30pm, I’m dropping off and picking up. We always put them to bed together, except on Mondays, when Steph goes off for some free time.

    Anyway, some look at this and may think there’s a regiment. Well, there is. But each household makes their marriage work in different ways. We decided that this system was better for us than the system of waking up, staring at each other and then figuring out who was going to get up. For others, that might work and that’s just fine. I am by no means saying that our way is the only way. It just works for us, that’s all. So all you parents out there, how do you work it? I’m very curious to hear……

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