Category Archives: Dad Stuff

Goodbye, Good Girls

I Am a Little Sad Today

My 81 year-old mother would tell you that the reason she doesn’t look a day over 79 is that she was surrounded her whole life by children.  There were the 16 of her own, the 54 grandchildren, the now 13 great grandchildren, and the host of other people’s kids who, through association with us, were always in and out of our home.  The truth is that being around the young keeps one youthful.  I, too, had hoped to be surrounded by many children of my own but that wasn’t in God’s plan for me.  Instead He gave me two very precious youngsters on whom to focus.  But in an indication that God is the master of comedy He also saw fit to place into my life thousands of other young people.

Thanksgiving two years ago.  Freshman year seems so long ago.

As a once and future high school teacher I have been blessed to spend my days in the presence of the emotional Space Mountain that is the life of an average American adolescent.  And I’ll let you in on a little secret…  They are some of the craziest, most hormonal, cattiest, angstiest, and bizarre people you will ever meet.  But they’re also the most vulnerable, helpless, hopeful, kindest (when they think no one is looking), and beautiful people on earth.  The funny thing is that I never wanted to teach and it took me several years before I felt comfortable saying that I might be good at it.  Yet every single moment has brought joy to my life.

And every single moment has taken a few minutes back from the hand of time.  Although the white whiskers in my beard and the white hairs littering what’s left of my mane belie this fact, very few people would peg me for 41.  Those kids kept me young.  And I’m a narcissist so there’s that.

But every now and then God surprises in ways we don’t expect.  Two of my nieces (cousins to each other) are both college students here in town.  Since they reside 1500 miles from their respective homes and their dear “old” uncle lives 5 minutes away I get the pleasure of seeing them all the time.  One of the two even chose to live with us (saving on room and board) this year.  They are as different from each other as night and day.  Yet they compliment each other nicely.  Observing their daily lives has offered me a glimpse into what it’s like to be 20 years-old today and by osmosis has made me quite relatable to the college set.  I have learned that one can be an adult and have the heart of a child without possessing the mind of an imbecile.  In other words, I’ve found a new rivulet running from the Fountain of Youth and it flows straight into my home.

Oh God, I’m Starving.

One evening last week I was straightening up my kitchen late at night.  My wife was out of town and the college girls were sitting at the counter working on papers.  We all decided that food would be a capital idea at midnight.  Lacking Ramen noodles – I may have absorbed their youthfulness but I am still an adult with a job and some money – the three of us started searching through the cabinets and refrigerator.  The conversation went something like this.

Posing with a keg tree.  Kids today…

Niece 1: Nothing here.
Niece 2: Same in this cabinet.
Me: Damn, the wife left us high and dry.
Niece 1: I thought she said she did some food shopping before she left.
Niece 2: I miss her.
Me: The funny thing is that if she was here right now she’d brush past us, pull out a block of cream cheese, a crust of bread, and some spices and have a full-on meal prepared for us in minutes.
Niece 1: How does she do it?
Niece 2: I don’t know.
Me: I do…  It’s black magic.

Then I went to Taco Bell and we ate like we hadn’t eaten since August.

As the Kids Say

Another benefit of living with these two is picking up on the current lingo.  Over the past few semesters I have found myself dropping such words and phrases as “low-key”, “legit”, “get that bread”, “live your best life”, and my personal favorite “hoe”.  On that last one, it seems funny to me that society has spent countless years trying to “re-program” the younger generation into NOT using archaic slang terms for prostitutes to refer to women.  Yet, the college crowd could care less.  They really have no malice.  They’re just being mischievously rebellious.  And it is quite funny to hear.

Whatever Happened to Going into the Woods with a Six-pack?

The things they do make me laugh.  When I went to college I started smoking cigarettes.  I don’t recommend it unless you’re in a seminary.  I never drank until I turned 21.  I didn’t go to parties because I wasn’t popular.  I didn’t date because I was studying for the priesthood.  I am now low key weeping over my pathetic youth – legit.  Where was I?  Yes…  These kids have their share of fun.  But the most intriguing times to me are the moments when they show up at my house with carloads full of their friends.  My house is truly open to them and I love that they feel comfortable enough to bring them over.  Clearly, I am not an embarrassment to them.  And who doesn’t want a true home away from home at that age?  They will sit in my living room sipping on hard seltzer (the legal ones of course – of course), and hitting something called a juul.  It’s like an e-cig only more hip.  On one such occasion my niece misplaced her juul.  It happens all the time.  The dad in me felt it was necessary to do what came next.  I found a flash drive and handed it to her saying that I had found the juul.  Maybe it was the White Claw or maybe too many exams that week but she was within inches of corrupting my files before I slapped it out of her hand.  Her response to me: 
“Girl, get that hoe outta’ here!”  And then we laughed very hard.

There are so many other memories I’ve amassed from these two.  There was the time recently when it became obvious to me that one of them had not seen a news update in months.  “George Bush died?” she asked inquisitively.  “Yes,” I said, “Last week.”  There was a short pause and then “Oh.  Well, RIP him.”  Only she said the word “rip” before going back to her juul.  I’m not sure she gets that R. I. P. stands for something.  There was the morning when I returned from an early shift at work at 7AM to find one of them jumping on the backyard trampoline with my two kids in 30 degree weather without a coat because “they wanted me to.”  There were the many times I drove them places and they each played hours of Youtube videos for my amusement the likes of which included a man with Tourette’s Syndrome singing pop songs in a recording booth.  There was the time I discovered Cardi B and amazed them with how quickly I could learn her songs.  Hint: it’s mostly the f-word repeated over and over again.  There were the late night karaoke sessions in my living room because who wants to study?  And on all of these fronts I have been humbled to discover that the girls think of their dinosaur of an uncle as cool.  Who else knew all the words to Never Gonna’ Give You Up?”  Hell, I’m surprised they knew any of the lyrics.  Who else will jump right onto that trampoline with them even though he’s got a fused spine and probably shouldn’t?  Who else will laugh at the most inappropriate things because he was immediately infected with their joy?  Seriously, we have the most fun, low-key.  But it’s legit.

It’s Never Really Goodbye (I hope).

Last week one of them went home for Christmas early.  Since I was already flying up that way she simply joined me on my flight.  Initially seated one row behind me, when the cabin door closed and we realized the flight was not full, I invited her to sit next to me.  She handed her backpack over the seat, almost clocking the man sitting on the aisle.  As I gently attempted to move it under the seat in front of me with my foot I heard the words “Yeah, kick that hoe.”  And I acted as if nothing was strange about this.  She looked in amazed admiration as I matter-of-factly ordered a double gin and tonic at 7AM.  Glad I can be someone’s hero.  Unfortunately, she began suffering mid-flight from horrible sinus pressure.  I may have been legit litty – I was watching episodes of a show called Air Disasters on my laptop – but I noticed she had taken the air sickness bag out of the seatback and was reading the instructions.  OK, 1) It’s pretty simply.  You throw up in it.  And 2) God, was she going to throw up in that thing?  I placed my hand gently on her back and rubbed a little.  She looked up and said “God, are you comin’ for me?”  After landing we stood at the baggage carousel and she sang Tiny Dancer because, you know, it was stuck in her head and her generation has no filter.  Before I knew it I was singing along.  “Where’s my bag, you mother*&%$er…”

At the airport.  If you look closely you can see a tear in my eye.

This morning I drove the other niece to the airport.  Backing up a bit, she still had a paper to write and hand in by this morning.  Two nights ago she had a friend over and I went to bed while they sat in my kitchen at their laptops.  At 6AM I did what I do every morning.  I exited my bedroom to get my coffee.  I may have been in my boxers and a tee shirt because it’s my house and no one else is ever up that early.  And it’s my house.  I caught sight of the two girls still at my counter, still typing away, and ducked back into my room for a robe.  Upon re-emerging I asked if they had been up all night and how long of a paper this was.  “4 pages.  We’re almost done.”  “Girls,” I said, “4 pages does not require 6 hours.”  Again, the dad in me wanted to say “Next time ask for help.  I am a writer (in my mind) and you need sleep.”  I hope the friend wasn’t scarred by the sight of my legit white-ass legs.

I know it’s only for a month and they’ll be back.  Still I can’t help but think of the fun things I’ll miss while they’re gone.  I am grateful they are here and I love sharing my home with them and being “dad” to them while they’re away from home.  On that front I even made a point of showing my new Glock to the one niece’s boyfriend and regaling him with how accurate I am.  “Son, I can take out a pair of walnuts in a small wrinkled bag from 50 feet.”  “But sir, isn’t that an odd target to try to hit – oh wait…”

Merry Christmas girls!  Your uncle loves you and misses you already.  Hurry back.  I need to stay young forever.

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When Everything Goes Awry

Until recently this blog was all about my life as a dad in a Catholic household with a beautiful wife and two young kids (and an ill-tempered terrier).  As the need arises, and as my life wends on the path of inexorability, I also write about other things such as politics and the current crisis in the Church as they are places intersected by the life I lead.  In these instances it seems, rather, that God has steered the life I attempt to live into the paths of several oncoming trains that either inhabit that world (to my chagrin) or that I encountered (and that I disembarked) decades ago.

Confused?  Yeah, me too.  Stick with me.

Basically, tonight I just want to write about my life tonight.  It’s not glamorous but it’s mine and I kind of like it.  And to those of you who have started following because of the other recent topics I ask that you read this too and let me know if you like it.  And I thank you for your patronage.

Many of you know that I currently work full-time as a medical courier.  It’s what I’m doing at the moment.  After leaving the seminary I had a brief career as a television producer.  Then I entered the world of teaching and thought that would be my life.  I didn’t choose teaching, rather it chose me as they say.  After fighting it for a couple of years I gave up and realized that I 1) was good at it and 2) liked it.  A lot.  It was always about the kids.  They were wonderful and I was blessed to be part of their lives.  Then I moved into school administration.  Unfortunately right out of the gate I encountered a toxic work environment and, never having quit a job in my life, resigned that position.  God, in His providence, provided a job for me where I never had even a day-long gap in my employment.

I enjoy doing this but I know it’s not long-term.  And the devil (he’s real, you know) gets to me every now and then.  He’s constantly reminding me of my insecurities.  I look around and see all my friends successful, happy, and making lots of money.  Me?  Well one out of three ain’t bad.  See, the devil knows I want success and who couldn’t be happy being able to say he earns a good salary?  I have to keep reminding myself that I chose this career path by my actions and that God will again provide a path.  Right now I can’t decide if I should return to teaching, go after administration again, or try to make a go with a job in writing or marketing.  When I think about it I have a solid skillset.  I just haven’t had to look for work outside of a classroom in so long that I don’t know quite what I’m doing.  It’s humbling to admit that but I can do it.  I’d love to know that I could find something easily and walk into a job making at least what I was making as a teaching (which, believe it or not, wasn’t that bad).  Time will tell if I end up a mental case or land that job.  Prayers are always appreciated.

But here’s what happened in my current job tonight…

I typically work on-call from 4PM until midnight.  This makes it hard to spend time with the kids but I make every sacrifice I can.  It also makes it hard to visit much with my wife but I try.  It does afford me plenty of time to pray – the rosary and/or a series of Memorare’s and litany of the saints are a common theme in my car.  Actually the past few months have been quiet in this field.  Today, however, the DFW area was slammed with torrential rains.  When your job involves tendering and recovering sensitive medical parcels from a major airport, rain can spell disaster.  Lightning threats close the “ramp” which means nothing moves and you get stuck waiting in the cargo facility for hours.  Packages get left by the airline crews in puddles requiring repackaging and more dry ice which means extra travel and time.

Around 9PM tonight I got a call that a package needed to be recovered, opened, and photographed.  There was a question about how much dry ice was on hand.  This meant waiting for a termination letter to be faxed to the cargo office.  And that took over an hour.  To give you an idea how the weather affected everyone’s day, at one point in my night at cargo one of the workers slammed down his phone and shouted “Dammit, they lost that dog we were looking for!”  They ship animals, you know, and the animals take priority over just about anything else.  Then he added “It’s a service dog!”

Think about that.

They lost a service dog.

I immediately doubled over in laughter along with the other five people in the building.  Losing a service dog means that said service dog had to have been forcibly separated from his master who, presumably, needed his assistance to board the plane.  Also, service animals are allowed by law to fly in the cabin, not the hold.  Somebody screwed up big time.  And how did the passenger deplane?  Perhaps some other passenger lent him a therapy peacock to guide the way.

The other thing that really shot my night to hell was the realization that I would not be able to work out tonight.  As mentioned, most nights have been slow lately.  I’ve taken to scheduling my time at the gym around 9PM.  I work out with a buddy of mine.  Weightlifting has really become a passion of mine and I’m making incredibly progress.  I benched 190 the other night and not just a max rep but three sets of 6-8.  I’m impressed even if no one else is.  It’s become such a thing for me that I get pissed when my gym time gets scuttled.

As I was moping to myself about not lifting I glanced down at the scale where packages get weighed and got an idea.

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That’s right, there, right on the side of the scale were two 30 lb. weights used to calibrate the scale.  Didn’t take me long before I was using them as kettlebells.  A few sets completed and I jumped in whole hog.  By the time I was on the floor doing sets of push-ups the cargo manager instructed me to stop because it was late and I was making them feel “lazy” and “gross”.  OK, so not a complete workout but anything is better than nothing.  Good thing I didn’t bust out the jumprope.  And I guess that’s something I can be thankful for during this time of uncertainty; and that is that I’ve finally gotten myself in the kind of shape I’ve always wanted to be in.  It’s taken time but I’m pleased with my results.  And I’m happy to be enjoying good health right now.  So, praised be to God, right?

As I drove home from the airport at 11:30 thinking of all these things and wondering what the next step for me will be I remembered to say a few more prayers.  Can’t hurt, right?  And I ask each of you reading this to say one or two for me as well.  In the meantime I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing – being a dad in a Catholic household with a beautiful wife, two young kids, and an ill-tempered terrier.  And I will be loving it all.

*I’ve got a few more McCarrick/seminary stories left to post.  Stay tuned and as always…

Pray for the Church.

And please continue to read and to share my blog.  I don’t get paid to write but it is gratifying to know that people think enough of my work to recommend it to a friend.

Bedtime Stories

I read to my kids at bedtime…  Most nights.

I’ll admit that a lot of times I’m too tired and I simply dial it in.

Tonight was one such night.

Having entertained some friends this evening, it was past our bedtimes when I decided to drop the hammer.  “KIDS GET TO BED!”  I shouted (in my mind).  You see, friends, I’m tired as hell.  I’ve been up since 5:45 this morning, running all over the place for work.  The only person who’s probably more tired than me is my wife.  She took them to the pool for an hour while I managed to grab a nap this afternoon.  Still tired.  That nap earlier?  I fell asleep with an episode of Unsolved Mysteries playing on my laptop.  The last thing I remember is hearing Robert Stack say “Before she disappeared, she was a woman with many friends and a good job…”  I blurted out something to the effect of “Many friends?  And not one of them told her about the atrocity that is her hair?”

I said I was tired.

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No, we didn’t read anything THIS exciting. Also, I love this shot from “Airplane!”

I really do love reading to my kids.  They’re 8 and 10 years-old now.  So, necessarily the books are getting more in-depth.  For the girl it’s Quantum Life: The Story of Max Planck and for the boy it’s Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae.  Got to start them young…

My daughter and I just finished what has become – thanks to her willingness – a new tradition in our family.  I completed The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe with my little darling.  I had read it last year with my son.  With him I went on and read all seven Narnia books.  With her?  I’ve noticed that she’s a bit more cerebral…  Case in point: while reading a section to her the other night she stopped me mid-sentence and said “Daddy, when did Lewis die?”  “November 22, 1963, Sweetheart,” came my reply.  Yes, I do know his date of death off the top of my head.  Hint: he died the same day as JFK but it was completely overshadowed in the news.  Completely ignoring my savant-like grasp of trivia (which hurt) my daughter then proved to me that her brain operates very differently from most people.  In fact, her brain operates a lot like mine.  “Daddy, then who wrote this book?”  I explained to her that Lewis had written the book.  “But it’s so neat,” she said, “almost like it was typed.”  “Well, sweetheart, it came off a printing press.”  “Wait, Daddy, they had them then?!”  “Babe, we’ve had presses since the fifteenth century.”

When I unpackaged it with her (for I never let an opportunity to teach pass me by) we discovered together that, absent the certain knowledge that printing presses are instrumental in producing mass printings of just about every book on the planet my daughter made the logical assumption that someone must have typed each of the pages in her book.  Since Lewis wrote the book she assumed he had typed the pages in her book.  Huh.  Go figure.

For my son we’re starting another classic.  I’ve never read this one so it should be interesting for both of us.  Last night we started Dickens’ David Copperfield.  What an uplifting endeavor and a beautiful way to end a day which sees me already falling asleep by dinner.

Actual line from the first two chapters: “Please Mr. Murdstone, I pray thee, don’t beat me!”

I really miss the days of Corduroy.

Inspired

Tonight I feel particularly inspired for several reasons.

For the past three weeks I have been inspired to visit Our Lord in Adoration more.  This is something that should require no prompting.  As a Catholic I certainly believe Him to be present in the Eucharist.  Our parish offers daily Adoration.  Seems like a no-brainer, right?  That is, unless you’re me.  Yes, I have been working like a dog the past few months, putting in long and sometimes unusual hours between two jobs.  Outside of that I like to make my priorities my family, my health (in the form of working out), and rest.  It is foolish to cut God out of that equation.  I have been using the time in the car while running jobs for an increase in my prayer life.  A five hour drive to Houston, for instance, yields many rosaries prayed.

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It’s a Catholic thing…

But a few weeks ago I headed to church on a Monday night for some quiet time before the Sacrament.  I knew that a friend of mine would be there as well and was hoping for a chance to say hi.  We hadn’t properly caught up in a while.  We did get to exchange a greeting afterward.  It was what I saw while in the chapel that inspired me.  Here was a man, about my age, with young children, in the chapel, not there to see his friends but rather to lead his family in prayer.  Discipline.  That’s what it takes to be a leader like that.  I could end this by saying “he’s got it and I don’t.”  But I know I could have it too if I just committed to do what he’s doing.  It’s doesn’t just materialize.  It has to be acquired through practice.  It’s just like building a strong body.  I may have mentioned previously that this friend has that part down like nobody’s business.  It’s easy to see how he could transfer that discipline to other areas of his life.

I’ve been going every Monday for just a half-hour, bringing my copy of Sheen’s Life of Christ with me to read.  Next step: I want to start bringing my kids along too, though I’m sure they wouldn’t be nearly as quiet and reverent as his.  In time, perhaps, they will learn.  And he probably didn’t even know he was being used by God to inspire someone else to come to Him.

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Both of my friends crossed paths.  The one friend’s puppy assaulted me while I was doing an ab routine trying to get jacked like the other friend.

I also just returned from a trip to Colorado where I was inspired by another friend.  I got the opportunity to spend a good deal of time with him (we’ve known each other since college) and his teenage son.  The interaction between the two of them was so wonderful to see.  He’s a great dad and his son’s a good kid, too.  What I saw was a man filled with patience, humor, good cheer, and love for his wife and kids.  He works harder than I do yet still found the time to 1) hang out with me, 2) cart his kids around town, 3) act like a human ATM when they came at him asking for money, 4) mow his lawn, and 5) teach his son about caring for their new puppy.  On the dog front, the “puppy” is a 15 week-old St. Berdoodle.  Yep, you read that right.  The thing was one giant fluffy ball of energy.  She was only missing the brandy keg.  I thought of my own dad while watching these two (and the pup).  I returned home inspired to be more “present” to my kids and to do it with more of a smile.  I hope his kids appreciate how awesome their dad is.  And I bet he didn’t even know he was being used by God to inspire someone else to come to Him.

Finally I was inspired late last night.  While waiting at the airport in Denver for a flight that was delayed over four hours I encountered a man wearing a tank top.  I at once determined that no matter how big or defined my arms get, men should always have sleeves on their shirt.  There’s just something dignified about it.  I was inspired to good fashion.  Now I know that man definitely had no clue he was being used by God.

Why I Am Blessed to Teach: Three Vignettes from My Montessori Experience

Not long ago I took a job as a teacher.

That being said, I have been a teacher for well over a decade.  But, wishing to expand my portfolio and branch out, I accepted a position in a new school.  Now I can say that I have the following variety of teaching and/or administrative experience: large school, small school, co-ed, single-sex, diocesan, private-independent, mid-sized, teacher, vice principal, secondary, and elementary.  Why not toss Montessori into the mix?  It couldn’t hurt to learn a new way to teach and beside, my own children attend a Montessori school.  This could be both beneficial to my resume and fun!

That entire last paragraph could be rewritten thus:

But, having temporarily walked away from the insanity of working in “industrial” schools I had accepted my new life delivering blood samples and lab mice for a courier company.  One Sunday night the director of the school where my children are students texted to say: “Look, dude, I’m desperate.  Your daughter’s teacher quit.  I’m not entirely convinced it isn’t the girl’s fault.  Since it’s nearing the end of the year we’re scraping the barrel, pal.  Can you handle a dozen 1st-3rd grader’s?”  Also, she texted right after I had consumed a few gin and tonics so there’s that.

There is a line in Scripture that says “You have put into my heart a greater joy than they have from an abundance of corn and new wine.” (Ps.4)  I don’t know who “they” are but I do believe Our Blessed Lord has infused me with a great love for teaching and for the children (and sometimes adults) I get to teach.  It’s twisted, really.  I don’t know many other people who get excited about working with children and teenagers and yet I can’t help myself.  And you know it must be real when it’s a greater love even than wine or an abundance of corn for that matter.  By the way, the New American Bible translation from 1970 sucks.

And since it wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t share some of the scenes of this life with you; here now a brief sketch of this past Friday morning and my interactions with three particular students.

Student X, boy, 7 years-old

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Sure looks like a “Thunderclaw”, doesn’t he?

The morning was off to a smashing start.  One of the families had brought rabbits to school.  As in, they brought actual bunnies.  And the bunnies were to remain at school.  “We’re donating them!” the mom said lovingly.  “It’s a great way for the kids to learn about stuff and it’s very Montessori.”  Perhaps I don’t know enough about this Montessori method.  And “stuff?”  Yes, it’s a fabulous way for them to learn about reproduction.  Come to think of it, my son’s getting to be about that age.  This might be more straightforward then having “the talk” with him.  I’m getting rabbits for the house.  Anyway, one young man rushed me on my way in the door.  “Hey look!  It’s Thunderclaw!” he shouted as he tossed a black dwarf rabbit in my face.  “Ack!” I shouted in return as Thunderclaw almost took a mug full of black coffee to the face.  It’s a good thing I have the patience of a saint – St. Augustine, pre-conversion.

A little while later I found myself sitting at a table that was about two feet off the ground across from Student X.  We had just covered a lesson on honeybees.  X was diligently tracing a hexagon over and over onto a sheet of paper.  He had already composed five sentences about these insects (in cursive) and was now illustrating the hive.  Burning the heck out of a yellow colored pencil he put the pencil down momentarily in order to suck his thumb.  The teacher in me stepped aside and the dad moved in.  “Son, you don’t want to do that,” I said gently yet firmly.  “Um, yeah I do,” came his reply without glancing up.  He was still admiring his honeycomb.  “No, no you don’t.  Do you know what will happen?” I asked.  “Yeah, um, it calms me down.”  I had to fight with everything I had to stop from saying “So will a Xanax” but I managed instead “First, you answered a question I had not asked.  I asked what is likely to happen in the future.  You responded with what is happening now.”  Crickets.  “But I like it,” came X’s reply in the cutest high pitched voice.  “You’ll need braces, son.  It’ll mess your teeth up.”

I thought I had won the argument based on my stellar logic.  Unfortunately I was arguing with a kid.  “I’m already getting braces.  My dad told me so.”  Well, you can’t beat that reasoning, I suppose.  “Plus, um, plus…  Uh… Oh yeah, my orthodontist told me I was a very lucky boy and I would have to get headgear!”  “Sounds like your orthodontist is the lucky one,” I shot back.  I smiled at X and marveled at his certainty and confidence.  He, of course, picked up his pencil in the other hand because apparently he’s ambidextrous and continued his masterpiece.

Student Y, boy, 8 years-old

A short while later I had just stepped out of a tiny bathroom where I had gone to scroll through Instagram and generally catch my breath when Student Y ran up to me.  Where he came from I could not say.  The kid’s a ninja.  He’s about the size of a capuchin monkey and just about as wiry.  And I love this kid.  That’s why I almost didn’t mind when he practically pulled my 200 lb. frame down to the floor by trying to climb up my leg to tell me something.  “HEY!  Can I read to you?”  This is one of the most rewarding aspects of working with little children.  He’s just learned to read in the past year and is still inching toward a milestone they call the “reading explosion” or something like that.  I may have made that term up but the point is he’s teetering on the brink between sounding out some words and racing through a paragraph.  And he’s excited.  And he wants me to be the object of his new-found skill.

We sit on the reading carpet (invented by a Nazi, for no adult ever said “Yay! Let’s get down on the floor for this!”) and he proceeds to a thin, purple-covered book.  It’s a leveled reader.  It is not his level.  His is red.  The purples are for a different stage, like two stages above him.  But, I admire his pluck.  Go for it, kiddo.  The stories in these books all follow a phonetic theme.  Unfortunately that means they sometimes give the characters names that have never been used by real people.  This was the story of a terrier named Sollie.  Y struggles with this.  “Solo was a timid puppy.”  “No, son, not Solo, Sollie,” I correct him.  “Sally was a timid puppy,” he tries again.  “No, son, not Sally, Sollie.”  “Sully was a tim-”  “Oh for God’s sake.  Sully was the Miracle on the Hudson pilot and, you know what?  Yeah, let’s just go with Sully.”

He continues.  I come to learn that Sully was indeed a timid puppy.  His owner Shiela had to carry him around.  He wanted to be brave like his dad.  He liked to eat meat.  Except, Y read that as /mat/.  “Y,” I said gently yet firmly, “in English, when two vowels go walking the first one does the talking.”  Crickets.  “OK,” he said, “/meet/”.  Good.  This happened a few more times.  The theme here was vowel clusters.  Then Y came to this sentence.  “They went to the pier.”  He read this as /pyre/.  “Y,” I said, “that’s /peer/.”  “But did the first vowel not go walking that day?” he asked most sincerely.  “Damn English,” I thought to myself.

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When two vowels go walking, a terrier eats a toddler.

Finally Y reached the climax of the story.  “When Sollie ran down to the beach, a toddler held out her hand with some cookie pieces.  Sollie ate them.”  First, Y read that as “cookie /pi-cees/” and I did not correct him.  Second, I noticed that Y was looking most confused.  “Why would he eat them?  He must be a mean dog.”  “What are you talking about,” I asked.  It turns out Y thought Sully ate the toddler, that rat bastard.  I clarified the story for my young friend.  And then I laughed at the thought of a terrier eating a toddler who would obviously be three times his size.

Student Z, boy, 6 years-old

I have saved the best for last.  Student Z is a young man who has only recently joined our class.  He had previously been in the “younger division”.  He was starting to outgrow that classroom so I agreed (happily) to let him come over to my class.  I’m friends with his parents and he’s such an awesome kid.  When I’m at their house he’s bouncing off the walls, full of energy, typical little boy.  In school, he is studious, reserved, almost shy.  I can tell he is eager to please and to do a good job.  Z is on the cusp of getting the hang of reading.  And hats off to anyone who has ever taught another person to read.  It is NOT easy.  Sidenote: In complete seriousness, the lady who runs this school is truly gifted.  I watched her sit down with a child last week and, in the most loving and gentle way, teach that child, encourage that child, and celebrate that child’s accomplishment.  It is a gift.

Thunderclaw?!  Who named that bunny?  Crazy Horse?

I extricate myself from the reading carpet and head to a ledge that reminds me of a bar only without alcohol.  Z follows in tow holding onto one of the manipulatives we use in Montessori.  It is a wooden tray containing flash cards with three and four letter words.  Other than the wooden tray I’m not sure how this differs from other schools.  Our goal is to pull six cards and sound them out.  Then Z will write those words in his notebook.  “Z,” I say, “Let’s toss in a few four letter words!”  Then I laugh at what that sounded like to my own ears.  He was game.

First word: “puh… ahh… puh.  POP!”  He smiles broadly.  He got it.  “Great job, Z!  And that was super fast!  Let’s do another one.”

Next word: “luh… ahh… tuh.  LOT!”  Another huge smile.  “Yay!  Amazing!  Ready for the next one?”  He nods excitedly.

Third word: “juh… ahh… muh.”  Only this time I must stop him.  “Sorry, Z,” I say holding my hand up.  “Not every A sounds alike.”  He looks puzzled.  “Let’s try it again.”  I hold the card up.  “juh… ahh…”  “Nope,” I say.  “Um,” he asks, “How does this A sound?”  “I’m glad you asked, Z.”

“Juh…aeyh… muh.  Say it with me.”

And in that moment I realized I was teaching him New Jersey English.

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You gotta’ problem wid dat?  I’ll see you on Bloomfield Ave.

When his mom and dad start wondering why he’s suddenly started speaking like Joe Piscopo (or me for that matter) they need only look at my upbringing.  Garden State’s finest spreadin’ the Jerz.

Proud to be spreading my heritage in this sleepy Texas town, I turned from the bar with no booze, put the cards away, and clocked out for the day.

My work here is done.

Catching Up

The astute reader (and the other one too) will note that I have not posted in a long while.  So here’s an update.

When last we spoke I had taken a job through a friend of my wife delivering lab mice safely from the airport.  The job ramped up in the past week in terms of busyness despite the fact that the largest air carrier of animals (including lab mice) suspended all animal deliveries.  It seems they not only killed a few dogs but also sent one or two to the wrong locations.  When Fido lands in Tokyo instead of with his family in Rochester people tend to get upset.  In any event, I have been working from about noon until midnight and beyond the past week.

I started teaching again.  The small Montesorri school my children attend found themselves in need of a teacher.  For some reason they thought of me.  Desperation makes people do desperate things.  Every morning from 7:45-11:45 I drive my kids to school, enter the building, and then proceed to teach.  My daughter is now my student.  She rather enjoys this.  I get a kick out of it too.

I haven’t worked on my book in a while.  For some reason writing is hard for me these days.

I am four weeks from completing the Body for Life challenge.  I’ve seen some slight changes which is a good thing.  The jury is still out on whether I will achieve the chiseled look the program promises.  All in all, though, I have been fairly healthy and I can’t complain about that.

My former trainer ran into me and gave me a book.  “It reminds me of you,” he said.  The book is called Living with a Seal.  It’s about a multi-gazillionaire who wanted to get shredded as an answer to a mid-life crisis.  So far, it sounds like me except without the money.  My acquaintance assures me that the humorous way in which the author presents his training sessions reminds him of the stories I used to write about him and me.  Again, the difference is the money.  I was always positive that if I had the means to pay someone what it would take then I could reach my goals.  But cash does not replace motivation.  The funny thing is I’ve always been motivated.  I’ve just always lacked the means to figure out what needs to be done.  There’s a lot of “micro” stuff that someone in training has to pay attention to.  Eat this specific amount of this type of protein down to the gram.  Work out in this particular way (don’t deviate at all) at precisely 5AM after one cup of black coffee.  You get the picture.  The former trainer still looks great.  It was nice to see him again.

Amazon Prime has been offering some real doozies under their “classic TV” section.  On Saturday morning I watched three episodes of the 1988 incarnation of Family Feud with my kids.  I figured it was safe.  And who doesn’t like Ray Combs?  The first question he asked the contestants was “Name something people think they’re better at than they actually are.”  Like lightning one contestant hit the buzzer and yelled “sex!”  I’ve always tried to be honest with my kids.  My 8 year-old daughter turned to me and said “What’s sex?”  “I have an idea, kids…  Who wants to watch Mr. Ed!?”  “But what’s sex,” she said again?  “Sweetheart,” I replied, “Let’s watch a little more and see the other answers first.  And she never brought it up again.

So tomorrow morning, at the start of week 9 (out of 12), I will get up at 6, get my black coffee, not workout since I’ll have the best of intentions to do that in the afternoon, get back into bed, check the news, look over my checkbook, pet my sleeping Russell Terrier, get up, get dressed, get the kids to school, teach for four hours, drive medical deliveries around the metropolitan area, chat with my new friends at the airport, not pick up mice, squeeze in that workout between jobs, and get home far too late to eat dinner or kiss my wife and kids goodnight.  I didn’t want to be out of work but I wasn’t hoping to be chest-deep in it either.  It’s all good, though.  Easter is coming.

Having Run the Race

In a few days I will mark the passage of one year since my dad died.

 

 

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Remrandt’s Apostle Paul (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Just writing that sentence made me feel a little weird.  My father remains the finest man I will ever know.  Not only did he give me life but he took care of me.  For the 39 years I had him on this earth with me there was never a time when I didn’t know in my heart that he cared for me.  Through my childhood he raised me, provided everything I needed and many things I wanted.  He gave his advice, though not always in a sit-down “Son, we need to talk” kind of way.  In fact, we never had a conversation like that.  He taught by example.  I never heard him complain, not even once, about a solitary thing in life.  We laughed one night at dinner a few years back when he made a comment about not liking pot roast much because Mom had been serving it for dinner almost every Sunday for years.  He was happy with the life God gave him.

But one year earlier the light seemed to go out of his life somewhat.  He was old.  He was tired.  And he had just been dealt a terrible blow.  In October of 2015 my oldest brother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  I still hate that term.  My parents watched as their son, who had lived perhaps not the most exemplary of lives, literally came home to die.  Thirty years earlier they had lost three children in a terrible tragedy.  Back then Dad didn’t have time to grieve.  Now, he couldn’t help himself.  No parent should ever lose a child.  To lose four…  I can easily forgive him for coming to the conclusion that it was his time to let go as well.

My dad was fond of a passage in Paul’s Letter to Timothy.  “I have fought the good fight, I have run the race, I have kept the faith.”  When he died these words came back to me.  The man was a fighter, stalwart in his faith.  That’s what he taught me.  I remember in the day or so after her died printing a copy of that passage.  Mom had asked me and my niece to read at his funeral.  I was honored to read at this mass.  My dad had been a lector for years when I was growing up.  From him I learned my love not only of the Catholic faith but of what was his passion – the liturgy.  I remember so many years, day in and day out, before I moved away where I would go with him to mass every day and later as an adult when I would take him with me.  I, too, am a lector and I think of him every time I read at mass.  My niece, a young girl of 13, had been reading at daily mass – the mass they’d take Grandpa too – for a while and I know how much he loved to see her read.  But something happened.  When we got to the sanctuary, she asked me where the reading was.  I mistakenly mentioned that it was in the book.  Instead it was in my pocket.  She read a different reading.  It was still very fitting but it wasn’t 2 Timothy 4:7.

I had to make this right for him.  At the cemetery I mentioned to Mom what had happened and asked the priest if my niece could proclaim that reading there at the grave.  She did.  Somehow it seemed more fitting here.

The last words spoken in the presence of his earthly remains were from his granddaughter and I know in my heart she was speaking them of him.

“I have fought the good fight, I have run the race, I have kept the faith.”

My dad impressed upon me the solemn duty of an Irishman to attend wakes and funerals.  “It’s just what we do,” he had said to me before.

And as if to show him I had learned his lesson I stayed behind with the funeral director as the last man, his youngest boy, until my father’s casket was lowered to his final resting place.  I dropped the rose from my lapel the fifteen feet or so and watched as it landed squarely on his coffin.  I was kneeling in the dirt as I said good bye to Daddy.

Other than the impending anniversary, I don’t know why this memory is haunting me at the moment.  I still talk to the man every day.  Typically I blurt out “Dad, help me!” with one of my many crises.  I’d like to believe he’s working overtime to obtain for me whatever particular grace it is I’m seeking at the moment.

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Dad doing a crossword.  He did one of these every day for decades.  I learned to love crosswords from him.

He was an amazing guy.  Anyone who’d ever met him loved him.  He was funny, smart as a whip, and incredibly loving and kind.  His family was his world.  And my mom…  She was the sun, moon, and stars to him.  There is one thing he taught me that I think I actually get right most of the time.  I learned how to love from the both of them but I learned how to treat my wife from him.  I never saw them go anywhere where he didn’t open her door.  He laughed with her.  He thought she was the most beautiful creature God ever put on the earth and he was always happy when he was with her.

In a few days I will board a plane and travel to see her and to celebrate and remember a remarkable man who gave me life and taught me how to fight, to run, and to keep faith.  I can’t say I’m much of a fighter or a runner and I often feel like despairing; but he taught me what to do.  The reason I was a teacher for so many years was because he first taught me.

As we draw near to that day, I will carry him ever more in my heart remembering the lives he affected and how much better we all are because he fought and ran and kept the faith.

God bless you for reading this far.  Say a prayer for my family if you would be so kind.  And say a prayer for me.  40 years from now if even one person could say of me that I kept the faith I will die a happy man.

Oh, and I started running again.  I’m 40, I’ve got a major spinal problem, I just quit smoking after 22 years, it’s cold, and I suck at running but I’m doing it.  Dad is probably laughing.  But perhaps I’ll be able to say literally that I’ve run the race.