Category Archives: Family

They Took My Boy Away

I haven’t had the will to write these past few days.

That’s because they took my boy away from me.

True he may not have been legally mine in any legal way.  But from the moment he walked through the door from customs just three weeks earlier, Sylvester was ours.

Sadly, my will to keep him as my adopted son was not strong enough to evade the hand of time, tide, and that damn exchange program.  Apparently the terms were something along the lines of “you take him for three weeks then he goes home”.

Vicious.

Now we are left childless except for the two children I fathered biologically and who live with us and are the light of our life.

Alas, poor Sylvester.  I can only imagine the horrors in your Salamancan soul as you boarded that plane and headed for… New York?

Wait, what?

Son, listen, I know you’re becoming a man and all that but I am your father and I don’t recall giving you permission to run off to the Big Apple like some common tourist.  Now I see how it goes down.  You and your “group” are going to “sight-see” and then what?  They’ll coral you up and shove you on a plane and send you back to Spain.

OK, it sucks.  We really enjoyed our time with him.

A few nights before his departure I took him along with a friend and his two sons and my real son to a Rangers baseball game.  Gee that was fun.  He said baseball is his favorite even though he never gets to see it in Spain.  “Didn’t I tell you, Sylvester?  Texas connects us.

The night before he left we took our Sylvester to our favorite barbecue pit.  Once again, our growing boy’s eyes popped out of his head.  “So much food!!” he said, his English clearly improved from his first day in our home.  The thing is that on the way to the restaurant he insisted he wanted to pay.  Something about us having been too kind to him and him wanting to return the favor.  I said something like “It’s OK, son, you’ll have plenty of time to take care of American Daddy when I retire” but he wouldn’t hear of it.

Texas barbecue isn’t cheap and I’ll leave it at that.

So the next morning came.  He spent the night before packing.  He even asked for a scale, convinced that his suitcase would be overweight.  He’s lucky he wasn’t overweight after how we fed him.  Only the best of Texas for my boy!  I got up early and drove him to the airport on my way to work.

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My babies in front of the great State Capitol of Texas

He looked up at me as we were saying our good-bye’s in the terminal.  “Three weeks ago, was happy.  Today is sad.”  I gave him a card for his impending birthday.  We had stuffed some cash into it to make up for his kind gesture the night before.  “No no no,” he said.  “I cannot take this.”  I looked him in the eye and said “Son, I know there comes a time when every man thinks he can tell his father what to do.  He’s grown up.  He can take care of himself.  I know you’ve got a deep seated need to prove yourself in the world.”  His English wasn’t good enough yet to understand lines from after school specials.  I finally said “Trust me, they only take American money in New York.

Speaking of New York I was happily able to reassure him that he’d have no problem finding someone who spoke Spanish in Manhattan.  Granted it might not be good Spanish but he’d understand.

And like that my little bundle of joy was gone from my life.  They grow up so fast and abandon the nest.  We’ll certainly miss him.

And as I was wondering today if he’d even remember us I got a text from my Spaniard.  It read simply:

“I am home.  New York was huge.  I cannot find Dr. Pepper anywhere in Spain.”

Don’t worry, son.  We’ll ship you some.  American Daddy’s got your back.

Teaching the Boy Idioms

I’ve just wrapped up a three day out-of-town conference.  My new boss graciously offered that I take my wife and kids with me.  I had fun hearing all about work-related things while my wife and the gatitos had fun swimming, touring, eating, etc.  In the evenings we reconvened for a late dinner and family time.  One of my kittens, the adoption-in-waiting Sylvester, already seems tired of Texas heat.  When asked if he wanted to swim one evening his response was “Um…  Maybe.”  And that maybe sounded very much like how he says no.

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Sylvester and his new sister (don’t mock me) light a candle and pray for American Daddy

Not sure what image of Texas in summer they gave him at the orphanage airport but it’s kind of what we do in Texas in July if we’re anywhere in sight of a concrete basin filled with chlorinated water.

The conference ended this morning and we decided to take our new addition to the family to a place that is sacred to all Texans.  No, it’s not that Czech gas station in West that sells the little danish-type pastries (though that’s probably on the itinerary for the return).

We took our Sylvester to the Alamo!

When we got out of the car I began to explain to the boy that San Antonio was founded by Spaniards and was indeed once part of Spain.  He seemed interested.  Mildly.

As we headed down the street toward the Alamo itself my young man held his right forearm aloft in the late afternoon sun.  He held it right next to mine.  I tan very well and from late April until November I resemble George Hamilton.  Sylvester looked back and forth between our two arms for a moment and proudly remarked with his trademark Madrilene smile:

“I am becoming black now!”

To which American Daddy promptly replied:

“No.  No, you’re not,” as I quickly glanced around to make sure he hadn’t said this in earshot of any actual black people.

Then I had the joy of explaining the subtleties of color nuance to my exchange son.

“See, Sylvester, this is called tan, not black.”

“But, it is very similar to black man, no?” said he.

Before we hit the Alamo, perhaps we’d better visit the Civil Rights Museum first.  Otherwise this adoption might be in jeopardy.

How strange that just three weeks ago I wasn’t sure I even wanted an exchange son.  No we can’t imagine our world without him.

Raising an Exchange Son

My little bundle of alegría is getting bigger every day.

Nearly two weeks into his stay in our life forever, Sylvester – that’s my foreign exchange son – is already holding his head up on his own, walking erect, and babbling.  He might be expressing high level thoughts in a language not my own.  Who can say?

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One day we will teach you all about where you came from, son.

It dawned on me while I was brushing my teeth tonight that I should have asked him to call me “Big Daddy” as I called my father before me.  That would have been nice.  I suppose there’s still time; though he is growing like a weed.  He’s already over 5 feet tall, the little gremlin.  Someone got fed after midnight…

I’m already planning next year’s “Gotcha’ Day” festivities.  My wife says we may have to move them up to sometime in the next week.  “He has to go home,” she says.

“Honey,” I replied, “this is his home – his forever home.”

She mumbled something about delusions and international law.  I reminded her about our “passports and .45’s” discussion of the other day.  Ooh!  And my son, the biological one, picked up a nifty fu manchu-style fake mustache the other day!  I’ll bet one of us could use that at some point.

Our neighbors next door host a family get-together every weekend.  We sometimes walk out onto our porch late on Saturday night just to hear the authentic music and smell the grilling of fish.  Our neighbor on the other side calls it their “la familia parties”.  He says it with the thickest Texas accent and it sounds quaint.  We don’t mind because it’s all family and I think it’s neat to see how they celebrate that.  I’m from a big family too and we like to party.  What an unusual world we’ve brought you to, Sylvester.

Last Sunday my wife asked him how he could possibly sleep with the mostly mariachi-sounding music in the driveway outside his bedroom at 3AM.  “It’s OK,” he said.  “Maybe they are Mech-ican?”

Indeed, son.  He’s already learning so much about culture.

Took the lad to the batting cages yesterday.  He’s never swung a bat before but he did the old man proud.  Once he got into the swing of it (no pun intended; and note to self: begin working in more Dad jokes) he really knocked it out of the park.  Also note to self: stop using baseball metaphors when talking about baseball.  After a fastball came screaming down the line from the pitching machine, my little Spaniard knocked that mother back to the black hole it came from.  “Yay Sylvester!  White Daddy is so proud!”

Maybe I’ll get him a gun rack for his next birthday.

How You Say in English?

For some time now I have prayed and held fast to that elusive virtue of hope that God would bless our home with new life.  Our two saints in training have certainly given me a run for the money in supplying plentiful material for my practice of the other virtues.  But hope… Hope is a hard one to practice.  It’s so esoteric.  And certainly not for lack of trying; but we keep coming up empty.

Trust me, this is not going anywhere near where you think it’s going.

A few months ago my adoring wife asked me how I felt about taking in a foreign exchange student for a few weeks.  Her exact words were “We’re taking a foreign exchange student for a few weeks.”  Adorable.  The kid would be coming from Spain.  I like the Spanish people.  Perhaps he knows Brazilian pop star Xuxa!  Or perhaps she’s from a completely different continent and speaks Portugese.  Whatever.  I put nothing past Our Lord and Savior and recognize that He can answer prayers however He sees fit.  This, dear readers, might just be our little baby (at least for a few weeks).  Sure he shares none of our genetic code but we’re all European!  And he’s 15 so there’s that.

We got our home ready for our new arrival.  I think they call it nesting.  I made his room up for him.  I wonder if he’ll be a Mets fan like his old man host father family.  Of course we’ll have to call the church and schedule the baptism.  Imagine my shock when I found out that my wife had consigned the crib and that our new exchange son was 15 and would in all likelihood return to Spain after three weeks leaving us again childless except for the two we already have.  Since this would be baby’s first visit to his new home country we wanted to instill a bit of pride in our great land.  We hung the red, white, and blue bunting from our windows and raised Old Glory above the garage eaves.  Little Champ is going to love America.  I’m so freaking excited!

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Found this picture online of a generic orphanage in Spain.  How lonely must have been his days…

We waited at the delivery airport with American flag balloons and a copy of People for our new bundle of joy student.  He would need to be brought up to speed on culture quickly.  Also I do not speak Spanish except for a few dozen words I picked up in Newark as a kid.  I know just what to say in traffic.  Ordering at a restaurant, not so much.  They tell me his name was Javier but we have renamed him Sylvester after the second century pope.  I may have started legal adoption paperwork.  Who can say.

Sylvester arrived with a group of similar adoptees after a ten hour flight from Madrid.  I think that’s where the orphanage is.  His birth parents had left him there… to board his plane to the United States.  We wanted his experience of America and of Texas in particular to be spectacular.  We even arranged for 100 degree heat and spongy humidity.  He’ll never forget this.  In fact, none of his group are likely to forget any of these few weeks.

Adopting an exchange student whom you’re not really adopting is a challenge.  We had been told that his English was OK but that we weren’t to speak Spanish to him.  Again, that’s not really a problem for us.  But just to try some immersion techniques I turned the on the radio on our drive home.  Unfortunately it was a Justin Bieber song called Despacito.  He laughed.  Then he said “I think he’s just rhyming words.”  “Yes, son,” I told him, remembering so well all the little lessons I’m supposed to teach my young ones.  It comes back so naturally.  “That’s what most songs do.  They rhyme.  That means the words sound alike.”  My wife chimed in at this point.  “No, he means the words the song is rhyming are nonsensical.  Burrito, bandito, Frito.  It’s just a silly song.”  I’ll say.  Must remember where I put all the Baby Einstein DVD’s.

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His namesake.  Noble.  Pious.

When we got home I heated a bottle of milk.  Then we took Sylvesteriér to dinner.  Just something light.  We figured Cheesecake Factory would suffice.  My little boy’s eyes popped out of his head when he saw the portion sizes.  That’s right, little man, Mommy and Daddy will always take care of you in America.  We had also been told not to let him go to sleep until it got late on our time.  Listen here, orphanage, we’ve done this before.  I’ll put my kids to bed when I see fit.  Still there was some logic to their thinking.  He had been up for close to 24 hours.  Clearly we should force him to stay awake a few more and everything would be beautiful.

On a side note, another parent had taken a child from this group and texted us a picture of her girl petting a zebra.  I’m not even joking.  This was within two hours of landing.  I wondered if they had simply gone to the zoo.  Turns out the woman has a zebra on her property.  Apparently she bought the Neverland Ranch.

Over the next week or so we’ve gotten to know Sylvester quite well.  It’s amazing how much personality they have even at this age.  Since he appears to be a bit older than we were expecting in a baby I may have to have that certain talk with him sooner than I was thinking.  It’s a good thing I can just draw pictures since he still hasn’t learned to talk… English.

And I can’t believe it’s almost time to take the boy out to Sears for his portraits!  The time goes by so quickly.  There’s still so much to do with him.  I haven’t even taught him how to shoot a gun.  On that front, when I asked if he would want to go to a range with me he seemed afraid to even hear the word gun.  Oh the things they’ve done to you, Sylvester.  The tales from your orphanage are frightening, no doubt, and one day you will have to share them with American Daddy.

My wife tells me we’re apparently going to have to let go of him in a week or so.  I told her I have a passport and disguises.  No one’s taking my son from me!

We took him to an amusement park today.  He delighted in riding the coasters.  I think we shall also take him to an open pit barbecue.  He’d like that.  During the past week I started my new job.  I took Sylvester with me to the mall to get a few things.  He went to the Nike store.  And he pronounced it just like it looks.  I bought a sports coat from a respectable men’s clothier.  The next day I wore my jacket to work.  After work Sylvester came up to me and told me that I had looked very “elegant” in my jacket.  I don’t know what English vocab program they’re using but I like it.

Last week we took him to mass on Sunday.  Trying to immerse him constantly into our family life and Americana we figured we’d subject him to the stylings of Dan Schutte and Marty Haugen.  Fortunately for him the Kenyan choir was singing.  This must seem like such a strange place for him.

Oh, watching my boy grow up has been so exciting.  Before I know it the paperwork will be official and we can rest assured that no one will ever take our Sylvester away from us.

Perhaps tomorrow he wants to try Taco Bell.

I’m so proud.

Thanks be to God for hearing my prayer!

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Econ 101

Today’s lesson: the fungibility of money.

Challenging Myself

As a dad I face many challenges every day. Most of them involve living up to the expectations of my kids, my wife, and God.

Son, not making a fool of himself on the field.

For instance, this evening it’s off to the ballpark where I get the pleasure of serving as assistant coach to my son’s baseball team. The challenge here: until a few weeks ago neither he nor I had ever played baseball. He’s 9. I’m almost 40. The challenge lies in rising above myself and not worrying about the fool I will make of myself on the field. Because you see, this one is all for my little boy.  The reward is great though. He’s getting super good super fast and I’m learning quite a bit about a game I’ve never played. Somewhere in the recesses of both of our minds are visions of the two of us being drafted by the New York Mets. And we’re having lots of fun in the process.

Me, making a fool of myself (and demonstrating what a friend politely called “a natural tennis swing”) at the batting cages.

On the marriage front, I am always faced with the challenge of becoming a better husband. Daily I look around my house and my world and ask myself what I can do to make my wife’s life even marginally better. In the past year alone I have found myself tinkering with my homes electrical system, building props for the play, finally advancing in my career (😉), and shopping for produce at a farmers market at five in the morning on a Saturday. Every time I’m given a task I’ve never done before I find myself rising above my own fears and coming to realize that because she trusts in me I can do anything for my wife. And we’re having a whole lot of fun in the process.

So this afternoon when I got home from work I decided to challenge myself. Remember the pull-up bar? This one is a challenge to which only I am answerable. After hearing that friend of mine toss out the figure of 25 to 50 pull-ups a day, I decided to reach for the stars. I don’t expect to be as good as him – certainly not right away – but one cannot hope to achieve great heights without starting somewhere. The challenge is to complete 25 pull-ups within five minutes every day of every week. And of course, as I notice myself gaining strength, I will have to increase that number. A short while ago I just barely beat the clock. Five sets of five pull-ups with a little more rest between sets than I would’ve liked; but I did it. The reward, I hope, will be great.

And I’m having tons of fun.

Mr. Euclid

First, thank you to everyone who has continued to offer their prayers for my family following the death of my dad two months ago.  They mean so much more than you know and I pray for each of you daily.

I want to tell you all that Dad’s been quite active lately, at least in my mind.  Over the past month especially he’s been showing up in my dreams.  As I told me wife today, the dreams make absolutely no sense on one level and more sense than anything I can think of on another.

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Artist’s rendering of a shape

Last night I went to bed as normal.  At 4AM I awoke from the following dream.  My father and I were in a very ethereal setting.  I can actually still envision all of this.  It’s almost like we were on a cloud but it wasn’t that hokey.  We were looking at, really examining, an equilateral triangle that was simply floating in the air in front of us.  He was instructing me on the properties of the triangle.  His words made perfect sense to me and I never liked math.  Dad was an actuary with a savant’s knowledge of all things mathematical.  I distinctly remember him saying (in this dream) as he had many times when he tried teaching me geometry in high school “According to Mr. Euclid…” referencing the Greek father of geometry.  What are you getting at, Dad?  Triangles?  Really?  Is it the Trinity?  I already believe in the Blessed Trinity.  Remember?  You taught me the sign of the cross as a four year-old when you taught me my first prayers.  Were you trying to show me something else?  Are you popping into the dreams of other people too or is it just me?  This is so strange.

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Hairy but solid

Another thing that’s going on (and I really don’t think the dreams are related) is that my Restless Leg Syndrome has intensified.  It’s now gotten to where the muscles in both legs cramp up about halfway through the night.  I get out of bed and, like this morning, leg down to see that my toes are curled and I have to physically unbend them.  It’s painful.  But, I’m getting it looked into.  This morning I’m going for an EMG/nerve conduction test.  I’ve had several of these done before.  Read about one of my experiences with it here.  In the meantime, enjoy this picture of my leg.  It may be the cause of great pain right now but at least it still makes my trainer jealous as all get out.  “Your calves seem to eat everything in sight” he told me.  Trainer?  My offer still stands.  I’ll happily trade you my calves for everything above your waist.  Then again he could just be messing with me…