Category Archives: Kids

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.

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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.

Family Game Night

One of the things I’m already enjoying about being “temporarily out of work” or “between jobs” or “finding myself” or some other such shit is the sense of peace and calm that has come over me.  A scant six hours after leaving my former job for the last time I endeavored to use this newfound tranquility of soul to my advantage.  Since I didn’t have to worry about answering a work phone, checking email, or trying to accomplish things that I’ll have time for tomorrow I thought a fun family game night would be in order.

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The Commodore (Cornelius Vanderbilt) would be proud. I think Lionel Ritchie would be too

I may have mentioned on these pages once or twice that my children have inherited from me some rather desirable traits such as a quick wit, stellar vocabulary, and devastating good looks.  OK, two out of three ain’t bad.  Armed with these gifts we sat down – Mommy, Daddy, and the two kids – to play a family favorite.  It’s called Ticket to Ride.  The board features a map of the US circa 1850 and lots and lots of “routes” between pinpointed cities.  Along these routes players build railroads by collecting and then distributing cards.  The player who successfully builds the railroads on his route cards typically wins the game except that there are bonuses.  For instance, a player receives a bonus for having the longest continuous railroad.  Why, you might ask, would anyone invent such a riveting game about antebellum transportation?  Clearly Parker Brothers had beaten them to the punch on their original concept – a board game about the triangle slave trade for players 8 and up.

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Can you believe people once traveled by tiny plastic?

About ten minutes into the game I had amassed a handful of cards with different routes on them.  My prospects looked good at completing a transcontinental takeover.  “I’m going to drive the golden spike!” I thought as I approached Salt Lake.  How fantastic…  My wife even encouraged me to use a little known maneuver and collect even MORE route cards.  “Listen,” she said, “You’ve already laid a lot of track down.  It’s very likely you already have completed routes that you could claim.”  Seemed like a good idea.

My son, meanwhile, was studying the map like a champ.  “Daddy,” he said, “I thought you said there was NOTHING in Kansas City.  Why would a railroad go through there?”  Perceptive, that boy.*

Looking across at my wife, my brow furrowed as I saw her suddenly begin to claim route after route in a rapid succession of turns.

“Daddy,” asked my daughter, “I’ve never seen that much white around your eyes!”

“Sorry, sweetheart,” I said.  “Daddy’s just been screwed over by Cornelius Vanderbilt,” I said as I pointed toward my wife.  None of them got the reference.

“Captain of industry?  New York Central Rail…, you know what?  Never mind.”

I looked at my cards.  There was still hope.  Not only did I have a few moves left to complete all of my routes but I remembered that this was only a game.  A game with tiny trains.  On a board.

On her next turn, as I was relishing the sweet taste of accomplishment at the thought of finally connecting Nashville to St. Louis, my daughter metaphorically punched me in the gut.  Placing two cards down she reached across the board and neatly positioned two locomotives between those cities.  Hey, she didn’t know.  She was just doing what made sense for her hand.

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She took my route!

“WHAT!?” I blurted out.  “Uh, um, you sure you want to do that?  I mean nobody goes to St. Louis anymore!”  “But Daddy, they’ve got that pretty arch and anyway it’s my only move left and then the game is over.”

My wife, realizing what had happened, stepped in and tried to persuade our little girl to make a different move.

Nothing doing.

I had to think fast.

“Sweetie, did you watch the news earlier this week?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“Well, it was very sad…”  I proceeded to tell her about the history of train derailments, demonstrating with her Nashville line by toppling her plastic engines off the board.

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Daddy just “derailed” your dreams, sweetheart.  Consider it practice for life.

Unfortunately, she continued the story by insisting that a crane had come in to re-position the trains.  Where did she get that from?  It’s like the time I played Battleship with my son and he figured out I had been moving my battleship.  “What, son?” I asked.  “My ship was under attack.  I would have been derelict as caption not to move her.”

And with that it was game over.

Next time we’re playing Trivial Pursuit.

 

Riff

I’ve been wanting to write again for some time but couldn’t find the energy to get started.  It’s not that I couldn’t find the motivation, mind you.  Every day, countless things come into my life to inspire, challenge, and humor me.  I figured they might have a similar impact on you, too, my faithful readers.

So I went with the old tried and true Daily Post and its writing prompt.  Tonight it is the simple word “riff”.  Here goes…

First I want to ask your prayers for someone who is dying.  It could be anyone.  In my mind he is a very real young man with a family and he will open his eyes into eternal life very soon.  I’ve been thinking of my own mortality lately.  I’ve always been rather fatalistic.  Starting in childhood with the death of my twin sister at the age of 4.  In the past two years I’ve lost my oldest brother and my father.  I think about these pages and the banal things I’ve committed to cyber paper and I hope that my beloved son and daughter will be able to patch together a glimpse of their old man when I’m gone.  My wife already knows me well so I hope she’ll be able to smile when she reads my posts again and remembers the craziness that was our life together.  I love them so much and I’m glad God gave me a brief moment in this life to spend with them.  Pray.

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Pretty sure the car should be up there, not the driver.

Second I wanted to give thanks.  Every day there are numerous things for which we can thank God if we only look around us.  Last Thursday night my 13 year-old Honda died in the parking lot of a Walmart while I tried to start it after a brief shopping excursion.  I could have cursed life for the horror of being stranded in a Walmart parking lot.  Instead here’s what happened.  I called a friend of mine.  “Hey, my car died…” I said before being cut off.  “Where you at?  I’ll be right there,” he said with enthusiasm.  THAT’s a friend.  He gave up his evening to come pick me up, drive my wife to a meeting, take me and my kids to his house so he and I could work out together (motivating me to push harder in the process), lent me his clothes after I used his shower, and drove us home.  I may have looked silly in his duds but I was clean and dry and happy.  Two days later my mother-in-law’s neighbor – who’s legal name is actually Bubba – gleefully accompanied me to the parking lot, changed out the battery with me and then drove with me to an auto parts store to buy a new starter.  Imagine.  The battery and the starter both died together.  How serene.  If only it wasn’t in a Walmart parking lot.  The first friend’s wife (he was already out of town celebrating his brother’s 40th birthday) came with me to wait for the tow truck.  She has AAA and I don’t.  I told you.  I have a Honda.  The tow operator didn’t have a clue what he was doing.  He was in training so it took a painfully long time.  Within an hour of getting towed back to my mother-in-law’s house, Bubba called me to tell me he had worked on it, changed the starter, and it was fixed.  Wow.

Finally, I want to celebrate life.  I’m turning 40 myself pretty soon.  As my brother-in-law, a trauma nurse, once told me “Today’s a good day.  I got out of bed unassisted, didn’t need any help getting dressed.  I ate breakfast not through a tube…”  You get the point.  I haven’t even reached the age my dad was when I was born yet I feel like I’m getting old.  My best friend just turned 40 last week.  He’s an amazing guy.  I always tease him by asking him to give me the “22 day rundown of what it’s like being a year older”.  Truth is he could run circles around me in every way.  But I want to mark this milestone as another year God has given me to serve him, another year with my wife and kids, another year to write.  I think 40 will be fun.  Even if it’s not; it’s just a number.  I’m still going to live regardless of what my birth certificate says.  How’s that for irony.  One of these days I’ll be able to do something spectacular like travel the world or have someone throw me a huge party like all my friends have done.  I should mention here that another good friend did throw me a party recently.  True, he knows I abhor surprise parties.  I just can’t get past the deception that goes into planning them.  A lie’s a lie even if it’s for a good cause.  And I often think that someone would only do something nice like that for me out of pity but I’m still glad he did and I enjoyed myself.  Even if I did enjoy the steak he cooked a “second time”…  But even without those things life is beautiful because it simply is and it deserves to be celebrated.  And that man who’s dying?  His life is beautiful at this very moment because he is one step closer to God.

I suppose I went on a bit of a riff there…  Oh well.

True Love

This afternoon I had occasion to drive a few blocks away to pick up my daughter from a friend’s birthday party.  I didn’t feel like going because a cold front had moved in and it was windy and it’s Friday and I’m tired.

I got to the house and knocked on the door.  I’ve done this before.  It usually goes down like this.  A frazzled mom answers the door, half-crazed from running after a house full of little kids all afternoon entertaining them with crafts and games.  She might have frosting from a cake she slaved over smeared on her shirt.  She invites me in to “wait while I get her” before disappearing somewhere into the frenzy.  I wait around twiddling my thumbs for five to ten minutes until my daughter appears and tells me she’s just been having so much fun she NEEDS another five minutes.  I give in and wait around a while longer.  The whole process take an hour or so until I’m back at home watching the news.

Today was different.

The mom answered the door right away with a very little girl in tow.  The young lady couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3.  Her mom had no cake smear and did not appear the least bit stressed.  “I’ll get her for you,” she said as she calmly walked toward the kitchen with a smile.

Before I had time to wonder if I had stepped onto the set of Stepford Wives the little girl who had been following her ran toward me with open arms and the biggest smile.  Her head was slightly cocked and tilted a bit downward yet she was looking right into my eyes.  She ran toward me so fast I didn’t have time to think. about what was happening.  She threw her arms around my legs and said “Hi!” as she gave me the warmest hug.  And she almost didn’t let go.

I knew right away that something was different, indeed something was special.  This little girl has Downs Syndrome.  I don’t know why that should occur to me or even enter into what I’m describing except that I was immediate aware of how much the problems of my own world don’t matter and how much love, true love, this angel was showing to me at this moment.

In an instant my heart stopped as I was caught up in the moment.  She was so immensely filled with joy and happiness and it was all because I was there.  I can’t recall anyone ever greeting me like this before.  She took my hand and made me stoop down to the piano bench sitting next to us.  She motioned toward the bench.

“Do you want to play for me?” I asked  “Yeah!” she said and she scampered onto the bench.  She played so beautifully for someone who can’t play.  I know because I play; so I offered to play for her.  I stood behind her stooped over the bench so I could touch the keys, my arms encircling her.  She put her head back on me and looked up as I played.  She didn’t touch the keys, just listened lovingly as though I was playing the most beautiful piece ever written.

And she loved it.

And she loved me.

And I love her.

My daughter came around the corner and I had to say goodbye to my new friend.  She smiled and waved and gave me another hug.

God is so good to give me just a moment of His love and that family is so blessed to have such a treasure.

May you also be blessed to experience His love.

A Debt of Gratitude

Miss me? Don’t answer that. Instead, say a prayer or two for me. I could use them right now. But enough about me…

A few weeks back a friend of mine was going out of town for a week. He posed a request to me. 

“Could you pet sit for us?”

I didn’t even honestly know he had a pet.

He doesn’t.

His little girl has a bunny rabbit. My motto is, if it doesn’t jump into your lap showing the affection of a hyper caffeinated child, it ain’t a pet. Also, if the slightest noise can cause it to have a heart attack and die, you might want to consider a dog. 

But we had a bunny when I was a kid. OK, we had about ten bunnies over the years. After Mom accidentally cooked Thumper I would have thought we’d learned our lesson. More on that later. 

Lepus: Latin for messed up.

Maybe it was the way he asked. He seemed genuinely embarrassed. He’s a pretty manly guy – the kind who exudes confidence that he could take on anybody in a brawl he’s that well built. To observe  this jacked dude lower his head and almost whisper the question “Think you could, um, take care of my daughter’s rabbit while we’re gone?” was quite comical. If it were up to him and he had zero regard for his little girl’s blatant admiration of her old man I think he’d let the critter starve. 

But I have a little girl too. More to the point I have a friend and here he was asking me a favor. 

Of course I said yes. And I meant it. The fact that I’m only writing about it now indicates how it truly was nothing to me because I was just helping a friend and fellow dad. 

And Fluffy and I had some good times. For a week straight I’d drive over, let myself in, watch some Cinemax, toss some hay at the rabbit, drink their wine, and leave. After five days I realized they don’t have cable and don’t drink. Once we got that straightened out I stated going next door where I encountered an emmaciated bunny. Also Cinemax has some weird titles. Fluffy and I frolicked together in the yard. I read him a few bedtime stories. Wilt Chamberlain: My Story seems to be a favorite. Every night without fail as I was putting the book down Fluffy would roll his eyes and say “Eh, I’ve got better numbers” before crawling into my lap and saying “I love you Daddy! and drifting off to sleep in my arms. 

Tonight I stopped by my friend’s house for a few minutes. It’s nice to catch up. We live a few minutes apart but see each other very sporadically. As I was on my way out the door he handed me a paper bag. “Just a little thank you for taking care of the furry little guy.” How did my brother Paul enter into this?

It was a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin, and a big one at that! It was totally unnecessary but I accepted with great delight. He then added the compliment that he could tell I’ve been working out. Before you get all “that’s weird” on me, know that this man has borne the brunt of my insane desire to get in as good shape as he is for years. That compliment was very much appreciated. 

So, children, learn this lesson. When a friend asks a favor always say yes. Who knows? There might just be gin in it. And if you’re lucky you might just have a good friend who knows you like gin (and who understands how insecure you are about your body compared to his).