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Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

For the First Time Ever…I Am Ready!

In Family, Pursuit of Happiness on August 22, 2010 at 9:39 pm

The temperature in Texas is still hovering above the 100-degree mark, but as of tomorrow, summer vacation officially ends.  Ever since my son started going to school, I have always found the start of the school year to be a bit depressing because I enjoy having him home.  And while I still love having him around all of the time, for the first time ever, I am ready for the school year to begin.

This has been a summer unlike any other that I have ever experienced.  The highlight of the summer was (by a large margin) our visit to New York.  Although we have now lived in Texas for over a year, we all still refer to New York as “home.” The three-week visit to New York was incredible, and yet, it was still a bit disappointing.  The one thing that our visit brought to light is the fact that, despite our best efforts to do so, squeezing a year’s worth of living into a whirlwind three-week “vacation” is virtually impossible.

Lost in the midst of constant car travel (1999 miles to be exact), sleeping on pull-out couches and air mattresses, and visiting with family, is the fact that my wife and I spent nearly every waking moment of the trip with our kids.  On the few occasions that we took advantage of the built-in babysitters to get out of the house, the kids never left each other’s side.

By the time that we got back to Texas, it was obvious that the kids had spent too much time together.  The constant bickering that has taken place since our return is very uncharacteristic of their normal relationship…proof positive that you really can have “too much of a good thing.” Oppressive heat and close quarters have only served to exacerbate the situation, as too much time has been spent inside these four walls in recent weeks.

The selfish part of me would like the summer vacation to continue, but I realize that it is not what is best for my kids.  They need more time apart, and the best way for that to happen is for school to begin.

Like many kids, my son is not looking forward to starting school again.  We did our best to help him keep his mind off of the fact that school is starting tomorrow by taking him out to his favorite place to eat, followed by an afternoon spent at the bookstore (one of his favorite places to go).  At times, he got lost in the moment and just enjoyed himself, but several times in the bookstore, I caught him staring off into space with a forlorn look in his eyes.

As a parent, I never want to see my kids in any kind of pain.  Even though I know full well that he will most likely come home happy from school tomorrow once he realizes that he was fretting over nothing, I still wanted to do anything possible to make him smile.  No amount of rationalizing was going to work, so I decided to take a different approach.

It is said that “laughter is the best medicine, ” so I decided that making my son laugh was a much better plan than trying to get him to come to the realization that going back to school will actually be good for him.  I walked him over to the “Humor” section of the bookstore and found a book filled with short snippets of real-life incidents that had him laughing out loud as he read them.  By the time that we left the bookstore, he was in good spirits.  But it didn’t last.

After being home for a while, his mind once again started to race as he pondered what the first day of school is going to be like.  Seeing that my son was upset, my little one pulled a trick from his playbook that he uses to cheer her up when she is sad or hurt.  She went into my son’s drawer, got out a pair of underwear, put them on her head, and started doing a silly dance around the living room.  I guess she figured that it always works on her, so she might as well return the favor.  It took some time, but finally, we were all laughing and imitating her dance.

The fact that my little one wanted to cheer her brother up is commendable.  The fact that she had the wherewithal to use his trick shows me just how fast she is growing up.  Perhaps her recent bout with tantrums is more about frustration over a perceived lack of independence, and less about just sheer bratty behavior.  Regardless of the reason, I still think that it is good that she is about to start pre-school in another week.  Of course, there is always a chance that the selfish part of me will not be so happy on her first day of school since the bickering will likely subside with my son starting school.  After all…“absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

For years, I have heard parents say that they cannot wait for the school year to begin, and it always struck me as odd.  And yet, this year, I find myself feeling the same way.  As much as I have grown weary of the petty arguments, I truly feel this way because I think that the separation will do them both a world of good.  Hopefully, the time apart will allow them to once again appreciate each other the way that they did when the summer began.

Will I miss having my kids around every day?  Absolutely!  Am I looking forward to being woken up by the alarm clock and the ensuring mad scramble to get them ready and out the door on time?  Absolutely not!  But I truly believe that the beginning of the school year will restore the equilibrium that existed in our home a few short months ago.

Even though I am ready for school to begin, I have a sneaking feeling that the impact of dropping my little girl off for the first time will inspire a post that contradicts this one (at least to some degree).  I guess it is all part of being a parent.

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Putting Myself in Their Place

In Family on August 16, 2010 at 4:46 pm

The anniversary of 9/11 will be here again in less than a month.  So much has changed in the last nine years, and yet the pain of that tragic day still lingers in the hearts and minds of America.  As this anniversary approaches, a debate rages on as to whether or not an enormous mosque should be built just blocks from Ground Zero.  The decision should not come down to the constitutional right to do so, nor should it come down to yet another case of political posturing.  For once, it would be nice to see common sense and human decency come to the forefront when a decision as important as this one is being made.

Bleeding-heart liberals will likely fight for the right to build the mosque, while right-wing Republicans will oppose it.  The truth of the matter is that both extremes usually have their mind made up long before specific facts come into play.  Those that find themselves more towards the middle are usually the ones that end up taking the time to learn about both sides before rendering an opinion.  As an Independent, it would seem that this would be one of those times that I would need to do research before offering my opinion, but this case is different because of my circumstances.

Less than two months before 9/11, I lost my father very unexpectedly.  He was relatively young and in good health (much like many of the people who lost their lives in 9/11).  On a beautiful summer Sunday in 2001, my parents decided to spend the day in Central Park.  My mother sat and read a book while my father rollerbladed around the park.  Overall, a pretty typical day for them.  Until my father somehow lost his balance and fell on his head.  There were no witnesses, so we don’t really know exactly what happened.  Even if we did know what happened, it wouldn’t have changed anything.  The head injury that my father sustained was so severe that he lost his battle for life after five days of being in a coma.

For a long time after my father’s passing, the sight of someone on rollerblades made me both sad and angry.  I wondered why my father was the one to fall, get injured and die.  I wondered why others who were far more reckless on rollerblades were still alive and skating as though they didn’t have a care in the world.  To this day, over nine years later, I still think of my father whenever I see someone rollerblading without a helmet and wonder why they are so careless (even though I never once wore a helmet when we used to go together).  I can’t remember the exact date, but I do know that the last time that I ever put on rollerblades was sometime in the summer of 2001.

My father’s fall took place in Central Park.  And though the park had nothing to do with what happened, I still couldn’t bring myself to return to the place where my father basically lost his life.  It took many years before I could even drive through the park, and if not for my kids wanting to go to a playground when we were visiting Manhattan, I’m not sure that I would have ever gone into the park again.

Is it logical for me to still get sad and angry when I see people rollerblading more than nine years after my father’s accident?  Not at all.  Is it logical for me to never want to return to Central Park because it is where my father’s accident took place?  Not at all.  But logic doesn’t always prevail, especially when strong emotions come into play.  Sometimes, the heart rules the mind, and there is very little that can be done to overcome it.

If Central Park were my father’s final resting place, I would have no choice but to go and visit him there.  But luckily for me, it is not his final resting place.  After my father’s passing, I was in a downward spiral.  Life was just not the same as it was before his accident.  There were no silver linings in sight.  It took another horrific tragedy for me to find a silver lining in the way that I lost my dad…9/11!

As Americans, we all experienced 9/11 in one way or another.  I was fortunate not to have lost anyone close to me on that tragic day, but others were not so lucky.  In the years following 9/11, I found out by watching the anniversary coverage and doing some research that friends of mine did lose people very close to them.   Even before I knew about this, 9/11 hit me very hard, as I witnessed it first-hand from my balcony in Jersey City overlooking the Twin Towers.  As sad as I was about losing my father, I was comforted by the fact that I got to say goodbye to him (although he was unable to reciprocate).  I was grateful that we were able to give my father a “proper burial” (a thought that never entered my mind before 9/11).

Human life is fragile.  We all know it, but sometimes it takes the stark reality of a tragedy to remind us of just how fragile it is.  In the back of our minds, we all know that none of us is promised tomorrow (much less years) but we go about our days without dwelling on our eventual demise.  At the very least, we take solace in the fact that we will have a final resting place where the loved ones that we leave behind can come and visit us.  But for the victims of 9/11…that is not the case.

Unfortunately for many of the families of 9/11 victims, Ground Zero is the final resting place for their loved ones.  I can’t even imagine the pain that these families must feel from the lack of closure, and having no choice but to visit their loved ones in a very impersonal burial ground that is shared by thousands of people.

I know first-hand how painful it is to be reminded of the reason that my father lost his life every time that I see someone rollerblading.  To this day, I find myself looking away at times as I watch television shows or movies that use Central Park as the backdrop.   While it is a reality that I must live with, it is not one that I willingly chose for myself; just as the families of 9/11 victims didn’t choose to have Ground Zero be the final resting place for their loved ones.

Most reasonable people realize that there are good and bad people in every religion.  And though anti-Muslim sentiment in America was extremely high after 9/11, (and may still exist to this day), it does not exist to the same degree as it did nine years ago.  But we would be fooling ourselves to think that a 13-story mosque being erected in the shadows of Ground Zero is not going to add to the pain that the families of 9/11 victims already feel.

I may not be able to directly empathize with the families of 9/11 victims, but I can do so indirectly.  Our respective losses happened within weeks of each other, so the healing time is the same.  It stands to reasons that If I still have trouble seeing rollerbladers and scenes of Central Park to this day, that family members of 9/11 victims will be tormented upon each visit to Ground Zero should the proposed mosque be built merely a few blocks away.

My opinion is by no means a condemnation of the Muslim faith, and I do not think that most Muslims are terrorists.  However, the terrorists that were responsible for perhaps the most tragic day in American history were Muslim, and it would be virtually impossible for a 13-story mosque near Ground Zero to be anything other than a painful reminder of that fact.

Make A Wish

In Family, Life Lessons, Pursuit of Happiness on August 10, 2010 at 4:25 pm

During our recent trip to New York, we celebrated my daughter’s birthday.  Actually, we celebrated her birthday three times (on the actual day, with my family and finally, with my wife’s family).  Suffice it to say that we got our fill of birthday cake.  At each celebration, my daughter would happily blow out the candles and “make a wish”.  At her age though, I’m not so sure that secret wishes are really made, considering the fact that she was constantly verbalizing the things that she wanted.  In fact, the timing of our New York visit was determined by her repeated wish to go to the beach on her birthday.

By the time that the final candle was blown out on the third birthday cake, we were all a little bit heavier from our indulgence, and my daughter’s Pavlovian mindset had her associating presents with dessert.   And though she was very happy with the gifts that she received from everyone, there were still some gifts that she couldn’t get until we got home because of the limited space available in the luggage that we were bringing on the plane.   But she didn’t seem to mind at all.  She got to do everything that she wanted to do on her birthday, and ended up with many of the things that were on her birthday list.

Saying “goodbye” to everyone at the end of our trip was difficult (as we knew that it would be).  Even though we were all exhausted by the time that our visit came to an end, I think that if my daughter had one last birthday wish, it would have been to stay in New York even longer so that she could spend more time with family.  But as the saying goes…“all good things must come to an end.”

As much as I would have liked to have stayed in New York to spend more time with family and friends, I have another reason that I wish that we could have stayed a little bit longer.

My friend, Trish, who lost her daughter (Olivia) in December to a very rare metabolic storage disorder called I-Cell was bringing her son, Mikey, up to Long Island just days after we left New York.  I got to meet Mikey earlier in the year at the first-ever “Bowling For Cookies” event in Florida (where we raised money for the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation).  However, my wife and kids – who have fallen in love with Mikey through pictures and videos – have not gotten the chance to meet him, and this would have been a perfect opportunity.

Our visit to New York can best be described as “bittersweet.” We knew that, when it ended, we wouldn’t be seeing everyone again for a long time (probably until next summer).  Trish’s visit with Mikey, on the other hand, goes way beyond bittersweet.  They are staying in a beautiful beach house on Long Island, but they are doing so courtesy of Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Mikey, like his sister, Olivia, was also born with I-Cell, and the life expectancy for children with this disease is relatively short.  Olivia passed away just days before her fifth birthday and the Make-A-Wish Foundation trip that was planned for her.  Mikey celebrated his fourth birthday at the “Bowling For Cookies” event in April, and will be celebrating another birthday of sorts (4 years post bone marrow transplant) at the upcoming “Bowling For Cookies” event taking place on Saturday, August 14th at Sheridan Bowl in Mineola, NY.

Sometimes, a little perspective is all you need to make you realize just how lucky you are.  As bittersweet as our visit to New York was, it was nothing in comparison to what Trish is going through.  Staying in a beautiful, relaxing beach house on Long Island with Mikey is a memory that will stay with Trish for the rest of her life, but I am sure that she would gladly trade it all in for the restless nights that I spent on pull-out couches and air mattresses, and the sore back that I ended up with due in large part to the endless hours spent in the car (nearly 2000 miles travelled over the course of three weeks).

I’m very happy that my little girl got to “make a wish” as she blew out the candles on each birthday cake.  I’m glad that we were able to celebrate her birthday with the family that has not gotten to see her growth first-hand over the past year.  I don’t know if she actually made a wish or not, but it doesn’t really matter either way.  She had a great birthday, and enjoyed every minute of every celebration in her honor.

I wish that we could have stayed in New York to visit with Trish and Mikey, and attend the upcoming “Bowling For Cookies” event on Long Island.  But more than anything, I wish that Trish’s New York visit could be only as bittersweet as our visit was.

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