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Archive for the ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ Category

A Rainbow in the Clouds

In Family, Pursuit of Happiness on September 3, 2010 at 3:32 pm

While driving my little one to pre-school yesterday, I rounded the bend and saw something that I had never seen before.  A storm pummeled our area the previous night, and when the rain finally stopped, what was left in its wake was nothing short of spectacular.  A majestic rainbow emerged from the ground, creating what looked like a bridge to the billowing clouds that hovered over the morning sky.  I tried desperately to point it out to it out to my daughter, but her focus was elsewhere.

Although the rain was no longer falling from the sky, a morning mist filled my daughter’s eyes as she contemplated what her second day of school was going to be like.  She had fun the first day, but somehow the fun moments had all but dissipated from her mind, and all that remained was the thought of being away from us all day long.  Try as I might, I was unable to convince her that she was going to have a good day, and that we would be back for her soon.

When we pulled into the parking lot, she realized that she was not going to be able to talk me out of bringing her to school.  I coaxed her in to taking some deep breaths to try and relax.  In between the breaths, with tears rolling down her innocent face, she repeatedly uttered…“I can do this.” The mantra continued as I gave her a hug and a kiss and the school director picked her up to bring her to her classroom.

Leaving my little one on the second day of school was not as bad as the first day…most likely because I was dropping her off on my own, so she didn’t have to see my wife and me leave at the same time.  The shriek that she let out the first day echoed through the halls of the school.  My wife and I were still in the waiting area listening to her wailing because there was paperwork that still needed to be filled out.  I felt bad, but knew that she would calm down eventually and enjoy herself.  However, my wife was clearly heartbroken, and barely able to fill out the forms with the tears clouding her eyes.

We stuck around for a little while.  Before we even finished filling out the forms, my daughter had calmed down.  Through a small window in the classroom door, we were able to see her dancing with the other kids in her class.  Had we not seen this, I’m not sure that I would have been able to drag my wife out of the building.

For the first time, in what seemed like forever, my wife and I were alone in the morning.  Before heading home, we stopped at a local coffee shop and spent some time together discussing my daughter.  Eventually, our conversation turned towards other subjects, which is something that I enjoyed.  I knew that my daughter was in good hands, and it was nice to be able to talk to my wife without the constant interruption that our children are more than happy to provide on a regular basis.

Before long, it was time to pick up my son from school.  We were taking him out early to have his braces put on.  After his appointment, we all went out to eat and then headed to the bookstore that we often frequent.  However, this time, we were all going to be able to actually sit and read, since we weren’t going to have to follow around my little one who usually blows through the bookstore like a hurricane, leaving a trail of books and toys in her wake.

After a short time in the bookstore, something totally unexpected happened.  My son, who is easily exasperated by my daughter (especially in the bookstore) couldn’t seem to focus on reading.  Surprisingly, he kept asking us every few minutes if it was time to pick the little one up from school.  For all of their petty disagreements and bickering, there is still a bond between them that is unbreakable, which really shouldn’t have come as a shock.  On my son’s first day of school this year, my daughter cried for two straight hours as she said (in the typical choppy voice of a crying child)… “I can’t stop thinking about him” and “can we go pick him up from school now?”

About 15 minutes before we were going to leave the bookstore, we got a call from my daughter’s school asking us to come and pick her up a little early.  The kids were having nap time, and she was not going to fall asleep because she was crying too hard.  The pre-school has a great program that has the kids rotating all day long from activity to activity.  However, I had a feeling that with nothing but time to think in silence, that my daughter’s mind would instantly start thinking about all of us.

Truth be told, I think that we were all kind of happy to get the call.  Not that we wanted her to be sad, but we were all anxious for her school day to end so that we could see her.

By the time that we arrived at the school, she had calmed down and was smiling when she saw all of us.  She told us about her day on the way home, and really seemed to like the school and all of the activities.  She assured us that she would be happy to go back for her second day (which proved to be easier said than done).  As we walked into the house, she sighed and said…“ahh…..it’s good to be home!” We all laughed at the maturity of the statement coming from a pre-schooler.  It’s probably exactly what I said after the very long day that we had earlier in the month traveling back from New York.

It is said that every cloud has a silver lining, but I have never seen any physical evidence to confirm that theory.  However, the incredible rainbow that I saw yesterday while taking my daughter to school is proof-positive that even the most daunting storm cannot smother beauty for very long.

From my daughter’s vantage point (both literal and figurative), she could not see the stunning rainbow creating a virtual bridge to the sky.  At that moment, her tear-filled eyes were only able to see the clouds.  I was able to see both.  My hope is that, one day soon, my little one will be so focused on the rainbow that the clouds will disappear right before her eyes.

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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.

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.

Homecoming

In Family, Life Lessons, Pursuit of Happiness on July 14, 2010 at 10:58 am

The alarm went off at around 3:00am yesterday morning.  It was essentially the middle of the night, but it didn’t bother me at all.  Quite the opposite actually.  Although I was awake before the birds, it meant that I was one step closer to our long-awaited visit to New York.  My wife and I got ready, and then woke the kids up just after 4:00am to get ready.  Even in their sleepy haze, they were excited that the day had finally arrived (my son in particular).

At 4:20am, the phone rang.  It was our car service arriving 10 minutes early.  We scrambled to finish getting ready.  I took my little one’s hand and told her that it was time to leave.  Outside, we saw nothing but headlights from the car shining through the pitch black sky.  Still kind of sleepy, my little one looked around and then looked up at me and said…“Daddy, the plane isn’t here yet.” I guess at her age, the disconnect between living in an apartment complex and taking a private jet doesn’t exist.

We got into the Lincoln Navigator driven by the owner of the company…a Nigerian man named Peter.  He and I had spoken on the phone a handful of times.  It came as no surprise to me that he was so friendly and polite when we met him because he was exactly the same way on the phone whenever we spoke.

Fearing the possibility of running late and missing our flight, we decided to err on the side of caution and arrive at the airport two hours early.  In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best decision.  Trying to kill time at an airport early in the morning, with kids, is no easy feat.  Most of the stores aren’t open, so there is nothing to do but wait around.  Needless to say, I wasn’t too happy to see that our flight was one of two that was delayed.  An extra hour and twenty minutes to entertain restless and anxious children.

After a long wait, we finally got on our flight.  It was the first time that my daughter had flown on a plane.  I buckled her seatbelt, she looked out the window and said the magical words that every parent longs to hear…“Daddy, are we there yet?” She had her moments of fun on the plane, mixed in with moments of crankiness.  Overall, about what I expected from her.

When we landed in Milwaukee for our layover, we decided to stay on the plane since it was scheduled to depart for New York 40 minutes later.  Before long, we were being told that we had to exit the plane because there was something called a “ground stop” issued at LaGuardia Airport.  We were looking at another hour at best.   It was frustrating, but it is a part of air travel that everyone has to deal with.

We kept checking the departure board.  No changes for a while…and then it happened.  Next to our flight number, in all capital letters, appeared the word “CANCELLED.”  This had never happened to me in all of my years of business travel, and now it was happening for the first time with my wife and two kids on the most important trip since our honeymoon.  Frustration doesn’t even begin to describe how I was feeling.

I immediately returned to the ticket counter, and was told to take any carry-on items off of the plane.  When I asked what we were supposed to do, I was met with looks of sheer confusion by the Air Tran workers.  They told us all that our checked luggage could be retrieved at baggage claim, but also that it could be left there as it was being watched.   Somehow I doubt that it was actually being watched, but that never factored into my decision to leave it there, especially since it would likely have created more problems as we only possessed boarding passes for a flight that no longer existed.  Lost luggage was a risk that I was willing to take if it meant that I’d be able to get onto another flight to New York later in the day.

Waiting on line is something that no one ever wants to do.  I am certainly no exception.  But I was determined to do whatever I could to get my family to New York.  Being stranded in Milwaukee was not an option that I was willing to accept.  So I waited….and I waited…..and waited some more.  It took all of the restraint that I had to avoid having a confrontation with a foreigner who spoke no English, and thought nothing of cutting the line.

As I waited on line, I overheard the results that others were getting….“tomorrow is the best I can do”“it may be as late as two days from now”“if you fly through Atlanta to Philadelphia, you will arrive at around 1:00am.” Quite frankly, all of the options short of getting onto the next flight were terrible.

I called the airlines, and was assured that I would be on the next flight, but I still had no confirmation from the ticket counter in the form of boarding passes.  So I waited….and waited…and waited some more on the line.  At one point, they decided to move the line to another counter, and told us all to keep our place in line.  What a joke!  People took their chance to move ahead, but I stood my ground and made sure that I wasn’t pushed any further back.  I may be living in Texas now, but I am still a New Yorker willing to thrown down some New York attitude when the situation calls for it.

With only one person in front of me, the frazzled supervisor got on the loud speaker and announced two names that had boarding passes for the next flight.  Thankfully, mine was one of them.  However, when I raised my hand, he handed them to me without checking my ID to see who I was.  He did the same with the other woman.  A bit ridiculous when you consider that, in today’s times, my 3-year old had to have her Dora the Explorer sneakers scanned for shoe bombs.  Interesting how security measures take a back seat to chaos.

When I got the boarding passes, I returned to my family and proclaimed loudly and proudly (in my best New York accent)“I feel like I won the friggin’ lottery!” Amazing how perspective can change so quickly.  If someone would have told me before my trip started that I’d arrive in New York 4.5 hours late and be happy about it, I would have had them immediately committed.   Seeing the haphazard manner in which the suddenly flightless passengers were handled, I didn’t see any possible way that our checked luggage would have gotten onto the flight with us.  Unfortunately, my prediction came true.  As I am writing this, it is getting close to noon, and we’re still waiting for our luggage to be delivered.  But it doesn’t matter.

As tired and frustrated as I was with how the day began, I was thrilled with how the day ended.  We were home at last!  Our niece and her boyfriend picked us up at the airport.  What a sight for sore eyes.  We hit traffic on the way home, but it didn’t matter.  I knew the roads.  I knew that the traffic would be heavier near the Jackie Robinson Parkway, and then it would let up a bit.  The same holds true for the Douglaston Parkway area.  None of it mattered.  With each passing exit on the Northern State Parkway, it felt more and more like home.

Nearly a year had passed since we packed up the van and headed southwest.  Our kids have grown before our eyes, but their growth was very noticeable to their aunt and cousins.  Seeing my kids hugging everyone made me happy and a little sad at the same time, still dealing with my feelings of guilt for moving away.

It had been a long, stressful day, and none of us had eaten anything of substance.  Our planned pizza lunch had now turned into a late pizza dinner.  I couldn’t even wait for the pre-ordered pies to come out.  I had to get a slice that I ate at almost room temperature.  As the old saying goes…“you don’t know what you’ve got, ‘till it’s gone.” Like all displaced, native New Yorkers, we’ve missed New York pizza terribly.  The room temperature New York pizza that I had was far superior to any pizza that I’ve had since moving. So, despite having an annoying, frustrating day yesterday, it ended on a high note.

“Home” means different things to different people.  Sitting down with family and eating New York pizza on Long Island is “home” to me.  Same goes for the bagel breakfast this morning.  And though I can’t speak for my wife and kids, I believe that they feel the same way.

I guess, to an outsider, it may seem that my homecoming is about “carbo-loading” with family.  But it is much more than that.  I didn’t know it until I gained the perspective of being outside of New York, but pizza and bagels represent more than just food.  They represent the New York culture, where many unrealized moments are shared, and very often, taken for granted.

Despite the difficult journey getting here, and the aftermath of missing luggage, all in all, I am very happy to be home!

What Freedom Means to Me

In Family, Pursuit of Happiness on July 5, 2010 at 5:20 am

Nearly everyone that I know looks forward to having a three-day weekend.  Because July 4th fell on a Sunday this year, many people are off from work today to celebrate.  If I were still an employee, I would be enjoying the three-day weekend as much as everyone else.  But since I am working for myself, I won’t be taking the day off.  It’s not that I can’t if I wanted to, but I have things that need to get done, and self-imposed deadlines to meet.  So while the masses are celebrating America’s freedom, I will be celebrating my personal freedom by choosing to spend the day working….and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I decided to start working for myself a number of years ago, I realized that there would be pros and cons to my decision.  Obviously, the biggest con is not having a steady paycheck that I can count on from week to week.  In recent years, the skyrocketing cost of medical insurance became another big con, but my wife and I have worked through that problem (to a degree) by having her work part-time at a company that provides family healthcare for all employees (as long as they work a certain number of hours).  Is it the best insurance?  Not from my perspective, but it is better than the alternative of paying out of pocket for everything or not having any insurance at all.

Freedom, (like most things in life), isn’t handed to anyone.  Sacrifices must be made in order to achieve freedom and enjoy it.  I certainly would prefer not to have my wife leaving the house before sunrise, and it would be much less distracting to work from a traditional office instead of the home office that I’ve created for myself.  But that would only create a different set of sacrifices that aren’t as appealing as the lifestyle that we have chosen for ourselves.

In all likelihood, I probably would have earned more money by continuing to climb the corporate ladder instead of going into business for myself, but it would have come at a cost.  It would have required a sacrifice that I was unwilling to make unless I absolutely had no other choice.  Most likely, I would have had to continue commuting into Manhattan by train (something that I disliked more and more as time went by).  But more importantly, it would have required me to sacrifice the one thing in life that matters most to me…time with my wife and kids.

When my son was first born, I did commute into Manhattan.   It didn’t take long for me to realize that it wasn’t something that I wanted to continue to do long-term.  I understand why so many people do it, but seeing my son for a half hour in the morning and less than an hour in the evening (during the week) just didn’t work for me.

After 9/11, commuting became exponentially more difficult for a number of reasons.  The commute that I found to be tedious in the best of times became even worse with the added fear of a possible terrorist attack always looming in the back of my mind.  The company that I was working for at the time offered services that started to become obsolete after a seismic paradigm shift by consumers took place, so moving up would have meant moving on to another company, and quite possibly, another industry.  However, the most important reason that I no longer wanted to commute was that I didn’t want to neglect what I felt (and still feel to this day) is my most important job…being a father.

Having lost my father less than two months before 9/11, I had a heightened sense of awareness of the fragility of life.  I also knew that I wanted to be the kind of father to my son (and later to my daughter) that my father was to me, and that wouldn’t be possible if I was spending most of my son’s waking hours at work and on the train.  I knew that I wanted to coach his teams when the time came, but that wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t get home from work every day until nearly 8:00pm…so I made a choice to make a change in my lifestyle.

To me, freedom basically comes down to making choices and accepting the sacrifices that come along with those choices.  And because of that, I find freedom to be a very personal thing.  The sacrifices that one person is willing to make may seem incomprehensible to others.  Part of the beauty of freedom is that it allows us to live by our own values, despite what others may think of how we choose to live our lives.

“It’s my life…it’s now or never…I ain’t gonna live forever…I just wanna to live while I’m alive.  My heart is like an open highway…like Frankie said ‘I did it my way’…I just wanna live while I’m alive…‘cause it’s my life.” (Bon Jovi – “It’s My Life)

I’m very grateful that I live in a country that affords me the freedom to do it “my way.” I may not always make the right decisions, but at least the decisions are mine to make.

Salvaging the Day

In Family, Life Lessons, Pursuit of Happiness on June 28, 2010 at 7:59 am

The kids were looking forward to spending the day at a waterpark and sleeping in a hotel room after traveling two-and-a-half hours to tour a time share resort.  My wife and I had no intention of buying a time share, but we were willing to sacrifice 90 minutes for a gift card, free waterpark passes and a certificate for a 2-night stay at Great Wolf Lodge at a later date.  We had no way of knowing that the presentation would end so badly, or that the waterpark would turn out to be a huge disappointment.

The waterpark (located at the resort) was billed as an “indoor / outdoor facility” with a retractable roof.  As we entered the building, my wife and I were shocked to see that the roof was closed on a hot, sunny day.  If they thought that it was too hot, I would have understood, as long as the building was air conditioned, but it was not.  Quite the contrary!  The glass building felt like a greenhouse.  The heat was stifling, and the smell of chlorine and sweat permeated the air.  To make matters worse, there was almost no seating available.

Regretfully, we had to tell the kids that our time spent in the car, and the time wasted at the presentation (a post for another day), was all for naught.  There was no way that we were going to stay at the waterpark under those conditions, and there was certainly no reason to stay in a hotel in an area that offered nothing of interest to us beyond the waterpark.  And while the future stay at Great Wolf Lodge is something that the kids will undoubtedly enjoy, it wasn’t going to do anything to quell their disappointment in the change of plans.

After taking away something that they were looking forward to, I knew that I needed to do something to salvage the day, so I decided to take the money that we were saving from the hotel and spend it in a way that they would appreciate.

Before hitting the road for our return trip home, we took the kids out for pizza to discuss our alternative plans.  Thankfully, the negotiations with the kids went much smoother than the horrific sales presentation that my wife and I had sat through prior to our lunch.

I started by offering to take the kids to a place by our house that has water slides.  When I saw that they were only lukewarm to the idea, I offered to take them to a store to allow them to buy some new pool toys that we could bring to the pool in our complex.  Again, the response was less than exuberant, so I knew that I’d have to up the ante a bit to bring a smile to their faces.  I also knew that one thing probably would get the job done, so I went with a multi-pronged attack aimed at their “hot buttons.”

Our first stop on the way home was at the bookstore that we go to on a weekly basis.  Since our home is already a virtual library for kids, we usually do not buy books when we go to the bookstore.  But I told them that I would allow each of them to buy any two books that they wanted because we weren’t staying at the waterpark or the hotel.

As the smiles started to come back to their faces, I told them that we could have dinner at McDonald’s, followed by ice cream at a local place that they love, and then go to the pool in our complex until it got dark out.  By the time that I had laid all of these options on the table, the kids were more excited than ever.  Suddenly, the long car ride, the annoying presentation, the disappointing waterpark and the lack of a hotel stay didn’t bother them at all.  In fact, they were more excited about the new plans than they ever were about the original plans.  Their smiling faces would have been more than enough for me, but the jubilation in their voices made it even better as they excitedly shrieked…“thank you Daddy, thank you Mommy, you’re the best!”

All told, we ended up spending about half of what we would have had we stayed at the waterpark and the hotel, and the kids ending up having a great day just the same.  As the saying goes…“when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” Instead of looking back on Saturday with disappointment and frustration, I’ll remember it as a day that we (as a family) collectively shared a refreshing, ice-cold glass of lemonade.

As Edwin McCain sang so eloquently…“these are the moments…I’ll remember all my life.”

Because of them…

In Family, Life Lessons, Pursuit of Happiness on June 21, 2010 at 7:27 am

Father’s Day has always been a bit bittersweet for me because I’ve never gotten the chance to celebrate it with my father and my kids, being that my dad passed away about a year before my oldest child was born.  When I lived in New York, Father’s Day always began at my father’s graveside as my mother and I would quietly ponder…“what if he had lived long enough to be around these kids?” Things would surely be different, and Father’s Day wouldn’t start off on such a somber note.  Unfortunately, there are times in life when we must live with the hand that we have been dealt…painful as it may be.

My father was one-of-a-kind.  He was always there to bring a smile to our faces with a story that we’d heard many times before, a goofy joke or a silly face.  He knew how to have fun, and he taught it to my siblings and me on a regular basis.  I know that he would not want me to spend the day mourning his loss instead of being there in the moment and having fun with my kids.

Yesterday, I didn’t have a choice but to live in the moment.  In my heart, I wish that I could have started the day by visiting his grave as I have always done since he passed away.  But it wasn’t possible being so far away.  So I decided to do the next best thing, and lose myself in my kids and have fun.  I can’t say that he wasn’t on my mind during the day, but I didn’t let it take away from the time spent with the kids.

We started the day by having breakfast together.  Nothing elaborate…just some bagels and juice.  After breakfast, my son and I played an awesome game of Madden 2010 on Wii.  It was back and forth all game.  He beat me with a long touchdown with no time left on the clock.  He and I both agreed that it was the most fun game that we had ever played against each other.  Although I tried my best to win, I was actually happy that he won in such dramatic fashion.  After all, the true joy of fatherhood comes from seeing happiness on your kids’ faces.

When our game ended, I went to check my e-mail, when my little one dragged me by the hand to come and dance with her during Yo Gabba Gabba.  It was very silly, but the smile on her face and the happiness in her eyes made it all worthwhile.  When the show ended, I asked her to take a bath so that we could go out to lunch, but she said that she would only do so if I played games with her while she took her bath.  The spirit of my dad must have taken over me without me even knowing it, because I was goofier than usual with her.  As we played, her infectious laughter echoed in the bathroom.  It was a sound that I know would have been music to my dad’s ears.

Once we were all ready, we set out to go to lunch at P.F. Chang’s.  I had never been there before, and I thought that Father’s Day would be a good time to try it.  In the back of my mind, I had a hunch that it was going to be very crowded, and that there would be a long wait to be seated.  My hunch proved correct, so I decided to take the family to a local burger place that I had tried on my own one day.  Aside from the incredible burgers, we also shared some milkshakes.  Needless to say, the kids were not at all disappointed that P.F. Chang’s was crowded.

When we were done with lunch, it was too hot to be outside, but too early to head home to spend the day in the house, so I decided to take the kids to the bookstore (our favorite local hangout).  Surprisingly, we were able to grab three of the big comfortable chairs which are almost always taken.  We sat and read for a while, enjoying our day together.   When the man sitting in the last of the comfortable chairs saw my son and I looking at a book about Tony Romo, he told us that Tony Romo was sitting in the chair that I was sitting in just an hour before.  My son’s eyes lit up, and I felt really bad that we didn’t get there earlier in the day (even though we had no plans to do so).  I just know how much it would have meant to him to meet the quarterback of our favorite team.

Shortly after hearing about Tony Romo, my wife got a call on her cell phone letting her know that the specialty market across the street from the bookstore was selling black and white cookies (something that we had looked for, but had been unable to find since moving to Texas).  Even though we had already indulged on milkshakes with the kids, we weren’t going to pass up on the chance to get our hands (and mouths) on black and white cookies.  The kids loved them.  My wife and I thought that they fell considerably short of what we were used to in New York, but it didn’t matter.

When we got home we took the kids to the pool.  A perfect way to end a great day.  After spending a few hours hanging out and playing at the pool, we went back home to have pizza.  Clearly, this Father’s Day was not about eating healthy, but that’s ok.  Without planning it, we ended up eating a lot of my father’s favorite things.  If he had been here with us, he would have loved this day.  And though he couldn’t be here physically, he was with us in spirit.

Because of my father, I learned what being a great dad is all about.  All of the little things that he did have stuck with me far beyond his time on earth.  Because of my father, my kids are getting to experience many of the same joys that I did as a kid.  Hopefully, they will look back on these days with the same fondness that I do on my childhood.

If not for my kids, Father’s Day would be a much more difficult day to deal with.  Because of them, I get to keep my father’s spirit alive, while giving them a chance to experience the love of a man that they (sadly) have never met.  Because of my father, my son and my daughter, yesterday was a great day.  And for that, I’m thankful.

Sharing the Moments

In Family, Pursuit of Happiness on June 19, 2010 at 9:12 pm

Time seems to fly by more quickly when you’re busy.  Lately, there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day, days in the week, or weeks in the month to get everything done.  This is part of the reason why it has been several weeks since my last posting.  The other reason is that my days have been fairly repetitive, leaving less to work with in the way of inspiration.  A small part may also be due to some burnout on my part.  Whatever the case, my plan is to start posting with more regularity again.

While I have been particularly busy with one of my projects, I have also been spending more time with my family since the school year ended.  During this time I’ve noticed that the bond that I have with my son has been taken to a whole new level.  He and I have always been very close for a number of reasons, not the least of which is sports.  It has always been a big part of our bond since he was old enough to pick up a ball and attend live sporting events.  However, his attention span for sports on TV wasn’t always very long (other than football, which is his favorite), so I basically watched everything else by myself…until recently.

As my wife and daughter slept, my son and I would stay up and watch the Stanley Cup and the NBA Finals.  We couldn’t have picked a better year to start doing so.  The storylines and the games were better than any that I can remember in recent years.  The resiliency shown by teams that were basically written off by sports reporters and fans was an excellent lesson for me to teach my son while we were enjoying the games.  But even if there was no lesson to be learned, I still looked forward to each game because it is a great bonding experience.  Truth be told, I’ve been looking forward to this moment ever since the doctor uttered the words…“It’s a boy!”

Sharing these moments with my son is something that means more to me than any words can ever describe.  It is especially meaningful to me in light of the fact that our move from New York to Texas last summer had my son very distraught.  Even though the move was meant to make his life better, I still had tremendous guilt feelings for uprooting him and taking him away from the only place that he has ever called “home.” Thankfully, he adjusted to the move even better than I could have hoped for.  His grades in school for the year were in a stratosphere that I never even came close to (finishing the year with a 97, 98, 99 and 100) in the four major subjects.

The grades made me proud, but my greatest satisfaction comes from the fact that he continued to be a “model student.” His teacher told us that her job would be a dream if she had a room full of kids just like him.  But perhaps the most gratifying aspect of the move is the fact that my son has made a lot of friends in his short time here (as evidenced by the amount of kids that he had at his birthday party today).  Even the ones that couldn’t make it because of scheduling conflicts were disappointed that they couldn’t attend.

As I watched my son with all of his friends today, it gave me great pleasure to see him thriving beyond the classroom.  Even though he spent most of the time with his friends, I still felt like we were sharing a special moment together.  When we came home, we played some games and then went to the pool.  Our time in the pool has been another great chance to bond.  It doesn’t matter whether we are swimming or playing water football or just hanging out and talking.  It’s always a good time!

Sometimes it can be difficult to see how fast the kids are growing up.  I think that most parents want to freeze time to some degree to make these moments last longer.  I am certainly no exception to this way of thinking.  But at least I can take solace in the fact that, as the days pass by, the bond between my son and me only continues to grow stronger with every shared moment.

A Season to Remember

In Family, Inspiration and Motivation, Life Lessons, Pursuit of Happiness on May 23, 2010 at 8:58 pm

As we walked off of the field after our Super Bowl, I looked up into the stands, saw all of the parents giving our team a standing ovation, and it got me a little choked up.  I couldn’t help but think how lucky these kids were to have experienced such an amazing season together.   The only thing that could have made it better was if we had actually won the game and the league championship.

Despite a hard-fought battle, it was a case of too little, too late.  We lost by one touchdown to the defending champions.  The team that most feared.  The team that dominated every team that they have played for the last two years (except for us).  I wrote about how we beat them earlier in the year in a post entitled “David vs. Goliath.” And though we came out on the losing side of this battle, this was anything but an easy victory for our opponents.

After the game, I sought out one of the dads from the other team.  Our sons played together in the fall, and I wanted to congratulate him on his son winning the championship.  He shook my hand and said…“I’m just glad that this isn’t a best of three series.” I imagine that most of the parents on the winning team felt the same way.

Long before the game was played, we planned for our team to have the year-end pool party right afterwards.  Part of me thought that this was a great idea because it would give the kids a chance to extend their celebration if they won.  But another part of me knew that we were in for a battle, and that victory was no sure thing.  I feared that the well-deserved celebration of this season would be tainted if the kids were sitting around bemoaning the loss of the game, rather than enjoying one final moment together as a team.  I’m happy to say that I was 100% wrong!  The team party was just what the kids needed to get past the disappointment of losing the championship game.

We arrived at the party a little bit later than most because we had to stop home to pick up a few things.  By the time that we arrived, the kids were all playing together in the pool and on a gigantic inflatable water slide.  There was a smile on EVERY kid’s face.  It probably shouldn’t surprise me any longer, but I still tend to marvel at the resiliency that kids show in the face of trying times or disappointment.  Clearly, the kids had already put the loss in proper perspective and had moved on to living in the moment and enjoying the party.

For the first time since my son started playing organized sports, I was disappointed to see the season come to an end.  I looked forward to each practice and each game because we were a part of something that reminded me of my little league baseball team that stayed together for four years.  Like my little league team, this football team featured a great group of kids that worked hard to be their best while truly enjoying being around each other.  It was, by far, the best coaching staff that I have been a part of, and the parents were all very supportive and friendly (just like my little league team).

At the party, the parents all sat around socializing while the kids played in and around the pool.  For a while, I sat on the edge of the pool as the boys roughhoused in a spirited game of water basketball.  Before long, I ended up being the only adult in the pool, playing alongside the kids.  They all wanted me on their team…the first time that has happened to me in any sort of basketball game.  I guess it made sense, being that I was the tallest “kid”.  I participated for a while, and then eased back towards the middle of the pool as I watched the game, just trying to soak in the moment of our last time together as a team.

I played along and ducked for cover under a pool toy as some of the kids nailed me with their super soaker water guns.  I happily watched as the kids showed me their flips and dives into the pool.  You could hear the excitement in each of their voices as they yelled… “hey coach, watch me!” Truth be told, I didn’t want the party to end because I was having as much fun as the kids were.

After the kids were presented with their trophies, each of the coaches was presented with a gift from the parents.  In my past coaching experiences, the gifts were usually a gift card to a store or restaurant (which I greatly appreciated).  However, this year’s gift was even better.  It was a photo album featuring highlights from the season, including candid shots of me working with the kids that I didn’t even know existed, largely because I was always living in the moment at the time.

In fact, living in each moment with this team is exactly what made it so special for me.  It never mattered if I was having a good day or a bad day.  Whatever happened during the day left my mind the minute that our practice or game started, and didn’t return until I had returned home.

I can honestly say that almost every kid on the team showed a great deal of improvement by the end of the season.  Since it was my first time coaching any of them, I can’t tell if the progress that they made was similar to what they had made before with previous coaches.  However, this was my son’s fourth season, and I can say (without hesitation) that this was his best one yet.  He worked as hard as any kid on the team, and developed his skills more than I’ve ever seen him do in the past.

Words cannot describe the pride that I have for my son for what he has accomplished this season, especially since he is one of the youngest and smallest kids on the team.  While he may not be the biggest, the strongest or the fastest one on the team, his heart is as big as any kid that I’ve ever seen.  And for the first time since he started playing sports, he developed real friendships that go beyond the field and the game.  What more could any parent ask for?

We may not have won the championship, but I would not trade this season or this team in for anything, and I’m sure that my son feels the exact same way.  Given the choice between just winning a championship or being on a team filled with great kids, parents and coaches and not winning the championship, I’ll take the latter every day of the week.

As I reflect back upon my own little league days, I can only remember a handful of actual game memories.  But I will never forget what it was like to be a part of something special with that team.  It was what I have wanted most for my son ever since he started playing organized sports.  Thankfully, I got to see that dream become a reality for him this season.  It truly was a season to remember!

Fighting Through the Pain

In Family, Inspiration and Motivation, Life Lessons, Pursuit of Happiness on May 7, 2010 at 10:22 pm

It is said that “when the going gets tough…the tough get going.” Whenever I hear that line, I can’t help but be reminded of John Belushi delivering this message with brilliance in one of my all-time favorite movies, “Animal House.”  And though it was meant to induce laughter, in actuality, it was also a life lesson about what a determined mind can accomplish.

When I started on my journey in pursuit of health, wealth and “happyness,” I did so by taking small steps.  After a fairly dormant period of physical activity, I started walking nearly every day to get exercise.  And while it was better than doing nothing, the reality is that it was never very challenging physically.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but in retrospect, I think that the walks were more effective as a way to clear my mind and get lost in thought than they were to help me to get into shape.

Over the past few weeks, I started a very demanding exercise program.  The workouts only last about 20 minutes, but they are much more taxing than walking for two straight hours.  When I am finished with the workout, I am physically spent, and need some time to recover before continuing my day.  I was told by the person who designed the workouts that they will be easier to complete once I am in better shape, and I believe that will be the case.  However, it does not mean that it will always be easier from one workout to the next.

The first few times that I did the workout, I seemed to be making progress.  However, the last workout seemed more difficult, and it felt like I was regressing.  I don’t think that I am actually regressing.  I just had one of those days where it is hard to get going.  During the workout, I was getting down on myself for not doing as well as I had been previously, but I fought through the pain and kept going.  At some point, I must have gotten a boost of adrenaline, because I finished the workout stronger than I began (even though I was already exhausted).

As adults, we tend to make excuses and find ways to avoid fighting through the pain (at least that has been the case for me in the past).  Although I’m sure that it is partially physical, I think that a lot of it has to do with our mindset.  I’ve witnessed first-hand how different it can be with kids.

In recent weeks, as the weather has gotten warmer, my son has been getting stomach cramps during football games and practices.  We finally figured out (through one of the parents who is a nurse) that it was most likely due to the fact that he had dairy products right before football.  Apparently, the dairy starts to curdle in your stomach as it heats up, causing stomach cramps.  My son took himself out for a while when the cramps came on, but quickly returned to action.  Ultimately, he ended up having one of his best games while playing through the pain.

It would be understandable if a 7-year old succumbed to pain while playing sports and chose to stay on the bench.  After all, playing sports at this age is supposed to be about fun.  And it is.  But there is also a sense of team, and no one wants to be the one that lets their team down.  It has been very inspiring to watch him fight through the pain and give his best effort.

Even though I would only be letting myself down if quit during a workout, I realize that it is important to stay the course because it is a slippery slope back to inactivity if I start making excuses instead of fighting through the pain.  As the saying goes…“No pain, no gain…no guts, no glory!”

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