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Archive for May, 2014

If I Could be a Fly On that Bus

May 28, 2014 Leave a comment

schoolbusThis is a short one, but a good one that I’d like to carve in stone here to remember for all time.

A couple of weeks ago, the boys were talking about something that happened on the school bus, which caused Andrea to ask, “What the heck happens on that bus?”

Matthew, without skipping a beat, responds in a semi-ominous and mysterious tone, “You can’t even imagine!”

Now I need to know what happens on that bus!

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Categories: Matthew Quotes Tags: ,

The News

May 24, 2014 Leave a comment

When Benjamin got the stitches on his arm, Andrea was on her way home from Mexico for the first time in seven weeks. Once I told her what was going on, she decided to have her car service bring her directly to the hospital.

After arriving, a nurse informed us that Andrea was in the waiting room so Matthew and I decided to go get her. Matthew was obviously was caught up in the excitement of the hospital trip and must have been pretty anxious to talk about it. So, as we go through the doors into the waiting room, Matthew sees Andrea and right away says, in a super excited voice, “Hi Mommy! Did ya hear the news?”

Maybe he’ll grow up to be a reporter.

 

Categories: Matthew Quotes Tags: , ,

Small Miracles on the Diamond

May 21, 2014 2 comments

10363612_10203714795331867_5509403908439764333_nDue to another event happening at the normal Little League field, Matthew’s game on Saturday was moved to a different time at a back up field. All three of my assistant coaches could not make the game because of prior commitments. One of the other fathers on the team happens to be a coach for a tee-ball team as well as the league’s safety officer. He also happens to be an EMT. I’ll call him JM. I asked JM if he could help me out for the game and he happily agreed.

As we begin our game, I notice Ben wandering around the field, talking to a couple of other kids and staying out of trouble. So I returned my attention to positioning my team on the field. A few minutes later, I heard a scream from Ben that still echos in my head and makes my stomach drop. He keeps yelling “DADDY!” at the top of his voice and I start running towards him, as he holds his arm high. I could see his arm even from 50 feet away and I didn’t see any blood, so I assumed he got stung by a bee.

A couple of days later one of the other fathers told me he could see in my face the moment I realized it wasn’t a bee sting. He said he could see in my face the sudden realization that this was much more serious than a bee sting. Ben’s arm was ripped open and I could see…well, I could see way too much that is not suppose to see the light of day. And it was reflected on my face.

JM got to us a moment later, took one look and very calmly asked his wife to get his paramedic bag out of his car and then proceeded to call 911. As my brain lit on fire, JM calmly began asking Ben questions, cleaning the wound and getting it dressed. In the same calmness that you or I might explain to a kid how to field a ground ball, he explained to Ben how the ambulance is going to arrive and each step that they would take after that. As I sat there helpless, knowing the best thing I could do was to stay out of their way, he and his wife calmly took care of Ben.

JM knew exactly what to do as I became confused as to what I should do. Do I leave Matthew with other parents and get in the ambulance with Ben? Do I just pack up the car and meet them at the hospital? In my confusion, I tried to stop the game and send everyone home. After a few moments, I was able to pull myself together a bit and figure out what to do, but it was only because of the calm example that JM was setting.

All the other parents were great, as well. One tended to Matthew as he started crying, afraid for his big brother being loaded into the ambulance and there were multiple offers to watch him for the rest of the day as I went to the hospital. The other dads, I would learn later, pitched in to help the rest of the team finish the game. Offers of help came from all around.

It didn’t end there.

The paramedics smiled as they did their jobs professionally and urgently, even sticking around at the hospital for a few minutes to help keep Matthew distracted. One even took Matthew over to get an ice-pop from the nurses’ station. The cop was extremely helpful and patient as he asked me questions and explained what the ambulance was going to do. The doctors were warm and friendly and I cannot say enough about the effort the nurse put in to get Ben to think of other things besides his arm. I am still overwhelmed at the help I received from so many on Saturday. While ultimately Ben’s injury was not that serious (17 stitches and no major damage to any internal tissue or bone), I feel truly blessed by the way so many came together to help me and my sons out that day.

However, I keep thinking about JM. Due to his job as an EMT, his responsibilities to the league and the fact that he coaches a team himself, he isn’t always at our games. He misses a few innings here and there. So, I can’t help but wonder how different things may have been that day had he not been there to help. In my confusion, would I have made the wrong decisions? What would I have done had he not been there?

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve made my faith more personal and internal. I don’t talk much about my belief in God and how I feel his presence in my life. There have been times when that faith has wavered; I’ve never lost it, but I’ve been mostly silent on it for years. The faith has always been there, though, because of moments like this. It’s a small moment in the grand scheme of things. However, in a somewhat weird culmination of events, JM was there, on that field that day, in a position to use his training and skills to help keep a bad situation from becoming worse. Some would call it a coincidence. As a man of faith, I would call it something very different.

Not to mention, everyone that saw his injury remarked that it was a minor miracle that it wasn’t worse. The boy climbed up a rusty chain link fence (in cleats!) and reached over the top to the other side to try to get a grip when his foot slipped. His arm caught the sharp top of the fence. Somehow, he didn’t catch a vein. Somehow, he landed on his feet. Somehow, the muscles in his arm were intact. Somehow, he didn’t break any bones. As a man of faith, I don’t need to ponder the somehow part, I only need to marvel at it.

It’s also a matter of faith in other people. From JM all the way to the hospital and all the way to the flood of emails from other parents after the game. So much kindness and help was shown to us that day that it is overwhelming. People are good and kind and I was reminded of that on Saturday.

And I’ll always remember and be thankful for JM that day.

Anger vs. Happiness

May 14, 2014 Leave a comment

bulldogsmileOn Monday, at his baseball game, Benjamin had a great first at-bat. In his division, now, kids have started pitching, but only until they throw four balls to a batter. Then they go back to the pitching machine. In Ben’s at-bat, he quickly got two swinging strikes before the coaches reminded him that he needs to not swing at bad pitches. He managed to get a 4-2 count (that sounds odd) and they switched to the machine. He fouled off two pitches and then lined a single up the middle.

During his second at-bat, he struck out. After the game, I excitedly talked to him about his first at-bat, but he complained about the second. He was upset because he felt a pitch was too low and shouldn’t have been called a strike. He was angry because he felt cheated. I explained to him that is part of baseball and he has to shake it off. I resisted the urge to agree with him (because I did). He continued to mope. It reminded me of when he was smaller.

I use to lie in bed with him at night and talk to him about his day. He would almost immediately start telling me about the bad things that happened to him at day care (a kid stole a ball, he couldn’t play with S., etc). He focused on the bad things. He was three and four and he only focused on the bad things that happened to him. I spent a lot of time coaxing the good things about the day from him until, one day, he started focusing more on the happy memories of a day.

There was no resolution for his mood after that game. I think he just stopped thinking about it and cheered up by dinner. However, it got me thinking more about stuff I struggle with. Why is it easier to focus on the negatives in a day than on the positives? Why is it easier to be angry than happy? I mentioned this to someone else and he laughed that Buddhist monks and philosophers have been wrestling with that for hundreds or even thousands of years.

I’ve really struggled with this myself, lately. Losing my job has put me into a disposition towards anger and sadness. I want to lash out at the people responsible and I almost crave talking negatively about them. When I’m in a better mindset, I understand this is business and there is little the people I hold responsible could do. Still, I want to be angry.

Side but related note, he came home from school the other day and told me that if you force yourself to smile, the muscles trigger your brain to be happier, according to his teacher. I am so thankful I have him and Matthew around so that I don’t have to force the smile too often.

Yet, there are plenty of positives I can find in all this. I’m not going to go into them here, because they are complex and drift off the point, but they are there. However, I continue to chose to be angry and that doesn’t help anything.

I think the average human needs to feel something. They need those emotions running through them. It helps them feel alive, I think. But why is it easier to chose anger to fill that need for emotion? I tend to think it’s a low hanging fruit. I tend to think happiness is something that only you can truly bring yourself. It is far easier to let other people make you angry than it is to get others to make you happy. I’m not a philosopher, but that’s just my thought.

And even though I feel like I understand this, I still seem to choose anger. However, I don’t feel like a hypocrite when I try to curb these tendencies in Benjamin. I want him to know that he can choose this. He doesn’t have to be a victim of a bad ball/strike call or a bully on the playground. Happiness is something he can choose. He can focus on the positives and dismiss the negatives. It might be too late for me, but I want him to know he can choose to be happy. For the most part I am winning this war with him, but I can only hope I can start winning it with myself.

Just Another Day

May 11, 2014 Leave a comment

I wrote this at the start of my senior year in college for the college newspaper, in October 1994. 

SunriseAfter the long dark night, a faint glimmer of light appears low on the black horizon.  A chorus of crickets is replaced by an orchestra of birds.  They proclaim the birth of a new day.  The blackness hanging in the air turns to a dark blue.  The once blackened horizon is covered by a garment of orange and red.  It is the royal gown of the daughter of night.

Finally, like it has done for billions of years before, the sun rises, spreading its mighty arms and embracing  the vast  lands of its domain with its magnificent lights.  Morning has broken, and life stirs within its loving embrace.

Through a second-story window, the sun has cast one of her morning rays gently across the face of a tiny red- haired baby boy.  The small child stirs and opens his sky-blue eyes.  Like an angel spreading its wings, the baby spreads the corners of his mouth revealing a tiny but beautiful toothless smile.  His eyes open wide with excitement as he talks quietly with the sun ray in a language that only the two of them can understand.  Two hundred miles away, the little angel’s uncle thinks about him and smiles, knowing that he is going home soon to see him.

The sun spreads her rays through a classroom window.  A student stares down at her notebook, doodling as she waits for her professor to stop talking.  It is her last class on Friday, and she thinks about her plans for that weekend.  She is going on a road trip, visiting an old friend from high school at her college in Rhode Island.  It is going to be a long trip, but who cares… at least she will be away from college for a weekend.

In her doodling, a number appears followed by a date:  220 days, May 13, 1995.  She has to use her long dark hair to cover her face as her eyes light up and a huge smile takes control of her lips.  People would think she was crazy if they saw her smiling that way in her Spanish class.  Not much time left.  A guy next to her just happens to catch her smile.  He smiles also, thinking she was smiling at him…

In another part of campus, the sun casts its light across a white envelope with one of those clear plastic windows.  A young man peers into the envelope.  As he does so, he jumps for joy:  he will be able to buy plenty of beer tonight.  Just as he does so, a young lady stops to talk to him.  It’s the girl he has been flirting with since he first met her in his Geography class.  She asks him if he wants to study with her for the test next week.  It’s going to be a good day, he thinks.

With the sun burning on her back, a girl dressed in green sprints down the field carrying her field hockey stick.  Her entire concentration is on the small white ball that is rolling and bouncing along the grass towards a predestined rendezvous point ahead of her.  She starts her back swing and fires.  Another unidentifiable girl covered from head to toe in protective clothing dives to her right.  The small ball rolls just beyond the edge of her stick.  The girl in green shouts in joy as she is mobbed by her teammates.  Laughter surrounds them.

With the sun reflecting off his glasses, a man talks excitedly on a pay phone with his mother.  He’s telling her about the job he will have when he graduates in two and a half months.  His four and a half years at college have paid off.  Barely able to speak in his own excitement, he tells her about the black 1995 Camaro he is going to buy in January.  He tells her to tell Dad that he is getting in his car and is headed home.  He will be there in four hours with a bottle of champagne.  He tells her to be dressed nicely because he is taking them out to dinner.  Tears are now in his eyes.  His mother, her voice trembling in pride, tells him that she loves him.  He returns the sentiment, hangs up the phone, and jumps into his old, rusty Chevette.  He pauses, takes a deep breath and gently pats the dashboard of his car.  1995 Black Camaro, he thinks with a smile bigger than the Grand Canyon.

As the sun sits low in the western sky, two old friends talk comfortably on a small white bench beside the creek.  After weeks of fighting, they have settled their major problems.  A difficult road is ahead, but the worst is behind.  A peaceful silence falls upon them as they stare deeply towards the full moon that has risen early on the eastern horizon.  He finally turns to her and tells her that even in friendship, he will always love her.  They embrace.

Across the creek from them, a young man zips past on a green and black bike.  His Notre Dame hat sits a little crooked on his head.  As he rides through the center of campus, he thinks about tomorrow’s game, the laundry he has to do, and the fact that he has survived yet another stressful week.  The cool, crisp autumn air feels good after the long, hot summer. There is just something about it that makes him feel so alive and free.  As he reaches the peak of the hill going toward his apartment, his eyes are met with a fiery red, orange and purple sky.  He loses his breath. No matter how many he times he sees it, he is always impressed by an autumn sunset.  He pedals faster toward the sunset, the light reflecting off his face.  He smiles, and then thrusts his arms in the air, as if he were flying.  LIFE IS GREAT, he thinks.  “Thank You, God,” he says.

A Return To The Woods Of Life

I wrote this as a column for my college newspaper during my Junior year…about 20 years ago. It was about walking in the woods behind my house in Hopatcong, NJ. I can only hope that Benjamin and Matthew will one day find such a place to learn and play together.

Lake Hopatcong

It was Good Friday. The sun was shining and the air was cool and still. I could feel spring in my bones. I went down to the woods behind my house to walk with my father and play with my nephew.

To my nephew Kevin, the woods and the stream and the giant “climbing rocks” were all so brand new to him. I, however, once knew the place well. It is where I had spent much of my childhood. It was where I went when I needed to escape as I got older. It was the place that I had abandoned when I went to high school.

After my father decided to head back to the house with Kevin, I decided to try to find something that was missing in a place I had once called, “The Woods of Life”, in a poem written a long time ago.

The woods, for me, holds a special parallel to life. They serve as a parable to my views of life and a reminder of hope in the early spring. How? Let me explain.

The Dam: My friends and I used to spend a great deal of time trying to dam up this one part of the stream at the edge of the swamp. We figured that if we dammed it up, it would form a little pond where fish and other wildlife could live. We looked at it as a challenge.

We spent hours digging at the bank of the stream and dumping the mud and dirt on the dam which was made of everything from old wood to pieces of metal we found scattered around. But we could not stop the water. It would always find a way through the dam or around it. But we kept at it for what seemed like years. We were successful at making the stream wider, but we could never get the “pond” as deep as we wanted it. And anytime that we felt we had got it right, a rain storm would destroy the dam.

There are still pieces of metal and some wood there. The water runs through, not hindered by much. Looking at it on Friday, I would not have guessed that anybody had ever tried to dam up that part of the stream. I wondered why we had spent so much time at that one spot. I wondered why we had never given up. I wonder how such a huge failure to me and my friends now served to put a smile on my face as a warm feeling took over my body. I thought about it and came up with this conclusion.

Sometimes in life we become huge failures. Situations and our own bad decisions can hand us humiliating defeats. We may work very hard at something and give everything we have, yet sometimes everything is just not enough. However, we learn from those failures. It is the failures that teach us more about life. We take these bad times from our pasts and we refer to them in the future.

We also have to remember the old cliche: “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it is how you play the game.” My friends and I did not dam the stream, but I have such good memories from our endeavors. Digging and splashing and laughing and planning all are etched in my mind fondly. We failed at the dam, but we had a damn good time failing.

A year or two after we had failed creating that dam, I made an attempt at another dam, just to prove that I could do it. Sometimes, we have to know when to give up, move on, and start over. I did. I moved up stream to an area with higher banks that could form a natural barrier. I then rolled huge boulders into place in the water. After placing a pipe between the rocks to regulate water flow, I piled thick mud and moss in the gaps of the rocks. The dam was about a foot or two tall, and it was a complete success. I took my previous failures and used them to succeed. Eventually, the dam became too successful and was partially destroyed by someone else to return the rest of the stream’s flow. Yet, even now, my dad had to build a little bridge out of old tires and trees so that my nephew could cross the once thin and shallow stream. I beat the stream.

The Swamp: In the woods, there is a swamp that spreads out over a relatively large area. Throughout it is scattered moss, covered islands of dead tree stumps or mud. In order to cross the swamp, you have to hop from island to island, hoping the island doesn’t sink. Every so often, you may slip and find yourself up to your ankles in mud or water. As you travel through it, it seems like it will never end. The other side is so difficult to see and dead trees lie all around. You can get confused and lost easily.

There are times when life seems like this murky swamp. Things seem bleak and it seems that hopes and dreams lie dead all around. Like the waters, life seems stagnant, and sometimes you cannot do anything but pray that you don’t fall into these waters. There are times when you don’t feel like hopping to another island because you are afraid, afraid of what the next step may bring. You don’t know if the next island will give under your weight or that you may not jump far enough and land in mud. It is this place in my life that I feel I am at now.

You know you cannot go back and sometimes you just want to stay in one spot. But you must move on. The swamps in life are stagnant and scary, but you have no choice but to continue on. You just have to realize that you will eventually find your way out. There is another side, a place where the footing is sure. A place where you can look back and feel proud at what you have accomplished.

The Hilltop: On the other side of the swamp in the woods is a steep hill that seems to rise above the tree tops. Climbing the hill is no easy chore. It is covered in dead leaves that may cause you to lose your footing.

But when you have made it to the hilltop, you can look out at everything around you. You can see clearly where you have been, and you can see what is ahead of you. On the other side of this hilltop, the stream flows smoothly and the water is crystal clear. The plants in the valley are lush and beutiful. From this hilltop, you can clearly see the beauty of the sunset. Being up on this hill is truly breathtaking.

In all our lives, we will make it to the hilltop. We may have to struggle through swamps and climb steep inclines, but eventually we will make it to the hilltop. We can look and see why we had to go through the swamps, and we can appreciate it. We can see where we are going. We can see the beauty of life and how wonderful it is. The waters are flowing clearly ahead of us. All we have to be willing to do is to climb that mountain and struggle through the swamp, because once you make it to the hill top everything is forgotten.

Although I believe I have a long way to go to get through this swamp that I am in now, I know something beautiful lies ahead of me. Although there are more struggles ahead, I know they will be worth it, and I can’t wait.

The woods of life are beautiful. They are constanly changing and growing. Like trees, dreams die but are quickly replaced by other trees. There are different paths and trails through life; which ones we take are completely up to us. Streams don’t always flow straight. They curve and bend. They run slowly sometimes and faster other times. This represents our hopes and our faith. There are going to be hills and valleys and swamps throughout our lives. We just have to muster enough confidence to make it through.

Perhaps one of the most insightful things I have heard lately came from my three-year-old nephew, Kevin. I went back down in the woods with him on Easter Sunday. He wanted to climb on these rocks. It soon became a tough climb for his little body but he kept on going. When I asked him if he wanted me to carry him, all he said was, “No, I am like the little train.” Then he continued climbing, saying, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” Perhaps that is all we need to do to get through the tough parts of life: Keep reminding ourselves that we can do it. Life is beautiful.

Categories: Observations, Prequel

Growing Up with Crayola

crayola-crayonsEarlier today, I happen to be thinking about Crayola and it really got me thinking about their impact on my life and all the memories, both from my childhood and the kids, that I have around them.  So I thought I’d share some of those thoughts.

One of my earliest memories of school was sitting at my desk and sharing one of those big boxes of Crayola crayons with other kids who’s desks were connected to mine. Despite their being 64 or so Crayons (probably more like 60, because I think we all know a few were always missing and always the exact color you needed) I sat their waiting for a classmate to finish using the Peach colored crayon so that I could finish coloring my picture. I don’t know if I was coloring a family member, a teacher, a friend or myself, but I desperately needed that crayon at that moment. For some reason, that moment is burned in my memory. Of course, it wouldn’t be the last time I’d have to wait for a crayon.

And on the subject of missing crayons, was their anything better than a brand new box of Crayola crayons as a kid? I mean, seriously, all the colors in order and each with a perfect point? I still find myself filled with joy when I open a new box of crayons for Ben and Matt!

When I think back to my childhood and things I played with, I believe Crayola crayons are second only to Legos. However, I remember feeling like a “big kid” when I finally got to use Crayola markers and I think they taught me my first lesson about quality. Whether it was in grammar school or high school, I can remember thinking that when given anything but Crayola markers, I remember being disappointed. There are a lot of poor quality markers and just knew that if they weren’t Crayola, they were likely to be dried up or have a color quality that, for lack of a better word, sucked.

Now that I have children myself, Crayola is central to their interests and learning. My two young sons have had so many interests in their short lives, from dinosaurs to destructive birds to epic space adventures. However, no matter what the subject has been, Crayola has always been the medium that they have used to express enthusiasm. From crayons to markers to Model Magic, Crayola is central to their play and learning. I honestly stand by this. There are a million drawings in our house done with Crayola. There are weird little sculptures made from Crayola Model Magic (and a couple of cute little hand impressions) scattered around our house.

There are just so many times I have heard, “Oh, yeah, come on Matthew, lets get the crayons.” (Ben’s preferred medium is crayon while Matt insists on markers.) And the drawings are of Star Wars characters, Angry Birds, dinosaurs, the New York Giants logo (yeah), each other and so many more things. Their little lives and their little thoughts can be documented in Crayola crayon and marker drawings.

Sure, you can make a case that this could be true of any brand crayon and I’d say that is false. There have been times that the kids have gone to use another brand of crayon and have immediately been disappointed as they are either too waxy to fail to produce the color they expect. It is amazing at how early of an age they have been able to identify quality.

Anyway, I just felt inspired by Crayola today (as I have been so many other times)…I hope you don’t mind me waxing poetic about them (yes, pun intended but I will resist changing the title to “Waxing Poetic About Crayola”).