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Teachers and Coaches

August 24, 2014 Leave a comment

2012-09-04_08-02-48_676Fifth grade was a nightmare for me. A year filled with stress induced migraines and a constant feeling of dread. At the center of my memories of this time stands the imposing image of a strict, red faced women who was my teacher and she caused me to hate school.

The reason I mention this is because I’ve been thinking about both teachers and coaches a lot lately. Partly because the boys just found out who their teachers are going to be this year, partly because of the video going around featuring the little league coaches post game talk to his kids and partially because of the constant attacks that our teachers seem to be under by media and politicians.

And I mention my fifth grade teacher because she serves as a contrast to most of the teachers I’ve been fortunate to have in my life and to highlight the importance of good teachers in the lives of our children. She was the rare exception in a long line of teachers that would become positive influences on my life.

There was Mrs. Cahill who welcomed me into her classroom in second grade when I was new in the school after moving to New Jersey from Colorado. She made sure to give me the attention I needed then as well as connected me with my earliest friends. She was tough, but always with a smile.

There was Mrs. K in fourth grade that would take breaks during the day to read to us from the Chronicles of Narnia. She could have sat at her desk and let us do busy work, but she chose to do this and my earliest interests in writing started there.

There was Mrs. Racioppi who became the first big influence on my writing. I initially dreaded her writing assignments, but I learned to love them as she encouraged creative writing and helped me start to develop my writing voice.

There was Mrs. Unger who’s eyes absolutely lit up as she talked about science in eighth grade. I don’t think she could tone back her enthusiasm if she wanted as she passed on her love and interest on to use. Even when our experiments failed (you can’t cook a hot dog in a handmade tin foil oven on a cloudy day), she was quick to help us find the lesson in the failure.

The list of teachers really goes on and on. Mrs. Eckle who scrapped her whole course plan when the Gulf War broke out to guide us through history as it happened. Mrs. Fitzgibbons who brought literature alive with such excitement that I learned to love Shakespeare as much as Salinger. Mrs. Casey who made religion fun and helped us figure out why it was important in our lives, dragging us out from under the fear the Baltimore Catechism delivered. Mrs. Lucas (who recently passed away) taught us the importance of how history still affects us in the present. Mrs. Wilmarth who patiently worked with me through the difficulties of Algebra, refusing to leave me behind as the rest of the class grasped it faster. And, of course, the Frank Zappa loving Mr. Setlock who made everything fun, cleverly masking the fact that we were learning important things like biology.

The very sad thing of it is that adults should not have to stand up and say that teachers are important and trying to remind other of that fact. They should simply be standing up and applauding our teachers. So many dear friends of mine are teachers and I see them struggle at times because of critical parents, a skeptical media and heartless, stupid politicians. I believe the average American would take their teachers and put them high on pedestals, but there are loud voices out there that want to tear them down and I cannot fathom why. The fact that teachers are important, deserve our respect and should be paid well should be a universal truth like water is wet and the sun is hot.

Good coaches are also important because they pick up teaching our children after they have left the classroom. The life lessons learned on the fields and courts become ingrained into the kids. I once read something about how athletes in high school tend to have much higher self-esteem than non-athletes. And I would think this would have to extend to other activities like forensics, religious groups, scouts, theater, etc. The importance of having someone that can help you learn the things you love is invaluable and can only have a positive influence on you. Coaches and advisors are teachers, as well, and become huge parts of who our children grow to be.

The past couple of years I’ve coached Little League baseball and basketball. While it is always rewarding, it is difficult more often than not. This past baseball season left a bad taste in my mouth and left me resolved to not coach baseball again even if my kids decided to play again. However, as I watched the little league coach video and truly think about how much the teachers and coaches of my children invest of themselves, I can’t help but re-think this. I watch the sacrifices that teachers and other coaches make and I feel like I need to do my part. I’m not saying I’m a good coach or looking for any kind of praise, but I can’t help but feel that I have a part to do.

I feel like if we continue to attack our teachers there are going to be less college kids that chose to become teachers and not only will the quality of education diminish, but there will be more teachers like my fifth grade teacher.

And Mrs. Racioppi or Mrs. Fitzgibbons, if you happen to be reading this…I am so sorry for all my grammar mistakes. And thank you. To all you other teacher, good luck and God Bless as you embark on a new school year.

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Seizing Summer Nights

August 14, 2014 Leave a comment

20140814_225812When it became obvious back in March that I was going to lose my job, I began planning my summer home with the boys. While optimistic, I really did not expect to get a new job and was counting on getting through the summer on severance. So, the running half-joke was “Daddy Summer Camp” – a list of all the things the boys and I would do through the summer. They included staying a couple of days with our friends in the Poconos, day trips to go fish and hang out on the lake I grew up near with my sister and her grandson, movies on rainy afternoons, teaching Matt how to ride his bike, bike trips on the rail trail, mini-baseball camp, mini-basketball camp, and the list went on and on.

It got to the point where it felt like the silver lining of losing my job could help me forget everything else. I really liked the thought of spending a summer with my sons, especially at the age they are at now where they like hanging out with me and haven’t yet discovered that I am a big dork. I even began to have romantic thoughts of being able to sit out in the backyard and write a little bit…maybe work on my novel.

On my last day at my old job, about 30 minutes before a sort of exit call with my old boss, I was offered a job. A wave of relief washed over me. There are a lot of people out there who struggle to find work and sometimes even interviews. I was blessed to have received a job offer after averaging an interview every two weeks or so. I knew right away (pending another job that was still up in the air) that I was going to accept the job. I knew it was the right thing for me and for our family.

Yet, as much as the logic of the situation settled in and six months of stress was removed, I was, at the same time, crushed emotionally. I had started looking forward to Daddy Day Camp. Spending a summer with the boys was a thought that just brought me such joy. The new job, as selfish as this sounds, was a crushing blow to me. It made me incredibly sad. I had lost my summer.

Fortunately, I was able to take a full month off. For the first three weeks, I was able to get things done around the house during the day and then get Ben and Matt at the bus stop and hang out with them and play. When school ended, we jammed as much as we could in a week. A trip to Dorney Park, a fishing trip, a couple of days in the Poconos, a movie and a few other things. Matt even learned to ride his bike. The month and that week, especially, was a wonderful time. I still feel full of joy when I think of it.

The couple of days before I started my new job, I just felt rotten. My old job allowed me to work at home a few days a week when I needed and I had a lot of flexibility. The fact that my new job, during the probationary period, would have none of that actually made me angry. It was a difficult transition. It felt like the summer was over and I mourned its loss.

A few days after I started the new job, however, I made a decision that I wasn’t going to let the summer slip away. Even though the days, like most human beings, were going to be spent working, I didn’t have to let that be the summer. I realized that Summer Nights are long. I decided I was going to take the nights.

So, instead of coming home and just crashing in front of the TV, I started playing basketball with Ben and Matt. We play chess, sometimes outside and we ride our bikes. We have Nerf gun battles, play soccer and plan our next adventures. Sure there are times when I need to just crash a bit when I come home and there are nights when we don’t do anything, but we have packed so much into this summer, it is unbelievable. I am determined to make the most of it.

In light of the news from this week, “Carpe Diem” seems to be an overly appropriate phrase right now. Making the most of each and every day and night (a quick internet search turned up the phrase Carpe Noctem, which might be more appropriate for my thoughts here, but there seems to be a connection to vampires with that) really makes the days brighter. Everyone knows that working sucks, but I won’t let it define me.

I am a father first…a Papa, and by seizing these summer nights, I am letting that define me. I will not let this summer pass me by…”Aestate Apprehendite”!

A Million Different Ways

August 12, 2014 Leave a comment

benYou think you have a good sense of it going in, or at least what the changes will be. You know that life is going to change. You know about the late nights and the lack of sleep and the slowly dwindling bank account and the rooms that fill up quickly with weird stuff are all known warnings. But really, nothing…absolutely nothing…can warn you about what becoming a parent really means.

And then the child comes along and all that happens…and then all the things start to happen that nobody warns you about. That wave of joy that washes over you when you see their faces in the morning. The music that is their laughter as it fills a house. The conversations between two brothers. The imaginations, the playful scheming, the off the wall comments. The jokes without punchlines that are still funnier because of the source. The analysis that comes with trying something new. The million different ways that they can make life better. The way they can cheer you up just by watching them do just about anything.

Nine years ago today, Benjamin was born and my life changed forever.  It hasn’t always been easy, but the happiness he and Matthew bring me every single day cannot be measured.  The day Ben was born was the day my life changed for the better forever.

Meet Our New Mortal Enemy

August 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Piping-PLoverA few weeks ago, we returned to North Carolina’s Outer Banks for vacation after the boys fell in love with it for the first time and Andrea and I fell in love with it all over again last year. With Andrea spending long stretches of time in Mexico and the stress around the uncertainty and then termination of my job in the last six months, we truly needed this return to the quiet, relaxing beaches of Hatteras Island, together as a family, with no outside stress.

One of the highlights from our trip last year was when Benjamin and Andrea made the long hike out to the Cape Point near the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. It is known for all the sea shells that wash up on shore along with the fact that you can wade out into the surf at low tide without being hammered by waves. Without an off-road permit for your car it is a good 30 minute walk to get there from the parking lot. When Andrea and Ben went last year not only did they find some cool shells, but it was a sweet adventure for the two of them. There was a certain magic to it. So much so, that Ben and Andrea really wanted to do it again this year and their excitement was contagious to Matthew and I.

We checked the tide charts and decided the best time to go was at 6:00 AM on our last full day there, so we set our alarm for bright and early and off we went.

After 25 minutes of walking, we could see the point of the Cape…But we also saw a sign on a post with wire heading in both directions towards other posts…A makeshift barrier.  The National Park Service had closed down the cape to everyone…No exceptions, not even for two incredibly disappointed little boys.

It was a very quiet walk back to the car, with the silence interrupted occasionally by one of the four of us taking turns wondering out loud why the signs weren’t posted in the parking lot. The boys were being mostly good sports about it, but they were clearly upset. The disappointment hung in the fresh, salty air.

When we finally got back to the car, we found a place to grab breakfast. While waiting for our food, using her phone, Andrea tried to find out why the cape was closed. Best she could find was that it was either to protect sea turtle eggs or nesting Piping Plovers.

We all love sea turtles, but we had no idea what the hell a Piping Plover is. And so, the Piping Plover instantly took on our wrath! Turns out it is an endangered but ridiculously cute shore bird. The cute little menace looks like it spends its days running along the edge of the water eating whatever sealife comes in with the tide and disappointing families everywhere.  Immediately, the jokes began about hunting down the tasty little morsels and how we should be having Piping Plover for breakfast. Suddenly, we had a target for the morning disappointment and the fact that it is so cute just seemed to make our now feigned anger at it even funnier.  I’ll never forget how the giggles erupted from around the table when we looked at pictures of this little hell-bird.

And just like that, disappointment was turned to laughter and the Piping Plover has become part of our family history. While we had so many great memories, it is the Piping Plover, I think,  that we are going to remember the most from this trip. Weeks later now, the very mention of that damn Piping Plover causes Matthew to pretend growl and mumble “I hate that Piping Plover!” Ben will talk about how tasty the little bird must be and we all laugh.

20140807_223122Sure, the fire on the beach at dusk and spending a day floating, playing and exploring the sound are wonderful memories. And, it’s not that we are focused on this disappointment. It’s just that we were able to turn the disappointment around and laugh at ourselves and our sorry failed expedition which saw a stupid little bird get the best of us. I think it’s an important life-lesson for the boys. Life is going to be full of disappointments, but how you overcome them are what’s going to bring about life’s sweetest moments. When life gives you Piping Plovers, you make roast Piping Plover with a nice herb and garlic sauce.

And, apparently, we aren’t alone. When we got back, I went to Amazon.com to see if they had any stuffed Piping Plovers I could get the boys and I found the bumper stick in the picture above. It seems nobody likes that Piping Plover!