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Christmas Magic

December 24, 2013 Leave a comment

1518773_10201668740015247_191651628_oWhile I don’t remember who specifically told me, I remember other details around that moment so clearly, more than 30 years later. It’s odd that I can’t remember whether it was my mom or my older brother standing ahead of me and to the left as we came to the top of the center escalator at the Rockaway Townsquare Mall. I was leaning against the right railing and one of my brothers was leaning on the left railing a step behind. It was just before Christmas and the person said, with their back turned to me as they were about to step off the escalator, “You know that Santa isn’t real, right?”

I stumbled for a moment as the escalator steps flattened under my feet. I really don’t remember much after that, but I do know that Christmas had forever changed for me. I had suspected for at least a year. I was sick at some point during the previous Christmas season and my mom put me in her bed so that I could watch TV and rest while she baked cookies in the kitchen. She gave me strict orders to not look around the room. I looked around the room. My mom had done her best to cover all the wrapped presents with blankets. In the corner, one fairly large present was exposed. It was wrapped in gold colored wrapping paper with poinsettias on it. I remember staring at it a lot during the day.

On Christmas morning, I came down and found that gold wrapped present in my pile from Santa. I confirmed with my parents that it was from Santa and then I knew. It was a very cool Stompers play set (this one, I think), but it would provide the biggest seeds of doubts I had about Santa. Yet, for another year, I still tried to rationalize how a present that was in my parents room could be from Santa. I came up with a few theories as I struggled to continue to believe in Santa. I knew it in my head that my parents were Santa, but I didn’t want to believe. When it was finally confirmed a year later, it hit me like a sack of coal.

After the initial shock of the moment of confirmation, I would go on to have many more wonderful Christmases, but they never really had the same magic.

Now, as Benjamin gets older and smarter, I realize Santa may not exist for him much longer. Three weeks into this Christmas season, I am actually somewhat surprised that he hasn’t put the pieces together. Andrea and I, like so many other parents, do our best to hide gifts in places where they won’t stumble upon them. I make sure receipts are not left around and Andrea makes sure that Santa has his own paper and ribbon that gets carefully stashed away.  We so desperately try to keep that magic in Christmas.

And we try to add other magic to the holiday for the boys. While other houses have Elves that visit at night, we have a Christmas Cardinal that leaves small gifts, ornaments and candy for the boys throughout Advent. The boys talk about the Cardinal with such reverence, they leave birdseed out for him and even write notes, asking him questions. The wonder out loud about how the Cardinal can do what he does, sometimes speculating that there is more than one. The Cardinal has become as much a part of our family as our dog.

There were a few years, where Christmas not only lost it’s magic for me, but seemed like a stressful interference to everyday life. Those years made me sad. Now, I really, really worry about the days when the boys no longer wonder about Santa and the Cardinal. I worry about the days when they no longer believe. And I feel like it will break my heart, just like it did that day in the mall when I was a kid, when the time comes for them to know the truth. I truly believe I need this magic as much as they do.

The truth is, and I know this is cliche, Santa does exist. Matthew told us at dinner the other night that the Santa that visits us now is not the original St. Nicholas. He thinks that the job of Santa is passed on from one generation to the next. I can’t agree with him more. I look at what my parents managed to do for six kids, year after year, and I can’t help but be amazed. That, to me, was true magic and they managed to instill Santa into me, which I now pass on to my sons. My hope is that one day, they will pass the magic along to their kids.

So, I know that while it is inevitable that one day the boys will stop believing in Santa, I am certain he will live on in them.

Categories: Christmas, Matthew

No Socks, No Shoes, No Pants?

June 24, 2013 Leave a comment

13 - 1This afternoon, while on vacation on the Outer Banks, we decided to walk out to the point that is near the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. From where you park, the remote beach has to be at least a mile or two walk. While we walked, the boys played in the surf and got their shorts wet. Matthew started to get upset because the shorts started chaffing his legs. With the long walk back to the car ahead of us,I told him to take his shorts off, leaving him in underwear.

On the drive back to the condo, Ben turned around and said, laughing, “Well, at least Matthew can go into the store with us. It says ‘No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service’ but doesn’t say anything about pants!”

I think Ben is going to be either a comedian or a lawyer.

Anguish and Pride on the Little League Field

April 17, 2013 Leave a comment

wpid-1331352768668.jpgI’ve had some tough times as a father in the seven plus years that I’ve been on this wild journey. There have been some emotional moments for so many different reasons. However, one of the most emotional moments happened for me this past Saturday on a baseball diamond.

I am coaching Benjamin and Matthew’s coach-pitch Little League team. Matthew probably could have used another year in tee ball, but Ben was definitely ready to move up. So, we moved Matt up as well so that I could coach both of them again. Now the rules of coach-pitch are pretty simple. Every kid gets to bat in an inning with their coach pitching to them. Each kid is suppose to get seven pitches and if they don’t get a hit, they are out. That said, the coaches have an agreement to continue pitching, as long as it is reasonable, until they get a hit.

When Matthew came up for his first at-bat, he had his silly face on, giggling at me pitching to him. His early swings were wild and all over the place, except near the ball. He eventually settled in, but still missing badly. This went on for a long time. I must have thrown him 20 or so pitches and it became clear that he was pushing too hard and I had to make the very difficult decision to call him out and send him to the bench. I believe I made the right decision. There may come a time when I need to send another kid back to the bench and I can’t do that if I am not willing to send my own son back. Plus, I could sense that he was starting to press and the other team behind me was getting restless. It was a difficult decision, but one I would do again.

Well, as he walked back to the bench and took off his helmet, I could see him trying to be tough and not cry. But he was upset. Andrea went over to him and then he started crying. My heart broke like I had never felt it before. It is a moment of such anguish for me, that even thinking about it now, I want to cry. After our half inning was over and my team took the field, I went over and hugged him as he sobbed some more, but I think I may have felt worse than him. I let him sit on the bench a little longer and Andrea gave him a little food and water, while I stood on the field with my hat pulled low on my head to hide my wet eyes. Eventually, he cheered up and came back on the field with a smile, almost like nothing had happened.

The next inning, as his at-bat approached, my nerves kicked in and I felt like I couldn’t bear it again. When he did come up, we gave him a smaller bat and he seemed more determined. The sillies were gone and he looked like he was going to do everything he could to not go back to the bench. I…I was a mess and could barely pitch to him.

Before his tenth pitch, however, he managed to hit a little roller up the third base line and he was safe at first. All the parents watching erupted in cheers and were yelling congratulations to him, while I choked back tears of joy and pride (Tom Hank’s character must have never coached his kids in baseball when he said there was no crying in “League of Their Own”). I was so happy for him and I could tell he was equally happy. After the inning was over, I gave him one of the biggest hugs I could muster without crushing his little body. He simply fixed his hat and was ready to play some more.

It is amazing with kids how such a tough moment can be suddenly turned around. And, it is amazing how our kids, even at the age of six, can be so much tougher than us.

In a footnote, the next day we practiced batting in the backyard for a while and he started hitting well. When we played our second game, he came to bat and carefully lined up his feet and was determined again. In his first at bat, he hit the 10th pitch, in his second, he hit the fifth pitch and in his third at bat, he hit the first pitch…Watch out David Wright!

Matthew Turns Five

March 30, 2012 Leave a comment

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Matthew entered our lives on a Friday, a day that began pretty normal.  I dropped Ben off at daycare and then Andrea and I grabbed a healthy breakfast of bagels and donuts.  Andrea was already scheduled for a C-section the following Tuesday even before we headed over to the doctors office for  routine a appointment.  It wasn’t long before the doctor told us that we had to go home, get our stuff together, call who we needed to call and get Andrea into the hospital because Matthew was going to join us that day.

Of course, we didn’t know it was going to be Matthew Robert.  At that point the baby might have been Marisol Rose.  Regardless, in an excited frenzy, we got home and started making calls. I had to call my boss to let him know my paternity leave had already started and we both had to call our parents.  We then headed to the hospital, where, over and over, Andrea had to tell the nurses that she had bagels and donuts for breakfast as the tried to gauge when she would be ready for surgery.

Instead of the traditional cigars, I had put a bunch of blue and pink Peeps into plastic eggs since it was just a week until Easter.  Of course, I thought I had a few more days and found myself packing the eggs in the hospital room, which led to a nurse panicking thinking Andrea was eating them.  It became obvious that we had some time, so I decided to go pick up Ben from daycare instead of asking our parents to do it.  When I told him that the baby was on its way, he was so excited.

With Benjamin causing mayhem in the hospital hallways and our parents nervously keeping watch of him, Matthew Robert Keenan was born in the early evening of March 30, 2007.  We had another beautiful healthy boy.  I honestly don’t remember much of the rest of the hospital stay.  Unlike with Ben, Matthew had no trouble feeding and did not have the same jaundice problems.  Not to mention, we were practically experts by then, instead of scared rookies.  Benjamin’s excitement, of course, was a new variable, but, we all handled it in stride.  Regardless, that day is on of the three happiest days of my life, and it makes me so happy just thinking about it.

I can’t believe that Matthew is five now.  I look at him and I see so much of that little baby in him, more so than I do with Ben.  The days of diapers and bottles and midnight changes all seem so foreign and far away now.  Now, we have these little men, who still dominate the centers of our lives.

While I remember Matthews birth, it’s hard not to think of our bulldog Edgar who died just five days later.  Before the boys, he was a huge part of our lives, dominating rolls of film and then flash drives.  We truly loved that dog and his death was sudden and painful. It’s unlikely that he’d still be with us today if he didn’t die then.  English Bulldogs, on average, live only to seven.  At five, Edgar was already showing signs of getting old.  We sometimes wonder if him going that day was God’s way of sparing him and us a longer, drawn out illness. Either way, in the perspective of our two little boys, I sometimes feel embarrassed to admit the strong emotions I had for a dog, but there is no denying that I did, and it took me a long time to get over him.  Of course, Matthew and Benjamin did help me with that.

Count Matthew

February 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Lately, Matthew has been almost obsessed with numbers.  It started soon after Christmas when he kept asking addition problems, like, “Daddy, what is 1 + 5?”  Of course, however, it was Matthews and so it was more like, “Uhm, Daddddy, what is one-uh plus five-uh?”  (We aren’t sure why, for a while, he was adding “-uh” after a number in an almost sing song way to extend the word.)

This soon escalated to him just simply counting, starting with one and going as high as he could.  Often times, early on, about every nine numbers he would stop and say, “Daddy, what comes after 59 (fiffy-nine)?” or he would skip over numbers (one day, he missed every single “7” number between 106 and 198).  In the last few days, he has asked for very little prompts in the counting and has missed very few numbers.  In the process, his overall vocabulary has also gotten better.

That said, when he does start counting, I can’t wait for him to get to the thirties, which he pronounces, “furty-one, furty-two, furty-fee, etc..”  I kind of can’t wait until he makes it to “fee-hundred and furty-fee.” (His high is fee-hundred.)

And he counts all the time…He’ll spend the entire car ride to school counting or I’ll hear him just walking around the house counting.  In the last day or two, he started counting things like steps.

One night last week, he had a rare midnight accident in his bed and with Andrea out of town, I let him sleep in my bed instead of trying to change sheets in the middle of the night.  As we were both trying to fall back asleep, he started counting and we both drifted off rather quickly…It was nice to fall asleep to his sleepy little voice counting numbers.  Very sweet.

Little Brain Waking Up (or “Look at the Big Brain on Matthew”)

July 27, 2011 Leave a comment

As I mentioned before, every year, while on vacation, the boys seem to hit new stages in development.  I’ve also mentioned in the past that Matthew had been slow in his speech development and is very difficult to understand, at times.  During this years vacation, it seems, Matthew has taken huge strides in this area.

In the week before heading to Wildwood, Matthew would eat and eat and eat, giving every indication of a growth spurt.  Well, it seems that new areas of his little brain have suddenly turned on (this is the best way Andrea and I can describe it).  Not only has his speech been significantly clearer, but he is using a bunch of words he never used before, he is putting together very long sentences and putting together some very clear thoughts.  In addition, he has suddenly become scared in the dark, makes us close his closet and doesn’t like to be left in a room by himself, all indications to me that he has developed his imagination more.

One of the side effects of him talking more (and a week of vacation where the boys were constantly together) is more fighting between him and Benjamin.  They have gotten into full blown arguments on a range of subjects.  Ben is use to not having to compete with anyone to talk, but now Matthew has become more of a chatterbox and it has frustrated him.  It has gotten to the point where I had had to tell them both to just stop talking to each other because they couldn’t agree on anything.

It is very exciting to see Matthew “wake up” and has been loads of fun.  Andrea and I have been recording him because it is so cute and fun.  (I intended to post those recordings here, but I need to upgrade my account with WordPress first and I haven’t had a chance to do that.)  It really warms our hearts because it has been worrisome, at times, wondering if he would ever become easier to understand.

One of my favorite quotes from Matt came out of this.  Matthew did a project that included silhouette stickers of different sea animals.  Ben kept trying to tell Matt that the different animals were not what they really were because he has a new interest in certain animals.  So, for example, Ben really likes Sperm Whales now and kept saying, “Lets pretend the shark sticker is a whale.”  Matthew didn’t like that because he picked out the stickers because they were animals he likes.  Well, finally, Matthew yells to me, “Benjamin isn’t trusting me.”

When Ben tried to defend himself, Matthew replied, “Your not trusting me.  All you are doing is keep talking and that’s not fair.”  Very cute.

Also, Matthew has taken to replying to questions with “Yup” (pronounced Yee-UP) and “Nope” (Noop).  Very cute.

Apparently, I Rock

July 19, 2011 Leave a comment

As the dolphin boat made it’s way back to the dock this evening, the crew handed us a bunch of bread to feed the seagulls off the back of the boat.  I decided to try to feed the birds by hand and held pieces of bread that the gulls came and took from my fingers.  Benjamin loved it and after several birds grabbed the bread, he shout, “Daddy, you rock at that!”

Benjamin also rode his first wave on his new boogie board that his grandmom bought him.  He loved it, but on the next wave, quickly learned that the waves can be finicky and we were done for the day.

Matthew was initially very nervous on the boat when it got into the open ocean and hit the big wave, but after a few minutes, he finally went to the rail and had a huge smile on his face.  The poor guy was exhausted, however, by the time we got back.  After a day at the pool, beach and on the boat without a nap, we couldn’t get him in bed fast enough and he fell asleep as I was tucking him in.