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Looking Back at Christmas 2004

December 24, 2014 Leave a comment

This afternoon I went out on my lunch break to the Walmart to find some dry erase markers that are to be a part of a special Santa present to the boys. It was rainy and dreary and as I tried to navigate out of the difficult parking lot, a sudden strong memory came out of the blue and hit me in the face. It was the memory of being a stranger in a strange land trying to piece together a Christmas during what was already the most exciting time of my life.

IMG_0137Ten years ago, Andrea and I arrived in the Lehigh Valley with a moving truck and a group of friends and family ready to help us fill up our small rented home in Bethlehem. Even as boxes and pianos were moved and friends and family standing near, we carried a big big secret with us. More specifically, Andrea carried the big secret. It was only a week before Christmas and we knew that was the time to tell our families that a baby was on its way, not while we were covered in dust and sweat.

It was a hugely exciting time for us. The move to a house in Pennsylvania, where day care and everything else was less expensive than in New Jersey was a deliberate and calculated act when it came to the baby. We told everyone there were other reasons, but growing our little family was at the heart of the matter. We just didn’t expect Benjamin to become a welcome intrusion to our lives as quickly as he did. Knowing what we know now about Benjamin, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

I watched Andrea closely. I made sure she didn’t carry any big boxes. I handed her stuff to carry that wouldn’t even cause a sweat. And we moved and no one was the wiser. The next several days were a blur. As our friends and family went their ways our little house suddenly felt as big as a cathedral. It was just the four of us (our dog Edgar would very quickly learn he was no longer the baby) in that house and even though Andrea and I had known each other for ten years at that point, our life together felt like it was just beginning.

Our stay in the Lehigh Valley began the next day with Andrea very, very sick. Despite best efforts, the activity of the day before had taken it’s toll on her and it feels like she spent the entire week between then and Christmas in her pajamas. It wasn’t the truth; we both had to work a couple of days and in reality, I think she was just sick through an extended weekend. As she snuggled in, I did my best to unpack and get boxes away. Christmas was upon us and I wasn’t going to let it slip by, unobserved in our new house. Andrea moved from chair to chair as I rearranged stuff to make room for a tree and she looked on, going from amused to calculating how quickly she could get to the bathroom.

At some point, we wandered down Broad Street to a Christmas tree stand. We found the perfect tree for our little house, brought it home and decorated it, surrounded by boxes. It was moments like that which triggered the sense of the magnitude of the situation.

We were in a tiny house in a big giant new world for us. We were in a city where we didn’t know where to even get groceries. We didn’t know anyone else and we felt so alone with this big secret. But looking back, there was something so very sweet about it. We had each other and this giant secret between us and the intimacy of that situation contrasted with being in a strange new city made me feel closer to Andrea than I ever have, I think.

We eventually found our way around. I found that Walmart that triggered my memory today. I had gone there for some small things for the house and stocking stuffers for Andrea. I think it was the first store I was able to locate after the move and it’s somehow become burned in my memory, closely associated with that Christmas. Andrea and I would also venture out for a late dinner one night to satisfy a pregnancy craving, and that memory was also burned in my mind. I remember staring out the fake snow frosted window at the Giant across the way and being both scared and excite. However, I also remember thinking that Andrea and I had each other and everything would be fine.

That Christmas. That rushed, weird and even sad little Christmas is still, to this day, one of my favorites. Andrea and I found ourselves caught between our own childhood Christmases, our life together as just the two of us and the boys that would fill up that tiny house and the next one with such joy and love. It was the scariest and most exciting Christmas of my life. While each Christmas with my boys and the Christmases of my childhood are wonderful and sacred, that Christmas 10 years ago in Bethlehem is the one that is burned into my memory to the extent that I sometimes wonder if everything that did happen could have really happened.

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They Met…On the Internet (A York College Love Story)

October 22, 2014 Leave a comment

Scan0002Twenty years ago this weekend, I returned to York College of Pennsylvania following a few days home for fall break. It was a Tuesday, October 25. I went to my office at The Spartan, the college newspaper. I logged on to one of the computers and began chatting via Telnet with a girl I had recently become friends with.  We had a class together and were both on the forensics team, but our primary way of talking was through email and the chat client.

I liked her. I liked her a lot. I thought she was one of the prettiest girls on campus and the more I got to know her, the more I realized that beauty wasn’t just on the outside. While my confidence that fall was at an all time high, the written form of communication was where I was most comfortable, especially since I couldn’t believe a girl like that was interested in anything I had to say.

The truth is, I had crushed on her from afar for at least a year, even asking my roommates the prior fall if they knew her. Now, I wasn’t exactly a stalker, but I may have gone the long way to a destination just to keep her in sight for a few minutes.  Okay, maybe I was a stalker, but I was also sucker for her in her tennis skirt.

I don’t remember exactly what we were chatting about that night, but mid conversation, all the computers shut down at midnight. I forget if the network dropped or if we lost power or something like that, but our conversation was cut off (the IT guy in me still tries to analyze what happened).

I wasn’t ready to let the conversation go and I got it in my head that I could catch her before she left the computer lab. I grabbed my green jacket and went. I got about halfway there, when I noticed she was headed towards me. The midway point was under a small tree, dropping yellow leaves to the ground in front and to the right of the library.

From that moment on, our relationship changed. We talked more in person and went out of our ways to see each other. We spent time together and grew closer. As I mentioned, I often took the long way to a destination regarding her and that is a good metaphor for us. We both went the long way to get to that destination under that tree. Despite mutual activities and groups, our paths never crossed directly in the two prior years that we went to York College at the same time. We both had a lot of maturing to do before it was our time to arrive. When it was finally our time to arrive together, God flipped off the computers and sent us hurtling towards each other.

Three days short of five years later, fifteen years ago on October 23rd, we would again have a very meaningful encounter. However, instead of an unexpected one, it was a well planned event. Instead of being surrounded by the cool autumn air and yellow leaves, we were surrounded by friends and family (but also cool autumn air and yellow leaves). Instead of shorts and windbreakers, she was in a wedding dress and I in a tux.

The nearly five years that separated us from under that little yellow tree and us at that little altar were transformational (I think I am making up words now). A light year is a measure of distance rather than time and those five years, likewise, felt like a measure of distance from who we were to who we became. We went from being kids in college to kids pretending to be grown-up. There was a lot of turmoil in that distance, and even some distance in that distance at times. There were times of confusion and fear, much of which didn’t just disappear with our vows.

However, there was always love there filling that distance. I believe I loved her from that moment we met at the tree. And there was always laughter (oh God, do I love to hear her laugh) and respect for each other and our own dreams. At the very base and foundation of our love is our friendship.

I love playing golf with my brothers. I love going to the movies with my sons. I love going and grabbing a beer with my friends. However, Andrea will always be my first choice for doing those things with. Even when I had tickets to see the Eagles and Giants play, Andrea was the person I wanted to go with, even though she is an Eagles fan. She is my best friend. Our relationship started in friendship and it is the core of our love.

I talked about how time passes so quickly a couple of weeks ago when I was talking about the Orioles and it is the same here. I look at old photos of Andrea and I and it seems just a moment ago that the photos were taken. When I picture her and I under that tree on the York College campus, it’s odd that I don’t picture her and I as our 20 and 21 year old selves. I picture her and I as we are now, our 40 and 41 year old selves. I even have to look past my beer gut to see my foot nervously kicking the yellow leaves around, in my mind. I my mind, as I relive that early morning encounter, I pick out the spots in my peripheral where Benjamin and Matthew would be playing or hiding and wonder why they aren’t in bed. Somehow, in my mind, that moment and every moment since happened just a moment ago and all live together. And, yes, even the bad moments exist there. Yet, I know how much deeper our friendship and love runs than it did in all those moments because our friendship and love is a culmination of all those moments.

Our love is those leaves and our first kiss and 20 New Years Eves together (the only holiday we have been together for every year since we met) and graduations and train rides and broken down cars and break ups and an awkward engagement and too many baseball games and subway rides and youth groups and New York City in September and Hoboken in the fall and snowfalls and moving trucks and Spain in the Spring and marathons and the birth of our children and new jobs and no jobs and foreign countries and new houses and family events and first days of school and last days of school and bulldog puppies and children growing too fast and a beer gut growing to fast and savings accounts not growing fast enough and friendships and marriages and love and all the little moments in between that would take me another 15 years to write down.

And we are all those moments that have yet to be lived and loved.

Fifteen and twenty years have come and gone and I look forward with excitement to the next 20 years.

Thank you to all of you who have been part of these moments.

Happy Anniversary Andrea. I love you and everything you make me.

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!

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.