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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.

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.

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.

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.

What does a ball hitting the bat look like?

20140427_124822His uniform seemed like a lead shroud hanging from his thin frame. His hat pulled low, concealing wet eyes. Glove tucked under his arm as he drags himself into the car. He is heartbroken.

My heart breaks for him, also. I’ve been there and it feels like there is nothing worse, not at that age.

Five at-bats. Five strike-outs.

Not even a single saving ping of a foul ball, and my poor son seemed broken.

Baseball sucks. He hates it (and he hasn’t even realized yet that I’ve doomed him to be a Mets fan).

This isn’t the “good” heartbreak that baseball dooms all her fans to.

We talk, we analyze, we get ice cream. He laughs and smiles again and plays video games with his brother.

My heart continues to twist, impaled on that metal bat he dropped in frustration. I want to let him quit…There are still ten more games.

A few days pass, we talk more. With each day, he wants to talk less about it. I feel helpless to help him. Rain pours and prevents me from trying to help him. It seems like he doesn’t want to even try anymore.

Finally, I drag him out. I tell him to set his feet as I told him, but forget everything else I told him. In talking I realize that I am too deep in his head. His coaches (all four of them) are too deep in his head. His friends running the bases are too deep in his head. His own little brother’s success in baseball is too deep in his head.

I know he hears them and they fight with his own, once confident voice.

I throw two dozen balls to him…he misses.

Every.

Single.

One.

His brother takes a turn and he hits half the balls.

We step away from the plate. We have a catch and I let him talk about his video game. I’m dying inside.

I ask if he wants to bat again. He reluctantly says “yes”.

I get a box to help him visualize his strike zone. I get a second bat and have him hit the head of it with his bat. I move it around so he can adjust his swing. He has fun with that.

I take the bucket of balls and back up 15 feet. He misses the first six.

Then I remember his analytic mind. I ask him what he thinks a ball looks like when the bat hits it. He says he doesn’t know. I tell him that we should find out.

“What does a ball hitting the bat look like?”

He hits the next one 50 feet to the driveway.

“What does a ball hitting the bat look like?”

The next ball hits my car.

He is smiling.

“What does a ball hitting the bat look like?”

The next ball almosts hits me.

I back up another 20 feet. He looks nervous again. I go back to five feet in front of him and throw a ball over the plate. He realizes the longer pitched ball is his advantage. I go back to the full distance.

“What does a ball hitting the bat look like?”

The next ball goes back into the driveway.

He hits half of the next two dozen and he is beaming. We call it quits for the night.

Next game. First at-bat. He fouls off a pitch before striking out, but clearly his swing is better.

Next at-bat.

First pitch.

His brother sits next to me, eyes closed, too nervous to watch his older brother.

He hits a slow roller up the third base line.

Safe.

It might as well have been a world series winning home run.

Inning ends with him at third and he runs over to me with a huge smile on his face. Tells me he did it. Tells me he timed the pitches from the pitching machine. Tells me how he is watching the ball hit the bat. Tells me how he isn’t thinking about hitting when he is hitting.

Home run.

Final at bat.

Foul.

Swing and miss.

Foul.

Hard fly ball to left field. Outfielder doesn’t get there.

Ben is almost dancing on first base.

Three-for-five.

Back in the car. I pull my hat low, concealing wet eyes.