Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Plus Minus

Beep-Beep-Beep-Beep-Beep...click. I press down on the alarm and sit up in bed. 5:30 am on Sunday morning and I already have a full agenda. I splash some water on my face and head into the kitchen. I open the fridge and take out the white plastic mixing bowl. I peel off the plastic wrap and frown. The pancake batter I made the night before looks a bit solid. "Oh no, it's too cold." I say quietly. I take a big fork out of the drawer and proceed to whip the pasty batter back into shape. I add a little milk, a few squirts of honey, and whip it some more and soon its back to a workable liquid. The waffle maker is already warm and like a cement mixer setting its first sidewalk, I lay the foundation for waffle number one. I reach into the freezer and grab the coffee. I scoop out ten cups full into the machine, and even though I will be the only one having coffee, I make enough to fill up the pitcher for ice coffee during the week. I am on my third waffle when I hear footsteps entering the kitchen. "Morning..." I yell as I pull plates out of the cupboard. My son is groggy but all smiles as it is now mere hours before he leaves for his first adventure into sleep-away camp.

I never went to sleep-away camp as a child. I never went away to college either so I have absolutely no point of reference for his state of mind right now. I have no words of wisdom, no past "when I went to sleep-away camp..." anecdote to draw upon. This is the first of many adventures he will need to guide me through.

We finish our waffle breakfast and my wife starts to clear the table as my son gets dressed. He is sleepy and excited at the same time, a chatterbox on one hand and yawning loudly on the other, which is interesting to witness. Our teenage niece is visiting with us and decides to join us in our very early morning to see her cousin off. After some last minute gear checks we make out way out for the drive to the drop off point.

We arrive at the Raddison Hotel parking lot and settle into a spot. All around us are sleepy parents holding various brands of coffee to-go cups with anxious campers in tow. We see four buses idling on the side of the parking lot and stroll over to see whats up. I find a group of college age kids in a huddle figuring out which bus will be at their command when they all stop and turn to look at me. "Hello, are you here for the camp?" I look at them and I look at my son, all five of them wearing a similar t-shirt with the name "MANITOU" stamped across the chest. I think we found the right place. We check in and after a game of bus roulette, they finally decide which bus will take my son to Maine. 

The crowd starts to thicken around the buses as it is getting closer to departure time. Kids running and greeting others who they have not seen since camp ended last August and parents chatting about what a great day it is and what they are going to do while their kids are away. I snap a few pictures of my son with my wife, with his cousin, with me, with the bus, with a light post, with other kid's parents, what ever I can get in before the moment is gone. "You are going to have such a good time!" is echoed by us and every other parent in the vicinity. You get a sense from the campers that they just want to leave already, my son included. 

"Ok everyone on the bus, we are ready to move out!" one of the counselors hollers. In a flash, the parents get in one last hug before the boys can break away. My wife gives her boy one last hug and he turns to me. I give him a quick hug and say "Don't worry about anything here, just take care of yourself and have the greatest time." "I will..." he manages to get out while is face is buried in my shoulder. As the final kid boards the bus, the door closes and the bus driver revs the engine. Outside is a sea of waving hands from the suddenly childless parents. The parking lot is a traffic jam of anxious parents who now want to return home and go back to sleep in their now tranquil homes. As I drive I imagine my son on the bus, meeting the staff and the kids, not knowing what will take place over the next seven weeks, but will have a lifetime of memories to look back on... 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wave of Emotions

"Let's give a big round of applause to our 2011 graduating class!" The crowd erupts as the principal concludes his remarks during the Fifth Grade Recognition Ceremony. I look at my wife and she looks at me as we both let out a sigh of relief that the year is over.  

If I was to convey my feelings towards this past school year, I would need to be hooked up to an oscilloscope to read my emotions. Ups and downs, climbing and sliding was the norm of fifth grade. With a little fact finding, and a lot of beta testing, our eyes began to see through the thickness and uncovered a few paths out into the clearing. Some of those paths tricked us into dead ends, while others just seemed to circle back into the rough. Now with the school year ending, a breather is warranted, a pause so to speak, and further discovery in order to burst through the pandemonium called sixth grade and while there are still many paths ahead, hopefully the path with the least bumps will get us to where we need to be. 

After the accelerated ceremony (as a threat of thunder and lightning fills the area), the graduating class make their way from the outdoor lawn to the high school gym for refreshments, high fives from classmates and photo-ops for family members. "We are so proud of all your very hard work this year." I say to my son. He smiles and tilts his head downward, knowing the ride has been rocky at best and the clearing is still far away...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Can Do Man

"Daddy, can you...

...get me a drink", ...walk me to school", ...get that down for me?", ...pick me up?", ...help me with my math?", ...play with me?", ...wrestle?", ...listen to me?", ...make me cereal?", ...carry this?", ...fix my computer?", ...read to me?" ...not go to work today?", ...buy me this?", ...sit next to me?", ...stop snoring?", ...tell me how I look?", ...find the remote?" ...not be so silly?",  ...carry me?", ...turn on the water?" ...cut my food?", ...hug me?", ...wash my hands?, ...make my lunch?" ...dunk a basketball?", ...scratch my back?, ...tell me what this means?", ...move over?", ...show me?", ...stop bothering me?", ...turn on the light?", ...tie my shoes?", ... not embarrass me?", ...record this show?", ...button my shirt?", ...wake up?" ...get me a bandaid?, ...be serious!", ...draw me a picture?", ...make me a paper airplane?", ...stop tickling me?!", ...take my gloves off?", ...carry my bag?" ...play catch?", ...throw this away?", ...tell me why?", ...switch seats with me?", ...help me?

Happy Father's Day... to the can-do-man in all of us.

Friday, June 17, 2011

TV Dads- who is your match?

Which TV dad is closest to your parenting style? 

The best and worst dads on TV
There's more to being a father than just being called "dad, but since he can often be found right in front of the TV, here's a look at examples of fatherhood currently on the small screen today. 

He's the first man in your life, the guy who (often) brings home the bacon and can occasionally be found mowing the lawn without his shirt on. But there's more to being a father than just being called "dad": He's around to help with scraped knees and teach life's lessons.
Since he can often be found right in front of the TV with his feet propped up, here's a look at five of the best — and worst — examples of fatherhood currently on the small screen today.



Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lyrics Past

Last night was the Fifth Grade School Concert. The class has been practicing for months and it is finally time to show their stuff. The kids do a morning edition for the school and an evening edition for the parents. "The songs are old and boring..." My son gripes. "Eye of the Tiger" "Raiders March" "Sweet Caroline" are the band selections and the singing selection are unknown to most of the civilized world. "Why can't we sing new songs", he complains. "What do you want these teachers to teach you, "Nelly and Jay Z?" I reply. "Yes!", he yelps. Because of my class and a midterm, I can not make this performance, the first one I will miss in my son's school career. Yesterday while walking to school I tell my son I was sad to miss it. He patted me on the back and said "It's OK you have a more important thing to do". "Can you do a personal concert for me when I get get home?" I request. "No Way!" he shoots back. 


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Reception Inception

"Can I help you?" The man at the front desk asks. "Yes I am here for the party." "Just take the elevator around the lobby." The elevator door opens and I take a left and walk to the end of the hall. I knock and my nephew pulls open the door. I walk in to the room and see my father-n-law sliding up the knot of my son's orange tie. "You look great!" I say. I glance over to my nephew who is fixing his orange socks and straightening his bow-tie. Both boys are restless in anticipation of the reception scheduled to start very soon.

The party space is quickly filling up with guests, family and friends. The Bar Mitzvah Man is soaking in all the attention and accolades thrusted upon him by the guests and his handling it like a pro. The cocktail hour will action packed with music, casino tables, and hot hor d'ourves. I am standing with my wife talking to guests and I take a moment to scan the room. I see my nephew surrounded by his friends having the time of his life and then see my son, unsure of his standing, a step back off the crowd. My niece walks up to my son and they have a conversation while peeking into the crowd, feeling a bit outside. But today is the Bar Mitzvah Man's day and at this time the back seat is filled with cousins. 

The party kicks it up a notch once the DJ and the M.C. takes the mic. The dance floor is packed with girls in mix-matched socks and boys with loose ties and shirt tails half out. The entertainment staff a well oiled machine, engaging the guests and schooling the dance moves. My son is inching into the jam, following the moves, and checking in with one of his "sister" cousins, who has seemed to attract a crowd of pre-teen "followers" to her every step. Quickly the party is alive with the beats peaking, the strobes blinding, and the floor rumbling. The adults take a turn staking claim to the dance floor, as the teens take a break to eat and gather for pictures. 

After desert is served and the frenzy is winding down, I walk around the dance floor, taking a mental attendance while taking a few more pictures. Some guests are saying their goodbyes and parents are starting to arrive for extraction. The dance floor has thinned but the DJ has not let up. I stop at the far end and freeze to watch a foursome singing and dancing together and laughing like they did not have a care in the world. My nephew, my two nieces and my son all facing each other taking turns incorporating a comical move into their dance routine in an attempt to entertain the others. They radiate collectively, not only to kick off the festivities but to close them out as well.  

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011


"See ya..." "You too..." "Bye Bye..." "See you soon..." Phrases like those seemed to run in an endless loop Sunday evening. People saying goodbye, hugs all around, and teary eyes as the very festive weekend comes to a close. This past weekend was my nephew's Bar Mitzvah and the entire family was in town to celebrate this milestone.

It all started Friday, with an evening service at the Temple. My son and nephew are very close as well as being close in age (a year and a half) so when they are together, they are like brothers, in fact closer than brothers because there is no sibling squables, they just mesh into each other. My son would do anything for his cousin and he knows his cousin with do the same. Since they are both only children, their brotherly friendship will carry them into adulthood and beyond. The service was nice and after a little over an hour, we were set to head over to a great restaurant to pre-celebrate the main events taking place on Saturday. The boys celebrated along with their sister cousins, all they way in from the west coast. The girls are a few years older but all four really love and enjoy each other immensely. The dinner was a perfect venue for catching up with distant relatives, getting into the party spirit as well as letting off a little pre-torah tension for the Bar Mitzvah Boy and his parents. A Bar Mitzvah requires a lot of studying, and preparation, it's the transition from boyhood to manhood and with that comes the pressure of accomplishing the tasks at hand which builds up to the day when you read from the Torah in front of the congregation and enter "manhood". So letting off a little steam with your family is just what is needed on the Friday night.

Saturday morning the temple is full, and at ten am the service starts. My nephew is sitting right in the front with my son acting as his wing man, ready to assist if needed.  There are songs coupled with opening verses and prayers, then the Bar Mitzvah portion starts. The emotions get going right away with a few words from his grandfather, who talked about the long turbulent history of the family and presented a few heirlooms to his grandson. The next half an hour was filled with various immediate family members participating in the service which brought on more emotional moments. Then is was time for the Bar Mitzvah Boy to read his portion from the Torah. The room is silent as the words are sung aloud in a softened crackly teen voice. A sigh of relief is shown in the form of a big exhale as the long portion is concluded. He did it! A very moving speech given by both parents brings more emotions from the congregation. Finally some more gifts are presented to the now Bar Mitzvah Man from the Temple staff and the service concludes. Everyone is joyous as we surround my nephew and shower him with hugs, kisses, handshakes and pats on the back. My son finally breaks through the crowd to congratulate his "brother". After high fives and a hug, my nephew steps back, and with a big smile proclaims "Your next!" Now the pressure is on.

Next, the Party...
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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Run for Fun

"Now don't forget to stretch a little and pace yourself." I say to my son as we cross the street and enter the lush green lawn surrounding the school. The crowd is milling around, some people lined up in front of tables, waiting to sign in and get their number, some getting in some last minute stretches. My son jogs off to join a group of friends, all greeting each other and just excited about the events this Memorial Weekend. The first event of the weekend is why we gathered at 8:45am on Saturday, its the annual James E. Kearney Run for Fun, a 3K run starting in front of the school, winding up through town and concluding at the track behind the school. Its my son's first time running it and I just want him to have fun with his friends and finish the run.

I keep my distance from him and his group as we line up at the starting line. With the sound of a chirp from the police cruiser leading the pack, the run is a go. I immediately settle into a steady cadence as the pack passes the first intersection. All ages participate in the run and all I see in front of me are kids sprinting ahead, a burst of energy that will flame out before we hit the first hill. Next are the high schoolers, dressed in track uniforms, running together like a school of dolphins, graceful and competitive, passing the little runners and swiftly setting the pace. My son's friends are in an uneven line, like bees buzzing around trying to hit every flower in the field.  

The first hill is a steep and winding climb. The little runners are beginning to realize that the race is longer than advertised and are slowing, which causes their parent to ease up. I am still keeping to my pace and finally spot my son up ahead, also maintaining a steady stride, staying with his strategy. I slowly catch up to him and give him some encouragement. "Do-in - Gr-ea-t!" I manage to get out as we reach the summit of the first hill. The pace kicks up with the little runners reaching over the hill and somehow finding the energy to race each other to the bottom. My son even speeds up a bit and passes me as the downward grade is very inviting. We turn the corner and start to climb the second hill, this time the little runners are not having it. Luckily there are families parked out on their lawns, clapping and cheering the runners as they pass, some even set up cups of water and sprinklers, knowing the sun would start to bare down on the pack. We reach the one mile mark.

The next mile consists of more winding streets, uphills and downgrades as the runners spread out. The little runners are now either hand held by mom or up on dad's shoulders. I even spotted some dad still trying to run with a five year old nested upon his neck (ouch, my aching spine!). Even though we did not plan on sticking together during the run, my son and I trade leads during this section, with me in front on the uphill parts and he leading on the downhills.

After I pass the mile two marker, I was running as one, my son slowed on the last hill and I told him to grab a water on the table to refuel and push towards the end. A few low lying hills later, I can see the entrance to the track. I speed up my pace and after running half way around the track, I cross the finish line as the completed runners greet the oncoming finishers. I quickly grab two water bottles and get my camera ready (yes I carried a camera the whole time) and await my son's arrival. About three minutes later I see my son enter the track and he ramps up his gallop like a race horse on the final stretch. I hold the camera up and snap a shot just as he crosses the line. "Congratulations!, you just did your first run!" "I feel like I'm, going to die!" He huffs and puffs as he downs the water. "Don't worry, you will be fine in a few minutes." I reply and direct him to where his friends are recovering. I join the crowd to greet the other finishers, some younger than me and some older, the elderly couple running in tandem, the paunchy head band wearing middle-ager, even the dad with the five year old perched on top, bouncing around like she is riding a mechanical bull, as the dad happily stumbles over the threshold. He finally gets to lower the child onto the track and watch her run to get her medal for finishing the race. 

I scan the crowd and settle on a group of kids off the the side, shoes off, sitting on the turf. My son and his friends, talking, laughing, and comparing their experience being part of the Run for Fun.

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