Vacation Truth

 

 

When I go on vacation I always tell myself this will be the time when I get my life together, even if only for a short while. Somehow, I will escape the crazy and chaotic life I lead and enjoy one week of a calm and serene existence. I will exercise on the beach before dawn. There will be sessions of yoga, where I will learn that Downward Dog is nothing to be ashamed of if I accidentally type it into my Internet browser. There will be bran cereal, yuck, but being regular helps with the calm and serene. (And then I remind myself to go easy on the bran since I never eat the stuff and there is nothing calm and serene about being TOO regular.) So, that is what I imagine the yearly family trek to the beach is going to be like.

But, in reality, my vacation always becomes a jail break from responsibility. There is hair of the dog instead of Downward Dog. There are little nephews screaming a dirty phrase in unison again and again, not because they know what it means but because they heard someone scream it… maybe me… six hours before the hair of the dog thing. There is not a shred of bran but plenty of Pop Tarts and Frosted Flakes. And, instead of a new me returning home, it is an older, exhausted me after my vacation becomes a parenting Studio 51 with sand.

I tell myself what I want in life is discipline, but that is only another word for control. I want to eat right, take long walks with my wife, sleep through the night, and generally end each day with hope for what the next day holds and how brilliantly I will manage it. But I’ll probably never get it or do it. Time is going to keep plowing forward. My kids are walking, talking adults when just yesterday they were the Dennis the Menace twosome that are now my nephews.

I also imagine the vacation experience will be moderately high brow, otherwise I would have vacationed in Daytona. Mostly it isn’t. There is late night heckling over vicious games of dominoes, steamy beach reads in well-thumbed paperbacks that are banned in libraries across half the country, and statements yelled down from the balcony at other family members that the Kardashians would consider crass. I heard a couple of gems this past week, like this one from the back seat of the minivan as we traveled there: “Hey Dad, sorry but I gotta drop a deuce. What can I say? You sleep, you eat, you poop. It’s the circle of life, dude.” Or the one that sounded like a Darth Vader imitation as I passed a darkened bathroom with the door closed. Someone was clearly enjoying the echo in the small space: “Yup, I’m peeing in the dark. And from the sound of things I’m doing a pretty good job.”

Now, perhaps you are noticing there is a lot of potty content. I wiped the butts of these little creatures which meant I was involved in every “movement” they had and yet what is currently happening with our digestive systems seems to be even more conversationally relevant now than when I was chasing them down the hall with a slightly uncomfortable but thankfully clean Pampers knock-off. And I know this will not get better as I age. Hell, I might be closer to those diapers than they’re away from them.

I don’t know. Maybe it is time for me to be a little more honest with myself, and with my writing. Truth be told, I am a lazy writer. I start great, I finish not so well. Clearly, lack of sleep or alcohol are not steroids for the sport of writing, despite what some scribes would have you believe. I can barely focus my thoughts long enough to write a check, let alone a novel. I am not taking care of myself. And sometimes I look the other direction when it comes to proper parenting. In some ways, with both my writing and my life, I feel like I’m nearing the point where Picasso cut off his ear. (Except right now I write and live by the numbers, and I have pretty big ears, too.)

And despite all this complaining, I would not give up a single thing I have now to achieve whatever the hell I think I am seeking when I set off on a break from my day to day life. I am desperately in love with my wife. I am so proud of my kids it is probably a little nauseating for those who have to hear it. I still enjoy the company of my extended family. I get satisfaction out of my job. And, at the end of the day, I feel pretty good about the person I am trying to be.

So maybe vacation is supposed to be exactly what it always is for me. A jailbreak from the responsibility of being a husband, a father, and a decent person. (I am not talking about full blown debauchery here, but it ain’t things I’m doing on a typical Tuesday either.)

And now the family unit is setting off for another vacation with the other side of the extended family for the 4th of July. Maybe as we pack the car I will make the same lies to myself about peace of mind and exercise and discipline. Except I’m not sure this crew we’re visiting practices a ton of yoga, and I can’t wait to hear what they say if I ask about bran cereal.

The Graduate

 

(I wrote this last week prior to my son’s graduation.)

 

 

I was sitting on the front steps of my parent’s house. My best friend was there as a witness. My first son was teetering on his feet before us, then he wiped out onto the driveway. Grabbing my best friend’s arm before he could instinctively aid the fallen child, I whispered, “Don’t move.” My son looked around, debated whether it was worth the effort to cry, decided it wasn’t, then went back to the business of getting to his feet. Once again he teetered like the planet was spinning a little too fast. He steadied himself, then took one step, and another, and another. Then my son made a joyous noise as he waddled away from us with alarming speed. We huddled there like we were watching a rare animal on the Serengeti.

“He started doing it last night,” I whispered.

My best friend hadn’t had his first child yet. “Amazing,” he breathed.

My son was ten months old. He had just learned to walk.

 

—————–

 

grad pic

 

 

Fast forward seventeen years. In just a few days my son will take one of life’s other important walks. I doubt his steps will be as hesitant when he accepts his high school diploma and begins a new chapter in his life. And I begin a new one in mine.

(He might fall down though, since he will be wearing actual shoes, something his perpetually bare feet might not understand. He got away with the sandals at his awards ceremony, but he was told the Jesus shoes were a no-go for graduation. We’re praying he doesn’t try to stage some kind of protest.)

I know I am supposed to give him advice at this stage in life. That’s what we do as our children step out into the world, right? And, yet, I am struggling to do so. There are a few things I guess I would offer:

  1. Home is a state of mind that has nothing to do with bricks and mortar.
  2. Being imperfect is a good thing. Imperfections are what make you interesting.
  3. I hope your college introduces you to someone named Al or Lou, a Dan-the-man, a Vinnie, a Ray-baby or a (insert any of 25 names here). Your college friends will entertain you, challenge you, and might even get you arrested. Together you will make memories that will be a big part of the rest of your days, if only in small batches.
  4. And maybe, just maybe, you might meet the love of your life, even if you don’t know it at first.

But as I write those words I know that advice is more about my life and less about his own. It is time for him to chart his path now. The stakes are much higher than in my time. Things are different. Schools are expensive. Money is tight. And but for his own accomplishments the path he takes right now would not be possible.

So why am I not more nervous for him? Maybe that will come later but I don’t think so. This young man truly seems to be made up of the best parts of the people who created him, and a few more good quantities we can’t claim. He is smart, competitive and bullheadedly stubborn. He is also open-minded, accepting of others, and has a gentle heart. Oh sure, there have been a few moments of eyebrow raising stupidity. (Like maybe he needed to prove that he is my son.) But as he enters college I mainly hope that life’s great unknown storms on the horizon don’t burden his mind too much and that he will enjoy the relatively calm waters of any given day. His days in college, like life itself, will pass in a blur.

I had the opportunity to witness a kindergarten graduation the same week my son will graduate from high school. (If only everyone had to attend a kindergarten graduation once a year and wash off the ugliness of being an adult there would be far less hunger, death and anger in this world.) Seeing both ceremonies in the same week made me think about who my son was as a little boy, and the man he is now. And it reminded me that life never stays the same. It always changes. In my rational mind I know it is time for my son to leave. He is a grown man. He is ready. In my emotional heart I know I will miss the boy beyond words.

I have been watching him find his way for eighteen years now.

So life’s safari continues. And I will continue observing his accomplishments from the bushes while searching for a word that means profoundly happy, impossibly proud and terribly sad all at the same time.

Maybe that word is parenting.

Winter Love for Bethany

 

This is a time in life where we don’t go on a lot of traditional dates.  They are most often spontaneous gatherings on the back porch. These dates usually involve the drink of choice and most often it is a double date with our dogs.

 

We talk about our problems. (To quote Moneyball: all uptown problems.) We share stories about our kids, our extended family, work and whatever else comes to mind. I get a hug or two but wintertime hugs are not the best hugs since she gets COLD when it drops below 60 degrees outside. So yesterday I was not hugging her so much as I was hugging layers and layers of clothes. I mean, I knew she is in there somewhere. And, I did get to steal a kiss, but it wasn’t a long one because the dogs don’t like it, and if we carry on too long we’ll hear some kid inside the house screaming for us to cut it out.

 

 

winter tree pic

 

 

This was our view yesterday as the sun went down and it got me thinking about rebirth and growth and the quiet times we share with the person we choose love more than any other. I’m lucky because the winters in our relationship are usually mild and short, like the ones here in Louisiana. To say our love is perfect would be a lie. But when we slow down, when the spark between us goes dormant for whatever reason, we always seem to come back stronger, enjoying the bright colors and warmth of our renewed love all that much more.

 

For Valentine’s Day this year the love of my life gets to enjoy new braces, a trip to Costa Rica, another one to Disney and still ANOTHER trip to the mountains of North Carolina. She gets to travel to dusty sports complexes to watch our boys chase and kick a round ball, and after that, she’ll get to watch them throw, catch and hit a smaller ball. She’ll start paying college tuition, too, and she will actually take great pleasure from each of these things.

 

But she’s not really going anywhere and she’s certainly not getting braces. She’ll be on the back porch with me. If things go the way I’m planning, we’ll manage to have a few dates near the garden in the side yard, where we’ll watch the radishes, the cucumbers and the tomatoes grow. The options are limited in such a small space, but maybe we’ll find somewhere different to stand while we share our thoughts and admire each other. Hopefully it’ll be out of sight from the house so I can steal a few more kisses.  At least till the dogs start barking at us, and that’s good enough for me.

Daybreak on the farm

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The donkeys and chickens get up early. So did we. Beautiful morning. Here’s what it sounded like.

You would think visiting a place like this would be a great time for the dogs to run free. Not so much. Our dogs acted like they want to get frisky with the donkeys, and they acted awfully brave as they pulled at the leash. When I gave them enough slack to get closer, they looked back at me like: “Have you lost your mind?”

Forrest Gump: Guard Dog and “Man” Dog

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Forrest Gump during some downtime from protecting the house…

What were you doing at 4 a.m. this morning? I get up early for work, but not that early. I was up at 4 a.m. this morning because of our dog. He’s one of those expensive hybrid dogs, either a Malty-Poo or a Shitzy-Malt, and he’s in bad need of a haircut. His name is Forrest Gump. Continue reading “Forrest Gump: Guard Dog and “Man” Dog”

Good bye baseball, hello soccer…

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We said good bye to baseball last night, with a loss where our bats, our pitching and our fielding all went to pot. For the sake of my 12 year old twins who really do love it, I pretend to like baseball more than I do. And I hate to end the season with a loss. But, I always enjoy the time of year where we put the bats and gloves away and get ready for another fall and spring of soccer. I enjoy their soccer more than baseball for a variety of reasons. Continue reading “Good bye baseball, hello soccer…”

A Washington Fix

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subway ride exhausted

 

I could see yellow sweat pants as she leaned in the side door of a minivan ten years older than my own. A mop of gray hair was mashed against the passenger’s window, what I could only assume was a second woman, who was asleep. The first woman was eating ice cream with one hand. With the other hand she appeared to be changing the diaper of a kid spread out on the floor of her vehicle. I was not positive this was a child or that a diaper was being changed; for all I knew she was bludgeoning a little person or delivering an infant. I could simply see two wiggling legs and the woman pinning this thing down and eating her ice cream.

Continue reading “A Washington Fix”

42 things I will teach my teenage boys…

 

 

1. You have a penis. It comes with responsibilities.

2. Girls have vaginas. If you’re not careful, you can create responsibilities.

3. I don’t care who you love, as long as you try to love that person with your whole heart.

4. Read books; real books with words on paper and pages.

5. Everyone has the same insecurities you do. Some people just hide them better.

Continue reading “42 things I will teach my teenage boys…”