Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Blanket

When I was a little boy I had to shroud myself in a ripped and tattered blanket. As I trembled and shivered during the cold and blustery seasons of my youth, I yearned for the cozy blankets that other children were provided, but I had to learn to make do with what I had. Occasionally my blanket would get some patchwork mending that afforded me with some additional warmth, but these were fleeting repairs that eventually left my blanket more threadbare than before.

As I grew older, I ultimately became numb to the cold and came to believe that my shabby blanket was all I needed to protect me from the harsh chill. But after several more frigid winters, I began to think that I was probably better off facing the cold without a blanket at all and I set to cast it aside. I felt certain that a stout young man should be able to shelter himself from the severe conditions through sheer will alone.

While I was wandering through another bitterly cold season, I by chance came across a beautiful quilt. It had all of the warm, welcoming elements of the blankets that I had envied as a child. I felt an overwhelming need to wrap myself up in it. Once I was enshrouded in it, I knew I needed this quilt to thaw my chill and help me reach a depth of warmth I had yet to encounter. I began to examine it more closely, and I discovered that it was decorated with gorgeous, intricate patterns. With all of its meticulous stitching, it was obvious that someone had worked very hard on fashioning its beautiful design, and I became afraid that I would not be able to afford such a luxurious piece.

Through patient hard work, I was eventually able to earn what was needed to acquire the quilt. I spent many comfortable nights wrapped up in its cozy warmth. The more time I spent immersed in its deep lush layers, the more I grew to appreciate its wonderful design. My quilt just kept growing more pleasantly snug the longer I nuzzled up with it.

But as people often do, I forgot how cold I was before I found my quilt and I started to take its coziness for granted. Instead of properly tending to its care, I let my quilt get frayed and a little worn. When others needing warmth tried to seek cover under my quilt, I became selfish, and like a child who doesn't want to share, I started to tug and pull on it.  In doing so, I caused some tears, and I realized that what I was doing would eventually turn my quilt into the tattered blanket of my youth.

Fortunately the harm done by my carelessness was not so extensive that it couldn’t be repaired. Without delay, I began mending the damage, and I discovered that with the help of others, my quilt could be expanded and it's beautiful patterns enhanced. I found that the more I shared my quilt, the warmer and cozier I felt while under its cover.  I finally realized that my quilt had always been ample enough to shelter many others, and with their help, it could continue to grow larger and more encompassing so that no one should have to suffer the bitter cold alone.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Love at First Sight?

Anyone remember the first time you met your significant other? Was it like in the movies where everything goes into slow motion and stars appear around them? Did you know at that moment that you were in the presence of “the One?” I do remember the exact moment I met Joanna and because it was around this time of the year, I thought I’d post about it to see how it compares with some other peoples situations.

It started back in November of 1994.  I had been out of school for a couple of months and I was living at home with my mom. She was getting annoyed with me because I was being a lazy slob that sat around playing video games all day. So to appease her, I started applying for jobs that I knew I had no shot of getting, stuff at the mall where they need bodies for the holidays. You see, I’m not a people person and I was sure that no one would hire me for a job involving customer service. But to my surprise, I got a call back from the bookstore at the mall. Turns out they needed a shipping clerk and since I had previously received deliveries at a restaurant, I guess they thought I knew what I was doing. After accepting the job, I was told to attend an all hands meeting on the following Sunday to discuss what was expected of all the employees during the busy holiday season and that I would be introduced to everyone then. The manager told me that I needed to dress business casual, no sweatshirts or jeans. That eliminated 98% of my wardrobe, so I ended up wearing a pair of ill-fitting khakis and a pretty loud sweater.

As I walked into the store, a girl yelled at me that the store was closing, and I replied that I was there for the all hands meeting. She made some comment about my sweater that I didn’t really hear because the manager grabbed me to take back to the shipping area to fill out paperwork. When I came back out, the store was being cleaned up after closing. It seems that a lot of people who shop in malls really have no respect and they just throw things anywhere, so after the store closes, a lot of time is spent trying to put stuff back into the right place. As I was wondering through the store, the same girl yelled over for me. She was standing behind a counter with a stack of magazines and she proceeded to yell “hey sweaterboy, can you put these magazines back in the rack in the front of the store.” I came over and took the magazines and noticed that the girl had on a striped long sleeve sweater, a long black skirt that stopped at her shoes (they were Birkenstock sandals with blue fleece socks), she had on Lisa Loeb glasses, and her hair pulled back just above her forehead. She looked like a younger version of my high school librarian. (I can't imagine what she thought of me and my baggy pants and ugly black and grey sweater!) As I took the stack of magazines from her I saw that the one on the top was an open Playboy, which she noticed as well and so she said, loudly, in front of four other female employees, “think you can get these over there without drooling over the girlie mag?” At that point, I was thoroughly embarrassed and annoyed, and it took all I could muster to not retort with the first jab that came to mind, which was, sure thing Miss Future Cat Lady. But I held my tongue and over the course of the next couple of weeks I found out how smart, witty, and kind she was. After our initial encounter and how I usually don't warm up to people who tease me, I was really surprised at how much I liked her. It was really disappointing that she got transfered to another store after the holiday season was over. But being that I'm lazy and not into change, I still had the same receiving job when she returned to the store as a manager later that year. A few months after she returned, we became pretty friendly. Two years later, we were dating. Sixteen years later we’re married and have a wonderful child.

So this is the story of how sweaterboy and future cat lady librarian came to meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after.

Thank you Joanna for being the best friend, wife, mother, and all around greatest person I know. I’ll never forget the day we met, because it really was the best day of my life!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Perfect Parent?

I’m pretty sure that everyone grew up with a notion of what the perfect parent should be like, and I bet that there were times when it seemed that our parents fell short of this ideal. I even suspect that a lot of new parents start out thinking that they are not going to repeat the mistakes of their parents. They enthusiastically go out and buy parenting books and read up on all the new techniques on how to raise the perfect child and what to do when problems arise. But ultimately, when push comes to shove and there is a crying, tantruming kid, a lot of us are going to fall back on how our parents handled the situation. This can be good if you were raised by patient, understanding, reasonable people. But if you grew up around quick tempered, easily irritated adults, chances are you will end up spending a lot of time yelling at your child.

I grew up with parents who were moody and became easily irritated. They tended to yell at my sister and I when things weren’t running the way they wanted. I didn’t want to be the same way with Michael, but I found myself falling into the same patterns as my parents. While searching for help to break out of my parents mold, I too went the route of trying to find a parenting book, and what I ended up stumbling upon was a book called “Becoming the Kind Father” by Calvin Sandborn. I can’t recommend the book enough because through his story, I’ve learned that much like the author, when I think, I don’t think in my own voice, but in that of my parents. The perfectionism I expect is really the perfectionism they expected, and when things don’t go right, I get frustrated and irritable because they did, and then I turn around and put those same expectations on Michael, and when he doesn’t act how I want, I get upset.  What the book has taught me is that I need to start thinking in my own voice, one that I should have heard from my parents as a child. A voice that is supportive and kind, but can also be authoritative without being mean or angry. I’m working on becoming the “Kind Father” who is supportive and doesn’t make his child tiptoe around worrying that he’s going to do something wrong and get yelled at.

I coming around to the realization that I’m never going to be perfect because, in this world, there aren’t perfect parents, and there aren’t perfect kids, but I can strive to be one of the loving, caring, supportive parents who can help my wife raise a wonderfully intelligent and well adjusted kid.

The following poem by Dr Dorothy Nolte appears in the book and it sums up the lessons that I’ve learned about how my actions as a parent will affect my son’s future attitudes and relationships.

If children live with criticism, They learn to condemn
If children live with hostility, They learn to fight
If children live with ridicule, They learn to feel shy
If children live with shame, They learn to feel guilty
If children live with encouragement, They learn confidence
If children live with tolerance, They learn patience
If children live with praise, They learn appreciation
If children live with acceptance, They learn to love
If children live with approval, They learn to like themselves
If children live with honesty, They learn truthfulness
If children live with security, They learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them
If children live with friendliness, They learn the world is a nice place to live.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Ok, I know that this post is two weeks late, but I’ve had some issues getting pictures and video off my IPhone and I really wanted to have those before I blogged about it. This year I really got into Halloween, I mean really into it. You see, I finally did some upgrades to the house, and for the first time in the 7 years we’ve been here, I was able to decorate for Halloween because I got an outdoor power outlet installed the front of the house. (Can’t wait for Christmas, I’m gonna give Clarke Griswold a run for his money)
As a kid, I always loved Halloween. I have always enjoyed the imagery of a scary leafless tree against a moonlight background, the sound of the wind whistling through the baron branches, the crunching of the leaves on the ground as trick or treaters’ approached a house with a perfectly carved jack-o-lantern. It felt like a treat to be outside in the dark dressed up in a scary costume, sharing time with good friends. I was a shy kid and it took a couple of years for me to figure it out, but I finally realized how great Halloween was because I could hide behind a costume and become anyone I wanted to be and my shyness would melt away. My friends and I had many great Halloween adventures. Between the trick or treating, the awesome costume parties that my one friend’s parents threw, or hanging with the same kid's older brothers who would take us out way too late to go around scaring people, my buddies and I almost always had a blast.
But that ended when my one friend moved away when I was about 12. The neighborhood suddenly got very old and no one did anything for Halloween anymore. I just assumed that I had outgrown Halloween and that it was for little kids. But I still kept a few traditions, like taking a walk once it was dark to see if I could find a good local haunted house, then coming home to watch old black and white horror films. I never let the cool feeling of Halloween die, I just stopped celebrating it.
Now that I’m a dad with a four year old, I want my son to experience some of the cool things I got to see as a kid. Locally, we handle Halloween pretty well. All the neighborhood kids are close in age, so they all get dressed up and go out together. The community does a good job of getting people to participate in handing out treats, but no one is really into the scary decorating. Now I know that the kids are mostly between the ages of 3 and 6,and I’m not into traumatizing them with nightmares of ghouls, but come on people, put some bats or spiders out (I admit there were some good Jack-o-lanterns). Anyway, I went out and got a smoking bubble machine, made a small graveyard with a skeleton and a ghost, and our candy was distributed next to the evil mad scientist working on his next Frankenstein creation. I also said to myself that the kids didn’t need to be the only ones having fun, so I actually got dressed up as well. So here are some of the pictures from Zeke’s Halloween 2010.
Heroes to the Rescue

Spidey and his Friends
Wizard lord of the Skeletons
Little Skeleton King
Lord of the Graveyard

Graveyard at Daylight
Neighborhood Mad Scientist
Good Night to all the Ghoulies

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Evil Toys

Over the summer, I had taken a day off from work so that I could take my son Michael in to the Doctors for his hearing test. He had been tested at his 4 year checkup, but had failed because he was suffering from one of his many ear infections at the time. He had been to the Doctors a lot in the weeks before the retest for various illnesses (pink eye, ear infection, shots, etc…) and I was afraid that I was going to have a hard time convincing him to go to the appointment (In his last visit, it took both my wife and I to carry him out to the car and then one of us had to hold him down while the other strapped into the car seat to get to the office). So I did what any other responsible parent would do in that situation, I bribed him with a promise that as soon as the appointment was over, I’d take him to see Toy Story 3. The movie had been out for a couple weeks and several of his friends had already seen it, so it was something he wanted to do. He was pretty anxious at the Doctors office, so while we were in the waiting room, I distracted him by talking about his favorite scenes and characters from the first two Toy Story movies. I got him pretty excited and by the time we got back into the test area, he was ok with the visit. The test went well and the woman who administered the test was impressed with how well behaved Michael was and when he told her that we were going to see Toy Story 3, she got excited and told Michael how jealous she was because she really want to see the movie too. That really got him worked up. So once we got out of the Doctors office, we headed home for a quick pit stop and headed to the movies.

We got there a little after lunch and saw one of the early shows, so there were not a lot of people in the theater. I let Michael pick the seats (even though I directed him to the last row as it’s the best place to watch because no one kicks the back of your seat.) We sat through the previews and when the movie started, Michael was totally into it. He loved seeing Buzz and Woody and the Evil Doctor Pork chop train scene. He didn’t quite understand the going to college, giving away toy parts, but he was enjoying the movie, that was until the evil Monkey Doll showed up. If you haven’t seen the movie, there is one of those Monkey toys that have the clanking cymbals. One like this:

He went from enjoying the Movie to being totally petrified. In the movie, the monkey acts as a security guard and he screeches and clangs his cymbals when one of the toys tries to escape the preschool. This really freaked Michael out. He never left the movie, but he hid his eyes and closed his ears anytime the monkey was onscreen. Fortunately, the monkey only has a small part, and Michael was able to watch the rest of the movie, but when we left the theater, all he could talk about was the evil monkey and how he didn’t like the monkey and he doesn’t want to ever see one of those monkeys because he’d need his dinosaurs to beat it up. He really hated that monkey.

This reminded me of something from my childhood. When I was 4 or 5, a movie came out called Magic. It was a horror movie about a lousy magician whose act is improved when he discovers a ventriloquist’s doll. The doll at first is a big hit, but it eventually ends up causing the guy to go crazy and he goes around killing the people in the magicians life so that eventually he can take over and posses the magician. I never saw the movie; I was too terrified by the commercials. The ventriloquist doll in the movie looks a little like the Charlie McCarthy dummy that Edgar Bergen used on TV. The sight of either of those dolls scared me beyond belief. So being a good parent, my mother went out and bought a Charlie McCarthy doll to use to scare me into behaving. This thing scared me so much that I was afraid to be alone in the house, because I was afraid that the thing would come to life and get me. My mom eventually saw how freaked out I was and she told me she threw it out and that she was sorry for scaring me. A couple of years later, I was upstairs looking for a toy in the junk room and I found the doll. This scared me so bad because I thought the thing had come back on its own and was trying to get me. I went screaming downstairs to my mom, who told me she never threw it out because it cost a lot of money and she thought she had hid it well enough that i'd never find it. She told me to grow up, that it was just a toy and that it wouldn’t hurt me. I decided to wait till she went to work and I threw it out with the trash the following week. Little did I know that my mom found it in the trash, and put it back up in the junk room. So several years later I nearly had a heart attack when I found the thing again. I was about 10 years old and I still couldn’t look at the face of the doll, so I got several trash bags, and looking like a hazmat person I wrapped myself and the doll up in the bags and got on my bike and put it in my friend’s trashcan. 27 years later, I still haven’t seen the doll, so I think I’m safe, but I still can’t look at ventriloquist dummies without getting nervous. 

When Toy Story 3 came out on DVD, my wife was out with Michael at the store and she was going to buy it because it’s a good movie and she hadn’t seen it. Michael said NO WAY, he never wanted to see that monkey again. I forgot about how badly he reacted to the monkey and bought the movie myself later that day. I realize now that I’ve brought into the house Michael’s version of the Charlie McCarthy doll. He doesn’t know we have it and I’ll never make him watch it again, but because of what my mom did to me,  I’m considering maybe giving the movie to someone like my sister to hold onto, because I don’t even want Michael to know I brought it in the house. I don’t want to ever traumatize him the way my mother did to me. Plus that Monkey is really creepy!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I don’t wanna go to school

I don’t wanna go to school.

That’s a phrase that I’ve heard my son utter a lot since he started in daycare at the beginning of this year. It’s also a phrase I used a lot during most of the time I was in grade school, so I think Michael and I probably share similar fears and anxieties. I think that both of us dislike change and we are very stubborn about giving into it. We both also seem to get very shy and reserved when we first get exposed to new situations or people. The difference between us is that Michael is quicker to warm up to people than I am, so hopefully he’ll have a much easier time dealing with change as he gets older. Unfortunately for me, I had a bunch of bad experiences in school that led me to be less trusting of people and so it takes a lot of time for me to get comfortable around new situations or people.

See, part of my anxiety about going to school came from the fact that I went to Catholic School. The school district that I grew up in was the same one that my mom went to and for 12 years, they managed to completely miss the fact that she had learning disabilities, so even though she never had passing grades, they just kept moving her through the system. Because of that, my mom wanted to make sure that I got a good education, so she worked hard to get me into the local Catholic School. This was both a blessing and a curse. See, several of my really good friends started at the school at the same time as I did, so I had a group of kids that I could hang out with and talk to when school started, but once the bell rang, the demons dressed in nuns clothes were let loose and I entered the first level of hell. Many of the teachers that I had in school were mostly intimidating, negative, angry women known as The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity. The teachers used mass discipline and fear to keep the classes in line. So when one kid acted up, the whole class would get punished. This caused me great stress because I feared getting in trouble, but I had no control over whether or not someone else’s actions would get me yelled at. I think I see some of this in Michael. When I pick him up from daycare, he often talks about the kids at school who were bad, who weren’t listening, or who got yelled at. I can’t tell if it bothers him, or if he’s just very aware of what’s going on.

Now the tone of this posting has been pretty negative, and thinking back to my time in grade school, I do tend to focus on all of the horribly nasty teachers I had (the ex-nun with the peg-leg who hit kids with a yardstick, the nun with the missing finger who bashed kids heads into the blackboard when they got math problems wrong, the teacher with the bullwhip in the closet, the ultra-crazy nun who threatened to kick several kids asses). I basically was scared into getting good grades so that these nut jobs wouldn’t notice me and leave me alone. But believe it or not, I did have a bunch of good times at school. They mostly involved arriving to assembly early enough to hang out with my friends. You see, the school made all the kids gather outside in the back parking lot for the morning prayer. So a lot of us would show up a half hour early so we could play games, talk about sports, TV shows, Movies, or girls. Because the teachers hadn’t arrived by then, we didn’t have to worry about them coming around to yell at us and mess up our good time, so I remember those morning assemblies more fondly than recess (which we weren’t aloud to run or do anything dangerous). Of all the memories of grade school, those were definitely the best. When I try to talk to Michael about what school was like for me, I want to focus on those memories so that I can help him realize that school can be a good, fun experience as long as he opens himself up to meeting good friends. The classes and the learning are important, but we get lessons all through life, but the friends we make as kids can turn out to be some of the best relationships that a person can have at any point in their lives. Plus learning to build friendships early in life can make it easier to make friends as one gets older.

P.S. Most of my negative school memories are from grade school. Once I got away from those crazy nuns and got into High school, I had a blast.