Sunday, May 21, 2017

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

The first time I wrote for reasons unrelated to a school assignment was during my freshman and sophomore years of college.  The name of this very enlightening opus?  "Life."  (Even just the first word of my maiden literary voyage is nauseatingly embarrassing due to the pompous self-importance.)  The entire story was an autobiography from the perspective of my experiences with soccer.  I thought my writing was super edgy because it contained lots of swears.  The piece was also environmentally conscious because it had a font size of 10, plus it was single spaced and double sided.  The last time I read it was probably ten years ago and I wanted to barf because it was cringeworthy on so many levels.  Thank the lucky stars I was unaware of blog sites at that time.

If "Life" had a thumbnail overview on Goodreads (which would never happen because it was so atrocious,) it would read something like this: in this poignant novella, nineteen year-old Dennis describes the resurrection of his love for soccer when he became a junior high school coach following the devastating agony of being cut as a player from his college team.  The young man reflects upon the contrast between his triumphant high school experience and the abysmal failure of his short-lived collegiate career.  Again, I fully recognize how melodramatic this sounds and I want to hide as if I've just discovered at 5 p.m. that my zipper has been down for an entire work day.

Long story short on the soccer front, I had a high school coach who believed in me more than I believed in myself.  He brought out the best in a good athlete who happened to play soccer.  I was never a skilled or polished player.  But I was so hungry with hustle, it was enough to get me some recognition.

When I went to college, my lack of skill was exposed quickly by the higher quality of players all around me.  And I had a coach who just plain disliked me at first, then ultimately hated me.

Getting cut turned out to be a blessing in disguise, however, because an opportunity arose to coach a junior high boys team.  The experience operated as a personal renaissance of sorts because it reinvigorated my love for soccer.  Teaching the guys about the game turned out to be really fun and rewarding for me.  And after multiple seasons with the same core group of kids, I became emotionally attached to them.  Soccer was suddenly fun again even though I wasn't playing.

Fast forward 20 years later to Easton.  Greta started playing rec soccer in kindergarten.  I agreed to coach because honestly she wouldn't take the field without me there.  But at the same time, of course I was going to coach.  C'mon man, it's my sport!  Plus, I got to participate in an activity with my big girl while getting to know Greta's peers and their parents better. There was nothing but upside.

A few seasons went by and Greta joined an impromptu indoor team for girls her age this past winter.  I was surprised she was interested enough to play because I thought she was starting to lean more towards dance and gymnastics over soccer.  So when she said she was up for it, I jumped in to coach with two other parents.

As the weeks went on with the indoor season, I became smitten with Greta and her teammates.  Seeing them gibe as a group and improve so significantly from beginning to end was about one million times more satisfying and fulfilling than anything I have done in the last 15 years of my day job.  I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I would actually start pacing with anxious anticipation during the hour before our games.  During car rides, my mind would wander for practice ideas.

This is a strange but explanatory question.  Have you ever given a compliment to a 7 or 8 year-old girl?  They are not yet mysterious and complicated teenage enigmas who demonstrate feelings like professional poker players, so when the positive message of approval is received and resonates in their pony-tailed heads - they beam with personal pride!  Their emotional states are still so transparent, you can almost see the sudden bounce in their step from even something so simple as a heartfelt "Great job!"  I tell my wife over and over again how just one smile from one girl in one practice or game is just, well, everything.  That moment is precisely why I love coaching so much.  If I can make Greta or her teammate feel good about herself for even just a brief moment because she made a nice play of any sort, then we are doing something right together.

At this moment, Greta is at an interesting crossroads for her soccer odyssey.  She has her first tryout next week to determine which travel team she will play on next fall and spring!  (Maybe another time we can lament whether this level of competition and stratification at such an early age is good or bad, but not now.)   It is so pathetic, I know, but I am literally tossing and turning about what is to come.  I signed up to coach whatever team Greta lands on but the coaches are not consulted (and I whole heartedly agree this is the right way to do it) about selecting the third grade teams' players.

Now before you assume I am some kind of a dad like the one Emilio Estevez' character tearfully describes in The Breakfast Club, I don't care whether Greta makes the A team or the Z team.  I honestly do not.  The only thing that bums me out is the very high likelihood that she will not be grouped with all of the same girls who were on her indoor team over the winter.  (The numbers just don't work out due to roster sizes as compared to the total number of kids trying out.)  She has a comfort and familiarity with all of them that brings out the best in her.  And selfishly, I am already connected emotionally to these girls whom I am so excited to see continue with their growth and development.

Honestly, I think I'm going through some kind of emotional trigger because I had such a bitter exit from the game as a player and I never want G to ever experience anything like that in any aspect of sports.  In order to explain it effectively, I have to give you some of the nitty gritty details.  (Hey if you've made it this far, you might as well get the full story.)

In the fall of my freshman year at UVM, I played on the B team for a coach (not the varsity coach) whom I'll call Dick.  In the second to last game of our season, we played Dartmouth.  A varsity player rehabbing from injury played with us, which was part of the B team's purpose.  We were getting absolutely waxed like 5 to nothing or maybe even worse.  The varsity player (who sucked) started reaming us all out when the ship started sinking, basically placing blame on everyone but himself with every goal scored against us.  Dick also joined in and started hammering away at me.  By that point in the season, I was a basket case.  My confidence was shot.  I hated soccer.  I hated Dick.  I hated that my coach didn't see anything good in me.  Something inside me just snapped.  I walked off the field because I couldn't take it anymore.

I sat on the bench.  Dick asked me if I was hurt.  I said no.  He literally never spoke to me again after that moment.  The next game, I didn't play.  The season ended.

In the winter and spring, all of the B-teamers played with varsity as part of a tryout to see if we would be invited to camp that summer.  The varsity coach, Ron, was our only coach for that season.  Dick was gone.  I suddenly had hope again.  I played as hard as I could.  When the spring season ended, we had exit interviews with Ron when he would tell us if we were coming to camp.

During our talk, Ron told me he loved my toughness and hustle.  But my skills were weak.  I wasn't being invited to camp.  He was right.  And I appreciated his honesty.  I was bummed but I was at peace.  We shook hands and I thanked him.  I got up and started to walk out.

But here is the part of my exit interview that still haunts me to this day.  As I was leaving the room, Ron said "And for someone who walked out on his team ..."  I didn't hear anything else that he said after that sentence.  My mind went totally black.  In that moment, I realized that I had been labeled as a quitter.  I had been fighting an uphill battle to change his perception of me the entire winter and spring.  I don't think I ever had a realistic shot at making the team.  And he couldn't have been more wrong about me.  Not one person had ever asked about my side of the story at Dartmouth.  If Ron or Dick had known the real me at all, they would have realized that I would have given absolutely anything to be on that team.

When I coach Greta and her teammates, that final conversation always lingers somewhere in the back of my head and my heart.  I remind myself constantly to keep an open mind and avoid labeling at all times.  I will always give a player every opportunity to prove herself, especially after a mistake.  More to the point, I only strive to bolster a player's confidence to bring out the best in her ability - never to tear her down.  And let's not forget, we're talking about 8 year olds here!  Make it fun for them as much as possible.

Next Tuesday, I hope every girl at the tryout has a fantastic day.  I hope they make it really hard for the evaluators to rank them all.  Of course, I'll be rooting for one little girl in particular to show what she's made of.

If anyone sees a nervous looking forty-one year old man pacing in the parking lot frantically chewing  gum, don't mind him.  He's just working through some issues.

Good luck G!  Just be yourself.  You've made your father very proud already.

Monday, April 10, 2017

No. Thank you!

It sounds counterintuitive to say thank you for making my wife cry.  So let me explain it in a much longer way.

Michelle was inspired to start the “Random Acts of Kindness” exercise every March 21 after she read about a similar idea practiced by a family who lost a loved one to leukemia.  The timing was just before World Down Syndrome Day, so she just took the ball and ran with it on a whim.  

After witnessing this annual event the last few years, two overarching themes seem to be going on here.  The first theme is really just a simple exercise in altruism.  The second theme, obviously, is spreading awareness for those impacted by Down Syndrome.  

When Michelle first spearheaded her movement within our immediate family of five, the adults and kids alike were all so struck by how fun it was to see the reaction of strangers or friends on the receiving end of a kind gesture.  It just felt so good to give for the sake of giving - whether it be homemade cookies or buying a cup of coffee.  We are not religious people but this was an excellent example for our kids to witness and learn from, which probably speaks to any spiritual affiliation.  

The experiment caught on quickly among our own relatives and close friends.  Everyone was more than eager to get in on the act.  A lifelong friend of Michelle’s graciously contributed her artistic talents to create the 3/21 cards featuring our little Gus man - and has continued to do so every year since.  As my family became more entrenched within our own community over the years, our neighbors and friends joined in on the fun too.  Eventually, families connected to our kids’ schools got involved.  Ridiculously generous and creative gestures came out of the woodwork - some shared on the Facebook page or word of mouth, and some performed quietly and anonymously.  

Emboldened by the enthusiasm showed by others, Michelle solicited and received overwhelming support from many many business in and around our town.  Examples include but are not limited to Staples, Village Toy Store, Stone Forge, Hilliards, Ultimate Pizza, Back Bay Bagel, White’s Bakery, and Mario’s Trattoria donating gift cards, merchandise, or other generous gifts with very little convincing needed.  

The momentum just seems every year to spread further and further as our network spreads even well beyond outside our familiar circle to other peoples’ own friends and families.  We are always pleasantly surprised to learn of random acts by total strangers using our Gus cards - especially in places far outside the 02356 zip code or 508 area code!  

I am not exaggerating when I say that a kind of tipping point occurred in this event once our local educators became involved.  Honestly, is it any surprise that elementary school teachers and paraprofessionals for kids with or without special needs turn out to be the greatest advocates and facilitators of the Random Acts of Kindness?  Without question, our family was touched most profoundly by the overwhelming enthusiasm demonstrated throughout the schools of our town and especially Gus’ school, Parkview.  

To be honest, the attention almost embarrassed me at times.  We are friends with lots of families who have a loved one with DS.  I didn’t want any of them to think we were claiming some kind of exclusive right to World DS Day.  At the same time, I know all of us celebrate 3/21 in different ways.  Some are low key.  Others go kind of crazy (ahem, my wife) and hope that a local news channel or reality TV star will help spread the word next year.  

This brings me to the most important - and sobering - theme of spreading awareness.  As unbearably painful as it is to fathom, I know that someday, somewhere, somehow - Gus will be taunted or ignored by another kid.  Probably many times.  He will not be invited to a birthday party.  An adult will assume based on his appearance that Gus is less competent than he truly is.  Someday, I will have to explain what the word “retard” means.  My heart is in my throat and tears are welling in my eyes as I type these words.

Unfortunately, the offender will have absolutely no idea how hard Gus and his community of family, friends, educators, and therapists work every single day on the most banal activities that we take for granted.  Pronouncing words clearly.  Writing his name.  Ditching pull-ups forever.  Just engaging another kid his age in a prolonged conversation.  These are all milestones we are pursuing at the moment.  And we are going to get there eventually.  

Fortunately, we will have the strength to encounter any rotten apple moments because we know people like you and your children are all out there who can step in if we aren’t there to protect our son.  The parents who teach their kids to embrace differences without judgment.   The friends and neighbors who are unafraid to speak up for Gus to protect him when necessary.  The educators who teach and lead by example with their messages of support and inclusion.  You all are our saving grace.  

Last month, our family received many wonderful gifts both big and small from a bunch of you people.  We are so blown away by your thoughtfulness and generosity.  It was heartwarming to say the least.

Over anything else, though, what we sincerely appreciate the most is knowing that you have Gus’ back and the backs of any homie with an extra chromie.  Your support is the greatest gift.  A most sincere thank you to everyone who paid it forward - even if you made Michelle cry.   

Sunday, November 20, 2016

I'm With You

A few weeks ago, my lovely wife took me to see Grouplove at the House of Blues.  It was a birthday present she gave me over the summer.  It was a thoughtful gift because this band has become a staple in my typical daily playlist.  

I hadn’t been to a show on Landsdowne Street since it was still known as Avalon.  Didn’t know what to expect as to the venue, but it definitely exceeded expectations.  Our tickets were for standing room on the ground floor I don’t know maybe 30 or 40 rows away from the stage, if seats actually existed down there .  

We grabbed beers (tall boy Harpoon for me - solid) and caught the tail end of the opening act.  Then we waited patiently with our fellow attendees.  They were mostly twentysomethings who interact with their friends by standing in packs while staring down at their smartphones, then briefly looking up to speak a sentence before returning their gaze downward to their devices - faces aglow in blue light.  By contrast, Shell and conversed using only our voices.  Our phones were safely stowed away in pockets on vibrate mode, just in case the babysitter needed to reach us.  

My excitement was building for lots of reasons.  Mostly, I just love this band.  In addition, though, Shell and I hadn’t been to a concert together since I think Ray Lamontagne back when she was preggo with Greta.  Plus, this was a date on a school night(!) if you can believe that, so that in and of itself was an aggressive move by two suburban parents floating in a sea of millennials.  

A young couple in front of us asked me to take their picture while we waited for the band to take the stage.  I was pretty sure I nailed the shot but then we saw them later taking about a dozen selfies or so and posting all of them to Instagram, which leads me to believe they weren’t particularly satisfied with my shot.  I think we saw the same couple fiercely frenching each other later on in the show, which may or may not have been streamed to Facebook Live.

Anyway, Grouplove released a new album recently, so I wasn’t sure what if any of the songs I would recognize once they started playing.  While I’m a fan, I’m not a superfan.  In this day and age where I literally haven’t bought an album or a song for years (sorry to all musicians) because of Youtube, Spotify, and Pandora, I admit I rarely even recall names of songs anymore.  I hear the music.  I like it.  I add it to a playlist.  But without that physical handling of a CD case, it’s rare that I commit anything other than the band name to memory.  

When the band ultimately took the stage and actually started to play, I was a blank canvas.  Down in my insides, I really hoped they’d play a few of my favorites, which were all familiar songs from prior years.  Still, it isn’t fair to have any expectations about what a band should play when they are on tour for a new album.  Understandably, they would be jazzed to play any new stuff live.    

When the first notes played, I was overcome by sensory overload - in a good way.  We were much closer to the musicians than I expected to be.  The stage design and lighting were really cool.  I felt myself getting locked in.  And they opened with a familiar song “I’m With You.”

My go-to head bob and mild shoulder shimmy kicked into gear thanks to a Pavlovian muscle memory response to good tunes.  It was all systems go from there.  I bopped around, I jumped up and down, and sang along enthusiastically and without self-consciousness.  I yelled my approval with applause at the end of every song.  

The set list was kind of like that perfect menu of tapas for my auditory appetite at that moment.  For the record:

As for the quality of the music, I thought Grouplove was superb.  Let’s be honest, as much as these musicians are artists, they are still doing a job to an extent.  On a given day, any one of us - artists or not - may find ourselves in a zone where we just don’t want to be doing our job in that moment.  To their credit, Grouplove made no impression other than being locked in for the ride.  
They sounded super tight.  As much as I love live performances precisely for those moments of imperfection, I can’t remember anything wonky or distracting.   

The band members are consummate rock stars, each with their own quirky “look” in clothes and hair and movement and style and sound.  I love bands that have men and women singing.  I love bands when the lead singer plays an instrument.  I love bands with keyboards.  I love bands with positive energy.  I love when bands play a cover of other songs that I like.  (We got a sweet cover of the Beasties’ “Sabotage” that night.)   Grouplove had it all.

I swear I’m not aiming for hyperbole here.  I just had such a fucking great time.  

I smiled.  I danced.  I sang along.  I escaped my life’s worries for a couple of hours.  If I was in any kind of funk before the show, I was out of that place afterwards.  What else could you ask for?  

And the best part was that I got to experience it with my best friend beside me.  We might not have played tonsil hockey during the encore, but holding hands was just as good in my book.  Next time, I’ll upload that image to our tumblr page.  

Friday, May 13, 2016

Hi Guys

No time to craft a balanced post with a coherent message, so I’m just going with the flow today.  Brain diarrhea.  Go...

Does the smell of yogurt ever make you want to gag?  Like you catch a scent of it and you dry heave for a second?  And yet it still tastes great.  But - that smell.  It’s like low tide, kinda.  Or entering a men’s bathroom in the old Boston Garden.  With the troth.  Or a kiddie cup filled with milk left behind in a hot minivan with the windows up.  Or the smell of bread baking in a Subway restaurant. What?  No?  Oh okay, me neither…

You know how in Lord of the Rings whomever held the ring got kind of cracked out and addicted to keeping it?  It is literally the only analogy I can think of to describe how I feel when I see a “Box Top” on food packaging.  Once I see that beautiful pink rectangle/pencil insignia, I immediately stop what I’m doing, locate the scissors, and cut it out in the hope that Mrs. Resca’s first grade class has a chance at winning an extra recess this year.  I think any sequel to "Fight Club" should have an opening scene with a support group for people who can’t restrain themselves from cutting Box Tops.  This is Jack’s metacarpal...

Best parts of my dinner out solo with the kids earlier tonight:

  1. Greta’s genuinely stoked reaction when she saw her friend eating with her family at the same restaurant - my selection of the establishment suddenly became validated;
  2. Gus eating a piece of pasta off of the floor from the same restaurant;
  3. Tilly bringing her purse that contained only a rectangular lego that she said was a cell phone covered in paper decorated by Greta - a cell phone cover, obvi;
  4. Tilly eating a piece of gum that fell from Greta’s bubble gum ice cream off of the floor from Daddy’s Dairy; and
  5. Gus telling the girls at Daddy’s Dairy “I love you” while blowing kisses as we left the joint...

I admit my cell phone voice volume is slightly above average compared to the typical phone talker.  There are a few explanations.  Sometimes I’m just very excited by the identity of my caller.  I like hearing from my buddies.  It makes me happy.  Part of this phenomenon is also due to my diminished hearing.  Years of head phone use is beginning to take a toll.  Also, I am a Teravainen.  Hollering is just normal communication.  Furthermore, I’m often dubious of the quality of my phone’s microphone.  I just want to make sure my caller on the other end of the line can hear me.  THE WIFE inevitably eye rolls/wide open eyes on this subject matter, but please disregahd her antics...

To buy us a few more minutes of sleep in the morning, THE WIFE and I let the kids melt their brains with an iPad until breakfast time.  I suppose our parents did kind of the same thing when we watched cartoons or the artist dude with the big fro’ who painted landscapes.  You know, on one of the seven television channels broadcasting at 6 a.m. on any given day.

So Greta can enter any search terms she wants on Google.  Gus knows his apps by icon.  Tilly has figured out the voice search option on Google.

No, we don’t have any controls activated on the account.  Yes, we know they could potentially scar themselves for life by clicking on the wrong link.  Yes, Youtube has a strange combination of “recommended videos for you” on our home page.  No, you’re right - we are horrible, reckless, and lazy parents…

So, over the last few months, I’ve discovered the girls tend to watch a lot of videos on a Youtube channel called “Disney Cars Toy Club” or as the kids call it “DCTC.”  (Yes, I feel elderly saying that last part.)  DCTC has a bunch of links to pick from but the two I see over their shoulders most often are scenarios where toys are used in pretend skits or egg surprises.  It is kind of a fuckin weird situation if you’re not expecting it.  Let me put it this way - I watch the videos just bracing for the part in the middle of the clip when something inappropriate occurs.  But, fortunately, that has not occurred.

One girl - actually a grown woman I think - is the most frequent narrator whose voice is very recognizable because of its high pitch and weird monotone.  I imagine she either smokes a ton of weed, or belonged to some kind of cult where toys weren’t allowed when she grew up.  (And by the way, I am 99.9% certain she makes a ton more dough than the Bank of Tera so high five to you, weird girl with the nice nails and eerie voice.)

In the toy skits, she’ll take say, Barbie and Skipper, who need to walk the dog but are interrupted by Ken along the way who wants to take them for a ride in his new convertible.  She speaks the voices of the toys and plays out some kind of a scene.  

In the egg surprises, the narrator opens chocolate eggs (or play-doh covered eggs) that contain a toy inside - like an Elsa figurine or a Shopkin - and provides commentary the whole time.  After the toy is revealed, the speaker reacts depending upon how rare the toy is that was located inside.  Yes.  That’s it’.  

And yet, the girls are absolutely riveted when this is on.  They do not hear a single word that I say to them.  It is the yin to THE WIFE’s Real Housewives/Dance Moms yang.  If a DCTC episode was on the iPad at the same time Kate Gosselin or a Duggar family member or Tori Spelling were on TV, I could walk around the house clad solely in Sorels and an oversized foam “Jets are # 1” finger on my hand and no one would say a word.

Anyways, I realized that Greta and Tilly now pretend play together often where they are acting as though they have their own DCTC channel and show.  They pretend that a camera is filming while they arrange dolls in a scene.  They provide the dialogue and improvise the plot.  The girls “open” the show with a “Hi Guys” and maybe a “welcome to our American Girl Doll Club channel.  We hope you leave a comment at the end of our video.”  It is awesome.

If you really want to make Greta’s day, please click on the following link:  Fast forward to the very end so the view counter clicks and it appears as though you watched the entire video - and I will be able to tell her that she had more than one view of her new video we made on Saturday.  It’s not exactly Terrence Malick a la The Thin Red Line cinematography but...

If you want to see one example of the many takes that go in the trash bin, check out this gem where Tills comes in halfway through and ruins Greta’s day - classic death stare that unfortunately gets somewhat cut off:  


As the kids become more adept at search engine optimization for locating online videos of choice, their tastes in music and videos have also become more refined.  All three are big Top 40 fans, which is clearly high end.  And all five of us Ts have eventually come around to become devout Beliebers.  I’ve managed to convince Tilly that it’s worthwhile to listen to Justin Beaver, even though he threw eggs at someone’s house.  (I have no idea where she heard about it but Tilly was seriously a bit crestfallen by that anecdote.)  Hearing her say “The Beeps” with her lisp just makes my day.

Anywho, I don’t know which video is our fave.  “Sorry (PURPOSE: The Movement) is fantastic for the dance moves.  I wish I could pull off just one of those gyrations but I’m confident a chiropractor would receive a house call.  “Where Are U Now” [sorry I don’t know how to put the umlauts over the u] is pretty cool for the visual effects.  

As for “What Do You Mean?”  This is totally age inappropriate, for any kid, I know.  But that’s what you get in exchange for sleeping an extra hour on a Saturday morning to make it to 7 a.m.  

So after having watched the video about ten times, the plot line suddenly began to show some holes from my vantage point.  (Yes, it took me that long before I actually questioned the narrative flaws.)  Now granted, this is kind of like breaking down “Point Break” or “Road House.”  You either just watch it and question nothing, or otherwise you find yourself asking “Wait, that makes no sense” every other minute.

Although the music video is only 5 minutes long, questions abound.  Let’s start at the beginning.

Time - 0:00 to 0:26.  Cue the rain.  Why?  Why did this conversation need to take place in a downpour with thunder and lightning?  Why does John Leguizamo need to have a spider tattoo on his hand?  Why doesn’t either Justin or John have either a rain coat or an umbrella?  And has anyone ever seen a wad of cash that thick before in real life?  Is that a poorly veiled reference to Justin’s manhood?  Am I analyzing this a little too deeply?  Yes.  Yes, I am.

Time - 0:27 to 2:01.  Is there any motel room in the world that has a pink neon light circumventing the room?  How much do actors get paid to appear in a music video?  Did Calvin Klein pay money to have product placement of their boxer briefs?  And yes, again, this is totally age inappropriate for a 4 year-old to watch.

Time - 2:02 to 2:49.  Kudos for the creepy masks.  The presidents’ masks in "Point Break" were also excellent choices.

Time - 2:50 to 3:25.  Did Justin Beaver do his own stunt here?  I imagine this would be kinda cool.  Haven’t seen this move since Martin Riggs in the first "Lethal Weapon."  

Time - 3:26 to 3:37.  Um, what exactly is 51 year-old John Leguizamo doing at this party?  Isn’t he the consummate creepy old guy in the midst of a mid-life crisis that no 20-something woman speaks to by attending this event?  And if we recall correctly, wasn’t it 3 o’clock when the original break-in/abduction occurred?  Are we convinced this many people are going to make the effort to attend the hot girl’s twisted surprise party at this late hour?

Time - 3:38 to 4:34.  Do you notice that the Beebs is on the skateboard for a few shots?  But only one shot shows him skating in front of the huge crowd of peeps.  The rest are with no one else on the half pipe. Just sayin.

Time - 4:35 to 4:36.  I originally believed that Justin totally wiped his nose with the same hand that he subsequently uses to high five a passing skater.  After watching this a few times, though, I realized I was wrong.  But I was watching! (And speaking of runny noses, what's the deal with Post Malone and his nasal drip in the "White Iverson" video? I digress.)

Time - 4:37 to end.  No comments.  Just kinda wishing I could be abducted like this for my 41st birthday.  Call me John Leguizamo.  Let’s make this happen...

And that’s a wrap.  My Saturday night at home solo with the kids is clearly an exciting one.  

“Hi guys!  We hope you enjoyed our American Girl Doll Channel and you leave a comment at the end of our video.”  

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Part III of III: Tilly, the Barbarian

I assume that somewhere in the Irish and Finnish blood that flows through Tilly’s veins, there are remnants of DNA from a Viking or two.  For fans of the show on the History Channel (a new season begins this week,) Tilly would probably be the love child of Lagertha and Rollo if they made a baby.  

On one hand, we have a hilarious, smart, endearing, unabashed, affectionate, and adorable little peanut.  She (supposedly) behaves at her twice a week school and gets along with her classmates.  She rarely has any reluctance to speak with grown ups or kids alike.  Her facial expressions and mannerisms are more like a seventeen year-old than a four year-old pre-schooler.  She thinks and moves quickly on her feet.  And she can make anyone laugh.  The Tills loves leopard prints, sequins, kitty cats, and most any outfit with some kind of flair or pizzazz.  Her taste is like a combination of Punky Brewster, Lady Gaga, and Cyndi Lauper.  

A trend we’ve noticed lately that Tilly has taken to is a self-appointed role as the nickname creator.  She is the only one I know who calls Greta, “Gret.”  Officially, Greta dislikes it but I think she kinda digs it deep down inside.  BFF Alysha is “Aleesh.”  BFF Dillan is “Dilly.”  I am Dadoo, which Gus has adopted and calls me now, and I love it when any of the kids use it.  Nana is Nanny occasionally.  And so on.

On the other hand, we have a child occasionally possessed by Lucifer.  Her stamina for over-the-top tantrums is actually kind of impressive.  On a bad day, Matilda has a hair trigger that activates the flip sesh.  In other words, practically nothing will set her off.  Not being able to wear a certain pair of pajamas because they’re in the washing machine.  Not being allowed to go outdoors in the winter sans pants.  Not being allowed to watch a show because it’s dinner time.  No dessert.  Basically, if she just hears the word “no.”

Whatever the cause, the fuse gets lit at the initial confrontation.  She is indignant at being denied what she wants.  She pleads that we reconsider.  The more we dig in, the more inflamed she becomes.  Voices are raised.  Feet are stomped.   Sometimes THE WIFE and I maintain our cool.  Sometimes, well, we kind of lose our fucking heads too.  Next thing you know, voices are at a holler pitch.  Doors are slammed.  Ridiculous threats are issued on both sides.  (“I am going to leave this family!”  “Fine, go ahead!  Here’s some bus fare.”  Etc.)

The true sign of a complete meltdown is this crazy move that Tilly does where she is lying on the floor and basically executes what looks like a jack knife dive as she lies on her side.  Except she does it at pace that makes her look like someone trying to do ab crunches in a crossfit competition.  Or maybe a deleted scene from “The Exorcist.”  It’s weird and funny and disturbing all at the same time.

Oh Tilly.  She drives THE WIFE and me to our absolute limit and further.  I’m ashamed at how badly I can bark back at her when she has pierced my (albeit thin) layer of calm patience.  She possesses a degree of fiery insanity that I’ve never observed in another child.

And yet, when you get the happy and behaved version of Till-Tills, all you want to do is hold her in your arms to cuddle and kiss and squeeze.  She is like a pet spider monkey who can scramble over any piece of furniture to plop herself into a lap.  She also has an uncanny ability to spill any size drink no matter how many warnings you give.  I swear she could find a way to spill one of those coffee mugs for boats that are like empty upside down flood light bulbs.

I think Matilda is yet another example of how youngest siblings get the shaft in the parental effort department.  At six months old, Greta ate organic, free range, humanely raised, antibiotic-free baby carrots washed in imported Icelandic water that was hand ground into pulp and mixed with almond milk.  As a snack.  Meanwhile, Tilly was told that if she was hungry, she could go into the kitchen to pour herself some stale Fruit Loops and borderline spoiled chocolate milk.  

We have thousands of photos of Greta with first steps and first words recorded forever.  Hundreds of photos of Gus.  And maybe a few dozen of Tills.

Tilly’s crib had all of the residual bite marks of Greta and Gus-man on the gate.  She gets Greta’s hand-me-down clothes with the pre-existing stains.  Hell, this post is even a month later than the ones about her brother and sister.  As a result of the neglect, it’s easy to see how we as parents contribute to her projecting an already loud voice louder, her already big personality bigger.  

The other night, I was sitting on my bed reading the computer with my headphones on for tunes.  Tilly scaled her way into the bed and cozied up right beside me.  She asked me with her little lispy voice what I was doing as she pulled one of the phones off of my ear and onto hers.  Then she instructed me to play some Katy Perry.  Fearing the Viking and loving my cuddlebug, I queued up the “Roar” video for the umpteenth time in the last six months and just enjoyed the moment.  

I suppose this is the part of the story where I just sigh and shrug my shoulders with a smile.  My baby is one of a kind, that’s for sure.  I wouldn’t trade her for the world.  I think.  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The World According to Gus

Part II of III

The five and a half year-old Gussy loves his routines.  Here is a typical day for the little man.

Almost always the first kid to wake up, Gus strolls casually into his parents’ room on a quest to locate the iPad.  With the objective accomplished, he returns to his room and closes the door.  That is a detail that cannot be left out.  He has a thing about keeping his bedroom door closed.  If someone leaves it open, he sighs, stops what he’s doing, gets up, and closes the door.  Then he returns to his iPad.

Every morning, Gus eats a bowl of dry cheerios and some mini-chocolate chip muffins.  And I mean, every morning.  Usually we get a banana and a smoothie in him as well but not always.  Two Flintstones’ vitamins go down without a fight.  As O’s drop and bounce haphazardly on the table, chair, and floor, he demands a book to be read during breakfast - often leaving the table to bring one over and jam it into your face for emphasis.

Gus has a slight obsession with books.  And he always wants to read six of them for some reason.  I don’t know why but that’s his magic number.  Gerald and Piggie are his go-to.  Pete the Cat is acceptable.  “M is for Metal” still rocks his world.  (Thank you Goldberg-Kelly family.)  He would be pretty much content to have a book read to him for an entire day if someone was willing to indulge him.

After breakfast come the clothes.  He pretty much rejects any pants nowadays that aren’t sweats or warm-ups.  (Dressing by himself is still kind of a chore but we practice every night with PJ’s.)  If it’s a school day, he inevitably complains.  And if it’s a really bad day, he spaghetti leg squats onto the floor and flounders around to thwart being handled.  

Gus is still wearing a pull-up but 99% of the time it’s only for a pee.  I’d take that option over the alternative any day of the week and twice on Sundays.  

His speech is improving every day, too.  There are occasional moments when Gus will go on an unprompted tangent such as … anything having to do with riding in my car.  (He absolutely loves cruising in the Malibubonic with the windows down and the radio on.)  He will launch into a twenty question deposition asking “ah we taking Daddy’s cah?” and “where ah we goin?”  (The Mass. accent seems to be rooting.)  When he goes on rolls like this, THE WIFE and I just look at each other and grin with unspoken pride.  Granted, those outside of his inner posse often struggle to understand what Gus says without a “translator” nearby but honestly, he’s getting there bit by bit every single day.

So eventually, one of us somehow gets Gus onto the “bus” (technically, it’s a tricked out van) with Miss Vera (the sweetest lady in Easton) when she arrives around 8.  We chat it up with the other kiddos while we buckle Gus’ seat belt.  After we exit, all family members present do this thing we call the “deet-dee-dee-deet” by sticking our thumbs in our ears and making antlers with our hands.  We nod our heads side to side and say “deet-dee-dee-deet” over and over again until the bus pulls away.  Most of the kids on the bus do it in return like a salute goodbye.  Then we blow kisses and flash “I love you” in sign language.  As McGoo-corny-Disney movie-Hallmark movie-American Girl movie-hoaky as it may sound to the curmudgeon, it’s one of the best parts of the day in my book.

(Then, Gus goes to school for six hours and we have no clue what the hell happens.  But that’s another blog for another day.)

Mr. Nick (great dude) drops off Gus around 2.  G-man rarely volunteers anything about the day’s events.  He just comes in on a mission to play with whomever is home or watch a show (usually Yo Gabba Gabba or Super Why.)  He strips off his neon New Balance kicks immediately (he much rather prefers his Crocs) and marches into the living room to roll around in weird positions on the couch cushions.  If he had a butler, he’d ring a bell for Goldfish.  And milk.  Please.  (He is very polite.)  
At dinner, Gus will eat pasta and cucumbers.  And pretty much nothing else.  And when he eats his cucumber, our Anthony Bourdain only eats the inner seedy flesh.  The uneaten outer portions sit on the plate like the remnants of a watermelon rind complete with bite marks.  

On good nights, we have a post-dinner dance party in the kitchen.  Gus’ favorite song hands down is “Honey I’m Good” by Andy Grammer.  He literally gets bullshit when anyone else tries to sing because it’s his song.  

G-man’s patented dance move is a rocking side to side bounce that alternates one foot in the air while patting his arms on his thighs.  Gus also has a little kick move that busts out every once in a while when he’s fired up.  We’ve recently started expanding on the choreography, so stay tuned for updates on his candidacy for “So You Think You Can Dance.”  

Next comes tubby time.  Although it’s getting tight, we still try to bathe all three of the kids at once.  They generally fight within two minutes of entry if they’re not already fighting about something.  And all of them are equally to blame.  Then brushing of teeth.  Then reading of books.

In addition to the standing order that we read six books, the reading must take place in mom’s and dad’s bed.  Once done, finally, he’s off to bed.  However, Gus’ particularities don’t end there.

First of all, Gus insists on his Monsters, Inc. sheets like a celebrity insists upon 5000-count Egyptian cotton linens.  And when he finally lays his head down on the pillow, Sully and Mike have to be right side up facing him - not Squishy and Terry/Terri who are on the other side.  If I forget to turn on his sound machine or pull down his shade, Gus will grunt with indignation and beckon me back to take care of business.  Then.  Finally.  It’s lots of kisses and squeezes, I love you’s, and the light is off.


Every once in a while, Gus and I will be out and about somewhere when we encounter a small child with his or her mom or dad.  That child, innocent as can be, might stare at Gus with wonder.  The child knows that something seems a bit different about Gus.  Some say nothing and move on, or they may say “His eyes look funny,” or something else totally innocuous and honest.  The poor mother or father nervously smiles or laughs and attempts to distract the child to avoid any awkwardness.  

Let me say right away that I totally get it.  Our feelings are not hurt whatsoever.  If I had no child with DS, I would probably react the exact same way.  I would have no idea what the right thing to do or say in that situation is either.  Just know that from our family to yours: it’s cool.  Your child is just calling it like it is.

Gus is different because he is as unique as any other kid in the universe, but also because he has DS, and also because he loves “Honey, I’m good” and cucumbers.  He is a little love but he’s not above reproach.  If he misbehaves - or makes a bad choice as we like to say around here - then he needs to be disciplined accordingly.  

There are very compassionate and caring people out there that blindly love people with DS because they are “special” or some other synonym.  Those folks are not wrong and we absolutely love that supporters like them are out there.  We welcome their encouragement without reservation and thank them for watching our backs.

But here’s the thing.  As parents, we want Gus to continue winning people over with his charisma, sense of humor, sweetness, affection, quirks, and everything else that is wonderful about him.   However, we don’t want him to get a free pass just because he has Down’s.  Make him earn your love.

Don’t get me wrong.  We love all our homies with extra chromies no doubt.  But we love anyone who is our family’s homey with or without extra chromies period.  

I hate to get all philosophical or lecture mode on you, dear reader.  Especially on a day when peeps might be going to church.  So, let me steer us back to where we started.  Andy Grammar - cue the music for our re-mix:

“Oh no, honey we’re good.  Gus loves your jam.  And he rocks it all the time.  He’s.  Got.  A family at home.  Who loves him a lot.  And..”

Sorry Gus just grabbed the mike and he’s running away with it.  We’ll catch up with you next time!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Greta, the Thinker

Hi world!  We have a lot of catching up to do.  I promised a new installment before Tilly's birthday.  It's long overdue.  So here comes part I of III below.

After we get you up to speed on my peanuts, I'm hoping to post on a more frequent basis.  No guarantees, but just know that I'm trying.


My parents had a small statue of Rodin’s Le Penseur in the house when I was growing up.  I never gave it much attention until an art history class in college made me realize what it was.  Anyway, I failed to give it further thought (no pun intended) until recently while observing Miss Greta Jane.  

While she seems to be flourishing in school (she loves reading, writing, and art in particular,) the “thinker” side of Greta that I love is not necessarily related solely to academics.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m so proud that learning is fun for her and seems to be going well.  But there is another side to Greta’s pensive nature that I appreciate even more.

Analysis.  Greta can sit and mull over a topic, digesting it.  Marinating it.  Without any urgency.  It might be a few minutes, or it might be a few days.  Once the thought has fermented, she volunteers an opinion that is insightful, thoughtful, and smart.  I would smile and laugh out of love but that doesn’t go over very well.  (More on that below.)  In any event, her knack for reflection makes me excited for the potential depths of our future conversations to come.  I just marvel at how her brain works.

For example, a few weeks back I decided to try out a church in town.  I brought her along for the ride.  We both hated it.  But at least we tried.  Anyways, while we were driving she asked me some questions about God.  I was super stoked already because these are the kinds of parent-child conversations that get my juices flowing.  So we’re going back and forth until we encounter a pause.  A moment or two later, G suddenly pipes up.  “So God is kinda like Santa Claus?”  I wanted to jam on the brakes and hug her, I was so proud.  

Second, and probably even more important, Greta has a keen sense of vibe.  Reading people or even a room.  Actually, let me rephrase on the people part.  She doesn’t trust adults implicitly.  With kids, she seems to want to play with anyone near her age.  Great kids.  Bratty kids.  Nice kids.  Shy kids.  Grumpy kids.  Doesn’t really matter.  (I suppose that’s fine for now, but come high school, I obviously hope she stays away from d-bags and riff raff.)  But as for adults, you need to earn her comfort level first.  If you give her bad juju, Greta keeps you at an arm’s length.  If she feels the love, you know it.  She will seek your engagement in a conversation or game or art project or impromptu dance performance, etc.

As for a room’s vibe, our recent trip to Edaville is illustrative.  We had recently discussed the issue of not talking to strangers because of a failed abduction in our town.  We were taking a break in a cafeteria.  Two older guys were sitting next to us without any kids.  I didn’t take much notice of them.  Eventually, they left.  Greta mentioned how the guys seemed suspicious to her.  When I asked why, she said something like “well, two people tried to steal a kid in Easton and those were two guys at a kid park without any kids.”  Again, her brain just blows me away.

On the flip side - and I don’t mean this as an insult - she is very sensitive.  Very reminiscent of her mother.  And perhaps a bit of her father too.  Sensitivity can be a wonderful strength.  But it can also be a cruel weakness.  And this is where I start to live in fear of Greta’s transition from young child to elementary school kid.  

Here’s what I mean.  When we sit at the dinner table talking about her day, we spend very little time on ABCs or arithmetic.  Instead, the focus is almost exclusively on how a girl didn’t want to sit next to her on the bus, or how another girl ignored her at recess, or how someone wasn’t filling her bucket.  She cried at dinner a few weeks ago because her name was mentioned on the announcements but none of her friends mentioned it to her during the day.  (I swear I’ve eavesdropped on some version of this same conversation during one of THE WIFE’s telephone chats with a girlfriend.)

When these anecdotes first arose, my instinct was to say “Oh that’s too bad” and move on.  But THE WIFE - to her credit - will instantly go into therapist mode and engage in a half-hour long exercise discussing how the experience made Gigi feel.  That’s where I tune out Spaceman Spiff-style and go into Homer Simpson/singing songs inside my head mode while everyone talks.

These new scenarios scare the shit out of me because: 1) Greta has a problem; 2) it pains me to see my beautiful child unhappy or sad; 3) I am only good at proposing solutions to problems; 4) I have about a 20-second tolerance for listening to someone express their feelings about a problem rather than focusing on a solution; 5) my proposed solution in this case is “ignore her and you will find that she comes around later”; and 6) Greta hates my proposed solution.  Therefore, I am useless.  AND WE’RE ONLY TALKING ABOUT FIRST GRADE!  

What kind of complex problem will Greta disclose when she is 13 years old?  What about 17 years old?  I don’t even know how to operate Snapchat.  I’ve never seen Tinder.  I still have a hotmail e-mail address for Christ’s sake.  I’m already feeling unqualified to maintain dad credentials.  

The other day Greta told me she was looking for her “fuggs.”  I said “What are fuggs?”  She said, “Fake uggs.”  How the hell does she know what real uggs are or not?  Fortunately, she seemed fine with the knockoffs but what happens when only the name brands will do?  Not to mention the need to get a third job at that point, the prospect of a future “Mean Girls” situation involving clothes or body image makes me cringe even more.

Pause.  Deep breath.  Smell the roses.  Chill.  Relax.  Okay.  Namaste.

I’m treasuring how when Greta walks through the house, she can’t go more than 20 feet without practicing a cartwheel or a dancing twirl or the move when she puts both arms on a surface, leans forward, and kicks her legs behind her.  She sings without self-consciousness.  Hell, she still feels comfortable enough to walk around the house naked in front of her family.  That reminds me she is still a little girl.  But the transition to bigger kid is already upon us.  And I really am so excited to be along for her ride.  Even if I have to ask her to explain how Uber works.  

At least going out for ice cream still works as a plan B to make her feel better.  I have to enjoy that as a solution while it still lasts!