Riding in Cars with Budding Adults

4 10 2016

identity-crisis-300x300

My 8th grade daughter was talking with me tonight in the car. It seems like the car rides are when the best conversations with my kids happen. That’s part of the reason I never really mind schlepping them from one place to another (though that’s my secret).

She asked me if, when I was in school, I ever had any friends that I thought might be gay. I said yes. I didn’t ask her why because it seemed like a pretty transparent question.

We talked a bit more about it, maybe for 5 to 10 minutes with zero uncomfortableness. I told her how different it is now than when I was in school if you are different – not necessarily easier but definitely it seems a bit more acceptable, at least where we live.

Luckily, for me, she is not a boy crazy 8th grade girl. Her friends are over the house right now as I write this playing Adele on the piano and planning a silly dance routine to videotape with their iPhones. I love that this is her experience right now and am very grateful for it.

I didn’t press our conversation any further than she wanted to take it at the time, (something I learned from first experiencing the nuances of teenage-parent relations from her older brother). However, later in the evening, I walked upstairs to her room before her friends got here and told her that I just want her to know that I don’t care who she ends up loving as long as she is happy and a good person.

It was sort of funny because she knew I would do that. She confided she had a crush on a boy a year ago or so but, to use her words, “I have no idea what I’m going to be like.” That is one of the greatest gifts a dad could hear – the freedom your own child expresses when facing her future – a moment free from the never-ending mound of expectations that accompany so many children transitioning into young adulthood.

This is something I am learning to give myself, finally, and if, decades earlier than for me, I can help make my kids think that their sense of self is not something that is given but rather is a given, then I can forgive myself most of the many, many mess-ups I make along the way.

A world of people who feel good about themselves would be a much different place than the one we live in today.

Until next time,

Marc





I’m back (and squishier than before)

24 09 2016
sleeping-woman

Teen car- sleeping was not as blissful as this but this rendition will have to do.

I haven’t written in a while.

I think about it every single day – and more than once.

There are a few reasons why this is so but none of them really matter. The best way I can describe the hiatus is similar to describing that closet or drawer that has been on your To Do list to “get to one of these days” that is so cluttered that you don’t know where to start. Moreover, it’s not just cluttered with junk – you know, all those annoying gift bag, crappy toys your kids come home with from every birthday party or even all those extra samples that come in the mail. Nope, this is a drawer or closet (or in my case, what feels like a compound) full of things that all hold such profound and deep emotions that to start to write about them is way too hard. It is much easier to peruse Facebook or Twitter and make snide, humorous comments until the bottle of wine is empty, the kids are in bed and you convince yourself that you were just “too swamped” to get to what you really want to do – write. (Hypothetically speaking, of course.)

(Deep sigh.) There, that feels better.

Not really.

Can I offer anyone a glass of a fine $9 2015 Tempranillo? Anyone? Just me?

So, today, on my car ride back from hiking with the kids and some family friends, I committed myself to writing – wherever it may go. I have a ton of topics – everything from Buddhism to relationships to finally running with no shirt on. (I know – whoa! Shit getting real, now.)

I think I’ll just start with today because as I am learning – painfully – today is really all that we ever have. Period.

The weather was absolutely beautiful and after leaving the mountain for a 90 minute drive back home with the kids, I finally felt a certain sense of peace that was literally the complete opposite of what I have been feeling for a while, despite a seriously increased commitment to meditation.

I looked over at my daughter in the passenger seat, earbuds in, head achingly dangling forward as to not even be able to envision an actual attached neck and completely passed out with the sun dancing on her lashes just like the day she was born. My son, taller than me now (not a hard objective, actually), was in the fetal position taking over the back seat in a sound slumber himself.

Both teenagers now, observing them asleep is the closest I can still come to some sort of God. I waited for it for a long time when I was younger. It came. And now, I am a witness to its slow passage. On the radio – “New Slang” by the Shins was playing. “I’m looking in on the good life I might be doomed never to find. Without a trust or flaming fields am I too dumb to refine?”

There I was – just me and my kids. I would have done anything to stay in that car with them on a sunny highway forever. I just started crying. I couldn’t help it. I’ve been crying a lot lately. For passages. For hope. For anything that helps open up blockages that keep the spirit from flowing. It sucks.

It’s hard for me to love because it really starts with oneself. This is both a fact and a confession – both embarrassing and true at once. For me, my kids are the only way I can tap into that love because I am really nothing more than a witness so it is completely pure. From their birth, the fact that their souls journeyed to me somehow is overwhelming. I have always said that they chose me somehow. It’s hard to explain but it was in their gaze toward me the moment they were born. There was a knowing there that was overwhelming, intimidating, and definitive, all at once. I can picture it clearly to this very moment.

This is not an endorsement for having children or for a belief in reincarnation. It is simply an acknowledgement that within each of us lies the ability to be cracked open a bit more regardless of whether we may consciously or unconsciously be willing to be an active participant. It is scary, sometimes immobilizing and absolutely necessary.

Luckily, I had Waze on to direct me on my way back and before I welled up too much, thereby restricting my vision, I heard a voice that alerted me: “Car stopped on shoulder”. I’m guessing that driver was having a moment, too.

Or that’s at least what I told myself.

Until next time (and yes, there will be a next time),

Marc

 

 

 

 





Feelings (whoa, whoa, whoa Feelings)

4 04 2016
feelings

“Feelings…nothing more than feelings.”

Ok – that title is definitely showing my age (again) but as my son would say, “that’s the deal, yo”.

My son had a friend over tonight and we all had dinner together – me, him and his friend and my daughter. I sat back and listened to them just talk, like normal teens do and I physically felt this tingling rush through my body. It’s the same thing that happens when my kids forget I’m in the car with them and they just are yakking away, in the moment. Or we are on a hike or canoeing – just “being”.

Every time, since they were babies, that I witness my kids just being themselves and interacting with close friends and family, it makes me so grateful to be alive at this very moment. There is nothing that could compare for me because it is pure love. That is what love really is – when you are witnessing those you would die for just being in the moment and embracing the fleeting nature of it all.

I wish I could explain this without sounding hokey or like one of those “new agey” sensitive, ponytail types. I think why it is so profound with kids – mine and those of friends and family I am close with – is that I have this humbling experience of witnessing the development of a whole person. This is something that is remarkable.

It comes during times of profound challenge, too; the group chat that throws your daughter into a tizzy, the bout of intense sadness that overcomes your son for no reason; the realization that you, as a parent, a friend, an extension of someone else, are without answers, helpless and still.

It is all a gift. Each and every second – good or bad. That is the thing that requires pause – to take it in and just be with it and feel it without definition. That is, in the beginning, and I suppose at the end, the most simple and true definition of life and of soul. When those moments arise – and they are few and far between, I am overcome with gratitude.

I am guessing it is easier to be a woman and discuss these types of things but I truly believe that feeling is not an emotion that is particularly aligned with one gender over the other. Just as women still have yet to achieve equality in pay and work opportunities, men have yet to achieve equality when it comes to acceptance in those fundamental and intense emotions that make us human.

That is of no consequence to me. I am just thankful for the good and the bad. The ability, self-acceptance and non-judgement associated with simply feeling is more than worth the struggle of feeling self conscious, embarrassed or ashamed.

A life without feeling is no life at all.

Until next time,

Marc





Depression: the Reason vs the Lesson

29 03 2016

You-Are-Not-Powerless

When my kids aren’t with me, I try to stay as connected to them as possible. I find funny videos or stories and text them links. Or try to remember what type of fruit snacks my daughter likes and shoot her a quick message. (It’s Kellogs, by the way – talk about brand loyalty). These things help me, a little, but as I have told only a few people, I fall into a depression during extended periods of not seeing them.

It feels like I remember feeling as an adolescent – the irritable feeling that there is a heightened sensitivity of some chemical that is coursing through my blood stream. It feels like a low grade sunburn – but from the inside. That’s the only way I can describe it.

For a while, I thwarted ideas that this was depression because it seemed so episodic and also, I was sensitive to my tiny, insignificant plight being a potential affront to those who suffer, truly suffer, from this disposition. But after this past week, there could be no denying it. Last week, I spent a good 3 days just telling myself, at every opportunity I could get, to just “be with the feeling” and “just get through it”. As it stands, I am with my kids now and it is the first time that I have felt like writing anything down in a coherent fashion.

I had tried journaling over and over again the past few days. Everything I wrote just sent me into a further state of disgust. I couldn’t articulate anything in a way that I thought could possibly be understood, let alone revered as some desperate, pathetic diatribe that no one would give two craps about. (Yes, that is the American Psychological Association approved metric for level of depression – the amount of craps others may give to your cause.)

I was in NYC for a couple days last week and at one point, went to a bar, alone, to sit down with my laptop, have a pint and try to describe how I was feeling, hoping that somehow I would not feel like crawling out of my skin. My goal was to write some amazing blog post about what depression feel likes, smells like, tastes like, etc. Oh, it was going to be both artsy and profound and garner me with a million likes and even a guest spot on Huff Po. Instead, I couldn’t make it through the first sentence and after getting a text message from a friend about going to an open mic, downed what was left of my Brooklyn Lager and got on the closest subway I could find to downtown.

The thing is that I have this thing where I am always “trying to keep myself honest” – you know, waiting for someone I respect to tell me I belong on the comedy circuit or a peer I respect to tell me I am a good marketer or writer or a psychologist to tell me that I do “have anxiety or depression”, whatever that is. I don’t need any of those. What I really need to do is just listen to myself. I don’t have to keep myself honest if I am honest…with myself. Having someone validate that I am having a tough time is like asking someone at the Hair Cuttery to officially designate my hair as “curly and unruly”. It just is.

I am anxious because I can tell that something has shifted and not necessarily for the better. I can tell that I am about to enter into a period that will not be easy but can be transformative if I am willing to take it day by day, hour by hour and breath by breath. I have a whole different (and growing) skill set to cope now that I did not have before and really, what other choice is there? I have to believe that I am here and at this point in this journey not necessarily for a reason but at least for a lesson. The two can be very different things. I can be passive about reason but with a lesson? Not so much. It’s up to me now.

Until next time,

Marc





Lessons from a Soup Kitchen

12 02 2016

soupkitchen

It’s like chicken soup (kitchen) for the soul.

This week, I took my son and a friend to an area soup kitchen to do some volunteer work after school. It is important to me to expose my kids to not only the “have-nots” but also somehow reinforce the notion of service to others. In doing so, it becomes clear who really are the “have-nots” sometimes – and it’s not always on the side of the serving counter you might expect.

In our custom-tailored world of playlists, Instagram accounts and celebration of all things “unique”, we can easily lose sight of community. It is, after all, easier and quicker to connect with someone 3,000 miles away through the Internet, than a minute walk next door.

Volunteering at the soup kitchen was as much a lesson for me as it was for the kids, probably more.

  1. Don’t pity someone because of their circumstances . So, here we were, with a group of about 10 other volunteers, serving meals to people who came in, sat down at cafeteria style tables and patiently waited for a solid meal. Some were entire families, some were alone and others seemed to be familiar with each other. Like any other meal you might be used to, some tables were infused with laughter, smiles and banter. Others, not so much. I had to challenge my own notions and accept the fact that the tenor of one’s disposition does not lie within their wallet but within their soul.
  2. This generation is not any more selfish than any one before it, and perhaps no more altruistic, either. They are just like any other. If you believed everything you read on Facebook, heard on CNN and worried about with other adults, you may be convinced that the opportunity for our civilization to emerge as one in which we look out for each other, embrace a sense of community with pride and put our short-term goals aside for future generations (at least sometimes) is all but lost. However, in witnessing my son, his friend and the other younger set at the soup kitchen, this simply isn’t true. In fact, I don’t know that their participation – with each other or toward the constituency that was being served – was really any different than it would have been for me during high school or my parents before me. Our struggle is not always borne out of the convention that the past generation screwed it all up and the next must fix it. Let’s be honest – as we age, the real struggles of every day take precedent front and center over more collective based pursuits and goals. It’s just the way it is. It is us, the adults, that have to make a change. If our kids (the collective “our”) witness adults exhibiting the types of behaviors and commitments to those other than within our limited comfort zone, it will catch on. 
  3. People make mistakes. It’s not intentional and it’s always good to have a sense of humor. When it was time to leave the soup kitchen, the kids were cleaning up while I headed to the front of the soup kitchen to wait for them. One of the guys who worked there saw me and directed me to leave through the side door. I obliged, not completely understanding why. As I headed there, where others were leaving, my son and his friend headed over to me. Seeing this, the guy who worked there, looked at me and said “oh…sorry…you can go out the front.” In other words, he thought I was a soup kitchen patron and not a volunteer. Mind you, my hair is longer, I have a beard, my wholly jeans are from like 1996. I get it. It’s pretty funny. We both looked each other and without saying anything, we both knew exactly what happened. It may be the first time my son actually thought I was cool!

Life is a journey for all of us but we have to be willing to open up the entire map (or scroll down the GPS to keep it relevant). If we keep it rolled up (or don’t scroll down) so we can only see one part of the trip, we may stay comfortable but boy, do we ever miss out. Embrace the messiness, the discomfort, the embarrassment, the ugliness and the fear and there is so much more to enjoy.

Until next time,

Marc





The Last Time

11 01 2016
PATRICIA HEATON, CHARLIE MCDERMOTT, ATTICUS SHAFFER, EDEN SHER, NEIL FLYNN

I’m looking to also downsize to a small parcel of land with just a couch.

My daughter and I were catching up on the two shows we watch together – Modern Family and The Middle, interspersed with football watching with my son and then a familial viewing of Law and Order (because nothing says bedtime on a Sunday evening like procrastinating with a good homicide).

In the episode of The Middle, the mother, Frankie, has somewhat of a meltdown when her youngest teenage son, Brick, comes back from a shopping expedition with a friend, having bought pants – all on his own. Regardless of the fact that she never enjoyed shopping with him in the first place, this incident sets off a cascade of things that she realizes she will never do with her children again. In a moment of weepitude (yes, I made up that word), she tries explaining to her husband, Mike, that if she had known of all the last times she did things with her kids, she would have paid more attention.

This is a comedy series but the point is well taken. It is so important to focus on new beginnings, big and small, but we rarely talk about the last times. I tend to think in these terms sometimes. For instance, after years and hundreds of baths with my kids, when was the last one? Was there a clear exit strategy to celebrate the movement from bath to shower? Had I known, should there have been? Or when was the last time that I really lay with my kids in bed? I used to do this all the time, for anywhere between 10 to 20 minutes at a pop. Truth is, I could probably still sneak it in every now and then rather than pray that I can even stay up as late as they do half the time at this point.

Today is the youngest you will ever be. You have probably heard that before. This is just a nicer way of saying “this is the last time you are going to be this age, have this day, live this moment, be in this present.” It’s true. There are slew of last times waiting for us, some knowingly and happily (last time I will have to pay a mortgage bill? yeah – I’ll celebrate that one) and most unknowing to us (I don’t want to think about the last time I get to eat dinner on a regular basis with the offspring).

It’s too much to live hour by hour thinking of how to be in what can be a “last time”. It’s not too much, however, to revel in the simplicity and gratitude for what is this time – this time that you sit down to dinner, this time you get to be with that long-distance friend, this time that you get to walk in ridiculously warm weather in January or this time that you get to live with what may seem mundane today but an unreachable longing tomorrow.

Be thankful that there will always be a last time, without which there would be no first times.

Until next time,

Marc





Open Heart (Surgery)

10 01 2016
download
I am trying to open my heart to the fact that this is a schmaltzy image.

My mother had open heart surgery this past week. Nothing snaps you out of the self pity associated with job uncertainty, divorce, financial instability and overall restlessness like sitting 175 miles away in your home while you know the person who gave birth to you is on a ventilator while someone rewires her heart.

My kids and I just returned from visiting her (and my dad) and there were some key takeaways (sorry – that was so disgustingly corporate) – there were some important messages (that’s better) that I felt compelled to write down and share:

  1. Sometimes you have to sweat the small stuff. When I was visiting my parents with my kids just after Christmas – my sister was also there with her family and for all the articles and morning talk shows that insist upon the importance of having those “difficult conversations with your aging parents”, it never happened. Certainly, with the knowledge that my mom’s surgery was essentially a week away, that was not the best time but it wasn’t going to happen anyway. Instead, we played board games, got annoyed by incessant calls to eat more junk food and dealt with familial familiarities, good and bad, that would be of inconsequence to most people (yes, apparently it does matter who takes what food home with them and how much). This is as small as it gets but you know what? It is exactly the type of diversion that helps get through times when the gravity of the situation just seems too great to bear. That’s why I think sometimes (and only sometimes), sweating the small stuff isn’t such a bad idea.
  2. We need doctors. I, for one, have had many dealings with arrogant, self-centered, “cry me a river/claim poverty” U.S. physicians who have lost both their empathy and their perspective but…there are many, many physicians who are saving lives, every single damn day. I don’t give a shit about a single doctor who is interested in making some 50 year-old rich, entitled socialite look 30, but for every single doctor helping with cardiovascular disease, the onslaught of neurological-based diseases and children, etc. – thank you, thank you, thank you.
  3. I am a series of computer programs in dire need of software upgrades. I have written before about the scripts we carry around with us and the self-talk that we do and impacts us, either for better or for worse. As I took a shower in my childhood home, it occurred to me after cleaning it out, that there are tons of rituals I do that have been embedded in me for decades that are in need of a little mindfulness. Let me explain briefly. Since I can remember, the last person who took a shower had to clean out the tub and walls. I have always followed the same pattern: faucet, shelf, top half sides, bottom half sides, little stool, left glass door, right glass door and the shower bottom – in that order – since I ever even had a reason to take long showers (which is code for “a long time ago”).  I did it again this morning (the cleaning, not the long shower) and realized that I have tons of these rituals – some physical, some mental, that I never change. How I react after taking a shower in my parents’ house is one thing but what about how I react after being dismissed in a social situation? My thoughts follow a similar pattern every time – and it’s not good.
  4. Friendship is the #1 most vital component to a sustainable marriage. My mother can give my father a hard time. My father can selectively hear and not hear what my mother has to say. But they are friends, tried and true. It was never more apparent than during our visit this weekend. They respect and love each other in a way that transcends (or is exclusive of) romantic love and at least, in older age, seems to be the vital ingredient to a meaningful marriage (or partnership).
  5. I am so thankful for my kids. We were in the hospital for 6 hours and they never complained once. Mind you – they are on the verge of being 15 and 13. 6 hours with their dad and grandparents – in a hospital – on a Saturday – can seem like an eternity. And they were great. There were cell phones and untied shoes but there was also a tremendous respect and love. I am a lucky dude.
  6. Trump, ISIS, my job situation, Kardashians, cat videos, who got a promotion, who is headlining – they will all go away. Every single second focused on the irrelevant and stupid is a second wasted on the relevant and important. Every damned, single second.

My mother has a ways to go in her recovery. The good news is that her cardiac vitals are very good and if she can take the long-term view, I really think everything will be for the better. It is hard to see your parents age, for both the knowledge of what no one wants to talk about and the acknowledgement of one’s own aging and mortality. But it makes one so thankful for the days that do exist where we have to bite our tongue, sweat the small stuff and think about opening our own hearts a little more, which is a lot tougher sometimes than a 6 hour operation.

Until next time,

Marc








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