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





Bullying, Looking in the Mirror & Changing Leaves

30 10 2015

Another lesson from one of my kids..

Another lesson from one of my kids..

I had a conference with my daughter’s Gifted Teacher today to review her progress in the program and so far in her 7th grade school year. The project they have to work on this year is in developing a Public Service Announcement (PSA). My son did one two years ago against smoking and my daughter has chosen bullying as her topic – writing, directing and acting in the final product.

In discussing this, her teachers said that, whereas at other times my daughter might take her time to figure out a topic or strategy, this time, she knew what she was going to do for her PSA as soon as she was asked. Her teacher asked her how she knew so quickly. Apparently, my daughter explained to her that she had witnessed someone getting bullied in the hall and felt bad for not intervening. She wants to finish her PSA and then show it to that student.

My daughter has a high level of empathy and this moved me a lot. Who hasn’t been in a situation before where you should have spoken up but didn’t for whatever reason? This is a 12 year old girl and she was able to both acknowledge this and do something about it.

I can’t say I blame her. My mouth has gotten me into trouble in the past. Over the past decade or so, as I have let wisdom take a front seat instead of back seat, I have been much better about letting things go or just trying to measure my words, though I have a long way to go – as my soon-to-be-ex (or her mother) will attest to, I am sure.

I understand where my daughter is coming from. She’s a little thing. She doesn’t bother anyone. She’s a good student. She is not Rizzo from Grease. I am not a non-confrontational person by nature but it made me think about what types of bullying we deal with as adults and how do we stand up for ourselves or others, especially when there are big things at stake like jobs, marriages or other types of relationships?

Not all bullying is as direct as having your books knocked out of your hand at your locker in the middle school hall. Sometimes it is being told that you are not good enough or don’t know enough or don’t fit in – either directly or through a veil of arrogance. Sometimes we bully ourselves with our thoughts and actions (or lack thereof). So, how do we combat these?

The first thing is to be able to say to ourselves that not only is bullying happening but we don’t have to accept it. Then, you have to speak up. In some fashion. You have to politely interrupt the discussion – at the conference table, at the dinner table or in your own head – and state your opinion, correct the misperception and then move on. This “move on” part is the most difficult because this is where we confront our fears and ultimately, bullying is all about intimidation and fear.

Move on. Understand that you don’t want to be surrounded by people who are there to bully you – subtly or directly. Understand that you are not a sum of what others see or perceive but the thoughts you allow to enter and grow. This means you may need work toward a better job, better relationship or better self-awareness (or all three).

I took a walk after work yesterday and the color of the leaves in the Northeast this year are beautiful. I am not sure that a leaf gets to choose it’s color or vibrancy any more than we can choose our true nature but I do know that there are many factors that are influential – the amount of rainfall, soil moisture, summer and autumn weather, as examples. We have a lot of influential factors, as well, but it is not easy. It is up to us to manage our thoughts, assumptions and, for me, response to fear in a way that lets us show our true colors and vibrancy. That’s the best response to bullying – from others or ourselves – that I know of.

Until next time,

Marc





Don’t Come In

28 10 2015
When else am I going to be able to use an image like this?

When else am I going to be able to use an image like this? It’s a mother, not a father, but we do have the same hair.

I feel like the fact that there are technical difficulties right now as I sit here with my boy watching the World Series is a higher authority telling me to not let myself off the hook for writing tonight. So here it goes.

Tonight, I wanted to write about a text that I got from my daughter yesterday after dinner.

She plays field hockey, which just ended today, and on a weekly basis, a different parent sponsors a “pasta party” where the girls all gather to celebrate field hockey, friendship and homework procrastination.

I usually pull up with the other parents and walk to whatever opening I can find – a garage door, a front door, the back yard – and look for my daughter and her ponytail amidst a sea of other middle school girls with ponytails.

Yesterday, I was given strict notice by my daughter that she would text me when she needs to get picked up, rather than the agreed upon time of 7:30 unless I hear otherwise. I relented since it was the final party and they were celebrating her coach, who was very, very good.

We started our text exchange at 7:35 PM:

Her: “can u pick me up?”

Me: “On my way !”

Her: “k…..tell me when your outside. dont come in” (lack of punctuation excused)

Me: “Here”

Her: “don’t come in”

I’m not sure if you got it but she really, really did not want me to come in. I get it but I had to ask her why? She told me what I already knew – she didn’t want to me to “embarrass” her. (Who? Me?) I get it.

The irony was not lost on me that she and I are on different ends of the spectrum. She is defining herself, setting boundaries as any good teenager should and deciding who gets past the velvet rope and who stays behind. I, on the other hand, am finally taking the step to define myself as I am but saying “everyone come in and see because this is how I roll.” It’s an age thing and for us to take each other’s approach would be more like “Freaky Friday”.

It’s hard as a parent to see your kids silo off where, when and how they want you in their lives. It’s growth and it’s expected. It’s healthy but it’s hard. For me, I have been framing it in a different light, though. It seems that this is another force out of my control that is telling me that I have to think about myself and my needs more, too. It’s too easy for me to distract myself from my insecurities by relying on my role as a father. Being a dad is difficult but it’s also an easy distraction from facing who I really am sometimes. Believe it or not, it’s easier to get all the kids’ games, practices and rehearsals on a calendar than put it aside and force myself to write or anything else that I need to do to move the other parts of me forward.

I am not sure if this makes sense or not. I truly am figuring this all out in real-time, day by day, sometimes minute by minute. I miss those moments of parenting that escape as kids grow up. I am no less close to them, perhaps closer. It’s just the normal independence that all parents hope to see comes with the price of loosing both time with them and those long-lost parts of you that may have existed before they did. Maybe long down the road, we will merge again and when I’m visiting my kids in college, I’ll get that text that tells me where their apartment is followed by “come in.”

Until next time,

Marc





The Unbearable Lightness (and occasional darkness) of Being (a Father)

28 08 2015

Amen.

Amen.

I asked my kids to help me clean up their rooms recently; really clean-up – not the “stuff all your crap in a drawer and use your butt to try and close it until the crappy cardboard that is called a drawer bottom falls out” clean up. It’s because we have to get our house ready to sell.

When our family of 1 became a family of 1 divided by 2 parents last Summer, I vowed to keep the house for the kids. They feel comfortable here and safe. It is where their friends come over. It’s where they are secure. It was the one constant that I felt I could control during the upheaval that is divorce.

After over a year, I had to make the difficult decision to sell the house – both for financial reasons and more importantly, for emotional reasons. It is important for me to have a place that isn’t like living inside a diorama of my marriage on a 24/7 basis.

Yesterday, as I checked in how my daughter’s progress was coming along, I saw she had her iPhone horizontally placed between her hands as she pivoted in a circle from the middle of the room.

“What are you doing?”, I asked.

“Oh – I’m filming my room because I don’t want to forget what it looked like.”, she responded rather innocently.

I had a lump in my throat for the rest of the night and a larger one in my stomach. I had second, third, and fourth thoughts…and a glass of wine to match each.

This is difficult. I love my kids more than anything. Truly. I think sometimes people don’t understand how much you love someone until a 12 year old innocently states a fact that you know has more meaning than she even realizes.

I ran into an acquaintance recently, about to become an empty nester as her last kid goes off to college. I tried to find the positive by reflecting how nice it will be to get back to her own time, that sort of thing. She replied, “no, I actually like my kids.” Wow – message received. If you like your kids – good for you. I like mine, too, sometimes, but that’s not really the point.

I love my kids. I don’t particularly like them all the time. And as the teenage years keep coming, less and less. I am pretty sure they feel the same about me.

The unbearable part of all of this is the love part. I could deal with the like. I like hanging with my kids, too, but the prospect of moving doesn’t tug at my gut in that way. But it does when I check on them at night sleeping or I see them carelessly walking down the stairs without looking. It’s hard to not feel as if I am causing yet another disruption. This is where the love part stings. 

It’s difficult being a parent of any ilk – male, female, married, divorced, whatever – if, if you are willing to love your kids even when you don’t like them. That’s when it gets really hard because it’s no longer a contest to befriend them. It’s a mirror held in your face every second that keeps you honest. And that – that is something that helps you realize that there will be new films to be taken in a new house, too, but it won’t make things necessarily any easier.

Until next time,

Marc





The In-between

18 05 2015

11306-i-know-i-was-born-and-i-know-that-i-ll-die-the-in-between-is-mine_large

I think I have become too reliant on the GPS. It’s probably typical to look for the most direct route from point A to point B and that is certainly a benefit. However, visualizing that thick blue line on the screen gives me a false sense that it is really that easy: follow the map, a turn here, a turn there and then before you know it – I will have arrived!

The truth is that sometimes Siri (or whatever cosmic force is in charge) decides not to allow the GPS to work or more likely, there is some unforeseen detour that needs to be taken. This is unexpected but the unexpected should always be expected.

For all intents and purposes, I am in the midst of raising two teenagers (a 14 year-old and a 12 year-old). I have my good days and my bad days. After a string of successful weekends, excursions, conversations, the gods let me know to not get too cocky and I had a bad parenting moment this weekend with my oldest. The dialogue was straight out of a bad after school special, right down to the “I learned it from you dad. You!”. (No, it wasn’t drugs…though after the argument, it seemed like a reasonable alternative.)

My approach to parenting teens is that this is very much a between stage for them and I have to remind myself constantly to cut them some slack. They could go from needing a parent to proclaiming complete independence in about the time it takes a 14 year old to wolf down a cheese stick after school. I like the idea of the “in between” for budding adolescence because it is a platform that I can grasp and even articulate to my kids. Basically, “look guys, you’re figuring stuff out. It sort of sucks sometimes but it can be super exciting and there’s going to be lots of things happening now that will inform who you want to be – good and bad. Just make decent choices because some choices can last forever and you don’t want to jeopardize what is looking to be a pretty amazing future.” Anyway, it goes something like that.

For me, it’s been a different story. As much as I have embraced meditation, writing, authenticity and self-forgiveness, it is hard for me to not benchmark myself against where I “think I should be”. It’s difficult to not look at my internal GPS and ask “how did I end up here?” and try to blame it on Siri. I never really expected the unexpected. I don’t mean that I should have expected my marriage to end but I also should not have necessarily expected a smooth journey from point A to point B.

In a way, I am no different that the teenagers living in my house – being exposed to experiences I hadn’t been involved with before and figuring it out. I am figuring out that the “in-between” phase is not age restricted, nor is it restricted to one experience. There are “In-between” phases in everything and learning to accept this can be a meaningful (and even fun) way to get through. In fact, as you may have heard, the journey is often more gratifying than the destination.

A good friend of mine said I am on a bridge right now and just transitioning from the past to the future. Isn’t that always the case? We are all in-between, regardless of what we may think.

Until next time,

Marc








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