So This Was the Old Year

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There was absolutely nothing wrong with 2015, at least from my perspective. The year opened with so much hope and promise, like so many years before it. I went back to therapy because it was necessary, not because I felt lost in an abyss. My children entered the year halfway through the lower grade and now end up halfway through the upper. We moved out of our house of 13 years and in with my mother-in-law. But even that is positive as it gives us a chance to save for the building of our new house in spring.

Always look on the bright side.

But 2015 isn’t over yet. In fact there are still a few hours remaining, and I plan on making the most of them, on making them count. Sure, 2016 will bring our move into our new house. It will carry on its wings my 40th birthday (shhhh). And it will usher in a new era as my oldest child turns a decade old in February. But 2015 isn’t over yet. These faint whispers of a year nearly gone by, almost buried in its grave, speak to me. It’s an old year, on its last legs, but it’s still here, and as such it needs to be remembered. We say that we shouldn’t let accolades for people linger until they become posthumous.

So raise your glass to the fading embers of 2015.. Here are my most robust memories of a year nearly gone:

  • The surprise call. The surprise news. The surprise job. There’s something to be said for patience, and even though I haven’t prided myself on it of late, I am now a professor.
  • The return of the therapist. I had missed her after more than a year away, and my life had been on hold. But my positivism had started to wane, and I needed to be rejuvenated. I needed to get it out.
  • The move, but more importantly, the possibility it hinted at. I never wanted to move, not unless it was directly to our new house, but the universe had other plans. And I shifted accordingly to accommodate them.
  • The writing. November brought a new novel, but even before that I had been dusting a manuscript off, breathing new life into it in anticipation of publication. The process is a long one, as always, but this year all of the editing has been rewarding, to say the least.
  • The growing older. Just four days ago I hit 39, and if I were a woman that would probably be my final number, but I’m not. And it’s not. Instead it’s just another reminder that life is short, that years can move by in the blink of a moment.
  • The music. As always, the music. It has been a trying year in that respect as my iPod decided it would need resuscitation. It deleted all of my songs, and I’ve been working hard on reviving it all, re-creating playlists, and not crying over it all. Music is my third child.
  • My oldest. Alexa developed an attitude in 2015, becoming a pseudo-teenager when I wasn’t looking. It’s been a serious challenge dealing with this new facet of her already inflexible personality, but that’s what we see it as — a challenge that can be overcome.
  • My youngest. Madeline went through what seemed like a procedure and a half this year, getting her adenoids out, her tonsils shaved, having the sleep study in the first place, and everything that went along with that worry-wise. She came through the other side, and so did we.
  • Speaking of procedures, Alexa went through another one of her own this year. We should buy stock in University Hospital. Seriously. But we found out some good information, and she’s doing well… as well. If I don’t have to see the hospital in 2016 I’ll be just fine.
  • This blog. My blog hit some major milestones in 2015, most notably the end of my consecutive days blogging streak on August 30th. It meant I wasn’t dragging myself in here to write down whatever passed for coherent thoughts every day anymore. And I think my writing has benefited from it.
  • My marriage. There were a few bumps in the road coming into 2015 that I’ll admit stressed me out more than I cared to admit at the time, but the return of therapy was also the return of taking time to talk with my wife, to keep up those bonds that can so easily become frayed. We both need that connection, and the rediscovery of it has been a godsend.

That’s just a tip of the cap to a year that has given more than it’s taken, that’s allowed me to be myself more than I feel I’ve been in a very long time, that’s given me both silence and noise in equal measure. I’ve needed every single thing, every single obstacle, every single joy, that this year has given to me, and I will always look back on it fondly. Was it only 16 years ago that we were looking forward to a new millennium with such uncertainty?

Now I look forward to 2016 for all of the obstacles, for all of the joys, and for all of the surprises that it will give to me. Amen.

Sam

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The Shadow of Arrogance

arrogance2Someone once called me cocky, and I took offense to it at the time, but now that I think about it perhaps I was. When did a supreme amount of self-confidence begin to translate to cocky? When did something that is supposed to be good cross the line into bad territory? There is an admittedly thin line between healthy self-confidence and unhealthy arrogance, and I know we’ve all crossed it at some point without even realizing it.

I want to qualify my earlier statement. When I said perhaps I was cocky, I meant that when it comes to something specific that I have aptitude for, I have a tendency to speak as if I am an expert. What makes it cocky, though, is to say that my opinion on the subject at hand is more important and more compelling than anyone else’s. There’s the issue. When I was younger it was harder for me to make that distinction, that my word on a subject wasn’t the final say. It’s why perhaps I was cocky back then.

But now, as I’ve gotten older, and as I’ve seen how every single person has something to add to every discussion, even one that features a subject I feel proficient in. I see that I can learn something from listening instead of from blocking them out and waiting to get my own words in edgewise. I can now see that line, and I can offer my opinion without feeling like it has to be the word of God. Every now and again, though, I do fall back into old habits, and someone kicks me back in line. Thank you to those individuals who have the nerve to kick me back in line. I apparently need it sometimes.

I still occasionally live in that shadow of arrogance, especially when it comes to things like writing, grammar, sentence structure, and everything that goes into it. I sometimes judge others for what I see are their inadequacies instead of looking at their content and appreciating what’s there. There’s a way to understand and to appreciate someone else, even if they’re not me… maybe especially if they’re not me. Instead of alienating others I can uplift them.

It’s still a work in progress, but I think I’m making strides, and that’s the point, isn’t it?

Sam

Two For Tuesday

“I got lost, couldn’t find my way, and I guess there’s nothing more to say. Love can make you blind, make you act so strange, but I’m here and here I will stay.” ~Everyday (Phil Collins)

blacktuesdayIt’s Tuesday evening and I’m listening to Phil Collins because his music soothes me, and I have had a long day. I was off from work today, but my children are on their Christmas vacation, so it wasn’t like I could sleep in, or phone it in. Being the primary caregiver during the day takes a lot of hard work, some insane creativity, and the constant possibility of a tantrum I must try to head off at the pass. Today was no exception on all fronts, and I felt like I was run over by a mack truck by the time my wife arrived back from her day at work.

So I’m drinking hot chocolate, listening to Phil Collins, texting my best friend, and trying to figure out the meaning of the universe. Well, yeah, not that last one, but the other ones are true. Maybe eventually I can tackle the meaning of the universe, but for tonight I’m just thinking about me. What are two things I’m especially thankful for this evening, after the day I’ve had? It’s time for Two For Tuesday…

  1. I’m thankful for outlets. No, not the things you plug cords into, but having some kind of outlet when I am filled with emotions. Today Lexi was overwhelmed when her sister wouldn’t stop repeating every word she said, so she had a meltdown and I had to try and come to the rescue. I talked to her about having an outlet to channel the anger we feel throughout the day, how it was what kept me sane as a kid when I had issues and things that tried my patience. I’m not sure if it helped her at the time, but I hope eventually she will look back on our conversation and have a “light bulb” moment.
  2. I’m thankful for people who understand. I know I’m about as scattered as they come. My brain flies from one subject to another and back again, and I’m sometimes hard to follow in conversation, but the people I surround myself with get that about me. They aren’t overwhelmed with all of the overload that comes from being around me, and even though I spend about 1/3rd of my time apologizing for one thing or another they don’t tell me to shut up. I second guess myself enough throughout the course of my day and they’re there for me when I get all emotional.

Which reminds me, I was playing the new Wii U with my kids today, and it reminded me of all the time I spent playing Super Mario Bros. when I was their age, trying my best to rule that game with my sister. It made me smile, and even though two minutes later the one was yelling at the other it gave me a chance to see them interact, and to appreciate that they’ll always have each other. I love that thought.

Sam

On Turning 39

39th_birthday_designs_card-r04129f56a30a48daafab4521ccbf8d7f_xvuat_8byvr_324I remember all of my birthdays, starting with the one to commemorate my turning 6. I had a Batman cake that year, and I recall the Batman looked a little wilted, and I said as much to my mother. It was the old school Batman with the non-form fitting suit. In fact, if I’m not mistaken the one on my cake had a blue utility belt and boots that would have been more at home being worn by Elvira. Oh, and he was smiling. Batman never smiles. But the cake tasted good, which was all that really mattered anyway.

Yesterday was the 39th anniversary of my birth. There was no pomp and circumstance because that’s the way I wanted it. Sure, my Facebook Timeline was exploding with all the messages, well-wishes, and jokes about my advancing age, but that was something separate from me, like some apparition floating along beside me. I acknowledged it without spending too much time breathing it in and letting it define me. Otherwise I was here, and no one saw me except the people who also live here.

My mother called, and she’s finally realized my actual age, which is fine. I used to take insane pleasure in the fact that she would get my age wrong, but she’s fixed that issue. I knew her getting that new phone would come back to ruin my silly little pleasures. But it’s okay. She called me right 11218902_10207635426748855_4355396860113741347_nabout the same time I was born, even though I doubt she knew that’s what she was doing. It was odd to talk to my mother on the occasion of my 39th birthday because to me she is still 39, the eternal age I’ve given to her since I was 10. Acknowledging that I’m a year away from 40 is to admit that my mother is that much older than I see her in my mind.

I watched my favorite movie too, a film I’ve seen some 40 times (wouldn’t it be interesting if I counted all of my viewings of it and there were precisely 39?) and I never get tired of it. There’s just something comfortable about watching a film I internalized ages ago, a movie I’ve made a part of me in so many significant ways. And I don’t expect others to understand, but I do expect them to appreciate the fact that it’s this way for me, to let me watch it uninterrupted, and to bring me snacks when what I want are snacks.

It was a relaxing day altogether, and while there was no Batman cake, there was a spectacular dish of banana pudding complements of my wonderful wife, who tells me that 39 is not that important. She says that 40 is also not that spectacular, that I can look forward to more aches and pains, but that’s been true since I turned 30. My wife is older than I am, and I look forward to getting to her age. Of course, though, when I get there she will be inexplicably older still, forever out of my grasping reach. She says it’s okay, though, because that’s the hand we’ve been dealt and we should embrace it like it was a second skin.

So how do I feel about 39? I’m still undecided. After all, it’s only been a day. But what I can say is that I certainly don’t feel 39, for what that’s worth. insomnia-quote.jpgWhen I got up this morning I was exhausted, testament to getting to bed after 11pm and having to awaken at 5:45am. At 19 I was able to parlay one hour of sleep into a full day at a frenetic pace. By 29 my necessary sleep to avoid being an ogre was five hours. And now… well, now, let’s just say that I know the consequences but I still don’t get the amount of sleep I need. But maybe that’s not 39. Maybe that’s just being stubborn.

I have decided, though, that 39 will be a transformative year. I’m going to publish two novels this year. I’m going to teach my children something they haven’t learned yet this year. I’m going to show my wife even more how much I appreciate her this year. I’m going to live life to the fullest because no time is guaranteed to me. That’s one thing 39 has taught me even in its infancy. That’s one thing I will carry with me during my 365 days of 39-hood. Oh yes, and this blood pressure medication too.

Sam

Fig Newtons, Dates, & Touchstones

iiNi41.wx52IGrowing up in my household, we never had Fig Newtons. Either it was the strict adherence to monetary concerns (Fig Newtons were awfully expensive), or the fact that the innards could get stuck in our teeth, or even perhaps due to the sweet nature of the product. I’m not entirely sure of the reasons, but I do know that it was a frustrating time. I would see those commercials on television where the kids were enjoying the Fig Newtons, and I wanted to be one of those kids.

Of course it wasn’t just Fig Newtons. There were a lot of things that made us… exceptional, meaning we were the exception to a lot of rules, but it seemed like the Fig Newtons were the gauge by which I judged everything. If it was “Fig Newton worthy” that meant it got the highest stamp of approval, at least by me. So when I met a girl and my friends would ask me what I thought of her, I would either say she was Fig Newton worthy, or she wasn’t. It got to be a game of sorts, at least during my first couple years of college.

It was July 21, 1996, and I was going on a first date with a girl, but not just any girl. She was definitely Fig Newton worthy, at least from what I knew about her to that point, and I was so excited that I had changed my outfit more than once before I had to be at our rendezvous point. And I was still sweating profusely on my trolley ride to the train station, where we were to meet. That was my problem when it came to girls who impressed me: I wasn’t likely to impress them in return, not the sweaty, nervous guy with the puppy dog eyes.

Yet somehow I did impress her, at least enough to warrant a second date, which turned into a third, which led us to a brief engagement, but that’s a story for another time. What’s important to this tale is the conversation I had with my friend Frank after that first date…

“So, how’d it go?”

“She’s definitely different from the girls I usually go out with.”

“So she’s got a brain, huh?”

“Definitely.”

“How about on the Fig Newton scale?”

“Totally worth the whole package.”

“Dude, you’re in deep already.”

I told him all about her physical attributes — which were many, and all positive — and about the ease of our conversation. Honestly, I told him how shocked I was that someone so dynamic could be as into me as I was into her. I was already planning our wedding, our five kids, and our house in the countryside. After one date. I was thinking maybe she was worth at least five packages of Fig Newtons. Or at the very least she was my immediate future, with a possible option for more.

The rest of our dates were just like that first one, incredible conversation interspersed with comfortable silences. It was perfection in an imperfect world, and I thrived on it. In fact, to this day those remain some of the easiest give-and-takes I’ve ever had. Maybe it was because everything was brand new, or because we shared so many of the same interests, but I was f742a47c6b933a2cb9ccb23834c610bdravenous for every piece of her, and she gave it back in kind. Those dates were like sweet chocolate melting on my tongue, and even now they exist in my mind as precious memories, regardless of all the negatives that came later.

I don’t wish things had gone differently in our relationship after those 18 dates (yes, I counted), when everything finally fell apart. I do wish that I had savored that connection more, that I had appreciated the ease of those dates more, that I had been prescient enough to realize how rare it all was. But it ended, I got older, and those dates became nostalgic touchstones that I can still look to for inspiration, even though I haven’t spoken to the girl in 10 years.

And I am grateful to her for that feeling, for that emotional connection that flowed throughout the course of those dates. If not for that time in my life I would be ill-equipped to deal with all of the curveballs that life has thrown my way. If not for everything that made those dates so special I wouldn’t have recognized the feeling when it came to me again several years later in a completely different place, with a completely different girl.

I can’t remember the last time I had a Fig Newton, not really, but it hasn’t been about the delicacy anyway, not for a long time. It’s really about love, and touchstones, and becoming the me I was meant to be. That’s totally worth the whole package.

Sam

Twisted Sheets

twisted sheets - Google SearchI remember the phone call like it was yesterday.

I was lying on my bed in Tennessee, sweating profusely, twisting the sheets, sporting a full-body set of hives that would have been the talk of the town if I had been outside, and if anyone else had cared about my appearance. As it was I was there clutching the sheets because I knew what I had to say was devastating news any way she would have looked at it.

I knew that the words about to come from my mouth could be a deal breaker. But I also knew that I would have to say them anyway, that if our relationship had any chance of working I would have to be honest from that phone call on, however long it would last after I said those four ominous words.

“I can’t have children.”

What we had built to that point, albeit only via the telephone and email, was strong enough that I had a bit of hope that she wouldn’t send me her regrets and sign off for good. But no woman wants to hear the words I had to say. I released my death grip on the sheets and exhaled.

Then I just went for it, like some kind of blubbering fool, and once the words were out of my mouth there was a pregnant pause, a silence that seemed to stretch from Tennessee to the magical Gomching Forest in China. In those precious moments all manner of thoughts went through my addled mind, from yelling and screaming, to the death knell of a dial tone, to a wretched sobbing that I knew would wreck my soul.

My hives began to itch in earnest then, and I almost said something more… but then she responded.

And her response was a measured one, as simple and as revealing as anything she had ever told me to that point, and as anything she’s ever told me since. She was cool and collected, the very essence of someone who looks at all sides of a conundrum and somehow finds the best possible path through it.

“We’ll figure it out,” she said, and I knew then that it would be all right. I knew that regardless of how everything played out she wasn’t going to leave me, that she was going to give the idea of US a chance even if we were never to have children, even if life had thrown us a curve ball.

I loved her then, for the first time, knowing it deep in the marrow of my bones, as deeply as I had ever known anything in my life. I didn’t tell her, of course, but I knew it nonetheless. It was like the four magical words she told me revealed more about her then those famous three words ever could. I loved her then, and I’ve loved her ever since. She was right, too. We did figure it out, and we did it together.

And nearly 14 years after that conversation we sit here now on the 7th birthday of our youngest child, and I am so glad she said those four words out of all the words she could have said in response. We figured it out, and that has made all the difference.

Sam

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