I Am Sam. Sam I Am.

51N595qwKOL._SX360_BO1,204,203,200_Until I was 13 years old I would often get Green Eggs and Ham for a birthday present. It stopped being funny around age 2. I can only imagine the little chuckle that would escape the giver’s lips when he/she would see the book in the book store, thinking it would be so tongue in cheek, such a… perfect gift. But when everyone thinks the same thing, imagine me opening up six copies of the same book (a children’s book) on my 12th birthday.

It’s a valid point, though. I mean, what would I have gotten myself for my birthday any of those years when originality kind of went out the window? I honestly don’t know. I was Sam, and I had absolutely no clue what I was really into, no idea what would have made me happy if you had handed it over while I was blowing out candles. Let me recall the elementary me. I liked:

  • playing games of Hangman
  • taking apart alarm clocks
  • reading (a lot)
  • trains, and train conductor hats
  • sketching little caricatures of me that resembled stick figures
  • playing with Legos every so often
  • eating food (not cardboard. Real food. I swear)
  • imagining the world as a different place

Oh, and I had no friends. The adults in my life were often fawning over what they called my “adult tendencies,” which to me meant I wasn’t a proper kid. No wonder I had no friends. But as much as the adults claimed to know me, they didn’t realize any of the above, because I was pretty much a shadow of my current self. I was often seen but not heard. I was Sam, but in name only.

I finally let anyone who would listen know shortly before the 13th anniversary of my birth that I would no longer accept copies of Dr. Seuss’s epic book, that I had actual interests, that the joke just wasn’t funny anymore. It hadn’t been funny for years, even when I was laughing all the while. I was apparently good at being fake, at making others think their joke was worthwhile, when they were really just wasting their money, AND I was always disappointed on what should have been my special day.

“Why didn’t you say something before?” my mother asked me, and I honestly had no answer for her. I guess I felt like eventually they would realize it wasn’t funny anymore, or they would get to know me better so they didn’t have to rely on the old standby. I guess I thought that after a while they would start trying to be serious, because that was my always my problem, being deadly serious. My idea of a smile back then was easing up the left side of my mouth, then letting it fall back into a straight line. Eyebrow to follow.

The book-as-gift was funny in a way they never intended, though. One positive of having so many copies of Green Eggs and Ham was that I knew it backwards and forwards. I found it hilarious when they would watch me open it and they would say “You do not like them, Sam I Am.” You know, because Sam was the little guy speaking, not the big dude who didn’t like the green eggs and the ham. So Sam DID like them, and me… not so much. I was more like the large dude who just won’t be convinced despite the rhyming bonanza going on in the background.

Of course the book was also a catalyst for me to break out of my shell. It was the push to avoid getting any more of those books that allowed me to first tell how I felt, after all that time, that helped me become the vocal person I am today. It also led to many more interesting birthdays in the interim between then and now. Up until my 13th birthday I didn’t truly know what I wanted or liked in life. That book forced me to think about it, to ruminate upon it, and to let others know.

On my 13th birthday I received a bicycle and a train set.



“Now we are 10.”

10561527_10206438781953324_195592007939548333_n10 years ago today Heidi went into labor. It was our first labor, but we had some idea what to expect. We had gone to the birthing class, where we were surrounded by other first-time parents who were also trying to prepare themselves for the inevitable — birth. I’m not sure what the rest of those parents who were there would say today, but I remember thinking that there was so much to process and to filter that I had no idea where to begin.

I still have no idea.

I do remember this day 10 years ago though. I got the call while I was teaching. The kids were ready too. I prepared them for it all year up to that point, letting them know that when the time came I would be gone. That day I was grading their presentations when the phone rang and they all were locked onto every single syllable I said. Of course they had a pool going on when the kid would come, and I could see one of the girls in the back grinning from ear to ear. I think she had the 27th.

Anyway, from there it was a hop, skip, and a jump back here to pick up my wife, who was already counting the time between contractions. She was always so efficient. See, that class wasn’t a waste of time after all. We took our time getting up to Cooperstown because the road conditions aren’t usually great this time of year, and it was no different that year. Besides, we knew we had plenty of time before the kid would really make its appearance 4437_1153224235916_3207247_ninto the world. Everyone knows that your first usually takes the longest time. At least we hoped so, at least on the drive there.

It would take all night, until 6:28 the next morning, before our little bundle of Joy (Alexa Joy, that is) finally emerged alertly into the bright lights of this harsh world. She made me believe in love at first sight. I still can’t believe that was 10 years ago. It seems like just yesterday at times, and at others I can’t even remember what the world was like before she was in it. 10 years ago I got the job that will be with me for the rest of my life, a job that comes with the ultimate responsibility and the emotional toll that can’t help but join in along the way.

Thinking back on that night, when we were on our way to Cooperstown, the final night we would be just husband and wife, before we would be labeled parents forever, I was just hoping that Heidi wouldn’t feel too much pain. I was trying to transfer my sense of peace and calmness to her, because it had been a tumultuous pregnancy where pretty much everything that could happen did. And yet we had been oh so lucky that we had even gotten to that point. It was an arduous journey just to make it down that road. But the light at the end of the tunnel was so brilliant.

And she still is. 10 years later.

Happy birthday, my little angel.


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.


The Birthday Conundrum

1186287_10202044355015556_403318749_nIt’s my sister’s birthday tomorrow, and I don’t know what to get her. I’ve known her my whole life, so I know the things she likes. I know the things she treasures. And I know what I want to get her on her birthday. The only problem is that since I’ve known her my whole life, and because I know her so well, I’ve already gotten her all the things I can think of, and then some. I’ve done the sentimental gift, the expensive gift, the quirky gift, and everything in between, so now, on the occasion of her 40th I honestly have no idea.

And it’s killing me.

Maybe I should have saved up all those ideas that I utilized between 30 and now, all the cards and boxes wrapped in pink and blue, all the pictures in photo albums, all the random but personal heartfelt presents, in the hopes of giving her something hugely personal and intricately special. You know, to match the importance of the occasion. But I didn’t save them up, and maybe I wouldn’t have anyway, knowing as I do now how her face lit up with each one. So now I’m stuck in the same place I was at when I began.

What to get her?

I could go traditional and pick up something that appeals to one of her hobbies. She has enough of those that it could work. Except that I’ve given her something for each one at some point in the not too far off past. I could go the minimalist route and get her a “choose her own adventure” gift card to the store I know she frequents most. At least I know she will get use out of it, but it’s so impersonal. Or I could go all newfangled and surprise her with some type of latest electronic equipment. While it would scream “I cost a lot,” is that what I want her to think when I give it to her?


So I’ve decided to write her a letter, an old-fashioned letter like we used to do in the olden days, like she still writes me now and again. And I know she would absolutely adore a handwritten letter from me, one I took my time on, one that I dropped off in the mail by hand and that took its time getting to her. I know she would appreciate every single word, regardless of what those words actually say. It’s been ages since I wrote a real letter, since I got behind this computer screen and got back down to business.

Yes, it’s perfect. Now to find paper and pen.


Six Candles

A sixth birthday can be somewhat daunting. I mean, it’s the first one that you will probably remember for the rest of your life. You’re in school, too, so you’ve got little school friends who are actually your friends as opposed to children of your parents’ friends. And because you’re in school it behooves you to throw a party so all of your newfound friends can come and enjoy themselves on your parents’ dime.

My children have been no different. When Alexa turned six we threw a huge party for her and her kindergarten friends at the local movie theater. It was an extravaganza featuring large foam truffula trees, pinning the moustache on the Lorax, and lots of cheap pizza. Then it was movie time, with popcorn, drinks, and 3D glasses that were supposed to make things cooler but just complicated it. Imagine twelve six-year-olds fumbling for their glasses throughout the movie because they kept slipping off.

Madeline just flipped the calendar past six years old and her first official party was at the Family Fun Factory, a snazzy place with bounce houses, fun carnival-type games, an air hockey table, and party rooms to help corral the kids when it’s time for cake. And it was so exciting to see her with her little friends, enjoying all of the activities, taking imageturns, and being her rousing self. I guess that’s because six isn’t just an age of remembrance, but it’s also an age of maturation. When they turn six they’re not our little toddlers anymore. They’re on their way to middle school in a godawful hurry.

Six years old is the time when first best friends come and go, when everything is full of drama, and when you realize the world is a little bit bigger than just your house and neighborhood. I look at Madeline now and I can see her making so many connections she wasn’t able to make before. She’s speaking in longer sentences, and when she looks at me I can tell her brain is moving so much more quickly than it used to before. She’s growing up in front of my eyes, and that’s what six can do. It’s that shifting time. I saw it with Alexa, and now my youngest is going through it too, and it’s both sad and glorious at the same time.

There are six candles in the drawer, wrapped in cellophane, reminders of that shifting time, of those parties that brought together friends and family, and of our family dynamic changing the way it’s supposed to change. Next year we will add one more candle to the tally as we place them on the new cake, symbolic of so much more. But we will always remember six.


Ogres and Old People

38_year_old_birthday_designs_stickers-ra29a1bc1f8734c9ba17b6eb38a04b160_v9wf3_8byvr_324When I was 10 I thought 38 was ancient, that the space after 35 was inhabited by ogres and old people, and that if I ever got to that point someone should probably take me out behind the barn and put me out of my misery. I would see people on the streets and shake my head, knowing that if they weren’t already at that point that they were getting there soon. But one thing I knew for certain was that I would never get there myself. You see, when we’re 10 the world is such a small place, and time is such a vast concept that we can’t quite wrap our brains around it. When we’re 10 we think about forever being 10, not growing older.

But I didn’t stay 10 forever. I kept getting older while the world got larger and time began to shrink. As I motored past 20 it was about shaving and parties. Then 25 came and I noticed a few aches and pains that hadn’t been there before. That’s when I noticed the people in my life who were past 35 weren’t that far away age-wise from where I myself had gotten to, and that woke me up to an extent. Once 30 was in the rearview mirror I began looking at the mirror more myself, noticing the gray hairs that had started to creep in and that were trying to take over. Then 35 hit hard like a hammer slamming against an anvil, and I woke up with a start.

Either I was an ogre or I was {gasp} OLD. I think at that point I preferred the ogre.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t think of my parents or other relatives in that way. They were simply themselves — ageless in my book — and defied characterization. However, everyone else was fair game, and as I hit that magical number myself I began to notice those who were younger looking at me the way I used to look at “old people.” It was a mix of pity and awe: the pity because I was old, and the awe because somehow I was still walking around and talking to others. Yeah, the ogre seemed a lot more humane when I started noticing those looks.

Then I saw signs saying “40 is the new 20,” showing photos of women who were apparently 40 but who looked 30, as if we could bend time back around and get younger Benjamin Button-style without fading away. But I would look into the mirror and I wouldn’t see 10-year-old me with the wide open world view and the judgmental glasses. I would see 35-year-old me with a little extra weight on the mid-section and with the crinkles around my eyes that showed wisdom as well as age. It was as though 10 had been just a mirage. I would look at the young kids as I passed them and shake my head in wonder that I was ever that age, that I had ever thought like that about aging, about the myth of 35.

Now I’m 38, and I’ve only been 38 for a few hours, but I know what it means now. It doesn’t mean I’m an ogre or that I’m an old person. It means I’ve gotten older, for sure, and it means that I do have more aches and pains now, but they’re war pains, the result of a life lived, and still being lived. See, I don’t want to be taken out behind the barn and put out of my misery now because life isn’t misery. Sure, it can be tough sometimes, and the years have taken a toll on me physically and emotionally, but it’s all part of me now. That’s what 10-year-0ld me could never have understood, that getting to and past 35 means knowing yourself more, means learning how to be content with aging because it’s not going to slow down.

And yes, those ogres might still look enticing from time to time, but they’ll never be me. I’m simply growing older.


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