40 Candles

xp-worlds_greatest_tall-40_year_old_female-leftIf you had approached 10-year old me and told him where he would be at 40, he probably would have laughed in your face. Because 10-year old me wasn’t remotely interested in the future, for what would pass for life after… well, 10. It was all about the present then, all about the moment, and I was living firmly in it.

Of course, though, as years pass, the focus starts to shift, probably because there isn’t enough wide open future there to ignore anymore. It happens like clockwork (no pun intended), the passing of the years a metronome ticking louder the further we advance into life. But at 10 there’s no way of knowing that things will change, no way to savor the moment because they are fleeting.

When I turned 20 there was an anticipation in the air, a sense that life was just beginning. There were still no bags under my eyes, getting out of bed wasn’t a creak and a groan, and I wasn’t hyper aware of the advancing years. In fact, I was looking forward to 21 with a vengeance, because it would mean I was an adult. My life wasn’t perfect but I could tell it was headed somewhere, which was a first for me.

I was keenly aware of the passage of time even then, though. I wasn’t like 10-year old me, wide eyed and innocent, anymore. Life wasn’t all about getting the physical things I wanted. I was also looking for happiness, for whatever would fulfill the hole that had already begun to widen itself in my life. I’m not sure if I realized back then that it was because I had no concrete relationship with my father. That would come later.

What I do remember feeling the most was that there was an untapped potential, but that I had no way of reaching it. There was possibility at 20 that I had never really explored before, a life that I hadn’t questioned. That was the tipping point with me and religion, with me and my mother, with me and the city of Philadelphia, as it turned out. Significant change was coming. I just didn’t see it yet.

Then change came, and with it a shifting of location, an acceptance of what I could not change, and the courage to change the things I could. I guess you could say it was similar to having an addiction because the more I realized it was bad for me, the more I couldn’t say no to it. And I mean everything. Between 20 and 30 was the time of most change in my life, even as things began to finally stabilize. It was the time for opposites to both be true, and for a little introspection. For the first time in my life.

At 30 I knew the world was changing around me. I was no longer the youngest person in most rooms, and I was keenly aware of that. When I told people I was 21 they laughed at me, and I knew I was supposed to possess a maturity I didn’t feel I truly had at that point. Others looked at me differently, not just as a young man, but the way I looked at my father when I was young. I was married, and I already had a child by then, so my priorities had done a 180. It was a transitional time, in every sense of the term.

And this past decade has been nothing short of a whirlwind, this experiment taking a few twists and turns along the way. I’ve had two huge happenings in my life, a few scatterings of focus shifts, and a whole lot of that earlier introspection, magnified to defcon 10. It’s like my 30s were a battle ground to see who was left standing at the end, and somehow I’m still here, looking at 40 candles on this cheesecake.

The word that comes to mind is blessed, but that’s from 10-year old, clear-eyed, innocent me. I haven’t been that… uncluttered in a very long time. Because life is complicated. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned over these past 40 years, that life is a series of moments strung together that create what we have before us now, for better or for worse. It’s decisions that have consequences, and repercussions, and often unforeseen side effects. But it’s also a beautiful thing.

Creaks, groans, and all.


So This Was the Old Year


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.


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.


Groundhog Day

groundhog-day-not-free-to-use-or-shareYou know the tradition. It’s Punxsutawney’s sole claim to fame. For just one day every February people from all over gather at Gobbler’s Knob to celebrate the town’s most prestigious citizen: Phil. The groundhog. Now, absolutely no one would know what a groundhog even looked like if it wasn’t for this time-honored tradition. Yes indeed, he resembles a beaver, or as some have said, a giant rat. He’s dragged out, paraded around his “stump,” and he prognosticates for a moment before rendering a verdict…

Six more weeks of winter!

The tremors from that quake continue to shock us for the entire six extra weeks tacked onto what has already been the longest winter in history, or at least until the end of the day on February 2nd. And that illustrious day is a mere week away. Can you believe it’s been nearly an entire year since we got a look at Phil (who is the 20th — or so — incarnation of the original beast), and we’re once again looking for groundhog shadows?

You’d think by now there would be some high tech alternative to freezing our bums off in a tiny little Pennsylvania hamlet with a host of people we don’t know (and who are probably high, to boot), like an app that shows a groundhog sniffing for its shadow. The probabilities could be pre-programmed into the app and we wouldn’t have to leave our homes to get the to-the-moment info about a possible early spring. In fact, I bet someone’s already figured that all out and the app is available in the app store, but I’m too lazy to check into it.

The holiday got an infusion, though, when the movie starring Bill Murray was released in 1993 to much acclaim. Of course it had less to do with the groundhog than it did with the redemption of a sad sack individual. Oh, and with the repetition of a single day. I don’t think Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” will ever sound the same to me again without the connotation of an alarm clock slamming to the floor and the song ending in a crash.

But I love the holiday notwithstanding all the kitschy tradition that goes along with it. I actually spent a February 2nd “chilling” in Punxsutawney one year just to say I did it. That’s not happening this year but only because I know what’s going to happen ahead of time. Phil will emerge from his box, sniff the air like a sage meteorologist, see his shadow (because most times he sees it — check the data), and predict six more weeks of winter. What a bright chap he undoubtedly is, but I’ll leave the joy of his pronouncement to the hordes of people who still make the trek to Gobbler’s Knob every year at this time.

I’ll be checking weatherchannel.com from the comfort and warmth of my own home instead.


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