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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How I bottled up that Christmas morning feeling in the month of April.

Christmas as a child was the most magical thing in the world. The most magical thing I can remember, anyway. I grew up in a middle class family but my parents always found a way to make sure we had more than what we wanted and way more than what we needed for Christmas. They had a close personal friendship with Santa Claus. I'm sure that probably had something to do with it.

I always loved the lights and the tree and all the Christmas traditions we had but let's face it, I was a kid and kids love presents. PRESENTS!!!! I'll never forget the feeling of waking up on Christmas morning; the excitement and anticipation of what was waiting for me under that tree. If you celebrate Christmas I'm sure you remember what it was like.

"What could it possibly be?"
 "Did Santa bring me what I asked for?"
"Come on Mom and Dad! Wake up! Let's do this!"

...and then I opened the presents. I don't ever remember being disappointed. There may have been slight disappointment here or there when I opened new socks but I was pretty easy to please and I don't THINK I EVER asked for too much. (I probably asked for too much every year.)

The most memorable gift my brother and I ever got was probably this giant G.I. JOE aircraft carrier that seemed to take up half of the living room. We played with that thing non stop and let our imaginations run wild. Oh man! It was great! Always great!

However, every Christmas toy I ever received inevitably got old and I got tired of playing with them. 

Every single one. 

Even the G.I. JOE aircraft carrier.

 I know. Sounds crazy; hard to believe. I bet you're telling yourself now as an adult that if you had a giant toy aircraft carrier that took up half your living room you would play with it every day and you would never get sick of it but I'm here to tell you that's simply not true. I understand. To be honest, as I'm sitting here typing this I've halfway convinced myself that if I had another G.I. JOE aircraft carrier that things would be different this time but experience tells me otherwise. I'd end up selling it again to make space. Hopefully for a lot more money this time.

Even the new bike gets old. The new football gets old. The My Buddy doll (please tell me you remember this). The new Nintendo, Sega Genesis or Play Station... 

you guessed it: 

GETS OLD. They ALL do.

There's always next year right?

If only there was a way to bottle that magical feeling of Christmas morning. 

What if I could dip my toys in the fountain of youth? What if a toy manufacturer finally came along and discovered a way to make a toy that never lost its luster? Is it possible? Could I wake up one morning and experience that magical Christmas morning feeling every day for the rest of my life?

Unfortunately, I never found a way to bottle up and experience that feeling every day as a child. Nope. Once a year and that was it. I had to wait 364 days for that feeling again. 

That's the bad news.

The good news is, now that I am an adult, I finally figured it out. Yep. After years and years of ideas, research, failed inventions and disappointment, I figured it out. Like a mad scientist I finally found the proper combination of ingredients to yield that good old fashioned Christmas morning feeling year round. My very own Frankenstein. Scratch that. That is a horrible comparison and it's not really true.

 I gave up on figuring it out long ago and then I finally stumbled upon it on April 3rd, 2011 with the help of my wife. We were able to repeat it on April 27, 2013. What can I say? April is a good month for us. We thought about moving our Christmas celebration to April but decided against it. That would just be unorthodox overkill.

By now you've probably figured out what this perfect gift that captures that Christmas morning feeling is


If you have children, you figured it out a long time ago.


How come on one ever told me?

People always told me I could never understand what a parents love for a child was like until I experienced it for myself but no one ever told me that it made every single day feel like Christmas morning and that I was going to wake up excited and full of anticipation for what each and every day with them held (and it would never wear off). It's a good thing no one ever put it to me like that or I probably would have gone out and knocked up the first broad I saw so I could get my hands on one of these real life "My Buddy" dolls...and that surely would have ended badly. ;)

 I just want to wake up and play with these perfect evergreen Christmas toys all day. Okay, truth be told, I wake up and tip toe around the house trying with all my might NOT to wake them up. That part is much different than Christmas morning. However, the second they do wake up or the second I walk in the door from work, we get down like it's Christmas morning, minus the turkey and stockings. I don't know what else to compare it to. It's the best feeling in the world.

Sure, they get older by the day but not in the way a toy does or any other feeling I've experienced in life. Their luster shines brighter by the day as you mold their malleable brain into the beginning of what you hope turns out to be a masterpiece. Four years into parenthood and I'd say they age more like a fine wine getting better by the year. Plus, I get a better buzz off of spending time with these little trouble makers than I could get from any wine.

I understand that not all parents feel this way about their children and that breaks my heart. I truly hope that as you read this you nod your head in agreement if you are a parent. If you didn't, I hope you can figure out why not and make a change to help get you there because they deserve to be loved like a child loves his favorite new toy on Christmas morning and you deserve to be able to share that love with them for as long as you both live. I have not experienced anything in this world that compares to pouring your whole self into a child. That quality time is irreplaceable.

If you do not have a child and you are reading this please do not go out and make one with the first person you meet because of what you read here. Trust me. It's worth the wait and you will be more equipped to handle these amazing gifts with a little age on you. I'll warn you, they are not exactly "better" than Christmas gifts in every way. I'd guess that it's safe to assume you never had a Christmas gift that:

  • actually cost YOU thousands of dollars just to bring home
  •  woke you up 5 times in the night by screaming (night after night.)
  • spit up a terribly stinky substance on you 37 times in the first 6 months you had it
  • pooped or peed on you
  • demanded your attention at all times that it wasn't sleeping 
...and that's just to name a few and you still got tired of these toys. Yet somehow these babies that become a full time job just make every day better and better.

Just a few hours ago at bedtime I told my 4 year old that I loved him and he replied:

"I love you too Daddy and don't forget, your ideas change the world."

I'm sure he got it from some movie or TV show and he probably doesn't even know what it means but it melted my heart and inspired me to write this blog post. I had him repeat it so I could have it on video to watch if I was ever having a bad day.

Truth is, in the grand scheme of things, I haven't had a "bad day" since he was born. Every day has been like Christmas. At one point before he was born he was nothing more than a possibility... an IDEA in my head. I guess my ideas do change the world... and for the better. They've changed my world anyway.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Daddy, can you turn around?" (The most interesting selfie I have ever taken)

Traveling with children can present many different kinds of challenges. While I'm not prepared to jump into all of those challenges just yet, I'd like to share one that snuck up behind me on a layover at the Los Angeles airport last week as my family and I headed to Hawaii for vacation.

This little incident led to the most interesting selfie I have ever taken.

We were in a bit of a hurry to reach our connecting flight, but not too rushed. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed on the way to our gate. Cooper, my 4 year old, had to go potty so we scampered to the closest men's room as he informed me that we were talking about the #2 variety.

We were in a cramped stall together. I got him all set up with toilet paper on the seat and everything. That's when he asked me to turn around. This is normal procedure when he's sitting on a public potty.

The boy needs his privacy. He always has.

He always asks us to leave the bathroom when we are at home because he likes to do his business alone but he knows that's not going to happen in a public restroom. So, I turned around and faced the door, still in the stall. I took out my phone to look at some pictures I had taken on our previous flight.

That's when the potty flushed all by itself. The automatic flusher must not have registered that Cooper was still on the potty because he's so small. At this point in his life, I'm not sure there's much of anything thats scarier to Cooper than a loud, unexpected, flushing potty. Coop was so concerned that the flush would be loud that he put both hands over his ears.

Right then I felt something hit me in the back of the left leg. It took me a couple seconds to realize exactly what it was. It was warm and it was running down my leg into my sock...

"Point it down Coop! Point it down..."

I exclaimed as I turned around to see Cooper covering his ears for dear life...and peeing on his dad's leg, of course.

We looked at each other & I couldn't help but start laughing. Cooper started cracking up. I tried to explain to him that it's not really funny and we should never ever pee on people.

I just couldn't keep a straight face. Eventhough it was a major inconvenience the giggles just got a hold of me. The look on the poor boy's face definitely had something to do with it.

So, I told him that it was only funny because it was an accident, which probably wasn't the best parenting in the world but hey, I never claimed to be a perfect parent.

I let him finish up and I took him to his 
mom before I went back in the bathroom to throw away my socks and scrub my 
left leg (from the back of the knee down) in the sink with soap and hot water. 

That's when I noticed myself in the mirror and thought, "When will I ever have a better reason to take a selfie?!"

8 or 10 people walked in and looked at me like I was crazy. One pair of socks and a few odd looks later I realized the lesson at hand.... never turn your  back on a loaded weapon.

Four days later and I've heard this question at least five times:

"Hey Dad, is this potty a flusher?!?!"

At least he's thinking ahead.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Ultimate Sacrifice

If you do a quick Google image search with the words, "The Ultimate Sacrifice" you will be met by a barrage of pictures depicting Jesus dying on the cross and soldiers giving their lives for our freedom. It's actually quite humbling and something we should remind ourselves of and be grateful for on a daily basis. This is not something I expected to encounter while preparing for this blog post, but I'm glad I did.

 That being said, I'd like to share with you a completely different type of "Ultimate Sacrifice" that was made for my big brother and me when we were approximately 4 and 8 years old respectively. This was a sacrifice that I will never forget. A sacrifice that I am eternally grateful for and a sacrifice that taught me a life lesson that stuck with me some 30 years later.

I hope that one day when the time comes (and I know it will) I am able to quickly access this memory from the recesses of my brain so I can successfully grab this specific situation by the handle bars of life and make the right decision.

Come, will you?
Step inside my DeLorean.
Allow my flux capacitor to whisk us away in the carpool lane back to sometime around the year 1984. ( I know. I know, I've got to stop with these Back to the Future references. A bad habit I'm trying to break.)

The following is based on a true story:

Meet my parents.

Stacy & Susie

They are both 71 years of age now but I wanted to introduce you to to them back in 1984. As you can tell, my mom was (still is) a beauty and my dad was basically the Harry Styles of his day. Total Dreamboat. A true power a white Kim and Kanye...

Okay, that derailed quickly.  Let's re-focus.

My parents are amazing. I am so grateful for them. Throughout my childhood and adolescence they bent over backward (and sometimes forward) to teach me valuable life lessons. I feel so fortunate that they cared so much about the kind of adult I turned out to be. They invested so much time and effort into me, put my well being ahead of their own and sacrificed so much to ensure that I became an honorable man.

I'd like to share with you this one particular instance that, in my opinion, is the closest thing to an "ultimate sacrifice" that anyone has ever made for me.

One might assume that an "ultimate sacrifice" made by a parent for a child would be giving birth; A mother giving up the body of her youth for the well-being of her child. Perhaps the unconditional love of a mother who moved from the big city to a one red light town and gave up a career as the next Prudential Woman of the Year to stay at home with her four cubs to love, nurture and nourish them daily.

While these are all honorable undertakings. They fall just shy of the sacrifice that was made on a fateful summer day in 1984...

 My Dad was at work. My dear mother was watching over my brother, myself and a few other young children she cared for regularly. My oldest sister and her boyfriend stopped by the house in his 1970 Chevelle hot rod. It was your typical muggy Florida summer afternoon. The kind of day that you could just sense the afternoon thunderstorms approaching. Before you could ever see the clouds billowing in through the giant trees, you could smell the rain as it descended upon the damp leaves, dirt and sweet gum balls in the front yard of our Lake Geneva home.

What none of us knew is the fact that we were about to be hit with the storm of the decade in our quaint little town. The storm  was on top of us in a flash. There was no warning; no time to prepare. My mother's sixth mommy sense alerted her to the fact that this storm was not like our typical afternoon thunderstorm. The wind packed an extra punch. The lightning flashed with a fierce fury and the thunder shook the earth to it's very core.

As the bottom fell out of the sky, she ran outside to the front yard and herded us like cattle into the bathtub, which she designated as the safest place in our home. Soon after, branches snapped atop power lines. Power lines lost their battle with gravity and fell to the ground like angry electric snakes striking wildly in all directions. An entire sweet gum ball tree (so big you couldn't wrap your arms around it) a mere 5 feet from our home, was uprooted. It came crashing down like the foot of a giant Tyrannosaurus...right on top of my sister's boyfriend's car.


He was devastated!

We were frightened!

The storm eventually passed and everyone was okay. The only casualty was the car.

My mother was a local folk hero!!!

Well, that last sentence might be a slight exaggeration...

While my mom will always be a hero to me, she admitted that she really just did what any adult would or should do in a situation like this. She also admitted that the bathtub she put us in was in the corner of the house closest to the tree that came crashing down and if it had fallen in a different direction, we all could have been smashed. Thank God that didn't happen.

If my mom's "heroics" were really just a parent taking the proper precautions for children during a storm with above average intensity, then what is this "ultimate sacrifice" I keep talking about?

Well, that, you see, came a few days later by my father after the crushed car was removed from our driveway and the long neck of this dinosaur like tree remained in our front yard.

What were we going to do with this thing?!?

...I know Mom. Dad always gets to be the hero and it's just not fair. I'm sorry. I even led everyone to believe that you were the hero and yet again, here comes Dad flying in like E.T. on Elliot's bike to  save the day and take all the credit. I understand and maybe there is something I can do to make it up to you in the future. For now let's get back to the story at hand...

Keep in mind that I was approximately four years old at the time and this is by no means a direct quote from my father, but I like to imagine that this is what he said next...Wait! Before I tell you... Did I mention that my dad is brilliant? Well, he goes:

"I'll tell you what were gonna do with that old dead tree sitting in the yard. We're gonna take this here metal ramp, lean it against the tree and the boys can use it to launch themselves over the tree for hours upon hours upon days upon days of fun."

OH!!! We were so excited! It doesn't even matter what happens next. Dad was already our hero just for suggesting it.

There we were standing in the yard. The four of us: Dad, Mom, my brother Stacy and myself.

This was about to be the greatest day of our lives; The pinnacle of fun in my short life to this point here on earth. This storm was the best thing that ever happened to us. This tree was about to become like a family pet; A part of the family. I could envision years of ramping into the sunset before Mom called us in for dinner.

I could hear myself now,

"Just one more jump Mom and I'll be in for dinner. Just one more jump."

I could even hear her reply,

"Honey, you've been ramping that old tree for hours. This is the LAST time. That old tree will be there tomorrow. It's not going anywhere."

Then, just before I was about to hit that ramp for the first time and fly like Evil Knievel over the Grand Canyon, I heard Dad speak the words that changed everything:

"Hold on Son, let your old Dad show you how it's done."

Brilliant Idea. I told you he was brilliant.

There's no better person to learn from; No better person to take the inaugural flight.

You have to understand that my dad was perfect. My dad could fix anything. My dad caught the biggest fish. My dad threw the best spiral. He had the best jump shot.  He could bare foot ski. My dad could beat up your dad but he probably wouldn't fight your dad because my dad was smarter than your dad and he knew that fighting doesn't resolve anything. I'm telling you... he was perfect.

We stood back to let the man do his thing. He circled around to gain enough speed to launch into orbit. He hit the ramp with such precision. He launched into the air like a dolphin breaching beautifully for all to see. He stuck the landing like Kerri Strug on a bum ankle in the 1996 Olympics...

...Only he was on a bike. When I say he stuck the landing I really mean he STUCK the landing. He slid off the bike seat and completely and utterly...

racked his nuts...
 like I've never seen before or since.

I was 4 years old. I didn't know exactly what was going on. All I knew is that my dad was DOWN FOR THE COUNT! Moaning, groaning and "OH NO-ing."

As my mom ran to check on her wounded dare devil in distress she paused only for a moment and said six words in a tone of voice we knew not to question.

"Boys, go inside the house NOW!''

I don't remember much else after that. The tree was removed before we knew it or it may as well have been. We were forbidden to touch, look at, or think about that tree that almost stole my father's manhood. Now that I think about it, I am the baby of the family. I wonder if that was by choice or if the tree made that decision for them. Either way, I'm glad I'm the baby. Maybe I owe that tree a thank you.

Oh what could have been?!?
The friendship with the tree was over before it began.

Although I've always been seriously disappointed that I never got to ramp the giant tree, I like to think that my Dad saved me and my brother from a few major injuries. It makes me feel  better about the whole thing anyway. He sacrificed his "boys" for his boys, if you know what I mean. That takes an unconditional love that I'm not sure I fully grasp.

Although I know my dad never got flowers, never became America's sweetheart and certainly never got put on the cover of a Wheaties box for this ultimate sacrifice, I like to think that my mom did her best Bela Karolyi impression and carried him into the house to a nice warm bath and some painkillers.

Dad ended up being just fine. No real injuries to speak of.  Maybe just his pride. We realized our dad was not invincible, but he was still our hero. To this day when this story comes up my brother and I just laugh like little kids.

Thanks Dad. (for multiple reasons)

You will forever be to me what Kerri Strug was to our Nation back in 1996...

A Champion who's not afraid to make the ultimate sacrifice.

I wish we were all reading this together. We'd be laughing our balls off... or at least the rest of us would be.

I guess sometimes the most effective parenting tool is the ability to teach a child what not to do, like the dad of the Berenstain Bears. That guy was always teaching those kids what not to do. Let's just hope the sacrifice you make while teaching this lesson is minimal. As a father of two young boys myself, I hope that I am able to resist those, "Let your old dad show you how it's done" moments, no matter how tempting they may be.

Have any of you parents out there had any similar situations?