Thursday, October 2, 2014

Saying Goodbye

This article originally was published July 30, 2003

The room was dark as I entered. The television was off and the only life in the air was generated from a ceiling fan that was circulating at a low rate. I knew it was going to be hard to take those initial steps into my grandma's house but I also knew I had to, no matter how much it hurt.

As I walked in, I saw her, the person who I've always considered the strongest woman I've ever met. But on this day she didn't have the energy to get up and greet me with a typical hug.

I knew this was coming, but it didn't smack me in the face until I walked into her house last week. After hearing the news in March that my grandma only had eight months to live due to rapid-moving bladder cancer, my initial reaction was to get on the first plane home to Massachusetts to see her. Unfortunately, it's not always possible to hop on a flight home whenever something tragic happens, so my trip east last week was my first visit since hearing the news, and could possibly be the last time I'd ever see her alive.

After hunching down to kiss her on the cheek, my mind started wandering through everything I knew and had experienced with this woman. She raised four incredible children (separated only by six years) in a small house that has about as much room as a Ford Expedition. With a husband who spent extended periods of time on the road for his work, she had to be the enforcer and the homemaker by herself, which is never an easy job. But she managed and made sure all four kids had an opportunity to make the most of their lives.

She religiously made the half-mile walk to her church every weekend. Just a few years ago, after the death of my grandfather, she took on the role of baby-sitter for my younger cousin's son. It brought a smile to my face to think about my grandma chasing an infant around that empty house.

And, more recently, I can think back to the times when I'd visit her and within minutes she'd have a heart-stopping, greasy breakfast ready for me. As much as I didn't think I needed more eggs, sausage or toast slathered in butter, I knew I could find the room in my stomach just to spend another 10 or 15 minutes in that cramped kitchen with her.

My mind then wandered to how her days now start and end in her recliner. She doesn't have the strength or energy to climb in and out of her bed. Watching her methodically use her walker to get to the bathroom was almost unbearable. Instead of her usual walking stride, she's been reduced to shuffling her right foot, sliding her walker a few inches and shuffling her left foot to catch up.

My daydreaming came to a screeching halt as I heard her say in a hushed tone, "I never thought it would come to this, Michael." Immediately, I was thrust back into reality. I spent another 45 minutes or so at her house and decided it was time to go. We both knew this was goodbye without having to say the words.

I walked out of the house and into the bright sunlight of the day, a sunlight my ailing grandma doesn't get to experience anymore. I wanted to rush back into the house and pull her out to the front porch for a look. But I knew I couldn't. My grandma doesn't have the strength to stand on the front porch anymore, but she's still the strongest person I've ever met.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Perfect Ending

This is how it was supposed to end.

One hundred yards standing between me and the marathon finishing line Sunday - and off to the right on the sidewalk I see my little 7-year-old rule-follower Lucy holding her "Run, Daddy, Run!" (perfect comma placement) sign. Then, leaping off the sidewalk and onto the course comes the wild, polka-dot-raincoat-wearing, 4-year-old Paige in a full sprint toward my exhausted body.

I'm running on fumes but Paige and I are in lock-step toward the finish line. If there had been any fluids left in my body, I'm sure they would have been pouring out of my eyeballs. Instead, we push to the end. Paige peels off before the official finish line. I cross, stare blankly at a lady congratulating me while slipping a medal over my neck, then receive my commemorative inaugural Iris Marathon finisher T-shirt. Perfect.

Five weeks earlier I never dreamed this was possible. Lying on a couch as my calves continued to twitch hours after my 23-mile failure, I had no plans to run another marathon...and seriously debated the purpose of lacing up the bright orange Sauconys again. Why train for four months if the race director is just going to screw up the bus transportation to the starting line and it's going to be a blistering (to a runner) 75 degrees on race day? Why give up my Saturday mornings to do long runs in the rain? Why forgo family hikes because I was too exhausted from the previous day's training run?

Within 24 hours of crashing and burning in Banks five weeks ago, I received an outpouring of support I never expected. Social media comments, texts, calls - it started the healing process. Two people (Deana in Mass. and Tom in Wisc.) suggested I sign up for another marathon in the near future to maximize my training. I wanted to punch them both in the face.

Five days later, unprompted, Paige looked at me and said, "Daddy, let's go running." I buckled her into our faded-red jogging stroller and off we went. It was five miles of her pointing at "landmarks" in our town (the cow mailbox, the highway bridge we cross, the excavators tearing up the road) and cackling with laughter while I ran with no timer, no watch and no cares. It was perfect.

Then, my mind started turning. Maybe I could do another marathon if one fell within 4-6 weeks of this one. Maybe I could double-down on my training. Maybe Allison wouldn't divorce me on the spot when I suggest doing another marathon after she was the only adult witness to how truly awful I looked after my last. Maybe I was a horrible person for wanting to punch my friends in their respective faces.

The plan was to tell as few people as possible figuring this would keep my nerves down and limit who I had to inform if I failed again (although I did consult a couple more marathon runners, Rich and Jerry, who immediately said to go for it), monitor the weather at the Iris Marathon (home of my fastest half-marathon ever, 1:37, in last year's race), and if it looked promising, I'd sign up a couple days ahead of time.

Sure enough, the forecast called for light rain and low-50s for race morning - perfect again. I signed up and did not receive divorce papers, so knew I was clear to run Sunday. Of course, the marathon is a unrelenting beast, so it's no surprise the skies opened with a hard downpour at Mile 20 (it stopped three miles later). But, it didn't matter. By that point I was determined - my stomach was fine, my hydration was solid and if I had to crawl the final six be it.

Turns out I didn't have to crawl. My pace slowed slightly down the stretch and I finished in 4:01, my best time ever. Six-weeks-ago Mike would have lamented missing breaking the completely arbitrary round number of 4:00 but today's Mike could not have cared less.

I finished. I got my medal. I took pictures with the kids at the finish line. I had a free beer afterward. 4:01. 4:21. 5:01. I didn't care - it wasn't a DNF - and I proved to myself and the girls that just because you fail once, doesn't mean you don't try again. Do they get this lesson at 7 and 4 years old? I have no idea. Considering Paige wanted to fist-fight Lucy and I when it appeared she was going to lose at Candyland later that day, no, she probably doesn't get it yet.

But, it's what kept me focused, determined and moving one foot in front of the other as I passed mile markers 23, 24, 25 and 26. It's what got me across that finish line. I hope that moment stays with them for a long time because it's something I'll never forget.

Monday, April 14, 2014


The ending was supposed to take place on the track behind the high school while the public address announcer read my name as I came down the home stretch. Allison, Lucy and Paige would be there, cheering, and I'd probably start crying. Then, the kids would fight over who got to wear my medal as I basked in the post-marathon glow.

Instead, my race ended when I slogged through thorny blackberry bushes and an unforeseen deep, wet swamp to climb from the race trail to the divided highway. Beaten, defeated and hardly able to move, I waited for our Mazda5 to pick me up where Highways 47 and 26 intersect, which was about 3 miles from the finish line. There was no cheering. There was no medal. There was just a quiet car and confused looks on the girls' faces.

Of course, the race didn't start as expected, which didn't help my cause. After getting to the town of Banks nice and early, hitting the restrooms (you marathoners know how many times we need a restroom before a race, it varies between "several" and "obsessive") and picking up my number, I got into a line for a bus. This was a point-to-point race so we parked at the finish and were to be bussed to the start. I eagerly jumped in line at 7:50 and waited. And waited. And waited. The late arrivers started forming a different line and when a bus finally showed up, guess who it picked up first? Of course, the other people.

By the time I got on a bus, it was 8:53. The race was scheduled to start at 9:30. We had a 40-minute bus ride ahead of us. And, after standing in line for an hour, I clearly needed to find a bathroom at the starting line. Plus, I had the joy of sitting 3-across on a freaking school bus seat due needing to fit as many people as possible on the long yellow chariot. I wanted to use the bus time to do final prep (applying sunblock and getting ready mentally), and instead spent the trip trying to breathe without bumping into the person next to me and playing a mean game of "who's going to blink first" with my bladder.

The bus issues forced the race starting time to be delayed, meaning the race was pushed deeper into the day's warmth. While everyone in Oregon has been waiting for sunny and 75 degrees, I feared it all week. I trained in 40-degree temps all winter. Rain. Cold. Wind. That's where I'm strong. 75 was going to be too hot. All sun would make it worse. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky as I looked up after executing the fastest pee/check bag/briskly jog to the start possible.

The race started and I tried to put all the early-day issues behind me. As usual, the first few miles sailed by but my splits were all over the place. I typically run every single mile within 5 to 10 seconds of each other, so this was the first sign something was wrong.

The next sign was my stomach distress by Mile 10. For those of you not quick with the math, that means I was staring down 16 more miles of stomach cramps. This also kept me from eating and drinking properly on the go, which in turn led to dehydration and exhaustion later in the race. I've never experienced stomach cramps during any training run. But, yup, it would happen early on race day.

By the mid-way point, I knew this wasn't going to be my day. I was doing mental math about how I could slow my per-mile pace and still hit my "C" goal of breaking four hours.

By Mile 18, things were coming apart. My only hope was I knew the trailhead where Allison, Paige and Lucy were waiting was coming up. More than an hour after the time I told them I expected to be there, I slowly jogged down the path and heard their screaming voices. Paige was proud to give me a bottle of water. Lucy was disappointed I had zero interest in the banana she was holding. Allison looked concerned when I mentioned not being sure if I'd finish.

By Mile 22, I was staggering. I couldn't run or walk in a straight line. I looked like Clark Griswold in "Vacation" as he roamed the desert in search of help when the family truckster broke down. We weren't in the forest anymore, so the sun was beating down. I convinced myself I could run about half a mile, then walk, then try to run again. Just before Mile 23, my calf seized, I stopped in my tracks and mentally checked out. There would be no "A", "B" or "C" goal. There would be no finish on the track. There would be no medal. My body locked up and I couldn't shuffle, couldn't walk. It was over.

A lady not affiliated with the race was riding her bike on the path. She looked at me and said, "I saw that guy up ahead struggling, but then I saw you looking worse, so I wanted to help." She sat with me, gave me sunblock (by this point I crisping up like a rotisserie chicken on the exposed path) and waited until I got through to Allison. I wish I could remember her name. I barely knew my own at this point.

The part that kills me is running is my thing. I spend most days like every other parent - making breakfast (and eating mine last), getting the kids ready for school, making lunches, figuring out dinner, refereeing endless fights between the girls, coaching their sports, putting all their needs first and on and on. I get it - that's your job as a parent and I seriously wouldn't change it for anything. But, running is that one "thing" I have. I don't play golf. I don't go out with the guys for beers after work. I don't play softball in the evenings. I don't play video games. I run. That's it.

And, somehow, running let me down yesterday - four months of training gone. Four months of the most training I've ever done in preparation for a marathon. Gone. I've now started five and finished four marathons, and the way I feel today I believe those will be my lifetime stats in the category.

My concern is the kids saw me not finish what I started. Lucy said, "Well, you missed it by 3 miles" (she is quick with the math). Paige could tell I was hurting and just wanted to keep hugging me. They've seen me limping around the house since and know something went wrong yesterday.

I take solace they can't get into my head, because not finishing what you started is way worse there than any physical ailment.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Time To Own It

On Wednesday just before noon, it happens. Lucy comes home from kindergarten and doesn't return to school until after Labor Day for first grade. When I was unceremoniously let go by work in February, I didn't think we'd get to this point. And, while I've been fearing June 12 for several weeks, I'm starting to look forward to it. Will this change by June 14 when I hear the girls scream, "Yah-huh! Nut-uh!" at each other 482 times? Sure. But give me this moment now please.

After this week I finally feel like I'm "owning" this stay-at-home role I have. Allison has tried to tell me over and over (and over and over) that my problem with staying home with Paige has been it wasn't on my terms. And it wasn't. After working in the industry for 15 years, I was dismissed by a guy with no discernible skills and who has bragged to employees about "firing hundreds of people" in his career. Congratulations, I'm another notch in your bedpost.

That stung for a few months, I can admit it. The wet, cold, gray Portland weather didn't help either. Paige and I were limited to indoor activities and I still was under the guise that I'd get her back on track with her afternoon nap. Unfortunately, the day in April when she stared me dead in the eyes during lunch and declared, "I'm never napping again, NEVER EVER!" - she actually meant it.

Now we don't worry about rushing home for naps. This week we went to her soccer class, the International Rose Garden and a huge park in the city with a volcano in it. I've finally realized, as long as we have a lunch and sunblock packed, and a fully charged iPhone (for when her exhaustion is too much to handle and she falls asleep in the car leaving me to find a spot in a random parking lot under a tree for her to sleep), we can conquer the world. There aren't many places better than Portland in the summer, so I'm actually looking forward to seeing what else we can explore in the coming weeks. Add in Lucy, and the more the merrier minus the part where I have to make additional trips back into the house for her sunglasses, snack, books, etc. before we can leave our driveway.

It's funny - owning this role made the most sense after I received an email from a guy I know in the area. I asked him about keeping a lookout for any potential job opportunities in his conversations and travels. He responded with, "You're a stay-at-home dad now, can I be you when I grow up!" He meant it and it resonated with me. And, the other day at the park, a mom asked what I do, and for the first time I said without flinching, "I'm a stay-at-home dad." Typically, I bumble and babble through a whole thing about not having a job, I used to be a writer, etc., but now I'm owning it. Plus, it helps explain why I haven't shaved in two weeks and look like a cross between the old-school Brawny Paper Towel guy (minus the physique) and Conan O'Brien (minus the laughter).

It's not really a "white blank page" for Paige and I anymore. We know what we're doing, we have figured out each other's tendencies to a degree but there still are plenty of chapters left to write. And now, it appears, we'll have the summer to do it. I just hope I don't have a blog June 14 entitled "Yah-huh, nut-uh" with a different vibe to it.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lice And Turds And Barf, Oh My!

Save yourself! The lice have arrived.

Finally, a fate worse than taking Paige to the grocery store - picking lice nits from Lucy's flowing mane of hair as she shifts, groans, grunts and yips at me when I catch a snarl with the lice comb. Yup, for the second time in four years, Lucy and I are experiencing the joy of spending an inordinate amount of time together in the bathroom trying to rid her hair of the dreaded creatures.

With Lucy's sensitive skin, I didn't think much of her itching at her head a bit recently. I was concerned enough to check it out the other day but didn't see anything like the infestation of four years ago. When I picked her up from daycare that morning in 2009, I recoiled in horror as I sifted through her hair to uncover what was lurking on her scalp. Lice. Crawling. Everywhere.

But this time, I don't notice anything until just before bed last night. There they are - the tiniest little nits - smaller than a grain of rice, dark in color and attached to her hair near the scalp. There aren't many and could have been mistaken for dirt if I hadn't known better.

We make our way to the downstairs bathroom so as not to bother her sleeping sister. I place the instructions from the treatment box on the counter and set off to gather some other supplies. Of course, as I come back into the bathroom she is studying the large sheet of paper closer than Chip Kelly on 3rd-and-3.

"Daddy, what are these?" she asks pointing to the large pictures of nasty looking creatures adorning the bottom of the page.

"Um, hmm, I wonder why those are on there. They certainly aren't the 'itchies' on your head," I assure her. Crisis averted. Father of the Year status cemented. (There is no doubt she knew why those images were on the paper but didn't want the real answer - I cannot blame her)

Allison pops her head into the bathroom and gives me a, "You got this?" That's our code for, "You're going to do this but I'm going to give a half-assed attempt at offering." To her defense, I do this all the time when Paige wakes up screaming in the middle of the night. Plus, she is washing every stitch of linen in the house, all stuffed animals and all articles of clothing at the same time. And, she's the only person living in our home who currently is earning a consistent paycheck, so I opt not to complain.

I won't go into the details of the treatment process. It sucks. You apply. You sit. You use the enclosed lice comb to pick out the nits. You do this until your back seizes because you're standing in an awkward position over your child's head for hours on end.

This all comes on the heels of Paige's latest push in potty training. I'd estimate she's 90 percent there. The remaining 10 percent breaks down in two categories:

1. Overnight - she wakes up reeking of urine every morning. Unfortunately for Paige, her mornings begin at 5:10 a.m. playing quietly by herself in her room, so no one tends to her needs until she starts kicking walls around 6 am. (5 percent)

2. When she has a "loose" poop - her understanding of what is about to come out of her body is remarkable. Regular turd? She asks to go on the porcelain, adult (I call it "human") potty. Something much nastier? She wants to use the "little potty," which is the plastic one sitting next to the big toilet. (5 percent)

When the turds hit this plastic potty, the attending adult has to wipe her, hold the dirty wipes in hand (they are not flushable), remove the crap-filled bucket from the plastic potty, dump it in the human potty, pull up her underwear with one hand, scream at her that, yes, she needs to wash her hands, and bring the poop-smeared bucket down to the laundry room sink to scrub it out with Lysol.

Of course, not to be outdone, Sugar, the freaking cat, decides that the very moment I am talking to my dad on the phone today, she's going to start making the horrific pre-vomiting sounds, which to the untrained ear resemble the noises you'd expect an eight-pound cat to make prior to yakking up a beluga whale. Despite being 36 years old, I try not to curse in front of my parents too often. Today, I barked into the phone, "Ugh, the effing cat just puked everywhere." Let's just say, I didn't say "effing."

At this point, I'd like Walter White and his meth-cooking team to show up and drop plastic sheeting over our house ("Breaking Bad" reference for the uniformed) until all this nastiness subsides. If that's not an option, then it looks like Lucy and I are about to set up shop again in the downstairs bathroom. I just hope Paige doesn't need to go No. 2 for the next two to three hours.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Running To Stand Still

I apologize for the lack of blog posts lately. With Paige giving up her mid-day nap cold turkey, I've lost my blogging time and any free time I have is used to do online research into how to abandon your family without leaving a trace. Let's just say, life sucks when Paige doesn't nap.

The weather in Oregon turned a few weeks ago. The rain began its hibernation early this year, the sun shook off its rust and we now are looking at a tremendous stretch of bright, 80-degree days that begin with a hint of a cool, refreshing Pacific Northwest crispness in the air in the morning followed by unlimited rays of warm sunshine by afternoon. These days are built for running.

Minus an unfortunate stretch of time in Wisconsin which I've deemed "those fat, alcoholic years," running has been a part of my life. Ran in high school because I sucked at most other sports. Ran well after college to attempt to shed the shame of those early Wisconsin years. Even ran when living in West Bend, Wis., when some hicks in a beat-up pickup truck drove slowly past me and yelled, "Run! Fat ass! Run!" Yeah, that one stung a bit.

I've deemed Paige my "Running Buddy" to get her excited about picking off mile after mile in our suburban town. And, once she dons her sweatshirt and sunglasses, asks for a snack, begs for a water bottle and demands a bag of Little People Princesses to hold and play with while we are running, I finally release the brake on the faded red Baby Jogger stroller (purchased prior to Lucy being born) and we're off.

Most days we do about four miles. Paige loves this one house about 1 3/4 miles away that has a cow mailbox out front (a mailbox with cow legs, head, tail and ears sticking out from it). We run to it, she howls in delight, I continue ahead to the two-mile turnaround and come back (to see the mailbox again on the trip back). Other days I'll push it to five or six miles but we always run past the cow mailbox.

On Friday, I sent Lucy to school with no lunch and not enough money in her school lunch account to buy. God forbid she can't eat popcorn chicken at school. So, I wrote a check and off Paige and I went in the Baby Jogger. Instead of popping onto the main street, we went in the opposite direction and twisted and turned our way through the subdivision's never-ending supply of roads where eventually Lucy's elementary school is located. It's a shade more than a mile from our house.

Of course, by going in the opposite direction, I was peppered with questions about the cow mailbox. Are we going to the cow mailbox? Where is the cow mailbox? Is this the way to the cow mailbox? The distraction of the cow mailbox caused Paige to forget she didn't bring her Little People Princesses with her. At the 0.9-mile mark heading toward the crest of a hill, it started. Screaming. "Daddy! Stop the stroyer! (all "L"s still sound like "Y"s).

I don't like stopping during a run, especially when I know my Running Buddy is pissed off. She explains the situation to me, I decline heading back to the house and try to start pushing up the hill again. Paige goes into bucking-bronco mode. I never thought 35 pounds of fury could stop my momentum but she is shaking the stroller so violently, it is impossible to move forward.

I begrudgingly relent and say we'll go back home. The shaking, screaming and shrieking stop. We run back to where we started, get the toys and traverse the same damn sidewalks to head to Lucy's school. As soon as we drop off the check at the desk, she immediately begins asking about the cow mailbox again.

The plan isn't to go that far but after our detour, I figure, "You want to get nuts!" (in my best George Costanza voice). We push to the cow mailbox and past it. By the time we arrive home we had covered a hilly seven miles. I am spent.

My Running Buddy isn't perfect. Far from it. But as long as the weather stays nice, we'll continue working on our patience and logging more miles than expected, and at least she's not calling me a "fat ass."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Goodbye Nap Time, You Will Be Missed

As Paige finished her lunch Monday she looked me dead in the eyes, furled her eyebrows (as her mother does all the time) and emphatically said, "I don't want to nap...never, ever!" After refusing to nap the previous week, which I attempted to shrug off as a blip on the napping radar, her outright refusal to take a mid-day siesta this week has sealed the deal - and possibly my sanity.

When Paige napped, it was always for at least two hours, sometimes three. She's a high-energy, busy, emotional child, so I cherished those hours after lunch. I'd figure out dinner. I'd clean the kitchen. I'd work on emerging freelance projects. I'd use the treadmill (when the weather was bad). I'd sit and enjoy the silence for a few minutes. Now, Paige and I have 13 to 14 consecutive hours together. No break.

And, by 4 or 5 in the afternoon, the effects of not napping takes its toll. The other day as I was getting dinner together, she asked if they could eat dinner on their little trays in front of the TV, which exclusively is a treat for them and maybe happens once a week. I said no. She then climbed on our tall kitchen chairs, screamed and berated me for several minutes with tears in her eyes, then meekly said, "Daddy...I need help getting down."

The no-napping tirades also reared their ugly head the other day when I received a call from a potential employer asking to do a phone interview at that moment, then suddenly realizing I clearly must have been waterboarding 15 toddlers as there was no other reason for the amount of desperate, agonizing screaming in the background. The caller immediately said, "Do you have time tomorrow that would be better?"

Yesterday Allison had the day off and as the three of us raced back from her mom's house to be home in time to pick up Lucy from the bus stop, Paige yelled at us the entire way. Turn the music off! My feet are cold!(it was 72 and sunny yesterday) My want my toys! My want my books! All the while I'm thinking, "My want to drive into oncoming traffic."

Three minutes before we pulled into the driveway, the only noise from the tiny dictator in the backseat was snoring. Awesome. A nap at 3 in the afternoon. Needless to say, she then was up until 9 last night but managed to burst out of bed before 6 this morning. She went through the typical routine of walking into our room, going all the way around the foot of our bed to reach my side, then poking her fingers in my face to wake me up. Why doesn't she do this to her mother, who is sleeping right near the door? I'll never know.

I do know this - Paige and I have survived these 11 weeks because we have a good system in place, a system that includes grocery shopping at 8 a.m. on Mondays, story time at the library on Monday and Tuesdays at 10 a.m...and a two-hour respite for me in the middle of the day. Now, she's amping up the craziness by a couple hours a day in an effort to claim all the power in the house.

I'm pretty sure I'm screwed. So, if you don't hear from me for a few days, just imagine a three-year-old in a glittery princess tutu standing over me, barking out orders with tears in her eyes as I duck for cover. I don't see any other way for this to turn out.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Missing Boston, Pondering The Future

I slip on my running shoes 20 minutes after finishing dinner with the family. I say I need a run to clear my head. It's been years since Massachusetts has been my official residence but it's always been my first home - and today it was under attack on the most "Massachusetts" of days. The Boston Marathon. Patriots Day. The Red Sox. Maybe I don't say it often but I do miss the hell out of that place.

I want to run because that's what runners do when something horrific happens. Obviously, being on an opposite coast, this isn't about me. But it is still my home and my sport facing tragedy, and some of the people closest to me were in the streets today running and cheering. It still affects me but it is hard to put into words. So, I want to run. You know, a casual run to break from the day.

After posting a near-effortless, fast-for-me, sub-7-minute first mile, I realize, "OK, it's going to be like this." I run hard. I run harder. I push. It makes no sense but I want to feel something. Maybe some pain? Who knows? This isn't a casual run where my mind gets to go blank.

My feet move faster below as my mind races to keep up. Why haven't I kept in better touch with my friends out east? Why haven't we visited more? Why do we get bogged down in the day-to-day minutiae and let days, weeks and months pass without reaching out? I wish I knew.

As a parent, you think about your kids during times of crisis. You want them to be safe. You question the world we live in. I read a lot of Facebook updates and tweets throughout the day wondering about the future of humanity. I don't question it because I never placed my faith in humanity in the people who carried out this cowardly act. My faith in humanity rests with former Patriot Joe Andruzzi carrying an injured person from the chaos at the finish line. It rests with Rich DeSilva, who barely made it through last year's marathon in 90-degree heat, came back this year, raised more than $10,000 for Andruzzi's children's cancer foundation and who had to end his day at the 25.5-mile marker. If I know anything, I know this - Rich's perseverance will have him running a marathon again. This is where our spirit lies.

My faith also rests in the 6-year-old who I'll walk to the bus stop in the morning. Tonight she had a "work night" as she excitedly called it where she banged out her "ch" homework, finished a Rainbow Fairies book and planned to start on her next book report. The future is bright for that kid. I do not worry about the world I'll grow old in with Lucy as part of our next generation.

And, my faith is in Paige, the 3-year-old who has taught me more in these 10 weeks at home than I've learned at any job. This is the truth - we laugh, we cry and navigate every day as only a parent and child can. She's taught me to cherish the time we have together while simultaneously pushing my every button. I've found inspiration in it even if a good chunk of this blog is dedicated to those mind-numbingly crazy moments we all have as parents. But, with her fire, passion and smarts, once again, I do not fear for our future.

My run ends up the hill into our neighborhood. My stomach is in knots. My mind is running at full throttle. I head inside with enough time to be the "closer" at Paige's bedtime after Allison finishes reading a couple of books to her. I sing her some good-night songs and give her an extra butterfly kiss. I get to read Lucy her bedtime books, then tell her a make-believe story as I do every night.

And, tomorrow, I'll wake up thinking of Boston and its incredible people again. And while some lives will never be the same, I know everyone there, including my close friends and family, will come back from this after the mourning process happens for the victims of this tragedy.

I wish I could be there with you but know you are in my thoughts, more than you realize.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

2 Much-Needed Moments To Keep Me Going

The way yesterday afternoon was moving along, I didn't expect to get one of "those moments," let alone two of them in a single evening.

Immediately after school yesterday I take Lucy, Paige and a $20-off-purchase coupon to Dick's Sporting Goods to buy Lucy her first glove for t-ball. I expect one of those happy, proud moments where I share my knowledge of the game, find the perfect glove and Lucy and I play catch for hours afterward. Instead, I lose Paige for several minutes as she climbs into a clothing rack, lifts her almost-3-year-old butt onto a crossbar inside it and becomes hidden to anyone in the store. At the same time, Lucy keeps placing too-large helmets on her head and banging aluminum bats together to drive the customers, employees and her father crazy.

Fine. I pick a glove. Then we come home and Lucy uses the glove to make five catches in the driveway, then says, "I want to ride my bike." This, of course, means getting her helmet on, digging the bike out from the depths of the garage and walking alongside her as she doesn't know how to ride without training wheels yet. After navigating 10 feet up the sidewalk, she slightly loses balance causing her foot to touch the ground. "I don't want to ride my bike. I'm going inside to read Rainbow Fairies." Why not - it's only 65 degrees and sunny outside.

OK, let's see what No. 2 is up to. "Daddy, me want to ride Dora bike!" Before Paige knocks over the boxes and tricycles in front of the Dora bike with training wheels, I lift it over her head and into the driveway. I remind her she has to push down on the pedals to make it go. This doesn't sit well with her. "No, Daddy! You push me!" This berating continues for 45 seconds until she proclaims, "Me no ride bike!" As I place the bike back in the garage, she runs full speed up the sidewalk, trips (you could see it coming) and lands flat on her stomach. Crying. Screaming. "Everyone inside!" I yell.

With Allison gone for a work dinner, I opt for making tacos. Of course, by the time I sit down, both girls have eaten all their food, are whining for "a treat" and could not care less that my taco is ice cold, and that I haven't taken a bite of it yet. Both girls go tearing upstairs to play, which usually means someone is screaming, "Daddy! She's touching my toys!" within 90 seconds.

But, finally, mercifully, "that moment" pops up around 6:30. Parents know what these moments are. The kids drive you bat-shit crazy for days on end, you question your lot in life, then you wonder why it's so quiet upstairs. My mind starts going two ways as I tip-toe up the stairs: 1) they've finally killed each other or 2) they finally have a cat cornered. Instead, I hear Lucy reading a Sesame Street book out loud and her voice is coming from Paige's room. I stick half my face around the door frame as not to disrupt the world and, I shit you not, Lucy is sitting in a chair, holding up the book as if she's a teacher and Paige is sitting on the floor listening. The Moment.

After Allison gets home, I walk with Lucy to her swimming lesson at 7:30. For weeks previously, the final five minutes of every swim class is dedicated to having the little kids (one at a time) step out to the edge of the diving board and jump into the water. Every student jumps right off except for Lucy. She stands at the end, half-squats, stands back up, shakes her head no and eventually walks off the back of the board. Last night, she walks to the edge and jumps right in. She does it three times with no hesitation.

On the walk home I gush about how proud I am that she conquered her fears and jumped into the pool. With her clothes over her wet bathing suit and still sporting her goggles (she walks home in them), Lucy reaches out her hand to hold mine. We aren't crossing a street where I require hand-holding but, with her new-found confidence and pride, she wants to hold my hand while we walk up the hill on the sidewalk. The Moment. Again.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spring Break - Not How I Envisioned It

Half a lifetime ago, the term "spring break" conjured up a much different meaning than it does today. I never went on a real college spring break unless you count the time two friends and I visited my Uncle Kevin in southern California during our sophomore year at Marquette, planned a day trip to San Diego to throw my uncle off the scent, then raced down to Tijuana for an afternoon of drinking. But, let's just say the streets of Tijuana aren't exactly filled with co-eds on a random Wednesday at 2 p.m.

Still, the idea of "spring break" used to make me think of sandy beaches, warm temperatures, ocean paradises, people not wearing a lot of clothing and lots of drinking. This week, Lucy is on spring break from kindergarten, which means both kids home with me, and we're deep into our version of a week of debauchery.

When it comes to sandy beaches, there is nothing like a local park in 55-degree weather with a slight rain falling - not exactly paradise. The sand comes into play when you have a two-year-old with you. Sure, I noticed Paige dragging her feet throughout the patchy sand area for an hour but didn't fully grasp what had taken up residence in her Velcro-strapped Champion sneakers until we arrived home today and she dumped a sandbox worth of dirt all over the kitchen floor, then ran off. No problem, kid, I'll clean it up - that's what I'm here for.

The ocean paradises came into play Monday. Allison won a free family pass to the North Clackamas Aquatic Center. As we approached the ticket desk you could see into the pool areas. It was at this moment I realized I would have paid for the next four families in line if we didn't have to go into that Petri dish of disease. Kids sneezing. The stench of too much chlorine. People who needed to wear two or three t-shirts instead of none at all. Of course our kids could not wait to jump into the mix. Two hours and countless trips down the kiddie slide later and we made our way back to the hot, humid family locker room area. Not realizing the floors would be wet despite being told repeatedly by her mother and father, Paige slipped and fell twice on the nasty ground soaking up the last remnants of whatever was living on it. An ocean paradise it was not.

Prior to our adventure to the aquatic center is when I got my fill of nakedness for the week. Paige was thrilled to jam her lunch-distended belly into her new princess swimsuit. I said, "Remember, you have nothing on your bottom but a swimsuit, so let me know when you need to go potty." After just a few minutes in my room getting ready, I returned to Paige's and was hit with a whiff. It wasn't full-on barn odor, so I posed the pooping question. "Me no poop, daddy," was the response. I was suspicious. And, as I thought, once the swimsuit came off, a couple of turds landed on the floor. Awesome. Guess we're keeping that swimsuit. Oh, great, and now she's running naked down the hallway while singing "This Girl Is On Fire" by Alicia Keys. Seriously.

Trust me - the drinking is yet to come. It may not be cheap tequila like in Tijuana and it may not be Natty Light like in Daytona Beach, but it's coming in the form of Pacific Northwest brewed IPAs. Tomorrow is my day, Marquette's day, and nothing is standing in my way of watching that Sweet 16 game. By 4 pm PST, spring break goes on hiatus for these kids. I just hope Paige can keep her dirt and poop to herself for a couple of hours, and I'll promise to do all I can to keep my shirt on.