What it feels like when your child goes off to college

You drop your pride and joy off at college. You pull into your daughter’s new dorm full of nerves and excitement. You’re not sure what to feel, but you don’t have time to focus. The squad of resident assistants and greeters is on top of you in minutes to help unload your SUV brimming with boxes and clothes. What took hours to pack, gets unloaded in minutes in one big chaotic mess.

You stick around to help clean and decorate the new room, but you begin to feel like a third wheel. If your life were a movie, this would be the point where the director would cue the melancholy music. You know the time to leave is coming fast.

You load up on groceries together walking aimlessly through the store. You know that your daughter probably won’t even touch half the stuff since she has a meal card, but you still throw an extra box or two of granola bars into the cart. “You just never know,” you tell yourself.

study-763571_1280Finally the time has come to leave. The music stops. Everything becomes a blur. You feel like your heart has just been ripped out of your stomach. The daughter that you’ve cared for, nurtured, shared more than a few laughs, dreams and tears is getting ready to start-out on her own. You’re shook up, but you notice with shock that your daughter couldn’t be happier, more care-free. 

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They lied to us

The world’s leading doctors and scientists lied to us, blatant, exaggerated lies.

First they told us that a glass of wine a day was good for us, then they said it was bad for us and then back again. You’re not sure what to believe.

Case in point: doctors have long told us that adults shrink as they get older. One study I saw stated that we start shrinking as early as 30. Women can gradually lose about two inches, men an inch between the ages of 30 to 70.

And that would be wrong. Oh I believed the lie like I’m sure you do. However, I have seen the light.

Continue reading “They lied to us”

Where did I put my car keys again?

When a customer service representative asked for the best way to contact me recently, I immediately started giving her my childhood phone number. I haven’t thought about the phone number in more than 25 years. I’m not even sure it works anymore. And it came blurting out of my mouth in a rapid-fire response like I was reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Like a fool, I had to quickly retrace my steps, giving the customer service representative my “updated” number. “Oh yea, I have a new cell number,” I said, failing to add that I’ve had at least two land lines and four different cell phone numbers since I regularly called that my home number.

Continue reading “Where did I put my car keys again?”

My own version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

The over-achiever in me was upset. The hard worker, who has long prided himself on his work ethic and productive time management skills, had wasted an entire day.

I had a day off from work and family obligations, the first in months, and I did nothing. I let the vacation day slip between my fingers and wash away like the tide rushes into the beach and pulls a seashell out to sea.

Continue reading “My own version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”

Seeing the good in people

A number of years ago, I wrote a feature story on some of the financial challenges that a small Northern Virginia homeless shelter and food bank faced staying open. I got to thinking about the shelter recently and two people I met when I visited. The exchange between the two spoke volumes about them . . . and (hopefully) human nature.

. . . . .

The delivery driver stood quietly by the shelter office door, rocking back-and-forth from one foot to another. His head tilted slightly downward to the ground, he stared at a dark stain in the carpet.

“Give me a second,” the shelter director told the man as she flipped through a slew of envelopes lined up in her desk drawer. “There’s fresh coffee on the counter if you want some.”

The delivery driver shook his head no, but said nothing. He rechecked his clipboard for the tenth time and flipped through his papers. He looked uncomfortable, watching the woman search for the check that she said she had wrote, but he was on strict orders from his boss to come back with the payment.

The woman rifled through the shelter’s bills looking for the payment. She had previously highlighted each bill’s due date — several were now overdue and arranged them in order in the drawer. The small rural homeless shelter received some state funding, but relied heavily on local community and religious organizations to stay afloat. The closing of the small, nearby Army base and recent layoffs by several small firms had hit the community hard and the shelter had started to fall behind on some of its bills. The director though remained confident that things would turn around in a few months.

The shelter cared for anybody who needed help: single mothers nursing infants, laborers out of a job, and recovering alcoholics looking for another chance to put their lives back together. The woman played any number of roles. She served as a mother, psychologist, preacher, guardian angel, job counselor, friend for the poor and down on their luck. If needed, she also had a reputation of playing drill sergeant for anyone who needed a stiff kick or push from behind. Through it all, she had a strict rule that she refused to turn anyone away. “We’re having a tough first quarter, but I know I put that check back for you,” she told the delivery driver.

After a short wait, the director was able to find the check in the outgoing mail and apologized profusely for putting the driver behind his schedule. The driver smiled and took the check and prepared to get back on the road. “You know if it was up to me, it wouldn’t be a problem,” he said.

Before turning to leave to get back to his truck, the driver reached into his back pocket and pulled out a frayed leather wallet. He pulled out three $20 bills and stuck them in the woman’s hands. “This is for the shelter, you need it more than I do,” he told her. “When I was out of a job five years ago and struggling, I came close to losing everything, but you kept us going. You helped us when no one else would. Hopefully, this helps you now.”

The two embraced and once the driver was gone, the shelter director collapsed into her chair. “I’m frustrated, but I can’t give up, not when people like that care about our future.”

Shhh, I think I’ve become a feminist

One hot sticky summer night, two old-timers and a young guy from a nearby factory came into my grocery store line, where I worked as a teenager, and started to complain about the “damn women-libbers” who were trying to take their jobs.

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They had only a few items and I worked quickly to get them through my line, but I couldn’t help but take notice of their conversation. The three went on-and-on about how two new female workers were trying to take their jobs and how they, the men, were being mistreated.

I had never seen the guys before and would have forgotten about them completely, but I left work that night thinking that if they put as much energy into keeping their jobs as they did complaining they would have nothing to fear.

I walked away reflecting on how fortunate I was to be born with both the X and Y chromosomes and had a bright future in front of me. I certainly didn’t come from money and would have to work to make my dreams come true, but I also didn’t have to worry about anyone tearing down my dreams or paying me less because of the nature of my sex.

Fair is fair . . . for everyone

For whatever reason, the scene has stayed with me for more than three decades. I’ve always believed in hard work. My father and my mother long ago taught me the value of giving an honest day’s labor for a day’s pay.

As a teenager walking off my shift that day, I would have never described myself as a feminist. The word feminist was someone who burned their bras and protested on Capitol Hill. I couldn’t really relate, but I’ve long believed in equal opportunity for everyone — no matter the gender.  Yes, body type comes into play, but if a women works hard and can do the job, then why should she be prevented from laying bricks, hauling trash, or even serving in the military?

The same goes for so-called traditional male roles in finance, technology, medicine etc., etc. Why shouldn’t there be equal footing? What role exactly does gender play in determining whether or not you’re a great finance director or doctor or lawyer? I’ve never found a reason.

Becoming a father, becoming a feminist

While I never would have described myself as a feminist, I’ve found that life has a way of shaping you, of changing you, whether you want it to or not. I still don’t know that I understand everything that being a feminist means. I definitely tend more to the conservative side of issues, but if being a feminist means that my daughter or any daughter has the right to be whatever she wants, than sign me up.

chess2I want my daughter to believe, deep in her heart, that she is capable of achieving anything she puts her mind to. Since she was a little girl, I’ve long lectured her on having big dreams. Will that mean hard work? Yes. Will that take commitment? Oh definitely. Will that mean failure along the way? Of course.

But I want the best for her. I want her to have big, exciting and challenging dreams. And as a father, I don’t want the government or anyone for that matter to be in control or telling her how and what she should do with her life. And when she reaches those dreams, she should be paid equally to everyone else in that role.

And you know what? I want the exact same thing for my sons. I want them to shoot for the moon. If that makes me a feminist, then so be it.

Frankly, I’m not sure why everyone wouldn’t want the same thing.

 

 

Special needs camp counselor: In over my head

I’ve always been awestruck by the challenge special education teachers face on a daily basis. I became even more impressed a number of years ago when I served as a weekend camp counselor for a mentally and physically disabled boy. I found the experience eye-opening.

. . . . . .

Joey, a 12-year-old boy with severe autism and cerebral palsy, looked down at me like I had lost my mind. For a second as I lay lying on the tile floor tangled with his feet, I thought he might be right . . . that I had gone crazy.

We were going to go outside in the chilly spring air to play with the other kids and I had tried to help Joey put on a long-sleeved shirt. In the process, I stumbled over his lanky legs and fell to the tile in a crumpled ball.

Joey (name changed to protect his identity) had limited speech capabilities and seemed to barely notice. He normally showed little if any emotion. However, when he finally looked over and saw me sprawled on the floor like a floundering fish, Joey broke out into a quiet giggle and awkwardly clapped his hands.

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I had tried a half dozen ways to reach Joey throughout the weekend, but they all worked to no avail. We had hiked what seemed like 12 miles around the wooded camp ground, gone canoeing and almost tipped the canoe into the water and played a million different camp and board games.

I had tried to get any kind of response from Joey . . . a smile, a frown, anything that would give me an indication that I was reaching him. The best I had been able to muster from him the previous two days was an occasional clap. Despite everything, my unintentional, klutzy fall broke through his stony haze.

How did I get myself into this situation?

My then-fiancé Kathy had persuaded me to work a long weekend as a counselor at an Easter Seals Camp for physically and mentally disabled children and adults in a rural community outside of Richmond, Virginia. Throughout college, Kathy, a special education teacher, had spent several summers working first as a counselor and then assistant director at the camp.

I had listened to her talk excitedly about the camp so many different times with her college friends that I felt like I was missing out on something and that helping out one weekend might be something fun to try. Kathy prepared me for the weekend the best she could, but she did leave a few things out: the pesky, dive-bombing mosquitos and that it would be a sink or swim situation. Since Kathy would have her own camper to look out for, I would be on my own with my camper for much of the weekend.

Second guessing my decision

I got teamed up with Joey. My job was to work one-to-one with him and support him throughout his stay at the camp. I learned reading the introductory sheet that camp organizers had sent me that in addition to autism and cerebral palsy, Joey also routinely experienced epileptic seizures. He could take care of himself for the most part, but still needed assistance in eating and dressing himself. In addition, he said only a few words, most just gibberish.

Kathy couldn’t wait for the weekend to start. For me, however, the reality of the situation started to hit me. I read and re-read Joey’s background sheet and my stomach churned with fear. Up to that point, I didn’t have a lot of exposure with special needs children. The news of possible seizures just added to my worry.

As we left our Alexandria, Virginia apartment to drive to the camp, I peppered Kathy with questions: What would the camp be like? What kind of problems would I face as a counselor? How would it be?

Finally after a litany of questions, Kathy finally said: “Relax Brian, you’re worrying yourself over nothing, you’ll be fine.”

When we finally reached the dirt road leading to the camp, I gave myself one last pep talk: “I can do this. It’s just one weekend, what’s the worst that can happen? I’ve got this, no problem.”

Yea, right, keep telling yourself that buddy.

All good in the end

Nothing I had ever experienced before prepared me for the weekend. I was on-the-go from Friday evening to late Sunday evening. I was running after Joey, making sure he had fun, but also that he was safe. I tried to guess his needs because he couldn’t always communicate them.

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But I also learned that Joey was a smart kid. He was kind and giving too. Despite my initial worries, Joey and I worked well together. I was able to get Joey to dive into the indoor swimming pool, something his mother told us on the final day, he hadn’t done in ages.

As we gathered Joey’s things to go home, I looked at him one last time to see what kind of reaction he would have. I tousled his hair and said ‘goodbye.’ I wasn’t expecting much, but he surprised me with a smile, a clap, and a quick hug.

Two women, two different approaches to life

I learned a valuable lesson on aging this week. We ran into two elderly women that we know well. They’ve both lived long productive lives, well into their seventh and eighth decades. They have also faced their share of ups and downs, highs and lows, births and deaths and everything else in between.

The first women told my wife and I about the medical issues that she’s been fighting since September. We asked about her son and daughter and she complained that they hadn’t visited her in weeks. I tried to change the subject and talk about how bright and colorful the spring flowers have been. She said she was glad Spring had come, but  complained how the pollen bothers her.

My wife and I sensed that she needed a break so we offered to take her out for lunch, but she turned down the offer, saying that her allergies would just act up and she wouldn’t enjoy it.

The second woman carried a cane with her — the first that we had seen her with one — but couldn’t stop talking about her daughter and how excited she was to be seeing her in a few weeks. I asked about the cane. I thought she might be depressed.

“Oh this thing, it’s just something I need it to get around now,” she said. “But tell me about you guys. What’s new?”

I said I felt bad for her that she now needed the cane. She didn’t fall for the bait. She didn’t want to talk about it. When I brought it up, she brought the conversation back to my wife and I. She wanted to talk about her kids, our kids, what we were doing for the weekend. She had no time for the negative.

I found the two conversations enlightening: two women, two very different philosophies on life. One excited about the future, one focused more on life’s aches and pains. I certainly do not mean to diminish the aches and pains that come with old age. Getting older comes with its share of challenges. However, as I’ve started to age myself, I’ve come to see that your approach makes a big difference.

Live in the here and now and focus on the negative or live excited for the future and full of faith in what God has in store. Yes, I know it’s a challenge, but I definitely know which path I hope to choose when I’m older.

 

Passing the ball: Celebrating everyday sacrifices for the good of the team

We as a society celebrate athletic excellence: the last second shot, the game winning touchdown. We rarely celebrate the hard work and the behind-the-scenes steps leading up to the game-winning act.

The day after the Villanova University Wildcats won the NCAA National Championship over Goliath-like University of North Carolina, The New York Times detailed how Ryan Arcidiacono raced up the side of the court with less than five seconds with a plan in mind.

“He dribbled up the court thinking, ‘I’m going to shoot this!’ Then he took the ball — and passed it.”

Arcidiacono found teammate Kris Jenkins off by himself and passed the ball. Jenkins caught the ball and then let the ball fly in a perfect arch, swishing it through the net. Jenkins and the Wildcat faithful went wild, celebrating their first National Championship since 1985.

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Most people rightfully so touted Jenkins game-winning shot. If Jenkins put up an air-ball or clanked it off the side, the Philadelphia media, social media, and all the people talking about the game at work and at the gym would be talking about something altogether different. Jenkins should be celebrated.

However, I must admit that I’m a bigger fan of the smaller almost insignificant moves that led up to Jenkin’s shot, most importantly that Arcidiacono gave up his own chance for immortality, instead opting to pass the ball.

In short, I’m a fan of the team player: The player who finds the open shot, rather than shoots himself; the football player who gives himself up to block, opening up a whole for a teammate to score the winning touchdown; the baseball player who puts down a sacrifice bunt, moving up a runner into scoring position.

I’m a bigger fan these workmanlike moves in normal, everyday life: The coworker who skips lunch to offer feedback on a draft presentation so that you can look your best in front of your boss; the friend who gives up their own free time to take you out to lunch and lets you vent over work or the kids; the mother who gets up early every Saturday morning to cart one son to play practice and another to track practice so that they can participate in an afterschool activity, let off some steam, and improve themselves.

I find these actions fascinating. In this day and age, where me is more important than we, where athletes seem to care more about the name on the back, then the name on the front, I love reading about these unselfish acts.

When asked about the pass after the game, Arcidiacono said, “I saw Kris was open and I just did what we do.”

I’m sure that most people will forget all about Arcidiacono’s pass in day or two. I won’t be one of them.