That girl

I was working out at the Y this evening and Adam was spending the time in the play room.

It’s a really big room. I thought you should know that, I don’t know why.

I went to pick him up afterwards and he came storming out breathless, exclaiming “Man! There was this girl in there who was a beast and she was chasing me like I was her favorite food!”

I laughed. He didn’t seem injured in any way, either mentally or physically, so I think it was defensible.

Adam didn’t didn’t share my view on the subject.

Life and cream soda

My Lightning lost game seven to the team of my youth.

I’d like to introduce Chara’s long stick to his large intestine as much as the next Lightning fan, because Florida is my home now. When I say I’m going home, I’m always referring to Dunedin, not Boston or Billerica.

It took a long time for this place to become home. We moved from a neighborhood of young families and friends to a less than half developed, walled in compound in a remote corner of God’s waiting room. (In case you were wondering, compound is a term of affection, referring to the suburban subdivision.) It was lonely until a young family built a house across the street and a strange hybrid of friend/bully moved to the neighborhood. It was me, him, my younger sisters, and the retired people. When I think back on it, I think my relationship with the kid across the street had more in common with the fear of being alone and recurring domestic violence than a friendship.

My crowning achievement occurred after I earned the freedom to venture into adjacent compounds. It was when I received a well deserved beat-down from a girl my age (about ten if I recall). That’s all I have to say about that.

Life ebbed and flowed from there. My family went through the stuff any normal family goes through: broken bones, beloved pets dying, a mother having a mental breakdown in front of her kids, complete with paranoid hallucinations, and a sister with a rare blood disorder requiring her to miss a year of school.

We also had our good times: boating on the lakes and out in the Gulf, anchoring off pristine beaches inaccessible by any other means. We went hiking through the numerous county parks, learning the surprising diversity of life and ecosystems for such a small, flat peninsula on the coast of west-central Florida.

High school was such a social disaster I don’t want to talk about it. Two redeeming consequences of high school were I met my future wife, and it got me into UF. But despite all of this living and education, I was still as dumb as a rock who decides to take a swim in deep water. Then I got married, got my first job, got married, left my first job on good terms and got my second job, had a child, had several heartbreaking children who never made it into this world, and finally had Adam. (Not many folks know this: he started out as a twin but his little sibling didn’t make it to term.)

A Facebook friend from my high school years recently mentioned my intelligence back in the day (referring to my daughter’s academic success). It’s funny how differently we see ourselves. I still don’t feel like the smart guy in the room, but I see a world of difference between then and now. I wish I had half the confidence I do now. I wish I had a fraction of the experience to lean on.

Yep, in many ways I bet I’m just like you.

Sometime during all of this, Florida became my home. I don’t know when it happened, but I know why. This is where I became me. It was this place that pinched, stretched, and shaped the wet clay of my young soul.

I am at home now, finally feeling up to writing after a rough patch which included a spell of forgotten medication and a dip into the deep end of depression. It’s been one of those ordinary weekends that make up most weekends, where I try to make a little magic from the mundane. I made a trip to a favorite market with Adam after a pair of haircuts. I made a snap decision wandering the isles. It was time to introduce him to one of my childhood favorites: cream soda bottled in glass. He had to know precisely when the bottles would be cold enough to drink/enjoy after we got home. It was an afternoon of giddy anticipation. When dinnertime rolled around we got out our little-used bottle opener and popped a couple tops. The sound of pressure, released suddenly… the liberated gas seemingly visible as it made its escape… the sudden, light smell of soda wafting towards my sensitive nose… it all seemed to transport me in time, if only for a flash of a moment. Grasping the neck, Adam and I took a generous sip and signaled our approval with a satisfied “ahhhh.”

It was a good day to be a dad at home with his kid.

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Plans change

Seventeen years ago today, on another Saturday afternoon, Cheryl and I got married. Unfortunately, I got sick the night after our wedding and we spent our honeymoon in the ER. I spent it doing unmentionable things with the contents of my stomach.

Today, all these years later, we spent the day in a familiar spot – a hospital – this time with Adam as he had his ailing appendix out.

I’d say the day is cursed, but I’d be exaggerating.

Me? Exaggerate? I know!

We’ve had many wonderful years in between, and we have no reason to believe we won’t have many more wonderful years to come.

Adam is in great spirits after his surgery, pointing out all the cool stuff he has in his room, and plugged into his body explaining to me what they all do. Cheryl and I are happy.

Who needs a grand celebration when we have a great life to live?


My boy

Adam still likes stuffed animals. We thought he might outgrow this “faze” by the time he started kindergarten. He hasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not something that disturbs me in any way. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It reflects his personality – a sweet, sensitive kid. Often he’ll notice I’m not feeling too well, and without a word he’ll leave a surprise for me by my pillow. Tonight it’s a soft little white bunny to keep me company – to make me feel a little better.

He won’t mention it afterwards. It’ll disappear one night, only to be replaced by another when necessary. I wonder if he does it to let me know he was there, he cares, and just wants to help in his own special way – no glory or special credit – just a little piece of timely love.

Maybe I’m reading too much into the actions of a six year old boy. Maybe it doesn’t matter what the precise reason is, just intent and results.

Adam, my dear sweet child – we love you.

We’ll call him Billy

The stop sign just up the street from our house does more than control vehicle traffic. It controls a little piece of my kids’ lives. A stop sign should add an element of predictability to the cars passing by. It should slow them down. It should make drivers more aware of pedestrians and the kids who swarm the neighborhood.

It doesn’t.

If anything it makes traffic less predictable. If we lived on a straight stretch of neighborhood road, with no impediment to travel at all, you could count on fewer variables. In fact, it would be quite simple. Cars would either be traveling fast or slow. With experience, you could judge relative speed and ETA – not that you’d ever want to take the ETA for granted.

The stop sign makes things a little too interesting. It means some cars MIGHT stop. It means some MIGHT slow down a little. It means some MIGHT do the impatient, yet afraid of a ticket, “roll-through.” It means some MIGHT shoot through the intersection like a stray bullet in a shootout.

Now imagine you had an autistic child – even high functioning like Beth. With her attention issues, how would you feel about her stepping from the relative safety of our driveway into the zone of mortal unpredictability that is a neighborhood intersection? The stop sign, combined with her Aspergers, keeps Beth on our side of the street by decree. Violations are dealt with swiftly and severely.

Fair or not, this paranoia rubbed off on Adam.

Our intelligent six year old boy is deprived the opportunity to explore his habitat. Kids come to find him, not the other way around. When kids get bored of our yard they move on, but Adam doesn’t.

We are terrible parents.

There’s one kid who came around a lot. He’s a kid Adam likes quite a bit. He’s older than Adam, but you couldn’t tell from his behavior or apparent education level. Billy is autistic and doesn’t function as well as Beth.

Billy lives with both parents but they both don’t seem to be around much, or so we hear. He’s watched mostly by a baby sitter – a neighbor who’s been willing to help the family. I’ve talked to his mom on the phone several times, and Cheryl and I have spoken with the babysitter in person. Many of the kids in the neighborhood met them too, and their opinion includes words I can’t or won’t repeat here. I won’t dignify their comments with any further details, other than to say some are really bad. You need to know this much to understand my feelings about Billy and the neighborhood.

I only know Billy’s parents by the sound of their voice. They’re rarely around when we are, working long hours. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was to pay for Billy’s care. I know first hand a child with special needs can be a challenge – under the best of circumstances. I also know how cruel kids (and adults) can be to someone who’s different. I may not have much first hand knowledge of Billy’s home environment, but I see how the neighborhood treats him, and poorly is putting it kindly. My untrained eye sees a good kid at heart, in the process of having that goodness beaten out of him (if not literally then figuratively).

I tried to show the patience and kindness he may not get from the rest of the neighborhood, while showing him respect by speaking to him as I would an adult. I tried to make our house a safe haven, a place where he could come without fear of judgement, based on a label purchased in bulk and carried like a yoke. I believe I succeeded at both.

Like I said, Billy seems like a good kid, so it’s not hard. His mother says Billy doesn’t play with other kids, he plays in the vicinity of other kids. For some reason he does play and interact with Adam. In fact, unless something comes up requiring problem solving, written language, or interacting with anyone but Adam, Billy seems almost like any other kid.

I’d been letting Adam play out in the front yard with Billy, giving him more freedom to explore the neighborhood on this side of the stop sign.

I haven’t met a kid who likes rules, and Billy is not an exception. He was constantly asking if Adam could come across the street with him to his friend’s house. I’m a mean, terrible parent, so I always said no.

Billy and Adam were playing on the front porch when some neighborhood kids rolled past. Adam and Billy knew most of them. Adam was friends with most of them. Adam makes friends pretty easily. Billy does not.

Before I knew it, Adam followed Billy and his other friends across the street, and the trouble was just starting.

Despite deposing all involved (except Billy, who wasn’t available), I still don’t know exactly what happened. There were some rather fantastic, inconsistent stories, but Adam and his friends tell one consistent story:

Billy tripped over a toy laying on the sidewalk, blamed the other kids, and blew up. He swore at the other kids. He lashed out physically at a couple. He told Adam he was going to call the police on him.

Like I said, I don’t know what happened first hand, but Adam came home hysterical, worried the police we’re coming for him. All of the other kids said Adam wasn’t even around when Billy fell.

I want to be understanding, but I’m disappointed in Billy. It’s not just the fight I’m worried about (Billy never touched Adam), but both he and Adam knew I didn’t want them crossing the street. I know it won’t be the last time Adam faces pressure from his friends to do something he shouldn’t (like walking off without permission), but Billy is four years older than Adam, and I wonder if it creates more pressure.

Since then Adam and Billy reconciled. They weren’t allowed to play out front anymore though. However, they played together like nothing happened… for a while.

Then Billy stole something.

At first we weren’t sure and I wanted to give him every benefit of doubt. A six year old and an autistic kid do not make the best eye-witnesses. However, it became apparent Billy probably did steal it, and it was pretty expensive – something we couldn’t ignore. We haven’t seen or heard from Billy in a few months now. Cheryl told him he could come back when he returned the item, told us what he did with it, or give us some idea where it might be.

He hasn’t come back.

I feel terrible. What if he didn’t take it? We can’t be certain. We didn’t see him take it. He didn’t admit to taking it. Adam says he took it, but he’s six. He usually accuses someone of stealing any time anything goes missing. Beth said Billy was playing a hiding game with Adam – and Adam was not a willing participant.

I feel like we’re just as bad as the rest of the neighborhood.

There’s a balance to be met, and I’m not sure where it is. We have a responsibility to our families as well as our community. Billy is part of our community, but without that sense of balance I’m lost. I’m haunted by the thought of our community discarding a lost child.

I wonder if it’s time for another chance, or a first chance to prove we were wrong to assume the worst.

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I’ve got Santa on my mind

First of all I want to say, with all the humility and grace I can muster, we are WAY cooler than you are. We got a box filled with A TON of chocolate from Germany today.

Insert insane jealousy here

Sorry, I had to get that out of my system. I’ve got the mother of all sugar highs going. The kids are only sleeping because they rocketed right past sugar high to sugar coma.

The issue of Santa came up today, or this evening I should say. Today I was embroiled in the mother of all court days. Who woulda thunk EVERYONE would show for a docket on the eve of (government observed) Christmas? It was one of those days when you don’t see the sun. Maybe that’s not saying much if you live in close proximity to one of the poles, but in subtropical Florida it’s a 10+ hour ordeal, filled with people on both sides of the Petition unhappy with the Final Judgement.

But enough about the legal system, this was supposed to be a post about youth, wonder, and the Christmas way. No, I’m not talking about virgin births or babies on the run from the law. I’m talking about his Jolliness, St Nick. (He lets me call him Nick because we go way back.)

Every now and then my wife asks the tough questions… why don’t you shave more often, what’s that God awful smell, etc. Tonight she asked me if I believed in Santa Claus when I was a kid. Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t remember believing. I know my parents never made a big deal about Santa. My parents weren’t Big Deal kind of people. Some people would come up to us and ask, “Are you excited about Santa coming this week?!?” Even as a kid I remember thinking there was a thick layer of saccharine on that enthusiasm. Now, I admit I had no idea what saccharine was, but I had an acute sense for it (if that makes any sense). If there was an opposite for the saccharine afflicted, it was my parents. They made half-hearted attempts at gifts from Santa, but we caught on pretty early it was no coincidence Santa used the same wrapping paper as mom and dad, not to mention he had the exact same handwriting. If you’d seen my dad’s handwriting, a polite way of describing it would be “unique.”

This brought on a mini-debate between me and my wife. I won of course. I may be sleeping on the couch, but sometimes that’s the price for victory. Did we lose something essential to childhood? Does Santa worship foster a sense of wonder, magic, and creativity that’s unrivaled in child development? I can’t say, but I pose this counter argument: when a child does learn there is no Santa – and we all know where we were when we learned there was no Santa (well, I guess I don’t, but don’t let that ruin a perfectly good point) – does he or she feel betrayed by their parents? Think of the YEARS of deception and outright lying. How does this affect the child/parent relationship? Does it poison the well? Are kids who believe in Santa more likely to grow up to be rebellious, delinquents, or worse: Wall Street Bankers?

I have to say I’m undecided on this one. I don’t discourage others (including my wife) from perpetuating the lie. I’m ashamed to admit that once, on cross-examination by my relentless, then three year old daughter, I did not dispute the existence of Santa. She was concerned about the physics behind Santa and his achievements, growing more skeptical without quite crossing over to Santa denial, but I remained silent. However, at the time my silence was interpreted as acknowledgment – and I let it happen. My pants were stuck on the ideological fence, and it didn’t help the frakking thing was chain link.

The seeds of doubt sprouted early with Beth, but Adam’s still going strong at six. I can’t help but wonder what he’ll think of us when he knows the truth about society’s Santa Conspiracy Machine. Will he ever trust us again? Once again I’m feeling pretty awkward astride that chain link. It’s a vulnerable position for a father with a bad sense of balance.


I can’t imagine writing a book. I read authors’ blogs, both published and not. I see the frustrations and the rewards. I look at myself and I think, “Whoa, that is so not me.” There are days when I don’t have the patience to finish a single blog post. I’ve been tinkering with a post for a few weeks now and I’m not sure I’ll ever finish. It’s only a few scattered lines looking back at me from an unassuming text editor, but it fills me with dread. It wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t want to finish this one.

There’s more to it than patience. The topic inspired me and still does, but it feels stalled. No, it’s worse. It feels like it’s missing an essential element – perhaps a little soul, something to bring it to life. There’s something in my head, in my heart, waiting there to be expressed, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out how. It’s nothing new, having a post stall out on me, but I was sure this one had the necessary spark. There’s passion in me but it’s locked up tight. It’s fitting it’s a post about intellectual struggle, about choosing the right path.

Boiled down to its essence, it’s a post about Adam, his autistic friend, and a falling out. It’s about seeing a family and the neighborhood failing this child, the responsibility I feel to keep open a safe haven, and the sometimes conflicting need to act in my own child’s best interest.

One side won out for a while and I felt terribly selfish. I felt like I’d become part of the problem for this boy who faces what I believe are terrible odds.

As a parent of a child with special needs myself, I felt double the guilt. He was back over today though and they picked up right where they left off. Kids can be resilient that way. Friendship makes it that much easier.

The episode and the weeks that followed still have me tweaked, and not in a good way. We pat ourselves on the back when we respond with charity and grace to regional and national crises. “The American spirit is alive and well,” we delude ourselves. But the myriad of small crises happening every day go ignored, or worse. We blame the victim, our minds desperately trying to shift any and all responsibility from ourselves.

Maybe that’s what I was trying to say all along. Maybe I just needed to blow up the old post and start over.

The kids

What can I say? Both my kids continue their run of academic stardom. It feels like a source of (partial) absolution for my personal failings, seeing my DNA has some value.

Beth continues to excel, outpacing all the other kids in her class. I just wish it brought her peace. While it was an asset when she was the oldest kid last year (her small school has mixed grade classrooms), there’s a different dynamic being the youngest.

She still finishes before everyone else, and she still wants to help the other students who are having trouble. However, unlike the younger students last year, the older kids don’t want help from the “little-smart kid.”

As you may know, Beth falls into the autism spectrum, so she can be a little oblivious to subtle reactions from her classmates. She doesn’t always read the resentment on the older kids’ faces. It came to the point where her teacher told her it might be best for her to sit quietly and leave the other kids alone, physically nudging her back to her desk.

Being the smart kid has gone from being the hero (she was always the first pick for teams in class games), to the little brat who can’t mind her own business.

While I’m proud of Beth’s mind and big heart, I find this a sad commentary on human nature. Ah, but they’re just kids right? Kids will be kids, after all. Childhood is supposed to be when we learn how to be adults. Childhood is supposed to be when we learn responsibility and civility – sometimes by trial and error. Beth just happens to be the subject of a little more than her share of errors. (By now your sarcasm detector should be working overtime.)

It hurts. The good news is it’s getting better – now that she doesn’t try to help anyone. What a crappy lesson to have to learn.

Adam has been another story. It seems everyone knows Adam at school – and not for bad reasons. Just being “Adam’s dad” feels like being a minor celebrity.

When his teacher called Cheryl in for a conference, she said he’s way out ahead of the other kids in kindergarten (not to mention some of the kids in first grade). She told Cheryl she’s been giving Adam extra work, so he stays stimulated.

So, while the other kids continue to work on their alphabet, Adam reads books and works on math word problems (and gets them all right). This weekend he started reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis. Beth read it in fourth grade.

A few folks have asked when Adam will have an IQ test, to which I reply, “maybe never.” There’s no formal “gifted program” at Adam’s private school. They don’t need one. They just teach and give work according to what students are capable of, based on their performance in class. The supposedly good label of an exceptionally high IQ didn’t always serve Beth well, so I’m in no rush to force the same label on Adam.

And yet, it seems like Adam is one of those kids everyone likes. Everyone seems to take notice when he enters or leaves the room – accompanied by a chorus of friendly greetings or farewells. It’s a huge relief, after living through Beth’s problems.

I have hope things will continue to go smoothly from here on out.


The S word

We were driving home from the Y (MCA). I was done working for the day, and the kids were done with camp for the day.

Beth wanted to tell me about an “inappropriate” incident, but I asked her not to while Adam was in the car. Beth, not so easily deterred, went on anyway.

Now before I go on, I need to explain that Adam has been immune to the ‘spelling what you don’t want him to hear’ trick for more than a year.

The little stinker hadn’t started pre-k and he was already reading.

So Beth had to adapt her strategy. She told me about her time in the pool, and the boys who were saying embarrassing things about her and her classmates. Scandalous things.

For middle school, that is.

“Dad, they were saying the ‘S’ word for ‘hot,’ if you know what I mean.”

I knew what she meant.

Without any hesitation, Adam chimed in, “you mean ‘sweaty’ – that’s the ‘S’ word for hot.”

Beth – “no it’s not Adam.”
Adam – “yes it is, sweaty starts with an S.”
Me – “For your own sake, just drop it Beth.”
Adam – “sweaty!”
Beth – “Adam…”
Adam – “sssssssweaty!”

Me – laughing like I hadn’t laughed in a good while.