Happy birthday to the love of my life. With each and every passing day, I realize more and more how much you mean to me, to our family, and to those near and far whose lives you touch. I don't know what I'd do without you.
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Between my birthday, the crazy winter weather, the ongoing government shutdown, and the anger over students taunting and harrassing a Native American veteran who served in Vietnam, it’s been a heckuva a week. (And that’s not counting a trip to South Carolina and a shoot at the Library of Congress.)
• Monday: Dipping a toe into the Toddler in Chief cesspool that now has kept portions of the government closed for more than three weeks: HTF (TF being exactly what you'd expect) can he justify using the phrase "humanitarian crisis" to justify his call for a border wall? Especially when it relates to anyone who is disadvantaged? Come on, even my GOP friends can see the lack of sincerity in that.
I'll just leave it there. No further explanation necessary.
Pause. Pause. Beat. Beat.
Nah. Not worth it.
• Tuesday: Quote from Hayes Carll: “I take stock of myself and the world around me and write about it. ... I understand a lot of people look to music as an escape, and it can be really upsetting when it feels like that’s disrupted. But I have a really low tolerance for the people who say ‘shut up and sing.’ It minimizes everybody’s voice. We are citizens, and we are artists.”
• Wednesday: The Mathletes are at it again, this time at last weekend’s BroadwayCon.
• Thursday: I’m now 54. Great notes and posts from family and friends far and wide. It’s enough to make someone in his early 50s feel like the cool kid from elementary school.
• Friday: Reblogged from @alicexblog, on the topic of whether it’s OK to platonically say “I love you” to your friends: “I think it’s incredibly important to express when you love someone. Tell your parents if you love them. Tell your friend who helped you through every bad break up since you were 14. Tell your fat cat. Tell them.”
• Saturday: I hope the smug looks have been wiped off the faces of the students from a Catholic school in Northern Kentucky who verbally harassed a Native American elder and other activists at the Lincoln Memorial. The students, who were wearing red Make American Great Again hats, were shown in a video that went viral mocking the elder, a Vietnam War veteran who was chanting as part of the Indigenous Peoples March.
Postscript: As always, there are two sides ot every story, and additional video has been released that shows both adults and the youth did nothing to de-escalate the situation. It's sad all around, and yet another example of how divided we've become as a country. Everyone has a position and no one is willing to listen to the other side. That's difficult to swallow.
Today marks the start of "Birthday Month," also known as the unofficial kickoff of the annual Cook Family Fundraiser.
Nicholas, fittingly because he's the oldest, is first up among the four kids who share their celebrations with Christmas and other observances. He's now 26, with a master's degree and exciting new job, and is getting married in February.
We love you, son, and are incredibly proud of you!
Growing up, my family always had a thing about number patterns, so it was always strange to me that none of my children particularly liked math.
Since they are "grown ups" now, I'll send off this year's birthday month with a set of numbers for Kate. My second child, born two days after Christmas, is now 22. She was followed in rapid succession by twins born on Dec. 11 (1+1=2) the next year, giving us four (2x2=4) in all.
Kate, justifiably, would probably look at me and say, "Dad, please stop doing the math. You know it makes my head hurt." And I would look back at her with a smile.
This is the type of relationship we have, bickering and picking at each other. It hasn't always been in fun or jest, but over the past couple of years, it has evolved into our definition of "us."
I greatly admire and respect the woman Kate has become. She has taken charge of her life, has a new home with two roommates and a job/career path she loves. What more could any parent want?
It all adds up to this: We love you, Katharine Alexandra Cook, and are very proud of you! Happy birthday!
A very happy birthday to the lady on the far left, the person we affectionately call Mom, Grandmom, and Grandmommy. Still smart and full of, um, sass, we love you!
Happy birthday to Jill, the person I love with all my heart and soul. Thank you for walking with me on the trail of life's great adventure. We celebrated her birthday today by scheduling the closing of our new house in Old Town Alexandria tomorrow!
If you’d be interested in our current home, it’s on the market...
Say what you will about Facebook and other forms of social media, but there’s no better way to mark your birthday. Thank you to everyone, especially my family (biological and extended) who took the time to make it a blessed start to 53 yesterday.
On this day last year, I surprised my oldest son Nicholas on his birthday in Durham. Unfortunately I’m away in Nashville and can’t do so again as he turns 25.
25? How did that happen? I’m not sure, but I know how grateful I am to have developed such a solid, loving give-and-take relationship with this terrific young man. He’s undertaken a lot of changes over the past 365 days (engagement, working on a master’s degree, reclaiming his muse) and we have bonded in this past year like never before.
I love you, my son, and am so proud of you.
This is one of my favorite photos for a number of reasons, but the reason I'm reposting it today is to wish my mom, Olivia Cook, the happiest of birthdays. She is a feisty, fiery person who cares deeply about her family, including each (now numbering in the double digits) of her "grands."
We love you, Mom/Grandmom!
A dozen of my Facebook friends have birthdays today, but none is more important than my sister's. Happiest of happys to Julie, who is now closer to 50 than 40. There may be no more AstroWorld in August, but a Dairy Queen toast will do!
Some of my favorite people in this world celebrate their birthdays today, but one in particular stands out. I love you, Jill Cook, with all my heart and soul. Thank you for being the centerpiece of life's greatest adventure: our family.
The best part is that we're celebrating it — along with our 20th anniversary — in Venice, Italy!
#anniversarytour #whodathunkit #grownkidsyay
This is Emma's birthday tribute to her mom. There is no disputing who the best writer in the family is...
Back in the beginning of December, I was a few months into my freshmen year of college. While I love Point Park, some things were inevitably hard to cope with. Throughout my time here I have received care packages from my parents, always accompanied by an encouraging message (which I could tell my mom had written). These packages are sent out through the school, with all of the notes prewritten back in August.
It was during this time in which I was struggling with a few things that I decided to get a tattoo with the quote "This too shall pass." I told my mom about this idea, and she loved it. A few days later, I received another care package. When I opened it the first words on it were "This too shall pass."
My dad has always said that my mom and I are very similar, but it wasn't until reading that message that I truly knew how much. I'm beginning to realize that she probably understands me better than I understand myself. Everything she does is to protect and support the people she loves. She is so hardworking and strong, and it inspires me to do the same and always work to be a better person.
As I grow up I'm more and more grateful for my parents, and everything they have provided for my siblings and me. I love you so much mom. I hope you and dad have an amazing time in Venice. Happy Birthday.
To say I'm overwhelmed by the birthday wishes is a great understatement. Thank you one and all for your nice words and messages. 52 may not be the new 25, but between the kindness of my family (biological and extended) and friends far and wide, I am humbled that you took a moment to acknowledge the fact that another year in this crazy thing I call life has passed.
Kate last night at her 20th birthday party — she has to work on her actual birthday, which is today — and with her siblings at the Escape Room Live in Alexandria. Plus, as a bonus, a flashback photo to 3-day-old Kate and her mom on the living room couch. (It's still one of my all-time favorites.)
Birthday Month, Parts 2 & 3: Wishing the happiest 19th to Ben and Emma, separated by distance in body but always together in spirit. We love you both so much!
"So my Mom turns 75 today. Not sure how that happened, because she always says she was just so young when she had me."
Pause. Punchline. Followed by, "Of course, calling your mom a liar in public is not polite."
She's not really fibbing. Mom and dad were 23 and 24 when they had me. But this is the type of humor we share, a back and forth that has been a never-ending game of ping pong for years.
I wish I could put into words the influence my mom has had on me. Perhaps the best way is to describe her as "my first, best teacher," who has shared her talent with countless school children, friends, and family for her entire life.
I love you, Mom. Happy birthday. And may the ribbing continue for a long, long time.
From the Capital Weather Gang: "Computer models that came in between 9 p.m. and midnight forecast very substantial to historic snowfall amounts for the D.C. area Friday into Saturday night or Sunday morning." How about three seasons, Mother Nature?
The only reason Sarah Palin endorsed Trump is so she could see Tina Fey again on this week's "Saturday Night Live."
Speaking of Palin, she has about as much chance of being relevant as she does of being named “Mother of the Year.”
Headlines you should not read during lunch: "Elton John honors David Bowie, duets with Demi Lovato."
Amid the NFL playoffs, Kardashian trending updates, and chatter about the presidential debates, an overwhelming number of you took time out to send notes marking the second year of my second half-century on the planet. Thanks again to each and everyone of you. It means a lot.
A near airplane crash. A cross-country flight. Two college auditions. A son on Broadway. A wife working with the White House. And a drink with a Hall of Fame baseball player.
I can't say the final weekend of my 50th year on the planet was boring.
Coming in mid-January, my birthday always has felt like something of an afterthought, given the post-holiday hangover we all seem to feel post New Year's. Add four kids with birthdays in December and a January that is one of Jill's craziest months at work, and it's easy — and understandable — to see why. Hell, I'm usually not in the mood to celebrate, and it's my birthday.
Last year, for my 50th, Jill pulled off a wonderful surprise that had my mom coming in from Texas along with a gathering of many of our closest friends. This year, as my 51st approached, I decided the fewer surprises that life has to offer, the better.
It started Friday, when Emma and I embarked on another college audition trip. This one, which ultimately involved three auditions over a 24-hour period, was in California.
Leaving the anticipated wintery mix and snow behind in Virginia had lots of appeal, although two cross country flights over a four-day period had me anticipating feeling my age and then some. My body does not deal well with the winter weather whiplash we seem to be having around here, and I was still tired from the previous weekend when Jill and I went on a whirlwind trip to New York.
The New York trip (chronicled here and here via my iPhone) involved seeing Billy Joel and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night Time” (her Christmas present), having tea at the Plaza Hotel (a present to each other), and attending the engagement party for our “adopted” son, Ginno. The party also was a reunion of many of the kids and parents from “Billy Elliot,” sans Ben, who is on the road with “Newsies.”
After all that, I’m sure Jill welcomed our departure as she spent the weekend working with the ASCA staff on planning the School Counselor of the Year celebration, which includes a visit to the White House next week. We don't see her much during January because of SCOY and another major program she supervises, so I felt fortunate that we had the New York trip as a last hurrah.
Little did I know when boarding the plane how close to a last hurrah it really would be.
On the first leg, we were off to Chicago, a little late and flying low because of the bumpy air. We made it just fine, did the cross-country trek across O’Hare, and got ready to board our connection to L.A.
Checking my phone, I saw the first surprise. Late last year, Ben booked “Tuck Everlasting,” a new Broadway musical that opens in April. He’s leaving “Newsies” at the end of the month before starting rehearsals in mid-February, but no formal announcement had been made. Then, without warning, the press release went out.
We boarded the plane behind a large man, obviously an athlete. As he sat on the first row in first class, I recognized him as Frank Thomas, the Fox TV analyst who spent the majority of his Hall of Fame career with the Chicago White Sox.
After sitting on the runway for about 15 minutes, the plane started to take off. Two wheels lifted off the ground, and on Row 31 we felt the familiar surge from behind. But in a split second, the plane jerked back and the pilot ground it to a halt, fortunately taking advantage of O’Hare’s long runway.
The collective reaction was, “What the (insert expletive of choice)?!?” The fire department came out to cool off the smoking wheels as the pilot explained that a cargo door, one right under where we were sitting, had come open.
We were very lucky, even if Emma’s nap had been abruptly halted. We waited for some time until the wheels cooled enough to return to a gate (ironically the same one where our first plane landed in the nether regions of O'Hare), so we could catch another flight. I'm sure at least a couple of people also had to clean out their shorts.
It was that scary.
While Emma started on some homework, I went to the bar and saw Thomas. Figuring the night could not get more surreal, I mentioned that it must have been “interesting” to have been in the front row of the plane. He said “Cheers,” took a sip of his wine, and offered to let me sit.
We talked briefly about — what else? — airplanes and baseball, and he could not have been nicer. An hour later, steeled for the next leg of the flight, we boarded again for California.
The next day was filled with Emma’s auditions, followed by a nice dinner together. On Sunday, my birthday, Emma picked up Starbucks for me. We went to another audition and had lunch with some friends from Northern Virginia who also were in California.
At that point, we drove to Hollywood so we could be closer to the airport for our departure. In our three trips to L.A., I’ve learned to hate the traffic (worse than even Northern Virginia), love the climate (65 degrees in January) and embrace the kitsch.
Emma indulged me as we went to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (separate blog coming on that at some point) and to Amoeba Records, the second best in the U.S. after Austin’s Waterloo. We then had dinner with the Hetheringtons, longtime friends from Ben’s “Billy Elliot” days.
Coming on the heels of Ginno’s party the previous weekend, the West Coast reunion with the Hetheringtons was a nice capper to the California trip. We reminisced, we laughed harder than I’ve laughed in a long time, and looked to the future.
That future includes two more long-distance trips this month, one to North Carolina to see Nicholas and work on a freelance story, and Ben’s last “Newsies” performance in St. Louis. Ironically, that’s where he started tour life in “Billy Elliot,” more than four years ago.
Circle backs. Full circle. And around and around it goes.
Happy birthday, Elvis — Memphis, Tenn., September 2012
In honor of Presley's birthday, take a moment to revisit one of my favorite family essays — http://glenncook.virb.com/our-reality-show/13938822
Our oldest daughter. Our last December birthday. Our beautiful Kate is 19 today (December 27), having developed into a woman who combines childlike wonder and increasing adult maturity with a touch of old soul. We love you, sweetheart!
Kate's 15th birthday coincided with the arrival of Nicholas and the McFarlands. Times of hilarity, hugging, and bowling ensued.
Fifteen years ago, my youngest daughter and son were born (in that order). Until last year, they had never been apart on their special day. But that was impossible this year.
The twins' 15th birthday presented a special challenge, with Emma in Virginia and Ben on tour in Texas. So that meant an early morning (5:30 a.m.!), before school breakfast with the girl, and a plane ride to see the boy, who performed on his birthday and ate cake from his proud grandmother after the show (11:30 p.m.).
Eighteen hours to celebrate 15 years. Well worth it. Happy birthday, Emma and Ben!
Kate's birthday, which falls two days after Christmas, was extra special this year because it was her 16th. Jill, Emma, and Nicholas went out of their way to make it a great day for our oldest daughter, who got a new makeover haircut and went shopping in Tyson's Corner, followed by dinner at the Japanese steakhouse and concluding with a homemade cake in the shape of an artist's palette.
The family's newest teenagers celebrated #13 in style yesterday in New York, as Emma fulfilled a long-time wish to have a "Cake Boss" cake with photos of her and Ben. We brought the cake from New Jersey to New York, where we had a small celebration at the apartment, followed by a dinner with the kids' and their friends (including David and Sarah Kleppinger, who came with their dad from Virginia).
Given that it was a two-show day for "Billy Elliot," Ben and Emma took the cake to the Imperial, where they celebrated some more with the show's cast and crew at half hour. All in all, as Emma said, it was pretty great.
In case you're wondering, yesterday was pretty special. Jill out did herself in planning a wonderful 50th birthday celebration — from breakfast and a cake to a personal trainer session to a massage to a lunch and nap followed by a celebration with friends at a nearby bar.
I am truly grateful to her, my mom (who came from Texas as a surprise) and the kids. And thanks to everyone who took the time to post and send messages. It's a little overwhelming.
This 50 thing is a little overwhelming, too, not because of fears of growing old, but because it's hard to believe I've spent a half century on this earth. Twenty years ago, right around this time of year (and in the prehistoric era of fax machines-voice mails-AOL-and this thing called dialup Internet), I had what I called my one-third life crisis. No such thing as a midlife for me.
Now that I'm 5/9ths on my way to the ripe old age of 90, I can safely say that many things did not turn out as I would have expected. In fact, few things have turned out the way I would have predicted 20 years ago. But I'm reminded daily of how lucky I am, and am anxious to see what's in store for the next 40 or so years.
One of my favorite songs. Seems appropriate as the big 5-0 arrives.
Paying homage to Elvis on what would have been his 80th birthday — Memphis, Tenn.
Five years ago today, sitting in a small one-bedroom apartment on a drizzly fall Sunday in Manhattan, I started a blog called “Our Reality Show.” It was designed to be the story of parenting four kids, all of whom were reality shows unto themselves in some way.
And that’s where the focus largely has stayed, with some side jaunts here and there. Looking back on the entries published since October 2009, I’ve managed to focus on parenting for the most part, whether it’s my parenting (or lack thereof) or the influence my parents and others have had on me.
Even though my blogging has been wildly inconsistent, the whole process has been a learning experience as a writer and communicator. I’d like to think that I’m a better parent, son, and spouse as a result of the hours that have gone into thinking about things to write, and actually writing these essays.
So in honor of the anniversary, let’s look at where our cast of characters is today:
• Jill: Now the assistant director for the American School Counselor Association, my spouse/partner/best friend/love also is an excellent juggler, balancing her increasingly busy and fruitful career with being a loving and kind mom to her children. Marriage is not perfect, but almost 20 years after we first got together, I could not imagine going through this life without her.
• Nicholas: Now 21 (unbelievable), he is a senior at Elon University and graduates next May. My oldest and I have had our share of bumps, no surprise given the acrimonious breakup between his mom and dad. But I could not be prouder of how he has handled himself, especially over the past year and a half. He is finding his way in terms of his career and in how he handles his relationships (the girlfriend, Katherine, helps a lot) with his siblings and the rest of his family. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.
• Kate: A high school senior (!), our 17-year-old has struggled mightily at times over the past few years as she works to cope with ADHD/bipolar disorder. Jill, Kate, and I have tried to be forthcoming about the challenges that she faces and our family deals with as a result of this unfortunate genetic roll of the dice, and you’ll see several essays on this topic. Raising a teenager under these circumstances is no cakewalk for anyone involved, but Kate has made progress thanks to the support she has received both inside and outside the family. At her core, she is a kind, sweet person with a loving, generous soul. She is wonderful with younger children, has a job, and is on the path to graduate. That will be an accomplishment she and everyone involved in her life can take great pride in.
• Emma: The oldest twin (by a minute), I’ve long referred to Miss Em as “the normal one,” the Marilyn to our Herman, Lily, Grandpa and Eddie. But, more accurately, she should be characterized as the family’s old soul, the one who in many respects is far more mature and grounded than she has a right to be. Like any teenager, our 16-year-old has her struggles trying to manage life’s juggle of school, activities, peer relationships, and — for the past several months — boyfriend (!). But she is such a hard worker, so intrinsically motivated to do her best in almost everything, that I can’t help but sit back and say, “Wow.”
• Ben: Without question, Ben has had the most interesting trajectory over these past five years. When I started this blog, we were splitting our time between Northern Virginia and Manhattan because he was starting to work on the Broadway revival of “Ragtime.” Since then, he’s performed in “Billy Elliot” on Broadway and on tour, a show (“Golden Age”) at the Kennedy Center, been on episodes of three Emmy-winning TV series, and now is on the “Newsies” national tour. The path he has been on, and the journey we have taken in the process, has made for much of the fodder on this blog. What I’m most pleased to say, however, is that through all of this he remains a good kid with a good head on his shoulders, and he genuinely loves what he does.
This is our core cast, although you can also add Jeremiah, Ginno, and others with equally significant parts in our extended family. We have been blessed with a fascinating group of friends and extended family members who have added greatly to our lives.
Throughout all this, I’ve tried to chronicle the ups, downs and in-betweens of this journey. Sometimes it’s been joyous, funny, or nostalgic. At others, it’s been questioning, sad, angry, or melancholy. I hope, however, that it has been truthful and entertaining for you as the reader.
After all, it’s our reality. Or better yet, our reality show.
Birthday candles — Lorton, Va., December 2012
Daily Photo: Happy 17th birthday today to Katharine Cook — photo taken in Reidsville, N.C., December 1996
Happy 16th birthday to Ben and Emma Cook — photo taken in Reidsville, N.C., December 1997
Happy 21st birthday today to Nicholas Cook — picture taken in Reidsville, N.C., September 1993.
Sometimes, when we pick up around the house, my wife wonders aloud if the air duct is clean. Depending on her mood, she may even try to climb onto something to make sure the dust is gone.
On that day 12 years ago, she stared at it every few minutes, waiting for me to whisper in her ear. “Focus, focus,” I said. “Breathe. Breathe. Keep your focus. You’re doing good. There you go.”
For hours we continued this routine, a process that began with an “Oh-my-God-that’s-intense” pain that woke her up around 1:30 a.m. on a cool Thursday morning.
We arrived at the hospital around 5:15, and within an hour our room was filled with rhythmic, tribal sounds that came from the heart monitor’s tinny speaker. Drugs were administered to make her labor more regular, and the staring at the air duct began.
Because twins presented a higher risk, more personnel and equipment were required than for a single delivery. We got the “good room,” twice as large as the others, to accommodate the extras.
A ward full of nurses, some of whom we vaguely remembered from our daughter’s birth less than a year before, walked in and out. Three stayed with us on an irregular basis through their shift, talking about their families, what to eat for lunch — typical everyday-type things for everyone but the two of us. For them, it’s their job; they had five deliveries in 24 hours. We had other things on our minds.
The rolling wave became more intense, and my wife requested drugs. A woman who would not come near an aspirin when she was pregnant the first time had become the poster child for epidurals.
The next two hours were surreal, even for those not under the influence.
Jill’s parents sat in a corner. Two health occupations students from a local high school observed while standing near a sink. The nurses continued their chatter while checking the vital signs. I jotted down notes on the hospital stationary. Jill read a newspaper between contractions, which with the epidural brought pressure but no pain. If not for the tribal rhythms of the heart monitors, it would be difficult to know she was in labor.
The girl’s heart rate fell, dropping from the normal range — 140 to 160 — to 60. After 2 minutes, the nurses huddled. The doctor was called. Jill’s parents were asked to leave.
The heart rate came back up; the doctor said our daughter was on the umbilical cord in some way. Since the rate was back to normal, it did not appear that a C-section would be necessary.
The routine resumed. Jill continued to make progress, and the nurses rotated in and out as they left for lunch. Then the pressure intensified, and the time was near.
Jill started to push, and push, and push. The baby girl’s heart rate leaped, then fell. My wife developed a fever. The baby was in distress —life-threatening distress.
The C-section was ordered. I was told to put on scrubs, but I had to wait outside. If complications developed, I couldn’t be with my wife.
In 63 seconds, our bustling room was empty. All the equipment, the people, even my wife’s bed, was in the OR. I stood alone and waited. Seconds seemed like days.
Finally, the anesthesiologist came in and got me, and I joined my wife in the operating room.
At 2:34 p.m., Emma was born, the cord wrapped around her neck. The doctors worked on her quickly and she was fine, even though she narrowly escaped permanent brain damage because of the oxygen deprivation.
At 2:35, Benjamin followed, announcing his presence as only a baby can do. We should have known then that he was a singer.
Thirteen hours of labor. Nine hours at the hospital. Two new babies. One big scare.
A memory of 12 years ago today.