Blog: Our Reality Show

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  • Daily Photo: July 7, 2015

    Celebrating the two-year anniversary — more than 700 images later — of the Daily Photo with the first image I posted to mark the launch of my Facebook photo page (www.facebook.com/ourrealityshow) and this website. Taken in Central Park in 2013.

  • The Last 5 Years: Our Reality Show

    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.

  • Making Progress on 'Our Reality Show'

    Yep, "Our Reality Show" is finally moving into the 21st century.

    I started this blog in October 2009 using Google's Blogger software, but never felt comfortable with it. When I decided to build this website to showcase my other work, it made sense to bring the blog over too.

    While I'm the go-to person for technology in my house, I'm something of a website luddite compared to many in the outside world. Over the past seven months, this process has been a somewhat steep, though rewarding, learning curve.

    Because it changes daily, the blog has been the place where I've tinkered the most, although you'll notice the front page of the website also has been undergoing some changes. Blogwise, I've worked to make sure the essays and photos are properly formatted, tagged, and categorized. It remains a work in progress, but I think it has become a good reflection of what I'm trying to do here.

    So why not try to broaden my reach and share it with the world? 

    Click on the logo below and you can follow my work on bloglovin', a website that allows you to pull your favorite blogs into one email that you can receive daily or even weekly. It's pretty cool. Give it a try...

    Follow on Bloglovin

    I also have set up a RSS feed for the blog. All you have to do is click on the "Subscribe" link in the top right corner next to the "Choose A Category" button.

    Or, if lovin' is not your speed, you can just follow my Facebook photo page with a like at www.facebook.com/ourrealityshow.

  • Say Our Goodbyes

    The last nine months have been a series of goodbyes — family, friends, jobs, and the things that once meant something to us or to others we cared about.

    This goodbye tour actually started in mid-December, when Jill’s aunt and my cousin died within days of each other — one at the end of a long life, the other at the end of a life hard lived.

    My mom and I embarked on a multi-day road trip to Albany, Texas, so we could say goodbye to my cousin. It gave us a chance to visit small towns in Texas, the places off the beaten path. It also gave us time to talk, and mom the opportunity to reminisce about her childhood.

    We drove past the house my great-grandfather and my grandfather built in Baird, another small town close to Albany, and visited the cemetery where they are buried with other family members. I saw cousins and kin I had not seen in 25 years, and revisited memories of my own childhood, both good and bad.

    I returned home in time for the holidays, with Ben in Baltimore for “Billy Elliot” and Nicholas coming up from Elon. Thanks to a break in the tour schedule, we would have all four kids at home for Christmas.

    On Christmas Eve, we went to a party hosted by friends from my work. Each year for the past several, Gene Broderson had invited us to come, but due to family obligations and travel commitments, we had never managed to fit it in.

    Last year was different. Gene’s son, Jeff, works with Jill. Both Gene and his wife, Lynda, had survived cancer scares over the past two years. Because of what we had just been through, this year’s party meant something, Jill and I knew we needed to go, so all six of us headed south on the chilly evening.

    Gene was, in the words of another of his friends, “a Jew who loved everything about Christmas.” And you could tell — the entire neighborhood, the Brodersons’ large, extended “family” was there. They were doing what you should during the holidays: celebrating life.

    It was a beautiful evening. Little did we know that the hits would just kept coming.

    ••••••

    On Martin Luther King weekend, Jill and I went to Boone to clean out her dad’s house, planning to return on President’s Day weekend to finish the job. But her father passed away in between the three-day weekends, and when we returned to Boone, it was for his funeral.

    Before March ended, we had returned to Boone for the funeral of Jill’s beloved Uncle Glenn, the last sibling of her mom. Meanwhile, my Aunt Merry also had died following a long, agonizing struggle with dementia.

    Having just been to Texas, I decided not to return for my aunt’s funeral, trying to protect the few precious vacation days I had left for the end of Ben’s run with the show and Emma’s dance recital week toward the end of June. My office was in budget mode, and my department was faced with some tough decisions, including having to change the magazine’s frequency from 12 to six issues a year along with its business plan.

    Jill and her brother were in the midst of selling her father’s house, the place where they grew up, when we went to Las Vegas in mid-May. Ben was saying so long to “Billy Elliot,” the show he had been in for almost three years, and was facing an uncertain transition as he returned home.

    Twelve days after we got back, I received some stunning news. The budget cuts we had made, in many respects, had also cut me out of a job.

    ••••••

    The past 3½ months have been an unsettled time. On one hand, I have been able to spend more quality time with the kids, shlepping them back and forth even though Kate now drives. I also have worked on building my skills, especially in photography and social networking, while applying for positions and trying to develop a business on my own. And that has been incredibly invigorating, in part because I have tapped into a creative well that I worried was turning dry.

    Unfortunately, it’s the job market that’s dry, especially in my field, where I am either overqualified, (formerly) overpaid, or considered not to have the skill set (especially in online media) that companies are advertising for these days. It has proven difficult to make it past the first cut with people who only see your life on a piece of paper or a computer screen.

    Despite the stability you get from working in the same place for so long, what I’ve found (and what I knew, really) is that stability also can prevent you from maintaining the cutting edge skills you need to stay sharp, particularly when you are in a profession that is imploding around you.

    That's a reason why I've been focusing so much on my skills. But over these past few months, I've learned a lot of other things — about how we handle transitions, about the people who care about you no matter what, about the people you thought cared more than they actually do.

    I’ve also learned a lot about goodbyes.

    ••••••

    Not long after I left NSBA, Jill told me some stunning news: Gene’s cancer, thought to be in remission, had come back. I called him at the office and we talked briefly. As usual, he was upbeat even in the face of what we knew were impossible odds.

    We promised to get together for dinner, but that never happened. In the beginning he had chemo on Thursdays, and by Saturday — the night we were scheduled to go out — he was too wiped out from the chemo to consider it.

    The last time we spoke was when he called and said he could not get together. I said my prayers continued to be with him and his family. He thanked me, and we left the time for our mutual dinner open for another evening.

    During the summer, as I continued to look for jobs, Jill and I discovered that our schedules would not let us take a family vacation this year. Somehow, given everything that occurred, that seemed appropriate, even though it also stung.

    Instead, Jill spent several days at home, which led to the inevitable spring/summer cleaning. She stacked up a number of boxes that belonged to me and asked me to do something with them, noting many had not been touched in years.

    That was true. Several boxes were from my parents, who had inherited them from my grandparents and my dad’s sister. I knew I needed to go through them, and slowly I started to do so. Each slip of paper reminded me of where I had come from, and served to show me that these were spaces and places to which I would never return. (See the rest of the story here.)

    As the summer moved on, my mom and I made arrangements for me to go back to Texas, in large part so I could help separate her from more of my dad’s things, which were languishing untouched in a storage facility six years after his death. We agreed on a time in early September, and I made arrangements to stay there for a week.

    It was a good week. Much like we had during our visit nine months before, my mom and I talked about her family, filling in more of the gaps and blanks. Over the two visits, the one in December and the one just recently, I have learned more about her upbringing than I had accumulated in 48 years.

    The day I left, Jill called, saying Gene’s son had told her that he was not likely to make it. Selfishly, I hoped he would live long enough for me to make it back to his funeral because, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that saying goodbye is important for everyone concerned.

    ••••••

    The funeral occurred this past Friday, four days after I returned from Texas. I saw many of my former work colleagues there. Some had little to nothing to say; some gave me a hug and seemed genuinely concerned about the well being of our family. For others, the superficiality of the greetings was as if nothing had changed, just like we were bumping into each other again in the hallway at the office.

    Goodbye, I thought. Goodbye.

    The service was truly a celebration, a chance for many of us to gain insight into someone we cared about but didn’t truly get to know within the confines of the business setting. I left feeling fortunate to know Gene as well as I did, and even more thankful that we had celebrated the holiday with them just a short time before.

    I also left safe in the knowledge that I’m tired of saying goodbye.