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  • Three Belated Mother's Day Stories

    Three belated stories from Mother’s Day:

    My mom’s mom died a week after her daughter was born prematurely some 77 years ago. Soon after, my grandfather joined the Navy and sent my mother to live with her grandparents in West Texas. While he was in the Pacific, both of mom’s grandparents passed away within a week of each other; she only saw her father a handful of times in the first five years of her life. And when he returned, it was with a new wife — a person devoid of almost all maternal instinct — in tow.

    Tragedy and loss are things my mom knew intimately before she could recall all the details, although her memory always has been sharp and specific, as has her tongue at times. My parents had a great love story that was not hindered or halted by my dad’s illness that consumed much of the last 34 years of their 43-year marriage.

    More than anything, my mom is a survivor who somehow has maintained her generosity of spirit. She gives a lot and asks for little in return. We agree to disagree on a lot, especially today’s politics, but what I admire most about both of my parents is they never told me what or how to think. They let me figure it out on my own.

    This past weekend, my mom was honored for her 50 years of membership in Alpha Delta Kappa, an international honorary organization for women educators that promotes excellence in the profession while embarking on a host of community-based altruistic projects. Because of graduation-related events here, I could not attend the surprise party on Saturday that drew teachers and retirees from all over the state of Texas.

    I called mom Sunday to wish her “Happy Mother’s Day” and to see how the ADK event went. She was getting ready — or fixin’, as she says — to go to a birthday party for her 4-year-old great grandson. She was genuinely surprised (hard to do with her) and touched by the outpouring she had received.

    No one I know is more deserving of such an honor. ADK has been part of her life for all but four years of my life, and I know how much it has meant to my mom. I hope she knows how much she means to all of us.

    ••••••

    Two weeks ago, our daughter Emma graduated from college. On Saturday, our niece Margaret graduated from American University.

    On Mother's Day, Jill and Margaret's mom Jennifer threw a graduation party for the two on a rainy afternoon in D.C. All of the family, plus significant others, a couple of the extendeds and a number of friends, joined in the celebration.

    As moms are wont to do, Jennifer and Jill went above and beyond for the event. The party was a huge success and a great way to congratulate both girls, the last of the six first cousins to cross the threshold into adulthood.

    Congratulations again to Margaret and Emma, and here's a shout out to the women who raised them (and the others as well).

    ••••••

    On Sunday morning, I went to get Jill coffee and breakfast as a small Mother's Day token. Because the D.C. weather has decided to take on Seattle/London characteristics — we beat a record for the most rain over a 365-day period this past week — the four-block walk required a raincoat and a quicker than usual pace.

    En route, I saw a homeless woman sitting in one of the narrow gaps between the buildings on King Street. She's a familiar face around here; you can often see her sitting on one of the benches, talking to people we think of as imagined but who seem real to her in that moment.

    Standing in the Starbucks line, I thought of my mom's altruistic work with ADK and Emma's insistence on giving her hard-earned money to those who are homeless or less fortunate. So I bought an extra coffee and croissant and gave it to the homeless woman as she sat in the rain.

    "Happy Mother's Day," I said.

    "Same to you," she replied. "God bless you."

    I have no idea whether she is or was a mom to someone. All I know is that she is someone's child. And none of God's children should ever go hungry, especially if they are looking for a dry place to sit on Mother's Day.

  • A Father's Legacy

    The past 10 days included our 20th wedding anniversary, a prom, awards ceremony, baccalaureate service, graduation, graduation parties, Jill's 2+ day trip to Colorado, three roundtrips to National Airport in a 24-hour period, family members coming in from out of town and state, Orlando, the Tony Awards, the NBA Finals (wow, game 7), shooting MSA's graduation, finishing two freelance pieces, and putting up a small exhibit in the Associate Artists gallery.

    Oh, and there was this thing called Father's Day, too.

    Normally, I would get all sentimental around this time, in part because I truly wish my father was here to see all that our kids have accomplished in their (relatively) short time on this planet. Not a day goes by that I don't think of what he's missing by not being here.

    I can't help but think he would marvel at the swirl of activity that envelops our lives, just as Jill's parents would. He would tell us to slow down, if even for a second, because he never seemed to like moving quickly.

    At different times during this past week, I took a moment to look at each of my four kids who, because of circumstances, were all together for the first time in a year. In every case, I saw bits and pieces of my dad in each of them. It was a comforting reminder that, even though he's not here in physical form, his legacy lives on.

    Love and miss you, Dad.

  • Parenting Yoga: Breathe & Hold It Together

    A Facebook friend recently posted: “How can I be a parent when I can't even keep my own shit together? Trying to teach this kid responsibility just makes me feel like a hypocritical jerk. And mean. I just feel like I'm so mean.”

    We’ve all had those days. After reading the various comments, most of them the “hang in there” variety, I decided to throw in my two cents. Perhaps this comes across as cynical, but I prefer to think of it as a realistic, non-Disney depiction of part of the Circle of Life.

    Here’s what I wrote:

    “All children are born single-agenda lobbyists, and initially at least their cause is themselves. Holding on to our shit is tough on many days and occasionally the bag it's in has leaks. It happens.

    “When things are really difficult, I survive due to a healthy dose of sarcasm, usually self-deprecating in some way, and an endless desire to parody the pop culture they so want to emulate. ‘You say you want an E-vo-lu-tion. Well, you know, we all want to change the plan...’

    “Before you know it, they grow up and you've made it through the tunnel. It happens, and ultimately you're both better off for the experience.”

    What do you think? Do you agree with my take?

  • Daily Photo: December 6, 2015

    It's December (aka "birthday month") at our house, so here's a flashback to one of my favorite photos of the four kids holding hands in a brief moment of solidarity. By year's end, these four will be 18, 19, and 23, respectively. Sigh...

    Four kids in a row — Wentworth, N.C., August 2000

  • "Portraits & Headshots Week" — Darrius & Mercedes

    “Portraits & Headshots Week” continues today with photos of Darrius and Mercedes, siblings who are modeling in the Detroit area. For more from this session, go here.

  • Too Much Social Media?

    Last week, a friend of mine — not a virtual friend, but someone I’ve known for 48 of my 50 years on this earth — posted a self-described “rant” about his frustrations with social media and the hate that he sees on it every time he logs on.

    Lions and flags (oh my!) aside, I could not help but agree with his basic premise, that social media in some ways has brought out the worst in our collective society. We sit behind our keyboards, state our opinions in often the most crude or basic ways, and encourage our “friends” (real and virtual) to respond.

    In case you’re wondering, my friend and I are not of the same political or social ilk. As a First Amendment advocate, I respect your right to have opinions that differ from mine. I welcome them, in fact.

    As much as I enjoy social media, I do worry about the nonstop access and overflow of information that bombards us daily, mostly — except for the photos — without filters. And I wonder about the pressure it puts our children under.

    ••••••

    Today’s kids live in a very public world, as evidenced by the number of Tumblr and Instagram accounts that follow our son and comment on everything he does. I do understand “fansies” and “Billyvers” — most that I’ve met are kind people — but I’ve also made it my business to be aware and alert because people can go too far.

    We’ve all heard horror stories about online bullying. We try to teach our kids that nothing you post/text/share is “private.” All it takes is someone who knows how to capture a screenshot or a snapchat and what you’ve posted is there forever.

    The online world, in part because it allows you to hide behind a computer screen, also has a dark side. Earlier this year, for example, an Ohio man is in prison for trying to coerce minors connected to “Billy Elliot” into sending him pornographic images of themselves.

    The man had hacked into another boy’s Facebook, Skype and Yahoo accounts to get contact information for the youths, posed as a 15-year-old girl named “Ariella Gold” online, and demanded nude photos of teen boys who were on the tour and in the New York production.

    I had met the man and seen him at the stage door when Ben was in New York with the show, and had given his name to authorities when the investigation was at its peak. Ginno, Ben’s guardian on the tour, and I talked daily about the things that we could and should do to ensure he was protected.

    We were fortunate. The man, now 25, was arrested in January 2013, pleaded guilty to multiple felonies and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

    ••••••

    I’m not saying we should go back to a different time, or that social media does not have great benefits. It does, from the trivial and mundane to the thoughtful and mind expanding. I’ve learned a great deal from my collective of friends.

    Social media also is part of my business as much as it is part of my life, more so now than ever because my former profession of choice — the print medium — is struggling greatly. While print will never be extinct, as least in my opinion, it will never have the same reach it did when we were kids.

    Jill and I try to think about that when we have talked to our kids about the smart phones that are tethered to their bodies. Their world is much more saturated than ours was growing up.

    And that’s reason enough for us all to put a little more thought into how much this noise affects all of us, and stop the shouting from our fingertips and thumbs.

  • Broadway Trick or Treat

    On Halloween, the kids from the casts of "Ragtime," "Finian's Rainbow," "Mary Poppins," "Shrek," and "West Side Story" went trick or treating at the various theaters in Manhattan. It was definitely a different Halloween this year.

  • Random Thoughts on Parenting

    Life with Jeremiah:

    Jeremiah marks his one-year anniversary of living with us this month. No question, the last year has been an adventure for him and for us, but we are extremely proud of the progress he has made in a bunch of areas — academically, socially, and in his dance/performing arts training. He’s a sweet kid. 

    Still, some things continue to need work, such as his understanding of Rock & Roll 101, for which he is currently in remediation. Examples last night at the dinner table include:

    • “Little Richard — is that the guy who sang ‘Hello’?” (Lionel Ritchie — same initials, slightly different approach.)

    
• “Liberace — was he a member of Queen?” (No, that would be Freddie Mercury. Let’s just leave it at that.)

    ••••••

    If the Google translator app worked on teen speech:

    • "But I don't have time" = "It's not something I want to do, and I only make time for the things I want to do."

    • "I'm (fill in the blank) years old. You don't have to watch over me so closely" = "Give me freedom. Give me liberty. Just don't make me pay for my car, insurance or cell phone."

    • "I'm sorry, I didn't understand what you were saying" = "I was too busy ignoring you to hear what you said."


    • "Of course I have proper table manners." = "I know how to text surreptitiously with one hand."

    Age is not the only reason parents have gray hair.

  • Miss Kate Turns 18!

    Mother and daughter — Jill with Kate sleeping on her chest at 2 days old, at age 10 at my dad's funeral, and last night a few minutes before our oldest daughter turned 18. Happy birthday, Kate! We love you!

    Below is a photo from our birthday lunch with Kate at Rainforest Cafe before we leave Chicago for home later today.

  • Daily Photo: December 11, 2014

    All four kids have birthdays in December, starting with Nicholas (on Tuesday) and followed by Ben and Emma (17 today!) and Kate (who will be 18 two days after Christmas). Happiest of birthdays to all of you, with a special shout out to the twins today as they celebrate in separate states. I can't imagine life without all of you in it.

  • Family & Time

    Every time I see them all together, usually only two to three times a year, I wonder where the time has gone. 

    “Them,” in this case, are the six Cook/McFarland first cousins — two boys bookending four girls in the middle. Nicholas, who I brought with me into the McFarland family, is the oldest at 21, followed by Elisabeth, the daughter of Michael and Jennifer who is 14 months younger.

    The remaining four — Kate, Margaret, Emma, and Ben — were born within a 11½-month period from December 1996 to December 1997, a fact that still boggles the mind and no doubt caused their grandparents a great deal of heartburn.

    Both of Jill’s parents have passed away — Betty in May 2005 and Bob last January. My dad died in 2007, and Elisabeth and Margaret also have lost their maternal grandfather. The links to generations past rest with my mom and the McFarland girls’ grandmother, who lives near the family.

    The kids are lucky that they have grown up relatively close to each other. My sister, Julie, and her five children live close to my mom in Texas, and proximity/time/resources have meant the cousins have seen each other only a handful of times growing up.

    In many ways, the last part of that statement mirrors my childhood. I only had two first cousins and saw them only on the odd occasions. It’s only since my dad’s death that I’ve reconnected with one of them, Melissa, and that remains sporadic. In many ways, both because of choice and circumstance, I feel like I’ve missed out on something.

    And that’s never more apparent than when I see our kids and their cousins together.

    As the family’s de facto photographer through the years, I’ve tried to gather all of the cousins together for pictures. Group photos are a bear under the best of circumstances because — depending on the group’s size — you literally have to take 20 or 30 shots to get one or two in all eyes are open and everyone is looking at you in a pleasant manner.

    Last weekend, we drove down to Elon to hear Nicholas perform with his a cappella group, Vital Signs. Usually, because of the other kids’ obligations and timing, I make the 580-mile round trip by myself or perhaps with one child in tow. But this time, we all made the commitment to see the oldest perform.

    We haven’t seen the McFarlands since Christmas — no surprise given the horrid winter and the coordination it requires to get 10 people together under the best circumstances — and my four sibs had not seen each other since February. But on this night, we were all there to cheer Nick on.

    After the show, we all went to eat dinner. Nicholas brought his girlfriend, Katherine, and Margaret’s boyfriend came along as well. The kids and adults caught up, visited, and slid back into the familiar familial rhythms. It was if no time had passed at all.

    ••••••

    One of my great regrets is that I was never able to get a strong posed shot of the six first cousins while Jill’s mom, Betty, was alive. Lord knows Betty and I tried, but I ultimately did not get a good group picture of the six until the Thanksgiving following her death. (Fortunately, after my dad died, my mom recognized how tough it would be to get all nine of her grandkids together, and had a formal family portrait taken that hangs in her house today.)

    Now with the kids in their teens and early 20s, the Cook/McFarland cousins understand that the opportunities for these photos are rare. So even though they occasionally grumble, or make an ill-timed run for the bathroom to primp, they largely comply with my requests.

    After the dinner, we rushed outside to the underlit parking lot. I put on the flash, focused with my fingers crossed and fired several times. Fortunately, of the five shots I took, one came out perfectly.

    I posted the most recent group shot and was struck by how lovely these kids — now teens and young adults — have turned out. Unable to sleep, I went back through photos of the kids through the years and watched them grow up again.

    Today, Ben and Emma are high school sophomores, as is Margaret. Kate is a junior. Nicholas is a junior in college, and Elisabeth is a sophomore. Sooner rather than later, the kids will no longer be part of our day-to-day lives, even though they never will be far from us.

    That’s something every parent must confront, and with so much of our identities wrapped up in being parents/professional schleppers of our all-too-special foursome, it can be scary to think of what the transition may bring. But in many respects, I’m looking forward to it, both for us and for them.

    In reality, it’s already occurring. Kate has driven for more than a year; Emma got her license in March and hasn’t looked back. We are now a three-car family with four drivers and another on the way, something that I haven’t had to deal with since I was a teenager myself.

    The freedom afforded you when your children drive is amazing, and an odd way to prepare you for the next chapter. It’s much like first-time parents experience in the latter stages of pregnancy’s third trimester, when no one can sleep and everyone is overjoyed, scared, and persistently nervous at the same time.

    Jill and I are fortunate, and I know it. Our kids are largely studious, respectful, and want to be the best they can at what they do. They spend too much time staring into the depths of their iPhones and questioning most (or at least many) decisions we make. But they truly are good kids, and I’ll miss having them around when that time comes.

    And it will be all too soon.

  • A Late Valentine's Day Update

    When Jill and I first met, she talked of wanting a big family. That was quashed somewhat when we had three babies within the first 18 months of marriage. 

    Tonight two of those babies (plus birthday boy Jeremiah, a recent addition) are hosting 16 to 18 of their closet friends for a Valentine's Day party in our basement. Jill and I are sitting at our respective electronic devices.

    It may not be the most romantic, but after 18 years together (and with a pending 3-day trip to NYC on the horizon for both of us without major kid obligations), I wouldn't have it any other way.

    I love you, Jill, and I hope you'll always be my valentine.

  • MetroClub Photo Shoot

    One of my ongoing freelance jobs this year has been shooting photos for the Metropolitan School of the Arts. It's a fun task, because I get to snap pictures of kids who are doing things they love.

    Last week, the task was to shoot pictures of the MetroClub, a new after-school program that offers a well-rounded, arts-centered curriculum for students in grade K-6. The program is designed to immerse young children in music, dance, theater and yoga activities in a supportive and holistic environment. 

    For more photos from the shoot, check out my Facebook photo album.

  • The Juggling Act

    One of our largest parenting challenges — and believe me, we have a number of those — is striking the appropriate balance in paying attention to each of the four kids. It doesn't help that all basically like and do the same things (dance, acting, theater, in case you haven't guessed by now), and are — like all siblings — genetically programmed to compete with each other.

    At times, life in our house feels like a long, constant guitar pull, in which musicians perform in a round-robin format and end by turning to the next singer with the implied, "Top that!" At others, you watch helplessly as Vince Lombardi retires and is replaced by Phil Bengston; no matter how good the successor may be, it's impossible to follow a legend.

    All four have their strengths. Nicholas definitely has the big picture gene — he's "directed" the family shows for as long as we can remember (see the "Pooper Heroes" video below) — as well as comedic timing and a very nice singing voice. His greatest strength, in my opinion, is in art; he did a beautiful job of illustrating a children's book we are working on as a family project.

    Kate brings a combination of ditzy, otherworldly humor and a long, lithe dancer's body to the proceedings. Emma's strengths are tap, gymnastics, and a sly, dry, very funny sense of humor. (Definitely she was an adult in the womb — see "The Zoo Story.")

    They all are smart, sharp kids, children any parent would be proud to have. But I know it's hard for them not to feel overshadowed by Ben, the flip-a-switch kid. 

    This is the child who potty-trained in one day at age 3, rode a two-wheel bicycle after an afternoon at age 4, won national and world aerobic gymnastics championships by age 9, and is now part of the company of his first Broadway show ("Ragtime") at age 11. Everything, it seems on the surface, comes easy to him.

    This makes the juggling act even more difficult for us, his parents, because it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. You can't compare "Macbeth" at the Folger Shakespeare Library to a fifth grade class production. Both have merit; both provide you with opportunities.

    As his parents, we've seen how hard Ben works at his craft, and how much he has grown as a performer (and human being) as a result of the chances he's gotten over the past two years. We know how tough it is to get up for school at 7:30 a.m. after not getting home until midnight because of a show. We have heard from his fellow actors and directors that he is a professional who is on time and on cue, ready to do anything at a moment's notice. We know that his peers, not just his siblings, don't understand him sometimes. And yet he has perservered.

    I'm just as proud of that as I am of Emma's A on a project, or Kate's self-portrait that hangs in the hallway of her new school, or of seeing Nicholas as a member of his homecoming court. (Although, in true Nicholas fashion, he ditched the dance afterward.)

    Our mantra has been to help each child develop and grow at his or her own pace, and to give them the training and opportunities they need as they move forward. Are we always successful at the juggling act? No. Do we always try? Yes.

    Someday, I hope all of our kids will look back and remember that we did try, that we love them, and that we were there to support them when it counted. Isn't that all you can truly hope for as a child?

  • Life, Death, and Other Simple Truths

    Note: Last night, I found myself watching "Up" on DVD and it reminded me of this essay I wrote on the second anniversary of my dad's death. I posted it to Facebook but not to the blog, and wanted to put it up here.

    Two years ago, my father died. Six weeks after, on Sept. 11, the woman I referred to as my second mom passed away as well.

    It felt like the Twin Towers of my childhood were coming down around me. Fortunately, the foundation of much of that childhood — my mom — is still standing.

    My entry into this not-so-exclusive club — adult children who lose their parents — was not dissimilar to many who are my age. Nor, as I continue to learn, are the emotions that to this day catch me off guard.

    For example, I took my kids to see "Up," the new Disney movie, this past weekend. In what is a bravura sequence of filmmaking (animated, CGI, or not), the audience watches an almost 10 minute sequence that represents the arc of a lifetime for Carl and Ellie. As you watch the adventure they go through, that of the mundane day-to-day tasks and miscellaneous hardships and barriers that prevent them from going to the land unknown, I dare anyone not to tear up.

    Or, as in my case (and to the horror of my suddenly self-conscious children), you might start blubbering like a baby.

    The reason for this, I later figured out, was because the relationship represented everything I saw in my parents. Life's barriers, big and small, kept blocking their path, but they never stopped living their adventure. Not until after the very end. Two years and two days ago, my father waved goodbye to me and to my sister before slipping into a final, fitful coma. His death, or some form of life without him, was something I had prepared myself for almost daily since childhood.

    Truism #1: No matter how prepared you may be, you are never prepared for life after the end.

    The death of my second mom was not as much of a shock, even though Fran's dramatic decline in such a short period was traumatic in its own way.

    The numbness of these two events started wearing off after about 4 months. The holidays brought a flood of memories and feelings I had anticipated, but was not able to deal with at the time. No matter how “prepared” I thought I was, I wasn’t ready to see a movie I knew my father would like and not be able to call him, or to find a book or CD that he would enjoy and realize I couldn’t buy it and put it away for Chrismas or his birthday.

    Truism #2: Memories live as long as you breathe life into them.

    Over time, I found myself welcoming other friends into my not-so-exclusive club. We now exchange knowing nods, e-mails, and phone calls as critical days and anniversaries pass, times in which we are transported back to childhood and reminded of the things (big and small) that we encountered with our parents on life's great adventure.

    Two years after his death, I remember my father’s life, and all that it represented. On days like today, days in which my mom and I share conversations about mundane things and find ourselves beset by awkward long distance pauses, I can’t help but think about the end.

    On days like today, I wonder why I forget the simplest things, like remembering to put on my watch, or carrying my phone with me to a lunch meeting that runs late. I wonder why my mom’s phone call about finding some of my father’s sketches makes me feel like I’m 8 years old all over again, or why I feel compelled to write this now to share with the world.

    I wonder why, on a day in which I received a promotion that would make my father beam with pride, I feel so ambivalent. And then I realize it’s because of what’s been lost, that nothing can replace the presence of a parent in your life.

    And then I look at my own kids, those who exasperate and upset me so while bringing such joy to my life, and I know. I just know.

    RIP: John Glenn Cook Jr., 1940-2007.

  • Got a Minute? We Need to Talk...

    I’ve always loved to talk. People who know me say I could start a conversation with a wall, and fill in the parts when the wall doesn’t respond.

    Of course, talking to the wall sometimes is the only intelligent conversation I can find.

    I’ve used that pithy response many times over the years, largely because it’s my best self-defense. Looking back as an adult, my perception is that I had a lonely childhood. And I believe that perception has a lot of truth, at least as I see it now.

    Since I was a kid, my mind has run a million miles a minute, thoughts skipping from one to the next like a game of hopscotch. My brain was an RSS feed, anxious to deliver opinions and observations on anything that crossed my cerebral cortex. To paraphrase, I could have been ADHD before ADHD was cool.

    In reality, I was a person desperate to connect, and I didn’t know how. I needed someone to understand, to listen, to acknowledge these often disparate — and occasionally fleeting — thoughts. Of course, few people have the capacity for unfiltered, 24/7 access to what someone is thinking, even if the thoughts aren’t mean or malicious. It’s just too tiring.

    Oddly, on several administrations of the Myers-Briggs, I have straddled the line between the “I” and the “E.” Depending on the day, I’m either classified as an introvert or an extravert, which only contributes to my personal mystery. It also partly explains why, despite needing the occasional dose of Immodium for my mouth (or, in this case, fingertips), I hate it when people speak in meetings just to hear themselves talk. Amazingly, despite my ongoing inner dialogue, I have learned not to speak out unless I have something to say.

    That’s one reason I find the phenomenon of social networking so interesting. Sitting behind a computer screen evens the playing field. It’s an emotionally safe way to make those connections. Even if the friends we have are only casual acquaintances, or long-ago people we knew as children (Facebook is in many ways the high school reunion from hell), the fact that it thrives speaks loudly to our need to share our thoughts with the world.

    How this manifests itself in my children is interesting. Despite lacking a formal diagnosis, Nicholas is the first to tell you he’s ADD, while Katharine is the recipient of ADHD with extra sprinkles. Ben always must express himself, even if he doesn’t comprehend fully at times what he’s trying to express. Only Emma has thus far escaped that portion of my DNA; in so many ways she reminds me of her mom, which is one reason she has that special allocation of space in my heart.

    Talking, and the ongoing desire to connect, does have its advantages. But accessing those does not come without a key skill, the ability to listen. What I found when I became a journalist was that I had the opportunity — and often the privilege — to listen to the stories of others. With and through them, I built the life that today allows me to tell my own.

    I believe everyone needs to connect to others in some way. But I’ve also learned that sometimes it’s OK to have dead air. Silence, after all, has its place.

  • Parenthood (Not the Show)

    "How would you describe parenthood so far? And I don't mean the show."

    Emma, in case you haven’t noticed, cuts to the chase.

    We were watching “Parenthood,” the new show that premiered tonight on NBC. I loved the movie on which it was based, the cast is terrific, and the show runner is the same guy who is in charge of “Friday Night Lights,” my favorite show of the past decade. Plus, it has the added advantage of coming on at 10 p.m. thanks to the network’s decision to shun Jay Leno and his yuk-yuk humor to late night again.

    Normally, 10 p.m. is Emma’s bedtime, but she has her father’s nocturnal nature. Contrast that to Katharine’s ability to be shot out of a cannon between 5:30 and 7 every day and you now know why I never sleep.

    I decided to let her watch the show, and while I lay on the floor, she snuggled under the covers of my bed amid the pile of unfolded laundry.

    “So,” she said during a commercial, then asked her fateful question.

    I decided to go for the complex answer, something such a perceptive comment deserves. “Challenging,” I said. “It’s the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced.”

    “Is that it?”

    “Rewarding,” I said. “I’ve learned so much from being a parent.”

    “Uh huh … And?”

    Nothing like being put on the spot. I hoped that the limited commercial interruption would end soon.

    “Fun sometimes. Hard, too. But it’s always worth it.”

    She nodded, letting me off the hook. The commercial ended and we were quiet through the rest of the show. When it ended, she leaned down and said, “That was pretty good. Not bad." Then, "I love you, Daddy.”

    She kissed me on the head, leaned on my arm and said her prayer — the same one we’ve done for the last nine years — and walked toward her bed.

    At that moment, parenthood was great.

  • Ben's Golden Age

    I'll never forget the first time I took my son to a movie.

    It was Thanksgiving Day in 1999. We were living in North Carolina, and my family was visiting from Texas. On a whim, we decided to take the foursome to Toy Story 2, even though Ben and Emma weren’t yet 2.

    We knew it would be a challenge, and true to form, Emma and Kate decided to check out every seat, and lap, in our row. Nicholas kicked back amid the madness and feigned moderate interest; he had already seen the movie.

    Ben sat in his chair, riveted, the entire time, eating his popcorn by the kernel and taking occasional sips from his Sierra Mist. His feet extended barely past the seat cushion.

    We should have known something was different then.

    ••••••

    Parents of child actors are on the periphery. You observe, evaluate, question, and wonder. You pursue PhDs in personal and professional juggling, trying to strike the balance between the actor, your other children, and your respective careers.

    And you schlep — a lot.

    At age 9, Ben decided he wanted to pursue this as a profession, with the encouragement of his dance teacher and a couple of others who had spotted his talent — and, more important, his presence — on stage. Talent is something you can nurture and teach; presence is innate. You either have it or you don’t.

    Making this level of commitment was something Jill and I were willing to do, but we agreed in advance to several rules that we would not bend. Among them:

    • He has to maintain good grades; none of this matters if he ends up flunking out of school.

    • He has to be professional when he’s on the job.

    • He has to be a kid when he’s not. 

    We also decided that we would make a conscious effort not to be your stereotypical stage parents, those who constantly criticize and critique everyone else’s work while extolling the virtues of their “perfect child.” You see these parents over and over at tryouts, acting/dance classes, and other informal gatherings rife with politics that could rival any legislature or Congress. (Suburban PTA meetings have nothing on a professional audition.)

    Some parents want to sit and watch auditions and rehearsals and are shocked when they can’t, not realizing that this is work. (After all, would you want to accompany your teenage child to a job in a fast food restaurant? “Hey, Mom, can you please move? I’ve got to get this customer their fries.”)

    That, of course, is a bit of an exaggeration. Many parents, like us, are making tremendous sacrifices for their children. But, just as in any competitive sport, we've seen some kids that are either coddled or pressured to such an extreme that you wonder how they will survive it. And sadly, tabloids have been littered with those who ultimately didn't.

    Our philosophy always has been to be as unobtrusive as possible. We are there for support, not to interfere, which largely translates into a lot of picking up and dropping off. Our big questions are of the “Is he doing OK?” and “How can he improve?” variety. It’s the same approach we use with Ben and his other siblings with regard to school. While we have opinions, we’re not the professionals at this, and far be it for us to tell professionals how to do their jobs.

    Most important is this simple fact: Our personal success is not rooted in Ben’s professional success. Instead, it’s rooted in whether we help our good, talented children become good, talented adults.

    ••••••

    Today, at 12, Ben has worked more than some adults I know. Over the past year, he has been in four productions — two of the "Ragtime" revival and two world premieres ("The Heavens Are Hung in Black" and "Golden Age").

    In many ways, this is his golden age.

    Two years ago tonight, he finished a role as Young McDuff in the Folger Shakespeare Theatre’s production of “Macbeth.” It was a spectacular show, filled with magic, illusion, special effects, and buckets (yes, buckets) of blood. Pretty cool for a then-10-year-old, eh?

    As parents, we were initially queasy about our son dying on stage 53 times, and watching him be stabbed and then carted off by his shirt (he had to wear a harness underneath) was shocking the first time.

    But as the play’s run progressed, it started becoming routine.

    “So how was the death scene tonight, son?”

    “Pretty cool. I made a lady scream from the balcony.”

    “Great.”

    ••••••

    Theater is filled with these types of situations, populated as it is by exquisitely talented people who are wonderful characters in their own lives as well as on stage. Few are anarchists about earning “a decent wage,” but they are willing to do whatever it takes in exchange for the love their craft provides.

    By and large, the people Ben has met in the professional world are not your stereotypical divas and jerks, although we know those folks are out there. In his case, it’s been exactly the opposite; people have been extremely supportive of him as a child actor navigating his way. They see his joy for the stage, his genuine love for the craft, and they see someone who — no matter what happens down the line professionally — is a lifer. And they have responded to that.

    As much as Ben deals with the actors, most of our interaction on a show is with the “handler” — also known as a “wrangler” — who is hired to follow the child around and make sure that he/she is on time, always safe, and ready for his/her cues. (They also serve as big brother/big sister, psychiatrist, watchdog, and gentle chastiser.)

    In many ways, it’s a thankless job, but one for which we are grateful. Ben has formed many deep, wonderful relationships with the people who were assigned to watch over him. We don’t know what we — or he — would do without them.

    ••••••

    Two years ago, when “Macbeth” ended, Ben was extremely down, having come face to face with the reality that his life would be a series of meeting and making miniature families that would disintegrate when the curtain fell one last time.

    Unfortunately, that’s the business piece of the art, which he also has learned the hard way in a short period of time. The closing of “Ragtime” remains something he doesn’t emotionally grasp, although he accepts with dismay the practical reality of it.

    All of this has had an impact on his family, too. Emma, his twin sister, has learned to become more independent without him around. She no longer trails in his shadow. Nicholas is learning to appreciate the talent that his “little brother” has in addition to the opportunities he has not received.

    Jill and I are learning to endure time apart, which makes our time together that much more precious. (Look up the clichés on absence and hearts and you’ll get my drift.) In life’s grand scheme (hey, I was in the cliché dictionary just a second ago), we realize our time doing this is relatively (and blessedly) short.

    If I’ve learned anything from this, it’s how to become a cheerleader for my children. In addition to providing me with rafts of great material — this blog for example — they also bring me great joy. Having watched my own father struggle just to stay afloat, I realize how blessed I am to have the good health (as well as a good job) that allows me to give this back to my children.

    I am proud to be a stage dad; in many respects it’s the best job I’ll ever have.

    ••••••

    One thing we learned early on is that Ben feels lost without having a show to do. He is relentlessly creative, and at an age in which he is a sponge for knowledge, but having the structure of a regular schedule comforts him. This is the same child who, at age 3, wondered aloud what the schedule was, and was visibly upset that we had nothing planned on a Saturday.

    “Dad,” Ben proclaimed recently (at 12 he is prone to proclamations), “I can’t begin to tell you how much I’m enjoying being around adults. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a kid, and I like kids. It’s just that kids are… so limited. I think adults are much more interesting.”

    After the premature demise of “Ragtime,” we were fortunate that Ben was back on the job within a few weeks. This time, it was a new play — Terrence McNally’s “Golden Age” — at the Kennedy Center.

    Ben was the only child in “Golden Age,” which was set backstage at the premiere of an opera in 1835. It’s not your typical topic for a 12-year-old who is content to make nerf gun videos during his time off. (As if to rub his still somewhat analog father’s nose in it, he announced today that he has more than 1,000 subscribers to his bentwins10097 YouTube channel)

    But remember, this is the child who didn’t like to read, then found himself doing Dickens and Shakespeare in his first two plays. Whether he realizes it or not, the training he is receiving is in the work of some of the greatest playwrights of all time, and he gets to work with top-of-the-line actors, directors, and others as well.

    “Golden Age” was presented as part of a trilogy of McNally’s plays devoted to opera; the others were the Tony Award-winning “Master Class” and the superb “Lisbon Traviata.” Like many new plays, it is a work in progress, but the writing is often funny, thought provoking, and in many instances for me, very profound. It is the work of a true artist, a combination of thoughts and perspectives on critics, commerce, and the joys and fears of creating something new and different, something the world needs but hasn’t yet seen.

    Now “Golden Age” has ended, and the five-week DC to New York respite we received has ended, too. We’re back in the land of “Who knows what’s next?” again, facing a variety of new and sure-to-be interesting transitions.

    And with that coda, I have only one last thing to say: Run like the wind, Bullseye.

  • Growing Up "Normal"

    I stood on the corner of 8th Avenue and 48th Street in Manhattan this week and my son said goodbye.

    “See ya, Dad,” Ben said, his backpack filled with school supplies. “Gotta go. I’m good.”

    The “I’m good” was 7th grade code for “You don’t need to walk me to the front door of school anymore” — a transitional moment that makes me vaguely uncomfortable as a parent and proud at the same time.

    The day before, in Virginia, Jill saw Kate and Emma off on their respective buses — they’re going to different middle schools — and said she felt the same set of conflicting emotions.

    This is “normal,” I guess. A normal moment in what feels like, at times, an abnormal life.

    As a child, I went to the same elementary school for five years, the same middle school for three, and the same high school for four. I was raised in the same house that my parents lived in until my father died.

    Today, I’m a parent with four kids in four schools in three states. Nicholas is a senior — gulp — driving himself to school in North Carolina. Kate and Emma are in 8th and 7th grade, respectively, still jumping on the bus. And then there’s Ben.

    Last year at this time, he was our “Little Boy,” having moved to New York to play that role in “Ragtime.” This year, he’s “Tall Boy” in “Billy Elliott,” having booked his second Broadway show in just nine months.

    While he’s still small for his age, the image of me standing on that street corner watching him walk the last 100 yards to school is a vivid reminder that he is growing up.

    And fortunately for us, when he says “I’m good,” I know what he means.

  • Bullying: Please STOP!!!

    This sort of crap has to stop.

    For the past week, I have been immersed in discussions and debates about how to improve public education. So immersed, in fact, that I didn’t take the time to watch and read the stories surrounding the recent deaths of five teens that were subjected to anti-gay bullying.

    Today, I finally saw the heart wrenching video posted by Ellen DeGeneres and read the stories about the deaths of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi and four others who took their own lives over the past month. With each story I read, my jaw dropped further and my heart bled a little more.

    Why is this happening? Are our heads buried so deeply in our own navels that we can’t look around and see the damage that bullying causes? When are we going to wake up and accept the fact that tolerance is something we need to instill in our children? Or that our so-called morals should not be a mask for intolerance toward others?

    For some reason, adolescence and the onset of puberty only seem to heighten the cruelty gene. Trash talk becomes a form of bonding for kids who want to be edgy and cool but aren’t mature enough to have an actual conversation about the confusion they live through every day. And the environment is ripe for bullies who find power in the vulnerability of others, whether its sexuality, ethnicity, disability, or religion.

    As a kid, I was bullied and harassed over my appearance, my nerdiness, my inability to connect to my peers. Why?

    Because I was — God forbid — “different.” I loved theater and movies as much as football — just like my dad did. I did not go cruising, to the roller rink, or get to make out with girls in cars on the Texas City levee. I did not get invited to parties; to this day, even though people think I’m an extrovert, in a crowd I still look for the one-on-one conversation. People perceived me as arrogant, but being a smart ass was a mask for my fears. I could not beat you with my fists, but I could with my words.

    Looking back, the smartest thing my parents ever said to me was, “We don’t want you to grow up with our prejudices.” They recognized that they grew up in another era and a different time, and they were smart enough to encourage me, with their guidance, to develop my own set of values and sense of judgment. Even though we disagreed on politics, they taught me that respecting others’ views is just as important as having my own.

    Several years ago, I spoke on a panel in Columbia, South Carolina, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. (The first of five cases that were combined into the Brown ruling occurred in Summerton, a small town about two hours away.) During the Q&A session, a woman asked me why I thought bigotry still exists in our schools.

    My answer was simple: “First graders aren’t bigots. They’re parrots.”

    Somehow, I managed to not succumb to the pressures and taunting I still remember, and today, I’m the proud parent of four very “different” children. But I didn’t grow up in a world where bullies lurked behind video cameras and computer screens, hiding behind a new and very dangerous layer of invincibility.

    I begrudgingly became part of “The Social Network” when my children started showing an interest in it. Now, I love Facebook and the opportunities it provides to connect to far-flung friends and acquaintances, but a primary reason I’m on it is to monitor their pages and accounts vigilantly.

    My kids are in four schools in three states, but fortunately, I think they’re in the places that suit their personalities. We are trying to raise them as individuals, without the prejudices we have.

    That’s why, tonight, I let Kate go to a church lock-in wearing a borrowed Halloween costume. She called it her “Lady Gaga Taco.” Yes, I cringed and wondered about the social repercussions she would face, but then I realized it was her expressing her personality. I admire her bravery.

    Before we left, she showed me a piece of art she is working on as part of her community service project. On a canvas marked with x’s and o’s, she had written: “Live with Love in Your Heart. And Mend a Broken One.”

    My heart breaks for the families of the boys who committed suicide, feeling there was no other way out of the lives they led. The anger I feel toward their perpetrators is at a boil.

    This bigotry and hatred has got to stop — now. We must start mending broken hearts.

  • No Answers

    Sometimes you ask “Why” and there are no answers. Sometimes you say it with a question mark, or an exclamation point, or both, and still the answers don’t come.

    Sometimes there is just no answer.

    Four days ago, a 29-year-old woman who apparently had everything committed suicide. I didn’t know her well, hadn’t seen her since she graduated from high school, only mentioned her occasionally in conversation. Her parents, for different reasons, had a great impact on our lives and, ultimately, on the places where we are today.

    Why does this affect me so? Why has it had such an impact on Jill?

    Because this was not supposed to happen. It was the last thing anyone would have — could have — anticipated. No one would have thought, or could have imagined, why someone with so much would end everything.

    No one ever can.

    ••••••

    I grew up in a small town, or at least I thought it was small. Compared to Houston, 35 miles to the north, Texas City was — and is — a small town.

    And with around 40,000 residents, it is 2½ times larger than Reidsville, N.C.

    From 1993 to 2001, I lived in Reidsville, moving there as the managing editor of a small newspaper and leaving there to be the managing editor of a national education magazine. I’ve said often that leaving the Houston area to move to a small community where tobacco and textiles were the prime industry felt like going from fifth to first without hitting the clutch.

    And yet, during those eight-plus years, my life changed in ways I can’t imagine. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe I didn’t leave with a permanent case of whiplash.

    To sum up, while living in Reidsville, I:

    • Turned 30.

    • Got a divorce, rediscovered my love for theater, remarried, changed careers, bought a house, and had Kate, all within an 18-month period.

    • Discovered shortly after Kate was born that we were having twins.

    • Found a series of surrogate families — and my children at least one additional grandma — that we’ve stayed in touch with over the years.

    When we left to move to Northern Virginia, it was time. The many things that Reidsville offered, the hooks and lures that held us there, had their allure. We could have stayed.

    Something told us — both of us — that we needed to move on. And I’m glad we did, for our sakes, and for the sake of our children.

    But there is something about living in a small town, or growing up in a small town, that never leaves you. It’s an extended family you can’t leave behind.

    ••••••

    I just don’t get it.

    I don’t think anyone else does either.

    Separating the intellectual from the emotional is difficult most, if not all the time.

    Retrospect helps you point to signs, like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. But, ultimately, it doesn’t answer the central question: Why?

    Jill and I had not seen Lindsay in years. We heard about the different things in her life from friends and acquaintances with whom we still maintain contact, but like all too many people we encounter, she was another person from a place we lived in a decade ago that we assumed was going to be OK.

    Her parents are extraordinarily kind people, who’ve done nothing but help us — and others — over the years. Our lives intersected with theirs at various moments; the memories we share of each other are good ones, lasting ones, or at least I’d like to think so.

    But as happens all too often in this life, people you care about drift away. You don’t mean for that to happen, but life intervenes and it does.

    And then something like this happens, and abruptly, without warning, you are slung back into memories of a time you had left behind.

    •••••••

    First and foremost, I’m a chronicler. I would like to be someone who can develop scenarios and turn them into classic fiction, but my writing at heart comes from everyday life. Why create something out of nothing when there is so much around you to chronicle?

    That said, although I love biographies, I’m not a person who typically follows others’ blogs, just as I don’t expect you and others to follow mine. I hope what I have to say is something that is of interest to others — at the very least my children — but if not I can say without question that writing has provided me with an outlet that otherwise I would not have.

    Earlier this week, I happened to find Lindsay’s blog (http://applebloggingjeans.tumblr.com) and could not stop reading it. It’s a fascinating chronicle of a young, caring, witty, and extremely intelligent woman facing life in her 20s. Naturally, I found myself looking for clues, hoping something would answer my central question, knowing that nothing would.

    Somewhere in my reading, I happened on this paragraph that I can’t seem to shake:

    “I am, at my core, a person who fights everyday with who I am at my core— both an open book, ready and willing to share all that I am with the world, and a person who deals with many of my own demons, triumphs, blessings INTERNALLY and without desire to share those things even with those closest to me.  I have been, for as long as I can remember, a walking contradiction.”

    ••••••

    We encourage our children to be open about their struggles. We try to be open about ours. 

    Of course, bookstores are chock full of memoirs from people whose families did an incessant data dump on the author, who suffered so much in the process that they managed to get an autobiography and an Oprah/VH1 episode out of it.

    That’s not what we’re trying to do, in our dealings with our kids or even in this chronicle I’m putting out there for them — and you. What we want them to know is that they can come to us — no matter what.

    I think they do know that. And I pray, every moment of every day, that they feel like they have someone to share their thoughts with.

    No matter what.

  • Quoting My Kids

    Facebook has become the 21st century vehicle for “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” the Art Linkletter/Bill Cosby sketch show that started on radio, moved to television, and now — thanks to social networking — is on the keyboards of friends far and wide.

    As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a challenge to be both profound and pithy in just a few words, but fortunately Facebook gives you more than the 140 characters you get with Twitter. (Twitter is too pithy, even for me.) I especially enjoy my sister’s status updates, which show a dry wit that recalls my dad. Of course, with five children — two of them still relatively small — she has fresh material on a daily basis.

    Now that my kids are teens, I don’t get as much “They said what?!?” material as I once did. Still here are a few gems you might have missed:

    A recent exchange with Emma as we drove the obstacle course that is Northern Va.:


    — E: I heard it was pothole awareness month.

    — Me: Do you think they're doing anything about it?


    — E (hoping she doesn't fall into one): Funny, Dad. You're funny.

    • From Ben: "If a boy can still sing 'Gary, Indiana,' then I'm telling you, his voice has NOT changed."

    • From Kate, after drinking a Slurpee to mark getting her braces off: "My tongue looks like my hair did" when it was dyed. "But then, my head looked like a fire hydrant."

    • From the boy in the bubble: "I'm confused. What's this about the Giants drafting a Prince and a wedding involving a Prince? They aren't the same thing, are they?"

    • From Kate, the visual artist (who also kinda likes science): "Lips are tough, but I hate drawing ears. Every time I try to make them look realistic, they look like my small intestine."

    • From Emma: "Sure they tell you that you can eat all the ice cream you want when you have your tonsils taken out. What they don't tell you is you won't want to eat a thing after that happens, and that sucks."

    • From Ben, during his brief trip home to Virginia for the 1st time in months:

    — "Have you noticed that British people don't talk like us, but when they sing you can't tell the difference?"


    — Upon being told that the conductor would be watching him as he rode unaccompanied on the train to New York: "I don't know about that. I'm not sure I want him watching me watching 'Dexter.' That could be a little awkward."

    Of course, raising kids gives you material of your own. Here’s my contribution to the cause:

    • Another way you know you have teenagers: You tell them you're cleaning the bathroom and their response is, "Why?"

  • Why, Hello There…

    I periodically take breaks from writing to concentrate on other things in life — job, spouse, children, the usual stuff. Ideas are constantly coming and going like cars on the autobahn, but something prevents me from turning them into something that’s at least somewhat entertaining.

    Recently, when I’ve had the time to work on a blog entry or something for work, my brain/fingers don’t cooperate. When the brain is working – shower, in the car -- the time is never right. And then everything else gets in the way.

    I realized earlier this week that I had not filed a blog entry since early July. Wondering why, I decided to check my version of a diary — status updates on Facebook. (Remember, all status updates start with your name. I try to finish the phrase by starting with a verb, but that’s not always successful.)

    See if you notice a trend...

    End of June:

    • I've spent the days of summer (3 thus far) in a darkened auditorium taking pictures of my girls (and anyone else I could shoot) doing 5-hour rehearsals of "Grease" (w/dance recital material thrown in for good measure). It is almost July, and I still look like someone who has not had sun since 1998.

    July:

    • It's been a good day ... on many levels. Wish Jill was here to celebrate the many things we all have to be thankful for. (To my editor friends, sorry for ending that last sentence in a preposition, but it's late.)

    • Has had a wonderful day with Emma. Toured the Harry Potter Exhibition at Discovery Times Square (her version of nerdvana), ate treats at the Cake Boss cafe (see 13th b'day pics if you want to know why that's important), and had a good time with Ben, Neil and Ginno during the dinner break. It's been a lot of fun.

    • Made the pilgrimage to the Lincoln Memorial with the kids tonight, something we do every time Nicholas is in town. I'm truly amazed by how much they have grown up over the past year.

    • Congratulates Ben on his one-year anniversary in Billy Elliot! He has performed in 416 consecutive shows without missing a beat — a remarkable feat for anyone, let alone a 13-year-old who also went to school full-time. We are very proud of you, son!!!

    • Has another one of those weekends lined up. Jill is in Boone today and tomorrow moving her dad. Kate is at a camp. Emma is meeting me in NY tonight and we'll get Ben. Nick is in North Carolina and going out of town. Yes, it is summer...

    • Survived the midnight premiere of the last "Harry Potter" and is at work while the kids sleep in...

    • Has taken Ben and Neil McCaffrey (happy 13th birthday, Neil!) to the train station, is schlepping Kate to camp, and has seen Jill off to her meeting in Georgia. And it's not even 9 a.m...

    • Took Katharine to a two-week wilderness camp today, a 520-mile roundtrip that featured three vicious storms, a 12-mile stretch of interstate that took an hour and a half to slog through, a few photos of rural Virginia, and a very happy 14-year-old. So I guess it was worth it...

    August:

    • Is getting ready to leave NY with Ben, who after 451 straight performances in Billy Elliot is doing something he's never done in his professional life — taking a vacation.

    • Had a great time with Jill and the kids. Of course, we had dinner and a show. Ben sang, Emma danced, Kate laughed (at herself, not her siblings), and Nick created food art in the middle of his plate. A typical family evening!

    • Has put Ben on a NY bound train. Nicholas is heading back to NC with the McFarlands this afternoon, while Jill and the girls are returning from Wintergreen. As for me, I'm going home to take a nap, and it not even 7:30 yet...

    • Had an amazing evening at Steve Earle's show (thanks again, Jill and kids), which reminded me of the power of music and how it can rejuvenate the mind, body and spirit. As part of it, saw/heard a new favorite band called The Mastersons. Check them out on FB; some of the best new music I've heard in some time.

    Last Week:

    • Blew two tires just before 1 p.m. and thought that would be my news of the day. Just before 2, at a gas station next to a very pregnant woman, the earthquake hit. 45 seconds later, we stood there wondering what happened. She said, "I thought my water just broke." I told her, "I'm sure a lot of people felt the same."

    • Presents the week in headlines: Ben as Michael; 4 tires and an earthquake; Kate in field hockey scrimmages; Nicholas off to college; finding a way home to VA in a hurricane watch with Emma. Next week's prediction: Frogs falling from the sky.

    • Amid unprecedented plans to shut down NYC, Emma is on a roll. We're scheduled to be on — literally — the last train out of the city, and she wants to stop at American Eagle one last time. My response: I've been shopping with you more this summer than at any time in your life, so why now? Fluttering her eyes (I swear), she said: You've raised my expectations.

    • Is back in Virginia with Emma, exhausted and thankful that the train ride was smooth. Full, but smooth...

    Given our lives for the past two years, it was an unusual summer. Nothing earth shattering, just a lot of back and forth, and — fortunately — some quality time spent with all of the kids. I guess you could say there hasn’t been much to blog at home about, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    But now that it’s September, and things are picking up steam, I’m sure I’ll be back in this space soon.

  • I Am A Child

    This week marked my 11th anniversary at NSBA, amazing considering that I never worked in one job for more than 5 years prior to that. For some reason, it made me think back to our time in Rockingham County, N.C. — that period when our kids were little and just getting ready for work each day was an adventure.

    One morning, waiting to turn on to NC 14 after leaving our house on a particularly trying morning, this came to me fully formed. By the end of my 10-mile drive to my office, I could not wait to get inside, hoping that it would not leave my brain before I could write it down. It didn't, fortunately, and in scrounging through files today, I found it again. The words still apply...

    I am a child.
    I will push you (and sometimes my friends, too)
    Poke you.
    Prod you.
    Run laps around you,
    And sometimes through your legs.
    If I want it bad enough, I’ll even beg.

    I am a child.
    I will laugh with you, and sometimes at you.
    I will smile and giggle, too.

    I am a child.
    I will sing and act.
    I’ll negotiate a bedtime story
    With a sports agent’s savvy
    And threaten a holdout if I don’t get my way.
    But if you take some time, eventually I will settle down and pray.

    I am a child.
    It’s an innocent look.
    I’ll never plead guilty to making a mess.
    I was just playing, I guess.

    I am a child.
    I will inspire you.
    Believe in you.
    Sneeze, drip and cough on you.
    Hug, kiss and hold onto you.
    Never stop asking you why
    Even when I cry.

    I am a child.
    I’ll refuse a home-cooked meal
    And ask for spaghettios.
    Look in my bowl and ask, “What are those?”

    I am a child.
    It is my job to test you,
    And not in the standardized ways.
    But every night and every day.
    I am a child.
    I will teach you.
    Will you teach me, too?