Living as if there is always a tomorrow…

Today was a 9.9 day. I saw the blue sky from my bed as I awoke and I knew it would be stellar!

Arriving in my seat at the dining room table after brewing the perfect cup of tea, I awoke my computer to look on a Facebook page for a picture of my 14 year old who had surely survived her first night at YEA Camp (Youth Empowered Action) in Charlton, MA. I was hopeful that she would experience a week of passion-building, consciousness-raising excitement. I was feeling good!

The phone rang next to me and I saw my sister Cyn’s familiar name on the screen. Family, she is but since she’s not too frequent in her calls, I had a flash of warning before I said hello. “Have you been on Facebook yet?” she asked.

“Not yet, why?”

“I think our cousin David died.” “I don’t know for sure, but it looks like it by his son Jake’s posts.” she said.

It was not for almost 3 more hours that I knew for sure what had happened. No one was returning her calls and Google searches pulled up nothing.

I was already dressed for a morning bike ride, having been granted a “do whatever you want day” by my lovely wife. It was her way of sharing the “burden” of having been gone almost 2 full days of every week for the past 2 years to care for her ailing dad. We are always trying to keep a balance, it seems, of energy, patience, and time. Time, I believe, is the most valuable and also the most elusive…

“I’m going to go for a ride,” I said. “There’s nothing else I can do right now.”

“Please be careful!” she said, as she does and has, for 18+ years.

“I always am.” I responded, as I always do.

When I head out on a ride, or plane trip, or anytime I feel like I might be in danger (for as far back as I can remember), I have surrounded myself in my mind with white light. I can visualize it swirling around me and protecting me. I ask my spirit guides to keep me safe, and today, I added, “It’s not my day. It’s not my time!”

This morning as I repeated that ritual, I felt uneasy. I thought of the speed at which we can go from alive to dead, one minute our flame burning brightly, the next, extinguished. It isn’t fair and it causes pain, mostly felt by those left behind. And then I think about the fact that I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason, yet there are many more questions than I have answers.

No one knows for certain what becomes of us when we die; I believe we’re all mostly just afraid of the unknown. Certainly, we must get a better understanding as we age? I fear we just amass more questions.

All I know is that time is moving at a speed that I cannot fathom and control and that unless I can find a way to slow it down, my flame will be blown out in what seems like an instant!

When I was young, I planned to live until I was 100, but by the time I was 40, I’d revised that to “90 or above would be fine.” Now, I’ve lowered it again and I’m aiming at 85. That gives my kids plenty of time to have kids so I can meet them all, which is something that I never got with my own parents.

My 2 youngest, “the babies, the twins, the little ones,” have just gotten back from a week of overnight camp. They have somehow grown into teenagers at only 11.5 years old, look a foot taller, and seem almost ready to venture out of the nest on their own. Not really, but they do seem much more grown up this week!

“Can we go for 3 weeks next year?” they pleaded

“Really? How would I be able to live without you for 3 weeks? Wouldn’t you get homesick?” I said.

“Well, maybe a little, but it would be fun! Please, Please, Mommy & Mama?!” they chimed.

I thought to myself, “No, that would be impossible. That’s like being one of those parents who just want to get rid of their kids and send their kids to boarding school. Out of the question! Two weeks, maybe, but it’s expensive!”

“We’ll see”, I said, as I mumbled ever so quietly… “never going to happen!”

They keep growing, even when you’re not around. At camp they do things for camp staff that they don’t do at home. Like brush their teeth on the first request as they herd their way towards the makeshift outdoor sinks. They go to sleep on schedule, get up early for extra activities, and try new foods. They bring their dishes on their trays to the dishwasher area! They clean up after themselves…And they make friends with kids who may grow up to be lifelong friends, tethered to each other through distance over the years, and reunited in old-age. These are memories that last a lifetime.

My cousin David died almost instantly from an aneurysm on his brain stem. I doubt that he felt any pain, nor had time to realize how dire it was. One moment he was there and the next he was gone. He had just turned 50 a day before, and left his parents, 2 siblings, 3 grown boys, a lovely girlfriend, 2 ex-wives, and the rest of us relatives reeling with the suddenness, the sadness, and the questions. I still see him as a young boy like it was yesterday, with taped up broken glasses and all of my sisters and his sisters teasing him because he was the only boy and we could.

A few nights ago, before our daughter went to YEA camp, she came to our bedroom where I lay, alone (on a night when the wife was at Dad’s), armed with her computer to show me a hair straightener that she wanted to buy.

“It’s only $79.00” she said. “Can I get it?”

“$79.00! Your hair is gorgeous. You don’t need a hair straightener! And that’s a lot of money!” I said

“It’s not $150.00, like some of the others! Please? I really want it and need it!” she whined.

It went downhill from there. I wasn’t going to buy something that cost that much when we had just dropped a good chunk of money on new school clothes. She continued to whine and I stood my ground. She didn’t even want to consider looking on ebay for a better price on a used one. I finally just told her I wasn’t going to argue about it anymore and to go to bed!

10 minutes later, I called her back in…

“You know,” I said, if you had come in here saying “Mommy, there’s something that I really want to buy, but I don’t have enough money for it. Is there any way I can work it off?” I would have listened with much more open ears. Instead, you came in here like a spoiled teenager expecting that you would just get what you want! We talked more, and she quickly realized her mistake and apologized. The next morning, she was up and dressed and had eaten breakfast and was ready to tackle the jobs I’d given her. I told her she’d be sore the next day, tired of stooping over to cut saplings on our back hill but would be pleased with herself when she accomplished her goal. 3 hours later, she texted me pictures at work to say she was done!

What was most enlightening about our talk that night, was that in appealing to her to think about being more of a go-getter and to work harder and to find a passion in life, she said to me, “You just want me to be a politician! You want me to be political!”

“Whoa, what?” “Hell, no I don’t! Politicians have to lie a lot, and they don’t do a lot of what they say they’ll do. The good ones are few and far between. I’d never want you to be a politician!”

“I just want you to be passionate about something!” I said. “I gave you life. I gave you a flame that burns inside you, but it’s up to you to fuel that flame!”

“Finding a passion is as easy as setting up a lemonade stand at a busy intersection on the bike path to raise money for your friend whose sister is dying of leukemia!” “You make signs and posters with her picture on it and you raise thousands of dollars, not because people care about the lemonade, but because they see your passion and want to donate!”

“Passion is getting your school to stop selling water in plastic bottles, but instead to encourage kids to bring refillable bottles in and have filtered water dispensers in hallways!”

“Passion is going out once a week with your siblings to pick up trash along the bike path!” It’s your future and your kids’ future that needs to be saved, and I’m just trying to get you to care about that. It’s getting tougher and tougher for people to live in this world and kids need to see that their choices now can make a difference. You need to help be that difference!

We’ll see what Saturday brings when she comes out of camp “empowered” in some way. I’m hoping that she’ll have learned some skills that she will use to fire herself up about some cause and to energize others to do the same. It’s not like she hasn’t had examples!

Life starts and life ends. What we do here in the time that we remain, matters. Instead of living each day as if it were my last, I want to treasure my time and live as if there is always a tomorrow!

R.I.P.

R.I.P. David Cassinelli

Thanks for reading!

Little Eyes and Ears

It’s April 16th, the day after Patriot’s Day, and I’ve been in a funk since yesterday when I learned of the horrific news of the “Boston Marathon bombings” as it will be forever known.

Six days ago, as my wife and I entered into our 4 night, 5 day trip away from home and after hastily assembling an awesome team of adults to care-take our 3 kids, our biggest threat was North Korea, so we thought. We even discussed it, over sips of wine while enjoying the ocean view, seated at our favorite bar in Provincetown, that if something did happen and missiles were fired, we would want to be home with our kids. Having  arrived home at 2:45 yesterday with no international incident, it did not take long for the news of the bombings to have our full attention and deepest sadness.

As I’ve watched the reports, seen video footage, still shots, first-hand accounts, blog posts, news stories, and have seen the outpouring of emotions on Facebook, twitter, and through my friends, I can’t stop thinking about the children. And I don’t just mean mine. I mean all of the children who keep hearing, seeing, and knowing about the increasing violence and evil in the world that seems to be getting closer every year, every month, and sometimes every day.

I know my own kids and how I deal with news and violence and how it affects them, but I still worry about the cumulative  effect that each tragedy brings.

My 11-year-old twins are in a play this week and were at rehearsal from before the time the news broke until 9pm last night. We didn’t talk about it, nor did I have the news on, yet even after putting them to bed, my daughter came into my room and as I muted the TV, she asked about some bombing that her friend had told her about on Instagram. OK, well, technically she was supposed to be going to sleep, but I did explain to her that “yes, there were some bombs that went off at the Boston Marathon and people were hurt. Three were dead and many were seriously injured. No, I didn’t know who did it. OK, goodnight!”

When I was a kid, I lived for my bike and the world that opened up when I was flying through the wind! No helmet was required, only occasional hand signals were used, and the few close calls crossing the street just made me a faster biker! I grew up to be a safe and savvy road biker not only because I loved it, but because it was required. At the same time, the worst thing I could imagine was losing my parents. I would lie awake at night worrying and tearing up over the possibilities and wondering how I would go on. My dad had Multiple Sclerosis and I was not immune to the progression of the disease, and seeing it firsthand and knowing the relentlessness of the form of the disease that he had, made me even more stressed. I don’t recall my parents talking about it in terms of his future,  but I sensed that it was a bleak one for my dad and it just kept getting worse. Before long, he was bedridden, totally dependent on others to serve him and even to speak for him if he couldn’t articulate well or fast enough. It was not a life that I would have ever wanted or would wish on anyone.

And here I am now, with three  not yet fully formed kids whose biggest challenge in life to this point has been nothing harder than to grow up in a 2-mom family, bring their dishes to the sink after each meal, and put their stuff away when asked. Sure, growing up is tough, but without any serious impediments or complications, their lives have been pretty easy!

One of my personal goals for raising  my kids to be strong  and persevering adults is to not totally shelter them from the wrongs in the world, the bad people and bad things that can happen, and the consequences of ones actions that can cause irreparable harm. They may be sick of my cautions, but they can be guaranteed to hear an endless loop when they go out biking:

“Always wear your helmet!”

“Don’t just blindly follow someone across the street on your bike-look both ways every time!”

“Don’t stop for anyone, including a car who stops to ask you directions, about his lost dog, offers you a ride-nothing!”

“Stay with your buddy!”

“Don’t just do something stupid because _________ tells you to! Think!”

And the list goes on…

As parents, my wife and I try to instill common sense, reasoning, know-how, but we can’t prepare for everything. Luckily, I’ve lived through 2 big girls reaching adulthood and I know it’s possible, but I can’t help but to worry  about the unknown dangers that still lurk in the shadows.

It’s the unknown person, people, or group that wants to cause pain unto random people. How to explain that to young minds without tainting their perception that any stranger, any person that they don’t know may want to hurt them. How long can kids even have any innocence?

I don’t want to be afraid to take my kids to a concert, or sporting event, or festival. I don’t want them to miss out on what brings our family together and strengthens our bonds to friends and community because of fear of congregating and getting killed. And, I don’t want them to worry that every time one of us leaves the house that we might not come back, or that next time something happens, it may hit closer to home and hurt someone we know and love. I don’t want to have to even talk about all of this with them, yet I do have to, and I will.

They are the future, growing up tougher and stronger than we may have had to be, but that is what’s needed to promote resilience instead of succumbing to the terror. They’re smart kids, and I trust that they will heed the cautions and stay as safe as they can, and,  as kids, they ultimately want to play, and laugh, and sing, and no one can take that spirit away from them!

0416flowers2

One Hundred Bucks?!

soccer2

It’s “March Madness,” and I’m in the thick of it! My wife is also gone for a week, so I’m enjoying not feeling guilty about watching sports when we should be talking about something “important” or going over the schedule for the next few days; processing appointments, kids games, meetings, school drop-off and pick-up is exhausting!

Anyway, March basketball, especially women’s basketball, is exciting and fun to watch! It’s my favorite sport. And while none of my children has the kind of energy and obsession for basketball that I have or had as a child, they know that love for another sport, soccer. Having started high school a meager 4 years after Title IX became law,  those few years of sports programs yielded no soccer in my town. It took a while, but although soccer is very popular in the U.S. now, that was not always the case. My hands and arms know how to move the ball, yet my feet are totally inept at much more than walking, running, jumping, and pedaling. I could kick if need be, and probably deliver a solid blow, but I do not know the power of my legs at consistently kicking a ball. I’m guessing it would be awesome!

I watch my kids play soccer and feel the excitement and good-natured competitiveness, but it wasn’t until this past year while watching my 13 year-old play high school soccer that I could see the increased aggressiveness and “accidental” injury potential when my child played against other kids, sometimes 5 years her senior! My daughter is a moderately big girl, carrying about 130 lbs. on her 5’7″ frame.  She’s bigger than many, but not yet a woman. She’s a “barely-teen” in an almost grown body. Sometimes I forget that she’s still very young. She’s seen glimpses of the “real world” but in life experience, she’s barely begun.

About a month ago on an early Saturday morning, my wife arrived home from an indoor soccer game with our sullen teenage daughter in tow. Sensing that there had been an issue, I pulled my wife aside and inquired as to the problem.

“She’s upset. No one can come over for her sleepover tonight, and, her coach gave 2 other girls $100 and she didn’t get any.”

“What?” I said, “Money for what?”

“I don’t know exactly…she said something about him pulling a few girls aside and said he wanted them to get more aggressive out there and that he was going to give $100 to whomever had the most fouls at the end of the game.”

“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”  I said, in a barely hushed shout!

“I need to talk to her. That’s crazy! I don’t want my child going out and intentionally fouling players! That’s bullshit! She’s not playing for him again. Ever!” I said as I stormed off to find her.

I tried to remain as calm as I could, given the circumstances. I didn’t want to over-react. Maybe I misunderstood. I mean, soccer isn’t my sport, but I feel pretty confident that my own ethics were correct that this was a dangerous incentive and was against everything that I believed in concerning sports and good sportsmanship!

Her story was consistent, with a few added details. “We were playing that really rough team that you saw last week and he felt like there were a few of us that weren’t playing aggressively enough, so he said he would keep track of our fouls and at the end of the game, “A” and “M” had 5 and I had 4.5, so he gave each of them $100! He told us he didn’t want us to intentionally hurt anyone. He also said he wanted me to grab the back of the goalie’s shirt and pull her down to the ground.” she said.

“What?!” “Why?” I said.

“I don’t know, but he wanted me to get a blue card!”

“OK…I don’t know what a blue card is, but do you know how wrong this is to tell players to intentionally foul?” “Did you think that it was OK for him to tell you that and for you to do it?” I said.

“No, but I didn’t know what to do.”

“Well, I would have made you march right back and give that money back even if you had gotten it!” I said. “And by the way, you’re not playing on any team he coaches ever again!”

After I left her room, I continued to rant and immediately sat down to call the coach, but first, I called one of the other parents to see if maybe I was missing something. After my conversation with one dad, I was left with a feeling that still, I may be over-reacting and this parent’s inability to differentiate that this behavior was wrong for his own daughter left me feeling like I was crazy.

I tried to call the coach, but got only voicemail and left a message for him to please call me.

I tried emailing him to two different addresses but they both bounced back.

That night, at a basketball game watching my same child play, I sought out 2 other parents who have girls on the “official” soccer team that the school runs, but not this recreational team which is coached by one of the girls’ dads. They both agreed with my sentiments and were appalled that someone would ever offer a reward for fouling another team’s players!

I then got home and sought out the advice from 2 other coaches who I know in the area and who I respect greatly. Both of them fired off a quick email back with fiery language toward any coach that would advocate such behavior.

Quoting one of them:

“You’re absolutely right to be so deeply disturbed by this and to question and condemn a coach who was encouraging players to break the rules of the game and possibly hurt other kids. Asking youth athletes to violate the rules of the game runs afoul of the standards of every credible youth sports organization I know of including the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, which governs school-based sports in MA. With or without a $100 bounty, it’s wrong. Tackling a goalie is absolutely prohibited and a very serious foul so paying a kid to do that is truly reprehensible.

 

I’m sure some people will say things like in basketball fouls are part of the game, but soccer is different. Fouls, the yellow card and red card, signify a violation of fair play. If the other coaches affiliated with your daughter’s team believe encouraging aggressive and dangerous play is a strategic approach to the game, they’re all wrong and they’re both poor students and poor teachers of the game. Soccer is not hockey, even when it’s played with boards. And it is simply not true that (the sport center)encourages or condones such behavior. In fact, I’ve seen players ejected and sent out of the arena for such.

 

Finally, the proper remedy for countering a team that’s overly aggressive is quicker play, not dirty play. In the long run our girls are far better served by a skill-based approach to tough games than they are by an aggression-based approach. Our girls can be both plenty tough without resorting to physical intimidation and harm.”

When I finally got a return call, it was 2 days later. It wasn’t a good conversation and it was one which left me with much anger and high blood pressure. I finally had to hang up on him after he turned the defensiveness back on me and said that he has done this before, will do it again with his players, and said to me that “you are the only one who has a problem with it!” and “I don’t have to answer to you!”

The next day, he left a message on my phone that attempted to further justify this coaching tactic, saying that he had spoken to the coach of the other team who knew what he was doing, and, he had spoken to the officials who administrate this particular venue. They pointed out, and he then lectured me, on the fact that soccer is very different from basketball and that in soccer, one can have unlimited fouls and that they don’t mean the same thing. In a condescending tone, he talked to me as if I knew nothing about sports, especially soccer.

I have to stand firm as a parent and set the example I want to set for my kids. It is never OK to justify intentional fouling as a form of aggressiveness. Soccer is already a potentially dangerous sport and can lead to catastrophic injury accidentally, never mind purposefully! I would rather my children not play any team sports than be subjected to this type of coaching!

Parenting can be a challenge for kids at any age, but the pre-teen to teenage years seem to me to be one of the hardest. As a parent, I try to mirror behavior that I’d like to see in my children, but I’ve learned that they are not always paying attention to the good stuff, yet they ALWAYS seem to notice my missteps as a parent! I have coached all of my kids in various sports, and I know that they have a good knowledge of right and wrong. How to teach good sportsmanship which seems like a common-sense notion? Do unto others? Play fairly? Shouldn’t that come naturally? Yet peer pressure and fear often win out.

Within days of that incident, I  attended another basketball game at the same daughter’s school, this time for a boy’s game. Sitting across the gym from the students’ “Zoo Crew” area, I watched my daughter as she followed suit and turned her back with the collective student body when the players on the opposing team were introduced. In total disbelief for this behavior, I silently willed her to turn around and not follow the herd, but I was unsuccessful.

I talked to her afterwards and expressed my disappointment. I tried to strongly convey that she needed to think before she followed others into lame, misguided behaviors. I fear that this lesson will need to be learned repeatedly. Perhaps many adults are still learning this lesson and that not enough parents are stepping up and saying, “NO, please don’t do that!” and telling kids why it is wrong!

And offering $100 to a kid to foul? That’s just sick!

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