The only way to find happiness

sunOn a recent cold, wind-snapped morning, I asked class of college-bound high school seniors a simple question.

What brings you happiness? (I know, a simple yet dicey question to ask a bunch of curiously bored 17 year olds).

Their answers were both surprisingly PG and unsurprisingly boring: Sleep, Saturday, my bed, Netflix, my dog (because all he does is sleep).

I asked if they considered themselves to be happy.

Answers were mixed. Some yes, some no, and some blank stares.

I asked if they even wanted to be happy?

Yes, more then anything.

I asked if happiness, like success, is something we need to work for?

The sky clouded over. The radiator hummed. Heads began to nod. Yes. Happiness like good grades, they said, is something we need to work for.

I leaned against my desk and held a long, contemplative teacher’s stare.

So more then anything you want to be happy?

Yes.

So, are you willing to work for your happiness?

Silence.

Because after 36 years, through my own trails and tribulations, I’ve learned that happiness is not given. It’s earned.

Happiness is not borrowed like Algebra homework. It’s not a signed check tucked in a graduation card And happiness is certainty not found in such desperate acts of hoping or wishing.

Happiness is work. Muscle-straining, hand-wringing, bone-breaking work. Happiness comes from doing.

I also know happiness is not for the weak. It’s not for faint of heart.

Because real, lasting happiness requires you to do uncomfortable things. Let go. Give up. Be honest. Move on. Admit flaws. Admit mistakes. Accept judgment.

Happiness begins when your fear ends. When you find the courage to crucify yourself. When you utter the fragile first words of the conversation you’ve spent you’re whole life avoiding.

A throat cleared. A hard wind lashed about the classroom windows.

It takes a daily courage to roll up your sleeves and work through the unhappiness of your life.

It is then, and only then, when you acknowledge and accept that happiness is work, hard earned work, that you begin to feel it’s great warmth and reap its great rewards.

Be well,

Jay

 

A Note of Thanks (followed by a cringeworthy shower thought)

thanksgiv-dayWhen I look at the world and its hulking mountains, its sandy beaches, its flowered fields, its distant stars–I realize that the world has enough stuff.

When I look at myself, and my loving and supportive family, my messy but comfortable home, my hard but rewarding job, my refrigerator full of food, my shelf full of books– I realize I have enough stuff.

But having and needing are two very different words. Two very different attitudes.Two very different perspectives.

What the world needs is more people to appreciate it. What we need, is more of us to appreciate each other.

Wherever you may roam today, I want you to know that I appreciate you reading my stories and sharing this journey with me. I appreciate you welcoming me into your life so we can laugh, cry, learn and live together.  Your presence, no matter how distant, is felt and appreciated.

Slow yourself today. Enjoy your life today. Appreciate stuff today.

Thanks for reading and for sharing!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Be well,

Jay

P.S. Here’s a shower thought I had this morning…

What if after every bite of food tonight, I give a low groan, rub my belly and say “That’s Trump-tastic”?

P.S.S.

That shower thought is in no way a reflection of my political views. I’m not sure where it came from. I think I should investigate the contents of my Head and Shoulders.

7 Reasons Why My Child is a Suburban Dictator

Don’t be fooled.

You’re looking a menace. A television hogger. A fickled eater. A picky dresser. A mess maker. A bed jumper. An interrupter of conversations. And a careless pisser.

You’re staring into the soft but tyrannical face of a suburban dictator.

dylThis is my youngest child, Dylan. He is 3. And if you let him, he will rule your world.

But here’s the thing…he’s so freaking cute and I absolutely love him. And damnit… he knows it.

His rendition of “10 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” will puddle you to pudding. His little baby blue eyes will mesmerize you. His smile will slay you.

Dylan’s teacher describes him as a “delight”, a “joy” and a “fabulous little listener.”  His mom-mom calls him a “heartthrob.” And Jean, the friendly Shoprite cashier lady, vows to “gobble him up” every time she sees him.

In true dictator fashion, Dylan is public charmer, a seducer. He possesses the deadly combination of personality, looks and a slight lisp that weakens knees, melts hearts, crumbles democracies.

And the scary thing is, even at 3, he knows he wields a mighty sword.

At home Dylan is known as King Dyl Pickle (the fateful nickname I gave him a few years before his hostile began takeover.)

He knows his smile grants him the keys to the kingdoms of suburbia.

He’s a usurper in Underoos.

Like so many Americans, in the week following last Tuesday’s election, circus, debacle, hot mess, clusterfuck, Kardashian Christmas, I’ve spent considerable time Googling things like Canada, Leonard Cohen songs, the mannequin challenge and dictators.

Last night, KDP was marching around the house demanding a bowl of Scooby Snacks.

“I want Scooby Snacks!” I want Scooby Snacks!”

Cindy and I exchanged a familiar worn out look, a “whose idea was it to have another child” look as KDP marches, commands and demands.

“I want Scooby Snacks… Now!”

Cindy sighs, submits and fills KDP’s bowl with the requested Scooby Snacks. She knows if she doesn’t the next few hours will be absolute hellish, punctuated with timeouts and temper-tantrums and tequila ( ok not tequila, its a week night… I just really like alliteration).

But before you lay judgment upon Cindy and I, please remember sometimes parenting isn’t about instructing and leading and teaching. Sometimes it’s simply about surviving.

So after a week of dictator research (while listening to Hallelujah)  here are 7 reasons why I’m convinced Cindy and I are living under the reign of pint-size dictator.

Reason#1 Dictators tend to speak, scream and rant louder then everyone else until you can no longer ignore them.

This is KDP.

Every damn day.

Reason#2  Dictators do not tolerate opposition.

Currently, KDP’s favorite line is, “Because I said so.”

Reason#3 Dictators enforce public embarrassment.

Cindy and I shudder at the thought of taking KDP to the likes of Target. A simple trip  usually results in him flailing about on a dirty linoleum floor because I’m refusing to buy him strawberry Pop-Tarts

Reason#4  Dictators can be charmers.

“Daddy, I love you.”

“I love you too Dylan.”

“Daddy, can I have some candy now?”

Reason #5 Dictators are often intolerant of opposing views.

“Dylan go to timeout!”

“No timeout. You go to timeout Daddy. I want candy!”

Reason#6 Dictators often fail to admit their weaknesses.

While holding himself and running in place KDP announces, “I don’t have to go potty.”

Reason#7- Historically, dictators have been physically short.

At his last pediatrician appointment KDP was measured in the 25% percentile for height. And if my research is accurate, Napoleon also had an affinity for Scooby Snacks.

Dear reader, I appreciate you reading however, for my own sanity and safety of all suburbia, I ask that you do not mention any of this to KDP.  Dictators are known to have very little tolerance for dissonance.

Be well,

Jay

 

 

Winning and losing in our instant oatmeal world

In my last post, “Dad. what’s a championship?” I told you that Chase had recently lost his championship soccer game and didn’t care. He was more concerned about a juice box and a bag of Oreos then the sweet tastes of victory. I also told you how proud I was that he brushed off losing and went about his little life.

Well, on Saturday, Chase’s travel soccer team won their first tournament, steamrolling  through all four games. Chase played well and scored in the championship game. At the final whistle, the team dog piled in the middle of the field. Followed by trophies, smiles and post-game snacks. And I was one proud papa.

chase1But across the field there was a team of 8 year olds who were learning different lessons. They were learning about failure. About digesting defeat.

Such is the dichotomy of sports, of life.

So on the ride home from the game, as Chase clutched his trophy and held an ear to ear smile I considered whether I, we, should promote the importance of winning to our children?

chase2Look, we are parenting in the maligned times of the participation trophies. Times where we go to great lengths to avoid the hurt feelings and emotional discomfort of our children.

So when it comes to winning and losing, what’s a 21st century parent to do?

Yes, I want my children to be winners. I want them to earn accolades and praise. I want them to be the MVP,  Student of the Month, Employee of the Year. Yet, not at the expense of their character. Because I want them to struggle and fail and feel the emotional discomfort of a loss.

Because above being winners (and losers) I want my children to be competitors. I want them to be fierce, gritty people unafraid of adversity.

If we condition children to think they are entitled to victory and trophies every time they compete for something they will become uncoachable players, grade-grubbing students and disillusioned adults.

So yes, I think we should promote winning. However, in our instant oatmeal world,  I believe we must place a greater emphasis on the process, the game itself, the spirit of competition. In sports, in life (and the world of breakfast cereals) we have become so seduced with instant results for our children, for ourselves that we undervalued the process.

It’s the process where the real lessons are learned. And from a developmental standpoint, its not the results, its the game and how children handle its little calamities that will forge their character.

Be well,

Jay

 

“Dad, what’s a championship?”

“Chase, are you ready for today?”

“Dad, what’s today?”

“What’s today? It’s only the biggest game of your young life. It’s what you worked all season for. It’s the championship!”

Chase is sitting at the kitchen table. His hands are behind is back and he’s lapping the strawberry frosting off a donut as if in some first grade icing licking contest.

“Did you hear me bud? It’s the championship!.”

Chase looks up from his soggy mash of preservatives. A glob of pink icing hangs from his nose and there’s a cluster of yellow sprinkles on his chin.

“Dad, what’s a championship?”

“What’s a championship! How do you not… It’s the…”

Chase’s soccer team, the Red Dragons, had muscled their way through the season. As a team, they racked up the most goals in the league and last Saturday they faced their bitter rivals…The Gold team.

team2Throughout the week I thought about the game. How we could exploit the Gold team’s defense? How we could neutralize the Gold team’s best player?

But on the morning of the big game, Chase our starting midfielder, was absolutely unimpressed by the moment. He was too busy mauling a donut to care about championship glory.

img_9013I’ve said before that my children are fantastic little teachers. They often, albeit inadvertently, teach me about things beyond their understanding. We adults are notorious for over complicating, over thinking events. We make mountains out of mole hills. This kind of thinking leads to anxiety which often leads to binge eating donuts in the dark.

But children are champions of momentary living and I shudder to think of all the adult hours of happiness I’ve forfeited to the pills of anxiety, worry and regret.

We lost the game 3-0 and Chase didn’t seem care. As I watched him receive  his post-game juice box, snack and then skip off the field it became apparent  that a short memory can go a long way.

After the game, Chase and I were sitting on the front step of our house. As he  attempted to suck the lining out of his juice box and as a warm November sun rested on the world, it seemed like a nice opportunity for a father-son talk.  An opportunity, to bestow some of my fatherly wisdom upon my little cleated cub. So put my arm around him, pulled him close and asked if he was ok that they lost.

He stopping sucking and looked up at me as if I  had a glob of strawberry icing hanging from my nose and replied, “Yeah, I don’t care.”

He then farted and laughed at himself.

Be well,

Jay

 

So this is what divorce feels like

I’m sitting at the kitchen table angry, confused, disillusioned.

How did this happen? To me? To us?

I’m sick to my stomach. Something sour sits in my throat. I’m sweating one minute then shaking and shivering the next.

The house is achingly quiet.

I want to talk to somebody yet I long to be alone. I want to break something yet I want someone to hug me, tell me everything will be ok. The last few weeks have been an absolute nightmare. I’m a shell of what I use to be  and I’m teetering on the edge of absolute annihilation.

Staring into my lap I think to myself…So this is what divorce feels like?

(Oh, BTW…This has nothing to do with Cindy and I. We’re fine. Really. In fact, we’ve never been better. We went to Applebee’s last night. Shared a 2 for $20 dinner. She had the Oriental salad. I had the ribs. It was lovely. )

No, I’m talking about the divorce that is happening in America right now.

We have two candidates who hate each other. A hatred that has divided our stately house. On a nightly basis, they mock, ridicule and seeking to embarrass each other in front of us. Like a divorcing couple, each attempting to prove their righteousness to win the vote, the affection of their bleary-eyed children.

I’ve never been divorced and my parents have married for close to 40 years. But from what I’ve read and heard, enduring a parental divorce is often a war of attrition. An inescapable stress-filled saga that shows no sign of stopping–like this political season.

(In fact, I shudder to turn the TV knowing at some point I’ll be forced to watch in A Clockwork Orange  style, a series of unsettling commercials about each candidate.)

clockwork
Yep… this is what it feels like to watch TV in America right now.

Sadly, it’s the children that are most affected by divorce. It’s the children that will spend years repairing their psyches once the divorce is finalized. The good news is, our divorce will be finalized on November 8th. The bad news is, it will take us years to recover. If we ever do recover.

After Tuesday, even though the animosity will remain the public fighting will subside, the acceptance process will begin and TV should be great again. However, we will be forced to live with one of the candidates. Hopefully, the losing candidate doesn’t request visitation rights.

Be well,

Jay

 

Passing Through: A Reflection

crowd

Last Thursday night, after I finished the final edits for “The Day I Learned I Couldn’t Jump (or Learning to Fly)” I couldn’t sleep.

While writing that story, I felt like a guest at a reunion of sorts. Bill and Denise and the two chatty Cathys on the treadmill were in attendance. Although brief, it was comforting to have people from my past  back in my life again.

As I laid in bed, working my head into the pillow, watching the ceiling fan spin, I wondered what Denise thought about the Giants chances this season. I imagined how her eyes would light up when she talked about Odell Beckham’s athleticism.  What she would say about Carson Wentz? Does she believe he’s destined to bring the Eagles their first Superbowl title?

Though physical therapy was hard, humbling, ego-shattering work I miss the camaraderie,  the challenge, the little triumphs. Like on the afternoon when I learned I didn’t have Huntington’s Disease, how Denise high-fived me and how later that same afternoon, I successfully walked heel-toed along a 10 foot length of blue tape without using a handrail.

I remember, on the second to last rehab session at St. Lawrence, I entered the activity room and the chatty Cathys were chatting and walking on the treadmills. Denise wasn’t around. Neither was Bill.

It was January. Everything was in deep freeze. From the sky to my bones, the entire universe seemed to be low on light, low on energy.  I dragged myself to the elliptical machine and set my feet on the oversized pedals.  My legs were tight and heavy and with Denise not around, I worked the pedals with little enthusiasm.

After a few uninspired minutes, Denise entered the activity room and I straightened up, like a kid caught misbehaving and pedaled faster. She walked toward me holding her clipboard close to her chest.

“Hey Denise, Eagles-Giants this weekend. Hope you’re ready lose?

She offered a curt little nod and looked as if she wanted to say something but simply couldn’t find the words.

“Denise are you ok?”

Her eyes filled as she spoke, “Bill fell last night.”

I stopped pedaling.

“Is he ok?”

“Last I heard, no.”

Bill’s brother found Bill lying in a pool of blood on the bathroom floor. Fracture skull. Doctors gave him a 50% chance. Denise, the forever optimist, was 100% certain he would survive.

On my last day at St. Lawrence,  Denise and I walked out into the cold ache of a January afternoon exchanged a final barb, hugged, and went back to our lives.

A few months ago, a student told me she was going to miss class because she had to drive her father to physical therapy. He had a hip replacement and was rehabbing at St. Lawrence. The student said at first her father resisted physical therapy, but now he actually enjoys it. Looks forward to it even. She tells me her father’s therapist is really nice.

“Is her name Denise?”

“Yeah! How did you know?”

“Long story.”

“She’s awesome.”

“I know. Do me a favor. Tell her Jay say hi and that the Giants stink.”

It was reassuring to know Denise was still doing her thing. Still telling bad jokes, still smiling, still inspiring.

Unfortunately, I don’t know whatever happened to Bill.

“The Day I Learned I Couldn’t Jump” is a hard story to put to rest. Maybe that’s why I’m still writing about it this week.  Writing the story made me think about how we’re all just passing through each others lives. Of course, some pass slower then others yet nevertheless, it’s impossible to understand the depth of the impressions we leave on each other..

Some people pass through us like medicine. Like magic waters. They heal us, strengthen us, fix us.

Others are hurricanes. They break our windows, unhinge our doors and crumble our foundations. Forcing us to rebuild, rehab, or quit.

It’s nearing midnight.

Cindy just stole the comforter, the ceiling fan is spinning and though I’m sure he’s a page and spine man, I imagine Bill alive, somewhere, reading this post. His steely eyes tracing my words, his mouth remaining straight and strict even when he realizes that he, just a traveler just passing through, inspires me to write on, to fight on.

Be well,

Jay