Naps

I really don’t take as many naps as I did before my wife and I had a child, but I am becoming a master of watching my son take naps. He is incredibly gifted at slumbering, and he recently started sleeping in his big boy crib. All things considered, the reason I blog about naps today is because I was thrilled by what Brooks did yesterday.

When he was only a few weeks old, Brooks would sprawl out across my chest a few times each week, eventually settling into a nice nap, and even drooling on my shoulder at times. It was adorable. However, as he underwent some growth between those initial days and his current nine-week old status, he matured. He grew into a bigger body, and I went back to work. Naturally, he became more and more accustomed to naps with mom, as she has a bond with him like no other and remains on maternity leave for a few more weeks. But last night, when I returned home from work, I was reminded that he isn’t all that big quite yet.

Often, if Brooks is going to have a cranky period, it seems to fall during the hours of my return from work. For a little while, I thought that my coming home was sending him into a frenzy–after all, what was I doing interrupting his peaceful day with mommy?!? But yesterday was so different. Not only was I allowed to sooth him, but I was able to hold him on my chest, reclining on the sofa, for an extended period of time. I hadn’t felt him spread over my torso so freely in weeks, and I was so happy that he decided I was again nap worthy. I was again comforting. Below is an image of him basking in glory of being totally at home with me:

Brooks continued

These moments define my day and remind me how much my Brooks needs me. The truth about being a parent, and my truth about being a father, is that sometimes it can feel like your best efforts fall short. And maybe that is the case–but at least one can rest knowing that they gave each opportunity their finest attempt.

Having taught for the last eight years has informed me of the deep impact that one can have upon another, and that such an impact may never be verbalized. You might often hear the phrase “thankless job” in reference to a profession, a volunteer post, a relationship, or anything in between; however, the reality is that what may appear thankless is often something that is simply difficult, for whatever reasons, for people to communicate. I wonder how many years it took my parents to finally look at one another and say, “You know, we’ve done a great job. It’s apparent how much he appreciates us, too.” I’d like to think they felt that way for a long, long time, but having spent a great deal of time with teenagers over the past decade, I can say that it might be unlikely. I can say that they might have gone to bed some nights with great frustration, some nights with great joy, and some nights with bewilderment and confusion.

I guess what I can say with great confidence is that when taking into consideration all of the phases of my own life and that which I have witnessed my son undergo, I now understand why my mom sometimes still looks at me and says, “You’ll always be my baby.” When I look at Brooks, even though he is very much still a baby, I can see the boy that came to us in the delivery room the morning of February 16, and I can see just how much he’s grown in such a short span of time. So I guess I’ll be okay with less naps–I wouldn’t want to miss his.

If I’m Being Honest

If I’m being honest, attending a funeral service affects me most because it forces me to consider my own mortality. Maybe that conclusion is selfish, and maybe my feelings surrounding death are more complicated than I really pretend to know, but as I stand before those that have passed on, I think of them, their family, and then my own being.

As a child, I didn’t take much from a funeral. I processed life differently, and I accepted the world around me with little resistance. Now, I question the human experience, I reflect on the fragile nature of existence, and I try with diligence to appreciate seemingly regular moments. I was especially impacted this past weekend, as I attended the viewing of a peer that I had once went to college with. He unexpectedly passed earlier last week–30 years old and full of promise for the years to come.

Oddly, not many things inspire and ground me like a funeral service. As I drove home from the viewing after paying my respects, I felt overwhelmed. I even called my dad to explain how this particular service caught me most vulnerable. Never had I been at a viewing of a friend my age, and never had I contemplated how that friend was once a child. As I gazed at pictures of his youth while navigating the long line of friends and family, I thought about my childhood, and I considered how my son would grow and evolve. I prayed especially hard for my friend and his family, and I paid extra attention to my son when I came home that morning.

In congruence with these recent events, one of my classes is currently studying the concept of worldviews in hopes of further development. Maybe it is great happenstance that this particular unit has come at a time when I am reviewing how I see the world, my functions within it, and consequent impacts. Regardless, it is interesting to watch teenagers wrestle with humanity, as I recall holding some similar views at such an age. Many of them have agreed that people are inevitably affected by their environments, though they are wise enough to recognize their role in helping shape their environment, too. Though what has caught my eye most is their thoughts of equality, fairness, and privilege–a matter that will tie back to the events of this weekend and my evolving understanding of mortality and life.

An overwhelming majority of my students made clear distinctions between equality, fairness, and privilege. Perhaps the greatest conclusion that students arrived at focused on the notion that while they (most of them) believe all humans deserve a fair shake, that is not the reality we live among. “Life isn’t fair” is a theme that emerged, though it ran much deeper than the standard shoulder shrug associated with the phrase–a shrug often attributed to discontent among tough times. Instead, many suggested that life simply can’t be fair–some people try harder than others, and some are born among circumstances deemed more opportune than others. Interestingly, as these conclusions were born, some students began to shift and contend that perhaps life is actually relatively fair–if those trying harder are reaping greater benefit, then aren’t they entitled to corresponding privileges? Though the idea of fairness isn’t always this simple–sometimes it can be downright confusing and opposed to logic, and I believe that is when we can find ourselves suggesting that life is not terribly fair. And that is how I felt this past weekend as I left the funeral home–it didn’t feel fair that my peer had left the world so young, and it surely didn’t feel right.

Whenever I try to make sense of the world, I discover that I know less than the last time I engaged in the process of inquiry, reflection, and painful contemplation. Though I am not discouraged by such; instead, I am grateful that I am equipped to render intellectual and spiritual thought, I am happy to further my growth, and I am inspired that there is seemingly limitless perspective and experience to these questions I have. I hope that I may only continue to explore among the joy and pain that our existence offers.

 

C.S. Lewis, Pain, and Timelessness

Among many titles and positions held, C.S. Lewis was a famed British essayist, professor, theologian, philosopher, and novelist. Though he passed in 1963, his works, theories, and insights regarding human nature have lived on and will likely find timeless relevance. Some of his most compelling works center on the ideas of man’s purpose, Christian belief, personal challenge, grief, and pain.

As a young man, a friend gave me a copy of Lewis’ novel The Problem of Pain (1940). What I gathered from reading that text, among so many things, is that pain has a degree of inevitability that no man can escape. Yet over time, I believe I have come to understand that one of Lewis’ greatest conclusions, one that I feel he had hoped his audience would eventually arrive at, hinges on man’s faith in goodness. Though evil may present itself, it will always do so in the presence of good and the opportunity for progress, peace, and self-discovery. Even though pain exists, and despite the fact that it can approach us with utter disregard for our circumstances, it cannot replace or reject the notion that joy can also have a great place in our lives–should we allow.

In furthering my understanding of pain and its existence and roles among human lives, I am constantly drawn to a passage from The Problem of Pain that has helped me undergo self-reflection. This particular passage pertains to the differentiation that man must make between various pains:

Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’

In some ways, the unpacking of this quote is fairly simple. In others, it is quite complex and requires patience, empathy, and faith. It is not enough for man to understand that his own pain exists and affects his own being; rather, a man seeking true growth needs to recognize that others experience great pain, too. This is not always evident, though. We can very easily recognize a man in great pain due to a broken bone, a woman affected by a hellacious cancer, a child bruised at the hands of an abusive parent–but it is far more difficult to see the pain of the person struggling to piece their life together following a divorce, a young child attempting to reconcile self-worth amid being bullied and harassed by peers, or a grown adult trying to cope with the death of their parents. If you are privy to these less obvious pains, you may be able to lend some help in the process of recovery and growth. But how often have we gazed at others, particularly those we don’t know well, and thought, “They have everything. They have their life so well orchestrated. It must be nice.” We might even become jealous, judgmental, or awe-struck. Still, we rarely know not the mental pain of those we see from a distance until and if such is revealed outwardly.

This is why we need to be patient, empathetic, and faithful with and to one another. We may see a beautiful family photo hanging above a friend’s fireplace and assume that great peace, love, and understanding exist within that home–and that could well be the case. Still, as no man is immune to physical pain, even the most enlightened, compassionate, loving, and understanding of beings is not exempt of mental anguish. We often hear the phrase, “You never know what someone else is going through,” and there may not be a more accurate and true statement pertaining to the human condition. I guess this is all the more reason to treat one another with sincere compassion and love–but I struggle. I struggle to display empathy because I find that my patience for others can wear thin over time, and this in turn affects my faith in the belief that my efforts will prove fruitful. But what if my efforts to understand and help someone else leave me feeling drained? What if I feel like my patience is getting me nowhere?

I have learned that sometimes I will never know how much of an impact I have had on someone. In other cases, my impact–good, bad, or indifferent–has been made very apparent to me. And here is the kicker: I can affect the impact that I have on understanding, helping, and loving others, but I cannot determine how they will internalize, receive, and ultimately feel about my presence and efforts among their life. So I submit that my relationships with others are not really about me, and I submit that others’ relationships with me are not really about them. In some odd way, relationships seem to be for the benefit of both members, but only if both see fit to serve the other first.

Given these thoughts, maybe the problem of pain is best addressed in that we must live to help alleviate the anguish that others feel and pray that they can and will do the same for us. Maybe we can best help ourselves by helping others and being open to receiving the reciprocal value. Then again, maybe pain and all that it brings is far more complex than that. I guess for now I can rest knowing that I am wrestling with a topic and feeling that I believe deserves great attention.

My Boy

The fragile seven pound burrito that we brought home from Paoli Hospital is now more than 12 pounds and measures at 23 inches–that’s almost a two-foot sub with all the fixings. But nearly doubling his birth weight is not what’s made me nostalgic in his first nine weeks of life; instead, his emerging personality has caught me by surprise. He’s growing so quickly now.

Brooks2

Before Brooks was born, many couples told my wife and I that babies pretty much eat, sleep, poop, and cry for the first six months. Knowing that, I was excited that Brooks and I would be able to share so many common interests. However, I have been caught off guard by what our pediatrician described as milestones: his smile, his ability to track us with his eyes like a Jurassic Park velociraptor, his way of communicating his most basic needs, his attempts to reach for us and even latch on with his small yet strong fingers, and so many more developments that seem to unravel every few days. Still, there is no denying that he loves to eat, sleep, poop, and cry–but we’ve been blessed in so far as his demeanor. He doesn’t cry a great deal, though there are times when his mother is the only person to console him.

Yesterday, I was hanging with my homeboy (Brooks) on his play mat. He was kicking Fisher Price piano keys and flailing at objects in the near distance, and when I wasn’t doing the same thing, I found a great deal of joy in watching him take in the world. It’s funny how big your surroundings can feel when you lay on the floor like a baby and simply look around. Our dogs appeared to be mythical creatures of Narnia, and the ceiling fans, which Brooks constantly admires, were intoxicating. No wonder he can’t stop looking at them; they are so different and far more inspiring than the bland ceiling, and when in motion they are spellbinding. Yes, I am 31 years old. Yes, I often present as a toddler.

Bath time is special, too. Lasagna (Brooks–he’s graduated from the size and rank of a burrito to a larger entree of sorts) loves to soak in his tub and watch his mom and dad take care of him. At times, he likes to pee while we clean him, and luckily Tara has received the brunt of this act so far! It’s amazing to watch him grow from week to week, and bath time might display this best. His belly is beginning to take on the pot shape that babies famously flaunt (I am sporting the pot belly too–you know, to support my boy and his self-image…). He is also learning to kick and move around more freely, and soon I’m sure he’ll be splashing and giggling. I can’t help but watch him and think back to the moment he was born, the days following, and the moments leading to each new day.

Nostalgia is like that–it hits you after the fact and allows you to relive moments that you wish you could have back. I will never again be able to hold Brooks just moments after he was born. He will never again have a first bath. Every smile from this point forward will be another, though we will have so many more milestones and firsts. I guess I am just trying to be present and in the moment–even when sleep, free time, personal space, and life as it had previously been defined seems elusive. Because that’s what having a kid is all about–our boy only came into our lives to make them better, more meaningful, and more joyous. He came into our lives so that we could care for him, love him, and guide him to a state of independence, one that will someday drive him to share himself with a larger community and less controlled environment.

Yet despite our efforts to build him in a way that prepares him for the world and a life of his own, I am encouraged to believe that what we teach our boy will ready him to give back to the world, come back home to us frequently, and love us in a way that might compare to the love we have for him. Still, I know that I could not fully appreciate my parents’ love until Brooks was born–an experience that prompted a primitive desire to protect him at all costs. I just don’t know that a child can understand how much they are loved until they become a parent, no matter their upbringing. But until and after the day that Brooks is ready to take on the world with a little less help from his mom and dad, I hope I will regularly reflect on the moments we share, smile when we have them, and learn to replicate the environments and opportunities where bonding and love occur.

My boy has already shown me so much. He’s already given me more purpose, meaning, and drive than I could have imagined. I want to make sure he sees that in me every day that he wakes up and welcomes the next challenge.

Calculating Odds: A Tale of Surface, Exposure, and Outlook

Today, the 2017 Masters Golf Tournament continues to unravel and will ultimately yield a weekend cut later this evening, sending many of its participants packing and thinking about their hopes for next year. Knowing this humbling truth, I am quick to consider the odds that different golfers have of winning the prized event, particularly those teetering the edge of garnering a weekend invitation to continue play versus watching from the clubhouse.

In conjunction with contemplating the incalculable nature of the aforementioned, I found myself viewing Jordan Spieth’s progress this morning, as he has had tremendous success on the PGA Tour over the course of the last few years. In doing so, I noticed a glaring quadruple bogey amid his first round score. Surely this was an error–Spieth, one of the best golfers in the entire world, couldn’t have put forward an amateur effort on one of golf’s greatest stages–what were the odds?

This fluke in play, error in execution–call it what you will–really had me thinking. I began examining how someone so consistent, so talented, and so steeped in the tradition of victory at such a young age, could appear to play a hole like a beer guzzling, club tossing, three-putting weekend warrior. Then it became quite clear: aside from digging a little deeper to identify that Spieth actually has a small string of triple and quadruple bogeys in tournament play that have come back to haunt him, I also realized that the armor protecting any man is only as good and functional as he allows it to be. And even the strongest, most prepared, and dedicated craftsman is subject to elaborate, unforeseeable, frustrating flaws. Moreover, this speaks clearly to the fact that as humans we can do our best to strive for perfection, and we can calculate the odds for success in measurable terms that play in accordance with algorithms and other standards, but we cannot deny that every surface will eventually face exposure.

The surface of an object, person, performance, or any other thinkable entity can be and often is the most beautiful, pristine, and prepared version imaginable–as it nearly always should be. But then what happens when that object or person is exposed, under duress, and forced to confront undesirable circumstances? Hard to say.

While Spieth was exposed on a grand stage, he was able to pick up the pieces and he now has an opportunity to climb back into contention. For some others, the stage is different, and that was the thought that raced through my mind as I considered Spieth’s anomaly on the par five fifteenth, the odds that it would have ever happened in the first place, and the odds that my mother pointed out not long ago.

It’s funny to think about The Masters Tournament, my mother, and my son all at one time–but that is exactly what influenced this entry, and while my arrival at considering a recent exchange with my mom was brought to light by my critical thought of Spieth’s performance and general speculation around the topic of probability, I promise they are connected (at least in my mind!).

You see, when I finally gave credence to the notion that the odds for Spieth performing so poorly on the fifteenth were slim but still very possible, I too thought of a recent moment wherein my mom was holding my son, Brooks, and she stated in a reminiscent manner, “Who would have thought that we’d all be here for this?” At first, I had some trouble understanding exactly who she was talking about. In my mind, it made total sense: kid (me) marries person (Tara), people (Tara and I) have child (Brooks), and grandparents (mom, and other grandparents) spoil grandchild (also Brooks). In my mind, it had been a clear and forgone equation for some time. Though as my wife nodded and acknowledged my mom’s statement, it was obvious that she had meant more.

It was revealed that my mom was observing the highly improbable yet actualized phenomenon that had, at various times in our lives, seemed impossible. In the moment that she was holding Brooks, she was appreciative of being able to do so, knowing that my life had almost been taken as a teenager at the hand of cancer, and her life had recently almost been taken by a brain aneurysm. And had either of those tragic events ended differently, one or two of the people present in that room on that day would not have been there in the first place–in fact, the entire family dynamic would likely be different.

I guess it’s hard for me to think about mortality, including my own. I believe this is likely universal–I don’t hear people willingly talking about life and death at cocktail parties, for it is so often the unforeseen and uninvited life moments that spark reactionary measures and personal reflection. We don’t plan to experience bad times.

Today, I would bet a great deal of money that Spieth stood atop the fifteenth tee box yesterday with intent to have a chance at birdie or par–and why wouldn’t he have? He is one of the world’s greatest golfers. I would also bet a great deal of money that my mom had expected me to pass the physical exam that years ago yielded bad news of the emergence of tumors–and why wouldn’t she have? I was in excellent shape and showed no signs of poor health. I would too bet that our entire family awoke the day of my mom’s aneurysm with no reason to believe that she would be in the hospital later that evening–and why wouldn’t we have? She displayed no sign of weakness or adverse health.

It is the affliction of carrying a positive outlook that can sometimes blind us to the speeding train that may already be difficult to see over the horizon. It is also the challenge of an unpredictable world that can change our lives in a moment that makes for difficulty in assuming accurately what might happen and when. I wouldn’t change it though. I can withstand tough times–we all can.

 

Run and Done–But Not Finished

Last week, I worked out four times–the most since Brooks was born. It got me thinking quite a bit about my fitness journey over the last eight years–when exercise was no longer a mandate and requirement for athletic endeavors, namely playing baseball. And so I brought myself back to the moment when I realized that I had fallen out of shape and felt compelled to change the narrative. So I ran. I ran quite a bit in a short period of time, and that opened the door to a world I have wrestled with ever since graduating college.

After running a variety of races in my early to mid twenties, I simply became tired of the sport. Maybe it was the repetitive nature of the task–maybe not. If I had to pinpoint an event that changed the way I look at running to this day, it would have to be the marathon. 26.2 miles of…fun? I thought it would be. For some it evidently was–I was simply not one of those people.

Maybe I hadn’t trained enough (okay, I definitely didn’t). Still, I had bought into the running lifestyle and felt compelled to tackle a full marathon. When I had made the decision to sign up for the Bob Potts Rail Trail Marathon in York, PA, my family thought I was mad. I had never run more than a 5k, and the event was about six months away. At the time though, I worked from 3 p.m.-11 p.m., and I lived where I worked. Oh, and there was a nice trail where I worked. I quickly began logging 30-40 miles/week, sometimes more. I even remember running a half marathon on the trail just one month into training. At 24 years old, my body was fine with this type of shock–one that would require much more buildup and forewarning today. I was sore for a few days after the half, but I resumed my schedule two days later. I dropped from 230 pounds to 187 pounds in the six months leading up to the race, and I felt great about it. My wife joined up and ran with me, too. She had never trained for more than a half marathon, but she is secretly a bionic running machine, so completing 26.2 was going to be no problem for her. But for me? Different story.

On the day of, I ran freely for about 16 or 17 miles, riding the waves of adrenaline and the beauty of the day. And then Tara looked at me and said, “I don’t think we can stop running at this point.” I agreed. The only problem was that mile 19 became a nightmare. In the matter of a few strides, I could barely feel my calves, I felt pangs in my hip flexors, and my IT band flared up like it had about every two weeks leading up to the race. Oh, and I had never run more than 13 miles–yep, that anomaly of a day just one month into my “training” was the farthest I had gone! Still, I wanted badly to complete the race. And when my chances seemed bleak, Tara employed a bold strategy. She was going to run ahead of me and come back, keeping me in sight. I call this bold, but the reality was that she was tired of waiting for me but not willing to leave me. This went on for the final seven miles, and on that day, she probably ran at least 30. I began to invoke a strategy of locating a marker in the distance, power walking until reaching that object, and then running to the next marker. Sort of a life lesson, no? I repeated this method as a way of managing the pain and providing the best possible chance of finishing the race. Finally, we crossed the finish line together and I was so happy that I began to think about running another marathon–but I would train this time. I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

One week later, I went for a three mile run with the spirit and desire to one day be one of those really, really old people that looks only 60 or so. This would be the first run of my new life–for like many others that have run a full marathon, the event changed my life. A lot of marathoners fall in love with the endurance sport and embrace the distance. I was hoping to be one.

But the 26.2 miles made me realize that I was ready to do something totally different. Like a one hit wonder, I was run and done. I just couldn’t push myself to push anymore. I couldn’t find the motivation to train for anything more than a short race, and I started to dabble with powerlifting and P90X all the while. Over time, I have tried to achieve a greater balance, but the truth remains: it seems evident that for a flash in my lifetime, I was a runner. I was dedicated to the sport and fell in love with its challenges. But then my passion for running faded, and whether such was due to the mental anguish of the marathon, new interests, reasons unknown, or a combination of the aforementioned, I may never know. I am fine with that. I am fine with discovering new passions–overjoyed actually.

The years that followed my running journey yielded athletic endeavors and results that I would have never thought possible when I had originally signed up for the Rail Trail 26.2. But I guess that is how it all started. I never anticipated that I would run a marathon–until I got the idea in my head. I never thought I would bench 325, dead lift 445, or squat 455–until such goals were burnt into my mind and made possible by achieving other goals along the way. And the great thing about those numbers is that they, much like my marathon venture, simultaneously represent a progression of failure and relentless attack.

Now I find that I am less extreme in setting, embarking upon, and actualizing fitness goals. I no longer have a six pack. I no longer run for hours or lift weights that cause my wife to say, “don’t get hurt.” And maybe this is because I have become more conservative and conscious of balance, or maybe it is simply because I have shifted my priorities and experienced some injuries that have changed my approach to fitness. Maybe I’ll never fully know.

All I do know is that I now try to eat a few more salads than the younger me would, drink a few less beers, and focus a far deal more on how I can be a reliable husband, father, friend, and leader. And from time to time, I try to lift some heavy ass weights!