Baby’s Breath

2:00 AM and the baby is crying. It requires every fiber of my being to pull myself out of my dream of being single and carefree and childless. When I finally realize that my beautiful wife has finally drifted off to much-needed sleep and is even more exhausted than I am, I rouse myself and stumble into the nursery, There he is. Warm, wet and bawling his little blue eyes out. I change what by now must be the 10,000th diaper and look at that face which is a startling reflection of my own. Why did we do this? What were we thinking?

Shh! Shh! Shh! I plead with the 2:00 AM screamer, hoping that he won’t wake the five year-old and three year-old who will be bounding out of bed in mere hours wanting breakfast and love and attention. I wonder then if the milk is bad and if we have enough cereal in the pantry. I know I’m running short on attention but I remember that I’ve been told (or read in Reader’s Digest or some other scholarly tome) that love multiplies it never divides. And so I trudge on.

I pick up the squaller and cradle him in my arms and I am overwhelmed by the sweet aroma of baby’s breath. That sweetness is nearly miraculous and I am humbled and frightened because fatherhood is a daunting responsibility.  I carry him to his mother’s arms and lie down next to them. Suddenly everything seems manageable. Somehow we will make this work. 

As I dose off to blessed sleep, I think of the young nurse in the hospital, who just a few short months before, was surprised how happy and excited we were when learning that this was our third child. Perhaps she had never smelled sweet baby’s breath or had never experienced the soul-transforming power of a tiny heart beat next to her own. 

Family

1983

Our baby boy was born on the day after Father’s Day in 1983. But that moment; those memories, were yesterday, and today, and tomorrow and will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Peace,

Denis

Red Rover

“Red Rover, Red Rover, send Denny on over…” 

I remember as a child playing “Red Rover” with my cousins at my grandparents house. Because we were Catholic and growing up in the ’50’s and ’60’s, there were always a lot of us. Having 45 first cousins didn’t seem exceptional in my little world. Games that required a large group of small kids were pretty easy to play at Grandma and Grandpa’s. The object of “Red Rover” was lost on most of us. Certainly it was lost on me. I think we were supposed not let someone break the line or maybe trap them when they attempted to break the line. Perhaps there were no rules or we made them up to serve our purpose. Anyway, we would laugh and capture or repel one another or whatever we thought we were supposed to do. And we would do it over and over again.

1920283_10203140571134940_7189401573547634534_nWhen I think about those days of long ago, I realize that my cousins were my first friends. My cousins were my first peers. They were the ones that would laugh at me when I burped or farted or peed my pants or picked my nose – good peer pressure. I’m still thankful for their encouraging ridicule. Thanks to them, I am (nearly) socially acceptable.

My cousins were also my first partners in crime. We laughed when we heard our uncles and dads talking and some of them would use cuss words. Their cussing was pretty mild compared to today’s standards but we thought it scandalous and hilarious. On occasion we would “pretend smoke” our candy cigarettes and try out some cuss words. We were not allowed to play in the corn fields or in the beans or in the tomato plants but we could be persuaded to step foot into the forbidden zones when the adults were otherwise occupied. Grandpa always said to leave the barn cats alone, but at our own peril, we messed with them. These were not sweet little house kittens. These were nearly feral cats whose only goal in life was to keep the mice at bay. Picking one up would usually result in scratches and bites. The fact that the barn cats were “forbidden” made them that much more enticing. 

I’m still close to many of my cousins. Three of us are the same age (which I suppose happens a lot in big families). We still laugh and play together. We three still use some cuss words now and then and although we’ve given up candy cigarettes, we enjoy an occasional adult beverage together. Our lives are simultaneously different and the same. Being connected to one another in love and friendship makes the months and years between our get-togethers seem merely like days. And being together makes us feel like kids again.

10478692_10202593128809224_3266273771514063748_nMy cousins were the ones who taught me that belonging is important and necessary. We belong to one another – we share a history. Somehow I think God is mixed up in all of this. God decided we belonged together. For better or worse, we are family. 

I hope that there is a heaven. And I hope that if I’m fortunate enough to be there at the end this life, my cousins will be calling out, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Denny on over…” 

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Mom

Mom, I love you. Thank you for all that you’ve done for me.

Mom Noah Me

Thank you for giving me life.

Thank you for my siblings and for teaching us how to love one another and reminding us that we always need one another.

Thank you for teaching me about God and how to pray. Your example of faith lives on in your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Thank you for loving Dad (and by the way, he adored you, too). I also appreciate that I inherited your energy and your sense of humor – even though Dad thinks he’s the funny one (and we all know he was never the fast one).

Thanks for throwing or kicking a ball, running bases and always joining in whatever game was being played in the backyard.

Thanks for being a good cook and for always having a dessert with every meal. Also, for never making me clean my plate as a kid – your mantra “just take one more bite” saved me from some otherwise torturous mealtimes.

Thank you for always keeping a clean house and having clean kids (even though we often resisted your nearly constant need to wipe our messy hands and faces).

Thanks for always welcoming my friends into your home. Especially that little girl from Saint Peters.

Thank you for being a ‘force to be reckoned with’. You weren’t large but everyone knew that you were in charge. You were calling the shots right up until the end. (And yes, I made those phone calls.)

Thanks for laughing so hard at times that you would cry. And for crying when you were sad, hurt, or heartbroken (and for allowing us to cry with you).

Thank you for teaching me how to do addition in my head – no one could do it as fast as you!

Thanks for teaching me how to drive a car, and for never losing your patience with me while I was struggling to learn.

Thanks for staying beautiful and up-to-date in your appearance and attitude. I’ve always been so proud to be seen with you Mom.

Thank you for loving Debbie, Pat and Tony as much as your own children. And for always saying that you couldn’t have picked better daughters-in-law or son-in-law yourself.

Thanks for loving our children and always making time at Gram’s house special for them. Two words: blueberry muffins!

Thank you for always keeping a toy box in your sewing room. And for letting the grandkids and great-grandkids sometimes take a toy home.

Thanks for proudly displaying all the pictures of your great-grandchildren on your refrigerator and telling me each time that I visited how those smiling faces filled your heart with joy.

Thank you for being you. And for surrounding our family with your love.

Mom, you will be missed but you will never be forgotten. And you will be loved for all eternity.

Peace,

Denis

“All I Want For Christmas”

On Christmas Eve 1985 our daughter Bess was 5 years old. Everything was ready for Christmas – cookies baked, meals planned, tree trimmed, gifts wrapped (or hidden until Santa could deliver them). We were having breakfast, we five: Deb, Tyson 7, Bess 5, Blake 2, and me. It was a quiet, peaceful morning before the onslaught of Christmas-palooza. A calm breakfast was just what our little family needed. We could ease into the day. Or so I thought. It was then that Bess (with her sweet little sleepy-voice) said, “I don’t care if Santa doesn’t bring me anything else, as long as I get REAL BABY® WITH HER EYES OPEN”! Real Baby® was the Hatchimal® of 1985!

With that announcement, everything changed! WHAT??? When did she ever mention ‘Real Baby’ before this moment? If she had, how did we miss it? Did she tell Santa but not us? Were we awful parents???

Of course, I knew immediately what had to be done. Every daddy knows that you must find ‘THE GIFT’ or risk destroying your little girl’s Christmas dreams. And so, the search began…

real-baby
Hasbro® Real Baby (eyes open)

I know this sounds like a sitcom, but it really happened and it wasn’t funny. The morning of December 24, 1985 became panic-filled. I jumped into my 1977 Ford Pinto (also not funny) and away I went. This was before the days of cell phones, so I took a handful of change to call home from phones booths. I started out looking in the stores nearby – Venture (remember those?), Target, Sears, and then I fanned out to – more Venture Stores, more Targets, Toys-R-Us, Wal-Mart, Dillard’s, Famous-Barr, JC Penney, Woolworth’s – you name it; I tried. I could find ‘Real Baby With Her Eyes Closed’ (which was kind of scary because she could never wake up) but EVERYONE was sold out of ‘Real Baby With Her Eyes Open’. After each failed attempt to find her, I called home with the grim news – no baby. What was I going to do? How was I going to deal with disappointing our little girl on Christmas morning?

After spending nearly the entire day searching for a doll, that I was certain could not be found, I finally admitted defeat. I was heading home around 5:00 pm when I decided to give it one last try. There was a K-Mart Store west of where we lived and I thought “what the heck” it’s worth a chance. Still in my heart I knew it was foolish.

But as I walked into the Toy Department, there she was – perched on the shelf like an angel. I really thought that the fatigue had gotten to me and that I was just seeing things, but there she was, all by herself, ‘Real Baby With Her Eyes Open’! Only God knows why the most popular doll of 1985 would still be sitting alone on K-Mart’s shelf on Christmas Eve. Maybe it was just my own little Christmas miracle. I’m sure that I had tears in my eyes walking to the checkout counter – again maybe that was just the fatigue.

Needless to say, Bess was very excited the next morning and she literally jumped for joy as she exclaimed, “I knew that Santa would bring her to me!” More tears…

I  think that the doll is still in a box in our basement today. Her hair is a little ‘jacked-up’ because she was loved so much. Bess carried her around like a real baby for years (hence the name) and I have never regretted nor will I ever forget that crazy Christmas Eve.

My hope is that each of you is blessed with your own Christmas miracle this year.

Peace,

Denis

Thumbs Up!

After high school I worked at a big box discount store. I attended a local college and was able to live at home and work part-time – lucky me! Anyway, before leaving for work one afternoon I was roped into helping my mom wash windows. She was struggling to open (or close) a window and while she pushed outside on one sash I pulled on the other from the inside. The ‘stuck window’ broke free and then I managed to smash both of my thumbs between the panes (which should be called pains). Needless to say, I was injured. Both thumbs were bleeding; both thumb nails were split and the ensuing pain was intolerable. BUT YOU CAN NEVER CALL IN SICK TO WORK. Or so was the mantra of my parents (who grew up during the depression and lived through WWII).

So Mom wrapped both thumbs with splints, enough gauze to bandage a head wound and nearly a mile of tape after applying copious amounts of Mercurochrome. And off I went to work.

It turns that opposable thumbs do give us humans a distinct advantage over other species. I couldn’t tie my own shoes. Driving was more than a bit of a challenge (in retrospect my bandaged thumbs were custom-made for hitch hiking). Eating was nearly impossible. Opening a door was comical. But by golly I reported to work as scheduled!

While deflecting questions about “what happened” and avoiding stares from customers and co-workers I quietly sulked and performed my duties (to the best of my abilities). I was assigned to the Paint and Hardware Department so carrying gallons of paint with my thumbs bandaged was particularly challenging. As I was carrying a can of paint, with both thumbs outstretched to the sky, a cute young co-worker from the Health and Beauty Aids Department happened by. She saw me, took one look, and a with a wink and a giggle, proclaimed to all that could hear, “Thumbs up!” With that she skipped off completely pleased with herself, laughing all the way. While I initially fumed, I soon began to realize the absurdity of the situation and my appearance and I began to laugh, too.

The truth is I was intrigued by her quick wit and captivated by her smile. And she had the most beautiful greens eyes I had ever seen. I hunted her down in a stockroom, called her a smart ass and then we both had a good laugh. Laughing at myself eased my pain. It’s amazing how cathartic self-deprecation can be. And that beautiful young lady helped me to see that all those years ago.

I think about her often. And the day that changed my life. You see I married the girl from Health and Beauty Aids. And I thank God that she still makes me laugh today (usually at myself).

Peace,

Denis

Out of the Mouths of Babes

While watching the Jets score a touchdown during last Sunday’s play-off game, my granddaughter Anna asked why we didn’t call it a “touch-up”? After all the referees raised their arms up in the air. Otherwise they should put their arms down – she demonstrated by putting her little arms at her side. She has a point. My granddaughter Charlise coined the phrase “Oh, my cow!” – it’s her combination of “oh, my goodness” and “holy cow”. When our son Blake was about three years old I asked him to pick up all his toys. He informed me that he couldn’t carry any more because “he was full of hands”. My sister, who’s a grandmother herself now, once wanted to “buy something” off the knick-knack shelf at our grandmother’s house (to be honest Grandmother’s collection of bric-a-brac resembled the merchandise found at the local dime store). But it was cute and everyone laughed – except Kay who really wanted to buy something!

Noah is not talking yet, but it looks like he's got something to say...

Most of us cherish the sayings that were invented or misinterpreted by the little ones in our families. Sometimes they are a clever reorganization of words or thoughts. Sometimes they are just mispronunciations or misunderstandings. Often they are remembered for years (or generations). What makes these words particularly meaningful is that they are simple and profound. They are TRUTH spoken by someone who is incapable of not speaking the the truth.

As parents (and grandparents) we are often amused by these statements. And sometimes we cringe – like the time Tyson, at about age two, encountered a woman with facial hair asked me “Why does that mommy have a mustache?” Oops!

The words our babies speak remind us of our own long-forgotten innocence. If we listen carefully we can hear the voice of God through these angels in our presence.

Pure. Simple. Profound.

Peace,

Denis

All I Want For Christmas…

On Christmas Eve 1985 our daughter Bess was 5 years old.  Everything was ready for Christmas – cookies baked, meals planned, tree trimmed, gifts wrapped (or hidden until Santa could deliver them).  We were having breakfast, we five: Deb, Tyson 7, Bess 5, Blake 2, and me.  At 7:00 am it was just a nice quiet, peaceful morning before the onslaught of Christmas-palooza (when you have 3 kids aged seven and younger Christmas Eve gets a little bit crazy – the anticipation, the sugar, the last-minute details). So a calm quiet breakfast was just what our little family needed.  We could ease into the day.  Or so I thought. Then Bess (with her sweet little sleepy-voice) said, “I don’t care if Santa doesn’t bring me anything else, as long as I get REAL BABY® WITH HER EYES OPEN”

With that announcement everything changed!  WHAT???  When did she tell us about ‘Real Baby’?  How did we miss that?  Of course I knew then what I had to do. Every daddy knows that you MUST FIND ‘Real Baby’ or destroy your little girl’s Christmas dreams. And so the search began…

Hasbro® REAL BABY WITH HER EYES OPEN

I know this sounds like a sitcom and maybe it could have been but it really happened and it wasn’t funny then. The morning of December 24, 1985 became panic-filled.  I jumped into my 1977 Ford Pinto and away I went. This was before the days of cell phones, so I took a handful of change to call home from pay phones (remember those?). I started out looking in the stores nearby – Venture (remember those?), Target, Sears, and then I fanned out to – more Venture Stores, more Targets, Toys-R-Us, Wal-Mart, Famous-Barr (another blast from the past), JC Penney, Woolworth’s – you name it; I tried it.  I could find ‘Real Baby With Her Eyes Closed’ (which kind of looked like a scary dead baby) but EVERYONE was sold out of ‘Real Baby With Her Eyes Open’. After each failed attempt to find ‘Real Baby’ I called home with the grim news – no baby. What was I going to do? How was I going to deal with disappointing my little girl on Christmas morning?

After spending nearly the entire day searching for a doll that I was certain could not be found, I finally admitted defeat.  I was heading home around 4:00 pm when I decided to give it one last try.  There was (and still is) a K-Mart Store west of where we lived and I thought “what the heck” it’s worth one more try. Still in my heart I knew it was foolish.

But when I walked into the Toy Department there she was – perched on the shelf like an angel. I really thought that the fatigue had gotten to me and that I was just ‘seeing things’ but there she was, all by herself, ‘Real Baby With Her Eyes Open’!  Only God knows why the most popular doll of 1985 would still be sitting on K-Mart’s shelf on Christmas Eve.  Maybe it was just my own little Christmas miracle.  I know I had tears in my eyes walking to the checkout counter – again maybe that was just the fatigue.

Needless to say, Bess was very excited the next morning and she LOVED ‘Real Baby’ and she said, “I knew that Santa would bring her to me!”  More tears…

That doll is still in a box in our basement today.  Her hair is a little ‘jacked-up’ because she was loved so much.  Bess carried her around like a real baby for years (hence the name) and I never regretted or will I forget the crazy Christmas Eve that made it all possible.

I hope each of is blessed with your own Christmas miracle this year.

Peace,

Denis

 
 

Could you say no to this face?

P.S. This year Bess’s daughter Anna announced that she wanted Santa to bring her a dollhouse that we had seen about a month ago – no mention had been made of it until just last week. But not to worry – Pawpaw has located one (the last one again) and all is well. I guess the apple doesn’t fall very fall from the tree ~ God, thank you for my ‘apple’ and my ‘tree’. I am twice blessed!

Have Yourself A Messy Little Christmas

I’ve always wanted a perfect Christmas – whatever that is. Mostly I’d be happy if the tree stood straight and if no one was sad, mad or bad. For years when asked what I’d like for Christmas my response was always the same: Clean house and good kids. Talk about your unanswered prayers!

But you know in the movie ‘White Christmas’ when it starts snowing right on cue and the walls of the barn (that has been converted into a stage) just magically open. Or like in ‘The Miracle on 34th Street’ when Natalie Wood finds the perfect house that just happens to be “for sale” and open on Christmas Day. Or when Father comes home just before Christmas in ‘Little Women’ and Marmee’s eyes fill with tears (by the way, the one with Katherine Hepburn and Spring Byington is the one to watch). I’ve always secretly wanted one of those Hollywood Christmases. One of those Christmases where EVERYONE cries and then laughs and realizes WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT.   

Homemade "gourd" snowmen ~ eat your heart out, Martha Stewart!

But we’ve never had any of those “cue the music” Christmas moments at our house.  Usually they’re more of the “Christmas Story” variety – cursing the neighbors’ dogs!  And too often Christmas or Christmas Eve is a little boring – same people, same gifts, same stuff. Oh the food is great and we love our family and we do try to center Christ in Christmas but sometimes it all seems a little too rote. Been there; done that.

Looking back it seems to me that our best Christmases have been the messy, unpredictable ones. And we’ve had some doozies. Like when Blake was about 3 years old and puked at my brother’s house on Christmas Eve or when Bess woke up with bronchitis on Christmas Day or the year that our car slid off the road on Christmas Eve on our way to see Aunt Marge and Grandma Hazel. Those are the memorable Christmases.  Oh, we’ve had some ‘Currier and Ives’ moments too, but mostly the messy Christmases have been our best.

Scooping up poor little sick Blake (and wiping up vomit) may not make a pretty Christmas card but getting him home and tucked into bed and praying at his bedside that he would be well enough for Santa the next morning is still a favorite memory.  Bringing Bess a cup of tea and a few sugar cookies in bed while she was recuperating from bronchitis still makes me a little sentimental – she was too sick to do anything but hold her new baby doll but still she managed a smile that broke my heart. Or the year that we went to midnight Mass and some drunken guy started crying because he hadn’t been to church in years – and we witnessed his ‘conversion moment’. I felt like a jerk for having grumbled under my breath earlier to Deb about “this guy behind us”. 

God certainly had a hand in all of this. And I guess the first Christmas was a pretty humble occasion. So why do I need a perfect Christmas anyway? Besides I think those messy ones have been perfect – perfected by Christ.

So this year I’ll plan for another beautiful Christmas but I hope to remember to thank God for the one that I get. And if I’m truly blessed it may be a little bit messy. Hope yours is too!

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” Matthew 1:23

Peace,

Denis

Have An Adventure But Don’t Forget To Wear Your Seatbelt

Being a parent is sort of like being a high wire trapeze artist.  One wrong move and you’re a goner!

Being a good parent is even harder. The challenge: you love your children with all your heart but sometimes you must suppress the urge to kill them. Good parents have learned how to do this.

Don’t get me wrong; being a dad has been my greatest blessing in this life.  And being a granddad is just ‘icing on the cake’. It’s just that sometimes it’s maddening. There is no instruction manual and kids have no warranty and the return policy is practically non-existent. But still parenthood remains the most rewarding experience in life.

Here’s why: Sometimes they love you back! It’s that simple. Your kid can grow up to be a president or a pimp but if they love you then you know that somewhere along the line you must have done something right.

Deb and I raised our kids with one philosophy – “What in hell are we doing?”  We really had no clue (I still don’t) but we just loved them and somehow muddled through.  So far not one of them is a serial killer or has written a ‘tell-all’ tale about their childhood; so we must have done (sort of) okay.

I think that there are basically two parenting styles:

The first one is what I call “The Helicopter-Science Project Parent”. These are the folks that are constantly hovering over their kids. They do EVERYTHING for the little darlings. They check their homework each night; they make sure that junior has all the right friends and monitor ALL activity. They keep their little loved ones on a pretty tight leash. And of course as the name implies – they actually build that amazing ‘Science Fair Volcano’ that junior takes credit (and the blue ribbon) for. These kids likely get in the best schools and live lives that their parents are proud of but they seem sad and stifled and will certainly have a mid-life crisis.

The second style is what I call “This Seems like a Good Idea Today”.  I think most of us fall into this category.  I know we certainly did. We tried to let our kids make their own mistakes (we’d already made enough of our own) and learn from them. We tried to be supportive and ALWAYS encouraged our kids to take risks within reason.  Our mantra was “You are only limited by your imagination” but in reality we subscribed more to the theory of “Have an adventure but don’t forget to wear your seatbelt”. It’s hard to push those ‘baby birds’ out of the nest but somehow we knew that would be for the best – even when sometimes we were hanging on for dear life (ours not theirs).

And those science projects?  They were awful!

Looking back I wouldn’t change a thing (except for maybe that time when I made Blake’s teacher cry at ‘Parent-Teacher Conferences’ even though she had it coming!) Giving your kids freedom means they are more likely to “mess up” but more opportunity equals more potential. I’ll take a little craziness any day over boring and bland. Oh, and love! Love is important – don’t forget to love your kids, especially when they are at their least lovable. And pray – even if you’re just asking for God to help you not kill them.

Hallmark® that purveyor of profundity sells a wall hanging that Deb purchased when our granddaughter Anna was born.  It now hangs in her bedroom.  And even though I don’t usually like schmaltzy stuff; I love this plaque.

It states:

IN THIS HOME…

WE DO SECOND CHANCES.

WE DO GRACE.

WE DO REAL.

WE DO MISTAKES.

WE DO I’M SORRYS.

WE DO LOUD REALLY WELL.

WE DO HUGS.

WE DO FAMILY.

WE DO LOVE.

How about that for a parenting philosophy?  And don’t forget to wear your seatbelt!

Peace,

Denis

Merely Amusing

Our son Tyson and our daughter Bess have been competing with one another since the day that Bess was born.  Tyson is 20 months older. At times their ‘playful’ competition has escalated into the need to “best one another”.  Their battles have never really been mean-spirited or aggressive but still at times each of them needed (needs) to be the smarter, faster, funnier one, etc.  Somehow our younger son Blake never factored into this rivalry – maybe because he is the smarter, faster, funniest one (don’t tell Ty and Bess!).

Back in the day...

Anyway, when they were little children we always monitored their challenges to one another (“Hey Tyson, I bet you can’t do this!” or “Hey Bess, you’re too little to do this!”) to ensure no one got hurt – physically or emotionally.  As they grew older we often watched with bemusement at their obsession with being better than the other. Usually these were harmless skirmishes but sometimes we would intervene to save feelings or furniture.

Now that they are adults it’s fun (and funny) to look back on how often the simplest activities would become a contest between the two of them. A Monopoly® game would be enough to draw the battle lines.  Physical challenges could become feats of daring.  And mealtime discussions might become debates about who knew more about whatever was the topic of conversation.  As a boy Tyson was the stronger of the two (although Bess could give him a run for his money!).  Bess was always the more intellectual.  I sometimes think she did so well in school just to prove to Tyson that she was indeed smarter. 

As teenagers sometimes the dialog at dinner would go like this:  “Tyson that’s not right!” and then Bess would explain (usually correctly) why his opinion was flawed.  After careful consideration Tyson’s response would most likely be: “Well you’re stupid!” – Score one for Bess.  Once when they were “allegedly” adults they got into a heated discussion about which of them was funnier.  Tyson, ever the quick-witted one, declared without missing a beat: “Bess, I’m funny, you’re merely amusing!”  – Score one for Ty.

I love my kids and I know that they love one another.  I know that they are each fiercely loyal and would take a bullet for one another.  And I know that no sister and brother are more loving and caring and proud of one another. This makes their rivalry all the more interesting. Why do they do it?  Why do they always need to “best one another”?  I don’t know, maybe it was bad parenting. 

Nah, that can’t be right…

Peace,

Denis