Saturday, June 28, 2014

When the kids are away...

On our tenth anniversary, we did what every parent of little kids really wants: watched some tv and went to bed early, slept in, and went to breakfast.

Joke. Only kidding. Hey, remember when we were little, and we always wondered how much fun our parents had when we were not at their house? Well, it's all true. Kind of. We didn't go out to breakfast.

We started the night at work for The Wife, singing at services. The rabbi had a beautiful blessing in honor of our anniversary, which our family went in front to receive.... and The Baby spent the time screaming at the top of his lungs because we wouldn't let him at the microphone. Sigh.

We had a nice, outdoors dinner at Rock Bottom, a brew pub down at The Waterfront. The weather was utterly perfect for it: not too hot or too cold, with a touch of a light breeze, and no humidity. We just spent a blissful 90 minutes just talking with each other, about anything, everything, and nothing. You know, as if we were married or dating or something. I had a burger, she had enchiladas, and we sampled some of the brew pub's finest root beer.

Next door to the brew pub was the Sing Sing Dueling Piano Bar. We'd walked past it a few dozen times but never gone in; that will change in the future. Basically, it's a by-request piano performance. There were four guys who played piano (rotating, usually two at a time). Occasionally, they'd play some drums, or some bass, and there was one saxophone solo in the middle of a Billy Joel song. But, 99% of it was piano and singing.

You make a request on a piece of paper, and deliver it with a couple of dollars (or more) to the piano, where they play their versions of those songs. So, there might be some Pearl Jam, or Billy Joel, or AC/DC, or Hank Williams, or whatever people want to hear. They did a great job of putting a version of everything - including Baby Got Back, memorably.

People who had something like a bachelor or bachelorette party would tip more so their friend would be brought up on stage and embarrassed. The singers would also change words - usually adding something funny or obscene or both, to the roaring delight of the crowd. It was really a lot of fun.

The Wife requested "Fly Me To The Moon," which was our wedding song, and she later requested "New York, New York," because the Yankees won. They were delighted to play Fly me To The Moon - shockingly, Sinatra is not a big request - which was nice.

We wound up staying there for a few hours, which was nice. I'm kind of a stick in the mud these days - I don't pursue live music often, mostly because I spend a lot of time critiquing music as a director. In this situation, I didn't need to worry - because of the huge variety of stuff being requested, any version was entertaining. It was very loud, which again shows my age - next time, I'll probably bring ear plugs.

It's been a while since we stayed out past midnight, that's for sure; but, considering I was up at 5am that morning, I turn into a pumpkin at midnight. We slept nice and late this morning, because the boys had a movie night and sleepover at Grandma's house.

In short, a wonderful anniversary evening for us. May our 20th be just as much fun.


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Friday, June 27, 2014

10 Years, or the Tin Anniversary

Ten years ago, I knew everything.

I knew I was going to be a teacher for the rest of my life. I knew that I could, in all probability, stay at Columbia High School until I retired as a teacher. I knew I'd be an amazing bass in a quartet, and that my saxophone quartet would make a couple of local albums.

I knew that I was marrying the right lady, and I knew that our kids' childhoods would be healthy and happy and easy. I knew that we'd live in Jersey until we retired, where we might stay or we might follow our kids somewhere warmer, or go to Florida like all good Jerseyans.

One of those things turned out exactly correct.



I was not a good teacher. I mean, I was a great teacher, but a terrible professional. Columbia High School lasted another ten months, and I never did get a quartet, as a bass, that could get out of the C range. My saxophone quartet survived a couple more years, but we never got around to recording.

My kids' childhoods have, to date, been happy; but not healthy, and definitely not easy. I'm now living in Pittsburgh, where I intend to stay for the indefinite future, although I won't rule out moving somewhere warmer upon retirement (ha! As if I'll ever be able to afford that.)

But, I married the right lady. Intelligent, strong, motivated, hard-working, beautiful, talented.... someone who is, quite probably, out of my league. I thank G-d every morning that we're together, and it thank G-d every night that I have my beautiful family.

So, here's to ten years as a married couple. Best decision I ever lucked into.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Six years ago, today

Six years ago, my family - then, just The Wife, The Boy, and I - finished the worst night of our lives.
The previous evening, some butcher of a resident attempted to put an IV line into my oldest son's body and failed spectacularly, leaving a bedtop that more resembled a MASH unit than a suburban New Jersey hospital. After I threatened her life, she fled. A grownup swept into the room, inserted the IV into his right hand, taped the hand so it was immobile: depriving him of his thumb, which was his primary comfort mechanism. She then left before we knew what they did. That night, The Boy screamed hysterically, all night long. To make matters better, he was scheduled for surgery first thing in the morning. He would lose 10% of his body weight in kidney tumor. The direction of our lives was forever changed.
Six years ago tomorrow, we "celebrated" our 4th wedding anniversary. I don't remember what we did. Truth be told, I don't remember what we did on most of our wedding anniversaries except #0, although my blog tells me that we got to go for a walk together in the afternoon. Plus, many of our friends stopped by the hospital to spend some time. We were obviously distracted. There is a string of associated dates: June 24: I have a vivid, vivid memory of Dr. Kinteraglou calling me, "You need to get back to the office. Now." June 25: the diagnosis. June 26: the surgery. June 27: my wedding anniversary. In a way, it's a shame that our anniversary is so intertwined with this catastrophe. In another way, this event is one of the things that has defined our relationship. We're stronger now than we were six years ago. We're better people. We are a better team, and we're better parents. Our family is complete - three amazing boys. Child number three very much resembles The Boy both in looks and in mannerisms; in a weird way, we feel like we've been given a chance to see what The Boy would have been like as a "normal" child - you know, without cancer.
I could not have done it with The Wife. She's been my best friend, my partner, my confidant, my support, my sounding board, and my cheering section. We compliment each other nicely - where I have weakness, she has strength. Where I have strength, she can rely on it. It's been an amazing run, and a decade of.... well, it's not been bliss. It's been a struggle, occasionally a grind, and definitely not the normal life. But, I would not change it for the world.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Princess Bride

Tonight, the boys and I watched The Princess Bride together, for the first time.

I have a lot of favorite movies. They come in different categories - game-changers, after which my views about movies changed: Star Wars: A New Hope; Beauty and the Beast; The Matrix. Comedies that hit on every beat: LA Story, Real Genius. Action movies that taught me what a hero was: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi. And, movies like Empire Strikes Back, which taught me the only response to "I love you."

Princess Bride is one of those movies. Every beat hits. Every character shines. The story is well-written and smoothly flowing. The action is fun and daring, but provides a sense of danger. The laughs are non-stop. "No good - I've known too many Spaniards." "You keep using that word - I do not think it means what you think it means." "Have fun storming the castle!" "You've committed one of the classic blunders - the first is, never start a land war in Asia!"

I think the boys liked it, but it's hard to say. Three is no doubt that it's a slower movie than what they're watching today. The story breathes and takes its time to move rather than feeling that every second needs to be filled. It's a different style of movie than what they're used to watching.

Little Bear definitely loved the sword fights. The Boy gave an appropriate "Yes!" with fist pump when Count Rugen got what was coming to him.

Oh, well. If they don't love it tonight, they'll love it during the other 86 times they're going to watch it before they graduate high school.


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Pursuer of Peace

On Sunday afternoon, The Wife played a part in Rodef Shalom's "Pursuer of Peace" ceremony. It's a big fund-raiser celebration event, where they honor a member of the Pittsburgh community for their contributions. This year, it was Fred Rogers (obviously posthumously awarded). They had some members of his family and a whole bunch of the Rodef community. The Wife has been going to hours and hours of meetings, not to mention dozens and dozens of emails. I was copied on all of the emails for informational purposes, but - because I knew I couldn't realistically attend any of the meetings and was overbooked regardless - I was more of a spectator until the day of the event. The video is absolutely priceless. The Boy, Little Bear, and three friends gathered around the microphone to sing while The Wife played piano. I was off-camera, kneeling in front of them for guidance and moral support. The Baby was very disappointed (read: crying hysterically) that he wasn't allowed to stand directly in front of the microphone, so at the last minute, he took his spot, practically swallowing the mic. The funny bits of the video: 1) The Baby pushing Little Bear away from the microphone, as if Little Bear was going to take it from him. 2) The Boy's nearly flawless conducting, starting and ending the group of children. 3) The Baby's audible sigh at the end of the performance. 4) The reasonably synchronized bow by the kids, followed by the bow-with-a-flourish by The Baby. 5) Musical Daddy herding the cats (children) offstage immediately following. As you would expect, it was a strong reaction from the crowd and something that Mr. Rogers would have absolutely appreciated. ------- The summer has started and been, to date, remarkably uneventful. The kids don't start camp for another couple of weeks - because of a lack of funds, we aren't keeping them in various camps all summer long, restricting it to a few weeks of J&R camp at the JCC and a couple weeks at Rodef Shalom for #3. They're spending lots of time at the various parks and playgrounds, some time around the house, some time around Grandma's house, and time swimming at Sandcastle or the Family Park. It's a lazy pace to day, as evidenced by the fact that, 4 mornings out of 5, only The Boy is awake enough to say goodbye when I leave for work. He still comes downstairs with me in the mornings, although he's been playing Lego Batman instead of watching TV. Not sure if that's a lateral move or an improvement, but at least he's using his brain a bit. The positive for that is that I only need to worry about breakfast for me & The Boy, so I have a little more breathing time in the morning. The negative is that everybody is awake until 9 or 10PM; which stinks because I want to go to bed around 9:30, 9:45 because of the earliness of my day. Still, 1 & 2 are pretty easy at bedtime: bath, read a story, talk a bit, snuggle, then on to the next kid, then you're done. The Baby is becoming a problem, as per The Boy four years or so ago: it's been sitting with him for 45 minutes or more to get him to go to sleep. We're discussing solutions, but it might wind up waiting until we get back from our trip in July. ------ Last week, The Boy and Little Bear went with The Wife to an education protest in Harrisburg. The Baby went with me, to the drop-in day care that work offers. My mistake? I got there at 7:20 when they don't open until 7:30. Sigh. He was happy until he saw the place - he's been there a few times before - and burst into hysterical crying. He even started running away from me, which was really, really odd and unlike him. I brought him inside and he did not calm down for a while. I showed him some really cool marble pathway toys, and his curiousity over-rode his fear. I said, "Good-bye, The Baby," and he said, "Good-bye, Daddy," without even paying attention. When I picked him up in the afternoon, he was fine until he saw me; then he burst into tears and ran for me. He had a bit of a rough morning, the teacher said, because he kept asking for me. Once lunchtime passed, he calmed down and was having fun and helping out. He really liked the ribbon dancing thing that they did. I left work a little bit early so I could get him before the big traffic rush. We went to the comic book store and to get pizza at a little hole-in-the-wall shop that I like. The others in the restaurant were shocked that he liked the mushroom pizza so much - enough that he had two slices, all on his own!!! We went home for a little while, then he came with me to a chorus committee meeting. He was very, very good at the meeting, even if he was terrified of the two little dogs that my friend has. The others? They had a fun, even if they were cooped up in a bus for six hours or so during the day.