Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I'm sitting here on the rug with my back against my son's small bed and he's just begun to breathe the even deep breaths of sleep. My daughter's bright voice can be heard through the door chattering away with my wife down the hall.

The world is still busy outside, but I've turned off my email and put on my slippers and put my cell phone on silent. It's time to close the shop.

Tonight we're safe.

There's no reason to believe there won't be countless more nights like tonight here in our little house with our family.

But I know, and today I was painfully reminded, that any night could be different. Today we watched while they laid my young cousin to rest. Today I held his parent's trembling hands and know that they're no different than my hands and that no hands are strong enough to make everything all right for our children all the time.

I grieve for his parents, and grandparents and the rest of the family. I know there is nothing that can make what happened right for them; There is no one who can explain why he is not here still. I think of that loss and my heart aches knowing that they cannot hold their boy again - not even for a moment.

There are no answers for this pain in this world.

I look and listen and breathe in the color and sound and freshness of my home tonight and know these moments are precious. They are more precious than any sparkling jewels the world could lay at my feet. That even when the hurly burly persistence of the world is still rapping insistently at my door demanding it's penny, these nights here with my children are irreplaceably and immeasurably more precious than any coin I have to give back to the world for our keep.

I miss you cousin. I loved you while you were here. I love my children the more because of you now. You were a blessing to everyone who shared your life.

I hope you are resting beyond all the world's troubles tonight. I hope the house you rest in, and the hands that you hold will hold you safe forever.


Monday, November 29, 2010

We lost a young cousin tonight, only fifteen, just a boy really. I'd been to ball games with him and his father. We celebrated holidays and occasions together. He was the youngest member of my wedding party.

He was a good boy. Good to his parents; good to his family; and a good friend. He was good to me.

I miss him. I wish I hadn't missed that last chance to see him a few weeks back. I won't see him again in this life.

I'm sad for his parents, for his family, for his friends. I'm sad for me.

Wherever you are tonight, I'm thinking of you. When I look up at the light of the stars, I hope you know I'm looking for you.

I miss you cousin.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I think they call it grit
Because it's all you have to grasp at
When your gasping from being
Knocked down and are too stupid
To stay down.

I think they call it grit
Because it feels like sand in motor oil
In the pit of your stomach
When you tell the big guy
To say that one more time.

I suspect I've had it from time
To time if only because it grates like a
Thin gravel layer between my bills and the
Bottom of my bank account, and rings like the little
Truth spoken to those who can hurt me.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Zen Days

I know next to nothing about Zen. I've heard a wonderful program twice on Speaking of Faith with Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Zen master, and I've read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance once and very recently I've read Zen Shorts with my children. This is the extent of my Zen teaching.

But I'm finding for this time in my life, there's at least one practice that I understand from those small teachings to be particularly useful; to be mindful.

"Take the hand of a child," Master Hahn advices in one of his works to help understand mindfulness. I had always thought that Zen required solitude and quiet, so it was a real release to have a teacher remove this obstacle from my path - because my children are rarely quiet.

Of course, I'm paraphrasing Master Hahn liberally here (and a little out of my ignorance), but I've found this teaching so helpful in transitioning between the stresses of work and the challenges of home life that I think even my limited understanding has value.

"Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy," my children can go on and on.

At the end of a day filled with problems and conflicts, the drumming of their needs can really grate against my angst and fears for what I did not accomplish that day.

I find at these moments I have two choices: to frustrate over what I can't do or to take their hand.

"Story time!" I say when I can muster the mindfulness to make the right choice. Sometimes it takes a while of me making the wrong choice before I can do this (tonight it took 45 minutes of muttering to myself before I said it), and sometimes the right choice does not come at all, but it's always a help when I get there.

"The Fat Cat Sat on the Mat, Mr. Pine's Purple House, In the Night Kitchen," it really doesn't matter what they want to hear that night.

I put my older child on one side and the smaller one in my lap and we read. We read and I listen to the sound of their little voices asking questions, or laughing, or just feel the rise and fall of their soft, unconstrained breathing.

We read I begin to feel the rise and fall of my own breath again, and I relax my face and shoulders, and I feel like a bird or a rabbit or a bear must feel when it's safely tucked into it's nest or warren or cave. I feel like I can let the world be for a while.

We read and the rest of the night seems to take care of itself. The kids calm down, stop clinging and go to bed. I calm down and stop clinging to the things that went wrong and relax - cherry blossoms on a soft breeze when I stop worrying and attend to those little souls.

I know next to nothing about Zen. I hope to learn more some day, but in the mean time, the little I know seems to help more than a little.

Thank you Master Hahn.

Friday, November 5, 2010

View Master

We have a great toy store near us, just a few blocks away. They're a small chain, two or maybe three locations, and they really know their toys. I feel like I do in a well run independent bookstore, like all the staff has taken great care with the product selection, like they really love what they sell.

A few weeks ago I noticed an old fashioned View Master slide toy, which (in a fit of nostalgia) I bought on the spot for my kids.

To my delight, the toy was a hit - my daughter uses it almost every night.

"This is a T-Rex," she said just a few minutes ago - I'm typing here in a chair while she's winding down before bedtime.

We got some dinosaur slides to add to her small collection through Amazon today. She's been learning about the old lizards at school and she's taken an interest.

"The old boy hasn't lost any appeal," I thought to myself, remembering how transfixed I was the first time I saw a drawing of the tyrant king.

"Daddy, would a T-Rex eat our house?"

"Um," I responded, "I haven't know any T-Rex well enough to ask."

If they weren't extinct, I might feel compelled to tell her the truth, but as we're not likely to see any, I don't mind evading the question.

"Oh," she said and went back to looking.

I think I like the view master, not only because I had one too and it's a way to feel connected to what she's experiencing now, but because it's not animated and enhanced with sounds. I like it because it doesn't answer all the questions and leaves some stuff to the imagination.

"What about a brontosaurus?" she asked after clicking a few slides on.

"I don't know any dinosaurs," I said, "And I haven't seen any at the restaurant, so I don't know what they like to eat."

"Why not?" she asked - she's still working on a sense of time.

"They lived in another neighborhood," I said.

Oddly enough, this seemed to make sense to her. She looked thoughtful for a moment and then let out a little sigh and went back to looking.

I know it's nonsense. It's the kind of thing I used to dream up when I was a kid.

I also know her teacher will likely give me a few odd looks at the parent teacher conference after she repeats my spurious dinosaur lore (oh she definitely will) multiple times in class.

Someday she'll learn the truth herself too and I'll have some explaining to do. But there's something special about sharing this silly stuff with my kid. I feel like when we talk like this that the little kid that I was is still around and I know - somehow - that that little boy and my little girl are friends.

Good night.

Monday, November 1, 2010

We're a Cost

A very short post tonight about obtaining help for my son through state and local services; just an observation really.

My wife and I have divided our respective energies and specialities between working with the government and working with the insurance companies. If you've read my earlier posts, you'll know I work with the insurance agencies. I think I have the easier job.

"We're in for a fight," my wife said to me tonight.

I won't mention with who or for what. It's enough to know it's part of the process to obtain help for our son that we have to justify and justify and verify and authenticate and evaluate and you name your favorite auditing practice here - you get the idea.

I work in financial services, so I'm no stranger to auditing, but I have to say that the level of stringency for children with disabilities seems like a very high bar. Even from my seat here in the observation deck, it seems like a lot to ask of families who are already under considerable strain just to care for their kids.

"It cost me ten large," a friend of mine once told me when describing the legal bills he had to foot to get his community to stop stonewalling and offer his own son services.

"We had to move," I recall a former neighbor say to my wife when describing how she had to get service for her son.

And when I see what passes for auditing on building projects, or pension funds, or even general schooling, I wonder why families with children with special needs get hit with such a high bar.

Sometimes, I feel like the good kid in school again who gets thrown into detention for some minor infraction while the spitballs fly fast and go unchallenged. I feel like we're easy pickins' for government who can't get it right anywhere else.

In the end, I know we'll manage. I know the laws are on our side and that the intent of the laws are good. I also know that we're lucky to live in a state and a community that at least have such laws on the books - however they may be implemented.

In the end, I know we're a cost. Even though it's far, far cheaper to help my son now that it would be to do it later in life; and even though his care is far, far cheaper than the cost we pay for some perfectly healthy individual who created and sold toxic assets; I know we're a cost.

I just wish my collective state and local government officials would take some of the hurdles in our path and throw them in front of a stadium project, or a school building program, or an already cost the state multi million dollar tunnel project before they decided to cancel it.

I just wish they'd pick on someone more worthy of their mistrust.