It is not you, it is me… Promise.

Where have I been? Yes, I know, I have not written a post for a while.
I took a break this summer. I took some “me” time. I did this for one primary reason:
I am selfish.
I don’t feel ashamed.
I don’t owe anybody an apology.
I needed time.
I am a husband, I am a father, I am a coach of many disciplines, an educator, a doctoral student, I am a school board member, a committee member, a writer, and a very active community member – I wear a lot of hats.
I do it gladly – I love being busy, I love having projects, and I love giving myself to others.
But, unfortunately, I burned out.
I found out that I was pulling myself in too many directions, which made me less effective in all other aspects; but most importantly, I was not an effective father or husband. And that is not okay.
So I put all of my responsibilities aside. I walked away from everything.
Except for family.
Family is essential, and we must place emphasis on spending as much time with them as possible. Kids grow up, parents work, significant others get busy. It is too easy to let the time fly by due to everyday “business of life.”
I refused to let that happen. So, I made a conscious decision:
I traveled with family.

 

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If you have not been to Folklorama, you are really missing out.

I explored.

 

 

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Canadian Museum of Human Rights – Winnipeg, Manitoba.

I lived with reckless abandon.

 

 

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I did not get a hole-in-one, but I did split a golf ball in half.

I learned a lot about my kids’ lives.

 

 

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Never too young for a checkers beat-down.

And…
I reconnected with my wife.

 

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It was awesome.
The moral of this story? We all get super busy with life. Make sure you take the time to see what is around you; not just what is in front of you. We are constantly reminded that we do not have very many years on this earth. Make sure you take the time to reflect on what is essential and what is sacred. If there is something that you want to do; someplace you wish to see; someone that you want to spend time with – do it!
I know what you are going to say, “Not everyone has the time and/or resources to cast responsibility aside…”
…And I will gladly call bullshit on that statement… mostly because it is the easy answer.
Yes, we only have 16 hours in our day. A good portion of that day is taken up with employment. But that still leaves us time to practice the things to which I am speaking – we just have to make it a priority.
Just make sure you fill your own bucket first.

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Aging Gracefully, or, Damn You’re Old

As children, we believe that we are invincible. We think that we can do things without any kind of repercussions. Realistically, when we are younger, we can.

Climb a tree, fall, hurt, cry, get back up.

Ride a bike, miss the pedal, hit the middle bar, cry, get back up.

Rush down the stairs, fall, slide the rest of the way down, cry, get back up.

You get the picture.

But then comes a time when you are a tad bit less sharp than you were in years previous; where invincibility becomes mortality; where each ache is a reminder of what you did to your self and fleating youth.

For me, it started at age 33.

At 33, I discovered that there comes a time when you have to be more preventative with your care. I discovered that it would behoove you to listen to your body instead of trying to work through it. I discovered that my body would force me to take days off in order tto recover from what I put it through rather than going full bore all of the time.

At age 33, my back when out.

Look, I would see the family television shows where the father’s back would go out and he would not be able to stand straight up causing him to go throughout his day hunch over for the entire episode. I thought, “There is no way in the hell he can’t just straighten out his back. What a wimp!”

And then it happened to me.

I was the father of a three-year-old and a baby. The family had just returned home from watching a local varsity basketball game at the high school. It was late, and I was putting the baby to bed. As I gently bent over the crib to place her down… It happened.

I was flat on the ground before I could brace myself.

I cannot explain the pain I was in (it was a lot), and I knew what had happened –  I just don’t know why or how it happened. While bear crawling to my bed, I questioned everything about my body and its abilities, “How could this be?! I had never had a back problem in my entire life! I was in really good shape! My body has failed me! Is it normal for a 33 year old man to have a bad back?” What amazed me the most about this happening is that I never realized how much you depend on your back muscles for mobility. I learned that day. *side note: I got the chiropractor to write me a note saying that I was no longer medically cleared to change diapars. My wife failed to see the humor.

Speaking of humor, at age 35, I ruptured my Achilles tendon.

It happened during a pick-up basketball game with my students. One student challenged me to drive past him and go to the hole using my left hand. As a former jock, I am way too much of a “man” to not oblige him. I had always had a pretty good first step, so there was no way in the hell that this doofus was going to stop me.

He didn’t.

My Achilles did.

Surprisingly, there was no pain. Also surprisingly, my tendon did not recoil into my hamstring like I had heard. But, it was torn completely in half. Grabbing my ankle felt like grabbing my wrist. As I was sitting on the floor unable to stand, it hit me:

Holy shit, how was I going to explain this to Heather?

This is when the story gets good.

The first doctor – we will call Doctor Dumbass, diagnosed me with a serious ankle sprain. I politly informed her that she was wrong and that there was, in fact, no tendon attached. “Yeah, but you can move your toes.”

Dumbass.

So I went to a specialist. She looked at it, laughed at me and asked who diagnosed me. I told her. Without a word, she walked directly out of the room and closed the door.

Somebody got cursed out (I could hear her in the next room).

She comes in smiling: “Welp, we will schedule you for surgery next week.”

“Doc…uh…my son is due by C-section in two weeks.”

“Why wouldn’t he be.”

The  surgery was scheduled that week. Post-surgery, I was not, under any circumstance, supposed to touch my foot to the ground. Let me set the stage for you (sans all of the curse words my wife enjoys using when telling this tale):

The day of my oldest son’s birth. My wife had to make sure that I was in the van and properly situated (I am in a soft cast and, remember, no touching my foot to the floor). When we arrived at the hospital, she dropped me off under the awning and parked the van, 100 feet away, while I found the nearest wheelchair. Then she wheeled me to the appointment desk:

“Sir, are you here to check in?”

“No, my pregnant wife.”

There was a look of utter disappointment and/or disgust of me from ever women within earshot. If those women could push my wheelchair down the steps, I believe they would have. It gets better. How? Well —

When it was time for my son to come out, my wife’s nurse wheeled me into the operating room while she walked.

Mic Drop.

Believe me, it is a much funnier story when she tells it; and, she loves to tell it when attending get-togethers where the women outnumber the men 3 to 1. Nothing I have done or will ever do will make up for it.

At age 38, I had figured by now that I should probably go for a yearly check-up. I had been doing a check-up for the last two years after I realized that, A) I have a mortgage, B) have 4 kids, C) have a family history of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and D) have proven to myself that my body is deteriorating. But this time, I had to do blood work. Simple enough, right. Yes. Until I saw the results:

My kidneys were not working at full capacity…

WTF!

That was not even on my radar.

“You should see the specialist.”

Shit.

So, there I am, three weeks later; sitting in the kidney specialist’s office. Wondering if I am going to be in dialysis within a year.

Note: For the love of God, do not interpret your results through WebMD. Ever. There are so many things you can die of. Don’t let fear be one of them.

“We will send your blood sample to Mayo Clinic for a more accurate test. I will message you when the results are in. Don’t worry.”

Hmmm… Ok. Wait. Shit. Mayo Clinic? Shit. Shit. Shit.

Results came in. Everything is normal. Great, I just almost crapped myself, but great.

So let’s review what we have learned here.

  1. You really are not as invincible as you think. It will catch up to you one day and you will not see it coming.
  2. You are as old as you feel, unless you feel like you are 55 and your actual age is 35. Take preventative measures in order to maintain the machine.
  3. See a doctor once or twice a year. Sure, I got a scare, but that is better than not seeing it coming and leaving your loved ones to pick up the pieces.

Not Enough Hours in the Day to Deal with B.S.

“Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen… yourself, right now, right down here on Earth.”           -Bradley Whitford

One morning, I got a call from my father-in-law. He is a man of few words:

“Something is wrong with mom.”

“What?!!!”

“Her words are jumbled and she cannot speak fluently.”

“I am coming over, now!”

Those words have a way of striking terror in anyone.

My mother-in-law fell ill. Gravely ill. She did not have a stroke, but the doctors were unable to explain what was wrong, so the treated her for a brain infection.

Encephalitis.

She would spend a week in the hospital.

On a particular day, I was coming out of my mother-in-law’s room, going for lunch, when I ran into a former student’s father. His father (the student’s grandfather) had also fallen ill and had been at the hospital for quite some time:

“How’s it going?”

“Good…considering…”

“Yeah. It has been rough all around, huh?”

“Yup.”

“How are the kids?”

“Cool. Organized chaos as usual.”

Sternly: “Enjoy it.”

At this point I was puzzled.

“Look, you will always have time for golf when you’re old. The country club will be there. Enjoy your kids now.”

I cannot tell you what the rest of the conversation was, because the look on his face when he said that statement had a profound effect on me…

I can still see it.

He was right.

The shameful thing is, up until that point I had not put things into perspective. I have been “chasing skinny rabbits,” if you will. My mother-in-law was vibrant, funny lady one moment; a day later, we don’t know if we should be calling the priest.

Life is something we should not take for granted. We are not sure what tomorrow will bring us; that’s what makes it awesome. And that is why from now on, I will spend my days in positivity.

I will take a shit-ton of pictures.

I will not worry about money (I do invest in retirement).

I will slap my wife on the ass often.

I will embarrass the shit out of my kids.

I will never miss a first day.

I will always give my opinion.

I will not lie*

I will exercise every day.

I will curse (it makes me feel better).

I will start to check off items my bucket list.

I will belly laugh at least 10 times a day.

I will be the best father to my children.

I will be the best father to other children.

I will not complain unless I have a call to action that involves me taking action.

I will be selfish for one hour every day.

I will (try) not to be embarrassed.

I will get rid of negativity.

I will draw often.

*subjective, of course.

“Lessons All Around” or “Pay Attention to the Details, Dammit”

Everything that I keep in my classroom is a lesson. Not just the posters that I have on the wall that show grammatical fixes to composition issues, but also life lessons. I do not teach these lessons outright, but if students pay attention (and occasionally ask a question) they will see the lessons that are all around them. They are not exactly hidden, but students do have to pay attention.

I teach at an alternative school. In my classroom, I have huge windows. And in those windows are plants. Plants of all sorts and species. Some of the plants look like they have long died; some look as though they are barely hanging on, and some look as though they are thriving in the constant sunlight. All of them I keep alive…

every year…

My colleagues are impressed.

So, what is the lesson? The lesson is one that I had to learn at age 24.

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Trim those dead ends or they will slowly kill you.

That was the time that I had to learn to cut people out of my life in order for me to thrive. Most of my plants are very weather-beaten. They look dead because they have been sitting outside, exposed to the elements during summer break. By time I bring them back to my classroom, they have formed a hardness to them – some of them are tilted by the wind, some of them have grown extra limbs to provide shade from the sun, and some of them have leaves and petals that are hanging on to live limbs. If you do not take the time to care of these things, the plant will die a slow death.

People are no different. A lot of us have some king of hardship, trauma, challenge that we have been through and weathered. Getting past those burdens are important. But if we do not take the time to self-reflect and heal, we are going to have problems later. For me, taking myself out of the elements was not that hard of a task. Exiting the challenging environment led me to shed some of the weathered layers that were built. But, by far, the hardest thing that I had to do is trim off the dead leaves and petals.

Cutting people off is hard. What I found helpful is asking if the person or environment was helping me get to my goal. If the answer was no, then they need to go. It really does not make a difference what kind of relationship you have with this person. The fact of the matter is – toxicity kills goals.

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