Tag Archives: milestones

A Perfect Father & Son Day at Fenway Park

Will_Soxopener_mainFenway Park is a cramped, antiquated place to watch a baseball game. Fans in left field sit atop a 37-foot tall Monster, fans in right field face the wall in left field instead of home plate, and fans taller than 5’5″ weighing more than 150 lbs have serious trouble fitting into seats built for people 101 years ago. It’s a physically uncomfortable experience that can leave you bruised and sore long after you leave the confines of Updike’s “lyric little bandbox.” Simply put, it’s a ballpark that often matches the awkward and tumultuous Red Sox organization to which we pledge ourselves for life.

I’ve been a Red Sox fan for 33 years and never been to a home opener. My son just turned 5 and now — thanks to the overwhelming generosity of my parents — he can add it to his Red Sox resume.

Bringing a little kid to a Red Sox game is — well, it’s difficult. Especially this time of year, since April in Boston is generally an extension of winter. Usually it’s 40 degrees and raining, which makes baseball crowds look like Patriots fans in November. But at least the football folks expect that, whereas the Boys of Summer are generally associated with the aforementioned season of the same name. Which is a long way of saying people are effing IRATE when spring hasn’t sprung on time.

But sometimes the baseball gods grant you a perfect day, bestowing upon you 70-degrees of sun-shiney awesomeness in which to bask. It was a day you’re lucky to get in June, forget April. And despite the usual difficulties involved with taking a 5-year-old to a sporting event in which he has to stay in the same seat for hours on end, it was one of the best days of my life. Here are a few highlights: Will_soxopener_hotdog

– On the green line heading to Kenmore Square, Will was enjoying the train ride. Then the conductor — sporting a ridiculous Boston accent of course– said “Next stop, Kenmore. Exit here for Fenway Pahk.” Will’s head snapped around with a huge smile on his face as he started jumping up and down yelling “Fenway Park! Fenway Park! Dada, the Red Sox. We’re here!!” Needless to say he was a train favorite among our fellow riders.

– There is nothing — and I mean NOTHING — like sharing a Fenway Frank with your son for the first time. We also had fries, orange soda, a pretzel, M&Ms, cotton candy, popcorn, and ice cream we ate out of a miniature batting helmet. Everyone knows calories and healthy eating don’t exist on opening day.

– We sat in a section of the bleachers right up against the right field roof deck. There are many fans who stand along the railings, so if we looked up and to the left they were hovering over us and within shouting distance. I was watching the game with Will on my lap so I didn’t notice him gesticulating and making faces. Finally he tapped me on the leg and pointed up to the roof deck. Turns out he had been communicating with a very attractive 20-something woman, and all of her friends had taken notice. Will then blew her a kiss and the roof deck went absolutely NUTS! That’s when she screamed down “Oh. My. God. You are so cute. When you turn 18, you call me!”

Of course, it wasn’t all fun. Will is, after all, only 5 years old. That means his attention span is still — well, it’s crap. I really wanted to make it to the 7th inning stretch so we could at least sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and fulfill my Field of Dreams fantasy. So you can imagine my disappointment when he turned to me in the top of the 2nd inning and tearfully told me he wanted to go home. Even after all the treats I got him he still wanted to leave in the 5th inning, so I reached deep into my parenting toolbox and came up with the best weapon I could find — bribery.

Will now has a new stuffed Red Sox Rally Monkey. I died a little inside buying a stupid gimmick that originated with lame west coast Angels fans, but it bought me two more innings and led to the best part of the day.

Will’s favorite player is Will Middlebrooks, the up and coming Red Sox third-baseman who wowed everyone the day before by hitting three home runs in one game. But Will likes him because they share the same name. The Red Sox were tied with the Orioles 0-0 in the 7th with runners on 2nd and 3rd. And who else strides to the plate but Will’s favorite player. His interest in the game was intermittent at best, but when I told him Will was up and the game was in his hands, he suddenly became laser focused. He started shouting “GO WILL! YAY WILL MIDDLEBROOKS!” at the top of his lungs. It drew some smiles and stares from the people around us, and I quickly explained his name is Will too. My son’s enthusiasm became contagious and suddenly everyone around us began to join in the chant. Suddenly half a section was chanting “WI-LL, WI-LL!” in the middle of Middlebrooks’ at-bat, to the point it wasn’t clear if they were shouting for Middlebrooks or my son. It was actually pretty damn cool and gave me chills.

Will_soxopener_train A hit right then and there would’ve absolutely brought the house down and been a fairytale ending, but the baseball gods can’t ALWAYS come through. Middlebrooks struck out, which devastated my son and sent him into a tearful fit.

Then, as I was trying to calm him, Daniel Nava blasted a 3-run homer over the Monster giving the Red Sox a lead they would not relinquish as they went on to beat Baltimore as well as giving us reason to smile, high-five and celebrate.

I get the people who say it’s a waste to bring kids this young to the game. They never make it to the end, the tickets are ridiculously expensive, and you can easily drop $100 for food, drinks and stuffed bribery monkeys. The kids never sit still, they whine about everything, and you barely get to watch any of the game. It’s all true, I can’t deny it. So why did I bother bringing Will?

Years from now when he’s proving his Red Sox pedigree to someone, he’ll talk about this day. He won’t even remember all of it, but he’ll remember something. Nava’s homer, the outfield grass, the Green Monster…he’ll recall the details with youthful and nostalgic rose-colored glasses. He’ll remember that his old man took him to opening day at Fenway Park, ¬†and in time he’ll come to recognize and appreciate what that means and the tradition behind it. He’ll know he didn’t just sit in the same park where Ted Williams painted a seat red with a 502-foot home run and Dave Roberts stole a base from history, but that he was in the same place where my dad took me countless times. And his grandfather took him. It’s a place and a team that ties generations together — even when the Red Sox rope forms a noose.

Will fell asleep on the train ride home. He was curled up against me and I had my arm around him while he rested his head on my shoulder. I just watched him fondly for three stops, smiling at his cuteness decked out in Sox gear and noticing how the sun brought out a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose.

I looked up and saw a grandfather with his grandson sitting diagonally across from us in roughly the same position. He nodded at me and smiled. I nodded back. Then he leaned in and said “Remem-bah this. This here is the good stuff brotha.”

I will always remember my first opening day with my son, because yesterday the game became far less important than the moment and the memories.

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My Son, the 5-Year-Old

will_5yrsFive years.

Tomorrow morning you’ll wake up like usual, creep around the corner, and whisper “Dada, can I come lay down with you?” You’ll climb over me — somehow finding a way to knee me in the balls no matter how I defend against it — and snuggle next to me. You’ll sleep with your knees pulled up to your chest and your feet perpetually kicking me. And I won’t move or complain, because I only have about five minutes before I need to get up for work — and these are the best five minutes of my day.

As fast as those five minutes go by, the last five years have rocketed past us at a special brand of warp speed familiar only to parents. In some ways it was only yesterday we were wondering whether you were a boy or a girl at the hospital, and in other ways it feels like you’ve been around forever and we can’t clearly recall our lives before you.

Today, on your 5th birthday, I need you to know a few things. Things I tell you all the time, but that need to be recorded for your teenage years when we’re at each other’s throats and I need a reminder of what a good kid you are.

Because you’re a great kid. Honestly, you’re spectacular. Sure you misbehave and get mouthy and disrespectful sometimes, but that’s part of being five. All in all, I marvel at how well-behaved, polite and thoughtful you are on a daily basis. It’s like someone magically took all the best parts of your mom (she has an abundance) and me (of which there are regrettably few), and injected them into you. Case in point:

– You are unfailingly polite. Everything is “please” and “thank you” without us having to constantly remind you. You also hold open doors for everyone and always let ladies go first.

– You’re a natural storyteller. You have my flair for the dramatic and ability to command a room and everyone’s attention. It’s no surprise since the day you were born consisted of a traffic jam, road closures, dead bodies, and the State Police. And to top it off, when you tell said tall tales you do so by gesturing wildly with your hands to make your point — exactly like your mother.

– Your empathy knows no bounds. When someone you love is sick you ask how you can help make them better. When Mom falls asleep on the couch you sneak over quietly and give her the lightest kiss on the forehead. When you saw a cat with no collar you begged us to take her home so we could care for her. Even when you play with your friends it’s not destructive and you seldom try to kill or blow things up. You’re a fixer and you want to make things better. I love that about you.

– You are a total people pleaser. When mom and I are disagreeing you NEVER take a side. And on the rare occasion we argue in front of you, you always intercede and try to get us to stop without ever assigning blame. Some would say you’re a born politician with how you walk the tightrope, but that’s not the case. You just want everyone to be happy and you’ll go to the ends of the Earth to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.

I could go on forever but the point is, you are an absolute joy Will. I love you so much for so many reasons. Did you know you are the main reason mom and I kept trying to have another baby? It’s true. I mean of course we wanted another baby, but you made the decision that much easier because of your personality. You’re loving, patient, kind, and always ready and willing to help. You have every quality a big brother should have and it would’ve been a travesty to deny you a role for which you are perfectly suited.

You’ll get lots of presents for your birthday and you deserve them all. But I’m just not sure there is anything I can give you that is greater than what you give to me on a daily basis. When you tell me you want to work with me when you grow up so we can always be together. When you catch me staring at you in amazement and give me a smirk before throwing your arms around my neck. When we sing Share the Darkness or the Rattlin’ Bog together at night before bed.

You’ve gone from an adorable baby to a cute toddler to a perfect little boy. It’s the greatest honor of my life to be your dad, kiddo. I’m not the best father in the world, but no one is prouder of a kid than I am of you. Happy birthday pal.

Love,
Dad

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IVF: Chasing Hope

“Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” — Shawshank Redemption

So you all know we started IVF a few months ago. Many of you have sent me very sweet (yet persistent) notes asking me how things have been going. Well, after a lot of soul-searching and a roller-coaster ride, MJ and I want to share what happened.

First of all, it only took a couple of weeks of shots, blood work and doctor’s appointments for MJ and I to agree on one thing — this would be our final attempt at having another baby no matter what. After all, we had been down this road five times already. That’s five positive pregnancy tests, five rounds of telling friends and family (and all of you) the good news, and five instances of getting our hopes up. I’ll never say that we “only” got Will out of it, because he’s the most unbelievable thing in our lives. But 4 out of 5 times ended in heartbreak. That’s just a lot of hurt to absorb, and it has taken a toll.

As I alluded to before, this IVF shit ain’t easy.

Poor MJ has been a trooper. She basically turned herself into a human pincushion to try to have this baby, taking subcutaneous and intramuscular shots in the butt and thighs for more than two months combined. Not to mention all the different meds that accompany the needlework. And for half that time she had to inject herself because I was so afraid of needles it took me that long to work up the courage to do it myself.

All of it led up to a 5-day stretch in mid November when the doctors extracted eggs. All you really need to know when it comes to eggs is the more the better. The more eggs that can be retrieved the better the chances of fertilizing them and successfully implanting them. Unfortunately, we ran into some trouble.

After the retrieval, we were sitting in the recovery room with two other women — all of us separated by curtains. The doctor spoke to both women before she got to us, and we could hear everything. The doctor told the first woman she had retrieved 14 eggs, which seemed to please the patient. A few minutes later the doc told the second woman she retrieved six eggs — and the woman started crying hysterically, apparently because that number was way too low. Therefore, I expected to have somewhere between 6 and 14 eggs.

But we had three. Just three. And when we went back in five days later, the news got even worse.

The doctors were able to fertilize two of the eggs, but in reality only one embryo was viable. They implanted the second, but basically gave us a snowball’s chance in hell of it taking. So after all those shots, all the pain, and all the time devoted to expanding our family, it amounted to a single chance of a successful pregnancy. Even the doctors called the whole thing “not exactly ideal.”

It made me want to strangle the woman crying over 6 eggs. But, we were pregnant. At least for the time being.

With our spirits low and nothing to do but wait a few weeks, we were pretty down. As negative and pessimistic as I am, I’m actually the glass-is-half-full person in my marriage. Scary, isn’t it? But even though I kept reassuring her that everything was OK, well — fortune hasn’t exactly favored us the last few years in this department. Still, I soldiered on believing the universe had to owe us one.

But apparently MJ and I were puppy killers in a past life because the universe was not done fucking with us.

I was at the gym about to hop on the treadmill when I looked at my phone and saw 4 missed calls from MJ in the last 3 minutes. And then the phone rang again. When I heard the pain and anguish in her screams my heart sank and my knees gave out. I couldn’t make out everything that was said, but I heard “spotting” and “clot” clear enough. I bolted out of the gym trying to calm her down, all the while watching Hope disappear over the horizon for the last time.

Walking into a doctor’s office for that final ultrasound and diagnosis is hell — especially for those of us unlucky enough to be repeat visitors. We’ve lost pregnancies at several different points in the first and second trimester, so we knew the drill and had pretty much resigned ourselves to our fate. We walked, teary-eyed, to the exam room and held hands. Nothing more could be said or done. I gave her a look that told her I love her more than life itself, and that everything would be OK. We have a beautiful, healthy son. And that’s a lot more than some other people have.

But I also told her I was proud of her. After you’ve been hurt that many times, it’s excruciatingly painful to even put yourself on the line again for more disappointment. All those times we had to tell our friends and family we lost another baby. All the empty cribs and baby clothes that had to be stuffed back in the drawer. Trying to be happy for all the other people you love in your life who have kids, when a part of you just wants to curl up and cry because you can’t have that kind of happiness one more time. And, for me, the pain and guilt of knowing it’s all my fault because my boys aren’t great swimmers.

The ultrasound tech went to work, we looked at each other one last time, and we cried…

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” — Shawshank Redemption

hope

Sometimes all it takes is one! ;-)

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The Perfect Family Photo

I have to admit, I was not looking forward to our family photo shoot last week. Why? I have several reasons.

First of all, well — just look at me! I’m not exactly photogenic thanks to a face that would make a train take a dirt road. That’s a fact that’s magnified tenfold when you put me next to my gorgeous wife and son. But what I dread even more than that is all the other crap that goes along with the family photo. What are we gonna wear? Where do we take the pictures? Do we all have to match? When can we do it? But the most important question — at least to me — was choosing the right photographer who is not only affordable, but who wouldn’t land us on one of the many websites solely devoted to awkward family photos.

And that’s when I got a timely email from an old college classmate.

In addition to being one of the very first readers of this blog, Meri Belanger is the owner of Sootie Studios where she is — wait for it — a professional photographer. I remember her being very talented in the arts at school, but I was nervous to take her up on her offer of doing a family photo shoot. Mainly because I was worried about not liking the pictures and then not being able to give her a good review. The dangers of working with friends and family.

Luckily, that turned out to be a non-issue.

As you can see by looking at these pictures, Meri is insanely talented. But there are some other things you need to consider that make these photos even more impressive:

  • It was hotter than 90 degrees that day
  • We were sweating like crazy
  • There was a 4-year-old involved
  • There was a crazy golden retriever involved

That’s no easy task to be outdoors in a public place (Borderland State Park in case you were wondering), with a kid and a dog in suffocating heat. But Meri not only took great shots, she did it quickly and efficiently. Probably because she’s also a mom of two kids so she gets it.

The other thing I really appreciated was Meri’s prep work. I really wanted to avoid the studio setting with a canvas background and stupid poses, but I wasn’t sure where we should go. So Meri suggested a few places and we settled on a great state-owned park in Easton, Mass. She did some advance scouting and had a bunch of specific spots picked out ahead of time. And she listened to my requests about not posing and just capturing us in our (mostly) natural state, and was able to get some really terrific candids.

You guys know I don’t do many reviews and I don’t recommend products or people I wouldn’t use myself. But I can promise you with absolute certainty that if you choose to go with Meri at Sootie Studios, you’ll be incredibly happy. And you’ll probably go back because she does newborn/maternity pictures, kids birthday parties, senior pictures, graduation pictures, weddings and any other event you can think of. That’s why it’s my

pleasure to recommend someone who is not only a professional and wonderful

photographer, but also a fellow parent and a friend.

So if you’re in southeastern Massachusetts and you want some fantastic pictures that don’t break the bank, done by a truly nice person who’s also a mom, check out Meri here or here and follow the contact information on her website to set up an appointment.

And on a personal note, I want to thank Meri for our awesome photos. Not only didn’t I end up on Awkward Family Photos, we now have a bunch of pictures that will grace our walls for years. We’re even going to give them to family members as gifts. I’ve never been happier to be wrong in my life!

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“Dad, I Know You’re Just Pretending”

I am Dad.

The purveyor of piggybacks, the high septon of shoulder rides and the sultan of all things sports-related. I am a giver of bear hugs and my stubble makes you playfully squirm away from my kisses. I am the fetcher of your morning milk, the go-to guy for backyard baseball and your secret high-five partner when we both see hot chicks on TV (and mom isn’t looking). I’m a lot of things, as a dad (and all parents) should be. But above all, I consider myself Protector of the Realm (can you tell I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones) and I consider it my sworn oath to guard you against any and all danger and/or harm.

But as we celebrated your 4th name day (OK, OK, that’s the last Game of Thrones reference, I promise) this week, it saddened me to know you don’t need my services like you used to.

After your presents were opened and your cake eaten, it was time for bed. As is our custom, I read two stories and then hugged you tight and gave you a kiss goodnight. But as I went to leave you stopped me. This is not at all uncommon since you stall like a madman to eek out every last second before you go to bed, but this time the conversation had long-lasting effects.

“Dada, I think there are monsters under my bed.”

I smiled to myself as we’ve been down this road more times than I can count. For a long time now, I’ve combated this particular problem by resorting to a little wizardry. I keep an invisible jar of “Monster Dust” up above his bed for just such an occasion. I open the jar, gather up some Monster Dust and then I tell him to close his eyes as I sprinkle it all over him and around his bed.

As the years progress, I’ve also had to stock up on “Rat Dust,” “Gmork Dust,” “Snake Dust” and “Shark Dust” to name a few. And after I administered each dose, Will would fall asleep almost immediately. Because Dada protected him and told him nothing could hurt him.

So I imagine how I felt when I went to get more Monster Dust and Will stopped me.

“You don’t have to do that Dada.”

“Why buddy? Don’t you want me to protect you from the monsters?”

“Monsters and Monster Dust are just pretend Dad.”

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve always been one to look to the future. I’m on record saying I can’t wait for Will to get older so we can do more things and activities. And I’ve openly mocked the overly clingy parents who dig their talons into their kids’ youth and refuse to let go without a fight.

But in that moment, I felt like a monster was ripping my guts out.

Which makes no sense when you think about it. I’ll always be a newspaper reporter at heart, and so I teach Will to get to the facts and analyze what’s in front of him. He clearly sees monsters are not real, and therefore Monster Dust is also imaginary. He’s using logic to solve problems and figure things out to get to the truth of the matter. The journalist in me is thrilled to see that.

But my inner journalist is dwarfed and outgunned by the Dada in me, and all I felt were pangs for the past. First of all because my little boy is now 4, and apparently old enough to see through tall tales. When the hell did that happen? And if Monster Dust is gone today, what’s going the way of the Dodo tomorrow??

But more than that, I was hurt because it means I now have one less dad responsibility. I was the Dispenser of Monster Dust. Dad — the hero Will needed to keep the evil monsters at bay. No one else could sprinkle Monster Dust. It was my job to protect him. But now he doesn’t need me for that. He still jumps at some shadows, but he’s got the self-confidence to deal with them without calling for Dad’s help.

The only problem is Dad wants back in the game, to chase those monsters to the end of the Earth if need be. Because Dad knows age brings independence, and the domino effect has already begun. In a heartbeat he’ll be a teenager who rolls his eyes at me and would rather chop off a limb than be seen with me. And suddenly it was me sitting up in bed, filled with fear and an impending sense of parental foreboding.

I am still Dad, just slightly less important. But I’ll always keep the Monster Dust handy.

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