Tag Archives: MJ

The Best Decision

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The secret to a successful marriage isn’t just choosing to marry the right person at the outset. It’s choosing to be with that person every single day that follows.

MJ and I chose each other for life 10 years ago to this very day, and life immediately began testing us in ways I could never have anticipated. From losing more pregnancies than we have children to declaring bankruptcy and losing our home four years ago, we’ve seen some shit. Not as rough as some people had it to be sure, but pretty awful at times.

At some point during the plunge to rock bottom, I began to think my life would be easier without MJ. That was a startling and terrifying realization, until I realized something important. I’m a complete idiot.

Of course life would easier without being married. Pledging to be with someone for the rest of eternity and occupying the same space (and therefore the same problems) is inherently complicated. And messy. So yes, technically speaking, life would be easier absent those complications.

But it damn sure wouldn’t be worth it.

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Nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and things obtained easily are seldom worthwhile. MJ and I are two difficult people who have wildly differing personalities and interests. We have to work every single day on being good partners to each other, because we are not naturally compatible. But we decided long ago to make it work, so we do.

I won’t sit here and tell you I didn’t know love until I met MJ. I had been in love several times before her and she loved other men too. The difference is, with MJ, I learned how to love better. She showed me love is more than just fiery passion (which I have in abundance) and grand gestures, it’s in the mundane. The everyday moments when no one is looking. I used to think that was boring, but I also used to have relationships that ended with fiery crash and burns.

I knew love in the past, but I never knew how to nurture it with the daily care that’s so vital to its growth. I never realized I had to choose to love on a daily basis and commit — I mean REALLY commit — to focus on it every day. To realize it’s worth it, and never let that notion leave my mind.

It’s not easy and there are always doubts, but it’s worth it. All of the bad times are worth it if you’re with the right person and willing to work at love.

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I’m with the right person. I knew that 10 years ago and I realize it even more now. I’m with a patient, kind, forgiving, and considerate person who gives of herself always. I’m with a woman whose loyalty is never in question, and who is strong in all the areas in which I’m weak. Someone who makes me want to be a better person all on my own without ever tossing down an ultimatum.

When it comes down to it, I’m with someone worth fighting for. Ten years ago, today, and always.

Thank you for the last 10 years, MJ. Thank you for sticking with me even when you had no reason to do so. Thank you for your patience, kindness, and support. We’ve been on top as homeowners in our mid-20s, knocked down and humiliated a few years later, and we’ve built ourselves back up again. But even with all that’s happened, I wouldn’t change anything. Not if it meant giving up even one iota of this life we’ve worked so hard to build together.

It is the honor of my life to be your husband, and I’ll never stop trying to prove I’m worthy to be your partner on this crazy journey.

Today, just as I did a decade ago, I choose to love you. Always.

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A Barroom Blessing

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“Life has been cloudy and grey
Take the bad memories and put them away
For the sun has come out , we have waited so long
All of the hard days are gone”

I’m not a religious man and I don’t pray. But after five miscarriages, even the most ardent atheist will get a little desperate and start to wonder if there are outside forces working against you. And more importantly, what you can do to turn the odds in your favor.

Eleven months ago, MJ and I found ourselves looking at a positive pregnancy test. It was our eighth in seven years. Unfortunately, as anyone who has been through multiple pregnancy losses can tell you, that Hallmark moment of blissful celebration disappears. It is replaced with anxiety and VERY reserved optimism.

We found out just before our ninth wedding anniversary, so I decided to change things up a bit. I booked a hotel room in Saratoga, NY, bought tickets to one of our favorite bands (Hair of the Dog), and asked a couple of our best friends if they wanted to come celebrate with us. And it was great. We went out to dinner, told them the good news, and enjoyed a night of uninterrupted sleep sans children before the concert on Saturday night.

Then, a few hours before the show, I had an idea.

I jumped online and snagged the email address for the band. I knew it was a longshot, but I fired off an email to Rick, the band’s lead singer, and told him about our situation. I requested my favorite song and the one I sang to my wife’s belly when we lost our Alexandra at 16 weeks, and I asked that the band dedicate it to MJ. To my wife, the strongest person I know and the only woman I’ve ever loved this much.

Amazingly, Rick and the band got my email in time and came through for us. They called us out by name, said they were moved by our story, and dedicated the song to us right then and there. It was pretty unbelievable.

“We’re all safe and warm here my friends
The hard days are gone they won’t come again
So raise up your voices and give us a song
All of the hard days are gone”

The belly of a dive bar might be the furthest thing from a church sanctuary at first blush, but perhaps it’s not so different than most people think.

MJ and I surrounded ourselves with good friends and positivity, and we felt that embrace through song. Not just any song, but a song that bridges our past turmoil and reluctant goodbyes with hope for the future. Our sacrament may have involved shots and we traded godliness for Guinness, but the booze-soaked confines of the Parting Glass pub gave us a barroom blessing neither of us will soon forget.

And here we are, 11 months later, with a healthy baby boy in Tommy. Is a song dedication from an Eastern NY Irish band in a wonderfully old pub the reason? Probably not. Just like it’s extraordinarily unlikely it was “God’s will” we avoided a sixth loss.

But in that respect, I gained an understanding of why people voluntarily give themselves up to the thought of a higher power or larger force.

It’s comforting in a way to believe someone can help you, rather than being the random recipient of horrible luck over and over again. It’s why I still have a lucky Patriots jersey and stand in the same place in my parents’ house during big games. It has no impact on the outcome, but it makes me feel better. And sometimes that’s enough.

“All of the hard days are gone
It’s all beer and whiskey and songs from now on
Laugh at the darkness and dance until dawn
All of the hard days are gone”

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When Dad Doesn’t Fit In

photo credit: Rest in Piece via photopin (license)
photo credit: Rest in Piece via photopin (license)

The irony is rich.

When I accepted a new job as a director of a PR agency in Boston a couple of months ago, I was worried about a lot of things. Could I do the work? Would I fit in with the people there? Will the learning curve be too steep? Will I be able to hack it in the city? As it turns out, those fears were unwarranted. I can do the work, I love the people, I’m contributing as I learn, and I’ve come to really enjoy the city. I’m out of the creative rut I was in at IBM, I’m back with a smaller company which is more my style, and I get to do something different just about every single day. It’s fantastic.

The problem I have isn’t at work, it’s at home.

I used to work from home three days a week, which meant I saw my kids all the time. I was still connected if not always available. I could do things like put my son on the bus and volunteer in his classroom every Friday. I was home for dinner almost every night. I was plugged in.

Now I commute into Boston five days a week. I’m out the door by 6:30 am and I don’t get home for another 12 hours. Sometimes the kids are awake when I leave, sometimes they aren’t, and I get home half an hour before Sam goes to bed. I miss every dinner. I have just enough time to scarf down some food, put Sam to bed, ask Will how his day was, put Will to bed, and gaze at Tommy as he drifts off to sleep.

Occasionally my wife and I even say hello to one another before falling into bed exhausted.

That means MJ is basically a single mom for 12 hours a day, Monday through Friday. She handles everything at home because I’m not there, and she does it well. I married a fiercely independent woman, and even before I started my job she was preparing herself for when I was gone. That means developing routines predicated on being a one-woman show, maximizing individual effectiveness, and strategically adapting to life as a solo, on-the-go mom.

I was prepared for all of that. What I wasn’t ready for was what happens when I am finally there.

MJ scrambles to get by with three kids in tow on a daily basis and she’s developed certain routines. But when I’m home, my strategies are a little different. We’ve always differed in our approaches to just about everything, but now that she has the bulk of the parenting responsibilities during the week, it’s all her way. Needless to say, the weekends are full of clashes.

She and the kids are used to one thing, I’m bringing something else to the table. Neither of us is right or wrong, it’s just a matter of familiarity. Being unfamiliar with their regimen, I feel like I’m gumming up the works. Mainly because my oldest has no qualms telling me “you’re doing it wrong, dad” when I’m upending their routines.

I feel a little bit like an outsider or a fish out of water. I watch my family operate — accustomed to life without me during the week — and I get a little sad. I feel like I don’t fit in, and worse than that, I feel like a hindrance. I’m unnecessary drag on their sailboat as I struggle to figure out what my crew is doing.

MJ would never say this and she denies it, but I’m confident I see it at times. I don’t blame her, she’s doing what she has to do to get by on a daily basis. But still, I feel so — removed.

I used to eyeball Will’s homework and work with him on his spelling every morning over breakfast. I used to be the go-to person for his teacher and I was a familiar face in the classroom thanks to volunteering. Working at home allowed me to see Sam grow up and become awesome on a near daily basis, as I was the first to hear new words and watch him meet milestones. I was still working at home so I couldn’t always play, but I could take five minutes and snuggle with him. And I could discuss things with my wife and give her a hand when necessary.

Now? I’m a ship passing my family in the night. Sam sings the alphabet and counts to 15, and I didn’t know right away. A girl has a crush on Will at school, and I found out days later because it had already been discussed. And Tommy seems to age 6 months every time I come home from work. I try to plug back in on weekends between emails and sponsored blog posts for my second job, but I never feel like I’m on the same page. Nothing feels like it fits anymore, and sometimes I wonder if all my kids will remember of me is the guy who left when it was dark and got home when it was darker.

Kids don’t care that the lights need to be kept on, rent needs to be paid, and down payments need to be saved for a house. Stay-at-home parents are amazing and keep the world turning, but working parents are forced to give up life’s most precious commodity — time. We worry every single day our contributions — while completely necessary — aren’t enough. We worry we’re more of a hindrance than a help, and an annoyance patiently endured until Monday morning when things get back to normal.

This tightrope we walk is so perilous, not because of the fall, but because success isn’t even guaranteed should we make it across.

It’s time to find my fit and focus on quality time versus quantity. Oh, and single parents — I have no freaking idea how you do it!

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What It’s Like Having Three Kids

Photo by Meri Belanger of Sootie Studios.
Photo by Laura Fiorillo of Family Tree Photography.

Imagine you’re wrestling an alligator with your bare hands while also trying to catch a monkey who is just out of reach and throwing feces at you. Then you’re asked to simultaneously tame a lion.

I’ve only been a father of three for six weeks, but this is the most apt comparison I can think of when describing what it’s like to raise a trio of children.

The jungle metaphor is overplayed, for sure, but it has persevered through the years for a reason — there’s truth at the heart of it. Granted, the “animals” involved are pretty damn terrific and the danger they pose is dwarfed by the cuteness they exude, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is hard.

Two was difficult. Three is HARD.

Two meant a divide and conquer mentality. Three means being outnumbered and out-manned at all times. Two meant we could still play man-to-man. Three means zone and the dreaded Prevent defense. And even though Tommy can’t talk, it seems he’s been able to telepathically communicate certain commandments to his older brothers, which have been mutually agreed upon.

  1. There shall be no time of day during which all three children sleep simultaneously
  2. No more than two brothers can be in a good mood at the same time
  3. One of the three must always complain of hunger or thirst at all times
  4. Someone must always be crying out for attention
  5. None shall allow either parent to defecate alone behind closed doors

But lest you think this is some sort of unbearable task or prison sentence, allow me to disabuse you of that notion posthaste.

This is awesome.

I love being a dad. Now multiply that love by three and you have my current level of elation. And gratitude, since I never forget this road we traveled was not easy and seldom smooth. So while MJ and I are exhausted zombies who wake up at all hours of the night, can barely keep our eyes open during the day, and have forgotten what it’s like to poop without a captive audience, we’re also two very lucky and happy people.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy, but it’s so easy to embark on journeys you know are worthwhile.

We didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl, but it didn’t matter. Now, at the young age of six weeks, Tommy makes us feel like he’s been here all along and both MJ and I can’t imagine life any other way. Three boys bring a certain amount of chaos to our lives, but what’s life without some commotion?

Screaming jags eventually cease and give way to the rhythmic rising and falling of tiny chests. What was just the bane of your existence mere minutes ago becomes the source of all your peace in an instant. Bedtime kisses between brothers, however fleeting the moment, live on for time eternal.

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It’s hard, yet so easy. And so worth it.

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One Good Thing

onegoodthingI believe the only metric for parental success is whether you raise human beings who are a credit to humanity.

To that end, my wife and I are trying very hard to raise three boys who are a benefit to the world instead of detriments. One way we’re doing that is to impart the importance of compassion, empathy, and kindness to our kids. And that’s not always an easy feat.

Will likes to help people, but he’s only 7 years old and doesn’t fully understand the impact of his words or the importance of tact. Such was the case during the first week of school when he mistakenly thought his idea of helping a girl in his class was to give her unsolicited fashion advice and critique her wardrobe. He thought he was helping, but we had to explain to him how hurtful words can be — even when that hurt is unintentional.

First we explained why it’s not proper to criticize the way anyone dresses because it hurts feelings, and then we had him apologize the following day. But we also saw an opportunity to take things a step further. In addition to apologizing to the girl, we also asked him to figure out something nice he could say to her and give her a compliment.

He was hesitant at first, but he did it. Will told her he really liked her glasses. And then he said “Mom, dad — she smiled. She was really happy and she said thank you. I liked making her smile because I never meant to hurt her feelings the first time.”

And just like that, “One Good Thing” was born.

We told him since he liked complimenting her, he should do it again — except this time to someone else. And he did. Every single day for the last three weeks, Will has gone into school and given someone an unsolicited compliment. He has complimented boys, girls, and teachers. He has positively commented on Minion jackets, cool jeans, how someone got an answer correct in class, and dinosaur shirts other kids have been wearing. He’s complimented friends as well as kids with whom he doesn’t usually talk.

When he gets off the bus, the first thing he does is tell us who the recipient of his “One Good Thing” was, and the specifics of the compliment. It’s become his routine, and a way to inject some positivity into the world.

I won’t lie and pretend he’s an angel who did this without resisting a bit. At one point he rolled his eyes and said “Why do I have to keep doing this all the time?” So we spent an hour or so talking about Karma, and the idea that the good you put out into the world will come back to you tenfold when you need help from others. He looked at me like I was crazy.

But guess what? He no longer thinks I’m a nut.

Will brought his beloved arrowhead to school earlier this month for show and tell, but accidentally dropped it while showing it to friends. It shattered into a million pieces. Will’s art teacher told him she’d do her best to fix it, but it was beyond repair.

However, she had other plans.

She knew Will got the arrowhead at Clark’s Trading Post on a trip this summer with his grandparents. So she graciously took the time to call up Clark’s in New Hampshire and buy another arrowhead for him on her own dime. However, she was talking to one of the owners of the store and upon hearing her story, he generously agreed to send her a new one at no cost.

Boom. Karma explained in a way my meager words ever could.

I’m not a raging hippie or a New Age guru. But I absolutely believe the good you put out into the world is palpable. And contagious. I know it sounds naive to believe the world would be a better place if everyone just did a little more good, but that’s OK. It might be naive, but I also think there’s some truth to it. So I’ll continue to practice small, random acts of kindness. And I’m going to teach all three of my boys to do the same.

One good thing isn’t a lot, but multiple ones add up quickly and this is an easy way my kids can be part of the solution instead of the problem.

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