“You really have built yourself a wonderful life.”
For a lot of folks, the end of a year is a bit of a refresher, closing out the bad of the previous 365 days while welcoming the good and the potential of the year ahead. But it can also be quite a time of reflection, looking back at the year that’s coming to an end and seeing how far our lives have come from the year before, the year before that, the decade before that, and so on.
Relatively recently, as a friend and I were catching up on life, and what was going on, including the birth of my daughter this past Fall, the incredible growth of my son, now 3, and what both my wife and I had been up this past year (from family outings and projects, to fixing up our little home, her increased freelance writing gigs, my baby steps into some publishing), my friend looked at me and said, very casually “you really have built a wonderful life for yourself.”
And he’s right.
It’s the kind of thing that I don’t take stock of as often as I really should. I’ve admitted in the past to what a list-maker I am – constantly setting multiple goals each day and mentally flogging myself for not accomplishing all of them. Always looking to what the next project or accomplishment can be. Whether it’s another attempt at trying to sell a script, a job pursuit, a house hunt. It’s always something. Some, next attainable goal, leaving little to no time to reflect on how much I really do already have.
When I met this friend roughly ten years ago, I was in my mid-20s. I was fresh off a delayed graduation from college, living at home, trying to cut it art-wise as a low-budget indie filmmaker, and working a quality control job at a factory with my eyes set on journalism.
Needless to say, my life’s changed quite a bit in those past ten years. I left the Quality Control Job at the factory, landing an entry-level reporter job at a weekly paper. That led to a full-fledged reporter job at the daily paper soon after, leading into a foot-in-the-door job doing digital media/web content for a local television news station. That in itself then led to various positions over the years, from assignment editor, assistant news director, a reporter, and a new anchor. It was a long journey over almost a decade, but the experiences along the way were, despite the struggles within, what was dreamed off as I sat doing quality control forms back in the day. And during my tenure in news, I re-sparked my love of the theatre by getting involved in community theatre productions, meeting the woman who’d become my wife, bought a house, got married, and had our first child.
I’d leave news for a job on the professional side of academia, keeping my feet in the creative pool through pieces for this blog, various websites, and the occasional TV appearance on Mass Appeal, one of my favorite stops in New England, to pal around with hosts Ashley and Seth and some mid-morning Dorky Daddy life tips.
I’d see the publication of my first comic book series, which, as a fan of comics most of my life, is still an incredible feeling, to hold one’s own work, tangibly, in their hands.
This year we welcomed our second child, our daughter, to the world, and nothing beats coming home to see her crack a smile and the open arms of my son, who can make you feel like you’ve been gone an eternity with the welcoming hug upon arrival.
In those 10+ years, I went from drowning in credit card debt to not owning a single credit card. Sure, the student loan debt is still there, but it’s paid on, steadily, and more than the minimum amount, every month, chipping away as best I can.
The day job isn’t always perfect. But then, very few jobs are, am I right? Neither was my career in news, no matter how much I miss the work at times.
Yes, there are bills. There will always be bills. Yes, the small house that was perfect for the two of us seems a bit cramped with us, two kids and three cats. But that too will eventually change over time.
You catch my drift, I think.
So much time can be spent focusing on what we feel has to be accomplished next, that we don’t step back and see just how far we’ve come.
And man, I feel I’ve come a damn long way.
Thanks for the reminder, Clarence. My friend’s name isn’t Clarence, but it seems appropriate in name-changing to protect the innocent.
Maybe with a new year beginning, I need to make it a point to still maintain goals, but not to allow them to make me lose sight of what wonderful things I already have in this life. Because it will (and already has) go by pretty quick. If you don’t realize, respect, and appreciate what you have while you have it, it’s going to go by even quicker.
I’m by no means the person handing out toothbrushes or bags of pennies that I sometimes encountered when I was a kid, but I do like to break things up a little bit from the sugary sweets that kids find at so many houses on that night of ghouls.
So, in what has become a bit of a tradition, I hand out comic books to kids coming to our door. Age appropriate, of course.
It began with piles of coverless comics that I would buy in bulk from my local comic book store. Often times they were from the 70s or 80s and had lost much value due to their lack of cover. So, the store was just looking to get them off their hands, selling them in piles for around $2-3.
I couldn’t resist. They ranged from talking animals (Disney Ducks, my favorite!) to long-underwear wearing Superman or Batman (the classic derring do-gooders of yesteryear. Not the dark avengers so commonplace today).
And with piles in hand, I would hand out books to kids as they made their way up our front steps.
Another year I was not so lucky to find such coverless treasures, so I would raid 50 cent bins, but that could get pricey. Sometimes I’d just go through piles of comics I didn’t want anymore that I knew would take more time and effort to sell than they were worth.
Then, last year, something quite fantastic happened. Comic book companies and distributors got together and following in the steps of the annual Free Comic Book Day (traditionally in May), began offering stacks of full-color mini-comics specifically to be handed out on Halloween in what they call Halloween ComicFest.
Fortunately for me, my local comic shop was participating and for $5 I was able to purchase a pack of 20 comic books to hand out to the ghosts and ghouls at our door. With different titles to choose from, I spent $20 and walked away with four packs. That’s four different comic titles totaling 80 books. We were well-stocked and fortunately for me, well-received when kids would come by.
Those kids who didn’t care for the comics had a choice of a small, plastic Halloween toy, like a spider-ring or vampire teeth, that my wife had the foresight to pick up.
So, I followed suit this year, with three packs of comics safe for all ages – Archie, Grimmiss Island, and the Boom Studios Halloween Haunt, featuring various short comic stories that are safe for kids but can entertain adults as well. And this year there’s 25 comics in a pack, so I got more bang for my buck!
I really recommend it.
And I won’t lie. When there’s a lull, I tend to sneak a few reads while I’m waiting for the kids.
When Meg and I started out, we had an artificial tree. It was nothing elaborate – just something simple and nice that she picked up on sale one Black Friday that worked fine for our little two-person Christmases.
Little by little, our household grew – one cat, two cats, three cats, and finally one tiny human, and that poor little tree didn’t last too long against the combined might of three felines and a baby. So, a few years ago, we started getting real trees for Christmas.
With it came the adventure and joy of having the little guy bundled up, walking with us among rows of trees, looking for just the right one for our little home. But that’s not to say it didn’t come without its own challenges, and this year certainly had plenty.
The plan was simple – while the little guy takes his nap, mom and dad will put up the tree. Easy, simple, no problem.
Easier said than done.
We got the tree inside and into the designated area with little difficulty, but getting it to stand up in the tree stand was a completely different story. In it would go, screws tightened, let go and…down it went in an instant.
Hmmm. Maybe the screws/fasteners just hit a bad spot.
Spin it around, try the screws in new spots and give it a whirl. Let go and…down it went again.
This went on for about 45 minutes as we each tried our best to figure out just how to get this tree to stop falling down on us, even though it was screwed into the stand. Meanwhile, the sounds from upstairs indicated the little guy had no intention of going to sleep that afternoon and was not in a happy mood.
Finally, in a last-ditch effort for any type of improvement, Meg suggested getting a small piece of wood from the garage. I keep odds and end pieces in there leftover from various projects around the house. Upon finding one small enough to fit inside the base, I brought it inside and she wedged it in the base, giving the tree just the support it needed to finally, thankfully, stand up straight.
With that, we were okay to bring the little guy downstairs (free of a falling-tree zone) and continue decorating with his occasional assistance. Upon our tree was a veritable memory book of our lives so far, from the Macy’s Elf Meg and I picked up on one of our several pre-parenthood trips to New York City, to the Scrooge McDuck as Ebeneezer Scrooge ornament that reminds me of my childhood love of the character, one that seems to have, inadvertently been picked up by our son.
Now, several weeks later, it’s all done.
This past weekend, it all got packed up. The tree out at the curb, ready to be re-purposed by our municipality, the gifts that sat under it now put away, as our the stockings and decorations that helped bring the season to life.
We didn’t get a white Christmas this year, it was too warm.
At times I thought it didn’t feel like the holiday season with the weather being the way it was, but as we tucked away all those decorations for another year, I realized that despite what was happening outside – inside our little home, stockings, vintage Santa postcards, and a beautiful Douglass Fir in front of a television playing classics we love (From White Christmas to the Bishop’s Wife, Mickey’s Christmas Carol to It’s a Wonderful Life), the season was in full swing in our home, and we had total control over that.
Yeah, me neither. Until I had a two-year old that it is.
The little guy has been quite a fan of “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” – an affection not just limited to this time of year. He’s requested to watch it pretty regularly since Summer, actually. It’s started a love of “Unca Scrooge” that has transitioned into flipping through many of my old comics (and any new ones we can find for him) featuring the World’s Richest Duck.
But it’s also made him familiar with characters that, through the Disney-Mickey interpretation, he might otherwise be completely unaware of – at least at two and a half years old, that is.
He talks about Tiny Tim, he talks about Scrooge, and he talks about the Ghost – most importantly, Marley’s ghost. He narrates the special for us, telling me “Marley ghost is comin.” or “Giant ghost in Scrooge’s room!” mere seconds before it happens on screen.
And not just limited to Dickens, it has made me appreciate how interpretations can resonate with audiences and individuals far more than the original source material. While he has to inclination to want to pick up a copy of Dickens’ classic – even if it were in board or Little Golden Book form, he knows this story, its themes (“Scrooge mean”…”Scrooge bein’ nice now,” as he says) because of this particular interpretation of the story.
Literary Purists might balk at this, but honestly, I find it wonderful that a toddler is understanding the characters, themes, and story in such a morality tale, thanks to it being told to him through characters he likes and understands.
With that said, that affection and familiarity seems to transition far out of the TV screen. This entire Christmas season he has been putting blankets on his head and walking around the house saying “me a ghost!”
The other night, he made me hide under the blanket with him. There I was, in darkness, with the face of my amazing little boy, also sitting under the blanket, staring right at me with a huge smile.
“Dada, we play game?”
“What game could we play under here, buddy?”
“We play Jacob Marley game.”
“How do we play the Jacob Marley Game?”
(i pretend to be frightened and his giggling ensures)
There’s that song lyric about the ‘scary ghost stories’ of Christmas’ long, long ago.
Well don’t call it a comeback. If you ask this kid, they never left. 🙂
And all I can think is ‘how the heck did it get here so quickly?!’
I’m not talking in that ‘I’m unprepared!” way when events sneak up on your despite their regularity every year. No, I mean, what the heck happened to the lead-up?
This revelation hit me when, of all things, I was putting some bottles of beer in the fridge.
Every winter, I get a pack of the Samuel Adams Winter/Holiday Pack. It comes with such staples as the Boston Lager, but some special winter-y mixes like White Christmas, Winter Lager and my favorite, Old Fezziwig Ale. It seems that even in years of recent memory, I would savor the dark days of winter (or quasi-winter, meaning when it’s not officially winter and just cold), leading up and thinking about the season – past, present and future – while savoring these favorite beers of mine.
And as I was loading them into the fridge last night I thought – ‘it’s almost Christmas Eve. In mere days, that’s it, the holiday is over.’
Then it struck me just how fast it’s been breezing by. While I was prepared for the holiday and any festivities that come with it, my shopping done early, our prep for family gatherings done, it dawned on me how I’ve yet to find that relaxed ‘ahhh. the holidays’ state of mind I’ve known in years past. And I can’t put my finger on why this may be.
Could it be the warmer, dreary and rainy weather this Christmas, making for a green, muddy holiday than the idealistic White Christmases of the past? Last year, it was expected to be green and on Christmas Eve, snowed by surprise – “A Christmas Miracle!”
Is it that the little guy is already 2 1/2, making the ticks of the clock and the tears of the calendar pages seem to move ever faster in general?
Or has all of life led to a hurry-up, checklist, get this done lifestyle that hasn’t lent itself to such relaxing and reflecting as before? Is that just the natural course of life and parenthood?
I have no concrete answer. But I do know that it’s yet another wake-up call to me to take heed of this fast-paced breeze through life and start living it before it passes us all by.
As the year comes to a close and another begins to start, I think it’s maybe appropriate that I’ve had this wake-up call when I have.
Every now and then I need that kind of kick in the pants to stop running around in that checklist-driven life and start just enjoying life for what it is. Otherwise it’s going to pass you by before you know it.