About a year ago, I felt like I was living in a constant state of stress. Whether it be work, family, adult and parent responsibilities, finances, aspirations left unreached, creative pursuits, or issues with the world at large, I was a ball of worry, nerves, pressure, and so much more, clawing at the walls for a way out of this invisible box I felt I was stuck in all the time.
Every little thing would bother me, from a comment someone at work made, or a creative project taking a little longer because ‘life things’ just got in the way. Negative, negative, negative, it felt like a cloud that was engulfing me at nearly every turn.
Then, somewhere along the way, either just before or just after the birth of our third child, our second daughter six months ago, something happened. A switch felt like it got flipped.
Why did it take me so long to flip that switch? Was it the birth of our third child that was the impetus for such a shift in focus? Why didn’t it happen with the first two?
I have no idea and can’t tell you. But I can tell you that around this time, I just started looking at things…differently.
Suddenly, the things that I used to find myself so bothered by no longer really mattered. I mean, sure, they were there, they weren’t ideal, they were still annoying. But they no longer gnawed at me, they no longer stayed with me. Sure, it could be that I’m just so exhausted from three kids that I don’t have the energy to worry about other things anymore or to get upset about things that used to bug me. Maybe there’s a quotient of truth there.
But, I think most of all, I just started thinking differently. Somehow, I inadvertently shifted my mindset and instead of getting bothered or down about the things that weren’t working out, weren’t great, that I couldn’t achieve or have, I started feeling incredibly grateful for everything I did have.
And it was world changing for me.
I was looking at the success of other people and I wasn’t feeling joy. Instead it was making me feel bad, as if their achievements were a reflection on what I hadn’t done or hadn’t accomplished. It’s not, but for whatever reason, that’s how I was looking at it. And that view led to toxic feelings, feelings of doubt, of depression, unnecessary comparisons instead of feeling happy that someone was experiencing something good.
It’s like somewhere along the way in our development, this need to have things, more things, or this thought process that when someone gets something we didn’t, that it’s our own faults, our failure. So instead of feeling happiness for someone else, we default to a comparison that we missed out on something, that we’re not ‘worthy’ of it and then start questioning why, then start getting angry, or sad. And that leaves us disillusioned.
Suddenly, after far too long of dealing with the clouds of depression, angst, anger, sadness, self doubt that came about when things went south somewhere in life, I found myself stopping for a moment or two to mentally face these thoughts, these feelings, and start asking myself – “what are you happy to have?”
My family, my friends, a job, a roof over my head, clothes on my back.
I started to look around me every morning. The frustration of the cats waking me at half hour intervals from 3 am onward turned into (most mornings. I’m human, I falter) an appreciation for the love these furry little guys show us each and every day from the moment we took them in and welcomed them to our family. Gratefulness that it was our growing cat population in our house that awoke some paternal instinct in me long before we welcomed home any of our human children.
Ah, our children. How quickly life has changed in the 8 years Meg and I have been married. Sometimes that change can make us feel like nothing gets accomplished because we’re constantly chasing after or tending to one of the kids. But to imagine our lives without any one of them, chaos included, is unfathomable. There will come a time when they’ll be older, when they’ll have their own lives, and we’ll be wishing for the chaos, the sleepless nights and those times when sure, nothing around the house felt like it got done, but man, weren’t those kids fun? The laughter, the joy, the wonder, and the sheer love that each one brings in their own way, from the way they look at you when they first see you in the morning, to that hug at the end of the night. There has been nothing in our lives like it and it has been nothing short of a blessing to be a parent and be there beside them as they grow. And right there with me amid that tornado trio of kids is a beautiful, wonderful, funny, incredibly intelligent wife who is a true partner in all of this craziness of life, through thick, thin, and everything in between.
Friendships. Many of us are all going through the same things in life. Or maybe we’re not, but being around your friends, hearing about their struggles, sharing in the joy of their triumphs, and vice versa is important. Being around them, just knowing you’re not alone, even if no one has all the answers, makes the speed bumps in life a little easier to hit, and the good times even better.
A home in a neighborhood with good people who talk to each other, who look out for each other. A backyard with wildlife, where I can see birds come to the feeder every morning, squirrels doing acrobatics for seeds, or sometimes even a deer wandering through the yard on their way to and from the nearby woods. Space for our children to run, to play, to be kids.
A job that, sure, may not always be ideal, but then very few are. It may not be what I set out to do/want to do with the rest of my life (and it may not end up being, but who knows?), but it’s allowed me many things – the opportunity to go back to school, new professional skills to learn, more time with my kids than other jobs have, allowed me to make my student loan payments on time, to pay our bills, and afford to live when so many other people struggle just to make those ends meet and often can not.
This appreciation and gratitude for all that I’ve realized I have has for the most part made me forget what I didn’t, or what I thought I didn’t and thought I needed.
Several studies link gratitude to lower levels of depression, less toxic emotions like resentment and envy and can actually create higher levels of self esteem.
Over time, I found myself more and more looking for the bright side of situations. When someone came to me with something that might have been a downer to me last year, instead of reveling in what made it bad news, I find myself trying to look for the opportunity, or the silver lining within.
And when I started looking at the positives of situations, of my own life, I just found myself generally happier overall. No one expects you (or me) to be a ray of sunshine 24/7. We’re only human. But I’m a much happier human now.
It didn’t happen right away, but in time with a little work and a little focus, I’ve found that practicing the art of appreciation as gratitude has changed not only my outlook, but my life.
Love the life you’re with, find the reasons to love your life, the pieces of it, even in times of turmoil that can remind you what parts you’d never change, the parts that other people would love to have, and it can make a big difference. At least it did for me.
“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.
At one point, the Brit talked about how the perception of what success is, is vastly different in America than in some other countries. I found it fascinating. He talked about how here, in America, we say that ‘everyone has the chance to win the race,’ but then said that by the very definition and nature of a race, not everyone CAN win.
There is the adage of wanting to have your cake and eat it too, an adage which our American culture seems to proliferate. ‘You can be a great parent and be a great CEO,’ ‘you can be a great author and be a great family man,’ but the radio hosts were saying that in most cases, that’s just not possible. By putting all of yourself into one thing, you automatically are not putting your all into something else, therefore, neglecting it, even if slightly.
Before the program ended, the question was raised as to just who was determining what success was, asking whose goals it is that we are working toward – ours or the ones that others have created for us? Are we working toward something because we truly want to, or because someone (whether it be individually or culturally) has told us that’s what we need to do.
It’s a bit like I said when I signed off of broadcasting – it’s not about how much money you make, what you do for a living, what religion you are, how many Facebook friends or fans you have. Those are determinations of success that have been created by others, yet pushed onto so many people via a ludicrous culture with misguided priorities.
All this got me thinking about how my own life’s priorities have changed over the years.
When I was 9 years old, I made no bones about telling everyone that I would one day be working as an animator, putting a love of drawing to work every day.
Years later, in college and for some time after, I would have said nothing was going to stop me from becoming a successful screenwriter and filmmaker. However, I made a conscious decision that I didn’t want to pack up my life and take that leap away from my loved ones.
Time went on. I turned my writing background to journalism. I wasn’t going to be Spielberg or Coppola, but Clark Kent? Sure, I could do that. I’d be the best damn journalist I could.
In time, I got married and we had our son. Eventually, I would leave the journalism world, but it didn’t make me any less of a writer.
I still write. I write this blog. I write the comic book Holidaze. I’m working on some possible small film projects. I’ve always got some other writing project going as well. Heck, I now get paid to be a writer for the institution I work for. Yes, I get to say I’m a paid writer now and that is one of the coolest things in the world to me.
I’m sure the 21 year old, overconfident me would have balked, saying it was a film career or bust. The me in my late 20s would have wondered where a plethora of novels were. The 9 year old me would have wondered why I wasn’t animating ducks for Disney.
However, that 9 year old me, 21 year old me, heck, even the 27 year old me, didn’t have a family, didn’t have a wife and a son, and family members he wanted them by as he grows up.
The younger me didn’t realize how having this little man in my life would change my goals in life as well.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying don’t reach for your goals. Please, for the love of all on this earth, go for it! Have dreams! Live them!
Just make sure they are YOUR dreams and YOUR goals that you’re working towards. And understand that, yes, those goals and those dreams may change. Sure, for some of you, they may be the same goals from when you were 4 to 24 to 34 to the rest of your life.
Or they may not.
They may change as you change. That doesn’t make you any less of a person, that doesn’t mean you ‘gave up,’ and that doesn’t make you a ‘loser.’ Believe me, I’ve gone through many of those feelings before coming to the realizations I have.
What I’m saying is, I can still write, I can still pursue projects, but they no longer are the end goal or the success that I look for. I do them because I enjoy them. Years ago, success may have been to make a living off of being a screenwriter, a comic book writer, an author or a filmmaker.
Today, success for me is about being around for that little guy when he needs me, when he wants a storyteller, a helping hand, or just someone to play around with or hug. Being a good father, being a present father, giving my all to that, and to him – that’s what a successful life for me will be.
I don’t think Meg or I have ever had moments as terrifying as the ones we experienced last week. I don’t know how more bluntly I could put it other than, we thought our little man had left us.
For me, it was Friday night and I had left work. Meg was picking up the little guy that day so that I could head roughly 40 minutes out of town to a convention where I was set to spend most of the weekend promoting my comic book series. I got about halfway to my destination when I got a phone call from my mom.
“Get to the ER now,” she said.
My son had a seizure when Meg was picking him up.
I turned the car around and raced to the ER as fast as I could, behind every slow vehicle you could imagine, turning seconds into agonizing hours. When I arrived, I raced through the ER, the sense of fear eating away at me in those moments being absolutely inexplicable.
I was crippled the moment I walked into the ER and saw Meg holding our little man in her arms, unresponsive, his eyes rolled back, IVs and breathing tubes hooked up to him. Things seemed utterly bleak.
I looked into Meg’s red, crying eyes and knew we both were thinking the same thing – we thought we had lost him.
Before I had arrived but while in the hospital, he had a second seizure. The first time, he had a fever, they determined, the second time he had not, thus causing some questions and confusion amid the doctors. All sorts of tests were performed – bloodwork, urine, spinal tap (for meningitis) and a cat-scan.
Fortunately, all came back clear.
Then, at some point in the night, after test and test, tears and tears, and every terrible thought running through my head, it happened. When he came to and started responding, looking at us and for the first time he smiled again, well, you could’ve cut off all my limbs and I would have still been smiling to the heavens. He was awake.
The doctor decided to admit him and Meg and I spent the night alongside our little man in the hospital. Late into the night, he started showing signs of eye contact again, causing us to finally breathe once more. When he was spunky enough to start pulling the oxygen tube out of his nose because it obviously annoyed him, we were hopeful that our little monkey was coming back to us.
Throughout the night, the hospital staff checked in, even as he slept, monitoring his temperature, making sure he was getting what he needed in the IV, etc. The next morning, he was up and after a little bit of breakfast, was playing and giggling again, even if his fever was still bouncing up and down a bit and providing some concern.
What the doctors think happened is that he caught a virus. The virus caused the fever to hit quickly and to suddenly spike that afternoon, causing the first seizure.
I made a trip home in the night and returned with some familiar friends for our guy – Gerald the Elephant, and Pigeon, hoping that having a familiar face might help him feel more comfortable. In the morning, Gerald and Pigeon made a new friend – Grover, who joined us from the hospital gift shop on my trip down there for something of comfort, and to find Meg a magazine to read. My parents showed up at one point, bringing with them a talking Daniel Tiger doll that once he was awake, the little guy played with again and again in the cage-like crib set up in the hospital room. It’s set up so that they can’t get out in the night, but looks as though they’re an animal in the zoo.
We’ve always called him our little Superboy, and when he started feeling like himself again, that super-strength was in full force. They had that IV strapped into his arm but good, with an almost cast-like casing on his arm to keep it in. That didn’t stop him, though. When he was uncomfortable, he just reached and ripped that thing clear out of his arm the next day, causing a few nurses and attendants to come running to stop the bleeding he caused. Him? He was just so darn proud of himself. Me? I had to laugh. Our guy was on the mend, that much was clear.
When the hospital pediatrician came around the following morning, he said that we could go home. However, as I’m sure anyone who’s been in a hospital knows, discharge never happens right away. So in the hours between when the doctor said we could go home and when it came time to actually go, the fever had gone back up again. This then led to a myriad of paranoid thoughts about what to do. The doctor had already signed off on the discharge, so while we were told we could stay if we want, the insurance company may not cover it because he signed off on the discharge earlier in the day. The hospital said to call the insurance company, which, wouldn’t you know, was not open on weekends and said to leave a message for them to get back to us on the next business day.
After a lot of back and forth, we decided we would just go home. We felt that if he was acting normal again, we could at least be there with him 24/7, be able to administer his medicine without the need of waiting for a nurse or attendant or doctor to come in amid other rounds they need to make. And he just might feel more comfortable back at home.
Environment may very well play a role in how our minds work when it comes to health, because it seemed as though he perked right up when he got around his familiar environment, his kitties, and his toys again. The fever was still there, but they prescribed medicine for that. Ah, there was the rub, though. A quick trip by me to get the medications led to me going to three pharmacies, all closed by 7:30 on a Saturday night. Hannaford, closed. Rite Aid, closed. Even Wal-Mart (despite my not liking Wal-Mart…I was desperate at that point), all closed. I was at my wits’ end. I called Walgreens. There was one 20-25 minutes away, but I’d make the drive. Closed. I told them we had just gotten out of the hospital and I needed this medicine for my child, asking if they could please recommend SOMEPLACE to get it.
Fortunately, there was a local pharmacy that was open, and open until 10 p.m. I put my foot to the pedal and drove 25 minutes to that pharmacy and got it filled, along with some other items needed – including A+D Cream for the poor little guy’s heiney. All that temperature taking left him very, very sore. I also bought an ear thermometer so we could hopefully give his little bum a rest.
Luckily for us, Meg’s sister came by and lent a hand while I was out on this hour and a half long journey for medicine.
In the end, it turned out I ran myself ragged for nothing. That prescription the hospital pediatrician gave us? Turned out if was for child’s ibuprofen to treat the fever. All that time, I could have just picked it up over the counter.
My mind was in an utter fog, so I’m not surprised that these little things alluded me in the midst of panic.
That night, we slept in the little guy’s room, alongside his crib. We broke out a sleeping bag and laid it out, threw a few blankets down and set the alarm so we would make sure to get up at the right times and give him his medicine for the fever and monitor his temperature (something made a lot easier in the middle of the night with that ear thermometer). We did this two nights in a row, and saw his pediatrician the following Monday, who said it all appeared to be viral.
After the first few days home from work to monitor the little guy, my wife has now caught the virus and is fighting it off herself. We’re pounding the vitamin C (orange juice as well as powdered C inside water), and some Elderberry (great for the immune system) on top of the usual soup and tea.
It’s hard to be a week out and not think back to the horrors of seven days ago. I could sit here and worry about a million and one things. Yes, I know that I’ve always been slightly paranoid and a worry-wart before this. I know that I’m going to be very much airing on the side of caution even more than normal because of this. And yes, my mind keeps bouncing back to the words of the doctor telling us that now that this has happened once, he’s at high-risk for it happening again until he’s about five years old.
But I’ll try very hard not to. I know we all will. His fever has since subsided, and with the exception of a croupy-like bark that we’re working on, similar to what he had last February, he is playing and laughing and smiling and just being our little guy again.
And it’s absolutely wonderful.
I don’t care what superstitions anyone has about Friday the 13th. It was the day he was born and as of last week, it was the day he came back to us. It’s the luckiest day in the world to us.
I admit that coming up with what to give my wife was difficult. When it comes to the holidays, I always feel like I’m that predictable guy who often ends up purchasing friends and family either books or movies (some of whom love it, some of whom, well, you can see it on their face). I’m trying hard not to be that guy anymore. I admit, a lot of it came out of wracking my brains to figure out what to get someone and then seeing some movie that I heard them mention they really liked or a book they wish they could read again. At first I think I’m doing something thoughtful by remembering these little nuggets of information, but as time passes I usually end up thinking ‘why did i buy that for them?’
So, I needed to make this one count. This was Meg’s very first Mother’s Day, after all.
All I can say is, Shutterfly to the rescue. I love this site. A few years ago, when we celebrated our first wedding anniversary, I had spend the months prior slowly compiling photos from our wedding into a wedding album. We had hired a photographer, but we didn’t order a formal wedding album, so this seemed like a great way to go about it – and it was completely worth it. Yes, it did take me months of staying late at work (so that Meg couldn’t see me working on it at home) to complete, but while we were driving to our vacation destination and I pulled that leather-bound album out to give to her, completely customized, every photo hand-picked, every page laid out to my specifications, it was wonderful.
That’s why, a few years later, with our son now in the picture (no pun intended), it seemed that maybe the way to cherish this first year a mom would be for me to lay it out in a book for her again. So, I spent a few days going through photos that we’ve taken of the little guy over the past several months (and believe me, there were plenty) and put together a great medium-sized book of his almost-first year, with a photo adorning the cover of Meg holding him in his arms the day he was born.
So yes, in a way, I still reverted back to my book gifting.
The present was set and wrapped (although next time I will try not to take AS MUCH of my time prepping the book, as my order total doubled to get it mailed in time for Mother’s Day), the cards were signed (one from me, one from the baby and some from the cats) so now all we needed was for the day itself to come off well.
Unfortunately, the little guy did not wake up on the most pleasant side of the bed that morning, so it was a crankypants start to the day. He’s a baby, though, so he gets a pass. However, to ease the rest of the day, I got up early, made some breakfast (nothing too fancy, just toast, eggs, hash browns), and brought it upstairs to our waiting mommy with The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” playing via YouTube on my phone, and a DVD of an old Shirley Temple movie (one of her favorites) ready to go in the DVD player for her.
Our little Mr. Crankypants didn’t seem to lighten up throughout the day, even when we went to visit each of our own mothers and tell them how much they mean to us. It was okay, though. What mattered the most was celebrating my wife, his mommy, and all the wonderful things she does for him, for me, for us, each and every day.