The misadventures of a first time father

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"Quit hoggin' the covers."

                “Quit hoggin’ the covers.”

Of all our three cats, nobody is the bundle of love that is our Jasper. While our other two have their moments of wanting some love, Jasper has been ever-consistent since the day he arrived and first curled into Meg’s lap and went to sleep on our front porch.

Just as early upon his arrival, shortly after we would call it a night, the sound of little paws could be heard hurrying up the stairs and leaping onto our bed, making his way over the cloud of sheets into the middle of the bed. He waits for us to lift the sheet or comforter so that he can tunnel in, turn around so his head sticks out at the head of the bed, and then plops down on one side, usually with a paw on Meg, and quickly dozes off.

The other night, as Meg and Jasper slept, his purring next to me lulling me into a relaxed state of sleep myself, my mind began to wander. And it wandered to the realization that things won’t be like this forever. For a while if we’re lucky, yes, but not forever. Sadly, nothing is. It all began to hit me like an emotional avalanche at that point. Every night this amazing little kitty curls up like a child between us, giving us more unconditional love than probably any human is capable, and yet, how often do I stop to realize just how amazing that is? How often do I stop to appreciate it?

Let’s broaden the scope a bit beyond Jasper, because my realization was prompted by but in no means limited to his furry, lovable little self.

I’m often a victim of my own drive to do things, cornering myself into a routine and life made up of to-do lists, projects and whatever the next priority is. I don’t know what it stems from. Sometimes I think it’s because I have some (possibly irrational) obsession with creating, making things, doing things, leaving something behind (be it a website, a book, a blog, a comic, a film, or any other project I tend to be working on at the moment). Because of this, there is constantly a list of things to be scratched off my planner each day, or the dry erase board next to my desk.

But the side effect of this drive to constantly having many irons in the fire is that I literally live a life controlled by lists, motivated by crossing something off that list, completing a project and immediately looking to what the next project is.

And in the meantime, I’m never stopping to appreciate the life around me – the people, the places, the events, the emotions and yes, the cats like Jasper.

I often like to quote Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. “

And that seems to be exactly what’s happening. I’m 35 years old. It seems like I blinked and 18-34 were gone, already a lifetime ago. And yet, I’m still going at the same speed on a million different things as I have all those years past instead of stopping to realize and appreciate all the wonderful people around me – my wife, my son, my parents, my brother, our cats, our neighbors, our friends – and truly enjoy the time I have with these folks while it’s available. Because before I know it, the next 35 years will be by in a blink, and no amount of blog posts, comics written, films made, books published, will ever be able to make up for it.

This isn’t a blueprint for how I’m going to do it, because honestly, I’m not quite sure. But I’m hoping that, much like other issues, admitting to it and realizing that it’s a problem might be the place to start.


GhostWhen your child’s vocabulary and speech begins to grow, you, as a parent, are constantly bombarded with new words, phrases and sounds each and every day. At times, they can cause a few moments of strange looks on your face as you try to decipher just what it is they are trying to say. Other times it’s clear as day.

And there are some times when it is so clear and so bizarre that you’re sure you understood it, but question if you heard that right.

One night, for example, our little guy was casually playing in the living room, per usual, with nothing out of the ordinary, when he started telling us about “the little ghost” that he says “hides” from him. My wife and I immediately looked at each other and asked our son, “what did you say, buddy?” and he repeated it, the same as before, clear as day.

A separate afternoon found he and I in his room, playing with some toys, when he suddenly said to me, “Geno’s coming!” This, once again, caused a double-take and a request for repeating, which he gladly, and exuberantly obliged. Yep. He said it. You see, Geno was one of our two older neighbors who passed away this past year. When I asked questions to see if we were talking about the same Geno, yep, we were.

“Does Geno sometimes visit you, buddy?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Okay.”

I’m sure some people will think I’m looking too much into it, but as I’ve detailed here in the past when one of my parents’ dogs passed away, I suddenly started thinking about children and whether or not they can see things that we adults can’t. Trying to find reference on the internet leads me down a rabbit hole of websites both supporting and debunking the entire thought, so I won’t even bother sending you across the world wide webs for it.

As I’ve said before, I’m not really a religious person these days. Spiritual, probably, but not religious. And I think that’s why I’m always so torn when faced with encounters or incidents like this.

But I certainly think it’s possible.

As we get older, we often become more cynical and hardened to the world around us, losing the open-minded nature and open-eyes that we had as children. Through our young eyes, we saw the world in a much more spectacular, much more magical place than we do as grown-ups. And because of that, I think it’s certainly possible for young ones to somehow be more attuned to what’s out there that we just don’t see or feel.

It gives me some hope that maybe there is something else…something beyond all this. While I, many times, find it hard to believe that, there is a part of me that really wants to.

And whether I am right, wrong, or off-base at all in regard to this life and whatever, if anything, is after, I will say that our little guy is certainly opening my own eyes and mind to the thought that there is much more out there than my jaded, cynical, adult mind has shut out.

He’s quite the teacher.


I’ve been feeling pretty nostalgic as of late.

I’m not sure if it’s the changing colors of the Fall leaves here in the Northeast, which always make me think of the many returns ‘back to school’ for almost two decades, or sitting outside the cafe in college with my portable CD player and headphones providing ample musical accompaniment as I’d write. Maybe it’s helping my parents pack up and move out of the house we were a family in from the age of 13 onward. Or maybe it’s watching the only sitcom these days that I tune into each week, The Goldbergs, which washes over me like a wave of reminiscences to my youth in a ‘1980 something’ blur.

Either way, there’s been something about the past. Something about how life used to be. Something that, in the words of Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon on 30 Rock – ‘I want to go to there.’

Watching my son walking talking, counting, and just becoming a little person all his own, with his own ideas, decisions, and views, even at two, has made me think more and more about the world he is going to grow up into. Most of all, I think about just how different that world is from the one I look back so fondly on.

couple-on-phonesWe went to lunch as a family not too long ago and were talking when my wife nudged her head slightly to the table next to us. I glanced over, where I saw a young couple who had come in just before us. They were seated at the table, ready for a meal, like anyone else in a restaurant would be, but instead of talking to each other, both had their heads down, glued to the phones in their hands.

I sighed.

Yeah. I know. I’m already three steps into ‘Hey you kids! Get off my lawn!” territory, but I can’t help but feel a longing for a time that, despite the melodramas that (let’s face it) we created ourselves in our youth, was much simpler. Workplace tasks didn’t include making sure Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, yadda, yadda, yadda, were updated constantly.

A time when asking someone out on a date meant walking up to them and doing so in person or building up the nerve to pick up the phone and hope that a parent didn’t answer first. Now it’s a text, a Facebook message, a tweet. A ‘wanna hang out?’ There is something…lacking in it all.

Yes, yes. I realize that in many ways the Internet and Social Media have opened up the world to so many. Heck, would these thoughts running through my head have anywhere to go other than to my friends over a beer if it wasn’t for the power of the world wide webs?

nice-neighborhoodThere was once a time when the worst you had to worry about when doing something foolish was a friend taking a picture that they’d show your friends. Now, that picture can be seen by the world in a matter of seconds, with no way to take it back.

Bullies may have caused trouble at school or on the bus, but you could go home and take a break from it, regroup, feel you were safe. Today, computers, the internet and phones bring the bullying right there into the living room or bedroom of the child, giving them no break, no moment to gather thoughts – a constant bombardment of assault that would drive even the strongest adult to question their own sanity at times, I’m sure.

Sigh.

And this is the world my little boy is growing up in. How could I possibly be prepared for it?

I was blessed to have a family unit with caring parents and a great younger brother. I went to a high school that was so close-knit (don’t get me wrong. there were issues here and there. there always is with teens.) that when I wax nostalgic about it, my wife has often asked me if I went to school in a time warp or the 1950s.

I was very lucky and I want him to be too.

And yet, I can’t help but be fearful of the changing world we live in when I look back on the carefree days of riding my bike to the little league field, of walking to school or to the public pool, or being able to walk at night in my neighborhood to a friend’s house around the corner or just blocks away without worry for me or my parents.

They were wonderful times and I will treasure them always.

social_mediaWhen I was in college, I wrote a paper about what was then, the ‘height’ of social media in that pre-myspace, pre-friendster, pre-facebook days – AOL Instant Messenger. My theory was that through the use of technology like Instant Messenger, we as a civilization were becoming less human. We were losing our humanity in the way we communicate.

If I had only known what was coming down the pipe in terms of ‘social media’ back then.

But, here we are. All sharing this world – a world made ever smaller by our ability to connect with someone halfway across it in a matter of seconds. Many of us still finding our way.

What kind of people will we be?

Whatever we choose will automatically play a role in who our children choose to be.

I can’t control the world around me and I know that. And that world around me is going to continue to grow with things I’ll never understand and yet, gets smaller by the day as technology grows. How it’s used, how it’s reacted to, that’s all up to the people behind it.

That would be us. And our children. And their children.

I can’t put my son in a bubble or create a world for him without the risks, the fears, and the distractions that come with technology, the internet and social media that have made me look back so much on my own youth as ‘so much simpler.’

But I can make sure the phones are put away at dinner time, or family time, or storytime, or that we make sure we get outside, go for walks, or just enjoy the world that we’ve been given. I can get on the ground and play with toys with him instead of turning on the television.

I can teach him that while there is vast, powerful technology in this world that can either bring us together or rip us apart, it is no match for the imagination of oneself or the true community of family and friends that are found simply reaching out a real hand, not a twitter handle.

I can show him how much this world, this earth, the world around us and everything in it that we walk by each day should be cherished and appreciated, less it fade away and disappear and become nothing more than an image on one of those magic screens.


Paying BillsWhat a feeling.

If you’re just tuning in, some months ago I decided to apply what’s known as The Snowball Method of what remains of my large debts. It’s all steps toward as much of a debt-free life as I can muster, and to show my son that no, debt is not just ‘something you’ll always have,’ as so many of us, myself included for many years, were led to believe.

Some years ago, I decided enough was enough and started taking control by paying off roughly $13,000+ in credit card debt. But I was still saddled with four student loans from four different banks, and a car payment. For the purpose of this, I am referring only to debt accumulated through borrowing (including a car, but excluding out home), not monthly bills for services.

With that said and the credit cards paid off a few years back, I had taken aim at my four student loans. One student loan (Keybank) was paid off earlier this year. I then used the Snowball Method and applied everything that was being paid on that first student loan toward my second student loan, on top of my regular monthly payments.

To recap, this is where I was in May:

National Education – $1,500

Car Payment – $6,800

Sallie Mae – $12,200

Discover/Citibank Student Loan – $23,000

Well, last month I’m very glad to say that the National Education is now paid off too. This was accomplished by taking the roughly $300 ($150 each paycheck) and applying it on top of my monthly payment of $75 to National Education.

Four months later, my debt now looks like this:

Car Payment – $4,833

Sallie Mae – $11,878

Discover/CitiBank Student Loan – $21,379

Now, all that money (the $300 originally from Keybank then to National Ed, on top of the $75 from National Ed normally) will get applied on top of my usual monthly car payment of $325. That’s $700 a month, roughly toward my car payment. By my estimation, I should have my car paid off by late winter/early Spring, leaving me only with two student loans to worry about each month.

It may no look like a lot on paper (or screen, as it were), but the feeling to know there is one less in that stack every month is invigorating. Knowing that within a few months that can be down to two is rejuvenating.

Even if I get down to the two and only continue my regularly monthly payments, that frees up at least $700 a month for our family. Money that can be put aside and saved, or even put toward a new home someday as our family grows (not growing yet, just for the record. But we hope to someday).

And I’ll be very happy and proud to know that through saving, determination and hard work, I was able to earn it for us and to teach my son and any other children we may have that it IS possible to live within one’s means. That you can get by without credit cards, without a big television, or the latest technology, and still live full, enjoyable lives.  We can still be one big, happy family and we can also be debt-free (or close to it) at the same time.


© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationI swear I used to be much smarter than I am today.

When I was a little kid in elementary school, I had a hand-me-down set of encyclopedias. I couldn’t tell you what brand, but I remember they had orange covers, littered with four or five photos contained in squares on each cover, giving you a hint of what’s inside. I don’t quite recall if they came from my parents or my grandparents, but they were either something a relative was getting rid of, or a good garage or book sale find. I know they were probably a decade old at the time, but I didn’t care. In a pre-internet age, this was a total fountain of knowledge and I can’t tell you how much time I spent just leafing through and reading that set of encyclopedias, just because I wanted to know.

Yes, I spent tons of my elementary school age just sitting in our house and reading encyclopedias (when I wasn’t running around outside pretending to be Inspector Gadget, Batman or a Ninja Turtle). You’d think that would’ve had some kind of effect, right? What the heck happened?

By the time I reached junior high, I fell into a trap I’m sure many do at that age. Coming out of elementary school with a history of As and A+s must have thrilled my parents and myself in my younger years, but at that oh-so awkward stage of new environments, new people, and new life changes, I felt…uncomfortable with having good grades. So, I started purposely answering questions wrong on my tests. A little here and there, just to bring the grades down so I wouldn’t seem like so much of an outcast. Average seemed pretty good looking compared to being a target for ridicule, or worse, the bus bullies that already were a thorn in my side.

At some point, though, that method started to just take over. Suddenly, I didn’t study as much, I didn’t put forth as much effort. Just getting by was all right, and before I knew it, my grades started dropping down to B or C level and I became just that – a very average student.

It’s something I regret oh so much to this day because I wonder just what type of person I would have been and where my life may have gone had I not taken that cliched detour off of academic row.

When I see my son, just about to turn two, ravenous for more books to read together, to want to know about things, pulling letter magnets off the fridge and telling me what letters they are, I encourage every moment of it, hoping deep inside that he will not follow in the footsteps of his father who, despite my own parents’ encouragement, decided I’d rather be accepted than intelligent. When you see so much potential, the last thing you want is to see it squashed. I can’t imagine how devastated my parents must have been when I started coming home with grades so lackluster compared to my earlier years.

I felt slight redemption in college. Looking back, I remember numerous discussions on philosophical levels that today I can’t even imagine getting into. I think of the bombardment of creative ideas and new ways of thinking that still seem impressive to me when I come across old notes or work.

But it’s often followed by the feeling of dread as I wonder just what happened to that intelligent person. Sometimes I feel so focused on my daily to-do lists of what needs to be accomplished, that my mind rarely has the moments of breakthrough it once did. Currently working at a university, I often find myself with this fear that I’ll be ‘found out’ as just a dummy faking his way through, unable to hold my own amid the academic minds I’m surrounded by.

I don’t know what quite happened, but what I know is that these days I look back and feel as though I was so much smarter at ages 7-12 and 20-26 than any other time in my life so far. And I sit here, at age 34, feeling as though it’s a lost era of myself. I hear things that I don’t quite comprehend, concepts that seem beyond me, and I can’t figure out if back then, I just had more confidence in what I knew (or thought I knew), or if I really am getting dumber and less creative with age.

Have I allowed myself to become content among a world where knowledge is a Google search away? Has the time I used to spend looking things up and reading about things, or having those intelligent conversations now spent online with a multitude of social media sites? Has the world around me just gotten smarter while I’ve stayed stagnant? Theories, all of them, but hopefully you get the point that I think about this a lot. There’s been lots of reports and criticism that the smarter the computers, phones, and other technology becomes, the dumber we as humans turn. But if that’s the case, am I not alone in my feeling? What does it mean as my life continues, what does it mean for my son?

Also, that whole Louis Armstrong lyric – “…they’ll learn much more, than I’ll ever know.” It seems so much more somber now than ever before.

Post Scriptafter writing this, I saw someone online share the following link, which made me feel not only better, but like a genius. So, please, if you ever feel like I did about becoming dumber the older I get, check out these “Dumb People Across The Internet”


Gardening 01Meg and I recently decided to attack our gardening for the year, and that meant cleaning out the beds, weeding, laying down dirt and peet moss and of course, planting.

Seems like an easy checklist, but not exactly the easiest of tasks with the little guy at an age when he wants to be into EVERYTHING he possible can.

And you know what, can’t fault him for that. So much is still new to him and he’s learning about the world through getting into things.

But, for this monumental task, we tried to prep well. Meg went to the store to get everything like the soil, the plants, etc while I stayed with our little monkey. She got home and we traded off as I went outside and unloaded all those bags of soil and the accompanying plants.

Then, we waited for nap time.

When his head hit the pillow, it was like a pistol going off at the track. Our feet hit the ground running and with a dedicated speed like nothing else in our week, weeding out the garden and flower beds out back and in front of our house.

Gardening 03Cutting open bags of soil, laying it down, raking it together, and finally putting plants into the ground, per Meg’s careful planning of what needed more space, more light, etc.

We were pretty much all done with the beds and about to start on the potted plants, like herbs, when the little guy woke up. I brought him outside where he quickly took hold off some kid-versions of gardening tools he received in his Easter basket and buoyantly jumped into the fray to help. By help, of course, I mean engaging in all the fun that is sticking his tiny shovel into the garden and throwing around the soil and trying to dig up the plants Meg had just planted.

He was thoroughly enjoying himself, but it would’ve been disaster if I hadn’t intervened. So, I tried to explain to him why we couldn’t do that, but it led to a lot of “No!” and wanting to do it anyway. Meg found, while not a solution, a distraction, and that came in the form of a small watering can.

While she planted the herbs into the pots, he giggled incessantly as I’d use the hose to spray water into the can. Spray, giggle, spray, giggle. Rinse and repeat.

Gardening 02We didn’t make it through completely unscathed once he realized what the watering can was for – pouring water – be it on plants, on grass, or on mommy and daddy.

It made me realize how much we took time for granted before we had kids. Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t change anything in the world right now, but it’s funny how something like his nap time becomes a window of opportunity like never before, and just his waking up and entering the fray into our gardening activities, doubled the time it took to accomplish things. I admit not having put a lot of thought into that aspect of things before we had a kid.

Time is precious. Nap time, is sometimes like gold. 🙂


Whether they know it or not, everyone has a story to tell.

However, some folks never tell their stories because they think they have nothing to say – that their life is too boring.

It’s with that in mind, that I set out to create a photo essay that took something routine and mundane – just a random day in my life – and captured it in photos in an attempt to create a visually appealing story told in images from throughout that terribly ordinary day.

I found that what might be routine or boring to some on the surface turned out to be a day filled with beauty and engaging sights and images, had I just taken the steps back to look at them more often.

Here’s my story:

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