2010 – A Decade in Review

I actually intended to post this prior to the new year, but the holidays were hectic and I’m only now sitting down to my keyboard. As we moved through Advent and into the Christmas season this year, I was largely oblivious to the fact that January 1 would not only roll over a new year on our calendar, but a new decade. I usually go about setting at least cursory new year’s resolutions for myself (I’m still deciding what this year’s will be)…well, except for one year when Karen and I were entirely oblivious to the fact that it was even New Year’s Eve…but a new decade seems much more significant when you think about it. Then, I read another blogger’s post in which he recapped the decade, and began thinking about just how much has occurred in our life over the course of ten years. So, inspired to do the same, here’s a glimpse into what the decade of 2010 held for us. It’s no exaggeration to say that it was life-altering.

2010

Karen and I were “living the dream” in 2010. We were four years into our marriage, young professionals in a nice apartment in the city where we met in grad school. Karen had moved away from teaching middle and high school and was a professor, and I was writing while not in my day job in the non-profit world. We did theatre together. Not everything was perfect – not by any stretch. And certainly we were spread thin financially at times. But I look back on those days now, with the freedom and creativity that we had, and I miss them.

Me and Karen, living the dream

2011

Our oldest daughter joined us unexpectedly in 2011. We were in labor for 24 hours prior to a C-section delivery. Our friends were praying for us, Karen’s mother came and stayed with us for nearly a month. I remember how my world changed – I literally saw things differently when Karen told me that we were expecting – and how speechless and stupid I felt when my daughter’s cries first echoed from the delivery room walls. The night before we went to the hospital, I remember sitting in our living room with Karen and her mom and reading Salinger out loud because we chose one of our daughter’s middle names from his story, “For Esme, with Love and Squalor.”

It's a Girl! A balloon from our first baby shower.

2012

My focus shifted from writing (I still haven’t finished the novel with which I was so nearly finished when our first daughter was born) to the web. As I was pushed out of my first career as a result of legislative changes, I began to make my hobby into a living. With our daughter only just a year old, we moved to New England so that I could return to school in Boston. We had determined that there are two types of education: really cool education in things that matter, and education that earns a living. We both had a lot of the first, not as much of the second. The goal was to remedy that situation.

2013

One of the high points of our life in New England was a job that I had with a group that used theatre programming as a treatment modality for adolescents who were on the spectrum. I lead a team of other clinicians, and this became my ministry. I loved every second of that job…I couldn’t wait to go to work. I have missed it painfully ever since.

2014 – 2015

It was surprisingly more difficult to rebound in my new career in New England than we had anticipated. The company I was with wasn’t working out, and we needed some freedom. We packed our lives once more and moved into a house that we still owned in North Carolina. We would spend the next two years fixing up that house and getting it ready to sell while I was freelancing and Karen was teaching as an adjunct. Our daughter was just coming out of her love for Thomas the Train and moving into Wild Kratts (animals are still her fascination). These were great years for me professionally, but I lost so much focus spiritually. I longed to be as firm in my faith as I was when I was in seminary, but I was working such long weeks. My relationship with our daughter was strained during this critical time, as well. As successful as I was professionally in those years, I wish I could go back and reclaim some of that lost time.

Interest in Daddy's work

2016

Surprise! Our second daughter joined us unexpectedly (see a pattern here?). A highlight of this time was having both sets of parents with us, overlapping for a few days, to help with the baby, all together in our home. As stressful as it was (you’d think that we would have a grip on things having had one child already), having our family together was priceless. We had been praying to return to New England during this time also, and, shortly after our second daughter was born, I received a sudden offer from a company in Boston that was just what we were looking for. So, with our new daughter not quite a year old (seriously, do you see a pattern?), we packed and moved in a month, back to New England.

2017-2019

Along with getting used to winters here again, we also began to get some answers to our oldest daughter’s academic struggles. The diagnosis of Nonverbal Learning Disability answers so many things, but has been so difficult to absorb. We’ve entered the new decade attempting to navigate this, with all of the logistical, financial, and emotional difficulties that it brings. Before I set those New Year’s resolutions, my goal for the new decade is that our daughter is equipped with what she needs to have a successful and happy life, and that we are able to grow into being the parents that she deserves. I love that little girl so much, and previous resolutions seem so empty now….


On New Year’s eve, Karen and I watched a movie. She fell asleep on the sofa, and I poured a glass of wine and did something that I hadn’t done in many years…I watched the ball drop. I used to be into this tradition, and it seemed so flippant now. I feel my age, more weary than I should feel at times, and, to paraphrase a Wall Flowers song, I haven’t changed, but I know I’m not the same.

I hope that your new year…and your new decade…is blessed in whatever life sends your way. Who knows what adventures I’ll be able to write about in 2030? Time will tell…

Deconstructing a Summer Vacation

Photo of a door in between two small shops.
A small door between shops near my parents. Inspiring of a story, perhaps…?

It’s difficult to prevent yesterday from taking over today sometimes.

About a month ago, we took a two-week family vacation. We don’t really do much traveling of late, as the kids aren’t quite old enough for that to be viable again, so this was a treat, a break from the “stay-cations” that we’ve taken over the last three years. Granted, we didn’t go anywhere exotic. Rather, we headed south to see family, and then further south…back to the city in which Karen and I met and in which I lived when I first started this blog…to spend time with old friends whom we hadn’t seen in years.

I suppose that those sorts of trips are especially prone to getting caught up in yesterdays. We made it a point to visit several of our old haunts…we ate at one of our favorite restaurants, walked downtown near some art galleries that we used to frequent, even drove by our old apartment and made a quick supply stop by the grocery store in our old neighborhood. The past comes rushing back when you make those sorts of visits, there’s just no way to avoid that experience. With that rush comes the inevitable “what-if.” What if we hadn’t left? What if we moved back? After all, we still have so many friends there. We know the area. It would be so easy to settle back into that life.

Of course, there are a thousand reasons why that would be difficult at best, unworkable at worst. Even if it were realistic, though, what’s not obvious in the theatrical fog machine in which your memory clouds itself in these moments is the fact that, even were we to do so, we wouldn’t simply reclaim our old life. I remember fondly when Karen and I went to plays, had dinner with friends on weekends, had a life before we had children. As dearly as I love my little girls, I miss that freedom…any parent does. The rhythm of our lives would be different now, the hidden evolutions of the city would take us by surprise and disrupt us in ways we wouldn’t anticipate. These are the sorts of unexpected events that experience teaches. Even with that experience, though, it’s difficult to see past nostalgia’s sleight of hand and recognize reality. Decisions made are decisions made, and a part of one’s life that is lived has been lived.

We can’t move backward. We can only move forward.


Another part of our vacation centered around giving my parents time with the grandkids. They see them far less often now than I would prefer, and I joke that I risk ex-communication if we don’t resolve this somehow, so we spent several days there.

Because our married life has been what it has been, and because we’ve moved as much as we have, I still have things in storage with my parents. For the last few years, with each visit, we intentionally cull through some of these things, and either return with some or throw some out. Often these center around old collectibles that actually aren’t so collectible any more, and other times this event turns into a deeper, and more reflective, trip in the way back machine.

This year, we delved into some memories from my undergrad days. I, like many people of my age, didn’t stay on a single track of study in college. I began my career at my alma-mater as a theatre and communications double-major. I didn’t finish that way, though. I dropped the theatre major with only 6 credit hours left, and, to this day, I’m not sure why.

At the time, I would have claimed burnout, but that’s overly simplistic. Ultimately, I left theatre, but later came running back. The degree remains unfinished, though, a road not taken (I graduated with the communications degree, instead).

On our vacation cleanout this summer, we discovered the drafting tools that I used for scene design. Opening the case was like opening a time capsule: the drafting board, the T-square, the templates for lighting instruments and furniture items…even the compasses and measuring tools. Now, to date myself a bit, I haven’t done any scene design in a long time, but I doubt seriously that designers still break out an architect’s scale to do their work. These tools, though, captured that moment in my life, the moment that I had changed academic pursuits. I returned to theatre as a director and actor, not a designer, and so I hadn’t touched those tools since that semester, over twenty years ago. There have been very few moments in my life of genuine regret, choices that I would make differently had I the opportunity to do so. That academic change, however, is one of them.


While visiting my parents, I fell into an easy routine of the day-to-day. I was up early (I was never a morning person, but it sort of comes with parenthood), and got used to seeing a large truck leaving from across the street, carrying its driver to work every morning. The kids loved my mother’s garden (which goes on seemingly forever), and I was washed over by nostalgic recollections of parts of that back yard during my childhood, which served in my imagination as the interior of my TARDIS, and part of the grounds of the X-Mansion. I remember the unbroken white expanse of that lawn under a fresh snow. Randomly, I remembered a photo of myself in high school, right before graduation, sitting on the living room sofa and opening cards or some such. I was taken with a profound desire to re-live some of those moments.

We can’t move backward, though. We can only move forward.


As our vacation drew to a close, and we were beginning our trip back, we drove past a church in my parent’s town that had one of those garish digital signs out front. The sign read, “Don’t let yesterday take over today.” Were there a meaning to this vacation as I’ve unpacked it over the last few weeks, it’s that. I cannot go backward. That part of my life has been lived, and, I think, lived well. We can only move forward, and I hope…I pray…that, as we do, we provide that incredible foundation to our own children.

Syncopation

Image of snare drum with sticks. Used under creative commons.

A week ago from the time that I write this, I was driving home after dropping Karen and our girls off for a week-long trip to see some family. I was in the sort of contemplative mindset that I often find just out of reach lately. I drove past a house with a truck parked in the driveway. The logo on the side of the truck indicated that it belonged to a fire safety business. Because of where the truck was parked, and the time – it was a Sunday night – my mind, crafting stories as always, began to fill in the details.

The person who owned the truck worked for, or perhaps owned, that business, according to this story. This was a local business, and he would go to work the next morning, driving to jobs around the area, into adjacent towns. He likely knows the area extremely well, and is accustomed to the rhythm and schedule. This person would get up and go to work the next morning after the alarm went off at the same time as always, beginning a new day and a new week.

I grew up around that type of work. I understand – if only by close proximity instead of by doing – that rhythm. That rhythm is such a counterpoint to my life now.

A few weeks ago, I sat in a small local restaurant in Seattle and, over lunch, coordinated a complex technical event that was happening in Boston from my phone. That sort of flexibility and capability is exciting, and fun. I still don’t grasp the rhythm of this work, though, perhaps because there isn’t any. Time bends in on itself, loses its meaning. Everything happens with immediacy. I long for a rhythm, for some local work.

A colleague joked a few years ago that she wanted to stop doing our profession and be a barista for a living. I laughed at this, and I also recalled a friend from my undergrad days. He said that, when he finished school, he didn’t care if he worked at a gas station all night for a living. He just wanted to write. I remember laughing at that too, but, honestly, sometimes I wish that I could just serve coffee during the day, read, and finish that novel, the draft of which has been collecting dust since our first daughter was born. I think that, when I want that, I want it not only because it would be simpler, but because the rhythm would be more….defined.

The rhythm of the life that I have now, filled with fast-paced technology and the controlled chaos of two children, is syncopated, wildly unpredictable. There’s a sense that it’s always delicately balanced, just on the edge of being out of control. There’s no real option but to embrace that syncopation at the moment. Like in jazz, those rhythms can have a purpose, even be playful at times. I long for the quiet, though, the purpose of knowing that your work is just your work, and that it is done when it is done.

Perhaps that is a thing of the past.

Image attribution: Vladimir Morozov under Creative Commons.

On Shopping and the Value of the Mundane

An image of winter gloves, used under Creative Commons.I’ve been shopping for a new pair of gloves.  This is a deceptively difficult thing to get right. When you live in New England, you don’t own just one pair of gloves, because the mid-weight gloves that you wear in December are useless in January and February. Having the right gloves at the right time of year is very important.

After Karen and I had been married for a couple of years, I joked that I was a master of the suburban jungle. We fell into a rhythm of grocery shopping every Sunday afternoon. This sounds mundane, but was something that I enjoyed. Our rhythm is no longer the same with two children, and this is true not only of grocery shopping, but of many other aspects of life.

Even within these interruptions, however, one adapts. We used to have these little outings as a family. Again, nothing huge, and often mundane….trips to a local store to pick up some items that we needed, then eating out. I love those excursions, even when they are something as trivial as shopping, perhaps for the right pair of gloves.


When our oldest daughter was younger, I took her for “cookies and milk” every weekend. This was an inviolable routine. Even when traveling, we made time. Even if it was as simple as grabbing 15 minutes at a coffee shop (which it frequently was), I made the time. As life progressed, this, too, began to happen less and less frequently, a fact that she has lamented to me recently. Now I find myself digging for ways to accomplish this simple act amidst all of the work that I have to accomplish, all of the daily life commitments that come with family…almost none of which, it occurs to me, involve leaving home.

This was a utopia long-predicted and, now that we have it…for all of its telecommuting benefits…I can’t help but wonder what we’ve relinquished. Years ago, when I was in grad school, I recall sitting upstairs in my favorite coffee shop, when a classmate walked in downstairs. I began to IM him (remember AOL?), and realized the absurdity of such an action. I walked downstairs and said hello. That was a precursor to today, as the absurdity of that moment becomes commonplace when we use Slack to talk to a co-worker who is only a few feet away.

Of all the face-to-face interactions that we abdicate, it is the interactions with my children and family that are most painful. As crazy as it sounds, those random weekend shopping excursions held something that just doesn’t spark when we have those same items delivered by Amazon. The convenience of having such a plethora of options for a new pair of gloves is somehow not worthwhile, because the substance of doing the activity together, even when it’s only shopping, is more important than the outcome of the activity.

That idea, though, is counter-cultural in an age of scientific pragmatism. We are, after all, only data, right? And thus intrudes a cognitive dissonance into my life. I love shiny new toys. I love that I can have groceries delivered to us on Sundays if we are overwhelmed with daily family responsibilities. I miss the act of intentionally doing those mundane things together, though. I miss it deeply, because it now happens so rarely. And thus, so do our connections with each other.

Except virtual connections. Those will never go away.

For whatever they’re worth.

Image attribution: Keith Williamson under Creative Commons.