We took a recent family cruise to celebrate Irma's parents 50th Anniversary.
The trip with Alex & Max's grandparents made me think back to my grandparents and think about my kids' relationship with theirs.
I knew three of my four grandparents -- just as my boys do now. Unlike them, my grandparents mostly lived nearby.
Just like them, my dad's dad died when I was fairly young. I was about 10 when my Grandpa Gene died. Max and Alex didn't get to know their Grandpa Phil at all. He died when Max was not yet one and Alex wasn't yet born.
I have some memories of my Grandpa Gene. Perhaps better memories than my dad did of his father. To me, Grandpa Gene was a magician who always had a different girlfriend whenever I saw him. To my dad, my Grandpa Gene used magic and girlfriends to avoid being a father.
I had issues with my dad -- stuff I'm sure I'll tell my boys all about some day. However, mostly the memories are good
Of my grandparents, I was closest to my dad's mom Grandma Gert. I remember her sense of humor and her ability to adapt. She was divorced when couples didn't get divorced, inherited lots of money after raising three kids on little, saw most of her grandchildren marry outside the faith, live in sin and a whole bunch of other stuff. And although she didn't like a lot of it, she accepted it all because she loved us so.
"Bobby," she asked me one day when I was probably in my late 20s, "have you ever dated a Jewish girl?"
"Yes, grams," I have.
"Was it so bad?" she asked without a hint of sarcasm.
I remember going to her apartment on Lake Shore Drive. I remember the root beer floats, walks to Buckingham Fountain and Jew spaghetti. I remember learning to play poker, guessing which hand had more coins in it and seeing the Totem pole from the window. Later, I remember her complaining about the old neighbors, the aches and how she was living too long. There was the sense of humor and the practical jokes and the complaint of not being able to buy half a celery.
One time I was home from college and I went to visit her in her 90s. She complained about my dad's weight, wondered why cousins didn't marry the woman they lived with and told me that the two most important things were sex and money.
"I thought you told me it was love and money, grams?" I questioned.
"Ahh, love," she said.
Years after she died, Cousin John said at a family gathering "It's remarkable that not one occasion goes by that she's not the main topic of conversation."
That's my grams.
My mom's parents I knew but for whatever reason not as well. They seemed to be in-and-out-of illness and moved to Florida for several years while I was growing up. I remember going to their Old Orchard apartment pool, visiting them in Florida and going to The Club and hearing the stories of the Powelite factory -- something that probably should have made them rich but only resulted in disappointment. I remember hearing about their home with the movie theater and seeing my grandpa's love of singing, dancing and entertaining. I remember tasting Grandma Francis' way too sweet bad coffee. There was a true sponge cake for some party. I remember grandma telling me I drove too fast one time I drove them to some doctor appointment and her giving me a quarter for every fingernail I grew longer than hers.
The saddest memory I have is watching my Grandpa Herman waste away from Alzheimer's Disease. Each time I went back to Chicago I'd go by the home where he'd live. The first visits were full of confusion and talk about why he shouldn't be there.
The most powerful and strangest memory I have is a conversation I had with him sitting on a bench outside the home. We had just taken a walk around the property -- something I was told later was not allowed. I wish I had somehow been able to record that conversation or remembered the details or could shake the feeling I had when I left and went back to my car.
In probably a five minute conversation he took me backward and forward through his whole life starting with himself as an 80-year-old man and slowly regressing to when he was in his 20s and then back up again telling a story of each age as if it had just happened. He was an old man who forgets thing and then he was a young gun starting a business and building a house and then soon he was living one place and now here and he was confused.
The hardest thing I ever witnessed was watching my mom and aunt get my grandfather ready for my grandmother's funeral. They had to tell him every few minutes why he was putting on a suit and why he was leaving the home -- a place by then he felt secure in. He cried each time and then quickly forgot what was happening.
When I started this blog entry I had intentions of expressing sorrow that my kids' wouldn't have the relationship with their grandparents like I had with mine.
By the end here, I'm wondering if I wrote more about sadness than happiness.
Irma and I moved away from our homes and started a family together in a new place. Nashville has been darn good to us and I'm overall happy to be here.
Times like this, though, I realize that by moving here, I did give up some stuff -- for me and my children.
Dear Cruise Director,
Just wanted to write a quick note telling you how much stuff on this boat makes me laugh -- especially my boy Alex.
We put the X Boys in Camp Carnival for just a couple hours today to get a break. First, I can't believe some parents leave their kids in there all day long -- including dinner! Second, I can't believe some kids like being in there all day. I think that's just something your camp people say.
My boys? I asked them if they liked the camp. "No," Max replied. Why not? "Because everyone has to do the same thing."
It made me smile. My boys are already Montessori kids!
Later, Alex started getting mad because a few ladies looked at him and laughed.
"They're laughing at me," he said not understanding that they were smiling and laughing because they thought he was "so cute."
My next favorite story of the trip had nothing to do with my boys. A young girl told her mom she was tired of sitting for photos at the staged places on the boat. "Do we have to do another one?" the daughter complained. "We don't have to but we're going to because it's free." The mom insisted on photo op after photo op until they got the perfect one for their holiday card. "How many have you tried?" one of the photographer asked. "All of them," was the reply.
It all kind of reminded me of the food. "We don't have to eat it all but we're going to because it's free" seemed to be the motto of most of the people on the boat.
Actually, that didn't make me laugh. Kind of made me sick to see how much food everyone was eating -- especially the big dishes of ice cream for breakfast.
The funniest line of the trip went to my comedic Alex.
The boys were going back and forth about who should shower first. Finally I said I was going to get something and while I was gone they should figure out who goes first.
Max did his best to con his brother into taking the shower first.
"When he gets back we'll both say Alex goes first," mama told me Max said.
"Yeah," Alex responded. "And Max, you pretend to be Alex!"
You have this comedic and story-telling ability that's hard to explain. You constantly tell elaborate stories about stuff that makes no sense but is so intriguing we have to keep listening. You're so serious in your story telling and your eyes twinkle when you get to the end and we all know you're just being silly.
"It's true," you tell us. And we all laugh.
So today mama tells you and Max how I helped at Las Paletas when the two of us were dating.
"I was good at putting them in wrappers," I said. "I was good at tasting them too."
Max added "I'd be good at that too."
And then you (after a short pause) said "I think I'd be good at taking them out of wrappers."
You stole so much more than my computer when you broke into our new house that first week we lived there. I was smart enough to back up our family photos in the cloud. However, the videos didn't come back.
Bring back my computer. I want my little boys back!
Dear man at post office,
We met you today at the post office in the Frist Center when we went to get passports for our December cruise. My boys got a bit bored with all the waiting so they went out to the lobby and did their dancing, running and messing around.
You, a 60ish gentleman in a suit, seemed to enjoy watching them do their thing. You perhaps stayed longer than you needed to. You smiled as you watched my guys cause a bit of a ruckus.
"They remind me of two boys I used to know," you said.
And it hit me once again. My five- and three-year-old boys won't be this size forever. They'll grow into teenagers with stinky arm pits, college students with student loans and perhaps spouses with children of their own. And it really isn't all that far away. Just 13 years before Max is off to college and a couple more for Alex.
I adore these boys and love seeing them learn about the world. They can tire me out. Yet the mostly inspire me to be my best.
I hope I always remember these boys as they are right now.
And I hope seeing my boys helped you remember yours a little bit better.
Thanks for giving me a reminder to be truly with them 'cause they won't be who they are right now for very long.
At the risk of sounding like a cliche, I really liked your early funny movies. I'll someday show my boys those and those of Chaplin, Monty Python and others. I figure they'll appreciate the humor and probably develop a bit of their own.
And it's not just me talking here. Coach at swimming said to me about Alex: "You know he's funny? I mean he's comedian funny."
Yep he is. He's got the expressions and story telling ability of the best of 'em.
One of his favorite current expressions that makes us laugh is "I think so. But I don't think so." In context, Alex says it and cracks us up.
Alex said his favorite thing today was that "they didn't call me Max at swimming class today."
been confused with my older brother since childhood. When we grew to
be about the same size as adults, he's just as many times been confused
Perhaps even more annoying are the times I've
compared to him. Doesn't really matter if the comparison is flattering
or defeating, the comparison itself is annoying.
Of course, there was that time the girl went out with the wrong brother, but that's not a good story for this blog.
my sons, I warn you now that you two are going to be compared,
contrasted and confused with one another for the rest of your lives.
Alex, I know what it's like to be the younger brother and have stuff to
live up to or stuff you have to prove yourself to be different than.
And Max, I know what it's like to be the older brother where you have to
worry about what you do 'cause it'll affect your brother.
I hope you two get comfortable with yourselves to sort it all out.
1) Last week you were getting ready to go with me to a Titans game. You were very excited to be able to go wearing your football chones.
2) I heard this quote from actor/director John Turturro that I wanted to share.
"It's better to be tired because you're challenged then tired because you're bored."
Too frequently I've been bored because I was bored. I found few people who could successfully motivate me. I found ways to challenge myself. Most of those ways have been healthy. I've been able to stop myself from doing silly things just to challenge myself.
I hope you figure this out for yourself.
3) You complained this week that you don't like to go to the playground because the kids are rough. "They call me small," you said. "What do you do?" "I make funny faces at them."
4) Another quote. This one from singer Tom Waites.
"Sometimes I wonder if I am eccentric or just wearing a funny hat?"
You, Alex, wear some funny hats. You are wonderfully humorous, silly and sly. Yet you are under control.
Dear Ghost of School Past,
We had our first parent/guide conference for Alex at Abintra today and I thought about all the schools I went to. I remember being told things like I was a good student, I was a good athlete and I was a good kid.
I don't remember ever being told that I was a good learner, I was excited to learn and I helped others learn.
Every time Irma and I talk to the guides or attend a school function we get more excited about the education our boys are receiving.
The schools I went to were labeled "good." Perhaps their test scores were above average and perhaps a high percentage of the graduates did go on to college.
However, I'd label my education mediocre and boring. I don't remember a single teacher inspiring me to care enough to do the bare minimum to get my B average. A couple moments here and there, sure. But nothing sustained.
My boys are five and three. They love learning. They love exploring. (And as I was told today, Alex is very social).
Dear Adam Smith,
If I have my way, my kids are going to disappoint you.
We took them to Disney on Ice tonight. At the end of the night, we let them each buy one gift.
"Exactly," you say." That's what it's all about. Getting the kids to want things."
Well, I know they're my kids and I'm a bit blind to some stuffs. However, I'm proud that they've learned that we don't buy stuffs just to buy and it's unusual that we go to things like this let alone buy stuff. At Disney for a week last year: one watch each. At Disney on Ice: one binoculars and one Buzz Light Year.
The economy aint going to turn around based on my kids' spending. And that's a good thing. Perhaps painful to the American Way of Life. But good for the planet.
Dear Ted, You didn't make the move to the new house right away. Perhaps you stayed behind for awhile because you just weren't ready to leave Eat Nashville. Perhaps it was because your getting older and just weren't quite up for the move. Or perhaps this job of being a Bear to a boy's two sons has been a bit overwhelming and you just needed a break.
Today you came to our new house and you went right to work.
When we got there we found Alex upset about something.
"He Alex," I said. "Look who I've got." He ran over, smiled and said "Ted."
"Ted hasn't seen our new house. Can you give him a tour?"
Alex forgot about what ever he was upset about and took you for a tour.
About a minute-and-a-half and one room later, Alex pronounced "He likes it." He then put you down and went on to play something else.
Not sure what it is about stuffed animals in general and you, Ted, in particular. There is some sort of magic that my boys -- especially Alex -- and I believe in.
Dear X Boys,
Tonight you slept in separate beds. You've been sharing a queen-sized mattress that sat on the floor ever since I was too exhausted to lift Alex into his crib about two years ago. We moved into the new house a couple weeks ago and you two shared a blow up mattress while we waited for your beds to be built.
You both took quickly to having your own bed. I laid with Max while mama lay next to Alex. You both were fine.
Me? I'm glad you have a place of your own. Yet I miss peeking in at night and seeing the two of you lying together.
9/11 mattresses, sleeping apart
disney on ice - buying stuff
Ted - showing him the house "He said he likes it"
10/16 - parent mtg. abintra - alex social
10/22 dressing for titans game - got my football chones
10/22 better to be tired because your challenged then tired because you're bored. -- john tuturro
10/26 doesn't like being on big playground; rough;they call me small; make funny faces at them
10/27 scinece center buy something; but i don't have any money
10/30 Am I eccentric or just wearing a funny hat? tom waites
11/3 didn't call me max at swimming.
11/4 guy at post office "They remind me of two boys I used to know"
We choose to give hback to cmty because it's esier than being part of a community - Anderson Williams
11/9 He's funny. I mean, he's comedian funny.
11/10 - recovered videos "I got my little boys back"
Dear Mr. Pampers,
I hope that I'm soon done with you.
I set a goal ages ago to get Alex out of diapers by the time I turned 50 -- January 5.
To be fair, I figured this date was a bit optimistic. This would mean he'd be trAlained at least five month faster than is brother.
Then again, Alex decided on his own that he wanted to stop wearing diapers on the first day of school -- which was also his third birthday, August 23. Thus, we have a fighting chance. He still wears diapers at night. But he's done with day diapers.
Dear Crystal Ball,
Today Alex told me he wanted to be a soccer player and an astronaut. Of course it reminded me my childhood when I wanted to be a baseball player and an astronaut. Eventually I grew out of that stage and decided I was going to be a basketball player or the President. Then later it was Congressman or writer. And then somehow I moved to Nashville and eventually traded journalism in for the restaurant business. Now I'm about to turn 50 and find myself thinking of what could have been and what there is still time left to do.
I look at my boys and hear their dreams and wonder how long I'll be around to see their minds change, their interests form and the forks in the road lead them other places.
I don't want to see my life pass before my eyes.
I want a crystal ball to tell me what happens to my boys.
Dear Alex, Here's some Alex stories for your scrapbook:
I was worried for a few weeks that Lentil was gone. While in Chicago I went to Macy's to see if they had another dog like him so I try to do a substitution. They didn't have one. When we got home, I found Lentil in a box full of other things.
You had a sleepover and Aunt Silvia's. In the morning, she made you pancakes. She started to put maple syrup on them. You asked her "Is it healthy syrup?"
You told mama that you needed a new stuffed animal because "Lentil laughs at me."
Then a few days later you tied up Alex and Picole with a string so they "wouldn't run away."
You and your brother came to our house closing and insisted on signing the loan papers.
Dear Coach Taylor,
I know you're a fictional tv character, but where were you when I was playing high school football? Heck, where were you when I was playing any sport?
I'm still not over the disappointment of my high school athletic career thirty-plus years after graduating. I'll spare y'all the details and the whining. All I'll say here is that I wish I had a coach like Friday Night Lights Coach Taylor. I wish I had someone who believed in me, pushed me and got me to reach whatever was my highest potential.
I hope that my boys find some real role models along the way whether they be coaches, teachers, artists, poets or builders.
I have no idea what my boys will become interested in or talented at. I just hope they have someone who will encourage and mentor them along the way.
And I hope that I provide the support they'll need.
Dear Dr. Doolittle,
My two-and-a-half-year-old insists he's a baby elephant. What should I do?
We were reading a book about elephants in the wild and the takers who try to capture them. There was a baby elephant in the story who ends up the hero. Ever since, my Alex calls himself a baby elephant.
I'm all for imagination.
I love animals.
And I appreciate that he may feel like he's growing up and trying to find someway to stay a baby after a year of getting mad when his brother calls him a baby.