October 24, 2010

My Daughter, The Victim of Religious Freedom

There are certain phrases, which when uttered, cause my level of respect for the person speaking them to instantly decrease. The amount of respect depends, of course, on the phrase itself. Some pull out a double-barreled shotgun, place it directly into the mouth of my respect for the person, utter some pithy, cliche phrase like "How about a bullet sandwich?" and pull the trigger, spraying respect-brains and bits of respect-skull all over the respect-living room wall. This category includes phrases such as:

"Jersey Shore is the greatest show ever!!"

"Stephanie Meyer is a literary genius." (Or some variation using 3rd grade vocabulary. "She write good books!" Stephen King agrees with me on this one.)

"**insert politician here** hates America and wants to destroy it!"

Other phrases do not do so much damage, but do make cringe internally and make a mental note to keep them in mind during future conversations. Some of these include:

"I hate speaking ill of others, but..." then proceed to speak ill of others.

"I can't wait to get out of here and get a beer!" (This one is only bad during certain situations, like school plays and job interviews.)

"God has a plan."

At this point, you may have come to a screeching halt and thought "WHAT?!?" so allow me to elaborate.

I think this is an idiotic concept. What? That wasn't enough elaboration? Fine!

The phrase "God has a plan" followed by "for me" is not as bad as when it is followed by "for you." This is something said when a tragic event occurs, such as a building collapsing on top of a cardboard box filled with puppies, especially puppies that you owned. While weeping among the wreckage, someone will come up to you, thinking they are being helpful and supportive and say "Don't be sad. God has a plan." They will then pat you on the back and walk away feeling amazing at the wonderful work they've done that day.

What I hear there is "God wanted to kill your puppies. He wanted their little lives crushed out under hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete, wood, glass and metal."

The people who use this phrase with the idea that it will bring comfort to people who are grieving. For some, it may work. For people who have devoted their lives (or a portion of their lives) to the church, or the mosque, or the temple, it is a reminder of where they have placed their faith. It is a comfort in time of need to be reminded that they are a part of something larger and more wonderful.

For others, however, it sounds more like "You are sad. You wouldn't be sad if you loved God more."

I know this isn't what they are saying and almost never what they imply, but this is how it sounds.

It's easier to smile and say "Thanks" than it is to get into a discussion about religious diversity.

God has a plan for my cuteness!

With this in mind, Sara and I had many long discussions before we had Harper about how to raise her in terms of religious traditions. Sara was raised Catholic, but doesn't really practice any more. I was raised Skeptical Jewish but now, I would have have to fill in the dot marked "None of the Above."

We wrote the wedding ceremony ourselves, selecting our favorite poems, songs and readings. We spent a few months in consultation with various priests, rabbis, shamans, witch doctors, etc., several of whom told us that unless we pick one tradition, our children would be hopelessly confused. One woman went so far as to tell us that unless one of us converted to the religion of the other, we shouldn't get married because some differences simply could not be overcome, no matter how much love exists.

We've decided that we're going to expose Harper (and future children) to our diverse backgrounds, taking special care not to imply that one is better than any other.

In my mind, spirituality exists to give comfort to people in time of need and help to explain things that we cannot understand. Religion is a collection of like-minded spiritual individuals who have found their comfort in similar concepts and rites.

To make an analogy, spirituality is the varied academic interests that people have in college while religion is there major.

We're not sure how this is going to work, but I have high hopes. I plan to teach Harper about the various religions of the world and teach her that no matter what she believes, she will always be our daughter and we will love her.

We will also teach her about religious tolerance, so that if she decides to be a Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Catholic, Free Presbyterian, Locked-Up Presbyterian, Sun Worshiper, Maya, Inca, Jew, Muslim, Goat-Sacrificer, etc., she will still recognize that other people may not be any of those and that she should not tell other people how to live their lives.

I am a Mohawk Indian.

I am a Sun War-Shipper!!

I have a few more thoughts on this, but I'm rambling and there is bacon on the stove. God may have a plan, but if it doesn't include bacon, why should I care about it?

October 13, 2010

My Daughter, The Girl With One Living Great-Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most important people in my life. We had breakfast together before school several times a week for a few years. He was kind, generous, loving and understanding. I know that my mother, aunt and uncle knew a different side of him as well as this one, but I never did. In my eyes, he was wonderful all the time.

In the summer of 2000, just after my high school graduation, he was taken to the hospital for what they thought was pneumonia. It turned out to be an inoperable brain tumor. He was not given much time and I actually considered delaying going off to college for a year so that I could spend more time with him. In the end, he talked me out of it and I went.

Over the course of the illness, he lost his ability to write, read and speak. He knew what he wanted to say, but his traitorous body simply would not form the words.

During Easter break of 2001, I surprised my family by coming home. I spent several hours with my grandfather, telling him how school was going and just sitting with him, enjoying his company. I returned to school that Sunday, only to receive a call from my dad on Thursday telling me that my grandfather had passed.

One of the jokes in our family, which is only half a joke, is that you can tell how important a person was by the size of their funeral. My grandfather's service was packed, with every seat full and people standing, lining the walls three rows deep. The motorcade to the cemetery contained 97 cars.

I miss him every day and I have tried to live my life in a way so that he could be proud of me.

I have often toyed with the idea of writing a biography of him but I fear that my skills as a writer could never do justice to the life he led.

A few months before, I had ended my longest relationship to date with very mixed feelings. On one hand, I knew that it was not healthy for me or the young woman involved. Neither of us were treating each other very well and we should have been over several months before. On the other hand, I had even greater sadness now because I knew that whomever I ended up with would never know my grandfather.

Sara and I had many talks about this. She also lost her grandfather a year into our relationship and I did not get to know him nearly as well as I would have liked. I wish, more than anything else, that Sara and Harper could have met him and known him the way that I did.

It is a Jewish tradition that you name a child after a departed loved one. You can't use the entire name, just the first initial. This is why we chose an H name for our first born, as previously discussed in the fourth post ever in this blog. I know that my grandfather would have loved Sara just as much as I do and I know that he would have loved Harper even more.

I used to have dreams about him. Several times over the course of our relationship, I have woken up in the middle of the night sobbing uncontrollably and Sara has had to console me. The dreams are usually not sad, but the aftermath, the waking up to know that he's still gone, is crushing. Even as I'm typing this, almost 10 years after his death, I'm having trouble keeping it together.

My dreams are usually about us having fun, going out somewhere, enjoying ourselves and being happy.

Last night was the first time where he died. Throughout the dream, I knew he was alive and ill, but I went about my life as normal. Near the end, as I was sitting down to a meal, I received a phone call telling me that he had died. The food turned to ash in my mouth. I wasn't devastated, but I was unhappy and woke up soon after, thankfully not sobbing hysterically.

The dream did not make me sad for myself, but it reinstated my sadness that my daughter would never know her great-grandfather who meant so much to me.

I may have written this post before and I apologize if it is redundant. Occasionally, I need to talk about it again.

October 12, 2010

My Daughter, The Neglected Child

If I treat Harper anything like the way I treat Sara, someone will have to call child services on me. This is not to say that I am abusive (although the daycare probably thinks so with all of the bruises she is always sporting.) In my defense, she received the gash under her eye at daycare, so they can't blame me for that one.

I am endlessly devoted to my wife and daughter and I never wish them anything but good will. My memory and common sense, however, are not so devoted.

Two years ago, Sara and I went to the Niagara-on-the-Lake region of Canada. We spent the weekend tasting wine and touring the countryside. It was the best vacation we had ever been on. (I know, I ended that sentence with a preposition.) For two months now, we have been planning to return. We book a reservation at the same bed-and-breakfast as before and were looking up the various wineries that we wanted to tour. We both took Friday and Monday off of work so that we could have a long relaxed weekend, what with the drive up being about 5 hours.

The plan: Harper would go to my in-laws Thursday night. Friday morning, we would get up, drive to the B&B, check in, gaze lovingly out over Lake Ontario, have a late lunch, and start our winery tours. This would continue through Sunday and we would wake up refreshed on Monday morning, collect our belongings and our various wine purchases and head home, picking up the baby along the way.

Doesn't this sound like a great plan?

The reality: I return from work on Thursday and hope to surprise my wife be having everything packed and ready to go when she gets home. As I am collecting my belongings, I discover something...upsetting. My passport expired a year ago.

After several minutes of screaming profanity to an empty house, I begin looking for solutions.

I pace (not a helpful or productive solution).

I called Canada.
**ring ring**
Canada: 'Allo?
Me: Hi. Do I need a passport to come enjoy your splendid country?

I called the passport office.
**ring ring**
Passport Office: Please listen to our automated message about pricing through which you are unable to skip.
Me: **Waiting...**
Passport Office: More information you don't want and can't figure out why anyone would want.
Me: **Waiting...**
Passport Office: What do you want?
Me: I need a passport by tomorrow.
Passport Office: No problem. That will be a $200 rush fee and will take 2-4 weeks.
Me: I need it by tomorrow.
Passport Office: No problem. That will be a $200 rush fee and you will have to make an appointment and show up in person and your local passport office.
Me: Which is where?
Passport Office: Philadelphia. Be there at 8:30 tomorrow morning.
Me: And then I'll be able to get my passport right then?
Passport Office: Maybe. Why are you asking me?

Solution: I felt like a neglectful husband for ruining this vacation for my amazing wife. I spent a few hours online looking up B&B's in the Erie area, which happens also to have an amazing wine area.

I found a nice place, we went and came back with WAY too many bottles of wine. We had an excellent time, in spite of my incredible incompetence.

The baby's reaction to all of this?

INDIFFERENCE AT OUR PLIGHT! Just happy to be a baby!

There are now people reading over my should as I type, silently judging my choice of words and use of time at school. More pictures when I get home.

October 5, 2010

My Daughter, The Chameleon

I'm constantly amazed at the depth of my daughter's character. It seems odd to be talking about it in those terms, but I can't think of another way. She is ever changing and yet still consistent.

She is a happy child. She loves to play and be affectionate. She explores and is only still when she's completely exhausted. She's active and runs circles around the boys at her day care.

She also has moments of quiet contemplation. As is true of my side of the family, these moments are few and short-lived, proving again that she could only be my daughter, but she does have them. When she gets in these moods, she doesn't seem to find much amusement in the antics of myself or my wife, but she does watch us with the interest of Jane Goodall observing the chimpanzees (good analogy for me, not so much for my wife). I half expect her to pull out a steno pad or micro-cassette recorder and start taking notes on the behaviors of the mature homo sapiens.

Physically, she's also changing dramatically. My parents who see her through Skype every week or so claim that she looks so different every time. I always smile and nod my head at their senility. I think they must be confusing her with someone else, like one of their other grandchildren.

Occasionally, however, I see their point. She looks like a different person from the one we brought home from the hospital almost eleven months ago.

She could be related to that first baby, her sister maybe, but not the same person.

I'm excited to watch how she continues to change.

I keep wondering what kind of person she will become, but I know that she won't be anything like I imagine.

I am just amazed by her.

October 1, 2010

My Daughter, The Anti-Depressant

I cannot even begin to express what a terrible day yesterday was. I can, however, give you a general summary of the incidents, in list form!

*Received a copy of a letter that a student sent to the superintendent about me. It put me in a nice light, but was a complete and total fabrication and possibly put me in a spot where I may be forced to tutor him FOREVER.

*Got into an altercation with a coworker. (Details are not needed)

*Students were particularly frustrating.

*Instead of tutoring in the after school math lab, I spent 20 minutes trying to enter the names, ID #, race, gender, grade, teacher, and class, of every student who attended.

*As I was leaving school, got a call that our babysitter was puking sick and I needed to get the baby ASAP. Sara, however, had the car seat.

This may not seem like a large number of things, but let me assure you, all I wanted to do was go home and sleep.

My daughter is saving my life. When I got her home, she wanted to be held. By me! It was great.

She and I played, really played, for about 2 hours. We ran around the house, I chased her, she chased me, we wrestled, we looked out the window, we danced, we hung upside-down, we spun in circles. I play games with her, but never for this long.

She wanted, more than anything else, to play with me.

At some point, Sara was making dinner and on the phone. Part of her conversation involved her blurting out, loudly, "Oh no!!"

Harper and I were on the couch, looking out of the window at this point. My daughter, the prodigy, without breaking stride or turning around, said "oh no!" in exactly the same intonation as her mother. My baby is growing up and learning new words! She can say "banana." We think she said "dinner."

People occasionally ask "If you could do one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?" I've never been able to think of anything I could do because I am fickle and get bored VERY easily.

I could happily play with my daughter for the rest of life and never feel like I was missing something.

I am now back at work and trying very hard to keep myself calm and not re-ignite the conversation with my coworker from yesterday (I will be avoiding that person for as long as possible). I am sustaining myself on thoughts that I will soon be home with my daughter, running around the house and playing games.

I hope that she'll still be in the mood to play today...

Ok, pictures!



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