Sixteen Redux

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There you are, in the big chair, half curled and snuggled up against me. A tangled clump of hair covers part of your face.  You’re somewhere between wake and sleep listening to Goodnight Moon and my made up stories of butterflies and rainbow fish. You are warmth to my perpetual chill.

There you are, lying sideways asleep in the bed. Crumpled sheets draped over you rhythmically rise and fall with each breath. You are eight or nine years old? The stillness of this tableau a striking contrast to your boundless energy and movement during the day.  I stand, a sentry in front of your door making a silent promise to protect you always from the darkness. All the while fighting back my own fears. Fears of the randomness of the fates that even a father’s love sometimes cannot overcome.

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Focus

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I pull into the driveway, trying to leave that last of my work day behind. As I enter the house, I am greeted by the all too familiar semi-chaotic scene. Lola comes jumping into the hallway, happy to greet, while my kids stay somewhat immobile in their current positions. Madison often on the couch, computer on as well as the TV. A token book maybe by his side. A phone there as well with the screen still lit up from recent use. Maya will be in the kitchen, simultaneously eating while sprawled out on the floor, music from Spotify playing overhead, trying to do math homework in between answering the multitude of texts that keep streaming in. My frustration at the lack of focus in these two irritates me to no end as they have not remembered to put their morning’s breakfast away and the dishwasher from last night is still not emptied. I can’t look anymore, and just head upstairs to change…

Madison. I watch you pace along the pool deck with your new smooth shaved head. You settle in behind the starting block waiting your turn. The goggles move from forehead down to your eyes. Your gaze, straight ahead in front of you. Up the starting block you go. Waiting. For the whistle. “Swimmer’s take your mark”. Hands curl on the platform, legs spaced apart, while newly formed muscles from a season’s worth of practice tense…waiting… The Starter’s “gun” goes off, and you spring to life. How things have changed from the soft little racing starts you used to do. There is purpose behind this one. You slice through the water to remerge. Middle lane. Fast lane. Maybe a third of a body length behind those next to you. Butterfly. Arms synchronized out in front, pulling forward. You hit the wall, turn and power off. Purposeful. Focused. Intense. Now headed back. I can see you moving, driving forward. Your shoulders? When did you get such broad shoulders? You pull slightly ahead with each stroke now. Into the second turn and back out again. You look smooth. Coordinated. It’s the third length of the four that it really hits me. Focused. Driven. You own this. This race, your season. You put the work, the time, effort. Morning practices, dry-land sessions. Not for me. For you. Time slows. Just a little bit. This moment is so beautiful to me. Watching you…

Final length. Middle lane. You’re ahead and holding. I remember my arms, heavy, burning, wanting to stop. Finding what would push me, to push past the ache and burn. My team? My pride? You’re finishing strong, still smooth, closing in on the timing pad. Final strokes…you don’t stop. No coasting or easing up. You hammer your arms into the timing pad and the clock stops. The mixed joy and frustration of a personal best, yet short of your personal goal. I know how you feel. I know how I would feel. But I wish you knew how proud I am. The race is over but it still lingers. It’s still there in the pool and in my mind. I fight back the tears.

Maya. You’re in front of me. On the stage. Poised and still, awaiting the music to start. The song begins and so do you. Movements and poses I have seen hundreds of times around the house, are now being put together rhythmically to your music. Your eyes and face, staring ahead, with such intensity and focus. Every movement with a purpose. Some slow and rolling, others sharp and punctuated. The music builds and so does your pace. You’re flying across the stage, jumping, hanging there with air beneath your feet. Your breathing, controlled, by visible muscles under your outfit. My eyes are drawn to yours, but all I see is a burning intensity that is all your own. And as you do your aerial, time seems to slow a bit and everything else fades away except for you on the stage. This moment is so beautiful to me. Watching you do what you love to do.

The song is not over. Your timing is spot on. Arms and legs and body moving in perfect time to the rhythm and words. Your routine ends and it’s over. But your performance still lingers. On the stage and in my mind.  I wish you knew how proud I am. I fight back the tears.

The weekend is over.  Sunday night and homework  is still not done. Scattered actions and the unfocused thoughts of two teenagers dominate the house as the reality of a school day tomorrow makes its way to their brain. And as I try and deal with my own frustrations over this, I do find some solace in replaying their recent success in my head. Their intensity, their focus. They both have it. They have it in spades. It is just at times extremely selective when and where they choose to use it. But as my kids find their way in this world, I look forward to watching them use their focus and intensity in what they love to do. I can’t wait to see how beautiful that will be.

Sixteen

I remember sixteen years ago…

Your first night on this earth. Your first night in my life.  Swaddled up and cradled in my arms, I walked the quiet empty hospital hallways for what seemed like hours.  My thoughts racing, disorganized from exhaustion but fueled by my new parental responsibilities, about the future that lied in front of us!

I remember your room, barely ready, still with the smell of fresh paint from your fish mural.  The crib that stole days of my life to build, that you would sleep all of a few hours in.. (not in a night..but in your whole life), lay waiting in the corner.

I remember the unspoken fear shared by your mother and I, as we drove through snow and cold, to your first doctor’s visit at the cardiologist. And the tears of relief we shed together when we found out everything was going to be alright.

Sleepless nights pacing the hallway on Buckingham, trying to lull you back to sleep, messy  baths in the sink, blocks to be knocked down, backward crawling and tentative first steps forward.  The tantrums and meltdowns are a sleepless blur, but not the night both of us screamed and cried in the midnight darkness, desperate for you to sleep. Sensing my tears, you stopped your own and gently kissed my lips laying down next to me in the bed and finally resting your body next to mine.

Cubs games at Wrigley Field, catching home run balls in the bleachers. Playing little league, turning double plays. Playing catch and hitting grounders in the backyard. Falling asleep in the big chair as I told you bedtime stories over and over again.

Harry Potter is no longer on your bedside table having been exchanged for an iphone and laptop computer. You have traded in your baseball mitt for a water polo cap and pajamas for hoodies.  You no longer playing with Thomas the Tank Engine but ask for the keys to the Jeep Wrangler.  And along with these changes come the new challenge of trying to relate and connect to a teenage boy.

Although I often find myself  frustrated over your teenage thought process and decision making, leading at times to raised voices and harsh words, I recognize that I too infrequently tell you how proud I am of the young man you have become.  Of the adversity faced and battles won.   Watching you, at the concert the other night, taking in the sounds of a musician I started to admire when I was not too much older than you are now,  I realize we have far more in common than I often appreciate.  And although not a “perfect” child, you are the perfect son.

Happy 16th Birthday Madison.

Love, Dad.

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