Month: July 2013

Caution: Lifeguard on Duty Will Break Your Heart.

It is the summer of 1977. Our nation has finally recovered from all of the hullabaloo surrounding The Bicentennial. Disco Fever will soon take to the dance floor as everyone tries to imitate John Travolta‘s finger pointing. And WiFi 92 FM still can’t get enough of Paul McCartney and The Wings singing about “Silly Love Songs“: You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs…But I look around me and I see it isn’t so…

 I find this song rather fitting because, you see, I am in love. Yes, I am eight years old, and I have fallen in love. Her name is Lynn. She is sweet, pretty and kind. Her brown, shoulder-length curls are sun-kissed with streaks of blonde; her long limbs are the color of caramel; her smile, electric. Lynn is probably around twenty, but age does not matter. I love her, and that’s all there is to it.

swim-19918_640I met Lynn at our swim club, Sunny Willow. She is a lifeguard there. I watch her sit atop the chair, ready to risk her life to save another’s. Occasionally, I get up the nerve to smile at her when I walk by her as she switches from guarding the shallow end to the deep end. I may even say “Hi” to her when I am coming back from the snack bar with two fistfuls of Swedish Fish–a penny each, and I buy a dollars worth. Her smile back gives me hope–she looks like the kind of woman who would wait–if the right man boy comes along.

********************

“Michael, you have to take swim lessons this summer.” My mother announces this as we are driving to the pool in our purple station wagon.

“No way! I can swim.”

“Well, you need to get better.  I’m signing you up,” she insists.

I feel a nervous pang in the pit of my stomach. I still associate swim lessons with my horrible incident at the local high school–the one where I went to the bathroom in the pool. (Read about that here). I’ve all but put it out of my memory. I try to relax. After all, I am older and wiser–and in love. Then, I have an epiphany: maybe I will have Lynn as my instructor!

“Okay, sign me up!”

***************************

The list is posted on the bulletin board by the showers. The gods look upon me favorably–Poseidon…Neptune…they’ve felt the pangs of love that I now feel. They know what it’s like to be under a siren’s spell. I see my name on the list, and above it my instructor’s: L-Y-N-N.

For two weeks, I float on air. I jump from my trundle bed and eat my Alpha-Bits with my bathing suit on, anxiously awaiting to be driven to the pool. I spend every weekday morning with Lynn. For forty-five minutes she and I (okay, and about 6 other kids) swim together in the cool morning breeze.

Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs.
And what’s wrong with that?
I’d like to know, ’cause here I go again

I hum the tune and repeat the lyrics in my mind, as I wait at the water’s edge for Lynn to take my arms and bring me out to examine my technique. I lay on my back in the water and feel Lynn’s hands supporting my head. “Kick,” she commands. And I obey. I kick with all my might. I look up at the blue sky, and feel as if I am already in heaven. I wish this moment could last forever. “Good job,” she says, releasing my head, and I swim back to the others, beaming with pride.

I love you, I love you,
I love you, I love you…and I do. I’m not sure what it all means, but I feel the fire in my stomach; I feel my heart beat faster when she is near. And as a result, I want so badly to impress her. To awe her. Maybe it’s foolish to think she can love a scrawny eight year-old, but perhaps she will fall in love with my form. So I swim with all the bravado that my chicken legs can muster, I splash my tiny arms with the might of ten Olympians. Lynn praises me–well, all of us. She smiles, and nods, and says how well we are all doing. And after lessons, I get to hang around the pool all day. I practice the movements as she explained them, and I do so in earnest, hoping she will notice me as she tends to her other life-gaurding duties.

I can’t explain the feeling’s plain to me, say can’t you see?
Ah, she gave me more, she gave it all to me
Now can’t you see,

The weeks go by too quickly, and before I know it, our last lesson has arrived. It is bittersweet. My time with Lynn will be less, but I feel I have greatly improved as a swimmer, and no one can take away this bond we have formed. As I enter the gate for our final class, I run immediately into her: my instructor, my muse.

“Hi, Michael!”

“Hi,” I say, sheepishly.

“I’m glad to see you. I wanted to talk to you about something before our last lesson.”

“Sure,” I say. An award, I think. I’m getting an award!  I have impressed Lynn so much that she wants to reward my efforts. This is the beginning of our future together. We will open a swimming school and spend our summers training kids–underprivileged kids– to be as skilled as we are.

“Why don’t we sit over here?” she asks.

We approach a picnic table and sit across from one another. Her eyes look especially green against the painted tabletop. Her white teeth dazzle me. An award! In my mind, I try to think of the title for my award: Most Improved…no…Fastest Swimmer…no… Most Likely to make the Olympics…I have a dazed smile on my face, but Lynn’s face does not mirror mine. She is not smiling. In fact, she seems to be frowning. I begin to tune in to her words: “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to repeat the lessons. I cannot pass you this time. You’re just not ready.” I say nothing, just nod slowly. “Okay?” she says, tilting her head. “Um-hmm,” I lie. I am not okay. A minute ago I was captain of the swim team, standing on my diving block waiting to take the gold. Now, I am a dejected loser.

Lynn and I get up from the table and make our way to the pool. She puts her arm on my shoulder, but inside I recoil. It’s too late. I cannot bear her touch now. I am nothing but a disappointment to her. I spend our final class togetherswimming-97509_640 sulking. My movements are sluggish, slow. Every splash of water laughs at me mockingly. My heart is too heavy to swim, to float. The woman I love does not love me back–cannot love me back. She cannot even find it in her heart to pass me in swim class.

Love doesn’t come in a minute,
sometimes it doesn’t come at all
I only know that when I’m in it
It isn’t silly, no, it isn’t silly, 
love isn’t silly at all.

Flying the Friendly Skies–Yes, this IS a feel good story that involves air travel!

As the boys get older, air travel becomes easier. We load them up with Motrin for their ears, sugar for their mouths, and every electronic device their grubby hands can hold, and before we know it–we’re there.

We all know how much flying sucks, and anyone who has to travel with kids is exponentially cursed. I have referred to vacations with children simply as HELL in a different location. Two years ago, we flew to Disney World in a horrible storm. It was incredibly bumpy, and both boys were screaming and crying so loudly that I yelled out, “Would someone shut those kids up?” Those around me laughed nervously. It was such a chaotic landing that I was actually hoping the plane would crash and put me out of my misery.  We landed safely, as you’ve probably guessed, with both boys huddled on the floor–yes, the floor of our row, and Hayden passed out asleep from the trauma of it all.  Welcome to “the happiest place on Earth.”

The day we left for St. Thomas was bright and sunny with a clear blue sky. The boys acted like old pros, having flown half a dozen times in their lives. It wasn’t the nightmare I’d remembered.  It helps that people are nicer to you when you fly with kids. The TSA agents let you go in a special line, people let you board before them on the plane, and even the flight attendants  seem nicer to you when you have kids–they know! As we walked onto the plane, one of the female attendants greeted the boys and was drawn to the colorful array on Owen’s wrist. “Cool bracelets!” she said. “Thanks,” he replied. “Where did you get them?” “I made them.” “Wow, very neat.” Nice lady. She made the boys and me feel instantly relaxed as we made our way to the very back of the plane, aka turbulent central. PAUSE…

download (2)The next part of our story is brought to you by Rainbow Loom–the “IT” accessory this summer. Invented by someone who probably has cases of leftover silly bands from 2010’s craze. Theseimages are the hottest item among kids 5 to 15. Guys and girls alike wear them with a sense of entitlement. For those of you of a certain age–think back to the frenzy involving summer’s hottest must-have–the pet rock, for example, or the invisible dog on the leash. Hayden received the Rainbow Loom as a gift for his birthday and both boys have been looming ever since.  My wife and I have even been sporting them with our beach wear. We. Are. Cool.

As the flight attendant, Patty, serves us our “free” drinks, she says “And these are for the guys with the cool bracelets.” We smile, and I hint to Owen how it might be nice if he gave her one. He contemplates it, then it’s forgotten for a little while. The plane lands. The flight was smooth and uneventful.  As we make our way to the front and say goodbye to the flight staff, I watch Owen peel a bracelet off his wrist and hand it to Patty. “Would you like to have one of these?” “Oh my gosh! Really? You are very sweet. Thank you.” “You’re welcome.” Everyone is smiling. Patty seems amused and surprised at this small gesture. I pat Owen’s shoulder as we walk down the stairs, “Proud of you, Owen.”

Flash forward one week. We have throughly enjoyed our stay in the Virgin Islands. We are relaxed, tan, well fed and rested. Yet, as we make our way through the airport to return home, my mood quickly sours as I am reminded just how shitty air travel has become: the computer at self check-in that doesn’t work; the customs card I need to fill out even though I never left the US (It’s called the United States Virgin Islands, dammit); the TSA agent yelling his friendly reminders about removing all lap tops; the customs agent who acts annoyed with us for not having the boys’ birth certificates even though we were told we didn’t need them; Hayden, our seven-year-old, who can’t seem to remember our phone number or his birthdate when grilled by said agent; having to take off our shoes; the guy behind me pushing my plastic bins on the conveyor belt when I’m still unloading my pockets… By the time I reach the waiting area, I am in a foul mood. Countless hours of sun and fun seem to be a distant memory. I need a drink!

As we step onto the plane, our eyes widen. “Helloooo!” It’s the same flight attendant from our trip down, Patty. In fact, it appears to be the same flight crew. “I remember you,” she says to Owen. Owen blushes. Throughout the entire flight, Patty dotes on us. When she serves our drinks, she greets us with “and what can I get for my three favorite guys?” We all smile broadly. I respond, “We’ll take an apple juice, a Sprite, and a  Bloody Mary for me.” (Hey, it’s the end of my vacation). As I go to hand her my credit card, she says, “This one’s on me.” I protest. “No, this is for having such nice boys. I’ll be back in a few with cookies.” This makes the boys lift their heads out of DS land–cookies! I spend the next few minutes trying to impress upon Owen how cool this experience is. “Do you believe this? You never know when you will meet someone again. That’s why it’s important to be nice…to do nice things for people. It makes them want to do nice things.” I want to tell him all my favorite sayings on the subject–about crossing the same bridge, about karma, about the kindness of strangers, and paying it forward. I resist such pontificating, but he gets the message loud and clear. He understands. I see it on his face when he comes back from the bathroom. “These are from Patty,” he says holding a big can of Pringles. The same look returns when we are leaving the plane and Patty gives him a bag of treats in a special airline bag. “Be sure to share this with your brother.” “I will.” I am so dumbfounded by all of this kindness, that I lamely try to explain it to the couple behind us. They smile and nod. I want everyone to know. I want to shout it: “Be nice, people! When you’re nice it makes others nice!”

I’ve thought about this experience for the last few days. I love that Owen was taught such a valuable lesson, one I believe will have a lasting impression on him. I am reminded that the smallest gestures can have an impact beyond one’s understanding. I am grateful for all the Patties out there who have to endure a lot of unkindness in their jobs, and through it all they smile and show they care. I have never flown first class, but that day we were treated as such.

So, that’s my feel good story. We had a wonderful trip to an exotic island, yet my highlight occurred in the airport. For those of you who would like a little glimpse into our time there, I leave you with Hayden’s first grade report on our vacation. Although written before we left, it’s amazing how accurate his predictions were–all except room service. I’ve never had room service in my life, so I’m a little miserly about letting them have it. Is that unkind?

photo (34)

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st thomas etc 600These smiles make me forget the Hellish parts:) Note Hayden’s bracelets.

Coffee Break Discussion Presents “Happily Ever After” A film by Yonni Aroussi & Ben Genislaw

I have never reblogged anything, but this short film is worth six minutes of your time: brilliant, poignant, real and ultimately hopeful.

“Can’t they have a childhood?”

Continuing my vacation by reflecting on the minds of others–this one from an interview with comedian Patton Oswalt. Oswalt is an everyman, a guy-next-door type. Very funny. In a recent interview with Scott Raab in Esquire, Oswalt reflects on how becoming a father has changed his outlook:

Patton Oswalt: I’ve gotten very cynical and kind of anhedonic about all the things I have to do to get to do comedy: all the travel, hotels, and airports. Louis C.K. has that great bit about how everything’s amazing and no one’s happy…I wanna get away from travel for a while. And I cannot tolerate being away from my daughter.

Scott Raab: How old is she?

PO: Three. I just… It really…

SR: I get that.

PO: Drives me crazy.

SR: You can’t buy back a day.

PO: She’s gonna have plenty of time to think life sucks, so I want her to think life is great. I get so bummed out when I see a lot of these archconservatives saying, “They give these kids trophies just for playing. Those are loser trophies! You gotta teach ’em!” If it makes you feel any better, they will end up an asshole, hard and cynical like you, trust me. Just give ’em a few years. I’m sorry that no one gave you a childhood, but can’t they have a childhood? I don’t want more people like me. I want happier people that are more optimistic.

Amen, Brother Oswalt. Amen.

PS Readers: I had to look up the word “anhedonic”. It is the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable.
Read more: Patton Oswalt Interview – Patton Oswalt Comedian Quotes – Esquire
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Why Fatherhood Matters

Excellent essay from Stephen Marche in latest Esquire. What really captivated me was this insight:

As the patriarchy is slowly dying, as masculinity continues to undergo a constant process of redefinition, fatherhood has never mattered more. Having children has always been a major life marker, of course, but the demise of other markers of masculine identity has given fatherhood outsize importance. The old religious rituals gave way long ago. The post-dynamic-capitalism of the moment has taken away the replacement methods of proving yourself. Making a living is principally a sign of good luck. Owning property is a sign of your parents’ status more than it is your own. Combat itself is now gender-neutral. Only fatherhood is indisputably masculine, which is why when you ask men when they became men, they usually answer when they became a father or lost a father.

Do yourself a favor, and read the rest of the article. Ladies, don’t skip this one–it really conveys so much of what men are thinking and struggling with, particularly in the modern world.

Read more: Why Fatherhood Matters – Fathers Day – Esquire

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“I do not speak the minds of others…

…except to speak my own mind better.”

I am a lover of quotations. The brevity. The clarity. So much contained in so little. During the school year, I begin every day by sharing a quotation with my students. It allows me to impart wisdom to these young people that would take me years to articulate. And I can draw on the observations and lessons from men and women who lived thousands of years ago, or are a part of the morning headlines. Such is the power of words.

Take this quote above by the great thinker and essayist Michel de Montaigne from the 16th Century. A simple Google search about quotations led me to the mind of this popular statesman from the French Renaissance. And once I was captured by his words on quotations, I became immersed in many more of his observations about life, love, marriage, human nature…all topics that are timeless and hard to describe succinctly.

My family and I are on vacation this week. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity over the next few days to share with you some observations from what I’ve been reading. These words from others help me speak my own mind better. Indeed.

The first is from a woman whose name I do not even know. Her words appeared in the advice column “Tell Me About It”, by: Carolyn Hax. I have been reading Ms. Hax’s column for over fifteen years now, and I always find her advice spot on–I also have a little crush on her:) The beauty of an advice column is that one can glimpse wisdom and stupidity in the predicaments of others. Take these words from a woman reflecting on a slight that occurred fifty years ago when she was a teenager. Her thoughts half-a-century later:

“Parents need to understand that it is their job to foster love and understanding, not bitterness and hate within their children. Children who find love in the world grow up with self-esteem and self-worth. Those who do not, spend their lives looking for slights wherever they go.”

These words flooded my mind with images of people I know who are always feeling slighted–looking for people to blame for their unhappiness in the world. It only took two sentences to remind me of my mission as a father: to create an environment for my sons where they are able to grow up with self-esteem and self-worth.  It is my job to allow them to find love in the world. That love starts with me. Thank you for the reminder.

Check out more wisdom from Carolyn Hax and her readers at http://www.washingtonpost.com/pb/page/carolyn-hax .

Car Talk, Volume 2

Car_toySummertime, and the livin’ is easy–ISH.

I know I am lucky to be a teacher, because I get to enjoy a longer summer vacation. But anyone who has kids knows that “vacation” can mean anything but relaxation. Change is difficult, especially for kids, who crave routine. We are into our second week of summer here at the Trainer household, and everyone is beginning to adjust. Part of our plan includes a local camp through the township. Last week was a bit tense, as the boys worried about who they would know and if it would be fun. Today, as I dropped them off, they seemed like they had been going there all their lives.

This morning’s car ride to camp was much more lively than any morning last week, as the nervous energy was replaced with excitement. I must admit, I was a bit grumpy, as it was pouring rain. I’m talking buckets! Here in Pennsylvania, we just ended our wettest June on record. Suffice to say, I’m a little sick of getting soaked. Luckily, our car talk pulled me out of my foul mood. The following is a transcript of our ride to camp:

As we pull out of the driveway, a middle-aged woman turns on to our street and waves me down.

Lady: Can you tell me where Phipps Avenue is?

Me: I don’t know, Miss. (I see she has directions printed out. I ask her to read me the last few lines. After she fumbles through some street names and landmarks, I am able to direct her to where she is going. A car pulls in behind her, and patiently waits for me to explain things to her)

Lady: Thank you so much.

Me: You’re welcome! Have a good day. (I wave to the car behind her in appreciation–happy to see that it is my neighbor)

Owen(8): That was crazy!

Hayden(7): Yeah, what the heck was that?

Me: That lady was lost, guys. And she needed our help.

Owen: Yeah, but she had no idea where she was.

Me: Exactly. Did you see how nervous she was?

Hayden: Yeah.

Owen: Were you nervous?

Me: (I immediately dismiss this as a silly question, but then it dawns on me that I was a bit nervous). Well, I was a little worried that the car behind her was going to honk or yell at us to hurry up. People have trouble being patient. I know I sure do sometimes. But, it’s important to help someone when they are lost, because someday…(I go up an octave when I say “day” hoping they will finish with “someday you might be lost.” They don’t bite.) Someday you might be…

O and H: LOST!

Me: Yes. Lost. Not even “might be”–will be. Everyone gets lost. Everyone. That’s why it’s important to be patient because someday you will be in a similar situation.

As we drive, the roads are flooded and traffic is slow. We pass the community college where there is a delay at the entrance. A young man has a flat tire and is stuck in the middle of the entrance. Cars begrudgingly detour around him.

Me: Oh, no!

O and H: What?

Me: That poor guy has a flat tire. He’s not having a good morning. You know, we’re lucky because we’re on summer vacation, but a lot of people have to go to work today, and it’s raining, and it’s Monday.

Hayden: I HATE Mondays.

Owen: Me, too.

Me: Now, Mondays can be rough, but you can’t hate a whole day. And why would you hate it if you’re on vacation?

The boys ponder this as they watch lines of cars going this way and that. We stop at a red light.

Owen: Dad, look! There’s your car, but in red. (I drive a 2005 Saturn Vue. )

Me: Oh, yeah. Look at that. (There is a Prius stopped right in front of us at the light.) I’m thinking my next car will be like the one if front of us. It runs partially on electricity.

Owen: Can you get in blue, please?

Me: I’m sure I can.

Hayden: I want you to get a car like the one Big Dave has (our next door neighbor). A conterv, a conventi…

Me: A convertible?

Hayden: Yeah.

Me: Well, that’s not really practical for us, and that car costs a lot of money. Big Dave is older than I am, so he’s been able to save more money because he has worked longer than I have.

The green turn arrow appears on the stop light above us. The lady in the turn lane next to us angrily honks her horn at the car in front of her.

Me: That woman seems to be having a bad morning, too. She needs to be more patient.

Owen: If you quit your job, do you have to give all the money back that they paid you?

Me: No! That money is yours. You earned it. (Then I make the mistake of trying to further explain the consequences of quitting a job. I use words like “benefits” and “stock options”. I do not even know what the hell I am saying, I just want them to know there are consequences when you quit something. I dial back the rhetoric.) The goal is to always get a better job than the one you had before. You will have a lot of different jobs in life. You might even get fired or laid off. (Here I go again–more depressing employment speak. Topic shift…) You know, I recently read that 30% of the jobs that will exist when you guys are adults, don’t even exist now.

Confused looks from the back seat.

Me: Think about it. (Holding up my cell phone) We didn’t even have these until ten years ago. And when I was little, we didn’t even really have computers.

Owen: I wish I lived back then.

Me: Really?

Owen: Yeah, then I would’ve just played outside all day.

This observation saddens me, and makes his younger brother go apoplectic.

Hayden: But Owen, then you wouldn’t be able to play Minecraft! (He hits Owen’s arm to reinforce his shock). They didn’t have Minecraft back then!!!

Owen: It would just mean that I would play it when I was older.

Hayden still looks distraught.

Owen: Your older self could play Minecraft because it exists now.

Me: Well, we had video games, like Atari. (I try to defend my generation and the fact that we found reasons not to play outside all day, too. 🙂

We reach the line of cars waiting to turn in to the school for camp. It looks worse than it is.

Owen: Dad, do you know they changed the drop off spot?

Me: Yes.

Owen: But do you know where to drop us off?

Me: No. But don’t worry. I’ll just follow the other cars.

He seems satisfied by this logic. We clearly see the other campers checking in at the front of the school. I am glad to have returned to the present; to have stopped time travelling into the past where my sons would have played outside more, but now would be middle-aged men; to the future where they may have just been let go from a company that continues to downsize to increase their profit margin. We are here at camp. It is summer. It may be raining. It may be Monday. But my boys are safe, and they feel secure in their new routine.

Greeter: Hello! Is this your first week?

O and H: No, our second! (They bask in their status as “seasoned” campers.)

Greeter: Then you can go find your group behind me.

Female Counselor: Hi, Hayden!

Male Counselor: Hey, O! What’s up?

The boys smile as they enter the now-familiar line of fellow campers. I walk to my car, with a bit more of a bounce in my step. I don’t even mind having to splash through a few puddles.