Arts

I “moustache” you to look at this cake.

It is my son Owen’s birthday today. He turns nine. It is going too fast, this whole childhood thing. But we had a great day. He wanted a moustache theme–so we obliged. He and all his friends were wearing fake moustaches. It was a riot.

Here’s his cake:

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Here’s Owen:

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And, in case you don’t remember what it’s like to be nine, here’s a look into the mind of my newly turned nine year-old. It’s the view right outside the bedroom door in his mansion: (If you click on the picture, it enlarges) ( See “Key” below)

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Can you spot the:
zip line
snow hill
snowboard lift
spinney chair
slide
rope
snack bar
couch
trophies
money
hot tub
moustache case
go cart
snow boards
safe
limo
bathroom
pet fish

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” —John Lennon, Imagine

It’s All My Teacher’s Fault

Good news! My first book was picked up! Okay, it was picked up by me–a couple weeks ago. I found it buried in a box of memorabilia while I was looking for Christmas decorations–you know how one box leads you to another, then another, and then you’re looking at crap from forty years ago that has nothing to do with decorating a Christmas tree? Yeah, me neither. Anyhow…I found this book I wrote in third grade–1978!! During that year, my dad had a massive heart attack and my grandmother on my mother’s side died of cancer. It was a very dark year in the Trainer household. And, as I recall, my teacher, Mrs. Deturo, had me meet with the guidance counselor, Mrs. Brent, who encouraged me to write about the experience–express my feelings through writing. The result is the masterpiece that has been digitally remastered for your viewing pleasure below on this very website. So, without further ado, I present to you Nine is Enough.

photo (13)photo (12)photo (11)photo (10)photo (9)photo (8)photo (7)photo (6)photo (5)photo (4)photo (3)photo (2)photoFirst, let me say that this particular brick contact paper used to cover the book was limited edition–sold exclusively at Grants before their closing in ’76. And, don’t worry, I may be trying my hand at writing, but I promise I will never publish my own illustrated book–my gosh–look at those scenes from the story (I find the “Schools” one particularly compelling).

Yet, as I read over this story, I realize that perhaps the seeds were planted in me at a very young age to write about my experiences–to process my thoughts and feelings through writing. A teacher took the time to care about me and have me talk about my issues with another educational professional. I am lucky to have had these people in my life. And, in some respects, I feel I have been drafting the second book in my head ever since.

Of Cigarettes and Swing Sets

smokingIt’s a beautiful Saturday morning in 1975. I have already eaten my Cap’n Crunch (and the roof of my mouth is properly shredded). I have watched my fill of Saturday morning cartoonsThe Flintsones, Banana Splits, Shazam and Isis–and I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the newest addition to the Trainer family. No, not another baby (thank God), but a brand new swing set. Yes, our yard will finally have an attraction that I will be able to use as leverage when I want to swing on Cindy’s tire swing or swim in Mike’s above ground pool.

I can hardly contain my excitement. I am there from the moment my dad, my Uncle Nicky, and a few of the other dads in the neighborhood begin digging holes by the rear fence—four holes for the four steel posts of the swing set. A few of my friends want in on the action, and before long, it seems like the whole neighborhood is in our backyard.

My dad and his cronies (that’s what my mom calls them) are busy fetching tools, swing parts, and beers, so there is a lot of commotion; a lot of people going this way and that. We are told to go play on the front lawn as the backyard  is now strewn with important materials. A few of us begin a game of TV tag. Now, I’m not sure if this game ever achieved national fame, but TV tag was one of those consummate ’70s lawn games. Someone would be “IT”, and everyone else would run around. As kids were chased by “IT”, they could kneel on one knee and call out a TV show. If they did this before being tagged, they were safe. How I loved that game. And, how I tried to call out the coolest TV shows before the others. If I could last long enough to shout out Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Love Boat, and Fantasy Island, then my mission was complete. No way did I want to be in the game ’til the end, since kids were forced to choose lame shows like Lawrence Welk and Hee Haw. Yeah, TV tag was far out, man. You dig?

As we are engrossed in our fun, my dad comes out to the driveway and walks across the lawn. He needs a tool from our next door neighbor. As he passes by, we stop the game. He says something funny, then tosses the butt of his lit cigarette onto the grass behind us. As he leaves, I have an idea.

I walk over and find the cigarette—still burning. My friends crowd around me in a circle. “Pick it up,” I hear (maybe in my head), and so I do. I hold it in my hand, rolling it between my thumb and forefinger. My friends stare at me wildly. OOOhhhh—that’s bad. But I don’t feel bad. I feel cool. As I raise the butt to my mouth, I see them– my father’s feet entering the circle that has formed around me. From my crouching position, I look up towards him. He towers above me. I pitch the cigarette to the ground as he grabs my arm.

“You should know better!” he yells. “Get up to your room.” “But I…” “Now!” he commands.

I look at my friends’ faces, their expressions all seem to say, “Yeah, we knew this was going to end badly.”

As I walk inside, I am flush with embarrassment, then shame, then anger. I stomp up the stairs. Each foot a THUD—punctuating my frustration. THIS (thud) IS(thud) NOT(thud) FAIR(thud)! I (thud)DIDN’T(thud) MEAN(thud) TO——SLAM! I shut the door hard, fully aware that no one is around to hear it.

For the remainder of the day, I watch all the activity from my bedroom window. My father and his friends work hard to get the swing set in by nightfall. My brothers and sisters play and laugh with their friends. Everyone breaks for a cookout. And I am alone. Alone. I don’t even remember eating that day. I like to think I was not allowed to eat—starved as a part of my punishment.

And as I stare at my dad in the yard, I realize why I am so angry. If I had known the word “hypocrite” as a six year-old, I would have called him one (under my breath of course). Because that’s what he was: a hypocrite. He said I should know better. Well, HE should know better. He shouldn’t smoke. He shouldn’t throw lit cigarettes near kids who are playing on the lawn. He shouldn’t punish me for the whole day. A time out should last ten minutes, not ten hours. Hypocrite!

And therein lies the curse of my father. Even when he was trying to show his devotion towards his kids, his anger and frustration would get the better of him.  A gesture of love and kindness, like installing a swing set for your kids, is marred by a man’s inability to see the effects of his actions. A day spent working for the benefit of  family is spoiled by too many beers and not enough patience. This curse haunts me as a father, when I overreact about something insignificant, or I blame the kids for something I know was my stupid fault, or when I am impatient because I didn’t allow enough time to get everything done. Being a father certainly allows me to have more empathy for my own dad. But one thing I try to never be is a hypocrite. I am not in favor of the old “do as I say, not as I do” form of parenting.

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The next morning, I am eager to make up for lost time. It is very early, and no one in the house is up yet. I sneak  into my sister Erin’s room and wake her. We tiptoe down the stairs and out into the yard, our bare feet trekkinga118 (1) through the wet, dewy grass. We behold the swing set in all of its lime green and rust orange glory. We are like two warriors coming upon the hidden city. We hop onto the swings and start to glide; our legs travelling back and forth…back and forth… back and forth. The chains squeak with an oily newness. We feel special. The first to ride on our new toy. We smile at each other, laugh, and then BOOOOM! The entire set crashes to the ground. Erin and I fall flat on our faces and look up to see the swing set uprooted from its newly-cemented-as-yet-to-dry holes. Oh my God! What are we going to do?

Had we waited for the okay to ride on the swings, this wouldn’t have happened. We head inside. I am filled with a sense of dread at the thought of another day of being held captive in my room.

“Mom…? Dad…?”

I hear them waking. Drowsy footsteps come to the bedroom door. I take a deep breath.

This stupid swing set is nothing but trouble, I think to myself.

Music, My Muse

Ever since I started writing this blog, my senses have awakened. I see things more clearly. I listen more. I watch. I wait. One area that has always been a touchstone for me is music. I have always loved songs–and lyrics have a way of transporting me or grounding me–whatever I need at that moment. Now, it seems that every song I love has a hidden meaning of validation for my writing process. When I listen to my I-pod or the radio in the car, I find myself nodding in agreement at the words from songs and artists I have listened to countless times. In the next few posts, I would like to share some of the more profound lyrics that have guided me to continue writing.

Roll Away Your Stone” by: Mumford and Sons

Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine

Together we can see what we will find

Don’t leave me alone at this time,

For I’m afraid of what I will discover inside

From the moment I began to type the first words of Dadicus Grinch, I felt like I was finally moving away the stone that had been blocking my cave, so to speak. Writing has allowed the light to get in, and now I see it illuminating everywhere. That which was once scary and dark, now holds less power over me. And I wasn’t so much “afraid of what I will discover inside”. I knew, I’ve always known, but I was afraid of what would happen if others knew. Guess what, putting things out there has made the weight lighter, and so many of the responses and reactions I have gotten have been, essentially, “Everyone has their stuff. Everyone!” Moreover, if we see that we are not alone in our thoughts and fears, it helps others find the courage to begin to roll their own stones away. Imagine if we all did that, instead of operating under fear, doubt, and insecurity?

Cause you told me that I would find a hole,

Within the fragile substance of my soul

And I have filled this void with things unreal,

And all the while my character it steals

For me, the “you” in this stanza is that little voice that constantly tries to creep in to my mind to negate all that I know to be good and true. The soul IS such a fragile part of who we are, and rather then tend to it carefully, we abuse it by ignoring it. We’re too busy to think about such stuff–My soul ain’t gonna pay the mortgage, right? But I would hazard a guess that your soul IS the voice that will comfort you on your deathbed someday. The more you take care of it (him or her sounds nicer, doesn’t it?) the more comfort you can find throughout your existence. “And I have filled the void with things unreal, and all the while my character it steals.” These words are haunting. We spend so much of our time and energy chasing away our demons, letting them have all the power and control. And in our failed attempts to keep the monsters at bay, we neglect the people we truly are and could be–the character of our true selves. Break the pattern. Like a misbehaving toddler, the best way to deal with these aspects of our nature is to ignore them–the less power you give them, the less power they have.

Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?

And yet it dominates the things I see

Darkness is, indeed, a harsh term. But we all have darkness AND light. When we don’t address the darkness in ourselves, in our past, it will dominate all things in our lives. The minute you start to shed light on whatever it is that is consuming you, the darkness can no longer dominate.

 It seems that all my bridges have been burned,

But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works

It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,

But the welcome I receive with the restart

Before I heard this song, I never really understood what “grace” meant–or what i think it means. It’s a word I heard often growing up in a Catholic home, but it’s meaning always eluded me.  In this song, the word finally clicked with me. Grace is a state of being where one completely changes places and perspectives. It is through that change, which is often painful, that one learns to empathize. In order to find grace, we may need to begin anew. Funny, burning bridges always seemed like a bad thing, but what if we burn the bridges to places that always hurt us? What is we burn that bridge to self-doubt, or booze, or bad lovers? What if we refused to keep crossing the bridges that lead us to failure and pain? The last two lines of this resonate, because I feel like I am returning home. It’s just a much different walk this time in how I chose to see the past. The amazing thing about writing is that it allows us to see things more clearly. The most welcome I have felt is from myself–free to give voice to my thoughts and memory.

Stars hide your fires,

These here are my desires

And I will give them up to you this time around

And so, I’ll be found with my stake stuck in this ground

Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul

There is such a desire in me to continue on this journey. I feel that there is a fire that burns in each one of us, yet society tends to dampen this desire. It is up to us to stoke the flames. Writing has allowed me to discover “this newly impassioned soul”.

But you, you’ve gone too far this time

You have neither reason nor rhyme

With which to take this soul that is so rightfully mine

And so I will continue to find my soul in the words that I write on the page (screen). I will turn off the voices that have tried to make me feel foolish or afraid. At this point, they are powerless–they have neither reason nor rhyme. For this new soul IS rightfully mine.

Writing My Wrongs

Javier PachecoA few weekends ago, a friend of mine, a guy I’ve known for most of my life, was talking to me about my blog. He likes it. He thinks it’s been a good platform for me.  “I think you found your new therapist,” he said. I think he’s right. Writing is very therapeutic. It is a great outlet, a way for one to process  thoughts, ideas, fears and fantasies. Writing this blog has allowed me to do that.

I’ve been blogging now for three months. Recently, I’ve been sitting on a piece that was hard for me to write. And it got me thinking about why I do this…Should I do this?? And the answer I keep coming back to is “Yes!” This blog has been a wonderful experience for me. It has reinvigorated some old friendships; it has brought me many new perspectives; it has connected me with people across the globe and right in my own backyard. If you have been reading it, I want to thank you. Thank you for letting me in, for letting me rant and reveal, pontificate and pester. Thank you for visiting with me—if only for a few moments in your week.

A lot of people claim to like the format of my blog. How I write about an incident that happened with the boys just moments ago, and then throw in a piece from my past. To some, it may seem random, but this blend is purposeful. My past makes up my present. When I see my sons, when I look at the man I am in front of them, I am a father, but I am also a husband, brother, son, friend, student, teacher, neighbor. All of who I am is represented when I parent.  I am the sum of my parts, as you are, too. And I am constantly seeking a better understanding of that. Bringing in the past allows me to do that more, and, hopefully, better.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I have been brutally honest about my upbringing and my experiences in my family—both current and past. In talking to another friend, she cautioned me to not forget the good stuff in the past. That is an important reminder, and I thank her for that. I did not start this blog with an axe to grind or out of anger. I am saddened by some of the topics I cover, but they are what resonate with me.  I am not trying to play the blame game or point fingers, I am merely trying to write about my experiences. These are the memories and the relationships I have struggled with.

One of those relationships is with my mother. When I was young, I thought my mother was a living saint. Married so young (21) and 7 kids by thirty. With little means, she made the most of it. She gave us each a spark of her personality. She taught us how to have a big heart and she loved us all the best she could. I was hesitant to show her my blog because I thought it may offend her. However, I did not want to do this behind her back. Around my birthday, she stopped by to drop off a cake for me. We visited for a while, and then I asked her to sit and read the blog. I was so nervous  I went for a run while she perused each entry. When I got back, I was relieved (and surprised) that she loved it. I asked her how she felt about the entries where she may have looked bad. She exclaimed, “Well, it’s all true. How could I be mad?” What a great moment for mother and son. Permission to tell the truth. I recently came across a quote that speaks to this very theme: “The truth hurts for a little while, but a lie hurts forever.” This blog is my truth.

My father also did his best. He lived during a difficult time for men to be alive— they were taught not to show their emotions. My dad was a boy during The Great Depression; he never went to college, yet he was very smart; he never made it passed middle management in the insurance business. He was a staunch Catholic with a strong moral code. He had some bad breaks in his life, like a heart-attack at age 44, and he never truly found peace on this Earth. My father has been deceased for more than a decade and a half. There is some guilt in me for writing about him when he no longer has a voice. I feel bad that he is not here to speak with me about these words I write, but sadly, I think if he was here, and he read what I wrote, he would not speak to me. Perhaps it would be different. Perhaps.

These are my parents, and they are flawed—as we all are. And it is through their flaws that my identity was formed, and that of my six brothers and sisters. And I cannot stop what I have started. I believe in the power of writing and its ability to bring us to a greater understanding. If I ever come across as whiny or petulant, please call me out on it. And please understand that the writing you find on these pages has been developing in my mind for years, decades even. I do not write about the past without having given it much consideration and deliberation.

Finally, some thoughts from the teacher in me. When I talk to my high school students about writing, I inform them that the word essay means an attempt; to try. These essays I write are my attempts. Like all attempts, some will be more successful than others.  Which brings me to my second teacher point. When I discuss the art of argument with students, I explain to them the old adage “Everything’s an argument.”  I tell them that what we are trying to do when arguing is “enter the conversation.” My blog is my attempt to enter the conversation. I have something to say, and I am glad I am finding a way to say it. I have started a conversation and I would love it if you would join me.

What do you have to say? Tell me your thoughts. Let me know what topics you would like me to cover more. If you blog, what scares you about writing? Please let me know what you are thinking. It matters.