There are times, let’s just say, when this parenting thing is hard. Very hard.
Then there are times, let’s just say, when this parenting thing is cool. Very cool.
This post is about one of the cool times. It’s about a five-year-old who did something so cool (at least to me) that I’m not even sure he understands just how cool of a thing he did.
Aidan has always been fascinated by cemeteries — not really sure why. He just has. Knowing that his Uncle Tim and his Papa O are in a cemetery has no doubt given him a better understanding of the entire death ‘process.’ And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.
He came with me to the cemetery on my father’s anniversary. It was freezing cold, so he stayed in the car while I went out and said a quick prayer. I didn’t want to bring him, but he asked some great questions and it was a way for us to connect. So I’m glad I did.
One of the things he asked was who else I knew in the cemetery. I told him I knew a lot of people. He pressed for more information. I told him that the next time we were over at Mimi’s house and it was warm enough, that I’d take him back up and walk through with him and point out the families that I did know.
Sunday, we were over in that area and as we were driving away, he said, “Dad, is it warm enough for the cemetery today?”
Not really wanting to go at that moment, I said, “It’s not that warm, buddy. Why don’t we go another day?”
“But, Dad,” he said, “I want to go now.”
And here’s where he got me.
“I want to meet all the people you know.”
So, to the cemetery we went.
We spent an hour there. He knows my dad and brother’s stones. But I showed him my grandparents’ stone. I showed him the resting spot of a childhood friend who died at age 20. I showed him stones that were ready for the people who haven’t died yet, including my aunt and uncle.
I showed him stones of neighborhood families that I’ve known for more than 30 years.
And then he showed me something. He showed me how much he understands. He showed me how much he gets it. He showed me how much he understands this stuff — even at age five.
Well, even though it was the last day of February, there were still quite a few Christmas baskets out adorning a number of graves. Because of the wind, many had blown over or been blown away from the stones.
Aidan went around the cemetery and fixed more than 50 of these baskets. He made it his mission to make sure each basket was placed properly — and with respect — in front of its respective grave.
I couldn’t believe it as he went from stone to stone, row to row — literally spending 30 minutes fixing these baskets.
I was completely touched watching him do this with such interest and — more importantly — such care and respect.
“Aidan,” I asked, “why do you think people put these baskets here?”
“To remember their friends?”, he asked.
It was good enough for me.
So later in the day when he was running like mad all over the house and pushing his sister around and testing our patience with every word out of his mouth, it was hard to believe that he was the same kid who did something so respectful, so special and so appropriate just a few hours ago.
But, he was. And during that moment in the cemetery, I was, well, incredibly proud.
Accept those things you can’t change, and move on.
That what a dear friend said to me today after I sent an email that I wouldn’t be at work for most of the day due to the latest sickness to have found its way into the house. I was frustrated in my email. Heck, I was frustrated in general. Missed work. My daughter sick again. Me still sick.
So much for starting the year off on the right foot.
Yet, the above is so appropriate for me — on so many levels. Not just dealing with the issue of the day.
Let’s just say that when I look back on 2009, I hope it becomes something I learned a lot from — and not suffered a lot from. This head of mine, while still spinning today, was spinning almost out of control in parts of 2009. Things that had been buried for a long time surfaced and are still being dealt with. And, I suppose, they always will be dealt with.
I just want to make sure now that I’m better equipped to deal with feelings, fears and emotions than I have in the past. I’m not out of it by any means, but I’m trying. I really am.
The stress I put on myself has impacted the way I interact with others — family, friends, colleagues. It was a shortly after Thanksgiving when a colleague of mine said to me, “Wow, Mike, you’re in a good mood lately.”
That sort of hit pretty hard. It’s one thing when those very close to you notice something and say something, but at times I put that on the back burner. How could they really know? How could they really see? Well, turns out they did know and they could see. Because when someone who I’m not as close to mentioned my mood, then I was like, Hmmm. Maybe there is an issue here.
I’ve taken some steps I never expected to take in my life. And that’s what I have to focus on now — steps. The journey, not the finish line.
I’ll be candid. With the amount of loss in my life, which as you know has been one of the hardest things for me to understand and deal with — there have been moments where I have focused more on my own death than my own life.
It’s even hard to write that sentence — let alone try to explain it or deal with it. But, if you are close to me, you’ve probably heard me say the following:
“Well, my dad was 65, my brother was 45. That makes the average life span in my family for men to be 55. I just turned 40. If that holds true, I won’t walk my daughter down the aisle.”
Are you kidding? Seriously.
Well, for a while, I wasn’t. Still aren’t.
I won’t lie to you, it scares me. But I need to get off that crutch. I’ve leaned on that too much. Way too much. And I need to stop that.
Not an excuse, but this month is hard — Tim’s birthday and Dad’s 10th anniversary. And I’m trying to find the tools I need to handle some of these feelings better than I have in the past.
More importantly, I need to focus more on the journey to the end — not the end itself.
There are still things to be worked on. Still things to be figured out. And they aren’t minor things.
But, the point is, I need to find my way back to being the person people expect me to be.
No, that’s not right either.
I need to find my way back to being the person I expect myself to be.
And that’s what I’m going to try and do. It won’t be easy, but it’s so beyond necessary. I can’t let it eat at me the way it did in 2009. I can deal with it now, but I cannot be consumed by it.
As I’ve been thinking about this, I was also in the middle of a project. You know that I turned 40 last November — another issue that caused a great deal of stress. One of the ways for me to celebrate? I’m throwing myself a party. It just happens to be next month. Almost four months later? So what.
Point is, it’s going to be a fun party and it’s going to be the party I want — with the people I want. And that’s a good feeling.
Another good feeling about the party? My friend Mike is putting together a power point that is going to kill me. Why? Well, he’s got basically every picture of me known to man — from when I was a year old to just two weeks ago. And, let me just say, I haven’t always been this handsome or fashionable. And, well, if you are on the party invite list, you’ll laugh your ass off at a lot of the pictures. I know I will.
I also know that I will smile at a lot of them and recall happy times associated with each picture.
And that’s the point — collecting these pictures has been a very appropriate exercise for me. It’s given me the chance to do just that — to re-visit the journey I’ve taken along the way. To focus on what’s happened — not what might or might not happen.
To remember things like going with my family to pick out the perfect Christmas tree — something I still cherish to this day. To all of the good times I had in the backyard pool. To school pictures — yup, even including the velour shirt I wore in sixth grade with a dickey underneath. To the many places Renee and I have travelled. To the union of friends along the way. To celebrate the arrival and birthdays of new family and friends — and always remembering the departure of the same. To see myself standing next to people that are so much more than friends.
I suppose now you want to see some of these pictures? Well, it’s the least I can do. Here’s a tease. And if you’re coming to the party, there’s a lot more where these came from. (Invites to the party, by the way, out soon.)
Afterall, I wouldn’t be who I was or where I am today without having taken all of those steps along the way. Each one being so much more than a step — each one being part of who I am.
And that’s what I’m trying to do — to reclaim who I am. Not just for you (though I know you’ll appreciate that), but, more importantly, for me.
And, you know, like my friend said, to accept those things you can’t change and move on.
If I can do that — all of that — then 2010 will be so much more than 2009 ever was.
Is it a resolution? No, it’s not. Because it’s not something for this year.
It’s something for life.
I did it.
I pulled a fast one on my brother. And, I gotta tell you, the plan and implementation was flawless!
Here’s the (long) story.
Many moons ago, Tom was in a band. He had dreams of being a rock star. His band, Asylum, had some really good local success. But, no matter how hard they tried, they could never get over the hump. That’s OK though. They worked hard. They tried hard. They have no regets.
While in the band, Tom also taught guitar at the local guitar shop. He has taught countless of kids how to play guitar. And, like any teacher, Tom remembers one of his best students — Evan.
So much so that he followed Evan’s rise in a great band based in DC called Honor By August. Check them out here. You won’t be disappointed.
Tom keeps bugging me and bugging me to give this band a listen. Finally, I did. And now I can’t get enough. They are that good. And they are on their way. No question in my mind.
Then we find out the band is playing in Connecticut. So, we trek 90 minutes to go see them on a cold February night. They were awesome. I was hooked even more.
Fast forward to the point where I learn that Evan grew up right across the river from where I work. And, that his Dad has been active in my place of employment for more than 20 years. A small world keeps getting smaller.
So, while seeing the band for the first time, I mention to Evan that I want to bring them to where I work for an outdoor summer concert. He’s completely jazzed about the idea. And, turns out the band spends time near here every summer anyway to write songs. Things are just working out here for all the right reasons.
Then I take it upon myself to make it all happen. I get the concert idea supported and the band booked. Now we wait. And wait. And wait.
Meanwhile, I’m striking up a relationship with Evan as we discuss the show. Then, they come back to the same place I saw them the first time — now a month away from the show at my place.
Tom and I (along with his wife) go to the show and have a great time. The band rocks. And, they are excited about playing our show.
As we’re leaving for the night, I hang back for a bit and say to Evan, “Think you can teach the band an Asylum song?”
He smiles and says, “I hear you. Let’s get it done!”
See, each show Tom is at, the band dedicates a song to him and mentions that he taught Evan how to play.
That’s all well and good, but Evan knew I wanted to do more than that. He knew I wanted to have Tom on stage playing one of his old songs.
The plan was in place and things were coming together. I managed to get an mp3 file of an old song from Tom and get to Evan. The next challenge was getting Tom’s guitar there so he could play his own. Evan even referred to it as the “great white beauty” because he had fond memories of it as Tom would use that one to teach.
On the day of the show, Tom arrives early to hang with me and the band as they set up — chatting with Evan and catching up even more as only teacher and student good do.
Meanwhile, Tom’s wife was bringing his guitar to my work and leaving it in my car — but inside another case that I had borrowed from a co-worker who was in on it. This way, the guitar could get to the venue without Tom being suspicious because he wouldn’t see his own case. With the help of my wife and two super fans of the band, that was easily done.
Evan and the guys were psyched to pull this off. And I mean they were genuinely excited to be a part of it. And that’s what made this even better. I had said to Evan that Tom feels like he had a little something to do with Evan’s success.
Evan stopped me and said, “A little something to do with it? That’d be like saying the iceberg had a little something to do with the Titanic.”
So as the band starts the show, the ‘great white beauty’ was resting on the side of the stage — waiting for Tom to come up and play.
And then it happened, the singer, Michael, announced that there was a special guest here to play with them tonight. Tom had no idea until Michael said, “Tommy O (that’s what Evan always calls him), come on up, we’ve got a surprise for you.”
This was perfect! As he got on stage, Evan opened the case and Tom saw his guitar. He had no clue that we got the guitar there! So, he straps it on, plugged in to Evan’s rig and away he went.
What a moment to see teacher and student playing together.
More importantly, for me, what a moment to give my brother. We don’t talk a lot about stuff. We just don’t. We know how each other feels, and that’s enough.
Except on this night.
Tommy O deserved to be on that stage. He deserved the chance to play again for an audience. And he didn’t disappoint. The place loved the whole surprise element, and he played most of the song with a smile on his face — especially at the end of the song when the band bowed down in playful — yet meaningful — respect. And many of the people at the show gave him a standing O. It was a great moment.
I met him backstage and he was psyched and very thankful to me for pulling it off. Over the next couple of hours, he learned the entire back story (as you just have) and we shared a lot of great memories about it with the band.
He was all concerned about how it sounded (fabulous, by the way). And it didn’t even matter.
The fact is, Tom got to play. And he loved it.
Evan got to play with his mentor. And he loved it.
And I got to do something incredible for my brother.
Because I love him.
Here’s the proof!
Here’s Aidan on the first day of school.
Here’s Aidan on the last day of school.
Think he’s growing? This place did wonders for him.
Kindergarten (gulp!) here he comes.
An amazing thing happened five years ago.
Yup, the Red Sox finally won the World Series ending the suffering of generations of Sox fans.
Yet, early in that magical year, on a day when Curt Schilling led the Sox to a 9-1 win over the Kansas City Royals, a future Sox prospect made his first appearance in the big leagues after spending nine months in the minors.
This new member of the franchise was named Aidan Michael O’.
Every now and then a player comes along that changes everything — that’s what Aidan did (and, well, still does).
Like most young players, he doesn’t listen to all the instructions given to him. He also hasn’t figured out yet that it’s a long season — so losing one day doesn’t preclude the team from going on a five-gaming winning streak.
What he has figured out, I think, is his clubhouse influence. He might not always be the best player on the field, but often times it is the little things that make a player succeed. And he is a master of the little things. He’s not a flashy player — just fundamentally solid. The one you can count on to lay the bunt down. The one that will take extra batting practice. The one that might not be as skilled as the others, but will work as hard as he can to succeed.
And today, and every day, that player makes those around him better. It’s just what he does. He probably doesn’t even realize it.
So, I hope you’ll join me today in sending birthday wishes to this future Hall of Famer.
This weekend was Opening Day of T-Ball.
I’m not sure what’s crazier — the fact that Aidan is old enough to play or that I’m actually his coach.
Either way, here’s the best looking Grasshopper there is!
Happy Easter from Aidan and Erin.
They promise Dad will be back soon with more.