Day 14: An Item That Gives You Confidence

Let’s go way back. I mean WAY back. My first Christmas. It was 1981 and I lived in Boise Idaho. Understandably, I had no conceivable idea what was going on. To be frank, I do not remember this day. However, there is one thing from this day that I still have. Rather, it belongs to someone who needs it more, but we will get to that in a moment.

Buffy.

For 35 years this beloved stuffed dog has been by my side. Almost every trip to the hospital (usually for stitches) she was my bedfellow. Every illness, from the sniffles to croup, she was my comfort. Even as I grew up, she was always there. In fact, much to my own amusement, she deployed with me, every time. Countless hours have been spent talking through problems, dealing with heartbreak, and being my silent journal. The secrets I have spoken to her, will never be told.

But, she is no longer mine. When my daughter went in for her first Cranio surgery, Buffy and I had a long talk. I told her that she had gotten me this far, and needed to trust I could carry myself from here. The night before we went to the hospital, I was sitting next to Zoey’s crib, tears running down my face. I knew that Buffy did such an awesome job keeping me alive, and being there for me, and that my daughter needed her more. I left Buffy in her crib that night. All of my love, tears, joy, fears, my heart is embodied by this raggedy stuffed dog.

Buffy was no longer mine.

 

The next morning, Zoey had Buffy in her arms. When she was taken back to surgery, Buffy was in her arms. While I was writing This Room, feeling empty and void of joy, Buffy was right next to my daughter, because I could not be. Since that day, the bond between Zoey and Buffy regales the one we shared. Every trip to the hospital, Buffy is there. When Zoey is recovering from surgery, or sick and hating the world, Buffy is there.

It is my hope that long after I am gone, and Zoey has become the amazing and beautiful woman she is destined to become, that when she misses me, Buffy will still be there.

 

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Day 8: Your favorite recipe and why.

There is a fine art in the making of a great meal.  I have found, time and time again, that often simplicity can produce some of the most complex tastes. I would be hard-pressed to say that much is better than a finely grilled (medium-rare) steak seasoned with nothing more than salt and pepper, with a loaded baked potato and a crisp salad. However, that is not the question. A recipe. Hmm.

Well, in the fall and winter my beloved makes this killer lasagna, in a crock-pot. I would have to put this one nearest the top of all things. There is a heartiness, mixed with a savory flair, which just screams family dinner. Another amazing part of this meal, albeit not part of the recipe, is the looks OF my kids’ faces when they have finished. There is also the time spent as a family eating it.

In all things, I strive to do the most good WITH and FOR my family. Dinner is one of the times that I can excel in this.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Day 6: A Song That Fits Right Now

I did not think that this was going to be an easy one. My love of music is as broad and deep as my love for reading.  There were some staple songs that always seem to reach deep:

  • “Counting Stars” – OneRepublic
  • “Heathens” – Twenty One Pilots
  • “Wake Me Up” – Avicii
  • “On Top of the World” – Imagine Dragons

And a LONG, LONG list of others.

However, this one wound up being more about a moment today than I thought. It is funny how things work out.

Today was an awesome day, on the end of a busy week. But there was something going on that the sheer enormity of the meaning was getting lost in the shuffle.  Until we walked into church. This year was Zoey’s first year attending VBS.  I know, for some of you there is the resounding, “So What?” and your reasoning is sound.

However, there are many things about Zoey that make things harder than your ‘average’ (almost) 6-year-old. She is adjusting to glasses, hearing aids, and becoming aware. Our little social butterfly is finding there are still times that she is on the outskirts of the groups of kids her own age. It could be her looks, the fact that due to medical issues she is still in diapers, because she is so much smaller than her peers, or for any reason. Kids, are kids. We had to work hard this year to get her to a place where she could attend VBS this year, so damn hard.

She did it! She had a blast. There was not a day that she did not wake up excited, and a night that she did not talk my ear off when I came home. We love our church, and so many of the people in it. They have made all the things that make Zoey different evermore the reason for inclusion. As a community they have showered us with love, deep and honest love. Many have asked questions that no others seem to care too, all to get to know her better.

And today a new song.

Today, something awesome happened. Our little girl joined all her friends from VBS… on the stage… in church… and they sang! I was able to sit and watch my daughter, center stage, sing and dance with so many other kids. It was hard not to cry tears of joy, but they were beaten ceaselessly by my broad smile. Not only is the song that my daughter sang today one that fits right now because of the journey that she has been on, but the lyrics as well.

“I was made for this, I live for this

God has a reason, reason for my life

I’m gonna shout it out, without a doubt

I was born for this, built a for purpose

Built for a purpose

Built for a purpose” (‘Made For This”, GroupMusic,2017 Maker Fun Factory)

My daughter was made for something bigger than I could have ever dreamed of for her. I have been coming to terms with this for the last five years. The interesting thing, that I have hit on at various times, is that I was made to be her dad. The one that she needs. There is something heartwarming and humbling about that fact.

So, for today, at this moment, my daughter singing ‘Made for this’ fits right now, in so many ways.

In fact,  here is a video of her singing for you to enjoy. Perhaps you will see that you were made for this, whatever that ‘this’ is for you.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Day 4: Your Favorite Time of Day

There is a moment that I look forward to (almost) every day. After a long day there is a fraction of time that I close a door, take a few steps, pause, take a breath, and open another.  This is the moment that makes every single day worth whatever has been thrown at me.

When I get home, without fail, there is a moment that transpires. As the door opens one or two little voices will YELL from within the house “Daddy’s Home”! There is a cacophony of screams and a thunderous pattering of feet. I am bowled over as two excited children attack me with hugs, kisses, and begin pulling on my arm. As they guide me into the next room a little cherub face will turn and a brilliant smile will come to his face. Then my beloved bride will come and say “Welcome Home”.

No matter the day, no matter what is going on, this moment makes my entire day fade away. It is in these moments that the weight of the world leave me, like a mantel taken off. No matter what was on my mind the moment before I touched the handle, I am in my happy place. I am dad and husband. I am home.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Sometimes the algorithms work for good reasons

After posting my blog about travelling (nod to the UK, here in the US we say traveling), I knew that the algorithms would being working.  In that time my searches have been interlaced with sprinkles about traveling. Weekend rates for a rental car, discounted airfare to Ireland, sign up for a Disney Cruise, and more. All of these and more are the algorithms at work. For some, this is frustrating, and I understand that. I mean, really, what does a trip to see the largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas, have to do with nonlinear optimization in r? Not that there is anything wrong with a big ball of twine. You do you Kansas, I think it’s cool.

This morning, while quietly shifting through the deluge of emails that one’s receives, I came across this quote while researching a question for work: “The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see”, the algorithms are working.  With a lighting flash my memory zoomed past the blog post that I wrote yesterday. It focused purely on the source of this quote.

In what seems like forever ago, while in high school, I did a fair measure of extra reading. By choice of random selection in the library, I read through “Tremendous Trifles” by G.K. Chesterton. It is within this tome that sketch called “The Riddle of the Ivy” resides, and quotes from it ring true to this day.  Instantly, the quote took me to this sketch, and then deeper into my more favored quote from the piece: “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land”. I sat back and reveled in the memory of the quote, of the time, and looked at the application for it in my own life today.

Is that how the algorithms are to work?

Most likely not. My guess is that while the algorithms are running, they should be driving me to the aforementioned ads for purchase. They should not taking me back nearly 20 years. To a time when I was planning for the future that I am now living. Is it the bane of society and advancement that such things are lost? The things that drive us deep into the annals of our minds to remind us of what we once wanted to do seem to be more and more silent. Perhaps we have laid waste to the algorithmic master, our own minds, in favor of those on the internet.

If that is the case, the algorithms may show me the ways to do what I hope. To travel with my children. To experience this country as a foreign land, for the second and third times. Seeing what we see, not what others go to see.  All in an effort to…

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Travelling: Becoming a Storyteller

Travelling. Once a great mainstay, and a measure of a person, seems to come and go with the ages. Every few months a map makes its cycle around my little sphere of social media.  You all know the one, with the states where people have visited highlighted. It is funny for me to see some of the reactions, comments, excuses and proclamations that accompany these maps. Perhaps it is because, well, to be frank, my map was completed nearly a decade ago.

Travelling provides a chance to see life in ways no others have.

Ibn Battuta once said “Travelling. It makes you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”. I have done my best to become quite the storyteller. I flex my lexicon to paint the beauty of a sunrise over the Atlantic. The sweeping colors pouring into view over an expansive, white capped, sea. I pull on the heartstrings as I capture the stillness of a single tear fall from the cheek of a parent in a waiting room. I bring the undeniable smile when expressing the joy of being smothered in the kisses of my children. All of this in an effort to give you an opportunity to travel. To close your eyes, sit in the stillness, and picture the scene I have laid before you.

A new thought on travelling for me.

But, those silly maps, the ones that cause me to chuckle have sparked an idea. What if, I were to complete the map with my children before they become adults? Would they enjoy travelling? I am sure that they would. More so, they would enjoy the stories that I would tell about some of my favorite places, while we are there. They may be inspired when we stop in a field and lay there on the grass. To look up at the clouds in the sky in wonder. To explain to them that this is but a starting place, and it is about the journey.

So, the days, and years, ahead I will be overjoyed to expand my stories as we travel. However, I feel that the real excitement will be in watching the new generation of storytellers. Watching them take in all that they can from our travelling journeys. Listening as they become speechless, and begin painting pictures with their words.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

The Little Moment: A tale of realization as a dad.

My life, as of late, has been measured by the moment. To some this may be a dad thing, in this case it is amazing. This weekend I took some time and headed to a park with Zoey and David. I have been working with the  City Dads Group and finally was able to get a chapter started here in Richmond, VA. While this has added to the never-ending list of things that I am working on, it is extremely important. I have benefitted through my current journey from countless other dads. This has empowered me to do something to help others. I have watched a community building itself out of awesomeness.  City Dads is a community of fathers that work hard to redefine fatherhood in the 21st century. I am so happy to be bringing this to Richmond, leading the charge, but that is a story for later.

There was a moment while we were walking on the trail that struck me.

moment of joy

The recent rain brought forth a bouquet of fresh aromas under the canopy of the trees. The deep, earthen soil mulling with sweet pine being baked in the humid spring heat brought memories of my childhood forward. I watched as their little bodies would lean and run around the winding path. The joy and excitement of each and every step reverberated through the deep woods.  The rapid scraping sound of little shoes running across fine gravel echoed with a cacophonous tumult, pushed further with the sound of laughter.

“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Taking this time with my kids means the world to me. It is my honor and duty to raise them up to be better than myself. It was in this moment, far from the sounds of suburban life, that the juxtaposition of the quote struck me.  As I glanced through the trees, over the standing water, and watched the blur of my son and daughter, I smiled. This moment was the embodiment of the quote from Goethe. My children were simultaneously showing their roots and wings. It was beautiful, and inspiring.

This is not a mark of completion, but a trail marker on the way. It is a sign that I am doing something right, that amidst the trials and failures, there is something beginning to grow.

 

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Sleep, where we are going we don’t need sleep…

For far too long we have been off the radar. We have been working hard at creating a new format for our vlogs, and those should be starting again soon. Kati has been doing an awesome job juggling all that there is to do taking care of a house full of children.  I have been working towards launching a dad’s group here in Richmond, more preparation on a book that I am writing, projects, and more projects. Sleep has long since been a common thing for either of us.

Averaging, still, three hours of interrupted sleep has been my thing so long that I think I am going to make business cards that state it. At current, it is not due to the (almost) eight month old Jacob, or the potty-training three year old David, or even the amazing and full of life five year old Zoey. Life. It is the time of year where projects are the thing to do. Also, scraping every moment of family time that we can. Sure, there is the awesomeness of the days lasting longer.  That SO helps when you tell your kids that it is time to go to sleep.  David, in particular, has gotten great about pointing out that the sun is still up.  This means that it is not bed time, right?

“Every mountain top is within reach is you just keep climbing”. Barry Finlay, Kilimanjaro and Beyond

But, there is a ray of hope. There is a glimmer of light cresting over the pinnacle of this phase of life. We can see the cairn that we have been building in this place, as we face the light. The work that we have done, the nights that we have spent working, are coming to an end. Soon, we will be at the peak, facing a new dawn, and a slope that we can coast down.

There is more to come. Hopefully it is all awesomeness. There will, undoubtedly, be many more summits ahead of us. But, and this may be the lack of sleep speaking, I think that we can take them on. Thanks for hanging in there with us.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Putting Fear in the Fearless: Tales of Failure as a Father

Yesterday, my world stopped, and a fear arose. I am still shaking off the ghost of what happened. Sleep has not gone well.

This weekend was a long and busy one. On the list of activities was getting together with my Dad, stepmom, and family.  We wanted to hang out, and have the kiddos go swimming at the hotel. So, we packed up and headed to the other side of town. The overcast, rain-laden clouds hung heavily in the sky, however, this did not affect the interior of our minivan as we traversed through the city. The littles knew we were on our way to see Grandpa and Grandma.  Their conversation was peppered with comments about pizza and even the word “pool.” As for Kati and I, our conversation was more softened about the busy times we have found ourselves in.

We arrived. Like a heard of animals we descended upon the hotel’s atrium. There, family and pizza boxes awaited. The boys took over a table to snack, juggle children, and play cribbage. Some of the children wandered over asking what we were playing. Smiles flippantly appeared upon all of the dad’s faces, it was about time to pass this game on to the next generation. Such a stoic torch, one that has been passed throughout our family for longer than many of us know.

After some pizza, and cribbage, the locals were getting restless. It was also at that time that some of the other children needed to go home for naps.  So, the gaggle was reduced to our three and one of my nieces.  My brother stayed to hang out with us, and to see if his daughter wanted to swim. So, a quick change into swimsuits was had. There is something amazing about the sound of little feat running down long halls. The heavy padded carpet making a thud, thud, thud that reverberates as the base, below the trill of their voices. The anticipation and excitement crescendos with each and every spoken word. I am thankful that it was mid-afternoon. This lessened my fear that anyone could be sleeping. We opened the door to the small indoor pool and all worked to contain the excitement of the children.

I hopped in the pool.  Like children looking at a puppy both Zoey and David circled around the pool, they wanted to jump in. They listened. Many of the methods that I have learned, and those that were added by family swim lessons at the Y took hold. I watched as they both sat down, feet dangling in the warm water.  My children don’t fear the water.  Heck, they do not really fear anything. They know that they are strong, I know that they are resourceful, and my fear is that they are fearless.

When it comes to water, I have a long history. I have been on swim teams since I was a teenager.  Though not the fastest, there was a passion. This passion still exists today. I would rather be in a pool swimming endless laps over a short sprint on a track, any day. I took scuba diving for credit in college… because I wanted to. Since then I have used my certification speeding time floating in the endless abyss. As a result, I have learned not to completely fear, but to respect the water. Most of all, I have learned that things can happen in a second that can change your life, or even end it.

Much like looking to the stars and running barefoot in the grass, I have been working with my kids on learning how to swim. Teaching them that some fear is good, and a ton of respect is better. We have taken family swim lessons, and have plans for more. My comfortable relationship with water is something that I want to pass on. For both its power and its beauty are mesmerizing.

I pointed to Zoey. She stood, hands exactly wringing themselves. I counted, using my fingers, to three, and with a high-pitched, gleeful scream, she jumped to me. We laughed, and giggled. I moved her back to the side to hold on. As she was climbing out, I pointed to David.  He stood, and I could not see any fear, just the contained excitement shivering through his little body.  I counted, using my fingers, to three, and he leaped into my arms with a scream of joy.  For what seems like forever, this rotation continued.

Eventually we ended up in the shallows. 3 feet deep, stairs with a rail. I looked and there was the rest of the family. My niece was playing in the shallows, showing me how tall she was. My dad and brother were playing a game, while Kati and my step-mom were chatting (Jacob in tow). Meanwhile, my two wanted rides.  So, I started with Zoey. David sat down on the steps, holding onto the rail, as we had practiced. With a whoosh I was off with Zoey. As I made it to the middle of the deep end, I turned to look… and my heart stopped.

David had decided to stand up, his foot slipped, as did his hand. He was in water over his head. His arms began to flail, he tried to call out for help. My son was drowning.

 

fear has come

 

Fear gripped me like a vice, and my heart stopped.

In a flash I jerked towards him, arm stretched. I needed to get to my boy. Zoey was on my back, arms around my neck. As I made this move she tightened. My scream for help, for anyone on the side to help my boy, it was cut off as her little arms held on for dear life.

He just kept flailing, and bobbing, struggling to float, trying to breath. I tried to lunge towards him again. Fear riddled me as I tried to reach my drowning son. One arm outstretched, with every tendon and fiber reaching for him in vain. I tried to scream again. My chest pounding against my daughters little arms wrapped tightly around my neck. I reached up to pull Zoey’s arms off my throat as a blur came from the right of the pool.

In the wake of it all, by pure chance, my brother happened to look at me. He saw the look of horror and fear on my face. Following my gaze, he saw David. He leapt to action, and leapt into the pool.  He pulled David up and held him close as I finally reached them.

In that moment, all were on their feet. My brother placed David on the side of the pool, he sat there coughing and crying as we flocked to him. I have never been so happy to see a coughing little boy in my whole life. I reached out for him as tears filled my eyes.

My heart began to beat, slowly. But the fear remained.

I hugged him, looked in his eyes, asking over and over again if he was ok.

“Oh-tay daddy” he replied, over and over again.

Finally, after a few minutes, many tears, and some towels, we continued our play, though a bit more restrained than before.

Now we watch and make sure that there are no signs of Dry Drowning. This is something that all parents should be aware of, and never experience. It will add a whole new level of fear regarding the pool for your kids. Long and short of Dry Drowning is where some water enters the lungs. It causes some swelling that limits the oxygen exchange, and has the same result (and effects) of drowning. It can happen with a delay up to 24 hours before the person shows any signs that it is going on. Though rare, it happens. We, as parents, should know about it, and fear it. This is especially relevant as summer is near. The time of pool parties, and swimsuits eagerly is ahead of us.

Fear be damned, today is another day.

But, as I said, I cannot shake the ghost. As a result, I fight to get sleep. While I lay there, exhausted, I see those moments over and over. Almost as soon as I close my eyes, I am taken back. I watch it playing from a birds eye view. I consequently rip myself apart. How did I let myself get so far away? It does not seem like it was that far. It is because of this that I will fight to be a better dad. But, since I know myself well enough, I will also never cease chastising myself for not getting there sooner.

Most of all, I will never cease being thankful for my brother jumping in. My brother is a hero. Seconds matter, and in those seconds, he jumped in.  Nicholas, if you read this, know that I love you, and that I owe you. I will never thank you enough for jumping in to help my little boy. You said it was no big deal because I would have done the same, and I agree with you. But it is a big deal, to me. Thank you Nicholas, a thousand times, thank you.

Later that day, when I was talking to David about what had happened, and that I was scared, I could see that he was too. When I told him that I loved him, he looked at me. His beautiful eyes filled with love and he replied,

“I love pizza”.

Finally, all was right with the world.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Find Solid Ground: Why it is important to keep looking up.

“Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.” – Theodore Roosevelt

In my short time parenting and even longer time on earth these words have a complex meaning. They are so complex that we can either draw power from it, or be broken by them. Ultimately the decision is ours, but deep in the ground, the foundation for this decision has been laid by the generations that have come before us.

We have had the joy of experiencing life with a five year old for just over a week now. It is interesting how, almost overnight, she has grown so much more independent. Zoey has long been a little helper. Ever since her feet hit the ground she has been helping load the dishwasher. That is, when she is not running, climbing, dancing, or doing summersaults. But there is something magical about turning five, and we are experiencing more and more of it each day.

When Zoey was born, we did not even know what five would look like. We heard the word Craniosynostosis, and our idea of time, and its general movement was wrenched to a stop. Like a Hollywood movie the film on the reel that we had planned snapped, and spun around. Facing countless surgeries, time in the hospital, and therapists, I just felt my heart break.

Ground and feet

All that I have ever wanted for my children, is for them to be kids. To experience life running barefoot in the grass in the summertime. Dancing in sprinklers while eating homemade ice-cream. Building snow forts and having epic wars. The more time that we spent in the NICU, the more that all of this felt like a dream.  Much like a dream, I felt it slipping through my fingers as I fought to wake up. Then, a moment came that would change everything.

After spending 12 mornings and 11 long nights in the NICU, surround by amazing doctors and nurses, we were finally getting ready to go home. We had been trained on the things that we needed to know in order to take care of Zoey.  Most notably how to insert the 12 inch long nasogastric tube into the nostril of our wriggly and strong newborn, push it down into her stomach, and tape it to her. All so she could eat. I did not sleep that night.  I spent the whole night scared out of my mind, and packing what things I could.

Ground view of Zoey's feet

After many, many trips to our tiny car, taking all that could be spared, it was time. We stood in the doorway, waiting for rounds. This wait felt like it took forever. Suddenly, the curtain was pulled back, and we saw so many familiar faces. Those whom had helped us get started on this journey.  But, there was one that I did not recognize, a new attending. We listened to the briefing, most of which we were all too accustomed too by now. Our hearts began beating faster, and then came to a stop.  The new doctor commented, that “It looks like Zoey did not gain any weight as expected, let’s give it another day”.

In that very moment, such a level of brokenness filled me that I could feel my heart ache. But, there was something deep inside of me that rushed against the tide, aching to burst forth.  As the doctor turned to walk away, my wife began to sob next to me.

I stepped forward, my shoes resonating with military precision upon the ground.

“No.”

This little word shuttered through the crowed of trained professionals like a lightning bolt. They abruptly stopped, straighten up, and turned, wide-eyed. Fumbling though the chart in his hand the doctor looked up in astonishment.  “Mr., um, Von Bank, is there a problem”?

The pompous, indecisive tone that the doctor had brought whatever was inside out, full force. In a deep, calm, resonate tone I replied.

“Sir, I do not know you, and you have never even met my daughter. However, for the last 11 nights I have been here. There are nurses standing all around you that can attest that I have been here and helped with every feeding, and diaper change, that has taken place. My wife and I have been trained by some of these amazing nurses in the extra care that our daughter will need to go home. However, I think that you missed something. Last night, for the first time, there was a change in plans. Something happened and the nurse was called away. Upon her arrival Zoey had already filled her diaper, and was miserable. We elected to change and weigh her before feeding her as we have every night before. Zoey was so happy that she ate more than ever after being weighed. I ask that you take another look at her chart, then look at her.  We will not be staying another day”.

Defiantly, I stood my ground and awaited his reply.

I watched as he fumbled some more with her chart. I could see that he was containing rage, and embarrassment. After a short few seconds, I could see that he found the notes. Defeated, he looked up and said “Mr. Von Bank, you are correct. My apologies. Nurses, please prep Zoey for discharge this afternoon”. He hurriedly turned to walk ways, as I stood there vindicated. Zoey’s chief nurse, the one that had been with her almost the entire time, winked at me with tear filled eyes. She mouthed the words “Good Job” as the troupe walked away to the next room.

That was the moment that it all changed.  I embraced the title of Cranio Dad, but more importantly Zoey’s Dad. I became a voice for the voiceless.

Five years ago today, at this very moment, I stood firmly on the ground. I spoke for the dreams that I had for my daughter, and the hopes that I had for myself as a dad. With my feet planted, holding my daughter, I looked to the stars, and found a way to steal them from the sky. To this day, five long years later, I have never stopped.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.