Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Resolution Hugs

To my son Tommy,

In that place that is somewhere between dead asleep and having to wake up, I laid there thinking of how I would frame this year that is coming to an end.  What word could sum up the past twelve months?  Perhaps, with the events of the last three months, I should call it the "Year of Medical" or the "Year of the Bowels" but neither of those felt quite right, and to hang a year on the last quarter didn't seem fair.  I gave up for now and got out of bed,

Your mother had already gotten up and gave you breakfast.  If she didn't have belly issues I would have given her a great big squeeze for allowing me to sleep in.  So when I came down, you were well fed and had some serious plans for me.  Capitalizing on your zeal to play, I made us clean up a bit before getting into the games and toys and Christmas gifts.

After a few games and a tickle session, you and I headed to the library.  We had a couple overdue books on my card and a lingering fine on your card.  We turned in our books and paid the two dollars worth of fines we had racked up, and were set to start the new year with a clean slate.

Still, I had this thought in my mind of how to describe the past year.  When we got home from the library, I turned to the Internet searching for answers or ideas.  I looked at last year's blog entry and realized it could probably be used again.  At first, this depressed me that the template for year end hadn't changed, but then I had a small epiphany.  Life really doesn't change much year to year if you look at it in a broad sense.  This year, same as last, was once again filled with highs and lows, victories and tragedies, triumphs and failures, and all the things that make life... well ... life.  The details might have changed slightly, some of the wins this year were in your food challenges and your growing up while the losses were with Mommy's Crohn's disease, but the more it changes the more it stays the same.

I decided to consult the expert, to seek the wisdom of the soon to be five year old.  I explained resolutions to you and asked you what we did the best in the past year and what we should do more of next year.  Your answer, "Hugs!"  Once again your simple brilliance and wisdom has saved your father from going insane trying to quantify and qualify our past year.  The best thing we did was give hugs and in the upcoming year we resolve to give more hugs to more of our loved ones more often.  That is a resolution I can get behind.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Monday, December 30, 2013

Wash Your Hands

To my son Tommy,

I am not too big on parental nagging, but one thing I do agree with and will remind you often is to wash your hands.  Wash after your Cheetos, wash after your playdoh, and definitely wash after you potty.  Now other parents and medical professionals will point to many advantages of doing this.  I, however, have a very practical reason; You are a nose picker!  It really isn't your fault, you come from a long line of nose pickers.  Much to the chagrin of the ladies we marry, Downey men for at least the past four generations are nose pickers.  It is a learned behavior I am sure, and one that I wish I hadn't passed on to you, but we have to deal with realities.  Smells and colors are difficult to get out of your nostrils when they are shoved in there with a digit.  So wash your hands and wash them often, and be mindful of the last place that itched on your body, that last placed you scratched, before you pick your nose,

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Loud Singer

To my son Tommy,

There is this one child, who always sits in our row at church, who sings at the top of his lungs.  He does this even if he doesn't know the words.  And since he is only learning to sound out words and thus a slow reader, he only knows the words of the repeating songs.  Doesn't stop him from mumbling along with the tune of the newer songs.  He doesn't always belt out the tunes, but there is no mistaking when he does.  You would think his father would be mortified, but a quick look at his dad almost reveals a slim proud daddy smile mixed with the concern for the ears of those around this blonde little boy.  Any guesses who I am talking about?

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Personality Test

To my son Tommy,

Personality tests are filled with supposedly innocuous questions that have no real right answers.  They are aimed at finding your true convictions and your present mindset.  Then, with a bunch of science mumbo jumbo, they translate this into a profile that pigeon holes a person into a set of actions.  I personally don't lend much weight to such tests, but today I found two real life questions that I have never seen on such a test and they probably should be included.

If you open up the dishwasher and see dishes, but are unsure if they have been run through and cleaned, do you run them again?  The average man will seek out his better half for their knowledge or opinion on the subject.  "Honey, are these dishes clean or dirty?"  But if the Mrs. doesn't know, or it happens to be Saturday and you are trying to allow her to sleep in, what do you do?  I suppose I should be able to tell by inspection of the dishes.  They looked clean, but, with pre-rinsing and the likes, who can be sure?  The dishwasher wasn't packed to the gills which is often the only time your mom will run it. In my case I opted for the "better safe than sorry" course and just piled on the new dirty dishes on top and decided to run it again.  Worst case scenario, they are double clean.  I also made a new year's resolution to empty the dishwasher faster upon completion.

After some rearranging and packing in the rest of the dirty dishes, I threw in the soap and hit all the necessary buttons and off it went.  I am a little ashamed to say that I always wonder if I did everything right.  Does this load require the "Pots and Pans" setting?  What are all these extra compartments for different types of soaps and chemicals? Etcetera etcetera, but those weren't the questions for the personality test.  No.  That question arose when, after straightening the kitchen a bit and five minutes into the dishwasher cycle, I walked out into the living room and noticed I missed a couple dishes.

I swore I gave a thorough look see through all the rooms before finishing the loading. I at least had done a basic walk through when I made your cereal which was the impetus of all this dish cleaning anyhow.  But here they were, a couple missed dirty dishes.  There were enough of them that the nice clean empty space in the sink that was my badge of accomplishment was no longer.  What do I do?  Do I stop the dishwasher and add? Do I do these by hands?  I opted for the "I will add them to the next load" option.  I haven't decided if the next load will be immediately run or I will just immediately unload the last run and begin loading for the next run at some later time.

Your decisions and actions say so much about you,  I know some social scientist most likely has a set formula for my choices.  Somewhere there is a psychology text book that lists me as "overly cautious" because I reran the possibly clean dishes and "avoids conflict unless absolutely necessary" because I refused to interrupt the dishwasher cycle.  The truth is that there really is no right answers and "knowing" yourself in the personality test way can be really overrated and in the end wouldn't affect your choices made in the moment.  Sometimes doing dishes is just that, doing dishes, and we read into too much in this world.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Importance Of Archives

To my son Tommy,

Your PopPop and I were talking about genealogy the other day.  I turned your grandfather onto some ancestry sites and even gave him my tree to start off with.  I was pretty far back on my sides but just starting on your mom's ancestral sides.  He started adding his records that he already had and has taken off with it.  He is pretty avid about this hobby where I realized a couple years ago that my free time right now is probably better spent making some family memories than dragging out facts of the past.  Don't get me wrong, both are important and fun but since PopPop is retired he has a little more extra time than I do.

Anyways it got me thinking of how important archives and what information we deem worthy of saving.  Being a pack rat by nature, I have boxes and boxes of information that probably won't do me any good because it isn't easily accessible.  When I give an hour or so to clean up, I am always impressed and at the same time confounded by what I have saved.  Receipts, old magazine articles, flyers, letters, useless gadgets and gizmos that had I been using the past year would have made my life easier, etc, etc.  Unfortunately, due to that 24 hours in a day limit that everyone seems to have to abide by, much of the contents of the boxes go back onto my procrastination list.  I also have a memory that is overflowing with information that I should document but again that takes time  Plus if you start looking into the corners of my mind, who knows what will come out of the cobwebs.  It really is a shame and worse yet, the sorting of this information will probably all fall to you to do long after I am gone.

So as you grow and collect information and knowledge, remember the importance of having a good system to store and archive all this information for later use.  There are dozens of tools out there to help you, but the real thing behind any good tool or system is your own dedication and resolve.  Make sure you don't just throw stuff in a shoebox saying, "I will put that in the family tree when I have time" or something to those ends.  Evaluate the info immediately and record it some place where it can be easily retrieved and thus useful at a later time.  Maybe you will break the chain of descendants having to spend so much time to decipher and figure out all the loose ends their dads left them.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

P.S. If you want an example of a well done and worthwhile archive look up StoryCorp at the Library of Congress.  It archives real people with real stories in their own real words.  But more importantly, it often archives the intangible.  It archives love.  And that is something worth archiving well!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Engaging Gifts




To my son Tommy,

Many of the the gifts you got this Christmas require parent participation.  There were very few toys we could unwrap and hand to you and so, "Go! Play!" and expect you to be content.  Hand you a car or action figure and your imagination just takes over.  Your good for hours with those toys!   Though you added a couple those types, this year we sought more engaging toys, something for the whole family.

We got board games and remote control vehicles and a telescope and, of course, Legos.  All toys that need assistance or someone else to play with.  You and mommy did two Lego projects this morning and you and I knocked off one tonight.  Did you know that your tongue pops out when you push toegether difficult Lego pieces?  Tomorrow night, you and I are going to bundle up and try out the telescope.  Hope for clear skies!

Don't get me wrong.  Toys that can entertain you or let you entertain yourself are great.  It gives everyone (aka mommy and me) a break and allows you to give your imagination a good workout.  But you can't beat a toy that brings about a shared experience filled with discovery and wonder and love.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Obligations

To my son Tommy,

Even though we had every excuse to shun all the chaos and complications of visiting multiple families at multiple locations, we happily accepted our lot in life and did what we had to do.  When you have a four year old, you are obligated to share his innocence and awe and amazing Christmas spirit with your entire family, no matter the amount of effort that it requires.  Adults need and crave a chance to regain or relive that Christmas magic that they experienced in their own childhood.  Unlike material gifts, a child can share his holiday love and have plenty left to give.  It is the gift that never lessens or depletes itself.  Not even physical exhaustion and falling asleep can lessen their ability to share this gift.

When you are a parent, remember that Christmas is not about you, nor for you.  So many threaten to stop the Christmas chaos and to those who are doing it for honest and sincere reasons, I say all the more power to them.  But, it would be selfish to shirk your obligation to share the Christmas innocence of your child simply because it is difficult or tiring or complicated.  Make every effort to spread that Christmas spirit and love to all that you can. Merry Christmas my son.  I am going to bed!

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Fah Who Foraze



To my son Tommy,

You never really expect to hear lyrics from the Grinch movie in a homily at church, but somehow, someway our newly officially appointed pastor pulled it off.  In his honor...the lyrics.

Fah Who foraze, Dah Who doraze
Welcome, Christmas, come this way
Fah Who foraze, Dah Who doraze
Welcome, Christmas, Christmas Day
Welcome, Welcome
Fah Who Rah Moos
Welcome, Welcome
Dah Who Dah Moos
Christmas Day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to clasp
Fah Who foraze, Dah Who doraze
Welcome, Christmas, bring your cheer
Fah Who foraze, Dah Who doraze
Welcome, all Whos far and near

Would Christmas still be Christmas if you were to strip away all the trappings?  Of course.  Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ.  Occasionally we may all need a Grinch to come and strip out all the decorations and all the presents and all the distractions to remind us that the true essence of Christmas is so much more than those superficial things.  Merry Christmas Eve my son!

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Monday, December 23, 2013

Karma

To my son Tommy,

Today at work was a lesson that karma does indeed exist.  We were at go time for the new payroll system.  All the work over the past two or three months was culminating to this moment.  I got through my own parts okay.  A couple changes to my custom program need to be made but we suffered through and had the import table created for the new software.  Then, on the very first step of the process for the new program, the pre-import for the table my custom program had just created, the system totally breaks.  It won't import into the live company.  Just as a check I switched back to the test company to make sure I wasn't crazy and it did work at one time.  Sure enough the test company works fine.  Not that that helps get the payroll over to the live company.  As I sat through six hours of a tech call which solved nothing, I realized I may be doing my penance for my outburst the other day.  To top it off, my one true hope, the lady who did the most of the setup, fell ill today and was in the hospital.  Actually that put everything in perspective a bit.  Dedicated and stubborn, she had her husband bring her laptop to the hospital so she could look.  It was at this point that I realized that I was stressing too much and that I just had to trust things would work out and let some people get some rest and recovery.  In an attempt to make amends with the world and karma and for having to work so late, I stopped by Wendy's and brought home some frosties. We shared our sweet treat and had a laugh and a hug before you went to bed.  Thursday in another day and we can work out the bugs in their program then.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Eight Times In Less Than Thirty Minutes



To my son Tommy,

I just wanted to sleep in.  I don't know why I was so tired but I really could have used the extra snooze time.  You got out of your bed a little after seven.  We asked that you come lay in bed with us while we tried to grab some more dream time.  We put on the TV in our room and tried to get back to sleep.  Two minutes later you asked if you could go downstairs.  Really I don't mind if you were to go downstairs to play, but I know from experience that you won't rest until someone else comes down with you.  So the answers was no.  And no again three minutes later.  And no again four minutes later.  And again in another three minutes.  Things wouldn't change until the eighth time you asked (roughly 7:30) when you got a flurry of yes answers. 

"That is it! Fine! Go downstairs!" I yelled as I got up and threw off the covers and lost my cool.
"I can go downstairs?"  ....  "YES,"
"Are you going downstairs?" ... "YES."
"Are you going to make me breakfast?" ... "YES."
"Are you mad?"... "YES. GO!"

I was boiling.  You scuttled down the steps smartly staying out of reach of my wrath.  There were tears in your eyes but no sympathy in mine.  It wasn't till I slammed the silverware drawer and the door fell off the pressboard piece of crap that I realized my anger was out of control.  I was still mad but I needed to control my temper.  "Here is your cereal," I said with a hurumph. 

Yes I was being selfish, thinking I deserved a few minutes of uninterrupted sleep.  My selfish streak was showing itself through genetics in your own "everything is about me" attitude but you're four.  I don't know how to teach through example that from time to time you have to let other people be selfish by disregarding your own self interest.  To teach it by example, I would have to get up out of bed and bend to your own selfish desire and give you what you want.  However this only seems to enforce the "me" attitude.  If I stand my ground with my own selfish request and make you bend, I am enforcing the "me" attitude with the introduction that power and position allow you the ability to get what you want and trump other people.  Had Yossarian been a parent, I wonder how he would have reacted to that catch.

The reality of the lessons today were as follows.  You learned that being persistent and annoying gets you results of some kind even if it does illicit anger.  We both learned that the silverware drawer sucks and that daddy shouldn't slam things around just because he "lost" at the test of wills that you have somehow made more effective than Chinese water torture. I learned that there is an uncanny comparison to Joseph Heller literature about war and raising a four year old.  None of these lessons were intended or worthy.  Perhaps I need to be grounded from parenting for a bit, which of course means I am not crazy and have to keep parenting.  Either way, I need to find the wood glue and some clamps for when I can focus,

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Secret To Marriage: Loving Touch

To my son Tommy,

One of the great things about having your mom out of the hospital is being able to reach out in bed and touch her.  No not that way your thinking, you little perv (I call you that with an odd sense of pride assuming you read this at a much older age).  She did just have surgery, after all, so even cuddling is limited and dangerous.  I am talking about something much more intimate, anyways.

Reaching out and being able to hold her hand; that chance moment where our legs intertwine and linger for a brief moment; a hand on the shoulder met with a contented sigh; all lead to that moment of deep connection.  You realize you are not alone in life on a level that far exceeds the physical.  It truly reminds me that even the smallest gestures, the most chance encounters, the slightest engagements, can mean so much in life and love. If you can learn to master that loving touch that creates those small precious and deep moments, then you will have learned another secret to marriage and to life.  I hope that someday you too can find that someone that even just slipping your hand through the two blankets only to grab her pinky finger with yours can excite your soul on such an amazing level.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Friday, December 20, 2013

All Is Fair In Food And Rewards

To my son Tommy,

Your mother has a jar, high up on a cabinet, filled with squinkie toys.  We keep these toys at the ready to offer you rewards for various good deeds but mostly for eating well and trying new foods.  Yes, it is plain old bribery.  If you are reading this and don't have kids yet, don't judge.  If you have kids, then you probably know the depths a parent will sink to when desperation sets in.

Tonight, you were having a problem eating your food.  Not sure if it was your recent stomach bug or if you were just being lazy.  It was a constant battle to keep you eating your chicken and your green beans, and you wouldn't even touch your carrots.  You were using every delay and stall tactic and whining like a mule. We were almost to the point that you were headed directly to bed since you wouldn't eat with the possibility of having to eat your left over dinner for breakfast.  Your mom intervened on your behalf and granted your some more time to try.  She was tired of fighting and getting as annoyed as I was, but, keeping the big picture in view, she just wanted you to eat and any chance to accomplish that was worth a shot.

What happened next is still confusing.  I went back to the computer.  You didn't eat what was on your plate.  You maybe had one or two more extremely small bites.  But in a simply amazing turn of events, your mother was asking for the squinkie jar to reward you.  Did I miss something?  Your mother, knowing she was being played, started laughing at my astonished face.  I asked again, and her laughing started to hurt her belly as she insisted I go get the bottle.  Since the laughing wasn't good for her surgical recovery, I conceded and went to get the squinkie bottle.  As I sat there, still dizzy from the change of direction, I laughed and looked at you and begged, "Teach me your ways, master!"

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Don't Squeeze

To my son Tommy,

Rough night for you tonight.  You ended up with a rash or some type of red irritation on your...um...well no sugar coating it...on your penis.  I assume it is a side effect from your recent stomach bug and trots and some bad wiping by a four year old and not enough zeal in follow up cleanings by your old man.  Sorry about that.  The bath tonight didn't help and I guess the soap started to make things burn, but, worse than that, with your rash came a bump.  

Not sure if it is pimple like or not, but when your mom sees a bump, she is determined to pop it.  You had a pimple like bump twice before in the same area.  Once your mom popped it in the tub and the second time we brought you to the doctor to see what was causing it and he said it was normal as he popped it.  Ouch!  Not fun!  

This one doesn't look like either of those incidents, but that didn't dissuade your mom from trying to pop or squeeze.  My fatherly, or perhaps just manly, protection instincts came into swing and I was ready to swoop you up and save you, no matter the potential consequences to my marriage.  Every time your mom tried to sneak in the squeeze you were calling her out, with tears and screams and begging.  By the third unsuccessful try, and the sixth or so empathetic cringe from your dad,  I decided the darn thing could grow to the size of a watermelon for all I cared.  We could draw eyes on the bump and name it OMalley or Cheney or something.  I was sure we could find some other, less painful, solution.  Anything has to be a better than squeezing and screaming!  

Truth is, your mom is most likely right and some times the right solution hurts.  I don't pretend to know the amount of pain a woman can endure and I assume it is no less than ten times greater than any man can imagine.  I probably don't call my own mother enough for the pain I put her through in childbirth.  But in this instance, your mother is lacking that empathetic bedside manner that she always wishes for with her medical treatment.  Not her fault, but with different genitalia she may know worse pain but just not the exact type of pain we are talking about.  For the time being, we settled on some type of medicated powder and loose fitting pajama pants.  You were saved for now, but be forewarned, if there is still a bump during tomorrow's bath time, I might not be able to spare you again.  Protect your junk my son!

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mommy Is Home

To my son Tommy,

Mommy was released from the hospital today.  With that came the normal hectic and stressful events.  The doctors screwed up her pain pill prescriptions (yet again) by writing it for a 20mg size pill when they only come in 5mg size.  It was the right dosage but they should have quadrupled the quantity and lowered the dosage.  The pharmacist was looking at us as if we were trying to "score" and thinking no doctor would be dumb enough to write it that way.  Well I will introduce you to a physician assistant that was.

Plus they sent her home with no instructions about her steroid induced diabetes.  I guess by leaving the hospital, that problem just magically disappears.  It makes you realize how stupid some very smart men can be.  Of course, being the ego maniacs they are, they refuse to admit they did anything wrong and worse yet refuse to correct things and want to pass the buck to whomever else.  I used to think malpractice insurance was so high due to abuse and frivolous lawsuits.  Now I believe that might be an over inflated excuse that doctors and bean counters like to give to obscure legitimate stupidity.

But still I owe these jerks a big thank you for doing the surgery.  The gastro doctor said it was a great thing that we pushed so hard for the surgery because it really was that bad!  Not sure if that is comforting or not.  Some day maybe they will realize your mom knows what she is talking about, not only as a future nurse, but especially when it comes to her body.  Now if I can just make those doctors, who are busy patting themselves on the back for a job well done, realize the job is not done and they should treat the whole patient and not just focus on one thing.  

Still, by coming home, even with the stresses and uncertainty that I guess we have to figure out tomorrow, your mother received a medicine that cannot be prescribed.  I, of course, am referring to a hug and cuddle from you.  Though life might have got more difficult for all of us with mommy coming home for her recovery, we are so happy to have her home, especially in time for Christmas.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Letter Writing Ability



To my son Tommy,

You just sat there asking me how to spell things.  I was busy cooking and oblivious.  I almost started getting annoyed but thank goodness I didn't.  I never put two and two together as you asked me the various words.  I took a the picture of the result.  Merry Christmas and I hope you get everything you want from the big guy in red.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Monday, December 16, 2013

Trotsky

To my son Tommy,

Despite the title, today's letter has nothing to do with Russian politics or history.  No the title is inspired by the white tail toddler I kept home from school today and I just saw quickly trotting to the bathroom.  When I asked you if you were alright you claimed, "Whoa that was a close one!  The poopy was trying to sneak out of my butt."  Soon after you questioned and reported, "Did you hear that? It was disgusting.  This poopy is soupy and really stinks."  Perhaps this has more of a likeness with Russian politics and history than I originally thought.  Either way, you make me laugh as you discover the dangers and discomforts of sickness with a unique childhood innocence and amazement.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Is Grandpa Santa?



To my son Tommy,

We are here visiting your Grandmom Roro today.  We tried to visit your mom, but our visit was cut short because you had a tummy ache on the ride over and we don't want to risk you giving your mom any complications.

While visiting, you took some time out from playing to consider your grandfather.  You were rubbing your fingers through his white beard and you asked him a very serious question, "Are you Santa?"  You aren't the first little one to ask, but he remains consistent and simple with his answer of, "No."   No other explanation, just a simple no.  Not sure if you bought it or not, as you eyed his beard and his belly suspiciously and seemed to imagine him in his Santa hat driving a team of reindeer.  I can tell you for certain the belly has nothing to do with jello and instead shakes like a bowl of gluten free Redbridge beer.  But if Santa was a disguise or alter ego, your Grandpa Leo is as good of a suspect as you an get.

Sincerely with live from your dad,
Leo

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Without Mommy

To my son Tommy,

I have perpetuated the bumbling father stereotype before.  For the most part this is an act played by an evil genius used for my nefarious purpose to lower people's (mommy included) expectations and to avoid work. Drop and break a couple dishes, no one asks you to do dishes anymore.  Get the picture?  To be certain, many fathers do this and I risk losing my "man license" by exposing the secret that our ineptitude is an elaborate scheme.  Occasionally though I do find myself in uncharted territory and not as confident in my fatherly abilities but like Gunnery Sergeant Highway says we "Improvise. Adapt. Overcome."

It is just you and me today.  Your mommy is still in the hospital and will be for the next week or more.  The Baltimore weather forecasters are all calling for snow in various amounts which, when they can't agree, most likely means an impending blizzard.  When you woke up this morning, you complained of a tummy ache, an area of life that usually falls to the soon to be nurse in our life, aka Mommy!

I checked the normal culprits.  No fever.  You don't have to poop, or so you say.  Can't even get you to eat, in case it is lack of food that is causing tummy pain.  So what is a father to do?  Well dishes and clean up the house of course.  And blog of course.

I learned, from watching the older relatives in my life, that when you don't know what to do in any situation, you do what you know how to do.  When grief or sorrow would enter our lives when I was a child, I would see people start cleaning and/or start baking and/or start cooking and/or do fix up projects and /or clean out cars and other auto maintenance and/or even pull out a deck of cards for a pinochle game.  It confounded me in my youth and seemed such an unnatural response.  So and so is sick so lets clean the living room.  So and so just passed so time to bake a pie.  So and so is heart broken so let me make sure the oil is changed on the car.

Now I know, it is a healthy combination of denial and the attempt to not feel useless.  Your tummy might be upset, and I wish I could magically make it feel better but I can't.  So at least the dishwasher is run and the kitchen sink sanitized with Lysol.  I wish I could cheer you up, but a stomach ache is going to trump any direct attempts.  So at least you will have a clean living room to look at.  Dirty dishes and general disarray contribute to bad feelings in both of us, so why not fix or do what I know I can do.  I wish I could convince you how important it is to poop and/or eat right now but at least it will be documented and maybe stop you from moving from inept father to "overreacting time to run to the hospital for a simple tummy ache" father sometime in the future.

Of course as I was writing this blog, and expounding on the virtues of a good BM to fix most things, you ran off to the bathroom for a potty.  You asked for privacy as you shut the door swearing to me it is only pee time.  A couple minutes later, from the bathroom I hear this, "Wow! Daddy come look at this big poopie!" Ahh, that's my boy!  Amazed at his own creations and always willing to share.  You are in much better spirits and perhaps we are passed this whole bellyache thing, and I know it is all due to me blogging, and straightening, and running the dishwasher.  It had nothing to do with nature and expelling the two foot brown demon from your body by way of the potty.  Nope, definitely the dishwasher.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

P.S.  It is a good thing that among the things I know how to do, among those things I have learned from my younger days, there exists the skills of catching puke with my hands and cleaning up vomit out of carpet and doing laundry.  Evidently the dishwasher was not the cure all I thought it would be.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Power Through

To my son Tommy,

Well we got through the first night after the surgery. Your grandmother stayed with your mom overnight while I went home to take care of you.  Your mom had a rough go of it but is doing considerably better since they finally got her pain medicine and management better handled.  We just took her for her first walk, which consisted of about thirty very small steps down the hall and then back.  Upon returning she was put in a chair instead of a bed. The whole thing took every ounce of energy she had and your mom is asleep in the chair.   They have a guy buffing the floor of the halls outside her door with what sounds like a jet plane.  I might have to give him a differing opinion of the Christmas song "Deck the Halls" is all about and explain in my version it is deck the hall cleaner.  I kid, I kid, violence never solves anything and I wouldn't hit someone over that, at least not as long as your mom is sleeping through it.

If you ever think life is too hard, if you ever lose the drive to challenge yourself, I have the solution. Volunteer at a hospital to help people walk after surgery.  You will see people power through pain and tears and struggle and so much more.  You will see people challenge themselves and their bodies when every ounce of their physical being is screaming "NOT YET! Don't you think I have been through enough!" yet here they go rising above and pushing themselves so they get better.  Then remember your mother did that, many a time, and not so much for herself, but mostly for us.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Surgery Day

To my son Tommy,

You are off to school with a vague idea of what is going on today.  Your mom is last minute packing for her hospital stay and freaking out about a bunch of things.  I am trying to keep all her last minute instructions straight while trying to be a calming influence.  The only thing left is the trip over and some prayers.  Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pre-op

To my wife Cassie,

I am sure Tommy will be more than happy to share this forum for his daddy to send a message to his mommy on the eve of her surgery.  Plus Tommy will get even a greater lesson from life by a letter to his mom instead of him.  Unfortunately the words escape me, so I have to borrow someone else's.  For times like this, I turn to the literary greats, like Christopher Robin's words to Winnie the Pooh.
There is something you must always remember:
You are braver than you believe,
Stronger than you seem,
And smarter than you think.
But the most important thing is,
Even if we're apart,
I'll always be with you.
Sincerely with so much love from your husband and son,
Leo

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Snow Days

To my son Tommy,

Well due to the winter weather, you have been off of school for the past two days.  My office has closed as well but with the tech advances that just means I get to work remotely and use my lunch break to shovel the walk instead of eat.  It beats traveling in this stuff.  Though a couple inches of snow is laughed at by other states of the union, they don't have to deal with Maryland drivers.  I am not sure if it is because they don't have much practice in the snow or if the underlying cause stems from elsewhere.  For some reason, Marylanders drive like they are the only people on the road and no matter how bad of a driver they are it is always the other guys fault.  Perhaps it is run over population from the clueless self centered egos in DC politics or maybe we just have our own type of special without common sense when it comes to driving a huge hunk of mass at high speeds on the roadways.  I have seen drivers all over the world, and though Marylanders don't top the list as the worst, they sure rank right up there.  But they say God protects fools and Maryland drivers (okay maybe not the original saying) so hopefully those who are on the roads will be safe.  Our biggest concern is everything is cleared to get your mommy to the hospital for surgery.  Two turtle doves left on the countdown.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Monday, December 9, 2013

Three French Hens

To my son Tommy,

Three more days till Mommy's surgery.  I never knew an event can be so hopefully anticipated and dreaded at the same time.  On one hand we can't wait for what the surgery will fix.  It promises relief from the Crohn's symptoms and a start to weaning off the prednisone which causes so many side effects.  On the other hand, being the holiday season, there is so much that we had hoped to accomplish before the date.  Your mother is worried about gifts and gift wrapping and getting a professional picture with Santa and all the other details your mom does to make Christmas so great.  I am sure those details will work out.  Or perhaps they won't work out but we will get over and through.  The most important thing is your mother and her health.  Dec 12th is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and I have been asking her to pray for your mom and our family.  There are very three anxious and concerned French hens awaiting Thursday.

Sincerely with love from your mom,
Leo

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Father Of The Year



To my son Tommy,

Swing sets and slides are filled with risk and potential hazard even in the best of conditions.  You could slip or fall and we are off to the emergency room.  Add in snow to make everything that much slicker and potentially ten times more dangerous and what do you have?  Well if your father goes out and allows you to play on it, you have a potential "Father of the Year" award candidate, that coveted award sponsored by social services and the Darwin Awards committee.   Of course at least one person would sincerely vote me in for father of the year and that guy is on top of his fort in the snow in the pictures above and below.

Sincerely with love from your father,
Leo








Saturday, December 7, 2013

Not Too Grown Up



To my son Tommy,

The other night you declared that you are no longer afraid of the dark when you go to bed.  Despite that this new turn of events was brought about by a pillow pet dream light, it is still a very grown up thing to claim.

You have been able to drink out of a grown up cup by yourself for a couple years now.  Despite this, we still normally give you some type of protected cup though I don't quite think of it as a sippy cup.  Today, you looked at me and asked to unscrew the lid so you can drink it normal.  Again growing up so fast.

There is at least one area of your life that you are still ready to enjoy as a child.  No matter how grown up you think you are, the pictures show you are willing to wait patiently for your chance to visit with Santa!  The Christmas spirit is alive and well in your soon to be five year old self.  The pictures also show your ever present style and flair with that hat and sweater vest, which seems to have served you well since you are holding hands with one of your classmates in the first picture.  I don't even want to consider where that falls on the growing-up/innocence scale.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo



Friday, December 6, 2013

Different Point Of View

To my son Tommy,

When you see our Christmas tree, you do not see something to be decorated and admired.  No, not at all.  You see an efficient system to display toys on a pyramid of green for your choosing to increase your play time satisfaction.  It is more an organizing system than a symbol of the holiday.  Unfortunately, your idea of what a Christmas tree is clashes with your mom's image and ideal.  I am taking bets now for who will win the battle.  If your mother was in perfect health, odds would be against you.  Since we are still at "six geese a laying" in our surgery countdown and your mother is feeling every bit of her discomfort, the odds have evened out with you might even having a slight edge.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Never On A School Day

To my son Tommy,

Here is a bit of learned parenting advice that was hard earned by your father.  Never, ever, under any circumstance, start decorating your Christmas tree on a school night.  Bed times will come while decorating remains to be done and tears will flow.  As far as mistakes tonight, it actually ranks above the mistake of hooking up the tree to a voice controlled caroling system that blinks the tree lights with whatever song it plays.  The last half hour of decorating was actually spent yelling at the little mouse figure that controls this tech, "Hello Mr. Christmas" and hoping it would recognize your song choice.  

On another note, as far as mistakes for the evening, someone else screwed up more than me in my humble opinion. My choice for tree decorating start ranks far less than the T.V. executive brain trust at NBC that chose to put the three hour live production of "Sound of Music" starting at 8 pm on a school night.  Every parent was faced with the dilemma of being responsible and putting their kid to bed at a decent hour or letting him stay up to 11 pm to share a childhood memory from yore and make a brand new memory for the family.  Well, I guess you will get to see it in re-runs.  I bet you there will be a good amount of kids dragging tomorrow.  There is no right answer that fits for all children.  Of course, since they are singing songs out of order (I don't remember Mother Superior singing "Favorite Things"), and judging from the acting so far (your mother says it is good that it is mostly about the music) it is probably best that you don't associate one of our childhood favorites with our cursing and disbelief and disgusted looks.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Progressing



To my son Tommy,

You got your report card.  In fact I think this is your first ever report card.  I don't remember one for last year.  You got a great review and great comments from your teacher.  I am so proud of you and am so happy with your schooling.  Most everything was marked as "I" which means independent which I suppose means you have those things down pat.  Your fine motor skills were mostly marked as "P" which means progressing.  This comes as little surprise because we know you need work on coloring in the lines and writing letters.  You do practice those things often at home and demand extra homework be printed if you have none from school.  The surprising one for me was "Knowledge of Faith" marked as progressing.

I suppose, if I approach it in an abstract philosophical way, everyone's knowledge of faith is progressing.  But I figured a four year old who can recite the Michael the Archangel prayer might be given more credit.  You have the basic three prayers down as well, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be.  You can sing at least half the Gloria, always say a form of grace before dinner, say your nightly prayers, genuflect to the tabernacle when you come into church, and you even know part of the confessional schedule because you wait patiently in the pews for your dad to avail himself to that sacrament.  You have been known to break into other songs about Jesus in the supermarket and when you play you occasionally put your squinky toys in make shift pews and then use a lacrosse stick to do a collection.  Most importantly you have a personal relationship with Jesus and you are very thankful and you talk to me about Him often during our father son moments.  I hope this continues for the rest of your life and you can somehow miss any of the "prodigal son" moments that your father experienced.

I guess, though, I am teaching you different things then they are evaluating in your class.  I probably should start telling you stories of Moses or Noah or Jonah or such.  But I think the real thing that is keeping you from that "I" rating is the fact that you still screw up the sign of the cross.  Funny enough that goes back to fine motor skills.  I do have a teaching technique but it involves some fake glasses, a sports jacket with a wallet in the inner coat pocket, and a watch.  I can imagine one of the priests' faces now when they hear a four year old walking around school saying, "Spectacles, testicles, wallet, and watch" as you practice your crossing ability.  Of course that might get you an "E" for emergency on your next report!  No worries though if you do end up with an "E" or a future "F" or whatever they give you later.  No matter your grades or reports in life, I am proud of you and as always will love you.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

P.S. Eight maids a milking on the surgery countdown.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tired Of Named Days

To my son Tommy,

Someone told me that today is "Giving Tuesday".  Though I never I heard of this day or concept or construct or whatever, I assume it is an effort to balance out the greed of the past few days.  In the past six days, five of them (including today) have been named, with one of them even now having two names.  We have had "Cyber Monday" and "Small Business Saturday" and "Black Friday" and what used to be solely called Thanksgiving is now being referred to some as "Grey Thursday".  Somehow Sunday escaped unless there is some name I am missing.  I suppose an argument could be made for calling it "First Advent Sunday" but if we start using religious names we could probably "name" every day.  But the names I am griping about aren't coming from religion or tradition

It used to be only the greeting card industry would manufacture holidays for their own nefarious purpose of selling more greeting cards through guilt and shame.  How can you miss celebrating Grandparent's day or Secretaries' day or National Booger Picking day.  Okay, maybe your dad created that last one for his own nefarious reasons, but you get the picture of the silliness.

Now all of corporate America (aided and abetted by charities and government types of all persuasions) have started using day naming as a source of coercion and customer control.  It started seemingly innocent enough with Presidents' day auto sales and other such sale days.  Soon it wasn't enough and more and more holidays were usurped and new day names and concepts manufactured.

In the news is a recent vision by the company Amazon where they hope, to in a couple years, be able to deliver more stuff in less time using flying drones.  It won't be long till we have Drone Wednesday.  Maybe we will end up with 3D Printing Thursday after that.  Or some brainchild of commercialism will decide that flying 3d printers can make and deliver your goods at the same time and in less than five minutes.  Then we would have Amazonian Overlord Fridays.

I, for one, could do with less named days.  I don't need it to be "Giving Tuesday" to give to charity and try to save my soul nor do I need it to be "Black Friday" to buy and sell my soul.  I think I can do without this form of corporate mind control no matter the source.  It is bad enough they have already classified my week into weekdays and weekends.  I will still embrace the traditional named days I suppose, but will be wary and cautious when it comes to what social pressure says is expected of me on those days.  Yesterday, today, and tomorrow are probably the only names for days I really need.  Perhaps I will throw in a Thor's day or Saturn's day (now known as Thursday and Saturday) just because they are so prevalent.  Of course, right now, "surgery day" is the only named day that counts and we are on nine ladies dancing for our countdown.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Monday, December 2, 2013

Ten Lords A Leapin

To my son Tommy,

We have ten days left till your mom's surgery and it can't come soon enough.  The funny thing about time, if you are waiting or anticipating it seems to take forever.  You sit there and watch clocks and curse calendars and can feel every minute.  It may seem like you found a way to get the most out of time, but you fill every second with worry or anxiety and forget to live life in the meantime.  I am in the unique position of one area of my life (worrying and waiting for your mom's surgery) going too slow and another area of my life (work and the current software upgrade project) going too fast.  With work, I could use an extra month or two to feel better about everything and end up working some serious hours to keep up with the pace.  Still if I had a choice of the next ten days flying by or crawling, well here is hoping that the next ten days jump faster than the leaping lords of song.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Style All Your Own



To my son Tommy,

You have a style all your own, which is a good thing.  If style was based on genetics, judging by your father's lack of fashion sense, you would be in trouble.  You must have inherited that genetic trait from your mother.  Of course she also has the power of the purse when it comes to your clothing choices, but even that is tempered by the amount of hand-me-down outfits that we rely on for your wardrobe.  But no matter the choices or the source of your wardrobe, you always seem fashionable, different and definitely a standout, but fashionable in your own odd sort of way.  Of course, when I first saw your Christmas hat, I pictured Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack saying, "What? When you by a hat like this, I bet you get a free bowl of soup, huh?" Don't worry, my son, it looks good on you though.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Count Down



To my son Tommy,

We have twelve days till your mom's surgery.  That is twelve times going to sleep at night and, God willing, twelve mornings waking up.  Your Bwama has started us using the Twelve Days of Christmas song for countdown purposes.  The problem is, no one seemed to agree on the different days.  Sure we all knew there were five rings (though some are gold and others golden) and two turtle doves and such, but what was twelve and is it four calling birds or four colly birds.  So I turned to our ever present source of information and savior from arguments and misunderstandings, the Internet.

Turns out the Internet is far from definitive on the subject, though that doesn't stop people from claiming themselves correct and infallible.  The differences abound and are even more abundant than I thought.  Some have a mother sending gifts, others a true love giving gifts.  Some have twelve drummers drumming while some have twelve lords leaping.  Some had the colly birds and some the calling birds and some had canary birds or colour'd birds.  Just for your information later, and to confuse you more, a colly bird is a small European blackbird that some actually think is a chimney thrush.  I never heard the song with the version using tens cocks a crowing or nine bears a beating but sure enough it exists and not as a parody.  Add in all the parodies, including my favorite Bob River's "Twelve Pains Of Christmas", and the actual lyrics are pretty much based upon your own version of the truth.  Faced with all these variations, spanning the past two or three centuries, who was I supposed to trust?  I turned to one of my most trusted sources, the Muppets!

Though the TV version and the album version differ in cast singing, the lyrics remain consistent through out the years.  Thus the Muppets have solidified for me the true present day lyrics for the songs though knowing the evolution or etymology of the song might win you a Jeopardy contest.  Here is the album version cast and the lyrics used...
John Denver -- "A partridge in a pear tree"
Fozzie Bear -- "Two turtle doves"
Gonzo -- "Three French hens"
Robin the Frog -- "Four calling birds"
Miss Piggy -- "Five gold rings"
Scooter -- "Six geese a-laying"
Lew Zealand -- "Seven swans a-swimming"
Rowlf the Dog -- "Eight maids a-milking"
Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker - "Nine ladies dancing"
Statler and Waldorf -- "Ten lords a-leaping"
Beauregard -- "Eleven pipers piping"
Kermit -- "Twelve drummers drumming"
What have we learned here?  We learned that the Internet doesn't always help.  We learned that people sing the same song dozens of different ways.  We learned that your father is willing to accept the word of Rowlf and Kermit and Fozzy over some uppity professor who tells me that I should go back to using a colly bird.  And most importantly, we learned that we are trying to find any way possible to make the next twelve days until your mother's surgery bearable.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo
 





Friday, November 29, 2013

Shopping

Tommy son Tommy,

Before I start this little rant, I have to admit my own hypocrisy.  I have braved the Black Friday mad rush before to snag that too good to be true deal and I bet you there will be a time in the future where I.try again.  Sometimes the allure of money supposedly saved is just too great.  How does that make me a hypocrite?  The same way it does for every other Black Friday victim.  One second you are complete and whole and thankful for everything you have, and the next second you need to score the retail crack such as fifty inch TV for three hundred bucks to fill that void in your life.

This year I have a special ire for the commercialism of the season.  I am to the point that I would love to find a corporate fat cat executive or some type of ad agent and slug him right in the mouth.  I probably should point out that violence never solves anything and I usually encourage you to break the Downey train of thought that a swift jab to face will make things better.  But it is how I feel and when my convictions don't necessarily match what I want to teach you, things become difficult.  But I digress. Your mother is limited in what she can do with her medical conditions.  She can't drive and gets tired easily if she does find someone to bring her out.  So often she is stuck watching TV or browsing the Internet and is a prime victim for the advertisers.  If she could get out and buy whatever she wanted, she wouldn't be half as tempted by all these ads.  Don't get me wrong, I understand that your mom loves making Christmas special and wants to find the perfect gifts at the best deals for everyone, but with her upcoming surgery, we do not have the luxury of skewed priorities.  Living this experience makes you realize how despicable Black Friday is and how our priorities can get so out of whack.

If no one in our family gets a gift, but your mom gets the surgery and gets better, then for sure we will feel that Christmas spirit and experience that Christmas miracle.  If we don't have the extra money to buy you that "G.I. Joe with the Kung fu grip" or whatever the hot toy of the season is, then so be it.  Any gifts should be focused on needs rather than wants and focus on utility rather than diversion.  Trust me we have enough stuff, a lesson I learned all too well trying to keep a clean house when your mom spent the majority of October in the hospital.  Perhaps I am just getting older, but I don't want more of anything except more hugs and more health and more you and more snuggle and more mommy and more love.

Another dad blogger was asking what fathers wanted for Christmas.  My answer...
I want to establish a tradition gift for Christmas that my son can get me year in and year out without ever stressing about what he should get me...ever.  Think like always buying your father a tie on Father's Day.  Something simple and cheap, like socks.  He can go with a bag of simple white tube socks if he is pressed or get creative with wild patterns and color if he needs to express himself.  The major point is I want him to say every year, "Dad's easy to buy for.  Where is the sock section?"

I never realized the gift your granddad gave me by making it simple.  Get him a flashlight or an umbrella  and he is all set.  He always said you could never have enough of either.  Growing up I always thought he just wanted to get to the point where you couldn't swing a fly swatter without hitting either.  Speaking of which, fly swatters sometimes made the list of acceptable gifts along with screwdrivers.  Now I realize that is basic simple wish list was a combination of his desire to make it simple on his son and his simple tastes and his desire for nothing but love.

So, when you find yourself caught up in the hype and commercialism of the holiday season, take a step back and realize there is no super savings on a bag of socks for your old man or a flashlight for your granddad.  The men in your life don't need much effort.  Save the extra effort for your mom and your grandmoms and remember, even if you are forty, you can still impress them with a craft made from a paper plate and a hug.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Holiday Sleep In

To my son Tommy,

It is Thanksgiving day and 6:30 and you are still sawing some serious Zzzz's.  Unfortunately my ability to sleep in on a Thursday does not exist.  Not only does my normal week day routine hinder my late slumber aptitude, but because it is a holiday, and I went to bed telling myself how special this day is to convince myself to sleep in, I have been up since about 5:00.   The odd thing is on a normal workday/weekday I would be fighting for every lst minute of sleep.  I guess the moral of the story is never ever hype yourself up to sleep in, as the excitement generated because of a rare guilty pleasure may backfire .  Hey, was that a noise I heard from your room?  Should I take that sleepy dreamtime grunt as a signal that you should be up too?  Misery does love company, but I will be kind and will let you sleep...at least for another twenty minutes, muhahaha.  Happy Turkey Day my son!

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Night Before

To my son Tommy,

Oh what a difference a decade makes.  Today is the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday.  It is also, unbeknownst to most, one the busiest bar nights of the year.  Forget New Years Eve or any of the well publicized amateur nights, this night beats them all.  I don't know if it is simply having a hump day holiday coinciding with a lull between prep work or if it is necessary medicine to deal with the impending onslaught of family, but many booze it up on this particular Wednesday every year.  Consequently, ten years ago I would have been tending bar or boozing, but most likely working as tips hit higher levels with that special sense of holiday cheer.

Today, I am at work, finishing end of the month closing, and itching to bet the weather home.  I no longer look forward to the festivities of "Turkey Eve" or at least not the usual festivities of my youth.  I just want to rush home to be with your mom and you and begin my retreat into my contemplative state of thankfulness just a tad bit earlier.  Now if the AP department will finish up...I am all set to head home for some snuggles as we work out the plan for our family obligations tomorrow.  Whatever plan we come up with, be it big family or small, be it big meal opportunities or just some turkey broth with your mommy and us, I look forward to spending an entire day filled with love.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Kinder Bars



To my son Tommy,

When I lived overseas as an army brat in a younger life, I used to eat a certain chocolate bar.  It was mostly milk surrounded by just a little chocolate.  It depended on which country I was living in but the name was either Kinder Schokolade or Kinder Cioccolato and for the extra creamy type there was Kinder Riegel.  They were cheap over there (or at least to the best of my memory) and they seemed to be everywhere and were a good alternative to the omnipresent Toblerone.

One of my favorite stores in the immediate area is Old World Deli and Bakery.  Actually it is up in the Randallstown area by your grandmother's house.  Because it carries so many products from the Europe that were common place as I grew up,  I often shop there for simple nostalgia purposes.  When you combine this store, and my desire to pass on things from my life and my youth to you, and an occasional sense of desperation when it comes to your eating habits, you end up with a four year old with an expensive habit.

One day while buying some weisswurst for you grandmom at the Old World, I spied these confections from my youth.  The price was a bit more than I remembered but at the time no price was too expensive if I could find something (anything) you would eat.  Who knew you would be hooked.

Now every two or three weeks, we stop by and pick up refills.  Mostly they are saved for you school lunch, but occasionally you get a treat (aka bribe) if you eat your dinner well.  I never knew (until recently) they were made by the Italian company Ferrero which also makes two of my other favorites, Ferrero Rocher and Nutella.  I guess being made in Italy, that is why I remember the Kinder bars being cheaper and they are a bit more expensive in the U.S. nowadays.  Oh well, it is a bond between father and son and you are worth every extra penny it costs.  But remember, I like cheaper chocolates too, like Hershey kisses, they are made only a state away!

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

P.S. Picture is blatantly borrowed from the Ferrero site

Monday, November 25, 2013

Blustery Cold

To my son Tommy,

I suppose I do my fair share of complaining in these letters to you.  I would call it more reporting the situation because I don't think I have a "woe is us" approach, but I guess some might consider it complaining.  But I remain thankful for the gifts we have and am constantly reminded it could be worse.  Yesterday I was reminded how bad it could be.

After the 12:15 Mass, I was selling raffle tickets for the St Agnes Men's Club shopping spree giveaway.  With the windchill yesterday, I am pretty sure it was approaching absolute zero.  The wind was cutting through my clothes no matter how well layered they were.  My kibbles and bits were trying to crawl back inside like a turtle sheltering in his shell in order to seek any kind of warmth.  For thirty minutes I experienced a cold that was reminiscent of doing naked snow angels during the drunken days of my youth.

My mind began to wander and began to consider those who have no home, specifically those that are often outdoors.  I had just thirty minutes of being cold but I was about to return to the warmth of my home.  What if there were no escaping the winds and frigid air?  What if I had no home to return to?  What if the only hope for warmth and relief from this blustery cold weather relied solely on the generosity of strangers and if the shelters were already filled to their max?

Our plights in this world are not trivial when you talk about such thing as your mom's medical conditions and such, but imagine how much more we would have to endure if we didn't have the gifts in our life that we do have.  Remember, always be thankful for what you have and be mindful and compassionate to those who go without.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Altar Groupie

To my son Tommy,

At Mass today, your cousin Emma was being an alter server.  Your cousin has a friend, also named Emma, that you are enamored with and she was serving as well.  So here you are in the middle of Mass, waving at the alter like a crazed fan at a rock concert.  I got you to stop, a couple times.  It is hard being stern when inside you are laughing pretty hard.  I guess if you are going to be a groupie, you certainly could do worse. At least you are no longer calling the altar servers orphans as you have in the past during your Annie phase.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Culture

To my son Tommy,

You are running around the house singing the tune from Edvard Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King.  Most people would recognize the tune but you have the unfortunate fate of having a father who actually has a decent classical music knowledge repertoire.  When I asked you where you heard that, you credited Little Einsteins.  It is actually was fitting tune for you to be singing because it invokes a mischievous nature.  You had setup a couple stools in what you called "a maze" but what your mom recognized as a daredevil course where you jump off one on to another.  Boys will be boys, in my opinion and I couldn't really fault you.  Your mom went up to shower and you looked at me and asked if you could continue.  Dads will be dads, so I said yes until your mom comes down then you have to stop immediately.  I figured you wouldn't hurt yourself and I'd be there if you did and sometimes four year olds have to be daredevils and make mistakes to learn.  So there you were singing the classical tune and stepping from stool to stool and sometimes jumping over imaginary lava streams as you avoided the Norwegian trolls.  Your mom  started coming down but that better at the top of the steps and reversed her direction.  You say out loud, "oh good mommy isn't coming down yet, I can still jump."  When your mom, still upstairs, objected to that logic, your argument back was, "It's okay.  Daddy said so!"  I am so busted!  Thanks.  There are still so many subtleties left to teach you in this world.  At least classical music culture isn't one of them.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Friday, November 22, 2013

What You Don't Want To Hear

To my son Tommy,

You and I brush our teeth together in the morning.  Usually you go first with me doing most f the scrubbing for you and then you doing a couple scrubs by yourself so you slowly get the hang of it.  Then as you are finishing up, I start.  Usually you stick around and watch, getting pointers or learning from my technique.

Today, as I had a mouthful of paste and brush which had worked itself to an unusually large foam amount, you said, "Uh oh, gotta go poopie!"  Not what. I wanted to hear at 7:30 in the morning.  Before I could clear my mouth and object and suggest you use the upstairs bathroom, your pants were down and you were on the pot.  The smell that followed cut through the mint of the toothpaste like a knife through butter.  We may have to work on and instill a healthy level of modesty and privacy and respect for other people's nasal cavaties with regards to your bathroom etiquette.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mind Like A Steel Trap

To my son Tommy,

I often say that I have a mind like a steel trap and quickly add the old joke "rusty and illegal in 37 states."  I have a good memory but I am put to shame by your ability to latch on an idea or a promise and follow through.  

Last night your bedtime came in the middle of a Shrek movie.  You begged to stay up and finish but your parents stood firm on bedtime.  We promised you could continue watching it today.  I figured ten hours of sleep would make you forget.  Nope.  You woke up and when we started putting on your normal shows this morning, you quickly reminded us that you had the rest of the movie to watch.

Right now, you are talking about some toy at your Bwama's house that both you and your cousin Ryan want (or wanted) to play with.  Better than even odds that when you play tomorrow at your Grandmom's house that the toy in question will be the first you go for.  Despite my advice that you should be kind to your cousin and work it out with Ryan, you are probably planning some elaborate plan to guarantee your play time.  Unfortunately for you, this tendency runs in the genetic make up and I bet your cousin Ryan is planning some devious counter initiative for the same toy.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Every Tool Has A Use

To my son Tommy,

I have somehow managed to categorize and compartmentalize my social presence.  With the amount of competing social medias online, I suppose it was only a matter of time.  It is the same theory as owning a bunch of cordless phones and their bases.  We have four.  You wouldn't line them all up in the same room.  Instead you spread them out, one in the kitchen, one in the living room, one in the bedroom, and (with our family and your mom's crohn's disease) one in the john.  Each phone can do the same thing but we have spread their duties to cover more area in our house and make life easier for us.  Somehow your mom can end up with three or four phones in one place, but for the most part each one has a specific location for a specific purpose.

This is similar to what my online life has become.  I use Blogger, of course, to write you these letters.  I use Facebook to follow family and friends.  I use LinkedIn for work updates and professional stuff.  I use Google+ profile but I haven't found it's niche use yet.  I kind of think of it like a backup quarterback for Facebook.  There are other tools out there that I use (like Yelp to look up restaurants when I can find an honest review and we have spare money to go out) or have used (Is myspace still around?) for various things and to various degrees and there are yet others I haven't started using but the most interesting tool as of late is Twitter.

I find myself using Twitter for news and increasingly to follow along with local issues and follow along with local news.  They recently had an award ceremony for local tweeters and bloggers and such called the Mobbies.  When the results were posted, I ended up with a treasure trove of people to follow on Twitter.  I never thought an online tool would increase how connected I can feel to my city, yet here I am hanging on tweets of bearded local reporters and watchdog agitators.  It feels good to be at least informed if not enlightened even if it is a bit of escapism from current struggles.

I wonder, when you read this, if these names of the sites and tools will have lasted or if you will have to go looking for them in a history book or wiki or whatever the tool du jour is.  I also wonder how many people are compartmentalizing their online life like me or if this is just some sort of geekly OCD.  If you find yourself with lots of social media tools (or lots of cordless phones in the house for that matter) remember to diversify and not throw all your eggs in one basket.  It may actually seem counter intuitive that you can simplify your life using multiple tools for specific purposes when each and any of the tools could probably handle and satisfy all areas.  Logic would normally suggest, if that is the case, to simplify by only picking one tool.  But in this ever changing age, where tools come and go and depend on the success of their IPO, being well versed in all your options gives you some peace of mind.  It also spreads the burden and allows you to choose which online area of your life you want to spend time.  One of the best things about spreading out your activities among sites, you feel less guilty about taking a break from one or all and you feel less overwhelmed when you decide to resume.  And always remember, it goes without saying too often, that these are just tools to life and the majority of your time should be spent outside of these tools, living real life with real people in real interactions.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Too Many Choices



To my son Tommy,

I was listening to NPR the other day and they had snippets from an interview with TED Talker Barry Schwartz on the "Paradox of Choice".  He talked about how we believe that the more choices we have the better off we are.  More choices gives us the illusion of freedom.  Then he mentioned that there were at least 175 different salad dressings he could buy at the grocery store.  He brought in the science and showed that people actually aren't more happy with all these choices because it triggers a mental or emotional paralysis.  He then goes on to tell us a funny story about jeans shopping and expectations and how studies show we are the most happy when we have about eight choices.  (You can read it all here if you like or watch it here if you don't like reading, if of course these links work in the decades to follow when you read these letters.)

Now I think Mr. Schwartz makes some interesting points but I think he misses some obvious things.  Maybe he has them in the book he wrote but I am too paralyzed to choose to buy his book from the so many book choices out there to buy and spend my time on.  Which kind of brings me to my point.  Choice has always been there.  Maybe in the past there weren't a couple dozen types of jeans or two hundred seventy five cereals, but there has been one category filled with choice since antiquity, what to read.  Even walking in one of the more underfunded libraries of the world and you end up with at least one thousand choices of what to read.  How did I read anything and even find enjoyment with my choice without raising my expectations too high that I would never enjoy another book again?  I admit when I was young that what book to pick was overwhelming, but there was help.  Librarians, teachers, parents, and friends, all suggested what I should read or in some cases told me what I had to read.  They would help me classify and quantify and whittle down my choices to a very manageable few.  Some suggestions were good and some were bad and that certainly changed who I chose to give me suggestions.  But I never felt paralyzed by the amount of choice because I had help to discover what I liked and what I didn't.

The same could be said for many an industry back in the day.  When my mother or grandmother bought me shoes as a child, there was a guy measuring my feet and making suggestions.  He was knowledgeable in his product and professional and helped us past the multitude of selections available.  He even had made relationships with his customers so he knew what they wanted and how they wanted it and would skip over any choices that weren't well suited.  The same could be said for the grocer to the hardware store clerk to the mechanic to the barber or just about any salesman of the day.  Every salesman was like a bartender in a local bar where you walk in and they know your name and what you drink.  Even the video store clerks (when there were video stores) would hold out selections for me that they think I would like.  Those days have seen to have past us by.

Now we get our suggestions from computers and algorithms and campaign ads.  You walk into a store and it is all "help yourself."  You are left to roam the aisle and look at 175 salad dressings and guess which one would suit you all on our own.  It isn't the amount of choices that paralyze a person, it is being alone in making that choice.  We need help.  We need each other.  We need that reliable dependable trustworthy guy to say, "Hey Leo! Nice to see you again.  These are the eight I think that will work best for you.  Let's go over the ups and downs of each!"  We need more people to be professional and knowledgeable and to take pride in their jobs.  Unfortunately there is more profit in paying minimum wage to people to scan you out after you have wandered through the aisles of multitude than to pay them a decent wage to actually help their customer.  With self scan checkouts, they don't even have to pay the cashier.  The big corporations have even created a stigma for those of us who prefer help through their business model.  By under-staffing and under-training they are basically making you feel stupid that you need help deciding which salad dressing goes best with a side salad served with steaks.  Does too many choices give you the illusion of freedom while in fact paralyzing you?  Perhaps, but the solution does not lie in eliminating those choices. It lies within people leaning on other people to help navigate this great big world.  If we focus on helping each other to maximize each others quality of life instead of our own personal profit, then we can make the best choice of all which is allowing ourselves to truly be happy.

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo

Monday, November 18, 2013

Pharmacy

To my son Tommy,

I believe there hasn't been three days in a row in the past month or so that I haven't had occasion to visit CVS for one of our family members.  I joked with your mom that if CVS runs out of anything, they will start sending patients to our house.  

Today I was not only picking up for your mom but for myself as well.  The lady at the pharmacy couldn't find my prescription.  Now in the past month or two I have seen many an irate customer at this store.  When people are sick their tempers are short.  But I dare say that the workers behind the counter never deserved the amount of grief that was aimed at them.  I was determined not to be one of those grumpy customers.  So I politely, but persistently, worked with them till they could find my prescription.  Turns out it was hard to find because the company had my ordinal IV keyed in on my last name and that throws off their system.  By the time we got it all straightened out, me and a couple of the employees were laughing about dynasties and thirds and fourth.  The lady behind the register thanked me for being nice and understanding.  As I walked out I wished them well and I told them I'd probably see them in a couple days the way things have been going, a joke I am not sure they understood.

Remember, in every situation, no matter the frustration level or who is at fault or how pissy you might be feeling, you are obliged to do your best to be kind to all you come across.  If you try your hardest to follow this rule, not only do you chance making someone else's day that much more pleasant, you just might live a happier life.  Kill them with kindness!

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo




Sunday, November 17, 2013

Our Remembering Selves

To my son Tommy,

Here is another trick to having a happy marriage and a happy life.  Go back through your pictures often! Pull out the picture albums or go through your flickr account or view slideshows and old home movies.  These moments that are captured are usually filled with smiles and good memories.  Somehow the struggles from the time the picture was taken have almost completely vanished from our remembering self.  So when life gets tough we can invoke our remembering self to trump our current experiencing self.

I stumbled upon the concept of the remembering self versus the experiencing self two or three years ago.  Your mother was doing a paper on a book for a prerequisite English course for nursing school.  She was faced with a question like "If you could live one full year with a perfect life but at the end of the year you wouldn't remember anything, would you?"  She and I were talking about her required reading and her report and the concepts contained within the question.  I was struggling explaining my understanding when I suddenly remembered that Daniel Kahneman, a behavioral economist and someone who I had read much about his ideas and respected, had given a TED talk about the same idea.  This is before TED talks were ultra popular and at a time that not everyone was invited to do a TED talk.  So I pulled this out to show your mom and learned a few things myself.

Anyway the basic idea is that the remembering self decides how you perceive any events in the past.  Imagine you are at the most beautiful concerto and everything is perfect except at the last moment before the end the violinist misses a note and sends out a horrible screeching note.  It no longer matters that you had over 99% of an enjoyable experience.  It has been tainted and almost the only thing you can remember is how bad that note was.  Kahneman went on, as behavioral economist will, to talk about what happens if the bad note came in the beginning or the end and how this effects peoples perceptions of the experience.  If I remember correctly, it continued on relating this how this alters people buying experience and how it makes a repeat customer.  He is after all an economist, but his lesson transcends all science and sociology.

As for me, I have figured out how to use this knowledge in just every day life.  Just take some time out of every week's schedule to look at those pictures from your past.  You don't need to be depressed to do it, and I would even suggest that you don't do it while depressed.  If you were to, you chance comparing your current experience to what will seem like a more perfect, more happier time, and that is not what we are after.  Instead make it almost routine, when you are in good spirits or at least on even keel, to spend time going down memory lane and fondly remembering your past when you are in a good mood.  Look at your wedding pics and let the love you felt that day come over you like a warm blanket renewing your feelings.  Look at all those happy moments, from baptisms to birthdays and all the events in between and let it re-energize the positive emotions in your life.  Then come back to the present and look at those in your life with new eyes re-inspired by the memories of such love experienced.  Trust me, it works and it is well worth the time.

Sincerely with love from you dad,
Leo

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Visit



To my son Tommy,

Your mom was determined to resume our weekly Saturday visits to the Downey household.  We had missed plenty of time with all the recent medical and, not only do we want to resume some normalcy in our routine, we truly do enjoy spending time with your grandparents and great grandparents.  Unfortunately you were wiped out and you can see by the picture how you spent your visit.  The funny thing is it doesn't matter.  It doesn't make a bit of difference if you were wide awake and running around and entertaining or if you were sacked out the entire time.  Your grandparents and your great grandparents enjoy your company no matter what!  Remember that when you are all grown up with your own kids and are deciding to come visit us or not.  If it comes to your mind that you would just sit around and do nothing and perhaps that is not worth the trip, immediately put that thought out of your mind.  With family, you don't need to entertain.  Just being together is enough!

Sincerely with love from your dad,
Leo