Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Gut Check Kind Of Year

To my son Tommy,

It has been a tough year, one of those gut check type years. It has been one of those years that every day that passes, every step you take as you trod along the path of life, seems to bring an unending supply of struggle and weight for our weary bodies and souls. Unfortunately, I know that many of the happenings this year are purely foreshadowing for the next, a series unresolved foreboding cliffhangers. We had to take your Grandmom Roro to the ER today for Pete's sake. 2015 holds little promise of joyful resolution.

I was a bit selfish this year. I told you all about us and largely avoided or ignored the happenings in the greater world. I had trouble enough dealing with the loss of family and the failing health of others in our family. Thus, I didn't write to you about police shootings and riots and war and justice and race and religion and persecution and crime and other such things that are such important questions in this world. The world had a gut check type of year, too. I say that I didn't spend much time writing about these events in our times in order to shield you from the burden, but in fact I just couldn't tackle such issues when my concern and compassion remained focused on ours and ours alone. I didn't want to add a dresser and a piano on top of the couch we were already carrying.

So how do you take a year, filled with such hardships both personal and worldly, and resolve to carry on in the new year, knowing very well that there is more of the same to come? Well you do it just like we are bringing in the new year right now. Surrounded by family and friends and love. You look back not on the losses themselves, but how love helped you overcome. You look back not on the successes themselves, but how love helped you achieve. You look for those small seemingly insignificant gestures, a hug, a cuddle, a smile, a kind word, all of which are pure simple moments of love. You salvage all these reflections of love from the past year, you put them deep inside your heart as weapons to arm you for the upcoming year, you grab a glass of champagne (or whatever your choice for a cup of kindness), toast the years gone by, grab your loved ones, give them a great big hug and kiss, join hands with the one next to you in a sign of unity, and sing at the top of your lungs that battle cry that readies you for the fight ahead, "Should auld acquaintance be forgot..."

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Great Great Uncle John

To my son Tommy,

I don't think you have had the opportunity to meet your Great Great Uncle John yet. You would know him if you saw him, because he looks just like pretty much all us Downey men do or will, complete with white beard and funny hat. Not sure how hat choice has found a genetic mutation in the Downey genes, but judging by our own hat choice, we know it is there. Just to be certain, Uncle John is the one on the left of the picture above visiting his brother (your Great Grandpa Leo) on Christmas day, which happens to be your great grandpa's birthday as well. Our cousin Maria (Uncle John's daughter) brought him down from Gettysburg. She was snapping the picture so she wasn't in that one. And of course you recognize your Nana Jeanne.

Anyways, Uncle John went into the hospital last night with twinges of pain in his chest. Maria says he had a good and restful night once admitted, but it was better to be safe. He will undergo some stress tests and such but she thinks they will send him home today barring any surprising results. We will add him to our prayer list.

It is a funny thing about family. We don't see Uncle John and Maria often. They only live maybe forty minutes up the road from your grandparent's house but sometimes those forty minutes can seem like a three day trek, what with work and life and all the complications we fill it with. However neither the distance nor the time between visits means much when it comes to family. If they need our prayers, or our help, or just a shoulder to lean on, we will be there. It doesn't matter that our plate is full. There is always room for family.

Take, for example, dinner at the Downeys' this past month. One of my greatest memories of this year will be fitting a ton of Downeys around the dinner table. That table is supposed to hold six max. This Christmas season, we often fit ten. And if more would come, we would fit more, somehow. You see the love of family is one of those amazing things in the world that defies the laws of physics. Love can ignore time between visits, as if time didn't exist. It can travel faster than the speed of light, as it can instantly be felt a hundred miles away. And love can expand and expand by ten sizes or more, to cover everyone in a blanket of comfort and compassion.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Do You Know What I Know

To my son Tommy,

Here is this morning's conversation.

T: (as you hurriedly came down the stairs after just waking up) "I got to go potty!"
Me: "Well, go man, go! Why didn't you use the one upstairs?"
T: "Mommy is pottying up there. And if she is pottying up there, I will just go down here. Makes sense, right?"
Me: "Sure does."
T: (over the sound of a urine waterfall) "It is important to do things that make sense, right Daddy?"
Me: "I think so Tom." (I often call you Tom when we are having important somewhat mature philosophical conversations)
T: (after some pause and a shake) "You know I know everything daddy."
Me: "Is that right? I used to know everything when I was younger."
T: "Like when you were twenty nine?"
Me: "Yeah that might have been the last time I knew everything, but you know I think I started not knowing everything well before that age."
T: "Yeah I know. Makes sense. I know everything. You're forty right?"
Me: "Nice talking to you Tom." (which is all I could muster without telling you to shut it)

I am pretty sure I wasn't so confident of my knowledge and certainty at age five (going on six) but I am at least certain that knowing everything stops by the time you become a dad.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Block Head

To my son Tommy,

I declare today, the 21st of December, block head day, or more exactly silly box mask day. With the increase in online shopping, we have a plethora of cardboard boxes, mostly courtesy of Amazon. With some markers and crayons and scissors and knives and perhaps some pixel printing, we can have a creative prelude that truly sets a high bar for the upcoming day of festivities! Of course now you are off coloring your next box. But alas here comes the tears because you don't have a peach colored marker and you don't like your old man's suggestion of using orange marker or switching to crayons.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bah Who Needs Lyrics

To my son Tommy,

There is a couple things I have learned over the past couple days. One, the Christmas tree to a five year old is simply an interesting way to store and display all the figures to make it easier to pick which he would like to play with. Two, ornament breakage is inevitable. And three, not knowing the correct lyrics, or the proper key for that matter, will never stop you from getting your merry on! I know videos, barring some great technological advance, won't show when I print these letters out in a book for you, but I had to include them in this post. So if the videos are gone when you finally read this, which might be a embarrassment saving blessing, trust me when I say your caroling was unique and beautiful to a father's ears, and perhaps a father's ears only.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Making His List

To my son Tommy,

Even Sith Lords make lists, and check them twice. For what? Well that is unclear. It is either to send Christmas wishes, or to list potential recruits to your dark side. Either way, I am happy you are practicing your writing!

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Self Reflection

To my son Tommy,

Ask yourself, when you pray, do you pray knowing He can? Or do you pray if He can, and does, that you will believe? or believe more? What if He doesn't? Do you lose faith? Tough questions.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Sunday, December 7, 2014

How Close

To my son Tommy,

Not everyone knows how close they are to breaking on any particular day. I know. Two inches. That is how close I am to breaking at any time.

Two inches, the distance between your eye and the corner of the coffee table as you fell. Two inches was the distance between another emergency room visit, even though your mother told you to calm down and stop running around like a madman. As you fell, I didn't see you stop, even though you did. I flashed this picture through my mind of your head still going forward and the corner getting you right in the eye and me rushing you to the hospital.

I suppose I should have celebrated what did not occur. You were already picking yourself up saying you were okay. I should have been overjoyed that you were not hurt. But for some reason, the fear of what could have been came rushing from my gut. At the moment I responded, I was living in some alternate reality that would never exist. As adults sometimes do when they don't know how to deal with all this sudden emotion, sudden mix of emotions, sudden burst of fear, I yelled.

I was angry that you didn't listen to your mother. I was angry that you came so close to hurting yourself. So I yelled loud. With precise military execution I attempted to make sure you would never make that mistake again in a loud booming scary voice. This technique had worked a couple times on me when I was young, so it seemed appropriate.

The problem is, behind this yell was a couple months of an emotional rollercoaster. Behind this yell was a ton of raw emotion and fear that I hadn't had time to process or deal with yet. It was a two inch drop that made an emotional dam break and the flood started coming out. It was quick and to the point but it was scary to you, to your mom, and to me. Here I was lashing out at the ones I love the most. It scared me. So I got the hell out of the house.

Your mother spent the next hour or two trying to calm your tears. She explained that you weren't the reason I left. She was right. I left because I didn't want you to see my tears, my emotion, my anger, my confusion. I needed to be alone to gather myself so I could get back to being that father and husband that I was supposed to be.

It is funny what I think I am supposed to be. I am supposed to be a good son, and good father, and good grandson, and good husband, and I have high standards for what each of those terms mean. My image of how to be good at each of these jobs sure as heck doesn't include cracking under pressure. I should be Atlas and never shrug. So I brush things off. I keep things in. I go it alone far too often. But here we were. Going it alone and being such a "pillar of strength" didn't help clear the tears in my eyes as I drove, nor help console a five year old who thought his daddy left because he was mad at him.

I am angry at a bunch of things in this world. I am angry at life. I am angry at death. I am angry at brain cancer. I am angry at crohns. I am angry at MS. I am angry at myself for being angry. But I am not angry with you.

I fill these blogs with such "profound" thinking of how things are and how I believe they should be and how I believe I should be reacting to things. Some times that doesn't give a clear picture of how things really are, the ugly human side of life, filled with fear and confusion and anger. I don't tell you about the side I always struggle to overcome with God's help. On occasion, I fail. Then, evidently, I lash out at my son and my wife, those closest to me. The only thing left for me to do is beg for forgiveness and understanding and love.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Why Am I Awake?

Toy son Tommy,

Your mom is upstairs sawing some zees. And you, the boy who said he wasn't tired, has figured out how to sleep near vertically. The only thing I ask, for future reference, is to be told when Downey family nap time begins. Feeling left out.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Day In The Life

To my son Tommy,

I thought today you can follow a day in my life. The plan for the day is to bring your Grandpa Leo to hospital to map his brain for the radiation treatment. Along the way I have to do the normal things. Will piece together a day from voice memos, and notes, and quick blog edits.

Pre 5:15 AM Haven't slept much. Tossing and turning all night with things on my mind. Nothing specific, just everything.

5:15 AM Alarm goes off for your mom. She has to get ready for clinicals. I try to roll over and go back to bed.

5:45 AM Vaguely remember instructions from your mom. I am sure it has to do with your medicine. I will figure it out. I mumble acknowledgement. Just need a couple more minutes of sleep.

6:15 AM The front door opens and your mom heads out to clinicals. Time to get fifteen minutes.

6:27 AM I can't count to fifteen evidently. Shower time. I look in the mirror and realize the goatee is threatening to morph into a full beard. I shave the cheeks to define the hair on my chin and lip. Movember is over so I should shave the whole thing but I just don't have time. I jump in the hottest shower my body can stand. I realize I might have asbestos for skin.

6:35 AM Man this shower feels good. Hey, did I fall asleep in the water? I am not getting out yet. I use the solitude to pray as I multi task by stretching as the hot water relaxes me.

6:45 AM Out of the shower and halfway dressed. My jeans are downstairs and, against your mom's suggestion, I am going to where the same pair. They have everything in the pockets already, even if they could probably walk on their own. I go to wake you up.

6:47 AM After agreeing to give you a couple minutes more sleeping (like father, like son) I go down to make you breakfast. Oatmeal with apple sauce here I come. Oh yeah, something about medicine too. Let me pull on my big boy jeans and get going.

6:55 AM I place your breakfast on your table and put on public television. The end of Arthur is on. I call for you to come down. Surprisingly, you wake up and come. You really are an easy kid to deal with. At the bottom of the steps you say, "It is too early!" and I mentally add "for this crap" on the end of your phrase and chuckle. I get you a blanket to wear while you eat and give you an oral syringe of amoxicillin. It shudders you and you inform me that tomorrow is the last day for this stuff. I go to make your lunch and you start eating and searching for your Elf on the Shelf who is riding Clifford the Big Red dog near the television.

7:01 AM Lunch is made and you found your elf. I lament not doing something creative with your lunch but am just happy to have everything running on time. I check your folder for school and it looks like Mommy has everything in order. She is great! I convince you that you should wait till Mommy is with us tonight to open your next day on your Lego Star Wars Advent calendar. As you eat, I get a break to write some of this down.

7:20 AM Breakfast is done and time to get dressed. Your mom has your outfit laid out. She really sets me up to succeed! Small intermission when your pajama pants come off. The cold air affects me the same way. I use the break to grab some missing socks. When we both get back, we go for the dressing record and come up short with a long 37 seconds. Time for teeth brushing and vitamin. Afterwards, you notice Chippy has a note for you.

7:33 AM Wild Kratts is on the boob tube. Grooming done. Vitamin taken. Elf note read. I check my ipad. Only a dozen work emails. They can wait. Cuddle time! Your mom does cuddle time first thing in the morning, but I wait till everything is done and then cuddle. Moms and dads do things differently. Each way has advantages and no one way is better than the other. It is just what works for me.

7:49 AM Time to head out for school. Again I convince you to wait for the advent calendar, as we break away from our cuddling. We grab your minion backpack, make sure the lights and television are off, set the alarm, and out we go. All and all, a smooth morning. Thank God for small blessings.

7:57 AM Picked up the Baltimore Sun as we left the house. Must be a free subscription trying to entice me back. Frankly the only reason I cancelled it was because they throw it in your mom's flower bed, which they did again. Oh well, something to read later today. Got you to school and through the drop off line. Bit later than normal, but local traffic made it tough to make a left turn off of Rock Glen. Off to fill up gas as the low fuel level just came on in the truck.

8:08 AM All fueled up. Hope this doesn't make me late for picking up your Grandpa Leo. I am taking him down to Johns Hopkins to get mapped for his upcoming radiation treatment. Appointment is not till ten but your grandpa wanted to get an early start. Caught a glimpse of my reflection in one of the truck's windows as I fueled up. When did I get this fat, old, and ugly?

8:12 AM Beltway looks backed up so taking the back way to your Grandpa. This might add a few minutes so I might have to go a bit faster than normal for those windy back roads. Feeling anxious so I use the time to say a decade of the Rosary as I drive.

8:31 AM Didn't make bad time. Got a minute or two to say hi to your Great Uncle Paddy who is in from New Mexico. But not much time to waste. Off we go.

9:49 AM Well traffic was less than stellar this morning. An hour plus to get down to Hopkins and parked and shuttled around to where we are supposed to be. I didn't mind as I got to have an hour long conversation with your Grandpa on just about everything. I love talking to him. Of course now the waiting game begins and we both sit here in quiet pensive contemplation while we both distract ourselves with our iPads. He is playing solitaire and I am catching up on this daily journal blog.

11:01 AM They started the CT scan on your Grandpa. Put some type of pliable self molding mask on him beforehand, I assume they don't have to write with marker directly on his to mp the radiation spot or spots. They had to strap him (at his bequest) so, in case he falls asleep, his arms woudn't fall off the i-beam they use for the scanning table. Taking the time to ask St. Peregrine (and a couple family members that I am sure are up in Heaven as well) to pray for your grandpa. Never realized how much I do actually pray during the day.

11:25 AM CT scan done and MRI starting. Really is interesting seeing the science working, seeing the magnet take magnetic slices of his head. Of course the circumstances of getting an MRI almost always take away from the neatness factor and don't allow you to enjoy the science. Settling into the Baltimore Sun now and it looks like former Governor Erhlich is now having presidential aspirations. If he does, that will be the third from Maryland to throw his hat into the ring, joint Governor O'Malley and Dr. Ben Carson. I think these guys need to start surrounding themselves with real people as advisors, to tell them how it really is and humble them a bit, because they all seem to believe their own hype. Guess that is Maryland politics. I miss Willy Don. Maybe the lifestyle section will have something of more importance. Or I could answer some of the twenty work emails piling up. Probably do both as this is the long scan.

12:15 PM MRI done and heading home. Only thing I found in the paper worth the ink was an eggnog sugar cookie recipe, but alas I don't need that. Also was a review of a blended red wine, but since it didn't come in a box and was around twenty bucks,mthatnwould be splurging for us. They played Bach for your Grandpa Leo in the MRI, which he enjoyed, what he could hear of it through the clank clank of the machine. Hope traffic is smooth. Is there a patron saint of roads and highways?

12:57 PM Just got to Grandpa Leo's house. Talked to your grandparents about upcoming doctor appointments. Your grandmom Roro has a doc appt Monday and Tuesday of next week that we have covered and then on Dec 22nd goes into Sinai for some observation for possible seizures or pschizophrenia episodes. Your Grandpa Leo starts radiation on the 15th and I assume starts with chemo then too, but we haven't got the prescription for that yet. Got some calls to make I guess. Funny how the todo list always remains and always gets longer even if you are dealing with cancer.

2:26 PM Reported all the details of today's visit and caught up with your great uncle. Also visited with your great grandparents. Ran out and picked up chinese for your grandma. Your grandparents generously offered to make sure that ambulance bill was covered. Just heading out. Now to decide to head into work or work from home tonight. I think I might surprise you and pick you up from school and then work from home. Got my hands free on the phone and am calling into the office now. Wonder if I will make it in time for dismissal?

2:55 PM Made it in time for dismissal, but I must say Maryland drivers are horrible. Though I went to confession last night, after this drive on this wet day with Maryland drivers, I am pretty sure I may need to go again! Your Bwama pulled up right as I did. Unfortunately, since I was there to get you, and your cousin Ryan had STEM, she didn't have anyone to pick up till later.

3:10 PM After the normal pleasantries that you go through at dismissal, which evidently are extensive as you must say goodbye to each and every person on a personal level. We made it home. I gave you about 15 minutes on ipad and then homework started.

3:46 PM Your mom got out of clinicals early. When she came in you were working on your first page of homework. I started to discuss some chores and stuff like that. In the process I put down your folder with the second page of homework. Big mistake.

4:20 PM After frantically searching for this folder, and getting more and more angry with myself for misplacing it, and more and more bewildered as to where it could be, we found the second page of homework. I get myself all worked up and then I get myself all upset because I should clean more and it really snowballs from there. I shouldn't allow that to happen. Your mom just kept chuckling and trying to cheer me up as I searched/cleaned/pouted/grumped around. Your mom is a saint for putting up with me. Anyways, second page of homework done.

4:30 PM After finishing your homework, your mom and you have found the perfect cuddle place on the couch and are watching a Toy Story That Time Forgot, which is a Christmas special I recorded last night from ABC. Jealousy abounds in your old man! Maybe I can channel that into work, so I log on to the company computers.

4:50 PM Perhaps the most perfect part of my day, I take a quick break from work, and we decide to do the advent calendar. Again I end up with extra pieces, but I am okay with that now. We discovered that the instructions for each piece/day is actually on the back of the door that was just opened. Before getting back to work, going to start some water boiling because I am sure you want either pasta or mac and cheese for dinner.

5:15 PM You are eating some mac and cheese I heated up, and your mom is actually boiling the water for the next batch because you are going to want more. Before you would eat, you complained about belly pain. When you didn't take my "go poop" advice, I had to do a whole production. After listening to your belly, making you bend down and bend up, and pushing on your belly, I declared you cured and you went to eating your mac and cheese. A little showmanship is an excellent placebo. Your mom is dead tired and I am not sure how this amazing woman is still going, even though I did catch her cat napping on the couch. Do you think wine with working from home is okay?

6:05 PM Dinner time for daddy. You had yours and your mom found some left over turkey pot pie. I am settling into some leftover pasta. I decided against wine earlier but grabbed a beer to wash down dinner. Just one, to take the edge off.

6:50 PM Bedtime! You have taken your medicine, sang our bedtime songs, changed into pajamas, said are nightly prayers, and are all tucked in. Your mom is headed up too. I got a bunch of work to do so I am going to try get some of it done tonight before I crash, so I am going to sign off from this letter.

What is the point of this journal for today? I have no clue. It was just another day, a busy day, perhaps a boring day, but just another day. Though the challenges kept creeping in, work, traffic, scheduling, etc., nearly every moment of this day was filled with family and prayers and love.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Show Off

To my son Tommy,

So it is day two of your Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar. You did this one all on your own. No extra pieces like your old man ended up with yesterday. The force must be strong with you. Show off.

On a side note, word has it that your Uncle Paddy has touched down in Baltimore is en route to your grandparents' house. We will catch up with him later in the week. Tomorrow you head back to school because your fever broke last night around 11pm. After I drop you off to school, I head out to take your Grandpa Leo to get mapped for his upcoming brain radiation therapy. Fun times.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

Monday, December 1, 2014

Irish Pragmatist

To my son Tommy,

Wow. What a day! And not necessarily in a good way, but nothing catastrophic... just work.

First off a quick medical update. I was very thankful over the extended holiday weekend that no one was in the hospital. There was some that threatened hospital visits but ended up taking lesser methods.

Your Bwama had a sinus infection that caused her to go to one of those urgent care facilities on Thanksgiving itself. Your PopPop had a-fib while carving the turkey at our house but it is evidently much less of a case and he came out of it on his own and it isn't as debilitating or scary and it is to be expected for up to three months after his surgery. In fact he was in more danger from your mom when he took the beautiful crispy skin off the bird before carving because FoxNews told him so.

Your Grandpa Leo started having some pain and headaches and thought to himself, "Oh my here it comes" but then remembered a prescribed pill (which he calls his dumb pill because the way it makes him feel immediately after taking it) he forgotten to take and that made things better. Your Grandma Roro had a small scene where she was sure she left her purse in church, even though it was Saturday and they hadn't gone to church and her purse was in the other room.

Your great grandfather had some problems with his catheter, dried blood in the tube, but the hospice care came and changed that out so he didn't have to visit the hospital. Your Nana Jeanne is not feeling too hot but for the most part is just coping.

Your mom has a sinus infection and had a doctor's visit to get that cleared up. You, yourself, threatened some doctor visits on Friday and Saturday but it wasn't until last night that you got a fever and thus we took you today.

All things considered though, for the range of ailments we have in this ragtag group of invalids we call a family, it was a good weekend. It is an entirely different perspective when you can list everything that went wrong and be thankful it wasn't worse!

Then the weekend ended and I got to work. Slammed! Lots of fires to put out and issues to address and correct. I didn't stop working all day and am doing more work tonight. Blogging is just a small break. Well, blogging and working on your Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar piece, which mind you doesn't come with instructions and somehow I ended up with two extra pieces on the first box which has me confounded as you can see by the picture. But I digress. I guess this type of workday is par for the course after a long holiday weekend. Yet all and all, it is just work and it pays (most of) the bills.

There will be days like this, days that you are slammed and worked to the bone and just want to scream into your pillow as you fade off to sleep. You have good days and bad and you will hardly know which are which while they are happening. But you can actually choose. You can choose to make it a good day. Because it is how you react, your contribution, your perspective, your perception, of the events that frame reality.

Just like our family can have all these medical things happen over four or five days, and I still consider it a good can choose to not let whatever challenge your face to bring you woe and misery. I am not advocating for rose colored glasses here, as I accept every event in life with a healthy dose of pragmatism, but just because something sucks, doesn't mean it can't be worse and doesn't mean it won't get better. So when these days come, roll up your sleeves. Get to work. Make things better rather than wallowing in despair. And just maybe tomorrow will be a better day. Of course, as a true Irish pragmatist (aka Grandpa Leo) once told his son, if all else fails there is always whisky! I kid, I kid. Well sort of. The whisky might help me with these extra Lego pieces!

Sincerely with love from your dad,