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Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Priest who Loved the Atheist...

Christopher Hitchens
I wouldn't think a priest could be a fan of a notorious and controversial atheist, but that appears to be the case with Word on Fire's Fr. Robert Barron and well-known atheist author, columnist, and speaker Christopher Hitchens, of God is Not Great fame.

Hitchens died earlier this month at age 62, after a battle with esophageal cancer (see here and here).

As a matter of fact, when I posted that Hitchens had died on my Facebook page, a good friend and fellow blogger commented that he hoped that Mother Teresa would get a one-day furlough from heaven to go down to kick his defamatory butt (to use a milder term).

That's the kind of response that Hitchens' death probably invoked from many theists who knew him, except maybe Fr. Barron and the hundreds of friends and thousands of fans, including Christians, who tried to persuade him and prayed for him to convert during his illness.

Hitchens was a contradiction.  He supported President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq, often criticized Michael Moore and Bill Clinton and his brother Peter Hitchens, is an atheist turned Roman Catholic and a renown Conservative political and social writer in England.

Yet, he was a "reformed" socialist, who supported globalization, the legalization of drugs and relentlessly attacked religion, with a special disdain for the Catholic Church, the Pope and Mother Teresa. 

In fact, he was part the "New Atheist" movement and was involved in a group of atheist intellectuals, that called themselves The Four Horsemen after the Apocalyptic characters in the Gospel of John, whose mission it was to try to eradicate God from contemporary society and culture.

Nevertheless, if we reflect on it deeply, we realize Fr. Barron is right. 

As Christians, who worship the God of love, we must love, even when it's a devout atheist (although easier said then done).  We believe in redemption and will never know if before taking his last breath, Hitchens asked God for mercy and forgiveness, or maybe, as Fr. Barron suggests, Hitchens was a religious man all along...   


Monday, December 26, 2011

Misadventures of a Pre-Christmas Bike Ride...

My hairy legs slowed me down
I have several friends who are into cycling.

One has even started his own cycling team, goes riding every morning with some of our biking buddies and fellow cyclists from the area, and has even partaken in a 150 mile charity ride. This is from a guy, who friends say, when he first started, would show up with a cigar in his mouth.

For months, he has been inviting me to ride with him and some friends but since his riding group usually leaves way too early for me (about 5am), I always had a built-in excuse. That is until last weekend when he asked me to join him for a ride on Christmas Eve morning, at a more reasonable time.

After meeting me at 6:50am near my house in Coral Gables and backtracking to his house to get me a helmet (I don't have one), a water bottle and filling my tires with air (the guy doesn't fool around), we headed off to meet the rest of the group in South Miami.

As we approach a busy intersection, I was so involved in our conversation that I didn't realize a car was going to cross in front of us until my friend yelled, "Slow down!" As I hit the brakes, my bike came to a dead stop. Unfortunately, I didn't.

I took a nasty spill, flying over my handlebars and crashing violently into the street, breaking the fall with my hands and rolling over on my right shoulder. Fortunately, the car was able to stop in plenty of time.

Aside from a minor scrape on my knee and ego, through the grace of God, I came away practically unscathed; at least at first glance.

"Are you O.k.?" my friend asked. A couple of other cyclists, that were passing by and saw the tumble, also stopped to check on me.

"Good. I'm alright," I replied, trying desperately to play off the pain I was in. Despite still being dazed from the shock, I got back on the seat as quickly as I could and kept going.

The last time I recall falling from my bike, I was about nine-years-old and trying to beat a car across the street in front of my house. I lost.

The car broadsided me, tossing me and my bike in the air. As I came down, my head hit the front bumper (or hood; it just hurt!), before being flung to the pavement, where my head dribbled several times on the street like a basketball, as my body slid for several yards down the road.  I was lucky the car stopped before running me over.

I probably suffered a minor concussion, had bumps and bruises on my head, tailbone and elbows, and was bleeding from several bad scrapes, but my guardian angel was definitely with me then too. I was able to walk away from the collision on my own.

Back to my pre-Christmas story, it wasn't long after getting back on my bike, that I started realizing the pain I was in. My wrists and shoulders were barking, as the impact of a 250 lbs man traveling at about 14 miles per hour, stopping abruptly, catapulting in the air like a canon ball in medieval times and hitting cement would have the tendency to do.

It was an ominous beginning to our ride, which was supposed to go as far as Black Point Marina in South Miami-Dade, which my friend informed me would be about 45 miles roundtrip and take about two and a half hours (I usually ride about 12 miles max!).

Not to mention, Christmas Eve dinner was going to be at my house this year and I had told my wife I would be back in a couple of hours (yikes!). Considering that we were still heading to meet other riders to then begin a two and a half hour ride was concerning. (I didn’t want to start our Christmas celebration in the Espinosa dog house!)

The plan was to meet the others at 7:30am at a designated spot and despite the delay for gear and my fall, we got there about ten minutes early.

There were already about five people waiting when we arrived. All of a sudden, after a brief introduction, there are eight, then ten, then fifteen, twenty and by the end, about twenty seven cyclists had amassed (if I counted correctly). They were mostly from another bicycle team that rides several times a week. Aside from my friend, I didn't know a soul.

They were all in full bicycle gear, padded spandex shorts, multi-colored skin-tight shirts with bright lettering, helmets, glasses, gloves, bike shoes to clip on to the tiny pedals on their razor-thin lightweight foreign-made racing bikes and I'm sure several shaved legs.

Then I took stock of my look; an old grey fleece jacket, that had shrunk just enough to heighten my protruding belly, grey cotton gym shorts, running shoes, and old fashioned pedals on my clunky Trek mountain bike (not to mention; hairy legs). I knew my odds of keeping pace with them, probably looked as good as I did.

Yet, I heard someone say not to worry, "No man left behind." They were going to go on a nice leisurely pace, so I thought, "I'm good."

At 7:32am, we set off. I was one of the first to get going and started south on Red Road, my friend passing briskly by me with a group of riders, as well as several other guys. I kept pedaling away and picking up speed, as more men and women whisked by and then more, and then more.

As one guy passed by, he asked, "Are you Ok?"  Which left me a bit perplexed. 

I was going at, what I thought, was a good pace.  I wasn't showing any indication of physical stress or equipment problem.  Then, I glanced back and realized, I was the last one.  I was being left behind!

I started to push and pedaling feverishly to try to catch up with the peloton (I was forced to watch the Tour de France several times by my wife and brother-in-law during our family vacation in Sanibel!).

In fact, I had a brief flashback to a time that my wife, brother, sister-in-law, her husband and I rode to Captiva Island from Sanibel (about 24 miles roundtrip) several years ago.

It was during the Tour de France and I was trailing behind the others (our mini-peloton) in my rental bike. I decided to catch up and stood up to pedal faster.

As I caught up with them, I started swaying from side to side, like I had seen the guys in the Tour do, and, all of a sudden, the bike chain came off and the bike came to a sudden stop, hurling me forward and slamming the family jewels (as my high school baseball coach used to say) right into the handlebars, and almost tossing me off the bike in the process. I was able to keep from crashing head first by jumping off and landing on my feet (I was a little lighter and more nimble back then).

While they were all laughing hysterically (especially my wife), I had to fix the chain. Fortunately, it wasn't complicated since we were close to Captiva and it would have meant a long walk back).

Anyway, back to last weekend’s ride, I put the bike in the highest gear to gain speed in hopes of catching up with the rest of the group.

However, my top gear was having some sort of problem. It wasn't catching. So, I had to downshift and keep pedaling away.

Meanwhile, I felt like the little boy chasing a balloon blowing in the wind. Every time I was getting close to the peleton, as they slowed down because of traffic, they rode farther ahead.

By the time they turned, somewhere near SW 120th St., I was already lagging about half a block behind. I was definitely getting left behind!

There were two options at this point. One was to keep pedaling harder in hopes of catching them for a short while, knowing that keeping up with them for 45 miles was going to be a challenge, at best, or two, turn around and head back home.

The choice was easy. I decided on the latter.

I took up my normal pace of about 12-14 miles per hour, prayed a Rosary as I usually do on my morning rides, and got home before my family was up. Peace still reigned in the Espinosa household and Christmas was saved! 

Therefore, despite the pain and traumatic fall, I have to thank my friend for a nice ride after all (about 15-17 miles).  Although, let's just say, besides my girth, slightly lesser drive and bearlike hairiness, I won't be confused with Lance Armstrong anytime soon...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Praying Before Meals is Not Always Easy, Even for Priests...

Saying Grace by Norman Rockwell
One of the habits I have gotten my family used to is praying before every meal, especially when we are together.

I'll be honest, it's not something that I necessarily grew up doing but wanted to establish the practice for my kids.

Many years ago, a friend told me a story about an experience he had with his family one night, while having dinner at a restaurant. 

A family that was very unlike them walked into the eatery.  They were wearing beat up jeans and ratty t-shirts, had long and disheveled hair, the man was unshaven, and both parents were sporting tattoos.

My friends says that, in his mind, he was already judging them and started getting concerned about whether they might start using foul language or behaving ornery.  He felt uncomfortable.

Then, he looked over and they were holding hands and saying grace.

My friend says he felt ashamed.  Here he was feeling high and mighty, making prejudgements because of the way they looked, and he was humbled by their faith; a faith that he was too embarrassed to show with his own family in a crowded restaurant.

I have never forgotten that story.

I recently got an email from my boss with a blog by a beloved local Miami priest, named Fr. Guillermo Garcia, better known as Fr. Willie, who had a similar experience to that of my friend.

During a recent trip to New York, Fr. Willie had met some old high school friends that live in the city at a local deli for lunch.  When their meal was served, there was an awkward moment.  He writes:
As a priest I always experience that uncomfortable moment before eating a meal with others that is brought about by the insecurity of whether we should say a prayer or not. It’s uncomfortable because I don’t want others to feel awkward having to bow their heads and make the sign of the cross in a public place, especially a place like New York City.

So there we sat, awkwardly waiting in silence for someone to make the first move. Unable to bear the discomfort much longer I boldly decided to act. I looked down at my hot pastrami sandwich and took a bite. Immediately the tension was relaxed. The others at the table proceeded to pick up their sandwiches and gorge on the deli delights brought to us by the culinary expertise of New Yorkers.

Later that day, as they made their way through a busy street, he noticed a bearded older man in a skullcap placing a mat on the floor and kneeling for his afternoon prayers, as the sun was setting, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the major metropolis.

Fr. Willie writes:
And then I was uncomfortable again.

There were hundreds of people walking the sidewalk on that busy weekday afternoon who paused to watch this little old man as he offered his prayer in the heart of the city. Some of them were probably angered at his public display of faith, some of them probably thought he was a fanatic like the ones who flew airplanes into buildings just a few blocks away, and some of them probably just laughed.

But I was uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because just a few minutes earlier I had allowed an awkward moment determine how and if I expressed my conviction of faith. Uncomfortable because I had failed to thank God for the meal I had received, because I had failed to teach a lesson to the alumni, and because I was too worried about my own comfort and not worried enough about my faith. Uncomfortable because I recognized that my courage didn’t measure up to the courage of this little old man in the skullcap.

What a lesson I learned. A life of faith is not about comfort and ease, but about conviction and courage. It is a call to give witness to all people, at all time, no matter what the circumstance, no matter where the place. Even in New York City.
Thus, my friend and Fr. Willie share the same story.

If the least I can do is to pray with my family before meals, even at the risk of being seen in public, like the disheveled tattooed family and the bearded old man with the skullcap had the courage and conviction to do, then that is what I will do.

Yet, the challenge for me is no longer saying grace with my family, which is now expected and safe.  In order to get out of my comfort zone and give witness to my faith, as Fr. Willie suggested, it means I would have to live my faith in everything I do, including praying before meals with friends. 

Unfortunately, during a recent company Christmas luncheon, all I could muster was to say grace in silence.  I still have a long way to go...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tears Down My Cheeks on Commute to Work...

Fans of country music might argue that their favorite music style is not just something to be listened to, it's something to be felt.  It's about life; the good, the bad, the ugly, family, faith, hope, and love.  It's about standing up for what you believe and overcoming the struggles. 

In fact, there's a saying that goes something along the lines of, if there is a situation in life, there's probably a country song written about it.

Despite being only a dabbler in the genre, it seems, every time I listen to a country music song carefully, I can relate to the words and, sometimes, even may profoundly feel them, as one song did recently on my way to work.

There I was; happily driving with my McDonald’s breakfast burrito on my right hand and trying to apply the sauce on it with my left, while keeping a couple of fingers on the steering wheel (and people think texting is bad!).

All of a sudden, I heard these words from the radio, “She dropped the phone and burst into tears. The doctor just confirmed her fears. Her husband held it in and held her tight.”

I put my burrito aside and started listening more intently.  “Cancer don’t discriminate or care if you’re just 38 with three kids who need you in their lives. He said, "I know that you’re afraid and I am too, but you’ll never be alone, I promise you."

I started thinking about my wife and kids and felt a tear running down my cheek.

Then, the refrain, sung from the perspective of the husband, really put a dagger in me, “When you’re weak, I’ll be strong. When you let go, I’ll hold on. When you need to cry, I swear that I’ll be there to dry your eyes. When you feel lost and scared to death, Like you can’t take one more step Just take my hand, together we can do it I’m gonna love you through it.”

By that point, tears were uncontrollably gushing down both cheeks, as I was desperately trying to avoid making eye contact with other drivers. 

I seems like a recurring theme for me around this time of year.

Last year it was Christmas Shoes  by New Song.  This year, it was I'm Gonna Love You Through It, by Martina McBride (see below).

It also reminded me of several friends who have gone and are still going through the scenario played out in the song.

One of our friends was able to catch breast cancer early and, thankfully, she is in remission.  She and her husband have young children and have gone through the emotional and spiritual roller coaster that cancer brings with it over the last couple of years. 

They say faith is what helped carry them through. 

Another friend and her husband are still going through this but, in this case, the wife was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor, which was further complicated when she also suffered a stroke. 

The last year, has been an uphill climb for them; the highs and lows, the good days and bad, the in and out of hospitals and treatments, the emotional and financial toll, and the many more issues and problems that I don't even know about.

Still, like the first couple, faith and their love for one another seems to be what is helping them overcome.

In St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he writes, "God is faithfull, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it." (1 Cor 10:13).

These are just two stories.  Two women like the hundreds of thousands that each year get diagnosed with some form of cancer or another.  And, two men, who like in the Martina McBride song, have helped their wives through the pain, sorrow, hardship, despair, doubt and loneliness with their love; like hundreds of thousands of wives help their husbands get through similar ordeals each year as well.

As I pulled into the parking lot at work, and the song came to an end, I reflected on how blessed my wife and I have been. 

I don't know if I would have the courage and strength to love my wife through a situation like the one in the song (without her having to console me instead!), but I'd like to think, with God's help, I would, as I know, she would love me through it too.

Taking a deep breath, I gathered myself, wiped the tears from my face and finally took a bite from my burrito...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Being Single During Christmas Can Give Anyone the Blues...

One recent morning, a co-worker was celebrating her 10th wedding anniversary and a discussion broke out in our newsroom about marriage.

The conversation included three single ladies, my married friend (female) and me (the sole male representing!).

The married friend said that despite the bad rap sometimes, marriage was a wonderful thing.

I chimed in that marriage gives you freedom. Freedom? What are you talk’n about Willis?

It’s funny, most people in the “unmarried and loving it” crowd picture marriage as too restricting and constricting on individual freedoms. But, it’s actually the opposite.

At least in my case, marriage gives me freedom. Freedom to love like God loves, to get outside of myself and focus on my wife (which, for me, is a work in progress), to share an intimacy and oneness that can’t be humanly duplicated with anyone else, except with my wife, and, as an added bonus, the freedom to do things that I couldn't possibly be able to if it wasn't for her (i.e., paying the bills so that I can blog!). Marriage is, in fact, liberating.

Besides, I started remembering that this time of the year can really suck when you are single!

I mean, I recall the sense of loneliness I felt during the Christmas Season during my single days; not having a girlfriend to share with and buy gifts for, no one to get a gift from (except my brother and parents), and no one to invite to the company Christmas Party (although at my workplace they give us a day off instead) or to the family reunion.

Meanwhile, every other TV commercial shows happy couples and families opening their gifts under a Christmas tree or getting a Lexus wrapped in a red ribbon (this is a more recent commercial, but you get my point).

I remember the many nights of going out during the holiday season. All the stores were full of people, trying to find that perfect gift for their loved ones, the streets elaborately decorated with lights, if lucky, chilly weather in the air, Christmas carols on the radio, holiday cheer abound, and me trying to get hooked up at a bar and thinking, this really sucks!

Let’s face it, It’s a Wonderful Life is not as wonderful if you have no one to cuddle with. It’s not the same to watch it in the family room with your parents.

One year, I went to three random Christmas parties with different dates.  I can't recall one by name. How sad.

I can see how people have the Christmas blues, especially when the true meaning of Christmas is missing or lost, as it was for me during my single days.

Ironically, a Pew Research study published this week indicates that more Americans are waiting longer to get married for the first time.

Unfortunately, they don’t know what they’re missing. Then again, maybe they do during this time of the year...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dion the Wanderer Finds Way Home...

It's amazing the things you miss and then discover by chance one day while clearing out your DVR.

Last week, I was erasing several programs I had recorded, since my recording capacity was shrinking, and ran across an interview with rock and roll legend, Dion DiMucci.

I’ll be honest; I didn’t know much about DiMucci, outside of his stage name (Dion) and a few of his better known hit songs, which I had heard through the years, without even realizing they were his.

As I began to watch the interview, DiMucci, quickly peaked my interest by saying he was the only headliner to survive the fatal plane crash that took the life of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson in 1959. Having watched La Bamba, I was intrigued.

Recounting the story, he talked about how the bus they had been touring in kept breaking down and it was blisteringly cold. They were traveling from Iowa to Fargo, North Dakota and Holly decided to charter a small 4-seat plane for the stars of the show.  The only hitch, there was just room for three of them, so they decided to draw straws to see who would get on board with the pilot.

DiMucci won but says he couldn't see himself coughing up the $36 bucks it would cost each of them to charter the flight, which he says, was the same amount his parents would often argue over, since it was what they paid for rent in the apartment they lived, while he was growing up. Instead, Dion gave his seat to Valens.

The plane crashed shortly after takeoff on February 3, 1959, which became known as "The Day the Music Died."

DiMucci retold the story on EWTN's The World Over with Raymond Arroyo, where he was promoting his new autobiography, titled, Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth, co-written by Mike Aquilina.

In the book, Dion, writes about his rags to riches story, his fast ascent into super stardom at 19 in the late 50's, his fast lane lifestyle in the 60's (which led him to drug addiction), and his long and difficult sojourn back to the faith of his childhood.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, who Bruce Springsteen once called the link between Sinatra and rock-n-roll, is now in his early seventies but still has that cool swagger he was known for in his early days and can still play and carry a tune with any new kid on stage.

In fact, he has never stopped writing and recording music since he first broke into the scene, and says he feels more relevant today than at any point in his life because, for the first time, he knows not only who he is but adds, he now knows whose he is.

Dion & The Belmonts
In the interview with Arroyo, Dion talked about his early influences, Hank William Sr. and Lou Reed, which, when fused (Country and Blues) became his rock sound, that started with a neighborhood group called, Dion and the Belmonts, after Belmont Avenue in the Bronx (I Wonder Why), and later led to a solo career.

When asked if he was happy after The WandererRunaround Sue, A Teenager in Love and a string of other hits, DiMucci says, "Getting a hit record is like being popular, or famous, or successful.  It's almost like a narcotic. It is like a narcotic. So, I don't know how truly happy (I was). You know, you get excited about a lot of things but deep inside, you get down in the core, when I was alone, and I wondered, is something missing? Yeah, the bankbook's full and I got the new car but who are the people in the car and how do you relate to them? And where are we going? We're making good time, but we don't know where we're going."

"I was very selfish, self-centered, now that I look back at it; inconsiderate, fearful, dishonest.  Who knew?  I thought I was God's gift to the world. But, deep inside, I think it was the bleakest, darkest period of my life. I was filling up the emptiness with the drugs and partying. I was running and it doesn't matter what kind of shoes you got on if you're running. I don't care if you're using alcohol, drugs, pills, you know, sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. Whatever you're doing, you're running and it doesn't come out well."

During that time of heavy drug use, he decided to try to escape the vicious cycle he was in by moving with his wife, and high school sweetheart, Susan, to Miami. The couple moved in with her parents. He says that living with his father-in-law, who was a devout man of faith, made a profound impact on his life.

One day, Dion says he saw his father-in-law on his knees praying. It shook him to the core.  He says his father-in-law was an imposing and powerful man, who had many men working for him. He says that seeing his wife’s father on his knees praying to God and watching him live and proclaim his faith on a daily basis, started to chip away at him.

Despite being raised Roman Catholic in an Italian neighborhood, where he attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, he says, "I knew nothing about being Catholic. I knew nothing about my religion. I knew Father, Son and Holy Spirit and I used to cross myself when I walked in front of a church." That was the extent of his religious understanding. 

But, he says, a local parish priest used to call him over and challenge him on the faith by asking him questions and giving him words of wisdom that resonated within him years later.

"And, after all these drug induced years of searching, when I was at my bottom, what do you think I thought of? Mount Carmel Catholic Church, and I wondered, where God is in all this?"

After listening to his father-in-law talk to him about God and the importance of faith for so long, Dion decided it was time to reach out and ask God where he was in all this.

Dion says that for the first time, he got down on his knees in his room and prayed. He was never the same after that. He says he gave up drugs and alcohol cold turkey that day and started seeking God.

His journey began at an Evangelical church. He says he was reading the Bible for the first time in his life and it was reflected in his music. After his conversion, he recorded several gospel albums and was even nominated for a Grammy for two of them, “I Put Away My Idols," and “Bronx in Blue.”

Eventually, Dion says he started noticing inconsistencies in the way different Christians interpreted certain Bible verses and critical comments being made against the church that he had grown up in as a kid.

Although, eternally grateful for the understanding he gained on the Word and the love of Christ during 18 years in various Protestant churches, questions started to arise within him about those inconsistencies.

He recalls one verse in particular that haunted him, "The pillar and foundation of truth is what? The Bible itself says, it's the church. Now, what church, I started asking?" and it brought him back to the priest back home, who once asked him, "What is truth and who has the authority to define it?"

"The Truth shall set you free and it set me free. When I saw that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is who it claimed to be, you know, when I saw the center of the Church, and, I think a lot of people don't see that. They see this. They see that. I don't know what they see. But, they are not in the center of the Church looking out. They are outside looking in and yelling at it and beating it and cursing at it and seeing the dark stained glass windows. They are not inside it and seeing the beauty and the wonder and the mystery and the beauty of truth. I mean, it's mind boggling. I love the Church. Once you see it, because, it was started from above. It was started by Christ Himself."

"You always hear, we have to get back to what the Apostles, the original (church), the way they were back then. And, the Catholic Church is that church. It just doesn't look like an acorn anymore. I don't look like a baby anymore. You can't recognize me from my baby picture any more. But, I can assure you, it's the same DNA."

"I love defining stuff, like freedom. I used to think freedom was doing anything you want, especially, if you didn't get caught; regardless of the consequences to your wife, your family, your God, your country, your self and that's license. Freedom is the ability to choose the good. God's best. And, I was never free to do that. So, I have to work on it a day at a time."

Aside from his ongoing music career, DiMucci is currently involved in a prison ministry and helps men recovering from addictions. 

After listening to the full interview, I can say that Dion comes across as a man of sincere convictions with a great grasp of his faith. The Wanderer found his way home and, as he says, the Truth has set him free.

Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth is definitely another of the many books in my growing Christmas list.

Now, to see what else I can find in my DVR...

Watch more about Dion's life, music, relationship with John Lennon, his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and what's next for him:


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Talk About Brutal Honesty...

I don't know whether he meant it as a compliment or not but, as I was bathing my 4-year-old son last night, he said to me, "Daddy, when I grow up, I want to have man boobs like you!"

Huh?  Thanks, I think.

Man, it sucks getting old...

  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I'm Just Glad it's Over...

Just watching my four-year-old son going in and out of the fun house was making my already exhausted and beat up body more tired by the minute, if that’s possible, after five hours of walking around my kids’ school fair.

He went in six, seven and eight times back to back; around several gates, up a rope ladder, over a bridge, down a slide and through several punching bags, out and back in.

Each time he lifted his long sleeve shirt and showed the attendant his fuchsia colored bracelet that let it be known that he could ride as many times as he wanted (courtesy of mom and dad's $45 check per child), sort of, like a just-minted 21-year-old showing off his legal i.d. for the first time at bars (in my day it was 18).

Last weekend, my wife, kids and I spent most of it at our parish and childrens' school's yearly fund raising carnival, which many parents dread (although you can't see, I'm raising my hand), but our kids start looking forward to from the time it ends on Sunday night one year until the time it starts the next.

The Drop
The anticipation grows even stronger when they see the carnival workers installing the fair rides and games in the school yard the week prior to the event and my kids (my daughters) start talking about all the rides they are planning to go on; like the G-Force, the Ali-Baba, the Pharaoh’s Ferry and grand daddy of them all; The Drop, which my wife ended up riding with the girls.

For the younger kids, like my son and seven-year-old daughter, it’s all about the rides and hanging out with their classmates.

But, for the older kids, like my soon-to-be eleven-year-old daughter, it’s about the independence. It’s an opportunity to hang out with their friends without their parents’ constant gaze (although with my wife and my friends throughout the schoolyard, there is always a parental eye on all the kids).

For me, it’s three nights and two days (although, this year, we missed Friday night due to our daughters’ Christmas ballet recital) of chasing my son around the school yard to the same few rides (that he can actually get on) for hours on end, trying to keep him away from the carnival games and ignoring the carnival workers that try to lure you into spending money for ridiculous looking stuffed animals (or gold fish), unceasingly looking for my wife and the girls, eating more than I should (which, in all honesty, I do anyway; with or without a fair), spending time with friends, although in spurts, since, with a rambunctious 4-year-old, who doesn’t want to stop, it can be difficult, and even volunteering to wash dishes in the kitchen (the only thing I can really do since I’ll never be confused for Emeril Lagasse with a spatula in my hand).  It is non-stop.

Fun times down the slide
On Saturday, we got there at 5pm and we walked around the same circle of rides, probably about 300 yards, about a gazillion times (almost as many times as my son went into the two different fun houses, went down the slide, rode the carousel, kiddy cars, a spinning alligator and kiddy roller coaster, until about 10pm. Even I got into the action, when he asked me to ride with him on the bumper cars.

Meanwhile, our oldest daughter started spreading her wings.

At one point, she goes by my wife and me and pretends not to see us, as she turned and looked the other way so that we don’t tell her anything while she’s with her friends.

She was with her BFF and, at one point, was being watched by her friend's 18-year-old cousin, who was with her boyfriend, which I wasn't too keen on. Then again, as my wife says, at some point, I have to start letting go of the leash; although I was hoping to begin when she started college (anyway, I want to be close enough to yank the leash from time to time!).

On Sunday, we went to morning Mass, as we usually do at 9am, went to breakfast and then dropped off my wife at the fair. She had to be there by 11:30am for her shift as a volunteer at the First Grade booth, which sold soft drinks and water.

I went with the kids to put away the Christmas decoration boxes in storage and was back at the fair by 1pm and the games began.  We were there until 7pm.

In other words, no Dolphins football game (I'm a Redskins fan but you get my point), no relaxing at home, no trip to Target or Home Depot, no Christmas shopping, not even any alcohol (although some parents smuggled in their own contraband libations). Talk about sacrifice!  Maybe, I'll be compensated in the afterlife. 

After over eleven hours of fair, umpteen temper tantrums (my kids, not me), ice-cream all over the face (my kids and me) and absolutely no money left in our pockets, I’m sure, like most parents of our parish community, I'm just glad it's over.

Then again, considering it's the biggest fund raiser of the year for our church and school, and my son is in Pre-K, I only have nine more years to go.  Woo-hoo!  And to think, my wife always says I'm just looking at the negative!...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

It's Not Called Suntan U for Nothing...

After Mass this morning, I was talking to some of my friends about the chilly weather we woke up to (low 60’s, which in Miami means sweaters, coats and, for some, even scarves) and one of the guys said, “This isn’t cold. Talk to me when you have to dig your way out of three feet of snow in the morning just to get to your car and then it doesn’t start because the engine is frozen.”

It reminded me of a funny story that happened to me while attending the University of Miami.

Sugarbush, Vermont 
A group of fraternity brothers (and guests), including one local politician, who I will not name, went on a road trip to Sugarbush, Vermont (circa 1987) to go skiing.

It was the first time I had ever gone skiing and probably the first time I had seen snow since my early teens with my cousins in Chicago.

The second morning, after arriving at the house we were staying at, it was so cold that the van we rented (in a Hialeah car rental agency, which was more like an auto repair shop but gave us the cheapest rate) would not start.

Here we were, five or six grown college men, mostly upperclassmen, and what brilliant idea did we come up with? We boiled some water and poured over the engine.

Needless to say, we quickly found out, if you pour water in icy cold weather, it turns to ice! 

We had to call a local mechanic, who came to bail us out (while holding back chuckles, I'm sure!), and we didn’t hit the ski slopes until early afternoon.

Hey, they don’t call it Suntan U for nothing…