by Michael S McCown
by Michael S McCown
Another year, another birthday. I’m not a “birthday” kinda guy. I don’t like the attention and would prefer that it passed quietly and unnoticed. This year I was feeling extra-curmudgeonly and spent the day avoiding most everyone, which is almost impossible, because I have the most wonderful family in the world and they know right where to find me. I usually get through the day by reflecting on the past and thinking of what I can do to improve things going forward.
Despite my shortfalls, I know that I’m truly loved by my family. I spent the afternoon examining the details of our past and how amazing it has been. I thought about my little “quirks” as I poured through a lifetime of saved pictures. My life is wonderful because my family is wonderful. Our biggest blessing? A gloriously twisted sense of humor and the ability to laugh at ourselves. When we get together, decorum, manners and sanity, all get left at the door.
After looking through the pictures, I’m left with one thought; Who AM I and what the hell have I done to the kids…🤔
Me spending some quiet time with my favorite Slippers
…and then there was that one Halloween
And that awesome sale on cold weather gear
Apparently, I’m told I know way too much about chickens…
at least I’m setting a good example for the Grandkids…
We like to pick a theme for Thanksgiving, maybe Pilgrims or …
Last Thanksgiving we all made shirts with Fruit loop patches…
and oddly, needles terrify me, seriously
I also cry like a little girl at weddings, ok, my daughter’s weddings…
My Grandmother, Sister and Nephew came over for a visit. A Christmas card in the making…
and then there was Austria. I just couldn’t get the Sound of Music out of my head
I am the luckiest guy in the world to be a part of this glorious troupe. Something strange happens to normal people when they cross our threshold. They smile and then head for the kitchen.
What is the hardest job in the world? The answer is, of course, subjective. At the end of the day though, I thought that being a parent ultimately topped the list. I was wrong. Becoming a parent, requires only that you participate in the act of procreation and nine-ish months later, you’re a parent. Don’t confuse the word “parent” with the word “Mom” or “Dad”. There is a difference and it’s huge. When you’re called Mom or Dad, savor the moment, it conveys love and a bond that means everything. It is the key to your heart.
So what’s the hardest job in the world? Without a doubt, it’s being a Grandparent. Sounds silly doesn’t it? What makes it so hard? Before I answer that, let’s make a few very broad assumptions about just being a parent.
As a parent, you get to call the shots, you make the rules, they live where you live and do what you say. Also, within reason, you’re allowed to download your values, thoughts, beliefs and baggage into their little hard-drives and get a tax deduction for each of them at the same time. You are also, most likely, the most influential person in their life which can either be good or bad.
Being a parent is tough, but the biggest challenge begins when they grow up and start their own family. It’s here that your parental role, which you have spent the last 18-ish years getting used to, changes drastically. You go from “essential” to “as needed”. Your work is now done and it’s time to sit back, relax and watch your children raise their children the same way you raised them; I mean they learned from watching you, right? …Wrong.
Basically, your career as a parent just went under a microscope. You expect them to do “this” and they do “that”. When you bring it up, they politely point out how they are going to do some things “differently”, and with that, you’re completely crushed. Now, you are officially a Grand Parent with a whole new set of rules and rule #1; you are no longer in charge and that’s that.
If that alone didn’t make it hard enough, how about this:
1. Being a Grandparent is totally voluntary: You actually have to want to participate. You get what you give. You have to be there and be involved and if you sit at home waiting to be included, good luck.
2. Your unsolicited opinions about this or that really don’t seem to matter anymore. Go ahead and point out their parenting flaws and tell them what you would have done differently; then duck and find cover. You’ve just crossed the line.
3. It requires travel, wherever. Your children will probably move away. They don’t come to you, you go to them. They’re busy building their life and raising a family. Never show up unannounced and learn to read between the lines. You didn’t like it when your parents did it to you and they won’t either.
4. Your schedule will “suddenly” begin to look a lot like theirs. Get used to it. You will begin checking with them first before making plans.
5. You will now start second guessing everything. Was I a good parent? If I do “this” will I be in trouble? My God, what do they think of me, the way I parented and why does this feeling hurt so much? I should have done things differently, I should have been…
6. You will stare in amazement as they deal with parenting issues, making incredibly hard decisions and all without your valuable input, yet they still have great results. Never underestimate your children or their capacity to face challenges and prevail.
7. If you’re smart, you’ll check with them on the rules they’ve made for their children. If you’re really smart, you’ll actually follow them. I’m struggling with just being smart.
8. You’re still their Mom and Dad. Show your love by supporting their decisions and respecting the goals they’ve set for the children. You can love and spoil the Grandkids, just know where the line is. As a Grandparent, it’s your job to “tap-dance” right up to the edge.
9. Learn to be a good source for solicited advice and ideas, be non-judgmental and your home, a place of peace for the family. Love your Grandchildren more than life itself. They represent the best of your children, who represent the best of you.
10. The bond between a Grandparent and a Grandchild is a truly wonderful thing. To see such joy spring forth from your beloved child is what makes life worth living. But, if something goes horribly wrong and you are blessed to continue raising these precious grandchildren, raise them as your children would have wanted. Show them the passion, desires and beliefs of their parents. Instill in them a sense of “family” and belonging; When they look into your eyes, make sure they always see the reflections of their Mom and Dad and show them that they are never alone, that they belong to a large loving Family with a sense of continuity, shared history and memories of the loved and lost.
Being a Grandparent warms my soul as in the eyes of my Grandchildren, I see the reflection of my children, who I absolutely adore. We are thrilled to welcome each new addition to our family and have never been happier. August can’t get here soon enough, as we will be welcoming our fourth Grandchild. He will be surrounded by his wonderful parents and a large supportive family, who will be bursting at the seams with love and affection. Our bags are already packed and I can’t wait.
The reflection in the store window followed my every movement. The Edges blurred, the detail faint yet, familiar. I paused and peered deeply into the glass; It was my Father, it was my Sons.
With each step, the gallon of water in his hand seemed to grow heavier. In the other, he had a large plastic bag. It was heavy and cutting into his palm, but it was worth it; the bag was filled with cans of food, given to him by a generous family at a gas station a few miles back. Like a Christmas present, he didn’t want to open it until he found a place to relax, where he could savor this special moment. This unopened bag gave him something to look forward to, which was a rare feeling these days.
Ahead, dark clouds were gathering and on the radio at the gas station, he had heard there was a chance of rain. Experience had taught him that with the rain, cold weather would soon follow and that he needed to find an overpass quickly. He liked overpasses as there was usually a flat spot near the top where he could be dry, warm and stay hidden from the prying eyes of others. Unfortunately, there were none in sight and as the radio predicted, it was beginning to rain.
Between his old heavy backpack, the gallon of water and the plastic bag, each step along the litter covered highway was difficult and growing harder as the mud was beginning to cover his worn shoes and seep inside, filling the gaps between his toes, which were making a squishing sound with each step.
Once, while walking, he had found a five dollar bill and to this day, he had trouble keeping his eyes looking ahead as he was afraid that he might step over a twenty or something. This had become an obsession for him and he found that occasionally he would become so focused that he would wander onto the highway, looking up at the last second as a car came speeding by.
At night, he dreamed of finding a lost wallet full of cash. He pictured himself in a hotel room, soaking in a warm bathtub full of white suds with bubbles floating in the air. Then he would lay on the bed wrapped in the soft blankets, warm and safe, where he would drift off to sleep; no longer afraid of being harmed by others who may discover his hiding place and take from him his precious food and the last of his possessions. He could finally breathe and be at peace, if only just for a night.
It was starting to rain harder now and he wished for some kind of shelter, anything. He was looking forward to eating soon, as through the plastic, he could see a can with a picture of pasta covered in a delicious red sauce. One of his favorites, heated or not. But not yet, he had to keep going.
He always walked against traffic, afraid of being hit from behind by a distracted driver, who was digging around in the floorboard for a misplaced diamond ring or something. Occasionally, he would look into the drivers eyes as they approached. They all had somewhere to be; someone waiting for them. He would smile and occasionally wave, but most would just look away, pretending not to see him.
The rain was running down his neck, giving him chills as it spread across his back. Lightning was filling the skies, beautiful but deadly as he was the tallest object in sight. He outstretched his arm, daring the storm to find him, secretly praying that it would.
To his dismay, it was now the middle of the night and he had still found no shelter. The rain had passed and as expected, the temperature was falling. He was in the middle of nowhere. He finally accepted that it was just going to be a long, cold night and the pasta would have to wait for the sunrise.
It was too dark to look for money now and he was able to hold his head up as he walked. He liked the break. Staring at the ground constantly made his neck ache. With an old blanket over his shoulder and a faster pace, he found he was able to keep somewhat warm and decided to push on, searching for the lights of the next town. He hoped that maybe things would be better there, that maybe something good would happen. Maybe.
The World: Hey Michael, Karma called looking for you.
Me: Crap! What did she want?
The World: I don’t know, but she was really pissed!
Me: What did you tell her?
The World: I told her right where to find you.
Me: Why would you do that? You’re not still mad about the…
The World: Uh huh, I told you I would get…
Me: Seriously?, Gawd…
During my childhood, the playground bully was a staple; usually ruling recess with an iron fist. While I went to great lengths to avoid his and at times her attention, some days it was my turn in the barrel and that was the accepted reality of the times.
The bully’s of my youth were usually larger, meaner and more comfortable with confrontation than I was at the time. Their reputation usually preceded them with anecdotal stories which were relayed from student to student and thus the bully became larger than life. That was the playground. That was life. We survived and moved on.
As I look back, I realized that the bully’s of my childhood and the people who confronted those bully’s, taught me volumes about existing in the real world beyond the playground.
1. Size Matters: You don’t run your mouth to someone twice your size and expect to walk away unscathed.
2. I learned very early to think strategically: To get from A to B required a plan of action in order to avoid a confrontation, especially when I knew they were looking for me.
3. You learn to think quickly and measure your words: Every utterance had the potential to either provoke or calm the situation.
4. You learned diplomacy and the ability to reason your way out of trouble: I learned the importance of “engage brain before mouth”. I also learned how to reason with the bully, which rarely worked but was worth trying.
5. I learned team work: When the bully would go too far and it became time to end his reign, I learned early that by joining with others and confronting the bully, he would ultimately cave and run.
6. I learned to respect bravery: Every once in a while, someone would say “no” and square off with the bully. Win or lose, I admired the one who was brave enough to say “no more”. Their singular action usually started a chain reaction, in which a group formed and drove the bully away.
7. I learned compassion: I also learned why they were a bully. Their home life was a struggle and they were generally unhappy and acting out. I also learned that most bully’s would rather have friends than enemies.
8. I learned to choose a side: Either you were part of the bully’s circle or you weren’t. I learned the value of compromising with those who disagree. Everyone has their own problems, wants and desires and you learned, to whatever degree, how far you were willing to tolerate their position . The bully affected us all: either you were with him, which made life easier, or you were against him. Either way, you chose.
9 I learned to adapt and to cope: The playground was your world now. It’s not like you can just leave, so you learned to make it work.
10. You learned who you DIDN’T want to be like in life: In the presence of a bully, who you are, is defined relatively quickly. I wanted to be the one who “stood up”.
I remember two pivotal events in my life that formed a core belief that I still live by to this day.
The first occurred when I was about 10 years old during a Boy Scout meeting at a park. We were surrounded by eucalyptus trees when we heard the sound of a boy screaming for help. We spotted a large tree house and saw older boys hitting him with belts. I was stunned at the cruelty. My next door neighbor, Renée, immediately went to the tree, climbed it and the older boys began suffering her wrath and were jumping out of the tree in all directions, running for their lives. She then returned with the greatful boy who was without a shirt and covered with welts. She was my hero. We all just stood there with our mouths open, including the other adults; she didn’t fail to act, she took charge.
The next event occurred two years later in junior high school. I was wearing a religious shirt that said “Only He can prevent eternal fire” with a picture of Smoky the Bear on the front. I really liked that shirt but an older kid, who enjoyed picking on 7th graders, didn’t. He grabbed my collar and stretched it almost to the point of tearing the shirt. I was furious and attacked him. At 5’ 6” and maybe 120 lbs, I was no real threat but I did everything but chew his ear off and he actually fled never to bother me again.
Those two events changed me forever; I learned to never underestimate the sheer awesome will and power of a Parent in defense of a child, whether it’s her’s or not. I also learned to never, ever tolerate a bully. You either step-up or you sit down and shut up. Dante reserved the anteroom of hell for those who can’t decide which.
The Playgrounds of my youth were a microcosm of the outside world. After high school, I felt generally ready and prepared for the harsh realities of adult life.
In an bizarre way, we owe a twisted debt of gratitude to the school bully. Unintentionally, they contributed to the overall social development of the students they encountered. Sadly, I do recognize, however, that while some were able to overcome the bully’s existence, others, tragically were not and took their own lives.
Bully’s are a reality of life. They cannot be legislated away nor can they be ignored. I feel our best course is to explore the reason why children become bully’s and try and effect a change on that level.
Unbound, the Muse joyfully dances and frolics in the sleeping mind of the dreamer, casting aside all thoughts of fear and doubt, she puts forth the glorious possibilities of human existence, painting their dreams with a colorful palette of emotion and light.
Emerging at twilight, she adores the night’s skies as the waxing moon releases her from earthly bonds and with chains cast aside, she is free to explore, to create, to wander the resting minds of all she encounters.
While the Artist paints, the dreamer dreams, who, while lost in the warmth of her inspiration and feeling of absolute joy, still catches a glimpse of life’s infinite potential in each delicate stroke of the master’s brush.
Her canvas complete, she tries in vain to gently awaken from slumber all who desire to remember her canvas before the darkness yields to the chaos of the morning’s light.
For the Muse knows that all dreams do flee as the rising Sun, ever so jealous, chases them away from the depths of the dreamer; Their intimate encounter lost to the stars, forever.
Again, she whispers to the dreamer, pleading that he arise as she is anxious to peer deep into his eyes, hoping he remembers with lasting joy, all that She has shared.
Sadly, the dreamer resists, wanting only to delay the morning’s looming chaos, seeking refuge beneath the warmth and comfort of the sheets, which protect the dreamer from reality as a warrior’s shield protects the warrior from harm. Her memory fades, the painting is lost; all that remains, hidden deep within the cluttered human mind, now lost to consciousness.
The waning Moon watches the folly unfold and like a shepherd tending his flock, summons home the Muse as the Moon must now yield the night’s slumber to the rising sun. The Muse now weary, lays down her palette, envious of all who dream; a desired gift denied, as a Muse can have no Muse. The Moon, in love, watches her from afar and with gentle voice begs she seek solace and allow her weary soul the respite so earned.
As she closes her eyes, wrapped is a blanket of stars, the Moon whispers in her ear, “O’ sweet Muse, joyous peace has eluded your soul for far too long.” The waning Moon smiles as she finally sleeps, and with the tenderest of love, sends a Muse to joyfully dance and frolic within her dreams.
“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.
“A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
“Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on
“Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.'”