They say parenting is the hardest job you will ever love. Well they were at least half right in that it’s the hardest job I have ever had, but I have to admit there are days when I wonder how much I actually “love” it. This is not to say I don’t love my son because I do, more than I ever thought I would be able to, which is what makes the parenting process so damn painful. My son has been luke warm on me from the beginning. When he was an infant we could sit on the couch and when his mother handed him to me he would cry. When I handed him back he would stop. She could pass him to a friend or grandparent and he wouldn’t cry, back to me and the crying would start up. He was left alone with me about three nights a week for about an hour during his first couple months. The entire time we are alone together he would scream. He was completely inconsolable and would cry until he fell asleep every single night. It was, and remains, painful to be so fully invested in something and get so little back. I am aware of how selfish that sounds, but I see the relationship he has with his mother and wonder why I cant have just a piece of that. What did I do? Continue reading
I was blessed to grow up in a place that is probably the closest thing to paradise on the east coast of the United States. We had everything; mountains, oceans, forests, and an idyllic small town where everybody knew your name. I grew up in a place with a sense of community that cared for its people. I knew it then, but I really know it now.
I Still live very close to that place and even have cause to go there from time to time, but a few days ago I was passing through and I saw it clearly for the first time in years. It has changed. The geography is the same, but the town feels different. I can only hope those pillars of citizenship and community are still there somewhere.
I recently heard this song and it reminded of my childhood and this place from the past.When I listen to the lines below I swear the song could have been written about me:
“My Daddy’s getting older now, but son he’s still as tough as ever
Him and my little boy are best friends now wish it could last forever
My Mommas still the one I talk to when I need advice
She never ever let me down, god what will I do when she’s not around.”
He’s not perfect. You aren’t either, and the two of you will never be perfect. But if he can make you laugh at least once, causes you to think twice, and if he admits to being human and making mistakes, hold onto him and give him the most you can. He isn’t going to quote poetry, he’s not thinking about you every moment, but he will give you a part of him that he knows you could break. Don’t hurt him, don’t change him, and don’t expect for more than he can give. Don’t analyze. Smile when he makes you happy, yell when he makes you mad, and miss him when he’s not there. Love hard when there is love to be had. Because perfect guys don’t exist, but there’s always one guy that is perfect for you. –Bob Marley
The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for. – Bob Marley
I recently took my son on a rainy day to watch his Grampy’s boat get launched. For my boy the sun rises and sets on his grandfather, and nothing is cooler than being on Grampy’s boat. Back in November I wrote a post that among other things talked about my lost access to a commercial fishery here in the Northeast and the impact it has had on my life. I am still able to work in the industry on a part time basis by going with my father, but it kills me that I am no longer allowed to fish myself.
Over the course of a long winter I can sometimes forget just how important being on the water is. There is typically a six or seven month stretch where I don’t get aboard a boat and it always amazes me how it feels when I can get back out there. This year was even better, or worse depending on your perspective. Spending the day on the boat with my son, and knowing that I could not give him all the experiences in the fishery that he is so excited about hurt. I am thankful that his grandfather is around and will be able to provide him with these experiences, and of course I will be part of that. Being on the ocean is the same as life to me. There is something about that cant be explained. The sounds, the smells, the easy motion of the boat itself all adds up to a feeling of peace somehwere deep inside me.
Up here in the woods where beauty is our biggest natural resource the communities with waterfront are changing rapidly. I am from an island and property values are way too high for most local folks. Most people my age can only stay if their families own enough land that they can be given a piece to build on. Of course the result of high property value is high property tax. It is hard to find traditional activities on the waterfronts anymore because nobody local can afford to be there. I so badly want to be part of preserving that tradition, but without fishing I simply cannot.
For years I have had the Billy Joel tune “The Downeaster Alexa” in my iTunes. I heard and related to the hardship it describes, but recently I have really felt the meaning. Despite the references to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket the song was written about fisherman on the eastern edge of Long Island Sound, that said the struggles described are common to the fishing industry in the northeast. The final line goes:
“I was a Bay Man like my father was before. Cant make a living as a Bay Man anymore. There aint much future for a man who works the sea, but there aint not island left for Islanders like me.”
The words echo in my head.
With each passing year I am learning to dislike the holidays more and more. Hate is getting to be the right word to describe my feelings towards the holiday season. It wasn’t always this way. I have never been a huge fan of Christmas, but Thanksgiving had been a long time favorite. I enjoyed spending time with my family over a good meal, and the day just felt like it filled its purpose of taking timeout to be with those closest to you. Christmas I didn’t particularly dislike, but we never had any money when I was a kid so when I was very young it was always a disappointment as I watched my friends get the coolest new toys while I got very little. I wasn’t very old before I came to understand why Christmas in my house was different than so many others, and I never held any animosity towards my folks for it. I saw how hard they worked, and I knew there was no money, but how I hated going back to school and answering the inevitable “what did you get for Christmas?”
With marriage comes the integration of two family’s holiday traditions. In our case these means trying to keep three different households, not counting our own, happy. My wife’s parents are split and her dad is remarried to arguably the most obnoxious human being on the planet. Her mom never remarried and brings a sense of need into the holidays that is suffocating, and then there are my folks who are by no means perfect, but are probably the most pliable of the three households. Who knows maybe I am just biased towards my own family. Hard to tell really. Two years ago we brought a son into the mix which has further complicated the season.
My wife and I have been together in some way or another since we were teenagers. I met her when I was fourteen, and took her out for the first time when I was sixteen she was fifteen, over 18 year ago. We have a lot of history, most of it great, but some better forgotten. One such forgettable moment occurred when my mother gave my then girlfriend a book on how to make pies. I don’t recall exactly when this happened. It was early in the relationship, but far enough along that the occasional holiday had been shared and there had been what I thought to be innocent conversation about the merits of our mother’s respective apple pie recipes. My mom had no idea these conversations had occurred, and to be fair the method in the book wasn’t even the method she used, but my future wife took the gift as an insult. Whether it was intended that way or not, which it wasn’t, she didn’t care.
About a year and a half ago I took over the cooking duties around our house. I work in over the road sales, and this crappy economy was having me home earlier than usual. I had been getting home well before my wife for a couple months, and was pulling a real asshole move. I hated cooking so I would leave the chore to her, but I was getting home at three in the afternoon and she was not getting home until nearly six with our infant in tow. I would ask what was for dinner, she would ask what I took out, I would say nothing because I didn’t know what she wanted to make, etc, etc. Looking back I can’t believe I was being that big a dick, but I figured it out and took over cooking. With Thanksgiving coming I wanted to prepare the meal and show off my new talents. I have learned to actually enjoy cooking and baking so I was ready to go. One of the things I wanted to do was make my mom’s apple pie recipe including the from scratch pie crust. The night before Thanksgiving after the boy went to bed I retired to the kitchen to make the pie. Not having any idea about the dough drying out I started there as it seemed the hardest step. When I had the dough made it just didn’t seem enough so, concerned I may have to make it twice, once for each crust, I called my mother to ask if it was a single or double crust recipe. My bride heard the conversation and was pissed. I hadn’t asked her the question because she had never used my mom’s dough recipe before so I figured she didn’t know the answer, but to her it was an attack on her ability to bake a pie and I was informed that I didn’t need to ask my “mommy” for help making the pie. Poof. There went all the fun from the entire process of making the meal and I was ten minutes in. I had managed to fuck up the pie crust, it was too dry, and rather than take any more chances I used crust from a box and let my wife show me how to put together the filling. In the end we made my mother in laws pie recipe. My enthusiasm for the project was dead and throughout the next day, despite having made a huge deal out my cooking the holiday meal, I let her lead me through the process and we together made the meal for her mother and my parents. The food was good, but the day was not what I had wished for.
The pie story was something of a side rant, but the point of this little essay is that even the once mellow Thanksgiving as become much too complicated. Where will it be? Will everybody be invited if we do it there? Didn’t they do it last year? Well if she comes, he will be pissed and might pout in the corner. If She doesn’t come than my Wife’s father won’t be here. What if we go nowhere? And on and on and on. Its enough to make you want to move across the continent, or maybe to a different one all together.
Christmas has gone from a manageable annoyance to a budget busting nightmare. My family had evolved the holiday into simple gifts and family time. My parents by virtue of working the same jobs for 30+ years are in a better place than they were when I was a kid, but they still spend comparatively little on the holiday. The other side of the family takes a completely different approach. It’s as if they feel they will be judged by both the quality and quantity of the gifts bought. If you spend $50 on one person for a single special gift and spend the same $50 on another for two or three gifts there is this sense that the person who only got one needs more so it will be equal. My wife and I will have five conversations about how much we are going to spend and what we are going to get, but it never works out the way we discuss. Extra things are bought here and there, and my opinion is continually asked for, like it is going to change as the money disappears, and ignored. Much like this years Thanksgiving dinner my life is easier if I don’t fight it so I don’t. Of course not fighting it has its traps too. My mom is admittedly bad at buying gifts in this system, and I have to hear her criticized for being cheap. She is a bargain bin shopper and rarely gets anybody anything they want or need, but I don’t want to hear about. This past summer I worked two jobs six or seven days a week, one of these jobs was physically punishing, trying to get our credit card paid off. I would have made it, but we needed a new bed this summer. That’s life, there is always something, but it kills me to watch the credit card balance grow during the holiday season and it is even more painful this year.
Christmas is another holiday where the frustration is compounded my son. We as family have made it clear we are not going anywhere for the holiday. If people want to see us they are welcome to stop by. The result of this has been the entire family rotating through my house over the course of the day, and a meal being prepared to feed everybody. In addition as if the gift buying wasn’t already out of control he wants for nothing. He gets more crap than he needs, and more crap than I can fit in this tiny house. Both grandmothers, and to an extent his own mother, contribute to this. No matter how we ask for them to tone it down has been obscene each year.
To me the holiday season is no longer a time of celebration, reflection, and family. It has simply become a matter of survival. I will enjoy Christmas morning with my son this year. He is two and knows something special is coming. He will be pleased with what Santa has in store for him. Christmas morning will also mark the end of the holiday nightmare which I am also looking forward to.