Category Archives: Family

Too Soon.

My friend Rico was killed last week. The trouble I have writing the word murdered, speaks to the tenderness of the wound. He was thirty. In calling him my friend, I’m being generous to myself. It is how he made me feel.

Though he only lived a few blocks from me, I only saw him on school days, as I dropped off or picked up Sweets. He was never too busy to say hello, and often extended his hand for a complex four stage hand shake that I never got right. I was often self-conscious of my inability to make each move. It didn’t matter to him, it was part of the way he welcomed people. That’s what stays with me.

Rico didn’t know it, but he was one of my role models for being welcoming. The most important and precious lesson he taught me, again and again, was the importance of welcoming everyone, always. What did I do to merit the handshake, his smile, and the less frequent hug? Nothing. Nothing at all.

Yesterday afternoon, I asked Sweets if she wanted to go to the viewing. She said no, she didn’t want to go. She knew who Rico was, and knows his eldest daughter, who is also ten. “She’s not really my friend, Dad.” “I know,” I said. “I never saw him outside of school, either. Still, it’s important to go. You know what it’s like to almost lose a parent. Do you remember that?” She cast her eyes downwards. “His kids are  Dilworth kids, just like you. Dilworth isn’t just your school, it’s a community. When things like this happen, we come together. That’s one of the most important things people do, supporting each other when they’re hurting.” She looked up and let me know with her eyes that I was pushing a little too hard. A knock at the door signaled her moms arrival. She picked her up, and continued a similar version of the same conversation as they made their way home.

Later, at the viewing, I felt a tap on my shoulder. She’d come with her mom, after all. “I’m glad you’re here” I said to her. “It means a lot. To me, to the family, and everyone that we both don’t know that’s here.” “Yeah, and that’s just about everyone.” I laughed. “It is. These are people who loved him, and only some of them, and we don’t know any of them! They don’t know us, either. We’re letting them know that this person they loved, touched people they had no idea he knew. That’s a blessing for all of us, and a tribute to the nice guy he was.” We chatted with a few folks, and sat for a while before leaving.

Rico leaves behind three children, the youngest of whom is in kindergarten. The school is taking a collection for the Cooper family, for after-school care, uniforms, and the like. If you’re inclined, you can send a check to Dilworth Traditional Academy, at 6200 Stanton Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15206. On the memo put “Cooper Family Fund.” Thanks.

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The Love In My Heart.

Bud was sitting in the backseat of the car as we pulled up to his mom’s house. He said goodbye to my friend in the front passenger seat, and looked at me. “I love you, Dad.” “I love you too, Bud. Do you have your keys?” He waved them in the air so that I’d see that he did. Then he got out of the car.

As he walked away my friend turned to me and said, “Wow. Did you hear that?” “Hear, what?” “He told you that he loves you! He’s almost fifteen for Chrissakes! When you were his age would you ever have told your Dad that you loved him in front of one of his friends?” He paused, long enough for me to realize that the answer to that was an obvious no, then added. “You two, have done a wonderful job with your kids, you know?” I nodded, and smiled. “He’s a great kid.” Pointing with his index finger, my friend waved his right hand the way I remember his father doing when he wanted to make a point. “They both are.” We sat with the stillness of that for the short ride to my home.

Sometimes I think telling me she loves me is Sweets favorite thing to say. “I love you Daddy.” “I love you, too, Sweets” is our typical exchange repeated through the day, every day. It’s said frequently enough that it’s like a mantra. I used to wonder if she was checking to see if I really did love her. As if there was a possibility in her mind that I might not respond, or say, no. Now I think it’s just the air we breathe. She’s rich and full. Like a good mantra, “I love you” grounds us.

Sweets is young enough, that her “I love you” comes from a cup that only remembers that love overflows. The wonder of Bud’s “I love you” is that he is old enough to realize that not everything works out in the end. He loves the repeated phrase from the Hunger Games books, “May the odds be ever in your favor…” and is discovering that life, like the game in the book, is unfair. The world can be hard. At the same time, he is also learning to identify his needs. It’s the coolest thing. Something like that can only happen when a person begins to understand who they are. Neediness, in contrast, comes from our emptiness. From the way we feel that we’re lacking, and so, we need approval for example, to know we’re okay, or we need to be in a relationship to feel whole. He’s growing up. He’s beginning to have a sense of  who he is. What a kid!

I love them both. I would do anything for them. When the kids were younger it was easy to see cause and effect between what I would do as a parent, and the impact it had. Just think of the game “peek-a-boo.” Adults don’t play peek-a-boo with kids because it makes the adult feel good, though it does that in a marvelous way. We do it, because we see the joy the child experiences from the play of the game. I think it’s one of the ways we are reminded what it means to love another person unconditionally. Sebastian Moore reports that Marshall Rosenberg–who works in conflict resolution–says that “what we want above all things is to be the cause of joy in each other.” We want to love and be loved. Not for any reason or because of anything we do. We want to be loved for ourselves, as we are.

The kids and I have all the disagreements parents have with their kids, of course. The way I make them happy is different today than it was when we played peek-a-boo. Then, many games brought the cry “Again Dada, again!” Seeing them happy remains something precious, as does seeing them become individual selves. When I told my son that I didn’t like the Hunger Games movie, he didn’t take offense. He didn’t receive it as a rejection. Instead, he calmly suggested that I read the book. That is exactly what my friends said. That sort of thing is happening more and more. Still, I wonder, am I leading them anywhere good?  I worry, even though I know it doesn’t matter how much I want to try and see down the road of their lives. Anything I think I see, is an illusion. Heck, I have a tough enough time seeing down my own road. Anyway, that’s my head trying to control, a richness my gut knows only comes when I am true to the love in my heart.

Coming, Going, And Epiphany.

I love things that make me stop and take note. There’s an East European tradition of blessing homes for the Epiphany and marking the lintel above the front door with an inscription written in blessed chalk. The ritual can involve the blessing of each room in the house as well. I’ve read stories about clergy who wandered through towns carrying chalk, holy water, and a step ladder. While having chalk that’s blessed and holy water to sprinkle, and even the presence of clergy is a clear way of showing that what is happening is sacramental, it’s not the easiest thing to arrange. Especially at the last minute.

Still, the idea of beginning the year by thinking about the things I want to take place in the rooms of my home? The ways I want to be? The ways I’d like us to be? Where will my family come together to be quiet? Where will we be still? My family is as busy as most. I can’t imagine that the day will come where we pay someone to create that space. But, you never know. I like the idea of talking about what our mealtime should be like. Of sharing our hopes for what happens to the people who sleep and play and do homework in each room. Of asking my kids about their hopes. Naming and claiming each room together might be a wonderful family activity.

If you’re inspired, why not bring this Epiphany tradition to life this weekend? Bless your home and mark it with chalk: 20+C+M+B+12. The numbers match the year and the letters have two meanings. They are the initials of the traditional names of the magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar; they also stand for the Latin, “Christus Mansionem Benedicat”, which means, “May Christ bless this house.”

The crosses remind us of Christ, and the holiness of the magi. You write the words above the front door, so that every time you come and go, you are reminded of what you claimed, and of the blessing.

How you do it can be as simple as praying the Lord’s prayer together, asking God to bless everyone in the family, and everyone who visits this year. Then you write the inscription above your front door with chalk. Everyone can write part of the inscription, too. Want a prayer that’s already written? You can find a few options here.

I like the idea of revisiting the claims for God’s blessing, each time I see the markings on the lintel. Part of that is because I don’t have any memory of successfully keeping a resolution made once, and late at night. You know the ones I am referring to. Well, aside from writing the correct year on checks. Every year I have to learn that one over, and over, again. It’s not that I’m not trying. The repetition helps. If I didn’t write it again and again, I’m not sure the change would sink in.

That matches the sense I have, that most of the time, that change happens step by step. It’s incremental, the product of ongoing reflection, and action with intention. I choose again, and again, and again, the way a painting comes together, brush stroke after brush stroke.

Parker Palmer says that the call of Christmas is “to be born and born and re-born, again, and again, and again.” A few weeks ago I wrote, about the “yes” we give each other, and the “yes” that babies require, because they’re so delicate, and fragile. When we have the courage to be ourselves, in those moments, I think we’re as delicate as babies. And yet as they grow up, or as our marriage partnerships continue, we can forget that simple truth.

All the more reason to stop and consider who it is that we share our lives with, as we come and go.

2012. Are We There Yet?

Last night I wished a friend of mine a happy new year. She replied that I was too early with my greeting. Surely we’d speak again before the new year. Then I wished her a happy end of the year. She said I was still speaking too soon. Later, as the clock ticked past midnight, and the date rolled over to December 31, I wished her a happy end of 2011. She smiled, and bid me goodnight.

One of my favorite lines from the Pixar film The Incredibles is Mr. Incredible’s response to that classic car travel question, “Are we there yet?” “We’ll get there when we get there!” is his wonderful reply. These days, when the kids ask me that question, it’s with a smile forming on their faces. They expect the Mr. Incredible reply. Instead, they’re more likely to ask, “How much longer?” What they’ve learned, I think, is that unless we’re stopped in traffic, the answer to their question gets smaller and smaller each time they ask. It’s also a sign that they’re living in larger swathes of time. Six hours is long, but no longer an eternity. Five and a half hours is shorter. So is four. And three. Time gets longer in the last hour. That hour still takes forever. That’s a burden stemming from the wonder of anticipation. It takes forever for me, too.

Another year is upon us. It may take a long time to get to midnight tonight, especially if you are outside, and it is cold where you are. Soon 2012 will be done, as well. We’ll be on to 2013. That year will also pass faster than we believe. “Where did it go?” we will ask. I love the way finding myself in the flow of experience, removes the felt sense of time. You lose yourself so completely, you’re no longer aware that hours have passed, not until the trip to the beach is over, or the book you’re reading ends. Those are times when we’re fully present to life. It’s also the only part of our waking time, that resembles a good night’s sleep. The kind of night where sunlight streaming through a window is enough to roust you, and you beat the alarm clock at your side. I love wakings like that!

My favorite birthday greeting is a variation on the following. “Here’s to the year ahead and all it holds! May your lap overflow with all manner of good things. And in the difficult times, which will come, may you remember your friends and family are at your side.” I’ll let that be my wish for your 2012. Am I too soon? If you think I am, pretend you’re on the other side of the International Date Line. The rest of us? We’ll get there when we get there!

Sunday’s Word: Twenty-One.

Twenty-One. Days until Christmas, that is. It’s Advent. A season of waiting and anticipation. A friend of mine is pregnant. There’s no waiting, like that waiting! On Tuesday, she’ll begin her fortieth week. She is more than ready, to pop. She may not be shouting “Prepare the way of the Lord.” It’s likely, more like, “Come on now, baby, the way is prepared! Having never been pregnant, I can’t really imagine what her experience is like. My experience is informed by watching my two children come to full term. What I know first hand, is their births changed everything.

The rub of seeing Christmas decorations out in full force, and hearing Christmas music, three weeks before the liturgical season officially begins, is that Jesus has already come. The marketers are right, it’s Christmas! Of course, their preference is that we worship at “the house of Lord and Taylor.”  Still, Christmas is here. Jesus has come. If you’re a Christian, That birth changed everything, too.

And now the obvious question. How has Jesus’ birth changed everything in your life?

When you wake in the morning with a new baby in the house, you’re typically exhausted. You were up at two to change a diaper, and at two forty-five, for a feeding. You fell asleep at three, with the baby in your arms. At five minutes past, she woke you and shared a gift of spit-up. At five, she simply woke up. On the morning you wake rested, you’ll rejoice; she slept through the night.

The holiday season is a busy one. Shopping, baking, parties, repeat. Children in school have performances, recitals, athletic championships, and banquets. They keep Chanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa, too. Good parents attend all of these functions, and learn about each others holidays. It’s a challenging time, to think about waiting. It’s a challenging time for finding time to reflect (on anything).

It’s not uncommon for new parents to gaze in wonder at their sleeping child. That’s an experience that continues as they grow up. You forget the conversations of the day, and the arguments, or come to terms with whether you handled a situation well, or not. That is, if you’re thinking. Mostly, there’s awe as you look at their sleeping selves with love. Perhaps that’s the way we should keep Advent. As you soak in the beauty of your tree. As you admire, your holiday display or creche, take advantage of that still moment. Who is this Jesus? Maybe you think about it. Or maybe, you ponder the birth of the child Jesus, as a parent gazes upon theirs, with awe and wonder.

Lent’s Compass. Day Twelve: A Human Love

As Christians we are not meant to be less human than other people, but more human, just as Jesus of Nazareth was more human.
One time I was talking to Canon Tallis, who is my spiritual director as well as my friend, and I was deeply grieved about something, and I kept telling him how woefully I had failed someone I loved, failed totally, otherwise that person couldn’t have done the wrong that was so destructive. Finally, he looked at me and said calmly, “Who are you to think you are better than our Lord? After all he was singularly unsuccessful with a great many people.”
That remark, made to me many years ago, has stood me in good stead, time and again. I have to try, but I do not have to succeed. Following Christ has nothing to do with success as the world sees success. It has to do with love.
~ Madeleine L’Engle Walking On Water, pp  59-60.

As a parent I identify with L’Engle’s conversation with Canon Tallis. It’s not that Sweets or Bud have ever done anything that was “that destructive.” Still, the days where I could look at them for hours are gone. Even before they could talk they were the “most beautiful boy” and the “most beautiful girl” I’d ever seen. I know, yours were too.

Don’t get me wrong, I marvel at the people they’re becoming. It’s just that when they catch me, it’s not cooing or a cutely mashed up word I hear. There are no new Vinny Mans or Popscillos. They don’t just talk. They talk back. “Dad, why are you staring at me?” or “Dad? You can leave my room now.” Those are not the most pleasant interactions.

I used to wonder what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I do a better job at parenting? When Bud was young and needed a nap things were easy. I’d put him in the bouncy chair or take him on a five minute car ride and he’d fall asleep within a few minutes. Now it seems that most of my tactics raise anxiety instead of reducing it. With him. With me. Sometimes their mom calls to vent. In measured tones she says, “You’re not going to believe what he just said to me.” She describes what’s happened. What she tells me, is the same thing he said to me a day or two before. I sigh. It’s not me. I know that now. Most of the time. But it’s nice to have that confirmation.

Bud is becoming his own person. Sweets is often fast to imitate her big brother. That’s double trouble from two fabulous kids whom I love dearly. And now I remember that the five minute car ride eventually turned into a twenty minute one with the heat on. They stopped when he and later she were done with naps. Their mom and I had no say in the matter.

There are bunches of changes to come as Bud moves through his teenage years and Sweets follows. Individuation is like that. Bud’s already showing me that he hasn’t only learned the lessons his mom and I were trying to teach him. He’s absorbed everything. He’s going to continue to do so. Me? I’m not sure I’m a better parent today than I was ten years ago. I am different. There’s no Super Dad. Just a guy who tries to love him as much as I can.

Lent’s Compass. Day One: Agape Dogs

“The Greeks, as usual, had a word for the forgiving kind of love which never excludes. They called it agape. . . . Agape means “a profound concern for the welfare of another without any desire to control that other, to be thanked by that other, or to enjoy the process.” Not easy. But if we can follow it, it will mean that we will never exclude. . . . Not the people who have hurt us . . . or the people to whom we have done wrong. . . . It teaches me not only about forgiveness but about how to hope to give guidance without manipulation.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle

Sweets and Bud often argue. They love each other dearly, but they’re sibs. They argue. About everything. When feeling are hurt, I ask them to apologize to each other. It’s something they’re more apt to do after the fact, when I can pull them aside and get them to consider whether what they were fighting about was anything important. There are no magic phrases or techniques. The attention they’re given in those moments is magic enough. Often attention is what they wanted in the first place.

Attention is a visible sign that we care for each other. When we give another our full attention, we stop what ever we are doing. We show the other person they mean more to us that the bill we’re paying, the web page we’re viewing or TV show that’s on screen. So we stop. But giving your attention takes time. In the moments when the kids are arguing, time isn’t something I feel I have an abundance of. Even as I try to let them work things out themselves.

Often, after giving them what I measure as enough time to work things out–and seeing their emotions take over–I’ll blow my figurative referee’s whistle. I’ll ask or tell them to “stop arguing and say you’re sorry.” I try to remember to call them both by name when I do, regardless of who initiated the argument or is escalating it. When I forget, which I also do, I hear about it quickly. The opportunity for forgiveness is lost and I immediately become “unfair.” The other child is, my “favorite.” When I remember and they do apologize? They’re as likely to implement a policy of mutually assured rejection as they are to accept the other’s apology. Why? On the face of it because the tone or inflection aren’t right. “You don’t mean it!” is a typical accusation. Even if they are expressing an awareness of the importance of intention–and they are–it’s frustrating.

That’s the crux of the matter. Providing guidance is a substantial part of parenting. At an early age, it’s easy. Kids do just about everything they’re asked. As they grow up and become themselves, that changes. Along the way, intention begins to matter. That’s true of parents as well as kids, I think. Manipulation becomes part of a parent’s toolkit and the child’s. We want to be sure they’re learning the right lessons. We want them to “mean it” and be assured as we can that they do. They want to weigh our motives and gauge our integrity versus their own. Is this necessary? Is it good? I could answer yes or no. And yet, as a Dad, my most satisfying moments don’t come in the good talks I have with the kids. They don’t come from seeing them evaluate intention or realize that they are sincere. The satisfying moments are the ones where I see them love and forgive in a way that embodies what the Greeks meant when they used the word agape.

This Lent, I want to pay attention to how intention gets in the way of my being able to forgive others. To the way it conditions my willingness to forgive. The way it conditions my love. If my love and my forgiveness are tied to your intention or my own, there is nothing agape about them. Imagine having a dog who only loved you when you gave it a treat?

That One’s Over The Wall!

I introduced Bud to tennis today. I thought I would start him slow. With a manageable activity. Hitting a ball against a twenty foot high wall. I wasn’t going to take him to a court. Too much pressure for both of us. I haven’t played in… well 18 years.

I love the game. Just haven’t played. Finding someone to play with wasn’t something I needed, wanted or thought to cultivate. During the period when I did play regularly I didn’t have to look. It seemed we all played tennis. That was thirty years ago.

This afternoon Sweets had a play date. Bud and I had time alone. It was a beautiful day. I thought of heading to a batting cage. That would be a new experience for both of us! I just love baseball and have been yearning to hit some balls. Bud hasn’t caught on to the sport. I thought the activity might help.

Outside of karate, he doesn’t have much experience with sports. During my two years in California, the local Little League wasn’t an option. That’s for a number of reasons. The ones he grabs at are being hit by balls. When he was seven a missed toss of mine hit him in the face. When he turned nine I signed him up for Little League and he was hit in the side by pitchers several times. In all instances there was no damage done. Just a wounding of pride and the betrayal of trust between he and I. That latter mark is longer lasting.

Every once in a while I can get him to play catch. But it’s tough. Sweets is five years younger and sees any time not spent with her as time that should be spent with her. What I need to do is buy her a glove and begin to teach her. I’m surprised I haven’t done that. Has my Bud’s wound caught me also? No. I think I let managing the two of them get in the way of the activities we do. Some times I choose the easy way. And the path from skipping an activity to never doing it because it’s replaced by another they can both easily engage in, is maddeningly short.

I floated the batting cage idea. He rejected it immediately. I continued to pursue for a bit, then let it go. He can be as stubborn as his parents. The idea was lost. I moved on.

I wondered. What’s close, doesn’t cost money, except for supplies? Mini-golf? I thought about it for a moment. It’s fun, yes. But just that. There’s not enough to it for he and I. It’s also an activity both kids would have fun doing together. Yes. OK. Seed planted. What else then?

“Do you want to play tennis?” The words tumbled from my mouth. Where was my racket? I wondered. I began looking even before I heard his answer. I remembered where it was in my apartment in Oceanside. There wasn’t much room there. Every time I used the broom and mop I had to move it aside. But where was it now? There was only one answer. My big-ass closet. I have a Texas-sized closet in Pittsburgh. I had Pittsburgh-sized closets in California. The world gets stranger every day.

I soon found two rackets. Why do I have two? It’s not like being a musician and having multiple guitars. Not for me anyway. My Mom, remembering how much I loved the game gave me two rackets as presents for Christmas. One for me, the other for Bud (This is before Sweets was a toddler). Two rackets meant I could begin to teach him how to play right there. In my bedroom. So yes, I did. I showed him how to hold a racket. What a forehand shot looked like. Backhand too. The importance of bending your knees, turning your body and not bending your wrist. He was intrigued. It was his first time holding a racket.

We needed balls. We got in the car and I headed for the closest sporting goods store. As we made our way, I talked about the sound a can of balls made when opened. The wonderfully medicinal smell the balls have when they come out of the can. How lively the balls are, etc. He didn’t understand the lively part. I started explaining and used the phrase, “squeezing the balls.” Except I said, “your” instead of “the.” I heard my mistake and laughed at it. He didn’t. There was a pause. Was he embarrassed? Did he not know what to say? Had I inadvertently gone too blue? He said, “that’s just wrong” and smiled. In the next few minutes the car quickly filled with “ball” and “cojones” jokes and puns.

We bought the balls.

He loved cracking the can open.

He did not like the smell.

We arrived at the practice wall. I reviewed the strokes. We played air tennis. I tried to give him a sense of the feel of the ball against the racket by bouncing balls downward towards the ground. We bounced them up in the air off the racket too. Then I told him what the activity looked like and how to do it. I modeled hitting the ball off the wall. As you might imagine my game is pretty rusty. Finally, it was his turn.

I asked him to tell me what he was going to do. “Hit the middle of the wall with the ball, like you said.” He bounced the ball and took aim. He swung. The ball went over the wall and into the next court. He laughed. I laughed.

It was the best outcome for both of us. There wasn’t going to be any pressure to perform to expectations. Not from himself, not from me or anyone. This activity was going to be pure fun. It was.

After, we munched on popsicles. He smiled and said, “That was fun.” He held his smile the way he does when he’s content.

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Waffles

There’s no school today. The kids play for a bit then amble down the stairs. Too reflexively Bud pops in a DVD and asks two questions: “Can we watch something?” and “What”s for breakfast?”

To the first I reply, “Isn’t that a question you should ask before you put a DVD in?” There’s no answer. I’m not concerned. This should be a lazy day. Beginning it with a discussion as to whether the TV should be on or not will change that pretty quick. It’s easier to call out a turn-off time after breakfast.

That leaves the second question. Of course they haven’t eaten. So what to make? What is there in the house? I quickly realize that there can only be one thing for breakfast this morning. Both because it befits a breakfast on the morning of our anniversary and because I know the ingredients are likely present. The qualifier owes to our separation. I really don’t know what’s in the cupboards. So . . . I’m making waffles. My first ever.

While Sweets is a cereal girl and Bud a hot breakfast boy, they find common ground in their love of waffles. Waffles are a food that has never been part of my life. The kids mom loves waffles and makes them two to three times a week. Before the kids, she’d make them for herself. I wouldn’t eat them.

It’s not that waffles were unknown to me. My Dad eats the frozen waffles you throw in the toaster. It’s something he discovered after I’d left for college. I watched all the “Let go of my Eggo” commercials too. They didn’t work. The only way I will eat a frozen waffle is if there is nothing else available and they’re soaked in enough syrup that they become a sponge for it.
Instead, I’ve always been a cereal guy. Sunday mornings are the exception where omelets, french toast or pancakes are the order of the day.

Still, after years in their presence I’ve come to like them. They’re part of my picture of being home. I’m still not sure I like the flavor of waffles themselves. There’s a blandness to them that I can’t get past.

The texture of the waffles is another story. Deep crispy ridges protecting delicate pillowed interiors. Warm pockets holding fresh fruit, any one containing more jam than you’d ever consider spreading across a slice of toast. Oh, yes. Waffles are an amazing comfort food.

And these? They pass muster.
“These are good, can I have more?” says Bud.
Sweets adds the right qualifier,
“Good, but not as good as mama’s.”

I’m thankful for the grace of the morning and the grace of the day. And of this day fifteen years ago. Home remains the same, even as it is different than it’s ever been.

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Sweets Has A New Smile

Bud’s bus leaves at 8:20 a.m.
Sweets‘ school assembles at 8:54.

As the school year progresses, I’m learning that thirty-four minutes can be an expanse of time or a short interval.

Mornings have a certain flow to them. I grind the coffee beans at 6:45. The sound invariably wakes my son. A weary voice calls. “Dad?” In his life coffee doesn’t yet have magical qualities. It’s the alarm he hears. Then again, given how hard he sleeps, maybe it does.

When I was eleven, my Dad would stand at my door and call my name. After five minutes that felt like seconds, he knock and call again. If more time passed and I didn’t get up, he’d come into my room, place his hand on my shoulder and shake me lightly. If that didn’t work, my mom would take over and I would feel her hand. I would hear her voice and begin my day.

These days I wake to the chorus of U2’s “Beautiful Day.” It’s a small reminder of what lies ahead, regardless of the weather. When I’m getting enough sleep, I rise before the alarm goes off. Sometimes I’m early enough to be my own snooze button. I’ll roll over and tell myself to take an extra ten minutes or twenty. Then I’ll wake up a second time, before the alarm sounds. If I’m over-tired or just up too late, I try to adjust and set the alarm for a later time. That’s usually an accident in process. I’ve set the alarm for 7 p.m. instead of a.m. or changed it to one in the afternoon. I don’t know how that happens, well I do, but it’s all fuzzy in my head. That’s the point. When that happens the morning is an interesting scramble.

Sweets wakes up when she’s ready. No alarm necessary. She seems to sleep as long as she needs. That’s usually about ten and a half hours. It’s four more than I am usually able.

She’s a cold breakfast girl to Bud’s hot breakfast boy. When she wakes, her head is clear. She doesn’t need much time to wash, eat or dress. That’s good. The thirty-four minutes is a nice buffer to have in the morning.

Making coffee precedes Bud’s hot breakfast. I love the way fresh coffee foams in the press like Coca Cola hitting ice cream. The brew swells and slowly recedes.

There are generally four keys to a great cup. Most important are the beans themselves. Quality matters. Freshness too. Coffee stales quickly and keeping it in the fridge only exposes it to the flavors there. The beans absorb them the way baking soda does. I don’t like flavored coffee. A refrigerated blend sits in my imagination alongside the Berties Botts Every Flavored Beans that Harry Potter hopes he never has to taste.

The grind is determined by the brewing method you’re going to use. And you have to use enough coffee. Two good tablespoons for every six ounces of water is the industry standard. That’s twice what most folks use. Good tasting water is key also. After all, it’s 98% of the cup! I’ll take my first sips while making breakfast and finish the cup as I make their lunches.

After breakfast the requisite reminders follow. Ten minutes until we have to leave. Don’t forget to put your homework in your folders. Is your bag packed? Did you brush your teeth? Deoderize? Where are your socks? You need socks. No, it’s too cold to wear that without a t-shirt. Aren’t you wearing shoes today? Yes, you’re wearing a coat. There’s a lot of eye rolling along the way. There’s tension, sometimes a joke or two and by the time we’re in the car, some ease on all sides. That is unless we forget something, or the unexpected happens.

This morning while Sweets was brushing her teeth a loose tooth came out. One of her front teeth. There was a little blood and more surprise. We used all of the buffer before she headed to school, with a new smile.

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