Sunday, December 22, 2013

Something to smile about

At the risk of sounding like a grumpy, yet handsome, mix between the Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge, I will readily admit that Christmas has not always ranked very high on my list of favorite holidays.  In fact, for many years, it came in somewhere below Groundhog Day and just above Arbor Day.  What can I say?  When it came to Christmas, I spent a lot of time in the “bah humbug” camp.

You see; my issue wasn’t with commemorating the birth of the Savior, hoping for peace on Earth or wanting to spread goodwill towards men (and the ladies).  The reason I was down on Christmas was because, to me, it represented the opposite of all those things.  Overspending, quarreling with family, stressing about gifts, the hassle of travel – these are the themes that dominated my December 25th.

And then I married Santa’s biggest fan.

Suddenly, and without warning, things began to change.  We bought a tree and began decorating the day after Thanksgiving, we made and delivered endless numbers of cookies and treats to friends, family and co-workers, we scaled back on the number and cost of the gifts we exchanged, we sung carols every night of the month and we started my favorite tradition of all; giving to others.

What does that mean?

Well, every year, we each commit to go without a gift.  Instead, we take the money we would have used to buy those presents and donate it to charity.  And though it means there’s more space left under the tree, we’ve never missed receiving any of those gifts.

In instituting this most favored tradition, Casey and I wondered if the kids would be upset about our plan.  We were concerned they’d feel ripped off.  More than that, we were worried they wouldn’t be on board with sacrificing for others.

Enter the true spirit of Christmas.

To our great delight, the kids were more excited about it than we were!  After offering to give up all their gifts (which we assured them was not necessary), we got busy as a family and began searching out charities.

Over the years our “gifts” have gone to many worthy organizations and this year is no different.  After seeing a commercial for Operation Smile, an organization that sends surgeons to disadvantaged countries to surgically repair people’s cleft palates, the matter was decided.  And so it is that this year, two kids with cleft palates will be able to get the operations they need to get something every child should have; a smile.

And so, all these years later, Christmas has flown to the top of my holiday chart (it’s right there with Thanksgiving, arguably my all-time favorite) and I’m no longer Mr. Bah Humbug.

I guess it just goes to show that when it comes to Christmas (and probably everything else too), it truly is better to give than to receive.  That, and that in every instance in life, my wife is always right (see honey, I do write about you on the blog.  Merry Christmas angel!).

***If you’d like to donate to Operation Smile, click here.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Man on a mission

Snow was falling, the mercury was hovering around 32 degrees and the clock read 9:03am. School was canceled and the government was officially closed for the day. No one in their right mind would venture out in this weather unless they had to. 

And I had to. I absolutely had to. 

You see, it's my job as a husband and father to bring home the proverbial bacon, which means I do what needs to be done. And when it comes to bringing home actual bacon, I take my responsibility just as seriously. 

Wait, what?

Well, put simply, I had a hankering for bacon and we were fresh out. Oh the humanity!

And so it was that I told Casey, "Get me ruggied up, I'm going to Safeway."

She looked at me like I was crazy. After all, I don't even like going out if there's a modest breeze!

But this was different. This was bacon. I had no choice, but to answer my own personal call of the wild. 

And, with my two trustee helpers bundled up with me and ready to go, I headed out into the elements. It was me against nature and I would not be denied. 

Despite my coat, the blanket under my coat, the sweater I had on, the warmers I stuck to my sweater and my undershirt (not to mention my two scarves and my beanie), the cold air managed to find its way to my delicate (you like that?) skin.

No matter, I pressed on. 

Sensing the chill that threatened my mission to acquire the greatest breakfast meat of all time, the girls began encouraging me. 

"You can do it Daddy!"
"Keeping going Daddy, we're almost there!"
"You can do it Daddy!"

And whether it was their sweet encouragement or the anticipated euphoria brought on by picturing myself devouring that salty delight, I lowered my head and hit the gas. 

Onward and forward. 

We reached the grocery store and I drove in and headed straight for the meats like a crazed man making his way through a crowd. Toes may have been run over, ankles may have been clipped. Who could tell? It all happened so fast. 

That said, I did slow down long enough to grab a bag of chips, some sausage and a tomato too. Don't ask. 

With the beep of the checkout scanner and the swipe of my credit card, we were back on the road. 

On the way home we were all cold so we took turns encouraging one another. And it worked as with the blink of a chilly eye we were back home again. 

"Fire up the stove mama!"

Minutes later, the heavenly smell of pig wafted through the house. Moments after that, I took what was to be the first of MANY bites of bacon. 

In a word. Yes. 

It was just that delicious. 

A few hours later, I awoke from my food coma and realized we were out of lemons. Oh well, it can wait until the Spring. 

Face it, I'm a carnivore.

All this to say, you never know what you're capable of until you're pushed to the brink. And whether it's bacon or a desire to achieve in areas that have long challenged your success, sooner or later you'll get hungry enough to answer your own mission call and make it happen. 

For love of the game

How does a guy who can't run, jump or throw develop a genuine love for sports? By seeing himself in every pitch, shot and touchdown despite the fact he knows he'll never get to take the field himself. 

At least that's how I do it. 

There's a special bond that inextricably connects those who sit on one end of the athletic spectrum with those whose physical gifts and abilities enable them to live, if only for a moment, on the opposite side of that same spectrum. It's that connection that allows me to feel what I consider to be the pure joy of sports. 

And so it is, with that perspective in mind, that I was on the court when Jordan buried the Utah Jazz with his last second shot in the NBA Finals. I was on the mound when Schilling led the Red Sox on a bloodied ankle. And I was on the field when Montana connected with John Taylor to defeat the Bengals in the Super Bowl.

But all of those moments pale in comparison to my favorite sporting moment of all time, which occured during last year's "Gobbler Gallop."

As I've written about before, every year Isabelle runs in her elementary school's mile-long fun run called the Gobbler Gallop. Last year, as a kindergartener, Sammy decided to run too. Because they were in kindergarten and second grade respectively, they got to run in the same heat, which we thought was pretty neat.  They lined up together and took off when the whistle blew.  From there, each girl was on her own.

Around 9 minutes later, Isabelle crossed the finish line.  Sammy, however, was nowhere in sight.

Time passed and still no sign of Sammy.

Finally, about 100 yards away, Sammy arrived on scene.  She wasn't running anymore, she was gassed and walking slowly.  It didn't look like she'd be completing her first gallop.

And that's when it happened.  Seeing her sister about to falter, Isabelle, who was still tired from having completed her own race, took off in a sprint towards Sammy.

"Where are you going?" Casey asked.

Isabelle's reply was beautiful.

"I've got to help her finish!"

And with that, Isabelle raced to Sammy and, upon reaching her, hoisted her up.  And, together, they fought their way down the final stretch of the course and crossed the finish line arm-in-arm.

As a father, I couldn't have been more proud.  As a sports fan, I couldn't have asked for a more inspiring moment.

And, though I was stuck at home in a hospital bed when it all happened, hearing the detail and meaning with which the three of them described it to me, it felt like I was right there alongside them.

It was, and is, proof positive that you don't have to run the race in order to come out of it a winner.

Are sports great or what!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Kids in the "know"

It's amazing to me that my kids can somehow manage to overlook finding their own hands in front of their faces and yet they still manage to notice when three hairs are parted to the left side of my head instead of to the right. Incredibly, the most imperceptive young ones among us tend to also posses a Spider-Man like sense when it comes to the most nuanced and minute matters. 

How else do you explain how, even as toddlers, my girls knew that when giving something to daddy, they needed to place the item directly in my hand? Or that when it came to giving me hugs, they tackled me from the left side or the middle in order to avoid pushing on my wheelchair controller, which is positioned on my right side?

Somehow they just seemed to know. 

And, as I learned over Thanksgiving week, intuition runs in the family. 

With my sister-in-law in the hospital due to the early arrival of our newest nephew, Evan (who came less than a month after my first grand-nephew Ethan) I got the opportunity to babysit his two-year-old brother, Scotty "boy-boy" Lieng. 

A few things to note here about Scotty:

-The kid is a true boy; he's as rambunctious as they come
-My little man could give Hulk Hogan a run for his money in a wrestling match 
-He's as smart as a whip, cute as a button and, like all kids; he likes to get his way

And so I found myself in awe to find that whether playing dinosaurs, having snack time or just horsing around, boy-boy somehow knew not to throw toys my direction (opting instead to put them right in my mitts), to shove Cheerios right into my mouth and to avoid grabbing my wheelchair controller (although he did eye it every time he walked by me). He didn't need prompting, prodding or instruction, he just knew.  

Boy-boy also “just knew” that if he jumped on the back of my chair and squealed, I'd give him a ride. That if he climbed on my feet he could reach new heights and grab yummy treats. And he managed to figure out that hugs, kisses and smiles go a long way to getting whatever you want from uncle Vance. 

Like I said, kids today are in the know.

Thank goodness!