Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Winter in Summer

A few years ago we took the girls to see a movie called Dolphin Tale, which tells the story of Winter, a dolphin who was rescued after getting trapped in a fishing net.  Because of the injuries she sustained, Winter’s tail was amputated and she was fitted with a first-of-its-kind prosthetic.  Amazingly, she learned to thrive and, despite her disability, continues to do remarkably well.

Ever since the movie came out, the girls (led by Casey) have wanted to visit Winter at the Clearwater Aquarium, which is located just outside of Tampa, Florida.

And so it was that following our recent trip to Orlando, we took a detour on the way home in order to spend some time with America’s favorite fish (yes, I know dolphins aren’t actually fish).

Seeing Winter was really fun, she does a lot of neat tricks and is obviously very smart.  However, the experience I enjoyed most was getting to hear what the people around us were saying about her.

I listened as children and adults of all ages took turns recognizing Winter’s disability, conveying concern (not pity) for her and then celebrating how impressive and courageous she is for overcoming her physical limitations.

It was inspiring.

Somehow, that dolphin, in swimming around and playing as she does, is changing the way people perceive disabilities.  What a gift.

In addition to dolphins, they’ve also got sea turtles, sharks, stingrays and a host of other aquatic species – many of which you’re allowed to touch and interact with (in my case begrudgingly).

Me just before I touched a stingray
Me just after I touched a stingray

The goal of the Clearwater Aquarium is to Rescue, Rehabilitate and Release the animals under their care.  When an animal, like Winter, can no longer survive in the wild, they make a home for it right there.

In doing so, I think they’ve managed to help us all.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Poolside or bust!

When it comes to fun and excitement, it can be hard to know what’s going to move the needle for kids.  After finding out that I had been invited to speak at a medical conference for the American College of Physicians in Orlando, Florida, the girls didn’t ask about Disney World, Universal Studios or Sea World.  No.  They only had one question: “Does the hotel have a pool?  As soon as I said “yes,” they begged us to let them come along.

So we did.

Well, after 12.5 hours in the car (Casey is a road warrior), we arrived in Orlando in time to go to dinner with the conference organizers, check into the hotel and go to bed.  But the next day was all about the pool baby!

Seeing how much they enjoyed splashing around, jumping in and out, swimming back and forth and playing water basketball made me long for a time when I could derive that kind of happiness from doing anything.  Don’t get me wrong, I like to have a good time, but these kids were euphoric!

It was a hole with water in it, but to them it was heaven on Earth.

I suppose my heaven on Earth was the joy I felt in getting to see them having so much fun.  It’s funny how our children change our life perspective.

After slaying the pool, taming the water slide (it was an awesome hotel) and floating the “lazy river,” we went back to the room, got changed and headed to the conference center so I could deliver my speech (after all, contrary to what the girls thought, that is why we were there).

An hour (and one standing ovation) later, my talk was over.  Soon thereafter, the organizers spoke to Isabelle and Sammy:

“Do you girls think it’s fun to hear your daddy speak?”
“No.  Not really.”

Kids say the darndest things!

Well, at least I took them swimming.  If that’s not worth the 25-hour roundtrip drive than what is?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Measuring love

Kids like ranking things, it’s like they crave and need the order.  And so, things get put into buckets of clearly defined favorites, priorities and preferences.  Take school for example.  To them it isn’t about broadening horizons or learning the fundamentals.  No.  It’s about which subject (including recess) they like the most, the tastiness of homemade versus purchased lunches and which friends and individuals (including teachers) they favor most and why.  Basically, it’s all one huge ranking system that extends to all aspects of their lives.

Take love for example.

For some time we’ve noticed that Isabelle and Sammy like for Casey and I to reassure them about how much we love them.  To do so, they’ll ask questions such as: “Who is your favorite 1st grader in the world?” or “If you had to choose between keeping us or Nubbins (our family dog), which would you pick?”

They want us to rank our love, to make it measurable.  However, sometimes doing so can be tricky.

The other day Isabelle asked me the following question: “If you had to pick between saving mommy or saving me, who would you save?”

Without hesitation, I replied: “Between mommy or Nubbins?  Definitely mommy.”

“No Daddy!  Between me and mommy!”

“Fine then.  Mommy.”

From out of nowhere, Sammy chimed in right away: “Then me!”  To which we all started laughing.  You’ve gotta love that kid’s confidence, not to mention her comedic timing.

After we composed ourselves, I tried putting things into a rank and order that would make the most sense to them because I wanted them to understand my answer.

I explained that, as my wife, Casey is, and will forever be, my number one.  I then told them that when they find and marry the love of their lives, that person will become their number one and vice versa.  Next, I said that, as our daughters, we love them beyond measure – tops in the entire universe, more than infinity even!

Their smiles told us they understood.  Thank goodness.  Now they can go on in their rank and ordered worlds secure in the knowledge of their place in our family and in our hearts.

And that, by any measure, is a success!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

My canine companion

For as long as I can remember, I wanted a dog.  And not just any dog.  I wanted a big, well-trained dog that would be my dearest and most loyal friend.  Maybe I had seen too many reruns of Lassie, but in my mind the relationship I’d have with my dog would be an unbreakable bond.  There was just one problem; my mom wouldn’t let me have one.

No matter how many times I asked her for a dog, the answer was consistent and swift: No.  How a woman who claimed to love me more than life itself could deny my humble and persistent request year after year was beyond my comprehension.  No matter.  I’d show her.  When I grew up, I’d be in charge, which meant that, whether she liked it or not, someday, I’d get a dog.

Fast-forward about 20 years.

After a year of marriage, Casey and I bought our first home.  For her this meant wise financial planning and having a place to make her own.  For me it meant I was getting my dog!

It was a simple formula: No parental oversight + No landlord = K9.

We decided we’d go with a German Shepherd rescue.  Casey was pregnant so the thought of a protective dog made our choice that much more appealing.  And after looking at a few, we thought we had landed on an adult male to adopt.  However, before we had time to process the paperwork, we took a trip out West to visit family.

That’s when my childhood dream came crashing down around me.

As it turned out, my brother-in-law’s friend had a dog that had just delivered puppies.  They were adorable and he wanted to know if we wanted one.

“So long as it’s a big breed, I’m fine with it.” I said.

It was not a big breed.  In fact, the puppies would never exceed the size of a loaf of bread.

“No way.” I said.

And then she did it.  Casey pulled the ultimate trump card on me.  With tears in her eyes, my pregnant wife looked at me and said: “Please.”

What kind of heartless husband could ever deny a request under those circumstances?  Not me.

And so, we ended up with a rat-dog named Nubbins.

And though I don’t often admit it, I think things turned out for the best.  After all, she’s light enough not to squish me when we cuddle, she fends off badguys with her ferocious (incessant) bark and because she’s so small her “accidents” are quite manageable.

Oh yeah, did I mention she licks my boogers?  Sure it sounds gross, but for a guy who can’t raise his arms to blow his nose, having a dog that likes my boogers is very useful (I know Casey appreciates it).  Plus it makes for a really cool party trick.

So as it turns out, sometimes not getting what you think you wanted is a gift because often times it means getting what you needed.

Who knew?