04 Jan

“Your Poor Mother…” Ode to a Mother of Seven Sons

“My poor mother: Seven sons should merit sainthood” in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (March 7, 2015).

“Your poor mother. She must be a saint.”

These words, more than any others, have echoed throughout my life like a guilt-inducing broken record. They are usually preceded by two questions, asked in equal parts horror and disbelief:

“You’re one of seven brothers?”

Yup.

“No sisters?!”

Nope. At which point the interrogator’s face contorts from one of revulsion to one of sympathy and despair.

“Your poor mother. She must be a saint.”

A deep sigh usually follows, along with some compassionate tears. They quickly pass, though, as horror, disbelief, and an accusatory head shake return.

“Your poor mother…”

It’s enough to give any young boy an inferiority complex. Hey, it’s not like we asked to be born! Is it our fault our parents couldn’t make girls? If anyone is to blame, it should be our father and the seven years he spent in the seminary studying to be a priest. One year shy of ordination, he jumped ship to marry our mother. More than likely, my brothers and I were simply paybacks from a scorned God who had a fish on the line but let him go.

“Thou shall pay me tomorrow for thy freedom today! Cursed be thou with foul-smelling boys until one of them dons thy collar!”

Alas, there’s not a priest in the bunch. That’ll teach God not to bargain with an Irishman. Seven sons and not one priest? I think that qualifies one for excommunication in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

But does raising seven boys really qualify our mother for sainthood?

Let’s look at the numbers.

If each of us averaged four or so diapers a day (a conservative estimate for a family full of small bladders) for the first two-and-a-half years of our lives, we’re looking at over 25,000 changed diapers. And given this was in the day of cloth diapers, that’s 25,000 washed diapers too. As per number of loads of laundry completed during our childhood, that is easier measured by the number of washing machines kicked to the curb despite our father’s best efforts to keep them going just one load longer.

Trips to the emergency room varied depending upon each son’s degree of enterprise, stupidity, and gamesmanship. We excelled at each, and the ER parking lot knew our station wagon well. Only Delaware County Hospital knows the exact number of visits we made, but there was that one year my frequent rendezvous with the ER helped us reached our family’s insurance deductible. I took a great source of pride in this as a child. Our mother? Not so much. Number of trips to the ER, then? Well, we can simply mark that one as “plentiful.”

As part of my research into our mother’s possible sainthood, I asked statisticians at Stanford University to calculate her totals for the following: gallons of milk bought; trips to the grocery store; chicken dinners cooked; times vomited on by a sick child; innings of Little League watched; parent-teacher conferences attended; flowers seen trampled; baths interrupted; migraines induced; number of Lego pieces inadvertently vacuumed; and times fallen into the toilet when the seat was left up.

Their results were a bit lacking.

“Seven boys?” the professors asked. “No girls?”

I confirmed the variables: “Yup. Nope”

They simply wrote back: “I’m sorry, but your poor mother… she must be a saint.”

Thinking maybe they were onto something, I decided to calculate one final statistic to see if their hypothesis was warranted.

Number of sleepless nights? That one was easy to tabulate. Since becoming a mother, all of them. Our mother turned 70 this month, and with the oldest of her sons turning 47 this year, that’s some 17,436 sleepless nights and counting (first pregnancy and leap years alike included!).

47 years of continuous sleep deprivation? That’s not a sound night’s sleep since before Nixon was elected president! I suppose all those guilt-inducing head-shakers may be right after all. I think I’ll go ahead and write Pope Francis a petition recommending our mother’s cause for sainthood. He seems like a reasonable fellow, so I’m sure he’ll be agreeable to the request. I know how I’ll begin the letter:

My poor mother… she must be a saint.

19 Jan

Life lessons for the superhero apprentice: Lessons 1-6

A repost, a refresher, and a revival – with more superhero lessons to follow soonish…

At 4 years old, my son has just one problem in life, and it plagues him night after night. Lying in bed, a never-ending debate runs through his mind over which superhero he should be when he gets big.

Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk. Even Plastic Man remains a viable option. Each, after all, is unique, offering a child endless possibilities in the way of costumes, superpowers, weapons, vehicles and villains.

I may not be a superhero, but as a parent, I hope I’m providing him with the lessons he needs to become one. Here are six that were handed down to me:

Superhero Lesson #1: Things Just Happen: Sticktoitiveness and the Superhero

Superheroes aren’t perfect. Sometimes they crash—and it’s not always the cape’s fault. Or the villain’s fault. Or anybody’s fault, really. Things just happen. Superheroes don’t waste time blaming. If they crash, they brush it off and get back into the air.

Superhero Lesson #2: Trust Your Spidey Sense

Always trust your Spidey sense. If you’re ever unsure about a situation, it’s best to follow your gut. It could be what superhero move you need to make to capture the villain. It could be what to say to someone who is upset with you. Or it could be whether or not you should do something someone is asking you to do. Not sure what to do? Follow your Spidey sense. It’s why superheroes have it, and it’s usually right. With a little practice, and a lot of faith, you’ll learn to trust it.

Superhero Lesson #3: The First Step: Visualization

Visualization. To be successful in anything, first be successful in your mind. Visualize yourself making contact with that baseball before you even step up to the plate. Picture every moment of the event. Your hands gripping the bat. Your legs balanced and ready to step forward into the pitch. The crack of the bat as the ball flies through the air. Your legs darting out of the batter’s box as you sprint along the base paths. First picture it in your mind, and your body will know what to do when the time comes to face that first curve ball.

Superhero Lesson #4: Prayer: The Superhero’s Ultra-Top Secret Weapon

When you hear an abulance siren as it races down the road—be it close by or far off in the distance—take a second and say a little prayer for whoever is in need. Superheroes can’t be in all places at all times, but their prayers can be.

Superhero Lesson #5: Words

Choose your words carefully. Most mere mortals assume that the greatest of superhero powers come from radioactive accidents, genetic mutation, or intergalactic immigration. The truth of the matter is, superheroes master the most common and yet most difficult skills first. Chief among these skills is one’s ability to choose words carefully. For example, certain words should not be uttered by any superhero. These include the words “never,” “can’t,” and “I give up.” Other examples include words such as “hate” and “kill.”

Just the same, there are certain words in the vocabularies of all superheroes that should be said now and again, and sometimes these are even more difficult to master. Examples that fall into this category include the words “help” and “I don’t know.” The thing is, superheroes can’t do everything on their own, and they don’t know everything there is to know. Superheroes are aware of this imperfect quality, no matter how super they may be. Choose your words, and the words you choose not to use, very carefully.

Superhero Lesson #6: The Ultimate Lesson: Gratitude

Gratitude. If there’s one thing superheroes do well, it’s appreciating how lucky they are. After all, it’s not everyone that can fly, sling webs, or turn green with bulging muscles when danger looms. Superheroes are lucky, and they know it. That’s why they end each day with a prayer of thanks. So as you lay in bed at night, eyes closed and ready to recharge your body for another day of saving the world, spend a few minutes thinking about everything you’re thankful for. God. Your family. Your friends. Your home. Anyone and anything that made your day better. This is one of the most important exercises a superhero can do, and like all exercise, it makes you even stronger.

I look over at my son, fast asleep, and say a prayer of gratitude for this little superhero-in-training. My dream is that he achieves his. I say a prayer too for the superhero who shared these lessons with me – my father. Though he may be gone, he lives on. After all, superheroes are immortal.

23 Jul

Life lessons for the superhero apprentice

“Superhero in Training” in Main Line Today (August 2010).

At 4 years old, my son has just one problem in life, and it plagues him night after night. Lying in bed, a never-ending debate runs through his mind over which superhero he should be when he gets big.

Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk. Even Plastic Man remains a viable option. Each, after all, is unique, offering a child endless possibilities in the way of costumes, superpowers, weapons, vehicles and villains.

I may not be a superhero, but as a parent, I hope I’m providing him with the lessons he needs to become one. Here are six that were handed down to me:

Superhero Lesson #1: Superheroes aren’t perfect. Sometimes they crash—and it’s not always the cape’s fault. Or the villain’s fault. Or anybody’s fault, really. Things just happen. Superheroes don’t waste time blaming. If they crash, they brush it off and get back into the air.

Superhero Lesson #2: Always trust your Spidey sense. If you’re ever unsure about a situation, it’s best to follow your gut. It could be what superhero move you need to make to capture the villain. It could be what to say to someone who is upset with you. Or it could be whether or not you should do something someone is asking you to do. Not sure what to do? Follow your Spidey sense. It’s why superheroes have it, and it’s usually right. With a little practice, and a lot of faith, you’ll learn to trust it.

Superhero Lesson #3: Visualization. To be successful in anything, first be successful in your mind. Visualize yourself making contact with that baseball before you even step up to the plate. Picture every moment of the event. Your hands gripping the bat. Your legs balanced and ready to step forward into the pitch. The crack of the bat as the ball flies through the air. Your legs darting out of the batter’s box as you sprint along the base paths. First picture it in your mind, and your body will know what to do when the time comes to face that first curve ball.

Superhero Lesson #4: When you hear a screaming ambulance racing down the street—be it close by or far off in the distance—take a second and say a little prayer for whoever is in need. Superheroes can’t be in all places at all times, but their prayers can be.

Superhero Lesson #5: Choose your words carefully. Most mere mortals assume that the greatest of superhero powers come from radioactive accidents, genetic mutation, or intergalactic immigration. The truth of the matter is, superheroes master the most common and yet most difficult skills first. Chief among these skills is one’s ability to choose words carefully. For example, certain words should not be uttered by any superhero. These include the words “never,” “can’t,” and “I give up.” Other examples include words such as “hate” and “kill.”

Just the same, there are certain words in the vocabularies of all superheroes that should be said now and again, and sometimes these are even more difficult to master. Examples that fall into this category include the words “help” and “I don’t know.” The thing is, superheroes can’t do everything on their own, and they don’t know everything there is to know. Superheroes are aware of this imperfect quality, no matter how super they may be. Choose your words, and the words you choose not to use, very carefully.

Superhero Lesson #6: Gratitude. If there’s one thing superheroes do well, it’s appreciating how lucky they are. After all, it’s not everyone that can fly, sling webs, or turn green with bulging muscles when danger looms. Superheroes are lucky, and they know it. That’s why they end each day with a prayer of thanks. So as you lay in bed at night, eyes closed and ready to recharge your body for another day of saving the world, spend a few minutes thinking about everything you’re thankful for. God. Your family. Your friends. Your home. Anyone and anything that made your day better. This is one of the most important exercises a superhero can do, and like all exercise, it makes you even stronger.

I look over at my son, fast asleep, and say a prayer of gratitude for this little superhero-in-training. My dream is that he achieves his. I say a prayer too for the superhero who shared these lessons with me – my father. Though he may be gone, he lives on. After all, superheroes are immortal.