My Summer School

summer schoolWhile it’s not quite time to start preparing to go back to school here, with about two weeks of summer vacation left for my girls, I can look back at all that I learned over the last eight weeks.  As they get ready to go back to school, my summer school is coming to a close.

Lesson one was (and as if this writing is) 16.0’s lifeguard career at a semi-local water park.  Forgetting the driving and scheduling that I ended up jumping through – I can honestly say I am proud of the work ethic she has shown this summer.  It’s clear to me work ethic is a learned trait.  I saw my mother work hard to provide a home for her three children – and I’ve tried to emulate that.  From my days at Valley Caterers (perhaps even before that when I was delivering newspapers) through my career.

I’m pretty sure my girls have seen how hard I work to make sure they have a happy home to live in – OK, sometimes I remind them too.  They don’t get everything they ask for – but they know that nothing comes without work, and that is a trait 16.0 has shown this summer.

Lesson two came just this week when 13.5 had her orientation for high school.  I have to admit, having them both on the same school schedule will help me.  But 13.5 got into the orientation and took it seriously.  She even surprised me by jumping into fall athletics at the school (she tried out for and made the tennis team).  For her, this is a whole new approach to school – being active and eager.  We’ll have to go over to the school next week to get her into an art class she really wants to take (another sign of her taking an active interest in her education).

I spent a lot of time with her over the last 12 months talking about taking a new approach – no long lectures, no screaming matches.  Just timed conversations that seemingly worked.

Lesson three was also last week when 16.0 took a week off from lifeguarding to return to Camp Good Grief as a volunteer counselor.  This was something I introduced the girls to about five years ago as a way to be able to talk about the loss of their mother.  Both have said their years there were good – and I’m so thrilled 16.0 feels the need to give back a week to help other kids overcome an obstacle they’ve dealt with.

Two weeks to go until first bell at the high school.  I supposed that’s also two weeks to go until my summer school is out.

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Spring Time Of Year Again

spring into summerEven though the weather here in NY is very un-spring like, given all the stuff going on it’s spring for sure.  This spring is going to unfurl into a different kind of summer here, as only one of the girls is going to camp.  Make no doubt about it though, it is the spring time of year again.  But before that, we still have to navigate softball, track, finals, packing and new this year getting 16.0 ready for a job.

I’m hoping I am not short-changing the packing this year.  My thought is since it’s only one going to camp I don’t need all the time needed to pack, so 13.5 is not yet started camp packing.  We’ll see how that goes.

For 16.0, she’ll be lifeguarding at a water park about 30 minutes from the house.  What I hope she appreciates (I’ve said it to her exactly this way) getting her to her job is not my job.  Hopefully there will be carpools and the occasional über.

In the meantime – both girls need to keep focus on the end of the school year.  13.5 blustered her way through a research paper this weekend, and 16.0 has already taken an AP test.

So, packing will start soon for camp.  16.0 begins work over Memorial Day weekend – it’s spring time of year again – lot’s to get done before summer sets in, no matter what the weather is like.

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Still Talking

Still TalkingIt’s been nearly a month since I’ve managed to carve out the 20 minutes or so needed to update my blog.  Not that there haven’t been 20 minute stretches where I’ve been sitting around doing nothing, but rather just finding the mental (and sometimes physical) energy to compose 250-400 words in a coherent order has been tough lately – but that doesn’t mean I’m not still talking.

Most of my energy over the last month has been focused on getting started in a new job.  Without really meaning to, I went from one really large company to another.  While the job is very similar, it’s very exciting to be starting out on a new path with new challenges.

That new path has included two trips to Atlanta (corporate offices for this job), Toronto (to meet with customers) and a few extra runs into the city to meet with colleagues and customers.

Now a month in – I think we’re starting to find the groove and get into a rhythm of work and balancing the rest.

The spring also brings with it the bigger track season for 15.5, the more important softball season for 13.5 (including the school team) and the start of obstacle course races for all of us that get sprinkled in.

In looking at the school calendar, next week is also the close of the third quarter – which means its time to start getting into the home stretch of school and get the summer all teed-up.  This year 13.5 is going back to camp (we’ll do some shopping) and 15.5 (who will be 16 in the summer) is staying home and working.  No telling what that means just yet.

So yeah, I’m still talking – just more of it out loud (and often to myself) than on here just because for the only parent – spring is the busy season.

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Camp Good Grief – Another Year

Camp Good GriefWith just one more day left in summer for the girls, school here starts Wednesday, they spent last week on the east end of Long Island at their fourth year of Camp Good Grief.  If you want me to save you the click (although I would suggest taking the journey), Camp Good Grief is a week-long program for kids who have lost a close relative (think parent, sibling or grandparent).  This year at Camp Good Grief 15.0 was a counselor and 12.5 was a fourth year camper (normally it’s only three years).

Over the years I’ve used Camp Good Grief as a check in point to the emotional status of the girls.  They spend time in art therapy and group therapy – and on the last day of camp I can get feedback from both.  This year I’ll admit my level of concern was a little lower than normal, and with good reason according to the therapists – 12.5 is doing more than OK.

The broader experience this year though was both girls (although 15.0 more) got the feeling of giving back to the micro-community they belong to – children who have lost a loved one.  It happens.  It happened to me.  It’s part of life.  But there is a sense of peace that comes with knowing you’re not alone (at least that is what my girls have told me).

15.0 had such a great experience, she’s ready to sign up for another year as a counselor.  12.5 will be eligible to be a counselor next year – and it looks like she’ll apply as well.

Three out of the four years my girls have gone to Camp Good Grief, it’s been at the Peconic Dunes Camp Grounds closer to the end of the North Fork of Long Island than anything else.  It’s about an hour from our door to drop off – so it’s a long week of driving and logistics for me as the girls continue with soccer (15.0) and softball (12.5), and getting ready for school and catching up with friends.

For me though, it really has been time well spent.  Sure, the year it was only 20 minutes from our house (at a different camp grounds) it was even easier.  But to borrow (and butcher) Teddy Roosevelt, no one is saying it’s going to be easy, but it will be worth it.

Camp Good Grief – another year in the books and it looks like another year ahead.  And it’s OK.  I’ll put the time in.  I’ve tried to teach the girls about giving back to their community and family – so how could I complain when they are giving back to their micro-community?

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The Cost of Doing the Right Thing

do the right thingFor the first time in nearly three years there is no longer anyone living in our basement.  This fact, combined with the summer means for the first time in three years I’ve been able to give the basement a deep cleaning – and all I can say is the cost of doing the right thing is pretty steep.  What a F@%*&$G mess.

By way of background, although not in a community I would have ever imagined I’d live in, we ended up building our house – as part of a subdivision construction project nearly 15 years ago.  We moved in as its first residents about 13 years ago.  Over the years there have been minor and major upgrades.

One of the major upgrades – which was also one of the first done – was to finish the basement complete with a large playroom, full bathroom and an office.  The vision was the girls would have a place to play and entertain friends, we had a futon so the occasional guest (adult or child) would have a place to stay and be comfortable and I would have a quiet place in the house to work.  Now I am able to return the basement to the vision Risa had when we did the work more than 10 years ago.

It all started in the fall of 2011.   The full-time sitter I was using at the time informed me she was going to go through a divorce and was likely to move away.  Since we all liked her, and I knew she was living in a tiny studio apartment with her soon-to-be ex-husband without giving it a lot of thought I suggested she move into the basement for a few weeks, “to sort things out” were the words I used.

More than two years later she moved out a few days before the girls went to camp last summer.  I was traveling, injured and working on the upstairs bathrooms that summer and figured the girls and I would take on the basement in the fall – and return it close to it intended use.

Then came my brother moving in for nine full months and off and on for a few weeks at a time for three months after that.

So for three full years my basement was a primary residence for someone not being a primary resident of my home.  The common traits that my brother and former sitter have is both are pack-rats and neither is overly effective in the use of a vacuum.

This summer has been an eye-opener.  For years I’ve told myself and my kids we were doing the right thing by people we care for and it’s the right thing to do.  What I never realized though was the cost of doing the right thing.

To re-establish the basement as a place for my girls to entertain now teen-aged friends and for me to re-establish my office the investment in time has already been pretty steep.  I’ve spent close to 20 hours this summer hauling out garbage that got pushed out of sight and out of mind and vacuuming after two people who clearly were mystified by the device.  Up next is deep cleaning a bathroom – and I still have not fully finished my re-decoration project (where hard dollar costs come into play) in the big room.

Would I do it all again? Probably.  It’s the right thing to do and my expectation of myself, my girls and those around me is to do the right thing.  But I’d have to think about putting better rules and expectations around what a counselor one year when I went to camp called, “wiping your own ass.”  Meaning, when all is said and done, the cost of doing the right thing will be pretty high for me and my girls – and while I am not sure we are better for it, I know we did all we could – and can hold our heads high.

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The Camp Call (Again)

Camp CallFor the fifth summer both girls are away at camp.  It’s never super easy to put them on the bus, over the years its become a right of summer.  One of the “features” of camp is a weekly call home that I schedule about a month before they leave.  This week was the first for the summer, and the camp call again is a moment I can relax.

Sure, I get letters from the girls.  Or at least this year a few empty envelopes from 15.0 – who is “too lazy” to actually write a letter.  At least I know she’s doing alright.

But the call has that element of interaction in it, combined with just hearing from them that things are going OK.  There is the list of things needed – sheets, liquid soap, a pillow pet to name a few.  Plus the checking in on what’s going on at home.

But it’s also my chance to hear in their voices the pleasure they having at camp.  Find out first had the fun they’re having with their friends, and the trips they are going on.

In her first letter home 15.0 mentioned her knee that was a little cranky last fall during the soccer season was bothering her again.  I got to hear from her it was not a problem – just getting used to running on the trails she was thinking.

12.5 was telling me about the other girls in her bunk preparing for autumn bat mitzvahs and how they go to lessons together.  It’s something she was reluctant to do at camp – but now is a moment she shares with her friends, and enjoys.

The camp call again is that weekly insight that can’t be read in a letter that gives me the knowledge that everything is OK.  I can still hear 15.0 talking about her lifeguard lessons and 12.5 talking about Ace of Cakes evening activities as I head home from a week of work in California and it’s actually comforting.

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The Dog Days of Summer

dog days of summerSince so much of my formative education comes from knowledge I learned playing and watching baseball – my understanding of the “dog days of summer” comes from baseball as well.  In ball terms, it’s the 40 day stretch from July 3 to August 11 that represent the hottest and most humid part of the baseball season.  These dates pretty much coincide with the time my girls are away at camp, so once again baseball logic prevails and thus we are in the dog days of (my) summer as well.

Unlike the Mets (and all the other teams that I really don’t care all that much about), my dog days of summer bring with it a nice respite from the other 45 weeks of the year.  That change of pace has become important to all of us in the house – and despite the forecast highs in the 90’s and the air quality warnings, it is a breath of fresh air.

During these days I am not on the go trying to coordinate three schedules, keep my career afloat, manage the house and this year plan a bat mitzvah.  The summer brings with it a chance for me (and the girls) to take a break from that pace – and do our own things.

For the girls it’s camp – where they are now for a fifth summer.

For me, I get a chance to do some travel – both work and sometimes even pleasure.  I can slow down and enjoy sitting on the beach at sunset without having to worry where anyone is, or sleeping past six in the morning without worrying someone won’t make it to school on time.

Granted, there are always those things that come up – this year its an unexpected (and slightly extended) visit from my brother which has slowed down the house stuff.  But it will get done.

Dog days of summer were probably conceptualized by the ancient Romans.  While their thought the the bright star Sirius (The Big Dog) rises and sets with the sun and helps generate extra heat.  But they did have it right during this time the stars (Sirius and the sun) are aligned – giving rise to the dog days.

In recent year’s I’ve had to contend with knee rehab, a travel schedule that had me on the road weekly, and last summer’s silence.

It’s still not set in stone what this summer will hold for me, or just how much I will have to say about it – because as ball players do in the dog days of summer, I too shall conserve some energy and be ready for the stretch run of 2015.

Just as I hope the dog days of summer for the Mets bring on important games in September – once our dog days end, we have a sprint to the end of the year.  It’s back to school in September, a bat mitzvah in October and the launch of the holiday season in November and December.  All of that before flipping the calendar to 2016 – but none of it before we celebrate the dog days of summer.

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My Summer Vacation

My Summer VacationAs the saying goes, all good things must come to an end – and so too does my summer vacation.

While there has been a lack of updates here, there has not been a lack of things going on.  In some ways, along with the physical resting and recharging done on a summer hiatus, my summer vacation was a bit of a mental break as well.

Flashback to June – when I traded in my 4.5 year old Subaru for a Jeep on a Thursday, and took the girls to the camp bus on Saturday.  From there, my summer vacation was a series of plane rides with a few doctors visits, some painting and even some straight up down time mixed in.  All in all, for seven weeks while the girls were enjoying swimming, softball and color war – I did my best to simply turn off as much as I could while still keeping things afloat.

Somewhere between Memorial Day and the middle of June I managed to pinch a nerve in my neck – which kind of set me back some. At first I thought it was a shoulder injury which I dreaded.  Instead, it was not nearly as dreadful, but more annoying (I think) and still demanded scans, tests and twice weekly PT.  (And yes mom, I am doing fine).

Mixed around that schedule was work, which demanded quality plane time.  It wasn’t until the final week the girls were at camp that I had a week that did not involve a flight.  When not at JFK I was in the city at meetings.

Finally there was the time eeked out at the start or end of trips – which would constitute the PTO (personal time off for those not in corporate American) portion of my summer.  A great drive up the California coast from Santa Monica to Monterrey (through Big Sur).  A great few days relaxing in Nappa, quality time without rushing to meetings in San Francisco – even time to ride a bike over the Golden Gate Bridge, through Sausalito and out to Tiburon.

And somehow in the middle of all that, I managed to paint two bathrooms in the house and reorganize the kitchen.

So yeah – I didn’t update things here, but there was a lot of updating going on.

Yeah, it was a bit fleeting, but all-in-all my summer vacation was not so bad.

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Twists and Turns To Get Things Done

Twists and TurnsSo last night, as Labor Day Weekend 2013 was in its final stages, we gathered up with some friends who we spent part of Memorial Day weekend with-and the list of all the things we wanted to do this summer came up.  Yeah, there’s a large list of things not done.  But through the twists and turns to get things done, there was also a bunch checked off the list.

According to the calendar, summer 2013 rolls on for another six weeks or so.  Meteorological Fall 2013 is upon us though.  So technically there is still time this summer to get some stuff done.

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But that doesn’t give credence to all that was accomplished.

Yeah, I wish I was able to get more done, and yeah-getting new furniture for 10.5’s room became new mattresses for everyone and added more than $2500 to the price tag-but twists and turns are to be expected.  Results are what is measured.

Sure, the long weekend on Block Island could have gone better-but we did make it.  Yeah, that closet still needs to be emptied out but there are new stools at the kitchen table.

Things get done, sometimes not the stuff that is on the list at the start-but you can’t knock progress.

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Camp Good Grief Again

Camp Good GriefFor the second summer the girls did a week at Camp Good Grief.  I wrote about it here last  year, so I won’t go too deep into the “what it is” and “what it’s all about.”  But in the end, Camp Good Grief again was a good thing for the girls and for me.

For those not inclined to click, Camp Good Grief is a program for kids who have lost a parent (and it gets extended to those who have lost a close relative like a sibling etc).  Out here it is run by the East End Hospice and is set in a great campground on the east end of Long Island called Peconic Dunes.

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But the take aways from the camp are meaningful for all of us and for me directly, I get a chance to kind of check-in on where the girls are at emotionally with all they have had to process and deal with.  By and large, we all get a clean bill of health once again from the therapists at the camp.

It’s an interesting program.  They break down into small-ish groups, 7-10 kids about the same age and they spend time together doing “camp” things like boating and swimming and then time in small group therapy and art therapy.

I think the biggest lesson/reminder the girls get through the entire program is that they are not all alone in this.  There are other kids like them who lost a parent.  Sometimes when I think back to being 11 or 13, all of my friends had two parent households-I can’t even place a divorce in the crowd much less the passing of a parent.

In today’s world, there is a lot more divorce, and schools run programs like Banana Splits for that.  But there really is not as much available in the school for kids in a widowed household.  Now that both of my kids are in middle school (10.5 starts in two weeks), I really don’t want the weekly or bi-weekly pull out to occur.  I want them in class and learning and getting help when they need it.

So Camp Good Grief gives me that snapshot of this moment in time.  What are they thinking, what are they saying and am I still on the right path.  The good news is that based on the feedback, we’re all doing OK.  The big takeaway though from the therapists for both girls, the groups want to talk more about the deceased parent in the home.  Now that is not an easy one for me, but I will do my best.

It’s good to have goals I suppose.  So, next summer the girls will go back for a third year.  13.0 has already said she wants to skip her first chance at being a counselor at the camp and just be a camper.  10.0 wants me to try to push after next summer to get her a counselor spot early, so she can use this for her Mitzvah project.  So, I have great kids, I’m not complaining.

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