Monday, June 16, 2014

Fatherhood, creatively

We had a lovely Father's Day weekend. On Saturday, we wandered around Cleveland Flea, a monthly gathering of vendors, a mix of those selling retro items and those creating something entirely new, many celebrating Cleveland's  'rust belt chic' status. As a city, Cleveland is an example of something old, getting repurposed with a creative twist.  At Cleveland Flea there is an eclectic mix of stalls: organic farms, hand crafted leather goods, jewelry, musicians, food trucks and, (Need it be said?) fabulous people watching opportunities.

Then, we went over to the art inspired  "Parade on the Circle," which the Ramers have a long history of attending.  Embracing creativity, and often in an effort to get those juices flowing, Dan likes to look at what others come up with.  This collection of ideas, often executed with whimsy and on large scale, never disappoints.  We have joked that we must be trend setters, because both of these events have really become quite popular...the paper reported that there were 80,000 people at Wade Oval this year.  It was fantastic.  Our favorite group at the parade had giant stilt people, dressed as characters in Alice in Wonderland having high tea- a truly high tea, as the rolling tables and chairs stood perhaps 15 feet tall.

We rounded out the day with Dan's father at his home, with a bonfire, BBQ and cornhole, which somehow felt like the very epitome of Father's Day. It is not at all surprising that two of these activities involve fire. It was spectacular, and perfect.

We have always encouraged one on one time with the kids, but have not really had time to in the past several years. I am grateful for the opportunity.

The girls went with Dan to the zoo yesterday, which is one of Olivia's all time favorite excursions.  Alex will be going camping with Dan in a few weeks, and in his excitement, put up a tent in our front yard, to ensure that we still had all of the poles.  Brent cleaned out Dan's car for him (which he declared truly appalling) and will be having a date with him, biking in the park. (We get to celebrate Brent's milestones twice- like learning to walk or riding a bike.) 

Dan has always been the one with the good ideas. I am glad that the kids, with some prodding, are coming up with a few of their own.  I like that we have been graced with some family time.  I am really happy that it appears that we will have some more, knitting our family together with bonds of common experience. 

Our kids, I know, have challenges.  Lauren and Brent, medically.  But all of them have experienced events that are potentially damaging to them psychologically.  But I think, truly believe, that they are doing fine.  Dan, with his ability to whip up some fun, serving as the example of optimism and making the best of any situation, well, this is his legacy.  There are lessons that they take from him:  Life can be hard, but we do our best every day.  We work hard, take care of our responsibilities and prepare.  And then we have fun.

I wonder which bit of creativity over the weekend most grabbed Dan's attention.  He does things on grand scale and full of whimsy as well.  Sandcastles, snowmen and scarecrows. 

And he lets me ride his creative coattails, as he takes the broken or worn out things and repurposes them, making something beautiful.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


It seems that now, at every age, there is a "Graduation," marked with ceremony and celebration.  I was unable to attend Olivia's preschool graduation last year.  But, while I had initially thought that such a thing was a bit over the top, I must concede that the photos of the munchkins in tiny caps and gowns were absolutely adorable. Her eager anticipation about going kindergarten was no less than her current excitement about going to first grade. She loves school.

Graduation, pausing to note accomplishments and a time of transition, was less frequently celebrated when I was growing up, reserved for the completion of high school, and again for the completion of college.  But, while there seems to be more ceremony these days, I hope that there is equal pause for reflection.

I have often said that I would return to middle school or high school for neither love nor money.  In talking with others, there is a common memory of it being an awkward transition, of not feeling comfortable in your own skin which, in literal terms was morphing while you watched, not quite child yet not quite adult.  Never mind about being comfortable with your place in the world.  During those teenage years, the world is filled with equally awkward, morphing beings.

So, as we have recently been immersed in medical transition, punctuated by what I hope to be considered 'final exams' in the form of a broken foot for Brent and a few days later, an EMS visit to our home in the middle of the night, Brent noted that he would be going to the high school next year. I was aware of this in a rather theoretical way, having signed his class selection forms some time ago.  But as the march to the end of the school year wraps up, and his days at the middle school can now be counted on one hand, this transition has become far more real.

Last week, there was an academic awards ceremony that we attended.  I had never gone to this before, which I find curious.  Alex has always been a good student.  But early in his middle school years, both boys played travel soccer.  Perhaps one (or both) of them had games on that evening and we elected not to go.  In Alex's eighth grade year, we were in the midst of chemotherapy for Brent, and there is no question as to why we would have missed.

At any rate, this night marked the accomplishments of honor roll students and academic teams such as Power of the Pen, the math team, and model UN.  There was a string quartet and later a flute ensemble.  It was a lovely program that they put together.  Additionally, there are special awards given for art, strong moral character and inspiration.

Brent received the inspiration award, for maintaining his academic standing despite being absent for nearly half of his middle school years.  He received a standing ovation and I wept like a baby.

I think about the awkward changes that Brent has endured at a time when all kids just desperately want to fit in.  Brent went to school most erratically, attended bald-headded for a time, on crutches for two years, for weeks with a drain pinned under his shirt, and always with the determination to stay in his advanced classes, and to do the work that was required.  While his identity could not be attached to his physical form, which has morphed even more than the average teenager, he was grounded in his intellectual identity and his friendships.

I am most grateful for the environment that the schools here promote, as well as the individual families.  The middle school years, which can be fraught with uncertainty and transition have not disappointed us in this regard. Ours was filled with medical uncertainty and perpetual transition.  However, the one constant that we found, was the kindness and compassion of the community, particularly in the students at the middle school.  The teachers and the staff there have fostered an environment of empathy, and validation, evidenced by the awards given for students who serve as models of courtesy, compassion and respect

I have seen countless other examples of this.  Just yesterday, as a part of the Kick-It campaign, where individual students organize events to raise money for pediatric cancer research, a special needs student called the Chardon Polka Band to come play for the lunch periods.  They generously agreed, and there were students pushing others in wheelchairs, teachers dancing with each other, with students.  It was all fantastic.

While I would still not want to return to the awkward teenage years, if I had to, I would certainly like to do it in an environment such as this one. I think that Brent is ready to graduate from the turbulent times of the past three years.  I think that we all are.