10 Years Ago Today, I Saved My Life.

19 Mar

19-20Today is a very special day I circled on my calendar a lifetime ago…a day I once feared I might never see.  Today is my 10-year anniversary of quitting smoking.  Yes, yes – accolades and congratulations…but seriously…I was a smoker?  That seems so odd to me now.  I wasn’t a casual smoker either, I smoked a pack and half a day.  That’s 30 cigarettes per day, or 900 a month, or 11,000 per year.  I smoked for about 12 years so I’ve had over 100,000 cigarettes in my life.  I defined myself as a smoker.  I smoked in my house, in my car, at parties, at life events, at high school and college graduation, on a plane (yes…I’m dating myself a bit there), and everywhere in between.  When I met my wife; I was a smoker.  When my nephew was born; I was a smoker.  When I started my own company; I was a smoker.  Now, there are people in my life who have never seen me smoke.  I have children who will never see an ashtray in our house.  I lecture my kid’s sitters about not smoking and already talk to my kids about why smoking is bad.  Who am I?  Actually…I know exactly who I am.  The better question is:  Who was I?

Like most kids, my first smoke came from a desire to look cool and seem popular.  I remember holding it like a pencil, not really knowing what to do, and just letting it smolder in the night air among my friends so it looked like I was fitting in.  Every now and then I’d puff it a few times without inhaling to keep it going…as if that glowing amber ash was an approval light that would take me from nerd to popular among the group.  For a moment in time I was cool, or maybe just different.  There are much cooler ways to be different.  What did I know?  I was 14 years old and invincible.

koolmentholcigarettesThe first pack I ever bought was menthol Kools from a candy bar vending machine on the dock of a marina in Lake George, NY.  It was nighttime and I couldn’t believe they were just there in the machine with no one around.  My parents were next door at dinner and I was feeding dinner rolls to the ducks next to a sigh that said “DO NOT FEED THE DUCKS.”  Cool.  Or should I say “Kool.”  For the next week, I became suddenly interested in taking long walks at night through the woods which resulted in a rash along my ankles from poison ivy…but the woods are where all kids go to do things they don’t want adults to see.  In my mind the menthol flavor was also masking the smell from my clothes…making everything smell minty fresh.  Luckily, I had an older sister to tell me I was a moron, not for smoking, for thinking menthol made me smell like mint.

By 16 I was smoking around a pack a day and going to boarding school, so I didn’t have to worry about the smell of my clothes anymore since I was in Boston and my parents were in Kansas.  I had made the switch to Parliaments by this time but Camel Wides were popular as well.  Once off campus, I was only beholden to the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts…which bent easily compared to the unbreakable rules of boarding school.  When on campus, I was back in the woods with the rest of my friends between classes.  All of us cowering in secret, listening for teachers, and praying not to get caught.  I got caught.  A few times.  I got suspended.  I got into other troubles as well, but then the school changed their policies around where you could and could not walk between classes in an attempt to deter students from smoking on campus.  I took to battle with my favorite weapon:  My pencil.  I was the cartoonist for the school paper and I ventured off the deep end of taunting the administration and even circulated my own graphic novel on the militarization of teachers in policing a smoke-free campus at all costs.

I was expelled the week before Winter Break.

In what was by far the coolest 90’s movie moment of my life, I walked out of my meeting with administration to find a small crowd of friends and supporters waiting outside to see what the verdict was.  I never said a word.  I just paused on the front stoop, pulled a cigarette out of my jacket pocket, and fired up a smoke.  The crowd was a mixed bag of upset to learn I was expelled and excited to see something rebellious.  The dean came outside and said, “Ryan! What are you doing? Put that cigarette out now!”  I took a long drag, breathed out, and said, “What are you gonna do? Expel me?”  Then I walked out into the campus to enjoy my smoke in solidarity.

A year later I was going to the high school I would graduate from and had an apartment 10 minutes off campus.  This was when I truly became a smoker.  I smoked in bed, I smoked in the shower, I smoked at breakfast, I smoked in the car, I smoked between classes, I smoked after school, I smoked watching TV, I smoked at dinner, I smoked doing homework, and I had one last smoke before bed.  I boomed up to two packs a day or more during this time.  It was…disgusting.

medill_lg_pneumothoraxThe summer after my Senior year of high school I took a job doing landscaping.  It was a wonderful job, I got to play in the dirt all day, get sweaty, get tanned, and see real-time results from my work.  We had excavated a large hole for a drainage pipe we were installing and I was standing inside it.  I was lifting a large rock when I heard it.  A small “crack” sound from inside my body.  I assumed I had popped my back but it was such an odd noise.  I quickly started feeling sick; my neck hurt, I was short of breath, I felt nauseous, and my throat was sore.  My boss gave me the afternoon off and I went straight home, took a shower, popped 4 ibuprofen, and laid down for a nap.  When I awoke two hours later my throat was on fire and I was having trouble breathing.  Something was clearly not right.  I went to the ER where the doctors dismissed it as a bad sore throat, but I pleaded that there was something bigger going on.  Begrudgingly, they did an X-ray of my throat.  I had a pneumothorax, a condition where a puncture in the lung causes air to get trapped between the lung and the chest causing the lung to collapse.  In my case, it was traveling into my neck and getting trapped behind my throat where it was choking me to death.  A needle in the throat and chest to aspirate is not fun…but that is how I spent my 19th birthday.  My aunt visited me and asked what she could do to make me feel better.  “Throw these away for me,” I said as I pulled the pack of cigarettes from my pocket, squeezed them till they were crushed, and handed them to her.  The nurse filled my veins with morphine and as I fell down the rabbit hole I said, “I quit…I’m never smoking again.

I started smoking again 1 month later.

RyanWGates1By college I had spent seemingly a lifetime living alone and handling myself as I saw fit.  I wasn’t a boozer, a pot-head, or any of that crap in college…I was a smoker.  The lighter cigarettes no longer had any flavor for me and I switched to Marlboro Reds and eventually Lucky Strike Unfiltered.  I was studying film which meant I spent a lot of time editing video – this required rendering which means you spent a lot of time staring at a computer watching a progress bar go by.  We learned to gauge time by cigarettes.  7 minutes?  That’s enough time to go outside and have 1 cigarette.  15 minutes?  That’s 2…and so on.

When I met my wife, it was 2003 and you could smoke EVERYWHERE in New York City.  Bars, taxis, restaurants, clubs, sporting events, and more.  Everyone smoked.  My wife (Kate) would have a drag here and there, maybe buy 2 packs a year, but she was not a smoker by any means.  My 300 square foot bachelor pad was disgusting.  It was a closet with ashtrays.  Yet, she liked me and so she overlooked the smoking thing.  We moved in together.

RyanWGatesBy 2005 I was up to 2 packs a day.  Parliaments were my brand again, though the charcoal filters were long gone now.  The ashtray on the coffee table of our basement was so large and overflowing with old cigarette butts that you didn’t have to tamp one out when you were done…you just shoved it into the ash and it was smothered out.  I think back now and I can’t believe that we lived like that…it’s disgusting.  However, I was too stupid to see it since it was right in front of my face.  In 2002, New York City had started the process of going smoke-free and by now it had made things a nuisance for us smokers.  No more smoking in cabs, bars, and restaurants.  We all huddled outside and smoked on the sidewalk making it miserable for everyone else that had to walk through our plumes of smoke.  In winter, it was miserable for us…yet we continued on.

SanFranIn 2006 we moved to San Francisco where I was made a social pariah for being a smoker.  In all fairness, I was also a pariah for buying cheese from Whole Foods instead of Rainbow Grocery, not saying “please” when ordering my coffee, and not living a vegan life.  San Francisco and I didn’t get along.  I maintained my “go fuck yourself” New York City attitude and smoked non-stop.  I was flying back and forth to New York City for the advertising agency I was working for and no one judged me when I was home back east.  Then, I took the job that changed my life…not my career…my life.

I got hired to produce and direct for Hershey’s new product, Ice Breakers Sours.  We were headed to Cancun, Mexico for two weeks during MTV’s Spring Break 2007 and would be belles of the ball with all access to create an experience of a lifetime for a lucky few and roll out the “Watch and Whoa” campaign to the young demographic.  It sounds awesome (and it was), but it was the most stressful 10 days of my life.  We were shooting an internet reality show so a typical day’s schedule looked like this:

  • 6:30 AM Call time
  • 7:00 AM Searching for our college student cast who were hungover or still drinking.
  • 8:00 AM Breakfast.
  • 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM Filming
  • 12:30 PM Lunch
  • 1:30 – 4:00 PM Filming
  • 5:00 PM Loading footage
  • 6:00 PM Strategic meeting
  • 7:00 – 10:00 PM Editing
  • 10:00 PM Rough cut review with client
  • 10:30 PM – 2:00 AM Final cuts and revisions
  • 3:00 AM Load to FTP

Then we’d do it all over again the next day.  3 hours’ sleep…if you’re lucky.  My two co-producers and I took shifts sleeping to keep this project going.  We were strung out.  What did we do to keep from going crazy?  We drank coffee and smoked non-stop.  NON-STOP.  We all smoked between 2-3 packs per day…each of us.  We bought them by the carton and just had packs lying everywhere.  If I stopped smoking, I could feel my eyes drooping and closing.  It was Spring Break so everyone was smoking and pretty soon they ran out of the brands we smoked.  We started buying the cheapest Mexican cigarettes we could find and a few we could swear were so cheap you could smoke them with one drag.  It was the beginning of the end.


MARCH 19, 2007.  Our last day in Mexico.  We were notorious by now in Cancun, the “Three Amigos.”  We had filmed everywhere, greased every palm, been to every club, and had a few parties of our own.  We stood haggard and exhausted at baggage check in with over a quarter of a million dollars in camera gear.  I skipped the line and went straight to the counter.  I pulled a $100 bill from my pocket, shook hands with the representative, and said I needed to make sure all the gear and my people got on board.  The flights were all screwed up.  I pulled another $100 bill out.  They felt they could work something out.  A few $100 bills later and we were jogging to security with cigarettes in hand, sandwiches, and all our work on dozens of hard drives.  I’ll never forget going through security while smoking…no one told me “no.”  We went to the gate where we were informed they didn’t have enough seats for all of us.  We sent the crew on board with the hard drives and said we’d see them in New York…we’d find a way.  The $100 bill handshakes came back out again, people got on walkie talkies, and then all of a sudden we were running!  We ran through the airport, cigarettes in hand, chasing after the attendant ahead of us beckoning us to go faster.  It was surreal.  We reached another security checkpoint and just ran through it…the metal detector beeped loudly and we paused, turned to the security guard, and waited.  He took a long look at us, smiled, and nodded yes.  We took off running again.  At last, we arrived at a derelict gate with no signage or windows.  We asked, “Where are we going?”  The attendant, pausing from her conversation on the walkie talkie, “The plane.”  We looked befuddled.  “What plane? ¿Dónde?”  She ignored us and said, “Here we go!”  She opened the security doors and we were standing on the tarmac.  “Have a nice flight!”  She yelled to us over the roar of jet engines.  “¿Dónde está el avión?”  We shouted back, but all we heard was “Have a nice flight!”  We were ushered onto a bus with a driver who spoke no English and driven away from the airport.  For a moment…we worried we might be going to jail.  We lit up cigarettes on the bus.  Why not?  Then…we saw it.  A Jetblue plane parked in a holding area with a rolling stair cart leading up to the main cabin door.  We had managed to finagle our way onto a plane that had already left the gate.  Tears of joy…we were going home.  As I boarded the plane the flight attendant looked at me in horror and said, “Sir!”  I looked back aghast.  “What?”  I replied innocently.  She motioned to my side and I realized I still had a cigarette in my hand.  I had just absent-mindlessly forgotten I was still smoking.  “Oh!  Sorry!”  I stepped outside, took one last long drag, and stomped it out on the top step of the metal stair cart.

That was my last cigarette.  Ever.

By the time I landed in New York I had a cold.  Having a head cold is the one time smoking sucks.  I would often take a break from smoking when sick and this one was turning out to be a doozie.  I had a few days in New York to wrap up and then I was back on plane to San Francisco.  When I got home I was so worn out and sick I slept for two days.  When I woke up I felt better and was hungry for a smoke…but all I had were those terrible Mexican cigarettes.  I tossed them in the trash and decided I’d buy a pack later.  The thing was, I wanted a cigarette so badly…but the idea of a cigarette sounded disgusting to me.  Then the idea hit me, “Maybe I should quit.”  It sounds so simple, but this was different.  This was the first time I had wanted to quit without something negative influencing it.  Then I thought, “What if I just decided to leave my smoking in Mexico.”  So…I did.

RyanWineI booked Kate and I into an ocean side B&B up the coast where we sat in a hot tub, got massages, ate fine food, and strolled along the beach.  I did the math on how much I spent a year on cigarettes and it was a few thousand dollars.  That’s when I made the best decision of my life: I decided to book into a B&B in Sonoma and spend the week starting a wine collection with the money I would have spent annually on cigarettes.  Every time I wanted a smoke so badly I couldn’t stand it…I’d open a bottle of wine with friends instead.  I challenged myself to do one year to make it financially worthwhile.

About a month later, my aunt collapsed unexpectedly in her home and went into a coma.  Lung cancer.  She had been a smoker my whole life.  I had smoked with her as a kid at family events and she had promised not to tell on me.  She had let me smoke in her house with her.  She had always been the cool one…the Kool one.  About a week later, Kate and I went camping on the salt flats in Nevada.  When my brother-in-law called me on the satellite phone I already knew what he was going to say.  My aunt Jeanine had passed away.  She was 53 years old.  It destroyed me.

RyanSaltFlatsThe thing about the salt flats is it hardly ever rains.  Due to the lack of humidity, you can see for miles.  Kate and I took a long walk that day out to a small rise in the middle of the dried lake bed where I stacked a few rocks in her memory, then sat down in the desolate place and cried, and cried, and cried till the heavens opened up and it rained.  It was so odd…seeing rain in a dry place.  Rain turned to snow on the drive back to San Francisco and I stopped in Tahoe for a few hours to snowboard in the whiteout.  I was one of a handful of people on the mountain that day as you could only see a few feet in front of you.  Nonetheless, I kept going up the Gondola and slowly coming down through the blizzard.  Between the salt flat and the blizzard, I had a lot of time alone with my thoughts.  No distractions.  Just the sound of my breath, the beating of my heart, and the feeling of overwhelming sickness welling up from my insides.  It was the second time in my life a sibling had been taken from my parents…but this was the first time I was old enough to process it.  I knew I was never going to smoke again.  Jeanine’s passing was, so to speak, the final nail in the coffin.  Not only did I want to quit smoking…I wanted to change my life.

A year later, Kate and I were married back east at my family’s summer home in Bolton Landing, NY.  The friends I made when we moved there never saw me smoke and knew me no other way.  When we moved to Wichita, KS seven years ago, it solidified it even more.  Only my childhood friends had ever seen me smoke.  Then, Kate and I had our first son, Max.  Then our second, Dodge.  I became someone’s dad.  That adventure set my life on a whole new path…one my constant readers and I have journeyed on together.  That level of responsibility is massive, scary, humbling, and rewarding.  Right now my boys are 6 and 4, but I know one day when they’re older they’ll be offered a smoke and have to make a decision like I did.  My parents raised me in a smoke-free environment and lectured me on why it was bad for me.  Yet, I rebelled.  All I can do is teach my boys how to make smart decisions…and then take off the training wheels and let them make their own decisions…and hope they make better decisions than the ones I made.

I wish, I wish, I wish…I had never smoked.  Fitting, its 10 years to the day of quitting smoking and I am sick as a dog.  I have a sinus infection and am on my second round of antibiotics.  I have been sick for over 40 days, meaning I have been sick more days than I have been well in 2017.  I have a death-rattle cough because the cilia in my lungs get damaged easily from repeated coughing and then takes a long time to recover.  My doctor congratulates me on quitting smoking and tells me the statistics on how much I have improved my health.  However, my damaged sinuses and struggling lungs are likely from over a decade of abuse from smoking.  I wish, I wish, I wish…  Alas, the past is depression and the future is anxiety.  I live now.  Besides, learning to quit smoking is something that has defined my personality and my ability to use free will to do amazing things.  In 10 years, I never took a single drag off a cigarette, never used any nicotine patches, nor had any assistance other than my own mind willing me to move forward.  That’s pretty powerful.

10 years ago, I just wanted to see how long I could go.  My dad had promised if I went a year without smoking we’d go play golf in Northern Ireland.  It was a trip of a lifetime and I’ll never forget it.  I came home from that trip and wondered where I’d be in 2017.  I set that date in my head.  I have fantasized about it for years…sometimes daily.  I said, back in 2006, that I’d have one cigarette on my 10-year anniversary of quitting.  Just one!  Then I’d go another 10 years.  I have fantasized about that cigarette countless times.  I could feel it between my index and middle finger on my right hand.  I could feel its weight in my lungs.  I could taste it in my mind.

So…here we are.

Will I be having a cigarette today?

Not on my life.  I left my smoking in Mexico.


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My Youngest Turns 4

1 Mar

The day started this morning very much like how it started 4 years ago: I rolled over in bed to find my youngest son Dodge curled up asleep on my wife’s chest.  Today is his birthday and he still smells new.  The day Dodge was born I swaddled him up, took him to Kate, and we showered him with kisses in the delivery room.  Later, I laid down with him on a couch and we napped together while Kate recuperated.  This morning, we laid in bed together as Kate finished getting ready for work and I marveled at how much he had grown…seemingly overnight.

20130301-163926.jpgDodge has been and still is a kid who knows what he wants and will do what it takes to get it.  He’s stubborn like that.  He knows he’s cute and he bats his eyelashes, uses his baby voice, and nuzzles you to get candy and cuddles.  Sweets rule as his favorite but grapes and peas are a close second.  He is genuinely cuddly.  Seriously, I have never met a kid that likes to cuddle as much as Dodge.  He loves music…I mean LOVES music.  He begs to have the radio turned up in the car, loves music class with my mom, and plays on his many pianos during playtime.  He also sings, still very quietly, but there’s an entertainer blossoming in him.  He loves to dance…in fact he invented a thing called “hand-dances” for when he’s in the car or doesn’t have enough room to jump around.  He has freckles on his face that make him look like he’s always smiling…but then again, he’s always smiling or making a silly face.  He toots a lot.  Sometimes he just toots a few times in a row when he walking…constant supply of gas back there which Kate says is proof he’s my son.  He’s caring, you can see he cares for others around him and plays very well with his friends and family.  He gives AMAZING back rubs!  He does this thing where he kneels on your back and scooches back and forth using his weight for leverage.  It’s amazing.  He has block feet like mine, eyes that light up a room, a voice as sweet as honey, hair that tickles his forehead, and is so full of love it might kill you from sweetness.  Last year he asked on the way to a wedding if there would be love.  Kate and I told him yes and he replied, “Oh good…I LOVE love.”  He loves love.  What more could you want in life?

20170226_161250As I finished getting ready for work this morning he stood at the bottom of the stairs with a box of cookies in his arms to take to his class.  He called up to me, “Dada, I’m going to go sit down on the couch next to the cookies.”  I said “okay” and didn’t realize what he meant.  He meant that he wanted to gently place the cookies down and make sure they were comfy and then sit next to them like a friend.  When I came downstairs and saw him talking to the box of cookies, hugging them, and tickling them I almost cried with delight.  He then said, “I’m going to carry the cookies so they don’t get scared and they can sit next to me in the car.”  I agreed.  He talked to the cookies the whole drive to school and even sang to them as we listened to one of his favorite songs on the radio.  He carefully carried them inside to his class.  Then, one of his classmates came running up to him and took the box.  He got visibly upset and I thought for sure he was going to cry…but instead he went over to this little girl and said, “Shhhhh…the cookies are sleeping.”  She handed them back to him and he carefully placed them on the table where I can only assume they were devoured moments later.

Tonight we will have a dance party because that’s what Dodge wants to do.  He doesn’t want to go bowling, or go to an arcade, or do anything like that…he just wants to dance with good music.  He didn’t ask for anything gift-wise other than love and a cake.  He is like no other kid I have ever met…

…and I’m so glad he’s mine.  Happy birthday D-Man.  Boom-boom.

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Getting A Kindergartner To Vocalize Emotions

21 Feb

20161225_134702I often describe parenthood as a series of lifelong events that test your patience mixed in with unconditional love.  Inevitably, kids go through phases that drive you to the brink…and just when you feel you can’t take that phase any longer, poof!  It ends.  And the next phase begins.  Cluster feeding, not sleeping through the night, mysterious rashes, learning to walk, learning to talk, teething, terrible two’s, terribler three’s, and so on as they grow.  My youngest, Dodge, turns 4 next week and would happily turn 2 if it meant being cuddled constantly and treated like a baby…but I find this age to be very enjoyable and easy to work with.  My oldest, Max, is 6 and deep into the current phase that has his mom and me at our breaking points: Epic overreacting and emotional meltdowns.

“Like most phases with kids it just gradually increased till it was a thing.”

I don’t know when it began.  Like most phases with kids it just gradually increased till it was a thing.  We started noticing it last year and by late Fall it was clearly getting worse.  Max was erupting into tears and freaking out about everything.  The same reaction you would expect from a kid when you tell them they’re going to the doctor to get a shot is what we started getting for everything, including going to bed.  Everything was a meltdown of tears and tempers followed by shouting things like, “We never get to stay up late!”  Or, “You never let us eat candy for breakfast!”  Or, “We always go to Dairy Queen for ice cream!”  (He wanted a different ice cream place).  It got to the point where Max started melting down before he even heard or knew what was being said to him.  He would erupt just to erupt.

20161224_200058December was when it took a turn for the worse.  We had tried punishment…it got worse.  We tried positive reinforcement…it got worse.  We tried ignoring it…it got worse.  Kate and I agreed we needed help and that it was becoming unmanageable.  First, we asked our network of friends who have kids the same age or older.  We were pleased to hear we were not alone and this was a phase their kids had gone through too.  The main piece of advice?  Ignore it.  So, we ignored it again.

It got worse.  It got physical.

I started spending more time with him and having long talks about emotions and explaining to him that I understood where he was coming from as someone who has emotional bouts and a temper.  I told him about my battles with anger management and I gave him some tools to work with.  I taught him ways to use his words instead of his fists.  I can ignore tantrums.  I can ignore slamming doors.  I cannot ignore hitting, scratching, and kicking.  I taught Max the value in walking away from a situation to cool down and then reengaging.  The process I taught him is simple, I told him, “When you feel like you are about to pop…cross your arms, pinch your hands in your armpits, and shout the emotion you are feeling out loud.”  We practiced.  “I’m frustrated!!!”  Good!  “I’m angry!!!”  Good!  This was going to require some patience but it felt like we had something to work on at last…and it worked…for a while.


Yesterday, the boys combined efforts to completely embarrass Kate at a meeting.  They intentionally broke rules they know to follow, were disruptive, and fought.  The level of their poor behavior did something I have never seen (nor had they ever seen), it drove Kate to cry when she got home.  There was a long conversation last night about what it means to be “embarrassed” and how their behavior had caused Mommy to feel that way.  The boys were in shock to see their mother well up with tears.  I sent them to bed without books.  Kate and I agreed, it was good for them to see their behavior had hurt her.  We’d let them stew overnight and dive in with positive affirmation in the morning.  For now, there was a bottle of wine to open and a bath for Daddy to draw for Mommy.

Then came morning.

What caused the argument is trivial, Dodge was taunting Max with a toy and enjoying seeing him get emotional as any sibling can relate to.  Max took the bait and started shouting at him to stop.  The younger brother ramped things up and lit the fuse.  You could hear it hiss from upstairs (it is a short wick) and then…BOOM!!!  Max exploded.

“I’m frustrated!!!”

My heart sang, he had done the right thing and used his words instead of his…

…then there was a blood-curdling scream from the younger brother.

Max had succeeded in folding his arms, pinching his hands with his armpits, and vocalizing his emotions.  However, he then grabbed Dodge and scratched him on his face.  This is not the first time Max has scratched Dodge’s face in anger.  This was the first time he lied and tried to say it was an accident.  That was my breaking point.  My bomb went off next.

“I know Max’s behavior is a reflection of me and my own issues with verbally lashing out.”

We need some help.  We’re going to look for a child therapist to work with Max on his emotions, temper, and lashing out.  Hopefully, the therapist can work with all of us as a family too as I know Max’s behavior is a reflection of me and my own issues with verbally lashing out.  Luckily, he has wonderful behavior at school and has not lashed out at his friends.  He is wonderful one-on-one as well.  He seems to be lashing out primarily at Dodge, then Kate, and then me.  It feels, to me, that he is testing lashing out with his family in the order in which he feels he can get away with it.  He’ll boss Dodge around, argue with Kate, and test the waters with me.  Dodge is 3, Kate is patient, and I’m a hard-ass.  Makes sense.  I also think this is in reaction to the pressures of Kindergarten and having to go to school every weekday and having homework instead of daycare projects and non-stop playtime.  He’s frustrated, which is okay, we just need someone to help him get out of that meltdown cycle and advise Kate and me on how we can change our behavior to support him.

20170106_175756Dodge is obviously watching all of this and soaking it in.  He has taken to imposing his will on the kitties.  He’s not abusive to them, but he is authoritative to them in a way he is not with other people’s pets.  He likes to scare them, grab them, shout at them…but he also is very sweet to them.  You can tell he wants their affection very badly, but he is prepared to do whatever it takes to get that affection…even if that means holding them down and forcibly petting them.  I’m not as worried about Dodge as I am Max.  He has a very different personality and is currently much tougher than Max was at this age.  I think Max will one day wake up to realize that Dodge is sick of being pushed around and isn’t going to take it anymore.  Max will get a bloody nose that day and Dodge will get some space.  He’s got sharp elbows, that kid, and he doesn’t like to back down from a challenge.  Dodge is a pile of tacks wrapped in a snugly blanket while Max is a pile of delicate eggs wrapped in a balloon that inflates and deflates at random.

“…it is okay to be angry, it is okay to be sad, and it is okay to be frustrated…”

In the meantime, both boys will be encouraged to vocalize their emotions instead of acting them out physically.  Good behavior will be rewarded, bad behavior will be ignored, and physical lashing out will be punished.  I always tell them it is okay to be angry, it is okay to be sad, and it is okay to be frustrated…but it is not okay to hurt someone or yourself because of it.  Any advice from you, my constant reader, would be greatly appreciated.  Till next time, wine and baths…wine and baths.

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Retirement: So Long Honorary Mom

13 Jan

Almost 40 years ago, my parents moved to Wichita, KS when my father accepted a marketing position at the corporate headquarters of Pizza Hut.  I was born soon after and the rest, they say, is history.  The story of my father’s rise to pizza and rent-to-own infamy is well documented…but this story isn’t about him.  Its about another rising star named Linda Wyatt.  I won’t dare butcher the telling of her story as I only have a small role in it, but I’d like to tell you about that role as it has had a profound impact on my life.

Linda and my dad began working together in the early 80’s.  Secretary?  Executive Assistant?  Business Executive?  Super Woman who does everything?  Wearer of many hats?  My dad’s right arm?  (or was my dad her right arm?)  Again, I’m not going to butcher the story and I don’t know all the titles nor how they evolved, but I do know the role she played in my life, my family’s life, my dad’s life, my businesses, and more.  I want to recognize one of the titles she has had in my life…one they don’t put on plaques over office doorways:


My family is very close and we pride ourselves on how emotionally available we are for each other.  We also have a lot of honorary uncles, aunts, brothers, and sisters.  My mom is my mom, but there is one other person who has looked at me and cared for me the same way my mother does…and that’s Linda.  She played with me as a child, helped me with my homework while I waited for my dad at the office, taught me proper grammar, met my girlfriends, proofread my resumes, called to check on me while I was away at college, hugged me when I got married, brought me soup when I was ill, stood up for me when I was not strong, plays with my children just like she used to play with me, and has always been there for me when I need her.  She prays for me, my parents, my sister, and my children.  She is part of the family.  Her daughter was my baby sitter when I was a child.  Now we’re all grown up with kids of our own.  She used to help keep me in line when I was a child playing at the office.  Now she reminds me every day that I can do what I want and should play more in life.  She was once the person who assisted my dad with everything he did.  Now I think of her more as a partner in the family business and a bigger partner in our family.

She is intertwined with my family and business…and today is her retirement.

Linda has worked with my dad for over 30 years.  Over 60% of her professional career has been spent working with him…and with that comes working with the family.  Linda has done everything from scheduling airlines for my school travel to debating marketing tactics in the board room.  She seamlessly weaves between the role of business executive and maternal figure at our office.  If asked to describe Linda with one word I think most people I know would say, “professional.”  And I would agree.  I have never met someone with so much integrity, patience, knowledge, and professionalism in all my life.  However, I think the word I might choose would be “loving.”  I say this because I know Linda has loved her work, loved her co-workers, loved my family, and loved her family.  It is clear she does what she does out of love…steadfast, truthfulness…humble, authentic care.

I also know that she is likely reading this right now and blushing with shyness or red with anger…so I’ll keep it short so as not to cross her boundaries of professionalism.

I just wanted to say publicly, to the woman who is also one of my most ardent readers, that I love you dearly and appreciate everything you have done for me, my family, and my father.  I know this is not goodbye.  I know this is simply the end of you working every day.  However, I would be lying if I said I won’t miss you dearly and I feel extremely sad.  I’m not sad because you are retiring…I’m selfishly sad because I will miss you and I’ll miss seeing you every day and I miss how you make me feel.  You make me feel at home.  When I see you it is like a hug in my heart.  No matter how stressful my day, no matter how much life throws at me, no matter how rough I feel when I’m having anxiety…seeing you centers me and reminds me that things are going to be okay.  You have always seen through me and recognized when I’m having a rough time…and you have always been in my office a few minutes later to embrace me in a hug and remind me that you’re there for me and that you believe in me.  I know I’ll likely never find that again in business.  This has been a very, very special time.

I am excited for your retirement.  I see how hard you work.  I know the long hours you put in.  I know that you take your work home with you.  I know how much care you put into your work.  I see all of it and have an idea about the things I don’t see.  I am excited for you to start to let those things go and focus on yourself, your family, and your faith.  I believe that in your retirement you will channel those traits into a cause, an organization, a family member, or something else…and someone else will get to see how amazing you are.  I truly believe this is the beginning of something special for you and I’m proud of you for being brave enough to seize it.  You will be missed in business…but business is business and we’ll figure it out.  Family is family…and that is different.

You are family.

So, from an honorary son-like guy…to an honorary mother-like role model; I love you Linda.  This is not, “Goodbye”…this is, “Let’s grab lunch.”  This is, “See you at Max’s birthday.”  This is, “Call me when you need me.”  This is, “I’ll call you when I need you.”  This is the beginning of us being family, which we’ve always been, but now we get to focus on it more.

As I wrote this last sentence you emailed me…we are clearly thinking about each other right now…and thinking about each other in the same way.  You addressed your letter,


You are like a son to me.  You are very special in my eyes and always will be.  Please remember I am a safe place to land when needed.”

This was when I started crying…so thank you for that.  I won’t share your email as it is just for you and me but I do want to quote your last sentence because the same rings true from me to you:

“Take care of yourself.  It’s okay for you to be who you are.  I am always available to you.  Love you.”

I love you too Linda…like a mom.

See you soon.

Congratulations on your retirement.

Kids Comprehension Of Puns & Play On Words

1 Dec

I’ll never forget the time my son Max watched with disappointment as I cautiously climbed into the shower. He sat there and stared at me…waiting. “What’s up buddy?”  I asked.  He replied, “When you gonna start jumping?” I looked at him in confusion then remembered I had said I was going to “jump in the shower.” This is an interaction I have had for years with my son because he’s been a toddler and therefore takes everything as literal. English is a funny language; its hard to learn. I study a few languages and nothing is more fickle than English. Watching my boys learn it has been humbling and I have wondered at what age kids learn things like puns and play on words. Today, my boys answered that question.

*Max is now 5 (though he’d tell you he’s 5 3/4) and Dodge is 3.

MAX: “Hey Dada?”

ME: “Yes Max?”

MAX: “Why do seagulls fly over the sea?”

ME: “Well…I suppose its because…”

MAX: “…Because if they flew over the bay they’d be bagels!”

(laughs hysterically and runs away)

DODGE: “Hey Dada?”

ME: “Yes Dodge?”

DODGE: “Why DON’T seagulls fly over the bay?”

ME: “Because they’re seagulls?”

DODGE: (offended by my stupidity) “No! Because if they flew over land they’d be sandwiches!”

(laughs hysterically and runs away)

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