Finding the meaning in little flags

(Though we live in a time where the lines that divide us seem more clearly drawn than ever, for today I hope we can unite in solemn appreciation for the men and women throughout our nation’s history who sacrificed themselves so that we can live — and even disagree — as Americans. As adults, we tend to complicate things and ideals. It’s days like today that I am reminded that a child’s pure, unbiased perspective is sometimes our best source of wisdom…)

image It’s been 15 years since I introduced my oldest daughter to the meaning of Memorial Day. She was seven then, but I still remember the short gusts of warm wind on my neck, the earthy smell of the fresh-cut grass, and the hushed snap of small American flags standing like sentries next to dozens of tombstones along the hillside.

“How come some of them have little flags, and some don’t?” my daughter asked.

It was near sunset as we strolled through our local cemetery. Though we didn’t have any family members buried there, I thought it would be a good opportunity to explain the meaning of Memorial Day to her.

“Do you know what war is?” I asked.

“When people fight,” she answered, then clarified herself; “A whole bunch of
people.”

“That’s right, but do you know why they fight?”

She thought a moment, then shook her head. Continue reading

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My biggest childhood fear? Being bitten by a radioactive stink bug

imageFor most of us, there comes a time in our lives when we must face the truth, and accept the fact we will never actually possess any type of super-human powers. This includes the ability to fly, shoot laser beams out of our eyes, or look good in a skin-tight costume.

As a child, I spent countless hours thumbing through comic books and dreaming of the day I would be bitten by a radioactive insect — and knowing full well that, with my luck, it would probably be something stupid like a moth:

Curses! It’s Moth Man, here to foil my evil plans! HOW CAN I STOP HIM! Hey… maybe I’ll try this porch light…”

In fact, I was so sure that I would end up as a lame super hero that, with the help of my friends, we came up with a plan to MAKE me into “Spider-man” before there was any chance of me being bitten by a radioactive moth, ear wig, silverfish or stink bug.

Our plan was simple.

Step one: Find a spider (preferably a small one) and expose it to high levels of radiation.

Step two: Make it bite me.  Continue reading

A Christmas cautionary tale

What follows is a Christmas tale based on a true-life experience that I tell each year on Christmas Eve. Before I share it, I always ask myself, “Is this still relevant?” And with each passing year it seems to become even more so. The story is a mixture of fact, whimsy, hope and my utter belief that a heartfelt wish is the cornerstone of life’s most important magical moments. That said, my sincere thanks and appreciation to all of you for sharing some magical moments with me every day…

Merry Christmas!

— Ned

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He looked very out of place sitting alone in the flight terminal, his arms folded over a Superman backpack, and large brown eyes peering out from beneath his baseball cap. A few seats away, a keyboard recital was being performed by a businessman wearing Bluetooth headphones and chastising someone at “headquarters” about overspending.

“I said gifts for the immediate staff only. That means Carl, Jody, Jessica and whats-her-name — the gal we hired last month,” he instructed, keyboard clattering continuously. “Yeah, her — Loni. But that’s it. I never said anything about the sales department. What? Of course you’re included with the immediate staff. Get yourself something.”

The boy shifted, causing his plastic chair to squeak a bit as he leaned toward the businessman. “Hey, Dad…”

For the first time, the man’s fingers left the keyboard, just long enough to wave his son to silence.

The boy obeyed, and hugged his backpack a little closer to his chest.  Continue reading

Special Delivery: A cautionary Christmas tale

Last year, a blogger friend named Randall posted a beautiful poem about taking time to recognize the magic in our lives. In his poem, he used snow as an analogy for the magic that is constantly swirling around us — and how, like snow, it can quickly melt away and go unnoticed unless we make an effort to see it. What follows is a Christmas tale based on a true-life experience that I tell each year on Christmas Eve. It’s a mixture of fact, whimsy, hope and my belief that a heartfelt wish is the cornerstone of life’s most important magical moments. That said, my sincere thanks to all of you for sharing the magic every day…
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image He looked very out of place sitting alone in the flight terminal, his arms folded over a Superman backpack, and large brown eyes peering out from beneath his baseball cap. A few seats away, a keyboard recital was being performed by a businessman wearing Bluetooth headphones and chastising someone at “headquarters” about overspending.

“I said gifts for the immediate staff only. That means Carl, Jody, Jessica and whats-her-name — the gal we hired last month,” he instructed, keyboard clattering continuously. “Yeah, her — Loni. But that’s it. I never said anything about the sales department. What? Of course you’re included with the immediate staff. Get yourself something.”

The boy shifted, causing his plastic chair to squeak a bit as he leaned toward the businessman. “Hey, Dad…”

For the first time, the man’s fingers left the keyboard, just long enough to wave his son to silence. Continue reading

Seven more minutes of childhood; a father’s wish for his daughter the morning of 9-11

I’ll never forget how I felt this day 13 years ago as an American, a firefighter and as a father — and how each held its own kind of hurt that has never completely healed. But of the three, being a father watching the sparkle in my then six-year-old daughter’s eyes noticeably fade just a bit continues to be the memory that lingers most…

image My alarm clock went off the same as it always did back then, coming to life with the morning news — my preference over the annoying, high-pitched alternative of chatter. Instinctively, I swatted the snooze button and bought myself another seven minutes of sleep.

In the years since, I’ve thought a lot about those seven minutes, and how the simple push of a button postponed a bitter reality for just a little longer. When the news came on again, word of the first airliner crashing into the World Trade Center stopped my hand just short of another seven minutes of blissful ignorance — a time span that now seems like an eternity.

Lying there, listening to the details, I regretted not pushing the button one more time.

A hundred more times.

A thousand.

In that same moment, I also understood that the impassive gaze of terrorism could only be averted for so long, and that, eventually, I’d have to meet it — along with the questioning gaze of my daughter. Continue reading

Take it from me: You can’t run from static electricity

image When I was a kid I had a book called Mysteries of the Unexplained that contained AMAZING BUT TRUE! stories aimed at stirring the imagination, eliciting a sense of wonder, and prolonging the bed-wetting experience by at least three years. I’d huddle beneath the covers with my flashlight and read about strange psychic phenomena documented by real scientists, physicists, private investigators, and the occasional freaked-out paranormal expert who, at the end of the story, usually abandoned his profession to become a plumber:

“Even now, after all these years, I can still feel those icy fingers whenever a cold breeze blows across my butt crack…”

Though the book was mostly about ghosts, aliens, strange disappearances and creepy folklore (“…so stand alone in the dark, if you dare, and hold a mirror while repeating the words Sassafras Sally and prepare to be slapped by a pair of wet tea bags…”), it was spontaneous human combustion that really got to me. I think it’s because, in my mind, ghosts, aliens, strange disappearance and folklore could all be avoided by exercising a little caution. Continue reading

Rule number one to coaching kids: Never, ever forget the jelly donuts

(I’m sure a lot of you have been wondering, “Where is today’s Flashback Sunday? It’s always posted at 6:30 a.m.!” Ok, fine; only one of you was. Regardless, like many Americans do this time of year, I completely forgot about the time change and, as a result, didn’t remember to set my clock back by … uh… 12 hours. I know we’re actually suppose to gain an hour, but seeing as how every clock in our house has a different time, I’m sure you can understand how this could have happened. My apologies to everyone. To avoid making this mistake again in the spring, I will be posting my March 9 Flashback Sunday in an hour…)

Going downtown for a hail Mary pass into the bucket.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not very athletic. I made this realization in the third grade, when I was knocked unconscious 32 times playing dodge ball. After that first game, I remember waking up in the nurse’s office and being told of a special program for “gifted” athletes who were so special they got to wear a football helmet during recess.

Of course, I eventually figured out there was no “special program,” and openly expressed my feelings of betrayal when I slammed my helmet on the desk of my high school counselor.

After which I was taken to the hospital with a broken finger.

I live with the memory of being an unathletic child on a daily basis. Particularly when I look in the mirror and see a man whose head still fits into a third-grade football helmet. For this reason, when my daughter asked me to coach her fourth-grade basketball team, I smiled, took her hand, and began faking a seizure. I panicked at the thought of providing guidance to a team of fourth-grade girls, any one of whom could “take me to the hole.” Continue reading

Today’s Halloween costume is tomorrow’s therapy session

(Welcome to this week’s Flashback-Flashback-Flashback Sunday! No, that wasn’t an echo, or the remnants of a hangover. You read it right; this week’s post is an extremely rare flashback within a flashback within a flashback. OK, just to clarify, that wasn’t an echo either. It’s just that this week’s post covers three generations of Halloween costume traumas. In short: a Halloween flashback Tri Fecta..! Tri Fecta…! Tri Fecta..!
Ok, that time really WAS an echo…
)

They may not look traumatized now, but I’m saving up for my children’s therapy sessions anyway — just in case.

It was a conversation that I had been putting off for as long as possible, even though I knew it was my responsibility as a parent to sit down and have “The Talk” with my daughter.

It’s better that it come from me rather than her getting crazy ideas from someone at school, I told myself.

So I sat my daughter down, held my breath for a moment, then and asked:

“What do you want to be for Halloween?”

For some of you, this is an exciting time that allows you to bond with your child by making their Halloween-costume dream come true.

For the rest of us, it’s a time when we cross our fingers and pray that our child’s “Halloween costume dream” is hanging on a rack somewhere at Wal-Mart. Because if it isn’t, we’ll have to make something, and therefore put our child’s emotional health at risk by creating a costume that could potentially scar them for life. Continue reading

Don’t push the (belly) button

(It’s Flashback Sunday! That time when we roll up our sleeves and dig into the distant past for something that hasn’t been seen in many years. Sort of like literary proctologists, except without the physical discomfort or awkwardness. That said, today’s Flashback is from 2005, back before I even had a blog because I still referred to going online as “Using the Internets.” The inspiration for this column came from my then seven-year-old son, who became fascinated with putting things in his belly button. I’m just glad that particular curiosity ended there…)

image As with most explanations I find myself giving as a parent, things started with a simple “No.”

In this case, it was: “No, you can’t save chewing gum in your belly button.” My son then countered with the inevitable “Why?”

“Because it’s gross,” I explained, then added for good measure: “What if it gets stuck?”

“It won’t, Dad.”

“It might — so take it out.”

A roll of the eyes, droop of the shoulders. “But why-y-y-y-y?”

“Because I said so.”

Eventually, it always comes down to that answer, which isn’t an answer at all. But for some reason it seems to do the trick. At least it used to. Apparently on this day, my son had awakened a little wiser, and with a better understanding of the difference between battles and wars.

Oh joy. Continue reading

Seven more minutes of childhood; a father’s wish for his daughter the morning of 9-11

image My alarm clock went off the same as it always did back then, coming to life with the morning news — my preference over the annoying, high-pitched alternative of chatter. Instinctively, I swatted the snooze button and bought myself another seven minutes of sleep.

In the years since, I’ve thought a lot about those seven minutes, and how the simple push of a button postponed a bitter reality for just a little longer. When the news came on again, word of the first airliner crashing into the World Trade Center stopped my hand just short of another seven minutes of blissful ignorance — a time span that now seems like an eternity.

Lying there, listening to the details, I regretted not pushing the button one more time.

A hundred more times.

A thousand.

In that same moment, I also understood that the impassive gaze of terrorism could only be averted for so long, and that, eventually, I’d have to meet it — along with the questioning gaze of my daughter. Continue reading