Sunday Morning Coming Down

My family’s Catholic, but it’s only been within the last year that The Wife and I have gotten serious about it.  Although our faith is far from absolute, we both agree that the promise of an hour each week to be together as a family enjoying a brief respite from the burdens of our daily lives is well worth the cost of getting up early on a Sunday.  Mass provides The Wife and I an opportunity to slow down, to reflect on our lives, and to simply steal a quiet moment to gaze sidelong into each others’ eyes and appreciate everything that we have in each other.

At least it would if we didn’t have children.

We made the decision to become regular church-goers in part for the benefit of our daughters.  It seems like with each passing year, life not only gets more hectic and more wearisome, but it does so for younger and younger children.  I spend every day with ninth- and tenth-grade students who are already burnt out on both school and sports, and who spend too little time sleeping and even less actually enjoying themselves.  I have friends and family alike whose children – ages ranging from 6 to 16 – have weekly calendars that read like the demon-spawn love child of ESPN’s and The Discovery Channel’s daily programming line-ups.  And I have a pair of wonderful little girls who the world tells me I’ve already doomed to a life of perpetual failure because the five-year-old only goes to preschool and dance class while her two-year-old sister stays home with their mother all day.  We want our daughters to grow up knowing that no matter what life throws at them, there will always be a place they can go where they will face no expectations, no pressure, and no judgment.  There will always be at least one hour each week where they can simply be, and they can know they will always be loved simply for being.

In a similar vein, The Wife and I wanted to make sure that there was some kind of spiritual element in our daughters’ lives.  We’re raising them Catholic because we were raised Catholic and neither of us has found another religion that we preferred to our own.  However, our faith is neither so strong that it has no room for new ideas nor so weak that it has no tolerance for scrutiny.  If, as adults, our children find a different path that leads them to a more meaningful place than ours would, then so be it.  Whatever spiritual road they choose to follow – even if it leads them away from organized religion or away from faith in a higher power at all – will someday be their own.  I just want them to grow up understanding that there are things in the world greater and more important than themselves.

Unfortunately, I feel like we’re failing on both fronts.

The Wife and I spend more time wrangling our children and correcting their behavior than we actually spend taking part in mass or listening to the priest.  Frankly, we spend more time praying for the strength and patience to endure sixty minutes trying to keep our children quiet and contained  than we spend reflecting on and giving thanks for how heavily our lives have been blessed.  By the time mass is over, the only thought going through my head is usually something along the lines of Both of you sit down and shut the hell up so everyone can have a few minutes of God damned peace and quiet!  More often than not, I walk out of mass more stressed and bemused than when I walked in.

To wit, this little gem today:  We had finished giving each other our usual hugs, kisses, and I Love Yous and our neighbors the customary handshakes in the name of peace and goodwill.  The Eucharistic Ministers had come to the altar and were being served communion in anticipation of serving the rest of us.  The music had momentarily faded as the organist turned to the Communion hymn in her book.  The church was awash in stillness and silence as we prepared ourselves for its most solemn and sacred ritual.

And so it came to pass that, like a roar of thunder echoing through the heavens above a sea of tranquility, The Younger announced, I HATE MASS!

We’re all going to hell, aren’t we?

As always, thanks for reading.  I hope to see you again soon.

CVA

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Starting Again…with a Great Big Asterisk This Time

School starts today. It’s Institute Day, which means no students. Instead, we get to sit through the same District, Union, Building, and Department Meetings that we’ve been having on opening day for over ten years now. I’m sure we’ll hear most of the same jokes, stories, and statistics that we always hear in the same canned speeches and recycled pep talks that we’re forced to endure every year. Then, near the end of the day, we’ll finally get some “individual time” to make sure our rooms, plans, and copies are in order so we’re ready to actually teach when the students arrive tomorrow.

School starts today. Which means summer vacation’s over. 4:00 am still feels like the middle of the night, my morning routines feel completely alien, and coffee has already ceased being a warm, delicious luxury and become a strong, black, dire necessity.

School starts today, which means life returns to routine and structure.

But with so many things returning to normal, I am becoming painfully aware of how much everything is going to change.

I quit coaching at the end of last school year. Despite the sentiments I recycled a few days ago about trying to achieve balance in my life, it was actually a very sudden decision. And it’s one that I’m still coming to grips with.

I started this site 18 months ago and during that time I’ve often wondered what it might be like to step away from coaching for a year and blog about the experience. How might my life change if I excised one of the fundamental facets of who I am? How might the balance of my life change if I were to set aside the thing that unbalances and undermines it the most? How much could I actually accomplish if I was done working at the end of school each day and actually had my weekends off? How good of a teacher could I be? How many projects could I finish around the house? How much more time could I spend with my daughters?

How much writing could I get done?

I suppose now we’ll find out.

This post is late coming, seeing as I began my “leave of absence” (I have a hard time believing I won’t go back at some point) at the start of summer vacation. I nearly cried when I had to face my position group on our last day of spring workouts and tell them out of the blue that I wasn’t going to coach them this year. I went through finals week with a ponderous void weighing on the hollows of my heart. I spent the first two weeks of summer – normally devoted to June football camp – alternately feeling like I was late for something and had forgotten somewhere I needed to be. But by the start of July, summer was mostly just summer. I did some graduate coursework – a luxury I never had time for before – which helped to keep me busy. I extended the annual trip to my grandmother’s house by an extra day just because I could. And I soaked up as much time as possible with my two young daughters and my wife. I only felt the absence of coaching when I stopped and let myself dwell on it.

You might have noticed, though, that this blog went dormant for three months. So did my writing. Sadly, I wrote significantly more last summer when I was both coaching football and preparing the house for a second child. This is where the questions about balance come in. Because I wasn’t coaching this summer, because I knew I had the extra hours to spend with my family, I felt obligated to spend ALL my extra hours with them. I took less time for myself this summer than I ever have before. In the end, I feel like I accomplished nothing over the past two months.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I loved every minute I spent with my family and I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. But it makes me wonder. One of the carrots that eased this decision for me was the promise that I would have more time to write. Yet so far I’ve written next to nothing. Ironically, the start of school should help with that. Structure is good for me. So are the pre-dawn hours. If nothing else, they’re the only time I really get to myself. The doubt still remains, though. Am I going to be a better husband, father, teacher, and author this year now that coaching has been put on hold? Am I going to finally strike a satisfying balance in my life? Or am I going to find myself wasting more time simply because I have more time to waste? Growing lazier because I don’t have the pressure to focus my effort? Actually taking less time for my own needs and my own dreams because I feel like I have the time to spend with my family thus I must spend all of that time with them while I have it?

I’m so accustomed to balancing my life against the massive and unstable weight of coaching, will I be able to keep myself level without it?

It’s the first day of school, and the morning writing hour is drawing to an end. I don’t know how ready I am to start a new year, especially while still sorting out such a major change in my life. I can tell you this much, though: I’m excited to be back in my office watching the sun come up while I type.

As always, thanks for reading.

CVA

New Year, New Look, New Life…

With a new school year and a new adventure about to begin, I thought it was a great time to freshen things up a bit around here. The “reconstruction” project is nearly done. I hope you like the new look!

What follows is a repost of some thoughts I originally published in April (please don’t point out the irony to me…I’m well aware of it). They were the inspiration for this blog’s new tagline and should provide some perspective about the major changes that have swept the Alexander house this summer.

Thank you for your patience as I’ve gone dark these past few months. Updates and explanations are coming soon.

CVA

Striking Balance in Suburbia

Monday was the first time in weeks that I was able to come straight home after school. The sun was out, the temperature was up, and the wind was high. The Wife and I took a long walk with The Younger (The Elder was at her grandparents’ house for the day) and enjoyed an hour of fresh air and quiet conversation.

The Younger – who was born at the beginning of football season and only started developing a personality during the dead of winter – smiled at the sounds of our voices, giggled at the sights of the neighborhood, and kicked with glee at the cool of the breeze on her face. In short, she spent the afternoon outside with her mommy and daddy, and she beamed the whole time.

After our walk, I went to collect The Elder and stopped to pick up an early birthday dinner for The Wife. The four of us ate together while the sun was still out, then we played together in the front yard. I got to feed The Younger her bedtime bottle and got to read to each daughter independently before turning out their lights for the night. Then The Wife and I finished our night by watching the How I Met Your Mother finale and cashing it in early.

It was as close to a perfect evening as I could imagine.

And it makes me think long and hard about something The Wife said to me on Friday.

I came home around 4:00 (about three hours earlier than usual these days) and was able to wrangle the girls while The Wife made dinner. What we sat down to that evening blew me away: Pasta, salad, homemade eggplant parmigiana, and glasses of red wine.

“This is amazing,” I said.

“This is what rugby season is losing you the other nights of the week.”

Those words have been echoing in my head ever since. As I went to bed Monday night, they were practically screaming in my ears.

We’ve been having rugby practice for the better part of three weeks now. We open our season at home on Friday night. And I’m steadily growing to dread each day of it.

Now, I’ve always approached the start of a new athletic season with a healthy dose of trepidation. This has understandably been compounded since the birth of The Elder. I anticipate the arrival of each fall and spring with memories of the summer and winter weighing on my heart. I lament the impending loss of the hours with my family and the freedom of actually having spare time. But I also quickly forget it all once I’m out on the field. The hours with my friends and my players are usually enjoyable enough to numb me to what I’m missing, and the impact I have on the young men in my care is generally enough to make the sacrifice seem worth it.

But not this year. Not this spring.

I’ve always told myself – and my wife – that whenever the day arrives that I reach the end of a season and I genuinely regret it, that will be the day that I hang up my whistle.

For the first time, I’m beginning to wonder if that day is on the horizon.

Ever since I read Grendel in English 4 Honors, I’ve held firm to the belief that “Balance is everything”. But this winter is the first time in my adult life that I’ve truly felt that balance. Consider the list of things I accomplished without football or rugby to get in the way…

…I finished a manuscript I’d been picking away at since fall of 2010. And I did it in a flurry of 1,000-plus-word mornings followed by a few weeks of focused proofing and editing.

…I was an attentive and affectionate husband, one who was finally able to help his wife work through some lingering post-partum depression and anxiety that had gone largely repressed on her end and overlooked on mine.

…I took an active role in my daughters’ lives for more than just a half-hour a day (which probably helped a lot with the above).

…and I was probably the most on-the-ball I’ve ever been as a teacher. I was able to come in every morning with strong lesson plans, graded papers, and a positive attitude about my job and my students.

I call this blog Husband, Father, Teacher, Coach, Author because it’s all about my struggles to balance these facets of who I am. And this winter I was the best I’ve ever been at four of my five roles. I’d finally struck balance between the four most important parts of my life.

And now we enter a time of year when the fifth unbalances them all.

I can already feel myself growing lazier with my lesson plans, bracing myself to “wing it” in front of my students, and falling behind on my grades.

Although I’m maintaining this blog as proactively as I can, I haven’t typed a new word of fiction in weeks.

I’m steadily seeing less and less of my wife. And – fatigued as I am by the end of the day – I’m spending less time actually interacting with her even when we are together.

Although my girls light up in elation whenever I come home, I know their faces are painted with bittersweet joy. They’re only so happy to see me because they see me so little.

I’ve been wrestling with these feelings for most of a month now, but the events of Monday evening stirred me into sleepless turmoil. I’m realistic enough to know that if I ever did walk away from coaching, not every afternoon could be like Monday was. But I’m optimistic enough to believe that such days could become more the norm than the exception.

Even still, my evening with my family was probably only a jab at the heart, a feint to set me up for a roundhouse to the jaw.

It was the damn HIMYM finale that sent me over the edge.

*Spoilers Ahead*

The revelation of Tracy’s passing is what brought these thoughts to the fore. I remember near the end of season 8, old Ted delivers a monologue about remembering his life 45 days before meeting his eventual wife. He says that if he’d known then what he knows in 2030, he’d have gone to her apartment and introduced himself that day so that he could have those 45 extra days with her. And even if he couldn’t have them, he says it would have been worth it to him to see his wife for even just the 45 seconds it would take for her then-boyfriend to show up at the door and escort him away. He simply loved her that much.

If my wife’s life were to become suddenly and immediately finite, how many of the afternoons spent at football and rugby would I wish and pray every day that I could have back? How much would I give for 45 more days or even just 45 more seconds?

What if I faced the same situation with one of my daughters?

Regardless of tragedy, how much of their “big stuff” will I have lost to the mundane routines of practice, meetings, and film? How many of their victories will I have missed out on because of football games and rugby matches? And just how few might be left ahead?

One of the football coaches I work with gives a speech every year about the importance of legacy. What will your legacy be?

When I look back on my life – when the day comes that I face my judgment, whatever its source – will I be remembered as a good teacher and a good football and rugby coach? Or as a good husband and a good father? Do I want my legacy to be quantified in wins and losses or in hugs and smiles? Do I want to lament never having won a state title or having never published a best-seller? Do I want to live on in the memories of other people’s children? Or of my own?

Do I want to look back at the end of my life and remember the stress and the heartache and turmoil I endure every fall and spring?

Or do I want to remember balance?

As always, thanks for reading.

CVA

Striking Balance in Suburbia

Monday was the first time in weeks that I was able to come straight home after school. The sun was out, the temperature was up, and the wind was high. The Wife and I took a long walk with The Younger (The Elder was at her grandparents’ house for the day) and enjoyed an hour of fresh air and quiet conversation.

The Younger – who was born at the beginning of football season and only started developing a personality during the dead of winter – smiled at the sounds of our voices, giggled at the sights of the neighborhood, and kicked with glee at the cool of the breeze on her face. In short, she spent the afternoon outside with her mommy and daddy, and she beamed the whole time.

After our walk, I went to collect The Elder and stopped to pick up an early birthday dinner for The Wife. The four of us ate together while the sun was still out, then we played together in the front yard. I got to feed The Younger her bedtime bottle and got to read to each daughter independently before turning out their lights for the night. Then The Wife and I finished our night by watching the How I Met Your Mother finale and cashing it in early.

It was as close to a perfect evening as I could imagine.

And it makes me think long and hard about something The Wife said to me on Friday.

I came home around 4:00 (about three hours earlier than usual these days) and was able to wrangle the girls while The Wife made dinner. What we sat down to that evening blew me away: Pasta, salad, homemade eggplant parmigiana, and glasses of red wine.

“This is amazing,” I said.

“This is what rugby season is losing you the other nights of the week.”

Those words have been echoing in my head ever since. As I went to bed Monday night, they were practically screaming in my ears.

We’ve been having rugby practice for the better part of three weeks now. We open our season at home on Friday night. And I’m steadily growing to dread each day of it.

Now, I’ve always approached the start of a new athletic season with a healthy dose of trepidation. This has understandably been compounded since the birth of The Elder. I anticipate the arrival of each fall and spring with memories of the summer and winter weighing on my heart. I lament the impending loss of the hours with my family and the freedom of actually having spare time. But I also quickly forget it all once I’m out on the field. The hours with my friends and my players are usually enjoyable enough to numb me to what I’m missing, and the impact I have on the young men in my care is generally enough to make the sacrifice seem worth it.

But not this year. Not this spring.

I’ve always told myself – and my wife – that whenever the day arrives that I reach the end of a season and I genuinely regret it, that will be the day that I hang up my whistle.

For the first time, I’m beginning to wonder if that day is on the horizon.

Ever since I read Grendel in English 4 Honors, I’ve held firm to the belief that “Balance is everything”. But this winter is the first time in my adult life that I’ve truly felt that balance. Consider the list of things I accomplished without football or rugby to get in the way…

…I finished a manuscript I’d been picking away at since fall of 2010. And I did it in a flurry of 1,000-plus-word mornings followed by a few weeks of focused proofing and editing.

…I was an attentive and affectionate husband, one who was finally able to help his wife work through some lingering post-partum depression and anxiety that had gone largely repressed on her end and overlooked on mine.

…I took an active role in my daughters’ lives for more than just a half-hour a day (which probably helped a lot with the above).

…and I was probably the most on-the-ball I’ve ever been as a teacher. I was able to come in every morning with strong lesson plans, graded papers, and a positive attitude about my job and my students.

I call this blog Husband, Father, Teacher, Coach, Author because it’s all about my struggles to balance these facets of who I am. And this winter I was the best I’ve ever been at four of my five roles. I’d finally struck balance between the four most important parts of my life.

And now we enter a time of year when the fifth unbalances them all.

I can already feel myself growing lazier with my lesson plans, bracing myself to “wing it” in front of my students, and falling behind on my grades.

Although I’m maintaining this blog as proactively as I can, I haven’t typed a new word of fiction in weeks.

I’m steadily seeing less and less of my wife. And – fatigued as I am by the end of the day – I’m spending less time actually interacting with her even when we are together.

Although my girls light up in elation whenever I come home, I know their faces are painted with bittersweet joy. They’re only so happy to see me because they see me so little.

I’ve been wrestling with these feelings for most of a month now, but the events of Monday evening stirred me into sleepless turmoil. I’m realistic enough to know that if I ever did walk away from coaching, not every afternoon could be like Monday was. But I’m optimistic enough to believe that such days could become more the norm than the exception.

Even still, my evening with my family was probably only a jab at the heart, a feint to set me up for a roundhouse to the jaw.

It was the damn HIMYM finale that sent me over the edge.

*Spoilers Ahead*

The revelation of Tracy’s passing is what brought these thoughts to the fore. I remember near the end of season 8, old Ted delivers a monologue about remembering his life 45 days before meeting his eventual wife. He says that if he’d known then what he knows in 2030, he’d have gone to her apartment and introduced himself that day so that he could have those 45 extra days with her. And even if he couldn’t have them, he says it would have been worth it to him to see his wife for even just the 45 seconds it would take for her then-boyfriend to show up at the door and escort him away. He simply loved her that much.

If my wife’s life were to become suddenly and immediately finite, how many of the afternoons spent at football and rugby would I wish and pray every day that I could have back? How much would I give for 45 more days or even just 45 more seconds?

What if I faced the same situation with one of my daughters?

Regardless of tragedy, how much of their “big stuff” will I have lost to the mundane routines of practice, meetings, and film? How many of their victories will I have missed out on because of football games and rugby matches? And just how few might be left ahead?

One of the football coaches I work with gives a speech every year about the importance of legacy. What will your legacy be?

When I look back on my life – when the day comes that I face my judgment, whatever its source – will I be remembered as a good teacher and a good football and rugby coach? Or as a good husband and a good father? Do I want my legacy to be quantified in wins and losses or in hugs and smiles? Do I want to lament never having won a state title or having never published a best-seller? Do I want to live on in the memories of other people’s children? Or of my own?

Do I want to look back at the end of my life and remember the stress and the heartache and turmoil I endure every fall and spring?

Or do I want to remember balance?

As always, thanks for reading.

CVA

Contrary to Popular Rumor, Her Middle Name is NOT “Beleaguered”

Thursday mornings I’m usually on my own getting The Elder up and off to preschool. Today being picture day, however, my wife took pity on me and volunteered to help get our daughter out of bed and dressed (my ponytails are an embarrassment to the whole family).

As the 5:00 am writing hour drew to a close, I went upstairs to The Elder’s room and gave her a shake. As usual, she ignored me. I sat down on the bed and whispered her name. She squeezed her eyes shut and rolled away. I uncovered her. She drew her blankets back up over her head.

Then I whispered, “Hey, do you want to go wake up your mommy?”

The Elder’s eyes shot open. She sat up.

And she was gone.

What Games Will My Daughters Play?

I got caught up in a discussion recently about the impending doom of the comic book industry. The crux of it was that by catering to a steadily aging fanbase with increasingly complex tastes, comic book publishers have made their product inaccessible to young readers. In other words, the comic industry’s current emphasis on dense mythology, meticulous continuity, and mature themes has essentially frozen out the next generation of customers. And without young fans, the industry is effectively living on borrowed time until the current generation either starts dying out or simply becomes too old to care any more.

Now, I’ve admittedly fallen out of touch with comic books over the years. And even the ones I do read I usually get in trade or in hardcover through my local library. I’m worried, however, that we are witnessing this same trend developing in another industry with which I’ve stayed much more in tune. Which brings me to this question: Is the video game industry living on borrowed time?

A quick search for Xbox One or PlayStation 4 games on amazon.com primarily yields titles rated “M for Mature”. The remainder of the results are dominated by complex sports games that, though rated “E”, are clearly intended for at least a teenaged audience.

Issues of mature – and resoundingly violent – content aside, one of the chief failings of the industry as it has tried to “grow up” with its fanbase is the increased emphasis on games that make such steep demands on players’ time that they practically have to become a lifestyle. There’s really no place for the “casual gamer” (a phrase usually uttered with a derisive sneer) in the current market. If I can’t devote multiple hours a day to my video games, then I must not be a gamer.

So where does this leave the average pre-schooler?

I mentioned in a recent post that I practically cut my teeth on an Atari joystick. I still have my 7800, which is backwards compatible with the full VCS/2600 library, and I still set it up and play it periodically (I also have a 2600 that I keep in bubble-wrap for nostalgia’s sake). The thing that made most Atari games so magical was their near-instant accessibility for anyone interested in playing. The controls were typically comprised of one stick and one button while the action was confined to one screen. The rules and the objectives were clear and often did not necessitate either reading the instructions or following any kind of on-screen guide. Anybody could play. A game might last mere moments for a novice or it could go on for hours for an expert, but either way it was fun.

Much the same can be said about games in the NES era. Although the D-pad and the extra buttons complicated things a little bit, most games could simply be picked up and played. More importantly, they could be enjoyed by almost anyone.

But where are these games today? Where are the games that you can simply dive into without looking and have a blast learning on the fly? Where are the games you can simply putter around with as a diversion in your spare time? Where are the games that truly anyone can play?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m ecstatic that there’s a market for adults like me who have grown up in a video game world. If every game that hit store shelves was aimed at children and teens, the twenty-and-thirty-somethings of the world would no doubt feel jilted and bitter, abandoned by the loves of our youth. At the same time, I’m left to wonder where my children are going to experience the same digital thrills that I did as child.

It’s no wonder that gamers – adults and children alike – are increasingly turning to mobile devices for their gaming fix. It’s about the only place left where we can go to find momentary diversions and brief escapes. It’s also about the only place where you can find games that even a child can play and enjoy. Is it any wonder that the Nintendo Wii dominated the last generation of video game consoles (to the tune of 9-digit install base)? Instead of fixating on high end graphics and sound capabilities, Nintendo chose to build a gaming experience around a user-friendly interface that anyone could pick up and enjoy.

So, to answer my own question, we will continue to turn to the iPad for our family gaming fix in the Alexander house. If my girls cut their own teeth on the current generation of consoles, it will most likely be with the WiiU. A quick scan of the WiiU library reveals a high percentage of titles rated “E”. And Nintendo’s venerable collection of intellectual properties is still resoundingly family friendly and as fun as it’s ever been. Then, once my daughters are “T for Teen” or “M for Mature” themselves, I’ll leave it up to them if they want to start concerning themselves with CPU’s, GPU’s, and frame rates…or if they still just want to enjoy some fleeting moments of escapist fun.

Assuming, of course, that there’s still an industry left.

As always, thanks for reading.

CVA