Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the category “Recreation”

Getting Ready For Halloween

Is it any wonder I enjoy Halloween?  As I watch everyone preparing for next Saturday, decorating their homes, some very anxious children too excited to wait to wear their costumes that they must wear them outside to play, I enjoy the memories that pop into my head.

No, not my Halloween as a child, or even pre-parenthood.  I did my share of Halloween hijinks and trick-or-treating, and watched my share of horror movies (they just don’t make them like they used to).

Nothing beats Halloween as a parent.  Sure, I looked forward to decorating the house.  I even had a Halloween tree (a long story that I don’t want to talk about).  But to me, I got so much joy out of the experience of Halloween, through the eyes of my daughters.

Our first trick-or-treat experience was quite interesting, amusing, and from the “official candy taste tester” position of Dad, frustrating and disappointing.  It was our first night out trick-or-treating that I learned something not common with a child, she did not like chocolate.  And she had no problem making that fact known, quite bluntly in fact.

“TRICK OR TREAT!”  The unsuspecting neighbor reached into their tray, and grabbed a few Kit-Kat miniatures, which the taste-tester definitely approved of, and dropped them into my daughter’s plastic pumpkin she was using to collect her Halloween bounty.

And then my daughter reached into her pumpkin, and proceeded to pull all of the pieces that were just dropped in, back out, and handed them back to the neighbor.  “I don’t eat chocolate.”  I, the official taste-tester was shocked, either between this was the first that I became aware of this fact, or that I just lost out on a tasty treat.  I looked up at my neighbor, both of us not knowing how to respond, and then my daughter said “thank you” and turned and walk away.  She did not even ask for anything else.

Another tradition I enjoyed with my daughters, was one that I had experienced as a kid, the local Halloween parade.  Unfortunately, it has been cancelled this year due to Covid, but prior to that, my daughters went to nearly every one.

Coincidental or not, the last time I would get to trick-or-treat with my daughters, produced another shocking event for the official taste-taster.  Our direct neighbor was notorious for giving out “king size” treats.  As the door opened, and “trick or treat” was called out, what did my eyes see?  A king sized Hershey bar!  Next to sharing a beer with the neighbors in the back yard, this was the best thing I could ever welcome into my home.  There was one problem, and the taste tester was not pleased.

It was one thing for one of my daughters not to like chocolate, but with my neighbor, kids were given a choice.  NO!!!  Extra large DumDum lollipops, which my older daughter picked between the two choices, and her younger sister, admiring her older sibling always, followed in suit.  NO!!!

From that point on, I was relegated to answering doors, no longer to be tempted.

So, now is a downtime as they have grown too old for the festivities of Halloween, and I wait.  I wait for the next generation of my trick-or-treaters.  Until then, I just enjoy all of the wonderful memories my daughters have given me during this time of year.

Friend Or Parent?

Chances are likely, that a parent with at least one young child, has walked by, or tried to avoid walking by, a dreaded claw machine.  Children’s eyes light up with how simple it must be to win, because the prizes are all just sitting there, waiting to be plucked from the pile.  As parents, we know the game is usually rigged, those cute and cuddly toys packed tighter than a size 9 foot into a size 6 shoe.

Only one of my daughters was fascinated by the game, then determined.  That is when I made the situation worse.  That is when I earned the nickname from her, “the ‘no’ Daddy.”

Neither of my daughters have been want for anything.  I also made sure that I never crossed the line to spoiling them.  I can honestly say, I never dealt with one temper tantrum, in public or at home.  And here is how I did it.

As I said, if my daughters needed something, they got it.  If they wanted it, and neither their birthdays or Christmas was around, there is a 95% chance that they were told “no,” hence the nickname.  And it really had nothing to do with being strict or preventing tantrums as much as it was about not wanting to disappoint them.

My philosophy was simple.  I would rather surprise them with a “yes,” than disappoint them with a “no.”  And there would come a time eventually, that this would become important.  Between the economic crash of 2008, as well as the crash of my health from late effects from my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma treatments, financially things got tight.

But my daughter was persistent with this claw game machine.  Every time we went grocery shopping, I knew that a request to play the game was coming.  If pushed, I would offer some excuses as to why “no” was my response.  I might not have had a dollar bill on me, or my favorite, I would just say the machine was broken.

On one fateful day, my daughter witnessed someone playing the claw machine.  So, I could not say the machine was broken.  And she avoided having to ask me for a dollar because she just so happened to have a dollar bill that was given to her previously by one of her grandparents.  Despite having the advantage, she still held herself respectfully and approached me for permission to give it a shot.  I was in no position for my patented “no.”

And then it happened.

A scream followed by a very proud expression by my daughter.  She was silent and cerebral in what could have possibly been her one and only attempt at victory.  And she not only came out with one prize, but had positioned the claw perfectly, and had grabbed two at the same time.  The claw smoothly slid over to the chute, and then dropped the two toys in, and with a prize held in each hand, she turned to me with the biggest smile a child could ever have.  “You see Daddy!  The machine’s not broken.  And I not only won one prize!  I WON TWO!”

Her victory did not change her behavior when it came to asking for anything, well, except for a kitten, but that is another story.

Like I said, I am so happy I did not have to deal with tantrums.  I know before I got married, heck, even dating, I knew that tantrums were one thing I wanted to avoid.  Toy stores, shopping, the candy aisles, even amusement parks, neither daughter ever threw a tantrum with me.

It was not just the “fun” times or things either.  From the moment both were placed in my arms, every day was about teaching them, setting an example for them.  Just as with “things,” neither gave me a difficult time when it came to schoolwork.  I took advantage of the earlier grades of being not only being able to help with schoolwork, but understand it.  Homework and studying was always a priority, whether we were at home, or on a vacation.  If there was an assignment that did not get done before we left, it came with us.

Even today, my daughters in high school, during my custodial periods, which vary in length, if there is homework to be done, or a test to be studied, I make sure that they have the time to do so.  At this point in their education, and their subjects, they are well beyond any help I can offer with the exception of some proofreading opportunities.

Our current family arrangement has been in place now for several years.  We live quite a distance from each other.  And as is often the case of a non-custodial parent, and I want to be clear (for my trolls), I have never been called the following, “a Disney parent”, a reference to a parent who’s custodial time is only about having good times, while it is assumed the parent with the primary custody “does all the hard stuff.”

I have dreaded the first time I would have ever heard that reference directed at me.  As a divorced father, I have made sure to stay involved with my daughters lives, as much as teenagers will allow.  Circumstances are much different than they were many years ago when we were a whole family.  But my daughters know that my marital status has not changed who I am, and what they mean to me.

And as they head around the final turn of their childhood, things still have not changed for us, just the issues.  Course selection in school has become important.  Extra curricular activities are now a part of building who they are.  And gasp… boys are being mentioned in the singular tense when it comes to activities.

My daughters have often heard me say, “I am your father before I am your friend.”  I have told them I want to make sure they are as prepared as I can make them for their adult lives.  And once they have taken over their adult lives, then we can add friendship to our relationships.

They know times like today are difficult.  They understand when I have to make hard decisions.  And honestly, they are both blessed with good health, so that theory has never really been tested.  I have no problems handling the small stuff.

In the beginning of the Covid19 crisis, I had some difficult decisions to make, to protect my daughters, and to protect me.  The reality that their childhood is winding down, time I can never get back if I am to have to miss something, hits me hard in the stomach.  But with no idea how to handle the virus, what to expect, and the risks people would take, we did miss time with each other.

As time has gone on, and we learn to go through day after day, with Covid19 all around us, we all have adjusted, including school, which has continued on.  Sadly, for the graduation class of 2020, they lost a lot.  And I am hoping that by 2022, Covid19 will be just a horrible chapter in our history books.

But even as we have learned to take precautions to protect ourselves, whether it be individually or as a business, we still must be smart and follow the recommendations.  I would love to carry on with activities as we have with all of our other times together, but right now, that is just not possible.  And that is the hard part of being a parent now.  It is no longer about tantrums, it is about safety for them, and safety for others.

These are just some of the things that have been a priority for me as a parent.  There will come a time, just as I did with my father, that we will sit down, and share stories and memories, have some laughs.  Right now, I still have more work to do.  College is right around the corner.

Singing Is More Than Just The Music

Music has been a part of my life for over forty-five years.  I have enjoyed it in many forms from playing (guitar and piano), writing, disc jockeying (both on radio and at live events) and simply listening to it.  But above all, I love singing.

I started with the church youth choir at seven years old.  I would sing with other troupes, eventually participating in school choruses and chorales.  I performed in my share of school musicals.  Competitively, I would audition for the various levels of school festivals and eventually even find my way to the Allentown Symphony Chorus for a brief stint.

It did not matter when or how, as long as I enjoyed doing it, I was going to keep singing.

Music has played some very important roles in my life.  Besides my younger formative years, I relied on music to take my mind elsewhere as I sat in a chemotherapy chair for three hours during each treatment, the music inspiring my mind to help fight my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Of course, music would also be blasted through my headphones, every time that I had to rehabilitate my body back from the many challenges it has faced.

And depending on the source of stress, I would pick a genre of music (I listen to everything), to help me meditate and reduce the toxicity that stress causes.

I should also mention, that my daughters also being involved in “musical” activities such as dance or orchestra, also produced enjoyment for me.

But over time, my survivorship has taken its toll on my body.  Damage from late developing side effects from radiation therapy and chemotherapy have wreaked havoc under the shell that people see.  Mobility and flexibility has been greatly limited, endurance mostly gone, fatigue a major problem, I simply do what I can, and I am happy with that.

Following my first heart surgery back in 2008, I needed to rehab my lungs, actually my entire rib cage area from being cracked open for the surgery.  Increasing and maintaining lung capacity is critical for recovery.  To help with this, I was given a “toy.”

This, is called a spirometer.  The goal is to get the “ball” to a certain higher number, repeatedly and eventually without effort.  And though it may seem easy, it can be frustrating, and boring.  But it was a requirement as I recovered from the surgery.  I would see this device several times after that, following two bouts with pneumonia, and other concerns with my lung capacity, courtesy of radiation damage to my lungs.

Like I said, using a spirometer is boring and difficult to keep up the interest.  But without this type of exercise, my lung capacity would continue to decrease, only more rapidly.

So, that is when I relied on something that had always been there for me in my life, music, in particular, singing.  There would be no better way for me to keep my lungs workable and pliable, than the level of breathing used to sing.

Unfortunately for me, my own worst critic, and having been professionally trained, there is something called technique, which my current lung capacity has taken away from me.  Musically, I still hit my notes, and for the most part, as clear and pleasant tone as I have always had.  But in my head, I notice my technique is gone.  Someone listening to me who has also been trained will likely notice it, those who are not, may not.

But singing has helped me keep my lung capacity as optimal as I can.  And given the crisis that we are currently in, Covid19, and the impact the virus can have on the lungs, with this pre-existing condition (one of many I have for Covid19), it is critical that I do what I can to keep my lungs in the best shape I can.  There are not may options for me if I get the virus and if impacts my lungs.

Keeping my lungs in shape recently has been difficult.  With various health regulations and advisements against public gatherings, opportunities to sing in public are between few and none.  Even karaoke, something I definitely enjoy, is not an option for me right now.  Sure, there is singing in the shower and in the car, but it is not the same.

I must keep singing though.  My lungs depend on it.  I must keep music in my life.  It is what gets me through.  Music is more to me than just the notes.  Music is life.


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