Sunday, February 08, 2009

Chasing my youth...

Over the last year, my son has taken increasing interest in skateboarding. This is not the often passing interest that little boys can take in many things. Not the way he is into Bakugan the week before his birthday, and then when a relative buys him something Bakugan for his birthday, he's not into it anymore.

No, not like that. Now he skates every day. And he asks me to do it with him. Cool. I can do that, but I can't do that. I have this to do or that to do right now. So, he goes out on the back deck and practices his Ollie. When I can, usually on the weekends, I'll take him somewhere we can skate together.

Ten years ago, when we moved back to Wilmington (hometown of both my wife and me), I thought to myself, wouldn't it be interesting to raise my son where I was raised? To surround him with similar interests and activities as I was around? To see if those interests and surroundings shape him the way they had shaped me?

Some things are different. He went to an elementary school that pushed him harder academically, and as a result, he has made straight A's in middle school. Me? I made a B in second grade, and it was all down hill after that until I failed Trig in 11th Grade (I rebounded in college).

He plays guitar and sings a good bit. I grew up surrounded by guitars and various instruments with a musician father and I did not take a real interest in playing music until college. He already plays as well as I did at my first public performance.

His art is highly detailed and while it once held the place in his life that skating now holds, it's no longer a daily pursuit, but he does draw a good bit most weeks. He was selling his work around age 8. I was just about his age now (11) when I started to sell my work.

Gone are the days of action figures and costumes. His mom packed those away this week, as they have not found their way out of their chests and storage containers in some time. If he is not actually skating now, he is either watching it on TV and DVD, or playing at it on the Playstation or the Wii.

I worried that he might be relegated to the same experience in skating as I was. I loved it more than I was good at it. I was not bold enough to attempt what many of my contemporaries were pulling off. I could do enough to enjoy it, but not enough to excel at it. I always wanted to do more, but I feared what failing at doing more would most certainly bring. Pain, occasional embarrassment, possibly missing teeth, etc.

I took him to our local skate park, somewhere I won't even go yet, as my limited skills are very rusty. I had barely signed the waiver for him to skate, when, in the midst of skaters far more skilled than either one of us, I watched him walk out to the lip of a large bowl, and caught my breath as he proceeded to drop in. He didn't pull it off, but he didn't break his neck either. That's him in a nutshell. Much more confident than I ever was. Sure that he can do whatever he attempts. Eventually.

I stopped myself from shouting out to him. From telling him not to drop in just yet. I knew that I would embarrass him more with that warning than any fall in front of the other skaters would. I knew his lack of skill we be evident, but if he was okay with that, them I would be too. I knew that he could get up from a fall, and try again. That the trying again after a fall would earn him more respect there than never trying would.

He fell a lot more that day, but he got out there. While his skating was timid and tentative a lot of the time, getting out there and trying was the big trick of the day. Skating is a good lesson for that. It's as much what you are willing to try as it is what you succeed at that determines how you see yourself and how others see you.

On daily basis, I struggle with feeling like my kids aren't listening to me. It's a battle getting them to do or not do. There's not often a call for being encouraging, as much as there is a call for discouraging this or that behavior or action. But every once in a while, there is that opportunity to calm a fear, or point out strengths, erase a doubt. And sometimes even then, it doesn't seem like they are listening. But we have always told them that they can do it, and if they find themselves failing, that it's important to keep trying.

Watching my son repeatedly practice his Ollie over and over when I can't clear 2 inches on my own (yet), or drop in to a bowl when I know it's beyond his skill level, I know that he has been listening when it really counts. I know that he is already better at most of what he does than I was even 7 years after the age he is now.

So, I think of myself out there, riding my skateboard amongst a bunch of people half my height. I wonder, "Am I chasing my youth?" It's pretty far gone by now. I won't catch it. Riding a piece of wood with a bunch of kids won't make me young again. But for now, it's the best place to be reminded of so many things. To keep trying, to get back up from a fall, and that there comes a time in every parent's life when it's time to stay quiet and see if you've taught those things to your kids.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Another blog post about how I'm not posting enough on my blog? Or... I'm always where I'm s'pposed to be

Okay, so I promise not to say how long it has been since I posted, or how I should post more, but really...

I really do wish I was here more often and sharing much more meaningful posts than the occasional new work post. Sometimes that's what it seems life is being reduced to though: I listed this, I'm packing packages, etc. That's a big part of making the web a big part of the way you sell your work. Chasing online sales by creating a presence everywhere you can. Twitter, Facebook, Blog, re-list, repeat.

I truly know how fortunate I am to be creating for a living. It's a process that finds its ways to remind you that there cannot be good times without bad, or bad without good.

Over the last year, my wife's mother, Jan, found it harder and harder to breathe. Despite multiple check-ups, nothing was ever found to be the cause until this past Christmas Eve. Her primary care physician (the same one who responded to her multiple office visits to determine a cause for the breathing and other problems with an exasperated and aggravated, "Well...what do you want me to do about it?") had a member of the office staff call and let us know that the diagnosis was most likely ovarian cancer. To her credit, the doctor had tearfully told her in person the week before that cancer was likely the culprit. But that previous office visit was the last time that doctor saw her. The doctor was there but not available to see her patient on following visits. We're all busy, right?

Over the next 24 days, the preliminary diagnosis was confirmed by pathology, and treatment began. She was hospitalized at first, while treatment focused on what was thought to be blood clots in her lungs, and reducing fluid in her abdomen (a symptom of advanced Ovarian Cancer).

Her breathing became easier with the fluid gone, but there was debate about the clots in the lungs. While that can be a symptom of active cancer, her pulmonologist felt that it was not clots, but tumors. Her trip home was brief, as the fluid returned and her breathing got worse, and she was re-admitted to the hospital. Seven days later, she was gone. The cancer had spread to her lungs.

On the evening of January 17th, she just stopped breathing. She had already said she did not want any more procedures and did not want to be resuscitated. I was standing in the lobby of Indochine, the always hopping local Thai restaurant, waiting for take out. We had left the hospital about an hour before. 5 minutes prior, I had talked to my sister-in-law, who was spending the night in Jan's room. There was little or no change in Jan's condition. The the call came that we needed to get to the hospital as soon as we could. We raced across town, through several red lights, but we were too late.

We think she held on until most of the family had gone for the night. She constantly told us to go home in the last few days, to stop worrying about her.

A few days before she passed, I was waiting for the doctor (the lung guy, not her Primary Care) to check in on Jan. I had stopped even trying to get any work done. I was fortunate to realize that this situation called for me to do anything and everything that I could to make this easier for my wife and her siblings and for my children. Two years ago I would not have been able to recognize that. I would have been stressed about work and how much I was getting behind, and I just would not have been available to my family.

She was sleeping, and the room was growing dark. My wife had just gone home after waiting all day for a doctor, any doctor, to come through so that we could find out something more about Jan's prognosis. At that point, we still did not know whether she was going to make it or not.

Jan woke up and called me over. She told me I had been a good son-in-law. I don't remember what I said. When I told my wife later what Jan had said, my wife started to cry. "She knows she's going", she said.

The doctor never showed, but that was fine. I know that's not really why I was there that night.

So, there was a lot of bad this past January, but a lot of good as well. There is a big hole in our lives where Jan used to be. Personally, I was lucky enough to truly experience being where you are supposed to be, doing what you are supposed to be doing. I spent a large part of my free time over the last few years learning about that, and now I know what that feels like. I never once thought I needed to be at work instead. My son finally learned to do an Ollie, my wife is learning that she will be able go on without her mother in her life, my oldest daughter learned a lot about loss, and our youngest daughter taught us all that we can be sad for our loss, but we should be happy for Jan.

My business/professional life kept going without my full attention. Lots of folks had to wait longer than they should have to receive their purchases, but they were all very understanding. A lot of the things I have been working on career-wise over the last year came to fruition. Catalogs came out, major retailers began carrying my work, other major retailers are considering carrying my work, etc. All great things, things that make me feel good about what I have done as an artist.

But I feel so much better that with all that going on, all I cared about is what I needed to be doing as a husband, father and son-in-law.