Monday, November 15, 2010

The State of Aloha Kugs, kinda.

It has been a while since my last column. I’ve been off the grid for a bit dealing with a number of things. That is not to say that I didn’t have things to write about, rather, that I’m not able to write about them in this space and format, for a variety of personal and semi-professional reasons. Suffice it to say that things have been equal measures of aloha and angst. I’m sure Steinbeck could put it better, but I never liked him that much anyway.

So, I thought we could play a little catch-up. These items are in no particular order. Enjoy the stream of consciousness.

-The kids are doing well. The twins are in Kindergarten and enjoying it a great deal. They’ve acclimated to their new school and love their new teachers. They are excelling in the classroom and making friends. They both played soccer this fall, their first team sport experience. They both had a lot of fun, and even scored some goals. Some of those were even in the correct goal and on purpose. They will turn six on Saturday, but I will touch on that in more detail in my next column, hopefully.

-The bear just turned four. She’s in preschool three days a week and loving it. She’s made a lot of friends in class and continues to be, as someone’s Irish grandmother once said, “Entirely herself, to be certain.” She’s a riot most of the time. She and her sister still share a room in the new house and most nights it has been fine, though last night they were up for about 3 hours after bedtime playing “Dragons” and flying around their room in the dark.

-The kids-and my wife and I-are cold. We’ve clearly not yet acclimated to the temperature differential between Virginia and Oahu. It’s only November… the bear started wearing her winter coat in September. I myself was recently shopping for colder weather clothes, and spent 20 minutes staring at the racks in a store trying to remember what I used to wear in cold weather. I just had to put away my shorts and T-shirts. My only real pair of shoes is my Crocs. But, I found a sweater the other day that survived the great purge of 2007, so that’s something I guess. We have a fireplace that has gotten a tremendous workout already this season and, while I do rather enjoy the cooler weather, it is definitely an adjustment.

-I have some edits to make of a few newer re-writes, but outside of that, the novel is as done as I can make it. When the edits are complete, I will likely print and bind a few copies and then set about the tedious job of trying to find a literary agent or a publisher or both. In addition, I’ll likely enter it in some “first novel” contests that I’ve learned about. With that project waning, I am revisiting a short story project that I shelved when I started the novel in addition to returning to work on the children’s picture book I wrote-I’m going to try and learn to draw…that should be interesting. Stay tuned on that front. That said, I feel some accomplishment regarding the novel project, and while I have notes and some chapters written on a follow-up to that story and its characters, I’ve decided to shelve it for now, possibly for ever. Time will tell on that one.

-The wife is doing remarkably well in her work and is enjoying it quite a lot. She exudes awesomeness in all she does, but as she’s a big-time DC muckity-muck now, that’s about alls I can say ‘bout that.

-The Phillies failed to advance to the World Series. Blech.

-Football and hockey continue to be a consistent source of both joy and pain.

-We’ve all had strep throat at least twice since we moved. Add in a few ear and sinus infections and all told, mainland germs are having a field day with the lot of us.

-Mount Vernon, the Smithsonian Air and Space, American History, and Natural history museums are great. We’ve enjoyed them a lot. The Air-Space annex out near us is perhaps even better than the one in DC, and not just because of the R2D2 mailbox.

Beyond that, there’s not a lot to report. I realize this is not the thought-provoking column that I usually aim for, but I figured I should catch up before I write another one, which I am planning to do this weekend regarding the kids birthdays. I was going to write that today but wanted to revisit earlier topics and journals on the topic before writing. So hopefully I’ll have something more substantive in this space this weekend.

The lack of a more substantial column now is not due to a lack of things to say about the events and activity of the last few months. It is due more to the fact that this space is, regrettably I think, not at this time suitable for some of the issues I’d like to comment on. It doesn’t mean I’m not writing about it. It just means I can’t share it here, yet.

So, with that, Aloha. Check back soon.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Power of Choice

Whether we want to be or not, we are all part of a family. Whether that family embraces us, rejects us, or is indifferent to us, we are a part of it, like it or not. If that family is loving or harsh, heartening or spiteful, they are related to us, regardless of our wishes.

We all come from somewhere, and while that may be a place, in the geographic sense, it is in in fact far more than that. We all come from a crucible fraught with people, places, and experiences that permeate the fabric of our lives for the entirety of our lives. This occurs whether we want it to or not.

Resistance it futile. Is it? Really?

I’m not certain, but what I am certain of is that the crucible in which we are mixed, the family and the places and the people who shape us, while they are significant, vital even to who we may become, they hold nothing to bear on the power of our choices.

We kinda-but-not-really-buried my Grandmother today. Gram was in her late 80’s and had not been well for some time. The last few visits I shared with her were pleasant in the manner of, “here’s a nice young man doting on me,” but there was little of the fire and energy that I always expected from her. She was a good lady and I will miss her tremendously. The hope had been to bury her in the plot that her mother and father had shared since they passed. Gram told everyone involved that, after she died, she wanted to be with her parents. Her wishes were documented--she didn’t want to be alone in the end and in the end, none of us wanted her to be alone either. We all gathered to make that happen for her, but it didn’t happen.

At the risk of airing my own personal dirty laundry, which is something that this space has never been about for me, there was a party in the family who apparently had a legal right to an opinion, and he disagreed strongly with that plan. He exercised his right, vehemently and with dramatic effect, and my Grandmother was denied her wish for her final rest. His motives are still somewhat unclear to me, but his ridiculously selfish act is the culmination of a complicated and often tenuously confrontational relationship with the family as a whole.

The family that was able and willing to honor my grandmother gathered this morning. We held a service at the graveside and laid copious amounts of flowers on the graves of several generations of the family, including both my father and sister. It was the last time that any grouping of my family had gathered in that place and number since we buried my father, which felt like a very long time ago. My hair was different then to be sure.

In the end, the day was a surprisingly positive one, for a variety of reasons. Our little service, with my wife at the helm, was very nice. We shared stories about Gram and did our best to lean on one another. A father and son, who have been apart way too long had the chance to reconnect with one another. Their meeting was one of the most amazing family moments I have ever seen and I hope they make it work. I know I would give almost anything for the chance to embrace my father again. I placed flowers upon his grave, as did my sister, my mother, and my wife. It was the first time my wife had the chance to “meet” my father.

The remains of the day were very much like those of other days I’ve gathered with the family. But, the entire family was not there. There are those who remain so full of anger and misunderstanding that they refused to participate. They made a choice. They need to live with theirs as much as I will with mine. I think that, the choice, is a large part of what being part of a family really means. We are born into a family, but we have to choose to either embrace it or run away from it. I’m certain that most of us could make arguments either way, but in the end, if we are connected to our family, however we truly define it, it is because we have chosen to connect ourselves to them. We choose to be there.

My father died very young and as I grow older, our ages grow ever closer. I had a sister die as a child. The fragility and immediacy of life and death have always been themes in my life, whether I wanted them to be or not. As I now have children, for whom I would love to move the world, I have become very focused on them becoming persons who value not only themselves, but one another, and our family as a whole. My kids get along great when they aren’t tackling one another. Actually, sometimes those are the moments they are getting along at their best. But my hope is that as they grow older, they will choose to remain close and connected. I want family to matter to my children and I pray exhaustively that I will be able to teach them that one lesson, if nothing else. I can’t imagine a world where they would be so far apart from one another that they could not come together and face the challenges that my family has faced together this week. I can’t imagine being so angry with my own sister that we could not come together over the body of our parent.

This is perhaps more personal that I have written over the years, but I think what I want to say right now is that while life and circumstance might make a family, we are truly only connected to one another when we choose to be connected to one another. I have uncles, aunts, and cousins, all of whom I’ve had fun with at one time or another. But are we there when it matters? Do we choose to be present in the times when life is more awkward and difficult?

I know that the friends in my life are people who, over the years, I’ve chosen to be with. They are people with whom I’ve grown and fought and become the man I am now. They are a small group who do not ask for, nor do they require, an explanation of my quirks or occasional idiocy. (For the most part)

The family in my life and I imagine, in the lives of most people, is truly far more complicated. We are all thrust together by genetic circumstances, and we either like one another or we don’t. We interact well or we don’t, but, we have no choice in that we are family. One way or another there is a forever in our makeup as a family that is irrefutable, and, when it’s good, it’s great. When it becomes an obligation or something that “used to matter,” it’s a problem, but only if that is someone’s choice, sad as it may seem.

In my family, which gathered this weekend to almost but not really bury my grandmother, there was a time when we all liked one another and enjoyed being together. That changed, for some, and then it changed again, for others. A father and son talked this this weekend--that mattered a lot to me. Choices will be made in the coming days that will show if that will have been a fleeting moment or a significant moment in the life of both men.

I wrote earlier that I have uncles, and aunts, and cousins, and I do, and I should take more time and energy to connect with all of them. I should and hope that I will and that it will matter. Gram was always the center of this side of the family, but we don’t have her anymore, so any relationship we have as a family going forward will be one that we choose to have. Or not have.

Family is family. I miss my father and missed the chance to know my oldest sister. I miss my grandmother too. She was a real strong lady. Her family came first all the time. Even when they were difficult and the choices were painful, she chose family. I hope I live to be the grandparent she was for me.
Every time. Every single time. She chose family.

While it may not be a choice to be a family, it very much feels like it is a choice to stay a family. We’re hoping to stay.

Aloha au iā 'oe, Grandma. A hui hou... E ho'omaha me ka maluhia. In Hawaiian, that translates to “I love you, Grandma, until we meet again, rest in peace.”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Missing of Oahu. Or: Reflections of a New Jersey Haole, now living in Northern Virginia.

96 days ago, my family and I left our home in Ewa and moved into a hotel in Waikiki.

76 days ago, we returned to the mainland from Oahu, moving into another hotel.

64 days ago, we moved into our house in Virginia.

When I did the math for the above opening, I really did not expect it to affect me as it has. It’s barely been two and a half months since we left Hawaii, but it seems as though it was another lifetime ago. Perhaps that’s a little bit true.

While I’ve fought it thus far, the truth is, I really miss Hawaii. I know--it sounds shocking, but to be honest, I’m somewhat surprised. As wonderful as Hawaii was, it was not without reason that we pursued a return to the mainland. But now that we are here, I’m finding myself nostalgic for our old life, and for the island. The Ahi, the Musibi, our friends that are still there, the kids school, the pools, the Bishop Museum, the ocean, the weather. Ah yes, the weather. Holy guacamole, Virginia is HOT! I mean, come on--I spent almost three years living on a tropical island, and I didn’t sweat like this. I’ll admit, I forgot about the humidity, too. More than once, I lamented the lack of diversity in the weather while we lived on Oahu. Oops. My bad. It was lovely and I miss it whole-heartedly. I could go for a trade wind right about now. Actually, any kind of wind would suffice.

I imagine that a big chunk of what I’ve been feeling lately is the normal “We just uprooted our lives and are still adjusting to our new situation,” but I’d be remiss if I didn’t legitimately have a few (perhaps more than a few) moments of late where I wondered, “why did we move again?” Of course, during any move there were frustrations. Between the movers mislabeling every single box in Hawaii, to the guys on this end dumping boxes out in the middle of my son’s room and calling it, “helping you unpack,” we’ve had some hiccups along the way. Don’t get me started on the company who transported our car. I will freely admit I showed their agents and supervisors absolutely no Aloha spirit, whatsoever. But, we did finally get our car. Got new plates too. The new VA plates are full of Aloha, but I’ll admit, I got a little misty taking the Hawaii plates off the car. Not just because of the looks we got while driving on the highways, though that was fun to observe. Expressions ranged from, “Cool-I won license plate bingo!” to, “He doesn’t look Hawaiian.” But, I digress. Yes, there were difficulties with our move. In addition, living in a hotel can be irritating. That said, I’ll admit freely that there have been moments when I wonder if we made the right choice. There’s been a least one moment when I genuinely wanted to just “go home.”

So, was it a moment of weakness? When I expressed that, what was I really wanting to return to?

As I’ve discussed, it was not without reason that we looked to leave the island. Long term, the educational prospects for the kids were not as excellent as I would have liked. Also, there were occasional very strong feelings of isolation--from friends and family back home, but also, at times, from the people around us on the Island. While we had friends, many had moved away, and we’d not really been able to make new ones after the initial relationships we’d made early on. (We’re in the process now of instituting a “Arrange your own replacement policy” should any of our friends move away in the future. Take note ;) Plus, there was that land-locked feeling that would creep up from time to time. Not having the opportunity to, for example, just pick up and drive out for my niece’s birthday, or to do a long weekend in Wildwood, did wear on our own feelings and relationships. There were a lot of events and celebrations that we missed due to our incredible distance from pretty much anything. Plus, the wife’s career, which is truly the “straw that stirs the drink,” had rather peaked there, and the opportunity to become, as I like to say, “a big Washington muckity-muck” was too much to pass up, so we took a chance and scored. When we decided to leave Jersey for Hawaii in the first place, we knew that it was unlikely to be forever, so, logically speaking, there was always an expiration date on our time there. Heck, in the months before we heard if she’d been selected for the promotion, we genuinely anxious about it and were ecstatic when she got the call telling us we were headed back to the mainland.

So, why, now that we are here, do I feel as though Hawaii is but a distant memory? And why do I miss it as I do? It could be that we are still navigating our way around here and finding a place for ourselves. Or maybe it is just that I’m missing the normalcy of what our life, despite its challenges, had become on Oahu. Perhaps it’s that the pace of life here, or the humidity, or the lack of drive-thru sushi, that’s getting to me.

It might be that we’ve had a hard time making friends here thus far. I’m perhaps more of an oddity here in Northern Virginia as a stay-at-home dad (at least one that doesn’t then work a full or part-time job while ‘staying at home with the kids’) than I was in Hawaii. Several of the stay at home moms that I’ve met work a job in their off hours, or even during their time with their children. The other stay at home moms that I’ve met have tended to be very “focused” on the programs their children are doing at pretty much all hours of the day, ensuring there is no free time whatsoever. I overheard one parent recently (I say overheard, as despite efforts to engage most of the parents I’ve met recently, I’ve met with little success) who described her seven-year-olds day as: Swim lessons, playgroup, lunch, afternoon park program, soccer program, dinner, tutoring, bed. Now, if that’s what works for their family, God bless. It doesn’t work for mine. My children do activities too, and we go places, and we do things, but I learned a long while back that my kids need time to just “do whatever.” Thus far, that too has somewhat set us apart from the other families that we’ve tried to engage.

I didn’t expect my gender to be as big an issue here as it was in Hawaii. It is, of course, but I didn’t expect it, which has made things more awkward for me at family events we‘ve attended. The glares I’ve been getting would give any Oahu “stink-eye” a run for their therapist’s couch. I even got a “oh great, what is ‘he’ doing here?” at a recent library function. Now, if this were someone who knew me, I think it’s safe to say that’s a reasonable question. That said, I’d never met any of these women before, so unless she was talking about my son, I thought the conclusion was clear. Perhaps I’m over thinking it, but I have been through this before. I didn’t like it then either, but I’m doing my best to embrace my inner Aloha and radiate positive goodness. Didn’t really work in 2007 either, but it’s still worth a try. In the end, at least as far as people’s reactions to me went, the only thing that ended up making a difference for be back on Oahu was time, which is why I pulled out my calendars and took a look at how long we’ve been here. Not long at all. So, I’ll have to give it time.

The weather here, the normal “just moved” menagerie of adjustments everyone experiences, and the “sort-of isolation” we are feeling as newcomers/outsiders here in Virginia may in fact have a something to do with the way that I’ve been missing our life in Hawaii. That said, I don’t think it is really the whole story.

I think that Hawaii is really an amazing place. Its beauty is legendary. It’s overwhelming in fact, so much so that, after a while, you get used to it to some extent. The rainbows are always lovely, and the ocean is always beautiful, and the mountains are always breathtaking, and the temperature is always warm, and winds are always cool, and when it rains, it rarely lasts too long. The crystal blue water of Kailua is different some the more pedestrian family beaches of Ewa, which are far more “local” than the lagoons at Ko Olina, which has yet to get a wave that would be called a wave up on Waimea Bay. Diamondhead seems like it’s always there--just about the only place you would miss it’s gentle arch is if you were standing atop it, gazing out at the Waikiki shoreline and miles and miles of Pacific Ocean. The plumeria flowers simply fall of the trees like rain, free for anyone to pick up and give to a pretty girl. My lime tree never did give me a lime, but it tried, and it smelled good, as did the pineapples we planted in the yard. You could just cut the top off of one from the store, and toss it in the ground. The mountains and cliffs near Pali Lookout are lush and green in parts, and the trail is dark and spooky. Pu U’alakea is breathtaking. The mountains on the Leeward side, while not as lush were a fine companion as you drove to the North Shore, until the stopped, and your car seems to be driving directly into both heaven and the ocean until the road drops down toward the Earth. Don’t get me started on the Big Island. I could go on, but the point is, somehow, someway, one gets used to this incredible visual and sensory paradise. It becomes normal. It becomes everyday life. While I know that I appreciated it then, I feel it now as a loss in its absence. It’s as though you’ve been in the Technicolor land of Oz for almost three years, and then return to the black and white of Kansas.

It’s as though the world is just different now. It is of course, as we’ve again moved halfway across the world, but I think that the island gets under your skin, and perhaps that’s as much to blame for my nostalgia and mood as anything else. You experience life in Hawaii, perhaps in a way that is different than any life I’ve experienced life before. It was all, the good and the bad, displayed in living Technicolor, and I miss the way that I felt in that life. Feels like without all that “Hawaii-ness” that there’s a small hole unfilled within. I wonder if that will change.

But, it’ll take time and effort to make a life here, just like it did there. And, time, because of the move, we have now, all of us, and that is a good thing.

But, I miss Hawaii. Way, way more than I thought I would.

Friday, June 25, 2010

For the love of Soccer; or my Children are my World Cup

I have neglected this space of late for a variety of reasons. On one hand, there has been so much happening since we moved that in all honesty, it would take a far greater writer than relate it all. So I’m not going to.

Perhaps I’ll deal with some of it all in my third novel, since the first one, and its incessant need for tweaking has demanded attention as well. All in all, we are here and doing well, doing our best to bring the Aloha spirit to Northern Virginia.

Right now, I want to talk about Soccer.

I played one season of organized soccer for the “Junior Capital Chargers” back in way too long ago, when I think I was 7. I was big for my age and appropriately uncoordinated as a result. I could do nothing of substance with the ball, so I played a lot of defense, with my instructions being, “get in front of the ball.” Now, gentle reader, I was not the goalie. Not coordinated enough for that either at the time, regrettably, so my role was to attack the ball when it got near the goal. I remember being pelted with shot after shot, and doing relatively well in terms of hurling myself at the ball (and other players) with reckless abandon. I recall once accidentally tacking a future NYC newscaster quite unceremoniously, as he happened to have the ball, and I didn’t know what else to do but dive at him. We laughed about it years later. But, it was clear at the end of the season that Soccer was not my calling as a youngster. There were other sports and activities I garnered more success in, but that is another story entirely.

Soccer was not a big part of my life much after that year with the Chargers, except the one night I got to go see the old New York Cosmos, and had the chance to see the great Giorgio Chinaglia play in Giants Stadium when Paul’s dad took us to the game. I was maybe 8 at the time and it was my first stadium experience, and it was tremendous. (I filed that one away for future reference, and felt I‘d come full circle somewhat when I took the Boyo to see Beckham play in Aloha Stadium in ‘08.)

The next time in my life that I remember soccer mattering at all was my 8th grade year at SPS. During the spring of that year, my classmates and I had turned to soccer during the after-lunch recess, and we used to play epic games with the wall to the school being one goal, and the fence to the Maintenance area (that ran parallel to the cemetery) as the other. The PE teachers gave us two cones for each goal, and a ball. If the ball hit the wall, it was a goal.

I don’t remember how we picked teams, but we did, and they were our squads for what seemed like months. We had epic battles, dynamic games with as much action as you can garner wearing a Catholic School uniform and playing on blacktop. I think there may have even been trades and so forth, but I don’t recall those details, as I simply played “Big guy” goalie against the brick wall, and got pretty good at it, I think. I remember one game I made a save, and just as a goof I threw the ball across the parking lot at the other goal, and the other goalie, Danny, who happened to be looking elsewhere, ducked at the last second as it thwacked the fence behind him. Score for me… It was carefree fun, though we all kept track of our stats. Oddly enough, I don’t remember ever having a bad time, and don’t know that anyone really worried about who won. It was among the best times I remember during that last year at SPS. Just playing a game for fun. It seems very much like a halcyon memory for me.

I had friends who played soccer in High School, and I followed and supported them, but it wasn’t a major part of my life then. I played some intramural soccer in college and was an avid fan of my college team, but it was not until I started my life as a professional educator that I really recaptured the pure fun that the game had offered me on the playground in junior high.

My first job after college was at a small private school outside of Philadelphia. I was excited and motivated to teach and to get involved in the life of my new school. Through an interesting series of events, I became an assistant coach with the soccer team there, which was co-ed, and played in a conference of private schools in that area. The team was full of characters, and had some talent. I listened a lot to the head coach early on, and learned a ton about how to be a coach, and to be a part of a school community, and even more about the game at its core. It was the highlight of a very challenging year that I spent at that school. Team-wise, it was highlighted by two incidents.

Early in the season, we were on our way back from an away game that we’d lost and played poorly in. There were two vans, one of which I was driving. As young people, boys in particular, are prone to do, they got goofy on the bus on the way home, and a trio of young men chose to moon a tool-booth attendant as we passed though on Route 76, I think. A state trooper happened to be nearby, and seeing the entire exchange, pulled us over, and dragged the offending parties off the van and into his cruiser, to be brought to the station. The trooper was around my age and seemed motivated to make an impression on these three boys, which I can assure you, he most certainly did.

I won’t go too deep into the details of the remainder of the evening except to say that I volunteered to stay with the three, and the rest of the team went home with the head coach. The boys were not charged, but scared to death at the state troopers barracks. When they finally let me take them home, it was the most silent drive I can recall in my life, as each of the boys, after spending a few minutes relating the details of their experiences, realized that I was driving them home to their parents, who would have a whole new series of opinions on what had occurred that evening.

I remember pulling into the parking lot with the boys well after 10 PM on a school night, the van feeling very spacious with only the four of us, and the only cars in the lot being my own 91 Mercury Tracer, “Bullseye” and those of the boys parents. This was well before the cell phone days we have now where everything would have been figured out and discussed over and over before we all met, so the meeting in the parking lot was of real importance to these parents, who had been told only that their children were being spoken to by the Pennsylvania State Police, and that the Assistant Coach, me, a newbie to the school, was with them.

The parents all, almost in unison jumped out of their cars as we pulled the school van into the lot. Under the faint illumination of the single parking lot lamp, I told them the story, and they took their children home, all thanking me for my efforts. As it happened, the boys were never charged with anything, though it took several hours. I will say only this about my role in the boy’s fate. I told the police that I could pretty much guarantee that their parents and the school would punish them far more effectively than they could, and that if their intent was to scare the boys, that they had done it, and scared the rest of the team as well. The next day at school meeting, which was the start to every day at this school, all 12 grades assembled, the boys all stood up and apologized to the school for their behavior and the disrespect that their conduct had shown to the school. One player went so far as to say that he would dedicate the remainder of his senior year to “making up for this.” And he wept. It was an incredibly moving moment and one that has stayed with me over the years.

The team muddled through the remainder of the season until the league tournament. We had lost a few games we should not have and won a few we had no business winning. So, going into the tourney, we felt like it would all depend on the first game, which we won handily. As it was a small league, that put us in the semifinals. One more win, and we’d play for the league championship. And it was a epic doozy.

We were playing a better team. We had two goalies, one of whom was a good goalie who could also play great at midfield, and the other of whom, Eddie, didn’t have the same talent most of the time, but had more heart than anyone on the team. So, we started Eddie in goal, and let him fire the team up. And he did. We played two halves and a few overtimes of 0-0 ball in the pouring rain, and were about a minute away from a shootout when a goal trickled into our net, but I can tell you it was one of the damndest games I ever stood on the sidelines for, as it was really the culmination of a season of ups and downs. For me, it was my first time as a coach in any real capacity, and to end our season a breath away from the league title was nice, but it was far more gratifying to see every one of our players, all of whom saw time in the game, smiling on the bus on the way home. The team went out onto the field as a team and left the same way, despite some challenges. For me, as a young teacher and coach, living on my own for the first time, it was a lifesaver in a number of ways. That was a difficult year, but it got lived anyway.

At the end of the year sports banquet, the Soccer captains called me up and in front of their families and the entire athletic department, they thanked me for “helping us not get arrested.” It was a humorous moment in the evening, but was one that was sincere, and in the end, hooked me once again on the power of sports to bring people together to do awesome things.

When I left that school and moved on to SKS, I again caught on as an Assistant with the Soccer team. That experience, two years as assistant, and another two as head coach in truth generated enough material for a novel or two on its own. Actually, as I think of it, those years could be an entire mini-series on MTV or FX or something. Those were some times indeed. No one got arrested during those years, although there might have been a few arrests (or international issues) if we hadn’t gotten off the field before the police arrived that afternoon in Connecticut, but, I’ll leave it at that. The stories there are far too much to tell, but those that lived them will recall. Perhaps they will make it into one of the novels someday. And, don’t get me started on the time I spent as assistant Lacrosse coach. (If not for Scurvy, we might have…)

But my years with the SKS soccer program only fueled my love of the game. We qualified for the big tournament a few times, and won a league title once, and in general had a lot of fun. We wore ridiculous socks on purpose, told outrageous stories and sang offensive songs on the van rides to schools all over the Hudson Valley and beyond. But some of the best memories I have of the teams I worked with were the afternoons on that beautiful field on our Mountain campus, playing a game, having fun as a team. Those moments when it was all simple and just a scrimmage between teammates and genuinely fun-that is what I remember most fondly, and I think that is what has made soccer so much fun for me in my life: that even when we were playing tournament games in the New England Championship, or playing a big rival, or even when we played for the league title, it was all rooted, for me at least, in a sense of fun. Perhaps it is because I came to soccer later in life. Or perhaps it is because I was really never any good at it myself, that I was able to coach it differently. I don’t know, but I do know that it has meant a lot to me, and I have loved the game a great deal for years.

When I became an Athletic Director, I would like to think I did well by those programs. They mattered a lot to me, and one of the proudest days I had on the job at PG was when we had generated the numbers to do a Varsity and JV game at the same time. Despite all the accolades other programs earned while I was there, I was really proud of seeing those JV games materialize. It was a sign of healthy growth for the program, and it meant a lot to me.

But, the other day, when Landon Donovan calmly plunked the game winning goal into the net in the 91st minute of the USA-Algeria match, I enjoyed one of the finest moments of my life as a sports fan, a soccer fan, and perhaps, as a father.

The children and I had experienced a rather difficult morning where no one was listening or following directions to the point that a return trip to the National Zoo was canceled. It turned out to be brutally hot that day anyway, so all was well in that regard, but the morning was quite an ordeal. After putting out the laundry (for some reason, we seem to be the only people in Virginia with a clothesline…) I came in, and as I’d been watching the USA-Algeria on the computer by myself earlier, and everyone was grumpy, I decided to put it on the TV where everyone could see it. So, the game went on. It was the second half, and there was about 25 minutes to play. The twins are signed up for soccer in the fall, and we’ve worked with them on the basic skills and watched some training films, and a few earlier World Cup matches, so I hoped they’d be interested. And they were.

They sauntered over to the couch, and sat there with me as the US toiled to score. Chance after failed chance, they lamented the missed opportunities. At one point, the girl said, as I had explained to them that if the US were unable to win, they would be out of the tournament, “Ohhhhh….I don’t want them to be out…like the Eagles were….” I was very proud and yet…well, Philly fans will understand.

But, they chanted “USA” with me, and we were all sitting together on the couch, watching the match unfold. As the time ticked away, the twins were increasingly engaged. “I want them to win, Daddy!” “I think they should score now…then they’ll have one more than the other team.”

I tried to temper them a bit, as, being a lifelong Philadelphia Sports fan, I am used to negativity and expected the team to come up short, I mean, two goals disallowed earlier in the tournament, etc… But, the twins did not want to hear all that, and each time the USA pressed the ball, they got excited. And each time they saw the Algerians move the ball, they got frustrated. They were right there with me for end, and then Algeria had their chance on goal, and Howard tossed the ball near midfield in transition, I sat up, and the kids all sat up too, even the little bear, who up until then had been building a house for Baby Ruff-Ruff on the other side of the room, and I said, “they’ve got numbers on them…”

To which one child said, “huh?” and the other said “Shhh….” and when Donovan sent the ball into the box, and well, the rest is history. I’d post a clip, but FIFA pulled them all down from Youtube. When Donovan scored, there was much rejoicing in my home. I’ll admit, I was more surprised than anything-but it was a tremendous moment. The kids were all excited, though once the game was over, they did ask when it might be time for a “Dinosaur Train” episode.

For me, it was a great moment. One of the greatest moments in American sport, in my opinion, and if it is the goal that spurs them on to a greater achievement for American soccer, than I’ll remember it even more fondly. I’m not certain if this will be my children’s generation’s version of “Do you believe in Miracles? YES!” But, I suppose time will tell. I know I still have a poster of the Lake Placid Olympics, 1980, on my wall, from the year an American team shocked the world. It hangs on the wall about three feet from where I write this.

For me, after a lifetime of having soccer permeating my existence at some of the most interesting, unexpected, and at times, challenging moments in my life, it was really something to share that flash of pure and unadulterated joy with them. My kids know how to cheer for the Eagles, and Phillies, and Flyers, and Buckeyes (and may learn perhaps how to do so for the Sixers if they can finally remove their heads from their tuckuses.) They got an early training on how to cheer for the USA during the Winter Olympics. (They loved Shaun White and US Hockey-I was so proud.) They are getting a whole new lesson on how to cheer now, and I hope they get the chance to cheer for a few more weeks.

I don’t know that they will remember any of this as the grow older, but for now, for me, it was a fun moment, all three of my kids and me, watching the USA win a big game in the World Cup, snuggled under my big quilt, which was there not for warmth but just for comfort. We all cheered, and we all leaned on one another at the same time, without forethought or pretense-just the fun of being together.

I hope for a few more moments like that from this World Cup as a fan of soccer and what it has meant for my life. And I’ll continue to work for such moments with my children far beyond such things as a game in soccer or in any sport.

They already are my World.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Quick update

Just a quick update-we are moved into our new house. Getting there was quite an ordeal, as everyone got sick. That said, we are there, and are seetling in.

I hope to have a new column in the next week or so. At this point, there's a lot to cover, and I'm debating whether or not to try and recap the whole trip or start fresh.

Also, I have finished the novel, printed and bound my first copy, and am doing a last proof while I consider an agent/publisher. Suggestions welcome.

Thanks for all your support-check back here soon for more Aloha goodness.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Aloha Means Goodbye: the Leaving of Oahu, Part II

Aloha means Goodbye

Sunday May 2: I spent a while earlier today rereading my columns from earlier in our time here, thinking that I would cull interesting comments from the past and riff on them. After a while though, I realized that I was wasting my time. As I read through several of the early columns, especially those chronicling our first six months, I felt a measure of ickiness that I would liken to how one looks at their reminiscences of Junior Prom.

I’m not the same writer, nor am I the same man that I was back in December of 2007, so I decided to change direction with this column, my final installment from the island of Oahu, at least from this adventure.

Hawaii is a very unique place in which to live. I leave here in two days, and I do so with a myriad of emotions.

I am on one hand very excited. My wife has been given an amazing opportunity to bring her brand of awesomeness to the National level. I’m very proud of her accomplishments and of what she is going to have the chance to do in her new job.

I am excited too to return to the East coast. I’ve missed some things about living on there. I have missed the seasons, at least I think I have. Hard to say when the weather has been pleasant 99% of the days that I’ve lived on Oahu. It will be great to be closer to family and friends, and to not have to hop on a plane to enjoy something as simple as Irish Weekend in Wildwood, the HHS Alumni Picnic at Etra, or Oktoberfest in Berea. Proximity to my sports teams will be a major bonus too. I’ve got family and friends in the VA/DC/MD area that I am very excited to connect with and spend time with. It’s a good fit for our family at this time. Add in the chance to really nurture some of the kids interests though the magic of the Smithsonian, and it is very much like Morrissey once sang, like a “hand in glove.”

On the other, ungloved hand, I am sad inside to leave Oahu. It was not a simple choice to come out here, nor was it a simple process to have done so. Everything about our life changed when we left Jersey. It doesn’t feel quite the same way this time. This move seems less dramatic in some ways, and yet more so in others. When we left Jersey, the Twins were little, and the Bear was a baby, really. There was not the sense of place and time spent with them that we worried would be irreplaceable in the next place. Most of their regularities were based in the home, and we were moving our home. This time, we are changing the kids school, looking to start the Bear in Preschool, the wife is now going to be, as we say back home, a “big time muckety-muck.” A lot of things are changing, and while we are definitely going to a place that seems good for us all in a lot of ways, there is always the trepidation of change.

But, that is not really it. While I will admit, I feel like it is time for our family to move on from Oahu, as the actual end of our time has approached, I’ve felt less sure about it in moments.

Hawaii was not an easy place to live, at first. I chronicled some of my early difficulties on the site here, and now that I understand the life and culture of this place better, I look back on some of my early reflections with a little embarrassment. There wasn’t a manual available at the time, so we did our best, and I learned that time was what it took to make it work here. Once it became clear that we lived here, and worked here, things got better. But, after we seemed to pass through that Maginot line of culture and angst, Oahu became something that I had not planned it to be, which was home. The ‘not wearing’ of socks, ties, and long pants and other uncomfortable conventions of my old life not withstanding, the home and the life we have made here have more than become those things to me: Life, and Home. And Hawaii was where it has been, and when it came time to start getting ready to leave, I will unabashedly admit that I had and still have some trepidation as to whether moving to back to the fast-paced East Coast is not the best choice for us. In all honesty, I think it’s more a measure of “Things are working here, why frack it all up by leaving?“ but, when I think clearly, I do see that this move is a good one for us and our family. But I will miss our life here, I think.

It is a place of ridiculous beauty, so much so that I’m certain I’ve become somewhat numb to it. These days, when it’s rainy or cloudy, as it has been these last few days, I find myself thinking, “it still does that?” For me to even spend a moment thinking about what the weather is going to be like is completely out of order. There will be a rude awakening as we settle back into mainland life in that regard. And the thing about the beauty here, is that it is everywhere. The sewage treatment plant on the way to Kapolei stinks a little, but it’s surrounded by hibiscus and there are mountains in the distance. But, there is more to life than beauty, and the best view I have known here is the one I have enjoyed looking across the room at my family. So it goes.

Tuesday, May 4: this column got away from me a bit. We get on a plane in a few hours, and truth be told, we are all excited. I’m certain I will be miss Hawaii, but I think I’m not really certain of how just yet. Perhaps it’s the kind of thing that will really just take time to figure out. The last few months have been very hectic, and stressful, and good too, but it has been a long haul to get to this point, and right now, I find myself feeling very hopeful about the future, more so than I feel trepidation or sadness at leaving.

Perhaps that will change, and perhaps I’ll have more poignant things to say in a week, but right now, I am cranked up to start our new life in Virginia. After all, the best parts of my life are coming with me, and they were always the best part of the island anyway.

So, perhaps too soon, I bid you Aloha for now. Another day, another segue…

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Leaving of Oahu, Part I

When I last posted a column after our first night in Virginia last March, my plan had been to update the page regularly, perhaps even daily about the trip and reflections on the process, etc.

Well, that clearly didn’t happen. I’ve made several starts since then, none of which have amounted to much.

I write today from the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. Our house here on Oahu has sold, and just this morning, we closed on our new home in Virginia via the magic of Fed Ex and the best Notary Public I’ve ever seen.

It has been quite a few months. In the end, we are well. There have been some difficulties. We lost three buyers just before their deadlines in quick succession for excuses ranging from fear of our satellite dish to cancer. In the end, there was a fourth buyer, and they have held up. I’ve had some heath concerns, an old ailment that has popped up again, that while unpleasant, is getting better. Until yesterday, we were driving the twins almost an hour each morning so they could finish the month of April at school. It’s been a lot of driving, but was good for the twins. In the end, all the house stuff has fallen into place, and we’ve been very blessed with great realtors on both sides of the world working on our behalf. They took our car today, and so now we are hunkered down at the Village. I can see the ocean from our room. It kinda doesn’t suck.

Now, with but a few days left on the island, I think the best way for me to reflect on the last few weeks is to go old school “American Studies write after the fact” Journal style. (That’s a little inside…ask if you’re curious.) Hope you enjoy.

Late March-April 4: Things were a whirlwind. We were showing the house a lot. We visited the North shore for the last time, visiting a bunch of our favorite spots. The beauty and calm of the North shore, and how different it feels from the remainder of Oahu continue to astound me. I know very well why those who care want to “Keep the country COUNTRY.” I get it. We went to the Honolulu car show this week, and had a very nice time. After the show, we had lunch at the Hard Rock Café, which was extra fun as we got to watch NJ’s own “The Gaslight Anthem” perform their song “The ‘59 Sound” with Bruce on the in-house TV. Choice performance. Youtube it. We went to ride the Ewa Beach Historical train on Easter Sunday. Was very fun, and put 2/3 of our children asleep, which in and of itself was worth the price. The North Shore trip we knew would be the last time, and was a little bittersweet to drive away. It’s definitely a place a recommend spending some time in should you have cause to be on Oahu. The train was nice too.

April 15: This was the day the movers came and packed up our house. Was the first real concrete event that brought home how soon it really is that we were moving. These guys didn’t play around, either. I blinked, and lost every pair of shoes I own except for the Crocs that I was wearing. They weren’t the most conversational of gentlemen, as evidenced by the blank stares we got when we noticed that the Bear’s most treasured “Baby Ruff-ruff” had been packed up accidentally. This was in fact a potential crisis of epic proportions. We were able to redirect the Bear to a few other toys, including “Fluffy the three headed Dog,” and the promise that Ruff-ruff would in fact have a pretty grand adventure on the way to Virginia. She seemed to buy it. That Ruff-ruff will be waiting for us has come up regularly since then. Can’t wait to see her, but the Bear is holding strong.

The kids really dug the hotel right away. The twins are sharing a room, each with their own double bed. We had started the girls sharing a bed, but quickly moved the little bear into the pullout in the living room, where she’s not only been happier, but allowed the twins to sleep in some measure of peace. That was particularly important as we decided that the twins should finish the month of April in school, back in Ewa Beach, which, it turned out, takes about an hour to get to in the morning rush.

April 27: Took the Bear to Pearl Harbor today. We weren’t in time to make the last boat to the Arizona, but we were able to see the new exhibits and the visitors center that they’ve built recently. The new site is really very nicely conceived.

I’ve always been very drawn to Pearl Harbor. To drive by it virtually every day, seeing the gentle curves of the Arizona Memorial in the distance has always been a source of inspiration to me. We’ve gone to Pearl a lot, and my kids have had the chance to shake the hands of Pearl Harbor veterans, and talk with them. I’ve had the same chance, and a cherish the memories of those interactions, including the remarks of a Pearl Harbor veteran I met last year on December 7. I shook his hand, and thanked his for his service, as did the Bear. I then mentioned that my grandfather had served with Patton in Europe, to which he, with a gleam of humor in his eye retorted, “Yeah, we fought the real war out here…” and he laughed and shook my hand. It was a real moment that meant something to me. I hope in a very personal way that the kids, whatever they take from their time here are able to remember and someday reflect personally on having had the opportunity to not only visit Pearl Harbor so frequently, but to have also had the chance to meet the veterans, and live in the culture that developed here on Oahu since then. I know that living in the DC area will come with its awesome monuments, all of which I’ve seen and appreciated, but Pearl Harbor, and the Arizona will always have a special place in my heart.

April 28: Took the family to the Bishop Museum for the last time. We became members last winter during the awesome Dinosaurs exhibit. We probably went to that show alone 10 times. It was great, and the permanent exhibits are great too. Between the giant volcano, life size blue whale cross-section, and the Royal Hawaiian Kahili, it’s always a good time. The kids love it, and they’ve been exposed to a lot of very interesting exhibits. We spent a load in the gift shop this time, buying some very nice Hawaiian art stuff, including a great print of the great Duke Kahanamoku holding his huge wooden board, with Diamondhead in the background. It’s a great shot, and I actually took a picture of the Boyo in front of another of Duke’s boards that is on display on level three at the museum. Might frame them up together.

It was a great day, and walking across the courtyard, while the kids ran around, I was once again very grateful to have had the time to frequent museums and other activities with them over the last three years. They are very excited for the museums that the DC area has to offer, as am I, but I will miss the Bishop. Especially as I just learned that the Dinosaurs are coming back in a few months… Alas. The Smithsonian will have to do. We had dinner at the Kona Brewing Company, and spent a decent amount in their gift shop too. Our home in Virginia will be bursting with Aloha, I can tell you that.

April 29: Twins last day of school. While on the one hand, it would be a relief to not have to make the drive to Ewa anymore, and find something for the Bear and I to do while the kids were at school, I knew it would be a big day for them, and it was. I didn’t sleep at all the night before, and woke up feeling like dreck, but we managed to get there. After spending two hours of at my final doctor visit, where the Bear was introduced to “The Price is Right” on the waiting room TV, and a fascinating food processor through the magic of infomercial, we picked up the twins cupcakes to share with their classmates at the end of the day. The teachers have been putting their work together for me to pack up, and have given me the things they will work on during May so I can work on it with them after we move. Most impressive to me was reviewing their journals for the year. The kids have a journal notebook with half lined paper and half blank, so they draw a picture, either from a prompt, or from their own imagination, and they then right about it.

In reviewing their work over the year, I was blown away at their progress. When they started the year, the Boyo could barely write his name. His most recent journal entry was a story about how we had pretended to be Elephants the afternoon before on the way to the car. He wrote it out, spelling everything correct, and drew a picture of an elephant to go along with it, and it was awesome. He started the year not interested in writing, drawing or coloring at all, and he loves it all now. And, he’s a little scary good at math. The girl was more motivated to draw and such when the year started, but was less interested in letters, and now also writes whole stories about her adventures either with our family, at school, or from her imagination. She enjoys singing, and has enjoyed singing the songs she does in music class pretty much on request. “Mele Kalikimaka” and the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a song are among her favorites. (It’s the state fish of Hawaii.)

Their classmates each gave them a hug or a handshake, and enjoyed their cupcakes, and gave them a hearty Aloha on their last day. They’ve grown up a lot during the year, and their work has improved so greatly. They’ve become very social kids, and I got a little emotional as I thought about how much they’ve changed and learned and developed over the year, and how much their teacher and the school have meant to our entire family over the year. I’ve spent a lot of time on campus, as has the Bear. She’s as well known there as the twins, and I have very much felt like we could have spent six years with the kids in that school and been satisfied with the education they would receive. That’s not always given with schools here, and I can only hope that the twins do as well in their next school, where because of their age, they will do Kindergarten again. They’ve asked to be together next year. The bear will start Pre-school, three days a week I believe.

In the end, I realized as we were leaving how quickly their school became a major focus of our time and energy, and I was sad to leave it.

Present Day:
It’s Sunday, May 2 now, and it’s regrettably rainy and cloudy today, so we are having a patented Aloha Kugs BDI (Big Day in) today. They took our car on Friday, so we’ve been grounded to life here at the Hilton Hawaiian Village since then. We also closed on the house Friday, and all went well with that, so we are now owners of a home that is about 5,567 miles away from where I signed the papers. What a time to be alive.

Other that that, we’ve really just tried to relax and have fun in our last few days on Oahu. The kids have watched a few extra movies, and I’ve caught a few Phillies and Flyers games, which has been very nice. Nothing like watching hockey while you can see the ocean outside the window. We’ve gone to the pool, which has water slides, and we’ve gone to the beach, that does not, but is still good. The water in the Kahanmoku Lagoon is choice, and makes simple floating and staring at the sky a very simple and relaxing process. We had some friends visit us here yesterday and had a very nice time with them. The wife works today, and tomorrow, and then we fly on Tuesday. And then, at least for now, our adventure on Oahu will be done.

I’m going to post this now. More to come shortly.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Aloha Kugs Goes to Washington: Day one

Aloha from the East Coast. Here's the latest story:

As it happened, the flights to get to DC were fine, however, in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I have one phobia of note as relates to our journey.

I get claustrophobic to the point of panic attacks with the mere thought of sitting anywhere other than the aisle on an airplane. I’m not really certain why. It seems that it’s always been that way, at least as an adult. With the exception of the one time I got to fly first class back in 2007 on the way to Vegas for a wedding, I’ve always felt uncomfortable on planes in general, but I’ve always managed to get an aisle seat.

Fast forward to our flight here, which was arranged for us by the nice people at the home office, and at first, the wife and I weren’t even sitting together, and they had us both in middle seats. We tried to adjust online, but were unable, so it was with some serious trepidation that we arrived at the airport the other night for an 11pm red-eye flight to Denver and then DC, I was somewhat irritated until we got it all hammered out, and we fixed the seating there. There was a flat tire on the bridge thingy that we use to walk onto the plane, so that delayed us almost an hour, although they made up the time in the air, and the delay turned out to be good overall as they had serious fog as we were landing in Colorado, so we ended up landing only about 30 minutes after we were scheduled to have done so anyway.

I do wonder sometimes, if they are so easily able to "make up time" in the air, why aren't all flights just shorter? Perhaps they pad the times? Perhaps its a fuel efficiency thingy? I don't know, but I'll be glad when they invent the teleporter. Although, as comedian bill Burr once said, which I paraphrase here, "If you're in a plane, in the air, doing anything at all, be it drinking a diet coke or drooling on yourself, the first thing you should think is-wow-I'm flying through the air, doing ___________!" Bill always knows how to bring it home...flight is amazing, truly, but jeez, it is uncomfortable, especially for the rather tall, like me. I digress.

We flew over the Rocky Mountains as the sun was coming up. I’ve never seen them before, and as most of the plane was asleep as they became visible, and I wasn’t sure that I was really seeing them, I crept to the back and asked one of the flight attendants, who confirmed that they were the Rockies. So, ok, Holy crap what a sight! I mean, Mauna Kea on the Big Island is big, but it’s one major formation. It seemed like we were flying over the Rockies for an hour, although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that long. It was amazing, and I’ll admit I totally marked out for them. I was blown away by how gigantic and impressive they were, even from the air, and I leaned over the wife looking out the window that I can’t sit near, enjoying every minute.

We got into DC with little ado, and got our car and settled into the hotel. Watched the Oscars, lamenting somewhat how few of the movies we’d actually seen. I’ve seen “Inglorious Bastards” (Well done to Christoph Waltz-he was amazing in the film) and “Up,” but outside of that, we are well behind the curve in terms of these films. It was fun to watch, though we were researching real estate and such as well as watching, to be honest. Don’t know much more about the movies nominated, but we will catch up at some point.

We started our house search with our VA realtor today, who is indeed a force of nature. I can say categorically that while we may not have found the new “Kugs Homestead” today, we learned a ton, got a few possibilities, and had more fun with less stress than we have ever had looking for a house, and as you may know, this is not Ma Kugs and I’s first rodeo… It was a good day, and I feel like I know a lot more than I did yesterday. We looked at Alexandria today, and will do Springfield tomorrow. That’s the plan, and then I imagine, barring finding something offer-worthy, we will regroup on Wednesday. We saw two good ones today, but they will both need something to make them better to be right for us long term, and a few things short term. Such is life in this market...

On another note, I have to speak on this point. We saw seven properties today, but there was one that was so awful that I have to complain. Don’t get me wrong-the house structurally was likely very good, but this was clearly a family that was not interested in really selling. The house smelled of mildew and cat, the beds were as made as a bedspread thrown on the floor can be. While the fireplace was nice, the couch with the dirty sheet and pillow on it that shared the room was somewhat not genuinely indicative of a desire to impress. The dirty dishes in the sink, the burnt pot with food in it (also burnt) on the ancient stove, the basketball rim in the middle of the back porch, the garbage in the driveway, and of course, the broken sliding door to the muddy and Mordor-like backyard, really did give me the indication that this person wanted to sell and do so now. Ok, I’m being sarcastic, but this house was an abject mess and an example of how not to present your home for sale. HGTV should do a show on this place, honestly. “How NOT to sell.” I’d watch, at least once. The house has been on the market for a long time, they had over 5 hours notice we were coming, and the place was an offensive mess. And, they are asking top dollar. Go figure.

Outside of that, it was a good day in that regard. After the search, we went to dinner at Murphy’s Irish Pub on King Street. Food and beverage were great, and who should we end up next to in the “seat yourself” pub? A Buckeyes fan from Columbus, Ohio, and a retired Marine Officer from Kaneohe, Hawaii. Only in an Irish Bar. Much fun had by all.

The kids are doing well at home with their grandparents, who graciously agreed to come to Oahu and take care of them, school and all, while the wife and I do this search. I find that I miss them more than I thought I would, as I always do. I get so used to being with them almost all the time, and now being apart from them, I do find that it gets to me a bit. But, we will be home soon, and we are after all, trying to find that “forever” house for our family. Motivation is high.

Tomorrow we see Springfield, and my cousins for dinner. Looking forward to that.

We are also looking forward to moving back to the mainland, but already see that we are going to need to work very hard to hang on to our Aloha here. The pace is definitely faster and the weather and seasons far more variable than we are used to. There have been moments that I’ve felt like I’m moving in slow motion compared to people I’ve had to deal with here so far, and I can live with that…just gotta maintain the speed, I think. I can afford to take my time, now. Especially now.

Stay tuned for more, you know, if you want to.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Going Home?

My apologies for the length of time since my last column. Be rest assured, gentle reader, that during my long absence, I have honestly had nothing of substance to say in this space. I have been working diligently on draft two of the novel, and it nears completion. My goal is to have it done by St. Pat’s, and to have a copy ready for submission before we move.

Oh, yeah, we’re moving.

Sorry I didn’t tell you, but the wife put in for a huge (huge) promotion to the home office in Washington, DC a month or so back, and we really didn’t tell anyone about it. It felt like a long shot, as it is a rather large leap up in grade and work from where she is now, and so we kept it close to the vest.

But, as my friends on ESPN have said about my wife, and I am not one to argue with them, “You can’t stop Ma Kugs. You can only HOPE to contain her…”

She got the job. We’re moving. To where, don’t know. Leaning today is Northern Virginia. But, we are coming back to the mainland. Back to the East Coast. A bit South of where we started, but we are coming back. Everyone here is excited, and while it is a whirlwind of a process to sell a home here and buy another there and all the bells and whistles that go along with it, we are feeling ready to roll. This move is hopefully the last one, as her career is doing well and I don’t imagine we will have to relocate again for her to get promoted, should she even decide to down the line. So, we are on our way to the next adventure.

But, I wonder, are we going home?

I’ve tackled this issue, the nature of “home” in the blog more than once, so I do rather hope that you will indulge me again, as it’s a topic that matters to me a great deal right now.

I’ve never lived in Virginia, nor Maryland, so any home we are headed towards is one that we have not created yet, as a family. Just like when we moved here. But there is a major difference with this move.

Nobody is fighting me this time. There is not a single person on the planet, at least to date, that thinks our return to the mainland, Mid-Atlantic region in particular, is a bad idea. That is a genuine and categorical shift from what I experienced when we decided to move to Oahu. When we announced our intention to move to Hawaii, the people in my life, in general, did not take it well. Among other things, I was: cursed at, screamed at, had projectiles thrown at me (once-she missed gratefully, as it was a book), told I was crazy, told I was selfish, told I was destroying my children’s lives by moving so far away, and perhaps my favorite comment was that I was “punishing my children because I couldn’t keep a job.”

I can actually, even after over two years, still catch an echo of the feelings that those comments inspired in me. I don’t like it at all, and wonder how to reconcile it with the man I am now, in contrast to the person I was then, in the Fall of 2007.

Truth be told, if I had continued in the job that I had held at that time, at that pace, in that place in time, I truly believe that at best, I’d be a survivor of a heart attack. I was working 10-12 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. I don’t blame my employer for that: I worked it the way I felt I had to, and felt I achieved some modest level of success. But the pace I was working I know now would likely have killed me either through a heart attack via stress, or from a vehicle accident brought about by exhaustion. The rumble strips and I on I-295 got to know one another well. Almost as well as I got to know the tellers at the Wawa Markets up 295, where I was getting large coffees several times a day, not to mention the occasional bagel sandwich with pork roll. I remember one morning I bought a huge tankard of Irish Cream Coffee at a 295 Wawa, and the kid said to me, “Hey dude, I’m on a double today, so I’ll see you on your way home.”

And he was right.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Kugs loves his Wawa Market, and I’m looking forward to moving back East for a number of reasons.

But I will simply not allow the time that I have spent in Hawaii to be categorized as anything other than, for me, and amazing lesson in life and a categorical success. We moved here for a lot of reasons, which I’ve documented to the point of nausea in this space. But at its heart, the reasons we came here was to focus on our family. My wife, and I, and our children. It was an equation that was not functioning as we thought it should and could when we last lived in Jersey, and when the chance came to jump out here, we jumped, which at the time, was very unlike us.

We had followed the path for years, and lived the expected life as best we could, and there were years that it was difficult. But there was always love in our house. It’s just that more often that not, either I, or my wife, were not in the house, or at least not at the same time.

We got the opportunity to go to Oahu, where my sister-in-law and her husband had lived for years, and we’d visited them, and damned if the wife and I just didn’t step out on faith and strive for a new adventure.

While there were protests aplenty, in the end we went. And we’ve thrived here. It was the right decision. I’m sorry if you are reading this and that angers you, but it was the best thing in the world for my wife and children to come here and experience this life. It has been challenging at times, and there have been moments that I’ve screamed, “I want to go home.” But, those sort of histrionics are long in the past. They are “Pau.” No need worry about that no more.

But, there’s that word again. Home. What does it mean? Back in June of 2008, after a rather awkward trip back to the mainland, I wrote that home was:

“where my wife and kids are. It’s where my stuff is. It’s where I reside, but more than that, it’s where my family and I have chosen to make our life at this time. So, bada-bing: it’s home.”

And, while I took some heat for that comment from some, in the end, I stand by it. This house, on Oahu, has sheltered my family, and our time here has been magnificent. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve been able to forge a relationship with my children that I would never have had the chance to do back in Jersey. My kids, their teachers, their friends and classmates, and their parents, the people at the library, and everywhere else we have gone, know what my job is and they respect it.

I’m a stay at home dad, and plan to stay to stay one on our move back, in addition to my writing, that hopefully will matter someday. My hope is that we’ll be able to bring the positive things we’ve learned about how to live here, and incorporate it into our lives in the next place. There is drama awaiting us when we return, but in the end, we are moving into the space that we hope to occupy for like, ever and stuff.

So, are we going home? I think we are, in as much as home to me is my wife, my son, and my daughters. Will it be nice to be closer to our extended family? I hope. Will it be nice to be closer to my Philadelphia teams? Absolutely. Will it be delightful to be able to purchase decent pizza, bagels, and Yuengling Lager? True dat yo. Will it be pleasant to be able drive more than 40 miles in one direction without turning around? Yep, it will.

I will write on this more fully at some point, I promise, but there is a lot about our life here that I will miss. The weather does grow on you, despite its lack of seasons. Waking up to a bright sunrise and copious rainbows and flowers every day does in fact affect one’s outlook. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t gotten used to the serial pleasantness of the place in that regard. Losing the ability to get fresh Ahi from the counter at Foodland on a whim is a serious blow. I am not certain I will ever get over that loss, though the chance to have Crabs again might be enough to ease the pain. I can get sushi at the Genki Drive-thru window now… Alas…

The pace of things is slower here, and the Aloha spirit, when I’m able to tap into it really does allow for a person to simply live, and to live simply, as my man Thoreau used to talk about. I think he would have dug this place. I think he, like my pal Shane Victorino, would have liked the Spam Musubi too, like the rest of my family.

It will be a big change for all of us. The Bear has lived the majority of her life here on Oahu. The twins have done almost a full year of Kindergarten here, where they would never have been able to have that experience on the mainland. Say what you will about schools here, and there is a lot to be said in general, we found a good school, they let us in via the Geographical Exemption, and they’ve had an amazing experience, and made friends and academic and intellectual strides that I am amazed by, and I used to be an educator. They both made a “Cat in the Hat” Hat today. So, that’s cool. They also both got a tasty piece of Mochi because it was “Girl’s Day.“ The Bear loves the Mochi Ice Cream they sell at “Beard Papa’s” I don’t care for them.

Most assuredly, my children have not, in my opinion, had their “lives ruined” or their “futures mortgaged” by living here, as some had speculated. Rather, I think they will remember their time here, which when you’re considering five year old twins and a three year old, is saying something. How much do you remember about your life before you were five and under?

In the end, our time here has been good for my family. For my home. That family and that home are moving back East now, and my hope is that we can bring all that we’ve learned and all that we are to wherever we land. I pray that we will not get swept up into the pace that others set, and the problems that others wish to hand us. My hope is that we can not only continue to have fun together, and learn together, and play together, but also to simply be together as a family. There has always been love in our house, and in the end, even if we disagree about something, there has been over these past years on Oahu a generous measure of magic, fun, and creativity, and my kids have an amazing curiosity, creativity, and intellectualism that impresses me.

I think that in the quiet of our life here, we’ve all managed to make something happen. The wife did an amazing job, and got a huge promotion. The kids have done well in school, swimming lessons, and have a ridiculous command of the science of Dinosaurs and Space. The Bear knows the difference between a Triceratops and a Styracosaurus, on sight. To her, that’s an easy one.

Personally, I feel that I’ve become at the least a respectable stay-at-home parent. I’ve made real progress on the novel, which makes me happy. My wife and kids have thrived and are well fed by my hand. I take pride in that.

My next job is to get our family moved to our next place, which should be the last move. Get this house sold, get another bought, and leave this beautiful island with the kind of aloha inertia that will carry us through, perhaps for the rest of our lives.

But, it is really not about the house. It’s about what resides within. It is about the way the boyo places his animals on his bed, and the way he wants the pictures he draws displayed about the house. It is about the way the girl creates stories in her drawings and builds houses for her animals out of books. She gleefully plays in our home. She’s asked for a pink room and a big backyard in the next house.

But the Bear, she who has lived here most of her life, demonstrates way more personality than her brother and sister did at her age, to tell the truth. She eats Ahi and Musibi and Kimchee Mussels like, as the tellers at Foodland call her now, “a local girl” And she is. The Bear is game for anything, and fearless. She’s been the epitome of the Aloha spirit, both in her approach to life in general, and her willingness to bestow her opinion on something she’s less than enthused about. She is a strong one, and while there are times that her strength of will is difficult to manage, I cannot fail to respect it in her.

In the end, our time here on Oahu was exactly what my family needed. We grew closer and have had the chance to be wrapped up in the arms of one another, and have that be normal. We have lived in very close quarters and lived well. We have had our share of moments, and they have been of all varieties. But we have managed them all, the great and the difficult, the rough and the sweet. We have lived together, as a family, and we’ve found a way to make it work.

So, we’re putting the show on the road. My family is moving, and we are bringing our sense of aloha, and home, and love, and balance, and everything else we have strived to create here, along with us.

And so I am not afraid. I am traveling with the most important entourage that exists, and I’m going to once again create a home with them. It’s not their first rodeo, nor is it mine.

We will make it work. That’s what families do. We will find a house, and a town, and a school, and it will be fine. The only people that I need to make happy with that choice are stuck to one hand. The rest will either believe or they won’t.

My wife and my children and I will be fine. We will find a new place to live and flood it with the experience and aloha we have brought to the moment.

We will be fine, no matter where we are. Even after all of the drama, such as it was, we will be fine. Wherever we end up. that, to me will be home, over and over and over again.

So, for now, ALOHA! Stay tuned.