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Monday, January 27, 2014

The Perfect Place to Be

My face hurt. The air was brutally cold, but “Light Up Lakewood” would still go on. The side-street parking that I found left more than a short walk to the festivities. My generic smart- phone confirmed my tardiness. I guess a giant blow up slide would have to wait.
I found an open door into the large hall in the center of town. Children bundled in gigantic puffy coats tossed bean-bags onto squares marked with prizes. Volunteers smiled and handed out candy. There was no giant slide.
I spotted a young woman who appeared to be giving directions. “I’m here to help with the giant slide?” I offered with a hint of questioning. “Oh yes, they are just getting ready to set it up!”
So much for being late. Three young men wrestled with giant plastic bundles. They pushed and tugged as they man-handled the slide through the double doors. Business-like, they opened them and connected the large blower. Soon, flat formless plastic began to rise in an amorphous bulge in the middle of the auditorium. The massive peak of the slide barely fit.
Plastic. Huge. Majestic.  Children began to hover nearby. The erectors of this modern marvel briefed me on the procedures. Shoes off. Feet first. No flips. Make sure there is only one person coming down the slide at a time. Little did I know that these words would become my mantra for the next two hours. Oh yeah, and If it starts deflating re-attach the blower.  Okay, I can handle this.
Most of the time, I was just repeating cautious phrases and helping kids wait patiently before climbing the gigantic slide. There were a couple cuddly moments with big brothers helping little sisters climb, and a couple cuddly moments of mom’s (below the weight limit of course) sliding down with their little people.
After briefing my replacement, I hurried home hoping the reindeer and sled dogs would still be there when we got back. We bundled up the two year old and the baby as fast as we could, which is to say that it took us quite a while. We wanted to bring them out to see the lights and animals. I managed to get the baby’s coat on and bundle his blankets over and around the car seat. After another few minutes, mittens were on as well.  His cute Peruvian hat snugly pulled on his little bald head. He was adorable! Charlie wore his new winter coat and the “Wisconsin Badger” hat provided by his aunt.  Mysteriously, by the time we were at the car, one of the baby’s mittens was gone, and after five minutes in the car the hat was off too!
 The whole time I was hoping that we would be able to find parking close enough to arrive before the reindeer were taken home or the sled dogs headed for the hills. Luckily the spot I scouted out was still there when we returned. I unfolded the stroller while my wife re-hatted and re- mittened the baby. The car seat released from it’s base and locked into the stroller. We were on our way. The quiet hum of a crowd moving in the cold filled the air.
There were several stages with live music. Steamy vapor rose from the tables selling hot chocolate and kettle corn. We made our way through the crowd to where the corral held the reindeer. They did not seem quite as tall as the claymation Santa shows make them out to be, but hey Santa is supposed to be an elf too? My two year old  had no problem accepting them. I have pictures of my badge- hat-wearing son in front of the reindeer to prove it. We stopped to enjoy some music. We bought a led light “wand” and a bag of kettle corn before slowly making our way toward the sled dogs. Compared to my little boy the dogs did seem gigantic. One look in their direction and he was leaping into my arms. Note to self -“Giant dogs do not seem overly cute to a three feet tall child.”
At this point, my wife and I were starting to get hungry. Our newly opened wine bar was only a half a block away, so we made our move. Luckily, the hostess said our wait wouldn’t be long. It wasn’t. The smiling young lady pulled up a high chair, and we settled in for our snacks. Our order was brief and to the point- Two glasses of Malbec, cheese plate, and fire roasted pizza. The atmosphere was warm inside and filled with the pleasant holiday murmur.
The cheese plate and wine arrived quickly. My two year old loves cheese with the added bonus that grown-ups love to see a two year old sitting very seriously with a gourmet cheese gnosh. Another young couple sat one table over. Mikey caught the woman’s eyes and made flirting sidelong smiles in her direction. We struck up a small conversation.  “Mine are all at home. They are a little older, but we needed a date!”  she said. We exchanged pleasantries regarding the merits of Lakewood entertainment between bites of the cheese plate.
A short time later, Mikey began to cry.  I walked around a little while quietly singing in his ear. A fairly large group that had just been seated nearby watched us. The group consisted of about five women in their sixties and a couple of men. “How old is he?” one woman asked.
 “Almost one.”
“Poor little guy. We are here for a baptism, we miss NE Ohio.” We chatted a little more before I turned to make a few more small laps around the room.
Mikey was starting to calm down but was still upset. The same woman gathered her courage  and intercepted us on our lap. “If you don’t mind, I can give it a try. I am a grandma in withdrawal, and I hate to see the poor little guy cry!” Without a protest or a whimper Mikey dove into the lady’s arms. He snuggled into the fuzzy collar around her neck.  She started singing softly and his eyelids began to flutter.  A few minutes later he was snoring in her arms.
Our pizza came a short time later. The crust was perfectly crisp and the toppings nicely melted and hot. We chit chatted with the couple and the baptism party. I asked the proxy baby-holding lady if her arms were tired. Smiling, she said, “Not quite yet. I would love to hold him for a few more minutes if you don’t mind. You three can relax and eat in peace.”  We enjoyed our pizza and  retrieved our baby. After sitting for a few moments more of relaxation, we decided to brave the cold and journey home which was all of three quarters of a mile.
 Well wishes were exchanged. An evening was very much enjoyed. The atmosphere at Humble Wine bar had cut the chill, and the night was a success.

Lakewood is the perfect place for us to be.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Surprised by inspiration!

You never know where or when inspiration will find you
I don’t always pay attention my wife will tell you. Other times, something catches my attention and won’t let go.
                That happened to me recently.  I had gone to take my son in for his well check.  The waiting room was nearly empty. The only other people there were a mom and her little boy. He looked a little bit younger than Charlie. As is sometimes the case, we struck up a conversation. She told me that she had arrived nearly an hour early.  She brushed her hair out of her eyes, and I noticed that she had a hearing aid. She explained matter-of-factly that she didn’t have transportation of her own and she didn’t want to take chances on bus connections. “My boy’s appointments are too important.  I have to make sure he gets here and that he is doing good.”
“Maybe they can take you in first or they’ll be running ahead of schedule,” I tried to offer helpfully.
“I don’t mind. I am just glad to be here with him. Do you know that when I was little they told my parents I wouldn’t even live long enough to grow up! ”
Her son and mine were looking at each other across the table of toys in the office.  One was rolling a car and the other was ‘galloping” a toy horse. She had her bag of things for her son just like I had mine. She smiled, and her son saw her and smiled back.
In my imagination, I could see the doctors huddled around the little baby, the parents holding her fearfully. The white-coated man probably began apologetically.
“I’m so sorry. She probably won’t live past the age of ten.”
Remembering how I felt with my son in the NICU, I can imagine the father’s eyes wetting. Maybe he cried silently with quick hot tears running down his cheeks. Maybe the mother sobbed or screamed. Maybe she was silent. The little baby girl’s health issue remained a mystery to me. I don’t think it really matters what it was.  That baby didn’t know she faced long odds, but she still overcame them.
                 I don’t know the young mother’s details. I barely met her, but when I thought about her at home that night I was inspired. A life that wasn’t even supposed to happen but did. Here she was: a survivor. She had grown up. She was a mom. She made sacrifices to make sure her son was doing well.  Here was a hero that had never walked out in front of a cheering crowd at a stadium. She never made a billion dollars or appeared on the cover of a magazine.
How many people walk in our midst every day that could inspire us? People with stories of their own that are very different from ours? Different joys? Different struggles? But they are still our brothers and sisters that can inspire.

                Do you have a story of someone that surprised you with inspiration? 
I would like to know about it: Michael.floreth@gmail.com.

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