I can jump up and down on a ball while juggling knives and telling jokes! ..Nope, not at all. Unless, bare with me on this, the ball I balance on is my career and my home life very well rounded and somewhat hard and very springy and often unpredictable in joyous ways. The daggers I toss in the air are the bi-polar manias of my incredibly talented and sweet natured pre-teen daughter who is super sick with a disease that most of us choose not to try to understand. The son who chooses only to listen to me and even then the term “listening” is a stretch, oh and he thinks we are wealthy. The youngest daughter who doesn’t say much but is full of experience at the ripe old age of nine thanks to her siblings and their oil & water personalities fueled by developmental delays and mental illness. The jokes I tell while jumping and juggling are real, I tell jokes all the time. Jokes to get by, jokes to let people know I’m listening, jokes to make everything okay in the heat of the moment, jokes to feel better, jokes to lift up, jokes that self deprecate, jokes to break the ice. So many jokes. I tell them to myself all day long, hilarious observations that will just die in my stunning memory. I have my buddy Matt who is my steady, my best friend outside my family, who goes down this darkened path of inappropriate humor with me. I cannot describe our relationship very well but to say when I’m not with him regularly I feel less whole. He is the man who makes my juggling seem bearable. I can tell him about the most horrific events that transpire and he’ll help me move on for the minute, hour, day. He’ll turn the worst possible situation into a reason to laugh and trust me when I say he has been put to the test over our nearly twenty year friendship.
I guess a good laugh isn’t always the best option, I know some people are heavily invested in the hearty cry and when I fall off my ball and a knive stabs me right in the heart I can roar like a wounded animal with water works that match. This is not my favorite road to take because then I end up exhausted and listening to The Carpenters as a result of hitting this emotional rock bottom. Then I have to start the process of cycling up musically, maybe next is James Taylor, perhaps Joni Mitchell, then early Springstein from there I can go in a variety of directions but it can be a long process of minor keys.
There’s also getting really angry and needing to give a good physical reaction to release. These were far more common responses for me years past and kinda dangerous roads for me to go down cause I’m pretty strong and my temper can get a little over the top. Then I feel huge waves of regret and occasionally have repairs to tend to. These huge waves of regret can also lead to The Carpenters which puts me in the above mentioned exhaustive cycle.
So I think its safe to say that the inappropriate monologue of humor that runs through my brain as an endless loop and slips out into the open maybe too often is my best course of action.
My ten-year-old son Cooper comes with a host of puzzles and a load of obsessions. Somedays we deal with these puzzles better than other days but trust me when I say everyday you deal with them, there are no days off. Now, the other side of that statement; trust me when I say I wouldn’t want a day off from Cooper.
One of Cooper’s “obsessions” is New Jersey Transit. Not just trains but the mighty transit system that runs through our town and many other towns in the great state of New Jersey. Each of the systems many corridors of travel hold exploration possibilities for Cooper. He knows the stations and wether they come with a gap at boarding or have gates that come down to stop pedestrian & automotive traffic. He knows the engines and has definite opinions about the various passenger car options. This goes way beyond the next station stop is… Over the last few years I have taken Cooper on many a train ride to destinations that provide nothing more than a train ride back to Maplewood. #LifewithCooper is the hashtag I established to accompany several of our journeys.
During our travels Cooper has made an acquaintance with several of the conductors. Many of them provide him with seat checks and a friendly nod. There are a few who have a fondness for Cooper’s fascination with the transit and have gotten to know him by name. I know this because I hear them say, “hi Cooper, where’s your mom?” That’s me “Cooper’s Mom.” Then, about 6 months ago Cooper met a conductor on the Dover line that gave him a job. Cooper was sitting in the front of the train near the engine but before the engine is a door lead to an open space. I was sitting in a seat on the bottom of the train where I could hear what was going on but giving Cooper his “space”. This conductor saw Cooper staring at the engine and had a brief exchange about what kind of an engine it was and why it was such a good engine, then he told Cooper to not let anyone go through that door because it was dangerous. Cooper dutifully performed this task until we got to our stop. We got off the train and the conductor told Cooper “thanks for helpin’ man. good job.” The next week Cooper wanted to take the same trip to see his friend who had given him a job. We did and again this Conductor took a genuine interest in Cooper. I introduced myself and quietly explained that Cooper wanted to take this train so he could see him. That was the day Andre came into our train travel life, we would take an early train to Dover so we could accompany Andre to Maplewood several times over the next few months. Andre introduced Cooper to his engineer, Art, taught Cooper about “zone-numbers” and had him study the zone chart, he taught him about greeting customers and cutting tickets. He even showed him the button configuration for opening doors. Super nice guy with boys of his own who seemed to love his job, he even gave Cooper a little bag of treats the Saturday after Halloween. Then in mid November, just before Cooper’s birthday, we got on the morning train and transferred at a different station just to mix things up. The train pulled in and we ran to the front of the train, where the Conductor is, and it wasn’t Andre. Coop asked the man right away where Andre was and the man responded that, “he doesn’t work this train anymore.” I headed back to find a familiar face and one of the ticket collectors came up and said he knew we were looking for Andre but he had been “bumped.” This is a apparently a process where Transit employees with more seniority can take over certain schedules. Cooper was gutted and honestly so was I. We took to some other train lines after and found Engineer Art, but no Andre. Then on New Years Eve I agreed to take Cooper on a long journey to Montclair State University train station which involved going to Broad Street Station and transferring to the correct train line. As usual when we boarded the train Cooper asked the conductor if he knew Andre and he said yes and thought maybe Andre was at Penn already, if he was working that day. Needless to say we went all the way into Penn to search for Andre before heading to Montclair U. Cooper took my phone into the crew room at Pennsylvania Station and started showing pictures of Andre but it didn’t appear he was working that day. We continued on our journey and on the way back home I got a phone message from ANDRE! I had forgotten I had given him my number in case he wanted to arrange tickets to take his wife to see the show I was working on at the time. The conductor from earlier in the day had run into Andre and told him Cooper was looking for him. Cooper was elated and Andre and I texted back in forth about his train schedule because he wanted to see Cooper because he had something for him.
After a healthy back and forth and discovering we were not going to catch him on the train over the holiday I asked Andre if he would like to stop by our house to see Cooper and bring his boys with him to play. Andre, who lives in a neighboring town, did come over. This gentle giant was decked out in civilian clothes right down to his Lebron James Soldier 6 tennis shoes and you would think Cooper saw the president walking up to the house. After an introduction to all the children and a show-and-tell of Cooper’s trains, Andre presented Cooper with a present of a real NJ Transit conductor’s hat that he got with that year’s uniform allotment. Cooper was understandably excited and proud to have the very hat he had admired many-o-times on our train journeys, but I can honestly say that the time that Andre spent with Cooper and the genuine interest he took in him will always leave the most indelible mark on my very special boy.
A trip to the South. We loaded up the family and our two Foster children and hit the road for our annual trip to Myrtle Beach to see Doreen’s mom, play on the beaches and as an added bonus see several of my siblings and other relatives at the 90th Birthday celebration of my Aunt Kitty.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you I have never been a fan of the south. Southern hospitality gives me the creeps frankly, even people speaking of Jesus and the bible becomes a little sinister when said with a thick southern drawl. Now add to that traveling down in a mini-van with my lesbian partner and our now 5 black children. I hear banjos playing a tune with every gallon of gas I pump. Crazy I know and most people are content to just stare at us as we stop for a bite to eat at a fine North Carolina eatery like… Wendy’s. Then there are the others that seem to only be calmed once they see our license plates and realize were just passing through. Once we arrive safely in Myrtle Beach and are greeted by Doreen’s mom and smiles of several of her neighbors who seem to all know we’re coming down this anxiety always relaxes and we just dive into fun and frolic of a beach vacation. This trip took a twist though…
Doreen’s mom, Lynne, lives in a development with a small pool at the end of the road of matching Town Houses. The kids love it and they really love “Bobo’s pool.” Yesterday at the end of a crazy day which included a trip to the hospital with me and my bum gall bladder the kids wanted to go for a post dinner swim. We load up with towels and floating devices and all follow Cooper on his skateboard to the pool to find that the gate is locked. Cooper skates back to get a key and returns with a very angry Bobo. She keeps looking in disbelief at the locked gate insisting the lock had been removed. The before I know it she has stormed off to a neighbors house (the one who deals with the pool) and returns with this man and she is uncharacteristically pissed at this man insisting that this lock has been put back in without knowledge of the people in the development. The more this thin, shirtless, tattooed southerner tries to argue that the lock had always been there the more incensed Bobo becomes. As the man, who is now on a cell phone call with someone about the pool lock, walks away to get a different set of keys Bobo completely surprised me. She suddenly started saying things like, “of course when my grandchildren show up.” “What do they think the color is going to wash off into their precious pool.” “Norma’s kids are in the pool every other week and no lock…” “Let’s see how they feel when I put my unit on the market, I gotta get out of here.” Doreen’s mom, who has never even acknowledged a moment of inequality, was ready to take the management to task. When the man returned and discovered that his old key did work in the lock my children broke the ice that had frozen rock hard on Bobo’s shoulder with their pure joy at being let in the small pool enclosure. They charmed the man with their manners and pleasure, then they jumped in and swam the sun to bed.
Now, I am always quick to react to bigotry of any kind and assume that most negative responses are peppered with some sort of internal fear and ignorance. It’s been that way since I was pretty young but I found myself witnessing not a fight for justice, I firmly believe Doreen’s mom could give a rats ass about that fight, but rather a motherly instinct to protect what is hers. Her grandchildren.
As usual, this family vacation was filled with fun, adventure and happy children and plenty of Southern Hospitality.