My son takes his Black Belt test in Tae Kwon Do this Saturday. He’s been studying with this school for seven years. That’s more than half of his life to date.
That’s a lot of time. We’ve invested a great deal of time, energy and money in his training and while this is a big moment for him as a student, it’s an equally big moment for my family as a whole.
Here’s why: Just being on the threshold of this moment at all is a testament to how far we’ve come as a family. In many ways this test encapsulates the journey our family has made over the years. It hasn’t always been pretty but we are a fairly tough group of people.
It’s a grueling test where he has to demonstrate everything he’s learned in seven years of training including various forms (increasingly intricate ordered groupings of movements in a specific order, sometimes set to music), move combinations, sparring, basic skills, counting in Korean, physical challenges, endurance challenges, making a speech, copious paperwork, and more. It’s a lot of information but he’s ready.
There’s a picture of him on the wall at his school taken in February of 2012, the day he joined the “Black Belt Club” which is a special level of membership where the student (and family) commit to advancing to black belt. He was seven years old and we as a family were still acclimating to life in Virginia after our years in Hawaii. We were all still finding our places here then. I hadn’t begun at Mount Vernon yet, the wife had not been promoted to her current position, the twins were in first grade and their sister was in preschool. We didn’t have the dog yet, I didn’t have the Duster, my mom was still alive, I hadn’t started a business yet and the Eagles were nowhere near winning the Super Bowl. Many of the people we are closest to now here were not yet a part of out lives. But we had the tae kwon do school.
At one point, all three of the kids were taking classes there but it became apparent pretty early on that it was not really the girls’ thing. They moved on to other sports and activities but my son had found his place. Despite all of the other challenges our family would face, and I’ve covered them copiously over the years between IEP’s, engaging life on the spectrum, scoliosis and a litany of other things, my son found his spot before all of us. I don’t think I’d ever really thought about it in that context until now. He was leading by example even then.
I’ve been watching him learn and grow in the martial arts for years and of course, in every other conceivable way, all of his life. One of the cool things about TKD is that there are belts. There are points where you test what you learn and then you go learn the next group of things and then you test that. I think that sense of order is one of the things that’s always appealed to him about it. I do these specific things, I advance. But over the last few months as we’ve barreled forward towards this test, I’ve watched his training more closely and I’m just so amazed by what he can do! The raw information and the muscle memory involved in what he’s preparing to do this weekend is really staggering. This week in particular as they’ve practiced some of the very specific things they’ll do in the test in the way that they’ll do them, kind of like a dress rehearsal, I’ll admit, I’ve gotten pretty emotional.
As any parent would be, I’m proud of all of my kids for the amazing things they do. I was proud of his twin sister recently when after months away from rock climbing after her spinal surgery, she attacked the walls once she was cleared. The pride did that thing where it wells up in your chest and then has nowhere to go apparently except your throat, nose and eyes.
I was proud of his younger sister recently when, during her equestrian training, she got thrown off her horse and climbed right back up, as if to say, “Is that all you’ve got?” And she canters and jumps like her aunts and grandmother before her. Again, that pride thing puts something in your eye. It’s tricky like that.
Even now, writing this rambling and rather uneven blog, I feel emotional thinking about him taking this test on Saturday because this journey has been long, it’s been laden with occasional detours and lessons learned and it’s just been so darned representative of everything that is awesome about my family and more so, everything that is amazing about my son. Whether or not he earns his black belt this weekend, I am so proud of him. I’ve had to control myself somewhat, always a dicey proposition, as he’s a kid uncomfortable with superlatives, embarrased by too many accolades and a little wary of being paid too much direct attention. He didn’t get any of that from me, to be certain. To be honest, he reminds me of my father in that respect and I hope that sounds like the compliment I mean it to be. Not for the first time, I wish my parents were here to experience this with their grandson and the rest of us. My dad never had the chance to know the kids at all but my mother did and attended a few of his belt tests early on. I think she’d have enjoyed this with him.
It’s Thursday night right now, which is my usual blog/newsletter night. I usually post things on Friday morning but I’m not going to post this ahead of the test. I may not post it at all, but I’m writing it now. If I post it after the test there will be an epilogue at the end.
So, I know I’m going to lose it on Saturday. Whatever happens I am simply proud in a way that I never thought possible. It’s not pride because I was responsible for any of this. It’s not pride because I’m earning anything. It’s really just being proud of my kid. I’ve been that a lot. All three of them are great kids but this journey is one that we’ve all taken, not necessarily as students of Tae Kwon Do, but as members of this family. We are in a very different place today than we were in 2010 when we came to Virginia.
But watching the things he can do now; the things he can say now; the things he knows now: It’s all so much more amazing when I look at the picture of that little guy in his first Black Belt uniform. He was a little kid then and he’s a young man now. Time passes and children grow, just as we all do. Someone said to me recently “Getting older stinks” to which I said, “Yeah, well it beats the alternative.”
I believe in my son and I have every confidence that he is ready. Watching his classes this week, I’ve worked on not losing it as I watch him fine-tune the tasks he’ll be performing. I’ve done pretty well but I know it’s coming. Whatever happens in the test itself, I know I’m going to burst with pride because of the perseverance and character it’s taken to get even here.
Years ago, when this test was a long way off, I told him that when he got his black belt, we’d throw a huge party. I like throwing parties and I’m a believer that you should celebrate both big and little things whenever possible. Over the last year he’s made it clear that he’s not really feeling a huge party, but he’s invited me to deliver to him in cash whatever funds I was planning to spend on said party.
So yeah, he’s a comedian too.
Whatever happens, I’m proud of him. One of the neat things about being a parent for me is the constant surprise at how much my heart can be filled by the things they do. Just when I think they’ve maxed me out, I find another level to deal with their awesome.
I just hope I can contain it this weekend. I don’t know that I will. Pass or fail, despite and because of all the bumps in the road to here, I like where we’ve found ourselves.
I’ll update things after the test but these are my thoughts now.
He did it! My son earned his black belt tonight. The test took over two and a half hours and was pretty stressful for me to watch, to be honest. I felt almost exactly the same as I did in the waiting room while his twin sister was having spinal surgery last winter. Might have been worse as I couldn’t do anything to distract myself. Every parent there was completely zoned in on their kid.
But he did great and I’m really proud of him. I held it together though. This was helped by the fact that we had to wait for the results, which was excruciating. The policy of the school is that if every student passes, they announce the results right then. If someone doesn’t pass, they post the results later on their website. So, I didn’t get that moment where they shook his hand and gave him his fourth stripe, which would have been emotional.
Instead, I got read it online almost three hours later after refreshing the website over and over while we watched “The Goldbergs.” A nice moment, but not one that led to me losing it. That might still come next month when he gets his formal black belt, with his name embroidered upon it. Stay tuned.
I’m really proud of him and of our whole family. One of the other candidates talked about how getting her black belt was a “checkpoint” in her life and not an “end point.” I liked how she phrased that a lot. It’s a huge accomplishment for him and an even better reminder for all of us about how far we’ve come and how much else there is to look forward to in our life as a family.
I’m living the dream. But I didn’t lose it…yet.
So, how’s it going?
I’ve been asked this question more than any other over the three-plus weeks since my novel, The Last Good Day launched. The question has come in a variety of forms including the general “how’s it actually going?” to the more forward “how’s it selling?”
It’s been an interesting couple of weeks to be sure. We took a week off and went to visit New Orleans with the wife while our kids were enjoying their annual comic book camp in New Jersey. It was a very good trip. New Orleans is a very interesting city, though I learned that summer is not generally the best time to visit. It was beyond hot. I think our next trip needs to be somewhere that is 60-70 degrees in June. Please give me suggestions in the comments section below. Seriously, I need them.
To answer the second question, the book is doing well. It’s a first novel and it’s #1 in a series that no one knows about yet, so my expectations are not immense. As I wrote recently, I’m playing a long game here with my writing. I didn’t start this business or this process in order to publish one book. I’m all about the tortoise: slow and steady. If I can stay on target, I’m hoping to have book #2 (tentatively called The Next Good Day) ready in December. That story takes place over winter break so I’d like to have it available then, just like The Last Good Day is a summertime story, and it’s out now.
My son keeps asking me if I’ve made back the money that I invested in creating the book. I’ll share with you the answer I gave him which is “not yet.” That was always a long-term goal. A few more months like June and that will take care of itself but the goal here was never about money. It was about sharing my work and developing a platform and market for the books I’ve yet to write. I think we are on target there and a lot of that is due to the support I’ve received from friends and family, obviously, but also to support I’ve received from a variety of communities: the online writers of the world have been very helpful.
Perhaps most exciting is that my undergraduate alma mater, The College of Wooster, is going to be featuring all of my books in a new alumni section of the bookstore on campus. I have to tell you that the moment I see a picture of my books on sale in the Florence O. Wilson Bookstore in Lowry Center, a dream will have come true.
I’m not kidding. One of my first goals as a young writer while at Wooster was to someday create something that would earn shelf space at the Flo. Wooster is an amazing place and was instrumental in my life, not just for what I learned there. Meeting my wife and several of my best friends there was a tremendous bonus to the amazing education I received, especially as a writer. The day I can see my books sharing shelf space with other alumni and faculty and just the everyday books of a great college education is one I am truly looking forward to with all my heart. I’m really, really excited about that. I honestly wish my mom was here to see that. Beyond any other accolade the book may or may not earn, I know that Mom would have really liked my book being for sale in Wooster.
So, how’s it going? I think it’s going pretty darned well! I’m still learning a lot about marketing and social media and how to continue to develop my platform and there are areas of this I’m struggling with. In the end, it’s going well but if you or someone you love is really good at online marketing please be in touch. I have a lot to learn and there are things I could be doing better. Playing the long game makes sense to me now. I’m grateful that I have characters who are continuing to boss me around as I tell their story.
So-my first book signing? Well, at work today, I had two friends bring in their copies of The Last Good Day for me to sign. I am so grateful for their support. These were the first copies of the novel that I’d been asked to sign. I was a little nervous to be honest. I’ve been collecting signed books from authors I admire for years! I’ve been the guy on the line or walking up after an event more times than I could count. It’s always fun and someday I should tell the stories of some of my more entertaining signed books stories, but I digress.
I’ve been the guy asking for the author’s signature so many times--when it was my turn to sign my own book, after a moment of awkwardness, I realized what every author who signs a book for anyone is saying when they sign that book. It was so simple once I took a breath and looked at the page and took out my pen. I understood it all in that moment and it was a bit of a sea change for me.
I wrote a note to my friends and included a few shared jokes we have but all of the words I wrote are easily boiled down to one simple sentiment:
“Oh my God, THANK YOU!”
That’s what I now believe every single signature on every single book in all of time in perpetuity really means, forever and ever and I don’t think it’s just me. I think James Patterson, John Green, Steven King, Kaui Hart Hemmings, John Scalzi, Harper Lee (I have a signed book from her!) all of them—Every writer ever who’s signed a book is thinking that same thing as they sign their name. Whether they personalize it or it’s just a signature, they’re all thinking it! “OH MY GOD! THANK YOU!”
And I felt a real, almost tangible sense of gratitude as I handed them back and watched as they flipped through to see what I’d written. It was like the coolest kid at school wanted you to sign their yearbook and then couldn’t wait to read what you’d written to them.
Even better is that all this led to wild discussion of the book around the bar and I passed out several cards and two guests ordered the book while still sitting there. Not a bad shift, to be sure.
To those of you who’ve supported the book I’ll say this: whether I ever get to sign your copy or not: OH MY GOD, THANK YOU!
I get it now. It’s a level of gratitude I didn’t know I was capable of but I’m really very grateful. So yeah, it’s going well. Thanks so much for your support and stay tuned.
I’m just getting started
Yes, I used SPECTACULAR Twice! It's spectacular!
As you may have heard, my first novel, The Last Good Day is now available! You can find it by clicking the cover page above.
Now that that's out of the way, let's have some fun! My novel is littered with what they call "Easter Eggs," little references to either things in my life, things in the world, people in my world, etc. For example, if you've been to Wildwood, lived in Mercer County, NJ, known me at all, or just have a sharp eye for details, chances are, you'll pick up on a few. Some of you may even recognize references to characters that my Facebook family helped me name through one of my "Let's name a Character" games. They were fun and the end result is that there are almost zero names or references that don't, as they say "Come from somewhere."
So, let's make it interesting. As you find them, please post them in the comments below. I will work to curate them over the coming weeks and months. Perhaps I'll set an end date of September 1, for now. Whoever finds and identifies the most "eggs" will win a prize pack that will include swag from Wildwood and a signed copy of book #2 in the Avery & Angela Series, The Next Good Day, which I hope to have available by Christmas.
So-Good Luck and may the odds ever be in your favor....
Full disclosure: I’ve never been known for my patience. That’s not to say that I don’t have any, I do. Probably more now than I ever have, considering the life we live, but if you know me at all in real life, I don’t imagine it would be among the top five words you’d use to describe me. Of course, I’m just guessing here, but I feel pretty confident in that assertion.
Oddly enough, I suddenly find myself facing the publication of my first novel with a great deal of appreciation for the fact that I have done something I didn’t expect out of myself. It’s fun to surprise yourself, not to mention everyone around you.
I really am playing the long game with all this. According to one of my mentors, who I had the pleasure of catching up with recently, I’ve always been a “long game/big picture” guy. This was news to me but I think it’s pretty cool to learn new things about yourself as you grow older and I’m a big fan of living a dynamic life. But I’d never really thought that I was playing the long game until recently but it matters to me because, none of what I’ve spent the last years doing has been about releasing one book.
Turns out I’ve got a series on my hands and I’m already writing book two and have a framework for a third book. There’s a reason these characters wouldn’t let me go and now I finally know what it is: they weren’t done with me. There’s more to say through these characters and I’m very excited for the future.
And I have a plan. I’m not going to dive into the details of my overall business plan for the company or the books here but it’s very exciting to have a plan. It’s a lot of work but I’m finding that there are aspects of it all I really enjoy. After all, who doesn’t seek out a fourth career in their forties?
Yeah, I know I’m kinda nuts, but I wrote a few weeks ago about how it was exciting to be learning new things, especially the ones that are hard. If I make enough in the future there are absolutely areas that I will be all to happy to farm out. But for now, I’m doing the best that I can with the resources I have.
In addition to a plan, I have some specific goals. One goal was to write a good book. I hope when you read it you’ll agree with that. Another was to learn everything I can. My short-term “reach” goal for this book was to make back what I invested in it.
But the long game involves this book leading readers to the next book and then the next book.
Someone once asked if I just wanted to hold my book in my hands, wondering if that would be enough for me. Well, I’ve held it in my hands, in a variety of states along the way. The early proofs were brutal and obviously we had some issues with the cover, but we learned. We improved. We got help. And while it initially felt good to hold in my hands, it made me more driven than ever to be able to place it in yours.
The book you’ll be able to order next Tuesday is the product of many, many years of work and reflection and I went through so many beginnings and endings with it, to the point that I put it away for over a year at one point. It’s been a long journey to this point and it has been one that’s taught me a lot about myself. That’s a column for another day, however.
The Last Good Day is here. I’m proud of it and grateful to the many, many people who helped me along the way. I hope it does well and that people like it but I am definitely playing the long game. There are more stories to tell and more days to talk about. I hope to see you along the way.
This ride is just getting started.
If you'd like to start that ride click HERE!
If, after that, if you're ready for more, AND you can keep a secret until Tuesday the 12th, click HERE!
My daughter had spinal fusion surgery last February. It was areal challenge on a number of levels. She's doing great now and sees her surgeon for follow up very soon. She's hoping he will clear her to do two of her favorite things: go rock climbing and ride roller coasters. My fingers are crossed for her as she's been a real trooper through a challenging recovery. She's definitely been my hero.
In reflecting on that as we approach her surgical consultation, I'm revisiting my thoughts the day after her operation. Here's hoping for rock climbing!
Yesterday was a very long day. Actually, it feels very much like I’m still experiencing the same day without interruption. They’ve made some real strides with those hospital fold-out chairs over the years, but there’s little one can do to block out the lights and sounds of a hospital recovery wing, while still keeping one’s ear finely attuned to the sounds of your child.
Dad was proud to serve as the first line of nausea defense. Vomitus is normally my kryptonite, but as I said yesterday, I had my “game face” on and I was on point. Only had to change my shirt once, which was good as I only had one extra.
I won’t spend much time getting into the medical details except to say that she did phenomenally during surgery and was a trooper all day. Sleep was difficult for us both, and as I write this she’s asleep in her new fancy room upstairs, the recovery center now behind us.
The wife and I were together when her surgeon came out and told us that she was in recovery and that it went “pretty straightforward and she did great.” I didn’t, as I thought I might, lose it. I did however feel an immediate relief upon exhale, and it felt like I’d been holding my breath just a little for the past two months. I felt an immense sense of gratitude.
I felt thankful for her doctors and nurses and all the staff here at the hospital that have cared for out family in a variety of ways for years. I thought “Thank God” pretty much right away and I meant just that. I felt grateful to our friends and family who’ve supported us all and my firstborn in particular of late. Honestly, I was just so grateful that the surgery part was done and we could then focus on the “taking care of her” part. The recovery, which won’t likely be a cakewalk began in earnest yesterday, and that, at least, is something we can be a part of. We can hold her hand. We can remind her of how loved she is. We can help her stand up and walk down the hall and feed her ice chips and stroke her hair and show her Hamilton clips when they need to draw blood again. We can be understanding and patient and all of that stuff. But she had to get clear of the surgery first. I felt such a sense of relief when the doctor came out and told us she was ok. It was like I’d been wearing ankle weights for two months and then, upon taking them off discovered that while I still can’t dunk, I can hit the backboard. It was a huge relief.
Overnight was a challenge. It’s bright and noisy and it was too warm in our shared room. There were moments overnight where it felt like morning would never come. They had to reposition her body every two hours, so between that and dealing with the nausea, there was very little time to sleep without interruption, if one could fall asleep at all.
We’ve had two mottos over the last few days that we really tapped into last night. The first one is a line I’ve known for years, and it really fit. It’s attributed to like 5 different sources, so who knows where it came from, except that I’m certain it came from someone who went through some stuff.
“The only way out is through.”
The only way to get her spine situated is through the surgery. The only way to the nice room upstairs is through the recovery room. The only way home is through the PT and recovery. The only way back to activity and school is through healing up and learning to move again. She seemed to connect to this one a lot, especially late last night when all she wanted to do was something other than lay there and try to sleep. We made it though the night and she’s sleeping much more comfortably now that we are through the recovery wing.
The other one was given to me by a good friend earlier this week as we were talking about the impending surgery. She mentioned something that had been told to her before she’d faced her own surgery. She said, “Let her know that while it will hurt, it will only hurt for a little while. And you can do anything when you know it’s only for a little while.” I told this to my daughter on the eve of her operation, and it really seemed to help. We’ve repeated it several times since then. It’s really helped. She’s been a trooper about her pain and a rock star with the nurses, who have the unfortunate responsibility of making her uncomfortable on purpose at times.
Anytime I’m in the hospital, I reflect back on my own visits there over my life. My own back surgery in 2001, the birth of the kids, the wife’s surgeries. Inevitably, I come back to the time I spent in the hospital with my father during the end of his life. I think of the years my eldest sister spent in the hospital. She died when I was a newborn, so I never got to know her, and I can only imagine what that was like for her and my parents and sister. I always think of these things when I’m in the hospital. I wonder if I’m the only one who does that.
I thought of them last night in particular when things got a little extra challenging. I thought of my dad and my sister and thought, if they can get through their challenges with grace and dignity, which they did, I can aspire to the same. I’m not even the patient this time.
The only way out is through. And this is only for a little while. And my kid is a rock star.
I’m supposedly old and well-adjusted enough now to understand when I need to ask for help. That said, I’m also apparently old enough to make the same mistakes I did as a younger person.
What a time to be alive!
In all seriousness I learned a valuable lesson this week, one that I hope I will continue to use as I move my writing and my publishing business forward.
I’ve been working on my upcoming novel, The Last Good Day for the better part of six years. Now, I wasn’t working on it at the beginning the way I am now. There were periods of dormancy in the middle years and there were times I was focused on other projects. Over the last two years, I decided to really focus my energy, attention, and most recently, my resources onto completing and publishing this book. Along the way, I asked for help regularly from friends and family and people in the industry. My team of Beta Readers is a wonderful group and they’ve been remarkable. I’ve asked everyone I know at one point or another to either review something or give me a general opinion. Heck, if we’re friends on Facebook, you may have even named a character along the way. It’s taken a village to be sure.
As we get closer to book launch I find myself looking more deeply at things I can do myself and things I need to hire someone to help me with. My company is small and we are just starting out so, the budget is somewhat limited. Wherever I can learn something new and save myself money, I try to do just that. Learning new things at my age is pretty exciting and occasionally intimidating, but it has saved me money.
So, when it came time to design a cover for my novel I figured, sure, I can do that! I had an idea what I wanted it to look like and there was a template to follow so I gave it a whirl. I liked what I came up with and felt so good about it that I shared it in one of my online writing groups. I didn’t exactly ask for critical feedback but I sure got it, in the kindest and most supportive and positive way possible. That made a real difference.
The group, “Create If Writing,” operates on Facebook and it’s one of several such groups I’m a part of. This one has been particularly helpful over the last year. The people are kind and encouraging and we run the gamut from people just starting out to others who have been in the game for many years. This is significant because there are many such groups online and they all have their own, well, let’s say they have their own “flavor.” Some are very aggressive about marketing and using data analytics. Some suffer no questions from “newbs.” Others are focused on self-promotion and still others are all about writing. They all have their place. The “Create If” group has simply occupied a very helpful place in the process of this book and that was nowhere more evident than when they got me to hire someone to design the cover of my novel.
After I posted my cover pic on the group site, things started out nicely, with several “Congratulations” and “Yay!” comments. There were a few questions about what genre/audience the book is aiming for but discussion remained pretty basic until the comments moved, very gently into: “have you looked at the top-selling books in that genre?” and “It’s pretty, but it looks more grown up than a YA book would usually be, but, hey, good for you!”
They were right. Once I read their comments and really thought about it, I knew that my cover wasn’t right for a book targeting John Green fans. Young adults and the people who love them weren’t going to see my cover and say “gotta have this!” But I didn’t WANT to hire someone for this! I didn’t WANT to have to pay a brilliant artist at this point! I just wanted to be done!
But I wasn’t done. I was just getting started. I didn’t want to hear it. They told me anyway. As a result, I realized that I needed help. It just took a while.
The leader of the group actually messaged me and said something like “Listen, send me your basic cover photo and give me five minutes.” She created a mock-up of a new cover using my image and it was so much better than what I had made. My first response was “Wow, that’s way better!” Then I had a brief moment of “Man, what I had really stunk! Aw…” And then, I had a moment of clarity. I realized that over the days that this conversation went back and forth on the group page, everyone had been trying to help me, for no other reason really than that they could. And they wanted to. I clearly needed the help but I don’t know most of these fine people in real life. I only know them as part of an awesome community of writers. I clearly hadn’t asked for input and honestly, I was really just hoping everyone would love it so I could move forward.
But I clearly needed help. Once again, I had to get out of my own way and let others, who knew better, help me. That seems to be a theme I keep coming back to, over and over and over again, not just asking for help with the book cover, (which I’ve done and the initial proofs look great. I’ll share it once it’s perfect. We are close.), but the idea of getting out of my own way. That one keeps popping up for me.
I made a big move in founding Four Leaf Publishing and it’ll be another big move releasing The Last Good Day. Big moves have always been easier for me. They are big! They are dramatic. They are easy to get behind in the moment of passion and inspiration that defines them. The everyday moves, the day to day moves, the learning and the moments when I’m faced with crippling self-doubt; those are the ones that are more challenging. Those are the ones I need help with and it was really amazing to find that help, unsolicited from the Create If group. It was a truly effective reminder of the fact that I simply can’t do it all because I can’t be good at everything, no matter how much I might want to.
The bigger learning is that I don’t have to be good at everything. I’m not knee-deep into all this only to publish this one novel. I’m in this to build a company and a platform that means something. I know I’m at the starting line now but this is not a sprint. I’m already working on book two and three and beyond. I’ve got more stories with Avery and Angela and other stories with characters that are dying to get out into the world. My goals are modest in scope but go far beyond this one quirky little novel but I won’t get anywhere going it alone. I won’t learn anything that way either.
I have a lot more to learn and I will need help along the way. I’m going to fail at things, but as Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl MVP quarterback Nick Foles said, right after winning the Super Bowl, “Don’t be afraid to fail…without failure, who would you be? If…you’re struggling-embrace it, because you’re growing.” (Fly Eagles, Fly!)
It’s been an interesting time getting ready to release this novel. When it’s finally ready I hope it does well and I hope people enjoy it. There were many hands and many hearts that led this story to the page. It’s a big step, but it is in the end, only one step of many. I am humbled by the good fortune that I’ve had to surround myself with good and generous people, all of whom seem willing to tell me the truth. I appreciate that more than they know because I needed their help. I didn’t ask for it at first but it was given to me anyway. It made a real difference.
I hope that I’m the guy that just asks for help next time.
Guest Post: Helenipa Stephens: “If you don’t do it, you’ll regret it!” Wisdom from an American Teenager
Today I have the pleasure of sharing my first ever guest blog, featuring the work of Helenipa Stevens. She’s the daughter of Jennifer McBain Stevens, who’s brilliant work can be found by clicking HERE and you can find her latest book, The Vitamix and the Murder of Crows can be found HERE. Please show them some Aloha.
Helenipa’s article was for a school assignment and focuses on a story of a Girl Scout trip she took with my daughter’s scout troop to Wildwood last year. From the stories I’ve heard from both my daughter and my wife (assistant troop leader along with Jennifer), it sounds like it was a pretty epic journey for all in one form or another.
I really enjoyed Helenipa’s take on the whole thing and her commentary about how “If you don’t do it, you’ll regret it” really resonates with me as I dive feet first into the world of independent publishing. My soon-to-be-released novel The Last Good Day is set in large part in Wildwood, NJ, and there’s a lot about what Helenipa wrote that hits home not only for me, but for my characters. Getting out of my own way and finishing the book, learning the industry, and building a platform are important parts of my journey to here. More so was learning how to turn away from my own often crippling self-doubt and anxiety. That’s a work in progress to be sure but I am inspired by this young lady’s take on her own journey outside of her own comfort zone. As Helenipa might say, “It was a thing that had to be done.”
Without further ado, I present Miss Helenipa Stevens, my first ever guest on the blog.
The Sea Serpent
I was going to New Jersey! I was kind of scared because I heard there was going to be a lot of roller coasters there. Let’s just say I don’t like dropping to my death. My girl scout troop from Virginia was going to “Beach Jam.” Other girl scout troops were sleeping at the amusement park. Luckily, one of our members had a beach house there, and we got to sleep in comfort. Well, sort of. It was cramped and hot, and I felt congested. But I thought it was better than sleeping outside. Little did I know I was about to go on the coolest, scariest, dropping to deathest roller coaster ever. I woke up the next morning and felt groggy. We quickly got ready and started walking. When we got there the leaders talked about some ground rules like, stay in a group, meet back here, don’t talk to strangers. Then we splitted into our groups. I believe we were split by the type of roller coasters we were comfortable with going on. There was medium and majestic (or something like that.) I was in medium (no surprise), then we were off. As the “medium” group walked farther into the park we walked past a monster. Not an actual monster of course, a ride. But it sure looked like one. I couldn’t see the name of the ride, (I assumed it was on the other side) but I felt like I had heard about it before. Then is struck me: The Sea Serpent! Oh my gosh, it was a monster. This was the ride my friend Jensen was talking about (the one who had the beach house). This was her favorite ride?!
It had a white skeleton-like figure, winding super high. I had to crane my neck to see the top of it. As my group was looking at it a cart on the ride zoomed by. I couldn't really see what the people looked like because they were going so fast. I shuddered. My mom who was chaperoning us smiled. She, unlike most of my group liked those kinds of things. The first ride my group had decided to go on was the swings. There was probably a specific name but I didn't pay too much attention to it. I remember when I was younger I would love swings (I still do). It was like you were flying. The ¨swing ride¨ was like a merry go round for swings. It looked super fun. We got to the front and buckled ourselves in. I sat next to Bryn. We went around and around and around. It definitely felt like I was flying.
We went on another series of rides too. Some, I was surprised I went on. As we were going from ride to ride my mom kept bringing up the Sea Serpent. I was to scared to even think about it. My mom suggested a really good bribe: if I went on the coaster, I could get my ears pierced for my upcoming birthday. It was hard to say no. My life was in danger! After many minutes of convincing, I decided to give in. I mean, it wasn't that bad right? It was bad. I got some of the people in our group to come. I sat with my mom, and my friends Nora and Bryn sat together. The lady came around and made sure all our constraints were strong enough. She asked a man about mine. What?! Are you saying I´m not safe? I wanted to shout. After they confirmed I was okay she left and a few seconds later we were off. My mom said something like, “Remember it’s less than a minute,” (we’d timed it before.) We were slowly rising, like when you are anticipating a “jump scare” in a horror film. I still had my eyes open. I knew I was going to close them when we dropped. We dropped. I closed my eyes and screamed. I remember being shaken around quite violently and thinking this isn’t that bad… Then we stopped at the opposite hill from where we started. I remember my mom saying, “Halfway there!” Then, I opened my eyes for a split second. Then immediately closed them as we headed down hill backwards. It was done.
I was so proud of myself, my friends, and my mom (even though she had done things like this before.) I turned around and faced my friends: Bryn look petrified and Nora looked slightly shaken (Nora being the bravest “child” in the group.) We unbuckled ourselves and left. As we did Bryn and I talked about how thrilling it was. We called it the “cycle”.
Do you know the phrase: “If you don’t do it, you’ll regret it”? Well, this was the biggest “If you don’t do it you’ll regret it in my life.” I mean, I totally would have regretted not going on it.
It was a thing that had to be done; and now I have my ears pierced.
I read with my kids.
Please enjoy this free sample of Chapter 1: In which Kugs says Aloha to New Places and Things, from my recent release, THE BEST OF ALOHA KUGS, available now HERE! If you'd like to download the eBook for FREE, please sign up for my Email list by clicking HERE! It will be available this weekend for a free download, so please sign up for all the details on that and for more on my upcoming novel, THE LAST GOOD DAY. Please consider following me on Goodreads and leaving a review there and on Amazon. Every single click helps! Tell a friend! Thanks for your support!
There were many transitions in our lives over the last ten-plus years. This first column comes from very early in our time on Oahu. Let’s just say we weren’t finding the island particularly welcoming at the moment…it got better.
New Jersey Attitude: 1
Aloha Spirit: 0
Well, you can take the guy out of Jersey…Now, before you get too excited, it’s not that big a deal, but we had a little incident at the Honolulu Library today. We stopped by to have the kids pick a few DVD’s and maybe visit the kid’s area before taking everyone home for dinner. The boy decided that this would be an appropriate time for a tantrum and let a spectacular one fly. Well, that set off the baby, and we made a direct line for the exit.
The wife took the boy out, screaming the entire way, and left ahead of me, while I walked down with the girls. As I moved towards the exit, the fun began: an older gentleman took the moment to loudly complain to the security guard about my kid. He of course didn’t know that I was his father and went on for a minute before I was faced with a choice.
Do I embrace the Aloha spirit and just let it go? Or, do I call this guy out?
Please keep in mind that for the most part, we have not felt overly welcome in many places since we arrived, but until that moment, the public library had been one of them.
Well, as I said, you can take me outta Jersey, but I wasn’t about to let this one go.
As I approached, I asked him, very politely, if I could help him with something, as that was my kid he was talking about. He continued his rant about how ‘you see it more and more these days…” to which I replied “see what?” He faltered there, so I said “the kid had a tantrum, we left. Why don’t you pass judgment on someone else?” I didn’t raise my voice or swear (the girls were with me, so I was very appropriate…) He stammered a bit more about it being a library, to which I replied, “Are you a parent?” His reply of, “I most certainly am” I’ll admit surprised me, but I went with it, asking “Well, didn’t your children ever throw a tantrum?” He assured me that they had but that he “Never put my children in socially unacceptable situations, and we handled things.”
Keep in mind, we are in a public library, with an extensive children’s section.
At this point, the librarian came over, and thanked the gentleman for his concern, but that she thought we had handled it fine. He left in a huff.
I thanked the librarian, and to be honest, I’m glad she came over, as I was really irritated by his last comment. I’ve absolutely had it with some of the looks and comments I get from people, like the lady in the supermarket that rolled her eyes at us shopping, saying “three kids that young at the same time, what are they thinking?” Or even better, the stranger at the Zoo the other day that asked me, after I had told her that yes; the three-year-olds are twins, if the baby was planned after we already had twins. Or the people that ask “Did you want so many?” Or “did you take drugs or something?” Or “Did she deliver vaginally?”
These are strangers, and I digress, but let’s allow the rant to continue: the cowardly lady downstairs in our apartment building, who again complained to the manager about us, rather than call me and talk to me directly, and yes, I gave the front desk my number to give to her. Just be a human being and talk to us if there’s a problem. I’d have bought the lady headphones or something or adjusted their schedules if it meant being a better neighbor, but she won’t give us that chance.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ll be the first person to question a parent allowing a child to just go off without taking action. I can assure you that neither I nor the wife simply let them go off-we either settle them or remove them from the situation. I know, better than anyone, how irritating it can be when they go off, but I am not about to lock them in a room and wait for them to go to school. We have only been here 23 days, we are cramped in a two-bedroom apartment until our house is ready, and we are all adjusting as best we can. All things considered, the kids are doing very well, and as I spend more time with them then anyone these days, I feel quite qualified to judge that.
That said, I understand that people don’t know us or our situation, and just react how they react. But I think it took a lot of nerve for this guy at the library to call me out as a parent because my kid threw a tantrum. It happens. He’s three. We left. Get over it, dude. I’m supposed to not take them anywhere because he’s three?
Maybe I should have let it go, but I couldn’t let this guy badmouth my kid right in front of me. I know how irritating it can be to hear a kid scream (trust me, I know), especially in a quiet place like a library, which is why we left immediately. I could see if we were letting it go on and on and not doing anything about it. The kid went off-we left. End of problem.
So, the moral of the story is that I might be in Hawaii, but there’s plenty of Jersey in me. I may not be the world’s best dad, but I won’t accept the judgment of that dude.
After all, that same boy, later that same evening, participated in the following exchange with me during bath time. We were talking about turtles, and I’ve been trying to teach them some words in Hawaiian, including Honu, which is Hawaiian for turtle. His sister has really embraced it, but he’s been less interested in Hawaiian words, except for Ohana.
Me: “So, Boyo, how do you say ‘turtle’ in Hawaiian?”
He thought for a moment and says, matter of factly:
“Turtle in Hawaiian.”
And then he smirked. He knew it was funny. He is definitely my kid.
And right or wrong, I’m always going to stand up for them.
On the anniversary of the death of Philadelphia legend Harry Kalas, please enjoy this free sample of my recent book release,The Best of Aloha Kugs,which is available right HERE!