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Posts Tagged ‘children’

Recently I was shopping at South Shore Plaza and decided to visit the restroom to take a peek in the mirror and check out how I looked. Hey, even mature guys like me must look presentable when cruising the mall. Of course, none of the young ladies that I’m hoping to impress are interested in checking out the guys with graying temples, shapeless butts and sagging jowls anyway.

As I was leaving the restroom an older gentleman who was standing nearby, grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser, smiled and asked how I was doing.

Now believe me, the last thing I want to do when I’m in a mall restroom is converse with a stranger, particularly when he’s smiling and flashing his pearly whites. Call me old fashioned but there are certain rules that must be adhered to while using a public restroom and smiling and chatting are gestures almost universally frowned upon. In fairness to my would be conversationalist, it was a warm smile and certainly not threatening in any manner.

The man smiled and said “think hard” and so I did as he suggested. My mind raced as I searched for the identity of this stranger because the more I scrutinized the man’s face the more familiar he looked. Since I had spent most of my life in Charlestown, and had relatively few acquaintances in the vicinity of the Plaza I assumed the man was from my old neighborhood.

However, earlier in my career I had worked as a jail guard and often encountered former prisoners on the street. Consequently, I always exercise extreme caution when “bumping” into strangers who recognize me. Not knowing what to say and trying to buy time, I blurted out “Charlestown” and the stranger smiled saying “that’s right, Charlestown, its Mr. Avery”.

No sooner had the words left the man’s mouth then my thoughts drifted back over thirty years earlier to Charlestown High and the life altering advice that our guidance counselor, Mr. Avery had offered during a personally challenging time. Seventeen years old, hopelessly in lust with a young lady from one of my classrooms and wondering where life would take me following graduation.

Sure I had signed up for the draft but I didn’t really want to go to Vietnam because several of my neighbors had shipped out and returned home in body bags to grieving friends and family members. Hell, I had barely left the confines of the Bunker Hill housing projects and rarely ventured beyond Charlestown never mind fight in a war light years away from home.

No one in my family had ever attended college or even contemplated doing so leading me to believe that I was destined to follow their lead. Given my personal circumstances there was no reason for me to even remotely consider the possibility of furthering my education. Then my friends and I were having way too much fun hanging on “Dope Corner”, drinking in the project hallways and running away from the cops whenever the neighbors “ratted” us out.

I figured I could always find a decent job and make a respectable living if push came to shove. I just wasn’t in any great rush to be shoved.

I remembered how Mr. Avery and I had discussed personal issues and talked about my going to college and leaving welfare and the projects behind. Years later, my mother would often remind me of how proud she was that I had graduated from college, earned a Master’s and became the first member of her family to obtain a driver’s license and own a home.

A guidance counselor’s charge is to help students to raise their self esteem, gravitate toward their goals and discuss and by extension reduce unpleasant feelings associated with their problems. Guidance counselors, or at least the good ones are supposed to help us labor through those awkward teenage years.

Guidance counselors play an integral role in the success of the students and in their interactions with teachers, classmates and parents as they wend their way through seemingly endless school years en route to adulthood. Mr. Avery was an incredibly concerned and compassionate counselor and all the kids had great respect and admiration for him.

Mr. Avery and I left the restroom and he introduced me to his wife whom he met when they were in the seventh grade. We talked about my family and job and discussed the whereabouts of several of my former classmates including those long deceased or serving lengthy prison sentences.

I told Mrs. Avery how her husband had influenced my life greatly and how much I appreciated his help and guidance. Mr. Avery and I shook hands and parted company knowing that we might never meet again. I thanked my friend for remembering me so many years later and for breaking the rules about smiling in the men’s room and for taking the time to stop and talk with me.

Unfortunately, Mr. Avery couldn’t save all of us but that never stopped him from trying. I know that my classmates echo my sentiments and appreciation for his dedication to an often thankless job and for guiding us when we needed help the most

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What Christmas is all about. Helping one another

David Flanagan

As the holiday season approaches I thought of sharing the following piece. I wrote the story about twenty years ago when my kids (and I) were much younger. I decided to leave it unchanged from the original despite editorial changes I would make now if rewriting the story.

The story appeared in various local newspapers on the editorial page and I think my angst over being able to provide for my children as a parent then is perhaps even more true for many now given the current economic climate.

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Over the past few months, we’ve been continuously bombarded by an endless flow of advertisements from merchants heralding the arrival of the holiday season and announcing the availability of their products.

Of all the merchants hawking their wares and urging us to spend our hard earned dollars, perhaps none are as persistent or potentially influential as those who represent the toy and games industry. Television commercials, full-page newspaper ads and glitzy flyers all implore us to do one thing-run out to the nearest mall ASAP and pick up as many items as possible in time for Christmas.

Have I been affected by their pleas? Of course, toys and games are loads of fun, and after all don’t I have two kids at home who are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Santa? Let’s face it, the advertisements have worked or shall I say the arm twisting has been extremely effective. I mean, what type of father would I be if I didn’t do everything in my power to make sure that the kids are amply rewarded with as many toys and games as possible? Talk about guilt feelings!

So recently I found myself at the Independence Mall among hundreds of other parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other would-be Santas joined in the quest for the ideal gifts. As I wandered down aisle after aisle of bikes, games, dolls, Playstations and stuffed animals I found myself simultaneously awed and disheartened over the exorbitant cost of toys today.

Forty dollars for a not-so-cute doll, fifty bucks for a Legends of Wrestling videogame, $130 for My Size Barbie as Rapunzel and $250 for the Star Wars 25th anniversary LEGO Imperial Star Destroyer.

As my journey continued I experienced tremendous feelings of ambivalence toward the holiday season. On the one hand I was thrilled at the thought of being able to purchase gifts for the kids and witnessing the pleasure that such items would surely bring. Conversely, I felt great concern and guilt over whether I would truly be able to afford enough gifts to ensure such pleasure.

At the same time, I began thinking about other parents who, as a result of the current economic climate, may not have the wherewithal to feed, clothe or house their children, never mind smother them with gifts. What does a single mother tell her child on Christmas morning when the boy rushes over to their tree and finds that there’s nothing beneath it?

How does an unemployed father answer a child who asks, as tears well up in her beautiful blue eyes, what has she done that was so wrong, so terrible that it could cause Santa to abandon her this Christmas? What crosses a little boy’s mind when he visits his friend’s house and notices a mountain of toys and games heaped beneath the tree?

While thinking about these questions I found myself drifting back to my own childhood and recalling Christmases past: the annual Christmas Eve ritual of leaving out hot cocoa and cookies for Santa and carrots for his reindeer, my sister and I opening our gifts and the family gatherings at Nana’s home in Dorchester.

How wonderful those Christmases were and how fortunate I am to have such pleasant, enduring memories of them. Yet, while my Christmas memories are indeed positive ones, there were several that may not have been quite so enjoyable had it not been for the generosity and compassion of various charitable organizations and their contributors. Charities and Good Samaritans that come to mind include the men and women who threw the annual Christmas party in the Charlestown Navy Yard, Globe Santa in Boston, Scituate Community Christmas, the Kennedy Center and Townie Santa, and the Salvation Army among others.

Unless you have been fortunate to have received assistance from one of the many charitable organizations that exist I’m not sure that you can ever really appreciate how wonderful a service they provide to their recipients. Such organizations and the volunteers who support them truly embody the spirit of Christmas and can make a profound difference in the lives of those dependent upon them.

Think about it-total strangers coming together, giving of their time, money and energy to help make life a bit more bearable for people whom they may never meet. That to me is truly what Christmas is all about.

Has Christmas become too commercialized and focused on material pleasures and the temporary satisfaction that showering one another with gifts during the holidays brings? Yes, of course it has and in reality there is so much more to Christmas and the holiday season such as getting together with family and friends and celebrating how much we mean to one another. It also means reaching out to help someone in need and trying to bring a smile of joy to those we encounter in all that we do.

Like most parents I have always tried to instill within my children the same strong values of honesty, compassion, hard work that my mother provided to me by way of example.

However, my point here is that when your kids are young you simply have to try to find the right balance of making their wishes for material things come true until such time as they’re mature enough to realize there is so much more to Christmas morning than finding a pile of gifts beneath the tree. Sure, many never mature to the point where they acknowledge that there is more to life than just self satisfaction but that is a story for another day.

A neighbor informed me that she doesn’t support Christmas only-oriented charitable organizations since she believes it is inappropriate to focus on helping kids one day a year while ignoring their plight for the other 364 days. I can understand the point that my friend is trying to make; however I totally disagree with her. Yes, of course we should try to help one another each and every day of the year. Unfortunately, however, there’s really no way that we’ll ever be able to fully eradicate the poverty, hunger and hatred confronting mankind, nor ease the pain and suffering that people, particularly our children, are experiencing with an ever-growing frequency.

The least that we can do is to try to brighten up their day and bring a smile to their face around the holidays when they might otherwise be forgotten.

To those who can afford to put a little bit of money or time aside I would ask that you consider making a contribution to one of the many Christmas charitable organizations that work tirelessly to ensure that no one is forgotten during the holiday season. I can assure you that your compassion and consideration will be appreciated and never, ever forgotten.

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One recent Sunday morning I found myself sitting alone in the center of the finished part of our basement otherwise referred to as the “kids” side. David and Evan were upstairs doing who knows what. David, ten and eight year-old brother Evan must have declared an armistice because that morning it was so quiet in our house it was downright scary.

Like the proverbial calm before the storm, the silence of these lambs could only portend ill will for dear old dad. The war and pestilence that threatens to consume our world will surely fall by the wayside long before those two find out how to get along.

Come to think of it, if David and Evan are that quiet, what am I doing sitting here in the cellar. Maybe I should run upstairs and check on things, for surely they must be up to something. Better to be safe than sorry I suppose. Wait a minute, is it my imagination or is that the smell of wood burning, the sound of glass breaking, and the wail of sirens growing ever closer.

Oh, well, since neither of the boys is screaming bloody murder and it’s been well over an hour since the last body slam was executed, perhaps I should leave well enough alone. Besides, now is as good a time as any to sort through the mass of toys and games that surround me and try to figure out what to do with the ones that have long since outlived their usefulness.

It is highly unusual for me to have the “kids” side of the cellar to myself because the boys have fiercely protected their turf since we moved into our home a few years back.  Today, I have infiltrated the enemy encampment and must act expeditiously to carry out this critical mission before my foes discover that security has been breached. Armed with only a handful of plastic trash bags I set out to sift my way through the rubble.

Throwing things away has always posed an extraordinary challenge for me, a self-avowed pack rat suffering from a multigenerational inability to part with things great or small, new or broken, necessary or needless. So there I was on an exceptional Sunday morning, surrounded by videogames, Legos, books and magazines, board games, rubber action figures lying face down in the most unnatural of positions and limp and lifeless stuffed animals. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure I thought, and who really knows whether those stuffed animals or broken games will one day become collector’s items.

Where have the years gone I thought looking around and picking up toy after toy each with its own remarkable story to tell? Oh, if only Floppy the rabbit could tell me about the secrets whispered to him by David and the conversations that only the two of them shared over the years.

The battered old baseball that Evan forever bounced off our tired cellar walls which cracked just a tiny bit more as his arms grew stronger and his throws increasingly more accurate and powerful. Flipping through the yellowed pages of Good Night Moon I drifted back to those many evenings when I would tuck the boys snugly under their covers and read that enduring, wonderful classic and countless others over and over. “Daddy read the story again”, David or Evan would plead and I would do so until they could no longer keep their tiny eyes from closing.

Drifting back I thought about the many nights that I would look at David and Evan lying in their beds so peaceful, warm and safe and wonder how I will feel one day when they are no longer ensconced within our home under my watchful eyes. What thoughts will race through my mind once they are teenagers and late coming home from a party or not coming home at all?

How about the hundreds of checker games, board games and fish that I played with the boys letting them win over and over again because I couldn’t bear to see the tears and frustration over not being able to beat their old man. Now I have all that I can do to beat David and Evan at anything, particularly games requiring dexterity and speed such as the videogames that we sometimes play and I always lose. What about the thousands of throws that Evan and I have exchanged over the years in preparation for his eventual career in professional baseball.

I sat there thinking about how one day I would again reign supreme over the “kids” side of the basement. King once again of the cellar, master of all I survey. Never again to be relegated to lifting weights alongside the washer, the dryer or Hewby’s litter box. But my victory would be a hollow triumph and one that would come with great anguish. One day, the cellar will indeed fall silent, but it will be an eerie silence that begs for the days when David and Evan, my babies were living under our roof.

Clutching Floppy, gently stroking his aging fur and giving him a kiss I felt tears welling up in my eyes and sensed the underlying feelings of helplessness in knowing that we are all losing the battle against time. Thoughts of watching my sons grow up to be men and going off to follow their dreams, wherever they may take them.

Sooner than I can bear to imagine David and Evan will be off to college, perhaps married, maybe even living out of town or even worse out of country. No longer would I have the pleasure of telling the boys to turn down the TV, the delight in hearing their laughter and the joy of wiping the cookie crumbs from their face. Standing up, putting the bags aside I decided that perhaps today was not such a good day to clean out the cellar, the finished side, the “kids” side.

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