At the time of your first child's arrival, it is easy to become awed by the miracle of birth, the concept of life, the existence of our planet and the infinite possibilities of the universe. Whether you have additional children or not, over the course of time, "the seen that...done that mentality," infiltrates our psyche and the fantastic process of the stork's delivery system fades, becomes less important and even worse...taken for granted.
I am guilty of this failing but with the aid of great memories, photos, ancient VHS tapes and having Andrew around every day, my appreciation of the endowed blessing that he represents, is never too far away. Then if I need a kick in the ass to remember what he means to me, a special event or another of his incredible accomplishments crop up.
These days, I look up at Andrew with esteemed admiration as he handles his latest whirlwind of accomplishments. More importantly, I look behind him and see that the trail he blazes, is not only for himself but for others, inspired by his intelligence, sensitivity and leadership. I am certain, they gravitate to him because of his charismatic good nature, sense of fair play, humor and earthy seriousness. These traits encourage others to aspire to higher levels of personal growth and to pursue greater self awareness and improvement.
One of the side benefits of birthday celebrations is, we reflect on that person's history. Some birthdays have a greater implied weight because of its number and to me, Andrew's eighteenth is a major milestone. He is now a man, eligible to vote, serve his country in the military or even work in a New Jersey casino, (let's try not thinking of the latter two). While manhood opens up a whole new world of opportunities, (he'll be starting college in six months), it also serves as an exclamation point to close his childhood as well as marking the end of organized birthday parties, (by parents).
At Andrew's first birthday party, I proposed a toast. I raised my cup of Diet Pepsi and said, "Here's to Andrew." Then I paused and said to the crowd, "There's nothing better than babies."
|FEBRUARY - 1995. WITH THE HELP OF A KNOCK-OFF BIG BIRD COSTUME PROVIDED BY HUIED, KURUDAVE ENTERTAINED THE MASSES.|
Our early kiddie parties for Andrew included, clowns, magicians and singers. We had them at the Children's Museum, Tunnels of Fun, Diane's Tot Spot, the bumper bowling alley and McDonald's.
The festivities became more sophisticated as he got older. His Bar Mitzvah in 2007 was obviously the pinnacle of those events. But his roller rink party and surprise fourteenth birthday party were special to him too.
|LUCKILY, SECURITY APPREHENDED AND KICKED-OUT THIS UNDERAGE GATE CRASHER AT ANDREW'S SURPRISE FOURTEENTH PARTY.|
In celebration of all things Andrew, I choose to digress to a nearly infamous party and honor someone other than the birthday boy.
Andrew's fourth grade birthday seems to be easily overlooked but it has left an indelible mark on me and one of...if not both of the principle characters. The parents of one of his friends, invited him to an indoor pool party at a high school, a few communities away. The party was such a success that my wife Sue put heads together with another mom and had a joint birthday extravaganza for Andrew and Joey, (the other kid), there.
The mom's split the cost of the package that included, up to sixty attendees, two lifeguards, a swimming safety lesson and the use of a party room. Both boys had mutual friends from the neighborhood, school and scouts so it felt like one gigantic party...but the highlight of the day had nothing to do with an invited guest.
About forty kids, (mostly around nine years old), changed into their swimwear and met with one of the lifeguards. The guard led a fifteen minute briefing on safety policies, do's and don'ts, diving restrictions and emergency procedures. The lecture was just about over when a late arriving straggler entered the pool area...unescorted by a parent.
The two host families knew all the kids from the class, so this girl was welcomed in and encouraged to listen to the lifeguard. The girl was famous in their class for two distinct reasons. One, at a time when the average kid carried no money or at best a buck or two, she regularly flaunted big money, (over fifty dollars), around at school. The other thing was, she was foreign and attended the English as a Second Language (ESL) Program. We had no idea that she had zero command of English and couldn't understand much either.
During the party, I took a dip in the pool and horsed around with the kids.
|ANDREW AND I BOTH GOT THE, LOVE FOR SWIMMING GENE, FROM MY DAD. THAT'S THE SEA-BREEZE MOTEL, ON ROUTE-40 IN WEST ATLANTIC CITY. IT WAS FAMILY ORIENTED IN 1967 BUT NOW, IT'S A HAVEN FOR CRACK WHORES.|
At Andrew and Joey's party, I was in the shallow end, splashing around with Bill, (an invitee's dad), when we encouraged Tony, (the other birthday boy's father to join us). In street clothes, he said he wasn't big on swimming. Tony also made some other lame excuses but we guessed that he wanted to save face and not admit that he forgot to bring a swimsuit.
A shrill whistle echoed through the pavilion. Everyone stopped for a second as one of the lifeguards caught a kid running. That boy was penalized and was not allowed in the water for five minutes. At the same time, Bill, Tony and I focused on the deep end where four girls were holding up the diving board line.
It seemed three of them were loudly shaming the one having second thoughts about taking the big plunge. Finally, the scaredy-cat got the attention she craved and routinely jumped in. She disappeared underwater for a few seconds before bobbing back to the surface and swimming to the sanctuary of the water's edge. In an almost identical manner, she was followed by a black-haired girl. Next, to the satisfaction of the onlookers, the blond did a colossal cannonball and backstroked to the exit ladder.
When the area was clear, the last girl...the foreigner who arrived late...casually walked to the end of the board and jumped in. She disappeared for a few seconds underwater...but DID NOT bob back up to the surface. Before I could even process the information and call a distress signal out, Tony took off along the side, towards the diving section. Both lifeguards reacted to his running and before they realized what he was doing, Tony dove in fully clothed and brought the girl to surface. The lifeguards followed, took over and got her out of the pool. She was given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation before anyone else moved a muscle. Although the girl was still a little pale by the time we were in the party room, she was thankfully fine.
That foreign girl moved away about a year later, so I don't know whatever became of her. But I do know her irresponsible parents(?), who dropped her off alone, at a swimming party, knowing she couldn't swim or speak/understand English, never acknowledged Tony's deed.
Yes, birthdays help us conjure up thoughts of the miracle of birth, respect for the blessing of life, the beauty of our planet and the endless possibilities beyond the farthest stars. That's why I salute and appreciate Tony especially because the right people didn't or couldn't figure out how to express it.
As for my birthday boy, I marvel at the perception that somehow, he sifted through and took on the best qualities of his mom and dad while adding a few of his own. Now as I look at him and his Renaissance Man credentials, I see him in the future, excelling in countless varieties of greatness and continuing to inspire others to have a positive impact on society. Then when the time is right, I have confidence that my main MAN will have his own family and his scions will continue to forge even better versions of him.