Monday, November 28, 2016

That Smile


A few months ago, I had the most amazing moment of my life.

I saw our baby move.

Yep…

WE ARE HAVING A BABY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wow…We are having a baby.

While holding Emma’s hand during the ultrasound at the hospital...we witnessed our child move for the first time.

Seeing that little figure squirm around the black and white screen made the thought of becoming a parent so incredibly real.  And as I stood there in a blissful wonder, a wave of emotion hit me like I’d never felt before in my life.  It was an amazing moment.

And then I looked at my beautiful wife. 

And the smile that she had on her face while gazing at the screen was one of those rare moments in life that you know you’ll remember forever.  It was mom meeting her baby for the first time…an introduction to a beautiful journey they would take together over the next several months.

She deserves that smile more than anybody that I know, and I fell more in love with her in that moment than I ever thought was possible.

In my moment of bliss, the second I saw that glowing smile I became instantly more contented.  My joy was in witnessing her insatiable happiness, and I was grateful to share in that moment with my soulmate.
   
After a few minutes of being in awe, it sank in that we were finally starting a family.  And another wave of exhilaration swept through my body knowing that my child was going to have Emma as a mom.

I can’t wait to see her in that role.  She is going to knock it out of the park.  Like, Grand Slam out of the park.

And how do I know?

I know because I am able to see the goodness inside of her every day.  I see a strong, independent woman who is so incredibly talented, driven, and kind.  I see a person who cares so deeply about others.  I see an incredible role model for our future child.  And although her genetics don’t exactly help this future child in the height department, he or she will hopefully be blessed with their mother’s will and determination.

Her smarts. Her courage.  Her strength.  Her gratefulness.  Her beauty inside and out.

And that breathtaking, wonderful smile.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

French Toast & Family


Imagine your mentally unstable (and alcoholic) mother trying to throw you out of a moving truck when you were a child.

Imagine the police knocking on your front door with news that your incredibly successful, but abusive (and alcoholic) father committed suicide.

After all that…Imagine your uncles, the day after your dad kills himself, scamming you out of your entire inheritance.  You are left without parents or family support of any kind.  You are left with nothing.

Nothing.

Well, my Grandma didn’t imagine these experiences.  She lived them.

But despite the horror of her childhood, she has gone on to live one of the most beautiful lives I have ever seen.

It is a fascinating story full of love, family, and community.

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I may be the luckiest guy in the world.  I am 31 years old (yikes!), and I still have all four of my grandparents.  I doubt there are many on this Earth that can say the same. 

I cherish the time we are able to spend together.  And with Grandma and Grandpa Scott, us grandkids have a tradition to always stop in for breakfast when we are in town.  It’s a tradition that started in our childhood and brings back so many great memories.

Mmmm…We can’t get enough of Grandma Scott’s Famous French Toast.  And although my stomach always hurts from the amount of food I eat, it’s not the food that I cherish. 

It’s my life’s education. 

It’s the shared stories, the discussion of morals and values, and the strength of our family bond that continues to grow at that little breakfast table.  I’ve learned more about the person I want to be at that breakfast table than anywhere else in the world.

I’ve learned that material things don’t create happiness, connection does.  My Grandma grew up in a life of material luxury, but you read how that turned out.  They had a lot of stuff, but their home lacked a sense of love and understanding that families desire.  When she met my Grandpa, they started with nothing.  They still don’t have much, but they have each other.  I see the way they look at each other, and the way they are still totally smitten after almost 60 years of marriage.  They are the happiest, most in love people I’ve ever met.  It’s incredible for us to see.

I’ve learned that life is hard.  Life isn’t always fair.  In fact, it hardly ever is.  Nobody should have to endure what my Grandma did when she was a kid.  But instead of dwelling on what happened to her, she learned from it.  She can’t understand the “Poor Me” people.  Bad things happen to everyone at some point in their lives, often unjustly.  But she has taught us to stare adversity in the eye and use those events as learning experiences.  Her childhood didn’t make her weak and fragile.  It made her compassionate and strong.
  
I’ve learned to never give up and to fight for what you believe in.  My Grandma wanted nothing to do with my Grandpa when they first met at a dance hall in Chicago.  In her words…He was a drinker, had two left feet, and to top it off…he was a red-head (gasp!).  But Grandpa saw something special in her, and wouldn’t take no for an answer.  So this tough Air Force Cadet from a rough neighborhood in Chicago enrolled in dance lessons to impress a girl.  He showed her how much he cared about her, something nobody in her life had ever done.  He fought for her.  And the rest is history.

I’ve learned the meaning of hard work.  My grandparents often worked multiple jobs to support their family.  They share stories of long nights and odd jobs just to make ends meet.  They scraped together everything they could to make sure they had a roof over their heads and food on the table.  Often, they were left with only a few extra cents for leisure once the bills were paid.  It was thankless and often grueling, but they did everything they could to support the people they loved.

I’ve learned the TRUE meaning of successful.  When I hear my grandparents gush about their kids and grandkids, it’s never about their accomplishments or titles.  It’s about the people they’ve become.  The charities they have helped.  The people they have moved.  The values they have lived.  All grandparents brag about their kids and grandkids.  Mine brag about the right things. 

I’ve learned that anything worthwhile in life is EARNED.  My grandparents made my dad work to pay for his hockey (partly because they couldn’t afford it, partly for the life lesson).  He earned the right to be able to play the game that he loved.  And because he had to earn it, he developed an unbelievable passion for the game.  I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for that passion.  Thanks, Dad. 

I’ve learned the value of discipline.  We talk about how my dad and his siblings were (gasp!) spanked.  I was (OH MY GOD!) spanked too.  And I deserved it.  I learned why it is important to discipline your children.  I was spanked when I was dishonest, selfish, or showed a lack of respect.  And today…Honesty, Loyalty, and Respect are three of the values that I cherish the most.

I’ve learned that showing up matters.  My grandparents were always there for all nine of their grandkids’ events.  From hockey rinks, to gymnastics meets, to…more hockey rinks… they were always there.  They didn’t just say “I love you” and “I care about you”.  They proved it.  And it meant the world to us.

I’ve learned the value of seeing the good in everybody.  When my Grandma talks about her father, she doesn’t allow herself to remember the bad.  She thinks about his laugh and joyfulness when he was sober, and the comfort of his big belly when they would snuggle together in her younger years.  She still calls herself a “Daddy’s Girl”.  Of all the pain that he caused, I honestly can’t believe how she does it.  But I think it’s amazing.

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Let’s face reality: We live in a world where the simple things like having a meal with those we love has gone by the wayside.  I fear that we have forgotten the value of these precious experiences. 

Instead of learning our values from the stories of our elders, we educate ourselves through the many “experts” on the internet.  Our sense of belonging and community comes through a phone or computer, rather than the deep connection with those who (actually) care about us.  

But I’ll be damn sure that I don’t miss a breakfast at 36 Crestview Terrace every chance I get.  The french toast is LEGENDARY, but not as much as the stories told and lessons learned at that little wooden breakfast table.

I am proud of the person that I have become, and I am who I am because of where I came from.  I’ll never forget that. 

And I’ll never forget my life’s education eating French Toast Breakfasts with Grandma and Grandpa Scott.       

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Being Special




I have witnessed a lot of special in my life. 

As a hockey player, I have been fortunate to skate with Hall of Famers and play on teams with future NHL Stars.  As a coach and recruiter, I can remember sitting in freezing cold rinks watching Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews play when they were 15 years old. 

*For all of my non-hockey friends, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews were the #1 overall picks in the last two NHL Drafts*

Talk about witnessing special…Watching those two made the frostbite on my toes worth the price of admission!

But when I think of special – my first thoughts are not of Hall of Famers and rising stars.  I don’t think about world class skill and talent.  I think about my twin brothers, Max and Jake.  THEY are MY heroes.

Now I can imagine that many of you read the title to this blog and thought that I would write about what it takes to become a special athlete. 

Nope. 

I’m sure there are a million other posts that can tell you that.  What I want to write about is so much more.  SO. MUCH. MORE.

Today I want to write about my (amazing) connection with the special needs community, and how my brothers with special needs have made my life more fulfilling and made me a better man.


………….


Max and Jake were born with a genetic disorder called ‘Fragile X Syndrome’.  For men, it is a genetic condition that causes developmental problems like learning disabilities and cognitive impairment.

Through the years, I have seen a lot with Max and Jake.  I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I have met some INCREDIBLE people who have helped my brothers and my family more than they could ever know.  I have also witnessed some gut-wrenching lows that made me question the goals of humanity.  Anybody involved in the special needs community knows what I’m talking about, on both sides of the spectrum.

Here is an example of one of the gut-wrenching lows: 

It was one of the worst moments of my life, and it happened during a Christmas break home from Cornell.  Max slowly walked into my bedroom, balling his eyes out, and he asked me:

“Topher, what’s wrong with me? Something is wrong with me…”

Over the next few hours, he expressed that he’d been bullied so badly in school that he didn’t want to go back.  He couldn’t understand or comprehend how kids could be so incredibly mean.  Some of the things they said to him…it makes my stomach turn to this day.

I felt helpless.  I felt like there was nothing that I could do in that situation to help him feel any better.  What could I possibly say that could ease that kind of pain? And to SUCH A GREAT KID.

I remember asking myself, ‘Why in God’s name was I given all of these tremendous gifts and talents, yet something as terrible as this can happen to someone that I love – whose genetics came from the same two people that I came from?’

It wasn’t fair.

I would give it all back in a second if I knew that he wouldn’t have to experience that kind of pain ever again.  I wanted so badly to trade places with him.  And I can imagine that there are plenty of other siblings to people with special needs that have felt the same way.

But…

Just as we hurt when they hurt in the tough times, there is no greater feeling than watching them accomplish something and be truly proud of themselves. 

Like when Max graduated from his Arrowsmith Program in Vancouver (Look it up, it’s a fantastic place).  Or when he received A’s and B’s on his report card in his first year of community college.  With the cognitive challenges that he deals with on a daily basis, to me these accomplishments were nothing less than amazing.  

And with Jake, I think of when he was named an Assistant Captain of his JV Hockey team in high school.  Or when he graduated from his PACE Program in Chicago, and many of his classmates went out of their way to tell everyone what a great friend and mentor he had been.

The kid cares so much about the well-being of others, and wants so badly to make other people happy. If you know Jake, and you’ve heard his laugh…you know what I’m talking about.  He inspires me every day.


If the world had more hearts like Max and Jake’s, we wouldn’t be shaking our heads at the news every day.  We would be learning to live our lives with more love, acceptance, and understanding. 


And that’s a gift that all people with special needs possess. They make you feel more deeply.  They make you love more fully.  Through the highs and the lows, they allow you to flat out love and feel more than you ever thought was possible. 

There is a reason why my sister chose to become a Special Education teacher.  I love listening to her talk about the bravery, work ethic, and resiliency of her students.  I love hearing about the positive influence she hopes to make in their lives (and if you have seen her in the classroom, you realize quickly that she has a true gift for doing just that). 

There is a reason why I have chosen to devote a lot of my time to raising money and awareness for the special needs community.  One of the things I used to love doing as a coach was taking our players to a school for individuals with special needs, the Franziska Racker Centers.  They always loved goofing around and playing with the kids, but the conversations after the visit were always very special for me.


The players never mentioned anything about the positive effect they felt they had on the kids.  But they always spoke about the positive effect that the kids had on them. 


Those of us that have been touched by the special needs community know this sentiment so unbelievably well.  But it is heartwarming to see other people begin to appreciate – judgement free – the gifts that lie within these individuals with special needs.

We recognize what a blessing it is to have these brave and courageous people in our lives.  My hope is that one day we can all come to this understanding, and really help these incredible people feel like they belong. 

Because that is what they want.  They want people to accept them for who they are.  They want people to understand what they are going through.  They want to love and be loved. And they want to belong to something they feel is greater than themselves.


Don’t we all?