Never Forget

Thirteen years ago today, I was a first-year student at the University of Virginia. Most mornings, I ate too many waffles at the dining hall. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I decided to go to the gym. I walked in, sat on a stationary bike, and nerded out by reading a book about JFK. I looked up at one of the TVs in the gym. They weren’t flat in those days. They also weren’t HD. I saw a bunch of smoke and the frantic faces of terrified people on the television screen. I assumed there had been a bombing in the Middle East. It was not Israel or Jordan. It was New York City.

I watched as the reporters on television spoke of an airplane crash and a tragic accident. I watched as flames smoldered near the top of the first tower and smoke began to fill the sky. As I watched, I saw a second plane rocket across the screen and smash into the second tower. As I sat on a stationary bike, I watched hundreds of people die on live television. It felt like I was watching a movie. Everyone in the gym stopped what they were doing. The world changed. We were under attack. I wondered whether Charlottesville could be a target. I was afraid that my family and friends in the Virginia Beach area were in danger because of all the military facilities down there. No one in the gym checked their emails, text messages, or Facebook accounts. Smartphones and social media didn’t exist. We stood there and watched. Together.

There were frantic reports of bombings, fires, and other missing planes. People could be seen jumping from the tops of the towers. I had never witnessed such raw fear and desperation and I hope I never will again. As we continued to watch in an eerie silence, one of the towers collapsed. In the comfort of an air-conditioned gym hundreds of miles away, we watched thousands of people die. Shortly thereafter, it happened again. There were massive clouds of ash on television. Underneath it were mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters.

Every 9/11, I watch the videos again. I watch the planes crash into the buildings. I watch the towers fall. I watch people jump to their deaths. The news reports look so old these days, but it still hurts. I try to imagine the fear of the people on those planes and in those buildings, but I can’t do it. I can’t even begin to understand the horror. I’m left feeling both sorrow and gratitude that I’ve never had to choose between being burned to death or jumping from a 100-story window.

Most of all, I’m left feeling confused. I don’t understand why someone could do something so horrific. I don’t understand why someone would kill thousands of people just because they are different. I don’t understand why after thirteen years, trillions of dollars, and thousands of additional lives lost at war, there are even crazier terrorists who want to see Americans die. I don’t understand how we can stress about traffic, bad Wi-Fi connections, and a waiter who takes too long to bring us menus when we all share the common experience of watching thousands of people die a horrifying death simply because they were Americans.

I stayed at the gym for three hours that day. It feels like yesterday. I will never forget. I will never forget to take life for granted.

Reminders

After a year of consistent blogging, I’ve fallen off the wagon in recent months.

Here’s the reason why:

Well, actually, here’s the reasons why:

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Those kids are the greatest blessings in my life. I love them so much. However, along with all the incredible joys, there are many challenges. The kids have decided that sleep is overrated and they usually cry a combined ten times a night. That means that the carpet between our bedroom and the nursery is well-worn and that my wife and I are really tired. All the time. I’ve also been struggling with the work/life balance in recent weeks. It’s hard to see my kids for only a few minutes at night. To even make that happen, I usually have to rush home to make it back before bedtime and then I work late at night. In light of all that, stuff like blogging, exercise, and basic hygiene have fallen by the wayside.

So even though the kids have made life a little more challenging, tiring, and complicated, they bring me infinite and indescribable joy.

They also remind me to be thankful and to never give up hope.

Three years ago, our marriage was a hot mess. We talked about divorce. It makes me so sad to admit this, but I researched Virginia’s divorce laws. Amanda spent a lot of nights in our guest bedroom.

Three years later, that bedroom is now inhabited by two demanding long-term guests who don’t even pay rent: our kids.

Three years later, our marriage has never been stronger.

Three years later, I’m so thankful for such an incredible wife. I’m so thankful for such wonderful kids. I’m so thankful for God’s infinite grace.

I’m also thankful that throughout all of the stresses and worries of life, I have four beautiful and hilarious reminders who will never let me forget how much I’ve been blessed.

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See you tomorrow (or in two weeks).

All You Need is Love (and a Webcam)

Hi.

It’s been a long time.

As I rode the Metro to work two weeks ago, I jotted down a list of all the blog posts I wanted to write over the next ten days.

How many did I write?

Zero.

Why?

Because the last two weeks have been really hard.

No, not “deployed overseas and fighting in a war” or “suffering from a chronic illness” kind of hard, but a challenge nonetheless.

I’ve been working an insane amount. I’m tired. I miss seeing my family. The kids have also decided that sleeping for more than an hour straight at night is boring. Austin woke up 11 times between 8pm and 7am on Wednesday night. Finally, after nearly five glorious months of kicking it with our kids each day, Amanda went back to work.

All You Need is Love (and a Webcam)

It had been quite the emotional buildup leading up to that moment. She wanted to go back to work, and interact with human beings who don’t pee on themselves all day, but she also wanted to stay home with the kids. As the “first day” creeped closer and closer, we both wanted to quit our jobs, scoop up our kids, hug them, and then never leave the house for the next eighteen years.

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As millions of parents have experienced, it is really hard to leave your kids with someone else and go back to work. We questioned whether we were making the right decision. We then questioned it again and again and again.

We spent countless hours trying to figure out childcare options. That’s always a really tough and anxiety-filled decision to make. Well, it’s an even more complicated issue with twins. Day care for two is all kinds of expensive in the DC area. Some places hit four figures. A week. We looked into stay-at-home daycares and nanny shares. Those options are more “reasonable,” but no one was willing to accept two infants. Plus, as a teacher, Amanda has off for approximately three months a year. A lot of daycare options would still make us pay for those months she wasn’t working. That’s a clown policy, bro.

We finally found a lady who would come to our house and watch the kids each day. I refuse to use the word “nanny” because it is way too pretentious for a thug like me. She’d charge less than the ratchet daycare down the street, the kids could stay at home (less sicknesses for them and “more” sleep for us), and she was a mother of twins so we believed she could handle our dynamic duo.

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Despite feeling relatively good about the whole situation, we were still devastated by the idea of leaving our beloved kids with someone else. We finally had our breakdown moment around 11pm the night before Amanda went back to work. Surprisingly, I lost it first. I was folding laundry and came across some “old” onesies that the kids have outgrown. I quickly and begrudingly realized how quickly these priceless memories are passing. I tried to compose myself as I went downstairs. That lasted for about four seconds.

We cried.

And then we started cleaning again, because, wow, it was midnight, the non-nanny would be here in eight hours, and our house looked like a hurricane blew through the joint.

The next morning, both of us went to work. There is nothing in this world we love more than those kids. We left them behind.

But again, we felt pretty good about our non-nanny? Everything would be okay, right?

Wrong.

We had to fire her on the third day.

She forgot that we have a webcam in our house.

This story is not something I celebrate or am proud of, but it is an important lesson for parents. Get a camera in your house if at all possible and do whatever it takes to make sure your kids are healthy and happy.

So what happened during those three days with the non-nanny?

Nothing.

She ignored the kids, left the house with them sleeping in their cribs, and spent most of the day on her cellphone and watching TV. Of course, the daily reports she gave us talked about all the great activities they did. False.

We had some suspicions on the second day, so we watched the webcam the entire time on Day 3. It was both heartbreaking and enraging to see someone ignore and neglect our precious angels. To see photos and videos of someone watching TV sprawled out on your couch as she ignored the cries of your babies six feet away is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. We literally had no idea what to do. After months of dreading, worrying, and stressing about leaving our kids with someone else, a lot of those worries had come to pass.

After lots of quick discussions, debates, and prayers, we decided to fire her. Immediately. Some issues can be corrected, but lying is unacceptable. It went down as well as anything awkward and painful like that ever could happen.

It was really sad to see how differently the kids acted during those three days. They are usually so spirited and animated, but during those three days, when they were ignored for much of the day, they were dull and lifeless. After only three days. At night, they went bananas, likely because they did not have any outlet for their energy all day. The first night, one of them woke up every ten minutes throughout the night. That made me sad.

Our dear friends, Paul and Eddie, volunteered to watch the kids the next two days after we fired the non-nanny. Seeing photos of them playing with the kids, hearing their silly stories, and watching how the kids’ temperaments were so much happier meant the world to us. My mom has been hanging with the kids this week and we’ve felt the exact same way. Paul is coming back next week and beyond to be our non-nanny. Thirteen years ago, we were walking around high school together. He was too Green Day to talk to a Backstreet Boy like me. Now, he’s watching our New Kids on the Block every single day. Life is funny.

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Okay, my rambling is almost done. There isn’t any real “point” to this post, but I just wanted to get all these random thoughts down on (electronic) paper. I also want to urge parents to get a webcam and express how thankful we are for friends and family who will help us out on short notice. Finally, I want to emphasize that love trumps everything. We’re the kind of people who avoid conflict at all costs. The last thing in this world we’d ever want to do is fire someone (or eat a Fig Newton). However, when it comes to these kids, we’ll do whatever it takes.

Okay, rambling over. Happy Friday!

Mission Accomplished

As I wrote about on Monday, I was pretty hyped for this week’s battle of the law firm bands event. This amazing musical throwdown is in its eleventh year, is hosted by Gifts for the Homeless, and has now raised more than a million dollars for the DC homeless community.

Well, it was a smashing success.

1. This year’s event raised more than $300,000 for the DC homeless. (fist pump)

2. Our band did such a great job. Yes, I’m biased, but we killed it. And by “we,” I mean everyone else in the group. I just showed up for a one-song cameo. The band performed Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis, and Lady Gaga’s “Applause.” Oh, and one more song…

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3. We did a sweet mashup of Queen’s “Under Pressure” and Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” (which are two very different songs that sound nothing alike). We were nervous it would sound muddled, that people wouldn’t get it, and that I’d pass out from wearing a gold trash bag. Thankfully, none of those things happened, but I may have pulled a hamstring due to some awkward white guy dance moves. Here’s the video:

4. Thanks to everyone who came out and who donated. It was a blast seeing so many friends jamming out there with us. Our firm raised $40,000 for this event, more than any other law firm in DC, and had SO many people there! Holla. I was so happy that Amanda was able to attend and that our kids and the babysitter all survived. However, the babysitter, a former teacher, said Madison was the most strong-willed child she had ever seen. That sounds about right.

5. Most importantly, has anyone seen my gold necklace? I threw it into the crowd during “Ice Ice Baby.” P. Diddy will be really mad when I tell him that I lost his $50,000 necklace.

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See you next year. Word to your mother.

Wonders

I’ve written a lot about parenting and family issues lately. It’s time to take a break from the personal stuff and get back to issues of global importance.

First up:

What is the greatest one-hit wonder of all time?

Great question. Thanks for asking. Here’s the answer:

Honorable Mention:

Vicki Sue Robinson – “Turn the Beat Around” – This song makes me wants to jump out of my seat and dance all night in the club.  Unfortunately, I’m a bad dancer and I’m too old and too married to dance all night in a club.

The Heights – “How Do You Talk to an Angel?”  AOL Instant Messenger?

Sinead O’Connor – “Nothing Compares 2 U” – This sorrowful ballad should be in the Top Ten, but a deep, intense, and powerful song like this one deserves to have the words in the title spelled out.  Is that 2 much 2 ask?

Okay.  Now on to the Top Ten.

10.  Marky Mark – “Good Vibrations” – As an awkward white kid growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, two guys gave me hope that anything was possible: Larry Bird, a seemingly non-athletic white guy, was one of the best three basketball players on the planet, and Marky Mark, a seemingly untalented white rapper, made one of the best rap songs ever.

“Vibrations good like Sunkist.”

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9.  Modern English – “Melt With You” – This song is so good that Amanda and I planned to do a ridiculous choreographed dance to it as the first dance at our wedding back in pre-YouTube 2005.  However, we were 22-year-olds planning our own wedding and we ran out of time.  Plus, some of the lyrics would have been an awkward way to kick off a wedding reception.

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8.  The Calling – “Wherever You Will Go” –  During my first year of college, I did three things: (1) eat waffles; (2) play Halo; and (3) listen to this song.

7.  Tag Team – “Whoomp! (There It is.)” This is an oft-forgotten song that, well, should never be forgotten. I remember a bunch of us singing this jam in gym class in elementary school. No one knew the words so it would be thirty seconds of awkward mumbles followed by a bunch of prepubescent kids yelling “Whoomp! There it is!” My only problem with this song is that the video is depressing: 1993 was a long time ago.

6.  Des’ree – “You Gotta Be” – I recorded this song on a cassette player while listening to Deliah one night back in the mid-1990s. I later listened to that tape all week during a basketball camp in 1996. It was my hype song. My roommate laughed. Then he stole all of my basketball jerseys. I still miss my Penny Hardaway jersey.

5.  O-Town – “All or Nothing” – A few months ago, I made a list of the best boy bands. O-Town was on that list. 98 Degrees was not. Hundreds of thousands of Nick Lachey fans sent me nasty emails. No offense to Nick and his frosted tips, but this song is the reason why O-Town was ranked higher. It’s a masterpiece.

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4.  Gary Glitter – “Rock and Roll Part II”This song has no words other than “heeeeeeeeey,” but I could still listen to it all day long. Even at 31 years old, I still go nuts when I’m at a UVA game and this (jock) jam is played. Confession: I sometimes play it when the kids are doing tummy time.

2002 (Surprisingly, UVA actually won this football game):

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3.  Macy Gray – “I Try” – While some of the songs on this list are cheesy, this one is a moving and powerful work of art. I love it. I also love the fact that Macy Gray and her unorthodox voice and style became a star. 15 years after this song was released, I still sing it all the time (usually when I buy a pack of Double Stuf Oreos after swearing to give them up).

2.  Vanilla Ice – “Ice Ice Baby” – In Exodus, God, in burning bush form, tells Moses to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. We do the same in our house when this song is played.

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1.  Francis Scott Key – “The Star-Spangled Banner” – This song is awkward, I don’t know what “spangled” or “ramparts” mean, but America is cool and this is our jam.

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Bye.

Tears, Fears, and Tantrums

Babies.

They can’t talk, they can’t feed themselves, they can’t walk, and they can’t take out the trash (yet).

But babies do have the power to bring a person to his or her knees in tears, whether it is due to a stunning smile or a relentless tantrum.

Hi. There have been a lot of tears in our house this week.

My dear Madison, our fearless leader, our brilliant and beautiful baby girl, our “change my diaper right NOW” diva, has been embracing the “Mad” part of her name over the past week. She had a little attitude during her time in the womb and she’s continued to rock it since the day she was born:

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Madison has been reminding us that she’s in charge lately. So much that we were pretty certain we’d get kicked out of our hotel last week. While Austin’s cries are pitiful, Madison’s cries are, well, full of “spunk.” Lately, when she gets hungry or tired, instead of just eating or falling asleep, she politely lets us, and everyone on our street, know that she runs this town.

This has led us to take some desperate measures, including standing on the side of the highway swinging her car seat and sitting in a pitch black bathroom rocking her for thirty minutes as the bath water runs. Of course, we’ve been playing Katy Perry music A LOT. It’s been intense. It’s been frustrating. It’s been tiring. Those moments create a ton of raw emotion. We’ve felt like we’re doing something wrong, we’ve felt helpless, we’ve worried that she might be sick, and we’ve both needed to take a mental and emotional timeout. But that crying, fussing, drooling, squirming, screaming baby is our glorious, fearless, world-changing daughter. So we do whatever it takes, despite the exhaustion, frustration, and tears.

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While Madison’s “spunky” moments have weighed heaviest on Amanda, that little girl has been causing me all sorts of tears too. These kids bring me so much joy that I’ve cried more over the past three months than my entire life combined (excluding the Patriots’ Super Bowl losses to the Giants). On Saturday, as I was driving home from playing basketball with some dudes from church, I heard this song on the radio called “Cinderella” by Steven Curtis Chapman. It’s all about a dad and his daughter and how she grows up so quickly. Of course, the daughter gets married in the end of the song. Of course, it’s super cheesy. Of course, I was crying the entire car ride home.

Because that’s my baby girl. She’s not allowed to grow up. Neither is her brother.

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In the Beginning

Ten years ago today, I went to work. I had just finished my third year at the University of Virginia and I was a baller earning $7.25 an hour selling sneakers at Dick’s Sporting Goods. I spent most of my nights watching Seinfeld, eating ramen, talking to friends on AIM, and studying for the LSAT.

The night of June 4, 2004 was a little different.

I went on a date. A first date.

Her name was Amanda Alward.

We had been friends for about a year. However, it was a very weird “friendship.” It was one of those relationships where you both like each other, but the timing is off and no one wants to bust a move. Thus, our pre-dating story is very complicated and dramatic, largely due to my own immaturity, so I’ll save it for another time. Amanda even told me a few times during that year that she hated me. Ouch. Despite all that, before our first date, I knew she would be the girl I would marry. Amanda felt the same way about me.

On our first date, we went to a drive-in movie just outside Charlottesville, got Slurpees at 7-11, and sat on the steps of the Rotunda and talked for hours. Amanda was supposed to bring a picnic dinner, but was afraid of bringing the “wrong” kind of food, so brought nothing at all instead. On our first date, we told each other that we’d get married someday. On our first date, we wondered aloud what our kids would look and act like.

All on our first date.

People, don’t do that. That’s crazy.

Unless it works.

The funny thing about love and relationships is that there is no guide. No blueprint. No roadmap. I think the fact that we talked about getting married and having kids on our first date is nuts. We were 21 and didn’t know anything, except for the fact that we knew we were on the start of an amazing adventure. Although we didn’t know where the Yellow Brick Road of our lives was leading, we knew we’d be walking the road together.

Of course, at the time, we thought that road would be straight and easy. Despite all the happiness and joy that saturated the start of our relationship, there have been many mistakes over the years and we’ve almost bailed a few times. Of course, ten years ago, we would never have thought anything like that was possible. But it happens. That’s life. Although the tough times have been frustrating, humbling, and challenging, they have helped make our relationship so much richer and stronger.

I’m thankful for a God full of hope and mercy. I’m thankful that Amanda said “yes” ten years ago. I’m thankful that I had 50% off coupons for the movie because “Starsky and Hutch” was terrible.

(Almost) Ten Years Ago
In the Beginning

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Our Kids in Front of the Building Where We First Talked About Them. Ten Years Ago.

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