A Week of Thanks: Family.Over.Everything

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Growing up Catholic, there were certain dates that were emphasized on a yearly basis.  If we have the same background, and you’ve been paying attention, then you know December 8 is the feast of the Immaculate Conception; that famed day during which the Angel Gabriel approached Mary, told her that she’d been chosen to bear the Son of God, and all she had to do was accept this great and terrifying offer.  Without hesitation, Mary replied “Yes.”  Before, as they say, the rest is history, there are two other important aspects to the story of Mary and her infant Savior.  First among them is that at some point she had to break the news to Joseph, her husband.  We are told in the bible, and on the 2nd Sunday in Lent during the gospel reading, that Joseph, having never consummated his marriage with his wife, intended to divorce Mary quietly, to salvage her reputation as best as possible.  This was his intention until God sent and Angel to Joseph in his dream, describing everything.  Joseph also humbly replied “Yes” to God’s plan.  Finally, January 6th is the feast of the epiphany, where among many blessings, Joseph is told in a dream of King Herod’s plan to eradicate all males born during the time of Jesus.  By fleeing to Egypt the both avoid the impending death of Jesus, but also take the same route taken by Moses, a great prophet for the coming of Jesus.

So it is that on December 7th of 2012, having been married to my wife for less than 3 months, we learn of our first pregnancy.  Sitting in our upstairs hallway in our Pig-Town rental – well past the moment at which our butts went numb – I alternated thoughts of “Holy Shit” and Thanks to Mary, given that I now could eagerly anticipate both her Immaculate Conception and my wife’s first conception.  Finally able to string a few thoughts together, we called my mother-in-law.  Fittingly, she was on her way to choir practice to prepare for the Mass of the Immaculate Conception the following day.  We all held that frame of reference in our minds.  We all cried.  So many firsts abounded out of that phone call.  A new generation on a tree.  New Grandparents.  New Parents.  New feelings of understanding the power of the word “Yes.”

So also we find ourselves, on the 2nd of January of 2014, a four-month-old wedged between us as the next round of pregnancy test indeed shows that we’ll be sprinting down the line to determine whether or not we’ll have Irish Twins.  As it turns out, we miss that label by 14 days.  Nonetheless, we have our own brand-new set of thoughts to sort out as we enter the event of the Epiphany.  My coming son’s birth was difficult to prepare for.  Both my wife and I were ecstatic to have another opportunity to bring life into the world, but financially and emotionally we were woefully unprepared for the strain it would bring, and to tack it on we knew what everyone was going to say.  Emerging out the other end of the tunnel, there could be no better brother for Quinn than Xavier; no better sister for Xavier than Quinn.  There could be no better pairing for Carolyn and myself than Quinn and Xavier.  As 4, we took a little break.

So it is that on December 1, 2016 we learn we’ll be adding another car seat to that mini-van we just bought sometime over the next summer.  It is also fitting that as we enter the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, both our baby and our concept of her still a seedling, we are destined to hear the comforting words of the tale of Joseph and his willingness to parent Jesus regardless of his knowledge that he is not his boy’s father.  That Joseph is willing to put aside his anxieties and beliefs for the Will of God is supremely comforting to me in that moment.  While I’ve always intended on having three children, and I’m beyond excited to realize that dream, I have my eyes wide open about its challenges.  In that moment, I am willing to embrace both the blessing and the challenge.  I am confident that my faith in God, my work ethic and my passion for my family will pave the way for whatever challenges we may meet to allow for God’s plan.

Over the course of the past year, that has certainly happened.  Personally, professionally, within my marriage – my faith in God has put me in the places I’m needed in order to be the best father, husband, employee.  The combination has resulted in a perfected vision of the Glory of God; that our faith is rewarded – that nothing we can do or have done can provoke God to rescind His Love for us.  Knowing that frees me from allowing previous guilt to prevent me from future successes.  In the past, I created failure in these arenas for myself based on guilt over previous failures.

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My children have been the very best daily dose of that medicine.  At the current moment, the five of us try as hard as we can every day to be the best support we can be for one another.  Each of us falls short.  Each of us forgives the others.  We don’t always succeed at that immediately, either.  We keep that in mind whenever we can.  None of us get it all right the first time.  We’re granted second chances by God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness we grant one another, and ourselves.  Teaching forgiveness to small children allows me a simplified understanding of it myself.  I need that perspective.  I need the biblical anniversaries and observations.  They remind me of the purpose and what I’m supposed to learn.  This year, on Thanksgiving, I’ve expressed gratitude for many things.  My gratitude for my children, and the person they’ve challenged me to be, just by existing, is life-changing.

So Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  May we all be reminded daily of the things for which we are most thankful, for the things that make us happiest, and for the things which propel us towards a better and brighter future.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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Igniting the Fire: Creation of Joy Through My Son’s Eyes

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On Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014, my son Xavier Slade O’Connor was born into this world.  Weighing all of 10 lbs 8 oz, forcing his mother through three hours of intense pushing, my son has been willful since his arrival.  In that, he is like his father.  Now three years old and having witnessed his mother, father and sister exert themselves, he is undoubtedly a little boy filled with passion.  More than anything, Xavier loves to laugh.  He loves to make his sister laugh.  He loves to make his parents laugh.  He’s overwhelmingly successful.  What Xavier doesn’t know, can’t know, won’t know until he is a father himself is the powerful effect his boyish devil-may-care approach has on his father.

September Uploads 034I’ve captioned this photo on this page before, but there is no better photographic evidence of the fire Xavier ignites within my heart.  During the moments under his captivating exuberance, I am reminded of my own boyishness, and I feel alive in ways manhood does not create on its own.  Windblown hair on open water on a sunny day with your son is how I wish for every day to be.  On top of all of that, having to constantly check my teaching style in order to creatively administer a lesson to a willing pupil has made me sharper, more patient and more reflective on my psychology, and my son’s.  His beauty is in his joy.  Also, in the indelible marks he’s left on my heart.  I have not the words to adequately express the unique happiness that arises from the bonding of father and son.  I’ve been a beneficiary of it my whole life, with my father.  I only hope that my efforts will meet with similar joy and success.

Over the weekend, we spent our time with family, back in Maryland.  It was our first opportunity since Christmas to see all of my wife’s family and we had so many joyous achievements and special days to celebrate.  Since last we all gathered, my wife’s youngest sibling had taken another step in realizing his dream; as he was drafted in the 5th round of the amateur professional baseball draft by the Atlanta Braves.  Both of my sisters-in-law have successfully created niches in careers up in New York City, my brother-in-law and his wife are expecting their second child right before Christmas and my wife and I have welcomed our third child into the world.  My son and his Godmother share a birthday, so we celebrated all of that together in a gathering on Saturday.  We played games, ate excessively and caught up on the details we often don’t have time to delve into during the busy course of life and long-distance communicating.  On Sunday we went back to the church where my wife and I were married nearly five years ago.  While there we saw friends and even more family.  We returned back to my in-laws’ to open presents for my son and to get in a game of baseball my son desperately wanted to play with his uncle.  When my brother-in-law makes it to the big show, that will be a memory he’ll be proud to have.  Hopefully it happens frequently.  We wrapped it all up with a crab feast at my wife’s Uncle’s place.  It was a perfect afternoon filled with people who love each other, and the best cuisine God ever created.

I’m so grateful I had the chance to celebrate in the way.  So often we are in a rush to jam events in between items that have to happen, and happen successfully, in order for our growing family to have what we need to get by.  Work is pressing for both of us and there’s always the opportunity to seek the excuse in favor of less labor-intensive events.  Driving 3 hours in the remnants of a hurricane, then having that same system follow you up to Baltimore for one of the two days could have been reason enough to stay home.  My wife being 3 weeks postpartum via a C-Section could have been reason enough to stay home.  Several members of our family encouraged us to take it easy, that there’d be no harm done in remaining at home.  Probably true.  What we would have missed would have cost us more than we were willing to part with.  So glad we didn’t miss the opportunity to celebrate my son’s 3rd birthday with a great portion of the people who matter most to us.

And if he wasn’t already willful, he’s now 3, so we’ll have the blessing of experiencing that wonderful phase while praying the trips to the doctor’s is minimal.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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The Music of Your Life

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I wrote the below piece about 16 months ago.  Given the expected addition to our family in the coming weeks, I thought I’d pull this from my archives and send it out there to any who’d wish to read it.
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I have a spoiler to share with you all.  I haven’t mentioned this publicly on this blog, or anywhere else really, but when Carolyn and I found out we were having our first child (Quinn, now almost 3), I decided to create an opportunity to speak to her in adult fashion in real-time, using my most creative outlet, writing.  I began to keep a journal for her.  Ideally, she’d be rolling around the floor, or running around a soccer field, pick a scene, and I’d get my writing itch and pull out the journal and tell her whatever it was with which I was so inspired.  I had always watched parents speak to their children like children and wanted to find a way to bestow my parental advice through more sophisticated terms.  At some point, this was to become a gift to her.
Then, when Quinn was just 4 months old, we found out we were expecting another bundle of joy.  Except that with the financial strain of providing for a new child, daycare, formula, diapers, yada-yada-yada it wasn’t quite so joyful.  Don’t get me wrong, we were floored that God had given us another chance to raise a child, but we didn’t feel equipped to handle the material and financial obligations of a second child so quickly.  I resolved to buy another journal.  This one for “baby dos”, but it took me a while to got around actually following through on it.  To be honest, there’s a blank space in my journal to Quinn where a gap of time between entries occurred.  Stress gives me writer’s block.  Its only when I’m in tune with the world around me that the words spring out of my brain, onto the page.  Frequently, my fingers can barely keep up with my mind.  It’s exhilarating to flurry through 2, 3, 4 pages of text, stopping only to un-cramp my hand.
Eventually, however, I recovered from my haze and I began to write.  This year has been really good for my writing.  I try to write to each of them twice a month, and am keeping a separate journal (typed) for myself.  I never thought I’d ever explain this publicly, and am only doing so now because its imperative to the context of the entry I decided to share from yesterday (below).  This one is from Xavier’s notebook, although I’ll probably type it up for Quinn and put it in the back of her journal, where I keep other loose letters, photos, etc.  Selfishly, I dream of this being a prized possession one day.  For both of them.  Who knows.  So to set the stage, this entry’s original is found in Xavier’s journal, in the early portion of what I hope will one day become a multi-volume work.  We’ll see.  I wasn’t really sure I even wanted to share it, but those who’ve instilled music within my soul deserve to know I’m passing it on.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
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5.25.16
Xavier,
I’m writing to you from work today.  There’s asbestos abatement going on in the building, therefore I cannot go in.  It’s a beautiful day and I’m listening to music.  As you may someday find, music is the strongest conduit to our memories of the past.  A song comes on and “Boom!”, there you are, smack-dab in the middle of a moment you’ve already lived, watching old scenes, remembering former exhilaration and heartache.
Such is my inspiration for entering this passage today.  The saddest part of these memories, this musical voyage, is that we cannot fully go back to that time.  Not to change anything, anyway.  Then the thought struck me, “Xavier will live through this same problem.  Maybe I can pass to him the importance of REALLY living.  When he’s 16 and in love with a girl, or at a concert with friends, or playing baseball in the backyard, whatever it is.”  So here I am, telling you, begging you to lay it all out there, to go for it.  You won’t get it back and you can’t take it with you.  The worst possible outcome of this trip down memory lane is you encounter a scenario where you wish you’d done it differently.  Listen to me, Xavier.  So much of this book will be special moments we’ve shared or I’ve witnessed.  They are special.  While you are young, please don’t miss opportunities to be on fire for the things you know you yearn for.  Chasing down your dreams, while prioritizing faith, family and friends is our mission in life.  There will be a time for responsibility and providing for others.  That is a separate phase we can only be truly ready for when we can successfully say we’ve discovered enough of life to know what we need, compared against what we don’t.
In the meantime, keep track of the soundtrack of your life.  Play music often and loudly and in the company of those who help you come alive.  It will sustain your days both in the present, and then later on down the line.  It will revive green grass in winter moments.  It will help you feel the sun on your back, hear pure laughter, recall innocent bliss.  You’ll recall your first kiss, the beginnings of a best friendship, the loss of a loved one; heartache and euphoria.  Live in that music so that, one day, when you are old and tired, and a song comes on from the spring of your life, you’ll look back at how alive you were and smile.  And hopefully, take pride in how much of that flame you’ve kept burning.
I love you with all of my heart, no matter what the season.  Here’s to hopefully being a part of your soundtrack.
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– Dad
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Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,
Will O’Connor