Don’t Be Stupid

I have something I need to confess.  I share this so that I may unburden myself, to submit my actions for your collective consideration, and ultimately, your judgment.  Here we go.

I helped my son build a beer pong table for his dorm room.

Now I’m sure you can now see why I needed to confess that.  It’s something I’ve been wearing as a yoke around my neck for the last week or so, I need some spiritual relief.

Beer pong, for the uninitiated, is a game frequently played by college students. It involves a pool-rack configuration – a triangle – of cups at each end of the table.  Contestants try to throw or bounce ping-pong balls into the cups, which contain various types of beverages. If your ball lands in an opponent’s cup, they must consume said beverage. All your cups are gone?  You lose. House rules vary, but that is the general idea.

You may be asking yourself, why would Rick do such a thing?  Why?!  Doesn’t he know that this is only going to encourage the kind of ill-conceived shenanigans that we warn our college kids to stay away from? Doesn’t he know what a bad example he is setting for his son, that he is providing tacit permission for his kid to carry on, to indulge in Animal House-like behaviors, ultimately at the expense of his college success?  Doesn’t he know that he has made the path to debauched excess that much easier to navigate?  Haven’t you thought of these things?  Good grief, man.

Continue reading

The Long Goodbye

The Sampson clan drove to Eau Claire today, to deliver Ryan to his freshman year of college. Our dropoff window was from noon to 2:00. We had a lot of very nice upperclassmen help us carry his things up to his room (4th floor!). As moving events go, it all went very well. We hooked up his tv, assembled his futon, and assessed the logistics of closet space, desk arrangement, and fan placement (no air conditioning!). We found a good spot for his coffee pot, made sure his internet connection was working, and ensured that he was in possession of important artifacts such as his student ID, debit card (so we can send him money!), and driver’s license. Most importantly, we made sure he knew where to go to ask questions, to connect him with people that would be able to help him figure out the rest of it.

Continue reading

And Then There Were Four

My boy Evan turned 10 today, and I thought I mark the occasion with a note.

Jen and I always thought that maybe we’d have two kids, maybe three. After our older son Ryan was born and we acclimated to being three instead of two, we began to think about maybe another. There was no specific plan – we don’t roll that way – but just a desire. We’re the kind of people that kind of let things happen, because we generally think things are going to work out for the best. So Ryan grew older, and we kept on thinking that maybe we’d have another.

I remember when we found out that Jen was pregnant. It was maybe three years after Ryan. I remember having the same feeling we had when we found out that we were going to have Ryan — utter shock. After all, when you don’t plan for things, everything is a big surprise. But we were thrilled, and scared, wondering if we’d have the space in our lives and in our hearts to take on another. Would we have the financial resources? And more than anything, we’d grown accustomed to being Three.

We were very cautious about Number Two. We did not let anyone know right away. We wanted to get twelve weeks in to feel more comfortable that this was going to stick. Finally we shared the news with family and I let the cat out of the bag with our friends. And we began to imagine ourselves as Four.

I remember the moment vividly. I was on a business trip to Boston. I’d just left Logan in my rental car. I’d just entered a tunnel directly from Logan, and my phone rang. It was Jen and something was obviously wrong. She told me that she thought she was having a miscarriage. I asked if I should turn around and get back on a plane. She told me No, there was nothing I could do. I remember being on the phone for a long period of time, trapped in my rental car, with long periods of silence and sadness. There was nothing much to say.

So we continued on, as Three, thinking that maybe this was ok. Maybe this was not going to happen. Maybe Three was what we were supposed to be. We are blessed and fortunate. We have a lot, more than many others. Our son is beautiful and smart. Our marriage is strong and resilient. Maybe Three is who we are. Maybe we just need to be ok with this.

So, Three we were, and that was just fine. Ryan started growing up and began kindergarten. Jen went back to school. I changed jobs and finished my Master’s degree. Life went on, and it went on like this for a long time. Three was comfortable, and ok.

Just about 8 years after we learned we were pregnant with the-thing-that-would-become-Ryan, and after having lost a pregnancy along the way, after accepting that we were just going to be Three, we were shocked anew. (After all, when you don’t plan for things, everything is a big surprise.) Pregnant.

This pregnancy was a rollercoaster – ups and downs and not always such a thrill ride. An atypical pregnancy — medical questions, for both the baby and Mom. Lots of extra visits to the doctors. Lots of ‘keeping a close eye on things’. Lots of concern that maybe things would not turn out well, like they hadn’t with pregnancy #2. All of the old concerns – time, money, love – would there be enough to go around?

And then he was there, by C-section of course, because my boy always does things his own way. He was pink and perfect and screaming and beautiful. I’m not sure we believed it would happen, even right up until that moment, but suddenly we became Four, just like we always hoped we might be.

Evan is now 10, so it seems fitting to mark the occasion, and to commemorate him for who he is, and also for who he is in our lives. His big brother Ryan gets a lot of attention from Mom and Dad. He’s handsome, 18 and about to graduate from high school, and beginning to think about the next phase of in his life in college. He’s kind, smart, and has a lot of friends who like him tremendously. Evan is 10, still a ‘little kid’ and in many ways is on the outside watching all of the commotion. Evan will have his time too, but I think he sees his brother and maybe does not fully understand the role or place he fills in our lives right now. So this is the primary purpose for my note today.

I’ve never met another soul who is as kind, loving, and compassionate as Evan. He fills our hearts with joy and humor and love. He consistently thinks about and is concerned about the feelings of others (both humans and animals). He is the nicest person I know, which is saying a lot, because his mom and brother are both Extremely Nice People. He is funny and inquisitive and imaginative, and sometimes a little eccentric, frankly, for a linear thinker like me. But I see all of these as creative gifts, ones that I don’t have, but wish I did.

He is also strong, and intelligent. He sees past the obvious. He has convictions. He sees injustice. He is not willing to be a pushover or doormat, or accept bullies or shallow friends. He asks hard questions, and demands sincerity. He is his own man, even at 10. Because of all of these things, I can say that not only do I deeply love him, I also admire him.

I’m writing this not only to commemorate my son, but also because you never know what will happen in life. None of us promised a full life. I could get knocked off by a falling safe or anvil any day now. We need to take time to say the things we need to say when we have an opportunity to say them. I’m not sure Evan will understand all of this now, but I’m writing it for later, not today.

I’ve tried to explain over the years the differences between Ryan and Evan. I have confused people with my explanation so I thought I’d try again. Ryan is the person we always wanted, that we tried desperately to have, who came into our lives when we most wanted and hoped he would come. Evan is the person we always wanted, who we hoped for but didn’t think would ever come, and who after he arrived, reminded us of how desperately we needed him. Three is great. Four is who we are.

Happy 10 years, my boy. I can’t wait to see who you become in 10 more.

Love, Dad.