Yes in My Backyard (YIMBY)

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The burning in my chest seems different than in the past. The burning in my legs is shocking to me. Confusion and doubt cloud my mind.

It’s only been two laps.

The course I created with my boys can only be described as small. Four corners form a square in the backyard marked by a small orange cone, our big red cooler, a bucket for “Yard Dice” (think Yahtzee on  sod), and an orange baseball hat. Two corners rest atop the small incline that is my lawn. 

  1. Sprint up the hill.
  2. Run backwards across the top.
  3. Grapevine down the hill.
  4. Lunges across the bottom.

These spur of the moment workouts always seem like a great idea. The kids are always begging to play with me outside, I DEFINITELY need the exercise, and well, there ya go two birds, one stone.

Plus, remember that scene in “Field of Dreams? Kevin Costner’s character playing catch with his dad? The sun was setting across a beautiful farm. Two men, with a tear in their eye, gulping down the nostalgia of father-son time. It’s simple and beautiful and what we, as fathers, all strive to achieve.

One lap into it and I realize I hate that movie. My son chooses DJ Khaled as our workout playlist, the three year old is falling every ten feet and pouts until someone picks him up and all I can focus on is the amount of gopher  tunnels ruining my grass. That and the imminent heart attack I’m seconds away from experiencing. The eight year old’s question-to-my-answer ratio is five to one. 

“Dad, can we play football?”

“No- what? We just started! We gotta finish what we start.”

“Will you let me play football for real?”

“Well- (light panting)”

“Mom says no but I really wanna play.

“Well-(heavier panting)”

“I’m gonna run around the house fifty times can you time me?”

“Sure but- ” (tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth)

“Dad! Is Batman a good-guy? What’s a vigilante?”

“Kind of…. (pant pant)Well (pant pant)…. I (pant pant)… don’t (pant pant)… reallyknow…”

“Dad! Ben’s crying.”

“Ok (Thank God!)…I should slow down and check on him.”

It doesn’t take long before a football has entered the mix. My sons pass it back and forth as they run, and Benny’s laughter echoes through our empty little neighborhood. I find myself jamming to Mr. Khaled every time I pass the first cone, and the sweat on my ancient tank top spreads like a badge of honor.

I feel great.

A little sweat, a little music, two of my favorite people in the world, and a beautiful outdoor setting. 

All it took was a step off my deck.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

 

 

 

 

Event this Thursday September 20th, Columbia, CT

Hello!

Please join me this Thursday Evening from 6-7:30 at the Saxton B. Little Library in Columbia, CT. I will be reading my first book, “A Horse Named Thunder” and having kids create their own illustrations for the book.

It should be an awesome event, but space is limited! Please call 860-228-0350 or email mquigley@columbialibrary.org to reserve your spot.

Thank you! My next blog post should be here tomorrow, don’t miss it!

 

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowrks LLC

9-11 and the Butterfly Cycle

 

IMG_0139I was working in  New York City on September 11, 2001. 

Seventeen years later I still find myself crying involuntarily throughout the day, I’m crying now as I write this. I avoid television so I don’t have to be exposed to that horrific image of the towers on fire, and I’m not sure I can bring myself to visit the museum, it still feels so fresh.

I wish I had done more. I wish I had helped more. I wish I hadn’t been so afraid for myself and our country. 

Besides, who am I to be sad? I lost no one close to me while thousands of others did. I was in midtown and didn’t witness the heart wrenching affect of gravity, or feel the heat of exploding jet fuel. I didn’t sift through rubble or call the names of the lost like so many other heroic individuals. The result is a deep rooted sense of guilt for my cowardice. I have resigned myself to accepting it. 

But I went to work the next day.

It’s the one piece of American History that I want to preserve: New York City, September 12, 2001. The day New Yorkers earned their reputation of toughness. The middle finger to terrorists. We may be afraid, we may be sad but we continue on, with a few more American flags on the hoods of cabs, and deafening renditions of ‘God Bless America’ inside Yankee stadium, arms on the shoulders of strangers, swaying with tears in our eyes and screaming every word. When Yankee Stadium vibrates, you can’t help but feel united, and part of something greater than self.

By June of 2002, I moved into an apartment in Battery Park City. My window looked down into Ground Zero from twenty-nine floors above. I watched them rebuild, I crossed a footbridge decorated with the photos of lost friends and family every day for two years, I went to funerals of fire fighters, bought round after round for EMTs that came from the Carolinas to help (That was a St. Patrick’s Day I will never forget.), and said thank you to just about anyone who wore any kind of badge. 

New York tried to repair itself as quickly as it could, but the country changed that day. I think many of us wish desperately for the days before. A time when things were simpler and more pure. We experienced trauma on a national level, and I yearn for the next September 12th; a day we can move on and get back to the work of enjoying life and finding whatever it is each of us lost. Will it come?

“Dad, I found another one!”

It’s my oldest, Mike. My wife has forced us into the car on a hot humid evening to go “caterpillar hunting” at nearby Szegda Farms.IMG_0162 It’s a town-owned piece of land that embodies the beauty of Connecticut in a few small acres: close-knit steep hills, hazy sunsets, concentrated greenery, and small fields stocked with quick moving wildlife, tall grass and prickery wild-berry bushes.

And milkweed.

Milkweed is the preferred food for monarch caterpillars, my wife’s obsession. We traipse through tall grass and I take pictures of huge spiders. My sons have cups and plastic cages to house the caterpillars they find and the leaves they will need to eat in the confines of the butterfly enclosure my wife has set up in the living room of our house. 

The boys and my wife are ecstatic. They race from plant to plant, as quickly as the tall grass allows them. They bend the long stems and look carefully underneath. There are just enough caterpillars to keep it interesting. They aren’t on every plant, but they aren’t scarce either.

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The gasps I hear are for the treasures they find on the underside of weeds. The monsters they see are huge spiders, terrifying and mesmerizing with their intense colors and iconic shape. The pace is not rushed though the sun is going down. The blues and oranges in the sky from thirty minutes ago are deeper and richer. I watch them from behind, the backdrop is a summer sky.

It’s rapture.

Christine blazes a trail and we all stay close. Our imaginations create a horror movie of hissing poisonous snakes, sharp thorns and salivating predators. The unwarranted threat of the unknown looms with every new step into chest high grass, but it’s ok, we’re together. And together we can handle anything.

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Let’s get back to work. Find what you’ve lost. Look under every weed and be patient. Hope is there, munching away, getting bigger and preparing for a beautiful metamorphosis.

Tomorrow is September 12th.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

 

 

Cape and Cowl

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He sits on a stool beneath an old boxing heavy bag. It hangs motionless. The scuffs and soft-spots hint at a life of abuse. The sounds of grunts, and the slapping of leather on leather all but echoes, locked inside the concrete walls and fiberglass insulation dripping from the rafters. 

He looks up from a small hand-held device and we lock eyes. Shadows stretch across his face from the single naked bulb above him.

“We need a plan,” he says.

My eyes say, “Go on.”

“The pods have reached our town. My sources say they can be seen in New York as well. I need you to call Uncle Dave and let him know they’re here. I’m going to get Benny and we’re going to take out the pods over the house. Are you ready?”

I nod nervously.

He returns the nod as he fastens his cape around his neck and hands me the communication device. His brother waits at the top of the stairs. He’s too afraid of the dark basement, yet brave enough to engage a host of alien invaders threatening our planet.

The two press their foreheads together in some sort of pre-game ritual. Benny struggles to pull the sliding glass door open, but when it does all fear evaporates in the swoosh of two capes. They race across the deck and leap down to the grass. I swear, somehow, they are running faster than they ever have before.

Within seconds the planet is safe once again.

What is it about superheroes?

As a comic-book-nerd, it is hard for me to define. The capes are cool, the gadgets are cool, having superpowers is cool, but it’s more than that. I feel connected to the heroes on the pages and in the movies; they give me hope. Not hope for the planet or a false sense of security, but hope in myself; that deep down, hidden beneath my fears and doubts, lies an untapped power all my own. Bruce Banner before the gamma bomb explosion, Peter Parker before the spider bite, Steve Rogers before the super soldier serum- all regular guys, just one small tragedy  away from realizing their true super-human selves. When will my day come? Where’s my radio-active insect?

I wonder if it’s the same for my boys. Are they yearning for the day when the hand of God reaches down to transform them into something physically greater than themselves? Do they sense something incredible when they don the cape and cowl that defies description?  Do they feel that untapped power and wonder when it will manifest?

No.

Kids are wiser by far. They don’t wait for the transformation, they make it happen. The cape doesn’t change them, it merely embodies the strength they already feel. They don’t wonder, they believe. They don’t think, they know. They don’t wait, they act.

Maybe the power I yearn for is already there, not hiding, not waiting to be exposed by some incredible event, just…waiting. Maybe that’s the the small tragedy- a life wanting, and waiting for a power that is already there.

Tie that cape around your neck and get out there. Your alien horde may be as close as the backyard. Don’t hesitate, the world needs you.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

DIY Fishing Excursion

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Took the boys fishing this past weekend and I wanted to pass on some advice. Better yet, below you will find a checklist to use  to take your children on a trip to the Great Outdoors. Nothing says bonding time like waking up early, casting a few lines into a swift misty river and catching dinner.

I wonder what that’s like.

Checklist

Fishing gear:

  • Fishing license
  • Bait (I do not suggest watching videos on ‘which bait should I use?’ The amount of information you find on different theories is depressingly vast. In the end you’ll come to the realization you can only learn to fish if you start in the womb, and your life has been wasted watching tv and going to work. The less you know the better. Just use earthworms, or, if you’re squeamish, use fake earthworms.)
  • Pliers or a knife to cut knots or tangles (This is your life for the next few hours. Remember to breathe.)
  • Mobile phone with GPS (You won’t get lost. It’s actually to watch videos on: How do I fish? How do I tie a fishing knot?  and How do I perform basic first aid?)
  • Fishing rod for every kid (Don’t bother bringing one for yourself. Your day will be spent knee deep in water retrieving lures stuck in trees, taking fish off of hooks, sticking yourself with various sharp objects, knotting hooks to line and pulling three year olds out of the mud/river/lake/pond. If you do not have enough rods for every kid, jealousy and boredom will set in. At the first sign of an argument, immediately end the trip and drive directly to the nearest fast food joint.)

Clothes:

  • Light quick drying clothes and water proof shoes (These cost a fortune. In the end they will commune with nature in a Ninja Turtles tee shirt, flat brimmed hat, orange mesh shorts and an over-sized pair of Crocs.)
  • Hat and sunglasses
  • Change of clothes (This is essential. Five minutes after you cast your first bait your child will say they have to poop despite repeated attempts before you left to use the bathroom. They swore they did not have to go. They were lying to you. You are miles from a bathroom and you never thought to  bring toilet paper. Time to get creative. Luckily, you did bring an extra pair of underwear. Remember, every tree is a “lav-a-tree.” Or, immediately end the trip and drive directly to the nearest fast food joint.)

Planning the trip:

  • Know where you’re going the night before. A quick internet search will provide plenty of nearby options for ponds, lakes and rivers. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is awesome. They will even suggest places that are family friendly. I am certain other states have similar resources.
  • Get up early (Don’t worry, you’ll leave an hour and a half later than expected because you forgot they needed breakfast and all the gear you knew you had ready to go the night before is hidden throughout various rooms and bins in the attic, basement and shed. Get ready to sweat as you search frantically. If you’re going to curse, make sure it is under your breath and not directed towards anyone.)
  • Food and water – How long will you be gone? Do you need to bring lunch? Snacks? Always bring water. (NB If you are a man reading this, disregard. Just remember when you stop at the gas station, buy an extra sleeve of “Donettes.” Or, the second they start complaining about being hungry, immediately end the trip and drive directly to the nearest fast food joint.)

Extras:

  • Camera (The beauty of getting outside and doing something in nature is: even when it’s a disaster and uncomfortable and frustrating, they really are great memories. The stories of when it went rough are the ones you all will remember the longest, and with a laugh. Just do me a favor. Take one or two pictures. Stop trying to capture every second. Experience life in real time.)

 

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

My Little Handyman

The car magazine article is accentuated with sighs. My sighs. Long drawn out sighs. Sighs that say to the cosmos- “Why did I buy a house? I was happier in my old apartment. At least there I could enjoy my Sundays without having to work on anything. I can’t even enjoy one simple magazine article? Isn’t Sunday supposed to be a day of rest?”

Alas, my sighs of outrage do little to change the fact that I had all day on Saturday to change the toilet seats and clean the truck.

I toss the magazine to the floor and look at my three year old. He’s humming to himself and using a magnet to lift little fish shapes from a wooden puzzle. Occasionally, he yells out “Fish on!” like a miniature fishing boat captain adrift on a throw rug.

I peel myself from the couch in a series of grunts (and a few more sighs) and pat his little head.

“Wanna help me change the toilet seats?” I ask.

Here’s what’s great about three year olds.

His head jerks up with eyes wide. He smiles as he literally leaps to his feet and gasps,  “Lemme get my toolbox!” as he disappears down into the basement. He struggles to carry the plastic toolbox up the stairs but he’s determined. We meet in the bathroom and begin the extraction and replacement of the new seat.

Truth be told, it is the simplest of honey-dos; a few twists of the screws and you’re done. I show him how to do it and give him one of my screwdrivers. There we kneel side by side for a few minutes reciting ‘righty-tighty lefty-loosey’ and admonishing a few “Don’t touch the bowl! It’s dirty!”s.

We finish all three toilets in ten minutes, but it isn’t enough. The joy of turning screws creates a hunger inside of him. “Your truck is broken!” he announces as he strains against the door to the garage.

It isn’t broken, but I can’t help myself. He helps me clean the floormats and the flotsam of empty coffee cups and Happy Meal cartons floating about the cab. We vacuum up an endless supply of loose popcorn and goldfish and wipe down the interior before heading to the engine.

He’s light enough to be able to stand on the cowling over the radiator in his brightly colored socks, one hand on the opened hood. I point out the alternator and the intake manifold, and he holds a plastic hammer and starts to lightly tap the engine’s components. He’s desperate to fix something. I pull out the dipstick, clean it and we check the oil. “Hmm,” he says. Then he giggles to himself.

We cheers our juice boxes over a job well done, and in true husband fashion I text my wife to list our accomplishments. “Don’t forget to rest!” she replies.

I consider her advice as I eye the couch and discarded car magazine on the floor.

Nah. I think I hear a leaky faucet somewhere. And I know just the guy to do the job.

-Mike Sposito

Owner of Spowerks LLC

 

 

Falling Asleep in the Back of the Car

“Just to let you know, all the rides are down right now. ‘Cause of the storm.”

I feel a pang of panic. It was my idea to come to the amusement park on a rainy day, and it had taken us an hour to get here.

“What do you think?” I ask my son.

He’s been resting his chin on his arms at the ticket window. I know he hears me, but his eyes are focused somewhere beyond the gates. His eight year old soul is being pulled toward the direction of fun and nothing can break that connection, certainly not a few raindrops. He nods into his forearms and says, “Yeah, let’s do it.”

I stifle a scream of outrage as I pay an astronomical entrance fee, and we pass through to the other side.

Buckets of rain dump on us as we giggle and jog down the empty streets of the amusement park. The rides are down but the circus games are open. Teenage barkers look from under the hoods of their cheap ponchos and seem surprised at the possibility of business. My son races to the ladder on a swivel yelling, “Oh, I got this!” though I can barely hear him above the sound of rain and thunder. I pay a few soggy singles and off he goes. Every attempt is met with failure, and a splash, yet his spirit soars.

He holds my hand as we slosh our way to the Wac-A-Mole, and I feel more connected to him somehow, like we are sharing an adventure together. Rain can do that I think. A walk is a walk, but a walk in the rain is something different, something taboo, something outside the norm, something that defies rational thinking. It’s just more fun.

There’s a break in the storm and the rides open up. He’s an inch too short to ride the big roller coasters, but I can see he is relieved. It makes me happy. Sometimes, I am so focused on making him into a man I forget he is still just a little boy. My little boy.

With pruny shriveled feet, and a dampness that yearns for a hot bath, we depart. We laugh about the weird loner spinning himself out of control on the Teacup ride. We debate over which ride was best and hypothesize on how to beat the ladder on a swivel game. The banter is lively, but soon enough the back of the pick-up grows silent.

I look in the rear-view mirror to see him slumped  across the back seat. The seat belt cradles him awkwardly,  he is bent sideways at the waist, and his eyelids are doing that creepy not-quite-closed-but-trust-me-I’m-asleep thing. It doesn’t look comfortable, but nothing says, ‘I had a great day’ like falling asleep in the back of the car.

I’m left to my own thoughts for the duration of the trip. I think of all the families that stayed home because of the rain, or the families who hid under the safety of the snack shack as we ran through the puddles. I am glad they stayed behind. Deep down I wanted it to be just him and me, laughing in the rain, braving the elements, and being different than the rest.

I can’t think of a better lesson to teach him.

 

-Mike Sposito

Owner of Spowerks

 

Guys Night, Ruck Hike and Tiny Dinosaurs

Guys night. The rare and beautiful opportunity when my wife is out of the house and it is just me and the boys. Granted, it looks a bit different in my forties than it did in my twenties. The guys have been replaced by my sons, eight and three years old, and a night in the city is replaced by “bear hunting” in my backyard, but the foundations remain: pizza, fart jokes, junk food, jumping on the furniture, watching movies you’re not allowed to watch, and whenever possible, burping a response to a question.

It is total freedom.

I almost let the last one slip through my fingers. My wife sells environmentally friendly cleaning products called Norwex, as  a side gig, and as she left the house I felt I had everything under control. One son was watching Star Wars, the other glued to an iPad. It allowed me the time I needed to prepare for my foray in the weight loss battle: ruck hiking.

It is a simple concept. You buy yourself a quality backpack or rucksack, fill it with weight and go for a hike. It’s easier on the joints than running, and you burn more calories than walking, perfect. I channeled my inner sherpa and set to work filling my old hiking backpack with dumbells and whatever else I could find. In the end, I struggled to slip into a pack weighing over fifty pounds. I set it by the door so it  would be ready for me when I start my new exercise regime…tomorrow.

I wiped the sweat from my brow and checked on the boys. Everyone watching a screen and relatively quiet? Great.

I was dangling a piece of pizza over my mouth like a sword swallower when my mid-life crisis set in. It wasn’t your typical “I need a motorcycle, tattoo and abs” type of panic, it was more real, more intense. I heard two screens playing simultaneously from different rooms and I tried desperately to remember how long they had been watching a monitor. I had no idea. I flashed forward ten years. How many guys nights did I have left? What will they remember from this one?

The backpack eyed me disapprovingly.

Inspiration.

“Who wants to go for a hike in the yard?”

The three of us, all wearing backpacks now (they really do want to be just like dad!) set out on an adventure. My oldest had a light-saber, the youngest a juice box, water gun and a handful of popcorn to feed any bears we would find on our journey. We took pictures of mushrooms, battled the hated Empire, and pet the tiny bears and dinosaurs my son found as he held them on the tip of his tiny finger. “Pet him dad. Don’t worry, he doesn’t have teeth, and he’s happy.”

It was a glorious hour together. The weight of the pack dug into my shoulders, and bathed me in sweat, but I’ve never felt lighter.

Do something. Together.

-Mike Sposito

Owner Spowerks LLC

What a Hoot!

Enjoy these great pictures from a wonderful event! This is what we love at Spowerks, families creating memories together through reading and imagination. Thank you again to The Hoot in Willimantic, CT!

A Mom sent me this picture after the event, said he got to work right when he got home!

Here we practice revision. Look how much better this picture looks after his third attempt! Great job!

This young man drew Thunder!

Using shapes to draw! What shapes do you see in this bulldozer?

I wonder what she’ll draw next?

Such great listeners!

Creators love to talk about their work with each other.

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