Happy Birthday

Well that’s it. Officially old. 

Number One turns thirteen today. A major step for her, becoming a teenager. A sign too, her Mother and I have taken a fair few steps of our own.

Many people tell us this is where it really begins. Parenting. Throw out all we know and think we know. Disregard everything we have learned and been taught. Nothing is relevant, nothing holds true, once those mystical teen years are reached. The best of it and the worst of it, so we are told. Well if it is to be the best, these following teen years, then they are going to have to prove to be pretty darn exceptional.

Don’t get me wrong, Number One is as moody, surly, grumpy and snappy as any other kid her age. Possibly a bit less, she seems to sail on a fairly even keel. The mood swings are no more or less than what you what might expect from any other person on the planet, man, woman or child, boy or girl. Yes, only the beginning you might say, just you wait. But I won’t be holding my breath.

Change is coming. In fact, the ‘change’ has been on us for a while and so far, he says with digits firmly crossed, life has gone on. Maybe that is the key. Not Number One, not her Mother, not me or the other siblings or anyone I can think of, has made any fuss. Barely any comment. After all, what is there to say? What is there to make a big deal out of? A Human Being growing and developing and aging, whatever you want to call it, is hardly a surprise.

Long may Number One continue to sail smoothly but even I can’t deny there is a change in tide ahead for her and consequently, for all of us. High school will play a big part. Her social scene will change, her horizons will be broadened academically, recreationally and socially. There will be more involvement in  this and that and the next thing. She will, hopefully, chop and change, experimenting with the new horizons and directions available to her and all the while, learning.

Teenager or not, all I can do as a parent is listen. Step one. Beyond that, I can be empathetic, try to be understanding and patient and caring and maybe, just maybe, Number One will continue to see me as an option, a real and genuine one, when she is in need. Having said that, I am fairly certain things are going to crop up she will not want to bring to her Dad, go to parent or not. And I know for sure, there are going to be things I would rather deflect, fend some issues and concerns off, send them in the direction of mother dearest. Probably best for all concerned.

As parent’s we are not ones to tip-toe around subjects. Ask a question, we will give our children an open and honest answer. Transparency is a policy we are fond of and the basis of our approach to teaching our crew the things they can’t, don’t or won’t learn at school. There are however, some things, topics and subjects I am not so sure I am all that interested in covering. The ‘Talk’ for example. School touches a bit on the birds and the bees. I have a get out clause, one which I fully intend to invoke. ‘Your Mother is a health professional, a Midwife no less…you want that info, she knows better than I, ask her.’

I am not entirely sure how I will deal with the subject of boys. Not an issue yet and I can only hope I don’t come up with some cliched rubbish about porches and rocking chairs and rock salt cartridges, loaded into double barreled shotguns. I don’t even own a shotgun. Take note though, any would-be suitor…I do own a high powered rifle and we have a loving, caring and protective dog…as old and grumpy as I am.

There is no doubting the introduction of a teenager to the house will mean a shift in dynamic. Numbers One and Two have always bickered and bitched and winged and moaned at each other. They are two distinct and different people, who by and large get on pretty well. Without being aware of it, they are actually fairly reliant on each other. It will be interesting to see the inevitable shift in their relationship. The younger two,         E-Bomb and Wee-Man, turn to their eldest sister more than any of them might realise. She is a source of respite, for both those two little ones and me. An engaging, involved, interested and interesting part of their lives. How much her own life, evolving and burgeoning and all those sorts of words, will impact on those relationships I guess only time will tell.

I must admit, I lean on Number One a bit. I rely on her, to give me some breathing space, so that I am not completely lost as an individual in this family. I suppose I run the risk of alienating her, having her resent the role she plays, fully aware of it or not. As I have said though, she is engaged and engaging, a very active part of the lives of all of us. For that she gets recognition and, both now and in time, finds reward. The adoration of her little brother, the appreciation of her Father.

We have treated and continue to treat all our children like little people, not inferior or incomplete. Just young. People. We communicate with our kids as the individuals they are. Our efforts to do that won’t change just because there is teen at the end of their age’s. I like to think we have been, as parent’s, pretty good listeners over the years and good communicators too. Not ‘tellers’ but talkers and explainers and debaters, as open to what they have to say, as they need to be to what we are trying to impart. I look forward to Number One expanding her thoughts, her opinions, her ideas and ideologies. My only concern is if I can keep up.

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Today is about cake and treats and presents, phone calls from relies, candles and all the rest. We will make a fuss, we will cuddle and tell each other how much we love the person wrapped in our embrace. No matter her age, Number One will be spoiled, because we love her. We love her pimples and her mood swings and her sour tiredness, no matter the length of the sleep-in. We love her growth spurts and her desire for more independence and her failures and her advances and we love her argumentative streak and her stomp out of the room and her sense of humour and her growing intuition and her developing awareness, both of self and the greater, wider world.

You really are Number One.

 

 

 

 

Thanks

My Mother is nothing or no one special.

I try to be an attentive and diligent parent. I believe I do okay and my Dearest is good at it too.

We try not to miss much, try to get the kids involved and be involved with them. All the while being aware not to push them.

It’s a challenge, attending to the above demands while managing a household of six. Not to mention the pets and the little extras that come with living reasonably isolated; the travel required just to the basics like groceries, having a social life and keeping in touch with an ever evolving world while the one around you stays rooted in times gone by.

And that is what it is, a management process. For me it has been a learning curve and one I don’t think will ever be complete. While I have never been afraid of hard work, I have never before faced the level of distraction that doing that work under the reproachful gaze of your children brings. And the Dearest, whose watchful supervision can be daunting.

At times though, given the isolation, the new (ish) environment we live in and the nature of Dearest’s job, it can feel a little like I am flying solo. There are a lot of demands on what my wife does for a living. As a Midwife, managing her time is paramount and the scope of her practice means there is often little time left for the demands of family life, let alone the energy or any hint of time for herself.

But here is the time for a little perspective, as my 44th birthday ticks by.

A thought struck me as I was vacuuming. With the dishes down, laundry sorted and the kids feed, entertained or packed off to school, it occurred to me just how easy I have it, especially when I compare my daily life with that of the woman who raised me.

I highlighted at the start that my Mother is no one special. Obviously she is very special to me, my wife and her grandkids, but putting that loving bond aside and looking at the practicalities of what I am doing as a stay at home Dad and what she achieved, I believe she wasn’t special…she was incredible.

There are a heap of other supurlatives I could throw out there. The gist though is that Mother, Nana, was a legend. A solo Mum, in a time when that was probably not the most fashionable of things to be. Social stigma aside, we are talking about a woman who not only raised two boys only fourteen months apart (imagine that for a load of shits and giggles) to be well-rounded, healthy, good men, she did so while working full-time, educating herself, developing a career, holding down a mortgage and maintaining a social life, such as the latter must have been with all the rest of it going on.

I look back on my formative years with rose-tinted glasses, as I am sure many do in a country like New Zealand which sure, has its issues, but generally is one of the best places in the world you could hope to be born and raised. At the time, as a kid in a sleepy Dunedin suburb, I wasn’t aware of the stresses my Mother must have faced; the hours of hard work, the tight budget, the loneliness, the pressures of solo parenting. In retrospect I can highlight a few moments when it must have been too much. Did my Mother let it show? Did her pressures and stresses weigh even the slightest on her children, her two boys? Not in the slightest.

Was there the support, from government agencies and the like, a societal awareness, that is available now? I seriously doubt it. For my Mother, there wasn’t even really the back-up of an extended family to lean on and not a thing from an absentee Father.

So how did she do it?

Everyone copes with adversity in their own way. My Mother is like my wife, an active relaxer. Trafalgar Street in Dunedin, where I grew up and where the real-estate agents will tell is situated in St Clair, but we all know is really St Kilda, is a grass verged short strip linking the half crescent former quarter-mile of Hargest Crescent and the stretch of Richardson Street, where around the corner my first school, St Clair primary, is housed.

There are bungalows and the odd villa. Clad in weatherboards and brick and roughcast, some were shabby, some were immaculate. Lawns were mown, sometimes by your neighbour and gardens bloomed and there was even the occasional blossoming tree dotted here and there. Fences were low and hellos were said and you knew everyone’s name and they knew you.

Far from idyllic, yet Trafalgar Street is only a fifteen minute walk to the beach, the Salt Water pool and there are plenty of schools and parks around for playing and sports, not to mention a decent back yard to run in. All in all it was pretty good environment to be growing up in.

But Mum couldn’t keep up with the Jones’. She didn’t drive, I guess never really needed to as she worked not far from home. Bus rides into the city were a bit of adventure and there were always friends offering excursions. Despite the Smith’s having four kids, their Holden Belmont seemed to accommodate everyone.

My brother and I had push bikes. A monumentous day when they arrived. We had cricket bats and all the associated gear, football and rugby boots, we had boogie boards and ‘computerised’ Battleships. Then it was an Atari, an Apple 11 and a ghetto blaster. Bro and I strutted around in Adidas three-stripe threads and whatever other hideous 80’s fashion was in vogue. I think I even owned hammer pants and had a flat top!

We wanted for nothing, least of all love and affection.

Our Grandmother would arrive with lemonade and sparkles and be with us through the day when we were sick. It was almost worth being unwell for. Then Mum would come home and take over where her Mother left off. We were clean, healthy, well fed, entertained and educated boys and we were hugged and kissed and tucked in.

Only now do I really appreciate all that. 40 years my Mother spent as an Early Childhood Educator, 25 or so kids under the age of five under her feet all day, just to come home and deal with her own two brats. Legendary stuff.

So I will stop prattling away here. I will pick up the toys and detritus in the path of the vacuum cleaner. I will do another load of dishes, prepare some lunch for the crew, feed off the scraps, take care of the recycling, make some beds and put some washing on, get some dusting done and hopefully find time to do some gardening with the little ‘uns, then start dinner and think about doing it all again as I get the kids settled for the evening, that is after the homework and the reading of books and telling of tales.

And just like my Mum, I hope to do it all with the type of demeanour that means, when my kids look back, all they remember is warm summers days and an even warmer smile.

Love you Mum.

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Love and War

My daughter hates me.

“I hate you.” E-Bomb isn’t vehement. More matter of fact, cold.

“I love you.” It is all I can say and I mean it.

“I don’t like you and I don’t love you.”

It’s an important distinction. There is a clear delineation between those you love and those  you like. You are not always going to like the people you love.

Sometimes, I don’t like E-Bomb.

She can be a thoroughly unreasonable person. Multiple personality disorders are suspected. Loving, cuddly sweetness can give way to foot-stomping tantrums before you have even thought of dropping the hat. Life can end up being lived on egg shells. Well it could, except we don’t.

We, as a family, are more or less immune to the carry-on. So far, with numbers One and Two, there have been no real dramas. Both have been relatively compliant, adaptable, can be reasoned with. Their demeanours might best be described as sweet. More or less.

Everyone has their moments. times when things will just not go right, the piece just won’t fit together. The whole woke up on the wrong side of the bed thing. This is especially true for kids I think, little ones to those become real people. by real people, I mean young adults.

So much is new, so much untried. Everything is testing, a challenge and kids are in such a rush, in a hurry to skip the small; steps and go straight to leaps and bounds. Because they do, develop and change and grow so fast, too fast at times and when you can’t find the words to express feelings you don’t understand, it is a frustrating thing.

And then it is easy to hate.

You hate your brother. You hate your sisters. You hate your Father. You hate the T.V, hate the rain, hate the sun, hate your dolls, hate music, hate the dogs. Poor dogs. Very rarely do you seem to hate your mother. I think that comes later.

So much hate, delivered with so much conviction.

But, she likes me a little bit. She likes me, even loves me. And hates me. And that is ok. The E-Bomb is a three-nager, a child. And a female. Show me the guy, no matter how enlightened, who can keep up with the vagaries of a females emotive state. it just means I am comfortable with it. I have to be.

A hateful attitude just servers to make all the kind, caring and loving moments all that sweeter. Because the E-Bomb, like her big sisters before her, can be a gorgeous little bundle of love and light, all cuddles and giggles and fun.

Making the most of these moments is the key and we do. No tiptoeing on eggshells, just get in. They want last, as cliched as that is to say.

When the E-Bomb goes off we don’t duck for shelter, don’t run and hide. We don’t placate either. Somewhere in the middle ground, between giving in and discipline, is the road we have to travel. She knows, we know and with a little patience and a whole lot of love, we can make it happen.

All smiles

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Cake and Candles

Wee-man has turned one! A mighty milestone and its killing me.

I don’t play favourites with the kids.

That is to say, I try not to.

I have three girls and a boy. My Wee-Man. Even the dogs are bitches and my wife, well…

For years I have been outnumbered, out hormoned and it has gotten increasingly prevalent as time, and breeding, has gone by. When they are little it is pretty much irrelevant. Really young, and the differences in genders are very non-specific.

Toys are used for whatever purpose, most often nothing to do with what the toy-maker might have had in mind. Cartoons are this or that and as long as they are bright, colourful and fun, then they will be watched regardless of the targeted demographic. Little activities like drawing and building blocks and excursions are all the same; just go ahead and get stuck in.

There is no emphasis placed on what the little ‘uns are into. Number One and Two have an influence on the play-time of the E-Bomb, the three-nager and will undoubtedly do so more and more for Wee-Man. If his big sisters end up tucking him into dresses and skirts, doing up his hair and touching up his make-up, so be it.

Most likely, the day will come when he just will not be into what his sisters are. His attention will be drawn to trucks and diggers and power tools and rifles and fishing rods. And rugby. Wee-Man will be into rugby.

Until that time I have no favourites. When my boy makes his own calls, starts to express his own interests, shuns his sisters, then I will swoop, envelop him under my wing and make him my own. Not a carbon copy, not his Father living vicariously through his son’s deeds.

Then he will no longer be Wee-Man. He will be my man.

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The simple reality is, there will soon be things going in the lives of my eldest children, my girls, that are pretty much beyond my comprehension. They are growing and developing and changing and all those horrible words that signal it is time for their Mother to step up. I don’t believe I am being weak when I say there is just so much I can handle. And I am sure, only so much the girls are going to want me attempting to handle.

Good. I am a spectacular Dad, which in turn makes me an incredible bloke. We all know that. But I have two feet and pretty soon I am going to have to start putting one of them down. Make my stand. Draw a line.

Throw in the towel. Wave the white flag.

When that time comes I will have my buddy, my support, my back-up. My man. Whatever it is he and I do, to fill in the time we spend together, father and son, we will do so out of earshot. My Dear Wife will be there for her girls, just as she always has been, just as I have always been.

But right now it has been all about another birthday. The actual date has passed but the party is not going to be until this weekend. Such as it will be for a one-year-old. I mean, how carried away do you have to get? Not like he is going to remember a thing, though we are not one of those families where the birthday celebrations become more of an excuse for the parents to have a leer up.

There will be another round of cake and candle blowing and gifts wrapped and we will laugh and sing and eat junk food and it all signals the passing of yet another year. Wee-Man will blow out those candles on his own, or at least give a good impression of doing so. He will feed himself at least 40% of his treat lunch. 40% will be devoted to the floor in an attempt to feed the dog, that will have already been booted outside and

I’ll struggle to piece together his gift, following the woefully inadequate instructions, while Dearest stresses herself out in the kitchen baking  another incredible creation that no one will properly appreciate until it is cut up and stuffed in our gobs. Fun for all.

I will smile and I will sing in my best baritone (I have no idea if that is my singing voice or not…wounded water-buffalo is more accurate probably) and I will clap and laugh along. None of it will be forced and yet I will be dark on the inside.

Another moment gone. another blip, another monumental occasion, never to happen again.

I don’t mean to get all maudlin on it, I don’t mean to wallow and I certainly won’t be that guy at the party everyone mutters about when they think he isn’t looking. ‘What a drag’.

It is just that every step my son takes, literally, he moves things on ever further in my life. And it isn’t only him, they are all doing it, or have done it. Some of the craziest things too, that suddenly strike  you, or creep up on you later.

Number One won (say that five times quickly) her first cross-country event today! Beat out a bunch of other competitors, even some boys. One proud dad.

Number Two broke her first bone a couple of years ago. The first and only so far among the kids. And yes, I was a bad Dad because there were a couple of days of ‘you’ll be right’ before we finally got her wrist x-rayed. She sprained it in a fall just the other day and there I was reminded of that originally injury. The first decent knock the kids have had.

The letting go of the bike seat, the first dive off the edge of the pool, the first solid feed, the first teetering steps, the first words and all the other obvious ones.

What about the first hug…do you remember those?  The first time they reached out for you, not as some automated need for nurture or warmth, but because they wanted a hug. I do.

So while my cholesterol sky rockets and my ever increasing weight holds me firmly on the ground, while my hair line recedes from my scalp but finds other patches of bare skin to colonise, while my joints creak and groan and my muscles atrophy, I sit and think of all the things I will never see happening again.

I am thankful for each and every one of those very special moments. Cherished moments of wonder ad joy. The type of stuff that keeps the cynical at bay, the grumpy subdued.

The love stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacrifice

How much have you given? Given up, given away?

Now before we start, maybe I should state the above is not at all how I see things.

Everyone makes sacrifices for what it is they want to achieve and gain from whatever path they are on in life. Parenting is no different.

But to say you gave up, gave in, gave away…?

That sort of language is perhaps too strong and is, in my exceedingly humble opinion, way off the mark. Like the glass and the argument over its capacity, I like to think more along the lines of what have I gained.

Now, having said that, embarking on creating a big brood of little ‘uns does mean there are limits placed on just where you might have pictured your future self, twenty or so years ago. I never thought I would be washing so many dishes, doing so many loads of laundry. But then, I also never figured I would have rekindled the joy of Lego blocks or re-found the fun of cartoons.

Ok, so I don’t have a 4WD ute (pick-up for the Americans among you). Not even a double cab one. I don’t have a boat. Stretching to a couple of Kayaks was a financial milestone.

We don’t dine out, we don’t even add a lot of spice.  We don’t go to the movies we want to go to, we don’t go on a lot of holidays, we don’t do a lot of things that those without kids do.

We do get spontaneous, gorgeous smiles. Just because we open the hands from our faces and say boo, we get chirpy giggles. We do get ‘I love you guys’, unbidden, from a snuggly 3-year-old. Ever see a child open a present? Well there you go.

I was lucky that I made the call to get some travel in earlier in my life. I got to see and do some wonderful, life affirming things. For I start, I went all the way to London to meet a girl from Whangarei. I married her, but not before checking into places like South America and Southern Africa.

Do I wish I was still travelling? Hell yes. And we still will. It will be different though, a new challenge and maybe we will be able to see things a little fresher, from a less jaded point of view; through the eyes of our children.

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Perhaps we won’t pitch a tent on the banks of the Okavango River, in between grazing Hippos, watching the sun set over war torn Angola. We’ll book a room somewhere instead.

Maybe we will book a bus ticket or six rather than huddle together on the roof of rickety stock truck, weaving its way through the misty slopes of the lower Andes.

Of course, if we didn’t have kids, we could probably afford to fly. But where is the fun in that?

A good mate once said to me that kids ruin your life. He was, is, so wrong.

Life changes, of that there is no doubt. You, as people, are forced to change and adapt when you become parents. To an extent, having children changes a little of the very essence of who you are. Certainly, who you perceive yourself to be.

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Yes, the likelihood of me running off to the pub on a regular basis to drink excessively and watch sport has vastly diminished. Even while, with four kids in the house, the temptation to drink to excess has risen dramatically. The chances of my wife getting to share the bed with just her husband increases with every passing day, but the outlook for sleep-ins is grim.

Sometimes, all we want to do is throw a little extra chili into the mix, but we have four other mouths to feed that are relying on us doing just that.

Our lives as parents are not ruined. Just different, a life enhanced.

I gave up a motorbike so we could have a second family car. I gave up a drum-kit so we had room for an extra bed. I gave up hitting the tops for a family tent and a camping ground.

I saw the wonder on a child’s face, my child, when I let go of the seat and they rode a bike for the first time on their own. I see the furrowed brow of concentration and the untapped joy of discovered talent as a child bangs away on a keyboard, or plucks away at a guitar.

My kids love camping. And I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, doing anything else.

Harden up

How far do you push for a healthy lifestyle for your kids, vs staying warm and keeping your feet dry? 

On Saturday afternoon a watery sun sort of poked through a grey winters day. Sort of.

It was all the window we needed. It was time to get the girls and their little brother out the door, regardless of the weather.

The signs were all there; the arguing, the requests to watch T.V turning into demands, a desire to eat for the sake of eating, the bitching and whining and moaning.

The kids were going a bit stir crazy too.

I geared up one of the girls fishing rods and we tucked the little ones into gumboots and jackets and the rest. This time of year, the threat of rain is ever present. The dogs tagged along, young and old, and we took on the mud successfully, making our way down to the waters edge.

The trip was really about introducing the new addition to the family, a puppy we have named Tui, a Black Labrador x Weimaraner, to the water. And no, owning a pet is not an attempt to make the kids learn responsibility or any of that. They do share a few small chores around pet ownership and care, but we don’t over do it. The pets are for fun, love and companionship, not to be resented.

It wasn’t a warm day. Not cold, because it never gets really cold where we are, but a long way from warm all the same. Plus, there was mud to contend with, four kids and two dogs to supervise at the harbour’s edge and two dogs, romping about in their bid for freedom and fishing hooks and a knife and sharp, broken shells and slippery rocks and fallen trees and fading light and Oh My God why did we leave the house?!

But we had left the house and if one, or even all, of our lovelies had slipped and ended up with a muddy butt…bummer, more for the washing machine. If one, or all, had gotten themselves entangled in the Pampas, covering themselves in stinging little cuts…out with the band-aids. If one of them had taken a tumble on those slippery rocks, crash landed, splitting their forehead open before rolling semi-conscious into the cold, salty waters of the Hokianga, to float face down in a silty pool of their own blood, then we scoop the poor unfortunate, scarred, waterlogged creature up, cuddle and cradle her/him, and gingerly negotiate our way back to the comparative safety of house and home.

I say comparative because there is no guarantee that your dear little ones are any safer inside the four walls of your house than out. A variety of kitchen implements and utensils, a bath tub full of water, or the toilet bowl, chemicals and power points and ornaments and toppling furniture and stairwells and glass doors and all manner of shiny things that don’t belong in mouths.

You can child proof your house all you like but if they want to hurt themselves, they will. The little ones do stuff that is very much related around what can go in their mouths, the older ones jump onto and off stuff simply not designed for the purpose.

I am a sports fan and the term that pops up in the world of professional athleticism is ‘wrapping in cotton wool’. Protecting. For the coach, that might be fair enough. Save your key players from harm so they are fit and rearing to go come the big game. For our children, everyday is the big game.

There is a bump, a bruise, a scrape or graze around every corner. There is always a scar waiting to happen. A child will fall off a bike and yes, that is partly your fault because, eventually, you have to let go. There will always be one bright spark that decides to go up the slide and down the steps, rapidly and at the risk of a broken limb. There is always the limb on a tree, a branch, that just isn’t going to take their weight.

And most of that isn’t your fault.safety2

Finding fault, isn’t really the point though is it. The point is you can put as many measures in place as you can possibly think of and find, and then a helicopter crashes through the roof.

A big part of learning, of developing, is bleeding. A black eye, at some stage in your young life, preferably not caused by another’s knuckles, is almost a rite of passage for a boy. A hockey stick might hit you in the mouth and split your lip. Does that mean you shouldn’t be letting your kids play the sport? I’ve seen guitar strings cut open the players fingers…ban your little beloved from learning music?

More often than not, your kid is going to bounce. Sometimes it might hurt and occasionally it might be serious and each time a lesson learned, for them and you. This is the way we find our limits, establish our boundaries.

All you have to do in the interim is hold pick them up, wipe away the tears and hold their hand. Sometimes, just every now and then, you might want to give them a push too..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You what?

Friday feedback, how you like the sound of that?

This week has flown by, for a multitude of reasons.

Not the least of which, these past few days signal my full immersion, belatedly, into the digital world of communication. I blog, I tweet…that’ll about do it.

Some of you out there have engaged and I have bounced back at a few. So far, so good.

At least that is my impression. What of your  thoughts, the faithful, limited, readership. By that I am no way implying that you are limited, in any way. It is me and my limitations that are in question…

So hit me. And not with your rhythm stick.

Give me your feedback…yell at me, abuse me, praise me, give me a shout out and some big ups…

Come on….I’m waiting…if it rolls, let’s make it a regular feature.

Friday feedback=your turn…