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Through the Eyes of a (Very Beautiful) Child

I didn’t have the Christmas spirit.  Granted, finding the Christmas spirit is a lot harder at my age.  As an adult, it is hard to find that sense of magic and wonder, that feeling that everything is perfect.  It is hard because as adults we know that there are bad things out there.  There is evil, war, violence, sadness, and a whole host of other assorted miseries that make things seem very far from perfect.  Knowing all this keeps us from seeing the world as we once did, before we knew what we know now.

Which brings us back to my lack of Christmas spirit.  I am a happy person by nature, but for some reason I didn’t feel that certain cheery spark that comes this time of year.  Maybe it’s all that’s going on in the world, maybe it’s seeing all I’ve seen and reading all I’ve read.  Heck maybe it is the odd weather we have been having (it is hard to get holly or jolly when the weather is 70 degrees!) Whatever it is kept me from being merry and bright.

Then it happened.  Today (December 24th as I write this) my wife and I took our niece and her grandmother (my mother in law), to the mall to see Santa.  Her name is Nia and she is just shy of a year and a half old.  She had no desire to see Santa and quite frankly didn’t know or care who he was.  In fact when we put her on Santa’s lap she cried loud enough to be heard at the North Pole!  She was fine shortly after being removed from Santa’s lap, but I fear I may have tainted her feelings towards jolly old Saint Nick.  However bad I felt about making her cry, I did feel good because that trip put me in the Christmas spirit better than anything had in a long while!

No, it was not seeing her head explode from being put on a stranger’s lap against her will.  In fact my return to Christmas spirtness (yeah I know it’s not a word), had little to do with the Christmas related activities at all.  The reason why I feel so good right now is for the brief time we were there I got to see the world through Nia’s eyes. Having made it to the ripe old age of 17th months, Nia has made great strides in her development. She has graduated from crawling to walking, she can speak a few words, she do some cute things like blow kisses and say “umm” when she wants food, and she realized she doesn’t like rotund men in red coats with white beards (that development is fairly new!)

With every new development, Nia has been more and more able and willing to see all that is out there.  She can walk to things, she can move things, she can throw things (which she does frequently) and she can explore the world around her.  Every step, everything she comes in contact with, everyone she meets (except Santa) is new and exciting and enough to thrill her to no end!  The look on her face as she rambled across the food court in the mall (saying “umm” trying to get someone to feed her) was one of pure joy and wonder.  To everyone there it was just a shabby food court, but to her it was a brave new world.  We took her to the indoor play space next to the food court, and upon seeing all the play things and kids running around, her mind was blown.  She looked as if she saw the heavens and not a plain old play space.

It is that sense of wonder that we as adults have lost.  It is all “been there done that” with us, and we are hardly impressed or amazed by anything.  We slog through life not noticing the wonder and beauty around us and letting all the bad out there weigh us down.  Christmas spirit? We are lucky if we have any spirit at all.  As for me, the lesson I learned today that was taught to me by a Santa fearing one and a half year old is that there is magic, beauty and wonder in the world, it just depends on how you look at it.There are great things all around us, and lots of reasons to smile.  Maybe it is a small kind gesture from a stranger, an amazing sunset on an odd 70 degree December day, or just the look on the face of a little girl who sees nothing but beauty all around her.  There is a lot of bad in this world, of that there can be no doubt, but there is way more good.

In the New Year, may we all see the world through the eyes of a child

Merry Christmas!

Big Joe 🙂

 

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Posted by on December 24, 2015 in From The Mind of Big Joe

 

Little Joe vs. Big Joe

Okay, I have fallen behind in my writing assignments because I have had a ton of shows due to the fact that this is nationally the “Week of the Young Child”.  I am not sure why they need their own week, because with holidays, birthdays, and awards for everyone for just about everything, young children are celebrated all the time!

The assignment was to compare and contrast 2 things in the form of a dialog.  Seeing as I have been dealing with young children and we have been nationally celebrating young children, I have decided to compare and contrast the adult mind and the mind of a child.  Representing the adult point of view will be myself. Speaking for the young child will be four year Joey C. who was the boy they called Little Joe (while I was called Big Joe) when I was a preschool teacher.  Joey C is now in his mid 20’s (hang on, need to process that…), but when he was 4 he was quite the character so a conversation with him would have been very interesting and would have gone a little something like this…..

Big Joe: We are here to compare and contrast the mind of an adult and the mind of a child because we want to enlighten those who read this blog.

Little Joe: I was told we were doing this to get cookies!

Big Joe: So let’s talk about adults and kids. Adults have to worry about  getting things like food, clothing, shelter, and possessions.

Little Joe:  Kids pretty much get all those things handed to them and some other cool stuff like birthdays, Christmas (or Hanukah) and other random holidays so we pretty much don’t have to worry about anything.

Big Joe: Adults strive to live to their potential and reach their goals.

Little Joe:  For kids the bar is set pretty low.  If I pee in the potty they throw a parade for me!

Big Joe: Adults can be mean to each other and sometimes do not act nice.

Little Joe: Ditto.

Big Joe:  Adults can also be very kind and will share with others.

Little Joe:  What is this “share” word you speak of?

Big Joe:  Adults have lots of freedom and can do what they want.

Little Joe: Kids don’t have as much freedom but one well thrown tantrum and that all changes!

Big Joe:  One of our many freedoms is we can stay up as late as we want!

Little Joe: You can, but if you’re anything like my mom and dad you’re in bed by 9:30.  On the other hand, my bedtime is 7 but as far as sleep goes, well that’s another matter.

Big Joe: Adults can eat all the candy they want.

Little Joe: Yes but how much candy do they want?

Big Joe: Not much actually.

Little Joe:  That’s pretty sad!

Big Joe: Adults have some really cool toys.

Little Joe: Have you seen my playroom? Enough said!

Big Joe: Adults go to school, then to college, then work hard so they can eventually retire and have an easy life.

Little Joe:  Kids already have an easy life so I don’t understand what’s so good about being an adult.

Big Joe: I guess you’re right, now I’m kind of bummed out.

Little Joe: I know what will cheer you up!

Big Joe: Cookies?

Little Joe: BINGO!

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Less of Me (part 2)

If you haven’t read part one, please do so now, I’ll wait…………

So there I was being seen by a nurse and she was shocked that I was a bit on the yellow side.  She told me that according to the symptoms (and my lemony complexion), it looked like I had Hep C.  After this came a very delicate discussion in which the nurse tried to probe carefully but not insultingly into my activities.  I caught on right away and bottom lined it for her.  I told her I don’t drink, use drugs, smoke, or do anything that would make me resemble a Simpsons character.

She was sure it was Hep C, and ran a blood test to confirm.  The test came back a few days later and it was negative for Hep C (and all the other Heps).  Her course of action was to run the test again because as she told me sometimes Hep C doesn’t present right away.  Second test came back negative, and so of course she ran the test again.  They brought a doctor into the mix and his suggestion was (wait for it….)  to run another test.

By this time I had enough needles stuck in me to achieve pin cushion status, yet still had no answers.  I was getting more yellow (or yellower if I used correct grammar), and couldn’t hold down much food because my liver had a tiny “out of service” sign on it.  I knew it wasn’t Hep C, but whatever it was, it was doing a number on me (that line could be a lyric from a really weird song)!

On my birthday (November 7th for those of you who want to send a card), I got a call from the health center.  It seems the latest test came back with results that were off the chart.  Specifically it was the bilirubin level in my system (bilirubin by the way is the yellow pigment found in bile – eww).  In normal adults, the level of bilirubin is around 1.  In my system the level was at 53!  The nurse said they had an appointment set up with me at Mass General with a liver specialist.  I asked when they said in a few hours because things were that bad.

So I spent my birthday getting the same 3rd degree about my life style and the same poking and prodding, only this time done by a doctor who was top in his field of study.  The blood work came back negative but really messed up.  Instead of running them again however the doctor put me through a series of tests to figure things out.  I had a CAT scan, and MRI, an endoscopy, a colonoscopy and some other fun medical procedures .

Now you may be wondering how I could afford all these tests when in part 1 I  had mentioned I was bereft of health insurance.  Well in a stroke of good fortune and great relatives, my cousin actually at one point ran the very health center that had a “Hep C or Bust” philosophy and found a way to get me free treatment from Mass General.  I am not naming names, and I am sure no one connected to this tale will read this and know who I am talking about, but in any case I wanted to thank her, because without that help, I would be still to this day telling stories to pay medical bills!

Back to our tale….So after a bunch of tests and getting drained of more blood than the main course at a vampire buffet, I had one of the best liver specialists in MGH look at me and say “We don’t know what this is!”  He decided to do a liver biopsy because whatever it was, was getting worse and until they knew what they were dealing with, they didn’t know how to treat it.  A liver biopsy is a very scary procedure involving needles the size of javelins.  I was very nervous and for the first time a bit scared.

To calm me, the doctor made small talk and we chatted about this whole crazy thing.  He said “Are you sure you didn’t do anything different in the last few months and I said “No”.  As he was prepping the giant needles, I offhandedly mentioned that I had taken some medicine for an ear infection in August.  He looked at me with the dumbfounded look my wife gives me when I do something horribly stupid.  He asked why I never mentioned that before, and I told him I thought it didn’t matter (yes in hindsight I realize it did matter, but at the time I didn’t think there could be a connection – yet another reason no one calls me Dr. Big Joe).

He went into a medical database and found that indeed the drug I took had a one in 5 million chance of causing liver damage in people who took it (never won the lottery, but take a pill and I hit the jackpot!).  He told me that he would run the results of the biopsy against this new information, but the odds were good that was the culprit.

Sure enough the ear medicine and my glow in the dark complexion were related.  So now he knew what it was, but stopping it was another matter.  We had a very deep conversation in which he told me they had a plan and were going to try some medications to fix the situation, but if that didn’t work they would have to do a liver transplant.  He said the problem is that even with the transplant my system may be so damaged that it may not take and…..At first I didn’t get what he was driving at, but then I got the point. If the drugs or transplant didn’t work, I would soon be telling stories in Heaven (or Hell, it really could go either way with me).  I am a man of great wit and many jokes, but in that moment staring at my own mortality, I didn’t have anything funny to say.

I asked him what the plan was, and he laid it out for me.

To Be Continued

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Long Time Gone

Today’s assignment in my writing course is to talk about someone interesting I have met this year.  Now in my line of work (storytelling and all around charming person) I meet a lot of interesting people and some very interesting people.  I also meet a lot of kids who are interesting for their own reasons 🙂

I could talk about someone new and interesting I met this year.  However I would rather wax poetic about someone I have known for a long time and got to reconnect with this year.  His name is George, and he was one of my first friends. We met in kindergarten and hit it off from day one.  He was shy and kind of nerdy, and I was shy and kind of nerdy (still am – well except for the shy part) so got along famously.

We grew up together, and shared all the ups and downs that came along with it.  We did things together, we talked about things together, we had adventures together, and we got in trouble together (and never threw the other one under the bus to escape trouble – well mostly never).  We fought, made up, and then fought and made up again.  We were like brothers and went through all the things brothers go through.

He had a very interesting personality, that at times complimented my own personality and other times challenged it.  No matter what wavelength we were on however we always got each other.  We were as close as friends could be, and had the vision of us being together forever.

Of course like all things, life sometimes gets in the way.  George and I went to different high schools, and while we still saw each other quite a bit, we weren’t joined at the hip as we were in our elementary school days.  After that came college and soon after the real world. As we tended to our career paths, the paths that usually led us to each other started to diverge.

George was married in 1996, and his wedding would be the last time I would see him for a long stretch.  Soon after marriage, he moved away to Florida.  With the internet still in its formative years and Facebook and Skype being years away from creation, there were very limited ways for us to stay in touch. It would have been tough had we not both had lives, but we did which made things more difficult.

The person I used to talk to every day to hear about what was going on, now became someone I only heard about secondhand.  His mom would tell my mom something that happened and I would get the information.  I learned things both mundane and important, but learned them all from a distance.  I learned he had a medical condition, and that he was trying to find his birth parents (George was adopted which had a profound affect on him as we grew up.)

I could have reached out more and he could have as well, but he had things going on and I had things going on and we both let time and space drift on by. This January marked the 19th year we hadn’t seen each other in person.  I was taking my wife to Florida for her birthday, and decided to use the opportunity to stage a reunion.

He was as excited as I was, and anxious to see me.  Finally the night arrived and we got to go out to dinner with our wives. It was strange being out to dinner as “adults”, but it was also kind of fun.  It was amazing how quickly we slipped back into a rhythm and were talking and joking like we always had.  It was 19 years gone by, but together at that table it was like no time had passed at all.

George did indeed find his birth parents, and the tale he told that night was more fascinating than anything I heard in a while. It was interesting to hear about his life, but kind of sad that I wasn’t a part of it. He had a different life and different friends and so did I.  The thing I realized however is that no matter how much distance is put between us or how separate our lives become, we will forever be connected, because true friends always are!

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2015 in From The Mind of Big Joe

 

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Short Take: Consider the Source

As much as I like telling things to preschoolers, what thrills me more are the things they say to me.  Preschoolers have zero filters, limited social graces, and a grasp of reality that is tenuous at best.  As a result, the things they say are often hilarious and always interesting.  During my years as a teacher and now as a storyteller, I have written down all the funny things preschoolers have said.  My collection is very large at this point and never fails to make me laugh when I go through some of the entries.

They range from the silly: A 4 year old girl said “I’m going to visit my grandma soon!” I asked “In the summer?”  She said “No in my car” to the cute:  After a show a 3 year old boy asked me “Can I make a hug with you”, to the embarrassing 4 year old girl said to me “My mom has nipples”, to the downright philosophical: A 5 year old boy told his friend “shoes only move if you put feet in them!”

The things they say can be funny, helpful, hurtful (boy said to me “Big Joe I’m tired of hearing you say words!”) bizarre and totally out there (A 4 year old told me “When I grow up I’m going to catch a lot of fish and feed them to a dragon!”).  There are also time when the things they say can really touch you.  Such an exchange took place a few months ago.

I had had a very bad week and I was off my game.  I was tired, burnt out, and was feeling the weight of doing 11 shows in 3 days.  I didn’t have any energy and I wasn’t able to give it my all.  I struggled through a show, and even though I wasn’t too happy with it, the audience seemed to enjoy it.  I was feeling down, when this cute little preschool girl came up to me and said “Big Joe you’re the best storyteller I’ve ever seen!”  Just like that everything got better!  Happiness radiated through me, and I smiled a great big smile.  I felt great.

Of course, not being one to leave well enough along, I asked the girl “How many storytellers have you seen?”  She smiled at me and said “Just you”   Even though her list of storytellers stood at one, I needed the win so I took the compliment and thanked her profusely!

Kids do indeed say the darndest things!!

By the way, I will share more from my collection called “Things Preschoolers Say” on this blog, but you can also follow me on twitter (@bigjoestory) where I put a bunch of my favorites out there for you to enjoy!

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Less of me (Part 1)

Today’s topic from my writing course is loss.  I thought about all the things I have lost in life, from the simple and irrelevant (like pens and keys) to the life altering and tragic (like the death of my father.  The simple ones don’t really seem worth writing about, and the more tragic ones would be hard to bring forth (and would bum me out!)  So I decided to tell you about a loss that was both simple and life altering.  It is a tale I haven’t told to anyone outside of my friends and family, but seeing as I want those of you nice enough to read this blog to get to know me I would like to share it…

I am known as Big Joe.  Back in 2001, the name could be used not only as a term of endearment, but also a descriptor of my physical state.  During my preschool teaching days, I was in very good shape because there is no better workout than chasing 18 four year olds around.  When I left teaching to become a storyteller, my lifestyle became less hectic and a bit more slowed down.  My new job required less physical activity, so I wasn’t as active and put on some weight.  At my heaviest I was about 235. While I wasn’t gigantic, I was much bigger than I was and it showed.

I tried to diet and get in shape but it was tough. I would have sought the advice of a dietitian or a doctor, but at that time, we were without health insurance because my wife’s temp job offered her no benefits and I was self employed and unlike today individual plans were way too pricey (come to think of it, it is just like today).  Without insurance, I was very fearful of getting injured or sick so I was very cautious when exercising or trying any type of diet that could possibly affect me.

Of course as cautious as I was, I did wind up getting sick through no fault of my own.  I got an ear infection in August and took a nice expensive trip to the doctors.  He prescribed me Augmentin a commonly  prescribed antibiotic.  I took exactly 6 pills and after 3 days the infection cleared up.

Fast forward ahead to October. My wife and I were coming home from a movie and I felt sick.  I was light headed, had the chills and felt kind of blah.  I figured I had the flu, and by the next morning my figuring seemed correct.  I had a fever, felt achy, couldn’t hold down food, and had no energy to speak of.

One of the few benefits of working with kids was that I developed a very strong immune system. As a result, I hardly got sick, and when I did it never lasted for more than a few days. This time however I wasn’t getting better.  It had been a week and I was still feeling sick. Not wanting to fork over a ton of money for a doctor visit, I decided to go to the health clinic in the neighborhood I grew up in to get checked out by a nurse.

I was sitting on the exam table when the nurse came in.  She took a look at me and had a shocked expression usually reserved for seeing a ghost.  She asked me “Have you seen yourself?” which to me was a very odd question to say the least.  I asked what she meant and she clarified her statement by asking me if I had seen myself under florescent light.  I said no , and she held my arm up towards the light and close to my face.  That was when I saw it. My skin which was normally a peachy beige color was kind of yellow. She looked at me and said “I think there’s something wrong with you!”  The fact that I had turned a primary color made me tend to agree with her diagnosis.

TO BE CONTINUED…

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Let It Go (PLEASE!!!)

I was at a preschool today and saw a sign that made me laugh.  The sign read “Days without someone singing a song from Frozen” and the number under it was zero.  I took pity on those teachers as I take pity on every adult who has had to hear a Frozen song over and over and over. Of course the biggest sonic ear worm on that soundtrack is “Let It Go”!  Don’t get me wrong, it is a very nice song.  The problem is after hearing it a billion times both from the soundtrack itself and from the mouth of a small child, it’s niceness wears off quickly. I know adults who would rather have their own ears removed then hear that song again.

Sadly I know what they are going through all too well.  When I was a preschool teacher, The Little Mermaid was all the rage as was its very catchy soundtrack. I will admit, the songs from that movie are great and are now classics.  However at the time, I would have given anything not to hear them ever again.  We had a ton of CDs in our collection, but every day (usually a few times a day), the kids would beg and plead to hear “Little Mermaid”.  Being the nice guy that I am, I always obliged (well except for that one week where I just couldn’t take it anymore and the CD got temporarily “lost”) and played it over and over.

As a result, the songs became stuck in my head and I could do nothing to remove them.  I would be doing paperwork, and all of a sudden start humming “Under the Sea” or I would be at a restaurant with a date and the song “Part of Your World” would start playing in my head (ironically the song “Kiss the Girl” never played in those situations!)  It got to the point where those songs that at first seemed fun and exciting, became the soundtrack to my nightmares.

The amazing part of all this is that while adults get repetitive stress disorder from hearing these songs over and over, kids never grow tired of them.  That is why my preschoolers had me play that Mermaid CD till we almost wore it out (an outcome I often prayed for) and that is why today kids constantly listen to and sing Frozen songs and will do so until the next ice age.

As adults, our goal is to make kids happy, so we will let them sing and listen to their heart’s content to the songs that make us shudder.  The teachers who put up that sign that I mentioned, did so in good humor, but I know they are anything but happy about it, and I really feel for those poor unfortunate souls (see what I did there?)

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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