the planet of the apes

When I was growing up I loved The Planet of the Apes movies. I spent many a weekend during my extra-chubby adolescence watching ape movie marathons on one of the now defunct upper channels which could only be accessed through a precariously balanced antenna. I was obsessed, planning my non-existent social life around this dystopian world dominated by talking apes and ruggedly handsome men in loincloths.

There was Charlton Heston in the original film, collapsing at the base of the Statue of Liberty under the horrifying realization that “it was earth all along”. Later in the quintology there was Escape from the Planet of the Apes, an ode to the swinging 70s complete with time-traveling apes, feminist undertones, and a carnival barking Ricardo Montalban. For the fourth film the series went dark as Conquest of the Planet of the Apes offered us a totalitarian view of the future and an endless backdrop of bad concrete architecture.  The franchise ran out of steam by its mostly unwatchable last film, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, an all but forgettable entry save for a cameo by the late great John Houston, an Academy award winning actor who was clearly slumming it for the paycheck.

But the movie that stuck (and sticks) with me most was the second entry in the series, Beneath the Planet of the Apes. A cautionary tale of a post-nuclear war civilization, it featured an underground city populated by mutated humans with psychic powers. The mutants worship a nuclear warhead and, in the best scene in the film franchise, they peel away their seemingly normal faces to reveal the hideous radiation scarred skin beneath. As the music swells, the mutants turn to the bomb and, in what can only be described as an unbridled display of orgiastic religious fervor, they begin to chant, “I reveal my innermost self”.

(I promise I’m going somewhere with this.)

I love that scene. I have probably watched it fifty times, maybe more. Even at eleven years old I like to think that I understood what the filmmakers were really trying to say: blind obedience is bad and, if I ever decide to join a post-apocalyptic cult in an ape dominated world first make sure the other members aren’t hideously scarred mutants who worship a nuclear warhead.

Actually what I remember most – and what resonates now three decades later more than it ever did in 1986 – was the line, “I reveal my innermost self,” because in this age of technological isolation I realize that we have become those hideously scarred mutants hiding out in our underground cities, communicating through psychic messages, hiding behind a mask so no one can see our truth.

We don’t leave our houses. We communicate through the tap of a phone screen. We are the sum total of our social media profiles.

We don’t let people see the warts. We hide. We reveal nothing.

I dread social obligations. I just want to hole up in my house eating doughnuts and watching Call the Midwife. The real world is too much work, too much effort. I do not talk on the phone. All calls go to voicemail. All communication is done through text or instant messaging. My phone rings and I think, Why are you calling me? Did someone die? …and if someone did die then why don’t you just text me the bad news so we can avoid a scene?

(Texting is like having psychic powers and if it worked for movie mutants then it should work for us.)

I feel bad.  I feel guilty. I think I must be the only person who feels this way, but then I log on to social media and I see the whole goddamn world has gone Planet of the Apes. 

Facebook is nothing but the latex mask we wear over our hideous radiation scarred faces.

(Okay, I know I’m being a bit much here and really this is just an excuse to talk about those ape movies, but also everything I’m saying is kinda true.)

I honestly have no idea what anyone’s innermost self looks like because all I see is perfection. Perfect families. Perfect marriages. Perfect pictures of perfect dinners.

We all do it.

Life is a fucking postcard and you had better keep up because if you can’t compete with my fake life then something must be lacking in your fake life.

Just once I would like to see someone (not me, of course!) say: My life is a mess. My children hate me. I haven’t spoken to my spouse in three days and that’s okay because the truth is I’m hoping for a fourth day of silence. Also, I ate three gallons of ice cream last night and I just deep fried a pie for my second lunch.

Imagine how freeing life would be if we all walked around showing our hideous scars to one another. I’m not talking about complaining, please don’t do that because no one wants to hear you whine. I mean just some good old fashioned truth tellin’ and if that seems like too much, if you can’t handle the truth, then don’t try and sell the latex mask lie.

Embrace the mess. Cherish the silence. Eat the second lunch.

too blessed to be stressed and other stupid things people say

Yesterday I stayed home from work. I didn’t have a fever or a stomach ache or even a hangover. The truth is I was exhausted and I was exhausted because all I do is worry. I’ve been a worrier all my life. In high school, so chronic was my worry that I kept a bottle of aspirin in my locker to help combat the daily headaches brought on by my excessive worrying.

As an adult I like to tell myself that I have learned how to manage my condition, but the truth is I’ve just become better at compartmentalizing it. Now when something bothers me I imagine a box high up on a shelf and I stuff all my worry into that box – out of sight, out of mind (not really!) I cram that box full of every petty annoyance, every concern, every case of “what-if” until finally it gets so full it explodes and I have to stay home from work.

I had not been feeling well for a few weeks—stomach aches, headaches, indigestion, trouble sleeping. The internet told me I had everything from an ulcer to Lupus to Lyme’s Disease to cancer. I looked in the mirror: how could I be falling apart when I was still so young and beautiful? What would everyone I had ever met do without me? Who would play me in the TV movie of my life, there was no question that Judith Light would play my husband, but what about me?

It was Judith Light my husband who suggested that I was perhaps/maybe/most likely not dying and that maybe I was just stressed out. I hate the phrase stressed out. It’s up there with depression, another overused self-diagnosis from which everyone claims to be suffering. Still, I considered his suggestion and, as much as I hated to admit it, I realized he might be on to something.

I made a mental list of all the things which had been causing me worry: my weight, my student loans, the “check engine” light that came on while driving home from work, my children, my children walking unsupervised for three blocks from the bus stop to home, the mother of the boy in my oldest son’s class who didn’t want her son to be friends with my son because he has two dads, what it must be like for my sons to have two dads, my youngest son’s refusal to eat anything without large amounts of ranch dressing, my oldest son’s piano lessons and play rehearsals, my youngest son’s soccer practice, the phone interview we had with the caseworker from Washington about adopting an eight year old boy, the fact that it’s been nine days since the interview and nothing, if we have enough money, how we spend our money, the lack of one-on-one time I have with my husband, the realization that silently watching TV for three hours a night does not constitute one-on-one time with my husband, Donald Trump winning the election, people who support Donald Trump speaking to and/or influencing my children, how I’ll react if Maggie dies on The Walking Dead…

The list goes on and on and, yes, I realize that 80% of what I worry about is ridiculous and the other 20% is stuff that everyone worries about all the time. My problem is not that I worry, my problem is I don’t process my worry. I stuff it all in that box high up on the shelf and the next thing I know Maggie is lying in a pool of blood and I’m sobbing on the living room floor next to a pile of dog vomit because my dog always vomits at the worst possible moments.

I have to learn to let go and let God (another stupid thing people say) which is about as hollow as #prayers, but if I peel away the very thick shell of cynicism that envelopes me, I get it. I can’t control everything, or really anything for that matter. Life happens and the best I can do is control how I react to it.

I may want to destroy the mother of the boy at my oldest son’s school who won’t let her son be friends with my son because he has two dads, but what would that accomplish? Sure I might feel great, but I’d probably end up in jail. And so what if my youngest son needs ranch dressing to eat his broccoli? In the end, he’s eating his broccoli.

Ultimately the world keeps on spinning and if Donald Trump is elected President of the United States…no, that’s a legitimate concern. We cannot let that happen, people. There isn’t a box large enough or a shelf high enough to contain that disaster.

Worry, worry, worry….


Sean Michael O’Donnell is 41 year old married gay man. He lives in Pittsburgh with his husband and two sons. Sean enjoys Law & Order reruns, Christmas movies in October, and Facebook stalking. He likes donuts and beer. Sometimes he goes to the gym.  He is the author of the blog seansbiggayblog where he attempt to chronicle his experiences as a parent.  The contents of his blog (and life) are 75% truth, 18% satire, 6% hyperbole and 1% drama. He is also the author of Which One of You is the Mother?

the problem with people

 

This past weekend my 10-year-old son Chris made his stage debut in a production at a local theater. During the intermission, I was swapping parenting war stories with a fellow nontraditional parent whose child was also in the production. We talked about being a nontraditional family and what that meant: our experiences dealing with the schools, funny anecdotes about encounters with strangers at restaurants, tips on how best to navigate the holidays with unsupportive families. After a particularly grueling story he remarked, something to the effect of, “It’s 2016.  What’s wrong with people?”

Now that I have children in this world it’s a question I find myself asking again and again.

What is wrong with people?

Despite my son’s sometimes larger-than-life, always outgoing personality, he has struggled to make friends at school and in the neighborhood. He gets along famously with adults, working the room like a seasoned politician, but with kids his own age he flounders, often regarding his peers as if they were aliens visiting from another planet.

So when the new school year began a few weeks ago I was thrilled to hear all about a friend he had made. The boy was a new student, and he and Chris took an instant liking to one another, bonding over Minecraft and other matters of importance to the average ten year old. They sat together at lunch, took selfies together on the bus, worked together on class projects.

At last, a friend, I thought.

Everything seemed to be going well until my son asked the boy if he wanted to come over to our house to play. The boy told him that he did want to come over, very much so, but his mother would not allow it. It seems she did not want him to be friends with my son. In fact, she forbid him to be friends with my son.

She said that being gay was wrong and because Chris had two dads our home was unacceptable. She went on to tell her son that because Chris had two dads this also meant that he, my son, had to be gay. She concluded by threatening to send her son to a different school if he continued being friends with Chris.

I am rarely without words, but on the car ride home from school that day, I was speechless.

What is wrong with people?

I eventually found my words and after internally revising my expletive-laden monologue, I reassured my son of the thing he already knew: there was nothing wrong with his family. I reminded him that he had two parents who loved him which was two more than a lot of other kids had.

I told him that although his friend’s mother was a mean-spirited and hateful woman (and yes, she was, and yes, my son needed to understand that there are people like that in the world) – this boy who my son called a friend was not to be judged or condemned for the actions of his mother.

My son was to say nothing to the boy on the subject because to do so would put this boy in the position of having to defend his family, the very same position this boy’s mother had put my son in, and no one should ever have to defend or explain away their family…even if that family is headed up by an angry, narrow-minded, spiteful bigot.

I informed the school of the situation and they were appalled. They assured me that all types of families were welcome and celebrated within their hallways. The principal said that while they cannot control what happens after a child leaves the school (nor would I expect them to), once the kids walked through the front doors everyone was to be respected regardless of where they came from or who their parents were, and any parent who had an issue with that was free to take their child elsewhere.

Chris is determined to remain friends with the boy and the boy is determined to remain friends with Chris. Perhaps easier said than done given the boy’s mother, but still, I applaud both boys for being better ambassadors than the generations of people who came before them.

It may in fact be 2016, but incidents like this remind us that for as much as progress as we like to think we’ve made we are not that far removed from a time when parents would tell their kids, “You cannot be friends with that boy because he’s black.”  It reminds us that we are living right now in a time when parents tell their kids, “You cannot be friends with that boy because he has two dads.”

What is wrong with people?


Sean Michael O’Donnell is 41 year old married gay man. He lives in Pittsburgh with his husband and two sons. Sean enjoys Law & Order reruns, Christmas movies in October, and Facebook stalking. He likes donuts and beer. Sometimes he goes to the gym.  He is the author of the blog seansbiggayblog where he attempt to chronicle his experiences as a parent.  The contents of his blog (and life) are 75% truth, 18% satire, 6% hyperbole and 1% drama. He is also the author of Which One of You is the Mother?

it’s okay, he has two dads

I rarely encounter prejudice. I’m not naïve – I know it exists. It leads the nightly news and it clogs my social media feeds. It seems everyone is getting it but me.

Perhaps I am too caught up in my own little world to notice the ugliness around me. As a gay man and as the father of two adopted children (one who is bi-racial) you would think prejudice would be everywhere – in line at the grocery store, peeking out the windows of the houses on my street, lurking in the shadows at my children’s school.

But if it’s there, I’m not seeing it.

I suspect my inability (or unwillingness) to see it has less to do with progress and more to do with politeness. We no longer announce our prejudices with burning crosses and limp-wristed gestures. It is considered passé in these early days of the 21st century to be a card-carrying bigot. We are more subversive in our bias.

We have no problem with African Americans…as long as they don’t cause trouble. We champion women in positions of power…as long as they don’t act like a bitch. We applaud when a non-traditional family adopts a child…as long as we can pity the poor child behind closed doors.

I recently read an article titled He Doesn’t Have a Mom. It was written by some well-meaning mother of three who, in short, believes a child needs to have a mother in order to be happy. In the story the authoress details an encounter she had with a young boy in her son’s class. The boy is depicted as being emotionally needy, immediately clinging to the writer and telling her, this stranger, that he “loves her” and that she is his “best friend”.

The author learns (from another well-meaning parent) that the child does not have a mother and suddenly in a flash of privileged arrogance it all makes sense. Never mind that the author notes the child is being raised by his grandparents, two people whose actions are the very definition of parenting. Never mind that this boy has a mother, his grandmother. Never mind that 90% of this woman’s story is total fabricated bullshit.

Never mind any of this because it is too late – she has gone full Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side.

She hugs the child. She cries for the child. Her heart breaks for the child. As she reaches up for her Academy Award, she vows to pray for the child. She promises to connect with him in the years to come and (threatens?) to bring him into her home so that he may experience “family time”.

She concludes her tale by saying that the boy does have a father – no, not his grandfather, but his capital letter “F” Father – God.  He “who has promised to take the place of parents for those who have been abandoned”. She hopes the boy will come to God and be redeemed because, you know, as a motherless orphan he must be godless.

Look, I’m not even going to touch the religious angle here because the author’s faith is between her and her capital letter “F” Father and if HE rewards condescension and arrogance then the author has bought herself some prime real estate in the afterlife. However, as the parent of two kids who don’t have a mother and on behalf of all the nontraditional families in the world let me just say this to the author: Blow it out your ass.

A mother is a wonderful thing, but a mother is not a parent. To be clear, a mother is defined as a woman in relation to a child to whom she has given birth. By this definition she is a womb, an incubator. She has a job for nine months and then after nine months she is either unemployed or she accepts a promotion and becomes something more, a parent.

And parents are not defined by gender or convention. Parents are not a check mark made inside a box labeled Mother or a signature above a line designated Father. 

My husband and I are more than mother or father, we are parents.

We raise and nurture our children.  They are happy. They are loved. Their lack of convention does not require your pity anymore than their non-traditional circumstance cries out for your self-serving prayers.

They are whole. Even without a mother.

I sometimes encounter prejudice.

I may have to look for it, but it exists.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here.

(not) just some woman

I never met her. She was just this woman in a photograph. A stranger. My youngest son’s birth mother. Yesterday I received an email informing me that this woman, this stranger, my youngest son’s birth mother had died. And even though I never knew her, even though she was no one to me, even though I had hated her, I looked over at my son, barely six years old, and I was overcome by such profound sadness.

She was gone and he would never know her.

My son has no memory of this woman, his mother. She was as much a stranger to him as she was to me. He was taken from her custody at a very young age, the result of her poor choices and the unfortunate lifestyle that ultimately claimed her life. In the past when my son spoke of “his mother” he was referring to his foster mother, the only mother he had ever known, but still, this woman who died two weeks ago, she made him and if it had not been for her my son would not be my son.

One day my son will no longer be barely six years old and he will understand his story and he will realize before his fathers before his foster mother before his caseworkers there was his mother and he will ask about her.

He will ask who she was and what she looked like and does he look like her and why did she stop being his mother and can he meet her.

A few months ago we learned that my son’s birth mother had contacted his former caseworker. She had been asking about us. She wanted a photo or to send a birthday card or maybe to write a letter, I can’t remember.

Even though there was nothing she could have done, his adoption had been finalized and she had relinquished parental rights years ago, I was angry by her sudden reappearance. Since that moment I had been worried that she would somehow find out where we lived and show up unannounced on our doorstep. I worried that she would upset my son and cause confusion and disrupt our perfect life. And so when I read that email, before I looked over at my son before I felt such profound sadness, I felt relief.

And now I just feel guilty. And sad. And after I closed the email I hugged my son and I told him I loved him and he playfully pushed me away and said, “Not now, Dad.” And I suppose right now in this moment I just hope that one day when my son asks about his mother, after I tell him the truth, after I hug him, after I tell him I love him, he won’t push me away.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here.

 

 

all the things you have today

Facebook likes to remind you about your past. Every day lurking at the top of my newsfeed sits a memory. Most days the memory is a happy one: the day my husband and I first met our sons; the anniversary of our children’s adoptions; a memorable photo from an otherwise unmemorable day. But sometimes the memory is a ghost from the past, a moment best left buried and forgotten. Yet there it sits, not so much haunting as taunting you.

It invites you to stroll down memory lane. It dares you to dip your toes into yesterday. It calls and most days you answer. Your mind begins to drift away — six months, a year, two years, five years, twenty years. One minute you’re a gay 40 year old father of two trying to keep it all together and the next you’re a sexually confused 20 year old college sophomore making out with some girl because, why not?

Oh, the past.

We love the past. We romanticize it. We rewrite it. We have the benefit of being able to view the past from the present. Twenty years ago I was a college student studying in England and traveling through Europe. Fifteen years ago I was operating a small community theater. Ten years ago I was living in New York. Five years ago I had a wonderful circle of friends.

At least that’s how I look at the past now….but the truth is: Twenty years ago I was a college student studying in England and traveling through Europe under a mountain of crushing debt. Fifteen years ago I was operating a small community theater at the expense of my relationship with my husband. Ten years ago I was living in New York with a violent bi-polar lunatic. Five years ago I had a wonderful circle of friends because I operated a small community theater.  

The past has its purpose. It gives us perspective. It teaches us. It reminds us of all the things we were capable of achieving even in those moments when it seems we did nothing but fail.

But the past is yesterday. The present is today.

And I have a great today. Today I am a published author. Today I am a husband. Today I am a father. Today I am happy.

I understand that none of the things I have today would have been possible without the benefit of yesterday. Still, instead of feeling beholden to yesterday I prefer simply to say thank you and skip the daily strolls down memory lane.

I choose this moment, right now.

So this New Year’s Eve rather than making resolutions about the future or looking back on all the things you did/did not accomplish this past year, why not just take an inventory of all the things you have right now?

The love of a good man. The joy of two incredible children. The beauty of family.

Happy New Year, indeed!


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here. Why haven’t you bought it yet?! Seriously.

holiday (monster truck) blues

The holidays can be a time of great joy and celebration, but also a time of profound sadness and grief. The period between carving a turkey and opening presents can bring up a host of memories for many people, especially adopted children. Perhaps it’s the tradition of the day or the gathering of families or the ghosts of holidays past. Whatever the reason, the days leading up to these special moments can be an emotional minefield.

For my two sons, both adopted, the holidays are a reminder of all they have lost—family, friends, pets, a favorite toy. The life our boys had before often goes unmentioned for months at a time, but every December, like the ghosts that haunt Scrooge, they reappear and make their presence known.

It was Chris who this year first began to steal visits down memory lane. At Thanksgiving dinner he waxed nostalgic about his grandmother’s mashed potatoes and her homemade mac-n-cheese. A few weeks later he recalled all the Christmas mornings spent playing with his three older sisters. Last night he told me (for the first time) about a blue monster truck his foster parents had given to him.

As Chris told me in great detail about this much-loved truck, I began to understand that he was not telling me so much as reminding himself. I could hear the sadness in my son’s voice as he tried to hold on to his former life, to maintain a connection to a past that grew more and more distant with each passing day.

I was reminded of this truth this past weekend as we cut down our Christmas tree. On our way to the tree farm Elijah began to talk about his “mom” and his life in West Virginia. Elijah was telling us a story about his (former) dogs when suddenly he paused and whispered, “I can’t remember their names anymore.”

If you want to know what it feels like to have your heart break or if you ever need a good cry, just imagine a five year old coming to the realization that life is full of pain.

These ghosts used to scare me. They would make me doubt myself as a parent and question my children’s happiness because if I were a good parent and if my children were truly happy then why would they need to visit the past? I thought the only way for our family to move forward was to run from these ghosts, but to run from them would be to deny my children their story.

And that would be wrong.

I tell myself those dogs had a name and that those names are important. I remind myself that while life at grandma’s house was not always easy for Chris, there were mashed potatoes and homemade mac-n-cheese and Christmas mornings with his sisters.

There were blue monster trucks.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here. Why haven’t you bought it yet?! Seriously.

wilderness girls

Well, we did it. We successfully lived off the grid for 48 hours. We abandoned our cell phones and left behind the modern conveniences of internet access and flushing toilets. We embraced the simple peace and deafening quiet of crippling solitude. We were tested, and even though we passed the test, we quickly learned that we would never survive the zombie apocalypse. Still, we took comfort in the knowledge that if we were to be eaten by undead cannibals at least we would be eaten together.

I may never be a true wilderness girl in the vein of Shelly Long but our weekend in the woods taught me many things:

  1. I can make fire! A few hours after arriving at our cabin we cooked hot dogs…over a fire that I made. It’s true. See, I took this photo and photos don’t lie.
    FullSizeRender (3)Okay…photos do lie or at least they don’t tell the whole story. The truth is the owner of the cabin built the fire for us. He chopped the wood and laid the foundation of newspaper and cardboard beneath the logs…but make no mistake, I lit the match which started the fire which cooked the hot dogs.
  2. Swimming in a pond somewhere in south central Pennsylvania is a fish wearing my son’s glasses. It took approximately 16 hours from the time we arrived at the cabin for Chris to lose his glasses. He didn’t so much lose his glasses as Elijah knocked them off his face and into the pond while they were playing a game of Let’s Throw Rocks at Each Other! Todd and I were in the cabin when we heard Chris screaming. I ran out the front door thinking Elijah had fallen into the pond, a fear that was only encouraged by the sight of Chris, hysterical and crying, running towards me screaming, “Elijah!” I was about to jump into the pond to save my youngest child when Chris continued, “…knocked my glasses into the water!” After sending the boys up to the cabin for a much needed timeout, Todd and I – okay fine, Todd – spent the next forty-five minutes feeling around the bottom of the freezing cold pond searching in vain for Chris’s glasses while I lounged in the hammock drinking a mid-morning beer and muttering, “Whose fucking idea was it to go camping!?”
  3. It’s okay to fight. My family fights. We are four incredibly stubborn, strong-willed and opinionated people. Especially Elijah. We’ve had some epic showdowns. I always feel a little guilty after we fight, like we’re failing some test and maybe we don’t like each other enough because families that like each other never fight. This weekend I realized we fight so much because we like each other. We’re comfortable with ourselves and our flaws and because of that we’re not afraid to be the horrible, awful, terrible people we are.
  4. I require indoor plumbing. The cabin had a composting toilet. For those of you not in the know, this is a composting toilet. It ain’t pretty. It’s like a scene from one of those Saw movies. I hate using communal toilets – outside of the toilet in my own home which I sanitize hourly – so the thought of using a slightly more fancy Port-A-John does not appeal to me at all. I refused to use it for a full 24 hours. When I started having severe abdominal cramps I took a few deep breaths and opened a beer. Eventually I gave in and used the “toilet”, but only because I wanted to eat some more s’mores.
  5. S’mores be crazy good, yo. I had never eaten a s’more before this weekend. I’m not sure how it is I went forty years before experiencing the winning combination of burnt marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers. I was in heaven. The only thing better than eating s’mores was Elijah calling them s’nores. He’s so damn cute.
  6. Social Media is unnecessary. My love affair with social media has been waning ever since I joined the virtual garbage dump that is twitter. My affection for Facebook has been in jeopardy because of memes like this: meme(Um, yes I do.)  The problem with Facebook is that you get to know too much about people and the more you know about people sometimes the less you like them. It’s sort of how I used to really like Angelina Jolie but then she married Brad Pitt and wouldn’t shut up about everything and now I have no desire to see her movies because instead of enjoying her performance I’m distracted by the fact that she’s a wealthy, privileged weirdo. And I hate that. I hate that Facebook is turning into Angelina Jolie. I just want to look at photos of people’s kids and read funny, self-deprecating updates. I don’t care what cause you’re hashtagging to death or what injustice with a 24 hour life cycle you’re squawking about or how you have feelings about everything. It’s just so much noise and I can’t be the only person who is going deaf.

This weekend taught me that I spend too much time thinking about and, worse, reacting to those causes and injustices and feelings. It’s time spent away from my family. So I have decided to unplug from the social medias for a bit. I know I’ll miss out on a lot of Minion memes and political opinions and feelings about everything, but I suspect I’ll survive.

Life will go on just as it did this weekend because as I learned, even though I couldn’t post a photo of the boys making s’mores, they still made s’mores.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here. Why haven’t you bought it yet?! Seriously.

off the grid

This weekend we are taking the boys camping. I love the word camping, it makes me sound so masculine. I tell people, I’m going camping, and immediately their brain is flooded with images of me draped from head-to-toe in a flannel Michael Kors onesie walking through the woods with a rifle slung over my shoulder hunting and gathering my supper before retiring to my tent for a night of wild romance with my accommodating lady friend.

No one actually thinks that because everyone knows I’m not the kind of guy who does that kind of camping with that kind of lady. The truth is I am staying in a cabin with running water and a toilet, the only flannel I own are bed sheets from Macys, I don’t like guns, my hunting and gathering skills are limited to Saturday morning donut runs to the neighborhood bakery, and my accommodating lady friend has a beard.

When people admonish me and tell me that I’m “missing out”, that I should go “real camping” and sleep in a tent and take my bath in a stream and squat over a hole in the ground I think, Are you fucking crazy? Why would I do that? It’s 2015. Who voluntarily shits in a hole?

I thank God every day that I live in a time of high-speed Internet, cable TV and indoor plumbing. I do not want to kill my supper or figure out which mushrooms will make me hallucinate. After all, isn’t that why we have Giant Eagles and drug dealers?

Not that I’m a total Phyllis Nefler. (By the way if you understood that reference, congratulations, you are a homosexual!) Our cabin is off the grid. This means it is self-sustaining. There is a small garden and chickens to provide vegetables and eggs for us to eat, it is run wholly on solar power, rain water is collected in a cistern, and as there is no septic system the cabin has a composting toilet which is basically one step up from an outhouse and two steps up from a hole in the ground.

Also, there are no Law & Order re-runs mostly due to the (gasp!) lack of cable TV.

In short, and by my standards, we are roughing it.

Not that I’m worried. I’ve been through worse. I used to direct community theater. I once shared a house with a violent lunatic. I accidentally saw someone much older than me naked.

Living off the grid I can handle.

The best part of our weekend away (for me) is that our cabin was advertised as a tiny house. This means it has less than 400 square feet of livable space, the kitchen is in the living room and there are sleeping lofts for the boys.

Of course I know from the hundreds of hours I’ve spent watching tiny house TV shows that the real reason our cabin has been classified as a tiny house is because of the composting toilet. Those tiny house freaks love a composting toilet.

I will admit to having an ulterior motive (beyond the eating of s’mores) for this camping trip. I’m using it a test run in the event of the zombie apocalypse or President Donald Trump. In either case I think my family will need a place to escape and start over while the rest of civilization crumbles.

I’m not worried about Todd who could make a ball gown out of chewing gum and bread ties or Elijah who can run really fast or even me because I can be absolutely ruthless, but I do fear for Chris. He’s pretty and easily distracted and I’m fairly certain that he’d be the first person to get picked off by a reanimated corpse, I mean conservative republican.

This trip will be just the thing to toughen him up, to turn him from a Beth into a Daryl, and just as soon as I finish fashioning these flannel sheets into a ready-to-wear onesie I’m going to drop that boy off in the middle of the woods with a bottle of Miralax and a shovel.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here. Why haven’t you bought it yet?! Seriously.

eyes wide shut

Chris could not find his belt. I knew where it was. I also knew that if he would just open his eyes and look he would see that his belt was exactly where he had left it twelve hours earlier, slung over the back of his desk chair underneath the very clothes he had just put on five minutes prior to asking, “Where’s my belt?” Still I indulged his Helen Keller routine and said, “It’s exactly where you left it.”

“What do you mean?” he called from the stairs.

“It’s exactly where you left it,” I repeated, putting a period after each emphasized word.

Okay, I know, yes, I could have just said, “It’s on the desk chair,” and that would have been the end of it. Lights down. And yes, if I had simply wanted to make a point I could have satisfied the passive-aggressive middle-aged woman inside me and added “underneath the clothes you just put on five minutes prior to asking me, “Where’s my belt?”

Of course I didn’t do that. For some reason I had decided to draw a line in the sand and, even though I knew where this was headed, “It’s exactly where you left it” was all he was going to get from me.

Chris came down the stairs a few minutes later. Without the belt. He announced that he would not be wearing the belt because he could not find it.

I snapped. I took him (gently, but firmly) by the arm, marched him up the stairs, pointed to the chair where the belt was hanging and said, my voice dripping with periods and italics, “In. Plain. Sight. The belt is in plain sight. It’s exactly where you – not me, YOU – left it twelve hours ago. I mean, c’mon, you’re too old for this crap.”

It was perhaps not my finest hour, but then I’ve had worse.

Chris put on the belt and then, looking me directly in the eyes, he said, “I know you’re new at being a parent, but it’s just a belt.”

Some people might hear this and think my son was talking back to me or being disrespectful, but he was not doing either of those things. He was being honest and if I was being honest I would admit that he had a point…to a point.

It was just a belt, but – as I later tried to explain to him – it was also more than a belt.

Do you ever look at your kids and wonder how it is they will ever be prepared to survive in the world without you? I do. And it’s in those moments that a belt becomes more than a belt because if I can’t teach my kid to open his eyes and see the belt that is right in front of him then how will he ever be ready to drive a car or have a job or manage a bank account or raise his own children?

Sometimes Chris will ask me what a parent does and in reply I recite to him a long list of responsibilities. The list changes, but the one constant is always a parent gets their child ready to be an adult. Because after making my kids feel safe and loved and happy all I really want is for them to be ready for the day when I’m no longer around to find the belt.

It’s not the most pleasant of thoughts, but then much of parenting is about being unpleasant.

So for now I will concede my son’s point that it was just a belt and if I did overreact it was only because one day it will be more than just a belt and when that day comes he needs to be ready for it.

Having said that, the next time he asks where his belt is I may just tell him, “It’s on the desk chair.”


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon.