our first last family vacation

Vacations are always bound to disappointment. We spend days and weeks imagining each and every moment, creating impossible standards which can never measure up to our ridiculous expectations let alone the cold light of day. Oh sure, there are moments so perfect you almost forget about the $100 you dropped on greasy hamburgers and stale French fries, but then one of your kids starts crying and reality sets in and suddenly you’re back in that overpriced hamburger joint shooting daggers at the waitress who forgot to bring you the diet coke you ordered ten minutes ago.

Full disclosure: I had a terrible time in New York. I was miserable. The only moment of joy I experienced was during a production of Once on This Island, and even though it was one of the most beautiful shows I have ever seen, I was mostly happy because no one around me was allowed to talk for 95 glorious minutes.

Gimme, gimme, gimme. More, more, more. Fortnite. xBox. Tablet. By the way, I want these additional 78 things for Christmas…

Okay, I’m exaggerating. It was more like one gimme and two mores and it wasn’t 78 things, it was 43. But I stand by the Fortnite stuff.

It’s probably not fair to lay blame at the feet of my kids, who are, after all, just kids. They were tired from the six hour car ride and the endless walking. They were excited because New York comes at you from every direction. It assaults all of your senses and when you’re eight or eleven or twelve or fourteen years old that can be a lot to handle. And I suppose when you cram a Broadway show, a trip to the circus, a visit to Macy’s to see Santa, an afternoon of ice skating at Bryant Park, a trip to the tree at Rockefeller Center, and thirty blocks of Christmas windows on Fifth Avenue all into a 48 hour window it’s understandable when no one has the energy to get that worked up by the Statue of Liberty.

But still, you planned this trip for weeks. You bought everything in advance. You rented a really awesome apartment on Airbnb. You even reserved a parking spot. No stone was left unturned…except for lunch on day two, but by this point you’re just tired of planning and making decisions so you turn it over to your husband to decide where to eat and that’s how you end up paying $100 for greasy hamburgers and stale French fries and that’s it, something snaps, and you just break and you imagine yourself jumping into a taxi alone and telling the driver to take you to the nearest airport so you can hop a flight to a country that doesn’t allow children or spouses or greasy hamburgers.

Of course it’s not about the greasy hamburgers or the beer you didn’t get to drink or the black-n-white cookie you never got or even the special ornament they didn’t have at the Christmas shop…it’s about your ridiculous expectations, which you have every right to, but also don’t have every right to, because expectations ruin everything and in this case the expectations were yours and yours alone.

I have to remind myself that my kids were just being kids and in twenty-two years my husband has never successfully chosen a restaurant. The truth is no amount of planning will ever make my kids not ask for more or suddenly give my husband the ability to choose. The chance of those things magically happening are about as likely as me not losing my shit and turning into a world-class bitch on a family vacation.

After finally getting home late last night I told (screamed?) the kids to go to bed and I said to my husband, “Vacations are for other families.” And maybe that’s true, or maybe that was the voice of my disappointed expectations speaking. I don’t know. I do know that in my wide-eyed, manic zeal to create the perfect holiday family vacation I doomed us.

Perhaps, instead of a trip to New York City, I should have just used the money to buy my kids the PS4 and the Nintendo Switch they won’t shut up about…because that’s what they really want and there’s nothing wrong with that because if we’re being honest I think most kids would rather play Fortnite on a new PS4 than see the Christmas windows at Bergdorf’s.

And so if this does turn out to be our first last family vacation, at least for the foreseeable future, it will be because of me and not because of my kids or my husband. Maybe instead of trying to plan the perfect vacation what I really need is a vacation from vacations. It could be just the cure for my expectations.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is 43 year old married gay man. He lives in Pittsburgh with his husband and four children. Sean enjoys Law & Order reruns, Christmas movies in October, and Facebook stalking. He likes donuts and beer. Sometimes he goes to the gym (okay, not really).  He is the author of the best-selling book Which One of You is the Mother?

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one life to live (or, as my world turns)

Tomorrow I turn 43 years old, which means I have had forty-three occasions to legitimately eat cake. My best birthday was my 21st birthday. I was living in England at the time, attending a college about two hours north of London. My friends had put together a scavenger hunt that took me all across campus with each clue leading to a destination leading to a drink. There were a lot of clues and subsequently a lot of drinks. We eventually ended up at the campus pub (for more drinks!) before heading to the campus disco for a night of dancing. After dancing the night away to Blur and Pulp, I ended up back in my room or someone else’s room or several someone else’s rooms and with names I’ve forgotten did a lot of X-rated things that my now-43 year old body could only dream of repeating.

Sigh. It was a good night.

Since that night (and I suppose before that night, too) I have had many great birthdays. There have been wild birthdays surrounded by friends and there have been quiet birthdays surrounded by family. As I have grown older the shots from my twenties have been traded in for the beer of my thirties which have now been upgraded to the milk of my childhood.

Birthdays have become a sober affair, for which my liver is eternally grateful.

Tomorrow morning I will wake up in the home I love next to the man I love. Downstairs above the door to the dining room he will have already hung the “Happy Birthday” banner we use for all the birthdays. There will be cake and homemade ice cream for later in the day. Eventually my kids will come down and Chris will hug me and A’Sean will smile that big smile and Elijah will tell me I’m fat and in that moment I will be the luckiest man alive.

On my 21st birthday twenty-two years ago, I never could have imagined the life I am living now…and not just because I was really drunk. It was inconceivable to 1996 Sean that there would ever be a day where he (er, I) could be married to another man. It was even more unimaginable that there could ever be a day where I would be a parent. And yet here I am.

It’s incredibly easy to take my many blessings for granted – husband, home, job, three perfectly imperfect kids – and yet I do it every day. The truth is I will never have an attitude for gratitude or any other meaningless platitude, but on those rare occasions when the wisdom of this age grants me perspective, I remember that I am the luckiest man alive and that every day is like my 21st birthday…well, minus the X-rated stuff.

nineteen years and counting

Yesterday my husband and I celebrated our 19th anniversary. This milestone is not in observance of the day we first met, we had actually met a few weeks earlier, but it is a celebration of the day we first defined our relationship and by “defined our relationship” I mean it was the day our platonic long walks became less about walking and decidedly not platonic[1].

Nowadays, a word that makes me sound much older than my 41 years, everyone meets online. They swipe right. But in the pre-internet world of 1997 my husband and I met the old fashioned way – at the grocery store. I was working as a clerk and he was a customer, or rather, he was buying and I was selling.

It was something at first sight and within six months we were living together.

Quite a lot has happened since that day I slipped a schoolgirl’s note into my future husband’s bag of groceries. The world has changed. We have changed. We’re unfortunately older. We’re hopefully wiser. We’re definitely fatter.

From there to here he and I have made more than a few missteps and, like all long term couples, we have survived our fair share of (un)natural disasters, the least of which being my propensity towards self-sabotage and imperfection.

But we’re still here.

Yesterday after we had dropped our sons off at school I said to my husband, “Who could have imagined nineteen years ago that this would be our life?”

Certainly not me.


[1] For the record it was a kiss. Todd’s not that kind of girl.

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.

we need (a little) christmas

 

I’ve come to the realization that the so-called war on Christmas is real. But contrary to what you may have heard on the right-wing radio stations or from the right-wing pulpit, this war is not being waged by atheists or ISIS or even the good people at Starbucks.

The war on Christmas has been bought and paid for by the haters. You know who I’m talking about, that loud minority of people who are offended by and hate everything that makes the rest of us happy.

You smile and say, “Happy holidays!” They grimace and declare, “It’s Christmas, you Jesus-hating asshole! Christmas. Not Kwanzaa or Chanukah or solstice, whatever the fuck that even is. It’s Christmas. Merry Christmas.”

You walk into Target shortly after Labor Day and your eyes light up when you spot the first signs of Christmas. No sooner do you bust out a few bars of Deck the Halls and they scream, “What the fuck?! It’s not even Halloween.”

At 12:01 a.m. on the first of November you curl up with a cup of hot cocoa and a Hallmark Christmas movie while Irving Berlin’s White Christmas plays softly in the background. Out of nowhere they appear, “What about Thanksgiving?! #thanksgivingmatters. Those pilgrims gave their lives so we could have Thanksgiving.[1]

And then there are those people who scream about the “commercialization of Christmas” and complain when the obviously anti-Christian town council decides to display a Christmas tree in lieu of a crèche. They rail about putting “the Christ back in Christmas”, never mind that they are often the least Christ-like people among us.

These haters hate tradition, old and new. The day after Thanksgiving they renounce Christmas cookies by announcing plans for a new diet. They declare children to be spoiled and admonish any parent who gives their child more than four gifts. They compose lengthy anti-Elf on the Shelf diatribes, mocking parents for posting photos on social media and claiming the elf is “a capillary form of power that normalizes the voluntary surrender of privacy, teaching young people to blindly accept panoptic surveillance and reify hegemonic power.”[2]

Huh.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t understand the hate. I don’t understand why people pretend to care because that’s all it is, pretend. Does it really matter what day your local lite FM station stops playing Maroon 5 on an endless loop and starts playing Johnny Mathis on an endless loop?  Does it affect your life if my kids get 437 Christmas presents? Are your sensibilities truly offended by the sight of a Christmas tree in October?

Oh please.

The truth is we need Christmas. We need Christmas because it makes us better people.

Christmas gives us hope. It offers us the promise of the person we could be rather than the person we are. Its one day in the whole of the calendar where we are good and kind and anything seems possible.

Is it any wonder then that we would try and stretch out that day (and feeling) for as long as we could?

So please, let us have our Christmas music in November and our holiday store displays in October and our predictable Hallmark movies all the season long. And let us flood social media with photos of that stupid elf and eat too many cookies and give way too many presents.

But most of all let us have whatever it is we choose to believe, whether it be the impossible story of a baby in a manger or a benevolent fat guy in a red suit. Don’t take it from us because we need it.

We need Christmas. It makes us better people.

___________________________________________

[1] This is not true.

[2] Technology Professor and part-time Grinch Laura Pinto, Washington Post (December 16, 2014)