Memorial Day

“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” – George Santayana

Travelling is one of my favorite things to do.  It is always enjoyable to go to unfamiliar places and experience new things.  A few weeks ago Amanda and I flew to visit Washington D.C.  This is a city that we had been to before.  However, because I love history so much, it is a city that I could visit time and time again.  The city is full of memorials to past presidents, fallen soldiers, and those who have helped lay the foundations of the United States.  It is also a place where one can see the buildings where the gears of our republic spin. 

The last time Amanda and I travelled to Washington D.C. we only had about a day and a half to try and squeeze as much sightseeing in as possible.  However, on our latest trip we had four days to explore the city, which was still not enough time, but it was a memorable time nonetheless. 

We got to visit some of my favorite sights in the city, such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial.  These are two places where one can feel both pride and sadness.  The Lincoln Memorial to me is such an awe-inspiring sight.  The statue of Abraham Lincoln, who was perhaps our greatest president, is such a beautiful sculpture.  It is a peaceful place where people are quite reverential as they pass through the great marble hall where the immense statue of Lincoln sits. 

This is a place where one can take in just how perfectly laid out the city is in relation to how the buildings and monuments are situated.  Looking out from where Lincoln sits, one can see the Washington Monument, which is reflected in the pool that sits in front of the Lincoln Memorial.  Lined up perfectly with the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, is the U.S. Capitol building. 

View from the Lincoln Memorial out the Reflecting Pool

Just a short distance from the Lincoln Memorial is a site that brings me great sadness when I see it.  That is the Vietnam Memorial.  This is a giant wall sculpted out of highly polished, black granite, on which all of those who lost their lives during the war are inscribed.  This is a stark reminder of how senseless war can be.  The names of more than 58,000 men and women are inscribed upon this slab of granite.  They will never be forgotten.  Being at this site on Memorial Day was a very poignant experience, as we got to see some of the men and women who did make it back home.  They were there to honor their friends who were not so fortunate.  I respect the sacrifices that all of these people made to serve a country which often did not welcome them back home with open arms. 

The Vietnam Memorial

Amanda and I were also able to visit the World War II Memorial.  This is a beautiful place, where one can’t help but reflect on all the people who fought to liberate Europe and other parts of the world from the evils of the Third Reich.  I am glad that we were able to be there to see these sites on Memorial Day, a day which Americans honor those who have died for the cause of freedom. 

I think one of the places that everyone should visit while in Washington D.C. is the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.  One must visit this place to keep the memory alive of those  who died under the evil oppression of Adolf Hitler.  I am dumbfounded that there are still people who deny that these events ever took place.  Hitler and the Nazis were proud of what they were trying to accomplish and therefore were pleased to document the atrocities which they were committing.  There is no denying theses facts.  Over six million Jews were killed because they were thought sub-human. 

These two pictures speak for themselves

Being a person who is disabled, it also infuriates me to know that I would have been included among those whom Hitler thought of being “less than human.”  This was a shameful time in history, where many lives could have been spared, if the world would have not turned a blind eye to the suffering of those in Europe.  This includes the United States, who denied entry to thousands of Jews simply because we didn’t want to deal with an influx of refugees who needed a safe place to live.  It is shameful to know that genocide is still taking place in different parts of the world.  I strongly believe that every human was created in the image of God.  Therefore, we should treat each other with love and respect.

As often happens when I am in a city in which I am unfamiliar, there are those who do live up to the standard of treating others with love and respect.  I had many people willing to help me as I wheeled my way throughout the city.  For instance, as I was rolling along, making my way to the Lincoln Memorial, I was asked if I needed help getting up a rather steep incline by a woman who I assume was just resident of Washington D.C.  This woman appeared to be out for a jog, but she took some time away from her run to push me up a hill and into the area where I was able to catch the elevator up to see the statue of Abraham Lincoln.  I don’t know this woman’s name, but she showed me compassion, to which I was very thankful. 

Washington D.C. is a very accessible city to those with disabilities.  Every metro stop had an elevator down to the subway.  Likewise, every train was even with the platform, which made rolling into the train car very easy from my wheelchair.  Moreover, most, if not all of the monuments and museums have ramps or elevators, which make access very easy.  Finally, the city busses, which are free for everyone to ride, all have ramps which allow easy access for wheelchair users.   

The Metro system in Washington D.C. is top notch. Plus, each tunnel reminded me of my dad’s workshop as I was a kid. They all smelled like the welding rods he used. I am sure this was from the hot wheels of the trains running along the electrified tracks.

  One final event that made this trip so memorable was being able to visit Arlington National Cemetery, where many fallen soldiers are buried.  Arlington is also home to the gravesites of John F. Kennedy, along with his brother Robert F. Kennedy.  However, the most moving part of this cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Amanda and I were fortunate to visit the cemetery on Memorial Day where the Vice President of the United States, along with other dignitaries spoke, honoring those who have died fighting for the United States around the world. 

Vice President hiding behind a teleprompter during the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2019.

The Orphans

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” – Jane Howard

I always wanted to marry an orphan.  Little did I know, so did my wife.  We both had the same motive for wanting to marry an orphan.  Neither one of us wanted to be obligated to spend holidays with another family. Amanda and I have been married for nearly seven years and I think there are times when we both still wish we had married an orphan.

My wife grew up in St. Louis, which is approximately 250 miles from where we now live.  Therefore, when we travel down to St. Louis, we are in the car for at least 4 hours each way.  Throughout most of the trip the only thing you see are corn fields, and the occasional truck stop. 

Going to family functions in St. Louis is quite different than the ones to which I am accustomed.  Each of Amanda’s parents are one of eight children.  Therefore, there are dozens of aunts, uncles, and cousins.  I love my in-laws very much.  They are both very giving people.  In the dictionary next to “hospitality” are pictures of Amanda’s parents, Dan and Judith.  At each major holiday they invite everyone over.  There are usually 40-50 people at every gathering. 

I believe the first holiday that I spent with Amanda’s family was Easter.  I was shell-shocked to be with so many people under one roof.  This is because while I was growing up my family gatherings were much smaller.  However, I have grown used to these large gatherings.  I enjoy playing games, eating, and just spending time with everyone.  However, for an introvert like me, these events do sap my energy. 

Amanda’s first introduction to my family was at my 34th birthday party.  I think for her, it was hard to adjust to being with such a small group, where more attention was focused on her.  She was no longer able to blend into the woodwork.    

This Easter we will be spending time in St. Louis.  I just wish one of us had our pilot’s license so that we could fly down.  It would enable us to visit more often.  Amanda gave up a lot when she moved to the barren wasteland that is Northwest Illinois.  I know that she misses seeing her family.  However, I am glad that we met, because she is the perfect woman for me.  She is a kind and loving woman. 

I am glad that we both were willing to expand our horizons.  We both come from great families.  It has been fun getting to know Amanda’s clan.  Amanda’s dad is a great storyteller, and her mom makes some of the best cookies I have ever tasted.  I am thankful that I did not marry an orphan because I would have missed out on the love Amanda has shown me.  I too would have missed out on becoming part of a great family. 

Spina Bifida Blues

Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.” ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I think it is safe to say that most, if not all of us feel down at times. What do you do when you feel like this? I have to be honest, there have been many times when I have felt despair. This despair is something that has made me feel alone. I have been afraid to share my true feelings, even with those closest to me.

Some of this has been brought about by my feelings of inferiority, which I have touched upon in previous posts. I often feel as if I am not good enough for anything or anyone. These feelings often lead me to doubt myself in almost every facet of life. Many days I go to work worrying that I am going to “screw up” or forget to do something.  I believe one of the things that has fueled these feelings of insecurity is that others have often “talked down” to me as if I am too stupid to communicate just like anyone other person.  My legs don’t work correctly, but my brain functions pretty well.  Just don’t ask me to do math! 

This doubt can be paralyzing. Fortunately, I have reached out to others who have helped me begin to see myself in a more positive light.  Counseling has shown me that I do have things I can contribute to society.  It has been a positive experience sharing my doubts and insecurities in a therapeutic setting.   

Writing this blog has also been a cathartic experience, as it has helped me unleash some of the “demons” that rule my thoughts.  Likewise, the power of prayer has also been very instrumental in helping me get over some of these irrational fears.  I must be honest there have been many times that I have lashed out at God for “placing” me in this body.  

Humor is always good medicine as well.  I have learned over the years that you have to laugh at the circumstances of life.  This helps one move past the bad and appreciate the good things that life has to offer.  I wish I could go back and tell my younger self to shut out the negative thoughts and focus only on the good.  That is a lesson that I am just now learning as a 42 year old man.   

Finally, it is important to keep active.  Now that the weather here in Illinois is getting warmer, I will be outside cycling away my blues.  

Brothers Don’t Shake Hands…Brothers Gotta Hug!

Today is National Siblings Day in the United States. This unofficial holiday is also celebrated in other parts of the world. I am thankful for my two older brothers, Cory and Shannon.

Over the years they have put up with a lot having me as their brother. For instance, there were many times they were sent to stay with relatives as my parents and I made our way to yet another hospital visit.

I am not really sure they minded this all that much. They were certainly spoiled by my grandparents, or my aunts and uncles whenever they were exiled to stay with family.

However, I really wonder how it was for them when they were younger. I would assume it was difficult having to be uprooted from their normal routine. I know that it would have been for me.

Growing up I was always closest to my oldest brother Shannon. My other brother Cory used to pick on me quite a bit, which, as I look back on things, was quite normal.

Now that we are all grown and have our own families, I respect the men my brothers have become. They both have married great women and have fathered some very good kids.

I wish I could see my brother Shannon and his family more often, but they live in New Jersey. It would be fun to spend more time with his family. He does still watch out for me, even though we are hundreds of miles apart.

My brother Cory still looks out for me as well, helping my wife Amanda and I do things around the house. He is always willing to lend a helping hand.

I love both of my brothers very much. I even forgive them for all of those times we were in the car and they’d pick on me. I would then get in trouble for being a whiner. I should have learned that sitting in the middle of the backseat made me a good target. I maybe could have asked to ride in the trunk instead! Anyway, if you haven’t done so already, reach out to your siblings and tell them how much you appreciate them.

My Top Ten

For today’s post I am hoping to get a little interactive with those of you who read my blog. When I was younger I was a fan of the the television show Late Night with David Letterman. You never knew just exactly what you were going to see, especially when Bill Murray was a guest, or when David would go out and interview random people on the streets of New York City.

One of the nightly segments that he would do was called the “Top Ten” list. These lists would usually be centered on some absurd topic such as “The Top 10 Ways the Country Would be Different if Britney Spears Were President,” or “The Top Ten Things Mick Jagger Learned After 50 Years of Rock and Roll.” These lists, as you can imagine, would be filled with all kinds of bizarre things.

Today I thought I’d create my own “Top Ten” list, but instead of making it something inane like those that appeared on the Letterman show, I thought I’d get a little more serious. So, here is the “Top Ten Things I’d Like to do Before I Die.” I guess you could call this my bucket list:

10 – Travel to all of the world’s 7 continents

9 – See the Grand Canyon

8 – Be the host of my own podcast

7 – See the Northern Lights

6 – Be able to sit right behind home plate at Wrigley Field to watch a Cubs game

5 – See David Gilmour in concert and then go backstage to meet him

4 – Visit some of the places my ancestors came from in Italy, England, and Germany

3 – See Mt. Everest

2 – Become a published author

1 – Become a father

Leave me a comment and let me know what your own list would look like.

Making Memories

“Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.” – Lucy Maud Montgomery

My family went on exactly three vacations as I was growing up. One was to the Ramada Inn that was just across the river from the town in which we lived. This is what is called a “staycation.” today. You might think this was less than spectacular, but it was actually quite memorable.

During our weekend stay at the Ramada Inn, the main activity on our agenda was swimming, at least for my brothers and I. Despite the fact that we were less than 20 minutes from home we had a lot of fun. It was during this weekend of swimming, swimming, and more swimming that I had one of my first tastes of powdered donuts.

My love affair with donuts began at that Ramada Inn. The hotel is still there, but it has changed hands from one franchise to another several times over the years. Despite this, I can still taste those powdery rings every time I pass by that building. I can also smell the chlorine of the pool. It was a “staycation” that had stuck with me over the years.

The second trip my family went on was to Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Illinois. The memories of this trip are a bit more hazy. However, I believe my dad lost his glasses on one of the water rides.  I am not sure what it is with Bradshaw men losing their glasses in water, but it does seem to be a trend (see “Patience” – Part 2). 

While at Great America I also met Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam, which was kind of surreal. I had only ever seen these characters in television cartoons. But there they were in living color.  Plus they were much, much larger in real life, which was confusing to the mind of a little boy.   

To this day I despise amusement parks. I am not sure if this hatred originated on this particular vacation, but it is a distinct possibility. At this point in my young life I was still getting around by pushing a walker. While at an amusement park this is no easy task. There are uneven surfaces everywhere, and thousands of people through which to navigate. To make matters worse there were no powdered donuts to be seen anywhere!

Our final trip as a family was to Rapid City, South Dakota, along with a fewer smaller towns in Minnesota. My dad was a fan of Westerns starring Clint Eastwood and John Wayne, and he enjoyed tales of the Wild West. Therefore, we visited several places on this trip where outlaws committed their notorious crimes.  One such place was Northfield, Minnesota.

This small town is the site of a raid by the James-Younger Gang on the First National Bank of Northfield, which occurred on September 7, 1876. The James-Younger Gang was comprised of Jesse and Frank James, along with Bob, Cole, Jim Younger, and a few other less notorious men. This robbery was thwarted by employees of the bank, and all members of the gang were either killed or wounded.  Jesse and Frank were the only members of the gang to make a successful escape. It was fascinating to go inside the bank where this infamous event took place.                

While in South Dakota we visited several tourist traps, such as the Corn Palace.  This concert venue/arena is located in Mitchell, South Dakota and is decorated on the outside with murals made entirely out of corn. We also stopped at Wall Drug, which is basically a shopping mall with all kinds of knickknacks related to the Wild West. Almost as soon as you enter South Dakota you see signs encouraging you to visit Wall Drug, which you should if you are ever in this part of the country.  Order yourself a bison burger and an ice-cold glass of water.  On a hot day, there is nothing like a cold, refreshing glass of the water at Wall Drug! 

We also traveled through the Badlands and the Black Hills. South Dakota is full of natural beautiful. It is also home to Mt. Rushmore a national memorial featuring a massive sculpture that depicts four of America’s greatest presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

The faces of these men were carved into Mount Rushmore between 1927 to 1941. It is an awe-inspiring place to visit, especially on a day when the skies are brilliant shade of blue, as they were the day we visited. The enormity of the sculpture is rather breathtaking.

I think one of the best parts of this vacation was that it was one where my dad enjoyed seeing things he had only ever read about or seen depicted in movies. We also got to visit Ellsworth Air Force Base, which is home to the B1 bomber, an aircraft that played an important role during the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

Many memories were made on this trip, which made it all the more special. For, little did we know at the time, these would be some of the last memories that we’d create with my dad. It was nearly a year later that he found out that he was dying of leukemia.  This disease would take his life within a year. Take the time to make memories with your family. Time is precious and life is very fragile.                       

My dad with his 1940 Chevy coupe.

Horrible Bosses

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Have you ever had someone make you feel small or insignificant?  I feel like this has happened to me quite a few times in life.  There are times when people are afraid to address me.  I am not sure if this is because I look different, or they think I am incapable of answering for myself.  When this occurs, I feel less than human.  Perhaps there is no better illustration of what I am talking about than when I worked as a high school guidance counselor. 

In May of 2012, I received my master’s degree in school counseling and I was eager to find a job where I thought I could make an impact on the lives of students.  Just before receiving my master’s I did a year-long practicum at a local middle school.  I enjoyed working with kids this age, as I felt like I could relate to them.  When I was in junior high my father had just died, I felt like a freak due to my disability, and I was afraid to talk to most people.  I think it is fairly common for most kids this age to have insecurities.  Therefore, I felt right at home mentoring these students and helping them to navigate social and emotional issues.  However, the year ended quickly and it was time to move on to other work.  So, with my master’s degree complete I set off to find a job within my chosen field.

Dozens and dozens of job applications were completed, and there were a few job interviews along the way.  However, it was two months before I was offered a job.  Without many other options I felt as if I had to take this job, as I was about to get married and I wanted to be employed before the wedding.  So, I took a job at a small high school with a student body of nearly 300 students.  In hindsight this was probably not the best decision that I could have made, however, I learned some things about myself through this job. 

Just weeks before my wedding I moved all of my books, and other belongings into my new office at the high school where I’d be setting off on this new adventure of being a guidance counselor.  Little did I know that it would also be the beginning of five very stressful years of life.  This was due to several factors. 

To begin, the principal that I worked under my first year seemed to have some issues relating to the staff.  The building that I worked in seemed very divided.  There were those that liked the principal and those that despised him.  Oftentimes, I was caught in the crossfire.  There were times when I was approached by staff members to make decisions that only a school administrator should be making.  I also felt like kids were being sent to me for disciplinary reasons, which again the principal should have been handling.  I began to get a sense that something was wrong with my boss. 

He was not just a poor administrator, there seemed to be something wrong with his mind. Sadly, this would turn out to be true, as he retired before my second year. He then died just a few years after of Alzheimer’s disease. He was a kind and honorable man who gave me my first job as a counselor. For that, I will forever be grateful. He also encouraged me along the way that first year, which meant a lot to me. Things would change quite dramatically the next year.

The school board hired a man who had been a police officer at one point in his career.  He then decided to get into education and had served for several years as a vice-principal at another area high school.  From the very start I sensed that things would be different with this man.  He was much more of a leader.  He also had a strong work ethic.  Furthermore, he was a man that did a lot of good for the school.  However, he also had a way of making others feel small. 

Growing up I always had insecurities about myself.  I never felt like I was good enough for anyone or anything.  Some of these feelings I still harbor today.  My new boss deepened these insecurities.  He did this by making me feel like there was only one way to do things, and that was “his way.”  This began to paralyze me in an emotional way.  It made me question every decision that I made.  I would often ask myself questions like, “is this the way he would do it?”  This made going to work each day a living hell.  I felt like I was always under a microscope.  Being micromanaged  when you feel as if you already don’t measure up to an impossible standard is horrifying. 

Many sleepless nights were spent worrying about going to work the next day.  Would I be called into the bosses’ office for doing something “incorrectly?”  Would I be criticized for handling a situation “poorly?”  It seemed like a never ending cycle of not being good enough.  I felt smaller than I have ever felt in my life.  After four years, with the support of my loving wife, I turned in my resignation letter.  On the day that I did this, my boss asked me if there was something he did to cause me to leave.  I glossed over the situation and told him that the job was just too stressful and that I needed to leave.  I wish I would have had the courage to tell him how he had made me feel for those four years that I worked under him. 

I was the only counselor at this high school.  I was responsible for helping students not only socially and emotionally, but I was also in charge of insuring that certain special educational plans that had been put in place for several students were followed.  I was also responsible for creating class schedules for each student every year.  This alone occupied most of my time from early December through June of each year.  Likewise, it was my responsibility to oversee that every student throughout the district who was classified as homeless was provided certain accommodations.  I was also expected to be at every IEP meeting for every special education student in my building.  There simply was not enough time to do everything that was expected of me, let alone worry about whether or not I was doing things “the correct way.” One conversation that I had with my boss that will always stick with me is one in which he told me, “I always do things the correct way.”  The arrogance in these words shocked me.  They also were certainly not true.  For, he did not treat his staff with the respect that they deserved.  The year that I resigned, there were 6 other staff members that left as well.  It makes me wonder if they felt as small as I did when I left that school.