January 21st, 2015 | Tags:

Welcome… For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Mary Kaye, the oldest of Tom’s five children.

First, thank you so much for being here today. My mother, Joan; my four brothers, Tom, Matt, Jim and Pat; our collective children, my dad’s nine grandchildren; my father’s sister Ellen; his brothers Tim and Chris; his niece Jen; his nephews, Michael, Ryan and Kristian—all of us—appreciate you sharing in our celebration of my dad’s life—and holding us up as we grieve his death.

My dad passed away in his sleep last Thursday morning. My mom, my brothers and I were shocked, which seems impossible considering that my dad had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for years. For the last year and a half, he lived in a nursing home. He could barely talk. He couldn’t walk. He had two forms of dementia. But—even in the end—my dad seemed invincible. After he could no longer walk, he still tried to get up, over and over and over again. My mom and the nursing home staff spent their days pleading, “Tom, you CAN’T walk! Stop trying to get up out of your wheelchair!”

My dad had to literally fight to live, day after day. But, during the holidays, his five children and nine grandchildren traveled in from our different cities to be with him. We feel as if, surrounded by all of us, he knew how much he was loved and felt it was okay to finally let go.

On the day my dad died, I talked with my mother and brothers about my dad’s life, about his accomplishments, and about his loves. And, while it’s impossible to describe a life in a short eulogy, we distilled his life down into four categories:

Family. Faith. Focus. Lacrosse.

First, family: My mom and dad married in 1967, and, from their courtship to his death, they were together for 49 years. Together, they raised five children, and my mom talks about how proud my dad was after each of us was born, calling all our relatives and friends with the news—“And it’s another boy…”

My dad really came into his own as a grandfather, and we think that is the greatest loss, that our children won’t have the long-term benefit of knowing the indomitable man he was. Indomitable means “impossible to defeat or discourage,” and the word defined my dad to a T.

Second, about faith: My father was a devout Catholic. He never missed a Sunday mass. Even when we were on vacation, we had to track down a Catholic church—no excuses. He sent all five of us to Catholic grade schools and high schools, because the burden of five tuitions wasn’t a burden to him, but an investment in our futures—and the state of our souls, which he was always worried about. One of his primary hopes was that our family be together again in Heaven, and there is no doubt in our minds that he went straight there.

Third, about focus. My dad was laser-focused. He rose from an entry-level sales job to the top sales position at Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation. He succeeded because he never stopped trying to better himself, to increase his skills, to learn the latest in sales and motivational techniques. He attended seminars on his own time, and there were literally dozens of business-related books on his shelves at home. He was a living example of commitment: He worked for Milwaukee Electric Tool for 37 years; he tried to achieve his personal best; and he took his role as a boss very seriously, working to mentor his sales personnel so they’d achieve their best too.

Last, we have lacrosse, which was my dad’s passion. As a West Genesee high school and Syracuse University lacrosse player, my dad was a rock star.

After college, he played against the Onondoga Native Americans. He played box lacrosse. When we moved to Louisville, where there was no team on which to play, he founded the Louisville Lacrosse Club. I’ll never forget how proud I was of him when he played against the University of Kentucky team—a dad in his late 30s playing against 19-year-olds, who had to triple- team him and still couldn’t stop him from scoring over and over again.

When we moved to Cincinnati, he said he’d help Father Tedesco with the formation of a lacrosse program at Moeller High School. He was thinking he could line the fields—or something minor of that sort. He was shocked to learn that he’d been tapped to be head coach of the first lacrosse team in Cincinnati—without ever being asked. (Father Tedesco later said that he named my father as an act of faith.) And my dad lived and breathed lacrosse as head coach for 13 years.

He’d always wanted to be a physical education teacher, but, as father to five children, he couldn’t afford to pursue his passion. Being a salesman of industrial tools by day and lacrosse coach in his free time was perfection: He could feed and clothe his children and devote himself to the fastest sport on foot. He also was able to coach four of his children, my four brothers, combining his love of family with his love of lacrosse. (FYI: There was no girls’ lacrosse when I was growing up, or I would have been right there with them.)

My dad devoted himself to Moeller lacrosse. He mentored countless young men. Of course, he taught them stick skills. But he also taught them about focus and hard work and commitment. He taught them to never submit to feeling as if they were underdogs. He then led these underdogs to the state and Midwest championships. And then he did it again.

In recognition of his contributions as a coach, my dad was elected to both the Moeller Athletic Hall of Fame and the Ohio Lacrosse Hall of Fame. He also was named Coach of the Year by both the Ohio High School Lacrosse Association and the Midwest High School Lacrosse Association.

His players continued to play lacrosse in college, many with scholarships. (Three of my brothers played Division I college lacrosse—two with scholarships.) Some of his players—including three of my brothers— followed in his footsteps and became lacrosse coaches themselves. But, beyond lacrosse, his former players continue to live with his influence:

Upon learning of my dad’s death, his former players have written the following to us:

• Coach Kennedy was an amazing influence on us.
• I don’t have the words, other than “I love you, Coach, and thank you.”
• One of my favorite coaches of all time. Such a positive influence on so many guys’ lives. Great coach. Great man. You all have so much to be proud of.
• He was a great man and touched many lives. Your dad’s legacy will forever live on.
• Coach Kennedy was an incredible guiding force at an important time in my life. I don’t know the path I would have chosen—and know I wouldn’t have been inspired to become a coach myself, if not for him.
• I loved your father like he was my own. Words can’t describe my respect for what he did for me and my playing career. He was the most influential coach I’ve ever had—in all sports.
• I was devastated when I heard. He was one of two coaches whom I truly respected. He took a kid who had never seen a lacrosse stick and made me an All American and a better athlete. He meant a ton to me. He meant a ton to all of us who were part of the program. Truly a legend in my mind.

My dad had full life, a live fulfilled by family, faith, focus and lacrosse. He died too soon for all of us. But he continues to live on in his family and in his players.

We know that, last Thursday, my father was greeted with open arms by his parents and his brother Jim. We know that he is here with us—in spirit—today. And, last, we know that he is now our Guardian Angel, watching over us from Heaven, where he’s thrilled to once again be able to walk solidly, speak and think clearly—and, of course, love lacrosse.

We’re nearing the end of my sons’ “house rules” designed to make my husband and me happy.

In today’s rules, Rule 11, Clean Up Your Own Messes, applies to me, because I end up cleaning up their messes unless I threaten their little lives. And, even when doing so, my four-year-old Luke will suddenly be too injured to pick up his toys, or too tired, or too sick. Patrick, who’s nine, is pretty good about it. He’ll never clean up unless I tell him to, but then he’ll just say, “Yes,” and get down to business. On occasion, I have found that he’s deceived me: He’s told me that all of his clothes are put away, and then I find them all piled at the bottom of this closet. But this is pretty typical nine-year-old behavior. When I call him on his deceit, he says he’s sorry and immediately does what he was supposed to do in the first place.

Rule 12, Wipe Your Butt Clean (No Remnants), applies to my sweet husband, who does about 99 percent of our laundry, and me. We all know what happens if the butt isn’t wiped properly–my husband calls it “bacon strips”–and he doesn’t want to have to see it or smell it when he’s sorting through the darks and whites. But because Luke hasn’t perfected wiping, I always have to do a re-wipe, a final wipe, in order to protect my husband. Four and a half years, and I’m still wiping his poop.

But I’ve still got the better deal. My husband does all of the laundry.

Just this morning, my nine-year-old son Patrick accused me of “living in paradise” while he has to do his homework. Mind you, I told him that I was going to go downstairs to watch a marathon of Damages (thank you, Netflix) until I have to pick up his four-year-old brother Luke from preschool. And since Patrick is home sick for the third day this week, and his homework packet is due tomorrow, he’s got to work on it extensively today.

But the nerve… I’m “living in paradise!”

He broke two of his own house rules–Rule 9 “No talking back to your parents,” and Rule 10 “No mocking your mom.”

I wasn’t expecting the attitude until Patrick became a teenager, but it’s in full force already. And he’s not a bad kid. I think he’s just a bright kid who is learning by engaging with me at every turn. But it’s irritating that he argues with me about everything. If he’s stuck on a complicated math word problem, for example–you know the type that messes with your head–he’ll ask for help. I’ll walk him through the problem and how I found the answer, and he’ll flat-out tell me that I’m wrong. Then he’ll come home from school the next day and sheepishly admit that I was right after all.

I find myself regularly explaining to him that I am 46, I did graduate from college, and I do have more life experience that he has at age nine, but it seems to have no effect.

As far as mocking me, it’s a sport for both my sons. I’m sarcastic, and so are they, so we banter every day.

If Patrick, for example, doesn’t listen to me, I’ll ask, “Would you like to live until you’re ten?” And he’ll respond, “Real quality parenting.”

If Luke, only four, misbehaves, I’ll threaten to kick his cute little butt. And he’ll say, eyes rolling, “Really, Mom?”

Patrick just walked in here and said, “You lied to yourself.”

“What?”

“You said you were going to go downstairs to watch TV.”

“I have to blog first.”

You see what I’m dealing with?

The bad part is that I only see it escalating. It’s going to be more “talking back to your parents” and more “mocking your mom.”

But this is what I signed up for. And, because I suffered from infertility and know the alternative, I secretly love every minute of it.

So, far I’ve listed my sons’–Patrick, age nine, and Luke, four–first six “house rules,” rules that they developed to make my husband and me happy.

We’ve covered:

1. No punching.
2. No kicking.
3. No hitting really hard with swords.
4. No stabling balls with swords.
5. No pooping without spraying.
6. No farting without warning.

Today’s two rules are actually linked because, when my sons’ yell, I yell, and, when they don’t listen to me, I yell. It is not my first instinct to yell. It’s not even my second. But it seems as if they NEVER listen to me.

In the case of their yelling, obviously they’re yelling, so it’s hard to hear anything else, as in their mother very calmly telling them to be quiet, to stop screaming because, for example, their exhausted father is trying to take a much-needed weekend nap. They’ll stop yelling. But, within minutes, my four-year-old Luke, who is the loudest child on the planet–whose normal talking voice is close to a scream, because he takes after his very loud father and semi-loud mother–starts in again. In this case, I don’t yell (because of my husband sleeping). But I ask, “Why do you have to yell all the time?” And he responds with absolute honesty: “I can’t help it.”

When my sons don’t listen to my husband and me, however, it’s more frustrating, because I have–in a very Zen way–told them what they should be doing: putting on their clothes for school, brushing their teeth, putting away their toys, cleaning up their rooms, getting their shoes and coats on, and so on. And, even though I say it very nicely the first time and more sternly the second time and slightly yelling the third time, it’s only when I actually yell that I get their attention. And then they are shocked that I’m yelling.

I’ve discussed this with my friends, also very nice woman who are yelling mothers. And they state that it’s only when they get to the yell that their children pay attention.

Why?

If my sons would only follow their own rules–no yelling and listen to your parents–we’d have a very peaceful household.

Except for my husband, who’s usually very loud.

And me, who’s semi-loud.

And Luke, who’s always loud.

Poor Patrick…

My four- and nine-year-old sons, Luke and Patrick, have been able to follow the first five rules they developed for keeping their parents happy. But this sixth rule–No farting without warning–is a joke. Not a literal joke. They had all good intentions when adding this to their list of rules. But they can’t follow it.

Now Patrick, age nine, knows that he should warn us before he gasses up the area. But he doesn’t. He just remains silent, then claims his fart.

But my four-year-old Luke is involved in full-on fart warfare at all times. If he has to gas, he’ll sit on me. Or he’ll put his butt in front of his brother’s face. Or he’ll turn toward me, then tell me that he just “farted in my general direction.”

After he farts on or toward one of us, we play it up, gagging, coughing, squirming as if we’re in the midst of our dying breaths. It makes him feel powerful to elicit such extreme reactions. He thinks it’s hysterical to cause us so much pain, so he keeps us on our toes with his weapon of choice.

And it is a weapon. It’s amazing how much stink can come out of such a little body.

For those new to this blog, for the past few posts, I’ve been addressing the 15 rules for boys that my 4- and 9-year-old sons, Luke and Patrick, made up all on their own. When I asked why they undertook this task, they said, “To make you and Dad happy.”

So far, I’ve listed the following four rules:
1. No punching.
2. No kicking.
3. No hitting really hard with swords.
4. No stabbing balls [testicles] with swords.

Today, I’m explaining Rule #5–No pooping without spraying.

First, I’d like to say that this rule shows the maturity of my sons. Not so long ago, it was an issue just to get them to remember to flush. I’ll never forget when Patrick was two, and I found him playing in the toilet water–toilet water filled with poop–because his 13-year-old brother had forgotten to flush. Horrifying.

But, at only four and nine, these two are far beyond flushing: That’s second nature. The problem is the lingering stench.

My husband has explained the concept of the “courtesy flush,” which I had never before heard of. It means that the moment you poop, you flush to eliminate the initial smell, flushing again if you poop further.

But my sons aren’t advanced enough to flush multiple times, so they’re courtesy measure is spraying. We have a special spray that we all enjoy: Glade’s Apple Cinnamon. It’s in every bathroom, at the ready.

So, although my sons can’t help but exude occasional stink–something none of us can avoid–they are courteous enough to spray some Glade Apple Cinnamon around, smothering the stink with the sweet smells of an autumn day. Hurray!

Just to recap, my 4- and 9-year old sons Luke and Patrick came up with these “House Rules” on their own to make my husband and me happy. (I am quite pleased with the rules because they also keep my little guys safe, which is not easy in a house of four boys.)

Last week, I outlined RULE #1–”No punching.”

Rule #2 is” No kicking,” which is self-explanatory.

Today, I’m addressing rules #3 and #4, which are tied together by sword play.

Now, I have to point out upfront that I am not a parent who advocates violence. But I have boys, and they pine over weapons such as guns, swords, and scythes (my 9-year-old’s want of the moment, because he wants to be the grim reaper for Halloween). I give in, with ground rules. Our guns are Nerf guns, our swords are made of foam, and the scythe, which I ordered this morning, is plastic. When using these weapons (the scythe will never be used, except as a prop for Halloween), we don’t shoot or hit above the neck, which is my rule. But my sons have now come up with their own for safe play.

My sons’ Rule #3 is “No hitting hard with swords.” Considering that the swords are foam, it seems like it would be impossible for them to inflict pain. But, when hit hard, it feels as if you’ve been slapped–hard. So, my sons decided that their sword play with be more “play” and less like an actual dual.

Rule #4 is “No stabbing balls hard with swords.” And, yes, they’re talking testicles here. Because a hard hit with a foam sword feels like a hard slap, avoiding the ball area is warranted. Plus, my 4-year-old will sometimes make swords with Tinker Toys, which are hard plastic. My husband has been on the receiving end of one of these stabbings. Ouch! Thank goodness he’s already had all of his children…

Later this week, more rules…

Two months ago, my nine- and four-year-old sons, Patrick and Luke, were MIA for about an hour, and they reappeared proudly, showing my husband and me a list of “House Rules.” They’d written these rules on several 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of white computer paper, then taped them together in a long list. They asked if they could put their list on the refrigerator. Of course, I said yes, impressed with their initiative.

Then I read the house rules. They are definitely “boy” house rules, for we have a house of four boys.

I asked my nine-year-old Patrick why they came up with these rules, and he said, “To make our parents happy.” From my perspective, they’ll not only keep my husband and me happy, but also keep our sons safe.

So, for the next several posts, I’m going to share with you “The Top Fifteen Rules for Boys (Written by Boys for Boys).”

Rule #1 is NO PUNCHING.

Now, in our house, we have no punching in anger. (Well, we had punching in anger once, when our older boys were about 12 and 14, but it resulted in the 12-year-old breaking a bone in his hand, so that was the end of that behavior.)

So, other than that one exception, we have no angry punching. But we wrestle. (And, by we, I mean me too. They beg me too.)

Now, frustrations can escalate when two boys are wrestling their 46-year-old. strong mother. Even though they gang up on me, I can still dominate them both at the same time. So, sometimes, my four-year-old Luke will start punching wildly. He usually does this when I’ve pinned his brother Patrick on the floor, and he’s trying to protect Patrick in a valiant display of brotherly love.

But punching hurts–even 46-year-old mothers.

So I promise that, if Luke stops punching me, I’ll stop tickling them. (Tickling is my wresting secret weapon.)

Because punching (regardless of intent) hurts both parents and kids, NO PUNCHING. A solid Rule #1.

When my 9-year-old son Patrick was three, we went to a concert at Pottery Barn Kids. A folk artist sat in the back of the store, guitar in hand. In front of him was free space for children to dance in, surrounded by their parents sitting in a semi-circle of chairs. My son and I sat in the front row of the almost-empty audience. As the musician started his show, singing children’s songs, my son got up and started dancing. But, after a few minutes, he noticed no one else was dancing, he looked around self-consciously, and he sat down next to me.

I was heartbroken because I knew that it was the end of his carefree, not-aware-of-anyone-else’s reactions world. He had entered the realm of wondering what other people think–and tempering his true self, his natural instincts (as in, to dance) because of fear of repercussions. What if someone thought he was weird, dancing alone? What is he wasn’t a good dancer?

This morning, my four-year-old son Luke thought he “looked embarrassing.” It’s raining, and I put on his fireman raincoat, new to him, because he just grew out of his shark one, which he felt was super-cool. He had a complete breakdown, trying to rip it off his body. He slumped to the floor, refusing to go to school. He repeated, over and over, that he “looked embarrassing.” I just pulled him up to his feet and sent him out the door, so we wouldn’t be late for school.

But, once we were in the car, I had a talk with him. I told him how cool firefighters are–how they fight fires and save lives. I told him that the raincoat used to be Patrick’s, who thought it was the coolest coat ever. I said that Patrick is upset that he grew out of it, because he’d love to have it still. (At this point, Luke looked at over Patrick, who gave him a jealous look.) I said that he should never be embarrassed because he is a great kid. I said that, if anyone says anything negative to him about his raincoat, that person is mean. I said that some kids think firefighters are so cool that they dress as firefighters for Halloween.

He had silently for a few minutes, then asked, “Do you know what Owen is going to be for Halloween?”

“No.”

“A fireman.”

“You see,” I said. “I bet Owen is going to love your raincoat.”

Luke seemed unembarrassed when I dropped him off, but we’ll see…

One of my first memories, from age three or four, is of feeling self-conscious. And I was burdened with feeling self-conscious–often–from then on. It’s a terrible feeling, not feeling confident, feeling nervous that I’m being negatively judged.

But I don’t act as if I’m self-conscious. I act confident. It’s the philosophy of acting “as if.” If I act “as if” I’m self-confident, I will eventually grow into self-confidence. And it’s worked a bit.

But I’d better perfect my solution to self-consciousness quickly. I have to pass it on to my kids.

Every morning, my 4-year-old son Luke claims to be itchy. The solution to his itchiness is called “scratchy,” which he requests from me, as in, “Will you do scratchy?”

Every Monday through Friday when he gets home from school, he wants to relax in front of the TV for a bit, while having a snack. (Apparently preschool is very stressful.) Then he’ll be itchy, so he’ll ask me to do scratchy, helpfully pulling up his pant legs, so I can scratch his little legs, as he reclines on the couch.

He still naps at 4 1/2, which is awesome, but he’s itchy before his nap. In this case, he’ll take off his shirt, so I can scratch his entire back. Plus his arms. He’ll also have taken shorts out of his drawer and switched from his pants to shorts so I can easily scratch his legs. As you can see, he’s very helpful with the entire “scratchy” process.

Every night, he is, of course, itchy. So he’ll only put on pajama shorts, because, after we read books, I have to give whole-body scratchy in order to relax him enough to go to sleep.

He and my 9-year-old son Patrick recently requested their own personal back-scratchers, which I bought on Amazon for about $2 each, plus free shipping. They came Friday, and they’re pretty cool, with telescoping arms. Last night, as I read Luke four of Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie books (all of which rock, by the way) and one Curious George book, he used the back-scratcher to scratch his own legs. But this was insufficient. He still required all-over scratchy before sleep.

If I added up the amount of time I have done scratchy, I’d feel like an idiot, I’m sure. But I love him, and he loves “scratchy.” This morning, after I performed the task, he said, “When you do scratchy, it feels sooooooooo good–because you’re my Mama.”

I get something out of it too. He won’t always want me to touch him in such an intimate way. I know this: My 9-year-old is repulsed if I kiss him.

Plus, when he’s relaxing while I do scratchy, he looks like an angel. A spoiled one.