Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The secret to 14 years of marriage

Yesterday was our 14th wedding anniversary. For those of you that are concerned that I may have forgotten the milestone, RELAX! After Lynley's little birthday surprise, she has me wrapped around her little finger. There is no way I would forget to be the dutiful husband. Plus, the Jag is in her name which means I have to be on my best behavior.

She's not stupid.

On the other hand, you have to be wondering. How did Mark land such a fox? (Yeah, I know. I have been wondering the same thing.) And, on top of that, one has to wonder how did he keep her for 14 years (21 since we started dating).

I mean, come on. It is the white elephant in the room. Let's get that out there.

While I would like to tell you that it is my mad "Don Juan" skills, it isn't. Although, I have come up with a few proven secrets to a happy and long marriage. Here are a few nuggets that have clearly worked for me that you may want to stick in your back pocket.

1. First, and foremost, for me to get a girl like Lynley and keep her it has taken one main ingredient - wine, lots and lots of it. It is best to keep wives a little lit. This way they don't notice all of the stupid stuff we do. This has been one of my most important secret marriage weapons. Think of it as a happy marriage lubricant. Trust me, if you want a long and happy marriage, don't skimp here. Buy it by the box.

2. Secondly, have 3 or 4 kids within a year or two of one another early on in the marriage. This step can't not be heeded too closely and it is another one of my best nuggets. Trust me, if you play your cards right, as I have, she will never leave you for fear of being taken over by the gaggle of kiddos. This is like buying a 20 year marriage insurance policy. She will keep you around just for the moral support. Yes, early (in the marriage) and frequent pregnancies are also an important ingredient to a happy and long marriage.

Note: please do not mix step 1 with step 2.

3. This is the tough one. Rule 3 is to always do exactly what she says or do always do things in her best interest. I know, I know. It sounds hard but, trust me, this works. If you want your marriage to truly work you have to realize that you will never, ever be right. If you acknowledge this fact early on and just do what they say, you will be batting .400. The good news is that there is also an important caveat to this rule. You can still do most things that you want to do. You just have to make sure that you are doing it for their benefit. For example, if I want to go play golf, all I have to do is tell her that I am going to give her some alone time. As long as I never mention golf, I am in good shape. It works every time. I am happy. She is happy.

See, there you go, 3 simple rules to a long and happy marriage. And, here, you probably thought it was going to be difficult.

Oh, and I should probably mention that this is another one of those things that you should probably not mention to Lynley. These "happy marriage" rules seem to work best when your spouse is unaware that you are following them. So, once again, let's not tell her about this.

Yes, that means you.

Oh, and also, I should probably point out that it doesn't hurt that I really, really love her.
She is, after all, my purpose.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The benefits of a bruising?

Good morning! Long time no write... Well, I will be making a concerted effort to do better from now on. The fact of the matter is that life is just moving too fast. The kiddos are all doing well. The big highlight for them this week is the fact that, on Monday and Wednesday, Master Adrian picked them up from school and delivered them directly to the Tae Kwon Do studio. This little change in the schedule helps us all out. While I am not sure how Master Adrian feels about the new arrangement, it sure seems to be making everyone else happy.

Happy kiddos, happy wife, happy Mark. It is the straight line version of the circle of happiness.

I am also happy to announce that Sydney's mysterious chest ailment has disappeared. In fact, it has gone without mention for 6 days now. Well, as soon as I say that, I am quite sure that I will hear about it first thing this morning. But still, I am glad that I have not heard anything about it in a week. I don't so much mind the stuffy noses and sore throats. It is the strange ailments and the unexplainable pains that still have the tendency to bring me to my knees.

One ongoing challenge with Didders (Sydney) is the bruising. Relax. It isn't from low platelets counts. Nope, this time it is from abuse. Not ours, mind you. It is the Tae Kwon Do kind. After 2 weekends of sparring with kids from other schools she has just been wailed on. Mostly it has been caused by sparring boys with little control or accuracy. Go figure? They have absolutely torn up her thighs and buttocks - places they shouldn't technically be kicking. This seems to happen when fighting boys that don't technically have the skills to beat her in the match but are afraid of losing to a girl so they just madly kick as hard as they can.

It is unfortunate. Not only do I feel horribly for Sydney because I know it hurts her physically but it also has the negative effect of hurting her mentally. It is occasions like these that make her dislike Tae Kwon Do. It is temporary but it really effects her attitude. She will get better and she will begin to love Tae Kwon Do again but, for right now, it is a challenge to keep her motivated.

They are just like bruises but they are mental and they take awhile to go away.

It tears me up to see her beaten up bruised little body, especially when it is a choice. I still maintain though, that for Sydney, Tae Kwon Do's benefits far outweigh the challenges. It really has done a superb job of building her confidence. It has also given her the inner strength to push on when things get tough. I think she is beginning to realize and believe that she can do anything she sets her mind to.

She is beginning to believe in her purpose and that is my purpose.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Just socks and underwear

Well, I am guessing there are a bunch of people eager to see exactly what I would have to say about my birthday gift - considering half of the state of Texas was in on the gig. Yes, it seems everyone was pretty excited about Lynley's big surprise. Honestly, I don't know why everyone was so excited about 4 pairs of socks and a 3 pack of boxers.

Unless, of course, you were excited about seeing how I would react to the Jaguar XJ they were sitting on.

Well, let me put this into perspective for you. When I was a little boy my Dad restored an old Jaguar as a hobby. Many people did not know this but my Dad was blind in one eye. Because of this, he could not do much of the electrical work under the dash simply because he could not get into position to see what needed to be done. This is were I came in. As a little boy, I could get in to those tight places and I could see much of the wiring that was blocked from his view. And so began my love affair. It was this time with my Dad and this opportunity that created a love and a passion for Jaguars throughout my life.

For the last 25 years there have always been excuses not to get one. First, the ones I could afford always needed a tremendous amount of work. Second, a new one was always well out of the price range that I could justify spending on a car. Third, there was always a more sensible car for me to drive. No, a Jaguar was relegated to be one of those dreams that would always remain just out of reach - that was until Lynley surprised me with this one.

Now, you may be thinking that the reality of capturing a dream is never as good it seems. Yes, it seems that realities never live up to the expectations that we have built up in our minds.

This is the exception.

It is incredible. It is so much more that I ever thought it could be. It is perfect. It is glass black with a charcoal interior. It has heated and cooled seats and it is every bit as luxurious as you would expect from Jaguar. On top of that, it is over 400 hp sitting on an aluminum frame. It is a monster with the nimbleness of a cat.

It is a Jaguar. It is mine!

As I told Lynley, other than people, it is my absolute favorite thing. I love it.

I feel like Batman.

And now I have my very own "purposemobile."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Snot - the best birthday present ever.

So, all joking aside. There has been some seriousness this week. While I think we have come along way in our mental battle with neuroblastoma, it is clear that there are some things that will stay with us forever. It seems like no matter what the ailment, even 7 years later, the first thing that comes to mind with Sydney is the fear that it could be the cancer coming back. This week has been no exception.

Syd's health turned for the worse on Monday. This was not all too surprising. It is allergy time for most at the Dungan household. So, runny noses, soar throats, and asthma related symptoms are frequent occurrences for everyone. Considering the fact that Sydney stayed up to nearly midnight at a birthday party on Saturday night, it was no surprise that she was a little run down. Combined with the allergies it a logical fit for her to be under the weather.

Rationally, it all makes sense.

However, it still does not take long for our (Lynley and I) brains to begin playing tricks on us. The fear comes and quickly you can turn what seems like a normal case of allergies into cancer.

It should not come as a surprise that I did not sleep well last night. What if this? What if that? What should we do? The mental debate raged on in my brain throughout the night.

The fact is that Sydney presented with some fairly standard stuff - a sore throat. There is no fever and her energy level seems high (unless she is trying to get out of doing something) Honestly, I can still make her lose her voice almost entirely simply by asking her to clean up the dishes after a meal.

However, as the days (3) have gone by, the "standardness" of her symptoms has worn off and I can't make sense of it. Clearly there is a recurring process going on in her body. It is almost like snot reflux. She will be fine for awhile(15 minutes). Then her voice will gradually become more and more hoarse. She refuses to clear her throat or cough because it hurts her chest. Eventually she looses the mental battle and must cough which, while it hurts, clears her throat and brings her back to normal. Over the next 15 minutes the whole process begins over again. She describes the pain as being in her esophagus and chest. She also says it seems as though something is stuck in there.

Of course, after her last set of scans where we found the mystery lesion on her breast plate the first thing I envision is a tumor growing there and putting pressure on her esophagus with lesions metastasized to her lungs.

Certainly that would explain it all.

It is amazing what the mind can come up with.

See how mental I am?

Regardless, I am hoping for a much improved day for her and all I really want for my birthday is for my baby girl to be better.

How I yearn for this to be just be a simple case of the snots. What a perfect birthday present that would be.

I just want my snotty purpose

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Good behavior

Midweek has arrived. As expected, my behavior has been exemplary in my last ditch effort to receive something other than socks and underwear for my birthday. I have tried to lay some hints with the kiddos but, sadly, I can tell that they are already scoping out my needs from my closet.

The good news is that if I stay on her good side, Sydney could go all out. The problem with her of course is that she saves money about like a river holds water. Yep with her, I am afraid I am relegated to the coolest thing at the dollar store.

Graham, however, is Mr. money bags. The short term problem for me is that he is the saver. For better or worse, he is tighter than his Dad. Unless I am wanting some legos or a new game for the Wii I don't see him breaking the bank. The good side of all of that saving is that when I grow old (or slightly older) he will be able to afford me in the manner in which Lynley has become accustomed.

Ainsley would likely give me anything I wanted. However, I happen to know she is flat broke. She has busted her bank looking for that next sugar rush. She is a candy junky that has resorted to stealing from my change drawer to support her habit.

It is actually pretty funny. We live close enough to the park that the ice cream truck will make a pass up our street a couple times a week. I am as familiar with the sound of the music from the ice cream truck as I am of what follows - the pitter patter of her little feet running upstairs followed by the clinkety clank of her little fingers fishing for quarters out of my change dish. She will then rush downstairs to tell me that she is going to buy ice cream. For fun, I tell her that I have no money on me and, with a big grin, she always assures me that she can afford it and has the cash. Now that I think about it, She operates under the Lynley theory of ownership. I learned long ago that what was hers is hers and what was mine is hers. It seems my youngest is no different. I am just happy that, in this point in her career, we are still only dealing with petty larceny.

I would say something about Lynley but I am much smarter than that. After someone let lose my comment from Monday's entry about not getting any for a month it turns out I won't be getting any for a month. I now have to assume that what I write here isn't as private as I thought. It turns out that all of the after school specials and public service announcements about not putting anything on the Internet that you wouldn't say or do in person does have at least month long consequences.

So, I would just like to take this opportunity to let everyone know how beautiful and sweet and smart my wife is.

By the way, if you are the leak, it would be helpful if you pointed that last statement out to her before Friday.

Purpose awaits...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Poor little old me

For some reason the weekend before my birthday was deemed a 2 day slave labor camp. Lynley worked my butt(ocks) to the bone and she took absolute joy in doing so. In fact, she wore a smirk all weekend. The kiddos, the little twerps, weren't of any help either. I take back everything I said about them on Friday. Clearly I was wrong. Awesomelets... More like the Not Awesomelets - the not helping Dadlets, or rather, the taking Mom's sidelets. Not one of my progeny even lifted a finger to help dear old Dad.

I will remember.

On my super cool birthday, I am not going to let any of them have ice cream cake.


On Saturday Sydney was attitudinal to say the least. She had spent the previous evening at an all girl sleepover and apparently didn't fall asleep until midnight. That lack of beauty rest turned her into a 5 star shrew (and I mean that in the most daddy nurturing way possible.) She yelled at everyone. Well, everyone except for Lynley and I whom she has learned not to yell at. But to her brother, sister and most inanimate objects around the house she was a real witch. Thankfully and afternoon in her room and a night of rest brought our princess back. However, our princess was still of no help to her poor old over worked Dad.

Sunday was Graham's day and boy did he do it first class. Unfortunately, I do not mean that in a good kid way. We have had a lot of success with Graham after reading a few books and working through some of his confidence issues. He has had weeks of solid growth - and, yes, the state championship did not hurt. But yesterday, whoa yesterday, was 10 steps backward. He must have threatened to run away 10 times and his ability to cope melted away at even the slightest move away from what he wanted. Clearly he was yearning for attention but was just in too foul of a mood to receive any of it. It was not a good Graham Day. And it is important to note that he was not of any particular help to his poor old dad either.

Ainsley, as expected, kept a pretty even keel. She was happy, fun, and, as always, ready for more. She had no problem helping Daddy but her help came more in the form of "Before we start will you make me a drink?" or "Now that we have started can you make me a snack" or " Daddy, you missed a spot?" Sure, she was fun and cheery but I quickly came to realize that with her help everything took 4 times as long to complete. With my blushing bride's cracks of the whip just over my head, that simply was not going to get the job done. While I enjoyed her company, she too was of absolutely no help. It was easier to send her on her merry way.

Now I don't want to paint the love of my life as being a brutal dictator. Lynley was nice but she did it in that southern sort of way. She would ask me to take a break from the hard work but she would do it in that way that also said "if you so much as stop for a second you are not getting any for a month." Oops, you probably should not tell her that I said that publicly in my blog. Regardless, I caught the drift.

And so, poor me, right? Not that anyone else around here would appreciate it but poor old little daddy.

Do you think they will feel sorry enough for me to get me a real cool gift?

Nope, probably still relegated to socks and ties. But you can't blame me for trying.

It is a sneaky stab at purpose.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Awesomelets

There are several people that read my blog that know me personally. However, judging by the email there is large portion that do not know me in person. Anybody that has met me face-to-face and has spoken with me knows that I have a complete inability to show any sign of decorum when it comes to my kiddos. You should know. I am a braggart. It is true. I am twerplet show-off gasbag.

It occurs to me though that I rarely do it in my blog. So, it fine Mark-onian fashion it only makes sense that I rectify that situation.

So, without further ado...

My kids are completely awesome. And, I don't mean a little awesome. They are downright righteous. Lets begin.

First, all of the Dunganlets are straight A students. Some of them have take longer than others to come out of their academic shell but they are all hitting their marks. Sydney has taken this year by storm impressing us each step of the way. Every year she has continues to improve and, frankly, has surpassed my expectations. Graham has done well too. Although, I would be lying if I did not say that I truly believe he is yet to blossom. He does well in school but we keep seeing these flashes of exceptional with him. At times it is almost like he is an idiot savant, sans the idiot part. I am shocked by him daily. Mark my words, he will do something truly amazing for mankind one day.

Ainsley is perhaps the biggest shocker. Don't let Graham or Sydney know but, to date, she is the smartest. She consistently seems leaps and bounds ahead of where her brother and sister when they were her age. That reality is bore out in the classroom. She has consistently hit her marks earlier and faster. It comes quickly to her and with little effort. It would not surprise me if she was always the smartest. The question is whether she will use her powers for good or evil. Knowing her, I am guessing that in her teenage years even a Mensa lock on the liquor cabinet will not be enough.

My kiddos awesomeness does not stop there. They are awesome athletes as well. But, if you have read my diary you already knew that. I am not going to waste your time here again telling you another story of their physical preeminence. We all know they got skills. Where they got them is the quandary.

All of that is well and good, and, if you meet me in public, you will no doubtedly hear me tell you how proud I am of their performances in school or in Tae kwon do. But, if I am being honest, that is not what make me proudest. What gives me the most gratification is the fact that they are good people. They are kind and compassionate. They genuinely care for others and often put others needs ahead of their own. There is no school for teaching that. Unlike school and Tae Kwon Do, their are no grades or medals. It is an achievement whose reward is a full and happy heart. This reward is worn on the inside instead of the outside.

It is for this reason that I am most proud.

I don't know how it happened but I either got really lucky or I did really, really good.

Yeah, yeah, yeah... Lynley probably had something to do with it to.

But still, she did it despite me.

How did I get so lucky to have such incredible purpose.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Full of purpose, drained of energy

Wow, what a weekend! As I mentioned late last weekend, the Dungan household was split on Saturday. A little before 4:00 AM Lynley scooped Graham out of bed and headed for San Antonio for another Tae Kwon Do tournament. I on the other hand stayed local. I had the girls and our job was to be at the Neuroblastoma Walk.

Yes, it was a busy start. Graham ended up taking a silver medal in the tournament. Of course, you have to know that had I been there he most certainly would have made gold. Yep, I got that kind of pull. You see, it takes a very careful balance of gentle encouragement and aggressive incentivize-ation to truly get results. If you don't handle it just right you can get mixed results. This is exactly what happened. Oh sure, Lynley did a great job of supporting Graham with those things form the stands. However, what she totally forgot to do was to do was how to manage Master Adrian. I did not hear about any encouragement there - no coffee from starbucks, no muffin from cinnabon. What was she thinking? If you want to win you have to suck up to the coach. In fact, I doubt Lynley yelled on Master Adrian's behalf even once. While I am sure it was much more pleasant for Master Adrian not having to deal with me in the stands, it clearly did not get the results we were looking for in the gold medal match. Usually the coaches pull out all of the stops just to shut me up . Without my annoyance they clearly weren't incentivized enough. That should teach us all a lesson. Clearly, they need me.

Yep, Master Adrian just loves me.

In reality and much to my chagrin, the reason Graham lost had nothing to do with my lack of presence. From what I gathered there were a few different issues. First, the boy that won the gold medal was pretty aggressive. He kept pushing Graham and that got into his psyche. Graham couldn't figure out why they weren't calling a pushing "foul" on the other kid and it ultimately flustered him. There were also some issues with missed kicks to the head, etc. Graham thought it was unfair and concentrated on that instead of finishing the match. It wasn't just Graham's match. From what I understand, there were many problems and complaints throughout the day with the referees. Our school was so disappointed in the quality of the tournament management and the officiating that we may no longer be participating in AAU events. Regardless, Graham may have been hampered by these elements but ultimately it was his problem. He lost the match mentally. He let those other factors impact his performance and that is totally a Daddy issue. That is what I need to work with him on. Unfortunately, the reality is that life isn't always fair and it never will be. What matters is what we do with what we have been given - that we make the best of a given situation. We have to teach him that reality. It is a good opportunity for twerp training.

On another note, the girls and I made it to the Walk which raised over $110,000.00 (est.) for neuroblastoma research. The turnout was incredible with some people having to park almost a quarter of a mile away just to participate. I think we may have outgrown the venue. It was an incredible day and a tremendous amount of fun. Now comes the best part. I can't wait to see what the neuroblastoma team at Cook's does with it.

Now, if all of this seemed like enough for the weekend you were way off. Saturday afternoon we had Jillian spend the night. That left me with 3 girls for the remainder of the day. As a surprise for Lynley, I also purchased and laid some new sod in the back yard. Sunday morning we went to the zoo. Sunday afternoon Graham and I spent ice skating at a birthday party in Arlington. Friday evening I walked a gas grill five blocks to my mother's house. Don't ask! This was, of course, on top of our usual honey dos, laundry and cleaning of the house. Yep, another typical weekend at the Dungan household.

And believe it or not, the kids were still bored at times.

Thank goodness I have a lot of purpose because I don't have much energy left.