Tuesday, October 25, 2016


While watching the end of the show, "This Is Us," there was a beautiful monologuish moment where one of the main characters speaks about death.  And, specifically, the episode highlights the fact that his and his siblings' father died a number of years ago.  He shows his nieces a painting that looks a bit like a Jackson Pollock.  The talk, as a whole, is very existential, that we are all connected, there is no end, no beginning.

Not the painting from the show, but you get the idea.

"It's kind of beautiful, right, if you think about it: the fact that just because someone dies, just because you can't see them or talk to them anymore, it doesn't mean they're not still in the painting.  I think maybe that's the point of the whole thing.  There's no dying.  There's no you or me or them; it's just us.  And this sloppy, wild, colorful magical thing that has no beginning and no end, it's right here, I think it's us."

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Words of Remembrance

Words of Remembrance

From my father's funeral mass on Friday, October 21, 2016

First, our family would like to thank you for taking the time today to be with us to celebrate the life of my father, Mike Dollarton.

Poet, Mary Oliver, wrote, “Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

My father grew up with the reality that life is short.  He didn’t take one minute for granted.  And he certainly had a wild life.  He devoted his life to being OUTSTANDING.  He modeled what it means to help others, to be a friend, and to pursue that which makes you happy in this life.

Though none of us knew or could have anticipated what was to come, within the past month, as a family we spent quality time together both for happy reasons and sad.  In those small moments, my father danced surrounded by a garden of those he loved, including his wife, daughters and their spouses, brothers, cousins, nieces, and nephews.  Due to the destination, he witnessed his last beach sunset while biking with Bonnie and spent time in his favorite place with his brothers.

Just two weeks later, our father offered to do what he does best and help family.  My sister’s mother-in-law passed away and Sheila was closing on a house the following morning.  My dad dropped everything, insisting on driving her to the closing in Maryland and a few days later, drove up to New York with Bonnie to help in any way they could.  That included late nights and even walking the boys around in their stroller for an hour and a half following Peg’s funeral to ensure that they got a nap that day.  As a result of being in New York, the following day my father got to spend the twin’s first birthday with them, watching them smash some cupcakes in OUTSTANDING fashion.  

Though his time was short, it is some comfort to us to know that his time was well spent.  He loved big and lived with few regrets.  We feel so blessed to have these memories of my dad’s last few weeks.  We are all better for having known him.  

Last night, at the viewing, a friend shared that Mike Dollarton always left parties abruptly.  That when he was ready to go, he went.  While we don’t understand why, he left this party a little early and we all miss him dearly.  

We look forward to sharing many more memories with all of you following the service.

Thank you.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Changed for Good

"Because I knew you, I have been changed for good." ~ Wicked

So, this blog hasn't been updated in a solid two years but it's time for an entry.  As I was driving home tonight, a flood of memories and stories hit me like a wave.  And that's fitting.  I feel like I've been knocked sideways this weekend.  I was at a conference in DC called the SLJ Leadership Summit, crossing the street when I got a call from my sister.  My dad was in the hospital and we should go there immediately.  I began to sprint for my car.  I met my sister at her condo in Arlington and we drove together to the hospital in New Jersey.  To the best of our knowledge and understanding, he suffered a massive heart attack.  Extraordinary measures were taken to try to bring him back to us but that wasn't meant to be.  As a result, our hearts are broken.  Since then I've been in a focused mode of making sure no one else should worry, that things were being taken care of, and they will be, but as I drove back home tonight, as I mentioned, stories, thoughts, and memories hit me and it occurred to me that I want to document those so that my kids have a record of what a kind hearted man their grandfather was.  To add to our heavy hearts, we lost my sister's mother-in-law less than two weeks ago and she was, likewise, an incredibly kind soul who treated my kids so well.  It's been a hard month.  And we're not off the roller coaster of emotions yet.  I had asked some people to think of and document a favorite memory of my dad.  So, of course, I started thinking of some of mine.

When I was engaged and preparing for my wedding, I asked my dad if he had any thoughts on our father-daughter dance.  He did.  I know, you're shocked.  Not only had he chosen a song (Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel...an untraditional choice, but as it turned out, I didn't have much say in the matter), but he had also choreographed a dance.  He scheduled our rehearsals.  It was amazing and I will never forget how special I felt that he considered me an angel.  Now he's one of mine.

When I was in fifth grade, my dad got really intense about some paper/project I had to write about starfish.  I'm still not sure why, but it is a vivid memory.  While we were in Florida, he had the foresight to buy a starfish to affix to the front construction paper cover.  He took me to his work to type the paper and helpfully suggested exactly what I should write.  To be honest, my irritation with this probably prompted me to never, ever ask for help with any assignment again.  I did it on my own from that point forward.  He did this again when I was writing essays for my college applications and I asked him to read them and give me feedback.  My dad had high standards for me and for my work.  Which is good and all.  But during the time I was trying to perfect my college application essay, I was accepted to the fine institution of Shippensburg University which did not require an essay and I jumped at that opportunity.

My dad worked in hospitals all his adult life.  He felt very comfortable in hospitals and navigating their systems and halls.  So much so, that he often disregarded rules meant for mere mortals.  And made his own.  When Jeff was hospitalized, my dad practically stayed around the clock.  He tried to pull strings to get him treatments that were near to impossible because the resources just weren't in place.  He gave massages.  Visiting hours, hah!  When I had my first born child, my dad was at the hospital ready to go.  When they served me a sandwich with meat, he gladly ate it for me.  And possibly the sandwich of the girl next door.  Jeff is convinced that happened.  I'm not so sure.  He would often fiddle with equipment I'm pretty sure had signage that indicated you really shouldn't touch it.  And, if we needed help, you'd better be darned sure he was taking the walk to find the nearest nurse rather than waiting to push a buzzer for assistance.  I've inherited this utter disregard for such limits.  Walk with purpose and you can get through just about any door.  Don't wait for help, go get what you need.  These apply to hospitals and life.

Touching Hospital Instruments/ Corruption of Minors

Dad and Elliot, June 17, 2013

Dad and Cecelia, July 14, 2009

My dad loved the crap out of his grandkids.  Cece and Elliot and now Tommy and Ryan literally made sunbeams shoot out of his face.  And he insisted upon getting those grandbabies in the Atlantic Ocean.  Whether they wanted to or not.  He made it his mission to get their tootsies wet.
Dad and Cecelia, 2009, Sea Isle City, NJ
Dad and Elliot, 2013, Sea Isle City, NJ

My dad worked hard.  He took care of himself.  He ate healthy food.  He exercised.  He did things he loved.  He did what made him happy.  He didn't care much what other people thought of the way he lived his life.  And he did that until his last moments on this earth.  You have perhaps never met such a productive person.  When I hear what he did on Saturday, it blows my mind.  And yet, it doesn't.  At all.  Let me walk you through Mike Dollarton's last day on earth.  He woke up early.  He gardened.  He rode his bicycle.  He made two trays of ziti.  He mowed the lawn.  And that was it.  All before most people left the house.  And then he left his house for the last time in an ambulance.  He made every moment, every second count.  He told people he loved them.  He made time to spend with the people he loved.  I want to thank all of the people who have surrounded us with love.  We are all so blessed to have such amazing friends and family.  If you have a special memory or story to share about my dad, please take a moment to do so in the comments below.  I hope I can steal time to share more stories for my kids to look back on.  Thank you!

From the Broadway Musical Wicked:

I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you...
Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Happy Anniversary

Tomorrow marks 8 years since Jeff and I were married.  He said something to me once that I was thinking about today.  A few years ago, he said something funny to the effect of being just as great as he was on the day we were married.  I replied no...he's even better.  

We were married at 25 and we were both very different people than we are today. 


We are both stronger and healthier, physically and mentally than we were at 25, more selfless as parents than we ever could have previously imagined, but also selfishly, we pursue interests that are unique to us as individuals and value those pursuits in each other, expressing interest and supporting each other.  We take time for ourselves as individuals, ourselves as a couple and our family as a whole.  We have cultivated strong friendships that I can only hope continue to thrive along with our marriage.  

Jeff makes me laugh every day.  And anyone who knows me well knows that I love to laugh.  I make him laugh sometimes too.  Jeff never wavers in his affections and I like to think our children will grow up in a home brimming over with love, witnessing that love isn't always easy, but it's always worth it.  Jeff, I love you more than all the stars in the sky.  Remember, there is no plan B.  You're stuck with me.  Happy Anniversary!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Dear Daughter 2014

Dear Daughter,

Today you turned five.  This year is a BIG deal.  In the fall, you go to kindergarten.  You're off to see the world! 

"Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous.  It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body." - Elizabeth Stone

You have been walking, and talking your mind for some time now.  You completed your second year of preschool this spring. 

You have proven time and time again that you are incredibly empathetic.  I feel strongly that this is one of the traits that makes you a kind friend.  You want to be friends with everyone you meet.  You don't understand if/when someone doesn't want to be your friend and can be hurt by that realization.  Likewise, if a friend isn't kind to you, you have learned with time and experience that it's ok to take a break from that friend.  Friends are hard.

But you have navigated social situations with ease and maturity.  You are far from shy.  I have seen this, perhaps most evident, at the pool we belong to.  You are friends with other kids your age, but also with older kids.  Divers on my team, for example.  And when you wanted to learn how to use a Rainbow Loom, you found that one of the older swimmers was making bracelets and you sat down next to her and started to learn from her, through observation, and savvy negotiation skills.  You, along with a small following that ensued hatched a plan to work as a team to make bracelets and sell them for a small fee, splitting the proceeds among the "workers" and giving half to the pool.  Likewise, you seem to see yourself on par with the lifeguards and the other staff at the pool.  While one of the older swimmers was holding a swim clinic, you somehow ended up directing traffic and "helping".  The next day, you were absolutely certain that you did actually wok at he pool.  I'm still waiting on that paycheck!  You do not sit idly by watching the "action."  You ARE the action.  You are a do-er and I am excited to watch you DO whatever you are meant to.

Speaking of friends, shortly before your last birthday, you met your BEST friend.  The kid who does and probably always will idolize you.  That is Elliot, of course! 

For the most part, you are sweet and gentle with him.  You don't want him to miss anything.  You want him to play with you.  This has, on occasion, prompted you to WAKE HIM UP.  When he was SLEEPING!  I will remind you of moments like this when you have you own children if you choose to do so and are so blessed.  Don't worry though, he wants to be awake with you and he wants to play with you.  He doesn't want to miss anything.  So you are clearly doing him a favor.  Me, not so much.  Before he was born, you were certain that you knew everything there was to know about babies and could totally handle things should I want to go out for a night on the town.  Confidence has never been lacking.  You quickly recognized that, perhaps, you did not know everything about babies and had a little to learn in that department.  That is a huge accomplishment.  Admitting when you need to learn something.  Some adults in this household have trouble with that one.  Actually, both adults.

Speaking of learning new things, you started taking swim lessons last summer after your fourth birthday, continuing through the winter and this summer.  When you took your first week of swim lessons, daddy asked if you would be able to swim at the end of the week.  In short, no.  Swimming is something you readily admitted to needing more time to learn.  And you have always been clear when you were scared of a new skill or nervous.  My goal is for you to be comfortable in the water.  Able to swim too, but first and foremost comfortable.  Well!  Let me tell you a secret.  You CAN swim.  You just haven't fully transferred that to the "big" pool yet.  You swim in the baby pool without touching the bottom.  Water is water.  In theory, you can do the same thing in the big pool.  When you are ready.  But, since you are a year older, you CAN touch the bottom because you are ever so slightly taller.  And this has given you confidence and comfort in the pool.  To the point that, if given the option, you wouldn't get out.  Ever. 

Which reminds me of another area in which you've matured.  Last summer, you would get really irritated when another child would say that they were taller than you (they were) or older (also true).  You didn't seem to "get" the concept.  This summer, you do.  And you don't seem to get so angry about the topic.  You understand that it is not some insult.  Just a matter of simple math.  Which is good, because given your genetics, being shorter than someone else is just going to be the way it is.  And given the way you play easily with older kids, you'll continue to be younger than someone else too.  But, as you age, you also are older than some of the other kids.  And you've shown kindness to younger kids as well. 

I could probably tell lots of stories.  A year is a long time to recap.  Let me just wrap it up by saying that I am proud of you.  I am proud of your kindness, your tenacity, your empathy, your maturity, your sweetness, and your comfort in your own skin.  I am proud of you for always being who you are.  Your daddy, brother, and I love you very much, Cecelia Ann.  Looking forward to another year of you! 

Love, Mommy

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Dear Son

Today, you turn one.  First, how on earth did that happen?!?  I mean, I know how that happened but this has probably been the fastest year of my life!  I like to think we enjoyed every second.  No, we did enjoy every second.  I want to apologize for not doing a better job of publicly documenting your every waking moment this year as I often did with your sister.  But, well...you're a second kid.  In the BEST possible way.  So, a little about you this year.  Let's see...bath time.  I'm sure you'll really love this years from now.

Perhaps I re-wrote history a bit in my mind.  See, I'm looking back at this photo and you do not seem to be enjoying yourself.  I swear, you did like baths for a while.  Shall we see if we can find more evidence?  

That's better!!  But, well, you do NOT like baths...or water for that matter right now.

I thought you might like a bath in the big tub with your sister better.  Wrong!  And you picked the WORST time to decide this as it is now SUMMER and I would like to basically sit in a pool with you all summer long but you seem to have other plans.  I suggest you get over this affinity for being dry (and might I add dirty since I'm terrified to bathe you lately...thought I WILL before your 1 year check up.) as we are entering a heat wave presently.  Also,  I'm a diving coach and by no means will you find me forcing you (or your sister) to follow in any footsteps, I think you should enter the pool from time to time.

Moving right along...moving.  You can MOVE kid!  

You were a confident sitter shortly after 6 months and a crawler, backwards for a time, and then forward.  Now, you still prefer crawling and you are a noisy crawler.  You slap at the floor loudly as you move, which is helpful as I can always pinpoint where you are on our hardwood floors by sound alone.  You've been cruising for a bit.  

And, allegedly, you have taken a few steps for daddy.  I'm in a bit of denial.  Because you are my baby!!  And I am in no rush for all this walking nonsense.  But walk, and run, you will.  And you already climb Everest sized mountains of steps. Up and up and up.

Now, for comparison sake... You have an awful lot of teeth.  Your sister didn't get ANY teeth until after her first birthday.  You have SIX!

Just look at those chompers!

And you use them for more than just smiling.  Though, you are quite smiley.  That will be next.  For now, food, glorious food!  We did something called Baby Led Weaning with you, which basically means we offer you the same food we are eating, for the most part, in a form you can pick up yourself and feed yourself.  And you love exploring ( and sometimes refusing) new foods.

Right now, you particularly like Cheerios. And cheese.  Lots of cheese.

Back to smiling.  You are super easy going.  An overall happy guy.  Except for sometimes.  The sight of clowns, nuns in habit, dogs, Santa, or characters (several of these are consistent with your sister) send you into hysterics.  

Also, if something is taken away from you (particularly something that belongs to your sister that she has decided you should never ever have and that she snatches away from you emphatically and decisively), or if you are told no (when you really want to do something) you can melt into a sad puddle of tears.  But your cry is SO DARN CUTE.  Your lower lip, and the crocodile tears.  Oh, and the bath or pool.  Perhaps I mentioned that already.  Besides those situations, you are a super happy, go-with-the-flow kinda guy.  Which is good.  Because you are the second kid.  Your job is to go with the flow.  You can nap on the go...or at home.  Eat lunch...or drink milk out and about.  

And you are a lucky second kid because you have a sister who LOVES you so much!  And I can tell already that she will defend you until the day she dies.  But may I suggest you stop slobbering on her toys.  She doesn't like that much.

Stay just this way.  Don't grown another inch.  Don't change.  But you will grow and you will change and you will continue to amaze us all with your awesomeness. So, do grow, and do change.  And continue to amaze.  And be awesome.  We love you so!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Fourth Trimester

It's amazing to see how much babies change just from one week to the next.  Here are Elliot's first three months.