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Maeve

The Beginning

You made it.

We’ve been waiting.

Now we can smile.

If you read this in your teenage years, give your mom a break. She was knifed by a professional medical hitwoman to get your big girl body out of the swimming pool greenhouse from which you grew as the doctor said, “My what a big head you have, what big cheeks you have, what a big baby.” You can pay her back with one “I love you” per stitch per year. Fair trade — at least for mommas. Moms and dads run different programs. Your mom chose to take a cut to bring you into the world. Your dad would take a cut to keep you in this world. Different programs. Not equally important.

I got a little verklempt in your delivery. The sights and sounds and feel of your sister’s delivery gone wrong all returned. I worried about your mom. And they had me in a hot white hazmat suit in a room calibrated for hyperthermia to mitigate hypothermia. White face, sweaty suit, and just a little nausea. I told them I know how to fall (jiujitsu) but that wasn’t good enough. They made me sit on the floor. Better to be cautious. Also, it’s okay to be vulnerable. Many people have a thick outer shell. I do. But it’s much thinner than it used to be. When you make yourself vulnerable, you learn faster. Learn more about people. Learn more about yourself. Like when you get feedback. Feedback meant to hurt you can ignore. Feedback meant to help sometimes hurts, but pay more attention. We all have a lot to improve. Take a deep breath. Write it down and come back to it later. Make it a game. Not your identity. We are not what other people think of us. We get better when other people care enough to help us learn more about ourselves. Back to the point, caring about people so much you almost pass out is good once in a while. Just don’t fall on the OR table.

Your sister has her own Amelia page.

Read that.

It all applies to you — except the name parts.

I don’t like repeating myself.

If you don’t like repeating yourself, practice writing better.

You can always point to what you wrote and say “Read this. Do that. Do better. Please.”

Old Parents

We’re old parents. Sorry about that. On the other hand you wouldn’t be you if we had you sooner. The events preceding your birth led perfectly to this moment. You would not be you. So you’re stuck with us, as long as we’re here. I’ve thought about this a lot. Better to grow old with young parents or learn wisdom sooner from old parents? We flipped our coin. You get this side. I had old parents. My mom was over forty when she had me. My brother and sister had my parents trained by then so maybe later is better. Older is wiser. Less mistakes. Less baggage. Still I wish they were here. Life was differently better.

You’re here because of your mom. The master plan. She always wanted to test out the man to man defense. No zone.  No two on one. Not fair to the kid. Not fair to the parents. Man to man. Just like any good athlete wants. Match up coverage. Get to work.

We still have a lot to learn about parenting. I’ve learned that kids can learn just about any simple movement patterns fast. Squat jumps in the grocery store, rowing in two lessons, barbell squats in three lessons, how to ride a scooter with one-leg above your head, and hide and seek anywhere. Memorizing a song in a half-dozen listens. How to recite short books from memory in ten reads. What surprises you’ll bring I don’t know. But I’ll keep my eyes and ears open, take the most pictures, give you lots of positive feedback, and explain the rest quietly and calmly for as long as you want.

I didn’t read any books when your sister was born. Your mom did that. I read a daily email (not just for dads). Now I have a list of books. Now I know how much I care to do this job well. When you want to get better at anything, read books. Read a lot of books. Live what you learn. Take notes. Write actions. Practice ideas. Experience everything. But read what you’re interested in. Read what’s written well. Read people who care about things more than you and learn why. The deal I made with your sister is you get free books for life. Take advantage.

The Youngest

I know about being the youngest.

We’ll make room for your to talk.

I always thought I wasn’t good at talking to people.

I liked talking to myself more than others or maybe it was just easier.

I didn’t realize I just didn’t get the practice reps in early enough to feel confident.

Yes, practice.

We’ll be talking more about practice.

Use your voice to draw out people who are kind and gentle and crazy and mean and inspiring and sad and talented in infinite directions and all these many things that make days more exciting.

You’ll need practice to get strong, get smart, and get better every day for the rest of your life.

Except when you take a day off.

Which you’ll also have to practice.

Life is really one big practice.

Just have to know when the spotlight is on.

Sisters

I’d describe your sister but she’s indescribable.

And too young to be labeled in a way that constrains her future growth trajectory in an Inception-like manner.

As are you.

You should thank your sister for taking one for the team. She went first. The first kid is the training program. Your Uncle Mike saved me a lot of grief. At least we had a decade of Paddy to learn the non-human basics. Your early life will revolve around your sister as your model (along with us). You’ll get your chance at the barbell too.

I figured it would be nice for both of you to have each other when we’re gone. Leaving number one empty when you die is an bottomless pit of a feeling. So god-willing you can hug each other. At least that’s what I thought. You’re not here for her. You’re here for yourselves and each other. She jumped the line at the random conceptualization generator before you could. Maybe she’s faster and that’s a talent. Maybe the random luck of the drew the odds in her favor. I suspect the latter. But we’ll run a hundred yard dash to double check.

Family is good.

Brothers and sisters are the parental gift that keeps on giving.

So if we can’t afford Christmas presents one year, you’re getting a lifelong advance bonus.

Science

Speaking of the ceremony, you were scientifically concepted. Mostly in the interest of speed and anxiety. This is one of those things that should be talked about more by the time it matters for you. Remember it’s hard. Harder than hard. Hard enough that you have to laugh that they told your mother she was easy. Young enough. Healthy. Smart enough to follow a pain in the ass medication schedule. A pain in the ass enough to know when the stock flowchart scientific protocol would not get the job done, “Doctor please add x, y, and z to my protocol.”  That’s your mom. The doctor, “Oh maybe we should just do everything you think we should do because you’re right. Our protocol isn’t working.” You came along soon after.

So if you choose to have kids, maybe start a little younger. Don’t think the science is that great — even though it is — to have kids late. Because while you can and you will if you want, you’d rather you didn’t need to go through the pain and emotion and tears and needle after needle after needle after needle after needle and and and that’s enough.

Maeve

Alright now the name.

First, if you’re in a room with twenty-three people there’s a fifty percent chance two of them have the same birthday and a ninety-nine percent chance your mom hates all of their names.

Second, we like Irish names.

Third, your mom sent this email on St. Patrick’s Day Eve.

Subject – The only baby name I like so far- it’s Irish

Maeve Name Meaning

In Irish mythology, she was a badass queen of Connaught, one of the 5 ancient kingdoms that includes modern-day County Mayo (story).

The Kilcoyne clan are from County Mayo. So that’s a big deal. Kilcoyne is your sister’s middle name and my mom’s maiden name. I like that you both have an indirect connection to my mom and these kind, gentle Irish people. Because it might remind you to ask about where your name came from. And then we can tell you stories. Especially about my mom. It’s not knowing her. But that and acting like my mom are the best I can do.

Your middle name is Theresa. We like that name. It had to be at least three syllables. Think of your favorite one or two syllable girl names and insert them between “Maeve ____ Dever”.

Exactly.

So we went to Mother’s Day brunch at White Dog in Glen Mills. Your mom threw out a name. Ehhh. Too old lady. I threw out a name. Got it. Von’s mom’s name. Ali’s middle name. Tara’s middle name. My favorite person growing up was my Great Aunt Iggy. Aunt Theresa. Another Kilcoyne. My mom’s father’s sister. When my mom’s mom died young, she helped raise my mom and her sister. By the time I was born she was about eighty years old. The most warm and caring twig-boned old lady you’d ever meet. She used to hunch over her rocking chair to push a toy car back to me in our kitchen. I don’t know how you do that with hollow, hunched bones and old person back pain except a ridiculous amount of love that puts family and small people before self. I feel it in my bones. The kind, quiet voice. The gentle big-hand-on-a-little-back back rub. The patience. The empathy. Trading my pain for your comfort.

All from Iggy and my mom.

Maeve Theresa Dever

Born May 22, 2023 at 10:55am EST.

8 pounds, 10 ounces

21 inches

My Mom, Your Grandmom

My mom was all those things. You’re never going to meet her so she deserves more words than everyone else you will experience live.

My mom was AnneMarie Kilcoyne born on July 24th, 1941. Her mom died young. She had a sister Catherine, Aunt Cass to me. She was a nun, a Sister of St. Joseph, an SSJ. And bought us underwear for Christmas every year until I was eighteen. We never looked forward to Aunt Cass’ presents. But Aunt Cass always told me, “Matthew, you’re a gentlemen and a scholar.” It’s a cool bit of linguistic programming that when you tell kids they are roles with a high standard, maybe they force themselves to live up to that standard. I don’t like programming people but sometimes it’s a gift. I still hold doors open for people and read a lot.

My mom’s dad was Tony Kilcoyne. He was a giant man. Like you’ll see lots of tall men at our family events. And then Tony was maybe six foot five inches. I see the old Grandpa pictures and most of them have no scale with a normal-sized human next to him but it’s still impressive to see old giant men. He was a sheep-farmer. My sister will correct anything in this post I got wrong and I’ll repost it. As the youngest you hear the family stories less often and with a less fully developed brain than your older siblings. We visited the family farm on our trip to Ireland. There were sheep there. And Tony lived there. So by association he was a sheep-farmer. I didn’t witness him in the act with a sheep. But the evidence is clear.

We talked about my mom’s early life she was a flower child sleeping on lawns on her many trips to Ireland. A flower child of the 70s. Kind of. Happy, artistic, and carefree. I picture her meeting my dad in a bar. Because my dad’s life before I was born seems to me like he was a mechanic by day and alcoholic by night. But there must have been something more to the story. Because she married a Dever. A male Dever. I wonder if she knew what she was getting into.     

My brother Mike came first March 11th, 1974. Then Joseph was born a few years later. He was partially deaf and he had more health issues than any baby should ever have. He died not long after birth. My sister Tara was next. June 29th, 1979. And then an accident appeared on April 8th, 1982. That’s me. A snowy Holy Thursday from what I remember being told. I tell you about us because a mom’s life after kids is very much but not entirely consumed by kids and that’s the only mom I knew.

My mom smoked and drank coffee and fell asleep most nights with the tv on turned to the news and a big thick Danielle Steele book on her lap. She snored loudly. She sneezed. LOUDLY. At church when my mom sneezed, the priest paused a minute. Wait for it. Wait. My mom and dad both sneezed in threes. So when one hit, you knew two more were coming. As did everyone within a half-mile radius of my mom. That loud.

My mom had thick-Coke bottle glasses often with a pair on her face and a pair on top of her head and sometimes with two pairs up there when she asked us, “Has anyone seen my glasses?”

My mom lit herself on fire sometimes. Not on purpose. She delivered a birthday cake to our dinner table at 266 Bayard Road in Upper Darby, PA. All was normal. Until she backed away from the cake, “Oh Jeez, I’m on fire.” She said, “Oh Jeez” a lot. Jesus would have technically been a curse and she didn’t curse. So when she was surprised that’s what we got. We all survived without burns. When I was about twelve, she lit the kitchen on fire. She was on the phone while cooking dinner. And I heard “Oh Jeez, Matt call 911.” I ran into the kitchen, slipped and slid halfway across our rust brown dining room rug as I saw the flames engulf the kitchen. The firefighters came. The police came. I sat outside on our front steps and my best friends from five doors down Bill and Steven Michels came over and said, “Your dad acting up again?” And I said, “Nah, my mom lit the kitchen on fire this time.”

My mom rarely seemed angry and never cursed. Except that one time. Who would you rather be: the angry, loose madwoman who everyone ignores or the happy, go-lucky flower child who when they utter a single angry word, the world stops and says, “Wait, what — did she just curse? (better pay attention)” Nothing wrong with being angry. Don’t expect the transmission of anger to create good outcomes. Be the stopper. Take a breath. Stone face.

She drank wine from coffee mugs with Aunt Cass on the weekends. Coffee mugs to hide the alcohol from my dad because she could handle hers but he could not handle his and she didn’t want to trigger an alcoholic relapse. I never knew this until your mom told me about these sessions she got to partake in before my mom died. It also makes me pay close attention to what habits I show you because we are your default model for behavior. I never saw my mom or dad drink and that might be one of several reasons I don’t. So you’ll see lots of exercise and reading and activity outside.

So these are some stories that stand out but they are not my mom. My mom was a great listener. Like epically good at listening and not judging. And she listened a lot. She was always on the phone, having a friend over, going somewhere to talk to someone. My Mom sensed pain and she did what she could to make you feel better. When I was in the single digits at church and crying, she’d prop me up on the back of a pew edge so she didn’t have to bear my full weight on her surgically repaired aching back and rub my back with her monstrously big hands. All adult hands are huge compared to a child’s body which I will remember when I sneeze carrying you as a baby because on a relative basis it’s like a nearby 5.0 earthquake to a baby, but my mom was particularly big. Five foot ten inches. Big hands. Huge man feet. Long legs. Long everything.

My mom was beautifully empathetic. I learned it’s in our genes when we did a genetic test and I had a double-mutation for the OXTR gene. She treated everyone like they were a human. Sounds basic. It’s not. I had a boss who once said, “People are doing the best they can with the information, skills, and experience they have at that time.” I remember this as, “No one is ever trying to do a bad job.” We’ll have a whole conversation on free will, but you don’t get to choose your genes, your parents, or a whole lot. A lot more than most people think. Every single human you encounter in life was once a baby as you are now. And then they got to this point in their life and maybe they’re frustrating you, “making you angry” (no one can make you angry, only you can but that’s also for another time), not doing their job. Well just imagine you were born as that baby and went through their different life with different parents, differently bad and differently good, new siblings, no siblings, friends, school, jobs, everything changed. You can’t even imagine that life. Just picture a little bit of it. And now go back to this person. Don’t they deserve to be treated like a human? Absolve them of your judgment. There are very few moments in life to judge people – who to be friends with, who to marry, who to trust with your kids. Step back away from the noise then. Not in the moment when emotions are high. Be analytical. Have a heart. Decide. Everything outside of that, remember the humanity. That’s who my mom was.

My mom and dad both sacrificed for us. She seemed to work from 8am to 6pm or later sometimes, cook dinner, handle paperwork until 9 or 10pm before the reading and collapsing. We all went to Catholic school through high school. We were not poor. We were not middle class. We were the in-between. Mom worked at GBCA (General Building Contractor’s Association) at 18th and Chestnut Street in the basement mailroom her entire adult life. She was the mail room. There was a fruit stand on the corner run by a nice Asian man. She took me and Tara into her office a few times each year and we always bought fruit. We saw a lot of homeless people. I remember her bringing a sandwich to a homeless man. Or buying them some food. Between my mom and dad, maybe they made thirty-thousand dollars a year and they had a mortgage to pay and three bills for Catholic school, utilities, all the food we ate, and she bought or brought food for the homeless. Once every year or so the electricity or hot water wouldn’t work. A day or two later it came back. She paid a lot of bills late. Sometimes a little too late but it was amazing she kept it all together. In high school she was behind on my tuition and it helped that they liked my mom and liked me because they gave her extra leeway. I learned she was six months behind on my karate dues which were the cheapest karate dues you could find when my karate teacher told me I could start teaching to pay the bill. Not paying that bill was another strange gift that forced me to learn how to speak to adult humans like I knew what I was doing.

She made an impact that makes me still want to be more like her. On the first COVID Mother’s Day when for once we didn’t gather as a family I wrote about the Power of a Mother and it felt good to cry because it made me feel a closer connection to her again. As it does now. Thank you for the excuse to write. Maybe I’ll write more here. We don’t tell enough stories about her. If you know my mom, send me a story or tell me at our next function together and I’ll write it for posterity.

My mom had a long line out the door for her funeral. Like a ridiculous line I wish I had a picture of but it snaked around the block. My mom would not have any of us judge another’s life but if you were going to do it, you might not find better criteria than a picture of your funeral. And what they said about you afterward. “Your mom was a special person.”

Yes. Yes she was.

My Dad, Your Grandfather

The bad jokes and weird sense of humor and control of temper come from my dad. Not that he could control his but at least he taught me to control mine.

Joseph Dever was born on May 2nd, 1938. From what I remember his dad had thirteen heart attacks. Might be important for the family medical history. His mom lived to be ninety-eight. We have some old genes too. He was the youngest of many siblings. I did not know them all well. Aunt Sis was an IHM nun and would take us to What’s the Scoop for burgers and milkshakes for our birthdays. I liked this much better than underwear. Aunt Sis was always easy to talk to. She met you on your level. Uncle Wacko (Uncle Ed) was not as crazy as his name sounds but not far from it. He’d put us on top of the refrigerator as kids and convinced us he had an alligator living in his trunk or his crawl space. Aunt Beth was kind, clear, and direct. We come from a line of strong women.

My dad was a big kid at heart. He had a childlike sense of wonder. He looked at the world a little different sometimes. In retrospect I can’t tell if he was amping it up to be funny or not. At our cousin Brad and Colleen’s for Christmas Eve one year he saw an ice maker in the refrigerator for the first time. My whole life my dad lived on a dozen two-liter bottles of ginger ale per week. And coffee. That’s it. And we always needed fresh ice. That was my chore. I was not good at it. So the thought of an automated child replacement technology must have piqued his interest. “Anne, Anne, come here. You gotta see this! Ice. It makes ice.” The party stopped. I saw the biggest, widest smile light up his face. And we’ll never stop telling that story. It’s better live.

My dad was loud. Like the house shook when he spoke loud. He blasted loud music from our basement while he played pool. And then when he came upstairs and you turned the radio back on at the same level he’d yell, “HAY — TURN that RADIO DOWN!” He didn’t hear well so maybe his calibration was off. For a few weeks was convinced there was a duck living in his apartment until the cell phone rang “quack, quack” and I explained the source of duck conundrum. He’d repeat whatever you said with a question-mark on the end in a confirmation of transmission and receipt protocol.

“Dad, I’m going to the movies.”

“Going to the movies?”

“Yes. The movies.”

He was often angry until he retired. Not constantly but regularly. He cursed all-the-time. Like the yin to my mom’s yang. We used to set an over-under on the number of F-bombs he’d drop driving my mom to the SEPTA station to go to work. It was a seven-minute drive. Even money was twenty bombs. He mellowed once he didn’t have to worry so much about money.

He quit drinking alcohol before I ever saw it. Faced an ultimatum and he made a choice that kept his family together which I admire and appreciate. Although I wonder if he would have been better off with just a little alcohol. The Dever men seem to need some extra GABA. But I guess you can’t have just a little when it’s a problem. Not important for you but if you or your sister ever have a son, you might want to be aware. He also quit smoking cold turkey when I was just a few years old. He was skinnier then, not that he was ever not-thin.

I used to get in fights with your Aunt Tara a lot growing up. I said she always started it. And she said I did. And one day dad pulled me aside and said, “Matt, you’ve got to be the bigger man.” Tara wasn’t a man, but I got the point. We fought less after that.

My dad was a mechanic and then a bus driver for Rose Tree Elementary and then Lower Merion Township. I learned the meaning of hating a boss from my dad. I guess I’ve been lucky to not encounter such a predicament. He always had motorcycles growing up, first a Honda, and then a $500 almost-new Harley Davidson Sportster he bought off a local cop who’d had it in a garage for ten years. That might have been the proudest moment of his life — buying that motorcycle. Every Saturday morning he worked on his motorcycle blaring music from the garage. Frank Sinatra. Cursing. Clanking. Tinkering. As kids as young as three he’d take us on rides three times around the block at Bayard Road. Later he took us on longer trips. He’d ride for hours on back roads enjoying the scenery. Felt like a real man’s meditation for him and one of many things that made him happy. For all his anger he could wipe it away and live in the moment which was another good unconsciously transmitted lesson. The ability to switch.

My dad was good at solving problems in creative ways. A mechanical hacker. Function over form. When the roof on our white 1983 Toyota Tercel was falling down, he propped it up with a wicker weave. When we needed a new hood, he went down to the junkyard and got it. A new door. Got it. Never the same color. One day I came home from college for the afternoon and he started fixing the driver-side door. When it was time to leave, he was taking a break.

“Dad, is the car ready?”

“You’re leaving?”

“Yes.”

He grabbed a bungee cord, hooked it on the door and around the seat.

“THERE. Bring it back tomorrow and I’ll finish it.”

As I made that first right turn, the door swung wide open and as I finished the turn it slammed shut.

Functional.

Barely.

Dogs. He loved dogs. We joked that he carried pictures of his dogs in his wallet and not his kids. Except he kept pictures of dogs in his wallet and not his kids. We had several dogs but the main one as a kid was Bear, a Bull-Mastiff Rotweiller who gulped pizza slices whole. He loved that dog.

My dad loved sports. Football. Basketball. Boxing. He attended every game we ever played. Mike’s basketball games were the best. “HAY REF, WHATYA BLIND OUT THERE?” I can’t remember if he was ever thrown out of a game, but he should have been. His voice pierced the arena like a precision guided bomb. You heard nothing else when he yelled. Some people might be embarrassed. And maybe I was sometimes when I was sitting next to him in the stands. But when I played it made me proud. He cared. A lot. No one else’s parents were making fools of themselves to argue your case. Nothing else mattered. He cared about you. Refs and parents and other players be damned. I’m going to argue for my kid. I played soccer. He didn’t understand soccer. But he still yelled. And I was always proud he was my dad.

He grew a Steven Seagal ponytail for a couple years and trained at my karate school with me. I had more experience than him so technically I was his senior. He had emphysema and his cardio couldn’t hold up. I was fourteen and fifteen years old. And when we sparred I realized I’d overtaken the old man on at least one front. Taking up karate in your mid-fifties with bad lungs is impressive though. Never stop learning. Don’t let anything hold you back. More good lessons, Dad. Thanks.

My parents died too young for me to say I was lucky in how long they were here.

Except I was lucky because I got two loving parents.

The best gift I can give them and you is showing that they live in me.

Believe

One more gift from what I learned from mom and dad.

People won’t believe in you.

You won’t believe in you.

When you feel like the world is against you and there’s no place to go but down, remember there’s one person who still believes in you.

Me.

Even when I’m dirt in the ground.

Remember when you learned something new, competed, fought, lost, won, had a rough day, reached a peak.

Remember them all.

Remember my face.

That’s what belief looks like.

Write down your memories before they fade.

Because you can never cultivate too much belief around you.

Grow that seed within yourself.

Cherish the people who see the you within you.

And late at night when it’s all quiet after the battle is fought, go outside.

Shine a light on the dirt and you might just see it dancing.

You have many people who believe in you. More to come.

Conclusion

Alright, now it’s time to get to work. Let’s hope your road is long and you live like your time is short. You were born to two coaches masquerading as technology professionals. When you’re going off track, we’ll let you know. We’ll show you the data. Then we’ll automate the feedback. So if you throw your cell phone (or semi-conscious helper-monkey-robot) at us someday, we’ll understand it’s time to choose our moments better. Your job is to figure out who on earth you are so you can spend your time there in all your you-like glory. If you get stuck on “what is the meaning of life?”, remember it’s to answer that question. Don’t let anyone else answer it for you. Don’t forget it’s a choice. Choose your path. Choose another. Just choose.

Accept what you can’t change. One of billions. Here for a short time. Make the most of it. Keeping the end close makes life more meaningful. The world is a strange place. A scary place. With wonderful people. And awe inspiring places to see. See them. Meet them. Listen to your fear before you face it. Lean into your eccentricity. It beats the hell out of boring.

There will come a time when we’re no longer here.

We live life in contrasts.

The pain then is in proportion to the degree with which we do our job now.

Time to work.

I hope you have many great mentors in your life.

Take their best and use it.

Take their worst and learn from it.

And if you got any of that from me, that’s our connection that never dies.

It lives on in you.

And do your homework.