Too Old For That!

Early Arrivals is a childcare program that the YMCA runs in tons of schools in the Raleigh area.  It starts at the crack of dawn and ends when the school bell rings for the kids to head to class.  Working parents enroll their children for games, time with positive role models and safe care while they muscle their way through traffic to downtown Raleigh or Research Triangle Park.

Like many organizations the YMCA has had a few gaps with staffing.  We are finding great folks to work in all areas of programs, but the first few weeks of school our youth team was slightly short staffed.  Corporate office staff to the rescue!!

Now, I love kids.  I built my career running camps and helping develop quality program standards for our Y’s massive service to youth.  That being said, a 56 year-old should not be working at an early arrivals program.

Although I like Jenka, a game where you strategically stack blocks until the tower collapses, I don’t understand the thrill a kindergartener gets by crashing my painstakingly crafted tower.  Rude!

One teeny girl with hair as big as Dolly Parton and a backpack covered with unicorns was not having any part of my planned group activity.  Don’t let the rainbow colors on her hair bow fool you.  She sassed the mess out of me.

Me:  “Everyone come to the center circle of the gym!  We’re going to play a game!”

I was bringing out the best of my old camp days.

Her:  No movement toward the circle.

Me:  “Come on over!  We’re playing a game.  It’s going to be fun!”

Her:  “NO!!”

Me:  “Please come over.  We want everyone to play!”

As her head spun around she yelled:  “NO!!  NO! NO! NO!  I’M NOT COMING!!”

The look in her eye told me that she fully meant what she said.  This was going to take a different approach.  I walked over to her with my serious face. 

Me:  “I SAID come to the circle.”

She then ran to the corner of the room, threw herself on the ground in a very dramatic way, and started sobbing. I felt like doing the same.  7:45 AM is much too early for a tantrum.

In my younger days, I could have commanded the audience.  But now, I think the kids can sense my weakness.  He’s old.  He’s tired.  We don’t know him.  Boomer…

Another kid refused to sit out when he got hit in dodgeball.  That is cheating I rationally explained (at the Y honesty is one of the key character traits that we teach).  He was uninterested in honesty and very interested in staying in the game.  Understandably, this was very disturbing to the star player on the other team.

The tears still continued in the corner.

Although I had some challenges over my three substitute sessions at Early Arrivals, I also met the cutest kid ever making a card for his sick grandfather, saw an older child with great care help his younger brother prepare his water bottle for class and saw strong connections between the Y youth counselors and the kids in the program. 

Children need to be in school right now.  Children need to play and cut up and express themselves, even if it’s dissatisfaction.  They get that at the Y.

Each year our YMCA raises funds in our Annual We Build People Campaign to support children who need Y programs but who cannot afford to participate.  For the next two days, we are working to raise $500,000 in our 48 Giving Challenge.  If you’re able, consider a gift, click on this link.  https://give.ymcatriangle.org/fundraiser/3493671

Thank you!

Gas AND OIL??

I’m not very mechanical.  That is actually an understatement.  I am not mechanical.  That is actually also an understatement.  I am like negative-mechanical.

I like numbers and I enjoy people and I can bake a fairly crusty pound cake, but I can’t fix a dag gone thing. 

Stuff with nuts and bolts, screws and gas – just not my thing. 

I try.  When I first purchased a house I painted the entire inside – 2,500 square feet.  I intended to coat the walls and ceilings.  I did as well as the floors, bathroom fixtures and myself.  It’s not for lack of trying.  I have every tool you could ever imagine – thanks to my father who desperately wants me to be a fixer.  He got that in my brother who can change car oil and install a garbage disposal.  Man, I wish I could do that.  If I could I’d have one in every sink in the house just because…

The other day I pulled out my lawn mower to cut the grass.  It was difficult to crank.  It’s only like twelve years old – why would it be so difficult to start?  I don’t ask a lot of it, just crank once a week, cut and then it can sit around doing nothing the rest of the time.  I even give it like four months OFF every year.  How happy I’d be if all I had to do is work a couple of hours a week in the warm months.

Julie, who is .05% more mechanical than I am, suggested I check the oil.

I put gas in it, and now, now after only a decade, I have to ALSO check the oil?  I took it to the shop several years ago for a tune up.  It just seems like this mower is expecting a lot considering its output.

I screwed off the oil cap, and it did indeed look a bit dry.  Sort of like my skin in February.

I had oil, so I filled it, screwed the cap back on and again tried to crank.

It did start, but a huge poof of white smoke billowed from its undercarriage.  It looked like a smokestack from a tire manufacturing plant.

I was told by my woman that perhaps I’d overfilled.  That seemed unlikely to me – I just put as much in as the container would allow.

A neighbor walking his dog passed by as the plume wafted away from our drive.  He had a smile on his face.  Julie’s brow was furrowed.  Our neighbor said in a supportive way, “Don’t worry.  He’ll figure it out.”

And I did.  I siphoned ¾ of the liquid out and gave the mower a rest.  Thirty minutes later she was cutting like her typical old self.

Julie thinks we need a new mower.  I think she will make it another year or two.  We have a small yard.

One might think that a guy who couldn’t fix things might be more prone to buying new stuff when in a situation like this.  However, more than my disdain for fixing, is my disdain for spending money. 

Even I can see the contradiction in my philosophies.  And yet, it’s unlikely I’m going to change.  Engrained. 

Dropoff Success

We arrived at Carige Dorm at UNC last Friday at 9:30 AM.  Right on time.  We took two cars.  Stephanie drove her silver Honda Civic.  We couldn’t fit the wares and three humans in one.  Most of Michelle’s belongings were stuffed in my SUV, all seats down. 

It’s sort of amazing how much one can fit in a dorm room.  They ain’t large.  Michelle warned me, she looked up the measurements.  Wall to wall: 12’ x 13”.  Our living room rug is two feet longer and three feet wider than her entire living space – that she shares with another co-ed!  But, she’s young, and it’s nice to be able to high five your roommate without getting out of bed.

My first house had one bathroom.  The ceiling was slanted over the toilet.  You had to lean back if you peed standing up.  It was actually a nice abdomen stretch.

Dropping a kid off at school is sort of like walking to a flogging.  The criminal is dreading it as well as the flogger.   The uncertainty for her, the anxiousness for me.  How could I leave my kid alone in this unfamiliar place?  Michelle decided to ride with Stephanie, fearful of my frame of mind.  Who knew if Butterfly Kisses might cue up on Spotify, a sure tearfest to follow.

God works in mysterious ways.  An August, 100 degree day and a sixth floor dorm room help alleviate emotion.  It felt like we were moving into Satan’s attic.  Any water that might pour out of my tear ducts was redirected to my armpits.

Being your typical dad, I refused to take the elevator.  The staircase was much closer to the car, and I was too impatient to wait my turn.  I had a job to do and nothing would get in my way. 

I heaved the largest Tupperware bins on my shoulders and hiked the flights of stairs to the top floor, young bucks holding doors for me.  In retrospect, maybe I was trying to keep up with them, the handsome young fellas who I used to be – more girth in the shoulders than the waist.  No doubt in my mind that i was a fit a they.

A friend warned me to bring a second t-shirt, he had moved his son in the day before.   I’m not a big sweater” I told him.  I was wrong.

I prayed for strength.  I hoped her mother’s spirit would come out – strength, grit, and courage to fly.  I couldn’t be with her, but Lisa could.

It worked! 

We unloaded, hauled, unpacked and “decorated” like champs.  It was fun!  We enjoyed the time and her roommate’s family.  After lunch we walked back to the dorm.  We hugged in the lobby of Craige.  We both welled up, our masks helpful in hiding our fears – then, Stephanie and I exited quickly.  My middle kid put her hand on my back as we walked down the cement walkway to the parking deck.  We didn’t talk, but she knew. 

I held the emotion until I got back to my car.   It wasn’t pretty.  

 It’s been a transition for me and a transition for her.  But surprising to us both, all is calm.

Next we launch Julie’s two:  Virginia and Scotland.  In September, we rest. 

18 More Nights

My youngest one, Michelle, the one who is headed to college in approximately 18 nights including this one which is about over, and I ate dinner at the Players Retreat tonight over by NC State.  The PR is an old Raleigh haunt – I went there in college.  Great food.  Good service.  Sort of a know you by your name hangout.  The atmosphere makes the summer flies bearable. 

We had a great dinner with an appropriately attentive waitress.  Our conversation ranged from spring rods and curtains for the college dorm “closet” to recanting old day camp cheers that she might be able to recycle tomorrow at work as a youth counselor at the downtown YMCA.

When we got home, I plunked out the melody of a few tunes, and she casually sang along.  She has a beautiful voice.  At one point, I moved to the den to pay the VISA bill, and she practiced a song we’re trying to convince her to sing at our wedding later this year.  I held it together when she walked through the room, but had she checked the credit card statement, it would have been damp.  I sure am going to miss that voice in the house.

I’m not sure which of us has the most angst about her going away, the kid who is headed to UNC or the parent who is watching her grow up.

It seems so surreal.  Poof.  All three of them are grown. 

I saw a commercial yesterday with a father holding his kid on his shoulder.  For some reason the baby’s onesie caught my eye.  I have held that same child, in that same outfit, in that same position, and in my mind not so long ago.

I try to convince myself it won’t be different – she’s only 30 minutes away.  I don’t see her that much when she lives here full time.  Things won’t change.

They will to some extent.  They are supposed to.  They are supposed to for her.  They are supposed to for me.

I am happy in my soul for Michelle.  I am excited for her.  The world is her oyster!  The future is bright for us all.

But for the next three weeks, I think I might just lament a bit.

Ain’t no cobras round here…

My mother called me twice on Tuesday during the workday and called Julie once.  I was in meetings.  I was fearful when I saw the alerts on my iPhone.  I called back quickly.

“Mom, is everything ok?”

This Fayetteville, NC, native (well she’s lived there sixty years anyway) informed me that there was tough news:  “A Zebra Cobra has escaped his owner’s house in Northwest Raleigh.  Are your doors closed?”

Big news indeed.  Especially for a woman who would rather have a lobotomy than run into a garter snake in the yard.

I pondered how a snake might make his way from NW Raleigh to my house in Central Raleigh.  I imagined crossing the I-440 Beltline might be a challenge.  But in her defense, my mom has no sense of direction.  If she was standing on the North Pole she would be pressed to point south.  She once headed from Fayetteville to her parents’ house in Florence, SC, a direct 1.5 hour drive south on I-95.  A trip she had taken hundreds of times before.  Half-way to her destination, she got off at an exit to use the restroom, got back in the car and headed north on I-95 back to Fayetteville.  She realized her mistake AFTER she had passed her hometown.

My mother then gave me every detail she could remember from the news report, and I suspect a little added commentary based on her imagination.  She shared that the cobra would spit poison in my eyes if I ran across him (i.e. keep googles on at all times until capture is announced).  She informed me that the nutcase who owned the cobra also had other venomous snakes that he kept in cardboard boxes about his home.  She told me he had been bitten by his pet Black Mamba but survived. 

Her call did implore me to pull up the news story and watch the squirrely creature slither across my “neighbor’s” deck.  It was disturbing.  And I agree with her that the man must be a nutcase.  I guess we all collect odd things – stamps, old notes, we have an affinity for decorative pigs – but venomous reptiles is a bit extreme. 

On Wednesday after work I rang my mom.  I told her I heard on the news that the Cobra was spotted in Benson, NC, headed south toward Fayetteville.

She hesitated… “I hadn’t heard that.  I’ll have to ask Wayne (my dad) if he’s seen it on the news.”

She was on speaker phone and my soon to be wife, Julie, yelled out to my mom, “He’s a liar!  The snake is NOT headed your way.”  She then told me I should be nice to my mom.

I am, usually, nice to my mom.  But sometimes, I just can’t resist to poke at her a bit.  And sometimes it is very well deserved.

Blessings…

I struggle with the phrase “I’m blessed.”  Maybe not generally, but to be blessed with a great house, or plenty of food or health seems to imply that God has withheld these things from others.  Why would he bestow all this on me, and not on my neighbor?  I most certainly didn’t do anything to deserve what I have.

What I do know is that my kids, actually our kids (Julie’s and mine), are a blessing to me.  Each has their own personality, their own quirks and take on life.  None are the same.  Yet I find all intriguing.

Michelle, the youngest, graduated from high school in May.  She’s headed to UNC-Chapel Hill on August 13.  She is a humorous, fun-loving, smart, salty, pretty young woman.  A times a bit reticent, but when she wants, she can light up a room.

I’ve spent so many years zeroed in on raising this kid – actually all three!  I remember times when I would stay up until 1 AM completing the online school health forms (those reminder emails to TURN IN THE PHYSICAL were like a scolding from Mrs. Buie, my fourth grade teacher).  I remember packing lunches at 10 PM so I could sleep a couple of minutes later the next morning.  I remember bra shopping and 12 girls at my house combing out their, at the time stylish, “side bangs” readying for the middle school dance.  I remember spending too much time crossing off my checklist and not enough time just being with them.  I remember snuggling and tickling and dancing in the kitchen. 

Now, they don’t need the same level of attention they have demanded over the past decade.  I suppose I don’t either.  They spent a lot of time making sure I was OK, worrying that I might be alone on a Saturday night or stressed that I didn’t have enough presents to open on Christmas morning.

We still need each other.  There are insurance premiums to pay and weekly updates required by dad.  But the intensity of the reliance is less – a sad relief.

As I look back on the past eleven years, I can see God’s plan unfold.  We grieved for a time.  I met someone special.  The girls grew up.  And then, seamlessly, at just the right moments, all of the houses sold, all of the jobs worked out, all the kids began to create their own futures. 

In the aftermath of horrible, there can be beautiful. That is a blessing indeed.

Ice Ice Baby – NOT

We bought a house.  It is beautiful!  And with it, came a very, very nice freezer.

It’s a Thermador.  If you removed all of the shelves, I bet it would hold two adult bodies.  Not that I would ever need to freeze bodies… but if I did, I could fit a couple, easy.

I mean, this is a nice freezer.  It probably cost more than Stephanie’s car.  I’m not sure why the previous owner invested in it.  Maybe they really liked popsicles. 

The house was vacant when we moved in and the ice bin was full.  After a day, we used it all.  We like ice!

The next day, I expected to wake up to an abundance of cubes.  There were few. 

I read the manual.  I changed the filter – not inexpensive.  No production increase. 

I called the repairman to explain our situation.  He said, “Oh, Thermador’s only make about 8 cubes per hour.”

I said, “Well, then you don’t need to come because that’s about what it’s cranking out.”

I went back to Google.  It said a Thermador freezer makes 8 cubes “per harvest.”  It takes 60 – 100 minutes to complete a harvest.  New math tells us that, at its best, this machine will crank out about 192 cubes of ice per day and these are not big pieces of ice.  They are average size at best.  With seven family members, each person can have 27.42 cubes per day for them and any guests they might invite over to visit.

Last Tuesday I was making a smoothie and had to give Michelle a piece of gum in exchange for four pieces of her ice.  We had about 25 people over for a graduation party on Thursday.  If none of us drank a cold drink all day, each guest could have four cubes.  It was embarrassing to tell Michelle’s best friend’s father to put two cubes back in the bin so her music teacher’s husband could have his allotment.

I am disappointed in Thermador.  It’s like buying a Tesla and discovering it only goes 16 miles per hour.  I miss my Kenmore.  Less frou-frou, more ice!

Warning… do not move!

Warning… DO NOT MOVE!

It’s just too hard.  These are the top eight reasons not to move, in no particular order:

8)  You have to talk to the cable company.  I tried to cancel AT&T because Julie already had a great deal with Spectrum that would transfer to the new house.  They would not let me.  I called six times, S-I-X.  They kept texting to tell me about the appointment to set up my new service at the new house.  HOLY SMOKES!  I cancelled for garden seeds… don’t they understand that word?

7)  Boxes.  You have to collect them.  You have to tape them together.  You have to pack them.  You have to move them.  You have to unpack them.  You have to break them down.  You have to get rid of them.  My relationship with boxes is very odd at this point. I feel as if I know them, personally.

6)  The damn packing tape dispenser – how many times did the tape stick back on the roll and cause me to dig it off with my pointer fingernail?  About six hundred.  So frustrating and time consuming. There must be a better way.

5)  The movers.  Mine lost a mirror and the footboard of a wooden bed.  I moved three miles from my last house.  How do you lose a bed in three miles?

4)  Discovering how nasty the house you’ve been living in for 30 years is.  It was unreal the gunk that was living in the top cupboards, under rugs and under beds.  Ew.

3)  You will pull your back out.

2)  Spending entirely too much time at Goodwill – I bet between Julie and me we have taken 30+ trips to Goodwill in Raleigh or Charlotte.  We even found other places to donate because Goodwill can be a bit picky about what they take – no old treadmills… seriously I hauled that thing over there for no reason at all.  Same with the city dump and mattresses.  It costs $100 to dump a mattress!  My guest room mattress was at least thirty years old.  The dust mites could have walked it to the dump without me.

1)  It takes some time to get your mojo.  It is extremely disconcerting not to be able to find the garlic press in the new digs.  The search is on!  For everything.

Actually, it is worth moving to me because I get to be with the woman I love, full-time and in the same city!  But next I move, it will be to the funeral home.  And hard as I’ve worked over the past few weeks, that may be sooner than later.

Oh So Funny

Zeila

The final kid has made a decision.  Michelle will attend UNC next year!  It breaks my heart because I attended NC State and that too was an option.  But she’s going baby blue.  Her mother would be proud.

She has also reconnected with a friend from middle school who will be her roommate.  I don’t know her well, but my recollection from the early years is stellar.  One mutual friend told Michelle, “There is going to be some fun had in that dorm room.  You are the funniest two people I know.”

As I ponder my youngest kid’s personality, humor pops to mind. 

I recently ran across a note I’d scribbled in 2009.  It listed several quotes from Michelle, my then precocious five-year-old.

Each night the girls would choose a book to read before bed.  A favorite was not really reading.  It was the I Spy book.  Each page had hundreds of items and the text tested your searching abilities.  There might have been a Christmas theme and your challenge would be to find four santas, six stars and a mistletoe wreath.  One page held trinkets from Halloween, and we were searching hard. 

Michelle (reminder, she was five):  “I want to find that damn bone.”

Me:  “You shouldn’t say that.”

Michelle:  “At least I’m at home.”

On a flight back from Wyoming that same year, a Sci-fi movie was being projected on the overhead TV.  Michelle was sitting with her Nana.  At one point in the movie, a guy pulled off his mask and his head had no eyes, nose, ears or mouth.  Michelle looked at her grandmother and said, “Now that’s not something you see every day.”

On that same vacation, Lisa was working to get Michelle to stop sucking her thumb.  It was incessant, and we had tried numerous tactics to quell her urge.  At bedtime one night, Lisa said, “Michelle, you have to try to stop sucking your thumb.”  Michelle replied, “I can’t sleep without sucking it.”  Lisa responded, “You have to.”  Michelle’s come back?  “Some parent you are.  I’m not going to sleep tonight.”

She spoke as if she was 82 yet she was trapped in a kindergartener’s body.

Her humor has continued and kept me in stitches a good portion of her life.  I will miss the daily chuckles.  UNC will gain.  It will be a funnier, happier place come mid August.

Packing It Up

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The packing has begun.  I’m not 100% sure I’m moving yet.  We’re in that due diligence period where the buyer and seller have to argue about who is paying for what.  But I am beginning to organize just in case.

We moved Julie out of her house in March.  She’s in an apartment temporarily while we figure out our next step.  What we’ve discovered in the process is that we have A LOT of stuff.

Mattresses, we have mattresses for days!  Most of hers are younger than mine, so I’m tossing mine out.  The one in my guest room was in my grandmother’s guest room.  She moved out of her house and into a retirement community in 1996.  She built that house, oh, I’d say in the mid 70’s.  My best guess is that the bed was purchased upon arrival.  Although, come to think of it, perhaps she moved that one from the house my dad grew up in.  The queen set is somewhere between 46 and 83 years old.  Who cares?  My guests never stay that long.

The bed in Michelle’s room, which all of my kids have lived in at some point, is much younger.  It was purchased in 1993. 

I have a difficult time throwing things out.  When a pair of boxers no longer has enough elastic to stay up, I synch them for as long as possible.  One day I was jogging and I felt something around my knees.  My boxers had fallen on either side and the waistband was dangling below my thighs. 

I was a sad day when I tossed those little guys.  They had been through so much with me.

For the second time, I cleaned out my koozie drawer in the kitchen. 

Julie: “Honey, why do you have a drawer full of koozies?”

Me:  “I might need them.”

Julie:  “Why would you ever need 35 koozies?”

Me:  “Well sometimes Brad and Tim come over for a beer on the porch.”

Julie:  “So maybe keep three?”

We don’t even use koozies when they come over.  But I hate to see them go.

Julie has about 25% of the cabinet space in her apartment that she had at the house.  And yet, somehow, a popcorn maker the size of a Volkswagen avoided storage and made it to the new place.

Me:  “Why are you taking this enormous popcorn maker to the apartment?  Shouldn’t it go into storage?”

Julie:  “I think I might need it.”

Me:  “We have microwave popcorn.”

Julie:  “I need it.”

It’s ok.  This past weekend as I was packing, some people in my family were trying to toss the massive popcorn tub I won at the movie theater several years ago.  I told them I needed to hold onto it for all of the popcorn Julie was gonna make in our future life.

Together we have 6 hatchets and four axes.  There will be no shortage of firewood at our house.  We’re like a Boy Scout troop.

We’re gonna have to buy a big house.  Or maybe a mini-storage business.  Goodwill, here we come!

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