Longing for Gray

Tampon

I raise money for a living.  I work at a large YMCA in the development office.  Currently we are working on a $117,000,000 campaign which will allows us to build five new YMCAs, renovate several existing Ys and camps, send tens of thousands of children to programs who otherwise could not afford to attend and grow our endowment.  Most people don’t like to ask folks for money.  I got over that about a decade ago.  I just really believe in the work that we do.

I often drive prospective donors around in my car to take them to programs or show them construction sites.  I drive a 2007 Acura MDX.  It’s a nice car that I’ve kept well maintained.  But it is old.  Each time I have an appointment, I try to remember to tidy up my vehicle wanting to make a good impression.

Recently, I pulled up to our downtown Y facility to pick up a couple I had never met.  They were older, a bit reserved.  I had forgotten to tidy.

I opened the car door for the wife and as she climbed in the back of my car, I noticed a number of tampons, in very colorful wrapping, dispersed across the seat and floor.

I dived in before her explaining my situation: “I am a widower and have three teenage daughters…” who apparently want me to get fired!

It used to be Cherrios I’d find strewn about my vehicle.  My how times change.

I don’t get this.  Do they just grab a handful and dash out of the house as if they’re taking mints from the checkout counter at Denny’s?  What good are they to them in the car floor?  Why not in a backpack or purse?

Why are they packaged in the most vivid colors available?  Neon green, yellow and pink.  You can’t miss them.  They glow in the dark.

On more than one occasion, I’ve been asked to hold a stash in my pocket at an event.  I’ve reached for my keys before and had a tampon explosion – dropping them on the floor and having to scurry around to clean up my mess.  At least they’re easy to find.

 

 

I wish women had pockets.  I wish cars had built in hygiene storage compartments.  I wish tampons came in plain, gray packages.

80 Years Young

A poem written about Mae and Granddaddy by the youngest grandkid.

Jean and Wayne

Haven’t changed a lick!

80 years ago…

Sounds like a very long time, but in my parent’s eyes, I think it has gone by rather quickly.

Both of them complete their eighth decade this year so the fam gathered in the mountains for a brief weekend celebration over Easter.  My brother and I figured what they would most enjoy is time together.  We were right.

We visited, shopped a little, ate a lot and played games each night.  Michelle had everyone in the family email her one fact that no one else know about them.  She then took a candy kiss and one family member’s truth typed out and packed them neatly inside an Easter egg which she hid.  After the hunt, one egg per person, we went around the circle trying to figure out which fact fit which family member.

We’ve been together for a long, long time, and yet, we learned stuff we had not known before.  Who knew my dad drove cross country with a group of guys in college?  My nephew’s uvula is shaped like a snakes tongue.  I didn’t look but the girls did.  And my sister-in-law once ate over 30 baby aspirin – she was a kid and really liked the way they tasted.  Come to think of it, they were quite tasty.

I was proud that Michelle masterminded that activity and carried it out all on her own.

This weekend we also took the opportunity for each child and grandchild to write a note to the patriarch and matriarch sharing what they most remember and appreciate about these two special people.  We shared thoughts on Saturday night through laughter and tears.  An experience that was wonderfully meaningful for each of us.

I’m glad we took the time now to enjoy their company and to tell my folks how we feel about them.  It was a very special way to honor the ones who have meant so much.

The Gut

A dear friend of mine just resigned from the YMCA where we have worked together for thirty years.  She got an awesome opportunity to work with a former co-worker at the Y in Richmond.  Her kids are both in college, and it just seemed like a great opportunity for her to start anew.  She basically lived in Raleigh her entire life and most of her career, although in different positions, has been in one organization.  Gutsy move.

Big decisions are daunting for me.  I play out scenario after scenario – what if…

I recently went through a significant one with Michelle on high school choice.  That one was not mine to make, but I did hold some responsibility for coaching.

Stephanie is beginning to ponder colleges.  Another biggie.  Where you go to college will set the compass for the rest of your life:  where you live, your future spouse, your kids – all of those things ride on ONE significant decision.

Through the years, I’ve had opportunities to apply for other jobs similar to my friend.  I’ve considered selling my house and downsizing.  Occasionally I get the bug to pick up and leave the comfort of Raleigh, where I’ve spent the past 33 years, just to try something new.  But my roots are so very deep.

I have another friend who has had job after job.  She has lived in at least four cities in North Carolina, in Minnesota, and Colorado.  She has gone to various higher education institutions to chase her dreams.  And, she has always made new friends and adapted well.

I once saw a movie called Sliding Door.  The movie highlights Helen’s life.  She gets fired from her job and heads to the subway for home.  In one scenario, she catches the train and finds her boyfriend cheating on her in their apartment.  In another scenario, she misses the train and has no idea what he did.  The movie follows these two parallel lives.  And the outcome at the end is remarkably different, simply because of one train ride.

I suppose the lesson here is that any decision we make, big or small, can drastically change the course of our lives.  Lisa’s sister met her husband at a bar one night years ago.  Had she stayed at home to watch Grey’s Anatomy, who knows?

I asked my friend how she decided to make the move – what pushed her to jump.  Her reply?  “My gut.”

She simply felt it was the right thing to do at the right time.

Although I’m not happy with her for leaving, I’m pretty sure she’s made the right decision.  A little prayer and the following of your “gut” can lead you to some pretty incredible things.

 

 

Stephanie, the Pickle Farmer

college visit photo

Another junior, another week of college tours!  Whoa baby.

What a great way to spend one-on-one time with your kid.  A car, a dad, a daughter and 947 miles of walking around college campuses.

The first one was interesting.  It declined from there.

Things I rediscovered about universities and making that all important, life-changing decision:

  • Every school has a blue light emergency system. This is pointed out at all of the schools for parents who are scared to death that their kid is going to be attacked walking across campus at 2 AM.  I am one of those parents.  I like the blue light stations.
  • For a high school junior female on tour, the cuter the male guide, the higher the satisfaction with the college. At Furman, half of the tour was given on long purple golf carts.  Stephanie and I had been near the back of the walking portion of the tour led by a cute, peppy female co-ed.  When the staff member pointed us toward the golf carts for the remainder of our visit, a blonde stud muffin with a million dollar smile stepped out of the driver’s side inviting us to embark.  Stephanie knocked over two other girls, three moms and a grandmother to sit on the row behind Sven.  I glared at her.  “I’m really interested in this college” she defended.  I should arrange for the cuter guides to meet us at the cheaper schools.  Seriously?  We can’t make a decision on where to attend college based on the hotness factor of the dude leading the tour!  That is NOT a good measuring stick.
  • At each school, the first question prospective students are asked is “What are you considering for your major?” Stephanie is undecided although she has some interest in psychology.  I suggested she share her potential major.  She did not.  She didn’t want to commit.  I told her it didn’t matter what she said on tour, that it was not binding – that they would not force her to become a child psychologist simply because she mentioned it in April of her junior year in high school.  As we drove down the highway, we saw a sign for Mt. Olive College (we did not tour there).  But since Mt. Olive is famous for pickles, I suggested when asked about her future vocation at the next stop she say, “I am considering becoming a pickle farmer.”  We wondered how that would go over at Wake Forest.
  • I was aware that most higher learning establishments housed a Starbucks. I was unaware that the most frequently asked question by students on a college tour was, “Do you have a Chic Fil A?”  I do not know why that surprised me.  When DJ went to college in Washington, DC, she picked up jogging as a hobby.  That was shocking since she absolutely HATES to run.  But then, I realized, she was not running for exercise or endorphin pleasure.  She was running to catch the Chic Fil A food truck.  There are no stores near campus so she had an ap on her phone that tracked the vehicle’s whereabouts.  If within three miles of her dorm, she would don the running gear and high tail it to chicken.  By the way, all but one of the universities we visited had a Chic Fil A.  So don’t panic.  One is near.

This is not my last child nor my last week of tours.  Although a bit boring and repetitive, I would not trade this time with my kids for anything.  What an incredible way to get uninterrupted time with someone you love.

An Ode to Nowak

 

Roses are red,

Homework is a bore,

Why do my kids wait to put the massive poetry project together

 the night before?

 

She knew it was coming,

and I did too.

Her sisters made the same mistake,

The night ends with boo – hoo.

 

Due in three weeks,

 she wrote hard for the first.

Then set it aside,

Oh Lord, we’ll be cursed.

 

I got back to the house

at 10 PM from a meeting,

the project was due in 10 hours,

was even too late for some cheating.

 

She wrote haiku, a couplet,

free verse and a sonnet,

Dad, get the glue out and the hole punch,

Although late, I was on it!

 

The writing was easy,

Putting it together was not.

A nice binder, and drawings,

The presentation, a lot.

 

With colored pencils, and crayons

And glue and some tape,

She worked and she worked,

Michelle was up really late.

 

And me, well I watched.

I coached from the side,

And picked up little round papers

from the hole punch til I thought I would die.

 

This is my last child

to learn from Mr. Nowak.

He has motivated my daughters

And taught them Shakespearean clack.

 

 

Michelle on the uke

Sometimes as a dad, you just have to brag.  Here is my baby, Michelle, at the school talent show.  She has her uncle’s ability to pick out a tune on a random instrument and her mother’s incredible voice.  Just listen…

So proud…

PHOTO = $100

You can’t do this.  It is illegal!!!  It is unfair.  Re-dic-u-lous!!!

This is the SECOND time that I have received a SPEEDING ticket when visiting DJ in DC.  Yeah.  Bad me for speeding, huh?  WRONG!

They don’t have police up there.  They just put a camera out and take a picture of you and tell you that you owe $100 without any dag gone proof that you have sped.

39 in a 25 zone they say.  Yeah.  Well prove it sucka!  I could take a picture of your damn car driving down the street too and SAY that YOU’RE speeding.  But I got no proof.

What are their policemen doing?  EATING DOUGHNUTS?

Get the cream filled, chocolate covered puff out of your mouth and get to work!  If you want to give me a ticket because I’m speeding, fine.  Do it like a man.  Follow me.  Turn on your stinkin’ BLUE LIGHT, walk up to my window and write out the ticket in cursive!

In Raleigh, our officers will track your butt down, with a vehicle, and give you a citation.  That is fair.  This is NOT.  They can’t even put points on your license for this infraction because it is stupid.  The insurance companies won’t believe them.

I am employed by the YMCA.  I can’t take a picture of someone I perceive to be out of shape, send them the pic, and charge them for a membership.  I have to work for it.  I have to advertise, give them a tour, and convince them that our services would make a difference in their life.

What the heck?

More! More! More!

I’m selfish. I want to help the world, but I’m just too lazy or too greedy to do it.

On Friday night, I was at a fundraiser. It was for an international group that helps people in need.

The video they shared to kick the night off would rip your heart out. I had to drink another glass of really nice wine to absorb it all.

This man shared a letter from a kid he supports somewhere in Africa. The girl had written a thank you note for the man’s support but shared her concern about her father. Apparently he had to wait to work in his field until after several others in the community had finished their work. He didn’t own his own ox or plow. He borrowed. Therefore, he was the last to plant.  She feared for the family’s livelihood for the next twelve months if he didn’t get his dirt turned soon.

My kids are worried about a lot of things.  But they aren’t worried about whether they’ll have a roof over their heads or food to eat.

Just tonight I put a big helping of shrimp linguini in the fridge because I made entirely too much. We don’t eat leftovers, but I continue to save them because I can’t handle the guilt of throwing perfectly good food away. The Tupperware will sit there until next weekend. I’ll feel fine tossing it out then because no one would want to eat it at that point, not even really hungry folk.

Do you know how much it cost to buy the girl’s father an ox and a plow?  $300.  And there would likely be enough left to purchase a donkey too. I have suits that cost that much.  Several of them.

I also spend that much at Costco sometimes because I get carried away. I need to buy extra shrimp and linguini so my icebox won’t be empty.

This is a nutty world.

What if we could get our extra linguini to Africa by Tuesday? Wouldn’t that be nice?

The problem is that I’m much more comfortable giving my leftovers. That’s easy.

I took a car full of stuff to Goodwill today because I was through with it. And, I get a tax write off. But what if I gave more up front to combat the zany inequities in our world? Heck, in our city.

I probably won’t do that. Instead I’ll buy more stuff and complain about paying taxes – which sometimes do help people in need. More for me!!  More, more, more.

 

Nuggets from Dad

My mother enjoys sharing helpful little nuggets for life with my brother and me.

This week she forwarded an email that explained how to give yourself CPR in the event you have a heart attack alone.  For those who might find themselves in that situation, apparently you cough like a mad dog.

She has also warned of the foods most likely to contain Salmonella (her favorite bacteria): eggs and chicken; places where snakes might hide in your yard (near heavy shrubbery and near water); and the distance your fecal matter can travel if you flush the toilet with the lid open (2.7 miles).

Because I am becoming my mother, I now pass my own nuggets to my children.

Last week I saw a TV special on the growing use of heroin by teenagers.  Therefore, I sent a group text to my daughters:

I just watched a news segment on heroin use.  They said to tell your kids not to use.  It is bad.  It will kill you.  It makes your skin and teeth nasty which doesn’t even matter if you’re dead.  So stop using heroin if you are and don’t start if you aren’t.

Now I am fairly certain that none of them are on drugs, but I gotta bring the issue up regardless, huh?

These were the follow up texts I received from my children:

Stephanie:  I just threw out my stash and I’m already having withdrawals

DJ:  I’m too addicted I can’t stop

Michelle:  Dad I’m having trouble getting the needle in my vein.  Can you come upstairs and help?

Me:  You guys, this is serious!

They say to talk about issues with your kids from the get go.  So I do.  Sex, drugs, eating disorders, alcohol use – all are fair game.  I’m pretty certain that none of my dad warnings will do much good.  But, my hope is that it will open the doors of conversation, allowing us to be open and discuss whatever comes to mind – even the stuff that is a bit uncomfortable.

 

Lemonade out of Lemons

The girls and I recently became hooked on a new TV show on NBC called This Is Us.  Although my kids can watch a 12 episode series in a weekend’s time, I don’t often have the inclination to sit that still that long.  But, there is something different about this show.

One storyline is set in the 70’s and 80’s and is about a family with three kids.  There is a parallel storyline set today that follows the children as grownups.

I am particularly drawn to two characters in the series.  My first attraction is to the father of the three kids, Jack Pearson.  He has his flaws, but he is an incredible man.  He brings life and fun into the family.  He is wonderfully sensitive, crying multiple times in the very first show.  He just wants things to be OK for his kids and for his wife to be genuinely happy.  It is refreshing to watch how he invests in others.

There is also a 70-year-old man, Dr. Nathan Katowski the wife’s obstetrician, who is also a regular on the show.  He is a widower and sort of mentors Jack.

I want to see pieces of each of these men in me.

At one point, the young father and his wife lose a baby in delivery.  This is the advice that the seasoned Dr. Katowski gives to Jack:

I’d like to think that one day you’ll be an old man like me, talking a younger man’s ear off explaining to him how you took the sourest lemon life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade. 

I think when you go through tough times, folks are more prone to sharing their setbacks with you.  Perhaps they feel that you can understand.

I’ve recently had acquaintances lose loved ones – children, parents, spouses.  I know of those who have lost their jobs.  I’ve spent time with a widower who has six children under the age of 12.  I am amazed at how many rediscover good out of really nasty situation.

If for no other reason, as a young widower, I was propelled to drive forward for my kids’ sakes.  I couldn’t bear for them to live in a house with a father who was paralyzed by grief.  In the end, I was the one who benefited.  I found happy.

I hurt so bad seven years ago (this week marks the anniversary).  I was messed up.  And yet, today, I can’t imagine there are that many out there with more blessings than me.

 

Healing does not mean forgetting.  For me it is figuring out how to put grief in its appropriate place.

Writing makes you ponder things that perhaps you wouldn’t otherwise.  I think about my legacy often – what I want to be remembered for when I’m gone from this earth.  I think it’s important to me for my kids to look back and say, “Man did dad make some good lemonade.”  Like the pink kind with real slices of lemon floating on the top, in a really nice pitcher with grandma ice cubes.

How fortunate I am to be sipping again.