The Joy in Old

When I was a teenager, my dad definitely did things that did not seem very cool to me.  It’s interesting that the black socks he wore with his tennis shoes and shorts were humiliating at the time.  Today, add a Nike Swoosh on the side, and what embarrassed me at 16, is exactly what a studly 16-year-old of today has on.

And what’s up with the handkerchief?  You keep it in your back pocket, blow an inordinate amount of snot into it and then, and then, you stick it BACK INTO YOUR POCKET!  YUCK!

Mmm.  Going to a bathroom to find a tissue is a lot of work.  I think I’ll just grab a small towel and put it in my pocket and fill it full of boogers to my heart’s content.  What a great time saver! 

Who does that (besides my dad)?

I’m not sure at what age he simply didn’t care anymore.  At some point, comfort became more important than style.  The black tennis shoes he wears today for almost any occasion is proof of that.  So help me, I will limp with excruciating pain before I wear a support shoe in public.

But at 77, he just doesn’t give a crap.  He ain’t working to impress anyone.

As I headed out to the beach for my daily jog this morning, I grabbed a set of headphones to plug into my iPhone.  I’ve tried EVERYTHING to keep these doohickies in my ears while moving.  I’ve clipped them to my shirt sleeve, run the cord down to my waist, shoved the ear bud into my cerebrum.  And yet, before Beyonce can belt out the first chorus, either left or right ear has shed the device, and I’m more focused on auditory function than physical fitness.

So today, as I pulled up my black socks and laced up my New Balance, I glanced at the counter and ta-da… I found the answer:  Duct tape!

I snagged a couple of small pieces and had Stephanie help me secure.

duct tape

The result?

Doobie Brothers?  No problem.

Earth Wind and Fire?  All good.

Aerosmith?  Golden.

Were my kids embarrassed?  I’d say so.

Did I care?  Not the least.

And not only did the tape hold the headphones into place, when I ripped it off, it was like a good waxing of the hairs growing all over my 50-year-old ears.  Two for the price of one!

There is some joy in growing old.

You’ve put on a few lbs. Mr. Tanner

Prostate exam

Since Lisa died, I have committed to an annual physical – at least until Michelle graduates from high school.  Once she is out of the house, I think I will stop.  Because I hate them.  Of course there are obvious reasons 50 year old men don’t like physicals.  And I don’t need to hear comments about what women go through.  I know.  It sounds awful.  And No.  I have never had my privates smashed in between two cold metal plates until I yelled out in agony.  But I still don’t like to be handled in that manner by someone I scarcely know who resembles Danny Devito.

As if I didn’t have enough anxiety about having my blood being siphoned out of my vein by Morticia Adams, and having to fully undress in front of a complete stranger eager to conduct a full cavity search, this year, the pre-manhandling session began with a scathing attack on my weight.

“I see you’ve gained 5 pounds since you were in here 18 months ago.  You’re up to 181.”

“Well… I’m 6’1.  What would you like me to weigh?”

“Don’t get me wrong.  You’re doing better than most.  But I’d prefer you stick to 175, your late 2013 weight.”

“That was my weight early in this morning, naked, after a good trip to the bathroom.  Your nurse puts me on the scales wearing my dress shoes, with my phone and wallet in my pockets.  And… I just ate lunch!”

He was unmoved.

That night I watched what I ate.  I went to sleep at 176.4.  The next morning, I jumped on my Walmart scale and had shot up to 177.2!  How does that happen?  I had eaten nothing!  I had gone to the bathroom!  I was in the buff.

A friend at work suggested that perhaps I was a sleep eater.  He saw a show on TNT.

“You really should consider a pad lock on your fridge.”

My kids are at camp.  There is no food in my kitchen.  Unless you can pack the pounds on French’s mustard, I don’t think I’m packing it on while I sleepwalk!

After telling me I was fat, my physician, who could also stand to shed a few lbs., started his annual check of my business.  He finished one side and then stopped to chat about the shark attacks on the coast of North Carolina.  Mistakenly, I had shared that we had a beach vacation heading our way.

It’s not that I mind conversation while being groped, I actually like to have a relationship with those who intimately touch me.  But the pause was disturbing.  I was sprawled out, naked as a jaybird, boxers dangling around my feet, and he stopped to catch me up on the daily beat.

My underwear hasn’t spent that much time around my ankles since I made pee-pee in Mrs. Holt’s kindergarten class.  Typically they are fully on or fully off.  They ain’t hanging out in other places around my being for extended periods of time!

Then it happened, what I’d been dreading since my last physical in November of 2013.  He said, “Roll over –  toward the wall.”

The last doc to give me a prostate exam had me lean over the table, feet on the floor, hands gripping the table.  A friend told me that his physician’s favorite position was on all fours – up on the table, like a four legged animal.  That makes me thankful for my physician.

After checking my bladder, colon, prostate, intestines, and esophagus (he has very long fingers), he walked over to the sink and handed me a tissue, one, to clean the vat of Vaseline he left behind.  It was like cleaning up the BP oil spill with a hand towel.

Michelle graduates in six years.  I don’t know if I’m going to make it.  Perhaps I’ll just buy more life insurance.  With enough money, certainly my demise wouldn’t bother her too much.

I’ve Been Oriented

Mice

I learned some things at college orientation this week at The George Washington University.

  • It’s not George Washington University, it’s The George Washington University. Are there others?   Did someone else try to start another one?
  • A pit is formed in one’s stomach when dropping their kid off at a dorm, even if it is only for two nights.
  • A lump is formed in one’s throat when one is sitting at an outside bar with a buddy and one sees his daughter strolling down the street with two guys one does not know from Adam.
  • A panic comes across one’s mind when one finds out his daughter got home at 1:20 AM after walking home from the Lincoln Memorial with yet another group of unknowns.
  • If a skinny mouse eats a fat mouse’s poop, he will get skinny too (one sat in on a biology lecture).
  • All the parents at college orientation are old, except me.
  • One should never call their child at college.
  • As if the school is not expensive enough, GW has a box that you must uncheck on your online bill in order not to donate fifty additional dollars to the library fund when paying tuition. At $60K a year sticker price, one would think the Library should be covered without the additional support.
  • The Kennedy Center is a short walk from campus, and they have free concerts 365 days a year. Now you’re speaking my language.
  • The reason so many helicopters fly over DC is because there is nowhere to park one’s car.
  • Leaving DC, there are four big fat highway lanes that only about six people are allowed to use – which is cruel.
  • The relief one feels when one’s daughter is happy is euphoric in nature.

Froommates

Back Camera

Back Camera

I remember the day I arrived at my first apartment in college.  I dropped out of school my freshman year so when I transferred to NC State University the following fall, I was relegated to an off campus apartment.  I sort of knew one of my roommates from church.  The other two were total strangers.

We were The Island of Misfit Toys.  Van, we called him Banessa, was, at the time, an obnoxious slob.  He smoked without ceasing and left his crap out everywhere.  He was famous for drinking half a cup of soda.  The other half he left – I guess until our mothers came at the end of the year to clean the place out.

My mom found leftover tuna salad.  She discovered it in early May.  I think someone made it in early October.

One day I came home and Banessa’s size 14, white, boat shoes were in the hallway by the front door.  My hands were full, I think I’d gone to buy more tuna, and I stumbled over the monstrosities.  We lived on the second floor of a pink triplex.  I put down my groceries, opened the back sliding glass door, and tossed his inordinately large Sperry Topsiders off the deck.  Unfortunately, Banessa was four inches taller and weighed about 50 pounds more than I.  When he came downstairs and discovered his shoes were missing, he was quite angry.  He heaved me up on his shoulder and threatened to toss me off our balcony as I had his shoes.  I carried enough clout in the house that he eventually put me down.  I think he knew if he killed me, the other two dudes would kick his butt.

We affectionately nicknamed the guy I knew from back home “Zenith.”  He was an avid watcher of TV, and our set was a Zenith console.  He was on our den couch day and night, remote in hand.  He was even hooked on soaps; The Young and the Restless was his favorite.

Our fourth partner, Scott, became one of my best friends.  He was an athlete who taught me how to lift weights.  I owe my monstrous physique to him.

Our sophomore year, Scott and I took photos of ourselves and tapped them on a handmade calendars.  We entitled our creation The Stately Studs and handed copies out to the women who lived in the apartments surrounding us.  Only one dared to date me.  She was a vet student and an animal lover.  When I discovered that she’d rather spend her Saturdays with a horse than with me, I called it off – and took my calendar back.

Last week, DJ just received her roommate assignments for GW.  We call them froomies (future roomies).

There will be four girls sharing an 8’ x 8’ room.  They are three blocks from the White House in downtown DC.  I’m hoping she can hook up with Sasha and Malia if she’s unhappy.  They seem so accepting and well balanced.  I’d love for them to become friends.

From our Facebook investigations, our new froomies appear to be fairly normal – well two do.  The other one, Vaughn, we can’t find on social media – a clear indicator of either buck wild or home schooler.

Last week we were with one of DJ’s friends and she pulled up her froomie’s Facebook page.  This lovely young lady from New Jersey had a video on her homepage.  She was twerking in front of a Dick’s sporting goods store, and I don’t think her choice of location was a coincidence.

I hope DJ’s froomies don’t find this blog.  It could petrify their parents.

My Buddy Brian

The week before Lisa died I went to see my doctor twice.  I was having anxiety attacks and needed some help sleeping.  I’d seen him a couple of times annually for three or four years prior to my crisis, physicals, sinusitis.  I think I was one of his younger patients.

I saw him on the Thursday before Lisa died about sleeplessness.  I shared my story, let him know our family’s situation.  I went back on the following Monday.  He had no idea who I was.  Not only had he forgotten my name, I had to refresh him on the fact that my young wife was dying, that I had three kids, that I was struggling emotionally.  Needless to say, the following month, I switched to a new physician.

The new guy was younger than I.  He was a swimmer, in incredible physical condition.  He was also a great listener.  He was as concerned about my mental condition, how I was handling the stress of my loss, as he was my physical ailments.  He wasn’t herding cattle.  He was genuinely interested in making a difference in the lives of his patients.

Two years later, I heard that he was facing the same diagnosis as Lisa.  He had colon cancer, Stage IV.

He took time off from work and eventually left the practice.  But he and I kept up.  We periodically went to lunch to share war stories, particularly about our kids and the legacy we wanted to leave for them.  I didn’t see him often, but in the little time we had, a bond was formed.  I remember thinking to myself, don’t get too engaged, it will hurt worse when he’s gone.  But there was something about this guy, an intensity – a fierce desire to figure life out, to make a difference.

And he did.  My doctor not only changed lives in the office, but he was also instrumental in starting and growing a swim team for kids in a nearby neighborhood.  I understand he coached the same way he practiced medicine with a thoughtful, caring, intensity.  Encouraging, pushing, listening, meeting you where you were not where he wanted you to be.

Imagine knowing that you built something on this earth that will change lives for years and years into the future.  Each person he poured in to, each kid he challenged, each patient he encouraged will take his legacy and spread it in their own unique way.

I’d like to think that we are all as conscientious about leaving what we touch better than we found it.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the case.  But there are a few, like Brian, who sincerely put others before themselves.

My goal:  To be more like him.

If I meet my objective, the world will be a better place.

They’re Gonna Find You

DSC_0104

It all seemed to be going so perfectly.  I figured I’d need to get DJ a new car when she graduated from high school, the old 1998 Subaru just wasn’t likely to make it much longer.  Besides, DJ had built enough character driving the most embarrassing car in Raleigh for two whole years.

Interestingly, it died, earlier this month, two weeks before graduation.

I wasn’t stressed because I had the inside scoop.  I knew her grandfather was going to give her his car, a 2007 Mini Cooper, for graduation.  It’s about the size of a bathroom stall, but it sure is fun to drive.

The plan went off without a hitch.  She was thrilled!

And then, I went down to the DMV to transfer the title.  As I was leaving work to snag DJ who was going to accompany me on this task, I asked a group of folks in my office if I had to have cash, not sure if this government agency would take my credit card.

My boss overheard us.  “I don’t think you do.”

“How much do you think it will cost?  I might take some just in case.”

“About $35.”

I ran by the bank and snagged two twenties just in case.  I like to be prepared.

When we got there, I unscrewed the license plate.  I wasn’t sure if we could keep it or if we had to get another.

When I gave Lisa’s old car to the junkyard, I kept the tag – told them I lost it.  In reality, I just needed it.

Amazingly, when we got inside the line was short, perhaps because we went on the Friday morning before Memorial Day weekend.  When it came our turn, the clerk began punching buttons on the computer.   I also noticed a card swiper in front of her station – VISA would have been OK.

Her keyboard was noisy, like the old ones you had to press down an inch or so to get a response.

Clink, clink, clink, clink, clink. 

DJ and I were casually chatting while she worked.

She handed me the new tag in an opaque envelope.

“Thank you.”  It was clean, straight from the prison I imagined.  I was admiring the First in Flight when I heard the news…

“That’ll be $530.85 Mr. Tanner.”

“Excuse me?”

DJ later told me my facial expression was priceless.

“It’s $530,85.”

“Come again?”

She handed me the printout in Courier font, and she began to go through the seven charges listed.

“This is for DMV technical improvements.”

A worthy tax I guessed.  Besides, it was just a dollar.

“This is the Highway Use Tax.”

“What the heck is that?”  It was $279.60!

“It is 3% of the value of your car.”

“What if she promises to only drive on back roads?  DJ, you don’t need highways do you?”

“Sir.”

“But it’s just a little car.  It won’t take up much space!  And it doesn’t weigh much, and neither does she!  DJ, what do you weigh?”

My child began to look away.  She could see there were five more charges for me to dispute.

“What is this ‘Mercury Bill Payable’ charge?  We won’t be driving on other planets?”

“Dad, it’s only a dollar.  I can pay that for you.”  DJ reached in her pocket.

The clerk patiently went through the NC Certificate of Title, the plate calculation fee and the registration Transportation Authority fee.

Then I noticed the property tax.

“My father in law just paid property taxes on this car last month, he told me this week!  And now you’re telling me I have to pay them again?”

“Yes.  Sir, these are your taxes.  This is your property now.  Those were his taxes.”

“I don’t mind paying them next year, but why do we have to pay twice in one year?”

She repeated herself, “These are your property taxes.  This is your property now.”

“Damn Sam.”

Politicians say they want to simplify taxes.  I guess they think if they take it all, it is simpler than if they just take some of it.

When we got to the car, DJ reminded me that it was a gift, that we didn’t have to pay for it.

“Yea.  I know.  We got a deal.”

“Then why did you make such a scene?”

I didn’t really have an answer for that.  When it comes to taxes, something just comes over me.

Taking It In For Two

Bailey at commencement

As wonderful as special occasions can be, I still find them hard.

For some reason, I can head to work each day without incident.  When Lisa died, we stopped eating dinner at the table and moved to the bar in the kitchen.  Ironically, I was the one who insisted on the table.  I think I like the Leave It To Beaver image of a man, me, sitting at the head looking out on all that I had – my kingdom – beautiful wife, three charming daughters and a nice backyard with very green grass.  Stools at the bar seemed to solve my emotional food disorder; even sleeping in that bed alone has become comfortable to me.

But toss in a high school graduation, a wedding or a funeral and I resort back.  Not necessarily to her death.  I harken back to what should have been.  She should have helped address the graduation announcement invitations.  She should have OK’d the white dress.  She should have read over DJ’s last speech to the school as Student Body President.  She should have been behind the camera lens, at the Apple Store picking out her college computer; there when grandpa gave her his old MINI Cooper – her character building Subaru in the junk yard.

As my beautiful senior walked down the brick pathway through the Grove at St. Mary’s School, I leaned over to my sister-in-law, “I feel like I need to be watching for both of us; like I need to be Lisa’s eyes too.”

It’s unfair to me to have to carry the emotional insecurity of sending my kid off into this big world alone.  It’s unfair to Lisa not to see her daughter soar.  She’s missing the tough parts and the glorious.

And I get it all.

We’re One Weird Family

weird family

Maybe it’s Mother’s Day that has brought about our most recent conversations.  I’m really not sure.

Lately it has been comical to hear my girls talk about awkward moments due to the loss of their mom.

When Michelle was riding with a friend and her mother, something was said about moms helping at school for some project.  The friend quickly reprimanded her mother for saying the “m” word in front of Michelle.

“It’s OK,” Michelle assured her.  “You can talk about mothers with me in the car.  It doesn’t bother me.”

Stephanie then shared the time last summer at camp where they were paired with a peer for prayer time before bed.

“The girl got on my bed and said, ‘My friend’s mom has cancer.  Can you IMAGINE your mom having cancer?’”

“Well actually…”

DJ was recognized at the Senior Salute, an end of year assembly for the National Charity League.  It’s a Mother/Daughter service club that Lisa started with her six years ago.  Each girl stood on stage with their mom and a short speech was given about their relationship and their work together over the past few years.  DJ decided she’d be recognized with another friend whose mother died a year or so after Lisa.  Pretty good strategy for what could have been a fairly awkward situation.

Last Tuesday Michelle asked me if dogs had periods.

To be perfectly honest, I had to think a minute.  We don’t have dogs, and I don’t recall ever seeing a doggie tampon (This is yet another reason not to have a pet).

I assured her they must and then DJ chimed in saying indeed they did and that there were diapers that could be purchased for that time of the month.

Apparently Michelle went to school and announced her findings to her girlfriends.  When she returned home that afternoon, she said, “Kimmy can’t believe I asked you if dogs had periods.” I asked her why Kimmy thought that was so odd.  “Kimmy said it is weird that I ask my DAD questions like that.”  We laughed.  I suppose she could have called the vet.

Last week we also talked about girls who are “loose in the booty” as my oldest kid describes them and why girls might be prone to be boy crazy.  We talked about self-esteem and how critical that it come from within and not from some shady dude who pays you a little attention.

The week before we chatted about Michelle’s class field trip to the Poe Center where they got about 75% of the sex talk.  I filled her in on the rest.  Stephanie told her at the Poe Center she was going to have to stand up in front of the group and talk about girls’ breasts.  “They actually call them breasts.  I hate it when they call them that.  They’re boobs.  Old ladies have breasts.”  Thankfully, Michelle was spared the chest chat.

I realize our family is a bit odd, maybe more open than others.  But I’m gonna take that as a win as we celebrate our sixth motherless Mother’s Day.

Congratulations GW!

GW Logo

I am so proud!

My girl, DJ, has finally made her college decision.  Selfishly, I was hopeful she’d end up near home.  We have some great universities right here in the Triangle:  Duke, UNC, NC State.  Selfishly, I wanted her to end up at a public institution for obvious reasons, $$$.

She narrowed it down to three:  UNC, Furman in Greenville, SC, and George Washington University in DC.  Three weeks ago she visited UNC, ate dinner with a friend and came back pumped.  I thought we had a winner.

Two weeks ago, we visited Furman for accepted students’ day.  She met a girl she really liked.  They talked about rooming together.  I thought we had a winner.

But last week we took our trip to DC.  At the end of the day, I headed to get the car from the parking garage, only $23 for the day.  As I walked down H Street, I thought to myself, This IS it.  I can just tell in my gut.  This is where she’s going.  It is the furthest away from our house.  It is the most expensive of her choices, but I can really see her here. 

A small lump settled in my throat.

This is not what I want.  I want her to live at home and go to Meredith college .5 miles from the house!  I want to drop her off at school on my way to work!  I want her to eat dinner with the family on Sundays after church!  I want her to be three again!

I was convinced this would be her choice and actually, I was a little excited.  It was the excited you get for someone else, especially your kid.  It just felt right.  I began to mentally prepare, she’s really not going to Meredith.  Her deadline from me to decide was last Monday, I had to make a deposit and complete paperwork by Friday.  At 7 PM that night, she walked in the kitchen and said, “I can’t decide.  I think I want to go to UNC.”  We talked for an hour and decided to wait another two days.  She was volleying like a shuttlecock.  In the meantime, I convinced myself she would stay nearby.  I was pumped!  I’d see her occasionally!  I’d be able to afford to feed my other two children!

It’s now Wednesday night.  After dinner I went to her room, we were cutting it close; decision day was only 48 hours away.  I wasn’t sure what to expect. I approached the bed with caution (she hasn’t been the easiest person to deal with lately; come to think of it, neither have I).

“Have you made a decision?  Where do you want me to put the deposit?”

“GW.  Don’t ask questions.”

The lump returned.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

And there you have it.  The kid that sprang from my loins is growing up.  It’s hard to let go.

As one of her friends said, “Congratulations GW!  You got DJ!”

On The Go!

how-to-avoid-traffic-jams-35319_2

Last Thursday night DJ and I headed out for our last college tour. It was accepted students’ day at George Washington University in DC. We left Raleigh at 5 PM.

Stephanie fussed as I walked out the door, “Dad, you’re NEVER home!  You’re gone all the time!”

I reminded her that she was the one who spent four days the week before on a school sponsored Outward Bound trip and that it was also she who had plans both Friday and Saturday nights for the weekend that was before us.  That didn’t seem to matter to her. Apparently I should be at home when she wants me there. Or, to be safe, always.

Although in my head I knew she was being unreasonable, I  did feel a bit guilty for leaving.

I had warned DJ that we had to leave Washington right at 2 PM on Friday so that I could get back before 7 to see Michelle’s school play. Although she had only a small part, I felt it important that her parent be in the audience.

DJ understood, “Dad, we always leave these college visits early.  You always have to get back home for something.”

She said it matter of factly, no irritation intended.  But, irritation was taken. Another slight breech to the parenthood portal.

At 4:30 Saturday, I gave up. We were right around Fredericksburg, Va, and traffic was at a standstill, similar to what it had been since we pulled out of downtown two and a half hours earlier.  I was doomed to disappoint again.

I jumped from I-95 to US 1. I was working my GPS and my iPhone traffic alert aggressively seeking alternative routes.

One thing is clear:  I’m going to have a massive heart attack in my car one day.

When we finally hit Richmond, it was 5PM. The GPS indicated we’d get to the theater by 7:45. That’d be too late. At least I’d equally disappoint all of my kids!  No favorites.

I cranked up the speed and wondered what was worse, teaching my 17 year old that it was OK to break traffic laws in the name of Peter Pan or lying to my 11 year old, telling her how much I enjoyed the performance i did not see.

A 17 year old has a more mature mind.  I broke the law.

We came to a screeching halt at 7:19 in the driveway of the school. I jumped out of the car and ran toward the door. The gas tank light was on empty. The place was dark, Act 1 complete.  The lights came up, and Michelle entered stage left.

Hot damn!  I made it.

It’s hard to be a parent.

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