Priorities, Priorities

Waiting on a ride!

Waiting on a ride!

I’d made the decision.  It was a good one.  I passed it by a number of people.

It’s Capon Springs time.  Our family’s third week in August trek to West Virginia to hang with family and dear friends.  I’ve been every year since I proposed to a Katsopolis child in 1993.  It’s the dowry that keeps on giving.

When I was a kid, we had summer.  Months and months of summer.  Nowadays, summer is short and teacher workdays are plentiful.

Since Stephanie’s school began on Monday, and since she is taking AP Bio and four honors classes, it was her year to fly to Capon a few days late.  I’d checked the school schedule and although Monday seemed to be more of an introductory day, Tuesday – Friday were full on academics.  She’d get two days behind her and fly into Dulles late Wednesday night where I’d meet her and transport her to her favorite spot on earth.

I don’t think that everyone understands my children’s love for this place.  Yesterday Michelle asked me if I would rather give up our house or give up our week at Capon Springs.  I choose to keep the house.  She was undecided but leaning toward the family reunion.  I mean I love this place, but we’re here 7 days a year.  The other 348 we are in our house.

Michelle, DJ and I left at 11 AM on Sunday after dropping Stephanie off at school for orientation.  At 1:45, 30 miles north of Richmond, we received the text.

Dad, I could have flown out early on Wednesday.  Classes end at noon.  Same on Tuesday.  Afternoons are meetings about time management and stuff.

I recalled that in early August when I received the school schedule, I was told it was tentative, but I had to commit to the flight.

I couldn’t believe I’d made the choice to leave my kid out of this critically important slice of her life for two half days of class.

I pulled over and texted my parents who were in charge of Stephanie for the first half of the week.

You in the mood for a Sunday afternoon drive?

 Sure.  Why?

We’re coming to get her.

 While they packed the car and headed north, Lisa’s dad left the Capon golf course to pick up DJ and Michelle.  They threatened to kill me if I made them ride all the way back to North Carolina.

I dropped them off with Pops an hour north in Warrenton, Virginia, and turned my car around.

Heavy traffic, a major detour, a nearly empty tank of gas and a lower back that hurt like hell could not deter.  I’d messed up.  I’d made a short sighted decision.  I had to consider priorities.

When I pulled up to the Main House Sunday night and began unpacking our bags at 11:30 PM, twelve and a half hours after I’d left Raleigh,  one of Michelle’s friends asked why I went back home.

“I forgot something.”

“What’d you forget, Mr. Tanner?”

“My middle child.”

Breeze and Coffee, mmmmmm…

annie in mini

I’m almost 50.  It’s about time for a mid-life crisis.  I mean, the likelihood that I’ll live to 100 is slim to none.  I’m actually behind.

I can’t have an affair, I’m not married.

I really can’t grow a goatee; work won’t allow me to come in scruffy.

I can’t quit my job.  I got kids to support.  Plus, I really like what I do.

Sometimes I don’t get a haircut for six or eight weeks.  That’s me rebelling.  Whoa.

But this week, I sort of got to sow some oats.

DJ traded cars with me on Sunday so she could bring all of her stuff home from summer camp, and she left me with her convertible mini cooper.  Whoop- whoop!

I whipped around town without regard to anyone who might be watching.  I sang, I grooved, the breeze was inspiring.

Michelle was less enthusiastic.  She  and I have differing opinions of the appropriate use of a convertible.  My philosophy is:  It’s a convertible, the top goes down.  Period.

The other day I was driving her to cross-country practice at 7:15 in the morning.  It was beee-u-ti-ful outside, 68 degrees, sunny, a slight breeze.  Naturally, the first thing I did when I got in the car after putting my large jug of coffee in the cup holder, was to press the button that starts the process of opening the roof.

“Dad, what are you doing?”

“I don’t understand your question.”

“Don’t open the roof.”

“But this is a convertible.”

“I just braided my hair, and I don’t want to get all smelly.”

“I thought I was taking you to cross-country, not the debutante ball.  The roof is coming off!”

“Dad!”

“You are about to run around a lake for an hour.  I think this is the least of your grooming concerns.”

If it was 95 or 32 degrees outside, I might have considered her request.  But it wasn’t.

Besides, when the roof is all shut up, I sort of feel like I’m riding around in a beer can, dark and cramped.

I’ll have to admit, after spinning around in the mini, I do smell a bit musty when I get to work.  And, my hair sort of resembles Phyllis Diller’s, but it is so worth it.

There is something about breeze that brings me to life.  It makes me want to sing loudly, to flail my arms in the wind, to laugh, to take deep breaths.  Add coffee on top of that… mmm, a slice of heaven right on the I-440 beltline.

Be Loved

Homeless Sign

What touched me most was that Wednesday, the day our mission trip with the middle school youth from my church led us to the Be Loved House.  The day before, I got to run the cardboard crusher at the Food Bank.  It was cool.  Really cool.  Tossing out the 50 lb. bags of potatoes into the enormous dumpster, not so cool.  I don’t dig puss oozing spuds.

Two days before, we pulled weeds at a day care center and sorted clothes for a Veteran’s shelter.  Both were jobs that needed to be done, but neither allowed me to interact to a great extent with those we were trying to serve.

But Wednesday, we pulled up to an old house near the heart of downtown.  The white picket fence in front of the dilapidated home was in fairly good shape.  There was a hand spray painted sign that read:  Black Lives Matter.  The cozy front yard had tables with chairs arranged in groups of four or five.

The kids headed in the front door walking through the porch which was set up as a clothes closet for folks who struggle with homelessness.  They didn’t even seem to notice the transgender person having a conversation with a dude in blue jeans at one of the tables.  But I did.  She, like everyone who walked in that house that day, would be loved.  Because in their opinion, if God can love them, they can surely work hard to love others.

I say folks who struggle with homelessness because Amy, the caretaker of the Be Loved House, informed us that they were people first.  I’m not referred to as a Love Handles Person.  I’m just a person who struggles with love handles.

After Amy explained to us that her family intentionally moved into poverty to try to minister to folks who might need them, we walked across the street to the Senior Center with baskets full of vegetables and breads.  Each Wednesday, they give it all away for free.

The kids had the mini farmer’s market under control, so I took it upon myself to sit with the old folks and listen to their stories.  One 98-year-old told me he liked to dance.  So Michelle and her friends came to his table, and we cranked up some bluegrass on the iPhone.  He wasn’t kidding!

I then spent about 20 minutes talking to a woman who was disenfranchised from her entire family.  She was divorced.  Her children and sister didn’t talk to her – she hadn’t seen them in a decade.  Her parents were dead.  She was sitting by herself.  It might be that I am her best friend.

I did take the time to have a conversation with Dee Dee, the woman who was transgender.  Surprisingly, we talked about arthritis.  She just had surgery on her neck.  I have a bit in my thumb joint.  I’m guessing that’s not the only thing we have in common.

On Sundays, Amy washes clothes for folks in the community.  They just drop them off at her house.  I hadn’t thought about not being able to walk to my basement and wash my stuff any time I darn well please.

Queen Mother was a beautiful African-American woman who led singing at our bible study that day.  She lives in the Be Loved House too.  Her personality was big.  She preached to us a bit.  One of the kids asked her if some people thought she was nuts.  She said, “I’m nuts for Jesus!”  Michelle wrote that quote on her fingers with a Sharpie.

When we passed out popsicles at the park, the two women I met encouraged me to let my daughters know how much I love them.  Maybe their father didn’t.  I will heed their advice.  I can’t get over the open sore one had on her nose.

We were told, although it was technically illegal, that folks who looked like us could get away with standing on the lawn under the tree at the large bank in town.  We could also take a nap in the park.  But if we were perhaps black, or unshaven, or in worn clothes, we’d be encouraged to move along.

The kids had to map out a bus route for a hypothetical man named Mike who lived outside of the city because he couldn’t afford the rent in town.  He had to be at McDonald’s by 6 AM to make the biscuits and his $7.50 per hour.  Unfortunately, the bus didn’t start running until 6.  Not sure what I’d do if I was in his situation, maybe stay home and draw unemployment.  Good thing that’s hypothetical.

It’s hard to raise three kids alone.  It’s harder with an annual salary of $15,600.

You know what I missed the most when I was sleeping on the floor of a church building for five nights?  Ice.  I couldn’t readily have ice in my drinks.

Pathetic.

I missed ice.

These women on the streets didn’t have tampons, they didn’t have a place to pee, they carried their belongings, ALL of them, on their backs.  And I missed ice.  I’m ashamed of myself.

There is a lot of mental illness out there.  Some of the folks I met probably take advantage of the system.

Had I been born under different circumstances, maybe I would too.

Whippin’ and Nae-naein’ Asheville Style

Asheville

Although I don’t fully remember, I think I agreed on my own accord, with no significant pressure.  No arm twisting, no gun at my head.

Last week, for five nights, I chaperoned a middle school mission trip to Asheville, NC.  There were 11 kids, our youth director, a cool 19-year-old intern, and me.

We stayed at First Presbyterian Church downtown with two other youth groups.  We walked 75 stairs to the fourth floor Sunday School room which was our home base for the duration of the trip.  We weren’t allowed to use the elevator.  They said it was cantankerous.  I suspect they wisely just didn’t want 45 twelve-year-olds pressing the stop button between floors two and three or calling the grocery store from the emergency wall phone asking if they had Prince Charles in a can.

I’ll have to admit, I was a bit nervous about this trek.  Although I worked with these kids throughout the school year on Sunday nights, it has been about three decades since I traveled with pubescents.

Each night, after we’d spent the day working at various nonprofits throughout Buncombe County, we had two hours of debrief activities with the five college interns who ran the program.

Yep.  We sat on laminated tile squares in the church’s Fellowship Hall for hours.  The squares were clearly glued to concrete because when we finally stood up, my butt bones ached like they’d been beaten by a beam of steel.

Now I love Jesus, but if you’re gonna talk to me about Him for that long, I need a cushion.  If I go back next year, I’m wearing biker shorts.

At one point I stood up and got a sniff of my hands.  I’d forgotten the smell of classroom tile floor.  If gray had an odor, this would be it.

My air mattress was comfy enough but occasionally little bubbles would float up and give me a startle.  It was like a kernel of corn had unpredictably popped on an unexpected point on my body.  At 12:15 AM, my left shin.  1:13, the outer side of my right bicep.  3:06?  My aching hip.

Although I left with a great appreciation for a lot of things, while there, I was most thankful for Tylenol PM.  It wasn’t a deep sleep, but that and the 3’ x 3’ floor fan by my head were my saving graces.

I have never in my life seen so many cheese balls eaten within a six-day period of time.  They were everywhere – crunched into the laminate, under air mattresses, and ebedded between some unbrushed-brace-filled mouths.  One kid even used the orange powder to paint eye-shadow on her friend.

By Tuesday evening, the boys’ room smelled like a dumpster:  sweat, farts, worn out boy tennis shoes, sour towels.  I felt like I was sleeping inside a very large jock strap.  I walked into the girls’ room, and there was a faint waft of roses hovering over their Lilly Pulitzer pulled up comforters.

I think I was pretty cool for a 50-year-old father.  I mean, I whipped and nae naed (for you nerds out there, it’s a new dance).

One night we walked through a Labyrinth.  We were told to be quiet and pray for someone who wasn’t like us.

I prayed for the kids.  They are no longer like me.  But they’re a sharp group, anxious to serve.

They have a lot of choices ahead.  My hope is that they have wisdom and that the time we spend with them today has meaning tomorrow.

A Silver Lining

Family Circle 052614 0426

I do miss my kids when they are away for extended periods.  The oldest two are at Camp Seafarer on the coast of North Carolina; DJ for the whole summer, Stephanie for a month.  But what a great opportunity for Michelle and me!

I don’t think I realize how critically important it is to have that one-on-one time with my kids.  When you are shoved in a car together, just the two of you, for hours on end, you sing, you laugh, you talk!

Four times in the last year DJ and I have taken college tours, just the two of us.  We found a school, which was our ultimate goal, but we also began to build our impending adult relationship.

We nearly got trapped in an elevator; one trip we hit Chic Fil A four times in one day, we discovered Aloft Hotels and a mutual love of sushi.

i enjoyed a week with Stephanie when Michelle was at camp.  We ate out every, single night.  We took three walks around the neighborhood, she even advised me on the redecoration of the guest bedroom.  She has a good eye.

And now, it’s me and the little one.

How valuable it is.

I bet there are others in my life I should spend a bit of one-on-one with –

Co-workers

Nieces and nephews

My brother

Uncle Jesse (remember him?)

Friends who mean so much

Sometimes I hesitate because of time.  But generally, it’s laziness on my part.  A lack of motivation to take the time to make that call.

It’s difficult to build and maintain a relationship when you don’t make them a priority.  Perhaps I’ll work on that.

 

Lordy, Lordy, Driving Up I-40 (with a teenager at the wheel!)

Lucy driving

Number 2 got her driver’s permit this week.

Whew.

There are so many times I look at being a father and think, I’m going to miss this so much when they grow up.

I’m not thinking that with this particular task.  I HATE riding with people who don’t know how to drive!

After our two and a half hour visit to DMV (nah, we didn’t even have to take the driving test, and it took that long), I had a choice to make.  I could toss her behind the wheel immediately, or I could let her bask in her glory and put off the pain ‘til later.  I compromised.

I just couldn’t get the courage to let her drive down Wake Forest Road in Raleigh on the way home.  The lanes are as wide as the Food Lion ketchup aisle; even I grip the wheel a little tighter when riding by the TGI Fridays.  Instead, I drove a bit closer to the house and pulled over to switch seats.  That took 15 minutes.  Since there is a good foot between our heights, every mirror and seat setting had to be massively adjusted.  And, I had to remind her to put the car in drive – which is so very important.

After the switch, we headed up a fairly steep hill.  The car behind us was on our tail, because we were going 7 miles per hour.

“Give it some gas baby! Your grandparents are expecting us for Thanksgiving dinner, and we don’t want to be late.”

I understand the potential frustration of those driving nearby.  And yet, I don’t think they get the danger that abounds.  I want a Driver’s Ed sign on the top of my car so that there is an excuse for our roadway behavior.

We were driving down Wade Avenue to church this morning, and Stephanie was using the curbs like bumper cars.  There is more passenger side tire on the curbs in the 27607 zip code than there is on my car!  Why must she drive so close to the curb?  She practicing for a career as a street sweeper?

I never realized how difficult merging could be.   I think her Driver’s Ed teacher chickened out and spent the whole six hours they rode together in an empty warehouse parking lot.  Clearly he failed to make her road ready.

Yesterday I pondered two options for how we could get home.  I chose the one that went closest to the hospital.  The thought literally went through my head: which street would I most prefer to die on?  Lake Boone Trail or Edward’s Mill Road?  Well, Lake Boone is closer to the hospital, and we likely won’t clog up as much traffic there.  Plus, there is a Starbucks, perhaps I could pass through on my way up to heaven – offer Simon Peter a cup o joe… just in case.

I slept on my shoulder wrong last week and have had a massive crick in my neck for eight days.  I think it’s getting a bit better, and then I get in the car with my adolescent chauffeur.   Before we’re out of the driveway, my neck is so stiff I can’t nod.

Plus, she’s teeny!  Too teeny to drive.  She looks like the “Where’s the beef” lady from the old Wendy’s commercials.

I had my Sunday School class put us on the prayer list.  I’m not sure if we are going to die in an accident or if we’re going to kill each other in the process of trying to learn to drive.  Either way, things don’t look good in the Tanner household.

Searching for Meaning

I was recently talking with a friend about happiness.  She too has been through loss.

She shared a book with me by Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.  I haven’t read it yet, but she gave me the cliff notes.

Apparently happiness isn’t about how big your house is.  It’s not necessarily about your career, although it could be.  It’s not even solely based on who you love or who loves you back.  According to Frankl, true happiness comes from meaning.

Occasionally, I get the itch to go immerse myself in a community somewhere in the world that could really use a great YMCA director.  Sometimes I long to go.  To move into a mud hut with new mud hut buddies to help make their lives better.

As if me as a next door neighbor in the middle of the jungle could help.  The first sign of monsoon season or an anaconda and my behind would be on a flight back home.  And maybe it’s not them who need to be helped.  Perhaps it’s me.  It flabbergasts me when I see really poor people in the world laughing and having fun.  They must have meaning.

I believe I fear the loss of meaning.  How do you find it when your kids grow up?  If it is built around career, what happens when you retire or lose your job?  What if your purpose is to care for an ailing parent or a sick spouse?  What becomes of happiness when they no longer need you?

My friend and I discussed whether meaning was different for people of faith.  It probably should be.  Faith certainly helps me get through this life.  And yet, I’m no Mother Teresa.

 

I guess I need to stop trying to define happiness by belongings, or the size of my paycheck, or the number of friends I have.  Instead, my focus should be on what I’m doing to make life better for others.  Maybe that’s where I’ll find MY greatest joy.

Hand Cream?

glove compartment

Over the Fourth of July weekend, my mom and dad were riding with me in my car.  We were having a very nice conversation when my mother asked me a peculiar question:

“Do you have any hand cream in your car?”

“Hand cream?  Like lotion?”

“Yes.”

“No.  Surprisingly I don’t.”

“Well my car has hand cream.”

“I also don’t have shampoo, conditioner or baby powder in here.  Because this is the car, not the bathroom linen closet.”

“Do you have an umbrella?”

“Yes.  I have three.  And a bible – a kid’s bible, but it is there if you need inspiration.  We leave it here because Mrs. Shuman gets very mad if Michelle shows up for Sunday School without her bible, and although I believe us to be good people, it is not something I am prone to remembering on my way out the door on a Sunday morning.  So we just leave it in the car.”

My dad is a preacher.  He’s probably wondering why we aren’t using that well animated epistle on a Tuesday.

“I send her to get it when we have weekday bible emergencies.”

The next day, we took my dad’s minivan to the lake to see my brother.  I got curious, so I opened one of two large glove compartments on the passenger side of the car.

“That’s your mother’s,” my father explained.

And there before me was a mini Rite Aid.

Three pairs of reading glasses, Gas X, a baggie full of toilet seat covers (would she really come back to the car after going into a restroom and pulling down her pants to get one of those?), a miniature umbrella (in case she needed to sneak one into the White House on a rainy day tour perhaps), several packages of Lance Nabs (their half-life is decades), salt, pepper, creamer (with stirrer, because McDonald’s is cutting back), a hair pick (for maximum teasing), a rain jacket (that was my dad’s), a small, black clutch with rhinestones on it (you never know when you’re gonna get that unexpected call to attend a formal event), a fanny pack, pliers, M & Ms, pens, pencils, a typewriter (exaggerating!), and of course… hand cream.

That is not all, that’s just all I can remember.

I have never seen so much stuff crammed into one little 12” x 6” pocket.

She really ought to pack the next rocket going to the space station.  They would never want for anything.

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,950 other followers