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.”  I also don’t have shampoo, conditioner or baby powder.”

“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.

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.

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