Sunday Post 112: Facing My Nemesis

When you go through a major loss, simple things can become significant challenges.  For me, weekends, especially Saturday nights, became my nemesis.  I could face Monday through Friday with work and the kids’ school schedule.  I was busy, on the go.  I’d get home, feed the kids, help with homework, put them to bed and the exercise – maybe hit the sack at midnight or 1.  It was manageable.  But the thought of a full day, or worse the entire weekend, with the possibility of time that wasn’t crammed full of activity was overwhelming.

I feared the pain I’d experience if I stopped.  When my mind wasn’t maxed out, when my hands weren’t busy, the grief set in.

Saturday nights had been our nights.  Lisa and I would plan time with other families or get a sitter and have a nice dinner out, just the two of us.

It was my favorite time with her, sitting in a booth at a nice restaurant.  A couple of glasses of red wine, good food.  Our opportunity to talk about work, the kids and maybe more importantly, our dreams.

If I didnt’ have plans on a Saturday night, plans that included other adults, I went into a tailspin.  Sadness set in.  I became consumed with my lack of social activities.  I watched Jesse head out with his friends while I sat home watching the Disney channel with Michelle.

For the first time in my life, I dreaded the weekend.  What had been my favorite day of the week had become my enemy.  I feared the sixth day.

Last weekend, Michelle had a sleepover, and DJ had plans too.  Earlier in the week I asked Stephanie what she’d like to do on Saturday, that it was just be the two of us.  Her eyes got big, “Dad, can we go see a movie together?”

“Sure baby!  We’ll grab dinner too.”

As we walked through the open sidewalk on our way out of the movie Saturday night, we began playing our favorite outdoor game, Step on the crack and you break your (in our case) grandmother’s back.  Our hands were locked as I worked to force her  onto the lines that connected the concrete slabs.  A security guard at the mall gave me a huge smile and waved his hand as an encouraging gesture.

I smiled back, and realized I wasn’t afraid anymore.  I wasn’t consumed with my weekend plans.  I wasn’t obsessed with over planning my down time.  I could actually just hang around the house, enjoying some down time, doing some things that I wanted to do.  I was content to just be.

At that moment, there was nothing I would have rather been doing than holding hands with my 12-year-old and enjoying that time with her.

It took three years and nearly 150 Saturdays to get here.  But I’ve beat him – that obstacle is behind me.

Golden Corral or Bust

Posted by Danny

Jesse sold DJ on the Golden Corral.  He built it up like it was a trip to Disney World.  And their enthusiasm was infectious!  I, who harbors ill will toward a buffet, even got a little excited.

Our plan was to venture out on Saturday night after our long afternoon of shopping.  Jesse got last-minute tickets to the Hurricanes game (where incidentally he was tossed out for, according to him nothing).  He was visibly shaken that he might not be there when the girls were introduced to this gourmet mecca.  I think he almost turned the free ticket down – tough call for Jesse –

Front row at a sporting event versus the GC buffet

Sports won.

We walked in the front door on Saturday at 6:30 with my father-in-law only to find the lobby spilling over with eager “ready to bingers”.  With Jesse not there to coax me, I quickly decided we should return, with him, at a later date.

Tonight was right.  We all skipped our afternoon snacks and after picking DJ up from dance, headed around the corner to shove as much food in our mouths as humanly possible.

There was no line at 8 pm on a Wednesday night.  We walked right in to the beverage bar.  I sprang for soda, something I only do on special occasions.  THIS was that special day.

I started with a walk through, perusing the vast troughs of food.  Jesse joked that a shuttle bus would come by every ten minutes to take the kids to the far end of the buffet.  Heaven forbid we walk while experiencing a 6,000 calorie feast.

Michelle got a steak that was larger than her head.  She held it, in its entirity, on the end of her fork and chomped on the sides, juice dripping down her arm onto her white shirt.   

There was Chinese, Mexican, American, Italian, and seafood.  Country biscuits, yeast rolls, cornbread, cheese biscuits – and we tried them all.  We threw more food away tonight than we eat at most dinners.  We had soup, we had egg rolls, enchiladas and okra.  You want turkey and dressing or beets?  They’re down past the Indian fare.

When we could take no more, our stomachs jammed, we headed to the desert bar.  All three of the kids returned to the table with eyes lit up like Christmas morning.  Stephanie’s dessert plate was packed with chocolate pie, chocolate covered marshmallows and fruit, and soft serve ice cream sprinkled with M & M’s.  To top it off, at Jesse’s suggestion, a big fat yeast roll.  Nearing the end of the seventh course, I looked at Stephanie, the bread hanging between her lips. 

“Stop eating!” I strongly suggested.

“I just can’t Daddy,” she replied.

I thought we were through.  But the piece de la resistance…pink cotton candy – with no ferris wheel or Carnie in sight.  It was too good to be true.

On the way home, I heard the crumpling of paper.  Glancing in the rear view mirror I could see Michelle munching on saltine crackers she’d pocketed from the soup bar.

“Enough!” I shouted.  “We’ve had enough!  If you put one more thing in your mouth, you’re going to explode.”

“OK Daaad, but why are you driving so fast?”

“No particular reason….I call first dibs on the downstairs bathroom!”

It could be a very long night.

Just Between You And Me

Posted by Jesse

You may have already seen this video of the twin baby boys chatting each other up in the kitchen. You can check out more of these web darlings at their mother’s blog, www.twinmamarama.com (the mother also happens to be a twin). When I came across the video yesterday I immediately posted it onto the Facebook wall of the set of twins I’m closest with. Between seeing what a great relationship those twins have, and now getting video confirmation that twins are just plain awesome, I’m more convinced than ever I want to have a set of twin boys at some point.

The video also reminded me of my own secret language, that of the third child. Four years ago when we were both bored waiting for food at a restaurant, Michelle and I began talking to each other in “third kid speak”. I told her it was a language that only third-borns could understand, and it was basically a series of squawks and squeaks not all too different from the twins’ dialect.

It was really more of an acting game, and what made it fun for me was how quickly Michelle picked it up, especially at a young age. Though the words were nonsensical (“bee-da-BOO-bop?” and “ahhh…latta-beeka-woo”), we would use inflection, facial expressions, body language, and repetition of sounds to really give the impression that we were talking to each other.

For example, when sitting in a restaurant, if you tap the person sitting next to you and say, “Lapaaaaa…A-rak-a ma-kee-na-do-way?” and look around quizzically as if you’re looking for something, you can clearly communicate that you are looking for the restroom. I might have replied to such an inquiry from Michelle with some head-swiveling to survey the restaurant, a point to the back corner and “Raaaah…la pee-ta ruku she-ma-too-da, a-rashana mayku ratalama”, which of course means, “Ummm…I haven’t been yet but I think it’s back over that way.”

It was a great way for killing time, especially since waiting patiently was never one of my strengths, a third child trait that Michelle has in spades. We were even exclusive about it; sometimes poor Stephanie would want to play and might jump in with her own jabbering. We would look at her like she was crazy and making up words.

“No,” we’d tell her (in english). “You can’t understand it. It’s only for third children.”

Then we would laugh and go back to talking in our own language. (yes, yes, you can take me off of your uncle of the year ballot for that one, but I maintain it’s good to, every now and then, side up with one of the nieces against the rest of the family. Just ask Stephanie how much I have done for her advancement into the front seat of the car despite DJ’s threatening protests)

We don’t dabble in third child babble much any more. Regretfully, the last time Michelle engaged me in our private language I brushed her off because I was watching a basketball game. Like tickling and picking up and laughing at body noises, there’s probably a cut-off date when these things will no longer be amusing or even possible.

But I bet on, say, her wedding day I could lean in and whisper in Michelle’s ear “ma-kee-la a-tu-ree-ka-ma-do” and she would smile and know exactly what I meant.

This All Started Innocently Enough…

POSTED BY JESSE

We’re eating out for dinner tonight, and it’s not my fault. Well, not REALLY not my fault.

See, there are basically two adults in this house. Danny is one. And DJ and I combine make up the other adult. We have enough grown-up between the two of us to equal one adult. This can be good or bad. In a good way, it means there are three people with “adult-like” qualities, so we can spread ourselves out and cover most things. But the down side is that if DJ and I team up for some mischief, there’s really no one to stop us.

You could, actually, blame it on the blog.

You see, earlier today, Danny concluded his blog post by saying:

Think we’ll just go out to eat for dinner; I’m tired

Only DJ and I (bloodhounds that we are) detected thawing bean and chicken soup in the sink this morning at breakfast. We knew he had no intentions of going out to dinner. He was lying on the blog! We felt justified in taking corrective measures.

This afternoon, just before Danny got home, I called up to her:

“Hey DJ, want to stick the soup back in the freezer so we have to go out to dinner for Valentine’s Day?”

No hesitation from her: “YES! I almost did it earlier, but I didn’t want to do it on my own because I didn’t want to, you know, like get in trouble.”

See what I mean? Team up the two half-adults and we can’t be stopped. She was way too enthusiastic for me not to go through with it. But I had to pretend to be sensible:

Me: “Yeah, but you get out of dance late…”

DJ: “Yeah, but Stephanie already did piano and me and Stephanie already did homework. And Michelle never has homework!”

Me: “Ok…maybe we can convince him to pick up chinese.”

The soup really did look and smell good. I'm glad we have more.

Finally we decide to go through with it, though we’re still not clear on the reveal. Only AS WE’RE PUTTING THE SOUP IN THE FREEZER Danny literally comes through the door. Almost busted! We hastily toss the soup into the freezer as he blows by us to the bedroom (probably has to pee). Maybe too hastily.

Danny ventures back out to pick up Michelle, so DJ and I work on what the excuse is going to be (by the way, she’s waaay to good at brainstorming excuses for a 13-year old). DJ is just about to bolt for her dance carpool. She opens the freezer to check on the soup and WHAM! One of the containers explodes on the floor. A pile of beans and chicken, with soup slowly spreading across the kitchen like the blood of a gunshot victim. Oops.

DJ’s out the door leaving me holding the bag. Stephanie, who was all too content to just shout out suggestions for dining options should we pull this off, is now very interested. She comes downstairs in time to snap some pictures of me cleaning (my blog instincts weren’t sharp enough to grab a snapshot of the whole spill. It was grand).

the "chalk outline" of the soupy victim

Steph asks me:

“What are you going to tell him?”

“I guess I’ll just have to tell him the truth, huh?”

But not before shooting it out in a quick blog post, right?

(by the way, he’s been home 30 minutes now and still hasn’t noticed the soup missing or the smell of beans and chicken in the air. Guess I do a pretty good clean-up job!)

just desserts?

Sadlacks or Bust

Posted by Danny

When I was a kid we lived on Birkshire Road in Fayetteville, NC.  Our house was the one where every kid would spend the entire summer.  The boy across the street would arrive at our house at 8 am and my mom would finally kick him out at dusk.  We’d play hide in go seek, boyland and girlland (I won’t go into the details but let your mind run wild!), and once my older brother had us shoot darts at people’s bare butts – the kind of dart with a suction cup on the end.  Being the younger brother, I was never the target – primarily because I was a tattle tail and he knew better.  I don’t think they ever stuck, but it was a remarkable thing to try.

Lisa and I had talked about wanting to be the house where kids were comfortable hanging out.  I think she thought she’d have a better chance getting the poop on all of the boys.  I just like people and noise.  I also like to think of myself as cool.  My oldest daughter would not concur – but I’ve seen some of her friend’s dads and I’m really not that bad (no offense dudes). 

It hit me late last spring.  With Lisa gone, there was a good chance that my kids would not have the same social opportunities as others.  In our world, Lisa was the inviter – she invited people to dinner, she invited kids for play dates, she invited kids over to spend the night, she coordinated and invited to their birthday parties.  I greeted the pizza man at the door and made sure he was paid.  If I didn’t do something, my kids would spend their birthdays around our kitchen bar with a Food Lion cake and four grandparents cheering them on, period.  I had a new role to play – I’d seen her do it.  Certainly with my background as a Y camp counselor and my  incredible role model in Lisa, I could handle the kids’ social activities.

My first attempt was a birthday party for Stephanie.  We invited 12 girls for dinner at a local pizza joint, followed by popsicles at Loco Pops and then…the sleepover.  I let Michelle have a friend over and threw in two for DJ.  Grandparents helped with transportation.

After we ate, I took Michelle and Stephanie and their friends and headed out on Hillsborough Street near the NC State campus.  It was about a five block walk from pizza to popsicles.  With the grandfolks blocks behind us, the 16 of us started chanting Y songs as we strolled down the road.

Form the Orange

Form form the orange

Peel the orange

Peel peel the orange

Squeeze the orange

Squeeze squeeze the orange

The songs had motions and we all sang at full capacity.  As we walked by the outdoor seating at Porter’s, a local restaurant, the diners lobbed out support – “Isn’t that cute.”

We eventually hit Sadlack’s, an institution in Raleigh:  an outdoor bar with live music, a very eclectic crowd.  I wasn’t sure how the clientele would respond to our fruity melodyies.  I was pleasantly surprised, “Whoa, whoa – way to go old man!”  “Check that dude out!”  “You need this (holding out his beer) more than I do!”  I felt like a rock star.

I’ve tried to continue to support my kids when they want to bring friends in.  Tonight, we have the school cheerleading squad over – about 15 girls.  They are dancing, they are laughing, they are LOUD!  And they are awesome.

I’m really not that cool.  They don’t give me the time of day.  But I know that if Lisa could see this, she’s be smiling from cheek to cheek.

Oh, and rest assured I locked up all of the suction darts before the party started!

Happy (Chinese) New Year!

POSTED BY JESSE

I like thinking about which of Lisa’s traits will show up in which of her three daughters. Stephanie has her sense of do-good and the ability to be instantly hypnotized by a television. Michelle loves to laugh and make other people laugh.

And DJ, I am almost certain, will be a slave to tradition, just like her mother. She will one day host the whole family for Christmas Eve dinner, and she will spend the entire afternoon cursing the Christmas cookies. It is her destiny.

I know this because she already favors the customary, especially in this, her 8th grade and final year at St. Timothy’s. The most excited she got during Cross Country season was making sure the team dyed their hair and painted their faces for the final race, as had become the tradition. She takes great delight in participating (and being active in) annual events like the Homecoming pep rally, game, and dance. If her high school classmates are wise (or happen to know anything about her mother) they will go ahead and put her in charge of reunions for life when they’re all in 9th grade together next year.

She even has habitual things she likes to say when we’re driving around parts of Raleigh (often times it is a repeat of her first misperception of whatever the locale is). She’ll even declare that she has started a new tradition: “I used to think that building was a McDonald’s. I think I’m going to say ‘I thought that was a McDonald’s as a kid’ every time we drive by there from now on.”

And she has.

It was really no surprise to hear that after last Friday night’s dance she and Kimmy Gibbler were going by Red Dragon (our local chinese place) for dinner–it’s one of DJ’s favorite restaurants. But she seemed so adamant about going there, and making it before the restaurant closed, that I was curious as to why it was such a big deal.

I should have known: DJ and Kimmy had started a tradition of hanging out on New Year’s Eve a few years back. This year the Tanner family enjoyed some beach time with some of DJ’s other friends’ families for the New Year weekend. They had a good time, of course, but she was sad to break her tradition of hanging out with Kimmy.

The solution? The post-dance trip to Red Dragon was really a celebration of the Chinese New Year (which began officially, I read, on Thursday), and the pair had a sleepover that night. Tradition saved. Clever kids.

Oh, and FYI I discovered that, as suspected, Michelle and I are cosmically destined to be similar. We are both Horses under the Chinese zodiac. I also discovered that Horses were very compatible with Dogs, which is what Lisa was. I don’t know if she liked being a “Dog” but the description was pretty fitting: “In their career and love, they are faithful, courageous, dexterous, smart and warm-hearted.”

When The Cat Is Away….

POSTED BY JESSE

The mice work on school projects and go to the mall. And need a lot more chauffeuring.

The division of parenting labor in the Tanner household is greatly misrepresented by this here blog (although Danny has been grumbling about how much more than me he’s been writing, so maybe the blog is representative). It is not a 50-50 deal. I wouldn’t even say 60-40. No, if you totaled up the time spent with kids, chores, driving etc. to calculate the total parenting time and then split it between us….I’d say it comes out closer to 80-20. Or 90-10. And then on weekends it goes to about 95-5…or sometimes 99-1.

But there is the occasional weekend when Danny is out of town, like he was this past weekend with Michelle. Here’s a recap of how I held it down with Stephanie and DJ:

Friday night Stephanie had a basketball game. I had to use a picture of her on the bench because I was using my phone’s low tech camera and all the action ones stunk. Sports are not the Tanner family forte (more posts to come on this for sure), but I think she genuinely enjoys team activities and you could tell she had friends on the team. And she got a rebound! She didn’t remember it, but the first shot of the game that went up bricked off the rim, hit the floor, and bounced into her hands. And that, my friends, is a rebound.

Stephanie also has become aware that she’s not wearing cool mesh basketball shorts (I think she payed in pink soffe shorts all last season) and wants to get a pair. I completely respect this, and even tried to find the smallest pair of mesh shorts I had to cinch on her for the game, but she said they were still too big. I need to remind Danny to pick up a pair of black mesh ones for her.

Afterwards we went out to dinner with friends who had a game on the other court at the same time. Bruce actually paid a babysitter to stay with the girls Friday night (because he didn’t want me to give up two weekend nights. as if I got plans.) and was peeved that I was late bringing them back because it meant he was paying the world’s best baby-sitter (she is. I have mentioned her before. we are not giving up her info because we want her as available as possible for when we call. sorry.) to just sit at his house. But you have to go out to dinner on a Friday night after a YMCA basketball game, right? I’m pretty sure it’s required. Besides, the world’s best baby-sitter was holding court with DJ and her friends when we got there. All joking aside, it reminded me how “non-female” Danny and I are (and I mean that in the most biological sense. we’re not macho by any means.). That despite the fact that he is a super-caring and attentive and a doting father, and I can be a decent listening ear at times, neither one of us can hold “girl talk”. Fortunately we have a rotating cast of characters who fall through the house to do some of that. We need to make sure we continue to.

You can knock her hoops game, but the girl can do some WORK. I smell a Sallie.

On Saturday morning DJ had to go sort potatoes for community service hours for a club she’s in, so Stephanie and I worked on her Helen Keller book report timeline project. I am not all that helpful with school projects and it’s not because I take a principled stance against parents who do their kids’ work for them, it’s because I’m lazy and easily bored (but sometimes I do hide behind my “fostering independence” justification).

I am, however, great at suggestions for projects (I’m like a golf caddy for life). I explained how the illustrations didn’t have to be literal interpretations, so for a picture of Helen Keller’s mother dying, we didn’t have to find a picture of Mrs. Keller’s actual coffin, we could merely cut out a picture of a graveyard from a magazine. And I helped make her a little chart to organize which points on the timeline go with which years, and which pictures, and which captions so we could then see what we still needed to collect.

She cut them all out perfectly in, like, 3 minutes. See? I AM fostering independence.

She asked for help in cutting out all the pictures, and I didn’t even have a good basketball game to say I needed to watch. But I was saved by the rubric: 4 points for neat cutting . “I really don’t think I should cut pictures if that’s part of what you’re getting graded on.” Whew, that was close.

I texted a friend that I was working on a Helen Keller biography project. The text I got back: “Are you going to throw in some Helen Keller jokes to show she’s still a cultural icon?” I didn’t have the heart to tell Stephanie that those horribly cruel jokes are the only thing I can recall about the poor woman.

Later that day Stephanie went with Nana (my mom) to get a haircut, and then I took her to a birthday party. She said this birthday party was for one of her BFFLs (best friends for life). There are a lot of things that are different about the way the Tanner girls have grown up and the way I did, but I realized a glaring one this weekend: as a child my closest friends were literally my closest friends (the latter geographically speaking). I could ride my bike, if not walk, to all of their houses in under five minutes. None of the girls’ closest friends live within a 30-minute driving round-trip of them. Score one for public schools, I guess.

The second half of Saturday had only two objectives: finding DJ a dress at the mall, and watching the N.C. State-UNC game. Unfortunately, these events coincided. My only hope in winning out in this conflict was if DJ couldn’t find anyone else to go to the mall with, because she had told me, “I’m not going to the mall with just you.” Well then.

I don’t know if she put out an emergency all call “stuck with UNCLE for mall trip! please help!” text or just got the first person she tried, but she quickly had someone. Darn. Off to the mall we went.

I dropped off and parked and assured them I would try not to be on the same floor, much less the same store, as them. But I got bored after looking at some basketball shoes, so I started cruising some of the stores I thought they were likely to be browsing to see if I could embarrass them. Therefore, at 2:10, the approximate tip time of the Pack-Heels game the, here was my view…

…of H&M. But they weren’t there. I tried J. Crew, too, but gave up when I didn’t see them there. We were supposed to meet up at the food court so I texted with DJ and eventually we did. Honestly? I didn’t mind not being in front of the TV at tip, and I kind of enjoy being the person that makes it possible for DJ to technically be at the mall without any parents. In today’s world of DVR, I’m a lot less up tight about seeing things live (and, really, it was just the State game).

DJ and Kimmy Gibbler entertained themselves when we got back while I watched the game on a slight delay (I was caught up by mid-second half). Side note: the scheme to convert all three girls into full-fledged Carolina fans is going swimmingly. Thank you, Sidney Lowe.

If you bought this dress to wear to Friday night's dance, TAKE IT BACK because DJ's wearing it.

Later DJ and I went to get some yogurt at this place called Freshberry, where you get as much frozen yogurt as you want and can pile on your own toppings. My favorite part about one-on-one time with DJ is how much she is like an adult. You can level with her, gossip with her, she fully understands sarcasm in humor, you don’t have to change the song because it has one bad word in it, we can make fun of Danny, etc.

Then she rode with me to pick up Stephanie and we tried to steal things out of Steph’s party favor bag. I can’t even remember the comment, but Stephanie said something that made me laugh out loud. It also made me realize how close she is to being an “almost adult” like DJ.

I tucked Stephanie in that night and tickled her a lot because I realized that as they become more fun to talk to like grown-ups, the sacrifice is you can’t pick them up as much. By contrast: I stuck my head in DJ’s room (she was doing homework because she had missed some days being sick. what a kid.) and asked her if she needed me to tuck her in. She said “nah”, she’d probably be asleep soon. I said “cool” and fell asleep on the couch watching Saturday Night Live.

Sunday was another busy day for Stephanie: early service and 11:00 church because her group was doing a moment for mission (but someone else gave her a ride down for the early service. THANKS!), then eat lunch and change for basketball practice, followed by another outfit change for cotillion. For lunch I made grilled cheeses with DJ on my back about how they weren’t the way Mae (Danny’s mom) makes them.

After I dropped at cotillion, Danny was back in town, so we resumed our 90/10 ratio. All in all, though, a solid weekend.

Out To Lunch

Posted by Uncle Jesse

School was let out early on the threat of snow, so I picked up at noon. I believe there’s an unwritten rule that if school gets out early you are required to go out to lunch, so I took the gang to one of my favorite lunch places: Big Ed’s

"yes, separate checks, please."

Of course, none of the girls were familiar with Big Ed’s, so it was met with skepticism.

From the back left seat: “Can’t we go to Panera?”

From the back right seat: “I vote for Noodles!”

Me, from the driver’s seat: “Oh you must have misunderstood. I did not say ‘get your votes in for lunch choice,’ I said ‘we’re going to Big Ed’s.'”

Big Ed’s serves breakfast and lunch, plus I was pretty sure they did a mean grilled cheese, so I knew we were covered. Plus, when you start the lunch order with “Three Dr. Pepper’s, please” lunch is pretty much guaranteed to go well.

DJ, Stephanie, and I all ordered lunch items, while Michelle opted for breakfast. This worked out well, because Steph wanted grits instead of fries with her grilled cheese, so we asked for the free grits that came with Michelle’s meal to be put in a small dish and slid it across the table to Steph. Cross-ordering for multiple kids is not something I’d say I’ve mastered yet, but I’m getting better.

Scrambled eggs covered with cool

But the best line of lunch, hands down, went to Michelle, who conceded after spicing up her eggs with salt and pepper: “I don’t really like pepper on my eggs, it just makes my eggs look cool.”

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