She Did It!

She did it! DJ, my oldest, graduated from The George Washington University with a degree in Media and Public Affairs. If you have a hunkering to hire someone with a degree in Media and Public Affairs, please let me know! After her summer commitments, she will be aggressively seeking full time employment.

We had a great time on graduation weekend in DC. Good dinners, met her favorite professor, spent time getting to know her closest friends and their parents and then… we went to the graduation ceremony.

This event was held on DC’s National Mall, right in front of the Washington Monument.

The idea of it was so exciting! I remember at freshman orientation receiving the pitch, “If your child comes to GW, they will graduation on the National Mall with the Washington Monument in the background and the White House behind you.” So stinkin’ cool, I thought.

It wasn’t cool.  It was in fact, hot. VERY HOT. Like 120 degrees HOT!

We arrived more than an hour in advance to score decent seats. I had planned to wear a suit but thankfully settled on a dress shirt, no jacket. This was concerning to me because I like to dress the part. When I go to the theater, I wear a sports coat. I am sort of appalled at those who walk in with cargo shorts and Reeboks. I know, folks are looking for comfort. But do we all have to be comfortable all the time?

We sat, with the sun on our backs, roasting while we waited for the graduates to arrive. My father wasn’t feeling great that day. He quickly took his program and tucked it in the collar of his shirt to protect his neck from the rays. The woman in front of us had an umbrella. The ushers made her take it down.

Thirty minutes in my dad was leaned over with his head propped on his cane.

“Mom, is dad ok?”

“Oh he’s fine. He just didn’t get enough sleep last night. He’s resting.”

“Or maybe he is having a heat stroke!”

It only took the 2,000 graduates 40 minutes to process through the crowds and up to their seats. I could not find my child. She sat with her best friends, apparently on the other side of the event. One of them, well perhaps all of them, had a bit too much to drink the night before. He wore a t-shirt, dress shirt, sports coat and his polyester robe. As I understand it, by the end he looked as if he had been submerged into Lincoln’s reflecting pool.

We started the ceremony with a row full of Tanners. Mom and dad.  Julie, Stephanie, Michelle and me. An aunt, uncle and their two young children. Julie finally took my parents and the girls back to a small shady area closer to the White House. I though she might knock on the door and ask Melania if they could observe from their covered porch. The aunt and her daughter joined them in the shade. About an hour in we decided it was best to send the grandparents back to the hotel. Michelle and Stephanie eagerly agreed to help Julie with those logistics. The rest of the family was close behind.

I, however, was committed. If the event lasted ten hours, I was determined I would stay. I needed closure.

As I sat in this long aisle of now empty seats, important people spewing advice from the stage, I pondered.

I’d had a tremendous amount of help raising this child. For twelve years we were a normal family. After Lisa died, grandparents, other family and friends jumped in to support. And yet, perhaps I felt the greatest level of responsibility for this little life. With some good things I did through the year, and many times, not so good, this kid had won. She had grown up to be an independent, confident and capable adult. And for that, I am proud!

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One Down, two to go

At age 17, in late August of 1983, I drove my blue and white, two door Chevy Chevette to Wingate College in Monroe, NC, where I started my secondary education. My mom was in the car with me. My father followed with the majority of my stuff in tow.

Still 17, in mid-September, 1983, I surprisingly fit all of my belongings back into my Chevette and drove myself back home. I can’t really explain what happened. I didn’t have a traumatic experience or anything. I just didn’t want to go there anymore.

As I recall, my father got all or most of his money back, which lightened the blow a bit. But still, if I couldn’t be successful at a college that was only two hours from my house, that was about the same size as my high school, with two of my best friends in in a dorm nearby, it certainly appeared I might likely stay with my parents forever.

To all of our surprise, even mine, I headed to NC State the following fall, a gigantic university in the capital city, and never looked back.

This weekend, DJ graduates from The George Washington University in DC. I’m not sure why they call it THE George Washington University, but they are very specific about the THE. Perhaps there are other GW wanna be’s and the THE brands this one as the real one.

I recall the drop off at her dorm. I had to don sunglasses inside to hide my welled up eyes. She was OK, but not great either. DJ had four roommates and two of them had arrived early and scored the primo corners of the very small room. She was stuck with the girl from Vermont with the smaller closet and bunk beds. I tried ever so hard to make lemonade.

“Maybe the top bunk will be warmer in the winter.  Heat rises ya’ know.”  I had a lump in my throat for a full 24 hours anticipating the final goodbye.

We hid her plastic “Pink Baby” in her pillow case. She’d slept with her since she was two. I cried like a blubbering idiot the first fifty miles headed home. But I adjusted, and she did too.

A lot has changed in four years for both of us.

I have since dropped a second child off and only cried for twenty miles when I left.

DJ lives in a brownstone near campus and spent a semester sailing around Australia.

I redecorated her bedroom at home and finally stopped trying to plan spring break trips for the family – which she was not interested in attending.

She interned at Politico and worked at the Correspondent’s Dinner a couple of weeks ago. She did not meet Robin Roberts or David Muir. But cool nonetheless.

I exercise and stretch more since she left and have dabbled in hot yoga. I’m spending a bit more time on me.

She jogged to find the Chic-Fil-A food truck simply to get a taste of home.

We’ve both come a long way.  And I’m sure we both have a long way to go.

But dang, I’m so stinkin’ proud of her accomplishments!

Spreading Wings

Lucy graduation

I know – I logically know that the progression is natural.  They are born.  You cuddle and cradle them.  You feed them.  You attend all of their school events and dance and piano recitals.  You help them with their homework and clean their rooms and braid their hair.  And then… they leave.

It makes sense.  We all did it.  It is normal.

And yet, when they toss up that tasseled cap with such exuberance, a little piece of me flies away too.

DJ did it.  Now it is Stephanie’s turn.

There is part of me that is relieved.  There were times that I never thought we’d make it, especially after the loss of Lisa.  There were days that I would have relished less responsibility, less little people fully dependent upon me for nearly everything.

But not today.  No.  Not today.

If I could bundle her cute little self up in a blanket and walk back 15 years, I’d do it in a minute.  I’d go back to her falling into a deep, deep sleep on my shoulder – drool and all, sweet soft cheeks nestled on my neck.  I return to the summer that we worked so diligently trying to get her to learn her colors to no avail.  I would ask her yet again to remove her two front fingers from her mouth, her version of the thumb suck.  I’d feed her smashed green beans from a jar and be excited when she spit them back at me.  I’d change her diaper and stay up with her when she had the never ending fever, and she looked at me so drained, so helpless.  I’d sit through another two hour awards assembly just to see her walk across the stage for six seconds.  I’d buy another leotard – damn those things wear fast, and the expensive shoes from Uniquities that made her prom dress look just right.

This time, I’d do it all with a great big smile on my very tired face.

Yep.  They grow up.  And we take their presence for granted until they’re gone and the house is quiet.

I’m so proud of this kid.  She is smart and poised and gracious and caring.  And I just enjoy being with her.  Not everyone can say that about their child.

I’m thankful for our time.  I’m excited about the future.  I miss the past.

So Long St. Tim’s

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June 15, 2017

 

Dear St. Timothy’s School,

Our relationship started in the fall of 1995.  My wife took a job with you, her second “real” job.

It was 2002 when our first, DJ, walked through your doors as a timid kindergartener.  Although her mother worked at the school, that did not stop DJ from holding onto her skirt and shedding a massive amount of tears at drop off for a significant portion of the year.

Fifteen years later, as our youngest finishes the eighth grade and we end our time with you, I reflect.

You have produced three honor roll students, two Mary’s in the Christmas pageant, one head cheerleader, at least one Student Body President (my memory fails me), a soloist at graduation, several runners (sort of) and a couple of Headmaster Award winners.  Each kid with varying personalities and talents were challenged.  Each left feeling as if she was capable of tackling the world.

When we were at our lowest, you surrounded our family – wrapping us in your safety.  You hired the teacher who bought our youngest new tennis shoes in the middle of the school day because I was so buried in grief I hadn’t noticed the sole was falling off.  You employed the art teacher who still meets my sophomore in college for lunch when she returns to town and the literature teacher who confessed that Stephanie was one of her all-time favorite kids.  There was the teacher who confessed to my child who wet her pants that she sometimes did the same; the one who brought To Kill A Mockingbird to life and the one who texted me with excitement when my kid cut 40 seconds off her mile in track.  Oh, and the one who didn’t get mad when our family went to school early to cover his car in post-it notes.

You allowed us to heal in an unconventional way – singing Christmas Carols in your hallways to an accepting audience; inviting Uncle Jesse and me to referee the staff/student annual basketball game; taking pictures when two alumni and a father arrived at the first day of school last fall dressed in old school uniforms.  You let us be us – supporting, giving space when appropriate, holding kids’ and father’s hands when needed.

I’m not sure, but I can’t imagine there are many schools that so readily allow kids to feel so safe, so comfortable that they can truly be themselves.  You have done just that for my girls.

I am forever indebted.

Thank you to all:  teachers, staff, administrators, parents and students for what you have done to build a most solid foundation in my kids and for helping to rebuild my family.

Danny Tanner

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.

One More Thing I’m Bad At

I sort of thought I was beyond the point where I was going to find things I was bad at as a “mom.”  I mean, it is clear that fashion for teenage females is not a strength.  Navigating and understanding the girls’ friendships is also a struggle for me.  The list of things that my wife could do better with raising daughters would be about the same length as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Unfortunately, last week, we discovered another.

Two months ago I received an email informing me that I needed to send five photos to be included in the end of year slide show for the mother/daughter charity league that DJ has been a member of since she was in 7th grade.  Aunt Sallie has been the stand in mom for the past few years.

The deadline for submitting the photos was January 5.  So, on January 4th I began digging through Shutterfly and Facebook to find pics that I felt would be appropriate representations of DJ’s life and interests.

This was my thinking:

Pic #1:  Lisa and DJ, for it is a mother/daughter club and they did start it together.

Bailey Ham 3

Pic #2:  DJ and Aunt Sallie, for Sallie is her stand in mom for the National Charity League.

Bailey Ham 4

Pic #3:  DJ and me, for I have received the 29,652 emails about this club for the past five years and I deserve some credit.  I know this one is a bit unconventional, but I felt it captured our relationship fairly well.

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Pic #4:  DJ sailing at Camp Seafarer – sailing is cool; she loves camp; lots of girls in NCL go to camp.

Bailey sailing 2

Pic #5:  DJ, in full costume at our annual performance of A Christmas Carol – which has been a huge part of our lives for the past four years.

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While I was at it, I ordered some photos for my photo album.

When they arrived, I proudly displayed them on the coffee table.  Smart dad!  Ordered photos so all can remember their childhood!  What a Lisa thing to do.

I was quite dismayed when my daughters began informing me how much they hated some of the pictures I had ordered.

“Oooo.  That is a horrible photo of me.  You ARE NOT framing that one!”

“But I LOVE that picture.  You look so cute.”

DJ nearly had a stroke when she saw the photo from A Christmas Carol in her Chimney Sweep getup.

“Dad, where did this come from?  It’s terrible.”

“Well I like it.  In fact, it is one of the photos I sent in for the NCL slide show.  It is one of my favorites.”

STOP THE BUS.

I’m sure parents of teenaged girls can imagine the next ten minutes in our house.  I was berated.  The pic was forwarded to friends who confirmed that I was an idiot and inept at choosing senior slide show pictures.  I was informed that DJ was taking over the next deadline, the yearbook ad, which also called for photograph selection and the crafting of a public message.

She then discovered that I had sent the sailing pic which was apparently a selfie.  I had no idea that you were not to send selfies in for senior slide shows.  I looked back at the original email, and that was not outlined as a guideline for photo selection.

She went as far as to text the Christmas Carol picture to one of her stand in moms with this message:

Dad sent this picture in for a senior slide show.  This is why I need a mother!

Had there been a fifty year old woman at the house that night, I believe she would have made me get married on the spot simply to insure there would be someone else to help guide me through the next four months.

I will say that one of her sweet friends told her that although she totally agreed with DJ about the picture, she could sort of see why a father might think it was a sweet picture of his daughter.

Go Kimmy!

I also informed DJ that the difference between her mother and me was that I would send in new slides and ask to delete the ones she did not like.  Had Lisa incorrectly chosen, she would have told DJ to suck it up and go to her room.

I wish I had more chutzpah.

PS: DJ did give me permission to put these photos on my blog because “only old people read it.”

Purchase Danny’s Book Laughter, Tears and Braids: Amazon or Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

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