Letting Go

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Next week I drop my oldest kid off at college.  How did it come to this?

I mean, I assumed she’d grow up, this should not be a surprise.  But damn Sam – I’ll be fifty this month, and she is gone.  In my mind, I am thirty-two, and she should be going to kindergarten.

She still has blonde curly hair, just like the day she entered this world.

At first glimpse, I thought Lisa had birthed a Smurf.  Her head was cone shaped, and her skin was blue.

“What’s wrong with our baby?,” I asked the nurse.  “She’s the color of Gatorade.  And her head is a triangle.”

“She’ll get her color,” the nurse assured me.  “She is the first through the birth canal.  She’s a pioneer!  Her head will smooth out.”

I was thankful I had an older brother.

I used to carry her on my shoulders.  I can’t do that anymore without risk of paralysis.

I read to her every night and most often we had a tickle party.

“Daaaaddy.  Will you tickle me?” she’d ask.

The moment I’d start she’d curl up into a ball and implore me to stop.

Even when she was older I’d pray with her each night, and we’d argue about who loved each other more.

“I love you the mostest!”

“No!  I love YOU the mostest!”

In high school, she danced like a champ, the most graceful girl on the stage.  I worked hard not to miss the special moments in her life, particularly over the past five years.  I wanted to be there since her mother couldn’t be.  I hope that one day I’ll have the opportunity to recount DJ’s life for the woman I most loved.

I was at a funeral last month for a man who was about a decade older than me.  His two daughters spoke at the service.  They both gushed about the father who had raised them.  As one shared memories of how he had parented, she said, and then he gave me wings, the greatest gift he could have given.

In theory, it doesn’t seem that hard.  She has to do all the work, all I have to do is let go.

And yet, what a scary thing to do.

Sunday Post 192: So Embarrassing

halloween

I know that at times I embarrass my children, but usually it’s intentional.  Nothing makes me happier than to walk out of the house with a teenaged daughter wearing black socks with my tennis shoes.  Yeah, in some circles that’s in…but only if the socks have the Nike swoosh on the side.  I got my swooshless socks from Walmart.

I revel in their pleas for parental normalness.  My office elevator has had rails on the back wall and mirrors from ceiling to floor.  When a kid and I enter, I prop both feet on the rail and break out in song!  “Dad, you’re so weird!  Stop singing Prince in the elevator!  Someone’s gonna come in here!”

It’s actually very cool.  You can see your performance from a bird’s eye view if you keep your eyes lifted up.

But the embarrassment is on my terms.  Not theirs.

On Halloween, I worked to get home at a decent hour.  DJ and Stephanie had an event at their school so I was prepared to trick or treat with Michelle.  I knew that my door to door days were waning, but I thought I had at least one more year.

As she put on her costume, I readied myself.  I put on a sweater, jeans and made a sign for our candy dish on an index card:  Please take one or two, we’ll be home shortly.  I taped it to a long pencil and stuck it in the middle of the M&Ms and Starburst Fruit Chews.

I put a can of beer in a koozie and called up to my 12-year-old Oreo, “You ready to go?”

She came downstairs and eyeballed the situation.  She was clear in her words, “It’s a little embarrassing to have your dad trick or treat with you.  I mean, I’m old enough to go by myself.  Ellen is only 11, and her Mr. Young said she could go with me – alone.”

Unfortunately there was no one around to remove the dagger that had been pierced through my heart.  I stood there, bleeding, pondering my options.  I knew it was time to let go.

“You got your cell phone?”

“Yes.”

“Dellwood Drive and Elvin Court ONLY.  If you want to go further, I’ll come meet you.”

“Thanks dad!”  She gave me a hug.

As she walked away, I yelled, “Be home by 8.”

I slowly walked into the kitchen and removed the help yourself sign.

It’s more fun to watch your kids grow up with your spouse. Fortunately Jesse dropped by and chatted while Michelle galavanted across the neighborhood. I wonder if they’ll be home for Christmas.

Sunday Post 179: The Freight Train of Life

It makes me sad that I don’t love summer anymore. It used to be my favorite time of the year.

In 2009, in the three months that preceded Lisa’s diagnosis of cancer, we took a trip to Yellowstone National Park, our weeklong annual getaway to Topsail Island, a couples only weekend trip to Lake Gaston with our best friends and our August jaunt to West Virginia. The day after Christmas, 2008, I began looking forward to summer. Each day brought me closer to the excitement of time with family, a clear calendar and 4 pm Happy Hour.

It hasn’t been the same since.

Although I still enjoy the beach, DJ’s absence is noticeable. She’s employed – how inconvenient. I figure Stephanie will be in the same boat two years from now.

Clearly, DJ’s not the only one missing from our June capers.

Since Lisa’s death, I’ve fared well when busy. Without dance carpool, homework and laundry for four, I find myself re-edging a border that has already been edged. No wonder Mr. Royster’s yard in Glendale Acres, my childhood neighborhood, looked so good.  He was childless and had nothing better to do.

I realize that much of what I’m experiencing has nothing to do with the loss of my wife. My kids would still grow up and get jobs with or without their mom in the picture. The pressure of carpools would lighten with additional drivers in the house. When you’re 16, you tend to get annoyed at waiting for dad to get around to doing your laundry – when you need an article of clothing, you wash it yourself.

Maybe this is why folks end up having a midlife crisis. They can’t seem to figure out how to handle the changes so they remake themselves in an unsavory way.

It’s clear I’m not going to cheat on my wife, I don’t have one. And a sports car is out of the question – I don’t have the money, and it won’t seat three children and their pack of pals.

If you look at a life’s calendar, these changes occur over a long period of time. But at times, they seem more like a freight train.

 

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

If you have read the book and are willing to write a short review, it would be helpful: Click here. And thanks

Sunday Post 155: Totally Fulfilled…by a Fart

In the fourth grade, Wendy Templeton farted… out loud. We had our books out, focused on our Scholastic readers. Her row of desks was facing mine. She was wearing a short red dress. Mrs. McNally, our stodgy old teacher who was nearing retirement, was at her desk in the front of the class. She was wearing a large, black pleated skirt down to her ankles. Damn that was a lot of fabric.

I couldn’t believe it… she just let one rip! It was loouud; I guess it echoed on the metal of her chair.

I felt bad. She was so embarrassed. Her light complexion turned the same color as her dress. She slouched in her seat and propped up her folder to cover her head.

I tried not to laugh, she was my friend. But when Mrs. McNally announced, “Get back to work, it’s a natural bodily function,” I lost it.

I don’t care how natural it was, it was also hilarious. I was sent to the hall, unable to contain my amusement with Wendy’s wind.

Farts are still funny to me. I’ll be in a bathroom at work or church and some old man will let one rip. It’s all I can do to make it out of the bathroom without audibly cracking up.

Once a boy, always a boy I guess.

Maybe it would serve us all well to be more like kids. I don’t mean we should all laugh when someone passes gas. The older we get, the more that’s gonna happen – certainly it will get old eventually.

But isn’t it beautiful to be amused by such small surprises? How wonderful to be totally fulfilled by a fart.

Now, it takes so much more – an expensive house, vacation, kids with straight A’s, 106 Facebook likes, the right job title.

It used to be so simple. Joy, amusement, laughter, and life seemed endless – striking me from every direction.

When and why do I let that go?

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

If you have read the book and are willing to write a short review, it would be helpful: Click here. And thanks

Sunday Post 126: Feeling like a Superstar

I look at some people in my life and wonder if they have ever had the opportunity to really be a superstar.  Have they ever experienced the limelight?  Have they ever really felt special?

I had my day to shine!  It was early June, 1977.  There was less than a week left in 6th grade.  I was finishing up elementary school.

I wasn’t a popular kid – unathletic, bushy hair, wearing Husky jeans from JC Penney.  I was funny – a good line every now and then – well-behaved,  and made decent grades but nothing, absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.

As May approached, students in my class began to think about their acts for the end of year talent show.  Being insecure, it wasn’t an activity I had ever participated in; nor did I aspire to.  But this year, something was different.

I think Willamina Sparrow was the first to approach me.

“Danny, you’re so crazy!  Why don’t you do the Soul Train line with us in the talent show?”

“Willa, what makes you think I’d want to do that?”

“I saw you when we went to the zoo.  You danced to Ruth’s chant.”

“You mean Introduce Yourself?”

“Yeah.  Do it.”

Introduce Yourself was probably the first rap I’d ever heard.  While I was on the black top being lit up by Scotty Cannon’s German dodgeball throw, the girls were all in a circle near the jungle gym singing this song.

I was always willing to crackup a classmate so I obliged, clapping my hands and cutting the fool:

Introduce yourself, un huh, introduce yourself.

My name is Danny – check

They call me  crazy – check it out

My nickname’s Dan Boy – check

There ain’t no doubt  – check it out un huh.

“You crack me up Dan Boy!  Come on.  You can dance.  It’ll be fun.  Roger’s doin’ it, Ruth, Sabrina, George.”

All were African-American kids I’d grown up with over the past six years at Walker Spivey and Glendale Acres Elementary Schools.  I didn’t really have the opportunity to hang out with them after 3 pm, but I sure did enjoy them in class.  Earlier that year on the playground, Willamina had sorted out all the details for me to “go with” Joianna Spears.  I guess I sort of owed her one; Joianna was a hotty.

“Whatever.”

When the day came, I was told to wear a suit.  We were dressing up for this one. Mine was tan polyester with lapels as wide as Texas.  My shirt was silky with brown and tan paisleys, the collar pointed like the Pope’s hat.  Man I wish that style would come back.

We’d practiced twice, the song was Brick House by the Commadores.

The six of us had a standard step – five of us stayed in formation while the sixth moved to the front of the stage and did their own thing.  I was last.  When the Commadores hit Shake it down – Shake it Down Now, I made my way to center stage.  I moved a little to the left and slid back to the right, followed by multiple Elvis like pelvis thrusts.

When the crowd went wild, I did sort of feel like the King.

We were so good, the principal invited us to repeat our performance later that day in afternoon assembly.  My mom could hardly fit my head in the car on the drive back home.

I’m glad I had my day in the limelight, and I can pinpoint a time in each of my kids’ lives where they have felt at least that special.  I wish I could figure out a way to help everyone be a superstar, at least once.

Sunday Post 124: On-the-job Training

This is it.  We got up early so we could beat the line at the Jacksonville, NC, DMV.  DJ turned 16 while we were no vacation, and we couldn’t wait two more days to get back to Raleigh.  So, this morning we drove 45 minutes to the nearest town to see if she could take the test that will push her toward total independence.

The kid in line before us slinked out of the glass room with his head down low.

“I failed,” he told his dad.  “The guy said I drove 33 in a 55 mile per hour zone.  I actually went too slow.”

Dear God above, please let DJ go too slow too.  Please, please.

I assume He can perform miracles, but DJ driving slowly may even be beyond His capabilities.

She returned from the road test with a Cheshire Cat grin on her face.  I knew my fate.

When we returned to the beach house, she announced she would be driving her sisters to lunch in Surf City, 20 minutes away.

“I’m hungry too,” I pleaded.

“We’ll bring you some back.”

My parting words were:  “I want all of my children back here, in one piece!”

“I’m with her,” Stephanie assured me.  “She won’t do anything crazy with me in the car.”

I didn’t feel any better.

Now they are gone, and I am here – alone.  I put my phone by my chair and turned the sound up high, just in case they need me.

Damn, this is sort of scary.  I think she’s a pretty cautious driver, but she’s young and inexperienced.  Oh, and the woman in line behind us at the DMV who was excited she was finally getting the breathalizer off her ignition is presumable back on the road this afternoon.

I can’t help but ponder the hours we’ve spent in my car together.  There were the Barney years in the minivan.  I could sing every word to every one of that purple dinosaur’s tunes.  There was the first time she weighed enough to sit in the front seat.  And three years ago when I was thrown into the role of primary carpooler for the Tanner family.

Although a relief to know I’ll no longer speed through town working to pick up all three girls at the exact same hour, I surely will miss our conversations.  We’ve wept, shared our dreams and yelled at the top of our voices in that car.  But mainly, we’ve laughed – laughed and laughed and laughed.

Somehow those gray leather seats bring out the best in us.  The ability to divulge our inner most thoughts made so much easier when sitting side-by-side.  I think it’s the lack of eye contact.

This whole growing up stuff is going to take some getting used to.  I fear that DJ isn’t the only one in this house who is figuring out how to become an adult.  There’s a 47-year-old who’s also getting some on-the-job grown up training right now.

Tampons + Chocolate = ???

tamponhershey

I was recently scolded by my oldest daughter for not having chocolate in the house.

“It’s my period!  You’re supposed to have chocolate!  They go together!”

“I didn’t know.  I didn’t know.  I don’t have that on my Outlook calendar.”

“You should have learned that by now dad!  All women need chocolate at that time of the month!”

“Then why don’t they come in the same box?  You could package it together.  One side 20 tampons, the other 20 Hershey bars.  You could call it Tampocolates.”

DJ paused and thought for a moment, “That’s actually not a bad idea.  You may have something there.”

Three growing girls and me stuck in this house for a decade might solve some of the most pressing issues in the world today.

More Questions for Dad

This Christmas season has brought about more questions than answers.  One would think that with time I’d be more up to speed on girls, teens, and young ladies.  But the longer I live without a woman as my guide, the more I just do not understand.

Help!

*Why do you need regular bras and sports bras?  Is it not like boxers or briefs?  Make up your mind and stick to it girls!  They don’t even play sports –

*And what’s up with the ones that just stick to your bosom?  It’s peel and stick – like a “To/From” tag on your Christmas present.  What good does that do?  How can that help?  Why do we need those?

*Any why do they wear out so quickly?  I was told recently that two bras in this house “died.”  Should we have a service?  Are they just pulling my strings?  I have boxers I’ve worn for twenty years.  They may sag a bit, but who cares?  That just makes them more comfortable.  No one sees them but me.  A nd that’d better be the case for them too!

*When should a girl be allowed to wear mascara?  Stephanie and Michelle put some on when they got dressed in their costumes for the play.  It must have been Maybelline’s “new volume” brand cause they looked like a tarantula had been emblazoned on their eyelids.

*That same night I learned that soap will not remove mascara and that turpentine hurts when it gets in your eyes.  That’s what I use when stuff won’t come off.  Is there a chisel to remove that stuff?

*Why is it that I can’t get the girls to press their clothes and yet they’ll spend hours on end ironing their hair?  Yes!  They iron their hair.  Not with like an ironing board – its with a $100 mechanism that cooks stuff on both sides – sort of like a waffle maker but without the little sqaures.  I’m tempted to use it for grilled cheese sandwiches.

*And the one with the curls desperately wants hers straight.  And the one with the straight hair is looking for curly.  Why didn’t God just give them what they wanted from the get go?  Some cruel joke.

*Someone recently gave me the name of a woman to see if the girls had “skincare” needs.  Their skin looks alright to me, I specifically looked.  I mean, I buy them soap and Target brand lotion – what more is there to the care of their skin?  I guess I could buy cucumbers – I think Mommy Dearest used them on her eyes.  Maybe they need a mud mask.  I have dirt in the storage room…hum.  I fear my inaction is gonna cause wrinkles or those brown spots my grandma had when Mary Kay was washed off.

*They all want their own stuff, why can’t they just share?  Do we really need more than one brush?  I remember Lisa freaked out when I ran out of deodorant and began using hers.  I sort of liked it – thought of her every time I raised my arms.  This must be related.  I think its selfish.

I just don’t want to screw up; I don’t want to do anything wrong.  And sometimes I think they’re just yanking my chain.  There are so many things I just don’t understand.

Merle Norman…

I wasn’t privy to the decisions about ear-piercing when Lisa was alive.  No, she was the one who made that decision.

Although she was Presbyterian and believed in baptism at birth, that was not her view on pierced ears.  There would not be a Tanner kid with piercings until at least a decade of their life had passed.  She thought it made them look too grown up.

When she was nine, DJ nagged her mom for a year for the lobe holes until finally, Lisa and her gaggle of women friends decided that ten was in and the countdown began.

I’m not sure how these moms came about that decision, but they unveiled their calendar as if they were the Misses Manners of preteen etiquette.  Not only did they determine the appropriate age for piercing, they also informed all involved as to the appropriate age for a Facebook page (12) and the point when a cell phone was needed (the start of middle school).  No one dared ask for an exception.  The Mother Mafia had spoken.  I believe they actually signed a treaty with one another and apparently a full on embargo would be imposed on anyone straying from the agreement.

When it was time for DJ to get her ears punctured, Lisa drove her to Crabtree Valley Mall and met another mother/daughter pair at the entrance to Merle Norman.  That is where Lisa had her ears pierced approximately 25 years prior.

DJ desperately wanted to wear earrings, but she also desperately did not want a hole punched in her ear.  She apparently sat on the piercing stool three times, chickening out as Merle approached with the lobe stapler.  Finally, Merle had had enough and kicked her out of the store.  DJ then threw the most massive temper tantrum my wife had ever seen right at the main entrance to Belk.  Lisa literally carried our ten-year old to the car and locked the doors because DJ threatened to jump out of the minivan and run back into the mall.

Stephanie’s journey toward earring mecca was very different.  She turned ten four months after Lisa died.  She reminded me that DJ got her ears pierced at age ten and asked if she could too.

I actually thought it was a law in Raleigh, and I didn’t want to break the treaty – so the two of us hit the mall quickly.  It was four months after Lisa’s death.

Sweet Stephanie was so excited!  Her father was so very, very sad.  As she patiently waited looking at her barren lobes for the last time in their handheld mirror, I fought back tears.  It was one of the first milestones I had tackled by myself.  What father takes his daughter, alone, to have her ears pierced?

I suggested the silver balls; her mother only wore silver.  She agreed.  There were tears that June night, but not from the kid.

Well today it was Michelle’s turn.  I had avoided the subject because I knew the costumer in A Christmas Carol frowned upon jewelry in the play.

“There were no piercings in 19th century England!” she announced last year as a warning to those who were bejeweled.

But when one of her best friend’s moms inquired about a joint trip to see Merle, I just couldn’t turn her down.   It’s sort of a rite of passage – one that can’t be denied.  So now my baby girl has her ears pierced.

I’m beginning to see something different in my daughters.  No longer are they 100% kid.  Now I see glimpses of young women.

I wish Lisa could see what I see – the slight changes coming month by month by month.

I will take it all in for her.

Sunday Post 79: Crawling to Driving

Posted by Danny

I remember June 28, 1997, like it was yesterday. Lisa told me I had to stay up by her head during delivery, “All that stuff below the waist is between my doctor and me.”

“I thought that area was between you and me.”

“That was before.”

I was actually grateful not to be in the war zone.

When DJ came out, the nurse gasped.

“What’s wrong?” Lisa asked with concern. The look on the nurse’s face was disturbing.

“She’s blonde,” our new friend exclaimed.

“You gasped because she’s blonde?” I did realize we were in an all brunette delivery room although I didn’t think it was all that peculiar for two dark-haired parents to produce a tow-headed offspring.

As the nurse lifted DJ from her placentad pouch, her head was elongated –

“She looks like a cone head from Saturday Night Live…and why is she so blue?” I was actually a bit disappointed. I thought we could have done better.

“Her color will come” the nurse assured me as she began massaging DJ’s limbs. “The first to forge through the birth canal often has a oblonged head. It will round out in time.”

“Can you put a hat on her? I want to take pictures to show to our friends.”

Those are my first memories of DJ. A cone headed Smurf with curly blonde hair. And yet, the most beautiful Smurf I had ever seen. Seems just like yesterday.

But it wasn’t. It was 15 years ago. And last Friday, I drove her to the DMV office to get her driver’s permit. She drove me home.

How did this kid, once dependent on me for her every need, end up driving me down the highway? How did she end up being mature and self-sufficient? How is it that I suddenly find myself asking her for her opinion on issues that matter? Why is it that at times she is worried about me or concerned for my future? Shouldn’t she be fully consumed with herself?

Boy did I love my kids when they were younger. At the beach we built castles in the sand, and I’d dig a hole that all three of them could sit in. This year we rode waves, tried to surf and sat in our beach chairs laughing and talking about life.

In a way, it is really hard to see my kids grow up. In another, it is a beautiful thing.

I’m thankful that I’m here to watch it all unfold; not all parents have that honor.

It is important for me that each of my daughters remembers Lisa, so I have begun to put certain possessions of hers aside. I gave DJ the first one – Lisa’s key ring.

She had it long before we started dating. It must be 25 years old.

I won’t be able to be with my girls at all times as they learn to maneuver this world, but maybe I can help them realize that Lisa and I are always with them in spirit.

That’s what I want them to feel – our support and presence on this journey of life.

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