The Kid Sabbatical

They left me.  Yep.  All three of my girls trekked down to Camp Seafarer for a full five weeks.  Today I pick up Michelle, and I am so, so happy.

When Lisa died seven years ago, in addition to drowning in grief, I developed a fear of being alone.  The thought of staying in our house without other human beings consumed me.  I worked to stagger kid sleepovers so that all wouldn’t be gone at once.  I did the same with overnight camp, picking one up before sending the next.  I was paralyzed by the mere thought of quiet.

When I turned 50, I assumed I was complete.  I am happy, understand my strengths and limitations and am comfortable with who I have become.  What I didn’t expect was more self-growth.  I thought my insides were pretty set – sort of like the gray hair – there was no reversing what had developed; it is what it is.

What I have discovered over the past month is that, even as an aging dude, I’m ever changing, ever growing, ever maturing.  Yeah, I have REALLY missed my kids over the past 36 days (not that I was counting) but this time apart has allotted me time to rejuvenate and to focus on areas of my life that I’ve somewhat neglected.

This past month I’ve been able to focus on my relationship with my girlfriend, Julie.  she doesn’t live in Raleigh so the ability to head to Charlotte or on vacation together has given us the chance to pull back the curtain a bit.  I’ve discovered she’s cooler than I had imagined.  And best of all, after getting to know me even more, she’s still taking my calls!

I’ve exercised, slept hard, read and watched my backlog of DVR’d CBS Sunday Morning shows (man am I old).  I’ve eaten dinner with a number of my buddies, visited my parents twice, and I even got a massage.

I’ve surprised myself this year.  Even at AARP age, there’s still hope to tweak my many imperfections and to face down my fears.  It isn’t over!

I have a long way to go, but it’s nice to know it’s not too late for improvement.

95%

It came early this year.  Generally, it’s two weeks out – like clockwork.  I begin to well up when certain songs come on the radio.  I get a pit in my stomach when I look at family photographs.  I long for what could have been.

I think the anticipation of the anniversary of Lisa’s death has been magnified this year.

Last fall I found some old pictures on my computer that I thought we had lost.  They captured the Tanner family from 2005 – 2006, four years before she became sick.  I recently uploaded them to Shutterfly and have been working to order prints and create one of their memory books.  It’s a task you should only have to do as punishment for a terrible crime.

Keeping up with family pics was not my job – until 2010.  Lisa held that responsibility, along with most of the other things I currently do that are unrelated to my work, tickling kids or putting them to bed.

I’ve dug through these pictures for two weeks, there were over 1,000:  beach trips, Disney World, The Grand Canyon, birthdays, Halloween, huge smiles at Christmas, a shot of the two of us dressed up for a night out.  I keep thinking, we had no idea… absolutely no idea that cancer was about to kick our asses.  If we would have known…

If we would have known, what?  What could we have done?

Ab-so-lutely NOTHING.  We could not have done anything except lived those last few years in fear.

This past fall I was told by someone that I hadn’t written a new chapter in my life.  That I had to put the past behind me.  I thought that was a ridiculous statement, proud of what I’ve accomplished – astonished at my fairly happy demeanor, blown away by my three daughters’ blossoming, excited about the new things in my life.  But maybe, in a way, this friend was right.  Or maybe, you do move on but in a different sort of way.

I will never, ever, be the same.  I will never fully get over my loss.  Perhaps those who have not experienced what I have aren’t able to fully comprehend my inability to slide through February unscathed even after significant time.

Yet, only I can ensure that I’m not stuck, unable to move forward with new relationships and experiences with real joy in my heart.

Occasionally I teeter between thriving and shriveling up.  Weird, these incongruent worlds.  Ninety-five percent of the time I’m ready to tackle the world, completely pleased with how I’ve grown, excited about today and the future.  Five percent of the time I’d like to curl up in the corner of the closet.  The wound fresh again.

It’s been nearly six years.  I am grateful for the 95%.  It’s been nearly six years, why isn’t it 100?

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.

Baggage That Goes With Mine

Gucci-Trunks-IIHIH

It was almost one year after Lisa’s death that an overwhelming desire to date came over my being. It was as if I saw this impending life of loneliness approaching, and I felt I had to develop a plan for avoiding the scenario that kept playing out in my mind.

I mentioned my readiness to a couple of friends and within a week or two, I found myself scheduled for a blind lunch date at a restaurant near my office.

I thought I was ready, but I thought wrong.

As the day approached I became more and more uneasy. That morning, I gagged in the bathroom toilet.

At 11:30 I went into a co-workers office, he’s also a very good friend.  “I can’t do this. I’m going to puke. I have to call it off. Do you thinking texting her is appropriate?”

This friend, who had walked by my side for the previous 12 months and had heard my rants about moving to a retirement community at age 45 simply to have a built-in social network, grabbed my shoulders.  “Get yourself together man! You’re going on this date! You don’t have to marry her, you simply have to eat with her.”

He walked me to my car.

“Take off your wedding ring. Get in the car. Don’t come back without a receipt. And there’d better be TWO entrees on it!”

I think the “date” lasted 45 minutes. She was nice enough, very easy to talk to, and I did not vomit.  But I just wasn’t ready.

It takes a lot of cahoonas to put yourself out there. I have single friends who have slugged out the dating scene for years. I think about what I have to offer, sort of like a newspaper want ad:

Single male looking for a date; skinny with slight love handles; works for a nonprofit; will always love his first wife, the mother of his children; lives on estrogen lane with his three teenage daughters; continues to find random hairs poking out of various orifices around his body.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to jump on that?

Year three I decided I was gonna be a “PLAYA”… was gonna date multiple women at once.

Yeah – not so much.

I found my calendar didn’t much support that kind of lifestyle.

Let’s see, I think I can fit you in the 17th of next month from 5:45 – 7:15 pm, after I drop off at ballet and before I have to be at the Stewardship Committee meeting at church.

Nah, going out with one person is plenty.

Two of the women I’ve dated are now in very serious relationships with other guys. One is engaged!

Date Danny Tanner, and fall in love (with someone else). I’m a good starter kit.

I’ve been on a number of first dates, even seconds and thirds. And then, when there are no sparks, I don’t know what to do. Call back and ask, “Are you feeling sparks? Cause I’m not really.” Or, “I’d love to hang out and be your friend but I just don’t think we’re moving each other romantically.” Or, “If you could do something about that annoying laugh, maybe this could go somewhere.”

And the worst is when I then see these women, who I just never called back, in the mall.

“Hey…” this is the most awkward moment of my adult life, “I meant to call you back but…that laugh, well…”

Seriously, they didn’t call me back either so I’m guessing they saw the six-inch white hair poking out of my left ear.

One friend told me I didn’t want to go out with a particular woman ’cause she had baggage.  Seriously?  I got a whole Samsonite 5-piece set!  I need someone whose baggage goes with mine.

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 175: Wierd Little Family

On Wednesday I had a church meeting after work. It put me late getting home. I rolled in about 8.

I’d promised the girls we’d go out to dinner so we hit the Mexican restaurant closest to our house.

We returned home at 9:39, about to puke we’d eaten so many chips.

“Girls, I think I need to jog or I’m gonna be sick. You want to join me?”

“Dad, it’s 9:30!”

“Yeah, but you guys can sleep in tomorrow. Let’s jog to the playground.”

Michelle jumped on board quickly and Stephanie, who hates to run, acquiesced to my request likely because she didn’t want to sit at home by herself that late.

We jogged about half a mile down Ridge Road to the Lacy Elementary School playground. The girls hit the jungle gym while I took a few laps around the paved track. When I finished, we all lay down on the grass and looked up at the stars.

We live in the middle of town, there were lights around, but the sky was clear. Stephanie was the first to spot the Little Dipper. She pointed up.

We talked about the brightest stars in the sky.

“I think that one is mom, beaming down on us.”

We sat a few more minutes. Michelle crawled up into a contraption I call The Spinning Mushroom. As she spun she said, “I love our family. Not everyone would do this.”

What beautiful words for my ears.

At 4 PM that same day a guy interviewed me for a book he is writing about grief. He asked me about our family, before Lisa’s death and after. I shared that I thought we were a weird little group, that it wouldn’t be unusual to find us having a fight with wet sponges in the kitchen or having a theme for a typical weekday dinner. I think we have special, but in a fairly unconventional way.

I think there are a number of families like ours, not quite the norm but pretty darn cool. There are also many families who struggle, unable to find joy because of dysfunction, impatience with each other, or laziness.

I’m thankful that my kids see our family as unique. I’m glad we’ve moved from a grief-stricken quartet to the family Michelle “just loves!”

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 150: Teach Them Well

You always try to teach your kids good stuff.  Sometimes I think I focus more on making sure that they know the proper way to use me and I in a sentence than to ensure that they understand the importance of loving their neighbor.

On Christmas, I worry about the same thing.  I know of families who forego presents and instead take a mission trip.  Others choose to make a significant contribution to a charity or serve lunch at a shelter on Christmas day.  We just eat like hogs and give each other an exorbitant number of presents, many of which we don’t really need.

I think my parents realize how we indulge on this day and that we really should have a different sort of focus.  So each year, after we’ve opened our presents and before we stuff our faces, they sit the family down at the dinner table.  As our stomachs rumble and the smell of turkey wafts through the air, we pause to listen.

Being a minister, my dad has always been able to share a sermonette off the cuff.  And that’s exactly what he does.

In front of your plate you’ll see an envelope with your name on it.  Your mother and I have decided to support several charities across the world in your honor.  There are a ton of folks out there who don’t have the ability to give a single gift at Christmas.  There are many who don’t have food to eat, and yet, look at us.  I’d like for you to read your card to the family.

Each of us, from age 11 to 75, reads and shares the story of someone in need throughout the world and how my parents have chosen to support them.

They aren’t sharing this information to say look what we’ve done.  They’re sharing the information to help teach the next generation that it isn’t all about us.  They share to teach us and remind us that we are incredibly fortunate and that we should be thankful.

It’s not a guilt trip – my mom and dad would be the first to tell you they indulge their children and grandchildren as much as any other proud grandparents.  But they take their job of passing down their passion for loving their neighbors to those who will soon follow in their footsteps.

I guess one day I’m going to be the one holding that torch.  I should start now – pretty big shoes to fill.

 

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.

Sunday Post 107: Breaking the Slump

Ever get in a slump?  I know a few folks who just live there.

I have an acquaintance who is always weary.  Every time I see him he shrugs his shoulders.  He’s out of breath.  Tired.  Unable to take what life has handed him.

I know another who is always frustrated.  Someone is always out to get him – his wife, his boss, the government – in his mind, he just can’t get a break.

I can relate.  I’ve gone through a couple of years of rut.  In my mind, it wasn’t my fault that I was miserable.  It was God’s fault.  It was the doctor’s fault.  I was tired, had too much to do.  In my mind, my grumpiness was justified.

The problem was, it was chronic.  For a period of time, I was really, really unenjoyable to be around.

Some would say I’m still that way at times, and they’re probably right.  But I think I’ve at least figured out that my outlook on life is my responsibility.  What happens to me happens to me.  Sometimes it feels like a lot, but I’m not carrying any greater burden than a ton of other people who are walking around with a smile on their face.

Everyone has their battles.  Some you outwardly see.  Some are masked from the world – but they are there.

Over the past six months, something has changed within me.  I think I realized that I was allowing the world to get me down.  People were getting on my nerves.  I was impatient, and I was self-centered.

I also realized that this frustration with life and negative attitude was affecting me more than it was anyone else.  Others would laugh at my sarcasm, feel sorry for the widower and then, they would go enjoy their lives.  I was the one who had to live with my miserable self day in and day out, and that was painful.

I’m not quite sure how one reframes life.  It’s almost like trying to stop smoking.  It’s a difficult thing to do.  I’d say step 1 is to realize that you are unhappy or cynical.  Step 2 is to want to make a change.  Step 3 might be to realize the good that is in your life.  And step 4?  Make a move – do something that helps you reframe.

The world has thrown me some curve balls.  I don’t want to get hit and writhe on the ground.  I want to take what was thrown and knock a homer.

Sunday Post 87: The Grief Relapse

This weekend marks three years since we learned that Lisa had cancer.  There are really only two dates left that without fail I will feel sadness – the Friday before Labor Day and February 24, the day she died.

I don’t typically burst out in tears anymore.  I have sad moments – watery eyes at times – but not the hard stuff.  But twice this week I had a grief relapse.  

It’s OK.  In a way, the release feels good.

As I approached this weekend, I looked back at my journal to see where my mind was one, two and three years ago.

September 2009

It’s cancer.

Fear, Sadness. What does our future hold?  It’ll be OK

Talked to Brad on the back porch – he said, “It’ll be OK.”

Talked to mom and dad, they said, “It’ll be OK.”

I don’t believe any of them.

September 2010

Not only do I miss Lisa, I miss US…She was my companion, my answer to the children leaving home – my Friday and Saturday nights and New Year’s Eve.

And now, my biggest fear, loneliness, stares me in the face – and for now, my biggest fear is winning.

September 2011

Today I began to see the sun again.  And today, I cranked open the car windows, all four of them, and the sunroof, and turned the volume of my stereo as loud as it would go, and I sang with all my might.  A woman with big hair in the car next to me looked my way – I’m sure she thought, “What’s up with that guy?”

And I thought of Lisa – but they were happy thoughts.  Thoughts of her cracking up when I sang all the words to rap songs on the way to Target.  Thoughts of her singing in the passenger seat not knowing that I was hanging on every word.  And I didn’t cry.  And I could breath again.

My grief counselor lost her husband many years ago.  She told me that there would come a time when I didn’t think of Lisa every day.  She was wrong.  Not one goes by without her face appearing in my mind.  Perhaps I’m reminded by a song or by an expression of hers now being donned by one of the girls.  Often I think of her right before I go to sleep – her side of the bed empty.

It doesn’t bother me to think of her each day.  I actually find it sort of comforting.  So I’ll not fight the memories; most are so very good.  I’ll be thankful for our time and thankful for my growth. 

I think the life I’m building has room for those reflections.

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