Late. Again.

bus

I was literally looking down the snout of my long nose at the poor parents who would not have their acts together this year.  I mean, I generally run late, but I have NEVER held up a bus for a school trip.

Last year it was a friend of Michelle’s.  I can’t remember where they were going.  Maybe to spend the night on the battleship in Wilmington.  The charter bus was packed and no Kimmy Gibbler.  All the kids were on, waiting.  I texted her mom.  Are you guys awake.  You know the bus leaves at 6:30.  It was 6:34.

She sent back and expletive – not for me, for herself.  I let them know she was running a bit late.

I had compassion, but I’ll have to say that on occasion when I get it right, I am so very proud.  I sort of relished in her misery.  I was actually THE parent with HER phone number who got to text and tell her they were late… because I, in fact, was on time!!  I seldom get to do that.  It was quite a treat.

I despise the parents who always get it right.  Their kids are on time.  They don’t forget things.  Their registration form is already in and they had their doctor sign the medical form.  More than once Nurse Huber has scolded me in the halls of St. Timothy’s for my lack of compliance.  I deserved it.  There are just so many rules.  I do not like rules.

Anyway, we were driving up Six Forks Road listening to my new favorite song, Sunday Candy by Chance the Rapper, headed to school for the eighth grade trip to Washington, DC.  I do like to drive up to school blasting new tunes.  Michelle, Stephanie and DJ keep me up to speed on musical trends.

I felt good.  It was 6:25.  The parking lot was less than 2 minutes away.  We could park, grab her bags and walk up the steps to the drop off spot and still be on time.  Score!

As I was waiting to turn off the four lane road into the shopping center parking lot, my phone rang.  It was an unfamiliar number.  It took a second to register.

Son-of-a-&*%#$.

I didn’t answer, but I knew.  I screwed up.

We parked quickly, grab the bags and scurried up the steps.  And there they were – every stinkin’ eighth grader on the bus, and worst of all, many of the parents, standing there wondering why the kids had not yet driven away.

As Michelle and I took the walk of shame, they got their answer.

I couldn’t think of another reason that those parents would stand around outside of the bus except to harass the last person.  The bags were packed, their kids were aboard.  The windows on the bus were tinted so they weren’t gonna wave goodbye.  No, they stood there to find out who the sorry last parent was going to be.  And it was me.

I kissed my kid on the forehead, tossed her bag toward the open luggage chamber at the bottom of the mammoth vehicle, and quickly walked toward my car.  I did not make eye contact with the other, more timely, adults.

The thing I’m most embarrassed about is that I, on my way that morning, seriously thought to myself: I wonder which family is going to hold up the bus this year.  I sort of chuckled to myself as I considered the others who are as disorganized as me.  It won’t be you buddy.  You’re actually early.  You’re such a good dad.

I was congratulating myself on Ridge Road and then got the phone call one street over.  Two exits down the beltline can make all the difference in the world.

 

Priorities, Priorities

Waiting on a ride!

Waiting on a ride!

I’d made the decision.  It was a good one.  I passed it by a number of people.

It’s Capon Springs time.  Our family’s third week in August trek to West Virginia to hang with family and dear friends.  I’ve been every year since I proposed to a Katsopolis child in 1993.  It’s the dowry that keeps on giving.

When I was a kid, we had summer.  Months and months of summer.  Nowadays, summer is short and teacher workdays are plentiful.

Since Stephanie’s school began on Monday, and since she is taking AP Bio and four honors classes, it was her year to fly to Capon a few days late.  I’d checked the school schedule and although Monday seemed to be more of an introductory day, Tuesday – Friday were full on academics.  She’d get two days behind her and fly into Dulles late Wednesday night where I’d meet her and transport her to her favorite spot on earth.

I don’t think that everyone understands my children’s love for this place.  Yesterday Michelle asked me if I would rather give up our house or give up our week at Capon Springs.  I choose to keep the house.  She was undecided but leaning toward the family reunion.  I mean I love this place, but we’re here 7 days a year.  The other 348 we are in our house.

Michelle, DJ and I left at 11 AM on Sunday after dropping Stephanie off at school for orientation.  At 1:45, 30 miles north of Richmond, we received the text.

Dad, I could have flown out early on Wednesday.  Classes end at noon.  Same on Tuesday.  Afternoons are meetings about time management and stuff.

I recalled that in early August when I received the school schedule, I was told it was tentative, but I had to commit to the flight.

I couldn’t believe I’d made the choice to leave my kid out of this critically important slice of her life for two half days of class.

I pulled over and texted my parents who were in charge of Stephanie for the first half of the week.

You in the mood for a Sunday afternoon drive?

 Sure.  Why?

We’re coming to get her.

 While they packed the car and headed north, Lisa’s dad left the Capon golf course to pick up DJ and Michelle.  They threatened to kill me if I made them ride all the way back to North Carolina.

I dropped them off with Pops an hour north in Warrenton, Virginia, and turned my car around.

Heavy traffic, a major detour, a nearly empty tank of gas and a lower back that hurt like hell could not deter.  I’d messed up.  I’d made a short sighted decision.  I had to consider priorities.

When I pulled up to the Main House Sunday night and began unpacking our bags at 11:30 PM, twelve and a half hours after I’d left Raleigh,  one of Michelle’s friends asked why I went back home.

“I forgot something.”

“What’d you forget, Mr. Tanner?”

“My middle child.”

I’ve Been Oriented

Mice

I learned some things at college orientation this week at The George Washington University.

  • It’s not George Washington University, it’s The George Washington University. Are there others?   Did someone else try to start another one?
  • A pit is formed in one’s stomach when dropping their kid off at a dorm, even if it is only for two nights.
  • A lump is formed in one’s throat when one is sitting at an outside bar with a buddy and one sees his daughter strolling down the street with two guys one does not know from Adam.
  • A panic comes across one’s mind when one finds out his daughter got home at 1:20 AM after walking home from the Lincoln Memorial with yet another group of unknowns.
  • If a skinny mouse eats a fat mouse’s poop, he will get skinny too (one sat in on a biology lecture).
  • All the parents at college orientation are old, except me.
  • One should never call their child at college.
  • As if the school is not expensive enough, GW has a box that you must uncheck on your online bill in order not to donate fifty additional dollars to the library fund when paying tuition. At $60K a year sticker price, one would think the Library should be covered without the additional support.
  • The Kennedy Center is a short walk from campus, and they have free concerts 365 days a year. Now you’re speaking my language.
  • The reason so many helicopters fly over DC is because there is nowhere to park one’s car.
  • Leaving DC, there are four big fat highway lanes that only about six people are allowed to use – which is cruel.
  • The relief one feels when one’s daughter is happy is euphoric in nature.

We’re One Weird Family

weird family

Maybe it’s Mother’s Day that has brought about our most recent conversations.  I’m really not sure.

Lately it has been comical to hear my girls talk about awkward moments due to the loss of their mom.

When Michelle was riding with a friend and her mother, something was said about moms helping at school for some project.  The friend quickly reprimanded her mother for saying the “m” word in front of Michelle.

“It’s OK,” Michelle assured her.  “You can talk about mothers with me in the car.  It doesn’t bother me.”

Stephanie then shared the time last summer at camp where they were paired with a peer for prayer time before bed.

“The girl got on my bed and said, ‘My friend’s mom has cancer.  Can you IMAGINE your mom having cancer?’”

“Well actually…”

DJ was recognized at the Senior Salute, an end of year assembly for the National Charity League.  It’s a Mother/Daughter service club that Lisa started with her six years ago.  Each girl stood on stage with their mom and a short speech was given about their relationship and their work together over the past few years.  DJ decided she’d be recognized with another friend whose mother died a year or so after Lisa.  Pretty good strategy for what could have been a fairly awkward situation.

Last Tuesday Michelle asked me if dogs had periods.

To be perfectly honest, I had to think a minute.  We don’t have dogs, and I don’t recall ever seeing a doggie tampon (This is yet another reason not to have a pet).

I assured her they must and then DJ chimed in saying indeed they did and that there were diapers that could be purchased for that time of the month.

Apparently Michelle went to school and announced her findings to her girlfriends.  When she returned home that afternoon, she said, “Kimmy can’t believe I asked you if dogs had periods.” I asked her why Kimmy thought that was so odd.  “Kimmy said it is weird that I ask my DAD questions like that.”  We laughed.  I suppose she could have called the vet.

Last week we also talked about girls who are “loose in the booty” as my oldest kid describes them and why girls might be prone to be boy crazy.  We talked about self-esteem and how critical that it come from within and not from some shady dude who pays you a little attention.

The week before we chatted about Michelle’s class field trip to the Poe Center where they got about 75% of the sex talk.  I filled her in on the rest.  Stephanie told her at the Poe Center she was going to have to stand up in front of the group and talk about girls’ breasts.  “They actually call them breasts.  I hate it when they call them that.  They’re boobs.  Old ladies have breasts.”  Thankfully, Michelle was spared the chest chat.

I realize our family is a bit odd, maybe more open than others.  But I’m gonna take that as a win as we celebrate our sixth motherless Mother’s Day.

Believe it!

dad and AT

The other day my youngest child said something that I can’t get out of my mind.

I was putting her to bed, we were having our normal nightly conversation:  reviewing the school day, the schedule for the week, homework, the usual.  And then, she sort of quietly said, “Sometimes I look at you, and I just can’t believe you’re my father.”

I said, “What do you mean by that?  Do you mean that in a good way?”

I was hopeful she meant, I just CAN’T BE-LIEVE you’re my father!  I’m the luckiest girl in the world!!

She said, “Not really.”

This is when things because a bit uncomfortable.

“Do you mean it in a bad way?” I asked.

Like, I can’t believe YOU’RE my father because there are so many better choices out there.

No.  I didn’t mean it in a bad way.

I pressed, “Well, then exactly what DID you mean?”

Oh, I don’t know.  It’s hard to explain.  She stammered a bit.

My mind was zipping around like Tinkerbell:

I can’t believe you’re my FATHER – you don’t have the maturity to handle this job. You’re only qualified to be my brother.

I can’t believe you’re MY father – we have so little in common.  I had to have been adopted.

She tried to pacify me.  “Dad, just don’t worry about it.  I didn’t mean anything by it.  It’s hard to explain.”

I eventually dropped it and put her to bed.

Yesterday I told DJ about our conversation.  Her response?  “Yeah.  I sort of feel the same way.”

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

Sunday Post 195: Not too much, not too little

Parenting is hard!

I constantly struggle to balance being the cool dad with tough dad.  Last year DJ told me I was the most strict father in the world.  I asked her if she could remember a time that I had punished her.  She said, “No.  But I know if I do something wrong you’d kill me.”

She has no basis for that.  I have never, ever killed anyone before.

When Uncle Jesse lived with us, he basically told me I was a pushover – not requiring chores, doing too much for the girls, catering to their every whim.

I have friends who are really good parents but have really tough kids.  When I used to run summer camps, I saw plenty of great kids with parents who were seemingly worthless.

I still check in with DJ’s friends parents if she says she’s sleeping at someone else’s house.  I don’t really care that she’s 17.  I also don’t care that she has never significantly broken my trust.  I just think it’s a good practice.

My mom still wants to know the phone number and address of the hotels where I lodge when I’m out of town.  She doesn’t call my friends’ parents when I go out, but she probably would if she knew their phone numbers.

On the other hand, sometimes I let Michelle or Stephanie watch a movie or listen to a song that may push the limits.  I might raise an eyebrow when I walk through the room, but I’m not inclined to run up and stop Netflix midstream.

Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t watching R rated movies, but some of the TV shows that are on today, some that I really like, are not really appropriate for a 12-year-old Presbyterian.

I happen to enjoy a couple of Miley Cyrus songs.  She appears to be a tramp, but she got some good tunes!

I’ll never forget the time when Michelle was three and busted out singing, Mariah Carey’s song Touch My Body, in the back seat of our minivan.  I thought Lisa was gonna come upside my head.

“You let her listen to that?”

“Ahh.  Well maybe once.”

“Once?  She knows every word!  What if she busts out with ‘Touch my body, Throw me on the floor, Tussle me around, Play with me some more,’ during music time in Mrs. Wishon’s class?”

“Well, I never really thought about that.”

“That’s because you are a moron.  Turn on Barney!”

I don’t have the answer on how to best parent.  I think too strict could drive a wedge between a parent and a child and perhaps stop all flow of communication.  On the other hand, totally letting go of the reins can lead to behaviors that could bring about long-term, unwanted repercussions.

I think my mantra on life has been to steer away from excess.  Maybe that keeps me from being too passionate about anything.  Or, maybe it keeps me centered.

Knock on wood and say a little prayer (not too evangelical and not too progressive); my girls are doing well under the current regime.  For now, I’ll keep walking the line.

I Want Full Custody!

Family Circle 052614 0462

Sometimes my little angels, well, aren’t.  The problem is, I seldom know when these sweet little people I am raising are going to turn on me.

Yesterday when I asked, “How was your day?,” I was taken down an elaborate journey through the halls of St. Timothy’s School.  It was beautiful.  I learned about friendships, the lunch menu, assignments and teacher personalities.

Today I asked the same question.  I was cut off at the pass in a very terse tone, “I don’t want to talk about it!”

“Is everything OK?”

“I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT!”

What happened?  I thought we were friends.  I thought you were daddy’s girl!

Last week I was asked to help with homework.  We laughed while we worked on the memorization for the history quiz, making up nutty phrases to cue her mind:  “Bangladesh” – “I can’t remember Bangladesh.”  We ran to the kitchen and pull out a plastic plate, slamming it on the counter, “Bang The Dish!  Bangladesh!”

Tonight I walk in, the computer is open, the tears are flowing.

“What’s wrong?  I thought you didn’t have much homework.”

“THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT!  AND THEN I DISCOVERED THE FOUR MATH PROBLEMS WE HAD TO DO.  WE’VE NEVER DONE THIS KIND OF PROBLEM BEFORE!  I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO THIS!!!”

“Your teacher said as long as you attempted to do the math homework you’d get credit.  Just try.”

“BUT I D-O-N-‘T K-N-O-W   H-O-W  TO DO IT!  YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!  GO AWAY!”

Go away?  I’m just trying to be helpful!

What makes these beautiful little beings, often dressed in pink, transform from Snow White to Jafar?  How is it that the same simple question on Monday can elicit such a polar opposite answer on Tuesday?

Sometimes I feel like I have three sets of twins.  There’s a good one and a ornery one.  They look identical, and yet they pop in and out of my house interchangeably without me knowing.

Is there another family with three girls that might be keeping my children’s twins?  Are you in on this?  Are you gas lighting me?  Stop it!  I want the good twins back – and not just 75% of the time.  I want full custody!

Sunday Post 185: Too Much Too Soon

I likely made the wrong decision.  I guess that’s not all that unusual, and I don’t think it is a decision that will make much difference in life down the road.  But, nonetheless, I wish I’d had better options.

In the Tanner household, at the end of fifth grade it has been a right of passage to get your first cell phone.  With child 1 and child 2, both having June birthdays, it was their gift.  A flip phone, used solely for text, photos and phone calls.

With DJ, Lisa cut her left arm and exchanged blood with the other mothers in her friend group.  They pressed their wounds together and vowed not to get smart phones until the inital end of fifth grade, two-year Verizon contract expired.  At the time, it cost us $10 per month to add this additional phone line to our growing technological household inventory.

When Stephanie came along, I followed the path originally set out by her mother.  Although child 2 specifically requested an iPhone, I stood strong.

“But dad, ALL of my friends have one…”

We went through the list of ALL of her friends.  As I suspected, it was a lie.  Not everyone had a smart phone.  In fact, most did not.

As I entered the Verizon store last week with my final daughter, my plan was solid.  She did not need a data plan.  She was too young.  It mattered not that I had confirmed three of her very best friends did indeed have one.  For crying out loud, my 17-year-old is driving a car her same age.  I am not a parent who falls for the Everyone Has argument.  Plenty of people I know have a beach house, and my butt is thankful I have a father-in-law generous enough to rent a place for the family one week each July.

As we neared the phone shop, a nice young man with a pull over hoodie and pants anchored around his hips met us at the door.  His iPad in tow, he began crunching numbers.

“Mr. Tanner.  If you add a flip phone with unlimited text and calls, it will cost you $30 per month.”

“$30?  I thought it was $10.”

“Nah.”

That was his answer.  Nah.

“Well what does it cost to add a smart phone?”

“Let’s see.  You have plenty of data that is unused each month, so we could add an iPhone for $40.”

“A month?”

“Yeah.”

I mean, he couldda said, Yes sir.

So for $10 bucks we get the Caddilac instead of the Pinto… hummm.

I pondered.  Am I spoiling my kid?  Am I exposing her to stuff too early?  Is she going to watch videos all day and flunk out of school?  Will she become homeless?  Addicted to crack cocaine?

When we arrived home with the gadget neither of us had expected to return with, I broke the news to her sisters.

“It was en economic decision,” I argued.  I then reminded Stephanie of the unusually expensive boots I’d purchased her last winter because they were slightly on sale and were so stinkin’ cute.  “DJ didn’t get a pair of shoes that nice until she was in 10th grade and going to a school dance!”

DJ muttered an expletive and told me that I might as well have given my final daughter away.  “Don’t complain to me when she ignores you or won’t talk to you at dinner.  You might as well have shipped her off to college!”

I think that may be an overreaction, although I did have to ask Michelle to put her phone away during the worship service at church last Sunday.  She wasn’t texting, she was just rubbing it across her face, like you would do with someone’s hand as they departed this life for the next.

The frustrating thing is that had I not lost my wife to cancer, I wouldn’t even be making these decisions.  I would have been informed and could have chosen to support the decision or participated in the nonviolent resistance.  Either way, I would have basically been off the hook.

There are so many questions surrounding this decision:

  • Why did I cave?
  • Am I allowing my preteen to grow up too fast?
  • Why do young salespeople answer questions like they’re sending a text message?
  • Why don’t sisters want each other to have good stuff?
  • Why do I have to make all the decisions?

I have some pondering to do.

 

Check the Tanners out in the September issue of Family Circle
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 173: Becoming a Real Father

The second week of DJ’s life, I defined my role as a father.

I came home from work at around 6 pm. The house seemed empty but I knew Lisa was home. Her car was there, and she really hadn’t been out much since the birth.

I made my way to the second floor of the house and found my wife vigorously rocking the new kid. DJ was tightly bound in the blanket we’d received from the hospital. She was crying with all of her itty bitty might.

“Why’s she crying?” It was an innocent question.

“I don’t know,” my wife snarled. She’s been like this since you left at 7:30 AM. She stressed the AM.

I thought I knew how to respond, “I’ll take over. I’ll put her to bed.”

That wasn’t what she was looking for.

As both bodies swayed back and forth, a deep voice boomed from my wife’s body, “I am her mother. I will make her sleep.”

Her look frightened me. The thought, she might kill our child tonight, ran through my brain.

Another thought quickly followed, she might also kill me.

Some dads might take charge in a moment like this, demanding that his spouse take a break explaining that perhaps she’d had enough. I, however, slowly backed out of the room, my eyes on her – ready to run if need be.

I went downstairs and put the phone in my hand. I put my thumb on the 9 in the event I needed help.

I then grabbed some peanuts and a beer and turned on the Nightly News.

Sure, I cared. We’d worked too hard over the past ten months not to have the opportunity to try to raise this new addition to our family. Plus, deep down I didn’t really think Lisa would hurt our child.  It was at this point, however, that I decided my wife knew more than I did in the parenting department and that she should be the one to lead in this arena.

I would support as directed, and mow the lawn.

It wasn’t until Lisa died that I found out what I had been missing. Instead of just hanging with my kids, I was thrust into full care provider. And that responsibility changed my life.

No longer is work my number one priority. It’s important to me, very important to me; but my girls come first. Period.  I now know what they’re doing, and I’m driving them all over town. I didn’t know that chauffeuring was the primary key to garnering information. Toss ‘em in the back seat, and they chirp like little birds.

Oh what I was missing. Oh what I have gained. The depth of my connection with my girls is so much more significant than it ever was before. I wonder how many other parents are missing out because they’re consciously choosing to take a back seat.

Take it from me, the front seat is better.

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