Dropoff Success

We arrived at Carige Dorm at UNC last Friday at 9:30 AM.  Right on time.  We took two cars.  Stephanie drove her silver Honda Civic.  We couldn’t fit the wares and three humans in one.  Most of Michelle’s belongings were stuffed in my SUV, all seats down. 

It’s sort of amazing how much one can fit in a dorm room.  They ain’t large.  Michelle warned me, she looked up the measurements.  Wall to wall: 12’ x 13”.  Our living room rug is two feet longer and three feet wider than her entire living space – that she shares with another co-ed!  But, she’s young, and it’s nice to be able to high five your roommate without getting out of bed.

My first house had one bathroom.  The ceiling was slanted over the toilet.  You had to lean back if you peed standing up.  It was actually a nice abdomen stretch.

Dropping a kid off at school is sort of like walking to a flogging.  The criminal is dreading it as well as the flogger.   The uncertainty for her, the anxiousness for me.  How could I leave my kid alone in this unfamiliar place?  Michelle decided to ride with Stephanie, fearful of my frame of mind.  Who knew if Butterfly Kisses might cue up on Spotify, a sure tearfest to follow.

God works in mysterious ways.  An August, 100 degree day and a sixth floor dorm room help alleviate emotion.  It felt like we were moving into Satan’s attic.  Any water that might pour out of my tear ducts was redirected to my armpits.

Being your typical dad, I refused to take the elevator.  The staircase was much closer to the car, and I was too impatient to wait my turn.  I had a job to do and nothing would get in my way. 

I heaved the largest Tupperware bins on my shoulders and hiked the flights of stairs to the top floor, young bucks holding doors for me.  In retrospect, maybe I was trying to keep up with them, the handsome young fellas who I used to be – more girth in the shoulders than the waist.  No doubt in my mind that i was a fit a they.

A friend warned me to bring a second t-shirt, he had moved his son in the day before.   I’m not a big sweater” I told him.  I was wrong.

I prayed for strength.  I hoped her mother’s spirit would come out – strength, grit, and courage to fly.  I couldn’t be with her, but Lisa could.

It worked! 

We unloaded, hauled, unpacked and “decorated” like champs.  It was fun!  We enjoyed the time and her roommate’s family.  After lunch we walked back to the dorm.  We hugged in the lobby of Craige.  We both welled up, our masks helpful in hiding our fears – then, Stephanie and I exited quickly.  My middle kid put her hand on my back as we walked down the cement walkway to the parking deck.  We didn’t talk, but she knew. 

I held the emotion until I got back to my car.   It wasn’t pretty.  

 It’s been a transition for me and a transition for her.  But surprising to us both, all is calm.

Next we launch Julie’s two:  Virginia and Scotland.  In September, we rest. 

Blessings…

I struggle with the phrase “I’m blessed.”  Maybe not generally, but to be blessed with a great house, or plenty of food or health seems to imply that God has withheld these things from others.  Why would he bestow all this on me, and not on my neighbor?  I most certainly didn’t do anything to deserve what I have.

What I do know is that my kids, actually our kids (Julie’s and mine), are a blessing to me.  Each has their own personality, their own quirks and take on life.  None are the same.  Yet I find all intriguing.

Michelle, the youngest, graduated from high school in May.  She’s headed to UNC-Chapel Hill on August 13.  She is a humorous, fun-loving, smart, salty, pretty young woman.  A times a bit reticent, but when she wants, she can light up a room.

I’ve spent so many years zeroed in on raising this kid – actually all three!  I remember times when I would stay up until 1 AM completing the online school health forms (those reminder emails to TURN IN THE PHYSICAL were like a scolding from Mrs. Buie, my fourth grade teacher).  I remember packing lunches at 10 PM so I could sleep a couple of minutes later the next morning.  I remember bra shopping and 12 girls at my house combing out their, at the time stylish, “side bangs” readying for the middle school dance.  I remember spending too much time crossing off my checklist and not enough time just being with them.  I remember snuggling and tickling and dancing in the kitchen. 

Now, they don’t need the same level of attention they have demanded over the past decade.  I suppose I don’t either.  They spent a lot of time making sure I was OK, worrying that I might be alone on a Saturday night or stressed that I didn’t have enough presents to open on Christmas morning.

We still need each other.  There are insurance premiums to pay and weekly updates required by dad.  But the intensity of the reliance is less – a sad relief.

As I look back on the past eleven years, I can see God’s plan unfold.  We grieved for a time.  I met someone special.  The girls grew up.  And then, seamlessly, at just the right moments, all of the houses sold, all of the jobs worked out, all the kids began to create their own futures. 

In the aftermath of horrible, there can be beautiful. That is a blessing indeed.

TikTok Nuggets

I hate to admit this, because I long to be cool, but perhaps… I’m not.  And frankly, I thought, maybe, if parent-cool was on a one-to-ten number line, perhaps I was a seven.  I’m a little too Type A to ever be an eight, but still, compared to other middle agers I know, I felt like my cool factor was above average. 

There have been several moments over the years that have made me ponder my coolness.  A while back when I was dating, a “cool” guy at work told me I needed to stop dressing like a 50-year-old man if I ever wanted to find a woman.  But I was a 50-year-old man, and I scored a pretty fine lady even in dad jeans, a V-neck sweater, and a button down shirt.

But this month, Michelle turned 18.  Two weeks ago to celebrate, Julie and I set up our porch to host a couple of her friends.  When we asked about food, she requested a smorgasbord of chicken nuggets and French fries.  Yes.  Julie and I were each assigned three fast food restaurants.  We were instructed to purchase chicken nuggets, fries and dipping sauce. 

I was timid about requesting too many sauces.  Julie, not so much.  Chic Fil A gave her 30, six of each kind.  She’s a salesperson, not afraid to ask for what she wants. 

We brought them home, masked ourselves and dumped them all on a tray. 

I soon discovered that the food choice had nothing to do with chicken or potatoes.  Apparently, this meal is a TikTok trend. 

Some of you are wondering, what is TikTok?  I’m learning it is a video sharing app.  You take 15 second videos and the world can see them. 

So before wolfing down the nuggets, and drenching them in Polynesian, everything stopped.  Videos were taken.  Videos were retaken.  And only then, did they partake.

I don’t understand the TikTok.  I like TV shows and movies.  And thus the divide:  18 vs. 55. 

#1 #2 #3 #4 #5

Julie with #4 at Furman!

#3 at Elon in her new apartment!                          

Julie and I have so many kids I can’t keep up with them all.  I’ve found it is best to just refer to them by birth order.

Two weeks ago, #2, #3 and #4 returned from working at overnight camps for the summer.  With them, they brought enough laundry to fill a school bus. You could smell them driving down the highway.  Whew!

Julie only got #2 for about 48 hours.  #3 and #4 were home for a couple of weeks.

#3 was preparing to move into an on campus apartment at Elon University.  Between her new curtains, bedspread, dishes, pillows, toaster (you get the picture) and her invitation to participate in the NC Debutante Ball, she has been quite the economic drain on the Tanner family this month.  I actually save money when she’s in college – which I find peculiar.

#1 graced us with her presence last weekend for about 18 hours.  Long enough to drop off laundry, pick up her new (used) VW and head to DC to see her boyfriend who spent the summer in Texas.  She returned the next weekend to pick up the laundry she left the previous weekend.  I just wash and fold as instructed.  I prefer to be referred to as Tide-man.

Last Friday, Julie and I drove #4 to Furman University in Greenville, SC, to move her in for her freshman year!  Other than her soon-to-be stepfather (a.k.a. Tide-man) losing her room key, unbelievable, it was a smooth transition.  The key reappeared that night, after we had the locksmith re-key the door on the third floor of Thurman Dorm and after I walked the entire campus no less than five times trying to figure out where I dropped the little booger.

This past Sunday, Julie and I drove #3 to Elon University in Burlington, NC, to move her in for her sophomore year.  #3 called that same night:  “Dad, I just wanted you to know that the new knife you bought for our apartment works great.  I just sliced my finger with it and am headed to the emergency room to have it stitched up.”

#1 texted tonight – “I’ve broken out in hives all over my legs.”

#2 called to make sure #4s drop off went well.  He’s a good man.

Next weekend, #5 and I are headed to Charlotte for Labor Day.  We are volunteering at a community event for Julie’s work.

Then we have the Deb Ball in Raleigh the next week.  We are hopeful #1’s boyfriend will join us from DC.  He’s a really nice guy.  I sort of feel sorry for #3s date.  He’s never met any of us, this could be overwhelming.  He’s just a friend, but still.

We follow Deb weekend with #2 at the Georgia- Arkansas game in Athens (he’s a Bulldog) then Furman parents’ weekend with #4, then Elon parents’ weekend with #3 and then St. Mary’s parents’ weekend with #5.  #5 and I are going to visit three colleges the first week in October and the second weekend in October is #4s Fall Break.  I won’t see her because I’ll be with #3 at Elon for Men We Love weekend with her sorority.  Two weeks later is #2’s Fraternity’s Parents’ weekend in Athens – and we can’t miss that!  They have an open tab at a downtown bar which they tout to encourage parents to attend – also unbelievable.  Fun, but unbelievable.  Last year we went to a dance club and were heckled for being so old.  I’m gonna wear skinny jeans this year to fool them.

Fortunately, all we have in November is a business trip to Vancouver (Julie is going to join me) and Thanksgiving (likely in a couple of cities across NC).

I’m writing like this is stressful – it’s really not.  We’re busy, but we are having the time of our lives with five incredible kids!

The Final Driver’s License

Michelle got her driver’s license yesterday.

These transitions, they are glorious.  These transitions, they are painful.

How happy I will be that I can sleep a few minutes later each morning, I do love my bed especially before 7 AM.  How nice it will be NOT to have to spend 8 minutes of my day at the stop light at the corner of Wade Avenue and Dixie Trail.  Seriously, you could cook a 20 pound turkey on low while you wait at that light.  How nice it will be not to be running into the office with my hair on fire, the last one at the meeting, ALWAYS.  How nice it will be not to have to rush out of the office at the end of the day, the laptop constantly needing to update on my way out the door, knowing my kid is likely the last one sitting on the bench outside wondering if dad will ever come.

And SAT-TUR-DAY MORNINGS!  How does this kid end up with so many stinkin’ activities on Saturday mornings at 8?  When I was a kid the only activity we had on Saturday mornings was quietly watching Shazam so I didn’t wake my old man:

Chosen from among all others, by the immortal elders Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Achilles, Mercury – Billy Batson and his mentor travel the highways and byways of the land…

I loved Billy Batson and his mentor.

Michelle can now go on a weekend morning.  I can give her a hug and wave goodbye, still in my sweats with a warm cup-o-joe.

It’s a wonderful rite of passage.

It is breaking my heart.

My favorite time of the day is when I ride around with Michelle.  It’s when we debrief.  I tell her about my day, she shares about hers – unless she is cranky, and then we just ride.  We laugh.  We run errands.  We solve the problems of the world.  She shares new music with me, I’m hip like that.

Now it’s just me.  Me and my tired Spotify playlist.

I remember the last lunch I packed for her over a year ago when she was a student at St. Timothy’s School.  Before that day, I cursed the turkey sandwich.  The Zip Lock bag was my nemesis.  I wished for a lunch fairy to meet me each morning with the bag packed and the water bottle filled.  I dreamed of a day when I wouldn’t slop greasy lunch meat at 6:30 AM.

My dream came true.  Now I miss turkey.  Funny how that happens.

So often I ponder and wish for the stuff that will come.  Then it does, and I wish it weren’t so.

Yeah, I’ll enjoy a few more minutes of sleep.  I’ll get used to her new independence.  But damn, it went by too fast.

Roll Call

Last week, at Elon’s orientation, Julie and I were with a group of parents and were asked how many kids we have.  It’s sort of complicated, I thought to myself, but at the time, the word “five” just rolled off my tongue.  The other females in the group looked at Julie like she had lost her mind because y’all, that is a lot of kids!  Like more than two is a great plenty.  But FIVE?  Had she birthed them all she would have been pregnant for half a decade.

Three are in college.  One in DC, one at the University of Georgia and one in Burlington, NC, at Elon University.  Julie and her youngest are in Charlotte.  Michelle and I are in Raleigh.  We span five cities and three states.  If you speak to various members of this new tribe, you can often piece together a picture of what’s going on with each family member.  I secretly love it when siblings know something about each other that I’m unaware of.  It means they might talk to each other and be kind in the long term future.  A nice change from “You wore MY DRESS without MY permission????”

Keeping up with the crew is becoming increasingly difficult.  I believe it was DJ who started the first family Roll Call.  One kid sends a text to the entire family group:  Roll Call.  The appropriate response is a photo.  A come as you are, right then, right now pic sent back to the group as soon as possible.  This was our last call from earlier this summer.

Bailey

Child #1

Will

Child #2

Lucy

Child #3

lizzie

Child #4

Annie

Child #5

When Julie and I sent our picture, Michelle was shook!

“I cannot believe that the kids all sent pictures from our bunks at camp, with boxes of Cheez-It’s, hair in towels, unshaven, looking all regular and you and Julie sent this!”

Bruce and Julie

“I mean seriously?  Julie’s all in a long dress, and you’re wearing pants!  Probably just finished a glass of wine or something.  Are –  you –  KIDDING?  Is this how it is going to be?  We sit at home eating Cheez-It’s while y’all go out to fancy dinners?  We want in on that action!”

Truth be told, this crew would probably prefer the Shake Shack to grilled salmon and Nike shorts to pants with a button any day of the week.  Regardless, a little Roll Call every now and then is a good way to see your kids’ faces – which is nice when they are not coming in your door on the daily.

Nuggets from Dad

My mother enjoys sharing helpful little nuggets for life with my brother and me.

This week she forwarded an email that explained how to give yourself CPR in the event you have a heart attack alone.  For those who might find themselves in that situation, apparently you cough like a mad dog.

She has also warned of the foods most likely to contain Salmonella (her favorite bacteria): eggs and chicken; places where snakes might hide in your yard (near heavy shrubbery and near water); and the distance your fecal matter can travel if you flush the toilet with the lid open (2.7 miles).

Because I am becoming my mother, I now pass my own nuggets to my children.

Last week I saw a TV special on the growing use of heroin by teenagers.  Therefore, I sent a group text to my daughters:

I just watched a news segment on heroin use.  They said to tell your kids not to use.  It is bad.  It will kill you.  It makes your skin and teeth nasty which doesn’t even matter if you’re dead.  So stop using heroin if you are and don’t start if you aren’t.

Now I am fairly certain that none of them are on drugs, but I gotta bring the issue up regardless, huh?

These were the follow up texts I received from my children:

Stephanie:  I just threw out my stash and I’m already having withdrawals

DJ:  I’m too addicted I can’t stop

Michelle:  Dad I’m having trouble getting the needle in my vein.  Can you come upstairs and help?

Me:  You guys, this is serious!

They say to talk about issues with your kids from the get go.  So I do.  Sex, drugs, eating disorders, alcohol use – all are fair game.  I’m pretty certain that none of my dad warnings will do much good.  But, my hope is that it will open the doors of conversation, allowing us to be open and discuss whatever comes to mind – even the stuff that is a bit uncomfortable.

 

Oh to be thirteen…

I can’t  believe that I was once one of them:  a middle school boy.

Two weeks ago I chaperoned our church middle school mission trip.  The three adults sat with our youth on the front row of the church the Sunday that we departed.  Late in the service, we all stood up front so the minister could “commission” our group which includes a charge to spread Christ’s love throughout the world.

We were all wearing shorts that day, ready to depart at noon.

Mid point in the service, our youth director looked down as the 12-year-old beside her took full use of the ink pen on our weekly visitor register.  His ball point was steady on his buddy’s right leg.  And what might one guess this young man would draw?  A penis.  Yes, he used the pen from the Friendship pad to draw private parts on his friend’s leg.

I didn’t see it myself which is a good thing.  Because I fear I would have rolled under the pew with laughter.  Although grossly inappropriate, it is perhaps one of the moments I will most remember from my years in church, right after my baptism and being ordained as an elder.

What are these dudes thinking?  Or are they?

If there is a deck of cards in view, they pick it up and begin flipping the cards all over the room.  They flip cards at windows, heads, legs, girls, the floor, the ceiling, the wall – I bet I picked up 6,800 cards that week.  And I nagged so much just to ensure that they would occasionally sleep and not forget to change their clothes, I found it easier to clean up myself than to ask them to help.

There were actually two church groups spending the week together in Asheville.  Although we separated during the day, at night we had programs as a large group.

On Tuesday, we visited a Labyrinth.  Our goal was to quietly walk the maze-like path while praying and pondering.  The boys took this as an obstacle course; a challenge to see who could run through the quickest.

Afterward, we all stood in a large circle on a concrete pad.  I had a clear view of one young man who was directly across from me.  His finger was lodged into his nose so far up you could not see his knuckle.  The girl beside him was from the other church and was staring at him with a look of disgust and amazement.  I could see her thought bubble, Is he really digging into his nose right here beside me?  Could he possibly get it any further up?  Can he possibly be my same age?

As his finger disembarked and he relaxed his arm beside him, the group leader announced to all, “Now grab the hand of the person beside you, we are going to pray.”

I wanted to save her.  I could handle a boogered hand much better than she.  I considered diving in between them, grabbing his snot remnanted digit so she would not have to.  But it was too far.  I could not get there in time.

Bless her heart.  I wonder what she thought as we all bowed to God.

Girls at that age are advanced.  Michelle and her friends were having intelligent conversations with the chaperones, listening to music, and braiding each other’s hair.  Calm, cool, and collected.

The boys were were walking around like Beavis and Butthead.

That’s why I volunteer with middle schoolers.  They are incredibly interesting.  Incredibly funny.  Unpredictable.  Pushing the limits.  Full of life.

I had a late birthday for my grade.  I’m a September baby.  My mother has repeatedly told me she should have held me back.  Although I’m fifty, my maturity level is the same as a 26-year-old woman.  Some things never change.

 

 

What’s My Role?

IMG_0532

I had the opportunity to chaperone our middle school youth group’s trip to Asheville, NC, this past week.  Asheville Youth Mission is a Christian organization that coordinates service opportunities for groups throughout the year in and around their mountain town.  We took 13 teenagers and experienced six mission placements in a week.

We worked at Manna Food Bank where Michelle, four other kids and I “got” to rip open hundreds of mesh bags full of rotten, slimy okra and toss them into a compost pile.  There was gagging and one episode of vomiting.  Not me or my child.  Michelle is used to disgusting food.  She was just thankful that she didn’t have to eat it for dinner this time.

We planned a pirate party at a day care center for adults with severe intellectual disabilities.  We shared some great jokes with our new friends:

What’s a pirate’s favorite country?

Arrrrgentina!

I left that afternoon both uplifted and incredibly grateful for my healthy children.

This was my second year at AYM, so I wasn’t surprised that I would be spiritually and emotionally moved at some point during the week.  I just didn’t know how.

Day 1 was the okra; not moving – emotionally or spiritually.  Perhaps gastronically, but that’s about all.

Day 2, however, hit me hard.

We pulled up to Hinds Feet Farm around noon.  It was not a corn field.  It was actually a safe place for people to go who suffer from traumatic or acquired brain injuries.   These adults come to Hinds Feet Farm, held in the back of a church, daily, where they build friendships and participate in programs.

I was fortunate to break bread with Sarah, Jay and Vanessa, three of about 15 present last Tuesday.  Jay immediately shared that Sarah was his wife; they both wore wedding bands.  Sarah clarified that their marriage was spiritual, that at this point they were unable to live together and had not yet had an official ceremony.

After lunch, several of our new friends shared their stories.  We learned that Sarah and Vanessa had been in car accidents.  Vanessa’s was three days after she turned 16.  Jay was hit in a brawl, fell backwards, and suffered significant bleeding on his brain.

Although their stories were inspiring, it was the lessons they shared that really hit home with me.

Each told us that they were intelligent; that they weren’t scary; that they just struggled with speech and with memory.  They asked us to treat them like real people.  Not to shy away from them.  Not to assume they aren’t smart.

As I listened to them, I thought about all that is going on in the world today.  Perhaps part of their struggles was my fault.

I don’t hang out with anyone who has a traumatic brain injury, so I simply don’t understand.  In fact, I don’t really hang out with Muslims, the homeless, those outside of my socioeconomic sphere, transgender folks, etc., etc.  Sure, I have acquaintances at work and throughout the community who are different from me, and, they are some of the nicest, most engaging people I know.  But I’m not eating dinner with them on Saturday night.  Instead, I spend my free time with my family (all lily white, middle class, southerners), and friends from church or clubs or my neighborhood (most lily white, middle class, southerners).  I’m guessing it is difficult to truly understand others if you don’t spend significant time with them.  In fact, Sarah said with slow, slurred speech, “You can’t understand if you don’t walk in someone else’s shoes.  And your feet are probably the wrong size.”  I think I should at least try them on.

At times, I get so frustrated with the unrest in our world.  Things seem so dire.  And yet, if I’m honest with myself, I can’t say that I’m doing anything to make it better.  Perhaps I should spend a bit more time pondering my role in all of this.  And maybe I should work a bit harder to connect with those who don’t look, act and think just like I do.

The Sandspurs

sandspur

This coming Saturday is a busy day for the Tanners.

At around 4 AM, I drop DJ off at the Raleigh-Durham airport.  She’s going to Durbin, South Africa, with her aunt.  A once in a lifetime experience that she will experience… at age 19.

At 9, I pick Michelle up from Camp Kanata, an overnight camp where she will have spent the week with one of her best friends.  She was stoked when I dropped her off last Sunday.

At 3, I drop Stephanie off for four weeks at Camp Seafarer on the coast of North Carolina where she will be a Camper in Leadership Training.

It’s good to be my kids.

When I was younger, often the highlight of a summer day was earning a nickel when my brother bet me I wouldn’t stick my tongue in the sand hole in our backyard.  You could rake that dirt off with about three scrapes from your Incisors.  Well worth it when the ice cream truck came musically down Berkshire Road.

My backyard could be Africa, if I wanted it to.  It could also be sleep away camp or a spaceship or a battlefield.  All we needed was a hole, which my dad dug for us in the back corner of the back yard.  Six of seven of us could fit into it at once.

The principal’s kid lived behind us on the other side of the fence from our fort.  We didn’t like the principal.  We didn’t like his kid either.  My mother, the preacher’s wife, encouraged us to be nice to him, to include him in our group.  We didn’t much listen to her suggestion.  I’m certain it was my brother’s fault.

Today, kids don’t have to pretend.  They’re doing the real stuff!

They don’t even have to deal with sandspurs.  Where did those boogers go?  If you would have pulled all the sandspurs out of my dad’s yard when I was a kid, you’d have been left with a really nice rock collection.  That’s all there was.  Dirt, rock and sandspurs.  They hurt like hell May to mid-June, but come Summer Solstice, our feet were so tough, we could have walked to Africa, barefoot.

We didn’t go to overnight camp.  We didn’t sail or canoe or shoot archery.  Well, we did have a bow with arrows that had a rubber end.  We shot them at each other’s butts.  They seldom stuck, but boy was it exciting when they did.

I’m sure there were camps back when I was a kid.  I saw the movie Meatballs.  Maybe I didn’t go because I wouldn’t leave my mother’s side.  I didn’t want to go to half-day bible school without her and my dad was the minister at the church.  I wasn’t really homesick; she was just a really good mom.

I’m glad my kids are able to do some really cool stuff in the summer.  I’m glad they are having experiences I didn’t have at their age.  I just doesn’t seem fair that I’m at home, working, while they are gallivanting around the world!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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