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.

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Another One Bites The Dust

packing

Stephanie, my middle kid, is heading to college on Friday.

I’m not sure what else I can do to prepare her.  We’ve covered sex, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, credit card abuse, #metoo, diversity, opioids, hygiene, tattoos, the benefits of making your bed each day, getting involved and academics.

Our conversations go something like this:

Me:  “Opioids killed 2,500 people in North Carolina last year.”

Stephanie:  “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Me:  “Often folks get addicted after having surgery because they use them for pain.”

Stephanie:  “Then don’t use them for pain.”

Me:  “I won’t.  You don’t either.  They may be running rampant at Elon.  I’m just not sure.  Please don’t take them.”

Stephanie:  “I won’t.”

I’m not sure if these lessons are seeping in.

I have such hopes and dreams for this kid.  She’s like the best kid in the world, and I’m about to toss her into the ocean of life.

Thankfully she will only be an hour away.  I can get to her quickly if I need her.  I guess I could just drive over there each morning to make her bed – just to ensure it gets done.  I’m sure she’ll be up early.

No, that’s ridiculous.  I wouldn’t really do that!  I’ll just see her on Sundays when she comes home to go to church with me.

OK – I’m going to be brave.  I’m going to unpack her stuff, drop her off and drive away without tears or a scene.  And I’m not going to drive to Elon to see her – until the second week when I’m “passing” through to go to Charlotte.  I mean seriously, I’m gonna drive RIGHT by the Elon exit on I-40, what do you expect me to do?

Theara and the Beatitudes

I recently taught a Sunday school lesson on the Beatitudes.  I think I may be plagiarizing, but I no longer have a copy of the book, and I don’t remember the author’s name.  So know that credit for the following concept goes to whoever the guy is who wrote this Presbyterian book on the Beatitudes.  Sorry dude.

The author says that often people who struggle economically find their joy in the allness of life.  He says that allness isn’t even a real word, he made it up.  But maybe it should be.

Am I’m making life too complicated?  Maybe it isn’t about the house or the car or the college tuition or the next vacation or the number of years ‘til retirement.  Maybe it isn’t about being included in the important meeting at work or having everyone in the world like you or being President of the Board.  Perhaps it is about being in the moment – being fully satisfied with what you are given today; right now.

Matthew 18:3 says to approach life in a childlike way.

When I worked at the Cary YMCA, there was a kid in our programs named Theara.  She had Downs Syndrome and came to the Y after-school and during the summer most days for years and years.  Now, Theara could get frustrated and definitely told you what was on her mind.  One day we were walking to Bond Park about a mile down the greenway from the Y.  She got tired, sat down, and refused to go any further.  It was hot, and she let us know that we, in her opinion, had mucked up her day with this ridiculous trek.

I sort of liked the fact that you never had to guess where you stood with Theara.  If she was happy, you knew it.  If she wasn’t, you also knew it.

But what I most admired about Theara was that she was full.  She was full of love, and joy.  She delighted in a camp skit, song or cheer.  She loved theme days where you had the opportunity to dress up in costume.  She loved running into me in the hallway, walking up to greet me with a high-five and a joke or some little tidbit about her day.  She would get so excited about the smallest things.

She wasn’t waiting around for happiness to find her.  She found happiness in almost every aspect of life, with the exception of hot walks to Bond Park.

The Beatitudes encourage us to be meek, merciful, peacemakers, pure in heart and several other things that I’m not very good at.  Who in the heck even wants to be meek?  Is that a good thing?

Perhaps what Christ was saying was to take the talents you’ve been given and maximize them.  Or maybe, that the things society says are important, like leadership and clout, are not the things He finds important.  He made this world and wants us to enjoy it no matter who we are or what we’ve been given.

The author says that happiness replaces pain but that joy embraces it.  He explains that joy takes conquest of all the stuff of life, both good and bad, while happiness depends largely on circumstances.

I, for one, too often seek happiness instead of living with joy.  And when you do that, happiness is sometimes evasive.  Joy isn’t fickle.  It doesn’t leave us even when things aren’t going our way.

I think Theara has it right.  She has contentment with who she is and where she is.  Maybe I should spend more times with kids – I might learn something about living.

I HATE Snakes!

black_snake_l1

About two years ago, my fiancé, Julie, sent me a frantic text.  It was afternoon.  I was sitting at my desk.

I’ve been bitten by a snake. 

Julie has a large natural area in the front of her house.  She walks her dog down to the mailbox most afternoons.  On this particular day, the coiled up viper saw her.  He was jaywalking across her driveway.  Unfortunately, she didn’t see him.

Ever since, I’ve been leery of walking outdoors in Charlotte, NC.  I DON’T LIKE SNAKES, and apparently on that side of our state they are rampant!

Therefore, I was rather taken aback two weeks ago when I walked into Julie’s kitchen on a lazy Saturday morning at 10.  It was hazy outside – thus not real bright inside the house.  I glanced down at the floor and saw a long, black, squiggly rope half way under the fridge.

I stopped.

It was still.

I turned on the light.

It was still still.

I took a step forward wondering if it could be rubber foam from underneath her appliance that had fallen off.

As I approached, the squiggle wiggled.

“JULIE!  COME HERE!  NOW!  There’s a SNAKE in the KITCHEN!”

By the time she entered, homeboy had slid all the way under.

I don’t care if a snake is black, white or polka dot.  Poisonous?  Doesn’t matter.  As a friend says, I don’t trust nothing that ain’t got shoulders.

Julie called Critter Control.  He said they didn’t have a technician on hand and that it was the weekend.  They’d charge an awful lot to come get him.

“I’ll pitch in!”  I yelled.

I love my money, but I hate snakes more.

He told her to call 311, it’s a city number.  And to tell them the snake was distressing her.  That would not have been a lie.

What the heck is 311?  It sounds like a place that you put people who flunk out of the Police Academy.

I told Julie to watch the refrigerator – not to let the snake out of her sight while I went to get a weapon.

When I came back in, Julie was chatting it up with the 311 operator while she stood on the other side of the dining room.  Julie tends to stroll around when she’s talking on the phone.

“You’re not watching the snake!!!!”

But she and the operator were having a lovely conversation.

It was clear that this job was not going to be taken care of by a professional.  No.  It was going to be taken care of by me.

We called Joe, a neighbor.  Joe too dislikes snakes, but perhaps less than I.

Joe asked, “Danny, do you want to pull the refrigerator out from the wall, or do you want to kill the snake.”

That’s like asking “Do you want a hand full of cash or a rectal exam?”  But it was my fiancé’s house, I had to offer.

“You pick Joe!  I’ll do either.”

I’m sure he could sense fear.

“I’ve never killed a snake before.  This’ll be a great story for my wife.”

I love Joe.

He got the spade. I grabbed the appliance.  As I started shifting it forward, Joe informed me that our friend was headed my way.  I jumped ten feet in the air grabbing my flat shovel in the process.  He squirmed along the baseboard with his mouth wide open.  His fangs were enormous (or maybe incisors, I couldn’t really tell).  I pinned him against the wall as he squirmed for his life.  Joe got his tool near his head.  Victory was ours.

The next day the critter man did come out.  He checked for entry points.  Nothing.  I’m guessing he came in through the door just like the rest of us.

The only unanswered question I have from this incident is “Why would someone work for Critter Control?”  I just don’t get it.

Running Late

Amtrak owes me $15.83.

Being engaged and living in two cities has its advantages and disadvantages.  The disadvantages are clear:  time, miles on the road, a goopy longing for one another, hours on the phone… yada yada yada – I know, it could be worse.  The advantage is I can give you a full rundown of every Starbucks and Chic-Fill-A between Raleigh and Charlotte.  Want a latte?  Burlington.  The one near the outlet mall.  Just a cup-o-joe?  Salisbury is best.  Fresh chicken sandwich, skip I-85 exit 41.  Plus it is way too crowded.

With a multi-layered travel week ahead of me, I decided that perhaps Michelle and I would train down to Charlotte on July 2, I’d train back to work on the 5th and then drive back down for the weekend.  Get a little work done while someone else chauffeured.  Michelle and Julie had yoga/shopping plans for Thursday and Friday, so it made sense for me to get the heck out of the way and return to a light half-week at work.

I waited to buy my Amtrak tix – I have travel transportation commitment issues.  What if I change my mind?  Plus, Michelle was babysitting for a family friend supposedly until 5 PM, and the train departed at 5:16.  We’d be cutting it close.

At 4 PM, I called her, “Baby, if Mr. Hill gets home by 4:40, I think we will take the train.  There seem to still be seats left.  If not, we’ll drive.  Let me know as soon as he pulls up.”

At 4:43, she rang.  “He’s here.  Can you come get me?”

“Ask him if he can drop you at our house.  It’s only 3 minutes away.  I’ll call Uber and carry the luggage to the street.”

The plan was in motion.  A click of the Uber App and five bags later, (one carrying a homemade ice cream churn – you gotta have homemade ice cream on July 4th) I was poised to depart waiting on Dellwood Drive.

Our Uber was there in a flash.  With an already full trunk, I crammed four bags in the front seat of his car and put the churn in the back with me.  Still no Michelle.  I called.

“Baby – are you on the way?”

“Almost,” she said sweetly.

“Hurry!”

“We’re coming!”

I hated to make the driver wait any longer so I told him he could leave and opened the passenger door to begin unpacking.  About that time Mr. Hill’s truck rounded the corner.

“Jump in Michelle!  Hurry!”

Our driver took off, and I quickly booked the tickets on my phone.

Raleigh has a brand new train station which is incredibly exciting.  I had read in the paper that the station was opening on the very day we were leaving.  We’d be on the inaugural 5:16 train.

We drove up to the station.  It was empty.  The signage was sparse and not one single passenger was inside.

“I swear I read it opened today,” I explained to the driver.

“I read that too,” he assured me.

I walked up to the door – it was 5:03 PM.  A guy in a uniform was inside.  He sauntered to the door.

“You looking for the train?”

“Yeah.”

“We open next Tuesday.”

“The paper said today.”

“Yeah – they got it wrong.”

ERRR.

I ran back to the car, and we sped out to the Cabarrus Street station only a couple of blocks away.

As we neared our destination, I got a text:  Your train is delayed by an hour and 8 minutes.

I guess that’s not all bad, I thought.  At least we won’t miss it.

We unloaded our goods and headed inside the hot, cramped room.  Michelle purchased a drink from the vending machine and used the decades old bathroom.

About five minutes later, I received another text.  Your train has been delayed another 34 minutes.

Had I driven, I could have been over half way to Charlotte by the time the train left the station.  I went up to the counter.

“Can I get a refund?” I inquired.

“Yep.  This train is out of New York.  It’s always late.  Probably be delayed again.  They’re working on the tracks in Maryland.”

Good lord have mercy.

$15.83 cents for the round trip Uber and an hour later we arrived home.  Just in time to repack and leave again… in my car.

Incidentally, I checked.  We made it to Charlotte an hour and forty-five minutes before the train.  I think we made the right call.

Somethin’ going down in the Dais

AT Speaker of the House

What do you do with a 15-year-old in the summer?  I’m not sure what Michelle would choose – maybe 13 weeks of watching The Office reruns on Netflix.

Nah.  Not in the Tanner house!  She can do that on the weekends.  I have her fanny busy Monday – Friday, and she is actually enjoying the activity.

Week 1 was exciting!  She served as a Page in the NC House of Representatives.  It was not an easy feat getting into that program.  Apparently it is fairly competitive.  But she’s a cool kid with a lot to offer.  I’m not surprised she got in!

One day she was helping two younger legislative staff members prep one of the committee rooms for the day’s meetings.  It was budget time in North Carolina so the work was abundant that week.  As they were prepping, Michelle asked the staff members if there was anything else she could do to help.  They said, with very serious faces, “Yes.  We need someone to open the meeting with the Star Spangled Banner.  Do you sing?”

“Seriously?” She inquired thinking they really should have considered this earlier.

“Yep.  It’s House protocol.”

She asked if she could practice.  After belting it out, rather strongly I would imagine – she has a very good voice – they informed her they were kidding.

At least something fun is happening in our government.

On the last day of her service, she spent the day in the House Chambers as the Representatives debated the budget bill.  She told me that she felt sorry for the Democrats because they knew they were going to lose, but, she explained, “they just kept talking.”

Apparently, the Speaker of the House, several staff members and two Pages are situated in the front of the room in an area called the Dais.  it is a large desk structure elevated, sort of like where a judge sits.  Michelle’s peer, Allison, was assigned to the Dais that morning.  According to my daughter, Allison is VERY southern.  She is form a small town in eastern North Carolina, and her accent is rich.

At lunch break, the Pages gathered to eat.  As they sat down at a table, Allison ran out of the House about to bust with the news:

“Y’all,” Allison exclaimed in her country accent.  “Someone farted in the Dais.”

Now I’m not sure of the culprit, most likely the male Page standing on the opposite side from Allison.  But the prospect of the Speaker of the House stinkin’ up the Dais during budget negotiations for the State of North Carolina brings me a little chuckle.  Michelle says it sounds like something I’d do at a Y Board meeting.

She’s probably right.

 

Spreading Wings

Lucy graduation

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

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

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

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

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

But not today.  No.  Not today.

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

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

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

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

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

She’s Home

Ten Ways You Know Your College Student Has Returned:

10.  La Croix in da house! (the diet Coke of Millennials)

La Croix

9.  Tennis shoes in da house!  (the kitchen floor to be exact)

sneakers

8.  Dirty dishes in da house!

Dad:  “DJ, could you PLEASE clean up the dishes you use while I am at work?”

DJ:  “I clean up some of them.  Just not the hard ones.”

dirty dishes

7.  The stained shirt returns.

Phone call September 2017:

DJ:  “Dad, I got a stain on that white blouse.  Do you think you can get it out?”

Dad:  “Probably.  Just bring it home.”

May 2018:  It returns.

blouse

6.  A lone sweet potato, just hanging around.

sweet potato

5.  Tupperware filled with unidentifiable things.

tupperware

4.  Plugs, plugs, all kinds of plugs –

plugs

3.  Empty drawers.

Drawer

2.  Cluttered floors.

floors

1. The annual bathing suit blowout.

bathing suit

It’s so fun to have them back.  Right??

 

 

Huey at the Bar

I am definitely an extrovert.  I feed off others’ energy.  I’m pretty good at connecting with folks at a work function or a social gathering, asking questions of friends or acquaintances.  And yet, I sometimes work to avoid strangers – it’s just hard to invest in people I’ll likely never see again.

My fiance, Julie, apparently has a different mentality.

Last week we were in New Orleans.  We walked into a restaurant with the intent of grabbing some appetizers at the bar.  I headed to the bathroom while Julie scoped out seats.  Although there were four, I repeat FOUR, open stools at the end of the long counter, she chose to perch square in the middle of the bar between a younger couple and a middle aged loner.  In my mind, I questioned her decision, and she could tell by my facial expression:

There are many, many seats at the end of the bar.

I could also read her response:  Yes, but these seemed more interesting.

And indeed they were.

It didn’t take long for Huey, the loner, to strike up a conversation.  In short order we discovered that:

*He lives in Manhattan

*He is an only child

*His father has a horse farm in Pinehurst, NC

*His family owns a four generation furniture store in New York

*He owns a small flat in Spain that he purchased for only $34,000

And he eats a lot (he didn’t tell me that but he killed double the amount of food that Julie and I ate together.)

By 10:45 PM, he had made suggestions about our menu options, he comes to that bar every time he is in town (he chose well); he offered to go out with me to hear music if Julie wanted was too tired to hit the scene; and he and I (NOT Julie) had become Facebook friends.  When he passed her the phone to friend him, she handed it to me.  He also mentioned something about tattoos, but I think I zoned out during that portion of the conversation.

And sure enough, when I checked my Facebook feed the next morning, there was Huey, shirtless, with a tattoo of a jazz musician covering his right shoulder.

hughie

Our time with Huey is not a novelty.  Last year in San Diego we met Victoria and Ozo, a very fit couple our age, when Julie asked if we could sit by them at a courtyard bar.  It was cold, and they were near the fire.  Ozo and Victoria had merged families and wanted to meet the next day to coach us on life as stepparents.  Together they had six kids.  We met.  They coached.

In Spain we spent time with Sandra who hauled us to her apartment where we met Hugo from South America and learned to flamenco dance on her ground floor outdoor patio.  At the time, Sandra was dating a Frenchman ten years her junior.  They didn’t speak the same language.  I told her it was never going to work.  But we will never know because she is a stranger who lives in Spain.

Although this excessive interaction is uncomfortable for me, I’ll have to say it is interesting.  It’s sort of like adding a little spicy pepper to fettuccine Alfredo.  It’s good on it’s own, but the occasional flavor adds an unexpected zing.  I anticipate A LOT of zing coming my way.

To Pee Or Not To Pee, that is the question…

I think that one day I might implode.

There are times that I’m juggling so many things, I strategically have to ponder how I will get them all completed.

The other morning, I decided I could make it to Super Cuts for a quick trim before heading to school to see Stephanie receive a Senior Dance Award.  It was 10:38 AM and the Awards Assembly started at 11:20.

I walked in the door, and the one employee shared that two folks were in front of me.  I asked how long that would take.  She estimated she would have me in the chair by 11:00.  I did the math – that’s about 11 minutes a cut.  If I got in the chair by 11, I’d be done by 11:11.  I figured the drive to school was about 7 minutes so I assumed I’d arrive with sixty seconds to spare.

As 11 approached, I had the urge to pee.  Super Cuts does not have a public bathroom.  Hmm.  I didn’t plan for that in the schedule.

At 11:02, she was sweeping the gray hair off the floor from the gentleman who had preceded me.

Sweep faster!  I thought.

She called me over at 11:04.  I sat.  She snapped the hug bib around my neck.  The store phone rang.  She walked away.

Dag gone…

I pondered leaving.  But I’d invested nearly 30 minutes of my life to this point, and I was looking pre-tty scraggly.  I then questioned how long I could hold my bladder off.

I could skip the haircut, drive to school, pee and easily make it to the assembly by 11:20.  Or, I could go for the cut, hold it in until she was recognized, and then take a leak.  And even then, I might be late.

This Is not an unusual dance in my mind.  I am constantly working to pack as much in as humanly possible, often to the detriment of the tasks I am to accomplish and to my own mental wellbeing!

She walked back over.  I had to decide.

“I’m in a hurry, please just trim it up.  I’m trying to get to my kid’s award’s assembly.”

I figured if she cut less hair, it would take less time.

I estimated I could control my bladder until 11:45.  Certainly by then she would have had her moment on stage.

At the end of the cut, the stylist offered to get a warm towel to wipe off my neck.  I LOVE a warm towel on my neck!  But I refused it.  I also refused the receipt, which I never do.

I bolted out to my car, ran through two yellow lights, and pulled into St. Mary’s school on two wheels.

I walked into assembly and the dance teacher was speaking.  As soon as I took my seat, she invited Stephanie on stage.

I clapped, then peed, then sighed in relief.

Damn, I must be living right!