Oh So Funny

Zeila

The final kid has made a decision.  Michelle will attend UNC next year!  It breaks my heart because I attended NC State and that too was an option.  But she’s going baby blue.  Her mother would be proud.

She has also reconnected with a friend from middle school who will be her roommate.  I don’t know her well, but my recollection from the early years is stellar.  One mutual friend told Michelle, “There is going to be some fun had in that dorm room.  You are the funniest two people I know.”

As I ponder my youngest kid’s personality, humor pops to mind. 

I recently ran across a note I’d scribbled in 2009.  It listed several quotes from Michelle, my then precocious five-year-old.

Each night the girls would choose a book to read before bed.  A favorite was not really reading.  It was the I Spy book.  Each page had hundreds of items and the text tested your searching abilities.  There might have been a Christmas theme and your challenge would be to find four santas, six stars and a mistletoe wreath.  One page held trinkets from Halloween, and we were searching hard. 

Michelle (reminder, she was five):  “I want to find that damn bone.”

Me:  “You shouldn’t say that.”

Michelle:  “At least I’m at home.”

On a flight back from Wyoming that same year, a Sci-fi movie was being projected on the overhead TV.  Michelle was sitting with her Nana.  At one point in the movie, a guy pulled off his mask and his head had no eyes, nose, ears or mouth.  Michelle looked at her grandmother and said, “Now that’s not something you see every day.”

On that same vacation, Lisa was working to get Michelle to stop sucking her thumb.  It was incessant, and we had tried numerous tactics to quell her urge.  At bedtime one night, Lisa said, “Michelle, you have to try to stop sucking your thumb.”  Michelle replied, “I can’t sleep without sucking it.”  Lisa responded, “You have to.”  Michelle’s come back?  “Some parent you are.  I’m not going to sleep tonight.”

She spoke as if she was 82 yet she was trapped in a kindergartener’s body.

Her humor has continued and kept me in stitches a good portion of her life.  I will miss the daily chuckles.  UNC will gain.  It will be a funnier, happier place come mid August.

Sunday Post 129: I Prefer Married

You’d think after 3 years I’d stop finding stuff that surprised me about being a widower (I still can’t believe that is an adjective that can be used to describe me).  I just realized that I am not involved, in the least, at DJ’s school.  I guess I’m not really involved in Stephanie and Michelle’s school either.  But because I know a lot of folks there, I sort of feel like I have an in to what’s going on.  But with DJ, I am clueless.

Lisa did that.  Although she worked, she also helped with the PTA, assisted in the kids’ classrooms, gave the teachers a break at lunch, and sometimes drove for field trips.  In the process, she met other parents.  Those relationships led to connections for me.  She did the same thing at the swim club – she volunteered for swim meets.  She met other moms.  She signed me up to be a timer or a kid-pusher.  I felt a part – because of her.

Last week I cancelled our pool membership.  We never go anymore.  I don’t know anyone there.  I just found myself sitting on a lawn chair reading a magazine, missing Lisa.  Why pay $200 a month for that?  I can miss her in my own yard for free.

Lisa controlled our social calendar.  “We’re going out on Friday with the Smiths.  Wear khaki’s and your navy jacket.”

“Who are the Smiths?  Do I know them?”

“You’ll recognize them when we get there.  He’s bald – first name is Jack.  You manned the mechanical bull at the school carnival with him last year.”

“Oh yea.  The time you signed me up for a two-hour shift without my permission.”

“They needed help.  I knew you’d just be standing there.  Didn’t hurt you did it?  And, you made a new friend.”

“Who?”

“Jack Smith.”

“Oh.  Yeah.  Jack.”

Yes – she volunteered, built our relationships, set our social calendar and even told me what to wear.  Now I have to sign up – I hate to sign up!  And what’s worse is now I have to do it on-line through some “Sign Up Genie.”  By the time I get around to volunteering, there’s nothing left but taking out the garbage after the event is over – a one man job no doubt.  No friend there.

The school functions stink without a spouse.  She was always there for me.  I always had someone to talk to.  Now if the conversation ends with the person I’m chatting with, I’m alone.  My crutch is gone.  I have to seek out some other poor soul or hover around the ham biscuits like I haven’t eaten all day.  “Sure am hungry.  No time to talk.  Gonna hit the food table… AGAIN.”  I’d rather have a root canal than attend a party without a spouse.

And yet, my kids miss out too.  My lack of involvement hurts their ability to get connected to other families.  My desire to avoid the social crowds without my security blanket keeps them from the family events – you know, the ones where you all pull up together and then your kids leave you until it’s time to go home.

I have to do better.  I need to join a committee; maybe lawn beautification or something.  I need to find another single soul at school who needs some party company too.  Maybe we can hit the carnival in tandem, serve punch together, man the mechanical bull.

I can do it.  But I sure do prefer married.

Frozen Drawers

frozen boxers

My oldest niece is now 25, 30, maybe older, I’m not sure.  All I do know is she’s getting on up there.

Since she was born I’ve worked hard to keep her in line – she is a handful.

One Christmas I decided to give her two of the things she loved the best – nicely packaged together.  So I took a pizza crust and hot glued macaroni all over it.  She was rude and didn’t eat it.

Fresh out of college and in a new apartment, she requested money and house goods for her holiday gifts.  Naturally, I bought a 24 pack of toilet paper, unrolled each and tucked a dollar in the middle.  I then wrote on the outside of the roll the title of a fabricated Christmas Tune – like “Oh Holy Wipe” or “Tinkle Bells.”  It took a great deal of careful thought to put it together, and yet, she complained about the rolls being unwrapped.  I just don’t get it.

The younger she was, the less she could throw back at me.  Now, with her old age and all, I’m having to be a bit more careful.

At the beach earlier this month, our entire family, all 12 of us, took our annual crab hunting exhibition.  We gathered the nets, the flashlights, buckets and frisbees (used to secure the caught crabs in the said buckets).

Since my mother is scared of everything, I decided I’d take a small twig, sneak up behind her and surprise her with a little tickle on her ankle.  It’s sort of fun to see a 76-year-old jump that high.  It reminded me of the time my brother put a plastic snake on her shoulder in a gift shop at Disney World when we were kids.  Her scream was so loud they called in security because they thought someone was dead.

So, maybe I took it a bit far when I repeated my trick four or five times on my mom, she is such a sucker.  Then a couple of swipes on my niece’s ankle and once or twice on Michelle.

I knew they were working to get me back when DJ and Courtney ran back to the house to “go to the bathroom.”  Both have camel bladders so I suspected revenge was in the making.

After a one-sided water gun war, I thought I had paid my penance.  What I learned when I climbed out of the shower was that all of my boxer shorts, every single pair – even the dirty ones, were missing.  I searched for a while and then gave it a rest.  I figured them knowing that I knew was torture enough.  They had to fear my next move.

I reminded them that I wasn’t big on underwear and that I could go months without my shorts.  I’ll have to admit though I didn’t want to have to buy 8 new pair.

Two days later, with still no sign of my boxers, I made my move.  While they were sunning by the pool, I snuck into their rooms and snatched their undies.

I then called truce and worked out a swap wtih my father as a neutral party.  We’d each give our goods to him, and he would return them to the rightful owner.  He’s a minister, I knew I could trust him.

What I didn’t realize was that little rat had wet my shorts, wadded them all up and crammed them on the bottom shelf of the freezer behind the ice pops and in front of the frozen kale.  When recovered, they were solid as an iceberg, formed in-between the crevasses of the wire rack that hid them.

It was nearly the rudest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.  Who does that?

PS – If you’re reading this, and you know who you are, just wait, wait until next year…

Sunday Post 125: Getting Out of the Funk

Sometimes you just get in a funk.  It’s acceptable.  Work is hard; perhaps a relationship has gone bad.  Your kid is giving you a fit or you’re struggling to pay the bills.

I find myself there on occasion.  When things aren’t great, I tend to really, really miss Lisa.  I begin to stew, worrying about stuff that I don’t have control over.

After a couple of weeks in that state, I think it moves from acceptable to pathetic.

Two weeks after Lisa died, I could still hardly move.  I remember being at my parent’s house, unable to get out of bed.  The kids were jumping on my head looking desperately for their father.  They could see me, but I just wasn’t there.

At lunch that day, my mom said, “Danny, you can do this.”

“What choice do I have?” I snapped back.

On my drive back to Raleigh, I remembered that I had promised Lisa that when she could no longer go on, I would take care of things here on earth.  But I wasn’t.  I was wallowing in my sadness and not doing a thing to try to fix it.  That day was a good wake up call for me.

Life didn’t immediately turn around.  I didn’t totally shuck grief out the door on that Sunday afternoon two weeks after I’d lost my wife.  What I did do, however, was begin to push myself toward healing.

Now, when things aren’t great, I immediately jump to the conclusion that if she hadn’t died my life would be perfect.  It wasn’t perfect before she died; I’m not sure what makes me think it would be if she hadn’t.

After sitting in my own pile of deserving self-pity for an appropriate amount of time – my gut tells me when – something clicks.

Enough.  It’s time to move on.  Make a plan.

Step one is reminding myself how much I have to be thankful for.  Once complete, the rest comes fairly easily.

Sunday Post 116: Doing It Yourself

On Monday, I was driving back from the dance studio for the seventieth time this week, this time with Michelle.  We passed an ambulance and she asked, “Dad.  When you see an ambulance or a fire truck drive by, do you say a prayer for the people they’re going to help?”

I responded, “You know Michelle, I actually do.  It just pops into my head.”

“Yeah, me too.  Do you think God answers our prayers?”

“I don’t know.  What do you think?”

“Sometimes I think He wants you to do it by yourself.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, when I was trying to quit sucking my thumb, I asked God to make me stop, and He didn’t do a thing about it.”

“I understand.  I’ve experience similar situations.”

Sometimes I think He wants you to do it yourself… hum…

I don’t know that I really have a problem with people praying to win a ball game or praying for a good parking place at the mall.  I guess that’s sort of between them and God.  But to be honest, if He won’t save my young wife from dying, I sure hope He’s working on something more important than finding parking places for someone.

Maybe there are times He intervenes.  Maybe there are times when He wants us to do it ourselves.

Life certainly isn’t easy, and I sometimes think I feel God’s presence.  I sort of see His hand in things.

At other times, I’m disappointed He hasn’t more quickly and apparently stepped in.  Maybe He’s busy helping someone else.  Or maybe He thinks it’s about time I took things into my own hands and took responsibility for my own actions.  He probably isn’t gonna yank my thumb out of my mouth!  First I have to want to stop sucking.  Then, and only then, might He help give me the strength or put the tools in place to help me.

I don’t think that God can cure my grief if I don’t work at it too.  It isn’t like Bewitched, a squenching of the nose and all is well.

Is it possible to rely too much on God?  I’m not sure.  But I’m confident that at times I don’t rely on myself enough.  I don’t take responsibility for my own actions.  Maybe that’s what that great philosopher Michelle Tanner was talking about.  Sometimes I just need to look myself in the eyes and begin the process of change.  I think He can usually help, but it’s likely that we may have to do some of the work ourselves.

If I Should Not Return

Posted by Danny

Psychiatrists from the UNC Lineberger Cancer Center asked me to assist them with a video to help oncologist better understand the dynamics of young families who are facing the death of their mother.  This is our story:

Sunday Post 4: Healing After Loss

Posted by Danny

It is a costly wisdom, and God knows we would not have asked for it.  But it is also true that coming through a great sorrow can make us stronger, teach us what is really important.

But to survive the death of a loved on is no guarantee of greater wisdom.  We can also become embittered, reclusive, grasping.  That’s when we need friends, communities of faith, even professional help.  But if we can weather the storm, we will have a better sense of who we are and what we want most in life.  And we will learn to savor and cherish cool water, sunshine and wind, the smell of roses and the love and friendship we have now.

A week or two after Lisa’s death, her mother gave me a daily devotional, Healing After Loss by Martha Whitmore Hickman.  This book has meant the world to me.  The entry for January 13 is above.  Oh how I can relate.

I’m taking writing lessons.  I started on Friday.  Someone has to help me – I have some significant areas in which I can improve.  As my teacher and I talked about my new found passion and about the book I hope to write, she began to dig at my motives.  I’ve shared before that this loss has given me  great discontent at times with life.  Nothing seems even any longer.  Before I was happy – a steady, straight line of happy.  Fulfilled at the same level I had been for years. 

The new me has found valleys that are deep.  Times where I could nearly feel the world crumbling around me.  And yet, losing my best friend has awakened me in so many ways.  I’m no longer content with the straight line of joy.  I’m no longer content to sit through a worship service thinking about lunch.  I’m stirring.  I’m seeing things and appreciating things like I never have before.

Late this afternoon Michelle and I walked to Whole Foods to grab a salad for dinner.  The brisk air had meaning.  Her cold hand in mine had meaning.  Her words, “Dad, I’ve got something to tell you…” made my mind stand at attention, not always the case in the past.  In ways I’m alive as never before.  It’s not always a good alive, but it is an acute sense of being that is unfamiliar. 

In a way I think I let Lisa down by not being all that I could be when she was alive.  And it is certain that I would rather have the straight line of joy with her than the squiggle I am now without her.  But if she could see me with a true appreciation and sense of what’s around me – perhaps a better listener and observer – a keener student of this world, I think she would enjoy.

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