The Kid Sabbatical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday Post 155: Pleated in a Flat Front World

I recently went to the dry cleaner with my favorite khaki dress pants, the bottom half of my favorite suit.  The front pocket had a rip at the top – guess my money clip just got too heavy.

My friend behind the counter just shook her head; she doesn’t speak much English.  She turned the pants over and pointed.  I put on my glasses and got close.  She frowned as if I’d misbehaved.

There below her finger was a thread bare hole where my right rear cheek normally rests.

“Can you fix it?”

She glanced at me like I was crazy.

“No.”  Ha-ha-ha.

I hung my head and retreated to my car.  My favorite pair succumbed to my own behind.

I plotted my next move.  Khaki suit, gone.  The gray stripe is frayed at the cuff.  I might need a new suit or two.

I’d been shopping and saving, waiting for the bi-monthly Joseph A. Banks buy one get 67 free sale.  When it arrived, I jumped in my car and headed to Cameron Village.

I picked out four suits – all for the price of one!

The young salesman was great.  He stuck with me as I pondered my selections: khaki, a light gray, checkered blue and a deep charcoal.  He was patient.  I’m a slow shopper.

When I got into the dressing room, I tried on the first pair of slacks.  Flat front, no pleats.  Hummm.  Not a fan.  Their suits always have pleats.  I was feeling a bit encumbered.

This is the trim cut suit.  You can handle one pair of flat fronts.  I thought to myself.

The seamstress came out and pinned my trousers.  The jacket needed a quick fix too.

I headed back to change into the light gray.

These are flat front too!  Oh no.  I can’t breathe.  Everything’s all squished in.  I can bare-ly move my legs.

Before I went out I glanced at the blue checkered and the khaki – they were flat front too!

Ahhhhhhh.  It can’t be!  What has happened?  I can’t do this.

I stepped out.  My guy was waiting, dollar signs in his commission only eyeballs.

“I don’t like the flat fronts.  I’m feeling claustrophobic.”

“Nah man.  They look great on you!  You’re thin.  The pleats are for guys with big thighs.  That is definitely NOT you.”

He brought the seamstress out.  She agreed.

I glanced once more.  I felt my hips, stuck in position as if held in place by a straight jacket.

“I… can’t… do… this!”

I dropped trou and dashed back into my dressing room.  I pulled my left boot on as I dashed by the dress shirts, my guy nearly in tears.

Too often I live my life wearing pleats in a flat front world.  Sometimes, yes sometimes, you have to make a change.

Sunday Post 155: Totally Fulfilled…by a Fart

In the fourth grade, Wendy Templeton farted… out loud. We had our books out, focused on our Scholastic readers. Her row of desks was facing mine. She was wearing a short red dress. Mrs. McNally, our stodgy old teacher who was nearing retirement, was at her desk in the front of the class. She was wearing a large, black pleated skirt down to her ankles. Damn that was a lot of fabric.

I couldn’t believe it… she just let one rip! It was loouud; I guess it echoed on the metal of her chair.

I felt bad. She was so embarrassed. Her light complexion turned the same color as her dress. She slouched in her seat and propped up her folder to cover her head.

I tried not to laugh, she was my friend. But when Mrs. McNally announced, “Get back to work, it’s a natural bodily function,” I lost it.

I don’t care how natural it was, it was also hilarious. I was sent to the hall, unable to contain my amusement with Wendy’s wind.

Farts are still funny to me. I’ll be in a bathroom at work or church and some old man will let one rip. It’s all I can do to make it out of the bathroom without audibly cracking up.

Once a boy, always a boy I guess.

Maybe it would serve us all well to be more like kids. I don’t mean we should all laugh when someone passes gas. The older we get, the more that’s gonna happen – certainly it will get old eventually.

But isn’t it beautiful to be amused by such small surprises? How wonderful to be totally fulfilled by a fart.

Now, it takes so much more – an expensive house, vacation, kids with straight A’s, 106 Facebook likes, the right job title.

It used to be so simple. Joy, amusement, laughter, and life seemed endless – striking me from every direction.

When and why do I let that go?

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Sunday Post 80: Reframing Your Thinking

Posted by Danny

Before Lisa and I got married, our minister required us to go through three sessions of premarriage counseling.  As part of the process, we had to take a personality test.  When Dr. Eller presented the scores he told us that Lisa was 98% idealist and 2% realist.  He then put a positive spin on the fact that I was the exacct opposite: 98% realist and only 2% idealist.  “They say opposites attract!”

Many of the conversations Lisa and I had over the years went like this:

Lisa:  “I like this house.  I think we should buy it.”

Danny:  “It’s considerably over our price range.  I’m just not sure we can swing the payment.”

Lisa:  “We can cut back on other spending, and we both get raises every year!”

Danny:  “It is going to be really tight…”

We generally compromised or took turns as we faced decisions in life.  If we always went with my line of thinking, we’d still be living in a 900 square foot adobe and driving the cars we had in college.  On the other hand, if Lisa had taken the lead on too often a basis, we’d be living in Hawaii with a house in foreclosure. 

But things worked out.  We seemed to have an uncanny ability to land on our feet.  Perhaps it was the balance we brought to each other.

Recently, I’ve started working on reframing.  As I look at a situation, I’m trying to see the potential good versus the potential unease.

Today I drop Stephanie off at camp for a month and Michelle off at camp for two weeks.  It’s a great experience for them, but I dread the quiet house. 

Reframe:  I strive to have some one on one time with each of my kids.  What a great opportunity to spend some time with DJ without the distractions of her little sisters.

Last week I returned to work after two weeks of vacation.  My absolute favorite place to be in this world is on the beach at 4 pm on a summer afternoon – the breeze coursing around my body.  Nothing, nothing feels better to me.

Imagine my lack of zest for returning to my brown desk and hundreds of emails.

Reframe:  I love what I do for a living!  I love the people I work with!  I have a job and there are so many out there right now who are unemployed.  I have worked at the Y so long I have a ton of vacation days each year.  I’m a fortunate dude.

I recently read an article that said we spend entirely too much time searching for happiness.  Instead we should be looking for true contentment.  As I see it, happiness is more temporary – it’s unwrapping gifts at Christmas.  Contentment is the ability to be thankful for and enjoy the gifts you’ve received well into the new year.  It’s deeper.  It lasts longer. 

I’m working to reframe for the long haul, trying to get out of the daily ups and downs that can keep me from enjoying today.

Pepper’s Pizza and Great Memories

Posted by Danny

I got a hunkering to hit Chapel Hill tonight.  Although a N.C. State man, I have a warm spot in the heart for the Heels.  Lisa went there, and I have some very fond memories of hanging out with the ADPis on Franklin Street.

Parking was easy since the college students are home.  I nailed a spot right in front of Pepper’s Pizza.  The smell of the crust waffled through the air – it hit me the minute I stepped out of the car.

I walked in with a spring in my step.  The restaurant has been updated since I last visited.  The cramped rectangular venue expanded.  The red booths replaced with black.  The percentage of wait staff with tattoos and piercings has decreased ten fold.  But the pictures on the wall, the music and the menu remained the same.  The italian sausage with onions and mushrooms tickled my throat as it did 20 years ago.

The girls and I settled in the booth, and I began to recount how I wooed their mother on these very sidewalks.  I explained that I enrolled in a morning graduate class just so I’d have an excuse to drive to UNC each week to see her.  We’d meet every Thursday morning for breakfast.  I’d park at Cobb Dorm, and we’d walk over to Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe a couple of blocks away.  I’d drink several cups of coffee and listen to her stories of life as a coed.  We’d recount our past summer together at the Y and dream of the next.

On April 19, 1991, I arrived at Cobb at my usual 7:30.  And there I sat – for thirty minutes.  No Lisa.  There were no cell phones at the time and the dorm was bolted shut – no fellas allowed. 

I was stunned.  I’d never been stood up before.

When I returned to work that morning, I announced to a mutual friend of ours:  “I am not a toy.  She’s messing with me.  I ain’t putting up with it.  I’m done!” 

“Yesterday was her 21st birthday!  Give her a break man!”  That was no excuse to me and I really showed her – I cooled things down for a while.

I later found out that wasn’t really punishment for Lisa.  She had agreed to go out with me, and I occasionally drove over on a weekend night to hang out.  But apparently after I dropped her back off at her sorority house, she’d change clothes and head out to meet up with another guy.  What was she thinking?   Who in the heck could think about another guy after a night with me?  And what was I thinking?  Geez.

I guess I was blind with love.  And as hard as I tried after that cool spring morning waiting for her on Country Club Road, I still couldn’t get her off of my mind. 

Some things just don’t change.

The girls loved my stories.  They laughed and asked questions and called me a dork, apparently the same feelings their mother had for me at the time. 

“It’s amazing she married you dad.”  They’re pretty intuitive.  She was out of my league.

When the pizza arrived, I texted Lisa’s sorority sisters and let them know I was partying on Franklin Street without them.  This time sans Jagermeister.

I guess if I had gone first, I would have wanted Lisa to keep my memory alive.  Maybe these jaunts to our familiar places and some funny stories as accompaniment will do just that for her.

We ain’t bad and we ain’t cocky

Posted by Danny

One of my most memorable experiences from high school occurred when I was in 9th grade.

I was new to Terry Sanford Senior High School in Fayetteville, NC, and I had no idea what would happen as I entered the gymnasium for my first pep rally.  We all piled in on the bleachers, large dust bunnies perched beneath our wooden seats.  I’m not exactly sure what was pumped from the large boom box Miss Cherry, our PE teacher, had propped on the stage steps.  Probably Another One Bites The Dustby Queen.

We must have had a strong booster club because our cheerleaders had a number of uniforms.  I don’t remember them all, but I clearly remember the one they were wearing on this day:  short white skirts with gingham checked vests that buttoned up the front. 

As they began their cheer, they jumped to the beat:

We ain’t bad and we ain’t cocky

We’re gonna drive over you like a Kawasaki

Vroom – Vroom

As they were driving over us like a Kawasaki, our head cheerleader’s top button popped and other things followed.  I was in awe.  The only two bras I’d seen prior to this event were my mom’s and my grandmother’s – and this one was nothing like theirs! 

 “I think I’m gonna like this place,” I quipped to my buddy sitting beside me.

Unfortunately, those are the thoughts that jump into my mind when I see my daughters cheer.  Only this time, my perspective has changed.

Stephanie is on her first squad this year.  She’s cheering for the middle school basketball team.  I’m so proud of her I could bust.  She’s got rhythm, and she’s pretty darn confident in front of a crowd.  She gets her rhythm from her mother, a former show choir participant.  And no one in this family is short on confidence.

This is her first pep rally – fortunately, there was nothing for a zit faced boy to enjoy other than the dancing, chanting and music. 

Sunday Post 23: The Best Summer of Our Lives

I used to struggle to use all of my vacation days.  I guess you could say I was addicted to work.

It wasn’t that my employer didn’t encourage me to take my time – they were very supportive of me using my vacation days to recharge.  It was that I enjoyed what I did and was driven to do more.  I think I got a lot of strokes at work.  Having an incredible fiscal year or raising more money to help kids through the Y motivated me to do more. 

I remember working all weekend long and sometimes multiple weekends in a row.  It’s as if I thought things would fall apart if I wasn’t there.  How could they survive without my input?

What I gained at work, I probably lost at home.  Perhaps my overriding commitment to working harder put barriers between my children and me.  The truth was the more time I spent at work, the less time I spent with them.  And I know that I often put work before my marriage.  I’d work late or bring my computer to the bedroom.  Speaking from experience, that is not helpful in the romance department.

But over the years, I found myself spending less time in the office and more time with my family and friends.  I’ve seen the view from my office window 20,000 times.  I’ve only seen Old Faithful once.  I spend about ten days a year on the beach, I’d like to spend more.  Tonight I sat with some of my best friends in a backyard – just eating, laughing and talking.  What a beautiful, beautiful view.

The year Lisa was diagnosed with cancer, our family went to Disney World, Yellowstone, Topsail Beach, Lake Gaston and spent a romantic weekend in New Bern.  We sat on our screened in porch countless times and ate dinner with friends.  In August when our last summer vacation was complete, I said, “This was the best summer of our lives.”  That was two weeks before we found out she had stage 4 colon cancer.

It wasn’t the best summer because I’d spent more hours in the office or because I’d made more money.  It was the best summer because we’d spent time together – and with our family and friends.

I work hard.  I bring value to my job.  I enjoy what I do and I want to leave a strong legacy at the Y.  But more importantly, I want to make sure that when I die, whenever that may be, that the previous year has been the best of my life.