Taking It In For Two

Bailey at commencement

As wonderful as special occasions can be, I still find them hard.

For some reason, I can head to work each day without incident.  When Lisa died, we stopped eating dinner at the table and moved to the bar in the kitchen.  Ironically, I was the one who insisted on the table.  I think I like the Leave It To Beaver image of a man, me, sitting at the head looking out on all that I had – my kingdom – beautiful wife, three charming daughters and a nice backyard with very green grass.  Stools at the bar seemed to solve my emotional food disorder; even sleeping in that bed alone has become comfortable to me.

But toss in a high school graduation, a wedding or a funeral and I resort back.  Not necessarily to her death.  I harken back to what should have been.  She should have helped address the graduation announcement invitations.  She should have OK’d the white dress.  She should have read over DJ’s last speech to the school as Student Body President.  She should have been behind the camera lens, at the Apple Store picking out her college computer; there when grandpa gave her his old MINI Cooper – her character building Subaru in the junk yard.

As my beautiful senior walked down the brick pathway through the Grove at St. Mary’s School, I leaned over to my sister-in-law, “I feel like I need to be watching for both of us; like I need to be Lisa’s eyes too.”

It’s unfair to me to have to carry the emotional insecurity of sending my kid off into this big world alone.  It’s unfair to Lisa not to see her daughter soar.  She’s missing the tough parts and the glorious.

And I get it all.

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.

Congratulations GW!

GW Logo

I am so proud!

My girl, DJ, has finally made her college decision.  Selfishly, I was hopeful she’d end up near home.  We have some great universities right here in the Triangle:  Duke, UNC, NC State.  Selfishly, I wanted her to end up at a public institution for obvious reasons, $$$.

She narrowed it down to three:  UNC, Furman in Greenville, SC, and George Washington University in DC.  Three weeks ago she visited UNC, ate dinner with a friend and came back pumped.  I thought we had a winner.

Two weeks ago, we visited Furman for accepted students’ day.  She met a girl she really liked.  They talked about rooming together.  I thought we had a winner.

But last week we took our trip to DC.  At the end of the day, I headed to get the car from the parking garage, only $23 for the day.  As I walked down H Street, I thought to myself, This IS it.  I can just tell in my gut.  This is where she’s going.  It is the furthest away from our house.  It is the most expensive of her choices, but I can really see her here. 

A small lump settled in my throat.

This is not what I want.  I want her to live at home and go to Meredith college .5 miles from the house!  I want to drop her off at school on my way to work!  I want her to eat dinner with the family on Sundays after church!  I want her to be three again!

I was convinced this would be her choice and actually, I was a little excited.  It was the excited you get for someone else, especially your kid.  It just felt right.  I began to mentally prepare, she’s really not going to Meredith.  Her deadline from me to decide was last Monday, I had to make a deposit and complete paperwork by Friday.  At 7 PM that night, she walked in the kitchen and said, “I can’t decide.  I think I want to go to UNC.”  We talked for an hour and decided to wait another two days.  She was volleying like a shuttlecock.  In the meantime, I convinced myself she would stay nearby.  I was pumped!  I’d see her occasionally!  I’d be able to afford to feed my other two children!

It’s now Wednesday night.  After dinner I went to her room, we were cutting it close; decision day was only 48 hours away.  I wasn’t sure what to expect. I approached the bed with caution (she hasn’t been the easiest person to deal with lately; come to think of it, neither have I).

“Have you made a decision?  Where do you want me to put the deposit?”

“GW.  Don’t ask questions.”

The lump returned.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

And there you have it.  The kid that sprang from my loins is growing up.  It’s hard to let go.

As one of her friends said, “Congratulations GW!  You got DJ!”

On The Go!

how-to-avoid-traffic-jams-35319_2

Last Thursday night DJ and I headed out for our last college tour. It was accepted students’ day at George Washington University in DC. We left Raleigh at 5 PM.

Stephanie fussed as I walked out the door, “Dad, you’re NEVER home!  You’re gone all the time!”

I reminded her that she was the one who spent four days the week before on a school sponsored Outward Bound trip and that it was also she who had plans both Friday and Saturday nights for the weekend that was before us.  That didn’t seem to matter to her. Apparently I should be at home when she wants me there. Or, to be safe, always.

Although in my head I knew she was being unreasonable, I  did feel a bit guilty for leaving.

I had warned DJ that we had to leave Washington right at 2 PM on Friday so that I could get back before 7 to see Michelle’s school play. Although she had only a small part, I felt it important that her parent be in the audience.

DJ understood, “Dad, we always leave these college visits early.  You always have to get back home for something.”

She said it matter of factly, no irritation intended.  But, irritation was taken. Another slight breech to the parenthood portal.

At 4:30 Saturday, I gave up. We were right around Fredericksburg, Va, and traffic was at a standstill, similar to what it had been since we pulled out of downtown two and a half hours earlier.  I was doomed to disappoint again.

I jumped from I-95 to US 1. I was working my GPS and my iPhone traffic alert aggressively seeking alternative routes.

One thing is clear:  I’m going to have a massive heart attack in my car one day.

When we finally hit Richmond, it was 5PM. The GPS indicated we’d get to the theater by 7:45. That’d be too late. At least I’d equally disappoint all of my kids!  No favorites.

I cranked up the speed and wondered what was worse, teaching my 17 year old that it was OK to break traffic laws in the name of Peter Pan or lying to my 11 year old, telling her how much I enjoyed the performance i did not see.

A 17 year old has a more mature mind.  I broke the law.

We came to a screeching halt at 7:19 in the driveway of the school. I jumped out of the car and ran toward the door. The gas tank light was on empty. The place was dark, Act 1 complete.  The lights came up, and Michelle entered stage left.

Hot damn!  I made it.

It’s hard to be a parent.

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.”

The Deep Dark Rabbit Hole

I was listening to a podcast tonight.  A friend sent me the link four months ago.  It sort of got lost in my inbox.

It was about a woman who had been through the same sort of tragedy as I.  Her husband died two and a half years ago.

She said some really good stuff.

She talked about the fact that she was a perky, positive, happy person before her husband passed away.  The interviewer asked her if she lost that.  She said, “No.  I have it.  I just continually walk by this deep, dark rabbit hole that I know I can fall into at any given time.  But when I do, I climb to the top and someone grabs my hand and pulls me back out.”  She talked about how before she avoided boredom and sadness and anxiety, that she spent her life running from those things.  And now, she embraces those emotions.  That she now understands that those emotions allow her to live a more full life, to be more understanding and compassionate than she ever thought she could be.  She sort of implied that the harder emotions compliment the happier ones.

She described how her life has taken a disastrous, tragic, beautiful turn.  How contradictory.  Can sadness really bring about beauty, strength and fulfillment?  Isn’t it supposed to break you down?  Isn’t it, by nature, the killer of joy?

If done right, I believe that going through massive loss, heart wrenching grief can give you insights, can help you view life, can help you personally grow in ways that you never  could have before.  In so many ways, like the interviewee, I am unrecognizable to myself.  I am not the same man who lost his wife five years ago.  I feel more deeply, the bad AND the good.  I have more hope for what lies ahead, in this life and the next.  I am less uptight and fearful about the future.

Utter sadness and despair is awful.  It hurts like hell.  It can take you to some very dark places.  And then, after the worst is over, it can turn you into something whole.  Something that is deeper and richer than you could possibly have been without it.

Top Ten Things I Learned on Sp

Miami Family

Number 10:  Don’t make spring break plans with a 17-year-old.

So, DJ had spring break plans well in advance of spring break.  But then they feel apart, or they seemingly fell apart.  So she reluctantly agreed to go with her sisters and me to Miami.  And then the day AFTER I booked the plane tickets, three weeks before spring break, her plans resolitified.  Errr.  Naturally, she worked it out so she could do both as she is the master of not missing anything.  Especially things that are free for her.

Number 9:  There’s lots of fanny in the City of Miami.  (How do you try that little booger on at the store?  Do you just buy it and hope it fits?  Or do you actually put it on and return it to the rack if it isn’t flattering? By the way, it isn’t flattering.)

butt

Number 8:  All three of my daughters can change into a bikini without ever being naked.  It’s like Houdini.

Number 7:  Sometimes it’s the kids who tell the parent to turn off the TV.  We didn’t turn it on once on the trip, and we put our phones in the middle of the table when eating out; both suggestions from my children.

Number 6:  It is conceivable to go broke buying virgin daiquiris.

Number 5:  A nice Jacuzzi in a hotel room is a lot more fun with your wife than your kids.

Number 4:  Some people put their bathing suits through their paper shredder.  I’m not sure why.

shredded

Number 3:  When you have a family text message, watch out what you write, especially if Michelle is in your family.

Text from dad while riding in the front seat of a taxi to his daughters in the backseat:

This cab driver has the coolest name I’ve ever heard, Axel Bucheaux.

Loudly from Michelle:  “Who the heck is Ax-L Boo-shocks?”

Number 2:  Some Speedos should not be worn by some men.

Number 1:  Three days away with your kids is INCREDIBLE!

Quick Change

black sabbath

It was like a Laurel and Hardy film.  Slapstick.  Lucy and Ethel.

Last Wednesday I woke the girls up as I normally do.  They don’t like fanfare.  I simply go into the room, turn on one lamp and yell out some silly, made up gibberish, “Boodi boodi,” or “Ep non duppi duppi,” or whatever combobulation of syllables happen to enter into my head at the gosh awful hour of 6:30 AM.  I am incapable of forming coherent sentences before 8 AM and even then I’m slow.

On this particular day, DJ fell back asleep.  I didn’t realize it until she darted by the kitchen bar at 7:43 with the crease of her pillowcase still embedded on her left cheek.  She was dressed in the same clothes she was wearing the night before when I last saw her – light gray yoga pants and a pink t-shirt.

Apparently, not long after she got to school she remembered she was to stand up in front of a group of people for some presentation.  She was specifically told she should wear something nice, and not have dried droll on her face.

Pondering her options, she walked into her student government adviser’s office and noticed an open Fed Ex package on the table.  It was an off white dress with bright birds printed all over.  This teacher is a bird nut, and DJ had found the dress online and suggested her favorite teacher make the purchase, “It looks just like you!”  The teacher had indeed followed her suggestion and ordered the item.  Unfortunately it did not fit, so she had it on her desk as a reminder to toss it back in the mail.

DJ grabbed it and headed to the bathroom.  It was an inexpensive outfit, DJ figured she could pay her back.  Unfortunately, it was awfully short on my 5’8″ daughter, more blouse, less dress.

Being an all-girls boarding school, she ran to a friend’s dorm room and nabbed a pair of tights to help cover her booty.

DJ’s car is similar to a Wal-Mart.  Along with cheese puffs, there are a plethora of shoes to choose from.

As she headed into her important meeting, she got a text, from Stephanie.

I forgot to dress up today!  I’m supposed to eat lunch with an important man who supports the school.  Do you have any clothes in your car?

DJ responded.

Meet me in the bathroom after 4th period.  Find some shoes.

Stephanie did.

At noon, DJ entered the bathroom in the bird dress, and Stephanie entered in sweats.  Three minutes later, DJ came out in Stephanie’s pullover; Stephanie was in the fowl frock.

One girl stopped Stephanie, “Did you and your sister wear the same dress today?”

When lunch ended, they met again to return all items to their rightful owners.

My brother and I didn’t enjoy this sort of wardrobe co-opt.  I was in a collard Izod; he was in a  Black Sabbath tee.  Neither appropriate for an all girls leadership event!

Another Hot Rod Tanner

wheres-the-beef

I remember it being a bit traumatic when DJ got her license.  She drove so slow and so close to the right side of the road that I considered getting a second job as a mailman.  Sitting on the passenger side of the car, I could have easily delivered the mail on our route to school, church or the grocery store.  It would have given me something to focus on other than just how quickly I might die.

Now, it has come time for my second daughter to drive.  Yes, Stephanie, all 5’1” of her, is taking Driver’s Ed.  Whew!  Perhaps even scarier than the first.

Although I have yet to warn my coworkers, we have spent some time practicing in my office parking lot.  I can’t think of anyone I’d like to take out at the current moment, but I’d suggest any of you fellow Y employees reading this be kind to me.  We’ve only practiced on weekends when those dudes in the office down the hall are the only ones still at work.  The ones who invented steel kidneys, or some medical miracle, and who are making a bazillion dollars a year.  But if you miff me, I might put her behind the wheel at 5 PM on a Monday when you’re scurrying to your car.

Other than working to help her remember the difference between drive and reverse – she’s going to have to master that – my biggest concern is how close she has to pull the seat up to get to the steering wheel.

When Stephanie gets in the driver’s seat that I’ve been occupying, it looks like a three-year-old who puts on her 6-foot-four father’s business suit.  She can’t even reach the gas pedal.

She proceeds to use the automatic adjustments to raise the seat to maximum height and shift it forward until you can’t fit a baseball between her chest and the steering wheel.  Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, at 7’ 2”, would have plenty of leg room sitting behind her in the backseat of my 2007 Acura MDX.

She kinda reminds me of the Where’s the Beef lady from the 1980’s Wendy’s commercials, or my mother.  All petite.  All requiring me to contort myself when entering an automobile after they’ve driven.

Stephanie will whip around the parking lot and then jump out of the car leaving me to readjust the seat when I take back over.  I try to squeeze in, my head touching the sunroof and my knees tickling my ear lobes.  It’s kinda like leaving the toilet seat up.  Geeze.

Oh well, I guess it’s inevitable, we’re going to be on the road soon.  So be on the lookout for a silver SUV with Rhea Pearlman behind the wheel and a very anxious father on the passenger side.  Rest assured, I’ll make sure the car’s in drive before hitting the highway.

Visiting the Dead

Sometimes I dream about having the opportunity to talk to Lisa, if only for an hour or two.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could communicate with our loved ones who are gone?  Just an hour a month – or a one week reunion once a year like our family’s vacation trip to West Virginia each August.

I can envision the rush to get to the annual destination, the desire to be there as early as possible to maximize our time with the ones we don’t frequently see.  The hugs.  The laughter.  The recounting of stories that occurred throughout the year.  The asking of advice for the future.  A long embrace at the end of the week, knowing it will be 358 days before we would see each other again.

Before Lisa died I asked her, if there was an option to do so, to come visit us when she got to heaven.  She told me she wasn’t doing that.  “I don’t want to be stuck between here and there.”  Seemed like she had spent some time thinking about it.  “When I go, I’m not coming back.”

Last night I was laying by Stephanie right before bedtime.  We started talking about Lisa.

“I still miss her,” I confessed.  I then shared my desire to communicate with our deceased loved ones on a regular basis.

“I want to talk to her.  I wish she was here, on earth.”

Without hesitation, Stephanie said, “She is.  She’s inside of me.”

Sometimes kids can see things that we, as adults, cannot.

I think God sort of works like that too.  I’m often narrow in my ability to view His world.  I don’t want to be, but I am.  I’m unable, or unwilling, to see blessings, opportunities, solutions right in front of my nose.

Maybe I should just spend more time with Stephanie.  She sure does have a way of enlightening.

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