Monday, October 10, 2016

The Best Friend I've Ever Had

This is really, really hard to write.  So hard, that I've started, stopped and started writing it again multiple time over the past month.

When I first started this blog more almost nine years ago, I did so in part because Jude and I had so many friends and family who seemed interested in her pregnancy, doctor's appointments and our preparations to become parents.  It was easier to provide an update once, in a blog post, as opposed to having innumerable telephone or in person conversations with those we love.

Having lost my father at an early age and subsequently spending a lifetime chasing his ghost, I wanted our son, J.P., then later Joe, too, to have a record of our lives when they were babies and toddlers.  I wanted them to know a little bit about me, how I felt and how much they meant to me at a time when they were too young to have a lot of memories.  In truth, I never planned to keep this blog alive as long as I have, nine years later.

Shortly after I started the blog, it took on a life of its own for me, in part because my mom took so much pleasure in reading every word of every post.  In those days, she devoured every bit of news and every note on the blog about J.P.'s life as a baby and toddler and our lives together as a family.  After reading a post, she never failed to complement me on my writing and tell me that if I wanted to, I could be a writer.  Of course, this pleased me to no end.  I even arranged to have the first year of the blog bound - complete with photographs - so she would have a copy to show her friends.  She displayed it proudly on the coffee table in her den, where it still sits to this day.

If I hadn't posted in a few days, my mom invariably asked me why.  I feel a little guilty admitting this now, but there were times when I felt annoyed if work or some other series of life events had kept me from updating the blog for a few days and she asked when she could expect a new post.  As I reflect back, though, one of the things that kept me going and that kept the blog alive was knowing that my mom was reading and enjoying each and every post.  And, too, that she was proud of me and my efforts to be a good father.  That was a huge part of it, actually.

I realize, now, that I was blogging for her, too.  I think, on some level, my mom treasured getting a chance to see, in me, at least a partial view of what my father would have been like with Tracy and me had he lived past the age of thirty.  I also think that when she read my most intimate thoughts and feelings on what being a father meant to me, it brought her closer to my father or to her memory of him and what might have been.  I don't know that, of course, but it's what I think.

I should have known something was wrong, two or three years ago, when after posting on the blog I didn't receive an immediate response from my mom.  More and more, I found I had to remind her to check the blog to see what I had posted.  Roles had reversed, as I began to nag her about reading my latest post.  Still, I was too self-absorbed to give it much thought.  Also, I think I was afraid to give any serious thought to why my mom wasn't keeping up with the blog anymore.  My head was buried in the sand.  Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.  Other time, ignorance is an expression of fear and an avoidance of reality.

Slowly, over time, I realized my mom wasn't reading the blog at all anymore.  When I asked why, she always made an excuse.  Her computer wasn't working (we bought her an new one), her computer had a virus, she had been too busy, etc.  What I know now, of course, is that my mom had stopped using her computer at all.  This vibrant, social creature, for whom e-mail and the internet had been a an exciting portal to her friends and the world, had lost the desire or ability to operate her computer.

And it broke my heart.

My mom is struggling, and has been struggling, with daily life activities that she could perform without a second thought two or three years ago.  It's all happened so fast, or maybe it hasn't.  I don't know for sure.  I do know that I want to cry and, in fact, when I see my mom limping around her house with her cane simply trying to get from one place to the other, I almost do.  Or, as so often happens now, when my mom repeats the same question to me two or three times in a brief telephone conversation, after I hang up at the end of the call, I want to yell at the top of my lungs at the injustice of it all.

More than once in the last month or two, I have walked the streets of my neighborhood after the boys and Jude are in bed, in tears, trying to make sense of why this is happening to my mom.  What kind of a world is this when a woman who has given her heart and soul to others her entire adult life is faced with back and hip pain that prevent her from walking normally and a mind that seemingly fails her a little bit more with each passing day.

I am ashamed to admit this, but for the first time in my life, I am questioning my faith in God.

I just do not understand how after all my mom has been through - losing her husband at such a young age and raising Tracy, Alice and me as a single parent; losing both of her sisters; losing her father; caring for her mother for years and later, her mother's sister (Aunt Sara Dickson); working nights at Baptist Hospital for 17 years; being the rock upon which our family has been built - that the life she is left with is the one she has now, in pain and unsteady when she walks and cursed with an ever fading memory.

Nothing I have been through or learned in my life has prepared me for the maelstrom of emotions swirling in my head and in my heart.  I am so conflicted.  I feel terribly guilty when I haven't seen my mom in a few days.  Then, when I pick her up and take to our house for dinner or stop by her house to spend some time with her, I feel so depressed afterwards because I cannot help her.  I feel so fucking helpless, so fucking useless at a time when my mom needs me to be so much more than I am, as a son and as a man.

For as long as I can remember, my mom has been my best friend.  Over the years, we laughed and cried together.  We argued and fought with each other, at times, too.  But she was the constant in my life, the one person I talked to on the telephone almost every day of my adult life.

On countless occasions, I called her late at night when she was working at Baptist Hospital.  I called her on my way to work or on my way home from work.  She reveled in calling me in the afternoon at work when a story broke in the sports world.  We talked about sports, politics, family and so often, she steered the conversation back to my life, to what I was doing at work, to my exploits on the softball field or, later, to my boys.

This is what is ripping my heart out, when you get down to it.  I am losing the best friend I've ever had - she's slipping away from me a little bit more each day - and I can't do a damn this about it.  And it's absolutely killing me.


Saturday, September 10, 2016


Weekend mornings are the best.  The pace of the morning is so much slower, as we're not in an all out sprint to get up, shower, make breakfast for the boys, get them to school and get ourselves to work.

One of my favorite things to do is listen to the boys talk to each other, as they wake up on a Saturday or Sunday morning, before they come downstairs and get into our bed to read and play on JP's iPad.  We still have the baby monitor set up in Joe's room, so as it turns out we can hear pretty much everything going on in both rooms.  Handy.

At bedtime, Jude always tells the boys what time they can get up the next morning.  Occasionally, there's some negotiation involved but most of the time, they're fine with what she says.  Like clockwork, they start talking 10 or 15 minutes before 7 a.m. (today's time) or whatever other time they're supposed to get up.  Usually, Joe starts talking to JP first, JP answers and away they go.

On mornings like this morning, their conversations are hilarious.  Sometimes, Jude and I just lay in bed and laugh.  I wish I could record their conversations and listen to them 10 years from now.

As I got dressed this morning after taking a shower, listening to the boys jabber back and forth, I was struck by how different JP's life would be - and ours, too - if we hadn't have had Joe.  When Jude and I talked about having another child after JP was born, we always came back around to the thought that we wanted JP to have a sibling.  I thought, in our world, this was even more important because we were older parents.  I was worried about JP having to deal with Jude and me as senior citizens without any help or, more importantly, without anyone to talk to as he watched us grow older.

JP's life (and our, of course) has been enriched in so many ways by Joe.  Being a big brother is a role that JP assumes naturally.  He's good at it, almost all of the time.  Joe's inquisitive nature requires JP to answer an endless stream of questions, which he does with patience.  Somehow, Joe seems to complement and enhance all of the best things about JP's personality.  I also think Joe fills in gaps for JP, engaging him in conversation and discussion when he (JP) might tend to be more quiet and contemplative.

It's hard to imagine JP without Joe, getting up in the morning in solitude and quietly walking downstairs to our bedroom.  That would be so strange.  They're like peanut butter and jelly.  They just go together, a perfect match for our family.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Santa Rosa Beach

J.P., the proud owner a new sand dollar.

Joe on the beach.

Jed and the boys at Blue Mountain Creamery.

Santa Rosa Beach 2016

Our annual week's vacation in Santa Rosa ends tonight and we'll be on the road home to Nashville tomorrow morning.  As always, there were many highlights (and a lowlight or two) from our stay in Old Florida Village, our home away from home.

  • Rain, rain and more rain.  We had thunderstorms Saturday and Sunday nights, then real rain on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  The lifeguards "double red-flagged the beach" on those days, which meant no one could get in the ocean.  Finally, about noon today, the second red flag came down and the boys were able to spend an hour in the ocean, playing and looking for shells.  Bummer and a definite lowlight.
  • Lots and lots of board games, mostly "Thomas Pop Up" (aka "Trouble), Sorry and Connect Four.  As usual, Joe dominated the "Thomas Pop Up" games.  He laughs when I call him "the Assassin," even though he doesn't know what it means, as he lands on our men and sends them back to their "home."  It kind of pisses J.P. off that Joe wins most of the time.  Of course, it's quite funny that on the rare occasion when Joe loses, he cries, screams and raises completely hell about it.   
  • Lots and lots of the Summer Olympics.  The boys, as well as Jude and I, have loved watching the Summer Olympics this week.  Favorite events, in no particular order - Fencing (a big hit), table tennis, volleyball (traditional and beach), swimming and diving and many more.  Michael Phelps is a hero to the boys, for sure.  What a performance by him!
  • I haven't  had the best week of running, which is a bit depressing for me.  Normally, I kill it down here, running every day.  On Sunday morning, I left the house excited about on the Longleaf Trail a half mile or so away from Old Florida Village.  When I arrived at the trailhead, I ignored a sign saying the trail was closed.  What I saw on the trail (and the apparent reason of the closure) devastated me, as there were pine trees torn down and underbrush plowed up everywhere.  It looked like someone is developing property on the trail, which would be a tragedy.  Another lowlight.
  • Pool time was a definite highlight, as always.  The boys love playing in the pool.  Just as J.P. was at 4 years of age, Joe is a bit dangerous, because he doesn't really comprehend the danger of getting in water over his head.  Jude and I had to watch him carefully at every minute and still, at one point on Thursday when I was with the boys in the pool, he fell off a step into water over his head.  It's scary and I'll be glad when he become a stronger swimmer.  
  • Thursday at the pool, J.P., Joe and I swam in the rain and had the pool to ourselves.  J.P. pretended to be in a "Dude Perfect" video, running and jumping into the pool and trying to catch a ball I threw to him.  Joe laughed as he watched.  Later, Jude arrived, it started raining harder, and J.P. and jumped back into the pool.  We took turns jumping off the side, doing "cannonballs" and "can openers" in an effort to make the biggest splash.  I managed to slightly bruise my tailbone the bottom of the pool on one of my more boisterous attempts.  One of the highlights of the week on the fun scale.
  • Friday, J.P. and I invented a game at the beach.  We started out chest to chest, tossing a ball back and forth.  Each time one of us caught the ball, he took a step back.  We tried to see how far we could get apart from each other, tossing the ball.  When one of us dropped it, we had to start over.  Each time we started a new round, we did a "high five" routine - right hand high five  (slap the thighs), left hand high five (slap the thighs), both hand high five/low five (slap the thighs).  Silly?  Yes.  But good spontaneous and competitive fun, as all of our on the spot made up games tend to be.  
  • Friday evening, J.P. and I walked down to the swimming pool.  Joe, still tired from his afternoon nap, didn't want to swim for some reason.  The rain was gone and it wasn't quite as overcast as it had been.  The temperature had dropped into the high 70's and, really, it was a beautiful earl evening.  We ended up swimming and playing, throwing the Waboba back and forth across the pool, which we had to ourselves.  J.P. repeatedly jumped into the pool in the deep (5') end and tried to catch the Waboba as he hit the water.  We just hung out together in the pool for close to two hours.  I don't get that kind of relaxed time with him, so it was special, just me and him.  I didn't want the idyllic interlude to end.  
  • Coffee at Ama Vida in Seaside, FL.  It's the only real coffee shop I've been able to locate down here, at least since Grayton Beach Coffeehouse went out of business a year or two ago.  Ama Vida is a member of the same coffee cooperative as Bongo Java and, strangely enough, one of their former baristas - Rachel - moved to Nashville and works at Bongo Java now.  Anyway, Ama Vida has a nice atmosphere a really good coffee.  It's a small place, tucked away on the beach side of 30A in the middle of Seaside.
  • An afternoon half carafe of wine at Wine World, watching the Olympics.  Somehow, I missed having beers at the Great Southern in Seaside, though.  Since this was the first trip I've not brought the City Elite stroller with us, my afternoon down time was limited, as Joe napped in his bed at the house.  That's a metaphorical changing of the guard I'm not too excited about, to tell you the truth.  
  • Dinner at the Pickle Factory, another regular stop for us.  The thinnest of thin crust pizza is always a hit.  The owner - something of a curmudgeon - literally groaned, sat down at the bar and put his head in his hands when I ordered a second pizza.  Strange but typical for the Pickle Factory.  My buddy, David Hanchrow, stopped by on his way back from Destin.
  • Jude and I finished reading "Beautiful Ruins," by Jess Walter.  What a fantastic novel!  Pasquale Tursi and Dee Moray are characters that will stay with me for a long time.  I want to stay at The Hotel Adequate View on the coast, in Italy.
  • I'm well into "Voyager," by Russell Banks.  It's travel memoir he wrote and recently published, with collections of some of his older pieces as well as some new pieces.  I'd forgotten how much I enjoy his writing.  
  • The Growler Garage, which had just opened up when we visited Santa Rosa Beach last year.  
  • Jed, always Jed, at Blue Mountain Creamery.  The boys talk all year long about seeing Jed when we get to Santa Rosa Beach.  We first met him 6 years ago, I think, when J.P. was 2 and his family had just opened Blue Mountain Creamery.  Business was spotty then but boy have things changed as the years have passed.  Jed is in his early 20's now - all grown up - and Blue Mountain Creamery is killing it.  The boys love the ice cream but they really, really love Jed.  We brought him some Nashville swag - t-shirts from Edley's BBQ and the Filling Station and a hat from Martin's BBQ.  
  • I made lunch for the boys every day and we had dinner, mostly takeout, from La Playa (twice), Goatfeathers, Louis Louis (a new place we went to, although it was "meh"), Local Catch, Pizza By the Sea and the Pickle Factory.  We're creatures of habit, for sure.
  • I listend to a fascinating WTF (Marc Maron) podcast with James L. Brooks, during one of my runs past the golf course and nearby lake, a route a hadn't run in a few years.  Good stuff.  
That's about it, really.  On the whole, it seemed like a little less eventful of a trip than in years past, perhaps because it rained so much and there was so much of the Olympics to watching on television. 

It's late, we're partially packed and I'm already well into reentry mode.  I'm going to get crushed at work the rest of August and in September, so it's time to get back home and get back to work.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Beach Boys

It's Monday afternoon, two days into our annual vacation to Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.  Jude and the boys are napping and I'm sitting at the bar at Wine World in Watercolor on 30A, watching it rain outside.  This is a regular haunt for me on beach afternoons, as I normally stop in at least once for an afternoon glass of wine during the week we're at the beach.  It's not crowded and the Summer Olympics (Rio) is showing on a pair of flatscreen televisions above the bar.  It's quiet and cool, with my man, Tom Petty (and the Heartbreakers) playing in the background ("The Waiting").

We left Nashville on Saturday a few minutes before 8 a.m., an early start for us and less than an hour after our planned departure time of 7 a.m.  That was an aspirational goal, for sure, and I was tickled to get on the road before 8 a.m.  Amazingly, we stopped only once, just on the other side of Montgomery, AL, when we exited I65(S) to begin the rural portion of our drive through Alabama to Florida.  And even more amazing, J.P. did not get sick on the drive down.  He slept most of the way - Dramamine is a miracle drug - hilariously so, while wearing a black sleeping mask.  We made it in 7 1/2 hours, a record for us.  The trip down was marred only by the fact that using my cell phone - I plotted our corse to Goatfeathers East, in Sea Grove, and not to the Goatfeathers in Santa Rosa Beach, across from our beach house in Old Florida Village.

Sunday morning and this morning, after Jude's walk on the beach and my run, we took the boys to the beach.  Like there dad, they can't get enough of the beach.  I've always attributed my love of the beach to the fact that I was born and spent my early years in California, going to the beach at the Pacific Ocean on a fairly regular basis.  I could easily, I mean easily, live at the beach.  Any beach, really.  I used to love going to Litchfield Beach, South Carolina, in December a lifetime ago, when it was too cold to get in the ocean.  There always has been something rejuvenating to me about being near the ocean, seeing it, hearing it and smelling it.  The ocean has restorative powers, or so it seems to me.

Joe loves the beach and the ocean, delighting in standing in shallow water and letting the waves break on the shore over his legs and feet.  It's a joy to watch him laugh and squeal as he tries to jump over wave after wave, many times falling down in the process.  Joe's adventurous nature is prominent at the beach, and Jude and I have to keep a close eye on him at all times to prevent him form walking too far out into the ocean or getting knocked down and rolled over by the waves.  At 4, I think J.P. was more cautious and less inclined to recklessly wade straight into the ocean.

J.P. loves the ocean, too.  He and I already have spent a great deal of time throwing the football in the waves or skipping a ball across the water to each other.  This morning, we threw the ball back and forth for almost an hour while Jude and Joe played a version of "paddleball baseball" on the beach.

Yesterday, late in the afternoon, while Jude went to the beach and ran a couple of errands, the boys and I went to the pool.  We invented a baseball game where J.P. was an outfielder, I was the shortstop and Joe was the third baseman or catcher.  When I threw the ball into the air (simulating a hit), J.P. caught it or picked it up if he didn't catch it and threw it to em I relayed it to Joe.  We made double plays or, if J.P. or Joe dropped the ball, error.  Like all of our made up sports games, it was spontaneous and perfect, just me hanging out with my boys, laughing and playing, wishing I could stop time for a bit.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Camp Daddy

It's August, which means the end of summer camps, which means Jude and I are scrambling to find daytime childcare for J.P. and Joe, which means our schedules are even crazier.  

Monday, I took the day off and spent it with the boys.  We called it "Camp Daddy."  It was a good day, for sure.

After watching videos on J.P.'s iPad and playing Subway Surfer while I showered, the boys and I went to Bongo Java.  There, over breakfast, we did some more "film study" which, as referenced before, consists of us taking turns picking sports videos to watch on Youtube.  These days, Joe is particularly into Mike Trout highlights, though that will change when hockey season starts in a couple of months.

Next, we went home, changed into our bathing suits and headed across town to the East Nashville YMCA.  We arrived just as the pool was opening.  Although it was crowded with parents and children squeezing a last day or two at the pool before Metro Nashville Public Schools began, the boys and I had fun.  With Joe in the shallow end of the pool and J.P. across the rope in the deeper end,  I alternated throwing a "skip ball" (pop flies) to each of them.  "Make me dive, Daddy!" J.P. said, over and over, as I tossed the ball skyward, over mothers and children splashing an playing.  Joe belly flopped off the side of the pool, into the water, as J.P. and I laughed.

After we finished up at the pool, I took the boys to Five Points Pizza in East Nashville for lunch.  Jude met us there and we enjoyed a rare weekday family lunch with the hipsters from across the river.  Good pizza, too.

I put Joe down for a nap at home after lunch.  J.P. wondered down after 30 minutes of "quiet time," only to find me napping on the bed, exhausted.  He played on his iPad for an hour while I slept.  Joe walked groggily downstairs a little after 4:00 p.m. and we watched part of "Back to the Future" together.  (note to self:  probably not an appropriate move for 8 and 4 year olds).

To top of our day, it was off to swimming lessons at Miss Sarah's pool in Green Hills.

I'm slammed at work and more behind now, but I treasured having the day to spend with my boys.  Camp Daddy.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Joe Everything

Often times, when I go back and look at old posts, I feel a pang of guilt at not having written as much about Joe in the first four years of his life as I did about J.P.

Generally, I haven't found or made the time to post as often as I used to, instead posting photos and random thoughts on Twitter and Instagram.  Also, my audience has changed, insofar as my mom doesn't use her computer anymore.  Until that happened, I didn't realize how much of what I write on this blog was for her.

Here's the point, though, and it really hit home the last couple of mornings as Joe and I played "Thomas Pop Up" (aka Trouble) on the bed before I took him to summer camp at Children's House - Joe is everything to me.  He's so like J.P. and yet, at the same time, he's so different from J.P.

Joe is perfectly content playing by himself, as he has had to be, I guess.  Unlike J.P., who had Jude and me all to himself of almost four years, Joe has never had that luxury.  From the day he was born, our attention has been divided - evenly, I hope - between Joe and J.P.  Joe is more of a "mama's boy" that J.P. but not in a negative way.  He loves his mother most of all, which is as it should be.  It's truly one of the joys of my left to hear him walking downstairs each morning while I'm making J.P. breakfast, then watch him streak behind me at warp speed and jump delightedly into Jude's arms for a good morning hug.

Joe is a sweet kid, like J.P., but he's all boy, too.  At this point, anyway, he doesn't seem to be too concerned about hurting other people's feelings by things he says or does.  He has no problems pilling on J.P. when he (J.P.) says something or does something to get into trouble.  He's more physical than J.P. ever was at four.  If he's mad at me or if I'm bugging him about something, his first reaction is to try to punch me or kick me.  It's hilarious, actually, because when he decides he wants to "fight" me, he crouches down and holds his fists - upside down - out in front of him, moving them slowly in a circular motion.  Apparently, it's his best imitation of a Paul Gaustad hockey fight.  "I'm going to fight you like Paul Gaustad," he says.

J.P. and I play a game where I'll grab J.P. in a bear hug or start throwing fake punches at him.  Immediately, no matter what he is doing at the time, Joe runs over and attacks me.  He revels in "saving" his big brother as he throws haymakers at me, punching my back and legs.  Then, I'll grab Joe and he'll yell "save me!" after which J.P. jumps on m back.  And on and on.

I like Joe's aggressiveness and I'm kind of excited to see if it carries over to the soccer field this fall with Joe's first foray into soccer.  I also like the fact that he has the self-confidence to play by himself and to entertain himself and I hope it translates into his not being afraid to be his own man as he gets older.  In other words, I'm hopeful he'll be a leader and not a follower.

Joe is extremely competitive, which I also love.  Lately, we've been playing a lot of "Pop Up Thomas (the Train)" (aka "Trouble").  My mom and I used to play Trouble every morning before I walked across the street to go to kindergarten in California, so playing with Joe completes the circle for me.  When J.P. plays with us and Joe's man gets bumped back home or, God forbid, he loses, Joe erupts like a small volcano, crying and pounding his feet and fists on the bed.  J.P. and I call him "the Rage Monster."  Last night, for example, when I won the game, J.P. and I dissolved in fits of uncontrollable laughter as Joe raised complete hell about losing.  I love it because I've long believed you can dial back that kind of competitiveness but you can't put it in a kids who is not wired that way.

Joe has zero fine motor skills.  As his teachers pointed out to us in the spring parent-teacher conference, he can't draw a straight line or write his letters.  My response?  That's fine, but have you seen him hit a baseball?  His gross motor skills are at 12 on a scale of 1-10, because he has spent so much of his life going to J.P.'s practices or games in soccer, baseball or basketball.  He's an animal.

And his laugh.  Sometimes, like this morning, when he got tickled when I accidentally hit the Onstar button in my truck as I was dropping him off for camp at Children's House, he erupts in deep throated  gales of laughter as he grins from ear to ear.  When he laughs like he did this morning, for me it's like the clouds parting the sun shining brilliantly down, brightening everything in touches.  I could live on Joe's laughter as it touches and fuels my soul and reminds me of why I am here on this earth.

Joe loves to watch sports.  All sports.  Whether it's major league baseball, Premier League soccer or women's college softball, Joe immediately picks a team and cheers for them - loudly - like it's the most important game in the world to him.  And it is.  On many occasions, we have been out to eat or waiting at a restaurant for takeout, watching a game on television, only to have Joe spontaneously scream with delight or disappointment at something that happens in a game he is watching.  When that happens, people invariably turn to look at us and smile at his enthusiasm.

To loosely, very loosely quote John Prine, Joe is my everything.