Monday, January 2, 2017

Another Long Dark Night of the Soul

Last night, for me, was the low point for me with my mom.

Things started out okay when I picked her up and took her to Kaitlyn's (my niece and her granddaughter) basketball game at Overton High School.  It was slow going at first, as my mom had misplaced her purse and it's just a chore to get her out her apartment at Maristone, downstairs and into my truck.  We made it to the game as the first quarter was ending.

She sat between Gary (my brother-in-law) and me on the first row of the bleachers and watched the game intently.  Other than being a little too intense and thinking every foul should have been called on Antioch High School - which is actually the way she always has been when watching one of us play sports - she was fine.

Things began to go downhill when I was driving her home after the game, as darkness fell.

As an aside, sunset is when my mom seems to get the most confused and rattled.  It's called "Sundowner's Syndrome."  It's apparently pretty common among people who have Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia.  Like so much of what she's dealing with, it sucks, plain and simple.

I picked up dinner for the two of us at Brockton's in Cool Springs, so we could eat at her place and watch the end of the Tennessee-Nebraska game (Music City Bowl).  She became more confused when we arrived at Maristone and I helped her inside.  She didn't understand why she would be spending the night there and argued with me about it.  Then, she told another resident that she was only staying the night and would be going back to her house the next morning.

As we walked into her apartment on the second floor and I began to help her get settled in, she asked me if I was going to stay the night.  She hadn't done that in a while.  "Of course not," I replied.  "I have family at home, including JP and Joe, who need me to be there when they go to sleep."

Stunned, my mom looked at me with grief - not sadness, but pure, unadulterated grief on her face.  She was on the verge of tears.

"Does anyone else know?" she asked plaintively.

"Does anyone else know what?"  I responded.

"That we're getting divorced." she said, her voice quivering with emotion.  "Does any of the rest of the family know?  Grandmother.  Sue (her sister).  Ann (her sister).

My heart sank.  "Mom, we're not married.  I'm your son.  I was born in Bakersfield in 1966.  Tracy is your daughter.  She was born in 1968 in Vista, California.  Your husband - my dad - was Howard Newman.  He died in 1971 and we moved back to Tennessee."  My voice was fraught with emotion, as I tried desperately to convince her of the true nature of our shared history.

"I didn't birth you," she continued.  "Does the family know we're getting a divorce?"

"Mom, Grandmother, Sue and Ann are dead.  Tracy, Alice and I are your family."  Practically pleading with her, I said, "you were the best mother ever!  You did everything for the three of us."

She looked right at me, still stunned but with a look on he face that confirmed in her mind, she was getting this news for the first time.  She was heartbroken and refused to eat.  When I asked why, she said "Why do you think?  I've never heard any of this before you told me."  One last time, she asked "we're not married?"

"No," I replied.  "We're not."

My mom just stared down at the food on her tray.

There's more, but I just can't relive it right now.  I told her goodbye, then left and drove home on the verge of tears.  Angry, hopeless and as sad as I have ever been in my life.

Happy New Year.  2016 was bad, but 2017 is going to be worse.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Playing Hooky

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I was absolutely crushed at work.  My crazy work schedule made me more determined to gear down and take some time off the week between Christmas and New Year's Day.  And, that's what I'm doing today.

This morning, I saw my niece and goddaughter, Kaitlyn, play basketball in a tournament at Overton High School.  What a treat to see her play!  She played well, the team played well and they beat Hillsboro High School handily.  God, I'm proud of Kaitlyn.  She's such a great kid.  My sister and brother-in-law, Tracy and Gary, have done such good job raising her and her brother, Matthew.

After a brief stop off at the house, I went to the gym.  I've been off running - thanks to my broken left great toe - for almost three weeks and it's killing me.  I was able to get some time in on the elliptical and to lift weights for a bit, which was awesome.  I've felt like such a slug, not being able to run, that getting any exercise at all was a bonus.

I had lunch at Eldey's, where I had a Calfkiller (Grassroots APA) and read the New Yorker.  I also spent a few minutes extolling the virtues of Nashville to a couple sitting beside me at the bar, who were visiting from New York City.  Imagine that, a couple from New York City visiting Nashville and doing touristy things, and loving it.  My, times have changed.

I even got the oil changed in my truck - my much loved 2005 Yukon Denali - which I've owned for a decade and which has almost 187,000 miles on it.  When JP was 3 or 4, he used to ask me if I would keep driving until he turned 16, so he could drive it.  I love that truck so much that it just may happen.

Now, I'm sitting at Bongo Java, having a "Mood Elevator," listing to Magnolia Electric Company's "O Grace" and Bon Iver's "For Emma" and "Re:  Stacks."  I could listen to all 3 songs one thousand times and never get tired of them.  Sometimes, I wonder if JP or Joe will read this blog one day and, especially if I'm not around, take the time to listen to songs I referenced and that meant so much to me at a certain point in time.  I hope so.

I'm so lucky to have those boys.  What I really want and what I've always wanted them to get, someday, out of this blog, is to realize how much I loved them and how blessed I knew that I was to have them in my life while I was taking the time to record my thoughts about them and my life, in general.

I can't imagine what my life would be like without JP and Joe in it.  Watching their lives unfold is my reward for everything I do, everything I have done and everything I will do in my life.  It's truly God's gift to me and it's much more than I deserve.    

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Friends That Fit

Last night, JP's buddy, Cooper, and his family came over for dinner, beer/wine and to watch the Independence Bowl (Vandy got smoked by NC State).  Jude make Rotel cheese dip and at halftime, Russ and I picked up pizzas from Pizza Perfect.

Predictably, the boys got bored with the football game and went outside in the backyard after dinner.  The record 70 degree temperatures in late December, no doubt, made it impossible for them to stay inside.  As Russ and I watched, the boys and Cooper's sister, Ella, played football.  When I saw our next-door-neighbor's 10-year old daughter watching the kids play, I invited her over.  Later, the kids switched to playing tag and ran next door to Erin's house, where the light was better.

Really, it was pretty close to a perfect evening.  It's nice to be friends with a family that fits together so well with ours.  Jude and I enjoy spending time with Russ and Susanna and the kids play so well together.  It's just a good fit.

Our life is so different than it was before we had children.  Our friends are different, too, because so many of our friends from the ultimate frisbee days don't have children or have older children.  It's a bit sad, because it's hard to stay in touch with friends from the so called "old days."  It's natural, I guess, but our life seems to be divided into two parts, "BC" - before children and "AC" - after children.

Cooper slept over and as I left the house this morning, Jude and the boys were preparing for a trip to the Northwest YMCA to swim in the indoor pool.

As an aside, I was upstairs walking out of my office yesterday afternoon when Joe, just up from his nap, ran by me in the playroom at full speed, a streak of color flying by me.  "Whoa!  Where are you going, Joe?" I asked.  "Is Cooper here, yet?!?" he replied.  Joe adores Cooper and, in turn, Cooper is great with Joe.  Without question, in Joe's mind when Cooper sleeps over with JP, he's really sleeping over with both of the boys.

In fact, all three boys slept in sleeping bags in the floor of the playroom last night, with Cooper in between JP and Joe.  Joe was in heaven, for sure, as he got to stay up late, talk to the boys and watch intently as they traded football cards.  Joe is 4 going on 8 +.

It's good to have friends that fit, isn't it?

Monday, December 26, 2016

Another Christmas Past

It's the day after Christmas and I stopped for a quick cup of coffee and some ruminating at the Good Cup in the Grassland community, halfway between Nashville and Franklin.  After that, it's off to work to clean off my desk.

I can't quite shake the feeling that something shifted for me, in my life, this Christmas season.  Normally, I enjoy tremendously the lead up to Christmas, from Thanksgiving to Christmas day.  This year, not so much.

For one thing, I was covered up at work.  I didn't manage my calendar very well, as I scheduled two reasonably complicated mediations (one I was mediating and one that was being mediated for me) the week before Christmas.  As a result, I wasn't completely free from work until Thursday.  It was hard for me to disengage and immerse myself in the Christmas season.

Mostly, thought, I had a difficult time reconciling my mom's deteriorating mental and physical condition, and her new living arrangements, with the idea that I should be excited about Christmas.  It makes me sad because JP and Joe are are still imbued with the naivete and innocence of childhood that make Christmas so special.  Elf on the Shelf, Santa Claus, playing hide-and-seek when we pick out a Christmas tree (a family tradition of ours), decorating the Christmas tree, Christmas vacation from school, family get togethers, wishing for snow and anticipating the joys of Christmas morning.  This year, it seems, I just couldn't get there with them, mentally or emotionally.

This is the first year in, well, forever, that my family hasn't celebrated Christmas with my mom at her house.  As crazy and hectic as it often was, it was my family's Christmas tradition.  Now, it's gone, never to return.  It seemingly happened so fast.  It's tough and probably not particularly productive thinking, but I'm struck by the thought that last year, or the year before, had I known what we were facing with my mom in the near future, I would have savored those last two Christmas afternoons at her house more than I did.

There's a lesson there, I know, to live in and appreciate the moment.  I'm just not in the mood for lessons, though.

A little over a week ago, I took my mom to the White Family Christmas celebration at the home of Jude's cousin, Chad.  It was a large and boisterous crowd with a lot of small children.  It was tough for my mom to keep track with who everybody was and to follow the bits and pieces of conversations that took place all around her.  In the course of the evening, though, my mom called me her husband, her father and, finally, her son.

I wanted to cry, for her, for me, for my whole family.

Last Friday, I talked to my mom and my sister, Tracy, and made plans to pick up my mom and take her to dinner at my house.  When I arrived at Maristone a little after 5:00 p.m., my mom wasn't in her room.  I straightened up her apartment, then walked downstairs to the dining hall.  Sure enough, she was there, sitting contented at a table with three other ladies, eating dinner.  After I said hello and sat down with them, it became clear to me that my mom had forgotten she was supposed to go to my house for dinner.

She asked me if I'd like to go upstair to her apartment for a few minutes.  "Of course," I said, and accompanied her upstairs.  We visited for a few minutes, as I found a basketball game on television for her to watch.  I didn't have the heart to tell her she had forgotten about he plans we had made earlier in the day.  She was relatively happy and content, so I told her good night and drove home.

I felt incredibly guilty because part of me felt relieved at not having to deal with getting her outside, into my truck and up to my house in Nashville, then back home.  I was relieved though, too, as she seemed happy, at least in that moment.  The land of conflicting emotions is where I spend most of my time as of late.

Yesterday afternoon, we went to my sister's house for the first time on Christmas day.  I spent 15 minutes or so trying to convince my mom that Tracy and Gary owned the house.  She was dead certain it belonged to someone else and, further, that she had never been there before.  This, of course, in spite of the fact she spent the night with them Christmas Eve.  There was nothing I could say to convince her otherwise.  The more we talked about it, the more frustrated she got with me.

A blue Christmas indeed.    

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve (morning) at Bongo Java

The boys are up and in our bed, watching Dude Perfect videos or playing Madden Mobile on JP's iPad while Jude reads on her iPad beside them.  I'm not much for laying in bed after I wake up, so as is my custom, I'm sitting at Bongo Java with a cup of coffee.

It's Christmas Eve morning and I'm one of two customers.  The other - a young lady in her mid-twenties - is waiting at the door for someone to arrive, checking her phone intermittently.  Yep, right on time, her friend walked in the door.  They hug, laugh and walk to the register to order breakfast and a coffee.

Megan - one of my all-time favorite baristas and a Saturday morning stalwart at Bongo - just greeted them with a friendly "He!" and a smile, as always, and is taking their order.  Megan loves the boys and they love her, so much so that she babysat for them once upon a time.  Megan graduated from Belmont U. a week ago with a nursing degree, having put herself through school.  I'm proud of her, very proud of her.  She starts work as a nurse in late January, so she only has a couple Saturday morning shifts left.   The boys and I are going to miss her.

One of the special things for me about being a regular at Bongo Java is watching the employees come and go.  There is a cycle of life aspect to it all, as I watch them start working here, find their way, get comfortable then sometime a little bored and finally, move on to something else.

Take Megan, for example.  I can vividly recall the first time on a busy Sunday morning, when EJ put Megan on the line as a barista.  She was timid and terrified.  And slow, man was she slow.  I also saw EJ watching her out of the corner of his eye, deliberately not helping her but making sure she had the capability of getting herself out of the weeds.  She did, of course, and the rest is Bonjo Java history.

So many faces, almost all smiling in my memory, working the counter and making coffee for me at Bongo Java Belmont over the last 14 + years.  The faces do blur a bit for me and the names run together, although a few stand out for all time.  Chad, Jackson, Chuck, Mitch, Meghan, A.J., Adam, George, Megan and the Godfather of the baristas, EJ.

There is Christmas music playing and I can hear Megan the others talking and laughing behind the counter and in the kitchen.  The framed photo I took of JP and Joe last year at Frothy Monkey when Bongo Java Belmont was closed for renovations sits on the coffee machine behind the counter ("We Miss EJ" @bongojava, it says).  Our family's 2016 christmas card is taped to the other side of the coffee machine, near the entry to the kitchen.  

I'd say we're regulars.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Turf Toe

A week ago Saturday, Jude took the boys to see the Christmas trees at the Governor's mansion.  With the morning off, I headed straight for Shelby Bottoms for a long trail run.  I was excited because it's tough to find the time to get over there as busy as we are.

As happens from time to time, by the time I put my cold weather gear on, drove to Shelby Park, stretched and started my run, I'd lost my motivation and felt kind of "blah."  I strongly considered packing it in and heading to Bongo Java East for a cup of coffee.  Instead, I decided to run a quick 5 miles on the trail, as opposed to the 8-mile run I had originally planned.

As also often happens, once I got going, I felt good and was glad I hadn't stopped the run.  I ran my usual route on the grass trails, then turned onto the Cornelia Fort trail.  Toward the end of the .7 miles of the Cornelia Fort trail, I turned onto a single track trail I don't run often because I knew I could turn around when it ended in a neighborhood at around the 2 1/2 mile mark.  That way, I could head back and get 5 miles in by the end of the trail run.

All went according to plan until I hit the 3 mile mark while returning at about the halfway point of the Cornelia Fort trail.  Suddenly - and by suddenly, I mean with no warning whatsoever - in full stride, my left foot struck a tree root extending out into the trail that was obscured by the fallen leaves.  I fell hard, face first into the ground, arms outstretched in front of me.  I groaned as I hit the ground, then slowly rolled over onto my back.

As I lay there, I did a physical inventory, the kind any 50 year old does when he or she takes a bad spill.  First, I checked my right shoulder and although it was a bit sore, I didn't think it was any worse for the wear.  I wasn't bleeding on my forearms or elbows because I was wearing a cold weather running jacket.  My knees were okay, too, but as I stood up, I noticed my left foot didn't feel too good.  No worries, I thought, as I walked a few tentative steps, then started running again.  Immediately, my left foot began throbbing and I stopped running and began walking.  After a quarter of a mile or so, I tried to run again only to have my left foot stop me in my tracks.

Shit, I thought.  I'm hurt.  I limped the remaining 2 miles back to my truck, the pain in my left foot increasing the longer I walked.

When I got home and took my running shoes off, I could see that my left great toe didn't look good.  It was read, very swollen, stiff and cold to the touch.  By Saturday evening, it was significantly bruised and even more swollen.  I began to worry about whether I had broken it and, more importantly, how this type of an injury might affect my ability to run in the future (thanks Google).  So, I decided to go to the emergency room and get it x-rayed.

Fractured distal phalanx.  4-6 weeks with no running and a lot of pain when walking of at least a couple of weeks.  All confirmed by an orthopedic at the Vanderbilt Bone & Joint Clinic on Wednesday.  Shit.  I mean, shit.

How in the hell am I going to handle not running for 4-6 weeks?  Time to get back in the gym, I guess.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Christmas at the State Capitol

Last week, the boys and I accompanied Jude to the annual Christmas tree lighting by Governor Hallam at the State Capitol.  I think this was the 5th or 6th consecutive year we have attended and, as always, it was fun.  

The boys listened to Governor Haslam welcome everyone and introduce a few distinguished guests, including Santa and Mrs. Claus.  Next, they watched the Governor and the First Lady press the button that lighted the Christmas tree for the holiday season.  Then, it was off to listen to the Governor, First Lady, Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus take turns reading "The Night Before Christmas."  And, finally, the boys got to visit with the man himself, Santa Claus, and tell them what they wanted for Christmas.

Governor Haslam

Joe and J.P.

J.P., Santa, Joe and Mrs. Claus

Jude, Joe, J.P. and me

It rained, as it has the last 4 State Capitol Christmas tree lightings we have attended.  We slogged back to Jude's work parking garage, fighting the wind and a driving rain, and got in Jude's Honda Pilot, wet and hungry.  Here's where the night took a turn, for sure.

As we were driving down Charlotte Avenue, J.P., sitting directly behind me on the passenger side, suddenly blurts out, "Is that Santa?!?"  

I looked to my right and sure enough, there is Santa Claus driving down Charlotte Avenue in a bright red Honda Pilot with Mrs. Claus riding shotgun.  How did I know it was Santa Claus?  Well, for starters, he was still in his "uniform."  Also, as he pulled ahead of us, I noticed the personalized license plate - "Mrs. Claus."  

Jude and I looked at each other and wined silently.  J.P. was quiet and I almost could hear his 8 1/2 year old mind working, trying to process what he had just seen.  Finally, he said, "I bet Santa couldn't get he sleigh (and the reindeer) out tonight because it's raining and not snowing."  

I breathed a sigh of relief, as Jude and I nodded and agreed with him.  "I think that's right."  Jude said.

In the meantime, I thought to myself, "Damn, Santa!  WTH?  Couldn't you at least have changed clothes before you left for home?"