Monday, February 13, 2017

Tie Ballgame

Joe always has seemed to gravitate to Jude, as opposed to me.  J.P. is the opposite, of course.  It's to unusual for Joe to announce "Mom is my favorite grownup."  Without fail, J.P. immediately responds
"Dad is my favorite grownup."  We're all winners.

Well, not really.  Maybe it's a slight insecurity on my part or maybe my memory of J.P. at 4 and 5 has faded with time, but at times I've felt like I hadn't bonded with Joe the same way I did with J.P.  I recall that as soon as J.P. started playing sports - and I started coaching him - that the worm turned and I became "the man."  I coached Joe's baseball team last spring and helped coach the soccer team last fall, but I didn't notice any difference in our relationship.

Now, part of the issue I'm sure is that Joe is the second child, the youngest, and necessarily has to share time with J.P. when it comes to me.  Also, J.P. gets a lot of one-on-one time when we play catch or I hit him grounders, shoot basketball or throw the football.  Joe joins in from time to time and he's not excluded by any means, but it's rarely just the two of us.

Lately, thought, things are looking up.  Over the weekend, Joe and I were returning from running an errand or two.  He suggested I park in the driveway, a spot he normally wants to be reserved for mommy.  Wow, I thought.  I'm moving up!

Then, on Sunday before church, he and I were hanging out together while Jude took J.P. to Sunday school.  "Dad," he said unprompted and with conviction.  "You're tied with mommy and Carley as my favorite grownup."  I smiled.

I'm still smiling.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Once a Runner

I've been a serious runner for almost 25 years.  During that time, running has centered me in the same way prayer or meditation centers others.  Running, for me, has been a form of meditation.  Running has been a release for me in times of stress and a comfort for me in times of sadness.  Running also has been a way for me to celebrate life.

Running has been my everyday companion.  Running has been something I could always count on, like an old friend.  Running was in my life before I became a lawyer, before Jude, before J.P. and Joe and before bits and pieces of my mom's memory began to steal away like regulars quietly leaving a bar, one by one, before closing time.

Often time, I planned my schedule around running.  Go to bed early, so I can get up at 5:30 a.m. and go for a run.  Eat light at dinner, get the kids to bed so I can go for a run.  Take my running clothes to St. Patrick on Sunday morning, so I can run home.  Get the boys down for a nap on Saturday afternoon, so I get a run in.  Run early on the morning of my birthday, then meet Jude and the boys for breakfast at Bongo Java (one of my favorite birthday memories).

The desire to run or, more accurately, the need to run has been as constant as my heartbeat.  Ever present.  

Running has been something I'm good at, if that makes sense.  After putting in the weekly mileage for more than two decades - admittedly less so since Joe was born almost five years ago - going out and running three or four miles at an brisk pace has been like a walk in the park for me.  Effortless.  Miles and miles, stacked up like bricks until I had built my personal Great Wall of Miles.

Now, it seems, the Wall is in danger of crumbling.  When I broke my left big toe two months ago, the doctors told me to take four to six weeks off.  To be safe and to avoid reinjuring my toe or placing my  future running ability in jeopardy, I took the full six weeks off.  I thought that was the best thing to do.

I ran last night for, I guess, the third or fourth time since I was injured.  It's the first time I ran three miles.  The good news is my toe felt fine.  No soreness, no lingering problems.  Range of motion isn't what it was and I don't know if that will come back, but still, I can run.  The bad news is running three miles was hard.  Harder than it's been in 20 + years.  I wan't running particularly fast, either, probably an 8:45 pace.  Easy in the old days but a struggle for sure now.

When I broke my toe and got the news that I couldn't run for four to six weeks, I thought I would take the time off to let my body heal.  Not just my toe, but my entire body.  I also thought I had built up enough of a base of mileage over the years - my Great Wall of Miles - that picking up where I left off and running three, four or five miles would be easy.  What I didn't anticipate is that for the first time in, well, forever, running would hard and would require effort.

What I really didn't anticipate is that I would have to start all over again.  My Great Wall of Miles, it seems, has crumbled and fallen into a state of disrepair.  It occurs to me that over the years the Wall, such as it were, has been a bulwark against feelings of anxiety, stress, sadness and depression.  As I've written in this space before, I've run through tears caused by a failed marriage, the death of a close friend's teenage daughter and my mom's deteriorating mental and physical.  I've composed wedding toasts and eulogies during runs.  Most of all, I've run to clear my mind, to give me some "head space," so to speak.

What scares me the most, I think, is that my desire to run seems to have ebbed.  The rational side of my brain realizes that knowing a routine run is going to be harder leaves me discouraged and more inclined to stop by Edley's and have a beer or two after work or after the boys are in bed, as opposed to clearing the deck for night run.  I've got to fight through that, though, and start rebuilding the Wall again - my Wall - because I need it in my life.

I will do it.  I have to.

A runner, in happier times.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Groundhog Day

Not a good night last night with my mom, unfortunately.

In fact, in some form of mild protest over her situation (and mine), I dropped Joe off at St. Patrick's this morning for church and, when Jude arrived with J.P. from his first communion Sunday school class, I left.  I needed a few quiet minutes to process my thoughts and feelings, so I drove over to Bongo Java East.  I'm drinking a cappuccino and watching a depressing mixture of rain and snow fall outside, as I listen to Bon Iver's "For Emma, Forever Ago."

Yesterday, I picked up my mom from Maristone about 3 p.m. and took her to J.P.'s basketball game at Oak Hill.  On the drive up, I could see she was mildly confused about our relationship and how Jude, J.P. and Joe fit into things.  She seems to be apprehensive about being around Jude, I guess because she's confused about the fact that Jude and I are married.  Or something.  Shit, I don't know.  I really don't.

Getting her into the gym safely was a real task because Oak Hill just doesn't have good handicapped access to the school, at least not on weekends.  It's funny how you can go your entire life without noticing something like that until it directly impacts you, how you're getting around or how you have to help someone else get around.  With help from some of the other parents, I was able to get her up three sets of stairs, back on her walker, in the gym and seated in a metal folding chair.  Jude's parents arrived and with an assist from Jim and Jane, I moved her over to a seat in the middle with them while I kept the scorebook at the scorer's table during J.P.'s game.

In what turned out to be a futile effort to avoid the confusion that plagued her last time I took her back to Maristone at nightfall, I suggested we have dinner at our house.  Jude graciously agreed and my mom and Jude's parents joined us for dinner.  The boys had a good time showing my mom ("Meemaw" to them) how their hockey game worked.  She had a bit of hard time following what we were watching on television - the NHL All-Star Game skills contest - bit she did relatively well.

The fun started when I left our house about 7:15 p.m. to return her to Maristone.  As was the case the last time she was with me at night, she began to get more and more confused as we drove.  She started asking me questions about Jude and me, how Jude was handling the divorce, etc.  I was frustrated and I tried to cut her off, reminding her that she was my mom, I was her son, Jude and I had been married for almost 15 years and that J.P. and Joe are my boys.  She didn't get it, didn't believe it and began to get irritated and confused.

When I turned off of Royal Oaks Boulevard, she asked me where we were going.  As I pulled into the driveway at Maristone, she said, "I can't stay here.  Take me home."

"This is where you live, mom," I said.

"No it's not," she replied.  "Please take me home!" she repeated, this time pleading, her voice rising.  "I have to take care of the dog.  All of my clothes are at home."

When I told her again, more firmly than I probably should have that Maristone is where she lived, she started crying.

I ignored her entreaties and her tears - and tried to ignore my tears - as I retrieved he walker from the back of my truck.  She obediently shuffled into Maristone behind me, despondent.  We rode the elevator up to the second floor, unlocked the door to her apartment and went inside.  After she went to the bathroom, my mom sat in her chair - which I've grown to despise - because she sits in it, sleeps in it and really, rarely leaves it.  She put her head in her hands, refused to even look at me and sighed deeply.

And, just like in a twisted, devastatingly depressing version of the movie "Groundhog Day," here we were again.  My mom's heart breaking as she realized for what, to her, was the first time, that I'm not her husband.  And, even worse, to her, that when I walked out her door, I was going home to another woman and another family.  The pain and sadness on her face was real.

I sat on the ottoman in front of her chair and tried to talk to her.  I tried to make her understand who I was and how much I loved her, as a son and not as a husband.  More than maybe I've ever wanted anything before in my life, I wanted to momentarily pierce the veil of dementia or Alzheimer's disease that is strangling her brain and just have one more conversation with my mom.  And, of course, I couldn't.

The person I was talking to was not my mom.  It looked like her and the voice was the same, but it wasn't her.  And you know what?  My mom is never coming back.  Never.

I have to find a way to love this new person in the same, or similar, way I loved my mom, without it destroying me.        

Friday, January 27, 2017

Joe Time

This morning, before school for Joe and work for me, we went to Belmont U. (or "Belmont School," as J.P. used to call it) to throw the football.  There's a big, wide open space in the atrium, inside, that leads into the gym.  Joe was excited from the moment we arrived, running ahead of me with the football, almost dancing with excitement across the floor.

First, we peaked in the Curb Center, because it was open and we could see someone playing basketball.  I laughed when I saw my old friend, Scott Corley, playing in a rag-tag pickup game.  I've known Scott since he was in junior high and his family moved into my neighborhood.  Scott played basketball at Belmont U. and recently was named the athletic director.  It's been great to reconnect with him through our affiliation as "sidewalk alumni" of the school.

We lined up - me in my suit and dress shoes - and played 2-hand touch football in the atrium.  As students and teacher hurried by, on the way to class or to grab a quick breakfast, several stopped for a minute, smiled and watched us play.  If I missed touching Joe with two hands, he was off to the races,  running straight toward the stairs before pulling up and spiking the football to celebrate a make believe touchdown.

When it was time to go, we rode the elevator downstairs at Joe's request.  He always has loved the elevator there.  As we walked to my truck, I stopped to high five the 3 statues by the fountain outside the entrance to Belmont U. on Belmont Boulevard.  J.P. and I used to do that and it never ceased to amuse him.  Joe giggled, then outright laughed when I threw the football to the statues and told them "nice try" when it bounced off their arms.  There is nothing better than the unbridled, innocent laughter of a happy 4 (almost 5) year old.

As I drove him to school, we animatedly described how cool it would be if the statues came to life.  Joe said, "they're chasing us!  Go!"  We laughed all the way to school.

Joe time.

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?