Vacation Truth

 

 

When I go on vacation I always tell myself this will be the time when I get my life together, even if only for a short while. Somehow, I will escape the crazy and chaotic life I lead and enjoy one week of a calm and serene existence. I will exercise on the beach before dawn. There will be sessions of yoga, where I will learn that Downward Dog is nothing to be ashamed of if I accidentally type it into my Internet browser. There will be bran cereal, yuck, but being regular helps with the calm and serene. (And then I remind myself to go easy on the bran since I never eat the stuff and there is nothing calm and serene about being TOO regular.) So, that is what I imagine the yearly family trek to the beach is going to be like.

But, in reality, my vacation always becomes a jail break from responsibility. There is hair of the dog instead of Downward Dog. There are little nephews screaming a dirty phrase in unison again and again, not because they know what it means but because they heard someone scream it… maybe me… six hours before the hair of the dog thing. There is not a shred of bran but plenty of Pop Tarts and Frosted Flakes. And, instead of a new me returning home, it is an older, exhausted me after my vacation becomes a parenting Studio 51 with sand.

I tell myself what I want in life is discipline, but that is only another word for control. I want to eat right, take long walks with my wife, sleep through the night, and generally end each day with hope for what the next day holds and how brilliantly I will manage it. But I’ll probably never get it or do it. Time is going to keep plowing forward. My kids are walking, talking adults when just yesterday they were the Dennis the Menace twosome that are now my nephews.

I also imagine the vacation experience will be moderately high brow, otherwise I would have vacationed in Daytona. Mostly it isn’t. There is late night heckling over vicious games of dominoes, steamy beach reads in well-thumbed paperbacks that are banned in libraries across half the country, and statements yelled down from the balcony at other family members that the Kardashians would consider crass. I heard a couple of gems this past week, like this one from the back seat of the minivan as we traveled there: “Hey Dad, sorry but I gotta drop a deuce. What can I say? You sleep, you eat, you poop. It’s the circle of life, dude.” Or the one that sounded like a Darth Vader imitation as I passed a darkened bathroom with the door closed. Someone was clearly enjoying the echo in the small space: “Yup, I’m peeing in the dark. And from the sound of things I’m doing a pretty good job.”

Now, perhaps you are noticing there is a lot of potty content. I wiped the butts of these little creatures which meant I was involved in every “movement” they had and yet what is currently happening with our digestive systems seems to be even more conversationally relevant now than when I was chasing them down the hall with a slightly uncomfortable but thankfully clean Pampers knock-off. And I know this will not get better as I age. Hell, I might be closer to those diapers than they’re away from them.

I don’t know. Maybe it is time for me to be a little more honest with myself, and with my writing. Truth be told, I am a lazy writer. I start great, I finish not so well. Clearly, lack of sleep or alcohol are not steroids for the sport of writing, despite what some scribes would have you believe. I can barely focus my thoughts long enough to write a check, let alone a novel. I am not taking care of myself. And sometimes I look the other direction when it comes to proper parenting. In some ways, with both my writing and my life, I feel like I’m nearing the point where Picasso cut off his ear. (Except right now I write and live by the numbers, and I have pretty big ears, too.)

And despite all this complaining, I would not give up a single thing I have now to achieve whatever the hell I think I am seeking when I set off on a break from my day to day life. I am desperately in love with my wife. I am so proud of my kids it is probably a little nauseating for those who have to hear it. I still enjoy the company of my extended family. I get satisfaction out of my job. And, at the end of the day, I feel pretty good about the person I am trying to be.

So maybe vacation is supposed to be exactly what it always is for me. A jailbreak from the responsibility of being a husband, a father, and a decent person. (I am not talking about full blown debauchery here, but it ain’t things I’m doing on a typical Tuesday either.)

And now the family unit is setting off for another vacation with the other side of the extended family for the 4th of July. Maybe as we pack the car I will make the same lies to myself about peace of mind and exercise and discipline. Except I’m not sure this crew we’re visiting practices a ton of yoga, and I can’t wait to hear what they say if I ask about bran cereal.

The Graduate

 

(I wrote this last week prior to my son’s graduation.)

 

 

I was sitting on the front steps of my parent’s house. My best friend was there as a witness. My first son was teetering on his feet before us, then he wiped out onto the driveway. Grabbing my best friend’s arm before he could instinctively aid the fallen child, I whispered, “Don’t move.” My son looked around, debated whether it was worth the effort to cry, decided it wasn’t, then went back to the business of getting to his feet. Once again he teetered like the planet was spinning a little too fast. He steadied himself, then took one step, and another, and another. Then my son made a joyous noise as he waddled away from us with alarming speed. We huddled there like we were watching a rare animal on the Serengeti.

“He started doing it last night,” I whispered.

My best friend hadn’t had his first child yet. “Amazing,” he breathed.

My son was ten months old. He had just learned to walk.

 

—————–

 

grad pic

 

 

Fast forward seventeen years. In just a few days my son will take one of life’s other important walks. I doubt his steps will be as hesitant when he accepts his high school diploma and begins a new chapter in his life. And I begin a new one in mine.

(He might fall down though, since he will be wearing actual shoes, something his perpetually bare feet might not understand. He got away with the sandals at his awards ceremony, but he was told the Jesus shoes were a no-go for graduation. We’re praying he doesn’t try to stage some kind of protest.)

I know I am supposed to give him advice at this stage in life. That’s what we do as our children step out into the world, right? And, yet, I am struggling to do so. There are a few things I guess I would offer:

  1. Home is a state of mind that has nothing to do with bricks and mortar.
  2. Being imperfect is a good thing. Imperfections are what make you interesting.
  3. I hope your college introduces you to someone named Al or Lou, a Dan-the-man, a Vinnie, a Ray-baby or a (insert any of 25 names here). Your college friends will entertain you, challenge you, and might even get you arrested. Together you will make memories that will be a big part of the rest of your days, if only in small batches.
  4. And maybe, just maybe, you might meet the love of your life, even if you don’t know it at first.

But as I write those words I know that advice is more about my life and less about his own. It is time for him to chart his path now. The stakes are much higher than in my time. Things are different. Schools are expensive. Money is tight. And but for his own accomplishments the path he takes right now would not be possible.

So why am I not more nervous for him? Maybe that will come later but I don’t think so. This young man truly seems to be made up of the best parts of the people who created him, and a few more good quantities we can’t claim. He is smart, competitive and bullheadedly stubborn. He is also open-minded, accepting of others, and has a gentle heart. Oh sure, there have been a few moments of eyebrow raising stupidity. (Like maybe he needed to prove that he is my son.) But as he enters college I mainly hope that life’s great unknown storms on the horizon don’t burden his mind too much and that he will enjoy the relatively calm waters of any given day. His days in college, like life itself, will pass in a blur.

I had the opportunity to witness a kindergarten graduation the same week my son will graduate from high school. (If only everyone had to attend a kindergarten graduation once a year and wash off the ugliness of being an adult there would be far less hunger, death and anger in this world.) Seeing both ceremonies in the same week made me think about who my son was as a little boy, and the man he is now. And it reminded me that life never stays the same. It always changes. In my rational mind I know it is time for my son to leave. He is a grown man. He is ready. In my emotional heart I know I will miss the boy beyond words.

I have been watching him find his way for eighteen years now.

So life’s safari continues. And I will continue observing his accomplishments from the bushes while searching for a word that means profoundly happy, impossibly proud and terribly sad all at the same time.

Maybe that word is parenting.

Winter Love for Bethany

 

This is a time in life where we don’t go on a lot of traditional dates.  They are most often spontaneous gatherings on the back porch. These dates usually involve the drink of choice and most often it is a double date with our dogs.

 

We talk about our problems. (To quote Moneyball: all uptown problems.) We share stories about our kids, our extended family, work and whatever else comes to mind. I get a hug or two but wintertime hugs are not the best hugs since she gets COLD when it drops below 60 degrees outside. So yesterday I was not hugging her so much as I was hugging layers and layers of clothes. I mean, I knew she is in there somewhere. And, I did get to steal a kiss, but it wasn’t a long one because the dogs don’t like it, and if we carry on too long we’ll hear some kid inside the house screaming for us to cut it out.

 

 

winter tree pic

 

 

This was our view yesterday as the sun went down and it got me thinking about rebirth and growth and the quiet times we share with the person we choose love more than any other. I’m lucky because the winters in our relationship are usually mild and short, like the ones here in Louisiana. To say our love is perfect would be a lie. But when we slow down, when the spark between us goes dormant for whatever reason, we always seem to come back stronger, enjoying the bright colors and warmth of our renewed love all that much more.

 

For Valentine’s Day this year the love of my life gets to enjoy new braces, a trip to Costa Rica, another one to Disney and still ANOTHER trip to the mountains of North Carolina. She gets to travel to dusty sports complexes to watch our boys chase and kick a round ball, and after that, she’ll get to watch them throw, catch and hit a smaller ball. She’ll start paying college tuition, too, and she will actually take great pleasure from each of these things.

 

But she’s not really going anywhere and she’s certainly not getting braces. She’ll be on the back porch with me. If things go the way I’m planning, we’ll manage to have a few dates near the garden in the side yard, where we’ll watch the radishes, the cucumbers and the tomatoes grow. The options are limited in such a small space, but maybe we’ll find somewhere different to stand while we share our thoughts and admire each other. Hopefully it’ll be out of sight from the house so I can steal a few more kisses.  At least till the dogs start barking at us, and that’s good enough for me.

Will Christmas Find You?

 

Where will Christmas find you? You know, that feeling that tells you it is a special time of the year, one of comfort and warmth and a full heart.

If I work at it I can identify important points in my life simply by where Christmas found me that particular year. It has happened at a Christmas tree farm, at a church, looking at a computer and while talking on the radio, among other places.

The thing is, Christmas usually doesn’t find me where or when I plan for it. And I think it is the same for lots of people. It might not be at the table heaped with food and surrounded by those you love. It might not be at the delight of squealing children, rushing into a room full of toys waiting to be discovered. Christmas might not find you at church as you hear the story of the birth of Jesus, or listening to angelic voices in a choir. It might not find you while witnessing a live Nativity scene or enduring a gaggle of fifth graders mumbling through a holiday production.

On the other hand, Christmas might find you as you speak to a police officer and backhandedly find out he took a bullet in the line of duty since the last time you spoke. It might be as you stand in the glow of a well-lit tree, peering through the window at a dark driveway in anticipation of headlights, or watching the same driveway longing for headlights that will never come, thinking about years past when loved ones beat a path to your door. It might even be as you sit on the floor of a living room at some ridiculous hour of the night trying to assemble something you don’t understand using instructions written in Chinese. There is no right answer. There is no perfect time or place for Christmas to find you and for you to find it.

So what do I think you need to do in order to have a chance to find Christmas? It is pretty simple, really. Just stop. Stop texting, talking, moving, shaking and buying. Stop looking, thinking, worrying, and obsessing. Stop looking at FB and your phone. Stop selling —and going, going, going.

You can wrap the presents, you can put up the lights, you can prepare the food, but if you don’t stop and let the moment find you, then all you are doing is making the effort and getting none of the reward.

This year, my Christmas wish to you is simply that you will find time to stop. That’s it, stop, and let Christmas find you.

 

(Here’s something that stopped me in my tracks. Have you seen it? An opera group does a flash mob kind of thing in an airport… enjoy and Merry Christmas.)

 

Daybreak on the farm

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The donkeys and chickens get up early. So did we. Beautiful morning. Here’s what it sounded like.

You would think visiting a place like this would be a great time for the dogs to run free. Not so much. Our dogs acted like they want to get frisky with the donkeys, and they acted awfully brave as they pulled at the leash. When I gave them enough slack to get closer, they looked back at me like: “Have you lost your mind?”

We’ve got serious personality

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Last night my family started taking a personality test around the dinner table. The wife had found some website that would ask you about ten questions and then tell you exactly the type of person you were, if you would amount to anything in life, and whether you would spend any time in jail. She went first and then told us she was “I” “N” “F” “C”, or something like that. The rest of us all looked at each other. What the heck did that mean?

“Each letter stands for something about you,” my wife said, but did not elaborate.
I quickly came up with “Introvert”, “Nice”, “Funny” and “Crazy”. I could see the kids coming up with their words, too, but nobody wanted to say what they were thinking in case they were wrong.

Introvert was a no-brainer when it came to my wife, and that surprises some people because she can get sweeter than your grandmother’s tea in about five seconds. She teaches kindergarten and she’s good at it. She’s bubbly. And she dresses like she wants to audition for Welcome Back Kotter. (Of course those surprised people don’t see her crawl into the house at the end of the day.)

Maybe “N” was nurturing. Anyone could see that. As a little girl she had a toad farm and a gay college friend once called her a “Natural Born Breeder.”

Except it turned out “N” was for Intuitive.

Wilkins held up his hand. “Why wouldn’t that be an ‘I’?”

The rest of the kids nodded.

“Because ‘I’ already stands for introvert,” my wife said.

Wilkins rolled his eyes. “That’s just stupid.”

“F” stood for feeling.

“Like what?” Jacks asked.

“What?” my wife said.

“Feeling what?” Jacks said. “You don’t just feel. You gotta feel LIKE something!”

My wife took a deep breath.

“P” was her last letter and it stood for perceiving.

Wayne had been looking up her results on his phone. “This says that INFP’s are flexible and laid back.” Heads nodded. “They have deep caring and are genuinely interested in people. Their sincerity is sensed by others, making them a valued friend and confidant.”

“Nailed her,” Beth muttered.

I nodded at my daughter. People always dump their stuff on my wife. I’ve thought about carrying around a blow up couch and trying to turn a buck off of it.

Wayne went on. “Oh yeah, Dad, this says INFP’s can sometimes appear irrational and illogical in conflict situations, not really caring who is right and who is wrong.”

The rest of us exchanged looks.

“And when their value system is threatened, they become aggressive defenders.”

No one moved.

“Well, let’s see what you are,” my wife suddenly said. She began asking me a series of questions, each of which had four answers. A typical question would be “Are you this way because you learned it, or because that is just the way you are?” And I would have to say I agreed with that statement all of the time, some of the time, rarely, or never.
“I have a feeling if I take this Briggs and Stratton Test I’m gonna be “D” “U” “M” “B”, Wilkins said.

My daughter hung over my wife’s shoulder as she kept reading questions and feeding in my responses. About halfway through the test my daughter said, “That’s not what he said.”

My wife shushed her and read the next question.

I held up my hands. “You mean you are changing my answers?”

“Only when you respond incorrectly,” my wife said.

With my wife’s help I came out as an INTP. I never found out what that meant, except apparently the INTP’s get to clean the kitchen.

Dew Drop Social and Benevolent Jazz Hall

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Forgive the quality of the photography. We got to listen to Deacon John in the oldest Jazz Hall in the U.S. last night. The weather was perfect and Deacon John can still go. The structure itself is small, so they open up big windows and the crowd listens from outside. Food is served out of an old church next door. Beverages can be had for a “donation”. NOLA has no shortage of magical musical places. Add this one just north of the city to the list.

www.dewdropjazzhall.com