Wednesday, December 20, 2006
“Already,” I asked, thinking I had another hour before this fated moment was to come.
“She starts early.”
“How long will this take?”
“Beauty takes time,” my friend responded.
I looked down at Princess. In some cases, a lifetime, I thought. “I’ll be right there.”
I slipped on some jeans and a sweat shirt, looked into the mirror and saw that my hair was pointing due east with authority. I grabbed a baseball cap and thought no one would notice it as I shoved the errant strands under it and out of sight. I called the dog and made my way to the front door where the leash is kept on a coat hook. As I reached for it I heard Princess shift into reverse, her nails trying desperately to obtain some traction on the hardwood floor. She was running 90 miles an hour and getting no where. I reached down and scooped her up. She looked at me with terror in her eyes as if to beg me not to drop her off on the side of a desolate road. I held her against my chest with one hand and managed to clip the leash onto her collar with the other. Just as the clip snapped closed she peed on me. I suddenly remembered a long dirt road in south Georgia that ended in a swamp, but I wasn’t sure I could get there and back before Jill returned home. Another time, I decided. “You get to live another day,” I said to the dog as I washed my hands.
As we walked down the street toward Laura’s house Princess kept trying to pull me along. Doing my best Caesar impersonation I kept tugging at the leash and making a “tissstt” sound, but we’re talking about a stupid dog here and she thought I was asking her to mark the territory along our way. Four houses down the street and a dozen squats later, I knocked on Laura’s door.
“You’ve got bed hair,” she said as she greeted me.
“And overnight face,” I said, hoping my own self-deprecating humor would help me to explain the urine stain on my chest. Fortunately, Laura didn’t see it. “Is she ready? Is she excited?” she asked, scratching the dog behind her ears.
“You know you’re killing me,” I remarked.
“Her outfit is here!” Laura exclaimed, jumping up and down clapping her hands. "Allison picked it out for her. It's so special!"
I looked up and the dog groomer came around the corner and introduced herself. Then she spied Princess. As a long and screeching “Ahhhhhaaawwwwwww” began to roll off her tongue my head began to spin. I thought I was going to puke.
“Do you want me to do anything special with her?” she asked as she took the dog from me.
“Slit her throat.”
“It’s just an act,” Laura chimed in. “He really loves her.”
“I love my wife and my tolerance of this dog proves it,” I retorted.
“Really,” the groomer insisted,” what do you want me to do to her?”
“Can you make her look like another dog? One I could get attached to?” Laura punched me on the arm. “Bathe her really well so she can get on the furniture,” she said.
“Huh?” the groomer inquired. I could tell by the way she had turned away from me and was now glancing at me over her shoulder that she wasn’t taking to me.
“He won’t let her on their furniture,” Laura explained.
“She stinks,” I defended myself.
“He’s a mean man,” the groomer said without shame or reservation just before she kissed Princess in the mouth.
“Here,” Laura said, shoving a reindeer costume into my hands and turning me toward the door. “You’d better get out of here before she calls the Humane Society. Be sweet and dress Princess before Jill gets home.”
“Bah humbug,” I growled as I was escorted to the front porch.
Hours later, and much too soon for me, the groomer delivered a trimmed and washed dog. As the mutt sat at my feet looking up at me, waiting for a compliment I think, I saw that she looked nothing like a new dog and everything like herself. Except for the Christmas bows tied to her ears. “You’re killing me,” I said as I looked out my window and at Laura’s front door. I swear I could hear her laughing. I sat the reindeer costume on the breakfast table, determined not to get sucked into this plot to humanize what is in reality a freak of nature.
Jill arrived home as I was cooking dinner. She came inside, said hello and half kissed me with one of those Frenchie cheek kisses meant for dignitaries you’d rather spit on. She was distracted, I told myself, trying not to be hurt. It was only later, when I was getting undressed and pulling my sweatshirt over my head, that I realized the brush off might have been because I carried with me the faint odor of dog urine.
“She’s beautiful!” Jill said repeatedly, jumping up and down clapping her hands (this seems to be a common trait among the women I love), sending herself and the dog into a frenzy that looked to me like it might end with them both rolling around in embrace on the floor. “It’s a reindeer!” my smart, cultured and dignified wife (I need to reassure myself once in a while) yelled as she pulled the costume from the bag and held it up for the dog to see.
“Looks like a torture corset,” I said.
“She’s Rudolf!” Jill shrieked as she finished dressing the dog.
Princess just stood there, unsure what to do, her head weighted down by the oversized antlers over her ears and the big brass bells hanging from around her neck.
“It’s going to choke her,” I said. I hope, I thought.
“I have to take a picture,” Jill said. As she rummaged through her briefcase looking for her camera, the dog looked at me and for one moment she seemed to be asking me for help. We connected; even she realized she looked ridiculous and wanted to escape. I grinned and let the moment pass.
Jill plopped down on the floor in front of her dog, focused and snapped a picture. The flash went off and blinded the dog. She stumbled backwards and ran into the cabinets, making her big brass bells jingle all the way. Jill was thrilled. I noticed how the little reindeer booties made the mutt walk in a goose step.
After dinner we left the dog in her costume as we went to visit a neighbor and enjoy some holiday libations. During the visit Jill talked endlessly about how wonderful the dog looked, how glad she is Laura and Allison understand dog love and work together to counter my bad attitude about allowing Princess on the furniture and giving her a clothing budget.
Soon we headed home and I was hoping for an evening of holiday romance as I unlocked the front door. I gave my wife the look of loving lust and winked at her; she screamed in a horrific panic. I followed her gaze into the house and saw the dog lying on her side in the middle of the floor. “Oh my God!” my wife shouted so many times I couldn’t count them all. “She’s choked to death!” God answers prayers, I thought, but before I could whisper “thanks,” the dog moved; her bells jingled. Jill cried with relief.
The dog tried to approach and console her momma, but it took her a while to get to her feet, her head so over-weighted. As she struggled to march down the hall Jill dropped to her knees, reached out with desperate hands and called her dog, who goose stepped toward her, jingling with every deliberate step. I left them there and went on to do something important.
After what seemed like an hour Jill put the dog to bed and then climbed into our own. I reached for her, my own holiday plans still in mind. “I’m emotionally exhausted,” my wife said. “What if she’d died?” I almost said something about how happy that would make me, but I was sure it would ruin my chances of seeing my agenda come to fruition. I remained silent.
“I can’t get that vision of her lying motionless on the floor out of my head,” Jill mumbled as she fell to sleep. I lay there looking at the ceiling, trying to remember when Jill and I were dating if she told me about this dog. Eventually, I too became sleepy. As I finally began to drift off, I thought I heard a reindeer on the roof. Or was it down the hall?
Laura, Allison – you’re killing me.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Three times yesterday Princess yakked up something that resembled alien fetuses; twice on a suede pillow and once on the Persian rug, near where she wipes her bottom when she thinks I’m not looking. Jill asked me to call in a specialist. I did – a taxidermist.
The way the temperature is fluctuating around here it very well could be the first Christmas I’ve ever spent in shorts and flip-flops. I think I’ll have a Margarita with my fruitcake.
I love taking photos for my books; it has been a great way to meet very interesting people and make a few new friends. This year I’ve received Christmas cards from many families that have been included in one of the books. It’s so much fun to see how the children have grown in a year. Speaking of photos, included with this post is the shot we used on our family Christmas card.
Last night I sat with Jill as she watched a TV show about a man with two wives who now wanted a third – all under the same roof. He said he doesn’t believe in monogamy; he thinks pluralism is a more natural way to live. He is enlightened, he claimed. I thought he was self-abusive.
Linley wants to have a friend over this afternoon but doesn’t know how she’d get here, how she’d get home, how long she can stay or where she lives. I guess youth doesn’t yet understand the necessity of details. She also wants me to take her to the grocery to buy a sheet cake. I’ve said “no” at least 100 times in the last 15 minutes. I think she’s going for 200.
I got a Google alert that someone posted a comment on their blog about one of my books. I was delighted when I found it. Look and see why:
To: My Best Achievement...From: I Love You, Mom. I have to tell you, I am a bit of a emotional man when it comes to things like that. She doesn't know it yet and probably never will unless she reads this note, but I had to excuse myself from the room to take a minute to let it set in and let my eyes dry up. She has been my driving force through life and continues to show me everyday what it takes to be truly happy and the things that really matter in life.
Now I realize some of us may not have the ideal relationship with one or both of the people who helped create us, but I believe everyone has a person or people that change there lives forever and help us through out our journey through life. For this I think everyone has that one person there are most grateful for in their life. I can tell you with out a doubt, that person for me is my Mom.”
“I don't typically write to people regarding books. I was shopping today and found a book you authored; "Why a Son Needs a Mom". I purchased it for my Son (22) who is in the Army and will be leaving for Iraq for his first 12 month tour of duty the beginning of January 2007. I was going to write him a letter to take with him, but wasn't sure what to say. Your book has helped me say just the right words; I plan on writing in the pages of the book special things that have happened during his life. I intend on adding a "new" last page. A son needs a Mom to come home to! I cannot thank you enough for writing the words that seem to fit this occasion so perfectly.”
I am blessed in so many ways, not the least of which is having a job that allows you to get great email like this from total strangers.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Wow, it’s hard to believe it has been so long since I posted on the blog. Life catches up with you, doesn’t it? Well the good news is I finished the new Mom book that was due this week and now I can relax as we slide into Christmas.
Speaking of Christmas, all the shopping is done, the gifts are wrapped, the lights all work and the cards are in the mail. We have five social events this week alone and thank goodness Princess isn’t invited to any of them. I just realized that mutt looks like the Grinch.
How do I know my marriage is blissful? Because every day I wake up happy to be with the one with whom I’m with, and am even more so every night when I lie down beside her to go to sleep. Thank you, Jill.
Just a quick note to tell you what’s happening with the “In Praise of Dad” book proposal. I have not yet sold the book but did receive great feedback as well as a few requests to tweak it and resubmit. That’s good news; it means several publishers liked the idea but wanted to put their own spin on it. So I am working on those revisions and my agent will resubmit the proposal in January. Thanks again to all for your help on this project and continued support of my work!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Friday, December 08, 2006
Urgent things are seldom important. Important things are seldom urgent.
Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.
You can’t be a beacon if your light doesn’t shine.
Driving home after dropping Linley off at school I saw two Hispanic women on the side of the road with a flat tire. I pulled over to help, but before I could get to them, they jumped into the truck and locked the doors. I tried to explain I was only there to help, but they wouldn’t budge. It saddened me, really. I don’t blame them, though. In Atlanta, it’s hard to tell whom you can trust.
I led a campaign to have stop stripes painted at our stop signs and to replace the stop signs with larger ones that has better reflectivity. People run the stops all the time and I am worried one of the kids in the ‘hood is going to be flattened. We now have stop stripes and the new signs are coming soon. Last night as I was putting finishing touches on our Christmas tree I found a handmade ornament someone had hung. It said, “Greg Lang, Safety Officer. Beware.”
If my wife really wants me to surprise her for Christmas, why do I find ads with items circled taped to my monitor?
As you may have read in the past, Jill and I each spend an evening alone with our own daughter. We usually end up going out to dinner and maybe do a little shopping. Last night was the night for this event. To my surprise, rather than go out, Meagan wanted to invite three friends over to have dinner with me in our home. I made them creamy chicken and rice soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. It was lots of fun. After dinner I discovered they had purchased gifts for their other girlfriends and wanted me to help wrap them. I agreed, and then discovered they had shopped for thongs at Victoria’s Secret. Now I have known the girls who are to receive these gifts since they were five years old. I just couldn’t bring myself to touch those things.
I am so swamped! As you can imaging this is one of the worst times to find models to pose for my book projects. Either it is too cold, too dark, or everyone is too busy shopping and decorating. As a result, I am on the phone all day trying to work out appointments or actually driving to Egypt to see someone who could make time to pose. So sorry for the short posts this week, but it will change. And, oh, by the way – I got the column with the Atlanta Journal & Constitution. Not quite sure how I’m going to handle this blog since I don’t want to write two posts each day, but we’ll see. Stay tuned!
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
My wife and I braced ourselves on the day we all moved into the new house together. We hoped for the best and prayed we had not just boarded a train destined to run off the tracks and into a dark, murky swamp.
To no one’s surprise both girls had their own expectations, which they expressed without reservation, about how this new family would operate. We worked through debates about which parent-child traditions would remain in effect or be replaced, who would get the larger bedroom and which extended family events we would attend during the holidays.
Sure, we went through an adjustment period, when at one time or another each daughter cried tears of frustration about something the other had done or said. But my wife and I stood firm, united and expecting our children to embrace our newly blended family. We were determined not to be two families under one roof.
A pivotal step we took toward successfully blending our family was to establish new traditions that were ours collectively rather than a hodge-podge of “mine” and “yours.”
Today we have a variety of traditions that help define our family. Whether it is beginning each road trip with a stop at the same fast-food joint, singing our family song when we’re having fun or grabbing a latté on the way to church, we do things that all of us look forward to, things we each equally enjoy.
Friends often remark about how well we have blended and established our new family. This is complimentary, but also worrisome. With the prevalence of divorce today, I’m sure we are not the only blended family our friends have ever met. Are all the others not doing so well? I cannot believe that is the case. If you are a successfully blended family, please share your story; tell me how you did it. Others in your shoes of yesterday will thank you tomorrow.
Monday, December 04, 2006
“There needs to be a dog in this book.”
“I didn’t ask you to make it a dog story, I asked you to suggest how to beef up the conflict.”
“I know, they have an argument because he doesn’t want the dog to sleep on the bed.”
“Honey, it’s a novel, not an autobiography.”
Herein lies the only reason we are not a perfect match for each other. I think dogs are animals; my wife thinks they are darling children that just happen to have an overabundance of body hair.
On her desk she keeps several photographs. There is a black and white one of the girls in a plain brown frame, a black and white one of me in an even more boring black frame, and then a life-size color portrait of Princess in a large pink frame adorned with a silver crown on top. My wife is what I call an extreme dog fan.
The other day, after returning home from a difficult workout at the gym, I decided to soak in the tub. I had almost fallen asleep when I heard something bumping across the tile bathroom floor. I looked over and saw Princess dragging a hair dryer toward me. When I told my wife her dog tried to kill me, her first concern was whether the pup had strained herself pulling the hairdryer.
Once when watching a Dog Whisperer episode about a pooch named Prada whose owner was convinced the dog was depressed so she sent it to a pet therapist and a pet acupuncturist, my wife exclaimed “Do you see how much she loves her dog?” I wonder what the woman’s husband thought when he saw that episode.
To be fair, the extreme dog fan phenomenon is not limited to women. I know a guy with a Saint Bernard the size of a horse that rides in the front seat of his Lexus, and then there is a friend who takes his pet to a special school. One that gives dogs swimming lessons.
As you might guess, I am not an extreme dog fan. Please tell me I am not the only one. Does your dog eat Kibbles or foie gras? Sleep on the floor or on your finest sheets?
Friday, December 01, 2006
I am accused by my family of being a bit weird. They think my desire for order goes a little too far. I think they just don’t appreciate symmetry.
You see, I shelve books by their size. The big ones are lined up against one another and the little ones rest on their sides in a stack. It’s the best use of space. I don’t alphabetize items in the pantry but I do put the large things toward the back of the shelf so you can see the little things up front. I load the dishwasher because I can get more in it than everyone else. Everyone else thinks I’m obsessed with putting the plates and glasses together in the rack with their mates rather than mix them up.
My long sleeve shirts hang on one side of the closet, short sleeves on the other. My ties are organized by color. That way I can get dressed in the dark. When I push a chair back to the table, I always put the legs in the same spot on the rug. It minimizes divots.
Okay, so maybe I’m a little bit weird. But I’m not alone.
My wife refreshes her lip gloss after every conversation. She buys seasonal clothing for her homely mutt, she puts things down where she last used them (even when it obviously doesn’t go there; drives me crazy!), and she parks her little two-seater car on an angle, using three-quarters of our two car garage. Like I said, she doesn’t appreciate symmetry.
Our oldest child won’t purchase the top item of anything in a store. She removes it, grabs the second one and puts aside the one “that everyone else has touched and sneezed on.” She thinks the “Sell by” date on food means the day after that you will die if you eat it.
Our youngest child takes the wontons out of wonton soup but won’t order just a bowl of broth. She thinks cleaning her room means making sure there is nothing in front of a window she can’t jump over in case of fire. She fills the tub twice for a bath, once for bathing, once for rinsing.
Okay, so everyone in our house is a bit weird. But I’m sure we are not alone. Who’s a bit weird in your house, and why?
Thursday, November 30, 2006
If wisdom is the wealth of the wise, I just might be poor.
Well, the belly dancing didn’t go over very well the other night. Jill said I looked like a whale with hiccups.
The way you travel through life is the greatest legacy you can leave to those who follow you.
Why is it that when I don’t water the shrubs it won’t rain, but almost immediately after I’ve spent two hours soaking the ground, there comes a downpour?
Drug testing chess champions? I thought they had to take stimulants just to stay awake during that game.
Best quote I’ve heard in a long time (from a Mom to a daughter during a talk about sex): “You can be like those girls in less than 30 minutes, but they can never be like you.” Now that’s wisdom.
Am I the only one who is beginning to wonder of Fox & Friends is really a commercial for the books written by the hosts?
As I’ve mentioned, I’m working on a project that I hope will result in a newspaper column. Here’s a sample:
A Real Neighborhood
What makes a neighborhood? Is it a collection of homes on the same block or the people who live next door?
I’ve lived in several homes, all within neighborhoods, but my experience was different at each address. For example, at our last address I knew the first names of only a few neighbors. Although we lived in that house more than five years, we were never invited by a neighbor to come over for a meal. The only time my neighbors came to our door was when there was a quota to meet for a school fundraiser. No one waved as we drove past. My family was not connected to anyone outside our four walls; there were no friends in our neighborhood.
Today we live at an address where everything is different.
In this neighborhood, neighbors watch out for your children when you aren’t looking, grab your newspaper from the sidewalk and toss it onto the porch while you are on vacation, and rescue your mail on a rainy day if they see it sticking out of the mailbox. They wave when you drive past, and sometimes stop you to ask how you are doing.
Perhaps it is because we now live on a cul-de-sac rather than a through street, or maybe it is the time we spend with our neighbors in the park watching our children play fetch with our dogs, but here our neighbors are indeed our friends.
When I say friends, I don’t mean casual acquaintances, I mean people you trust, people who are important to your heart. Our neighbors are the kind of friends with whom you exchange house keys, to whom you lend your car or a stick of butter, even if it means they go into your refrigerator when you aren’t home.
In the last two years we have had more meals than I can count with our neighbors, our friends. It is during these meals, in that time spent together, when we get to know our friends better. It is when we share our life stories, major announcements, concerns for our children, and sometimes our tears. It is when I am reminded of how happy I am that we live in this neighborhood.
So what makes a neighborhood? The close proximity or similarity of the homes on either side of yours? Or the people who are your neighbors? It is the neighbors, I think, the ones who become your friends. What do you think?
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
You know the old saying, “Walks like a duck, talks like a duck, looks like a duck, must be a duck”? Get real people - acts like a terrorist, talks like a terrorist, looks like a terrorists, might be a terrorist. Yes, it might be rude to stare, but I’m watching you until the darn plane lands safely.
Laura is visiting us for dinner tonight – I’m making a Middle East/Indian style vegetable soup. I’ve already started it; the smell of curry and garlic is wafting about me right now. My ladies are both a little under the weather so I’m planning on belly dancing for them after dinner. I’m sure I’ll make them feel better or accelerate their sickness. Either way, the soup will be good.
There is something profoundly disturbing about seeing a 40 year old man posting a shirtless photo of himself on MySpace and claiming he is a big fan of my book about daughters. I wish I could forward a Google alert to the sex crimes unit.
I’ve been told several times recently I look a lot like Kevin Spacey. It conjures images from Se7en, The Usual Suspects, Pay It Forward, and worse, Lex Luther. I see plastic surgery in my future, my near future.
This coming weekend we neighbors join together to decorate the park in our cul-de-sac for Christmas. I can already taste the spiked hot cider. I can’t wait for the part when the husbands pretend to be Santa and the wives - well, I’ll skip that part.
Jill likes to watch those weird reality shows just before going to sleep. Last night she saw an episode about a woman burying her dog. There was a wake complete with wreaths and organ music, a pink casket, a eulogy and a reading of goodbye letters at graveside. My wife sits up in bed and declares we are going to have such a ceremony for Princess. No, I protest, a wooden box and a hole in the backyard will be just fine. At this moment she teared up and asked me to promise I would plant a red fern on the grave. On the one hand I’ll do anything for my wife. On the other, some things are asking just a little too much.
Funny how the girls forget most of what I ask them to do, my birthday, what time to be home, phone messages they took for me, to turn out the lights, where they last used their cell phones, homework and more, but never fail to remind me when it is allowance time again.
I hope you enjoyed the Book Report yesterday. As I mentioned, I’m rewriting a book and working on other projects due soon. Actually, I’m up to my ears with deadlines before the end of the year so blog entries may be more brief than usual. Please bear with me and I’ll reward you with previews of books to come as I finish them in the next few weeks.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Thanks to everyone who has helped me by posing for the new books. I had a short timeline and that could have spelled impossible, but with the support of my friends and family, I think I’m going to pull another rabbit out of a hat.
Speaking of family, at Thanksgiving I looked up and realized we had five generations around the table. Now that’s something to be thankful for.
Someone recently asked me what is the difference between a duck egg and a chicken egg. I told her in the duck species the males laid the eggs.
The best inheritance parents can give to their children is a few minutes of their time each day.
One of life’s most challenging tasks is to show your love to someone who doesn’t love you back at the time. The good news is that later that moment pays off in big rewards when that someone realizes just how much you have loved them all along.
No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of anyone else.
Like many parents, we are constantly amazed at the remarkable differences in our two children. One is contemplative and thoughtful, on the verge of tears at every emotionally tugging commercial, always has her nose in a book and stays up late working on term papers, and will stop in the middle of the road to help a little old lady change a tire. The other is in constant motion, takes the word “fidgety” to a whole new level, reads only with threatened with detention, is a persistent negotiator to obtain her wishes, and has the most amazing wit you will ever hear. One needs to learn to be more suspicious while the other could use a lesson in restraint. But either way, these characteristics, temporal or permanent, these lessons learned or ignored, our girls are at the center of our hearts. We love ‘em both beyond measure. And we plan to save our grandchildren by kidnapping them as soon as possible after birth.
Alas, my publisher doesn’t like the introduction I wrote for my upcoming book “Thank You: A Child’s Expressions of Gratitude,” so I have to try again. Since my first draft has been rejected and won’t appear in the book, I see no harm in letting you read it. I hope you enjoy:
“I have much to be thankful for – the love and support of my family, my health, my many friends, my material comforts, my success as a writer, and more. Yet, even though I am thankful, it would be easy for me to succumb to pride and look at what I have accomplished, experienced or acquired and say to myself, “I did this.” I am indeed sometimes tempted to take credit for what my life has become, as if I alone had a plan, a vision, and the intellect to make everything happen as it has. I know I am not alone in having this weakness.
Fortunately, I also realize the folly of such thinking and step back a minute to assess how I really got to where I am. I then quickly admit I did not get anywhere only by my own means. I have had the help of my family, friends, mentors and advisors, I have had some good luck, and I was given a good foundation on which to grow up and learn. It is that foundation, the one my parents gave me, this book is about. It is that foundation I grow increasingly thankful for as the years go by, especially now when as a parent myself, I truly understand what is required to set into place all the building blocks necessary to support and nurture a child for a lifetime. It is with this book I thank my parents for doing all they could to make sure I had a good life and the support and opportunities that led to who I have become.
Who I have become in large measure is a devoted parent, a loving father of a teenager. I cherish my experience as a parent; it has been fulfilling, heartwarming and fun. It has at times also been challenging, frustrating, stressful, and once or twice, completely exhausting. I spend hours a day thinking of what to do for my daughter to bring her joy, assure her health, comfort and safety, give her experience and opportunity, and show her lots of love and affection. My child does not know all of what I have done for her, nor do I intend to list those things for her to see, for I do them because of the love a parent has for his or her child, not for recognition and reward. I do them because I want my child to live as carefree and innocent as she can while she is still young and in my care.
Having said that, I must also admit there are days when I think there is little praise for what I do to support my child, days when I have to call on emotional and spiritual reserves to stay strong enough to continue to do what I think is in her best interest and necessary to prepare her for what she will face when she steps out on her own - when she is no longer a little girl under Daddy’s watchful eye. These are the days when I have wondered if I am the only one who notices how much I want to be a good parent, when I have thrown my hands in the air and screamed, “Why is this so damn hard!”
Recently, after a particularly argumentative day with my child, an uncle who observed the interaction said to me, “She reminds me of you when you were that age.” That simple, common statement brought me to the real reason I thought to write this book in the first place, to tell my parents I finally understand and am grateful for what they did and all they went though for me and my four siblings.
You see, I was a difficult child, a precocious teenager and sometimes a rebel without a clue. I tormented my parents with struggles for independence and shows of disrespect and disobedience. That is easy to admit because there were so many witnesses and my parents have forgiven me. More difficult to admit is I fear I rarely showed appreciation for what my parents did for me and gave to me; I simply did not say “thank you” when I should have. I think back to events that I know were hard on my mother and father and I first feel remorse that I brought pain upon them, but then grateful I have been given the wisdom to take full responsibility for my actions and the humility to recognize they loved and cared for me in spite of my conduct and ingratitude.
Now all these years later, wiser from having been in their shoes, I write this book to say thanks to my parents. With it I recognize and acknowledge the many sacrifices they made on my behalf and the caring gestures they have extended to me for over forty-six years. I am using these pages to tell them, “I can’t possibly thank you enough for everything you did, but I’m going to try.” Even then, the expressions of gratitude that follow, whether simple, silly or profound, are only the beginning of what I want to say to my parents, and what I believe other children want and should say to theirs.
To accompany my words and give life to these pages I have chosen the smiling faces of children to convey the absolute sincerity and unabashed affection that is included with each expression of gratitude. I did this because it seems each time I slip and think there are not enough rewards for being a parent, my daughter looks at me, smiles and says, “Thank you,” and then often follows that up with a hug and a kiss. That is when I am reminded of what my real reward is – having the love and respect of my child. That is when I am reminded of the power of a smile, a twinkle in the eyes and two short words. That is when I am reminded of what I am sure my parents wanted most from their children. Albeit late, I hope they find their reward in these pages.”
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Monday, November 20, 2006
Exactly when does push come to shove?
For your own peace of mind, resign your self-appointed position as general manager of the universe.
You know that song that goes “Tequila makes her clothes fall off”? Never have truer words been spoken.
Thanksgiving is coming! My favorite holiday, the time of the year when the whole family, all 80+ of us, get together for some redneck fun. I can’t wait!
Jill and I were chatting with a woman who told us how she had just run off her boyfriend. Later she admitted she owns 9 Chihuahuas. I thought about her dating future and then recommended she try to get the old boyfriend back.
This weekend we drove along a road in TN aptly named “Dragon’s Tail.” It has 318 curves in 11 miles; that’s 29 curves per mile, or worse, one every 182 feet. That’s too many gag reflexes to count.
While in the mountains of NC this weekend Jill looked at a map and remarked about how close we were to a trail she had hiked with her family when a little girl. She had to go do it again. I told her it was too far to drive but she insisted it was nearby, pointing to the map and holding her fingers up about an inch apart (that was my first clue to how this was going to turn out, but I foolishly ignored it). Against my better judgment but determined to please my wife, we loaded up and drove to the trail. We arrived three hours later. I told her. We found the trail and set out, only to walk the whole thing in less than 15 minutes. “I remembered it being a little longer,” was all my wife had to say. I had a few more words than that to say but I’ll not repeat them now. Don’t want to embarrass my momma.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
People may doubt what you say, but they will always believe what you do.
What is the origin of the phrase “keep your eyes out”? Wouldn’t that mean you can’t see a darn thing?
Growing older is mandatory. Growing up is optional. Laughing at yourself is therapeutic.
Jill and I were returning home from the market with our selects for dinner when we passed Laura’s house. Limo Joe has just put her in the back seat and shut the door. We stopped alongside the car and rolled down the window to chat. She explained she was going out “high-assin’.” Now, Jill nor I had ever heard that term, but with one look at her pearls and sterling silver cup dripping with sweat from the chilled concoction inside, we knew what she meant. That lady has class. If good living were a competitive sport, she’d be a world champion.
Although there are nearly 150 homes in our neighborhood, there are only 16 on our cul-de-sac. I, as someone who works at home in an upstairs office that offers a perfect vantage for seeing everything that happens on our court, keep a watch on my neighbor’s homes and do such things as bring their packages in from the rain or chase down their loose dogs. I also greet the new folks that move in as soon as I see a truck unloading furniture, get to know them and then introduce them to the other neighbors. I thought this was a valuable community service, but somehow it has earned me the nickname “Gladys Kravitz.” Yesterday it was Erma, today it’s Gladys, tomorrow? Better not be Cprl. Klinger.
Toward the end of the evening Jill asked me to come up stairs. I looked at my watch – it was only 9 PM. Are you tired? I asked. No, she answers, just come upstairs. I did, and there I found a candlelit bubble bath waiting for us. We slipped in and talked until the water became too cold to tolerate any longer. I’m a world champion, too.
Meagan texted me to confirm our holiday schedule. When I asked why she needed to know, she explained she wanted to go to the airport to pick up a friend. I found out it was a young man, so of course I pressed for more information. They met at church camp. Good. He is an A student. Good. He is tall. Good. He is polite, like me. Very good. He is rich. That was when I told her to throw herself at him.
Just a little something for fun:
Recently I was diagnosed with A. A. A. D. D. - Age-Activated Attention Deficit Disorder. This is how it manifests: I decide to water my garden. As I turn on the hose in the driveway, I look over at my car and decide my car needs washing. As I start toward the garage, I notice there is mail on the porch table that I brought up from the mailbox earlier. I decide to go through the mail before I wash the car. I lay my car keys down on the table, put the junk mail in the garbage can, and notice that the can is full. I decide to put the bills back on the table and take out the garbage first. But then I think, since I'm going to be near the mailbox, when I take out the garbage anyway, I may as well pay the bills first. I take my checkbook off the table and see there is only 1 check left. My extra checks are in my desk in the study, so I go inside the house to my desk where I find the can of Coke that I had been drinking. I'm going to look for my checks, but first I need to push the Coke aside so that I don't accidentally knock it over. I see that the Coke is getting warm, and I decide I should put it in the refrigerator to keep it cold. As I head toward the kitchen with the Coke, a vase of flowers on the counter catches my eye - they need to be watered. I set the Coke on the counter and discover my reading glasses I've been searching for all morning. I decide I better put them back on my desk, but first I'm going to water the flowers. I set the glasses back on the counter, fill a container with water and suddenly I spot the TV remote. Someone left it on the kitchen table. I realize that tonight when we go to watch TV, I will be looking for the remote, but I won't remember that it's on the kitchen table, so I decide to put it back in the den where it belongs, but first I'll water the flowers. I pour some water in the flowers, but quite a bit of it spills on the floor. So, I set the remote back on the table, get some towels and wipe up the spill. Then, I head down the hall trying to remember what I was planning to do. Soon I realize nothing got done today, and I'm really baffled because I know I was busy all day long, and now I'm really tired. I undress and get in the bed. Then I remember - I left the water running in the driveway!
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Speaking well of others is not only a good way to acquire friends, but to keep them.
The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.
I’m beginning to think dentists and barbers have something in common. They always think the last dentist or barber you saw didn’t do a good job.
Yahoo! I’m having conversation with a major newspaper that is interested in the column idea I’ve been shopping around. I imagined myself as a Lewis Grizzard type, but for some reason Jill and Laura agree I’m more like Erma Bombeck.
When I broke the news to Jill that I might be becoming a columnist, she jumped for joy and declared she saw a new dress in Princess’s future. Yep, that’s what I work so hard for.
When both girls are sick it is horrible around here. Lots of whining, lying around moaning, sleeping all day, snack crumbs between the sofa cushions and fights over what to watch on television. In the old days if I was too sick to go to school my mom surmised I was also too sick to get out of bed, so there I stayed until I felt well enough to return to school. Now those were the days before computers, CD players, cable television (heck, we only had one TV and it was in the living room, so a lot of good that was) and room service (I know, I spoil them). I had a near perfect attendance record; being in school was so much better than staring at the ceiling.
Yes, I ranted a bit recently about someone’s critique of my book about adoption. Fortunately, there is balance in the world – I saw this new review yesterday:
“Moving on to more pleasant things, I just happened to be in Target this evening and stumbled upon this awesome book. It is called "Why I Chose You" and although it was in an out-of-the-way spot, the title made me stop the cart in mid turn so I could get a closer look. After reading the subtitle, "100 Reasons Why Adopting You Made Us a Family", I had it in my hands and was flipping through the pages faster than you could blink an eye. I fell in love with the book almost immediately and it is now sitting next to me as I type this message. The book is by author Gregory E. Lang and celebrates families that have been made complete through adoption. The phrases and photos are beautiful, and of course made me cry as I read through it. This will fast become a favorite book in our house, and I guarantee it will be read often.”
As you might guess, this reviewer is one of those wonderful people who chose to give a family and home to a child who had none. Bravo!
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Monday, November 13, 2006
It’s not how many hours you put in but how much you put into the hours.
A skeptic is a person who, when he sees the handwriting on the wall, claims it is a forgery.
Every man’s greatest battle is the one he fights with himself.
I get an itemized bill for the girls’ cell phones so we can make sure they are not using them when in school or too late into the night. On the recent bill I realized Meagan sends a lot of text messages each month – about 1800 in fact.
Linley asked when we were taking Princess to the vet and I announced I don’t believe in vets. They tend to prolong the life of smelly little dogs.
Jill and I went to the gym the other day and I insisted we work out together; I have been suspicious about her truthfulness when telling me how hard she works out. As we worked out on a circuit of four machines, I noticed she was moving pretty fast, finishing each routine in nearly half the time it took me. I paused to figure out why. Turns out she was counting her repetitions in even numbers.
One aspect of the art of parenting is knowing when to let go. I have watched Meagan pretty closely as she has tried her hand at dating. I am happy to say she has always done as I asked – making the guys come inside to meet me, giving me an itinerary, arriving home on time, etc. So in reward I have extended her curfew and allow her to have company in the house for a brief while at the end of a date. I can tell from her smile as I answer “yes” to her requests that she is enjoying these displays of trust. Sometimes it is hard for me, but I am slowly releasing my grip. My little girl is indeed becoming a young woman.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
When I arrived home hours later and walked through the front door, Meagan looked up from the sofa and called out “Daddy,” the single word that when said with such enthusiasm has always made my heart flutter with delight. She lept up and scurried down the hall in a half-dance, half-somersault kind if skip and jumped into my arms. Although my back noticed sixteen year olds aren’t quite as light as toddlers, I spread my feet, found my balance and waited for what I hoped would come next.
I wasn’t disappointed. She gave me a big kiss on the cheek, the place where she has planted her smooches in the last few years after having proclaimed to me one day she was too old to kiss me on the lips. It was a moment I knew would come, one I dreaded. Since that day I have settled for cheek kisses unless I was able to steal one by turning my face toward her at the last minute when she wasn’t expecting it.
Meagan’s displays of affection are not all that has changed over the years. There was a time when she needed me for everything. I taught her how to tie her shoes, buckle her seatbelt, and use the microwave oven. Soon she wanted me to show her how to make her own scrambled eggs and shuffle a deck of cards.
As she mastered these tasks and continued to grow up, becoming more independent and less willing to turn to me for what she needed, I began to feel the loss of status in her eyes. Too soon it seemed I was no longer needed to read her to sleep, walk her to class, or help her with her homework. I moped around and wondered if I would still have a place in her life.
I had been the facilitator, the guy doing all the things she couldn’t do for herself. Then one day I became her protector, training her for independence and giving her more freedom but not before issuing the appropriate warnings, like the time I once told a young man who had come to take my daughter on a date that I could leg press 700 pounds, quite enough to stomp the brains right out of his head (since then he has referred to me as The Warden).
Things continued to change. I had to learn to be her friend, someone not too hovering or intrusive, but someone who could take a step back and allow her to grow. This role has had its own rewards, even if the beloved kiss on the lips is a thing of the past.
Recently I took her to visit a college campus. We toured the classrooms and dorms, asked lots of questions of our tour guide, picked up an armload of admission forms and information packets, and then headed out to lunch. Sitting in a little sidewalk bistro near campus I speculated about how much fun she would have living in a dorm. My self-reliant, independent teenager sat across from me and fiddled with her salad.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“Will you come visit me?” she asked.
My heart melted and I wanted to reach across the table to hug her. “Of course I will,” I answered, “at least once a week.”
That is when she started to choke on her salad. “Ah, that’s a bit much,” she managed to say. It didn’t matter. My little girl had told me she would miss me when she leaves home.
Just the other day I took her to the airport for her first solo flight. Along the way we talked about her turning eighteen in less than two years and leaving home to attend college. Once at the airport I got her bag out of the car and sent her off to check herself in, a task she was determined to do on her own. I hugged her and said my good-bye, and to my surprise, when I least expected it, she grabbed my head, turned my face toward hers, and kissed me on the lips.
She may have been the one on the plane, but after that, I was the one flying high.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself.
A life of doing right is the wisest life there is. If you live that kind of life, you’ll not limp or stumble as you run.
I think Jill was delirious the other night. While we were eating sushi she started talking to me in Italian.
Jill likes those smelly soaps and shampoos. Today I am a fruity blend of fig, honey and pomegranate.
You can’t succeed in marriage until you prefer your partner to yourself.
Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility.
Marital Bliss and Kid-bytes
At church Sunday we heard of all the statistics about divorce, remarriage and subsequent divorce, and learned a few Biblically based strategies for making marriage work and keeping focus on the family, whether it be a first family or a step-family. Meagan, Jill and I smiled throughout; we’re not perfect but we do already live by those recommendations. At the end of the service we stood in the foyer in a tight family hug with “I love you” said between us all. I told you I am blessed.
Recent reader email:
“I just finished your book, ‘Why A Daughter Needs a Dad,’ and I wanted to thank you for putting in words the things that all fathers of little girls need to know. Sometimes we forget about the little things we should do. I am 40 years old and have a daughter that is almost five. Our relation-ship hasn't been all that great, but I attribute that to myself for not being the father she needs. I look back on my conduct during those five years and I cringe sometimes. I love her with all of my heart and desperately want to be her ‘Knight in Shining Armor,’ and her hero. She is my precious baby girl and has been from the moment I first held her in my arms after she was born. All the things you have written about — I'm going to give it 100 percent to live up to those things and do them for her. Thank you again for your book. It's a great inspiration to me.”
Monday, November 06, 2006
“Longtime Hall County resident Gibson Dean, II, prominent Buford attorney, known to his family and friends as “Gib,” died at home Friday, November 3, of natural causes. He was 73 years old.
A successful lawyer with the serious demeanor of Atticus Finch in his office and the courtroom but the comedic wit and timing of Jack Benny in the other walks of his life, Gib was well known and beloved by many as a snappy dresser, nimble dancer, self-deprecating humorist and all round charmer. He was the consummate southern gentlemen. Always greeting others with a firm handshake or warm hug and calling out, “Hello, darlin’” to the ladies, Gib filled the room with love and laughter. A stranger to no one, he liked everyone he met and all who encountered him quickly became another of his admiring fans.
Gib will be forever remembered by his devoted wife, Ann Newton Dean, and his loving children, Laura Burton Dean, Gibson Dean, III, Jim Newton and Rick Newton. He is also survived by his sister and brother-in-law, Eugenia and Legare Platt of Edgewater, FL, sister-in-law Sara Ann Dean of Walterboro, SC, as well as several nieces, nephews and cousins.
As a husband Gib adored Ann and showered her with unfailing affection, and as a father, he firmly raised his children with grace and character and playfully nurtured their individual spirits.
Born in Ridgeland, South Carolina in 1933, Gib attended the University of South Carolina where he obtained a business degree in 1955, and the University of South Carolina Law School, Columbia, where he obtained a law degree in 1956. Upon completing his studies he entered the United States Air Force where he served with distinction until 1967. He practiced law in both South Carolina and Georgia, and served on the Supreme Court of Georgia in 1965.
A generous contributor to his community and profession, Gib served as President of the American Legion of Buford and the 550 Development Association, President, Gwinnett County Bar Association (1970 – 1971), Member, Georgia House of Representatives (1971 – 1975), Member, Board of Governors, State Bar Association of Georgia (1972 – 1976), Deputy Assistant Attorney General, State of Georgia (1973 – 1984), County Attorney, Gwinnett County (1983 – 1987), Chief Litigation Counsel, Gwinnett County (1987 – 1991), and most recently, President, Old Warhorse Lawyers Club.
Among many other accomplishments, Gib was the proud recipient of the Albert M. Kuhfeld Award for Outstanding Young Judge Advocate, United States Air Force (1964) and the Outstanding Service Award, Federal Bar Association (1965).
Gib liked to repeat the motto of the Old Warhorse Lawyers Club, “I aim for nothing and seldom miss,” however, his distinguished record, crisp pocket-handkerchief, robust laugh and always well placed joke, would tell you otherwise.
A memorial service for Gibson Dean, II, will be held Sunday, November 5 at 2:00, at Flanigan Funeral Home, 4400 South Lee Street, Buford. If not flowers, contributions may be made in Gib’s honor to Eagle Ranch, Chestnut Mountain, or the Boys and Girls Clubs of Gwinnett County.”
I will miss you at the parties, Gib, but I’ll see you again at the Grand Ball one day, I’m sure.
Friday, November 03, 2006
Once a confirmed bachelor who vehemently vowed to never remarry, I had lunch with a high school friend in early 2004. She brought along a friend of hers, a beautiful woman named Jill. I fell in love with her within an hour. We wed that December and each brought a daughter into our marriage.
Jill and I had our share of concerns about combining our families; after all, each child had already lived all their lives as a doted on only child. Both girls had their own expectations, which they expressed without reservation, about what parent-child traditions would remain in place or be replaced, who would get the bigger bedroom or the final say in sibling disputes. My wife and I braced ourselves on the day we all moved into the new house together. We hoped for the best and prayed we had not just boarded a train destined to run off the tracks and into a dark and murky swamp.
Sure, we went through an adjustment period, when at one time or another each daughter cried tears of frustration about something the other had done or said. But Jill and I stood firm, united and expecting our children to work it out for the benefit of our newly blended family. We were determined not to be two families under one roof.
Now in retrospect, I could not have asked for a better experience putting our families together. I have only to think about scenes on our front porch or from our family vacations to find evidence our girls have indeed become siblings; not just two girls peacefully coexisting, but living together as sisters.
This summer while on vacation we rented three rooms at the bed and breakfast inn where we stayed. We did this to make sure the girls had their space and privacy, so they could take a break from each other if need be. Much to our surprise, they decided to sleep together in one bed rather than apart in their own rooms.
When I hugged them goodnight I realized there had not been one spat between them in spite of a mad rush at the airport, my annoyance when Jill, the navigator, got us lost, and all those hours spent in the car driving from Boston to our destination in upper Maine. I pictured them as they held hands to run across the street earlier in the day and when they shared ice cream on a park bench. In that moment I knew Jill and I were succeeding in giving the girls something special they had not had before - each other. We knew that by bringing them together through our marriage we were giving them a richer context for personal growth; we were better preparing them for their adult lives.
While each daughter retains many of her previous “only child” habits, they have also formed new ones, “sisterly” ones. They advise each other on what to wear, share their shoes, shop and get their nails done together, consult one another on boyfriend matters, keep secrets for one another, and laugh out loud as they make fun of the adults they must endure.
These moments reassure me that Jill and I are teaching the girls a valuable life lesson, that is, what a loving family looks and feels like. If there were only one thing we could do for the girls it would be to serve as the models for what marriage and family they will want for themselves one day.
So as we sat on our front porch together, planning weekends, holidays and future vacations, the sisters entertained themselves by making fun of each others’ habits, debating about which would end up a super model, and arguing with me about their need for a new suitcase just for shoes. Jill and I smiled at one another, delighted with what we have accomplished. Even Rusty seemed to grin as he listened.
Just the other day Meagan told me she looked forward to the day she would become an aunt, a role not long ago she thought she would never get to play. Yes, our home shelters one united family.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Swallowing angry words before you say them is better than having to eat them afterwards.
My brother is coming to visit; it is his birthday Saturday. Jill and I are taking him to dinner to celebrate – sushi, baby!
Jill spared me the embarrassment and didn’t dress like Minnie Mouse for Halloween as she had threatened to do (she actually has the costume). So I went out onto the porch to join her for handing out candy, confident I would find a normal person waiting there for me. Well, only sort of. She had dressed Princess up like a lady bug. That stupid dog kept focusing her eyes on the antennas bobbing over her head, and she finally hypnotized herself. Jill thought she was dead. If only I could be so lucky.
When someone says “I regret my words were misinterpreted” they really mean it’s your fault for not understanding what was said. Not much of an apology, is it?
There’s a reason I go grocery shopping on Wednesday evening. That’s when they give out free samples in the wine department.
Jill calls me every day when she arrives to work to let me know she has gotten there safely. Some laugh at us and our assurances. Let them. I won’t be the one regretting the last words I said to my wife.
Jill had her hair done yesterday and she came home with that Kelly Preston – Rene Russo look that I like so much. Apparently the stylist knows I like it too, for as Jill was leaving she was told, “Now go home and play naughty teacher.” It was one of those occasions when I didn’t mind having to stay after school.
Yesterday I saw this new review of Why a Daughter Needs a Dad on Amazon:
“Like the author, I'm a divorced dad of daughters so his introduction struck close to home. As if the words and pictures in this book weren't sappy enough, my daughters added a sentence or a paragraph next to a dozen or so of the author's text that resonated with them. I nearly cry every time I read it.”
So do I, and I wrote it.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Sometimes in the middle of the night Jill will talk out loud about something she has seen on TV. Lat night about 3 AM she sat up and told me she would never shoot me. Whew, now I can rest easy!
During church the music director was tuning his guitar. He said, “The last time I did this I busted a G string.” The laughter was so-o-o-o sinfully delightful.
Another installment from The Front Porch Chronicles:
My wife is a little quirky. She insists ice is a rock, asserting the evidence supporting her opinion lies in the bartender’s term, “on the rocks.” This best explains why I do all the cooking in our home; it’s for our own good. And in case you doubt, I cook quite well. I chop, sauté, assemble and plate ingredients with such finesse our neighbors believe I was once a professional chef. In contrast, my wife reaches into the pantry or freezer, unwraps, nukes and serves prepackaged meals. I affectionately refer to her cooking as “heating.”
Jill protests my teasing and tells me she is famous for one recipe, something she calls Matchstick Carrots. I’ve never tasted this dish in our nearly three years together. Maybe it’s because we don’t own a matchstick carrot pan, or perhaps she needs those special hard to find kind of carrots. Whatever the reason, I think I’m better off not knowing what I’m missing, so I have never encouraged her to relieve me from my cooking duties.
Jill, on the other hand, relieved of her need to heat those gourmet meals, used her spare time to go back to school in pursuit of a new career. Wanting to be a school teacher, she immersed herself in her studies, leaving me to cook, much to the relief of all who sit around our dining table. Today, her heating skills have been replaced with her teaching skills, and in particular, the thorough manner with which she gives me my daily assignments.
Before leaving for work recently she gave me a list of office supplies she wanted me to purchase. She reviewed the list with me, pointing to each sentence making sure I knew which she was reading. She held up her fingers to make sure I knew how many of each item she wanted, she described its shape and color, and she gave me permission to call her if I had any questions. I think she forgot I have a doctorate degree.
Although I thought I was adequately suppressing my smirk, I suppose I wasn’t because she told me if I didn’t wipe it off my face I’d have to stay after school and do extra homework. “Yes, ma’am,” I respectfully replied and then hurried her to her car before she could threaten me with suspension.
In spite of my best efforts to avoid trouble, I sometimes run into it headfirst. I think I have a dormant gene that kicked in after I got married. I’m supposed to feed Princesses, Jill’s beloved dog, at five o’clock each day. Once my wife arrived home and asked if I had. “Why, yes,” I said even though I had forgotten. I lied only because I feared my parents would be called in for a teacher’s conference if I confessed to my misdeed.
Well, Mrs. Crabtree decided to check for herself. Apparently she had marked the dog food and saw there was no less than the day before. Like I said, she loves that dog. I sometimes wish Princess were more like Rusty.
I poke fun at my wife because it makes her laugh, and making her laugh is one of the measures I take to assure our marital bliss. There are other measures; we spend time together walking in the neighborhood or hiking in the mountains, visiting with neighbors on the front porch, talking softly before going to sleep, and doing things or going places with our children. As you might have noticed, however, nowhere on my list of activities did I mention doing anything with Princess or searching for a matchstick carrot pan. We’re talking about bliss here, after all.
Speaking of bliss, a few nights ago several friends joined us for dinner and a conversation soon started about keeping the romance alive after the honeymoon is long over. “I think you have to pay daily attention to your relationship and take care of it if you want it to last,” I opined.
“Yes, it’s like a seasonal garden, you must tend to it,” one guest added.
“You’ve got to weed that sucker, too,” Jill muttered.
“I think I’ll save a bite for Princess,” I said as I squirmed and wondered if I was a weed or a rose. I shoved a few choice bites of prime rib aside on my plate.
“I knew you loved her!” Jill exclaimed.
I didn’t disagree with her. If there is one thing I’ve learned living with a teacher, it’s to never talk back. Even Rusty knows that.
Monday, October 30, 2006
Linley had her first co-ed party Friday night. We received a phone call from a concerned parent who knew our household did not include boys. “Do you know how to handle boys?” was the question for Jill. She gave reassurance, hung up and told me about the call. “Just like I handle Princess,” I said. Establish myself as the pack lead, I thought. “What,” Linley, who heard the conversation, chimed in, “you going to make them poop on command?”
Meagan and I were returning home in her car when she reached up to turn on the interior light to look at something. Some sort of slim was stuck to her finger. She shook her hand but the glistening booger-like substance wouldn’t budge. “Get it off, get it off!” she started screaming, flailing about wildly behind the wheel. “It’s your job!” I swear I saw the slime glow in the dashboard light. “I quit,” I said.
During a Dad-Daughter outing I sneezed so hard I simultaneously emitted involuntary rectal thunder, if you know what I mean. “I do that, too” Meagan said, laughing so hard she almost fell over. We now call the phenomena Snartzing.
Jill was trying to print photos using the new printer I bought for her. After several minutes of complaining, pounding on it and eventually cussing at it, she asked for my help. I took one look at it, opened the paper drawer, turned the paper over, and went back to what I was doing.
So we went to the ballet to see Giselle, my favorite second only to Romeo and Juliet – which is my favorite ballet because Jill took me to see it over two years ago, just weeks after we began dating. Just before the curtains rose for Act One I looked at her and knew in that moment our love would not end in tragedy; I asked her to marry me right then and there. It has been magical every since. On this night with the kids, just before the curtains went up for Giselle, we turned to each other and smiled. And just like back then, I could not resist her, and I never shall.
So we were at the ballet to see Giselle – second row, center stage. Meagan was mesmerized; Linley wanted to know why there wasn’t any talking or singing. I think the lack thereof bothered her a great deal because she insisted on singing for us all the way home, all 25 miles of the long, long journey.
I know I’ve been critical of critics (pardon me) lately, but indulge me one more time. There is nothing that irritates me more than someone giving a negative review on a book they have not fully read. For example, someone recently described my book “Why I Chose You” as something she wouldn’t read to her own children (she probably won’t let them play tag lest someone fall down or observe traditional rituals lest a non-observer become offended, either). Apparently she took exception to the word “chose.” Obviously, then, she didn’t read the introduction. If she did, she would have understood the book wasn’t about how one might line up a bunch of orphans like newborn puppies and pick out the cutest one to take home. It was about how people who cannot naturally have children choose to adopt. Let’s be honest, any two fertile people, and perhaps all too often those who shouldn’t, can hook up and five minutes later conceive a baby. But those who cannot conceive sometimes do make a decision to spend thousands of dollars, undergo intense scrutiny by social service agencies and sometimes foreign governments, feel their way through a legal maze that often makes no sense, and then might travel thousands of miles to receive a child they have never laid eyes on. They chose to give a home to a child who had none. If this critic can’t see that that choice is a noble one, then I’ll step aside and let her take it up with the 75,000 people who bought the book. They got it.
Friday, October 27, 2006
To be upset over what you don’t have is to waste what you do have.
Sure, all authors loath negative reviews. But I manage to dismiss them when I see the critic can’t spell correctly.
A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.
Please join me in a prayer. After Jill reads this post, I’m going to need all the good favor I can get.
Each woman in my house awakens at a different time – Meagan at 6:15, Jill at 6:30 and Linley at 6:45. Jill and Linley are on the second floor, and Meagan’s bedroom is on the third. I rise at 6:10 and go to the kitchen on the first floor where I start the coffee, make breakfast, pack Jill’s lunch, pre-heat the cars, check the weather, and take the dog out, all the while running back upstairs to make sure each has gotten out of bed at the appointed time (this is why I have awesome calves). Meagan has recently taken to snoozing and becomes annoyed with me when I open the door and poke my head in to tell her to get up. So this morning, after days of being greeted with grumpy teenager noise, I elected not to go wake my little angel. At 7:05, when she usually appears downstairs, I called her on the intercom to find out why she was running late, only to find out she was still asleep. Guess what she asked? “Why didn’t you wake me up?” Like I’ve said before, this is why the wine guy at Whole Foods knows me by name and grape.
Another installment from my column in-process, The Front Porch Chronicles:
My wife is a wonderful treasure by any measure, except for one flaw everyone knows about but to which she cannot admit. She cannot navigate her way out of a cardboard box. This flaw came as a surprise to me when I first discovered it. We were headed out on our first road trip, a long journey to visit my cousin in the mountains of West Virginia and then onward to her best friend’s new home in Cleveland, Ohio. It was a trip neither of us had taken before, so it was a trip that required use of a map and turn by turn directions.
Jill is an organized woman. She keeps files in her car trunk of lesson plans and worksheets for her students. She keeps files on her desk filled with receipts, itineraries, and bills to pay, and a calendar on the wall that she updates every afternoon as the kids reveal to us their last minute plans. When she announced she was going to serve as navigator on this trip, I settled back on the porch with Rusty, reassured my organized wife would find the most expedient route and perhaps even make notes about things like where to stop for hot buttermilk biscuits or see the largest ball of hair ever collected from a shower drain.
When she came onto the porch and showed me her folder marked “Directions,” I was impressed. I looked at Rusty, patted him on the head and said, “This is good. All I have to do is drive.” Little did I know what challenges awaited me.
The morning of our departure arrived. We rose early, loaded the vehicle and pulled away from the house. I waved at Rusty as we passed the front porch and Jill sipped coffee, confidently clutching her folder. Approaching the exit of our neighborhood, I asked my navigator what to do. She smiled broadly, sat up straight, opened the folder, and then to my horror, read every step of the directions. I don’t mean a few turns in Atlanta, I mean all the way to Cleveland. When she finished, she put the folder away, reclined her car seat, and fell asleep. For the next several hours and hundreds of miles, I was on my own.
When she finally woke up, the first words out of her mouth were, “Where are we?” A navigator, indeed.
This scene has been repeated over and over again. Before each road trip Jill announces she is going to navigate. Before each road trip, I find some alone time to study a map, write down directions, and hide them for the time that is certain to come, when she has fallen asleep soon after the seat warmer has done its job. Before we leave home, I serve her decaf coffee to make sure she falls into slumber more quickly, before we get lost.
Even the girls have picked up our navigator’s shortcoming. While on summer vacation we were walking to a seafood joint Jill had chosen for lunch. With a map in hand she had obtained from the hotel, she reassured us “it is just around the corner.” After we had walked a half-hour the girls started to complain. Jill kept waving the map, saying “it’s just right ahead,” and held up her fingers separated about half-an-inch to show us how much further on the map. After another fifteen minutes I insisted for a chance to see the map. It turns out a quarter-inch equals a mile. The girls and I promptly hailed a taxi.
Just a few weeks ago I took the family for a weekend getaway to an inn in Savannah where we have been several times before, where we were married for gosh sakes. Jill wanted to “navigate” to show us that her sense of direction improves when she is going to a familiar destination. The girls in the back seat laughed and I pretended to cough. As my darling wife scolded us for teasing her and insisted I not make a turn unless she told me to, we drove right past the inn. My navigator didn’t realize it until we had driven nearly all the way through town. It was almost like driving around with my mother.
They say the first step toward recovery is admitting you have a problem. I don’t think my navigator is to that point yet, so in the mean time I’ll continue to drive and navigate. You just go to sleep, honey, and I’ll wake you when we get there.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
I’m struggling a bit trying to get a few extra plates spinning in the air, hoping to expand my base by writing a column, doing more photography, as well as working on new books projects with my agent. At times I am disappointed, like when I get a rejection phone call or email. But then, in the same morning, I get a little encouragement. These three statements came to me from friends within an hour of each other:
“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles one has overcome while trying to succeed.”
"Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful."
"Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm"
Thanks guys! Perseverance worked the first time; I hope it will work again. Onward ho!
Last night Jill was watching a reality show featuring a woman who wore only the color pink and even dyed her little dog hot pink. She was complaining about never being married. Is it really a mystery why she hasn’t been?
When Meagan told me her cat is sick and her mom is taking it to the vet, I asked if they were going to get a CAT scan. I thought it was a reasonable question.
Well we are back into our winter routine – I get up early and start the space heater in the bathroom for Jill, and later, start her car to warm it for her delicate buns. She wonders why I don’t get as cold as she does. Perhaps it is because I’m running around everywhere trying to raise the temperature to summer.
The girls decorated the house for a Halloween party they are co-hosting tomorrow. There is blood on the windows, hay and pumpkins everywhere, and too many things taped to the walls, which can only mean once the party is over, I’m going to have to do some touchup on the sheetrock. AM I upset? Not really. I take delight in seeing them have so much fun together. What I am worried about is Saturday morning when I wake up and there are 18 girls asleep but who need awakening for breakfast. That’s a lot of grumpy.
I get some nasty-grams once in a while from people who don’t like my happy world view, and then a really sweet one comes along that makes me forget all the ugly stuff, like this one:
“I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your book 'Why a daughter needs a dad'. I found this book one month before he died and gave it to him. Age had taken a toll on his mind and we were no longer able to carry on long conversations; he could only process short sentences and his memory was failing. Your book was perfect for both of us because it helped us to both remember specific reasons why we have had such an unbreakable bond. He couldn’t read the whole book on his own so the day before he died I finished reading it to him – it was one of the most comforting things I could do for both of us. Now, after his death, it still comforts me as I read it almost every night. Thank you for writing such a touching book.”
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Welcome to my front porch, the place where I sit to relax with my family, chat with neighbors, and reflect on life in general. It is a real porch, one outfitted with seating for four, a coffee table for serving brunch or wine and cheese, an iron statue of a dog I’ve named Rusty, and an end table featuring a lamp that stays on late into the night, welcoming passersby who succumb to the temptation to walk up onto the porch to sit for a while. Here, everyone is welcome.
It is from this porch that I find inspiration as an author, taking note of what is said or what I see in the community park before me and on the sidewalk passing before the front steps of my neighbors’ homes on this cul-de-sac where we live. It is where my wife and I read the newspaper, talk about our children and our hopes for their lives, and spend time simply lingering in each other’s company. It is where we laugh out loud with, listen to the worries of and have meaningful conversations with our two daughters. It is where our neighbors sit and share their life stories and major announcements, leftover meals, and sometimes their tears.
Recently my wife and I invited a neighbor to relax on the front porch with us and watch the sun go down. We chatted about this and that, exchanging news (all right, gossiping) about others in the neighborhood. To make sure we knew who each were talking about, we gave every house a name. There’s the Party House, Playboy House, Dog House, Disco House, Mystery House, and among others, ours, the Newlywed House.
We bought our home two years ago when my wife and I married, blending our families into one in a home where we all could have a fresh start together. It’s called the Newlywed House because my wife and I are so often seen cuddled together on the loveseat on the front porch, much to the apparent life threatening embarrassment of our daughters, but that is another story altogether.
The other homes on the cul-de-sac are so named for what seem to us to be obvious reasons. For example, it was at the Party House that another neighbor and I watched our wives dancing on the kitchen counter and then easily agreed the martini shaker was a worthwhile investment. But no matter what the house is nicknamed, all are the homes of our neighbors, our friends.
Perhaps it is because we live on a cul-de-sac or maybe it is the time we spend together in the park where we watch children romp and play fetch with our dogs, but our neighbors really are our friends. And I don’t mean casual acquaintances, I mean the kind of friends with whom you exchange house keys, to whom you lend your car or borrow a stick of butter, even if it means going into their refrigerator when they are not at home. The kind of friends that watch out for your children when you aren’t looking, who grab your newspaper from the sidewalk and toss it onto the porch when you aren’t at home, or who rescue your mail on a rainy day if they see it sticking out of the mailbox.
It is from these moments I observe while sitting on my porch that I find material to write about. My writing is auto-biographical, sometimes poignant, sometimes humorous, but always based on events or conversations that have actually happened. In my books, and now in this column, I share stories about my family and friends, ponder out loud about what perplexes me, and, I hope, occasionally cause my readers to reflect on their own lives and stir them to embrace those they love a little tighter.
My front porch is also where I now and then spend time alone with Rusty, worrying about the things that keep a father and husband awake while everyone else in the house is asleep and peacefully dreaming about shoes. It is where I think about the life I’ve led, the sins I’ve committed, the things I want to make right, the work I have left to do, and wonder how much longer I might have on this Earth to get to it all. And in the end, I suppose, that is why I write - so that in case I can’t get to everything, you will know that at the very least, I meant to.
Monday, October 23, 2006
Your choices, not your chances, determine your destiny.
In a negative situation, choose to act rather than to react, taking sufficient time to select a course of action based upon calm reason and thoughtful prayer.
Yesterday Jill and I hiked down a gorge to view a waterfall from the base looking up. It was indeed beautiful. The only problem was the 1200 steps we had to climb to get out.
Another poem for my wife, my little bit of heaven:
When I think of you…
a smile comes to my face,
a song springs from my mouth,
my heart yearns for your touch,
and my pace quickens to carry me
nearer to you.
When I think of you…
I feel heaven’s own blessing,
I say thanks for your gift,
I become inspired to please you,
and I fall into dreams that lead me
nearer to you.
When I think of you…
your grace overcomes me,
your beauty moves me,
memories of your kisses warm me,
and thoughts of your love
make me want only
to be nearer to you.
When I think of you…
all that I want is to be
is nearer to you.
Although the kids weren’t with us for much of last week, we stayed in touch by phone and text messages. Sometimes in the emails I receive from readers I hear the worst stories about parents after a divorce; the mom or dad that practically forgets about the child or goes on to start a new life that does not includes their child in a significant degree, if at all. This is a phenomenon I don’t understand. Jill and I keep our children in our hearts, minds, and in our plans at all times. I may be fairly accused of a few things I’m not particularly proud of, but one will never be the failure to let the kids know I love them.
Another of the fine stories I received recently as I collected true stories in praise of fathers, told by their children:
“On Christmas Eve when I was seven years old, my Dad wanted me to go for a ride with him somewhere. I didn't want to go because I had all these great presents at the house awaiting me for the next day, but because he insisted, I went along for the ride. As we drove he explained to me we were going to a friend’s house to help feed the animals. We lived in Illinois so it was extremely cold that night. My father’s friend was a farmer who had just had a heart attack and couldn't get out to feed his animals. That night in the freezing cold my Dad and I fed the animals for him. On the ride home he looked at me and said, ‘Now, son, that is what Christmas is all about.’ I couldn’t agree more.”
Neither can I.
Friday, October 20, 2006
The guy at GNC shouldn’t be singing the praises of a memory aid if he can’t remember that he has already tried to sell it to me three times.
Don’t you hate in when at the end of the day, you find you have a hole in the crotch of your pants?
Don’t you hate it even more when you poot right in the middle of an ab crunch?
When Jill wakes me up to tell me she has had a nightmare about someone kidnapping Princess, I fight back the urge to cheer.
My wife insists that ice is a rock, thus explaining the term “on the rocks.” This is why I do all the cooking at our house.
Jill thinks Princess is a genius dog. If so, why does she come when I call out “Mayonnaise!”?
Last night my neighbor and I watched our wives dancing on the kitchen counter. We easily agreed the martini shaker was a worthwhile investment.
Meagan had a little talk with me about posting the details of her bodily functions. I promised not to identify HER bodily functions in the future. In the future, if it is necessary to write about a bodily function, I will attribute the function to Somebody, who could be anybody.
It rained yesterday and was cold, too. I was driving around town with the windows closed up tight and the heater going to keep the interior warm and toasty for all. Somebody farted and nearly killed me.
“How does deja-vu work?” Meagan asked.
“It’s a neurological glitch, when the right and left hemispheres are not synchronized when encoding a memory,” I explained.
“What?” Linley asked, as Meagan rolled her eyes at me.
“Memories are stored on both sides of your brain. Do you know what that part of the brain that connects the hemispheres is called?”
“Juicy stuff?” Meagan said.
The badulla,” Jill interjected.
I rolled my eyes. “No, it’s the corpus callosum. It connects the hemispheres and coordinates the transfer of…,” I continued.
“I prefer to think it’s magical,” Jill said.
“Yes, it’s magical!” Linley shrieked.
“You’re such a freak, Dad,” Meagan concluded.
Meagan is just seven weeks away from getting her license. Although she drives pretty well, she still has a few things to master, like judging how close she is driving to the curb. I told her several times yesterday to move toward the center of the lane, and she told me I was worried about nothing. Just then she slammed into a curb. As the Rover began its second revolution of a triple axel, I saw the hot lava of coffee erupting over the rim of my cup. In the corner of my eye I saw a sign in front of a church that said “The end is near.” I heard myself screaming like a girl when I realized my boys were covered in lava. Then I heard Meagan laughing as she managed to regain control of the car.
“Dad, you look like you wet your pants,” she said.
“I told you,” I managed to say through clenched teeth.
“Let’s not tell anybody about that,” she suggested.
Yeah, let’s not.
Linley, her friend and I were in the car going home from the pool. Just as we were leaving the parking lot I looked out the window and saw a snake. “Look, a snake,” I said.
“Greg, that’s a stick or something,” Linley said.
“No Linley, it’s a snake.”
“I think it’s a crack in the concrete.”
“It’s a snake; I’ll show you.” I got out of the car and poked it, and it crawled away.
“You just had to prove to me you were right, didn’t you?” Linley said as I got back behind the wheel.
“Yes, I had to make sure you knew the difference between a snake and a crack.”
“It’s not like I’m going to go around poking my finger in strange cracks,” she said.
There was a moment of awkward silence – then her friend in the back seat said, “Well I certainly hope not.”
Jill and I landed Saturday evening reservations at one of Atlanta’s hottest new restaurants, a gourmet Mexican place. She loves Mexican and southwestern food. Saturday afternoon I went with her to a medical appointment, one that had her bit nervous. Being a good husband, I rubbed her shoulders and went through some relaxation techniques with her, including visualization. After she said she was feeling relaxed I asked her what she had thought about. “Fresh guacamole,” she said.
I think Princess and I have one thing in common – neither wants the other around. I believe this because yesterday after returning home from a hard workout at the gym, I decided to soak in the tub. I had almost fallen asleep when I heard something bumping across the tile bathroom floor. I looked over and saw Princess dragging a hair dryer toward me.
Have a great weekend my friends!
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Sorry about the delay this morning, have been fast at work on a project due in a few minutes!
Love is taking the extra step to make life more meaningful!
Being a great parent is like being a great athlete - quitting is not an option.
Last night Jill and I were on our evening walk, this time with Princess in tow. As we meandered down the street Jill saw an 8-inch garden snake slither across the pavement. She screamed, scooped up Princess and started yelling something to me about a boa constrictor. I wish. If it were so I’d let that dog take a few strolls on her own.
Meagan has convinced herself she can sleep an extra fifteen minutes each morning and still get to school on time. The problem is she hasn’t shaved fifteen minutes off her get ready routine, so she is in a mad rush once she exits her bed. To compensate, she has asked me each morning this week to serve her breakfast in her room, which is on the third floor of a house with 12-foot ceilings; quite a climb. As I complained this morning and insisted I wasn’t going to keep this up, she reminded me, “You want to walk 10,000 steps a day, don’t you?” Touché.
A critic made this comment about my book, Brothers and Sisters:
“This sentimental look at the relationships between siblings, particularly brothers and sisters, applauds all the positives with little mention of the negatives. The author, one of five children, four boys and one girl, begins the book by briefly describing his early years as part of a growing family. He even states that his parents had a fifth child, the only girl, because he suggested it. The remainder of the book features black-and-white photos taken by the author, accompanied by brief descriptions on the joy of being a brother or sister such as "brothers and sisters share a bond found nowhere else" or "brothers and sisters are there for each other, no exceptions." While the book may provide encouragement for families, especially blending families, its rose-colored-glasses approach denies the complexity and challenges of sibling relationships.”
I have this to say: Hello, it is a gift book, not a psych textbook. Who would buy a gift book that says “be warned, life with siblings sometimes sucks.” Is it fair to order pound cake and then complain it doesn’t taste like tiramisu? Know what you’re reading, Critic. And may a big nasty bug crawl up in your bloomers. And to be polite, let me add I’m sorry that your memories of your sibs are not as pleasant as mine.