Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sorry, I can't, it's Football Season.

I get that I sound crazy.

Really. When people suggest we go to the Oyster Festival and I say, “Sure, the Redskins play at 8:30 that night and the Panthers are off.”

Or when people ask about a birthday party and I say, “No, that’s NC State weekend. We’ll be at Clemson.”

I know when I say, “Yeah, we got lucky,” when talking about the win, grouping myself with the team that took the field, as if I were one of them, I sound crazy.

Seeing myself as part of something bigger, Redskins Nation, Clemson World, the Panthers faithful, could be noble. 

Or it could just be fucking crazy.

Who plans their schedule around football? (Friends don’t let friends get married during football season.)

Who tells stories with the time marker whichever game had most recently been played, eschewing days, dates, and years for the milestones of football? (We ran that ½ marathon the first time Pittsburgh played at Death Valley. Grandma’s funeral was in 2015 because Clemson played at Syracuse that year.)

I get that it’s crazy. And if I didn’t get it, the people around me during non-football events would let me know.

Last weekend we went to Hollie’s first USS swim meet. USS is the round-year swimming league governed by the United States Swimming Association. It’s the big leagues for rec swimming in contrast with summer league and YMCA lessons. The meet fell on a Clemson bye week. Score.

Navy played at 3:30 and Hollie’s race was over by 2:30 so we left the meet and went to the bar. Of course we did. It’s football season and that’s what we do.

When outlining the plan for the other swim team moms, I said, “Oh, we’re only here for her race and then we’re leaving to watch the Navy game.” I must have said it 100 times. I felt like I was on repeat. No one had any doubt that’s where we were going as soon as Hollie got out of the water.

So, yeah, I sound crazy.

Except, maybe, to other football people. To other people who know football the way I do. The way it connects me to my dad in Philadelphia while we text frantically about Navy’s punts, passes, and throws. How it connects me to Tami, Court, and Jilly on our group text throughout the Clemson game. How it connects me to Kristen in Virginia while we lament how bad the NFC East really is.

Football doesn’t just make me part of something bigger. It makes me part of a family. A broken, dramatic, sometimes hopeful and sometimes irate family, but a family nonetheless.

There’s the onsite Clemson tailgate family, strangers in a parking lot except for those seven times a year. The Death Valley family cheering to 111 decibels of “do something right for fuck’s sake!” (Commonly heard as “Let’s go, Tigers!”) And the actual blood-relatives family who come to use my Papa’s season tickets every game.

There’s the bigger ACC family and the pride we feel in those conference-promoting commercials. The college fandom family that tunes in for every second of Game Day and cheers or boos Corso’s pick.

There’s the even bigger NFL fandom and the 24-hour, 7-day-a-week NFL Network sport-and-athlete worship machine. The jerseys and the terrible towels and the face painters and the fantasy league players.

So, yeah, it’s something bigger. It’s a tribe.

And it makes me sound crazy, I know, but I want to be part of it. I want to prioritize it. I want it to matter to me and my kid. And it does. She doesn’t always like it, but she gets it.

So for those who don’t, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I can’t come to your Sunday afternoon whatever-suchness you’re planning. I’m sorry I won’t be attending the State Fair or church or a girls’ weekend or a movie night. Try me in February. Right now it’s football season.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

How do you teach resilience?

Hollie hates winter swim team and I refuse to let her quit.

There are a dozen reasons why but only two really matter.

First, she smiles when it’s over. Her energy is up, she’s bouncing and chatting, she’s awake. Engaged. Energized. Healthy.

Second, overcoming bad experiences builds resilience and resilience is the best predictor of long term success in life.

Being Energized

Hollie wants to stay home and watch TV. What kid doesn’t? While Hollie’s a good reader and she’s likely to pick up a book when she’s got nothing else to do, her go-to is TV. She would binge watch if I let her and sometimes I do. But not every day. Not instead of activity.

She used to love playing outside, riding her bike, and being with her friends. But lately she’s sunken into herself more and more. It’s like she and her friends aren’t on the same page and they’re rarely outside anyway.

So she needs activity, exercise. And swimming fits the bill.

Get Over It

We’ve been trying to raise a fighter. Someone who will say, “No,” and stick to it when she knows that’s the right position to take. Except Hollie hasn’t faced much adversity. She hasn’t had to. As an only child she doesn’t have to compete for toys, the TV, or attention.

Perhaps in overcoming adversity in the pool, she’ll learn that her own attitude and fortitude are the best weapons she has.

Experts say delayed gratification and resilience are the best predictors of future success. Kids who recognize that a little sacrifice now will earn them bigger rewards later and kids that can overcome setbacks are better equipped to navigate the challenges of high school, college, and life in general.

How do you teach patience and resilience? You have to put the kid through challenges over and over again.

So a little resistance is good for her. Learning she can’t get what she wants when she wants it at swim team is a good lesson. Especially because there’s no malice in it. Her coaches want her to succeed, they’re cheering her on. But achievement in swimming is all about how much effort she puts in. It’s her racing against her own best times and against the other swimmers who may be faster and may work harder.

In swim team she’ll learn how to avoid getting run into (stay on your side of the lane) and run over (swim faster). The first of these lessons has been about kicking. She’s not a strong kicker and the other kids all pass her.

When she finishes last and complains, I tell her, “You’ll never race in a kicking-only event. Just do the laps and stay out of the others’ way until it’s time to move on to the next thing.”

One kid took off in a terrible backstroke start and crashed into her. She got out of the pool, crying. Her coach ran for ice. I held her.

“You’ve got to watch what others are doing,” I said. “Pay attention. Besides, he didn’t do it on purpose.” After she calmed down, I said, “You have just 10 minutes left. Backstroke is your favorite. Get in there and finish up.” And she got back in the pool.

When the coach returned, she was astonished. “She’s back in?”

“Yes,” I said. “Practice isn’t over yet.”

Hollie will race. And she’ll lose. And then she’ll get over it.

Don’t worry. The next blog will be on the Requirements of Being the Meanest Mom in the World for making her stick with swim team.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

We Got Lucky

It’s popular now to say “I married my best friend.”

The sage advice from old married couples, the recommendations of people who have experienced divorce, the ambition of young lovers is always “marry your best friend.”

Follow that advice, and you can make some early assumptions that preclude all the rest:
  1. This person genuinely likes you and wants to be around you.
  2. This person is willing to be vulnerable and trust you with their vulnerability.
  3. You can be vulnerable and they can be trusted with yours.
  4. You can cheat on the golf course and they'll still love you.

Best friendness does not, however, make you lucky.

Last week I had some skin cancer removed from my forehead. It was benign, basal cell carcinoma, the result of a childhood spent on the pool deck. The effect, though, was to completely deflate me. Just holding the mirror up to my face with that open, gaping wound, was enough to terrify me.

Bandaged up and healing, medicated and muddling through, I put on a brave face for days. Admittedly there was some binge watching and frozen vegetable face packs but mostly I took it like a champ.

Then Saturday night we all crawled into Hollie’s bed to snuggle like we do sometimes and she raised her head to nuzzle my chin and caught my bandage with a head butt. The pain was excruciating. I made a quiet escape and staggered down the stairs, tears pouring down my face. When Charlie joined me, the vulnerability between us swelled in the room.

Me for my open expression of pain and him for his stunned helplessness.

In fifteen years, we’ve only rarely been in similar circumstances. Our vulnerability usually looks like this:
Partner 1: Oh shit.
Partner 2: What are we going to do?
Partner 1: We'll figure this out.

We’ve been lucky. Really, really lucky. 

So far we haven’t had the kind of medical issue that makes us worry what life will be like without the other. We haven’t had military service to separate us for long periods of time or financial devastation to require liquidation of assets. Our kid is healthy and happy.

We’ve been lucky. So maybe it’s not so hard to survive 15 years with your best friend in pretty much ideal conditions. But marriage is hard. The people who tell you it’s not are the same assholes that say tattoos don’t hurt. Do not trust those people.

Still, when you marry your best friend the hard is different.

It’s hard to remember that this is, in fact, a marriage. As such it requires certain things to maintain it. It requires all the stuff First Corinthians tells us: patience, kindness, no pride, no boasting, no envying. It requires all the stuff financial advisors tell us: a legal will, financial goals, a vision for retirement, a savings plan.

Hard when you’re married to your best friend is remembering that there’s work to be done. It’s not all a Wednesday on the golf course. Sometimes it’s going to work on a Saturday when the other is heading out for a Clemson game.

Hard when you’re married to your best friend is getting out of the comfortable habits of pajama pants and video games and challenging yourselves and each other to try new things, meet different people, grow your relationship. Maybe go to Five Points.

Marrying your best friend does not guarantee that you can handle crises together, you can weather presidential politics together, you can objectively evaluate Fox News as the Dark Side together, or that you can parent together.

Best friendness does not provide immunity from the shit life throws at you like a monkey in a cage. But it does improve your odds.

Thanks for 15 of the luckiest years on record, Charlie Whitener. Here’s to 15 more. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Be the Neighbor You Wish You Had

Be the change you want to see in the world.
Write the book you want to read.
Build the company you want to work for.
Be the neighborhood you wish you had.

Last time we got together with our neighbors, I told them how I’d been bragging about how awesome they are. We frequently have happy hour on my driveway, cookouts in our adjoining backyards, and cornhole games that get a little too competitive.

Last Friday I was talking about the camaraderie in our neighborhood with a colleague in New York City and she said, “I wish we had that.”

My book club ladies all echo the same sentiment. We all know people who won’t let their kids play outside unsupervised.

Then it occurred to me: I built this.

It started with me sitting outside with Hollie and beckoning my next-door neighbors over whenever they were outside. Then we started inviting people who walked by up on to the driveway for a game. When the kids found a new friend, I walked over to the friend’s house and invited the mom over for wine.

When it was time to go home, the neighbor parents walked over and collected their children and we chatted for a few minutes.

It seems obvious to me now that you would introduce yourself to the people your kid knows but, really, how many people do that? I don’t know any of the moms at the dance studio. Admittedly I haven’t invested in them at all.

But I did invest in my neighbors. I got to know them: which ones are Clemson fans and which ones are Gamecocks, which kid belongs to what adult, where the house is, what they do for a living, if and when they’re home in the afternoon or over the weekend.

Knowing my neighbors keeps my kid safer.

Not safe. She’s safe because she’s been taught how to spot danger, how to stay with others, and how to find help when she needs it.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

So Long, Brando

I loved my Miata.

It was little, sporty, quick, and an obvious declaration that it was just me and Charlie against the world. So in 2007 when we found out we were expecting Hollie, the first thing that had to go was the Miata. It was no longer just us.

Most newly-pregnant families will recognize that alien feeling of knowing someone else is going to show up and be around for a while. Those of us who’ve been parents for a while might forget what it felt like to be “expecting.”

It felt miserable.

I put off selling the Miata for four months after we found out. Denial, certainly.

Charlie even sent me pictures of Miatas that came to Discount Tire with baby seats in the front seat. As much as we knew expansion was upon us, the confines of our duality were very hard to break.

Enter Brando. The 2008 Honda CRV had a stubborn under bite look to it. I liked the leather seats, the sunroof, and the gas mileage. I hated the mini-van feel of the arm rests, the windshield, and the tailgate.

Even so, Brando was a good car. 

We called him Marlon Brando as a nod to the underbite and he took Hollie and me over 180,000 miles. Our most recent road trip was to Florida and try as he might, Brando couldn’t get the A/C to work more than 30% of the time.

So it was time. The guy at Carmax said, “This is a good car. Why are you selling?”

I took a long look at Brando — 180,000 miles to Clemson for ball games, to Northern Virginia to visit family, to Florence to see my Nana every week until she died. The Clemson Love sticker with the tiger paw “o” and the orange palmetto tree sticker in the back windshield. The fray on the passenger armrest, the middle console compartment that had been stuffed with crap for so long I hadn’t opened it in years.

Eight years with Brando.

“Call it a mid life crisis,” I said

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Worst Day of Someone Else's Life

The first thought I had when I woke was “Today is going to be the worst day of someone’s life. But it’s not mine.”

We buried a man that day. I knew from the minute I woke that the depth of suffering I would witness would astonish me. I’d truthfully never seen anything like that.

The only funeral I had attended before that was the one for Charlie’s grandmother. It was a modest affair, she was an old woman with few friends and a very small family.

I missed my own grandmother’s funeral. I was in Hawaii.

But here I was, at the service of a man I’d known only by association, a good friend to my father-in-law. Through the service I thought mostly about his daughter who is not much older than me. I thought about losing your father. About losing my own father.

This is the worst day of her life so far, I kept thinking.

I have a friend whose kid has neuroblastoma and my friend writes frequently of the worst days as he experiences them. When they go in for treatments, he knows they’ll be tough and the poor boy will suffer and watching your kid suffer is the worst kind of Hell.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Redefining what it means to Lean In

My iPhone makes me crazy. For days now it’s been warning me I’m close to full storage. That means going through and sending to the cloud anything I want to keep and deleting anything I don’t want to keep.

I use the Voice Notes app for my research interviews and so it’s an easy clean-out. I upload all the recordings to the Dropbox folder for research and delete the file from the phone. This usually buys me about 1GB of space.

Today I found a recording I made back in August that talks about Leaning In having consequences. We’re not taking up less space, it says, we’re pushing something else out of the way.

When we Lean In, something has to bend.

In 2014 and 2015, while I traveled about 30% of the time, Charlie had to bend. He also had to accept occupancy by alternate caregivers for Hollie.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Looking for Disruption in 2016

From the beginning, some 100+ posts ago, this blog has been about life in transition.
Photo by: Naldz Graphics
There was very little transition in 2015 and so fewer blog posts than in the years before.

But right at the end, late December, things began to shift.

Maybe it was test driving a sweet BMW 428i and seeing what I would have to do to afford it. Or maybe it was being offered a job I couldn’t possibly take. Maybe it was drawing nearer to the moving dates of my two best buddies.

For whatever reason, I started feeling the old churning of change. Like I’d been sitting on the top of the ferris wheel and was now slipping into the downward arc.

Angel Kisses and Overwhelming Gratitude

What I usually tell people about Carol Staubach is that she failed statistics in college and she was the smartest woman I’ve ever known. Wh...