Earlier this year, my parents had some trees cut down in their back yard that had grown out of control.

Two trees were sweet gum. These trees are annoying in the yards across the South, as they drop large quantities of these hard, spiked balls that generally can only be removed by raking … and they absolutely MUST be removed if one wants to enjoy his or her yard. Stepping on one in shoes can make you trip. Stepping on one barefoot can make you wish for death.

Think of stepping on a Lego on hardwood foor. Then multiply that pain by 10.

INITIALLY MY DAD WANTED to get rid of the trees along with the pines and whatever else the tree removal guys were hauling away. However, I asked my dad if I could take them instead, cutting them into 8-foot logs and towing them up to my house on a trailer. Even after they were freshly cut, the grain looked beautiful. I had these visions in my head of making stuff with them in my wood shop once they sat on the corner of my property for a year to dry.

“I’ll slice them up with the chainsaw after they dry,” I told my dad. “It will be a good winter project for me.”

It’s been about six months since this happened. As they’ve dried, they’ve become a mere shadow of what I thought they’d be, splitting apart haphazardly, warping. Chalk this up to another thing I thought would be better than it actually was.

LUCKILY, THOUGH, IT IS still good for firewood. Really, really good firewood. My parents asked for some to take on a camping trip, so I briskly cut up some of the logs using a chainsaw one night. My ax was completely useless versus the stuff that’s hard enough for flooring. Burned hot and lasted a long time, though.

Here’s the thing about me and splitting logs: I absolutely love it. When I was a kid in Western New York State, my unofficial job of the house in the winter was Master of Firewood. It began with simply accompanying my dad to various locations in rural areas to load pickup truck beds of oak in the snow but became helping him load and split once I hit 10 or 11. Eventually, the whole show became my job.

Now when you’re a kid, the tools for your jobs around the house are limited to whatever your parents provide. My dad provided a maul and a wedge. Not good ones, either. Antique splinter-giving things Amish people would reject.

They make mauls and wedges like this, with nice fiberglass handles and in shapes that make it resistant to getting stuck 1/3 to halfway into the log:

 



 

These don’t look too bad, do they? Now here’s something close to what Dad gave me:

wood-splitting-wedge-feature

To make matters worse, my dad’s mauls (yes, plural because for some reason he had about a half dozen) were either broken or about to become broken. This meant with every swing, I ran the risk of shattering my ankle, skull or getting a filthy, 6-pound block of sharpened iron lodged somewhere around my intestines. I flinched every time I did this. It was terrifying.

TODAY AS I TOOK MY nephew to my dad’s to get his equipment for splitting wood, I asked him if he’d done it before.

“Yeah,” he said. “I love splitting wood.

“Are we going to do that at your house?”

I loved the enthusiasm. But something was off.

“Oh yeah?” I asked. “Does he have a maul and a wedge?”

He hesitated, thinking about it, so I described them.

“His isn’t like that,” he said. “His has like a tube on it and it makes a lot of noise.”

This sounded bizarre. I decided to just wait until we got there and discuss this once we had visual aids.

Logan showed me this in my dad’s shop:

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When I got back to the house, I took the maul and gave the end of this tube maul a tap. However, a rubber sleeve covered the end tightly.

“This is weird,” I thought. “It doesn’t come off.

“If I hit this hard with the maul, it’s going to wear out really quickly.”

Then I realized, horrified, what my dad had bought for my 13-year-old nephew to use to split wood: some wedge attached to one tube inside another, which one slid up and slammed down over and over to drive the wedge into the log. No REAL wedge or mightily swinging a splinter-giving, OSHA-rejected maul was necessary. You just keep slamming it up and down, summoning Adam Sandler saying “tap-tap-taparoo” in my head.

It made me think of a stripper on a pole.

“Logan, I’m not using that shit,” I said and left it alone.

BY THEN, THANKS TO IT NO longer being daylight savings time and it now gets dark at noon, I had to send him inside to eat dinner while I attacked the wood. Not going to lie … I was angry.

I was mad because this seemed like an extremely wussy way to do things. I was mad because my dad never paid the extra five dollars for a cord of wood that was already split because, as Dad would proudly tell the guy from whom he was buying it, he had “a boy to split all of that wood.”

Over the years, I’d become really good at this, splitting it armful-by-armful each night to keep the basement woodstove and fireplace on the first floor running at a comfortable 1,896 degrees to fight the subzero temperatures of WNY in the winter. My feet would slide in the mud and snow that had been pressed into the Earth by my boots that slid with every swing of the dilapidated maul. I went to bed nightly with burning palms that twinged after being frozen then rapidly thawed by the fireplace. You can’t wear gloves to keep your hands warm why swinging a maul, as this would compromise your grip.

The iron wedges would become lodged deeply into pieces of wood that were knotty. Then you’d have to kick it over and attack the side of the wood with the sharp end of the maul like you were a housewife on the ID channel attacking her husband’s mistress. When the wedge finally popped out, you’d lose it in the snow and have to kick around to find it. You found it when you rammed your frozen toe into a frozen block of iron.

And, of course, Mom would bitch if I tracked snow in the house, so I’d have to strip off all of my outer clothing on the frigid porch when I was done before going inside to enjoy the fireplace. This was particularly awful considering the physical nature of the task caused me to sweat under my thick winter coat. If any wood chips were stuck to my jeans when I came inside, she’d also bitch about that.

BUT APPARENTLY MY FATHER had become soft on my nephew, buying him some fancy stripper exercise machine. I see how it went. His son got a bunch of antique farm equipment to split wood. His grandson, on the other hand, gets this cushy armchair-like gadget.

“I want to use an ax sometime,” Logan told me earlier today.

Logan’s going to use an ax tomorrow. He’s going to feel the sheer joy and sense of accomplishment that can only come from standing a log on its flat side, steadying the ax on the target, raising it high over head and slamming it down as hard as possible while also being mildly accurate. If it gets stuck, he’s going to kick the log over and wiggle the ax side to side until it comes free so he can swing again. If it goes through on the first try, his reward will be getting to position another log and doing it again.

I guess this is what families do. Because my sister values self pity and drugs over her children, my mom and dad have been forced to raise their grandchildren as their own children. I can see why this would be a conflict for them both. After all, they want to spoil them like grandparents are supposed to spoil grandchildren. They want to make life easy, not hard.

But who’s going to work callouses into the boys’ hands? Who’s going to teach them to work through discomfort? How will they learn what can only be taught by experience … that life can be really, really rough?

I am more than happy to help.

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Stretching time

In the meantime, I’ve learned life is fast.

Very, very fast.

As I drove on a four-lane road today near a high school at about the time students were going home, a car and truck weaved aggressively in and out of traffic in my rear view mirror. Finally, they came up to my SUV and flew by me like I was standing still.

“Damn kids are going to kill somebody,” I thought.

“Wow – I am old,” I immediately thought after that.

LET’S GO BACK to the year 2000. I drove a 1987 Chevy S-10 that used to be my dad’s. Old thing. He babied it for 13 years so I could lead it down a path of destruction that ended less than two years after it was mine. Its list of accomplishments included:

  • slamming into 30-50 shopping carts intentionally
  • being loaded down countless times with cinder blocks to climb steep, snow-covered hills in the winter just so my friends and I could say it made it
  • transporting a skinned coyote in winter, posed frozen to look like it was running
  • stuck in the mud at least 48 times
  • ticketed for driving down a sidewalk while – unknown to the driver – a cop was two cars behind
  • ticketed for unsafe start twice (would have been more if it had enough power to smoke tires)
  • reaching a top speed of 82 mph on the way to the Indian reservation to buy snuff because they don’t ID anyone
  • surviving a rollover
  • becoming airborne over the train tracks on Temple Street at least three times (this practice stopped once it popped a tire)
  • losing the tailgate when the driver attempted to empty the dozens of Mountain Dew bottles and spit cups in the back by accelerating quickly up a dirt road hill (amazingly, no bottles fell out but the vibration made the tailgate fall off)
  • once beating a friend’s Camaro (that he owned for like three days before he totaled it) up the Haskell Road

After the S-10 died, I financed an automobile for the first time … a 1993 Toyota Celica with a turbo. While it was never used to transport coyotes, it was used to drive like a complete bonehead. When I left for college in North Carolina, my license hadn’t been suspended – it was revoked.

This was because I received an astronomical amount of moving violations in a relatively sudden period of time.

If an offender played his or her cards right, it could be nearly a year before points for a moving violation were actually applied and accumulated enough to warrant a license suspension. Therefore, when all of these speeding, unsafe start, etc., etc. moving violations hit my license, their quantity was so great that suspension would have actually been my preferred outcome.

Now the damn thing about the system, at least back then, was a person could still have a vehicle registered in his or her name without having a valid license. I kept up with that and my insurance so that as long as I wasn’t pulled over in North Carolina or gave cops any reason to run my license plate (which I’m sure would have shown it was registered to someone with a revoked license), I was good to go. And since where I lived in North Carolina was a relatively large city and the cops had better things to do than hassle drivers like they do in small towns, I drove illegally through college graduation and two years after.

By this time, the Celica had died and I’d bought a used Chevy Lumina, which transported my then-toddler daughter using the same New York State license plates as the Celica had. Again, the registration and insurance on the car were completely valid, but …

my actual driver license card was only good for buying beer and identifying my carcass had I died.

This finally caught me one day as a crime reporter in North Carolina, which I knew was bound to happen due to me spending so much time at police stations, court houses and crime/accident scenes filled with law enforcement.

I was given a break by the sheriff’s deputy who pulled me over. People can say what they want about law enforcement giving special treatment to certain individuals, but if you ask me, there is no doubt that a known newspaper reporter who wrote columns and blog posts and articles every day and had the potential to slip something in there about (insert name of lawman here) not doing a good job gets breaks.

Might be a coincidence, but if I produced a line graph depicting the number of instances I’ve been ticketed versus the time in my life I was a newspaper reporter, it would basically look like a sharp letter V, with the low point being my career as a newspaperman.

“I’ll give you until the end of this week to get this straight,” he told me. “You know I see you every day, so don’t think you can stretch it out any longer.

“I should be taking you to jail right now.”

Fair enough.

So the next day I began the arduous task of obtaining a valid North Carolina driver license. Trouble with that was I had to have a valid New York State license to transfer to the Tarheel State.

Trouble with that was I had to pay all of those fines from my days as a childless renegade.

Trouble with that was these originated in tiny towns across Western New York State.

And, finally, the trouble with that was these municipalities were not technologically advanced enough to take care of this online.

I eventually had to let my job know I needed the rest of the week off to get this done. I first had to call the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles and get a list of my outstanding tickets.

Then I had to call each courthouse, leave messages for the correct clerk to call me, wait for their return call, use a fax machine to receive their paperwork, sign it, fax it back, then wire payment to them because Lord knows a debit card over the phone is just too risky, then wait for everything to be processed and them to send me confirmation it had been paid.

Then I had to fax all of these confirmations to the DMV, pay extra for immediate processing (since this had to be done by the end of the week), then wait for them to fax me paperwork that I finally had a NYS license, whereupon I could finally head down to the DMV in North Carolina and obtain an NC license.

The entire ordeal, fines included, cost $1,800 … but for the first time since about two months after I learned how to drive – I had a clear driving record.

I RECALL THIS TIME IN MY LIFE SO VIVIDLY because it illustrates appropriately the transition from a high school kid driving like a maniac to a father with a mortgage and problem with high school kids who drive like maniacs.

My daughter is almost a teenager now and she’s a wonderful myriad of catastrophe and beauty, manipulation and blatant self-searching. While trying to navigate this, I find myself wondering how I let time slip right through my grasp despite warning myself it was happening the moment of this tragedy’s conception. She is 12. I remember being 12. 22886017_10155835347839116_4015490633496408920_nThought I knew everything. Tried stuff, failed at stuff; my parents picked up the pieces. Yeah, they warned me not to do these things. They told me I should stay away from certain classmates. But it was only after I did those things and lived fleeting friendships with these hangers-on that I decided they were right.

Now I see her doing these same things: ignoring my instructions and advice, then suffering the consequences. If she is like me, it will take more suffering of similar consequences for similar actions for her to learn. It makes me cry inside because I’ve learned these lessons myself and suffered the consequences already – why must she, too, go through this anguish?

Like the first part of the school year, when she worked so hard and achieved straight A’s on her mid-semester report, then began hanging out with a fellow 12-year-old who was more interested in makeup and boys and hiding things from parents than a transgender kid in 1950s Alabama. I told her those grades would drop if she didn’t stay focused. I told her that girl was trouble. I told her their friendship would not last because I could see (but didn’t say) the girl didn’t like actually like Kalista as much as she liked controlling her. And last week, we picked up her report card and it’s two C’s, a B and an A, each class littered with missed assignments, failing quiz scores and the like. This period of neglect to her school work walked step-for-step with the period in which she and this future delinquent were “friends.”

So now the burden is on me, who must administer some sort of punishment to fit the crime.

Her cell phone is already gone. She lost that for taking $10 into school to pay for her lunches and lying to me  when I asked a couple of days later why I was getting automated calls from the school saying her account was $9.80 in the hole. “I paid it; they said it takes a couple of days to apply to the account,” she said, before eventually – a couple of days later, actually – saying her friends had asked for money and she “had” to give it to them and I just “didn’t understand.”

The fact of the matter is she doesn’t need a punishment. She needs an eye-opener.

She may not get one until she’s 16, gets her first job and loses it because she was later, dishonest or simply lazy. It may not happen until she loses a friend. I know there’s nothing I can do immediately to keep her from these painful experiences. They are part of growing up. Lessons are learned children; they are not taught by parents. It’s difficult to let this process occur.

1917050_613061128826_3240715_nI’m not sure what would be the female equivalent to riding around town with a skinned coyote frozen to look like its running in the back of a pickup truck. Don’t know what girls do that will generate as much concern from parents as jumping railroad tracks in a car or driving 40 mph in an empty parking lot to hit shopping carts or driving down a sidewalk when a cop is two cars behind. It just seems like whatever these things are, they will worry me much more for Kalista than my mom and dad worried about me.

Hopefully I’m making my fears out to be worse than they will be and/or not giving enough thought to my parents’ fears 16 years ago.

What I know for sure is another season of my life is starting and it feels like two seasons ago was just yesterday. I look at old photos and read blog posts from when I had just become a father. I laugh when reminded of my worries back then, as most turned out to be nothing.

  • I wish I could tell the person I was back then to let go of his life as a teenager and young man who still acted like a child.
  • I wish I would have known those times as a new father were the better than any before.

I wish he would have made days in the park with his daughter last longer.61759_668342454606_5347276_n

That said, I’m putting my faith in past experiences and telling myself it’s going to be just fine. I worried back then what it would be like financially, socially and professionally to raise a child on my own. I lost sleep over it. While some things truly were a struggle, they eventually fell into place and now I’m doing better on those fronts than most. I do not think of sleepless nights when I look back on those days … I recall only sunny afternoons in the park, riding bikes and princess shoes.

Ten years from now, I will again laugh about my worries. I will not think of the nights I’ve stayed awake, but the days I’ve felt most alive. I’m hoping I don’t regret that I squandered the good times.

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What sports can do for a child

I began playing youth football when I was 8. I didn’t know what I was doing – few of us did. My main goal was to not get yelled at.

I began playing baseball at a much younger age. Football was nothing like it. Every night, rain or shine, we had practice from 5 to 7 p.m. I believe I hated every second of it.

But my parents never let me skip practice.

The ordeal was painful, mentally and physically, and perhaps cruel. For the first time in my life, I was expected to keep running even after I was in pain. It couldn’t have been more than a quarter of a mile – this route around three baseball fields at the Little League park – but I may as well have been running to the next county.

When how these death jogs went was still unfamiliar to me, I had to stop before the halfway point. As soon as I did, I heard my coach from across the complex yelling for me to keep going. I’d walk just so he’d shut up. Then I’d see other players on my team getting farther ahead. I’d look behind me to measure the distance of the heavier players no one expected to take less than all night. Once I could hear them panting, I knew it was time for me to start jogging again. I’ll never forget the first time I threw up on one of these runs.

It went on like this for years. The running got easier, but the aggravation that was taking me away from my family, comfort zone and childhood never ceased. I can’t remember ever actually liking football practice … even the friendly competitions that were reward for our team doing something well. It felt like my freedom was being violated

I CAN SAY THIS now without fear of retaliation from coaches or old-timers who seemed to like me playing more than I did. At this point in my life, my manhood – which is always what gets called into question by these people when a young boy or teenager states he doesn’t enjoy every second of playing football – speaks for itself. I graduated from college, have a good job, own a home and take care of my family. I’m doing everything the coaches said we were supposed to do when we grew up.

You know those stereotypes people put on small-town football guys? The ones that peg grown men as trying to live their dreams through their kids or someone else’s kids? Degrading, unfair statements about big fish in small ponds … things like that? They may or may not be true; I believe they are in some cases. But they all play into a world that made me who I am – and who I want my kids to be.

I hope my children sign up for something someday that requires practices they want to skip. I hope they have to run, feel pain, then get yelled at for not fighting through the pain. I hope when it rains, the coach checks for lightning when no one is looking and tells the team to keep practicing. I hope the weight of their shoulder pads feels like the weight of the world on their back … and all they can do is keep going.

I hope they have to run until they puke.

ALL OF THIS occurred to me this weekend when I realized that despite being completely exhausted, physically and mentally, following our family’s move into a new house, it appears I will not get a chance to recover. Ever. I’m still weeks away from hanging every photo, shelf and dog leash hanger. Who knows how many more boxes need unpacked but have not yet been because they aren’t essentials. Hollie still has to work whenever I don’t, so none of this can be done in the daylight hours because someone has to watch Kalob and Kalista has to do her homework, so she can’t, and Jakob is still too small. I’ll never get to bed before midnight. This is never going to end. It’s never going to be easy.

Some men might give up and start walking. Some might quit altogether because it’s too hard. Some may not be used to fighting through pain or discomfort because, let’s face it, no one’s ever told them they had to.

When I played football in high school, I was not that good. I was a defensive starter and made plays here and there, but I sincerely doubt opposing teams made game plans to avoid me. Beyond my parents, the only people who truly cared about my performance on game days were coaches and the guys trying to live their dreams through kids on the field. I never wanted to let these people down because they were supporting me.

My adult life is very much like playing football in high school. These exhausting, trying times remind me of practice. Walks with the kids across the fields surrounding our house are like game day – the reward for the grueling practice. But if I did not today possess the fortitude and resilience I learned as a child and young man playing football … if I did not learn young that one isn’t dying just because he or she is in pain … I might have never learned what it takes to achieve my goals. I never want to let Hollie and the children down because they are supporting me.

I can’t teach my children to run until they puke, just like my parents didn’t have the callousness to do it to me. Only the hardcore fundamentalist Baptists do crap like that to their kids. But I can tell them they have to go to practice every night because they are part of a team counting on their presence like they count on me today. I can tell them when they get to practice, it’s more than likely going to be uncomfortable – but they have to keep going.

I can tell them that is what life is like. I can tell them I love them and hope they do great things, but nothing in life that is worth doing is accomplished without fortitude and resilience.

 

 

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Investing in memories you can hold

Tonight I bought a bunch of real dishes – a complete, matching set. Two of them, actually, to service my fleet of children and guests before they are scared away by my fleet of children.

Also purchased was a set of silverware that wasn’t in the restaurant supply section, bath towels that weren’t the $1.88 apiece variety and I shopped – yes, actually compared – various kitchen appliances.

Until about two years ago, I always considered purchases like these as frivolous and stupid. Why spend 50 dollars are solid forks, spoons and knives that don’t bend if they get caught in the silverware drawer when the restaurant supply store sells the flimsy stuff business owners expect people to steal and throw away for 50 cents apiece? What’s wrong with the mismatched set of hand-me-down plates incorporated with the obnoxiously blue dishes I bought on sale at Big Lots six years ago? And towels? Don’t even get me started on the racket these things are. You use them to dry yourself … why should I care if they have holes, bleach spots and are threadbare?

As mentioned in an earlier post, we move into a bigger, better house next week. And I’m suddenly domesticated. I suddenly want to have nice things to go with the oak kitchen table and chairs I bought and refinished. The kids will have their own bathroom … they need their own colored towels so Hollie and I can keep ours to ourselves. Suddenly, these “frivolous” things matter to me.

Part of this is the sense of home I aim to create. Sadly, when I was a single parent to Kalista, it never occurred to me the mismatched sets that kept breaking and being replaced by other cheap crap may be stifling my daughter’s sense of “home.” Nothing was constant – there was nothing she could hold 10 years later and think, “I remember eating off of this when I was 6.”

This occurred to me a week ago when I saw a set of Corelle plates in Walmart. As I picked one up on display, childhood memories came back … my family ate off of plates the same weight, shape and had the same high-pitched sound when you scraped them with your fingernail.

Some of the silverware we use today was high-quality stuff inherited from my late grandmother. It was around when I was 4 and we’d visit her in Ohio. To this day, I remember using it to eat Marty’s Mush and cereal from the individual boxes only she bought for home.

Towels have their own memories, I’ve grown to realize. They are a comfort on a cold day in winter. They embrace you after a shower following a long day at school or work. They swaddle your baby; they dry him years later after a youth football game. They are bedding for the family dog toward the end of their lives. You may not realize it, but towels are associated with some of the most soothing moments we will ever have. The pricey ones that last that long, anyway.

I owe a lot of this change of heart – this domestication – to Hollie. She doesn’t burst with femininity like a shiny debutante, but she’s helped me see the importance of things around the home that last. Our family is fortunate that my job affords us the means to buy these things, but I am fortunate that she has encouraged me to make such purchases.

No, this is not her “spending my money.” I’m onboard with this stuff; I agree with it. As long as it is good for the family and doesn’t affect my ability to purchase NFL Sunday Ticket this season, spend away. It is a good investment.

It is necessary for parents to be fiscally responsible, but it’s important they create rich experiences and memories for their children, among other things. Few things remind a child of childhood more effectively than a common household item they hold in their hands as a child and as an adult. 

Creating that experience for my children someday is worth every penny.    

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The middle of school

Kalista is a middle schooler today. She was not one yesterday.

Yesterday she was a little girl. She believed her stuffed animals have feelings, ate Ring Pops while wearing them and lived for anything that had to do with me. Today, all of that starts to end.

It is reasonable to assume today is the day she will start being as self-conscious as an adult, perhaps more. Someone will pick on her; someone will judge her. She will do whatever it takes to avoid the embarrassment again.

She will see students nearing high school who want to mask their own insecurities with false confidence portrayed through dominating behavior. Some of this dominating behavior will be directed at her; her submissiveness will make her a target. She will grow up instantly as she experiences the ugliness of post-elementary school.

All with which I am armed to offer is the “focus on school” line. It’s terribly ineffective. I’m aware of that, so I remind her she’s beautiful. I remind her she’s smart, likeable and capable of great things. I treat her with humility and hope I’ve taught her how to forgive others and herself.

But the main thing is “you’re there to learn,” academically and socially.

Interestingly enough, she’s not the only one who’s here to learn. I’ve grown to see some of the least successful persons I know believe they know everything. The most successful tend to be those who never stopped being a student of life in general. There is always an opportunity to learn something, no matter how long a person has been doing it.

Humility. Being humble. Those are the most important traits in this life. These are traits for which dead persons are remembered – not professional success or possessions.

All of this is far more advanced than I wish to experience. Tonight I watched Kalob, 13 days from being 19 months old, remind me of Kalista at that age. Where has time gone? Have I squandered my one and only chance to make my only daughter everything she can be? Will she resent me for applying with Kalob what I learned through her? Will she be jealous of him?

I don’t know. I don’t know anything. And that is the terrifying, beautiful part about being a parent. That is why being a parent is the greatest thing we will ever be. It is the greatest thing I will ever be. It’s the greatest thing anyone could ever be, no matter how successful or unsuccessful, sporadic or traditional one’s path to adulthood may be.

It is our service to others that determines our success as humans that actually matters.

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Changing things

Well, it’s been a while …

… since I’ve posted a blog

… since I’ve seen fall leaves

… since a dating site has hacked my blog

… since I’ve used that cliché. 

But here I am. A lot of stuff going on.

We are less than two weeks away, God willing, from moving into a new house – one in the country with five acres. I don’t know what I’m going to do with all of that land, but something will come to mind. Always does. Definitely a huge garden. Probably some pretty grass. I would say “trees,” but this property already has pecan, fig and several I couldn’t identify the last time we were there. I don’t want to overdo it on the trees.

For now I look forward to simply mowing it – going up and down and back and forth on a riding lawnmower while no more than 10 cars drive by. I hope it’s not 95 degrees and sunny like it usually is. I’ll have to buy one of those straw hats old men wear.

Six years ago, we moved into the house we’ll be leaving. It is a brick home in a mill village surrounded by other alike-looking brick homes. Lifelong residents would put down neighborhoods like ours because since the five textile mills that once made this town run shut down for good. Mill homes like mine – built for the mill workers decades before – decreased steadily in value.

But I always thought they were cool. Some mornings and some nights, I’d sit on the front porch in the swing I’d painted with Kalista and imagine the neighborhood at its peak. I’d heard stories about the owners of the mill and big shots fining residents for not keeping their yards neat. For not keeping paint on the cement porch steps. For not sweeping their sidewalk.

I bet our neighborhood was something to see.

Some woman from Greenville paid to have new townhomes built just down the street from us. Shiny and new, she tried renting them out for $1,000 a month, but no one’s going to pay that much to live in a run-down mill village in a town where nothing’s going on anyway. Eventually, they became Section VIII housing, meaning the government will pay more than 80 percent of the rent to have a poor family live there – and that’s exactly what happened, in townhome after townhome. The endeavor was so successful, more townhomes were built; more poor persons moved in. The rest is history. We now live in a truly poor neighborhood and get to experience all of the crime statistics the government says come with low-income residents.

When Kalista and I moved in, we were surrounded by old persons. There was a sweet old woman next door whose kids came over on Sundays for dinner. There was an old couple across the street and countless more around them. They served as a barrier to the outside world for my daughter and me. But they have all died, for the most part … buried in the mill village cemetery behind our house.

My parents used to encourage me to move out of the neighborhood, citing Kalista’s inability to make decent friends in a neighborhood like ours. They seemed right most of the time – especially the time one of the little girls came over on a summer day and left a few hours later with arms full of Kalista’s toys she had convinced my daughter to give. Or the time she said some girls laughed at her from their driveway when she fell off her bike. But there was one little girl Kalista befriended who I think she’ll always remember.

“Daddy, remember when we used to … ”

My recent weeks have been full of these beginnings of sentences regarding memories Kalista has at the house. She’s excited to move, but she inherited my ability to be sentimental. My ability to find beauty in something everyone else says is ugly. She remembers things I have forgotten – things I did not even know at the time of their conception would even be a memory. She can disregard 1,000 bad experiences to allow one good one to dominate her collection of recollections.

“What are you going to miss most about this house?” I asked recently.

“My friends.”

I don’t know what I wanted out of that house when we moved in. I could never make it have a bigger yard or more bedrooms. I could never build a study or place to watch football. I could never make room for a swimming pool or basketball goal. I could never take our house in the mill village and bring back the sentiment of the 1950s.

So I shouldn’t be so sad about leaving this house for a place in a smaller town, surrounded by farmland, more room and knotty pine walls inside. I should be glad I’ve got so much grass to mow on a lazy Sunday. I should be glad we have a fireplace and room for a huge table and chairs in the kitchen, around which Kalista’s new siblings and stepmother can sit. I should be glad the kids can ride their bikes everywhere without fear of sex offenders or gangsters spoiling the essence or innocence of perfect days.

I am glad. I am sad. I am sentimental. I am attached.

But this is life and things change. I know that; I try to teach that to Kalista. I try and I fail.

I will miss our house in the mill village.

 

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A back and forth journey

If parents are lucky, they will die with their children adoring them.

A not-uncommon path to this conclusion may include adoration, less adoration, abandonment, slight adoration, less adoration, adoration II, moderate adoration and so forth, in a rich variety of sequences.

My daughter is in the first of these less adoration stages. She is 10 and I find myself looking at photographs of her with me when she was 2, 3, 4 … back when I was not just one pillar beneath the foundation of her very being, I was everything holding it up.

Then school came. Stupid school. It’s unfortunate to have been correct when I would have rather been wrong, but I called it: the day I walked her into kindergarten for the first time marked the gradual, steady descent from my spot at the top of her life’s totem pole. I’ve been needed less and less as she’s become more and more independent.

Let me call this one, too: next up is abandonment. She will hate me soon and I’ll wait for her to enter adulthood … when the frontal lobe of her brain will finish developing and she’ll view me as the person who loves her the way I always have.

All of this is exactly why Kalob came into my life at a wonderful time. I get to come home from work every day and receive celebrity treatment. Yes, the older children are happy to see me, but they love other people, too. After they greet me and share brief conversations about their day I had to initiate, I’ll see Kalob in his booster seat – covered with his dinner and a smile.

He squirms. Not to escape the chair, but to see me. I can’t get to him fast enough.

In this life, I am fortunate to have been loved and even adored. Some people do not receive this. But I’m lucky enough to have been loved and adored exclusively by my children at one time or another. I don’t feel unselfish for noticing the feeling that comes from being their only one, or at least pretending like I am. That is truly special … even if it does not last forever.

Tonight while Hollie helped Kalista and Jakob pack to move into our new house, I sat on the couch with Kalob, sharing a bag of chips. It began with me giving him smaller pieces and ended with him digging them out of the bag himself like a miniature version of an old fat man. Then we read. Then I gave him his bedtime milk and he fell asleep in my arms. Then I laid him in his bed.

He rested his head on my shoulder practically the entire time. The hair on the back of his head is starting to curl. He has a dimple on his temple. I love the way he laughs.  

I have four more years of this. Then Kalob goes to school. Then, if all goes according to plan, Kalista will be on the doorstep of “adoration II.” Then I get her back as Kalob goes out.

I hope to die with the adoration of each.

 

 

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