Sunday, May 31, 2009

Summer's here

Although it does not officially start until later in the month, the end of school one week ago officially begins the summer season at our house. Although it's traditionally known as a slower time, that would not always be the case around here.

Daughter moved back in for the summer break nearly three weeks ago. Bless her heart, she brings a lot with her when she relocates. But I will say she has been diligent in getting things organized and settling back in. I have gently prodded her along (look for her comments on that one) and gave her a little area in the basement for her to store all her stuff. She worked especially hard yesterday finishing up the unpacking and by last night her room looked great.

She will spend the summer taking on on-line class, helping her mom with a number of projects and babysitting. And next weekend she and I are participating in a neighborhood garage sale. I am all for reducing volume around here and that sounds like a great way to do it.

Today one of her friends from school who is doing an internship in Nashville arrived and will be occupying Older Son's former room for the next couple of months. We had met her previously and when Daughter mentioned she might be working here this summer and would need a place to live, it was really a no-brainer for us. We have the extra bedroom and we can always make a little more room. It will be fun having another pretty little girl (20 years old) around.

We had a big welcome lunch for our new resident today. I grilled steaks, chicken and corn and Wife made a big salad and a coconut cream pie. Older Son and girlfriend just happened by at lunchtime (he's really good at timing his visits) so before you knew it there were seven of us in the dining room. Unfortunately, our back deck faces east so it was still fairly sunny and warm when I was grilling and it wore me out to the point I could hardly eat anything. But missing a meal does me absolutely no harm and I enjoyed the warm fellowship and laughter around the table.

Younger Son is definitely enjoying the break from school, is going to football workouts in the early mornings and has been hanging out with friends, swimming and fishing a bit. He leaves for his month-long camp on June 25 and is counting the days. I am always so happy for him to go because he loves it so much, but will miss him tremendously. In only two more years we'll probably see him leave the nest and I will probably require therapy once that nest is officially called empty.

Wife and I will have our 25th wedding anniversary later this summer, right about the time Daughter is going back, and with all the comings and goings, who knows what kind of celebration or observation we will manage? Hopefully there will be time (and money) for such later, maybe that return trip to Hawaii where we spent our honeymoon. I think Wife wants to get there sooner than later.

Alas, the house needs paint and a new roof (come on, State Farm, you can do it) and then we need to come inside and spruce things up a bit. The second honeymoon budget is quickly being depleted.

For now we will enjoy these days of summer and what we have here at home -- the chaos and craziness, but a transcending sweetness that makes us count ourselves blessed.

Monday, May 25, 2009

On Wheels

One morning last week, Daughter, on one of my telecommuting days, after rising at the ungodly hour of 10 a.m., came into the room where Wife and I work and turned on one of the cable channels that was showing Father of the Bride Part Two. This is the one where Steve Martin's character, George Banks, lives through both his wife and daughter being pregnant.

I am a sucker for both of the FOB movies, in which Martin reprised a role originally played by Spencer Tracy back in the 1940s or 50s. We are also big fans of the adorable Kimberly Williams Paisley, who is married to Country Singer Brad and lives here in Nashville. She plays the daughter's role that was originally done by Elizabeth Taylor.

Anyway, it did not take long for Wife and me to turn our eyes toward the TV and start sniffling at the poignant moments when both of the women give birth and George Banks simultaneously becomes a father and a grandfather. We could not help but think back on our own three times in the delivery room and all the passages through which we have come since those times.

One of them has just happened. Younger Son has taken to the streets behind the wheel of a car. Out of the three in our brood, Younger Son probably reminds me the most of myself. He loves life and approaches it with enthusiasm, but with a healthy amount of caution.

If there is a pillow on my bed that has a label that says, "DO NOT REMOVE UNDER PENALTY OF LAW" that tag will remain on that pillow for its life. If the carton says, "OPEN THIS SIDE ONLY," that is the only side that will be opened. When the computer screen has read, "YOU HAVE PERFORMED AN ILLEGAL ACTIVITY AND WINDOWS MUST SHUT DOWN," I have considered going to the local authorities and turning myself in.

When Younger Son turned 15 in October of 2007 and we offered to take him to get his learner's permit, he declined. When pressed, he finally confessed that he did not feel ready. This is different from his older siblings who were at the door of the DMV on their respective 15th birthdays.

Wife and I decided not to push it. She took him to a big parking lot a couple of times to let him get the feel for it, but the desire just was not there. More than that, there was on overriding fear about operating a car.

I decided that, just because the law states that a person in this state MAY start learning to drive when he/she turns 15, and become a licensed driver at 16, there is no law that states one HAS to. And Lord knows I don't want to make him do something with such potential danger that he does not want to do.

Yet at the same time, a couple of things concerned me. First, I know teenagers and I had a feeling that once peers started driving, his desire would kick in. Secondly, I did not want fear to prevent him from learning something that, sooner or later, he would want and need to do. I made him go get his learner's permit last summer just so he would have it when he became ready.

His 16th birthday came this past October. Unlike his older brother and sister, there was no acquisition of a driver's license on this date. We did the parking lot thing again a few times but he was adamant that he would not drive in traffic. Friends began driving, including his closest hanging-out buddy, but he stood firm.

Finally, in early December, I approached him again. I told him that I would be home about two weeks straight over Christmas and, if he wanted me to, I would devote a big part of that time teaching him to drive. He looked at me thoughfully, thanked me for my offer and told me he would think about it. A few days later he said he thought he would like that.

There are two big mega-churches near our house (one of which is ours) that have connecting parking lots which, combined, account for a number of acres of asphalt. The day after Christmas he and I went and got started. We stopped and started a lot. We went forward and we backed up. We parallel-parked and angle-parked.

His fists clinched the steering wheel and his lips were pursed together. Once again, the fear thing, which has been such a big part of my life, gripped him. I told him quietly and slowly that we could take all the time we needed, that I had nothing else on my calendar and we could drive in circles as long as it took for him to get comfortable.

At one point I told him I was going to get out of the car and watch him. "That's illegal!" he retorted. "I can't drive by myself!"

I assured him that the local police would not take an interest in his driving a car in a parking lot with me three feet away. Again, he's so much like me.

By the end of our second session I began to sense a little bit of relaxation and more confidence. I could tell he was getting the hang of it.

I had told him it would be a week or more before I even suggested driving in traffic but, on Day Three, I told him I thought he could drive from our house to the church, less than a mile away. He protested a bit but I urged him to take this step. The minute he felt too fearful, I told him, he could stop and let me take over.

He made it to the church parking lots just fine and we did our normal routine. After an hour I asked him if he woud like to drive home. He did. From that day on, we drove on the streets and I began to see the fear leave him, replaced by an ease and confidence that literally brought tears to my eyes. This was about so much more than driving.

He began to drive with Wife, Older Son and me whenever he would be with one of us in the car. He began to ask to drive and then began to ask, of course, when he could drive alone.

In March he took Driver Education on Saturdays and passed the driving portion of the driver's license test in April with flying colors. Wife and I told him, however, that we were not ready to let him drive alone, that he simply had not yet had enough practice.

He did not like it but he understood. We have had numerous conversations over the past couple of months about choices you make and the consequences of those choices, reminding him that his choice not to drive when he was of legal age had resulted in his not driving on his own just yet. I might add that I made this particular speech with an enormous amount of parental sanctimony that only a mom or dad could love.

Last Thursday night there was a party celebrating the last day of school. Wife called me earlier in the day and asked what I thought of letting him drive. I told her I thought it was a splendid idea. When she sprung it on him he was thrilled, but Wife said there was still a hint of fear which, for a 16-year-old about to drive by himself for the first time, is not altogether a bad thing. It's all about balance.

He was already gone when I arrived home. I had done a fair amount of praying throughout the day, once again turning over to my Heavenly Father this 200-plus pound baby, asking that He please have His angels accompany him each mile he would drive that night.

In typical fashion, he called us at 10:30 p.m. to say he was starting home. He arrived 15 minutes later, safe and sound. He looked older as he walked in. I hugged him as if he were coming home from war.

He looked at me quizzically and all I could say was, "You'll understand one day."

And another passage takes place.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

R.I.P.: The Newspaper

As I wrote in a recent post, computers have given us a great deal, but they have also taken away some of the treasures of life, at least in my opinion. The latest that I am lamenting? The American newspaper. It's struggling mightily.

The Internet provides us instant news, around the clock. At work, whether in my actual office or my virtual one, I keep Yahoo! as my home page and at any time I can check news, weather and sports. And I do.

I hardly ever tune into network news on TV except for perhaps an occasional glance at The Today Show in the mornings at the gym or when I'm working at home. And I'll turn on CNN or Fox News if I want to follow a breaking story or during election season if I want more in-depth coverage. But NBC, ABC or CBS at 5:30 CDT? Never. But I still read the newspaper religiously. I think I am a dying breed, however.

It was so different in the world in which I grew up in South Arkansas where we received two dailies -- the local one and the statewide. For a long time there were two statewide dailies, The Arkansas Democrat and The Arkansas Gazette. They were fierce competitors and for years the Democrat was an afternoon paper. When its owners decided to go head-to-head with the Gazette it also became a morning paper and dropped the afternoon edition. In the 1980s the two became one and today it's called The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. When I go back I still love to read it because it's still a family owned paper and has wonderful local writers.

Anyway, the newspaper was sacred at my house. My dad traipsed out every morning in his robe and picked up both. If either was not there he would call the circulation desk and demand his paper. Before and during breakfast, he would read the local first, then the state one. He couldn't complete everything but he hit the high points, coming back later for a more detailed read.

When The Democrat was an afternoon paper, I remember one time I decided how much fun it would be to throw it up on the roof in its rolled-up state and let it roll off for me to catch, then repeat the process. Only after a few throws and rolls it didn't come back. When my dad got home he very methodically went and got the ladder, got up on the roof and retrieved the paper. Then he just as methodically told me what would happen if that ever happened again. Trust me, it didn't.

Our local paper had news about everything going on in our little town and years ago had what was called a "Society Section" (no longer politically correct) that had huge pictures of brides-to-be and the announcements about upcoming weddings, then when the wedding actually occurred another even bigger photo with a detailed write-up about every aspect of the event, down to the type of lace that was on the bride's dress.

In addition to reading every section, my dad also did the Jumble, which he and my mom called "The Words." "Have you done 'The Words' yet?" I can hear either of them saying to the other. Whoever did them first was not allowed to write them in. They usually both got them in short order, but sometimes one of them might get stumped and would even enlist my help. Now I do "The Words" myself almost every day and I always think of them.

My mother also did the crossword puzzle in both papers and this little word puzzle called "the Cryptoquote." She usually did all of this before about 9 a.m. over her morning coffee. She did the NY Times crossword on Sundays and that one often took her several hours. She had a dictionary that weighed about a ton that she would have to occasionally consult for help. Sudokus were not around when she was but I can assure you she would not have done those because she did not like numbers.

We loved the comics too. I could not imagine a day without Blondie, Beetle Bailey or Peanuts (even though those are reruns)

I am much like my parents. Even though I love the ease and convenience of computers and I constantly use it to get updates, I pretty much have to hold a newspaper in my hand each day. If I am in another city, I'll still pick one up.

I at least scan every section. I write occasional letters to the editor of our local paper. I sometimes embarrass Wife when she gets a call about my latest, when she did not even know I had written in. (She can't drink bottled water in public now because my most recent missive strongly criticized buying H2O when we have perfectly good liquid coming from our taps. Sorry, Hon.)

It's not just that I inherited this trait. It has just as much to do with my love affair with the written word. I started a neighborhood newspaper when I was 12, wrote for my high school and college papers and got my undergraduate degree in journalism. And of course now I have this blog.

But, as I said earlier, newspapers in this country are struggling. People have canceled subscriptions because they can get their news online so much easier, and it's free. Advertisers don't spend near the money they did at one time for print advertising. Thus, revenues have plunged. At least two papers, one in Denver and another in Seattle, have, I believe, either shut down or gone to online only. I think that's very sad.

To try to stay in business, papers have of course gone to online editions and they try to sell advertising there. Some of them charge to access their entire sites. They have cut the size of the physical papers down to where the papers are not as wide. They have combined sections and cut features. Our local paper here in Nashville no longer has TV listings during the week. Even Sunday's paper, which I used to have to carry in with both hands, is much, much, smaller.

Will we still even have newspapers 50, 60 or 70 years from now? I'm not sure, but, just like receiving a letter in an envelope in a mailbox has a quality that surpasses e-mail, so does a freshly inked newspaper give me a warm, secure feeling. I'll miss it if it dies.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Random Friday Thoughts

-- This Sunday is Mother’s Day. We will appropriately honor Wife, of course. We will take her to lunch, give her gifts and she and I will go to the first of the spring/summer “Concert in the Park” series that our little suburb sponsors every year. It will be a nice day.

My dad had a lot of good qualities but gift-giving and/or honoring someone on his/her special day were not among them. I remember at least a couple of years when, before Mother’s Day, he would say, “She’s not my mother.” (Ouch). I don’t think he meant to be cruel or hurtful, but I know those words did not give my mother a warm fuzzy (although she began to reciprocate on Father’s Day). I remember one year neither my brother nor I did anything for my mom and I felt like a heel. I was still a little guy and didn’t drive but somehow I managed to get someone to take me to a drugstore that was open on Sundays (not common then) and came up with something before the day was done. My mother was appreciative but, in a lot of ways, I believe the damage had been done. I never let that happen again.

My children are old enough to take care of it on their own now, but I still prod them with gentle reminders and I do my part as well. The least I can do for the mother of my children and believe me, I am so happy to do it.

-- We are again in a transitional season in our family. This past year has been one where we once again adjusted to having Older Son in the house. He and his brother, younger by seven years, seemed to get to know each other again. When Older Son left for college they were 18 and 11, respectively, and now they’re 23 and 16. Sometimes in spite of themselves, they have ended up having a great time together and have become close friends. Wife had to once again get used to the acerbic wit and banter of two young males living in close quarters. Older Son, a college graduate now and familiar with the ways of the world (ahem), has been at times all too eager to give his brother “helpful” suggestions about his life. Younger Son, looking his brother straight in the eye now, has at times told him where to get off. The next minute they would be right back to those “how 'bout those Titans" discussions and life went right on. That’s just guys sometimes. Wife grew up with one sister and sometimes doesn’t get it.

Older Son moved out April 1. Oh we still see him plenty but the household dynamics have changed. The door had barely hit his butt on his way out before Wife was in his (former) room sprucing it up, putting a frilly quilt, dust ruffle and throw pillows on the bed and a pretty lamp and a candle on the bedside table. It really is amazing how nice she has made it look. She has, however, resigned herself to this being a gradual process as the panoramic of the Auburn football stadium still hangs on the wall above the bed and a bulletin board filled with photos of college life is nearby. (Wife said the green throw pillow brings out the green in the football field picture. OK, whatever.)

Anyway, Daughter arrives home for the summer today, having finished two years of college, and we’ll start adjusting to a new dynamic that only a young female can bring to a household. In addition, a friend of hers from Birmingham who is doing an internship in Nashville this summer will join us in a few weeks and occupy Older Son’s former room. Wife will, I am sure, start urging Older Son to finish the job and get the rest of his stuff moved out so she can get the room suitably prepared for its next occupant. What that means is that Older Son will come over and pull that stuff out of the closet and move it to our basement for safekeeping. Why clutter up his own new place?!

Wife has accurately quipped that we are now in the "revolving door" years. She could not have said it better.

-- Ralph the Dog is going to be none too happy with all of these new comings and goings. To begin with, he sleeps on Daughter’s bed now and, much to Wife’s chagrin, has burrowed a little place among the pillow shams that fits his little 20-pound body just right. Although he loves Daughter, he will not be happy to have to find a new place to sleep. And then when another person comes to live here for a while, that will not please him either.

Ralph the Dog, who is now somewhere between 11 and 12 years old, is, I believe, beginning to understand he is in his “golden” years and seems to believe that, at his age, he does not need a lot of additional stimulation. He has long looked to me as his leader and seems to be saying, “Isn’t it time for a little peace and quiet around here, friend?”

-- We have been deluged with rain here in Middle Tennessee. Grass in the yards in my neighborhood is nearing the one-foot mark as the windows for cutting have been few and far between for the past two weeks. It rains like crazy for hours, then the sun might come out for a couple but, just when things are beginning to dry, here come the rains again. It’s getting a little depressing.

-- A very Happy Mother’s Day to all of you moms out there. You deserve all the pampering and praise you get on your special day. If you don’t hear from all of your offspring by about 5 p.m. be sure and call and make them feel guilty. Remind them of the pains of childbirth and lay it on thick. Then they won’t forget next year.