Monday, August 24, 2015


Recently, on our first ever trip to the Wilson County Fair, I made one of my bottom 5 worst parenting decisions.  That's saying a lot, for me.

We arrived at the fair in Lebanon shortly after it opened on Saturday morning, about 10:15 a.m.  Most of the rides weren't running yet, so Jude, J.P., Joe and I wandered aimlessly around the midway.  We hit what passed for the Wilson County Fair's version of the "Euroslide," always a favorite of the boys at the State Fair.  There's not much to it, really.  A tall slide (a long walk up), burlap mats and fast slide down.  J.P. raced Joe and me down several times, with Joe riding in my lap.  Good stuff.

So far, so good, until I decided it would be a good idea for J.P. and me to to shoot some live zombies with paint ball funs.  Now, mind you, I'd never shot a paint ball gun or a zombie, for that matter.  Still, the concept seemed sound.  Paint ball guns, paint balls, live zombies. What could go wrong?

As we walked over to the setup (2 trailers pulled together longways) with tents of some sort off the open sides, J.P. and I joked about who would be more scared.  That question was quickly answered after we picked up our paint balls and walked inside the trailer.  It was dark, there were folding chairs for us to sit in and paint ball guns chained to a wire in front of us.  There were disembodied legs, arms and hand hanging in the air.  The lights went out, music started playing - loudly - and strobe lights flashed.  Then, zombies darted across the grassy, tented area.

J.P. was terrified, near tears as he huddled behind me.  I, of course, shot zombies with a vengeance, or tried to, anyway.  After my "ammunition" was spent, we started to walk out of the trailer.  One of the zombies reached through the half window and grabbed J.P. as he screamed.

Father of the year?  Not anytime soon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Weekend at Joe's Place

Last weekend, Jude and J.P. traveled to Charlotte, NC, for the christening of Jude's niece, Caroline.  That left Joe and me "home alone."

I was excited about spending the weekend with Joe, in large part because he's stuck in a bit of a "mommy phase."  For example, he wants Jude to do things for him that I can do, like pouring his milk, helping him down off his stool after breakfast, getting him out of the car, etc.  Truthfully, it gets annoying, although I know - based on my experience with J.P. - that it will change with time, about the time Joe turns 4 years old and I start coaching him in various sports.

I was a little apprehensive about how Joe would behave once he realized Jude was gone for the weekend.  Of course, I shouldn't have been, because he was perfectly fine hanging out with me and we had a blast.  From my vantage point, it was a landmark weekend for the two of us, because we really got to spend time together, one-on-one.  It's difficult to find that kind of one-on-one time when you have two boys, both of whom need and demand attention and supervision, and an exceptional mother like Jude.  Joe did great with me, and it was amazing to spend time with him, just the two of us.

Friday early evening, we went to Martin's BBQ for dinner.  Although we arrived early, it was a bit crowded, so Joe and I grabbed a table near the front of the restaurant, where people queue up to wait to order food.  By design, we sat directly in front of a television showing the Dodgers-Pirates game.  As always, Joe was really, really into the game.  After every pitch, he looked at me earnestly and asked, "was that a strike?"  If the Dodgers were in the field and I answered in the affirmative, he yelled "Yes!" and pumped his fists.  If the Dodgers got a hit, he clapped and cheered, loudly.  The people in line nodded our way and laughed at his enthusiasm.  My three year old, the diehard sports fan.  Craziness.

After dinner, we went to Bongo Java, where Joe played football with Megan, one of young ladies who works there.  She loves him and it was a joy to watch them playing together on a slow night at the coffee shop which, of course, is my second home and my second office.

That night, I put Joe down to bed, but not before reminding him that once he laid down, there was no getting up until 7 a.m. the next morning.  No water, no going potty one more time, no fixing his blanket to cover his feet.  We covered all of that before he got into bed.  And you know what?  He went to sleep immediately and at 7 a.m. on the dot Saturday morning, I heard a pitter patter of little feet, then Joe peeped in our bedroom.  A perfect night!

Joe and I watched "Sid the Science Kid" (which I absolutely love), then drove to East Nashville for Tomatofest.  We strolled up and down the streets near "Five Points," then went to the Cumberland Water Park.  Joe had a great time playing in the water at the park.  Such a great time, in fact, that he punched me when I insisted it was time to go.  Well, you can't win them all.

Saturday afternoon, I strolled him down to Mafiozza's while he napped.  I had a couple of beers and talked to my guy, Doc, at the bar.  It was cool, because it had been a while since I had talked to Doc and it was a repeat of some afternoons J.P. and I spent there when he was Joe's age.  Then, it as back home, where we met my mom, who had driven up from Brentwood.  We went to dinner at Burger Up, which went well.  Saturday night, Joe went to bed again with no fussing and slept the entire night without a problem.

Sunday morning, Joe and I went to Bongo Java for breakfast, where we ran into Ms. Hagan, J.P.'s kindergarten teach at USN last year.  It was great to see her and we made plans to meet her again when J.P. could be there.  Then, it was off to Kroger, church and home for lunch.  Joe napped in his bed and Jude and J.P. got home that evening.

It was such a meaningful, special weekend with Joe.  We laughed - a lot - played games and just enjoyed each other's company.  In short, we figured it out, which is a lot of what parenting boils down to, it seems to me.

Friday, August 7, 2015


Jude's grandmother, Rita White,  whom my boys called "Great," died last night.  She had been in hospice care for a couple of weeks and although it was time, I think, it's still sad to those of us who loved her and were loved by her.

Classy.  Kind.  Caring.  Smart.  Funny.  Spiritual.  Generous.  Wise.  Strong.  And, to the end, as Jude's dad, Jim, said yesterday - Scrappy.  Man, was she scrappy.

Jude and I had struggled with what to tell J.P. and Joe about Great and how she was doing.  Reluctantly, we decided we didn't want J.P. worrying about her every day and night, which would have been the case if we told him she was in hospice care.  Instead, we told him she was in the hospital.  The right decision?  I hope so.

The first or second night she was admitted to hospice care, Great and Jim called us at home.  She talked to each of the boys, who were completely oblivious to the fact that it might be the last time they would talk to her.  Jude and I fought back tears as J.P. paced around the living room, carrying the cellular telephone with him, describing in detail for Great his day at Zoo Camp.  She listened patiently and asked questions, as she always does, or did.  My heart broke a little bit toward the end of the call, when she told the boys "to always be good boys" and that she loved them.  She was telling them goodbye.

Fortunately, Jude and J.P. were able to stop by and see Great before we left for the beach.  That was a relief to Jude, I know, and something I think J.P. will appreciate as he gets older.  Last night, on the way home from work, Jude stopped by to see Great.  I think God had a hand in that, as we later learned Great died about 15 minutes after Jude left.

Last night, at bedtime, Jude told the boys Great had died.  J.P. took it really hard, as we knew he would.  He yelled "what!?!" with a confused look on his face, then dissolved into tears as Jude hugged him.  There's no blueprint for helping your child through the death of someone he loves, especially  the first time it happens.  We tried to comfort him as best we could and let him know that it's okay to be sad.  We also let him know that if he had questions or wanted to talk about it, we are here for him.  He tends to internalize things, but I hope he will open up to us about Great's death in the coming days and weeks.

When J.P. was born, I kidded Great and told her I had arranged for nicknames for all of the ladies on Jude's side of the family.  Jane (Jude's mother) would be "Big Momma" and Rita (who was called Grandmother up to that point) would be called "Great Big Momma."  I kept up with that for a bit, until finally, Great looked at me somewhat sternly and said, you will not teach J.P. to call me "Great Big Momma."  Message received and soon thereafter, the nickname "Great" was born, which she seemed to enjoy.

As a father, part of what I loved the most about Great was watching her interact with J.P. and Joe.  There was no invisible wall of reserve or decorum between them, as there sometimes is between grandparents and grandchildren.  From day one, she hugged them, kissed them and doted on them.  And they loved her with all of their little, growing hearts.  It was a joy to see.

On a personal note, Great accepted me into the family without reservation, from the first time I met her at her house in Bellevue on Easter weekend 17 or 18 years ago.  I'll never forget that,  because I think in some ways she set and example for others to follows.  Over the years, we kidded each other and I grew to love our interactions, as she quickly responded to something I said in jest, with an ever present twinkle in her eye and a sly smile on her face.

As I told J.P. last night, if ever there was a life well lived - a full life - it was Great's life.  She raised five amazing children, served as a role model to grandchildren (and their spouses) and great grandchildren and in her quiet way, I think, reminded all of us of the importance of family.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Reach the Beach 2015

It's Friday afternoon and Joe and I are sitting at the bar at 45 Central Wine Bar in Seaside, FL.  It's anew place I discovered on one of our forays to Seaside earlier in the week.  It opened 3 months ago and it seems the masses of tourists haven't discovered it yet, so it's quiet.  That makes it the perfect place for Joe to sleep while I write.

We leave for home tomorrow morning, so I'm a little melancholy this afternoon.  As always, our week in Santa Rosa Beach went by far too quickly.  I was thinking yesterday, it's so rare that Jude and I get a full week with the boys all to ourselves.  No school, no work, no sports and no real distractions.  That's part of what makes our annual vacation here so special, I think.  It occurs to me we'll get, if we're lucky, 18 weeks like this with our boys.  Actually, less than that, because soon enough J.P. will want to bring a friend or he and Joe will want to do their own thing while we're on vacation.  It boils down to one week year with my boys, while they're still relatively young, then they're off to college and it's over.  Damn, now I'm really feeling melancholy.

It's great, as J.P. and Joe are getting old enough to play together and enjoy each other's company.  It's really cool to watch them fooling around, making each other laugh, as only brothers can do.  We're blessed to have the boys we have, no doubt about it.

As always, memories from the week, in no particular order -

  • By far, our best long car trip with the boys on the ride down (let's hope our luck holds on the way home tomorrow).  2 stops, only for restroom breaks (no McDonald's play areas!) and we made it in about 8 hours, with some traffic.  J.P. didn't get sick until we were about 2 miles from the beach house.  We were THIS close to a vomit-free trip.  
  • Joe loved the beach, which was a big, big change from years past.  He loved everything about it  the sand, the waves and the ocean.  J.P., too, was all about the waves and the ocean.  It was great to watch J.P. swim nearby, but not to have to be with him every minute.  He's getting more and more independent.
  • Playing football with J.P. in the ocean, especially when we took turns pretending to be Blaine Bishop (former Titans' star) on a safety blitz or Javon Kearse sacking the quarterback off the edge.  When I tackled J.P. in the surf and stripped the football, he laughed and laughed.  It was a beautiful thing.  
  • Joe, baseball crazy as ever, playing a form of "beach baseball" with Jude for hours every day.  He would "hit" the ball with a modified, toy lacrosse stick, then "run" the bases on the beach while Jude chased him.  Then, Joe would "pitch" and Jude would hit.  Over and over again, with Joe squealing and laughing the entire time.
  • Lots of fun in the mornings in the pool with J.P. and Joe.  Again, Joe played a form of "pool baseball" with Jude while J.P. and I roughhoused with each other.  
  • An aborted dinner at the abominable Goatfeathers restaurant, which led to a top 10 all-time family meal at La Playa.  J.P. tried (and liked) the fish dish off the children's menu, which was huge for him!  He also tried (and liked) the grouper I was eating.  A couple of nights later, when we decided to get takeout from Local Catch, he requested a fish dish.  Amazing.
  • Lots and lots of game playing.  Sorry, Battleship (I'm still the champion - the "admiral"), Guess Who (I defeated J.P. 8 games to 7 and he was pissed), UNO and Boggle.  When J.P. won a game - any game - he got Jude's cell phone and pretended to call the newspaper to announce his victory.  Monkey see, monkey do, as Joe started doing the same thing even though he wasn't exactly winning any games.
  • I finished a truly amazing book - Long Man - by Amy Greene.  Phenomenal, probably the best novel I'll read in 2015.
  • 21 + total miles of morning runs on the Longleaf Pine Trail near our beach house in Old Florida Village.  I remember when I could (and did) do 20 mile weeks in my sleep.  Now, it's an accomplishment to be celebrated.  Strangely, I didn't run any of my other routes, sticking to the trail I discovered a couple of years ago.  
  • A cameo appearance by Carl P. Spining, one of my oldest friends and a law school classmate, and an afternoon of beer drinking with him at the Great Southern Cafe in Seaside, FL, while Joe napped beside me.  An unexpected treat, for sure.
  • Ama Vida Coffee.  Sadly, Grayt Coffee House is no more, I discovered, but Ama Vida filled in nicely.
  • Watching "Deadliest Catch" with J.P.  Need I say more?
  • Learning about the death of my friend, Joanna Stanfield.  My former paralegal, Suzanne, texted me Wednesday morning and my heart sank as I read the text.  The best paralegal I have ever known, Joanna found her voice after she was diagnosed with cancer 5 days after the birth of her daughter, Maggie, almost 4 years ago.  She touched and inspired so many with her blog, "It's Cancer, Baby," and the courageous way she fought for every day she could spend with Maggie.  The world is a lesser place without her.
  • Joe's earsplitting scream, whenever he was unhappy with something J.P. and I were doing. 
  • Jed.  Seeing our longtime friend, Jed, whose family owns Blue Mountain Beach Creamery, our favorite ice cream store in the world.  We've known Jed for 5 + years, since he opened the store.  Every year when we come down, the business has grown and grown.  This year, after dinner, we stopped by one night and the line stretched around the building and down the street toward Blue Mountain Beach.  We knocked on the window and asked for Jed.  When he saw us, he smiled widely and treated us like VIP's by getting our ice cream and refusing to allow us to pay for it.  Fortunately, we got to spend some quiet time with him yesterday afternoon, when it wasn't too busy.  J.P. adores Jed, so getting the one-on-one time with him was special for J.P.
  • And, right now, in what is maybe the highlight of my week, Joe is waking up in the City Elite stroller, right next to me.  We've shared so many afternoons with him in that stroller and before him, I shared them with J.P.  Joe is looking up at me and smiling, innocently, as he tucks his knees up to stay warm.  God, those eyes and that smile.  My heart is full and I don't want this moment to end.  Ever. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Surfer Boy

A boy and his board.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Good To Go

We arrived in Santa Rosa Beach, Fl, early yesterday evening to begin our annual end of summer week long vacation at the beach.  We're staying in Old Florida Village, as we have in years past.  This time, we're staying in "Good to Go" a house near the back of the development but still just a walk away from the swimming pool.

Last night, unwinding, I stayed up a little too late watching the beginning of the final season of "Sons of Anarchy" and reading (and drinking a "Tiny Bomb" or two - a pilsner craft brewed at Wiseacre in Memphis).  The boys had no pity and woke up about 6 a.m.  Once they woke up, we were up.  I went for a 4 mile punishment trail run while Jude and the boys went to the beach.  When I finished my run, the boys had breakfast then we went to the pool.

This afternoon, Joe and I drove over to Seaside.  While he napped in the City Elite next to be at the Great Southern Cafe, I sat at the bar and had a drink.  I rolled him over to Amavida for a cup of coffee (me) and sippy cup of mile (Joe) after he woke up.  He and I met Jude and J.P. at the beach for some late afternoon ocean time.

Then, we ate dinner (Local Catch) and drove down to Blue Mountain Beach Creamery to see our friend, Jed.  We were astonished to see the line for ice cream stretched out into the street.  We walked around the pick-up window and motioned for Jed.  His eyes lit up when he saw us (and especially J.P.).  One of the great things about coming to the same place for vacation every year is getting to know some of the locals.  Jed hooked us up with free ice cream, which was a really nice thing for him to do.  We felt like V.I.P's.

On day 1 of our vacation this year, I already can see we've turned a corner with the boys.  J.P. and Joe love the beach and the ocean.  Unlike last year and years past (when J.P. was much younger), there's was no fussing today about getting in the ocean.  To the contrary, Joe couldn't wait to play in the waves.  J.P. was all over the place - catching fish with a net, body surfing and riding a boogie board.  It's cool, as for the first time at the beach, he's a little self-sufficient.  We watch him, but we don't have to be right beside him in the ocean all the time.  Granted,  he's staying near at the shore at our direction, but still it's progress.

For perhaps the first time, today on the beach I could see the future a little bit.  One day, not too terribly far away, the boys will be off on their own playing with friends when we're at the beach.  Jude and I will just sit in our beach chair and smile, remembering trips like this (and those in the past) when all the boys wanted to do was hang out with us.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Hardy Boys and Morning Runs

Two of the greatest pleasures of my life are reading and running.  If I do nothing else, I want to encourage J.P. and Joe to develop a lifelong love of reading and running, or some other physical activity.

Recently, I went to my mom's house and after digging around her attic, retrieved several "Hardy Boys" books.  Jude and I have been struggling a bit to find age appropriate books to read to J.P. and I thought he might enjoy reading, or me reading to him, one of the Hardy Boys books.

As a boy, I devoured the The Hardy Boys mysteries.  Frank and Joe Hardy were two of the heroes of my youth.  Books like those were what helped me develop my love of reading.

Running, well, I've written many times about how important running is to me.  Lately, I've been getting up early - 5:20 a.m. - and heading out for morning runs in the new 'hood.  This is huge for me, because I've always been a late night person, as a result of which I haven't been much of a morning person.  For the last few years, I've run mostly at night, after the boys are in bed.  By time I unwind after my run, read and get to bed, it would often be after midnight.

This morning, I hit the streets at 5:30 a.m.  I violated my longstanding rule of not starting a run when it's raining, because I really wanted to get a run in and it was only drizzling.  Of course, as soon as I headed down Belmont Blvd., it started pouring rain and I ran the rest of the 3 miles in a hard rain.  It's been so hot, really, that it was kind of nice.

Now, the good part.  I got home, the front door opened and out popped J.P.  "Can we go for a run, Dad? he asked.  I smiled and replied, "sure."  So, we ran stretched, ran down Belmont Blvd., and finished at Belmont U.  We got water and Gatorade from the Circle K, then walked home together, talking all the way.  And that's the best part, the walking and talking.

After breakfast, we laid in bed and finished reading "The Hooded Hawk Mystery," the first Hardy Boys' book we've read together.  Awesome.

A perfect morning for me.