Sunday, November 22, 2015

Dads and Friends

One of the unexpected pleasures of J.P.'s involvement in sports (baseball, basketball and soccer) has been the number of new friends Jude and I have through our interactions with his teammates' parents.

As I've mentioned in this space before, the same nucleus of boys has stayed together and played all three sports.  It's worked out well, as I've coached fall and spring baseball, with other dads helping me.  I get to watch basketball and soccer, pitching in when needed, while other dads coach those sports.  It's worked well.

It's such a nice thing to walk into the basketball gym - as I did at David Lipscomb Elementary School Saturday morning - and sit down with friends to watch our sons play basketball together.  Parents and grandparents, all of whom know each other and are comfortable with each other, talking and laughing   easily as the game started.

The men who help me coach baseball and who coach J.P. in basketball and soccer are all good, fun, solid family men.  They're guys I would be friends with even if our boys didn't play sports together.  Of course, I wouldn't know them if our boys didn't play sports together.  That's the point, I guess.  Russ, Will, Chris, Dan and Will.  All good guys.

I'm curious if the same type of thing will develop with other parents when Joe starts playing sports this spring, when I coach his baseball team.  I've got a great group of kids and parents lined up to play baseball on our team, but I'm wondering if it will be the same.  I hope so.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Games People Play

When you are blessed beyond measure to have two healthy, active, inquisitive boys, you play a lot of games.  Sure, there's Sorry, Trouble, Candyland (always a staple), Guess Who, UNO and, lately, Life.  What I've been thinking about lately, though, are the games J.P. and Joe have made up and played over the years, with Jude, me or each other.

Usually, these games last for a little while before they're forgotten by the boys, only to be remembered fondly by Jude and me as we recall days and times past.  I thought it might be fun to list and describe a few of these games, in no particular order.

Hallway Hockey

This was a huge game in our old house on Elliott Avenue.  Huge.  From the age of 3 years old, J.P. played hockey in the downstairs hallway of our house.  Over the years, the sticks grew longer until he was using a regulation hockey stick.  For pucks, he used everything from "official" NHL hockey balls to a soft pock to a souvenir hard puck.

The fact that the hallway is not a long one is proof positive that kids will find ways to play games and entertain themselves wherever they are with whatever they have on hand.  The rules were simple, as J.P. would stand at one end of the hallway and try to hit the puck through my (or Jude's) legs.  Then, we would do the same, all while keeping up a running commentary of the game.  J.P. was almost always the Predators and Jude or I would be another team. J.P. always won.

As soon as he was old enough to walk, Joe picked up Hallway Hockey, and he and J.P. played together at time.

Sock Baseball and Pretend Baseball

This is a recent game invented by Joe, after we moved into the new house on Linden Avenue.  I think Joe started playing it during the Vanderbilt baseball team's run to the finals of the College World Series, as we were watching a lot of the game.

In its original incarnation, we played in the den, with a sock for the baseball.  There were 3 positions - catcher, batter and pitcher - and we all took turns playing each position.  The catcher sat in one of my "man chairs," with the batter standing next to him.  The pitcher "pitched" the sock and the batter hit it with his hand.  Then, the pitcher got the sock and tried to hit the batter with it as he (or she) ran through the den, kitchen or bedroom.  You get the picture, right?

The more comical version of the game involves the same rules, but with no sock for a baseball.  It's truly "pretend baseball" and can be played anywhere.  Literally anywhere.  We've played it at restaurants, parties, J.P.'s baseball or soccer games, the beach, etc.

Home Run Derby

We haven't played this a lot, but man is it fun!  J.P. and I took our wiffle ball bat and several balls (with one piece of blue electrical tape strategically placed on the middle of the ball) to the large, grassy, sunken courtyard of sorts at the old apartment complex on Belmont Boulevard, down from Bongo Java.  We set up home plate so the batter, when he made good contact, could hit a home run over the wall and onto the sidewalk or into the street (Belmont Boulevard).  As an added incentive, I told J.P. I would buy him a Las Paletas popsicle for every home run he hit.  Good stuff.

Upside Down Basketball and Alley Oop Basketball

Man, this was one of my all time favorite games in the old house.  In what can only be described as a stroke of creative genius, Carley (our nanny and friend) set up a small basketball court in J.P.'s room, complete with tape on the floor for a free throw line and a 3-point line.  J.P.'s room wasn't big and the basketball court was wedged between the end of his bed and a chest of drawers.  The basketball goal (a modern day version of a Nerf hoop from my childhood) was attached to a door that opened up into a small crawl space.  The door itself was about half the size of a normal door, like something a hobbit might walk through, so it was the perfect height for 3-year old J.P. and, later, Joe.

I think that basketball goal provided J.P. and Joe with more hours of entertainment than anything in our old house.  Initially, J.P. couldn't reach the rim, as hard as he would try.  As he grew older and taller, he was able to dunk the plastic basketball, tentatively at first, then with authority.  We reenacted many, many NBA and SEC basketball games, complete with the announcement of starting lineups, jump balls, halftime speeches and lots of basketball.  It was awesome.

J.P. and I invented a game called "upside down basketball."  To play, he or I laid down on his bed, with our head at the foot of the bed, near the basketball.  And we tried to make a basket upside down. If he or I hit a basket, the other "dog piled" the shooter on the bed.

Later, we played lots of "alley oop basketball," where I laid on J.P.'s bed and threw him countless alley oops that dunked in the basketball goal.  Bounce pass alley oops, off the wall alley oops, etc.  Hours of fun.

One of the saddest moments of our move, for me, was when I pulled up the blue tape from the basketball court in J.P.'s room.  It had been there so long that it stripped the finish off the wooden floor so I could see where the basketball court had been.  Fitting, I think.

The End of the Innocence

(originally written on my iPad on Saturday, October 17, 2015)

It's an exquisite Saturday afternoon in Nashville, truly one of the perfect days of the year weather-wise.  At long last, summer has officially turned to fall.  The temperature this morning was in the low-40's and now, at 3:30 p.m., it's 59 degrees.  Perfect.

I'm sitting at Edley's BBQ in 12South, having a Calfkiller Grassroots APA.  For maybe the last time - ever - Joe is alongside in the stroller, sleeping contentedly in what is quickly turning into a crowded bar.  I can't remember the last time I took him out for a stroll and a nap in the City Elite.  Truth be told, I thought these lazy afternoons were gone forever, as he almost always naps (or doesn't, depending on his mood) in his bed at home.

Today, J.P. had a midday soccer game - his last of the season - and Tracy, Matthew, Kaitlyn and my mom stopped by the house for lunch afterwards.  When they left, I coaxed Joe into the stroller with the promise of watching "the Eggs" (a Thomas the Train "claymation sort of" video we discovered on Youtube) after he woke up from his nap.  Now, here we are again, Joe and me, occupying a place in time we've occupied so many times over the last 3 1/2 years.

Looking around at Edley's - it's packed - I'm reminded of how much I love living where I live, in a vibrant neighborhood in a city where I can walk to restaurants, bars, coffee shops and a park.  The youthful energy in Edley's today is palpable.  On the televisions in the bar, I can choose from the MLP Playoffs (Toronto - Kansas City) or a myriad of college football games (Michigan-Michigan Stae [the resurgence of UM with Jim Harbaugh at the helm]; Alabama-Texas A & M ['Bama is still 'Bama]; and OU-Kansas State.  Lots of couples, friends, football fans of various schools and a few families, eating a late lunch, drinking beer or just hanging out on the patio on a Saturday afternoon in 12South.

And me, with Joe, sitting at a table in the bar typing away on my iPad.

Sometime, many times, really I do love my life.  Now is one of those times.  I live in the hottest part of the "IT" city.  How lucky am I?

It's 2015, late in the year.  Beards are back in a big way.  Not just beards, but unkempt, out of control beards.  Craft beer is huge.  In middle Tennessee, anyway, everyone wants to live in the city, inside the perimeter.  Our neighborhood - Belmont/12South is teeming with activity.  On every block, there are houses being razed or renovated.  New restaurants or businesses are opening up every day.  It's unbelievable.

Jude is redecorating our house on Linden Avenue, room by room, slowly but surely.  I've got an estimate to hang new televisions, wire surround sound, re-cable the basement and improve our wifi capabilities, all of which should be done by the end of the month.  I'm working on screening in our back porch.  In short, it appears we're city mice for the long haul, which is completely fine by me.

It's a kick watching Spencer behind the bar at Edley's.  He spends most of his time at Edley's BBQ East (Nashville) these days, unlike the old days, when he was at Edley's BBQ in 12South almost every day.  He's the right kind of bartender - for me, anyway.  He can make any drink known to man, he's always in a good mood and he never forgets a name.  Most importantly, he'll have a drink with you late in his shift, must for a good bartender in my book.

So, back to my man, Joe.  He's at Children's House this fall, which is awesome.  Every day he comes home singing new songs and using new words.  Lately, he's starting saying things like "S-S-S-Snake. Snake starts with an S."  So cool.  I'm finishing my last year on the Board of Directors at Children's House, so I'm pretty tuned into what's going on there.  God, I love that place.  I'm so happy Joe is there, in Classroom B, with Ms. Michele and Ms. Tess.  At night, he talks about his new friends - Pike, Molly, Owen, Alp, Theo - the list goes on and on.  It's pretty special and I'm glad Joe is there five days a week.

I'm also happy Joe is with Carley for the afternoons on Tuesday and Thursday.  I wouldn't want it any other way.  Carley has been such an important part of J.P.'s and Joe's lives for so long.  That's an entire blog post in its own right, truly, but who much if who they are is who she is and that's fabulous.

Soon, in some ways, too soon, Joe will begin playing sports (baseball this spring), having play dates, then starting school presumably at USN.  And these special, quiet, contemplative afternoons will be gone, never to return except in the recesses of my memory.  Afternoons like this, a cacophony of voices and happy noises enveloping us in a warm, comforting cocoon in a bar where I call the bartenders my friends, where I can enjoy a respite from my busy life, drinking beer while Joe naps in the City Elite, they will fade away completely.  And I'll be sad, although I'll treasure these happy memories for the rest of my days.

First J.P., then Joe, and me, strolling through the neighborhood, destination Bongo Java, Frothy Monkey, Belmont U., Mafiozza's, 12South Tap Room, PM, Boulevard, Chago's Cantina, etc.  So many places, so many weekend afternoons, so my miles traveled, so many idyllic timeouts from the daily grind that is, at time, my life.  Just me and one of my boys, stopping or at least slowing down life for an hour or two.  Again, and again and again.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

On Death and Dying

I've been thinking about death and dying a lot lately, especially as seen through they the eyes of J.P., 7, and Joe, 3.

I wanted to organize my thoughts, so I could write a cogent post on the subject.  I don't think I'm there yet.

Tonight, when I got home with takeout food from Martin's Barbecue after J.P.'s baseball game, I could tell he was down.  I was a bit surprised, since he played well in the game and was fine when we left in separate cars a little while earlier.  When I asked him if anything was wrong, he started crying and said "I miss Great."  (J.P.'s Great Grandmother, Rita White, died on August 6, 2015).  He allowed me to pick him up, which is rare these days, and he laid his head on my shoulder and cried.  Joe sat in the floor behind us. playing Candyland, oblivious to what was going on.

I held J.P. and talked quietly to him while Jude bustled about the kitchen.  I told him part of having faith - and part of the reason why we were in church almost every Sunday - was that we believe that Great is in heaven.  She's with her husband, Jim, whom she missed dearly after he died.  And she's not sick and she's very, very happy.  I also told him she watched over him (and us) every day and that she was proud of him.

I believe that.  I have to and I really do.

At dinner when we eat at the table in the dining room, we always say a prayer before dinner.  It's the same prayer, kind of a "White family tradition."  Sometimes - actually most of the time lately, anyway - Joe adds his own prayer at the end.  He prays for Grandpa's back and legs to feel better, for Meemaw's back to feel better and for Great's head and back to feel better.  He blissfully ignorant when it comes to death, which is how it should be at age 3.

When Joe and I go to Bongo Java most mornings before I take him to Children's House, he sometimes looks for Fudgecake (the cat that inhabited the Bongo Java grounds and the establishments on Belmont Boulevard on both sides of Bongo Java for the past decade).  Fudgecake died recently, not too long after Great passed away, and I just haven't had the heart to tell Joe or, especially, J.P.  Lately, Joe is asking about Fudgecake less and less, which somehow makes me feel even worse about his death.

To top things off and because bad things always seem to come in threes, I stopped in our neighborhood Kroger a couple of weeks ago and while I was in line, asked about our friend, Eddie, who has been a fixture in that store since we moved here in 2002.  The cashier and the bagger looked at each other, then at me, and told me that Eddie was sick - cancer - and would not be coming back to work.  Eddie has been so great to J.P. and Joe over the years on their many, many trips to Kroger.  The boys adore him.  Shit, I adore him.

And now he's dying.

I told Jude about it and the boys made him a card and dropped it off at the service desk at Kroger.  I hope he got the card and I hope he remembers who the boys are and, most importantly, that he had a really impact on their lives.  His kindness and friendliness toward them was a small thing, but it was a  huge thing, too.  I haven't had the heart to tell them that Eddie is terminally ill and that he's not coming back to work.

Unlike Jude, I am kind of an expert at losing people you love - people to whom you're close - when you're very young.  The loss of my father when I was 5 or 6 (strange that I don't know exactly how old I was) marked me for life in ways seen and unseen.  I know that.  I also lost my grandfather, Robert Ussery, and my mom's sister, Ann Miles, while I was in elementary school.  That's heavy stuff for a young boy to go through.

I think - no, I know - that when you're young, like J.P., and someone you loves dies, you experience a profound loss of innocence.  That's what makes me the most sad, for him.  He's 7 years old and much like me at that age, he realizes that nothing lasts forever and that people die.  People he loves will die and there's nothing he can do about it.  Again, heavy stuff for a 7 year old.  He realizes, I think, on some level that nothing lasts forever and that life is impermanent and fleeting.  He probably couldn't verbalize that notion, but I think it's what he feels.  And I think it's why he started crying tonight and on a few occasions recently, thinking about Great and how much he misses her.

I wish there was some way I could shield him from that reality, some way I could protect him from the loss of innocence.  But there's not.      

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Return of the King(s)

It's Monday morning, Labor Day, and I'm enjoying the relative quietude at Bongo Java.  Jude and the boys are on their annual sojourn to Neptune Beach, Fl, to visit the Baines family.  I'm reflecting, just a bit, before I go the airport to pick them up in a couple of hours.

While I enjoyed the down time, I'm ready for them to get home.  A few moments ago, J.P. called as they were about to board the airplane for the return flight to Nashville.  "Dad," he said.  "When we get home, can we throw the baseball or go to the gym for a workout?"  Music to my ears.  "Of course," I responded.  One of the advantages, I think, of raising boys who aren't tethered to a screen (television, iPad, iPhone) is that want to "do" things instead of just "watching" things.  I want my boys to be participants in life, not merely observers.

Probably the highlight of my weekend, strangely enough, was finally finding the time to read Wright Thompson's wonderful, insightful long form piece on New Orleans ten years after Hurricane Katrina. Yesterday, after going to the office and working for most of the day, I sat in a quiet corner of the bar at Edley's, had a couple of beers (Oskar Blues Pinner Throwback IPA's) and read the entire article.  Amazing work and a perfect example of why Wright Thompson is one of the best writers working today.

The link to the story is here:

Yesterday morning, I ran 7 + miles on the trails at Shelby Bottoms.  I've been getting out there more lately, which has been nice.  Finally, I'm getting into a rhythm, I think, and finding some balance between work/family/running.  Getting up early, well before 6 a.m., and running has made a big difference.  It's funny, but running five days last week and getting 20 miles in is a big accomplishment when, a few years ago, that was my routine.

During my trail run, I listened to a fantastic "This American Life" podcast, "9 + 10."  Ira Glass and crew took a walking tour of the Lower Ninth Ward, ten years after Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it wrought.  By the end of the podcast, I was in tears as I listened to a recording of the reunion of two friends who hadn't seen each other in the decade since the flooding that followed the hurricane.  It was beautiful radio.

The link to the podcast is here:

All right, enough reflection.  It's time to stop by the house and head to the airport.  I want to hug my boys.


Friday, September 4, 2015

No Ordinary Joe

I'm sitting at Bongo Java, listening to a Trampled By Turtles playlist on Spotify, wondering how I got here.

In approximately 20 minutes, Jude will drop Joe off at Children's House for his first day of school.  And so it ends.  And so it begins.

Gone is the age of true innocence for Joe, when most of his days involved Carley, Maghan, Grandma and Grandpa and whatever it was that he wanted to do next.  Play in the sandbox, go for a walk, listen to Thomas the Train music, go the playground, call Jonny Love, go outside (at our Elliott Avenue house), take an nap, have some milk or snack or, more recently, play games (Candyland, Guess Who, War, Hullabuloo, etc.).  In essence, the world revolved around Joe, or so it seemed to him, anyway, at least during the day when J.P. was at school.

That all changes today.  While I love - and I mean LOVE - Children's House and all it provided for J.P. and will provide for Joe, I'm still sad that Joe has reached the end of a long line of seemingly endless days of living life in the safety of his own home are at an end.  The flip side, of course, is that starting this morning, the world is going to open up for him in a landscape of endless possibilities.  I take comfort in that, but still, I can't shake the nagging feeling that something will be lost this morning when he walks through the doors of the school.

I wonder what Joe will think - what he will feel - when Jude drops him off 15 minutes from now.  I have no idea, obviously, of the thoughts he's capable of forming or the emotions he's capable of feeling, beyond happiness, excitement, sadness, anger, fright, etc.  The basics.  I don't know how nuanced his ability to think and feel actually is at 3 1/2 years of age.

I do know, however, Joe is an extraordinary young boy.  He's so verbal, intelligent, funny, stubborn, shy at times, strong willed and athletic.  When he smiles and laughs - which is often - he literally lights up the room.  He has a vivid imagination.  He seems to have an inner sense of self confidence, although it's hard to put my finger on why I feel that way.  He loves sports, especially baseball.  I guess that's natural, since he's accompanied J.P. to virtually every practice or game he's had since the day he was born.

After today, Joe's life will be irrevocably changed.  Sure, he's gone a couple of days a week to play school at West End United Methodist Church the past year, but Children's House is different.  It's more structured.  There are rules.  There will be learning.  There will be lots of playground time.  And there will be lots of others children, his age and older (4 and 5).  He will be around the teachers and children in Classroom B almost every day for the next two years.  His world will expand to include Children's House and that will become a vital part of his life and development.  And I know that's a good thing.

(As an aside, I have to mention that "Alone" by Trampled by Turtles is playing right now.  That has always been Joe's favorite "Turtles" song, by far.  We have a video of him singing along to that song, in my truck, a couple of  years ago as we left Gentry Farm on a glorious fall Saturday).

He's ready, I think.  I'm waiting on the call from Jude any minute now, so she can give me a full report on how Joe did at the dropoff.  Will he cry?  Will he not want to get out of the car?  Or will he hop right out and walk inside on his own, not looking back, like J.P. did four years ago?  I was the one that cried that day, actually.

God blessed me with a second son when I least expected it.  And now, today, I'm blessed again as Joe takes an important step in his life's walk to wherever it is that he's going.  It's an honor and a privilege to be along of the ride.  

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.