Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Stop Moving My Cheese

I don't handle change well.  Never have, probably never will.  And right now, there's a maelstrom of change in my life.

This morning at breakfast, J.P. reminded me it was his second to last full day of kindergarten.  His first year of school, gone in a flash.  Mind boggling.  Although he tells me the school year has gone by quickly for him, I guarantee it hasn't gone by as quickly for him as it has for me.  His first summer as a school aged child is upon us, which means it time for camps, camps and more camps.

Yesterday before I took Joe to play school at West End United Methodist Church, we watched an episode of "Super Why" on PBS.  He's moved on, almost completely, from "Sid the Science Kid" (my all time favorite) and seems to be losing a bit of interest in "Curious George," previously a morning television staple of his.  I had yet to watch "Super Why" with him, so when I did, it brought back vivid memories of watching "Super Why" with J.P.  As Yogi Berra once said, it was "deja vu all over again."  It makes me a little sad to see Joe moving on from "Sid the Science Kid" and "Curious George," only because it's a sign of how quickly he's changing and growing up.  Having been through this with J.P., I know how fast things change and how powerless I am to stop it.

Then, of course, there's the inexorable march toward May 30, when we leave our Elliott Avenue house forever.  We closed the sale of house on Friday, so technically we're not the owners anymore.  I'm ignoring that salient fact, however, and trying to enjoy the last, lingering days we'll spend there.  It's the end of an era, for sure, and the end of such an important and special time in my life.

As I walked up the street approaching the house last night, having just completed a 4 mile run, I was struck by how beautiful the tree - my favorite stately old maple tree - dominating the front y are is this spring.  Thanks to all of the rain we've had this spring, the tree has exploded with large, green leaves.  The house is almost completely hidden from the street by the low hanging branches of the tree, which we always liked.  Strangely, it gives the house a secluded feel, especially at night.

It will be a banner fall for the Leaf Party - a party we're not going to be able to host at our Elliott Avenue house, after more than a decade of doing so.  And that makes me sad, too.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Freaky Friday

I just dropped J.P. off at school for his last Friday of the year.  As we drove to USN, he and I marveled at how quickly his kindergarten year had passed by.  I was glad to have a last chance to take him to school this morning, because Jude normally drops him off.  I feel more connected to USN when I take him to school every now and then.

He's a great first year at USN.  Great teacher, great friends and most importantly, great learning.  One day, early on, he came home and starting reading to Jude and me.  I realize he already was reading some, but it just sort of happened that all of a sudden, he was reading.  On of the true pleasures, for me, of his kindergarten year has been listening to him read a book to me each night, then signing the sheet in his book folder as the "lucky listener."  Lucky indeed.

This year marked the Centennial Celebration at USN, the school's 100th birthday.  There have a been a variety of events we have attended with J.P. and Joe.  Still, I haven't felt as connected as I am sure I will be in years to come.  I think it's because Jude normally takes him to school and picks him up, as well.  Also, I've been so busy with other volunteer activities and boards (Children's House and 21st Drug Court) that I haven't found the time to get involved at USN.  My style, though, is too ease into these types of things, so I suspect I'll get more involved next year and in the years to come.

When school ends next week, J.P will head off to a variety of camps throughout the summer.  Sports camps at USN and MBA, Zoo camp and Camp Whippoorwill.  It makes me a little sad, sometimes, to see him shuffled off to so many camps every summer, although it's unavoidable given Jude's and my work schedules.  I seem to remember my summers were lazier and longer lasting, made up of backyard playing, fort building in the woods, Monopoly marathons and trips to Opryland.  J.P. doesn't have that luxury, unfortunately.  

I could sit here at Bongo Java forever on such a beautiful spring morning, but I can't.  It's off to work (mediation) and then, hopefully, to the closing of the sale of our house on Elliott Avenue later this morning.  Big day.

J.P. and his kindergarten buddy, Cecil, at USN.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

All Good Things Must Come to an End

And so, it seems, all good things must come to an end, including our time at 1906 Elliott Avenue, where I've laid my head almost every night for the past 12 1/2 years.

Tomorrow, if all goes according to plan, someone else will own my old, beloved Nashville house.  And it absolutely breaks my heart.

I'm working on a longer piece about our impending move, which isn't scheduled to happen for two more weeks.  I'd be remiss, though, if I didn't write something tonight as I sit on my front porch listening to My Morning Jacket (Tennessee Fire), sipping a beer after a 3-mile night run in the 'hood.  How many nights have I sat on this front porch and unwound after a busy day with work and kids, followed by a relaxing night run and a walk home from Bongo Java?  Too many to count.

I've deliberately shied away from writing about a possible move, for a couple of reasons.  First, it's been such an arduous process, looking at house after house, then trying to close the deal on the house we signed a contract to buy.  Second, I've been trying to work out in my head why I'm so sad to leave this house and what a move will mean to me and my family.

It helps that we're moving less than a mile away.  Still, it won't be the same.  It never is.  I'll miss this house and this neighborhood so much.  It's been such an important part of my identity for more than decade.  I'm grown to love living in the city - the diversity, the characters, the sirens, the police of Lifeflight helicopters, the sidewalks, the edginess - that and so much more.  I've become a city mouse, for sure.

And it all comes to and end tomorrow, at least in this house.  The distance between this house and our new house can't be measured in feet, yards or miles.  It's a whole different world there, I fear.  No diversity, bigger and more expensive houses and a neighborhood where everyone looks and acts alike.  I'll adapt and the move will be great for my family, but it won't be the same as what we have here on Elliott Avenue.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, I realize, but damn, it makes me sad to leave this house.

I've never been one to handle change well.  I'm often paralyzed by nostalgia, looking back instead of ahead.  So many memories in this house, especially of our boys, J.P. and Joe.

I'm fairly certain I'll never love a house as much as I love this one, for a variety of reasons.



Sunday, May 3, 2015

Tinkers to Evers to Chance

It doesn't get much better, as a father, than to coach your 7 year old son and watch him make a play at second base in the bottom of last inning to win the game.

Today, my boys, the Dodgers, played the Giants in our 7-8 year old WNSL machine pitch baseball league.  To say I love coaching baseball is an understatement.  What I love most of all, though, is coaching the boys on my team, most of whom have played together since they were 4  years old.  To watch J.P. interact with his teammates, especially after games, and to forge the kind of friendships born of competing together on the baseball field or basketball court is so rewarding.

Our game today was nip and tuck, close all of the way to the end.  We were visitors and took an 8-6 lead in to the bottom of the last inning.  I put our best defense in the infield, Jaxyn at 3rd base, Benton at shortstop, J.P. at second base, Winn at first base and Wes at pitcher.  The Giant has their 8, 9 and 10 batters coming up, so I thought we were in pretty good shape.

The #8 batter hit a high hopper to the right side of the infield, right at J.P.  It was a tough play, but J.P. timed it perfectly, fielded it cleanly and threw to Winn at first base for the first out of the inning.  "That's it, I thought.  The #9 and #10 hitters are going to strike out and we'll win by two runs."

The #9 hitter swung and missed at the first two pitches, then somehow managed to punch the third pitch slowly up the middle.  Wes stepped up to make the play and was getting in position to field the ball, when it hit the pitching machine.  By rule, that's a dead ball and the runner was awarded first base.  "Trouble," I thought.  "They're going to get back to the top of the lineup."

Sure enough, the #10 batter struck out, bringing to the plate the leadoff hitter.  He promptly singled, which put runner on first and second base, with the Giants' best hitter, a lefty named Maston, strode to the plate.

Maston is the Giants' best hitter by far and one of my all-time favorite kids.  I coached him in the fall and he blossomed into a first rate baseball player.  Anyway, he's a dead pull hitter and he already had two hits in our game.  I moved Winn close to the bag at first base to guard the line and shifted J.P way over toward first base.  Then, I shifted Benton to his left from shortstop, almost all the way to second base.  It was a modified version of the "David Ortiz shift," employed by most of the Red Sox opponents.

Sure enough, Maston hit a ball right at J.P.  It was hit hard, but J.P. missed it and it rolled into the outfield, between our right and right-center fielders.  One run scored, a runner advance from first to third base, and Maston ended up on second base.  That left us with two outs, runners on second and third base and a one run lead, with the #3 hitter coming up.  The last time up, he hit a ball to the fence in left field for a triple.  "It's over," I thought.

On the first or second pitch, the #3 hitter hit a hard ground ball right at J.P.  He fielded in cleanly, turned a fired the ball to Winn, who caught it for the third out.  Game over.

As our players ran in toward the dugout, cheering, I ran onto the field, picked J.P. up and lifted him over my head.  "You did it!" I shouted as he smiled and laughed.  His teammates were excited to have won such a close game.  We lined up behind Brennan, shook the hands of the Giants and ran to right filed for our post-game meeting.  I told the boys how proud I was of them as they sat looking up at me, grinning and talking.  We stacked it up, yelled "2-0!" (our record for the weekend) and left the field together.

I've coached a lot of J.P.'s games over the last 3-4 years.  Soccer games, basketball games and many, many baseball games.  Today's game, though, was my favorite.  To watch J.P. miss a ball he maybe should have caught, keep his chin up, then make a tough play at second base to win the game - well, it really doesn't get any better than that.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Stopping to Smell the Roses

It goes without saying - in this the era of #hashtags, iPhones and Wifi - that it's difficult (for me, anyway) to take a few minutes to power down into neutral and simply relax.  To a certain extent, I guess that's what I do when I go for a run.  Still, between family responsibilities, buying a new house and work, it's Go! Go! Go!, all of the time.  At least, that's what it feels like to me.

Thursday morning before work, I was rushing around the house, trying to get ready for an 8 a.m. board meeting at Children's House.  I had been in trial until almost 7 p.m. Wednesday evening, so I was mentally exhausted anyway.  Jude already had left to take J.P. to school and I was trying to keep Joe entertained while I shaved and got dressed.  I decided to let him play with J.P.'s iPad so I could keep him occupied for about 10 minutes. 

As I was getting dressed, lost in thought about what I had to get done that day and where I had to be, I heard a voice say, "Daddy?"  I looked down and there was Joe, staring innocently up at me.  "Daddy, I need to go potty." he said.   I smiled at him, powered down, and said, "sure, Joe, let's do that."  And we did.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Lucky Seven

I'm sitting at "J.P.'s table" in the back room at Bongo Java on Good Friday, gazing out the window with a view of the back alley and houses behind Belmont Boulevard.  The Belmont students are gone for Easter weekend, so it's unusually quiet this morning.  I like it that way, at least for a while.  They'll be back soon enough and Bongo Java will be abuzz with activity every morning as the students begin the push to the end of spring semester and final exams.

The cycle of (college) life.  It's reassuring and somehow comforting for a person, like me, who doesn't look too fondly upon change.

This morning (and lately), I've been listening to James McMurtry's new album - "Complicated Game."  Although I'm far from an unbiased observer, I think it's his best in years.  So many well written songs.  Today I'm listening to Copper Canteen.  I don't know why, but I think music in general sounds better played through ear buds/headphones.  Just music, no noise.


J.P. turned seven years old last Saturday.  It's hard for me to fathom that seven years have come and gone.  The thing that has surprised me the most about being a parent, I think, is how quickly time passes.  It's like I'm a passenger on some kind of high speed bullet train headed toward my final destination with life unfolding outside the windows before my very eyes.  The train stops occasionally, but for the most part, it just keeps running faster and faster.  It's an exhilarating and scary feeling.

J.P.'s growing up and maturing so quickly.  He's getting taller and leaner.  When I check on him at night before I go to bed, he looks like a teenager laying in bed, legs and arms tangled with the covers.  Gone almost with a trace are the whiny days (not gone totally, because Joe has taken up temporary residence in "Whiny Town.")  He and I talk about sports, watch sports and play sports.  He reads to Jude or me - books from school - every night or every morning.  When Joe throws a fit, he just looks at Jude and me, a half smile on his face, and nods knowingly.

Friday evening, we had a party for J.P., for family only, at Richland Place, the assisting living facility where "Great" (Jude's grandmother, Rita White) has been staying for the past few weeks.  J.P. wanted to order pizzas from Domino's for some reason, so that's what we did.  One hour and twenty minutes after I placed the order, the pizzas arrive.  This, after the person who took my order over the telephone informed me that "we haven't had a 30 minute delivery guarantee since 1993."  Truer words have never been spoken.  That notwithstanding, we had a great time, especially since the boys had plenty of room to run around after eating cupcakes.

Saturday, J.P. had a baseball game.  Later, we went to Chago's Cantina for dinner, after we couldn't get into Taqueria del Sol, his first choice.  And we watched a lot of NCAA tourney basketball.

Sunday was close to a perfect day.  Rather than have a traditional birthday party, J.P. had told us he wanted to have breakfast at Bongo Java with 4-5 of his friends, which is exactly what we did.  E.J., our friend and the manager at Bongo Java, reserved the upstairs alcove ("my office") for us and we decorated it before the boys arrived.  We ordered lots of food for J.P., Calhoun, Cecil, Aiden and J.D., all friends from school.  We sat in the back room, underneath the alcove, where could hear the  boys while giving them some space.

After breakfast, we walked across the street to soccer field (actually just green space now) at Belmont U.  For an hour and half or so, the boys played in the new fountain, played football and threw the Frisbee.  Finally, we settled into a spirited kickball game, dads (and Jon Meade) against the boys.  It was cool to watch the boys interact with each other and to spend some time with Jeff and Giles, Calhoun's and Cecil's fathers.  And, as always, Jon Meade, was the best.  He's naturally gifted when it comes to interacting with children and literally one of the best people I know.

That afternoon, Jude, Joe, J.P. and I went the Predators-Flames game to top off a perfect birthday weekend.

As I've told J.P. a few times lately, if God had asked me seven plus years ago to describe for Him what I was looking for in my firstborn son, I would have described J.P. 

J.P, as you turn seven, and continue to grow and develop into the young man you're going to become, know that your dad is proud of you and loves your more than life itself. 

Happy birthday, son. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Basketball Jones

Today, J.P. played in the final basketball game of the season or, actually, seasons.  Before Christmas, he played in a league at First Presbyterian Church.  After Christmas, he played in a WNSL league, in which the games were played at the Eachen Elementary School gymnasium.  This weekend, Friday - Sunday, his WNSL team ("the Dores") played in the "March Madness" tournament through WNSL. 

With one exception, the same group of boys played on both teams.  Great, great boys and great parents, but more on that later.

The First Presbyterian league was less intense than the WNSL league.  Although the boys lost one game in the First Presbyterian League and went undefeated in the WNSL league (there was one tie), the WNSL League suited them better and was a more competitive basketball league.  The rules were enforced more rigidly in the WNSL league and for that reason, I think the boys learned more about the game. 

Because we ran the table in the WNSL league, the Dores were moved up from the "Silver" division to the "Gold" division for the "March Madness" tournament.  As a result, they struggled in all 4 games, the closest being a 13-4 loss Friday night.  In both games Saturday (10 a.m. and 8 p.m.) and in the game this morning (11 a.m.), they were "boat raced."  The reality, though, is that they were playing against all-star/travel teams in every game.  In truth, the Dores are a Recreation League team, made up of friends, not players selected solely on ability.  I was proud of J.P. and all of the boys, as they played hard and never gave up.

The WNSL league and the tournament were especially good for J.P.  He played tougher and more aggressively than he has at any time in the past.  In the tournament, he was probably the youngest boy on the court at all times (most of the boys were 7 years old).  Still, he scrapped, dove on the floor after loose balls, got knocked down and even shoved a kid Saturday evening (which I liked).  I saw toughness out of J.P. that I haven't necessarily seen in other sports up and until now and I think that bodes well for him. 

Like me (and his mother), J.P. is never going to be the biggest, fastest or most athletic kid on the team.  He's got good hand/eye coordination, also like me (and his mother).  Because he likely won't be as athletic as others, he's going to have to play harder and tougher than other kids.  I think he has that in him and it excites me to see it develop. 

Like yesterday, I remember him at the age of 3, in the backyard, trying to hit a plastic baseball off a plastic tee.  When he missed, he slammed the bat down, kicked the over the picked up the tee and slammed it down.  Jude and I laughed uproariously, which made J.P. even madder.  When I recounted that story to a friend of mine, he correctly pointed out that, as a parent, you can control and mold that type of competitiveness, the "want to," if you will.  But you can't put it in a child, if it's not already there.  J.P. has that fire, that competitive spirit, which is something I love about him.

Basketball (First Presbyterian and WNSL) was the first sport he has played that I haven't coached.  It was really good for him to be coached by someone else.  He learned so much from his coaches, Chris Taylor and Russ Allen.  He responded to their instruction, he played hard and most importantly, he had fun.  On a personal level, I enjoyed watching him and not coaching him.  It was less stressful for me and I could devote all of my attention to watching him, which was nice.

I won't forget the thrill I felt in our second or third WNSL game, when two times in a row, he brought the ball up the court and drove down the right side of the lane straight to the basket.  I elbowed my mom as he hit a layup, my heart filled with pride.  It was awesome.

Now, it's on to baseball.