Tuesday, May 31, 2016
I spent the morning at the kids' school, volunteering as a hall monitor on the Lower El floor during end-of-grade tests. My main task was making sure kids were only in the bathroom one at a time. To say I'm not a fan of high-stakes testing is a bit of an understatement, but I was thankful for the opportunity to help just a little bit during what is undoubtedly a very important, stressful week. As I often do when at the school, I found myself very impressed with and grateful for the staff and how they support the students. I used my spot in a chair at the end of this particular hall to say silent prayers for and send loving thoughts towards the students and staff I encountered.
Monday, May 30, 2016
Evan and I got an unexpected evening out when T wasn't well enough for his baseball game and Lauren decided to stay with him and Allison. Evan played a good game against a tough team in his league, then we stayed to watch T's team win, in part because Evan wanted to be sure T knew how his team did without him. I'm thankful for time one-on-one with Evan. We talk a lot, listen to music only we like, and laugh a lot.
Sunday, May 29, 2016
This holiday weekend is unfolding a bit unexpectedly. Tobin came home from school on Friday afternoon and stretched out on the couch, complaining of fatigue. He rested, opted for yogurt over pizza for dinner and fell asleep with a fever around 7pm. Fortunately our pediatrician has sick hours from 8am to noon on Saturdays, so I was able to get him an appointment, which confirmed our suspicions: he had strep throat. I'm always ambivalent about a strep diagnosis. It makes him feel so miserable and can be very contagious, but the antibiotics usually do the trick and he starts to feel better in about 48 hours. The certainty of treatment is slightly better than the unpredictability of waiting out a virus.
Yesterday, we missed out on a friend's birthday party and Tobin's baseball practice. Today, we were planning to have some neighbors over for a cook-out. I canceled it once I knew T was sick, figuring the best thing to do was kinda quarantine ourselves since I'm not sure if the other kids have been exposed to strep. So our planned time with neighbors has turned into a lot of just-us time. As it turns out, today's rain probably would have made us have to grill out in the car port anyway.
Violating our self-imposed quarantine, Lauren and I went to church this morning. I was thinking I may just go on my own, leaving Matt home with the kids. But Lauren immediately wanted to tag along, declaring it would be a "special girls trip." I couldn't turn that down. She especially loves the children's worship class she leaves the service for, but they take a break from that during the summer. I had to console her a bit about staying in church for the whole service, but she eventually settled into mostly-quiet (It's so hard for her to do anything without chatting.) drawing and rendered the above masterpiece. After the service, we had a lovely chat with her children's worship teacher and the children's minister. Because of a string of a travel, illness and/or weekend busyness, we hadn't been to church in more than a month. I found myself very touched that we had apparently been missed.
We're home now, stuck inside because of the rain, but Tobin's feeling better and we have a scaled-back cook-out planned for just us. I suppose that today I find myself grateful for a long weekend together, even if it's quite a bit quieter than we planned.
Saturday, May 28, 2016
This morning, Ev and Lauren were playing together and argued (surprise) about the rules of the game they were playing. Then Evan suggested "Let's ask Tobin; he knows everything." Lauren agreed, and Tobin settled the matter from his place under a blanket on the couch.
Both Ev and Lauren have been really sweet to T, especially since he's pretty listless and pitiful. I'm thankful for the obvious love my kids have for each other, and for the reminder today has brought about how they feel about each other deep underneath their minor (ok, sometimes major) squabbles.
Friday, May 27, 2016
Thursday, May 26, 2016
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Monday, May 23, 2016
Sunday, May 22, 2016
Saturday, May 21, 2016
Friday, May 20, 2016
Thursday, May 19, 2016
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Today you turn ten years old. You’ll have to give me a moment, while I steady myself, because it has gone by so fast . . . and yet it feels like I have always been your mom. When I first met you--after a routine pregnancy, labor and delivery--you were bundled in a blanket with a little hat on your head. You were quiet and wide-eyed. And perfect. In some sense, you will always be that bright-eyed baby to me. I can’t hold you and protect you like I could back then, but that doesn’t mean I won’t spend the rest of my life trying to do so--hopefully in ways that also give you the freedom and courage to become who you truly are.
So this letter is a little different. In past years, I’ve just written a post about you on each birthday. But this year, it feels right to write to you. I’m aware of your increasing maturity and curiosity and know that some day very soon you might be interested in reading this blog. I also hope that writing to you helps me think more considerately about what I write about you.
Just as this is a milestone birthday--a whole decade in the books--this has been a milestone year for you. You started the fourth grade, which at your school means you moved out of the first-through-third-grade class you’d been in for three wonderful years and entered a new class with a new teacher and mostly new friends. I am thankful in particular for one familiar face in your class, your friend Oskar. The two of you have been together in class since first grade and will finish your time in elementary school in the same class. You have a number of friends, but it seems that Oskar is special to you and I know he adores you. I feel grateful that you have a friendship like this.
You have handled most transitions really well. You are brave and kind and willing to try new things, even if you’re not sure about them. I think about you starting soccer and baseball at the tender age of four. And starting a new school in the first grade. But fourth grade felt a little different, kind of a bigger deal, and maybe not as easy of a transition. Your new teacher, like your previous teacher, is really great. He is, however, very different from your last teacher, and I think getting to know him and adjusting to his classroom expectations caused you some anxiety. I could sense it and see it in those first few weeks of school when you seemed apprehensive at the start of each school day. Through it all, we tried to talk to you about it, but I think it was hard for you to articulate your anxiety other than to just say you were nervous.
Proving what a caring person he is, your teacher kept checking in with me about how you were doing. In one of those conversations, he remarked about how “shy” you were. I’ll admit I had always thought of you as quiet and reserved, but I had never used the label “shy.” I pondered this for a while and began to think about how your easy-going personality, positive demeanor and considerate behavior may have masked how truly introverted you are. I realized then that some of your school anxiety may have revolved also around being with a largely-unfamiliar group of fellow students. Thinking about this helped me further understand how incredibly brave you are. I don’t doubt that getting to know new people is especially hard for you, but you’ve always been willing to do it.
We have certainly watched much of your anxiety ease as you’ve grown more comfortable and confident in your classroom. Again, I give a lot of credit to your teacher because he really emphasizes that your classroom is a community--and tailors his expectations and lesson plans accordingly. I also think you deserve so much credit for showing up, even when it was hard, and being willing to learn and grow. As you become more self-aware, you might be better able to describe when and why you are anxious, but what I want you to know is that I love you because of who you are--just as you are.
This is important for me to say because you are very good at many things. You are a model student. Your classroom and other teachers marvel at your aptitude and compliment your kind, considerate personality. You are a good big brother. I think life with two younger siblings is teaching you a lot about patience and mercy. I know learning these things hasn't always been easy or seemed "fair," but I hope when you're not annoyed by Evan and Lauren, you can see how much they adore and admire you. You are skilled in the team sports you play--baseball and soccer--and even have a knack for shooting the basketball, which you just play casually in our drive-way or on the school playground. You are an avid reader. You tear through books and are even reading books your dad also likes to read and discuss with you. This year that's been TWO five-book Rick Riordan series. You are a passionate, informed sports fan, which your dad and I particularly love. It's especially fun to talk to you about the NFL and college hoops. And watching games with you--even our favorite team's Super Bowl loss and UNC's NCAA championship loss--has made for poignant memories this year. And I'll add here that this spring's baseball season has been really joyful. Your team is well-coached, skilled and, currently, undefeated. We've always emphasized that winning isn't everything, and you've taken that to heart quite well. But it's also true that winning can be a lot of fun. I couldn't be happier that you're having so much fun.
But in describing all these things you do really well and all the ways you make me proud, I want you to also understand that none of it makes me love you any more or less. My love was solidified the moment I laid eyes on you, ten years ago today. My hope and prayer is that you will move forward into your second decade knowing just that: you will never have to earn my love. You’ve got it--always.
Your first decade has been the most important decade of my life. Thank you, sweet son. You have been my greatest teacher. I look forward to watching you continue to learn about yourself and life, buoyed by love.
I've been reading old posts about him (and all of us) for a few days.
So today I find myself thankful for Tobin, for Allison's careful and loving writing about him, and for the love he has received from so many since the day he was born.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
I've recently accepted positions with two different leadership groups at the kids' school. These will ramp up next year, but things already feel busy as we wrap up this year and look forward to the next. After a meeting last night in which we had some difficult discussions related to our school's diversity, I was and am feeling a bit exhausted and intimidated by what I'm taking on next year.
That said, I've been grateful to use my thinking and writing skills related to these projects in ways I haven't always had the opportunity to as a full-time stay-home parent. I was also reminded this morning as I chaperoned Lauren's field trip to the Eno River State Park about how much I love this school. The outing was a bit chaotic because the students were all pre-K and kindergarten students, who have a very special energy. Also, it was intermittently pouring down rain as we rotated our groups from site to site, most providing at least partial cover. We ended the field trip in a picnic shelter, where the students ate packed lunches. I was opening water bottles and bags of chips and asking kids to stay seated...or at least not touch each other. It was kinda crazy but also really sweet. I'm always impressed, even in situations like this, how the teachers, supported by helpful parent chaperones, calmly corral and redirect the kids. It's quite literally a partnership in action with teachers and parents--a partnership I'm very thankful to be part of.
Monday, May 16, 2016
Much of my identity growing up was tied to being a baseball player. It was the thing that was my own--my dad was a musician like me. Sarah was my equal in school and at church. We all sang in choir and liked to read books and watch Star Wars movies. But baseball always felt uniquely mine.
An extension of it being mine was the unique path that it gave me to people in my life. One of my favorite parts of coaching was calling my Papa after games and letting him now how my teams were doing. As a kid, I remember him always being up for a game of catch when we visited in the summers--even after he had worked all day in the sun. I loved his stories about playing catcher for his town's team as a younger man. He and I led radically different lives, but we shared baseball.
The first time I remember hearing my dad cuss was at a baseball game. I was in high school. I don't remember the game, the opponent, the score, or anything. But I remember my dad yelled "That's bullshit!" from behind the backstop while I was pitching. I was proud: my ordained-minister dad who didn't really play ball, and who always seemed the definition of poise, was into my game to such an extent that he swore at an umpire. And I knew he wasn't doing it because of his passion for the capital-B-game-of-Baseball--it was for me. It's silly that I would have such a fond memory of something that I'm sure he wouldn't have been proud of, but it meant, and still means, a lot.
When Allison and I met, part of our shared interests was a love for baseball. Some of my earliest memories of her revolve around the baseball playoffs of 1995 -- how could I have known those would be the seeds of the most important relationship of my life? We got to watch the Braves win the World Series together. We watched games together, made sure to catch SportsCenter together, and years later made a traffic-snarled trip to Atlanta to see the Braves eliminate the Mets in the playoffs. I liked to tease her that David Justice, one of her favorite players, was the reason I stopped following the Braves (and really, how do you release Dale Murphy for a rookie anyway?).
I started coaching during a difficult first year of teaching. Hitting fly balls and running drills was a means of making positive connections with students I wasn't encountering in my remedial Freshman English classes. It was a means of meeting new friends and colleagues when I changed schools when we moved to Durham. Two days before Tobin was born, we lost in the state playoffs to a team from Raleigh that had no business beating us. Baseball faded a bit from my mind for a while.
The fall after Tobin was born, I would pick him up after school at his daycare. It was a nice daycare, but I could never get there early enough. I wanted to spend all my time after school with him. So, when it was time to start pre-season workouts for baseball, I knew my heart just wasn't going to be in it. I wanted to be with Tobin as much as possible, and part of me resented the time I wasn't spending learning how to be a dad. I've worked with a lot of coaches who do a good job of balancing the demands of family and their sports, but more than a few warned me against sacrificing family in favor of the team. That advice rang true for me. But as a dad who loves to play all the time, baseball was destined to be part of my role as a dad.
Now my boys are baseball players. Evan plays with an enthusiasm and emotion that drives him to lift teammates in hugs in the dugout and blink away tears when he grounds out. No play is impossible in his mind--he'll come up throwing from left field in hopes of getting a long-distance put-out at first (we'll work on the fundamentals later). Also fitting his personality, Tobin plays with a calculated approach. His enthusiasm usually manifests as a fist-pump or a high five with a teammate. In a game last week, he was playing right field. With a runner on first, the batter shot an apparent single through the infield to him. His coaches yelled "TWO! TWO!" thinking, rightly, that the single was ceded and the runner needed to be held at second. Tobin came up throwing to first, and forced out a surprised runner there. An equally surprised runner stayed at second base, awaiting a throw that had recorded the out behind him. The team's coaches cheered T's on-the-fly decision. I asked Tobin about it after the game, and he said "Well, the runner was going to make it to second, but I saw the batter was going slower to first. So I decided to get him out." Just that matter-of-fact.
Lauren makes friends with kids and skitters around in an irregular orbit at the boys' games. She'll appear briefly at the dugout or on the bleachers to yell encouragements, then disappear to work with other little brothers and sisters on rock collections, clover necklaces, or other diversions. I hope she'll decide to play on a team when she's a little older, but even if she doesn't, she has made the baseball field her own. All five of us find our own roles at the baseball field.
It's only fitting that 10 years out of coaching, and just under 10 years of parenting, and almost 16 years of marriage that baseball feels sometimes like the constant. I'm thankful for baseball, and its place as the intersection of so many of the blessings of my life.
Sunday, May 15, 2016
We are wrapping up a lovely weekend around here. We're a little sad because Ashley just left us to go home to Atlanta. But my heart is full of gratitude for memories made: spending the day with Ash on Friday, introducing her to Locopops with the kids after school, watching two baseball games including Tobin's exciting comeback win yesterday, hanging out with our neighbors in the evenings, enjoying conversation and laughs after the kids were in bed and even squeezing in a backyard kickball game this morning before she left. We all agree: we wish we lived closer. Until then, we will treasure these joyful times when we do get to be together.
Saturday, May 14, 2016
Friday, May 13, 2016
Thursday, May 12, 2016
I have a minor cold right now. I'll admit I'm a bit of a whiner when I feel a little under the weather. Allison stopped by with chicken soup and Tabasco as a surprise for me at lunch. I'm thankful for a wife who puts up with my whining and makes me feel better.
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Monday, May 09, 2016
Sunday, May 08, 2016
The kids were excited to be part of our Mother's Day planning. They helped make breakfast (blueberry muffins, monkey bread, and scrambled eggs), made cards and gave gifts, then were their normal, periodically combative-but-mostly-sweet selves for the rest of the day.
In a roundabout way, Allison's motherhood was the beginning of this blog almost 10 years ago. I've been flooded with memories as we've tried to celebrate her today. I've loved learning how to be a husband and a dad with Allison for what feels like most of my life.
Saturday, May 07, 2016
My daily 12:34 alarm went off as I was en route to the ball park. Incredibly, because of rain-outs, I hadn't been there since last Saturday. Today was our little league's annual fundraiser, Battle of the Bats, so we had two games plus two Battle of the Bats 10-pitch at-bats. All of that meant I arrived at the field at 12:30 and didn't leave until 8:15. I'm tired and thankful. I got to watch both boys win their games. Tobin almost turned a double-play at third. Evan, on the third try, threw a force-out at home while playing pitcher. I love watching them play, how engaged and kind their coaches are, and each boys' persistence in trying to do what they've been coached to do.
Friday, May 06, 2016
Thursday, May 05, 2016
Today is my sister Ashley's birthday, so my thoughts and feelings of gratitude are especially focused on her. This picture was taken at one of my bridal showers--nearly 16 years ago. It's one of my favorite pictures of the two of us. About a month later she would stand beside me as my maid of honor.
Though we live about 400 miles apart, she's still standing beside me--always offering love, laughter and support via phone calls or texts. She's physically been there for so many happy times, visiting her nephews and niece only hours after their births. I remember especially that for Tobin's birth, she was our first family to make it into town, arriving before he was even a day old. She makes frequent visits throughout the year to spend weekends with us. In fact, she'll be in town next weekend to watch the boys' baseball games. The kids adore her and always have so much fun with her.
Ash has also been with me through the hard times, especially three years ago as I went through chemo and surgery. I remember one of my last chemo treatments, we had someone else scheduled to help out but they ended up having an emergency of their own, so she dropped everything: got off work, drove from Atlanta and stayed with us for a few days.
I was thinking about how thankful I am to have grown up with her. And then it occurred to me, we are still "growing up" together. Part of our growing-up story over the past couple years has been loving Ashley and her husband Donnie through their unexpectedly difficult journey to become parents. Ashley has bravely shared about that journey on her own blog. Today, on her birthday, I hope that each of you reading this will pray for Ashley and Donnie and the baby that will be theirs one day. And please also pray for them as they experience what they're going through now: waiting and hoping--all with some heartache.
My greatest hope for her is that today--and always--she will feel the love and realize the joy she brings to all who know her.
Wednesday, May 04, 2016
Tuesday, May 03, 2016
This week, we're observing Teacher Appreciation Week at the kids' school. Our PTA does a great job suggesting things to do each day to show our gratitude. I love this week every year, because it is such an intentional, communal expression of thanks for some very loving, hard-working people.
Last week, Evan missed writing in his journal (his assignment is two sentences in response to the book he read that night) on a particularly busy evening. On that day--which happened to be an early-release from school--Evan went home with a friend for a play date. We picked him up and went straight to dinner out with a friend. We had a lovely time at dinner at this place that has a patio and yard, where the kids could play, while we lingered over dinner and drinks with our friends. But by the time we arrived home, it was past bedtime so I let Ev skip his homework. On Friday, when he turns in his journal for his teacher to check, he was worried about that missing assignment, so I wrote Mrs. Zopfi a note with assurances that it was probably okay.
You can see above the note she wrote him back. He read it, smiled and proudly hung it on the wall next to his bed. This sweet interaction is just one of many that has happened with my kids and their wonderful teachers--showing the mutual love and respect they share with each other. I am so grateful for teachers everywhere, but particularly Lauren's Mrs. Hawkins and Mr. Alexander; Evan's Mrs. Zopfi and Mr. Hawkins (adorably married to Lala's teacher); and Tobin's Mr. Rogers.
Monday, May 02, 2016
Sunday, May 01, 2016
Indeed his brother and sister were themselves a bit unsettled when Tobin wasn't around at bedtime. We decided to make the night fun for them and allow Lauren to sleep on Ev's bottom bunk and Ev, on Tobin's top bunk. Lala slept great, but Evan had a nightmare and ended up in our bed. When I kicked him out of our bed around 7am for being fidgety and obviously awake for the day, he went to Lauren's bed and snuggled with her. Lala said they told knock-knock jokes like this--undoubtedly a Lala original:
Knock, knock.As I set out blueberry muffins for Evan and Lauren's breakfast, Lauren exclaimed, "But what about Tobin?!?" I reminded her that he was still at Oskar's. She asked, "How is he gonna have breakfast?" I explained that he would eat breakfast over there. About an hour later, I brought Tobin home, happily wearing his homemade Camp Half-Blood T-shirt and necklace, and chatting about the fun he had. We found out he had waffles and cantaloupe for breakfast.
CHICKEN POOPED ON YOU!
I tell this story with gratitude for the closeness of my little family. While the kids certainly argue and annoy each other while they're together, they definitely seemed to miss each other when apart--even if just for a one-night sleepover. I'm also grateful for their friends and the inspiration to do fun, brave, new things . . . even if Tobin said maybe next time he'd prefer his friends sleep over at his house.