Our Daughter Is 15 Today

It’s difficult to believe. Our daughter is 15 today. As I type, she has about 15 more minutes to sleep before getting up for school…ninth grade, a high school freshman. How did we get here so quickly?

It has been 15 years since she changed our lives. Wow. We had no idea what we were doing as new parents, and we have no idea what we’re doing as parents of a teenager. We take it one day at a time. Even last night, she asked me if she could go to some concert in a couple of months, and I answered, “Can’t we deal with that when it gets a little closer?” Sometimes, I refuse to believe she is old enough to go to concerts.

Getting here has been a journey. Our daughter was never a sleeper. Even as an infant, she didn’t really nap. She was always wide-eyed and always moving. I’ve always said she is just like my brother. He was always on the move and still is. It serves our daughter well in athletic endeavors. She has lots of energy, and the athletic field is the perfect place to use that energy. Of course, all that energy disappears when I try to drag her through a museum…but that’s OK. Museums are usually quiet places, which is why she doesn’t enjoy them. I get it.

When she was two, our pediatrician told me, “What you have here is the classic strong-willed child. It will drive you crazy, but it will serve her well.”

I remember milestones…her first day of preschool, when she was ten months old. I needed a break one day a week, so she went for three hours to the preschool at our church. The first time she went, I cried as I walked away. And then her first day of “real school”…transitional kindergarten at an independent school. I didn’t cry that day. I was excited for her. She was four years old. She would turn five six weeks into the school year. But on that first day of “real school,” I drove up, and she got out of the car like a pro and walked up the sidewalk to her new classroom. I can remember what she was wearing. I wanted to watch her walk up the sidewalk and into the building, but it would have caused a logjam in the carpool line, so I drove away.

There are so many memories. I remember her crawling at breakneck speed. Her first tooth emerging when she was 10 months and 2 days old…later than most. Her first steps when she was 11 months old…she walked and then ran all in the same day. The joy on her face on Christmas mornings. She always loved Santa; she was the little girl who would sit on his lap and talk his ear off. How she was afraid of the Easter Bunny…a giant bunny coming into her house was terrifying, so he always left her basket just inside the door. I remember when she fell at preschool when she was three, popping her lip open. I remember walking on the pier with her at our condo on the bay, alligators in the water beneath, holding her hand so tightly it turned blue. I remember watching a nutria forage for food underneath the same pier. Our girl loved digging in the dirt in my parents’ yard and running back and forth across the bridge in their front yard. She would catch the giant black and yellow horse lubber grasshoppers that populate the Gulf Coast with her bare hands. 1200px-Horse_Lubber_Grasshopper_(Taeniopoda_eques)When she was little, she loved Easter Egg hunts year round. She loved playing outside with her older cousins. She has always loved being outside. We still remember the look on her face during her first trip to Disney World when she was four. We spent countless afternoons over the years with our playgroup…having fun with friends. We’ve gone on road trips with friends and other vacations with friends…New Orleans, Upstate New York, Maine, Puerto Rico, Atlanta, Chicago, Kentucky (slept in a wigwam!), San Francisco, Louisville, and more. I remember when the admissions counselor at her school told me how sweet she was during her visit (she was four years old) when they asked her, “If you break a cookie in half, how many pieces do you have?” She answered, “I would have two, but I would give one to my friend, Caroline, because she’s in the hospital.” I remember when she was taking swimming lessons as a toddler, and every week, she helped a scared little girl walk to the pool, taking her by the hand and walking her over. I vividly remember dropping her off at the airport in New York last summer for a two week trip to Iceland, and I can still remember the joy I felt when she was back in the USA. My husband and I have watched hours of soccer, field hockey, basketball, and lacrosse. We went to dance recitals when she was a little girl…cute little yellow tutu with temporary tattoos all over her arms. I can still see the look on her face the first time she went to an Alabama football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium…it took her breath away. She has always loved rollercoasters…we were regulars at Carowinds Amusement Park for years…going almost daily when she was two, three, and four.  I’ve taken her to see concerts: Miranda Cosgrove, Matty B, Selena Gomez, Big Time Rush, One Direction…even One Direction opening for Big Time Rush. She has met some of her favorite athletes: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Teddy Bridgewater, Tony Romo, Evander Holyfield. I should mention she also met Squishy Paws from Ricky, Nicky, Dicky, and Dawn, but only because I recognized the sweet little pooch when we were touring Paramount Studios…a proud moment. I’ve taken her to Los Angeles at least once a year since 2011, and she never gets tired of it.

On the journey to fifteen, she has lost two great-grandmothers and two grandparents…most recently, my mother this past December. She has had broken bones (wrist and shoulder) and multiple sprains. When she was ten, she came down with the flu on Christmas Eve. Yes, Christmas Eve. Since she was awake sick all night, Santa had a tough job that year. After a couple of nights at home with the flu, she and I moved to the Ballantyne Hotel for the next three nights and ordered room service till she was well. She has endured the stress of trying out for sports teams and standardized tests at school. She has watched her daddy go through brain surgery. And now she’s in high school. She is enjoying the transition from middle school to high school, and one day, I hope she will enjoy the transition to college just as much.

Before she goes off to college, I plan to make lots more memories…and afterward too. But since I know she leaves for college in less than four years, I want to make these high school years the best they can be.

One thing I know for sure is that she teaches us far more than we teach her.

I can’t believe she’s 15.

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Learning to Drive

As our daughter’s 15th birthday approaches, so does the excitement about the driver’s learner permit. Yes, it’s exciting, but it’s nerve-wracking at the same time.

It’s a lot more difficult to get a driver’s license now than it was when I was a teenager. Our daughter doesn’t even have her permit yet, and we’ve already had to jump through some hoops.

In North Carolina, there are lots of moving parts to getting a learner’s permit. If no one tells you the different steps, it can be rather confusing. I’ve had to ask multiple people a million questions throughout the process, so hopefully, this will help some of you. This has been our process:

  • Register for Driver’s Education at age 14 1/2, if it isn’t offered in your school. (see bottom of page for contact info for three companies)
  • Send in payment for course.
  • Attend course and pass written driver’s ed test.
  • Go to the DMV for the eye test (if the company doesn’t offer it)
  • Schedule the driving portion of Driver’s Ed.
  • Complete the practice driving (six hours) with instructor.
  • Obtain proof of enrollment form from school.
  • Go to DMV on or after 15th birthday for written test and permit…take birth certificate, form from school, completed Driver’s Ed form, and Social Security card.

If I didn’t have friends who reminded me of things to do throughout the process, my poor daughter probably wouldn’t be on her way to getting her permit in a couple of weeks.

She completed the classroom/written test portion of Driver’s Ed the first week of June, getting it out of the way. She had to be 14 1/2 to enroll in the course. We then had to wait till about a month before her birthday to schedule the driving portion of the course. She had the first of two three-hour sessions this past Saturday, and she said everything went smoothly.

Anyone who has ridden with a new driver knows it can be nerve-wracking, but the only way to learn is through practice.

When the instructor arrived at our house, she told me that she usually stays in the neighborhood for the first two hours, and she never takes anyone on the highway in their first session. I wasn’t worried. I knew our daughter was in good hands, so I was very relaxed while they were gone. Plus, my daughter has practiced driving me around on private roads for months.I knew she would do well driving the instructor in the neighborhood.

When my daughter got home three hours later, she said she thought she had done very well, and she did go on the highway. She said that after they drove around the neighborhood a couple of times, the instructor said she was ready to get out on the open road. First, they practiced some parking skills at a nearby parking lot, and then they got in the interstate! Yikes! I love interstate driving, but some people hate it. I asked my daughter what she thought of it, and she said she liked it. Near the end of the lesson, they drove to pick up the next student driver and came home. She has her next session this weekend.

I’m excited for her, and nervous for us. I remember when I was learning to drive. It was exciting thinking about the freedom that was coming my way! I’m sure she feels the same way, but first, we have to make sure she knows what she’s doing. We have a year to help her practice to get her prepared.

It was a lot easier when I as a teenager. We took Driver’s Ed at school, and then when we turned 15, we could test for our learner’s permit. That was it. I don’t even think we had to show any proof that we had taken Driver’s Ed. But Driver’s Ed at school was fun. We had driving simulators. They were nothing like real driving, but they were fun!

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LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

I remember some of the driving mistakes I made early on when I was learning to drive. My poor Daddy. Our house was at the top of a hill, so if you backed out of our driveway in one direction, you were backing a little downhill on the road. One day, with my daddy in the car, I forgot to put the car into Drive after backing out, and I stepped on the gas pedal, sending us speeding down the hill backward! Somehow, Daddy stayed calm, and I got things under control. He probably never wanted to drive with me again, but he did. Another time, I stepped on the gas instead of the brake as we turned into a street. And somehow, we survived it.

I’m sure when Daddy was teaching my brother to drive, it was much less stressful for him. My parents had caught my brother driving a friend’s car when he was just 14, so there’s no telling how much driving experience he really had when he got his permit. It wasn’t funny at the time, but Daddy laughed about it years later.

Later, after I had my license, he taught me to drive a manual transmission on a Jeep we had…another adventure, but not one my daughter is likely to have, since so few manual transmission cars are made now.

So our adventure in driving is about to begin. It’s difficult to believe. I remember when our daughter first started walking, and we said she didn’t have walking around sense. Will we feel the same way about her driving?

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DRIVING SCHOOLS IN CHARLOTTE (I’m only listing companies my friends have used):

Helms Driving School…Website:   http://www.helmsdrivingschool.com/Services.html

Jordan Driving School…Website:   http://www.jordandrivingschoolcharlotte.com

Faulkner Driving School…Website:   http://faulknersdrivingschool.com/about-us.aspx

 

 

 

 

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Daddy’s 80th Birthday

My daddy died a couple of weeks after his 68th birthday, in 2006. Pancreatic cancer. Today is his 80th birthday. It makes me sad to think he has been gone so long and to think about what he has missed, but it makes me happy to think how happy he would be that my brother and I have remained close. He would be happy to know my brother and I have great relationships with our extended family, and he would love that I have come to know our cousin, Ardrue, over the last couple of years.

Daddy worked hard to make sure we had the things we needed and most of what we wanted…within reason. He was practical, but some indulgences were allowed. According Aunt Katie (Daddy’s younger sister), Daddy was a quiet young man…and serious, making it interesting to me that he made a living in sales and was good at it. He had to step outside his comfort zone (quiet) and talk…convincing companies to purchase his product. I don’t remember him as quiet. At home, he was jovial. He loved telling stories about his childhood. He loved goofy jokes, and he loved wordplay. He mellowed with age, so I can only imagine what fun he’d have been if he had made it to 80.

My nephews were crazy about daddy, whom they called Big Ken (he was tall). My daughter was almost three when he died, so she doesn’t remember him, but she loved him. I think being a granddaddy was his greatest joy. After he retired, he had time to spend with them, and he laughed and smiled when they were around. When they were infants/toddlers, he spent a lot of time holding them in his lap, reading to them or talking to them. As my nephews got older, he played baseball with them, had Easter egg hunts, and let them pretend to be waiters at Cock of the Walk (a fried catfish restaurant) while he sat out on the back porch, repeatedly placing his pretend orders for hushpuppies and fried catfish.

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My 2-yr-old daughter enjoyed Easter egg hunts with Big Ken too…all year. Other times, he would take spoons outside for her to dig in the dirt. He had built a bridge across the Civil War mound in their front yard, so my daughter spent a lot of time running back and forth across the bridge. Daddy was amazed that she never stopped running.

Today, he’d be proud of his grandsons…one working hard in college and the other making his way as a writer. He would enjoy watching my daughter play sports.

When we were growing up, he enjoyed watching sports on TV…there was always a baseball or basketball game on. If sports weren’t on, he was likely watching Sanford and Son, Cheers, All in the Family, or The Jeffersons. He loved to laugh, and those shows made him laugh, without fail. As for dramas, he loved Lonesome Dove, and one of his favorite movies was Cool Hand Luke.

He peppered his language with things we called “Bascom-isms,” named after a place he lived as a little boy, Bascom, Florida. I wish I had written them down over the years, because they’re difficult to remember. I was reminded of them recently, when I posted on Facebook a picture of the sun shining while it was raining, and captioned it, “The devil’s beating his wife.” It was something Daddy said, and lots of people from the south say it. We learned it as, “The devil’s beating his wife with a frying pan,” while others apparently said, “The devil’s beating his wife behind the door.”

Here are some things Daddy used to say:

Ned in the first reader. Daddy said this all the time. I called Aunt Katie to confirm the meaning. In our family, Ned in the first reader means someone who is poor at what he/she is doing. It means Ned never advanced beyond the first reading level, meaning he wasn’t good at reading or he wasn’t very smart. For example, let’s say Suzy and Jane are doing the same job, and Suzy gets three times as much done as Jane in the same amount of time. Daddy would say, “Suzy makes Jane look like Ned in the first reader.” Or if someone is trying to learn to sew but can’t even thread the needle, we might say, “Bless her heart. She’s like Ned in the first reader.”

“Don’t care” has neither home nor master. This is something Daddy would say if we answered, “I don’t care.” I think it means that if you “don’t care” about something, then you stand for nothing. You should always care. Daddy’s mother used to say it to him when he was growing up. She was right. We should never say we “don’t care.” Maya Angelou once said, “Can’t Do is like Don’t Care. Neither of them have a home.” The meaning is the same…you should never say you can’t do something, and you shouldn’t say you don’t care about something.

You can make three days (or any time reference) standing on your head. This was Daddy’s way of saying “you got this.” If we had three more days of exams, it’s something he would say to remind us something was do-able.

I hope my brother will call me and remind me of some of Daddy’s sayings, because I feel like we keep his memory alive, in part, by keeping these sayings alive.

If Daddy were here to celebrate his 80th birthday today, I would call him and sing the birthday song from The Little Rascals. The episode is called Feed ‘Em and Weep, and it’s about Darla’s friends bringing gifts to her dad on her birthday…when all he wanted was a quiet evening with family. Daddy thought Alfalfa and Spanky were hilarious, and he looked forward to my singing every year…and we would laugh. To see the clip of the song, click here.

Today we celebrate his birth 80 years ago. He loved sunflowers, just like Mother did, so we will use some from our yard as our centerpiece for the day, and I’ll have a tomato sandwich. Maybe I’ll make the Sour Cream Pound Cake his mother used to make. Our cousin, Ardrue, gave me the recipe last year, and it is delicious.

 

 

 

If Only I Could Call Them

When Daddy was dying, it seemed the thing he hated most about dying was thinking about what he was going to miss. He said he wasn’t afraid of what would happen to him, but he was sad he would miss his family, and he would miss some of the big moments.

I think, we, the ones left behind, often feel the same thing. There are lots of times I think, “I wish Daddy were here to see this.” And since December, I often think, “I wish I could call Mother and tell her about this.”

In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself wishing they were here more than usual. I always miss them, but situations arise that I would love to share with them, and that’s when I really wish they were here.

In May, I wrote a piece titled Behind That White Picket Fence (click here to see it) about how we never know what’s going on in someone’s private life. A friend from college commented on my post, making me think of Mother and something that happened twenty years ago.

When I was about 30, a friend was diagnosed with colon cancer. Her name is Susan, and I think she was 28 or 29 at the time. She was/is married (in fact, I introduced her to her husband) and while her husband was supportive, her parents jumped right in to help. Her husband needed to work and couldn’t be there all the time, so her parents took turns spending the night at the hospital with her and stayed during the day, as well. She had  complications after surgery, but they were there to advocate for her. If I remember correctly, she was in the hospital for months.

During this time, my maternal grandmother and a friend of hers were breezing through Mobile on a trip and stopped in to visit Mother. We will call the friend Gladys. Mother had never met Gladys and frankly, found her to be rather harsh. They were there for a few hours, so Mother didn’t jump to that conclusion quickly.

While they were there, insurance became the topic of conversation. Gladys, at some point, complained about her insurance agent, saying he had not been responsive over recent months. When she mentioned his name, Mother knew she had to say something. She responded, “Well, I’m sure you don’t know, but his young daughter has colon cancer. She’s had surgery and complications, and he has been spending days and nights at the hospital with her. If he hasn’t been responsive, that’s a good reason. God bless him.”

That evening, Mother called me to tell me what had happened, and she was a little hot under the collar. Of course, I reminded her Gladys probably had no idea, and while Mother realized that, she was miffed Gladys wasn’t giving Susan’s dad, her insurance agent for 30 years, the benefit of the doubt.

So, after Susan commented on Behind That Picket Fence, I sent her a message telling her about the exchange. She responded by telling me she was happy to hear my mother had interceded. She reminded me her daddy had stayed with her in the hospital and had even devised a way to wash her hair, simply because he knew it was something he could do that would make her feel a little better. He made some sort of “contraption” that made it possible for him to wash her hair while she was lying in bed. The nurses didn’t want him to do it, but he did, and Susan immediately felt better. Afterward, the nurses started started using the same contraption and method to wash the hair of other patients.

That exchange with my friend was one of those moments I wish Mother were here. I wanted to call and tell her I had shared the story with Susan, and in response, she told me what great things her daddy did for her. In fact, Susan told me her daddy was retired by the time she was diagnosed, so no wonder he wasn’t responsive! He was no longer the agent!

But I couldn’t call Mother. She would have loved that story.

There are also things I’d love to share with my daddy. Just this week, I had lunch with my cousin, Ardrue, who lives in Cherryville, North Carolina, about an hour away. Ardrue and I started getting together over the past couple of years. We had never met until early 2016, but I had heard about Ardrue my entire life. She is my daddy’s first cousin. Their mothers were sisters.

When I say I’d heard about Ardrue my entire life, I mean it. I remember, as a little girl, hearing Daddy and Aunt Katie talk about Ardrue. I don’t remember the stories, but who can forget a name like Ardrue? I’ve told her this, so it’s OK…I remember asking daddy, “What kind of name is Ardrue?” I remember seeing pictures of a little girl/teenage Ardrue when I would go through old pictures. Her name appeared on the backs of several pictures.  In fact, I can hardly wait to get back to Alabama to go through pictures and find some to bring back to show her.

Ardrue has told me stories about my daddy as a young man, and she has shared stories about the family, as well. When we are talking, I love when she mentions a familiar name in one of her stories. Sometimes she is even surprised I recognize a name. Most of the times, I recognize the names from stories Daddy used to tell…he was a good storyteller. She is a charming lady with a great sense of humor. I’ll have to ask her if a sense of humor runs in the family. It’s hard to tell, because in all the old pictures of my grandparents and great-grandparents, they all look so serious.

And this is one of those times I wish Daddy were here. He would be thrilled Ardrue and I  get together. Not only that, but we enjoy each other’s company! He would want to sit right there with us, laughing and talking. The two of them would be able to reminisce and remind each other of things that happened when they were children.

But I can’t call Daddy. He can’t join us for lunch. He would have loved spending time with Ardrue.

And recently, when our daughter was away for two weeks on a group trip to Iceland and not allowed to use her phone to call home, Mother and Daddy would have commiserated with me. They likely would have been calling me three times a day to ask if there had been any email updates from the group leaders.

While it’s painful immediately following the loss of a parent, there are other times that are difficult too. Interestingly, for me, it’s usually the happy times that I miss them. I wish they could see my daughter play lacrosse and field hockey. Daddy would have loved watching her play basketball too. I used to always call Mother from my car after I dropped off my daughter somewhere, and I would call her after any of my daughter’s games and give her the post-game wrap-up. That was a habit that was hard to break after Mother passed.  I wish I could just pick up the phone and call both of them to tell them funny stories, talk about trivial stuff, and brag about my daughter. They would love knowing my brother and I talk almost every day, and we still call each other to get answers to trivial questions. And they would be so happy to know we have been vacationing together.

But I can’t call them.

If only I could call them…

Making Airline Travel Easier

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Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com

Airlines have received a lot of press in the past year or two. From dragging passengers off the plane to perverts sitting next to unaccompanied minors…we’ve heard it all. The latest press is all about paying extra for good seats and having difficulty getting seats together without paying extra for them.

A lot of people travel more frequently than I do, but I used to work in the travel industry, and I fly pretty often. I’ve learned a few things along the way that can make your life easier when traveling by commercial airline.

TSA PRE-CHECK/GLOBAL ENTRY Travel a few times a year domestically? TSA Pre-Check is worth the money. Surely, you’ve stood in the regular line and watched people zip through the TSA Pre-Check line. For me, the biggest benefit, aside from expedited screening, is not taking off my shoes on that nasty airport floor, but there are others: you don’t have to remove your laptop or small liquids from your bag, and you don’t have to go through that body scanner. It costs $85 for five years of TSA Pre-Check. Apply online here. After applying online, schedule an appointment online and take documentation to a processing center to complete the process. When I went, I was there for less than 10 minutes. If you travel internationally more than once or twice a year, consider Global Entry, which is “a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports,” according to their website. It is $100; learn more by clicking here.

RESERVATIONS Two words: BOOK EARLY. It gives you the best possibility of getting a good fare and desirable seats and increases the chances of sitting with friends/family. Over the past few years, airlines have started charging extra for more desirable seats near the front of the cabin. I am most familiar with American Airlines, because they have a hub in Charlotte.

According to an interview (conducted in a Boeing 777) with American’s CEO in the Wall Street Journal, “American’s strategy now is to offer passengers more seating choices—a strategy seen clearly from Mr. Parker’s seat in the back of the reconfigured 777. Those interested in low fares sit in the back, where American has 146 basic coach seats. If you’re willing to pay more or have elite status, 66 coach seats provide extra legroom. You can pay several hundred dollars more and move up to premium economy: 24 seats that are 19 inches wide instead of 17 and have 38 inches row to row. Then there are 37 lie-flat business-class seats. Nearly half of the plane’s 273 seats offer extra room.” You can see the article here.

The lowest/most restrictive fares they offer are called Basic Economy. They are in the back of the plane. There are several restrictions, but the biggest one, in my opinion, is that you cannot get seat assignments till check-in, and for me, that is a big red flag. I don’t have a problem with American offering Basic Economy, but there is no way I would knowingly go to the airport without an advance seat assignment.  If you do not have an advance seat assignment, there is a greater likelihood you will be stuck with the “leftover” seats or be bumped from the flight. However, according to a friend who is an industry insider, airlines aren’t overbooking like they used to, so the possibility of being bumped is much lower. (If you do get bumped, according to my insider, you can get “sweet” compensation in the way of vouchers that are good for two years…can be used for flights or upgrades.) Traveling as a family and want to be together? Book Main Cabin or better. Whatever you do, get advance seat assignements or pick a different flight. If you are unable to book seats together, try to book aisle seats and/or window seats for leverage. Aisle seats are prized, and if you offer someone a middle seat in exchange for an aisle seat, the answer will be, “No dice.” That being said, here is a trick to use if your child is seated next to a stranger: Walk the child to his/her seat. When buckling up your child, get the airsickness bag out of the seat back pocket. Open it. Hand it to your child, and say, “Honey, when you get sick, make sure you use this bag.” Do not whisper it. You want the person next to your child to hear. They will likely offer to trade seats! Whatever you do, do not ask your flight attendant to assist you in trading seats with someone. People booked early and likely paid more for their seats. Usually Main Cabin seats are about $20-$50 more (on American and United) than Basic Econ. If you can do Main Cabin, do it. With Main Cabin, you get advance seat assignment, overhead space (none with Basic Econ), and you can change your flights for a fee…not with Basic Economy. I prefer to think of that additional $20-$50 as the regular price and look at Basic Econ as the no frills, discount price. You can see a great skit from The Carol Burnett Show about a No Frills Airline here. It puts things in perspective with humor. Maybe airlines should show that skit on a monitor in the gate area.

UNACCOMPANIED MINORS  Need to send your child on a flight unaccompanied? Arrive at the airport at least two hours before the flight. I’d have to be there three hours before for peace of mind. You will have extra paperwork, and you will need the full name (as it appears on ID), address, and phone number of the adult meeting your child. (That person must have ID.) You will be required to get a gate pass and walk the child to the gate. Before saying goodbye, remind your child to know where exits are, pay attention to the emergency demo, and if he/she is uncomfortable with their seat mate, let the flight attendants know. You can see me discussing this with my friend, Maureen, on Been There Moms here. Also, plan to be at the airport for a while; you are required to stay in the gate area till the plane is off the ground…not when it leaves the gate. You must wait until the gate agent tells you the plane is in the air.

CHECK BAG RESTRICTIONS before you pack. You already know there is a weight restriction for a checked bag, but did you know there is also a size restriction? Check your airline’s website. You do not want to be told at the airport your bag is too heavy or too large. While you’re at it, check carry-on restrictions. In American’s Basic Econ, you only get to carry on one bag that will fit underneath the seat in front of you. For Main Cabin, you can have two…one under the seat and one overhead.  ***And while we’re talking luggage, take a picture of all checked bags before you check them. If they don’t arrive when you do, you will have a picture to show the baggage agent. Also, hang on to your claim checks till you have your bags in hand. If you’re like me, it might help to take a picture of your claim checks too.***

CHECK IN EARLY You’ve heard it a million times, but people don’t take it seriously. Arrive early! I check in online, but still, I prefer to get there two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights. Folks may call that extreme, but  I’ve never missed a flight or panicked at security, wondering if I would make the flight. Make it easy on yourself; arrive early. You never know how long the lines will be. Why risk the stress? Using Mobile Boarding Pass? Take a screen shot of it beforehand, so you can access it quickly. I always print mine. My husband and I saw a couple in Miami struggle for five minutes trying to pull up their boarding passes on their phones. Once you clear security, it’s time to go relax and wait. I have TSA Pre-check, but I still arrive extra early, giving me time to relax or check email before boarding.

RELAX AND ENJOY YOUR FLIGHT Once your group number has been called and you have boarded, relax. Enjoy the flight. Maybe you try to sleep or catch up on emails (if WiFi is offered). It might mean playing games on your phone or reading a book or magazine. Just relax and let the professionals do the work.

***Does the idea of being in the air cause you stress? It’s likely the loss of control causing you anxiety. Check back soon. I’ll write about ways to empower yourself inflight.***

Remembering Daddy

With Father’s Day approaching, I’m thinking about Daddy. His grandchildren called him Big Ken. He has been gone now for 12 years. Pancreatic cancer. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

We will order new flowers for my parents’ gravesite. I’m not big on visiting cemeteries. Never have been. Daddy was a good cemetery visitor. I don’t know if it made him feel closer to his parents, or if he did it as a sense of duty, but he was good about visiting cemeteries. My brother is good about it too.

It’s not that our family ever made a big deal about Father’s Day. My parents always said they should give us (children) gifts at Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. They didn’t give us gifts, but it was their way of saying they were happy to be our parents.

If Daddy were here now, he’d say the same thing again.

But he’s not here. I’ve said before Daddy was funny and charming. He could also read people very well. When we were in a group somewhere, he knew if someone looked uncomfortable, and he would try to bring them into the fold. He was good like that.

I got my love of sports from my parents. My daddy liked all kinds of competition, and he always believed second place was just the first loser. We spent a lot of time watching sports on television, and it wasn’t unusual for us to attend sporting events whether we knew participants or not. When I was a little girl, we would go to minor league baseball games, high school indoor track meets, football games…any sporting events. There were even times we would be driving down the road, and he would see information about a sporting event…and of course, we went. I sat outside at a lot of hot baseball games in Alabama.

I really think basketball was his favorite, though. He was tall, and he had played basketball in high school. He understood the game, and he loved watching college basketball. I don’t remember watching a lot of professional basketball, but we watched a lot of college games on television. In a state devoted to football, my daddy loved NCAA Tournament time.

We also watched a lot of Atlanta Braves games and Chicago Cubs games. WTBS, also known as Superstation TBS, at the time was owned by Ted Turner, who also owned the Braves, so they broadcast their games. In fact, we knew a lot about the players, coaches, the announcer, and the team, because they were on television all the time.  While I enjoy baseball, as a teen, I mostly enjoyed looking at some of the cute players. When the Braves played the Dodgers, I tuned in to watch Steve Sax, who was quite the looker, but Daddy thought he was a terrible second baseman. He might even be the player about whom Daddy once said, “He has messed up second base so badly that no one will ever be able to play it.” Cubs games were broadcast on WGN, so we knew all the Cubs too. This was before Wrigley Field had lights, so all their games were day games. Often, there would be a Cubs game on our TV in the afternoon, followed by a Braves game in the evening.Good times. Daddy loved it. Our summer is all planned out, but next year, I’m taking my daughter to a Braves or Cubs game.

Daddy also loved wordplay and trivia. He was a walking wealth of useless knowledge like me and my brother. We know all kinds of stuff that doesn’t matter one bit, till someone asks a question like, “On The Andy Griffith Show, who took care of Opie before Aunt Bee moved in?” The answer there is Rose. All that trivial knowledge comes in handy sometimes, though…I’ve bonded with lots of good folks over trivial information.

In the early days of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, when Regis Philbin hosted it, Daddy and I loved watching it when I visited. We were watching together when the first big winner answered the winning question: Which of these US Presidents appeared on the television series “Laugh-In”? The answer, of course, was Nixon, and Daddy and I both knew it…because, well…useless trivial knowledge.

There was always a dictionary around, because we loved talking about words. I remember quizzing each other on the meanings of prefixes, suffixes, and root words when I was growing up. We were weird, but honestly, that silly game we played probably helped me on standardized tests.

Daddy was a good storyteller too. We loved hearing stories of his childhood, because he was born in the 1930s, and the world made some huge leaps in technology and everyday life between the 1930s and the 2000s. He grew up in the Florida panhandle, a rural area, so his childhood had been very different from ours. He told stories of telephone numbers that started with community names…like “Greenwood 368,” and having to ask the operator to connect them instad of dialing the number.

And there were always stories of “ice cream on a stick,” Eskimo Pie to you and me. When he was a little boy, you could buy “ice cream on a stick” for a nickel at the local store. Often, Daddy didn’t have a nickel, so he was out of luck. As an adult, any time he found a nickel on the ground, he would comment on how that would have bought an ice cream on a stick when he was a child. He remembered where he came from. Therefore, when his grandchildren visited, he always shared ice cream on a stick or popsicles with them. It would have brought him great joy as a child to have it, and as an adult, it brought him great joy to watch his grandchildren enjoy it.

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At some point in his youth…I’m not sure of the age…maybe in high school…he worked at a full-service gas station, so he made sure I knew to tip the attendants when I stopped at one. He also made sure I knew about cars…how to check the oil, tire pressure, water levels, and how to correct all that if needed.

When I lived near my parents, I tried to visit them every Sunday evening. We would have dinner, and before I would go back to Mobile, Daddy would have to check my car. Interestingly, he seemed to always wait till I was walking out the door to leave. He would grab his tire gauge and a paper towel and walk out to my car. He had to check the tire pressure, and he always had to check the oil and water levels. Back then, I would get aggravated that he was slowing down my departure. I would wonder aloud to Mother, “Why does he always wait till I’m ready to go?” Now, though, I look at it differently. He was in no hurry to see me drive away. I smile thinking about it now.

And before I drove away, he always made sure to take me hand and press some money into it. Sometimes it was a $20 bill…sometimes more, but he always wanted to make sure I had “WAM”…walking around money. He continued that tradition with my nephews as well, and when they were really little, they knew he always had toys in the trunk of his car. Of course, Mother had helped him pick them out, but Big Ken got all the credit. He found so much joy in seeing them run to the trunk of the car, and then watching their little faces light up.

I also smile thinking about how he would love that I am growing tomatoes this year. He loved a tomato sandwich as much as anybody does. There are quite a few on my tomato plants now…they should ripen next month, “good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” And if I get the opportunity to cut a giant red tomato off the vine, when I cut into it, I will think of my daddy and smile.

My daughter would have enjoyed being around my daddy. He died just before her third birthday, so she doesn’t really remember him. She was crazy about him, and he was crazy about her. He always had a way with kids. My nephews were eight years old when we lost Daddy, and they were heartbroken when he passed. In his retirement, he had loved spending time with them…scavenger hunts, dinners, playing baseball in the yard…good times.img_7188

If he were here now, he’d be proud of all of them…and he’d be proud my brother and I look out for each other.

We miss him, and we will honor his memory this Father’s Day. I’m going out to buy a box of Eskimo Pies, and we will all sit out on the patio Sunday afternoon and enjoy our “ice cream on a stick” in memory of Big Ken.

Our Marriage Survived My Husband’s Brain Surgery

When our daughter was six years old, in 2010, my husband had brain surgeries. Yes, plural…two operations that were nine days apart.

We got married in 2000, but prior to being married, we hadn’t lived in the same city. I was in Mobile, Alabama, and he was in Charlotte, North Carolina.

As soon as we were married, I moved to Charlotte into what is now “our house,” and I soon noticed he had “spells.” I didn’t know what they were, but he seemed to “lose time.”   He would suddenly start blinking hard, fidgeting, and mumbling…for 30 to 45 seconds.

I spoke with his doctor, who ran tests, and while she saw a small spot on the left temporal lobe of his brain, she wasn’t concerned.

He had a series of unexplained car accidents, always saying afterward that he didn’t remember what had happened. I knew we had to get some answers. I was angry. I wasn’t angry at him; I was angry that the doctor hadn’t addressed the problem. I called her, telling her we needed to see a doctor who could help us.

She finally referred him to a neurologist.

At the neurologist’s office, we explained everything to the doctor, who promptly told us, “He’s having petit mal seizures.” Five minutes into the appointment we had an answer.

More tests showed what appeared to be a benign tumor in the front part of his left temporal lobe.

After months of anti-seizure medications, his seizures weren’t under control. Surgery was recommended. First, he had an inpatient evaluation in June of 2010, meaning he was hooked up to external electrodes in an epilepsy ward to monitor brain activity. The hope was that he would have a seizure while there, and the epileptologist would garner useful information. After a week in the hospital, he finally had a seizure…a full-on gran mal seizure, and the doctor witnessed it.

Working with two neurosurgeons, the epileptologist scheduled surgery for that September. First, they opened his skull and placed electrodes and probes directly into and on the surface of his brain. Wires hung out of the incision while we waited for him to have another seizure, and after nine days, he did.

The second surgery was scheduled for a couple days later, and he had the affected parts of his brain removed…part of his temporal lobe, his amygdala, and his hippocampus. Afterward, he was in pain, but it soon became apparent he had very few lasting effects. His “naming center” was affected, so he has trouble recalling words or names, but the biggest loss was short term memory. It was tough at first, but we have a different normal now.

It’s hard to believe it has been eight years.

Our daughter was six years old. She had just started first grade, and while I don’t claim to be the most organized person in the world, I became even less so throughout this ordeal. God bless her first grade teachers for providing snacks, extra patience, and love.

My goal was to keep life as normal as possible for our daughter. She didn’t need to know how scary it was, and I wanted her life to continue as if nothing were going on.

I needed to be at the hospital every day, but I made it a point to take our daughter to school every morning, so things would seem “normal.” I would rush home after dropping her off and get a shower before spending the day at the hospital. Friends would pick her up after school, so at night, when I left the hospital I could pick her up from their houses.

Thank God for friends…people rallied to keep us going. People who lived near the hospital graciously offered to let me nap at their homes. People filled our refrigerator with meals. Family came in from out of town to help. Friends let us sleep at their houses when I was too tired to drive home.

Both operations went smoothly, and after a couple weeks in the hospital, he came home. It was a tough time for him because of the pain and memory issues.

On top of everything else, he was experiencing what the doctor referred to as “disinhibition,” a temporary effect of the surgery. It manifests in different ways, but his manifested in terrible language. Some people experience far worse types of disinhibition…they walk around naked, or become sexually promiscuous. The excessive bad language was embarrassing, but at least he wasn’t walking around naked or having sex with random strangers. Unfortunately, our daughter heard some words she didn’t need to know. Fortunately, the disinhibition didn’t last.

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Photo from December 22, 2010…two months after the surgeries.

Because of the seizures, he was not allowed to drive. This was a low point. He was angry.  He wanted to drive. It affected everything. I was trying to hold everything together, but on Christmas morning, I had forgotten to put his medications in his weekly container. He came into the kitchen, and when he realized his meds weren’t ready, he became angry. When I said I would get the meds, he said I was trying to control him. It was the brain surgery talking, and I knew it, but I’d had enough.

It angered me, and I said, “You know what? Manage your own damn medicine. I can PROMISE you I won’t touch it again.” And I never touched the meds again. He had to take control of his recovery at that point. I was tired. I was tired of his anger about not being able to drive, and I was tired of being the scapegoat. Frankly, I was just tired.

The next day, our daughter and I went to visit family in Alabama. I took all the car keys with me, because I knew he wanted to drive but legally couldn’t. He called asking where I’d hidden the keys, and I told him I had them with me. He got angry, and I hung up the phone, turning it off so he couldn’t call me for the rest of the day. The next day, he apologized.

I know it was frustrating to depend on other people for transportation. I’m sure he felt trapped. He had an unemployed friend who drove him where he needed to go for those months, which worked out nicely for both of them. But it wasn’t the same as driving.

Eventually, the day came that he could drive again. I joyfully handed him the keys.

He was happy.

He got in the car and drove away with a smile on his face, and immediately, things got better. The anger was gone.

We had survived the storm. Most importantly, he had survived brain surgery and was making a recovery. Our daughter had survived, and except for knowing a few more choice words, she was unscathed. Time had healed his physical wounds, but time also healed our marriage. Once he could drive again, we fell back into a happy place.

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Photo from March 2018

Sure, we’ve had challenges and had to make adjustments. My husband doesn’t like to travel and wants to be home more than he used to. His brain processes things differently. He gets headaches in overcrowded, loud places. He only likes to visit familiar places. He doesn’t mind that we continue to travel without him. I’ve told him before, “God put us together for a reason. Some women would be angry that you don’t want to go anywhere, and some would be afraid to go without you, so they would stay home and complain.” I’m not angry, and I’m not afraid. Because he doesn’t enjoy being on the go, we spend quality time together at home or familiar places.

A year or so ago, our now-14-yr-old daughter and I were talking about the brain surgery experience, and she asked, “Could Daddy have died?” I responded, “Yes. He could have died. You didn’t know that?” She said, “No.” I smiled and said, “Well, then I did my job. I didn’t want you to know.”

He turns 52 today, and we have settled into our new normal…lots of repetitive conversations and lots of reminder notes. It would seem strange to a lot of people, but it’s our normal…and thankfully, that doesn’t include seizures anymore.

Happy Birthday, Cary!