October 2 Has Meaning for Me

October 2 has meaning for me.

Different days have different meanings. To a lot of people, October 2 means nothing different than any other day. To me, it has meaning.

October 2 is the anniversary of a day my life changed forever…the day my Daddy died in 2006. Pancreatic cancer. I’ve written about it before. Today is the 14th anniversary of his passing. While it’s hard to believe it has been 14 years, it also feels like I haven’t seen his face or heard his laugh in forever.

For years, I could only remember him sick. Pancreatic cancer was a cruel disease for him. Frankly, it was cruel for me and the rest of the family too. I had never felt such emotional pain. I thought I would lose my mind with grief. Yes, the disease was terrible, but through those months from diagnosis to his passing, we managed to have some good times. We laughed…a lot. We cried a lot too. We spent a lot of time together. My husband and I moved our little family down to the Alabama Gulf Coast for months, to be closer to Mother and Daddy. We were lucky we had a condo on the bay near their house. Our daughter was about to turn three. It wasn’t easy to uproot the family. We had good support in Charlotte…great friends we had made over the course of our marriage. They called to check on us, and they mailed little treats to our daughter. I called them and cried regularly. We didn’t have a lot of support in Alabama, but I enrolled our daughter in a church preschool…they very graciously took her when they didn’t have to. And I did everything I could to keep my little family happy while trying to help my mother help my daddy. Daddy was so sweet throughout his illness. It was heartbreaking watching him get sicker and sicker…and that was all I could remember for a long time.

But now, I can remember him not sick. I can remember his laugh. I can remember his stories and his wordplay. I can remember watching Atlanta Braves baseball on WTBS with him. I can remember watching the Chicago Cubs on WGN and listening to Harry Caray with him. We loved the early days of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire…when Regis hosted. He was into all the same “useless knowledge” I’m into. I remember what a jokester he was. I remember how he carried me to the car when I had a stomach bug at 17…just picked me up like I weighed nothing and carried me to the car to take me to the doctor. I can remember how big his hands looked when I was a little girl. When he was dying, I kept looking at his hands…trying to etch them in my memory. I don’t know why that was so important, but for some reason it was. I think his hands represented his strength to me…his physical strength, but also his emotional strength. He was rock solid to us. He carried the burden of supporting our family, and he didn’t have a financial safety net in the form of parents who could help him in a financial emergency. He gave us that safety net, though.

My brother and I laughed just recently talking about how Daddy always made sure we were taken care of. He provided for us…everything we needed and most of what we wanted…throughout life. And here’s the funny thing…he’s still providing for us, in a way. Just recently, almost three years after my mother died, we discovered they had a life insurance policy he had set up many years ago. Today, on the fourteenth anniversary of Daddy’s passing, I deposited the check from that policy into a bank account, and afterward, I sat in the car and thought, “Wow. Fourteen years to the day after he died, and he’s still giving to us.”

Don’t get me wrong. Mother provided lots for us too…in a different way, but today is about remembering Daddy. I used to dread October 2 every year, because it meant heartache to me, but now I smile. I’m certainly not happy he’s gone, but when October 2 rolls around, I spend the day thinking about Daddy. I’ll look at the moon tonight and remember how he used to call me in Charlotte from his home in Alabama and tell me to go outside and look at the moon when it was particularly spectacular.

Just this weekend, when I was in a store with a friend, someone heard me call her “Miss Merry Sunshine” and asked if that was her name. I explained that I just call my friend that because she’s perpetually happy. And even that made me think of Daddy. When he was sick, I would take our toddler daughter over to visit, and he would sing Good Morning, Merry Sunshine any time she walked into the room. She loved it…and frankly, I did too. In one of his final days, I walked into the room with her, and he had a lot of morphine in his system…his speech wasn’t clear. His smile was clear, but his speech was garbled. He was “singing” but it wasn’t clear. I took that almost-three-yr-old little girl outside, and said, “I wonder what Big Ken was trying to say to you?” She looked up at me with a big smile and said, “Good morning, Merry Sunshine!” So yes, I thought of him this past weekend when the woman in the store thought my friend’s name was Merry Sunshine.

Now that little toddler girl is almost 17. In memory of Daddy, before she goes out with her friends tonight, I’ll take her hand and press a crisp $20 bill into it. He used to do that…give me “walking around money,” or WAM, as we started calling it when I was in college.

His passing was difficult. That’s not even a good word for it. It hit me hard. But it also taught me some coping skills…his final lesson to me.

Lots of good memories of Daddy. Thanks, October 2, for making me sit back and think about him. I still miss him, but I have wonderful memories of him.

Can’t You Control Your Child?!?

We’ve all been there. You’re in a store, shopping with a toddler. She isn’t behaving correctly, and you need to be firm. People are looking. You know you look like a sucker. You know they think you can’t control your child. And they’re right. You can’t control your child. And you know why? Your child is another human being who isn’t supposed to be controlled by you. Your child is supposed to learn to control herself. It’s a tough lesson for parent and child.

I was in a big box store at the beach with my daughter when she was about 2 1/2. I don’t even remember why we were there. I don’t remember if we were trying to buy groceries or what. I know she was in the seat in the grocery cart, and I was not happy with her behavior. Honestly, it has been thirteen years, so I don’t even remember what she was doing. Was she yelling? Was she throwing things? Was she crying? I just don’t remember.

I do remember my reaction.

After countless efforts to get her to behave correctly…talking with her, reasoning with her, bribing her…she was still not complying. I stopped the cart, picked her up, and carried her out of the store.

She screamed. Loudly. She thrashed wildly. People were staring. I didn’t care. I needed to get out of there with her. By the way she was acting, some folks probably wondered if I was taking someone else’s child. But mothers knew. They knew she was mine, not only because she looked just like me, but they’ve been there too. They’ve had to make a decision on how to handle a situation in front of other people, and they knew people were staring then too.

She screamed and cried and yelled all the way to the car. I even saw someone I knew as I was buckling her into her car seat. I got her buckled in and quickly closed the door…so I didn’t have to listen to the incessant wailing. I spoke briefly with the friend I hadn’t seen in seven or eight years, explaining my child was having a meltdown. This particular friend doesn’t have children, so she probably thought we both needed to be locked up.

I got into the car, and my daughter was no longer screaming. She was just sad. I didn’t even speak till we got back to the condo. When we stopped in the driveway, she was calm. She was exhausted, I’m sure, from losing control. I unbuckled her from her carseat and sat in the back seat with her, holding her in my arms and explaining that I love her, but I didn’t like the way she behaved in the store. I told her I was sad too. We cuddled for a while before going inside…and cuddled some more when we got there.

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As much as I hated that scene at the store, I loved the later result. Any time we were in a store, and she started to misbehave, all I had to do was say, “Remember that store?” She would look at me with those big brown eyes, and I could see that she remembered. She knew how to behave correctly, and she would prove it to me immediately.

Did I feel terrible about the incident? You bet…at the time. I felt like a terrible mother. Later though, I realized we both learned from it. I still hated that she had been so upset, but I was glad she remembered it, and I was really glad I never had to do it again. Yep…I never had to drag her out of a store kicking and screaming again. She remembered the lesson.

Sometimes, we have to do things we don’t enjoy in order to get to a better place. That day, my daughter and I both learned that lesson. It was a painful way to learn, but we learned.

 

 

 

 

 

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Let’s Hit the Road

As the end of the school year approaches, it means the summer travel season will be gearing up quickly. It’s one of my favorite times of year…the summer I mean, not the last weeks of school. Any time we have extra days, weeks, or even months to go somewhere, I’m happy.

I have one daughter, who is now 14, and travel is pretty darn easy with her.

Of course, there was a time it was a little more difficult, but that didn’t stop me!

Frankly, there’s not a lot of fun in traveling with an infant, so there weren’t lots of great vacations in that year, but things ramped up after that. I did take her to visit family regularly, though.

Infant travel was always a crap shoot. I vividly remember one flight when my daughter was about ten months old, and she wasn’t happy about being stuck in a car seat on the plane. She wanted to get out of that seat, and she let everyone know it. She cried. She fussed. And she cried some more. The man sitting across the aisle from me had the chutzpah to reach over, tap me on the arm, and tell me she needed a bottle.

I wanted to throat punch the guy, but I resisted the urge.

I gave him my legendary stinkeye and didn’t say anything. As a former flight attendant, I am aware that sucking on a bottle will help open a child’s ears at takeoff and landing. My child didn’t take a bottle. She was breastfed, and I knew she wasn’t needing that. Her ears weren’t bothering her. I knew what she wanted. She wanted to get out of that seat. If I had taken her out of the carseat to breastfeed, she would have wanted to get in the floor, and the crying would have gotten louder.

Stupid, stupid man. Bless his heart.

We all survived it. And every time I’m on a plane and a baby cries, I sympathize with the mother. I remind everyone around me that we’ve been there before…we were all babies at one time, and lots of us have survived it as parents.

When our daughter was a toddler, we traveled. We traveled by plane, and we traveled by car. I even traveled alone with her on a regular basis. My husband doesn’t like to travel as much as I do, so often, we were traveling on our own. I remember regularly trekking through airports, pushing my one-yr-old in a stroller with the carry-on bag in the bottom of the stroller, all while carrying the car seat strapped to my back. I felt like a warrior, and I must have looked like one too, as I would hear multiple times, “You go, girl!” or “Wow! You know what you’re doing!” I felt tough, and frankly, I was…and still am.

That carry-on bag that was tucked into the bottom basket of that stroller held all the tools of airplane survival. Keeping a toddler happy on a plane is the key to your own happiness and the happiness of the passengers around you. I always had “special treats” in that bag. I would go to Target and arm myself with lots of little things from the Dollar Spot…anything that would keep her entertained, and I would take cards and books with pictures of animals, cupcakes, and babies. My toddler loved pictures of animals, cupcakes, and other babies. Any little trinket she had never seen before was fun.

Often, I shared those “special treats” with other families on the flights who were not as prepared. I clearly remember sitting behind a family with their toddler daughter. She was whining and restless, till we started sharing our animal picture cards. She got happier, so her mom could relax, and we were happier too!

I also learned early to let my daughter wear whatever she wanted. When she was two and three, she flew many times wearing a Snow White costume top, a yellow costume skirt, and a pink plastic grass hula skirt pulled on over that, but she was happy…and she was proud of that crazy outfit she had put together. She loved all the compliments she received. I have a friend whose daughter wore her Daphne costume (from Scooby Doo) for months on end…but she was happy.

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My 2-yr-old daughter wearing her Snow White top and grass skirt while enjoying ice cream with my daddy.

Two and three- year- old girls also love to play with makeup. I discovered this one time when we were flying to visit my parents. You know how grocery stores have those tiny toy sections? I had been in the grocery store the day before we left, and I saw this cute little makeup palette for little girls. I grabbed it, thinking it might be entertaining for her on the plane.

Was it ever! We were only taking a one hour flight, but it kept her entertained the whole time! It was like “peace in a packet” for me! She put on eye shadow. She put on lip gloss. She put on blush. And of course, she overdid it…all of it. But it kept her happy and occupied, and therefore, I was happy. She looked like a two-dollar hooker when we landed, but I didn’t care. I had been able to relax for one full hour!

Traveling by car with an infant or toddler can be more tricky. Road trips less than four hours were OK. In 2004, when Hurricane Ivan was threatening the Gulf Coast of Alabama, we were visiting my parents, who lived near Mobile Bay. We had flown down, but we ended up renting an SUV to drive back to Charlotte, because flights were cancelling. We opted to drive overnight, so our 11-month-old would sleep all the way home. It worked out fine, till we got home, and she was wide awake, but we were groggy. We took turns taking care of her that day.

I discovered age five was the golden year…the year travel became super easy. Kids are more self-sufficient and can entertain themselves really well at five. Plus, they can manage their own carry-on bag of “stuff.”

When my daughter was seven, I took her on her first transcontinental trip. We went to Los Angeles, and it was one of the best trips ever. Not only could she entertain herself on the flight, but she could keep up with me all day without fussing! My friend, Leah, and her daughter met us there on that trip, and we still talk about that fun trip. I had learned years before on other trips the the secret to keeping a child moving is food. When my daughter was under age ten, I always tried to stop, sit down, and get her something small to eat every couple of hours…maybe an ice cream cone…maybe some yogurt…maybe some fries…maybe some peanut butter crackers…maybe a banana…anything that would give her energy so she could stay on the go. Now that she is older, she knows when she needs to grab a little something to eat, and she lets me know. ¬†Also, stay hydrated…crucial.

Now that she is fourteen, we have taken countless trips together by plane and by car. We have walked many miles in lots of different cities and locales. We have climbed waterfalls, zip lined through rainforests, climbed a rock scramble, hiked a mountain, visited landmarks, toured cities, climbed lighthouses, and made lots of great memories.

We have made lengthy road trips with friends, and we’ve learned a lot along the way. We’ve learned about this great country in which we live, and we have learned what is necessary for a pleasant road trip…snacks, minimal packing, beverages, lots of quick stops, games for the car, and lots of laughter.

I no longer have to take a carry-on filled with treats for flights, but now, she always wants to take a friend or two. That’s perfectly fine with me. I truly have a “the more, the merrier” approach. I have found that if there are more people around, more events get locked into long term memory. Funny things are funnier in a group. Exciting things are more exciting with other people.

Now, our summers are shorter as she enters high school. Starting in ninth grade, varsity and junior varsity fall sports start practicing at the beginning of August, a few weeks before school starts. So, we have to cram in a lot of fun in less time. This year, all new adventures await, and I can hardly wait to get it started. I’m counting down to the last day of school.

Travel safely and have fun this summer!