I’m a Stripper

We all have a past. The question is, do we have a future?

I’ve been telling my lovely wife that we needed to start thinking about how we were going to spend our future together once the children leave. We are getting dangerously close now that JB is almost 15. The last thing I want is to send her to college with no plan for us.

I don’t want to be one of those couples who sits down in the empty nest, looks at each other and has no idea what to say or do. The problem is, we are vastly different people. I like things athletic – not watching them, doing them. I like running, exercising, hiking, and all kinds of outdoorsy things. I love camping! The kind of stuff that makes you sweaty and smelly.

My wife? Not so much. She’s a girly-girl, not given to athletics. She won’t run unless someone in a hockey mask is chasing her. I suggested camping where I could go off and hike a day or two and she could sit and read. No dice, she likes the comfort of her own bed and a clean bathroom.

How did we end up together? She’s a really good girly-girl and I’m a smelly but lucky guy.

Okay, but none of that solves our problem.

We both love to read, but I have yet to figure out a way to make reading a team sport.

Then it happened, quite by accident. An epiphany…

I am an excellent stripper!

Magic Mark

Let me share with you just how we figured it out. We bought a desk off of Craigslist a while back and she painted it for JB’s room. Soon after, a few more accessories joined the room including a chair. Unfortunately, all of the new pieces were white, not the freshly-painted ivory color of the desk. Something had to change.

I am reluctant to allow my wife to borrow my tools, because they are the only thing I outright own. They are mine. But she sweet-talked me into my sander which failed to take off the thirteen coats of poly she had applied to the desk.

We needed a stripper.

I prefer making furniture these days. But before I had a shop, I used to refinish old pieces. I hate to be prideful, but I really know how to strip. I even saved some of the really strong solvent from when it was still available. I wondered if it would still be toxic enough to work. I now see why the EPA banned it because even after fifteen years of storage it tore through that poly like a monkey on a cupcake.

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And so I stripped like nobody’s business. She watched me strip hoping to learn so we could strip together. We talked about all of the stripping we could do once the kids left. I did tell her that we would have to strip for other people because we don’t have room in our home for all of the stripping we plan to do. And now with all of this stripping to look forward to, I’m excited about our future without kids.

(Also, I’m hoping you read the whole post and not just the last paragraph.)

Hold the Phone

We’ve all been there. It’s awkward, annoying, and somewhat disturbing to be in a public restroom, minding your own business when someone in another stall takes a phone call. There you are listening. You can’t help it. They might whisper or somehow try to cover the fact that they are in a restroom, but some seem to have no conscious about it at all. They just talk away regardless of the signature echo of the porcelain environment.

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I once had a co-worker who said to take a call in the bathroom was the height of arrogance. I don’t know if I agree with that, but I do think it is rude and can’t bring myself to do it. It would just feel wrong to tell Aunt Mabel about little Billy’s birthday party from that position.

When did we as a society get to the point where no phone call can wait two minutes? (Or ten for the fiber-deficient.)

While we’re on the subject of bathrooms, I’ve got a little complaint to the people of New York City. I understand you are a crowded place. But seriously, there should be some limit to the number of urinals you can put in a bathroom. When a broad-shouldered hayseed from Georgia comes to see a show, his visit to the bathroom should be a solitary affair instead of one that makes him feel like he has been recruited into the follies kick line.

By far the worst bathroom in my experience was in the Army. I remember being corralled into our barracks on the first day of basic training. After the drill sergeant-induced shock eased, I took a quick trip to the bathroom only to find it lacked a significant item – doors. Not a door or partition in the room. Just four elevated toilets, four urinals, and six sinks. Yes, we spent eight weeks getting to know each other very well (or holding it all day hoping to find solitude at night).

For the male reader, what is proper etiquette for talking to a fellow bathroom-goer? If we agree that phone use is wrong, is it wrong to say hello to the man next to you? I am okay with a terse, non-looking, “Hello” or “Sup”, but don’t try to engage me in conversation. No matter how friendly the banter, that crosses several lines I am just not comfortable with.

Okay, back the original point. I believe I have found the perfect solution to the bathroom phone talker. It is something everyone can do, and if we all do it, we might create a social moray that ends phone conversations in public restrooms for good. When someone answers a phone call in a public restroom, it is our civic duty to out the heck out of them.

FLUSH!

Then FLUSH again!

And add a few more FLUSHES for good measure!

Whatever the person on the other end of the line might hear, they are certainly going to hear the unmistakable swoosh of a toilet flush.

You know what happens if we all do this?

A movement starts.

Well, not that kind of movement, but you get the idea.

Breakfast in Bed

For as long as I can remember, Father’s Day started with breakfast in bed. Actually, since I wake long before my brood, it started with me milling around then getting back under the covers to feign sleep so they could “surprise” me with breakfast.

I would never have told them, but I hated breakfast in bed. I liked the idea of it but not the practice. All four of my girls would bound into my bedroom with excitement, hand over a brown tray filled with biscuits, jelly and coffee then leave me to have their own breakfast in the kitchen. Off in the distance I could hear them chatting and giggling as they ate with mommy. On the very day meant to celebrate my role in the family, I sat alone wiping jelly on the sheets because whichever one was napkin-bearer neglected her duty. Strange custom.

They have passed the age where breakfast in bed is fun. In fact, as teenagers they now believe that mornings are a punishment sent from old people to rob them of their joy.

I don’t miss breakfast in bed. But there is something missing.

People have always had odd reactions when they discover I have four daughters. Some make jokes, some say they are sorry, and some just stand open-mouthed trying to put themselves in my shoes. It’s okay, I’ve heard them all. I don’t remember a time when I took offense to anything anyone said, because it doesn’t bother me. I love my girls and believe I was given exactly what I was intended to have.

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I once came up with a clever response like, “With so many kids, if one turns up missing, we will never know.”

Only it’s not true. It was a stupid line.

I miss the little one like crazy and I always will. The chair at the table will always be hers. The room at the top of the stairs, sink in the bathroom, seat in the van – all hers… forever.  She has left little time bombs all over our lives that detonate randomly – a computer file named KyliesDoNotTouch, her signature on a basement wall stud, her bald Mii character on the Wii game system. The bombs bring both laughter and tears when they explode.

And yet, I wonder. I wonder if I am often focused too much on what was taken and not what remains. The great loss makes it hard to fully appreciate the uber-talented actress, the creative genius, and the graceful dancer who all, at one point flopped onto my bed as curly-headed breakfast servers. They are amazing young ladies. So while I will forever be proud to be called Kylie’s daddy, I am equally proud to be called Meredith’s daddy, Kendall’s daddy, and Jenna’s daddy. I hope they know that. I will tell them today.

If I have learned nothing else over the past year, I now know that life comes with no guarantee. The next breath you take may be your last. Likewise, the same holds true for each and every person you love. If I hold enough sway to offer any of you advice: tell them now. Love them now. Don’t wait a moment because the next may not exist.

The hole in our family will never be filled and it seems especially deep on days like today. While much remains, there is and forever will be something missing.

You know what else is missing? An end to this post because I think I hear them rumbling around with the tray in the kitchen. Oh crap, I gotta pretend to be asleep!

Don’t Read This Post

Disclaimer

Don’t read this post if you prefer only happy thoughts today. There are plenty of other posts better suited for that on this blog and others.

This post is sad.

This post is heartbreaking and uncomfortable.

This post relays some of the realities of burying a child. It hurt to write and will likely be hard to read.

Once you read this post you will know – and you can’t unknow what you know.

If you want to stick your head in the sand and pretend that we are doing enough to cure childhood cancer, this isn’t the post for you.

You’ve been aggressively and sufficiently warned. You might want to stop reading now. I won’t think any less of you, I promise. I admit that I turned my head away up until a few years ago – but now I know and I will forever know.

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Two things happened on a Tuesday last month – one planned and one a surprise.

We had a piece of unfortunate business to attend to. Many of you have been through the death of a loved one and were responsible for the pragmatics of laying them to rest. This was our first time. We had been putting it off, but if we want a grave marker for Kylie, it had to be designed.

So on that Tuesday, we went to the funeral home where Kylie was buried. Nothing about being there was easy. Even though it is owned by dear friends and I’ve been there for countless funerals, it screams of the day we buried Kylie. I remember planning the service, the line of people at visitation, saying goodbye to her, holding my crying girls, and the sinking feeling of permanence. Worst of all was the shock of sitting in the back of a car when the casket came out carried by my seven nephews. I don’t know why that moment was so poignant. Maybe it was the sheer surprise of the door opening or because I wasn’t doing anything. I had no role at all. Like during her treatment, I was relegated to being a spectator. Whatever it was, those young men emerging with that box will forever be etched in my mind.

On this Tuesday, we sat around a table and talked. Earlier I had asked Robin to think about what she wanted on the marker. She had never mentioned it and didn’t show up with notes. But when asked, she rattled off what she wanted and it was perfect:

 

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Soon after we finished that piece of business came the surprise. It came in the form of eight copies in a manila envelope. Eight copies. Eight copies that reaffirm what I know every day. Eight copies that make me feel helpless, weak, and insufficient. Eight copies that bring me to tears as I read entries such as MARRIED: NEVER…

Never means never.

 

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I hadn’t thought about getting these documents. I suppose I need them. I’m not sure what for – she didn’t have a trust fund to dispense or a will to execute. She was just Kylie, 12 year-old Kylie, and now she is gone. I feel her gone-ness every minute of every day.

 

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This is how it is when you lose a child. The thing we had to do was difficult, but sometimes easy things like accepting an envelope devolve into an emotional crisis and break you into a puddle of tears.

We had driven separately and I cried the entire way home. I think seeing the death certificate brought back feelings of failure as a father… that I didn’t do enough to protect her. It felt so real and concrete, carved in stone.

I managed to keep the envelope away from Robin’s sight and stowed it into the safe with our other family records. Birth certificates, passports, insurance policies, marriage licenses, and now our first death certificate. Oddly, according to the state of Georgia she died of respiratory failure, not the insatiable beast of cancer. Maybe that is how the government rationalizes the fact that since 1980, only three new drugs have been approved specifically for use in the treatment of childhood cancer.

Wait! What? Did you hear that?

While hundreds of drugs have been approved for adults in the same time span, children are dying and getting next to nothing. In this age of genetic discovery, children are receiving a pittance… table scraps.

And so, Kylie is gone. I have eight copies of her death certificate to prove it and unless we step up and do something, other parents will get the same envelope.

I feel about as helpless to affect government spending as I did watching her body capitulate to cancer.

But you read this. And now you know. You may choose to ignore, but you can’t unknow. Maybe that’s a step. And if you tell someone, then they will know too.

Playing Doctor

When you were a kid, did you ever play the doctor game? Just a few friends together in a quiet room. It is one of the few games boys and girls could play together. Before your mind goes a-wandering, I’m talking about the electric board game that buzzes when you touch the sides. Operation – “the whacky doctors game, batteries not included.” I used to love that game. I don’t think I ever owned it, but a neighborhood pal did.

op

We aren’t allowed to have it in this home. When she was little, the concept freaked one of my daughters out so badly that she wouldn’t have slept had it resided under the same roof as her.

Although I have no medical training whatsoever, I would like to operate someday. I wouldn’t bluff my way into an operating room ala Frankie in Catch Me if You Can. I’m thinking more like a right place, right time scenario where I have to do an emergency tracheotomy while being given instructions by a tense doctor over the phone. Or does that only happen on television?

Seventeen years ago, I thought my surgery had arrived. Labor came quickly for daughter # 2. I pushed our little mini-van to its limit getting to the hospital and barely made it. She was born eighteen minutes from the time I wheeled momma through the door. Rats! Well, maybe that would have been a poor choice of first operations. Those stakes were very high and that patient was pretty surly – made even angrier by the fact that an unnamed person didn’t get her to the hospital in time for an epidural.

I totally could have done it, though.

I now have an app on my phone from the Red Cross to guide me. It’s a decision tree that asks questions to diagnose basic maladies. If you answer “yes” to more than one it almost always tells you to call 911. When I read the questions to someone, I don’t panic and my voice remains very calm and assuring – which makes feel like I’m pretty much a doctor.

A second opportunity presented itself recently. My brother-in-law started having pain in his abdomen. Rather than come to me, he went the traditional medicine route and was told he needed his gallbladder removed. Disappointing. After scouring the internet for the actual location of the organ, I decided this was my chance.

He seemed very dismissive of my offer at first. In fact, he barely paid attention. I chalked this up to pain. He just couldn’t think clearly. When the date of the surgery came, the so-called “professionals” had a little trouble and couldn’t perform the operation arthroscopically. So they had to cut him open, which led to complications and a ten day stint in the hospital.

Serves him right. I could have done it. I even ordered a new Ginsu knife and everything. While a full recovery was not guaranteed, the billing rate was substantially less than the one he got and he would have been able to stay at home. Besides, just think of the joy he would have brought me.

So if healthcare costs have got you down and you are looking for a cheap, extremely dubious alternative, look me up. Unlike most docs, I will be waiting for you instead of making you wait.