Getting what I wanted, and then wanting more…

July 29th, 1981 was an unforgettable morning.  As a 12 year old girl, waking up at 4am to watch the Royal Wedding of the Century–Prince Charles and Lady Diana–it was life altering.  Prior to the arrival of Lady Diana to the world stage, I knew very little about British Royalty, or any royalty for that matter, save those I saw in the Disney fairy-tales.  But this wedding, and the media storm there-after, changed my life perspective in a variety of ways.

First, and most importantly, I found I share a birthday with the Queen of England, Elizabeth II.  If you are going to share a birthday with someone, well how much better can it get than her!  🙂  I also found a love of British Literature and in particular Shakespeare.  A love that grew into my primary college major, and one I do not regret, no matter what people may tell you about majoring in English.

But, there was something more that grew, specifically a love of children.  I enjoyed the coverage of Diana, and in particular with her children.  No matter what else was said, there is no denying that she loved her children.  My own children were born over a decade after hers.  But we both share a fact of being a mother to only boys.  Boys are wonderful, and little boys are probably the most loving beings a mother could have.

But Diana died when her children were rather young.  At the time of her death, my youngest son was less than a year old.  I remember being shaken to my core when I realized that if this woman, this mother to the heir to the British throne could die and leave her two young boys behind, well, the fear grew immediately in my heart that I could too.

We all have hopes and dreams for ourselves and of course for our children.  And I remember after Diana’s death, all I ever wanted was to see my children as full-grown adults.  I wanted to know how tall they would grow to be, see their facial hair, their first dates.  I wanted them to at least have a mother until they were fully and completely grown men.  Way back then, I couldn’t imagine anything past that, because everyday was tiring fun, tiring work and I was just plain tired.

Well, now it is here.  My oldest sons are 24.  Grown men working in the world.  Science tells me that their brains are the only things that are still growing, and that will take another couple of years to complete (thank God because they both sometimes make the most bone-headed decisions!).  And my youngest, well first he can stop growing now, at 6ft 8in any time is perfectly fine with me!  He is 21 and a senior in college.

So my wish has come true.  My children are truly full grown men.  And that is all I hoped and prayed for all those years ago to see is now here right before my eyes.  But the selfish side of me is jumping out.  Trying to back out of any possible deals I might have made with someone about letting me live until this day came.  Because I want more.  I want what my parents had with me.  I want my children to blossom and I want to witness it with my own eyes.  I want to see them become men in the world, God-fearing, spouse loving, fathers.  I want to travel with them and see the world through their eyes for as long as I can.  There are so many things that I want for them and for me with them.  Exhaustion and fear in my youth clouded my vision.

So remember, you with young children, enjoy today as best you can and know that there is more, so much more to come.  Even once they are grown, they have more to learn from you and better yet they have even more to teach you.

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Grief isn’t a contest…

I talk about death and grief quite a bit these days.  My father passed away recently and I miss him dearly.  He was precious to me always.  But even more so now.  As well, I lost my step-son Tanner, a son in my heart, just over three years ago to a vicious and rare form of cancer.  Both losses have been devastating and the pain tremendous.

People have been very kind after the loss of both of these individuals.  But it is hard.  It is especially hard when people, with all of their very best intentions, try to feel your pain, or even compare your pain to something or someone that they lost in their own lives.  I know their intentions are pure, I know because before these two above mentioned losses, I would also try very hard to find a way to show I understood someone’s pain of loss.  But the fact is, you and I cannot do that.  And I think it would be easier on everyone if we didn’t try.

In my opinion, there is no better daddy’s girl in the world than I.  Absolutely no way anyone could love and admire their father more than me.  But once I get over myself, I realize that is only true in my mind.  You may be just as great a daddy’s girl (but no better of course) as I am, and your pain does, or will someday, hurt just as deeply as mine.

So it’s not a contest, your grief, or my grief.  My father is unique to me.  I cannot imagine a life where he was not mine.  There is no other man who could take his place.  Likewise, your loss, whomever it was, is unique to you.  There is no way I can understand what you have lost.  How deep that pain is for you.  Even if I know your person, I imagine I would see that person differently than you.

I liken this to the loss of my step-son Tanner.  The loss of Tanner hurts.  Deeply.  Yet, there is no way I understand the pain my husband feels.  While I have had Tanner in my life since he was 5 years old, there is still a gap.  I did not bring this child, and his identical twin brother, into this world.  I have no knowledge of his first night at home, when he smiled for the first time, his first word, when he started crawling, etc.  My husband, as well as Tanner’s mother, they know exactly what the world has lost, in the loss of their son.  They have all of those memories to reflect on, to remember fondly and lovingly.  And I imagine painfully, as they try to piece together what may have caused him to develop this cancer.  Could they have done something different to keep it from happening?  I can only imagine, but I cannot truly understand.  Because Tanner, like my father was unique.  Even with an identical twin brother, a mirror-twin, Tanner was unique and special and his own individual self.

I guess my point to all of this is that we are all special, unique individuals.  And there are people in this world who will miss us deeply when it is our turn to move on to the next world.  While God made us all in him image, He also made us all one-of-a-kind.  So it is not a contest, who grieves more vs. less than another.  Grief is love and love is unique.

 

Thank you Jimmy V…

Looking back at my life so far, I can map out a time-line of peaks and valleys.  The highest of highs as well as the lowest of lows.  But the lowest of lows are a real struggle for me, as I am sure it is for most everyone.  I have suffered from deep, immobilizing depression.   The kind of depression that can push someone over the edge.  It is deep, dark and scary.

But over the years, I have learned to manage this depression.  It has rarely been a constant, but instead comes in waves, or valleys, depending on what is going on in my life.  The few times that is has lasted longer than normal, I have sought help.  Medication can help, but not always.  Counseling can help, but not always very quickly.  So, when I find myself in a deep, dark pit of life, where I can no longer find peace or comfort and start thinking about how close I am to the edge, I remember Jimmy V. and the speech he gave just months before losing his battle against cancer.

Jim Valvano was an amazing college basketball coach from the late 60’s until 1990.  In 1992 he was diagnosed with metastatic adenocarsinoma and given less than a year to live.  In early 1993, Jimmy V. was awarded the “Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award”.  Jimmy V. came to that award ceremony and gave what I consider to be the best, most encouraging speech I have ever heard.  I actually watched his speech on television the night he gave it.

It is Jimmy V.’s powerful words during the speech that lifts me up and out of the deepest of deep pits I can find myself in.  His enthusiasm for life, I want that.  His ability to over look a terrible situation and find the joy (thanks Daddy!), I want that.   I believe he was a God-given gift that remains a part of me even after all these years.  There isn’t really much more I can say, but I can share the video and recommend you watch it at any time, but especially when you find yourself going down a deep dark path.  While it may not work for you like it does for me, I suggest you try.  What do you have to lose? What could you have to gain?

Here you go–enjoy!  Jimmy V

Can you remain on good terms with an ex-husband?

I was actually going to write about something else regarding being surprised.  And then yesterday happened which caused me to realize the one thing that continues to surprise me and most everyone who knows me.   Nothing surprises me more than the fact that my ex-husband (and father of my children) and I have remained on good terms after all these years.

Allen and I got married in December of 1987.  I was 18 and he was 21.  We married because we wanted to get married and move away.  There was no baby on the way, and no other real reason other than we believed we would be together forever.   Nearly 7 years after we married, we had our first son, Jackson.  Two 1/2 years after that we had our second son Tanner James.  Less than two years after Tanner was born, my husband decided he wanted a divorce.  This was not the first time we  had been down that road.  Allen and I separated 4 months after Jackson was born, and came within two weeks of actually being divorced when we put a halt on it the first time.

The second time was the last.  And it was painful. I could go into a ton of reasons to blame him for our marriage failing, and I’m sure that he could do the same.  Heck I know my own family blames me because one of them even told me that “I deserved my divorce”.  The divorce was difficult to say the least.

But my children were only two and four years old.  Since Tanner was only two that meant he would never remember us living together as a family (I’m not real sure how much Jackson actually remembers).  And that is a tough pill to swallow as a parent.   How do you create a world where children see a positive relationship between the two people they love the most, but who cannot get along.

First,  you have to do some soul searching.  For me, that meant looking hard at myself and what I may have done to cause our divorce.  Why did Allen not want to be married to me any longer?  Next you have to decide what you want for your children.  I want the very best for my children.  And in my mind, the very best would have been for their father and I to remain married.  But that’s out.  So the next very best thing I could give my children was a positive relationship with their father.  We had to get along because we still had children to raise.

Now this can lead to some hilarious situations.  My youngest son was born on his father’s birthday.  If you are divorced with children, you know that typically parents get their children on the parents birthday, no matter whose weekend it is, or whatever.  But I was not willing to give Tanner up every single year on his birthday just because it fell  on Allen’s birthday.  So, not only did I have to throw out my own birthday as a day I could expect to have my children, I agreed (I didn’t have to) but I agreed to celebrate Tanner’s birthday with his father as long as Tanner wanted that to happen.  Side note—it’s still happening and the “baby” just turned 21.  Every year we go to my mother’s house with all of Allen’s family and all of my family and we celebrate the both of them.

Of course that means that Jackson wants his dad to come to his birthday parties as well.  So now I’ve celebrated most every single birthday of Jackson’s with Allen and all of his family and mine over at my mother’s home.  As a side note, Allen’s late mother’s birthday was the day after Jackson’s, so we celebrated her birthday as well.

Now lets think back to a previous blog post where I mentioned that my husband Arthur and my ex-husband Allen were in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade together.  This can lead to endless possibilities of comedy.  It all boils down to their names for each other–“My ex-husband in law”.  I cannot stay in the same room with these two people.

Even my children and step-children have fun with this situation.  They refer to Allen as “old daddy”.  EVEN HIS CHILDREN!!  🙂  When the children were younger, this man would walk into my home–oh yeah, I forgot to mention he moved 4 doors down from me after our divorce–he would walk into my home and the kids would be in the floor playing and without missing a beat would say “Hey Old Daddy” and then go right back to what they were doing.

But yesterday.  Yesterday was a new one.  Recently, Arthur and I moved.  Not far from our old home, basically down the street and around the block.  I got a phone call from my ex-husband around 1pm wanting to know if I had a minute he needed to ask a favor.  Sure.  I’ve got a minute what’s up?  My ex-husband proceeded to ask if my husband could give him a haircut later that evening.  A haircut?  It’s one thing to come over to borrow a cup of milk or an egg, but a haircut?  Now we still give two of our sons haircuts because well, one of them is too cheap to pay for a haircut, haha, and the other is autistic and prefers me to do it over anyone else.  (If you have every been around an autistic child you might know that it is real common for them to say it hurts to get a haircut.)  But my ex-husband?

And that’s when I realized that life could still surprise me.   Maybe my family was right, I did deserve my divorce.  And all the wonderful surprises that have happened ever since.

 

Secrets and Trusting God…

The topic of secrets is tough for me.  Mainly because I don’t trust people.  At this point in my life, I can narrow down my list of trusted people to two.  And only two.  One is my husband Arthur.  I trust him like no other.  Even though I have been married before, I can tell you that Arthur knows more about me than anyone else on this planet.  But it has taken years for me to get to a place where I trust him completely.  The other person I won’t name so to not hurt anyone’s feelings.  The truth is I just don’t trust people.

But there is one deep dark secret that I hold.  A childhood secret that I would guess is the reason I do not trust people.  While I’m not willing to share it with the world, I will say that people should be careful who they trust.  Even in their own family, trust should not be expected.  It should be earned.  I think that might go against nature, because people seem to instinctively trust their parents, siblings, and even extended family.    But I have learned the hard way that automatic trust should not be expected.  I don’t expect my children to trust me because I am their mother.  My hope is that they trust me because I have proven to be trustworthy.  Only they can decide if I have or have not.  And I have to accept their decision if I respect them as adults.

I will probably keep my secret and take it to the grave (with the exception of the two people I have already told).  For me, I believe in God.  And I believe in God’s timing, in his wisdom, in his grace and also in his vengeance.   I think God knows that I cannot open the door and reveal my secret.  I do not have the strength to do that to everyone involved.  But I know that God will judge this person as some point.  I myself fear very few things.  But I have seen God’s wrath and I believe Romans 12:19-21 which discusses God’s vengeance.  So God can have it and He can deal with this person when He sees fit to do so!  God has saved me from the pain this secret has caused me and that is good enough for me.

A Final Gift To My Son And His Mother

 

My family is a blended family, but family none-the-less. Between my husband Arthur and I, we have four boys, Tanner and Tatton Hammontree and Jackson and Tanner-James McDaniel.  There is only two years difference between all four boys as my husband brought identical twins, Tanner and Tatton, into the mix and my oldest son Jackson is only 6 weeks younger than the twins.  And obviously two Tanner’s because you know—Great Minds Think Alike!

All four boys lived with us for most of our married lives.  The twins moved into our home about 18 months after we married.  And life was crazy.  Their mother was still in the picture, they saw her every other weekend, holiday’s, birthday’s etc.  Life was school, baseball, basketball, tae-kwan-do, church, friends, girlfriends, you know– the whole enchilada.  We were cruising through the teenage years with the typical highs and lows of good/bad grades, smart mouths, teenage fun, growth spurts, the dog ate my homework (that actually happened to ME!) you name it, I’ve got a story for it!  Arthur and I were all in.  And then, KABOOM.

Leaving out all of the ugliest details, on April 26th, 2012, nearing the end of our oldest three boys Junior year of High School, one of our children, Tanner Hammontree, was Out.Of.The.Blue. diagnosed with Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma—Stage 4.  Out of our 4 boys, Tanner H. was the healthiest, the strongest, the fastest.  He had NEVER BEEN SICK in his life.  The only things that ever kept him from school were having his eyes dilated and being suspended.    Tanner had started filling out his application for the Naval Academy.  He ran 7 miles a day as well as played varsity soccer for the high school.

Again I’m going to skip over to the end.  After 3 ½ years of battling this monster with St. Jude at our side, Arthur and I were given the worst news—there was nothing more that could be done.  That was June 5th, 2015.  Tanner’s lead oncologist held MY HAND while telling me that she believed Tanner had between 2 weeks and two months to live.  And I held Tanner’s hand while his doctor told him the same thing.  At this point in the fight, Tanner’s mother had moved out of the city and she would be told this news the next day.  Tanner came home on hospice on July 7th and we spent the next 3 weeks loving on him and making every moment count.

On Friday, July 24th, very late that evening, Tanner’s pain was more than could be managed at home.  I watched my husband gather his son into his arms and with the help of Tatton, carry Tanner and his IV’s out to the car and rush back to St. Jude.  Tanner’s mother was there soon after as she had spent the last three weeks of Tanner’s life in Memphis, coming to our home every day to be with her child.  And for the next 36 hours, family was brought in to visit with Tanner one last time.  All of Tanner’s family was there, but especially all of his mother’s family.   Sisters, brother, cousins, etc were there and they loved on all of us including Jackson and Tanner James.  But the time came for decisions to be made.  Words are not spoken at this point in the situation.  Words are not necessary.  I knew that Arthur as well as Tanner and Tatton were in the best hands, both medically, and emotionally.  And a need for respect of family washed over me like fresh cold water.  If things were different, if it had been MY Tanner James lying in that hospital after a 3 ½ year fight, what would I, as a mother want?  What would take away the most stress and discomfort?  It was in that moment that I knew what I had to do.

Many of you may not agree with this, but until you have walked in my shoes, be careful.  I knew I had to go home and leave my (step) son with his family.  You see in my heart, Tanner Hammontree was and is forever mine.  Mine, mine, mine. I had been the one to help that child through his new school when he started 4th grade; I had been the one to encourage him in applying to the Naval Academy; I had been the one to hold him in the middle of the night while he cried because he didn’t want to do the brutal Chemotherapy treatment anymore.

But the reality is that during a time like this, you have to remember that he already has a first love, and that was his mother.  And the truth is that his mother and I did not get along.  We tried.  Many times, but we are very different women with very different ideas about life and children. All of that, however, is tossed right out the window when a child is knocking on death’s door.   And so I went home.  Home to my Tanner-James, where I held on to him all night long.  I left Tanner H. with the people who brought him into this world together as a family.  They would be together as a family, Tanner and Tatton and their mother and father, one last time to see Tanner home to God.   It was my gift to both Tanner and his mother, that there would be no un-necessary stress or discomfort in that child’s final moments on this earth.   There would only be peace.

I held on to Tanner James until the call came from my husband, just after 7am on July 26th, that “Tanner was gone”.  I leaned over and told Tanner that his brother was now in heaven, threw on my clothes, and left for St. Jude.   Three hours later, after holding hands with all of Tanner’s family, praying over his lifeless body, and walking with him and my husband down the hallway until St. Jude said we could go no further with our child, I drove my husband home from St. Jude, put him to bed, and went to the back porch and cried.  There has never been a day that I wished I had done something different.  I know it was the right thing for me to go home and let them be a family one last time.  And while I hope that you never find yourself in such a situation, my prayer is that you find the strength to do whatever is necessary to ensure your child, whether by birth or not, leaves this world with the gift of a soul at peace.

 

Apologizing to the pool

I talk a lot about my father, Ed Dooley.  He was a big presence in my life.  And thankfully he left me with a lifetime of memories to keep him alive in my heart and mind.

Daddy was the biggest kid in any room he was in.  Even my children recognized that at some point they took life a little more seriously than he did.  Daddy loved kids.  Kids of all ages.  If there was a baby in the room, he would have that baby in his lap before the day was over.  And he would have that baby curling over with laughter.  I remember when my oldest son was about 5 months old.  You know the age…chunky, cute, not quite able to crawl but close to figuring it out.  Daddy and Jackson were sitting in the rocking chair in Jackson’s room when daddy sneezed.  Jackson almost fell out of daddy’s lap laughing.  That was all it took.  The next thing I know, I walk into the room to daddy fake sneezing and Jackson nearly passing out from laughing so hard.  Tears were rolling down Jackson’s face.  I had never seen a baby at that age laugh so hard he was crying.  And it was that amazing baby laugh.  The one that makes a grown up laugh.  So now daddy is crying, Jackson is crying and I’m crying…all from laughing so hard.

After I married my husband Arthur, we blended our four boys into our lives rather quickly.  About a year after we married, Tanner and Tatton moved in with us full-time.  Imaging having four boys who were only two years apart from the oldest to the youngest.  It was a wild life.  And my parents were the keepers of the kids after school and most any time we needed someone to babysit.  Let me also add that there was no better place for kids to hang out than at my parents home.  There was a swimming pool, a Nana Gaye who cooked and loved on the kids and then there was Ampa Ed.

Nana pretty much put daddy in charge of keeping up with the kids.  Or maybe they were keeping up with him and out of her hair.  I think it depended on the day as to who was in charge of who.  Nana was the leader, but the leader had things to do.  In the meantime, daddy would have the kids at the table doing homework, working on projects around the house or cutting grass, and then there was the swimming pool.  Everybody loved the swimming pool.

Now you have to know that daddy was a retired fireman.  And that was the one thing that daddy took seriously all the time.  Being a fireman meant that you saw things most people don’t see.  In particular, he had seen kids drown in swimming pools.  So there was always rules at my parents home when it came to the pool.  Serious, strict rules.  There was NO Running.  Period.  We did not run around the pool.  There was NO fighting in the pool.  None.  There was NO holding people under water or terrorizing them in the pool.  These were serious offenses in my father’s eyes.

So imagine having 4 growing boys to deal with every summer around that pool.  Nana was out.  She didn’t want any part of having to manage that bunch in that arena.  And if they all brought a friend over, well now you have 8 boys, all pretty much the same age, to manage in a serious situation.  Who needs that!?!  But daddy, daddy could handle it.  And it could get hilarious.

Daddy could come up with a game for most anything to keep kids busy but also learning. He really should have been a teacher.  So the boys would always have “swim school” which meant that Ampa Ed was the judge on how well the boys did things.  Things like diving.  He would grade them on their diving skills.  Or swimming underwater from one end of the pool to the other.  Big fun with lots of competition.  Then there was the big favorite “Splash Contest”.  Even us adults would get in on that fun.  The wooden fence was pretty close to the pool on the deep end so we would all try to get water to splash onto the wood fence.  Daddy could tell by the fence whose splash was the highest by the water marks on the fence.  There would always be an argument about this at some point but Ampa Ed always gave a final ruling and that was that.

All of this leads to how Ampa Ed dealt with rule breakers or people who argued too much with him about a situation.  Usually it was as a group that the rules got broken or arguments happened.  So when the rules got broken, like a group wrestling match in the pool, Ampa made everyone get out and sit side-by-side on the side of the pool.  Next, they had to “apologize to the pool”.  This was met with pure shock the first few times he enforced this punishment.  What made it worse was the boys also had to hold hands while apologizing to the pool and then sing.  Originally, daddy had the boys to sing “Jesus Loves Me” while holding hands and sitting on the side of the pool.  But when I found out that Jesus was being brought into the picture, I had to step in and tell daddy “Let’s leave Jesus out of this” because I just didn’t think Jesus needed to be a part of any punishment, no matter how funny it might have been.  So daddy and I agreed on “The Barney Song”.  You know, “I love you, you love me”.  I can tell you that “I” was marked as a villain by all of my children when that change was made.  🙂  Which I knew would happen.  Those boys would have rather done most anything else in the world than sing that song.  Especially as teenagers.

The bonus to of all of this was that this method of dealing with a group of teenage boys was one way of getting rid of any kid that wouldn’t agree to participate in this punishment for rule breaking.  It kind of weeded out the riffraff without me or my parents having to say that someone wasn’t allowed to come over any more.  If their friends couldn’t handle singing the Barney Song when they broke the pool rules then my parents didn’t have to deal with that friend anymore.  And I think my parents had their hands full with just my 4 boys.

*Please note that this photo represents the last splash contest we had.  In this photo is our youngest son, Tanner James, who is about 6ft 8in tall and around 240lbs in this photo.  If you look close you will notice that the board is almost touching the water.  I just happened to catch in this photo the moment that Tanner James BROKE the diving board trying to beat his friend Emily at that days Splash Contest.  Side note, Emily still won.  🙂