Landing On Your Feet: Part II–Food Is Just a Thought

I had been diligently placed into the back of an ambulance. My wife, Renee, and I advised them of our preferred hospital. Brianna was borrowing our car but would remain on call for Renee and me if transport was needed later. For a brief period of time, Brianna was driving directly behind the ambulance. Brianna’s fiancée, Michael, and her son, Taelor were riding in the car with her. As they rode behind us, Taelor made an observation with his brilliant 4 year old mind. “Mommy?” “What, Taelor?” “Pop Pop needs to get a bigger car.” “Why is that?” “Because I can’t see Pop Pop inside the ambulance. This car is TOO SMALL.” How can you NOT love such logic.

As Renee and I rode toward the hospital,  the EMT was chatting us up. He mentioned that we were very fortunate that my injury did not happen the previous night. The reason why is that there was a nasty snowstorm. The weather conditions would not have allowed me to choose my hospital. They would have had no choice but to take me to the nearest one. Given that the nearest hospital to my house would have been very undesirable, I appreciated his perspective.

We soon arrived at the hospital. I was placed in a chair with my right foot propped up while I waited for a doctor to assess me. This gave me time to think about my fall more than I should have, perhaps. My mind could see my foot slip. I could even see my right foot as it was tucked underneath my body and was between my body and the stairs upon impact. I could envision the separation of the bones in my ankle. My mind was like an episode of CSI: Miami except there was no music by The Who and David Caruso was not putting on his sunglasses at the bottom of the stairs. I did, however, do a GREAT Roger Daltrey upon impact: YEOWWWWWWWWWW!!!!

A doctor came and assessed me. The next step was x-rays. I asked the doctor if I could have something to eat as I had not eaten in quite a few hours. They said they would find me something to eat after the X-rays. No sooner did the doctor say that and a transporter was there to take me to radiology.

I got in to the x-ray room and the x-ray technician helped me hobble onto the exam table. She was as gentle as she could possible be to get her job done.  She had to x-ray my injured foot from several angles which required some very uncomfortable positioning. In all of this, I could not help but be fascinated by the way that x-ray technology has advanced over the years. There was no waiting for the films to be developed. It was all digital. The doctor was even able to tell the x-ray technician that he needed an x-ray re-taken while I was still in the room. My fascination helped me take the focus off of my discomfort.

I was transported back into the emergency room where Renee was waiting. Not long after my return, the doctor came to talk to me. It was official. I had broken my tibia and fibula (my front and rear leg bones) on my right leg where it meets my ankle. I also had some bone separation around my ankle bones. I was a month away from turning 51 and this was my first fracture. Go big or go home, right? I was being transported to a bed in the emergency room and waiting to be seen by an orthopedic specialist. When I got to my bed, I, once again, asked for something to eat. The nurse told me she would reach out to dietary since my X-rays were done.

The orthopedic specialist arrived and introduced himself. He also explained the detail of how badly I had broken my ankle. He also told Renee and me that it would require surgery to correct. Furthermore, I was looking at approximately 10 weeks total of rehabilitation and recovery. THAT was a hard blow. I had a phone interview scheduled for the following morning and was planning to attend a job fair later in the week. I was suddenly becoming an emotional wreck. Renee held my hand, looked me in the eyes, and told me plainly: “It’s going to be okay”. I felt like I HAD to trust her faith. Besides, the matter was out of my control. I had little choice but to accept what was in front of me. Admittedly, this was a role reversal. It was usually Renee in the hospital bed and me trying to provide the reassurance. Still, holding Renee’s hand and looking in her eyes is always a good vantage point for me.

The orthopedic specialist told me he was going to apply a temporary cast and I would be scheduled for surgery the following day. He also told me that as he would be applying the cast, he would be resetting the fractured bone. This would require a local anesthetic to be injected into my ankle to block the pain while he was resetting the bones. I KNEW that injecting the local anesthetic was going to be painful and unpleasant. I just was not prepared for HOW painful and unpleasant.  I held Renee’s hand and closed my eyes. Then came the injection. II, once again, channeled Roger Daltrey: YEOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW! I should stipulate that the orthopedic specialist was probably unaware of the fact that his poor dear mother was (allegedly) a victim of a rotting snakebite and was (allegedly) involved in the theft of horses. Nevertheless, when he injected that needle into my ankle, I let him know those (alleged) facts and a few other (alleged) things about his mother that he was likely unaware.

When the local anesthetic began to kick in, numbing my leg, the doctor began to apply the casting material to my right leg. The casting material was very warm and comforting. ON top of that, when the orthopedic specialist was manipulating my bones, my leg started to feel more…right. It felt almost like the sensation one gets from cracking knuckles. Don’t get me wrong. It still hurt…A LOT. But it also hurt A LOT less than when I first got there.

When the orthopedic specialist finished with my leg, I tried to relax for a moment and hope (once again) for some food. It was at this point that Brianna reached out to me. She had spoken to my younger son, Caleb, and he was VERY upset. In Caleb’s mind, I fell because I was in a rush to get outside to help him shovel the driveway. He felt responsible for my injury. I called Caleb right away to speak to him. You could feel his emotion through the phone line. I spoke to him and reassured him that my fall was nothing more and nothing less than an accident. It was not his fault. It was beyond his control and mine. I told him I would be OK and I would see him soon and we got off the phone.

My nurse came and I hoped it would be good news about some food. NOPE! Instead, she informed me that I was being transported to a patient room in the hospital to await my surgery the next day. This meant my food got delayed (AGAIN) until I was in my patient room. Since I was waking from a nap just before I fell, I was going on nearly 12 hours since I had last eaten. I was getting a bit irritable about the issue.

I got up to my new (semi-private) room and even got to see and hug Brianna and Caleb for a couple of minutes as they had come to pick up Renee and take her home. I kissed my wife goodnight and got used to my new surroundings. I met with my new nurse and came short of begging for some food. The nurse said she would try but it was getting close to midnight and midnight was when my stomach turned into a proverbial pumpkin to prepare for my surgery.

For the first time since I had fallen, I had a moment to myself. I was able to just breathe in and breathe out and try to process everything. I was miserable. Fortunately, the misery was short lived. My nurse came with a tray of hot food. Even better, she had pain medicine for me. Life wasn’t great but it was better for the moment.

Landing On Your Feet: Part I – Hi Froggy!

Life is nothing without having the occasional monkey wrench thrown into the works that forces you to bring your routine to a grinding halt and completely restructure your daily routine as well as any plans you might have for the near future. My life has recently faced such a mighty monkey wrench (plumber’s crack and all). However, I feel that I must back track a couple of years with a story to provide a bit more background and context.

A couple of years ago, it was a Sunday morning pretty much like any other. My wife was out running errands. My younger daughter, Brianna, was meandering around in the front yard. My grandson, Taelor, was spending the weekend with his father. Brianna was spending some time to herself before Taelor came home later that day. Given all of these factors, the house was QUIET!

I did a few routine tasks on my laptop which is located upstairs and proceeded to make my way downstairs. I got about two steps down and one of my feet slipped. In an effort to break my fall, I wound up sliding down the stairs face down, all the way to the bottom. Imagine a baseball player sliding down a ski slope into home plate and you get the idea.

First of all, let me assure you (as I know you are nervously reaching for your popcorn). I was not injured at all in this fall. Still, I made this slipping, sliding, thumping fall and no one was inside the house to be aware of it. As a matter of fact, Brianna was just outside the dining room window in the front yard. She was completely oblivious to my fall (or anything else going on inside the house). Instead, she shouted: “HI, FROGGY!” She had just seen a little baby frog outside in the front yard. The frog brought a big smile to her face.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful that I wasn’t injured that day. Still, there was a small, vain part of me that couldn’t get past the idea that I had fallen and no one was aware. There was no slip…..sliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide…thump…thump…THUMP to be immediately followed by ANYONE saying: OMIGOSH!!!! ARE YOU OK? Instead, what I got was a slip…..sliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide…thump…thump…THUMP…HI FROGGY! Like I said, it’s a bit vain and it actually got to be a bit of a running joke between Brianna and me since that day.

Fast forward a couple of years later, I hadn’t been feeling well so I took a nap. I told my wife and my son, Caleb, that I would be up later to help shovel the driveway as there was some small accumulation in the driveway. Several hours later, I awoke to look at my clock. I had overslept about an hour past my intended time to get up and help Caleb shovel the driveway.

I made my way to my office to text back and forth with a former colleague. I had peeked out the window to see that Caleb was already outside and shoveling the driveway on his own. I told my online colleague that I needed to step away from the computer. The last thing I typed to her was “Snow shovel beckons”.

I started to make my way down the stairs. Around the second step down, one of my feet slipped (YES, I notice a pattern too). My right foot curled underneath as I was falling and wound up being between my 300-ish pound body and the stairs upon impact. The pain upon impact was excruciating. I yelled so loudly that several production workers at the local factory mistakenly clocked out for the day.

Since my right foot was curled underneath my body, I had less friction to slow or break my fall. In the brief few seconds before I got to the bottom of the stairs, I was really worried that my momentum was going to slingshot me head first into the front door. Fortunately, such a slapstick outcome did not occur.

When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I pulled my right leg out from underneath my body. I decided to try and put just a teensy weensy amount of weight onto my right foot. NOPE! The end result of that was another scream that sounded like James Brown portraying a Klingon. Workers at the local factory were frustrated and confused by the second alarm and were now threatening to strike.

My wife was in the living room and came running into the dining room when she heard all the thumping and screaming. OMIGOSH! ARE YOU OK? (Yes, she said it). When she asked me if I hurt. I could only get out: MY ANKLE!!!!!

My wife had me hop into a nearby chair and removed the shoe and sock on my right foot. The swelling had already begun. Renee called Brianna and explained that I had fallen and needed help getting me into the car. Since, I had a mild stroke in 2015. Brianna decided it would be wiser to call an ambulance (which she did). It seemed like it was no sooner that Renee got off the phone with Brianna that Brianna was coming through the front door. All while this was happening, Caleb was outside, still shoveling the driveway and unaware that I was hurt.

Brianna came into the house and explained that she had already called an ambulance. Renee and I weren’t exactly enthused about that at the time but Brianna made the right call. There was too much risk of further injury if we tried transporting me in our Ford Focus.

Brianna walked over and tried to comfort me. I simply could not stop myself. I looked my daughter in the eyes and said: “HI, FROGGY!” It was less than a minute later (or so it seemed) that the ambulance was pulling into my driveway. Next thing you know, I am making my way onto a gurney. For the second time in less than two years, my grandson is watching ambulance doors close with me in the back.

The (mis)adventure would continue as I got to the hospital.

Welcome Back, Kata!

I have had some great pleasure over the last 8 years or so reconnecting with some old friends via Facebook. I don’t consider myself to be a social media addict but Facebook has reconnected me with friends from the Navy, high school, or relatives who live far away that I have not seen in many years. Some of them, I may possibly have lost contact with forever had it not been for the Internet and social media or, at the very least, it would have been much hard to track down these connections or for them to find me.

About 3 months ago, I was searching for a friend from high school named Jeff. First, I should provide some history. Jeff graduated about 6 years ahead of me. He then went on to be the instructor for my high school’s karate club. A mutual friend brought me to a karate club meeting after school one day during my 9th grade year. Since I was a first time visitor, Jeff gave me some individual attention. My first lesson was to never address Jeff as “sensei” (teacher). The reason why was that Jeff, while very learned in karate, was not a black belt in karate. Sensei was reserved for black belts. Jeff then taught me chudan oi zuki (middle lunge punch). He taught me how to hold my fist (thumb tucked inward) and to punch from the hip. He explained this way: “If I punch you with my arm, it won’t hurt much. If Lou Ferrigno punches you with his arm, it will hurt like crazy BUT not as much as if he had put his hip into the punch.” Clearly, Jeff understood the use of humor as a teaching tool which clicked very well with me. After practice, since several of us did not have access to a car, Jeff drove us all home. This was very generous given that several of the students lived on the other side of town. Over time, I would find that the generosity of Jeff’s time knew few boundaries.

Over the course of my sophomore and junior years in high school, I continued in karate club whenever it did not conflict with my first obligation which was drama club. Jeff was kind enough not to give me grief over giving theater priority over karate as he understood my passion for it. He simply welcomed me into every karate class I could attend. When I got my driver’s license, I would even visit Jeff at his home as he had become as much of a friend as an instructor. Many visits would result in us practicing a kata (formal exercise). Jeff even wrote out the steps of several different kata on a legal pad one day to help me retain the steps better. Again, his generosity knew few boundaries.

As my senior year if high school was approaching, Jeff moved from our town of Savannah, GA to the Atlanta area. Soon after, he was married and he had a son. He called me at Christmas time that year to catch up and tell me about his son and wife. The following spring, I went with some friends to Six Flags Over Georgia. Later that day, we met up with Jeff at his apartment. It would be the last time I saw him before I left to join the Navy.

Two years later, I was out of the Navy and living in the Atlanta area with my parents. Jeff was one of the first people I looked up. As it turned out, Jeff lived with his wife and son in an apartment that was less than 5 minutes from my parents house. I could not believe the blessing. Jeff and I bonded all over again. His wife was always nothing short of hospitable.

Of the next year and a half that followed, I was also married with 3 step children (my first wife had three kids from a previous marriage). Eventually, I moved to western New York (to my ex wife’s home town) for a fresh start. Jeff and I lost contact after that.

Fast forward to around September 2016, I searched for Jeff on Facebook. I had searched previously to no avail. I happened to recall his son’s name and searched for him instead. PAYDIRT! I sent a message to his son to confirm I had found the right person. Within the next several days. Jeff sent me a friend request on Facebook. I would find out that his son had not yet read the message I sent. Jeff coincidentally found me through a mutual friend. His presence could not have come at a better time. I had been laid off from my job. Plus, between August and December 2016, my wife and I faced the death of 10 friends, family members, or other loved ones. This would sadly, include a close high school friend and the aforementioned ex-wife. IN short, I was a wreck and reconnecting with Jeff was like hitting the play button on a song that had been paused for 30 years. Not a single note was missed.

One day, Jeff presented me with a challenge. The challenge was to do a kata every day. In spite of my obesity (or perhaps because of it), I was intrigued by the idea. He then added that we were to do the same kata 5 times per day every day for 6 days. After a day of rest on the 7th day, the cycle would start again. I figured if Jeff was willing to do it in spite of some severe orthopedic issues. I had no excuse not to participate.

The kata is 20 steps and takes about 40 seconds on the average. The first several days, I nearly fell trying to remember the steps and perform them correctly. As always, Jeff never judged. He always provided support and encouragement. He reminded me to do the steps as well as I can. Master Gichin Funakoshi, who basically created the form of karate that Jeff studies (Shotokan), has a very simple adage: “Each to their own ability”. The goal is simply to be better at karate today than you were yesterday.

I cannot begin to tell you the benefit that this challenge and connection has provided for Jeff and me alike. Every morning, we bond from 1000 miles away. We even drafted a long range plan and have used Facebook to share the challenge for others across the globe. Several people close to Jeff or me have joined the challenge.  I post daily on Facebook with my progress. Jeff provides input and support on my posts. He knows the technique. I help to communicate our challenge with the world. We are connected and in tune with one another. Like Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Simmons and Stanley, Maurice and Verdine, peanut butter and jelly, or RC cola and a moon pie; Jeff and Shane go well together. I’ll keep you all posted over time with the progress. If you’d like to join the challenge, feel free to add a comment. I can provide some basic information to get you started. OSU!

241 years of Tradition Gets Tossed Overboard.

For those of you who may not know this, I am a Navy veteran. I did not serve in combat. Unlike, many of my Navy peers I did not see the world, Barring six months in training, the farthest I got from home in my two year stint was Camp LeJeune, NC. Nevertheless, I am proud to have served my country and my Navy service gave me a jump start into manhood that likely would have taken the spoiled 18 year that I was much longer to achieve. Just 6 months into my Navy career, I was working as a Hospital Corpsman in a Coronary Care Unit (CCU) at the Navy Hospital in Charleston, SC. alongside some of the finest corpsmen, nurses and doctors.

I realize that time brings on some harsh transitions. The Navy base in Charleston, SC closed in 1996. The hospital where I served closed in 2010. In March 2016, the hospital building was facing foreclosure. Any opportunity I would wish to have to roam the 9th floor of that hospital and envision the lives that were saved by all the personnel, before and after me, are long gone. Again, some of these things just happen with the passage of time.

Still, there are SOME changes that I just find very hard to digest. Case in point, the consensus of Ray Mabus (Secretary of the Navy) and Admiral John Richardson (Chief of Naval Operations) to dispense with all 91 of its enlisted ratings titles. The full story can be found by clicking here. The enlisted ratings system had been a Navy tradition for 241 (as old as our nation itself).  To explain the ratings system for those who are not familiar, in addition to an enlisted rank, enlisted personnel were also identified by their rating (occupational code). A list of the enlisted ratings can be found here. For example, at  the time of my discharge (1986), I was an E-3. My rating was HM (Hospital Corpsman). Therefore, my rank/ranking was shown as hospitalman. Again, this indicated, that I was an E-3 Hospital Corpsman. A Navy Photographer had a rating of PH. If said photographer was a 1st Class Petty Officer (E-6) then Joe Sailor would be identified as PH1 sailor (Photographer 1st Class).

I realize  that may sound very convoluted to someone outside of the Navy but it was a great way to see how each person fit into the organizational that is the Navy. It was a great icebreaker. As a corpsman working in a hospital, we got patients of all ranks and ratings. FT2 Smith (not his real name) would get admitted to our unit. I could look at his rating and see he was a Fire Control Technician 2nd Class Petty Officer. Once I got his patient history, I could ask him questions about his job. This not only gave me a glimpse into FT2 Smith’s world, it had great potential of putting the patient at ease from a (most likely) heart related incident that cause his admission.

Those involved in the decision say that this change will help to ease  the transition into civilian life. HUH? HOW, PRAY TELL, DOES THIS HELP SUCH A TRANSITION? Is Fire Control Technician 2nd Class Smith somehow more impeded from getting that civil service job with the county fire department than if he were simply identified as @nd Class Petty Office Smith. I truly DO NO GET IT Secretary Mabus. After all, you served in the Navy for as long (or as little) as I did and reached the distinguished rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade. I am speculating that you served in the Navy long enough to pay the government back for your college education. I have no problem with that at all in and of itself. How such tenure makes you an appropriate choice for Secretary of the Navy is strange to me but, hey, that’s politics for you.

I can only suspect that your doctorate from Harvard Law School left very little room for your to remember such trivial information as what your distinguished enlisted Navy personnel actually DO to serve their country. Let me put it to you simply Secretary Mabus, I was not just an E-3. I was a HOSPITAL CORPSMAN. By rank, I was a HOSPITALMAN and I WAS VERY PROUD OF MY JOB. It made me part of who I was in the world’s finest Navy. Perhaps, you should step down Mr. Secretary (after you repeal this decision).Perhaps, you can spend your years working at an American Legion Hall as a BINGO announcer. This way, you can continue to serve our military and only have to worry about saying things like: “B-8, I-17, O-21”. At the most, you have to deal with four syllables. Be sure to properly acknowledge the winner: “Congratulations, BM1 Jones. Thank you for your service.”

 

Karaoke Night: The Microphone Is Yours

I am sitting here this weekend and my mind is taking a great roam down memory lane. Sometimes, it is a pleasant stroll. Other times, it is a painful run that does me good in the long term but, in the moment, is nothing short of unpleasant. I think I will at least try to start in the former category.

In the fall of 1985, I was serving as a hospital corpsman in the US Navy in South Carolina. I lived in an apartment off base with two other corpsmen. I was not quite 20 years old and, occasionally, my roommates and I  had two primarily goals: have some laughs and have some fun. Sometimes, in the pursuit of such laughs and fun, I could be a bit of an immature troll but I never truly meant any offense or harm.

One night, we had a party and invited a few friends from the hospital. One of my roommates was soon accompanied by his girlfriend. I had seen her a few times before. She had big, permed hair (it WAS the 80’s) and a noticeable “Yankee” accent. She was a few years older, divorced, and had three kids (Jennifer, Melinda, and Stephen) who were occasionally seen running around the complex (especially when the ice cream man showed up).

Everything was going nicely this evening. Not a lot of people showed up for the party. The moment came when I started to introduce my roommate’s girlfriend to my date. I then realized that I didn’t actually know her name. You see, among her other features, she had a somewhat prominent nose. It wasn’t freakish, just prominent. So how did I address her prior to this awkward introduction?  I normally called her “Pinocchio”. Like I said, I was a bit of an immature troll. She enjoyed me squirming in the awkwardness and then introduced herself to my date: “I’m JoAnn.”

I would also come to find out quickly enough that JoAnn had something else very significant in her life – Type I diabetes. This meant that, several times a day, she was poking her finger with a small needle (to check her blood sugar levels), then using a syringe with another small needle to inject insulin into her body (to keep the “balance scale” of sugar and insulin as even as possible). Many times her sugar levels would become very unstable which would result in a several day stay in the hospital.

Life, as they say, goes on. Within the next year, I was out of the Navy. JoAnn and I had kept in touch and eventually become a couple. Well, let’s be honest, I stole my roommate’s girlfriend (another immaturely trollish decision). I had relocated to Atlanta after my discharge but would occasionally drive to South Carolina and visit with JoAnn and her three kids (with whom I had also bonded). It was quite an adjustment sometimes being barely 20 years old, barely into adulthood, and being in a relationship with an older woman with three kids. I would still make jokes about her nose and comments about “generation gap”.  JoAnn, on the other hand, loved the occasional discomfort I would feel about clearly being the youngest adult in the room.

By early 1987, JoAnn accepted a civil service job in the Atlanta area. 5 months later, we were married. I was still adjusting somewhat to post military life. Things would get rocky over the next year. We relocated to Western New York (where JoAnn grew up) partly as a means of giving our life together a fresh start. I was a Southern fish out of water. Over the next two years, we would have two more children in our lives and a house of our own.

Unfortunately, as it happens to many, we would divorce a few years later. I have since re-married and our kids have grown.  Things would get tense over the years but in the end, we learned to adapt. JoAnn would occasionally babysit my two younger kids (Brianna and Caleb) while my wife, Renee, and I were at work. We would share in the joy of seeing several of the seven children (in total) grow up, graduate, get married, and have children. I served as pallbearer for both of Joann’s parents at the times of their passing.. When my mother passed away, JoAnn was one of the first people to call me and extend her condolences. Whenever Joann and I had occasion to share each other’s company, she would be very quick to tell me (and everyone present) how much she enjoyed my writing and tell me I should have my own column.

Of course, nature of the beast that is diabetes, the hospital stays would get more frequent and more severe with every passing year. Joann had many close calls. Most recently, I was notified by my older son that JoAnn had a severe heart attack. My wife and I visited Joann several times at the hospital over the following weeks. Early on a Thursday morning, my older daughter called me. Her voice began to crack as she said: “I don’t have great news, Dad.” Joann’s heart grew tired and she passed away. I stood there in the hospital as the kids I had watched grow into adulthood said goodbye to their mother. I know that feeling all too well and would not wish upon anyone. The last thing I said to her before I left was: No more hospitals! No more injections!

One of the things that all of us who gathered at the hospital remember and cherished about JoAnn was that she loved to sing. One of the kids even joked that there was surely a karaoke machine in Heaven just for her. I would ask this of anyone who reads this and can relate to someone they know who struggles with diabetes. Please consider a donation to the American Diabetes Association (https://donations.diabetes.org/) to fund research efforts to find a cure. If you do make that donation, please also consider singing your favorite song out loud. After all, karaoke is for all to enjoy.

Joann, Thanks for the memories, your support of my education (and my writing), and your willingness to co-parent with Renee and me. Most of all, thanks for putting up with an immature troll with a warped mind. The microphone is yours. You pick the song.

Remembering Momma: Simply A Shift Of Tense.

10 years ago today, my Dad called me to tell me that he was purchasing an airline ticket for my wife and me for the worst reason. Our bags were already packed. Less than an hour later, my Dad called me again. It had happened. My mother, Norma Jean McAfee, had passed away at 65. It’s hard to believe it has been 10 years. Some years are harder than others. These past couple of days have been a punch in the gut.

Momma, I miss you terribly. Having said that, I often look in the mirror, at my wife, at my kids, and at my grandson and YOU ARE THERE. When I had my TIA, as I lied inside an MRI machine, you were there. When Taelor took his first steps and said his first words, you were there. When Shayna got married and I walked her down the aisle, you were there (likely amused with my kilt). When Tom got married and I was introduced as Father of the Groom, you were there (likely shaking your head and giggle about my clown makeup). When my wife and I walked across the commencement stage together, you were there (I even said “Hi, Mom!” on the stage). I would not have obtained that degree without your inspiration and influence.

As easy as it is to recognize all the moments you WERE there in the last 10 years, I must remember that in many moments where you ARE STILL THERE. Every time Brianna sees a butterfly, you are there. She even bought a solar powered one that flaps its wings on the dashboard of my car. As Caleb becomes more and more independent, you are there. Every time I write one of these essays, you are SO THERE (to the point where I can almost feel your presence sometimes). I hate that I cannot share my writing with you face to face but you are still very much…THERE.

Most importantly, I need to remember that, in so many ways, you will STILL BE THERE. As Renee’s education and mine lead to new endeavors, you will be there with each of us finding out where our respective roads will lead. You will be there as each of the kids move on with their adult lives (watching in wonder alongside me). You will be there as your great-grandson, Taelor-James, continues to grow into the young mighty warrior that he has been since birth. Every time, I walk the boardwalk along the Genesee River, the harbor off of Lake Ontario, or the trails along the Erie Canal, you will be there. With every day that I wake up and pledge to do something about my weight, you will be there (as you understand that struggle better than anyone I know).

Yes, Momma. I miss you terribly. But I know, as you would poignantly point out to me, this is all just a matter of shift the tense: you were there, you are there, and you will be there. You have never truly left me. I know you will be there again…soon. I may not realize it until after the fact or even expect it (in spite of all the aforementioned examples). All the same, I can’t thank you enough for teaching when to shift the tense. I look forward to seeing the next shift.

[Note: Before I had a chance to post this, you were there. Once again, you came in the form of a butterfly in our backyard while Brianna played with Taelor. Thanks for visiting, Momma.]

From Henrietta Town Hall to the Commencement Stage: Part Two (What’s Stopping You?)

 

Hello, Folks! Well, I once again have another college semester behind me. I promised myself that I would do more blog writing once the semester was over. Admittedly, I got caught up in some other stuff over the last few weeks. Nevertheless, here I am again. I have truly missed sharing my life with you all.

I am sure that many of you who have read my pieces previously, you noticed the words “commencement stage” in the title. Yup, it’s another graduation piece. I know some of you are taking some pause at this. Yes, I have written commencement pieces for two kids who have graduated high school, a daughter who has graduated college, and a wife who graduated with a Bachelor’s in 2013. After all of those graduations, I know you are wondering who it is that’s graduating this time. Well, folks…I AM! To add icing to this proverbial cake, MY WIFE IS GRADUATING TOO (IN THE SAME CEREMONY)!!!! That’s right!. My college studies have been completed. My wife and I are having our commencement on 12 June 2016. We are both graduating from Empire State College. I have completed my Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Communications. My wife has earned her Master’s degree in Social  and Public Policy.

I should clarify that my wife and I didn’t exactly plan to attend college at the same time. I began pursing my bachelor’s in 2010. In 2012, as my wife was nearing the end of her Bachelor studies, we moved to our current home. I was dealing with the logistics of the move, part time college, and full time work. Juggling it all was a bit much to say the least. After some personal reflection, I decided, with my wife’s support to drop the classes I was taking and take the rest of the semester to settle in from the move.

Fast forward nearly 18 months later. My wife had graduated with her Bachelor’s degree. Things were settling in our new place which included our adult son and daughter plus a grandson who was born in 2012. I figured this was an opportune time to discuss with my wife my return to finishing my Bachelor’s degree. After all, I had stopped in 2012. 2014 was around the corner. Then, my wife dropped a bomb.

Try to picture this. I am sitting in our living room. I am talking with my wife and was literally within seconds of uttering my next words to discuss the subject. Before, I even got a breath out, my wife said: “I’ve been thinking. I should go back to school and get my Master’s degree.” I was floored. I sat there, like a deer in the headlights, not knowing how to respond. When my wife asked what was wrong, I explained that I wanted to talk to her about returning to school myself. Without hesitation, she asked: “What’s stopping you?”

I expressed concerns about us both studying at the same time and the toll that could take on our quality time together. She reminded me that we were already doing that when I halted my studies in the first place. What can I say? My wife had once again shown herself to be someone with amazing insight.

We did encounter a few bumps in the road during the course of our academic journey (as life is known to provide). We were blessed to see, not just one, but two of our kids get married. We have welcomed a grandson into the world. We have watched our daughter battle the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.  We have endured the heartbreak of several funerals. In November 2015, I had a mild stroke. Less than a month later, my wife had spinal fusion surgery which brings a slow but worthwhile recovery.

A couple of these bumps hit so hard that it delayed my wife’s graduation. Like I said, it never occurred to us that we would be in the same commencement ceremony. It just happened that way. We dealt with life’s proverbial lemons and made the lemonade as potable as possible. I can say, with no undue modesty, that I don’t think my wife and I are particularly any more special than another other married couple. Some couples just go to the movies together. We went to college.

In closing, I want to first address my lovely queen, Renee. Baby, you and I got married 22 years ago. We have reared kids to adulthood. We are blessed with a grandson. This commencement you and I are sharing together is one of the most amazing bonding experiences I can ever hope to share with you. I am so proud of what you have accomplished. Even more, I am blessed to have you by my side as I pursue my accomplishments.

Lastly, I want to ask my readers. Do you have a venture you are considering? Are you looking to pursue a higher education for yourself? Are you looking to make a career change? What are the obstacles that you see? In other words, as my wife so insightfully asked: “What’s stopping you?” Bumps in the road WILL come. Detours will happens. The thing to remember is…it’s a detour…NOT a stop sign.