Tuesday, November 22, 2016

My response to your vote on Oklahoma State Question 779

That's the tweet that finally sparked this, just to let everyone know. I've been meaning to post this since November 10, but I've just never gotten around to it, and hearing those words come out of my wife's mouth this evening, it finally consumed me.

Earlier this year, in October, I was asked to guest blog on a site called Blue Cereal Education, an education blog based here in Oklahoma. I wrote this post. In it, I told everyone that no matter what Oklahomans voted on State Question 779, I'd be fine, and I'd show up the next day at work with a smile on my face.

I lied.

As I stayed up later and later on November 8, it became very clear that Oklahomans had made their voices very clear on a tax increase...no matter how good of a cause it was for. I fumed, and then I fumed more, and finally I went to bed entirely too late, incensed at you people for checking no instead of yes.

I googled the rate of pay for teachers in Arkansas, then Florida, and Kansas before finally my own words drifted through my head.

"I'll die here or retire here." 

So much for that, right?

So on that Thursday, November 10, we had a blood drive at my school. As a teacher, I find it crucial to take time out of my day to give blood, ostensibly extending my planning period by two hours and helping me avoid the after-lunch rush of freshmen.

I'm kidding.

But I did decide to donate, and things went swimmingly. Another teacher so graciously covered my ninth grade class, but not before snapping a picture of me and another student...a student who I love more than I'd care to admit, who is part of a family who I've known my entire thirty-four years of life.

Here's the pic.

Obviously a real intense moment, a moment full of caring and love. 
The teacher who was covering my class (who is a math teacher)—instead of just sitting them down and boring them to tears for an hour—took matters into her own hands and threw the picture up on the SmartBoard, then had them write a short essay describing what was happening in the scene (still think we should step it up, Fallin?).

I walked back into her classroom towards the end of the period, and the entire class looked up from their projects and began to laugh. I glanced up at the SmartBoard and put two and two together, and I smiled. The other teacher began to tell me what was happening, and had all the students gather their work and hand it to me. What followed was one of the best moments of my short eighteen-month teaching career.

Sometimes, I feel like I am blessed with moments of happiness so pure, so distilled, that they're meant never to be forgotten. Moments where you smile, you laugh, you cry, and then laugh again as you're wiping tears and snot all over your face just so you can see what you're consuming.

So as I was wiping tears and snot all over my face, I read the following gems. Now listen up: I know the spelling is atrocious, and I know the grammar is bad. We're working on it. As much as I'd like to be an actual miracle worker, I'm not, but I'm a damn fine teacher, and we're working on it. So judge or judge not, but as the great Ricky from Sunnyvale would say: "Make my words," if you make a comment about the spelling or grammar, I will scour your Facebook feed with all that I am and will bring your every error to light. These are my kids. Enjoy this like I did.

Her story is done, y'all. 
Me being in birth was a popular theme, maybe I should work on my blood giving pose? 
For the record, you could wax my legs smooth and not notice any difference. I am not a hairy guy. 
If this kid only knew how many times I've looked like this because I've eaten something that isn't good for me.
Hey, my reputation went down the drain when I publicly admitted to crying over your stories. 
MR. SLOAT IS SO AMAZING, YES MORE OF THIS PLEASE AND THANK YOU.
Again with the leg waxing, is this a natural position for leg waxing? 
I died a noble death, much like the late Albus Dumbledore. Harry Potter reference achieved. 
I can't figure out if I want to hug this kid or accidentally punch her in the neck. MR. SLOAT OUT.
Well, I mean, doesn't everyone poop like this? Just me? Let's just forget this one. 
*crickets* mmmmm Nacho Day. 
There were so many more, one actually said it looked like I'd just heard all the Destiny servers went down (I brayed like a donkey), a few more about waxing, a few more about pooping, a bunch more about giving birth, and then a few solid hundred about how noble and brave I looked (just kidding they were about pooping). 

If you're a student, you keep reading. Everyone else get out of here after this paragraph. This is my response to you voting whatever you did on SQ779, and I'm through talking about that now. I understand your reasoning, and I'm sorry for lying to you, but "make my words," it was a small stumble along a long and loyal path that will end with my death or retirement from Okay Public Schools. I don't blame you. Now go. Young person, keep reading. 

Thank you. 

From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for taking time out of your day to make me laugh, and to make me feel loved (YOU LOVE ME I'M TELLING ALL YOUR FRIENDS). You gave me a moment I will remember for the rest of my life, and a story I'll tell future students, some of which might even be your kids. Thank you. You are amazing, you are a gifted writer, you are a great human being, and these stories will stay in a box for me to pull out and remind myself just how much I love this job. You did that. You are responsible for my continued happiness. Thank you. 

Now do your dang research paper. I'll see you Monday, and we'll act like this never happened. 

Love you. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

I open at the close

image source

I open at the closet. 

Allison pulled her phone out of her pocket and looked at the text, then looked again. It was from her husband, Brandon, and it lined up perfectly with the morning she was having: it didn’t make sense, and it kind of pissed her off. 

She stared at the tiny pulsating dots at the bottom of the screen, and hoped that the forthcoming explanation would be something funny. Brandon was nothing if not funny, and at one point he made her life interesting, not that she needed any more interesting at the moment. 

Hahaha, I’m sorry. 

•••

I was trying to type Allison, I love you. I am so thankful for you. You have made my life completely different from what it was just a few years ago. You are beautiful, smart, and I always hoped that you’d be the mother of my children. If I don’t see you again, just know that you were the best thing to ever happen to me. I love you. 

Panic raced through Allison’s heart as she read word after word, then read it again. She called up the keyboard and began inputting text at a blistering rate, not caring about the typos this time, he surely wouldn’t care about them this time. 

•••

Before she could hit send, the three little dots popped up again, moving silently left to right, and for just a moment she was able to hear the ellipsis, boom boom boom, boom boom boom, boom boom boom, but then realized she was hearing her own heart, frenetically trying to leap out of her chest. 

Allison whoah, don’t worry abou that I’m fin
•••
I’m fine 
•••
I’m trying to set up an automated message on my phone, I was trying to say Allison, I love you. I am so thankful for you. You have made my life completely different from what it was just a few years ago. You are beautiful, smart, and I always hoped that you’d be the mother of my children. If I don’t see you again, just know that you were the best thing to ever happen to me. I love you.
•••
Ugh! I’m trying to text I open at the close but the freaking thing won’t send before it changes. 
•••

Allison’s anxiety faded, but her heartbeat didn’t quiet. When fear stopped pumping adrenaline through her system, chilling anger took its place, and it did a more than thorough job in fueling her outgoing text. 

Why, Brandon? Why would you send me something like that? I thought you were dead or dying somewhere, why wouldn’t you just call? And what does I open at the close mean? 

•••

Allison, I’m SO sorry. I had no idea I’d saved it, and was just testing it to see if it worked. 

If WHAT worked, you idiot? 

•••

I set up a text replacement in my phone and the key phrase was “I 0pen at the close.” You know the line from Harry Potter? The one on the Golden Snitch that Harry looks at before he faces Voldemort? I just had to put a zero in ‘open’ so it wouldn't send again.

•••

I thought it would be cool to use that as something I could text, then it would be replaced with all that other text, if, you know, if something happened to me on this trip or ever. You know? Just in case? 

Allison’s reply was sharp, and she hammered the rectangular screen as though each letter she typed was a hot coal she pressed against Brandon’s skin, and she envisioned him flinching as he read every word. She knew how important words were to him. 

To be honest, the Harry Potter thing is getting a little weird. I don’t feel good, the commute was hell, and the last thing I need is my supposedly grown husband sending me texts telling me he’s dying and then telling me he’s preparing for the worst by referencing a teenager’s film series. 

There were no more dots. 


Brandon sat back in his office chair, defeated. He knew Allison was going through a difficult time, and since she was going through a difficult time, so was he. He tried to lighten the mood as much as he could with humor, but that only worked so well before he became annoying. It wasn’t always that way; there was a time when Allison laughed at everything he said. He had felt like Dave Chapelle in the good years, before he got all preachy and walked away from television shows. 

But the years passed quickly, and one dream after another had escaped her. College failed. The dream job failed. And finally, what she considered to be the biggest failure of all: she couldn’t get pregnant. Of course Brandon never saw that as a failure, not once, and in fact, he wasn’t even sure if he wanted kids. But Allison did. 

At her insistence, they had tried for eight years to no avail. They had tried everything short of in-vitro fertilization, which was out of the realm of possibility because of the astronomical costs associated, and the risks of needing multiple treatments were too high. Adoption was out of the question because she wanted a biological child…lately it was all she wanted. 

He was leaving today, heading to Washington D.C. for a work conference. Brandon was an information technologist for a mid-level security firm that did occasional work for the Department of Homeland Security, and part of his job included these trips to D.C. once a year for security briefings, which honestly would have been better disseminated in a five-paragraph email. But hey, it gave him a chance to drink a few Yuenglings, and that alone was almost worth the trip. 

As for the Harry Potter obsession, he’d only recently acquired it. He was never allowed to read the series at home; his parents were convinced he’d try to put a spell on his younger brother. The movies were out of the question also, and as he got older and left the house, he never got around to either the books or the movies. That changed on his twenty-ninth birthday, when he picked up Sorcerer’s Stone. Less than two weeks had passed by the time he turned the final page of Deathly Hallows, and he was a fan for life. 

Brandon was fascinated with two particular facets of the series, Harry’s loss of his parents at such an early age and his “Green Mile” moment in the final book. There were times, he admitted, when he felt like his life would have been easier with parents who were less strict, and he was certain the Dursleys were less strict than his own parents. 

As Harry walked to his certain death in Deathly Hallows, Brandon couldn’t help but see the allusion to Christ walking to the cross in the final moments of His life. He also knew this was the kind of thing he could never say to his parents, or they would make his life—even his life away from home—seem like it was being orchestrated by Dolores Umbridge. 

In Hallows, when he read the line “I’m ready to die,” he marveled. Here was a young boy who knew he was going to die, and he willingly walked into it in order to save the lives of his friends and extended family. In the moment, his fear of death was overshadowed by the concern he had for the well-being of those he held dearest. He’d thought about it over and over in the weeks that followed.  

His phone buzzed. He looked down. It was Allison. 

Babe, I’m sorry. I’m frustrated, and I took it out on you. You said a lot of nice things about me there, and even though they were meant to be your last words, it was still comforting to know that you felt that way about me, especially with all that’s been going on. And I really do want to be the mother of your children.

Brandon smiled. Maybe they were turning a corner.


Allison stared at the dots, both wondering if her apology would be accepted, and knowing the last line was a lie. Just in front of her, the television they kept tuned to CNN burbled quietly. She moved to set the phone down on her desk when it vibrated. 

Hahaha, it’s okay, babe. I’m sorry for getting you worked up. It’s just something I wanted to try. I love you, too. And all that stuff is still true, btw. 

His forgiveness did nothing to lighten Allison’s spirits. To be honest, she had been hoping for a fight to help her justify the recent decision she’d made, to give her a target for her anger and frustration. She needed to lash out at Brandon because he was part of the problem right now. Not directly, of course, but he had certainly helped create the problem. 

Allison was pregnant. She had found out a week ago, after a missed period that she could normally set her watch by. Fourteen years she’d had that thing, and for fourteen years it showed up at exactly the same time. When it didn’t happen last week she knew something was up, and immediately thought it was cancer. A routine blood test—“There’s no way I’m pregnant, doc, it’s cancer”—had given her even more surprising news: after eight years, she was, in fact, pregnant. And now the problem was figuring out how to tell Brandon, because two days before she’d gotten the “big” news, she had decided to leave him. 

Figuring out the date of conception wasn’t difficult, Brandon’s birthday had been a few weeks ago, and sex was the only thing he wanted, according to his hilariously inappropriate reply to her emailed question about potential gifts. That had been the last time—the only time—in the past six months that it had happened. It wasn’t that the sex was bad, really. It just felt like a wasted effort to her now. The end result should be pregnancy, and that hadn’t happened, so why couldn’t they both just watch television until one of them either died or got the nerve to file for divorce? 

She once was of the mind that pregnancy would fix all their problems. A baby, she thought, would be the solution to the crumbling marriage, the lost love, and the constant bickering. But when she got the news, her first thought was “How am I going to raise a kid alone?” instead of, “Oh my god we’ll be so happy now.” That had only solidified her thoughts that the marriage wasn’t going to last, kid or no kid.

Brandon of course was as clueless as ever. An eternal optimist. Not that there was anyone else, Allison was a faithful spouse, and she wasn’t interested in other guys any way. There had been a few at the office she could have had if she wanted, and perhaps they thought they had a chance, until they experienced her brusque rejections to even the most innocuous flirting. 

In fact, now that she knew she had a baby on the way, she had begun to think she wouldn’t need anyone else for a long time. She had always been a bit of a loner; someone who preferred the company of herself to others. She thought it might be fun to raise a daughter—or a son, but it would be a daughter, a mother knew—by herself. Sort of a them against the world, sitcom-type of thing. Allison smiled at the thought. 

The phone buzzed again. 

Alright babe, I’m pulling up to the airport. I’ll be leaving soon, I love you, and when I get back we can talk more about what I can do to stop annoying you with some of my habits, hahaha. My flight number is 298, Bismarck straight through to D.C., I’ll let you know when I land.

Allison shook her head, snapped back into reality by text. Oh well, she’d keep him in the dark until he got back.  

I love you too. Be safe, and maybe just forget you’ve ever read Harry Potter, that would be a start. ;-)

The message received indicator changed from Delivered to Read, but there were no dots. Well, at least he wouldn’t bother her for a couple of hours. She shook her head again, then remembered the tiny life—all the websites said she (or he) was the size of a peanut—growing inside her. 

“Don’t worry,” she said under her breath, “I’ll make sure you never meet Harry Freaking Potter.” 


The plane engines hiccuped once, twice, then roared back to their normal pitch. Brandon glanced up from The Goblet of Fire. He’d experienced turbulence before. This wasn’t turbulence. The in-flight map on the headrest in front of him said they were just over Michigan, getting ready to hit the final leg of the flight over Lake Erie. His view of the screen was suddenly obstructed, and it took a moment for him to recognize the object. It was the oxygen mask. He grabbed his phone from his pocket. He looked around and saw he wasn't the only one with the thought.

“To hell with airplane mode,” he said. 


Allison glanced up from her work to gaze absently outside at the storm gathering dark clouds in the distance. It wouldn’t be awful, just another North Dakota spring shower. Maybe some lightning, maybe a few thunderclaps to make everyone here in the ten-story office building jump and give them something interesting to talk about as they passed each other coming in and out of the lavatory. 

Her eyes caught her reflection in the glass—time for a haircut—then she focused on the background and a reversed image of CNN. “eirE ekaL revo nwod seog 892 thgilF :gnikaerB” is what the ticker said, and pieces of metal littered a dark blue background. Her curiosity piqued, she turned around. 

“Breaking: Flight 298 goes down over Lake Erie.” It took a moment for the correctly ordered words to register. When they did, her heart jumped. She knocked over a stack of papers on her desk trying to find her phone, as an urgent knock sounded on her door and all of the lights representing different lines on her office phone lit up at once. She glanced up, still searching for her phone, and saw her boss enter the room, panic and pity etched into her face. 

She felt the phone, finally. Looking down, she saw a notification. 

Messages
BunnyHunch (1)

She hadn’t called Brandon that in years. Why was he still saved under that name? She pressed her shaking thumb nervously against the Home Button, hitting it twice on accident. Her Visa card came up, asking to be passed over the machine that would process her payment. 

Allison cursed loudly, and pounded the button with her thumb, finally clearing her screen. She heard her boss say something, but her attention was now on the Messages icon, and the tiny red number “1” in the corner of it. She opened her messages. 

It was a single line, something so simple, yet so complex, and something that perfectly encapsulated the entire marriage she was now not so sure she wanted out of. 

I open at the closet. 


Thursday, November 3, 2016

A forced entry

These last few weeks I've been struggling with self-discipline.

I'm not making good food choices at home, and I'm not making good food choices when I'm by myself in my truck, speeding off to whatever it is that has me away from home that night.

My workouts are fantastic, and I'm seeing some muscle definition that wasn't there before, particularly in my upper arms and my outer thigh (my inner thighs have enough loose skin to start a whole new human).

Speaking of whole new humans, The Missus and I are, at long last, pregnant. We heard the heartbeat just a couple of weeks ago, and of course I became very emotional and sobbed like a baby, because that's what I do in emotional situations.

One of the things I have been struggling with is how I need to let our three children know that this fourth kid isn't a replacement for them. I don't want them to ever feel that way, but I have a very strong hunch that they already do (and will). I don't want to come right out and say the words, lest I am responsible for putting a thought there that they hadn't even considered.

And so I bite my tongue and I continue to try and let them know they're loved in other ways.

I probably won't ever publish this blog on any social network, so there's a good chance the only people that will see it will be those of you who are stalkers (HI!) and my children when they get old enough to find this thing (Keeli has already tried, unsuccessfully).

Just in case one of the kids is here, maybe you need to see this. I love you. I love you more than you could ever imagine, and the reason why I can say this to you in the future is because that love will never go away. You see, that's the love a parent has for a child. You are my child. You are a Sloat. You are perfect for your mom and I because God brought us together. There is a verse in the Bible that talks about what God brings together, no man can separate. No one can ever get in the way of my love for you.

I think a big part of self-discipline is forcing yourself to do what you don't want to do until it actually becomes something you can't wait to do. I used to be that way about writing. I finished up a piece today that took a few days to write, and it was almost exhausting to get through. I feel like I've let this little blog go, and the only writing I do is for the paper, or for tests to hand out. That surely can't be good.

I told Alicia the other day that I had a pretty good book idea, and this is my official way of logging that, so in ten years when I haven't gotten around to writing it, and someone else comes out with a book about missionaries trying to reach the last people group who hasn't heard the gospel, I can safely say I had the idea first. I had a friend tell me once they believed ideas aren't just given to one person. That there's a huge pool to swim in, and sometimes people are in the same part of the pool at the same time, or someone will swim up to something you just passed. Might not make sense to you, but I wholeheartedly believe that's true.

I need to write more. I need to discipline myself the way that I have with food and exercise. I need to force it until it becomes natural again. That's what this post is, a kick in the butt. Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't.

If you're here as a stalker, I am truly sorry you sat through this garbled mess. If you're one of my kids, I'll say it again, I love you more than life itself, and no matter what happens, that love will never change.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

My "Little Win" system, and being best friends with the Timekeeper

It's cheat day.

I'm sitting here in my recliner, listening to the children fight about watercolor paints in the kitchen, and I just had to physically move a bag of Sour Patch Kids out of my reach so I would stop eating them long enough to type this thing out.

Here's the funny thing: I never liked Sour Patch Kids until this recent weight loss kick/lifestyle change/diet/personal hell I've put myself through. Now though, now I eat Sour Patch Kids on Sundays like John the Baptist probably ate those locusts — in great amounts and wondering why they taste so good.

My close friend and personal trainer, Chris Pearson, texted me the other day and asked me for a topic for his weekly fitness blog. I gave him three or four terrible ideas to give myself time to think of a good one, and then suggested he write about "little wins," which you can read just by clicking through that link. In fact, go do it now. I'll wait.

I wanted to elaborate on his writing by giving you a laid-bare look at who I am.

I am someone who is currently celebrating a ton of little wins.

My driver license photographs from 2009 (bottom right), January 2016 (top right), and September (left). A total weight difference of approximately 130 pounds.  
Me at the beach in 2012 (350 pounds) and me in the gym two weeks ago (260 pounds). The bruise you see on my stomach is from an insulin shot to control my type-2 diabetes. Something I don't need anymore. 
Since June of this year, I've been on a tear. I've dropped 67 pounds, and I now weigh as much as I did when I graduated high school. I've accomplished this through a lot of little wins.

Essentially, my week is a gigantic scoreboard. My day is a slightly smaller scoreboard. And sometimes, depending on the level of temptation, each hour is a scoreboard. Each win and loss is meticulously counted, and some losses wind up being wins without realizing it at the time. A perfect example of that would be my last meal at Taco Bueno versus my "Fat Travis" meal at Bueno.  

Remember Chris from the blog I had you read a minute ago? Well, he wrote another one that got this whole thing started. You can find that here. Go read it. I'll wait. Do you have a why? 

When I read what he wrote, I realized that I wanted to be able to get up and play with my kids as well. I wanted to chase them, to throw things at them, to be able to run and laugh and not fall down winded or with a sprained ankle because I was too fat to move. And so I started keeping score. I won a few. I won a few more. And now here I am, and I plan to keep more wins than losses on that scoreboard until I'm skinny.

But I am also someone who is dealing with more than enough little losses. 

Slowly, I've tried to carry each aspect of my daily life over and throw it onto its own scoreboard. Food battles. Marital battles. Student battles. Idiot driver battles. And finally, father battles.

Two weeks ago I tweeted something. 
I lost the food battle that week. But I didn't lose the father battle. And I didn't lose it last week either. I made it two full weeks without yelling at my kids. And then this morning...

"She gave me that hairbrush and now she took it back."
"I told him he could use it, I didn't give it to him." 
"You can ask mom, she gave it to me!" 

So I threw away a perfectly good hairbrush this morning. Then, as we were getting dressed for church, auditory evidence of an iPad kerfuffle drifted into our bedroom, and I marched into the living room in my underwear and blew my two week streak.

"I promised myself two weeks ago that I wasn't going to yell at you kids, and here I am, two weeks later, yelling, because you all can't figure out how to act like civilized children while we get ready for church!" 

And then the words came out of my mouth before I could reign them in.

"You are horrible children! Think about that at church today!" 

I walked back into the bedroom, furious at myself and them, and uttered an oath entirely inappropriate for any day of the week, and doubly so on Sunday.

"GD kids," I said.

I am a terrible father.

I don't need your placating words, and I don't need your, "Oh it's okay, everyone gets mad and loses it sometimes." I really don't. I need to be coached.

This is not okay. 
This is not acceptable. 
This is not trying your hardest. 
This is not how we get little wins, this is how we ultimately wind up with huge losses.

I know people who are amazing dads with little to no effort at all. I can think of at least three right now, one has one kid, the other two have two each, and both have a third on the way. They don't have to try. Being a dad comes as naturally to them as breathing, their love for their children exists in the minuscule space between oxygen molecules that utter the supporting words children need, that grant mercy, that give comfort.

For whatever reason, I'm missing that. For me, being a good dad requires an intentional scoreboard. A scoreboard that gets reset frequently. Sometimes it's a week, sometimes it's a day, sometimes it's an hour. And I lose a lot.

We sat in church this morning, and Randy led us in "Good, Good Father." I stood, trying to sing, trying to keep tears from spilling over my eyelids, making the lyrics both a prayer and a plea, "You're a good, good Father. It's who You are, it's who You are." God I am so not a good father. I suck so much at it. I want to be good, help me be good. "And I am loved by you, it's who I am, it's who I am." God please help me show my kids they are loved by me. They need to know that, but I'm just so freaking bad at it." 

Then, Johnny got up to preach and the sermon was about God the Father, and qualities of God that are reflected in fatherhood. Fathers are protectors, they are proud of their kids, they want to give gifts to their kids. He used an illustration about a father and his adopted daughter attending an event, and the father sharing that the best memory he had was when they were standing in front of the judge at the finalization. Again, fighting back tears, I remembered both times I'd done that.

Surely, in that moment, my kids knew that I loved them. But I've learned the hard way that every day with children isn't Finalization Day. So how are they seeing that I love them on days when it's exceptionally hard to show them that? Yeah I feed them, yeah they have a bed, and clothes. But we all know that's not what counts...not in the long run.

I took an L this morning. It's there, and it's glaring at me. I need a win to cancel it out, and a win to get better than .500, and if I can do that, then the day is salvageable. Because the great thing about having a little win system is having the ability to set the clock however you need to. My new father battle clock started at 9 a.m. Tomorrow's food battle clock starts at midnight (somehow I finished that entire freaking bag of SPKs while writing this). Idiot drivers? Well, that one resets every single time I drive through Muskogee.

In sports, they call that "cheating." But I happen to be best friends with the Timekeeper, so I'm just going to call it home field advantage. I'm going to call it being a good father. I'm going to call it being loved by You.

It's who I am.

***

If you are interested in having Chris help you, I've included links to his website, his Twitter, and his Facebook. He is currently taking clients, and having worked with him for a while now, I can say that his system works. The pictures above prove that. Not only that, but his motivation factor is a 10/10. Give my boy a call, he'll help you get a whole bunch of little wins.

Champion Fitness
Reformed Strength and Conditioning 

My "Little Win" system, and being best friends with the Timekeeper

It's cheat day.

I'm sitting here in my recliner, listening to the children fight about watercolor paints in the kitchen, and I just had to physically move a bag of Sour Patch Kids out of my reach so I would stop eating them long enough to type this thing out.

Here's the funny thing: I never liked Sour Patch Kids until this recent weight loss kick/lifestyle change/diet/personal hell I've put myself through. Now though, now I eat Sour Patch Kids on Sundays like John the Baptist probably ate those locusts — in great amounts and wondering why they taste so good.

My close friend and personal trainer, Chris Pearson, texted me the other day and asked me for a topic for his weekly fitness blog. I gave him three or four terrible ideas to give myself time to think of a good one, and then suggested he write about "little wins," which you can read just by clicking through that link. In fact, go do it now. I'll wait.

I wanted to elaborate on his writing by giving you a laid-bare look at who I am.

I am someone who is currently celebrating a ton of little wins.

My driver license photographs from 2009 (bottom right), January 2016 (top right), and September (left). A total weight difference of approximately 130 pounds.  
Me at the beach in 2012 (350 pounds) and me in the gym two weeks ago (260 pounds). The bruise you see on my stomach is from an insulin shot to control my type-2 diabetes. Something I don't need anymore. 
Since June of this year, I've been on a tear. I've dropped 67 pounds, and I now weigh as much as I did when I graduated high school. I've accomplished this through a lot of little wins.

Essentially, my week is a gigantic scoreboard. My day is a slightly smaller scoreboard. And sometimes, depending on the level of temptation, each hour is a scoreboard. Each win and loss is meticulously counted, and some losses wind up being wins without realizing it at the time. A perfect example of that would be my last meal at Taco Bueno versus my "Fat Travis" meal at Bueno.  

Remember Chris from the blog I had you read a minute ago? Well, he wrote another one that got this whole thing started. You can find that here. Go read it. I'll wait. Do you have a why? 

When I read what he wrote, I realized that I wanted to be able to get up and play with my kids as well. I wanted to chase them, to throw things at them, to be able to run and laugh and not fall down winded or with a sprained ankle because I was too fat to move. And so I started keeping score. I won a few. I won a few more. And now here I am, and I plan to keep more wins than losses on that scoreboard until I'm skinny.

But I am also someone who is dealing with more than enough little losses. 

Slowly, I've tried to carry each aspect of my daily life over and throw it onto its own scoreboard. Food battles. Marital battles. Student battles. Idiot driver battles. And finally, father battles.

Two weeks ago I tweeted something. 
I lost the food battle that week. But I didn't lose the father battle. And I didn't lose it last week either. I made it two full weeks without yelling at my kids. And then this morning...

"She gave me that hairbrush and now she took it back."
"I told him he could use it, I didn't give it to him." 
"You can ask mom, she gave it to me!" 

So I threw away a perfectly good hairbrush this morning. Then, as we were getting dressed for church, auditory evidence of an iPad kerfuffle drifted into our bedroom, and I marched into the living room in my underwear and blew my two week streak.

"I promised myself two weeks ago that I wasn't going to yell at you kids, and here I am, two weeks later, yelling, because you all can't figure out how to act like civilized children while we get ready for church!" 

And then the words came out of my mouth before I could reign them in.

"You are horrible children! Think about that at church today!" 

I walked back into the bedroom, furious at myself and them, and uttered an oath entirely inappropriate for any day of the week, and doubly so on Sunday.

"GD kids," I said.

I am a terrible father.

I don't need your placating words, and I don't need your, "Oh it's okay, everyone gets mad and loses it sometimes." I really don't. I need to be coached.

This is not okay. 
This is not acceptable. 
This is not trying your hardest. 
This is not how we get little wins, this is how we ultimately wind up with huge losses.

I know people who are amazing dads with little to no effort at all. I can think of at least three right now, one has one kid, the other two have two each, and both have a third on the way. They don't have to try. Being a dad comes as naturally to them as breathing, their love for their children exists in the minuscule space between oxygen molecules that utter the supporting words children need, that grant mercy, that give comfort.

For whatever reason, I'm missing that. For me, being a good dad requires an intentional scoreboard. A scoreboard that gets reset frequently. Sometimes it's a week, sometimes it's a day, sometimes it's an hour. And I lose a lot.

We sat in church this morning, and Randy led us in "Good, Good Father." I stood, trying to sing, trying to keep tears from spilling over my eyelids, making the lyrics both a prayer and a plea, "You're a good, good Father. It's who You are, it's who You are." God I am so not a good father. I suck so much at it. I want to be good, help me be good. "And I am loved by you, it's who I am, it's who I am." God please help me show my kids they are loved by me. They need to know that, but I'm just so freaking bad at it." 

Then, Johnny got up to preach and the sermon was about God the Father, and qualities of God that are reflected in fatherhood. Fathers are protectors, they are proud of their kids, they want to give gifts to their kids. He used an illustration about a father and his adopted daughter attending an event, and the father sharing that the best memory he had was when they were standing in front of the judge at the finalization. Again, fighting back tears, I remembered both times I'd done that.

Surely, in that moment, my kids knew that I loved them. But I've learned the hard way that every day with children isn't Finalization Day. So how are they seeing that I love them on days when it's exceptionally hard to show them that? Yeah I feed them, yeah they have a bed, and clothes. But we all know that's not what counts...not in the long run.

I took an L this morning. It's there, and it's glaring at me. I need a win to cancel it out, and a win to get better than .500, and if I can do that, then the day is salvageable. Because the great thing about having a little win system is having the ability to set the clock however you need to. My new father battle clock started at 9 a.m. Tomorrow's food battle clock starts at midnight (somehow I finished that entire freaking bag of SPKs while writing this). Idiot drivers? Well, that one resets every single time I drive through Muskogee.

In sports, they call that "cheating." I'm just going to call it home field advantage. I'm going to call it being a good father. I'm going to call it being loved by You.

It's who I am.

***

If you are interested in having Chris help you, I've included links to his website, his Twitter, and his Facebook. He is currently taking clients, and having worked with him for a while now, I can say that his system works. The pictures about prove that. Not only that, but his motivation factor is a 10/10. Give my boy a call, he'll help you get a whole bunch of little wins.

Champion Fitness
Reformed Strength and Conditioning 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A big reminder about small-town kindness


This week has been nuts, right?

Tragedy stacked on senseless tragedy, and every single time I open Facebook or Twitter, I've been bombarded with what I'm supposed to think or do in the wake of these events.

This is not a post about how bad of a week it's been for our nation. This is a post about how my hometown just keeps coming through in a pinch.

"Travis, if you talk about Okay one more time, we're quitting. It can't be that great." 

Well, it is. And let me tell you why I got shown that again on Tuesday.

First order of business on Tuesday morning was a doctors appointment. I seem to have picked up a bit of the swimmer's ear in Florida, and I have decided that since diet and exercise are not things I want to try, I'd ask the doctor for prescription methamphetamine and appetite suppressants to keep me from eating until October.

When I walked in, I saw a familiar face, a good family friend who happens to be a nurse at my doc's office. She's very active in Okay, she's at most city council meetings, she's a volunteer firefighter, and she married into a family a love and respect a lot.

She took my blood pressure, and I joked about how the walk from the lobby to the exam room was all uphill and that's why my pulse was 500, and then the conversation turned a shade more serious.

You see, she worked a fatality accident earlier this week. You might have seen the story on the local news, but a pickup rolled over and pinned a guy who wound up dying. Alcohol was involved, and the whole thing was a mess. I'd call it a tragedy on a lesser scale, but that kind of depends on who you ask.

I told this young woman that there is no way I could do what she does. I cannot comfort the dying, I cannot work with injured and scared people. I've often said that a writer can take the coward's way out in that regard - I can just step back and ask questions after everyone is taken care of. Don't get me wrong, the real journalists out there know what I just said is false. But I never considered myself to be a real journalist, just a writer.

She looked at me and laughed, and said that she can do all her job requires except speaking to the families. Something her husband is good at, she said. I mentioned that it was funny how God pairs us up in life, and more laughter followed. Then she said something I'll never forget.

"This girl, Travis, she stuck with me. I don't know what it was. I prayed with her as she was getting in the ambulance, and since then I've added her as a friend on Facebook."

I think we all assume that emergency personnel have to create a distance between themselves and their jobs. They see so much, that it helps to have the dissonance there, otherwise they can easily be overwhelmed. I can understand that. Doctors, nurses, volunteer firefighter, EMS personnel, and law enforcement all have to deal with the worst. I find no fault in their removal from attachment.

But this young woman, this young woman from Okay, Oklahoma, went above and beyond what her job required of her that night. It wasn't loading another injured body into an emergency vehicle, it was a held hand, a prayer, and a conscious effort to follow up. That struck me.

I'm positive that emergency personnel make that kind of personal connection every day. But it makes me extraordinarily happy to know that we have that kind of person working in Okay.

As I left the doctor's office, I went to my new favorite place in Muskogee, the QuikTrip. Walking in, I saw a student of mine, a future student of mine, and their father picking out soft drinks. I stopped by to say hello, and asked them how their summer was going, and jokingly told them they better be ready to write when they walk into my classroom in a couple of months. It was a great conversation.

Then I saw another Okay alum putting the lids on her drink as well as her daughter's. As we met in line to pay for our items, I looked at the future student and asked, "When do I get you?"

Mom spoke up. "Two years," she said. "And you better still be there."

I gave her what has become my standard rhetoric when my loyalty to that town has been called into question.

"I'll die there, or I'll retire there."

She laughed, and as the cashier rang up her items, she looked at him and said, "Oh, and I'll get his too."

I was floored. The sheer kindness of such a simple gesture left me stammering out, "You don't need to do that," and she laughed and told me to be quiet. I thanked her and left, smiling the entire way to my truck, out of the parking lot, and dang near the whole way home.

Okay, Oklahoma. The school that's now infamous for the gun signs, and recently famous for the best state basketball run ever seen in the school's history. The town that raised my brothers and I, the cemetery where my father is buried. The town people can't wait to burn and leave. The home of the Mustangs and the church I found God in. The town that pops up on your iFunny app from time to time.

The town I love, and the people I love.

And I can't wait to invest the rest of my life there.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Red Flag of Courage

My family and I are, as you probably know after being inundated by social media posts all week, in Navarre Beach, Florida, on vacation.

Things are great, thank you for asking. We've minimized the fighting, I've only had to beat one child since we've been here, and last night I had this for dinner, so yeah.

I can't even really describe it to you, other than using the words "I" and "came." 
There's really only been one problem.

Red flags.

Saturday when we pulled up, the water was fine. We didn't go near it, of course, because after I've driven fourteen hours through Alabama traffic, the last thing I want to do is drag children to the beach.

As an aside, Alabama is the actual worst. Second only to Arizona in states I hate.

Sunday we got up early and went to the beach. We didn't even eat breakfast, we just trunked up and went to the water.

I don't know if you're familiar with the beach flag system in Florida, so I've included a pic.


Sunday we had a yellow and a purple flag.

"Screw harmful marine life," I said bravely to my family. "I'll punch a shark in the mouth."

We had fun.

Enter Tropical Storm Colin, which my family and I bravely soldiered through, as can be seen in the following life event on Facebook.


Sprinkles aside, the storm gave us a red flag yesterday, and another red flag today, even though the weather was gorgeous.

I don't like coming to the beach and not being able to get in the water. I'm a fish, with a natural born grace in the sea and a body full of flotation devices to keep me buoyant and right side up. I'm also fat, and there aren't a lot of forces in the world that can act upon me in such a way to knock me, as the expression goes, *ss over teakettle.

So this afternoon I got in the water.

"Screw the red flag," I said to my family. "Kids, stay out, daddy is going to do this alone."

And I went in. Brazenly ignoring the fact that I was practically alone in the water, and ignoring the fact that most people gave a startled look as I walked by, as if they were thinking, "Wow, this guy...look at this guy."

Things went well for about five minutes. I dipped, I dived, I twirled in the water like a fish, nay, a dolphin.

Here's where I want to tell you about the beach reconstruction.

You see, in Navarre, they've been reconstructing the beaches, which involves pumping copious amounts of sugary fine white sand from the ocean floor onto the existing beaches, extending them further into the Gulf. The thing is, when they bring up the sand, they also bring up seashells. Millions of seashells. I can't even adequately describe the amount of seashells on this beach.

Large, small, medium sized and razor sharp seashells.

Naturally, standing barefoot on the beach or in the water takes a bit of practice. A fine touch, if you will. Something I possess in the water.

Something that failed me just as a monstrous "red flag" wave crashed over my body.

Y'all remember the scorpion in Latvia, I'm sure. That was nothing. The football team making me their collective girlfriend? Child's play.

Guys I crap you not that wave rag dolled me into a shape I didn't know I could achieve. My feet touched the back of my head and then my head went straight into the largest bed of seashells ever collected by the Lord Himself under the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

As I bobbed upside down in the turbulent water with my feet looking like a cork with a perch attached to it, and the skin being flayed off my forehead like I belonged to Ramsay Bolton, it slowly occurred to me that this was it, this was how I was going to die.

Alas, the Lord returned my buoyancy and grace at just the right moment, and I sucked in more seawater than a man should ever inhale just before my head broke the surface and I tasted sweet delicious oxygen...right as another wave tossed me to shore in much the same way I imagine Jonah was spat onto the beach in Nineveh.

I stood up on shaky legs and shaky pride, and quickly assessed the situation.

"No blood, no blood, ah crap, blood."

I was bleeding from the head, and seawater was pouring out of my nose, and my finger hurt. I looked down, and my finger was bleeding. I was, in essence, shark bait.

I walked slowly up the bank with people staring at me. Some of them even had snarky little smiles, as if they'd known all along what would happen to the fat white guy from Oklahoma who couldn't wait for a yellow or green flag.

"Dude, you're bleeding. Are you okay?"

"You get turned over?"

My beautiful and ever-concerned wife sat in her beach chair, discussing our plans of being teachers in Florida with our condo neighbors as I walked up.

Her voice cracking with the weight of her overwhelming concern, she collapsed into a fit of laughter as she surveyed my bloody forehead.

"You get knocked over?"

I nodded shamefully.

Our neighbors joined in the laughter.

If you need me, I'll be on the beach, waiting for that sweet, sweet green flag.

The Scorpion strikes again. That said, my back feels amazing.