Monday, February 17, 2014

Memoir Monday: The Break-Up.


For those of you who don't know, I played Church League Basketball.

If you read that and wonder which one I am, I am the quintessential Washed-Up Ballhog.

Our team was the First Baptist Muskogee Green Team, and well, we were what you'd call "suspect." As in, "I suspect that at one point these guys were probably all really good, but I'm not sure at what, and they definitely aren't now."

Our team consisted of a couple of ex-baseball stars turned pharmacists, a man who makes shopping carts, an inventory lackey, a guy who does something with rugs, a farmer, an auto mechanic, and yours truly, an extremely overweight newspaper reporter/peon.

The only person we were missing is this guy. Jackie "Love Me Sexy" Moon. 
At one point during the depressing first stages of our season, a Sunday School classmate approached me one evening and said, "Travis, I have a friend here who wants to play on a church league team, could y'all use him?"

I looked at his friend, who was maybe 6'4" and weighed a solid 175. He looked like he was in really good shape, he had hands the size of a satellite dish, and he was black. Then he looked at me and said, "I have another friend that's wanting to play too, would that be okay?"

You know how when you fall in love all at once and all you can think about is just being with that person day in and day out and conquering life together and taking on the world and hell with a water pistol and at the end of each day you look each other deep in the eyes and tell each other that you love one another more than life itself?


Well that's kind of what happened to me only it was with a basketball context. I just stared at him in what was I'm sure a bit of a creepy way and nodded.

Stanley was hands down the best character on that show.
Since I was in church when all this took place, I took the opportunity to thank The Lord for His sudden and glorious contribution to a failing team. We were going to be the miracle of the season, the proverbial Bad News Bears of church league basketball.

PRAISE BE TO JESUS ON HIGH WE LANDED SOME TALENT.


For the sake of privacy, I will change their names. Let's call them Kip and Jerry.

We signed them to a contract on Sunday, and Monday we had a game. We knew it would be a difficult game, but since we had signed our stars, we felt a little more confident.

Let me tell you folks. Kip and Jerry could HOOP.

They ran our team like Durant and Westbrook. Like Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. Like Jordan and Scottie.

They were shaking people and breaking ankles and doing that thing where they almost dunked but didn't dunk because it's church league and you're not allowed to dunk because they value self-esteem more than anything and getting dunked on in church league could really hurt your self-esteem.


Kip and Jerry fearlessly led our group of overweight has-beens clear through till the end. I'm here to tell you, we went on actual fast breaks. Fast breaks! We had transition buckets! Anytime any of us got in the slightest trouble, we'd kick the ball out to Kip and Jerry and BOOM! Buckets!

To put it mildly, they made it rain.

Then, to top it all off, they put together a string of successful and quite marvelous basketball plays that ultimately lead us to victory, 73-72.

WE HAD EMERGED VICTORIOUS.

The other team was stunned. No doubt they'd received scouting reports on our miserable performances and sloppy victories from earlier in the season, and I think they were expecting to beat us by 40 points and then go home and brag to their wives and children about how they embarrassed someone in church league because that's what those kind of men do.

When I say that we beat a team by one point who should have beat us by 40, you can understand how glorious we all felt in that moment. You know the end of Hoosiers where Jimmy takes that shot and everyone starts going crazy? That was us.


My excitement was short-lived.

Fast forward to the night of our next game. As I was sitting there mentally gearing up for a gruesome thirty six seconds of actual trying, I got this text message.

My world collapsed around me like a Lisa Loeb song. 
Apparently these boys were some local college hoops stars, and if there's one thing church league rules clearly don't allow, it's actual good players. My world came crashing down around me. I knew what came next.

I had to break up with them.

I called the friend who had introduced me to them and desperately pleaded with him to do it for me. "Don't let them show up tonight," I said. "Please tell them I'm so sorry, and it's not them, it's us."

My friend said alright, and then both of them showed up at the game expecting to play.

I can remember it clearly, like it happened yesterday. We were in the hallway just off the basketball court and near the locker rooms. The clock was ticking off the seconds until the game would start, and I was stalling for time trying to find the right words.

"I'm sorry boys, it's over. You play college basketball, and they won't allow it."

They stared at me. You could see it in their faces, emotion etched into their eyes, each of them holding back tears while mine flowed freely down my face.

It got real bad. 
I explained the rule to them, and one of them, in a desperate attempt to salvage the whole thing, said, "But I'm not going to play next year."

I wanted to hug him. I wanted to reach out and hug them both, rub their backs, tell them everything was going to be okay, and that all we needed was time to pass to sort this all out.

But I held back, and told them that they were of course still welcome at our church, and how I wished they'd come back to see us sometime, and I must have apologized 25 more times.

And finally the buzzer rang that signaled the start of our game, and I gave them one last look, turned, and walked through the door and on to the court, and I haven't seen either of them again since that day.



And that's the saddest thing that's ever happened to me in a break up.

Change the "him" to a 'them" though. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

I Didn't Miss It.

In case you're wondering, the answer is three.

It took three slow dances with my daughter for her to look up at me, smile, and say, "Daddy I love you."

I wanted to tell you that now, both because it was hands down the best part of my night, and because you might leave this blog prematurely, thinking this post might not be for you, and you might be right, because this is mostly for Akeeli.

I love you too, daughter.



***

She came into the room in a rush, holding a flier. It had some hearts on it, and a date and a time, which meant it involved a commitment, and with the precious little amount of time I have, I didn't want to make one. 

It was the annual Daddy-Daughter Dance put on by a local organization that I heartily support because of the good work they do for children. Forgive me for be extremely cliché, but I consider them the proverbial catchers in the rye, rescuing children before they run off a very dangerous and emotional edge. 

But back to the flier. 

I didn't know it until later, but a conversation had taken place before she asked me to the dance. In the car, she looked at The Missus and said, "Do you think daddy will take me?" 

"I don't know if he'll have time." 
"Well if he doesn't, I'm asking uncle Brad." 

I have class on Thursday nights. From 5:30 to 8:10, I'm cooped up in a small room learning how to teach English to secondary school kids. The teacher is amazing, but I wasn't too sure how she would feel about letting me off early for a dance. 

But I decided I would go anyway. I told our daughter to be ready, and that I would be a little late, but we'd go. 

I didn't miss it. 

As I left class, I got told by every. single. girl. including the teacher, to go get flowers. I told them they'd have flowers for sale at the dance, and one of the girls said, "Yeah, but she'll have the best flowers." 

So, crunched for time—always crunched for time—I stopped and got my daughter flowers. 

Keeli, if you ever find this, they were cheap flowers. I'm sorry. You were 8. You didn't need a dozen roses. 

I'm glad I got the flowers. She didn't realize at first they were for her, but her face lit up when she saw them. Then I threw on a sweater and we jumped in the truck, speeding off to our "date." 

"The flowers were very pretty daddy." 

Oh. Crap. 

I've got to compliment my daughter, I forgot to do that, I opened the truck door for her but I didn't tell her how beautiful she is, crap crap crap, Travis tell her how beautiful she is. 

"You are very beautiful, daughter." 

"Thank you daddy. And you're very handsome." 

We finally got to the dance, walked in the door, and she immediately handed me her coat and she took off to find a friend. She hugged her, they screamed like little girls, and immediately went to the cookie table, where she got good and hopped up on at least eight cookies and a fruit punch. 

Meanwhile, my arm was sweating because I had a coat on it, and the rest of me was sweating because that's what I do in hot confined places. 

Then they played a slow song. 

Get this. 

It was "I Can Only Imagine" by Mercy Me. 

When you think about slow songs you can dance to, I'm not sure that cracks even the top 100. But she ran up to me, grabbed my hand, and led me onto the dance floor, just like every other little girl in the building was doing to her dad. 

And we danced. In reality, we swayed, but I'm sure she'll remember it as dancing. I'm a terrible dancer. But I can sway pretty well, so I stuck with what I knew. 

An example of how I dance to fast songs.
Then they broke for a fast song, and almost all of the dads cleared the floor for the daughters to have their fun. These little girls screamed every time a "popular" song was played, and when the DJ spun up "What Does the Fox Say?" I actually thought the glass would break in the place. Woo. 

Then the next slow song came up. I don't remember it, but I know that my daughter looked me in the eyeball and said, "Spin me daddy!" So I twirled her a couple of times in a very awkward way because we couldn't quite get the hand placement right. But she laughed, and it appeared she was having a good time, and I've got it on good authority from several people that this is the kind of thing she'll remember the rest of her life. 

I just hope I remember it for the rest of mine. 

A few more fast songs, then another slow one. This one was "My Little Girl" by Tim McGraw. 

About halfway through the dance, Akeeli looked up at me, smiled at me, and said, "I love you, Daddy." 

When I say I forced myself not to cry, I mean it. I pulled up more happy memories than it takes to conjure a Patronus, and I forced myself not to cry. I glanced around the room and saw a bunch of stone faced men and I have a strong hunch that I wasn't the only one in the room with that problem. 

Here are a few highlights of the night:

  • I watched a grown man in a three-piece suit sing along with "We're Never Getting Back Together" by Taylor Swift (it wasn't me I don't own a suit)
  • My daughter did the Cha-Cha Slide
  • The sheer number of people in attendance gave me hope for Muskogee
  • My daughter told me she loved me

And then it was over. We hopped back in the truck, she talked about wanting to bring a limo next year because someone in her grade had a limo, and I reminded her that limos cost money. But in reality, I'll probably do my best to get her a limo next year. 

Here's my end goal: Maybe, just maybe, if I can set impossibly high standards for my daughter, not just any idiot young man will be able to impress her. Maybe it'll take a man who gives her flowers, who gets her a limo, and who takes time out of his busy life to win her heart. 

I am not Ozymandias. I do not expect this blog to live forever. But maybe that young man is reading this now. 

You aren't good enough for my daughter. 

But if you treat her like I tried to treat her, like the way she deserves to be treated, then you'll have just a little bit better chance of winning me over than the last testosterone-fueled jackass that gave it a shot. 

I've failed more times than not at being a good dad. It's hard work. But last night I got something right. The Good Lord smiled down on me and blessed me for making time for our daughter. It was a great night. 

And I didn't miss it. 



Note to the reader: I am not kidding about making mistakes. In case this blog gives you the feeling that I'm holier-than-though or think I'm the best dad ever, here's one where I royally screwed up to make me look worse. Just click this. 


P.S. Maybe you didn't read this. Maybe you did. But if you're a father, go read this right here. Seriously. Don't even read what I wrote. This is better. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Sloat Family Growth Chart.

Just under two years ago I posted this blog.

I was full of resentment and hurt and all of those things that can make a very bitter person out of you if you hang on to them. You see, I was having trouble walking the walk I talked about so much when it came to other people.

I will assume you're familiar with the phrase: "Just pray for God's will." You may have even spoken those words to someone, hoping they'd give comfort and peace.

I can assure you that living that phrase is harder than saying it. And I'm just about positive that you already know that, because undoubtedly you've lost a loved one, a job, or have been in a situation where you desperately wanted your will done and not God's.

If you aren't a Christian or don't believe in God, that's fine, I have to figure this would be the equivalent of someone telling you "Things will work out, just give it time."

So fast forward to a few months back. The Missus and I got a phone call. The bouncing baby boy born back in 2012 was needing a new home. You were on the list. Be ready. He's coming to you.

We might have freaked out just a bit. The Missus did a deep cleaning of the house the likes of which I have never seen in my life. Things were stored, things were bleached, things were thrown away, things were painted. Rooms were changed. My brother came over and threw his back out hanging up a ceiling fan, God love him. We were going to be prepared.

Then came an email.

"We're going to give him to someone else instead. We'll keep you posted."

The pain The Missus felt was extraordinary. I felt empty. I was disappointed. I felt like nothing good would ever happen again. We cried, we yelled, and we questioned the very God whose will we were supposedly praying for all along. We sat down and had a giant pity party. We broke the news to the kids, and then everyone in the family was broken hearted.

I do not claim to know why that happened. I don't know why we needed to feel that pain, and why we had to explain to our children that the new baby, their brother, was not coming to us after all. But we did. And we moved on.

Then we got another email.

"The someone didn't work out. He's coming to you." 

After swearing we would never get our hopes up again, we...well we got our hopes up again. We cleaned. We did background checks and home studies and physicals. We decided not to tell the kids until we were a bit more certain. Then we told the kids.

Then we made the drive. Just under two hours, and we had a Tahoe full of toys and clothes and baby, whose name I cannot give you for a while, for the same reason I couldn't give you the others' back in 2010. It'll take a little bit. We don't know how long, that's up to the state and the Lord. This situation isn't as fluid as the other one. There are a lot of extraneous factors that could result in us not getting to keep him.

However, I serve a God who is in control of this situation. He knows what's going to happen already, in fact He saw it from the beginning of time. And what's more important, He knows what I can handle. He knows what my family can handle. And if it's His will that my family should now number five, then so be it. If not, somehow, with His help, we'll get through it.

But right now the boy is home. He's at our house, with his brother and sister, and they love him. We love him. He loves all of us. In fact, on the car ride home, he said something, and I turned and looked at him. He pointed right at me and said "Dad."

"Dad."
"Dad."

He hates nap time. He hates bed time. He loves bananas. He has the reddest, curliest hair you've ever seen and looks exactly like a Sloat. Hates to be told no. Can high five with the best of them. Loves the rabbit, doesn't really care for Fabulous, but he's warming up to her. Loves to say "Bye" and act like he's walking out the door. He cries when I leave for work or school, which breaks my heart. Gives pretty good hugs. Is calling The Missus "Mom," and his brother and sister "Bubba" and "Sis."

The addition to our family has also created an imbalance of sorts, as represented by the following pie charts.

This seems natural and right and in complete harmony and accord with all things.

THE PURPLE AREA IS GROWING HELP ME BABY JESUS.

In the past two weeks I've taken hundreds of pictures, the majority of which I can't put on social media or my blog. I forwarded one picture to about 20 different people before I realized that it had my boob in it, clear as day. Here's one that makes me proud, but I can't tell you if it's him.

This could be him, this might not be him. I'm not telling you for sure.
It seems as though he's had a hundred visitors. Family, friends, and everyone who meets him loves him. They play with him, hold him, talk to him. God has blessed us with people in our lives who genuinely love us and who want good things for our family. It amazes me that He would take so many terrible situations: broken families, infertility, abuse, drugs...and combine them into something so amazing. Something I'm able to call a family.

The other day, the day after we brought him home, he was screaming his lungs out about taking a nap and I was there beside him to make sure he didn't abscond from the crib. As I watched him tire himself out by crying, something struck me as humorous and I looked down at him and laughed. Then, the comparison hit me, I started crying while I was laughing. So I stood there like an idiot, chuckling silently while giant tears slid down my cheeks.

God throws me a lot of curveballs. And sometimes, when I'm right smack in the middle of something God knows I should be going through, I lay down and I kick my feet and I scream about it. I say "No" a lot and I think God is the worst person in the world for handing me the situation or set of circumstances. It's so unfair. The world is unfair. It's the worst.

And then I calm down. I realize that what I'm going through is what's best for me. I realize all those things I wish I would have realized sooner. I realize that I serve a God who can handle me when I'm having my biggest screaming hissy fit ever, and he's looking at me saying, "It's for the best. Trust me. Just trust me."

So yeah, I'm hoping God works His will in this situation. And even more than that, I actually believe that His will is best for all of us, including the new guy. Do I want things to work out the way I think is best? Absolutely. But what do I know?

I know that God is big.

I know that I am His. I know that my family is His. I know that you are His.

And I know that The Missus and I are officially outnumbered, and we wouldn't have it any other way.