Wrestling

It’s been four days, and we’re still wrestling with the what-ifs, the why-me’s, the why-thems. We’re still piecing together what we saw. Still trying to understand. I’m still not sure if there are answers to all the why’s. And that’s ok. We can’t let our minds dwell on questions without answers. We shouldn’t dive into that dark well without a bottom. You can get lost in there.

Tatum asked about the news today on the way to school. We’re back home now, back to our routines and she’s curious. After the tragedy, she flew through a range of emotions; fear, anger, heartache, elation, a weird cocktail that we’re all sifting through. I don’t think she’s dealt with much guilt, and that’s good. Too many of us leave situations like Saturday wondering why them and not me and that question turns into guilt, but we shouldn’t feel guilty that we walked away when others didn’t. We shouldn’t blame ourselves for surviving the senseless act of another. We shouldn’t…but we do. We shouldn’t simply walk away and not look back, either. We need to learn how to embrace the emotions rather than bury them to see if they go away. Better to work it out before it goes too deep.

So Tatum asked about the news, she knows that’s part of my routine, too. “Was there any news about the crash this morning?”

“Not this morning, buddy. They didn’t have anything new to report.”

And then she asks a follow up. “What about the ones who died? Did they share anything about them?” And we enter into it. I let her know what I can. What I know. And that’s not a whole lot, yet. I tell her about the four that have died so far, and that they are concerned about one more. I let her know of the stories, how they are saying that one of those that died pushed a little girl out of the way. She was a hero. I tell her about all the heroes that day, about grandma Connie holding a little boy’s hands, consoling him until help could arrive. About Gpa lending a hand where he could. I tell her about the strangers in the crowd kneeling beside the hurt and wounded, holding hands, praying, helping. I tell her about one of the young men who dresses up as Pistol Pete getting that same little boy that grandma Connie consoled to the hospital in his truck.

“What about the girl in the car? Did she die, too?” And we enter into that. I let her know that she didn’t. That she walked away. I let her know that they are pretty sure she did it on purpose. That it wasn’t an accident, but like me, she can’t imagine why somebody would do something like that on purpose.

When I drop her off, I tell her to focus on the heroes that day and to not think too much about the girl in the car. She turns to me on the way out the door and says, “You want to know who my heroes were that day? My family.” And then she’s out, scampering down the sidewalk towards the gate. She’s on a mission to get to the book fair before school starts. She’s happy to be back at school. Elated. So am I.

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We walked away

When I first wrote this post yesterday, I didn’t imagine that it would be read by so many. Thank you for all the kind words and support. We are still processing emotionally, but physically we are well. There are still numerous people who need our prayers and our help. Please consider supporting the families who have lost loved ones and those who are still recovering. Click here for a list of places you can donate.

There are moments in your life where your mortality becomes intimately clear. Where this tenuous grip on life and those of your loved ones reveals just how fragile it is. Every breath is a gift, every moment walking a freedom that we all take for granted. And the more breaths, the more steps, the longer we walk this life between these moments the less real our mortality feels. Until another one comes along to wake us up. Life is not a dream. It is very real, and it is very fragile. We are not immortals roaming this earth.

Yesterday morning started off just like any other Homecoming at OSU. Maybe a little more special because this is Katy’s last homecoming at Stillwater before she graduates in December. But it was just another walk-around the night before, just another parade that morning that we would fight to get to the front of the crowd near Hastings on the corner of Hall of Fame and Main. We’ve done this before. We know our routines. Park up the road at one of the shops, hike down Hall of Fame a bit, stop in at Starbucks for a drink, find grandparents at the corner waiting for us. Hugs all around, watch the parade at the end of the route and make plans for the tailgate later. Just another parade on a beautiful morning in Stillwater.

Then it happens. One of those moments that strips the false veneer off of life and wakes you up. I heard a loud popping noise to the left, thought it was fireworks going off at the tail end of the parade. I turn my head, and my brain can’t process, not right away. I see a body flying in the air, only I think it’s a dummy at first. Surely it had to be a dummy. This was a parade. Just another homecoming parade. But why would they be launching fireworks and a dummy? Then I see the car, and I know all of this takes place in mere seconds, but in the moment and in my mind’s constant replay, it takes hours. Days. Lifetimes.

The car streaks past, a breath away from Tatum. From Ted, from Connie. Something knocked them out of the way. Perhaps the woman I saw flying through the air. Something pushed them back enough to miss what came. Then time caught back up to reality and I could hear sound again. I saw the woman who had flown through the air lying on her side. Blood. I saw another woman, gray shirt. Boots. Leg broken. More broken bodies, and I’m starting to move to help, to do something when I hear Daireth scream, “Tatum!” and I stop. My mind goes into protection mode. Find Tatum. I see her on the ground, confused, looking around for us, and I see something on her legs and then Megan scoops her up and begins to carry her away from the carnage. I see men rush to the car to lift it up. Someone’s under there, but I follow Megan. I need to check on Tatum. She’s hurting, we think it’s her leg or ankle at first. We carry her away.

In the parking lot at Hastings, only a couple of yards from the horrific scene, yet miles all the same, I hold Tatum close and check her wounds, only there are none. She’s ok. But not really. Not yet. Her mind’s still trying to comprehend. It was just another parade. “Why would someone do that? Why would they let that happen?” she cries into my shoulder, and I can’t answer. I can only hold her and reassure her that she’s ok. Nothing broken. Not physically, anyway, but I can’t tell her that either.

Katy catches up with us and I can see that she’s ok, but not really. What she has seen is playing over and over in her mind’s eye as well. And she can’t understand. I hold her close. That’s all I can do.

I watch as the survivors in the crowd rush to help the hurting. Men lifting a car. People kneeling to console the broken, to tend to the wounded. I find our family, bruised and a little overwhelmed. Struggling to process how close we were. Struggling to comprehend and to understand. I’ve heard so many people tell us God was watching over us, and I know that he was, but the sentiment behind those words rings hollow for me today. If He was watching over us, who was watching over them? And that paradox gets deep. Too deep to ponder. Not right now. Not in that moment.

Shortly after it all happened, when we regrouped at Ted and Connie’s tailgate, I began to comprehend something new. I played catch with Tatum. And I felt that it was borrowed time. I felt my mortality and hers very deeply. We shouldn’t be here, playing catch. It was that close. Too close. We shouldn’t be here, and yet we walked away. Every breath is a gift. Every waking moment. Every hug, every kiss, every joke, every laugh, every game of catch. All of it is a gift.


dear katy

Yesterday my dear, sweet Katlynn graduated. I could use the remainder of this post to ponder on how old that makes me feel (wait…I just did), and though I don’t quite resemble Steve Martin just yet, I’m sure I’ll get there before she graduates from Oklahoma State in a few years. Before that, though, and to keep myself from wallowing in the self-pity of old-age-itis, I wanted to dedicate a post to Katy. Afterall, the next few days should be all about her (I’ve even encouraged her to wear the button that Tatum got for her momma on Mother’s Day which reads: “Me! Me!! Me!!! It’s all about me!!!!!!”…at least for today). So, before I get carried away, I wanted to share a letter that is all about Katy and encourage anyone who reads this post to drop a comment in the comment section that is all about Katy as well…

Katy,

Over the last year I’ve been pondering what I would put in this letter. You knew something like this was coming (I think that interview at Starbucks kind of gave it away…not to mention that I kind of leaked I was working on the “Katy project”). Now it seems that it is time to get these notes into a cohesive letter (aka that “home-work” that I told you I had to work on…ironically enough for the same class…yeah, procrastination runs in the family, but I hear it wears off during college if you really work at it). Anyway, I think it’s time for me to start getting these thoughts in order and this letter finished. It’s time to let you know all the things that are right with you.

First, you are a true beauty, both on the outside and the inside. God has blessed you with a beautiful smile and a beautiful heart. You are a compassionate girl who will work hard to comfort her friends and you do everything you can to lift up others that are hurting. You even care enough to challenge others when you see that they might be doing something to hurt themselves. Don’t lose that courage. The world needs more true friends who care enough to speak up. Having a beautiful smile doesn’t hurt, either.

Second, (and this is rooted to the first…actually, most of these are) you are a deep and loyal friend. Those who get to know you, those that can break through your shy nature find this to be true: they can count on you to care. They can count on you to be there for them when they need you. They know that you will cry with them or laugh with them (or both). There is a downside to this, though. Not every friend is as loyal as you and that can really hurt, but this loyalty will be a blessing to the man you will marry someday. It will be (and has been) a blessing to anyone that calls you friend.

Third, you’ve got the brains, kid. I don’t know how many times over the last two years that you’ve asked for help on math and the only shot I had of finding the answer was to cheat with a formula in Excel or to try and Google it. I know…not a terribly good influence, but in my defense, my own brain usually went numb when you showed me the question you were working on. There is no doubt in my mind that you are ready for college. You’ve got this covered.

Fourth, you’re the baby whisperer. Someday, (hopefully not too soon…let’s say ten to twelve years); you will be an awesome mom to some lucky kid. I look forward to watching you care for your baby when that time comes. I catch glimpses of it now when you play with Tatum or babysit or volunteer at church; little glimmers of what the future will hold. When the time comes, you’ll be a natural.

Fifth, you are driven to do well. Very early on, you set your sights on college. You honed in on your school work and you were determined to do well in high school so that you could make college a reality. Your dreams may have changed, but your drive has not. It’s a little scary now that the reality of being a Cowboy (girl?) is so close, but I know that you will do fine. That same drive will see you through to another graduation in a couple of years.

There you have it. Five things that are right about you, five things that make me proud of being your dad. Oklahoma State is going to be very lucky to have you, and so will all the friends that you make in the next few years. Don’t give up on your dreams, kiddo. That drive that God has blessed you with has gotten you this far. He will see you through to the end.

-Dad

’cause I not

This has been a difficult blog to write, and I’m not quite sure why. I’ve been mulling over most of this stuff for awhile now. Stewing on it in my head, but that’s where some things stay far too long, ruminating…overcooking at times. Katy is starting her last year of high school; the mail box is full of college letters and informational brochures. Maddy is going into her last year of elementary school and Irelynn is entering the fourth grade, her first year as an upper classmen (as far as elementary schools are concerned). To top it off, the Tater Monster is entering pre-school. It’s enough to make a man feel older than his years. Much older.

Daireth cautions me when I get into these sentimental, sappy-prone moments. She’ll usually say, “Don’t get ahead of yourself, Klein.” She likes to call me Klein when I, well….get ahead of myself and let the latest milestones lead me to think of milestones that are yet to come, like college and marriage and grandbabies. You know, the milestones that play a huge role (if not outright causing) gray hairs, male-pattern baldness and bleeding ulcers (which, thankfully, I haven’t suffered from…yet).

Right now, though, it’s hard to reign these thoughts in. This time next year, Katy will be preparing to move out and go to college. She’ll be packing up and shipping out. I’ll joke about renting out her 100 sq ft of space (big family, small house), but it’s only a joke. I’ll miss her finding her way into the living room just to chat when I’m in the middle of watching a show. I’ll miss her bumming rides off us when her car breaks down (and pray that it doesn’t break down at college next year). I’ll miss staying up till midnight when she’s working the late-shift at Harkins.

I guess that is what it really boils down to. When these milestones are reached or when we can see them on the horizon, it’s hard not to think of what will be rather than just letting be. Thoughts of what we’ll miss begin to surface, and if we’re wise, we make time to soak it in. We begin to cherish those quirky things rather than being annoyed by them. Like Katy’s tendency to wander into the living room to have a conversation about people I don’t really know just as I get the opportunity to sit and enjoy a show; like Daireth’s tendency to pick through her fried rice to eat the beef or chicken while leaving most of the fried rice (which in itself reminds me of Tatum’s tendency to pick out all the marshmallows from her Lucky Charms without eating any of the other charms…does anyone ever really eat those other charms). Those things that annoy become those things that we love and the things we’ll miss.

Don’t get ahead of yourself, Klein. Katy will still be here for one more year. One more year of prime-time TV interruptions. One more year to soak it all in. Tatum has a catch phrase that I’ve been thinking about lately. She uses it in just about every situation where she doesn’t agree with you. The phrase is “’cause I not” and usually means “I don’t want to”. It’s one of her quirky sayings that we find endearing and problematic at the same time. We want to teach her to actually say what she means, but we know we’ll miss it when she doesn’t say it anymore. But while we continue to teach her proper English, I kind of like the phrase. It feels appropriate when thinking about Katy being a senior. I know that I can’t turn back time or freeze these moments. I know Katy will be on the way out this time next year, traveling to the university that will house her for the majority of the next four years. I know this, but I don’t like it much. I know it’s good for her, but I just don’t want to let her go…’cause I not.

razor burn

About a week ago, Maddy began shaving her legs and surpassed one of those milestones that father’s really can’t give much input on aside from letting her know which direction the blades should go and that you really want to avoid a side to side motion while drawing the blades up. Beyond that bit of wisdom, the only thing left is to commiserate with her about the unfairness of girls having to shave their legs and their armpits while boys only have to shave their face, and most guys now a days don’t even do a good job of that with the feaux-beard/three-weeks-of-five-o-clock-shadow look being ever more popular (yeah…I’m guilty of that, too). So, naturally, while in the car ride to school the day after Maddy’s first attempt at shaving her legs, our conversation took a turn towards the weird.

“So…how did the shaving go?” I asked Maddy that morning noticing that she had opted for shorts instead of jeans.

“Not too bad. I think I missed a few places,” she answered.

“You’ll get the hang of it,” I responded, and, for some reason, decided that I should offer some comfort by letting her know there are some people who shave their backs and arms and even their eyebrows…like swimmers and metro-metro-men (if you read that to the tune of “Macho, macho man”, you might chuckle).

“Dad. That’s just weird,” Maddy said, while Irelynn just kept making gagging noises and pretended to throw-up in the back. So, of course, I felt like I should creep them out a bit more.

“I know, right? I tried waxing my back once,” I said, to which Maddy gave me this deer in the headlights kind of look, “You know what that is, right?”

“Yeah, I know what waxing is, but…you actually did that? To your back? Why?” good question, kid.

“You know…to get rid of some hair. It’s embarrassing to walk out of the pool looking like Chewie with a shag carpet on your back,” I responded, stretching for a reason and unknowingly setting myself up for the burn.

“Uh-huh,” Maddy said, nodding her head sagely. “So what about the carpet on your chest?”

Touché, young one. Touché.

the she-ra moment

Do you remember the intoxicating anticipation of Christmas Eve, or the night before your birthday back when you were a kid and these days meant opening those gifts you’ve been dreaming about or drooling over under the tree? In the history of all those nights, you might be able to actually remember one or two of them that really made an impression on you. You can still feel the shape and texture of the gift, see and smell the newness of it and enjoy the feeling to this day, if only in a brief nostalgic trip back through time in your mind’s eye. I can remember a few of those days: a box full of Star Wars toys complete with the Death Star play set and the trash compactor with the real moving parts and the ugly one-eyed squid monster; another box full of GI Joe’s complete with the Joe headquarters. Go Joe.

For Daireth, this moment has come to be defined by one fateful gift many years ago when she opened a She-ra toy and exclaimed in the most excited, off the wall high-pitched girl scream you’ve ever heard (or so I’ve been told): “SHE-RAAAAA!!!!!” The moment was frozen in time, and from that day on, her parent’s have asked her which gift is the She-ra gift the year.

The answer to that question this year came today when Daireth unwrapped the gifts sent from her mother. She unwrapped a hyper pink bag with a huge breast-cancer logo in sparkly glitter under the “Chi” name brand. Before she even unzipped the bag, she started doing that hyperventilating, “Oh my God, Oh my God,” thing with her hand kind of covering her mouth in that way girls have when they get excited. Then she unzipped the bag and saw the matching bright pink hair dryer and hair straightener (I know there’s probably a technical term for this device, but I’ll go with its function). As soon as she saw the hair dryer and straightener, the hyperventilating OMG thing got faster and then she shrieked:

“ANEWCHIHAIRDRYER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

After my hearing returned, I kind of stared at her for a moment with my eyebrows raised, a little in shock. Then I told her that I’d have to email her mom and let her know that I just experienced my first She-ra moment of the marriage. Then I thought better of it and decided to post a blog instead. After all, D’s been bugging me to write a blog about her for months. Wish granted.

lost in translation

Tater MonsterSome parents are born with the innate ability to understand two-year old gibberish. They can quickly disseminate a conversation with their child in the amount of time most of us are trying to figure out if the kid is speaking English, Cantonese, or some combination of the two. In our household, we’ve come to call this language Tatumese, and aside from the two-year old, none of us speak it very well. What can frustrate the matter even more is situations like the one I’m about to share, where the language isn’t the issue so much as the translation.

Sometime last week, while I was plugging away at some work in the home office, Tatum came trotting into the room. Yes, she trots, and sometimes she even gets up to a full gallop on her way from the living room to the office, but she usually slows down on the wood floors to avoid running into walls. Smart kid. She slammed open the door (she likes to make her presence known, which is good, gives me a heads up when I have the headphones on so that I can pause the music and listen to what she might have to say); trotted over to my chair, and in the most earnest of squeaky two-year old voices, asked:

“DaddyMatt, [followed by unintelligible Tatumese], Monkey Game?” occasionally, I’m referred to as Daddy Matt, and if she overhears Daireth call me babe, she might throw in a few of those as well.

Thinking on my feet, which is sometimes not the best thing to do when it comes to deciphering the meaning of Tatumese, I thought that she might be wanting to play a game with her sister’s stuffed monkeys, or maybe Katy’s barrel of monkeys. “You want to play a monkey game?” I asked her, trying to get some sort of affirmation that I was on the right track. She nodded her head, repeated the gibberish, and pointed down the hall towards what I thought was her bedroom.

“Monkey Game!” she shouted and took off down the hallway…at more of a gallop this time. She didn’t stop in her bedroom, though. She continued on to the laundry room and stopped in front of the door leading out to the garage and tried opening the door. Of course, since I was in work mode at the time, I had turned the headphones back on as soon as I heard the pitter-patter of feet on the wood floor. What came next I barely heard over the baby-monitor through the music.

At first, she simply shouted at the door and started to bang on it. When Daireth came to help, she kept pointing at the garage door and shouting “Monkey Game!” as loud as she could. Daireth tried to help her out, but, much like me, could not decipher the true meaning of what Tatum was trying to communicate to us, and eventually, all communication broke down as Tatum entered the meltdown stage. This meltdown lasted a good thirty minutes with several timeouts, and the tremors caused by crying way more than a two-year old should lasted a good twenty minutes after that. If anyone had been listening in from outside, they would have tought we killed the poor kids pet monkey.

Eventually, after the tears had died down, I walked out of the home office to see what had happened. Daireth told me about the garage door and Tatum shouting over and over again about the Monkey Game. Then it dawned on me. She had seen me go into the garage earlier that day to get a board game for her to play with. She’s fond of Connect Four these days. Couldn’t play it to save her life, but loves dropping the chips into the slots, dumping them out, then starting all over again. While thinking about her fondness for Connect Four, I was reminded of our trip up into the mountains near Payson with some friends the weekend before. As chance would have it, our friends brought a Monkey Game that Tatum had fallen in love with. It was this very Monkey Game that she was determined to find. If we could only have translated the Tatumese a little earlier, we might have figured that out and avoided the meltdown.