Dear Jack: Our Trip to Mars

6 years, 3 months.

Dear Jack: Our Trip to Mars

Dear Jack,

We’ve now lived in our new house in Spring Hill, Tennessee for two years. One of our missions we just never got around to was to explore the cleared land across the street from the movie theatre. Originally, I had planned to shoot an episode of our superhero web-series, Jack-Man, there. But it just never happened.

So this past Sunday, instead of making you take a nap, I took you to the site we’ve been curious about for so long now. I couldn’t have known how much it would end up meaning to you.

Dear Jack: Our Trip to Mars

After all, I’ve taken you to some amazing places in nature, like Cloudland Park last summer near Chattanooga. But in the likeness of how kids often find more excitement from the cardboard box a gift comes in, instead of the actual gift itself, you were quite fascinated by the huge pile of red dirt that is slowly being developed across from the Spring Hill movie theatre.

It is clear that our father-son bond is most naturally strengthened when we are out in nature. That’s our thing. We can make a big deal of just dirt and rocks. We’ve always been good at that.

Dear Jack: Our Trip to Mars

You had forgotten your winter coat at school, so Mommy had you wear your oversized Columbia fleece pullover, as you brought along a “papered airplane” to fly over the canyons, and ultimately, for me to drop big chunks of dirt on top of.

“Wow, Daddy! We’re up so high!” you kept proclaiming.

Despite just being across the street from the hundreds of people of at the cinema, it was like you and I were in our own isolated world. You agreed it was kind of like being on Mars.

Amazingly, we made the drive home in less than 15 minutes. Not bad for travelling back from another planet.



Dear Jack: Our Trip to Mars

Exactly 10 Years after Our First Date

Exactly 10 Years after Our First Date

On February 5, 2007, the 25 year-old version of me was successful in finally escaping “the friend zone” with a girl who I had known exactly 4 months; a 25 year-old girl from California who I had met while waiting in line to be an extra for a taping of CMT’s Crossroads.

It was a week before Valentine’s Day, which I kept in mind. Meanwhile, she wasn’t aware that the John Mayer concert a couple hours away in Huntsville, Alabama wasn’t actually a “just as friends” thing. I was sneakily being very deliberate in my specific plan to get her to see me as more than just “the nice guy” she had been hanging out with at Starbucks most Sunday nights.

I knew that a road trip could provide an environment for her to see me in a different way than before. Knowing that we’d need to eat dinner but wouldn’t have time to since we both were leaving straight from work, I had used my lunch break to pick up some sub sandwiches for us Lenny’s. I also made sure to grab some Twizzlers, as I had remembered her saying she liked them.

Once we arrived in the parking garage next to the concert arena, I presented her with our dinner; while playing the Counting Crows through the stereo of my Honda Element; the car I still drive today.

The date went exactly as I had planned. And by the time we got back to Nashville, sometime after midnight, I asked her a very strategic question:

“Next week is Valentine’s Day, and I would be honored to take you out. Would you like to go out with me for Valentine’s Day?”

That was exactly a 10 years ago today. And we’ve been together ever since.

So glad I got out of the friend zone.

Though I guess you could say that being together and in love with a person for a decade, and being married 8 and a half of those years, and having 2 kids together… it sort of makes you best friends by default.

Dear Jack: Your Sister Appreciates Your Reindeer Games

6 years, 3 months.

Dear Jack: Your Sister Appreciates Your Reindeer Game

Dear Jack,

Whatever you’re into and at given moment, Holly is always eager to be invited to the action. She sees you as an important source of knowledge, based on your 6 years of life experience, along with your adventurous boyhood perspective.

Last Sunday, all it took was me finishing a bottle of nearly expired cold-pressed juice from Kroger, with the “Woo-Hoo!” sticker on it to celebrate the savings.

Before I could make it over the recycling bag in the pantry, you saw the potential: “Daddy, can I have that bottle?”

You began tossing it into the air, finding enjoyment as it would bounce on the hardwood floor each time it landed. It didn’t take long for Holly to crawl over from the living room and plant herself right into the middle of the action.

She also could was able to see the wonder of an empty bottle flying through the air.

I know you aren’t aware of this, but it’s little events like that when you teach your little sister about life. She is learning from you. She is taking those lessons seriously.

As her brother, there are certain unique things you are able to teach her that I just don’t have an eye for. It’s those kind of reindeer games that remind me that you and your sister live in a version of the world where excitement can be found in things like… garbage.

Her already playful spirit is only being enhanced by your daily influence. There is a reason she immediately stops what she’s doing whenever you walk by. There is a reason she has a reverence for your silliness.

Because to her, you can offer life lessons that only come from an only brother. While she definitely loves her Mommy and Daddy, she looks at you in a way like she looks at no one else.

You’re a really big deal to her.



Dear Jack: Your Sister Appreciates Your Reindeer Game

Dear Jack: Your Parapharyngeal Abscess/Our Weekend in the Surgical Holding Room at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville

6 years, 3 months.

Dear Jack,

Dear Jack: Your Retropharyngeal Abscess/Our Weekend in the Surgical Holding Room at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville

Thank God.

It is because of God’s grace that this story has a happy ending.

You are okay now, but it was one intense weekend.

Saturday morning Mommy left your baby sister and me home while you two were planning on picking up the groceries (as our pantry and fridge were empty) and then to the doctor for a check-up regarding your Strep Throat (as you missed nearly every day of school last week because of it).

What was expected to be a forgettable doctor’s visit actually resulted in them sending you immediately to the Emergency Room in Nashville; which is about an hour’s drive from where we live in Spring Hill.

Dear Jack: Your Retropharyngeal Abscess/Our Weekend in the Surgical Holding Room at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville

As Mommy called to tell me this urgent news, she also informed me that her phone didn’t get charged the night before, so she only had 17% charge on her battery.

Six hours passed after that brief and urgent call, with me not knowing any news.

As the afternoon proceeded, the hunger started kicking in- not to mention, I realized that Grandma’s plane would be landing soon at the Nashville Airport; as she had coincidentally planned for visit for the next two weeks, all the way from Sacramento.

Dear Jack: Your Retropharyngeal Abscess/Our Weekend in the Surgical Holding Room at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville

It was about that time Mommy called me, having found access to a phone charger at the hospital, and informed me that you would have to stay overnight and possibly have surgery the next morning. Your Strep Throat had yielded a potentially fatal condition:

So I quickly packed an overnight bag for myself and a diaper bag for your sister, and miraculously made it to the airport in time to pick up Grandma, even with an unexpected trip to the gas station as I remembered I only had 1/8 a tank of gas in my car.

From there, I had to find my way to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. It may not seem like a big deal, but I had never driven there from the airport; only from our house, coming from the other direction on I-65.

Dear Jack: Your Retropharyngeal Abscess/Our Weekend in the Surgical Holding Room at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville

Mommy called me and reminded me to pick up some dinner, since none of us had eaten in nearly 12 hours. Fortunately, I was able to stop at a Qdoba and pick up some burritos for us while Grandma stayed in the car with your baby sister.

Once we finally arrived, I traded places with Mommy, so she could take Grandma and your sister all the way back to Spring Hill.

That surgical holding room became our living quarters for the next two days. And despite the circumstances, you and I made the most of it. I enjoyed the time we got to spend together, just hanging out- something I know we don’t get to do enough of.

You ended up not needing the surgery, as the antibiotics in your IV helped reduce your neck paralysis enough over the weekend.

Dear Jack: Your Retropharyngeal Abscess/Our Weekend in the Surgical Holding Room at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville

I love you so much.

Crazy enough, I never had time to be afraid. I only had enough time to take care of you. And pray.

Monday afternoon you were able to come home- and by Wednesday, you were able to go back to school and I could easily see you were proud to go back.

And even though you never said it out loud, you were so happy to see your sister again. Neither of us had seen her in over two days, actually.

Dear Holly: It’s So Rewarding to See You When I Come Home

“Can I hold Holly, Daddy?” is now like your new catch-phrase.

Thank God you are okay. I just keep saying that over and over.



Your Retropharyngeal Abscess/Our Weekend in the Surgical Holding Room at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville

Dear Jack: I Haven’t Forgot about You over There

6 years, 3 months.

Dear Jack: I Haven’t Forgot about You over There

Dear Jack,

I experience guilt over you. I don’t get to spend enough time with you.

However, it’s not an issue of choice. It’s not that I could be spending time with you but am choosing not to.

Instead, it’s that in order to make a living for our family, Mommy and I both have to work. That’s nothing unique. That’s a normal problem.

But it presents a lifestyle in which despite living in a wonderful neighborhood and you being able to attend one of the best schools in the Nashville area, Mommy and I have to spend so much of our time commuting- and therefore, you spend time at “before care” in addition to being at Kindergarten most of the day.

During the week, my time is so limited with you. Every morning, I get you ready for school and drop you off. Every night we eat dinner together and then I get you ready for bed. All time combined, that’s barely an hour.

So really, it’s mainly just the weekends where I get to spend time with you. Granted, we’re having to buy groceries, clean the house, run errands, and go to church.

Not to mention, I’m constantly taking care of your baby sister when we’re all together.

I’m not able to pay you the attention I want. You don’t demand it. But I’m not able to give you what I want.

That’s why I treasure our quality time together. That’s why I make the most of it.

I experience guilt over this. I don’t know what else I can do though.

This is simply what I know as being a modern-day American parent who works full time and lives in a commuter’s community.

I wish could be with you more. You’re worth so much more than I can give you.



Grateful. Exhausted. Here. (My 3 Word Response These Days When Other Parents Ask Me How I’m Doing)

Grateful. Exhausted. Here. (My 3 Word Response These Days When Other Parents Ask Me How I’m Doing)

It is very important to me when I communicate that I am direct and honest, yet not negative. Therefore, I am currently embracing my new official response to when other parents see me and say, “Hey Nick, how are you doing?”

Typically the person asking this has an assuming smile on their face; that I will predictably reply with, “Good, and how are you?”

But no. I tell it like it is; though with a smile on my own face:

“Grateful. Exhausted. Here.”

So far, it seems people appreciate my sincerity. I crafted my answer in a way where it hopefully doesn’t come across as Debbie Downer, because I am making a conscious effort to remove negative people from my social circle. I don’t want to become the type of people I am trying to avoid.

However, it’s fundamentally important to me that I make my communication impeccable. To me, my 3 word response accomplishes my goal of being optimistic, real, and funny.

“Grateful. Exhausted. Here.”

I start off by being optimistic: Grateful. As a person who chooses to be victorious instead of allowing myself to become a victim, I make it clear that I am thankful for the life I have. I am grateful for my wife, my children, our jobs, our home, and the fact we live in a free country.

Then I immediately follow up by being real: Exhausted. People know that both my wife and I work full time and have a Kindergartner son and an 8 month-old daughter; who is still mainly formula and often catching the newest sickness. So I don’t go into details- I never need to.

Lastly, I cover the funny part: Here. I have to assume it’s a universal part of being a parent in modern-day America that simply just showing up to events is quite a task. So yes, being “here” is an impressive thing.

This past weekend the 4 of us drove over 20 minutes to a birthday party. We were early. Really early.

In fact, we were the first people there. The girl on the front desk of the party place asked my wife, “And you are the party mom?”

That’s never a good thing when you’re already 10 minutes to a party.

My wife checked her phone. Turns out, we showed up at the right time… just the wrong day.

Grateful. Exhausted. Here.

Hopefully here, at least.

Dear Jack: Will You and Your Sister Both Adopt the Only Child Mentality?

6 years, 1 months.

Dear Jack: Will You and Your Sister Both Adopt the Only Child Mentality?

Dear Jack,

Back in college, I was really into this book called The Birth Order Connection. It explains the theory of how our personalities are ultimately guided by what order we were born in the family.

It describes how an “only child” is different than a first-born child; but if a first-born child is at least 6 years-old when the 2nd sibling is born, both children ultimately become more like only children because those earlier formative years are not shared with another sibling of the same age.

When I Googled “traits of an only child” just now, here’s the first thing that came up:

“Only children, being firstborn themselves, tend to exhibit traits more similar to those of other firstborn children. However, only children seem to have better self-esteem and are higher achievers than children who have siblings (Brophy, 1989, p. 54).”

When your sister was born, you were about 5 and a half years-old; to be exact, 7 months shy of that 6 year-old mark. So really, you’re borderline on whether you will adopt a first born (older brother) mentality as opposed to an only child mentality.

And then same can be said for your sister, as long as no more siblings are born within the next 5 years. In theory, she may never really develop the mentality of “younger sister”. Instead, the two of you could easily both end up having that ultra-independent personality of an only child.

After all, the two of you will never really have to share your toys with each other. The two of you get to live next to each other, but always in different stages of childhood development.

Earlier this week on the drive to school, I told you, “Jack, when Holly’s your age now, you’ll be 11 years-old; you’ll be finishing up 5th grade when your sister turns 6; the age you are now.”

You laughed at the thought of it.

But that’s the reality. You are her older brother and she is your younger sister, but really the two of you may end up technically more like only children.