Hope Travels: Trip Planning For Treatment In The Face Of Cancer

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Travel is the ultimate act of hope and optimism.  It screams, “No matter what is going on in my life, I choose to believe that there is a tomorrow and there is a place beyond the one I’m in.”  After all, a journey -- in and of itself -- is choosing to move on.

When cancer strikes a family, it hits hard and fast.  There’s really no time to think or plan.  Everyone is forced to pull together and react the best way possible under the worst of circumstances.  The entire family has no choice but to embark on a journey together.  Sometimes, literally, but always metaphorically.

My brother was diagnosed with leukemia within two years of returning from his second tour of Iraq as an Army helicopter pilot.  A seasoned veteran of the military and of life, he was just beginning marriage with his first baby, and he finally resided in his home state of Alabama after living all over the world.  At last, my extended family lived less than two hours from my big, busy, bustling brood.

We were all looking forward to making lasting memories together.  We just had no idea the significance of that time in our lives.

Just after the baby was born, my brother, Al, couldn’t shake an upper respiratory infection, and after months of dealing with it, he shuffled into the base doctor’s office in Colorado Springs where he was conducting a short-term flight school class.  This was in the spring of 2011.

Upon examination, the doctor grew suspicious of his symptoms and drove him immediately to the hospital where additional tests were administered.  Meanwhile, back in Alabama, Al’s wife and newborn awaited the Army doctor’s call which changed the course of their lives – and the entire family’s -- for the next two years.
It seemed that the thought of having everyone in “Sweet Home Alabama” at one time during treatment became just that…only a thought.  As much as I love to travel, my home is always in Alabama, and I relish my time at home with my family.

Immediately, my brother was admitted to a hospital in Colorado for chemotherapy and forbidden to travel during treatment, and my new sister-in-law with baby in tow flew west to join him shortly thereafter to set up a temporary home.  My parents – who deal with major health issues of their own – chose to make the trek across country in their RV which proved to be their tour bus as they followed my brother’s treatment from one place to the next.

After six months of treatment, Al was sent back home to Alabama to stand the test of time.  The chemotherapy had successfully annihilated the leukemic cells but had almost obliterated him in the process.  He rested and recovered over the next few months while the cancer secretively crept back into his bloodstream.

We weren’t “home” yet.

In the spring of 2012, the second diagnosis of leukemia didn’t quite hit as hard but the blow was infinitely more painful – if that’s even comprehensible.  We anticipated the news, but we knew that everything became more serious, more real and more difficult instantly.
Looking at my brother's hospital room at MD Anderson in Houston.
This time, Al’s treatment moved west to Houston at M.D. Anderson (MDA) Cancer Center as did his immediate family and my parents.  It seemed that the protocol for this go around was a bone marrow transplant.  Therefore, the search began for a donor.

From the time my brother was diagnosed, a thought was planted in my heart and mind that I would give him my bone marrow.  I didn’t tell anyone.  I just expected it.  However, it wasn’t until over a year later that my brother introduced the idea to me that although I was only a haploid match, the MDA doctors wanted to pursue me as his donor.  Like He had with our entire journey, God had paved the path long before the doctors, my brother or I knew what Al needed.

Leaving my family at home, I flew to Texas solo and underwent extensive testing over several days.  It was one of the scariest trips I had ever taken but one of the most healing.  After months of being separated from my brother, we were able to connect on a level most siblings never are privileged to reach in their relationships.  Through the counsel of his physicians and the sheer gravity of all the examinations, I realized that I was potentially saving his life – not just doing him a favor.

It was exhilarating and frightening as I weighed out all the possibilities.  What I was doing for him could kill him or give him life, and when I would go back to my hotel room at night to ponder after a long day at the hospital, all I wanted was the noise and chaos of my husband and children to snap me out of the crushing pressure of my thoughts and feelings.  I wanted to go home.

There were ten days from the time I left Houston until I returned for the transplant.  My brother was escorted as close to death as possible by more potent chemicals designed to prepare him to receive my bone marrow and essentially start him over again.

On the return trip, I brought along my strength and support (my husband, Scott) and three of my four distractions (my three youngest children).  The transplant went smoothly, and they were able to harvest much more than anticipated.  My recovery was more involved than I had anticipated but nothing significant.

In the fall of 2012, Al and his little family returned to Alabama and remained there until a couple of months after his “rebirth” day in July.  He gets stronger every day, and although he suffered a few setbacks in his year-long recovery after the transplant, his blood continues to check out with no leukemic cells and 100% of donor cells…that’s me!

Ironically, the military recently assigned them to a base in Colorado Springs where they moved in September.  Talk about a journey coming full circle.  They are home.

Cancer affects millions of families all over the world.  Join me in a celebration of life conversation on Twitter with TravelingMom.com -- Monday, October 21 at 9 p.m. Eastern/8 p.m. Central.  You can RSVP here for the chance to win prizes! This post is sponsored by the SunChips' Fight Against Breast Cancer Campaign for Susan G. Komen and in honor of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Summer Wrap-Up: Weeds and Grass

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

It's been a while since I posted.  I claim "busy summer" full of travel, kids' schedules, maintaining work for existing clients, moving our first born off to college, a busted pipe and some fairly big news that I'll drop later in this post.  But who among us (besides my retired parents) aren't busy?

This is the last week of summer for our kids who will start back to school next Monday.  (Yay!  Wait...did I say that out loud?)  I will miss seeing so much of my munchkins, but we are craving a routine about now.  And for us, the start of school means football -- a particular, hard-core obsession in our household.

Speaking of football, let's get the question of "How's Zach?" out of the way.  In a nutshell, he's living his dream.  He graduated from high school on May 20 and was in freshmen orientation on May 21.  He moved in the dorm on a weekend in mid-June and started summer workouts and classes the following Monday.  Therefore, all the angst and tears experienced by my friends with college freshmen moving in over the next few weeks...excuse my callousness.  We've already been there, done that and quite literally stocked up on all the t-shirts.  (I forgot how many t-shirts come with the college experience.)

From what we know and understand so far from his first of three weeks of "camp," he is practicing as the third-string center with the jersey number 53. (We're actually hoping that he's red-shirted, but he won't know that for sure until the end of the season.)  He says that it's a MUCH faster pace than high school -- more intense, more serious, more complicated and as you would expect, more physically grueling.  What he loves is that they feed them well.  (Thank goodness...because my food bill and my kitchen were taking a beating!)

We have LOVED having him close by so that we can steal away moments with him amongst his busy schedule.  He spent Father's Day with us the weekend he moved "away."  He took a last-minute beach trip with us before he started camp, and occasionally, I'll sneak down to campus to deliver some goodies.  He sometimes will drop by the house to pick up something or simply to catch up on news from the other three kids.  We give him his space, but having him just over the mountain is so nice since he's so busy.

We are filling up our calendars with the UAB Blazers Football Schedule and can't wait to travel and tailgate with some of you!  I PROMISE that I'll conclude my blogpost series on college football recruiting as a follow up to College Football Recruiting According to Mom and College Football Recruiting:  Our Story, Part One.  Surprisingly, I've heard from folks all over the country going through similar situations, and my matter-of-fact telling of our story has evidently struck a chord with some.  I'm happy that it has...because after all, our stories are intended to relate and help one another, right?!  I know I received benefit from some stories of those who went before me.  (You know who you are!)

A really cool side note...Zach's roommate is Mark Allen Rawls who played high school football with him and was in his kindergarten class.  Zach and Mark -- his mom and I still call him "Mark Allen" -- grew up together and were friends all the way through school.  Mark was still undecided about where he wanted to go to school after football season, but after Zach signed with UAB in February, Mark pursued a walk-on position with the team.  He was offered a spot in the spring, and he and Zach moved in together this summer.  So, those two who originally started school together in kindergarten also started their college classes together this summer.  (They BOTH have 4.0's thus far, too!)

Our only daughter continues to keep us on our toes with all her activities.  Our lamenting over the prospects of not having an excuse to attend Friday night football games -- since she decided not to try out for varsity cheerleader (To Cheer or Not To Cheer) -- did not last long.  Caroline had us filling up our calendar with voice and guitar lessons and Key Club events and speaking engagements.

Of her voyages this summer, Caroline traveled with the Alabama District of Key Club International to Washington, D.C. where she had the distinct honor of laying a wreath on the tomb on the unknown soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.  She also addressed Alabama's Kiwanians at their district convention, and despite the fact that she broke the microphone, received an overwhelming response to her speech.

Caroline's big news this summer is that she turned 16!  We went all "Pinterest-y" and threw her a burlap-and-lace-clad sweet sixteen party -- which pretty much sums up her personality.  And after driving to Tuscaloosa twice due to the (insane) amount of rainfall we've had this summer, she finally got to take her road test and passed with flying colors.  She now drives a silver 1997 Land Rover Discovery (like a grandma) and doesn't venture much beyond the borders of our suburb (per our rules).

On the verge of beginning her junior year, Caroline has decided to focus on her musical abilities and leadership/service opportunities in hopes of getting into a small liberal arts school and receiving a music scholarship in order to teach music one day and possibly sell the songs she writes.  (I should probably post a video of her singing one of her songs.  I often ask about the origins of some of what she sings, and it slays me when she says, "I wrote it.")  I already miss her when I think she won't be a part of my daily life in two years.

William is growing like a weed!  I haven't officially measured him lately, but he HAS to have grown three inches just this summer.  Nothing fits him, and he towers over me.  He now enjoys the position of the third tallest person in the family -- much to Caroline's chagrin.  A rising 8th grader, William played a little golf this summer and even won his first tournament at Scott's home club in Jasper, Musgrove Country Club.  He keeps whittling away at Scouts' requirements -- hoping to follow in his big brother's footsteps by achieving Eagle rank one day.  He also starts as center on the middle school football team and has started long-snapping as well.  William's news from the summer is that after more than five years of rooming with his younger brother he now occupies Zach's old room -- complete with his own bathroom and walk-in closet.  He loves having his own space and actually endures Caroline's late-night jam sessions on that side of the house much better than Zach did.

During the process of moving Zach out, we transformed our finished basement from playroom to "home away from dorm" for Zach.  It WAS a pretty cool space with a living area, a workout zone and a bedroom for our college boy until a pipe from above burst sending gallons of water on his bed below.  We're still trying to settle things up with the insurance company and contractors.  Hopefully, it'll be back to normal soon, and Zach will feel welcome again in his home.

For Harrison, he continues to lead a charmed life as the baby of the family.  He'll ease into fourth grade this year and still enjoys playing golf, too.  In fact, he chose not to play baseball this spring and summer in favor of playing in two golf brackets.  Looking back, what I thought I would miss so much (about baseball) turned out to be such a blessing that we weren't bogged down with that unforgiving schedule -- especially since we were preoccupied with Zach graduating and moving out.  As a by-product of Zach moving off to college and being relegated to his downstairs "lair" (as he calls it), Harrison also settled into his "new" room without a roommate.  We'll often find him with his door shut, reading on his bed or playing with his toys -- something he felt he couldn't do sharing it with William.

As a family tradition, Harrison was the last of our kids to have his turn and accompany Scott on a far-away business trip.  Just the two of them scooted off to Colorado in June and made us green with envy with all of the photos they sent back to us daily.  I was happy they had that time together, and thankful to have two out of the house while I flipped all of the boys' rooms.  We brought new meaning to trading spaces this summer!

As you might know already, my brother, Al, and his family are doing quite well.  We celebrated one year on July 27th since the bone marrow transplant (Leaving a Little of Me in Texas) when all my icky sister cells were assumed by my brother who was fighting leukemia at MD Anderson in Texas.  Since then, he's had many ups and downs, but is in a good place right now.  All tests indicate that he houses 100 percent of my stem cells, and there is no sign of cancer.  (That still blows my mind!)  They're making plans of moving from Montgomery, Alabama to Colorado Springs, Colorado at the end of this month, and Al is retiring from the Army after more than 20 years of service. I can not tell you how this two-and-a-half-year journey has changed our lives as a family, but suffice it to say, we deeply appreciate all of the encouragement from those we know personally or perhaps distantly as we trod this path.  Your friendship and support have been invaluable in our daily lives!

Scott is doing well trying to keep step with our family's fast pace while simultaneously providing the means by which we do all that we do.  I always tell the children to be kind to their sponsor.  I say, "Do you know how these professional athletes get to do what they do?  Look at the logos on their clothes, shoes and equipment, and remember that you have an invisible little "Sims" logo on everything you own and do.  Just like they care about what their sponsors think of them...you need to genuinely care what your parents think of you."

Along those lines, Scott and I have made the decision for me to look for a full-time public relations/marketing position with an employer.  After more than 18 years of providing freelance consulting and writing while simultaneously raising our children from home, I am in the process of applying and interviewing locally.  Of course, in the meantime, I'll still service the clients I have and teach ballet, too, and from what I understand, job seeking these days takes lots of time and patience.  Therefore, I may end up with something that looks more temporary, part-time or simply more contractual clients.  Any of that would be grand, and we're trusting God for the outcome of exactly where He wants me. I'm hoping that with a steady salary of my own I can use the unique experiences and skill sets I've acquired over the last several years to turn my passions into a chance to help provide some of the "big-ticket" items we'll purchase over the coming years for our growing kids and aging parents.

Therefore, if you know of opportunities or would like to review or forward a copy of my resume, you can contact me at simsinbham@aol.com.  And, of course, I'll keep you updated on the job search, and if I accept a position, you'll be of the first to know.

Well, that's our summer at a glance, and I look forward to hearing about yours as well.  Summer is always such a significant time of growth.  Just like the weeds in our lawn...we continue to see God's blessings sprouting up in such unexpected places.  Remember to notice the weeds...because without them, it's difficult to appreciate the grass.

"Delivery Man" Hands Out Heart For Moviegoers

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tall men kinda do it for me. I admit.

I have nothing against guys under six feet.  All I'm saying is that I can overlook more flaws -- baldness, pudginess or shallowness -- if a guy has some altitude.

I guess that's why I've always liked Vince Vaughn.  He may not be America's sweetheart, but I've always had a soft spot for him.

So, when Walt Disney Studios offered me the opportunity to debut the official trailer release for Vaughn's new movie Delivery Man, I jumped at the chance.

The premise of the movie is that Vaughn plays an affable underachiever looking for his purpose in life, when he finds out he's fathered 533 children through anonymous donations to a fertility clinic 20 years ago.  Now, he must decide whether or not to come forward when 142 of them want to meet their biological father.

Delivery Man opens in theaters everywhere on November 22, but you can only see the debut of the film's official trailer here on my site and on the sites of 532 other bloggers.  (Get it?  There's 533 of us in all...just like the number of children he's fathered!)

Just by viewing the few minutes of the trailer, I love watching Vaughn's character, David, transform from dead-pan expressions to an animated face full of pride, disappointment, protection and contentment.  By encountering those he's fathered, he begins to truly feel.

I started thinking about the rich array of emotions which I experience as a result of being a part of the daily life of my children.  They can send me into orbit by watching them excel at something they enjoy, and then make my heart sink to the depths by seeing tears streaming down their faces.

I guess that's why my grandmother always said that to love deeply means you feel deeply as well.  Family gives life meaning. 

When we're together as a family at Thanksgiving this year, I'm sure that we'll have Delivery Man on our must-see list for the grown ups and the teens in the group.  I'll look forward to seeing how Vaughn's character is transformed by the volume of feelings which engulfs him from his hundreds of offspring.

Here's the link to the Delivery Man Movie YouTube channel to follow the movie before its release:

Family Travel Tips: Staying Organized In A Hotel Room

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Have you ever dreaded a trip?  I don't mean the obligatory kind that one must take for a job or family obligations.  It's a fun trip for all intents and purposes. It just may come at an inopportune time.  Not everyone in your gang is traveling with you.  You've visited that location before. Or, perhaps you're just not prepared. 

For me, it's all of the above.

I really love to travel.  I love the adventure, and although I procrastinate like everyone else, I honestly like to pack.  It's an organizer's ultimate challenge. To fit everything one needs in a certain amount of time for such an occasion in a specific location? 

Bring it!

Yet, our trip to Washington, D.C. was met with some reservation.  (And I don't mean the plural kind in terms of fancy dining and adventurous tours.) My heart just hasn't been in it.  The views from and within my hotel room sort of speak to my attitude -- overcast outdoors and my hubs brings enough documents to work on to choke a mule? 

(Do folks still use that phrase or is my Southerness showing?)

Anyway...after a nap, a bottle of water and a snack (which cure many traveler's ills), I started getting pumped about being in our nation's capitol and began setting up our hotel room.

Here are a few traveler's tips which help us stay organized in a hotel room as a family:

* Send someone off with the kids to run an errand or to case the joint after everyone has a chance to see the room. You need some alone time to figure what and WHO will go where. I tell my kids that Mom and Dad pay for the room (or are responsible for getting it paid for).  Therefore, WE say who sleeps where.

* Completely unpack if your stay is longer than two days.  Otherwise, you're living out of your luggage which makes it difficult to find things. Plus, your stuff gets squished, and you have to iron more.

* Hang up as much as you can.  Pack lightweight hangers and vertical organizers for the closet.  

* Pack a clear, over-the-door shoe organizer to hang in the bathroom for toiletries. Put kids' stuff down low and adult items and medications up high.

* Bring along a few Command Strip hooks to temporarily hang in your room or bathroom to get day bags off the flat surfaces, toiletry bags off the counter or backpacks off of the floor. The small ones are great to hang on the back of the hotel door for credentials or lanyards at a convention or conference. They easily come off and don't leave marks.

* Always include a plan for dirty laundry. We've tried a bag, but the kids actually have to open it to stuff their dirties inside. So, I opt for the collapsible, mesh pop-up hamper. It folds flat in the suitcase and is light weight. When we get to where we're going, everyone recognizes it and knows that only TRUE dirty clothes go in -- sweaty, stained, muddy or underwear. (I usually run a load through guest laundry or wash some out in the sink if they're really gross before packing them to go home.)

* Have a plan for used clothes. I distinguish between used clothes and dirty clothes when traveling. Used clothes get hung up or put back in the drawer to be worn again...dirties go in the hamper. When kids (and hubbies) realize that jeans, shorts and dressy clothes can be worn more than once, they are more careful with them, and they don't pack as much.

* Pack refresher spray like Febreeze for used clothes or pack a stack of dryer sheets in a zip-topped bag to place in the drawers. 

* Establish designated areas for stuff (no matter how small the space). If we bring books or technology, it goes on or near the desk.  This also helps to remind us to charge electronics at night. Everyone has a dresser drawer, and shoes go in the bottom of the closet.  The only exception is that sometimes boys' shoes may have to stay outside. (No explanation needed there....blech!)

* Put luggage away. Store the suitcases in the back of the closet, under the bed or in that forgotten area between the bed and the wall. 

* Move furnishings or decor around. If an ottoman is in your way, shove it against the wall. If you keep tripping over a chair and you don't need it, kindly ask housekeeping if it can be stored for the duration of your stay. There's sometimes cute little trays with toiletries or coffee supplies in the bathroom. That's the first thing to be tucked away. I need more counter space.  I usually put everything back as we leave so that they know I didn't steal it, but sometimes what is cute, isn't practical.

I hope this helps, and Bon Voyage to you and yours!

College Football Recruiting: Our Story, Part One

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The recruiting of my son to play college football looked like it was over before it ever really began.  On the first day of the second week of spring practice his junior year, Zach broke his left leg in two places requiring surgery.

In a previous post (College Football Recruiting According to Mom), I divulged how we stumbled into football recruiting rather late in Zach's high school career.  However, now that he appeared to be on several folks' radars in the spring of his junior year, he was receiving invitations to summer camps.  We were told that there is where they'll see his abilities and get to know him as a person.

Summer camps are where you can get offers -- we were told.  So, we started lining them up and filling up the family's calendar.

Everyone who knew Zach and who saw him play wasn't surprised that college football programs were interested in him.  He was frequently recognized for his talents with awards and selections.  He was a leader on and off the field.  He possessed a high grade point average and one of the very best attitudes and work ethics.

However, on paper, really most of what mattered to college coaches for an offensive lineman were two little things called height and weight.  His junior year, Zach stood at 6 feet 2 inches and weighed in around 275 pounds.

Yes, that's big.  To some, it's just not big enough.

Since his height wasn't extraordinary, it was hard for anyone to give him a second glance unless they could see him in action.  Before we could get to the summer camps, we were told we needed to make our rounds at the spring combines.

Zach's Senior Highlights
which became the only glimpse to college coaches of what he could do on the field

Most of the combines, in my opinion, appeared to be another way for the recruiting websites and services to make money off of starry-eyed prospects and their bewildered parents.  We definitely fit that mold and dutifully accompanied our son to a few in search of getting "stars" added to his profile or of garnering the attention of someone who mattered.

At this point, it was all smoke and mirrors to us.  We learned a few things, and Zach gained some exposure.

At one combine in Atlanta, I happily drove Zach over on a Friday eager to get away from the dirty dishes in the sink and the incessant trips to his younger brothers' little league practices.  It was such a rare occasion to spend alone time with my 17-year-old man/child, but I quickly realized that I was out of my comfort zone.

On that Saturday morning of the combine, I adequately fed my son and arrived at the site in plenty of time.  Yet, because we parked on the wrong side of the building and because there was no signage (ahem), Zach and I were of the last ones to walk across an eerily quiet gym full of players and parents for the opening session.

And of course, I wore my high heels.  Click, click, click, click, click.

Zach was nervous about the combine and a little embarrassed of me, and I had no idea how to counsel him for such an occasion.  As they divided into positions, he was clearly the smallest offensive linemen in the group of about 30 "big uglies," and I started worrying.  Plus, I had no idea that this was an all-day affair.  (Again, organization is not at the top of the list of any recruiting event I ever attended anywhere.)

These football parents were serious...and experienced.  They donned shirts with their child's football jersey number.  They carried stadium seats or chairs and ice chests.  And, they knew each other. I had my purse, a jacket and my cell phone.  I knew no one.

Fortunately, God blessed me with the gift of gab, and I began striking up conversations with these dads -- because not a lot of moms attended combines.  Plus, the ones who were there looked like they could hurt me (or at least wanted to).  The dads proudly would tout and point out who their sons were and how many offers they had, and more importantly, they told me who was who watching them all on the field.

"This guy's from Rivals. This one is from ESPN, and that guy over there is from Scouts.com,"  they would say.  And then, the boys would get a break, and just like Rocky's trainer, Mickey, the dads would run over to the fence with a chilled towel or a Powerade -- dispensing gridiron knowledge and wisdom while simultaneously handing them life-giving supplies.  You could see it in the dads' eyes that they longed to be on the field with their sons.

I made a mental note to myself to bring a cooler next time, but unfortunately, there was never a next time. 

I did clippity-clop over to the fence to tell my son that I was praying for him.  The only thing I felt I could adequately do for him when I truly felt helpless and hopeless.  I just didn't want him to get hurt.  Then, it was as if God Almighty Himself gave me an encouraging word for Zach.

"Be a stump, Zach!" I said.

"What?!" he replied with a puzzled and slightly annoyed expression.

I explained to my son that he needed to use his height to his advantage.  He essentially was going head-to-head with these massive creatures who towered over him by as much as 4-5 inches.  I told him that he needed to plant himself firmly in the ground, use his unique perspective as leverage and not let them budge him.  Be a stump.

Whatever I said -- or moreover -- whatever he did must have worked because as the combine progressed and more and more players were pulled out of play, there were only six offensive linemen picked for the all-star team that day.  My son was one of them.

Zach, his dad and I continued to be encouraged that through participating in a handful of spring combines and completing online prospective student athlete forms, we were on someone's mailing list at least.  Evidently, there were a few programs who were hearing about him through word of mouth as well since there seemed to be a steady procession of coaches coming to spring practice to see him that first week.  The word on the street was that there was more to come.

Then...I received that fateful call on Monday, April 30 around 3:45 p.m.  A young female trainer on the other end instructed me that I needed to come to the school.  My son had been injured at football practice.  As the daughter of a former Alabama State Trooper, I knew not to ask questions by phone which I could do nothing about nor could I witness for myself.    Therefore, I calmly asked her which son she was referring to since two of my boys were in the middle of spring practice on opposite sides of town.

My heart sank when she informed me to head to the high school.

Upon arrival with my eight-year-old in the back seat, I watched his coaches haul Zach off the field in a John Deere Gator as practice continued in the background.  He kept his composure with a few grimaces and understandable yelps as I peered into the furrowed faces of the football coaches and staff.  The head athletic trainer announced to me, "It's a simple fracture to the tibia and most likely the fibula."  Then, he opened the air cast for me to see Zach's warped leg underneath.

I almost threw up.

To my dismay, the coaches started loading Zach's massive frame into my backseat, and with his youngest brother keeping watch over his broken limb, we made the slow and careful trek to the hospital.  Carrying on a few conversations at once, I instructed Harrison to not let Zach's leg roll off the seat while reassuring Zach who was clearly going into shock.  Meanwhile, my brain was trying to process the route with the least amount of turns and bumps as my shaky hands attempted to drive and call Scott.

Time in the emergency room seemed to pass in my memory as a blur, and early the next morning, Zach went into surgery under the care of Dr. Lyle Cain of Andrews Sports Medicine in our hometown of Birmingham.  The day after surgery, Zach reported to Champion Sports Medicine for physical therapy to begin the long road back to recovery.

There were several dark nights that discouraged us all.  Then, the morning would break, and we would take on the day's challenges never mentioning the doubts we discussed the previous night.

At the time of the injury, all we could think about was Zach's overall health.  Of course, we thought of his football career in the back of our minds, but Dr. Cain's success rate and confidence as the team surgeon for the University of Alabama put our fears mostly at ease.  What we didn't know then was the timing of his injury may have been best for his high school team but probably was the worst for Zach as an individual college prospect.

All summer camps he had been invited to were cancelled as Zach headed into his senior season.  We heard from very few coaches all summer.  Mistakingly, we thought he shouldn't make an appearance on crutches or in his boot on the various campuses.  In hindsight, we should've sent him on in order for the coaches to get to know him as a person and to remain on their radar.  He could've kept up with them by sending them films later once he fully recovered.

We didn't know what we were doing.  But the story (thankfully) doesn't end there.

By the end of July, Zach walked with a slight limp but remained resolute to return to the field by the first game of his senior season in August.  And return, he did.

As a team captain, Zach helped lead the Homewood Patriots to their best season in seven years -- with a surprising and heart-breaking loss in the first round of the 5A state playoffs.  His steadfast focus was getting his team into the playoffs and proving to the college programs who were interested in him that he maintained his value even after his injury.

During last year's college football season, Zach received many campus invitations for unofficials -- what I liked to call "social visits."  They were fun and exciting, and we brought various friends and family along for the ride.  However, after a few, they became exhausting and a seemingly unproductive component in an already busy season of life.

By the time early November rolled around, we kept getting the same story from several programs which had expressed previous interest in Zach.  Evidently, there was no room for him on their "board," but they still were looking at him.

It was like hearing the "let's be friends" speech from your crush.

Zach would get discouraged one moment, get a promising call from out of the blue, and be back with a spring in his step.  The double talk seemed slicker and more confusing than most used car salesmen, and I was ready for it all to be over with.  At first, we would counsel Zach on what to say (and not to say) to coaches.  Then, we just sort of listened in and made sure he didn't get himself into a pickle.  After a while, we were over it and went to bed.

By Christmas, we couldn't wait for February 6.  We just wanted a decision and wanted the recruiting process to be done.

In a future post, I'll tell a few fun recruiting stories from the road, explain what Zach experienced when he competed with and against some of the nation's best recruits in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game and lay out how it all came down to the wire for us last February before National Signing Day.

On Set At "Mom's Night Out"

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A few weeks ago when I was invited onto the set of the movie, Mom's Night Out, I couldn't wait to meet Patricia Heaton (from The Middle and Everyone Loves Raymond) and tell her that we are best friends -- she just didn't know it yet.  However, my greatest surprise and delight was actually meeting Sean Astin (of The Lord of the Rings, Rudy and The Goonies).

(More on how I went mute on Patty in a later post.)

Mom's Night Out -- which just wrapped filming in my hometown and which is scheduled to hit theaters in 2014 -- chronicles one night out gone awry, as three harried moms, their husbands, a sister-in-law with a misplaced baby, a tattoo parlor owner, a motorcycle gang and one bewildered cabbie learn to embrace the beautiful mess called parenting.

When I was pitched the story for my blog, I definitely could relate to the "beautiful mess called parenting" as you probably do.  That happens to be the story of my life and possibly the new name for where we live, "A Beautiful Mess."  (I may paint it on our mailbox.)

In the film, all Allyson (Sarah Drew of Grey's Anatomy) and her friends want is a peaceful, grown-up evening of dinner and conversation . . . a long-needed moms’ night out. But in order to enjoy high heels, adult conversation and food not served in a bag, they need their husbands to watch the kids for a few hours.  What could go wrong, right?

On the first day I was on the set, I brought along my friends, Resa and Nancy -- long-time girlfriends with whom I've enjoyed a few moms' nights out.  (Is that the way one pluralizes 'moms' night out?')  Through the years, these particular women have given me just what I needed in the way of female friendships -- whether it was a break from my duties as wife and mother or a swift "kick in the pants" to encourage me to keep plugging away.
Nancy, Me and Resa (left to right)
A moms' day out on the set of Mom's Night Out after a busy and emotionally grueling few months as wives and mothers was just what we three needed to build on our memories with one another and to kick back and enjoy each other, too.  That is exactly what we did.

From the moment we arrived on the set, I went into "work mode" figuring out angles and trying to secure photos or interviews with folks.  Yet, because it was a movie set, there was a lot of down time and just hanging out.  Nancy and Resa reminded me that we were having fun, and it was exciting to meet celebrities and see a movie being made.  (I forget sometimes that what I do is fun.)
The particular scene we watched being filmed that day was at Treetop Family Adventure -- a place I had visited several times with my four kids and where one of mine actually hosted his birthday party a few years ago.  Now, I was watching Sean Astin, other cast members, a slew of extras and dozens and dozens of crew members working on a feature film.  (It was crazy!)

We stood within a few feet of Sean and his on-screen toddler son being loaded onto a gurney as he left a message for his wife that said, "Everyone is OK.  We just need to make a quick trip to the hospital."

I've never received the hospital call.  (Thank The Lord!)  But here are a few unnerving messages I've received while out with my friends:
  • Everyone is OK, but how do you get all the bubbles out of the jacuzzi?
  • Everyone is OK, but where does the toddler like to hide?
  • Everyone is OK, but have all the kids had a tetanus shot lately?
  • Everyone is OK, but how do you turn off the fire alarm?
Needless to say, the story in this film (although I haven't seen the movie in its entirety nor in scene order yet) resonates with all of us who call ourselves a family.  And after the few weeks and months I had experienced, I needed to laugh at my own shortcomings, faults and total screw ups.  Just witnessing the few scenes being filmed, I giggled at every take and felt better about my own situation.

Most of the ones who had been invited onto the set that day as guests had left by dinner -- which left more for us.  We enjoyed a free and tasty dinner with the cast and crew, and then were allowed to meet and take photos with the stars. We almost had the whole buffet and Sean Astin to ourselves -- what more could one want?

What's a blogpost without a food photo?

Julie Baumgardner of First Things First, Me, Sean, Nancy and Resa on the set of Mom's Night Out.  The food truck is behind us -- whoop, whoop!

Sean was a prince of a guy.  We hung out all day eating his food and sitting in his chair while he perfected the scene, and then, he patiently waited through all of our questions and the endless photo sessions.  We talked about having teenagers and being in our 40s.  We marveled at the cult following The Goonies still enjoys and how so many people in Alabama are such football fans that they recognize him more from Rudy than The Lord of the Rings.  (We're basically BFFs now...and he knows it.)
I'll dish more later on my girlfriends, Patty Heaton and Sarah Drew.  In addition, Moms' Night Out features Alex Kendrick (Courageous), Robert Amaya (Courageous), Andrea Logan White (Revelation Road) and Kevin Downes (Courageous). Platinum-selling country recording artist Trace Adkins (The Lincoln Lawyer) plays “Bones,” a philosophical tattoo artist with a checkered past and a load of wisdom.

I can't wait to see the final version of the film, and let you know when you can experience it, too!

For this post, I spent two days on the set of Moms' Night Out and was treated to on-set meals and a goodie bag of related books and music.

Happy Sweet 16, Sweet Caroline!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

My mother and I were very close when I was growing up...the best of friends, really.  Unfortunately for me and all those who knew her, Carol became physically and mentally impaired just after I married in 1991 as the result of a brain tumor.

Although she is literally still very much alive, much of who she was to me died.  I lost my best friend.

Then, in 1997, my sweet Caroline was born.  We certainly did not start off as best friends because she needed me like a wild horse needs a bit.  Her personality seemed familiar, but I was so troubled that she never saw life the way I saw it.  I was convinced I needed to "tame" her.

What she was -- and still is to this day -- is the absolute best part of me and the best part of my mom rolled into one.  Yes, she still needs "taming" at times, but...

where I see things to do, she sees people to touch
what I hear as noise, she hears music
where I see a schedule, she sees a moment
what I think is a mess, she testifies to beauty

I thank God that He parents her in spite of me.  That together, he softens my hard edges with her tender touches, and he brings order to her days with my guidance.  He will do great and mighty things through this child if I will just stand back and witness the miracle of my baby girl becoming a woman of God.

Happy sweet sixteen, Sweet Caroline!