I wanted to write this at least 2 months ago, but man! You would not believe how hard this is. And you probably wouldn’t believe the incredible creative excuses I have invented to procrastinate doing this, but I am very proud to say none of these excuses remotely involve laundry or anything to do with domestic chores. It’s a talent. In many ways this is harder to write than those updates from the hospital. Simply because I have to remember who he was, and I will never know the person who he would have become.
Until the very, very end, I never lost hope or optimism for a better outcome. I think we all crave the good and positive in life. We root for it, we pray for it, and sometimes we fight for it. And in that hospital every eensy weensy minuscule positive thing was like winning the lottery. It allowed a little bit of hope to shine through and helped me refuel mentally to fight the battle for Tyler and be his cheerleader. We were up against 99 bad things, but that 1 little bit of positive trumped that bigger ugly picture. There were backslides. And I can safely say those backslides at the very least were overwhelming, gut-wrenching, and exhausting. Not only to me, but to the nurses and doctors who were there in the trenches fighting for him as well. But positive has a way of peeking through even in the bad times and so I came to view those backslides as learning experience for us in our battle to help Tyler. Ok, this medicine, this combination, this whatever is not working for him, we need to change it up. Perhaps it was a coping mechanism, I don’t know. But no matter what situation you find yourself in, you have to hang on and look for that positive. Tyler was a very unique kid that had a huge heart and accomplished a great deal in his short life. He had a lot of great qualities that I think are worth sharing and were admirable. So by telling you about him, I hope we turn this crappy situation into a positive. Plus, there is just too much bad in the world and the good and the hope MUST shine through for us all.
So here I find myself again in a situation that I need to rip another band-aid off (UGH) and truthfully since baseball season started I have been ripping band-aids off faster than I think my heart can take. And it’s so painful and so very, very hard. But as my good friend Natalie says, “You just have to show up.” And I guess you have to remove those band-aids to move forward right? At least I hope that’s the concept. My heart and every fiber of my being wants him to look down and be happy and proud of us all. So for him (and Emily) I am going to grab a corner of this emotional band-aid and slowly give it a tug… Here we go.
In many ways Tyler was an old soul and just wise and mature beyond his years. Some people said it was a reflection of us, his character, level of responsibility, thoughtfulness, kindness, respect, and compassion. I can’t take that credit because I truly believe that those qualities were just Tyler’s heart and soul from birth. He was just one of the “good ones” at the very core. To tackle this letter I need to take a piece of my own advice that I used to give to him. “Chunk it up.” Meaning if you find something that overwhelms you take a step back and look at the whole picture. Then, slice that sucker up in a way that is not overwhelming but that you still get it completed in time. This usually applied to school projects but this task at hand is just achingly hard and overwhelming so this is definitely a “Chunk it Up” type situation.
So in this chunk, we are going to talk about passion and fun. Two great qualities to have at any age but that Tyler had in abundance. Before Tyler left for Bald Head he “beagle” cleaned his room. We pretty much let the kids keep their rooms as they want up to a certain point. If things start smelling, raccoons started knocking on the door asking for a place to nest their young, or we suddenly didn’t have any silverware or cups…it was time to clean. “Beagle” clean means that the clothes are picked up, dishes were in the dishwasher, trash was picked up, floor was vacuumed and the biggest test of all? I can let Bailey, our beagle, in and she will not find anything ie: wrappers or food stuffed anywhere. (Beagles have GREAT sniffers by the way. I will rent her out if you need help with your teenagers rooms)
I actually found out after the fact, but Tyler had beagle cleaned his room, gone through his drawers, weeded out old clothes and made a bag to donate, and he had also cleaned out his backpack for the new school year. Later In that book bag I found a gem. He left a composition book of journals from his 10th grade English class, so this became my inspiration to “Chunk it up.“ This is one of those letters that I thought fit and gives a little snippet into the life of Tyler and what I think it means to live like him. (minus the stinky feet and the grocery bill)
Think about it. Think about the times you were doing something that you truly, truly, loved. That “something” that made the very center of your being happy, content, and put you at peace. That thing that scratches that itch, itches that scratch, butters your biscuits, honks your horn, charges your batteries. You couldn’t wait to do it, get back to it, maybe to learn more, or to share your knowledge or talent with whomever you could. Maybe you choose to keep it to yourself…whatever. But at the core, your heart is happy and you are having fun. That’s your “jackpot”! You are in a positive space and in turn, you are going to project positivity into the world. You and your “jackpot” are an important part of the puzzle of life. Is your “jackpot” working in your garden? Well, I bet you will share those veggies with your neighbors or bring a smile and joy to people who get to see your flowers bloom. Is your “jackpot” your job and you get to work with animals? Is your “jackpot” music and you enjoy playing an instrument or singing? Is your passion caring for people and you are a doctor, or nurse? Is your passion collecting rocks, designing shoes, art, working for a cause in honor of a loved one, the study of atoms, the discovery of self folding clothes? (Seriously, if you are working on that clothes thing, stop reading this and get back to work. We need this and you!) No matter how small or what level of importance we may view them, those passions, that “jackpot” that you have is very important to mankind as a whole. And the beauty is, is that not everyone will share your “jackpot” and you are free to pave your own road and think outside the box. Your “jackpot” feeds your soul and helps you grow in a positive manner and we all get to benefit from that somehow. Whether we realize it or not. In his stage of life that is what Tuckahoe and baseball meant to Tyler. They were part of his “jackpot”.
That “try to have fun” concept Tyler writes about was not an easy thing for him to learn. We are not competitive (at least Trey and I aren’t), we aren’t sideline coaching parents, and usually before we left the parking lot we were all in deep discussion about where we were going to eat. But early in his playing years Tyler put a lot of pressure on himself. Maybe it was a pre-teen boy thing, maturity, or a peer issue? But over and over he would get frustrated over a cruddy swing, or a missed ball. We kept saying “Tyler, you do your best when you are having fun. Just have fun. All we want or expect is for you to have fun!” It just didn’t sink in for him for awhile. You can’t play or hit well or frankly do anything really well if you are a bucket of nerves or you put too much pressure on yourself or others put pressure on you especially when they are young. (Soapbox: Parents – ESPN is probably not at your child’s game. Relax. Yelling directions at them or negative comments is not the way for them, or you to have fun)
Sometimes you gotta dig in little and trust in yourself and if you need to, wing it. Don’t overthink, just do. Be confident that whatever happens that you gave it your best, and that you learned a little something from the experience. Sometimes you succeed, and sometimes it’s appropriate to pretend you’re my dog Sarah and decide to do your business on someone’s freshly manicured lawn WHILE they were 5 feet away in their beautiful garden planting tulips. Then if that isn’t enough, proceed to happily kick up small divots in the grass to cover that junk that just left your trunk. True story. I was mortified, she was proud. Kick some grass over that issue or error, hold your head up, and move on. **Don’t really be like Sarah. Do the move on part, but save the rest for a more appropriate place.
Tyler started playing baseball pretty early on, then moved to karate, almost getting his black belt. Then it was off to football. One of his proudest moments? Being caught at the bottom of a “dog pile”. Little skinny Tyler at the bottom of a pile of 10 and 11 year old boys, one with the nickname “Tubby Tie Dye.” I can still see the smile on his face and excitement in his voice when he told me. “Tyler, where did you go in that play?” With a huge smile “Mom, I was at the bottom of that dog pile” Like a dog pile was some sort of football right of passage or something. But the winter of his 5th grade year he suffered a pretty bad concussion while sledding. And let me tell you, those brain injuries are no joke. He didn’t know how he got to the sledding hill, who took him, when he put his jacket on.
We kept backtracking and he had lost a week of his memory. In the ambulance he started repeating the same 5 questions over and over. It took a good 4 hours, but his memory did eventually come back thank goodness, but it was a scary, scary, few hours. The pediatric neurologist’s recommendation was Tyler not play contact sports. Once you get a concussion you are susceptible to additional ones and this was Tyler’s second. So his “Boys of Fall” run was over.
The fact that he could not play football was a hard thing for Tyler to come to terms with. I think he eventually made some sort of peace with it, but honestly I don’t think he ever lost his passion or that dream. It just simply took a backseat and occasionally snuck out with a pickup game or two, or twenty with his friends (that he tried to hide by the way). I am wrapping that up in a pretty little package but at times it wasn’t so pretty. It was heartbreaking and it was hard on him. Every year (until his Sophomore year – that’s another story) he would sprinkle questions about the possibility of playing football and each time we would have to have some pretty heavy discussions about why he couldn’t play and the long term damage of concussions. Here I was, always telling him to follow his heart and do what makes him happy, but in this case I wouldn’t let him. I was the one in the ambulance that witnessed that “stuck brain” and had to ask myself in that moment, “What if he stays this way?’. So when those questions came up “can I play football?” My mind automatically went back to that ambulance ride and those 5 questions. Was football worth it? Putting him in almost a direct line of fire? Was early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression, anger issues, all those things. Would he and his future wife or family have to deal with those issues? Was it worth it? And the answer was always no. He had his whole life ahead of him, a 3rd concussion was always a risk especially since he was already at a higher risk than most. I know that not being able to play greatly bothered him, probably much more than he let on and I know he was probably mad at me at times. Most of his friends played football and wanted him to play but he was not allowed to over something that wasn’t known or seen, like a broken hand or foot. Dealing with that peer pressure and that internal passion to play the game just was not easy..
But the passion for sports remained and we had to figure a work around. What’s the Plan B that will allow him to fuel his passion and have fun? Baseball.
Thankfully we live very close to a wonderful baseball field and over the course of the next 6 years Tuckahoe Little League became his second home. Well, I guess you could say it also became our family’s second home. Trey eventually started managing the kids baseball and softball teams and I would scorekeep for them all. On days when there were no practices you might still find Tyler up there helping out with something or other. If there was a volunteer opportunity, Tyler was there. When he became old enough to umpire, that’s what he did, a lot! So much that he bought his Jeep with umpiring money. Our county encourages the kids from 9th -12 grade to have 80 hours of community service and thanks to all that volunteering and coaching he had close to doubled that before the start of his junior year. He was just a great all around player. Now, Dustin Pedroia or David Ortiz weren’t going to have any competition from him for sure. And heck if he had tried out, he probably would not have made the school baseball team. But he wasn’t a bad player by far. Occasional strike out, but the majority of time he got on base and scored runs.
Poor kid, I remember one night we thought he had hit a home run. Crack! You know that sound. And that ball went soaring! I was up in that score box clapping with a big ole’ smile on my face. I was thinking of how happy he was going to be and also wondering where I could find one of those clear ball cases to display his home run ball (I was already shopping in my mind. That’s passion). I looked down to score the run on the books and when I looked up, there was Tyler, sprawled out on 2nd base! Huh? What? Turns out that stupid ball hit the top of the fence and bounced back onto the field. The outfield was fielding really well and threw the ball to 2nd and Tyler took a wonky slide and cracked his knee. BAM! The same knee that just had meniscus surgery a couple months before. He took it in stride and enjoyed telling the story with a leg brace and crutches and our orthopedist put a down payment on a cruise.
One of the great things about life is that the only constant is change. We had to change from football to baseball and that wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for that bad concussion. And the joy of a passion is that if you choose, you can make it grow, evolve, and you can spread your wings.
Around 12 Tyler decided to give a shot at Umpiring. We have had so many people tell us that Tyler was their favorite and I think he may have inspired some kids to try umpiring. He was fair, knew the rules, and would help the kids out by giving them tips to improve their game and he always had an encouraging word and smile. He had an easy relaxed manner, and could joke around with the other coaches and fellow umpires and that just added to making the game a little more fun for everyone. That was his passion shining thru and in the process it affected others around him. Did he realize that? Probably not. He was just being himself doing something he loved.
Tyler was playing basketball the week of Christmas 2013 and on a jump shot, someone crashed into his leg and long story short, he tore his meniscus and could not straighten his leg. On Christmas day, he went to put his leg up and as my dad jokingly said “we had a Christmas miracle”. His knee made a gross sound and popped back into place. All’s good right? Nope, on the first day of school his Sophomore year 2014 he twisted sideways on the gym bleachers to sign a paper and his knee locked up again. Surgery was that Friday, he was back to school on Monday and the Orthopedic surgeon was in the Bahamas on Tuesday. (Just kidding but not really, between Tyler and Emily’s back we had seen him a lot that year. He is a wonderful person and doctor with a passion for his career). But somewhere around this time, Tyler started talking to Trey about the possibility of trying to coach a team. So together they coached a fall ball team and that became the first of four teams Tyler would coach over the next 6 months. And I had the great privilege and honor of watching Tyler grow and evolve as his passion expanded.
After having spent years coaching baseball and softball teams and being on the board at Tuckahoe when it came time for spring ball Trey called “uncle.” He wanted to just come to the games and be able to sit, watch and enjoy. No worrying about lineups, or dragging equipment around. Just sitting and watching. Luckily, umpiring all those games gave Tyler a chance to observe coaching styles and he had in mind someone that he liked and asked to join his coaching staff. I wonder what that coach thought about a 16 year old kid asking to coach. But he told Tyler he would be happy to have him and that Spring ball Red Sox team (because they are the Red Sox, duh) went on to the championship game, Americans vs. the Nationals. Sadly they lost, but not by much. 1 run maybe? But what was not lost was that passion and drive. Tyler then went on to coach the All Stars team, and then the Invitational team. Four teams, not bad for a 16 year old right? Oh, and he also had a job at a wonderful local sports store. But my point is, each one of us has a passion and something positive that makes us all important to the world as a whole. You grow, you evolve, and that passion makes you happy and radiates to the people around you. Much like DT inspired Tyler, and Tyler hopefully inspired his little guys.
“When you are doing so well it doesn’t matter about your performance it only matters if you are having fun”
Thankfully, this had finally sunk in and he got it. From the scorebox, I could hear his “big team” his peers, laughing, joking around, and razzing each other. Both sides. There was no pressure, no parents were yelling, no one came into the dugout crying over a strikeout. They were all there to have a good time, relax, feed their passions and interests and have FUN! It was great.
That may be one of the reasons his little guys, the ones he coached, related so well to him. He was somewhat of a peer. He wanted those little guys to experience that same fun he finally understood but at the same time he understood their passion and drive to win. I think he did a good job of marrying the two. Tyler coached 3rd base and sometimes if he knew a batter was too tense he would often run up to the kid, put his arm around his shoulder and say something to him. I wish I knew what it was. Maybe it was an inside joke, maybe it was a word of encouragement, heck it could have been the recipe for Bush’s beans for all I know. But what I do know is that at the end, they were both smiling. Tension broken. And the game became fun again for that batter or perhaps it affected the team vibe for the better.
Before I included that journal entry above I wanted to ask DT and his mom it it was ok that I do so. From DT’s mom’s tears and the smiles I can safely say that they were happy to oblige. DT remembers saying it but I don’t think he knew the impact or how it affected Tyler. So, thanks DT for being who you are. I will say a prayer for all those waitress you keep hitting on. 🙂 It just goes to show that you never really realize what you say or what you do how it can impact another person’s life for the better. And quite possibly unbeknownst to you, start a chain of positive actions that help more people than you know.
We are by far not perfect parents and there are things I wish I could re-do or take back. I’m still making mistakes. But I am so glad that we supported Tyler and his interests, and just let him evolve into whatever direction life took him. Especially now that he is not with us, I can look back and be 100% confident that his heart was happy, he was living his passion and he was having fun. Jackpot!
Find your passions and have some fun people!!! Do it for us all.