Never gonna not worry

There was a period of time, a very brief period, when I thought I only needed to see my kids through to a certain point in their lives and then I could stop worrying about them. When they were babies, they were so helpless. They needed us for everything. I was pretty confident in my ability to change diapers, feed them well, and cuddle them enough that they would know without a doubt that they were loved. But I worried when things were beyond my control, like when they were sick. Every fever put me in a panic until we had it under control. When they were toddlers, they became more mobile, but they weren’t steady in their bodies yet. I worried they would hurt themselves when they were just out of my reach. Sometimes they did. They grew into more confident children and I worried when they were out of my sight. I worried they would get hit by a car while out riding their bikes. I worried whether they’d remember about stranger danger. I worried that other kids might hurt their feelings. I worried they’d get injured playing their sports. It didn’t take me long to realize that as we successfully navigated each stage of their growth, a new stage and a new set of worries was right there to replace the ones I’d tackled.

The trick was to learn to manage my worries in a healthy manner. I knew I could worry myself into a frenzy, yet 99% of the stuff I fretted about might never happen. I certainly didn’t want to ruin every happy moment with a constant sense of fear and I think I’ve managed a pretty good balance. Then again, maybe some of the nightmares in my head  would actually transpire. Lord knows our kids endured just enough of the kind of problems that would validate my need to be a bit overprotective at times. Losing our six year-old at a major amusement park, watching an emergency room doctor stop the flow of blood pouring from my young daughter’s forehead, heck, watching the news, all were enough to ensure that I’d never again fully let my guard down. Thankfully, we survived and learned from even the worst pitfalls our kids ever endured. We’re lucky.

Now that my kids are young adults, I still worry about them, but for different, maybe bigger reasons now. They’re out of my grasp now and I can only hope that we’ve equipped them with the ability to make decisions that are in their own best interest.

I pray that none of them will ever have to suffer a broken heart.

I hope that they will each find ways to be financially stable in life.

I want them to have good friendships and healthy relationships.

I want them to be happy.

And I want my kids to be safe. I probably worry about their safety more than anything these days. It’s their being on the road that scares me the most. They live on their own and have adult lives and jobs now. They don’t have to ask my permission to come and go anymore, although I’m grateful that they give me the courtesy of letting me know their plans when they’re staying under my roof.  They travel in cars to places far and wide. Brad and Heather drive four hours just to get here from where they live. Kacey’s college is an hour and a half away. She comes home and goes back pretty frequently. And I don’t always know when they’re out there. I ask them to let me know when they’re leaving and when they arrive when they’re traveling a substantial distance. They’re so good, and they accommodate my need to know they have “landed” safely. I do a lot of driving myself. I see the kind of idiots that sometimes take up space on the roads. I have reason to worry. And there’s all this technology now. My kids have all proven to be pretty responsible drivers, but there is so much to distract drivers these days.

So I still worry.

Just last week, a coworker asked if I knew her neighbor, Emily. Emily went to the same high school as my kids. She graduated the year after Jake and a year before Kacey. Emily was a senior at a college in Wisconsin. She was driving home from school last week after working a shift at her job. I don’t know the details, only that her car went off the road, down an embankment and into some water. Emily did not survive. Emily’s parents learned of her death only when the police came knocking at their door hours later.

I didn’t know Emily, but the news of her death hit me hard. Her poor parents and family! I honestly don’t know how I could survive the loss of one of my children. How does a parent go on after the death of a child? I suppose you have to, for the sake of the rest of the family. But honestly? I would just want to die myself.

My kids were all out on the roads yesterday and last night. Brad and Heather left here to spend the rest of the weekend with her parents, an hour or so away. Jake went out with friends last night. Kacey did too. The house was quieter than it had been in days and I plunked myself down in the living room for the evening, not sure what to do with myself. As I watched a movie, Mark came in to join me. He switched off the lamp and plunked down in a chair to watch with me. As we sat in the dark with only the glow of the television and Christmas tree for light, I noticed a plinking sound against the front windows.

What are you looking at? Mark asked, seeing me peering out the window.

Trying to see the snow, I murmured, squinting to try to catch a glimpse of it under the rays of the street light on the corner.

That’s not snow. See? The windows are wet, he explained.

It’s raining?

Yeah. The news said it was gonna rain tonight. What’s wrong?

What was wrong is that we’ve had terrible cold weather here for the past few days. And now it was raining. And then it was going to get terrible cold again. What was wrong is that I was envisioning ice on the roads. And my kids were out there. And I was thinking of Emily.

I didn’t know it was supposed to rain, I said. I don’t like the kids being out at night when the roads are going to be icy.

I stared out the window some more and worried. Figuring the kids were each at their destinations by that point anyway, I whipped off a text message to each of them, warning them of the rain and probability of icy roads. I asked them to be very cautious.

Mark slipped away and went back downstairs to the family room. I figured he wasn’t into the movie I was watching, but a few minutes later, he returned.

I just called both Jake and Kacey. I told them to come home.

Okay, I said, grateful that he’d taken the initiative. Our kids are adults, and technically, we can tell them what to do as long as they’re staying under our roof. But they’re good people and have proven to be pretty responsible. I wouldn’t have thought to call them and insist they come home. Still, I was glad Mark did. Kacey showed up not long afterwards and I thanked her for coming back home without arguing.

I didn’t even know it was raining, she said. And I wouldn’t have wanted to be out dropping friends off all over the place a couple of hours from now when it’s really bad. I’m glad Dad made me come home. And my friends were all cool with it.

Jake came home about a half an hour later. Mark had left for work by then. I thanked Jake too for coming home. It’s fine, he said. The roads aren’t really that bad right now, but it’s fine. I had him call Mark to let him know he was home safe too. Jake went off to his room while Kacey and I watched a movie of her choosing. I felt so much less anxious knowing they were safe and not out on the roads with nasty weather conditions. I would sleep peacefully that night.

This morning, I thanked the kids again. I explained that I worry about them, especially with this extreme winter we’ve been having. I said I couldn’t stop thinking about Emily and I was just really grateful that they came home without questioning us. They assured me again that it was no big deal.

Later this morning, Brad called me. I knew he was going to go ice fishing this morning with Heather’s dad and try out the new portable ice house Heather got him for Christmas.

What’s up? Brad asked.

Not much. Just cleaning, I said. How about you?

Well, I just wanted to let you know something. I’m okay, but…

“I’m okay, but…” Those words scared me. I’ve heard them before. I felt myself tense up in anticipation of what was to come next.

… Brian and I were in a rollover this morning. But we’re both okay. I’m fine.

Instant panic set in, in spite of Brad’s reassurances that he was fine. I asked what happened and he explained that they were coming home from fishing. As Brian prepared to make a left turn, less than a mile from home, they hit a patch of ice and the truck rolled over into a ditch. The side airbags deployed and Brad insisted that neither of them had a scratch on them. The truck landed upright and Brian was even able to drive out of the ditch and drive the short distance back home. Seems the only casualty was Brad’s new ice house. Still, I couldn’t help crying.

I’m sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean to make you cry.

No, I’m glad you told me and it’s not your fault I’m crying. I just worry about you when you’re away from me, and I’ve been thinking so much about Emily and I can’t help myself. Promise me you’ll let me know you’re still okay tomorrow. And let me know when you leave for home and when you get there.

Brad said he was a bit shaken up and might take an extra day off from work and wait out the nasty cold that’s about to hit the state before he and Heather head back to Fargo. I was relieved to hear it, but it was still hard to hang up. I wanted to go to him, but Kacey reminded me that if the roads were slick enough for this accident to happen, it didn’t make much sense for me to drive up there in the same conditions when Brad was really okay. I had to agree, she was right. I’ve said many a prayer of thanks today that my son came through the accident unscathed. Kacey said Brad must have an angel on his shoulder. Maybe she’s right. But I still won’t ever stop worrying.

Happy Mothers Day – 2013

It’s hard to believe that my “babies” are all grown up now. The boys are taller than me and Kacey is nearly as tall. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that they were so little and cuddly. Now they’re living on their own, working full-time jobs and going to college.

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Brad, Jake and Kacey when they were little bundles of joy – and other things.

We celebrated Mother’s Day last weekend when they were all home for a few days. Having them all under one roof was a wonderful enough gift. But the kids couldn’t let the holiday pass without presents. They know me well and honored me with a new dog!

015bCute, isn’t he? He’s pretty low maintenance compared to Lucy Pie. He doesn’t bark at all, doesn’t eat much and doesn’t shed all over the furniture! He stands guard on the front step at all times just waiting to welcome visitors. He soaks up the sun and glows brightly at night when the sun has gone down.

My  gift also included a lovely, hanging solar sun which I placed out in the “tiki lounge” on the deck. I’m looking forward to warm summer nights, relaxing on the deck and basking in the light of my special sun!

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I can’t imagine a life in which I wasn’t a mom now . We’ve had our ups and downs throughout the years, but the highs far outweigh the lows. I look at my sons and daughter and see bits of their dad or pieces of me in their personalities and I am proud. I see all the ways they’ve tackled life’s challenges better than we did and I am even more proud. Each of them is special in their own unique way and they have taught me about love that is deeper and more profound than anything I have ever known.

And if it weren’t for the example of my own wonderful mother, I wouldn’t have had half a clue about how to be a mom to my own children.

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Me, Mom and Cori

Happy Mother’s Day to all women – moms, grandmas, aunties or otherwise – who are so important in the life of a child. The world is a better place because of you!

A Weekend with the Family

One nice thing about the kids growing up is that they’ve realized they actually like each other. Kacey had plans to come home from school on Friday for the weekend. The school year will be done in only one more week, but Connor had a job interview on Friday and they both decided to use the trip home to move as much stuff out of their dorms as possible before the semester is officially over. Before they came home, Kacey texted me to make sure this was the same weekend that Brad and Heather were coming home for a visit. I confirmed that it was. I like that it is important to her that her visits are timed to coincide with Brad’s.  There were a lot of years when I wondered if my kids would ever get along.

I took the day off from work on Friday. I wanted to get the house cleaned up, do the grocery shopping, and have a nice dinner waiting on all the kids when they arrived home. I thought I might sleep in a little bit on Friday morning but no such luck. My body has apparently developed an internal clock that awakens me early even when I don’t have to be up.

018Oh well. Figured I might as well get started on the day’s chores as long as I was up. And the weather made it easy for me to be stuck inside being all domestic and such. And the day was not without excitement. The new street light was installed across the street in Neighbor Bob’s yard. Now Mark can stop leaving our house lights on all night long in an attempt to compensate for the lack of municipal lighting that resulted from the demise of the previous street light. (Boy, the things you miss being stuck in an office all day!)

By late afternoon, the house was clean and the kitchen was well-stocked with food that would appeal to hungry young people. I had a big batch of chicken chow mein cooking when they all arrived home right around dinner time. And except for Jake, who fell asleep after work due to still making the adjustment from night owl to early bird, we all enjoyed a nice meal together at the kitchen table.

Later on, we decided to watch a movie together in the living room. Long before it was over, Brad, Heather and I had fallen asleep and only woke up long enough to go to bed for the night. We all start our days before the sun rises. There comes a point in the evening where, if I’ve stopped moving, I’m probably falling asleep. Apparently the same holds true for Brad and Heather. Mark had a good laugh at our expense. Easy for him to laugh! He doesn’t get up early unless absolutely necessary!

The weather changed over from snow to freezing rain on Friday and then to just regular old rain, gray skies and a chill on Saturday. I made pancakes for breakfast and tried mine Heather’s way – with peanut butter and maple syrup. They were delicious! The weather made us people feel lazy, but not the dogs. Lucy and Dacotah raced and chased and played tug-o-war in the back yard with the doggie frisbee until they were completely wiped out.

On Saturday night, Mark and I had our bowling banquet for our Saturday league. The kids were probably getting sick of hanging out with us old people anyway, so it was good that we got away for a while. And considering that I felt like my game had really suffered in the second half of the season, I was surprised to learn that I’d earned some awards! I was recognized for achieving:

  • a 225 game
  • a 500 series
  • 75 pins over average
  • the league high women’s average of 153
  • the women’s high game of 247

All in all, it was a fun night and we enjoyed good food and good company. Most of our bowling friends were going to continue celebrating after the banquet ended, but we called it an early night so we could get back home to spend more time with the kids. They had a little celebration of their own while we were gone. They’d found some good steaks in our freezer and cooked them on the grill. They added some baked potatoes and veggies and enjoyed a nice dinner themselves.

Sunday morning was lazy. Brad, Heather and I were up early (as usual.) The dogs know which people to wake up when it’s time to start their day. We sat in the living room watching t.v., sipping coffee and showering the dogs with attention. Before long, it was noon and time for Brad and Heather to head back to Fargo. We said our goodbyes just as the sun was coming out of hiding and the air was beginning to warm.

Kacey would be home a while longer. She helped us clean up the gardens in the back yard and install some fencing around them to keep Lucy out – because she refuses to believe that the gardens are not a part of her domain! It had warmed up so much since Friday’s snow that we were out in t-shirts and Kacey and I had bare feet! Our next door neighbors were outside too, enjoying the sun and doing some gardening in their own yard. Their new family member, Gracie was outside and Lucy was anxious to get to know her. Gracie was a little shy though.

Gracie 2While we got our gardens all neat and tidy, Lucy chased up and down the fence trying to get Gracie’s attention. Gracie began to warm up and I’m sure they’ll be great friends soon enough!

We had an early dinner and Kacey’s ride came to pick her up. We hugged goodbye and the house got quiet again. Brad and Heather plan to visit again in a month. Kacey will be home for the summer by the end of the week. Lucy was sad to see them go, but I think the break will do her good. Clearly she wore herself out!

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Only 119 days until summer break begins

I’m sure for many others, that holiday feeling faded away almost two weeks ago, once the holiday celebrations had all become a thing of the past. I too have returned to the routine of everyday life, but for me, the “ordinary” doldrums were kept at bay while my baby has been home from college.

I always say that I’m not sure what I might have done to be blessed with such good kids. Believe me, I certainly didn’t earn these blessings with my own behavior in my younger days. My three have very distinct and different personalities, for sure, but between them, there is diligence, confidence, good humor and compassion. There have definitely been highs and lows as we’ve watched them grow, but I am so proud of the people my children have become.

Now that they are grown and working toward lives of their own, the house is so much quieter than it ever was. Yes, they are each still in transition to their adult lives, but the two boys are well on their way to independence, only leaning on us here and there at times such as when facing a particular situation for the very first time. (Brad called last week for help understanding his employee benefit offerings.) Kacey’s ties to home are still a bit more secure, but as a college sophomore, I know those ties loosen a bit more with each passing day. It’s no secret that some of the highlights of my days are those times when the kids come home to stay for any length of time.

For the past four weeks that Kacey has been home from school, it’s often her voice or face that greets me when I come home from work. She’s so full of enthusiasm and energy for life, she’s just a joy to be around. She has such a knack for finding the silver lining in every situation and has an easy ability to laugh at herself and help me not to take myself so seriously. (Really, sometimes I wonder who’s the adult and who’s the child here!)

The dogs are always happy when their favorite cuddler is home too.

The dogs are always happy when their favorite cuddler is home too.

I remember my own years at Kacey’s age. My mom and I did whatever possible to steer clear of one another. She (wisely) knew there was no winning with me and I was too cool and too perpetually annoyed with my life to reach below the surface with her. I’m happy to say that, eventually I did some growing up and Mom and I have made up for lost time, but now I’m sorry I couldn’t give her what Kacey has given me.

Spending time with my daughter is one of my favorite things. Just yesterday, as we were greeting the day in that weekend way, slow and lazy, she said, “You should make us some omelets with peppers in ‘em.” It was long ago decided that I am the best omelet maker in the house and breakfast being one of my favorite meals, I easily agreed to Kacey’s suggestion. As it turns out, there were no peppers in the refrigerator, but we did find some ham and cheese and some breakfast potatoes.

“I think I’ll put some chopped onion in mine,” I mentioned.

“If you saute’ them first, I’ll have some too,” she said.

Simple, little things I learn from her sometimes. I’d never in the past sautéed my onions before putting them in my omelets. Turns out I really liked them!

Together, we made a mess of the kitchen, the end result being steaming, cheesy, overstuffed omelets that were almost too big for either of us to finish. We should have split one! But sitting together at the table, enjoying our over-sized breakfasts, talking, laughing at how the dogs never give up begging for a bite of “people” food they’re not going to get… it’s the kind of precious moment I look forward to more as opportunities grow fewer.

I’ve loved having Kacey home the past four weeks, and not only because she’s the one family member who might notice the dishwasher needs emptying and just take it upon herself to just do it without being asked. She’s my ray of sunshine, always anxious to share her stories with me, making me laugh, or wanting me to watch a chick flick with her. I feel honored that at her age, she carves time out of her busy life for me. My world can feel a bit empty at times. She reminds me that I’m wrong. My life is overflowing.

My holidays come to an end today. Second semester is starting tomorrow and it’s time for Kacey to go back to school. But I get to ease back into the old and sometimes boring routine. Her college isn’t all that far away. She can come home often, and I’m happy that she does. Next weekend is the home opener for the Minnesota Wild and Kacey and Connor are big fans. Now that the NHL season is finally starting this year, they plan to be at that first game. They’ll be back home in just a few short days! Think I’ll stock up on some fresh red and yellow peppers before next weekend rolls around.

Jackets

Since yesterday afternoon, it’s been alternately raining, misty, foggy and raining again. So obviously, it’s been warm enough for rain. Feels really strange to have rain in Minnesota in January. But this strange-weather roller coaster seems to be the new wave, so we accept it. Besides, we got enough snow back in December to last for a while. There’s still a good layer of it on the ground and it’s weathering its second steady rain with no sign of retreating.

Still it is January in Minnesota, which means the cold isn’t ever far away and it is scheduled to return this weekend, in full force. And Kacey has been letting me know that she’s in need of a new winter jacket. And since she’s heading back to school this weekend, to the city that is the self-proclaimed epicenter of the flu epidemic in Minnesota, I feel inclined to do all I can to keep her warm and healthy.

Letter JacketI suppose it is time. The last jacket we bought for her was her high school letter jacket. Letter jackets tend to have a shelf life that ends on high school graduation day. So Kacey has reverted to her previous winter jacket which we bought when she was a high school freshman. Since she’s now a college sophomore, it’s probably time for a new one.

We went shopping last night and were quickly frustrated. The department stores don’t have much left in the line of winter outerwear. The local sports and apparel stores still have a decent selection, but the prices haven’t dropped. And I guess I was a bit shocked by the cost of jackets.

I guess the last time I bought a winter jacket for one of the kids, they were probably still growing. Which means there were pricing limits in place. I’ve only ever been willing to spend just so much money on something that might only be worn for one season. I guess I haven’t shaken that mindset just yet. And it must have rubbed off because even Kacey was put off by the prices, not even bothering to ask if I’d consider some of her choices. She came home jacketless.

As I was touching base with Mark today on the phone, I was explaining my frustrations over the jacket situation and quoting the prices we’d seen on some of the jackets that had appealed to Kacey.

“So just get one,” he said! “I don’t want her walking around campus without a decent jacket. Just spend what you need to spend.”

I think that’s all I needed to hear to realize, he was right. She’s done growing. She needs a decent jacket and she’ll be able to wear it for more than a season or two.

And besides, since she’s been on break from school, she’s been so helpful to me, with holiday preparations, and things around the house, and then putting all the Christmas decorations away while I was sick. So I guess she deserves something nice, like a new jacket. We went out tonight and picked out a good one. I earned a good chunk of points on my store rewards card!

And when we got home and Kacey was happy as a clam, she told me that she and her room-mate had been talking about jackets recently. “Andrea and I totally agreed that if it were acceptable to wear your high school letter jacket in college… we totally would.”

Well. Good to know she appreciates her stuff anyway.

Well, that was FUN!

The guest bedroom is vacant again and the house is quiet for the first time in four days. Brad and Heather have packed up and headed back home again. A new year has begun and after more than a month of preparations and celebrations, it’s time to start getting back to routine.

It was a full and happy long weekend at our house. My family was a bit scattered over Christmas, but the New Year’s weekend provided the perfect opportunity for all of us to gather together. We celebrated our Christmas on Saturday and it was wonderful. We had nowhere else to go, no other obligations to worry about. We made it all about us. I told the kids I would make whatever they wanted to eat. Turkey dinner? That amazing lasagna we all love? They requested hors d’oeuvres and made it easy on me. Gifts were shared. A particular wish was granted for each. Each of the kids received a Mad Bomber hat. No one requested one, but everyone loved them. They put them on and Lucy barked in confusion at the strange furry things on their heads.

Warm winter wear

Warm winter wear

Happiness and good cheer was abundant!

Brad was happy with his new goose decoys.

Brad was happy with his new goose decoys.

Kacey had a smile even though she wasn't feeling so well.

Kacey had a smile even though she wasn’t feeling so well.

Jake enjoyed a tall glass of chocolate milk.

Jake enjoyed a tall glass of chocolate milk.

I love when all the kids are home. We do things to feed the soul, things that slip by the wayside in the midst of our daily routines. We make big, hot breakfasts and eat together at the table. We lounge around and watch movies and play with the dogs. We talk to each other and remember how good it feels to be together.

I’ve not adjusted easily to the fact that my kids have grown up and are beginning lives of their own. I’ve often missed the days of knowing they were all safe under my roof, of knowing they needed me and that I was there to protect them. But this weekend, a sense of understanding and acceptance came over me. It came with the sweet sound of my boys talking to one another, ribbing each other, with good nature in their voices. At 21 and 23 years old, they are coming to accept one another for both their differences and their similarities. I listened to their conversation from the kitchen, not wanting to interrupt. I waited for something to break down as always seems to happen. I waited for one to move away from the other in frustration, but that moment didn’t come. My boys have grown up and I think I like it.

We took time to sit back and relax, but there was also much to do. Brad made time to get together with a long-time friend whom he hadn’t seen in much too long. I too carved out time to be with my best friend who was in town for a few days. New Years Eve was coming and the party was at our house this year. Kacey was a godsend. Because of my still-aching back, (pinched nerve, I think) and knowing that I get a bit crazy as I prepare to entertain, she made herself available to do whatever I needed her to do. She’s growing up too, and that means I miss her a lot. But I am really proud of the adult she has become.

We had such a good time, and as expected, it all went by too fast. The Christmas tree is still up and I think I’ll leave it until next weekend. It’s so pretty and I’m in no hurry to take it down just yet.

I tend to get the blues after the holidays have passed. My focus before the holidays gets so centered on being with family and the happiness and fun that the holidays bring. It’s hard to go back to the same old same old. And I’ve realized that I feel the worst when I have nothing to work towards and nothing to look forward to. So maybe some resolutions are in order – nothing too rigid – just some things that need continued improvement.

So I’m resolving to get back into a good routine at the gym. I’ve been a slacker of late. I got sick over Thanksgiving weekend and I let it keep me out of the gym for more than a week. That chest cold hung on for weeks and even when I got back to the gym, there were days I just gave in to the urge for an extra hour of rest instead. And then came the back pain and there were days I couldn’t get out of bed without assistance, much less go run on a treadmill. It’s eased up now, and I think getting these muscles back to work will help heal me completely. And once that happens, I want to just push myself harder than before and get into better shape.

Last year I resolved to cook more and eat better. I made some improvement, but I’ve still got a long way to go. As I began to improve my cooking skills I realized that I needed better tools in my kitchen. I’ve added some cookware and better utensils and they deserve to be put to use. So I’m going to work on better meal planning and learning to say no when Mark says, “Should we just order a pizza?”

I don’t want to set unrealistic expectations, so I only have two other resolutions. Read more. Write more. These are two things that bring me serious fulfillment. They deserve more effort.

So while it is hard to say goodbye to my kids as they go back to their lives, I’m not going to dwell on the sadness it brings. I’ll look forward to the next time and while I wait, I’ll give myself things to work toward. But today? I’m dedicating today to some serious lounging!

Lucy Lounging

… and so is Lucy …

 

Happy New Year, all!

Planting the Seeds for a Better World

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.  — Robert Louis Stevenson

Friday, December 14th was a big day for my oldest son. That morning, the rest of the family and I were on the road to Fargo, North Dakota to see Brad. Later that day, we would all be sitting in an auditorium on the campus of North Dakota State University to watch Brad receive his college diploma. My head and heart were filled with happiness and pride in our family’s first college graduate.

The drive from our home to Fargo is about four hours long. While Mark drove and the kids slept or listened to music on their iPods in the back seat, I spent my time reading a book and catching up on a stack of unread People magazines. At one point, tired of reading, I checked in on Facebook on my cell phone and that’s when I first saw news of the shootings that had occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

I could feel my heart sinking at yet another senseless act of such horrific violence in this country. My heart broke as we heard of parents waiting and hoping desperately for the return of a child. While my family’s life continued on safe and sound, there were others whose worlds were spinning out of control. Not for the first time in my life, I worried about what a dark and dangerous world my own children were facing.

For a brief while, I thought about how unfair it was for us to be celebrating. Mark and I had the privilege of seeing our son reach a major milestone in his life while there were other parents whose children’s lives were ended before they’d barely begun. We were allowed another day to hope and dream and imagine all of the world’s possibilities for our kids. The families of the shooting victims were left to wonder how to even face another day.

There was nothing we could do for the Newtown families that day but pray for them. Our unspoken realization was that the world does go on in spite of the pain and tragedy that strikes seemingly at random. There’s not a one of us in this world who doesn’t face each day without at least a small thought in the back of our minds that if we make it through another day unscathed, we’re one of the lucky ones. And hopefully we’ll spend more of our time seeking out the goodness and light in the world as opposed to just running in fear of the dark. That’s the deal in this life. We’re all going to be scarred in some way. But we have to learn from those scars and make this a better place. Sometimes I wonder if we’re winning that battle, but I hope that by loving my kids and by nurturing their sense of self-esteem, they will go out and make a difference. Maybe their generation can figure out how to make this a safer, brighter, more loving world than we have today.

And so we celebrated my son’s graduation. And I knew we were doing the right thing when we arrived at his apartment and after reminding him again how proud I was, he wrapped me up in a bear hug and whispered, “I love you, Mom.”

We gathered together with our son, his girlfriend, Heather and her parents. We took our seats in the stands above the graduating class and watched with pride as this long-awaited moment arrived. The ceremony was impressive and as the university president welcomed us all, he asked for a moment of silence and reflection for the Newtown victims and their families. The world moved on, not in ignorance of the tragedy in Connecticut that day, but with a new resolve to prevent it from happening again.

We watched in anticipation for Brad to proceed with his class. We pointed him out to one another and gazed with pride as he accepted his diploma and a degree in Business Administration. Weeks ago, he had told me he didn’t care to participate in the graduation ceremony. He was happy to receive his diploma quietly and without fanfare. Along with Heather, we encouraged him to “walk” and as he came away from the stage with his diploma in hand, I focused my camera’s zoom lens on his face. I could see his big smile and I knew that he was not sorry.

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We love you, Brad! Go out and make it a wonderful life!

 

Little Moments of Pride

Does every parent have that one kid that they worry about just a little more than the others?

It just doesn’t seem right that so many things were just a little more difficult for him. And some things were a lot more difficult. The real worry started when he was in Kindergarten and we went to his first parent-teacher conference. I expected to see some art projects and some lined paper with letters of the alphabet formed in childish printing. And there was that. But there were also harsh words from a teacher who clearly had no patience for those who lagged behind.

“He’s always the last one finished. I always have to keep steering him back on track. His fine motor skills are lacking. He can’t… he can’t… he can’t…”

I left that conference in tears. And we worked with him on things that needed improvement. He had no interest in learning to read and progress was so slow. We worked with him through all of his school years to keep him where he needed to be. There was testing over the course of a few years and there was an ADD diagnosis. I still wonder if there wasn’t something more. I knew kids with ADD and ADHD that were managing okay on their own. There were some wonderful teachers in his high school years. I will always owe them a debt of gratitude for keeping him believing in himself.

He was so happy to graduate from high school. We were so happy. I learned of kids much worse off than him, kids who didn’t graduate on time or who didn’t graduate at all. I know it could have been much worse for him, but I will still always hate that it was so hard for him.

College wasn’t his thing. He gave it a try, but he just didn’t have it in him. There was some searching and contemplating, but in the end, he decided on simply working. People ask me if he’s considering going back to school and when I say, “Not right now,” there are looks of pity. I hate that. They don’t know him like I do. He’s doing what he feels competent at right now. And he is good at it. It’s not what I’d dream for him in my best dreams, but I know people who do what he does for a living and support a family doing it. The hours aren’t great, but it’s steady work and he’s really good at it. He’s got a good work ethic and he’s reliable and he’s working in something he’s always enjoyed – bowling.

Still, I can’t help but worry. I want him to be happy in the long run and I worry that he might not be when he sees others his age doing bigger things.

People remind me now and then that he’ll find his way. Some people take a while to get there. (Hell, took a while to get there!) I just always seem to wish he had an easier path.

But then something happens to remind me that he’s in a good place.

He wasn’t supposed to work on Friday night, but he got called in. It was the Thanksgiving weekend and all and the place with packed with people out for fun and entertainment. As a reward, he was given Sunday night off.

But Sunday night is league night. He runs the Sunday night leagues. He’s not much of a talker, so I don’t know what’s really involved in this, but I do a lot of bowling. I know it’s a big job to run a league.

As he was trying to enjoy his Sunday night off, his phone kept ringing. It was one of his coworkers. Sunday night leagues were in full swing and no one could get things running right. I listened to him walk his coworker through the computer system and try to explain how to add the pre-bowl scores to the team line-ups. He spewed program details left and right and finally said, “You know what? I’ll just come in. I’ll be there in five minutes.”

So he went in to work and he fixed whatever problems were being had and he came back home again. He was just making plans with a buddy when his phone rang again. Again, I listened as he related details of the job to a less experienced coworker.

Hanging up the phone, he said, “Idiots!”

I said, “Hey, they’re not idiots. They just haven’t learned things like you have. You’re the go-to guy, Buddy!”

“Eh,” he said. “I’m going to shoot pool with Bobby.”

I felt content as he walked out the door. He’s okay. He’ll be just fine. After all, who said his life had to go the way envisioned it?

 

When you know you got at least a few things right with that parenting gig …

BZZZZZ!

TEXT MESSAGE!

… from my darling daughter upon her return to school after a weekend at home …

Forgot to tell you this, but on the way back to school Conn was saying how happy he was that we got to go out to eat with you guys, and how much he loves you guys and how sad he was to leave Sunday, and how he looks at Dad as one of his few ‘father figures’ so thank you for everything. Love you guys! Have a good week ;)

That just felt like the kind of message I wanted to write down and keep forever. ‘Cause as much as I know we’ve screwed up in our roles as parents, it’s amazing to read words like these and know that once in a while, we manage to make a positive impact.

And these kids? We think they’re pretty great too.

Kids, Dogs and Chaos

We had a family wedding to attend on Saturday, so all of my kiddos returned to home base for the weekend. We awaited Brad and Heather’s arrival on Friday night and wondered how it was going to work with three dogs in the house, but not to worry. Dacotah and Lucy got reacquainted easily. Then Dacotah and Bella sized each other up and decided they could deal with one another just fine. All was well.

We did a decent job of juggling shower times Saturday morning. At one point, Kacey, Heather and I were all sharing the mirror in “my” lower level bathroom. But we were all dressed and ready in plenty of time for the wedding. Everyone looked great! You’d think I’d have managed to take a family picture while we were all spiffed up, wouldn’t you? I didn’t. Oh well. Sometimes I’m so busy trying to get pictures that I miss half the fun of an event. So we’ll just chalk this up to me enjoying the event for a change. Besides, I did manage to get some shots of the kids on my iPhone camera.

love this shot of Brad and his godson, Ryan. Ryan is such a bundle of energy and so full of personality! Can you tell?

Just one of the many faces of Ryan!

What really made me happy was watching Jake interact with his cousins and family friends. Long story, but my best friend, Gina and I have mutual extended family, so she and her family were at the wedding and reception too. Gina’s beautiful, oldest daughter, Kirsten happened to be without a date. So did Jake happen to be without a date. Kirsten joked to Jake that they could be dates for the night. She did her best to get him out of his shell and onto the dance floor but he just couldn’t make himself do it. He’s so shy sometimes! But she had him smiling and blushing! It was wonderful to see him smile so much. I don’t see Jake’s smile enough.

Jake got his share of attention from the younger girls too.  Gina’s youngest daughter, Maddie clearly had a little crush on Jake and every chance she got she was climbing up in his lap, talking to him and running her hands over his buzz-cut hair. Jake tolerated this attention with more patience than I’d thought him capable of. Every time Gina and I would look over and see Maddie clamoring over Jake, we would laugh and I’d say, “Poor Jake!” Gina would say, “He’s adorable!”

He is. I wish he realized it too.

He didn’t want me to take this picture, but I managed to coax a smile out of him anyway!

 

Kacey and Connor

Brad and Heather

Brad, Heather, Kacey and Connor danced the night away. Mark took turns dancing with Kacey, his nieces and his sisters. I even managed to get Jake on the dance floor for one slower song. It was a good time!

We finally called it a night and headed home. The kids stretched out all over the living room in front of a movie. I was too tired to stay awake. Bella, Lucy and I headed off to bed.

Bright and early this morning, the dogs were awake and ready to go outside and rough-house a bit. While the dogs played, Brad wanted to know what was for breakfast. A big, hot breakfast is a rare treat, usually reserved for times like this when the house is full and busy. We decided on French toast and I enjoyed cooking it while Brad, Heather and Mark waited at the table for the first steaming slices to be ready for eating. I made stacks of French toast and we all ate until we were full. Eventually, Kacey decided to greet the day and came to the table to claim her share as well. Jake? Well, he’s the late sleeper, so I didn’t even count on him. I figured he’d eventually open his eyes and when he did, he would eat breakfast or lunch, depending on how late it was.

After breakfast, the girls and I went off to do some shopping, leaving the boys home to watch their hunting shows and football games. By the time we came back, Connor had joined the fun. The kids, hungry for lunch, descended on the kitchen once again, reheating leftover taco fixings and spaghetti and meatballs. Funny how food is always such a big part of family gatherings. It seems like someone is always eating, snacking or drinking. When everyone is home, I’m constantly rinsing dishes, wiping off the table and tidying up the counter tops. Funny, but at times like this, I don’t seem to mind so much.

Sunday is always my least favorite day of these family weekends. Sunday means it’s time for kids to leave home again and go back to school. And that means less chaos and fewer messes, but it also means all the happy conversation and joking and laughter fade away. I don’t mean to rush the days along, but I can’t wait for Thanksgiving when I can have this all over again.