Adjusting Our Sails

It was a busy, whole-family kind of weekend. All of our kids were under the same roof again, an occurrence that grows increasingly rare with each passing month as they move further out of childhood and become more settled in their adult lives.

Brad came home on Friday night and it was so good to see him. We learned a while back that plans for his wedding have been put on hold. It was a shock to everyone, and I needed to see for myself that he was still doing okay. We’ve all been pretty sad. I’ve had a particularly hard time knowing my son is dealing with a broken heart and there’s nothing I can do to fix it. And on the flip side of the coin, I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that his fiance, someone I had already considered one of “ours,” may not ever really be one of ours. I miss her.

It’s been a difficult learning experience. I keep reminding myself that no one is immune to the hurts and disappointments of life. My kids, like any of us, will learn and grow from their challenges. Although, as their mom, I’ll never stop wanting to shield them from the truly painful stuff. I keep wishing I could fast-forward my son through the most hurtful times and into easier days. Unfortunately, I can’t. As for me, I just have to keep reminding myself that they are young. He is strong. And everyone has to figure out what they want in life. If this isn’t right, better that they figure it out now than later.

It felt good to wrap my arms around my boy, all six foot whatever of him, and tell him in person that I love him. This weekend was time well spent. Brad is okay and we made the most of our time together. We ate - a lot! Kids at home means I want to cook – a lot! Big breakfasts full of stuff requiring maple syrup and bacon on the side, goodies for snacking, and dinners with more food than we can possibly eat in one sitting.

A wish for ice cream on Saturday afternoon turned into a family trip to the locally famous Nelson’s, where most of us had never been before. At Nelson’s, flavor choices are plentiful and portion sizes are enormous! The line of customers snaked out the door and we soon learned why. It was worth the wait!

Inside Nelsons

Kacey being the only non-first-timer, advised us to order nothing larger than the child size ice cream. Here’s Brad with his child size cone.

Brad Ice Cream

I saw a man with what must have been a regular size cone. There were at least six scoops of ice cream stacked above to top edge of the cone. I don’t think I need to explain why Kacey and I split a child size cup.

While at Nelson’s I realized we were experiencing a rare photo opportunity. “Quick, get all together,” I encouraged the kids. “I want a picture.”

Cooperation was minimal as Kacey desperately tried – and failed – to get Jake to put down his malt and smile. And while she warned me not to put any of the failed photo attempts on the internet, she did admit that this one was kind of funny. I’ll take that as permission to post just this one.

Dang Kids

The weekend included “guy time” at the Game Fair, time with old friends, big dinners, and playing with the dogs. Dacotah and Lucy soaked up every bit of attention they could elicit from their dog-loving people. We watched She’s Out of My League … again. It’s become tradition to watch this movie every time that Brad is home and compete to see who can remember and recite the most lines. We all hung out in the driveway Sunday afternoon, shooting hoops, soaking up the sun and watching Brad wash his truck while neighbors wandered in and out of the driveway to say hello.

The weekend was fun, if not a little bittersweet. Our sense of “normal” has changed a little bit. But if I’ve learned anything over the past few weeks, it’s that we’ll all be okay, as long as we have each other.

And so the Wedding Years Begin

My kids have great friends. I have often thought this and am always grateful that they are surrounded by such good people. A few of those friends have been there all along, sticking it out through the years and along the road of life as they grew up together with my kids.

Justin is one of those friends who has come and gone through our house for many years. He’s been Brad’s friend since they first played baseball together, probably around the time they were in middle school. When he and Brad attended the same high school, their bond grew stronger. Their friendship intensified over a mutual love of the outdoors and countless fishing and hunting trips. They grew even closer when Brad stood by Justin’s side as he and his family endured the loss of Justin’s older sister, Katie to bone cancer when she was barely beyond her high school years. There was that horrible car accident they somehow survived with just a few scratches and bruises. And there were the college years when they went in different directions, but still held tight to their friendship.

Justin is one of those friends we just can’t help but love. He has been a true and loyal friend to our oldest son. And we got to see him this past weekend! I sat in a bright, pretty church on a sunny Saturday afternoon, looking upon a young man standing before family and friends. He was gazing in absolute adoration at the young woman, Jenny, to whom he was about to be wed. He was glowing with such happiness that it brought tears to my eyes.

It was the most beautiful wedding, not only because Justin and Jenny were so clearly meant for each other. They not only celebrated their new life together, but honored the memory of Justin’s sister in their ceremony by making her an honorary bridesmaid. As the congregation stood waiting for the wedding party to process, a cousin first came forward with Katie’s bouquet and placed it in a vase on the altar. Justin stood in his place at the front of the church, remembering Katie and unable to fight back the tears. All of us who knew Katie’s story were in tears at that moment, watching Justin and remembering with him. But a few minutes later, after bridesmaids and groomsmen (my son included,) were in their places, Justin’s tears turned to tears of joy as Jenny’s dad brought her to Justin’s side. Later on at the reception, there were happy memories and toasts, dancing, and an air of pure celebration.

There aren’t many weddings in my memory where such love and joy seemed so tangible. It’s hard to believe that Justin, the “boy” we’ve come to know and love, is old enough to be married. But he is. He’s found his soul mate and I couldn’t be happier for him. Brad had such a good time being a member of the wedding party and he and Heather danced the night away at the reception.

It was such a memorable occasion, one that left some of us hoping for a very similar, very special kind of day in our family’s near future!

Really and Truly All Grown Up

The days seem to be running together lately and nothing goes as expected. We were going to take a trip up north to the in-laws’ cabin last weekend. Brad and Heather were going to drive over from North Dakota and meet us there. But a few days before the weekend, Mark’s mom suffered some chest pains. She turned out to be okay. Spent a few days in the hospital and in the end, had her gallbladder removed. I don’t  know what was ever decided about the chest pains other than they were not indicative of a heart attack. We stayed home for the weekend to do our part helping take care of the ailing parents.

Brad and Heather came here instead. Brad thought we could all go looking for a new truck for him. (Just looking, he said.) He’s been thinking “new truck” for a while now, especially since the vehicle he’s been driving is now 14 years old. He’s a college graduate with a “real” job, living on his own like a “real” adult. I guess that means he can decide to buy a new truck if he wants, even though the mom in me still wants to mother him and insist that he scale back his ambitions a bit. Play it a little safer. Maybe look for something a few years old, something more economical than a truck. But he’s not a kid anymore. He is a real adult and he’d gone over his budget and figured things out. He could manage buying new if the right deal came along.

Saturday morning, he said, “Everyone get dressed! Let’s go look at trucks.”

I thought I might tag along and look at cars to replace the nine year-old one that I’m driving and that Kacey would like to inherit some time before she forgets how to drive. But it was raining. Hard. We’re talking black skies and rain coming down in sheets. I couldn’t see me enjoying getting all soggy and soaked wandering the car lots. I said I would stay home and keep the dogs company.

“This is gonna pass over anytime now,” Brad said. But it really didn’t look like it was going to clear up. I said, no, I was staying. Mark took off with Brad and Heather to go just looking.

And it did rain for hours. And they were gone for hours. By the time they came home, the sun was beaming. So was Brad.

He found one!

He found one!

“Just looking” had turned into a deal he couldn’t pass up. Word has it his hands were shaking when he signed the paperwork, but when the last signature was made, he was the proud owner of a new truck payment and he couldn’t have been happier. Proof of his real-adulthood.

Nervous as I was about my son taking on his first major financial responsibility, I was proud and I told him so. When I was his age, I was pregnant with my second child. My car was a used car and I wasn’t sure when I’d ever be in a position for a brand new one. (Turns out that my first brand new car came along only nine years ago.) He’s enjoying his life as he goes along, not rushing headlong into it like I did. He got some important stuff taken care of, like getting an education, which allowed him to find a decent job as soon as he graduated. He’s enjoying his relative freedom before the responsibilities of a family take precedence. So good for him! He should enjoy the feeling of being a proud new truck owner.

Seems like just yesterday he was asking me to read Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel to him, AGAIN and the idea of him driving a motor vehicle was in the vast in distant future. It’s true what they say. Time really does fly. Although, how I can still only be twenty-nine is beyond me. Just lucky I guess!

My Boy is Happy

And that is an incredible feeling.  Even Kacey and Connor remarked on  the change in Jake.

For years, I just assumed that he was just the kid who fell into that place in the family; the one who is habitually sullen and introverted. I’ve always felt that I understood him. I was that kid. He never was much of a talker. Never was all that affectionate. I’ve worried about him through all of his school years and ever since he graduated high school. He seemed to be going through the motions of life, doing what he was supposed to do but getting little fulfillment from it all. When I’d confide my worries, friends or family would assure me that he’d find his way. I figured he would, but constantly worried about when. 

Suddenly, he’s a different person and I can only assume it’s the new job.

Jake seems to have found a good fit in his new job. He talks to us about the work and the guys with whom he works. He speaks about the details of  the job and I find myself impressed with the way he projects the intelligence he possesses. Maybe he just never found a good way to express it before. A fluke summer job that just happened to land in his lap has brought about all this positive change. He has been given the opportunity to work with his hands. He spends time on construction sites and he’s learning a valuable skill. He gets to live in the daytime world again and sleep at night. It’s like he’s waking up inside!

It’s a lot of little things lately that make me realize how much he’s suddenly discovering and accepting himself. He talks with me. Actual conversations have taken the place of the grunts and shortest answers possible. He laughs. He smiles. He volunteered to accompany to my parents’ house the other night when I was asked to come hook up the new Direct TV receiver to the new television. It promised to be a challenging endeavor, not just because I don’t have Direct TV and am not familiar with the equipment, but because my dad was sure to have lots of opinions. And he did. And he wanted to express all of them to me while I was trying to listen to the directions of a customer service rep on the phone. Jake helped me in any way he could. And when he couldn’t, he sat upstairs with his Nanna and talked her ear off. She loves that.

It’s the way he diffused my anger the other day as I was ranting about something. It was one of those times that I just wanted to vent. He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Mom! You’re so angry! I think someone needs a hug!”

My son was using humor to help me deal with my emotions! He never would have invested the time or energy before. Now he was wrapping me up in the tightest bear hug you can imagine and refusing to let go until I was laughing!

Kacey came home from school yesterday for the summer. Family dinner was in order. Jake said, “Mom, I think I should grill the brats. It’s time I learned how to be a grill-master.”

And he did. Mark, Connor, Kacey and I relaxed on the deck in the warm late afternoon sun while Jake manned the grill and chatted with us.

Who is this kid? I feel like a weight has been lifted. I can’t imagine what it feels like for him.

I worried a little bit that it took a job to bring him such confidence and happiness. But I’ve realized it’s not a bad thing. I personally place a lot of my own worth in what I do for a living and doing it well. He’s had a taste of what it feels like to put himself out there and succeed. He’s opened himself up a little bit. He believes in himself more than he ever has before. The world lies ahead of him and I can see now that the prospect is much less intimidating to him than ever before. My son is maturing and finding himself and that makes my heart just overflow with pride!

Life Lessons of the Job Market

A few weeks ago, Jake lost his job at the bowling center. Actually, several of his co workers lost their jobs as well. So did several people who worked at the bowling alley where I bowl, which is owned by the same group. Seems there was a sort of sweep going on. Maybe the owners were trying to cut down their payroll, since it seemed to be the long-time employees who were cut. Jake had worked at his place since it opened more than four years ago.

Jake was completely taken by surprise and hurt by the loss of his job. He has a good work ethic and it seemed to me that he was always at work. If someone called in sick, Jake covered. When there were snowstorms that prevented other employees from getting to work, the one who lives only blocks away – Jake – was called to cover. He worked extended shifts. He worked holidays. He was one who could be counted on to drop everything at a moment’s notice if he was needed at work. His immediate supervisor had been grooming him for a position as manager of the bowling desk. Jake was already running one of the bowling leagues and he wanted to get promoted. To lose his job was a complete shock. I was heartbroken for him.

He was at a loss as to what to do next. Mark and I talked with him. We talked about whether he wanted to give school another shot. He’d been thinking again about an auto mechanics program at a local tech college. We talked with him about his options, maybe applying for school and getting out there and applying for other jobs. Sort of cover all the bases and then decide which way to go. As hurt as I was for my son, in the back of my mind, I knew this was a good learning experience for Jake. He’s not one to leave his comfort zone. As long as things were going along just fine at the bowling center, he would likely never think to consider there might be something better for him out there.

Jake’s shift at the bowling center was typically 5:00 pm to 1:00 am, so I saw little of him. He left for work most evenings just as I was returning home from my job. And because he worked late, he slept late in the day. When he would finally get out of bed, typically after noon, he was always quiet and sullen. His end of any conversation usually consisted of the least number of words he could get by with, or even just a grunt. Whether it was the hours or the atmosphere at work, it was clearly not good for him. And one of the first things I noticed a few days after he’d stopped working there was that Jake was a “real” person again. He actually communicated in whole sentences and even found a sense of humor. I enjoyed this new person he was becoming. And it was nice to have him join us for dinner and see him on weekends again.

Jake began to submit employment applications at various local businesses, and only a week later, a friend of ours called Mark asking if Jake would be interested in a job. Our friend is with an engineering firm that does concrete testing and he had given Brad a summer job for two years when he was home from college. He was offering Jake the same type of work, entry-level with a chance to learn new skills. What amazing timing! What a great opportunity and how fortunate for Jake to have a job come looking for him! When we mentioned it to Jake, I could see how shaky his self-confidence was and he was reluctant to commit. But we talked for a few days and he finally called our friend to find out how to apply for the job. He then filled out an online application and began the wait.

A couple of weeks went by and I began to get nervous. Maybe his application hadn’t passed the first requirements. Jake called to follow up and was told that he was still being considered and should hear from HR soon. And he did.

The interview was scheduled and I talked with Jake about how he wanted to dress. This is a company that does work on construction sites. When Brad worked there, his daily attire consisted of his oldest, most worn-out jeans, grubby t-shirts and sweatshirts and a pair of steel-toed boots. The son of some other friends of ours had also interviewed for a job there recently and had dressed casually. At Jake’s old job, he had worn black dress pants and a uniform shirt. He thought he would just wear his black pants but felt he needed to get a “decent” shirt. I agreed it was a good idea.

I went shopping with Jake and asked him what he liked. He picked out a very nice dress shirt and I suggested he go try it on. On his way to the fitting room, he stopped by a rack of ties and said, “I think I should get a tie too.”

“Okay,” I said. “Pick one.”

He picked up a few and asked which ones I thought matched the best. When he went to try on his new shirt, I browsed through the dress pants, thinking how he could use a new pair anyway. When Jake came out to show me the shirt, (which looked great on him,) I asked if he would try the pants too. He did and came back out looking not like my usual, scruffy 22 year-old son, but a very sharp young man. I was so impressed with him and told him so. And as long as he was going the whole nine yards, I suggested a new pair of shoes to round out the outfit.

Jake was all set for his interview. I was pretty sure he wasn’t expected to dress in business attire, but I wasn’t about to discourage him from making the best impression he possibly could. On the day of the interview, he dressed up and went to meet with our friend, who jokingly asked Jake, “Did your dad make you dress up for this?”

Jake assured him that Mark had nothing to do with it and the clothing was completely his own choice. The interview went well and Jake was offered a job. It is a summer job, yes, but with potential to learn a lot and possibly to stay on if he is needed. Either way, it will be a great opportunity for Jake to break out of his comfort zone and learn to trust that he is capable, intelligent and has strengths to contribute in the work environment.

He has just finished his first week at his new job and seems to be reveling in the new experiences. I like this new person I see in my son. He’s more confident. He’s happier and already more mature than he seemed just a couple of short months ago. He even greeted the day before noon on Saturday, taking advantage of the beautiful weather to go outside and pamper his car.

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Jake spent the remainder of the day helping me do chores and some much-needed spring yard clean-up before he went to hang out with his friends last night. He made a great day even better for me.

It’s hard to remember when in the midst of such disappointments, that it is often the means to a better end. It was difficult to imagine on the day he lost his job, that it would ultimately be the best thing for him. I think he and I both learned from this experience and I hope that it enables him to more easily balance the difficulties that will inevitably face him as he moves forward in life. But for right now, I just want him to have some time to enjoy this time of learning and feeling successful. I am so proud of him!

The Poop Egg

My kids, even though they are grown up, still like to carry on certain family traditions. Maybe it’s because they’re becoming adults. Maybe their sense of nostalgia is beginning to kick in already. Regardless, it does my heart good to see them willingly carry forward the family traditions.

In the weeks preceding Easter, Kacey reminded me several times to pick up extra eggs and a dye kit. She wanted to color Easter eggs with her brothers when everyone was home for the holiday weekend. And in spite of our sadness over the loss of our little Bella, we were doing our best to celebrate Easter. And staying busy helped keep our minds off of our heavy hearts.

Kacey and Connor cleared the table on Saturday afternoon. They spread newspaper and got out the coffee mugs, one for each dye color. Connor put a dye tablet in each and then measured the vinegar and water. When he and Kacey sat down to start working on the eggs, I heard her say, “We need to make sure we get some colorful eggs done before Jake starts mixing up the colors with his poop egg!”

I had forgotten about the poop egg and Kacey’s mention of it made me smile. Every year since the kids were little, Jake has made it his mission to use every single dye color on a single egg. At times, this resulted in drastic and beautiful Easter eggs. Other times? Well… that’s how the name poop egg came to be. This year’s egg was not artistic. It was poopy. But the Easter egg bounty wouldn’t have been the same without it.

Poop Egg

The eggs were finished in plenty of time for Easter, not that anyone ate a single one of them. I don’t care. My big kids coloring Easter eggs at the kitchen table is a happy memory from an otherwise difficult weekend.

We had brunch with my extended family on Easter Sunday. It was a typical, loud and frenzied celebration. When it was over, Brad and Heather went back home, stopping by her parents’ place on the way. Kacey and Connor went to his family’s Easter celebration before they went back to school. Mark went back to bed to get some sleep before working the night shift and Jake disappeared. I put my comfy pants and sweatshirt on and Lucy and I settled comfortably in the living room in front of the t.v. for the remainder of the day.

And that’s when the loss of Bella really hit me. I had myself a good cry for a while. Lucy never left my side. I’d like to think she knew I needed her comfort. And maybe she did. But I knew she was just exhausted as well. She was worn out from a weekend of running and playing with Dacotah.

Lucy Tired

As for the Easter eggs, I used them to make potato salad to have with our dinner tonight. I didn’t use the poop egg, though. Somehow that just seemed wrong.

And as for the poop egg-maker, he’s 22 years old today! Happy Birthday, Jake!

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Jake Cooks

I spent the weekend away from home, bowling in the Women’s State Tournament with a couple of girls from my Monday team and a few others from my Saturday league. Some of us got hotel rooms and spent the night. We bowled the team event on Saturday and then wandered into the bar where a d.j. was playing fun dancing music. We talked and laughed and danced until midnight. On Sunday, we bowled the doubles and individuals events. I bowled respectably, but more important, I had a great time.

But… the homebody part of me was anxious to get home when the last event was done. I missed Mark and Jake and the dogs and was ready to get back to my own bed. Mark called me from work just as we were finishing up the individuals event and asked when I’d be home. I told him I was getting ready to leave and after dropping Joan off at her house, I’d be home around 5:30.

“Good,” he said. “Jake will have dinner ready for you when you get there.”

I was momentarily speechless. “What? Jake made dinner?”

“Yep. I told him to get the corned beef out of the freezer and then I sent him to the grocery store for the fixings.”

“Jake went to the grocery store?” I was incredulous.

“Yep. And I talked him through cooking the meat.”

“Over the phone?”

“Yep.

“Ohhhh-kayyyyy,” I said. “Umm. Thanks?”

Jake cooked dinner. This would prove to be interesting because Jake doesn’t cook. I mean, unless you count melting cheese on a tortilla or heating pizza rolls in the microwave as cooking.

“Don’t you think having him cook corned beef as his first attempt at cooking is a little ambitious,” I asked Mark?

“I talked him through it. It’ll be fine, I’m sure.”

“Okay,” I said in a most unconvinced tone. But I figured no matter how bad it was, I would eat it and I would be thankful because I wanted Jake to know I believed in his ability to cook.

When I arrived home, Jake was in the kitchen. He had the bread and sauerkraut on the counter.

“The Swiss cheese and Thousand Island are in the fridge,” Jake told me. “And I sure hope I did this right because trying to cook something by listening to Dad’s instructions over the phone is not the easiest thing in the world! He kept calling and telling me things he forgot to tell me!”

I peeked at the pot of meat and told Jake it looked right to me.

“You got the seasonings in there. Looks good,” I said. (The seasonings came prepackaged along with the cut of meat when we bought it.)

“Well, I didn’t know if those seasonings would cut it,” Jake said. “So I added some of my own.”

“You did? What did you add?” I was trying not to look skeptical.

“Some garlic salt and some red pepper flakes.”

“Red Pepper! Hmmm. Okay,” I said.

“Is that bad?”

“No! I’m sure it will be good,” I encouraged, trying to hide my worry.

Mark had told me he’d had a talk with Jake a few days ago about being more mature and responsible. He told Jake that if he was going to  continue living at home, at twenty-one years-old, (almost twenty-two,) he could pick up some bigger responsibilities around the house, like cooking. Honestly, I’d never thought to ask Jake to do any cooking. He’s never expressed any interest and quite frankly, I wasn’t willing to take the risk. But Mark decided to put him to the test.

Working in the kitchen with Jake to finish up the meal preparations, I realized we were having the most in-depth conversation we’d had in a long, long time. He kept expressing doubt that the food would be good and I kept telling him it looked great and I was looking forward to eating it. When the meat was done, I sliced a few pieces and tasted it. It was good! Jake must not have gone too heavy on the red pepper. I couldn’t taste it at all!

I passed Jake a slice of the meat and said, “Here, try it! You did good!”

“It’s kind of dry,” he said doubtfully.

“No it’s not, it’s just the way it should be.”

Not Jake's sandwiches but a close representation!

Not Jake’s sandwiches but a close representation!

We made up our sandwiches, Jake insisting that he didn’t want sauerkraut on his, and we sat together at the table to eat. Jake’s first home cooked meal was delicious and I very much enjoyed having dinner with my “quiet” child, just the two of us.

When Mark came home, he made a couple of sandwiches and agreed. The food was great!

When it was time to clean up the kitchen, Jake asked, “Do I get to play the ‘I cooked, you clean’ card, like you and Dad do?”

“Sure do,” I said. “You cooked. I’ll clean up.”

“Well, I sure hope you guys don’t think I should be cooking all the time now.”

“You blew it, buddy,” I laughed. “If you didn’t want to be asked to cook again, you shouldn’t have done such a good job!”

“Great,” he deadpanned, trying to look disappointed. But I’m sure I saw the corners of his mouth turn up in a smile that he was trying to hide from me.

He’ll be cooking again! :-)