The Middle Child

My kids may have all come from the same parents but they are certainly not cut from the same cloth. Some of this, I know, has to do with birth order, but not all. For example, Jane and Hal have quite a few similarities. They talk more in general than Daryl (although he’s not quiet by any means). They are also more expressive and show their love in more obvious and physical ways. They are also Daddy’s Kids.

Daryl is my Momma’s Boy. He’s also the most reserved. He’s more likely to keep his feelings and thoughts to himself. His hugs tend to be brief and almost embarrassed. He’s less likely to ask for help. He “needs” us less and, quite frankly, thinks about us less. As an example, when we dropped Daryl and Jane off to ride the bus to Tennessee for Destination Imagination Global Finals, Daryl took off. I mean, out of the car, onto the bus, out of site, no farewell, gotta go… I heard there’s wifi and plug-ins on there…

Jane, on the other hand, sought us out after claiming her seat and gave us long, endearing hugs, as if storing up all the mom-and-dad energy she’d need to get through the next few days. I had to hunt Daryl down on the bus and make him stop his video game prep long enough for me to mockingly scold him for not saying good-bye and then extract a hug from across the seat between us.

Throughout the week, he might look pleased to see me when our paths crossed, but usually he was just taking in the experience. There’d be time enough for mom later. When I’d ask him about stuff, he’d shrug and make non-committal kinds of responses. I couldn’t tell how excited he was about any of it. He just had a cool and confident air about him.

By the time we got to the last day, Jane was asking to spend time with us. Daryl was still blowing and going. The top ten finishes (usually more than ten teams because of ties) get recognized at the award ceremony. Daryl’s team made the top ten in their category. I was elated and tearful and I could barely wait to see my young man.

I stood eagerly at the top of the stairs to his section and watched his team wait for a chance to exit. When he made it to the top, I was rewarded with a true understanding of the depth of his emotions during that moment. I pulled him into a bear hug and he hugged me back fully. None of this single-arm, distracted stuff I normally get, but a full, heavy-body, can’t-get-enough body wrap. I thought I could hold him forever and he’d hold me back. Nothing existed in that moment but the two of us.

I get these hugs from Jane all the time. And fairly frequently from Hal too. I don’t want to belittle those experiences at all because they are incredibly special to me and I need them desperately. But Daryl so rarely lets us in. I know he cares but he rarely surrenders to the moment; he rarely lets it show. Yes, I was crying by the time I reluctantly released him so he could join his team who was now exiting the building.

Sometime after that, I saw some pictures the coaches had captured in the moments after they saw their team name on the JumboTron. One showed Daryl holding his head with both hands, overcome with excitement. In another, he’s facing the camera and his face is so full of unreserved joy that my heart burst when I saw it. No filter, no protection, no desire to look cool. Just raw, honest, open Daryl. Such a beautiful sight.

When I showed the picture to his big sister the next morning, I was rewarded with something else I rarely see: her deep love for him. Just looking at his smile in that picture made her break into her own unprotected, genuine smile of joy. She got it. She saw how precious that moment was for him and how rare it was for him to let it show. Any rough edges in their relationship were temporarily gone. She loved him and she loved that he had had that moment.

I am truly a blessed woman.

The Great Elevator Chase

We finished breakfast our last day in Knoxville after the Destination Imagination Global Finals closing ceremony. Hal was eager to return to the room – actually, he was probably just eager to return to the elevator buttons. It must have been heaven to be the only child at the hotel all week (the other two being at the dorms with their teams) and having no contest on who got to hit the buttons.

Jane was now with us, preferring to ride home in our company rather than on the bus. The three of us full-size folks headed down the hallway to the elevators. Someone was getting out so we stepped in. But Hal was nowhere to be seen.

“Where’s Hal?” I asked, suddenly unsure whether I’d seen him run off specifically down this hall or maybe some other direction.

“He’s on the third floor,” my husband responded confidently. This didn’t sit well with me but it seemed reasonably likely that Hal had decided to make the journey to our room on his own. I entered the elevator and rode to the third floor. Once there, I stayed in the elevator while my husband checked the hallway. No Hal.

“Ok, I’m going back down to the first floor,” I said, pressing the button. Just as my door was closing, I heard the other elevator door open and saw Hal dart out of it. I stopped my door from closing just in time and, probably not in a happy or relieved voice, asked, “Hal! Where were you?!”

I was confused on how he could have gotten in an elevator before us and arrived after. Or if he hadn’t been ahead of us, how he could have caught up that quickly. And I was annoyed at how close I had been to searching the bottom floor fruitlessly until (presumably) being called back to our room.

Hal was equally flustered. He was obviously upset with us, and my apparent unhappiness with him was simply too much. He didn’t quite cry but it was obvious he needed a hug. So I hugged him, assured him it was all ok, and eventually extracted the rest of the story from him.

He had, indeed, headed to the elevators ahead of us. And he had, indeed, secured an elevator and entered it. He attempted to hold if for his slowpoke family but the door began to close against his wishes. He then tried to push the button that would open the door, but he pushed the wrong button and the door completely closed.

That’s when we walked up and the other elevator happened to open and deposit a family onto the first floor. They walked away and we entered the elevator, discussing the possible whereabouts of Hal. As our door began to close, Hal had managed to get his elevator to return to the first floor (if it ever actually left, I wasn’t quite clear) and to open its door.

It opened in enough time for him to hear us getting on the other elevator. He didn’t have time to catch our attention nor join us, although he apparently tried. Fortunately, he’s a bright and resourceful young man, who quickly returned to his elevator and arrived at the third floor right behind us.

It was a comical moment. One that Hal and I were both able to enjoy immensely after the stress of unplanned separation was overcome.

Growing Up Moments

I’ve been serving as an elder on our church Session for almost a year and a half. I’m halfway through my commitment. There are a variety of responsibilities but the one that makes me most uncomfortable comes only once a year. It’s when, during the month that you are the Elder on Call, you accompany the pastor when he takes Communion to the shut-ins.

I’ve done this twice now. There are several things that make me uncomfortable about the process. I am not a patient person. Not in the least. And to interact with the old and frail, you have to have patience. They will move slow. They may talk slow, both in the general mechanics of speaking and in how long they take to get to their point. And you have to slow down too or they either won’t hear you or won’t track what you are saying. This is excruciating for impatient people. For busy, fast-moving people.

I’m not alone. Many people are uncomfortable in nursing homes and other places where we come face to face with mortality. But I’ve never liked this aspect of myself. I know that these people who look like shells are real people with real histories and real feelings and I don’t want to be uncomfortable around them. But wanting something is not the same thing as being something. Sometimes the process is gradual.

When we visited a nursing home last year, we visited a lady that was well-known in the church but not to me, a relative newcomer.  I had never known her during her more vital days. I had nothing to pull from. She was so tiny, so incredibly tiny. A pad on her bed needed to be changed, leaving the room with a distinctive odor. She kind of curled in on herself.

And she had the most beautiful painted fingernails that I had ever seen. And she talked fervently to the pastor about her hope to return to church very soon. She spoke in plural, referring, presumably, to her recently deceased husband. Her body had wasted away and her mind wasn’t too far behind, but her fingernails mesmerized me. Someone knew who she really was. Someone loved her and remembered her when and knew that she would enjoy her nails painted.

When we left her room, a line of people sat in wheelchairs. Just sitting there, staring forward. Not talking to each other, not looking around, just sitting and waiting. Between what I had just seen and the folks immobile in their chairs, I felt desperate and trapped. I wanted to get out of there quickly.

Fast forward to this month. It was again my turn to travel with the pastor. We first visited a couple, of which the husband was recovering but the wife was still quite healthy and active. And talkative. She talked on and on and on about the things happening in her world, about her husband, about church. She eagerly asked questions and then talked some more. When her husband mumbled something, she knew exactly what he was saying, responded, and moved on with her tale. There was no ending in sight and, unlike the gross stereotype on speed I gave above, it was rapid fire.

And I loved every minute of it. I didn’t feel trapped. I wanted to hear what she had to say. I wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere, even though I did actually have places I needed to go.

We left there and visited a woman who had recently been put on hospice care. We talked with her children for awhile and it was a lot like being at the previous woman’s house. It was obvious they just needed to talk. They just needed someone to listen. To hear and acknowledge what they had been going through as caregivers. To hear about their mother’s last days. To affirm the worth of it all.

And then we went to see the woman. She was tiny and frail. She weighed so little that she was sitting against pillows and not knocking the pillows down. She wasn’t wearing her hearing aids so we had to sit close and talk clearly.

The pastor introduced me and she said, “I know you. I’ve seen you in the church. I never introduced myself but I know who you are.” We soon learned that we shared a birthday. My birthday mate, the pastor, and I talked amiably for awhile. I enjoyed her company. I enjoyed her family.

It was my responsibility to give the prayer and so I did. As we turned to leave, she took my hand. She held it and told me to enjoy our next birthday, that she probably wouldn’t be around to see it. I was touched. I liked her. This wasn’t the simple “isn’t she sweet” reaction to an older person, I genuinely liked her.

I thought about sending her a card, letting her know how much I appreciated our visit. I thought about calling to see if I could stop back by. But it was a busy week, as so many of them are. Six days later, she had a stroke and it’s now only a matter of time before she leaves this world. I lost my opportunity to touch base with her again, but I haven’t lost that feeling that I’m growing up some more. Becoming comfortable where I previously wasn’t. Becoming the person I want to be.

So here we are, just a week after my visit with her. I’ve been thinking about that day a lot and I’ve been feeling the effect it’s had on me. During our Session meeting last night, one of the oldest Elders was to give the testimony. He had asked permission to go “off script” and began to tell his story, instead of answering the standard questions.

His story started when he was 6 months old. It was pretty clear that this was going to go beyond the usual time allotment for the testimony. I should have been impatient. I should have been rolling my internal eyes. Instead, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I hung on every word. And I realized as I sat there, that he could talk on forever and I would sit and listen.

I wanted to hear his story and I didn’t care how long it took. It was an emotional and fascinating look at his brushes with death over the years, starting with having Diphtheria as an infant. A disease children don’t get anymore because of vaccinations, I thought to myself.

I wanted to hear his perspective. I wanted to drink in his history. I wanted to get to know him and love him and respect where he’s been and where he’s going. I wanted a piece of him, the real him. Not the simple caricature I had created of him in my foolish mind.

I think I’ve grown up a lot in this past week. I hope it sticks.

Rain, Rain Here To Stay

It won’t stop raining. Everyone is trying not to complain because, well, the lakes have been dry for ages now. They are finally filling up, which is good. Good, good, good! But still. This is North Texas, not Portland or Seattle.

At the end of a recent workday, I began the long trek across the poorly leveled parking lot. In the rain. Like usual. There were a couple of people ahead of me and it struck me that there are three kinds of people in this new world of ours. And they were being illustrated in that moment.

The first are those poor fools who still haven’t figured out that the sky is highly likely to open up and dump on them. They can be seen crossing the parking lot with their shoulders hunched to their ears, their shirt and pant legs quickly turning dark from the absorbed moisture. They hesitate at the large puddles, as if trying to decide whether it’s better to just give up and splash through or take the time to find a route around. They are drenched by the time they get to their car. Such a person was one of the ones ahead of me.

The second are the average folk. They have an umbrella or raincoat and thus walk more deliberately to their destination. They are not immune to the puddles, though. Those suckers will come up over the top of your shoes if you try to walk through them! So they approach each row of cars with an eye out. They sometimes have to walk along the row for several cars before finding a place of safe passage. The other person in front of me was one of these.

Then there are the wise, the special, the few. These people, these people, have learned. No old dogs here. Yes, these people stride with confidence and grace, taking the most direct path to their vehicle, heedless of any depth of water the parking lot might throw their way. They are dry under their umbrella, but more importantly, their feet are safe and cozy in their giant rain boots. They take a childlike pleasure in splashing through the deep puddles. I am one of these people. I even take it a step further: my umbrella matches my rain boots. I know. You only wish you were half as cool as me.

Slow Down

Sometime ago, I saw a video getting shared around the internet. It was a Public Service Announcement about careful driving. It showed two vehicles. One was approaching an intersection and preparing to turn left. The other was coming down the road the first vehicle was preparing to turn onto. It was apparent that they were about to collide. The video went into slow motion and the cars stopped.

The drivers then got out of the car and approached each other, looking distressed. The driver in the car about to be hit began to plead with the other driver. “Please. I didn’t see you. I’m sorry I pulled out. Please, don’t hit me.”

The other driver looked apologetic. “I’m sorry. I can’t stop. I just can’t.”

The second driver looked back to his vehicle. “Please. I have my son in the car.” He ran his hands through his hair in despair.

“I’m sorry. I just can’t. I’m going too fast. I can’t stop. I’m sorry.”

The grief on the first driver’s face was palpable. The sorrow and regret on the other equally so. They walked slowly back to their vehicles and looked at each other.

And then the pace resumed.

The video ended with a warning to slow down: “Other people make mistakes.”

It was chilling to watch.

When I’ve shared my story, people have asked me if the other driver was on his cell phone. They assumed he probably was. I honestly don’t know. I know he didn’t see me in enough time to brake. Was that because I pulled out too suddenly? Was it because he was texting? Looking down at his radio? Gazing at something on the side of the road? Watching for vehicles on the crossing side road? Daydreaming? Talking to a passenger? I don’t know.

From a cold analysis perspective, it doesn’t matter. The wreck was my fault. I tried to cross traffic without looking to make sure it was clear. If I had looked, the accident wouldn’t have happened. I was doing the wrong. Legally. But if he had seen me sooner, the accident wouldn’t have happened either. I made a mistake while someone else happened to not be paying attention to me (and possibly traveling too fast).

For a split second before impact, I saw him coming. I saw his vehicle too close. I think I saw his panicked face. In that split second, we had the conversation in the video. “Please, no, I didn’t look.”… “I’m sorry, I can’t stop.”… “Please, no. My kids are in the car.”…”I can’t. I’m driving too fast. I’m sorry.”

You might be able to drive 10 mph over the speed limit day in and day out and never have a problem. But one of these days, you’ll encounter someone making a mistake. A mom done watching a turtle on the road. A teen who forgot there was a stop sign. An older person who got confused about where she was. Who knows? It’ll be someone. And in that moment, you have the power to exact the consequence for that mistake or bestow grace. It all depends on how fast you are going and how much you are paying attention.

We drive for the 99% cases. We drive on the assumption that everything will go exactly like it’s supposed to. We need to drive for the 1%. We need to be prepared for that other person making a mistake. Because they will.

So slow down. And feel free to cuss and shoot the bird as you avoid the accident with the idiot that just screwed up. I can’t speak for all the other idiots (yourself included), but I will gladly take the angry face and epithets over the crumpled metal and exchange of insurance information. Any day.

Now if I can just remember to take my own advice as my close call fades into memory.

Turtles Are Off Limits

There are those days. Those days when you look back at the end of them and can see all those tiny little insignificant decision points that if you had just gone the other way on any one of them, the day would have turned out so differently. So much better. So much less painful.

Friday was such a day.

I picked the kids up from school because my husband was heading out of town to setup a pottery booth at a festival. Jane wanted to go to Starbucks and spend the rest of her gift card. So we went through the drive-thru. If only we hadn’t stopped at Starbucks…

From there, we promptly forgot to stop by the grocery store on our way home. If only we had remembered our plan to stop there…

As I pulled in the driveway, past the mailbox, I paused. Had the mailman picked up those cards I stuck in there that morning? There was no flag to stick up. I backed up to check. If only I had gone ahead and parked instead…

The cards were still in the mailbox. *sigh* If only I had driven them to the post office that morning instead of assuming the mailman would come…

I glanced at my kids. Two were asleep and one was drowsy. Maybe I should drop them off. Let them go in the house and chill. But I wanted them with me for some reason. If only I had let them out of the car… If only I had left the cards for the mailman to pick up the next day…

The drive to the post office was uneventful. I dropped the cards in the box and headed home. As we approached the last major intersection, I noticed that all three were asleep. I smiled at the peaceful silence, the relaxed faces. Then I noticed a very large turtle scuttling across the highway. If only I had ignored the turtle…

But, no. Turtles are cool. Little boys like turtles and this one was so big. And it needed help crossing the road. I suspected it was an alligator snapping turtle so I had my doubts about actually picking it up. But little boys… they love turtles…

I had already turned off the highway toward home when I turned back. I paused for a brief moment. The boys were asleep. Was I actually going to wake them up to see a turtle? To possibly see a turtle get run over before we could do anything about it? If only I had turned around again and continued home…

When I got back to the intersection, I saw that an SUV had stopped in the left turn lane of the highway. I watched as a young gymnast hopped out of the back seat. She was very lean and tiny, barefoot, and dressed in nothing but a leotard. If only I had left this family to their task and returned home…

But I was fascinated by the barefoot gymnast. I watched her try to pick it up. It had to be about a foot wide. It snapped at her. She removed her hands. I wanted to be part of this moment. I wanted to help rescue the turtle. If only I hadn’t cared about the turtle…

I crossed through the intersection and pulled over on the shoulder. I contemplated calling out to the driver that the turtle was dangerous. I contemplated waking Daryl up to have him help. I wasn’t sure how he could. Or if he would.

That’s when I saw one of the most incredible things I’d ever seen. The tiny barefoot gymnast had picked that giant alligator snapping turtle up by its tail and was carrying it swiftly to the side of the road. I wouldn’t have done that. I know for a fact Jane wouldn’t have. And I had my doubts about Daryl. The girl returned to her SUV and they drove on.

I couldn’t wait to tell my Facebook world about the cool young barefoot gymnast and the turtle. If only I hadn’t been so eager to tell the story… maybe I would have remembered to look both ways…

I watched the highway ahead of me and inched slowly forward. There was no traffic coming. None at all. I started my U-turn. We’d be home soon. Only we wouldn’t. I looked over my left shoulder when we were approximately perpendicular to the direction of traffic. Just in time to see the large vehicle hurtling toward us. Too close. Way too close. I may have stuck my hand up to the glass, as if to stave off impact. I’m pretty sure I uttered a futile NO!

The vehicle slammed into us, sheering off the front driver-side quarter panel and spinning us around 90 degrees. It disappeared down the road and I sat there stunned. I don’t think my brain was working too well. All I really knew was that my forehead hurt from where it had hit the window.

I don’t remember worrying about the kids. I think this is because I couldn’t comprehend how bad it was. I tried to turn the steering wheel and apply the gas. I should really get over on the shoulder. The middle of a highway was not a safe place to be. But the car wasn’t going anywhere. Uh-oh.

That’s when I finally started focusing in on what Jane was saying. “Mommy? Mommy? Are you okay? Are you okay, Mommy?”

Momentarily giving up on me, she turned to her little brother, “Hal, are you okay? Here, undo your seat belt. Come over to me. It’s okay.”

Daryl sat stunned in the front seat. He would remain quiet and still for most of the experience. Jane tried me again. This time, the concern rose in her voice. “Mommy?! Are you okay? Do we need to get out of the car?… Mommy? Should we get out of the car?”

Get out of the car. Yes. Sitting in a car in the middle of a highway is not good. But neither is walking across a highway. Or standing on a shoulder. But, yes, those are probably better than staying in the car. “Yes, let’s everyone get out of the car. Jane, take Hal. Please watch for traffic.”

Noticing that Daryl’s door wouldn’t open, I told him to come out my side. As I got out, I could plainly see why the car wasn’t going anywhere. The front tire wasn’t attached to the wheel anymore. The wheel wasn’t straight. The quarter panel was gone. The bumper was loose. And I don’t mean the plastic bumper cover that everyone calls the bumper. I mean the actual metal bar behind that.

“Mommy?” Jane’s voice broke through again. “Do you need to turn off the car?” Oh. Yes. That might be good. That’s when I noticed the rapid-firing ticking sound coming from behind the dash. I’d learn later that part of Jane’s distress was fear that the car was about to blow up like in the movies. I reached in and pushed the button.

We moved to the shoulder. I saw the other vehicle, what would turn out to be a solid eighties model Suburban, about 40 or 50 yards down the road, nose-down in a ditch. It would dawn on me much later that night that the man in the other car never braked. There had been no screeching. There were no tire streaks on the pavement. I don’t know if I didn’t give him time to react or if he thought I was going straight and fancied shooting around me. The speed limit was sixty. We’d essentially been hit by a tank going at least sixty miles an hour.

Jane sat down holding Hal. I set my purse down and tried to decide what to do next. A man in a truck had stopped. Looked like he was on his phone. The other driver was on his phone. Surely someone had called 911 already? Was there a reason for me to? Surely someone had already called?

As if to answer my question, a Constable pulled up. How did he get there that fast? I called my husband. “I just totaled the Prius,” I managed in a shaky voice. In response to his question, I assured him everyone was okay. The Constable and another man stopped by to check on us. They looked at the bump on my forehead. They decided to call an ambulance “just in case”.

I thought I might be in shock because the world looked so surreal. Why couldn’t I focus on anything? Was my eyesight messed up? That’s when it hit me. “Where are my glasses?” I looked around frantically and touched my face repeatedly. “Where? Where are my? Where are my glasses?”

“It’s okay, Mommy. It’s okay. Come sit down.” My pacing was making Jane nervous. The man who said he was an officer and a former EMT told me to sit down. I sat. Before long, the Highway Patrolman arrived. I know exactly one such officer and this happened to be him.

After he took all the information, he walked up and smiled. “You know this is on you, right?”

“Yes, yes, I do.”

Yes, it’s all on me. If only… if only any of those if only’s…

Then again, if I had pulled out just a second or two earlier, I might not have been talking to him at all. Or Hal… sweet little Hal… If only I could quit thinking about what had almost happened…

A friend drove us home and everyone was fine. I had a few tender bruises. Jane was a bit sore the next day. Daryl was still sporadically complaining about a sore neck a couple days later. Hal had no complaint.

And, really, I guess I have no complaint either. We are all alive. We are all intact. We have such wonderful church family that we have a nice, reliable, spacious vehicle to drive on an upcoming trip. We have two different vehicles offered to us as a long term borrow while we wait for the insurance to settle. We have been surround by love and support and prayer.

No, I have no complaint. And while there’s no point in pondering the if only’s, the family all agrees that I am to have nothing to do with turtles. Ever again. Even if they are a foot wide.


Smirk All You Want, At Least I Can Still Hear

I was out walking yesterday morning when my path happened to cross a very loud piece of machinery. As I walked toward it, I felt compelled to plug my ears and so I did. I was now an adult walking down a street with both fingers pressed firmly into ears. It should have felt silly, but it didn’t.

Two men were walking toward me, away from the machine. The one in front looked like he was smirking at me. The one in back had his fingers in his ears. I smiled. As I got closer to the machine, I noticed that the 4 or 5 men standing around it all had bright orange ear protection squished firmly into their ears. And a man walking swiftly away ahead of me was plugging his ears with his fingers.

I grinned at the thought of three adults walking with their fingers in their ears like little children refusing to listen. And then it struck me. Smirking Man aside, maybe a sign of being a grown-up is losing that fear of looking stupid and replacing it with taking action that prevents you from actually being stupid. And maybe Smirking Man just hasn’t grown up yet. Some people get a late start. And some people never manage it at all.