Like Father, Like Son

At Christmas, my kids get to see their cousins from a couple of states away, which they always love. This past Christmas, my eleven year old nephew, Jack, brought a drone, which he proved very adept at flying.

We’d all watch – mesmerized – as he hovered it gently just above the floor or zoomed it across the living room, doing little flips along the way. It was obvious he had spent a lot of time with it because he had masterful control.

And then we opened presents and Daryl discovered that Jack’s family had bought him the exact same drone. Once gift opening was completed, the boys all headed outside to fly their drones.

It wasn’t long before they came back in.

Jack was excitedly telling his dad that Daryl had pressed the auto-land button but instead, the drone had shot up into the air, over the trees, and disappeared.

“It wouldn’t have done that if he had pressed the auto-land button,” my brother countered.

“But that’s what happened!” the boys all insisted. They headed out to the creek near my mom’s house and searched for the drone. At our suggestion, they went door-to-door at the neighbors’ houses, asking if they could search their backyards.

They only searched one backyard – no one else was home. My mom and I made a flyer and forced Daryl to go back to the neighbors and leave flyers and ask everyone to keep an eye out for the missing drone.

The adults are all fairly certain that Daryl flew the drone too high and then, instead of pushing the auto-land button as he intended, pushed the auto-take-off button, which rocketed the drone outside of his radio control and into a large gust of wind.

The drone is gone. Fastest end to a Christmas present ever.

The incident reminded me significantly of my husband’s remote control airplane he bought back when we were in our early college days. He bought the large balsa-wood plane, replacement propellers, extra av gas, and a whole host of other accessories because, and I quote, “I’m going to be flying this thing a lot. I’ve always wanted to do this.”

We took it to the local softball fields so he’d have plenty of room. First go at it, he ran it along the grass to pick up speed, then didn’t get enough lift and crashed it full speed into a fence. Propellers broken.

But we had replacement propellers! Yay! Some time with some tools and the plane was ready to go again. He’d learned from that attempt and this time got the plane into the air.

Almost immediately, something appeared to be wrong. The plane kept flying further and further away. I glanced nervously at my husband. Does he know what he’s doing? I thought.

“Honey?” I finally asked tentatively. “What’s wrong?”

“I can’t see the plane,” he said. This was nigh on 25 years ago, so I don’t remember all the details, but I think he might not have had his glasses on.

The plane eventually nosedived into, just like his son years later, a nearby creek. We were, in one small detail, more fortunate than our son in that we found the plane. The end result was the same, however. The plane was mangled beyond repair. It was no more.

Over the next five years, the expensive av gas was used to get the burn piles going (we lived out in the country) and the cost of the plane and its accessories sat on our credit card for years. And I used the tale to my benefit for a very long time. Any time I did something stupid and he teased me about it, I’d mention the plane and he’d get quiet.

Eventually, my list of stupid things got long enough or I finally did a stupid something that outstripped his in total cost that it stopped being propped up as an argument. I actually hadn’t thought about it in quite some time. Until our son repeated the experience.

Like father, like son. I love these guys…

Advertisements

What Makes Me Happy

You know what makes me happy?

That there is candle wax on pages 59 and 60 of the hymnal.

That my ill son insisted on attending church on Christmas Eve because he wanted to hold a candle and sing Silent Night.

That, even though he slept through the entire service and had to be woken to hold his candle, and even though he never sings with us on Sunday mornings, I nevertheless heard his voice carrying loud and strong as we sang tonight.

That the women in the choir sang a beautiful descant as we held our candles in the air.

That a congregation not entirely comfortable with singing nevertheless filled the sanctuary with their voices on Christmas Eve.

That my husband was able to be with us almost as if our circumstances were not what they are.

That I never tire of the beauty of the moment.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Looking Back on Christmas Day

Christmas has officially concluded for our household. Yesterday was the last hurrah with a wonderful but too-brief stay with my dad’s family and a stop by the hotel room holding my sister-in-law and her significant other, delayed in their plans by a winter storm.

It’s been a good Christmas. One of the best in recent memory, I believe. And it all started Christmas Eve. I’m not talking about my emotional experience in church that night, although that might have set the stage. No, I’m talking about the 4 or 5 hours that followed.

We stopped by a friend’s house who had set up a light display set to music being broadcast on a particular radio frequency. The kids were frustrated because we hadn’t eaten dinner before the worship service and they were fairly sure they were starving. But then they saw the pulsing lights and were mesmerized. We sat through several songs before heading home.

Once home and fed and the youngest in bed, the magic started. As I mentioned in my Christmas Eve post, the older two had some magnificent decorating plans. It was now mostly a surprise for Hal, but I consented to staying holed up in my bedroom while they worked. We had plenty of surprises of our own so that was fine with us.

I sat on the bed cutting yarn and tinsel strands to construct the contents of the box I would assemble above the boys’ door, with a string tied to the doorknob. My hope was that when they eagerly and enthusiastically opened the door in the morning, the string would pull the flap down and all the stuff would fall down in front of them, revealing the first clue to their scavenger hunt. (It didn’t work, by the way. Hal inexplicably opened the door slowly and then stood there saying “What the heck?” as he examined the string tied to his doorknob. I rushed from my room to yank on the string. Not quite the same effect.)

My husband sat at the edge of the bed and worked on assembling three puzzles on a card table for part of the hunt. Our intent was to intermix the pieces from all three puzzles, turn it over, write the 6-line poem that represented the second clue on it, then separate the pieces back out to their respective puzzles. That didn’t work either. The pieces were all shaped the same but they were off just enough that we couldn’t mix them. So we went with plan B, which was to write the poem lines across all three puzzles but then mix the puzzle pieces in the three boxes. The puzzles, which were wildly age-inappropriate (way too young) would then go in the stockings.

As we sat and worked in relative silence, we listened to the activity outside our door. Jane and Daryl were working together as they never had before. They spoke in hushed tones but we could still hear them. The were excited and eager to impress Hal with all the lights and paper chains and huge paper snowflakes they had made. They listened to each other’s ideas and encouraged and supported each other. I was mesmerized.

Every once in awhile, they’d come to the door and ask where to find more staples, whether it was OK to attach lightweight items to the ceiling fan, whether all the Christmas lights could be left on over night. My husband and I were both tickled that they had gotten into the spirit of doing stuff for others on Christmas.

At one point, they tried to be considerate of my needs and informed me that they’d be in Jane’s room for awhile if I wanted to come out and do my thing. I laughed and informed them that 1) I had plenty to keep me busy in my room for now and 2) I wasn’t doing any part of my thing until they were in bed.

Eventually, they declared themselves done and we came out for a tour. I had suggested the tour when the realization that I would see the decorations before morning had disappointed them. They wanted to see our faces.

They had done an impressive job. Lights lined the walls of the hallway and living room, including some lit snowflakes over the boys’ door (which would make my plans more challenging). A very long white paper chain nearly encircled the living room and large snowflakes hung everywhere. And these weren’t your average fold-the-paper-then-cut-out-notches snowflakes. No, these were state-of-the-art 3D snowflakes that Daryl had learned to make at Sunday School a few days earlier. A large 3D snowflake hung from each of the three fan blades, which turned very slowly in the center of the room.

I was impressed by their results but even more impressed by the cooperation and love and kindness that had gotten them there. I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning.

Of course, there was still work of my own to do. It took another 2 hours for me to setup the scavenger hunt and prepare their stockings (including the “auxiliary bags” for the overflow items that wouldn’t fit – sitting on the floor with a strand of yarn attaching them to their stockings) .

We assembled the box as quietly as possible over their door. I traipsed around outside hiding the final clues that would keep them out of the house long enough for my husband to move the new PS4 from our bedroom to the living room, to be setup and ready to go when the hunt brought them back into the house. I somehow managed to work directly under Jane’s window without alerting the dog to my presence although she caught my flashlight later and announced the outside “intruder” to the entire house.

Back inside, I taped “Rudolph Chow” on the dog food can so when the part of the hunt that included Santa’s Grocery List came up, they could find “reindeer food”. I taped clues under the carton of milk, behind all the mirrors in the house, on the power bar that holds all their electronics chargers, under some cookie tins. I had already searched through books for the words needed for one clue and carefully hid the clue behind a cabinet door in the bathroom. The clue gave them the book title plus three numbers: page, paragraph on page, and word in the paragraph.

I finally made it to bed about 1:30 in the morning. I didn’t sleep well – I don’t anyway but on nights when I am anticipating something, it’s even worse. I was awake before any of the kids, just waiting for them to join me.

Throughout Christmas Day, my kids told me this was the best Christmas ever. We did have our bumps, but overall, it was magical. They love opening their stockings and they enjoy our scavenger hunt. But the two older ones specifically mentioned how much they liked the new tradition.

Based on a picture moving around Facebook, we limited their presents to 4 each (the PS4 was a gift to the whole family). The four gifts followed a pattern:

Something they want, something they need

Something to wear, something to read

Daryl hadn’t wanted this approach. “Only four presents?!” he had asked. But by the end of the day, he was sold. He wasn’t sure why but he had really liked it. We figured it out together.

Since we were only buying them four presents, we had to stop and think about what to give them. We had to come up with precisely the right gifts. As Daryl put it, “Instead of just getting us a bunch of toys, you got us just a few of exactly what we wanted.”

He didn’t even know how much he had wanted (needed!) new bedding, but the NBA-themed sheets and comforter excited him tremendously. Hal walked around all day in the new church clothes we bought him – tie and loafers included! Jane couldn’t believe she got both a new pair of Tom’s (need!) and her long-desired Uggs (wear).

To top the day off, we invited some friends over for lunch and afternoon game playing while they waited for their husband/dad to get off work that evening to have their family Christmas.

All in all, it was a wildly successful and happy day. I hope we have many more like it.

Silent Night

It’s been a good week. Time has moved relatively slowly, not rushed – despite the fact that we didn’t really start working toward Christmas until Sunday. We did a bunch of shopping and planned our Christmas surprises and in general enjoyed ourselves. We actually had our Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, just the five of us plus Jane’s boyfriend. It was a relaxing day. To top it all off, two packages that we thought weren’t going to arrive until after Christmas arrived just in time. Life was going well. This might have contributed to what happened that night.

I have always enjoyed the Christmas Eve worship service. Most services I have attended over the years have involved Lessons and Carols. The service alternates between Scripture reading and Christmas hymns. The last song is almost always Silent Night, sung by candlelight after the light of the Christ candle in the Advent wreath is used to light everyone’s handheld candles.

In my experience, people then file silently out of the sanctuary. It is a very solemn and spiritual moment. This year, however, my church added Joy To The World to the end of the service. And I was one of four people playing bells for it.

This meant that I walked up to the front of the sanctuary, behind the altar, just in front of the chancel area, before the candles were lit for Silent Night. We needed to be ready for Joy To The World, so we would sing Silent Night up front instead of in our pews.

I was looking down at my music and in general getting ready when the pastor approached with the flame. I lit my candle from his and turned to Jane who lit hers from mine. We each turned behind us to the choir so someone could light theirs from ours. And then we turned around.

I was stunned. All but the back few rows already had their candles lit. It was glorious and beautiful. It took my breath away. And then we started singing Silent Night – that beautifully haunting song. I had the benefit of a dozen gifted singers right behind me and the lights of candles lighting up the faces of my church family in front of me.

My throat constricted. I had to force the song through. I sternly told myself not to cry. Not because there’d be anything wrong with that but because it would prevent me from joining my voice with the choir. I regained my composure.

And then I saw my middle child standing there by himself – his father was in the choir. His mother and sister preparing to play bells. His little brother asleep in the pew. I thought of the darling boy who couldn’t wait to light his candle who was now sleeping through the song. I looked at the smile on my standing son’s face – the son who had lit his candle without adult supervision and hadn’t burned anything down. His smile was beaming. I think he had forgotten to sing.

I saw the man on hospice care sitting in his wheelchair in the center aisle. It had to have taken so much energy for he and his wife to have been there. I hadn’t seen either one of them in months.

Then I saw my friend and her aging mother. Her mother but not her father, who had passed away earlier this year. Her mother was still grieving and was starting to get confused and requiring more focused care. My friend was trying to help her mother with the candle. It was not unlike helping a child. But both of their faces were lit up with the light of Christ. They were beautiful. In all their love and struggle and grief. they were beautiful. It was Christmas Eve. And everyone was beautiful.

My throat constricted again and I pushed through a little less successfully. I was sure I had never seen anything more powerful or heard anything more powerful or been part of anything more powerful. A single tear traced a path down my cheek and I let it travel without wiping it away.

My church family means so much to me. My biological family lives at least four hours away – all of them. So when I need help and support, it’s my church friends who provide it. And it’s them who receive my support. But this went beyond that. Beyond love of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I am, in my heart, a skeptic. I analyze, I doubt, I require proof. I do not accept a literal reading of all parts of the Bible. I have a modern look at it. There are many things that members of my congregation believe that I do not. I can understand where atheists are coming from. I can.

But in that moment, with the beautiful music swelling around me and the soft glow lighting people’s faces and the tear on my cheek, I saw the hope. I felt the hope. I shared the hope. I’m still the same person with all the same beliefs and doubts. That will likely never change – it’s how God made me. But that moment was sacred for me. I can only assume I felt my “heart strangely warmed” the same as John Wesley felt so many years before me.

I am at peace. Merry Christmas everyone.

When Does Santa Come?

“Mom, what time does Santa come?”

This question came from my fifteen year old daughter, who is fully cognizant of the true reality of Santa. The question intrigued me.

“He comes after everyone goes to bed,” I replied.

“And what time is he usually done?”

“He tries to be done as early as possible so he can get a good night’s sleep.”

“So like 10 or 11 o’clock?” She probed.

“Yes, but he wouldn’t be happy if children were out and about after the presents and stockings were out.”

“Well, he’s just going to have to be ok with it.”

“What are you wanting to do?”

“I can’t tell you. It’s a surprise.”

“It would make more sense to set an alarm for 5 or 6 than to try to stay up past Santa’s departure.”

“Well, it’s something Daryl wants to do and we thought we’d set an alarm for like midnight or 1:00 because if we waited until morning, Hal might wake up early and ruin it.”

She then proceeded to spill the beans on what Daryl wanted to do, which is a shame because I like surprises and what he has in mind is really sweet. Then again, it’s probably better that I have at least an inkling since there’s no way they could slip out of their rooms and add some decoration in the living room without me waking up.

And movement in the living room during the night before Christmas is a surefire way to get me out of bed.

Of course, this presents me with a dilemma. I do what we call a scavenger hunt on Christmas Day. It’s not really a scavenger hunt, more a series of clues that the kids solve to lead them to the next clue and then eventually to their big gift.

It’s a lot of work to put together and this year, I plan on going big. I wanted to arrange something over the door with a string tied to the doorknob so that when they opened the door, tinsel (and the first clue) would come cascading down on their heads. I’d rather the tinsel not cascade down on their sneaky little heads at 1:00 in the morning.

So now I guess I get to be the one setting an alarm for 5:00 to attempt to install the contraption without waking anyone up. It’s considerably easier to make noise in the hallway without waking people up at the start of their night of sleep, not the end.

This could be trickier than the early-morning-oops-I-forgot tooth fairy money-for-tooth swap. So far, that’s always been successful. Maybe Santa will prove as gifted as his fairy counterpart.

 

It’s (Finally) Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

There’s a little winery in way East Texas that I discovered at a wine festival and loved. They are several hours away from my town and so small that they don’t ship. About halfway between here and there is a much larger winery that I also love. This one has a wine club, which I joined. That winery had my distribution ready to pick up.

The small winery is only open noon-7 Thurs through Sat so it’s nearly impossible for me to get to except on Saturdays. So… last Saturday, I planned a road trip. We’d drive to the small one first to get there before they close (youth basketball games prevented an early departure). We’d then pick up my distribution at the larger one on our way back.

The trip was almost cancelled when some accidental injuries and miscommunication caused a major full-family meltdown at departure time. We managed to resolve it in time and my husband and I hit the road.

At home were our three kids plus Jane’s sixteen year old boyfriend. We had several rules: eat dinner, Jane and boyfriend aren’t to be in Jane’s room at all – even with the door open, Jane’s boyfriend has to leave when the boys start getting ready for bed, stay in touch with us. That sort of thing. That was it though. No expectations.

What I came home to blew my mind.

The Christmas tree, which had still been in the attic in its box when we left the house, was fully assembled in a corner of the living room – complete with lights and ornaments. The stockings were hung on the wall. At least three manger scenes were assembled around the house. A Christmas hand towel hung on the oven door handle. Elves hung from all the bedroom doors, and some special little Christmas trees were scattered about. The boxes and tubs for it all had been tucked away in a back room.

I was in awe.

I love my kids. I’ve been so busy and so tired with no free time to prepare for Christmas. I was feeling bad about the delay yet wasn’t looking forward to the hassle of decorating. They did such a beautiful job. Now if I could just get the shopping done and the presents wrapped…

Laundry Minefield

{NOTE: I wrote this back in December, but… pay close attention to the first paragraph… it got lost in the shuffle. So I’m running it now. Hope you still enjoy it.}

I did laundry on Saturday, just like I usually do when life is running like it should. Life wasn’t exactly running like it should however… I was on day 2 of a debilitating head cold. I was stressed about an upcoming doctor’s appointment that I might not be able to keep if still sick. Between the two boys, we had three basketball games and two basketball picture sessions. And Christmas was rapidly approaching. But still, I stuck it out and got all the laundry washed and dried, if not folded, between sessions of resting and running to-and-fro.

Or… I thought I got all the laundry washed and dried. After insisting firmly that everyone was going to bed at their usual time because I simply couldn’t handle folks staying up late even if it was Christmas break, I headed into the boys’ room to tuck them in for the night. As I carefully picked my way through the debris on their floor to approach their bed, I noticed that a considerable amount of that debris was stuff needing to be laundered. I looked around in dismay as I gauged that there was at least a full load of laundry on their floor: half a dozen towels, several pairs of pants, oodles and oodles of socks and underwear, even some sheets and blankets and coats!

Now, illness often makes us terrible parents. We are much more likely to make the children fend for themselves at meals, to yell at them for trivial offenses, to let them do all sorts of things they shouldn’t because we are too tired to intervene. That didn’t happen this time. No, this time illness gave birth to parenting brilliance. I hatched a plan and carried it out the next day.

While lying in bed wishing I could breathe, I instructed the boys to get one of the empty hampers out of my bathroom. I then told them to gather all the clothing and other laundry from their floor and place them in the hamper. After checking their (lack of) thoroughness, I had the older one carry the hamper to the washing machine, load it, add detergent, start it.

When the machine finished, I called them both into the laundry room. I pointed the older one to the dryer and told him to clean the lint catcher. The younger, I told to take the basket from the top of the washer, place it on the floor, and pull all the laundry out of the washer into the basket.

At almost the same time, they each touched their respective items and… also at almost the same time… recoiled from the touch. Hal looked up and said, “Oh, it’s wet.” He then pushed the item back into the washer and prepared to close the door.
“No,” I said. “They are all wet. They’ve been washed and now they need to go into the dryer. Pull them into the basket.”

To the eleven year old trying to remove the lint without actually touching it, I said, “No, like this” and demonstrated how to do it. He still acted like he was touching raw sewage and didn’t get as much of it off as I would have, but he got it done.
After the six year old finished the arduous job of getting every single wet item out of the washer, I told him to pick up the basket and hand it to his brother. That’s when he discovered that a basket full of wet clothes is heavy. Too heavy for him to pick up, in fact. His brother took over and between the two of them, they got all the clothes in. I stopped them from shutting the door until they added a dryer sheet. I told them how to start it.

When the dryer finished, I watched from the recliner as they struggled to fold it all. I reminded them that I do that entire routine a minimum of four times every weekend and unless they just really enjoyed themselves, they should make sure they get their dirty clothes in the hamper next time.

They might remember. Or it might take some more lessons. But if their sister (who is responsible for her own laundry) is any indication, they will eventually decide a little extra effort when removing their clothes is worth not having to do the laundry.