With Family Like This…

Back in elementary or perhaps early middle school, I remember tracking biorhythms.  My primary takeaway was that sometimes we have bad physical, mental, and maybe emotional(?) biorhythm days.  We could plot it out and know when our bodies or minds might not be optimal.  I have no idea if this was quack science or the real deal.  It was being taught in the public school so it had to be solid, right?  (There was snark in that question if you couldn’t read it).

Anyway, I got to wondering this past weekend if it was possible to have a bad other-people-impacting-your-physical biorhythm day.  Maybe you exude some energy that says “harm me!”  I don’t know.  But that’s all I can come up with for Hal’s unfortunate 24 hour window that began Friday afternoon.

It all started with his sister messing around with him.  She picked him up and started spinning and swooping with him.  He was laughing and carrying on.  It was great fun.  They were both just a tad manic.  She hauled him into the cluttered kitchen to turn up her already loud music.  As she struggled to reach the volume control while juggling a squirming Kindergartener, she knocked over a cup.  (Not just any cup – my favorite porcelain hand-made, one-of-a-kind cup.  Just the right size, height, shape, thickness, and such a lovely shade of blue.  But I digress.)

When her Daddy called out that she was knocking over her mother’s favorite cup, she attempted to catch it.  And in so doing, dropped her brother just enough to smash his forehead into the kitchen counter.  Much crying and head holding and apologizing and scolding ensued from all parties.  Eventually, life resumed.

Soon after, we all headed to the church to drop Jane and her friend off at the lock-in.  The boys played outside in the front yard, some strange version of football, I think, without the ball.  As the boys ran toward us, Hal slightly in the lead, Daryl called out, “Hey, Dad!  Look at this!”

Dad turned just in time to see Daryl reach his foot out and trip his little brother.  Hal’s left knee hit the ground as he crumpled.  He grabbed his knee and rocked back and forth, crying, remarkably like an injured football player.  His dad checked it out while scolding his older brother, who apparently did not understand that tripping is not an acceptable part of football, or indeed, any other sport.

The next morning, Hal walked stooped over, complaining that his bruised knee hurt.  That afternoon, he was sprawled on the floor of the living room, watching Netflix.  His shoes had been tossed carelessly to the side and were in the walkway.  Since we were about to carry a heavy piece of furniture through there, I began to scoot the shoes toward him.  They were gripping the floor remarkably well, so I began to kick with more force.  One of them went airborne and smacked him in the side of his head.

Daddy was once again watching.  Hal was again shocked and crying.  “What is wrong with you people?!” my husband asked incredulously.  “Can’t you leave that poor boy alone?”

Poor boy, indeed.  I hope our strengths outshine our weaknesses, but I wouldn’t be surprised if late Saturday afternoon, Hal was wondering what other living arrangements might be available to him.

Away From Home

I rarely have to travel for work. Maybe once every couple of years or so. Well, last week was one of those times. I left Monday morning with three people from my workplace (although not direct coworkers) and returned Friday morning, a day earlier than everyone else.

When I woke up Friday morning, I was surprised by the dominant emotion. It was regret,  not joy. That surprised me. And upset me.

As I dressed and packed,  I examined how I felt and why. Why would I be sad about leaving here and returning to my family?

First and foremost,  I’m a creature of habit and resistant to change. Life had fallen into a very simple routine. But surely that alone couldn’t explain it?  I also don’t like the thought that the group I’ve been “hanging with” is still hanging but I won’t be part of it.  But surely that couldn’t be it?  Surely my family is a better group than these guys?

So what was I doing while here that might make me reluctant to leave? Well,  the work environment was very relaxed and low key. No one was pushing or rushing me. I only had a small assignment with dead time while I waited on other people. I didn’t have to find something else to keep me busy during those times. I could relax,  visit with folks,  whatever. And it was all OK.

The work day was longer that my standard work day but still easier. And then, after work,  I’d go back to the hotel and chill. About an hour later, I’d go out to eat with my travel mates. They were a quirky lot but still fun to hang out with. Everyone had a good sense of humor. Our last dinner had been particularly enjoyable. And then I’d return to my room and read. Or blog. Or talk to my family on the phone. Whatever I wanted.

Home is chaos. Responsibility. Stress. I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s,  but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s hard.

I’m an elder in my church,  currently serving on the governing body. My kids have many activities. There’s a lot to do.  But while away,  those responsibilities were distant. I had an out. But,  as I packed my bags,  I knew I was heading back to a busier,  more stressful life. I was mourning the loss of the quiet,  easy,  selfish *me* time.

I was still pondering my feelings when I was dropped off at the airport. I was early so opted to walk down to the gift shop. I strolled through the racks looking for just the right items for my family. I smiled as I found things they’d like at reasonable prices. I called my husband to ask his opinion on one.

As we talked, he said to me,  in response to a remark from one of the kids,  “Daryl says he loves you. He’s the only one though.”

There was some commotion and other comments.

“Jane says she doesn’t love you.”

Indignant protests in the background.

“Hal loves you and he’s the only one.”

I could hear Daryl’s sharp outcry.

The conversation,  rife with my husband’s trademark misrepresentations of what people were saying made me feel at home. I walked away from the gift shop,  thinking over my purchases. I felt my throat constrict. Tears began to well in my eyes. I’m going home. And there’s no place I’d rather be.

It Makes Our Lives Easier

Technology. It makes our lives easier. Right?

I don’t have to have TV because I can watch shows on Netflix. As long as I have my internet connection, that is. Lose it, as I am prone to during big thunderstorms like the one last night, and I sit on my couch mourning my inability to engage in my nightly ritual.

Taking pictures is a breeze now. No film, no uncertainty on whether the picture was good, virtually no limitation on quantity. My phone, always in my pocket, has a great camera. I can take a picture anytime anywhere. Both it and my super-deluxe SLR camera have huge amounts of memory to store thousands of pictures.

I’ve thought about this when sifting through photos for loved one’s now-standard funeral slide shows. By the time my generation, and definitely my children’s generation, are dying, this process will likely be a nightmare. The standard 3 day window between death and funeral will have to stretch to a week to give the survivors time to search through millions of pictures stored on hard drives. Stored with helpful names like “DSC098773” or “img_12378”, because really, how many people get around to organizing their pictures? At least the shoebox of old is easy to sort through quickly and it only holds so many pictures!

Yes, the problems with digital pictures have been on my mind of late. See, Hal’s preschool requested I send a photo from each year of his life, from birth to age 5, preferably full face pictures. It’s part of a big project related to his preschool graduation coming up. They gave plenty of notice and I tried to get to it out of fear I’d forget. But I listened to my laid-back husband who said, “Oh, you’ve got plenty of time. You don’t need to do it now.”

So as I picked him up from school on the Thursday evening of the week we were to bring the pictures, I overheard another mom asking about the pictures and I panicked. Oh, no! They are due tomorrow!

I mentally ran down our evening’s schedule. Not looking good. It was already 5:30 and we were meeting for a quick supper at Taco Bell. My husband had choir practice at 6 while Jane needed to be at the high school at 6. I had a meeting at another church at 7 while Daryl had open house at 7. No one would be home before 8:30.

That’s ok, I thought. I’ll run home before my meeting to see what pictures I can find. We’ll finish up after the kids go to bed, upload them to Wal-Mart, pick them up in the morning. It’s tight but it’ll work.

Yeah. Right. It’ll work. Unless a storm hits and we lose our internet connection.

As the group I was with closed in prayer, my phone notified me of the impending danger. “Tornado Warning. Take Shelter Immediately. Severe Warning.” See? Technology is great.

Several people decided to disregard the warning and headed out to their cars. When they opened the door, I could hear the tornado sirens. Now, I’ve lived in this Texas town for 17 years and I don’t recall ever hearing the sirens for anything other than tests. This good Oklahoma girl knows that when the sirens sound, you better take heed. I returned to the building.

I started getting text messages and phone calls from my daughter and husband. She was at the high school, taking cover and begging us not to get on the road to retrieve her. He had taken the boys from the school and returned to the church next door and was camped out in a small hallway. I explored my surroundings and hunkered down near a closet in a small office. And then did what anyone in this connected age of technology would do. I posted on Facebook:

Tornado sirens just went off. My family is taking cover in three different locations across town. I wish we were all together.

I then noticed a friend on Facebook who was complaining about strange behavior with her text messages. I soon experienced problems too. The networks were having trouble keeping up. Calls and texts were not making it through. Our single most reliable devices were failing us.

Before long, the other two people holed up in the church office decided that the danger had passed and prepared to lock up. The sky and the National Weather Service disagreed. I called a nearby friend to see if I could go to her house but ultimately decided to take the extra few minutes to join my husband and the boys. Or my daughter at the high school. Which one? I didn’t have to decide right away but as I approached the road where I’d have to turn left for her or right to them, I still found myself unsure. I ultimately went for the boys, for reasons that make no sense in the light of day.

Eventually, there was a small break in the storm. One of the adults with Jane brought her to the church and we decided to head home. Not until we were on the road did I get a text from a friend worried about us because our area north of town was getting pounded and allegedly reporting 118mph winds. The weather was terrible and a tornado watch would remain in effect until much later that night. But we were home and, as it turned out, safe.

But we had no internet access beyond the data on our cell phones.

Texting with my dad had resulted in him emailing me photos from Hal’s birth, the one time period I had been unable to find on our computer. But I couldn’t get to the email from the computer and my phone wasn’t registering receipt of the emails. And even if I could get to them, I couldn’t upload them to get printed anyway. I went to bed with the hope that we’d have internet access in the morning.

We didn’t.

And thus began the ridiculous technological attempts to get what we wanted anyway. I first forwarded the emails that my phone now knew about to my husband. It’s near the end of the billing period and I’m getting tight on my data usage. Better for him to download the pictures than me. My plan was to then connect his phone to the computer, copy the pictures over USB, then burn all the pictures to a CD to be taken to Wal-Mart the old-fashioned way. But the computer wouldn’t recognize his phone as a USB device.

Fine, I said. Let’s use Bluetooth to transfer the picture from your phone to mine and then I’ll connect mine to the computer. He suggested we use NFC. You mean SBeam? I asked. We then huddled in our entry way, the children patiently waiting to be taken to school. We enabled NFC and SBeam. We put our Samsung phones back-to-back. He tried to send the picture. It didn’t work. We tried it several different ways. Eventually we turned on Bluetooth. Our phones recognized each other but the transfer failed. I suspected the picture wasn’t truely saved to his phone even though it claimed to be. At any rate, I ultimately told him I’d just download the picture to my phone – screw the data limit; go ahead and get them to school.

But my phone wouldn’t download the picture! I rebooted our computer and router in the vain hope that we could regain our internet connection. I rebooted my phone to see if it could download the picture after a fresh start. Nothing worked. I was surrounded by technology but couldn’t get what I wanted where I wanted when I wanted it.

I finally called the school and after confirming that they wouldn’t actually use the pictures before Monday, took a deep breath and went to work. Hopefully we’ll regain our connection to the internet, the world, and our sanity before then. Technology. It’s supposed to make our lives easier.

A Few of our Favorite Things

I recently noticed a purple wrapped box on the kitchen counter. It had a note written on it: “To Everyone”.

I idly wondered which of the children it was from but then went on about the things I needed to be doing. I think a week or two went by without all of us being together at the same time, near the box, and with someone cognizant about the box. I never got a chance to ask who it was from.

Today, I walked through the living room as Hal tore into the box. There were several layers of construction paper wrapping. I heard my husband comment that there was something for everyone. And then he and Hal began to thank Daryl.

I looked up as I passed through a second time to see Daryl curled up in the recliner, playing on his Nintendo DS, and trying his best to hide the self-conscious smile spreading from ear to ear.

Then I looked down at the little table where the contents of the box had been spread out. I now remember him asking me what my favorite thing was so he could draw it. And that’s what he did: draw his family’s favorite things and wrap them up in a box. Sometimes this kid is truly special and thoughtful.

daryl_gift

Mediocre Mommy

Hal brought home a sheet of paper from school recently with a series of boxes that had an English word, its Spanish equivalent, and then his artistic representation of the idea behind the words.

I was impressed with a number of the pictures – the school house had no fewer than 20 windows on it, for example. But the best, by far, was his picture of family.

We all had necks and five fingers, an improvement over older drawings, although we appeared to have no arms, our hands sprouting directly out of our sleeveless shirts. We were also bald, and the family was comprised of three members instead of five. But one of us had some wicked heels on our shoes.

family

I asked him who was whom while his siblings began to argue over who was left out. He explained that he didn’t have time to draw his Bubba and apparently had no intention of drawing Sissy. The one in heels turned out to be me, despite the fact that I very rarely wear them. The small guy with no feet at all was Hal, the other person was Daddy.

Daryl, who was standing too far away to see the assignments announced his assessment on who was whom. “Daddy is the big one and Mommy is the mediocre one…”

He cut off as Daddy and Jane burst out laughing and I expressed feigned indignation.

“I think you meant the medium one, Buddy,” my husband said as he got his laughter under control.

“No, I mean mediocre.”

More laughter.

“Doesn’t it mean average? Like, the middle one?”

“No, not quite, honey,” I said. “It’s got a more negative connotation than ‘average’. Here, let’s look it up in the dictionary.”

Scribbled Names

As we passed out presents at my grandmother’s house last night, she called me over to tell me there were some envelopes behind the tree that needed to be handed out. I was very familiar with the envelopes. She has been giving everyone a Christmas card with cash in it for as far back as I can remember. Just like her mother before her.

I reached behind the tree and grabbed the little packet of envelopes. I slipped the rubber band off and pulled the first one off the top to hand to the recipient. As I looked down at the second envelope, I suddenly felt that I was looking at my great grandmother’s envelopes, not my grandmother’s. What had always struck me about great grandma’s envelopes was the shaky script our names were written in.

These envelopes looked just like those. I have watched my grandma age over the last few years. She falls. It takes her longer to recover from illnesses. She doesn’t argue her way as much. She sits more, travels less. Mentally, she’s the same as always. Physically, she’s entered a new stage of life. And while I’ve seen it, I haven’t faced it. Not until last night when I looked at those envelopes and realized she was now her mother and I am now mine. Life moves inexorably forward. Whether I like it or not. Whether I’m ready for it or not. Whether I accept it or not. I wonder if anyone noticed the tears in my eyes as I handed them their envelope with their scribbled name on the front.

Bad Words

At the big family Christmas gathering this year, the kids once again congregated at a single table. All but Jane, that is, she having decided to work on her grown-up skills and sit with her parents at a different table.

This meant the table consisted of 10 year old Daryl, my 10 year old niece, her 8 year old brother, 5 year old Hal, and my cousin’s 2 or 3 year old boy, who seemed to be in awe of his cousins. In such a scenario, a kid like Hal is bound to get hyper and try to show off. He has to demonstrate that he belongs with the “older” crowd and try his best to impress the “baby”.

After a few minutes at the table, the three oldest swarmed our table, each talking over the others in an attempt to let us know what horrible sin Hal had committed. Daryl’s voice finally won out and he explained that Hal had said S-E-X.

Hal looked up from the table, and drunk with the shocked attention he was receiving, asked, “What? Sex?”

My two aunts at my table looked up at me with wide eyes. My uncle grinned. A cousin stifled a laugh. My brother looked my way.

“Hal,” I said, “Come here.”

I just love those moments where you get to parent in full view of all the people who watched you grow up. Will she keep her cool? Will she be stern enough? What kind of parent is she anyway? Let’s all watch and see.

He came over to the table and I gave him a hug, leaning close in to his ear. “Honey, I know that you are trying to impress your cousins. I get that. But you simply can’t say words like that. You don’t understand what they mean. So I need you to keep those words in your head instead of letting them come out of your mouth, ok?”

He nodded solemnly and began to shuffle back to his table. As he progressed, the shuffle became a walk and then a trot. He bounced into his chair and called out triumphantly, “I’M SAYING BAD WORDS IN MY HEAD!!”

Freakin’ Family Fun

There was something hanging on Hal’s hook at school when I picked him up today. No one else had one. I frowned as I moved his papers out of the way to get a better look. It was a clear plastic bag with a note taped to it.

Parents,

Your child was picked to be the Super Alphabet Show-n-Tell leader for the week! Attached you will find a Show-n-Tell bag. I ask that you help your child find one or two items around your house that begin with the letter of the week. Please make sure that the items they pick out to bring fit into this bag and are not valuable.

I juggled his coat and backpack and finished art projects and the Show-n-Tell bag while he picked his prize from the Treasure Box. I managed to get everything into the car and as we pulled away, he announced, “Mommy! I get to be the Show-n-Tell leader this week! I need to fill that bag with F words!” My evening would be full of him referring to “F words” and the adolescent inside me stifling giggles.

We began to brainstorm as I drove down the road.

“Fish!” he called out.

“How about frog?” I asked.

“Yeah! But we don’t have any fish or frogs at home. Oh! How about a banana? It’s F-F-F-F-Food.”

“It sure is!”

“And it’s F-F-F-F-Fruit!”

“Very good. I like it.” And I do. It reminds me of something his older siblings might do. Put something in the bag that would make his friends think he’s lost his mind and then surprise them with how it fits.

He begged me to go buy him a “fake fox”. He chose a ladybug shaped flashlight. And he clearly announced that “Fart is an F word!! F-F-F-Fart!” I suggested he leave that out of the bag.

We might have gotten a little bit carried away. I forgot there was a suggested quantity. When you pick small objects, you can sure get more than one or two items in the bag:

2013-11-06 20.24.07

When I found the plastic fork, Hal was ecstatic. And then Daryl lit up. “Hey!” he said, “Maybe that plastic it’s wrapped in is made out of Fossil Fuels!”

Yes, we are a nerd family.

It all started with a couple of matching trucks

Sitting at a traffic light with Hal.

“Mommy! There’s two trucks! Do you see them?”

“Yes, honey, I do.”

“No! Those two trucks over there! They are the same color!”

“Yes, Hal, I see them. They are both gray. One is bigger than the other one. Do you think one is the big brother and the other one is his little brother?”

“Yes!”

About then, a large red truck pulls up beside them.

“Look, Mommy! Another truck! It’s a red one!”

“Mm-hm. Is that their sister?”

“No. That’s the daddy.”

“How do you know it’s the daddy and not the sister?”

“Because their sister is dead.”

“Oh.”

Our light has turned green. As we pass in front of them, we see a white truck behind the little gray one in the turn lane.

“And the big white truck is the grandpa. And that other one is the mommy.”

“Ok.”

“And all the little cars are the grandmas.”

I am trying to not draw too many parallels between our make-believe truck family and Hal’s desires for our real one. Surely he loves his sister. Surely he does.

The Best Christmas Ever

Our Christmas tree is still up and decorated. In fact, Hal just turned the lights back on today. The first week after Christmas was spent out-of-state, visiting family. The next, out-of-town to celebrate our anniversary. The most recent was full, first with a funeral and then with resuming school and work. I am telling you this so that you understand it is still Christmas at this house, and thus not inappropriate at all for me to finally get around to blogging about the best Christmas ever. I was too busy enjoying it to write about it at the time.

Christmas 2012 did not get off to a particularly auspicious start. The 11:00pm Christmas Eve service was wonderful, don’t get me wrong. We all attended in our pajamas, including my husband in his footed smiley-face PJ’s that I had just given him. That drew a few looks.

No, the service that heralded the arrival of Christmas Day was nice and the drive home was uneventful. I was worried about what such a late bedtime would do to the day, but not too much. The problems started when we got home. Hal did not want to use the bathroom before retiring to his bed and a tantrum ensued.

Once all the children were settled, I needed to wrap just two or three presents and stuff the stockings. That took well over an hour. I finally went to bed around 1:30 or 2:00 and wondered how late the children would let me sleep.

Not long, as it turned out. A serious thunderstorm moved in by about 2:30, waking Hal. I stumbled into his room to comfort him. I struggled for a long time before I got back to sleep. The wind picked up and a loud metallic thwacking sound woke me around 5:00. I asked my husband if that was the new roof coming undone.

“Probably.”

“Do we need to do anything about it?”

“Like what? I’m not going out there in this.”

He had a point. Besides, the old shingled roof was still under the metal of the new one. No way I was getting back to sleep, however. I lay there listening until the sound changed to something bounding down from the roof. And then silence.

“There,” my pragmatic husband said, “It blew off. Happy?”

Before I responded, the next strip of the crown began to rattle. Sleep was a distant memory by this point.

Things improved once I gave up on sleep, though. My husband had once again managed to slip something under my pillow undetected. He hates wrapping, so this has become our new tradition. I already knew I was getting a Kindle Paperwhite, but I still don’t know when he managed to slide it under there.

As I passed through the living room, I saw a package of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in my stocking that I had not put in there the night before. So he hadn’t forgotten about my stocking either – another nice surprise. I added the toppings to the breakfast strata started the night before and put it in the oven.

Then it was stockings and presents time. Hal passed out the stockings, such a good Santa’s helper. All of them distributed gifts. Just like last year, though, there were no names. Last year were numbers and they’d have to ask me which number was whom. This year, they were letters. Perhaps this will become a new Christmas puzzle. As they heard who was each letter, I asked them what the formula was. I gave them a hint that I couldn’t put the appropriate leter on Daddy’s gifts because it was a duplicate of someone else’s. Daddy figured it out (2nd letter of their middle names). No one else did.

Jane unwrapped four nested boxes, each wrapped individually, before uncovering her mp3 player. Daryl received a used Nintendo DS, given to us by a friend to give to the kids. He immediately declared this the best Christmas ever.

And so it was, but not because of the gifts. When we were done unwrapping, we ate the strata. And then… then we just were. Most Christmases would have seen the hustle and bustle of preparing for a long trip. We would have been packing suitcases and piling into the car to travel the four hours or so to relatives in Oklahoma.

But Oklahoma was forecast to get hit by a blizzard. We had decided the day before that we would delay our trip by 24 hours. We had no idea how life-changing that decision would be.

After breakfast, we just enjoyed ourselves. We set Pandora to play Christmas music. People tried out their new electronics. We played some games and worked some puzzles and read and ate and relaxed. And shouted in excitement when we looked out the window and saw snow! Snow, on Christmas Day, in Texas. No one even changed out of their pajamas, except to go play in the snow.

I looked up at my family at one point and wondered, Is this what Christmas is like for other people? Christmas has never been a relaxing time for me, not even in childhood.

As a child, I remember opening presents at home and then almost immediately leaving the house to go… somewhere. Christmas Day usually included 2 or 3 extended family gatherings. The usual routine was to head over to my maternal grandparents’ house for lunch and Christmas with my mom’s family. At some point, sometimes before lunch and sometimes after, mom would drive us to my paternal grandmother’s house and we’d have Christmas with my dad’s family. Mom would then pick us up and we’d have dinner and Christmas at my step-dad’s parents’ house with his family.

It got even more complicated when I married. My husband brought with him Christmas obligations to his dad’s family, his mom’s family, and his step-dad’s family. Some families adjusted to celebrating Christmas on a day other than the 25th, but we usually still had at least two places to be that day, often more.

Shortly before we had our first child, we decided that we wanted to be able to attend our own church’s Christmas Eve service. That meant attending worship and then hitting the road, arriving at my mom’s house around 2:00 Christmas morning.

When the kids arrived, my husband began to agitate for change. He wanted to celebrate Christmas at our house. I wanted to avoid hurting people’s feelings. The compromise that stood for years was the Christmas Day travel. This allowed us to worship at our home church, open presents at our house, and still make it to Christmas obligations back home. I had been trained to believe that the right thing to do was to cram everyone in, jumping from one place to another, making sure we made an appearance everywhere.

This time, though, we actually found ourselves with no family meeting on Christmas Day. We still planned to travel that day, so suggested to my dad that we celebrate that night. And then we got word of the weather. There was no problem changing plans with dad. No reason we had to travel that day. No place to be until 6pm the day after. Why not stay home? It was such a novel idea for us.

The experience was ground breaking for me. Earth shattering. Tears-down-the-face significant. I sat at the table, watching my family just exist, with no place to go, no obligations to meet, no phone calls or appointments or errands, and I cried. My husband looked at me and smiled.

“Do you need a hug?” he asked. I nodded and he rose from the table.

“I’ve never had this before,” I said into his chest as he hugged me tight. “Not ever, not once in thirty-eight years. I’ve never just stayed home and relaxed on Christmas Day. This is amazing.”

We didn’t have to speak the words then or now, but we know what we are doing next year. The 26th is soon enough to travel for family. The peace of Christmas will descend on our household again. It is the only day that we can truly just be still and be together. I never understood how special that kind of time is. But now that I’ve experienced it, I am not giving it up.