Daryl, (Never) On His Own

Daryl recently attended a summer camp out of state with a friend. His dad told him to be sure to send us a picture every day.

By the end of the first day, there was no picture. No surprise.

“Where is today’s picture?” I asked in a text. “How was it?”

He responded the next day with this:

That was it. No text, no nothing. What a punk. I said as much in the conversation that ensued.

(My husband responded first. I was calling my son a punk, not my spouse.)

That was Day 2 and the entirety of the conversation. Notice he left me hanging.

Day 3 brought more silence and no picture. I gave up. You honestly shouldn’t expect much out of a thirteen year old boy.

And then, nearly 48 hours after I asked my questions, he responded, “Yeah, it was cold and sometimes scary.”

Then… then… he sent a picture! Unprompted! And it wasn’t of his feet in socks he’d probably been wearing for several days. It was an honest-to-goodness quality picture of a creek surrounded by trees from a hike he had gone on.

He topped it off by carrying on a conversation with his dad about the hike and what he had purchased as gifts for his siblings. When his dad told him he loved him, Daryl responded, “I love you too.” And that’s when I knew.

The boy was ready to come home.

He’s typically an aloof child and not very expressive of his emotions. But one of the best things about him going on a trip like this is the quality of hug I get when he returns.

He actually hugs back instead of waiting patiently for me to finish and he’ll stay in the hug as long as I want. For minutes even. I sometimes wonder if he’s just being tolerant of his mother. My husband is pretty sure that he does it because he needs the hugs too. Which makes me all sorts of warm and happy inside.

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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…

THAT Old?!

We were visiting with some friends when my husband used a phrase I had never heard of.

“Where do you come up with these things?” I asked.

My friend looked up from the game board and said, “That phrase has been around forever.”

“Ok,” I replied, “but I’ve never heard him use it. Sheesh! I’ve been with him for over half my life. You’d think I’d have heard all the phrases he knows by now.”

“You are that old?!” Daryl asked.

“What?”

“You are old enough to have been married to Daddy for half your life?”

“Well, I said ‘been with him’ but we’ve actually been married for over half our lives too.”

“But what about your childhood?!”

“My childhood was a lot shorter than adulthood has been at this point.”

“Besides,” my husband said, “We were 18 when we got married. We were kids.”

Daryl had another hysterically funny-yet-insulting-to-his-mother line after that, but by the time we got home, I had forgotten it. Guess I am getting old.

What If Overdrive

Parenthood can be anxiety-inducing. Some parts are scarier than others and I’ll admit that I’m entering into one of those stages right now. The last time I remember being this scared was when we brought our first child home and I worried about her dying of SIDS in her crib while I took a shower or slept myself or did anything other than watch her chest move up and down and up and down.

It’s the lack of control that gets me.

When they were little, I had full control. They weren’t going anywhere without me. They weren’t alone with anyone unless I allowed it. Then they went off to preschool. I knew all their friends. I knew the families of all their friends. I had full knowledge of everything they had going on. I talked to their teachers every day.

Then they headed off to Kindergarten. And they started talking about kids I didn’t know. Eventually, I got to know their friends, but I didn’t really know their friends’ families very well. And they interacted with a lot of kids that I didn’t know at all. As they got older, I didn’t necessarily stay at the birthday parties they went to. I was losing touch.

Still, they didn’t go anywhere that I didn’t know about. I took them places. I picked them up. They had no ability to slip from my grip. Or at least my awareness. I still had a handle on things. For the most part. It still felt safe.

Now Jane is in high school. And she’s bringing a boy home to meet us tomorrow. I find myself in a mild panic. I was much more comfortable over the past year when she had steadfastly held that relationships weren’t worth the drama. I had honestly hoped and foolishly believed that the perspective would hold through high school.

I should have known better.

At first, I was happy for her. Basically. They aren’t “dating”. They are friends who think they might be interested in pursuing a relationship. It seemed mild enough. Then I realized that I didn’t know this boy. At all. Never seen him. Never met him. And the what-ifs started.

What if he’s not a nice person?
What if he hurts her?
What if he has dishonorable intentions with my daughter?
What if this relationship distracts her from her grades?
What if the relationship changes her personality?
And then it struck me: Oh, no. He’s a Sophomore. He’ll be driving by the end of the school year.
What if she turns on us? He could pick her up without us knowing.
I won’t know where she is.
She won’t necessarily be where I think she is.
What if they lie to us?
What if they run off?
What if they have sex and she gets pregnant?
What if he’s a perfectly nice boy but not a great driver?
What if she dies in a car wreck with him at the wheel?

The whole driving thing has already been weirding me out. I’m terrified. It’s just too simple for kids to do something stupid. And then they are gone and there’s no getting them back. I don’t want that to be my kid. I don’t want her behind the wheel. I definitely don’t want her in the car while any other young person is behind the wheel. Even if she did say that the Senior who drove her to our church the other day is a better driver than I am. I don’t care.

So, see? It’s the lack of control that I can’t handle.

Parenthood is about slowly and surely losing control. I started off feeding them with nourishment from my own body. Ever since that first weening, I’ve been letting go a little bit at a time. Sometimes I haven’t noticed. Sometimes I’ve rejoiced (never was a big fan of wiping little bottoms). Sometimes…

Sometimes, I’m like that moment a few months before Jane was born when the reality of impending parenthood overwhelmed me and I kept backing up on the bed, trying to pass through the wall into oblivion to avoid this thing that I couldn’t stop. “No, no! We aren’t ready for this! What were we thinking?! We can’t do this! We don’t know what we are doing!”

Too late now.

We don’t know what we are doing. We don’t have a clue. We’ve never done it before. The stakes are so high during this tumultuous time in a child’s life. Not everyone makes it through, but everyone has to enter. So here we are.

I understand now why parents wait up for their children to come home. I understand now why, even past 40, when I leave my mom’s house for the long drive home, she tells me to call her when I get home. I get it. It doesn’t make me any less scared though.

A Minor’s Miner Dream

“When I grow up, I want to be a miner.”

“I think you might want to reconsider that,” I said in response to six year-old Hal’s pronouncement from the back seat.

“Why?”

“Well, miners don’t make a lot of money. They are usually very poor and they work very hard and it’s very dangerous work.”

“No, I’m going to mine for emeralds and diamonds and stuff. I won’t be poor.”

“If you are a miner, you’ll be poor. They don’t get to keep the stuff they find. They work for someone else.”

“That doesn’t make sense. I want to mine emeralds and I’ll keep what I find. It’ll be fun looking for stuff.”

“It’s not like Minecraft,” Daryl interjected. “Minecraft isn’t real life.”

“I know that!”

“Well, mining isn’t fun in real life. It’s hard work,” Daryl said.

“Well I think it could be fun. If I find a big diamond or something.”

“Sweetheart,” I tried again, “diamond miners are sometimes slave laborers or make very little money and it’s all a long ways away from here. They don’t necessarily find big diamonds and if they do, they certainly don’t get to keep them.”

“Well, I’ll just look for my own.”

“But the people who own the diamond mines won’t let you get near the places where you might find a diamond,” I said. “But, you know. You’ve got some time. If you still want to be a miner when you grow up, you can certainly look into it.”

After some silence, he spoke again.

“I changed my mind. Instead of being a miner, I want to be the person that the miners give what they find to.”

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.

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.