Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Advice to My Son

To my sweet boy,

One month from tomorrow is your wedding day, and my heart is already brimming with emotion. I think maybe parents of grown-up children all share a strange ability: when they look at their child, they see not only the current, full-grown person that child has become but also every single version of that child—from baby to toddler to child to teen to young adult. My mind is flooded with memories of the boy you were and visions of the husband you are about to become. Because I can’t get you out of my mind, I thought I’d take this opportunity to offer you some advice on marriage. I’m not sure you really need advice from me—but when has that ever stopped me?!

1.    I remember a hot summer day when you were helping me in the yard by hauling weeds to the compost pile as I was gardening. You disappeared into the house for a while, and when you returned, you had two Tupperware cups filled with lemonade. You smiled and said, “I thought this might hit the spot.” So my first piece of advice is this: Take lemonade to Emma. Surprise her with your thoughtfulness. Show her in unexpected ways that you are thinking about her and noticing what she needs.

2.    Another memory from much later on: you, Em, and I went sledding late at night on hill behind Eagle Street school. We were having a lot of fun until I bounced off my saucer and hit my head hard on the packed snow. You were beside me in seconds, helping me up, retrieving my sled, walking me home, and checking my pupils. So that’s my second bit of advice: Always watch out for Emma’s safety and well-being. Take care of her. Protect her. Cherish her. 

3.    I still have several of the notes you left me over the years of your childhood tucked away in my dresser drawer, and I know from a snap or two Emma has sent, that you’ve carried on your note-leaving tradition with her. Keep it up! Keep leaving her sweet notes.

4.    Recently you were telling me about putting together the hammock you got as a shower gift. You were saying how much you love it, how nice it is, how you plan to take care of it and bring it in when it rains. Then you said, “At least for the first year. After that, it’ll probably be like everything else; we’ll forget and it’ll get rained on.” While that is so true for things like hammocks and so many other possessions, don’t let it be true for your marriage. Protect it like the treasure it is. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t ever stop taking care of it.

5.    This is getting long, and I know you are no fan of lengthy posts, so the rest I will put in short bullets:
·      On snowy mornings, clean off her car windows.
·      When she looks nice, notice. Then tell her. 
·      Keep making her laugh.
·      Make sure she knows that you will always take her side and be in her corner.
·      When she’s having a bad day, find a way to make it better.
·      Be as cheerful as possible as often as possible.
·      When you mess up, admit it and apologize.
·      In the long run, the little moments in a marriage matter as much or more than the big ones. So value the everydayness of your life together.
·      Be careful in arguments not to say things you can’t take back, things that will hurt—even if they are true (and especially if they are not true).
·      Working hard is important and having money makes life easier, but making a life is more important than making a living. 
·      Never, ever, ever give up on the relationship even if the going gets tough (and it will). Hang in there and fight for your happy ending.
·      Hold her hand, touch her shoulder—stay connected in big and small ways.
·      Treasure her: make sure she knows you value her, admire her, and appreciate her.
·      Tell her you love her—often.

I’m sure there are other things I could or should add. But as I said before, I think you already know how to be a good husband—just keep being the kind, loving, funny, thoughtful, protective person you’ve always been. And if you ever need advice (or anything at all), you know where to find me . . . 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

We Got Her

Emma and Darton, 2012
In June of 2012, we met our son in Buffalo to pick up the family Honda he'd been driving but was now passing along to his sister. Since he had to bring two cars to Buffalo, he enlisted the help of a friend, a girl from Roberts Wesleyan named Emma. She was pretty, friendly, and polite. She was wearing white pants and very cute sandals. And there was an ease between the two of them that I liked. Although our meeting was brief on that sunny day in June, a couple of months later when we found out they were dating, we were delighted but not surprised! And the more we got to know Emma, the more we liked her.

Fast forward five-and-a-half years. Darton and Emma are still together. Emma is still pretty, friendly, and polite. There's still a lovely, just-right ease between the two of them. And Emma's shoe game remains consistently strong! I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that with every single visit, we love her more. In fact a couple of years ago, our other son said, "If they ever break up, we're just going to have to adopt Emma."

A week before Christmas we got the phone call we'd been waiting for. Darton had just proposed to his sweet Emma. None of us could stop smiling.

In the days after that happy phone call, I kept thinking of a chapter title in the book Sahara Special, by Esme Raji Codell, called "We Got Her." At the beginning of the chapter, the students in an ordinary fifth-grade classroom are waiting to meet their brand-new teacher, Madame Poitier (Miss Pointy). As the story unfolds, the students realize that as far as teachers go, they have hit the jackpot. Miss Pointy is a teacher like no other. She's the teacher they've been waiting for, the teacher who will forever change their lives. We feel the way those fictional fifth graders felt. As far as (future) daughters-in-law/sisters-in-law go, we have hit the jackpot. Emma is a girl like no other. She's the girl we've been praying for, the girl who will forever change our family. We Got Her. We Got Her. We Got Emma!

Emma and Darton, 2017


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Our Daily Bread

I was thinking recently about the ways moms provide for their kids throughout their lives. One of the first and most crucial needs they fill is hunger. In fact, for the first few years of life, most of the food we eat comes from Mom. As you grow older, you start to have more choices about the food you eat and more opinions about when, where, and how you eat meals. You might chafe against the "clean plate club" rule or wish you could go out for pizza with friends instead of being home for family dinners. Then one day you're out of the house and on your own for meals, and you remember how good your mom's Swiss steak and mashed potatoes tasted on Sunday afternoons or how exciting it was to see the fogged-up windows when you came home from play practice because you knew that meant it was spaghetti night. You look forward to coming home for visits to eat Mom's home-cooking again. It's something kids never really outgrow. But twice now, with Steve's mom and my own, I've seen that moms start to outgrow their ability to provide those meals. As with so many parts of the parent-child relationship (the last time you held your parent's hand, the last time your family all went somewhere together in the family car), you don't usually realize while you're eating it, that it's the last meal your mom is going to make for you. My mom's home-cooked meals are a thing of the past. The last time I visited her in her new little personal care apartment, she offered me a cup of coffee, but she couldn't even quite remember how to operate her Keurig.

If you were raised in a family like mine, it wasn't just physical food your mom provided, she also nourished you spiritually. You probably took for granted the daily bread she provided: everything from her little wooden music box full of Bible verses on small colored cards that played "Standing on the Promises," to the familiar sight of her well-worn black leather Bible with its onion-skin pages and the flat red pencil she kept tucked in its spine for neatly underlining favorite verses, to her helping you memorize Luke 2 and the first chapter of John. As you grew older, your spiritual diet started being supplemented at Bible Club and youth group meetings, and those new tastes started to seem a little more appealing than the same old spiritual food you got at home. You may have started to get a little impatient with mealtime and bedtime prayers, and you chafed at missing Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday night because of evening church. Then one day, you are out on your own, deciding for yourself when and where to go to church and pray and read your Bible.

However, unlike all the physical meals your mom made while you were growing up, the spiritual food she provided continues to nourish you throughout your life. Over the years, you find yourself humming the hymns you heard your mom singing around the house and repeating the same mealtime and bedtime prayers with your own kids that she said with you. And your mom's ability to provide spiritual guidance extends much longer too. For as long as I can remember, every three months, I'd find a fat envelope in my mailbox containing a copy of "Our Daily Bread," a little booklet that contains short daily devotionals I've read steadily over the years. In April, my mom's emergency surgery and the aftermath that changed her life and ours ended that long-standing tradition. The picture above is of the last copy she sent me. For four months now, I've been on my own: I've had to forage around and find my own copies of "Our Daily Bread"; it's been fine, but the ones I've found are one-month versions, rather than the three-month copies she sent, and I miss finding those fat envelopes in my mailbox. Although she can no longer mail me those booklets or make me a meal or a cup of coffee, her ability to feed me spiritually has not ended. Last time I was down, she told me about how she's catching up on her daily Bible reading and thinks she'll make it through Revelation by the end of the year; she played hymns for me on her CD player. And I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she prays for me and for my kids and for the rest of the family every single day. Some days I think those prayers are the only things keeping me standing, and I hope and pray that for as long as I live, I will follow in her footsteps and "stand on the promises" as firmly and strongly as she has. Thanks for all the food, Mom.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mr. Wendell

In 1985 Steve and I were living in New Hampshire. We had jobs but not careers. Steve's parents had come for a visit, and we were talking about the future. It was a stressful, stomach-churning conversation because we were talking about change, about what we were going to do with the rest of our lives. I had more or less decided I wanted to teach high school English, but Steve just wasn't sure what he wanted to do, and that was causing a lot of turmoil all the way around. However, a few months later, we had taken a leap of faith and moved to Fredonia where we were both enrolled education classes. When Ben surprised us a year later, my plans changed gears a bit, but Steve soldiered on. He worked at the college library and did some substitute teaching to make ends meet as he finished his student teaching, got his master's degree, and landed a job at Silver Creek Elementary School. Every school day since the fall of 1988, he's been packing a lunch, grabbing his school bag, and making the drive to Silver Creek. Over the past twenty-nine years, he's had triumphant days, I-can't-do-this-job-for-one-more-minute days, and lots of regular old teaching days. But even on the worst days, he stuck with it, never giving in, never giving up. He made not just a living as a teacher, he made a life for himself and our family, and he's touched the lives of hundreds of students, including this year's valedictorian at Silver Creek. Well, two hours ago Steve left for his last day of teaching; today is his final day with his final class. At morning's end, he'll wave the students off to the busses for the last time. Teachers stay the rest of today and have to report tomorrow as well, but then he'll be done. Forever. Once he catches his breath, I'm counting on him to start staking our claim in the new territory of retirement. But for now, I want to say this: Well done, Mr. Wendell!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Saving the Union

Nearly thirty-five years ago, someone (I wish I could remember who) gave Steve and me a set of twenty-four glasses for our wedding. There were eight tall glasses, eight medium-size tumblers, and eight small juice glasses. Over the years, one by one, we've broken all but two: one tall, one small, and it's been a running joke between Steve and me that when those last two glasses break, the marriage will be over. Instead of wrapping them in bubble wrap to preserve our union, we keep them in the cupboard with all the other glasses. I never touch them, but interestingly, Steve uses the small glass every single day, actually twice a day: in the morning for orange juice and in the afternoon for the milk he drinks with his sourdough hard pretzels (don't ask--it's a food quirk I've never understood). So either he thinks it's cheating never to use the glasses, or he's ready for a change! When the kids were home at Christmas, somehow the story of the glasses came up (probably because Steve was tossing the small glass in the air and catching it behind his back--haha). So last night, Darton and Emma arrived for Mother's Day weekend with their dogs, a gorgeous bouquet of flowers, and a bag from a thrift store in Rochester containing, you guessed it: four matching glasses: two tall and two small--thereby saving the union for years to come!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Never Ready

Sixteen years ago, Steve's dad died suddenly. A year later, my dad died, also fairly quickly and unexpectedly. I remember thinking, at the time, I sure hope our moms don't die anytime soon--we can't take any more loss. I felt so lonely, so lost without my dad. I felt as though everyone should be able to see the huge hole I felt right in the center of my body and my life. I told the story of his death to anyone who would listen. And I told the stories of his life to my children and my students. With time, his absence became easier to bear--I stopped seeing his likeness in people I passed on the street. Even though I've never stopped missing him, I learned to live without my dad. One of the main things that made that easier was, of course, that I still had my mom, who at age seventy, was still healthy and active. She visited often and even started calling more to make up for the calls and emails I was no longer getting from Dad. Over the past few years, Mom's been slowing down a bit; she no longer makes the drive to our house by herself, and as a result, we see her less than we used to, but we've adjusted. We go there or we meet my sister halfway and bring Mom back here for a few days. In between visits, we talk fairly often, and Mom writes letters to me to and each of the kids.

But last Saturday, Mom ended up in the emergency room. She had extensive surgery that night, and now, a week later, she is still in ICU. They are beginning to talk about releasing her, but to be honest, we aren't seeing signs that she's ready. She definitely won't be returning to her house now (or ever), and we are not at all sure she's going to make it through this. As my siblings and I have been texting and talking today, I've been trying to fight the fear that's taking hold of me. At supper I finally said out loud to Steve what I've been thinking all day: I'm not ready to be in this world without my mom. And the truth is, I'll never be ready. I can't even imagine life without her. I've always been the kind of person who prepares for the future, who tries to envision and imagine what each new stage will be like and attempts (often futilely) to get ready for it. But this one is beyond me. My only consolation (beyond the biggest consolation--that this life is not all there is) is that there is so much of Mom in me and in my sister and brothers. For the past 57 years, Mom's been pouring herself into us. And when she leaves us, whether it's sooner or later--please let it be later--we will cling to those precious pieces of her that are planted deep in our hearts and minds and memories.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Times They Are a Changin'

I've written about our muddled Easter traditions before, but for the most part, some or all of the family has usually managed to be together for some or all of Easter weekend. This year, however, our family is scattered: Em and Tuck are spring-breaking in Florida, and Darton and Emma are celebrated Easter in Rochester with Emma's family. They were all home less than a month ago, and I wasn't expecting anyone for Easter, but I'm still missing my kids. Like so many other things, our Easter traditions, such as they were, are changing too. It's been a couple of years since I filled Easter baskets and much longer since I hid black jelly beans on the black piano keys. But this year, I didn't even hang my pastel Easter lights or dig out my carrot-shaped candles, and there's no lemon truffle pie waiting in the fridge for Easter dinner. Instead, Steve and I spent a good bit of Easter Saturday filling out his retirement forms and worrying about our moms and the future, and things were feeling a bit bleak. But then, as it always does, Easter morning arrived filled with hope and promise. And we've just come home from a lovely Easter service where we were reminded that "the best is yet to come." So we are hanging on to that hope today. To top it all off, good ol' Ben, who lives in town, will be here for dinner tonight (and although there is no lemon truffle pie, we do have Easter M&M cookies)!

Happy Easter, one and all!