a funny thing happened on the way to my life….

The Birthday Brother

Little brothers are g-g-g-great!  If you can swing it, I highly recommend having one…and I can say that now because I don’t live with mine and haven’t for years.  And I am especially reminded of how great it is to have a brother because today is my littlest bros birthday.  (Insert birthday horns here!)

I dont’ remember the day my youngest brother came on the scene.  I think I might have been three or four and those kinds of things don’t really register when you’re little.  What I can honestly attest to is that I can’t remember a day in my childhood when he wasn’t around.  His cute little, round-cheeked, skinny self running around the house…usually right behind my other brother.  To this day I still refer to them as “the boys” (notice the plural) because they were always together!  And together they managed to get into all kinds of adventures.  But this blog is an ode to the birthday brother so I’ll try to stay on task.

My memories include all the regular little brother stuff like how he would play with toy trucks, get dirty, play sports, get dirty, bother me, and get dirty (of course it didn’t help that our backyard at the time was nothing but dirt.)  But he did other things, too, and some of them still put a grin on my face to this very day!  I remember the summer he wouldn’t wear shorts.  I’m not sure of the real reason behind this abnormality, although I have my theories, but he just flat out refused to wear shorts one summer.  Instead he opted for jeans!  Jeans in the hot, dry western Kansas heat.  I can remember it was a family effort to try to convince him to wear shorts.  It was a battle we lost.  I can still picture him on the sidewalk in front of the house with a pair of black jeans on…and his little shirt was tucked in!  But those jeans were the least of his worries.  During one of the summers when he did wear shorts that boy had more mosquito bites than the whole population of GC!  He had welts the size of ping pong balls and they always got infected.  He practically bankrolled the Campho-Phenique corporation that summer!  The mosquitoes sure must have thought that kid was sweet (I’ll throw him a bone, after all it is his birthday!)  Other summer memories include his obsession, or was it superstition, with Gatorade gum and sunflower seeds.  (Upon a recent trip home a story was relayed to me that he is still crazy about sunflower seeds.  A little bird told me that he uses his prechool-aged son as a pack mule for carrying around three different flavors of sunflower seeds at a time.  If you’re ever in need, check his boy’s backpack for sustenance!)

My littlest brother was also a bit of a clown and could be counted on for a laugh or a quick remark at anytime.  This orneriness landed him in trouble once or twice (ha ha) and he was lucky that he was such a cute little boy– it was his saving grace.  As a consequence of his cuteness, little girls were always buzzing around, going to his ball games and calling our house.  Not sure if he’ll admit it, but I think he secretly liked all the attention.  Things got weird in high school when girls my age were asking who’s “that guy” and it turns out they were pointing to my kid brother!  It got even weirder when a friend of mine called and I started chatting with her when she interrupted me to say that she was actually calling to talk to him.  Awkward.  But as fate would have it, he is now the father of two beautiful girls and a darling little boy and I can’t wait to see how he handles the consequences of their “cuteness.”  I can already hear him saying, “Well things were different when I was your age….”

I could go on and on about my littlest brother, but I will stop short and relay my two favorite stories.  The first takes place in Allen Fieldhouse during a Jayhawks game.  I remember him sulking because he had to accompany my folks on a weekend visit to see me.  Poor guy!  He happened to be in trouble (again?) and my parents were afraid a typical grounding would be ineffective if they were out-of-town.  I’m sure the house party invites were already out by the time my folks told him he had to go with them on their road trip.  He was not very happy.  So while thousands of Jayhawk fans were screaming at the sight of the Jayhawks and Jacque Vaughn running through the tunnel, my brother sat sulkily in his chair sucking on a soda.  Nevermind the awesomeness of seeing the Jayhawks play at home.   Nevermind being on the hallowed grounds where basketball was invented.  Nevermind that it’s next to impossible to get tickets to a Jayhawk game.  As the saying goes, “Beware the Phog,” but that afternoon it was more like the Phog should beware him.  Hell has no fury like a boy who lost his house party!

And my all time favorite story takes place back in high school.  He was a freshman (I was a senior) and he was having a hard time relating to his math teacher (and that’s putting it nicely.)  As I bounded around the corner in JDA, I almost fell over myself at the sight of my brother sitting in the hallway.  This floored me for two reasons:  1) I didn’t know teachers put high school kids in the hallway and 2) I wouldn’t have imagined that if a teacher did put him in the hallway that he would have actually STAYED!   Okay, you’re thinking what is so exceptional about this story?  Well here it is.  I used to tell my friends that my brother was destined for great things, if only he would put all his energy into good instead of evil.  It’s a little dramatic, but I think it was right on.  As a kid, my brother was a good-hearted, funny, spirited, adventurous people magnet…what he didn’t realize was that he was also thoughtful, kind, intelligent and a born leader!  Today, my dearest little brother is a TEACHER and works at our old middle school where he also coaches football and freshman baseball.  In a twisty sort of tale that is all his own, he found his way out of that high school hallway and made his own round-the-way path to success. 

He’s no longer the round-cheeked, skinny fella tagging along after my brother.  He’s much more than that.  He’s a terrific son, brother, friend, cousin, husband, father, uncle, son-in-law, brother-in-law, child of God and TEACHER who puts his energy into good and making a positive difference in the lives of others. He’s the teacher with a story that even the orneriest child can relate to.  But let’s not kid ourselves here, it is a little funny to know that as a 30-something year old man you can still find him hanging around in the hallways at school. 

On your birthday, may you find joy, blessings and lots of laughter, little brother.  Enjoy your day.  YOU ARE LOVED.


They Grow Up So Fast (and a dozen other cliches….)

WARNING:  SAP ALERT!!!  You know those tv shows and movies where the teary-eyed parent goes into  flashback mode.  I trust you’re familiar with that slow fade producers use to signal that we’re going back in time.  And heaven help us if they actually use the wavy picture trick!  Well, I’ll fess up.  For the last week or so I’ve been camped out in that dreamland because my baby girl just had a birthday!  (Dissolving…now.)

I’ll begin the tale with the fact that I didn’t really want a second child.  Every step of the process with our firstborn was difficult from pregnancy to post-pregnancy.  Blessed as we were with him, I sort of thought we should leave well enough alone.  One child is good.  But as it typically goes, my plan was not His plan.  When we found out that I was pregnant with our little girl, we could hardly wait to share the good news.

We started calling people on a drive out to beautiful Colorado.  Smiling and happy we passed the miles jabbering along telling everyone we knew.  The pregnancy was off to a great start.  I had such a wonderful doctor who was an angel throughout the process.  She eased my fears, reminding me that every pregnancy is different.  She was right, every pregnancy is different.  While our son was born in record heat for the San Francisco Bay Area…our darling girl was born during record cold in Kansas!

Everything was iced over the night she was born.  My folks had fortunately arrived early–ahead of the date I was to be induced (which was the following Monday.)  We all passed the time laughing, cooking and eating (my Mom is a great cook) and of course, playing with my son.  We were so busy hanging out that at one point we didn’t even realize that somebody’s car had slid off the road into our yard and ultimately onto our mailbox.  (To our credit, we all thought we heard “something,” although none of us bothered to check.)  Still, the tire marks and the downed mailbox post told the story.  To top off that evening Steve and I decided to brave the bitter temps and go to Wal-Mart and just walk around, supposedly that’s great for pregnant woman who want to speed along the process.  While it never worked for our son, that night I awoke Steve to say that it was time! (I say that I awoke Steve because I did not go to bed that night.  Our little girl had given me with the worst insomnia I have ever known and I had grown accustomed to watching late-night infomercials while the rest of the world slept.)

Off we went into the still of an icy night.  Everything progressed smoothly.  I was told that she would probably be born in the late morning or early afternoon.  I passed the time in a horrible hospital gown (whose idea were those things anyway?) watching Bible documentaries (Steve was with me remember) on the History Channel.  When he managed to doze off (I still had the insomnia), I couldn’t even change the channel.  Tethered to an IV, I had little mobility and the remote was conveniently still in Steve’s possession.  Oh well.  I gained a great deal of Bible knowledge that night!

Soon it was time.  Nurses scurried around us.  Steve and I were ready.  I fixed my gaze on the giraffe painting across the room.  Only one thing was missing–my doctor.  As wonderful as she was, we were on her time schedule now and I was told not to push until she arrived!  Yikes.  So we waited.  Finally during the noon hour (and probably the doctor’s lunch break) our baby girl arrived.  It was the easiest delivery ever…what a blessing.  As our little girl puts it, she “couldn’t wait to get out of there.”

We had no visitors the first day of our little baby girl’s life.  The weather didn’t permit travel that day.  The hospital was quiet.  We talked on the phone with my folks who were caring for our son, and many other well wishers who called that day.  Steve had some business to tend to and I was on my own for a while.  Nurses would bring our little girl in and I would look at her in amazement.  She was beautiful.  Big cheeks, a tiny amount of downy hair, and such a small bundle of a body.  Thinking about that day brings tears to my eyes to this very minute.

Throughout this week I have relived that day a thousand times as well as countless other “baby girl” memories.  I remember that her nursery was pink and purple with butterflies and bunnies.  I recall that she had her days and nights mixed up.  I remember the colic and the switch to soymilk.  I can’t forget when she fell down the steps or how quickly she learned to walk, practically skipping crawling all together.  I remember how she didn’t even own a doll until she turned one.    I remember her first Oreo, her first lollipop and when she learned to talk… “oh, wow, oh, wow.”  My mind goes back to the holidays we’ve celebrated and, of course, her birthdays:  the Elmo one, the Barbie princess one, the Mermaid one, the cookie baker one, the High School Musical one, the let’s eat at McDonald’s one, the Pop-Princess one and now–this one. 

Back to reality and the producer brings everything back into focus.  Each birthday is a blessing and nothing is promised.  My baby girl (who is no longer really a baby) has turned seven.  As I write this it is bitter cold outside, and as far as I know our mailbox is intact (no ice.)  I still spend way too much time walking around Wal-Mart and my insomnia is merely a thing of the past.  My daughter, who once had her days and nights mixed up, wakes up with the sun and soundly sleeps through the night in a bedroom that is pink and purple with butterflies and bunnies.


My Dates with Donna

The Donna Reed Show

Today I had a lunch date with Donna.  She makes me smile.  She makes me laugh.  I consider her to be both an unlikely mentor and an inspiration.  We get together every once in a while for lunch and occasionally coffee.

I met Donna years ago when I was a kid.  She and I hung out every night one summer.  After evenings at the baseball diamond, after endless Monopoly games, after midnight snacks, and long after my parents went to bed…Donna was there.  And so was her husband–Dr. Stone, Mary, Jeff and later, Trisha.

trisha

Trisha

The Donna Reed Show has had an odd place in my heart ever since.  I didn’t grow up in the era of her show.  I came upon her sitcom by chance, back in the days when Nick at Nite was in its infancy.  It came on very late and included other black and white shows like Mr. Ed, Dobie Gillis, My Three Sons, The Patty Duke Show and so many others that I came to adore as a kid.  Off all of these comedy classics, Donna Reed was my favorite.  My siblings and I laughed at Jeff’s antics and joked about how boy-crazy Mary was.  We wondered if Dr. Stone was the only pediatrician in Hilldale?  (Anyone ever notice how that man never had a moment to himself?  That poor town had the sickest children’s population ever imagined!)

Donna’s show was popular back in a time when family was more than important, it was everything.  Back when there were high standards and ideals.  Back when girls were expected to grow up to be ladies and even the orneriest boys grew into gentlemen.  Yes, I know it was just a TV show.  But even back in the late 80s/early 90s her show was relevant and fun.  And I latched on to it BIGTIME!  A permed-hair, gum snapping, jelly-shoe wearing kiddo like myself could easily step back into time and come up with applicable and memorable lessons in life.  I recall seeing the Stone family deal with time-management issues, sibling rivalry, the pros and cons of marriage and countless other teachings.  We saw them donate their time, help others and land themselves in all kinds of crazy jams.  We learned what to do and what not to do in 30 minute episodes.  And what stuck with me was the manner in which they carried themselves through good and bad situations and how they looked out for each other with kindness and loyalty.

It wasn’t like I was a neglected kid pining for this type of family.  I had a great family…Mom & Dad both in the home, siblings I loved and adored, a good neighborhood, middle class upbringing and on and on.  So for me, I guess it reinforced all the good that I already knew and cemented the concept of good that I would come to expect and demand of myself and my own family.

Nowadays most of my dates with Donna occur while my kids are in school and my husband is busy at work.  I’ve tried getting them to watch with me, but they don’t share my delight with Donna.  And, that’s okay.  Those TV moments have become somewhat sacred to me now.  It’s thirty minutes where my 80s kid-self can meet up with my laundry-folding, house cleaning, reluctant chef mom-self and be in perfect harmony.  In some ways I ended up becoming just like her…and for all her notable qualities, that really was the last thing I was trying to do!  But in rediscovering her show on DVD a few years ago (and loving it just as much now as I did then), I realize that Donna and I have become quite a duo…and I’m good with that.

Now you’ll have to excuse me while I straighten my apron and check on the roast…Alex will be home anytime now, Mary will need me to help set her hair, Jeff has homework to do, and Trisha lost the dog in the park (again).


The Problem With Picture Frames

It sounds like the start of a children’s book…”The problem with pictures frames is….”  You’d expect the author to come up with a silly little rhyme about the frame falling off the wall or failing to hang level.  I can imagine a crayon-drawn picture frame all lop-sided and wearing a crooked grin.  But my problem with picture frames is a little more complicated and, unfortunately, far more redundant.  For me the problem with picture frames is WHAT pictures to put in them!

I love to take pictures…just ask anyone within five feet of me.  I often carry my camera in my purse.  I love to take photos of my kids, capture candid moments at church, and click away at just about anything else that crosses my path.  I wouldn’t classify myself as “camera crazy,” but some might say I’m not far from it.  And what I’ve noticed is that when you love taking photos people naturally give you picture frames as gifts. 

You’ve probably guessed by now that I received a picture frame for Christmas.  YAY, a new frame!  And not just any new frame.  This one is a biggie and it’s set up “collage” style.  WOW!  It’s a picture frame that will hold EIGHT pictures!  While I’m smiling from ear to ear looking at my new frame, it occurs to me that, uh oh, now I have to choose the pictures that will occupy that space.  And thus, my dilemma begins.

I’ve had the frame for a little while now and although it was a Christmas present, I was there when the gift-giver (Karen) bought it.  In fact she’s a really awesome gift-giver in that she let me pick it out!  (Those are my favorite kind of gift-givers by the way!)  It has just the look that I like–black frames.  It’s just the size that I like–4x6s with a couple of 5x7s for flair!  It says family in the middle–a frame with its own topic…wonderful.  But all night I’ve been frantically trying to come up with the perfect photo compilation to bring it all home. 

So, you see my problem. 

It’s not that I don’t have a lot of photos to choose from (I’m sure you’ve figured that out by now.)  I have 10 years of mommyhood to choose from and that’s a lot of pictures.  I have at least 10 albums big and small dedicated to just my first-born.  When my little girl came along I started to chronicle all our family photos on our computer.  This summer’s vacation alone logged over 500 photos and earned its own special file on a separate drive.  And if that weren’t enough, I just got done checking my Walgreens photo account and I presently have 34 albums of pictures housed there!  Do you feel sorry for me yet?

Okay, so you don’t feel sorry for me.  Fine.  It took a few hours, but I’m happy to report that I have all of the photos picked out now anyway.  All except for one that is, but it’s late and all that will just have to wait until tomorrow.  Yes, tomorrow.  The only problem now is where am I going to hang it?