Saturday, December 31, 2011

Joyful Celebration

It's hard to believe, but my vacation is nearly over.  I wrote about my birthday nearly two weeks ago, prior to leaving for the airport, but that was prior to taking any photos of the day.  As I looked through them, I decided to incorporate a few of my favorites into what will likely be my last blog post for 2011. It was hard to choose from the many shots taken to remind us of time spent together.  These days I request more photos, as the days together are few and far between.  I regret so many times when we the kids were home, and we have no record of events, so I'm making up for lost evidence as I get older, often to my family's distress!

First, we picked up a weary Kailyn from the airport. 
Both girls look happy, but Kailyn is running on very few hours of sleep over the course of nearly two days of travel and hanging around airports!

We were too late for church, so we went back home to celebrate my birthday. Lucky me!

Kailyn brought me a darling porcelain ornament of a little girl holding a heart from Caen.

Jessica gave me a wonderful picture to hang in my classroom that she made. I love the words she chose, "Treat people as if they were what they should be, and you help them become what they are capable of becoming." ~ Goethe
Wise words to keep in mind as a teacher.

We used David's camera and posed for a family photo before leaving for my brother's house 
for our annual family Christmas party.

The girls being silly . . . very happy to be in each other's company!

Me, my brother Dave, and sister Pam . . . the original three

The six of us . . . our blended family of siblings since 1965!
Dave, Kathy, me, Pam, Brad & Sue
We were like the Brady Bunch, if anyone remembers that TV show. 

It was a challenge, but we got most of our kids and the grandkids together for a photo.  
Between us, we had seven of our kids missing, and seven grandkids. I don't think we've ever managed to get everyone together at once, in recent years, but this time was pretty close!  
We took the pictures to send to our Dad, who is living in Arizona. What a crew!
I mailed Dad several photos taken during the holidays, and he called me this week to thank me. It's hard on him not being here.  Our Mom died of Alzheimers in 1996.  She would be amazed to see how her family has grown. While we don't see each other as much as we'd like, we continue to celebrate together on Father's Day, (Dad comes home for the summer) Kathy and her husband host a "Fish Feed" every August, and we meet the weekend before Christmas, usually at Dave's house, as his is the largest!   

Once we got home, Kailyn's boyfriend Nick came over.
They were pretty happy to see each other after 3 1/2 months!

The next day Jess returned to Bellingham for work, and we got busy decorating the house for Christmas.  Nothing like the usual decorations were put up, but we felt pretty festive anyway.
Kailyn and I did some shopping, (she had very few surprises under the tree!) and we did some baking. I wrote about caroling with Nick's family here and we anxiously awaited Jessica's return home on Christmas Eve. 

Christmas was joyous. Kailyn spoiled us all with the treasures she brought home from France and England.  She had told us that every time she felt homesick, she'd go shopping, but we didn't imagine the extent of it! Kailyn is a frugal shopper, so many items were bought at "street sales" which are kind of like our garage sales, from what I gather.  She didn't spend a  lot of money, but she showered us with loving gifts.
Jessica loved the "little black dress" Kailyn picked out for her.
She also received a crepe pan, crepe mix, madeline forms, cookies, two beautiful scarves, a "cow" shopping bag and adorable cow salt & pepper shakers.  

David received several t-shirts (which he loves!) one from Bath, England and two from Caen. The one below has something to do with a king, and the vikings settling in Normandy, but I don't recall the whole story!  Kailyn found the history of Normandy fascinating.  She also brought her dad a French comic book, two types of honey (he is a beekeeper!) and other thoughtful items!

Kailyn spoiled me with several heart felt choices.  I also received a beautiful scarf, several old postcards, a couple of old books,  (she knows I love old stuff!) an apron, a shopping bag and a wonderful purse.  Inside the purse she tucked the tiniest little pair of sewing scissors.  I loved it all!

Kailyn found a "Perry Mason" book in French.  
She has grown up with me watching Perry Mason when I'm not working!

Jessica gave each of us a gift she had made.

I only made one gift this year, and that was a flannel quilt for Jessica. She loved it!  

The day after Christmas the girls and I got together with my sister Pam and niece, Kelli, to do a little shopping and have lunch.  I wanted to have a photo, but my camera battery was dead!  Pam's husband took a picture, but he hasn't sent it to me yet.  (sad face)

Yesterday, we said good bye to Jessica.  I think we all got a little teary eyed when the girls hugged goodbye, as they won't see each other until mid June.  But, in her usual style, Jessica got us laughing. 

She ain't heavy, she's my sister!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Getting into the Spirit of the Season

Last night we did something I haven't done for over 40 years, and my husband has never done!  We went caroling door to door with Kailyn's boyfriend, Nick, and his family, along with his best friend Willie's family. For the past few years, these two families have caroled in Nick's neighborhood.  This year, we were invited to come along.

My husband wasn't too excited about the singing part.  While he loves music of all kinds, he isn't into singing.  In fact, it is a well known fact that his family is notorious for poor singing voices. (He planned to mouth the words!) I was feeling tired and achy, and didn't want to leave the house. Neither of us were looking forward to wandering the streets in the cold! But, we'd been invited and so we went.

We had an unbelievably good time!  Most houses opened their doors and greeted us warmly, but there were a few that really stood out, and changed my "bah humbug" attitude.  One of the first houses we went to a woman answered the door, holding a little dog.  When we finished the first song, we looked up to see her crying.  With tears flowing, she said, "This is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me!  I really needed this tonight and you made my year!"  As we walked away, heartily singing, "We wish you a merry Christmas . . ." all of us were humbled by her reaction.  

Amazingly, she wasn't the only one who was moved by our amateur attempts at Christmas cheer.  The evening chill was forgotten. My husband forgot to mouth the words.  His voice blended right in! More than once I saw glistening eyes, and frequently we were rousingly applauded.  We interrupted a birthday party at one home, so we sang "Happy Birthday" to the birthday boy!
Being a Friday night, many houses either had no people home, or didn't want to be bothered.  Yet, others were thrilled to hear us, and offered us treats and hot chocolate!  We were tickled when we were joined by two gentlemen with guitars at one of the the last stops.  We sang several songs with them on their porch, then they insisted we come in.  There were ten of us, so we were a bit crowded in their living room, but we continued to sing while being accompanied on the guitars and it was so fun!  They also sent us on our way with our choice from a big box of See's chocolates!

Never in a million years would I have expected to spend the Friday night before Christmas with our daughter, her boyfriend, his best friend (with his sister), and all the parents, walking around a neighborhood singing Christmas songs! 

It was the right thing to do!

Merry Christmas, one and all!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Today is my Birthday . . . I'm gonna have a GOOD Day!

That song is beating away in my head right now, and I'm smiling.  The post will be short, as I have an hour and a half to shower, finish making the second batch of Cheese Zombies and go pick up Kailyn from the airport.  I haven't read the paper yet (totally unheard of for me by this hour) as I was up early to make the first batch of Cheese Zombies.  These crazily overloaded caloric dreams are a family tradition.  They were my son's choice for birthday dinners (with tomato soup, of course) and were Kailyn's request for when she gets off the plane! I'm also taking them to my family Christmas party this afternoon.  My sibs love them, too!

Jess is home and making us breakfast, something with bacon, eggs and onions from what I can smell so far. YUM!

Kailyn had many hours of delays leaving Paris.  She arrived at the Paris airport three hours early for her flight, and then it was delayed eventually for five more hours.  By the time she landed in New York, she was exhausted, and had about five hours to sleep and shower before getting the shuttle back to the airport to fly home to Portland.  Jess and I stayed up until 11:30 our time, in order to call her and be sure she was up, at her request. (She also had a hotel "wake up" call, but was afraid she wouldn't wake up from exhaustion!)  Kailyn was a little cranky for her wake up call, but Jess said she texted an apology later!

I received a text sometime in the night that this flight would be delayed also.  Poor girl.  But, I've been checking the flight online and she will arrive soon, just about 50 minutes later than originally planned.

Now, I must dash to get ready.  Today is my birthday, and I'm gonna have a GOOD day!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Infinitely Blessed

I am so blessed.  I mean, truly blessed, with reasonably good health; supportive and encouraging family and friends.  I am sustained, lifted up, embraced, loved. I have hope and faith, and a deep understanding of who I am in this world.  I have work that challenges me, students who respect me, daughters who inspire me, and a husband who accepts me just as I am. I have my blogging friends to uplift me, and open my eyes.

I am so blessed.  Earlier this week, I reread several poems and letters that my children have given me over the years.  My walls are hung with them, testimonies of their love, and their growth and maturity into adulthood. (There were few of these in their teenage years. :)

I am so blessed. Today is the anniversary of my son's death.  You can read what I wrote on this day last year here, if you so desire.  But, today, I am celebrating.  Today, my fifth graders are completing their individually designed graham cracker structures.  They have spent days planning their building, modeling it to fit our 2011 theme of "Mountain Village".  They have figured the area needed for the cardboard structure, and determined the number of graham crackers they will need to cover the cardboard.  They have brought in mountains of supplies, named their building, and they are ready.  So am I.  I have my camera in my bag, and I'll document their progress to show next year's students.  Every year they are challenged to be even more creative.

I am so blessed.  Yesterday and today I have had my daughter Kailyn's wonderful boyfriend, Nick, helping me with the students as they build their base structure, and today as they decorate.  He is my Chris today.  He is Nick too, lovable and appreciated in his own right, but he is my reminder of the good days, and good times I shared with Chris. I am grateful to be so blessed.

Last night my sister, Pam,  stopped by with a card, honoring the memory of Chris, the child who first made her an aunt. The card was welcome, but what really struck me was how she signed it, "Your hurts are my hurts and your joys are my joys! I love you so much and my heart is with you!" Her words wrapped themselves around me, just as her arms did, and reminded me again, how much I am blessed by the never ending love of my sister, and the history we share.

For the first time in six years, I am looking forward to this day.  It seems crazy to me, that I can be crying one minute, and then thinking about making a celebration of this day the next.  I am astonished that I actually find myself thinking about the privilege and pleasure I experienced as Chris' mom. All week I have thought about my son, and I admit that I've cried some, but I want to celebrate that I was blessed to be his mom.  I think he would have loved to be honored by a 5th grade graham cracker structure extravaganza.  So today, in honor of my son's life, in honor of the impact he made on so many people, in honor of his good heart and soul, I celebrate.  It just feels like the right thing to do.

I am so blessed.

First the students taped the cardboard base together

As you can see, students used varied styles to attach their graham crackers!
The class theme is "Mountain Village"

The decorating begins . . .

One student chose to use chocolate frosting . . .

The finished product . . . and a few others for you to enjoy!

I'm not sure how this one above "fit" our winter theme, as it slipped by me and I didn't notice until I was adding the photos to my computer!
The kids had a great day. Before they left, each student received a little goodie bag with a package of hot cocoa mix, a small baggie of mini marshmallows, a pair of hand warmers and a candy cane with a note attached that said: "Wishing you warm hands, a warm heart and sweet dreams for the holidays!"
Last, each was allowed to choose a book to take home for the winter break. They all loved that!
I was exhausted by 3:35, but it was a satisfying day.  
I am ready for vacation and some blessed quality time with my family.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Birthday Boy

I had a super long post I was working on in honor of my son's birthday, but decided against it.  Instead, this will be short and sweet, with a few old photos. 

Thirty-six years ago I gave birth to my only son, Christopher.   He was born into a ready made family, with two older half brothers who adored him from the beginning.

Christmas morning, 1975 ~ three weeks old

He was an absolute delight, always laughing and smiling, ready at a moments notice for any adventure. 
Happy Birthday to me!

I wonder what this is?

I'm three today!

I think he was getting ready to show us some break dancing moves.1985

1988 ~ My two favorite guys, hanging out together.

Finally, Chris became the big brother he always wanted to be.  Jessica was born in 1989.  

Two sisters!  Jessica and Kailyn, Easter 1991
Happy 18th Birthday!  

Today started out hard, missing Chris, and not wanting to be missing him.  We went to church, and I cried through the first half, with David's arm around me, or holding my hand.  And then, at some point, I began to feel the peace that comes from knowing that God has a bigger plan than I do.  I let go and began to feel grateful that I was given the opportunity to be Chris' mom.  He gave me a ton of pleasure over the years, and I wouldn't have wanted to miss being his mom, even if it wasn't as long as I would have wished.

When we got home, I had a message from Jessica, telling me she was thinking of me, and loved me.  Then we skyped with Kailyn for awhile, and she told me how much last night's post meant to her, as that memory is a powerful one for her, too.  Then Jess called, and my sister called, and my dad even called. (Although it was an accident!  He had called yesterday and his phone did an auto redial for the last call, and he didn't mean to call again.  I needed something to laugh about!)

Finally, Shari (Chris' wife) called.  She never fails to call me on Chris' birthday and it was so good to talk with her and catch up on what is going on in their lives these days. We will be forever connected through our love for Chris and though our paths don't often intersect much anymore, our hearts beat a shared rhythm.  The song in our hearts is a sad one, but it is also one of hope, and recovery and survival. Our hearts recognize in one another the strength of who we are, and of what we will become. 

We are strong women, who became stronger through intimately shared grief; the knowledge that we are somehow more than we were before.  That is the gift grief gave us.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Of Motorcycles and Men

This morning I headed out toward the mall, determined to do some Christmas shopping.  Coming down the street leading to the freeway entrance, I heard the deep throated rumble of several motorcycles off to my right.  I couldn't help but smile as I watched them pull out just ahead of me, ten or twelve big beefy Harley's, with one or more big and beefy black leather clad riders, all sporting in bold lettering, Bikers for Christ on the backs of their worn biker jackets.  With long, grey streaked hair billowing out from the bottom of their helmets, and grizzled faces under their face shields, it just struck me as nothing short of amazing.  These guys, likely the biggest and the baddest of them all in their younger days, were now biking for Jesus, and not ashamed to proclaim it.

This got me thinking, and my mind went from motorcycles, to faith, back to motorcycles, to my ex husband, to my son, Chris, and his love of motorcycles.  And, then I was remembering the last time I saw my son truly happy.  Kailyn and I had gone to Chris and Shari's home to deliver Easter goodies for the grandkids, as we were flying to Arizona on Easter Sunday to visit my dad.  Chris was so animated, and very excited because he had talked his dad into taking the next day off to go motorcycle riding up the Gorge. He was looking forward to a day in the sunshine with his dad. Good Friday, 2002, was the last time I'd ever see Chris laughing and smiling.

The next day, just after I got home from work, Chris called me.  It was hard to understand what he was saying, but I got enough from him to figure out that there had been an accident and his dad had died.  I rushed to him, and between his wife and a couple of his friends, I pieced together the story.  The guys had been riding a narrow road, and somehow, Mike had lost traction and gone off.  He probably broke his neck instantly, but Chris attempted giving him CPR until an ambulance arrived. He couldn't save his dad, and he never forgave himself.  In his mind, the entire thing was his fault, because if he hadn't talked his dad into taking the day off, they wouldn't have been riding there, and it wouldn't have happened.  There would never be any way of convincing Chris otherwise for as long as he lived.

I'd never seen my son the way he was that night.  He was screaming, crying, punching walls, breaking things.  Every once in a while he'd come to me, and let me hold him, and he would sob, then he'd break away and go crazy again. He was blaming himself for his dad's death. There was nothing anyone could say that would change his mind. I didn't know what to do.  I didn't know how to help.  I didn't know what to say.  He was also very drunk, as were most of the people at his house.

After hours of my impotent attempts to comfort him, Shari suggested I go home.  Her mom had taken the kids home with her, so I told Shari I'd be back the next morning.  All the way home I cried and prayed for my son.  I was terrified that he would either injure himself while he rampaged, or worse.

The next day, Shari took me aside and told me that Bill, Chris' friend from high school, had taken all weapons from the house.  That relieved me in some ways, but Chris was practically catatonic.  He wouldn't talk to anyone, including me. He just sat in a chair, chain smoking, his legs bouncing erratically, and scaring me worse than I'd ever been scared before.  I tried to talk him into letting me take him to the hospital, but instead he then got up and left the house.  There was no way I could fix what was happening to my baby boy.

As we talked, Shari convinced us (David was with me) to go ahead with our plans to go visit my dad.  She assured me that she was going to take care of Chris, and I knew she would.  She also reminded me that Chris' dad's wife wouldn't want me to attend the funeral, which I knew.  We went home, finished packing and got the plane for Arizona.  My heart had never been heavier.

While staying with my dad, I called Shari every day, and was miserable because Chris refused to talk to me.  She said he wasn't mad at me, he just didn't want to talk to anyone, and I had to accept that.  Eventually when we returned, Chris talked some, but he was never the same again.  I lost my son, not through anything I did, or didn't do, but I lost the man and boy I knew forever.

I was unable to ever convince Chris to seek counseling, so I went myself.  I haven't stopped, and it's unlikely that I ever will.  Over the next few months, Chris recovered a little of his former self, and there were a few moments when he would smile at something one of the kids said or did, but they were few and far between.  He never rode his motorcycle again. Eventually, I felt he was slowly returning to the Chris I knew, a sadder Chris, but his heart was healing a little. He wrote me a beautiful poem for Mother's Day 2005 and I allowed myself to believe he was going to make it.

This isn't a good place to stop, but it's where I must stop, for now.