Category Archives: Parenthood

Parenting boys: Holy Angels kids earned their wings

Thirty-four years ago, when we parents walked our little boys into the kindergarten doors for the first time, we weren’t thinking about now. We were sizing up the other wide-eyed six-year-olds in the room that day. The scent of white paste hung in the air, paper alphabet letters decorated the walls, and children bolted to the toy trucks and blocks in the corner, or clung to our arms.

These boys, these little boys who first met in kindergarten, would be part of the Holy Angels Class of 1989 that, throughout grade school, was just a bit larger, a bit more creative, a bit more rambunctious, and at times more hot to handle than most for their persevering teachers. The boys’ common lot and spirit bound them together—my son Jeff, and Matt, Tony, Ross, Pat, Dan, Peter, Kevin, Bobby and more.

When teachers caught Jeff looking out the window more than at his books, his friends defended him. “He’ll discover something great out there,” was their attitude. When a snowball fight got out of hand, the friends were quick to explain it was “all in fun.” When it was time to party, the boys turned to music and started a band.

So on the night after Christmas 2014, in downtown West Bend, a packed crowd came to hear Mandi, Matt’s younger sister, sing out her beautiful, soulful heart @WestBendTap+ Tavern. Matt, a musician too, was there from California with his wife and six-year-old son. Matt and Mandi’s parents Steve and Sharon were there, and other parents of some of the boys from the Class of ’89. In a way, we were representing our sons, who lived in so many other places now and would have come if they could. The night took us back, and we reminisced, chatting over wine and beers, about those growing-up years for our boys, the struggles we all faced raising our children, our worries for them, and how our visions of the future often collided with their own dreams and definitions of happiness.

So here we were, settled in at the pub, as Mandi played the guitar and sang the blues. The circle was unbroken, families once thrown together by chance, still connected. Common bonds, music, and social media keep our sons’ friendships strong through cross-country moves, job changes, and the arrival of their own sons and daughters. Maureen brought a book Ross sent with photos of his family. I shared Jeff and Malissa’s amazing and difficult year with their two little boys. Matt told me his son went to surf camp over the summer.

Sharon expressed what I am sure many of us were feeling. That, after all these years, after all the worrying we did about our sons, their education, and their choices, our sons are good people and they really are great dads. We couldn’t ask for anything better.

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We watch as fledglings leave the nest

IMG_4212We had been watching the nest for weeks, ever since I nearly chopped it from its moorings at the end of our privet hedge. I cut the power to my trimmer and parted the branches of a little maple that had invaded the old hedge. There, four feet above the ground, was a robin’s nest, stitched with brown mud, twigs and string and inside, a fuzzy head with its beak wide open begging for food. Papa Robin flapped in circles overhead warning, “Get away! Get away!”
I retreated and watched as the robin flew into the bushes to his baby. There may have been even two nestlings in that rough shell.

We’d have to be vigilant now. There’s a bird-stalking cat in the neighborhood. More than once, we’d seen the black-and-white meanie with moist feathers hanging out of his mouth.

IMG_4227 Bird on window sillWe watched the birds in the days ahead, taking a minute here and there to check on them. We saw the mother bird sitting on the nest. We’d see the red-orange breasted dad reeling in wiggly worms from the front yard. We peered in the nest and saw little feathers sprouting among the fuzz. Both parents kept watch and provided food, dive-bombing potential predators as needed.

On Saturday, July 5, the nest was empty. But a mini flurry of activity sounded in the
back yard. The fledgling, in his junior feathers, was hopping about, testing ground-level rain gutters, window wells and railroad ties for launching pads. He wobbled and teetered as he tried to fly, now and then catching air a few inches from earth. Papa robin was constantly nearby, circling overhead or perched on a post, chirruping encouragement, nature’s original “helicopter parent.”

A little robin will be able to sustain flight about two weeks IMG_4228 - Version 2after he has fledged–acquired the kind of feathers that will allow him to fly. He’ll have to watch out for cats, hawks, cars and lawn mowers on his own and forage for his own worms and berries.

Oh no! Now the little guy was hopping into the street, faster now, with dad right overhead. He made it across, hop-flying into the neighbor’s bushes and from there they both disappeared.

The robins still sing constantly in our yard midsummer but our little family is not among them, for all I know. The nest is empty. More robins will build new nests and settle them with pale blue eggs, beginning the cycle all over again.

A small boy’s world as seen from pillow hill

My Dear Abraham,

I am so happy you are feeling better. You will soon be four and so big! I know that you have had to spend a lot of time lately on the sofa, at home in bed or even on your back in your room at the kid’s hospital. That was important because you needed to rest and to take your medicine.

But you had to think of ways to have fun while you couldn’t run around! You had lots of good ideas. There were interesting books to read, movies to watch, silly games to play with aunts and uncles, even a puppy named Jig. And of course, toy cars and trucks of every size and color! Monster trucks like Grave Digger and little cars like Mini Cooper raced over mountains of pillows and blankets while you made up the stories for their adventures.

I was thinking of you when I read this poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, a famous writer who also wrote the book, “Treasure Island,” which I hope you will read someday. He was very sick when he was a little boy and made up stories while he lay in bed. And he didn’t have a TV or iPads to keep him busy — they hadn’t been invented yet!

You’ll need to know that a “counterpane” is another word for bedspread or a cover for your bed.

I hope you enjoy this poem, too, and think of how far your imagination can take you, no matter where you are.   Love, Gramma

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The Land of Counterpane

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay,
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

– Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850-1894

No business like snow business

ImageIt was 8:26 on a snowy Saturday evening when the doorbell startled me. I had just sat down after a busy but satisfying day, so I was tired but in a good mood when I opened the door to see two snow-suited boys, each with a snow shovel held upright at their sides. The boys faces beamed up at mine while I quickly surveyed their attire, and gave their parents credit for properly outfitting them in warm knit hats, gloves and boots.

“Can we shovel your driveway?” they chimed.

My husband sat in his easy chair across the room, shaking his head back and forth, indicating he’d get to the task later on. The powdery snowfall was only an inch or two deep, a piece of cake compared with the foot-deep monster falls he had tackled all winter.

“How much do you charge?” I asked.

“Oh, whatever you want to pay us.”

“That sounds good. Will you do the driveway and the sidewalk too?”

“Oh, yes.” they said enthusiastically. “We’ll do it all.”

“Well, OK. Just come back in a few minutes when you are done and I’ll pay you.”

The pair ran off toward the driveway, shovels in hand, to begin their work.

On the TV, the movie “The Social Network” was playing. In it, a brainy but insecure Harvard student creates a social networking site that would become known as Facebook and make a gazillion dollars. True story.

My little entrepreneurs were outside working their hearts out in ten degree weather. Who knew what their future would hold?

At 8:35 the doorbell rang again.

“We’re done!” the two boys announced.

“Oh, that was quick,” I said as my generous mind overcompensated the extreme lightness of the snow versus the rapid-fire shoveling energy of not one, but two, boys around our corner lot.

I handed each one a nice crisp five dollar bill.

“Thanks!” they exclaimed, eyes wide.

“You are by far our best customer yet!” one of the boys said.

Before I could mentally translate my gift into hourly pay or eyeball the sidewalks they had been assigned to, the boys were off, perhaps to their next, less-generous customer, or off to today’s equivalent of the candy shop with their cash.

I closed the door with a smile on my face. Nice boys, warmly dressed, polite, ambitious, working outdoors, away from TV and trouble. What more could one want from eight minutes and $10?

My husband was putting his coat on to go outside and check their work. The snow was mostly gone from the driveway and front walk, but on the east side the walk was untouched.

I didn’t care. Two little smiling faces stayed in my mind. I was their best customer ever.

New (beautiful) baby in the house

Fifteen days into the new year, we welcomed our second grandson into our family. The day of his birth was a cold day, and the next days would get even colder, temperatures falling well below zero. But this winter baby, all six pounds and one once of him, would be nice and warm inside at home at last with Mom, Dad and big brother.

A new baby brings many changes. Your first baby is a real eye-opener, a high maintenance, noisy addition to the romantic twosome-ness you enjoyed only briefly. Then, a few years later, the second child brings a whole new set of changes. And you thought it would get easier? Well, you do know more now, Mom and Dad. You know which end to diaper, that babies sometimes cry for seemingly no reason at all, that their peaceful sleeping faces are as a close to an angel’s as you can get on earth. You’d think you knew it all.

But along comes that second child and rules change, again. This time, baby arrives to a not-so-quiet house. There is no tip-toeing around for this baby, for Number One Son has the floor and it is loud. There are cartoons to watch, a drum set to pound, toy trucks to roar across the floor, and funny storybooks to laugh at. There are places to go, like preschool and the store and “outside” if the weather is nice. Amidst all this, new baby is left  to catch some sleep whenever and wherever he can. He’s joined an already in progress household. He has to go with the flow, and he’ll master it in time.

I was happy and privileged to be able to spend several days with Abraham while his Mom and Dad were at the hospital. It was a special time playing with him, reading and talking and painting “welcome home” pictures, all the while anticipating the moment when EVERYONE would be home. 

Friday afternoon, at long last,  the sound of familiar voices on the stairs preceded the opening of the door and there they were. Mom looking straight at Abraham, his arms waving excitedly and a big smile on his face. On Mom’s arm, a blanket-covered baby carrier. Right behind them, Dad with a big smile too. Pulling off their shoes, Mom and Dad stepped inside inside the living room and Mom gently pulled the blanket aside to reveal, fast asleep, little baby Francis, all of two days old. He was beautiful,  in his own distinctive way, his fuzzy hair a little darker, weighing about five ounces more than Abraham when he was born on a hot summer day more than three years ago. Abraham took a good look—so this is what all the fuss is about—but his eyes continued to follow Mom, making sure she was home to stay now.

In the future, Francis’ parents will tell him how very cold it was when he was born, how the wind and snow and cold kept them all inside and close, how his big brother was so excited to see him, and how small miracles really do make a world of difference.

Handmade Nativity

They are stuffed with cotton, sewed out of scraps. The kings have colorful stamp-size pieces of fabric tied about their heads and flowing five-inch capes. The shepherds are made of brown felt. One carries a crook made from a twig snapped from a birch tree in our yard more than 30 years ago. There is the sheep, the most forlorn of this homemade tableau, tattered cotton balls pasted to its wobbly white felt body.

I made the camel and the donkey out of brown felt, and gave them tails of brown yarn. The two are still standing as proud as the day I used a crochet needle to tightly pack their half-inch legs. The angel is of course all white with white felt wings and golden yarn hair. She has a red sparkly pipe cleaner for a halo.

The stable has a quilted corduroy roof and fat fabric walls stuffed with cotton with dried beans at the bottom for ballast. (Spoiler Alert: do not store bean-bottom crafts in damp places. They sprout!)

Under the cozy roof is the holy trio. Mary, in light blue brushed fabric left over from doll pajamas I made so long ago. Her halo is a white felt wafer glued to her head. Joseph is subdued but for his handsome brown beard and his flying dreadlocks made of brown yarn. At the couple’s feet is a round-faced Baby, lying in a cloth manger with rays of straw-color yarn flying from the sides.

I made this Nativity when little eyes and little hands explored every inch of our house, especially at Christmas, when there were secrets to keep and wonderful stories to tell. This handmade set sat under our Christmas tree, and still does, touchable and unbreakable.