Monday, January 25, 2010

I've Got to Admit, It's Getting Better

Over the three-and-a-half years I've been (intermittently) spewing my thoughts into blog-space, I've had a few things to say about our trials with a few of our kids, most especially 3M and 1F, who had us right at the end of ourselves a few years ago (and it has been, mercifully, getting to be not so few as we've gone along). I've also mentioned that, in recent months, things with both of them have been going better. ------------------------- 1F has been back in school for a few (three or four?) years now, taking one class each semester, with a long-range goal of a degree in Speech Pathology (she's good at languages, and that's a field where she actually stands a chance of getting paid to do 'language stuff'; it doesn't hurt that a couple of colleges relatively close at hand, including my alma mater, have good programs in Speech Path., either). She's done well enough, and her grades have been good enough that, in the Fall semester just past, she bumped her load up to two classes (while still working somewhere between half- and full-time, so it's not as though she's whiling her days away chasing butterflies in the park), and still got good grades, so things are looking up on the educational front for 1F, and I couldn't be prouder of her. Also, this past fall, she took on the job of Music Director for our parish. Which isn't quite so high-falutin as it might sound. She's been playing piano/organ, and cantoring for Mass since she was in high school; the old Music Director is in her 70s now (although, if I may be so bold, she is a very youthful and energetic 70-something), and there has been something of a push to 'get the young folks involved' in our parish, and so they asked 1F to take the job, which mostly entails picking music for Mass, and making sure all the masses are covered, in terms of having organists and cantors scheduled. It's mostly a pretty basic-level administrative job, but it does have some more far-reaching tone-setting aspects. The old director was very fond (I'm tempted to say inordinately fond, but she is a good friend) of the 60s-vintage 'folk tunes' which have plagued been a more-or-less regular feature of American masses (at least in some parishes) since Vatican II, and I've had to stifle an urge to puke in my mouth periodically, when we would sing 'Let There Be Peace On Earth' or one of its smarmy cousins (and, since I am also a sometime cantor, I've had to stand at the microphone and smile while doing so) One of the songs we used to sing with some regularity included the lyric, "Come dance in the forest, come play in the field"; I once leaned over and asked Jen if we weren't supposed to be naked while singing it. Anyway, the good news is, 1F agreed with me; and now she's in charge of picking the worship music. So I might just be done with 'Let There Be Peace On Earth' (I hasten to add that I have nothing against world peace itself; it's just the song that I can't stand). ------------------------- Last fall, 3M broke up with his girlfriend, with whom he'd been sharing living arrangements for the previous year-or-so. Around the same time, the crappy economy left its mark on his life, and he lost the job he'd had for a couple years. So, he came to us, and asked if he could move back home for a while. Which we agreed to, with a certain degree of trepidation - once a young adult has been living on his own for a while (and, to be bluntly candid, 3M was more-or-less 'living on his own', even before he moved out in the first place), it isn't always a simple matter for him to move back in with Mom and Dad, and re-adjust to the daily rhythms of family life, and young children, etc. But, as the old saying goes, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." And 3M had done quite a bit of growing-up since the last time he lived under our roof. It's actually been beneficial to Jen and me, in some very practical ways, to have him back home; he's been something of a live-in handyman for us, and in the months he's been living with us, our list of Little Nagging Projects has been beaten down significantly. Over the Christmas break, he even helped me install a new toilet (maybe the third or fourth time I've executed that particular bit of home-repair; but it was much nicer, I promise you, to have my eldest son to help with some of the 'grunt work', and also to enjoy the satisfaction he derived from learning a new 'man skill'). His job search has mostly been frustrating - the economy is still pretty crappy - but as I write this, he is closing in on a job cooking for one of the local sports bars, which would suit him very nicely. I'd solicit your prayers on his behalf; the difference between 'no money' and 'not very much money' is huge. And taking him at his word, he views his stay with us as being at least as 'temporary' as we do; a job would be one of the key parameters of that temporary-ness. But, for my money, one of the biggest deals of 3M's young life happened last week. He went back to school. Recalling that this is the young man who, the capacity of his intellect notwithstanding, only graduated from high school at the last minute, and 'through the back door'. Even as he was in the process of washing out of high school (or nearly so), he would still tell me about his very definite plans to go to college. And I knew that, at the time, he was mostly just trying to say what he knew I wanted to hear. I would often respond by saying, "You understand, don't you, that college is just more of what you didn't like in high school? Only you have to pay for it?" But I never had any doubt that, if he ever came to a place where he wanted to be in school, for the sake of his own life, and his own goals, that he would do it, and probably do it very well, once he got acclimated to actually doing the 'school thing', for the first time since he was in fifth grade. And he's been getting involved with the 'college group' in our Christian community, mending most all of the relationships that had been damaged during his years 'in the wilderness'. Which has also been very gratifying to see. He showed us his first math test the other day - he got 104/100 (extra credit, dontchaknow) - and it was all I could do to keep from tearing up. Maybe - just maybe - the kids are gonna be alright. . .

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Winter Crossing

By the end of my junior year in high school, I, along with a handful of my classmates, had completed the highest-level math class that my school offered. And so, for our senior year, the high school made arrangements with the local community college for us to take calculus at the college. Which was cool, and fun, and exciting - getting to feel all grown-up and everything. And the guy who sat across the aisle from my 16-year-old self was a 29-year-old Vietnam vet, which was kinda weird, and interesting, all by itself. . . Taking a class at the college, while still enrolled in the high school (and still taking all my classes but one there) presented a bit of a logistical challenge, in the simple task of getting to and from the college in the middle of the high-school day. The way it got worked out was that our class was scheduled during the high-school lunch hour, so we had an extra half-hour to drive across town to the college, and back, and still be on-time for our next class. It meant that eating lunch was more of a rushed proposition than we might have preferred, but you know - sacrifices must be made. . . I usually rode over to the college with my friend Bob, who lived out in the country, and drove his dad's pickup truck to school most days. Bob was a good guy - very bright, very studious, a terrific athlete, and an almost painfully straight-arrow-type guy, who went on to the Naval Academy after graduation. I don't know if it was part of my thought-process or not, but I was as sure as I could be that Bob wasn't going to pull any vehicular hijinks driving back and forth. The drive across town was less direct than we might have wished, and the first month or so of the semester, we were engaged in experimenting with the various routes across town between the high school and the college, to find the fastest one. We eventually settled on a route that wouldn't have occurred to us at first, but we worked it out on a map, through parts of town that we didn't usually frequent; and it involved us in lighter traffic, fewer traffic lights (yeah, I didn't grow up that far in the boondocks - we actually had traffic lights in our town; several of them, in fact), and consistently got us to the college in the shortest time. We even 'raced' with the other students who took other routes, and we consistently got there before they did. Our route was not particularly scenic; it skirted around the 'back side' of town. After we had settled into it as our regular routine, I gradually became sort-of blase about it, and didn't really pay much attention to the scenery (or lack thereof) as we drove. There was a railroad crossing, about a half-mile or so before we got to the college. To our left, the track went out onto a bridge over the river. It was odd; it was one of those railroad tracks where I really had no awareness of where it went through town. It was just a railroad track that crossed the road on the way to the college, but I had no idea where it came from, or where it went, or how it passed through the town. And, in all the months we drove between the high school and the college, I never saw a train on that track, either. Until one day in December, just before the end of the semester. It was one of those wet, sloppy, slushy-snowy days that you get in the early weeks of winter. Bob and I were in his truck, as usual, skirting along the edge of town. Visibility wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible, either, and, as I often did, I was sort-of idly looking out the window as Bob drove. A light caught my eye, off to our right. "Huh," I thought. "A train; I've never seen a train on this track." And I just casually watched the train as it proceeded on its way, idly calculating in my brain whether we would have to stop at the crossing or not. As my brain worked through the crossing-time estimation, it occurred to me that Bob was not driving as though he saw the approaching train. I sat up and cast a glance over at Bob, at about the time I determined that we and the train would arrive at the crossing nearly simultaneously. I looked over at my friend. "Uh. . . Bob?" I said, very incisively; "The train?" And at that instant, Bob saw the train for the first time. He swiftly ran through his own set of time-to-crossing calculations, which, factoring in the slipperiness of the road, the emptiness of the bed of his pickup truck, and the over-inflatedness of his tires, led him inescapably to the conclusion that we were going too fast to stop before the crossing. But the conditions were too slippery for any very aggressive maneuvers, either. So Bob slowly increased our speed, racing (but not TOO hard) to get to the crossing before the train. We did arrive at the crossing before the train. Since it was coming from our right, I had a very close look (MUCH closer than I'd have preferred, all things considered) at the front of the engine as we crossed the tracks. "Huh," I thought to myself; "I never realized how BIG those train headlights are. . ." And of course, being halfway across the track, staring up at the huge headlight of the oncoming train does not constitute 'beating' the train to the crossing; the requirement for a successful crossing was that we be clear of the crossing before the arrival of the train. Which, boiled down to its barest essence, was measured by the absence of any actual physical contact between our vehicle and the train. Which, as it turned out, was a VERY close thing. As the truck's rear axle crossed the second rail, I checked the rear-view mirror on my side of the truck, and all I saw was train. We cleared the crossing by the thinnest hair's-breadth between us and the train, crossing behind us. We weren't out of the woods just yet, though; in the adrenaline rush of having so narrowly missed disaster, Bob was momentarily flustered, and the truck swerved wildly, fishtailing on the slippery road (which, providentially, had no other vehicles in the vicinity). After a few seconds, Bob regained control of the truck, and shortly, we pulled into the parking lot at the college. For a minute or more, the two of us just sat there, staring straight ahead, not saying a word, our hearts pounding in our chests, trying to calm down, and get ready for calculus. Finally, Bob, who was still white as a ghost, turned and said, "I didn't see it." "I know," I exhaled. "Let's get to class." And so we did. Although our minds might have been less focused on polar integrals that day, than they might normally have been. . . I don't know, if I were a cat, whether I'd have burned one of my lives that day. But at the very least, both our guardian angels earned their pay. . .

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Midweek Miscellany

2F and 4M are both back in town, having safely returned from their sojourns abroad. 4M braved a blizzard in Ireland (those poor folks just don't have to deal with snow very often, so you can imagine how that went), went to the Louvre and a New Year's Eve rave under the Eiffel Tower in Paris (including a four-hour wait for a taxi to get back to their hostel for the night). They also visited the Colosseum and St. Peter's in Rome (including the Sistine Chapel), and climbed a 1700m (~5500 ft) mountain in Austria.

2F was more of a homebody in Spain, mostly hanging with her friend Martha, although they did visit the Prado. It's nice to have them back home, and we're happy for their rich experiences 'across the pond'. Now they've just got to grind through a couple days of jet-lag (wanting to go to bed at four in the afternoon is so annoying. . .)


From the Department of Ironic Blogging, Office of Bizarre Coincidences - Last Thursday, 6F was out sledding with a group of teens from our community's youth group. At one point, she was sliding down the hill at great speed, and collided with another girl who was walking back up the hill with her sled. The result of the collision was a shattered front tooth for 6F, which led to some emergency dental work to extract the remnants the following morning, which now has us inexorably on the road to braces and an implant, and whatever else. All of which also makes this previous post the least bit spooky. . .


Overheard from Jen's mom at the family gathering on Sunday afternoon, after her wedding the previous day: "It's really a lot like riding a bicycle. . ."

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Apple and the Tree

It has been said (and probably with more wisdom than might at first meet the eye) that, if you want to know what your wife will be like in 25 years, look at her mother. I wish I'd been so astute when I was first considering the virtues of the young woman who was to become my wife. But if I had been, I'd have wanted to marry her all the sooner, lest I screw something up, and she slip away. . .

Honestly, from the first time I met Jen's mom, roughly 30 years ago, I've thought that she was a living saint (and as brown-nosing as that sounds, Jen will tell you it's absolutely true). As long as I've known her, she's been the personification of quiet, persistent love. Which hasn't always been easy, she being the mother of ten children (seven boys, three girls; Jen is the second-oldest, and oldest girl), who have not always been, shall we say, easy to love (but then, whose kids are?).

Being the fallen man that I am, I have occasionally tested the limits of that love, myself (I can recall her one time admonishing me, in a very understated, yet effective way, when she thought I was behaving a tad 'chauvinistically' toward her daughter, "You know, we're very fond of Jen"; uh, message received). Or perhaps more like, I've tested the limits of her comprehension as to what manner of strange man her daughter had brought into their family. But I hope that she'd agree that, over the years, we've built a relationship of real love and affection. So, all things taken together, my mother-in-law gives me real hope that my beloved wife will proceed most gracefully into her Golden Years. . .


Jen's dad died in 2002, just before 8M was born, so her mom has been a widow for the past seven-and-a-half years. Jen has always fancied herself a bit of a 'matchmaker', and in the years of her mother's widowhood, has not been above trying to 'fix her up' with her friends' widowed fathers, or whomever.

About a year or so ago, we were enjoying the after-Mass 'fellowship time', and Jen was talking with a fellow named Frank, whose wife had died some months previously. I'm not sure exactly how it came about, but Jen convinced him to get together with her mom, the next time she came to visit us. As it turned out, they enjoyed each other's company, and a second date turned into a third, and so on. It has been delightful to behold how they enjoy each other's company, and just light up each other's lives (do I have to pay a royalty to Debbie Boone for that?) And tomorrow, Jen will be the Matron of Honor for her mother's second wedding. And I can't keep myself from smiling. . .

Monday, January 4, 2010

Drive My Car. . .

At a recent family meal, Jen was describing how, while she'd been out driving around town the previous evening, another vehicle near her had been driving erratically. . .

5M (a HS junior), with a look of shock on his face, asked, "How would they even DO that?"

Now Jen and I were confused. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"Well, were they making out, or something? Did they have their clothes on? I don't get it. . ."

I still had no idea what he was talking about, but Jen suddenly broke into an amused smile. "They were driving erratically," she explained. "Not erotically."