20131217 – Empty Nest, Full Hearts

A little more than thirty-three years ago our nest consisted of two humans and a canine. And then another precious little human appeared in our nest. We adapted and loved and nurtured and taught and raised that little person up in the ways he should go. About four years after that another little human graced our nest with her presence. And we adapted and loved and nurtured and taught and raised that little person up in the ways she should go. Others joined us in our safe and warm little nest for a little while or longer. And we sheltered and helped and supported and shared a little of our hearts with each of them before they ventured out again.
For all of these years our nest was never empty, until now. The little human who first appeared in our nest has become the last to leave, big and strong and mature, ready to make his own way in the world, his lovely bride by his side. As we helped them move over the weekend I began to ponder life in an empty nest, and found I wasn’t as excited about the prospect as I first thought I would be.
Part of living in the sandwich is caring for and taking care of your extended family, and feeling needed and important and loved in the process. How does that continue to work in their absence, when the sandwich is no more?
Our youngest left first and now lives on the other side of a continent; but we still talk with her almost daily as she shares the challenges of raising her own family and asks questions about so many different things that are new to her but facts of life for us.
Our oldest left last and now lives just a short drive away. Will we still talk with him daily? Will he call with questions about new challenges they face? Will he ask us over just to share a meal or fix something around the house? Will I still get to be a Dad every once in a while?
Many years ago, as he reached college age, I wrote a little poem, blank verse, about his leaving the nest. Now that time has finally come:
There he goes!  Made it out of the bedroom, now he’s down the hall.
Watch him turn the corner, Oops!  The carpet got him but that’s okay.
His first solo steps, and he wasted no time!
Traveled half the house on the very first try.
“How far can I go Daddy?”  “We’ll see.”
Lord, thank you for giving us a son.
“Wow Daddy, a shiny new tricycle, blue with silver fenders!”
“Here we go Son, put your feet right here, now push one, then the other.”
There he goes!  Made it down the drive.
“How far can I go, Daddy?”  “We’ll see.”
Lord, please protect our son.
“Hey Daddy, a bicycle with training wheels!  Thanks!”
“Here we go Son, just like your trike, but you need to balance.
Don’t worry, I’m holding on to the seat.  You can do it.”
“Okay Daddy, let go now.  I can do it!
How far can I go, Daddy?”  “We’ll see.”
Lord, please keep him safe.
“Daddy, these training wheels are really noisy!”
“Well let’s take them off, Son.  Now you steer and balance together.
Feel how it stays up, and turns if you lean?”
“Its tricky Daddy, but I can do it!”  “Lets try again.”
“How far can I go, Daddy?”  “Son, we’ll see.”
Lord, please comfort him when he falls.
“Gee Dad, this mountain bike is great!  Thanks!”
“Do you need some help Son?  Those gears are kind of tough to handle.
Feel each click of the shift, pick the right gear to get you up the hill.”
“I feel it Dad, sometimes it’s hard to pedal, sometimes easy.”  “That’s right, Son.”
“How far can I go, Dad?”  “We’ll see Son, we’ll see.”
Lord, please give him strength for the mountains he’ll climb.
“Hey Dad, Drivers’ Ed is a lot of fun!
But I didn’t know there was so much to learn about driving.”
“Lots of rules Son, but they come with the territory.
Remember, take care of the car, mind the rules, and be sensible.”
“How far can I go, Dad?”  “We’ll see Son, we’ll see.”
Lord, please show him the way, and give him faith.
“Car’s all loaded Dad; I’m ready to go.”
“Got everything you need, Son?”  “I think so.”
“What about…”  “Hang on to it for me, would you please?”
“Sure Son, remember to call, and write!”  “Thanks Dad, I promise I will!”
“How far will you be going, Son?”  “We’ll see Dad, we’ll see.”
Lord, walk with him every mile.
Hugs all around, then Mom and Dad retreat to the front room, 
and part the curtains a bit.
He backs down the drive, pauses, and signs “I love you” through the glass.
Holding each other, they mouth the words back, then wave as he pulls away.
Brake lights at the street corner…moist eyes in the front room.
She searches his face, “Will he be okay?”  His strained whisper, “We’ll see…”

Lord, we entrust him to you, and thank you for the privilege.

20131203 – Empty Nests and the Christmas Letter

Some of you are certainly prompt with your Christmas cards and letters! The first two arrived in the mail yesterday, emphasizing the big task on my list for the next few weeks; that of completing our own family Christmas greetings before the big event. I’m excited about the task ahead and looking forward to reconnecting with long-missed friends and distant family members. At the same time I have mixed emotions about this season. This just may be a hard to write Christmas Letter.
I always look forward to Christmas as not just a celebration of Christ’s birth, but a celebration of love and family and faith. It’s the giving of time and self much more than the giving of gifts that makes this holiday special for me. But this will be a celebration of mixed blessings, this Christmas of 2013. This year our home will feel more empty than it has in thirty-three years as this season marks the end of multiple generations sharing this place, and this space. It will be our first empty nest Christmas since we began our family a third of a century ago.
Oh yes, we’ll have plenty of family time, not to worry; but to wake up on Christmas morning to a quiet house, and not hear the squeal of little voices or the patter of little feet (or these days the gentle treading of my son’s size eleven slippers) will not necessarily be a welcome change. It will be a difficult adjustment, one that I do not anticipate with joy, one that will not provoke a, “Yes, finally have the house to ourselves again” kind of feeling (although I’m sure that sentiment will flash through my brain on occasion, perhaps in the middle of a steamy hot shower, or watching a movie in the family room in my pajamas).
Passages, reimagining life as I mentioned last week; that is what is being thrust upon us this Christmas season. And with no children at home, and grandchildren at the other end of the continent, this will be a rather abrupt shift to a new stage of life for us.
S and L, and D and I were working away at Mom’s condo Saturday, packing and painting and arranging, and sneaking in a quick pizza and soda for sustenance. It felt good and it brought back memories of our own first move to our own place. It’s a good thing to take on that responsibility, and the even bigger responsibility of being a caretaker for Grandma’s place for a time, a responsibility S and L are not taking lightly. Still, they’re excited to be moving out and taking this large next step in their life together as a couple.
Put in the context of celebrating new life, I think this Christmas will be exactly that, a time to celebrate the birth of newly re-imagined lives and the baby steps it takes to start down new paths, paths that may take us far apart, but at the end of life as we know it, will inevitably bring us back together in that sweet eternal, multigenerational home that my faith tells me is waiting somewhere down the road.
And speaking of Christmas Letters, are you for or against them? I have to say for, but with specific conditions: they should be limited to two pages or less including photos; and they should be directed at close friends and family with whom you have not been able to share the gift of time over the past year. I suppose a third condition might be that they cover major events or life changes, but not offer a blow by blow chronology of the entire year. But hey, that’s just my opinion, and how I approach my letters.
Christmas Letters are important to me because we have close friends and relatives who we rarely have a chance to see or talk with. I treasure those relationships but sometimes I have no way to share just how much they mean to me other than through a letter. The Christmas Letter is my way of reaching out and asking how they are and what important things have happened in their lives over the past year. And it’s my way of answering those same questions I assume they might have of me. Maybe I’m foolish to make that assumption, you know, that someone might actually care about me and my family the way I care for them. So be it; I’ll take that chance because Christmas for me is an affirmation of life and love and family and relationships. Oh, and if you’re friends or relatives who haven’t heard from us at Christmas recently and have been missing that connection then feel free to take me to task for that oversight; I’ve probably screwed up the Christmas Letter list somehow.
Empty nests and Christmas Letters; hmm…what strange bedfellows in the pondering business. Although that peculiar linkage may just get me past the emptiness I’m already starting to feel and warm up the old ticker enough to get me started on this year’s Christmas Letter…Pops

20131202 – Just Wow!

On Sunday afternoon my little suburb made me seriously proud, extremely ecstatic, and appropriately humbled to explore the absolutely beautiful performance spaces and supporting facilities of the new Jenison Center for the Arts. It is without a doubt one of the finest community performing arts centers I have ever been blessed to visit.

There are two groups of people who deserve special recognition for this accomplishment: the students of the Jenison Public Schools who have, through their persistent determination over the years to perform at the caliber deserving of Grammy Award status, demonstrated the need and the demand for a facility capable of supporting their gifts, talents, passions, and energy; and the residents who had the courage and will to invest their hard-earned financial resources in their community.

And let’s not forgot those visionaries whose determination brought this facility to life, who saw this project through, and the more than two dozen West Michigan contractors who contributed their efforts to its successful conclusion.

As I walked from space to space listening to our student guides describe the facilities and share interesting facts about all I could do was say, “Wow!”, lift my jaw off the floor, and again say, “Wow!” There are not adequate superlatives to describe just how remarkable a facility this is. It is destined to become the cornerstone of community pride and a magnet for new economic growth and expansion. I for one can’t wait; and I’m happy to be a resident in and beneficiary of all of the wonderful celebrations of the arts sure to be experienced in this place.

Did I say, “Wow?” Well then, “Wow!” it is…Pops

20131129 – Reimagining Life

I was reading AARP magazine (of course I’m old enough, it’s R rated for Retired!) and found one story after another worth pondering today; yes THREE DAYS overdue, I know. But hopefully you will benefit from more thoughtful pondering this week.
Marlo Thomas wrote a column called “On My Mind” where she shared some engaging thoughts on multi-generational bonding.  It’s a good read if you can get your hands on a copy of the October/November 2013 issue. Having grown up surrounded by her father’s comedian friends and movie and TV show producers her whole life she found herself always bonding with people a generation or more senior to her. She mentioned Pew Research Center survey results showing that 51 million Americans live in a household shared with two or more adult generations, up ten percent over the last three years.
She also talked about the wisdom shared and the education she received through those bonds. Yeah, I can relate; in my younger days I remember bonding much more easily with those a generation older than myself.  Not really sure why that was, it just was. I also found in her words reinforcement for my sense that multi-generational living can be a good and healthy thing, and very beneficial for all generations in the household. Providing of course that they learn how to live together as adults and give each other the space and the loving and nurturing relationships they need.
It seems to me like MG living was the order of the day for centuries and only in the last half century or so have we transformed from ‘we’ people to ‘me’ people. Nice to see, according to the Pew research that we may be tipping back toward more of a ‘we’ culture.
Another story talked about Valerie Harper’s determination and spirit in the face of a terminal illness at the age of 74; an age which doesn’t seem particularly old to me anymore now that I’m 63. There’s a lot to be said for a positive attitude, determination, and always putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how difficult the path we choose or have forced upon us.
The magazine caught me by surprise when I discovered identified in its pages the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, my adopted (at age 30) home town, as one of the top cities in the country for retirees with an income of under $30,000 per year. Huh? Well yeah! Housing isn’t too expensive, taxes are a sore spot but not horrible, and there are pro sports, concerts, cultural events, and recreational opportunities too numerous to mention all year ‘round, and lots of it free, yes maybe there really is an occasional free lunch! Two miles from my home I can hop on a bike trail network and ride dozens or even hundreds of miles on marked, maintained and vehicle free trails.
On Monday nights during the summer I can go to free jazz concerts with friends, and even ride my bike into town from the suburbs to attend the concerts if I want. I can watch sunsets on the beach of our own ‘West Coast’ (shark free!) and camp at over eighty state and two national parks within an in-state drive. And with a decent airport we can get anywhere in the country or North America for that matter without too much trouble. And for us aging folks health care in this city is not to be sneezed at; not with some of the top rated hospitals and specialists in the country. Not too shabby a retirement in my book.
And that brings me to the last interesting story, reimagining life. Now I know most of us go through a midlife ‘crisis’ regarding life and career choices, but how many of us really look at it as more of an opportunity, no matter what the triggering event, to reimagine what our lives can become? For many of us the crisis arises in our early forties when we have second thoughts about the path we chose. But almost universally we face this opportunity when we’re in our fifties or early sixties and considering retirement. Whether this opportunity is thrust upon us through loss of a job, illness, age, or relocation or it’s a choice we’ve made to change; what a great opportunity it is, to reimagine what our life might be like.
Until I was thirty, I pretty much got to live as me even with the divine Miss D joining me in my twenties. I chose my educational and early career path, and we did things for me, or us, like skiing, four-wheeling, camping, hiking, or just parking it and watching college football on a sunny Saturday afternoon. We didn’t worry much about health or family; after all, we were healthy and our families could take care of themselves. Yeah, we missed them some, but that was the extent of it.
From thirty to sixty it was all about family, raising kids, keeping an eye on aging parents, keeping up with the siblings, making sure we could pay the bills. Sure the midlife crisis hit, causing a fair amount of personal angst, some job changes, and rising concerns about the state of our future finances. It felt like a constant state of worry; even when vacationing at Mammoth Cave, or Disneyworld, or the Colorado Rockies.
So what can life be like from sixty-(three) to ninety? Maybe I can make a difference to small businesses in our community; a whole new semi-retired vocational track. I’ve been privileged to be elected Chairman-elect of our local chamber of commerce board of directors for 2015 – lots of opportunity to give back to businesses and the communities we serve. I like that.
On a personal level, maybe we can spend more time going to concerts, taking college classes, engaging in hobbies, camping, hiking, biking, taking up new sports like kayaking, building new friendships, living a little easier; in short doing more of the things we like but haven’t had time for over the last thirty years. Maybe we can travel enough to spend time with our children and grandchildren, no matter where they land. I suppose we’ll always worry about money, we just seem to be that way even though we already have enough to retire fairly comfortably. Reimagining life may require a little acceptance of “the way we are” and that’s OK as long as it ensures some caution and wisdom, and doesn’t keep us from living that newly reimagined life.
When you really start to reimagine your life you realize that you don’t have to be facing a radical change in circumstances, you can decide to reimagine your life no matter where you are in it if the time feels right. You also realize that regardless of the new path you choose you don’t have to do it all at once; in fact it’s probably better to take the changes slow and easy. That way you can always turn, stop, or back up without getting yourself too far out on a slippery slope.
In short, no matter how you reimagine your life, no matter where you are in life, regardless of your age or health, baby steps are a good idea.

Thanks to my grandson E (who I’m missing very much this holiday week) for helping me visualize stepping out, with baby steps, into a life reimagined…Pops

20131119 – Friends

I settled into my usual spot this morning for some heavy duty pondering when, not unexpectedly, my buddy Stu wandered over, tray in hand, gently moved The Hat aside and settled into the chair across from me at my high-top table. I felt my throat tighten as I quickly closed my laptop and gave Stu, whose best friend Thomhad just passed away, my undivided attention.
Two hours passed quickly by as we reminisced about our relationships with Thom and each other over the past 33 years. We talked about all of the railroading we had done together, but we talked more about the camaraderie we shared that transcended the hobby. More than once the corner of Stu’s eye glistened as he recounted the times of need when his friend was there for him and how he returned the favor when his friend needed him. How often did we stop talking just to let the raw emotion pass before we could speak again? And when he said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do without him…” I truly began to understand the depth of their friendship.
It is a friendship that stands the test of time and distance. It stands the test of disagreement and frustration. It stands the test of personal strife and pain. It spills over into the rest of the family. It swells to engulf whole groups of people. It is a friendship that has a beginning, but no end.
Oh how I have missed that connection, that group of friends, that band of brothers and their families, as I moved on with my own family and my life. Friends often bridge time and distance like it was just yesterday. But what of the opportunities lost between those times, during those gaps when the relationship is left un-nurtured and ignored? Those lost opportunities become the seeds of regret and loneliness. And unfortunately for me, I have tended those seeds rather than those friendships far too long. Lesson experienced…and understood…but not yet applied.
I suspect we’ve all learned that lesson at least once, if not many times over. And I know that we sometimes make conscious decisions about friendships that no longer seem meaningful to us.
Many years ago my wife and I found a story about “little while” friends and shared it with our daughter when she made new friends during our week long camping trips, in hopes that she could appreciate those times when she might bond with someone for a time, only to leave that relationship behind as she continued on with her life.
I think it behooves us all to examine our relationships carefully, and recognize the difference between little while friends and lifelong friends. We can’t afford the mistake of casting off relationships thinking they were just little while friends and suffering the resulting pain of regret and loneliness instead of enjoying the love and happiness that comes from nurturing a group of lifelong friends, friends that become part of our earthly family.
For Stu and Thom it started with a meeting at a local hobby shop. It grew and flourished. And it won’t die just because Thom did. We all leave a legacy; part of Thom’s is an undying friendship.

What about yours … Pops

20131118 – Thom

It’s been a weekend filled with fond memories and regrets as I learned Sunday afternoon of my friend Thom’s passing. It’s Thom, not Tom, as he was quick to note when we first met over thirty years ago. It was early in 1981 and we had just moved from Colorado to Grand Rapids, which, as I knew from my model railroading connections, was a hotbed of model railroading activity and the location of a nationally published author and modeler, Dr. Bruce Chubb and his Sunset Valley Railroad.
As I worked my way into the local division of the National Model Railroad Association I eventually connected with Bruce and Thom and was invited to work on the railroad Bruce was always writing about. Thom was a long time associate of Bruce’s and a respected operator on the SV as well as an accomplished model railroader in his own right. He along with several of the other operators and builders of the SV, showed this young thirty-something lone wolf of a railroader the ropes, and welcomed me into the operators group which would become known as the Kenowa Valley Switching and Sipping Society.
Thom encouraged me to be more active in the hobby and in the local organization; and eventually promised to serve as my Vice Chair when our local division hosted a successful regional convention in 1988. He taught me more about railroad operations including dispatching and modeling and we collaborated on programming software on a new at the time TRS 80 PC to help with simulating the scheduling and car forwarding that would occur on a real railroad.
Over the years our little band of railroading brothers worked on and operated on each other’s railroads and had some great fun together including hazing and teasing, and the Christmas Parties and tongue-in-cheek annual Golden Spike award for not so distinguished events; well, you had to be there.
As my interest in model railroading waned and family events took priority I regretfully let my relationship with those guys slide and eventually stopped operating and building with the boys. It had been the better part of 15 years since I was actively involved with the KVS&SS when I ran into one of the group while blogging in my normal hangout one Tuesday morning a few months ago.
During our chat I told Stu I’d really be interested in seeing the group and operating with them once again. He put me in touch with Thom who promised me he’d add me on the Extra Board when he needed operators, and proceeded to do that just a few weeks later. Unfortunately, I was sick on the appointed day, and with Thom suffering from pulmonary fibrosis I passed on the opportunity to avoid infecting him. Shortly thereafter Thom came down with complications, went to the hospital, was placed in a drug-induced coma, and passed away.
I had waited too long…and life caught up with Thom and me. He was a good and trusted ally, a loyal convention companion and co-worker, and a steady coach and mentor. And I lost the chance to tell him that one last time.

He was my friend, and I will miss him more than he will know…Pops

20131113 – Wednesday with Terry?

My apologies loyal readers as an epic battle Tuesday with some very tenacious wallpaper lulled my brain into continuously looping the Jeopardy Final Answer music; crippling it and leaving it unable to pursue serious pondering. Fortunately my equally determined son, armed with an industrial strength wallpaper steamer and thirty fewer years of excess baggage joined me in battle; and sustained by moral support from the lovely Ms. D and equally lovely daughter-in-law E who also rounded up copious quantities of pizza and breadsticks, we triumphed over the paper monster.
Yesterday’s activities were just another reminder of how fortunate D and I are to have some of our immediate family close by (and how much we miss those who aren’t). Cleaning and renovating Mom-in-Law’s condo is a daunting enough task, and having some help certainly eases the burden. It also helps to have your children empathize with you and appreciate the mental strain you are going through in trying to whittle away everything but the essentials of the estate of someone still with us.
We worry constantly about how much to do to MIL’s primary residence even though we know she’ll not be returning; trying to guess at what will upset her and what she’ll be OK with. Sure we ask her opinion, communicate with her about each step we take and try to make sure she’s OK with it, but often she’ll bring it up again with a whole different perspective when we’ve already taken action. Frustrating…
With our Son and DIL as caretakers, they’re very sensitive to what Grandma would want, so their sensitivity will be very comforting when they take temporary custody of Grandma’s place. Ultimately she seems OK with all of the choices, but it is still her home and it will be for as long as she’s with us. Sandwich living can really be a bear sometimes! But we’re all family, and this is the way things are.
My Son and I got into a good discussion about the big picture of family this week. Years ago the “family” might have property in the city, in the country and at the shore; of course some wealthy families still do.  His perspective on property is a little different than that of other young people today as he sees his Grandma’s property as something he has as much responsibility for as his grandma and his parents. It’s a bigger picture of what the family has and what the family is, kind of a multigenerational living philosophy applied to more than just happening to reside in the same building. In fact S emphasized that it’s not really the property, or even multiple properties, but a sense of place; it wouldn’t matter where the property was actually located. Hey S, hope I got that right.
I could see that S gets what I was talking about a few posts back; that this conversation was as much about roots as it was property and generations living together. It led me back to the reunion this past summer and how I felt knowing my family’s history and that I had many more connections than I ever imagined before. Using a flora and fauna analogy I think people really need both roots and wings. We expect our children to fly, to become independent, to grow and live successful lives on their own and with their chosen mates.
But with wings come flocks and migration and breeding grounds; those sound a lot like roots to me. Yes I suppose a few of us are raptors (eagles, hawks, falcons for you non-birders) and lead a semi-solitary life. But it was pretty obvious to me that S appreciated having roots as well. And when you have roots you nurture and care for them as much you do those who have taken wing and flown.
Wow, rereading this post I realize yesterday’s battle must have scrambled my brain, this post is all over the place and not very cohesive. Well hopefully it still provides some food for thought.

Meanwhile I’m recuperating from my battle wounds, tending the roots, and preserving a home base for those who have sprouted wings (and, I suppose you could say, flown the coop!)…Pops

20131106 – Speaking of Family and Particularly Dads

As I sat eating breakfast this morning I happened to think back on a conversation with my Dad on Sunday. We were talking about his upcoming skin cancer surgery, transportation plans and how I always thought it was nice to have family present during medical procedures, not just for drop off and pick up chores. I often did that for my father-in-law when he had his skin cancer procedures.
The conversation drifted to other things including Thanksgiving plans, and Dad let slip that one of his regrets at age 86 was that he didn’t spend more time with his kids. I commiserated with him a bit and extended that thought to grandkids as well. The conversation ended and I didn’t think about it again until this morning when I realized it would be a good follow up to yesterday’s post.
As I wandered back in time I realized that some of the best times I ever had were those I spent with my Dad. When I was five and Dad was only about 27 or 28 years old he began building our new house and doing most of the work himself. He’d take me out to the house with him where I helped him carry concrete blocks for the basement walls and he showed me how to mix concrete and how to butter and stack the blocks together. I learned about running bonds and framing and plumbing and electricity and plastering and painting and hardwood flooring before I was ten years old, because of my Dad.
My Dad and I joined a young kids program called Indian Guides and he showed me how to hammer designs into totem blocks and how to lace together moccasins from a kit and how Native American people lived for hundreds of years hunting and trapping and paddling about in birch bark canoes. Dad would take me down to the YMCA to go swimming. Mom became a Den Leader while I was in Cub Scouts. Dad joined Boy Scouts with me and stayed with the scouting program until I was old enough to become a Junior Assistant Scoutmaster and earn my Life Scout rank. He was with me when I learned about camping and canoeing and camp cooking and swimming and life saving and all those other merit badges I earned.
Dad and Mom took us on some great vacations to Niagara Falls and Tahquamenon Falls, and state parks all over Michigan. We camped alongside the St. Mary’s river south of Sault Ste. Marie and were amazed by the great heavily laden freighters that sucked the water out of the cove as they passed. We stood on the shore under the Mackinac Bridge when it was barely five years old and he took pictures with that gleaming bridge in the background. I got to see the big fort just west of the bridge and it inspired my interest in Native American history even more.
Dad encouraged me to sing in the church choir when I was only a teenager, and to try out in school musicals that he and Mom always came to see. He taught me how to play golf and told me about the silly “mashies and groovies” game he and his buddies used to play during their league time at Red Arrow Golf Course.
Dad was a draftsman; they call them technical illustrators now. He taught me how to use the tools of the trade and, when I was good enough he had me do some drawing work for the patent attorneys he worked for. He never told me how many of my drawings he had to redo before they were good enough for the US Patent Office; I assumed most if not all of them; but he shared with me his love for his trade and I found that I loved it, too.
Time and distance pulled us apart as I graduated from high school and college, married, entered the military and relocated to Colorado, but Mom and Dad came to visit us. On one trip Dad and I found time to visit the Colorado Railroad Museum, to take the Landcruiser up into the mountains for a back country ride and race to see the train enter the Moffat tunnel up close. It was my time to give back a little to my Dad and it’s a trip we’ve never forgotten.
And last Summer I got to be with my Dad for, as he describes it, the “best time I’ve had in a hundred years”; that visit with my sister to Wallingford, Connecticut where we celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of our Great Grandfather Nathaniel’s birth. We began to see how we fit into that family picture of the Merrimans, and of Nathaniel who first landed on the Massachusetts shore in 1632 and helped found Wallingford in 1670.
All those times together, and Dad still regrets that he didn’t spend more time with his kids. Well Dad, I regret that I didn’t do half as good a job with my kids as you did with yours, this one anyway.
I keep hearing this theme every day, everywhere, from nearly everyone I meet: things don’t matter, time and people do. And out of the mouth of the last person I ever expected to hear it from, “I regret I didn’t spend more time with my kids.”
I don’t think it’s possible to spend too much time with your family, but I suspect no matter how much time they spent with their kids, every parent would say that it was not enough; it’s never enough. My Dad said it; I’ve said it; you’ll say it too.
For all of the time you gave me, I love you Dad…

20131105 – Resilience and Family

How do you deal with tough times and difficult situations? Are you resilient? Do you bounce back? Do you take things in stride? Do you move forward, past, beyond the event or environment? If you’re anything like me, you’ve never stopped to think about how your mindset as a child and young adult helps you cope with tragedies and loss. How would you respond if you suddenly lost a loved one? What if you lost your job or were forced into a career change? What if a change in circumstances took you two thousand miles away from the life you planned for your family? What if a short notice, short term project separated you and your spouse for a month or more?
A model railroader friend’s wife pulled into a parking spot to organize her food following her visit to the drive-through this morning. Another railroading friend and his wife joined me for breakfast, but not before he noticed B in the parking lot and walked over to check on her. He reported that she seemed OK and rather stoic as she pulled away; and then he explained to me that her husband and my railroading buddy of 33 years was in a drug induced coma and not expected to live. I hadn’t heard because we’ve been out of touch for ten years and just recently reconnected – he’s the only one in the group who had my email address and no-one else knew how to reach me to tell me what happened a week ago. I’m struggling today…
B is soldiering on, as is another railroad buddy of mine whose wife is in assisted living with Alzheimer’s. And another railroading buddy’s wife is suffering the ravages of age; but he’s so dependent on her we don’t think he’ll last a year if she goes first.
It appears as though life is catching up with the Kenowa Valley Switching and Sipping Society; and each of us is coping in different ways. S told me the group has an understanding that whenever one of us passes away, the rest of the group will take care of his railroad so his spouse won’t have to carry that burden alone.
As adults we’ve developed our own ways of coping, or not, and dealing with the aging process and the infirmities that come with it. But what about our offspring and how they will cope with the trials and tribulations of life? Will they make it? Will they be OK?
I wonder why some young people turn to drugs and gangs and life on the streets to cope, and I realize that maybe it’s all they’ve ever known because they’ve learned it from their families, and they’ve lived it. They may not even know there’s another side to their family history because they’ve never been exposed to it.
I recently read a Readers Digest article, “The Stories That Bind Us”, about resilience factors in children. I couldn’t find the RD story online, but it was derived from the same material that this New York Times storywas. Resilience it seems has at least some foundation in the family narrative that is shared with our children around the dinner table. But another articlethat lists the questions which comprised the study cautions that it’s not just about the dinner narrative. It’s more about all facets and processes of family life and relationships, and in particular the ‘communication of history’ process and the early imprinting of children on their parents and siblings.
We do our kids a huge favor by building a strong sense of family, establishing family traditions, building effective relationship developing processes, and sharing with them the good and the bad in our family’s history. We help them by grounding them in the family and making sure they get the bigger picture and how they fit into it. They need to know about their roots and the family’s branches. Some of the best life lessons of those who persevered come not just from the experiences of strangers but the experiences of family members.
Relating to another recent post of mine this just seems to reinforce with me the importance of preserving some family history through the tradition of storytelling, and supplementing the stories with a little documentation and some family heirlooms. It appears becoming a family historian in a small way as I proposed is a noble endeavor and one not to be taken lightly. And I think it’s never too late to begin telling the family narrative, and adding to it every chance we get.
Parenting and grand parenting just became way more important to me than a lot of other things I could be doing in these later years of my life. I just wish there was a way to know if we were successful in helping our kids become resilient, and close-knit; and that they, too, will soldier on without us. Maybe all we’ll get is an occasional clue:
Son to daughter: I always knew you could …
Daughter to son: You taught me most of what I know about …
D whispering to me: “they’ll be OK…”
Oops; once again throat tightening, eyes welling…Pops

20131029 – Euphoria, Face Time and Unintended Consequences

Yesterday, following a weekend of wind and rain which resulted in a bumper crop of walnuts, it seemed appropriate to rethink my previous decision to just mow over them, wisdom being the better part of valor, and all that. Facing the prospect of a bone jarring, tooth rattling, glasses-cap-hearing protector shaking ride, I grabbed a rake and headed into the walnut laced perimeter to do battle.
I rather quickly discovered the unintended consequence of my previous tactic. While I mowed I certainly did a good job of husking the walnuts, and an even better job of pressing the remaining nuts deeply into the soft soil of the yard where the tines of a leaf rake were of little use. After one broken rake and two sore shoulders I abandoned the attempt and contrived my new approach.
Today, after my euphoric experience and a little face time (more to come on those two counts) I returned to the great outdoors, this time armed with two rakes including one of the stiff-backed, steel-tined garden variety. Step one; rake the leaves and loose walnuts with the leaf rake. Step two; switch to the garden rake and re-rake the entire the walnut perimeter, using the tines to pry the embedded walnuts out of the sod. Lesson learned: rake first, then mow. Price: double the original cleanup time before this mowing. Result: much smoother and stress free mowing experience, plus several hundred calories burned. Well, on to more pleasant thoughts.
Not that I would categorize a Stress Nuclear Heart Exam as a pleasant experience; but strangely enough, I felt rather euphoric during the drive home. I had obviously been stressing about this stress test for several weeks. My blood pressure was way up, I was feeling edgy, and I was asking all sorts of questions of the technicians even though I’d been through this test at least four times over the past several years. Last year’s test uncovered more coronary artery blockage and resulted in a new stent.
What would they find this time? Nothing. Fully restored blood flow. Bright clear images. Clean bill of health. Driving home I’m feeling pretty good; better than pretty good; relieved; great; euphoric. Hmm…good word, euphoric. Guess I’ve used it more than enough for this post.
Having arrived home after four hours with the cardiologist including drive time, I prepared a non-savory lunch to avoid temping my spouse to violate her pre-colonoscopy routine. For a little distraction she called our daughter to chat a bit. Speaker phone setting is mandatory to include the grand-kiddoes in the conversation. Our voices almost immediately prompted a request from Lil C to play with Meema and Pop-pop, meaning a switch to Skype for a little face time. Hey, who are we to pass up this opportunity? Who cares if we can’t touch the dolly as long as C puts the doll’s basket right in front of the camera and demonstrates how she cares for and tucks in her little friend? And proceeds to tell you all about it, and sings little praise songs she learned from her dad, and throws in a verse or two of “It’s a Small World”.
Interrupted by E’s demonstration of his prowess with nearly a quarter of the alphabet, C stated, “I need to practice my letter skills too,” remarkably articulate for a three year old don’t you think? She proceeded to pick up each letter E had just identified, repeat it and show it to us before getting back to our play time with the doll.
Words and letters from E, play time with C, and a chat with K; all in all a nice bit of face time with the family. That, some good news and a healthy bout of exercise made for a good day…
Another good day of life in the sandwich…Pops