Chapter 11 “It was the Worst of Times, It was the Best of Times”

The years were not easy, but the days each held their own treasures.

I painted the baby’s room with Winnie-the-Pooh characters, and made the bright orange curtains.  The house was built in the 30’s or 40’s so the floors are hard wood but were not refinished, so we let the kids ride their chunky plastic riding-toys all through the house.  It got pretty noisy at times.  Like a cartoon.  When they were little, they never, ever walked.  They ran everywhere, all the time.

Because of my fatigue, it was often hard to do, but I would take them out to the local playgrounds and let them play as often as I was up to it.  If I wasn’t up to loading them in the car, I would pull them in the wagon over to the local veteran’s cemetery which is 2 blocks away, and turn them loose in there.  It has a 3 foot rock wall all around, so they could run as fast and as far as their little feet could carry them, and I didn’t have to chase or be concerned about them going in the street.

We read stories, but not as much as they would have liked, because during those times it was very hard for  me to concentrate even to read a children’s book.  Another favorite thing to do was to put in a cassette tape of kids songs and Mom would lie on the bed while they jumped around or played “sandwich” covering me with pillows and blankets, or we’d play circus where I’d pick them up on my feet and lift them into the air.  You get creative when you hurt and are really tired, but looking back those are special memories that the kids even remember well.  We learned every word of every song on that tape, because we did that at least once every day.

We have a tradition that on Birthdays, (including Jesus’ Birthday) we hold hands in the back yard and send up a balloon to Jesus, giving thanks for the Birthday guy or gal, and asking God if He will please give us another year to enjoy them.  We told them that maybe when we get to heaven, Jesus will greet us holding that huge bouquet of balloons.  We always watch it until we can’t see it anymore as it disappears into the sky.

We finger-painted on the walls in the breakfast nook with water-washable paints, and I started the kids helping with dishes on a footstool as soon as they were old enough to reach (and while they still thought of it as fun to do dishes).

I took lots of pictures and kept their school work and made albums for each of them that reflect their growing-up years.  I was scrap-booking before the scrap-booking craze.  I still don’t care for all the pre-fabricated scrap-booking stuff.  I was room-mom in each of their classes, so I was always there for their parties and folks in their school all knew me.

We didn’t get to take as many trips as we would have liked, but we had a lot of fun family outings.  Sarasota, Florida was our biggest vacation, and we did the requisite stop at South of the Border for pictures.  We live within 2 hours of mountains and beaches, so we have trips to Cass Scenic Railroad, and Virginia Beach, and of course the local amusement places like Busch Gardens and Kings Dominion.  Garrett and I got to go on 2 very special weekend trips for anniversaries.  One was to Natural Bridge, and the other was to Glaucester County to a B&B.  We spent our honeymoon at Corolla, N.C. in my bosses beach house, which I paid for by doing a mural in her huge basement!

I painted the lattice on the walls that you can see in the one picture of Isaac by the bookshelf.  Aside from my own journals, I also kept journals of the boy’s milestones when they were little, up until elementary school.  Isaac always said and did things that were funny.  We called them his “Isaac-isms”.  The picture of him on the roller-coaster is a family favorite, but Isaac hates it!  Poor baby.  He wanted to go on the roller-coaster even though he was scared, but afterward he was mad at all of us because we laughed at the picture.  Once at the State Fair he begged to go into the fun house.  His face, when he came out of there, didn’t look much better than in the roller-coaster picture, and his summation of the whole experience:  “That was NOT fun!”  Isaac has always been very articulate.  His first full sentence was an exclamation.  We had been “oohing and ahhhing over Christmas decorations downtown, saying things like “Oh, look at that reindeer”, “Look, there’s Santa” and when we got to the cross walk, the “Do not walk” hand was flashing yellow” So he said “Wooga-dat-hand!”  His first individual words were “magic” and “presents”.  When Isaac was in kindergarten, his teacher said “you’ve got a special one here”.  She said she gave each of the kids seven  Popsicle sticks, and told them to make shapes with them.  The other kids used 3 or 4, making squares, rectangles and triangles.  Isaac made a shape like the shape of a house (three sides then a peak at the top, with a stick going up at the top and another that crossed over that one) and declared his was a “satellite”!

Ben’s first words were “Barbar” for his babysitter Barbara, and his first “sentence” was a question.  He pointed to a picture of an old man raking leaves, with a little dog playing at his feet, and asked “Pappa, doggie, mess?”  LOL  Benjamin has always been very observant of details.  Before he could talk, I brought him home one day after putting new curtains up in the living room, and he pointed, giggled, and burbled something with the intonation sounding like a half-question, half-exclaimation.  I guessed that he approved!

The first Christmas with Ben, the only thing we were able to give him was a boxed gift set from Wal Mart that had several different little rattle-type toys in it.  But of course he got stuff from aunts and uncles and grandparents and friends.

Our kids never, once, woke up before us on Christmas.  We always got up and waited, and finally would go wake them up.  We were more excited than they were.   There is a cell tower not too far from our house, and it has a blinking red light on top.  When Ben was about a year and 9 months old, at his second Christmas, I put his step stool by the window and had him look out there before he went to bed, and I told him “look, there’s Rudolph, do you see his red nose?”  He got so excited, he jumped off the footstool, ran in a circle, jumped back up to look again, and then I told him “You better run get in bed, Santa won’t stop here if you aren’t tucked in”.  He took off like a shot and got right into bed.  Ben always used go to sleep holding whatever new toy he got for his Birthday or Christmas.

Isaac loved blocks, and built elaborate robots and was always systematic with his colors and shapes.  Both the boys are artists.  Ben started drawing when he was in kindergarten and never slowed down until high school.  Isaac would look at Ben’s drawings and get frustrated that he couldn’t do the same, so he didn’t really start trying until he was a little older.  Like everything else Isaac does, he seems to lag at first (if he couldn’t do it perfectly on the first try, he often gave up), and then he suddenly hits his stride and zooms to surpass expectations.  He consistently seems to operate that way in everything he learns.  His Kindergarten teacher actually noted that about him, and it has served me well to understand that about him, so that I didn’t get too hung up on the timing when he mastered things.

Ben is the Dog, Isaac is the Cat.

Ben is gentle, motivated to compliance for the praise or smile it brings, sentimental, and easy to please.

Isaac is temperamental, persnickety, sardonic, has always known his own mind and doesn’t much give a flip whether you likes his perspective or not.

They are as different as night and day, but they have always been great friends, and believe it or not, rarely fight!  Although, when Isaac was very small, his Dad frequently reminded Benjamin that he had to be careful with baby brother, because “baby brother is littler than you”.  After a while, baby brother learned that he could whack big brother on the head when big brother made him mad, and big brother, being the compliant kid he was, would just stand for it and never retaliate.  Ben finally got fed up one day and came to let Dad know that Isaac was hitting on him, and Dad said “well, go hit him back!”  Ben got a gleam in his eye, and ran off back to the room where his brother was, and sure enough, in a minute we heard wailing.  In a minute Isaac came running to Dad and said “Dad, you have to tell Benjamin to remember he is bigger than me”, and Dad said “No, Isaac, I think you better start remembering that Bubba is bigger than you”.  After that, Ben got a little more respect from Baby Brother, and that we know of, Ben never abused the privilege.  He took his big brother responsibilities very seriously.

Ben was always sure of himself, and he just did things without wondering if he was capable or not.  He must have gotten that from my Mom, because neither Garrett nor I am like that.  Isaac, like I said, was less secure about trying new things.   When we thought he was ready to take the training wheels off of his bike, Dad took them off but after a couple of falls, when he couldn’t get going, he demanded to have them back on.  I think they came off twice and went back on twice before they came off for good. It was even like that when he was learning to walk.  He would not be pushed to do things until he was good and ready.  When he was ready, he just did it!  So, imagine the day when his training wheels came off for good, and Isaac took off down the hill on the sidewalk toward a very busy street.  Garrett was panicked, hollering “Isaac, NO, STOP! STOP” and Isaac shouted into the wind “I’m nooooot stooppppping!”

Thankfully his guardian angel was on duty that day.  (His guardian angel kept very busy).  Isaac was the most “wide open” kid you ever saw.  He jumped off of things that were 3 times his height.  He ran ahead in parking lots.  I’m pretty sure that is when my grey hairs started coming in.  I will never forget when we were all on separate inner-tubes going down the “Lazy River” at the amusement park.  Have you ever tried to run in 4 feet of water?  My child was 400 feet in front of me, and my float was not going to catch up, so I ditched it and tried to run.  The teenage “attendants” on the side kept blowing their whistle at me, telling me to get back on my float and I was trying to tell them that my 5-year-old son was way up there all by himself.  Mommy had to go to the first aid tent for a little while after that ride!

Ben scared us pretty well on a couple of occasions too.  He and a neighbor friend hid under his bed when they were toddlers and we had the police looking for them in the neighborhood.  I don’t remember if it was Garrett or one of those policemen who had probably been through this type of thing before, who figured out where they were.

Each one of the boys were “lost” at the beach on different occasions.  When Ben was little and we took him to the beach for the first time, we showed him the lifeguard stations and told him that if he ever couldn’t find us, to go to one of them.  Looking back now, I wouldn’t have put it past him to have done it on purpose to test the whole system out.   We only lost sight of him for a minute or two, but of course the panic was that maybe he was lost in the water.  We went straight to the lifeguard station, and as it turned out, when he put out the radio call, Ben was at the nearest station in the other direction.  The whole thing was over in 3 minutes.  In Isaac’s case a few years later, we had taught him the same rules, but Isaac had just gotten tired and went to sit on the blanket while the rest of us were at the edge of the water.  Still, those moments of terror seemed unending when they were happening.

Becoming parents shows you new facets of your spouse.  When Garrett was dressing Ben to bring him home from the hospital that first time, he was so excited, and nervous, it took him well over an hour to dress him.  He was afraid he might hurt him, I guess.  I remember a conversation about the baby’s eyes, and Garrett asking “they can’t really see anything yet at that age, can they?”  I laughed and said, “Baby, he’s not a puppy!”.  To this day I don’t know if he was kidding or not.  Garrett is subtle with his humor and it took me a while to figure that out.  The first time he “got me” with it was before we were married, when I brought in his mail, and there was something in there from a Sallie Mae.  I asked “who is Sallie Mae?” and he said (deadpan) “child support”.  I must have looked pretty shaken up because he laughed and explained that Sallie Mae is the agency he paid his student loan to.  He has never let me forget that one.

By the time Isaac was born, Garrett was an old hand at Daddy duty.  I have the normal “mama bear” instincts that Mom’s have, but believe it or not, Garrett is more of a “mother hen” than I am, worrying about whether they are dressed warmly enough, anxious about the first girlfriends, driving,  telling them to tuck in their shirt-tail, that sort of thing.

As long as I can remember people always said around parents of new babies “enjoy it as much as you can, before you know it, they’ll be all grown up”.  So when I had mine, that is what I did.  Even though I had to work sometimes, I can honestly thank God for the conditions that prevented me from working a lot of the time, because that meant I was with my kids.  I remember anytime I was at work, there was a part of me that felt conflicted and guilty that I was not at home, yet when I was home, I felt conflicted and guilty that I wasn’t helping bring in income.  Still, when I was home with my kids, I held them as much as I could, and kissed and hugged them a lot, and even though I was so exhausted I couldn’t see straight, I did relish every moment that I could with them.  We respected them as little people in their own right, with individual God-given personalities of their own, we set firm limits, (I was bad cop, Garrett was good cop when they were little.  Somewhere around middle school that role has to change, for boys, so now I get to be mostly the good cop, while Dad has to be the more firm one).  I consciously worked at letting them have a sense of self, apart from Mom.  I gave them options and let them make limited choices, I tried to make sure they understood that they were responsible for their attitudes and could change them, and I particularly respected that their things (belongings) were theirs.  When it came time to clean out the closets I didn’t wait until they were gone to Grandma’s and toss things.  I sorted through them, and we made decisions like that together.  That is a direct result of my own feelings of not having control and choices which I felt led to my vulnerability when I left home.  Not criticizing my upbringing, just learning from it and doing according to what I had figured out.   We made them do some things they didn’t relish, like take Cotillion!  Just in case they grow up and marry someone in the Country Club set.  They played soccer and football, Isaac tried scouts, Ben did Kung Fu.  Isaac is as non-competitive with other people as I am.  He and I have enough trouble competing with ourselves.   Ben had the discipline to stay with Football several years, deciding to opt out of it in high school to do track and JROTC extra-curriculars.

I could never have imagined the joy and the love that would come with being a Mom.  Of all the jobs I have ever had, that one is definitely my favorite!  What an honor and what a blessing!

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2 thoughts on “Chapter 11 “It was the Worst of Times, It was the Best of Times”

  1. No, I don’t mind the comments at all. I love to get feedback from readers particularly on the “real life” things I write about. I want to know there are others who can relate, or that in some cases and in some ways, reading my story helps or encourages or comforts someone else.

  2. The ministry of motherhood is a place where God redeems and blesses us over and over again. I have two sons, 17 and 21 now, and they are a beautiful gift from God. I am so thankful to have been given the blessing of being a mother to them. It does go fast and even more so as they get older. I wrote a blog post “About Raising Sons” that I refer to when I receive a compliment about out sons. In truth, God alone is what kept me going and whatever has been done well, “To God Be The Glory.”

    I hope you don’t mind my comments. I rarely comment on other blogs, but I am so enjoying your book.

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