Happy Birthday, Andrew! – An Excerpt from The Charm

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Today is Andrew’s birthday! He came by early this afternoon, prior to my getting his card! Darn! I’m usually better at things like that! We had agreed that his gift would be cash. Prior to the “break”, he had taken this coming week as vacation time to spend the annual week at Mexico Beach with Jordyn’s family. Since those plans had fallen through on account of the “break”, he’s at a loss with what to do with his time off, but getting to a beach somewhere, anywhere, is part of what he hopes to do, and the cash will be put toward whatever his vacation plans turn out to be.

Rod and I spent the day with usual weekend tasks. I got some housecleaning done, and by late afternoon, it seemed that Andrew was going to be having dinner with his good friend, Lance and their family. We have known Lance’s family for years, and so I suggested that we come by later with a birthday cake. Rod picked up a cake, complete with “Happy 24th Birthday, Andrew” written in the icing on the top, as well as the most lovely card, and we went off to the Riviere’s house to join in the celebration. Wanda and Jon, along with various members of their family, were out on their newly added screened porch! What a delight to sit outside without having to worry about bugs! That we were overlooking their pool made it that much more pleasant. After Rod got a tour of Jon’s garden, we lit all 24 candles and sang happy birthday to Andrew. I know that he was pleased with the celebration, but would have preferred to be hanging at Mexico beach.

On our way to the car, Andrew walked along with us to send us off. I gave him a big hug, held his cheek to mine, and recalled the day that he was born. Up until a few years ago, I would tell the story of each of the boys’ births on their birthday. When they were little, they used to sit fascinated by my accounts of each of their entries into this world. Now, they roll their eyes. It seems the charm of the story has worn thin, but every year, whether I say the words aloud or not, I recall each of their arrivals.

Andrew’s due date was May 29, a Friday in his year of birth. In those years, most women were accompanied into labor and delivery with their husbands. I was not like most women. Tom had been clear that he did not like hospitals and was not particularly interested in seeing the down and dirty action of childbirth. For each of my pregnancies, I invited him to take part in at least observing the event, however; he kindly and firmly declined. Looking back, I suppose that I should have been more demanding. I should have required that he be present, however, I didn’t like to rock the boat too much, and figured that the baby would be born with or without an audience, and so I accepted his absence. I did determine, though, that I wanted and needed to have someone with me that I could rely on to help me out and to witness the miracle that would occur. My dear friend, Gayle Nash, was that person. She was the daughter of the couple that lived next door to me when Ian was born, and was invited to act as my labor coach. She readily agreed, and attended childbirth classes with me prior to Ian’s birth.

With the anticipation of a second child, Gayle was once again conscripted to coach me through labor and delivery. In the time between Ian’s and Andrew’s births, though, we had moved from Regina, Saskatchewan, the city in which Ian was born, to Winnipeg, a scant 350 miles away. We bought Gayle a plane ticket that had her arriving on May 27, a Wednesday, and departing the next Wednesday, June 4. I hoped that the blessed event would occur sometime within that time frame. Gayle had arrived, and we set to work with preparations for the new baby, amusing almost two-year-old old Ian, and, as the days passed, taking long walks in the hopes of getting things started. The due date passed, then another and another, and on Monday, June second, I awakened early in the morning with what I recognized as early, weak and sporadic contractions. By mid morning, the contractions were definite and regular, and by noon, Gayle and I decided that it was soon time to be going to the hospital. We gave Ian some lunch and Gayle walked him to the neighbor’s house, where he would happily play with the children there. Tom had gone to work at his office that morning, about an hour’s drive away. When I called his office number, his secretary answered the call and I asked to speak to Tom. She informed me that he was in a meeting and could she take a message? I said that it would likely be best if she interrupted the meeting and got him to the phone. Once Tom was informed of my progress, Gayle and I drove to Grace General Hospital. Not long after arriving, I was settled into a labor room, and not long after that, it became quite clear that this baby was on its way. Dr. Blomert was called from his office across the street. He left patients stranded in his waiting room, one of whom was, coincidentally, my brother-in-law, Greg! As is characteristic of Andrew today, once he decides that something is going to be done, he gets right down to it. There were a number of standing orders for Dr. Blomert’s labor and delivery patients that were not completed for me prior to delivery. I was hustled into the delivery room. Gayle, having barely gotten enough time to don her gowns and mask joined me there! Once there, and with Dr. Blomert in place, Andrew was born after a brief but powerful exertion. A boy. I had delivered an eight pound, two ounce boy!

The baby was healthy and happy, as was I! Andrew was a long and thin baby, without the typical chubbiness seen in so many others. His fingers and toes – all there to be sure – were long and skinny. His dusting of hair was the same color as his scalp, so he looked completely bald. I’m not saying that he was precious and that I didn’t fall head over heels in love with him, but Andrew’s appearance as a tiny human was, well, not especially adorable. He was, however, a calm and placid infant during our stay in the hospital.

Gayle returned to Regina two days later, as planned. Tom brought Ian to the hospital to see his little brother and didn’t have a lot to say about him, other than he didn’t want to share his toys. Family members came by to see the new addition to our growing family. Tom was scheduled to go out of town for an important meeting, and so, Mom and Dad arranged to take Ian home with them to Morden for a short vacation. After several days in the hospital, a friend from work came around to pick up Andrew and me and take us home.

Those days at home with Andrew were peaceful and calm. Andrew had been born on the eleventh day of a record breaking hot streak in Manitoba that strung twenty one days in a row of temperatures over 85 degrees, and reaching, on some days as high as 95. Today, that doesn’t seem so severe, but at that time, we were living in a bungalow that did not have air conditioning, and Andrew and I spent the majority of our time in the basement, trying to stay cool. I remember talking to Mom on the phone one of the days that Ian was staying with them. I told Mom that this baby was so wonderful! All he did was eat and sleep!

That didn’t last. By the time Andrew was three weeks old, he had become a new mother’s nightmare! Some call it colic, but I call it hell on wheels! Andrew would cry and cry and cry, seemingly non-stop from the moment he woke in the morning, until he finally was exhausted and would sleep at night. We tried gripe water and soothers, medication and driving in the car, anything at all that would allow him to rest for even just a few minutes during the day. He was exhausted. I was exhausted. Ian was annoyed with this noisy new brother. I clearly recall thinking, after days and days of trying to soothe the unsoothable baby, that if a stranger came to the door and offered me a nickel for the kid, I might not have sold him, but I certainly would have entered into some serious negotiations!

Andrew cried through the summer, and oftentimes, I joined in. He cried through the evening of a high school reunion that I attended while he and Ian stayed with Mom and Dad. He cried through the days and evenings of my sister, Jennifer’s, bridal showers and wedding day. The babysitters that I employed for these events were haggard and worn by the time I returned home from these events. He cried so much that other than those few events, I left him with no one, not wanting to inflict anyone with the pain of listening to him cry on and on!

By the fall of the year, somehow, the crying stopped. We had lived through whatever the pain was that he endured as a result of entering into our world, and Andrew became absolutely the most wonderful baby: cooing and smiling, laughing, eating, and sleeping with a regularity and calm that was astounding! As time went by, he became a most cheerful and entertaining toddler. He potty trained himself, essentially. And when he began to talk in phrases, most of his words, at least for a time, ended with an additional syllable of “uh” at the end.

He had the most lovely silky smooth white blond hair and his blue eyes were constantly sparkling! Andrew became, and remains, our families’ clown.

Happy Birthday, Andrew!

Socks, Backpacks and Life in a Locker Room

Many years ago in my life before children, I was, like many of my childless friends, a smug on-looker. I recall many times thinking that I would never allow MY child to do that, to wear that, to say that, to {add any ignorant, snobbish thing you can think of here}. My child would be impeccably polite and perfectly groomed. My child would answer me, with “Yes pretty Mommy,” at all times when following to a T each and every one of my directions. My child would excel at every little thing to which they tried their perfect hands. I was confident that I would be a contender for Mother of the Year (MOTY) each and every year of parenthood.

I wasn’t really that bad – but bad enough to meet with some monumental surprises at what being a Mom was really about. On the day that I became a mother, July 22, 1986, I knew not what was in store for me. Nor did I know the complications that would ensue on June 2, 1988 or July 26, 1990! I was the mother of three sons. I remained assured that I would lead these young men to perfection!


There were so many things that I couldn’t have anticipated. I had no idea the things that I would be called to manage:

  • Socks. The challenge with socks began in infancy with those adorable little knit socks would be rubbed and pushed by those chubby miniature feet until they could no longer hang onto the teensy little toes they were meant to cover. How delightful! When the little socks fell off, all the more chance to nibble on toes and play “This Little Piggy.” I’m not sure what it is about boys and socks that make them such mortal enemies, but through the stages of tube socks through to adult sized ankle socks – they seemed to fall off of feet continually. Socks laying on the floor were like droppings that I could follow to find any one of three boys. At one time, I washed, matched and folded all of the socks color coded for each boy. With time, fewer and fewer pairs could be made as the magic sock ghosts would spirit one of a pair away to some unknown dimension. Eventually, I gave up. I continued to wash and dry the socks – then dumped them unceremoniously into a plastic bin from which each boy could pull two – any two – to pull on before running out the door to school. Did they match? The odds were poor, and I don’t really know because I chose not to look. I once tested to see how long a single, dirty sock would lie on the mat in the garage outside the door. After 12 days of stepping over it, I caved and picked it up. I stopped planning what I would wear to the MOTY banquet.
  • Backpacks. Somehow, my children were unable to come in the door from the garage, make a sharp right turn and set their school backpacks on the little wooden bench with a heart carved into the back. That was what was supposed to happen. What actually happened was that backpacks would be shed like old skin – anywhere: on the driveway, in the bathroom, at the door either inside or outside – it didn’t matter. One day when I came home from work and the boys were sneaking in some television, I tripped over two backpacks dropped at the door. I was miraculously able to calculate better than a rough estimate of the number of times that I had told them to put their backpacks on the bench! Ian was midway through the fourth grade, which meant four full years at 180 days each (724) and about half of another year of 90 days, which totaled EIGHT HUNDRED AND FOURTEEN TIMES THAT I HAD SAID TO PUT THE DAG-GONE BACKPACKS ON THE BENCH! I announced my mathematical wizardry loudly and forcefully and added my belief that reasonably intelligent children with that amount of repeated practice should be able to get that ONE SIMPLE THING DONE!! I was certain that I fell out of the MOTY running completely that day.
  • Sports Equipment. I just didn’t know how much space, schmozel (a word learned from my mother) and stink could result from basketballs, bicycles, baseballs, gloves, sticks, goals, jerseys, hats, helmets, pads and pucks. They were everywhere. I lived my life in what seemed to be an athletic locker room. Some of the stuff would be abandoned on the driveway, forcing me to stop short of the garage, leave the car, pick my way over the shambles of equipment and backpacks, into the house to holler for someone, ANYONE to move the hockey goal out of my BLESSED way! And would someone please pull that hockey puck out of the garage door where it was firmly stuck. Someone had clearly perfected their slap-shot. Not even a MOTY nomination that year.


It hadn’t occurred to me the things that would come slipping out of my mouth. Before I was able to stop myself, I heard my voice saying things like:

  • “Clearly Johnny’s mother doesn’t love Johnny as much as I love you,” in response to a request for permission to do something inappropriate or dangerous. Not only did I give up on MOTY, I had to deposit some money in the therapy account for that child.
  • “What do you say?” This was a prompt that I simply couldn’t stop myself from providing. I wanted my children to employ etiquette. My boys knew that the response that would work when requesting something from me was, “Please Pretty Mommy.” I was racking up MOTY points!
  • “Don’t worry about breaking the {insert toy, book, appliance, or car here}. It’s nothing that a couple hundred dollars won’t fix.” Yes. I did.
  • “Let Mommy help you pack.” Said to an eight year old threatening to run away, to which I added, “Please be sure to send me an address when you find a new family. I will miss you so and I want to be able to come to visit. If your new family will allow me, of course.” Now that one was clever and it worked. I may have been in the MOTY running that time.

I didn’t know that I would send a child on deployment overseas. I didn’t know that I would help a young man recover from a broken heart. I didn’t know that I would cheer so loudly at a long fought for college graduation.

I was shocked by the incongruence of feeling furious and monumental relief simultaneously having found a little one that I thought was lost. I was amazed at the new glow the holidays could only hold when delighted boys saw that Santa Claus had visited. I could never have guessed the level of consistent anxiety during deployment, and the constant reassurance and support from the stateside children.


I had no idea the depth of love that I could feel until I became a mother. I won the prize after all. I have three wonderful men that I proudly call my sons.

Life by Bells

I live my life to the rhythm of bells. Well, not bells anymore, I suppose. What I call bells have actually morphed into tones. I wake to a disgusting blaring honking sound from my alarm. The tones on my phone are varied to suit the personalities that might call me. I keep an awful submarine pinging sound for anyone whose number is not programmed into my phone, and know to ignore those pings.

At work, the class bells have been replaced by four loud tones that mean that the school day has begun or ended, and also signal the times during the day that students orderly transition from one class to another. Maybe not so orderly.

Credit: amazon.com

While at work one day this week, I had my fill of “bells.” At this time of year, I am scrambling to complete all the evaluations that are on my lengthy list. The rapid count-down to the last day of school sets off a near complete panic in me. I have a limited number of days to see everyone on my list. That I can accomplish the tasks is part scheduling magic, part luck and part ingenuity. What should be wide open opportunities to pull a kid out of class is stymied because of weeks worth of standardized testing time that is deemed absolutely and undeniably SACRED!

I waited patiently on this particular day for the students to complete a portion of one of those dreaded tests so that I could pounce on an unsuspecting victim and administer yet ANOTHER test. Once the students had been tested and fed, I was armed and ready. And then I heard a bell.

Well, not really a bell. I was a loud and obnoxious pulsing siren accompanied by Mr. Roboto stating “Evacuate the building. Evacuate. Evacuate.” I immediately thought that some eighth grader was going to be very very sorry that they had tripped that alarm. I automatically assumed a prankster. I obeyed the repeated command, and made sure to turn off my light on the way out of my office. I don’t know why. If the place burned down, would it matter if my office light was on?

Credit: Keep Calm-O-Matic

Moving 2,000 twelve to fourteen-year-olds out of a building has been practiced to perfection at that school and within a few minutes, they were all outside and standing at a safe distance from the building. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and after ten minutes or so, I sat down on a curb and stretched out my legs to get a little sun. By thirty minutes in the sunshine, I was feeling a little warm, and after forty-five minutes or so, Mr. Roboto proclaimed the “All Clear.”

That delay propelled me to a scheduled meeting, which we conducted. Through the meeting, though, I was keeping a keen watch on my watch – hoping that we would conclude in just enough time to squeak a WISC out of the student I still needed to see.

Credit: verbinet.com

Sure enough, I rescued my student from science class during the final two periods of the day. Because of the pressure of time, I had not taken a moment to engage in any small talk with this young man. We set straight away into the test, and had closed the last page of the protocol just as Mr. Roboto and his back-up squealing revived the earlier refrain. “Evacuate.” Surely this is a mistake, I thought. My student asked if we really had to go outside. Indeed, we did – so we headed toward the door, and just as I was turning off the light, old Roboto droned out the “All Clear.” Wonderful! Young man and I might have a chance to converse! We hadn’t but seated ourselves, when Mr. Roboto replayed his earlier tune and implored us to evacuate. This time we had made it to the hall before the all clear was sounded. That poor child and I were caught in a drill dance for the next several turn-arounds of all clears and evacuates.

Eventually, I gave up. The time was only a few minutes from dismissal for the day. On the final Evacuate, I packed up my computer, gathered my testing materials and purse and told the child to get his book bag and follow me. Outside, we were easily able to find his class, standing at a safe distance from the building in the parking lot. Luckily, they were not standing in the path down which I would drive my car to escape.

As I pulled out of the parking lot, old Roboto sounded the All Clear, just one more time. At least that I heard.

Hurts So Good

I’ve had the luxury of a week of spring break. Unlike many of my co-workers, I didn’t drive south to the beach or Disney, or jet off to some far-off destination. I have stayed home and hoped to get some things done. The weather has not been particularly pleasant during my time off, but it has afforded me the opportunity to get some nagging jobs done.

Credit: clipartkid.com

During the last few weeks of work before the break, I noted that my shoulders and upper back were aching. I would be at least a song and a half into my daily drive home before I would notice that I was leaning forward and hugging the steering wheel of my car with my shoulders up near my ears. “Lean back. Let your shoulders drop down,” I would tell myself. “I need a massage,” I would tell myself.

Monday was cool and rainy – a perfect day to complete some of the errands on my list, including getting a long overdue manicure. I tried to get an appointment at French Nails – my favorite salon where they play movies while they pamper my feet and hands – but they, too, were taking vacation. I couldn’t go back to my previous shop because they would know that I had abandoned them when they saw that someone else had done my most recent manicure. I didn’t want to have to explain why I had left them. I had to find a different salon – just for this one time. I found one near one of my errand stops at Home Depot AND as an added bonus, the salon was right next door to ATL Massage. “Perfect,” thought I. I could park once and get both my hands and my poor, aching shoulders pampered.

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I’m not new to massages. I’ve had several in my life. Each time that I go, the massage therapist works on major knots in the muscles of my back. Each time they suggest that I go regularly to keep those knots under control. Each time, I vow that I will, since the whole experience is so relaxing. Each time, I let a few years pass before I go back. This time, before I even got back to the table, I purchased two massages. I HAD to because they were offering a second massage for half price. I’m not about to turn down a BOGO, so I signed up for two sessions and added the hot stone treatment for good measure.

I was escorted to a room with a massage table in which the lights were low, some essential oils were being diffused, and lovely, calm Oriental-styled music was playing. I began to relax immediately. My massage therapist entered the room. She was a teeny tiny young Asian woman wearing scrubs and Crocs. Yes – of course I wanted a deep tissue massage and could she please focus on my shoulders and upper back? Yes, indeed, I had purchased an hour session. Yes, I will disrobe and shall I put my clothing on this chair?

Some friends at the lake and I had recently discussed the level of undress with which we were comfortable when getting a massage. I thought of my more modest friends who keep vital garments on when they go for a massage. I believe that any bashfulness I may have had completely disappeared when, in preparation for Eric’s birth, I asked my doctor if I could have more than one person in the delivery room with me. Dr. Barootes told me that I could sell tickets to the event if I wanted to. I considered it. Childbirth allows total strangers access to secure areas that are otherwise entirely off limits. Childbirth demolishes one’s privacy and modesty.

I had nothing to be ashamed of. Rather – the parts that I am ashamed of would be hidden. Since I had asked for my therapist to focus on my back and shoulders, the most troubling of my many trouble zones – which protrudes from the area around my belly button and spreads across my entire mid-section – would be completely squished and spread out on the table as I lay on my front under the strategically placed blankets. I took off every stitch of clothing I had and snuggled in – front side down, face in the cradle  – under the warmed blankets on the massage bed.

Credit: groupon.com

Annie, my masseuse slipped into the room and began to warm some lavender scented oil. Ahhhh, my favorite! She told me that she was warming the stones and that they would be used later in the hour. Warm, smooth, stones were going to feel goooooood! I happily closed my eyes and she began the massage. Annie quietly explained that she used a hybrid of Thai and American styles of massage. Thai includes heavy pressure pushing down on specific parts of the body, while American involves circular movement and pressure that moves around on the body. Great! Let’s go! Sigh!

If it weren’t for being able to see the tiny little toes of her Crocs, I would have sworn that somehow, Annie was swapped out for a 350 pound Andy once the massage began. There was no way in the world that the tiny little thing that I talked to whilst fully dressed was able to force the amount of pressure through her hands that she did! She was simply too small.

Annie knew what she was doing. It didn’t take but a few minutes before she was kneading my upper back at exactly the place that I ached. She would push against something solid a few inches toward the spine from where my bra straps would be (if I had one on!) and eventually her hands would slip from the edges of the solid, and in the motion, a little cracking sound would be heard. I asked about the source of the noise. Muscle knots. She was pushing, kneading, pinching, rubbing on two knots that extend from the tops of my shoulders halfway down my back. I asked if Annie would be able to take care of those nasty knots. She would, indeed, but not likely in one one-hour session. Good thing I got that BOGO!

Friends – I have enjoyed every other massage that I’ve ever had. Sure, there were moments during each that were a little uncomfortable, but never before would I have described a massage as painful. In order to endure my experience, I had to reach far back into my repertoire to when modesty was lost and recall the relaxation breathing techniques that I had successfully employed during each of three childbirth experiences. Little Annie, positioned at the top of my head, accessed my knots and pushed so hard on them, that I believe the only thing that kept me from being pushed down along the table was my chin, which was hooked over the table’s edge. I tried to ignore the agony by focusing on my breathing and looking straight down at the floor. I started to hiss the /s/ sound with each exhalation and worked very hard not to add the /t/, /o/ and /p/ sounds and bring this torture to an end. Annie moved silently around me and attacked those knots from every possible direction. I found it helpful to alternate the hissing /s/ with a soft /sh/ sound upon exhaling, and, again, had to concentrate so as not to add the /it/ to my expelled breath. Annie asked me if I was OK when she heard my noises. Oh yes! Just fine!

Credit: themontcalmclub.com

I tried to picture my happy place – gently swinging on a hammock under the shade of a palm tree on a private tropical beach. I counted seconds. I sang childhood songs in my head. I closed my eyes hard and prayed. I waited and waited for the hot stones – which I was sure would be a sign that my torment was through. Not so. Annie’s attack on those knots was only augmented by the heat and the solid surface of those stones, which, once cooled, were deposited in a perfectly straight line along my lower back.

After what seemed to be forever, but actually was exactly one hour, Annie quietly spoke the words I had longed to hear. We were all done. I should rest for a few minutes before getting up. I did. I got up, I had survived. I rolled my shoulders and – it felt good! I was invigorated, revitalized, restored! Annie advised me to drink plenty of water to rid the toxins. I looked forward to being less toxic. Annie suggested that I might like to use a heating pad later in the day if I was sore. Sure. Will do! I took my energized self home.

Five bottles of water and about eight hours later – I sat close to an outlet so that I could press the heating pad alternately on my excruciating shoulders. I hurt. Badly. But – I can’t wait to go back. It hurt so good.






Road Warrior Women

There’s nothing quite like taking a road trip with a friend. I love to hit the road and explore. I guess all those trips that we made with three little boys between Ohio and Manitoba didn’t quite get me my fill of the open road. Those trips are entirely another story.

Photo Credit: www.ministry-to-children.com

Over the past few years, I have had a consistent road trip partner. Rhonda (pictured with the “What a Jackass” scarf in Silky Sass) and I have shared a number of wonderful road trips.

Our first real trip was not meant for sight-seeing or vacationing. My son, Eric, was coming back to the Fort Drum, New York after a year-long US Army deployment to Bagram AiB, Afghanistan. Rod and Eric had worked the phones and internet during his last few weeks of deployment, and the result was an Ford F250 diesel pick-up truck that he purchased and would be driving while at Fort Drum. That truck had to make it from Buford, Georgia to upstate New York. I had to be at Fort Drum when he arrived back on American soil. It made sense to me that if the truck and I both had to get to Watertown, NY, we might as well go together.

Ready to hit the road in the F-250

I needed someone to share the drive with me and Rhonda was willing for the adventure. An adventure it was. You can read all about it on the final few pages of The Charm.

There could be no other trip that would match the drama and excitement that we had on our way to Fort Drum, but we keep on trying! Our junkets have taken us to Savannah, Southern Pines, Blowing Rock and DC. Somehow, we are always able to find a little adventure each time.

Rhonda makes the perfect travel buddy. Last fall, we experimented and invited Cece and Karla to join us for an overnight trip to Blowing Rock, North Carolina. We needed to test them out to see if they could hang with us. So – a one night drive into the mountains, with a stay at a slightly creepy but wonderfully nostalgic motel, followed by a drive down a southern portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway was a perfect audition. They passed. Barely.

I’m in the process of planning a few more road trips – possibly one to Manitoba this summer and a return visit to Washington, DC. There’s just something wonderful about the open road and a friend or two that make for finding some adventure.

Four Road Warriors