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!

Last Days of School

An Excerpt from The Charm

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Today was the last day of school for the 2011-2012 school year. The past three days have been spent in the hallowed halls of my schools with students poring over notes and books just before entering the classrooms in which they would take their final exams. schools out

During the years that I taught in an elementary school, the last day of school was chock full of excited children wiggling their way to the summer break. By the time the last day of school rolled around, most of the classrooms were cleaned, desks and chairs were stacked, and teachers had to find some way to keep the lid on everyone until the final bell of the day and year. At that bell, noisy students with broad smiles would joyfully make their way to the buses, the staff would stand outside to wave them goodbye, and we would all go home exhausted.

In the high school, come time for that final bell, the maturity of the students tends to dampen the outright celebration seen in the younger children. Many students simply make their way home, some weary from the fatigue of exams, some not even bothered by any extraneous effort over the exam period, and some saddened and dejected after having learned that their efforts (or lack of) did not prove enough to gain all the credits available to them in the semester that was now complete. Some students go home to await the final decision regarding their performance, hoping to hear that indeed, they would be walking across a stage to receive their diploma in two days’ time. Not all of those students would hear that they were finally being released from the grips of the public school system, and those would need to make plans for filling their transcript.

My current position has me a step removed from the frenzy of the last day of school. I hear the bells that signal the end of the year’s classes, and I hear the students moving around in the hallway—some lingering a little longer, some rushing to arrive at last in summer. I continue my work and look forward to the next week or two during which the buildings will be staffed with a few remaining people, the hallways and telephones will be quieted, and my days will be spent putting the finishing touches on the stack of reports that have made their way from the pile labeled “Write Report” to “Nearly Done.”

When I arrived home after work, Andrew came by to drop Levi off with me. He had an upcoming interview for a possible sales position in a neighboring town and didn’t want to leave Levi alone after a full day of work. Andrew was nervous about the interview and was still carrying with him the concern and sadness that he left with on Sunday. Following his interview, which he believed went well, he came back and rested for a while on the sofa. It was clear to me, just by looking at him, that he had not been sleeping well, if at all. He confirmed my suspicion and talked with me about what a difficult time he had been having. While he lay on the sofa, he began to mumble his responses to my attempts at conversation about anything – anything at all that did not have to do with her. Soon enough, his eyes were closed, and he was sleeping.

I don’t remember if Mom ever actually said the words, “Don’t wake anyone from a sleep unless it is absolutely necessary,” but I believe that it was she who, through spoken message or deed, convinced me of this piece of etiquette. Perhaps she instilled this notion in me because she, like most any mother, knows that sleep can be a miracle cure for so many different ailments. I hoped that some sound rest, even on the sofa in my family room, would have some measure of a curative effect on Andrew. While he slept, I ushered the dogs to my office upstairs and stayed there until my stomach informed me that, child sleeping on sofa or not, I needed to have some dinner.

My cooking in the kitchen didn’t rouse Andrew. I stepped outside to call Rod and ask him not to ring the house phone so as not to wake Andrew. While we talked, the kitchen timer that signaled that dinner was ready roused Andrew. Well, I hoped that the little bit of sleep that he got would possibly brighten his mood. I served up our pasta dinner and Andrew ate well, apparently for the first time in days. Following dinner, he sat on the sofa and we talked a little. The young man sitting there, so forlorn, had not made the bounce back that I had hoped for. He seemed extremely drained. I told him that he was too tired to make the drive back to Athens, about an hour away. He was going upstairs, getting into bed, and sleeping until I woke him in the morning with enough time to drive back home and get to work. He offered no resistance to my demand. Upstairs we went, into the bed he burrowed, and, like I had done thousands of times when he was a tyke, I tucked the blankets in around him, kissed him, and reminded him that I loved him. Sleep tight.

Daylight Saving Time

An Excerpt from The Charm

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

Credit: guardianlv.com

Credit: guardianlv.com

I don’t know when it happened, but sometime within the past few years, the onset of Daylight Saving Time crept forward into March. Last night was the one designated to springing forward. We will spend from this day until sometime in October or November with our days adjusted forward so as to gain a little extra daylight in the evening. I’m not complaining—I like having dusk arrive at a later hour, especially during the summer when many of my evenings are spent at the lake! It just occurs to me that since the number of months spent in standard time has grown to so few, couldn’t we just leap forward permanently?

Credit: wikipedia.org

Credit: wikipedia.org

Surely no one would complain about the adjustment of sunlight hours over the winter! There would be so many benefits to perma-daylight time. Technically, people could set the clocks in their houses once and never have to adjust with the exception of rare power outages! Personally, I would appreciate not having to change the time in my car. Twice yearly, I need to search through the owner’s manual—a booklet that I would otherwise never open—and figure out how to change one digit by one number up or down. In the fall, it is a waste of the hour’s time that I had just gained. In the spring, the loss of an hour by springing forward is augmented, I dare say doubled, by my lack of recall coupled with my lack of intuition with regard to digital clocks installed in automobile dashboards.

For whatever reason, I rose particularly early this morning, or so I thought. The clock on my bedside table showed 6:30 when I got out of bed. I didn’t like the hour at which my eyes had opened this morning, but I felt a certain relief when I recalled that it was actually (well not actually, since Daylight Saving Time is contrived) 7:30, and therefore, a more civil hour of the day to be rising.

I went straight to my Sunday morning routine. I read a chapter of Smarter by Sunday, a little more quickly than usual. The lesson today was on opera and classical dance, topics that don’t hold a great deal of interest for me. My haste with the topic was intensified by my desire to return to the saga of the British kings and queens. My reading took me easily through my first cup of coffee, and when I got up to pour my second and last, I adjusted the time on the kitchen clocks to 10:40 to reflect the magical time warp that had happened while I slept. Goodness! I had no idea that I had been sipping coffee and reading so long!

When Rod woke about 20 minutes later, he and I both marveled at how late he had slept. A little later, Rod asked me if I had changed the time on the clocks. I proudly told him that I had. Aha! So had he—last night before he had come to bed. No wonder! I certainly didn’t feel as though I had been reading for almost four hours!

And so, we stumble and bumble into another round of Daylight Saving Time. I smile as I realize that Eric will be home before the clocks are turned back in November and winter returns once again.

Back to School: An Excerpt from The Charm

An Excerpt from The Charm

Monday, August 6th, 2012

The students were back to school today. There’s always a thrill about the first day back.

Credit: earth911.com

Credit: earth911.com

Friends reunite—well, sort of. Most of these friends either saw each other or communicated all during their summer break. If they weren’t calling each other on their cell phones, they were texting each other. If neither of those, then they were communicating via Facebook and were able to watch every detail of their friends’ vacation time from the screen of their computer or phone. So the special part about today was that they were once again corralled together and about to embark on another year of education.

I no longer have the pleasure of being in an elementary school on the first day of the new school year. I would always watch with mixed emotion as the new kindergarteners entered the school. They were such tiny babies! I knew that this would be a wonderful place for them to learn and grow, but I also would look at them with a measure of sorrow. Though many of their childhood years remained stretched out before them, they had, by virtue of entering these hallowed halls, begun what would be the pattern of days that would last, for the most part, the rest of their lives. Their carefree, unfettered days of pure exploration and freedom were done. I often would feel sentimental and blue about those little ones, until I would remind myself that most of them had been packing up and heading to a day care or babysitter for most of their little lives. This wasn’t as big a change for them as it was in my Pollyannish imaginings. Some children would arrive raring to go; some would walk in tentatively, unsure of what they were to do; some would be lost, and I would help them find their classrooms. Each year, there were some who would quietly cry, and each year, there were a few who would scream at the top of their lungs that they wanted to go home!

In the high schools and middle school in which I work, we don’t have such beginners. We are dealing with seasoned experts and a well-established school routine. And so, at the first bell, they started in on another year toward graduation.

Credit: honeywellhow.com

Credit: honeywellhow.com

Some people think that we go back to school too early here. Maybe we do. The way our school calendar is set, we are able to fit an entire high school semester in between our early start and Christmas break in December. When I talked with Mom this week, I reminded her that with the miserable weather in August, we might as well be in school. Surely no one wants to spend much time outside. The weather has been typical for Atlanta this month: hot and humid. At times over the past few weeks, there have been days that are perfectly suited to air conditioning. Going outside means walking through dense, sticky, oppressive air that seems to cling like saran wrap to the skin. The humidity draws curly hair up into tight spirals, forces hair with “texture” into static-like fuzz, and deems straight hair limp and lifeless. Those who are able to weather the weather and arrive at a destination well coifed are doing so with the benefit of copious amounts of product. Coupled with my tendency for temperature swings, this weather is particularly uncomfortable for me.

In this sticky heat, we arrived back at school. Thankfully, I am not one of the people who had to stand outdoors at the end of the school day today, pointing students in the right direction to catch the right bus home.

Andrew called me today to tell me that Eric’s flight didn’t leave at 2:00 as expected yesterday. In fact, Eric cooled his heels, along with the others who reported at the appointed time, until 10:00 in the evening before they boarded their plane and were on their way. Such is the army: hurry up and wait some more.

Happy Birthday Ian!

An Excerpt from The Charm

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Today is Ian’s birthday. Twenty-six years ago, on this day, I woke early from my sleep at the sound of the train blowing its whistle as it passed through town at 3:00 in the morning. We were living in Rouleau, a small town about twenty-five miles outside of Regina, Saskatchewan. I had been teaching there for the previous three years. Tom had gone out of town and I was at the house on my own.

Baby Ian

Baby Ian

Next door lived my dear friends, Inga and George Greenman. George and Inga were the most pleasant couple, and often welcomed me in for a cup of coffee or some of Inga’s wonderful baking or cooking when I would walk across the gravel street from the school to my house. George and Inga’s daughter, Gayle, who lived in Regina, was also a dear friend and had been conscripted to be my labor (or labour, as we would have spelled it at home) coach. That morning, Inga was in Regina, having stayed with Gayle and Gayle’s seven year old daughter, Kristin, who had recently had her tonsils removed and needed someone to care for her while Gayle went to work.

As I lay in bed, trying to go back to sleep, I noticed that my tummy felt strangely tight. I was scheduled to visit my doctor in Regina at 11:00 that morning, and George had assured me the night before, that if I didn’t feel up to driving the twelve gravel miles and twelve highway miles to the city, that he would be glad to accompany me. It was Monday, and the due date for the baby was on Friday, so I was sure that the tightening in my tummy was either false labor pains or simply a figment of my imagination. I tried to go back to sleep, but every time that I did, my tummy would tighten some more. I decided to check the time on the clock at each tightening. Sometimes I was able to rest for six or seven minutes. Other times, only three or four, but nothing was regular, so I continued to try to rest. After an hour and a half or so, I thought that I had better call Gayle and ask her advice. By then, feelings like that of a corset tightening around my midsection were four minutes or so apart. Gayle excitedly told me to phone her father, wake him, and have him drive me to her house. I didn’t want to bother George, though, if this was a simple warm up exercise for the event to occur later in the week. Gayle reasoned with me that if it was a false call, nothing would be lost by my being in the city and closer to the hospital and my scheduled doctor’s appointment and assured me that her Dad would not mind.

I called George. He answered the phone on the third ring. I apologized for waking him and asked him if he wouldn’t mind giving me a ride into the city. George, believing that he had slept late and that my request was for him to accompany me to the city for my appointment, assured me that he would dress and get ready to go. I told him that I had coffee ready for him and that I would be right over. I got his coffee, picked up the small bag that I had packed the week before in preparation, and walked across my back yard and into his, putting my bag in his vehicle before knocking on his door. When he answered the door, he looked a little nervous. He wondered if I really needed to get to the city this early. “Yes!” I told him. He said that we would be way too early for my eleven o’clock appointment. I told him that I wasn’t at all sure that I would make the appointment.

George was usually a pleasant conversationalist, but this morning, he barely looked at me as we drove along that country road. His eyes were fixed on the road ahead. A couple of times, we bounced and jarred over the ruts and dips in the road, which would cause me to moan ever such a little. Each time that happened, I think that George drove a little faster.Ian baby 2 edit

Once at Gayle’s house, at around six o’clock, we began timing the contractions in earnest. They were fairly regularly at three to four minutes apart, however, I wasn’t feeling as though I was in a great deal of pain or anguish. In the prenatal class, we had been told that we could stay at home until we could no longer walk or talk through the contractions. The family had some breakfast. I didn’t want any, thanks. We drank some coffee, as we were accustomed to doing when together, and chattered about all manner of things, while George nervously paced the hallways and rooms of Gayle’s house. I walked and talked through the tightening feelings until ten o’clock or so. I recall standing next to Gayle’s kitchen counter when a pain grew up and out from my belly button around to my back and down my legs. I steadied myself with my hand on the countertop, bent down slightly, and let out a long, slow, and what I thought was a quiet “Mmmmmmmmmm.” That’s it! Gayle announced that it was time for us to go.

We arrived at Regina General Hospital around eleven o’clock and were escorted to the labor and delivery unit. I was escorted to a bed, and Gayle and I were introduced to our nurse, Duna Barber. Duna was the most wonderful nurse. She announced that she had had several children of her own, several more grandchildren, and that she had been involved in more deliveries than she could count. Her confidence and mastery was evident in every movement she made and every word that she spoke. Her smile was strong and kind. Duna, Gayle and I were all surprised when, after an hour or so in the labor department, Duna announced that it was time to have the baby.

We were moved to a delivery room, Gayle got dressed in her gown and booties, and after an hour and a half of extreme effort, the baby was born, all 7 pounds, 15 ounces! It was a precious, handsome baby boy. His name was Ian George Draper.

Baby Ian and Gayle

Baby Ian and Gayle

This evening, Rod, Ian, Andrew, Eric and I went out for birthday dinner. Back at the house, I put some Lego shaped candles into a key lime pie, two of Ian’s favorite things.

It is amazing how, after Eric’s return for R and R only a day and a half ago, all things seemed so magically normal. All of my boys were here. We were together marking another hallmark. Everything was whole again.