Monday, December 14, 2009

Turn, Turn, Turn

"To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven." (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Once again, it's time for the next incarnation of my blog. Not to worry - I'm not taking my blog down again; I'm just moving. I've been thinking for a while that it's really time to take this little blog in a more 'public' direction, to make it more 'accessible' to my family and friends. And so, I'm moving to The Yard Next Door. Which, I hope, will be a lot like the yard we've all been running in for the past few years, with a few modest changes (which I'll leave the observant and/or clever among you to notice). . . And if those of you who have links to this blog could change the link to the new one, I'd be grateful.

This blog will still be here; I've still got to have something to link to, when my stories cross-reference each other, right? But as of this post, I won't be posting anything new here. Just to let you know.

And, since it's how I'll be posting on the new blog, I can 'pull the curtain aside', just a little bit. Some of you already know, but 'Desmond Jones' isn't my real name; I'm Craig. And 'Molly' is my wife Jen (OK, she's really Jennifer, but her mother doesn't even call her that). I could give you the names of our eight kids, but that would probably be more confusing than just continuing to use the birth-order/gender nomenclature that I've always used. Heck, I've got to be a little bit careful, right?

Anyway, you can all watch the 'new blog' for signs of activity, and before long, we'll all be comfortable in the new digs, I hope. And, if a few of my friends and family start dropping in, maybe you can even make a new friend or two. . .

See you there. . .

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I Keep Reminding Myself, This Is What I Signed Up For. . .

Arriving at home after work last night, I pulled the car into the carport. Before I could even turn the engine off, my ears were seared by a piercing, wailing howl, as 7M ran screaming out the back door of the house, followed closely by 6F. He was obviously in pain, and I tried to get him to calm down enough to tell me what had happened, to no avail. 6F finally explained that they had been making dinner - a ham roast - and, taking the pan out of the oven, 7M had spilled a bit of the liquid (mostly water, with a bit of grease) on his foot. So I quickly removed his hot-liquid-soaked sock, and ran him inside to get some cold water on his scalded foot, while he wailed the whole time. . .


It's always so nice to come home to the peaceful, happy bosom of my family, you know?

(And of course, yesterday was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (one of those Catholic Holy Days of Obligation), which, for purposes of this story, meant that Molly was gone to church at the time. And after that, she had her Women's Group meeting, so I was kinda 'winging it on the fly'. . .)


Once he got calmed down a bit, and the immediate, searing pain gave way to something a bit more endurable, we saw that he had sustained second-degree burns on two of his toes, and a small portion of the top of his foot. Which ain't gonna maim him for life, so that's good. But, in the immediate near-term, it still hurts like hell. And feet being what they are, associated with how we usually transport ourselves from one place to the next, the consequences of the injury sort-of radiate out. Just getting him comfortable enough to fall asleep last night was a project of more-than-modest proportions, involving duct-taping an ice-bag to his poor scalded foot.

And then this morning, we had the whole question of what to do with it, so 7M (who is well on the way to adopting as his personal motto, "Why Does This Stuff Keep Happening to Me?") could go to school. We finally settled on a fresh ice-bag, with a fresh batch of duct-tape, all wrapped in a towel, secured by more duct-tape. We retrieved a pair of crutches from the attic, and he was good to go.

Except that last night, we got our first snowfall of the season, and everything was a slushy, sloppy mess. So that, by the time 7M made his way up to the second-floor classroom, his improvised ice-bag/towel/sock/boot arrangement was soaked with black slop, and the school (understandably, I suppose), concerned about it getting infected, called Molly (who had one of her rare early-morning shifts of work) to come and pick him up. (I mean, don't these folks know that we've got a life beyond bouncing back and forth to pick up and drop off our kids?) (I'm kidding, in case anyone is wondering. . .)


So now the poor kid gets to go see the doctor this afternoon, and get a real dressing put on his injured foot, so perhaps he can play in the school band's Christmas concert tonight. But he's probably gonna have to miss his basketball game this weekend. . .


La-la, how the life goes on. . .

Monday, December 7, 2009

Blast From the Obits

For the past few years, I have acquired the habit of daily checking the obituaries in my hometown (Up North) newpaper's website. From time to time, people will show up there who I remember - people from the church my family belonged to, parents of my friends, old teachers/coaches, and increasingly in recent years, my friends and classmates. It's always a little bit jarring to see one of my classmates in the obits; we're in our mid-50s now, so collectively, we've got a few miles on us, so to speak, but we're not as old as all that, you know?

Even as far back as when I was in my 20s, though, I remember hearing about a guy who'd been my brother's best friend, and with whom I'd played many a game of backyard football, being killed in a drunk-driving accident. Another guy who I'd known since my grade-school days was run over by a car, just crossing the street on his lunch hour. It does remind you of how fragile, and how precious, human life is.

Whenever I see someone with whom I went to school in the obits, it always piques my curiosity a bit - what kind of life did they have? Did they die of a sudden, catastrophic illness or accident? Or did too much hard living catch up with them (I've known of a few of those, too)? What about their families - their spouses and children? Sometimes, I remember seeing them at a class reunion; sometimes not.

Just recently, as I was doing my regular Up North obit scan, I noticed a 54-year-old woman with the same last name as a guy I'd gone to school with, so I clicked on her name, to see if she might have been related to the guy I was thinking of. She might have been his sister, or possibly married to his brother, or something (and of course, just because she was my age and living in my old hometown, doesn't have to mean anything; people even move up there, from time to time).

But what I found made me sit back and stare at the screen, for a couple seconds. It was Bev, the girl I'd taken to the prom, and who'd left with another guy. It was a very odd sensation, and all the moreso because it was only a few months ago that I blogged about her. I sure don't remember her fondly; the brief interlude in which our paths crossed is mostly an occasion for rueful, or embarrassed, recollection, when I think of it at all. Heck, in describing the story of how she treated me at the prom, I said I wasn't really all that interested in what had become of her. And I really wasn't.

But now, I was finding out, for free, without having to look it up or anything. The obit mentioned her husband, who turned out to indeed be the brother of the guy I'd been thinking of. She had three kids, and her son had a different last name than her husband; in fact, he was 'junior', with the same name as another classmate of ours, who I'd known in passing. So she'd had at least two husbands, and had kids with a guy I remembered. Both her parents are still living, likely in their late 70s or 80s by now.

I'm hard-pressed to account for the odd emotional reaction it provoked in me to hear of her death. In the grand sweep of my life, she's really not all that significant, notwithstanding what happened around the prom. She was never my girlfriend, although for a couple weeks, way back when, I was fairly head-over-heels on her account. I didn't know her all that well before then (if I had, I might not have asked her to the prom), and I had even less to do with her afterward.

But you know, she might have been my First Kiss. I'm honestly not sure, but I can't think of any other likely candidates for the honor. It's a little sad, though, if she is. I'd like to think of my First Kiss fondly; not that she was a skank who cynically used me.

Not that it matters all that much by now, anyway. It is what it is. There's nothing to do about it, one way or the other. And may God have mercy. . .

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hook, Line and Sinker. . . Well, Except for the Line and Sinker

In our previous house, the one we lived in before we moved into our current house nearly ten years ago, the mailbox was strategically situated on the facing of the porch, for ease of the mailman's access. Unfortunately, that also meant that it was more-or-less directly beneath the edge of the porch roof. Which was not a problem, most of the time. But on rainy/snowy days, water would drip off the edge of the roof, directly onto the mailbox. Which, again, was not a problem, so long as the mailbox remained closed. But, lacking one of those nifty red flags to indicate that we had outgoing mail, the way we signaled to our mail carrier that we had outgoing mail (utility bills, and such inconsequential items as those), was to leave the stamped end of the letter sticking out from under the lid of the mailbox. So now, perhaps, you can perceive the problem. Rain, or snowmelt, would drip onto the portion of the letter that stuck out from under the mailbox lid, and made the printing run (or, even worse, the ink on the enclosed check), or worst of all, in the days before self-adhesive stamps, it might wash the stamp off the envelope entirely, resulting in a three-digit electric bill falling down the postal service's Black Hole for Unstamped Letters. Not that that ever happened, or anything. . .

So, on rainy/snowy days, if we had outgoing mail, I would often just take it with me when I left for work in the morning. Some days, my route to work would take me past the main post office, and I would just drop our letters in the box in the lobby there. Otherwise, I would look for one of those blue letter-boxes that one finds on the edge of the curb, which used to be way more common than they are these days. Thus protected from the elements, our bills could wait in the relative comfort and security of the blue curbside letter-box until the mailman came along with his key to speed them to their intended destination.

All of which is an elaborate setting of the stage for the real story of this post. . .


One such snowy day - it had snowed a foot or more in OurTown, and the snow was still coming down furiously as I left for work - I had a fistful of letters to send off, and I was working in a part of town I wasn't very familiar with, so I was going slowly, peering through the snow, trying to find a blue letter-box. I finally spied one, on the corner of a fairly seedy side street, next to an old drug store. In order to get myself out of the flow of traffic, what with visibility and traction both being pretty seriously diminished, I turned onto the side street and maneuvered my car around so I could pull up near the letter-box. I hopped out of the car, deposited my letters into the blue box, and got back into the car.

I was just about to pull back onto the main street, when a woman I'd never met got into the passenger seat of my car. She was blond, and looked to be around 40 years old, not unattractive, but bearing a 'hard-life' sort of demeanor. She was wearing a leopard-print winter coat. "Hi!" she greeted me, cheerily.

"Uh, hi," I replied, wondering just what the hell this was about.

"So - where do you wanna go?"

"Um. . . excuse me?"

"Where do you wanna go?"

"Uh. . . I'm going to work? Is there some way I can help you?"

"Well, you pulled in where I was standing! Why did you do that, if you didn't want something?"

"Uh. . . I pulled off the main street so I could drop some letters in the blue box."

Now both of us are a little flustered, as I'm suddenly realizing what's going on with this woman in my car, and she's suddenly realizing that I'm not the 'customer' she took me to be.

"Sorry. . . " I mumbled, "but I'm not in the market. Can I drop you somewhere where you'll be warm?"

"No," she replied. "I'll be fine right here. Sorry to bother you. Have a nice day."

"Um. . . you too. . ." And she got out of my car, and back to plying her trade. . .

And that, along with the story I told from the summer when I was 17, is the sum total of my lived experience with prostitutes.

And just for what it's worth, Molly thought it was hilarious when I told her the story when I got home at the end of the day. . .

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An Open Letter to My Children

In the three-and-a-half years I have (intermittently) been posting to this blog, I have taken many, many opportunities to express my gratitude to and for my beloved wife, our marriage, and the life we have together. And I have told quite a few stories from the lives of our kids – some happy, some sad, some bittersweet. But I have not often expressed my gratitude for them. . .

Molly will often admonish me that, as much as I dote on her, and shower her with affection and appreciation, our kids need those things even more than she does. Early on in our life as parents together, I came across something that said that the most important thing I could do for my kids was to love their mother. And I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to that. And I’m sure that our kids have gotten their share of the benefits of my ardent love for Molly. But they do need my love for them on their own behalf, and I have not always been so expressive of the love that I do, in fact, hold for them in my heart.

But, all this is becoming a pretty rambling preamble; let’s get to it, shall we?


My beloved children,

At this time of year, we take a day aside to focus on gratitude – those things in our lives for which we are thankful, and perhaps most particularly, those things which we might normally be inclined to take the least bit for granted.

And this year, I want to say that I am grateful for you. I am grateful for each one of you, and for all of you together. Each of you is a particular gift to me – each of you brings your own particular bits of joy into my life. And all of you together make our family uniquely what it is.

I confess that, in my wildest imagination, I never thought I would be the father of eight children. God has given me more than I ever imagined I could handle (of course, it often seems a bit hubristic of me to think that I’m ever actually ‘handling’ anything, but I try my best). I confess, too, that I’ve sometimes felt overwhelmed by the sheer ‘volume’ of our family, and out of that overwhelmed-ness, I’ve not always given you all what you’ve needed from me. And for that, I ask your forgiveness. But I’m getting ahead of myself. . .


I am grateful that each of you, in your own way, loves the Lord Jesus, and aims to live for Him. Just to have us pray The Hours together brings a layer of richness to our family life that is precious to me. But to see each of you pursuing the Christian life in your own way, and on your own initiative, gives me a deep, nearly-inexpressible joy. My one greatest hope is for all of us to one day be together in Heaven (if ‘days’ can be said to have any meaning in the context of Eternity). . .

I am grateful for the character that I see manifest in your lives, to ever-growing degree. And I hope that it will continue to grow, and bring prosperity to your lives (and you understand, right, that by ‘prosperity’ I mean something much more like ‘blessedness’ than ‘wealth’, don’t you?)

I am grateful for the music that flows from our family. It is a gift from God that, in one way or another, every one of you is musical, and we can take joy in our individual and common musical gifts. I have loved the times, few as they’ve been, where we’ve all been able to sing and play music together. Let’s try to do more of that. . .

I’m grateful that, in the past year or so, we’ve been able to have you all (or at least, most of you) together for Sunday brunch, most weeks. It is good, on a very fundamental, human level, for us to be together like that, and just be a family together.


For the times I’ve been too aloof, and haven’t given you (any of you individually, or all of you collectively, as the case may be) the attention and affection you’ve needed, I ask your forgiveness. When I was a kid, I tended to live a lot inside my own head; and that’s been a hard habit for me to break. Throughout my fatherly life, God has consistently, and persistently, called me more and more out of myself, and I’m sure that’s one of the reasons he gave me so many of you. Mother Theresa often said that our main task in this life is to learn what it really means to love, and for me, that involves getting out of myself, and giving myself for the sake of others whom God has given me to love. That would be you all. And I am all too aware that I have not always responded to God’s call to me to love you, as freely as I should have. And for that, I ask God’s mercy. And yours.

For the times I’ve been harsh and demanding, I ask your forgiveness. We parents harbor dreams of raising our kids to be better than we are. Which, when you think about it, really isn’t fair. But we do. We – I – want you to be the best you can be, and I’m all too aware of my own failures and weaknesses, and I would hope to keep you from them, as much as I’m able to. But my desire for you to be excellent, even better than I am, is no excuse for failing to love you, and appreciate you for who and what you are. And for that, I ask God’s mercy. And yours.

The Truth is, I love you – each one of you, as a unique instance of the Image of God. I regret that I have not always demonstrated that love to you as I should have; that, in my fallen-ness and weakness, I have fallen short, both of the love that I have owed you as your father, and even of merely giving you the love, meager as it is, that I actually hold in my heart for each of you. But I do love you. And I’ll try to show it to you more effectively, as I go along. (“Deeds, not words” is a worthy motto I saw somewhere; I’ll try to do better at that, too)


As I said above, I never, in my wildest imagination, thought I would ever be the father of eight children. But I wouldn’t trade being your father for anything – not for any amount of wealth, or power, or prestige. Being your father, I have learned something of what holiness is, as I’ve had to come out of myself (imperfectly as I have managed to do so); and I’ve learned something of what it means to love – and of how really little I have loved up to now. So, for those things I thank you.

And I thank you for making my life rich. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without any one of you; but it would be poorer – that much I know for certain.

So – thank you, one and all. Thank you for making me a father; and, in my case, at least, becoming a father has meant pretty much the same thing as becoming a grown-up – which is to say, a man.

I couldn’t have done it without you.

In love, and gratitude
Your Dad

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wisdom, Beauty and Truth. . .

A friend of ours wrote this to us in a card she gave us on our wedding day, way back when. . .

(From the biblical Book of Proverbs; chapter 5, verses 18-19):

May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving hind, a graceful doe - may her breasts satisfy you always, may you be ever captivated by her love.


Oh, I am; I truly am. . .

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Paychecks, Menopause, and Pathetic Husbands; Drama in Three Acts


My wife Molly has a BS degree in Child Development. When we first started dating, she worked at a childcare center which our community ran for many years. After we were married, she was a sort-of gofer/secretary for one of our community's 'elders'. When she was six months or so pregnant with 1F, she left the for-pay workforce, and took up the ultimate 'Job In Her Field' - developing children of her own. So for the next fifteen or twenty years, when folks would ask me, "Does your wife work?" I'd answer, "Not outside the home for pay."

And so it went. About ten or twelve years ago, she got in on a very part-time gig proctoring state licensing exams. Guys who want to get licensed as plumbers, or electricians, or whatever, have to take a state exam to get licensed, and Molly is part of a crew of women who do the check-in procedures, and then walk around during the test, making sure everyone stays on the straight-and-narrow. Her proctoring gigs are two or three days in a week, three or four times a year, so it isn't too demanding in terms of family time.

The proctoring gigs sort of came and went; whenever we had another baby, she'd have to take a year or two off from proctoring, until the baby could be left for a whole day. Even so, as sparse as the jobs were, it was a fairly benign thing.

In 2000, she got in with Board of Elections (or whatever it's called), and started working elections (yeah, Bush v. Gore was her 'learning curve'). She's one of those folks who checks your name against the list of registered voters, and hands you the ballot, and gives you the little 'I Voted' sticker when you're done. She also gets to be in on taking the ballot box downtown to get counted by the official vote counters. Those are pretty long days, and thus fairly demanding on the rest of the family, but it's only for one day, it pays really well, and it only comes around every couple years.


Last year, when my employer's continuing viability became suddenly very uncertain, it seemed prudent for Molly to get more regular employment, just in case I suddenly had none. So she looked around a bit, without much success (the same economic forces which were placing my continued employment in doubt were also rendering available jobs for her scarce). One day, she subbed at the daycare center attached to the Catholic school our kids attend, and that resulted in an offer for a regular job at the center there. It was only eight hours a week, and the hourly rate was pretty low, but under the circumstances, it was better than nothing.

She got a line on doing some house-cleaning, which in turn led to a gig with a friend of hers, who brought her in for some jill-of-all-trades work doing cleaning, administrative, and even some handy-woman stuff. Which was maybe half a day per week, but again, better than nothing.

This fall, the childcare center increased her hours from eight to fifteen, and gave her a small raise. And then, another friend of hers, who has multiple sclerosis, asked her to come in for a few hours every morning to help her with stuff around the house. It's not really nursing-type care (and Molly is not a nurse, so that's cool), but it does include bathing her and getting her to the bathroom. Molly couldn't do every morning, but she and another woman share the hours. And (say it with me, now) it pays pretty well.

So, if you're keeping score at home, Molly is now up to something like 25 hours a week of outside-the-home-for-pay work.



Molly is 53 years old. She is very bright and energetic, but her energy levels have abated some from what they were in her 20s/30s. She is at the age at which women commonly experience menopause, aka 'The Change of Life'. And she is showing signs that 'The Change' is just around the corner. . .

One symptom of the impending (or, more truly, ongoing) hormone shift has been that she is tired. Way more tired, way more often, than I've ever known her to be. And both of us have struggled just a bit in adapting to this new, less-energetic state of affairs. The day-to-day parameters of our lives have been remarkably stable for many years, but we find that we can't just take a 'business as usual' approach. She needs more sleep than she used to, and she can't cram her schedule quite as full as before. Which winds up putting us in a bit of a bind, because the day-to-day needs of our family life aren't any less than they ever were. The kids and I have gotten used to Molly carrying a pretty large share of the load, and when she can't carry as much as she used to, it's a challenge to 'redistribute' the work-load to account for her new energy level.

Which brings us to the present day. Molly has less energy than before, and she's working more hours outside the home than ever before, but the demands of home life are the same as they ever were - the same number of meals need to be prepared, the same amount of laundry needs to be done, the same number of kids need to be chauffeured to doctor appointments, sporting events, etc, and etc, etc, etc. . .

Do you perceive the problem? We've been trying various approaches to the 'distribution' problem, mainly involving the kids doing their own laundry (we've even instituted a Sunday evening 'Family Fold-In/Movie Night'), helping with the food-prep, and things of that sort, which, in the past, Molly could easily handle all by herself, but not any more. And I've tried to pitch in more, where I'm able; which is a large part of why I used to read three or four books a month, but now struggle to keep up with my two remaining magazine subscriptions.

But, asking people to make new sacrifices which they've never had to make before, can take a while to get 'institutionalized', and at least at first, they can be somewhat, um, uneven in the execution.



One of the starkest ways in which this hits home for me, personally, is that, at the end of the day, Molly is much more likely to be tired, than what I've been used to. For many years, we've had a regular pattern of Monday evening husband-wife meetings. Not 'Date Night' (although that could certainly qualify), but mainly just some dedicated time to touch base with each other on the things we need to be in communication about. Schedules, budgets, the kids' lives, goals we have for the family, etc. And heck, just for the two of us to sit down and talk to each other about anything at all, is a good thing, and setting aside some committed time for it, helps to ensure that it actually happens. . .

In recent months, however, our husband-wife meetings have been a bit less regular than is good for them to be. Some of it couldn't be helped - other things came along, at school or wherever, to usurp the time. But sometimes, we just weren't very diligent to make it happen, and the time slipped away.

After 29+ years of marriage, we're pretty familiar now with what happens when we miss too many of our husband-wife meetings - things get out-of-sync, stuff that should run smoothly starts being frantically thrown together on the fly at the last second, and we start getting cranky and irritable with each other. We've been through a few cycles of it, and by now, we recognize the symptoms.

And, by a couple weeks ago, we were recognizing the symptoms. And so, we agreed that that week, we would make a concerted effort to have our husband-wife meeting, and to have it be a good one, not slapdash or careless. I made a point to leave work in a timely fashion, not staying late to 'tie up the loose ends', we had dinner together with the kids, the cleanup got done, the next day's lunches were made, Molly read to the little guys before bed, and all was in readiness for our meeting. So, we retired to the bedroom (which is virtually the only 'private space' we have these days), and stretched out for some relaxed meeting-time.

And Molly fell asleep.

(You could see that coming, couldn't you? Yeah, well, I didn't.)

All the good vibrations, all the concerted effort, all the we-need-to-reestablish-communication-so-we're-not-all-cranky-with-each-other. . . gone, with the Sandman.

And, I'm sorry. . . I got pissed.

Not that I should have. Not that her falling asleep wasn't completely understandable in the context of what-all is going on in her life. Not that it was remotely constructive of anything. But I did.

And so, in the time-honored tradition of mature husbands down through the ages. . .

I pouted.

(Some of you may recall the last time I posted about pouting; and you know, don't you, that I post about ALL of my whiny, self-centered pout-fits, whenever they happen, every three years or so. . .)

And it was a goooood pout. A full-bore, I've-got-a-good-head-of-steam pout. The next morning, I walked out the door without kissing Molly good-bye, leaving the breakfast she'd made for me sitting on the table, not even taking the lunch she'd made for me (because, you know, I didn't want her to put herself out on my account) (you know, it never makes nearly as much sense in hindsight). And I stayed late at the office, so she'd be gone to her women's-group meeting before I got home. Then I went to bed early, and was asleep before she got home (and Molly, in the best tradition of The Golden Rule, will NEVER wake me when I'm sleeping). And the next morning, I repeated the cycle.

I didn't stay quite so late at the office that day (she had nothing on her calendar for the evening, so she'd be home no matter when I arrived), and as I drove home, I took some of my idle drive-time to turn to prayer, and I 'heard' God speak to me.

"You're being stupid," He said. "Stop it."

Oh. OK. I guess I am, aren't I?

"Yes, you are."

OK; I'll be done now.


God can be so Paternal with me, sometimes. . .

And so it came to pass that I walked in the back door, through the family room, and into the kitchen, where Molly was busy making dinner. She looked at me, warily. I greeted her, sheepishly.

"Hi," she said. "Are you done being mad yet?"

Yeah, Sweetheart, I'm done.

"Oh, good!" Then, "What the heck was that all about?"

And I suddenly realized - she didn't even know what I was upset about! Sheesh! What's the good of a pout, if the person you're mad at doesn't even know why you're mad? I mean, it's pretty pathetic when you invest so much energy in a good pout, and all you get for it is, "What the heck was that all about?"

(*sigh*) I know; I'm such a Drama Queen, sometimes. . .

So, we had our dinner, we fixed our relationship, and even covered most of the husband-wife-meeting stuff that we'd missed two nights previously.

And it was very good. . .