Monday, June 26, 2006

Don't Tread on Me

Here's another story from the Jones family archives, which fits with the recent theme of 'Miracles', and also, in its own way, with another prominent theme of this blog (at least so far), 'The Trials of Desmond and Molly Jones and Their Children'.

Seven years ago, I was sitting in my office at work, deeply dialed-in to whatever was on my computer screen at the time, when the phone rang. It was a friend of ours. "7M has had an accident," was all she said. My mind raced as she explained that he was in intensive care; I don't remember the rest of what she said. I left work and drove to the hospital, a 45-minute drive, during which I could only wonder what I'd find when I got there, or if my son was even alive.

7M was a year-and-a-half old at the time. He and some neighbor kids were playing in our front yard that afternoon. At one point 7M was standing behind the neighbor's minivan; the neighbor came out, got into his car and backed out - right over my toddler son. The neighbor across the street saw it happen and called the ambulance immediately. 5M, who was seven at the time, might have saved 7M's life by getting the driver's attention and getting him to stop. Molly was inside the house talking with a friend who had dropped in, when one of the kids ran in and told her what had happened. At first, she didn't believe them, but her friend said, um, why don't you go out and see what's going on. The ambulance arrived within a minute or two, and then things were a blur.

By the time I arrived at the hospital, his situation was diagnosed - he had a bunch of cuts and bruises (including a detailed tire-tread-pattern bruise that ran from his thigh, all the way up his torso, and across his cheek), a broken collarbone, three non-displaced skull fractures (non-displaced is good, if you have to have a broken skull), and bruised lungs. The bruised lungs were actually the biggest concern of the ER docs (I guess if you have trouble breathing, things get bad very quickly). They had him hooked up to a machine that monitored his breathing. At that point, every minute that passes with him breathing well is a good minute, but they wanted to monitor him for 24-48 hours. So we just waited for the 'good minutes' to keep accumulating. After 24 hours, they moved him to a less-intensive section of the ICU, and the next day, they released him, because all they were doing was chasing him around the ICU. Our boy had a clean bill of health 48 hours after being run over by a minivan (well, except for the broken bones and bruises thing).

When we tried to figure out how this could have happened, the doctor said that his young age actually was in his favor, because kids that age are very flexible - their bones aren't brittle, so they've got more 'give' to them, and they don't break as severely as older folks' do. Also, the fact that the vehicle was a minivan (comparatively little weight over the rear axle), and only the rear axle ran over him, was probably fortunate, as well as the gravel driveway (the gravel had some 'give' to it that a concrete driveway wouldn't have). Even so - the back tire of the minivan ran directly OVER HIS HEAD. I couldn't have imagined that that would be survivable, much less survivable with no discernable effects. And yet, today, we have a completely normal eight-year-old. If anything, he's notably brighter than most of his peers (not that I'd want my other kids to get their heads run over, to make them smarter, or anything).

I try to be slow about making claims of miracles, but 7M being run over by a car without any lasting effect, is about the most amazing thing I've seen in my life. We've told 7M that he'd better be good, because God did something amazing for him to be alive today.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

I'm Not Half the Man I Used to Be

I've been promising to post something 'lighter', so here it is -

In the past five months, I've lost 75 pounds.

I've been overweight my whole adult life, and I had pretty much given up hope of ever getting to a healthy weight. Nothing I did ever worked - I mean, I would practically starve myself ('embrace the hunger pangs. . . Ommmmm'), and lose five or ten pounds, but I could never sustain anything. After a certain amount of time, you just can't keep talking yourself into enjoying the feeling of hunger. So I was pretty much resigned to life as a Fat Boy.

I refused to 'go on a diet' - take on some drastic program for a while, then once I'd lost the weight go back to what I'd always done, thus undoing all the weight loss. No, I knew that I needed to change my lifestyle - I just didn't know how.

Then, last winter, my birth-mother came for a visit (to be here when 1F had her baby), and brought a diet book with her (very subtle, my birth-mother), saying that this seemed like a really good program, aiming at lifestyle change more than simply weight loss. Just what I needed. Molly read the book, taking a week or two to absorb the ideas, and then she went to work, following the book's recipes to make healthy meals for me. And it worked. I lost 18 lb. the first two weeks, 30 the first month, 45 in two months, and now 75 lb. in five months. I'm back down now to what I weighed in college (and when Molly and I got married). The thing is, I'm still 50 lb. heavier than I was in high school, and I was a 'Fat Boy' even then. So, I've still got a ways to go.

Now I have more energy, and I just generally feel better. Six months ago, my blood pressure was 140/90, my cholesterol was 230, and my resting pulse was 78. Last week, my blood pressure was 111/62, my cholesterol was 95, and my resting pulse was 54. I was on two BP medications and a cholesterol med, and my doctor took me off all of them. And if you ask Molly, she'll tell you that things between the sheets are better than they've been for a long, long time.

I don't know how to tell you what an impact this is having on me. I feel a little like Cinderella, waiting for the clock to strike midnight. I've had such a lack of success in my life at losing weight, that I almost can't believe this is really happening. But I can tell you, this is a permanent change - I'm never going back to the way I ate before. And I am so incredibly grateful to Molly - she's doing all the work. Food preparation is taking significantly more of her time now, but she's happy to do it for me. It communicates her love to me in an incredibly deep way. I mean, she really does want to keep me around for a while longer, and grow old with me.

So goodbye, mayonnaise - enjoyed the time we had together, but I just can't hang with you anymore. So long, ice cream - it was fun, but I gotta go now. Bye-bye, pizza - you had to know this was coming, right? And hello, spinach - I can't believe we never got to know each other before now. Same for you, blueberries and cherries. And green tea. And my old friend fish, sorry I neglected you for so long. Stick around, chicken, but don't bring you skin with you, OK?

I apologize if I'm being too 'preachy' about this; I really do know the difference between weight loss and something REALLY of ultimate importance. But this is so amazing to me, so flat-out miraculous, that I just sort of rattle on about it. If you all will just indulge me for a moment here, you'll be very kind. . . Thanks for listening.


edit June 22 - Molly is urging me to tell you all 'the whole story' of just how miraculous this weight loss is. . .

Last fall, I asked for prayer in one of the meetings of the Christian community Molly and I belong to, because I was so discouraged about my inability to lose weight, and my weight was starting to affect my health, and bring my long-term viability into question. No big deal, no falling down, no 'HEEE-YUHL', just asking some folks to pray for me. And then, this winter, my birth-mother showed up with this diet.

Now, the timing of things could just be a happy coincidence (well, it is AT LEAST that, isn't it?). I mean, I'm an engineer; I have a Master's degree. I understand the laws of physics, cause and effect, all that. But - what if it's NOT just a happy coincidence? That possibility has to be acknowledged.

And, at the very least, after decades of nothing working, of beating the crap out of myself to no avail, I am amazed and grateful that now, finally, somthing is working, and it's happening when it never did before.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

I Must Be Clueless

Yesterday was Father's Day, and I am a father. So do me a favor, and don't throw any more days for me, OK?

The day got off to a roaring start, when one of the older girls (I'll decline to say which one) decided that she was receiving insufficient attention for her recent birthday, and threw a major snit that Father's Day would take precedence over presents and birthday cake for her. Nice. Actually, it was embarrassing; I mean, we're talking about someone in her 20s, know what I mean?

Then one of the teenagers decided that the little kids were getting too much attention at his expense, so he spent most of the afternoon picking fights with them and engaging in attention-getting behavior, which included setting off firecrackers in the living room.

On top of it all, Molly was short on sleep from the night before, so she wasn't dealing with the chaos as, uh, constructively as she might have.

Plus, it rained all day, so the nice family walk in the arboretum that we had planned, never happened. That might have actually been merciful, considering how the day went.

And it all came to a fitting conclusion, with one of the younger ones screaming from his bed, "I HATE this family!"

So I went to bed last night kind of shell-shocked, wondering how the day might have gone if they weren't trying to honor me in a special way.

At least the Tigers won.

I must just be the world's most clueless father, because I really try to do right by my kids - to "train them up in the way they should go", to love them, to prepare them for their own adult lives, and, as best I can, point them in the direction of heaven - and what I have to show for it are a distressing number of incidences of my kids acting like self-absorbed jerks. Of course, they are only too happy to point that out to me. (That has always seemed to me an odd insult - "You're such a bad father; just look what jerks we are!")

I love my kids, I really do. I love being a father, and I take it as seriously as I know how to. But I mean, obviously, I must be doing something wrong here. . .

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Et Tu. . . ?

A week ago Sunday, Molly got up early, as she always does on Sundays, to help 5M do the paper route, and the message light on the answering machine was flashing. Strange. She checked the messages, and they were all from the police, letting us know that they had 4M in the overnight lockup. What? Were they talking about the right kid?. Anyway, I got up and went downtown to spring yet another of my kids from jail. . .

It seems that 4M was out with his buddies for a little after-hours frivolity, and got caught waiting for a ride, so he 'borrowed' his sister's (2F's) car. Which would have been damned inconsiderate, taken by itself. But he's only 15 and DOESN'T HAVE A DRIVER'S LICENSE! Or even a learner's permit! Even that wouldn't have amounted to much until the police caught him going 52 in a 35mph zone. So all of a sudden - cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching - speeding, driving without a license, and breaking curfew (in OurTown, kids under 16 are supposed to be off the streets after midnight). So the officer took 4M downtown (and very helpfully left the the car in a nearby parking lot for us to retrieve at our convenience).

This is our 'GOOD' kid - The All-American Boy.

Well, now he's got a $115 speeding ticket to pay, and he gets to appear before a magistrate to find out when he'll even be eligible to get a driver's license, and to what extent his freedom will be curtailed. Oh, boy.

I was very good; I didn't lose my temper, didn't even raise my voice (much). I just told him, as calmly and clearly as I could, how disappointed I was, how this had damaged my trust for him, that it would take a while for him to rebuild my trust, and that he wouldn't be getting the freedom and priviliges that he would have if I still trusted him.

AND HE GETS MAD AT ME! Starts telling me that now I'm four-for-four with my oldest kids getting picked up by the police, and that can't be a coincidence - obviously we're failing miserably at our parental duties. I just sat there with my mouth open.

So Sunday afternoon, he headed up to his room, saying he was tired and wanted to take a nap. A while later, I was upstairs in one of the other kids' rooms; I stuck my head in to check on 4M, and he was gone! He'd called one of his buddies, then snuck out the back door to go to another buddy's graduation party. We finally tracked him down, and went to get him. When I asked him what he was thinking, he said, "Well, you're just gonna take everything away from me, so I might as well just be rebellious and do whatever I want."

What I really want to know is, what alien keeps sneaking into my kids' rooms at night and sucking out all their brains?

Thing is, 4M is really a pretty good kid; I think he'll actually learn the lesson he's being given, without the Universe giving him too much of a beating first. But he's been running way too wild lately (much wilder than we thought he was, you can be sure), and needs to be reined in. I was talking with his football coach a couple days ago, and the coach said that he's been "pretty full of himself, pretty cocky lately". Sounds like the coach and I are seeing the same stuff.

So, it's a shock to us, for sure, but it's not the end of the world. You know, experience in dealing with the police is one of those things you never really hope to gain in the course of your life, but. . . you do what you've got to do. 2F actually got 'scared straight' by her brush (years ago) with the law, and I'm hopeful that 4M will do likewise. Really, he's got too much going for him to flush it over some late-night rowdiness, and I think he understands that.

Well, I've certainly been on kind of a downer around here lately. Truthfully, things aren't as awful as all that, but it has been an intense couple weeks. So I need to post something lighter soon, or you all will start to wonder about me, too. . .


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Pomp and Circumstance

This past weekend was 3M's commencement ceremony, from his 'Salvage Your Graduation' program. The graduates were a mixed bag of younger kids like 3M, and the GED folks, who were generally older.

Five of the graduates gave speeches. One was a 43-year-old grandmother who just decided it was time to get her life headed in a better direction. Another was a guy with a wife and two kids who got hurt and couldn't do his job anymore. If he was going to feed his kids, he needed to get a diploma. This was LIFE, at a very down-and-dirty level. Not the usual, "The future lies open before us" platitudes coming from kids who haven't lived at all yet. It was very touching.

Even most of the 'salvage' kids seemed to understand that they were in 'repair mode' for previous mistakes, and there was a much more sober, grateful atmosphere to the whole ceremony.

I hope I don't have to go to another one, but all in all, it was probably the most REAL commencement ceremony I've ever been to.

Monday, June 12, 2006

My Son, My Son

Our oldest son, 3M, was a very cute little kid. He was precociously bright, cheerful, friendly, and funny. When he was in 2nd grade, he memorized most of a book of Shel Silverstein poems, several of which he recited for a school talent show. One of the school moms played in a band that had regular night-club gigs, and she got him hired for a 20-minute bit between sets of the band, for which he made $20, plus all the fries he could eat.

In school, 3M always craved the elusive elixir of 'coolness' - more than anything else, he wanted to be 'popular'. It never happened for him, at least not to anything like the degree that he wanted, so he started acting more and more outrageously, in a vain attempt to win social status. When the other kids still wouldn't give him what he wanted, he just raised the level of outrageousness, until finally, in 7th grade, the Catholic school we sent him to told him to find another school for 8th grade.

That summer, between 7th and 8th grades (2001), he met a girl, and went completely ape-shit nuts over her. I won't rehash all the gory details, except to say that, all through that summer, he would regularly run away from home, for days at a time, to go see the girl.

He told the girl's parents how abusive and violent we were, and that I would "probably shoot" him if he showed up at home. Thus, a police officer appeared at our door asking me if I owned a gun (I didn't, and never have). A few days after that, a State of Michigan social worker came to our house and spent several hours trying to catch us acting abusive and violent (she didn't; in fact, we have documentation on file with the State of Michigan that we are a stable, loving family - how many of you can say that?). For a few days we didn't know for sure whether our other kids would be taken from us or not.

That fall, the situation came to enough of a head that he was admitted to a 'halfway house' program for troubled teens; he physically lived in the 'halfway house' for two weeks, and we had counseling sessions every other evening. At the end of the time, we gave him a choice - either come home and live under our authority, of find another place to live. He chose to come home (I actually have no idea what would have happened if he had chosen otherwise; he was only 13, and the State of Michigan doesn't allow teens to be 'liberated' until they're 16)

From then until he graduated from high school (by the very thinnest possible skin of his teeth), things were never as bad as they were that summer, but they were never good, either. Somewhere along the line, he developed a real problem with authority. He was oppositional, defiant, and disrespectful. He lied and stole seemingly without conscience, always managing to stay one step shy of getting his ass thrown to the curb. Sort of an ongoing, slow-motion train wreck.

Now, you can imagine that all that was plenty to deal with, if he were our only child, but we had seven others besides him. We were constantly forced to spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy dealing with the 3M-fires, while the other kids (who might actually pay attention to what we said) got less than their share of our scarce resources.

The saddest part of the whole thing was the 'ripple effect' that spread out from 3M's misbehavior. In some ways, we really 'found out who our friends were'. Several folks sort of withdrew from us - either they didn't want our wicked kid to 'contaminate' their kid (which, honestly, I understand), or they started to have doubts about us, for not being able to do better at raising our son. I can't bring myself to be angry about it - I understand their misgivings - but it was very hurtful, and disillusioning.

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Friday, June 2, 2006

The Apple of My Eye

Our oldest daughter, 1F, was very much the 'perfect kid' growing up - trustworthy, helpful, loyal, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent, and all the rest. She was a sweet kid, and as the kids kept coming along, she became sort of Molly's 'junior mom'.

We didn't allow our kids to date in high school. 1F mainly didn't fight us over that, but she wasn't terribly appreciative of it, either. During her junior year of high school, she had a 'boyfriend' more-or-less clandestinely, and when Molly found out about it, 1F continued with the relationship until the boy got tired of the drama and moved on.

1F graduated from high school in 2001, and took a year off before starting college. She got a job bussing tables at the local convention center, and moved out of our house, into a household of single women all belonging to our Christian community.

Late in the summer of 2002, about a month before she left for college, she started telling us about this guy she'd met at work, who was so charming, and paid such flattering attention to her. Molly and I were very uneasy about it, but we didn't have any real basis for saying anything much more definite than "be careful". Then she told us how she went out with him for a drink after work, after which he took her to a motel, "and stuck his tongue in my ear." OK, that set the alarm bells ringing!

She was completely out of her league with this guy, and I told her that she had no idea what she was dealing with, and she should run, not walk, to the nearest exit. But she couldn't bring herself to believe what we were telling her. Yeah, he might have 'issues', but they were because of his rotten parents or his rough upbringing. He was just basically a nice guy, who most people misunderstood (she really said that!), and she just soaked up the snake-oil he was pushing.

We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that she'd be going away to college that fall, and that would be that. But, it turned out that her two roommates were both borderline head cases, so she spent most of the fall immersed in roommate-drama, in addition to the pressure of college-level studies for the first time. And how did she deal with the stress? By calling her 'friend' (I'll call him 'F-bomb'), pouring out her anxieties to him over the phone.

One day in October, she just left - walked away from school without a trace. For two days, no-one had any idea where she was. We finally found her back in town, working at her old job at the convention center. Where F-bomb was. We convinced her to move back home, helped her finalize the administrative details of quitting school, and tried to help her come down from the stress she'd been under.

And she started seeing F-bomb again. We'd never met the guy, so we asked a few questions. How old was he? About 32, she said. A big red flag, since she was only 20. Her behavior became more and more outrageous - she'd go out on dates with him, and not come home until 5AM. When we confronted her on that, and the bad effect it had on the life of the rest of the family, the bad example to her siblings, etc, she just said, "Fine - I'll move out." So she did - and moved in with F-bomb, two weeks before Christmas.

After that, we barely heard from her over the next few months. She wouldn't tell us her address or phone number, so the only way we could contact her was for Molly to go to her place of work, and in due course, she quit that job, so we couldn't contact her at all; we could only wait for her to contact us.

It became pretty clear that F-bomb was playing her like a puppet. She systematically cut off all of her closest friends, including her best friend since they were both in diapers. One woman, a family friend who had been something of a mentor to 1F, tried to talk to her, and 1F threatened her with a restraining order.

1F had a credit card, and he rang her up for $10,000 and a used SUV, ruining her credit in the process.

Also, it turned out F-bomb wasn't 32 - he was two years younger than I was. He had an ex-wife and two kids, who were in high school with our other kids. One day, his son grabbed 3M in the hall and said, "My dad is dating your sister; how weird is that?"


Over the course of the next three years, she left him and went back to him more times than we could keep track of. One time after they'd fought, she was wandering alone in his neighborhood at 3AM (probably the worst neighborhood to be found in our town), and was attacked and raped. To this day, nobody has any idea who did it to her, but she was left lying unconscious on the sidewalk across the street from F-bomb's house. F-bomb and his brother threw her in the back seat of his car, drove her to the hospital, dumped her by the ER door, and left.

About two years ago, she moved out from his place for the last time, and back in with us. She had a good job, and was getting her feet back underneath herself. But she couldn't stay away from F-bomb. She hated herself for it, but once or twice a week, she'd miss dinner without calling us, which we knew meant she was seeing F-bomb.

All this time, we consoled ourselves with the fact that she hadn't gotten pregnant. Maybe he was 'shooting blanks'. But alas, she finally did get pregnant, and that was the last she saw of F-bomb.

Our grand-daughter, who I'll call AG (Adopted Girl, get it?) for blogging purposes, was born this past winter.


For the last several months, 1F has been seeing a counselor who is helping her deal with some of the issues that made her particularly vulnerable to someone like F-bomb. Molly and I have sat in on some of her sessions; as you might imagine, several of her 'issues' radiate out from her upbringing. We are still very much 'in process' with the whole thing, but we have learned a couple things.

The 'junior mom' role that we reserved for her was not a healthy thing; it effectively robbed her of a lot of her 'childhood'. As a kid, 1F was almost freakishly responsible - the 'first-born pleaser', in spades, doubled and redoubled. Which was nice for us, but she'd have been better off with a bit more freedom to just 'be a kid'. And, she felt like she always had to 'fix' everything, so when I lost it, or Molly did, or chaos reigned, as it often does in large families, 1F felt like it all fell on her to 'make it better'.

And the thing is, I could often see that going on with her. I could see her trying like mad to just 'make it better', to restore control. And it bothered me - I knew what she was trying to do, and I knew that she shouldn't be taking that burden on herself, but I didn't know how to get her to relax and let it go.

And somehow, a guy like F-bomb, who needs 'fixing', especially a streetwise guy who knows how to look like he 'needs help', is exactly the kind of guy who would hit her at her vulnerable point. Add to that her own insecurity at being out on her own in the big, wide world, and his 'father-figure-ness', his ability to 'show her how it's done', and she was easy pickings.

Today, I think, she's a stronger, wiser young woman, albeit with scars on her psyche. She has restored most of her lost friendships, but the years of traveling in 'different circles' sometimes make for awkwardness. And, her story has gotten around - not everyone knows quite how to approach her.

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