Friday, December 19, 2008

Bellybuttons and the Incarnation

Many years ago, I noticed one of our kids (an infant/toddler at the time) playing with his bellybutton, and I had a bit of an odd thought. Everyone, it occurred to me, has a bellybutton; the greatest and the lowliest, the most beautiful and intelligent, and the least. And what does it mean? That each of us was borne in his mother’s womb, at the most basic, earthy level, and you can take it from there. Each of us was an infant with shitty diapers; each of us was a snot-nosed kid, and so on. . . If we’re fortunate, each of us will grow old and wrinkled and gray-haired. Funny to think about supermodels with snotty noses; or gray hair and wrinkles, for that matter. Funny to think of Einstein with shitty diapers, but it’s true – every human being who ever lived had a bellybutton – was born of a woman. Human life has a few constant parameters, not all of them glorious; and bellybuttons are one of them.

Given the season, it’s real appropriate to observe that even God Himself was born of a woman. As sloppy and messy as human life can be, it wasn’t too gross a thing for God to be born of a woman and share human life with us. Peter Kreeft has said that the Incarnation means that God stepped in our manure (because Peter Kreeft is not quite so rude-and-crude as I am).

And in the previous context, the Incarnation comes to seem all the more amazing. Supermodels and Einstein are funny to think about, but. . . God Himself? A little baby. . . shitty diapers and snotty nose. . . God?! And that, at the most fundamental level, is the wonder of it. . .

“For we do not have a Redeemer who is unable to sympathize with us in our weakness, but one who has experienced life as we have. . .” (Hebrews 4:15, roughly; call it the DJV – Desmond Jones Version)


For the past few years, to mark the seasons of Advent/Christmas, our community has put on a show (shamelessly stolen from something someone heard on PBS) called, ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ – nine Christmas-themed Scripture readings, each one paired with a corresponding Christmas carol. It’s really a pretty cool idea.

This year, our family (‘The von Jones Family Singers’) sang What Child Is This?, to go along with Luke 2:1-7 on ‘The Birth of Christ’.

I have always been struck by the second chorus of this song: “Nails, spear, shall peirce Him through, the cross be borne for me, for you”, and the idea it expresses that, whatever else might be the case, the Incarnation is ultimately directed toward the Cross.

The Word became flesh, not merely to show us a human life lived as it was meant to be lived, but, ultimately, for the Perfect Sacrifice of ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’. So, even amidst the joy of the Incarnation – the angelic choirs, the Child in the manger, and all that – there is the sorrow and suffering of the Cross. The two are not separable. The Cross – the Sacrificial Atonement – is the larger part of the significance of the Incarnation. And without the Cross and Resurrection, there is no Christianity.

And, one wonders about Mary. At what point was she aware that Jesus, the Incarnate Word to whom she gave humanity, the child of her own womb, was also the Sacrifice Lamb? When did the sorrow temper her joy? When did she realize that “the Son of Man must lay down His life as a ransom for many”? Was it revealed to her before she said her momentous “Yes” to God? If so, all the more amazing that she said “Yes” even still. And even if not, isn’t it just Human in some archetypal way – her own joy at giving birth to the Incarnate Word is not untempered by the sorrow of the Cross? That’s just the way it is for us humans, and Mary is nothing if not human. . .

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tough Times, If You've Ever Been Married to My Dad

I posted a couple months ago about my ‘stepmother’ (Dad’s second wife), and her struggles with Alzheimer’s. My parents had moved out of their home of the past 35 years, and into an assisted-living facility. They chose the place they did, because of its proximity to a level of care for Mom that would allow them to live together for as long as possible.

Well, it turns out that ‘as long as possible’ was about a month-and-a-half. Something about leaving her familiar surroundings and into a new-and-unfamiliar place seemed to ‘disorient’ Mom, and she fairly quickly started up with some more ‘difficult’ behaviors that just made it impossible for Dad to take care of her, so in September, she moved out of the assisted-living place, and into a full-out nursing home, about a ten-minute drive from Dad.

She seemed to do well enough at the nursing home, and the staff there complained, just a bit, that she was always ‘on the move’, and they spent more time than they’d have liked just ‘tracking her down’. Then a couple months ago, she just stopped. She wouldn’t get out of her chair, she didn’t want to get up and walk around at all. And nobody seemed to be able to tell us why. Finally, a couple weeks ago, some tests were run which determined that she’d had a pretty significant stroke, probably right around the time when she stopped walking.

And since then, her health has just continued to deteriorate. My sisters are now telling us to make sure that everybody comes down for Christmas, because it’s starting to seem like we won’t have her around for much longer.

It’s quite sad for my dad; he put a lot of thought and effort into finding a place that would keep them together for as long as possible, and it just seems cruel that it couldn’t have been just a bit longer. But, as we well know, there are no guarantees. . .


I’ve blogged about the fact that I have three mothers – my birth-mother, my ‘stepmother’ and my ‘first mother’ – my dad’s first wife, who adopted me, along with Dad. I’ve had a few things to say about my ‘first mother’ in the past, but I haven’t given a very full account of her story, so perhaps it’s time I did that, just a bit.

My ‘first mother’ was born in Germany in the 1920s. She was a pre-teen when the Nazis took power, and that fact pretty much set the tone for the next decade-and-a-half of her life (as it did for virtually all Germans of the time). Because her mother was ill, her father was able to keep her out of the Hitler Youth, to care for her mother. She was a young adult when the war started, and by the end of the war, she was working in a field hospital somewhere in Austria. She told us once about the last days of the war, and how everyone she worked with simply headed west as fast as they could, so as to fall into the hands of the Americans, if possible, but anyone besides the Soviets. Which she managed to accomplish.

After the war, she got a secretarial job working for the US State Department in the postwar reconstruction (which was only possible because she had never been a Nazi, including the Hitler Youth), and it was there that she met my dad. They were married in Germany just before Dad’s tour of duty ended, and she came to the US with Dad when he returned home to finish his college degree on the GI Bill.

They were married for nine years without any children, before they finally adopted me, and two years later, my brother. When I was little, we lived in the Detroit suburbs, but when I was seven years old, we moved Up North.

I’m not sure exactly what sort of marital difficulties they were having, but during the winter in which I had my ninth birthday, she left. I remember my dad sitting down with my brother and me, telling us that Mom had left, and she probably wouldn’t be coming back. And that was effectively the last we heard from her, until many years later. There were a few awkward phone calls, and she sent us birthday cards for a few years – I recall that the last one was for my 13th birthday.

My brother and I lived a kind of ‘bachelor’ existence with Dad for the next year, but he pretty quickly took up with the woman who would become our ‘new mother’ (and would instantly add three more children to our ‘new family’), and they were married before my tenth birthday (the ink was hardly dry on the divorce papers).

Fast forward now to my early 30s; Molly and I had been married for a while, and 3M had just been born. 1F had started school, and she was also exhibiting some fairly remarkable musical aptitude. And it caused me to think of my ‘first mother’, who had been quite formative of my own musical abilities – she had insisted that I start piano lessons when I was five, and she had brought music into our home (my dad, on the other hand, was pretty thoroughly tone-deaf), and that had always stayed with me.

Somewhere along the line, I thought that I wanted to thank her for having brought that into my life, so I decided to try to find her, and re-connect with her, if possible. I followed a few leads, but mostly ran into dead ends. But I did register with a ‘people-finder’ service through Social Security, where they would, blind to me, and if possible, contact the person being sought, and inform them that I was desiring contact with them. At that point, any contact would be up to them.

And, over Thanksgiving of 1988, she called me, and we re-established our relationship. I learned that she had remarried in 1969 (roughly corresponding to when the birthday cards had stopped). She and her new husband had no children; and he’d had no children with his first wife, who had died a few years previously. In the 70s, they’d moved to a warm-weather state 1000 miles from Michigan, and that’s where they’d lived ever since.

She had never told her new husband that she’d had children, so when I came onto the scene, she had some ‘splainin’ to do. (I think this was partly to do with her insecurity over her own infertility; even when she was still married to Dad, I don’t think she really, deep in her gut, thought of herself as our mother). But, in the fullness of time, we formed a warm friendship with her and her ‘new husband’ (to whom, by the time of our reunion, she’d been married nearly 20 years).

The following spring, we went Down South to visit them (and swim in the ocean for the first time), and we had roughly annual visits with them for several years afterward, until her husband’s death in the mid-90s.

Since his death, she has lived as a widow, independent and active in her church. She moved to an assisted-living facility a few years back, but she has always had a strong network of relationships.

I have been in the habit of calling each of my mothers during the major holidays. This year, when I called my ‘first mother, she didn’t answer her phone. I didn’t think much of it – I figured she was probably spending the time with friends from her church, and we’d eventually hear from her. But she didn’t call back, and after a couple days, we started to get worried. Fortunately, she’d given us the phone number of one of her neighbors, and told us to call the neighbor if we couldn’t contact her, for some reason. So Molly called the neighbor, and we learned that she’d fallen three times in the week before Thanksgiving, and was in the hospital. She didn’t have any broken bones, but she was sore and bruised, and her legs had essentially stopped working. And then, while she was in the hospital, she’d contracted pneumonia.

We had quite a bit of difficulty getting to actually talk with her, and by the time we did, this past weekend, we found out that she was being moved to a temporary nursing home, and her nephews (her late husband’s brother’s sons) were working on moving her to a home back in Michigan (God bless her nephews; they have treated her as a beloved family member since the day she married their uncle; it is a little bit daunting for us to think about contacting them to ask them to keep us in the communication loop).

It will be nice to have her closer at hand, and to be able to visit her much more easily than when she was Down South, but it is clear that now both of the women who spent any amount of time raising me are in the ‘end game’ of their lives at the same time. I’m absolutely glad that we were able to be reunited, and to be part of each other’s lives, to whatever degree, for the past 20 years.

It’s a little bit difficult to sort out just what the demands of ‘Honor your father and mother’ are, when referring to multiple mothers in various situations and relationships to us. But I do want to give each of them the honor, and gratitude, that they are due, and that God requires of me. But it’s not always clear just what that is. . .

And, just in case anybody is wondering, my birth-mother’s health is just fine; at least, as of a couple days ago. . .

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Rest of my DNA

When I was reunited with my birth-mother, some 19+ years ago, she told me who my birth-father was, and gave me enough information to find him, over 1000 miles away from me, within a few more months. I called him on the phone, and by my dropping my birth-mother’s name, he knew immediately who I was, and my connection to him.

Our relationship has been friendly, although I wouldn’t characterize it as ‘close’. Certainly, I don’t view him as having paid the same kind of ‘price’ for my existence as my birth-mother did. He had his fun, and the rest was up to her. And in fact, when her father sued him, to cover her medical expenses, he treated her pretty shabbily; and I’ll leave it at that. So, yeah – his role in my coming-to-be was somewhat less than ‘heroic’.

And, on a more ‘existential’ level, I wasn’t in the market for someone to fill the role of ‘father’ in my life. ‘Mother’ is a very earthy, physical relationship – I lived for nine months in my birth-mother’s womb, and drew my sustenance from her body. And, in the current day and age (although not to the same degree when I was conceived and born), her own choice brought me to the day of my birth, and into my life ‘on the outside’. But ‘father’ is a much more ‘relational’ role in a child’s life, and that role had long since been filled in my life. My history with mothers had been somewhat checkered, but my dad had been the one, solid constant in my life. So, when my birth-father started to relate to me like his ‘long-lost son’, I recoiled from that, just a bit. I wasn’t looking for ‘another father’; I was only looking for insight into where, and who, I’d come from. I was happy to know and relate to him as my birth-father, and to enjoy the obvious genetic connection that we share (he’s a Jeopardy! freak, just like me), but the role of ‘father’ was already filled. Which, I think, hurt him, but it is what it is. I regret that he was hurt, but I don’t know how I could have done it differently.

Along with my birth-father, I also found two half-sisters, my birth-father’s daughters by his first wife (my birth-mother, you may recall, had an adopted daughter, but no other ‘children of her womb’, who would have been ‘genetically’ related to me). And my relationships with my half-sisters have been one of the most pleasant surprises of the entire search/reunion phenomenon.

My birth-father gave me the names of my sisters, and told me how to get in touch with them. I called the older one (call her Martha) first; we had a real nice conversation. I think it amused her a great deal to learn about her father’s ‘wild oats’. She told me that, in her teens, her dad had gotten drunk and told her and her sister that they had a brother, but he didn’t know where the brother was. Which she’d never known what to think of, but now, it seemed, her dad’s drunken ramblings had been true.

Martha was planning to be in Michigan, visiting relatives, within a couple months, and so we planned for her to visit us while she was here. The day came, and she called us as she was leaving her relatives’ house, saying, “We’ll be there in about an hour.” Something about how she said it struck me as odd, and as I hung up the phone, I turned to Molly and said, “I think Martha is a lesbian.” It was nothing specific, just an impression from what she’d said, and something about how she’d said it.

Not in the least that we wouldn’t have wanted to meet her; she was (and is) my sister, and I am happy for our connection, regardless of anything else. Still, we had an hour to wrap our minds around the possibility. Which was probably merciful, because it’s hard to know what our response would have been if we’d been blind-sided. Because when Martha arrived, with her partner, Laura, it was clear that my impressions had been accurate. It wasn’t so much the short hair – I’ve known lots of very heterosexual women who wore their hair short – but the studded black-leather outfit she wore fairly shouted her, uh, sexual preference. And I had to smile wryly to myself, realizing that she was intent on finding out, right up front, what our attitude to her ‘leanings’ was gonna be.

We had a really nice visit. She remarked, on seeing my face, that her dad could hardly deny me if he wanted to. We took a walk around our neighborhood, and at one point, Martha, walking behind me, remarked, “You’re definitely one of us – you got no ass at all.” I’d never particularly been accustomed to women talking about my ass, but it gave me a certain warm feeling that my half-sister was pointing out the marks of our genetic related-ness. At one point, 1F, who was about eight or nine at the time, noticed that Martha and Laura were wearing matching rings, and she asked them, “Are you married?” While I tried to clap my hand over her mouth, Martha and Laura just laughed, and said no, they weren’t married.

We got together with Martha a couple more times in the years following that, but after a certain point, she moved away from the town where her father lived, to another state, several hundred miles away, and stopped responding to our letters or phone calls. I don’t know if, or how, we offended her, but she also cut off contact with her father and split up with Laura around the same time, so it was evidently a time of some turmoil in her life.

I called my other sister (call her Janet) a few weeks after I called Martha. She was a single mother of a son, who was between 2F and 3M in age. Our relationship was slower to warm up, but over time, it has become a very warm relationship. In all sorts of ways, right down to our favorite books, and that we both like to ride bicycles, we just ‘clicked’ with each other, in ways similar to what I’d experienced with my birth-mother. And her son was, in a lot of ways, more like me than my own kids were. Which I found very ironically amusing.

Janet came to visit us at our house once, which was again, a very nice visit, although it came to a rather abrupt end when 3M and 4M got into a fight, resulting in me having to take 4M to the emergency room, after he punched a window in proxy for his brother.

Janet and I still talk on the phone a couple times a year, and whenever we do, neither of us wants to put the phone down. There is just something delicious about the connection with a genetic sibling that you just ‘get’ on some intrinsic level.

So, that completes the picture of my birth-family, from my birth-father’s side. His family – hard-drinking Southerners, originally from Mississippi – could hardly be more diametrically different from my birth-mother’s family of staid, German-Lutheran farmers. A marriage between the two of them would have been difficult on multiple levels. So, on the whole, it’s probably God’s mercy that I was adopted. But it has been very rich to get a glimpse at where my DNA has been, and what kinds of people came together, which resulted in me.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Sinners Anonymous

This post originated as a comment I left at FTN’s blog almost three years ago (before I had a blog of my own, and even before I had adopted the 'Desmond Jones' pseudonym; thus it's also of potential interest to all you 'Desmond-historians' out there. . .), but since the topic keeps coming up (altho it's getting to have been a while ago by now; Digger posted responses here and here), I thought it might possibly be worth reprising. Besides, it's Advent, and I'm in a penitential frame of mind again. . .


Someone (I forget where I first came across the term) has referred to the Church as ‘Sinners Anonymous’, and that notion has always resonated with me. . .

One of my favorite short stories is one that Walker Percy wrote about a space voyage to another star system (you can find it in his book, Lost In the Cosmos; the book itself is an exposition of the science of semiotics, but the story, which is near the end of the book, is worth the price all by itself). When our intrepid voyagers arrive at their destination, they find an advanced civilization, but before they’re allowed to land, they’re required to state their ‘Level of Consciousness’, according to a three-level criterion*:

C1 – essentially an unfallen, edenic state of consciouness.

C2 – a ‘fallen’ state, full of internal conflicts, essentially at war with itself.

C3 – same as C2, except recognizing its need for help.

Anyway, to return to the original theme of this post – the Church is all about C3.

A common complaint about the Church is that it’s ‘full of hypocrites’, and I certainly understand where that complaint comes from. All talk of redemption aside, there really are hypocrites and other kinds of nasty people in the Church (“And God, I know I’m one. . .”) But, in the context of Percy’s ‘Levels of Consciousness’, I’ve come to think that many of the complaints about the hypocrites in church are something of a dodge.

On a fundamental level, we are, all of us, at various times and places, hypocrites, at least in the sense that our lives often don’t match our own stated ideals. That’s the Christian doctrine of the Fall (or, if you’re Catholic, Original Sin, which GK Chesterton called ‘the most empirically obvious of all Christian doctrines’). ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ is Chapter One of Basic Moral Theology. Not to excuse anybody’s sinful behavior (least of all my own) – that’s just the kind of creatures we are. ‘Sinners’ is the only raw material available out of which to form a church.

There aren’t many of us who are C1’s on Percy’s scale; I can at least say, on a purely empirical level, that I’ve never met one (though I’ve met a few who might’ve seemed to come close). The world is populated by ‘fallen’ people; the only relevant distinction left to be made is whether or not they’ve realized their need for help.

A friend of mine is fond of saying, “If you find the perfect church, don’t join it, because as soon as you do, it won’t be perfect any more.”

Sad as it is to say, when it comes to the Church, “ain’t nobody here but us sinners.”

Which might be a good reason to stay away, but me being a sinner, it’s how I get the help I need. . .

*(a similar-looking, but very different scale than that proposed by Charles Reich in his 1970 book, The Greening of America)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Caught In Between

I was noticing recently, in the ‘Labels’ column in my sidebar, that I’ve got posts labeled for each of my kids. . . except one. I’ve briefly mentioned, from time to time, my second daughter, 2F; but I’ve never devoted a post to her and her life. Which is a shame, because, at least so far, her life has been the most substantial of any of our ‘older’ kids (if perhaps not quite so ‘interesting’ as the others. . .)

From the very beginning, 2F seemed to have come into the world with the mission of teaching Molly and me that:

(a) each of our kids was an individual in her own right,
(b) not all of our kids would be compliant ‘pleasers’ like 1F, and
(c) there were limits to how, uh, ‘forcefully’ we could coerce our kids into obedience.

For that, we have come to be grateful, but gratitude was not always our first instinct.

I suppose that it is inevitable that second children will be parented at least partly in comparison to their first-born siblings. And that tendency is perhaps intensified when the two children are of the same sex. As I’ve said, 1F was a very compliant child, the type who, when we said “Jump” would ask, “How high?” 2F was much more inclined to say, “Why should I?” And “Because I said so” was not always as convincing an answer as Molly and I might have thought it should be.

2F’s stubbornness, combined with Molly’s and mine, and our immaturity as young parents, made for some fairly monumental contests of will. With 1F, whenever she opposed her will to ours, we could fairly easily ‘turn up the heat’ to get her to comply. With 2F, it didn’t work that way, ever. I vividly recall one such contest, when 2F was two or three, that we ‘turned up the heat’ to a level I was already uncomfortable with, and the realization came to me that this toddler girl had us stymied – the next level of ‘heat’ would cross a line into the realms of ‘abuse’ that I was unwilling to cross, and might put us into a danger zone with the law, as well. It was a very disorienting experience, for sure.

And so it went for virtually all of 2F’s young childhood, until roughly 7th grade. Molly and I took to telling her that, if she continued on the path she was going, sooner or later, she wouldn’t be dealing with her parents, she’d be dealing with the police; and the police didn’t love her like we did. And the day came (inevitably?) that she found herself dealing with the police. It was a small enough matter, but it did confirm for her that, indeed, the police simply didn’t care what became of her. So I suppose Molly and I got some credibility out of that.

I don’t know if that experience had a major impact on her life or not, but it roughly coincided with a turning point in her life. Somewhere around 7th/8th grade, it was like she rolled over in bed, and said to herself, “the approach I’ve been taking isn’t working so well; maybe I’ll try it their way, and see if that goes any better.” And really, from that time on, she’s been our most solid, responsible kid.

2F was 16 when 3M started running away from home (and generally demonstrating to us that such willfulness as 2F had shown us in her childhood years had been, well, child’s play). And she was 17 when 1F took up with F-bomb. And for a few years after that, our family was just traumatized. And 2F, being between the two ‘troubled kids’, kinda got lost in the trauma.

She finished high school and went to college, and got a degree in Child Development (following in Molly’s footsteps). She has made us proud in so many ways – she recently returned from a year-and-a-half of mission work in Detroit, during which she lived in the middle of one of the poorest, nastiest ‘inner cities’ in America, and brought God’s love to the people there in a multitude of ways.

2F is an incredibly kind, sensitive young woman, and admirable in a multitude of ways. Just as people used to congratulate us for having raised 1F, nowadays they say similar things to us about 2F. And she finds that ‘role reversal’ the least bit ironic.

The thing is, her childhood has left its scars on her psyche. She was deeply wounded by the severity of our learning-on-the-job young parenting, and by the way she was constantly overshadowed by her ‘perfect’ older sister (and she knew all along, when Molly and I couldn’t bring ourselves to see, what a façade the ‘perfection’ was). Even as she has made us busting-our-buttons proud, she has struggled with her relationship with us. In the last few months, we’ve been able to start bringing some healing to our relationship. By God’s mercy.

I’ve said, from time to time, that life turns out to be more heart-breaking than we planned on. And there is something heart-breaking about our inability to appreciate 2F for who she was all along, to give her the love she needed on her own behalf, and where that’s brought us in the meantime, in terms of psychic wounds and painful relationships.

But God is merciful. He “restores to us the years the locust has eaten,” (ref. Joel 2:25) and “gives us a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). So, we can look forward to that. . .

Friday, November 21, 2008

How Did This Kid Come From Me?

When our son 4M started high school, he transferred from the tiny Catholic school that all our kids have attended, to the large public high school (which all our kids have also attended). Since he hadn’t gone to the public middle school, we had to enroll him at the start of the school year. And, since I work out of town, tasks like that typically fall to Molly. So, she took 4M to the school office to get him enrolled, amid the chaos of the first day of school (at a school which we already knew was somewhat ‘administratively challenged’)

So Molly and 4M are standing at the counter in the school office, waiting for some or another administrative functionary to do some or another administrative function that needs doing, so 4M can take his place in the long line of students at Large Public High. While they’re standing there, quietly minding their own business, a young lady sidles up to 4M, in full view and hearing of his mother, and says, completely unsolicited, “You’re hot!”

Which took Molly back, just a bit. I mean, in our day, the girls were more, uh, subtle about insinuating themselves into our attention. Heck, in my case, they were SO subtle that I’m hard-pressed to recall any attempts at insinuation. But that, as they say, was then, and this is now.

I have alluded previously (although it may have been a while ago) that 4M is something of an All-American Boy – tall, good-looking, athletic, hard-working, honor student, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent, and all the rest . And as such, he has attracted somewhat more than the usual share of attention from the fair sex. Which leaves me somewhere between scratching my head in perplexity, and scratching my head with something more akin to envy. (Molly swears that he’s mine; I asked, just to be sure). Which might account for the density of the hair on the top of my head.


Also, when 4M was still in the Catholic middle school, he attracted the attention of a young lady from one of the other Catholic schools in OurTown. A very attractive young lady, and the daughter of a dentist. Over time, as they passed into high school (she went to the Catholic high school, but that hardly mattered, since 4M had lots of friends that went there), their relationship grew into something of a more ‘serious’ nature.

Molly and I resisted him having a girlfriend, reasoning that such an ‘exclusive’ relationship really only had its appropriate context when marriage was a possible end result. But, we also knew that we didn’t want to ‘drive the relationship underground’. So, we developed a kind of uneasy truce.

Once, a couple years ago, Molly and I went away for a 4-day weekend retreat. We farmed the younger kids out to spend the weekend at friends’ houses, but we let 4M and 5M stay at home, to fend for themselves in our absence. Before we left, we told the boys to mind themselves, because if they misbehaved, our neighbors in the community would let us know. Assured that they would be on their best behavior, we went on our retreat.

A couple days later, in the midst of the retreat, we got a phone call from one of the neighbors, saying that they’d seen a young lady going into our house, and then noticing that all the shades were drawn. I asked my neighbor what, exactly, he’d be willing to do in the situation, and he said, what do you want me to do?

I asked him if he’d be willing to go over and knock on the door, and let 4M know that his parents were up to speed on what he was up to, and that it was time for the young lady to be on her way. Which he did, and he called me back to report on the outcome.

He explained how he’d let himself into the house, and found 4M and the young lady sitting together on the couch, and he’d said what we’d agreed he would, and the young lady left.

“And I have to tell you,” he continued, “this was an EXTREMELY good-looking young lady.”


So, we had the long talk about trustworthiness (following on his late-night escapades with his sister’s car), and what was appropriate behavior for a single young man with members of the opposite sex, and so forth. I even took him over to the girl’s house, and had him apologize to her father (which, though the dad took it with all due seriousness, also amused him somewhat).


4M also convinced us to get him a cell phone, so we could stay in touch with him, given all our respective busy schedules. We looked into it, and if we dropped the long-distance from our home phone, it was actually a decently attractive deal, from a financial standpoint. What we hadn’t fully reckoned with, in our naivete, was that there were other people for 4M to talk to on his cell phone besides us. And his cell phone could do incoming calls just as well as outgoing ones.

One morning at the breakfast table, 4M was especially groggy, and he had an odd look on his face. I asked him how he’d slept, and he said “not so good”. I asked why not, and he got a very odd look, and he pulled me aside to talk privately.

“A girl called me at 2AM,” he said.

What? What in the world did she have to say to you at 2AM?

“She said she was horny, and wanted me to come over to her house so we could have sex.”

Well, I just about dropped my teeth. Two thoughts immediately shot through my brain –

1) That’s a pretty bold little chickadee, right there, and
2) Where were the girls like that when I was in high school? (I'm kidding!)

I did trouble to ask whether he had gone to her house, and he assured me he hadn’t, but that he found the whole experience to be perplexing. Which perplexity was reassuring to me, as his father. And we had a good father-son heart-to-heart on the general topic of “How shall a young man keep himself pure?” (Ps. 119:9)


The thing is, 4M really does aim at living a Christian life, as best he’s able. And I want to help him do that, as best I’m able. But I confess that the combination of his own junior-stud-muffin looks and the, uh, more aggressive nature of the young women of his acquaintance, have presented him with a degree of challenge that I never had to face. In fact, we ended up backing off some in our resistance to his having a girlfriend, because he told us that, if he had a girlfriend, the other girls would leave him alone. Which really has proven to be the case.

And I keep asking myself, where did this kid come from? Neither Molly nor I were super-popular in high school, and while we weren’t considered ugly, we weren’t considered more-than-normally attractive, either. So, a son who has strangers sidling up to him in the hall, telling him how hot he is, in front of his mother, is a little bit outside our experience. I genuinely appreciate his heart, and his determination to do the right thing. But sometimes, I can only shake my head at what he’s been given to deal with. One of Molly’s favorite sayings is, “It takes a steady hand to hold a full cup,” and I only hope that, especially as he gets older, and living on his own, he can have a hand that’s steady enough to deal with the cup he’s been given. . .

Monday, November 17, 2008


Saturday afternoon, my sons and I partook of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (that's confession, for those of you who aren't up on the 'proper sacramental terminology'). And, as he is often wont to do, my priest gave me, as my penance, to read and meditate upon the scriptures for this Sunday's liturgy, which included this passage from Proverbs 31 (vv 10-13, 25-26, 28-31) -

When one finds a worthy wife,
she is far more precious than jewels.
Her husband, entrusting his heart to her,
has an unfailing prize.
She brings him good, and not evil,
all the days of her life.
. . .
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
. . .
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
"Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all."
Charm is decietful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.

I won't go into detail on precisely what I confessed, but it was astoundingly appropriate that my penance should include a meditation on the excellent woman whom God has given me for my wife. It's like this entire chapter of Proverbs, which is usually taken as a kind of 'idealized' portrait of a godly wife, was written by someone with detailed knowledge of Molly's life. She really is, and has been since I've known her, 'far more precious than jewels'. And, as I've entrusted my heart to her, she has shown herself over and over to be 'an unfailing prize'. And she has certainly brought me good, and not evil, every day since we've been married.

I know, I know, it's not like this is breaking any new ground here on this blog; I've been singing my wife's praises around these parts from the very beginning. But, when God goes to all the trouble of confirming the message from the Scriptures, and in a sacramental context, no less. . . well, I have to pay attention to it, don't I?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Uh. . . Thanks

Way back when I still worked for my previous employer, an automotive supplier in OurTown, we moved to a new office building which included, for the first time in my own youthful existence, a ‘Fitness Center’. It was mostly just an open area, where folks could have aerobics classes, or other forms of strenuous (or not-so-strenuous) exercise, on the theory that fit employees will work harder and be happier, and cost less in health coverage. The center also contained a large multi-station weight machine, a couple racks of free weights, a few stationary bikes and a rowing machine.

For my purposes, the main feature of the fitness center was the showers. Those enabled me to ride my bike to work during the months when the roads weren’t snow-covered (it was about 5 miles from my house to the office, which I could cover in about 20 minutes), and to do short workout rides on my lunch hour a couple days a week (there was enough time for me to get in about 12 miles, shower and get back to my desk in a little over an hour).

Of course, when I was showering after my workout, lots of other guys were in the locker-room at the same time, having done their own lunch-hour workouts. One group of guys were into body-building – they’d lift weights with the specific goal of building large, well-defined muscles, and they’d spend a fair bit of time in front of the mirror, making sure that all their work was paying off in terms of how buff they looked.

Now, at this point, I should say that, all the cycling I was doing in those days (upwards of 3000 miles/year) was having its effect on my own physique, such as it was. Specifically, my legs got very strong, and chiseled-looking in their own right. Check out any avid cyclist’s legs, and they’re probably pretty tight and ripped-looking. But I didn’t have a ‘Body Beautiful’ by any stretch of the imagination – I didn’t do any lifting, or anything to build up my upper body, or shoulders, or anything like that, and I still had a round gut that was a couple sizes too big. I just liked to ride my bike, and I liked being in good aerobic shape. At least, good aerobic shape for a fat guy.

So one day, having completed my lunch-hour ride, I was drying off after my shower. One of the body-building guys was getting dressed at a nearby locker. As I got dressed to head back to my office, he nodded in my direction, and said, “You got really nice legs.”

Uh. . . excuse me?

“You got really nice legs,” he repeated. “How do you get those?”

Okay, now this was really, really weird. Looking back, even a couple hours later, I suppose I understood that he was just talking out of his body-building focus, expressing admiration for something he was trying to accomplish for himself. But right there, on the spur of the moment, it felt the least bit creepy. Suddenly, I had a deeper, existential understanding of what women talk about when they say they feel like pieces of meat when men check out their bodies. You know, I might even have been flattered if one of the women complimented my strong, manly legs as I sauntered through the gym after my ride. But another guy. . . in the locker-room. . . both of us half-dressed (or less). . . not so much.

I mumbled something about riding my bike a lot, and hurried to get dressed and get out of there, while my body-building co-worker pressed me – you don’t do any lifting, or leg-work? Only cycling?

Yup, just cycling. Well, gotta go. . . big project. . . see ya ‘round. . .

I felt bad leaving him standing there like that, but I’m pretty sure he just turned and started checking out his own legs in the mirror, wondering to himself, “Cycling, huh? . . .”

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Zebra Dreams

All our kids have played middle-school basketball, from 5th through 8th grades, starting with 1F, and down to the present day, with 6F being in 8th grade. 7M is in 5th grade, so he’ll play this winter (our middle-school girls play in the fall, since the small Catholic schools that form a league together, mostly only have one gym, and it’s hard enough to try to schedule four teams’ practices in one gym; eight would be impossible).

A couple weeks ago, 6F’s team played a game against a team from a school across town, one of whose players was the daughter of Tom Izzo, the Michigan State University basketball coach (such are the occasional perks of living in the shadow of a Big Ten university; several years ago, 3M played a few games against Nick Saban’s son. . .) Coach Izzo came to watch his daughter, which created a minor buzz in the ancient, inner-city gym (for the most part, people let him watch his daughter in peace, but everyone was aware of his presence, you can be sure). The game was played, 6F’s team lost a close game (neither she nor young Miss Izzo scored any points), and we packed up to head home.

On the way home, Molly mused, “How do you suppose the referees felt about calling a game in front of Tom Izzo?”

I had to laugh; it hadn’t really occurred to me to wonder about that, but it was funny to think about. For these middle-school basketball games, the referees are usually young-ish guys in their 20s, maybe even college kids, who are paid $25/game, usually for two games. They get way more than their share of grief from parents who are convinced their offspring will be the next incarnation of LeBron James, or Candace Parker. But it might be the tiniest bit more intimidating, mightn’t it, calling a game where one of the parents in the bleachers has coached in four Final Fours, won a national championship, and been T’d up by the very best, on national television. . .

Monday, October 20, 2008

Had a Wonderful Time; Wish You Could've Been There

Well, this past weekend was the Great Midwestern Blogger Gathering of 2008. Which is pretty grandiose-sounding, for 13 people getting together in a pub, and assorted other evening festivities. 2amsomewhere gave his account of the Saturday evening activities, so I'll try not to duplicate too much of what he said. For my part, the bottom line is, that Molly and I had a great time meeting and getting to know everybody, just a little bit.

Last week, 3M offered me tickets to the Michigan State-Ohio State football game (he has season tickets; must be nice); both teams were 6-1 heading into the game, and my Spartans were entertaining thoughts of possible bigger and better things than we've recently been accustomed to. But, I declined the tickets to be with my blog-friends. So, I hope you all feel very special. When I told FTN my dismay at having to forego the game, he consoled me by saying that, heck, they'd probably lose by four or five touchdowns. By the time we left our hotel room, they were already behind 21-0 at the end of the first quarter. So, I could relax and give the gathering my full attention. Still, I hold FTN personally responsible for the five-touchdowns-plus-a-field-goal drubbing that we eventually took. (*sigh*) (But seriously, that's a pretty impressive gift of prophecy, dude. . .)

I'll start by saying that it's going to be a little bit difficult, at least for the next little while, to stick to protocol, and remember to use people's blog-names, and not slip up and call FTN 'Engelbert', for example (because, well, 'Humperdinck' is just so, you know. . .) So, if I screw up, y'all can just sort of discreetly let me know via e-mail, and I'll go back in and add your cell-phone number. . .

The group, once we were finally all together, consisted of FTN and Autumn, RS and Therese, Taja and Brady, Drama, Fusion, Trueself, BJ, the aforementioned 2amsomewhere, Molly and me. I thought it was very brave of the non-blogging spouses to come along, since they've been talked about in what might be considered to be embarrassing detail, from time to time. I was pretty sure that anyone who'd ever been to my blog would be eager to meet Molly, just because, well, I try to put her in a positive light. Which is, honestly, pretty easy to do. But I've thought for a while that Autumn has to be the most misunderstood person in our corner of blog-space (not, to be clear, because of anything FTN has ever said, but extrapolations made by other folks from what he's said). And, I've got to say that I'm pretty sure now that I was right. I mean, heck, we even talked her into flashing her tattoo. . . Honestly, the two of them are a really sweet couple, and complement each other in some really good ways. Molly thanks you, by the way, FTN, for introducing her to Snakebites. Um, and I thank you, too, if you know what I mean (and I think you do).

We occupied our booth at the pub for close to five hours, having a relaxed good time, telling stories and joking with each other. Calls were placed to faDKoG and XH, and the phone passed around the table (and I apologize to both of you that I'm not quicker on my feet than to say anything wittier than, "Uh, hi; how are you?). Molly was eager to head to the 'gay-friendly sports bar' for some karaoke (and just the concept of 'gay-friendly sports-bar karaoke' has my head spinning just a little bit), but we wound up heading to a game/arcade/pool place that was a shorter walk away. I got to watch Therese and RS kill zombies, while Molly and Drama had a long conversation upstairs. We walked around Monument Circle, which was pretty cool (OurTown doesn't have anything nearly that cool), and then headed back to the hotel, where we gathered in FTN/Autumn's room for Guitar Hero and American Idol. I'm on the recovering end of a cold, so my 'Idol' rendition involved much more cracking of the voice than I'd have hoped (and trying to keep up with the streaming lyrics to 'Satisfaction' got a little challenging once or twice). (And, no Beatles in a 'karaoke' game? Are you serious?). And I'll say that, unless you like to be thoroughly humiliated, you do not want to play 'Guitar Hero' with Autumn. . .

We finally got to bed about 2AM (and I suppose that, technically, we were 'somewhere', but that's a different blog entirely), but Molly and I still woke up early enough for our Sunday Morning Tradition before Mass (she even packed her Silver Anniversary Outfit special for our trip, which added a nice celebratory touch to the festivities).

RS had done some research, and found a Tridentine Latin Mass not too far from our hotel, so we joined them there, which was a wonderfully rich experience.

The group gathered again at a nearby park on a beautiful Sunday morning, for some more relaxed conversations, played with Taja's puppy, and took pictures of each other, in various combinations and configurations. A few of us caught lunch together at the mall food court, and then we headed home. (Molly and I had a minor adventure on the drive home, which I might post about sometime in the future).

As I said, we really enjoyed the time. It was very cool to meet the people behind some of the blogs I read - to get a sense of faces, gestures, tones of voice, and all those things that we miss in a text-only environment. It was a pleasure to meet each and every one of the folks there, even the folks whose blogs I've not visited terribly often. And I appreciate the effort that everyone made to be there (especially RS/Therese and Fusion, whose travel involved airplanes).

Thanks to FTN for being The Organizer, putting the bug in everyone's ear, making the pub reservation, and even doing quite a bit of legwork on hotels, and such. And thanks to 2AM for being our tour guide for the weekend.

One more time, with feeling - we had a wonderful time with you all; it was a pleasure. . .


Add October 21 -

I'm the least bit curious - those of you who were there, what did you think of Molly? I know I put her on a pretty tall bloggity pedestal, but how did you think the reality compared with the picture I've painted?

Monday, October 13, 2008

I Get a Little Highbrow (With Help From My Friends)

This is probably as close as I’ll get in this blog to political commentary. . .


Choruses from ‘The Rock’, by T. S. Eliot


It is hard for those who have never known persecution,
And who have never known a Christian,
To believe these tales of Christian persecution.
It is hard for those who live near a Bank
To doubt the security of their money.
It is hard for those who live near a Police Station
To believe in the triumph of violence.
Do you think that the Faith has conquered the World
And that lions no longer need keepers?
Do you need to be told that whatever has been, can still be?
Do you need to be told that even such modest attainments
As you can boast in the way of polite society
Will hardly survive the Faith to which they owe their significance?
. . .
Why should men love the Church? Why should they love her laws?
She tells them of Life and Death, and of all that they would forget.
She is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they like to be soft.
She tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts.
They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
But the man that is will shadow
The man that pretends to be. . .

Monday, September 29, 2008

It's Personal

Yesterday was the 19th anniversary of my reunion with my birth-mother. . .


Sometime when I was in college, the realization dawned on me that, as an adoptee, I had been somebody’s ‘unwanted pregnancy’ once upon a time. And in the fullness of time, that became one of my strongest motivations to search for my birth-mother – I wanted to thank the woman who had carried me in her womb for nine months, and seen me through to the beginnings of my life in this world.

Along with that realization, I came to realize that, all things considered, I was probably fortunate to have been born before 1973 and Roe v. Wade. I had never particularly staked out a firmly-held position on abortion (My younger self was probably mostly ‘pro-choice’, without having given it much thought), but once I understood that, had I been conceived in another time, I would have been a pretty likely candidate for abortion (white college women abort roughly 98% of their ‘unwanted pregnancies’), the question took on an entirely different, and personal, aspect.

I recall a conversation I had with my birth-mother some time after our reunion. She was talking about her life as a pregnant-and-unmarried woman in the 1950s, and how difficult it had been for her, and she said something like, “I just wish I’d had the choices that women have today.”

Um, excuse me? You realize, don’t you Mom, that the ‘choice’ you’re talking about wishing you’d had, is whether or not to kill ME? I mean, we’ve had a really, REALLY happy reunion, and both of us are glad for the opportunity to know each other, and our respective families. If you had exercised the ‘choice’ you’re talking about, none of that would be even a remote possibility. You might still wonder who I’d been, but without any possibility of ever knowing. . .

She understood. Not that she was wishing that she’d aborted me; only that she’d felt so trapped when she was pregnant, and wished that she’d had anything at all she could have done about that.

Now, I could understand how trapped she felt. Frederica Mathewes-Green has written insightfully about women who “want an abortion the way an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg”. And I get that. I have the utmost compassion for women who are pregnant when they don’t want to be. My daughter was one of those women, just a couple years ago. And I wished there was something, anything, that I could do to make it easier for her. . .

But, back in 1955-56, that was ME in my birth-mother’s belly. Not a clump of cells, not a faceless ‘fetus’ – it was me. And if my birth-mother had had an abortion, it was me who would’ve died.

And the ripples go out from there. My adoptive parents might’ve adopted someone else; who can say? But they wouldn’t have adopted me. My classmates and friends and Little-League teammates could scarcely be said to have missed me – how do you miss someone you never even knew existed? – but something of the life we shared together would never have happened. Molly would most likely have married someone else (I mean, she’s an amazing woman; how could she not?); but she wouldn’t have married me. And our children would never have come to be – her children, if she had any, would be someone else entirely. . .

And so it goes. In fact, those of you who were born after 1973, have you ever wondered how many children who would have been your friends or classmates or Little-League teammates, were never allowed to be born? What music was never made, what literature was never written, what cures for which diseases never came about, for want of the men and women who would have done those things, but were never born?

My point here is not to guilt-trip any woman who has ever had an abortion; my heart absolutely goes out to those women, for they, too, have had violence done to them. I only hope to put a more ‘human’ face on the question, and encourage anyone to think of ‘unwanted pregnancy’ not so much as a ‘problem’ with an easy technological solution, but as something real, and human, and flesh-and-blood. And life-and-death.

I don’t think my birth-mother is terrible for wishing she’d had more choices available to her (honestly, on one level, it’s easy for her to say; she’ll never bear the cost of having chosen otherwise). No, I actually think she’s pretty cool; as birth-mothers go, she’s definitely one of the best, and I am as happy as I can be that we’ve known each other these 19 years. I understand how trapped she felt 52+ years ago, and I absolutely appreciate, and am utterly grateful for, the sacrifice it was for her, for me to be here today. It’s personal for her in an entirely different, but analogous, way to how it’s personal for me. And I understand that.

But I have to tell ya, it is a strange, strange thing, to be told by your mother that, as much as she loves you, she wished she’d had the choice of whether or not to kill you before you were born. . .

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Our Flashy Wedding

Molly and I went to a wedding this past weekend. The bride was a friend of ours, a woman a couple years older than 1F, who is also a birth-mother of a six-year-old boy (her son, and his adoptive family, were at the wedding, and it was a personal highlight for me to meet them). Her willingness to share with us about her experience of birth-motherhood has been wonderfully helpful to us through 1F’s experience. And I think she has appreciated hearing about my experience with my birth-mother, as well.


Of course, I have many memories of our wedding day. I remember washing my car in the morning, more to kill a couple hours until I had to be at the church, than because my car was so dirty (this ‘what to do until you have to be at the church’ question is a major one for grooms; I’m given to understand that brides don’t typically find themselves at quite such a loss for how to fill their mornings. . .)

Once I arrived at the church, there really wasn’t all that much for me to do. All my groomsmen showed up in a timely manner, my brothers took their places as ushers, and I just took some chill time in the sacristy, as the guests started to arrive.

About a half-hour or so before the wedding was supposed to begin, my head-usher, a guy I’ll call ‘Tom’ for purposes of this story, with whom I’d shared a house while I was in grad school, came into the room where I was relaxing, a concerned look on his face. “Ummm. . .” he began. (I don’t know; it just seems to me that your head usher coming to you a half-hour before your wedding, saying “Ummm. . .” is probably not a good thing). “Ummm. . . there’s a retarded guy out in the parking lot, exposing himself to the guests as they arrive.”

I just stared at him, blankly.

“So, what do you want me to do?” he asked, as I contemplated the image of my grandmother being greeted in the church parking lot by a retarded flasher. The fact that it was a Catholic church parking lot is probably worth noting, because my family is not Catholic, and some of them, possibly including my grandmother, held less-than-flattering opinions of Catholics and Catholicism.

“Huh?” I replied, quickly grasping the gravity of the situation.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Tom,” I replied, with all the mellowness I could muster at that point, “I asked you to be my head-usher so I wouldn’t have to think about stuff like this. I’m sure you can figure something out.”

For a couple seconds, he stared back at me. “Right,” he finally said, and hustled off.

I’m told that the police were called, and our flasher friend was relocated away from the church parking lot before too many of our guests’ retinas were seared with images of his genitalia. The wedding proceeded without too many further glitches, Molly and I were well and thoroughly married to each other, and the rest, as they say, is history.


We like to tell young couples planning their weddings to not be too concerned that everything goes off perfectly, because every wedding has something that goes not-quite-according-to-plan. I was at a wedding once, where the bride’s veil accidentally caught fire when it brushed too close to the Unity Candle (a quick-thinking Maid of Honor averted catastrophe in that case). At another wedding we were at, the Best Man passed out cold, and spent most of the wedding being attended to by a doctor off to the side of the church. Those are both pretty good stories, and good examples of What Can Go Wrong at Your Wedding.

But our story of our wedding flasher always makes their eyes get real wide. “And besides,” we always tell them, “if things go really wrong, you’ll have a great story to tell. . .”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cycling In the Moonlight

My recent cycling post reminded me of another story from the Jones Family Archives. . .

Way back in 1984, when 1F was a two-year-old only-child, Molly and I took her on the PALM ride (Pedal Across Lower Michigan; ie, across the ‘palm of the mitten’, ‘cuz Michigan is shaped like a mitten, get it?), along with a few other couple-friends of ours. PALM is a six-day ride, crossing the Lower Peninsula from shore-to-shore, west to east. With the shorter distances involved, PALM bills itself as a more family-friendly version of more rigorous tours like DALMAC; many parents brought their small children along for the fun, and a few 8-10-year-olds even rode the tour themselves. So I put one of those plastic kid-seats on the back of my bike, and off we went.

And we really did have a good time. The three of us shared a week of life on a somewhat more ‘elemental’ level, with nothing but our own legs to propel us down the road, and sharing a tent together at the overnight campsites.

Of course, strapping a two-year-old into a plastic seat on the back of her dad’s bike for four hours or so, every day for a week, has its own set of challenges, in terms of her attention span, and her willingness to sit semi-still for such long intervals. We planned to take short breaks every hour or so, to let 1F run around a bit before getting back on the bike. And, with some regularity, there were interesting sights to be seen just in the course of rolling down the road. I recall stopping by a turkey farm once (the birds were so fat they could barely stand up), and getting passed by an Amish buggy at another point (note to my readers: many Amish really, really resent being taken for ‘curiosities’ by the ‘outside world’, and attempts to take their photograph can induce a pretty surly response, which may or may not include threatening to run your bicycle into the ditch with their horse).

Molly had recently taught 1F a cute little ‘waking-up-in-the-morning’ ditty, which became a daily staple of our first few miles on the road:

When cows get up in the mor-ning, they always say ‘Good Day’.
When cows get up in the mor-ning, they always say ‘Good Day’.
They say, “Moo, moo, moo, moo,” that is what they say.
They say, “Moo, moo, moo, moo,” that is what they say.

And so on, through a whole barnyard-full (or ark-full, as the case may be) of various animals, and how they all say ‘Good Day’ when they get up in the morning. By the end of the week, I’d heard about all I cared to about animals and the sounds they make in the morning. And I’m hopeful that most of my fellow-riders on that tour have either forgotten about it, or found it in their hearts to forgive us. . .

But, our best efforts aside, sometimes boredom set in for our beloved first-born. Seated as she was on a seat over my rear wheel, the things which were most immediately presented to her senses were things pertaining to my backside. Like my pockets, for one example (I was wearing ‘cycling gear’, where the shorts are those nifty black lycra things, and the pockets are in the back of my shirt). One time, Molly just happened to notice 1F pull my wallet out of my pocket, inspect its contents for a minute or two, and toss it in the roadside weeds, or I might have ended up washing dishes to pay for our lunch.

Another time, as I was pedaling along, 1F grabbed the waistband of my lycra shorts and pulled. Pants-ing me in the process. And putting my, uh, reciprocating moons on display for the benefit of all my fellow-riders in the immediate vicinity (it would be gratuitous, I’m sure, to describe said moons as ‘hairy’, so I won’t). Molly corrected her sternly for that, you can be sure. Altho, I gotta say, some of the effect of ‘stern’ is lost when you’re trying to stifle a belly laugh, and snot is blowing out your nose. . .

But, as I say, we had a great time. We finished the week, and marked it up as a really cool family vacation. And within a couple months, Molly was pregnant with 2F, and the family dynamic never really meshed with the idea of doing PALM again.

Which is probably just as well, for modesty’s sake, knowwhatImean?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hair (Or the Lack Thereof)

For those of you who like to associate me with All Things Hairy. . .

Sometime around when I was 30 or so, I was passing a peaceful evening sitting in my easy chair, reading a book. Molly, being about her own business, happened to walk behind the chair I was sitting in. Suddenly she stopped, and gasped sharply.

“You’re going bald!” she exclaimed.

Well, I’d been noticing that the hair on the crown of my head had been feeling a tad ‘thinner’ in recent days, but I couldn’t see any such effects when I looked in the mirror. Molly very helpfully produced a second mirror so I could see that, indeed, there was a small circlet of bare skin peeking through on the crown of my head.

As I’ve gotten older, that ‘small circlet’ has grown a bit larger, until today it looks like this:

I like to say that this ‘tonsure’ is indicative of my ‘Latent Monastic Tendencies’. I’ve been known to invoke such tendencies in the pursuit of more solitude than is generally afforded by the presence of eight children in my family. But Molly only laughs derisively, and says, “I’ll give you eight kids’ worth of ‘Latent Monastic Tendencies’!” Something about how ‘eight kids’ and ‘monastic’ constitute some kind of oxymoron. . .

But I still can’t see it when I look in the mirror. . .

Friday, September 5, 2008

All My Grandchildren

I’ve posted before about 1F’s daughter, who she gave up for adoption (I called her AG – Adopted Girl, get it?). The adoption is an ‘open’ one, which means that the birth-mother and the adoptive family know who each other are, and at least the possibility of a relationship between the birth and adoptive families exists. This is a very different arrangement than my own adoption was, and it presents a few unique challenges.

1F essentially chose the adoptive family herself. If it were possible, she wanted her baby to be adopted by a family from one of the Christian communities related to the one our family belongs to (and in which 1F was raised). So, she asked our community’s leadership to ‘put the word out’, to find a family looking to adopt. They found a couple who had been married seven years, with no children up to that point; they lived in a town close enough to OurTown to be reasonably convenient, but far enough away that we weren’t going to be running into each other, both of which were desirable parameters. The couple was even a fairly close ‘ethnic’ match to 1F and the baby’s birth-father. We knew roughly who they were – both the husband and wife had spent some time in our community before they were married – but we didn’t really have a close relationship with either of them.

Anyway, in order for the adoption to go through, they had to pass an evaluation by the agency which was handling the adoption, which they did, with flying colors. They were in the hospital for AG’s birth, and the adoptive mother cut the umbilical cord. When she was two days old, AG went home with them, and has lived in their house ever since.

The adoptive parents (I’ve called them AM and AF – Adoptive Mother and Adoptive Father; other than Molly and myself, clever pseudonyms aren’t my strong suit) have been extremely gracious about extending a relationship to 1F, and also to Molly and me. Early on, 1F was going for almost monthly visits, although lately, they’ve been more like quarterly. Molly and I were invited for AG’s baptism, and they pointedly called us forward to stand with the family during the baptism. It was very heart-warming.

Interestingly, having not conceived a child for the first seven-plus years of their marriage, virtually as soon as AG came into their home, AM was pregnant, and their son was born before AG was ten months old. They had another boy before AG’s second birthday. Give ‘em a baby, it seems, and they don’t wanna shut off the faucet. . .

The first and most obvious challenge of an open adoption is the simple matter of names and identities. From the very beginning, 1F has been very clear that they – AM and AF – are AG’s parents, and she makes no ‘parental’ claim on her. Their family has taken to calling her ‘Auntie 1F’, like one of those close-friend-of-the-family ‘aunts’ that many of us have grown up with. I don’t know what plans they have for letting AG know that ‘Auntie 1F’ is her birth-mother. But that’s a decision that doesn’t need to be made for several years yet, anyway.

Molly and I have tried to be especially solicitous of the integrity of the adoptive family. We’ve had, I think, four visits with them (AG is two-and-a-half). Molly would just as soon have no contact with them, I think, out of a concern to stay utterly out of their parental way. But, adoptee that I am, and having met my own birth-family, I’m too keyed-in to my genetic connection with AG to just leave it alone, if her parents are willing to let me have some contact with her.

The only ‘restriction’ that AM/AF have placed on our family has to do with our other kids – they’ve asked that we not bring our kids to see AG. I understand their concern. Our kids have friends in their community, who they’ve met at Summer Camp and various other places, and they’d rather not advertise to the whole community who AG’s birth-family is (even though, by now, it’s something of an open secret). Moreso, they don’t want our kids coming by saying things that would be confusing to AG (“Hi, AG, I’m your Aunt 6F”; for one possible example).

But, all things considered, the ‘open’ adoption has worked really well. AG is growing up secure in her family, her parents are secure in their relationship to her, and 1F, Molly and I are gratified that we can know her, and see her grow up. A lot of that depends on us – the birth-family – being clear on what our relationship to her is, and what it isn’t, and being utterly respectful of the integrity of her family. If 1F thought of herself as AG’s ‘real mother’, it could cause serious problems, but that isn’t remotely the case, and it’s worked really well.


The last time Molly and I were down to visit with AG’s family, we were sitting and talking with AM and AF, when AF said, “We’ve got to come up with something for AG to call you guys, besides ‘Auntie 1F’s Mommy and Daddy’. That’s just too awkward, and we need to come up with something better.”

We agreed, and I was about to suggest something like ‘Uncle Desmond and Aunt Molly’, when AM said, “We’ve been thinking of calling you ‘Grandpa Desmond and Grandma Molly’; would that be OK with you?”

Was she kidding? I would LOVE to have her call us ‘Grandma and Grandpa’, but ohmigosh, are you sure?

She was, with one proviso – we couldn’t just be AG’s Grandma and Grandpa, we had to be ‘Grandma and Grandpa’ to the two younger boys, also.

We were stunned. We had come for a visit, being just a bit shy about our relationship with our ‘grand-daughter-who-isn’t-really-our-grand-daughter’, and by the time we left, we had three grandchildren. Such an amazingly gracious, generous offer to us. Honestly, they don’t have to have a relationship with us at all, but they’re happy to have us be ‘grandparents’ to all three of their kids.

I’m thinking, when 1F chose an adoptive family for her baby girl, she did even better than she knew. . .

Monday, September 1, 2008

On the Road Again

Labor Day weekend is pretty much the pinnacle of the bicycling season in Michigan. Every year, 1500 or so cyclists ride the DALMAC tour, 350+ miles from Lansing to Mackinaw City, over the course of 4 or 5 days.

I didn’t ride DALMAC this year; but, in honor of the Pinnacle of Michigan Bicycling, my riding buddy and I rode 77 miles on Saturday, the pinnacle of our own riding season. And this morning, 4M and I did another 35 miles, which put me over 1000 miles for the second year in a row. Woohoo!

To put that in context. . .

I bought my first touring bike after I got out of college, before Molly and I started dating. I started going for rides out on the country roads around OurTown, maybe 20 miles or so at a time. When Molly and I got married, I bought her a bike (a mixte frame, which she still has; it’s almost kind of a cool relic these days), and we would go on rides together.

By around 1982 or so, a few other guys in our community took up cycling, and we started riding together. I rode my first DALMAC in 1983, and every year from ’84-’86, I rode over 3000 miles per year (in ’85, I maxed out at 3664 – one of my riding buddies and I thought it would be really cool to say that we averaged 10 miles per day for the entire year)

2F was a year old when I rode my last DALMAC, and Molly, uh, let me know that training for DALMAC was starting to interfere with the demands that two toddlers were placing on our lives. So, I stopped riding DALMAC, and cut my miles back. Still, from ’87-‘93, I averaged over 2300 miles per year. Changes in my job meant that I rode even less after that, but still, in ’95, I rode over 1200 miles. ’96 was the year I switched jobs and started with my long commute. I didn’t even track my miles that year, but Molly and I, in honor of turning 40, ‘bootlegged’ the last day of the DALMAC tour that year. We weren’t quite in ‘DALMAC shape’, but we had a good time.

After that, I basically stopped riding for several years. My long commute and growing family just pushed cycling to the bottom of the priority list.

About 7 or 8 years ago, I started getting back on the bike. My old community riding buddies invited me on a ride with them. I rode about 5 miles, and thought I was gonna die. I had to stop, and lie on the ground, and wait for my heart to stop pounding out of my chest. It was really pretty humiliating – I used to ride 35 miles just as a routine matter, and here, I could barely do five miles without dying.

But, I knew the only way for me to get in better shape was to keep riding. If five miles was all I could do, I was at least gonna do five miles. And then eight, and then ten, and then twelve. For the next several years, I went out as often as I could on the weekends, riding miles considerably reduced from what I’d once done. There was a 17-mile ride that I used to do as my first, shake-out-the-legs ride of the season. Now, it was my goal for the summer – if I worked hard, I could do a 17-miler by the end of the summer. Or maybe (*gasp*) a 20-miler. I didn’t track my miles for those years, but I vaguely recall that something around 200-300 was a typical season for me.

And Molly, solicitous as she has always been for my health and well-being, would ride with me, when she could. Which provided another marker for how far I’d fallen. ‘Back in the day’, I’d ride with Molly when I didn’t care how good a workout I got – if I rode hard, she couldn’t remotely keep up with me. But now, she was dusting me. It became one of my goals to get strong enough to where she didn’t have to wait for me.

In 2006, I started my weight-loss program, and, as part of the program, I took a more aggressive approach to riding. Instead of starting the season with 10-12 mile rides, I started with a 15-miler, and built up to 20 miles pretty quickly. My ‘pinnacle’ goal for that year was to do the 35-mile ride that I used to do ‘back in the day’. It was actually kind of an exciting year – I was rediscovering miles and miles of really nice rides that I hadn’t done in years. I think I finished ’06 with something on the order of 600 miles.

Last year, I was even more aggressive. We built up to 30-milers pretty early in the season, did a 50-miler over Labor Day, and ended up with over 1200 miles for the year. And this year, I’m on pace for 1300-1400, depending on how the weather falls in November. . .

This is all like the next chapter of The Great Weight Loss. It’s like a whole chunk of my life that had been lost has been restored to me. I had almost forgotten the joy I got from being out on my bike. And, when I was over 300 pounds, even though I was getting on the bike in whatever ‘reduced’ capacity I could manage, I was pretty sure those days were gone forever.

So, as I said, when I started being able to ride miles that I hadn’t been able to do in years, it was like being re-introduced to an old friend. Corners of the countryside around OurTown that I hadn’t seen in years, were becoming familiar to me once again. . .

There is this huge sense of having gotten a reprieve, a ‘do-over’ on a massive scale. I am so grateful to be able to ride again. At age 52, I’m in as good a physical shape as I’ve been in many years.

And, it’s a complete, gratuitous bonus to be able to ride with my sons. At various times, if my regular riding buddy has been unavailable, I’ve been able to ride with 4M or 5M; both of them are high-school athletes, and I’m sure, if they really put the hammer down, I couldn’t stay with them. But, I can make them work harder than they used to have to. . .

So, next year, I’m thinking of doing DALMAC again. 23 years after I did my last one, and 13 years after I even rode any part of the route.

And Molly and I are saving our pennies to buy a tandem. . .

Monday, August 11, 2008


Molly and I celebrated our 28th anniversary this past weekend. It wasn’t so high on the scale of romance as some of our recent anniversaries have been, but it was rich in an entirely different dimension. . .


Four years ago, my mother (technically, I suppose she’s my step-mother; but since she married my dad when I was 10, I’ve only ever called her ‘Mom’) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. We live a couple states away, so we didn’t see many of the early signs, but Dad and my sisters, who saw her every day, started seeing enough little ‘lapses’ to take her in for an evaluation. Even so, we’ve never seen the ‘hollowed-out shell’ that people seem to always talk about when they talk about Alzheimer’s. Mom seemed bright and cheerful, maybe even more than she’d been before (although a lot of that was chemically-induced), albeit increasingly prone to occasionally bizarre lapses of memory.

Until recently. Over the last few months, my sisters (and my brother’s wife, who actually sees more of Mom and Dad than anyone else) have become more and more upset and alarmed about Mom’s condition, and its effects on Dad. Dad is 86, and he’s 13 years older than Mom. I’m sure the ‘plan’, such as it was, was always for Mom to take care of Dad as he got old. And now, those tables have been turned, in a way that almost seems cruel. Dad is still very clear-headed, but he’s old and tired, and trying to look after Mom has stressed him horribly. My whole life, my dad has always been one of those omni-competent 'Greatest Generation' guys, and it's been disconcerting to see him so completely overwhelmed

Finally, a couple weeks ago, Dad announced that he and Mom were moving into an assisted-living facility, and within a week, they moved. Apparently, he’d been laying the groundwork for the move for a year or so; it was a great situation for them – Mom would have access to the care she needs, but they could still live together, at least for now. But Dad hadn’t told anyone what he was up to, so it came straight out of left field for all us kids.

So, last week, in talking with my sister-in-law, Molly and I came to the conclusion that we needed to go down to help with the situation. First, Mom and Dad’s house needed to be prepared for sale (in the midst of the worst housing market in a generation; *sigh*). Thirty-five years’ worth of *stuff* needed to be disposed of (and Dad is a packrat of more than modest proportions). And Mom needed to be ‘looked after’ so everyone else could work on the house, and Dad could get a bit of stress-relief.

So Molly and I drove down and stayed with my brother and his wife, who live about five blocks from Mom and Dad. I helped my brothers and sisters and their spouses clean the house, which was sort of décor-frozen in the 70s. I took down maybe ten of those wall-mounted track-shelf units. And my dad had to have been the ceiling-hook king of the Universe. I must have taken down something on the order of 100 ceiling hooks. I am not kidding. Swag lamps (remember those?), hanging planters, and every other imaginable thing you ever heard of that could be hung from a ceiling, and probably a few that haven’t occurred to you, besides. My sisters/SILs went through the house, organizing things into boxes for a garage sale.

And we had the inevitable ‘Distribution of the Heirlooms’, in which my siblings and I identified the items which were too precious to put into the garage sale, and decided who would get them. I dreaded this distribution; I have seen several families nearly unravel, quarreling over who would get which precious heirloom from Mom and Dad, or Grandma, and I really didn’t want that to happen to us. And, with our ‘Yours, Mine and Ours’ family, there are a few additional landmines to be dodged in the course of distributing the *stuff*.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. The tone of the discussion was much more one of, ‘such-and-such is a precious item, and we can’t let it leave the family – why don’t YOU take it?’ ‘Oh, I think YOU could make much better use of it than I could – why don’t YOU take it?’ And so on. Even some really nice items, there just wasn’t any quarreling, and in the end, everyone was genuinely happy that certain of the siblings would take certain precious heirlooms. It was really quite cool.

And Molly spent the weekend looking after Mom. Every day, I took her up to Mom and Dad’s apartment. Dad and I would have breakfast together, and Molly tended to Mom all day. I won’t go into any detail about what-all that entailed, but by the end of the day, Molly was pretty well wrung-out. But at least Dad got some respite from having to tend to Mom for one weekend. They have a caretaker five days a week, which is nice, but the weekends end up being pretty stressful, so my sisters and SILs are setting up a rotation for the weekends. And Molly and I will be taking our turn whenever we can.

So, in several ways, the weekend was bittersweet. It was sad, emptying out the house that I’d been ‘coming home to’ for 35 years, even though I’d hardly ever ‘lived’ there. It was sad, seeing my Mom in such a ‘hollowed-out’ state (and realizing that, four years in, it still has lots of time to get worse).

But, Saturday night, as we all flumped on the floor with our beer (even Molly and my sisters, who rarely drink beer) at the end of a long day, we had a wonderful time reminiscing about the life of our family, and our parents. We spoke more openly and affectionately with each other than we have in many years. Holidays are great family times, but the relating can be kind of ‘by the book’, so to speak. This was just us, talking honestly about our experience of our family; mostly recalling the good times, but some of the bad ones, too. Honestly, it was one of the best ‘family times’ we’ve had in many years, and it gave me a level of confidence that our family will survive the passing of our parents, which is something I’ve wondered about, from time to time.


Molly and I were pretty much whipped after all that, and too tired for any very strenuous anniversary observations. I imagine that, once we’ve had a chance to recuperate a little, we’ll manage some more suitable way to mark another year of marital bliss.

But honestly, getting together with my brothers and sisters to take care of our parents was a fitting enough way for us to spend our anniversary, don’t you think?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Zero Tolerance

Our third son, 5M, has always been a solid kid. He’s kind and good-hearted, and has often gone out of his way to befriend the ‘social-misfit-type’ kids at school. He has tended to get a little lost in the shuffle in our family, with all the drama going on among his older siblings, but just a very solid, very good kid.

When he was in 8th grade, 5M had a MySpace page. Which was news to us, since we didn’t even have an Internet connection on our home computer (I mean, we didn’t even have the connection; I had removed the modem from the box – the only sure way I could finally find to keep porn out of our house). But, you know, other families have computers with modems, and he’s not under our roof 24-7.

One time, I brought my laptop home from work. 4M and 5M were eager to borrow it so they could go online without having to run to a friend’s house, and that was my first look at 5M’s page. It featured a large photo of his august self, shirtless and sleeping. It could possibly have been construed as mildly ‘erotic’, in a 14-year-old-boy sort of way. I told him I thought a different photo would be a good idea, and he switched it.

5M played on the school’s 8th-grade basketball team and, as I recall, they had a very good season. But, at one practice in December, one of the boys on the team messed up in such a way as to cause the whole team to run extra laps at the end of practice. Which, as has been known to happen among middle-school boys, didn’t endear the boy to his teammates on that particular day. One teammate in particular, was extremely angry over it, and left a nasty, threatening comment on 5M’s MySpace page. 5M didn’t think much of it – he knew the kid who left the comment, and figured he was just venting some steam. He might have deleted the comment, but frankly, he didn’t know he could (just speaking as the boy’s father, there are all manner of bloggity things that y’all do that I have no idea how to do, so he at least comes by his ‘ignorance’ honestly).

A month or so later, on a Friday when 5M was home sick, his class had a discussion on school violence. In the course of the conversation, one of the girls said, “You should see what’s on 5M’s MySpace page!” So that day, after school, the teacher calls up 5M’s MySpace page, sees the nasty, threatening comment sitting there, having been there for over a month, and about jumped out of her clothes. The teacher showed it to the principal, who consulted the policy manual and determined that, holy shit, they had an honest-to-goodness violent situation on their hands, right here in Tiny-Catholic School! So they huddled together and consulted the policy manual for what to do. They even called the Diocesan Education Office downtown.

The following Monday, Molly and I got a call, requesting that we meet with the principal. When we got there, 5M was already sitting in his office. We sat down, and he described the situation to us. My first thought was to wonder why he needed us to come in for a meeting over that – what, exactly, had my son done wrong? It became clear that 5M’s offense was in leaving the comment up on his page. So I asked 5M why he hadn’t deleted the comment, and he said he hadn’t known that he could. And besides, his opportunities to even get at his page were fairly limited, since we didn’t have an Internet connection at home. And, he had gone in and deleted it that afternoon, when the principal showed him how. So no problem.

Well, no. NOT ‘no problem’. Not by a long shot.

The principal went on to explain that, according to the policy manual, this constituted an instance of violence against another student, which would not be tolerated. He even invoked Columbine. 5M was to be suspended for a week, removed from the basketball team, and be ineligible to participate in any extra-curricular activities for the rest of the school year. Which, since he was in 8th grade, meant for the rest of his time at the school. Including the ‘celebratory’ class trip at the end of the year.

I was dumbfounded. Was any consideration given to the kind of person they knew 5M to be? He’d been at the school for eight-and-a-half years, and had never remotely been a trouble-maker (which could not have been said of at least one of his older brothers, and even one of his sisters). This seemed kind of a nuclear response to a first offense, that, when I looked at it, didn’t look like much of an offense at all. The only response I got was that this was what the policy manual said they should do in a case of violence against another student, and that Sister Scholastica downtown agreed.

I wrote a letter to the principal, asking him to reconsider, based on 5M’s complete lack of any disciplinary history. I wrote a letter to our pastor, and the parish Education Commission, asking if there was any way for them to intervene in the situation, but they declined. I wrote a letter to Sister Scholastica, too, but I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for that; with the others, I was at least talking to people with whom I had a relationship. As far as Sister was concerned, I was just Irate Parent. The suspension was gonna stick.

I would have a hard time describing the bind we were in. Our kids have been attending this school for 20 years; it’s our parish school. So, sending our kids there is virtually a matter of supporting the parish. Plus, in all other ways, we liked and respected this principal; this ‘zero-tolerance’ thing came completely out of left field, as far as we were concerned.

Molly and I agonized over what to do. It seemed a shame (and honestly, an act of ‘violence’ in its own right) to pull 5M out of the school just a couple months before his class was due to graduate – these kids (or at least most of them) had been together since kindergarten, and they were a close-knit group. And yet, 5M was effectively being held apart from them by virtue of the discipline. If we sent 5M to the public middle school, he’d only be there for a couple months, and he knew very few of the kids he’d be there with. Besides which, with a ‘violence’ action attached to his name, we weren’t even sure they would take him, anyway.

We finally told 5M that, if he could, we wanted him to finish the year with his class. If he found that it was too hard, or too strange, to keep going back to school with his ‘Scarlet-V’ status, we would pull him out and switch him to the public school, without a second thought. But, if he could do it, we wanted him to finish the year, hold his head up, and figuratively say to his ‘adversaries’ (however he perceived them to be), ‘I won’t be beaten down’.

And that’s what he did. I’ve rarely been prouder of any of my children than I was when 5M graduated with his class from 8th grade. He held his head up and didn’t get beaten down. He worked hard and kept his mouth shut. All of his teachers (except the one who had ‘turned him in’) more-or-less rallied to his side, making clear that they regarded this as unjust, also. In fact, he even got ‘reinstated’ to go on the class trip (which he was tempted to refuse, out of principle, but he ended up going).

As I said, I’ve rarely been prouder of any of my kids. 5M’s character really showed through, and he grew a lot stronger for living through an awful situation with his dignity intact. There were no ‘good’ solutions to the problem, and I just wanted to make sure that we all, in the Jones family, handled ourselves uprightly and with dignity. We had many words of support from fellow-parishioners, including a few who offered to make some trouble on our behalf. Which we declined to have them do.

Our parish is a relatively small urban parish, and the school is its life-blood. The school itself has struggled fiscally for several years, and a major brouhaha could easily result in the school’s closing. Which, in the long run (or maybe not so long), would lead to the parish closing. Not that I thought that the fate of the parish hung on what we did, but taking care for the good of the parish was certainly part of our consideration.

And looking back, I think the whole problem was the ‘zero tolerance’ policy that the school adopted. I understand, and am supportive of, the school’s concern to protect its students from violence. But, to punish a stupid comment left on a MySpace page (out of ignorance much more than malice) as if it were the next coming of Columbine was just out of all proportion, and an affront to common sense. But then, ‘zero-tolerance’ is all about not engaging common sense. If the manual says it’s ‘violence’, then off you go; nothing to think about, you just follow the manual.

And the galling thing is that, in a Catholic school, I would expect the students to be treated as persons with human dignity, made in the image of God, but ‘zero-tolerance’ ends up treating them as line-items in the policy manual. Even the remotest consideration of the person who is my son 5M would have told them that they weren’t dealing with a putative perpetrator of violence. But thought is hard, and reading a policy manual is easy.

As I said, in every other respect, I like and respect this principal. Our working relationship is mostly intact. But trust has been damaged some, and if such a situation arises again, I don’t know with certainty that I can trust that the right things will be done, and I wish that I could. I hope such a situation never arises again, and if it doesn’t, I will be gratified. We’ve only got eight more years to run of Joneses at that school (assuming it stays afloat that long), so we’ll see, I guess. . .