Friday, January 30, 2009

Popping the Question

This coming weekend marks the 29th anniversary of when I asked Molly to marry me. And also, coincidentally enough, of when she said yes.

We started dating in the fall of 1979, after Molly’s Gift of the Rubber Ball let me know that she was available and interested. We’d been good friends for several years by then, and it wasn’t long at all before we had a pretty good idea that we liked each other a lot, and that we had enough common ground to think about throwing our lives in together. By January of 1980, I think we both knew that we were going to end up married to each other, which just left me with the question of how to execute the proposal. . .

I made at least one misstep – or at least, so it was perceived by Molly at the time. One evening, she was hanging out with me at the house where I lived (at the time, I was living with a family in the community; it was common, in those days, for single folks to spend some time living with families, especially if the singles were heading toward marriage in the somewhat-near future). We were in the basement, alone together, watching something on TV. Doing nothing in particular, really; just enjoying each other’s company. I had my arm around her, and it was just a very pleasant, comfortable occasion. And Molly decided that this would be just the perfect time, and the perfect scenario, for me to propose to her. Which I, not being privy to those thoughts of hers, failed to do. So she was kinda upset with me for a day or two afterward. We got that situation cleared up, without too much difficulty. And besides, I was developing my plan. . .

We had a regular pattern of going out together on Friday nights, and when I checked with her to confirm that we could get together the coming Friday, as usual, I told her that she should wear something nicer than usual, because I had something special in mind. A couple days later, I asked her if she had decided what she was wearing Friday night; when she said she had, I asked her what color it was (I didn’t explain myself for asking the ‘color’ question; it was so I could get her a matching corsage, but I didn’t explain that to her; I just left the question hanging, for her to wonder about). By this time, we both knew that we wanted to get married, and the proposal itself was almost a formality. So, my ‘telegraphing’ the plan for the evening was something of an ‘inside joke’ between the two of us.

I picked her up at the appointed time, and the women in her house fawned and fussed over us, and made us pose for pictures (so yeah – Molly had ‘no idea’ what was gonna happen that night; but her housemates were all taking pictures. . .) I pinned the corsage to her dress, and she remarked as to how it matched her dress. At which point, she suddenly understood the weird question I’d asked earlier in the week.

We went to a nice, fairly high-end restaurant (at least, fairly high-end for OurTown), called Mountain Jack’s (which, alas, no longer exists). Our waitress, seeing us dressed to the nines on a Friday evening, asked us, “Are we celebrating something tonight?”

To which I replied, “Not yet.”

The waitress, who was a pretty sharp cookie, came right back, saying, “Well, what if she says No?” Which gave me a split-second’s pause, because I really hadn’t considered that possibility, unlikely as I thought it was.

I didn’t wait very long into dinner (I’m not much for small talk, just to fill the time, and besides, the waitress’ comment made me want to get her answer on the sooner side) before I reached across the table, took her hand in mine, looked into her eyes, and asked her if she would marry me. Nothing flowery or elaborate; I didn’t get down on one knee, or even offer her an engagement ring. Just asked her to marry me.

And she said Yes.

And as odd as it might seem, that’s when we had our first kiss. Which was rather more awkward than I’d have preferred – we were on opposite sides of the table, and we both had to sort-of half-stand-up and reach our puckered lips across the table to each other. But hey, it was our first kiss. We’ve gotten better, over the years.

I don’t remember that much about the dinner; we just sorta basked in the glow of this 'new phase' of our courtship. We’d been pointing to this for a while, and now we’d done it – made our promise to each other, that we would make one life of our two, and, God willing, have a family together (if we’d only known. . .)

After dinner, we weren’t ready for the night to be over, but on a Friday night in February in OurTown, we couldn’t come up with many attractive spur-of-the-moment-type options. So we ended up going to a movie. We saw ‘The Electric Horseman’, starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda (which probably tells you something about the caliber of movies that were out in the winter of 1980), but it didn’t matter all that much; we sat in the back, and mostly worked on our kissing technique. . .


So that’s the story of how I proposed to Molly. Nothing fancy, but it seems to have been effective. . .

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Turning Hearts of Parents

“He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and turn the hearts of children to their fathers. . .” (Malachi 4:6; ref. Luke 1:17)


During December, Molly and I went to see the movie Fireproof. I don’t really have a lot to say about the movie; as is fairly typical of such movies, it had a solid message, but was executed in a pretty unsubtle manner. But, like some others, we were inspired to go get the book which the movie highlights, The Love Dare.

We didn’t dive right into the book; our marriage is really in pretty solid shape, and we don’t have much of a ‘felt need’ to make huge, transformative changes (not that there are no improvements that we could make; but it’s nice to be in a place not so far from ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’). But, over the Christmas break, Molly had what I can only refer to as an inspiration from the Holy Spirit.

“What if we did ‘The Love Dare’ with the kids?”

It was an idea stunning in its simplicity, and very pointedly directed at the needs of our family (and, maybe more to the point, to Molly’s-and-my needs as parents).

If you haven’t seen the movie, the couple at the heart of the story are struggling in their marriage, and on the edge of calling it quits. But the husband’s father convinces him to try ‘The Love Dare’ for 40 days, in a last, desperate effort to save their marriage. Every day for 40 days, there is a brief meditation on ‘Love’, or ‘Kindness’, or ‘Generosity’, etc, and an associated ‘dare’ – do some act of unsolicited kindness to your spouse, or whatever that day’s topic happens to be. And of course, by the end of the movie, the husband, by his persistent love (which, at first, he does pretty ‘mechanically’, but, as he goes along, he ‘grows into it’), has won back the heart of his wife.

So Molly was proposing that we take the chapters of The Love Dare, and, as parents together, direct them toward our kids. And it has been really, really good for us.

The first day, the ‘dare’ is simply to refrain from criticism. And honestly, I was surprised by how challenging that simple thing was, to pull off for a whole day. We were both confronted with how very critical we are of our kids, and how much of our day-to-day communication with them is critical, in one form or another.

On another of the early days, the ‘dare’ is to do some gracious act – some act of unmerited kindness. . . And so on. . .

And the thing is, we are feeling our hearts starting to change, toward our kids.

Both Molly and I can be fairly self-centered individuals. She can be very ‘task-oriented’, and I have a strong tendency to get lost in my own head. And both of us are pretty darned stubborn, and hotter-tempered than is always helpful. And those traits, over the course of 26+ years of parenthood, have often worked together to the detriment of our kids, who don’t know, as well as they should, that their parents love them, and take an intense interest in their lives and well-being. We’ve come to a good place in our marriage, but we’ve struggled a bit more to export the ‘good fruit’ of our strong marriage to the lives of our kids. And this is helping us to do that.

We haven’t been perfect with it, and we’re purposely taking it slow, so we can solidify the ‘habits of heart’ that are slowly being formed in us; I think we’re on Day Five, about two or three weeks after getting started (of course, some of that is because we have eight kids – we aren’t exempting our grown-and-moved-out kids from the project – whereas the book was written to be carried out toward one spouse). And we’re seeing how the kids respond, when we’re less critical, and kinder, and more gracious toward them. . . Maybe, just maybe, there’s hope that our family will get stronger, and more loving, and that our younger kids might avoid some of the struggles that their older siblings have had.

On one level, it seems a shame that we’re coming to this now, roughly two-thirds of the way (or more) through our child-rearing career. But, we do what we can. Wisdom and love come, more often than one might wish, out of the ashes of our own foolishness and failure.

And God is merciful.

Which is a darn good thing. . .

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cold and Snow

When I woke up this morning, the outdoor temperature sensor on our clock informed me that it was -5 degrees Fahrenheit outside (for Flutterby and my Canadian friends, that’s, like -20 Celsius, which are like ‘metric degrees’, or something like that). And immediately, my kids were all excited, bouncing with glee at the possibility that school would be called off, because it’s so cold. Which hasn’t happened yet this school year, but has happened roughly once or twice a year for the past few years.

Excuse me, but. . . what the hell?

It’s COLD. I get that. But, the school’s got a heating system, right? I mean, if the pipes froze and burst, I’d get that. If neighborhood vandals broke all the windows, and there were snow drifts in the classrooms, I’d get that. But – no school because it’s COLD? Sorry, I don’t get that.

I could see that it’s too cold to send the kids out to the playground for recess. So, keep ‘em inside. I get that. But to close the school, just because it’s cold? What's that about?


My goodness, when I was growing up, Up North (and here I am going to begin shamelessly channeling my dad, which is a little weird, because he’s still alive) I remember one time, when I was in 7th grade, when I had to wait for the bus (along with 20 or so other kids who had the same bus stop) in -30F one day (which, in Celsius, is still colder than hell). For two hours. Because none of the buses would start. Because it was minus-freakin’-thirty out. After an hour or so, the lady whose house was nearest the bus stop opened her garage door for us, so we could at least have a little shelter. But, by golly, once they finally got one of the buses sufficiently thawed-out to come and take us to school, we went to school. Which had been open, even before we got there.

And when I was in college, we’d trek a mile or more across campus in negative temperatures, and everybody would look about forty years old, because their breath would frost off on their hair, so it looked like they were going gray. You had to be a little careful about how you placed your notebook for the first 10 minutes or so of class, because the ice would melt off your beard, and you’d soak your notes, if you weren’t careful. . .


Now, Up North, we had snow days. We had LOTS of snow days. ‘Cuz when, you know, the janitor can’t even get to the building to unlock the doors and turn the lights on, well, you know, you can kinda understand why you might need to call off school.

Heck, one year, we had ten snow days; at the height of the winter, they had to dig tunnels to get to a couple of the entrances to the school. And the ten snow days included five-and-a-half in ONE WEEK! We’d had a teacher’s strike in the fall, and in order to make up the lost days, the administration scheduled a few Saturday sessions, in order to bring us up to the minimum number of school days mandated by the state. We went to school on Monday, but by noon, it was snowing so hard that they decided to send us all home while the buses could still get the rural kids to their homes. It snowed hard all day Monday, and most of Tuesday – 24 inches in all. Wednesday, the whole town was digging out, and we expected to go back to school on Thursday.

But it started snowing again Wednesday night, and it continued snowing all day Thursday – another 18 inches. And I gotta tell you, that was one of the character-forming experiences of my – and my brother’s - youth, shoveling 42 inches of snow off our driveway in one week. And, let’s be clear, I do mean ‘shoveling’; snow-blower technology was still in its infancy in those days, and besides, my dad figured he had a couple teenage boys, who he had to feed anyway, who could provide all the snow-removal motive force that was required. Anyway, after a certain point, our capacity to clear the driveway threatened to be limited by our ability to throw the snow over the piles of previously-removed snow, which, by Thursday evening, towered high above our heads. And I won’t even mention the mess at the bottom of the driveway when the plow finally came down our street Friday afternoon.

So, school was closed on Friday. And it so happened that that Saturday was one of the ‘added days’ from the strike. Which were not terribly popular with the students OR the faculty (but, you know, the law’s the law). And, since the ‘back-county’ roads were still being dug out, school was called off for Saturday, too. So we had five-and-a-half snow days in one week. Which must be some kind of record, or something.


So, I understand snow. Heck, when I was in college, my mega-university closed for snow, for only the second time in its history, when we got an 18-inch blizzard in January of ’78. It pretty well shut down most of Lower Michigan. And do not underestimate the capacity of college students, whose classes have been cancelled, for some monumental feats of stupidity.

A group of guys on the top floor of our four-story dorm decided (with plenty of, uh, ‘lubrication’, you can be sure) that it would be really cool to jump out of their windows into the 8-10-foot-high snow drifts that had piled up against the wall. So, for an hour or so, guys were lining up to jump out of 4th-floor windows into the huge snow drift. They would let out a yell while they fell, and then they’d land with a muffled ‘WHUMP’ in the snow. And the snow absorbed the energy of their fall quite nicely. The drift extended all along the outside wall of the dorm, so, as the drift got beaten down in one location, the jumpers just moved progressively down to the other rooms on the 4th floor. After a while, the supply of willing jumpers began to dwindle, and they started to grab guys out of the shower, to throw them, wet and naked, into the snow drift below. It was the very picture of drunken college hijinks.

Until one of the jumpers inadvertently discovered the bike rack concealed beneath the snow drift, which left him with a few broken bones. After that, the mood was kinda killed. . .


So, yeah – snow days, I understand. But closing school, just because it’s COLD? Sorry; I don’t get that. . .


Edit, Jan. 16 - The kids didn't actually have a cold day yesterday, which was a bit of a bummer, at least as far as they were concerned. But today, it was -12F, and the phone rang at 6AM (does anybody else get robo-calls from their school district, giving them the daily attendance report, announcing PTA meetings, etc?), with the word that school has been called for today. I've learned since yesterday that the criterion for 'cold days' is a wind chill below -20F. Apparently, it doesn't take much wind to get there, when the air itself is already minus-12. . . (*sigh*)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

More Bittersweet

Over Christmas, we visited with my family, a couple states away. The situation with my mother’s health meant that even my youngest brother and his wife, who live a couple thousand miles away, came; I hadn’t seen that sister-in-law since their wedding.

Mom couldn’t be with us, which was sad. But we went to see her at the nursing home. Molly and I had seen her this past summer, and she had declined considerably since then. My kids hadn’t seen her in even that ‘intermediate stage’ of her decline, and so it was quite shocking for them to see her. It was quite an emotionally trying thing for a couple of them, and also my youngest brother, who had to step out of the room to regain their composure. Pretty rough stuff.

Later on, my siblings, and Dad and I, had a Family Meeting to discuss Mom’s care regime, and Do-Not-Resuscitate orders, and all that happy stuff. Life has certainly gotten ‘interesting’.


As the meeting wound down, the seven of us siblings turned to reminiscing about Mom and the impact she’s had on our lives. And I said that, when I was in the room with her, all I could think of to say was “Thank you.” That she had come into my life to be a mother to me when my ‘first mother’ had gone away. And then my sister (my step-sister, from Mom’s first marriage) said an amazing thing, that hadn’t occurred to me before.

She was talking about their life after Mom’s divorce, and how their Grandma (Mom’s mother, who became my grandmother in the fullness of time) virtually took them in, and was their ‘surrogate mother’, because their mom had to work to support them, and wasn’t very present in their lives. Then she pointed to Dad; “until he married her. Then we got our mom back.”

And that just floored me. I was well aware of the impact of their marriage on my own life, and how relieved I’d been to have a mom again. But I’d never really ‘lost’ my Dad. For my step-sibs, though, Mom and Dad’s marriage got them TWO parents – it got them a ‘new dad’, but it also got them their mom back. And that had never occurred to me. It also helped me to understand, on a deeper level, the sense of gratitude that my sisters have toward Dad.

Since my mom has been in her decline, we’ve had a couple of these conversations, in which we’ve talked more openly and deeply than we ever have. We’ve never talked terribly much about our respective lives Before Mom and Dad’s Marriage – it just didn’t seem to be relevant to the life we had together – so this was a pretty significant topic of conversation.


It’s hard to process all my thoughts on this situation. The prospect of losing my mom is terribly sad, and it seems clear that that will likely happen sooner rather than later. But, it is also bringing us siblings closer together in the process.

On another level, it’s just the next stage of our lives, and one that I can count myself fortunate to have not gotten to until my early 50s. We had our own growing up and young adulthood; college; getting a job; getting married and having kids, etc, etc. And now, our age-peers’ kids are getting married and having kids of their own.

And our parents are dying. It doesn’t make it any easier to live through my own parents’ decline and eventual death, but it does help to understand that this is something that happens in everyone's life, and isn't just a special 'insult' from the Universe, directed at me. . .