Sunday, May 27, 2012

16 very busy hours

It was just one day — less than 16 hours from breakfast to the time I sat down to write — but today felt like so much more.

We were in Fulton to see Kristie’s little brother graduate from high school. That was packed with its own emotion — Kyle is the youngest of three, which means my in-laws’ nest is on the brink of full emptiness. On both sides of the family he is the youngest grandchild, though on his dad’s side there are great-grandchildren right behind him.

Kristie and I are less than two weeks form our 10th anniversary, and since Kyle is (almost to the day) 10 years older than Jack, it’s the perfect time for me to look back 10 years and remember how young he really was and how I’ve been privileged to know him for so long. In fact, when I met him the first time, he was about the age Max is today. Conversely, rather than subtract a decade from Kyle to get to Jack, I add a decade to Jack and realize we won’t be focusing on our 20th anniversary because we’ll be planning Jack’s high school graduation party (and Max’s from eighth grade... good planning by us).

You're never too old for a hug from mom.

I would have to think the next ten years of our marriage will bring less changes than the first ten, but I’m sure I’ll explore that more once the date arrives. Because aside from Kyle’s graduation, and the joys of herding our three children through a sauna-like gymnasium (mid-90s and humid in Fulton today), our Sunday was bookended by two less joyful events.

This morning, after breakfast, I left Kristie, Jack and Max in the pool, packed Charlie in the van and drove up to Elizabeth, Ill., for his first visit to see my dad’s mom at the nursing home she’s called home for about seven years. She and my grandfather moved there in 2005, and Grandpa Doc died in September 2007 when Kristie was pregnant with Max. Life drastically changed for my grandmother after suffering a stroke in September 1999, and there have been many ups and downs over the succeeding 13 years. I can’t get into it all here, and plenty of people have endured worse, but nonetheless it’s been a rough ride.

As the oldest grandchild I am blessed with many wonderful memories of my grandparents — including several unique to me. It’s difficult of course to see someone you love living a life so different from the one you both remember, but I seem to have a knack for catching Grandma in good moments, where we are engaged, conversant and able to honestly express how good it is to see one another. And it was a joy to be able to bring her Charlie, whose middle name came from my grandfather. His impossibly bright eyes and winning smile are a charming combination, and he was on his best 15-month-old behavior.

He shined again Sunday afternoon, I am told, when Kristie, Kyle and their parents took Charlie to the hospital in Clinton, Iowa, to visit Kristie’s grandmother, who has been dealing with some fairly serious heart issues over the last few weeks. She was crestfallen when she realized she could not help with Kyle’s party (no one makes better caramel brownies) and more so when she learned she couldn’t even attend. We got word she was near desperate to see Charlie walk — he wasn’t yet toddling when they came out for his first birthday party — and everyone agreed it was a simple wish to grant.

To call Grandma Workman the rock of her family is a complete understatement. It’s not my direct family, and again I can’t get into it all here. But I’ve observed and absorbed a lot over the nearly 13 years or so since I met Kristie’s family, and this is one physically, mentally and spiritually strong woman. She inspires me in a number of ways, I imagine it’s that much more significant for her blood relatives who have known her since birth.

It will come as no surprise that the good majority of our drive home was spent discussing these visits. Neither of us saw the other's grandmother, so there was exposition, plus a little trying to top each other for who got the best performance out of Charlie, a little sharing about what the older boys did while we were away. But mostly sadness, because no matter how much your logic tells you to feel blessed for all the good times, it doesn’t remove the sting of the bad times.

As I crested the hill past the old family farmhouse and set my sights on Elizabeth, a visual treat for anyone but especially sentimental for someone with a family history in the area that stretches back to around the Civil War, and as I heard my baby (all right, toddler) snoring in his car seat, I thought a little bit about what it might be like for me to be the one in the nursing home. I hope my grandchildren come to visit me, I thought, before realizing the oddity of a guy whose oldest son isn’t quite done with second grade worrying about hypothetical grandchildren.

It called to mind “I Already Know I Love You,” the Billy Crystal book for expectant grandparents. Concurrently a tiny voice reminded me I’m not promised tomorrow, let alone another 50 years of life and love and watching my family grow.

In talking with my grandmother we (both parents of three sons) thought back to the days when it was just two parents and one baby boy, and how much different that was from a whole house full. I noted she’d just marked her 59th Mother’s Day as a mother herself. During my last visit, in October, I watched her light up when she pointed to a picture I’d taken of her old college dorm building — the same building Kristie lived in for three semesters. In light of Kyle’s day, I thought of how Grandma never missed seeing me in a mortarboard, and what message that sent to a younger version of me, and also how illness kept her and Grandpa at home when my siblings finished college five years ago.

You think a lot on days like this, and in the days that follow. It would be unnatural to be able to carry on with daily life and never consider your loved ones and what they encounter. One thought I had was how strong the urge to visit became for me and Kristie, and I’m tucking that away for the next time someone asks me about a sense of calling. Another was just how right it feels to be right here right now: married, three kids, busy, crazy, harried, happy. What do I do for a living? I have a family. It all starts there. Everything else is secondary. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Psalm 33:13-15; 20-22 (NIV)

From heaven the Lord looks down
   and sees all mankind;
from his dwelling place he watches
   all who live on Earth —
he who forms the hearts of all,
   who considers everything they do.
We wait in hope for the Lord;
   he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
   for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
   even as we put our hope in you.
A prayer for May 27:

Lord, I thank you for this special day. For graduation, and the chance to celebrate a life on the brink of adulthood. For family, and the chance to reinforce bonds. For our beloved grandparents, and the chance to be present as they suffer, to encourage and pray for peace. For our own health, and the chance to provide a loving home as a place for our children to safely grow. May your unfailing love be with us all, Lord. In you, our hearts rejoice; in you, we place our trust and hope. Amen.

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