Monday, September 3, 2012

'When do we get to come back?'

Psalm 73:23-26 (NIV)

Yet I am always with you;
   you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
   and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
   And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
   but God is the strength of my heart
   and my portion forever.
We left Fulton tonight, about two hours after the initial plan because we can never seem to leave How’s house on time. Nothing summed up the visit better than Max who, as we backed down the driveway and were still waving goodbye, said, “Mom, when do we get to come to How’s house again?”

Charlie had so much fun on this trip he was the hardest one to get in the van. In fact, I joked with Kristie we’re about three months away from rolling into the driveway, freeing the kids from carseats and then not seeing them again for the rest of the weekend as they disappear into the basement or Uncle Kyle’s room or the computer room or the pantry… each one of them has several “musts” now at How’s house. Toys to play with, foods to eat, games to play — they’ve got an itinerary. The only problem with Charlie getting more comfortable with the house and his grandparents is they’re already stretched thin enough at it is trying to keep the older two entertained.

We spent Sunday afternoon with some of How’s family members on a sandbar in the Mississippi River north of Savanna, Ill., which required the first boat rides for Max and Charlie. It was a fulfilling outing for Kristie, and not just for her own personal enjoyment, which she specifically mentioned several times the rest of the weekend. I could tell she found great joy in watching our kids play in exactly the same place and exactly the same manner as she had so many times in her own childhood. Although her grandparents weren’t there, certainly she felt their presence and pondered what they might have said or thought to see our boys splashing and playing in the sand.

Jack and Max take a dip in the Mighty Mississippi, Sept. 2, 2012.
I had a taste of that feeling the many times we got to take Jack to the farmhouse in Elizabeth when he was still very young. I regret he won’t have any memories of those trips, and that Max and Charlie will never have the same opportunity, but at least there’s a little bit to savor. We’ll never spend a Christmas in Florida at my mom’s parents’ old condo. In fact, I never got to share that with Kristie, either. Photographs and memories will have to suffice.

On some level, such experiences are what make the sibling relationship so special. As more and more of my life before Kristie moves deeper and deeper into the past, I know I still have my brother and sister to keep me firmly grounded to my lifelong biography. Fortunately there are aunts and uncles and cousins as well, but the siblings especially share a unique and interesting bond that’s impossible to replicate. When I watch Jack and Max play at Kristie’s parents’ house, I wonder if some day they’ll sound like Kristie and her sister, who still have an awful lot of conversations that involve the phrase, “Remember at Grandma’s how we used to…”

We don’t take big vacations with the kids, unless you count a weekend in Cedar Rapids for college homecoming or an overnight at the indoor water park 10 minutes from our house because we scored a good deal through Groupon. We have plenty of big visions, of course (the clubhouse leader is renting a super fancy RV to visit Kim and Micah in San Francisco by way of Kevin and Carole in Montana) but most of the memories we’re building with the boys, at least in their youngest years, are simple experiences — a day trip to a new museum, recurring zoo visits or just making the most of a Sunday afternoon cookout with my parents. If I tended toward pessimism, I might gnash my teeth when I see all my friends’ fabulous vacation photos posted to Facebook. But I generally lean to the bright side, and try my best to soak up the ordinary, because there’s an awful lot to enjoy if I simply appreciate my surroundings.

Simply put, I love to watch by boys smile, and I really enjoy seeing how they put smiles on the faces of loved ones around them. They all have their own way of commanding attention, inspiring pride or admiration or laughter and essentially being a joy to be around. Sometimes I still can’t quite fathom the enormity of the father-son relationship and understand how wonderful it is to be given these special people and the responsibility for their care and nurture. I can’t quite explain how or why, but every so often the very notion of being a dad simply slaps me in the face — in a good way — and all I can do is thank God for the opportunity.

Tonight that happened in the midst of a 30 second conversation with Jack about loading the van. Neither one of us said anything memorable or even remotely noteworthy. But I felt overcome with a sensation of him being my son, an actual person I helped make. It’s akin to what I felt in the delivery room when Charlie was born, and yet I can still experience the same general emotion with an eight-year-old in my mother-in-law’s driveway while holding a basket full of dirty laundry. I’m not sure what triggers these brief spells, but I hope they never stop.

A prayer for September 3:

Lord, thank you for being my constant companion. When I pause and listen for your voice, I can hear you speaking everywhere. You reveal yourself and your love to me in so many ways I am overcome by your goodness. Guide me through the coming week as I commit myself to a life worthy of you. Keep me ever mindful of the needs of my family and the ways I might be able to provide support, comfort and encouragement. With you, and you alone, I know I can offer them my best. Amen.

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