Junior’s Jottings

My son is three weeks into his sixth grade experience.  In his Language Arts class, he was instructed to write a poem entitled, “Where I’m From.” I always get excited when he has a writing assignment. I can’t wait to see how he reveals himself with words. I enjoyed reading his work of self-disclosure, and hope that you might, too.

Where I’m From

I’m from the warm, cozy one-story house on the street.

I’m from photographs, circa 1998 to 2009.

I’m from the dewy morning air, the wakening of the day, the smell of a new start.

I’m from Germans and Russians.

I’m from living with a dog, going on walks, and playing a game of fetch.

I’m from summer vacation and having fun, traveling from Florida to Canada.

I’m from the Streets of West Chester, PF Changs and Bravo, ordering the same meal every time I go.

I’m from television land, NCIS to Chuck.

I’m from music, genres like pop and rock.

I’m from guitar,classical to heavy metal.

I’m from football, Penn State to the Philadelphia Eagles.

I’m from pasta and bread, a vegetarian not a carnivore.

I’m from great novels, the adventures of Artemis Fowl, Luke, Peter and Harry Potter.

I’m from nonfiction, astronomy to history.

Most importantly, I’m from my family, Grandma and Grandpa and Mom and Dad.

Out of the Mouth of Babes

The other night, my son mentioned that several classmates were planning to attend a local high school football game.  (This particular high school is the one my son will eventually attend, provided he passes grades six through nine.) I replied that I do not recall attending high school football games while still in elementary school. However, I do remember attending many Friday night events all through my secondary years, especially tenth through twelfth grades, when I was a member of the drill team. Junior then asked, “What is a drill team?” Big mistake! Grasping this opportunity to share a glimpse of my past, I began a twenty minute lecture on the definition of a drill team and its second class status to the “cheerleader.” I hauled out old photo albums and yearbooks, which provided the necessary proof and documentation that such a “team” actually existed, and that I was a full-fledged member.

When the lesson was complete, my son replied, “You are more like a drill sergeant than a drill team member!” Ouch! You gotta love kids. Their ability to tell it like they see it is remarkable. I better channel that “kinder, gentler Joan” more often.

50 States in Eighteen Years?

A few years ago, my son mentioned that he wanted to visit all fifty states. Since then, we have been on a quest to begin ticking off states, one by one.  Junior was born in Texas and lived there for his first three-and-a-half years. Therefore, the Lone Star State was instantaneously crossed off the list. (My son has very few memories of life in Texas, so we may have to revisit his birth state at some point.) We can also check off the state we currently live in.Two down, forty-eight to go. We live near the border of two states-Kentucky and Indiana-and have been to both places often. Two more states with a big fat check mark! We have been to Florida twice, but will only count it once. We have also vacationed in North Carolina, New York, New Jersey (another two-time stop), Tennessee and Michigan. Just a few weeks ago, we traveled to Washington DC, not an actual state. We did however hunker down in Virginia, which was admitted to the union in 1788. Another one bites the dust! On the way to our nation’s capitol,we drove through West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland.  (We did stop in Morgantown, WV twice for lunch.  Should that count as a visit? What about the drive-thrus?)

So, if my math skills are up to snuff, we have spent time in eleven states and the District of Columbia. We have passed through an additional four states, which includes a jaunt through Arkansas on our move north from Texas.  That is a grand total of 15 states, or 30% of Junior’s goal. Not too bad for an eleven year old!

I neglected to mention that we have spent time in Canada, and are planning a trip to Germany in the next year or two. I may not encourage Junior to add foreign countries to his list. He can travel to other continents as an adult, on his own dime. I do expect, however, that we will continue to chip away at the list over the next several years, or as long as he still wants to vacation with mom.

Hope on the Horizon

On ABC’s nightly news one evening this week, they profiled a story on diabetes. It seems that researches have developed an “artificial pancreas” that does it all-monitors blood sugar, determines the necessary amount of insulin required after a meal and then delivers the prescribed amount of insulin.  No finger sticks or needles. (Currently at mealtime, my son must first check his blood sugar. Then we calculate the amount of carbohydrates in his meal. We then inject enough insulin to “cover” the carbs.)

My son and I watched the piece together, and were amazed at this new technology that may become available within the next few years.  (Junior was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes almost four years ago. We live within the confines of this disease 24/7. ) My son had one comment at the end of the story-“I will just be able to eat again!” It is our hope that one day a cure will be found and my son will be able to open a refrigerator or pantry door and “just eat.”

“Carry” redefined

On a recent trip to the art museum, my son asked me to lift him up so that he could see something. I consider myself fairly strong, so I thought I’d have no problem hoisting his eighty pound frame a few inches off the floor. I hate to admit it, but I could not budge my not-so-little buddy! This got me thinking about how, not so long ago, I carried him everywhere. First, I cradled him in my arms as he lay snugly swaddled in his blanket. Once he was toddling, I would transport him from place to place, his hands linked behind my neck and legs wrapped around my waist. I looked up the word “carry” in Webster’s New World Dictionary. The first and second definitions (to hold or support while moving and to take from one place to another) adequately describe how we typically “carry” our children in those first years of their lives. My inability to lift Junior signifies that my role as his transporter in the physical sense has expired. (He is eleven years old and just a few inches shorter than me. Pretty soon, he may be able to carry me!)

It appears that I must now use the third and fourth definitions of the word carry, as they more adequately describe how to “transport” a boy who has reached tween-hood. (To hold, and direct the motion of and to cause to go; lead or impel.) My role as my son’s “carrier” is now defined as the path I choose to lead him down-what morals and values I consider important to instill in him. These lessons will enable him to become a loving, compassionate, generous, productive member of the human race.

Years ago, when Junior was just an infant, I worked diligently on filling out the pages of his baby book. There was a page just for dads to jot down their thoughts. One of the things that my husband wrote was, “I want you to become a Mensch.” (For anyone not familiar with the term Mensch, it is a Yiddish word that means “a person of integrity and honor.”) Junior’s dad has missed out on much of his upbringing, however, I hope that he is watching and agrees that I am working tirelessly at carrying his son into “Mensch-hood!”

A Chip off the Old Block

Junior has been working on a fictional narrative in his fifth grade class. The students have been closely instructed and supervised as they learn about character development, rising action, climax, falling action, etc. His teacher has communicated that the class is doing a great job and are quite imaginative. Junior’s story is entitled, “Dog Heaven.” It is about a family of mutts that have the good fortune of being adopted by the well-to-do Miller clan. The canines-mom, dad, and their four offspring-take up residence on an upper floor of the Miller home. Their private wing comes complete with a butler, personal treadmills, an indoor swimming pool, flat screen TVs and more. The story meets all of the criteria of the assignment, and is typed up, ready to be turned in tomorrow.

I can remember writing lessons of this nature from my own elementary school days. A story about leprechauns, penned by me in the third grade, is my most vivid memory of my earliest attempt at the fictional narrative. Perhaps my son’s short story will inspire him to continue to reach inside his right brain and create more works of fiction. And, if he becomes a better writer than me, I will bow to his lead and change the name of this blog to “Junior’s Jottings.”

Happy Birthday, Dad

Today, March 31st, would have been my father’s eighty-seventh birthday. He was born in 1922 in southern Germany, and passed away nearly 13 years ago, at the age of seventy-four. It has been a long time since I have heard his voice or hacking smoker’s cough in the flesh, but those sounds are still fresh in my memory.There are many things (the good, the bad and the ugly) that he has missed over the past several years, but he lives on forever in our minds. If he were here today, I believe that he would be an engaged grandfather to his three grandsons-the boys that he always wanted. (His own offspring were two clones of the female kind.)

We recently had a “visit” from dad. A few weeks ago, my sister and her son cleaned out his old tool chest in mom’s garage. They stumbled upon a receipt from Revco dated June 13, 1996. At precisely 1:55 pm, dad purchased 11 chocolate candy bars, for which he paid $6.90. (He had hidden the receipt and the empty wrappers amongst the tools so mom wouldn’t know that he was cheating on his “diet.”) We found some humor and comfort in knowing that dad had enjoyed one last binge in the days preceding his death. (Now I know where I get my chocolate addiction from.)  Happy Birthday, Dad! You are missed.

The Biography of Junior

My son was born in 1998. A few months after his birth, my neighbor mentioned that she kept journals on all three of her children. She used this writing medium as a way to chronicle their lives. I remember thinking, what a brilliant idea! I could utilize my love of writing to craft the story of a lifetime-the biography of my only child. What better author to compose this non-fiction piece of literature!

I purchased a composition notebook, and began re-tracing those first months of Junior’s life. I strive to pen an entry every two weeks or so. My topics have included food (likes and dislikes), potty training (we had some issues with holding “it” in), his father’s illness and premature death, preschool, Kindergarten and grades beyond, recaps of family vacations, friendships, bullies, Diabetes and more. I am currently working on Volume Seven. Sometime this year or next, I plan to share the notebooks with him.  I believe that he is old enough to enjoy them, and appreciate the time and effort that I invested in capturing his childhood in print.  It has been my pleasure to use this creative outlet for such a treasured purpose. I believe that there is no greater gift that I could possibly give him. Every volume has been written with love.

This Old Trunk

dsc002822I brought home an old trunk last weekend.  It has been in my parent’s basement for almost 39 years, and it was headed for either Goodwill or the garbage dump. I had been under the impression that the trunk had transported my parents’ few meager belongings from Germany to the United States in 1953, the year they immigrated. However, my mom informed me that the trunk had belonged to immigrants, just not them.

In 1938, a Jewish couple of German descent fled their homeland for England in order to escape the rise of the Nazi Party, and the trunk served as their luggage. (I can only assume that it may have carried their clothing, photos and possibly a few family heirlooms.)  Eventually, the couple and their trunk relocated to the US, settling in the Midwest. Mom and dad acquired the trunk sometime in the late 1950’s. When my parents purchased their first home, the trunk moved, too. They stored this treasured chest in an attic, where it served as a linen closet of sorts, stuffed with blankets and other bed linens. When they purchased their second home, the big leather box moved the short distance with them, and found a spot in a corner of the basement.

My sister and I have spent the better part of this year relocating my mom to a retirement community. The trunk was not among the items chosen to make the move with her. One recent day, I opened up the trunk and found it filled with old baby clothes once worn by my sister and I. Included inside were several Dirndl’s, which are dresses native to Bavaria and Austria, often worn by young girls. (No doubt they had been sent by relatives when we were young.) I also stumbled upon my fathers Lederhosen, which he wore on weekends as the drummer in a German band. (Lederhosen are leather “shorts” with suspenders attached. They are the special occasion attire of men, young and old.)

I emptied the dusty, well-worn trunk and transported her yet again. I spent some time giving her a real spa treatment. I vacuumed off the dirt and cobwebs and then washed her tough outer shell with Murphy’s oil soap and warm water.  (I was careful not to disturb the paper shipping stickers still stuck to the exterior. The labels are not really legible, but they are proof of where she has been.) I spritzed some Febreze on the inner lining to make her smell more lady-like. Once she had air-dried, I meticulously massaged her with lemon oil to help renew her cracked, weathered skin.

If she could speak, I’d bet she would have lots to share about her travels and the cherished tokens that she has given shelter to over the years. I found a perfect nook for her in my own basement, where I will watch over her carefully. She is, after all, at least seventy-one years old.

The Movie Critic

Just like any child, my son has progressed from diapers to briefs, from a crib to a big-boy-bed, and from pureed yummies in a jar to food in its original form, served on a plate. His most recent stage of development has been a switch from animated, G movies to those with PG and PG-13 ratings.  It has been a gradual process of sorts, but in the past year or so, his preference for the mature movie has really taken off.  I mentioned this “growth spurt” to a co-worker, who quickly jotted down a list of classic, must-see DVD”s. We carried the list with us to the public library and the local Blockbuster, where we frequently borrow or rent our evening entertainment. (Also known as “movie night” at our house.) Here are just a few of the big-boy movies my son has caught up on:

Big,Field of Dreams, Forrest Gump, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Rain Man, The Wizard of Oz, the Mission Impossible trio, the Indiana Jones series (this was in preparation of the fourth Indy flick that was released last year), and just about every James Bond film that has ever been released. (For the record, there are over 20 Bond movies. Junior only has a few that remain unseen, and so far, he prefers Pierce Brosnan in the title role.)

I am enjoying this new phase. Together, we have headed to the theater and taken in a few recent hits, such as Ironman, Hancock, and Marley & Me.  This is yet another reminder that our children do not remain little for very long. I am just grateful that he still wants to be seen with me in public!