Our family is complete! We continue the story of growing our littlest members. . .

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Milestone

            I’d like to think that one of my bravest moments happened ten years ago this week, when I stood behind the microphone at my dad’s funeral with a lump in my throat and my heart pounding in my chest. His passing will always be a defining moment in my life, which is probably why I talk about it as much as I do. In February of 2007, before hundreds of family and friends, this is an excerpt of what I said:
 . . . I’m afraid that I won’t be able to do him justice, but I’m going to try. A lot of you know, as he does, that I wouldn’t let an opportunity go by without telling people what I think about something.
He was a patient person, which made him a good dad. I was out mowing the lawn one time and I ran over the barbed wire fence that was tangled in the weeds. I went in the house and told him what happened, and he said ‘Okay’ and came out and fixed it for me so I could finish. He took the time to show us how things work, and tell us why he did things the way he did. I never heard him say “Just let me do it.”
The maddest I ever saw him was when he would stub his toe. He’d yell out ‘Dammit you kids, there’s always so much stuff laying around.’ Yeah, Dad, sorry we left that doorway there.
When we were little our favorite thing was for him to be on his hands and knees so we could ride him around like a horse. And he let me sit on top of the recliner while he ate popcorn and put barrettes in his hair.
He loved hugs. He loved to hug more than anyone I know, and as a result we all love hugs. Even when I didn’t know how much I needed it, he did.
He wasn’t afraid of anything, and he was so tough. He did typical dad things like get rid of spiders that were dangling above my bed, take out the occasional bat that let itself into the house.
When the weatherman said take cover in the basement immediately, he went walking down the driveway to take a closer look. He ate burritos out of the car trunks of people selling them on the roadside in Laredo. He walked in the house one time after a chunk of his thumb got taken out in a piece of machinery, and he said “Maybe you should call somebody.”
He didn’t want us to be afraid of anything, either.
He would roll up some money in his hand, and tell us we could have whatever was in his hand if we would eat something we said we didn’t like, such as a bowl of coleslaw, or a Subway sandwich with everything on it. When we said no, he revealed a hundred dollar bill. Every time.
He thought it was important that we were comfortable around animals. We grew up with cows, pigs, a horse, mules, dogs, cats, ducks, geese, chickens, turkeys, guineas, and pheasants, and whatever else wandered into our yard. He would tell us what he thought the animals were saying when they’d bump into us or make noise. He taught us to feed the mules sugar cubes with open palms, because they might bite our fingers off, which wouldn’t be their fault.
Everyone knows he was funny, and that’s an understatement. He liked to tell funny stories, and have fun wherever he was. We were all eating breakfast at a hotel restaurant one morning. As the waiter stood near, Dad reached around a 4-year old Adam and stuck a wet finger in his ear. Adam got wide-eyed and looked at the waiter and said ‘Hey, he gave me a wet willy!’ He loves that story.
One of his favorite things to do as a family was go grocery shopping, and he told everyone that Hy-Vee was his favorite store. He said it was the only way to get mom to buy what he wanted. He enjoyed putting groceries in other people’s carts and watching them be confused at the registers.
On Sundays he liked to drive through the car lots when no salespeople were there to bother him. One time we backed our van into a vacant spot and giggled as people drove past, interested in our car until they realized we were sitting in it laughing at them.
When he went through the drive-thru he would ask in a Jeff Foxworthy voice “Can I have an apple turnover?”, and then tell them he’d like his order to go.
            When Jesse finally came down to meet my family, he brought me flowers, which I promptly went to show my dad. Jesse walked in behind me and my dad asked very plainly, ‘Where’s mine?’ After we decided to get married Dad told me he needed a 10-year guarantee on my marriage or he wanted his money back, and after that it was pro-rated. I thought he was kidding, but he probably wasn’t.
I called him to say there was a tornado 12 miles north of Albert Lea, and he said ‘well, we’re 14, so we’re okay.’
He did not like Regis Philbin, because he had so much work done and his face doesn’t move when he talks. He enjoyed movies with John Candy, Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, and John Travolta. He does not like to watch movies that he has already seen.
We used to come home with movies and say ‘Dad, this movie is so funny, you have to watch this.’ As soon as the 20th Century Fox logo would come up he would start laughing hysterically. We would say ‘That’s not the funny part, Dad’. Then he says ‘Oh, I’m just warming up.’
He liked waking up early in the morning because he said no one had a chance to screw up his day yet.
He could whistle like no one else I know. I could hear him when I was mowing lawn across the yard with headphones on. And he always made a point of whistling at me if he knew I made a point of looking nice.
In a truck stop he met that farm boy from Wyoming who beat the unbeatable Russians and won an Olympic Gold in wrestling. He thanked him for representing our country so well. He was pretty excited about that.
He loved sitting in the hot tub, and would often fall asleep. He’d be snoring in the corner, and then you’d find his swim trunks lying on the floor. Yikes!
He wanted to move somewhere different every January and rent an apartment just for that month, so he could be a local all over the world. He said Mom could go if she wanted, it was up to her.
He loved telling people about our farm, particularly the barn and the house. The barn was ordered from the Sears Roebuck catalog and put up in 1907, and he wanted to restore it now that it’s 100 years old. He loved to tell everyone about the kitchen, and how we designed it together and the wood came from the grove. There’s a spot on one side where you can see the buckshot the original kids here used as target practice.
He loved my mom, and their example of marriage left me believing almost unrealistically about how good it can be. He said he could always remember mom’s anniversary because it was the same day as his. He introduced us kids as his favorite daughter, favorite oldest boy, and favorite youngest boy.  

Losing my parents has always been my biggest fear, and I guess now I’m only half as afraid. There will never be anyone like him. There are six uncles who will remind us of him, and three kids who will try their hardest to live up to his name.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Reality Check

Published 12/14/16
            Sometimes I swear my life is set up like candid camera or some kind of physical comedy . . . whatever is happening at times seems too perfectly horrid and there must be people on the other side of the camera laughing at me.
            Monday I left school for dance class with an armload of stuff. I had a reusable shopping tote containing a change of clothes, tap shoes, notebook, water bottle, and a big Bluetooth speaker. With that hanging in the crook of my elbow, I then attempted to carry a large open box, think about a 27” cube, full of boxes of dance shoes. It was a manageable weight, but just big enough to be completely cumbersome.
            The shopping bag was slippery, and the handles too short to rest on my shoulder. I couldn’t keep my elbow bent while I carried the box so it kept sliding down to my wrist, and it was too heavy to leave there while carrying a big dumb box.
            I hadn’t even made it out of the building before I had to set it all down and attempt a better grip. Of course I parked at the far end of the parking lot because I’d like to think a few extra steps are good for me. Plus I can easily back my big rig out of a spot there.
            I made it out the door and into the 4-degree weather when it was clear I was struggling. I tried walking faster and shifting my hand just slightly to maintain my grip and it all came down.
            Not on the sidewalk, or near the car, but right in the middle of the road . . . in front of the school, where surely someone was looking out the windows and seeing this. A bunch of junior high boys were loading a short bus at the time, they probably enjoyed it. My bag tipped over, my $200 speaker rolled out, and the box of shoes flew open.
            I laughed at myself and my misfortune because that’s all I could really do, then picked it all up, looked around, and started off for my car again.
            I went about two feet before my mitten-grip slipped off the corner of the box when the bag slid down my arm and I lost it all again. This time the box tipped over, too, so a bunch of dance shoes and tissue paper toppled onto the snow covered road.
            Were it not so frigid out I may have fallen to my knees at this point, in surrender of sorts. As it were there were 15 boys about to drive by and I can imagine my picture on social media with lots of snarky captions, so I had to maintain my composure.
            I ripped off my mittens and shoved them in my pockets, held the bag in my hand, balanced the box as best I could, and hightailed it to the Escalade. I carefully set my stuff down and opened the tailgate.
            When I did, all of the cardboard recycling that Jesse forgot to drop off in Willmar on Sunday came flowing out and hit me in the shins as the short bus drove past.
            Of course as I picked up one thing to shove back in the car, another two fell out. One box was full of dirt from being used to haul the carrots in from the garden (and apparently never dumped out). My hands were starting to hurt from the cold. This was becoming the longest two minutes of my life.
            I finally got everything in the vehicle, put my mittens back on my frozen hands and followed the bus out of the parking lot.
            Never have I been someone who loves warm weather, but what a difference a week makes. Last Monday I was sitting on a Hawaiian beach watching the sun set, enjoying a tropical cocktail with my feet buried in the sand. This Monday I was a clumsy idiot on display in a frigid parking lot being attacked by projectile garbage.

            Reality check.

The best day

A couple of weeks ago we went to Hawaii . . . published 12/7/16

He'd never seen the ocean.

            “You wanna learn how to do a backflip?”
            Someone next to me just asked his friend that question; not every day you hear that.
            It’s 6:00 p.m. on Monday night, Hawaiian time. Coming to you this week from my best “on location” – Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, HI.
            I am the only loser in the sand with my computer.
            The moon is bright, the water is a lovely crystal blue color; the sun has already set behind some sort of ominous rain clouds. Even in the evening the water is full of people.
            This poor guy is trying his best to back flip. I didn’t see it, but ten friends with their phones ready just doubled over in hysterics so I’m guessing it didn’t go well.
            It’s the first trip to Hawaii for us – Jesse, Axel, and I, my mom, and brothers. We jumped on the opportunity to travel with the group following the marching band to Pearl Harbor. In case you have been living under a rock and haven’t heard, the KMS Marching Band was selected to perform as part of a mass band at the 75th anniversary ceremony of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Wednesday.
            It wasn’t that we are huge band supporters (a normal amount for having no direct ties), or that we like to vacation exclusively with one kid. Axel, an 8-year old history buff, has been obsessed with the history of Pearl Harbor for years. He moved on to that event after he seemed to exhaust his inquisition into the Titanic disaster. We knew Axel would be in heaven, so we booked the trip.
My parents always planned to go to Hawaii but my dad passed away before they made it. So when this trip came up, I asked my mom and brothers if they would like to join us, and they didn’t hesitate.
When we arrived at Rustad Tours very early Saturday morning, it appeared Axel was the only kid making the trip. People seemed surprised that we brought him, and we explained that he is one of the big reasons we decided to go. While most people looked forward to escaping the Minnesota winter, our kid dreamed of seeing the oil that still trickles out of the Arizona and meeting some real veterans.
Saturday night, after a long day of travel and an attempt to adjust to the time change, we laid low in our hotel room on Waikiki Beach. As we discussed the next day’s events, including the visit to Pearl Harbor, my mom asked how many Japanese planes were involved in the attack. We had no idea.
Axel, however, spoke up immediately: “In the first wave there were 183 planes, and in the second wave 167, and the third wave never came.”
I stared at my oldest child. He had already gone back to his battleship game on the iPad. How the hell did he know that? I mean, I know how he knows . . . he reads books and watches documentaries and retains all of it. I didn’t know how accurate his answer was at the time, but found out later he was right on.
The next day, as he almost bounced in his seat with anticipation on the drive to Pearl Harbor, the tour driver spouted off trivia and asked questions (to the grownups, likely), one being “The Navy moved its entire fleet to Pearl Harbor as a line of defense, but what was missing on December 7?”
“The aircraft carriers!” Axel shouted from the front seat. What? “That’s right!” replied the driver. People on the bus chuckled and smiled at us. They had been taken north for a training exercise, as luck would have it, and would not arrive back at Pearl until the following day. Had they been there, the course of the war would have been altered completely. Axel knew that.
He couldn't leave Hawaii without a USS Arizona commemorative hat.

We are not in the habit of spoiling our kids very often. Once in a while, of course, as most parents do. But bringing Axel to Hawaii was more about feeding a passion, not indulging a brat.
He is still playing on the beach in the dark while I write this, so he’s certainly also having fun. But we are able to give him what will long be the best day of his life, and I am thrilled to do that and see his excitement for such an important part of American history.
The triplets are planning their vacation without Axel . . . they were not happy with us for bringing him and not them, but five-year olds would not have enjoyed or been able to grasp the meaning of what we will witness here.
We’ve enjoyed Hawaii immensely to this point, and will undoubtedly be sad to leave later this week. No one will be sadder than Axel, who on Wednesday will be in his glory, and seeing him so happy will put us in ours.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Table for one

It seems I didn't post my column for a couple weeks. Published 11/2/16:

            The tornado hit St. Peter in the spring before my freshman year at Gustavus, and at the beginning of my sophomore year there we had a new cafeteria. It was kind of cutting edge at that time – a little like a food court with a big dining hall.
It’s a lovely place – two walls of windows and lots of space.
            Friends would compare lunch schedules to see who had breaks at the same time to eat, and often wait for each other at the entrance. If I was late or ate lunch at a different time, I would just go it alone.
I had one friend who wouldn’t even walk in the cafeteria without anyone else. We’ll call her Beth, as that is her name. Beth would not be caught dead alone in the college lunchroom. It was mortifying for her to be seen walking in by herself let alone eating at a table without company.
She was shocked when she found out I sometimes ate alone. This was before the days of people playing on their phones, when we just had to eat and look around, maybe reading the newspaper or something. And it didn’t bother me in the least.
I like being alone sometimes. In high school I used to go shopping by myself and friends thought I was such a weirdo. What if people saw me alone? Umm, then they would know I can drive myself to the mall. I thought it was awesome, and still do. I can look at whatever I want without feeling like other people are waiting for me or I’m dragging them around.
Fast forward a few years from my shopping and dining alone. It was the year the Timberwolves were really good, when Garnett, Sprewell, Sam Cassell, Freddie Hoiberg, Mark Madsen, etc., played.
I was a big fan and went to quite a few games; there was one coming up that I just had to see in person – the Spurs were coming to town (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, etc.), and it promised to be a nail-biter. I asked some friends to go, but they had plans. I asked my boyfriend (now husband) to join me, but he didn’t want to drive to the Cities on a Tuesday night and drive home to work again the next day. My parents, my brothers, nobody would/could come with me.
After work I decided I was not going to miss the game because nobody would go with me, so I drove to the Target Center, walked up to the ticket booth and asked for one lower level seat. I got a Grain Belt and a bucket of popcorn and settled in amongst a bunch of other excited fans.
It was the best game I’d ever been to – came down to the wire, and we won.
You went by yourself?! everyone asked me. Yep.
I was not going to miss that game. I had the means, the time, and so I went.
Fast forward many more years.
One of my favorite authors and storytellers, David Sedaris, was going to be doing a reading/show at the State Theater in Minneapolis last Friday. He is in town every October, but I’ve never gotten to go as it was usually on a weeknight as well as in the middle of harvest.
On a whim I looked up the tickets earlier this month after seeing he was coming back, and lo and behold, there were two front row seats available. Without giving it any thought, I bought them and hoped for rain so my default date could join me.
            As the day drew closer it was pretty clear I would not have a date, as he would be in the field. So I started asking people who I thought might enjoy Sedaris’  humor and a night out in Minneapolis. After six “no”s I contemplated selling my tickets. But then I thought, how many times does a person actually have front row seats to anything? I couldn’t give them up.
            So I didn’t. I came home from work, freshened up, and put on my favorite leopard high heels. I made a reservation for one at a restaurant adjacent to the theater. When I checked in, the hostess asked if I meant to reserve a table for two, and I had to say no, just me. She looked confused.
        I vowed to leave my phone in my purse, except to take a picture of my meal, including a delicious lemon martini and a mouth-watering ribeye. I just sat, sipped my drink, savored my food, and watched people. I was the only one alone.

        When I finished I walked next door and stood in line listening to two guys behind me saying they’ve had their tickets since February (and they were not in the front row. Suckers.). I bought a bottle of water and marched to the very front of the State Theater, my seat in chairs set up in front of the fixed seats, so close to the stage I could rest my feet on it (if I were that uncouth). And since I found no one to go with me, my purse and my water bottle had their own seat.

            It was one of the funniest shows I have ever seen, and one of the best dates I’ve ever had. Is that sad? I hope not. I hope people, especially my kids, know it’s perfectly acceptable to do things and be seen alone. It would be a shame to miss out on life because a person is afraid of being judged by strangers.