I Don’t Even Know

I have let this space just gather dust. I don’t know how to navigate it anymore. What do I write about? Do I tell stories? Do I post “updates?” Who am I updating? To whom am I writing?

Honestly, I didn’t even teach narrative writing very well this school year to my 8th graders. My 100-word memoir fell flat to me and I just couldn’t muster up the energy to write another personal story.

It’s not like things aren’t happening over here, but I wonder what is mine to share?

I could talk about my current grad class and how I love it, but feel like I am holding on by the thinnest thread. That anything that throws me off routine will mean I won’t have my assignments completed for class that week (like sitting here writing about nothing. That is not helping the homework get done).

I could talk about how I love my new classroom (same school, bigger classroom) and how I feel like a better teacher in that room, but at the same time how I feel like I am somewhat flailing because I can’t stay caught up with the grading.

I could talk about how the NCTE and ALAN conferences are coming up in a month and I am a respondent for three different round-table sessions and a presenter at one. How I get to moderate an author panel at ALAN. Or how I’ve been invited to a few exclusive author events while in Baltimore. And how I am not prepared for any of it.

I could talk about how I had a chapter proposal accepted and my draft is due in March and I haven’t started it yet because when is there time? And I a bit feel like an impostor, but want to do this to prove I can.

I could say that I just submitted a book review to a scholarly publication and I am terrified of rejection.

I could go on about how I’m taking Teaching Multicultural Literature this semester and next semester I get to take Immigrants and Refugees in Comics. I’m hoping to be able to use what I learn and read in both of these classes with my 8th graders next year, but I am afraid the rest of my 8th grade ELA team and/or my administrators will say no.

I could tell you how Halloween gives me hives because I never feel like I do it right. That by not really liking it, I am somehow depriving my kids of something fun in their childhood that everyone loves. How anticipating the crazy busy-ness of that day makes me feel nauseous for days leading up to it.

I could tell you that I worry every day about Eddie being a 5th grader and that he will stop telling me things. That I worry every day about Charlie and wonder how he is doing while at school. That I worry about Alice in school and making friends and how girls can be so mean and weird compared to the friend stuff I’ve experienced with her brothers.

I could also talk about how self-conscious I am of how I look. How I fret over my hair and how I feel like I look older than I am. How I wish I had time to have a gym membership and actually GO. How my eating habits were really good and now they are not because I have no time to be picky. How I am afraid my kids are eating too much garbage simply because I don’t have the time to devote to meal planning, reading ingredients, and spending time finding healthy options they each enjoy. I was walking and eating better and now I am just surviving…and maybe not even well.

Maybe what I am saying is, I haven’t written because I have a whole lot of negativity occupying my brain. I didn’t realize this until I just wrote it all out, so you know, irony and stuff.

I constantly question how my life choices affect the people I love most and if I am doing the right thing.

It feels selfish and sluggish, for instance that I am sitting at the kitchen table right now surrounded by grading and homework and empty vitamin water bottles while all three of my children stare mindlessly at TVs.

What am I modeling for them? How do they see me?

Or do they at all since I’m hunched over a book or a laptop whenever we are together?

I don’t know the answer to any of these. I do know that this kid still likes to come sit by me and that she has memorized a bunch of nursery rhymes and she thinks letters are super cool. I mean, it’s pretty distracting when I am trying to get work done, but it’s also awesome.

I also know that my group of 8th graders this year are voracious readers. Maybe some of the most readery readers I’ve had since being at the junior high (which, by the way, this is my 6th year there. My first 8th graders are college freshman this year. OMG). Anyway, I can’t keep up with their requests! They want so many books that I don’t have! So if you are looking to donate this season, maybe consider us? Here is our link to our classroom library Amazon Wishlist (they love audio books too, so we added some of those too. Seriously. SO MUCH READING!).

The Back to School Post

School started a month ago, and I’m just getting around to writing about it, which should be all I have to say about that.

Four out of the five us are now in school. It’s as crazy as it seems when you throw in two full-time jobs, cub scouts, soccer, and a bowling league.

Eddie started 5th grade this year and I have feelings about it and it’s proven to be emotionally hard, but super fun at the same time.

He got the teacher he wanted–the one who is funny and outdoorsy and has done ALL. THE. EXCITING. THINGS. IN. LIFE. I love that he started his elementary years with a funny, great guy for his Kindergarten teacher and is ending them with a funny, great guy for 5th.

This doofus loves that their class will get to have a real sturgeon to take care of this year!

This year is off to a great start academically for Eddie, but dang if 10 isn’t the age of HORMONES SURGING because EVERYTHING is a big deal and OMG we are always making his life AWFUL.

But then the next minute he is arranging his sister’s breakfast in the shape of a heart for her.

I don’t know, but I do know he is almost as tall as me and his feet are bigger than mine.

Charlie started 2nd grade. I think I have been holding my breath for 4 weeks. My therapist told me this week to go ahead and exhale and live in this new normal of Charlie LOVING SCHOOL.

New Year,
New Bird

His teacher is the most perfect match. Eddie had her too, and she was great then, but she is made for Charlie. She is quite motherly and doting and she has the most even-keeled personality. It’s exactly what our little firecracker needs–calm encouragement.

He has come home and done his homework with no complaints, he is proud of how much his good choices are being recognized at school, and most importantly he feels happy and competent to do the school work.

His favorite parts of school remain recess, PE, and math, but this year he also gets to see his Grandma since she volunteers on Wednesdays. She may even slip him a Werther’s candy when she sees him. Allegedly.

My baby Alice started PRESCHOOL this year. Like Eddie I have feelings and excitement and whew. This year is brutal on my mom heart so far.

She was so ready it wasn’t even funny. Ok, it was a little funny.

We already knew we loved Alice’s teacher because she is the same teacher Charlie had and I graduated from high school with her. Alice was so excited to be a school kid. Backpack! Lunch box! Water bottle! YAY!

When Alice is super tired, she babbles non-stop. Every bedtime since school started has been a chat-fest. She has to tell me ALL THE THINGS about who did what and what songs and skipping and drawing and games and ALL THE THINGS that happened.

She still goes to her in-home daycare two days a week, which is good. She needs that “rest” and to see the friends she has grown up with. But dang if this girl isn’t ready to conquer the world! Makes me so proud while wondering where that little floor sleeping baby went.

Of course, I’m back to school too. As my job, yes, but my fall semester grad class started too. I’m taking Teaching Multi-cultural Literature this semester and it has a focus that is a bit sci-fi. If something was going to challenge me, this is it. Sci-fi is not my genre of choice, so reading Afro-futurism that past few weeks as been interesting.

I feel like with all the things going on, maybe we are hanging on by a fairly thin thread. I look around for ways we can “relax” our schedule, but there is nothing. We are all doing school/our jobs and we all have an extra thing too: scouts, soccer, grad class, bowing, and soon gymnastics for Alice.

This is just the chapter of life we are in: The Madness of School Kids

Next Generation Cottage Life

As I attempted to roll over quietly–a futile move on my part due to the sagging mattress I was on–I crashed into Cortney in a valley in the middle of the full-size bed. We both muttered “ope. sorry,” and wiggled around making all sorts of ruckus in pursuit of the least offensively uncomfortable position to catch at least a few hours of sleep.

Even with Tylenol PM, sleep eluded me. I started doing some math: when did my family first start coming to this cottage, and how many years have I slept in this ridiculously lumpy, flimsy excuse for a bed?

My parents and I had been talking about cottage vacations that afternoon. Cottages Up North (Michigan talk for anything in the state that is north of where you live) were our family summer vacation traditions since before I can remember until I was going into high school (which means I was 14 and my brothers were 11 and 6). We took a few years off from cottages and went on “real” vacations: Sea World, Disney, Cedar Point. But after a few road trips, we realized we are cottage people.

Cottage with friends means UNO!

My family has been going to the same cottage on and off for 25 years. The mental math I did while I couldn’t sleep (and rechecked when I was well-rested) showed that my youngest brother (the little wiener kid in the photo above) was Charlie’s age when we first rented that cottage in Pentwater.

While some things have changed–our friends have also become adults and have lives of their own and no longer “cottage” with us–others have very much stayed the same. For one, the cottage means playing cards: Uno (of course), Go Fish, and Old Maid. There is also a LOT of time for pleasure reading.

I always bring a suspenseful read with me. This was this year’s pick, but in high school I flew through many Mary Higgins Clark novels up north.

Other things are quite different. As kids, we would spend the afternoons lying on the dock with a book and flying around the lake behind my dad’s boat on the tube.

My dad’s current boat is really too big for the small lake where the cottage is located and it’s a bit of a pain to trailer it all the way up there too. So he brings his little fishing boat and takes my boys fishing. This year with the high waters in Lake Michigan, our small lake was ridiculously high too, so there was no where to lounge on the deck without getting constantly wet from boat wake, so the boys fished there too.

Eddie and Charlie fishing with Grandpa while Grandma watches. 20 years ago that dock had a bunch of teenagers lying all over it.

And because we had the boat and tubing and a larger area on the dock when we were kids, we didn’t go to any beach even though there are two very close. Now, our kids will sometimes swim off the end of the dock, but we also pack up and head to the state park beach on Lake Michigan.

Charlie can spend HOURS in the sand.

We spent over three hours each day at the state park beach. Our kids almost can’t get enough of the sand and waves. My parents came too, but we gave them permission to leave before us if they were sick of it (my dad was probably sick of it before he got there).

Seriously. I think Eddie spent both days in that same spot.
Being able to be on the beach this year has been AWESOME. I love being close to Lake Michigan in the sun.

When I was a kid, my parents would encourage long walks/hikes and riding bikes, but as a whole the teenagers did a lot of sitting around, eating snacks, and being lazy.

Badminton with Grandma

My own kids have no lazy in them when we are at the cottage. They want to take walks and ride bikes and go fishing and take a boat ride and play badminton or whatever other outdoor games Grandma packed in the “Bag of Fun.” We had to bring their electronics along just to give the adults and hour of peace!

Tossing bags with Grandpa
Sweet quiet thanks to his “ear muffs” (head phones + cheap MP3 player loaded with Queen, Imagine Dragons, and Kidz Bop) and a stick he can whittle with the tab of his soda can.

We have all become much more inventive and flexible as cottage-goers too. Twenty years ago we slept, ate, played cards, read books, and played in the water. Now we have little people to entertain. No fire pit? No problem! S’more on the charcoal grill!

Want to play baseball, but there is no diamond? No problem! Tree stumps can be used as bases and Grandma makes a great catcher!

And of course, when we were kids, my parents didn’t take us and our friends for ice cream because that would have been insane. But my dad LOVES ice cream…and he loves to spoil his grandkids. So ice cream each day from Grandpa it is!

Peppermint Stick for the eldest
Moose Trax for the middlest
And Strawberry for the littlest.

Cottage life with little kids might even be more fun than it was as a teenager…well…maybe not. But it’s different and that is awesome.

Are the beds uncomfortable? Yes. Yes, they are.

Does the water smell weird? Yes, so we bring bottled water and avoid full showers for a few days.

Do we feel gritty and greasy and gross by the time we leave? Absolutely.

But man, we make the best memories at the cottage.

Grandpa and Grandma with Eddie, Charlie, and Alice

Thank you to my parents for helping us have ridiculous fun and for bringing the awesome of the cottage to another generation.

Special Friends Called Cousins

Alice was talking about her friends last week.

“I have friends at daycare and friends at church and I have special friends called COUSINS!”

I was reminded recently how very lucky we are to have all of our parents and siblings and their kids within a 45-mile radius of our house.

Sluiter Cousin Beach Day

A couple weeks ago we were able to get all of the Sluiter side cousins together (there are 10 including Eddie, Charlie, and Alice) for a fun afternoon on playing at Cortney’s sister and brother-in-law’s house on a little lake. The kids had a blast!

And if that wasn’t enough fun, Cortney’s mom, whom the kids call Granny, set up her backyard as a campsite and had three nights of Granny Camp last weekend.

The first night, she had the three oldest boys. Since Eddie (10) is the oldest, he was in round 1.

The second night, Granny had the two middle grandsons which included Charlie (7).

And the final night, she had all four of the girl cousins which included Alice (4).

They all had SUCH fun! Granny lives just a block away from Lake Michigan, so each evening she took the campers to the beach to run on the dunes and play on the playground to get them good and sleepy.

She had different games and activities each night. Eddie’s night included water balloon fights, Charlie did a scavenger hunt in the dark, and Alice told me they “laughed all the time.”

There was a campfire for s’mores, naturally. And staying up way later than their parents would normally allow.

There were morning s’mores and Grandpa making pancakes on the griddle outside.

Everyone came home smelling like tent with droopy eyes and grumpy attitudes. Which means they definitely had FUN! Oh, and they are all already talking about next year at Granny Camp!

Alice was also invited to her first sleepover last weekend! My brother’s daughter asked her to come spend the night, so we packed her up and off she went.

They both wore their Frozen jammies and slept in their Frozen sleeping bags. Alice had so much fun!

It was while I was bringing her home from her sleepover that she declared cousins are special friends. She is right. They are often our first friends. Like Alice, my first sleepover was with my older cousin too.

It is my hope that my kids always call their cousins “friends”.

Being a Statistic

One in three women will get some sort of cancer in her lifetime.

One in five women will get breast cancer.

Last summer, those numbers swirled in my head constantly. I remember waking up from 12+ hours of comatose, chemo-induced sleep thinking about them. I started doing Katie Math:

I have four sisters-in-law; I am one of five.

I had four roommates in college; I am one in five.

I have four female cousins on my mom’s side; I am one in five.

I have three female cousins on my dad’s side; I am one in four (even better, right?)

I kept doing this sort of math with all the women in my life, and my conclusion was: I am the statistic. At first that was depressing, but then I got it in my head that maybe, because I was the statistic, they would not have to be.

I convinced myself of this. By getting breast cancer, maybe I somehow “saved” those I loved from having to go through what I did.

Less than a month after my yearly mammogram came back clear (yay!), a friend and colleague disclosed that she just had a biopsy come back as breast cancer. Then a month later, a college friend texted me that she had just been diagnosed as well.

I was consumed with sadness for them. My sleep became disrupted. I felt helpless, and some how guilty. Why had this happened to them? Wasn’t I the statistic in everyone’s life? I was the one in three, the one in five.

My colleague’s cancer did not spread to her lymph nodes, and they got the tumor with surgery. She does not need chemo. I thought my reaction would be jealousy, but it was unbridled relief for her. I actually cried when I saw her message. Radiation still sucks: it’s a pain to do, plus there are some pretty stupid side effects. But it’s not the life-sucking awful of chemo.

My college friend is undergoing chemo right now to shrink a tumor before having surgery. Having gone through it before, I wish there was something I could do to make it all less scary and horrible.

I had a couple friends who have gone down this path before me, and they both looked at me the same way–a way I couldn’t figure out at the time. It was different than everyone else. Everyone else looked at me with sympathy and pity, but their look was different–more urgent somehow. I get it now: they were giving me the look of recognition and helplessness. They saw their journey in me and there was absolutely nothing they could do to prepare me or make me less afraid.

They were wrong though: seeing them thrive after going down this path helped more than anything could, I think.

Being a statistic is not saving those I love from also becoming a cancer statistic. But by talking about what my journey was like, by listening to how theirs is similar and different, and by just being a regular, boring human after it’s “over,” I hope that I am giving them that light that it will not always suck.

It will not always be this hard.

It will pass, and then you will be a statistic too: one of the 90% of women who survive.

Summer Snapshots

Last summer every post I wrote was about cancer and chemo and trying not to die. So cheerful.

This summer I have been quiet. Not because nothing is happening, but compared to last summer, nothing is happening.

Somehow, we have been keeping pretty busy.

Alice completed her first gymnastics class. Girlfriend LOVED it and can’t wait to do it again next year.
We’ve visited the splash pad.
We gave Alice’s bedroom a makeover. No more nursery! Hello, Big Girl Room!
We blew up some fireworks.
We spent pool time with favorite friends.
Alice upgraded from the crib mattress to a Big Girl Bed.
We had lunch at the park.
The kids got a job. Sort of. They watered Grandma’s flowers while she was away.
We ate popsicles in our inflatable pool.
I made lots of ice cream (Tin Roof is pictured).
We saw some of our best good friends who live far away.

In between all that, Eddie and I have spent at least two hours per week in my new classroom getting it ready. Charlie and Alice have played Little People, restaurant, store, library, and many other make believe games. Cortney has finished painting the doors and trim downstairs that we started seven years ago. I have been writing and reading and trying my best to keep the children’s toys from taking over our lives.

We have lots more fun ahead for the second half of summer break!

A Decade of Edward

Dear Eddie,

You are TEN!

I was told not to blink. When you were screaming for hours for no purpose, I was told, “this will pass, and you will miss that little baby.”

They were right, it passed. And while not all of the experiences over the past ten years felt like a blink, it went much quicker than I anticipated, even with all the warnings.

Dad and I are incredibly proud of you.

Cub Scout Christmas caroling at Great Gram Sluiter’s.

When Dad and I decided to become parents, we had the goal of helping all of you develop into good people. Being athletic or creative or intelligent was all secondary to just being a good human. You, son, are a good person.

You have a kind heart and a giving nature. You regularly think about how others would feel. You don’t want people to be sad or hurt. You ask lots of questions…you’ve always asked lots of questions.

This summer for one day a week you have been helping me out in my new classroom. I enjoy our time together. Before Alice was born you had your own room and bedtime was our chance to read books, cuddle, and talk about all the questions in your head. Since Charlie moved in to your room, we still read books, but our one-on-one time has pretty much disappeared. We still have great conversations, just the three of us. But it’s different.

This summer we have been able to get those Mom-and-Eddie conversations back. The 30-minute drive to my school gives us time to talk about books and movies and all the things of the world that are on your mind. While you work in my classroom you tell me what you’re thinking about and ask more questions. The drive home is usually pretty quiet while you ponder all the the conversations of the day. I really love it.

This school year you finished your 4th year as a cub scout, played basketball for the first time, and did a class called “theater games” through Zeeland Rec. You are finding what you love and who you are.

This fall you will be going into 5th grade–the last year of elementary school. Being 10 and heading into 5th grade have me feeling very nostalgic for my little toddler Eddie. You’ve always loved school though, and have excelled in all the subjects. The couple times you’ve gotten in trouble have broken your heart because you knew you disappointed your teachers and us. You are always so willing to apologize and make things right. You are very social and love seeing your friends, which is a blessing and a curse.

Ms. Holwerda, your 4th grade teacher and you

You make friends very, very easily. You can walk into a room and find someone to hang out with. I admire that because you make it look so easy. The problem with that is that you love to chat. You often don’t even think about whether or not you should start talking, you just do. This is a bit of a problem in school. It’s the only negative thing your teachers ever have to say at parent teacher conferences. And it’s only negative because you do it when you shouldn’t…and that distracts YOU from what you should be doing, and it distracts others.

You still love Legos. In fact, you are trying to save up $400 to buy the Lego Hogwarts. You’ve already saved $30 this summer!

You like to ride your bike and shoot hoops. You love to swim and wrestle with Charlie. You enjoy doing things like fish and take walks with Grandpa. But your current favorite thing is to play your Nintendo 2DS. Actually, you love all screens. You love to play math games on my computer, apps on the ipad, and games on the Wii. You love to watch movies and TV. We often joke that you’re best at sitting on the couch. But really, you do like to play and do active things…just not as much as you like sitting around.

You LOVE to read and write. When screens aren’t an option (because sometimes you all need a break…because you get rude with each other), you can be found reading through piles of books or creating comics. You have many notebooks filled with drawings and doodles of stories and characters you have created. When we ask you what you want to do when you grow up, you never really know. You like the idea of becoming an author/comic book creator, but you also like the idea of writing and creating for video games. I definitely think you will go into a creative field someday even though you have strong math and reasoning skills too.

Whatever you choose in life, we want you to choose joy. We want you to choose kindness and love and acceptance. We want you to continue to be YOU.

Ten is a big deal. You are no longer a little kid (although, adorably, you still sleep with your Lamby and your “monkey pillow” from when you were a wee one). You’re a big kid. You’re entering the “tween” zone. I admit I am a bit nervous about the adolescent years, but I am also very excited.

Happy birthday, my first born–my Eddie Bear. I love you to the moon and stars.

Love,
Mom

A Marriage Comes of Age

Look at those babies!

Today our marriage is 14 years old. That’s the age of a high school freshman which makes me laugh because in some ways, our marriage is just like a 9th grader.

Ninth graders are no longer little kids, but they are not experienced veterans by any stretch. That is pretty much where we are in our marriage too. We are no longer the naive, innocent newlyweds of our first couple years. We have been through some stuff and seen some shit.

In the beginning we had stars in our eyes. We would sit and sip drinks and dream about what we would do with our new house–that seemed so big for just two people, where we would travel, where our life together would take us. Even though there were some rough spots in our life, the being married part was fun!

As we grew out of marriage toddlerhood, we realized that being married has some pretty tough spots. It’s not “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in the baby carriage,” so easily. Just like upper elementary kids begin to see that the world is not always fair, so did our marriage. Having babies was a challenge–even after the babies were here.

Our marriage was on the verge of being middle school age

By the time our marriage was out of elementary school, we had three more people along for the ride: Eddie, Charlie, and Alice. It’s pretty appropriate that our marriage became middle school age just as the chaos of having three kids was beginning.

Middle school. I know it well after spending the past five years teaching it. Middle schoolers are still kids, but wish for adulthood. They are slowly losing the innocence of youth while wanting to cling to some of it like a security blanket. Our marriage went through that too.

Having three little kids in our 30’s meant that we were changing diapers, potty-training, and wiping snotty noses after many of our friends were finished with that phase. We loved the little age of our kids, but also longed for adult interaction. We started to miss the days of having no one to answer to, no schedule to be on, no crusts to cut off sandwiches.

As we continue to grow together, we experience more loss and sadness, more valleys and hurdles, and we had to learn to navigate those while maintaining, even growing, our love and respect and communication.

Just like middle school, we have had to learn what we value, which hills we are willing to die on, and which ones we are content to pass by. We are learning what real friends are and who our role models are.

I would not say it gets easier; it just changes. And in some ways it’s become more difficult to focus on and nurture our marriage.

In the beginning it was just us and our dreams. We were each other’s plans. We went out all the time because we could. We talked all the time about everything. Kids complicate things. Now we are pulled in a zillion directions and most of our time is spent apart so we can do our own things. Someone is with the kids while the other runs errands, or we have the kids with us if we want to tackle a project together.

Our conversations are about budgets and school supplies and replacing the floor, dishwasher, paint colors, and on and on and on. Dreaming about the future means hoping we can get everyone’s schedules in a place where we can all be where we need to be: class, scouts, soccer, gymnastics, after school events, church events, and so on.

Once in a while we let ourselves think about traveling beyond the Michigan border with the kids–or alone! We still talk about what we want to be when we grow up, because 14 years of marriage is still dreaming of being full-fledged adults.

We are still very much figuring out this marriage thing, but we are trying to make it as fun as possible.

Advancement

With the middle of June comes the completion of a bunch of stuff around here: school for the kids, school for me as a teacher, school for me as a PhD student, a 3-year consistory term for Cortney, baseball for Charlie, and scouts for Eddie. It also means we are all moving on, advancing forward to new things.

By the end of June, Cortney will be done with her term as a deacon for our church. He surprised both of us by really enjoying his work with church leadership, and he hopes that while he will be moving out of the consistory, he will still find a way to stay connected to the business of serving our church family in another way.

Eddie finished 4th grade and is advancing to 5th in the fall–the last year of elementary and I am not doing well with this fact. Charlie finished 1st grade and is advancing to 2nd (and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief that he MADE IT). And Alice will be advancing from full-time daycare kid to 3 days a week of preschool this fall! All my babies will be school kids!

I finished my 16th year teaching in my district. It was a strange year, for sure. I’m advancing to something new for my 17th year; for the 4th time I am moving classrooms! This is the second time it has been by choice–I am moving just across the hall to a larger space and gaining two more bookcases for my ever-growing classroom library.

That small blue shirt is Charlie moving all of my books by himself from my old classroom.

The kids helped earlier in the week with the moving. They impressed me by getting all of my stuff moved in one morning!

Eddie and Charlie brought stuff over, and she tried to put books on the shelves, as you can see by the piles, she wasn’t as fast as the boys–plus she is a fan of taking breaks.

I probably purged about 50% of my stuff, and yet I have SO MUCH STUFF.

Eddie hard at work…without complaining!

I’m glad I saved some student work, because I have way more wall space to fill in this room. Someone sent me a sweet Hogwarts banner that will hang in the library too!

Oh dear. Look at the state of that library.

I’m re-organizing my library as well and using colored stickers for each genre to match the ones our school library uses to help kids find the type of books they are looking for. You can contribute to my classroom library here. You can help out with school supplies here.

Scout Advancement

Eddie had his final scout advancement this week. He has been in cub scouts since 1st grade when he was but a wee Tiger scout. This week he moved up from a first year Webelos to a second year which means he is on his way to Arrow of Light.

I asked him to smile nicely with his den leader. This is what I got. I don’t even know.

And Alice met the princesses at the zoo last weekend. It’s not an advancement…or maybe it is? But it was fun!

“Mommy! LOOK IT’S TIANNA!!!”

On to new adventures!

Among the Flowers

As I walked into my classroom on my last day of school, I checked my personal email on my phone. My mom had sent out an early morning message to my brothers and me: Grandma died.

It was not unexpected, but it was startling nonetheless. My dad asked us kids to send him some memories for the pastor to use during the funeral. I wrote mine out in a two-page narrative. Of course I did. My dad and the pastor asked if I would read my writing, and I obliged.

I could just copy/paste that here, but honestly, it wasn’t my best writing. It was thrown together so that those who knew her would smile at the memories that they shared too. But I have been thinking a lot about what to put in this space.

My grandma with her two younger brothers
She always commiserated with me about being the older sister of two younger brothers.

My Grandma was a little white-haired old lady for my whole life. She was 94 and a half when she passed on May 31, 2019. She and my grandpa lived in the same house since my dad was very small. She had a cookie jar that was always filled and her house was filled with things that were antiques.

She wrote us notes and sent us actual dollars in the mail for Valentine’s Day, birthdays, Easter…even when we were in college. My roommates thought it was adorable that my sweet Granny would put $5 cash in a card for me a couple times a year.

Life stopped at 3pm on the dot each day for my grandpa and her to have hot black coffee. Even before the days of central air in the muggy heat of summer, they would sit at the kitchen table with their steaming cups of coffee with Talk of the Town on the am radio and take a break. Every day.

My grandparents on Senior Skip Day in the spring of their senior year at Zeeland High School (class of 1942)

My grandparents were married for 75 years. “Happily married for 75 years,” the obituary said. I feel like there are hours of stories that could come out of that brief statement that spans so much time, but I do know that my grandpa and grandma knew each other for almost their whole lives. They went to grade school together and then high school.

Listening to them was always educational and humorous. They would pick at each other in a way that only two people who had been through a life time together could. My grandpa would fuss about they way my grandma sliced pie, and my grandma would fuss about my grandpa’s hearing aids. But once you asked them about something from the past or if they knew a person, they would look at each other and play off each other’s memories filling in a piece of local history you might not otherwise ever hear.

My grandparents’ wedding photo 1944

When my Grandma was 19 years old, she decided to take a train across the country from West Michigan to California to marry my Grandpa before he shipped out for WWII. They were married at the courthouse and had nowhere to stay that night. They walked around looking for a place and ended up sitting on a park bench.

My grandparents were best friends. I know his heart is broken having to go on in this life without her there.

My grandma’s senior photo

I have lots of wonderful memories of my Grandma, but there is one that seems small, but ended up having a huge impact: my Grandma read to me.

We don’t usually realize what we are becoming while it’s happening to us. I sure know I was developing into an advocate for literacy while the adults in my life surrounded me with books. My Grandma was a part of that.

She had a cabinet filled with old books–many published in the 1950’s and 60’s. As a kid, that made them more exciting and special than the ones I had at home. Two stand out to me as being especially pivotal: McElligot’s Pool by Dr. Seuss and an incredibly old book of fairy tales my Grandma had as a little girl. I can’t remember a time we visited that Grandma didn’t read to us.

She gave me the fairy tale book when I was at her house once as an adult. I was looking through all the old books of my childhood and she said to take what I wanted. The fairy tale book wasn’t in there, so I asked about it. She got it out and handed it to me. As a little girl, I asked her why she liked it since it didn’t have many pictures. She told me you don’t need pictures if you have an imagination.

Looking back, those moments snuggled up next to my soft Grandma listening to the stories of Rapunzel and Cinderella were life-shaping. It was another instance of the adults in my life valuing the written word and showing me how much love can flow through words.

My grandma age 2

Ortha Jean DeJonge Riemersma was adventurous, sassy, and funny. She poured herself into her family and did her best to always keep the peace. She was a strong survivor–both of younger brothers and breast cancer, among other things–just like me.

Or I should say, I am just like her. At least I try to be.

Alice asked me last week where heaven is. I don’t know how to explain it to a four-year-old when I am not even sure myself. So I told her that “heaven is wherever there is something beautiful.”

“Like flowers, mommy?”

“Yes. Yes, like flowers.”

“Yours grandma is with the flowers now?”

“Yes. I believe she is, Alice.”

I love you, Grandma. I will always look for you among the flowers.

You belong among the wildflowers
You belong somewhere close to me
Far away from your trouble and worry
You belong somewhere you feel free

“Wildflowers” by Tom Petty
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