‘Twas the Morning Before Presidents’ Day

‘Twas the morning before Presidents Day, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a baby.
The bags were all packed by Amanda and Ryan with care in hopes that breakfast would soon be there.

Baby Boy was nestled all snug in his bassinet while visions of creamy formula danced in his head. And mama in her pajamas and I in my sweatpants had just woken our brains for a long winter’s drive.

When out in the kitchen there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter. Away to the window I moved like a turtle. Tore open the curtains and saw nothing out of the ordinary.

The moon on the breast of the brown, dormant grass gave absolutely no luster to the outdoor bins of trash below. When what to my wondering eyes should appear but a black SUV packed to the gills with Baby Boy’s gear.

When a tired old driver not very lively and certainly not very quick, I knew it must be Ryan.

As slow as a sloth his arms did move, and he whistled, and shouted, and he called them by name:

“Now Dan! Now Judith! Now Baby Boy! On, Amanda! On, Alice to the front door! into your cars, now drive away, drive away, drive away all.

Paint Your Pets and Other Love Stories

Yesterday I met the love of my life. Well, it only seems like yesterday. However, it was actually 10 years ago yesterday. Amanda and I met for the first time on February 13, 2010. She was, and still is, a St. Louis girl. We were introduced through my cousin Brad, who was Amanda’s pastor at the time.

Our relationship began through late-night chats on Facebook, and then progressed to nightly phone calls that would last for several hours at a time. About a month after phone calls, texts, and Facebook messages we decided to meet face-to-face.

I decided I would travel to St. Louis from my home in Sterling, Illinois. It is approximately a 4-hour drive, so I had a long time to think about what our first meeting would be like. Would Amanda run and hide when she saw me for the first time? Would I be so nervous I would be unable to speak? These are some of the things that were racing through my mind as the miles began to melt away.

After a few hours I arrived at my cousin Brad’s house. This is where Amanda and I would meet for the first time. After settling in Amanda arrived at the door. Fortunately, she did not run away when she saw me. However, she thought about it as she heard me creak my way across the floor. I’ll never find work as a ninja, as my crutches squeak too much as I walk.

I think it helped that Amanda and I had spoken on the phone quite a bit before meeting for the first time, as it helped to make face-to-face conversation flow more effortlessly. Amanda and I had an easy time getting to know each other as we had lunch. We then went to the art museum, stopped for a cupcake at The Cup, a little shop that makes the best cupcakes ever! We then ended the night with The King’s Speech, a movie that we have since adopted as “our movie.” The next day we spent some time at the zoo. Simply put, it was a perfect weekend.

Amanda and I spent the next several months getting to know each other. I then asked her to marry me. Fortunately, she said yes, and we tied the knot on August 11, 2012. About a week later I started a new job in Northen Illinois and Amanda returned to St. Louis. For the first few months of our marriage Amanda and I only saw each other on the weekends. This was a very difficult situation, However, it only lasted until October when Amanda moved north to join me. In December 2012, we purchased our house and have added two cats to our lives since.

Amanda and I enjoyed being with each other that very first day, and we still enjoy being together. Today is Valentine’s Day, but we did not exchange gifts. However, we were together. That has been enough and will always be enough for each of us.

This morning we took a painting class together. We each painted a portrait of our cats, Dot and Cat. I chose Dot, and Amanda painted Cat. You can see the results below. I think I’ll hold on to my day job, as an artist I will never be.

Learning to live with another person was an adjustment for the both of us. I like organization. Amanda enjoys spreading her things throughout the house. This isn’t always easy for me. However, my stubborness is not something she always enjoys about me either. However, I can still say that Amanda is easy to be with. We laugh and we cry together. However, we are always together.

Being one has helped us adapt to our newest challenge, foster care. Since December 29th, we have been the proud foster parents of a sweet baby boy. He has transformed our lives. Sleep is hard to come by these days, but love is always there, even amongst the frustration of poopy diapers and midnight feedings.

We are now three, plus two cats. Love is never in short supply in our house. We are together and that is enough for all of us. Material things are good to have, and we have been blessed with far more than we deserve. However, time is the most important thing. Time is what allows us to create memories. Ten years of memories has made me a rich man. I am rich because I have a woman who loves me despite my faults.

The Fluid Trifecta

You know you have made it in the parenting world when your baby performs what I would call the “fluid trifecta.” Tonight Baby Boy hit that mark when he proceeded to not only pee, and poop, but also spit up all at the same time. Unfortunately, I was the unlucky recipient of this “liquid love.”

Amanda was the audience. Baby Boy and I were merely the players in this drama. Well, he was playing me, while I was just trying to shield myself from the barrage of bodily fluids. I feel as if I have now been “baptized” into the fold of fostering fatherhood.

Tomorrow is another day. I am sure it will bring new adventures, as each new day has since Baby Boy has become a part of our lives. Weekends are my time to respond to his night-time cries for a bottle. I will be sure to have my shields up against anything this little boy can sling at me.

Acceptance

I appreciate people who do things with excellence. Perhaps this is something I come by naturally. My father was a perfectionist who was a skilled craftsman. He was not only a talented carpenter, he was also a welder. His work was done with precision and skill. These traits are ones I have always admired in others.

For instance, I grew up idolizing Michael Jordan. He was the greatest basketball player ever to play the game. His skills on the court were legendary. However, they were developed over years of dedication and practice.

Another person I grew up admiring was Neil Peart. Neil was the drummer of Rush, a Canadian rock band known for crafting pieces of music that were very intricate and complex. Neil passed away early last month, but he left behind a body of work that will stand the test of time. Besides being one of the best drummers that has ever picked up a pair of sticks, he was also a brilliant lyricist, as well as a very gifted author. His books are some of my favorite biographical works of literature that I have ever read.

Music is something that I have often looked to for inspiration, escape, and solace. I think listening to others express themselves through music gave me hope. I was not the only person who felt alone or angst-ridden.

Growing up I often felt alienated from my peers. I was different. My body did not look the same. Likewise, I wasn’t always able to do the things others my own age could do. Therefore, I often retreated inward. I was not a talented person. I was not able to build anything, play basketball, or write a song. However, I did appreciate the people who could do these things.

I still feel like I am not particularly good at anything. I am okay at doing a few things. However, I don’t have any skills that stand out as exceptional. The older I have gotten the more accepting of this I have become.

I’ll never be a craftsman, and I will never defy gravity on a basketball court. I will also never write any great pieces of music. However, that is okay. I am learning to appreciate who God created me to be. I still have work to do. Hopefully, 2020 will be the year I reach some of the goals I have set for myself. I keep hoping there is a novel somewhere inside of me just waiting to be written.

Hopes

Baby Boy is a month old today. He is growing and becoming more aware of his surroundings every day. He is still ours and it is fun to see him grow out of clothes that fit him just a few weeks ago. Clothes he was once “swimming in” fit him just perfectly now. He is such a long, little boy. He uses those long legs to his advantage during a diaper change.

It is still difficult to imagine that one day he may be taken from us. This realization becomes harder to accept with each passing day. Amanda and I are his parents. We feed him, we clothe him, and we love him like he is our own.

Baby Boy and I have some good weekend “chats” as he lays on my chest in the morning. Of course, I am the one doing all of the talking. He just coos, grunts, and puckers his lips as he listens. I hope we can continue these “chats” for quite some time, as they help me relieve stresses of the week. Baby Boy is a good listener.

In those quiet moments of the morning he and I sometimes listen to music. He will be a Beatles fan some day, he just doesn’t know it yet. I think I’ll wait to introduce him to other favorites of mine later. Listening to Jimi Hendrix in the morning may not be as calming as the acoustic renderings of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

Hopefully, Baby Boy is still here once baseball begins. There would be nothing better than introducing him to a game that I love. While I am not holding out much hope for the Cubs this coming season, it is always a joy to see Wrigley Field on the television. It would be a thrill to be able to take him to his first game there. The sights, sounds, and smells would have us both enthralled.

Amanda and I still have no idea how long Baby Boy will be with us. It could be a few days, a month, a year, or even longer. In the month that he has been, he has already left his fingerprints on our hearts. Our hope is that he is ours for a long time to come, but we know that may not be the case. In the meantime, he is ours to love, to teach, and to guide. God give us the strength to do all of those things.

Adventures in Foster Care

Baby Boy has been with Amanda and me for three weeks as of tomorrow. In that time we haven’t gotten much sleep. However, the sleep deprivation has been worth all of the joy this new life has brought into our home.

Today, we were asked by the agency, through which we are fostering, if we’d be willing to provide respite care for an 8-year-old boy. Not knowing exactly what to do, we said yes. So now we have two little boys who have been entrusted to us.

The newest addition to our home loves Nintendo, “Captain Underpants,” tacos, and pizza. He is a boy after my own heart. This young man will be with us just a short time, but he seems to be fitting in quite well. Foster care is indeed a bumpy ride. We are just now seeing all of its twists and turns.

Please pray for strength for our family in the coming days, weeks, and months. Sleep will have to wait, there are too many things to explore on this journey. Thank goodness this is a long weekend. That will give us plenty of time for games, poopy diapers, tacos, and the joy of spending time together. Now if someone could just explain to me why baby formula smells so horrific…

Baby Boy

It is just past 2:00 a.m. as I write this. My thoughts cannot help but turn to how infuriating life can be at times. It is simply unfair. I just got done feeding Baby Boy. That is what I will call our foster child, as I will never divulge his name on this blog.

I am angry with this precious child’s biological parents. They are missing out on seeing him develop and grow. Amanda and I have had Baby Boy for nearly two weeks. In that time he has become more aware of his surroundings, he has begun to show pieces of his personality, and he has brought us happiness.

As I look into this baby’s beautiful eyes it infuriates me that there are people who seem to have no struggle at all bearing children. Amanda and I are unable to have a baby of our own. So, why is it so easy for people who seemingly couldn’t care less about the children they bring into this world? It is unfair! It is painful to know that baby boy may go back to parents who lack the ability to provide the things that he needs. We want to be those people in his life.

In the time we have had this child, we have grown to love him as if he was our flesh and blood. He is a sweet baby who has given us a desire to learn all that we can to be the best parents for him, even if it is just for a short time.

It is so difficult to wish for Baby Boy to be reunited with his parents. We don’t know them, but it is heartbreaking to think that this child whom we love will be given back to parents who may not give him the same love and support he needs to grow into a healthy adult. Life is unfair, especially for this little boy who needs two parents to raise him in a loving, caring environment.

The Perfect Gift

It will be a week ago tomorrow that the call came. It was a call that would change our lives forever. We were in St. Louis visiting Amanda’s family for Christmas. It was so unexpected, however, it was something we have been waiting to hear for months.

The social worker on the line told us we would be getting our first placement as foster parents. Amanda and I never dreamed that we would be getting a newborn as our first placement. In fact, we had heard that it was such a longshot that we had prepared only to receive older children. However, God had other plans for us.

Last Friday evening we were told to make way for a day-old baby boy who had been born a month premature. Thruthfully, I think both Amanda and I were terrified. We have never been parents before. However, we now had two days to prepare for the arrival of the new life. Usually, people have 9 months. We had 48 hours! Fortunately, we have a wonderful support network of family and friends who have stepped up and provided many of the things we’d needed to take care of this precious new life.

After getting the phone call, Amanda and I decided we’d head home from St. Louis. However, that was not before Amanda’s mom and sister took us to Target for an improptu shopping spree. My only thought the whole time we were there was, “I know how to take care of my needs, but I have no idea how to take care of a newborn!” Reality was beginning to settle in. We were now going to be caring for another human being!

We had no information about the baby before we went shopping, other than he was a boy. Therefore, we did our best picking out clothes, diapers, and other items we would need. Once we were loaded up, Amanda and I made a late-night trip back home from St. Louis. The following day was spent preparing our home to welcome this new baby boy.

We also had friends from church stop by to drop off items for the baby. Family came as well to bring things to help us. The outpouring of love and support from church and family has been a blessing.

As foster parents we are not allowed to divulge much information about this tiny boy who has come to capture our hearts. He is a perfectly healthy baby who has already brought lots of joy and laughter to our lives. There have been many hilarious moments in just a few short days. For instance, the baby was circumcised before he left the hospital, which led Amanda to note his “penis looks angry.” Being a huge fan of bathroom humor this only made me laugh.

Being foster parents your heart goes out to the biological parents. They have had their child removed from their care. Despite what we make think of these people, it still makes us empathize with how they must be hurting. However, it is such a great feeling to know Amanda and I can provide a safe place for this little boy. He has only been with us since Sunday afternoon, but he is already loved so much. We both love holding this new life in our hands. It is impossible not be thankful for being given the opportunity to care for this defenseless little boy.

We are getting a routine down. Feedings are becoming easier, sleep deprivation is starting to feel normal, and being peed and pooped on is no big deal. In fact, I have been quite inpressed with this little guy’s skills to shoot poop around the room. We have learned quite quickly to use a shield when changing diapers.

Amanda and I do not know for sure how long we will have this baby boy, but we hope it is for a while. He already means so much to us. He will be loved and cared for as long as he is with us. He is a gift that came to us at Christmas. This baby boy is the greatest gift we could have received.

Happy Little Accidents Continued…

It happened again. I tried my hand at painting. Amanda, my sister-in-law Alice, and I took another Bob Ross painting class. This time we had a different instructor. One that was much more patient, especially with my lack of artistic sensibilities.

Lynn, who owns ArtDog in Eureka, Missouri was a fun person with whom to work. She took the time to show us proper technique. Plus she helped me “erase” my mistakes as I went along. I would not hesitate to take another class with her, as I feel I learned a lot. Plus, I did not feel rushed like the last time we all took a class together.

I think another thing that was helpful is that we used far fewer colors today than we did before. This made it easier for me, as I tend to be a little color blind. Lynn also assisted me by pointing out what colors I needed to use for each part.

We had Bob overseeing our work today

It was nice to be able to relax and just take our time painting. Our class began at 10:30 this morning and it was 2:30 p.m. before we knew it. Time does indeed fly while you are having fun.

If you didn’t read about my previous experience learning how to paint using the Bob Ross method, see “Happy Little Accidents…” I think today’s painting looks much better than the first that I did. It was certainly a lot more enjoyable to create.

Today’s finished project

Christmas Past

It seems like the older I get the less magical Christmas becomes. When I was a little boy I could not wait for Christmas to arrive. It was difficult to get any sleep the night before. I was filled with excitement for the things I’d get to unwrap on Christmas morning. As I began to get older and life began to change Christmas became a little bittersweet.

My dad died in September of 1989. That first Christmas without him is when the magic began to fade from the holiday. It was a profound sadness that first Christmas without a father. Holidays after the loss of a loved one are never quite the same. However, you learn to cope and life goes on, albeit, in a much different way.

As my brothers and I began to grow and mature, life began to change in other ways as well. It was not long after my dad died that my oldest brother, Shannon left home for his first year of college. A few years later, my other brother Cory got married and left home as well. With the progression of time came changes to traditions. No longer would we always be together as a family for Christmas. A little more of the magic slipped away.

When my dad was still alive we’d all spend time together as a family on Christmas Eve. He’d read two stories to us. One of these stories was Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. The other book that my dad would read to us was Boffo: The Great Motorcycle Race. This book has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. I am not sure how we even came across it, however, it has great illustrations. In addition, my dad had a very humorus way that he’d read the story. It seemed to jump right off the pages of the book.

After these two stories my mom would often read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. Then, if we were lucky we’d get to play, Twas the Night Before Christmas. This is a game where my mom would read the story, Twas the Night Before Christmas, and my brothers and I would get to change the story around in mad libs fashion. I am 42 and I still love to play this game. Yes, I do still have a juvenile sense of humor now and then.

As I have gotten older and traditions have faded, I have begun to realize that it is time to start new traditions. I am glad I have memories of the old ones. Those are memories that I will never lose. However, Christmas means different things to me now. I no longer feel like I need to get gifts in order for it to be Christmas. It was fun to feel the anticipation of receiving gifts on Christmas when I was a boy. But, I am content with the things that I have now. Sure, our house needs work, and my car needs new tires. However, I am thankful to have a loving wife and a wonderful family that cares for us in countless ways.

I am also thankful that Amanda and I will now be able to share our home with foster children. We will hopefully be able to start new traditions of our own. These traditions will be ones that will bring back some of the magic of Christmas. Along with the new, we can mix in some of the old. Emmet Otter and his jugband will be there. I am also hoping that Boffo and his motorcycle might be able to join us.

I’ll never be able to read that story as well as my dad did. However, through its reading he will remain alive in spirit. I will soon be the same age my dad was when he passed away. He will never be forgotten. A part of him remains alive in each of his boys.

Memories are what keeps the magic of Christmas alive for me today. My family is rarely all together for Christmas anymore. However, that is all right because we all have the same memories that bind us together no matter the miles that separate us from one another. Nothing can erase those memories.