A Wonderful Day

I worked last night and got home about 7:30 am. I was exhausted. It was about 55 degrees outside (which is pretty cold for a South Texas winter) and my room was cold and dark and the sheets in my bed were especially cold, just the way I like them. I crawled into bed and sank into a deep sleep. I woke up to the regular sounds of my three teenaged children milling about the house and to the sounds of two dogs barking at each other. This is pretty much my regular alarm clock on a weekend day and although its a Wednesday and my two youngest are in high school, they’re all on Thanksgiving break and everyone was home. My regular ritual is to watch an episode or two of The Office with my son, heat up some leftovers from whatever was leftover from dinner the night before and after to figure out what I want to do with the few free hours I have before I go back to work. Fortunately, today….I’m off so I have about 30 hours before I have to be at work again.

Sarah is my middle daughter. I’ve written about her before. She’s my artist. She’s the typical middle child and keeps us on our toes. She’s the world traveler and the one child that I have that has an extremely difficult time taking “No” for an answer. When she gets something in her mind. She does whatever possible to make that thing come to fruition. As I was figuring out what to wear for the afternoon, (which is typically a pair of khakis covered in paint, polyurethane, and wood glue) Sarah comes to my room and says, “Dad, is it okay if I take Nova to the beach? Mom said to ask you.” Nova is Sarah’s Weimeraner puppy. I say puppy but she’s going to be a big dog so she doesn’t seem much like a pup. Sarah’s always loved dogs….even when we didn’t have room for one, she always tried her hardest to convince us that a dog was a good idea.

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There’s a few things I have learned over the years with Sarah. If she says, “mom said to ask you” what that means is that her mother said “no” and Sarah wouldn’t let up and my wife finally said, “WHATEVER!! I SAID NO! ASK YOUR FATHER!” That basically means that I should be reading my wife’s mind and should automatically say “no.” The mistake I have made in the past is that I have given in to my daughter’s desires. I have a tendency to see no harm in what she wants to do and then later realize that although my wife did say “ask your father”, I should have known to say “no” and I reaped the whirlwind when she finds out that Sarah did exactly what she was told not to do by her mother. I’ve become the expert after several negative experiences and I told Sarah, “Let me call your mother.” I automatically knew that she had been told “no” by the look on Sarah’s face as if I had just taken the wind out of her sails. I called my wife and sure enough…. she had said “no” and strictly for safety reasons. She didn’t want Sarah taking the dog to the beach by herself in the event that there was one of the thousands of un-caught serial killers at the beach, searching for seashells or surfing or fishing (things serial killers typically have as their hobbies).

When I saw how discouraged Sarah looked, I decided to go ahead and forego my daily rituals or plans for the day (which had not yet been made) and I told her, “Let’s go Lu. I’ll go with you.”

When my children were little and I was a returning college student I had very little money. I had lost my job and me and my family were living in an efficiency apartment. We weren’t shopping for fun, going to the movies, traveling, etc. We didn’t have the funds to do these things. We would take the kids to the beach. I would take them on nature walks. At one point, we would go around and collect aluminum cans and at the end of the week, we would turn them in and I would take the kids to dollar movie and to Wendy’s for burgers and frostees. When I would take the kids on walks, Sarah always wanted to take a ziploc baggie. She wanted to collect leaves and sticks, and any other interesting items that she could find. On occasion, she would find a lady bug and this was definitely the highlight of the week.

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When we got to the beach all of those memories of Sarah picking up every little cool item she could find came rushing back. She ran and played with her dog and as we walked down the beach, she started picking up starfish that were still alive and throwing them back into the water. She said she would like to find a dead starfish with all the arms intact. Then she said that she knows that the stores that sell the whole starfish get them when they are alive and so she feels terrible because she knows that they kill them. She’s a good hearted kid to think this way. We continued on our walk and I took several pictures and we collected shells for her to make hair clips and I picked up crab shells to make an art piece later while Nova picked up every disgusting thing she could find with her mouth. I guess dogs just tend to do that and we tend to forget because as we drove home, we let her give us dog kisses and didn’t think twice about it.

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I pulled up to the house and told Sarah, “I’m glad I went Sarah.” She said, “it was a perfect day to go to the beach.” I agreed and said, “it was a perfect day.” She got out and took Nova out of the truck and headed toward the back yard. What I meant to say was “It was a perfect day because I got to spend time with my daughter. I’ll never forget days like today. I love you Angel.”

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The Most Under-Appreciated Job in the World

I have a great father. He has always been a great provider. He has always been available to me. He’ll be 80 years old and he’s still available to me any time I need him. He’s one of the hardest working people and easily the most talented person I’ve ever known. He’s a great artist and a great musician. When I was growing up, he was a preacher at a Spanish Baptist Church and an orchestra teacher. He travelled a lot and was back and forth from my hometown of Andrews to Big Springs, San Angelo, Midland, Odessa, and Lubbock, playing in symphonies, weddings, and every other type of gathering. In the Summers, I remember him playing with us in the pool on our 3 day family vacations to the Holidome in San Angelo. Those were the favorite times of my life. Now, having said all that. I must say that I am guilty, just like most every other kid in the world at not recognizing my mother like I should.

Mother; the job that is the most under-appreciated job in the world. Dad’s are typically “the fun one” while moms are always the bad guys. Thinking about my childhood, Mom is the glue that held it all together. When my dad was bringing home the paychecks, she made meals fit for a king on the budget of a pauper. We always had the things we needed because Mom pinched pennies and made a dollar stretch farther than humanly possible. I remember going to the Green Stamp store and getting to choose something out of the little catalog after staying up late on the weekends, helping her put stamps in the books with a little wet sponge. Mom was a dentist in Mexico but when coming to the United States, she sacrificed her education and career to stay home with my older brother and later stayed home with us until we went to kindergarten. She turned down a trip to Baylor to become a full fledged dentist in the U.S. so that she could shape and mold healthy and happy children.

She would buy Izod, Fila, and Ellesse socks and take off the little alligator, the “F”, and the Ellesse symbols and sew them to our shorts and shirts so that we could look like a million bucks on the tennis court. She would save money so that we could have extra tennis rackets and the best tennis shoes because the shoes are always the most important. I remember standing in the lay-away lines at the stores in Odessa and Mom would put $10 dollars on one item and $20 on another, and we had everything our peers ever had and more.

Mom made sure we knew how to keep our rooms clean and how to clean house. I know how to clean toilets, baseboards, and ceiling fans and when I walk into a house, I recognize that most people’s standards would never meet up to my mother’s standards. She started a cleaning business and employed a dozen or more ladies and at the same time had plenty of work for me and my brother to make us some money for ourselves. She did all this while making sure the house was in order and everything was always taken care of. For this reason, I never lived in a pig sty and people have always felt comfortable and enjoyed being in my home.

Mom taught me how to iron my clothes. For this reason, I had neatly pressed uniforms when I was a police officer and everyday I come to work, my dress shirts are nice and pressed and I save a ton of money on dry cleaning and laundering. Mom made sure I got my homework done. She took me to the Andrews County Library and had me enter reading contests and I won my first bicycle because I read more books than all my peers. She would take me to Whackers (like a Woolworth) when my grades came in and she bought me a hotwheel for every good grade I brought home. For this reason, I have a PhD at the back of my name every time I sign my signature.

Mom forced me to eat foods I didn’t want to eat. For this reason, I’ve developed a taste for good and healthy food. Mom taught me how to use the crock pot. For this reason, I can throw an awesome meal together for my kids before walking out the door when their mother is not home.

She would tell me things like, “If you’re around fire, you’ll smell like smoke,” “This too shall pass,” “God put me on earth to be your mother, not your friend, and when I say no, it means no,” and “I’m saying it because I need to say it, not because you need to hear it.” I find myself repeating these things to my kids like a mantra. She cried when I drove away from home the day after high school and when I went through the fire as a police officer, she told me that she prayed every day that God would lead me out of the darkness into a better place.

My mom’s an awesome mom and this is a note to everyone to begin recognizing all the things we miss because it’s right in front of us on a daily basis.

Brothers and Sisters

On regular occasion, when any or all of my three children are arguing or fighting over some ridiculous insignificant issue, I tell them, “You need to love your brother/sister because when something bad happens to you and we’re [parents] not around, they will be the only people that will be there for you no matter what.” I say this with the hope that they will have a much better support system in place when some tragedy strikes their lives (because it is inevitable that tragedy strikes us all at some point), but I say it in sincerity knowing that when some sort of terrible thing happens to you, people around you may do their best to empathize but no one feels your pain like your parents and like your brother and sister.

I have a niece that is an only child and my children see her the same as a sibling and I am so glad that she is in the same city. She laughs and plays with my kids and frustrates my kids just like she is a sibling. I have two other nieces that live about 8 hours away and I think it would be awesome if they were here too but when they come into town, they fall right into the fray.

I have an older brother and an older sister. My brother is 5 year older than me and my sister is 2 years older. Growing up, my brother and I shared a bedroom for a while and after he moved into the addition, I had a tough time adjusting to him being gone, even though he was only on the other side of the house.  One of the most poignant memories I have about my brother is all the cool stuff he kept on his shelves in his bedroom. He had a boom box that my parents had gotten him and he always had a little bowl full of coins. I’d sneak out .50 cents every now and then so I’d have some money for ice cream or candy or baseball cards and when he’d realize that I’d been in there, he’d scream and hollar how he didn’t want me in his bedroom. One of the funniest things I remember about my brother is when we would all get spankings for whatever group crime we committed. My mom or dad would spank us and send us to the back bedroom. For some weird reason, Martha and I were always first when it came to spankings and Robert was last. Me and Martha would be crying and tending to our emotional wounds in the back bedroom and Robert would come in with this crooked little smile on his face and make some comment about how his spanking didn’t hurt. Before we knew it, we were all laughing.

We all had friends coming to the house on a regular basis but when Robert’s friends would come over, there’s nothing I wanted more than to be a part of whatever it was they were doing. Of course, I was sent away most of the time but it never discouraged me from trying to weasel my way into the group. He had two good friends, Jeff and Troy, that would use me as a punching bag and would ask me if I wanted to “swap hits.” You know this game. It’s where you punch each other in the arm until one of you gives up. They would always let me go first and I would muster every bit of energy I had and would lay into them as hard as I could with little to no effect. Now it was their turn. Inevitably, I would end up either on the floor or five steps back, wondering why I had agreed to play. I saw Troy about a year ago and I should have asked him if he wanted to swap hits. When we took Robert to San Angelo to see the college and to look at the dorms, I thought he was so cool to be going off on his own.

Although I’m about to be 42 years old, my sister still refers to me as “my baby brother.” Martha and I spent countless hours entertaining one another. Robert was above whatever we were doing most of the time. We played in the water sprinkler. We made potion out of our mother’s powders, creams, and make-ups. We played outside in the snow together. We built forts made up of blankets and dining room chairs in the living room. We rode our bikes to Aunt Rose’s house and would listen to records. When we were smaller, we would lay out a blanket on the living room floor and take our Sunday afternoon nap. My dad had a record player and we had to settle to listening to The Imperials and a series of other Christian groups until Martha was old enough to start getting her own records; Donna Summer was one of her favorites. I remember the cover with Donna Summer sitting on top of a juke box. One enjoyment we had was putting on our socks and holding pinkies while we rubbed our feet back and forth on the carpet and then one of us would touch my dad’s Realistic stereo system. Sometimes, Robert couldn’t resist and he would join in on the fun.

Our neighborhood was full of kids but all it took was one of us to have a good idea and we were off and running. Martha had her own room and it was just up the short hallway from my room. You could see into the dining room and the kitchen from her bedroom door. One time, Martha thought she saw an angel in our kitchen at home. She says she knew it wasn’t a ghost because she wasn’t afraid. The best thing about Martha was hearing her relay whatever story she had. Sometimes, it was just the local middle school or high school drama but sometimes we got the special treat of having Martha re-tell the story of some movie that she got to go see. For some reason, Martha got invited to go to the movies in Odessa or Midland all the time. She would come home and would give me and my mother step by step details of everything that happened in the movie and we would sit there listening as if we were in the theatre. She should have been an actress with all the drama she put forth in re-telling these stories. One of the funniest stories Martha tends to tell is when she broke her arm in gymnastics. She came home from the hospital with a cast on and her eyes were still bloodshot from all the crying she had done. She went into the den and laid down on a big giant pillow that we used to watch tv with and I went and laid down next to her. My aunt Rose had gotten her a candy bar and in all sincerity, I looked over at her and said, “If you don’t feel like eating that candy bar, I’ll eat it for you.” Needless to say, she looked at me in disgust and I made a quick exit.

Martha, her husband Bill, and Emma live about a mile and a half from my house and we get to see each other all the time. Like I said, Robert lives 8 hours away with his wife Tressa and their two girls, Hannah and Sophie. I get to see Robert a couple times a year. I know I could sit down and think of a couple dozen more good stories. As I watch my children grow up and hear them fighting together and laughing together I know that they will be telling their own stories about the time Sarah and Isaiah did this and Allie did that. I look forward to hearing them remember their stories when they are grown and on their own.

Sarah’s Smile

Sarah was born on January 14 in Houston,TX. When she was 3 months old the family moved to Corpus Christi but I stayed in Houston for a while longer to tie up some loose ends. Her first words came one weekend when I met her, her  mother and older sister at the IKEA on I-10. I was inside the store and waiting by the registers and when they walked in, she was the first of the three to see me. She yelled out her first word, “Da-Da.” My heart melted. All three of my children have special qualities and they are all wonderful in their own little ways.

I wanted to share about Sarah’s qualities. If you read my last post, you know my Aunt Rose passed away on January 14. This was Sarah’s birthday and understandably, we were distracted from the focus we typically would have had on her because of the loss. Either way, we were able to treat her and her friend to dinner the night before.

Sarah’s in the process of working on several art projects that she is going to enter in an art show in February. The other day, my 16 year old daughter picked me up from work. I don’t know what we were talking about that brought up Sarah but we both began commenting on how Sarah is such a free spirit and a true Bohemian. Allie said that there are kids that try to be “hip” but Sarah is just “hip” because that’s who she is.

Sarah is definitely an artist but she’s also an athlete. She is a killer on the tennis court. Her mind works unlike any I’ve ever seen. She gets distracted by the next best idea and all of her ideas are good. She’s smart. She’s aggressive because she’s a winner and she craves winning. She says she wants to be a cook and an artist. She says she wants to travel the world and I know she will. She’s fearless and when she sets a goal for herself, she goes after it and there’s nothing that can stop her. Her mother describes her as her rainbow because she is all colors. When she gets upset or sad, everyone knows it. When she is happy, she lights up the world around her in every direction.

Sarah’s creative mind is always at work. The best thing about her is that she has a heart of gold. She doesn’t always show that heart to her brother and sister but it’s there. Yesterday, she told me that she and her best friend were going to start a project to raise money for a restaurant that feeds the homeless. It’s a giant project but I know she will set her goal and it will become a reality. That heart of gold is the same reason that she loves every animal she sees. She volunteered to take care of the dogs and cats that were being adopted and she treats her own dog (Lulu) like a princess. When her Lulu’s sister got sick and passed, Sarah’s heart broke and since that time, Lulu has slept in her bed and has been comforted and is the happiest dog I’ve ever seen.

Sarah is strong but sensitive. She is all over the place and focused at the same time. Her passion for art and the other things she loves ensures that she is going to be successful. I always told her that I don’t care if she’s rich when she gets older but that she spends her life doing what she loves and I know this will be her reality. She is a natural beauty with piercing dark eyes and a heart of gold. She’s my angel. Whenever I look at her, I see the little girl that lights up everything around her. Dad loves you Sarah.

Allie

My 16 year old daughter picked me up at work last night. We’re a family with three drivers (now that Allie has her license) and only two vehicles. I know we’ll be buying her a new car next year before she goes off to college but for the time being, to save several hundred dollars a month, getting dropped off and picked up from work is an inconvenience I can live with. She picked me up and on the short 7 minute drive home, she vented all the way home, complaining about her brother doing this and that and mother being this way and that way and she ended her rant by saying, “This is why I want to move 9 hours away.” It made me a little sad to hear her say these words but I remember like it was yesterday feeling this exact same way. I didn’t have a younger brother. My brother and sister were older and I was the baby of the family but for a number of reasons, I couldn’t wait to leave the nest. Honestly, I don’t remember what they were other than wanting to get out of a small town and just to be on my own and to be responsible for myself.

Several years passed and I found myself living alone in Houston, still a kid in my early 20’s, in the police academy, living in an efficiency apartment with very very few furnishings, and although I had plenty of friends to hang out with, I found myself feeling very lonely and missing my brother, my sister, and my parents. I was on my own and rather than wanting to be on my own, I wanted family around me. My brother Robert came to visit me and he had been there two days and he had to go back to Corpus Christi. It was a Friday and we were sitting at the pool and I told him, “Why don’t you stay the weekend?” I didn’t have to be at the academy and it was two more days for us to hang out together. He made a phone call and it turned out he had to get back. He left and I remember like it was yesterday. I went back into my tiny apartment and I was overwhelmed with sadness. I had missed my brother, my whole family for that matter and I would have done anything to hang out with him for just two more days. It was crazy that I was feeling that way. No one had died. No one had moved to the other side of the world or to another continent.

Looking back, I know that was a transition point in my life. After spending that day in my apartment, lonely and missing family, I went back with my normal schedule of friends, dates, etc. I have never felt that way since. When I left home after high school, I came to a town where there was a sister, grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I had family close to fill the void of missing parents and being that my brother had been off at college, I was used to him not being around. Now, I was an adult and finally on my own. I’m in my 40’s now and my oldest child can’t wait to get out from under my roof. She can’t wait to leave home, get away from her siblings, and to be independent. She’s going to go through what I went through and she’s going to go through it much earlier in her life than I did, I think.

Allie was a beautiful little girl and now she’s a beautiful young lady. Her mother and I sat in bed last night talking about how she was always such a good child and now that she’s a teen, how she’s responsible and considerate. I don’t worry about her. She’ll be successful and whatever man earns her heart will be fortunate beyond his understanding. What I know for sure is that the sadness that I felt when my brother drove away from my apartment complex in North Houston will pale in comparison to how I will feel when Allie drives away after high school.

I Was There…

I think these three words, more than any other, define a life well spent. When most people hear those words they think of the time they were present at a historical event. Maybe it was a great time they had with friends. Maybe it was at Times Square on December 31, 1999 at 11:59 pm. Maybe it was when Saddam Hussein was captured. Maybe it was some tragic historical event like September 11, 2001 and the person remembers when the buildings came down and he/she was just up the street. I don’t have a laundry list of places I was at when historical things happened. I have a few moments in my life that some people may consider important or memorable but overall, I’ve led a fairly uneventful life. I haven’t been to any other continent in the world. I’ve only visited a few states other than my own. I’ve never beheld the majesty of the Grand Canyon and I’ve never seen Mount Rushmore or visited the Whitehouse. Honestly, I don’t have much desire to do these things. This blog entry is mainly for my children because when I reflect now and someday when I look back on my life, I want to be able to say, “I was there…” for the really important moments.

I was there when all my children were born and those moments were the greatest moments of my life. I was in the middle of a drug sting when Allie was born. I got the 911 page from my father and raced from Houston to Corpus Christi, getting stopped by a DPS trooper for speeding just outside of Victoria. It was a scary situation but you made it and you’re a beautiful and smart young lady. Sarah was born in Houston and although she only lived there for 3 months, she still considers herself a Houstonian. Sarah and Isaiah’s deliveries went smoothly and I’m thankful to have such beautiful and healthy children.

I was there when they all took their first steps and I walked behind them to make sure they didn’t fall. Allie, you passed your walker down to your sister and she walked faster than any of you. Isaiah took a little longer because Sarah insisted on carrying him most of the time.

I was there for Isaiah’s first haircut and I hated to see him lose his beautiful soft baby curls.

I was there when Sarah said her first word. I was living/working in Houston and my family was living in Corpus Christi. We met at the Ikea and when she saw me, she screamed out, “Dadda.” Allie’s first words were Blockbuster and Schlotsky’s. You can imagine where we spent most of our time when Allie was a baby. Isaiah didn’t speak until he was three. Sarah spoke for him and when he said, “Uh Uh Uh” Sarah would interpret and tell us, “He says he’s thirsty.” You fight like cats and dogs now but you were best friends when you were little.

I was there when Allie caught her first fish. We were at the T-heads in downtown Corpus Christi and she was fishing with a purple Danny the Dinosaur rod and reel. It was a monster Sheephead and I was more excited about it than she was. Isaiah’s my fishing buddy now but Allie still holds the record for the biggest fish.

I was there for first days of school and I always enjoyed hearing about all the activities that you did. Sarah wanted to be dropped off just like  Allie. As we pulled up to the school, Sarah said, “You can drop me off here. I can do this on my own.” You haven’t changed a bit.

I was there for birthday parties and I always felt that they came too soon together. Now, all of you are taller than your mother and I’m wondering, “where did all the time go?”

I was there when you lost your two front teeth and I made sure the tooth fairy compensated you well. There’s a little container in my desk full of teeth. I just can’t bring myself to get rid of them. I know…it’s gross.

I was there to watch you all acting silly and to laugh along with you. You all have my sense of humor now because of it and you’re mother can’t stand it when we are all laughing at the same warped and twisted jokes.

I was there to stay up at night with all of you when you were sick, carrying all of you, and rocking all of you to sleep when you were babies.

If there’s anything that I can pass on to parents everywhere and my own children when they become parents….it’s to be able to say, “I was there…” I love you kids.

To a Father who will soon be missing his Son…

It’s 1:20 in the morning.  Tomorrow I go back to my old schedule.  I’ve been working nights for the past several months and it has taken a toll on me.  I worked nights for years as a cop and again for years in the same psychiatric unit where I am now.  I’m not 22 years old anymore and my body clock is screaming at me telling me to stop abusing it.  So, after being awake all night last night, sleeping until 2pm, waking up, seeing 4 clients in the afternoon, eating dinner with the wife and another couple, everyone in my house is asleep and I sit here, deep in introspection, needing to pass 30 or 40 minutes of time that I know it will take to convince my brain that it needs to start slowing down.

An interesting thing happened tonight while we were at dinner.  Everyone sat at their tables, conversing with family and friends.  Waiters and restaurant staff went back and forth dealing with the hustle and bustle of a busy restaurant and in the middle of it all, a loud chime went out.  It was a man at a table directly behind where we were sitting.  He was tapping his glass with his knife.

“Can I have everyone’s attention?  Hello….Can I have everyone’s attention!  I want to make a toast!”

I thought this guy was drunk, maybe he was?  Regardless, the words he said stopped everyone cold.

“I want to make a toast……to my son.  He leaves for Iraq this weekend.”  He looks down at his son and says, “I love you son and I’m proud of you.”

A lump formed in my throat and my eyes welled up with tears.  I looked at my wife and her eyes were watering.  I wanted to get up and go over to this father and son, hug them both and tell them “Thank You.”  Thank you to the son for serving his country and Thank you to the father for sharing that moment with us. We drift off at times, living in our own worlds, dealing with the problems of our own lives while Fathers and Mothers are telling their children good-bye like this on a regular basis.  It  helps to put things in perspective.  My heart is heavy for this father right now and although I don’t know him, I’ll pray for his son and his safe return.

My Son

My son just woke up and in a daze, walked into my office.  “Is everything ok son?”

“yeah” (in a slow voice with his eyes halfway shut)

“go back to sleep son and i’ll come in and give you a kiss before I go to sleep.”

“I love you dad” (as he turns and walks back to his bedroom)

“I love you too son.”

Several years ago my son and I got into the habit of writing letters to one another.  Of course, because I live on the computer, most of my notes were typed.  He would write me stories and ask me what I thought.  This is my encouragement to fathers…build those moments because eventually…they will be gone and we’ll have the memories. I wanted to share one of his stories and one of my letters to him.

I’ll finish this entry with a toast to my father.  I think you did a great job Dad.  My son is a caring little boy with a good heart.  I followed your lead and I try to do everything for him that you did with me.   I’m proud to be your son.

My Dad