Archive for the 'Family' Category

A writer discovers a treasure trove

Nearly everywhere I go, I carry a pen and a notebook – or at least a note card. You never know when an epiphany might hit, or a quotable quote might come, or a repeatable joke might fly.

It’s simply hard to remember memorable lines – no matter how hard we try – if we don’t write them down.

I once referred to a notebook as my grown-up security blanket. Without it, I feel in danger of missing a moment.

At this point, I have journals and notebooks and note cards scattered all over the place. I recently found one stuck in the side pocket of an old briefcase I hadn’t used in years.

It felt like I had happened upon a Dead Sea scroll. Why, yes, I do consider my kids’ one-liners holy.

The unearthed notebook’s first entry was a collection of comments from a Christmas morning several years ago.

After all the presents were opened, our oldest son, eleven at the time, said, “Wait. Is that it?”

Our second son offered a similar line of questioning, “Did I get anything else?”

Our fourth son, age four, evidently hadn’t reached the age of jade: “I hope there are presents under the tree tomorrow.”

“There won’t be,” our third son replied.

“Disappointment is how you know you’re alive,” a friend told me recently.

This was confirmed by another friend who told me his Valentine’s plans for the rodeo and a concert had shrunk to “a romantic evening of laundry and frozen pizza.” Kids will do that to you.

Back at Christmas, our daughter was more interested in Santa’s operations:

“Does Santa have any friends?”

“Did you keep any of his texts?”

She’s not always so innocent.

I once asked her, “Is that your second cupcake?”

“No, it’s my first,” she replied.

“Then how did icing get all over your face?” I inquired.

She thought for a minute and said, “My brother threw a cupcake at me.”

Along with finger-pointing, questions flow freely in a houseful of kids.

-“Do doctors get sick?”

-“Was there ice cream when you were a kid? Were there shakes?”

-“How long is fifteen minutes?

-“How big is a Berenstain bear?”

-“When we die, do we turn into a dog or a cat?”

I have tried to make clear that God sent Jesus that we might live with him forever.

“MIGHT live?” a perceptive son replied.

My recovered journal reads on with more kid questions like, “Dad, why do you take a bath everyday?”

“Because dads sweat more than kids,” I answered.

“Do dads sweat more than grandpas?” a son wondered.

I’ll let him know in a few years.

Around a campfire eating s’mores one night, one son made up a joke, “What did the kid say after he ate s’mores? I want s’more!”

Around the dinner table, we often play “high-low” where you give your day’s best and worst.

Our most succinct son once summarized his day this way, “My good news is I have no bad news. My bad news is I have no good news.”

He seems to grasp Solomon’s wisdom in Ecclesiastes 7:18, “A wise man avoids all extremes.”

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It’s Time for a Holiday Fish Tale

A great thing about holiday travel is you get to see your loved ones in their elements. For instance, your brother-in-law fishing in his bass boat on a dammed up portion of the Tennessee River.

“That’s why you never give up!!!” my brother-in-law exclaimed at one point during our excursion.

His motivating statement was not referring to a big catch, however. He and his fishing buddy, Dan, had just freed his stuck lure.

The process had taken about ten minutes and included the use of a “plug knocker,” a weighted tool designed to retrieve lines trapped underwater.

“Plug knocker” wasn’t the only vernacular I learned on Lake Chickamauga (‘mauga for insiders). There was also “Alabama Rig,” a massive, multi-hook lure my brother-in-law used. It resembled a small chandelier.

You could probably create something similar by placing a decent-sized magnet into a kitchen junk drawer.

The rig dangled and shined and spun as it hung on the line. In the water, it definitely looked like a small school of fish.

Alabama Rigs are for experienced anglers. As a novice, I used a spinner reel with something called a rattletrap.

“It took my kids a whole year to learn how to cast the Alabama Rig,” my brother-in-law said.

He takes my niece and nephew fishing frequently. Planning is part of his routine.

During our pre-dawn drive to Chattanooga, TN, I was in the back seat trying to catch some zzz’s. My brother-in-law and Dan strategized up front.

“Let’s start at Turkey Foot and catch three or four to get our confidence up,” he told Dan. He was completely serious.

I have historically considered fishing a game of chance. There are fish in a body of water like there are aces in a deck of cards. You drop your line, and, depending on your luck, you may be a winner.

My sister married into a family where such thinking is illogical at best and sacrilege at worst. To them, fishing involves as much skill as any other sport. It also carries the same hope of glory.

“On any given cast, you could catch the state record,” my brother-in-law informed me with the straightest of faces. “That’s why we come here.”

His nod to fishing immortality came midway through our nine uninterrupted hours on the water.

As with any sport, competition is part of the equation. Stealing a fisherman’s favorite spot on the lake is like sitting in Grandma’s pew at church.

“That guy is going straight for the bar!” my brother-in-law yelled to Dan who was closest to the throttle. “Go! Cut him off!”

Judging by the intensity of the moment, you would think Lake Chickamauga was only a few acres across. It is actually fifty-seven square miles. It was created decades ago by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Intensity is how we caught eighteen largemouth bass on a cold and rainy day in late December. My rattletrap accounted for only one of them.

We threw all eighteen back. For serious fishermen, it’s not always about the destination. It’s often about the journey.

Besides, we didn’t actually need the fish as proof of our success. Who wouldn’t take a fisherman’s word for it?

 

Kevin Thompson writes regularly for The Boerne Star. Read more at http://www.kwt.info.

 

Things Kids Can’t Do

Kids – at least my kids – just can’t seem to do certain things.

They can’t turn off a flashlight before setting it down. They can’t put their shoes in the same place twice. And they can’t forget even the slightest promise I make.

“But you said!” they remind me.

This time of year, I’m reminded of another thing kids can’t do: they can’t not believe.

Since the world is bigger than they, kids assume there’s a world beyond them. Hence, the magic of Christmas.

A few years ago, we introduced our gang to The Elf on the Shelf. It was actually the Spanish version, Una Tradición Navideña. Bed, Bath & Beyond was out of the English version. The language barrier wasn’t a problem. The kids got the point.

For those farther behind than I, “The Elf on the Shelf” is a book that came out in 2005. It comes with an accompanying elf doll. Once you read the book, the elf appears in a different corner of the house each day to help Santa keep an eye on things.

Technically-speaking, the elf flies to the North Pole each night and returns to a different place in the house the following morning. It’s fun to explore the house looking for where it landed.

Our elf is a female named Valeria. She has shown up in glass cabinets, on ledges, in stockings and on Christmas tree branches. Once, she appeared on a ceiling fan blade that got accidentally turned on.

We carefully wrapped the fallen elf in a towel and repositioned her in a stable place at a lower elevation.

You’re not supposed to touch Valeria. If you do, The Elf on the Shelf web site gives recommendations to help your elf get its magic back: write an apology, sprinkle cinnamon or sing a carol with your family.

The web site also explains what might have happened if your elf returns from its overnight trip to the North Pole and lands in the same place it landed the day before:

  1. It’s the elf’s favorite spot.
  2. The spot has a great view.
  3. The elf is preparing for a really special surprise the next day.
  4. The elf ate too many cookies at the North Pole and was too tired to move.
  5. The elf did move – work on your observation skills!

The web site makes no mention of a correlation to a parent’s exhaustion level.

No matter the peculiarity of Valeria’s movements, or lack thereof, my kids are still convinced of her magical powers. I can’t make them not believe any more than a grungy mall Santa can make them not believe.

This phrase captures a child’s resilience to doubt, “All things are possible for him who believes.”

In hearing the Christmas story again this year, I was struck by another angle of the impossible made possible.

There were actually two miraculous births: Jesus, born to a virgin, and John, born to a barren woman.

Whether we’re before our prime and scared, or past our prime and sad, the message is the same: God is in the impossible. Believe!

 

Kevin Thompson writes frequently for The Boerne Star. Read his other Christmas columns at www.kevinwt.com/christmas.

Kids saying (and doing) the darndest things

It’s time for a semi-annual submission of funny things the kids have said and done. This edition goes back a ways as I’ve mined old journals and notes for “never before seen” footage.

For example, the time we couldn’t locate a three-year-old son after church only to find him – with a big smile on his face – urinating like a cherub in a flowerbed.

We needed frequent opportunities to teach this youngster bathroom etiquette. For a time he was using toilet paper without tearing it off. A single flush would carry half a roll down with it.

I suspect it was this son who suctioned a plunger on the hood of my car before work one day.

A family friend once caught him eating his “nasal produce,” for lack of a better term.

“Does that taste good?” the friend asked him.

“Best food on earth,” the little guy replied. He’ll likely need to watch his sodium intake later in life.

He once offered the following nutritional philosophy: “Healthy foods make your muscles strong. Sweet foods make your muscles big.”

His older brother as a five-year-old told me in no uncertain terms, “Dad, I need to watch Toy Story 2.”

“Do you NEED to watch Toy Story 2 or do you WANT to?” I asked in a leading question that I hoped would inspire mature perspective.

“I need to,” he answered, matter of factly.

Nice try, Dad.

When our oldest son was three, the original Toy Story was his favorite movie. One time his grandparents couldn’t find their copy of the movie while babysitting him. Instead they popped in the wedding video of their oldest daughter, my young wife.

“There’s my mommy and my daddy!” our son exclaimed. “Am I going to be baby Jesus?!?”

Raised in the most recent hey-day of Texas Longhorns football, the sport became a big deal to our oldest sons.

As a four-year-old, our second son followed NFL teams as best he could. In his vernacular, the Green Bay Packers were the “Graham Crackers.” New York Giants quarterback “Eli Mayonnaise” was his favorite player.

His big brother would sometimes make him cry on the front yard field. On one such occasion, I heard the following plea from the six-year-old as the four-year-old entered the house crying.

“I’ll make you a deal!” he yelled. “You can have the ball back on the one yard line, but it’s fourth down.”

After receiving no response, the older brother gritted his teeth.

“Come on! It’s not about winning and losing. It’s about having fun.”

Oh, is that so, Mr. Firstborn?

When Mr. Firstborn was 3, our preacher walked through the auditorium asking kids for their favorite Bible story. Our son raised his hand.

“The football player,” he announced. I hope he was thinking about Goliath.

Other facts have gotten crossed. Our three-year-old daughter once invited me into a game of “I Spy.”

“I spy something blue,” she said.

“The sky?” I asked.

“No,” she replied.

Her five-year-old brother had overheard and chimed in: “The tree?”

“Yes!” she announced.

When she was five, she was attempting to improve both her spelling and her handwriting.

“Dad?” she asked. “How do you spell ‘opportunity’ in cursive?”

Here’s to the joy of youth where not even the blue sky’s a limit!

 

Write to Kevin Thompson at kevin@kwt.info

What’s for dinner?

My customer – he happens to be my wealthiest – and I were talking about raising kids.

“Frequency of family dinners is the number one predictor of SAT scores,” he said. “I used to make each of my kids talk for five minutes every night around the table.”

As school starts and activities begin, I am reminded how nearly extinct the regular family gathering is. I am also reminded how critical it is to the family system.

Disconnection runs rampant in our time. “Lonely together” typifies our technologically-networked yet emotionally-fragmented culture. Young people seek meaning from social networks. The biological network is for chauffeuring and financing, they think.

But a creative designer put us in biological groups to meet biological needs. Frequent family meals satisfy both physical and emotional needs.

Bellingham, Washington, minister Matthew McCoy has studied the role of eating habits in personal formation:

“Daily rhythms, when looked at on any individual day, seem almost insignificant. But when taken over the course of a lifetime they are a massive part of how our identities, and thus our ethics, are formed.

“What we eat demonstrates who we think we are and how we relate to each other, to all living things, to science and to God. I can say whatever I like about what I believe, but when it is dinner time all can see if I am telling the truth.”

Over the years, I’ve fed my kids their fair share of chicken tenders on a sports bleacher. We’ve consumed hot dogs on the way to practices and plays. I’ve even accidentally left a fast food pizza in the trunk of my car for two weeks (with little decomposition, I might add – what does that tell you about the potency of modern food preservatives???).

But our hearts are really hungering for relationship and community. Past the initial revulsion to work, parents and kids alike want to contribute to the planning, preparing and putting away of the family meal. Food always tastes better when we work for it.

I’ve noticed a cumulative effect to family meals. The more you have, the better they get. All members – even the littlest – learn their chores and build proficiency. Conversation habits improve. Interruptions decline. Respect increases.

Controlling the pace of life is a great challenge for modern families. Committing to family meals at home is like swimming upstream.

“Many other demands must be met in a day,” McCoy says. “The schedule is so full, the food budget is so small, and exhaustion is an ever present companion. Besides, our hunger is just so relentless that trying to maintain attentiveness is to start something that has no end.”

But, as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. One father of four active teens made breakfast the family meal, rising early to make it hot. Another mother gathers her ducklings for dessert after an active evening.

“I make us all sit down and look at each other for ten or fifteen minutes. It’s small but it makes a big difference,” she said.

Physicians will tell you: Many of our physical ailments have emotional roots, and many of our mental ailments affect us physically. We desperately need answers to our questions.

Like an old Bible, if we’d just dust it off, the dining table likely has answers. For the SAT and for life.

Follow Kevin Thompson at http://www.kwt.info.

A storm has passed

After battling multiple autoimmune diseases for the last four years, Justin McElhannon of Boerne, Texas, was laid to rest last month. He was thirty-two.

At his funeral, a childhood friend recalled the days they spent in lunch detention and in-school suspension. He remembered diving into rivers and stirring trouble as members of notorious Lampasas-area gangs (e.g., “The Buttkickers”).

An adult friend told of McElhannon’s love for trucks, guns and hunting. Other friends described his constant pursuit of adventure, his unbridled passion, his entrepreneurial spirit, his arch-competitiveness. One pallbearer summarized him this way, “He was a tornado.”

Storms are tenacious, real, authentic, intentional, focused – all words used to describe McElhannon at his funeral. Storms can bring wind and destruction. They also bring rain and life.

McElhannon was certainly a storm in the car business. The owners of Toyota of Boerne lured him from Houston in 2007. Co-workers called him relentless, either persuading buyers to pull the trigger on the floor or convincing them to add on extras in the finance office.

He frequently called colleagues to higher standards. It mattered little if you worked for him or if he worked for you. He would call you out.

In 2011, unexplained bouts of fatigue began to slow the storm. Then, swelling hands and hurting feet. Joint and muscle issues followed. Perplexed doctors across the country prescribed countless treatments, surgeries and therapies. Little seemed to work.

Unfit for slow days at home, McElhannon continued working both at the dealership and on his college degree, which he completed in 2012. He walked with a cane. Then, his hips gave way. Despite his growing incapacities, his good days and bad days, the storm rolled on.

Suffering has a way of clarifying. It clarifies both the character of the victim and the victim’s priorities. In McElhannon, suffering revealed a character infused with selfless love.

Foregoing his right to sympathy, McElhannon showered love and life on his sons and wife. It only takes a few readings of Misty McElhannon’s blog to know how he treated her and what she thought of him.

McElhannon’s young sons carry an innocent joy born of a passionately loving father, the kind of father who expresses love in heartfelt, heart-wrenching posthumous letters.

McElhannon’s friends tell of his unabashed expressions of brotherly love. He routinely told them he loved them, regardless of the squirming and mumbling he got in return. With his time near, his priorities came clear.

And then, McElhannon’s love for Jesus. In the footsteps of the first century Sons of Thunder, the storm followed Christ wholeheartedly to the end. He stood boldly for righteousness. He told the truth. Among the written words he left behind: “Love the Lord more than anything and everything will fall into place.”

Before what would be his final haircut, McElhannon spoke to the owner of the barber shop.

“I’ve entered the active dying stage,” he pronounced with a comfort level eerie to most listeners. It sounded a little like the Apostle Paul’s paradox, “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices…”

In this fallen world, we are all chronically ill. We are all dying. The question is what kind of dying are we doing?

McElhannon’s dying was just like his living: active. Like a great storm, he brought water to a dry and thirsty land.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info. Read more of his columns at www.kwt.info.

When Twins Came

It seems like yesterday that we welcomed a double dose of bundled joy into our home. A life-sized print of boy/girl infant twins – asleep, head-to-head, feathered angel wings on their backs – has hung in our hallway ever since. The years have flown like cherubs, but the memories remain.

When I told one gentleman back then that we were having twins, he asked if we had used fertility treatments. It was a reasonable question given the modern prevalence of multiple births. But it was unreasonable given that I had previously told him these twins had three older brothers!

On the day we found out we were having twins, I sensed the shock in my wife’s voice. She had gone to her OB appointment alone. It was, after all, our fourth pregnancy.

“Can you come home over lunch?” she asked on the drive back.

I figured she would tell me we were having son number four – that Daddy wouldn’t be getting his little girl. That was fine, of course, as long as mom and child were healthy.

At this point, she was only nine or ten weeks along, well before genders are generally recognized. But maybe something anatomically undeniable had appeared on the sonogram, I supposed.

When I walked into the house at lunch, all was quiet because all were in bed: our one-year-old, our three-year-old and my wife of eight years. She was not asleep, however. She was probably treasuring in her heart the pleasures of a lifetime with four sons.

As I approached the bedside, I gave her an understanding “I’m here for you / I’m sorry I couldn’t give you a girl” kiss and then picked up the sonogram strip off the floor.

As I ooohhed and aahhhed at the cloudy forms on the film strip, my wife slowly turned it right side up. At that point, the labels came clear. “Twin A” and “Twin B”. Like Abraham and Sarah, all I could do was laugh.

The heart-stopping moment had happened for her a few hours earlier. “Whoa!” The sonogram nurse exclaimed as she abruptly paused her examination. “There’s two in there!”

We should have at least thought it a possibility. My wife’s maternal grandmother has twin sisters. An early sonogram of our first son showed a dissolving sac where a twin had been. “Disappearing Twin Syndrome” we were told.

But after three conventional single male births (did I just call births “conventional”?), we had tunnel vision. That is, until twins thrust double vision upon us. Two cribs, two car seats, two high chairs. Mom feeds of A; Dad’s got B. Dad diapers A; Mom wipes B.

Our six-year-old showed maturity beyond his years when he heard the news. “Oh, man. That’s going to be a lot of work.” His three-year-old brother exhibited youthful vigor: “Let’s have six kids!”

A few months later, we were spring cleaning and preparing for the two arrivals. While boxing used books to take to a reseller, I came across a hard-back that had barely been cracked. The title? “Taking Control of Your Fertility.”

“Oh. There it is,” I thought at the time. Now I think, “How boring!”

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.


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