The Day I Became A Grandfather.

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Bentley found it funny that he stole my hat and I took the one he was wearing. / Photo by KidZond.

Six years ago, this very day, I became a grandfather for the first time. It has happen three more times since, but the one that broke the Father barrier, and tossed that Grand in front of it was Bentley Benjamin.

I wasn’t too sure about becoming a grandfather, actually, I am still not too sure about it all. It’s just weird for me. I was 49 years of age, and kind of always wanted to get that Grand label once I passed the 50 mark. But it doesn’t really work that way now, does it?

I mention this to my siblings, only to find out that, like being the baby of the family, I was the last in age to become a grandparent. They had all beat me long before they reached the 49 year mark. That made me feel a little better. It was still weird for me.

See, being a parent? I can do that. I’ve done it for 27 years now. Not an easy job, especially when I was a single parent raising two daughters. The frustrations, the pressures, the self-doubts were enormous. Those only became worse when I became a single parent.

But my two eldest survived to adulthood, and six years ago my eldest daughter Jenelle, became a parent herself. Unfortunately it wasn’t the best situation, she started off being a single parent. And, the poor kid, had to live at her parents house.

Which brings me to Bentley Benjamin. My grandson whom I was lucky enough to be around the first two years of his life. It was fun, crazy, and having two little children myself now, chaotic. As my daughter worked on establishing herself, she lived with us to help out with costs. Bentley learned to walk at my home, first spoke at my home, and terrorized my home with the help of his Aunt and Uncle.

With three adults, three children, a dog and a cat, life always had something mischievous planned. Yet the real fun started when Bentley moved out, and came to visit for the weekends so his mother could work.

Bentley is a precocious child. Although not the best speaker, he was adept at figuring things out. Like door locks.

While many children who awaken at night, and make their way to their parents bedroom, or in this case, grandparents bedroom. Bentley had other ideas. He wanted to explore the great outdoors. You know, at 3 am. Even in winter.

Probably because I raised his mother, and eldest aunt, I was pretty good at being a light sleeper. His first few attempts failed. With grandpa coming out to the living room to find him dressed in snow boots and a jacket.

“Hey Bentley, what are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m just going to go outside.” Bentley would respond in his four-year old voice.

“Bentley, it’s 3 am, it’s dark outside, and cold. You need to go back to bed.” I would say.

“I got a coat and boots on grandpa.” Bentley would point out. By god, the boy does plan.

 

But no, we went back to bed. Well at least he did. I didn’t sleep a wink that night. My grandson is a Night Walker. One of those children who think that going outside by themselves is perfectly fine. But no worries, he won’t get out on me.

I did say he was a precocious didn’t I? See, if you make too much noise at night? You wake up grandpa. And that will ruin all the fun. Of course the screen door makes a noise if you don’t close it by hand. It bangs. Been meaning to fix that, glad I procrastinate.

I found Bentley outside, wearing a coat and boots mind you, with the dog. The dog was very happy to be let out at 4 am. Grandpa was not happy to walk out in the snow barefoot to retrieve his wayward grandson.

The locks came, he outsmarted them. Obstacles came, he silently removed them. Chain Locks came, well on one door because I couldn’t get it to work on the other door. He used the other door.

An all out war of wits came. It was game on! Magnetic Alarm Buzzers! That we neglected to turn off and scared the living hell out of us when Bentley wasn’t here.

Of course when Bentley discovered this Magnetic Alarm Buzzer, it scared the living hell out of him. And the rest of the household at 2 am. Oh, they work by the way, very loud.

Yet it was the one door, that the Chain Lock wouldn’t work on, and yes, the Magnetic Alarm Buzzer also wouldn’t work, that became his objective. Moving the loveseat in front of it became our only option. Of course that meant I had to wake up at 5 am to move the loveseat for my wife so she could go to work on Saturday morning.

I did catch him trying to move it. When I did, he asked me for help. Touché grandson, touché.

Then it happened, he figured out how to move it enough. Probably because Grandpa became lazy and didn’t move it far enough over. Hey, the loveseat is heavy, and at 5 am? It is annoyingly heavy.

I heard it though, came out to see what was going on. Like a scene from a movie, I caught Bentley putting on a lightweight jacket (it was warm out, so his choice of jackets was appropriate) and standing there looking at me sheepishly. His shoes were on, he was dressed, out of his jammies, and just looked at me.

“Bentley? Where are you going?” I asked him.

“Take the dog out grandpa, Jess needs to go out to go potty.” Bentley replies logically.

Grandpa looks over at the couch on which the lazy lab now prefers over her own bed. The dog, Jess, is snoring. I look at Bentley and shake my head. With calm resignation, he takes the coat off, and follows me back to his bedroom.

That would be the last escape attempt Bentley would make. His mother’s job changed, she didn’t need us to watch him on the weekends. He comes back of course, is a wild child. Likes to figure things out. Mostly to his advantage.

And odd as it may seem, I miss those little games my grandson played on me. I marveled at his ability to problem solve, his little cons. The joy he had in trying to explore that great big world. I hope he never loses that joy. And I hope to have him over this summer.

He’s six now, getting big, full of attitude and defiance. He’s also a big brother of two. With a warm heart full of love and compassion for others. I would love to have him spend the night again. I miss the little monster, especially today of all days. He reminds me so much of his mother when she was his age. And that is the greatest part of being a grandfather. With the title, you see your family moving forward, carrying on, and knowing a new generation of you is here to make their mark on this Earth.

My grandchildren are always welcomed at my house, weird as it is to be a grandfather. And when Bentley comes over to stay the night the next time?

I will have that darn door secured.

 

Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch; marry, ’tis enough.

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Cats on a couch. / Photo by KidZond.

 

On March 5th, 1925 in  Ainsworth Iowa, a child was born. A baby girl, to Charles and Edith McDonald.

She was born premature, which in 1925 was almost a death sentence. To keep her warm she was put in a shoebox by a franklin pot belly stove.

Or so the story goes of my Mother’s birth.

Today would have been my Mother’s 94th birthday. She lived to be 80 years old. March 5th is always one of those days that make me grumpy. I really can’t help it.

My mother had a rough upbringing, her mother was taken away when she was only 4 years old. My grandmother had tuberculosis, at which time there was no known cure. My mother’s last memory of her mother was chasing the ambulance my grandmother was taken away in. She would hate the sound of sirens for the rest of her life, and they would always fill her with dread.

After my grandmother’s death, my grandfather placed my mother and my uncle in an orphanage. She would stay their most of her childhood, till she was returned to my grandfather when they couldn’t place her in an adoptive home. My mother always contended it had to do with her red hair and freckles.

She would be shuffled from family member to family member over the years. Finally arriving in Peoria Illinois, where she would meet my father.

As you would expect, my mother did not think much of my grandfather, and would have little to do with her family for the rest of her life except a sister and brother.

Mom was part of the greatest generation. Those who grew up during the depression and would later go on to fight in World War II. As my father headed off to war, my mother headed off to the factories.

Later in life, she would give birth to four baby boomers, be a stay at home mom, and raise us. She worked her butt off raising four children. Three of them boys.

Yet, she would have her quirks.

One, she had a passion for animals. Mostly those abandoned by others. My mother loved strays, and would take them in. Later in her life she would become the proverbial cat lady, growing her collection to the point of financial stress.

I have always wondered about her need to take care of cats. At first I thought it was because her kids were grown (since the cat lady phase happened after we were all grown and out of the house.) Yet as I have gotten older, I think it had more to do with her childhood. She was essentially a stray, abandon by her father to an orphanage. I think she couldn’t stand to see others abandoned. Even if those others were cats.

Oh, and my mother? She judged you on how you treated cats. Even dumping an old boyfriend because he didn’t like cats.

Another quirk of my mother was when she was injured. It didn’t matter to her, it was, just a scratch. This ’tis but a scratch mentality nearly cost my mother her life when she was in her 40’s. She had a tumor on her parathyroids and was deathly ill till she had it removed.

I remember my mother cutting her fingers on knives she would invariably leave in the soap foamed covered sink, and just band-aid her finger and keep washing. Even though the finger continued to bleed.

When I was a teenager, my mother was in a car accident. She sustain a pretty serious concussion. Yet she refused medical treatment. To her, it was just a scratch.

Then, in last year of her life, my mother fell and broke her hip. That can be fatal to many when they are in their later years of life. Not to mention she had other medical issues that complicated the matters. But mom rebounded, was able to walk again with the aid of a walker, and was on her way to a full recovery.

At the time, my mother lived with my sister and niece. All three of them living in a house together, enjoying life, and my sister was able to take care of mom. Something I am indebted to her, since she was the only one of us siblings who could at that point of mother’s children’s lives. Yet, as fate would have it, while my sister and niece suffered from the flu, my mother started to bleed internally. She never said a word to my sister. Kept it to herself. Because, after all, ’tis but a scratch. But it was more than that this time. And on January 20th 2006, my mother passed away.

Part of me will always have an anger toward my mother. I wished she would have paid more attention to herself, had less of a cavalier attitude about injuries. She missed out on my two youngest, did not see my oldest grow into the wonderful women they are. Yet she believed one shouldn’t dwell upon these minor hiccups of life. ‘Tis but a scratch after all.

It is hard sometimes to look at your parents objectively. To see them as human beings with baggage they carry with them. We tend to put our parents on a pedestal, or in sadder cases, put them in a hole and forget about them. My mother wasn’t perfect, she wasn’t a horror like other mothers I have heard about. She was a good ear, and gave sound, if not curt advice.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my parents, and yes, especially today, my Mother. Of course the pain doesn’t go away. How could it? You share a bond with your mother for 9 months, and for a lifetime afterwards. Whatever makes you think it would go away when they do? It doesn’t. They invade your dreams, and even your children’s facial expressions and voices. You see them in the legacy they have created. And you know, that life does go on, a little sadder, but still it goes on.

 

 

 

A Letter from a Little Brother.

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My brother Jay and I. 1967/ Photo by KidZond.

 

I have no shame. This blog today is my birthday gift to my Brother Jay.

Just so you know.

Figured it was best to be honest.

However, I write about family relationships mostly. And what could be more family than siblings relationships?

I have three siblings, fairly spread apart in ages. Jay is my closest sibling in age, 7 years older than me. Then my brother Gary who is 13 years older and my sister Karen who is 16 years older. Till I was 11, Jay had been a constant figure in my life. Not always for the better I should say. Being the bratty younger brother was a special talent I cultivated when I was little.

It took me years to get to know Jay, many years actually. As kids our favorite pastime was taunting each other. I would always pull the ‘Mom Card’ and rat him out, which you know, probably wasn’t the best thing to do. He’d find ways to get me back.

It’s funny, but back then the taunting, teasing, being mean to each other was so dramatic and a tad terrifying at times to me. Now? That time in my life are some of my best, definitely  funniest, memories.

Although we didn’t know it at the time, being the youngest two we had a lot in common. Our childhood was at a bad time for our Dad. He was in the manufacturing industry, making screws, nuts, bolts. That industry took a dive in the early ’70’s. So he went from job to job. We, being the youngest, and still at home, moved along with our parents. I had the luck of being 7 years younger. I could make friends easier. But when you are under 10 years of age, back in the 1970’s, all you had to do to make friends is hold up a football.

During a phone conversation, we counted how many different schools we had gone to. Jay had been to 8 different schools, I had been to 7. Jay was always the new kid in High School. Sometimes twice in one school year. This instability in our lives wasn’t good for us, it isn’t good for anyone actually. Adjusting to such instability was harder on Jay than it was on me. I didn’t understand it back then, only when I was older did I get it.

When Jay was 18 he joined the army, I was living in Mexico at the time with our parents. He wasn’t allowed to come to Mexico. A fight between our father and him. I don’t know the full details. Yet that parting was when I was only 11 years old. So I had known my brother as a child, not as an adult.

Years went by, and Jay came to back to the midwest to live for a while. We actually got to know each other as adults. It was a little odd at first, I think for both of us, I know it was for me. However I think we both aged well, and for the first time, really enjoyed each others company.

Back then when he first moved back (it would only last about a year before he moved back West) we could talk to one another, as adults. We moved on from being siblings to being friends. I guess that is the best thing I can say about my brother. I would pick him as my friend even if he wasn’t my brother. Lucky for me, I can have both.

Now, we talk fairly often. Easily once a month, sometimes more. Unfortunately we live thousands of miles apart. He lives on the West Coast, I live in the Midwest. So visits are not simple. Whereas his kids are grown, I still have a young family. Not easy for me to just jump on a plane for a weekend getaway visit.

Time and distance can be cruel when it comes to love ones. I have entertained the thought of moving closer to my West Coast family, our sister lives out there too. Yet my roots are here in the Midwest. As are my wife’s. His are west of the Rockies, where he lives with his wife Leslee and their cats.

We did get together last year. It was a fun time, and that week will live with me till the day I die. Especially one night we talked and drank, talking about Everything.

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From Left to Right. Karen (My Sister) Leslee (My Sister-in-Law) Some dude whose birthday is today. / Photo by The Annoying Baby of the Family.

 

When I think about relationships, family, friends, and even co-workers. I look very fondly upon my relationship with my Big Brother Jay. He’s one of those people who fall into the Real category. If you ask his advice, he’ll give you it, straight forward, no-nonsense type of advice. He will state his opinion if he needs to, remain silent when he thinks he should. We don’t always agree on everything, but we both are okay with having different opinions. If you think on it, that’s kind of rare in siblings. People in general for that matter.

Over the years I have found a deeper appreciation for our relationship. His wit and humor that reminds me so much of our fathers (without the bite to it). His complains about his receding hairline…I just shake my bald head at him. His love of cooking, which he has perfected to an art form. His love and respect for our sister, who at very low times in his life, was his rock. And his love and appreciation for his wife Leslee. A woman, who upon after our mother met her, said to him bluntly “She’s a nice girl, don’t screw this up”.

We are also in the same business, Trucking, so it nice to get advice on matters from someone who has your back. Knows the trade and can give you pointers.

What I wish most for my brother is for him to know he’s a great guy. Not prefect, not even close. It is his imperfections that make him perfect. Life has beaten the crap out of him at times, yet he keeps going. He does what makes him happy, and keeps it real.

Life isn’t easy, nor is it close to being fair. We all have regrets, we all wish things would have been different. Yet those things, those choices we make, shape us into the person we are. Many I know would have given up if they went though half the things my brother Jay has gone though. I doubt I could have been strong enough.

I told my oldest daughter Jenelle what my father’s thoughts on my brother Jay were. That my father said “Jay alway took the harder path, even though the easy path laid before him”. I disagree with my father’s assessment, yet my daughters reply was most eloquent.

“The harder path is more interesting.”