Category Archives: Family

25

Normally I’m not at a loss for words, but as I write this I truly can’t come up with anything that would come close to adequately describe how I feel today about the woman who joined me in saying “I do” 25 years ago today. What I can say is that I’m amazed that 25 years can seem to pass so quickly and yet every one of those years feel like they pack a lifetime of memories. None of those years were easy; all held days, weeks and months of ecstasy; some held weeks or months of challenges and pain; most held a dose of all of that. The result is that we stand together here on the other side of those 25 years and I love her more than I could ever imagine back when we were so young and untested.

Most people spend their lives wondering if they’ll ever experience a miracle. I wake up every morning and look into the eyes of mine. I’m truly a man who’s been blessed beyond measure.

Jon and Celeste's Wedding

A Big L On My Forehead

While the “L” on my forehead would normally mean “loser”, today it has a different meaning. It is the Roman numeral representing 50 which happens to be the birthday I’m celebrating today. Yep, it’s a landmark and I’m enjoying it – full confession, I LOVE all the “happy birthdays” I’m getting Facebook and LinkedIn, and the emails and texts from my brother, kids and other family members wishing me the same – beginning with some wonderfully thoughtful gifts from my (much) better half this morning and an edible basket she had delivered today at work.

I’m also very lucky in that I’m the son of a writer and as such I get my very own “origin story.” I haven’t asked her permission to share it, but I figure she sent it as a gift so I don’t really need to. Mom’s a helluva writer and this is something I’ll cherish forever.

It was Monday, still a bit warmer than is the norm in southern Germany in mid-September, but not so hot as it had been in August, when little droplets scurried down the sides of a belly that no longer fit inside the maternity blouses unless they were unbuttoned at the bottom.

This was day 21 – a full three weeks after the due date.  But then the due date was known to be less than dependable.  This child had been conceived after the last birth control pill and before the first menstrual cycle.  It was not supposed to happen that way, but if mothers have any sixth sense at all about such things, this mother had a pretty reliable read on what occurred.

They’d been in Garmisch, “skiing.”  When one owns no equipment and has no experience, one “rents” from the military.  In that, as in so many things, one size fits all – that is, all of the non-elite.  Boots came unstrapped, poles and skis were all the same no matter what height the supposed skiier.  He, of course, went right down the slope first time out.  She tried and fell, tried and fell, tried and fell.  Gave up.  There was no ski lift working, because there had been an avalanche.  The ski area is essentially a bowl on the top of the mountain, so they walked back, falling against the side of the mountain when they met anyone coming the other way.  One such traveler looked at her and said, “Ma’am, if you feel anything like you look, you should get back to the lodge NOW.”

A variety of effluents – tears, snot, saliva – created a small grotto on her face.  Her hands and feet had no feeling.  The thawing out that happened in the lodge was (though she had no way of knowing it) training for pain tolerance that would be needed in the Heidelberg hospital 10 months hence.  Later they got warm.  Nice and warm.

They determined she was, indeed, pregnant the same day that he had hernia surgery in Heidelberg.  He had no real reaction to the news, but then he’d been shaved (The hair on his chest looked like the tree line on a mountaintop.) and cut open.  Reason enough.

The months that followed were full of new experiences.  All pregnant women went to the clinic on Thursday.  The waiting room had all the appeal of a cattle barn – no mooing, but there could have been, given the size, shape and gender of those assembled.  

There was no obstetrician in evidence.  She never really knew what the specialties were of the three who saw her on any given Thursday.  About all she learned was the baby seemed normal, she should eat correctly and take vitamins, and if she allowed her weight gain to exceed 20 pounds she would be put in the hospital and fed whatever way was necessary to take it back down to below 20 pounds.  That meant each visit was preceded by a half-hour or so in the bathroom trying on all possible combinations of ugly tent-sized garments to see which was the lightest.  Pre-electronic scales, in that bathroom and at the clinic, praise be.

Even with the restricted weight gain, she had to master the art of waddling.  Somewhere there is a Super 8 tape that is embarrassing testimony to just how inept she was.  It’s a video taken from behind as she stumbled more than strolled through the gardens near Lake Constanz.

All in all, though having no baseline to which to compare her experience she didn’t know it, the pregnancy was uneventful, even comparatively comfortable.  No morning sickness, no swollen ankles.  The only real issues were that many body parts seem to have ballooned in the most graphic sense of the word.  The bra size went from 34 A to 36 C. (No complaints from the prospective paternal corner.) All 18.5 pounds stuck straight out front.

When the due date passed, and then a week elapsed, they literally spent one Sunday driving the back roads, looking for bumps.  The second week, he as building captain was supposed to paint the fence out front.  He had issues at work, so she painted – belly facing parallel, shoulders turned, white paint on her elbows.   Lots of energy.  “Maybe, oh maybe,” she thought, “this is what Aunt May called ‘lightening,’ that surge of energy just before labor.”

At the beginning of the third week, the Stars and Stripes carried a story of a woman who delivered a child without waking up from her afternoon nap.  She got calls and more calls.  “That’s how you should do it!”

Then on Sunday she began bleeding.  They went to the clinic, where the doc on call insisted he could not examine her because there were no grey ladies (volunteer nurses’ aides) available.  She insisted that the father would suffice.  It became clear, then, that the doc didn’t know what he was looking for.  He was an ophthalmologist.  He said he thought she had twins – he heard two heartbeats.  Back home they went.

Monday brought a bridge game, and at the table the first slight pains began. By the time the about-to-be dad got home from work, the pains had become regular.  He showered, and they left, leaving behind the grilled steaks that should have been dinner.  She rode the 30 kilometers to the hospital in an ambulance, while he followed in he car.  The two medics in the ambulance had no experience with monitoring expectant mothers or delivering babies.  They pleaded, “Why not lie down?  That way, maybe the pains won’t be coming faster.”

Less than nine hours later, a healthy baby with a deep, deep voice made his appearance.  Clearly, he had attended a lecture in preparation.  The rules he knew and followed were:

You eat regularly, every four hours.

Before the first month is out, you learn to skip that feeding in the middle of the night.

You can decide what you like to eat, within limits.  Carrots are great.  Spinach is not.

Pooping is a wonderful instrument of revenge.  She will put a “poop pad” on her lap, so the drama may be limited there.  He will not, so you can make a real mess.  (Big enough, as it turned out, that he threw away his slacks, lest the dry cleaner think the mess had been his.)

She really knows absolutely nothing about breast-feeding, so you can take charge.  Be careful, though, because someone has taught her to put a safety pin on the bra strap on the side she starts with, to make sure she starts on the other side the next time.  The pin can scratch your nose.

Laugh a lot.  Chortling is even better.

He made an “A.”  Then and forever after.

This Day in History

History.com tells me that on this day in 1564 William Shakespeare was born. What it does not tell me, and this is an unforgivable oversight, is that 402 years later on April 23, 1966 a remarkable person named Celeste Marie Rogers was born. The oldest child of Patty and Phil Rogers, she would go on to graduate from George Mason University and then make the questionable decision of marrying yours truly (Jon Lowder). The result is a 24 year (and counting) marriage that produced three incredible children -Michael, Erin and Justin – and lots of laughs.

In case you haven’t done the math yet let me make plain why today is important – it marks exactlyCelesteGlamourCropped 50 years that Celeste has spent on this Earth and that is an occasion worth celebrating. So here it is: Happy Birthday to a wonderful, wonderful woman!

 

Camping

Somehow I came across this blog post titled Camping with Architects and almost laughed out loud when I read this part:

One of the most interesting aspects of camping with architects is setting up the actual site because it brings the urban planner out in all of us. How each family assembles their assortment of canopies, tents, fire pits, picnic tables, cars, even towel-drying ropes tells a lot about the architect’s sense of spatial composition and organization. With proper planning and collaboration, an authentic sense of village might even be achieved. This is where I often drive my wife a bit crazy! I like EVERYTHING set up just right: things aligned, objects rationally placed in a clear organization, views considered, balance achieved… I even consider details like where the openings of the tents are and where to place my reading material. My kids mess everything up within an hour, but heck, since we are on vacation I try not to let these things affect my blood pressure.

So why did I laugh? Because I had this crazy idea of forwarding the post to my wife and when I thought about how she’d react I had a good giggle. First of all it would be impossible for her to imagine me camping at all. We’ve tried it a few times and it’s never gone well. I whined like a teething baby the whole time and generally made everyone around me miserable. Second of all, the whole idea of me EVER driving my wife crazy because of any amount of attention to detail is just downright ludicrous. My version of campground planning would involve trying to figure out a way to hook our tent to the car’s AC so that we could somehow control our climate.

Here’s the thing – we humans have literally spent thousands of years suffering through whatever Mother Nature’s thrown at us. Then we discovered all kinds of great things to control our environment, air conditioning in particular, and someone got the brilliant idea that the best way to celebrate this is to willingly do without it while spending days getting grimy and smelly while we pretended to enjoy the experience. What’s the sense?

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a nice hike through nature in places that don’t threaten my existence (no bears, snakes or sheer cliffs for me) and the quiet and solitude to be found by a body of water that isn’t trying to drown me is awesome. But, and this is a big but, I have no desire to spend the night trying to sleep there protected only by a pop-up bubble of nylon. Air conditioned cabin? Sure thing, but otherwise don’t invite me on any excursion that doesn’t at the end of the day result in me eating a nice meal (one not cooked using with a thing that requires little green Coleman propane canisters), and sleeping on a mattress in a climate controlled room. If you can’t guarantee me that then just leave me behind.

Kid Plus License Equals Sixty Percent Increase in Auto Insurance in NC

Our three kids – currently 22, 21 and 19 respectively – have been on our family auto policy for years so we’re accustomed to the added cost, but for those whose kids are just entering the world of driving the added insurance expense can come as a shock. The bad news is that in North Carolina the average increase is 60 percent, but the good news is that it’s not that bad when compared to other states:

North Carolina has the fourth lowest increase rate, following Hawaii at 17 percent, New York at 53 percent and Michigan at 57 percent.

By comparison, the national average is 80 percent, compared with 85 percent in 2013. The most expensive is New Hampshire at 115 percent.

Other bad news for parents of 16 year olds is that the average increase that first year of driving is 96 percent and it’s only at age 19 that it drops to 60 percent.

What Interests Moms vs Dads

So I was invited by a friend to sign up for the Flipboard magazine “Interesting Stuff” which I appreciate because it does look interesting. As part of the sign up process you’re asked to pick areas of interest so I was scrolling through the page, clicking away on topics that interested me, when I got to the category of “Kids.” Under that category four topics were listed – Pregnancy, Fatherhood, Motherhood, Parenting Teens – and when I clicked on Fatherhood this is what appeared:

Flipboard_Fatherhood

So clicking on Fatherhood added four suggested categories that included Child Support, Child Custody, Family Law and Child Psychology. As a bonus the Child Support category is accompanied by what looks like a mugshot of a man and the Child Custody category is augmented by the picture of a dead cat with blood running from what looks like its head, although the head is thankfully covered by a black box. So apparently people interested in fatherhood as a topic are assumed to be seriously effed up.

Here’s what was served up when I clicked on Motherhood:

Flipboard_Motherhood

The suggested topics are Birth Control Pill, Surrogate Mother, Stillbirth and Pregnancy Test. Doesn’t appear as bad as the Fatherhood topics, but taken in total the whole parenting thing seems kind of depressing doesn’t it?

Married People Are Less Miserable

Apparently staying hitched is the recipe for less misery, if not happiness. From the Washington Post:

In a new working paper, Canadian economists Shawn Grover and John Helliwell show the effect of marriage on a lifetime of happiness. They find that married people are generally happier, and that the “happiness bonus” from marriage is strongest right in middle age — when you need it the most.

“One hypothesis that could explain why the U-shape in life satisfaction over age is deeper for the unmarried than the married is that the social support provided by a spouse helps ease the stresses of middle age,” they write.

This “social support,” as it turns out, is one of the lynchpins of marital happiness. It’s not simply enough to be married — it has to be a goodmarriage. The study finds that the happiness benefits of marriage are strongest among spouses who consider each other their best friends, and that this “best friend effect” is substantial. “The well-being benefits of marriage are on average about twice as large for those (about half of the sample) whose spouse is also their best friend,” the authors conclude.