Time Out

I am taking a short break. Be back soon. I promise.


US: The Magic Blanket

[This series will run every Monday and Friday for as long as I can remember the stories within 79% accuracy. Check back often or, better yet, use the RSS (Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)) and sign up for automatic reminders whenever there is a new post.]

I have a blanket. It is actually a quilt, which, I suppose, is a sub-species in the blanket family. It was hand made by my grandmother on my dad's side, a person I always knew as Grandmother Colle. Not grandma or gramma or grannie or some other wacky name based off the poor pronunciation skills of an infant. Grandmother. What is odd about that is the woman who demanded that name was not formal by any stretch of the imagination. She was funny, cheated at cards and made every grandchild feel like they were her absolute favorite (to which we all say as an aside, “But I actually was her favorite”). She has been gone from us for several years but one thing she left for me was that blanket. She presented it to me my senior year of high school in 1977. It is big, six feet by five feet, solid tan across the back and the front has multiple 5” x 5” squares of different material. And it is laced with magic.

I took that quilt to college and it was part of my trousseau when I married Hope. It has survived a couple of dogs and three kids with only a few busted seams. After multiple washings, Hope had to add some blue yarn to keep the centers of each square tied down, but the splash of color adds some character. The quilt will keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter, which makes no sense but is a truth that can be attested to by anyone who has made contact with it. It has wrapped our children through naps, pity parties and time outs as well as hours of Winnie the Pooh, Barney and Power Rangers. There is no way to count the number of people who have curled up under that blanket and found themselves fighting a need for a nap. To this day the kids fight over who gets to use it while watching TV when they drop in for a visit. And it is the default choice when Hope watches her junk television shows (which grandmother would most certainly approve of).

I have no doubt that the kids have already discussed who will get grandmother's quilt when Hope and I are gone, even more so than the china or sterling silver place settings. It seems a little odd to hold some random material stitched together a long time ago in such high esteem but I think it has something to do with the fact that it represents a constant in our lives. It has been with us from the beginning and has not lost any of its appeal. My kids have no recollection of my grandmother. They don't, like me, look at buttered toast and have an urge to dip it in super sweet coffee or see a bottle of Barq's root beer and immediately think of boiled shrimp. But they feel a bond with her because she made their dad a blanket that has survived, like us, and is as much a part of our family as our last name. I'm pretty sure the magic woven into that quilt was love. 


Krista, my Sista

We were born three years apart, me first in September and her in October. Initially, she was a pest, constantly in my space, following me, mimicking me, oblivious to my desire to be left alone, at least occasionally. As we traversed childhood, we found more in common than not. She loved to play sports, excelling in softball and tennis, and we both grew strong on a steady diet of Frito pies and Chick-O-Stix at the dusty Texas ball fields. She got outnumbered when my brother was born but she more than held her own, proving her mettle consistently in the two-on-one battles. We shared dreams and concerns, especially when our little brother decided to use the encyclopedias for bedtime reading, worried that his blooming nerdiness would evaporate any Colle cool that we had created when he reached high school. We like to think we steered him toward a happy medium and made him the man he is today. (High five!)

High school brought about a lot of change and, with it, less time together—a move from Texas to Florida, my leaving home for college, marriages, kids, moving to different parts of the country and all the other life events that happen as we keep moving forward. And she has had her share of life events, testing that mettle that was forged so early. She was strong then and she is stronger now. She has survived, tenacious and brave, a great mom and a loyal wife.

Today she celebrates a birthday, a milestone, from the fours to the fives, and I have, as before, paved the way, letting her know that it’s okay to turn that corner. The water is warm and the chicken is boiled and we are all a little more appreciative of a quiet house and a smooth Bordeaux. Happy birthday, Krista my sista. I love you and am proud of you and I look forward to waving you through to the sixes and beyond. 


US: It’s Halloween, Hallelujah!

[This series will run every Monday and Friday for as long as I can remember the stories within 79% accuracy. Check back often or, better yet, use the RSS (Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)) and sign up for automatic reminders whenever there is a new post.]

Halloween ain’t what it used to be. When I was young, it ranked an easy third behind Christmas and Easter (and Easter is second only because I was raised in a Christian home and nothing comes before those two events—as it should be). Not only did we dress up and walk our neighborhoods, my dad, the Baptist minister, would go to great lengths to scare all the trick-or-treaters that dared ring our bell by dressing as Dracula—including full makeup and a cardboard box coffin--and shining a flashlight from under his chin for effect. He perfected the proper inflections in the phrase, “I vant to suck your blood.” Our church always had a haunted house run by the youth, one I was not allowed to enter even with Child of the Staff cred, because it was too scary. This was not a Hell House with a presentation of the gospel at the end, it was just chock full of scares and gross outs like every other haunted house in town. Bowls of “body parts,” chain saw wielding maniacs and lots of fake blood. I loved standing outside and hearing people scream and then watch them exit laughing.

But something changed in the time between my last neighborhood walk as a ghost and my first Halloween celebration with our own kids. The church, as one entity, rose up and revolted against the holiday. It was now in bad form to walk the neighborhood so we now had to walk through the mall and get candy from bored store employees. No longer was the hospital on call for medical help after a trip and fall in a bulky costume, but now they were offering free x-raying of everyone’s bag of candy. And if you didn’t want to go to the mall, then every church put on an alternative to Halloween, complete with games for the kids and enough candy to choke an elephant. Yes, it was safe but it also felt sterile (although the intentions were honorable).

But the real question was what to do with our kids when we, as parents, straddled both worlds? We understood where our church was coming from but we also wanted our kids to experience the special night of walking the neighborhood, ringing doorbells and shouting “trick or treat!” Initially we made the best of it, supporting the church and making some really cool costumes to help create a special night for our clueless kids. When attending Hallelujah Harvest at the church, the costumes had to be either Biblical or “non threatening.” One year William dressed as Goliath, complete with a wadded up masking tape rock on his forehead, a small trickle of blood added to push the envelope. Over the years the kids dressed as sheep, clowns and royalty. (Every year there were multiple Queen Esther costumes. Here is a question for your discussion groups: Why not Rahab?) Occasionally our kids won the costume contest, a source of pride for the kids and mom, the seamstress. And there was always some kid trying to skirt the rules, the most memorable being the middle school boy who showed up dressed as The Whore of Babylon. He didn't make it past the front door.

When the kids got a little older, we began splitting time, hitting up the church for “happy hour” and then joining a gathering at a friend's house and walking the neighborhood en mass. The window for Halloween is so short that before we knew it the kids were choosing to work the game booths at church instead of hitting up houses and all of the decision-making faded away. And standing at the food booth, dishing up slaw and chili dogs, I could appreciate how much fun the little ones were having in the church parking lot, jumping on inflated slides and engaging in cake walks, but I also knew that my house was one of the places the neighborhood kids had to skip, their parents muttering that we were probably at the mall. Or church. And it hurt a little, but it wasn't enough pain that a Snickers mini couldn't heal.


US: Tape Head

[This series will run every Monday and Friday for as long as I can remember the stories within 79% accuracy. Check back often or, better yet, use the RSS (Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)) and sign up for automatic reminders whenever there is a new post.]

We began expanding our family in 1986. At that time, portable video cameras were available, affordable and a necessity as we prepared for the arrival of our first child. We were excited and clueless about what the actual birth day would involve and were pretty sure it would be nothing like it was explained to us in birthing classes provided by the hospital. So to cover all of our bases, the first event we filmed with our new camera was a trial run of Hope going into labor, being led to the car and then leaving the house for the hospital. My dad was the videographer and, even though Hope and I displayed some promising, albeit raw, acting talent, the continuous laughing and voice over of my dad giving us direction gave away the inauthentic effort.

Fortunately, the actual birth day was successful and my dad was once again available to tape my reports from the birthing room and capture the first announcement that William Jacob Colle IV had arrived. And that was the last day that I was not behind the camera for the next 26 years.

Our first camera was big, many times larger than the portable video cameras and smart phones that people shoot with today. I had to balance the camera on my shoulder, peer through the eyepiece and try to keep the picture in focus which was almost impossible since the early cameras liked to lock in on everything but the intended subject matter. Nothing like watching your baby take its first, blurry steps while the latest episode of Knott’s Landing is clearly seen in the background on TV.

Since the media used was VHS tapes, we had to tote the camera as well as a bag full of accessories including extra tapes and a wall charger in case the battery ran out before the event ended. And we taped everything. I recently went through all of our old tapes in order to transfer them to DVD and I was amazed and embarrassed by the amount of film burned on William lying on his stomach, trying to flip himself over. It was a riveting hour (and he never did manage to get to his back until tape three).

I was the official videographer for our family and my biggest fear throughout this time was that my children would have no idea what I actually looked like. That they would see an ad for a video camera and point and excitedly shout, “Da da.” The positive of shooting so much is that we were able to capture precious moments in time, events that we may remember but without near the clarity that a video will provide. First giggles and first steps. Discovering a leaf and feeling the grass between their toes. The joy of opening a gift and the struggle to use a spoon. Yes, we remember but getting a chance to watch it unfold before you once again is a gift. So, parents, video often and save those files for a rainy day. You will enjoy the trip, repeatedly.


US: Everybody Jump! Jump!

[This series will run every Monday and Friday for as long as I can remember the stories within 79% accuracy. Check back often or, better yet, use the RSS (Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)) and sign up for automatic reminders whenever there is a new post.]

Over the course of our 26 years of parenting, we have purchased many gifts. Some were meaningful but most were fads—slap bracelets and pogs, anyone?—destined for the bottom of a closet or an eventual trip to Goodwill. As a parent, you want to be able to create a memory, bring something into your children's lives that will have a lasting impression and one Christmas we did just that. When the kids were ten, eight and five, Hope came up with the idea that we purchase a trampoline for them for Christmas. It was a lot of work to purchase it and hide it from them for the weeks leading up to Christmas day, but as we gathered with our adult neighbors at midnight Christmas Eve, pooling our manual resources to put it together while everyone’s kids slept, it was clear this was going to be a hit.

We set it up in the front yard and, after they were directed to look outside Christmas morning, they screamed, ran out the door and didn't quit bouncing until lunch. The best thing about that purchase was it was never ignored from that point forward. We moved it to its permanent location on the side yard after a couple of days, established some rules—always with the rules—and, before the age of panic and litigation, we left them to test the limits of their imagination and cardiovascular stamina. No one ever got hurt although I do not know how that happened short of the Angel of the Trampoline working overtime. One day I was summoned to the side of the house so they could show me a new trick that had every kid in the neighborhood laughing so hard they were crying. When I saw William bounce Jordan so high he passed the soffits on the house, I had to add another rule about launching your brother into space, even though Jordan was laughing just as hard as everyone else. And I was concerned when they started running the sprinkler under the trampoline and wrestling, but, after monitoring things for a while, they seemed to be having too much fun to stop it.

All three kids enjoyed the trampoline in their own ways. William and Jordan used it as a battleground with their friends, bouncing each other, inventing games and one upping each other with tricks. Laura and her friends used it no less although their games involved holding hands, forming a bouncing circle and singing whatever new boy band song was popular that week. It was always nice to look into the yard and see them engaged and having fun outside.

The trampoline was more than a vehicle for bouncing and laughing, however. The kids spent many afternoons on their back, staring at the sky, dreaming and sharing secrets, enjoying a quiet place with friends away from the house. Laughing at the pictures in the afternoon clouds or picking out the constellations against a night sky. There were a few overnight sleepovers and at least one attempt to set up a tent on the wobbly surface. And there were counseling sessions, serious talks about life and girls and whatever else is going on in a kids life that calls for some one-on-one time with a parent.

There did come a time when the trampoline activity dwindled and there were long stretches when no one paid it much attention. The kids were busier and engaged in a lot of extra-curricular activities away from the house. Hope and I eventually decided to get rid of it so we passed it on to another family with young kids, hoping it brought them as much joy as it brought us. And for a few weeks after it vacated its spot in the backyard, friends were disappointed that we had packed it up, akin to getting rid of a family pet. We apologized but understood their dismay. It was time to move on from our bouncy phase but the memories of The Greatest Gift remain clear, even today. 


US: Mr. Thomas

[This series will run every Monday and Friday for as long as I can remember the stories within 79% accuracy. Check back often or, better yet, use the RSS (Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)) and sign up for automatic reminders whenever there is a new post.]

There are many times while plodding along the parenting path that outside influences intervene. Some are good and some are not. It is up to us, the parents, to weed out the things that may hinder and cultivate those that will help. When William was twelve, God sent someone to us that altered what we were as a family and was a tremendous help in bringing up our children. Roshad Thomas was involved with the youth group at our church and he took an interest in William when he entered middle school. It wasn't just William he was investing in, there were three other boys the same age he was focused on, but his interest in William intersected our lives in a profound way.

It started simple enough. Roshad would plan some time with William twice per week and they would talk. I felt good about it because, as I have mentioned before, middle school is evil and I welcomed help where I could get it. The planned meetings evolved into hanging out at the house and—Roshad being single, underemployed and hungry—eating dinner with us. Then he started spending the night and, eventually, became our oldest child. He more than held up his end of the bargain beyond the spiritual investment into all three children by helping Hope shuttle the kids all over town (we had three in three different schools) and being available to help us any way he could. We were investing in each other and were both benefiting. He was part of our family and we welcomed him, including at holidays and family events. Hope even yelled him at for leaving his socks on the counter. He was definitely one of our children.

But there was push back from others. Friends initially questioned Roshad's intent, wondering why a single youth leader would be so interested in young boys. Some of the Deep South prejudices reared as family member's questioned why we would allow a black man to become so integral a part of our family. At first we were bothered by all the whispers and mumbling, and then we re-evaluated, stopping a moment to make sure we hadn't missed a signal of alarm and caution. After that three-minute introspection, we got mad and resolved to deal with the push back and let them all know they were wrong. We invited Roshad to share his testimony at our home group and reveal his heart and why it was important for him to pour himself into the kids (and why it was important that he be a member of our intact, “normal” family). We calmly explained to family that Roshad was indeed a part of our family and that he was not going anywhere. And we let them know that, yes, Roshad and his entire family would be attending Thanksgiving at our house and they could come or not—just know his mom's mac and cheese could bring about world peace and it would be their loss. And, over time, people evolved and not only came to accept Roshad but they began to understand why he was a part of our family. Hope's mom, initially guarded but never hostile, grew to love him like one of her own. In her last weeks on earth, she enjoyed his visits and appreciated all he did for her grandchildren.

Now that our kids are older and carving out their own spaces in life, we don't see Roshad as much as we did. And that makes sense because he is off investing in some more middle school boys, prepping them for life and providing discipline and love. But we still hug in the church lobby, talk a little football and we'll grab a meal together on occasion to catch up on more important things. And he still calls me dad.


US: Dinner Rules!

[This series will run every Monday and Friday for as long as I can remember the stories within 79% accuracy. Check back often or, better yet, use the RSS (Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)) and sign up for automatic reminders whenever there is a new post.]

If you spend any time reading about the demise of the American family, one issue that is always broached is that we don't share the dinner table with each other anymore. It is symbolic of how busy we are—even when doing good things—that this once common event has eroded and fallen off our family radar. At the risk of sounding like a wistful old man, my childhood is full of memories around the dinner table, as was Hope's, so we naturally wanted to pass that on to our own kids. I say naturally because I don't think we ever had a discussion about it; it was assumed and we made it a priority. Obviously, this is easier when the kids are younger and their activities are confined to the neighbor's yards and the swing sets, but we also kept it going as long as we could once extracurricular interests evolved to the ball fields and church.

Eating together was a great opportunity to not only spend focused time together, but it allowed us to slowly work on table manners and expectations when sharing a meal with others. Saying, “Please pass the bread” and “Thank you” were taught and learned and allowed Hope and I to feel a little better about sending them out to the public, especially when we weren't around to glare and clear our throats. We also tried to keep a scheduled time to eat, usually around 6 p.m. That gave everyone plenty of time to get prepared for bed and have a snack before going to bed.

Ah, yes, the snack. One of our rules at the dinner table was that you had to, minimally, try everything on your plate in order to get a snack before bedtime. This seemed simple enough, but it was the cause of much drama and angst. This was when we discovered there were certain foods that certain kids refused to eat. Whether out of stubbornness or actual taste bud revulsion, Jordan would not eat green beans. This was problematic because Hope did her best to prepare food that they would eat and green beans tend to be a vegetable that is widely accepted in the childhood arena. The battle to get him to eat at least one—”at least try it!”—was exhausting and always ended with Jordan in his famous pose of defeat: elbow on the table, hand on forehead, eyes staring at his plate. Eventually we issued a writ of dispensation for him and allowed him to skip the beans but, in order to get a snack, he had to eat double of the other vegetable offered. It eased the drama and, as far as I know, he still won't eat green beans at 21 years old.

Laura brought her own drama to the snack situation. There were times that she patently refused to eat something on her plate. Sometimes it was the meat, sometimes the vegetables. There didn't seem to be a rhyme or reason so we tended to show her less grace. And she was a rock in her stubbornness. She learned early on that there were consequences for her actions and we were constantly amazed to see her fall on the sword of baked chicken and miss a trip to the yogurt shop. I guess there is something to be said for consistency, even if it occurs inconsistently.

But the drama and the sadness were completely overshadowed by all the positives of eating together. We laughed a lot. We talked about our day. We made fun of Laura looking at herself in the mirror (and eventually had to change her seat at the table to an obstructed view). We learned a lot about each other and grew as a family sitting around that table and we still relish the opportunity to all gather together now and share a meal and stories. We still laugh a lot and we still have to keep Laura away from the mirror but that is fine with me. It would be sad if nothing stayed the same.