Middle Position? I Know it Well

Middle position. Story of my life. Always relegated to the back seat in the car with the hump in the floor forcing one’s legs to either side. Older brothers pushing me back and forth between them just to reduce their own boredom. Younger siblings getting attention simply because they remain “cute” the longer I sit in the room.

“You can’t go with your brothers. You aren’t old enough.”

“Let your younger siblings have the (toy, snack, tv show, whatever other thing), they’re little.”

What kind of logic is that? Is my life somehow worth less notice because of my birth order?

Two older brothers constantly broke new ground. They stretched boundaries and pushed parental limits as they grew. Two younger siblings siphoned parental attention by sheer adorable ineptness. There I was, growing up in the backwater eddy of competent solitude.

Overshadowed by the older ones, outshone by the cuteness of the younger ones, I had to adapt my life strategies for survival through quiet competence. The smoother I made my way through life, the faster my transition and eventual exit from the family social net would seem.

But life never turns out the way you plan it. Here I was once again. Trapped in a middle seat with larger people on either side of me, pressing me inward. Forcing a physical and emotional retreat deeper within myself. The flight attendant misinterpreted the call button overhead. Just like my parents missed my pleas for attention. The larger passengers elbowed me into quiet submission as they ate their tiny airline meals.

The adorable children behind me kicked my seat without remorse. Pleading looks to their parents went unheeded. Instead of stopping them, the flight attendant rewarded them with extra treats and plastic wings as a gift from the airline. Typical.

It turns out that your neighbor on the plane/bus/train (or the person sitting at the next table at the coffee shop) is a very, very chatty tourist. Do you try to switch seats, go for a non-committal brief small talk, or make this person your new best friend?

Hold On to Sixteen

Now where was I? Oh yes. Sixteen years old. It was a good year.

  • I earned my driver’s license which granted me greater freedom and turned another teenage boy on the road with a two-ton machine.
  • I was a junior in high school and on track to graduate early and skip my senior year.
  • I had a part-time job working for people who owned sheep. As a grandson of a dairy farmer, the sheep work was easier and the animals simpler to wrangle.
  • Girlfriends? No. Prospects were not plentiful in the small community, but there was plenty of time ahead of me. No rush whatsoever.

Tell us all about the person you were when you were sixteen. If you haven’t yet hit sixteen, tell us about the person you want to be at sixteen.

Ah! Good Times

The meetings were over. The work week finished. Nothing left to do now but get home and start the weekend. Tim faced a 3-hour drive before that could happen. The rented car was not one he would own. Too small to be a practical family car, even if the kids were now grown. The clerk had offered him a choice at the counter. A generic four-door sedan or the sporty hardtop convertible Mazda MX-5 he now climbed into. Same price? The decision had been simple.

Tim unlatched the roof and pressed the button to retract it. The rear deck panel raised and the roof folded itself into the space between the seats and token-sized trunk. The panel lowered again and sealed in place. He put on his sunglasses after connecting his iPod and setting the GPS for home. Audio controls were on the steering wheel. He was ready.

He drove a few miles down the road before stopping for gas. He filled the tank from 1/4 to Full and grabbed a few snacks and bottled water for the road. Nothing should cause a break in his trip now. He pulled smoothly into the light traffic and settled in for the drive.

His music played, the sun shone, the wind moved in a shell around him. Over the windshield, down the sides, minimal turbulence in his cockpit position. He discovered that changed when he passed others or they (attempted) to pass him. He maintained his distance from others ahead and behind him to maximize the enjoyment of his personal bubble.

The road rolled out in front inviting him ever forward. He set the cruise control to stabilize his speed and keep him out of trouble with police. They were a consistent presence along this rural highway. The speed limits reduced as he approached intermittent little towns and the local law enforcers took their city limits seriously. He knew that and was determined to give them no cause for conversation. Up ahead, another driver was on the shoulder receiving special attention from the tall officer in the wide-brimmed hat. The officer’s pursuit cruiser flashed its lights for all to see and remind them they could be next. Tim moved to the far lane and lowered the music (respectfully) as he passed them.

Halfway home and the pleasant drive continued. The week’s long daily meetings and the intense interaction between the participants melted away as the distance unfolded. The music thumped loud bass tones that shook the trunk and he flowed around the sparse vehicles he encountered on the road. His iPod set to “Shuffle Songs” offered a broad mix from his personal collection. Today, he tended to skip over the slower, softer, more instrumental tunes and instead hit on the techno, pop, dance, or rock songs with a pronounced beat to fuel his mood.

Almost there, just a tunnel under the bay, a long bridge to finish the crossing, and less than 30 miles to go. He had never traveled through a tunnel in a convertible before. He usually went through with the windows up and the vents closed to avoid sucking in the exhaust fumes. Today would be different. Top down, wide open to the experience, he entered the tube.

The noise was deafening. It surprised him. The air quality seemed fine. The sounds of engines, tires on pavement, and rushing air were all magnified through echoes and reverberations off the tunnel surfaces. He silenced his music. It made no difference. He hadn’t been able to hear it over all the noise anyway. The sound continued to assault his ears as he descended, and sustained itself as his vehicle climbed out the other side.

He emerged from the tunnel and the overwhelming noise vanished as sound waves were once again allowed to travel out and away from him. He drove the remaining length of the concrete bridge over open water. He kept his music off until he reached land with trees on both sides of the highway once again. His ears now recovered, he restarted his random playlist.

Almost there. He remained disciplined as he approached his goal. Even through growing anticipation of reuniting with his family, he used the cruise control to resist the temptation to speed. Except for that one unexpected boost he experienced on a long lonely stretch of road an hour back, he had been good. The little convertible had almost jumped in acceleration from highway speed to UH-OH! In that moment, he confirmed to himself he could never own one of these, even if for a daily commute of one person. The temptation might prove too great.

Final exit off the highway onto neighborhood streets. He once again silenced his music and slowed to speeds safe for children at play. A few turns more and he pulled into his own driveway and stopped. He took a moment to raise the roof into place and lock the latch. Windows raised and doors locked, he emptied the trunk of his travel bags and walked up the driveway to the house. Home safe.

Imagine that tomorrow, all of your duties and obligations evaporate for the day. You get the day all to yourself, to do anything you please. What types of fun activities would make your day?


Make a Positive Difference Around You

Our kids are special. We have three. When #1 son was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, we were stunned. There was no family history on either side. We had no warning. We had no idea what CF was or how it would change our lives. Some of the early literature we read about it terrified us with the gloomy outlook and shortened life span predictions. As we became more informed, the fear subsided and our confidence grew along with our children.

One unexpected aspect of our lives surprised us. Having a child with special medical needs awakened us to those around us facing similar problems. Much like when you are shopping for a new car, you suddenly become aware of how many similar makes and models are on the road, our eyes opened to the people around us living their own quiet lives of desperation.

Deafness, autism, physical handicaps, emotional trauma, children of divorce, single-parent homes, absent fathers, were already surrounding us. We had never noticed. Once we joined the “imperfect family” club, the endless variety appeared as if out of nowhere. Like us, these families faced challenges understood only by others who went through them in a similar way.

We have learned through direct experience that many well-meaning people are simply clueless in how to relate to someone in pain. People try to say comforting things, but often miss the mark. For example:

“Your child has breathing problems caused by an incurable genetic disorder that creates thick, sticky mucus, clogs airways, and interferes with digestion as well? I knew a kid with a cold and a stomach ache. It passed after two days. I’m sure your child will be fine.”

We recognize these people are attempting to connect and offer support in their own way. We don’t fault them for it. We also realized how lame our own previous efforts had been when reaching out to others in what was now our situation. We decided to do better.

We started by listening more carefully. We took steps to seek understanding of their needs. We asked questions where we could in a non-threatening manner. Are there foods or activities that should be avoided? Are there preferred ones instead? What can we do to help?

We gave them their space. Once we made it past the initial discussions of the specific condition (deafness, autism, etc.) we stopped probing. If the family wanted to share more, we let them do so at their own choosing. We did not interrogate them.

I remember a time when our kids were young and we were at a buffet restaurant. Our two little CF kids ate much more than their peers at every age. We joked that they ate like teenagers when they were only six years old. That evening was “normal” for them. They had us take them to the serving line a few times each and cleared their plates of all food every time. Towards the end of our meal, an older couple approached us and struck up a conversation. It quickly became an one-sided question and answer session that allowed the older people to reach a conclusion and they shifted to offering advice on how to “fix” our kids through nutrition. The older couple meant well. They simply lacked understanding of all the facts and were also multilevel market salespeople for vitamins.

We decided early on to not be those people. Our purpose is not to try to fix all the broken people in the world. The job is too big and best left to God. Our role is to accept the people and be genuine friends to those in need. No judgement. No isolation. Simply love and care for them as best we can. It can make a world of difference.


I Can See my Desktop

For the first time in a long time, I can see my desktop. The physical one, that is. Gone is the clutter of a computer tower and bulky monitor. In its place is a sleek Chromebook boasting of a 9-hour battery life. #1 son likes it so much I was having to take a tour of the house to find where he left it last. Now that the Windows desktop unit is gone, the desk can be the home base for the new device.

Yes, I’m making the move away from Windows. I am not moving to a Mac. Our computer home use is primarily web-based now. News, Facebook, shopping, banking, videos, and of course, blogging make the majority of our activity. Almost everything we use a computer for is online. In the past, I had built complex spreadsheets, the kids built school presentations and wrote papers. Now that they are done with school, no more of that goes on.

The time seemed right for us to migrate to a web-access appliance. That is how I view the Chromebook. It has everything I need to get online and do my stuff. Google apps can open my archived files and allow me to make changes. I did not go all the way to the cloud with everything yet. My files and pictures are on a removable USB hard drive. I can access them when needed and disconnect otherwise. Good enough.

Today, I finished erasing the old computer’s hard drive and will completely demolish it physically before disposal. Goodbye Windows (3.1, 95, 98, 95 again, XP, and 7). I am not sticking around for 10.

What’s messier right now — your bedroom or you computer’s desktop (or your favorite device’s home screen)? Tell us how and why it got to that state.

Are We Related?

My younger brother once said he grew up in a different family than I did. It sounded odd to me until he explained a bit further. There are five siblings. Four boys and a girl. Mom and Dad stopped when they finally got a daughter. In my family model, there were two older brothers, a younger brother, and the youngest was my sister. For him, there were three older brothers and a younger sister. How different could that be?

To hear him tell it, the existence of a third older brother had a lot to do with it. I could tell stories of how we played creative games like, “Hold Him Under the Water Until the Bubbles Stop” and “How to Teach a Cat to Swim.” Perhaps another time would be more appropriate for those.

For now, allow me to characterize our interaction as one filled with puns volleyed back and forth on Facebook posts in an attempt to amuse and challenge ourselves. The casual observers to our jests are the victims there. Read at your own risk.

How would you get along with your sibling(s), parent(s), or any other person you’ve known for a long time — if you only met them for the first time today?

The Etched Rear Window

Ah! Summertime. School is out and my wife does not have to work. That is a mixed blessing.

Her time is her own for a while. She can sleep in late (or not) as she chooses. She can plan day trips with friends (or not) at her pleasure. How has she elected to use her time this season? Interior decorating.

Home improvements on a larger scale are mine to address. Smaller items not involving structural integrity or safety elements are hers. She is the creative one of our marriage. She creates beauty in the home and surrounds us with it. She also changes her mind frequently.

So far, she has redecorated through paint, molding, and accent pieces two bathrooms. One bathroom project began as a moisture repair and expanded to become the repainting and redecorating the entire wall and the sink base for good measure.

The other bathroom wall had a chinchilla medication stain (dark blue) that appeared almost impossible to cover through fresh coats of paint. The project evolved into applying peel-and-stick vinyl tile halfway and topping with a chair rail molding. Decorate the sink base again here for good measure. Install a new mirror and it looks like a different room.

Our adult sons decided to swap bedrooms as well. They moved all the furniture and equipment, then asked for her assistance in redecorating. More painting occurred. Geometric patterns emerged for each room that provides a provocative perspective for contemplation when they are not sleeping.

Moving downstairs again, she decided to accent the panes of glass in the back door. The simple, rectangular cells had begun to bother her sensibilities. She decided to chemically etch patterns into the glass. Operating completely free-handed and using no templates or aids, she traced her whimsical patterns onto each one. Once satisfied with the intended appearance, she applied the etching material for the recommended time, then removed it and added the neutralizer. After four days of standing, reaching, or sitting on a stepladder at the back door, she declared the project completed.

Here I stand. Viewing a portion of our back yard through this etched rear window. The fancy scrolls and suggestion of plant structures adds another layer to my contemplation today. Beautiful.

Go to the nearest window. Look out for a full minute. Write about what you saw.