Columns

Don’t Blink: Summer and Childhood Vanish

They marched out of the old Orchard Prairie schoolhouse, eyes alight with excitement.

“Are they done yet?” asked the oldest.

The three boys had been waiting for their mom, the school’s PTO president, to finish an afternoon meeting that I’d just left.

I’d paused to take a picture of the historic schoolhouse when the boys bounded into view.

They’d been busy while they waited.

“We catched a spider!” shouted the littlest boy. “A GINORMOUS spider!”

The middle brother shouldered him out of the way.

“We put it in a Gatorade bottle that I found,” he said.

His older brother held the spider aloft, soldiering on in search of their mother, while the youngest stayed behind, eager to explain his role in the capture.

“I founded it first!” he said. “Back there!”

He pointed behind the building, bouncing with excitement.

“It’s GINORMOUS!”

Then he hurried to catch up with his brothers.

That encounter brightened a long Monday and memories of my sons tumbled through my mind.

Once upon a time, I had four little boys whose summer adventures frequently included capturing creepy crawlies.

For the record, I’m not a fan of creepy crawlies, but I am a fan of boys and boundless curiosity.

Summer often seems endless when you’re an at-home mom. Endless can equal excruciating when bored boys fight over video games. I worked hard to balance planned activities while leaving room for unstructured play. Anything to keep my busy boys away from electronic devices and spontaneous wrestling matches.

One summer, I grew tired of my Tupperware being used to re-home spiders and insects, so I bought the boys a bug-catching kit. It came with a net, a magnifying glass, tweezers and a plastic container to house their captures.

They spent hours turning over rocks, crawling under decks, and digging through dirt to find new specimens.

We checked out bug books from the library to help identify their finds and to recognize spiders they should avoid.

I realized that backfired when I overheard my middle son saying to his younger brother, “Nope. That’s not a black widow. Keep looking.”

In retrospect, it’s amazing that no one got bit or stung.

I wished I’d been more patient when they careened through the house, shrieking with excitement, holding a newly captured specimen aloft.

Instead, I often feigned interest and wearily reminded them of the “no bugs in the house” rule. In my defense, you can only rave about the coolness of pill bugs a finite number of times.

I just didn’t realize how quickly those summers would pass. Older friends tried to warn me.

“Slow down, enjoy these days, it all goes too fast,” they said.

Sometimes I did slow down enough to savor the sight of four little boys crouching in the driveway, watching a row of ants march across the gravel.

I wish I had a picture of that. But when my sons were small, cellphones didn’t come with cool cameras. Capturing memories meant running back inside the house, trying to unearth a camera.

Summer can seem endless, but it isn’t. You blink and suddenly there’s a chill in the night air and the leaves start to turn.

As I watched the three little boys run across the Orchard Prairie schoolyard with their ginormous spider, I wished I’d taken their photo.

I would have sent it to their mother.

A snapshot of a boyhood that will disappear in the blink of an eye.

Advertisements
Columns

The Green, Green Grass of Home

Confession: I haven’t mowed a lawn since 2001, and the only time I mowed the lawn prior to that was when my husband was doing his annual training with the Washington Army National Guard.

The summer our oldest son turned 11, he took over lawn-mowing duties. As each of our three younger sons came of age, lawn-mowing was added to their weekly chore list, and my husband had one less thing to worry about.

“I shouldn’t have to mow the lawn again, until I’m almost 60,” Derek calculated, as he watched our capable sons work.

Derek turned 56 this summer. Our third son is getting ready to move out again, and our youngest probably won’t be long behind him.

Suddenly, Derek isn’t so fond of our large, grassy front yard.

When a homeowner in our neighborhood ripped out his entire lawn and replaced it with bark, rocks and plants, Derek nodded in approval.

“That’s the way to do it,” he said. “Low maintenance. Nothing to mow or water.”

It’s called xeriscaping; a landscaping philosophy that uses native, drought-resistant plants and arranges them in efficient, water-saving ways.

I eyed the neighbor’s yard.

“It looks like the entrance to an office building,” I said. “There’s no place to play!”

Derek shook his head.

“How long has it been since anyone played in our front yard?” he asked.

Then last week, Shawn Vestal wrote a column about how much he hates his lawn.

“See?” Derek said, shaking out the newspaper. “All the columnists want to rip out their lawns.”

Talk about your fake news.

Because this columnist loves to look out her front window and see a lush, green lawn.

Yes, I know it’s probably irresponsible water-usage and rampant consumerism or rampant water usage and irresponsible consumerism, and I’m not the one mowing it, but I’ve already given up our backyard to the cause.

Slowly, but steadily, the grass back there is disappearing. First came the construction of the Shed Mahal, then the Great Gazebo, followed by the Delightful Deck and Derek’s Glorious Garden.

There’s barely enough grass left for me to run through the sprinklers on a hot day. Well, I don’t really run. I romp and sometimes I skip, and if my neighbors are out mowing their backyards, they get free entertainment.

Now, Derek’s eyeing my last green space.

Here’s a list of things you can’t do on a xeriscaped yard: play bocce, croquet, or lawn darts. You can’t do somersaults or cartwheels, or spin in circles until you get dizzy and fall down. You can’t play tag, Red Light Green Light, Mother May I or Red Rover. You can’t lie on your back and look at the clouds, and you can’t spread out a blanket and have a picnic.

All of those things happened in our front yard more times than I could possibly count – just not recently.

Perhaps that’s part of my reluctance to let go of grass and embrace wood-chip mulch.

Last night, I sat on our front steps in the cool of the evening as the sprinklers shushed back and forth over the green expanse.

This lawn holds the imprint of chubby baby feet, sweaty soccer cleats and teenage footsteps that always seem to lead away.

It’s cradled me, while I cradled my boys, as we pored over stacks of picture books. It held us as we stretched out and named cloud shapes, and whispered wishes and counted stars.

Others may see our lawn as a wasteful indulgence, but to me it’s a memory-strewn magic carpet, that holds precious memories of the boys who grew to men, while mowing its contours.

And it shines like a green light to beckon those boys home again.

Columns

Sometimes parenting isn’t so thankless after all

 

IMG_20190623_204219_730.jpgLet’s face it. Parenting can be a thankless job.

But as I sat next to our two youngest sons in the Moore Theatre in Seattle on June 23, I only felt thankful.

Our hardworking, youngest son, Sam, 19, had bought me, Derek and Zach tickets to the Josh Ritter concert.

One of his professors at EWU had played a cover of a Ritter song during a class. Sam was intrigued enough to do some research, and discovered the album “So Runs the World Away,” and he was hooked.

He began buying every recording he could find, and when he heard Ritter’s “Fever Breaks” tour was coming to the Northwest, he was thrilled.

“Want to go to the Seattle show with me?” he asked. “I’m buying.”

When your kid is passionate enough about something that he wants to share it, what parent could say no?

Derek offered to spring for a hotel room, Zach actually scheduled a day off from work, and we wrote the date on our family calendar.

Of course, the week after Sam bought the tickets, Ritter added a show in Spokane.

“Never mind,” I told him. “We’re due for a family road trip.”

In the weeks leading up to the concert, Sam shared Ritter’s albums with us. Zach, a musician himself, was already on board with the artist.

And no wonder. Zach loves folk music, and Ritter is known for his Americana style and narrative lyrics. In 2006, Ritter was named one of the “100 Greatest Living Songwriters” by Paste magazine.

A native of Moscow, Idaho, the prolific songwriter’s vocal stylings sound a bit Bob Dylan-esque with a dose of Tom Waits.

We got more excited about seeing him in person as the date grew closer. And then disaster struck.

Vocal issues prompted a string of canceled dates including shows in Boise, Vancouver and Spokane.

“Boy, I’m glad I didn’t buy tickets for his Spokane show!” Sam said.

He anxiously followed Ritter’s social media feed.

“Don’t worry,” I told him. “If the concert is canceled, we’ll just spend a day on the waterfront.”

But the show went on and it was Ritter’s first performance after his doctor-ordered vocal rest.

He didn’t disappoint.

From the upbeat “Getting Ready to Get Down” to the plaintive “Wings,” which features references to Coeur d’Alene, Harrison and Wallace, Idaho, each song was a wonderful blend of lyrical narrative and masterful musicianship.

Take the lyrics to “Old Black Magic,” for example:

“True love to true love

And rust to rust

I let the others cast stones

While I drew in the dust

I tried to be a good man.”

Even the opening act, Penny & Sparrow proved delightful.

“We know,” intoned Andy Baxter, half of the Texas duo. “We’re all that stands between you and Josh Ritter.”

While the duo was enjoyable enough for me to purchase their CD at the break, Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band owned the show.

Ritter’s aching acoustic rendition of “All Some Kind of Dream” proved a fitting finale.

“I saw my brother in a stranger’s face

I saw my sister in a smile

My mother’s laughter in a far off place

My father’s footsteps in each mile

I thought I knew who my neighbor was

We didn’t need to be redeemed

Oh, what could I have been thinking of?

Was it all some kind of dream?”

If and when he reschedules his Spokane appearance, you won’t be disappointed if you go.

“Thanks for a magical evening,” Ritter said as he left the stage.

And it really was.

Thanks in large part to a son with a generous heart who wanted to share something he loves with his family.

Columns

Quilts and the ties that bind

 

56567321_2269960953042519_8252634021217959936_n[1].jpg

Newly retired, Dad waited by the front door to take my mom grocery shopping.

“Tom, you can’t wear that,” Mom exclaimed.

“Why? Don’t I match?” he asked.

A fair question, since Dad was notoriously color-challenged.

But that wasn’t the problem. He’d donned a sport coat and a snazzy red tie with multicolored stripes.

“Sweetheart, you’re retired. You don’t have to wear a tie every day anymore, especially not to the grocery store,” Mom explained.

Disappointed, he removed the tie, but kept the jacket.

Dad loved his neckties.

He grew up picking cotton in Arkansas. As he labored in the sweltering heat, he dreamed of a different life – one that involved a desk job and wearing suits and ties.

His career in the United States Air Force, followed by a career with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, allowed him to achieve his dreams.

When he died in 1995, he’d amassed an amazing collection of neckties. My husband kept a couple, and most of them were donated to a local thrift shop. But I couldn’t part with all of them. I set aside a few dozen and gave them to some dear friends who incorporated them in a beautiful quilt. That quilt hung in my Mom’s bedroom until two years ago when she moved to a retirement facility.

Now, it’s draped over our living room sofa where I can see it every day and think about how blessed I was to have a dad like mine.

It’s also a daily reminder of the friends who took the time to create such a sweet remembrance.

I love quilts, like my dad loved ties. The beauty, artistry and stories behind the patterns fascinate me. Sadly, when it comes to sewing, I’m all thumbs and totally lacking in skill or patience.

Thankfully, I have friends who work magic with fabric, needle and thread.

The necktie quilt isn’t my only memory-filled patchwork. Eleven years ago, our oldest son was struggling through adolescence. His actions and attitudes grieved me. I worried. I fretted. I prayed.

A friend made a lap quilt for me to curl up in when I felt overwhelmed. Because I’d often referred to our firstborn as our “golden child,” she incorporated big golden hearts throughout the design. The border features the worlds of one of my favorite hymns, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

That quilt kept me mindful of my son’s true nature. Every time I wrapped myself in it, I felt cocooned in the comfort of my friend’s love and prayers, evident in each tiny stitch.

My husband has his own special quilt. A diagnosis of osteoarthritis in both hips a few years ago rocked him. A strong, active man, he struggled with the reality of a degenerative disease at a relatively young age.

Bonnie, my sister-in-law, knows that pain all too well. So, she went into her sewing room and crafted a cat-covered quilt for Derek. Using masculine colors for the backing and border, the counterpane delighted both of us – especially when we spotted the cat curled up in a basket that looks just like our Thor.

And recently, a new quilt arrived in the mail, made by an extremely talented, prolific quilter.

Its vibrant colors brighten our bedroom, adding homespun cheer, and the accompanying note warmed my heart.

“Thank you, dear friend, for all your glorious words which help so many,” she wrote.

You can spend hundreds of dollars on beautifully pieced quilts, but the quilts in my home are priceless. Each one is threaded with memories, and has been stitched with prayer and bound with love.

All Write, TV

Check out the Front Porch on YouTube!

54409184_2264170203837556_1334691813428035584_n[1]That handy little button at the top of my homepage will take you to my new YouTube channel.

That’s where you can find all the Front Porch episodes that air each week on the Spokane Talks television show on Fox 28 Spokane.

You know. In case you aren’t tuning in at 8 AM Saturday morning 🙂

I hope you’ll check out these segments and I look forward to hearing what you think!

 

 

All Write, TV

Driven to Drink

I taught them to eat solid food.

To use spoons. To use the toilet. To tie their shoes. And somehow I also ended up teaching my four sons how to operate a motor vehicle.

In the most recent episode of the Front Porch on Spokane Talks on Fox 28 Spokane, I recount how son #3 ended up driving me to drink! Watch here.

  1. image
All Write, TV

Runaway

In this week’s Front Porch television segment I ponder how the invention of Velcro might just have changed the course of my life.

  • IMG_20181015_113251

And how history often repeats itself, as it did with my youngest son, Sam.

Sam, kindergarten

Click here to watch this episode and tune in Sunday, the 21 in which I address the necessary evil of conference calls and Milo makes his TV debut!
The Front Porch airs on the Spokane Talks program Sundays at 6 PM on Fox 28 Spokane.

Columns

Boys and Backyard Buried Treasure

Lightning McQueen has definitely seen better days.

His front wheels are missing, as are both headlights. His rear tires are packed with dirt and his big eyes on the windshield peer through a layer of dust. His red paint job has faded into orange, and his plastic body is cracked in places. Years of exposure to sun and snow will do that to a car.

My husband is building a retaining wall at the back edge of our property, and his shovel had unearthed the abandoned toy.

“Look what I found,” Derek said, cradling the car in his hands.

38017318_1889217127783572_2169214348566724608_n[1]

Like an archeologist on a dig, he’s discovered the remains of a previous civilization. He’s been working hard to eradicate the evidence that small boys once roamed wild in our backyard, but this is something he’d missed.

When we moved into our home in 1993, both the front and back yards were a mess of weeds and clover.

Derek focused his attention on the front first, so our boys took possession of the back. That summer, my dad bought them a swing set, and we installed the first of many plastic wading pools.

Very little swinging happened on that swing set. Instead, the slide was used as a launching point for cars, toys and boys. The tandem swing made it easier for them to scale to the top of the set, the better to terrify their mother.

The boys grew. The grass came back. The swing set fell apart. And a series of bigger pools kept them occupied during the summer.

Squirt guns, bicycles, skateboards and toys littered the yard making navigation perilous for parents.

When our four boys grew bored with toys and things with wheels, they took up digging in the barren patch of ground where the previous owner had attempted to garden. Bordered by railroad ties, the spot offered ample space for industrious boys to play in the dirt.

I worried about the holes they dug with plastic shovels getting too deep, the tunnels getting too long, but Derek just said, “Boys gotta dig.”

However, even he was surprised to find they’d used a few of his two-by-fours to shore up a gaping gash in the ground.

The boys grew. They mowed the grass. They stopped playing in the dirt. And Derek built a beautiful cedar shed where the swing set once stood.

Our two oldest sons moved out and their dad built a beautiful deck, and we added a gazebo, and raised bed gardens. The retaining wall is just another step in the beautification of our kids’ former playground, and it seems Derek had stumbled upon a toy graveyard while constructing it.

“I’ve been finding a lot of green army men,” he said. “I rebury them with full honors.”

But it didn’t seem right to leave Lightning in an unmarked grave, especially since it looks like he’d been the victim of violent crime. Someone had used permanent marker to print “Help Me…” on his hood, leading us to conclude the toy had been carjacked and possibly held for ransom.

The printing looks exactly like our second son’s writing, and our youngest son, Sam, was a huge fan of the movie “Cars.” He was 6 when the first movie was released, and he went “Cars” crazy.

He had a Radiator Springs play set and the full fleet of cars from the film. But Lightning was always his favorite. In fact, if I venture into his teenage lair, I know I’ll still find at least two versions of Lightning McQueen that he’s not ready to part with.

Derek went back to work on the wall, leaving the dirt-encrusted car on the deck railing. Weeks later, it’s still there, parked facing our outdoor dining area, where Lightning can watch the boy who loved him come and go.

Last night, I swear I saw his eyes shining through their dusty coating when Sam sat down to dinner.

And then old Lightning smiled.

IMG_20180806_171716

Columns

Strengthened by Sympathy

28472077_1705227636182523_9011458611638900202_n

 

Within hours after my most recent column ran, notes began to trickle into my inbox. The trickle soon became a flood as kind readers wrote to express their sympathy at the loss of our infant grandson, Ian.

Scores of people responded on social media. Dozens sent cards.

The messages echoed: “We are so sorry.” “You and Alex, Brooke and Farrah are in our thoughts.” “We are praying for you.”

Each one felt like a warm embrace.

Of special comfort – the notes that mentioned Ian by name. To see his name written on cards and emails made me feel that however fleeting his tenure was on this Earth, he mattered.

He will always be Alex and Brooke’s firstborn son. He will always be our first grandchild.

Jaded journalist that I am, I still was profoundly moved by a postcard informing me that the Congressional Prayer Caucus was praying for our family.

I’d never heard of the organization. But it’s an official, bicameral caucus of Congress focused on the role that faith and prayer play in our life and history. Each week the members gather in Room 219 of the Capitol and pray for the nation and for specific prayer requests.

The card read, “We just wanted you to know that we prayed for you this evening. You will remain in our thoughts and prayers.”

Representatives from several states signed the back.

As a person of faith, the knowledge that others are lifting our family up in prayer during this time of sorrow makes the burden of loss seem a bit lighter. It helps to know we aren’t alone in our grief.

My heartfelt gratitude goes out to all who wrote. Your kind thoughts help the healing process, and I sent many of your notes on to Alex and Brooke.

Of course, I’d trade every thought and every prayer to hold Ian in my arms. To watch his eyes flicker open. To hear his cry.

Many who wrote used the words “brave” and “courageous” to describe the column. I didn’t feel brave when I wrote it. I felt broken.

To me, courage describes the parents whose souls are forever seared by grief. The mothers and fathers whose joy and excitement vanishes in the silence of an inexplicably stilled heartbeat.

The members of this tribe are more numerous than I imagined. Many mothers and grandparents wrote, generously sharing their own stories.

Each story mirrored the sadness that my family feels, but also offered words of hope and encouragement.

With her permission, I’m concluding with a note I received from reader Donna Peterson. Her son was stillborn many years ago and her reflections offered great insight and comfort.

She wrote, “I can’t know how you feel, but I have been there, too, with my own child. I am 65 now, so medicine was not as advanced with prenatal issues at the time I lost my son. I had no idea why it happened.

“My daughter, who was 4 at the time said, ‘God took him to heaven and will make him better. Then He will send him back.’

“In 1980 I gave birth to another son. When my daughter looked at him for the first time, she said, ‘See Momma! God sent him back to us!’

“As I read your words I cried again. I grieved a little again – with you – for you and your precious wee one and family.

“Then I remembered my healing moment.

“I had a dream about a poem. I woke up and got my pen to write it down before I forgot the words. For some reason I wanted to share them with you. They are not as eloquent as yours always are, but maybe they might help a tiny bit.”

He would call me Mother

And call his father DAD!

He would be a bright boy …

A handsome, clever lad.

The days passed by so quickly

As joy grew deep within

Then all too soon he left us …

The tiny light grew dim.

Although I’ll always miss him

I will not be sad

For a light will always shine inside

For the son I almost had.

 

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at http://www.spokesman.com/staff/cindy-hval/ Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

War Bonds

Birthday letter from my son

My heart is full and I am so thankful.
Cindy

Dear Mom,

I don’t think I’ve ever posted on your Facebook for your birthday before. But that’s just one of the many mistakes I have made, and continue to make. I’m not a perfect son. Sometimes I don’t fold the laundry when I’m told. Sometimes I leave dirty dishes in the sink. Sometimes I say things I shouldn’t. Sometimes I lie. Sometimes I make you cry. Sometimes I make you furious.
But despite all of my faults, you have never once stopped loving me with all of your being every second I’m alive. You spent sleepless nights wondering if you would ever be able to see your son healthy and living before I could even speak or understand what that meant. You’ve had to listen to me rant, rave, and ramble. You’ve given me harsh, but much needed advice. You don’t mince words, or hold back the truth. You’re the first one to ask me what’s wrong when I’m gloomy. You’re the first one to make me laugh when I’ve had a bad day.
Sometimes I’ll attempt to walk past you, eyes on the ground, grumpy and angry, and you’ll quickly grab me and wrap your arms around me. You’re the strongest person I know, and also the funniest. Your words have touched the hearts of me and people all over the country. You inspire me, challenge me, and keep me alive with love and hope.
I want you to know that every hug in the morning was real, that every compliment was the truth, and that a Facebook post, a card, or a present will never be able to describe how important you are to not just me, but to thousands of other people.

Happy Birthday, and thank you for giving me life and all that it entails. Your existence has been one of the best gifts in the world.

Sam

13321809_1092433834128576_3299394244899114261_n[1]