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.

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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.

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Columns

Strengthened by Sympathy

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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

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Columns

A toast to the expandable house

The Great Toaster Debate revealed the reality of our shrinking household.

When our sturdy four-slicer with extra-large slots for bagels began burning bread on a regular basis, we knew it was time to replace it.

“Buy a two-slicer,” Derek said. “I’ve cut back on carbs, and we’ve only got one kid at home.”

Shocked, I sputtered, “But what if Sam and I both want toast for breakfast and you decide to indulge!?”

He raised an eyebrow.

“When is the last time you actually ate breakfast?”

I started to reply, but he held up a hand.

“In the morning.”

I would’ve asked him to define “morning,” but I knew where that would lead, so I moved on to more pressing concerns.

“What if all the boys come home for Christmas and they all want a bagel at the same time?”

At this, he did his patented eye roll-snort combo, and I knew I’d lost the debate. I also knew I was suffering a bout of Empty Nest Denial Syndrome.

The affliction began last spring when Zachary, our third born, prepared to move to Nashville. He’d been scrimping and saving for the move since he’d earned his associate degree. He didn’t want to continue his education in a university setting. He wanted a real-life immersion music education in the Music City.

I managed to put his departure out of my mind. Then one day he packed up his room, with the exception of his G.I. Joe toys, which still stand sentry around his closet molding and window trim.

That night I found myself on the kitchen floor surrounded by pots, pans, mixing bowls and Tupperware.

Now, I haven’t actually purchased any Tupperware for over 25 years, yet every time a kid moves out, I seem to have plenty to spare. Tupperware is the rabbit brood of household items.

This is the third time I’ve raided the linen cupboard, setting aside towels and washcloths, each item liberally sprinkled with tears, as I help feather a fledgling’s new nest.

This letting go thing doesn’t get any easier.

But in April, Zach loaded his Ford Explorer with all his worldly goods and drove across the country to his new home.

I studiously avoided his empty room. The cats claimed Zach’s bed and windowsill, but I didn’t enter the room until last month when he came home for Christmas.

Then I finally cleaned and dusted it, moved in a chair and a lamp, put fresh bedding on his bed (which made the cats happy) and gladly welcomed his return.

It felt wonderful to have two sons under my roof again. Many nights I fell asleep to the sound of brotherly laughter echoing from downstairs.

“I’ve missed this,” I said to Derek one night as we listened to the raucous noise two Hval boys can make.

Zach plans to return to Spokane in April, having given Nashville a year of his life. He’s not sure what’s next, but his room is waiting for him.

“You know he won’t be staying here long,” Derek cautioned. “Don’t get too used to it. Once guys have a taste of independent living, they’re rarely happy in Mom’s basement for long.”

Which is how the Great Empty Room Debate began.

Actually we have two empty rooms, because after Alex moved to Texas, Derek planned to make a home office for me. That was five years ago. Currently, that room houses all the things that had to be evacuated when Derek built a walk-in closet in our bedroom. The closet isn’t finished, and work on the office hasn’t begun.

“I could use Zach’s room for my home office,” Derek mused, as we settled into bed.

Office space is a sore spot, so I brought up a more pressing point. Our first grandchild is due in March, and I really want Alex to bring his family home for Christmas next year.

“Where will our kids and grandkids sleep when they come to visit?” I asked. “We need a guest room.”

Derek agreed and we began talking about futons and sleeper sofas.

“We should probably buy bunk beds, too,” Derek said.

My heart leapt. A house with bunk beds again!

I fell asleep smiling.

Like a beating heart, a home contracts when kids leave, but it also expands to welcome new arrivals.

And I just may buy a four-slice toaster after all.

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 www.spokesman.com/staff/cindy-hval/. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns

Guilt-Free Mothers and Other Mythical Creatures

Flowers, cards, breakfast in bed. You know the drill.

If you’re a lucky mom, Mother’s Day comes with a fairly predictable playlist. But often, an unwelcome condiment comes along with the coffee lovingly poured into the World’s Best Mom mug – a heaping side of guilt.

Don’t believe me? Google the words mother and guilt and you’ll get more than 10 million hits. That’s not a side dish, that’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of remorseful regret.

No matter how many articles, books and blogs advocate guilt-free mothering, I don’t know any moms who don’t struggle with feeling bad about some aspect of their parenting. Much like unicorns with rainbow wings, guilt-free moms are mythical creatures.

The things we feel guilty about are myriad. We feel bad that we worked outside the home or bad that we stayed at home. We regret not having more children or terrible that we had too many. We agonize over every time we lost our tempers and shouted things that shame us, and worry over all the times we were too lax, too soft, too permissive.

Most of us have a mental checklist of our perceived failures, and all the sweet Mother’s Day cards in the world can’t make us untick even one of those boxes.

No matter how we came to motherhood, whether by birthing, adopting or step-parenting, each of us has an ideal mother in mind – that’s the goal we struggle to achieve. Sometimes the ideal is our own mothers and sometimes it’s anyone but them.

None of us really dreams of being June Cleaver. Once, I actually tried vacuuming while wearing a dress, apron, heels and pearls. It was every bit as silly as I imagined.

But the home June created? Now, that still seems magical. Spotless, warm, love-filled – a place where every childhood problem was happily resolved by the end of each episode. Who wouldn’t want that?

Even worse than trying to live up to mythical ideals is the way we constantly compare ourselves with each other. Oh, we swear we won’t. Vow we don’t. But we do, we certainly do.

We look at the Facebook photos of our friends’ brilliant, talented, successful offspring, and we weigh and measure our mothering skills against theirs. As if being a perfect mother would guarantee perfect children. As if any kind of perfection among humankind is attainable.

For some, the Mother’s Day tally of gifts and sentiments either verifies our value or proves our unworthiness – either temporarily assuages our guilt or fans the flames of self-recrimination.

And this year, what I most wanted for Mother’s Day created a week’s worth of angst for me. You see, I wanted something different. Something I was sure other moms would judge me for. Something I felt guilty even mentioning.

Ala Greta Garbo, I wanted to be alone.

I felt incredibly selfish even mentioning it to Derek. I mean, what kind of mother doesn’t want to spend the day surrounded by her children? Plus, we usually have both of our moms over for dinner. What kind of daughter messes with tradition?

A tired one, perhaps?

It’s been an especially busy season in our household. Kids coming and going, juggling jobs and community commitments, maintaining friendships and important connections. As someone who needs a certain amount of solitude to recharge, I was drowning in a sea of obligations of my own making.

Thankfully, I married a man who knows me well. When I dithered and dallied over Mother’s Day plans, he encouraged me to give myself a break. So I did.

We took our moms out to brunch on Saturday. And on Mother’s Day I didn’t leave the house. I relished a solitary breakfast in bed, while reading the newspaper. Then I enjoyed long phone conversations with two of my sons and briefer conversations with the other two. Then I turned my phone off.

I didn’t get out of bed until noon. Stayed in my sweats sans makeup all day and binge-watched the new “Anne of Green Gables” on Netflix.

It was heavenly.

The flowers, cards and gifts from Derek and the boys were sweet, but the best gift was the one I gave myself – a feast of solitude minus the side of guilt.

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 spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Columns

Smells Like Teen Spirit

The nurse in the delivery room smiled as I pressed my nose to the downy head of my newborn son.

“He smells like angel kisses,” I murmured, besotted.

I had a nonmedicated birth, so I couldn’t blame that statement on a drug-induced haze. Nope, this was a love-induced haze.

“Enjoy it while it lasts,” said the nurse. “In about 13 years you’re going to walk into his room and gag. It’s gonna reek like ripe goat pen meets Old Spice.”

I stared blankly at her. It was like she was speaking Swahili.

That was many years ago, and of course, now I know that nurse had pretty much called it. However, I can’t attest to the goat pen analogy. In my experience (and I’ve had a lot of experience) the scent of a teenage male’s room is best described as sweaty gym socks meet crushed corn ships, mingled with soccer jersey left to mildew in the bottom of an athletic bag, topped with a cloying cloud of Axe body spray.

The odor could be marketed as a teen-pregnancy-prevention aid.

Baby boys should come with a disclaimer. The heady scent of Baby Magic lotion wears off long before they reach kindergarten and is initially replaced by the smell of dirt. Plain old dirt. Which isn’t bad, it’s a reminder of all their adventures.

Adventure-reminders also include; worms, gravel, sticks and clumps of mud left in pockets. Mud? You may ask. It was for the worms, of course. But that earthy aroma is better than what comes next.

Around age 12, the smell of dirt gives way Eau de Gag. It’s so unfair that by the time they really start smelling good again, they move out.

At one time I had three teenage boys living in my house. Trust me when I say there are not enough Yankee candles in the world to compensate.

Change in body odor is one thing, but the universal shift in attitude as boys transition from teens to young men – well, that’s something impossible to mask.

Eye-rolling “whatevers” often replace heart-to-heart conversations. The chattiest of teens suddenly embraces sullen silence, and sometimes the silence is shattered by angry words and accusations that fly through the home polluting the atmosphere more than gym socks and body spray ever could.

And the things we find in pockets are far more sobering than worms.

Even when you know this necessary bid for healthy separation and independence is coming – when you know this is the natural order of things – it’s still painful.

As they grow, we lovingly support their independence by giving them safe places to explore. But when they can drive and spend long hours away from our watchful eyes, they sometimes explore places we’d rather protect them from.

Now, with just one teen left at home, these pitfalls don’t dismay me and instead of clutching him more tightly, I hold him more loosely than I did his older brothers.

Because I know what comes next. If you can weather those turbulent teen years, a really nice young man may come home to visit you. And he’ll actually choose to spend time with you.

Last weekend, one of those young men came home for dinner. As I reached up and wrapped my arms around my oldest son, he pressed his whiskery cheek against my forehead.

I hugged him, and somewhere beneath the cigarette smoke and shampoo, I caught the faintest whiff of my baby boy. Time blurred, melted and stopped momentarily, as I closed my eyes, breathed deeply and held him tight.

This I know. If someday my eyesight fails, if my hearing declines, if I lose my sense of touch, I will always recognize this man I call my son. His infant scent is embedded in our mutual DNA. To me he still smells like angel kisses.

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 spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns

Caution: Kids at Work

The friendly bagger shook open my reusable bags on Saturday, and eyed the flood of goods making its way down the conveyer belt toward him.

“How heavy should I make these bags?” he asked.

“Load ’em up,” I replied. “I’ve got kids at home to bring them in.”

The cashier paused her scanning. “Your kids help you unload the groceries?” she asked, wide-eyed.

“Only if they want to eat,” I replied.

Her surprise baffled me. If I work to earn money to buy the food, and then shop for it, and turn it into delicious meals, why wouldn’t my kids at least carry the groceries into the house and put them away? It’s called being part of a family.

I’ve been amazed by how many parents I’ve encountered who don’t expect their children to help with the most basic tasks of family life. On the contrary, they’re struggling to do it all so their kids can have it all. But the newest video games, the fastest computers, the sleekest phones and being part of elite club sports teams can’t replace lifelong lessons learned at home.

Specifically, skills learned while wielding a toilet brush or vacuum cleaner. Those skills will be far more useful in daily life than the super speedy thumb work needed to unlock a new achievement in “Gears of War 4.”

Work has never been a forbidden four-letter word at our house. The adage “Many hands make light work,” is so true, and with four sons, we had plenty of helping hands.

Toddlers love to help, so while our kids were still in diapers they learned to set the table for dinner. Picking up their toys before going to the park or watching a video became a breeze thanks to a simple song all four of them can still sing.

“Clean up; clean up, everybody, everywhere!

Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share”

Of course, as they got older getting them to do their work became an onerous chore for me. Arguments about whose turn it was to clean the bathroom, who was supposed to mow the front yard and who didn’t empty the dishwasher ruined many a Saturday morning.

That’s when I bought a white board and hung it in the basement. Each kid had a list of tasks. No television, no video games, and no hanging out with friends until their work was done.

This worked great until they became teenagers. Suddenly schoolwork, sports and socializing, made holding them accountable difficult, but as priorities shifted, so did the workload.

Thankfully, habits ingrained when they were younger paid off. Simple things like rinsing their plates and putting them in the dishwasher after a meal, or taking the trash out on Tuesday before leaving for school, were already second nature.

When I complained to my sister-in-law about my middle-schooler having a fit one morning because his favorite shirt wasn’t washed she said, “Why on earth are you still doing his laundry?”

Bingo! The next day, I gathered all four of them in the laundry room and showed them how to use the machines. To avoid fights, I assigned them each a laundry day. No one ever yelled at me again about not having clean clothes.

The only drawback to raising kids who know how to work is that as soon as they’re able, they want to work outside the house. You know, where people actually pay them money for their labor.

Our three older sons got jobs while still in high school. As long as they maintained a respectable GPA, made time for sports or social commitments and didn’t seem overwhelmed, we encouraged their efforts even though it meant a re-division of the workload at home.

Now, Sam has followed their example. Two weeks ago he started working at Shopko. As if that wasn’t enough change in our household routine, our middle son Zach is moving to Nashville.

I might want to start having my grocery bags packed just a little bit lighter.

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 spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

War Bonds

Because author podcasts about potatoes are HUGELY popular

My two younger sons joined me for another episode of Life, Love and Raising Sons (Not Necessarily in That Order).

We covered what’s new (Sam got his first job and Zach’s moving to Nashville), but mainly we talked potatoes. Specifically, why was there a potato in the silverware drawer and whose responsibility is it to remove it?

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The Great Potato  Debate

As if that’s not fascinating enough, we also played “Finish This Sentence,” and discovered what Zach would do if he was a girl and what I would do if I was man.

Tune in here.

You can also listen via iTunes or Stitcher. Just look for Spokane Talks Online and Life, Love and Raising Sons.

We don’t always talk potatoes. Sometimes we cover corn 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Columns

Looking Ahead at an Empty Nest

Strains of ragtime music float through the house as I write. Zach’s learning a new tune on his banjo.

Nearby, explosions and machine gunfire flicker from the television while Sam advances in “Gears of War” on his Xbox. It could be “Call of Duty” – I’ve long since given up trying to identify video games.

I’ve also long since given up on having an office with a door. Ninety-five percent of all columns have been written in our unfinished basement family room. Family being the operative word. No matter how hard I try to carve out an empty house to write in, someone always comes home early. Or leaves late. Or brings a friend over. You get the picture.

Milo’s plaintive meows escalate as he tries to convince someone that he’s near starvation. Thor yawns while shifting his bulk onto my feet. He’d prefer to be reclining on my lap, but I’ve scooted my chair under my desk, so there’s no room for him. His thunderous purrs add to the cacophony.

It’s hard to imagine an empty, silent house, but one day soon these rooms will echo with memories instead of noise. Next month, Zach is moving to Nashville to further his music career. Our family that once numbered six (not including cats) will shrink to three, and sometime in the next few years Sam, too, will fly the coop.

Those empty-nest years I’ve both longed for and dreaded are fast approaching, and the feedback from friends who’ve walked this path ahead of me hasn’t exactly been encouraging.

You won’t have anything left to talk to your spouse about. You’ll be at greater risk for divorce.

Look out! Menopause and midlife crisis happen at the same time as empty nest.

Your finances will be more stressed than ever.

They’ll call all the time, yet never listen to a word you say.

They won’t call at all.

Don’t worry, they’ll come back. The hard part is getting them to leave again.

What empty nest? Those kids will never leave and still be living in your basement when they’re 30.

I take these dire pronouncements in stride, because I know plenty of folks who are reveling in their child-free homes, embracing this natural sequence of parenting with gusto and gumption.

Most days I think I’ll be one of them. In fact, I’ve already got my eye on a ’65 candy-apple red Mustang convertible. It’s my midlife crisis insurance policy.

I’m fine with the idea of my sons being out in the world, making their own lives, buying homes, building careers, and starting families. Honestly, I can’t wait to be a grandmother. “Nana Cindy” has a lovely ring to it.

We’ve done the best we can to equip our children for life outside the cozy cocoon of home because we’ve always understood their presence here was fleeting at best.

But much like giving birth, the reality of the experience rarely dovetails with research. So, I do the best I can to prepare. Like stockpiling for a snowstorm I shore up friendships, knowing I’ll need the company of others to help ease the silence that will remain in my children’s absence.

We invest in our marriage with date nights and weekend trips, remembering what it was like when we were a family of two.

We have work and volunteer opportunities. We have siblings and extended family. We have cats. An empty nest doesn’t have to be lonely.

Yet as much as I long for silence, I’m glad our home is emptying slowly. Each son’s departure offers an opportunity to learn how to parent from afar, and ultimately how to parent less and friend more. And I’m profoundly thankful for the unexpected blessing of our fourth son. Sam’s presence has served as a bridge between so many parenting milestones, including this one.

And this I know; however far my sons soar, their homing instincts will occasionally guide them back to the nest – a place where they will always be safe, welcomed and loved.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com.

Columns

Magic Under the Big Top

Sawdust. Greasepaint. The wire stretched tautly high above the center ring.

The circus was never about the animals for me. It was about magic, make believe and those daring young men on the flying trapeze. Once upon a time it really was “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Last week’s news that after 146 years, the curtain was coming down on the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, triggered a flood of memories.

While the industry’s sordid history of its deplorable treatment of animals is undeniable and inexcusable, the circus of my childhood was more than bullhooks and elephants.

I can still remember clutching my dad’s hand tightly as we went through the turnstile at the old Spokane Coliseum. My parents had taken me to the El Katif Shrine circus before, but this was my first exposure to the crème de la crème of circus magic – Ringling Bros. – the big time.

Even as a kid I loved old movies, and I’d seen the glamour and pathos of the circus in films like the Academy Award-winning “The Greatest Show on Earth” and Disney’s “Dumbo.”

But I’d recently seen “Trapeze” on television and I was enthralled with the idea of flinging myself through the air into the waiting hands of the well-muscled Burt Lancaster or pretty boy Tony Curtis.

My friends and I played “circus” on the playground at recess at Jefferson Elementary. We’d swing higher and higher, until the swing set rocked with our rhythm, then we’d let go of the chain and sail through the air to land in the gravel, hoping to nail a dismount worthy of Ringling Bros.

Mostly, we just got rocks in our shoes and occasional bloody knees and skinned palms.

Under the big top of the Coliseum, I sat entranced. From the red-coated ringmaster with his shiny black top hat, to dozens of clowns in a tiny car, to the lovely ladies in sparkling costumes riding atop high-stepping steeds, the circus held me in its grip. My eyes glittered like the sequins on the tightrope walker’s tutu as I tried to absorb the pageantry.

And then Gunther Gebel-Williams and his big cats took the floor. He strode into the center ring with a leopard around his shoulders, dimples flashing, blond hair flowing, bronzed abs rippling under the lights. Pure showmanship and undiluted magic.

I saw several other circuses, but nothing ever measured up to the first time I saw the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

However, by the time I reached my teens my Gunther Gebel-Williams poster had been replaced by Andy Gibb and Leif Garrett posters – the gaudy glow of the circus had dimmed, replaced by the flashing lights of disco fever.

Later, as a busy mom of four sons, my home often seemed like a three-ring circus complete with roaring animals and stunts as breathtaking as a toddler scaling a teetering bookcase. I had neither the time nor the inclination to leave my house to see one. My parents took my oldest son once, but my youngest at 17, has never been to the circus.

Now it looks as though he never will.

I’m OK with that, but I wonder what his generation’s equivalent will be. Running away to appear on “America’s Got Talent” doesn’t have the same allure.

Sure, they can watch death-defying stunts on YouTube, but seeing Johnny Knoxville catapulted in a Porta Potty will never equate to watching an aerial acrobat soar high above the ground, spinning into a triple somersault, stretching to grab his partner’s waiting hands.

In fact, today’s kids seem to have their eyes on electronic screens from the moment they wake up until the moment the clock on their cellphones, Kindles or iPads tell them it’s time to go to sleep.

Perhaps that was the best thing about the circus – it got us out of our houses, away from our screens and caused us to look up for just a moment.

 

Cindy Hval can be reached 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 spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.