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.

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Columns

Some like it hot… especially me

They say you don’t appreciate what you have until you no longer have it.

Take electricity for example. In August we lost power for several hours. It didn’t take long for my family to deeply appreciate the magic that happens when you flip a switch and the lights come on.

Apparently, the Universe deemed we needed another lesson in gratitude.

Ten years ago, my husband and his father replaced our aging water heater with a fancy tankless model. Like all Hval projects it was fraught with unforeseen complications. Namely, they couldn’t get the water shut off. But also like all Hval projects, it was worth the wait.

At the time, we had six people living at home, including four active boys. Showering had turned into a competitive sport. No one wanted to be the last one to shower because that’s when the hot water usually ran out. And God help the Mom who threw a load of laundry in while boys were bathing.

After our new tankless system was installed, Derek ran his hand over the compact, gleaming wall-mounted beauty.

“We’ll never run out of hot water, again!” he said.

For a long time, he was right. But a few years ago, the heater began making some ominous noises. We ignored them.

This summer the rattle turned to a roar that echoed all the way outdoors to the Great Gazebo where I sunned myself.

And then the dripping started.

Last month, Derek and I came home after an evening out, and Zach said, “Did you know water is coming out of the hot water heater?”

We did not know this.

After assessing the situation, Derek put a bucket under it.

Within days the trickle became a small but steady stream and the bucket had to be emptied with increasing frequency. We took to turning the water heater off at night.

“I think it’s the heat exchanger,” said Derek.

Then he did something unheard of in the Hval household: He called for professional help.

A plumber visited and confirmed Derek’s suspicion, and recommended replacing the entire unit. The estimated cost was the equivalent of sending one of us to Hawaii while the other stayed home and ate macaroni and cheese for a week.

“I’ll just replace the heat exchanger and I’ll do it myself,” Derek announced.

He watched a YouTube video about the process and ordered the part online.

“It’ll be here in less than a week,” he said.

Of course, that was the day the water heater quit all together.

Theoretically, one can live without hot water. You can wash your hands and your clothes in cold and our dishwasher has its own heating coils. What you cannot do is shower in cold water. At least I can’t.

The four of us scrambled to find bathing options while we waited for the part to arrive. We have a gym membership, so Derek and Sam took hot showers there. I could have done that, too, but I like more privacy when I get ready for my day. Thankfully, I housesit for snowbirds during the fall and winter, and hot showers and my office away from home were just a short drive away.

Which left poor Zachary (who’d let his gym membership lapse) to learn the military discipline of taking an icy shower.

“The key is to keep your feet out of the way of the water,” he informed us.

A chilly week passed before the part arrived. It had some complicated wiring, but Derek easily figured it out and hooked it up in record time.

He switched it on and waited. No rattle. No roar. And unfortunately no hot water.

“I think the dripping water fried the fan,” he said. “I’ll order a new one. It’ll be here in a couple days.”

We are a stoic lot, but the news was hard to take. Our combined groans sounded almost as loud as the defunct water heater used to.

On the appointed day, the fan arrived while we were all at work. Derek hurried home to install it. The rest of us watched our phones, anxiously awaiting word.

Within minutes a text arrived. “We have HOT WATER!”

Such beautiful words!

Zachary got the first shower. He’d earned it.

As for me, when it was my turn to luxuriate under the warm water’s soothing spray, I counted my blessings. Loudly. Just in case the Universe thinks I need any more reminders.

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

A Trip to Remember

I’m not going to lie. I cried when I hugged him. And then I laughed when he grabbed his father and hoisted him off the ground in a bear hug.

Derek is 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds. No one picks him up – except his second-born son who is an inch shorter and considerably lighter.

Recently, we spent a week in Columbus, Ohio, with our son Alex, his fiancee Brooke and her 4-year-old daughter, Farrah.

We’d planned the trip months ago, hoping to arrive when our grandson was a few weeks old. Sadly, Ian was stillborn on Feb. 23.

I’d wanted to fly out immediately, but now I’m so glad we waited. Alex and Brooke needed that time alone to grieve, to rest and to begin to process the devastating loss.

Our first day together happened to be the one-month anniversary of Ian’s death. We spent time looking at some photos of the baby that we hadn’t seen. Holding the tiny hat he’d worn. Shedding tears over the impossibly light container that held his remains.

“Will we have another Baby Ian?” Farrah asked. “With chubby, red cheeks?”

“Maybe,” Alex answered. “Maybe.”

I was relieved to find how naturally Ian’s name was mentioned – that Alex and Brooke are able to talk about him. While their broken hearts will never be fully mended, talking about their son and his death shows they’re grieving in a healthy way and that will help the healing.

Of course, our visit wasn’t all sad. Derek got to meet Farrah for the first time.

After a few minutes of observation and conversation, she announced, “I love you, Papa Derek.”

The feeling was definitely mutual.

As planned, one of the first things I did was bake an apple pie for my son. It’s been four years since he moved from Spokane – way too long for a boy to go without his favorite treat.

While Brooke rested, and Alex and Derek caught up, Farrah helped me in the kitchen.

She giggled as I sifted flour into the mixing bowl.

“It’s snowing in the kitchen!” she squealed.

And when I rolled out the crust, she eagerly helped “squish” it.

The next day we treated Alex and Brooke to a date night, featuring dinner, a movie, and a long nap, and Derek and I earned our grandparenting gold stars by taking Farrah to Chuck E. Cheese.

When she was pizza’d and soda’d up, we took her back to our hotel for a swim.

Let’s just say Miss Farrah, Nana Cindy and Papa Derek all slept extremely well that night.

Then we hit the road with Alex for a day trip to Cleveland.

Our first stop was the “Christmas Story House,” the actual house where our family’s favorite holiday movie, “A Christmas Story,” was filmed.

The home has been restored to its movie splendor, complete with the leg lamp, shining in the window. Visitors can pick up Ralphie’s official Daisy Red Ryder BB gun that’s tucked behind the Christmas tree, and climb into Randy’s hiding spot under the kitchen sink.

Alex, 25, handled the BB gun without shooting his eye out, and squeezed into Randy’s cupboard. However, he declined to taste the Lifebuoy soap that rested in the bathroom soap dish.

Having experienced his own soap-in-the-mouth experience as a child (Irish Spring), he didn’t feel inclined to risk soap poisoning again.

From there we drove to the iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located on the shores of Lake Erie. We wandered through several floors of exhibits highlighting the history of rock ’n’ roll and celebrating the artists who influenced its development.

My most pressing question (besides why Bon Jovi doesn’t have its own wing) remained unanswered until I returned home to Google it. Why is there a giant hot dog suspended in the middle of the museum?

Turns out the 15-foot flying frankfurter was used as a prop by the band Phish.

It must have wielded a strong influence over Derek. How else to explain why the following day he ordered the Big Dawg at the famed Thurman Cafe in Columbus? The 1-pound footlong Coney Island features the cafe’s Coney sauce – a secret family recipe that’s been homemade since 1942.

Yes, he ate the whole thing, and didn’t even have heartburn later.

On our last night in Columbus, I made Alex’s most requested birthday dinner – white chicken chili. The fragrance of garlic, onion and cumin filled the townhouse.

“When Nana Cindy’s cooking in the kitchen I am starving!” Farrah said.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye.

We had laughed. We had cried. We’d made memories.

I can’t think of a better way to honor Ian.

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Alex on top of the “E” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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

Columns

In which I enjoy being a girl

Today’s Spokesman Review column finds me attempting to update an old song.

If there’s one remark guaranteed to rain down the wrath of Mom upon my sons, it’s when one of them says to the other, “Don’t be such a girl!”

Using gender as an insult is a nonstarter in my house.

Besides, as Doris Day famously sang, “I enjoy being a girl” – at least most of the time.

The 1958 Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune is fun to sing, but the lyrics are definitely not contemporary.

I’m a girl, and by me that’s only great!

I am proud that my silhouette is curvy,

That I walk with a sweet and girlish gait

With my hips kind of swivelly and swervy.

Let’s be honest here. After birthing four sons and reaching my fifth decade my silhouette’s curves are decidedly more pronounced. Are spheres curves? I’m not sure. I didn’t do well in geometry.

Also, my gait is no longer girlish. In fact, many mornings I limp to the kitchen to get my first cup of coffee due to a strained Achilles.

I still take the stairs two at a time, if by two at a time you mean carefully placing one foot and then the other on each stair before descending.

I adore being dressed in something frilly

When my date comes to get me at my place.

Out I go with my Joe or John or Billy,

Like a filly who is ready for the race!

We’ve already established that I’m not racing anywhere. I also no longer wear something frilly due to the aforementioned dangerous curves.

Fifty may be the new 30, but 30-year-olds are dressing like teenagers, so shopping is complicated. I recently bought some trendy jeans, artistically ripped in strategic places.

My husband said, “I could take a razor to your old jeans and save you a lot of money.”

“But, I’ve got bling! On my butt!” I replied, twirling around to show him my jewel-encrusted back pockets.

He started humming “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

I hummed “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed.”

Game. Set. Match.

When I have a brand new hairdo

With my eyelashes all in curl,

I float as the clouds on air do,

I enjoy being a girl!

My sons used to pluck out a stray gray hair whenever they’d appear. A few years ago, my youngest announced, “I don’t think we should be pulling out your grays – you’re gonna get bald.”

So, now my new hairdo involves regular appointments for highlights – not to cover the gray, but to camouflage it. It doesn’t cause me to float on air, but it does lighten my wallet considerably.

When men say I’m cute and funny

And my teeth aren’t teeth, but pearl,

I just lap it up like honey

I enjoy being a girl!

Men do say I’m cute and funny and I love that. Of course, the men who tell me that now are generally over 70 or under 20.

Also, my teeth aren’t pearls, but there’s definitely some silver and a few crowns involved.

I flip when a fellow sends me flowers,

I drool over dresses made of lace,

I talk on the telephone for hours

With a pound and a half of cream upon my face!

OK, here’s the deal. I learned long ago, that while flowers from a guy are sweet, I can buy my own roses any time I want – no need to wait around for Valentine’s Day. And I like lace as much as the next gal, but not necessarily where it can be seen by the public, if you know what I mean.

I’ve come to terms with moisturizers, eye cream, toners and “miracle” repair, but I draw the line at a pound and a half of cold cream. Actually, the only cold cream I have is in the refrigerator and I pour it in my morning coffee.

Who talks on the phone for hours anymore? Texting and instant messaging are much more efficient. However, I rarely use emoticons. Especially after I sent what I thought was a chocolate cupcake to a friend on her birthday. Apparently, there are poop emojis. Lesson learned.

And one lesson I hope my sons have learned is that “being a girl” is not an insult. After all, without this girl, they wouldn’t even be here.

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, War Bonds

Sometimes the next chapters aren’t yours to write

Writer’s fall in love with their characters. It’s just a fact. But sometimes the rest of the story isn’t yours to write– especially when it’s the true, ever-unfolding story of your children.

When it comes to books I’m a sucker for a good title, but it’s the opening lines that determine whether I’ll delve into the depths of the story.

There’s something satisfying about cracking open a book when the first few chapters are so engrossing and engaging that you know you’re in for a good read.

I’m to the midway point of writing my second book, so my thinking is fogged by pages, outlines, indexes and introductions.

Perhaps that’s why when a new friend commented that it must be hard having my two oldest sons gone from the nest and completely independent, a book metaphor immediately sprung to mind.

“Not really,” I said. “I’m blessed to have been able to write their introduction and the first few chapters, the rest of their stories are their own to tell.”

Those words have stayed with me as I watched two close friends send sons off to college recently.

It’s been eight years since my firstborn flew the coop, and it wasn’t an easy transition for any of us. But he was home so often to do laundry or eat dinner that aside from his empty room it was hard to tell he’d really gone. Our youngest quickly moved into the empty room, delighted to no longer have to bunk with a brother. Plus we got a cat, so there were still five living things for me to take care of.

Six years ago our second son moved out. Again, it wasn’t far and again there were laundry visits and family dinners and yes, another cat. Then Alex moved to Houston. No more popping in for food. An empty place at the table on Thanksgiving. And Christmas. And his birthday.

Happy that he was flourishing in his new place, I encouraged and applauded from afar, but the first time he admitted to being homesick, I hung up the phone, went to my room, shut my door and wept.

My tears were not only for his loneliness and for the ache in my heart from missing him, but also because I knew his homesickness was probably temporary. And it was.

Now our third son is preparing to move to Nashville this spring to pursue his dream of a music career. I try not to think about it too much, but my husband has already vetoed any additional cats.

I’ve done some reading and I looked at a map. There are 2,112.82 car miles between Spokane and Nashville. I’m pretty sure Zach won’t be coming home to do laundry or eat dinner.

Number two son is also on the move again. Next month he’ll move from Houston to Columbus, Ohio. Columbus is where his girlfriend is from. She’s the one who eased his homesickness. I haven’t met her in person yet, but I already love her because Alex is so happy.

At first I was excited. I’m geographically challenged and assumed Columbus would be closer to Spokane than Houston. Columbus is 2,117.27 miles by car from Spokane.

It’s not any closer.

If I was the author of my sons’ stories, I would write them successful careers and happy relationships here in Spokane, with homes just a few miles away – not quite within walking distance.

I didn’t lie when I said it wasn’t hard to see them living independent lives. After all, the goal of parenting is to release competent contributors into the world, not to keep them dependent on their parents.

I’m truly thrilled when my sons embrace new opportunities. But perhaps I should have added that sometimes I struggle with wanting to take out my red pen and edit certain parts of their stories, and occasionally I long to rewrite entire sections.

Yet, I’ve relinquished creative control of these characters I helped create. They’re writing the storyline now, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

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My sons. My heart. 2008.

War Bonds

Author Podcasts: Would you? Could you? Should you?

I have a confession to make. I’ve never listened to a podcast. My sons have played bits and blurbs of their favorite podcast for me, but I’ve never actually listened to one.

Until now.

I’m right in the  middle of writing my second book, Life, Love and Raising Sons (Not Necessarily in That Order) and the opportunity to host a podcast about the same topics featured in my book opened up.

Never one to wade in and test the waters, I jumped in and drug 2 of my 4 sons with me.

In the first episode we talk about spoilers and ruin Star Wars, Santa and a classic novel or two. Undaunted, in the next episode we talk about summer movies, and board games you shouldn’t play with the family.

Produced by Spokane Talks Online, the forum offers a behind-the-scenes look at the fodder for my Spokesman Review columns, magazine articles and of course my inspiration for the new book. The podcast can be downloaded at Spokane Talks Online and iTunes etc.

It’s been a bit of learning curve, but awfully fun to hang out with my sons and spill the family secrets.

I’m not yet sure if a podcast is a valuable marketing tool for a fairly new author in the middle of writing her second book. Time will tell.

In the meanwhile, I’d love to hear your thoughts about your favorite podcasts– especially if you listen to any author podcasts!
And please tune in to Love, Life & Raising Sons here http://www.spokanetalksonline.com/category/podcasts/life-love-and-raising-sons/

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Sam Hval, Cindy Hval, Zach Hval

Columns

On My Son’s 21st Birthday

I wrote this column for our number 3 son, seven years ago. The speed of the passage of time takes my breath away. He’s 21 today.

When your mother is a writer, your life can be an open book. Just ask my sons. Their names regularly appear in this space as well as in books that are sold all over the world. And readers often ask if the boys are embarrassed to have their lives discussed so publicly. I get a kick out of that.

The fact is they love to see their names in print. “Am I in this column?” they’ll ask, and if I say no, they don’t bother to read it. I often run stories by them to make sure they’re OK with the content, and not once have I heard, “Please don’t share that.”

However, when I look through my files and clippings, I see that one name doesn’t appear quite as often as the others. That would be Zachary. He’s a middle child. As I type this I can almost feel the collective sighs of middle children all over the world. They can relate.

Our firstborn gets lots of print because even at 18, everything we experience with him is still new. He’s the first to do just about everything – including being the cause of my first gray hairs.

The second-born is the family athlete. He’s a bit on the wild side and accumulates adventures like other kids add Matchbox cars to their toy collections. He’s got the scars to prove it.

Then there’s the baby – everything he does has added poignancy because he’s my last glimpse into the world of childhood.

But Zachary was the third child added to our family in a five-year span. His brothers expressed mild interest in his arrival. And though I remember every excruciating detail of his birth, the months and years that followed seemed to whirl and blend together in a kaleidoscope of bustling boys and sleepless nights.

Thank God for video cameras. The magic of Zack’s first bite of solid food, first giggle and first steps are preserved on tape. His birth is also on tape, but as Zack would say, “It’s best not to talk about that.”

This middle child has always had a way with words, though his vocabulary got off to a shaky start. His first word was uttered from his high chair as he watched his two older brothers attempt to communicate entirely through belching. Frustrated that he’d not mastered that skill, he hollered, “Burp”

That provoked gales of gleeful laughter from his siblings and only encouraged the now verbal tot. “Burp!” he yelled. “Burp, burp.”

Fortunately, he’s continued to sharpen his wit. A few weeks ago, after his younger brother’s birthday party, we waited in the car for Zack, who was still somewhere in the bowels of Chuck E. Cheese.

Finally, the van door slid open and Zack announced with great disgust, “They didn’t want me to leave without a parent!” He slammed the door shut and added, “However, negotiations were brief.”

He’s always been full of surprises. When asked to share what he learned on his first day of kindergarten he was momentarily stumped. He pondered the question deeply and finally had an answer. “I learned this,” he said, and jumping up from the table he inserted his hand under his shirt and began flapping his arm wildly. He’d mastered the art of armpit flatulence.

“He’s gifted,” his oldest brother opined.

But for all his words and talents, what I most appreciate about this middle son is his affectionate nature. Our firstborn was reserved, and we could never catch the second-born long enough to cuddle. But Zachary’s warm and loving heart spills over into hugs, kisses and spontaneous bursts of affection.

Last week I was driving the kids home after school. Traffic was heavy and my temper was short. “I love you, Mom.” Zack said. “I love you, too,” I replied distractedly.

We were quiet for a few blocks and then Zack said, “I want my last words to you to be ‘I love you,’ because you never know how long we have.”

He has a knack for reminding me what really matters.

His Sunday school teacher once said that Zack has the soul of a poet, and I agree. I’ve worried about his tender heart, watching the way unkind words can wound him. I’m torn between hoping that he’ll toughen up so he won’t get hurt so often, and praying that his heart stays soft. The world could use a little more tenderness.

A couple of years ago he asked for a guitar for Christmas. With wonder, I’ve watched the way he’s made a place for himself through music. He plays beautifully. Each afternoon, strains of Marley’s “Redemption Song,” or Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” wail through the house as our son unwinds from an arduous day of middle school.

Today is Zachary’s 14th birthday, and this column is for him. Zack, every home needs music, and I’m so grateful that you are the song in ours.

Correspondent Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com.

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