Storms Clouds are Rolling In

I think we can all agree that children are intelligent. They are constantly absorbing details and listening to what we are discussing. (Remember this before you speak.) It was therefore no surprise that Bryce has become interested in weather forecasting, just like his father.

During his recent vacation to our house, we spent the day at the home of our friends. We all swam in their pool, had a lovely lunch on their deck, saw the bees in the nearby hives, and enjoyed the view of the lake.

While I was satisfied with merely enjoying the scenery, the children wanted more. For Bryce, that meant trying to catch fish with a net and eventually, falling into the lake.

It did not take long for his eyes to wander away from the water, where he discovered a rowboat sitting idly by just waiting for attention. Before long, the three men were preparing to load the boat into the water. That was when the weather gene kicked in. Our little forecaster pointed to the cloudy sky and asked if we should be concerned about a potential storm approaching us.

My friend, Mary, was impressed, but not I. On more than one occasion, he has looked skyward and stated, “Grandma, there are storm clouds rolling in.” His dad is the family weatherman and is very savvy with interpreting weather maps, so this concern came as no surprise to me.

Bryce has discussed his dilemma in trying to decide what to be when he grows up, because “there are too many choices.” So now he is thinking about working in an office with Dad, helping Mom with her camera, becoming a teacher like Aunt Jamie, and alerting South Carolina of “storm clouds rolling in.”

Come for Lots and Lots of Visits

As a parent, you spend years having your life overtaken by your children. Those leisurely Saturday mornings when you don’t get dressed until noon, those romantic candlelight dinners with adult music, and those spontaneous weekend outings are in your review mirror for what seems, at times, like forever. But as a mom and dad, you cherish those moments, because they are truly driven by pure love. When you feel those hugs and wet baby kisses, you want to freeze those special moments, but suddenly, you look at those babies and realize that they have become adults.

If you have done your job, they are taxpaying wage earners and have left the nest. Perhaps they have families of their own. When that happens, sad as it may be to see them leave, you have succeeded.

So it was this in mind that I had an interesting conversation with four-year old Bryce recently regarding his thoughts on becoming an adult.

Bryce: I decided that when I am a grown-up I am going to live here in my house forever with my family and parents.

Me: Don’t you want to live in your own house?

Bryce: I don’t want to miss Christmas.      

While I want my children to always love me, by the time they have their own families, I don’t think I want them staying “forever.”

I think I will be happy with just lots of visits and an amazing Christmas at their “grown-up house.”

It’s Your Birthday Today!

Today is Casey’s birthday, so I am taking the opportunity to look back on some of my memories of her. Many are from the birthday letter I wrote on her twentieth birthday.

Casey, you were supposed to be my second December baby, but you were in such a hurry to be born, that you are forever stuck with the yellow Topaz rather than the blue or purple birthstone like Kelly.  But this is actually better, because that makes you more unique.  Scorpios are “determined and forceful”, and that definitely fits you.

As a baby and little girl, you were determined to do things your own way.  You never saw sleep’s real purpose, so you loved waking up in the middle of the night and early in the morning.  You have heard over and over how you tortured me by your dawn awakenings and love of early morning viewings of “Mousercise”.  Perhaps that is why we called you Dawn for a while. You didn’t like naps either.  I guess you were afraid of missing life.  So when you have those nights where you just can’t sleep, think of it as a remnant of your childhood.

It is sweet knowing that your first smile was to Aunt Marian—your great aunt and a favorite to all her nieces and nephews.

You had a great vocabulary and imagination, telling us when you were just three that you learned your big words from your invisible friend Ariel Katie. After Jamie told you a particularly long-winded story about swimming, you turned to her and said, “You’re too complicated with all these details!” You were excited about going to the dentist, but then said the day before, “I’m apprehensive, Mommy.”

You loved playing dress up, pretending to be Ariel, Dorothy Gale, and princesses. Bryce has never done this yet. Perhaps it’s a girl thing and “Jane Doe” will drive Mark crazy by doing this also.

It was both funny and frustrating to hear four-year-old you complain that your preschool was spending too much time playing rather than working. You needed to lighten up. I spent a lot of time trying, and then failing, to find a school that valued work over play to your satisfaction.  I think that was when I learned about the existence of loopholes.

We fought unsuccessfully to try to enroll you in public school before you were five, and then the principal, Mr. Goldberg, told us about the kindergarten loophole.  After many phone calls and searches, we enrolled you in a private kindergarten for a few months. After Christmas, you were finally able to join Kelly and Jamie at the bus stop for the ride to Valley View.  It really is true that you woke up singing on your first day there.  During a time when so many parents were electing to hold their children back a year in school, Daddy and I chose the rebel approach which was to accelerate you.

I hope the decision to listen to a young Casey and enroll you in school early was correct.  Think how different your life would have been if you had been among the oldest in your class instead of one of the youngest. Would you still have joined the Forensics Team when we moved to Chapel Hill?  If you had not, would you have still have the same major and minor—public relations and speech?

All of your friends would have been completely different. You met Chris in your dorm freshman year. Would you still have met him, and if not, would you still be living in the DC area now?  It is interesting to consider how the insistent requests of a four year old affected the rest of your life

I always loved your passion and enthusiasm for life but worry that adult responsibilities will make that disappear. I hope not. Scorpios are also supposed to be “powerful and passionate” so try not to lose that passion. I look forward to see where your road in life takes you.  I will be watching you.  Happy Birthday, Casey!

Casey Birthday Cake



















The sun appeared for the first time in a very long time yesterday. Bryce was coming for a visit, so I thought a trip to the zoo would be a welcome treat for him after being stuck inside for so many days. How wrong I was! Once a truck pulled into our driveway to do some repairs on our hot tub, the boy  gene reared up in him, and he told me he did not want to see the the elephants or giraffes. He wanted to stay and watch the man with the truck.

He observed the repairman doing his job, and then he inspected the truck, peeking inside and admiring the tools. He spent the remainder of the day playing with his trains. The thing is, Bryce enjoys crashes and accidents. He purposely turns the straight wooded pieces of the track upside down, which are smooth on the underside. When he then builds his track using those inverted tracks, those smooth pieces always causes derailments.

He always smiles as the trains fall from the tracks. To me, it’s not fun and it makes the game difficult and unpleasant. Is this truly a boy thing, because as the mother of three girls, I am more familiar with tea parties, and Barbie dolls, and playing house?

But today was Veteran’s Day, so I decided to turn Bryce’s game of train crashes and derailments into a teaching moment about his great grandfather. I explained to Bryce that my Daddy rode on a train a long, long time ago not far from here. His train, like Bryce’s toy train, derailed as it was passing over a railroad trestle. The first two cars—two engines—passed successfully over the trestle but the remaining cars—the mail car and six passenger cars—left the trestle and plunged down an embankment.

Two civilians and one soldier were killed. Grandpa said the man who died had been sitting in his seat and asked to switch seats, so that man, Corporal Thomas Vest, died, and Grandpa survived with just a back injury.

Grandpa claimed that he continued to be reminded of that November day in Georgia for the rest of his life, because his back hurt whenever he tried to pick up his children and grandchildren. The thing is, he had fifty-six more years—“the rest of his life.” Corporal Vest did not, but that one request gave the rest of us life. Isn’t it interesting how one seemingly small action affected all of us so many years later?

You’re in Trouble- With a Capital “T”

We are all governed by rules and consequences beginning at a very young age. I recall Grandma’s classic punishment was making us go to bed after supper, which meant no going outside to play and no television–just straight to your room. However, her sentence was not to be administered on the day of the wrongdoing. The way Grandma did it was to tell us, “Tomorrow you are going to bed after supper.” Her thought process was that by making us think about it for more than twenty-four hours, we would feel more miserable than if it was over immediately. It was like pulling the Band-Aid off slowly rather than ripping it off quickly. Not that this ever happened to me. Oh no, never me! I’m pretty sure it happened to Uncle Mart, Aunt Ar, and Uncle Dave many, many times.

What punishments do the three of you remember? As I recall, the sanctions doled out in our house involved being sent to your rooms, being deprived TV or computer time, and the worst–losing your possessions. A classic tale was when Casey was being bad, and I was upstairs with her in her room, which overlooked the backyard. Dad was sitting in his chair in the family room watching television when suddenly, he looked up just in time to see Casey’s Barbie car being hurled out her window to fall with a crash onto the deck. Of course the car was broken so the punishment lasted longer than I intended, but Casey did stop her bad behavior after her tears subsided.

For Jamie, it took more than just the removal of a single toy. I am not sure what she did, but I know you all remember how Dad began removing the toys from her room. One by one he began moving them out of her room into ours, but still the yelling and misbehavior continued. She would not stop, so Dad continued to relocate her toys. It was not until he picked up her desk chair and began walking out of the room with it that she screamed in despair, “Not my chair!” and then said, “I’ll be good, I’ll be good!”

Bryce learned to count to twenty very early on, because his punishment for misbehaving has been to be put in a corner for “time out.” One of his parents would count to ten, and then as he got older, to twenty, before he could leave. Now with baby “Jane Doe” (still no name yet) set to arrive in two months, we are all holding our breath waiting to see how he reacts to sharing the spotlight. Will he spit in her eye as Aunt Ar did to Aunt Ellen, will he hit her like Kelly did to Jamie, or will he tell her, like he says to Dad or me, “I’m so happy to see you, Jane Doe?” Somehow, I doubt it will be the last scenario. I am expecting that Bryce will be learning to count to a much higher number until he realizes the new guest will be there to stay.

In the Eye of the Beholder

I don’t have the advantage of Kelly’s memory box to learn what six or eight year old Kelly chose as her future career, so I have to fast forward to year sixteen—the summer of the Paris trip.

Kelly, you approached Dad and me about spending five weeks studying abroad with the American University in Paris. The deal we struck was that while we would help with some expenses, you were responsible for the majority of the cost. You spent about a year working as a babysitting machine. You found a few clients who liked to go out A LOT, and you rarely socialized with your friends that year. You had a goal and you worked hard to reach it.

I researched the program to be certain you were chaperoned enough to make Dad and I comfortable, so in late June 2001, you packed your bags and we drove you to JFK airport. As your mom, it was not easy to send you to Europe alone, but you lived up to your end of the bargain in raising the money, proving yourself to be responsible and worthy of the experience.

You took two courses while in the City of Lights—The History of Fashion and Photography in Paris— and came home hooked on photography. Armed with a heavy dinosaur of a 35 mm camera that belonged to Dad’s father, you learned how to take and develop film pictures. I believe you set up a dark room in the bathroom of the hotel where the students were housed.

What a wonderful place to learn that craft! When you returned home, one month before 9-11, you exited the plane with confidence, very thin from walking everywhere, and with a red tint in your hair which we didn’t notice until later that day.

During your final two years in high school, you exhausted the photography curriculum at your school. You entered photography contests, and much to our amusement, you won an award for a photo of the garbage under our pool deck. I guess someone thought it was very artsy!

When you left for college and decided to study journalism, Dad and I were convinced you would be traveling the world as a photojournalist for a magazine like National Geographic. This prediction grew stronger when you became a photographer for the Daily Gamecock, allowing you to take pictures of entertainers, politicians and sports figures such as Billy Joel, John Mayer, President Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Pete Rose, and the Gamecock football games. (Knowing you were running down the field chasing the perfect shot, I worried that you would get smashed by a big tight end.)

Meeting your future husband squashed your traveling-the-world career. (Did you ever consider it, or was it just an unwarranted fear on our part?) Instead, you launched your business, taking beautiful pictures of weddings, graduations, families, and newborn babies. Like your sisters, you have a great work ethic resulting in many happy customers and referrals to their friends.

Dad and I do not have to worry about you traveling to the Amazon jungle or the African Serengeti. Still, we couldn’t help being anxious when you drove off to shoot a wedding during our “Thousand-Year Storm.” You must understand our angst now that you are a parent. So keep up the good work. Perhaps someday our coffee table will contain a book of your photos including the garbage under the deck.

The photos below are not the best but are among your first. All your fans are familiar with the beauty of your work now, but I thought it would be nice to show how it all began.

Street in Paris-2001- The Artsy Eye Way Back When
Street in Paris-2001- The Artsy Eye Way Back When
And the Winner is -Garbage Under the Deck
And the Winner is -Garbage Under the Deck

Wrapped Up in Grade 3

Today I explored Casey’s memory box, where I learned that she also wanted to be a teacher in first grade. Could that be a common career aspiration for young children who want to emulate their teachers?

Casey, by third grade, you dropped your wish to be a teacher and focused on acting and writing. Your journal that year repeatedly mentioned that dream.

If I were older I would write a movie and star in it. Then I’d write a few books. After that, I’d star in more movies. Then maybe I’d write a book…. I ADORE writing.

Luckily you had your reading and writing to get you through third grade, because unlike Jamie, you were not a fan of that year. In fact, your final journal entry said:

The best thing about third grade is it’s almost over. There is no best thing about third grade.

Whoa, Casey!

Your career in acting never happened although you were in several plays over the years—both at school and after school activities in surrounding towns. You were always holed up in your room reading books and writing stories. When you would disappear, we would usually find you in your closet reading a book. Casey, do you remember the year Kelly and I created a special place for you in the gnome closet in our house in Atlanta, complete with glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling?

During college, you wrote a wonderful column for the Daily Gamecock which you abandoned too soon—in my opinion. I loved reading your opinion about sports, politics, happenings on campus, and the entertainment world. Your column gave me some insight into what made you tick which is why I missed it.  I learned that much of the trivia you learned was from reading about the stars, and your boredom was sometimes cured by watching CNN. You are definitely a complex person, and as a wise woman once said,

I’m not going to toot my own horn enough to say I’m as deep as an ocean, but I’m hardly a puddle, either.

Your major/minor was a blend of your passions—public relations and speech. You graduated with a job working in admissions at a satellite campus of USC. It was not a thrilling job for you, but Dad and I were proud that you were employed so quickly.

Less than two years later, you were off to Baltimore working at a job which enabled you to speak Dad’s lingo—working at an engineering/architectural company using your skills as a writer. Now your firm is moving closer to DC, which is so appropriate for you because of your interest in politics. I learned that in third grade, not only did your crystal ball see a career related to writing, it also knew, at that moment, you would be a Democrat.

If I could be president, I’d have an activity week at school. I’d make sure everyone had a fair life. I’d try to pass a law that on the second Monday, every month, we’d give to the poor.

So the question is Casey, where will your road take you in life? Will you stay at this job because, well, you have never liked change and are well-liked at work? Or will I see you working at an organization like Make-a-Wish someday, granting dreams to children who have been dealt a very tough card? Will you write that book? I will just sit back and watch the Casey show. Perhaps I will read about you in the newspapers or see you on CNN.

You Wanted to Stab Yourself

There comes a certain point in time when we don’t like to admit our age. We can fight it or hide it as much as possible, but unless we completely avoid our children, the truth eventually is revealed. When standing next to your thirty year old child, it is impossible to cover up the lie by more than a few years.

I look at the three of you and reflect upon what delivered you to where you are today. Was it a specific plan, an accident, or a very circuitous route? I decided to look in your memory boxes for clues—two of which still reside here. Today I opened Jamie’s.

Jamie, you are the only one whose career was planned at a very early age. Except for a moment in first grade when you wanted to be a dentist, you always wanted to be a teacher. (Maybe the dentist was a decision arrived after seeing Santa’s elf Hermey in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.) In all the class assignments where you wrote about what you wanted to be when you grew up, the answer was always “a teacher.” Sometimes it was because you wanted to help kids learn while other times it was all about the chalkboard.

It took time and persistence to become a teacher with “the class I always imagined,”  but you never gave up that dream. I am proud that you enjoyed teaching in poor districts where you felt you made a difference but I also know how difficult it was to work where the supplies  and sometimes the support were limited.

You have a great work ethic and I know how much the children and parents appreciate your efforts. You have great ideas and want your students to excel and enjoy your class. Watching and listening to you discuss your day reminds me of a time when you were not so happy about your assigned teacher. It was at the end of second grade when your report card came with the name of your third grade teacher included with your grades. You were not happy. You said you wanted to stab yourself! But it turned out she was a great teacher, so I encouraged you to tell her.

I hope that someday you get a letter like this from one or many of your students. While it made your teacher laugh, I know she was happy with your honest sentiments.

Third Grade Letter
Third Grade Letter

Road Trip with the Wee Ones

Road trips with children today are as easy as plugging them into a DVD where they can watch their favorite movies for hours. An alternative or additional form of entertainment is the IPAD, which enables the kiddies to play a plethora of games. As you all recall, this is not what we did.

When you were 10, 8 and 5, we embarked on the trip to Memphis where Daddy was working at the time.  With a lot of careful planning, our travels were quite fun and not at all the disaster I envisioned.

I purchased several organizers with multiple pockets which we filled with games, maps, books, and snacks. We had several cassette players so that you could listen to music and books on tape. I recall that Kelly recorded herself reading a few of Casey’s favorite books that were not available at the library or bookstore.

We made bingo boards so that you could see who could get three-in-a-row of items such as cows, churches, horses, bridges, and signs viewed outside the window of our minivan.

I printed up pages and pages of maps, which I filled with colored shapes placed stategically throughout the maps, so that when one of you said, “Are we there yet?” I could answer that we were at the yellow triangle on page two (of at least fifteen) or the red square on page eight. Those maps worked quite well in enabling you to get a picture of exactly where we were and stopped those pesky questions.

Then there were the competition games like the Alphabet Game, which required each person to go from A to Z by locating each letter of the alphabet on a sign, building or license plate. The only rule was that no two people could use their letter on the same sign as another.

We also played a name game, in which one person would say a name, such as Mickey Mouse, and the next person would take the last letter of the name (“E” in this case)  and have to use that letter as the first letter of a new name. So Mickey MousE could become Eddie MunsteR, who could become Richard NixoN, and so on.

“Who am I” was a guessing game of twenty questions where each person would ask a yes or no question until one of us guessed who their person was. (“Am I a boy?”, “Am I a cartoon character?” “Am I younger than twenty?”)

We would play our games until tired or bored and then move onto individual quiet time for listening to our music or reading/listening to books.  You know my favorite was, and still is, the License Plate Game. You have all stopped playing that game long ago while I continue playing it today—everyday. I have two APPS on my phone so that I can find all 50 states in any order while simultaneously looking for them all in alphabetical order. You know that is definitely a subject for my eulogy someday, so someone should always know what states I am currently seeking. (You can  check my phone for that anytime!)

Our trip was broken up by our visit to Washington, DC, Dollywood, and the Great Smoky Mountain Park. We met Dad along the way after our tour of DC, and I believe the Dollywood and the Smoky Mountains were on the return trip.

I am imagining this adventure gave Grandma and Grandpa some uneasiness like it would if any of you embarked on a similar journey with your children. Thankfully I did have a cell phone, but it wasn’t at all smart. Still, despite its inability to do anything but place a phone call, I was able to call for directions when we got hopelessly lost on Capitol Hill.

You were all very good travelers, but I am definitely patting myself on the back for all the genius planning that made it such a success! Now I am ready to take that road trip to California!

To a Child- It’s an Amazing World!

We just returned from our trip to New Jersey to visit Grandma and Jamie. Everyone, including me, thought we were crazy for driving there with a two year old for only the weekend. But he was a good traveler and led us in songs which helped when the radio reception was poor in the mountains. He taught us that Old MacDonald had a lot more than just cows, horses and ducks on that farm. We learned he had a monkey, elephant, and train (“with a choo-choo here and a choo-choo there”). I think he may have a career as a DJ, and he definitely has a mind of his own. If he says his farm has an elephant, then by golly, there is just no arguing with that boy!

He notices everything. When we passed a farm, he provided us with a narration of what animals he saw. He enabled us to look at life through his tiny viewfinder. Every empty green pasture was a golf course to him. He commented on the trucks and cars we passed, and when he saw a yellow leave fluttering to the ground he said, “Look! It’s a butterfly.” I suppose all children are this observant. After all, the whole world is an empty canvas to them. Grandma’s first comment upon seeing Kelly shortly after her birth was that her eyes were open and staring at everything around her. This made me wonder if I had made a similar comment after Bryce was born, so I looked for the evidence.

I made a huge commitment when Bryce was born, which is going to haunt me for the next twenty years. I decided to write a journal, which I began while we were all waiting at the hospital for him to be born. My intent is that I will give it to him (and now all subsequent grandchildren) when they graduate high school. So I peeked back on that first day nearly three years ago to see what Bryce’s first day was like.

We arrived early in the day, but Bryce apparently had plans of his own regarding the date of his birth. Here are a few excerpts from that very long day.

We are sitting in the waiting room with Gigi and Granddaddy and eleven other grandparents also anxiously awaiting the births of their children’s babies. It is a cool, rainy day here in Charleston—not at all like the bright sunny day earlier this week when your mom and I took the last walk on Folly Beach. The sky was bright blue that day and the sun was so brilliant, but there were very few people around.

Many hours and several trips to the cafeteria passed.

…It’s almost 9:30 now. Aunt Casey had to leave. We moved the cars because they are locking all the doors in the hospital except for the Emergency Room.

…The waiting room has cleared out. All the other parents waiting with us became grandparents. They visited the new babies and went out in the rain to get take-out for the new moms and dads. Where are you Bryce?

…T-minus 15 minutes until midnight. I guess your birthday is going to be February 8th. We are not happy and the waiting room is very cold.

None of the four of us grandparents-to-be would leave no matter how long it would take. We were in it for the duration.

It’s tomorrow. Grandpa is on his third nap, Granddad is yawning, and Gigi is playing on her IPAD. (You probably don’t know what that is.) I wonder what your world is like.

…The hospital is quiet. The cleaning staff is mopping the floors, and we are still waiting. Your poor mom must be exhausted.

Kelly, you did not realize that this was just the beginning of how much energy your son would sap from you as he grows and becomes more active and full of endless energy.

Finally! We got called to the nursery to watch you get weighed and measured. … What a cutie—and so alert. You looked around the room taking in your new world. Welcome!

So there you go, Kelly. Your son was just like you—full of wonder of his new world. I think all new babies are like our little man. Everything is amazing to him and he loves sharing his excitement. Why do we have to lose that wonder?