The Difference Between Girls and Boys.

My birthday was last week.

As always, I woke up to an array of handmade cards from the children. Every year, they’re getting more detailed in expressing their feelings.

Ali created this lovely card,

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With these even lovelier sentiments.

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And even drew me a bonus picture.

Ali birthday drawing IMG_0703See Mom, that’s Dad away from the nest working and bringing home food.
(Note: He does bring home a lot of takeout.)
And that’s you, staying home with us and homeschooling us.

She checked all the boxes of creating motherly affection and warm fuzzies. She should consider going professional, hiring her skills out to other children.

Because other children can tend to be….otherwise inclined.

Speaking of, then I opened Noah’s card.

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I asked him if the three-eyed monster was supposed to be a portrait of me.

He laughed.

Then told me the monster’s name was “Momster.”

momster birthday card from noah IMG_0568

It’s good to have a variety of personalities in your house.

I think.

When The Intersection Rule Failed Us.

In our hiking club, we really only have one rule. (Aside from the obvious rules like don’t pick up snakes but CERTAINLY don’t scare them away because Miss Rachel will definitely want to see them and photograph them and maybe pick them up if she’s mostly sure they’re not venomous.)

The one rule is this: Stop at every intersection.

This rule is a rule because it is a regular occurrence for the kids (especially the older ones but sometimes the younger ones) to run ahead of the adults, who can sometimes be dragging a toddler behind them or on their back or hanging off their legs like a monkey.

On the particular hike for which this post was recorded, I was taking on the responsibility (and fun) of being hiking buddies with Elsa, my favorite first cousin once removed. (Please don’t tell my other first cousins once removed. This is between us.)

…As an aside, I googled and now understand very well what the difference is between a second cousin, first cousin once removed, third cousin, and second cousin once removed. Would you like me to explain it?

(I know you would. It’s fascinating and makes so much sense.)

It all depends on what level you’re on with reference to each other. The same level means that you share a grandparent, great grandparent, etc. A level apart means that my grandmother is your great grandmother. Following so far? So, first, second, and third cousins are all on the same level. First cousins share a grandparent. Second cousins share a great-grandparent. Third cousins share a great-great grandparent.

(Fun Fact: Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip are third cousins: their shared great-great-grandmother is Queen Victoria, who incidentally was married to her first cousin, Prince Albert. Because the British are weirder than Alabamians.)

Removed cousins are on different levels. First cousins once removed happen when person A’s grandparent is person B’s great-grandparent. So another way to look at it is you are first cousins once removed with your cousin’s children. You’d be first cousins twice removed with your cousin’s grandchildren. Got it?

…So back to Elsa, who is my favorite of all of my cousin’s children.

Elsa is four, and she’s just starting to grasp hiking expectations, rules, and standards. So she asked me, “Aunt Rachel, (because “First Cousin Once Removed Rachel” is pretty long for a four year old), what is an insterstection?”

I explained carefully that an intersection is anytime you can go more than one way on a trail. If you have to choose directions, it’s an intersection. And it’s very, very important that you always wait at every intersection for the adults, because if you chose the wrong way, and we assumed you chose the right way, you’d be lost, and it would be hard to find you.

She silently pondered my words, an unspoken gravity resting between us of what it would be like to be four and lost in the woods.

We plodded ahead, perhaps a tenth of a mile behind the big kids. As we came up a hill, we saw the big kids all piled in a semi-circle at an intersection. It was a “T” intersection, with a bench sitting opposite of the T. A teenage couple was sitting on the bench, and it appeared that they were having a silent standoff with our kids.

Then the teenage couple stood up, walked toward us, laughing slightly, politely said hi to us, and took off down the trail.

As we reached the children, they were all coughing, waving hands in front of their faces, gagging, and complaining in general about what was the worst skunky smelling cigars they’d ever smelled.

Yeah. That is not a fog of cigar smoke you’re standing in, children.

Our Stop-At-The-Intersection rule had…

– Forced the children to stand in a thick cloud of pot smoke,

– Created an awkward staring/social interaction, because the poor high teenagers had no idea why 10 children had just crowded around them in a semicircle.

(They’re probably still puzzling about that. I bet every time they get high they’re all like “yo, man, remember that one time, when all those kids surrounded us like they were the freakin’ Marine Corps or something?” “Yeah man. That was….weird.”)

– Totally killed their buzz.

Were the children better tempered for the rest of the hike?

Chill, might one say?

Perhaps.

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So maybe The Intersection Rule didn’t fail us after all.

(Then again, twenty minutes later, Noah did get exceptionally hangry and demanding as to why I hadn’t brought SNACKS on the hike, so the dreaded munchies may not have been worth it.)

Die Like You’re Living.

I wrote this on September 4, two weeks before my dad passed away. 



“Live Like you’re dying.”

We’ve all heard it and nodded thoughtfully at the platitude. Yes, yes yes, we should do all the things you would do if you were dying. Like appreciate life more, even if the garbage disposal just vomited in your face. And hug your children more meaningfully, even if they just flushed your favorite earrings down the toilet.

But now that my own father has been told that he has days or weeks to live, I’ve realized that there’s an opposite sentiment that I never knew existed: Die Like You’re Living.

Pop-and-Noah

Weird thoughts go through your head when you’re processing grief and watching someone you love walk slowly toward death – or at least they have mine. Like, what would I do if I were the one who had days or weeks to live? My first thought was that I definitely would quit flossing my teeth. Second, I would want to go on a world tour and see all the things. And third, I might like to do something irresponsible and ridiculous – maybe even something that was illegal but not harmful to others that I might enjoy, knowing I wouldn’t live long enough to make it to my court date and face the consequences of my breaking of the law. Might it be fun to go 120 mph on the interstate? Might I like to commit Insider Trading so that my family could benefit from my crimes after my death? Perhaps I’d like to hack Amazon and send all my friends their entire wish lists. Then again if I could do that, maybe I already would have. (Right after I sent myself my own entire wish list, of course.)

But my dad has done none of these things. Instead, he’s dying like he’s living. He’s doing all the things I most definitely would never put on the top of my list of Things I Might Like To Do If I’m Dying.

He’s working, for one. He’s finishing up an antique engine rebuilding project that he committed to and has worked on for the last two years. (The thing is a massive antique firetruck engine.) He spent five days in a row, despite feeling generally awful and having no energy due to a failing liver, working in the 90 degree heat – to finish a job. (Thankfully, he had two fantastically wonderful friends travel from Florida to help him, and they were doing all the heavy lifting and hard labor since Dad couldn’t – bless them.)

He’s wrapping up loose ends. My Dad is, after all, in the middle of an 18 year house-building project. He’s trying to finish things and get things out of Mom’s way so that it will be easier for her to finish the house after he’s gone. He’s going to the attorney’s office and making sure all his paperwork is straight. He’s ensuring that my mother has everything she needs to make her future journey as easy as he can possibly make it.

He’s keeping his commitments in all shapes and sizes. He’s sitting in Sunday School, incidentally, the Sunday School class he started to share what he’s learned about death and dying. Over the past several months, he has wanted to make sure the wisdom he’s learned through this journey could help others who are or will be coping with the reality of death – both those of us coping with his death, and those coping with their own or other loved one’s deaths. His insights have been painful, beautiful, and so practical and helpful.

He’s being the most responsible possible version of dying.

He’s not sitting around feeling sorry for himself while slowly slipping away, nor is he out high-speed racing in downtown Birmingham (which, for the record, my dad has been known to go over 100 mph on the interstate on multiple occasions, so it’s not like it’s something he wouldn’t enjoy.) He’s not touring the country to see the things that I know were on his bucket list, like Mount Rushmore, Alaska, and the Aurora Borealis.

These are the things I want him to be doing (aside from the first one.) I want him to live these last few weeks for himself, in the manner that would make him happiest. But he’s choosing to live them for others, in the manner that will make others most comfortable when he’s no longer here.

He’s dying like he’s living, and dying like he has lived. Doing what he said he would do, choosing responsibility over fun, and doing what needs do be done.

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