When we told the children in January that we were expecting another baby, they could hardly contain their excitement. Bethany served Jennifer breakfast in bed for a solid week, and by the end of the month, she and Jonathan were not only doing most of the cooking, but had taken over the menu-planning and grocery-shopping, as well!
Doug spent a week in Atlanta with the Army Reserves and brought home the flu. He recovered soon enough, but the rest of us battled it for months on end, with a few chicken pox thrown in for good measure. As if that combined with first-trimester-fatigue weren’t enough to knock Jennifer off her feet, she broke a third toe last December which required surgery this month. Despite her doctor’s best efforts to straighten it, her foot remains stubbornly frozen in the Vulcan sign for “Live long and prosper” — hence Jennifer’s new nickname, Alien Toes.
Surgical procedures continued in February: Benjamin’s tonsillectomy improved his speech and cured his sleep apnea, and Doug’s first endoscopy revealed a hiatal hernia and a little scarring, but no colon cancer! The kids learned to skip rope this spring and practiced at every opportunity, jumping to the rhyme, “Ice cream, soda pop, lemonade; tell me the initials of your girl friend’s name,” only Samuel would invariably say, “Tell me all the letters in your best friend’s name,” then spell D-A-D.
Jennifer made Sam a black Zorro mask, per his request, and he handled it like an American Express card (never left home without it). We grew so accustomed to seeing that thing tied around his head — even in the bathtub — that we all but forgot what he looked like underneath!
Our snaggle-toothed David had a birthday this month and immediately went from being “almost 7” to “almost 8”. He’s still an enthusiastic chess player, which prompted us to start a chess club for our home school group, and he has become an avid reader and a first-rate lawn mower, as well.
Jennifer stitched four more Confederate uniforms, then took all six children to the annual “Silverware” Ball in March. Doug was on trauma call and had to miss it, but that didn’t keep Jennifer off the dance floor — our 18 month-old Joseph was a tireless partner and was more than willing to lead!
We had sufficiently recovered from our string of illnesses by the end of the month to launch a massive spring cleaning effort. It began with 25 loads of laundry in a single afternoon (we drove straight home from the laundromat and installed a lock on the little boys’ closet, to keep them from changing clothes 14 times a day).
After Connie Reese gave her famous “decluttering” talk to our home school group, Doug gave Jennifer a big utility cart, hoping she’d be motivated to donate MOUNTAINS of personal belongings to Goodwill, but not wanting her to strain her back in the process! Doug was also the driving force behind several home improvements this spring: a new roof and fresh paint for the house, an atrium door for the utility room, leather sofas for the den, and an insulated cover for the patio.
Jonathan was in charge of our various landscaping projects. As soon as the daffodils had faded, he set out scores of impatiens, planted a flat of English ivy on the shady side of the house, and built a raised vegetable garden on the sunny side. The tomatoes we harvested this summer were scrumptious!
Jonathan ran his first 5K race with Doug in April. He seemed genuinely surprised that they didn’t finish first…but, hey, at least they finished! The stray cat we adopted last year had kittens this month,much to the delight of our children. When David first saw them, he exclaimed, “Oh, aren’t they all so durable?” I think he meant “adorable”, but his statement was truthful, nonetheless. It’s a good thing, too, considering the near constant attention they received from us, and their mama’s failed attempts to put them out of reach by moving them to precariously high places. We found good homes for four, but kept a striped one, who had by then become Joseph’s constant companion (a role Tiger endured with patient resignation until he grew too heavy for Joseph to cart around).
Something about being pregnant always puts Jennifer in the mood to hang wallpaper (maybe the memory of Donna Reed doing the same in It’s a Wonderful Life). It was the hall bathroom that reaped the benefit this time around — more mint green stripes, which we’ve missed since our move from Mesquite.
Bethany’s room also received a new look after she confided in her father that she’s a country girl at heart and not fond of the pink roses, ribbons and ruffles that have adorned her surroundings for all time remembered (she didn’t want to hurt Mom’s feelings by telling her). We started over from scratch — stitching new curtains and bed linens from yellow floral denim and red gingham; white-washing a new bed, chest and nightstand; and painting the walls sky blue, with a mural that surrounds the room of a white picket fence, clouds, trees, birds, rabbits and potted geraniums.
The most tedious part was painting a life-size pony on the wall beside the bed, but Jennifer saved that job until Doug and our oldest four were away for the weekend.
The three-day camping trip they took in May with a group of seventy Tyler physicians and all their children proved to be a real turning point for our inseparable Sam — his fears and phobias vanished faster than his dad could pitch a tent.
In fact, Samuel himself disappeared for a time, but without the hysteria that has accompanied such occurrences for the past year and a half. He was as happy as a lark when Doug found him, clad in a life jacket and sporting around the middle of the lake in a kayak, all by himself!
David and Samuel were both baptized this month, and Doug was privileged to do the honors. What a tremendous blessing it has been to see all four of our oldest come to faith at such early ages!
Jonathan turned eleven on the 31st. A budding ornithologist, he combined his birthday money with his savings from lawn mowing and bought a pair of binoculars from his favorite store in the world, Wild Birds Unlimited. He would shop there daily if we’d let him, as much to visit with the owners, George and Cindy Ramsey, as to add to his already large collection of bird feeders.
Our nightly trips to the community pool resumed in June. Doug and the older children swam laps, but Jennifer got her exercise chasing Joseph, who was more interested in trying on all the sandals and aqua-shoes left at pool-side than in getting in the water! Bethany took it upon herself to teach Benjamin to swim this summer, and he was a quick learner. Keeping his plastic-wrapped hand out of the water made paddling a little tricky, but that is what he had to do after the tip of his finger got sliced off by our back door. Having an anesthesiologist in the family sure comes in handy! Doug put a digital block in Benjamin’s finger before we even left for the emergency room, so Benjamin remained calm and cooperative through the entire ordeal (at least until the attending physician began scrubbing the pieces to stitch back together, which was enough to make the strongest stomach queasy).
The day after Benjamin’s mishap, Joseph took a wild belly-ride on a runaway skateboard and knocked his front teeth loose. It must be something in the Y-chromosome — our boys are now five for five on damaged incisors!
Our missionary friends from China paid us a visit in July, but were only here for three days — just long enough to update us on their work, demonstrate the proper use of chopsticks, and teach the children a couple of songs in Chinese.
An unexpected guest dropped in on us the same weekend and is living here still — a pigeon named Ash, who was but a scraggly squab when she fell into our fireplace and got rescued by the kids. We kept her indoors and fed her by hand until her feathers grew in, then moved her outside once she learned how to fly. She considers herself a part of the family, though, and pecks on the door or window whenever she wants to be let in.
Jonathan spent a week at a diabetes day camp this month, swimming, boating, horseback riding, and learning about the latest advancements in diabetic care. He had a blast, but must have missed us almost as much as we missed him, because he asked permission from the camp director to bring his sister along with him for the last day of camp.
We drove to Oklahoma the end of July for the Cowan Reunion, spending a night in the Arbuckle Mountains on our way up and swimming at Turner Falls, which was quite an experience! Our uninhibited children intuitively dropped to their bellies to navigate the slippery rocks beneath the falls, while their not-so-clever parents came home black-and-blue from trying (unsuccessfully) to cross on foot!
We attempted to adopt a black lab from Animal Rescue in August, but ended up sending her back, as the retriever had irreconcilable differences with our pigeon.
The rest of our animals get along great with the bird. In fact, after our cat gave birth to a second litter this month, the pigeon stood guard over the four kittens round the clock, pecking relentlessly at the hand of anybody who tried to interrupt their nursing. Having survived the trauma of an early separation from her own parents, she seemed bound and determined to protect these babies from a similar fate! Our rabbits also had a litter this month. We kept the lone survivor, Blackberry, but are sad to report that our cats did not get along as well with the bunny as they do with the bird….
After witnessing the birth of that last batch of kittens, our older children redoubled their efforts to persuade Mom and Dad to let them see the delivery of our #7. They even slept on the couches in the den for the last two weeks of Jennifer’s pregnancy — fully dressed, including socks and shoes — to be ready to hop in the truck at a moment’s notice. So when our little Rebekah Lyn arrived in September (9/9/99), four of her siblings were on hand to insure she received a warm welcome.
Jonathan cut the cord; Bethany and David helped weigh and measure the baby (9 lbs. 14½ oz. and 22¼ in.); and while Samuel kept his eyes closed for much of the birth, he evidently saw enough that he could afterwards state with conviction, “I sure am glad I’m not a girl!”
One convenient thing about having another daughter is that we were beginning to run out of boys’ names, although we were not yet desperate enough to use Sam’s suggestion of Second Samuel (notwithstanding the fact that it is, indeed, a Bible name, as he astutely pointed out).
Our resident escape artist turned two this month, and his blue eyes have already taken on a more mischievous sparkle. We put extra locks on all our doors shortly after Joseph’s birthday, since he is prone to wander and has grown quite adept at covering his tracks! It looks as though our added sense of security will be short-lived, though…. Joseph discovered through minimal trail and error that he could push a ladder-back chair against the wall and climb its rungs to reach the new locks, so we know it’s just a matter of time before he learns to pick them, as well!
Bethany also celebrated a birthday this month — her tenth! We don’t know exactly when or how it happened, but she has suddenly started looking much more like a young woman and much less like a little girl. We’re not the only ones to notice, either. One day this summer, Bethany was standing next to a (random, unrelated) toddler admiring the animals in a pet store, when a sales clerk told her not to let her son climb on the display case!
October was ushered in with great fanfare by a school band that rehearsed its most rousing tunes every morning at 9:00 while marching up and down our block. Our children considered this a daily parade, and would pour onto our front porch at the first sound of its approach to gawk at the band members as they passed by.
They had opportunity to gawk at their father this month, as well, when Doug’s interview explaining epidurals to a local reporter was televised on the Tyler Evening News. Sam turned six in October and Benjamin turned four. Ben amazed us all by teaching himself to pedal a bicycle several weeks before his birthday.
It had been Sam’s bike and didn’t even have training wheels, but that didn’t slow him down a bit. Now he can ride a three-mile stretch with the rest of the family without working up a sweat.
Doug was scheduled to attend a medical conference mid-month in Biloxi, Mississippi, and decided at the last minute to take the family along with him. We stopped in Louisiana on our way to tour Vermilionville in LaFayette, the USS Kidd in Baton Rouge, and the Aquarium of the Americas and Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, then caught the Civil War battlefield and memorials in Vicksburg on the trip home.
You might expect that cramming seven children into the Suburban for an eight-hour drive would give rise to some battles of our own, but such was not the case. In fact, the kids traveled so well that Doug took us all back to New Orleans for a second conference the following month.
Rebekah had failed to regain her birth weight by the first of November, so we began supplementing with formula feedings every two hours. She had some trouble even latching onto a bottle at first, but eventually got the hang of it and gained rapidly — as much as eight ounces a day. The complete sense of inadequacy Jennifer felt trying to breastfeed this baby provided a keen reminder of the futility of trying to raise any of the children by our own strength. How utterly dependent we are upon the sustaining grace of God — whether we acknowledge it or not!
Several students from the middle school across the street began harassing some of our little ones this month. They’d lie in wait until the boys came out to ride their bikes, then would chase them with sticks, surrounding them and shouting obscenities. When Jennifer heard about this, she suggested the children stay inside to play…. When Doug heard about it, he jumped in his truck, kicked on the 4-wheel drive, and plowed across the field to where the bullies were hiding down by the creek. The little chat that ensued must have helped them see the error of their ways, because from that day forward, they would hurry past our house without breathing a word, all the while casting nervous glances over their shoulders. Needless to say, our children found their dad’s way of handling this situation to be far more impressive than their mother’s!
Now that December is here again, we are enjoying another benefit of having no television – no commercials! The children haven’t been brainwashed into believing they must have the season’s hottest toy or latest fad to be happy, which explains how Samuel could suggest we just give him “a paper airplane with a picture of a dog on it” for Christmas.
Adults have long observed that the packaging often holds more interest for a child than the gift inside. Our older children must realize it as well, because Jonathan has asked for a box to keep his tools in, Bethany wants a box for her sewing supplies, and David requested a box for storing his Legos.
Of course, our most precious gifts cannot be put in a box at all – the love of family and friends, good health, sweet memories, LIFE itself, and best of all, forgiveness of sin, and salvation by grace through faith. We pray that if you do not know Jesus already, you won’t let this century come to an end before committing your life to Him in full. And for you who’ve already accepted this greatest of gifts, we pray you’ll let God’s light shine through you ever more brightly to a dark and dying world. May God’s richest blessings be upon all of you in the new millenium!