Let me begin by noting that Doug, Jonathan and Bethany did indeed make it home safely from Guatemala last December. They came laden with hand-crafted souvenirs and brimming with animated accounts of their adventures abroad — climbing temple ruins in the jungles of Tikal, swimming in cascading pools formed by tropical volcanoes, and administering anesthesia with archaic equipment and no running water.
When an ice storm blew through Tyler shortly after their return and knocked out our electricity for three days, we huddled under a pile of quilts and read A Christmas Carol by flashlight, the steam from our breath hanging in the air about us. The power was still out when Gore conceded the election, so we missed Bush’s acceptance speech, after all. We received invitations to the inauguration, but were unwilling to pay $1000 a head to attend, much to the children’s chagrin.
Our new van arrived a few days before Christmas, looking more like a bus than a family car. All we need now is to have our school name painted down the side…something classic, like “Flanders Academy for Really Talented Students”.
Doug bought new bathroom scales in January, which are remarkable in that they also measure body fat percentage. For months afterward, he would drag them out any time we had company and subject our unsuspecting guests to surprise weight checks. Not everyone shared Doug’s enthusiasm for new technology nor his eagerness to compare vital statistics, but they dutifully followed the doctor’s orders, removing their socks and shoes and stepping on the scales in turn.
Rebekah learned to undress herself this month. She could squirm out of her shirt in a split second and would do so whenever/wherever the opportunity presented itself. The novelty of going topless did not wear off until spring, when she discovered her nostrils….
Bethany got braces in February. We found an orthodontist who gives sibling discounts, which means by the time we get to our last child, he should be paying us to straighten her teeth! Rebekah got tubes this month. She heard our dogs through closed windows the morning after her surgery, seemingly for the first time. This gives some indication of how badly compromised her hearing had been, since Jinx’s barking wasn’t easily ignored, as any of our sleep-deprived neighbors would readily attest.
David turned nine. Almost overnight, he progressed from perusing picture books to devouring 400-page novels! He also likes to climb trees, build forts, play ball, catch toads, and write pen-pals.
We traveled to Houston for a medical conference and brought Jennifer’s parents along to help count heads. Even so, we managed one evening to leave Bethany in the ladies’ room of an Italian restaurant down the street from our hotel. As soon as she realized this was not just another of her dad’s practical jokes, Beth had the maitre d’ fax over a request for the Flanders to pick up their daughter posthaste. By the time we received it, however, we’d already discovered her absence and had dispatched Doug to retrieve her. “I tried to tell everyone we should wait for you,” he teased, “but your mom said not to bother, since it was late and we needed to get to bed!” (Bethany knew better than to believe that!)
We drove to Washington-on-the-Brazos for Texas Independence Day. It began pouring rain almost as soon as we arrived. While the rest of us crowded under leaky canvas awnings and watched re-enactors dig trenches around their tents, Doug negotiated a volume discount on lunch. He offered a vendor $10 for all the turkey legs she had left. She protested that they normally sell for $4 a piece, but Doug contended, between the growing storm and the diminishing crowd, that they wouldn’t sell at all unless she accepted his offer… so she did!
We continued our Texas history study back at home. We took square dancing lessons, attended a chili cook-off, and won a quilt raffle — all sponsored by our wonderful home school support group.
The children had their portraits made this month, although it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a time when the whole crew is simultaneously presentable. We had to postpone the first appointment after Joseph scribbled all over his brothers’ extremities with a laundry marker one night while they were asleep. It took a week for the ink to wear off, by which time Rebekah had blisters under her nose from the undivided attention she’d been giving it lately. Meanwhile, Jon broke another finger playing basketball, and Joseph got run over by a bicycle.
Although it left him completely drenched in blood, Joe’s only injury was an inch-long gash to his forehead, which Dad sewed up at home under the sympathetic supervision of six siblings. The accident did little to slow Joseph down. Within days, he had persuaded Jonathan to take the training wheels off his bike and was riding easily without them. It was the second set of stitches that put him out of commission — three more in his foot two weeks later. That makes more stitches for Joe in a single month than the rest of our kids have had in their entire lives combined! But what can you expect from a child whose birthday is 9/11?
Jonathan saved a baby squirrel from a couple of cats in April and nursed it back to health. The grateful creature later returned the favor by dragging our spank-stick so far up a tree that Mom couldn’t reach it! David rescued the spring pigeons that fell down our flue this year. Flash was ready to fly and didn’t tarry, but Smokey lingered in the ligustrum for weeks, next to a family of sparrows living in our wren house.
Rebekah found a new obsession this month — she learned how to wink. Her constant practice made us fear she’d developed an involuntary twitch, but we eventually realized she was doing it on purpose. We had a memorable Easter weekend: Doug involved our van in a 3-car fender-bender, David hurled a baseball through our dining room window, Joe chipped two teeth and knocked three loose, and our “resurrection cookies” didn’t rise. They looked more like flat pancakes than hollow tombs, but the original grave was empty, and that’s what matters!
Spring-cleaning yielded longer lasting results than usual this year, since we began charging the children for everything they leave out of place. The little boys caught on while the going price was a nickel an item, but we had to up the ante several times before Jonathan mended his ways.
Doug and Jennifer got matching watches to celebrate the anniversary of the day they met, 15 years ago this month. We drove to San Antonio, stopping in Austin to tour the capital and watch the colony of 1.5 million bats come out from under Congress Avenue Bridge. We found a nice, green knoll shortly before dusk and sat down to wait, but by the time the bats emerged — three hours later — it was too dark to see them at all, though we could hear their cries and feel occasional droppings as they passed overhead. Ughh!
We had better success with winged creatures on the Riverwalk. The birds there have apparently developed a taste for tortilla chips, and our children were more than happy to share with the huge flock that assembled around our table at Casa Rio.
Rain accompanied us on this Texas field trip, too, causing the Fiesta River Parade to be cancelled for the first time in sixty years! Doug didn’t let this dampen his spirits, but took advantage of the wet weather to do some power-shopping, which naturally included the purchase of more athletic shoes….
In May, we attended a home school book fair in Arlington, but were forced to cut our stay short when two of the children got sick. Within days, all seven were ill. Presenting symptoms were commonplace enough — sore throats, nausea and vomiting — but by the time the bug had run its course, the kids were clutching their heads and howling hysterically, as if they had beetles in their brains.
Between outbursts, we read aloud. Mom finished Robinson Crusoe and Carry On, Mr. Bowditch in the afternoons, while Dad regaled us with Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on their Toes during the evening hours. Jonathan had a birthday and officially entered his teen years. If he can manage to finish this stage of life with as sweet an attitude as he’s begun it, we’ll be in great shape.
He volunteered at the hospital all summer, having become particularly interested in emergency medicine. He never goes anywhere without a well-stocked first-aid kit, which is fortuitous, considering Joseph seldom goes anywhere without needing one! Jonathan served as sort of a “poster-child” for Juvenile Diabetes this summer when two different television stations interviewed him for their evening newscasts. He even starred in a commercial advertising the annual Diabetes Walk at Bergfeld Park; it was only a 30-second spot, but it took about three hours to film!
By June, the so-called German shepherd puppy Jon adopted last fall had grown into a wooly mammoth Chow, with a temperament to match. Our little ones could no longer venture into the backyard without being nosed, nipped and knocked to the ground. Fearing Jinx might do to the children what he’d done to our gardenias, Doug wasted no time in returning the dog to the Humane Society.
We looked at a spec-home in Brighton Creek this month, and word spread like wildfire. We were subsequently flooded with phone calls from builders, bankers, and real-estate brokers convinced we were ready to buy some million-dollar mansion, but we opted to keep our own modest home (with its modest mortgage) and just re-carpet, instead.
With baby’s due date more imminent than we imagined, Doug left town for a two-week stint with the Army Reserves, and Jennifer’s nesting instinct kicked into overdrive. Even as hubby was repelling off 50-foot towers and experiencing first-hand the effects of tear gas, Jennifer was carting home truckloads of cleaning, painting, gardening, plumbing, and electrical supplies, determined to refurbish our entire estate before Doug returned.
Unfortunately, a reprise of last month’s screaming virus thwarted her progress; she stayed so busy laundering bed linens and meting out Motrin that the other projects were barely begun before Dad was due back. He arrived to find the house completely uninhabitable: furniture stacked to the ceiling, gaping holes where toilets should be, landscaping limp from lack of water, epoxy fumes permeating every room, and the family checked into a hotel, waiting for the air to clear.
Such was the state of affairs when Jennifer’s labor began — two weeks early and exactly eight hours after Doug’s plane touched down! We were blessed with another beautiful baby girl, Rachel Joy, born June 16. She weighed 8 lbs 8 oz, our smallest yet, and Doug immediately took to calling her Peanut. Rebekah calls her MY baby, and firmly believes it’s true.
While Jennifer was in the hospital, Nana and Papa watched our kids and supervised the carpet-laying, toilet-resetting, furniture-placement, etc. They undoubtedly returned home with a more acute appreciation for their own quiet, orderly, empty nest.
July was largely uneventful. Jennifer nursed round the clock. Doug ran a lot, still hoping to be ready for his first marathon sometime before rigor mortis sets in. Jonathan lived at the medical center. Bethany baked bookoos of bread. The middle boys spent their waking hours on their bikes or at the pool. Samuel taught Joseph how to swim and do flips off the diving board this summer; Joe landed in the water all but once.
Sensing we were about to embark on another cross-country trip, Rebekah became suddenly intent on potty-training. Twice, Jennifer caught her naked in the dog run, squatting over Lucky’s water bowl! Given this eager enthusiasm and her insatiable passion for flushing things down the toilet, we thought it best to cooperate, though we didn’t relish the idea of stopping at every gas station she spotted between here and Yellowstone.
August took us on a 10-state tour of the Midwest. Our first stop was Branson, MO, where our 11 pm arrival inadvertently landed us smack in the middle of a hot rod parade! Spectators pointed, laughed, and cheered as our van inched its way down Main Street — clearly out of place amid the sea of sports cars. We felt a strong urge to toss candy out the windows and set our tires spinning, but resisted.
The procession delayed us two hours and cost us our hotel reservation, since the front desk was closed by the time we reached our destination. We had to scramble to find a vacancy elsewhere. Packing ten people into a single room may sound cramped, but it beats camping-out on the parking lot, and promotes togetherness, besides! And how else would we have discovered David talks in his sleep, had we not been there to hear him cry out, “Dear God! Please help me!” when he had a nightmare? (We were glad to learn that prayer is his instinctive response to trouble).
We shopped the 78-acre Mall of America in Minneapolis, MN, where Doug astounded us all by not buying a thing (he made up for it later in Native American pottery purchases)!
The children panned for gold in Lead, SD, but Dad dug for treasure of a different sort, pulling an eight-inch strand of cheese from Joseph’s throat when he tried to choke to death on fried mozzarella.
We skipped stones on the Shoshone River and scaled cliffs in the Badlands, two impromptu but unforgettable wayside stops. The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs certainly made a big impression — Joseph didn’t want to leave. The mountain air must have agreed with Rachel; she’d grown an inch longer and a pound heavier by the time we got home. She was much too big to sleep in the laundry basket any longer, so we moved her to a crib.
September signaled the beginning of birthday season. Rebekah celebrated her second. It’s hard to believe this chunky monkey ever had trouble gaining weight! She’ll swallow anything she can get her hands on, believing unlocked pantries or overflowing trashcans to be open invitations to “dig in”. She loves books, although up until recently, she’s insisted on turning the pages herself and would seldom slow down long enough for anyone to actually read the text.
September 11th arrived, and while tragic news of hi-jacked planes and suicide bombings gripped world-wide attention, Joseph quietly turned four. Purple is Joe’s favorite color, and his favorite pastimes include raiding the candy dish at Mr. and Mrs. Brown’s house, watching BAMBI, offering lengthy prayers at the dinner table that God alone can understand, and giving the sort of strong, vigorous kisses one might expect to receive from a leech. He sure loves his family, and he sure tells us often!
Bethany is now twelve, going on twenty. She continues to read widely, is an accomplished artist, a prolific writer, a talented musician, an experienced babysitter, and a terrific cook. We went to Six Flags for Bethany’s birthday, realizing too late that the rest of the crowd was there to celebrate Something Else. It was “a van among sports cars” all over again as our family-of-ten warily wormed its way through a park full of [mostly male] couples who were swaying arm-in-arm as they sang along with a live performance of “Stand by Your Man”!
Samuel had his eighth birthday in October. A born mathematician, he is constantly engaged in some sort of mental calculation– how many minutes constitute a four-day visit to Nana and Papa’s, how big a slice of pie would result if he halved a piece six times, how much spending money would be left after tithes and taxes were our family to win 50 million dollars and split it nine ways!
He adores his father and refuses to get dressed until he knows what Doug is wearing, so that they can match. All he wanted for his birthday this year was a day alone with dad, every minute of which Sam planned a month in advance and reviewed ten times daily with anyone who’d listen.
Benjamin turned six this month. He has made tremendous strides in speech therapy and continues to participate in gymnastics and choir. He’s an eager student, ad dependable errand-boy, an enthusiastic baby-cuddler, and a borderline vegetarian, subsisting almost entirely on peanut butter sandwiches (no jelly), raw broccoli, cheese pizza, and cream gravy.
Rebekah must have thought she’d died and gone to heaven November 1st when she crept out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to find a house full of Halloween candy, unattended! By the time our 5 AM alarm sounded, all that was left was wall-to-wall wrappers!
Doug and the middle boys attended a father/son retreat at Pine Cove and came home addicted to “four-square”. Even before their bags were unpacked, they were outside taping a court onto our driveway, so they could teach the rest of the family how to play. Soon, every boy in the neighborhood was lining up with us to compete in an ongoing, after-school tournament. Bethany made her acting debut this month, playing the older sister of a 16-year old Anne in Tyler Civic Theater’s fall production of The Diary of Anne Frank. She handled the part beautifully. David appeared in one act, as well, albeit unintentionally, when his ill-timed parting of the theater curtains provided an unsolicited stand-in for a Nazi soldier. He got rave reviews.
December promises to be busy, but bright. We’ll bid adieu to a few more Flanders tonsils this month — both Joe and Rebekah are scheduled to have theirs removed on the 19th. Rachel, who’s endured three ear infections in four months, may join them for tubes. I’m low on space, so I’ll close by wishing you a “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” Let us hear from you soon!