Braden’s Memorial – Part Two

I spent all last week thinking about what I would say at Braden’s memorial service.  Interspersed with my bouts of crying, I would have thoughts pop into my head… memories I wanted to share or things that I felt would be important to say.  It was meant to be a celebration of his life, so it was not supposed to be all sad and weepy.  But I couldn’t get up there and recite dirty limericks either.  I was struggling to find a balance.  Plus, I had written a blog post on Tuesday called Remembering Braden that several people had already read, and I felt it was important to say something new.

I am most comfortable writing here on WordPress, so that is what I decided to do.  On Friday night I forced myself to sit down and write a “post” about Braden.  I figured that I could practice speaking it, but I could always fall back on reading it if I got too choked up at any point.  Plus, Kid A would be up there with me and she could always help me out if I needed it.  Unless she started cursing again.  Jeez.  I wonder where she gets that from?

So, here is the gist of what I said at Braden’s memorial last Saturday…

I remember the first time that Kid A mentioned Braden to me… we were driving in the car.  It was Summer 2011, and she started telling a story about some friends from Chattahoochee… Emily, (who had just graduated) and her boyfriend, Jared, and another boy who was his best friend.  And the way she told the story, I just knew that she liked this other boy.  So I paid attention.  She told me a little bit about him… that he was smart and funny and good looking and he had a job and he was on the cross country team and he was the oldest of six kids (Is his mom out of her mind?) and (she hesitated)… he was almost 18 and going to be a senior.  Keep in mind… Kid A was just 15 years old at the time.
Shortly after that was the very first time that I met Braden… it was still summertime and I was down in our basement playing video games with my boys.  Donkey Kong had just died somewhere on the eighth level and I may have yelled out a curse word at the television.  No sooner had I done that, then Kid A came walking down with Braden trailing behind her.
Braden spent a lot of time with our family.  I kind of insisted on it because he was this almost 18-year-old boy dating my baby girl.  Sheepdog cleaned his guns a lot more often when Braden was over, but quickly we came to see that he was a very respectful young man who cleared his plate after dinner and played with our other kids and doted on Kid A.  But then my Mom Radar was up and flashing because I figured he was just putting on a show so we didn’t send him packing (or shoot him, in Sheepdog’s case).
As time went by, we got to know the real Braden. It turned out that he was a pretty awesome kid. He knew good music.  He got a lot of movie references that Sheepdog and I made.  He read books and was actually interesting to talk to.  And even though Braden eventually stopped clearing his plate from the dinner table (don’t worry – I always made him go back and do it), I was happy that Kid A chose such a good egg to be her boyfriend.
Soon we met Stacy (Braden’s mom) when the kids went to Homecoming and then Steve and Heidi (Braden’s dad and his fiancée) when Braden played the Chief in Cuckoo’s Nest, and we met his sisters and brothers too.  Braden loved to tell funny stories about all of the wild adventures of his big, crazy family, and it was nice to put faces to the names.  He regaled us with tales of family and friends from all over… Pennsylvania and Nebraska and Georgia and Florida and DC.  So, yes… I know all of your dirty, little secrets, friends!  I actually think that is why he fit in so well with our family… we are big and crazy too.  Family was so important to Braden.  We talked about it often… how much he wanted to have a big, crazy family of his own one day.
Over time, Braden’s passion for everything became more and more evident.  Football season got into full swing and he was excitable, to say the least.  Our second oldest daughter, Kid B, was very much into soccer and she and Braden started watching European league games together.  I never realized that there was anybody louder and more fanatic than football fans, but I was wrong!   And do not get Braden started on politics or social issues.  Sometimes he would get so wound up about an issue, I would take an opposing stance just to see how fired up he could actually get.  It was kind of fun.
But Braden wasn’t perfect.  He was sometimes sullen and sarcastic and moody… because he was a teenager.  And then he got his first car… The maroon BMW.  Oh, how he loved that car.  And then he crashed that car and he got sullen and moody again.  Teenagers.
Then came that awful day… March 2, 2012.  I had gone to get my hair done… I have a lot of gray hair from an 18-year old dating my baby girl, so I was in the chair for a couple of hours.  When I got done, I checked my phone.  It had blown up… I had a bunch of texts and phone messages from Braden and his dad and his mom.  I knew that Braden had been feeling really sick and his grandfather, Walt, was going to take him to see a doctor.  When Stacy told me the news, I was in shock.  I remember emailing my dad, who was out of the country at the time, “How in the world do I tell Kid A that her boyfriend has leukemia?”
I will tell you, after those first few days of haze and confusion and denial, after reality started to set in, everybody rallied.  Stacy and Steve, friends, family, people in the community… it was an amazing thing to see.  And there was Braden, this 18-year-old kid who had just been told he had cancer and that his white blood cell count was so high that he should not have even survived the night, and he was still really positive.  He was passionate that he would beat the leukemia and that he would go to college and eventually get married and have a family, just like he had always planned.  And with so many people supporting him and a great team of doctors and nurses in his corner, we all believed he had a really great shot.
The next fourteen and a half months had many ups and downs… the roller coaster ride of cancer.  Hospital rooms and tests and procedures and more tests and doctors and then the bone marrow transplant from his very brave sister, Maddie.  And then good numbers from tests and every time he got sprung from that dreaded 4th floor, it was such a celebration!  It was joyful!  Oh, how I hope I never have to smell that awful hospital soap again.
But after the summer ended and most of Braden’s classmates went off to college, I saw things get harder for him.  He struggled with staying positive.  His body had been beaten up by the cancer and also the medicines that are supposed to knock the cancer out, but his mind started to get tired too.  Don’t get me wrong… he was still passionate.  Did anybody get on Facebook during the presidential election?  Am I right?  He always had something to say about something, and I loved that about him, even when he voted for Obama.
But by his 19th birthday, I saw less of a light in his eyes.  He felt it coming.  He told me after he blew out the candles on his cake that he knew it would be the very last birthday he celebrated.
Braden changed then.  He became much more contemplative.  He had a lot of time to sit and think and he didn’t waste it.  He thought about what he wanted after he was gone.  We talked about things at length over the last few weeks… about hopes and dreams and fears and regrets and wishes for the future.  He became much wiser than any teenager.  He kept saying, “This is what I want for my dying wish…” and I was like, “How many dying wishes do you think you get, pal?” 
His answer was always, “Unlimited.”
So, I give to you now the things that Braden wished for…
He wished for his sisters and brothers to go to school and to try hard and do well – because you are all smart and super talented.  Specifically, he wanted Cameron to take all of those AP classes.  No excuses.
He wanted his mom and dad to find happiness within themselves and the strength to help the family move on.  He wanted you to continue to create family memories, both together and separately.  
He wanted the family to tell Eric about him as he grows up.  As a matter of fact, he wanted us to talk to everybody about him all the time, so no one would forget him.  
He wished for Kid A to go off to college and get married and have that big, crazy family of her own some day.  
He wished that the rest of his family and all of his friends will go on to live happy, healthy and productive lives.
He wished that Jared and Emily would just go to Europe and shut up about it.  
He wanted us to look out for each other because he knew we’d all be sad after he was gone.  He wished for us to accept that some things we have control over and some things we just don’t.  He wished that we would live up to our potential and make the most of every day we have in this life.  
Do big things and do them with passion.
Do them for Braden… to honor his memory and to celebrate his life that came to an end much too soon.
Braden memory card

Ouch, That Burns or Why I’ll Never Wear a Low-Cut Dress to the Gun Club Again

Sheepdog and I went on a date yesterday.  It was actually a double date with new friends, Fat Bastard (self-named, but he’s not even fat – he’s just old) and his Very Cool Wife.  We had talked about things that we have in common and settled on a casual dinner.  But first we decided to bond over shooting some guns.

Sheepdog is always up for a little target practice at the range.  He probably goes once a month to shoot and to grope the cool new merchandise on the shelves.  And by “grope” I do mean moan softly while he touches and fondles the guns inappropriately.  His latest obsession is an AR-15, which is a semi-automatic sport rifle that one would apparently use to shoot most kinds of varmints.  That man really loves guns.

Sheepdog's latest mistress

So our new friends are from the arctic tundra (or Wisconsin) where they apparently grow up with not much else to do but hunting and ice fishing.  The saying goes that the four major food groups there are cheese, beer, fish and venison.  And everybody from there either has a friend, relative or a pet named Brett.  Anyway, they were totally up for some fun with guns so we swung by their house and picked them up.

When we got out of the car there was some talk about me being too dressed up.  I kind of was, but you have to understand that I own sweatpants/ pajamas and I own dresses.  I have nothing in between.  So I had opted to wear a summer dress and (as a favor to Sheepdog) some high-heeled sandals.  We were going out to eat afterwards, so it wasn’t completely unreasonable that I would be in a dress.  It was just a little weird and out of place at the shooting range, but I certainly didn’t care.  Sheepdog, of course, thought it was hot and was all for it.

So we are at the gun club and we put on our eyes (protective glasses) and ears (Monster Beats by Dr. Dre headphones) and we pick out our target practice sheets.  Sheepdog gives us a little safety reminder class and he sets us up in Lane 10.  Very Cool Wife is up first and she shoots the Glock once to get a feel for it.  Then Mrs. Jack Bauer up and busts a cap or two (or fifteen) into the neck and torso of the terrorist holding an RPG.  She was completely bad ass.

By the time I was up I was still a little nervous, as it has been a while since I last went shooting.  I am a safety girl, so I asked Sheepdog to give me yet another rundown.  Soon I felt comfortable enough to shoot.  I like the standard black and white target dummy with a red “X” over his heart.  I shot the crap out of that thing.  I loved the power of the gun in my hands, even though I have never been able to get the grip just right.  I always end up with blood on my thumb from the recoil.  I didn’t empty the magazine, but I was satisfied for the moment and let Sheepdog finish that one out for me.

So the four of us rotated for a while and we each took turns with the different target sheets.  Bullet casings were flying left and right as they discharged.  We were trying shots with both of the guns that Sheepdog brought and we also experimented with distance shooting.  We were having a good time.  It was really fun.  And then…

I was shooting the Glock 9mm again (which is definitely my favorite handgun).  Now, everybody develops a certain stance when they are shooting.  Some people stand loosely and some are more rigid in the knees and elbows – there are dozens of variations.  I choose to stand with my legs apart and my arms fairly close together, while my elbows are a little relaxed.  Risking TMI, I will tell you that this actually causes my boobs to get pushed together, which is neither here nor there except that one of the bullet casings flew up into the air upon discharge and then promptly fell into my cleavage.

One minute I was thinking about protecting my family from bad guys, super proud that I was pumping lead into the target’s face, throat and heart, and the next minute my twins were screaming in pain from the burning hot shell casing that was trapped in between them.  My survival instincts were strong but I was still all Safety First, so I promptly placed the handgun on the counter facing downrange.  But let me tell you that my hands were fishing around for the hot metal in my bra toute de suite.

It hurt at the time, but fortunately my boobs are just fine.  The burn was very mild and almost completely unnoticeable by this morning.  And I got a lesson that I hope all of you will learn from as well… don’t ever wear a low-cut dress to the gun club.  There’s good reason why everyone else there is in crew neck t-shirts and jeans.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Look Out! I’m Packing

No, not a gun, which – let’s face it – should in fact scare the bejesus out of everyone who knows me.  There are certainly some days that I could be the poster child for road rage.  I wouldn’t shoot people, mind you, but I would sure as a Swiss watch shoot some tires that belong to the idiots, the texters and the people who can’t be bothered to thank me with a simple wave.  What has happened to manners on the road, people?  No, I am actually packing up to go back home to Atlanta.  But you should still be a little scared of me right now.

Much more apropos that this picture represent peace than that stupid Mercedes sign inside of a circle

You see, I am a Master Packer.  If there were a class in packing, I would have slept through every one then just showed up for the final gotten an A plus.  I would have a Ph.D. in Stowage.  Opportunus Plures res in vegrandis tractus.  I can pack so much into such little space that I often amaze myself.  And I don’t even need those SpaceBag things (while I must admit that they are quite amazing).  My mind just sees a big game of Tetris and I can turn things and flip them and make them fit into other things and then into whatever space I’m working with.  Or I’ll just throw it out/ not bring it with me.

But talent like this does not come without a price.  In the hours leading up to a Big Pack I can become distracted and sullen and moody.  My mind is working so hard to plan and calculate the puzzle that will soon lie before me that I have no time for common social mores, like feeding my hungry children (“Am I wearing a sign that says, ‘Carl’s Slave?'”) or not growling at people just because they have the nerve to speak to me.

I am busy doing laundry, finding duffel bags (they pack much better than inflexible suitcases), tracking lost items, planning for eventualities and random possibilities (do you think Mary Poppins’ bag got packed all by itself?), and re-assembling bike and roof racks.  And then I have to check the DVR to see if the season premiere of Flipping Out recorded yet (priorities!).  I love me some Jeff Lewis.  He always makes me feel better because at least I’m not as crazy as he is.  Plus, it was fantastically funny when he taught that 3-year-old girl to say her favorite drink was chardonnay.  Then I have to pack.  Dun dun dun.

Fortunately for those directly involved in the process, today is cloudy and not at all a good beach day.  Before this weather actually presented itself I had some crazy scheme planned that involved a final day on the beach followed by last-minute loads and loads of laundry and cleaning (and subsequent drying!) of beach gear prior to a late night packing session.  Right, because there is nothing less stressful than a Big Pack on a deadline. (guess what… I got that from my daddy too – heh, heh).

So today will be mildly taxing, but soon enough we will be on the road again.  I am hoping for a drive day that is free of incidents, whining (by me or the kids) and speeding tickets.  A girl can dream, can’t she?  And when we finally get back to Georgia I will open a big bottle of wine.  I am beginning to notice a trend here.

Wish me luck for tomorrow… (I really mean it, because that drive is going to be L-O-N-G)

Let’s Agree to Disagree

Everything comes down to the He'n and She'n

Sheepdog and I have a great relationship.  He is the yang to my yin.  The out to my in.  The pragmatic to my fly off the handle.  We make a really good team.

We met when we were both twenty-years-old in college.  We got married just one month after graduating.  We were babies.  We both say all the time that we are so fortunate that we still liked each other after we sobered up.  True story.

It helps that we are on the same page about so many of the big things… finances, religion, politics, discipline, priorities, work ethic, what color to paint the house.  Those things really matter when you are dealing with the day-to-day crap that can sometimes drive a couple apart.

But, like every other couple, we don’t always see eye to eye.  Sometimes Sheepdog can be a dummy and he doesn’t see things my way, i.e. The Right Way.  Our disagreements certainly aren’t marriage-ending or earth-shattering, but they are ongoing.  For example, these are a few of our always-on-the-table points of contention:

  1. Tattoos.  Him:  Has two already.  Negotiated for new tattoos every time I suggested we should have another kid.  Another tat would be so freakin’ cool!  Me:  Hell no.  I have a Sharpie.  C’mere and let me give you another “tattoo,” mister.  Oh, and wait until Kids B and/ or C (Kid A wouldn’t even think about it) come home with tramp stamps.  Let’s hear how you feel about tattoos then.
  2. Guns.  Him:  Grew up in West Virginia, where they apparently issue “Baby’s First Shotgun” upon pre-school graduation.  He is a proud, sticker-weilding member of the NRA.  Me: Didn’t touch a gun until Sheepdog taught me to shoot empty beer cans with a 12-gauge, double-barreled shotgun in college (romantic?) and paper burglar targets with a Glock 19 a few years ago.  I respect the gun, but will always be a little scared of it.  I’d rather not even think about them, frankly.  I always manage to forget the code to our gun safe.
  3. Camping.  Him: Avid outdoorsman who would choose to live in a lean-to if I agreed.  Loves everything about the outdoors, including wiping with leaves.  Me: I only use Cottonnelle Ultra.  I see no point in camping.  Camping is for people who are not smart enough to know where to find a 5-star hotel.
  4. Girls in (Really) High Heels.  Him: The higher, the better.  All women should be required to wear high heels when greeting their man at the door after a long, hard day at work.  And nothing else.  Me: I wear flip-flops year round.

We have always called each other out on our B.S.  If I can count on no one else (well, before we had children who couldn’t wait to tell me that my hair looked crazy or that I am wrong about the facts), then I could always count on Sheepdog to give me the hard truth, or at least his version of it.

Except for when he wants some.  Then he knows he had better see things The Right Way.  And maybe I’ll even put on some heels.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…