Thinking Retirement

I have a date in mind. September 26, 2021. My 63rd birthday.

“Dream about what you want to do after high school,” I tell Juan and Crystel. Jody and I have offered our children many options. Gap year. College. Work. Travel. Imagine it all. Don’t put any restrictions on your visions.

I’m doing the same with retirement. Sometimes, I’ll have thoughts of staying in the workforce longer. I have a job I enjoy and leave satisfied, most days. After planning a trip to Japan for three weeks, I thought, well … maybe if I arrange a few more of these three-week vacations I could work longer. Then winter came.

The first time I stepped into the bone chilling Minnesota cold at 5:30 am to go to the YMCA and then on to work, I changed my mind. There is a difference between having to leave your home for work and leaving home when you want. For one if I were retired, I’d let the air warm up.

On numerous occasions, I’ve told Jody that I’m going to retire at 63. Just in case she forgets. Or thinks I’ve changed my mind. Since she is four years younger than me and has her own relationship with money, she will most likely work longer. I love her for that.

The kids graduate June of 2021. You would think that I’d want to work longer to help them pay for college. Jody and I have already come up with the amount of financial help we’ll give them. The rest is ours.

Some people add on to their house after their children leave high school, while others downsize.

Jody and I won’t downsize. We are going to keep the house as much for Juan and Crystel as for any reason. I always liked the idea of selling the house and traveling until Juan told Crystel one day that Mama Beth and Mama Jody were going to kick them out and sell the house after they graduated high school. After my OMG moment, I realized that he was saying that he needed a home to come home to. I always thought they could travel wherever we are.

The more Jody and I discussed retirement the more I realized that it didn’t make sense to be such involved parents and then when Juan and Crystel launch for college to no longer be present. In dreaming of their options maybe one of theirs is to live at home. Another OMG moment.

Now when I think of retirement I’m counting the winters left. One more winter. The Groundhog said it will be an early spring. Juan and Crystel will be starting their senior year September of 2020. I’ll be starting my last year of work. The days will go fast.

I’ve always said to people – get out of the workforce while you are still alive. Not everyone does. My parents and several siblings died young. This doesn’t mean that I will, but it lurks in my mind like a dirty swimming pool. I want many days of sitting in a chair with my eyes closed and my face to the sun. Our swimming pool sparkling.

What I Overheard the Gnomes Saying

Start of the Race.

Start of the Race.

Amazing Race, a reality television game show is the only television show that our family watches on a regular basis, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch when Crystel requested an Amazing Race scavenger hunt for her 12th birthday party.

A garden gnome was the children’s passport and the first clue stated how important their gnome was:

Before the Amazing Race is over Shin Bee and Antonio will forget their Gnome in a restaurant incurring a 1/2 hour time penalty.

Before the Amazing Race is over Shin Bee and Antonio will forget their Gnome in a restaurant incurring a 1/2 hour time penalty.

Find a gnome. The gnome must be with you today, always. One of you must hold it, carry it, and have it on your person at all times. Both of you are responsible to tenderly attend to your gnome until you are on the mat at the finish line. If you are ever without your gnome it is a ½ hour penalty. This penalty will be served before you can step on the finishing mat.

Crystel using Peachie the gnome for support. She is about to get her feathers plucked.

Crystel using Peachie the gnome for support. She is about to get her feathers plucked at Bella’s Salon.

A ruckus in the corner of the living room draws my attention. Two gnome brothers are about to go at it. One has a hoe he menacingly swings above his head.

“I had it worse than you,” he hollers.

“No, you didn’t,” the other argues. “Look at my hat. I’ve had this HAT ever since the19th-century.” The gnome starts to sob. “I remember … when the

Zipporah and Natty finishing a challenge. At this point, Gnomio, being held by Natty, still has his conical hat.

Zipporah and Natty finishing a challenge at Richfield Veterans Memorial Park. At this point, Gnomio, being held by Natty, still has his conical hat.

German children … called me Gartenzwerge (garden dwarf).”

He is overcome with grief and drops his water pitcher. The black jug lands at his feet spilling its contents. “What is it with children these days?” He sits down, not caring that his pants are getting wet. He rests his head in his arms, lets loose with his tears.

Crystel and Allie completing the 'take a selfie with a dog' challenge. Peachie safe in Allies left hand.

Crystel and Allie completing the ‘take a selfie with a dog’ challenge. Peachie safe in Allie’s left hand.

“Yeah, but, yeah but …” the gnome with the hoe says, “At least YOU were found. My children caretakers couldn’t even find me. I would have stayed in the crook of the tree aaaallllllll day if it wasn’t for their

mother. Darn electronics!” He peers down at the hole in his brother’s conical hat. “Maybe he’s right maybe he does have it worse. I can see right down to his feet. I knew he never had any guts.” He touches his head. “At least I still have my point.”

Gnomio overlooking the make a homemade pizza and drink challenge. He's shaking his head. "This isn't going to turn out," he says. 2 cups of flour for the drink was used instead of 2 tbs.

Gnomio overlooking the make a homemade pizza and drink challenge. He turns his back to whisper,  “This isn’t going to go well. 2 cups of flour for the drink was used instead of 2 tbs.”

The gnome lowers his hoe, sits next to his brother on the grass and places his arm gently around him. “Children have lost their ability to see.” He pauses, then goes on, “And, to read, for gosh sakes. The clue clearly showed where to look for me.” After a moment, he starts to chuckle, “Did you see those two girls running all over Donaldson Park? At the playground, in the soccer field?” He bowls over with laughter. “They weren’t even close to where I was.” The gnome finally realizes that he is the only one

Lighting fire with a flint. Crystel and Allie will do as there ancestors before them did ... steal fire from a competitor. Though they can't read a clue well they can think outside the box.

Lighting fire with a flint. Crystel and Allie will do as there ancestors before them did … steal fire from a competitor. Though they can’t read a clue very well they can think outside the box.

laughing but he can’t help himself. He raises his eyebrows. “Oh, my,” he exclaims. “That is quite a hole. Forget about going to the repair shop for that.” He grabs his tummy, shakes with glee.

Only when it is quiet do the gnomes think to inquire where their older brother is. Maybe they are thankful he isn’t around. Lately he has insisted that they listen to his sermons from the mushroom platform that he has created. His daily pontificating drives the brothers crazy.

Zipporah choosing her route at the Ghostly Gangplank at MOA. This was a first for her. All a part of the Amazing Race.

Zipporah choosing her route at the Ghostly Gangplank at MOA. This was a first for her. All a part of the Amazing Race.

They found their brother sitting under the mushroom talking softly to his pet bluebird.

“They called me Gnomie,” he says unhappily to his pet.

“Cheer, cheer, cheerful, charmer,” the bird says in a melodious, gurgling whistle.

“That wasn’t the worst of it,” he was telling the bluebird. “They abandoned me in a restaurant. All they could think of was money, money, money, winning, winning, winning.”

Antonio and Shin Bee high fiving it when they learn that Crystel and Allie took the time penalty for not finishing their sushi at Masu Shushi & Robata at the MOA. However, they will forget Gnomie at the restaurant incurring their own time penalty.

Antonio and Shin Bee high fiving it when they learn that Crystel and Allie took the time penalty for not finishing their sushi at Masu Shushi & Robata at the MOA. However, they will forget Gnomie at the restaurant incurring their own time penalty.

The two brothers crawl under the gold chanterelle mushroom and join their brother. Apricot scent is in the air.

“My two girls called me Gnomio,” the one with the hole in his hat says shrugging his shoulders. He had a lot bigger problems to think about.

“I was Peachie,” says the one with a hoe. He reaches up to take a nibble out of the tender mushroom stem. “Mmmmm,” he says.

“Stop it,” says Gnomie. He bats at his brother. “The altar will fall.” He measures his brothers with his eyes. “I think we can all agree that it wasn’t a good day to be a gnome.”

All three solemnly nod their heads.

Children’s laughter is heard in the background, oblivious to the gnomes sorrow.

What surprised me the most about Crystel’s Amazing Race is how similar it was to the reality show. Clues misread or not read, shouts of unfairness, competitors talking their way to the front of the line, and a gnome (passport) forgotten in the heat of the race….. but most importantly the day was a whole loft of fun for competitors, drivers, video and camera crew.

Try And Make Me!

9781623364069_p0_v1_s260x420[1]I still have my book. It has di Grazia scrawled in black magic marker on the front cover.

It is my guidebook, rules to live by. I have no intention of ever purging the book or giving it away as I have many parenting books.

Today, I leaf through try and make me!, pages stiff from absorbing moisture in the bathroom. “I’ve seen that book,” Crystel says as I carry it upstairs to write this blog. Indeed she has. For kids from 2 to 12 it says on the front cover. Antonio has just turned 12 and she’ll be 12 in six weeks. She most likely saw me reading on the couch when she was little. I also recall many times when I slipped away from the two toddlers to read a chapter that was happening RIGHT NOW. That’s what I liked about the book. I could relate.

Crystel and Antonio on our visit to see Antonio at Boy Scout Camp

Crystel and Antonio on our visit to see Antonio at Boy Scout Camp

Defiant kids are born or made. Because Antonio and Crystel are adopted, I was constantly trying to determine where their behavior stemmed from. In the end it didn’t matter. It wasn’t a question that was on my mind when my three-year old was jumping up and down in Super Target yelling, “No, no, no.” Instead, I glanced around for a place to sit. Then said, “Let me know when you’re done.” (Thank you to the mothers who acknowledged me and asked if I needed help).

Once, I did ask for help. I asked a security guard at the Mall of America if he would escort me and my child out of the store. He looked like a policeman to the five-year old who immediately glommed on to my legs when he realized what was transpiring. “Do you see what is happening here?” I said. “I can’t walk you to the car alone.”

12-years old

12-years old

Page 6. Never, Ever Give Up. That was the child’s last fit. It took years of constantly disengaging from his behavior and letting his problem stay his problem.

Four characteristics of defiant children are: control-craving, socially exploitive, blind to their role in a problem, and able to tolerate a great deal of negativity. Beyond these characteristics there is another difficulty that can make a child seem defiant: inflexibility.

To combat these Jody and I keep to a schedule, have rules for the children, and when they don’t follow them there are consequences. Because we have been doing this since they were young, few words need to be spoken. “Dude, you just lost your electronics,” is sufficient. Sometimes, I just purse my lips (so I don’t respond in anger), shake my head back and forth, and say, “You can continue–but there will be a consequence.”

Crystel, Jody, Antonio, Beth

Crystel, Jody, Antonio, Beth

When the children were young I often looked for the root cause of a fit. In reviewing the Mall of America incident, I came to realize that I had broken my promise to my child to take him to the Lego Store. It had gotten late and I could see that he was over-tired (problem). I thought it was more important to eat than to go to the store because all of us were hungry (problem), which led to the broken promise (big problem).

If I had been proactive, I wouldn’t have been at MOA with a screaming flailing kid at my feet, concerned that I was going to be asked for identification. In the days to come, I apologized to my child and told him that we would go on a date to the Lego Store. “We won’t buy anything. We’ll spend up to 45 minutes looking at everything.” And that is what we did.

It was my child’s 12th birthday when I realized how far we’ve come. He was on his fifth day of a weeklong Boy Scout camping trip at Many Point. I promised him that we’d come see him on his birthday even though it was a 10-hour round trip.

Lots to be proud of.

Lots to be proud of.

He saw us drive into the parking lot, and ran hollering, “Mama Beth, Mama Jody, Crystel.” Before his long strides reached us I thought of the bugs, the night, and the uncertainty of tent camping and a group of boys cooking outdoors. All those ‘thing’s’ that bothered him as a child. When he was young, to reduce his anxiety we bought a tent trailer, cooked food HE liked (and didn’t let it touch other food on his plate), and I accompanied him on all Cub Scout camping trips. This time he was alone to manage for himself.

I started crying before he even reached me. This child had grown up and was doing just fine. I hugged him hard with the knowing of how far we both had come.

Rings. It’s more than just a Ring.

“Do you like me better than you like Antonio?” Crystel asks last night at bedtime. I laugh. She laughs. I shake my head back and forth. She knows that I won’t answer that question. She’s asked before. “There is an abundance of love,” I tell her.

Sometimes as parents we are asked to put into practice what we say.

Last May, Crystel, Antonio, and I designed a ring for Jody’s 50th birthday. The children were very cognizant that their individual birthstone represented their ten-year-old self and jockeyed to have their stone be the closest to Jody’s birthstone.

One evening, after Jody received her ring, Crystel and I were lounging on the couch together. She told me that she wanted to create a ring like we did for Mama Jody with her and her birthparents stones on it. To clarify, I asked, “Just you, your birthmom, and your birthdad?”

“Yes,” she replied.

I felt a twinge. Why not one with Mama Beth, Mama Jody, and Crystel?

Then I was touched that she felt safe enough to tell me what she wanted and that she wasn’t worried about my response. There is an abundance of love. Right, Mama?

I got my laptop. We went to Jared’s website to design the ring that she wanted. First, she picked the design. Second, she took the laptop from me and put it on her lap. Third, she moved her birthstone to be in the middle, her mom’s next to her, and then stopped.

“What should I use for my dad’s birthstone?” she asked.

“For now, you can guess,” I said. “We will ask your mom when your dad’s birthday is. She is the one who will know. For right now, pick the one that you think it is.”

Her mom’s birthday is in September the same as hers. So, in her mind, since her dad was probably older, because all dads are older, it must be October, November, or December. She picked November.

Looking at the cost of the ring, Crystel saw that it would take her life savings. And, she still wouldn’t have enough money. It would take six more months for her to have a total of $225.00.

The ring for Jody was a symbol of her family always being with her and of our love for her. Crystel designed her ring with this same sentiment. Her mom and dad would always be with her. She was loved.

I felt proud of her for taking care of a want that she had. She wanted a representation of being loved by her mom and dad. She wanted them to be real to her. She wanted them always with her. Her ring was a way of her taking charge of her story. Yes, she was adopted. Yes, she had a family in Guatemala. Yes, she was thee Crystel.

She was living out the adage … don’t wait for someone to buy you flowers …. bless yourself.

Crystel was going to do for herself instead of waiting for something that would never ever happen. That could never ever happen. She wasn’t going to be bitter about it. She wasn’t going to be angry. She wasn’t going to be depressed. She was going to design a ring, put herself in the middle of her birthparents and be cradled by the universal belief that she was loved.

In June, during our visit with her mom, I asked the birthdate of Crystel’s dad and jotted down February in the small notebook I carried.

Crystel continued to save her money.

$225.00 dollars later, Jody, Antonio, and I accompanied Crystel to Jared’s to place her order. The person who was helping us suggested that the purple stone (Amethyst) be in the middle of the two blue stones (Sapphire). That would be more aesthetically pleasing, he said. I looked at Crystel. She shook her head.  I understood. She wanted to be held in her parent’s arms. She needed the middle spot.

“No,” I said. “Blue (mom), blue (Crystel), and Purple (dad). Just like she wants them.”

There was much discussion about the sizing of the ring. Which finger would be best as she grew from being a 10-year-old to a young adult. We determined that her middle finger was the correct size and as she grew she could move it to another finger. Jody and I talked to her about how we never take our rings off and that she didn’t need to either. She could always have her birthparents with her.

There is an abundance of love.

A Ring, Not Such A Simple Thing

It occurred to me on my drive to work that this was going to be Jody’s 50th birthday. I hadn’t come up with an idea for a present but I was happy that I realized it was her 50th.  The significance of her birthday suddenly hit me. Her 50th birthday!

I was grateful that the significance of this milestone occurred to me, because often significance could hit me on the head and I still might not get it. I have a very good friend that knows this about me and she checks up on me around Jody’s birthday and our wedding anniversary.

I was pleased with myself. I had thought of the significance all by myself and I still had a few weeks to come up with a SIGNIFICANT present.

Jody’s birthday is around Mother’s day. Maybe that is where I got the idea that a bracelet or necklace with all of our birthstones would be nice.

Crystel, our nine-year-old daughter, was with me at Jared’s. Antonio, our other nine-year-old was across the parking lot at SchmItt’s for his drum lesson. Crystel and I only had a short amount of time to make a decision before Antonio’s lesson would be over. While I was looking at bracelets with the personal attendant, Crystel was examining rings. She called me over and pointed out a ring that she liked. I thought about it. The ring could have the number of stones we needed and Jody was more apt to wear the ring all of the time.

I changed course and had the gal price a ring for me with an emerald, ruby, and two sapphires. When it came time to decide the order of the stones I asked Crystel. She said the emerald, two sapphires, and then the ruby. I thought her order would be good. Jody being a sapphire would be next to each child depending on what sapphire the kids decided Jody was.

But … the next few days I puzzled over the order of the stones. I had an unsettling feeling. Jody was Emerald, not Sapphire. Antonio was Ruby. Crystel and I were Sapphire. Crystel’s order put Sapphire next to Emerald. Now on the face of things this is no big deal. But, symbolism is very important to nine-year-olds. The stones would be Jody, Crystel, Beth, Antonio. Antonio would be next to me if the first Sapphire was Crystel and not next to the birthday mama.

I checked online and the ring hadn’t yet shipped. I stopped into the jewelry store to check on the possibility of changing the order of the rings to sapphire, emerald, ruby, sapphire. This would put Jody next to each child.

This time Antonio was with me at Jared’s. He said that he thought the stones should match the order of the birthdays, emerald, ruby, sapphire, sapphire. I raised my eyebrows. The stones would be Antonio, Jody, Crystel, Beth. His order would place Ruby next to Emerald.

I was told that the ring had already shipped but that they could change the order of the stones for a price. I thought about it, and economically, this didn’t make sense. I told the gal that the order of the stones was perfect and explained to Antonio on the way out of the store how the ring was round, never-ending, inclusive, just like our family. I put my arm around him and said, “Each stone is important, a representation of us all.”

Jody’s birthday has since passed. Antonio thinks the ruby stone representing him is pretty, Crystel proudly announced that she chose the order of the stones, and I talked about the SIGNIFICANCE of the ring.