A Thank-You!

Sometimes Aaron jerks, as in possible myoclonic jerk seizures.  No, I didn’t say that Aaron IS a jerk…….at least not out loud.  OK – just kidding!  But really, he has dropped coffee or other drinks as well as food and whatever else may be in his hand when he has a jerk.  It doesn’t seem to happen often, thankfully.

He came home today from his day group and was telling me about his day, about the movie they went to see and about going to the park afterwards.  He’s calm and mellow today.  Our conversation was more adult feeling and pleasant.  I love days like this.

He told me that he got popcorn……a large, as always.  Now Paradigm staff may need to correct this, but the story Aaron told me is this:

“Mom, I was carrying my bucket of popcorn.  It was before the movie started.  We were out in the hall……..you know, outside that theater place.  And I had a jerk and I dropped my popcorn.”

He was very matter-of-fact about it as he continued:  “You know, we weren’t inside the place where we watch the movie.  We were at that pay aisle place.”

Bless his heart – it was very important to him that he set the stage and that I understood exactly where he was.  I assured him that I knew where he meant, and so he went on:  “Well, that theater lady came and she said she would sweep it up.  I told her that I would sweep it up but she said that she would do it.”

Aw, Aaron.  He was embarrassed by all this and it makes my heart go out to him.  He felt bad for the theater lady to sweep up his mess that he had made.  Hearing him express that fact just really warmed my heart, and made me also feel sad for Aaron…….sad that he has to deal with all these public issues.

And I want to say thank you to this nice theater lady for sweeping up Aaron’s mess………….and thank you to the guys who refilled Aaron’s popcorn bucket (large, of course!)…………and a huge thank you to all the Paradigm staff who work so patiently and kindly with not only Aaron, but with many other young special needs adults.  I know it can’t be easy to keep it all straight and keep yourselves from getting irritated, but we think you do a fabulous job!

Good people need to be recognized, and we’re very thankful that God has brought so many into Aaron’s life.

Mouthwash and Mattresses

For some time now, Aaron has used mouthwash every night before bed.  His dental hygienist suggested this for Aaron, telling us that it would help prevent tartar buildup.  Aaron’s dental habits could use some tweaking, let’s just say………….so could his showering habits, for that matter.  Anyway, I was skeptical that Aaron would come anywhere near a bottle of mouthwash, let alone actually put it in his mouth…………but lo and behold, he has used it faithfully for months.  Amazing!

When I got him the first bottle, I stood beside him and instructed him on the mechanics of using mouthwash.  He was full of trepidation as he took his first tiny sip of the suspicious substance.  I encouraged him onward and finally he had the entire amount in his mouth.  The look on his face was priceless!  He was adjusting himself to the minty taste of this weird colored liquid.  I really thought that this first swishing would be his last……….but it wasn’t.  He has decided that this miracle mouthwash will keep the hygienist from delivering bad news to Mom at each dental visit, so swish he will!

He has told me when his bottle of mouthwash was running low so that I could buy another one.  He has commented on the shapes of the bottles, the brand of the mouthwash, the taste of the mouthwash…………and even confided in me that one night when he had a cold, he got out of bed and swallowed some mouthwash, thinking that it would help his cold……………so we had another instructional session of the pros and cons of swallowing mouthwash……..heavy on the con side………..and I don’t believe he has ever drunk mouthwash again.

Last night we were going through our getting-ready-for-bed routine.  Aaron was in his bathroom brushing and swishing.  He had a brand new bottle of mouthwash and I was soon to hear about it.  He charged into our bedroom.   “Mom!!  That new mouthwash is blue!”

Yes, Aaron, it is.  Did you like it?

“Well, it’s called Blue Mint.”


“It was different!”

I know it’s different.  Did you like it?   And he told me that, yes, he liked it…………..and he thumped on down the hall to his room.

But not for long.  Into the room he burst again.  “Mom, it’s just that this new mouthwash is a weird blue color.”  

It is blue, Aaron.

“But my other mouthwash was green.”

Yes, Aaron……….green mint and blue mint.  Crazy, huh?

Off he went again, satisfied, I hoped.  I was almost done with my own brushing of teeth when he barreled in again.  “Mom!  Can you come in my room and do something?”

Aaron, what is it?  I really want to go to bed.

“There’s something wrong with my bed!  I noticed it today.”

Aaron had a couple seizures earlier in the day and so I wondered if his covers were messed up.  I went to his room and he said, “It’s this part of the bed….over here, on the lamp side.”  So I went to the lamp side of the bed and stood there looking down to see whatever it was I was supposed to see.  Aaron was quiet, waiting for me to correct the very obvious problem that wasn’t at all very obvious to me.

So, Aaron, what is it?  What’s wrong with the bed?  And he leaned down a little and pointed to the end of the mattress, at the rounded corner.  OK.  And the problem is?

“See, Mom?  It’s halfway messed up.  The mattress needs to come over this way.”

It looked totally fine to me, but I knew better than to try to dissuade him of his firm conviction that the mattress was halfway messed up, so I reached down and gently moved the mattress over………….maybe an eighth of an inch………..maybe.   Aaron was very happy to see this improvement in the position of his halfway messed up mattress.  So was I, believe me.  Simple solutions to Aaron’s halfway messed up issues don’t always happen!

We hugged good night and I started up the hall, only to have Aaron follow me.  I turned around to nip this in the bud and he said, “Mom, that mouthwash was different.”

OK, Aaron………..I know the mouthwash was different but the Blue Mint is good, right?  He agreed.  And your halfway messed up mattress is fixed, right?  He agreed.  So let’s go to bed.

Another hug and we parted ways…………me holding my breath as I fully expected him to return with one more mouthwash update.  But he stayed in his room and settled in his bed to read before closing his book, recording his going-to-sleep time in his notebook by his bed, turning off his light and getting his covers just so-so on his no longer halfway messed up mattress.

And it hit me…………he didn’t even ask if it was going to rain tonight.  Wow!  Must be the mouthwash!

Do Not Pass!

What a difference a day can make!  We have all experienced how true that statement can be.  We can wake up to dramatic differences in the weather, in how we feel, in our mood, in the news headlines – so many changes in a short time.  It’s certainly true with Aaron, as I’ve pointed out before.  How can he be so happy one day, and the next day be a terrible grouch?  He went from being so cheerful yesterday to being a real meanie today.  It’s as if he’s stuck in perpetual adolescence!  That thought is sobering, to say the least.  
It’s the same old song and I’ve totally lost count of which verse we’re on.  He didn’t want to get off the computer………..he said he was tired…………that he didn’t sleep well………….that no one cares……………that he didn’t want to go to Wal-Mart with Paradigm today……………..that Mom, in particular, doesn’t care.  So I matter-of-factly told him that I had poured his coffee, that his wallet was ready with extra money for Wal-Mart, and generally tried to encourage him with as few words as possible.  Too many words only further aggravate him.  And the more he is aggravated, the more my words may change from being kind and patient to being every bit as grouchy as Aaron is being.  It’s hard to win in this situation, though…………because while too many words aggravate him, too much silence from me only confirms to him that I don’t care, and off we go down that path again. 
It’s quite a balancing act and I never exactly know where we will land.  I can read Aaron very well, but his frustrations are sometimes erratic………..even to Aaron.  Oh, how I wish he could sit down, look me in the eye, and describe how he’s feeling and why!  Just have a good old heart-to-heart with Mom.  That’s unrealistic, though, for me to expect that from Aaron.  I have to reach into his heart without any expectation that he will do likewise with me.  Try to understand, try to resolve, try to defuse, and try not to enable bad behavior.  I don’t feel wise enough for this job some days!  Am I doing all I can?  Am I helping or hurting?  Could I have done things way in the past that would have made today not happen?  But those are defeating thoughts, surely not from God.  I can only capture this moment and ask God for wisdom……….and a slow, deliberate tongue that doesn’t speak what I am sometimes thinking.  Do I always succeed?  Absolutely not!  But the only moment that I have to try to do right is this very moment and so this moment is what I concentrate on now. 
I went to the kitchen and without saying a word, I got out the celery and peanut butter.  Aaron watched closely while pretending not to care.  Yet I could see that he was calming down, relaxing, talking softer………….all the while wondering what Mom was doing.  I washed the celery pieces and spread the peanut butter on each one, and then set it on the table for Aaron to eat.  He didn’t thank me verbally, but I know he thanked me deep inside that amazing brain of his.  I left him to his happy crunching as I finished getting ready, and later we got into the van for our drive to meet Cody, his Paradigm day group staff.  Aaron was mostly quiet, but as we waited for Cody to come, Aaron noticed my new key chain…………..a cute little sparkly shoe.  Aaron notices so many little details that most of us miss.  Does he notice how much we care?  Does he relate celery and peanut butter to my love for him?  I don’t really know.  He will probably never be able to tell me that.  But I know and God knows, and that’s what matters the most. 
On the way home, I passed a big semi-truck full of huge rolls of sod.  Two cars were behind this truck as he drove very slowly down the road.  The second car was easing out, seeing if he could pass, in a hurry to get around this impediment that was slowing down his progress.  But the car quickly changed his mind and jerked back into his lane as he saw that coming toward him was another huge truck.  He would have been in worse shape if he had passed the truck that was slowing him down.  Better to just be patient and take his time, arriving safely at his destination.  I am sometimes like that car, wanting to hurry around Aaron’s behaviors and not deal with him and how his attitudes can change my day and alter my mood…………..not for the better.  Yet I have a choice to make.  I can slow down and deal with the issues as best I know how at the moment, allowing God to give me His grace to handle the frustrations that Aaron brings.  We stand a far better chance at arriving at the place that we both really want to be, a place of love and understanding.  Or I can barrel around the trying moment, attempting to hurry through it out of sheer impatience and anger…………..but if I do that, I know I’ll have a head-on encounter with a greater trouble.  I’ll damage Aaron and I’ll be acting in sin, which will also damage me and hurt my relationship with God. 
I wish I could say that I have always done that…………..slowed down and reacted wisely.  No, I surely haven’t done either, more times than I care to say.   For every meltdown that Aaron has, I have the temptation to be angry…………..and I sometimes am just that.  But the impact of that anger is more hurtful than just staying behind the situation and driving slowly and choosing my words wisely.  The moment will pass…………..it always does……………and Aaron moves quickly on to the next conversation and the next interest and the next meal………whatever………..and I ride along with him, praying to arrive safely at the end of the day – with one of his side way hugs and a quick good-night and one last conversation about whether it will rain tonight. 
After all, there are some things that NEVER change!

Watching Grass Grow

We have some shady areas in our front yard where we have a very hard time getting grass to grow.  Over the weekend, Gary spread some grass seed mix there.  Of course, this did not escape the attention of our ever observant Aaron.  This morning Aaron slipped out the front door to see if the mulch was wet, and to see what the temperature was on this cloudy, windy day.

Soon I heard the familiar thump, thump, thump as he hurried up the stairs.  Into my room he strode as he said, “Mom!  I opened the front door to see if the grass has grown!  It’s still white dots.”

I guess it does look like white dots, Aaron.  It takes awhile for it go grow.

“Well, when will it grow?”  And I told him again that it would take some time for us to see the grass grow from little white dots.  The seed has to be watered, and so forth.

And he asked, “What will it look like?  Will it be huge grass?”  So I asked him what he meant by “huge grass” as I envisioned living on a grassy African plain.

And he answered, “Will it be huge grass or normal grass?”

I assured him that we would have normal grass………still wondering exactly what huge grass is, but Aaron had moved on.

He went back outside one more time to check the temperature.  I guess the first time he was distracted by the white dots in the dirt that haven’t grown into huge grass yet, or even normal grass.

Back upstairs he thumped.  “Mom!  I looked up close at the grass seed.  It looks like oatmeal!  Is that oatmeal seeds?”

No, Aaron, I am sure that your dad did not plant oatmeal seeds.  Interesting concept………..except imagine the mess of oatmeal when it rained.

Later, when I came home after dropping Aaron off and running some errands, there I was peering down at the white dots on the ground.  You know, that mixture really does resemble oatmeal!  I smile and just shake my head once more at Aaron’s fascinating descriptions.

Nope, life is not dull with Aaron around.  He causes us to pause and take a second look at so many things…….things that normally we would just hurry by and not notice.  And I have a feeling that we’ll be having more grass seed/white dot/oatmeal-in-the-front-yard discussions as we wait and watch the grass grow.

The Super Moon!

I had been telling Aaron for several days about the Super Moon that was coming.  He was matter-of-fact about it, but not excited.  Now if I had wanted to talk about Transformers 4…………there would have been great enthusiasm on his part.  Not so much the Super Moon, though.  You never know with Aaron.

Andrea was home for the night.  After supper, she and I sat on the front porch and talked for a long time.  It was nearly dark when we decided to go inside, but first we checked the sky for that Super Moon.  There it was, peeking through the trees.  It looked bright and large, and, well…….super!  So we decided to hop in her car and drive down the road for a better view.  And we also decided to let Aaron in on our plan and see if he wanted to go, too.

I went up to his bedroom, where he was immersed in a computer game.  “Aaron, do you want to go on a drive with us?  We’re going to see the Super Moon!”

“OK!” he answered.  He always wants to go for a ride.  He got on his socks and shoes, and climbed in the back of Andrea’s car.  It didn’t take us long to see the unimpeded view of this beautiful moon.  I exclaimed, “Hey, Aaron, look!  There’s the Super Moon!”  

“Uh-huh,”  he said.  That’s all?  Just “uh-huh?”

We drove on down the road for about a mile, then pulled into a parking lot where we could sit for a minute and enjoy the gorgeous view.  Andrea and I were both making comments about this pretty sight, but Aaron was very uninvolved and seemingly uninterested.  On the other hand,  I knew that if we said something about going to Sonic, then he would have been very alert and happy.

We drove on home, taking time to drive around our circle for one more view of this unique Super Moon.  All the while, I was making comments about it’s beauty and it’s size and how special this was.  When we got home, Aaron hopped out of the car and hurried back inside the house and up to his room.  Gary, Andrea, and I stood out in the driveway enjoying the moon as it rose higher in the night sky.  Honestly, it looked like a pretty normal full moon to us at this point, but it still was so pretty and we were happy to have a clear sky so that we could enjoy it.  But not Aaron.  He was done.

We’ve learned over the years that sometimes Aaron doesn’t show great interest in or enthusiasm for some of the events we plan or the things we show him.  It can be a little disappointing to us, but we know Aaron and we know that his flat voice and seeming disinterest is just a part of who he is.  Only a couple of days earlier, he had been thrilled to find the toad outside.  But tonight, it seemed that the Super Moon was a let down.

It wasn’t long, however, before he came charging into the kitchen and exclaimed, “Mom!  That Super Moon was neat!”

Really, Aaron?  You liked the Super Moon?

“Yeah!  And I think the sun was behind the moon.”

So why do you think the sun was behind the moon?

“Well, it was bright and the moon was green!”

Green.  The moon was green.

We talked about why the sun wasn’t behind the moon, but I didn’t want to damper his enthusiasm by saying much about the green moon.  I have no idea why he thought the moon was green.  But Aaron was now very excited about the Super Moon, maybe because it looked green to him.  Who knows?

Aaron is always processing what he sees and what he hears and what he experiences.  He takes mental pictures and then likes to recount what he has seen or done or tasted or read or……..   His brain is never still and he is rarely without an opinion or an observation.  Even when he shows a flat affect to something, he may later talk and talk about it……..surprisingly so, at times.  Maybe he can’t express himself quite like we do, but he has recorded so much in that brain of his!  Always measuring and calculating and wondering and reasoning.

So now he has recorded his night of seeing the Super Moon………..the neat Super Moon……….the neat GREEN Super Moon!  

The Smoothing Milkshake

When Aaron comes home from his day group, around the time I’m fixing supper, he usually spends some time telling me about his day.  Today his group went to the zoo and he was all abuzz over the crowds of kids there.  “Mom, were they on a vacation from school?  Is that why they were at the zoo?”  He told me about the long lines as they waited to get in the zoo, and all the kids, and all the teachers and parents……..as well as talk of monkeys and giraffes and the bears that played with a ball and so forth and so on.

I usually try to find out what Aaron has spent his money on, and instruct him on how to make better food choices, and encourage him not to give all his leftover money to his good friend, Rosie.  “Aaron, did you give Rosie any money today?”  And he recently answered, “No, I didn’t give Rosie any money.  I bought her a drink.”  Then I tell him that this is nearly the same as giving her money, and that Rosie’s mother doesn’t want Aaron giving her money or buying her food, and all the while I know that he’ll be doing it all over again tomorrow.  But we still try to get the point across, hoping that someday it will register.  Today he said, “Mom, I didn’t want to give Rosie any money today…………so I told her that I didn’t have any money, but I really did.”  Therefore, the lesson today was on lying.  Even with good intentions, Aaron, you really told a lie.  And he asked, “So what did you want me to do?”  And I told him I wanted him to tell the truth, but still not give Rosie money.  Tomorrow is another day, another opportunity for Aaron to be honest but firm as he handles this dilemma he created with Rosie, and another day for us to be highly surprised if he remembers the lesson……or cares to remember the lesson.

As we talk about what Aaron spent his money on during his day, we nearly always talk about the food he has purchased or the food that was given to him at a day group party, etc.  On Tuesdays his group often goes to Wal-Mart.  Aaron likes Cheddar Pasta Salad, or sometimes he’ll get a sub.  That’s a much better choice than boxes of candy or boxes of rolls, so we try to reinforce those positive decisions.  Remember when I wrote about him going to Subway and asking for white mustard?  Yesterday he told me about his Cheddar Pasta Salad (which has a mayonnaise dressing) and he said, “I tried to eat that Cheddar Pasta Salad out in the sun and it became nasty.  You know – that mustard.  Mustard shouldn’t be in the sun.”  I agreed, but told him that it was mayonnaise………and he agreed……….even as I knew that for some reason, his brain has decided that mayonnaise is really white mustard.  Whatever.

He told Gary and I, “You know at Wal-Mart, where I get the Cheddar Pasta Salad…………..they know me.”  We gave each other that knowing and somewhat fearful look as Aaron kept on talking, and we were stuck back there on the fact that they know Aaron at the Wal-Mart deli counter.  We hope that it’s a knowledge based on the frequency of his visits there……….not knowledge based on his actions.  But Aaron is – well- unique…….and so we are sure that part of the deli employee’s knowledge of Aaron is based on that uniqueness.  We can only imagine.

Aaron told us that when he walked up to the counter, before he could say anything, the worker asked him if he wanted a Cheddar Pasta Salad.  Then Aaron added: “If they keep trying to know me, maybe they’ll try to give me my stuff for free!”  And he laughed at that thought, but I fully expect him to someday ask the worker at the deli counter if, since they are trying to know him, he can have his Cheddar Pasta Salad for free!  I hope they have a sense of humor and laugh.  And don’t call security.

Today after going to zoo, his group went to Sonic.  Aaron got some chocolate milk shake concoction, to hear him tell it, and I do believe he did because half of it looked like it was on his shorts and shirt.  He pointed it out to me (like he had to?) and said, “Mom, look at where I spilled milkshake on me.  Every time the van turned at those turn sites, the milkshake smoothed out of the cup onto my pants!”

Hmmmm………OK. A milkshake smoothing out of your cup really does cause a mess, huh?  Nothing worse than a milkshake smoothing out of a cup, let me tell you!  And those turn sites…….just plain dangerous for milkshake drinkers!

We’re always telling him to be careful about how he eats and drips and spills………so I have to wonder if he just told me a smooth story.

Tomorrow, by the way, is popcorn at the theater.  Full of butter that we tell him not to get because he doesn’t need it but he always does get it………..and he shares with Rosie or gives her the second bucket, his refill.

See how well I know Aaron……..without even trying!

Look What I Found!

Aaron went out to spend some time in the mulch this morning, relaxing as he so often does before we leave for his day group.  I heard the door close as he went out through the garage, but soon the door came back open.  Hmmm…..that’s unusual, I thought.  I could hear Aaron’s heavy footsteps coming through the house and then his familiar thump, thump, thump up the stairs.

He headed toward my room.  “Mom!  Look what I found!”  And he barreled into the bathroom with a frog……or a toad, Aaron says……holding him up very proudly for me to see.

Aaron and I have both seen the toad hopping in the front flower bed.  I’ve told curious Aaron to leave the toad alone……that the toad is there to eat bugs…….that the toad will be scared to be captured and held…………all of which means nothing to Aaron.  So he placed Mr. Toad in my sink and Mr. Toad promptly jumped out and landed on the open lid of my face powder.

OK, Aaron.  The toad is going to have to go outside.  Aaron had toad pee on his hands and on his shorts, but that didn’t bother Aaron at all.  He was very excited to have this “cute” toad in the house, in my bedroom and bathroom, and didn’t want to end the fun too soon.

Of course, I told Aaron that I would take a picture to capture this special moment – and then he must take the poor toad back outside.  Aaron held the squirming toad while I snapped these pictures, and the pitiful little guy starting squeaking.  I haven’t often heard a squeaking toad…………neither had Aaron……….and so now Aaron was more fascinated than ever.

Finally the photo session was over, Aaron put the little toad outside, and washed his hands.  He put the toad back in his flower bed home.  I wonder if the terrified toad has moved on to a new flower bed……..or a new house…….probably a whole new neighborhood!

We may find out tomorrow morning when Aaron goes back outside.  Poor toad!  Poor me!

"Oh It Rained, Rained, Rained……."

When most families get together for a holiday, a reunion, a birthday – whatever the occasion – conversations will almost always turn to the family stories that have been shared over and over again through the years.  These stories form the common thread that weave a family together, generation after generation.  Some stories are very old, some are within more recent memory,  some are very new, and some are still to be made and told.  Those memories, those stories, are the stuff of legend within that family……….held dear to the heart and treasured as much as, if not more than, the oldest antique piece of furniture or knick-knick that we have handed down from child to child. 
Many of the stories that my family share when we get together involve the fun that we had with my parents, Jack and Beth King.  Somehow over time, my dear dad became the brunt of many practical jokes and funny stories.  But don’t think for one minute that he was entirely innocent.  We all remember the story of how Mary Beth and John were playing upstairs in the Elmore addition house.  They were very young.  Dad oh-so-quietly climbed the stairs, holding a small brown bag that he had blown up.  He got near the top of the stairs, still undetected, and popped the bag loudly.  There was total silence for several seconds, and then little Johnny said, “Mary Beth did it!”  Oh yes –  when we’re all together, we love reminding Pastor John of his evil ways.
Dad was very kind and loving, and extremely patient.  He was also quite smart, so we know that many of our jokes were probably no surprise to him.  We suspect that he went along with them in order to give us a good time and a good laugh, even if it was at his expense.  One of our earliest big jokes involved Diet Dr. Pepper.  We girls were watching our figures and so we drank lots of Diet Dr. Pepper.  Dad gave us a hard time about it, telling us that he should buy stock in the company, etc., etc.  Unknown to him, we began saving all of our empty cans.  Any time someone drank a can we would secretly take the can down to the basement and stash it away with all the other cans that we had saved.  Finally, we thought we had saved enough for our plan.  On a Saturday morning, when Dad had to go to work for the morning, we brought all the empty cans upstairs.  We emptied the refrigerator in the kitchen, except for a gallon of milk, and filled it totally full of Diet Dr. Pepper cans.  We put full cans in the front and hid the empty ones in the back.  It was a beautiful sight!  When Dad came home for lunch, we all managed to be hanging out in the kitchen.  Mom asked Dad to get the milk out of the frig and when he opened the door, he gave a gasp and stepped backward as if he had been hit.  For a second I wondered if we had gone too far!  But he recovered and then we all had a very hilarious time.
There were several summers that Mom and Dad were able to rent a house at Myrtle Beach for a real family vacation.  On one trip down to the beach, we stopped at a gas station and Dad laid his glasses on the car seat while he filled the car with gas.  He told us over and over to be careful of his glasses………..and you can guess the rest…………he’s the one who sat on them and smashed them pretty flat.  Yet instead of acting upset, he took it in stride and we all laughed and laughed, and forever after he was teased about those glasses. 
It was also at the beach, if I remember correctly, that we started the squirt gun legend.  Back then we only had the fairly standard size squirt guns – not the huge guns that are made now.  We brought enough squirt guns for everyone to have one at the beach – except for Dad.  He made a big production of not having a gun, even as we would sneak up and squirt him with no mercy.  This continued when we returned home after our vacation.  Dad eventually became sick and was diagnosed with a blood clot in his leg.  He would sit in his easy chair with his leg elevated, reading and resting as he waited to get well.  And did we show him mercy then?  Well, no!  We would still, every so often, run in to shoot him with our squirt guns……..and the poor man couldn’t even run!  One Sunday when we returned home from church, there sat Dad in his chair with his leg propped up……….wearing a raincoat………and as we entered the room, he held an open umbrella over his head.  How typical of Dad……..playing along, and encouraging the fun and laughter. 

We finally gave Dad his very own squirt gun at Christmas.  We wrapped up a new squirt gun for each of us and opened them one by one, making sure that Dad opened his last.  All the time that we were opening our guns, he would ask where his gun was.  When he finally opened his very own squirt gun, he was so delighted and held it up to act like he was squirting us………….but we had removed the trigger!  Oh, the laughter! 
On another Christmas, we blew up a balloon and taped it inside a box.  Then we carefully stuck straight pens through the box, facing the balloon inside but not touching it, put a lid on and gingerly wrapped it.  On the outside of the box we wrote Dad’s name and then “Squeeze Before Opening!”  The balloon would pop and we would be successful!  We placed the box under the tree, not realizing that we had put it near a heat vent.  One night during supper, the heat came on and soon we heard a POP!  Our eyes were huge………and dear Dad didn’t act like he heard a thing.  I wonder if he did but just wouldn’t spoil our fun?  Later we re-did the whole balloon gift again, placed it away from the heater, and on Christmas morning had a wonderful time watching Dad squeeze the box and act very surprised. 
We were a singing, musical family.  On those long drives to the beach we would often sing, and somehow the song that we sang to torment Dad was “Oh It Rained, Rained, Rained.”  We’d sing – “Oh it rained, rained, rained forty days and forty nights; and the animals came marching to the ark. Oh it rained, rained, rained forty days and forty nights, and the animals came marching to the ark.  To the ark; Noah’s ark; and the animals came marching to the ark.”  Then we would leave off one word at the end and sing it again – there was probably more to it than this small part, but this is what we all remembered over the years.  Over and over we’d sing that song, leaving a word off each time…………and then start the whole thing over again.  Dad acted tormented by this, and so we sang it again and again.  And no matter how old we were, any time that we got together, we would sing this song……..in harmony……dragging it out, singing off key at the end and then finally hitting the right notes…………..all the while watching Dad act like he was going to leave the room, shaking his head and rolling his eyes…………..but loving every minute of it.  No get-together was complete until we had sung “Oh It Rained.”
One weekend when Jan and I were in college, we plotted with Mom on a surprise for Dad.  Jan and I went home on a Friday, arriving before Dad got there from work.  We hid in Dad’s coat closet when he pulled into the driveway, and waited for him to open the closet to hang up his coat and put away his ever-present hat.  He was taking forever!  And while we waited, we heard him telling Mom how much he missed us and wished he could see us.  I’ll never forget those words.  Finally, Mom suggested that he hang his coat up and so when he opened the door we jumped out and he staggered back……….and once again I wondered if we had gone too far. 
It was hilarious to see jokes backfire on Dad.  On another weekend after the coat closet surprise, Dad hid in our closet when we came home.  However, Mom came down to greet us in the driveway and whispered to us about Dad being in our closet.  We stood in the living room and talked in whispers to Mom with exaggerated oh’s and ah’s that Dad couldn’t hear……….seeming to tell all sorts of exciting news……….for a long time………and finally we heard our closet door open and heard Dad muttering as he came down the hall and looked at Mom and said, “You told them, didn’t you?”  What a guy!
I could write much more………about how he so disliked plastic zip-lock bags or wrapped cheese slices……..”Those are from the pit!” he’d exclaim.  So Jan would sometimes make his lunch for work and tape the zip-lock bags closed even more and leave the cheese wrapped for him to undo.  Dad would talk about having to hide under his desk to open his lunch because he never knew what would be in it!  How we would rearrange his very precise desktop at home, moving his papers around and listening to him mutter as he put them back in order……….and we laughed.  How we would hide his favorite candy, Hershey Kisses, all over the house in random places for him to find.  Kathryn told me about the poster we hung inside his closet door that said, “Just when I figured out all life’s answers – they changed the questions!”  So true for Dad as he endured life with five crazy kids!
Years later, when all of us were married with kids of our own, we were together for his birthday.  And what were some of the gifts he opened?  A pair of flattened glasses; an umbrella; a squirt gun with a missing trigger; a Diet Dr. Pepper can; a balloon.  The memories that these items brought back were the true gifts.  Gifts of such fun times, of laughter, of closeness, of the joy of family. 
Tomorrow, May 2, is Dad’s birthday.  He would have been 86.  Dad’s in heaven now and has been for over 3 years.   I can still see that sweet smile and hear his happy laughter.  We miss all the fun times with him down here.  During the family visitation at the funeral home, the five of us kids joined hands at his casket and yes, we sang “Oh It Rained” one more time to Dad.  One of my nieces walked over and for a second she covered his ears.  So sweet and funny…….to us.  And we ended by making it through one verse of his very favorite hymn – “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.” 
Happy Birthday, Dad!  Thanks for teaching us how to laugh…………..and how to trust.  I hope that we can sing to you in heaven…………..and laugh………..for all eternity!