I must have had too much water at Casa de Suenos because I was up at 12:30 am to go to the bathroom. When I exited the bathroom, there was the youngest walking back from the kitchen. I followed him to our room where he was sleeping in the twin bed. “He attacked our bed”, she told me because she’d woken her up, “I think he’s sleepwalking.” This was a first for him. We’ve never known him to sleep walk, but apparently he did. He had no memory of all this when he woke up the next morning.

The next morning it was also raining as we packed up the van. I really wish we could have spent some time relaxing but I had to preach the next morning so we needed to be home late afternoon/early evening. I was not looking forward to another day of “How much longer?” and “Are we even close yet?”. Yeah, these were long rides only made longer by the numerous questions being asked.

But first we had a breakfast prepared by the Baileys. It was good to not have restaurant food. Blueberry pancakes, sausage, and some Florida’s Natural OJ. The latter has a special place in our hearts since we used to live near the processing plant. I wish we could have stayed longer talking. It has been a difficult year of ministry. Little did I know what awaited me when we got home (maybe some other time). But we did take time for a tour of the very interesting building. It has been built in stages with no coherent plan. So it has plenty of character.

As we were getting ready to go Jim let me know about the waterfall down the road. So … this necessitated a detour. Then it was time to head back down the mountain.

When we were more ignorant of New Mexican geography, I thought we could hit Carlsbad Canyon on the way home. That, however, would have been a 4 hour round trip and time at the canyon which would make for a very late night. Maybe some other trip.

On the way down we saw another deer along the side of the road. As we pulled up, he stayed put which allowed the eldest to take some pictures of him/her. The occasional rain made us wonder if we’d be able to enjoy White Sands National Monument. Friends from FL has enjoyed it before visiting us and we had the saucers they used to sled down the dunes. This just sounded quite cool. As we went down the mountain we could see the whiteness of the dunes in the distance. Quite beautiful.

The price to get in was $5/adult, but since we had a fourth grader, we got in free. That was two national parks in two days for free thanks to the fourth grader. We stopped at the broad walk to get a grasp of all this. I wasn’t sure what to expect. They are like sand dunes at many beaches with brush, flowers and critters. Some were barren, like an albino version of the Sahara. When we drove further down we got out where some others were sledding. On top of a dune you could see just how disorienting it all can be with all that white. It would be easy to lose track of where you were and where the vehicle was. We warned the kids about this and to stick together.

Our first attempt was pretty much a disaster. I thought it was steep enough, and was wrong. It was like trying to sled in deep, fluffy snow. Was this going to be a major disaster? We moved to another dune that looked better and it was better. A little. A bit further up the dune it was better. One of the kids tried snowboarding and that went well. We were just about ready to give up, a bit disappointed when I saw it. a blue cube of wax. I waxed the bottom of the saucers and things went much better. All in all it was two thumbs up from the little people. Some pretty good memories, me thinks.

Back at the entrance we made a pit stop and polished off the last of the pizza. And we were off!

Our time in Las Cruces was interesting. We passed the intersection for I-25 and I wondered why. It may have brought us out a bit farther east on I-10, but it was all highway. We are about to enter a 35 mph zone with lots of lights. So we asked Siri who proceeded to take us around the block and put us back in the same direction. Exasperated, I just went with the flow cursing Siri under my breath. Eventually we were on I-10, westbound and down. On this trip it was The Force Awakens and another round of The Lego Batman Movie. There was a dialog between A. and the eldest about Siri’s time estimates. We made good time. Somehow we made it from White Sands all the way home in NW Tucson without making a stop for food or “rest”. Doing that with 4 kids is astounding although we thought one of them needed a potty break based on the stench wafting thru the van periodically. But home we were and all the pent up emotion emerged in a series of irrational tantrums. But we had a mostly good trek through New Mexico. The Hodyssey served us well. Now it was in serious need of a bath. And detailing. Yes, detailing (lots of gypsum from White Sands).

I had a restless night thanks to green and red chile peppers, lots of water due to the really dry air, and a nose full of dried blood and snot also due to the lack of humidity in the high desert.

One of the great unknowns about Presbytery meetings is if you need to meet the next day. That question meant that we had to be flexible in our Friday plans. Before the meeting resumed, it was time for breakfast. I was ready for that breakfast sandwich I planned on making. I was disappointed. No bacon. But they had some chicken sausage and andouille. So, not quite what I planned on but still good.

She dropped me off at the church and went back to finish packing. I heard lots of reports for  the next 2+ hours. Getting close to the end I gave the “all clear” for them to head back to pick me up. As they arrived we finished the meeting proper but left some time for “goodbyes”. As Tito was speaking I realized that all of the Hispanic pastors were now going to be in the Rio Grande Presbytery. My new Presbytery will be less ethnically & culturally diverse. This is disappointing, and must be rectified over time.

At this point the plan was to head to Cloudhaven, a study/retreat center near Cloudcroft, NM, way up in the mountains. Since it was about noon, it made sense to have lunch before we left. Back to Dion’s so they could enjoy the pizza. We ordered a large for the kids and a medium for us parental types. They proved to be large enough to have leftovers. Then we were off, heading farther east.

On Day One I learned you can’t escape KLOVE. There we were, after watching Pinocchio, in the middle of nowhere we had KLOVE. So I geared myself up for more KLOVE. We were saving the other movies for the ride home the next day.

And a long drive it would be.. First we went down 25, south of Saccaro. Then we went due east along a mostly straight road There was not much traffic. But some went slow. I always find the slow ones. Shortly after the Valley of Fire (tons of volcanic rock) we turned south along another mostly deserted road. These two roads were along the perimeter of the White Sands Missile Range.

Somewhere in there we finally lost a signal for KLOVE. It’s really sad when you wish you had KLOVE. We should have connected my iPod. Only hindsight is 20/20.

Once again we had a bathroom issue. The daughter wasn’t excited about going behind a bush. Finally we came across a “trading post” which was “Native Owned, Half-Breed Operated”. I almost expected Billy Jack to come around the corner. I was beginning to wonder if this child actually had to go to the bathroom while we wandered around looking at art and trinkets. But we were too close to Tularosa, NM, where we planned on stopping for dinner.

Right next to this trading post was the entrance to the Three Rivers Petroglyph site. So off we went down the alleged 3 mile road to the site. It was actually 4.7 miles, but since when has our government been able to do math. The volunteer in the office was quite excited to see real live human beings and gave us far too much information leaving us too little time to actually walk along the ridge to see the petroglyphs. They are done on volcanic rock, and there were 3 dormant volcanoes at this particular location.

Back on the road toward Alamagordo we went, stopping in Tularosa at Casa de Suenos. I avoided any more chile peppers and went with rolled tacos (floutas). We were not the only large groups. Thee place seemed made for large groups. Thankfully they were used to the silly accidents that happen with kids. You know, one annoying another who then spills the ginormous cup of water they provided. Everyone enjoyed their meal and it was off to Cloudhaven for the evening.

We ascended the mountain as the sun was setting. We got some glimpses of great scenery as we drove along the steep cliffs. When we got to Cloudcroft it was dark. I was behind a truck, glad since there were probably plenty of deer in the area. That is when he pulled over so I could go first. I was wondering if that was so I’d hit the deer when I saw one. Just standing there on the side of the road, so I stopped until he moved on.

Soon we were at Cloudhaven (about 8,100 feet), the home of Jim and Katy Bailey. I was utterly beat after all the driving after the late night. They showed us to the guest house so the kids wouldn’t be too distracting to them. As I was unloading the van I called out the kids. The stars were just plain amazing.

A. took advantage of the washer and dryer to do a load of laundry so she’d have one less when we got home. That there was only one bathroom meant I went to bed later than I wanted. I barely made it to 10:30. And so ended Day 3.

The bed was pretty comfy, but the air seemed even drier than in Tucson. A nose full of dried snot can make it hard to sleep. But I was thankful for the fact that I went to bed earlier than usual due to the time change. But my meetings didn’t begin until 10 so I could lounge there until the kids, okay the 3 youngest, started playing with the curtains and generally being annoying. I don’t blame them, it is hard to deal with hotel rooms as a kid.

Due to the renovations going on, the breakfast was served in the room below ours. The good part of that was our kids couldn’t wake anyone up with all their stomping and other antics. The bad part- fewer steps on a day in which I’d be sitting more than usual.

Boy, was it crammed in there! Hard to move around and get food. Don’t get between this man and his waffles! My inner Homer Simpson comes out- “Mmmmm, waffle overflow.” I should have made myself a “breakfast sandwich” with the bacon, cheese & English muffin (no tortillas for a wrap/breakfast burrito?). It was a good breakfast for the 5 of us. Oh, the oldest was still asleep and still cranky for introvert overload the previous day. As A. would say, “Seriously?”

Some of the guys tease me for my cargo pants. It is great to have those pockets for the phone & wallet (my aging, easily put out of alignment hips love them). But, in honor of our final Presbytery meeting I wore jeans. Yeah, jeans. We’re classy in the Southwest.

We were closer to the host church than I thought. And so began a day of meetings. In the am, I had my RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) committee meeting. We discussed the transition at NMSU in Las Cruces (I hate to see Ben leave for the Southeast), and how things are going for the new campus ministry at the UofA (glad to see Dan & Brittany here in Tucson).

Meanwhile … I got a text about how the oldest didn’t want to go to the petroglyph site on the west side of town. She’s so grumpy, she says, that she might hit an annoying sibling. This is starting well.

Turns out they all had a great time, even the oldest. Okay, one child struggled with a fear of heights on the sometimes narrow path. The boys? Mountain goats.

Back at the church…. committee meeting is over and the other Ben is lamenting about eating too many of the delicious breakfast burritos that Adam V. picked up on his way in. I don’t do eggs so this presented no temptation for me. I already had tea so I didn’t investigate the possibility of those fat pills known as donuts. It was a tad early for lunch and Justin presented two nearby options. The chicken and waffles place was a mile away. 1. I’d already had waffles. 2. I had no car and would have to bum a ride. The pizza place was about 5 blocks away. Perfect walking distance for a guy in need of steps. AND that pizza place was Dion’s. Our friend Shannon, who spent time living in ABQ recommended it in one of her texts. So, a bunch of us walked down to Dion’s, talking ministry and life. Many of their pizzas looked great so I settled on the Napoli: red sauce, provolone, sausage, Kalamata olives, pepperoni, roasted red peppers and Parmesan. I resisted getting green chiles on my pizza. I have to beware of chile overload.

Meanwhile …. A. took the kids to the Blake’s Lotaburger by the hotel. We are just now getting them in Tucson and I am envious. They put some of that dangerously delicious green chile on their burgers. The food was great, she says, but the service was a bit lacking. While they took time for rest, introverted or not, we began our meeting proper.

Shall I bore you with details?

Each of the newly authorized and soon to be existing Presbyteries had a caucus. For the AZ Presbytery, we looked at the 8th draft of our Rules of Assembly which determine how we’ll function as well as our priorities. We had some kingly gifted guys running this thing so stuff happened. Maybe too much. But we hope to vote on those at our first meeting this January. The Rio Grande is a slow moving river, and so is the new Rio Grande Presbytery. They needed to reform their transition committee and have much more work to do in the next few months.

We examined a pastor for transfer, which means we just examine views and exceptions. It isn’t a long or involved exam. Usually. This pastor had an unusual exception, particularly for our Presbytery. As a result, what usually takes 10 minutes was well over an hour as he tried, in vain, to explain why this exception wasn’t a big deal. I cut to the chase with a question (okay, I’d had about 6 previous questions) “Was this approved by your previous Presbytery or is it a new exception?” Two previous Presbyteries has approved of it. So, while I personally had some discomfort I voted ‘yes’. I hope I don’t regret it.

As a result, when a candidate for ministry came for his floor exam he was asked no questions. The context matters. We’d examined him in January for licensure. I guess I could have asked if anything changed since then, but no one wanted to stir up unnecessary trouble. We trusted that the committee had been doing their work and moved on to other matters.

While we were still “working” the family arrived. The boys had pent up energy and made good use of the whole building while they waited. Since the taco truck arrived, they got a head start on dinner. The kids all chose the nachos, which I think had some meat and red chile sauce. A waited for me and we talked in line about how the meeting had gone so far, and talking with the guys around us in line. When I got near the front of the line I had a hard choice. Everything sounded good. Well, there was that one thing. I’d never had a fried avocado taco. Hey, you only live once and who knows if/when I’ll be in ABQ again. One of each, please. That taco (all of them actually) was delicious! And I finished one of the kid’s nachos.

The rest of the family went back to the Residence Inn while I stayed for the worship and time of fellowship at a local establishment. Worship when well, with one of our church planters in ABQ, Adam, preaching. Afterward we slowly began shuffling off to said establishment. Not having a vehicle, I tagged along with some other Tucson guys (Ben, Dan & Charles) in their rental. We had to wait on Dan and moved to the front of the building. We were surprised to find 3 police vehicles and 5 officers standing in the street. Apparently we should have given them a heads up on the unusual activity. We braved the construction riddled road with all kinds of lane changes until we got to the establishment with severely limited parking.

The establishment was Kelly’s Brew Pub, it looked like it was a converted service station. We sat outside in the cool night air enjoying a pint and conversation. You might be surprised to discover this is my favorite part of Presbytery meetings. I resisted the temptation to get food knowing there would be one final Whattaburger run. I did see a falling star while I was sitting out there. And a huge drone with green light on the rotors passed overhead (there is an Air Force Base in town). Around 10 was last call. 10!? Isn’t this a college town? It seemed early to close, but our rather large group was pretty much it at that point.

I had precisely 1 Scottish ale. It had a little more APV than most Scottish ales, and at a mile up that was enough. A friend picked up my meager tab and off we were to Whattaburger. One of the guys from Santa Fe gave me a ride so we could talk some. Turns out the Whattaburger is just down the street from my hotel.

I’m not the only one who has issues with Siri. She seemed to take us on the least direct route for some reason. This is a bit of a tradition for us, getting a midnight burger. Not just any burger, but a triple patty burger. Not wanting to have a lousy night’s sleep due to grease, the first time I went on this run I had a double which resulted in an unfortunate nickname- Dub. On a subsequent run, one of the Bens had a Jr. and became the shame bearer, though we don’t often call him Jr. Last time Josh had 7 patties and probably descended into another meat coma (I passed on that trip since our church was hosting). This is beyond the meat sweats. Bo decided to top him with an 8 patty burger. Yeah, 2 lbs. of hamburger meat. I’m not sure about the physical and emotional toll it took on him.

I had my usual double, but with green chile to top it off. Possibly a mistake after the chile peppers with dinner. The other customers were amusing. They humored us by taking our pictures (as did an employee). They were humorous in that they took out their tasers. Yeah, they had tasers.

Thinking it was time for me to go, I said my goodbyes and prepared to walk the 2-3 blocks to my hotel. About 4 different people offered me a ride. I wanted steps, but wisdom won the day. Kelly gave me a ride in my 3rd different vehicle of the evening. He thought he saw a crack deal go down while getting gas just down the road. I returned at 11:30 to a room full of sleeping people. I was done….

I think we are still recovering from the great move of 2010. At least the oldest is, and she reminds us of this periodically. We’ve had a few families visit us on road trips, and there are places in the Southwest we, meaning the parents, still want to see. With most of our vacation time spent in NY road trips are a challenge. But we bought the Hodyssey to make road trips. We tricked it out with a DVD player to make road trips. When will we get to take a road trip?

Going to Presbytery meetings has largely been a solo affair- just me since I have to go (I enjoy parts of it- food & drink with friends basically). We’d pondered going as a family when it was held in northern New Mexico. With the division I mean multiplication, of our Presbytery at the state line, this was the final shot. The final meeting of the Presbytery of the Southwest was taking place in ABQ. Road Trip!

Preparations were made: getting my sermon done early, A. finding subs for her Friday classes, someone to watch the dogs and all that jazz. The plan was to leave Wednesday after speech therapy & A’s exercise class. On the previous weekend I notice that pesky tire pressure light was on. I found a way to procrastinate until Wednesday morning. The QT down the road has free air, so no problem. Before speech therapy I drive down to fill it up. But it wouldn’t fill. Was the problem my digital gauge or the pump? Ain’t nobody got time for this, I’ve got a road trip today!

So… off to the Discount Tire which provides free air pressure checks, notifying A. of this delay, promising I’d be back in time to bring E-fly to speech. There is no way all 4 tires had leaks. Has to be the pump. The stress was building anyway, particularly as another car was there getting checked. “Come on!” was the voice in my head. Thankfully the tires were filled, though he encouraged me to overfill a little. Time to get home and go to speech.

A quick stop at Costco for gas and we were on the road around 11:30. Not quite the best time to leave Tucson. Too early to eat lunch in Tucson. Needing to get on the road. Remembering there isn’t much between Tucson and Deming on I-10. Familiar with the McDonald’s in Willcox thanks to trips to Apple Annie’s for produce, we decided to stop there. No Happy Meals for the little people as they already had their annual Happy Meal. Not seeing a simple double cheeseburger I had to settle for the 2 cheeseburgers and the additional useless carbs in two whole buns. I can just see myself gaining 10 pounds on this trip.

It was, thankfully, largely uneventful, as we watched (I listened to) The Lego Batman Movie, one of the few movies everyone enjoys these days. I would end up talking like Batman for much of the weekend. This is the price they must pay. We got off I-10 in Deming on the way to connect with I-25. It was some interesting landscape but essentially deserted desert. At some point they started to watch Pinocchio , much to the protests of the eldest. I didn’t realize how boring that movie actually was. I had a hard time staying away.

Soon, though, we were to Hatch, Chile Capitol of the World. I was wishing we could have waited to eat at Sparky’s. The speed limit in Hatch drops to 25 so we see EV-ER-Y-THING. But there isn’t much to see besides fields, mobile homes, and road side shops selling peppers and shirts. But … it was remarkably green. The reason? The Rio Grande river. We passed over it near 25. It was to be our companion for the next stretch of road, creating a great disparity between the east & west sides of the highway. East there was lush green with trees and fields in the valley. There were a few lakes too. West? Barren wasteland. Well there was that one series of groves with a man-made waterfall on the end. That was pretty much it.

But there was no place to stop. The towns were small, and there were no rest areas. We know because someone had to go. This is why you don’t drink on road trips…. what goes in must come out. Finally we came to an exit with a few gas stations with convenience stores. The one we choose was kind of small. We were the only people there so we felt compelled to buy something to compensate them for the use of their facilities. Bye-bye to the rare cash reserves in my wallet. After we passed thru that town there was a rest area. Arrgh! Why put it near a town with places to stop?! Silly New Mexican government. This would appear to be a common set of circumstances in New Mexico.

We rolled into ABQ around 7 pm still on the original tank of gas from Costco. We found our currently-being-renovated Residence Inn run by very friendly people. We brought our stuff into the suite and headed off to dinner with members of Presbytery at Sadie’s. It was a bit noisy although we had a small room to ourselves. My kids had their own table while we ate with some guys from Presbytery. About 4 or 5 tables were pushed together for the larger part of our group. We had one child suffering from introversion overload, not wanting to be in a loud restaurant. The guy across from me, a missionary to the Ukraine I’d never met before, had a dish too spicy for him to eat. Those New Mexican chile peppers can get you. We enjoyed our meals, and I enjoyed my Isotope Amber Ale as well. With tired kids, we begged off early. This is when Siri threw us for a loop. Expecting to take the same route back to the hotel, she took us on some strange convoluted journey back to the hotel. This would be a common issue in ABQ for some reason.

Our suite had a bedroom with a full or queen downstairs which was claimed by the eldest child. She, the introvert, wanted the space to recharge. We took the loft style bedroom upstairs. It had a half wall. The other 3 crashed in the living room. It had a pull out couch for the boys, and the younger daughter fashioned a bed for herself on the floor.

There were two problems. The first was the half wall. Light from the TV was seen by the kids, distracting them. And then there was the boys who were tired and goofy, unable to fall asleep. Finally we moved the older boy to under the kitchen table so they both would sleep. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

I would try to ignore the fact that the hotel had security in the parking lot all night long. Thankfully that would not come back to haunt us.


Amie, by her own admission, is not the most empathetic person in the universe. Sometimes that happens when your recovery from a car accident results in a bunch of surgeries. As a result, I’ve been the one to go with him for all his surgeries except one, his locally done tympanoplasty. This time she was going to LA and dealing with the stress of uncertainty regarding rides, housing etc.

The Lead Up

She needed to get some details sorted out in preparation for their trip on Saturday. They were going to stay with a friend on Saturday night, but needed to nail down details for Sunday and Monday. Our friend lived about 45 minutes away from the hospital. I’d been told she may be able to stay in the PICU the night after the surgery. At Shriners’ they required me to stay overnight if he was staying overnight (that only happened once, thankfully). But they were uncertain, and she needed to be certain. She also needed to know if there was a spot at the nearby Ronald McDonald House.

So the phone calls began: the hospital, Shriners’ and the Ronald McDonald House. She discovered that parents did not stay in the PICU, but there was a “Community Parents’ Room” with curtains between beds. “Sorta like camp?” “I’m really not sure.” This was not sounding like a great option, but rather a last resort.

On the RMH front, nothing. She left messages. She got the weekend loop of “Dial 0” which brings you back to the same message. She had to go the “hotel points” route for a nearby hotel. Accommodations were set, but it took awhile and some frustration.

Despite his little brother having a runny nose all week, Eli didn’t seem to have any cold symptoms. He may have escaped illness which would postpone the surgery.

Heading to LA

It was a 12:30 flight to the City of (Fallen) Angels. This meant we could have our usual Saturday breakfast together of waffles and bacon. While talking that morning before breakfast she mentioned:

A: “I really wish you were going, not me.”

S: “I am a cad and a scoundrel.”

A: “You know why I can go?”

S: “No.”

A: “Because there are no exercise classes that week. I didn’t need to find a substitute.”

Praise God for the little things.

Eli never really unpacked his backpack which was already bursting with books, toys and his tablet. He just added to it. This time he remembered a charger; two actually. Not wanting to mess up her neck meant bringing her pillow, which meant bringing a bigger suitcase (violating my travel light policy). Thanks to the “pre-op” appointments this was a longer trip than usual.

It was an easy ride to the airport. Child #1 bailed on us since she hates car rides. “I can say ‘good-bye’ here.” She just wanted to be dumped at the curb. Contrary to her wishes I came to a complete stop.  They made it to the gate and waited. And waited.

A weather system was slowing down flights. Their plane was coming from Denver which had recently suspended flights indefinitely. Thankfully their plane had taken off, although late, before the suspension. But there was the appointments, a schedule to keep. This creates stress. Despite the delay, they arrived in LA in due time, met our friend and were off to the appointments at the hospital.

Keep in mind, these were necessary “pre-op” appointments to take place within three days of the surgery. I’m thinking blood work and stuff like that. They weighed him, measured his height, took his blood pressure, a nasal swab, and an oral history. The first two were done on Monday. The last was all in his file which they should have had. No off book surgeries in Mexico. So they made Amie and Eli travel early and spend an extra day so they could take his blood pressure and a nasal swab. Yeah. But at least they got to celebrate Dr. Thomas’ birthday with her and her family. They enjoyed some good Indian food, reminding them of the times Reena would cook for community group.

On our end, things were pretty uneventful. In light of an upcoming trip, and the fact that we only had one key for the van, I stopped by a place to get a spare. It was 40 minutes of whining by the little people. After rest time I popped some corn and we watched the rest of The Princess Bride, which we had started the previous week. Child #1 even joined us (that tween thing). We had some red beans & rice for dinner.


Sunday was rather uneventful. But there were two key moments when it created unfortunate circumstances for me. Those were the moments Amie called.

Since I had “medical leave” I was not preaching. I taught SS and lead the liturgy, but one of the assistant pastors of a sister church in town preached for us. Since I planned on being home all day Monday, I printed off a bunch of stuff for our Session meeting Monday night. Then I got the phone call. Distracted, I forgot to send the liturgy information to my admin, and forgot to get my paperwork from the printer. I did not yet realize this unfortunate reality.

One of the things she told me was that he was groggy and had a sniffly nose. Perhaps he was coming down with Asher’s cold. But one side effect of the pain meds we were supposed to give him was drowsiness. Who really knows.

After giving them lunch, I watched the Patriots beat the Broncos (yes!!).  Then we all watched Chicken Run since Micah wanted to watch it. Asher loves that movie, laughing all the way through even if he doesn’t catch all “The Great Escape” allusions. Then it was time to work on dinner. I forgot to thaw chicken which I intended to cover with Bisquick and creole seasoning. So I used the last of the Tyson breaded chicken which was just enough, barely, for the 4 of us. I made some cheesy risotto and was sauteing spinach. At the critical moment, Amie called.

In a panic. She had the borrowed Civic and her phone was going to die. She needed it for directions but couldn’t find the plug to charge it. Reena and her mom were in the worship service and couldn’t be reached. With the food at the point of being done or burning, she wanted me to look up the schematics to discover the location. I couldn’t find it, but she finally did (passenger side in the obvious location of under the dashboard- there is a special place in Hades for engineers like this). And my spinach burned.

The Day Of

Eli was scheduled to be there at 5:30. His was the second surgery on tap, but you just never know if they may have to switch the order. Nope. So began the wait with Eli watching the Cartoon Network for a few hours, awaiting his turn. Eventually they were brought to a room to watch more Cartoon Network and play on his tablet. Finally Dr. Magee showed up and the process of preparation began.

When he’s had surgery at Shriners’, they give me a pager. I can walk around to get exercise, pray, read and go get something to eat. At this hospital, Amie was trapped in the family waiting room. They didn’t let her go get food. I told her, “Ask if they’ll give you free migraine medication since they won’t let you go eat.” They had her cell number in case of emergency, but they wouldn’t let her leave.

Dr. Magee came out and talked to her. He thinks the sphincterplasty went well, and he did remove two teeth that were growing through his palate. If he’s happy, I’m happy.

In recovery and PICU he struggled with nausea.  More so than usual. The night nurse had a similar problem and was all over it. After she went to sleep, Amie went back to the hotel to get some sleep. I wanted her to peek into the “family community room”, but you can’t always get what you want.

Back on the home front all was going well. We did school work and then went to Wal-Mart to pick up some ingredients for the shrimp scampi that was on the menu that night. We were taking advantage of Amie’s allergic absence. I had invited the elders over for dinner, so just in case there wasn’t enough shrimp, I bought some 4-cheese Italian sausage. We picked up lunch at Chipotle since there were no leftovers from the night before, and ate at the church office so I could get my materials for the meeting.

The Aftermath

The next day he was still struggling with nausea. While he’d already peed, he needed to keep a meal down before he could leave. And so the wait began. And the stress due to the immovable flight time. At least on our end.

While she was waiting, we did school work after our second morning in a row of pancakes. Then it was off to work for about an hour to do some things I couldn’t do from home. Then back home for some leftover scampi and angel hair pasta.

Eli seemed to be well enough, so Reena, aka Dr. Thomas, arrived to get them to the airport so they could wait. LAX was horribly behind. 40% of the flights were late, and 40% were extremely late. On time was no longer a possibility, so which would it be- late or extremely late.

I checked on the plane’s arrival to LAX from Phoenix. That it was in the air was good. There was still plenty of confusion on their end as flights back logged, The plane couldn’t get to the gate because another flight was boarding. When they boarded, it looked like there were about 90 minutes behind schedule. So the rest of us ate the turkey soup I made. My first soup. Just before we left, I checked again. Apparently they spent another half hour sitting on the tarmac waiting to take off. Now it was an 8 pm arrival instead of 5:45.

When we got to the airport, they were now scheduled for an 8:15 arrival. This just keeps getting better. But they arrived safe and sound. Soon we were all home again.

Eli has been doing well. When asked about this pain he often say “1” or “0”. He has been getting more active. He has had trouble swallowing the pills. He also is less excited about pureed food. We’ve noticed he sounds different. But the food thing can be a pain for him. We stopped by a local theater to get a “loyalty shirt” which gets you a free medium popcorn when you wear it to the movies. I didn’t realize they’d actually give me one today. Eli was upset that Micah could have some, and he couldn’t. Yes, disappointing. But he’s on the right track.


The 9th Surgery Approaches

4 am.

That’s when the strains of Charlie Peacock’s West Coast Diaries Vol. 1 awakened me.

They didn’t play long because I hadn’t slept well. I’d gone to bed later than desired, watching The Walking Dead’s mid-season finale (finally Rick realizes they need to join together to destroy Negan and the Saviors).

I was up at 4 am because our flight to LA left at 6 am. After a shower to wash the smell of the fire pit off of my body, I was dressed and ready to go. Eli already has his backpack on his back. I think it weighed 20 pounds, filled with his tablet, toys, books and who knows what else. He was ready for an adventure. I was ready to go to bed. But we had some pre-op appointments to make in LA.

It was a smooth and quick ride despite the exit at Prince Rd. being closed due to an accident. We could see the vehicle which looked like it rolled a few times. We decided to try the “economy parking” lot, only $4/day. Since it is December I wasn’t worried about covered parking. As we walked to the shuttle stop I could see the shuttle bus approaching.

With no bags to check we went straight to the security line. While we waited, the TSA guy chatted me up about the Red Sox and D’Backs since I was wearing my long sleeved Red Sox jersey. And so we soon sat waiting for the flight to board. I started Faithful Presence by David Fitch in preparation for my upcoming series on 1 Peter. I would read it throughout the day. I decided not to read any of the other two work books I brought. Eli was anxious; rocking, roaming, eating an apple and going to wash his hands (after I suggested the common sense idea).

There aren’t many direct flights to LA from Tucson these days, so it was the early flight. I decided not to buy a Chai and wait for the flight’s drink service for my caffeine- Coke. It was an uneventful flight as I read, he did some Minecraft on his tablet and the guy next to us slept on the short flight.

I love not having to go to baggage claim. I wasn’t exactly sure where the Shrine van would meet us. The corridor turned right, and there were doors to the curb in front of us. I saw a van, and the driver looked vaguely familiar. Finally I saw the name on the van and knew it was the right one. He mentioned calling twice, as if we were late or something. “We just got off the plane. I didn’t hear a call.”

And we were off to the Shriners’ Hospital for our 4 appointments. It was about 7:30 Tucson time, but 6:30 LA time. Even though I had the luxurious breakfast of peanuts, pretzels and Coke, I was still hungry. But first the van right, which seemed exceedingly bouncy. I was reminded of Trena’s “burping ‘Burbon” which made her kids puke. Tires? Shocks? Then I noticed the PSI light was lit.

Finally our bouncy ride was done. I thanked him, and noted the light. It was now time to check in. You might say we were early. No one else was waiting. After checking in we went by radio to wait. And read. And play Minecraft. I took a few texts for work-related stuff and read.

Finally it was 8:30 and the cafeteria was to open. Breakfast! I made sure I had cash (a rarity) since that is all they took. And we waited. They were a bit slow getting going. He picked scrambled eggs and bacon with juice while I had a breakfast of champions: bacon, hash browns and a Vanilla Coke. Sweet nutrition.

As we were putting our trays away, I heard his name being called. Figures…. We walked to the nurses station and they begin the preliminary work. The boy has actually gained 6 pounds since May. He has been eating like a horse, so it has paid off.

Then we waited. I read. “I’m bored!” He only had 42% of his battery left and he forgot to bring his charger. I noted the 20 lbs of toys & books. No go. So began the time of playing with medical stuff, rolling around on the stool and generally driving me crazy. We took a few walks up and down the hall to get ants out of pants, but there were too many ants. Way too many ants.

The doctors showed up late, at least 45 minutes for the first appointment. But they were all nice. The anesthesiologist talked about a new protocol they were using to reduce the use of narcotics by kids post-surgery. We would begin dosing him with painkillers on Saturday so they’d be in his system already. We’d have to chart us dosage post-surgery. He usually has a high pain tolerance and turns down pain killers after a day or two.

We talked about the surgery with Dr. Magee. They would be rotating some muscles in the back of the throat so he can fully close the airway connecting the nose and mouth. This way he can make all the sounds necessary to speak. Hopefully this helps more people understand him, and makes him less self-conscious. He will have to re-learn a few things. The opening will be smaller so he will snore (more than he already does) and have a hard time hocking a loogie to get excess mucus out.

There are risks. They will be working close to the spinal column and the carotid arteries. This is why they will do it at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena instead of the Shriners’ Hospital his last 3 surgeries have been in. Any future surgeries will likely be in the new outpatient surgical center they are building near Huntington Hospital in Pasadena.

Our flight was at 3:30 and the cafeteria didn’t open for lunch until 11. More waiting. I sat and read while he went to see “the show” they had. Apparently when they asked if any kids spoke English he didn’t raise his hand because most of it was in Spanish. The humor seemed similar to El Sabado Gigante, and he enjoyed the part when one guy kicked another in the bottom. Always gets the 10 year-old boy in the audience.

I got the meds, read and we went to the cafeteria for a far more affordable lunch than at the airport. He had spinach manicotti and a roll while I had chicken parm over linguini. And more Coke for me as I struggled to stay awake.

I saw the van driver and said we were ready when he was. He passed us off to another, younger guy. But they made sure he still got a gift. In addition to the bag, there was another item and he could choose another. One of the things I love about him is that he can be quite generous. He was thinking about which things his siblings would like. When he wasn’t talking to me about this I was talking to the driver. First about the new restaurants in the area (where were they in 2012 when I had to walk over a mile to Korea Town for dinner???), and the new facility.

One of the benefits of this ride was learning the LA method of “discreet” public urination. In Tucson, I’ve just seen guys “whip it out” by the bus stop. Yeah, public johnson sighting as I drove by. In LA the method, witnessed in two cases on this one ride, was to get close to the wall, or lamp post, to minimize any visuals of said johnson. Thinking of the children, obviously. Though I imagine it would splash all over your pants so pick your poison- public exposure or wet, stinky pants. Life in the big city has its charms.

I think it was my quickest ride to LAX ever! It was quite congested when we got there. Dropped off at Southwest we went to security. They sent us to the family line which was short. Okay, non-existent. “Whose printer did this?” he said. They worked in Tucson this morning, I noted. “That’s Tucson…” he said forebodingly. Sure enough, his boarding pass refused to be read. I tried to pull them up using the SW app. It also told me to go to the kiosk. Back down the stairs. Back up the stairs with a newly printed set of boarding passes. Through security and to the gate.

Back at the homestead …. Cody the Destroyer was digging again. I’d filled a hole this weekend. Well, back to the same basic spot. There is something about that spot that he really likes. If there was a rodent hole, we can’t tell because of the Cody hole. We have realized how difficult it is to get dirt out of artificial turf.

And so we waited back at the gate. Again. I read and he fidgeted. Another reference to the backpack full of books and toys. Nah. Eventually he wanted water. At lunch I bought him a bottle of water. He drank about 2-3 ounces before I had to throw it away before we got to security. Tired, and in need of even more caffeine I bought a Chai Latte and water.  Our plane was late arriving, but we were only about 10 minutes late departing.

Being at the end of the “B” group we were way in the back in the only 2 seats we could find together. He was happy to be able to use the tablet again. Tired of Faithful Presence and it’s overuse of the word “space”, I read some of War Room by Michael Holley about the Patriots and team-building. Our whirlwind trip to LA was nearly over.

We arrived on time and next came a classic Eli moment. It took us quite some time to get off the plane, so I asked if he needed to go potty. “Nope.” He then proceeded to remove the burden of his backpack and head into the men’s room.

The shuttle came quickly, we headed home. Nearly home, I got the text that one of the other children had become curious. “Hmmm, what will happen if I stick these metal tweezers into the outlet” kind of curious. Thankfully said outlet was in the bathroom and therefore GFCI. This meant the circuit broke before this child could electrocute themselves. Thankful for small mercies that result in big mercies. The tweezers were damaged, but the child was only traumatized as Dad explained the reality of electricity and conductors later that evening.

We arrived home to the dogs and fish since the others were at BSF. I checked the outlets, reset the breaker and then the GFCI outlet (both tripped) and reheated some pizza while I turned on the Patriots’ game. It was a good game except for the 14 seconds or so in which they allowed the Ravens to score 2 touchdowns.

And so we wait until Saturday when Amie and Eli head back for some pre-op appointments at Huntington Hospital.

This Is Us

This past weekend we started to watch This Is Us. It stirs up lots of dust, lots of emotions, particularly as an adoptive parent.

It is a show that just sucks you in as they slowly reveal the truth. Some of the truth is about the lies we tell ourselves, or the lies we’ve been told. Sometimes the lies are driven by fears, and sometimes the lies create fears.

The show shifts back and forth between two time frames; childhood and the present for three siblings. One of those siblings was adopted, a black boy in a white home before it was common. One of his struggles was the longing to know his biological parents. He didn’t love his adoptive parents less but he wanted to understand who he was. Understandable.

His mother struggled to connect with him initially. She was mourning the death of one of her triplets. Desperate, she seeks for the man she saw lurking at the hospital. She stays in touch with him, but prohibits him from contacting her son. She bonds so well with him, that her biological son feels left out. When he’s discovered to be a gifted student it only aggravates his brother’s wound and the sibling rivalry that tears apart their father’s dream of the Big Three.

There are those moments when black moms offer help. We’ve had those moments, like one in Hartsfield Airport near midnight. Some people are kindly about it, and others not so much. You feel judged as incompetent, uncaring, a “great white hope complex” etc..

As parents we struggle with these fears, these tensions, longings unfulfilled. We have our own wounds from childhood and are afraid they will have the same problems we do.

We want our kids to be close not just to us but one another. There are those beautiful, magical moments when they all play outside together. The laughter is as beautiful to me as a brilliantly composed and played symphony. I cherish those moments. There are times I’ve just pulled up a chair to watch and soak it all in.

Then there are the other moments, those ordinary sibling moments that my fearful heart can easily blow out of proportion. There are the stages as they grow older to pull away from us, from one another.

It gets back to this: I often feel like a wholly inadequate father. It is like they want what I don’t have, and don’t want what I do. For instance, I want to share sports with them. They really aren’t interested in watching a game with me (they are missing the beauty of Dustin Pedroia play defense, or Tom Brady leading the offense). One those rare occasions when they want to toss the ball around, it is so hot outside I struggle.

I’m not a handy guy; I’m more of an intellectual. I read. I think. Thankfully we live next door to a neighbor who works on his truck often. The boys are drawn like a moth to the flame. He’s able to scratch an itch that I cannot. Nor should I begrudge my neighbor for the time he spends with the boys because it isn’t about me, but them.

I love my parents, even my mother who can’t remember who I am. They are from a very different generation. They did the best they could, but there were …. gaps. For instance, they wanted me to control their anger but couldn’t show me how. My mother was an angry, fearful person. They really didn’t know how to process grief. When our dog was hit by a car on Easter Sunday, my father had to pull over the car on the way home. It was the only time I remember seeing him cry. We didn’t get another dog. I never had another pet until I was a young pastor living alone.

Kids, especially adopted kids, can expose those wounds, those gaps and those inadequacies. It is humbling. It can be paralyzing, like it was for the mother in This Is Us. Our kids can’t perceive the fear we have. They just see the anger and control that the fear produces. It can teach us to be patient with our parents’ shortcomings. We can finally put ourselves in their shoes.

Hopefully my kids will show me a similar mercy in years to come.

I will have to trust God for the future. I will have to trust for the outcomes: whether they will share our faith, love each other well, discover, cultivate and utilize their gifts. I will have to trust that they will choose to call one another, hang out together. I can’t make it happen, only provide opportunities. Yes, you often feel helpless. Welcome to parenting.