Thursday, June 15, 2017

Chad's Headline

It was the sort of news headline you see every day on Facebook. The type of story that piques the curiosity and evokes sympathy for suffering fellowmen. I’ve clicked on many headlines similar to this one. But when the face smiling through the headline's photo is my beloved brother and life-long ally, the sight of it becomes unbearable. Those six words are a cruel reminder that this isn’t just a nightmare to wake from; it’s a new reality.

Highland School District teacher collapes, dies

The last word elicits uncontrollable sobs and renders me incapable of reading the article’s contents. Not yet, anyway. Instead I let the tears consume me, tears that would seem endless in the hours and days that would follow that awful headline.

Thursday, June 8, 2017 started like any other weekday. I’d been for a morning run, seen the girls off to school and was in the bathroom applying my make-up. Jon was also about his daily routine; playing Candy Crush on the downstairs computer while awaiting his ride to the bus stop that I typically give him on my way to work. At 7:45 am, I got a text from my mom:

“Family prayers needed. They found your brother outside his classroom. Doing CPR transporting by ambulance now.”

The shock of her words stole my breath while a tension gripped my heart. Silent prayers were instantly sent heavenward, but they felt insufficient. So I ran to my bedside, fell to my knees and prayed fervently in a breathless panic for a peace that would not come. I suspect my spirit already knew what my heart and mind couldn’t accept.

“Jon!” I yelled, the distress in my voice immediately alerting him to the urgency of the moment. We met at the bottom of the stairs, where I handed him my phone, unable to speak. Not knowing what he was looking for, he started swiping. “What is it?” he pressed. “It’s Chad!” I hollered in grief, panic and exasperation (why did he swipe?) When Jon finally found the text my mom had sent, he suggested we kneel to pray.

“Please bring Chad back to his sweet wife, Amy” are the words I remember most. Bring him back? Was he already gone? The situation was serious, regardless. Jon decided he should work from home “just in case.” He asked if I could call the school and stay home as well, but unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of job. I had students needing to be taught and no plans for a sub. Besides, I continued to tell myself that Chad might be facing a hospital stay or maybe even a heart surgery, but he’s my 45-year-old brother, he wasn’t going to die. That was simply unfathomable! So I composed myself and went to work, though I was present only physically.

After arriving at the school, I texted my mom for an update. She and my dad had arrived at the hospital, but Chad was not yet there. Knowing my parents had beaten Chad to the ER amplified my panic and made feelings of peace all the more elusive, but I was minutes from greeting kindergarteners so I went about setting up my classroom in a zombie-like state, avoiding all other people whenever possible.

“Call me when you get a chance” were Mom’s words that scrolled across my Apple watch at 8:34. I rushed back to my office to hear the words I’d never be able to prepare myself to hear. Words that play again and again in a relentless, haunting obsession: “Tara, he didn’t make it.”

“What?!” I yelled, doubled over by those gut-punching words. The volume, pitch and emotion in my voice made all subsequent questions unintelligible.

“Honey, I can’t understand you. Do you have someone to be with you?” Mom asked calmly, though the sadness and seriousness of her voice reached through the phone and melted me.

“Sudden cardiac arrest” are the only other words I recall from that horrible, brief conversation. I hung up quickly so I could tell my principal that I needed to go home. I no longer cared that I’d be leaving my students without a teacher or adding an extra burden on my fellow teachers. I couldn’t stay at school. No way.

Within minutes, my school’s counselor and principal were driving me home. From the passenger seat of my own car, simply giving directions to my house a ½ mile away proved challenging. So was breathing or eating or knowing what to do next. Calls and texts were made and received while I paced the floor. We took the girls out of school and watched them crumple under the devastating news. Not Uncle Chad. How could this be? We felt an urgency to get to Yakima as soon as possible.

News spread instantly and condolences and tributes to my remarkable brother covered Facebook. Friends multiple states away began messaging me. And that’s when I saw that headline, the headline that reduced me to mush and reminded me that my life would never be the same.

Due to work, semester finals and other end-of-year testing, our kids felt like they needed to stay home for now. Making arrangements with friends to help with the girls, emailing teachers, coworkers, covering church callings and handling glitches in missionary papers would delay the departure for Jon and me. It was late evening when we finally arrived in Yakima and could wrap our arms around my parents and Chad’s dear wife.

The next morning we would begin in earnest the excruciating process of planning memorial services for one of the greatest human beings I have ever known.

Until then, we just cried.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

21 Years!

Most people take expensive, exotic trips when their marriage reaches that 20 year mark. That would've been nice. Instead, we spent our 20th in a sweltering high school gym for Caleb's senior awards night.

There was no trip for this year's 21st anniversary, either. It's not that we don't love each other enough, I suppose it's just a matter of time and monetary restraints. Our kids are growing up, so we like to include them in the few trips we take.

This year, however, we did enjoy a rather indulgent celebratory dinner on water.

My marriage is the greatest blessing of my life.  We just jive, you know. We simply work well together and enjoy one another. Thankfully, our ability to take selfies is not representative of our relationship. I mean, we're really bad at selfies.

Once Jon noticed that the steak came from Helmville, Montana, his dinner decision was made. His grandfather once ran a cattle ranch in Helmville.

I opted for salmon. Delicious doesn't begin to describe our decadent food.

We tried--and failed again--another selfie as we were leaving.

Great night with a great guy, bad selfies notwithstanding. Happy 21st Anniversary to us!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Ansel's Graduation

We arrived in Tri-Cities just in time for Ansel's graduation. Owen and Caleb happened to be dressed just alike. (And Caleb was sporting a sunburn he got at the Mariner's game the day before.)

It was exciting to watch Ansel march in to Pomp and Circumstance and we cheered when his name was read. He sure is a great kid and it was fun to witness this big event in his life.

Good golly, Caleb sure loves his cousins!

I made Ansel so-good cookies in his school colors (and one for his future school!) and we gave him 1 twenty dollar bill, 1 ten dollar bill and seven ones to represent his 2017 graduating year, all packaged in a cute graduation cap-wearing jar.

We enjoyed spending much of Saturday with the Childers family, before heading off to Yakima to have dinner and spend the evening with Grandma and Grandpa Seely, Chad and Amy.

It was a great family-filled weekend!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Natalie's Wide World of Sports

I've been to countless sporting events for my kids over the years, but Natalie was the first to get involved in middle school sports. Since quitting gymnastics, she has tried all sorts of new things. It was sure fun cheering her on.

Last fall, she tried basketball for the first time. Everything about it was new to her but she had a lot of fun.

In January, she started weightlifting at Alpha Strength and Conditioning. She's been going at least three times a week with the hopes of perhaps trying it competitively in the future.

Though gymnastics isn't new to her, she did have to brush off some cob webs to join the middle school gymnastics team. She competed on beam and vault.

And finally, this spring, she tried track. Turns out she's a pretty decent little runner. She did well at shot put, too.

Way to go, Nat! So fun to watch you do sports!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Evolution of Dance

When you work at Domino's, you never really know what time your shift will end. If they're busy at time you're scheduled to get off, you stay as long as needed.

Caleb was scheduled to work on the night of the ward talent show, but if he got off on time, he could make it in time to perform with his sisters. They'd rehearsed plenty and Jon had spliced all the music. It was going to be a really fun act.

But Domino's was busy that night.

We were all so sad when Caleb had to work two extra hours, causing him to arrive at the church just as tables and chairs were being packed up.

He was extremely upset, he'd been looking forward to this act and he was frustrated that his manager had kept him so long. It took a great deal of coercion to convince him to perform it anyway for the very few remaining people. And then Natalie developed a sudden stage fright and decided not to perform.

It's a shame it didn't work out, because I'm pretty sure this act would've brought down the house. But here it is, the act that the ward missed at the talent show:

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Mother's Day 2017

This Mother's Day will be memorable for me because it is the first time I got a gift from one of my kids that they shopped for, picked out and paid for all on their own. 

Caleb stopped at the store after work one night and carefully selected a very humorous card, a gift card he knew I would enjoy and my favorite candy bar. 

I'm quite sure he inherited his father's gift-wrapping skills. (Or lack thereof!)

The wrapping made me smile. So did that fact that he didn't know that cards come with envelopes that are found behind the cards in the store's display.

But nothing made me smile more than his thoughtfulness. What a great kid! I'm so lucky that I got three of them.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Pizza Prep School

Now that Caleb was home from school, it was time to find a job. I'd taken notice of the "Hiring Today!" sign outside of Domino's. One night, on the way home from mutual, I stopped in to pick up some pizzas for dinner. On the counter, I saw pamphlets advertising their need for drivers. Pizza and driving seemed like the perfect job for Caleb. The manager noticed me looking at the pamphlets and said, "If you know anyone looking for a job, we are definitely hiring." 

"Well as a matter of fact, I do know someone, my son!"

Not only did I leave the store with my pizzas that night, but with the manager's cell number and a request that Caleb text him about a job.

Within days, Caleb was attending Pizza Prep School, a three-day training to become a Domino's employee. Though hired as a driver, he still had to pass the pizza-making test.

He started as a driver the very next day after graduating from Pizza Prep School. We may have spied on him a time or two.

It's a great job for him. Who knew he could make such good money being a pizza man. He gets his $11.00/ hour wage and then makes tips on top of that.

It's fun to see how much he makes in tips after each shift. And I usually tease him about his hat head, too.

A few days into his new job, Jon and I came home from being out to find Caleb in the kitchen, still dressed in his Domino's uniform, but holding a Little Caesar's pizza!

It stands to reason that he would be hungry at the end of a long shift. It also stands to reason that a $5 Hot-and-Ready would sound appealing to this pizza-loving boy. And it's not the least bit surprising that it would never occur to our perfectly naive son that entering another pizza establishment while wearing the uniform of another (your employer!) would be anything to bat an eye about.

So we had a talk about that. And Jon found the line in his training binder that clarified it as something employees should not do. Now he knows.

He's a good pizza man and it sure feels good to be gainfully employed.