Bonnie and I have both described the joy we felt when we welcomed our children into the world, and some of the fun we had when they were happy little cherubs, and believed that we had hung the moon. But there comes a time in the life of every child when he or she outgrows that state, and adults, especially parents, become killjoys whose only motivation is to ruin said child's enjoyment of the big, wide, wonderful world he is trying to explore. Ours, alas, were no exception.
Let me take a moment and restate the parameters. Our first "child" was actually a set of twin boys, and 100% boys they were. Brian was born first, followed by Alexis ten minutes later. They had a tough birth experience, both of them being breech, that had to be as hard on them as it was on Mom. I read a dissertation years ago by one of those psychobabble gurus who voiced the opinion that we all go through life trying to "get even" for the birth trauma, and given the experience I had with the boys, maybe he wasn't so far off base at that. On top of that, Alexis hated his name, and may have been trying to get even with us for that. All reference material completely ignored, he swears it is a girls-only name, and to this day goes by Alex. Our third child, daughter Sidra, was born 16 months later, after which I had myself fixed; enough was enough!
The twins were always referred to by everyone by that unitary descriptor, "the twins." Despite the implications, they were very different. Alex was out there interacting with the neighborhood kids in typical little-rascals fashion. Brian was more likely to be quiet, introspective, a student of the world as it affected him. Sidra, well, our little girl was a little girl. She had a Cabbage Patch Kid, an early electronic talking doll that would occasionally get her into trouble after bedtime, and a collection of Nosy Bears that she still has; the granddaughters are fascinated with them.
As they grew, my relationship with my daughter remained pretty much unchanged as far as I can recall, but maybe that's because my sons gave me so much grief that she was always golden by comparison. She was her daddy's girl, still is, and loved to hang out and get involved with whatever I was doing. No surprise, then, that today this dynamic woman in her thirties does her own routine maintenance on her Mustang 5.0 without assistance, and likes nothing better than a long session of Left 4 Dead or Borderlands with her daddy. That's me.
Between the boys, Alex was the one that dug what I was doing, and hung out with me much more than Brian. Brian enjoyed things that his mom was into, which was just fine with her. He learned to cook and sew at an early age, and before you go there, he gave me four of my seven grandchildren, so just forget it. When the boys were 7, we were able to move out of the apartments and into a big house in the 'burbs. They started growing, finally, a fact that Bonnie attributes to the fresh air and outdoor exercise they were able to get, and as I have no evidence to refute it, we'll just go with that. A month after I turned 40, they became teenagers. That would be hard enough to deal with, but a far more insidious factor was added into the mix. Almost too gradually to notice, in those six years between 7 and 13, a street gang had moved into the neighborhood.
If you are a teenage boy, and you live where a street gang is active, you either get yourself on good terms with the gang, or you get beaten up every day, money and articles of clothing taken from you, and eventually maybe killed. I know this now; I didn't then, and spent many fruitless man-hours counseling, cajoling, and threatening my sons with all sorts of dire consequences if they didn't stay away from the gang. They didn't. They couldn't. It wasn't possible.
Let me take an aside here, and offer any people going through this now the benefit of my own experience: If you have a child who is influenced by a gang, do everything in your power to MOVE! As long as he is surrounded by these thugs, his very life is dependent upon his ability to remain on their good side, and there is nothing you can do about it, short of quitting your job and spending every minute of every day with him. If your neighborhood is killing your child, get out of it. Move heaven and earth, beg, borrow (I'll stop short of advocating theft), do whatever it takes, but leave.
To this day, Brian acts like there was no such thing as a gang. They were just misguided kids. I understand his reluctance to involve his parents in this unsavory past, especially since so much of it was my fault for not trying to get us out of there, but he needs to understand that I have another son who was much more ready to talk about it. When they got into their twenties and put all this behind them, Alex and I used to sit on the porch and swap war stories. I'd tell him about Viet Nam, and he'd tell me about Spring Valley; some of his stories were hairier than mine.
We spent some days in court. My boys were present at a murder. One of their little friends, a kid I knew well, who had been to my house many times, announced that he had been dissed by a rival, was going to call him out, and wanted a posse with him to make sure it stayed a fair fight. The twins went on that run, the boy did call his rival out, and when he came out, their friend pulled out a gun no one knew he had, and shot him. My boys escaped prison, because they had stayed up the block with the cars, and no one, including the victim's family, could put them at the scene. I don't know what guardian angel was watching out for them that night, but something told them to not be present for this particular bit of retribution.
On another occasion, a carload of "our" kids got into an altercation with the neighboring gang along a disputed border street. The police were called. Alex had a magazine (the kind that feeds bullets to a gun) in his pocket, and since another kid in the car had the gun it fit, they were all arrested for unlawful possession and transport of a firearm. Because Alex had the lesser component, he was sentenced to probation and community service, performed it, and had his record expunged; just one more useless experience. Yes, compared to these two, my daughter was incredibly boring. She took dance lessons, ballet, jazz, and tap, had drum lessons from a private studio, and played in band and orchestra at her school. Not once did I have to go sign her out of the Sheriff's Station over in Lemon Grove, and not once did I have the joy of watching her stand before a judge to receive her sentence. Sorry, Sid. Maybe I'll write about you next time.
To complete the story, Alex, who was always the natural fighter of the duo, went on to work in a pizza joint, and with that good recommendation in hand, got a job at Target. He soon transitioned from the sales floor to the security staff where he had the time of his life. His crew caught an FBI-ranked wanted criminal stealing cigarettes, and the story is that he met his future wife when he tackled a fleeing shoplifter, and they somersaulted over her jewelry counter. With his Target experience on his resume, he was hired by the Federal Police who provide security at the local navy bases, transitioned to the army when he moved to Colorado, and worked security there until he was injured in a training exercise. Now he's Mr. Mom, staying home with his delightful children while his wife works, and collecting his disability. He seems happy with that, and he knows only too well the value of having a parent at home at all times.
Brian, the brains of the operation, got his first job at a small factory that made wrist, knee, and back braces, that kind of orthopedic equipment. He went on to deliver parts for a local car dealership, and established a tree-trimming, pruning, and removal business. When the economy tanked, that went under; people aren't thinking about having their trees serviced when they're worried about putting food on the table. He then went to Target and took a temporary stock room job for the Christmas season. When that ended, he was one of the few that they kept on. He now manages several departments, and on some shifts, the entire store. He's doing fine.
Sidra went on to college, graduated with a 4.0 GPA, was on the President's List every semester, earned three degrees in two majors, and was the class valedictorian. She was set to be the best preschool-kindergarten teacher ever, but on her summer job with Hallmark, she injured her back lifting their 80 lb. shipping boxes, and was unable to go back to teaching because of some of the physical requirements. She was paid a small Workman's Comp settlement which lasted about a year. This happened just as the economy was going under, and no one would give her the time of day with a back injury on her resume, and she continues to live with us, paying her keep by doing the things the old folks find too taxing. Lest this be construed as a complaint, let me hasten to assure you that I don't know what we'd do without her. While we constantly pray that a break will come her way, she, Bonnie, and I are the real Three Musketeers, and I don't know what Bonnie (or I) would have done without her during my recent illness. She did research and challenged every procedure that sounded sketchy to her, and backed a doctor out of the room who suggested that I might not make it. She's the bomb, and I will freely state right here that no one ever had a more loving, caring daughter.
One last little footnote: We've all heard those stories about twins who do similar things without realizing it. I don't know about that, but here's one to consider. Both our sons married Mexican girls named Lorena and Loretta. Just one more in the long chain of coincidences that drive the myth, I suppose, but something to think about, nonetheless.
Now get out there and live life like you mean it!
This is for the grandkids, the family, close friends, and anyone else who can keep a civil tongue in their heads! It amounts to an interactive book of memoirs, but only if you interact... so get to it!
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California has been my home since 1965. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I'm home to stay!
What is there to say about a ten-year old turning 65, besides, what the hell happened?!??