From Nuts to Nostalgia

I consider myself a laid back guy. I mean, I did go through university eating ramen and I’m not too particular when it comes to fancy dinners and things like that. I have lived in apartments, so I know that they can get a little cramped.

However, my sister has a hobby that drives me insane. Her sewing machine is always whirling, and I’m just trying to relax after a hard day at work. I have to juggle getting home on time for them, but then I am confronted with the noise of the sewing machine.

While some might consider it soothing, the sound just grates on me. It’s almost like nails on a chalk board. I really don’t want to discourage my sister, so I just suck it up.

One night, I was just trying to unwind, and my sister told me that she was working on a surprise for me. I was kind of shocked because we’re not really much of a gift giving family. We’re kind of always on a budget, and my sister doesn’t really have a lot of money. She told me she’d have it ready for my birthday.

I just kind of shrugged it off. It was sweet but what could a kid really make that was any good? Well, the day came that she was to give me what she made. I was kind of nervous. It turns out, she had made me a bag. It had a picture of our family on it from when we were all younger.

I didn’t even know they could put pictures on fabric like that. She had had to order the fabric long in advance. Memories of when it was all of us as a family came flooding back. That particular day we had all went to a water park. We didn’t want to take a picture, but Dad said that it would make a good memory later.

As kids, we were all impatient to get on the slides. Since I was older, I was just wanting to hit on some girls there and possibly get some numbers. I know I was immature, but my siblings and I have an age gap so that’s just life. I’d already done the slides.

Now, I’m a parent almost. I’m surprised by how sentimental this got me. I was choking back tears. I actually was surprised that she could be so thoughtful. She didn’t really know how much this meant to me.

I use the bag to pick up groceries. It’s a weird job, but it’s also cool. She’s made me a few other bags since so I can carry all my groceries in reusable bags.

When I hear the whirl and twirl of the machine now, I feel blessed. I’m raising some good kids. It’s actually become a soothing sound for me. It lets me know that she’s not getting up to any trouble.

Finding Balance

When we first moved here to Lancaster, I have to admit that it was a little bit of a mess. It was hard to adjust and catch a rhythm, create routines for everyone, care for my siblings and myself, and on top of that, stay calm and grounded. I kept reminding myself that it would be okay, things would eventually fall into place and we’d settle down properly soon.

Moving house is a stressful event in itself, and besides that, what had happened still loomed over us. This was completely normal, of course, but it nevertheless affected our lives at least for the first few weeks. My brother and sister had to change schools, and I had to find a job, but luckily everyone here in our neighborhood has been so nice and helpful, and they made the transition a little bit easier. They helped me find a job and gave me some great advice.

Our new lives had begun rather unexpectedly, but we were holding on tightly. To be honest, my biggest challenge was cooking. My brother and sister turned out to be better at it than me, even though they’re younger, but I’m getting better every day. What really helped was getting some appliances that made our lives easier. We got a pressure cooker, meat grinder and an immersion blender which we use practically every day, thanks Kristin & John. Save for the microwave, they’re our kitchen staples.

A couple of months ago I even started experimenting a little in the kitchen and trying out some new recipes. I’m no Gordon Ramsey (yet), but this was a huge improvement. I even got a new cookbook! Who knew that someone who could barely make himself some scrambled eggs would be buying cookbooks one day?

I realized that it was all about balance. But it’s as much about the process of finding it, as actually obtaining it. This is the hard part. My little sister is a very tough one, and she constantly reminds me that even if I stray away, it’s completely fine, I can just try again tomorrow. She is very smart, she’s my rock. My brother is also very supportive, but he’s the practical one. He doesn’t get concerned about things as much because he just has confidence that it’ll work out, whatever it is.

We’re doing good now. I got a better job than the one I had before, and I even have more free time to spend with my family. Lancaster has been good to us.

The Guilt Every Parent Must Feel Sometimes

Let me start out today by sharing the excitement I felt at work over getting a bonus. I could sure help out the whole family. The brood always needs something practical and mundane. It is no fun to buy ordinary supplies, or even new shoes, when I could get something as a reward for myself. After all the money came from what I did at work. So I went out and bought a new watch that cost just under $500 after reading about it on Timepiece Quarterly. Yes, it is really a good one—sporty and masculine. I should feel guilty about spending on myself, but I don’t. Somehow I am going to provide for my siblings so they do not lack a single thing. This includes the mini weekend vacation we are planning.

In reality, the watch was on sale and runs for upwards of $800, so I couldn’t resist the bargain. I am so excited that I have to crow in this blog because I am not ready to tell my brother and sister just yet. They would be happy for me, of course, but I am not sure I want to see any disappointed faces. They might think that we have to kiss the vacation goodbye. But no, I will make it clear that it is still on the agenda.

There is nothing like a smart watch made out of quality materials in stainless steel with an easy-to-read touchscreen. I don’t even know what “hands” are. I’ve heard of them. Ha! I can stay connected to every device in my arsenal with display notifications. Texts, calls, emails, and app updates are all within reach. Plus, I get Bluetooth technology. It has built-in activity tracking for those who like to count their steps and total distance for the day. Real diehards get calorie counting too. Everything is automatic with no buttons to push.

What’s more, I can control the music on my favorite player. The smart watch has voice activation. Can you understand now why I just had to have it! It comes with an inductive charging magnet which you need after 24-hours of use. No biggie. It also happens to be stylish and looks great on my wrist. I can change out the straps if I like. What more could you want from a men’s watch under $500.

Growing Up Quickly

It wasn’t a question of where my brother and sister would go in my mind. I knew I couldn’t live with myself seeing them somewhere else: with some another family, with the potential to be separated from the last bit of family they have left. Not when I could try to do something about it. So that’s what I am doing. I was able to convince Youth Services that the best place for them was with me.

The day I picked the two of them up from foster care and we left together was one of the best moments I’ve had in a long time. Scary, too, I’m not going to lie, but seeing my brother and sister so happy made me feel happy, too. I also knew that whatever I had to do to keep them would be 100% worth it. Of course, we get frequent visits from the county. That’s fine. I know that they’re as eager for me to succeed as I am. I’ve been able to ask them questions and find out about resources for all of us that I wouldn’t have found out on my own. It’s been a steep learning curve. Growing up quickly certainly has its disadvantages.

I can’t say that I entirely became a good role model overnight, or even if I’m all the way there yet. I’d been on my own through college and since graduation, so it was a little weird to have to be accountable to other people again. It is strange to think that I landed a job out of school, mostly just for money so that I could do things with my friends. And now I need that job in order to pay for this apartment. I need to be here to make dinner, to help with homework, to be physically present for my siblings. I honestly thought I would mind the forced lifestyle change, but I don’t. Not really. Maybe I do, I haven’t really had the luxury of thinking about it too much. At the very least, one thing I do know is that I don’t resent my siblings for being the cause. I have my parents to blame for that, I guess. It is much easier to be angry at them than anyone else.

So I’m going to continue to grow up, as quickly as I can so that I can be the person they need me to be. I want them, at least, to have the rest of their childhoods as much as is possible. And when that isn’t an option, I am going to help them figure all of this out in ways so that they never feel like they have to go it alone. I’m their big brother. It’s my job to be there for them, and I’ll do it to the best of my ability every day from now on.

I Got Called to the Principal’s Office!

To say that my brother is taking things poorly is a bit of an understatement. Some days he seems fine, like his old self. And other days, he is just this seething mass of hormones and anger. I can’t really blame him, and other than getting him some counseling (already done), I don’t know what else to do. Most of his good moments are at home where I guess he feels safe and calm. At school, however, where he’s tasked with something that is overwhelming, or when the other kids start in on him, I guess he lashes out.

Today was one of those days. This time, however, he went after a teacher. Not physically, thank goodness. Something to do with him not finishing his homework. No idea why that deserved the response he gave, but I’m not him and I don’t know what goes on in his head.

What I know is that I got a call at work telling me that my brother is in the principal’s office and that I better come down and get him. He’s been suspended. I’m thinking the worst on the drive over: he was in some kind of fistfight with another student, somebody was going to press charges, we’d be out on the street…. Unfortunately, it is a long drive so I had a lot of time to stew things over. Man I wish they would have just told me over the phone what it was!

When I got there and she explained everything, I tried super hard not to look relieved. My brother just sat in the other chair with his head down. His backpack was next to him so they must have made him stop at his locker before I arrived. The principal already knew about “our situation” and asked me some questions about our home life and if we had any other relatives nearby. The first bit I kind of thought was none of her business and the second part seemed obvious: um, no, that’s why they are with me!

Anyway, I explained about the counseling and how we were going to sign him up for a sport so that he could have some other positive role models in his life while expending some of that physical energy. The principal seemed to think that everything I said sounded good. She kept nodding her head and saying, “I see.”

In the end, she decided to give him an in-school suspension – I didn’t even know they had that, it certainly beats me having to take time off from work to make sure there is an adult around to watch him.

My brother didn’t say anything to me the whole time we were in the office. Never came to his own defense, never tried to argue his case, nothing. I wasn’t expecting him to say anything when we got into the car, either. But then he said, “The teacher asked me why Mom didn’t just make me do my homework.”

Oooooh. So I told him that I was sorry that it happened but that his response was wrong. That I could have emailed the teacher and let her know what was going on, or had the principal fill her in. He nodded without looking at me and then asked me not to tell our sister about what happened. Since he already felt lousy enough, it seemed like reasonable request to me.

Oh well. Another day in the life, right?

Some Lessons are Hard to Learn (and Teach)

In some ways, I am lucky that my brother and sister are a bit older and they can do a lot of stuff for themselves. They also know right from wrong (whether they do the right thing or not a whole other thing). Unfortunately, some of their problems are bigger as well. And I…well, sometimes I just don’t know how to handle things. Other times, it isn’t that I don’t know how to handle them, it’s that I wish I didn’t have to. It’s a lousy feeling.

For example, my little sister plays these stupid internet games. I don’t like them but just about everybody at school plays them and she already sticks out at school. So against my better judgment, I let her get an account. She can’t be friends with anybody she doesn’t know personally and she knows that I check her account to read her messages and check her friends list (I made the password).

So far, she’s gone along with every single rule I have put in place with the game – time limits, homework requirements, she can only play in the same room I’m in, all that stuff. There’s one thing we disagree on, and that is the chat feature. I don’t want it on. Ever. She can message her friends but complains that she can’t talk to them in-game.

One day I finally gave in and turned the chat on. Within about ten minutes, she started crying uncontrollably. Someone – not a friend – had stolen an item from her that she had played for weeks to save up enough points to buy. They had asked her to borrow it and promised they would return it, and then of course they logged off immediately once they had the item. My sister was devastated. Now, I’ve been telling her over and over that people in the games aren’t always nice and they might pretend to be something they aren’t, but she always sees the best in people. It probably didn’t occur to her that this person would steal her item after they specifically said that they would not.

Now, on the one hand, I am glad that my sister is so optimistic about people but it concerns me at the same time. How do I explain to her that people are often mean jerks who will lie and take stuff from you? That’s a difficult lesson to teach somebody who just doesn’t see the bad in people, and it is a hard lesson to learn. Because once you know there are bad people out there, you can’t go back to thinking the way you used to. In a way, I wish she never had to learn this stuff.

Rather than point out that this was exactly what I’d been talking about, I gave her a hug. Then we very calmly reported the person to the game’s moderators, and await a response. I also turned her chat back off so that she can’t be taken advantage of again. It just sucks, you know? On the one hand, I hope the moderators give her the item back, but on the other hand, I almost wish they wouldn’t – I really hope she learns a lesson from this so there was at least a point to going through this.

Awkward Date Tonight

I am still a little in disbelief that this even happened, to be honest.

First, though, I have to set the stage: My brother had been invited to a sleepover, which made my sister incredibly jealous. I suggested that she find a friend to stay here with us instead, and the idea wasn’t met with her usual level of eye rolling. But she came home and said that the friend invited her to stay over at her house instead. It was like the stars aligned.

So, knowing that I didn’t have anybody to rush home to on Friday night, I did something I haven’t done in a while now: asked someone out. I thought I should capitalize on the free evening and all. The woman I asked out works with me but in a different department. We often take lunch breaks at the same time, and have had a few casual conversations. She even said yes!

We drove to a restaurant right after work – I mentioned that she could drive herself there if it was easier, trying to be a gentleman. There was plenty of room in my car but I didn’t want her to feel stuck with me. The place she chose was cozy and really good. We had some nice conversation while we waited for our food. In other words, things were going pretty well.

And then my phone rang. It was my brother, who had gotten into an argument with his friend and wanted to come home. I explained that I wasn’t at home, and that he should try and work things out with his friend. My date was making odd faces at me while this was going on, and honestly it was sort of rude of me to even answer a call (which I wouldn’t have done if it was anybody but either of my siblings). She looked at me strangely, and I thought maybe she was concerned that I was cheating on someone. So I explained that it was my brother, blah blah blah.

She asked if I was basically a parent to my brother and sister, and I explained the situation. Now, I wasn’t exactly expecting to have to go through the whole thing with her on our first date, and I was hoping that it would come out in a lighter moment (like maybe I could say, surprise, no potential in-laws to deal with!) but she brought it up. I didn’t see a reason to avoid the situation or lie about it.

I don’t know exactly what went on in her head while I was telling the story, but the conversation certainly dried up after that. When it came time for the check, she was adamant that she pay her half, even though I told her that I’d pay when I asked her out. I didn’t argue with her in front of our server, but I did mention it when we were getting our coats on and walking out the door.

And then she said she had a nice time, but she didn’t want this to be a date anymore. That I clearly had other responsibilities and couldn’t focus on a relationship, and that is what she was looking for! Then she headed for her car while I picked my jaw up off the ground. I got a text from my little brother as she drove away, telling me that everything was fine now.

Can you believe that?!?

Staying in Lancaster

We probably could have gone anywhere to live, but I chose Lancaster. My brother and sister had already been going to school here and I didn’t want to take them away from their friends. Fortunately, I work right near York, so I was able to keep my job. My commute got longer, sure, and I had to sell my parents’ house since we couldn’t afford to keep up with the mortgage. But other than those two specific things, I can’t complain all that much.

About half the population here are “plain,” meaning they’re some version of Amish, Mennonite, or something like that. They tend to be closed communities and not use much technology, but it depends on the specific group and the church as to what’s permitted. I have learned a little about it having grown up here, but our family was never religious. I personally think a lot of it is technicalities. For example, I’ve definitely picked up my share of Plain hitchhikers. They can ride in a car, they just can’t drive it. If you’re going to have a problem with cars, then have a problem with cars, you know?

Thanks to the Plain population, though, it’s pretty much quiet farmland around here with pockets of “English” (what they call the rest of us) communities. To me, that makes Lancaster feel like a small, homey place. I think all three of us needed that. Nice neighbors who look in on us and leave casseroles on the doorstep, that kind of thing.

As I mentioned, there has been some changes, but they were unavoidable. Like I said, I had to sell the house and a lot of the furniture in it. That sucked, especially because my brother and sister were in foster care at the time and it felt like I’d lost absolutely everything. It was necessary, but that didn’t make it easier. At least now I can see the good side of it: since we’ve downsized, things are pretty affordable on my salary and the benefits we get. That was a pretty huge weight off my shoulders.

The other big adjustment I had to make was simply where I lived. I used to be right near my job, so I do have a bit of a commute now. However, since a good portion of the people here either don’t drive or don’t all work in York, traffic for me isn’t so bad. That’s also something to be happy about. I kind of don’t mind it, either. It is sometimes the only part of my day when I am actually by myself. I can listen to whatever I want on the radio and just relax without anybody trying to make me do anything for them.

I guess my goal was to make the transition to being a family of three as painless as possible for all of us. That was important to me. I think it is pretty lucky that we have somewhere like Lancaster to call home.