Those are the best kinds of stories.
Our daughter Abby got her license today.
Whoever has older kids than us already knows how we felt in that moment.
Whoever has younger kids than us is headed there soon enough.
I would have to start by saying that our Abby is such a bright, shining star in our lives. Creative, talented, kind and giving, she is an absolute blessing in our lives. Even navigating the torrential teenage waters with her has truly been a gift. Sure, we have our moments where I clench my jaw and inwardly beg God for more patience as I use the last of my self control to keep from outwardly rolling my eyes and inadvertently set off an emotional hand grenade, but as far as kids go, she is the best of the best.
She has always been on her own path, dancing to the beat of a different drum, and making her own music when she got bored of that, too.
She has many friends that adore her, both older and younger, but she has always struggled with that crucial “best friend” piece of the pie, where she would be able to lean on and look to another girl her age rather than finding no one to hang out with when it came time for a sleepover.
I don’t know of any greater heartache than watching your child struggle to find their place in this world.
A part of me was agonizing over her lonliness and another part of me jumping at any opportunity to cultivate a new friendship for her. Sleepover? Sure! I’ll go buy ALL the cookies and glow sticks and rent ALL the movies to ensure a happy memory for a moment.
Another part of me was screaming inwardly as a grown woman staring at this younger version of my childhood, watching this next generation and knowing I had a choice in how I cultivated it: You don’t NEED a best friend, girl! Just WAIT until you get older, then it will all work out! You are AMAZING and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise!
Nobody WAS telling her otherwise. We all know the voices in our head do a fine enough job of pulling us down in spite of ourselves.
As we worked through those tough years together, something altogether completely different was growing in the meantime: our friendship. She had me, and I had her. Now I am not a fan of parents befriending their children in a way that they become equals and the child loses out on a parent figure and the peace of boundaries, but that wasn’t the kind of friends that Abby and I were becoming. We were the kind who had been through STUFF together.
You know what I’m talking about. In her loneliness, I was there to cheer her on. In her triumphs, I was there to celebrate. In the awkward moments, it was me walking her through. One year I literally had to take her out of school and together we worked through two years of curriculum to get her in a higher grade level where she better belonged.
[Let me be perfectly clear, I am NOT the homeschool type of mom. I love my children fiercely, but never dreamed of being so heavily responsible for my kids’ education. This was a necessity for Abby at the time, no different than any one of you moms out there would do for your kids if that’s what they needed. With a toddler at home. And a job.]
We made it through. It was tough, it was not pleasant, but we made it through. Looking back now, I’m sure there’s many things we both would do differently, but in any good relationship, it’s the STUFF that makes it great. It’s the STUFF that proves you went through and you still survived.
It was during this time in her life that some other sad things were happening. Tim’s dad was diagnosed with cancer, and while he fought, we made some shift changes to spend some extra time with him while we had it. We bought a pop up camper and went camping together when our baby Caleb was just six weeks old, using an empty suitcase as his bed. I won’t tell you how many postpartum and hormonal tears I cried as I laid exhausted in bed every night, but I would not trade any of that hardness for even one lunch by the fire with Tim’s dad as I used the quickie pie maker to try to entice him to eat a sandwich as he rested in his favorite anti-gravity chair.
Being the oldest at home during that time gave Abby an unfair advantage with her grandpa Andy. Being the first grandbaby in a long time on that side of the family, we enjoyed the overwhelming spoiling of her in those first couple years: they would make trips 600 miles down to see us and visit for a few days at a time. We would visit parks, go out to eat, and Grandpa Andy and Grandma Max would laugh until they cried at the cutest little Abby who played with her pasta noodles in a highchair at Olive Garden. It was wonderful.
Times changed and more grandbabies came and then came the C-word diagnosis. Grandpa Andy was so brave, and he fought hard for another couple years of his life. Abby was old enough to understand a lot of what was happening, and the unfamiliar road of scary stuff was already known to her, so she really stepped up to cherish those last couple years. It was so bittersweet.
Tim was very aware of the hourglass sand running through the days, and he would drive up to NY several times in that season to be able to take his dad to his chemo treatments and try to help around the house. He could get straight answers from Grandma Max and try to relieve even just a moment of her caretaker responsibilities that way, and try to understand where they were at as best as he could.
Grandpa Andy bought a new truck in those last years. It was a beautiful black 2008 Dodge Pickup with the bench seat in the back. He had never bought a new truck before, and he was so, so proud of it. Our hearts were filled to see him love something so much. He was a strong and simple man, quiet and steady. He did not ask much of anything, so to see him light up over it made us smile.
One of the weekends Tim drove up there was a very difficult trip. It was a cold, harsh winter in Western New York, and it was probably the bitterness of chemo that hurt worse than the weather, but it was tough just the same.
Grandpa Andy wanted to take his truck to the treatment center, and they started out with just some small talk. At one point, Tim told his dad he was sorry that he couldn’t be closer, couldn’t be more help, but Grandpa Andy just nodded and smiled. “That’s alright,” he answered. “When you’re not here, Jesus is usually sitting right there in your seat.”
For a man of few words to open up about anything that had to do with politics or religion or any of the other things our parents told us not to discuss, it really was short of a miracle, and Tim held on to that conversation for the rest of that season, and it carried him through some very dark times he would have to face soon after.
Saying goodbye to Grandpa Andy was so, so hard because we never thought we’d live far away from our families. All the things we took for granted and all the memories we still wanted to make were all gone in one small word: goodbye.
We knew we had a hope and a promise that we would see him again someday, and we were so grateful to be a part of his Celebration of Life service, but when we got back home, the grief was like a silent intruder in our home, lurking, dark and black, constantly weighing down every corner of our hearts. It shut Tim off and made him shut me out. In all our years of marriage, NOTHING had come between the two of us, and now here we were in the middle of this broken space, trying to exist in the middle of pain he could not even find words for.
Slowly, slowly we walked through the grief and over time the memories became more sweet than bitter.
As we got past the one year anniversary of his passing, Grandma Max got the strength to sort through some of necessary things to try to begin the next phase of her life.
She wanted to sell the truck.
The first minute I found out, I knew we had to have it. I didn’t even really want to discuss it with Tim because I was so sure it was the right thing to do and so worried he could not yet see clearly, I secretly just started forming my own plan. I called my banker friend to see about out-of-state loans, called the NYS DMV to see about the transfer process, and called Tim’s brothers to make sure they were all okay with the deal.
All signs pointed to YES. The purchase of the truck brought a type of redemption to our hearts that we really needed, and I knew I was doing the thing and going to be there for all of it.
Abby went with me on the trip that I sneaked up to NY on what Tim thought was a simple girls weekend away, in which we brought that truck home to surprise him.
It was one of the craziest and happiest things I have ever done, but I knew it was right and I knew it had to be done.
It was a place of comfort or home or a reminder of a legacy that could carry on, even in the middle of the loss we were dealing with.
I still don’t know exactly what it was, but I’m glad I did it.
For those next few years, if Tim was in a tough place or just needed a longer commute home than walking down the hill from the shop to our house, he would hop in that truck and DRIVE.
He thinks when he drives, and he processes when he drives. And each time he climbed in, he thought of Jesus in the passenger seat and he would open the center console to see his dad’s last receipt from a trash drop off and the door handles Tim never replaced for him while he was still alive. They got a few chuckles over the parts jangling in the bottom of the console once in awhile, but they are still there to this day, making peace with the unfinished business we may have in our hearts.
A year or so ago, as we were drowning in foster care challenges as great as our financial desperation, Tim felt forced to sell the truck to pay off some debt.
Several people instantly replied to the sale, but the truck mysteriously broke down and we parked it in a back corner of our minds until we came through some of the trenches.
As hope slowly started to come back in to our lives, we turned around and found ourselves getting out of debt, watching our foster babies heal and head to adoption… and our other kids had grown up in and through it all.
Abby was about to get her license and we had to decide.
In so many ways, made sense. Her love for her grandpa and the sentiment the truck had for her, the memories and the gift that had been passed down…
We had to do it.
She begged us to sell it to her and offered to drain her savings. We told her to hold on so we could assess the repairs and decide together.
As she studied and worked and saved, we secretly fixed the truck and assembled a plan.
The day of her actual road test, I ran to the store while the kids were in school to try to pull together the biggest bow and ribbon I could find, and maybe a keychain to commemorate the event.
As my other kids learned of the surprise, they rallied to decorate the truck while she was at her test, and I dashed downstairs to put an “A” sticker on the key chain to personalize it.
I dug through the craft bins searching for the perfect one, and as I stuck that letter “A” on there, my breath choked on the irony of her Grandpa Andy, then my son Andrew Benjamin, named after him, while my Abby carried that same initial that I was now attaching to his original key chain of his original truck that he had purchased brand new for the first time in his life, just a few years before he passed away.
As she returned from her road test, she saw a gift of a dream come true.
Today we came full circle and our hearts were healed one step further as we passed down a legacy.
All those days of loneliness and all those awkward years of stumbling just made her draw closer to the Lord and to us, her parents.
All the hurt and pain and uncertainty of who she was had come in to a moment where we knew that she had gained so, so much more than any childhood memory she may have thought lost.
In all those different days walking on a different path writing a different story, hers came through to be the best gift, because she gained so much more than any normal childhood could have brought her.
She had a stability and a relationship and a legacy that could not have been gained any other way.
I felt like she had come full circle and we gave her a pair of wings as we gave her that truck as her own.
As parents, I don’t know if you ever REALLY know if you got it right. I mean, I’m not sure there has ever been a moment that I knew that I knew that yeah, we definitely did the right thing.
But in that moment, as we watched Abby cry tears of joy and disbelief that yes, not only was the truck staying in the family but yes, it belonged to her to be free to find her way, her friends, her schooling, her dreams, her way of blessing the world…
I knew it had to be done, and I knew it was right.
In Loving Memory of Grandpa Andy
To watch the vlog Tim made of that special day, click here for it all.