Monday, January 17, 2011

Looking at life through the rear view mirror

1/12/11 Chatterbox         
Betty Kaiser

Birthdays: Celebrating the seasons of life

Hey, all of you Capricorns out there — Happy Birthday! January is also my birthday month. And at my age, I’m a cheap date. Birthday cards are necessary but gifts and elaborate celebrations are optional.

As a kid, I would have rated birthday parties and gifts right up there with Christmas — mandatory! We girls dressed up in our best frilly skirts and patent leather shoes and played Pin-the-Tale on the donkey as we ate cake and ice cream and giggled.

Those were the wonder years.

After that, we set our sites higher and began to anticipate ‘being older.’ Dating cool guys and driving at 16 were milestone events. At 18 we graduated from high school and really thought that we were grown-up. Most of us were married with kids before it was legal to drink at the age of 21.

In fact, we grew up so quickly that I remember being appalled the year of my 30th birthday. Suddenly, I was old! My grandparents had died in their early 60s and I was halfway there. Statistically, I thought I was almost dead. Now I wish I could be so “old.”

On my 40th birthday a restaurant customer brought me a pin to wear that said “I remember when I thought people my age were old.” My, how times change!  That pin is now 30 years old and still hangs on my bulletin board to remind me of my youth.

There were big celebrations for my 50th and 70th birthdays but the years in-between have been quiet. Now, birthdays are a great time to look in the rearview mirror of life and see where I’ve been on this windy road of changing decades. As I recall the past, I marvel at how I’ve been divinely led and provided for in each stage of life. Looking back gives me hope as I face the unknown future of aging.

Hands down, the very best times of my life were the growing years of our family. Our children have always been my greatest joy. They are the crowning jewels of my life; the most important thing I’ve ever done. And while I am proud of their achievements as adults, it is our interaction as a growing family that I remember most fondly.

Their father and I had many dreams when we married but topping the list was building a family. I remember holding each tiny new baby after they were born, counting their little fingers and toes and marveling at what we and God had created. Everything about them was fascinating to me: that first smile, rolling over (and nearly off the bed!), crawling from one room to another and taking that first tentative step all were miracles.

Kathy, the oldest, was such a sweet, well-behaved, girly girl, that the ladies in our neighborhood used to call and make reservations for her to come and have tea parties at their house. Really, they did that! That’s when her father nicknamed her “Princess.”

Jeff, on the other hand, was all boy. He was never invited to tea. He was the busy little 5-year old who split his head open one year on the first day of vacation at Big Bear Lake. He and his siblings were jumping on the beds at the Gray Squirrel Cabins Lodge when he fell and hit a windowsill. It was a Sunday. There was no hospital. A doctor had to be called and his father had to hold him while his head was stitched. I can still hear him screaming; but later, he was swimming with a shower cap on his head in an inner tube!

Long before Facebook, John, the youngest, had the most friends. Starting as a pre-schooler he often walked hand and hand with his little girl friends. Later, he drove his 1968 Apathy Bug (Volkswagen) packed with his buddies. He also, however, always dreaded that first day of school question: “Kaiser? Are you related to Jeff Kaiser?”

I have many favorite memories that revolve around foreign exchange students. Our first set of students I picked up at Ventura College where the kids were taking swimming lessons. I innocently signed a sheet indicating interest in housing two young men from France who were training for the Olympics. By the time I arrived home, my application had been accepted and the boys were on the way!

Lionel and Andy were six-footers. They not only ate us out of house and home but also scared us to death. One evening Chuck heard a loud commotion in the bathtub. He went in to find a sea of blood. The boys had donned Speedos and were shaving themselves from head to toe for Olympic time trials the next day. Ouch!

Our short street was home to 21 youngsters (10 from the same family) and sometimes there were turf wars. One summer afternoon our boys were outnumbered and losing very badly in a water balloon fight. Mom and dad to the rescue! Dad climbed on the roof with a hose and mom filled buckets of water to soak the invaders. “Never mess with the Kaisers” was our motto.

Folks, the times of our lives are not measured by how big of a house we own, the car we drive, or the places we’ve been. No, the times of our lives cannot be measured at all. How can you measure the bonding qualities of love, laughter and the joys of childhood? It’s impossible. They are priceless, abundant and overflowing — and unique to you and yours.

King Solomon said, “There’s a time and a season for everything.” This is my season to be “older;” to take out the jewels in my treasury box of memories and celebrate each of the seasons of my life.

How about you? Do you celebrate the times of your life? Check them out on your birthday. You’ll be amazed at how rich your life has been.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

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