The Christmas Code

I sat there, half asleep on the couch, as the kids excitedly prepared for the day’s festivities. I found myself, coffee mug in hand, staring at a pile of Christmas gifts, thinking, “What did I do to get us in this situation?” Yes, it was Christmas morning. The tree was decorated, as well as the house. This year, Chrissy had the foresight to wrap almost all the presents in advance, which made things easier, but definitely not great. You see, Chrissy was 30 minutes away, laying in a hospital bed, fighting for her life.

Here I was at home, with our kids and Chrissy’s parents, who had arrived in their big RV the night before. Just thinking how is it that I’m in a place where I may lose my wife, best friend, lover once more?

Let me back up and start from the beginning.

It was in the beginning of December 2004 when it all started. Recently, we had received dental benefits with my compensation package at church, so we were on a dentistry kick. Getting everyone’s teeth looked at and fixed, cleaned, you know the drill. Chrissy was in for a simple cleaning, being new to all this dentistry stuff, we really had no clue of things you should be careful of. One such thing is that if you have a heart murmur, you should be medicated prior to dental work. Most dentists will ask you this, and then make sure you have what you need prior to the dental work. Chrissy has a heart murmur, and well, she should have had an antibiotic before her teeth were cleaned. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Chrissy had her teeth cleaned, and everything seemed to be fine, for several days afterwards. That was until she started running a fever; we thought she had gotten the flu. She got sick and then she would seem to gain her strength, only to relapse. Finally, it got worse. Chrissy had a fever and started getting a rash. So, we went to the local convenient care because we had not yet established a family doctor. We had just moved to Chicagoland the year before.

We went to the immediate care, and the doctor who saw her said it was just the flu, not to worry, and get some rest. So, we went back home. A  few days passed, and she still had not fully recovered. Then she started to complain of a crushing pain in her chest. This really scared me. She also started to break out in hives.

We thought this must be an allergic reaction to something. We went back through everything she ate, and if we changed anything like soap or detergents, anything we could think of and the answer was no, so we headed out to the convenient care again.

This time, different doctor. Chrissy was short of breath and on the verge of a panic attack because of not knowing what was going on. She still had a fever and when they went to take x-rays of her chest, she passed out for a few seconds. After all that she tried to explain everything that she was feeling, but the doctor concluded that it had to be a allergy to something.

Side Note: I was not able to go back with her because I was on kid duty in the waiting room.

The doctor prescribed some meds and sent us on our way. Chrissy felt like they thought she was crazy. We got her on the meds and saw some improvement.

Somehow, we managed to Christmas shop, attend work parties, and go to church. Chrissy and I also decided while wrapping presents that it would be a smashing idea if we used a secret code system on the Christmas tags instead of names.

This year, we had not only gotten better insurance, I had also received a nice pay raise, and we were so excited that we could buy some nice presents that the kids really wanted. This was going to be a very special year.

We did have one huge dilemma; we had a peeker in our family. You know the kid who likes to look at their gifts before Christmas and guess what they were. Oh, Ben is a peeker, and a good one at that. He would shake and squeeze things. He had even been known to unwrap things and rewrap them.  If we would hide the presents, he would find them. He could never keep it a secret either, he had to let his sister and brothers know what he did. He was so proud of himself.

So, this year we came up with a diabolical plan. Looking back, I think Chrissy was having some sort of delusion from the fever or side effect to the medications she was taking because this was just a crazy plan. Actually, it was a genius plan.

We thought we’ll code the presents and hide them in the garage. That is exactly what we did. We would wrap the presents. Chrissy would get out the highly secret code key and label the presents, and I would take them to the hiding place in the locked garage.

This code thing really was genius! Somehow each code was different so there was no telling which present would go to who without Chrissy and the key. This was a brilliant plan for sure! We would have our sneaking peeker foiled this year!

Then Christmas week was here, and Chrissy still had not gotten fully better. I was in charge of all the kid’s ministry Christmas services, all 6 of them. We had 2 on what we call Christmas Eve-Eve, and then 4 on the actual Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Eve morning, we got up, and Chrissy’s body was absolutely covered with hives. She had a high temperature, the shortness of breath and the crushing chest pain. So, I decided to call a doctor I had recently seen and luckily was able to make an appointment for her that day. We arrive at the doctor’s office, and they got us in quickly. The doctor looked at her and told us that she needed to be admitted to the hospital, and that this was very serious. He gave us orders for blood work and told us to go now and they would be calling the hospital to let them know we were coming.

We got to the hospital and they admitted her and had the blood work done and started her on a course of penicillin. Her fever had spiked to 104. My love was white as fresh fallen snow. They hooked her up to all kinds of monitors. They said that they were doing all they could to make her comfortable. When the Doctor finally came in he told us that she had sepsis of the blood and that the next 24 hours would be the most critical. Not the words you wanted to hear. I remember praying as hard as I could.

I called to let my boss know that I would need to call off. I was then told that no one could fill for me, so I needed to be there. On top of that, Chrissy’s parents were on their way in, and I needed to take care of my four children. This was turning out to be the Christmas celebration from you know where.

I left Chrissy, got our kids around for Church, and headed off to work with them. After the last service, we rushed to the hospital to see Chrissy one last time for the night. She seemed to be doing better, but that was just my opinion– the Doctor had an opposing one. He said she seemed to be reacting well to the meds, but needed rest.

I remember Chrissy pulling me in close and whispering that she loved me and not to forget to get the train table put together for Silas and have the clown bike put together for Jonah. I said I would, and I told her not to worry.

At this time, I had not given any thought to the codes we put on all the presents. I was just trying to figure out how I could get the kids to wait for mommy to come home and see them unwrap the cool presents that we had picked out for them.

Presents are a big deal in our family, and there is a lot that goes into choosing the right gift for that receiver. This goes all the way down to how it’s wrapped and even sometimes how it is presented to the receiver.

Side Note: For some presents that are given to special people it takes months of preparation and orchestration, especially if it’s Chrissy giving the gift. She puts her whole heart into making it a positive memorable experience. I absolutely love this about her.

I got the kids home, did all our Christmas eve traditions, and put the kids to bed, As soon as I started to work in the garage on the last presents, in rolled the big RV with the in-laws. I tried to get them welcomed and settled, so I could finish up my projects. I do remember it being around 2 am when I finally crawled into bed and prayed one last payer for my love.

The next thing I knew was that I had four very excited kids bouncing on my bed wanting me to get up. I thought I could buy some time with having the kids go see Grammy and Pop in the RV. That didn’t take long. I was able to get a cup of coffee and get myself dressed.

Now this is where I started this post. With me sitting on the couch. My mind was overwhelmed with thoughts on what to do. I wanted Chrissy to be here to watch the kids open the gifts, but who knew when she would be home, it could be days or maybe even weeks.

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I told the kids to go ahead and open their stockings. This would give me time to seek wisdom from the in-laws. I then remembered the codes. Oh no, those terrific, horrible codes! I thought I got it! The Grandparents always bring tons of presents… I’ll just have the kids open the presents from them now, and then when Chrissy gets home,they can open ours. Brilliant!

So, I thought. But I was shot down by my mother-in-law, and told the kids needed to open our presents. I tried to convince them otherwise even reasoning that I would make the kids wait until I knew when Chrissy would be coming home. That was when the guilt trip started, and I totally lost all strength to fight.

I set up the video camera, and away we went. It was a disaster.  The biggest mistake I can remember is that everyone was opening each other’s gifts, and Ben opened up Tori’s American Girl Doll. Which seemed so funny to everyone, but me and I’m sure to my wife later when she found out. I believe the dog’s present was even messed up.

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Afterwards, I was told that when Chrissy got out of the hospital, the kids could open the presents that the grands brought.  I was so frustrated!

I told the kids to get ready; we were going to see mommy. We got to the hospital and they got to see Chrissy. She looked tons better, but still was super weak. The doctor told us that she was lucky to be with us. They also said she needed much rest and care.

We left the hospital and stopped by a Churches Chicken– one of the only places open on Christmas to get a take-home meal which was our Christmas dinner.

Side Note: We never ate Churches Chicken because of a horrible shooting that took place in one of the restaurants, so Chrissy would never ever go there. She refused to.

So, the next day we went back to the hospital and the Doctor said Chrissy should be in there a few more days. Chrissy’s mom asked the doctor why, in a challenging way. She argued with him that Chrissy would be much better at home with her family. After much banter, he told Chrissy that she could sign herself out against doctor’s orders and go home if she wanted to.

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Chrissy’s mom convinced her that would be the best thing to do.

So, she signed herself out and we took her home.

By now the news that the kids had opened everything we had gotten them sunk in. This was a hard thing for us both as we watch the kids tear into the presents that were brought from Pennsylvania. We tried to make the best of it, joking about the clothes that were always too small for me or the strange presents that one of the kid would get that only someone who didn’t really know our kids would get them.

The next day the RV pulled out of the drive, and was off to Pennsylvania again. Leaving our family to care for each other and hopefully give Chrissy the rest she needed.

Unknown to us, but this was the start of a new battle for Chrissy. This sickness did much damage that in the years to come, we would slowly uncover really how bad it was. This was the start of anxiety and depression, as well as a few other issues that still to this day are challenges for my wife.

We now look back and cherish this year and will never forget how blessed we are to have Chrissy with us to celebrate yet another Christmas.

Biker Momma

Okay, so summer is officially here. June 21st is Summer Solstice and also the love of my life’s birthday. Along with summer comes all those wonderful fun things we love to do outside that we can’t do during the winter. One of those things I love to do is ride motorcycle. Now it’s been awhile since I have had my bike out, only because I can’t get it running. I have had it looked over, and some of the things that I was told was wrong with it were fixed, but alas it still needs more work. I was told it needs a new carb and that is very expensive. So it sits, waiting on me.

When I was twelve I first learned to ride. Oh my, what a rush! I was at a camp that was sponsored and run by the Pennsylvania State Police called Camp Cadet. Yes, it really was the cops who gave me my need for speed. Of all the things I was able to do that week, learning to ride a dirt bike was the highlight.

I remember popping the clutch from the start and flying through a course that was set up in an open field. I really don’t know how we didn’t kill ourselves. I flew around the orange cones, shifting as needed. It just seemed to come natural to me.

When I was 17 I bought my first dirt bike, a 125 Yamaha Enduro. It was bright yellow. I tore that thing up! My parent’s one requirement was to keep a helmet on. I took it up and down and all over the mountain we lived on. Then, once in while, I would cross the street and take it to place we called the Gobi Desert.

This was a place where a lot of people brought their bikes and three-wheelers. It was a place made out of orange clay dirt and it had great little humps that you ramp off of. It was like a natural dirt bike racetrack. Tons of fun!

After I pulverized that bike, I decided to get another bike, this time a big boy bike. I got a street bike; it was a 400 Honda Night Hawk. I bought this one from my buddy, Rob Lynn. It was a great bike! I put a lot of miles on this bike. This is the bike that I took Chrissy to her senior prom on. That was a fun night.

Up till then Chrissy and I had rode with her parents. They owned Harleys and let us ride with their group, even though we had a rice burner Years later, I had it stored at my in-laws during a freaky flash flood in January, which destroyed the bike.

All our kids had grown up on bikes, if not mine, it was their Pop’s Harley. Ben and Tori have been on a bike since they were babies. They loved sitting on the bikes when they were tiny. Then when they got bigger and able to reach the foot pegs, they could ride on the back. We went years without a bike, but the itch never went away. Each spring I would have this desire to ride. Finally one spring, I had gotten a big raise in pay, and we thought we could get one again. So Chrissy and I went to look. We would have loved to get a Harley or a Triumph or even an Indian but they just weren’t in our price range. So, we found a Harley Softtail wann-be.

We brought a 1100 Yamaha Virago. Chrissy actually picked it out. I think it’s a bit funny that the word “Virago” means “loud woman.” I’m not saying my wife is loud our anything, it’s actually quite the opposite, until you get to know her.

I love this bike! It’s a two-tone turquoise and cream color decked out with chrome and drag pipes to top it off. You can hear me coming too. I have a sticker on my helmet that says “Loud pipes Save Lives.” If people don’t see me coming, they should hear me.

 

Like anyone who had rode for any amount of time, I have had my share of close calls on this bike, as well as the others. I learned early that I always had to anticipate what others would be doing; the other thing I was once told is that you always need to have a good respect for your machine. Don’t ever become over-confident or make stupid choices. This is what gets people hurt or killed. It just helps if everyone does their part.

The year we got the bike, I was asked to ride in a parade with a group from our church. Another friend that was riding said that his daughter was going to be riding their mini bike. This was a mini bike that looked like a street bike. Our kids overheard this and thought it would be cool if one of them could ride a mini bike in the parade with me.

I told them there was no way we could afford that. And that was the end of that with them. Then we went to Pep Boys for something, and Chrissy saw the small bikes that they had and said, “I think we could get one for the kids.” She said, “I would like them to know how to ride.” I said, “Let’s think about it.”

As we talked I said to her, “I do want them to know how to ride, and not like you!”

Side note: When Chrissy’s brothers got their dirt bike she tried to ride it. She took off and forgot how to shift gear and forgot where the break was so as she sped across the yard on this little dirt bike she struggled to keep her balance. She started to panic, so as she started to pass the swing set she reached out to grab the leg in hopes of stopping. Well, I was told that didn’t go as planned. She grabbed the leg and the bike flew around the leg in a circle. Until she let go of her death grip that she had on the bike with her legs. The bike traveled on, and she stayed, hanging onto the swing set. So, her first solo ride was not the best.

Later that day, after talking about it, we made a trip back to Pep Boys. We picked out a little chopper with metallic blue paint and chrome. I have to admit it was pretty cool, it had a pull start as well as a electric push button start. It really looked like a miniature street bike. We made the kids wait in the van while we went into the store. After going through the checkout, we couldn’t wait for the kids to see it.

We walked out the doors of the store and you could hear an eruption of screaming yelling in the van. As you looked at our van you could see it bouncing and rocking back and forth. Yup! They were a little excited.

We went over the rules and safety instructions on the way home. Like, always wear your brain bucket, and always make sure you have a clear path in front of you. Never take the bike out of the backyard, and never ride it on the street.

Our back yard was about ¾ of an acre of land. This was a big yard for where we lived. This is one of the main reasons we bought the house. We wanted to have plenty of space for the kids to run and play.

So we got home and unloaded our new toy. Just to be sure that I understood how the bike worked and handled I took it for the first ride. I discovered that even though our backyard was big we needed a little more space. So we decided to open the fence gate to the front yard, and then we gave permission for the kids to ride out across the yard, making a big loop by going up the driveway and into the back again.

As I gave the kids a few instructions, the excitement was so thick in the air you could cut it with knife. They hung on my every word as I told them that we would take turns riding, and we would go from oldest to youngest. I said, after one loop around the house, they needed to stop and switch riders. I also told them if I saw that they were doing something that was potentially dangerous, I would stop them, and they would loose their next turn riding.

So all the kids did pretty well. They all made it around the house at a good speed without falling or running into anything. They all had great balance and didn’t lose control at all. They all stayed on the course I asked them to.

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As kids do, they stood waiting for their next turn full of anticipation. They jumped up and down in place as their mouths we jabbering about what they did or what someone else did as they gestured with their hands and arms in huge ways. To say this was an exhilarating day would not begin to cover what the kids were feeling.

After a few trips around the house, Chrissy piped up, butting in line and said, “I want a turn!” She strapped a helmet on, then grabbed the bike, straddling it, she sat down on the seat. I believe she even dramatically flipped out a pair of sunglasses and slowly slid them on. (She doesn’t see the best without them, so she needs them when driving.) I told her to remember this doesn’t have a clutch, just the accelerator and a brake. She was like, “I got this!” waving her hand in my face. “I have ridden before!” I said, “Please, just stay on the course.”

Chrissy has a habit of doing things her own way and sometime you just can’t tell her what to do. To say that she can be a bit of a rebel would be an understatement. So, sometimes it’s best to just let her go and hope for the best. I have to admit most times what she does do is spectacular in a good way (most times).

So she was sitting there on the bike, and if there could be theme music to this, “Born To Be Wild” would be playing in the background. She sat there grinning the biggest, cheesiest grin, as she hunched her shoulders forward and acts like she is over revving the engine. Throws her head back and laughs. Then released the brake and hits the gas.

She moved forward slowly and placed her feet on the pegs, wobbling the entire time eventually she got her balance and around she went. As the kids stood jaw-dropped, mouths wide open in awe of their mom speeding by. I’m sure they thought we have the craziest, coolest mom ever! That would be until she came back to the starting point. She slowed down as if she was getting ready to stop, but when she got to where the kids and I stood, she cranked on the accelerator and waved to us as she flew past saying, “See ya, suckers!”

She threw her head back and laughed the most maniacal laugh you would ever hear. That’s when I lost control of the crew. It was like a Greyhound race when the little bunny flies out past the dogs, and they all start running in pursuit of it. She weaved in and out of the trees and around the trampoline. Laughing the entire time. Then she flew past me and out the driveway into the front yard.

We had a huge pine tree that was in the front yard, which she managed to circle that a few times, as the kids were still close in hot pursuit. Right then, she decided to take the bike down into our drainage ditch. This wasn’t too big but at the end, it had a little bit of a steep incline out on to the street. When she reached that point she cut up, and out into the street she went. I believe this is when she forgot all the rules we had talked to the kids about.

She was fist pumping with one hand as she flew down the block. The kids knew not to chase her any further, so they stood at the edge of the street yelling at her while they flailed their hands around over their heads. You would have thought that she was a thief, and she just stolen their favorite toy. I guess she kind of did.

She turned around at the intersection and came back up the street. I was pretty impressed with how she was handling the bike. That is up to this point. When she got to the end of our yard where she exited on to the street, she must have forgotten about the steep bank into the ditch because she flew over the one side of the ditch and landed in it. I believe she got some air too. I think that if she could have done a cool trick like a superman or a cliffhanger just like the free style motocross riders, she would have.

When she landed, well, that was when she had issues. She lost her balance and started to hit the gas, then the brake making the bike wobble up into the front yard as she went. And then she not so gracefully toppled over with the bike still running. Her evil Kevil escapade had come to an abrupt halt. She laid there with bike still between her legs she looked like a rag doll someone had just flopped down on the ground. Her helmet was over her eyes and all we could hear was a laughing-crying sound. The kids and I ran over to where she fell. I asked, “Are you okay?” She nodded her head yes flopping the helmet back and forth, because she was laughing too hard to speak.

That’s when everyone started to laugh, and the kids with big eyes and with lots of gestures told each other their favorite part of their mom’s little steal away. This would be a day that would go down in the books for the kids who have an awesome mom.

We picked up Chrissy, dusted her off, and made sure she was okay, then we checked the bike out. Of course, Chrissy had to tell the kids not to do what she did. Then turned to me and said it was fun!

This is the Chrissy few people get to know or see, honestly this is just a mild event that just scratches the surface of who my amazing, fun, and adventurous wife is. Even with this wild rebellious free spirit, she has a huge love for people and a heart of gold just don’t let her drive your bike!