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The proper care and feeding of elephants, Part 4

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Family Reunion

It’s Sunday afternoon and the family has gathered for a very special occasion.

The boys and their families flew in from Colorado and Tennessee. The girls married and settled closer to home, neither one more than an hour’s drive from their childhood home.

The big occasion? It’s Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary. The house is small, so John, Kevin and their families chose to stay at a nearby hotel in town. Now gathered in the tiny family room, the brothers and sisters wonder aloud how they ever managed to all fit in this house, let alone grow up here.

While their parents are in the back yard playing with the grandkids–nine in all–John, Kevin, Janet and Kara catch up on each other’s lives. The brothers each left home after high school graduation. John set off for college on a football scholarship and Kevin headed for Fort Bragg and a career in the military. They talk about their kids; about how much has changed and how much has remained unchanged.

What they don’t talk about is why Janet’s husband has spent most of the afternoon taking private calls on his cell phone out of earshot of his wife, or the fact that no amount of make-up can cover the purple, swollen skin under Kara’s right eye.

The elephants in the room loom as large as Kara’s husband’s absence from this auspicious occasion.

But the biggest elephant of all–the one each sibling recognizes but none want to admit to themselves, let alone each other, is the old saying that in this case rings heartbreakingly true:

Both Janet and Kara married men just like their Daddy.

And the elephants feed and grow…

If you missed the first three installments of this series, you can find them here:

The proper care and feeding of elephants, Part 1: An Introduction and Explanation
The proper care and feeding of elephants, Part 2: Unspoken
The proper care and feeding of elephants, Part 3: Anniversary Gifts

Holding on to the past

The new furniture and bedding has been ordered.

With the arrival of an accent pillow, we’ve been able to choose a new paint color.

This room that started out as a nursery filled with ladybugs, fireflies, bumblebees and butterflies has had subtle transformations over the past 9 years.

From toddler princess…

to American Girl princess…

to “I’m a big girl now, no more princess stuff” room.

About a year ago, my soon-to-be 9 year old daughter announced that pink was no longer her favorite color. Her room was way too girly. I’ve resisted the change for as long as I could, but over the summer, all remnants of this pretty in pink room will be gone. We’ve found new homes for the bed and other pieces of furniture that once resided in this very girly little girl’s room.

In the negotiation process, my daughter agreed to certain terms. We’ve been at odds for the past several months because her room is often a disaster area. She suffers from what many of us suffer from: too much stuff and not enough space to put it all. She finally agreed to part with a sizable collection of My Little Ponies, Littlest Pet Shop Pets, Barbies and all the various and sundry paraphernalia that accompanies said collections. This includes a large fold-out Barbie castle with a horse drawn carriage, furniture, clothes, etc. (LOTS and LOTS of etcetera. Two large boxes of etcetera, actually.)

We’ve spent the past couple of weeks going through and sorting toys to be given away. We’ve redressed all the naked Barbies and returned them to their original personas of Barbie Princesses, separated the ponies from the pet shop crowd, and threw in some DVDs to go with the different collections.  We wanted her old toys to seem as new as possible so that the little girls receiving them might enjoy them as much as she has.

She’s been a real trooper. Of the sizable collection of Barbies, she only asked to keep two dolls (one given to her by her cousins and one to keep the other one company I suppose) and a small Barbie car. As I was boxing up the rest of the stuff, I asked her repeatedly if she was sure she was ready to part with her stuff. She assured me she was.

There were a few items she pulled out of the box. I reasoned that she was taking a last stroll down memory lane and I was fine with that. The first item was a blow-up swimming pool complete with slide and diving board, which I found in her bathroom filled with water. This was quickly emptied, disassembled and put back into the box. I’m as nostalgic as the next person, but I’m not a big fan of indoor water toys.

The other item was a tiny, plastic recreated scene from the movie Barbie Fairytopia:

Since she had spent many hours playing with this particular toy, I asked her if she wanted to keep it. “I don’t care”, she said. “Are you sure? Because I really don’t mind if you want to hang on to it”, I said.

“No, Mom. I don’t care. I don’t really want to talk about my room stuff right now.”

Fair enough. Into to the box it went with everything else. That was Saturday afternoon. Sunday morning, I loaded up the boxes into the back of the jeep and headed to church. One friend’s daughter would be the recipient of the ponies and pets, another friend’s granddaughters would be getting the giant box of Barbie stuff. All was well.


We got home from a late lunch after church. My daughter, tired and cranky, went straight to her room. Moments later she emerged asking where her flower thingy was. I reminded her of the conversation we had about whether or not she wanted to keep it. With tears in her eyes, she told me she did. “But I need that back. I didn’t mean to give that away.”

Uh oh.

In separate conversations, her father and I both explained that we had already given her things away and it wouldn’t be right to take it back. She said how sorry she was, how that toy reminded her of when she was little. She went on to say she didn’t know how much it meant to her until she didn’t have it anymore.

After a couple of hours she was still upset. I conceded to a point. I told her I would call Mr. Randy. If he hadn’t given the box to the girls, I would ask if I could stop by and get one item out of the box. But if the girls had already opened the box, its contents belonged to them.

I think I was almost as relieved as she was that the box was still sitting in the back of Randy’s truck unopened. I don’t know if it was the best example to set as a parent. The best thing to do was to probably just tell her you can’t give something away and then ask for it back.

But I know what it’s like to have something and lose it, never understanding how important it is to you until it’s too late. This time it wasn’t too late.

She’ll be 10 years old in 2 short months, and I’m happy she has something special to remind her of when she was little. I’m even happier that she wants to hang on to being a little girl a bit longer.

It all goes by much too fast.

This too shall pass (by Billy Coffey)

A few minutes ago a bit of the last forkful of my son’s green beans failed to be broken down into acids and molecules and slipped undigested into his large intestine. There the billions of hungry bacteria sat down to a dinner of their own, finishing the job and sending them off into his bloodstream.

The process resulted in a mixture of methane, hydrogen, and sulfide that was forced downward as pressure and expelled. Right onto the couch cushion beside me. With a rapid and not-so-elegant


I didn’t move my eyes from the book I was reading, didn’t even acknowledge it had happened. And to my son’s credit, he didn’t either. Not at first. He kept right on attacking the buttons on his Nintendo DS, and I let him.


I turned the page and without looking said, “Whatcha say, Bud?”

“Scuse me,” he answered.

I nodded and kept reading, thinking the moment had passed. Which it had, technically speaking. But the aftereffects had not, because then another sound escaped from his other end in the form of a muffled snort.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.




I waited an appropriate amount of time—about three paragraphs of my novel—for the required Scuse me, but none came. There was, however, another snort.

And then, Squeak/Snort!


“Scuse me (snort!).”

I sighed and resumed reading. In a span of a few short minutes both noises from both places quieted. I offered myself a satisfied nod. It was a victory. Not a decisive one maybe, but complete enough.

I’m unsure at what point this certain bodily function became the holy grail of hilarity to him, but it did. Nothing in the world makes my son laugh as hard as either hearing it, smelling it, or—most of all—doing it.

He knows all the synonyms—gas, vapors, stinker, breaking wind, cutting the cheese, and the ever popular toot. He peppers them into his speech and has entire conversations about them with his friends. I suspect he even eats certain amounts of certain foods just to perform his own unique standup routine later on. Smellivision, I call it. The finale always seems reserved for the bathtub.

Raising a son is hard. Trying to explain why these antics aren’t what a young man should aspire to is harder.

So I sat him down. Said it’s a normal thing that everyone does, but not the sort of thing people should really be talking about a lot. And really not the sort of thing people should devote elaborate performances to. He nodded and yessir’d me and promised to be better.

And he was. Until bath time. His performance that night was somehow even more spectacular than usual.

Another talk. More parental wisdom. He said at the end, “But everybody does it.”

“But everybody should try not to make a big deal out of it,” I answered.

“I bet Jesus tooted.”

“I bet He did, too. I also bet he said ‘Excuse me’ after and then kept right on healing people and stuff instead of laughing and telling everyone how bad it smelled.”

“Yeah,” he said. “He was really good at that.”

Training a child is not unlike training a dog. It’s a long process that requires a lot of patience and a lot of effort. It’s reward and punishment, a firm hand and a loving one. And it’s also a practice best done knowing that while our children will slip from time to time, we do the very same thing.

Thankfully, he’s gotten better with this. Much better. The normal bodily functions are still functioning, but they’re being done so under the polite cover of modesty and discretion. Even in those times when nature plays its cruel hand and delivers multiple ones right after another—as just happened—he’s bent but not buckled. I’m proud of him. I really am.

Just now he handed me a sheet of paper between games on his DS, courtesy of his teacher. The class would be going on their first ever excursion in a week. To the fire department, no less. I scribbled my name at the bottom, giving my permission for him to attend.

“You’ll have fun,” I told him. “Did your teacher tell you what it’s called when you leave school and go somewhere?”

“Yep,” he said. “It’s a fart trip.”

Pray for me.


To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at at his website and follow him on the twitter at @billycoffey.