Time Flies: A Thorp Family Update

The most recent photo of us all, with my folks and
sister’s family thrown in for good measure.

I’ve remarked more times than I can count in the past year: “My age doesn’t bother me; it’s the fact that Brendan is heading to college.” It’s my kids’ ages that get to me — not the the additional salt in my pepper, the aches and pains, the fact that I’m often tired and can rarely sleep.

This past year has flown, and with a grad party and a trip to Poland for World Youth Day, the summer promises to be even faster. So I thought I’d offer you all an update on our family before we blink and the leaves fall again.

Prom-goers: Brendan and Olivia

Brendan, as you may have heard, is headed to UMary in the fall. He will graduate early in June in the top 10 in his class, with a varsity letter in wrestling and local scholarships from Knights of Columbus Council 4174 (of which he is one of the newest members), the American Legion, and the Hanover Athletic Association. He loves Ultimate Frisbee (actually all four of our teens/tweens do), dabbles in swing-dancing, and is still happily dating Olivia. (Last night’s consisted of Adoration and ice cream.) He is still working at the hardware store, and just starting a second job with a local electrical contractor for the summer. He loves his bass and his music (Foo Fighters is his current favorite band), and yesterday, he bought an acoustic guitar for song writing and kicks. And he has a pipe, which he smokes on occasion.

Swing-dancers: Gabe and Kate

Gabe is now the tallest in our family, by perhaps a quarter inch. He is working on getting his driver’s license this summer, helping our friend’s taxidermy business, and preparing for his junior year of high school. He was confirmed this month, was just inducted into the National Honor Society like his older brother (NHS at our high school does a great deal in service to the school and community), and will be one of the leaders of the high-school pro-life group in the fall. He played soccer but didn’t wrestle this year, and is on the fence about next year — too many other interests, including reading and writing, teaching himself piano, learning Quenya (J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elvish language), and swing-dancing. In this last activity, he works hard and excels — especially when paired with his friend and fellow Lord of the Rings geek Kate. They aren’t dating, just dancing and discerning together.

Emma and two of her flute-playing besties

Emma is easily the tallest female in the house and explored the high-school for the first time yesterday as an incoming freshman. She played volleyball in the fall and is running track this spring — plus playing flute in the band and woodwind ensemble and singing in the middle-school choir. The music, at least, will continue in high school. Emma has followed her brothers to help with the church’s Core Team and is also an avid swing-dancer (which means boys); Gabe’s dance-partner is one of Rosebud’s mentors in becoming a young woman of virtue. Emma dabbles in piano, too; reads voraciously, and bakes like our family is twice the size (and it will be, unless we share her goodies). She is hoping to start baby-sitting soon and wants a new dog almost as much as her dad.

Trevor rocking

Trevor will be our sole middle-schooler next year, and plans to work out this summer in hopes of wrestling on the school team in seventh grade. He is a rhythmically gift version of the boy his father was: a creative thinker and storyteller, easily distracted, heart-on-his-sleeve…but coordinated enough to rock a drum kit (or the kitchen table, a couch cushion, his thighs…), to play basic piano music with relative ease, and to dance to almost any song when the mood strikes him. Also an avid reader and a good student, but with a style all his own: whereas Gabe has a hat collection and wears them on occasion, Trevor wears a brown fedora each day to school. He shows signs of a mechanical knack (another difference from his father) and still loves Legos.

Typical Lily

Lily completed her year of Catholic co-op preschool yesterday. She is colorful, funny, opinionated, and creative, with an ever-expanding vocabulary and a precocious sense of humor for a four-year-old, included puns and word-play and physical comedy along with the typical (non-sensical and never-ending) knock-knock jokes. She, too, likes to dance and to watch her swing-dancing elders, and she makes her siblings friends her own whenever she has the chance. She, too, has sprouted in the past year — she is a head taller than her plastic barn playset she so enjoyed last summer — and although she rarely eats a lot at a sitting, she would eat constantly if allowed. And she loves superheroes, especially Batman and the Justice Leaque.

Jodi and I are well — and abundantly blessed, in the midst of such breakneck activity. My bride often says it feels like only a short while ago that Brendan got on the bus for kindergarten the first time, and so it seems to be as well. We will have been married 20 years this August, and for my part, I am as happy as I have ever been.

That said, I had to be reminded of something not long ago, with the help of a priest friend: as Christians, spouses, parents, we have a serious call in this world, which requires a serious, heartfelt response — but none of that means that God doesn’t desire our happiness or enjoyment of this life. He came that His joy may be ours — shame on us if that joy does not pervade all that we do, and all that we are. It can seem terribly romantic to think ourselves unworthy of the blessings in our lives — the soft warmth of the one who lies next to us in the wee hours before waking, or the noise of a full and laughing house — and to strive and sacrifice to show our appreciation and earn our worth. But in truth, we are worthy — intrinsically — as God’s beloved children. So while I must not take my beautiful bride and these five awesome children for granted, I can love them best if I realize that my worth, and each of theirs, comes from our creation in His image and in resting in his embrace.

We are so blessed. As sinners, we don’t deserve it…but what else should we expect from such a God as this?

Last summer…where does the time go?

Full Frontal Affection

I summoned Gabe to the top of the stairs yesterday morning in order to wish him a happy birthday before I left for work. He is now nine and is not a morning person, nor does he happily submit to parental scrutiny, discipline, or full frontal affection. So he ascends the stairs with a look of vague trepidation.

I sit on the edge of the coffee table and beckon with both hands. He comes a step closer, then two, then stops. I smile and beckon again. He takes a step, the anxiousness now solidifying in his face.

“Gabe, come here!” I laugh, lean forward, grip his skinny body on either side, right at the ticklish spot below the ribs, so he nearly crumbles to the floor, helplessly squirming. I hug him close and say, “Happy Birthday, son!” He mumbles a sheepish thanks, and on my back I feel the flutter of his hands, patting my back quickly to ward off awkwardness.

Gabe is not generally a head-on hugger. He prefers to sidle under an arm and slip his own around your waist, or back himself into a soft lap and warm embrace. A kiss is an instantly blush-worthy event, and a kiss in the generally vicinity of the lips (cheek, nose, etc.) will turn him inside-out with embarrassment. He simply isn’t an aggressive type, in anger, affection, or otherwise.

But something is changing in Gabe. It started this spring, when we traveled to Michigan to see my cousin Al before he deployed to Iraq. Brendan and a group of Thorp cousins we seldom get to see decided to play baseball, and Gabe, who plays soccer in the spring and rarely puts on a mitt, decided to play, too. Not only that, but to pitch.

After only 10 minutes or so of play, my cousin Mel tossed a pitch back to Gabe, and it sailed just above his mitt and smacked him solidly in the forehead. Gabe fell to the lawn holding his head, his eye welling with tears. I went to him, but as I approached, he got to his feet, hissing air in and out through his teeth, still holding his forehead, walking in rough circles near where he had fallen.

“Are you okay?” I asked. He nodded, eyes wet, jaw set.

“You wanna sit out a minute?”

He shook his head, picked up the ball, and returned to the scuff in the grass from which he had been pitching.

I quietly expressed my amazement to my sister. This was not like Gabriel.

A short while later, he took another baseball to the forehead, this one off a bat, I think. Oh no! I thought, running back out to him. His eyes were glassy again, but he rubbed his head with the heel of his hand and smiled. I moved his hand. You could see the stitches from the baseball imprinted in deep red on his skin. I told him so, and his eyes flashed panic, but only for a second. He went back to pitching.

He talked about both injuries throughout the day, both as points of pride and of sympathy, but never complained and never quit playing.

Fast forward to our trip to South Dakota over the Fourth of July. Gabe has an inexplicable affection for a large goat that perennially appears in the Piedmont (SD) Fourth of July Parade and could not wait to see Jacob this summer. Jodi took him to Jacob’s keeper’s farm a day or so early to visit, and Gabe was invited to march in the parade with the family and the goat.

This should have been a no-brainer, except that Gabe isn’t the most social of our children, especially around people he doesn’t know well, and wouldn’t offer any immediate response about whether he intended to do it.

Ultimately he agreed to do walk with them, and Jodi took him over before the parade to get dressed and ready. He would have to line up with the family, of course, so for the next couple hours he would be without familiar faces, except, of course, Jacob’s.

The results of the parade you can see in the photo above — a joy-filled kid and an alter-ego that still makes frequent appearances at our house: Mr. Patriotic. But the change seems to have gone deeper. Immediately following the parade, Gabe was verbally sparring with his siblings and cousins, keeping pace with their jabs and meeting them with wit and outright hilarity. He was more outspoken about his opinions. And at Brendan’s baseball picnic last weekend, he played pickup baseball with Bren’s team, mostly older boys and strangers, and although he started swimming lessons this year as though last year’s lessons had never happened, he ran into the water at the lake and played and splashed with Bren and his teammates until finally I had to (quietly) remind him that he doesn’t really swim.

How does one do that: admire and encourage the newfound confidence of his son and still protect him from the dunking natures of boys twice his size who don’t know that three months ago, he would barely jump into the water?

I went to soccer practice with him last night. He took a hard-kicked ball right between the eyes; his head jerked backward, and the coach’s wife seated next to me gasped. The coach asked several times if Gabe was okay. He shook his head to clear out the stars, laughed, and said yes.

Then he looked at his coach, smiled wryly, and said, “I got hit in the face … on my BIRTHDAY!” And he laughed again.

Happy birthday, Gabe — we are so proud of you!

Summer Vacation, Day 49: Two Thoughts

The first thought for today is what a tremendous sense of relief I feel knowing that, as of this evening, both soccer and baseball are done for the summer. Jodi must feel ten times more relieved, since my job was usually just to relieve her at one of the fields after work so she could head to the other. She’s been Supermom – she deserves our awe, my thanks, and her own comic book.

The second thought is that every time I read Hemingway, I want to go fishing, and every time I read about Spain, I want to go to Spain. So The Sun Also Rises is thus far making me restless. It also makes me want a drink every twenty minutes or so. They drink a lot in these books. Constant buzz. At one point, the characters notice that a busy French waiter has sweated through his shirt. The stains beneath his arms are purplish. The first assumption is that the waiter must drink a lot of wine …