Anyone who thinks children can be seen and not heard hasn't met 3-year-old Nate, the youngest of Kevin and Dayna's four sons. Husband Ray and I acquired Kevin and Dayna - as well as their subsequent brood - as part of the package when son Greg married Val. And what an interesting package it has turned out to be.
Christmas dinner at Greg and Val's home in Missouri - where grandkids Gabe, Sammi and Zoe are uneasy about wearing Jayhawk attire to school - merged both extended families in a holiday hoopla with "Nate the Great" in a starring role. Possessed of a cuteness impossible to ignore, Nate brought his fork to the table vacated by all but three satiated adults and eagerly inquired, "Are we going to have cake?"
"He thinks every time we get together, it's someone's birthday," Dayna explained.
Although disappointed, Nate - wearing a T-shirt picturing a falling stick-figure that proclaimed "I DO ALL MY OWN STUNTS!" - went to the adjoining kitchen and tried to stand on his head. That's exactly what one would expect from a kid who as a 1-year-old preferred to be carried upside down, head dangling near his mother's knees.
But my favorite story about Nate comes from his dad: "I was downstairs when Nate, who was playing with his version of a light saber, yelled 'Hi-YAH!' I turned around as he swung his stick and he caught me right above the eye. I must have blacked out, because the next thing I remember is lying on the floor with Nate standing over me saying, 'Sowwy, Daddy!'"
Even with the experience of raising Nate's three older brothers, I'm convinced that Kevin and Dayna have no idea what their youngest has in store for them. I'm reminded of a TV interview where country singer Garth Brook's mother claimed he got into so much trouble that if he had been her oldest child, rather than her youngest, he would have been an ONLY child.
Ray and I thought that Ray Jr. (aka Butch) would be an only child for that same reason. At 16 months, in the space of time it took for me to warm his baby food, he crawled onto a high cabinet and ingested a bottle of baby aspirin. I rushed him to the most reliable ER I knew - my parents' home - where Mom gagged him with a spoon until his little tummy was emptied of pink residue.
At 4 years, Butch used his small, sneaker-clad foot to try to pound a nail, sharp side up, through a board left by neighbor kids who were building a tree-house in our yard. I once wrote, and still believe, that it is cruel and unusual punishment to require a mother to remove a nail that has punctured her child's foot after first going through the sole of his sneaker.
When Butch was 5, we gave him a baby brother. He told us he was glad Greg was a boy instead of a girl, but said he would rather have a pig. As a pre-teen he decided to teach Greg how to play football and, in protective older brother mode, insisted Greg wear his football helmet. It was on that helmet that Butch broke his front tooth, coming into the kitchen to proudly show me his jagged smile, "Hey, Mom, look! I've got a canine tooth!"
At 13, while playing football in the front yard with Ray and Greg, Butch broke his right ankle and was encased in a cast up to his knee. The next day he was in pain so I kept him home and that was when Greg - who NEVER got into trouble - missed the bus because his teacher kept him after school and needed me to transport him home.
By 15, Butch had his first dirt bike (a gift from us .. how dumb were we?). A year later, he was participating in motocross (a scary race to behold when it's your kid sailing high over a hill in a tight group of hell-bent-for-leather cyclists). Even scarier was his acquisition of a highway motorcycle. I cringed every time I heard a siren if he wasn't nearby. Butch gave up his beloved motorcycle riding years later, but only because of the responsibility he felt toward his son, B.J.
I'm proud to say that Butch developed into a fantastic husband, father, son, brother, employee and citizen. A parent can't ask for more than that. I'm sure that Kevin and Dayna will one day feel the same about Nate. But the years between now and then will bring more than a few gray hairs to their heads.
At times, they may wonder if it's worth it. Trust me, it is.