It was one of those warm summer early evenings, when the sun is still high in the sky, the weather warm and play time will continue for a little while longer.
I was standing at the kitchen sink -- doing dishes or a craft project -- I don't remember which. But my eye was taken by an enchanting sight on the lawn across the street.
Two little boys were running about, ducking in and out of an appliance box fort that was decked with a tall flag. I could hear delighted laughing. It was the happiest sight I had ever seen.
I had no way of knowing that several years later, those little boys would become a big part of my life.
The youngest of those boys -- the one on the right -- was five years old that day. Today he turns 21.
I really didn't get to know Kevin and his brother, Greg, until two years later, although one of my earliest memories of my relationship with their dad was a Christmas Eve not long before that when he invited me down to his house.
We were just friends, only slightly more than acquaintances at that time. When I arrived around 9:30, Rick was in the midst of wrapping presents in Santa paper, and the two boys were sound asleep, dreaming of sugarplums, no doubt! Of course I helped, because among my other passions, wrapping is a favorite! And it was at that moment, I saw how much he loved those boys, and that told me a lot about him.
By the next Christmas, I was cleaning up the mess when Kevin had stomach flu on Christmas morning. I don't clean up like that for just anyone!
Through the years, I've been privileged to watch Kevin grow. (He's the one on the right with the white t-shirt, with Greg and Mama K's kids, Heather and Joe at the lake.)
That little boy who was pushing the lawn mower when he was about 10, eager to do anything to earn money, now works like crazy at his fast food and football coaching jobs, all sandwiched in with school and "life."
I didn't know Kevin when he looked like this...
I wish I did. But I've known him during most of the "formative years" -- and we all know those go on for a long while.
When I think of Kevin, I think of the Christmas when Rick gave him the stuffed puppy he'd been wanting. I don't think he let go of it all weekend.
I think of the time we went to Rick's cousin's graduation from Cranbrook and Kevin refused to get out of the car -- for brunch, for the graduation reception, the whole thing. That wasn't our best day!
I smile when I think of how Kevin always got into setting the table and lighting the candles for special occasion dinners.
I remember his volunteering for WKAR's Auction. It was fun for me to see him there sorting bids with the other kids, and I was proud of him -- he did a good job.
I laugh when I recall the four of us going to Frankenmuth over the Christmas holidays and enjoying chicken dinner -- Kevin is the one with blackjack gum on his teeth!
I'll never forget when Kevin and Greg tried very hard to fool me into eating a boullion cube from Japan, which looked like a candy. I didn't bite. ("I couldn't possibly take the candy your dad brought for you -- you have it, but thank you!") I wasn't born yesterday -- I could tell by the badly suppressed giggles that pretty treat was no candy!
I was touched beyond words when I read the theme he wrote in seventh grade about Timmy, a developmentally disabled young man in our neighborhood. It was a side of him I'd never seen.
I loved our Sunday morning ritual of pancake breakfasts, like one on Father's Day...
The first time the kids were at the lake and he went fishing and caught bluegills...
It was a "catch and release" moment.
And equally memorable were the times he sulked because we didn't have cool water toys, like jet skis. (In this photo, he still liked the row boat!)
Ah, the teen years! There were the times when our conversations seemed to be one sided, with Rick or I using words and Kevin replying with "Uh" or "Whatever."
And those glorious times later and now when our conversations became much more interesting and animated!
For ears we have counted on Kevin to frost the most obnoxious cookie on the cookie plate every Christmas Eve.
(Fortunately -- or unfortunately, perhaps -- he then eats it in one bite! Or tries!)
Both Rick and I worried tremendously during the high school years when he played football. He played well enough to get a football scholarship to college, but after injuries his freshman and sophomore years, he couldn't play on the team anymore.
So, he transferred to MSU and now he coaches at his high school. I'm glad he still gets to be part of it. And isn't in the fray.
It's fun to watch this little boy grow into a young man. He surprises us often and in all the best ways. His work ethic is strong. He's smart. He's even improved in his Christmas shopping! (I was so impressed his first Christmas in college, when he gave me the book "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell. His world had expanded and he was sharing it with us.)
There was a time when I think Kevin avoided us whenever he could. I'm told that happens with lots of teens. But now he'll call Rick for lunch or ask to come to dinner. We love it when he does, and it's more fun when he brings his girlfriend, Molly.
Kevin and Greg have always been polar in their interests, their styles, their personalities. I love them both to pieces.
But today's Kevin's day. I know he'll want to do the "I'm 21" thing, and we'll both worry a lot tonight and probably won't rest until we hear from him tomorrow. But we also know he's smart enough to have a designated driver!
Kevin has been part of my life for almost fourteen years. Rick has given me many wonderful gifts during our time together -- the practical, the beautiful, the creative, the surprising, the fun. But none has been more precious to me than allowing me the privilege to share in the lives of his children.
Happy Birthday, Kevin. Be safe, be strong, be healthy, be happy. Love wisely, but with a full and generous heart. I know you've had your ups and downs growing up -- it's hard enough to have two parents, much less two sets. But know always that we all love you. Never forget what Ted Kennedy's family taught him -- For those to whom much has been given, much is expected. Remember the Timmys of this world and the others you can help along the way. Even on the worst days, there is always much to learn, and on the best there is much to celebrate. Life is good. Cherish every minute! We love you.
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