Our Adoption Story

Our Adoption Story

This is my family (2012 photo). At left is our younger daughter Emily. At right is Rachel (older by one year). The guy next to Michele, attempting to hide their receding hairline, would be me.

This is my family (2012 photo). At left is our younger daughter Emily. At right is Rachel (older by one year). The guy next to Michele, attempting to hide their receding hairline, would be me.

My wife Michele is originally from Toronto, Canada. I was born in Albany, NY. Somehow, through an odd circumstance of good fortune, we ended up moving to Seattle in 1991. (But that’s a story for another time). We are adoptive parents of two high-spirited daughters, Rachel and Emily. I often tell people Rachel is the greatest Christmas gift I ever received, while Emily is the greatest birthday present I ever received. I will explain why in this story about how our rather international family came to be.

When we began thinking about starting a family, we eventually learned we would be unable to have biological children. While for some couples, this is a source of tremendous grief and loss, I never felt that way. To me, it just meant we would start our family in a different, admittedly unexpected way – through adoption.

We eventually decided to adopt from China – in part because we had read that each year there were tens of thousands of children without families – mostly girls – that were forced to grow up in orphanages. And conditions in these orphanages varied greatly from city to city. China required the adoptive parents to travel to China (unlike some nations where the babies are flown to the states to meet their new parents). We would be required to spend roughly ten days in China to complete the adoption and get approval to leave the country with our new baby. We had no idea what to expect.

We quickly let go of the notion that our child might have blue eyes, reddish hair, and freckles. But still, it was more than a little surreal to think that many thousands of miles away in a city we’d never heard of, there would be a tiny, four-month old baby who was somehow destined to become our daughter. And then, twelve months later, we would fly to China to adopt a second baby to complete our family.

Our daughters, Rachel (now 28) and Emily (27) will someday tell their own adoption stories. But this is how I experienced it. In the late 1970s, China adopted a one-child policy. The rationale was to reduce the growth rate of China’s enormous population. (China discontinued this policy in 2016.)

This is a photo from our very first evening with Rachel – while we were still in China. At first, Rachel protested vociferously against going to sleep. I quickly learned to pat the bed next to her in a constant thumping sound, which soothed and quieted her down.

This is a photo from our very first evening with Rachel – while we were still in China. At first, Rachel protested vociferously against going to sleep. I quickly learned to pat the bed next to her in a constant thumping sound, which soothed and quieted her down.

In rural China, the tradition going back 5,000 years was for young couples to move to be near the husband’s family and take care of his parents when they grew old. As a result, in rural China, if you could only have one child, it made economic sense to prefer having a son over a daughter, so you’d have someone to take care of you in your old age. It was a form of social security throughout most of China.

An unfortunate result of this one-child policy was that every year, for decades, thousands of baby girls were abandoned (or worse) – often placed in early morning hours outside of a government building, in the hopes they would be quickly rescued and taken to an orphanage.

In August 1994, we began the paperwork to adopt. About the same time we submitted our application, a tiny baby girl, later given the name of Yong Li by the orphanage, was born in a rural village in southwestern China outside of the city of Kunming. A few months later, we were matched with her and assigned a travel date to fly to China: Christmas day.

As a toddler, Rachel loved food – especially playing with it. On her 1st birthday, she tried a piece of birthday cake for the very first time. At left, she is contemplating what exactly to do with her cake. At right, Rachel about ten minutes later, having annihilated the cake.

As a toddler, Rachel loved food – especially playing with it. On her 1st birthday, she tried a piece of birthday cake for the very first time. At left, she is contemplating what exactly to do with her cake. At right, Rachel about ten minutes later, having annihilated the cake.

But our adoption almost fell apart the night before we would leave for China. We were planning to travel with Michele’s mother. We celebrated the holiday the night before, at my brother Bob’s house. Because I had arrived at Bob’s house from work, we had taken separate cars, with Michele and her mom driving to Bob’s house from home.

Around 9pm, I arrived home before Michele and her mom. I  saw that the answering machine had a message. It was from Bob: “Tim, go to Evergreen Hospital as soon as you can. Michele and her mom have been involved in a very bad car accident. They’re in the hospital. I don’t know how serious it is.” 

I drove to the hospital with competing anxious thoughts racing through my mind: How badly were they hurt? Would they both be okay? What would happen to our plans to fly to China? Would we lose this baby? Would I be flying there on my own? Once at the hospital, I learned that Michele was okay – badly shaken, but okay. Her mom was badly bruised, but no broken ribs. The car was a total loss. But they were cleared by the doctor to fly to China – barely.

We got to the airport on Christmas morning. Michele’s mom required wheelchair assistance in order to board the plane. We arrived in Kunming in Yunnan province and filled out the first of what would be many rounds of paperwork. The next day, they brought us, along with three other couples, to the orphanage where little Yong Li had been since she was born in late August.

Emmy loved to play with the most unusual toys. She decided to try this new fashion statement, and I think she figured out she was being funny, because Michele and I laughed out loud.

Emmy loved to play with the most unusual toys. She decided to try this new fashion statement, and I think she figured out she was being funny, because Michele and I laughed out loud.

When they presented a little baby girl to us, Michele and I were confused and concerned. The baby they gave us, Michele knew, was NOT our baby – based on the one photo we had previously been given. She handed the baby back and told the orphanage staff person, “That’s not our baby. Can you please look for our baby?”

A few minutes later, our facilitator came with another baby. And we knew in an instant this was little Yong Li. We kept her Chinese name as part of her name, because it meant “forever beautiful” and because we felt it would be a way to remind her of her Chinese heritage.

The moment I first held our four-month old baby in my arms I fell in love. I knew in that instant that I could not possibly love a child more than I loved this little baby. She didn’t look anything like me. I didn’t care. I am convinced to this day, she was destined to be our daughter. I bonded with her in a heartbeat. Then she threw up violently all over my clothes. That’s when I learned about the need to pat a baby’s back after she’s consumed formula.

I thought about how terrifying this whole ordeal must have been for this tiny infant. We didn’t look, smell or talk like anyone she had ever seen. Here we were, two complete strangers ripping her from the only world she had ever known. Then we would whisk her thousands of miles away to a world she knew nothing about. She had no say in any of this. She had to be feeling some level of panic.

We always knew we wanted to adopt a second baby from China. We’d probably wait three years, like many families do between kids. But in the ensuing months, we read news stories that China was preparing to close international adoptions to the United States, in part due to some negative news coverage in the US about Chinese orphanages. Concerned that the door might close forever, we accelerated our plans and filed an application to adopt a second child who we were pretty sure would be another girl. We would name her Emily.

By the time she reached pre-school, Emily overcame her introversion and blossomed into a very outgoing, energetic person. She was always very short for her age, so other kids liked to carry her around like a doll.

By the time she reached pre-school, Emily overcame her introversion and blossomed into a very outgoing, energetic person. She was always very short for her age, so other kids liked to carry her around like a doll.

When we were approved, we were matched with a baby girl, estimated to be around 3 months of age at the time (but it’s just an estimate – they rarely know the actual birthdate of these babies – unless someone pins a note to their clothing). We were assigned a travel date of January 10, 1996 – my birthday. Ours would be the second to last group of American families permitted to adopt from China, before they closed the door on adoptions with the USA for several years.

We flew to Nanchang, in the province of Jiangxi, China, along with eight other couples. The baby waiting for us was named Jiang Qiu (pronounced “Ji-AHNG Choo”). It meant “Autumn River” (well, technically, “River Autumn”) and we decided we would keep her Chinese name as part of her middle name, like we did for her sister.

When we landed in Nanchang, our facilitator asked us all if we would like to see pictures of our babies. Until that moment, none of us had seen a photo of our matched child. I will always cherish the photo of Emily that they handed to me. In the photo, she had the most intense expression on her face. I  remember thinking to myself in that moment, “I have a feeling this little baby is going to be VERY high-spirited.” I had no idea how accurate my prediction would eventually turn out to be.

We were supposed to go to our hotel and get a good night’s sleep before meeting our babies the next day. But then, in the airport parking lot, our facilitator asked, “Would you like to meet your babies tonight?” I distinctly recall thinking to myself, “Um, I really could use one final good night’s sleep” but everyone else shouted, ‘Yes, Yes, Yes!!”

So, we got to our hotel and within minutes, the nine babies were presented, one after another. The very last one called out was “Jiang Qiu” – our baby. She was so tiny – the smallest of the nine infants. And beautiful. Wrapped in five layers of clothing, the outermost layer being a red sweater, which we have kept to this day. Unlike Rachel, who was almost completely bald when we met her, Emily had a full shock of thick black hair.

We had a couple days in Nanchang to go sightseeing. So picture this: nine middle-aged Caucasian couples, walking around, carrying Chinese babies. We stuck out noticeably. We never saw another Caucasian our entire time in this city. I was carrying Emily on my chest. A man wearing a snuggly no doubt must have appeared even more unusual to the local population.

One of the many photos of Rachel (L) and Emily (R) from early childhood. I am guessing they are roughly 5 and 4 in this photo.

One of the many photos of Rachel (L) and Emily (R) from early childhood. I am guessing they are roughly 5 and 4 in this photo.

Before long, we became a bit of a curiosity for onlookers, especially elderly women, who seemed confused about why all of these white people were walking around carrying Chinese babies. One woman came uncomfortably close to me. She appeared to be scowling in disapproval. Then I presented to her a note, written in Chinese, that I had asked our facilitator to compose. The note read: “We are from America. This little baby girl is an orphan and has no home. We have come to adopt her and give her a forever home.”

Upon reading this note, the woman paused, looked at me, then at Emily, and suddenly her scowl turned into a huge smile. She gave me two enthusiastic thumbs up, then stroked Emily’s cheek gently. She could not speak English any better than I could speak Mandarin. But  there was a quiet, unspoken connection, as she nodded, smiled, and showed the note to many of the other dozen women who had gathered around us. All of them started smiling and patting the babies’ cheeks.

By the time we arrived home with Emily, then about four months old, Rachel, almost 17 months old at the time, was thrilled. To her mind, we had brought her back her very own doll to play with. At first Emily was a bit overwhelmed by Rachel’s overpowering personality. But as the months and years went by, Emily stepped out from behind Rachel’s shadow to discover her own equally strong-willed personality.

In their early years with us, every night, we would hold them before putting them down for bed. I would kiss them on the top of their heads and tell them, “I love you to the universe and back.” I have often thought, yes, this is the family I was meant to have.

When Rachel (L) was 17 and Emily (R ) was 16, they traveled with Michele to China for three weeks. During that trip they visited three orphanages. It was their first trip back to China. This was, I believe, a life-changing experience for them. The photo of Emily is my single all-time favorite photo ever taken of her.

When Rachel (L) was 17 and Emily (R ) was 16, they traveled with Michele to China for three weeks. During that trip they visited three orphanages. It was their first trip back to China. This was, I believe, a life-changing experience for them. The photo of Emily is my single all-time favorite photo ever taken of her.

When Rachel was 17 and Emily was 16, they went back to China with Michele one summer as part of a group of adoptive families that visited several tourist sights of China, including the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. They also spent several days volunteering at three different orphanages. It was a powerful experience for both of them. Both girls told me how heartbreaking it was to have to say goodbye to these innocent children who most likely would never have the kind of lives Rachel and Emily had experienced.

A day does not go by that I don’t stop to reflect on the miracle that is our adoption journey. Like any other parents, we have had our challenges. And we have made our share of parenting mistakes. Both our girls went through the terrible teenage years in which at times, they would cause us many anxious moments and sometimes endless frustration. But both of them made it through those turbulent years and are leading for the most part happy and productive lives. We are deeply proud of both of them.

I often think about their birth parents and the pain and sadness they must have felt – and continue to feel – over having to make the most difficult decision any parent could possibly make – to let their beautiful babies go, for whatever reasons compelled them to do so. If I could wave a wand and make it possible for Rachel and Emily to meet their birth parents I would do it in a heartbeat. I wish I could somehow meet them just to let them know their baby girl found a good home, had a happy childhood, and is deeply loved.

People have said to Michele and me countless times that our two girls are “so lucky to have been adopted by you guys.” But I don’t see it that way. To me, Michele and I are the lucky ones. As we wrote on our adoption announcements: We didn’t give our two daughters the gift of life. But life gave us the gift of them. And they will forever be the greatest gifts Michele and I have ever been blessed to receive.

That’s the view from the bleachers. And no, I’m definitely not off base.

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How to Offend People Without Really Trying

How to Offend People Without Really Trying

I’ve discovered I have an unusual talent. I have an amazing ability to offend other people without having a clue exactly what I did to upset them. As a result of this special gift, I have also become extremely adept at apologizing.

I’ve discovered I have an unusual talent. I have an amazing ability to offend other people without having a clue exactly what I did to upset them. As a result of this special gift, I have also become extremely adept at apologizing.

I grew up the fourth of five kids. My parents taught me to be kind to others, share my toys with my sister, hold the door for others, always say please and thank you, and apologize earnestly when I did something wrong.

In retrospect, I can only conclude that my parents must have failed miserably in raising me. I base this conclusion on the fact that I appear to have a unique talent for unwittingly offending other people – and not just my readers because of my latest column. Let me provide a few examples to explain how horrible an adult I turned out to be. All of the following are true stories.

A few years ago, I emailed all four siblings and several other relatives, asking if some of them might be interested in having a big Jones family Christmas gathering at our house. I sent the email in September. I wasn’t asking for a firm commitment. I just was looking for a general sense of who MIGHT be interested in my idea.

I later found out that one of my siblings was deeply bothered by the high-pressure campaign my email message had exerted by pushing everybody to make a go-no-go decision about Christmas so many months in advance. The fact that my email had not in fact asked anyone to make any such commitment apparently was beside the point. (Note to anyone who sends out emails: Suggest to your recipient that they actually READ the email completely rather than skimming the opening sentence and jumping to the wrong conclusion. They might comprehend the contents more fully, I have found.)

On another occasion, I was visiting another sibling for a week. We were planning to catch a minor league baseball game the following evening. But the morning of the game, I received a call from one of my closest friends – who I had not seen in years. They were only in town for one night – the same night as the game. So, without thinking, I replied, “Sure, I’d love to see you tonight.”

I then explained to my sibling my change of plans. Even though we could catch another game the following evening and I’d be here for four more days, the mistake I made was in choosing my friend over my sibling without consulting them first. My unilateral change of plans could only be interpreted one way: I clearly must care for my friend more than my family member, and I must not respect my sibling. As a result of my terribly insensitive spur-of-the-moment decision, they refused to talk to me for four months – despite roughly half a dozen emails and a similar number of voicemails in which I tried to apologize.

Not long ago, I wrote a serious, reflective blog article about the special people who had most influenced my life for the better. I wrote from the heart. It had almost no jokes (much like this article – sorry). But I learned later that one of my siblings about whom I sang their praises was slightly hurt because – and I am not making this up – they counted the words in my description about their influence on my life and noticed it was shorter than my commentary about some of the other people I had written about. They interpreted this the only logical way any reasonable person could: My love and appreciation for the important people in my life can accurately be calculated by my word count.

I once told a person about an incredibly kind, thoughtful project one of my siblings had just completed for our mom for her birthday. I bragged about my sibling’s kindness, generosity, and perseverance in going way over the top to make our mom happy. I was so grateful. But when I told my sibling how I had bragged to this other person about their amazing gesture, I was surprised to learn that I had committed an egregious offense. What was my crime, you might ask? I had stolen their thunder and thoughtlessly deprived them of the opportunity to share the news with that person themselves. (Did not see that one coming.)

Then there was the time several years ago, when I lent one of my siblings $500 on the condition they pay me back in three months. They agreed and thanked me for helping them out in a pinch. Five months went by with no sign that repayment was coming any time soon. So, I finally delicately inquired as to when I could reasonably expect my loan to be repaid. My outrageously pushy inquiry enraged them. They snapped back, “I’m family. You should NEVER expect a family member to pay you back. I can’t believe how greedy you are.” I guess I missed that financial life lesson from childhood. Oh, and then, apparently for emphasis, they leapt out of the car I was driving while it was in motion.

Starting to see a pattern here? Every example involved one of my siblings. Yes, I come from a particularly hardy stock of Anglo Saxon ancestors, who, it appears have DNA markers for male pattern baldness and for being extremely sensitive and easily offended.

I’m an expert in the art of offending other people. I do it every week when I publish my latest VFTB article. This is an artist’s rendering of the likely reaction of one of my siblings as they read this week’s article.

I’m an expert in the art of offending other people. I do it every week when I publish my latest VFTB article. This is an artist’s rendering of the likely reaction of one of my siblings as they read this week’s article.

But perhaps the most egregious example of my totally self-absorbed, narcissistic character took place in late November 1974, during my second year of college at the University of Virginia. My hometown is Albany, NY. But my father wanted a family Thanksgiving in Columbus, Ohio that year, since a couple of my siblings lived there, along with many other Jones clan relatives.

But I wanted to spend Thanksgiving in Albany, to visit my mom (my parents were divorced) and some of my high school cronies. My father went so far as to book my roundtrip airline reservations from Charlottesville, VA to Columbus, changing planes at Dulles Airport outside of DC. I disobeyed my stern father’s direct mandate and flew to Albany anyway. My egocentric impudence was met with understandable parental fury and threats of cutting me off financially.

Interesting thing about that weekend. It turns out that the December 1st TWA return flight my father had booked me on after Thanksgiving, from Columbus to DC crashed, killing everyone on the flight. (True.) Had I complied with my father’s orders, you would not be reading this article today. Nevertheless, my father was still annoyed at me for not sufficiently apologizing for being so rude as to ignore his charge and go to Albany instead. (Not exactly sure how I would have worded my apology. “Sorry I am still alive to say I’m sorry, Dad?”)

Like I said, I have a long history of being a selfish, insensitive person. Just ask one of my siblings. And for that, I apologize…. again…..

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2021.

Teens, When Lying to Your Parents, You Need to Up Your Game

Teens, When Lying to Your Parents, You Need to Up Your Game

[The following true story is based on a time when a good friend of mine’s then 16-year-old daughter tried to wriggle out of several lies she told her parents about a “sleepover” at a friend’s house, which in actuality was a party with several boys and alcohol, while her friend’s parents were out of town for the evening, unaware of what was taking place at their house.]

Hey, teenagers, don’t you hate it when you make up a perfectly good lie to get out of trouble, and your parents refuse to believe you? Well, this just means you need to work on your prevarication skills. Either that, or you could try telling your parents the truth for once. Nah, forget it. That would never work.

Hey, teenagers, don’t you hate it when you make up a perfectly good lie to get out of trouble, and your parents refuse to believe you? Well, this just means you need to work on your prevarication skills. Either that, or you could try telling your parents the truth for once. Nah, forget it. That would never work.

Hey, girl. Wazzup? Sorry to hear your parents busted you over your harmless shindig last weekend at Monica’s house. I can’t believe they completely lost it just because you girls had a few boys join you for your sleepover while her parents were out of town.

You did absolutely nothing wrong – if you overlook the minor fact that you failed to mention that the get-together would include boys… and alcohol… and weed… and cops. It was all just an unfortunate misunderstanding. It could have happened to anybody.

Parents are so lame, right? With all their Nazi rules about showing them respect and cleaning your room and telling you to get off your phone even though you’ve only been on it for an hour and a half, and not letting you do sleepover parties with boys, beer pong, and weed. So unfair, I agree.

Hey, next time you plan to make up a fiction to conceal your plans for an epic underage beer bash, perhaps you should invest a little more time on your fake backstory to avoid getting caught. Let’s go over what happened, and just maybe, we can piece together where your deception went off the rails.

Before you headed out on your weekend of teenage debauchery, I liked the way you chose to compliment your parents, even though they probably found it a bit odd, given it was the first time you had said anything nice to them in ten months. But when you said, “Mom, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you look so pretty,” it might have come off sounding a tad bit more credible had you not told her this while she still had her hair in curlers and her face slathered in Noxzema skin cream. Just saying.

Then, when you were at Monica’s house, remember how your mom texted you, asking for her parents’ names and phone number in case of emergency? I applaud your fast thinking, given that Monica’s parents were in Chicago, 1,800 miles away, with no idea of the party you girls were instigating. But perhaps you shouldn’t have panicked and given your mom the phone number of your friend Chad, who was also at the party.

Who could have possibly foreseen that your mom might then call that very same phone number to ask Monica’s parents if they’d like her to bring a homemade dessert for the sleepover. Imagine your mom’s confusion when Chad, doing his best middle-aged dad impersonation, lowered his voice an octave and replied, “Nah, thanks, girl. But we’re chill. The girls are having a crazy’ lit’ time. Later, gator.”

Then, do you remember what happened when your mom asked Monica’s dad if there would be any alcohol served at this sleepover? Drawing a blank? Let me refresh your memory. Dad, er Chad, explained, “No way, mom. I made sure to lock up all the good stuff in the fridge.” Can you see how that might have elevated your mom’s anxiety ever so slightly?

Do you notice anything missing from this photo of a party of teenagers? If you guessed, “Where are the parents?”, you’re a winner. These underage kids are having a fun time chillaxing with 45 of their closest friends. If you ask me, they’re just having good clean fun – and perhaps just a little too much tequila.

Do you notice anything missing from this photo of a party of teenagers? If you guessed, “Where are the parents?”, you’re a winner. These underage kids are having a fun time chillaxing with 45 of their closest friends. If you ask me, they’re just having good clean fun – and perhaps just a little too much tequila.

Then barely twenty seconds after she got off the phone from Dad/Chad, she called you, remember? She asked you, “How old is Monica’s dad? He sounds rather young.” Then your brain misfired, and you blurted out, “Monica’s dad can’t talk now. He had to go to work.” 

If I have my notes correct, it was around 10:45pm when your mom shocked you by showing up at Monica’s house, because you had forgotten your sleeping bag. Imagine her dismay when she learned that apparently both parents had to leave the house suddenly for work emergencies – and would not, according to you, be home for another two hours.

If you ask me, it is entirely plausible that there might be a work emergency at 10:45pm on a Saturday night – especially for Monica’s dad, who is an accountant, not to mention for her stay-at-home mom. Like you, I would have been furious at your mom for not believing your lies. The fact that she feels she can’t trust you is totally her fault.

That’s about the time when your mom, walking through the front door, noticed that there were six boys on the premises. I think you almost had her convinced when you made up that narrative about how the entire group of them had just stopped by moments before, asking for help with their geometry homework. Too bad your mom could not hear your very believable explanation over the six 16-year-olds boys singing and dancing along to K-pop songs by BTS blaring on the karaoke machine at 160 decibels.

I also have to applaud your quick cerebration when your mom saw the beer keg on the back patio. I’m not sure I would have been as imaginative as you to come up with your almost convincing fabrication that Monica’s dad had bought it for a neighborhood block party later that week. I think your mom would have fallen for it, had it not been for your idiot friend Troy, who unwittingly approached her and said, and I quote, “Hey, you must be Monica’s mom. I thought you were in Chicago. Welcome back. Care for a brewski? Or are you more of a Tequila mom?” I understand now why Troy had to repeat 9th grade.

Where are the parents, you ask? On a weekend visit to Chicago. But don’t worry. Their 16-year-old daughter Monica promised them she’d just have a quiet sleepover with a couple friends. She’ll even vacuum the house. Such a responsible girl.

Where are the parents, you ask? On a weekend visit to Chicago. But don’t worry. Their 16-year-old daughter Monica promised them she’d just have a quiet sleepover with a couple friends. She’ll even vacuum the house. Such a responsible girl.

Still, I bet this would have all blown over, had it not been for the two cop cars that pulled up in response to a neighbor’s complaint about the ruckus. Who knew that police dogs could detect the smell of pot so quickly? Impressive. Too bad your mom didn’t buy your next anecdote about how you had no idea what it was and thought it was some sort of seasoning to add flavor to your salad. A valiant Hail Mary try, girl.

I’m relieved to hear the cops let all of you off with just a warning. But I’m sorry your parents have grounded you for two months. I guess that means you’ll miss the secret rave party at Jessica’s house next weekend – I mean, the all-nighter where just girls will all be working on that science fair team project. I hope your mom changes her mind. You might start by complimenting her on her cooking. Good luck.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

PS: If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by posting a comment, giving it a Like or sharing this post on Facebook.

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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2021

Does Anybody Need Mustard?

Does Anybody Need Mustard?

If you check out our pantry, you may notice we have no shortage of condiments. At last count, we had enough mustard to top 3 million hotdogs – the long ones.

If you check out our pantry, you may notice we have no shortage of condiments. At last count, we had enough mustard to top 3 million hotdogs – the long ones.

Quick question: Do you need any mustard? We’ve got tons to spare. That’s because while I do the grocery shopping, it’s my wife who makes up the grocery list. And there the problem starts. You’d think in making a shopping list one would check current inventory. Not my wife. Perhaps it’s a Canadian thing (she is from Toronto).

Hence, we currently have seven jars of mustard. In full disclosure, that’s just a guesstimate. There could be more hidden in the medicine cabinet or in my wife’s art supply closet. You see, my wife also takes charge of putting away the groceries, and she has a peculiar storage system.

Don’t get me wrong. My wife is wonderful, but she does fall short in a few areas – starting with her height of 5’0”. Not sure what my point was. Oh, now I remember. My wife’s organizational skills are roughly on par with those of a schnauzer.

Think of that cute dog with 10 bones. What’s he going to do with them all? Bury them around the yard, of course, never to be used because he forgot where he put them all. That’s my wife with a jar of capers. No, she doesn’t normally dig in the dirt, but I swear we have jars of capers buried in every closet. Far be it for me to suggest she place it neatly on the lower shelf of the pantry, next to the other five jars she forgot we had.

My spouse is equally gifted at not putting away her clothes and not loading the dishwasher, not to mention not emptying said dishwasher. But I digress. Back to mustard. We could fill a small swimming pool with all the Grey Poupon we have – if we had a swimming pool.

So, if you happen to need any Dijon, just text me. Happy to pass it along. I’ll even throw in some cinnamon, balsamic vinegar, and baked beans from our hefty cache. But order fast! We only have enough to get through the pandemic – if it continues until 2029. And if you want to serve soup to an intimate gathering of 130 guests, come peruse our stash of Campbell’s Chicken Vegetable. I’m pretty sure I got you covered.

I’m not sure when my wife began hoarding and hiding, but I found a clue on a mayonnaise jar that was stuffed behind 9 boxes of kitty litter. It read, “Use by June 1989.” Interesting. It turns out her affliction extends beyond food stuffs. I was housecleaning earlier today and discovered that we also have plenty of Windex, bath & tile cleaner, and cold medicine, enough to last well past my own expiration date (2050).

I’m half-tempted to deliberately catch a cold just to clear out some inventory. We also have a small mountain of post-it notes. I’m confident I could cover all four walls of our bedroom with them, floor to ceiling, and still have some left over. I think I’ll use a post-it note to tell her to stop buying so many post-it notes.

We could throw pillows out the window all day long and still have enough to supply our entire community. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. A few couples may need to share.

We could throw pillows out the window all day long and still have enough to supply our entire community. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. A few couples may need to share.

Thanks to my life partner of 33 years, we are the proud owners of enough Ziploc bags to pack lunches for the entire school district – K through 12. If I display the temerity to point out that perhaps we don’t actually need a seventh roll of aluminum foil, my wife will quickly change the subject, saying something random like, “Well, then. Care to explain why you feel we need five bags of grass seed and four bags of weed killer, which I found yesterday in the outdoor storage bin?” 

I have no clue what her point is. Besides, I think we’re drifting from the premise of this commentary, which is that my wife never checks how much stuff we have before adding it to the shopping list. Let’s stay focused here, okay?

My darling wife has also stockpiled an impressive supply of hair scissors, band aids, gauze, and stain remover – all in the laundry cupboard. I have no idea why she needs all this. My current theory is she’s planning on cutting me to ribbons in my sleep (scissors) for constantly nagging her about her excessive acquisitions; then, in a moment of regret, she will attempt to save me (gauze and bandages). After which, she will insist I clean up the blood (stain remover). It’s just a theory. There may be a different, more nefarious explanation.

Perhaps I should take over writing the shopping list and let my wife do the shopping instead. Fortunately, there’s an ACE Hardware next to the IGA grocery, so on her next trip she can swing by there and pick up a bag of grass seed and weed killer.  Make that two bags. I think we may be running low.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2021. Edited by Betsy Jones.

Twelve Teachers

Twelve Teachers

Top Row (L to R): My mom, my older brothers Bob and John Second Row: My sister Betsy, Bill Anderson, Steve Fisher Third Row: Dale Willman, Mark Gravel, Tim Fletcher Bottom Row: My elder daughter Rachel, my younger daughter Emily, and my wife and soulmate, Michele

Top Row (L to R): My mom, my older brothers Bob and John; Second Row: My sister Betsy, Bill Anderson, Steve Fisher; Third Row: Dale Willman, Mark Gravel, Tim Fletcher
Bottom Row: My elder daughter Rachel, my younger daughter Emily, and my wife and soulmate, Michele

Growing up, I had many dedicated teachers. A decades-belated thank you to Mrs. Perkins (4th grade), Mr. Nash (English), and General Verbeck (biology), and Mr. Vandenberg (Latin I, 2 and, thanks to my friend Steve Fisher, who knows what he did, Latin 3). My learning, however, did not end with my formal education. I have been blessed to have had many capable managers and mentors throughout my career. Thank you, Alan Horton, Jerry Parichy, Valerie Sanford, Chris Noble, and Cynthia Clay, to name a few.

As I look back over the past 65 years, I realize that some of the most impactful educators I’ve had have been family members and friends. There are twelve individuals who stand out as the most influential teachers in my life. This week’s column is about them.

My mom, Betty Clark (she remarried). At one month shy of turning 100 years old, she is, amazingly, still with us. A WW II veteran and mother of five, she endured a difficult marriage to a husband who suffered from serious, untreated mental illness and chronic anger management issues. She had the courage to leave this situation in an era when women did not seek divorce. Having not worked outside the home in 28 years, she set out to get a job and became a dietician at the VA. She reclaimed life by traveling to many countries, her favorite being Israel. Now in a nursing home, she rallies on, showing all around her that she still has a wit. She is always game for a good laugh – just check out her photo above, taken at age 97. People ask me, “Tim, why is it that you smile so much?” That’s simple. Thanks, mom.

Bob Jones. Our nine year age gap kept me from getting to know my oldest brother when I was young. But as I entered my career, we became re-acquainted by discussing career and life challenges. Bob became a “big brother” mentor to me and taught me the importance of understanding myself and my impact on others. From Bob, I learned to look for the positive in situations and people. As a result, throughout my career, I posted on my wall these words: “Catch them doing something right.”

John Jones. My second oldest brother, five years my senior, John was the All-American boy. Growing up, he was my role model. I wanted to be just like him. I still do. He is modest to a fault and has always been the rock of our family. When there was a crisis, John was the steady hand willing to intervene to calm the waters. Over time, I have come to appreciate how kind and caring a person John is – and funny. And he taught me to love sports and playing board games – I can’t forget about that!

Betsy Jones. I could write a book about my younger sister. She has been the editor of my blog these past 11 years. (I’ll be curious to see how she edits this description of her.) When we were little, because we were the two youngest, we became very close. She is the historian of my childhood, with a memory of details I had long forgotten. Nobody I know has endured more hardship and heartbreak than my sister. But every time she has been knocked down, she gets back up. Betsy is the most resilient person I have ever known – and one of funniest. She has an expanding universe of friends because like me, they see in her one of the most giving, selfless people you will ever find. [No edits. Thanks – Your editor] 

Bill Anderson. If you want to know why I sometimes (okay, usually) act like an 11-year-old, blame Bill. Bill is my oldest friend. We met in 4th grade because our dads were best friends. For the past five decades, Bill has reminded me of the importance of staying young at heart and not taking life too seriously. When we get together, we revert to high schoolers. Bill is a person of deep faith, and one of the most high-integrity people I have ever known. He has taught me, better than just about anyone else, the importance of working to maintain a close friendship, despite the physical distance between us most of our lives.

Steve Fisher. Some may ask where I developed my warped sense of humor. Look no further. Steve is the funniest person I have ever met. I launched this humor blog, in part, to honor him for teaching me how to make others laugh. We met in 7th grade and he has kept me howling with laughter ever since. Steve also taught me the meaning of courage. Ten years ago, he almost died from a devastating illness that left him with life-altering physical injuries. But through it all, he has demonstrated enormous courage and self-deprecating humor. Steve is my hero.

Dale Willman. Dale and I met early in our modeling careers. Yes, we were models, for a one-off fashion shoot, hired by a  mutual friend, for reasons neither of us will ever understand. Shortly after we met, my father died quite unexpectedly. Dale responded in a way that sealed our lifelong friendship: he came to the funeral. He turned out to be an unexpected source of strength that I leaned on in my time of grief. A journalist, Dale has worked and taught all over the world, and instilled in me the value of broadening my worldview. Like me, Dale has a small teddy bear called Grumpy that he takes to exotic places, although only my Grumpy has been to the North Pole (get over it, Dale).

Mark Gravel. I worked in the newspaper industry for 9 years and there is only one person I keep in touch with from that era: Mark. In addition to possessing a wickedly sharp sense of humor (he has co-written several of my humor articles), Mark loves doing surprises and practical jokes. But even more importantly, Mark exudes a genuineness, a kindness, and a deep desire to put the needs of others before himself. In the dictionary under the word “Gentleman” there should be a picture of Mark, for he truly is just that – even if he is Canadian, like my wife.

Tim Fletcher. I have always admired Tim’s first name. But beyond that, my soft-spoken friend is a remarkable dad. We became friends while working at an internet startup, When I was struggling with trying to unlock the mysteries of parenting my then teenage daughters, Tim repeatedly provided an understanding ear and wise counsel to help me become a better dad. For several years, Tim has grappled with a serious illness. But through it all, he has accepted his physical limitations with positivity, grace, and a stubborn refusal to be blocked from pursuing a full life.

Rachel Jones. From a young age, my elder daughter has demonstrated a strong independent streak. I will always remember when at four years of age, as I tried to help her, she insisted, “I do it myself, Daddy.” She became extremely self-reliant and responsible far beyond her age. Her sense of determination and her work ethic astound me, be it on the soccer field or pursuing her passion of becoming a nurse. Now 26 and a cardiology nurse, Rachel has matured into a confident, hardworking adult. Most inspiring is her deeply caring heart, for her patients, her family, and her cats (not sure in which order). She teaches me all the time what it means to put the needs of others before one’s own.

Emily Jones. When she was a teenager, she and her sister taught me the importance of patience in parenting. At 4’11” tall, Em has always been the shortest person in any group photo. But she’s never let that stop her from pursuing the highest of goals in life, and with a passion. She is fearless and doesn’t let obstacles deter her from her dreams. Extremely smart and resourceful, in college she once asked me, “Dad, do you know anybody at Space X?” Of course, I didn’t. Two days later, using just LinkedIn, she corralled an interview. A week later, Space X hired her in their elite intern program. Over the years, she has amazed me with her giving heart, often surprising my wife and me with the most extraordinary gifts out of the blue (including my very cool Space X shirt.)

Michele Rushworth. When we said our wedding vows, I told her, “I want to grow old with you.” Those words ring just as true 33 years later. I am proud of everything she has achieved with her art. She has helped to push me outside my comfort zone to try new things (even fish). A voracious reader, she has educated me about other cultures, history, and science. It was Michele who suggested we pursue international adoption. She had the idea for us to move to an island I had never heard of. And whatever I learned about being a caring, patient parent, I learned in great part from my best friend’s example. Our daughters could not have asked for a better mom. It has been a privilege and a joy to be growing old – that is, older – with my wife, Michele.

I have had many truly wonderful friends throughout my life, including many people who space constraints simply don’t permit me to mention. As I get older, I’ve learned that true wealth is measured not by the size of one’s bank account but by the number of meaningful friendships we have in life. On this scale, I’m rich beyond my wildest dreams. I owe a debt of gratitude I’ll never be able to repay to these twelve funny, kind, extraordinary teachers, and to others not mentioned (due to witness protection constraints). Thank you all.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

PS: If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by posting a comment, giving it a Like or sharing this post on Facebook.

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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2020. Edited by Betsy Jones

My 15 Minutes of Infamy

My 15 Minutes of Infamy

My sister Betsy and I have always been close. I always have her back and sometimes I have her throat too. Like I said, we’re very close.

My sister Betsy and I have always been close. I always have her back and sometimes I have her throat too. Like I said, we’re very close.

[The following is true.] This story is not really about me. But as is usually the case when I tell stories, I’m going to make it about me anyway. My sister Betsy and I have always been extremely close – unless you count that one time when I’m fairly certain she tried to kill me. But I digress.

Way back in 1999, Betsy was interviewed by Katie Couric on NBC’s Today Show with her twin boys. To understand how they ended up on national TV, we have to go back several years before her national television debut, to September 8th, 1990.

At that time, Betsy was massively pregnant with twins and due to deliver in six weeks. Doctor’s orders restricted her to no travel outside Albany, where she lived, in case the babies got pushy and tried to arrive early – which if you ask me, is highly inconsiderate of any prenatal youngsters. I therefore persuaded Betsy to go on a drive with me 60 miles north to the idyllic Lake George. I was particularly looking forward to a boat ride. In my defense, I was not yet a parent myself – and I’m a guy – you really can’t expect me to have a clue about obstetrical matters.

Betsy said okay – except for the boat ride – something about not wanting to rock the pregnancy boat. And she rudely insisted on driving. I gently pointed out that she was too huge to fit behind the wheel. She slugged me. Then she maliciously accused me of being a poor driver who hit every pothole and bump in the road.

Long story short, we had a lovely day up north. Betsy began the drive home, but soon got too exhausted to drive. Wimp. Reluctantly, she let me take the wheel. As Betsy had predicted, I hit every pothole and speed bump, enduring Betsy’s repeated rants of: “If the babies are born tonight, it’s your fault!” Personally, if you ask me, I think New York State needs to improve its highways.

Spoiler alert. Betsy’s babies didn’t arrive that night. In an unrelated story, at 5:00 the next morning, Betsy went into full labor. Her first words caught me by surprise: “Tim, this is your fault for hitting every bump in the GD road!” At 9 am the boys came down the chute. (Is that okay to say in a story about your sister? ) They weighed in at a scant 3 lbs. 14 oz and 4 lbs. 8oz, respectively. Though tiny, Betsy’s identical twin boys were just fine.

The same could not quite be said about Betsy. Apparently worn out from a challenging birth – or perhaps just from visiting too many tourist shops at Lake George the day before – she was utterly exhausted and became incoherent. She actually started speaking exclusively in French (she had lived several years in France). On the negative side, doctors were worried that she might have suffered some mysterious medical complication. (She hadn’t). On the positive side, her French was flawless.

The twins were born on September 9th, 1990. Most normal people would not think anything special about that date and would just be glad their newborns had approximately the right number of fingers, ears and noses. But my sister somehow figured out minutes after she regained the ability to speak English that one day her boys would celebrate a uniquely memorable birthday.

This is my sister Betsy, cradling her newborn identical twin boys. I know, it’s hard to tell them apart. So, in case you’re not sure who is who, Betsy is the one in the middle.

This is my sister Betsy, cradling her newborn identical twin boys. I know, it’s hard to tell them apart. So, in case you’re not sure who is who, Betsy is the one in the middle.

Nine years later, at the 9th hour of the 9th day of the 9th month of the 9th year of the 9th decade, the twins would turn, wait for it, 9.

Fast forward to summer 1999. Betsy had a brainstorm – inspired by an innocent query of her twins as to what they wanted for their birthday: “We want to be on TV”. So, she called a local news station and told them how her identical twins would be turning 9 years old at precisely 9a.m. on 9-9-99. They referred her to NBC, who referred her to Willard Scott (remember him?) Apparently, it was a slow news week because The Today Show said YES! They wanted to interview Betsy and her twins on LIVE TV. Oddly, the network neglected to interview me. I’m not going to lie. That slight really stung.

NBC flew Betsy and her twins, named Tyler and Kevin (not their real names), from Albany, NY to New York City, met them with a limousine, and put them up at the luxurious Essex House Hotel on Central Park. (Okay, I lied. Kevin and Tyler ARE their real names. I just wanted to protect their privacy. I appear to have failed miserably.)

Finally, Betsy’s big moment of national stardom was here. While she was on the set of The Today Show, chatting with Al Roker, I was in my living room, wearing a nice beige pull-over cotton shirt and blue jeans, having just finished cleaning up the dishes and taking out the trash. Now that I re-read the previous sentence, I see that it really added nothing to the storyline. Please accept my humble apology.

Anyway, right after the commercial for Bounty Towels, the show was back on. Katie Couric introduced my sister and the soon-to-be-famous twins to a national television audience. She began with a warm hello to the boys. And was met with … dead silence. You could hear a pin drop. Katie prompted them with an innocent question about their favorite birthday present. She was met with a torrent of rambling twin-speak, as Barry and Larry (not their real names) answered together, babbling in harmony about some colorful thingamajig that sparkled and twirled. The ever-poised Ms. Couric, who had interviewed movie stars and world leaders with aplomb, was speechless.

She recovered, however, and steered the interview in another direction, asking Betsy, “Is it true that their uncle played a significant part in their birth story?”

And you thought I was making this up. Here’s Katie Couric of NBC’s Today Show on 9-9-99, after Betsy’s appearance with her twins. Apparently there was a scheduling mix-up, as I was accidentally left off the show.

And you thought I was making this up. Here’s Katie Couric of NBC’s Today Show on 9-9-99, after Betsy’s appearance with her twins. Apparently there was a scheduling mix-up, as I was accidentally left off the show.

Then Betsy began to destroy my reputation: “My brother Tim is a terrible driver.” She proceeded to retell the events of our driving adventure on September 8th, 1990, and how I hit every bump on the road. “I told Tim to drive more carefully because he had a pregnant woman in the car. I even said, ‘If I give birth tonight, it’s ALL YOUR FAULT!’ Sure enough, the twins were born the following morning. They have called my brother ‘Uncle Bump’ ever since, because of his driving. I need to reiterate this. Tim is a really bad driver.” 

Thanks for throwing me under the bus, sis. I may be a terrible driver, but if it weren’t for Ole’ Uncle Bump, your kids would’ve been born on some forgettable date at a healthy weight and lived lives of obscurity. And you never would have been on national TV, chatting with America’s Sweetheart, Katie Couric.

So, if you ask me, this story is really about how great a big brother I was by selflessly helping my little sister achieve her 15 minutes of fame. She returned the favor by turning the spotlight on me for my 15 seconds of infamy.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

PS: If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by posting a comment, giving it a Like or sharing this post on Facebook.

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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2020. Edited by Betsy Jones.