Graduations and Grandbabies ~ Part I

Photos Tell A Story

 When my grandchildren see me coming camera in hand, most of them run and hide.  I admit it.  I am obsessed with documenting the times I've had with my children and grandchildren by taking photos.  Since the advent of the digital camera, I have literally amassed thousands of photos of my offspring. My photos are sent to my computer to an app created by Apple called Photos.  These same photos are also stored in iCloud.  One feature of the app Photo is called "Memories."  Photos are collected in the memories feature of Apple's Photo app by date and appear on my Apple products in the Photo app nearly daily.  I am always fascinated to see what photos may appear each day with the title "On This Day."

Today, it was a treat to see photos of the day twelve years ago when my youngest son Jonathan and his wife Samantha graduated from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS).  I've spent the remainder of the day thinking about these two and the incredible journey they have been on since the day they met.

The Backstory

Jonathan must have been seventeen, or maybe he was eighteen, when he started talking about Sam, this new girl he had met.  Then, one day, he announced that Sam was driving down to Pueblo where we lived from Colorado Springs to pick him up for a date.  Jon didn't have a car at the time.  I don't even know if he had a driver's license, but Sam obviously had both.  Jon was not attending high school; he'd dropped out.  He was in his phase of wear grungy clothes.  I was more than curious to meet this new girl in his life as Jon had never brought girlfriends around the house.  Did he ever even have a girlfriend before Sam?  I don't think so.

I think we were instructed by Jon to be cool with Sam and not ask too many questions of her because she was shy.  I think she died a thousand deaths when we answered the door because she had to do the dreaded meet the parents gig.  When the doorbell rang, it seems Jon ran to answer the door first because he just wanted to rush out the door without making introductions to save both of them from going through the formalities.  Of course, I wasn't having any of that.  I wanted to meet Sam.  Quick introductions were made at the door.  Sam was polite, and cute, and dressed very similarly to Jon.  I approved of her, but of course I would never say that to either one of them at the time.

As soon as Jon was out of the door, Sam turned and together they walked across the porch towards the driveway.  That is when I saw that they each had heavy chains hooked to their belt loops that were attached to a wallet in the back pocket of their jeans.  My husband and I turned and looked at each other when we saw the way they both had those chains on their jeans.  "Soul mates." I said with a smile.  "I think Jon found his soul mate."

The Academic Journey

It was a number of years after that day, that these two graduated from college.  They had already lived on their own but together in New York, Austin, Texas, and then returned to Colorado Springs to marry and begin college.  Soon after they were married, they also had a child, dear Atticus.

Atticus Roberts Christiansen

Those two had a lot going on in those years.  They were working to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads, and keep a car running.  Jonathan mostly rode his bike everywhere.  They also attended college and that meant they were constantly studying and writing papers.  They also showed themselves to be fantastic parents who spent a lot of time enjoying and nurturing their adorable and bright son.

Those years were not easy as they plugged away and worked hard and earned those college degrees.  It seems hard to imagine that is has been twelve years since the day when they met the goal they had set and accomplished that milestone of earning their bachelor degrees.

Jonathan and Samantha Christiansen
Graduation from UCCS
May 2005

Samantha graduated with highest honors and won a full-ride scholarship to work on her PhD at Northeastern University in Boston.  Jonathan was accepted to Boston College.  This meant that in the summer of 2006, we would proudly, but with sad hearts, send this little family of three off across the country to Boston.  Trips to see them and trips home to see us were not frequent, but at least we got to see each other as they continued their educational journey.

As part of the journey, Samantha was granted a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Bangladesh.  She gave up this prestigious scholarship to take a scholarship that would give her enough money to take Jonathan and Atticus with her to Bangladesh.

Boston seemed so far away, but it suddenly it seemed quite close to home when this adventurous and hardworking family took off to the other side of the world to Bangladesh.  They would live and study there for a year and half.  Atticus attended a bilingual French school while they were there.  They kept us intrigued with all of the stories of the adventures they were experiencing.

Once Samantha was finished with her research for her PhD, they returned to Boston from Bangladesh and were able to return to the same apartment building where they had lived before.  Since Jon had finished his MA at Boston college before they left for Bangladesh, he went to work as a researcher studying the effects of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) grants in education.  He worked closely with researchers at MIT and Harvard.  Samantha returned to finish her PhD at Northeastern.  She also by this time had published a chapter in an edited volume about sixties movements.

Dr. Samantha Christiansen
Atticus and Jonathan Christiansen
Northeastern University, Boston, MA

In 2014, Samantha and Jonathan moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Samantha would begin her University career as a professor of history at Marywood University.  Jonathan was able to also gain employment at Marywood teaching sociology.  Their offices, like the two of them have been since they were teenagers, were side by side.

This past year has not been an easy one. Jonathan began working this past summer on his PhD in Binghamton, New York.  This has meant he has carried a full-load of teaching while also carrying a full load as a student.  He also drove an hour each way four days a week to get to and from  his classes in Binghamton. 

The journey these two began into the world of higher education has been a long one and a hard one.  It has also been exciting.  Today, as I looked at those photos of my son and his wife graduating from college twelve years ago, I just shook my head in wonder at all that has transpired since that day. 

Samantha & her mom Jonathan and his mom
Graduation from UCCS 2005

Jon and Sam were both mostly raised by single moms and those two moms could not have been prouder of their two kids on that graduation day.  Those same two moms have missed these two kids and their son terribly as they've traveled the world and accomplished so much. 

It has not always been an easy path that they have followed.  There has been a few rocks in their pathway, and quite a few twists and turns, but they have persevered and been successful in their academic, professional, and personal lives.

As a couple and as a family, Jonathan, Samantha, and Atticus are a pretty tight unit.  I think I was right the first time I met Samantha and saw her and Jonathan together.  They are soul mates.

As I said this past year has not been an easy one, but it has been so exciting because...

wait for it...

These two surprised us all with the most amazing news ever earlier this year. 

News I could not share at the time, but I can now. 

This couple has added to their family and presented me with my eighth grandchild!

 Leon Roberts Christiansen 

was born a week before the end of this semester on April 23, 2017.  

Leon Roberts Christiansen

Can you even believe how beautiful he is?  I know I might be biased, but I honestly don't think I've seen a more adorable baby in a long time.  Probably not since my last grandchild Atticus was born.  This grandma is over the moon.  I can't wait to see him!

True to form, Samantha gave birth to Leon on a Sunday night and returned to teach her classes at the end of the week.  Jonathan continued to teach and write papers for his program.  Thankfully, Grandma Rita flew out from Colorado to help these two with taking care of the new baby while she also kept meals cooked, dishes washed, laundry done, and got plenty of time to hold and love on this adorable baby. 

Atticus now fourteen is getting to know his new baby brother. 

 There is even more amazingly happy news.  

They are coming home to Colorado Springs to live! 

Samantha has been offered and has accepted a job as a tenure track professor at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.  In August, she will begin working as a history professor in the department from which she graduated twelve years ago.  Jonathan will have to stay in Scranton another year to finish up his PhD, so this academic journey is not quite over for him.

Quite honestly, I am so thrilled with all of this good news that I can scarcely believe it.  Come August, I will finally get to hold this precious new family member in my arms while I welcome this family back home.  They will have come full circle since that graduation day twelve years ago.  I could not be prouder of them.

Thinking of My Son on His Birthday

Blogging moms probably really annoy their children when they write blog posts about them,
today is my son Jonathan's birthday so he gets to be featured on a blog post.

This photo was taken by my son's wife a few years ago.
She perfectly captured a facet of my son's personality that has endeared him to so many.

Recently, I found a card that Jon and his sister Julie made for me for my birthday when they were teenagers.
The backstory:
The initials JAC were shared by Jon and Julie.
That is why one, non-gender specific person on the front of the card represents them both.
At the time the card was written, Sally Jessy Raphael's talk show was very popular.
They used to call me Sally Jessy.
The card was a bit of a satire aimed at those Sally Jessy might interview on her talk show.
Sometimes, when I blog, I fear my children still might think of me as Sally Jessy Raphael.

My fears are grounded in what Julie and Jon wrote inside the card:
Julie And Jonathan 
always hated when
Mrs. Wessely
did the talk-show circuit.

For that reason, I try to not bring too much attention to my children in my blogs,
is Jon's birthday,
so he gets some attention.

I can not even imagine how small and limited my life would be without Jon in it.
He has so many facets to his personality that he has enriched my life beyond anything I could have imagined before he was born.

His intelligence stuns me.
Just try having a debate with him.
He will keep you on your toes.
We've had many debates, all of them heated, mostly friendly, but always passionate about our own beliefs over the years.
The topic of religion is an ongoing debate topic we've had running for a very long time.

He is 
non-traditional and very traditional all in one
good at conversation,
a thinker,
a writer,
a poet,
an artist,
a reader,
a college professor,
hard worker,
passionate about his beliefs,
the pied piper,
a husband and father,
a good son,
a much loved brother,
and always interesting.

As many of you know, Jon has been walking through a great adventure that has unknown outcomes since September when he injured his right brachial plexus in an accident.
The brachial plexus is the area that conducts signals from the spine to the shoulder, arm and hand.

On February 6, Jon is scheduled to have surgery to repair damage done by the injury.
The surgery will be take place in Pennsylvania and will be done by a surgeon specializing in injuries of this type.
Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers during this time.

In the meantime,

Happy birthday, son!
I miss you.
I love you.

Unplanned Time with My Son

Where to start?  One day, I was trying to adjust to idea I was in the waning days of summer with autumn fast approaching, and the next day, I was on a plane flying to Pennsylvania to be at son's side after he had been involved in an accident that nearly took his life.  On Sunday afternoon, September 21, a message was left on my phone from a nurse at a hospital in Scranton, Pennsylvania, telling me that my son had been in accident. "He's ok," she said, but I needed to call because he wished to speak with me.  My heart stopped when I heard the message.  Then, for another twenty agonizing minutes I could not reach the nurse because she was with my son who was having a MRI done.  No one could tell me what had happened because of HIPAA rules.  

Finally, I was able to connect with the nurse and more importantly with my son.  He had suffered a terrible trauma to his brachial plexus on his right side when he was cut by glass.  He is fortunate to be alive.  He received seven units of blood.  Surgery was performed to save his life.  In the process, somewhere along the way, damage was done to his nerves on the right arm in the brachial plexus area.  I think we all were in shock those first few days.  Certainly Jon was.  Certainly, I was.  

Two days later, On September 23, I flew from Colorado to Pennsylvania on a one way ticket.  I wanted to leave the date of my departure open.  By the time I got here, he'd been discharged from the hospital right from ICU.  I guess at that point I became his trauma nurse.  

For three days, I tried to navigate the unknowable medical field waters in search of aftercare treatment. My son was and is paralyzed from the shoulder down on the right side of his body.  He had an incision that is about seven inches long and contains over twenty stitches and staples.  Not being from this area, and with him being new to the area, I had no idea where to start in finding the help I knew he would need to heal.  For three days, I tried to get him into doctors and therapy.  Finally, this week it all began to come together.  We were able to connect with an occupational therapist whom I think will really be a source of great help and encouragement for him on this journey.  We also found a straight shooter for a primary care doctor whom I think will put together a plan to get him into the specialists he may need in his recovery.  We are optimistic that he will recover the use of his arm.  

Jonathan amazes me with his determination.  I'm not surprised.  He is one amazing kid.  He has had many adventures in his life.  Perhaps, he has lived life a bit too much on the edge.  He's always been daring and ready to push the envelope.  

He returned to work on the following Monday, September 29. He is teaching a full load of classes at the university.  I am here until next week trying to support him in any way I can.  Mostly, I'm just being mom and trying to keep body and soul together while he adapts to his new normal.  I am grateful to have this time with him.  These are treasured moments.  I get to be a participant in my son's life.  I get to observe his determination and hard work as he works so diligently on his classes.  I am able to be here with him in the hard parts of this journey when we can share what is in our hearts.  

On last Saturday, the sun was shining and we went to a nearby park for a walk.  I felt so blessed to walk in these Pennsylvania woods with my son and his son.  

Gratitude: walking in the woods on a sunny early fall day with my son and grandson.  

I gather up these memories and store them in my heart.  I may be here because of an unexpected and unwanted event, but I am here with my boys and for that I am grateful.  I also am most grateful that my son is here standing upright and able to show me this place so soon after his accident.  Youth and good health is on his side.  

From the shadows into the light, we follow the path we find ourselves on.  

Sometimes the paths of life are not as well laid out as the one we see in this photo.  In those cases, I always think of a path that is new to me.  Parts of it are rocky and obscure.  Other parts have waters rushing across.  I'm not sure how the path will end.  I sometimes feel very lost. That is when I think of this American Indian story:
 "You are deep in the woods, and you think you are lost; stop, look at the trees, the rocks, rivers-they are not lost.  They are here.  You are not lost, you are here."

Last night, Jon's son Atticus came to spend the night.  I was quite touched to see old Oso in Atticus' suitcase.  I gave this bear, as is my tradition, to Atticus on his first Christmas.  I must say no first Christmas bear of any other grandchild has seen the adventures this bear has seen.  He lived in Colorado to begin his life.  He then moved from there to Boston.  This dear bear, Oso, already rather travel worn, made his way to Bangladesh.  After a year and a half there, Oso, always at the side of Atticus, flew over the North Pole and home to the United States.  After living in Boston, he made his way to Pennsylvania.  I was glad to see this old friend from my grandson's earliest days.

Life seems complete when I have my kids by my side.  It is good being here cooking meals, driving my son to school on some days, he drives on others.  I try to keep the house running as he keeps up with his school work.  He tires easily and comes home exhausted and ready to have a big rest before the evening activities, but each day he seems stronger.

I will fly home next week.  I hate to leave.  My former husband and father of my children will come to spend some time with Jon the day before I leave.  He will be here for the next leg on this journey. 

It is so hard when your baby chicks grow up and leave home.  They seem to go to such far away places.  The miles separate us, but in this day of modern technology, we are only a text or a phone call away.  For that, I am also grateful.  

In the end, as a mom I've learned I must ultimately leave my children in hands that are much greater than mine.  They are all prayed over, and prayed over some more.  Whether they believe in my prayers or not, that does not matter.  I pray for them.  Each of them.  Everyday.  And, I thank God that I was blessed with each dear life.  Being a mom is hard, even when they are all grown up, but being a mom, I also know the rich blessings that I have in being a part of the journey that each child is on.  Their stories are intertwined with mine.  They are part of the story of my life.  We walk down this path together.