A word (or two) about our quiver full of children

I promised in my last post that I would write more about my wonderful, 22-year experience with World Vision. But first, lest I get too chronologically out of order, I’d like to dish some dirt on our two amazing children, Nathan and Amanda.

RanCuc-Res175-1997-Spar-SVIOne thing that always amazes me about our kids is how their uniqueness, their personalities, were established from Day One. (Actually, I don’t really have a window into Day One, which I think would be the day of conception; but let’s call their day of birth … day after the last day of gestation … the average human gestation is 280 days, just slightly over 9 months … let’s call the day of their birth “Day One” for the sake of this blog post. Saying “Day 281” just sounds a little too random.)

Both of our children are adventuresome and enjoy testing their limits. Nathan has always been mentally and verbally adventuresome. When he was a little over a year old, he’d say things like, “Come change my diaper! I’m saturated!” His mother remembers telling him, in exasperation, “If you are old enough to know what ‘saturated’ means, then you are probably too old to be wearing diapers!”

He was the quintessential strong-willed (which sounds better than obstinate) child, and an amazing self-starter. He is also incredibly loyal and generous, a great entertainer and extremely hospitable person. He thinks for himself. He forms his own opinions, and doesn’t change them easily, and he challenges the opinions of others in very direct ways.

Nathan was the one who always challenged the idea of the Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy. One day (after losing a tooth) he decided to set a trap for the Tooth Fairy, because he was (and rightly so) convinced Mom and Dad were lying to him about this. So he put the pressure trigger to his flying helicopter toy, which made lots of noise and flashing lights, beneath the door mat in front of his bedroom door. His tooth was in the usual place, in a cup on the window sill. We had told him the Tooth Fairy naturally flew in through the open window, and so I guess he figured the trap would catch any unsuspecting parents masquerading as the Tooth Fairy.

And his plan almost worked. Once he was sound asleep — and Nathan was a sound sleeper — Mom (a.k.a. the Tooth Fairy), tried to steal quietly into the room to replace the tooth with a quarter. (Yes, we know, the Tooth Fairy was very stingy back in 1988, but you also have to account for inflation.)

But, when she stepped on the mat, the trap sprung. The Tooth Fairy almost had a heart attack, with all the flashing lights and sudden whirling of chopper blades … however, the suspicious little boy who had set the trap just kept on slumbering.

Nathan awoke the next morning to find a note on the sill where the tooth had been. “The Tooth Fairy is NOT happy with you,” the note read. “Please go look in the cup in the refrigerator.”

And there was his quarter — half-submerged in yoghurt.

One more Nathan story, then we’ll move on to Mandy. When Nathan was 8, my best friend, John, brought a large box of electronic parts over to our house. Because of my technology business, I had learned the basics of building personal computers up from the component level. (I have since lost this skill, as much has changed in the past two-plus decades or so.)

John was working at the time (and still works) as the technology manager for the Newport Beach Police Department. “These are spare computer parts that have been scrapped or obsoleted.” He said. “I think they all work … and I think there may be enough here to actually build a working computer from scratch.”

The gauntlet was thrown down. Nathan and I went to work on the project, together.

That was a watershed event for Nathan. After building his own, first personal computer, he proceeded to build many more, for himself and for friends. And he tackled more and more sophisticated projects. His senior project, his final year of high school, was building a water-cooled and super-clocked computer capable of achieving higher than normal processing speeds. He documented the entire project thoroughly and built a website to accompany his senior project document.

After graduating from high school, Nathan took a job with a tech firm up in Kent, and he still works there, managing desktop and networking systems. When it comes to technology, he’s light-years beyond where I ever was or could be.

Mandy is in many ways Nathan’s opposite. Like Nathan, she is very smart, but much more compliant. She is the one who seeks to “get along.” She never had any qualms about seeking her own way, but she can be fairly subtle about it.

And she has always been physically adventuresome. I could tell many stories here. There was the time as a three-year-old she opened the valve on the 5-gallon propane container in our garage (she was standing on it, trying to get up on my workbench for some reason) and it began to explosively expel its contents into our garage. (Mind you, our house furnace, water heater, and dryer were all in our garage, and I believe all of these had pilot lights burning.) Mom was at work (of course); I was at home and “in charge.” I was upstairs and heard a thundering noise in the garage, then Mandy screaming. I went flying downstairs and into the garage and we collided just as she was flying out.

In addition to colliding with my screaming daughter, I also collided with an ice-cold wave of propane gas.

I grabbed Mandy and Nathan and ran them out of the house, depositing them at the neighbor’s (and screaming for her to call 9-1-1) while I thought of what to do next. I went to the side of the garage and cut the power to the main breaker (which was of course the moment it could have blown me to kingdom come), then used the neighbor’s wrench to shut off the gas at the main, hoping that would take care of the pilot lights in the garage.

We then all went out into the street, far away from the house, and waited for the fire department to arrive.

In 5 minutes, there were more emergency vehicles than I had ever seen on our street before. They began evacuating the neighbors. As our neighbors poured out of their homes, frantically wondering what all the commotion was, they saw Mandy out there holding my hand. “Ah,” they said, suddenly understanding.

Fortunately we did not blow up the neighborhood. An asbestos-suited firefighter bravely and carefully opened our garage door and brought the cannister, still thundering its contents out into thin air, out of the garage and set it down gently on the driveway. It was already encased in ice and soon cemented itself to the driveway as it continued to rapidly decompress.

Two other Mandy events (out of many more that occurred) I’ll tell you about. Mom also wasn’t home for the first one, but she was for the last.

One day I was changing the water in our waterbed. I ran the hose upstairs from the hot water heater into the waterbed connection and went down to the garage to turn it on. I did so and let it run for a few moments, then felt the hose. It was HOT. Way hotter than it should have been, almost too hot to touch.

I started to turn the spigot off, when a blood-curdling Mandy scream issued from our bedroom upstairs. I ran up and there was Mandy standing, bright red and soaking wet, and screaming in agony. Somehow she had managed to pull the hose out of its connection to the waterbed, stripping the threads in the process … and held it over her head.

The water, which she had unbeknownst to me turned (at the water heater) earlier in the day on to its highest setting, scalded the right side of her body. But fortunately most of the burns were minor, and she just had a few blisters. Nonetheless the emergency room staff packed her with cold cream and wrapped her up like a mummy.

When Mom arrived home from the hospital (and, before you ask — yes, I had called and told her we had an “incident,” but in my optimism I possibly understated the severity of it), there was Mandy at the door to greet her, wrapped in bandages from head to toe, with a muffled “Hi Mom! Guess whut happened?”

It’s possible that the greater miracle was that I survived that evening.

We soon were on a first-name basis with those emergency room staff. The final incident I’ll tell you about occurred the day our new neighbors moved in next door. I was working in the garage, and Darlene was at home this time. Mandy had wandered over to the neighbor’s house to see what was going on. But she soon came running back into the garage where I was working, yelling these disturbing words frantically: “I ate it! I ate it!”

Then she began to vomit explosively.

“What did you eat?” I demanded, but now of course she couldn’t speak, she was so sick. So I picked her up under one arm and instructed her to point and lead the way so I would know what she ate. And she did so obediently, as she continued to wretch out the contents of her stomach.

She pointed next door, and onto the neighbor’s front porch. Sitting to one side was an exotic and tropical-looking potted plant with very large, beautiful leaves. She pointed at that. I saw that one leaf had a single large bite out of it. A Mandy-shaped bite.

I grabbed the plant (just as the neighbors, whom I had not yet met) came out onto the porch, wondering at the commotion and staring at the mess. “Hi, my name is Larry, and this is my daughter Mandy. We live next door. I’m taking her and your plant to the hospital now. Welcome to the neighborhood!”

Darlene and I rushed her to the emergency room. By the time we got there, she had stopped throwing up and seemed better. The staff there identified the plant and said, “Yup, that’s pretty toxic stuff. The good news is, she got it all out of her system within the first 15 minutes. Now here’s our bill.” Soon we were able to take her home, she slightly wiser, and her parents somewhat poorer.

Fortunately Mandy still likes salad, and suffered no other negative long-term effects (that we know of). And on the positive side, we did get to know those neighbors pretty well and became good friends, despite the rather awkward introduction.

The Psalmist said:

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (127:4-5 ESV)

I’m a blessed man with a quivering quiver. When it comes time to speak with my enemies in the gate, they’d best be prepared for a high-tech weapon featuring whirring blades, flashing lights, and spewing propane, scalding water and vomit.

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