Dear Friends and Family,
I took a lot of flack over last year’s letter, in case you don’t remember it was four pages of some of the most heartfelt emotion ever laid down on a page. Comments went in all directions; here are the most common ones along with my response to each:
- “Thanks for the “novel” Mr. Amateur Writer / Mr. Tree Killer!” – This was a two-prong attack. The first implication is that I wrote too much—“novel”. I do tend to be nerdy, weird, and thorough (as my mom says). The second implication is that I wrote it poorly—“amateur”. You try to write a letter about a “little army” while also fathering that same little army and see if you can keep it simple, concise, unmuddled and to the point—I thought so?!?! So I guess I don’t deny either implication.
- “You didn’t mention me!” – I’m very stream of consciousness oriented. I write how I talk; I talk what I think (most of the time that gets me in more trouble than leaving people out of a letter). Since I’m not the smartest guy in the world I tend not to think of everything, so it obviously won’t ever make it onto the printed page. I’m worthless and I apologize. In my defense, if I had covered more in last year’s letter it would have been even longer and I would have gotten in trouble even more on the first point.
- “Why did you send a picture of your kids in their underpants?” – I’ve seen people send out pictures of their kids and it just looks “majestic”. They are so clean, proper, nipped and tucked they look like angels. Not at my house, that particular day they were lucky to even have shirts on. Most of the people who made a comment along this line don’t have kids. They probably think one day they’ll have kids and the little ones will wake up fully dressed and perfectly combed. Maybe they will, but at my house they wake up, they need baths, they yell, they make messes, and they need food. I’m not going to send out a picture to try to fool you into thinking all that happens and the kids are at the same time “majestic” everyday. Besides if you’ve been to my house you’ve probably seen them in their underpants before anyway?!?!
After all that, I now know what it must feel like to be a writer or magazine editor. I can’t promise that this letter will solve any of the issues that have been brought up. It is a take it or leave it situation. If you don’t want to put up with it, just cast it aside with the rest of the junk mail. I will never know, and you can talk bad about me to Emily. She of all people will understand your frustration! Maybe you can start a support group.
Our year has seen some big changes unfold, all of them we brought on ourselves (for better or worse). What can we say; things were getting a little boring around the house.
The first major piece of news involves the “little army”. Unless something happens between the time I write this and this Friday (12/21/01), we are scheduled to induce baby #4 at that time. We know it is a boy and we know his name will be Maxwell Turner Dean. Preston named his little brother because he wanted a brother named Max. Emily and I liked it and we went with it. Turner is a family name from Emily’s side of the family (just like Preston). Preston is also the name of Emily’s Cabbage Patch Doll. My middle name is Carl, and Preston’s middle name is Brown—put those together and you get my grandfathers name “Carl Brown” Walling (Pipa). Molly’s middle name is Reece after my dad—the kids call him Golfball (?!?!?). I challenge anyone to come up with a “weirder” thing to call a grandparent than that. Emmaline Grace’s name doesn’t link to anyone we just liked it. That should be enough fun with names.
We are very excited about Max. I’m so happy he will be here for Christmas. I am getting this in writing; Emily has been quoted as saying “since this is the last one…” I don’t believe a single word she says when it comes to “not wanting” more kids. She is sneaky and if I actually did get her to commit to not “having” anymore kids I’m convinced she would start adopting them from other countries. Imagine my surprise when I come home from work one night and an extra setting is at the table?!?! I’ve had several people ask me if I knew what was causing all these kids…I’ve assured them we are no longer eating chocolate. We don’t even keep it in the house anymore. What do I look like, dumb?
The second major item this year is our new house. It just figures, Preston and I had worked our self to death and had gotten the dreaded “to do list” down to less than half a page. Items were cycling on and off the list, we were cruising—and unstoppable force to be reckoned with. The last major item “get kids swing set” had whipped us for some time. We picked one out and were ready to roll and then we were given a sign—we received a random letter from our homeowners association “reminding” people swing sets are not allowed in the neighborhood. As I asked the guy to cancel our order I joked that when we moved to a kid friendly neighborhood I’d give him a call—the seed had been planted.
When we moved into our house it was “white” and Emily had done a good job getting it looking swell. My mom was kept very busy not only baby sitting but also making curtains for almost every room. We had landscaped the place. Emily’s list had been annihilated as well. We were done!
Fast forward three months, with the list so short I ran out of things to do so I decided to start going on a bike ride in the morning before work. I rode through a neighborhood and noticed a house that was for sale. It was cute and had a great yard and it was listed by our real estate agent. I noted it and continued on, got back that morning and told Emily that we should just go look at it just to see what it looked like—nothing serious just a casual look for fun. A few weeks later we had sold our house and were finishing up the deal on the new one (not the one that started it all).
Everything is different; we went from less than ¼ acre to a full acre, from a brand new house to one over 40 years old. This one took a lot out of all involved—it didn’t help that Emily was 6 months pregnant when we decided to move. It also took a lot out of a few loyal friends and family who didn’t balk when asked to help us move on some hot summer afternoons. Emily and I greatly appreciate everyone who helped us out during this endeavor. I don’t think we will be moving again anytime soon. I can see four kids growing up in this house. I think if I told my parents or Emily’s parents we wanted to move again they would take drastic measures (my mom would probably ground me). We love the house, the kids love the yard, the neighborhood has a lot of kids in it, and Preston stayed in the same school. Of course the “to do list” is longer but we’ll take it slow. Regardless, I’m going to be careful where I ride my bike for now on. I might ride past a Porsche or Corvette and get myself in trouble.
Emily has been pregnant and that hasn’t slowed her down this year. She shuffles kids to school, pre-school, vacations, camps, and wherever else they need to be. She kept Preston busy all summer; and was like a personal summer vacation planner. I don’t see how she does what she does, a constant deluge of cleaning up messes, laundry, driving, and being kicked from the inside (yikes). Emily used to watch HGTV in her free time; now that Food TV is on she has made a switch. Neither of us cook, we have some pots and pans and a stove—so I guess we could cook?!? Watching the channel is inspiring us. I’m sure a new baby will further inspire us to stay home and do some cooking—Raimen Noodles anyone?
We took several trips this year that would never have occurred if it had been left up to me to plan. We took a few trips to Mimi and Pop’s “New Florida House” (as Emmaline refers to it, no matter how long they own it—it remains the “new” house). Their house is near Port St. Joe, Florida and is bay front property. We ride bikes and go kayaking in the bay. Just down the road is the beach access, where we build sandcastles and swim. We visited the official site of the Hog Rock River Rally, which is the “rocking party on the river” in Cave-In-Rock, IL hosted by Emily’s dad, Tim and “Big ‘Ol Thang”. On the way up to this we stopped near Madisonville, KY and watched a mule pull, and saw some great old tractors, and a small steam engine with Pipa. We went to Mimi and Pop’s New Mexico house for Cameron (Emily’s brother) and Jayne’s wedding. Preston got to play some golf up in the mountains. I wouldn’t call what I did playing golf, I just took up space on the cart and shanked balls into the woods—still beats working. We also spent a weekend with Gran and Golfball at Cedars of Lebanon state park. Preston and I rode bikes, and Emmaline and I hiked on the trails. We found a skull of some animal and Emmaline thought that was cool—not typical of her.
Preston is now 6 and in first grade. He is learning to read and is making good progress. He also played soccer for the Red Rockets in the spring and the Blue Titans in the fall. Coach Dotson, his coach, has been coaching soccer for 35 seasons. He is the best coach we could hope for—he talks with them like they are playing at the professional level, and is an excellent teacher. I have never met anyone who is such an encourager. Preston and I also have been working on the Model A John Deere Pipa gave me years ago. I know about as much as Preston does about restoring an old tractor, but you never learn anything until you do it, I say. We are currently in well over our heads and I have about 30% of a John Deere tractor in my basement. We are committed; hopefully the winter will see us make some progress. Preston is a whirlwind of activity; he never meets a stranger. People who come to our house usually get suckered into some competitive game of some sort—and if they don’t go for that they have to time him running back and forth across the new big yard (don’t ask me what that accomplishes). He reminds me of the Tazmanian Devil more than anything, as he moves through an area there is usually some degree of fallout that occurs. Emily and I just try to keep up with him.
Emmaline is three and goes to pre-school at Dollar General / Bright Horizons Day Care in Rivergate two days a week. She comes home talking about this kid named Landon and how they are going to get married. I have yet to meet the kid and consider it very rude on his part that he has not made an effort to make this relationship respectable by meeting the parents. We’ll see how it works out for the two lovebirds. Emmaline just recently gave up her “pappy” (pacifier), this was a major life change for this little girl. We had talked and talked about it then one night we just decided it was over. She went and put it on the counter and that was the end of that—she didn’t believe me when I told her, but I think she has seen that she survived this event. She is going to begin dance lessons at the beginning of the new year. She should be a good dancer, she might have a little performance anxiety since she is a tad bit shy at times.
Molly is one and goes to pre-school with Emmaline. Molly is “Mini Me” (you have to have seen Austin Powers). Everyone says she looks just like me—I feel bad for the other kids. I mean with my stunning good looks she is bound to be a screaming success story. I guess they will just have to try harder. Her body is catching up with the size of her head. As she was beginning to learn to walk her head was so big she was top heavy. She would just be walking along and would wind up in a “face plant” that would usually leave her forehead bruised (step, step, face plant, step, step, face plant). It looked like we were abusing the poor thing. She now has it under control and can usually out pace Preston and Emmaline in mischief. She is usually the ringleader when things are going in the “loud” direction.
Our amazing summer adventure was on one of the trips to “Mimi and Pop’s New Florida House”. We finally talked Emmaline into going on the boat. It was a pretty day so Pops, Preston, Emily, Emmaline and I headed out to take the boat around the cape and go the gulf side to play on the beach and have a picnic. We got the boat unloaded, and headed to the end of the cape. All was well, we even saw what looked like a 5 foot ray jumping in and out of the water on the way, which was impressive. We went around the end of the cape and began looking for a good spot to anchor and hit the beach. We stepped out onto the beached looked up and almost simultaneously all the adults looked at each other and said “looks like we might be getting wet”. In the distance, we all saw black clouds headed our way. Let’s head back. We loaded up and began to head back around the cape’s point to the bay side. Keep in mind this is a flat boat designed for fishing, so it is wide open to the sky. It began to rain. At this point, we lost poor Emmaline, she was tired of the boating life and wanted to go back to, yes you guessed it the “New Florida House”. I agreed with her. We headed towards the beach to wait out the storm and the rain got harder, and thunder clapped as we unloaded onto the beach. Several boats were in a similar situation, some bigger boats with covers, some pontoon boats loaded with families. Emily, Preston, and Emmaline got on the beach and got turned around so the rain that was coming down sideways would hit them in the back. They were facing the water watching Pops and I try to anchor the boat—which was almost impossible because the tide was going out and had a strong current whipping down the beach. Fine, we decided we would just stand there and hold it. About that time a bolt of lightening struck the water about 40 yards away from where we were standing and about 10 feet away from one of the other boats that had not made it to the shore. I heard my three loved ones behind me scream loudly. I have never been that close to a lightening strike and don’t want to really see anything like that again—but since I was still standing it seemed pretty cool. I turned around to get the kids reaction and they were gone—man had they booked. I told Pops I was going to find them and went shooting up the dune to search for them. I found them down in a depression and we got them setup to wait out the storm and I got Emily calmed down and we both started to calm the kids down. 15 minutes later the storm broke and we decided to make a break for it and try to get back to the dock before the second wave rolled in. Of course halfway home it started pouring rain again. I’m sure Emmaline will never set foot on any boat of any kind again for the next 10 years.
As I was setting in the rain wondering if lightening would come from the sky and fry my family to a pulp I felt as powerless as I had ever felt in my life. You realize how small you are, and how powerful the forces of nature are. A little thunderstorm had us all scared to death—I couldn’t imagine dealing with the devastation the magnitude of a tornado, hurricane or earthquake.
I had this same feeling on another day this year. Emily called me as I drove to work and told me about the plane hitting the World Trade Center. When I got to work we began watching it on television about the time the second plane hit. Just thinking about what those people were going through was unimaginable. Later when the buildings fell down completely I had almost the same feeling I had earlier that year—powerless. I think those around me shared the feeling, what can you do standing in an office in Nashville, TN when something like this happens.
I’m proud to live in a country that is a powerful country, one that has the power to do something about this situation—one that not only has the power but the commitment to do something. The fact that we all continue our lives, and continue to contribute to America in our own way is testament to our people, and to our spirit. My family is blessed with freedom and the ability to prosper in America. Many families around the world don’t have that going for them. I am thankful for where I came from, and for all the opportunities I have. I feel we are blessed to be Americans, and should do all we can to “be” Americans by not wasting the opportunities we have to make this country better.
My family’s life has seen some major changes this year. None like the changes some families have had to deal with this year. None like the changes some will have to deal with in the future. My heart goes out to these people. We all owe a lot to our fellow Americans for making this country what it is—something we often take for granted. The Dean’s are blessed to be American’s alongside you.
Joey, Emily, Preston, Emmaline, Molly and (soon) Max