Let me set the stage for you. It was May, 1990. We had been living in Michigan for about 3 years. John and I had done something remarkable. Monumental actually. We had both stopped smoking, cold turkey on May 5th. It was about 2 weeks later. Neither of us had yet spoken ONE civil word to each other. But we hadn’t snuck any smokes either. The insides of John’s cheeks (the upper ones in his head) were gnawed and chewed up, resembling ground chuck from chomping gum with a vengeance 24-7. I’d like to say I remained cool, calm and collected, but I was a mess too. Headaches, insomnia, major bitchy-ness plaguing me big time. Joshua was 15, Adam, 10. Shannon was 19. It was the end of her freshman year at Michigan State.
|Shannon, Joshua, John, me and Adam. About 1990…|
Shannon approached me first. Told me she thought she might be pregnant. Dear God, please no. My brilliant, beautiful, over-achieving daughter. She had been dreaming (more like zoned in, totally focused and determined) about going to college since she was 6. Got a couple of home pregnancy tests, both positive. Here’s where I made my humongous mistake. Could not bring myself to break the news to John. So I waited, and said nothing. You think a couple weeks would not make a noteworthy difference in the scheme of things, looking at the big picture. But not telling John right away caused a rift between us of epic proportions. This proved to be as close to a divorce as we’d ever come. Still to this day. Betrayal to him, pure and simple. Now, not only was Shannon in the dog house with her dad, (dog house was putting it mildly) I was on his shit list, big time. (Shit list summed it up about right). And deservedly so. Not a happy home. Shannon got her old job back at The Parlour, where she had worked during high school. No more college. I was devastated for her, but for me too. Such high hopes. Just shattered. Shannon wasn’t living with us, so she and her dad rarely spoke. Like never. Heck, John and I barely spoke. Poor Josh and Adam, they didn’t know what to think. Or say. This went on for months.
|Ari, cute as a tulip. 2002…|
Ariana Brianne arrived one month after Shannon turned 20. I had just turned 40. How in the world could I ever have thought that this was not just the best thing ever? For Shannon? For me? For the Van Berkum family? For the whole freaking world! Shannon was instantly transformed into the most caring, nurturing, unselfish mother in the world. Joshua and Adam thought Ari was the best thing since Hostess Twinkies. (They were too young to get the whole “sliced bread” thing). Ariana was the most incredible baby ever. And I mean ever. EVER. John was just a titch slower to realize the importance of how much better everyone’s lives were after Ari joined our little realm.
This is how their two worlds finally collided. Shannon moved back home when Ari was a few weeks old. We had a huge finished family room downstairs, so she and Ari moved in it. Shannon went back to work at The Parlour, while I took care of Ari. Trying to keep Ari appeased (nursing babe who really didn’t care for the bottle) while Mommy worked.
|Shannon working hard at The Parlour…|
This particular day, Shannon and Ari had been shopping. Shannon brought Ari in the house in her carrier that attaches to the car seat. You’ve seen those car seats everywhere. I think they’re a nation-wide law for infant safety. Mom’s lug them around on their arms. But they’re really handy cause the baby can sorta sit, lay, see what’s going on, all from this position. Anyway, the carrier with Ari strapped in was plopped on our dining room table, while Shannon brought in some stuff. Ari was about 10 weeks old. John walked around the dining room table, pausing for a second at the baby carrier. Just then, Ari stuck her chubby fist up and grabbed John’s finger. This image remains burned in my brain. Like the song, “Just One Look, that’s all it took, yeah, just one look.” Except it was her tiny fist latching on to his index finger. She owned him, pure and simple. She was smitten with his voice, his beard, glasses, just about everything grandpa. From that one simple little moment I captured, I saw and realized how much John loved Ari. They shared a special connection. A bond which has not been broken. Never even nicked. Talk about a mutual admiration society. That’s the Ari-grandpa-show-for-sure.
|Ari and grandpa at The Falls, in SD, 2004…|
Without any help or a word mentioned beforehand to either John or I, Shannon announced she and Ari were moving out that fall. They were headed back to East Lansing and Michigan State together. Shannon got an apartment in married housing for the 2 of them. She signed Ari up at Spartan Child Development Center. This was the one constantly-mounting-bill that proved most troublesome for Shannon. She’d call me, horribly upset, “mom, they’re going to kick Ari out of Spartan!” Sigh. “Ok Honey, how much money are you behind?” I’d ask, dreading the answer. “Umm, I owe $750.00,” she’d sob. Cringe. (Why not tell me when you’re 3 or 4 hundred behind? Too independent and stubborn). Here’s the semi-smart thing I always did when any of our kids asked for monetary help. Took down the name and address of where our hard earned money was headed. Sent the check directly to the business.
|Ari and Landon. '03 or '04…|
Shannon took a full load of classes, year round. If Ari was sick, and couldn’t go to SCDC, I’d scoot to Lansing to watch her or bring her to Jackson for a couple days. Shannon took summer classes, graduating with a double major in journalism and psychology. After a year or so, she landed a job working for the State of Michigan as a social worker. Applied and was accepted for her Masters degree program in psychology. Which she attained in less than a year. Then she got promoted at the State to Supervisor of foster care. Ari was 6 while Shannon was getting her Masters degree. What I wouldn’t give for a snapshot of them together one day when I walked in for a visit. They were sitting on the couch, facing each other, at opposite ends. Both of them were reading, (well, Shannon was studying). With their toes touching.
|Ari 7, 1998…|
Shannon bought a little house in Lansing. Ari was enrolled in a private elementary school. Shannon fell in love with a guy she knew from Jackson High. He had been playing pro basketball in Europe. He’s the same age as Shannon but graduated 2 years ahead of her when he was 16. Yeah, he’s brilliant. Tracey was teaching in Jackson, so he drove 35 miles to work everyday. A couple years later, he was offered Jackson’s varsity basketball coaching job, along with teaching. Shannon was pregnant with Landon, so they started discussing a move to Jackson. Ari was about 10 and looking forward to being a big sister. Besides, while their little house fit Shannon and Ariana just fine, 6’5″ Tracey filled it up quickly. Landon was a fussy baby, with all kinds of allergies they knew nothing about just yet. So they shopped for a new house in Jackson. We had already moved 150 miles west a bit before Shannon and Tracey were married in 1998.
|Tracey, Ari and Landon, late 2000…|
In 2004, Landon (Drew to the rest of the world) was almost 4 and Shannon was expecting her third child. It was a girl and Ari was delirious with anticipation. At 13, Ariana honestly could not wait for Peyton to be born. The 2 girls have always been very close. Side note. Peyton, now 11 had this conversation with me a couple months ago when the two of us were in their living room together in Jackson.
|Ari and Peyton, 2006…|
Peyton: “gram, you can never do a story on me unless I get to read it first!”
Gram: ” umm, why not Honey?”
Peyton: “well gram, that whole paragraph in Landon’s story about nipples and nursing. I wouldn’t be comfortable unless I get to edit what you write about me.” (My blog post archives, story on “Landon Andrew,” December, 2014)
Gram: “Peyton you realize there’s only a few people who read this blog, and they’re my friends. They’re mostly grandparents and hardly any of them know you, right?”
Peyton: “yup, but I still really need to read and edit what you plan on writing about me beforehand.” Believe it folks!!! Hilarious.
Before Shannon went on maternity leave with Peyton, she applied to start her doctorate program, hoping to get a degree in Clinical and Humanistic Psychology. That’s a mouthful. From the Michigan School for Professional Psychology. An intensive 4 year program. So during the next 4 years, she basically studied from the time the kids went to bed, until 1 or 2 a.m. Slept about 3 hours a night, drove to Detroit daily, raised 3 kids, and worked part-time. Can’t cut Tracey out of this equation either. He schlepped kids back and forth to preschool, doctor appointments, elementary school, the Y, dance class, little league, basketball camps. Plus running his own basketball program, lesson planning at night, baths and bedtime stories. Shannon could do more multitasking with one arm tied behind her back than I’ve been able to do with 4 arms on my best days.
|Ari, sport shooting. Won't let anyone touch her shotgun…|
When you finally reach adulthood, you never really think about getting older. I never did. We were always the young couple on the block with 3 little kids. I can’t ever remember thinking, “wow I can’t wait to be a grandma.” Yet besides my 3 incredible kids, becoming a grandma is the biggest blessing and by far my best and favorite life-time accomplishment. It’s not something you actually plan for. Getting Ariana in my life was a surprise since she was not planned at all. But it was one of the best gifts God ever gave me. Who knew? Well, besides God?
|Ari and me. The Black Hills, 2003…|
This started out as just an Ari story, but morphed into adding the whole Lowder crew. Guess it was sorta the natural order of things. Ari has become a lovely young woman. Inching her way to a degree in early child development. She’d like to have her own preschool someday. You go Ari! She loves a wonderful young man named Josh, and both are happily living their own lives. Although I’m not planning on it, I could very well become a great-grandma in the next few years. Seems young to me, but when I was Ari’s age, I had already become a mom for the second time with Joshua. (Yeah, they are two are different Josh’s. What are the odds in such a small family)? But it’s ok Ari, you can wait a bit longer in becoming a mom and making me a great. Although I’d pretty much like being “great” at anything.
|Ari, Christmas of 1992 with her own Vette…|
I still think of the little girl, playing with her own battery operated Corvette that John bought her in the early 90’s after he got his 1964 Vette. They used to wash them together on the front yard in Jackson. Last summer Ari did a photo session that turned out exquisite. Since the day I laid eyes on those prints, my mantra has been, “a grandma should never be able to use the adjectives, sultry, sexy or risqué in the same sentence as the word granddaughter!” She’s drop dead beautiful when cute, silly, or sexy. And just as sweet as she is pretty.
|Gulp. Sexy, sultry and granddaughter Ari in the same sentence…|
My dearest Ariana, I do not love you any more or less than my other 3 precious grandchildren. It’s just been my blessed privilege to have and love you a lot longer…
|Goofy grands. Ari, Landon, Graham and Peyton, 2013…|