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Welcome to This Awful/Awesome Life! My name is Frances Joyce. I am the publisher and editor of this magazine. We'll be exploring different topics each month to inform, entertain and inspire you. Meet new authors, sharpen your brain and pick up a few tips on life, love, entertaining and business. Enjoy and please share!

Putting Your Children's Bed to Bed Can be Difficult by Jim O'Brien

Kathie and Jim O'Brien with his beloved Dr. J jersey.

Kathie and Jim O'Brien with his beloved Dr. J jersey.

I didn’t want to do it.  Of course, that’s my response to most requests my wife Kathie continues to challenge me with these days.

I am semi-famous and semi-retired, but Kathie isn’t content unless I am doing something she deems productive.  I’m around the house more these days and she gets antsy if I appear to be relaxing.

I love to read newspapers, magazines and books and I am happy to watch CNBC for business news, and ESPN for the latest sports news and analysis, and “Pardon the Interruption” with Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon.

When I was a child my mother’s mantra was “Stay busy and stay out of trouble.”  I think she must have whispered this to Kathie before she died.  Kathie has kept my mother’s mantra very much alive.

Our president would be wise to name Kathie the director of the Department of Labor.  She’d have everyone in this country working in no time.  Unemployment would be less than one per cent.

On this particular day, after I had put up the Christmas lights on the pine trees in front of our home at Kathie’s request and was in need of a nap, she suggested that it was time to get rid of the crib we had kept for 37 years.  Our youngest granddaughter, Susannah, 3 at time, now 9, was no longer sleeping in a crib.  We didn’t need the crib any more.  Margaret, who was 7 and is now 13, had been sleeping in a big bed for years.  Kathie assured me we were not having any more children of our own either.

Sarah, the original occupant of the white crib (May 1974)

Sarah, the original occupant of the white crib (May 1974)

That crib had been in our attic for more than 25 years after we first moved back to Pittsburgh in 1979, and it was put back in action when Sarah had her children.  Some people, I have since learned, keep those cribs in their attics or garages forever.  I think they should be put in glass showcases, like autographed baseballs that Bill Mazeroski or Mickey Mantle signed.

I usually approach most tasks Kathie puts on my “to do” list with the same trepidation and sweating that would be more appropriate if she told me to build some pyramids in our backyard.  “You’re just lazy,” Kathie complains.

 When I argue that I have always been ambitious and hustled to make money, she concedes, “You work hard, but only at what you want to do.”

That helps explain why I prefer to be a free-lancer in the writing game.

Our older daughter, Sarah, age 44, is a doctor in Columbus, Ohio and our younger daughter, Rebecca, 40, is a director of training managers for a restaurant chain in southern California.  Once, when they were both complaining about having to work that weekend, I said, “I have no sympathy for either of you.  I have always worked on weekends.”

To which Rebecca shot back, “Yeah, Dad, but you never had a real job.”

 She had me there.

 In any case, I never boasted that I was a handyman when I was wooing their mother, Kathleen Churchman of White Oak, who was then in her second year of studies in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh.

My father was a machinist at Mesta Machine Company, but we didn’t have a workshop in our home in Hazelwood.  For awhile, we didn’t even have what you’d call a real bathroom.  So he didn’t show me how to fix things in my teen years.  I can boast that I have never crawled under a car to check anything or fix anything, or to do an oil change.

I have one little box in the basement that contains all the tools I require to do little tasks around the house.  I prefer to write and sell another story and use the money to pay someone who knows what they are doing to handle such chores.   But Kathie wanted me to do this and assured me I was up to the task. So I got two different screw drivers and a wrench and went to work to take apart the crib where our two daughters and our granddaughters had slept peacefully for so many years.

Rebecca taking her turn in the crib (December 1977)

Rebecca taking her turn in the crib (December 1977)

The crib was white and wooden and worked fine for all four of its occupants.  My wife recalled that we bought it at Kalinsky’s Furniture Store in Hempstead, New York, about five miles from our home in Baldwin, Long Island.  Hempstead was also where the Nets and then the Islanders played their games, which was my first beat when I went to work at The New York Post.  Our favorite doctor then was Dr. J.  I knew a great photographer at Madison Square Garden named George Kalinsky and he had suggested I check out his family’s store when we needed some children’s furniture.

When Kathie mentioned Kalinsky’s, which I had forgotten about, all of a sudden I could see the interior of the store and us walking around it.  Like it was yesterday.   

We moved to New York in the spring of 1970.  Kathie and I had been married for three years at the time.  We had made the decision not to have any children for at least two years until I could get established in the newspaper field.  It turned out that after we were married for six years we still didn’t have any children.  And, of course, it was my fault.  In truth, it was my fault.

So we applied at a New York City private adoption agency and were all excited when we learned a few months later that we had been approved and would soon be getting a child of our own.  I announced the news to my newspaper friends the next time I covered a game at Madison Square Garden.

Kathie and I started preparing two rooms in our home in anticipation of the approaching arrival.  I was scraping wallpaper off one of the rooms one day, high on a stepladder, when Kathie came into the room and told me she had some good news.

That’s when she told me she had just learned from her doctor that she was pregnant and that she was due to have a baby in September.  I nearly fell off the ladder.  I have been reluctant to go up ladders ever since that wonderful high.

That’s when we went out and bought some children’s furniture, including this white, wooden crib. I can still see Sarah bouncing up and down in that bed, proudly singing, “Now I know my A, B, Cs.”  She was a bit of a showoff.  I can see Rebecca railing about something or another along the railing.  The white crib frames their cherubic faces.

So I wasn’t too happy about having to take that crib apart.  I am challenged whenever I have a screwdriver or hammer in hand in the first place, but it’s especially difficult when your heart feels heavy.  Kathie isn’t sentimental about stuff like that as I am.  That always makes me nervous, too.  I figure the first time I show any weakness or appear the least bit worn-out that I will end up in a cardboard box at the bottom of the driveway on garbage day.

Bill Mazeroski says he cries watching certain commercials on TV, and I can appreciate that.  I’m already saving up tears for the forthcoming royal wedding in London.  I’ll be thinking about Princess Diana and that will do me in.

I recalled that I got weepy whenever I had to get rid of a barbecue grill, recalling all the good times the family had with cookouts on the side porch.  This would be worse, I knew from the start.  I wanted to give the crib to someone who could use it like we did with another bed that belonged to Sarah.  The neighbors took that for their Lisa.  But Kahie told me that the crib didn’t meet current safety standards – something about the white bars being too far apart – so we couldn’t give it to anyone.

I actually took apart the bed in less than a half hour under Kathie’s constant supervision and suggestions on which way to turn the screws.  I put everything at the bottom of the driveway.  I heard the garbage truck pulling up to the curb the next morning, but I hesitated in going to the window to watch the men remove the white headboards, the ones that had the teeth-marks of our children and grandchildren – a sure sign that they had used it well.  I am sure their DNA remains embedded in that bed.

I missed seeing the men toss those white headboards and the bedsprings and such into the belly of that garbage truck.  It’s just as well.  It would have hurt to see that.  Now that crib has joined Jimmy Hoffa in some great landfill in America.

Since then I have checked out Rebecca’s bedroom – it will always be referred to as Rebecca’s bedroom no matter who sleeps there – and it looks empty without that white crib.  Worse yet, all the stuffed animals – the life-size lap dogs I bought, and rabbits and baby dolls – are no longer showcased in that white crib.  They’re on the floor or in the closet.  And they have nowhere to sleep.

Sarah and Margaret and Susannah were coming for Thanksgiving and I was told that the kids would be sharing Rebecca’s bed, and that Sarah would be sleeping in her own bed in which will always be referred to as Sarah’s room.  Christmas is coming and Rebecca will return home from California for that occasion.  Our house is more of a home when they are back here, safe and snug in their beds.  It will take me a while to reconcile that we don’t need the crib anymore.

 Looking for the perfect gift for the sports fan in your family?  Check out Jim O’Brien’s website at and see where he will be signing his books this holiday season.  For further information call him at 412-221-3580.

This article originally appeared in The Senior News under the title,  "Putting Children’s Bed to Bed Proves Difficult."

Photos courtesy of Jim O’Brien


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