2013 brought a flood of changes for the Neitzey family. There was change and growth in my professional life, the fruit of God's blessing on us, as well as with our family. There were some painful lows along the way but those seemed to draw us closer together. The Lord sustained us and encouraged us, helping us to learn to be sober minded and focus on what is right.
The wife and I had a blast partying in the new year at the end of 2012. We had never been to a genuine, no-holds barred new year's party. It's always been lame church activities or low key family hangouts. So this was a first and it was fun! While we sat in the quiet of our home on the first day of the year enjoy the quietness, because the kids were at their grandparents still, our beloved family pet, Max, started to shake and froth.
We thought for sure he was choking and it wasn't going well. But this subsided on our way to the animal hospital. This was the first of a series of seizures which would intensify over the coming days. After trying anti-seizure medication for over a week, he was quite nearly catatonic: and still seizing. We finally acknowledged it was time to throw in the towel and relieve the poor animal from his groaning and travailing. The ladies and I gently loaded him into the van for one last drive. The station which promises to be "positive and encouraging" only made the moment harder by playing the ridiculously sad song "Hallelujah".
While enormously difficult for the whole family, we were at least together. We cried together and comforted each other. We got Maximus as a puppy just over nine years before. He grew up with our kids and kept watch over us day and night. He was incredibly loving and patient with our own kids and intensely fierce towards anyone of whom he was suspicious. I didn't realize how much his presence set my mind at ease while I was gone to work during the days until he was gone.
It was good for the kids to suffer this loss. It had to happen sometime; they had to be introduced to the unyielding and dispassionate reality of Death. Death is sure, taking the righteous and the wicked; even the creation is not safe from its cold grip, but is ever in a state of decay until at last the entire creation will be no more. His passing seemed to herald a more general passing that would be coming through the following year. Our kids cannot remember a time before we had him and now, as even your youngest child was on the verge of adolescence, he passed. The coming year would see the passing of all childhoods in our home. There was no specific point in time where we could say it happened, but it happened, every day through imperceptible changes, each of our children have miraculously morphed into a young man and young ladies.
Fresh on the heels of this blow, my boss at work, whom I much admired and enjoyed working with, resigned. Big changes had already been brewing and this was just the next domino in a series of dominos. After a season of prayer and fasting, I was convinced that I needed to stay the course for the time. I already had in mind to leave the company in the spring, in search of something more suitable for long term employment, so I resolved to stay with that track. Just after the Lord confirmed this decision, my old boss from WSD offered me a position and an exciting vision. He intended to build a section of developers to ramp up the mountain work that needed to be done. This seemed perfect and I was excited to return "home". But he made clear that the process would take time, so I hung on at my current company, trying to weather the ever increasing chaos.
Also during this season, in the dull and ever frozen winter, Daniel persevered through what would end up being his final wrestling season. He put in seven years of grueling and often humbling work. He learned to steel himself and to fight; to not quit and to not be afraid. This last season bore fruit through an undefeated JV season. Technically he had one loss, to the varsity kid on his own team who was in a JV tournament for extra practice. He got to wrestle one varsity match, against the toughest team they faced all season. He was dominant in this match but made one mistake which cost him the match. At the end of the season he was awarded with a varsity letter for his exemplary accomplishment. His final tournament was a National tournament. To make weight he had to lose over 10 lbs! To do this he sat in a sauna and we did some boxing drills. He made weight but the next day was too fatigued to do his best. It was a lackluster finish to a great, though often frustrated, career. Well before this, he was tired of wrestling and preferred to focus on academics. We already miss watching our little Mat Rat!
In the glum and dreary days that proceeded, I had finished researching dog breeds and breeders. By Valentine's Day it was time to pick him up! People, you see, can never be replaced in our lives. But the role of 'family dog' is not the role of a person, but a job to be filled by a dog. We missed Max, but even more my mind was not at ease just at the lack of a dog. So the wife and I travelled to Fulton in mid-February and picked up our newest family member: Leonidas. Leo, for short: the Boarboel. Leonidas, the new front line of family protection. Winter did bring one fun event. A major snowstorm passed through, leaving several feet of snow in all the drifts. The girls and I and our neighbor, Napoleon, spent most of an afternoon building a full-sized igloo. It was so large that the whole family could sit in it! We put some lights in it at night and had a little 'dance party'. Some photos of it even made it into the local news!
Winter slowly gave way to spring, with the constant interruption of arctic blasts. They seemed to come like the lapping of waves against the beech as the tide fleas out to the sea, finally leaving us with warmth. It even snowed on my birthday at the beginning of May. But there was one major blessing during this time: the birth of my new nephew, Kaden! He was very healthy at birth and even sported biceps already.
The weeks prior to my birthday were quite tumultuous at work. The job offer which was made at the beginning of January still had not come to fruition. I had gone through the Byzantine process of waiting for the position to be created and then posted; for sufficient candidates to have applied and been interviewed; to be interviewed myself and then have my background vetted; to receive an offer and then make a counter-offer.
By the beginning of April I had released the pack of recruiters who were licking their chops to place me somewhere. While the City lollygagged, I had missed the bar on promising position at a friend’s company. By the middle of April, as I was awaiting counter offer from the City, I explored another opportunity. These two ran in tandem and it turned into a bit of a bidding war. I agonized over the decision, feeling the choice was between my future and my friends. In the end, after getting counsel from some unexpected places, I saw what I needed to do and had to renege on accepting a position with the City. This hurt one of my best friendships, but only for a short while. So I started this new job on my birthday. After a short two weeks of frenetic activity at the old place, I was ready for the new place and I loved it right away. But really- a snow storm?! The wife and I ate at Fud, since I was still vegan at this point, and we loved it.
The snow melted quick enough; the puppy grew at a ridiculous rate; the kids wrapped up school and the wife and I celebrated our 18th anniversary with a nice meal of modern sushi. My dad and his wife came out over Memorial Day weekend to visit my new nephew and celebrate Rebekah's birthday. Her birthday was a bit awkward in one regard, because my sister in law and her husband had separated. He decided to show up for part of the party. In June I had my hernia repaired and began the agonizing, eternal process of recuperating. It was nice to have health insurance again! The boy was also able to get some much needed physical therapy for his hip to recover from a wrestling injury that was now three years old.
This down-time gave me the opportunity to shore up plans for a whirlwind family vacation over the 4th of July weekend. An opportunity for us to host a high school student opened up for us, as well. Ignacio arrived from Spain on his birthday in late June and a few days later we were crammed into the van for one last road trip to Leesburg, Va.
We drove all through the night and arrived safely at my sister Jen's huge and beautiful home. The first day we just crashed; the second day we adventured into DC and visited the Smithsonian Natural Science museum, camped outside in the National Mall and watched fireworks over the Washington (phallic) monument.
We took another day of rest and visited historic old towne Leesburg. The next morning we were off to Gettysburg for the grand finale of our trip: the hugest battlefield reenactment of our times! I greatly enjoyed watched the troops marshal to their positions. Square streams of men, moving in unison and each square crowned by glimmering steel spikes, moving to the sound of fief and drum, would arrange in rows to present their arms and fire. Speeches were given as sweat poured from the mock troops and dust kicked up by boots, hooves and wheels coated everything like a veil. This martial symphony shook the ground and filled the air, as did the smell of gun smoke, horses and dust. Oppressive heat and humidity completed the stage perfectly for an hour long cannonade followed by thousands of actors charging the mock-battlefield. Although the family generally resisted the idea of doing this, we all shared a sense of awe at the scale and reality of this show. From there we returned home in what was one of the most brutal and exhausting travel experiences of m life. We were so glad to make it home!
Our Spanish guest was quiet but he seemed to be eating up the familial atmosphere. There was some moderate tension between him and our son, which was disappointing, but they sincerely tried to work things out. They got a bit of break for one week while Daniel went to law camp at Washburn. He absolutely loved it . Ignacio really seemed to enjoy cooking with me. On Ignacio's last night with us, we prepared an entire table full of tapas, as best we could, and had an excellent time together by the fire on an unseasonably cool July night. The next day as he left, my wife saw tears in his eyes. We were glad to know the time meant something to him too.
During June we also wrapped up another swim season. The gap between our own kids and the ones that swim year round became more apparent, but it was still mostly for fun. Rebekah continued to improve at the IM. Next year will hopefully be a bit better since the girls will be at the older end of their brackets.
Our security team at church took a big step this summer. In June we had our first training session with a pro. This ended with pepper spray training which horrendous. But it really surprised me how this built trust and camaraderie between all of our guards. At least the ones that participated. We had a follow up a couple months later to learn how to use baton and another one just for fun, using basic grappling techniques to restrain a person. We have come a long ways from the days of just hanging out aimlessly on the front stoop.
We got some more good news this summer as my other sister in law announced her pregnancy. Later we'd find out it's a little girl. It will be exciting to have another little one in our midst!
The beginning of August meant preparing for life as normal. Swim season was over and our guest was gone; Judo and violin lessons started up in earnest; and as the kids began school so did the puppy. The honeymoon phase of work was over and it became increasingly difficult to adjust to the ridiculously unnecessary complexity of our systems as well as one of the more challenging personalities. But God's grace was sufficient and by October things seemed like they were starting to "click" for me at work.
As summer frivolity faded, a new reality entered the family. My sister in law's divorce was final. Even now, as he has taken a new woman with the intent to marry, and has every appearance of an adulterous relationship, it is proving to be rough to navigate at times.
At the end of September, I got to take Elisa to the Walnut Valley Festival for a couple of days. She performed beautifully in the fiddling competition and it was such an interesting place. But most of all I enjoyed spending the time with my almost grown up little girl and watching her do something she truly excels at. She also has been very consistent in taking Judo and fought in a couple of tournaments this fall. It hasn't clicked for her yet but she really seems to enjoy it, so I'm sure it will come.
Throughout the late summer and fall Rebekah and I ran about twice a week. Often we ran on the trail in the woods which is very challenging but fun. She really progressed: she was barely able to finish two miles of flat, paved trail at 12 min/mile and at the best point we were running 5k's, of rough trail, at less than 10 min/mile. We've had a hard time being consistent with the onset of winter, but we're trying.
By November, Leo and I graduated from obedience training. He is now able to recall, at a distance, and go down on recall. He's also able to sit and to heel, and when he's been practicing, is pretty fluid with all of his commands. But despite his size, he had not yet developed enough of an adult nature to do any protection work. So that will have to wait to next year. In the end I think I learned more about myself as a leader and coach than the dog did about obedience. Although I found it to be often humbling, I am grateful for the opportunity to improve in such a critical part of my life.
The really cold weather returned just ahead of the holidays. Despite being down one family member, we had a great time. My wife's family came up from New Orleans and we had an awesome time visiting with her family for days, cooking and touring parts of KC even we don't get to often. The week following, the wife and I headed to Smithville and Lathrop for a day of CCW training. A few weeks before this we spent a day shopping for an appropriate tool for this task and settled on a Beretta Nano. She really took to this and soon selected a holster and started doing trigger control and drawing drills on her own. As of this New Year we are still awaiting the final callback to approve our 00 licenses.
It was a short time until Christmas. We barely got gifts in time (my wife's gift was still on order!) and didn't even decorate. Except for Rebekah, who really stepped up and set up tree. She deserves a special elf award or something. In fact both of my daughters put in a phenomenal amount of work to help me repaint the basement over a few nights! That next weekend we enjoyed a LOTR marathon with some close friends.
We spent New Year's Eve with some close friends, for a low-key family. It was a less exciting way to end the year, but after this year I ready for some calmness. Now we get a few days of rest and contemplation for the days ahead. The river of time looks to be just as rough ahead as it was behind, but I know that our God is good: everything will be fine and we are just along for the ride. I am a leaf upon the wind.