Do you remember 1985? The eighties were a very strange time in America. We were still finding our way into the modern world. Disco was dead but the hair wasn’t. Ronald Reagan was sworn in for his second term. Microsoft launched Windows 1.1 and Nintendo introduced NES game system. We still bought our music on 12” vinyl but the CD was making inroads and the 8 Track had died a merciful death. Ford rolled out the Taurus, a futuristic car destined for best-selling status for the next decade. Actors Yul Brynner and Rock Hudson died that year and so did Orson Welles. Among notable births were Olympian Michael Phelps, F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton, and pop singer Zac Hanson.
And a princess was born.
Let me explain. I was sitting on the floor of my living room in Washington, DC in the first house Diana and I lived in (400 square feet – no kidding). I was praying late at night when I without doubt or reservation heard a clear voice inside tell me Diana was pregnant. Now I don’t want to be presumptuous and say God spoke to me but, well, God spoke to me. So I went and told my sleeping wife that she was pregnant and she laughed it off. Until a few weeks later. I was sitting on the lawn of the White House (yes, that White House – no kidding) for the Easter Egg Roll and Diana came out to tell me that she had tested positive. We were pregnant (well, her more than me) and I was not surprised – remember that God thing – but I was elated. We were having a baby!!!
So Diana ballooned up with a still-unknown-son-or-daughter (we never knew our kids sex until birth) and we got ready for the increase in family size. We moved up to a bigger place. She got some bigger clothes and so did I. We enrolled in Lamaze to learn how to do this thing. And we waited.
The morning of December 4th dawned as usual. Diana was up and about early, watching reruns of Petticoat Junction, when she came and told me to get ready. I moved about with little sense of urgency, we dropped Jeremy off at a friend’s as planned, drove to Andrews Air Force Base a couple exits up the beltway, parked the car, went in. And had a baby. I mean right now – on the table, legs up, push, plop. One baby. And a dang nice one at that. If I knew it was this easy…
We had bandied about many names. Since we already had a Jeremy Gibbs Fleshman we decided (we being Diana) that this baby would be JG as well. I was pushing hard for Jupiter Gwendolyn but I lost out and Jennifer Grace Fleshman was noted on the birth certificate. Jennifer sounded nice at the time (as it turns out it was the most popular girl name that year) and Grace spoke of the gift from God we were promised and given. So we went home with our little princess.
Jennifer quickly became Princess Jennifer, much to her brother’s chagrin I’m sure. The title actually came about while we were prancing her naked around after a bath and we were all singing “Here comes Princess Jennifer”. Don’t you wish we had a picture of that… wait, I think we do!
In the passage of time the child grew under my expert tutelage (we had decided that I would stay home instead of Diana – we being me). She was nurtured with all homemade baby food. We used (and washed) cloth diapers. The clock ticked around her schedule and really that is how she became a true Princess. But not in a demanding, high strung way. Jennifer was a pleasant and agreeable baby.
And she became a pleasant and agreeable girl. She had a thirst for learning at an early age. With the influence of Sesame Street and an Early Childhood Picture Bible she taught herself to read. She devoured books through all stages of her childhood, was wildly creative, and precocious, but not in a demanding, high strung way. When Jennifer started school there was no wailing or gnashing of teeth (except maybe by her mom). She was ready to go to the next level. And the next. Elementary School came and went, with much adulation and many awards, and Middle School too. Interesting note about Middle School and a true indication of her character. When given the choice of P.E. (which required dressing out in public locker rooms – no place for a princess) or band Jennifer embraced the flute, setting the stage for all the remaining JG Fleshmans to follow in. Which led of course to High School and marching band. And eight loooong years for us as band parents.
Continuing the pattern set early in life Jennifer went away to college at MTSU. And the years of intellectual incubation paid off. Again without a whimper (except maybe by her dad) she left home and forged ahead establishing her own life, taking care of business, learning to be an adult. And relishing an environment of books and learning and activities. Four years later – on time – Jenn graduated with Honors, Magna Cum Laude, from MTSU Honors College with a degree in English.
And then three weeks later she was married. Now this is important for many reasons. Jennifer was and is a very private, shy, inward person. But she is also focused and highly motivated. When she wants to accomplish something she does – that princess thing again – and she intended to get out of school and start living as an independent, functioning adult. Which brings joy to my heart as that is the very essence of our parenting plan and purpose. Fortunately she found a qualified and willing partner for that endeavor but that’s another story. I am sure he has found out first hand why she is Princess Jennifer…
So my intention wasn’t to tell a history of Jennifer but rather to convey her essence. And I guess her history is her essence. Jennifer is a high quality individual, thoughtful and kind, helpful and good. And not in a high strung, demanding way. She thinks and reads and studies and understands and applies all that to who she is. Her first read was the Bible and I am sure that had a little to do with her character. She demands truth and expects justice and has little room for people who refuse to think. Her friends would tell you she is funny and knows how to have a good time, the perfect hostess in a classic American 60s TV kind of way. She enjoys activities and events for the sake of them – Christmas for the joy and color of the season, her birthday for the fun of growing older, neither because of the presents. And if you have become her friend you have achieved a great thing because now you get to be a part of all that and she will be loyal to that friendship till the end of time. Just ask Tabitha.
It is far from over, this bio of a princess. Jennifer will likely never have enough education. She is laboring now to finish her Master’s Degree in Creative Writing at UTC and just finished her first novel, a 55,000 word assignment for the degree. A selection of short stories is to follow. And the beauty of her experiences and learning is her astounding ability to turn those things into powerful and delicious and deep and wondrous words on a page. It is surely just a matter of time before the world gets to enjoy her writing as much as I do.
I hate to make someone else’s birthday about me but it is hard not to think that if you raise your kids, parent on purpose, give them opportunity, love them, scold them, challenge them, supply the tools, bring some wonder into their lives, nurture their souls and incubate their talents – and then demand they leave the nest and fly into their own lives – they will soar. Today we celebrate Jennifer’s birthday but it causes me to pause and feel warm and thankful and satisfied that maybe, just maybe, I did something right in life.
So Happy Birthday Jennifer Grace Fleshman. I am more than proud – I am in awe of who you have become, what you have accomplished, how you turned out. And I wait expectantly for what comes next – remember, I heard it from God – and am sure that, true to your calling, you will reign over your life.
I hope the world is ready because “Here Comes Princess Jennifer.”