Last May, the Buettners, of Belleville, were busy with three graduations.
Renee got her degree in nursing from Indiana State University in Terre Haute. Aaron received his diploma from St. Louis University High School, and Kayla, from Cathedral Grade School. Sibling Kevin, 20, is a junior at University of Tulsa, and Megan, 24, is mentally disabled.
The Buettners are still as busy as ever. A week before Christmas, the graduates stopped long enough to talk about what they've been doing.
Aaron, 19, just finished his first semester at Maryville University in St. Louis where he's studying physical therapy.
"Mom says I have too much fun." he said.
Why woudn't she? He tells stories of golf in the hallways and scootering around the parking lot.
How does college compare with high school?
"It seems to be a lot easier, at least the first couple years will be," he said. "I brought in credits from high school."
Aaron has new friends.
"Most of campus knows me, I feel, in a good way -- at least the rest of the freshman class."
And a new sport.
"I found we can play knee hockey in the (dorm) conference room by turning eight tables on their sides to make a rink. We use nets and hockey sticks. It's pretty fun."
While on break, Aaron's exercise ranged from wrapping presents to cleaning gutters. The day before he had applied for a hospital job as a physical therapy tech. "Other than that, I am waiting for the Cardinals to come back."
Aaron also ushers at Busch Stadium.
"I miss him a lot," said mom Denise. "It's very, very quiet here."
But her oldest, Megan, and youngest, Kayla, are still around. Aaron and Renee are close enough to come by for church, a family dinner or to help out.
Kayla, a freshman at Cor Jesu High School in St. Louis, was wrapping up exams. Despite a 40-minute commute each way and plenty of homework, Kayla likes her high school choice.
"Chemistry was a little tough, but other than that, I can't complain," she said. "It's all girls. I can just be who I am. I absolutely love it."
"Biology. ... The teacher is good and I understand it."
"Tell her about your poem." said Renee.
"I wrote a poem about cellular respiration and photosynthesis instead of a quiz."
Here's how it begins:
"As I am sitting here at home alone
Trying to write a really good poem
I am releasing carbon dioxide ito the air.
Studying cellular respiration, while sitting in a chair."
Renee, a nurse at Children's Hospital in St. Louis, knows all about respiration. She works in the intensive care unit, a job she has had since September.
"I work with kids from four days to 23 years, so I never know what I am going to get or what type of day it's going to be.
"I have only one or two patients every day, depending on how sick they are. I have the first shift on my own Tuesday. I'm a little nervous, but no matter which way you look, there is someone there to lend you a hand."
Sometimes, the hand she lends is to have some fun.
"I get to do things in a kid's world, like play with minion toys.
And keep her young patients as comfortable as she can.
"They're in the hospital, but every day doesn't have to feel like a day in the hospital."
Some patients stay a few hours. Others are there two or three weeks. It's easy to become attached.
"There have definitely been hard times," said Renee, "but there's a lot of good and a lot of hope in the unit, too. I couldn't imagine myself anywhere else."
She works three 12-day shifts a week, sometimes days, sometimes nights.
"So far, it's not too bad," said Renee. "We will see in six months what my body says. ... On days you work, you eat sleep and work. That's all you do. I like it. You get four days off the rest of the week."
Because Renee worked Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, her family celebrated on Dec. 26.
She now lives in a St. Louis apartment with a cat named Jade.
"I did a little research, and found an old, but modern bulding with huge brick walls inside," she said. "It's in the heart of downtown, next to the stadium."
That came in handy for Aaron.
"I slept there the week of the World Series," he said. "The next morning I'd drive back to school and take her to work on my way."