Archive for the ‘Portraits of Family’ Category
If you drive up the road a bit from our home in Alpine, Utah, you can find the homestead of a pioneer legend, John R. Moyle. He was one of the first pioneers to settle this area, and the city has preserved parts of his original home in a quiet little park where you can visit and learn more about him.
His story was told by Jeffrey R. Holland, an apostle of the LDS church, during a session of our general conference. Here is an excerpt:
“John R. Moyle lived in Alpine, Utah, about 22 miles as the crow flies to the Salt Lake Temple, where he was the chief superintendent of masonry during its construction. To make certain he was always at work by 8 o’clock, Brother Moyle would start walking about 2 A.M. on Monday mornings. He would finish his work week at 5 P.M. on Friday and then start the walk home, arriving there shortly before midnight. Each week he would repeat that schedule for the entire time he served on the construction of the temple.
Once when he was home on the weekend, one of his cows bolted during milking and kicked Brother Moyle in the leg, shattering the bone just below the knee. With no better medical help than they had in such rural circumstances, his family and friends took a door off the hinges and strapped him onto that makeshift operating table. They then took the bucksaw they had been using to cut branches from a nearby tree and amputated his leg just a few inches below the knee. When against all medical likelihood the leg finally started to heal, Brother Moyle took a piece of wood and carved an artificial leg. First he walked in the house. Then he walked around the yard. Finally he ventured out about his property. When he felt he could stand the pain, he strapped on his leg, walked the 22 miles to the Salt Lake Temple, climbed the scaffolding, and with a chisel in his hand hammered out the declaration “Holiness to the Lord.”
In honor of John Moyle, the youth of our local ward, or church congregation, made a trek last Saturday, walking from our home in Alpine to the Salt Lake City temple. I joined the youth, including my 12-year old son, Hunter, in the long walk to Salt Lake.
This afternoon one of my Halloween decorations mysteriously lost its two front legs: a cute little kitty, now permanently crippled because the ceramic paws are completely shattered. My first thought when I found it, sitting in its usual place, with all its bits and pieces lined up beside it, was ‘Why do I bother with decorations when I have four kids running around the house?’ My second thought was, ‘Who did this?’
So I began questioning my children. Surprisingly, not a single one of them admitted to breaking the Halloween cat. One of them tried to blame the dog, but our little Westie couldn’t have reached the shelf where it had been on display. Another one of them tried to blame Dad (never a wise move). So I let the case rest.
Until tonight when we sat down to dinner. A surprise development occurred when I asked my eleven year old to bless our food. ”Dear Heavenly Father,” he prayed, “Please bless the food. And please bless us that we can talk about the things that are upsetting or troubling us.”
“Thank you, Hunter,” I said when he had finished his blessing. I was little worried about that last part, though, so I turned to the rest of the family and asked. ”Does anyone have anything that is troubling or upsetting you that you want to talk about?”
“Yes,” said Pierce, my five-year-old, waving his hand up in the air.
“What is it?”
“I don’t like this dinner.”
“Okay,” I said. ”Anyone else?”
Hunter looked at me, his face all trouble and concern. ”I broke the cat, Mom,” he said. ”I didn’t mean to.”
He probably expected me to be mad. It was a cute little kitty. But I couldn’t be angry. Because I was looking at his face, and seeing all that trouble and concern, and it made me much sadder than a broken Halloween decoration. I put my arms around him and kissed the top of his head. I was so grateful that I could make all that guilt and sadness go away, just by forgiving him. And so grateful that he would tell me what had happened so that I could forgive him. ”Next time tell me right when it happens, okay?” I said.
“Okay,” he said.
And I hope he will.
Lucky. That is how I felt today when I dropped my four year old off for preschool. He stopped on his way to the door, turned around, shouted, “I love you, Mom,” and blew me a kiss.
The little things do it every time – make me realize how wonderful life really is. That little kiss, sent to me across the chilly February air, blew away a thousand thoughts and concerns that have been pressing on me lately, most of them concerning the word MORE.
That word, ‘more’, has been such a burden lately. I need to lose more weight. I need more fashionable clothes. I need to finish more of my book. I need my house to look more put together. I’ve been so focused on what I don’t have, and that little kiss brought it back to me: the remembrance of all the things I do have. All the little, tiny, precious, priceless things.
As I drove away, feeling lighter than I have in a while, I thought about the word more, and what I really need more of: more gratitude, more patience, more love, more doing good for others, more fun with my family, more laughing, more smiling, more hugs, and more, more, more feathery kisses blowing my way on light and lucky breezes.
I’ve kept a journal for as long as I can remember. It’s a habit my mom started me on. Sunday afternoons she would hand us each our hard back, blank-paged book, our name engraved on the front, and instruct us to write something about our week. Most of my early entries were catalogs of which VHS movie we rented from Albertson’s for our weekly movie night (we rented the VCR, too) and what candy I picked to go with it. I must have really loved those movie nights.
As I got older I turned to my journal more often than Sunday afternoons, and began writing in order to make sense of my life and my feelings, like this entry from 1988: “I’m in the 6th grade right now and everything is really confusing. I don’t want to grow up sometimes.” (Don’t you just want to give that poor girl a hug and tell her everything will be okay?)
Now I am a journal enthusiast. I have journals for every trip I’ve taken, journals for each of my kids, a journal about mothering, a journal to record my spiritual journey through life, and a journal I just started where I try to write one super-positive, self-affirming statement every morning. I feel a little silly about that last one, but I’m telling you, it really makes a difference.
I also have a journal that I share with my daughter, Hattie. We hand it back and forth to each other, taking turns writing messages to each other on its secret pages. Most of Hattie’s entries start and end with, “I love you.” One even says, “I love you so much. Even better than the stars.” But last week she broke the mold with this little missive:
STOP YELLING AT ME!
Wow. Point taken. I had been yelling too much. Not just at her – at everybody. Now I had a whole new reason to be grateful for our little journal. It gave her the chance to share her feelings with me, even when they were negative. At different points throughout the journal I had offered small suggestions or corrections to her behavior, and now she was offering one to mine. I was definitely humbled. Especially when a few minutes later she stole the journal away and amended the page to read:
I’m sorry. I’ll forgive you. But can you forgive me?
I have so much to learn from her. Of all the journals I have kept over the years, I already know this one will be my most priceless. The others I have stacked away in bins and boxes, but this one will always be close by. I hope it will continue to grow and change, just like my little girl. Her birthday is this week. I can’t believe how big she is getting. She is so excited to be in the spotlight. Her last entry in the journal reads,
One more day til my birthday. Well, I guess one and a half, to be more pacific.
I come from a family of eight. Two brothers, three sisters, and two parents. I adore them all. Last year my youngest sister started a birthday tradition among us. On (or near) the day of our birthdays, everyone in the family sends a ‘tribute’ email, saying one thing they admire or appreciate about us. It is wonderful being the recipient of these thoughtful messages, but just as nice is reading what people have to say when it is someone else’s birthday. Recently it was my oldest sister’s birthday, and my brother sent out his birthday tribute. This is an excerpt of what he said:
“She was not born a patient one, but yet is the most faithfully patient person I know.”
When I first read this I laughed, remembering all the family trips and outings when I would hear her voice from the backseat of our big chevy van asking, “When are we going to eat?” But my laughter quickly turned to tears as I thought about all that my sister has accomplished over the years, and the hardships she has endured. She is an amazing example of faith and perseverence. I grew even more emotional as I thought about each member of my family. I have seen so much patience in the midst of hardships. Were any of us born with natural patience to help us weather our storms? Maybe.
Sometimes I approach life thinking I am limited. I have certain traits and attributes to get me where I want to go, but where I lack the needed attributes – discipline, focus, patience, I’m afraid I will fail. Thinking about my sister made me realize that with work and perseverence I can grow and develop the traits I need to help me reach my goals. It helped me see in a very clear way that life, in so many ways, is a process of growth and development. It takes time. It takes work. But it fills me with hope knowing that I can aspire to be the person I want to be, even if she sometimes seems beyond my reach.
The best part of the summer for my kids is when we pack up the van and drive to Boise to get some special loving from Babbo, Nana, aunts, uncles, and lots and lots of cousins. We don’t sleep much, but we have a lot of fun. On our recent trip, my dad planned a special outing for the aunts and uncles – me and my sisters and brothers. He took the six of us to lunch. I can’t remember the last time all of us were together like that. It was so nice to talk and laugh, and just look at the faces across the table and feel the special bond of family.
While we were talking, my dad mentioned an uncle of his. “Which uncle?” we wanted to know. “The one who doesn’t eat sugar? The one who lives alone?” My brother, who was sitting at my left, leaned toward me to say, “I wonder which uncle I’ll be.”
Two days later this same brother showed up at my mom’s house with a box full of wooden dowels, a sander, glue guns and glue sticks, paint, paint brushes, glazes and sealants. He asked his nieces and nephews what kind of magic wands they preferred and spent the day sanding, sculpting, and painting, making the most amazing Harry Potter wands you will ever see. My kids were thrilled. They performed magic spells up and down the backyard the rest of the evening and far into the afternoon the next day. They brought their wands home and stowed them away in special and secret places until magic is called for again. I have a feeling the wands will become heirlooms, passed through generations with stories of their magic charms, spells cast and counter-cast, enemies defeated, and tricks performed.
And I am fairly certain that as my kids grow and have kids of their own, my brother Ryan will be a special uncle to them all. Which uncle will he be? The Magic Uncle. The Wand-maker. The Wizard.
The lilacs are blooming, the creek that runs past our house is swelling with a fast-moving swirl of cold mountain run off, and the sounds from the schoolyard are growing more and more exuberant. Summer is coming.
Slowly. The air is still a little too cool. The list of to-do’s a little too long. But we are all taking a deep breath and holding it. Waiting for school to end and for lazy summer mornings to settle in; afternoons out of doors with popsicles melting in our hands; evenings surrounded by scrub oak, riding through the foothills on our bikes.
But before we say goodbye to the school year, I have to stop and reflect on how much my kids have grown since last August. The new shoes I bought them don’t fit anymore, the pants have long since worn through at the knee. My ten year old, especially, has grown to a whole new person – tall, smart, and confident. He has had a great year. I’ve saved a letter he wrote to me back in January, for his parent-teacher conference. I thought it said so much about his year as a fourth grader, and his thoughtfulness. It gives a sweet savor to the year’s end.
School is going great! I feel like I am improving in math and other subjects. Even though I am learning so much there are some things I need to improve, like staying on task and working more quickly.
At recess I mostly play tag but on Tuesday it was great to see you at the Book Fair!
Lunch is great too, thanks for making home lunch for me. It is funny what conversations we have at the lunch table.
I love the times when you come to teach writing!
Yesterday we drove away from the snow and cold to spend our Spring Break in sunny southern Utah. We found a cozy little condo in Moab and plan to spend the week out-of-doors as much as possible. We have a geologist with us, who loves to read about the different types of sandstone and how they are all affected differently by erosion. He is constantly pointing out the striations in the rock formations. We have a naturalist, too. She is on the lookout for lizards and chipmunks, and loves rubbing her fingers in soft juniper needles and smelling the sweet and pungent scent they leave. If none of the native animal species present themselves, she is just as happy greeting every dog we encounter at lookout points and parking lots. We also have an explorer. He loves the slickrock, and will run, jump, or ride off any ledge he encounters on the trail. He likes to walk up to the very edge of cliffs and drop-offs, “to see the bottom” of the stony mesas and canyons. He is on the verge of giving me a heart attack. And last, we have our own little wild thing. He answers to the very call of nature, as unpredictable as the weather. One minute he is as destructive as a tornado (he thought the cairns on the side of the trail were put there for him to knock over), the next he is sleeping in his booster seat, as immovable as a glacier.
It is going to be a fun week!
In last week’s post I promised more discussion about my failed attempt to finish my novel by January 24th. Like I said, I’m happy with the way the revisions are going, but in February I wasn’t feeling quite so optimistic about it. I have been working on this novel for YEARS. It has grown and developed so much, but it has also spanned all the years of my motherhood. In fact, when I started with my first critique group I missed our inaugural meeting because my oldest child had just been born. At the time, I was workshopping the same manuscript I am working on today, and in February, that newborn baby turned ten years old.
When his birthday arrived, I was already feeling like a failure for not finishing my novel. Now I began to mourn the fact that my baby had become such a big boy. Time felt like a weight on my shoulders. I didn’t seem to have any control over it. I wanted to stop the rush of years, get my book done, and hold on tight to my little ones before they all grew up.
About that time, my parents came into town and invited me to a Utah Jazz basketball game. I brought my oldest son with me, and we had fun eating nachos and cheering with the crowd. Then something entirely unexpected happened. At half-time a group of dancers came to the floor. They wore long tops and pants, and most of them had white, permed hair. They were announced as Jean’s Golden Girls, ranging between 50-93 years old. Between them they had 500 children, 1200 grandchildren, and 250 great-grandchildren. The music started, and those women started to shake and shimmy like you’ve never seen.
It took my breath away. I watched them give everything to the dance, smiles on their faces. I whooped and screamed, delighted at their performance, their joie de vivre, and suddenly I was crying. Tears streaming down my face in the middle of a loud, hot, crowded basketball stadium. I seriously wondered if I was losing my mind. I tried wiping my eyes before my mom could see and wonder about my mental health, but I just couldn’t watch those ladies without a profound emotion welling up from deep inside.
By the time their six minutes on the court had ended, something inside me had changed. I didn’t think of time in the same way – as something finite that was rushing past me, ever elusive. I saw it now as a gift to be enjoyed. Celebrated. Used for living, writing, mothering, dancing. The fear that time would pass me by no longer pressed down on me, and when the show ended with a ninety-three year old woman doing the splits in center court, I cheered louder than anyone else in the stadium.
That was over a month ago, and the weight is still diminished. I continue to ask myself, ‘Will I ever get my novel finished?’ but I know I will. Maybe not in the time frame I would like, but I am committed to it, and I will finish it. It is also true that my children will grow up much faster than I would like. And it will break my heart and make me happier than I can imagine all at the same time. But I’m going to try not to worry too much about deadlines or driver’s ed. I’m going to try and enjoy the dance.
I’m back. Sadly I haven’t finished my re-writes, so no, I didn’t enter the contest at Amazon, but I have been happy with the way my revisions are re-shaping my novel and will continue working on it. More on that later. For now, a quick post from a conversation I just had with my daughter.
Hattie comes home from school every day, anxious to recount every drama large or small from the life of an eight year old girl. The recess slights, the classroom mistakes – she worries over it all. She worries because she is trying so hard to be be good – to always say the right thing and to be friends with everyone. But sometimes that is hard. People, after all, can be very irritating, and Hattie, like the rest of us, isn’t perfect. Today she followed me into the laundry room and confessed, “If people knew what I was thinking, everyone would hate me.”
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I don’t know what it was. Her frankness, maybe. Or that sweet look on her face indicating that she thought she was the only one who could ever be so positively wicked. I gave her a big hug and told her she wasn’t alone. And then, in one of those coincidences that don’t ever seem to be purely happenstance, I remembered something I read this morning in an article entitled, “Looking for the Good,” by Dieter F. Uchtdorf.
I told Hattie that we all have good and bad inside of us. If we look for the good things in people, we’ll find it. If we look for the bad, the bad is what we’ll find. What we need to do is try and look for the good, and hopefully, others will do the same for us. I know I’d be in big trouble if people tried to find my bad qualities, because there are more than I would care to admit! (And my daughter probably knows that better than anyone.)
Hattie seemed reassured by our conversation. The concern left her face, making room for all her freckles and a conspiratorial smile. I was glad that at least this time, I had the right thing to say.