Archive for the ‘family’ Tag
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.
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.
Clearly I am no videographer, but on Friday we took a trip to Wonderland, and here is what we brought back:
I just returned from a four day trip to Cincinatti, Ohio with my eight year old daughter. Our reason for taking the trip was to visit some old friends of mine from Italy who are here in the United States seeking medical treatment for their six-year old son. While in Cincinatti, they are staying at the Ronald McDonald House. They are well taken care of by the volunteers at the McDonald House, and by the nurses, doctors, social workers and translators at the hospital. But they don’t know anyone in Ohio, and don’t speak any English, so I took my daughter with me to spend some time with them, and to give them what moral support I could.
A few days before I was scheduled to leave for Ohio, I received a phone call from a woman in Cincinatti. Her name was Lisa. She had taken my friends under her wing, picking them up at the airport when they arrived, visiting them in the hospital, arranging trips to the Cincinatti Zoo for them, and bringing them to her home for dinner and respite. She knew their case worker at the hospital, was working with the Italian Embassy in Detroit on some problems they were having with their paperwork, and knew every detail of their son’s medical history and current treatment. The reason she called me was to invite my daughter and I to stay with her and her family in their home during our visit to Cincinatti. I accepted her invitation.
During our time with Lisa and her family, my daughter and I were given soft beds to sleep in and warm breakfasts made from scratch. Lisa’s nine and eleven year old daughters immediately adopted my daughter as a special friend. They pushed two twin beds together so she could “sleepover” with them. They shared silly stories with her and taught her how to play badminton. “Mom,” my daugther said to me, “They are so nice. And they never fight.”
I was equally impressed. Every night the family invited us to join them for family prayer. They played games together, happily drawing us in to share in the fun. Lisa’s home was spotless, even while taking classes at a nearby university and baking chocolate chip cookies for her daughter’s soccer team, which she helped coach. One night I asked if I could help do the dishes and she cheerfully replied, “dishes are no big deal.”
This was a family that had made service a fundamental part of their lives. They did it naturally, cheerfully, and tirelessly. Over and over during my time with them I thought of this passage from the 25th chapter of the gospel of Matthew.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kindgdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
My daughter and I were complete strangers to Lisa and her family. Our Italian friends were strangers to them as well. But that didn’t matter. She took all of us in, fed us and cared for us. I remain so touched and grateful for all that she did and is doing for me and for my friends. I know I’ll never be able to pay her back, but I do hope that the next time I have the opportunity to help a stranger, I will remember her example and do my best to clothe, feed, and care.
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!
This morning my five-year old, Sawyer, reached into the pockets of the pants he had just put on and found two tarnished pennies.
“Look, Mom!” he shouted, holding the pennies up for me to see. “I am so, so lucky!”
Two pennies. I tried to muster some enthusiasm for him. “Wow, Sawyer! That is great!” But truthfully, I was much more impressed by his excitement than I was by the two cents he held in his hand.
Sawyer went off to kindergarten and was back home again a couple of hours later. While I was fixing him lunch, the phone rang. It was the darling quilt shop near my home, American Quilting, calling to tell me that I had just won a $100.00 shopping spree at their store. Me! I never win anything! And as far as prizes go, this one was as good as it gets. My favorite place to go shopping (besides a good book store) is a cute quilt shop!
Sawyer watched me dance around the kitchen after I hung up the phone and asked, “Why are you yelling, Mom?”
“I just won a hundred dollars!”
His eyes widened in disbelief. Talk about lucky! “How?” he asked.
“They picked my name out of a drawing at the quilt store. I get a gift certificate to spend $100.00 there.”
His expression completely changed. He stared at me like I had lost my mind. “Not cool, Mom.” That is what he said: “Not cool.”
He was as geniunely unimpressed by my $100.00 quilting shopping spree as I was by his $0.02. I had to laugh at that. I finished slicing his apples. Let him stir the mac ‘n’ cheese. And I thought about good luck, and how really, when it comes down to it, it is all just a matter of perspective.
I missed posting yesterday because I fell asleep as soon as my kids were in bed. Derek and I took a quick trip to New York over the weekend and had to get up at 4:30 in the morning yesterday (2:30 a.m. here in Utah) to fly back home. The reason for our weekend get-away was the marriage of one of Derek’s college friends, an old fraternity brother of his.
The wedding was held in Bridgeport, Connecticut, at the Rodeph Sholom synagogue and was a conservative Jewish ceremony. It began with the Tish and the Bedeken. For the Tish, or “Groom’s Table”, male friends and family of the groom, or Hatan, gathered in a room to rejoice before the ceremony.
Many of Derek’s fraternity brothers and their spouses attended the wedding, but the groom is the only one of the group who is Jewish. When we were instructed to separate – men in one room and women in the other, there were a few stiff smiles from the women in the group – incredibly talented and successful doctors, surgeons, attorneys and businesswomen. I realized that it is unusual in our society to segregate ourselves in this way. But once the men had left for the Tish, and the women remained in the Bedeken to await the arrival of the bride, there was a change in the room. To me it felt like a lightness. A pause. Women turning to each other as women. When the bride arrived, glowing in her beautiful gown, it was like being in a room full of light.
Once the bride, or Kallah, had greeted her friends and family, she sat at one end of the room and waited for the groom to arrive, like a queen on her throne. When he entered the room, he was led by the men from the Tish, singing, dancing, and waving their fists in the air. It was such an entrance, full of celebration and rejoicing. Not just for the bride and groom, but for the families, the community, the people.
The groom was led to the bride’s seat, where he carefully pulled her veil over her face. The rabbi spoke to the wedding guests, explaining that the bride is veiled to signify that in spite of her beauty, what is valued most is her spiritual qualities, which will never fade. The veil also physically separates the bride and groom, reminding them that they remain distinct individuals even as they unite in marriage. I loved pondering on the significance of the veil, and the way it honored the bride in so many ways on her wedding day.
Following the veiling of the bride, we all went upstairs to the sanctuary, where the bride and groom entered the Huppah – a canopy with four open sides representing their first home. Once under the canopy, the bride circled the groom seven times, symbolizing the way her love will surround her home and protect it from outside harm. The blessings that followed, both spoken by the rabbi and sung in Hebrew by the cantor were beautiful. The songs, sung in their deep, reedy way, resonated throughout the synagogue and recalled other times, other people, who had made the same ancient promises the bride and groom were making to each other that day.
As Derek and I left the synagogue, walking out into the cooling October air of a Connecticut afternoon, I told him how much I had appreciated the traditions we had seen that day. “I feel anchored,” I told him. It didn’t matter that the religious beliefs behind the traditions differed from my own. It was the honoring of traditions that anchored me.
I thought more about it on our drive to the reception: the way an anchor falls through water, sending waves and ripples in a concentric path. On one side the ripples move outward, touching the past, on the other side they reach into the future. That is what tradition does for us. It connects us to the people who came before us, and to those who will come after. It centers us in time and space, resonating through us like ripples on the surface of the water, or the words of a cantor during the recitation of blessings to a new bride and groom.
We just got back from our Labor Day weekend adventure: a trip to my uncle’s ranch near Salmon, Idaho, close to the Idaho/Montana border. We’re still shaking the dirt off of everything. I had to scrub inside my boys’ ears and between their toes to wash it all out. Sawyer summed up our trip like this: “I wish everyday was Labor Day.”
As I thought about our trip on the drive home, I remembered a similar Labor Day vacation we took to the ranch two years ago, and that I wrote something down about it. I went looking through my journals, and here it is:
August 30, 2008
We’re up at Carl’s ranch, Nicholia, for Labor Day Weekend, bunked up in the living space above the barn. Out the kitchen window you can see the horses corralled: a gray with black flecks, a white dappled with brown, others the color of tumbling sagebrush. Beyond the paddock sprinklers shoot over fields of ripe wheat. And behind the farmland are the mountains, blue-hued and sharp-peaked. The setting makes you want to live: breathe deeply, set out to see the land, connect to the earth in whatever way, whether on the back of a horse or by the pond, pulling up a Rainbow on a taut fishing line and feeling it squirm, cold and wet, between your fingers. And then, to come back to a quiet space and reflect and write, and live it all over again.
The first thing we did when we arrived was to get on the ATV’s and let the dust fly in our tracks. Mom ripped past me, hair whipped around her face by the wind and the speed. “She is beautiful,” I thought, young and smiling on her red Suzuki. She was thirty years old again, or younger even, twelve, thirteen. Living life for the adventure, worries nothing more than the tousling of the wind.
I couldn’t get the image out of my head for the rest of the afternoon: Mom and her smiling face. It wasn’t the smile of affection she gives so readily to her grandchildren, or the smile of love with which she watches over us. It had none of the weight of responsibility and concern that anchor a mother’s love. It wasn’t a smile fixed on anyone or for anyone. It was purely a smile of enjoyment — at life, at adventure, at the land.
Everyone has their favorite superhero. For my older brother, it was Underdog. I remember watching it with him Saturday mornings, stretched out in front of the t.v. in our pajamas. He couldn’t have been more than six years old, but when the show was taken off the air he wrote a letter to the network asking them to please bring back Underdog. He never did see his hero return to Saturday morning cartoons.
My favorite superhero is about the same age my brother was when we watched cartoons together. And lucky me, I get to see him in action everyday.
This little guy is unflappable. Nothing ever gets him down — not for long at least. And if he ever meets fear in face? Well — see for yourself:
Superhero getting his vaccines: “I don’t want shots! Scream, scream, cry, scream scream.”
Nurse, poking needle through his skin: “Hold still.”
Superhero: “That doesn’t hurt.” Instant cessation of tears.
Leaving pediatrician, boy screaming in the room adjacent to ours.
Superhero: “He’s scared. I think he is six. Yeah. He’s six. I wasn’t scared, and I’m only five.”
Or, Superhero losing his first tooth:
Dad, brushing Superhero’s teeth: “This tooth is really loose.”
Superhero, wiggling indicated tooth: cry, sob, cry.
Mom, checking out the loose tooth: “Wow, that is really loose. Should I pull it right now so you don’t have to worry about it, or do you want to wait until tomorrow?”Superhero stops crying: “Will it hurt?”Mom: “A little bit.”
Superhero: “Pull it right now.”
Mom twists and tugs. Tooth falls out.
Last example – Superhero fights (imaginary) inferno:
Fire alarms in the house malfunction and go off simultaneously. That night in bed, Superhero asks: “Is our house going to catch on fire?”
Superhero: “Are our neighbors’ houses going to catch on fire?”
Mom: “No. Are you afraid of fire?”
Superhero: “My forehead is afraid. And my stomach. But I am not afraid.”
That is the courage of my superhero. Courage that says it is okay to be afraid, as long as you are not as scared as the person next to you. Courage that faces pain today instead of letting fear prolong it until tomorrow. Courage that acknowledges fear, but doesn’t allow it to define who he is. Nobody is cancelling this show. And I’ve got the best seat in the house.
Four weeks ago I posted about the chaos of summer, and the challenge it is to find time to be creative in my home full of busy little bodies. Here was the conclusion that I came to:
My creative life is not compartmentalized. Who I am doesn’t have to be something separate from who my kids need me to be. It is time for me to learn how to feed on chaos.
A good friend of mine, Emily, who is Co-Editor-in-Chief of the The Exponent, an online publication for LDS women, asked to repost my blog entry on the Exponent blog. I received several comments from readers, including one with a frankness that made me laugh. It went like this:
Let us know when you figure out how to feed on chaos.
I appreciated the honesty of this remark. It is one thing to say you are going to feed on chaos, it is another thing entirely to start taking it in in great mouthfulls. But this is what I have learned in the past month.
First – I am a person who needs calm and quiet when I work. I can’t set my computer up at the kitchen table and expect to get anything worthwhile completed on my novel when kids are running in and out the back door looking for more popsicles or crying over bee stings. I know that about myself. It is just how I am, and that is okay. For me, feeding on chaos does not mean completely succombing to it.
Second – I don’t need to set aside long periods of time to be productive. I used to think I needed at least an hour hollowed out from my day where nobody and nothing could disrupt me from my writing. But that doesn’t work when you are feeding on chaos. I’ve learned that ten minutes of quiet can be enough. In fact, if I get up from my computer after just ten or fifteen minutes, I find that I haven’t exhausted my creativity like I would if I sat down for an hour or longer. After ten minutes I leave my quiet office with my mind still open and reaching, and as a result ideas follow me around the rest of the day. Much better ideas than the ones that come while I am sitting at my desk, pleading with my computer screen to somehow make the words come out right.
So I feel like I have, in some measure, learned how to feed on chaos. I’m not going to win any contests for speed or productivity, but I’ve been able to be where I want to be with my family and still keep my creative self alive, and that makes me happy.