Friday, August 23, 2013

Fritos and Quinoa

     A few weeks ago, I finished one of my routine, late night Winco shopping excursions.  I rolled my cart, nearly overflowing, to the checkout aisle, and began bagging my groceries.  At Winco, there are no baggers, which is probably one of the reasons they are able to place such low prices on their produce and other items.  As someone with a mild case of OCD, I enjoy bagging my own groceries.  I am able to group my items by food group, color, and food storage vs. perishable, while also ensuring that my bread doesn't get smashed and my peaches or bananas are not bruised.  I began grouping items together and neatly placing them in bags.  So gleeful was I in my organizational triumph that I inadvertently began to whistle as I bagged (the effect of this was greatly diminished by the unfortunate lack of a choir of back-up singing, shovel wielding dwarfs).  The exhausted looking checker rolled her eyes when she thought my back was turned, and drawled out a total for my purchase.  Slightly miffed that I had lost yet another round of "beat the checker" ( I like to see if I can finish bagging all of the groceries before the checker reads the total), I swiped my card and made one last unsuccessful attempt to get in the checker's good graces by wishing her a good evening.  I returned to my bagging post to discover only two items left on the conveyor belt.  I hadn't lost by much!  If I could shave another two seconds off my time,  I would beat the checker next time for sure.  If I am successful, thus proving that the game can be won, I may pitch the idea to Drew Carrey as the newest game on The Price is Right.  But this is all beside the point.  What interested me more were which two items remained together, in stark contrast; a five pound bag of quinoa from the bulk section, and a family-sized bag of Fritos.  As my computer's spell-check doesn't recognize quinoa as a word, and as I had no idea what it was until a few months ago, I will digress a little further, in case anyone else needs to be filled in. 

      Quinoa is an ancient grain (technically it's a berry, but it cooks like a grain) which is categorized as a "super food", due to it's combination of all life-supporting nutrients.  A complete protein, quinoa is also packed with amino acids, is easy to digest, is a good complex carbohydrate, providing the body with lasting energy, and is gluten free. Originally grown in the Andean mountain regions of Peru and Bolivia, the Incas considered it a sacred food, marching for days and weeks at high altitudes consuming no animal protein; subsisting solely on "war balls"; a mixture of quinoa and fat.  When the Spanish conquered the Inca empire, they razed all of the Incas quinoa fields and forbade them to grow, consume or worship the "magical grain".  Through the years, quinoa was replaced by other grains, such as wheat and barley.  Recently, quinoa has made a come back, though I was none the wiser until I came across a quinoa cookbook at the library.  I soon became obsessed, to the point that my eight-year-old daughter, Morgan, would look at me each evening and smirk, "What's for dinner?  I'm guessing something with quinoa".   My mother bought me the cookbook for my birthday, along with what had to be a twenty pound bag of bulk quinoa, double bagged.  I had to clear an entire shelf of my pantry to fit it in.  Occasionally when my kids see the fourth installment of the week of some type of quinoa salad on their plates, they roll their eyes and exhale loudly.  Sometimes, though, I'm sneaky, mixing small amounts of quinoa into some of their favorite dishes as filler; they rarely notice.  I hope this is only the beginning of a beautiful, long-lasting relationship for me and quinoa. 

     Another meal regularly found at the Stanger dining table is "American tacos".  To build an American taco, you make a pile of Fritos, then load it with chili, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes; maybe a dollop of sour cream if you're feeling adventurous.  I grew up eating this quick, easy meal, and now I find that it makes good use of the cans of chili we keep in our food storage and need to rotate regularly.  The night of my Winco trip, I had American tacos on the weekly menu, hence the bag of Fritos. As I looked down at the two remaining items on the belt, I almost laughed out loud.  The disparity was not lost on me.  The last two items, which would share a bag, were, respectively, one of the world's most ancient super foods, and a heart attack in a red and yellow bag.  As I drove home that night, the back of my mini van brimming with boxes, bottles and bags, I thought about balance.  I thought about the kind of mom I would like to be and the kind of mom I was.  I would like to be the quinoa mom; the mom who cooks every meal from scratch, with organic, health promoting, nourishing ingredients.  Some days I am that mom.  But some days, I'm the Frito mom.  Some days, after swimming lessons, horseback riding, t-ball, and three loads of laundry are all finished, I have exactly enough time to dump some Fritos on a plate and adorn them with toppings which, although they may not be ancient super foods, will keep my children alive.  On American taco nights, there are few dishes to be washed, and I am usually able to read to my children for up to an hour before bed.  Sometimes I wake up early, exercise, and cook a hot breakfast for my children.  Some mornings I sleep until the moment I know I must get up to fix Morgan's hair in time for school, and pour Frosted Flakes into bowls.  After my older children leave for school, I throw the few bowls and glasses in the dishwasher, and am sometimes able to spend a few minutes reading or rolling a ball with Monster (my two-year-old, aka, Ryan).  The meals we prepare for our families are just one ball in the constant juggling act of motherhood.  Motherhood, the circus act, would be the equivalent of riding a unicycle across a tightrope while juggling a combination of flaming torches and small swords.  Every day requires us to find the balance as we strive to maintain clean homes, prepare nourishing meals, keep up with a truly infinite amount of laundry, taxi our children to the five places they are supposed to be at once, help with homework, read, dispel arguments, bandage owies, and answer a seemingly constant stream of questions, all the while trying to really listen to what our children are saying and to make sure their emotional needs are met, as well as their physical needs. Talk about a balancing act!  The trickiest part is, the act is ever changing.  Every day, there are different needs to be met, different miniature dramas played out, different demands on our time and energy.  Often, just as we find our feet, or find  the perfect rhythm at which to juggle the flaming torches, an element changes and we have to re balance and start again.  And that balance is different for each mother.  Maybe you don't occasionally feed your children chips masquerading as a "taco" for dinner, but some days, it's the only thing that keeps me on that tight rope.  Maybe my American taco nights are your cold cereal nights or frozen pizza nights.  The truth is, most of us can't be quinoa moms every day.  If we cooked only health food magazine worthy meals every day, our sanity may drain as fast as would our wallets.  I think the trick is, to find that balance that exists somewhere between Fritos and quinoa.  For me, finding that place requires a lot of give and take, but if I can let my expectations of perfect mothering go, and do a quick reality check, I am more able to soak in those brief, perfect moments in motherhood.  Often these moments have come as I have talked and laughed with my children over a heaping plate of American tacos.        

Friday, July 26, 2013

Golden Girl

     For the past few years I have found myself in a black mood around my birthday.  It has been as bad as or worse than Mother's Day, which is the mother of all horrible holidays.  Case in point: it's a quarter to midnight on a Thursday night, two days before the ominous day, and I am up staring at my computer screen because it seems a better alternative than sticking my head in the oven.  Please excuse the dark humor, but I am feeling a little Sylvia Plath at the moment.  Aside from the insistent ticking of the clock, reminding me that I really ought to think about sleep sometime, there is nothing here but empty dark silence in which to sit and ponder exactly why it is that I am sitting here pondering.  Why the sudden doldrums around what used to be one of the happiest days of the year?  Is it because my expectations are too high?  Has it taken this long for me to pull back the veil of naive youth and realize that a birthday, for all intents and purposes, is just another day out of 365 other perfectly common and mundane days?  Nope.  After much pondering I have come to this conclusion: it is because I'm old.  Now everyone over the age of 40 is closing their computer and rolling their eyes and huffily tucking a few stray grays behind their ears.  "What I wouldn't give to be 29 again", they are thinking.  Perhaps this is because they were never 29 going on 75.  As I think about it, I'm not sure I ever was young.  I have always loved the color purple, cats, crooners and long, slow Sunday drives.  Looking back, I am beginning to fit the pieces of the puzzle together and so many "aha moments" are flooding my brain that it's about to have a power surge, which, given my prematurely elderly state, is likely to cause either a stroke or an aneurysm.

     I realize, for instance, looking back, that watching reruns of The Golden Girls after high school is not a normal teenage activity.  I have loved black licorice since I was a little girl, and I was taken aback when I heard a debate on the radio a few weeks ago over whether or not black licorice was "old people candy".  The overwhelming consensus was that ,yes, most connoisseurs of black licorice had been enjoying it since the days they could chew it with their real teeth.  I was slightly incensed, until I thought back and realized that my initial love of black licorice began with my great grandfather feeding me handfuls of black jelly beans as my great grandmother scolded him from the next room.  I may or may not admit to having purchased bridge mix in bulk within the past year.  I don't remember any elderly member of my family feeding it to me, but I somehow instinctively know that bridge mix is definitely old people candy.  The fact that I enjoyed it whilst watching a documentary on the stock market crash of '29 doesn't exactly gain me any youth points either. (neither does the fact that I use words like "whilst".  At least the old lady within me does not actually remember the crash of '29, although that would be much more "Twilight Zone"......young people know about that show, right?.... And moving right along.....It has also become apparent recently that my wardrobe choices could earn me admission into the nearest assisted living center.  I occasionally wear a soft, cotton nightgown to bed in the summer.  It's much cooler and more breathable, which is probably why the Golden Girls always wore them.  My mom took me shopping on Monday evening to buy me a few new things for my birthday.  I returned with several cute shirts, two of which were cardigans.  I decided they would be comfortable and look fetching with my Chuck Taylors, which is probably why Mr. Rogers always wore sneakers with his cardigans.  I blame the fact that, a few weeks ago, I limped and winced down Table Rock mountain, trying to keep up with my fifty something parents, on having tight IT bands and abnormally short legs, though I can't figure out why that blasted knee creaks and aches whenever it rains.  If I weren't up typing right now, I'd be up on one of my five nightly bathroom trips.  I wonder if I could invest in an overnight catheter.

     Ok, ok, so you get the point; I'm a few bottles of prune juice away from my golden years.  Why should this blacken my mood?  Maybe because the superficial side of me has bought into the cultural myth that youth is everything.  I watched "Oz the Great and Powerful" with my best friend last night.  Near the end of the movie (spoiler alert), Glenda the good witch, uses her powers to expose her evil sister, Evanora, as the hideous old hag she really is.  This is one of countless media portrayals of age being a sign of weakness and ugliness and youth being good and beautiful.  I thought to myself, "what if the scenario were reversed?  What if Glenda's youthful, dewy, radiant face suddenly became wrinkled and wizened and Evanora remained young and flawless in her cruel, cold, eternal beauty?"  I honestly think it would be hard for society to root for the old woman over the picture of perfect youthful beauty.  When men begin to go prematurely gray, they are "distinguished", like Sean Connery, who apparently discovered the fountain of youth when he was about 65, and has not aged a day since.  When women begin to grow gray and sport wrinkles, we are one step closer to Driving Miss Daisy territory.  This must be a pervasive fear among women everywhere, as the anti-aging industry became a 114 billion dollar industry in 2012.  Youth has become our national idol, and we bow to beauty and sex appeal.  And I fall into the trap as often as anyone.  I know the collagen and elastin moisturizer I slather over my face each night will not reverse the appearance of the deep grooves running from the corners of my mouth to the end of my nose, yet I still slather it on every night.  I guess there is a part of me that is afraid of getting older.  And yet, when I really think about it, some of the people I admire most are far from their glory days, and some are no longer encumbered by this mortal existence: Audrey Hepburn, who was never more beautiful than she was in her later, Unicef years, Elie Wiesel, who earned every last white hair atop his head as a crown of glory for enduring the unspeakable hell of being a Jew in Nazi Germany and lived to tell a story to inspire millions; Mother Teresa, Gandhi, both of my grandmothers.  These are all people who have really lived, and who have all gotten better and more glorious with age.  Every wrinkle is made up of a thousand laughs or a thousand sleepless nights.  Every gray hair is a lesson learned.  If growing older puts me anywhere nearer to achieving the level of grace and wisdom attained by these giants of humanity, well then, stick me in a porch rocker and call me Ethel.   


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Things Remembered

     A few weeks ago, my husband and I were in Utah for a weekend get away with some dear friends.  We had a bit of time to kill before a movie started, so we decided to walk around a local mall.  In the middle of the mall was a kiosk which shimmered with glittering silver and glass trinkets of all kinds.  Like a magpie, I immediately changed course and headed for the shiny kiosk of wonder.  At one corner of the kiosk were shelves filled with snow globes.  I'm sure my eyes widened as I stood transfixed by the whimsical orbs.  My wide eyes scanned the rows until they fell and stopped upon the one.  It was every little girl's dream world, somehow encapsulated in a glass ball.  Two white horses, a mare and a foal, stood in the midst of a few shimmering, silver trees, while delicate glittering snow floated softly and silently through the magical globe.  To add to the splendor of it all, the globe  played music!  It took about two minutes of staring at the snow globe before I knew that I had to buy it for Morgan for her birthday.  Morgan began taking horse back riding lessons this summer and she loves the horses.  Add to that the fact that she is a pink wearing, fairy-tale reading, day-dreaming, princess tea party throwing, girly-girl to the core, and well, there was just no way to prevent the universe (with the aid of my credit card) bringing the girl and the globe together.  With some effort, I pulled my eyes away from the hypnotic orb to find someone whom I could pay.  I half expected the Wizard of Oz to appear from behind some invisible curtain, and was slightly disappointed when a rather ordinary, all be it very pleasant, woman, emerged from behind the counter. She removed the snow globe from it's glass prison, and asked me if I would like it engraved. Would I ever?!  The only thing that could have possibly made the gift any more treasured would be to have it engraved with a personal message.  I had her engrave, in a delicate, cursive font :  Happy 9th birthday, Morgan.  Love, Mom and Dad.  I must here insert that the chosen message took me a good ten minutes to decide upon.  By the time I  finally decided, and looked back on the relative simplicity of the chosen message, I felt a little like Ralphy from  A Christmas Story, beaming with pride over his descriptions of a Red Rider BB gun with a compass in the stock.  But, however simplistic, the message added the perfect finishing touch to the perfect present.  Somewhere deep within me, my eight-year-old self nodded approvingly. (also, somewhere deep within me, a voice intoned, "my precccious", but that could be another issue altogether).  Dirk, however, apparently not in touch with the eight-year-old girl within, shook his head noticeably (I think perhaps he even grunted a few times in apparent physical pain), as the muggle woman behind the counter took a chunk out of our bank account with one smooth swipe.  It was only as I walked away, treasure in hand, that I looked up to notice the name of the store.  It was Things Remembered. "How appropriate", I mused.  The whole atmosphere of the store had made me feel like I was once again a little girl in pig tails, hunting for leprechauns and fairy rings and dreaming of becoming The Little Mermaid when I grew up.  It was definitely a nostalgia store.

     Back at home later that week, I glimpsed the black and white striped bag (containing the precious) in it's hiding place in the closet as I reached for a pair of jeans.  I stopped short as my eyes fell upon the name of the store, neatly printed across the front of the bag.  "Things remembered", I mused again.  Sometimes the simplest of phrases can strike a chord somewhere in the recesses of your heart or mind.  It can awaken something in you which has long been forgotten.  Suddenly I was transported back to my girlhood bedroom in our little Virginia townhouse.  I was sitting at a small wooden bench, which folded out into a desk.  A crayon was clenched so tightly in my hot, chubby hand, that the wax almost melted.  I was coloring furiously, passionately, and purposefully, the picture of ponies in the book that lay open before me.  Sweat beaded around the wisps of baby hair which still framed my round face.  I  remembered how much I used to love to color.  I am not sure, out of a childhood filled with happy memories, many easily more exciting than sitting alone in my room coloring, why that particular memory came back to me.  But the feeling that came flooding through me as the memory unfolded was that of complete and utter contentedness.  I had not been doing anything significant.  The coloring book which I was putting my whole little girl heart into filling with beautiful colors, has long since disintegrated in a landfill; or perhaps, with any luck, it has been recycled numerous times and is now in the fibers of the tissue box which you will certainly be pulling out by the end of this sentimental post.  Lately I've been doing a lot of introspection.  I deactivated my Facebook account again, partly in an attempt to rediscover my own identity; and not who "friends" on a social media site identify me as, but who I truly am and always have been.  In a way, the memory of exerting myself to the point of heat exhaustion to color a meaningless picture of Little Ponies, helped me remember who I am.   I am the the girl who pours her heart out performing small acts which no one ever really notices or cares about. Now, instead of coloring ponies, I wipe noses and floors, vacuum rugs and fold laundry.  I am and always have been a nurturer of people and a beautifier of spaces.  I have always put my whole energy into striving to improve whatever tiny portion of the world I may occupy.  It is only recently, through outside influences, such as Facebook, that I have felt the need to do anything beyond that.  I would read posts about people running marathons and getting PHDs and I would feel that my life was too small to be significant.  I began trying to be more impressive, more witty, more popular.  I was always filled with this nervous agitation that I needed to think of the most witty, "like" getting status update.  I was basing my self worth on what a few hundred acquaintances who had known me in a former life "liked" or did not "like" about me.  I had completely lost sight of the contented, beet faced girl coloring in the corner; so happy to be making a small contribution of beauty and color to the world.

     So now, what to do with this memory and awakening that my inner psyche has gifted me?  I don't think pulling an Emily Dickinson is the answer.  I can't help anyone by shutting out the world completely.  I had contemplated ending my blog writing, until I received the nicest hand-written note from a friend the other day, stating that she was inspired as a mother by my posts.  Her kind words helped me remember why I started this blog in the first place; to reach out to other mothers through expressing the emotions that we all sometimes feel and laughing at the experiences that we all go through.  Her note was an affirmation that my blog is doing just that.  So, for Tiffany, and anyone else who may be reading this; here is the advice I have for the week: Remember who you are.  Not who the world says you are.  Not who social media tells you you should be.  Not who the airbrushed woman with four dogs and a spotless house (as if) on the cover of Good Housekeeping says you can be if only you would shape up.  Remember who you are.  It's who you have always have been.  I am a nurturer, a beautifier, a dreamer and a writer.  And I am content being a stay at home mom.  It is the perfect environment in which to nurture and beautify.  Of course there are those days when catching the next available flight to China and changing my name and hair color briefly sounds like a viable and desirable option, but at the core of who I am, I find peace in my small and mundane domestic responsibilities.  It is important to live in the present, but sometimes the only way to do so fully is to unearth the past.  In today's world it is so easy to lose sight of who you are or what your purpose is.  After having three children, it is easy for me to forget just about everything, including the fact that the car keys do  not belong in the freezer.  Sometimes you need to take a few moments apart from the world, encapsulated in your own little globe of thought and memory.  Sometimes the best way to find peace in the present is through things remembered.   

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


    Last week, I was on the phone with my best friend, when my six-year-old son, Hyrum, ran into the kitchen and breathlessly exclaimed, "Mom, mom!  It's a miracle!  You have to come see!"  I was intrigued, as was Kate on the other end of the line.  I followed Hyrum into the backyard, half expecting to see a carving of the Virgin Mary on our apple tree, or to find that Pippin, our puppy who died last October, had emerged from under his stump in the corner and was running around the yard.  So, it was slightly anticlimactic when Hyrum led me to the garden, still out of breath and pointing frantically down at the petunias around the border of the zucchini patch. "See mom!  Look, look!!"  I looked down at the four little pink and purple petunias, which I had planted around the border of the garden bed because I happened to have a few plants left over from the front beds, and had heard that they would attract bees to pollinate garden plants.  I wasn't quite sure what to say.  I stood speechless for a moment before muttering, "uh.....yes, sweetheart, it is a miracle."  I headed back inside with the phone as Kate laughed on the other end.  Kate knows all too well that I have a black thumb, as she also shares that particular curse.  We had a good laugh over the fact that it literally was a miracle that something was growing anywhere within a fifty foot radius of my house.  I have a little plaque hanging over my front flower bed, given to me by a dear friend a few years ago.  It reads, "Love blooms here".  I have often thought that I needed to somehow add the disclaimer "even if nothing else does" to the bottom of the plaque.  Yes, I have a special aptitude for killing green and flowering things.  After Kate and I had a good chuckle, we talked about the simple faith of children and how things which seem commonplace to us jaded adults are still wondrous miracles to their tiny, developing minds.  Kate just earned her elementary ed degree and will begin teaching school in the fall.  She will play an important role in helping mold the developing minds of so many precious children.  Kate and I had an enjoyable conversation and said our goodbyes.  Long after I hung up the phone, I sat and thought.  I thought about how fast my babies were growing up.  I thought about the time when I used to see every blooming flower as a miracle.  I thought about how much I take for granted on a daily basis and about how much my children continue to teach me about life and faith.  I wondered how I could teach them to keep that faith and hope alive in their hearts in a world that is so riddled with doubt and despair.  I decided the only answer was that I needed to become more aware of the miracles myself.  

     The last few nights, I have sat out under the stars to say my prayers.  There is something about talking to God while staring up at the vast expanse of the night sky above me that humbles me and fills my soul with gratitude and awe.  It reminds me of the miracle of my very existence.  In those pristine moments, I feel a clarity of purpose and a peace in knowing that there is someone in charge; that it's ok if I don't understand all or any of life just yet, because there is Someone who does.  Ralph Waldo Emmerson once said, "The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common."  In this regard, children are wise beyond their years.  As adults,  we sometimes think we have it all figured out.  We have evidence and experience to back us up.  We can explain in technical terms exactly why a flower grows when exposed to water and light.  We often, unwisely, fail to see the miracles of every day.  When I sit out under the stars, I feel so small and vulnerable, as I am made aware of the infinitesimal part which I play in the immense, unfathomable vastness of space and time.  Then, the next day, as I clean up vomit or drive the kids to soccer or fold laundry, I fail to look past the mundane to the miracles all around me.  I thank God for my children; for the little reminders they give me.  When I try to see the world through their eyes, I remember.  I remember that a petunia blooming in the garden bed is in fact a beautiful miracle.  On a warm summer day, I can sit out on the cool green grass  as cotton clouds drift through an endless expanse of clear blue Idaho sky, and I can watch my three little miracles, comprised of thirty fingers, thirty toes and three blond heads as they frolic through the yard.  Oh, yes, this world is full of miracles; we need only open our eyes and see them.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


      Summertime, and the living is.........easy?  Perhaps for those of us who are not now dealing with three little ones to entertain day in and day out.  The very day after school let out, my children approached me at 10:00 a.m. to inform me they were bored.  It was a sunny day, and we happen to have a backyard that is the envy of half the children in the neighborhood, complete with a swing set, tree house, trampoline, and an apple tree that just begs to be climbed.  Yet, there stood my children, two hours after breakfast, staring up at me expectantly.  Did they expect me to suddenly turn into one of The Wiggles?  I'm not sure.  I continued to wipe the kitchen counter.  They continued to stare.  It was a showdown, and I was clearly losing.  "Why don't you go play in the backyard?", I suggested the obvious solution to their boredom dilemma.  "We already did that.", they stated matter-of-factly.  They had played in the backyard that morning for about 20 minutes.  I used to spend the entire day outside in the summertime when I was a little girl.  Even in the sweltering heat of a Virginia summer, I would run, play, swim, ride bikes and climb trees until my little round Tweety Bird face was redder than a beet and I had earned three or four new scrapes and acquired at least an inch of dirt under my nails.  I also spent plenty of time with my family in the summer.  We went on walks, out to ice cream, or to Bullets, or favorite drive-in burger joint.  On the weekends, we usually made an excursion to Virginia Beach, Washington D.C., or one of the many other historical sights nearby.  We also bought season passes to King's Dominion, a nearby amusement park, and went there often.  I loved the time spent with my family, but I did not expect them to entertain me every day of the week.

     But my children are part of the entitlement generation, and the instant gratification generation.  With the advances in technology, children can access endless supplies of instant entertainment with the click of a mouse or remote. This is exactly the kind of thing we generally try to avoid in our house.  This attempt to limit technology is more successful some days than others.  Yesterday, it was rainy and about 60 degrees out.  Not exactly ideal summer break weather.  Plus, Monster had thrown up twice in the morning and was still looking rather peaked.  So, I gave into the relentless requests of my two older children to "pleeeease watch a moooooviieeee".  I gave into this request not once, but twice.  Hyrum spent the rest of the afternoon playing PBS Kids on the computer.  Hey, at least the games are educational, right?  I spent most of the afternoon in the rocking chair with a cranky Monster.  By the end of the day, I felt like a complete and utter failure as a parent.  I had let technology parent my children for the day.  I could think of a million excuses in my mind...."it was a crummy day outside", or "Monster was sick", or "it's only because it's their first week of summer break.  I won't let this happen again."  But, the truth is, I used the tv and computer as a babysitter.  I could have read to my kids.  I could have brought out the board games.  We've spent many a rainy afternoon in the Stanger house with a stack of library books or an open game board.  But the truth is, I was tired yesterday.  Not so much in the physical, I need to rest type of way; more in the this is only the beginning of what is shaping up to be a very long summer full of bored children staring at me and wondering what to do with themselves type of way.  So, I gave in to the exhaustion, and really didn't do much of anything.  I am considering this the deep breath before the plunge.  Next week will be Hyrum's first week of t-ball, Morgan's first week of horseback riding lessons, and the first week of art class for both of them.  They will start swim lessons in July.  I have signed them up for several things in an attempt to lessen the frequency of the boredom buster showdowns.

     All of this has gotten me thinking, though.  Didn't there used to be a time when kids used their imagination?  Where are the lazy, sweltering summer days of the Sandlot, of baseball in the park until moms called ten times for skinned-kneed, dirt covered boys to come home for dinner?  Where are the days of capture the flag and burning ants under magnifying glasses and making Hollyhock dolls?  We don't have video games in our home.  I consider them just one more distraction, one more excuse, one more babysitter.  I'm already struggling with the tv and computer.  I think my goal for this summer may be to make sure my children are spending less time with the screen and more time with the sun.  I want my children to know summer like I knew summer.  Dirk and I spent all day Memorial Day in the yard tilling, digging and planting.  By the end of the day I smelled like sweat and dirt.  My fingernails boasted a fresh layer of mud, and I felt that peaceful kind of exhaustion that can only come from a day spent working hard.  I thought back to my girlhood summer days when I would come home at dinnertime famished and smelling of a combination of dirt, sunscreen, grass and chlorine, every muscle in my body tired.  My uncle Brian runs the detention center for local youth.  He told me once about his first experience taking some of the boys from the center on a hike.  Many of them had never seen a forest before.  These boys were all over the age of 12, and they had never been on a hike nor seen a forest.  I wanted to cry.  Thankfully, my kids have seen many forests; they've been camping in them, in fact.   As with all things in life, there has to be moderation.  I am certain that the tv will still find it's way into the routine some days, and that's ok. I am determined, for my part, however, to urge my kids to be part of the imagination generation, not the instant gratification generation.  And with that, I think I'll close the computer and take my kids for a walk.

Friday, May 17, 2013


     I have always liked the idea of Karma, which, put simplistically, asserts that whatever you put out into the world is what you get back. You reap what you sew. Positive attracts positive and negative attracts negative, and so on.  It's a nice idea.  And it makes sense.  Today, Karma and I are at war.  This newly waged war began on Friday evening.  My two oldest children had their annual cheer and gymnastics showcase.  My parents, in-laws and sister all drove from Idaho Falls to see it.  I left Monster with a sitter so that Dirk and I might actually get to watch the performance.  The kids had been practicing all year; Morgan on Mondays and Hyurm on Tuesdays.  I had spent an hour curling each piece of hair in Morgan's ponytail and carefully applying a light touch of makeup without going too Jonbenet Ramsey.  We left the house to the sounds of Monster screaming in protest.  In the car, I reminded Hyrum for the twentieth time that this was what his teachers and coaches had been working for all year, and that many of his family members had gone out of their way to come and watch him perform.  I begged him to do his very best and to not spaz out.  Morgan's cheer class performed first.  While the other girls bobbed their heads spiritedly and shook their pom poms with great pep and purpose, Morgan stood there twitching her nose (a new quirk she's developed- she looks a little like a bunny when she does it), and getting in a few very delayed and minimized arm movements here and there.  She looked like a clumsy robot bunny.  Of course, I was proud of her.  But my heart ached for her at the same time.  How I wanted her to be able to jump and split and cartwheel like all the other little girls.  But, that's not Morgan.  She has decided not to do cheer, dance or gymnastics next year.  I think she is starting to recognize her own limits.  Then, after over an hour of sitting on rock hard bleachers, watching tiny tots do rolly pollies to what sounded like xylophone music, it was Hyrum's turn.  I noticed the teacher strong arming him to the back of the line.  I optimistically wondered if perhaps they were saving the best for last.  I watched the other students in Hyrum's class as they rolled, piked and postured down the tumbling floor, with as much poise and composure as five and six year olds can muster. I pulled out the video camera as Hyrum approached the mat.  He addressed the audience, stepped onto the blue tumbling floor, and proceeded to put on a show which had the entire audience in stitches.  His nerves had taken over, and to compensate, he began acting like the Energizer bunny on Perkaset.  He sped through the performance, taking extra hops and jumps and steps along the way, at intervals throwing himself on the floor and rolling like a stunt double,   The audience all seemed to think this was gloriously funny.  I laughed with them, because, really, what else could I do?  I laughed, while inside I wondered why my kid had to always be the goof off.  I inhaled, hoping that my face was only a few shades of red, and walked out with my family at my heels.  We were headed to Mick's, Shelley's own greasy spoon hometown diner, to celebrate.  We picked Monster up, only to find out that he had thrown a two hour fit for the sitter.  We payed her extra and headed for Mick's.  Mick's was having a busy night.  All of it's ten tables were filled.  We stood in the fry oil fog until we saw two small tables clear.  We pushed them together, sat down and waited, and waited........and waited.  Finally, my sister spied two menus and brought them to the table.  When Morgan had made her selection of finger steaks and fries, I asked her to hand the menu down so that the rest of us could have a glance.  She refused and hugged the menu to her chest.  I asked again.  She refused.  I asked a third time, firmly.  She hurled the menu across the table to Dirk, narrowly avoiding five water glasses. The rest of dinner was down hill from there.  The onion rings were burnt to a black-brown charcoal crisp.  The ice cream machine was broken, and there was no peach pie.  We thanked everyone for coming and split.  While Dirk changed the boys for bed, I pulled Morgan into my room for a little chat. I tried to remain calm, and as we talked, it became very evident that Morgan had no idea that throwing a menu across the table was inappropriate behavior.  So, there I sat with my almost nine-year-old, explaining basic rules of social conduct which seem to come so naturally to most kids.  I tucked the kids in, retreated to my room, and proceeded to have a twenty tissue emotional meltdown.

     I was discouraged, defeated, and just plain done.  I once again found myself wondering where I had gone so horribly wrong as a mother.  I expend vast amounts of energy trying to teach my children how to be kind, well rounded individuals.  We have had manners dinners.  I guess I forgot to mention the proper way to deliver a menu to the opposite end of the table during said manners dinners.  I have talked to Hyrum until I thought my vocal chords might wear out about appropriate social behavior.  I try to read to each of my children every day.  I throw Harry Potter movie nights complete with homemade chocolate frogs and licorice wands.  I try very hard to be a good mother.  I expend a lot of positive energy doing this.  And then, my children play the class clown in front of half of the city of Shelley and throw menus in restaurants.  Karma, where are you now?  Two days later, the Mother of all holidays hit.  Mother's Day is my least favorite holiday of the entire year.  I despise it, and I'm a big holiday person.  I love to honor my own dear mother.  I love being a mother.  But, I hate the expectations of Mother's Day.  It's built up for months as a day, when by some magical force, your children and others have a sudden grand awakening and begin to appreciate the blood, sweat, tears, hair pulling, and sleepless nights that you put into raising them.  Instead, they fight more than usual, whine as much as ever and interrupt the first nap you've attempted to take in a year.  Speakers get up in church and list off the perfect traits of women in the neighborhood.  Your name isn't on the list.  At first, you feel a burning indignation, until you look over at your own children, who are, respectively, picking their nose, beaming the boy in the pew behind them in the face with a book, and performing karate moves, and realize exactly why you didn't make the good mom list.  This is Mother's Day for me, at least.  I, for one, have decided to skip it next year.  Coming after the debacle of a day which was last Friday, Mother's Day put me in a bad funk, which I am still attempting to work my way out of.  This entire week, I have tried, despite constant feelings of failure and discouragement, to remain positive, and to be kind.  Today, one week later, Karma has repaid my efforts by laughing in my face.  I walked out of the house into the gray drizzle of a morning and crossed the street to Hyrum's school.  It was his end of the year Kindergarten music concert, featuring the songs of Sesame Street.  My dad came to help with Monster and to watch Hyrum sing.  Hyrum didn't sing until the last song; the invigorating "Captain Vegetable".  For the rest of the concert, he practiced turning his tie into a fake noose, and stared at the ceiling blankly while every other child in the Sunrise Elementary Kindergarten class sang with gusto and followed the chorister's hand gestures animatedly.  This was after a twenty minute discussion this morning about why it was important for Hyrum to sing and to do his best.  Apparently that one didn't sink in either.  My dad, who had been planning on taking us to lunch afterwards, had to run in and fix a work crises.  So, I took the boys to Subway solo.  I left the sandwich line to find Hyrum crawling across the wooden banister by the tables as onlookers watched with ill concealed disapproval and contempt.  On the way to Subway, I had apparently turned too slowly for the woman in the car behind me, who passed me with a honk and an icy glare that would have leveled me if looks could kill.  And yet, I entered Subway, on the brink of tears of exasperation, with a smile on my face.  I smiled at the woman who cut the bread. I told her to have a great day as she looked indifferently back at me.  I smiled at the cashier, who was too distracted to notice.  I smiled at people lining up by the table.  They quickly looked away.  Did they know that the world's most incompetent mother was smiling at them and fear that any association with me would taint their reputation?  I bit into my turkey sandwich, but what I was really starved for was a smile; one little glimmer of proof that the positive energy I have been trying to exert was finding it's way back to me.  Once again, Karma betrayed me.  Not wanting to tell Hyrum to sit down and turn around for the fifteenth time in five minutes, I told him he could take his cookie home. I put Monster down for a nap, turned on the tv to babysit Hyrum (at this point, I've given up all attempts at good parenting for the day), and turned on the computer.  Here I sit, looking between the computer screen, filling up with so many meaningless words, and the apathetic gray sky out my smudged windows, trying to make any sense of it all.  I go out of my way to smile at people wherever I go.  In return, I get glares.  I make it a point to complement people. In return, I have friends tell me that the exterior of my house is the ugliest thing they've ever seen.  I try to teach my children to be kind, respectful and well mannered.  In return, I get to be the mother of the class clown, the menu thrower, and the Monster.  Where are you now, Karma?

     Like any irrepressibly idiotic optimist, I am refusing to let Karma beat me.  Karma may have had the last laugh for today, but I am saying to Hell with Karma.  I am going to keep doing the right thing for the simple fact that it is the right thing to do.  I will continue to be kind and thoughtful in the face of meanness and apathy.  I will continue to make every effort to be a good mother, even though the fruits of my labor may never be evident.  I will do good for the sake of doing good.  I will send all of this out into the universe, not like a boomerang, with the expectation that it will somehow come back to me one  day, but like a shooting star; a spectacular flash of hope and light that will fade the next moment.  If one person sees that glimmer and it makes them smile, it will be well worth the effort.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


     The year 2003 was an eventful one.  The Columbia Space Shuttle disintegrated upon reentering the Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven members of it's crew.  A relentless bush fire in Australia destroyed over 500 homes.  A fire in a North Korean subway killed 200 people.  The SARS virus emptied Chinese classrooms and saw thousands of civilians donning surgical masks during their daily transit.  Back on the home front, war loomed.  Millions protested.  Their protests proved vain as the United States invaded Iraq on March 19th.  The Human Genome Project was completed.  Elizabeth Smart was found.  So was Sadaam Hussein.  2003 was also the rise of The Govenator in California.  In lesser news; on May 2, 2003, a bright-eyed 18 year old girl and a baby faced twenty two year old returned missionary were married.  It was a warm, miraculously windless Spring day as they walked out of the Idaho Falls LDS temple as man and wife.  The next weeks and months passed by in a blissful blur.  Time stood still as the young star crossed newlyweds feasted on Ramen Noodles and Pasta Roni in their wood paneled, avocado green apartment.  Over the next few years, reality hit hard and fast.  Their were slam the door, five block cool off fights.  Babies came.  Money was tight, sometimes nearly non-existent. There were sleepless nights, tear soaked pillows and colic jags.  There was plenty of worry about the future and a healthy dose of growing up.  Those years were also filled with Yahtzee tournaments that went into the wee hours of the morning, star gazing, side splitting laughter over cheap burgers, dancing barefoot in the kitchen, baby belly laughs, deep conversations about the meaning of life, hopes, dreams, and a number of miracles.

     A few years later, the couple bought their first home in a quaint, sleepy town.  They continued to settle into life through years of potty training, first days of school and swimming lessons.  There were less Ramen Noodles and more fresh produce.  Some of the financial worry had abated.  There was a feeling of contentment.  They were living the American Dream.  Then there was the heartache of a miscarriage and subsequent struggles of trying to add onto their family.  They bought a dog (who turned out to be a mischievous imp in K9 form).  A year later, they welcomed a perfect baby boy into their home with open arms.  There were more sleepless nights and less evenings out.  Dinners out on the town were replaced by movies on the couch with buckets of popcorn.  Laundry multiplied and quiet moments became extinct.  The devil dog ran into the road and ended up under a stump in the backyard.  A tree house also found a spot on an old stump there.  There were less slam the door, block walking fights and more subdued and brow furrowing discussions about every day adult details of life.  There were failed cooking experiments (though they were probably still better than the Ramen Noodle feasts of past years.)  There were heartaches and major life decisions.  There was still barefoot dancing in the kitchen, but a few sets of tiny feet now pounded out their own rhythm.  There was less star gazing and more falling exhausted into bed after the last little cheek was kissed good night.

     Of course, during all of this time, the outside world continued to grow and change at a relentless pace. The war which began in 2003 raged on, claiming thousands of lives.  Natural disasters took countless lives and displaced thousands more, and evil acts of hatred shook people to their core and reminded all of the fragile state of humanity.  Movie stores, VCR's, CD's, fax machines and phone books became obsolete.  There were also soul affirming acts of heroism and heartwarming stories of love and self sacrifice.  As all of this raged on outside, the star-crossed young couple of not so long ago waged their own battles in their happily situated little brick house, all the while realizing that, no matter how much the world around them changed, some things would never become obsolete, and the love and commitment that held their world together was one of them.

    A decade later, our couple is not quite so fresh faced.  There are more wrinkles.  The sometimes harsh realities of life have left them a little wiser, and a little tired.  There are days so full of car pools and business meetings and school projects that sometimes the two, who were nearly inseparable ten years ago, hardly cross paths.  But there are more moments of sincere gratitude for unloaded dishwashers and baskets of folded laundry and changed diapers.  There are moments of near perfection when three little belly laughs simultaneously fill the room and echo from the walls.  There are family walks on lazy summer evenings and epic Candy Land tournaments.  And then there are those rare nights, when the house is quiet.  Three little chests rise and fall rhythmically.  And the once young and naive, star crossed lovers look at one another from slightly more wizened faces, and all they have been through, all the mountains and valleys, the heartaches and triumphs of the last decade pass between them in a glance.  They smile, embrace and realize that they have come closer to the meaning of true and lasting love than the fresh faced youths of a decade ago could have fathomed.

    Happy ten years to the man who is my rock and safe haven in an ever changing world.