Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Admit it; when you hear the word, you automatically see a bunch of men in yarmulkes dancing and singing. It could just be me. But seriously (sort of), I have been contemplating lately just what it is that makes this season of the year so special. If your views of the Christmas season in any way coincide with the views of Ebeneezer Scrooge (pre-three ghostly visitations), or the Grinch (pre-triple heart enlargement), you may want to stop reading now. I get positively giddy around this time of year. Actually, as my husband will tell you with a roll of his eyes, I become giddy about three months before, when I turn on the Christmas tunes and begin my shopping. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. But why? As a practicing Christian, I consider it a wonderful time of year first and foremost because it is the time of year we celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world, and consequently, the birth of Hope. But I have many friends who are not Christian, who anticipate this time of year just as much as I do. I think this is because of tradition. No matter what our personal or religious beliefs, this time of year, for most, is a time of cherished traditions with family and friends. Most of us put up a tree, hang stockings, maybe watch Ralphy shooting his eye out, or Charlie Brown decorating the world's scrawniest Christmas tree. Some of us light a menorah. Many of these traditions are so time-honored, that we may not even know exactly how they first began. There is a comedian who talks about Christmas traditions being invented by a drunk man. Who else would think to cut down a pine tree, bring it in the house and decorate it, or hang socks over the fireplace and fill them with candy? Strange traditions indeed when you really think about them. And yet, these are two traditions that most of us look forward to all year. It also seems that at this time of year, despite the mass chaos that inevitably ensues at shopping malls and department stores nationwide, there is also more kindness, more acceptance, more awareness of those around us. "Peace on earth, good will toward men" seems to resonate within us, and suddenly we aren't quite so irritated by the driver who cuts us off on the highway; we are more patient with the woman in front of us in the check out aisle who has 50 coupons at 9:00 at night. We are more aware of the widow down the road or the 10 year old girl who doesn't have a pair of shoes to wear to church. This is probably my favorite aspect of the Christmas season. It seems to be the time of year when kindness and compassion reign supreme. Like Ebeneezer Scrooge learned to do , I wish we could all learn to truly keep Christmas all year round. I doubt any of us want a pine tree sitting in our living room in the middle of June; but if we could keep the spirit of Christmas; the spirit of thinking of others before our selves; the spirit of giving those around us the benefit of the doubt; how much better this world could be!
Yes, there are many traditions we all share this time of year, which is perhaps what brings us together. We forget our differences and for a short time focus on what we all have in common. But I think it is the personal traditions which we practice individually or with close friends and family that make this holiday season most meaningful to each of us. As with more widely held traditions, some of our family traditions may have fuzzy origins. There are some things that we do, just because they are the things we always do. One of my favorite Christmas Eve traditions is eating dinner with my family. Sounds like a pretty vague tradition, I know, but I will expound. One year ( I don't remember exactly which year), when my family lived in Virginia, something went wrong with Christmas Eve dinner. I don't remember what (these are the fuzzy origins I was referring to). Maybe it burned. Maybe my mom was just too tired to cook. Whatever the reason was, there was no way we were going to eat dinner at home that night. So, we hopped in the old Toyota minivan and drove around the Richmond area looking for anything that was open on Christmas Eve. By the time we finally saw the open light in the Wendy's window, it may as well have been the star that guided the wise men, we were so relieved. We perused the menu. It somehow just didn't seem right to eat a cheeseburger and fries on Christmas Eve. We finally decided on chili and Ceaser side salads. We enjoyed our meal in peace and quiet (as we were the only ones in the restaurant), and returned home to enjoy the rest of our typical Christmas Eve traditions. That is how one of my most cherished traditions began. For years, we returned to Wendy's on Christmas Eve for our chili and Ceaser salad. The first year we celebrated Christmas Eve after moving back to Idaho, we were distressed to discover that Wendy's was closed! We made do that night, and the next year, my mom was prepared, with a recipe for Kentucky Bourbon chili that knocked our socks off (literally- it was a little spicy) and an updated Ceaser salad which included hard-boiled eggs, real bacon bits, and freshly grated Parmesan. Now every year, I still eagerly anticipate our chili and Ceaser salad. Though the quality of the food is admittedly better, and the atmosphere more welcoming than the fluorescent glow of a fast food restaurant at night, I know I would still look forward to it just as much if Wendy's was still our destination of choice. The people I love the most would still be there. And after all, isn't that what makes holidays so special? There is one tradition I am afraid I may never take part in- that is the Christmas Letter. If you enjoy this tradition, more power to you, but it's not for me. So, consider this my Christmas letter- I hope all of you who are reading this find yourselves surrounded by the people you love most this Christmas season as you deck your halls, trim your trees, or eat at your favorite local fast food joint. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


You know how sometimes you don't look in the mirror too closely; just a quick cursory glance to make sure that everything is still (for the most part) in the right place? Well, a few days ago, with the aid of the new lighting in my bathroom, I really looked at my face, up close. And there they were......two undeniable crevices running from the bottom of my nose to the top of my mouth. I tried holding my face perfectly still and expressionless for a few minutes. I looked again. They were still there. My first real wrinkles. The topic of aging has been on my mind a lot lately. A few days ago, I sat dumbfounded for about 15 minutes after coming to the realization that if Morgan marries and has a baby at the same age I was when I did, I could be a grandmother in 12 years. Forgive me if I have now lost my train of thought......that required another good ten minutes to absorb. Last week, Dirk and I watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It is based on such an intriguing concept. Imagine if you could live your life physically backwards, and could have the strength, stamina and beauty of youth combined with the wisdom that comes with age and experience.
Sometimes I feel that I am living my life backwards in a way. For one thing, I have always thought that perhaps I am an old woman in a young body. My favorite color is purple, I have completely lost my long term (some days short term too) memory, and I drive like a grandma. Oh- I also love old movies and shows like The Golden Girls. I still like to hand write cards and letters, and I am not too adept when it comes to anything technological. The other day I was talking to my best friend, and the phrase "new-fangled devices" actually came out of my mouth. I think I may very well be an 80 year old trapped in a twenty-something body. I also sometimes feel that I am living my life backwards because I have made some major life changes in an order that is less than typical. I was a "child bride" and technically a teen pregnancy in a world where it is now commonly accepted to marry in your thirties and have children in your thirties or forties. I used to bristle at terms like "child bride" and I used to be hurt by the looks of open reproach I received from many when they saw me at the store with my (then) two children. Apparently, I skipped over the period of life in which I was supposed to "find myself". I don't think I ever really lost myself. Of course, it probably doesn't help that I apparently look like I'm nineteen (or so I've been told). My husband has been told that he looks about 35.....this was when he was 27! So people look at us like we are polygamists, or like we are the gold digger and the cradle robber, when really we are only 3 years apart in age. What is age really, but a number? There are some people in this world who will never have the emotional maturity necessary to nurture a loving and successful relationship. And there are definitely people who should never have children. Then there are people like my parents, who married young, and have grown together and have a stronger relationship because of it. I have wanted to be a mother for as long as I can remember. It's all I've ever wanted to do really. And I have "found myself" through raising them as I have come to discover unrealized strengths (and weaknesses). I have also realized even more what is important to me. The things that I most want my children to learn and which I strive to teach them are obviously the things that are important to me. I may have missed the stage where I was evidently supposed to learn how much alcohol I could consume before passing out. And I suppose I will have a few less wild stories for the grandkids, but I will be young enough to actually play with my grandkids and to really enjoy them!
As for my wrinkles, I am growing sort of fond of them. For one thing, maybe they will help me to look a little closer to my age. For another, they are laugh lines. What does that say about me, other than "She must smile a lot"? Is that really such a bad thing? The number indicating my age may be alarmingly small to some. But just my relatively short time on this earth, I have laughed and smiled enough to leave a permanent manifestation of joy on my face! In a world where 20-year olds are getting Botox, I couldn't be prouder of my wrinkles. C.S. Lewis perhaps said it best; "Why shouldn't we have wrinkles? Honorable insignia of our service in this warfare." He also said, "When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of being childish." I like to imagine myself as an old woman, surrounded by my grandchildren, possibly great-grandchildren, reading to them the favorite books of my childhood, and enjoying the stories just as much as I ever did as a little girl. What is age, but a number?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


First of all.....does anyone know exactly what the function of tonsils is? Or appendixes for that matter. Gall bladders?......It seems like these things must be a part of us for some reason. I'm just not sure what that reason is! They can all apparently be removed with no future ramifications to our general health. So, why do we have them? The only answer that I can come up with is so doctors can make a living. Before I digress into a major conspiracy theory involving the entire health care field, I will get to the point. My sweet 4- year old boy had his (apparently useless) tonsils as well as his (equally as useless) adenoids removed last Wednesday. My Hyrum is a tiny boy and his tonsils and adenoids were huge. This caused him to suffer from sleep apnea. Every doctor/dentist I have ever taken him to has remarked on the size of his tonsils. After much consideration, Dirk and I decided it was time for them to come out. Early Wednesday morning (5:30 to be exact), I roused Hyrum and carried him to the van in his footsie jammies. The doctor said he could bring along one toy, so Buzz Lightyear came along for the ride. We arrived at the hospital by 6:00 and followed the blue line on the floor that led to the surgery floor. Now, before I continue this story, you must understand one thing: I have a VERY hard time seeing my children in pain. Once when Morgan was a baby, I cut the tip of her finger while clipping her fingernails. I called my mom in hysterics and it took her a good half hour to calm me down. I don't like seeing my babies in pain! So, needless to say, as we walked past more and more signs with words like surgery, recovery, O.R., I was a nervous wreck! But, I tried to remain composed and calm for Hyrum's sake. To him, this was still just an early morning adventure. We finally reached the desk of the surgery floor, after what seemed like one of the longest walks ever, and checked in. We were promptly led to a waiting room, where I was handed a pair of hospital pajamas that were at least 10 sizes too big for my tiny boy. I helped him into his over sized jammies, and then we waited....and waited....and waited. Why they make you drag a 4-year old into the hospital at the crack of dawn, two hours before he is scheduled for his procedure, I will never fully understand. Thank goodness for Nick Jr.! We lay on the oh so comfortable hospital bed and watched Little Einsteins. Hyrum was heroically brave. At that moment in time, he looked so tiny and helpless to me , and yet, he sat and waited patiently, not fully knowing what he was about to go through. I recalled one other time when he had looked just as tiny and helpless, and similar knots had wrenched my stomach. It was three years ago. I took him in to get tubes put in his ears. For that surgery, he wore a hospital gown. His hair had been cut a few days before, and with his short hair and gown, he looked like a leukemia patient. The moment they took his tiny body out of my arms and carried him away from me toward a room full of sterile metal and glaring lights, it took everything within me not to follow them.
Through both of these experiences I have developed a deep sense of gratitude for my childrens' overall health. And I have also developed a new sense of awe and admiration for the parents of terminally ill children. I have friends who watched their daughter die of leukemia. They fought for two agonizing years before they selflessly and silently sent their prayers up to heaven as she passed to a place of no more pain. I don't know exactly what they went through for those two years of watching their precious child suffer. But, this experience has given me enough of an idea of what it may have been like, that I hope I never have to find out. I imagine there wasn't much sleep. I imagine they must have sat by her bedside near the end and cherished each breath, knowing it may be the last they would hear her take. I imagine that every single day for two years, they desperately wished there was anything they could do to take away her pain.....that they could suffer it for her. I imagine they put on a smile every day as they read her her favorite stories, and tried as best as they could to make her life feel as normal as possible, when each day, a major piece of their lives was vanishing slowly. This is only what I imagine. And I am so grateful to know that my boy will very soon be out of pain, and will hopefully be healthier for having had this operation. And, as I mentioned before, I am even more awestruck by the silent heroes among us who fight every day on behalf of the tiniest soldiers who are too weak to fight for themselves.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Yes, it is a cheesy name for this post, but it's late, and all I really want to be doing is eating cold cereal and watching tv in my jammies, so I'm going with it. I guess that makes me a "real" writer.....I write even when I don't really want to. Tangent over- here's the beef: Why, as mothers, can't we all just get along? We spend so much time telling our kids to play nice, and yet we often don't set a good example of this. Case in point: Two of my babies have been formula fed. Due to very personal reasons, breastfeeding does not work out so well for me, and well, my babies need to eat something, so they get formula. You would not believe (unless you have been one of the offenders, in which case, you may want to stop reading my blog) the looks of open disaproval I have received from other moms. After some of the hateful looks/head shakes/open mouthed gapes (only slightly exaggerating here) I have gotten, I have expected child protective services (or at very least a representative from La Leche League) to roll up to my front door at any moment. All because I have committed the unspeakable act of giving my baby a bottle.
I in no way claim to be the best mother in the world. I dropped out of the mompetition long ago. I found I just couldn't keep up with the homemade bread, scrapbooky, halo wearing moms a while ago. The few times I have felt the need to make bread, it has ended up serving as a better doorstop than as part of a well balanced meal. My idea of a scrapbook is a notebook filled with random quotes and design ideas I cut out of magazines (and I use Scotch tape to adhere them to the pages). And the halo has fallen off every time I reach up to pull my hair out. It's too exhausting trying to keep up with the super moms. So, I sit back and quietly admire their work.....kind of like when you see a magnificent painting in a museum. You know there is no way you could ever create something that beautiful, but you can understand and appreciate just how beautiful it is. I'm not saying I think that I am a bad mother. I love my children fiercely. I would walk through fire for them. I would loose sleep for them, forget to eat my own meals because I am too busy preparing theirs', forget to shower or comb my fact, I have done all of these things in the name of motherly love(save the walking through fire thing- might not be typing this if I had tried that one). And I guess that is just my point. From one mother to the next, why can't we, first of all admit that being a mother is the most screaming into a pillow, banging your head against a wall, pulling your hair out, hardest thing we've ever done (or maybe it's just me). And why can't we all just admit that our kids aren't always perfect, and that sometimes we let them eat a cookie that fell on the floor (sometimes we eat it) or heat up a frozen pizza for dinner, because we just didn't have it in us to make that five course meal tonight? Instead, we spend all of our time trying to look perfect.
Why can't we step back and realize that we all love our children, and all we want for them is to be happy? Wouldn't it be setting a much better example for our children to show them that, aside from being able to clean the house, run a 5K, and make the most delicious and most health conscious meal this side of the Mississippi (where food is tastier, but much less health conscious, as it is all deep fried)all in the same day, that we can also have compassion for those around us, that we can agree to disagree about breast vs. bottle, clean vs. cluttered, halo vs. straight jacket.....that we can be united in trying to help one another raise a generation of compassionate, understanding individuals who can follow our lead, work together and try to improve this crazy world we're living in? That was a lengthy question- short version: Can't we all just get along? Let's start a mom petition on the mompetition (wow- my level of cheese amazes even myself at times) and start trying to uplift one another. Let's teach our kids by example how to live the old adage, "It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Last Saturday began with a plan. The plan was for our little family to drive up to Palisades reservoir and admire the beauty of the changing leaves. On the way there, we were going to listen to the morning session of the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (a general meeting of the church held bi-annually in Salt Lake and broadcast throughout the world). We would stop in Swan Valley for lunch, head up the road a little further to the dam, where we would skip rocks in the river (which actually amounts to Morgan and Hyrum thrusting the largest rocks they can find into the river and scaring away all of the fish for the fishermen upstream). Then we would turn around, stop at the Rainy Creek convenience store for some square (yes, square) ice cream, and drive home listening to the afternoon session of Conference. This was the plan. I must also mention that the plan involved a peaceful, rather quiet drive, during which we could ponder and reflect on the messages being shared, and the beauties of nature around us. This point of the plan was foiled by one very stubborn 4 month old who did NOT want to be in his car seat. The screaming stopped about halfway to our original destination......just about the time that the radio signal got lost and we could no longer hear Conference. We stopped at the Angus Cafe. If that name alone isn't enough of a description for you, I will expound. It is the kind of place where the locals hang keep in mind that the locals of Swan Valley live in the mountains because they don't like to conform to the general rules of society. It was fairly apparent to me that none of them had come down to buy new clothing in a few decades. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing......It was almost like visiting a foreign country. And do they know how to make a BLT!! We finished our lunch and took off in our minivan, which looked alien thronged by pickups, SUVs and motorcycles. (I think if we hadn't left by our own accord, we may have been thrown out soon-minivans are for sissies). Next, it was off to the dam. We stood on the bank in the forty mile an hour wind as the kids hoisted boulders into the water. Well, if the people at the Angus didn't take us out, I think the fishermen at the dam may have had a good mind to. After more than a few disapproving looks, we hopped back in our sissy-mobile. The next part of the plan was to turn around and drive home. It was nearly 2:00; the time that the afternoon session of General Conference would begin. As we were pulling away from the dam, Dirk had a suggestion......we were so close to Jackson, WY.....why not just drive a ways further up the road and see it. The kids had never been there. By nature, I am not always a very spontaneous person, but something about the change of seasons that lingered in the air inspired me. Ryan was full, and looking pretty sleepy. We decided to go for it. We told the kids we were going to "Cowboy Town" (which Jackson is.....if you are a cowboy worth multi-millions). Ryan slept, and the Tangled soundtrack kept Morgan and Hyrum thoroughly entertained.
As we weaved through winding canyons of brilliant fall foliage, I thought of something my dad said once. It was a few years ago, and for some reason, just our little immediate family was in my parents' Montero. I can't remember where we were driving, but I remember my dad remarking on how long it had been since just the five of us were together, and that he wished he could just keep on driving. Suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to turn off my cell phone, not tell a soul where we were going, and just keep driving........away from house work, yard work, phone calls, meetings.......away from the thousand daily tasks that divert our focus from one another. And we did keep driving......all the way to Cowboy Town. It was overcast, with the clouds promising rain at any moment. Everything seemed so still and unhurried. We found a little ice cream shop (where I enjoyed THE BEST Belgian chocolate ice cream in the world). We took our confections to the town square, found a bench and sat. We just sat. At least Dirk and I did. Hyrum could not pull himself from the antler arches, and he kept speculating on just how many elk must have been killed for their construction. Morgan collected yellow leaves. Ryan slept. And Dirk and I just sat and soaked it all in. It almost seemed to play out in slow motion.....Morgan with her youthful buoyancy twirling in the chill fall air, Hyrum, in his boyishness trying to pull antlers off of the arch, and Ryan, with his little cherub face, asleep in his stroller.
I suppose that is what we had been missing.....the chance to just sit and behold the wonder that our children are. Somehow, a few hours down the road had brought us much further than that. For a few hours, we were in a world where all we existed to do was to be with our family and soak in the beauties around us, without a care in the world. So, we may have begun the day with a plan, but instead we ran away to Cowboy Town. It was a day that will play back in my mind as one of the fondest we've ever spent as a family. I can't wait until our next "runaway day".

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

This Old House

I am sure that the year 1959 was a great year. Not exactly being a history buff, I probably couldn't tell you anything significant that happened that year. I do know of one insignificant event that took place that year, which has come to have great significance in my personal life. An A-frame, red (well technically pink) brick house was built on Seminary Avenue in Shelley Idaho. A little over five years ago, in the year 2006, Dirk and I were house hunting. He had just been offered his first post-graduate job with Wells Fargo Bank. Baby number two was on the way, and we needed more space than our tiny two bedroom apartment provided. Though we were thrilled at the amount of Dirk's starting salary, along with the prospect of possibly having meals that consisted of more than Tuna Helper or Rice-a-Roni, we quickly found that we were fairly limited as to the type/size/age of home we could afford. Most of the homes were very small, dark, and dingy. Almost all had the kind of basement you're terrified to go in as a child- lots of cold cement and pipes. Not exactly what I had in mind. When I pictured my first home, I had always imagined white pickets, and a fresh, sunshiney country charm. Our realtor took us to one home that was in one of the "seedier" parts of town (which in Idaho Falls means there may be people on the block who mow their lawns every two weeks in the summer, as opposed to every week). We were in the house for literally about 1 minute. We walked in, saw the 700 square foot "bungalow" complete with green indoor-outdoor carpet, and a smell which would suggest that the aquarium in the corner had not been cleaned in a very, very long time, and our realtor promptly turned for the front door and led us out without a word. I was starting to get discouraged. Maybe we should just find a bigger apartment to wouldn't be so bad. A few years down the road, when we were a little more financially stable, we could look again. When I had all but lost hope of finding a home in which to raise my children that didn't look more like it should be condemned and torn down than lived in, our realtor asked if we had considered looking in the Shelley area. Shelley is a small town (population of about 3,000) just south of Idaho Falls. We hadn't thought of it before, but it would only mean about a 20 minute commute into town for Dirk each day. We figured we may as well look. Our realtor said he had a specific listing in mind. He described it as a "charming little house in a good neighborhood". Charming......little......both words I had heard before..... realtor code for old and cave-like. I did like the "good neighborhood" part. And Dirk and I were immediately charmed with the town and the neighborhood. Main Street reminded me a little bit of Mayberry. There was a greasy spoon diner where I could easily imagine the local farmers swearing over their morning coffee, an antique shop, a tiny hole-in-the-wall pizza joint and even a little old theater called "The Virginia". I spent my childhood in Virginia. I took the name of the theater as a sign. Shelley was, by all accounts, a quiet, quaint, and ideal looking town. Then, we pulled up to the house. Our first instinct was to tell our realtor to keep driving. It was an A-frame with giant wood framed picture windows. The weeds in the front bed were literally taller than our two-year-old daughter and the fence looked like it hadn't been painted in over 50 years. But there was what appeared to be a brand new roof........."potential.......look for the potential", I kept reminding myself. So, we ventured in. The first thing that struck me was the openness. The A-frame structure of the house, while not exactly appealing from the outside, also made for a high, vaulted ceiling on the inside. That, combined with the big picture windows, made for a light-filled, very open room. The kitchen was literally falling apart, and there were windows looking into the garage. The garage had once been a carport. It had been enclosed at some point in time, but aparently whomever had changed it ran out of money to wall up the windows. But the kitchen was spacious, and curtains were a quick and cheap enough solution for covering up unwanted windows. We ventured further in. There were three bedroom upstairs, one which had a cute little butterfly and flower border perfect for a little girl, and one which had a car and train border for a little boy. That sold it for me. It was meant to be. We made an offer the next day, and were the proud owners of a new (yet very 0ld) home within the week.
In the past five years, we have completely redone the kitchen, and the basement, and have made many other minor improvements inside and out. Still, there are days when I look around and think that no matter how much I scrub, scour, and redecorate this place, it will still be a half a century old house, and it will still look dingy and outdated. The interior designer in me is constantly thinking of complete room makeovers that would look fabulous, if only I had the money. My design style has now become "shabby chic" out of necessity. I take the shabbiness around me and try to make it look chic. My four year old is a great help in that department. He has put so many dents in our pine wood coffee table that several people have asked me what I did to antique it (seriously). Underneath said coffee table, I have stacks of interior design magazines filled with pictures of beautiful rooms. Sometimes I thumb through them and dream of all my home could be. Sometimes I just want a fresh start.
As it turns out, there is currently a small possibility that Dirk and I may be buying a new home in the near future. There is a possibility of a great job in Salt Lake City which Dirk has applied for. When I started thinking about how on earth we would sell this place in the current housing market, I began to think of how I would advertise it if I were a realtor....... "Lovely old home with lots of updates and fenced back yard, in great location. Within walking distance of school, library, park, and pool..........swing set, perfect stump in backyard for tree house........perfect house for young family." Then it occurred to me- This is the perfect house for a family. And, when it comes down to it, all the memories we have made in this house make it more beautiful and more comforting to me than the most luxurious Beverly Hills mansion could ever be.......I have brought two babies home to this house. Two of my children have learned to ride bikes in the school parking lot across the street. We bought our first (and last) puppy in this house. And a million other little memories. Now that the possibility of actually leaving this place looms before me, I am beginning to wonder why on earth I would ever want to leave this old house.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fair Day

All in all I believe strongly in moderation. I strive to live a fairly well-balanced life, without a whole lot of excess. Of course there are days when I play too much and don't work enough, and vice-versa. There are nights when I stay up too late and mornings when I sleep in too long. And of course there are those nights when nothing will do to end the day except an entire pint of Ben and Jerry's. I'm really not making a very good case for myself living moderately here, am I?! But seriously, I don't generally have a lot of excess in my day to day style of living. There is one major exception to this rule of moderate living: Fair day. The Eastern Idaho State Fair is held at the Blackfoot fairgrounds every year the week of Labor Day. Every year, my mom and I go to the fair on Friday. Usually my mom's friend Jill meets up with us for at least part of the day. We try to arrive when the gates open, at about 9:00 a.m., and leave when they start kicking everyone out, at about 11:00 p.m. Now, one (especially one who isn't fond of fairs) may wonder what on earth there is to do for 14 hours at the fair. I will enlighten you. First and foremost, there is the food.......Pronto Pups, Tiger Ears, Tortados, chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate covered raspberries, Wimpy burgers, corn on the cob, pork and seeds, trout, freshly baked bread and jam...........just to name a few. The first rule of fair day is: absolutely no counting calories. In one day, we fill our yearly quota for deep fried fattening foods. Then there are the exhibits. The best (and worst- which can be even more entertaining at times) of local photography, painting, sketching, quilting, crocheting, stitching, wood-working, pie baking, cookie making, cake decorating, canning, giant vegetable growing is all on display! My mom, Jill and I all decided that our favorite artist this year was Kort Duce. He had submitted three paintings of what we dubbed "country modern pop art". Each depicted a very vibrantly colored rooster in a different scenario. In one, the rooster was on the beach with a surf board. In another he was on the handle of a frying pan in which some eggs were frying (cannibal rooster?). And in the third, he was, quite fittingly, acting as an alarm clock on a woman's bedside table. Now, I ask you, where else are you going to find art like this? And where else are you going to find deep fried escargot? That's right. Not a typo. We Idahoans can take anything meant to be chic, elegant or high class and put our redneck spin on it with a gallon of fat!
For me, fair day is a day of freedom in a way. There is no laundry (although, there are plenty of people who will need access to a good washing machine at the end of the day), no screaming, fighting kids, no meals to cook......just a thousand tastes, sights, smells (good and bad) to take in. There is nowhere I have to be at a certain's a day I can drop all of my pressing responsibilities and just be. This kind of occasional excess is important for everyone. I think that as mothers, we sometimes don't take enough time for ourselves. We spend every minute of our time and every ounce of our energy trying to make our children's lives as carefree as possible, yet we sometimes forget that we need the occasional carefree day as well. I have always been an advocate of girl's night/weekend/fair day out for this very reason. For me, the occasional splurge or pamper, or quiet time gives me the balance I need amidst all of the chaos that automatically comes with maintaining a household full of three young children. And, after a day of over stimulation, I begin to crave the stability of my daily routine.
This year, my mom and I did something we hadn't yet done at the fair. We braved (and believe me- it is brave, because you can see men literally hammering the rides together the night before the fair opens) a few fair rides. We rode the Ferris wheel, and ended the night on the swings. It seemed fitting. For a few minutes, I was suspended in the air, my legs dangling free, not a care in the world. Already this week, when my children have fought, my dog has chewed up yet another household item, or my baby has screamed, I have looked back at that moment and been reminded to just breathe. Oh- and by the way- I have the COOLEST mom in the world. Sorry to disappoint you if you thought you did.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Identity Theft

There are days when I look in the mirror and barely recognize myself. When did I become this haggard looking woman with perpetual dark circles and never fixed hair? I guess I have been this way ever since the day I had my identity stolen. There was a time when I used to blow dry my hair, take a little time putting on my makeup, and selecting an outfit that matched and looked fairly presentable. Then came August 28th, 2004. The Morganator (a nickname we gave Morgan shortly after birth, due to her constant crying) arrived, and the person I was got lost somewhere in the land of sleep-deprived parenthood. Two little boys have since joined the Morganator, and these days, I feel pretty good about myself if I have time to shower, throw my hair in a pony tail and actually remember to put on all of my clothing. Now, I know that there is more to life than how one looks, and my physical appearance is only one of the things that was altered by the theft of my identity. I used to spend a few hours at the piano most days. Now I feel good if I can get in a few measures of Mozart once a week. I also had ambitious goals like reading and extensively studying the complete works of Shakespeare in a year, or learning how to bake, or picking up a new instrument. Now I feel good at the end of the day if there are no clothes piled on top of the laundry hamper (whether because I have actually washed all the laundry, or because I have just been able to shove all of the dirty laundry down, it hardly matters), there are no dirty dishes piled in the sink, and all of my three children still have both of their eyes (until you actually have three children, you will never fully comprehend what an accomplishment this truly is). I consider it a lofty goal to get through one chapter in a book a day, and I now find myself memorizing a lot more Jack Prelutzky than Shakespeare.
I used to think," Somewhere in there is the old me, the one who has a passion for poetry, music and art." It wasn't until after I went through a period of mourning, if you will, that I realized the old me was very much alive. I just had to find new ways of uncovering it. I realized that I still have a passion for poetry, music and art, and that in some ways that passion has only been heightened by watching with wonder as my children discover for themselves that these are the things that make our world so wonderful. When my children laugh uncontrollably at a stanza of Shel Silverstein, the written word suddenly comes alive far more that it ever has through any Shakespearian sonnet. Teaching my daughter piano lessons is one of the single most rewarding experiences I have ever had. Her plunked out rendition of "Quiet River" rivals any phrase of Handel or Beethoven for the joy it brings my heart and soul. And my refrigerator is covered in the latest works of my two favorite artists. I never realized fingerpaintng could be so enlightening! So, it would seem that my children have not stolen my identity so much as they have helped me to discover it in new ways.
Having children also exposes the duality of our human nature. Since first giving birth, I have come to realize that I am more selfless than I have ever thought myself to be, but also that I can be more selfish than I ever thought myself capable of being. The second I cradled Morgan in my arms, I knew instinctively that I would do literally anything for her happiness and well-being. I still feel that way, but there were days in her infanthood when all I could think about was when the crying would end, and when I would finally again have a little "me time." I have also realized that there is a clearly defined limit to my patience level. My patience expires after exactly one 2:00 am.-6:00 jag of colic induced screaming. (Morgan was not the only one who felt like screaming on those nights- believe you me, I have screamed into a pillow more times than I ever thought I would.) Having children has certainly shed light on my weaknesses, but it has also shown me that I have more strength than I was ever previously aware of. The experience of motherhood has taught me, among so many other things, that I can do hard things, things that may seem impossible at first.
So, perhaps my identity was stolen in a sense. Maybe I will never have time to write a best seller because I am up to my elbows in mac and cheese, dirty diapers and finger paint. But by and large, the person formerly known as Shannon Stanger has been replaced by a much more compassionate and aware human being. I am grateful for the gift of being able to rediscover daily who I am through the eyes of my children.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Six going on.........sixteen?

My daughter will be seven years old at the end of this month. She will be entering the second grade. She still likes pink sparkly things and princesses and Sesame Street. Apparently this is no longer the norm for seven year old girls. Judging by what her fellow schoolmates wore to second grade registration yesterday, the average seven year old girl now likes black, animal prints, and Justin Beiber. I'm pretty sure Morgan has no idea who Justin Beiber even is (she's more of a Taylor Swift girl - thank goodness). Seeing all these girls who seemed so grown up (literally- because they were all about a head taller than my little girl, at least), I tried to think back to when I was that age. I loved My Little Ponies and Littlest Pet Shop and Fred Penner (no one else in the entire world seems to know who Fred Penner is- he was basically Mr. Rogers with a guitar and a beard), and I still played with Barbies. Speaking of Barbies.......what is the deal? Barbie has always been a role model of sorts to young girls; a plastic, wildly disproportionate model of what little girls dreamed of someday becoming. Over the years I had a gymnast Barbie, a bride Barbie, a veterinarian Barbie...... my favorite was probably journalist Barbie, who came dressed in a snazzy pink suit, that reversed into a cocktail outfit, and had a little briefcase. As I perused the Barbie aisle of the local Wal-mart ( don't judge- it's cheap, and I'm not made of money- I have never been remotely close to being worthy of a spot on the People of Wal-mart website......except maybe the time I wore my skin tight snake skin pants with my 5-inch red stilettos- you'll never know whether I am joking or not) I noticed that there is still a doctor Barbie, and a vet Barbie, along with many other Barbies representing worthy professions. The only problem was that every single one was dressed as though she worked a much different profession after normal work hours. If I went into the doctor's office for a visit, and my physician was dressed the way that the latest installment of doctor Barbie is dressed, I would question whether or not I had walked into the right building. There were other dolls in the aisle as well. I have always had a serious issue with the Bratz dolls. I mean, come on.....really? Bratz? Back to Wal-mart now, where there were plenty of barely clothed Bratz to be found. My issue with the Bratz was soon momentarily forgotten, however, as I ran into something that was, if possible, even more disturbing........Monster High Dolls...... if dolls are still a representation of what girls should strive to be when they grow up, then apparently the message that the rising generation of girls is receiving is that they should be severely anorexic zombie hookers. Aaahhh......every mother's dream for her daughter. I grabbed the nearest Tangled doll and ran for it.
My real question is.......what is this overwhelming trend in society of sexualizing young girls? If you let your six year old daughter parade around the neighborhood in a mini skirt and an off the shoulder shirt (speaking of which-do the eighties have to make a comeback every decade? if we didn't all look ridiculous enough the first time around) then you are not considering the pedophile who lives down the street. You just have to assume he's there. The world is full of sickos. And yet, there are some mothers who seem completely oblivious to this fact. I was watching Inside Edition a few nights ago. There was a story about that TLC show......I think it's called Tots and Tiaras......anyway it's basically a show about little Jean Benet Ramseys and there pageant crazy (maybe just crazy crazy) mothers. The little girl who won whatever the coveted title was, was named Eden. There was some controversy over her "talent", which was a dance full of extremely suggestive moves. As this poor little girl danced her way into the fantasies of pedophiles far and wide, her mother was standing on the sidelines cheering like she was at a soccer game (are pageant moms the new soccer moms?.......God save us). The woman has obviously inhaled a bit too much Aqua Net over the years.
I refuse to make my daughter grow up too at seven is not okay with me. And yet, I still find myself sitting and worrying that she won't fit in, that she'll be mocked because she prefers Belle and Ariel and Rapunzel, and even Elmo and Mr. Noodle to Justin Beiber and street walker Barbie. I worry, and soon my worry turns into alternating feelings of sadness and anger at the world that she has to try to fit into. What ever happened to the days of making daisy chains and holly hock dolls and telephones out of tin cans? There is no need to play telephone anymore, because every child over the age of eight (s0metimes younger) owns their own cell phone. I don't want my daughter to have to try to conform to a world where the girls her age are dressing like they are sixteen and don't know how to write because they only text (and avoid using full words and sentences at that). I want her to live in a world where she can still believe there are fairy rings in the back yard and pretend she is a mermaid when she is in the swimming pool. I want her to live in a world of less sex and more Sesame Street. As I ponder all of this, the sadness and anger eventually give way to hopelessness. I cannot change the societal norms. So I guess I have the daunting task ahead of me of helping my precious little girl to rise above the societal norms, and helping her to be sure of, and proud of who she is. I will try my best, but I can't help but feel sometimes that I am fighting an uphill battle......after all I am just one mother against countless media tycoons, toy companies, and sickos in high places. But, perhaps, just perhaps, if all of the other moms who feel this way could band together.... stand up and refuse to let our daughters be sexualized any longer...... maybe.... It's a long shot, but maybe we could get a little closer to again living in a world where the biggest problem a seven year old girl has to worry about is which pair of stick-on earrings she should wear to school the next day.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sleep walking

The peak time to view the annual Perseids meteor shower will be this Friday and Saturday night. The best time to view this natural firework display is apparently between midnight and dawn. Any parent knows that sleep is the holy grail of parenthood, but for the success (or complete lack thereof) that many of us have on our epic quest to procure this most desirable of objectives, we may as well be galloping around banging a bunch of coconuts together. When my daughter was an infant she cried. A lot. (I know I have probably mentioned this before, but the trauma of a "colicky" baby takes a while to wear off). Day and night. The only thing that would prevent said crying was to nurse her, rock her, or drive around in the car. At night, Dirk and I used to take two hour shifts of rocking with her in our old creaky wooden rocking chair. If you have ever wondered why I seem to have seen every obscure movie ever created, this is why. Turning on a movie was a much better alternative than staring at the wall, or out the window at the other houses with all of the lights turned off, knowing that the people inside were sound asleep, and resenting them for it. When Morgan was around five months old neither Dirk nor I could take it anymore. One night we let her "cry it out" in her crib ( I had to leave the apartment), and after that she began sleeping through the night. But did I? Not exactly. I am a compulsive worrier. Always have been. If there is some event that may or may not happen in the near or distant future that may or may not affect me, my family, my friends, the country, or any person I have met anywhere in the world, chances are, I'm worrying about it, possibly losing sleep over it. So, when Morgan finally started sleeping through the night, I would lie awake worrying that she was suddenly sleeping through the night. Aside from being a worry-wart, I am also a bit of an insomniac. Sometimes I feel like I am running on cruise control during the day, and as soon as the sun goes down, my brain floors the gas pedal. If only there were some way to eliminate the need for sleep, I would be set. I could accomplish so much. But, short of getting a love bite from Edward Cullen, I don't think the whole surviving on no sleep thing is going to happen. I have heard of a form of yogic sleep. I like to do yoga, but I can never quiet my mind enough to reap the full benefits. Apparently, thirty minutes in a state of true "total relaxation" has the same effect on the body as an equivalent eight hours of sleep. I once had a million dollar idea. What if someone could invent some type of machine.......something like a tanning bed, except this would be a sleep bed. You lay in it for two hours, and it tricks your mind into thinking that you've had a full eight to ten hours of R.E.M. sleep! I could make millions!!!
I think the scientists (who actually understand the natural laws of the universe beyond a third grade level- science was never my strong suit) should get right on that. I mean come on- if there are agents out there who can fool people into believing that Charlie Sheen is actually a human being (though he himself claims to be on an entirely different plane of reality), then there has to be some scientist out there that can fool our minds into believing we are sleeping. Until that day, I guess I will have to learn how to own the whole puffy dark circled eye look. I could always say I'm going for the "heroin chic" look, even though I'm a Mormon, and the hardest substance to ever enter my body was an atomic Warhead. (does anyone else remember those things?) The Bono look could also work- I could just wear sunglasses day and night, indoor and out. I am a bit surprised by our ability to adapt to sleep deprivation and to be able to continue functioning on a semi-human level. A few weeks ago there was a night when I slept for exactly one hour. The night was spent with my best friend, a side-splitting movie, some chocolate fondue, and a gigantic tray of every conceivable thing we could dip in said chocolate (for the record, potato chips in chocolate fondue.......surprisingly yummy). It had apparently been far too long since we had chatted, because in the middle of an in depth conversation, I received a panicked call from my husband. It was 3:15. I jumped in the car and was on my way home. I got home around 4:00, was in bed by around 4:15, asleep by about 5:00, and up for the day at 6:00. Talk about auto pilot. I felt like the guy on Ratatouille, you know when the little rat makes him move his limbs.........I don't know who my puppet master was, but I somehow made it through the day without running off the road or losing my car keys, or mixing up my children's names.
But, despite the physical exhaustion I felt, I wouldn't have traded the night before for anything. My eyes were bleary, but my sides were sore from laughing, and my soul was filled up from having a meaningful conversation with one of the most amazing people I know. Sleep is nice. Some days I feel there is nothing I would rather do. But it's just sleep. Sometimes the hours when most of the non-insomniacs are sound asleep are the only time you have to catch up with an old friend, or watch an obscure Billy Crystal movie while rocking your new baby, or view a natural miracle. Maybe this Friday I will just stay up after Ryan's 2:00 a.m. feeding and watch the meteor shower. After all is said and done, I think I would rather sleep walk through my entire life than to go through it never having had the sublime realization that there are some things in life worth losing sleep over.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

We can't choose our family........or can we?

Just because we are born into a family does not necessarily mean that we belong in that family. Take it from Matilda Wormwood. In the beloved Roald Dahl classic Matilda, the title character is a would- be- youngest- Harvard- graduate- ever born into a family of couch potatoes. Side note: the movie adaptation of this book is very entertaining- Danny Devito outdoes himself as sleazy car salesman (and Matilda's father) Harry Wormwood. Matilda learns at a very young age that she must make her own way in the world. She has to learn how to succeed in spite of being born into a family who's favorite past time is watching The Million Dollar Sticky. If we are lucky, as I have been, we are blessed enough to have a family in which we feel we belong. I have been blessed with the best family anyone could ask for. I'm sure many would say the same of their own least their immediate families. In every family there is that one relative (distant or otherwise) that causes everyone at the family reunion to think, "Seriously?- I'm related to this guy?" In some families, there are many of these. Yet, despite the fact that we all have relatives who would make us question our own genetic makeup, there seems to resound deep within all of us the need to discover our roots. I believe there was recently a show on television which featured various celebrities doing genealogical research to discover their heritage..... I never saw the show, but I can only imagine some of the results.........Paris Hilton discovers that she is distantly related to Thomas Edison and responds, "Who? Oh- is that like the guy who invented light or whatever?".......further proof that the apple can indeed fall very far from the proverbial tree.
I am very interested in my own roots, and I take great pride in my heritage. And it just so happens that many of my family members are also my very best friends. What I have also come to realize, however, is that many of my closest (non-related) friends have become more like family. Hence the title of this post. I am not a Matilda in a family of witless Wormwoods. I have no desire to belong to a different family than my own. I have, however, over the years, found people whose spirits are so kindred to my own that I have desired to make them part of my family. Example A is, of course, my husband. When Dirk and I were married, I didn't just gain a husband. I was also blessed with another set of parents, as well as five more sisters and five more brothers. Example B- my best friend Kate- we are not blood related, but I consider her a sister in every way, because she is to me everything that family represents. Our souls are so interconnected that the only word to adequately describe our relationship is family. If Facebook is the social network, then family is our emotional network. Family is anyone who loves you unconditionally. They are always in your corner. They always have your back ( and any of many other various cliches). They are not always blood related. When something truly wonderful happens in your life, who are the first ten people you want to call? This is your family; the base of your emotional network.
Now- back to our friend Matilda.....There are some people who, like the Wormwoods, or Casey Anthony, should never be allowed to have children. And then there are people, like Miss Honey or my dear friends Lisa and Brandon (kindred spirits who happen to be part of the family I married into) who are not able to have children of their own. But, sometimes, God (or karma- whatever you personally like to call it) intervenes, and the Matildas and Miss Honeys of the world are united. Case in point- About a week ago a precious baby boy was born to a mother whom, though I highly doubt she could be compared in any way to the Wormwoods, was not exactly ready to add to her own family. As a result, Lisa and Brandon, two people who are more suited to be parents than almost anyone I know, have been able to add this little boy to their family. So, today I am grateful for my own family, both those to whom I am bound by blood ties, and those whom I have adopted into my emotional network. And I am grateful that two of those people whom I have adopted as my own have now been blessed with the perpetuation of their own emotional network in the form of a tiny little miracle named Hyrum Dale. Today, I am not striving to create the most entertaining or thought provoking post. Today, I am simply grateful. Lisa and Brandon are parents, and everything seems a little more right with the world.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dance Partners

After shooting the movie Funny Face, the incomparable Audrey Hepburn said, "I experienced the thrill that all women at some point in their lives have dreamed of- to dance just once with Fred Astaire." And what magic they created! There is nothing quite like seeing Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire dance together. It is, in my opinion, the epitome of elegance. Then again, I do have a slight Audrey Hepburn obsession. Before she ever graced the silver screen, Hepburn was a dancer. I think, like most little girls do at some point in their lives, I dreamed of being a ballerina once. I put Morgan in a ballet class when she was four years old. She adored Angelina Ballerina, so I thought, why not, all the while wondering if I was actually trying to vicariously live out my girlhood dream through my daughter. It turns out that she was no more coordinated at dancing than I am, which, by the way, I am not. I can feel the music, apparently everywhere but my feet. In high school, I briefly dated a ballroom dancer (I know what you're thinking, but the reason that we broke up was not that he was actually gay). He made me look like I could dance. Our claim to fame (if you want to call a few of our closest friends pretending to act mildly interested fame) was recreating the lift from Dirty Dancing (and please people- if you haven't seen Funny Face or Dirty Dancing, go rent some movies) - you know the one where Jennifer Gray does a flying leap into Patrick Swazey's arms and he lifts her above his head like a bird. And that, plus one tango class I took with my husband aboard a cruise ship, is the extent of my dancing experience. And to be fair, the first probably wasn't really dancing so much as hurling myself into the air and letting someone else make me look impressive.
As luck would have it, I recently found a dance partner who doesn't care if I look like Elaine from Seinfeld when I try to bust a move. He's not exactly Fred Astaire, or even Gene Kelly for that matter. He is short, fat and bald, and usually leaves a puddle of drool on my shoulder . I am of course talking about my precious baby boy, Ryan. He was having a bit of a fussy time a few days ago. I have noticed that music usually calms him. So, I tuned into my Micheal Buble station on Pandora (if you love music, and you haven't discovered Pandora, you should check it out), snuggled my little bug close, and began dancing around the room. He settled down almost instantly. This amazed me, since the very idea of me dancing would be enough to make most people cry.
I've had many dances in my life, at various proms, weddings , etc., most of which I don't even remember. But, I think I will always remember dancing barefoot in the living room in tie-die and cargo shorts; the smell of freshly cut grass wafting in on the breeze through the screen door, and the smell and warmth of that new baby head nuzzled against my shoulder. And I know Ryan won't remember, but one day when he leads some lucky lady out onto the floor in his handsome tux and steals her heart, I will remember, that day so long ago when he stole mine. And, if he is willing to humor and old lady, maybe we will turn on some Micheal Buble and dance again, hopefully minus the drool this time.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Those Who Can't Do Teach

I have been watching a lot of Ellen and Oprah reruns while being confined to the couch/ rocking chair with a newborn the past few weeks. I watch Ellen for the laughs, and Oprah in the hopes that I might just have an "aha moment" (if you have never watched Oprah- first of all, you need to come out from under that rock, and second, you will have absolutely no idea what an "aha moment" is). An "aha moment" is basically an epiphany. Well, a few days ago while watching the queen of daytime ( love her or hate her, you know it's true), I finally had my own "aha moment". While talking to a guest, Oprah said something that just resonated with me. What she said was this: "We teach what we most need to learn." It was basically just a rephrasing of the old adage, "Those who can't do teach", but for some reason, the way she said it struck me. It was just what I needed to hear. I immediately thought of my blog. The posts I have written usually end with some sort of "lesson", if you will, about not taking things for granted, or living in the moment. Then I started to think of how many days I go through in survival mode, just going through the motions, trudging through the monotony. At this moment, many days are lived in survival mode due to the fact that I have a newborn and am basically sleepwalking most of the time. But even before Ryan came along, there were plenty of days that I just "got through."
Writing is introspective and cathartic by nature, at least if it is true, honest writing. I always strive to write truth as I have come to know it. Whether or not I am always fully living that truth is another matter. And, after my aha moment, I realized that sadly, I am not always "living my best life" (don't worry- I am not actively endorsing the Oprah Winfrey show, as it is now over). Of course there are days when the truths I have come to know match the way I live. There are the dandelion days, and the library book days. These days are aha moments in and of themselves. They are the days that I step back and realize, "this is how I should live every day." And maybe that is why I started writing about those days and all those little moments of clarity. Maybe I needed to teach myself to more fully recognize them. So, while you (yes, you) may all have thought that I have been yakking at you all of this time, this blog has really been an internal conversation. It is me telling myself to slow down, to let the dishes pile up once in a while, to realize that in the blink of a sleep-deprived, puffy, dark-circled eye, that Morgan will be in a wedding dress.
I guess it is for this reason that I believe that everyone should keep some kind of journal. Sometimes we are our own best teachers. We just forget to listen to ourselves. We instinctively know somewhere deep within ourselves what we should be doing to become the best versions of ourselves. I often go back and read my own posts or journal entries, not because they are just that fabulous, but because every time I read my own words, they remind me of who I am really trying to be, or, maybe who I really am, but sometimes forget that I am. I used to write a lot of poetry. As I look back through my own writing, one poem in particular stands out. Perhaps it is because this one poem describes more fully who I am than anything else I have written. This will be the first and most likely last poem I will ever post, but here it is:

today was nothing epic
but i lived
i saw not one mountain move
but i sang
the sun was never shining
but i laughed
no love awaits me anywhere
but i love

i love the simplicity of living
each day
i love for nature's miracles to
stand still, proud
i love endless clouds in
blankets of gray
i love being lonely and
dreaming of love

i love this day........

because i lived it

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Finding Neverland

I just recently read J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. Before reading it, I knew only Disney's take on the boy who wouldn't grow up. I found the actual book to be much darker (not too surprising, seeing as how just about anything that doesn't include cheerfully chatty woodland creatures is darker than Disney) than the beloved Disney classic film. Barrie's Peter is far more menacing and impish. I think he even entered unpleasantly into my dreams a few nights. However he may be presented in different renditions, I love the overall idea of Peter Pan. The boy who wouldn't grow up. The idea sometimes brings to mind that annoying Toys R' Us theme song that repeats over and over in your head when you hear it. You know the one........ "I don't wanna' grow up, I'm a Toys R' Us kid........" You can now thank me for putting that song in your head on instant replay! The idea is enchanting though......and some people take it quite literally, although, unfortunately, the 40-year old perpetual "ladies' man" with a beer gut is not quite so charming as the perpetual boy with the green tights and the impish gleam in his eye. Though we may not all be able to pull of the whole tight thing, I think it is important for all of us to have our own sort of personal Neverland (and, no, I am not referring to a "ranch" where we invite children to "sleep over"). I mean some place in our mind, or perhaps even a physical location, where we feel safe enough to completely let our guard down, to be unabashed, to be a kid again. My Neverland is writing. When I take a pen ( or a keyboard) in hand, all the walls come down. Things I didn't even know I thought, and truths that have been buried in the recesses of my mind and heart come tumbling out. (whether this is always a good thing may be debatable). But when I write, it brings me to that magical place where anything is possible. My Neverland is in the endless possibilities of words on a page. Though my blog posts are usually spontaneous and completely unedited ( with the exception of a few back spaces and an occasional spell check), I have a personal journal at home that I like to call my "word vomit" journal. Perhaps not the most pleasant name, but that is essentially what it is. It is my no holds barred, no walls up, no "grown up" pretences, write whatever comes to mind journal. I would encourage everyone to occasionally practice the exercise of vomiting words. You may be surprised what comes out! Or, if writing is not your thing, find your Neverland, whatever it may be, whether it's music, a beautiful garden, a spot on the beach.......find somewhere or something that takes you back to that childlike state of not caring what anyone else thinks.
Why is is that we have to rediscover Neverland? When do we leave it in the first place? There seem to be a few people who never do, like Dr. Seuss. He had a lifetime pass to the land of perpetual youth; I am sure of it. How, over the course of years, do most of us become so jaded? When do dandelions become obnoxious weeds instead of the first miracle of Spring? When do stars stop twinkling? As parents of young children, we get guest passes to Neverland. We can go there with our children anytime we are willing to let our guard down and be fully in the moment with them. But, as parents, we also enter an entirely new type of Neverland; it is Neveragainland. With each day, week, month and year that passes, we begin to realize that our children will never again be quite so innocent and full of wonder and curiosity as they are this very day. With each first accomplishment, we are brought abruptly to the land of Neveragain. When our baby takes his/her first step, we will never again hold them in our arms as a tiny infant, but as a toddler. The first day of kindergarten, we will never again drop our child off at their very first day of school. And so it will continue, until the day comes when our children will never again live within the walls of our own home, safe under our constant care. And with each journey to Neveragainland, our children slowly, incrementally, begin to forget how to find Neverland themselves.
This is why it is so important that we as adults find our own way back to Neverland; so that when our children's' vision of it begins to grow dim, we can remind them that it does in fact exist, though maybe in a more "adult" word called hope. We cannot completely shut out the harsh realities which naturally await everyone along the path of growing up. But we can still hope that, despite the ugliness that surrounds us, that the beauty which abounds in this life far outweighs it. No matter what your own personal Neverland may be, find it. Go there often. Peter Pan gave his own directions: "Second star to the right and straight on til morning." I think the real directions to Neverland may be this: Find the thing, place or memory that fills you with so much hope that there is little room for anything else, and open your whole heart to it. Maybe that sounds cheesy enough for Disney. But, then again, I don't think Walt Disney ever left Neverland either.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I Want My Mommy

Many situations arise throughout our lives that may cause us to utter this phrase. Not that many of us ever really say it out loud, but if we are blessed enough to have grown up with a loving mother, this most infantile of all needs resounds somewhere deep within us when we approach the most trying situations. The first time your heart was broken, for instance, who did you want to turn to? The first night you slept in your college dorm and realized from there on out you had to fend for yourself......the first time you got turned down for a job you really wanted, who did you turn to? Of course, being married now, I can turn to my loving husband when I need a shoulder to cry on. But, on some deep, instinctual level, no one can ever really replace one's mother. I read a quote once that said, "A mother is she who can take the place of all others, but whose place no one else can take." I think this remains true no matter how old we are or how many life experiences we have had. A mother is the first person who teaches us what love is. A mother is love. Sometimes a certain smell can trigger a thousand memories of my mother, and an overwhelming nostalgia for simpler days.
At some point in our lives, we also come to realize that our mother does not know everything. At first, this can be a somewhat startling revelation. As children, we see our mothers as omnipotent. They have the answer for everything. I distinctly remember the way I felt when I came to the realization that my mother didn't have all the answers. At first, there was this sense of being disappointed with reality, kind of like when you realize Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy don't actually exist. It didn't take long, however, for that disappointment to turn into a sense of overwhelming gratitude. If my mother knew everything all along, how easy life would have been! But she didn't have all the answers. Just like me, she struggled and fretted and worked out the answers on her own. And the fact that she did this with enough grace to make me believe she knew exactly what she was doing every step of the way is far more impressive than if she were a veritable encyclopedia of child rearing information. What my mother did always have the answer to was how to love. She has loved me through many of the hardest times of my life.
Having just given birth to my third child, I find it interesting that one of the times in life when a woman wants her mommy the most is when she herself brings life into the world. One reason for this, is that it is a huge life change, no matter how many times you've done it. Any time your life does a complete 180, I guess it's only natural to want your mother there to help you turn it back around. With my first baby, I was completely overwhelmed......well, terrified is probably a more accurate word. I was so young. I had no idea what I was in for. And on top of it all, I had a baby that cried all the time. I spent a lot of time at my mother's house when Dirk was gone. Luckily, at that time, she lived a few blocks away. There were several nights when she could be found in Morgan's nursery at night, gently rocking her as Dirk and I snuck in a few hours of sleep. She was, quite literally, my life line. Hyrum was much easier as a baby. For one thing, I now had more of an idea of what to expect, and for another, he was a very content baby overall. But I still turned to my mom on more occasions than I can count. Now on baby number three, I have already done this baby thing twice before. Plus, my husband is still home from work. I have had so much support, and yet, sometimes still, only mom will do. She stopped by for about half an hour last night, bearing provisions of fresh berries, cupcakes, and caramel corn. She held Ryan. Just her coming was like a type of maternal blessing on our home.
Perhaps the real reason that we want our mommies when we have our own babies is because going through the experience connects us to our own mothers on a level we never thought possible. Instantly and instinctively we realize all that our mothers sacrificed for us, not only in bringing us into the world, but in every sleepless night, in every helpless moment of not knowing what to do, in every tearful realization that our babies will eventually grow up, in every thrill at each new accomplishment. There is a lullaby, that as far as I know, is sung only in our family. I have never heard it anywhere else, and it has been passed down through generations. My great grandmother sang it to my grandmother, and she sang it to my mother, who sang it to me. As I have rocked each of my babies and softly sang to them, I have wondered if one day they will do the same with their own babies. And I fully expect, someday ( in the far, far, far distant future), many 2 a.m. phone calls from my Morgan at those times when only mom will do. And I will think of my own mother, and of what she told me when I asked the same questions. And the cycle of life will continue, always taking me back to that first person who ever loved me, and who always loved me best.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Magic Tricks

I have always been fascinated by the idea of magic. Even the cheesy card tricks where the magician somehow pulls your card from the top of the deck after it has been cut and shuffled repeatedly intrigue me. I know it is all just slight of hand, but I still love to watch something without knowing exactly how it is being done. I've never been a big answer person. I tend to like more abstract things that lend themselves to interpretation. This is why I hate math and love things like philosophy, art and literature. That is, until it comes to parenting. When raising children, it would be nice to have a few concrete answers, some fail-proof solutions, but alas, I have discovered that there are none. Especially when you have more than one child. Even if you think you have mastered the art of parenting with your first, your second is bound to be the polar opposite in every regard. When Morgan was a baby, I tried every trick in the book (literally- you should see my copy of "What to Expect the First Year") to get her to stop crying and go to sleep. When Hyrum was born, I was trying everything in the book to get him to wake up enough to eat! Children, unfortunately, do not come with instruction manuals, or mute buttons (this may sound harsh, but if you have ever had a baby who cried for nine months straight, you understand the overwhelming desire to occasionally "mute" them). This is where trial and error come in, and sometimes, even a little bit of magic. To curb Morgan's screaming, we tried everything from gas drops to prune juice to catnip drops. Turns out the only thing that would stop the crying was a ride in the car. Luckily, when she was born, gas did not cost $5.00 a gallon, because I spent a good part of most days driving up in the foothills. After months of sleep deprivation, pulling out of hair, and wondering why my newborn seemed to be the only one who did not peacefully sleep in her car seat wherever we went, the ability to calm her with a little drive and some tunes seemed like a magic trick.
Babies are excellent magicians. The bodily functions they can produce alone are astounding. That came out of a seven pound baby?....... I have also known my babies' bodily functions to completely defy gravity on several occasions. The most intriguing magical power that babies possess, however, is the power of hypnosis. They can scream for five hours straight, until you are ready to go on an extended vacation and come back when they are past the crying phase, and then........they look at you. They don't even have to smile. Those tiny, bright eyes just pull you in until everything else around you fades into utter insignificance. Magic. All babies can also instinctively produce an obliviate spell (if you have never read/ seen Harry Potter- first of all- why on earth are you sitting here reading this blog, instead of that?- secondly- the obliviate spell is a spell conjured to completely erase a person's memory). The first time a baby smiles, you suddenly forget the fact that you have ever seen anyone else smile before. Same with first laughs, steps, etc. With one smile, the memory of every sleepless ,crying-filled (the crying coming from the baby and yourself), pacing the floor night is completely erased as well. There is only this tiny miracle, smiling the first smile on earth. I suppose that's the real magic babies possess. They take jaded, worn, skeptical, haggard adults in the palm of their tiny hands and make everything new. I heard a quote once. I don't remember who said it, but it was something like, "A new baby is God's opinion that the world should go on." Really, is there any sound in the world filled with more hope than a baby's first tiny cry? Magic.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What's In a Name?

A few weeks ago, my good friend (and cousin-in-law), Lisa, introduced me to a wonderfully sarcastic book about what not to name your baby. I wish I could remember the exact title, but alas, the pregnancy brain still plagues me. What I do remember is that the introduction to the book was written by a man with the most unfortunate given name I have ever heard (hence his interest in working on such a book). Having since legally changed his first name to Joe, this poor soul's actual given name was Tucker. Not such a bad name, right?..........unless your last name happens to be Fudpucker. Yes. Tucker Fudpucker. I kid you not. I couldn't make that up if I tried. I'm no Dr. Suess. What ever possessed his parents to name him this, I am not sure. Neither was Tucker. But, after enduring a lifetime of humiliation, Tucker made the decision to become Joe.
I have noticed that from the second a woman becomes visibly pregnant, the question on everyone's mind seems to be......"What are you going to name your baby?" And it's usually not even because they actually want to know what she thinks her baby's name should be, but because they have very definite opinions of what an appropriate name would be. And thus the process begins. Should you use a family name, an historical name, a literary name, a biblical name?.........none of the above? Now, I personally feel that what someone else chooses to name their child is none of my business. However, I think there are a few rules of thumb that should probably be followed: 1. Don't give your child a rhyming name, ie. Tucker Fudpucker ( I just have to get that name in as many times as possible). 2. If you are giving your child a middle name, be careful of what the initials might spell when put together, ie. Ashley Sue Simmons, or Sean Orson Bradley (I'll let you figure them out- leave the periods in the second set of initials). 3. Do not decide on a name for your baby during an intense pregnancy craving, ie. Apple or Cocoa. If I had done this, I would most likely now have a Twizzler and a Pickles, with a Nacho on the way. Since it does seem to be a celebrity trend, I think the Pitt family should get on board. Why not add a Peach and a Cherry to their growing brood? 4. When naming a girl, think about possible last names that she may eventually take, ie. my grandmother assures me that if you name your daughter Harley, she will most definitely end up falling for a guy with the last name of Davidson. I do worry slightly about this with Morgan, only because Morgan is also a fairly common last name. I suppose if this situation ever arises, I would understand her not following the convention of taking her husband's name.
Unless they have some underlying desire for their children to be relentlessly mocked, I think most parents generally adhere to these rules of thumb. But how do you ultimately decide on a name, especially when for every name you come up with, someone has a horror story about someone else with that name? Morgan was named such simply because I think Morgan is a beautiful name. We had considered other names for months, and mid-pregnancy this name popped into my head and wouldn't leave. It just fit. I did not think about possible nicknames people might call her at the time, but she has been called "Morg" more times than I can count. ( a little on the morbid side perhaps). Hyrum is a family name, so that one was pretty easy. Given the names of my first two children, however, my brother-in-law, Mitch, now thinks I am a closet alcoholic. Not being a drinker, I didn't even know there was a brand of rum called Captain Morgan. And the word rum is actually the second half of my son's name. My husband has always liked the name Stuart. It's not my favorite, although I think it's a perfectly respectable name. I just know, that according to Murphy's law, if we named our son Stuart Stanger, he would inevitably be cursed with a horrible stutter.
I wonder to what extent our name actually determines who we become.......What if Martin Luther King Jr. had been named Tucker Fudpucker? Would Tucker still have had a dream that changed the world? Shakespeare's Juliet ( a beautiful name.....if you want your daughter to turn into a lovesick teenager who commits suicide) conjectured that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet"........ I would hope to think I would still love my little Morgan and Hyrum just as much if they were Helga and Beaumont. And I would like to think that they would still possess the same qualities and personality traits as they do now. At some point in time, we all have to make our own way in the world, whether we do so with a name that we have to overcome, or a name that we have to live up to. I think we make our names what they are, and not the other way around. Before Mrs. Hitler named her bouncing baby boy, there was nothing particularly infamous about the name Adolf. There was probably nothing particularly outstanding about the name Albert until Mr. and Mrs. Einstein's son grew to be a man and escaped the evil clutches of the afore-mentioned Adolf. I think sometimes we just have to choose a name, and realize that whatever name we choose, there will be people who love it, people who hate it, people who relentlessly mock it........but to us and to others who love us, it may just become the most wonderful name in the world. Soon it will be time for little Ryan Daniel Stanger to make his mark on the world. Don't decide what you think of the name just yet. In time, he'll let you know.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Car Keys

"Where are the keys?"....It's one of life's daily mysteries, at least at my house. It falls right in line with a few other puzzlers, like where on earth the one missing sock from every load of laundry ends up, or how hangers grow legs at night and form a mass exodus out of the closet. The sock thing is especially perplexing. If one sock is lost from each load of laundry washed, then shouldn't there, in theory, at some point in time, be an even number of socks? I stink at math, but this makes sense to me. Yet, somehow, there, at the top of the basket or drawer, is the perpetual lone sock. (Is there a Seinfeld episode about this? If not, there should be.) And the hangers.....I used to think they only escaped at night, but this is not the case. I can take my jacket off the hanger to put it on when I leave the house in the morning, without having removed the hanger from the closet, and when I return that same afternoon and attempt to rehang my hanger.........I really need to find the Twilight Zone theme song online and cue it to play at certain spots in my posts. So, where do all the vanished socks and hangers go? Are they all together somewhere, in some sort of domestic Bermuda Triangle? I would really like to know, because I think that must be where my car keys are right now. Over the years, I have locked my keys in the car. I have locked them in the house. I have scoured the entire house for three hours, before finally finding them in the bottom of the purse I originally looked in. But never, until today, have my car keys completely vanished. All I can figure is that they have journeyed to the land of socks and hangers. Although, while the disappearances of the socks and hangers remain a complete mystery, I do have suspicions about what may have happened to the car keys: pregnancy brain. That's right. There have been studies conducted that have proven that women actually loose brain cells while pregnant. And the part of our brain that normally remembers things gets all scrambled up. This is what causes us to put the full carton of milk in the cupboard instead of the fridge, or the trash in the laundry hamper, or the car keys in the....... trash? Yes. Due to pregnancy brain, I think I may have inadvertently thrown my car keys in the garbage. Yesterday was a particularly hectic day. I came home with a trunk full of groceries. I am currently driving the "blue beast" (Dirk's car), because our van is in the shop being fixed. (we don't want a litter of mini Dodge Caravans running around after all- okay- maybe repaired would have been a better word, but I will not backspace!- the real story is long, and you don't want to hear it, trust me- so now that I have officially created the longest run-on sentence inside of a set of parenthesis, I will continue) The garage door opener happens to still be in the van, which is in the shop. So, when I came home with a trunk full of groceries, it was pouring rain, as it had been all day (we apparently now live in Seattle) and I was unable to park in the garage. So, I was running (or waddling quickly) back and forth from trunk to house with armfuls of groceries while trying not to get soaked. This morning, as I was frantically searching every corner, drawer, nook, and cranny of our house in attempt to find the elusive keys and get to my doctor's appointment on time, I retraced my steps from yesterday, and realized the only other place they could possibly be was in the trunk of the blue beast. So, I called my dear husband in a pregnant panic ( which, believe me when I tell you, is much worse than a regular panic) and told him my predicament. Within minutes, he was in the rental car on his way from Blackfoot to unlock the trunk. When my knight in shining armor arrived and laid bare the belly of the beast....... no keys (Twilight Zone). He took his key off the ring and I raced to my appointment, which I ended up being only ten minutes late for. The only other place that the keys could have possibly ended up is in the trash. I think I must have placed them in the top of one of the grocery bags to free up my hands after opening the trunk, and somehow left them in there when I threw the bags away. I would be digging through our trashcan at this very moment, but as Murphy would have it, today is trash day, and about two minutes after the trashcan possibility occurred to me, the dump truck showed up at our curb.
Given the recent natural disasters around the world, it wasn't too hard to find a little perspective about losing my keys. They are, after all, just a set of keys. I can have them recut. At least my entire home is not covered in water, or dashed into a million pieces by a tornado's fury. I'm not saying it wasn't frustrating/aggravating/perplexing....... but it is certainly not life-altering. We all have our "lost car key" days, whether we have literally lost our car keys, or just our marbles....... It's these days when we often receive the rare gift of seeing first hand who is really there for us, whether it's a husband who leaves work and drives 30 minutes home to unlock the trunk, or a grandma who offers to pick you up and take you to your appointment, or a mom who takes you to a nice lunch and makes you laugh until you forget what you were ever frazzled about. I can name several other people who had no idea of my predicament who would have been there in a heartbeat if I needed their help. It is comforting and humbling to know that there are so many people in my life who would drop everything important in their day for such a little thing. There is no doubt in my mind that they would do the same if something truly terrible happened. So, in a strange way, I'm glad I lost my keys. Sometimes it takes losing a little something to realize how much you truly have. A day that began with a minor misfortune is ending with a profound sense of gratitude. I was also reminded today of God's sense of humor (and trust me, He does have one). After turning my house upside down while waiting for Dirk this morning, I went out and searched for the keys in the back seat of the beast. I thought perhaps they had fallen back there somewhere while I was getting Hyrum out of the car after shopping. I reached my hand back behind the seat and picked up something that jingled and felt strangely like a set of keys. It was indeed a set of keys....bright red, yellow and blue plastic ones. They must have been there from Hyrum's baby days, when I still drove the blue beast. Yes, God definitely has a sense of humor. But, just maybe, it was also a subtle reminder of what I really need to be focusing on right now. The world around me may be spinning out of control, but soon I will have a tiny person completely depending on me who will have no idea what's going on in the outside world. So, maybe a lost set of keys and a dose of pregnancy brain is exactly what I needed today!