Tuesday, February 21, 2012


The word strikes fear and anxiety into the hearts of religious mothers everywhere. For those who don't practice any certain religion, or who practice in the privacy of their homes as opposed to meeting in a congregation, Sunday is a peaceful, relaxing day......an extension of a nice weekend......perhaps a day to recover from a hangover. For atheists, Steve Martin will inform you, Sunday is a day to stay home and watch football in their underwear. When I wake on a Sunday morning, the sun's first soft rays spreading slowly across the length of my bed, the birds' song outside my window a Heavenly hymn of praise, my children quietly studying their scriptures while Dirk and I sleep in.........alright, alright......I can't continue on with this facade anymore. Nowhere in my memory is there a Sunday morning which remotely fits this description. Here is how last Sunday morning went down in the Stanger household....... At about 5:45, Ryan woke up for his morning bottle. Dirk, who happens to be the best husband in the world, fed Ryan, put him back down, and we both went back to sleep......until approximately 6:45, when Hyrum , too impatient to play with his blocks, barged into the room, waking Ryan, who in turn woke Dirk and I. We sleepwalked to the table where we enjoyed a gourmet meal of "Golden Puffs", after which Morgan proceeded to spill a stream of milk across the entire kitchen while taking her bowl to the sink. I cleaned up the milk, fed Ryan his rice cereal and prunes, which ended up mostly on my shirt, thanks to a few adorable raspberries. Dirk went out to shovel the driveway, as it had snowed for the second time this winter. Being the good man that he is, he also shoveled the driveways of about five elderly couples or widows in our neighborhood. As Dirk was out shoveling, I put Ryan down for a nap, as my other two children brought every toy they own into the living room, and apparently lit a grenade, or so it seemed from the wreckage in my living room. I decided the damage couldn't get much worse, and that I better wash the two days worth of grease out of my hair while Ryan was contained. I decided I would actually go so far as to shave my legs! On the way into the shower, I banged my calf on the edge of the tub. I allowed myself exactly three minutes of sobbing (the bang didn't hurt that badly....it was just the cherry on top of my horrid Sunday sundae), and decided I simply needed to improve my attitude. I stopped sobbing and started to shave. Mid-shave, Dirk returned from shoveling four blocks and came into the bathroom to tell me he was home. It caught me off guard (still a little scarred from the time I watched "Psycho" on t.v.- showering has never been quite the same)......the result was a slip of my hand and a canyon sized gash along my shinbone. Dirk waited for me outside the tub, armed with tissues and band-aids. Four band-aids later, I was getting dressed to the sound of Ryan screaming after his 20 minute cat-nap. The moment I emerged from the bathroom, Hyrum was there to inform me that Morgan had "grabbed his arm". I think I looked at him blankly, turned, walked into my room and shut the door behind me. After a few deep breathing exercises, I emerged a new woman, ready for the blissful Sunday which surely awaited me.......and cue Ryan spitting up a fountain of prunes all over the carpet. Dirk left for a morning meeting as I knelt in my dress scrubbing prunes out of the carpet. Throughout all of these goings on, there were, at intervals, shouts of......."Pippin.....LEAVE IT!!!!" "Morgan.........stop grabbing my arm!", and "Hyrum is BREATHING ON ME!" In the midst of this Sunday morning serenade, I managed to slap some makeup on and fix my hair enough to look moderately presentable. I looked at the clock only to realize that church started in 30 minutes, and I still needed to feed three children and pack a diaper bag. I dumped two cans of chicken noodle soup in a pot on the stove and fed Ryan his banana orange medley, which I, once again, ended up wearing, courtesy of my slap happy baby, who finds great amusement in knocking the spoon full of food out of my hand. I hosed Ryan and myself down and turned to see Pippin waiting by the back door. As I returned from letting the pooch out, I was greeted by a distinct burning smell and the sound of chicken noodle boiling over Old-Faithful style. I sopped up the soup with an entire roll of paper towels, put what I could salvage in three bowls, and shoved a few bites in my mouth as I simultaneously cleaned up the rest of the soup explosion. I began frantically throwing together a diaper bag. Mid-packing, Ryan dropped the a-bomb of baby stench. On my journey to the outside trash can to detonate the Hiroshima of diapers, I managed to stub my toe AND bite my lip. At this point, I was seconds away from falling into a heap on the snow-covered lawn, and waiting until someone, seeing a woman in Sunday best, covered in bananas and oranges mixed with puke and smelling of sewage, in a fit of uncontrollable hysterics that ranged somewhere between sobbing and guffawing, would bring me my straight jacket and take me away. Instead, realizing that church would start in five minutes, I took another deep breath, watching my toes carefully as I stepped in the door. I barked at the kids to get their coats, banished Peregrin Took to his kennel, strapped the baby in the car seat, grabbed the bag, and flew out the door.
By the time we arrived at the chapel, the opening hymn had already begun. We entered the overflow of the chapel (the section they open up for those of us who are constantly tardy), to the strains of......."Welcome, welcome, Sabbath morning, now we rest from every care......" Oh the irony. At this point I couldn't stifle my laughter. I was glad to be seated in the back of the chapel, far away from the pulpit, so the bishop couldn't see me laughing through a stream of tears throughout the remainder of the hymn. A few minutes later, I excused myself to go and get a drink. It was one of the rare Sundays when Dirk was able to attend Sacrament meeting with us. Seeing the state I was in, he was more than willing to sit with the kids for a few moments while I attempted to compose myself. I paced the church bathroom, hands on hips, taking deep breaths as I willed the tears to stop. The question resounding in my mind was "WHY AM I EVEN HERE?!"........"I should be home recovering from my multitude of fresh injuries." "I should be in Bermuda........I should be ANYWHERE BUT HERE." Truth be told, I didn't quite feel worthy to be in such a holy place at the moment. My Christian charity was worn to a thread; my patience was non-existant. I knew, however, that I could not leave Dirk in the chapel with all three kids (tempted though I may have been to see how he would handle what I do almost every week). I made it back to the chapel just as the Sacrament hymn began. As music filled the room, I could feel my heart begin to lighten. I looked at my children.....who were actually sitting 80% still (even if a little nose picking was involved); Hyrum was looking through some picture cards I packed which depict scenes of the Savior's life and ministry. All at once, a wave of recognition swept over me. Despite the fact that I arrived at church feeling like a had run a marathon (or at least a 5K), I was here. I was here because I needed to show my children that there was Something much greater than scraped shins and toy tornadoes and soup geysers. I needed to show them, by example, the meaning of gratitude. Can devotion truly be measured in the midst of peace? Or can true devotion only be shown when we press on, through the turbulence, to thank a Power higher than ourselves for the glorious chaos we are blessed to live each day?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Some people's kids

When Dirk and I were first married I worked at a store which sold only white clothing; wedding dresses, blessing dresses, etc. For the most part, it was a peaceful job. The work environment was quiet and low-stress. Some days, no customers would come in and I would lock the doors (with the owner's permission, of course) and do inventory or steam dresses. My peaceful state was disrupted, however, any time a parent entered the store with a child under the age of ten. I could feel my blood pressure rising as I began to imagine little jam hands grabbing at the row of gleaming, perfectly hung and steamed white dresses. At the time, I had no children of my own, and I was convinced that every child of elementary school age or younger had a coating of jam or jelly, or some sticky, destructive substance on their fingers at any given moment. While trying to keep an entire wardrobe of white in pristine condition, I just had to assume that any child who entered the store had jam hands and a snot nose, which they would undoubtedly proceed to wipe all over the clothing as soon as they entered. Apparently, their mothers did not share this concern. These women would walk in, take a deep breath, and walk across the room to the wall of dresses, their eyes straight ahead, oblivious to little Billy, who was trying to climb into the antique cradle used to display baby blessing clothes. Then would come the dilemma of: "Do I help this woman find a dress, or stop her child from single handedly destroying everything else in the store?" Usually, I would walk over to the miscreant who was climbing on the antique furniture, climbing on the dresses, wiping their hands on the dresses, pulling tape out of the cash register, or blowing raspberries on the full length mirror, and try to calmly suggest ( in a voice loud enough that mommy could hear), that perhaps their behavior was not appropriate. Sometimes, the menace's mother would be jilted out of her shopping daze long enough to feign a look of horror, as if her child had never before behaved in such a manner. "Billy! What's gotten into you! We're not in a zoo!" I would then proceed to help her choose a dress as Billy continued to tear the store apart. At least these mothers cared enough to pretend to discipline their child. There were some mothers who made no pretense of discipline . They should have paid me ten bucks as they came in the door for watching their rugrat while they perused. There were days when several moms with tots would raid the shop. During the course of these days, I would occasionally retreat to the back room, take a deep breath, roll my eyes, and think, "Some people's kids!!!" Often this thought was followed by, "My kids will never behave that way!" I have since learned that these are bitter words to swallow. I should know, because I have had to eat them on several occasions.
Fast forward nine years......I am now the proud mommy of three little rugrats.....three sets of jam hands. I have since learned that children are quite capable of using soap and water, and that their hands are not always covered in sticky substances of an unknown origin. I have also on occasion been the oblivious mom of the cradle climber. When shopping with three children, there is no way to keep both eyes on all three of them at the same time......three kids, two eyes.....you do the math. Sure, so one of them is still immobile. This does not mean that he is incapable of hurling his binky across the store. I most often go shopping at night. This way, I can actually focus on what I am buying, instead of throwing items that resemble what I think I may need into the cart as quickly as humanly possible before any of my children become too hungry, thirsty, or turn into the Tasmanian Devil. How I wish I could take back every "my kids will never....." thought I ever had! My oldest, Morgan, is the kind of child that I can safely bring into a store full of white dresses with no worries. She is a perfectionist, not to mention, I'm pretty sure she expelled all of her energy to misbehave as an infant by crying twenty hours a day. My second, on the other hand, can occasionally make the cradle climbing Billy's look saintly. I can tell him five times in a row not to stand on the bench at a restaurant. I look away for two seconds to order my food, and he is doing a headstand on the bench, kicking the guy behind him in the head. O.K.......so maybe it's not that bad, but the many, "my kid will nevers....." I have eaten have been a direct result of things he has done. Sometimes it seems there is a complete disconnect between what I try to teach him at home, and the way he behaves in public. And I can always tell, by the look of understanding empathy, or the look of total disdain, which onlookers witnessing my son's misbehavior have had Hyrum's of their own and which are thinking, "my kids will never......" After eating my fair share of humble pie, I have become much more empathetic to the seemingly oblivious mother of the possessed child screaming in the supermarket. This is because I now understand that her threats, bribes, "mad mom" looks, hugs, and pleading have all failed and she still needs to buy ingredients for dinner. I don't even turn around to look when I hear a kid throwing a tantrum in church. I just pretend I can't hear the ear-shattering screeching overpowering the dulcet sounds coming from the pulpit. And when I receive looks of open disdain, I am able to let it roll off my back, understanding that the look giver has had all Morgan's, or that they have not yet been a guardian of jam-handed miscreants and are still in the "my kid will never" phase of life.
I can't recall many specific occurrences which elicited a "my kid will never" in my pre-child days. But I can very clearly recall one "I will never." I was engaged to Dirk at the time. I was shopping at the mall one day, when a busy mom walked past me, trailed by an out of breath toddler. As they hurried by, the little boy said, "Mommy, you're my best friend." My heart melted, and then sank as I realized this mother had not even heard her son's tender declaration. Oh, she had pretended to hear, with the typical, "Yes, Billy" head nod. But she didn't hear. In that moment, I resolved that I would never be so caught up in anything that I would miss my child telling me I was their best friend. Too many times, I have nodded my head distractedly, more focused on my task of the moment than on what my child has been trying to tell me. But, every now and then, I remember the red-cheeked boy in the mall. I turn away from whatever I am doing, look directly at my child, and really listen to what they are saying. I may not always be able to control my children's behavior, despite every attempt to do so. But, I can control my reaction. My son may drive me to drink some days. But when he runs to me across the scuff-marked floor with peanut butter covering his face and permanent marker up to his elbows, I will be waiting with open arms and an open heart for the "I love you mommy."