Friday, August 23, 2013

Fritos and Quinoa

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

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

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

Friday, July 26, 2013

Golden Girl

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

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

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


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Things Remembered

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


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

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

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


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

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

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

Friday, May 17, 2013


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

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

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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


     "It takes a whole village to raise a child", the old Nigerian proverb instructs.  In many African cultures, children are considered a gift from God to the whole community, and raising those children is a communal effort.  This same tradition of communal child rearing can be seen in many other cultures around the world.  Yet, here in the good old U S of A, we tend to be fiercely independent, even competitive.  I recently made my dear husband sit and watch a documentary with me on date night (for which I now owe him at least one installment of Rocky).  The documentary was entitled "I Am".  Directed by Tom Shadyac, a Hollywood tycoon turned seeker of divine truth, "I Am" explores the nature of humanity, and in a broad sense tries to pin down what is wrong with the world and how we can fix it.  Of course, these are big questions to attempt to answer in one documentary.  But some of the basic points made therein were thought provoking, if not enlightening.  The main point I took away from it was that as a human race, we are actually designed for cooperation, not competition.  Through misinterpretations of Darwin's theories, many have come to believe that it is human nature to compete. In "I Am", scientists who have studied the behaviors of animals talk about their findings and conclude that by and large, animals are more cooperative than they are competitive.  Kind of throws the whole "dog eat dog" theory out the window.  Scientific findings show that our brains are actually wired to cooperate, to empathize, not to compete, to break down and to look out for our own interests.  This competitive drive is something we create out of misplaced pride and desire for power.  It goes against our natural instincts to be the top dog.  Somehow we, as a society, have adopted the attitude that we not only have to have it all and do it all, but that we have to do it all on our own.  If we ask for help, it is a sign of weakness, an admittance of defeat.

     For some of us, it just doesn't come naturally to ask for help.  My family moved to Virginia when I was two years old.  My parents were born in Idaho, so the rest of our extended family was here.  I can only imagine my grandmother's reaction when my mom told her that we were moving across the country.  I'm sure it broke her heart.  We had a good life back East, and grandparents would fly out to visit for holidays.  We had a few family friends with whom we would go camping or on other outings.  But, most of the time, it was just our little family on our own little island.  There weren't many members of our church there, and we had a cordial but casual acquaintance with the neighbors who surrounded us.  We became very close as a family and made plenty of lasting memories.  When I was thirteen, my dad's contract with Virginia Power ended, and we made the trek back West.  The first few family gatherings were a little overwhelming, being suddenly surrounded by a roomful of boisterous cousins, aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, babies, dogs.  It was like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, minus the lamb roasting on the spit in the front yard.  Although, one year, my cousin and his partner did bring a pilgrim pinata to Thanksgiving.  The person hitting the pinata had to don a full Native American headdress and whack at the poor paper mache Puritan with a tomahawk.  It must have been quite a spectacle.  Over the next few years, I grew to relish these activities.  I grew to love the feeling of knowing there were so many people around who loved me; people whom I belonged with.  When I married my husband, I had to broaden my circle yet again.  Dirk is the youngest of six children.  When we got married, his older brother was the only other sibling without children.  The noise and chaos produced by my entire extended family could hardly compete with the hullabaloo which occurred in Dirk's immediate family alone.  What I would have previously considered a family reunion, was a simple Sunday dinner at the Stangers'.  Over the years, the Stanger brood has grown to include 20 grandchildren.  It's amazing how the screams and squeals of twenty children under the same roof can be amplified to sound like at least twice that many.  And the adults give them a run for their money.  Dirk's siblings are as likely to be wrestling and laughing loudly as are the children.  I will admit to being a little overwhelmed by all of this at first. But, just as I did with my own extended family, I quickly learned to embrace the chaos.  It is joyous chaos.  I now know to expect a lot of noise and upheaval at Stanger family functions.  But there is also a lot of food, a lot of laughter, and most importantly, a lot of love.

     Yes, being nearer to family has helped me to realize that truly, "no man (or woman) is an island."  But, yet again, I am feeling my circle tearing at the edges.  Time to broaden yet again.  It is my nature to be a homebody.  I tend to be introspective and even introverted.  I haven't minded at all when friends have asked me to watch their children while they run a few errands or go to a doctor's appointment, but I still feel strange asking them to do the same.  I sometimes get a supermom complex and feel that if I am leaving the rearing of my children to anyone else in any way for any length of time, that I am failing in my duties as a mother.  Not to mention, I really like my friends, and I don't want to subject them to an afternoon of Monster's screaming.  I have noticed, though, through observing the women and friends in my neighborhood, that they have formed a sort of network.  They automatically cooperate in the rearing of their children and in helping one another maintain their sanity.  Recently, I have been trying harder to insert myself into this communal network.  It doesn't come naturally to me. My natural instinct would be to hide away in my little Hobbit hole with my stacks of books and never risk the embarrassment of my children misbehaving terribly in front of others, or of going out on a day when my face has decided it is thirteen again and broken out in blemishes.  But, underneath all the misplaced pride and perfectionism, is a desire to be part of  the village I see all around me.  I am beginning to realize just how much I can learn from talking to other women about their experiences, their ups and downs.  There are days when being a good mom, to me, may mean shutting out the world and spending the afternoon with just my children and a stack of library books or board games.  But, by shutting myself out from the world too often, I wonder what I am missing.  There are things that my mother or my grandmother or my sister have taught my children in a way that I could not have gotten through to them.  I am surrounded by amazing women and I am learning to value their insights and cherish the relationships I am forming with them.  I may not always feel comfortable.  Sometimes I feel out of place in my out of date clothing in a group of women who look like they could have been ripped out of the pages of a fashion magazine.  Sometimes I'm having a bad hair day or I'm petrified that I'll say something stupid and be shunned.  But then I have to remind myself that I am connected to these women by so much more.  We are mothers.  Motherhood is a great leveler.  We all have bad hair days and say stupid things, but we are all connected by the life defining mantle of motherhood.  It is a heavy mantle, one which we can't bear alone.  I for one, am done trying to.  It's time for me to emerge from my hut and embrace the warm, wonderful village that surrounds me.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


   In the midst of the stunning and heartbreaking events which took place yesterday, I came across this quote by the late, great Mr. Fred Rogers,"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.'"  I have always thought Mr. Rogers was a wise man, sneakers, sweater and all.  It was nice to have a word of comfort from everyone's favorite neighbor on such a dark day.  As I scrolled through my Facebook account, I came across so many beautiful, inspiring and hope filled quotes and status updates.  It is remarkable how the bleakest tragedies awaken the humanity deep within each of us and cause us, at least for a few days, to be a little kinder, a little slower to anger, a little less inclined to argue over petty differences.  In the midst of unthinkable hate, we see heroes rise up from the rubble as examples of selfless sacrifice and human charity. We see helpers all around us.  We desire to join in and be helpers in any way we can.  We lend our prayers, thoughts, hearts and hands to lift up those who are suffering. The trick is to carry this spirit forward after weeks and months have passed.  In moments such as these, when the best and worst of humanity stand in such stark contrast before us, it is easy to be united in lending our strength toward uplifting those around us.  We want to be on the right side of the battle lines of this human experience.  In a few days, however, when the initial shock of these horrific events has worn off, bickering over politics, religion and petty differences of a million other kinds will once again arise.  Instead of lifting one another up, we will begin again to put one another down.  There will be less helping and more belittling and hurting.

     In the midst of such tragic and horrific events, I ask myself two questions; "What can I do to help?"  and "What can I learn from this?"  Being so far away from Boston, I am still trying to figure out some way that I can help in any physical capacity to relieve the suffering of the grieving and injured there.  But I have had a prayer in my heart since I heard about the tragedy that God will reveal a way that I may help.  As far as what I have learned, I refer back to the quote by Mr. Rogers.  When scary and unimaginable things happen, I will tell my children to "look for the helpers."  But, more than that, I would tell them to be one of the helpers, and not just in the midst of hate, destruction and despair, but every day.  I hope that the compassion which has been awakened within me will not be diminished by the passing of time, but that I will make a conscious effort each day to be a helper in small ways to those around me.

     There will always be evil and depraved people who commit unthinkable acts of violence.  But there will always be helpers as well.  The question we must daily ask ourselves is, "Which side are we on?"  As adults, we like to complicate everything.  We like to justify and explain away our reasons for putting others down.  In terms of how we treat our fellow man, I think we could stand to simplify our thought process.  It's really not so complex.  There is love and there is hate.  There is tolerance and there is intolerance.  There is kindness and there is meanness.  There is building up and there is tearing down.  We daily choose to help or to hinder the cause of unifying the human race.  I choose this day to redouble my efforts to be a helper, to my children, my friends, my neighbors; to let go of petty grievances, to be more grateful for small kindnesses.  I hope to live my life in such a way that when I tell my children to "look for the helpers", they won't have to look far.  


Tuesday, April 9, 2013


     I've written several posts about my daughter, Morgan.  In case you haven't read any of them, I will give a quick preface to this post.  Since Morgan was about 15 months old, we have noticed little quirks and differences which make her stand out a bit from her peers.  It has been suggested by friends, family and a few specialists, as well as by our own parental intuition, that Morgan isn't exactly like other kids her age.  The Aspergers label has been thrown around, dismissed, and then brought up again many times in the last six years.  We have chosen not to have Morgan formally tested or diagnosed because, so far, none of these small quirks or behavioral differences have affected her academic or social achievements in a significant way, and we didn't want her to be burdened with a label for the rest her life and school career.  She has started to outgrow many of her more obvious quirks and tendencies.  But she still exhibits a few behaviors which noticeably set her apart from her peers.  Morgan began the third grade this year.  She has a marvelous teacher.  Mrs. Telford is one of those teachers who makes every child feel like they could grow up to be the President of the United States or fly a rocket to the moon.  I have talked with her about Morgan's strengths and weaknesses, and she is very aware of my concerns.  She has been a God send.  Thanks to the efforts of this remarkable educator, along with Morgan's persistent drive for perfectionism, Morgan has excelled in school this year.  She has made the "A Honor Roll" for the last three quarters and is on track to make it for the fourth quarter as well.  I couldn't be prouder as a parent.  The thing is, I have never worried about Morgan performing academically.  She is, as I mentioned, a perfectionist to the core.  She's the kind of kid who sits down and does her homework and piano practice without being asked or reminded.  She is usually the one reminding me that she needs to do extra studying online through various programs offered by the school.  No, I have never worried about Morgan doing well in school.

     The reason I stood over her bed last night, tears streaming down my face, and worry lines wrinkling my forehead was because a girl in her class called her weird.  It really doesn't seem like a big deal, I know.  Kids can be cruel, and weird is far from the cruelest word that could have been used.  What was hurtful; what caused my heart to break a little, was that this was said by one of the three friends Morgan plays with at recess.  Making friends hasn't always been easy for her.  She tends to be painfully shy until she really gets to know someone.  Often, by the time she finally warms up to people, they have already formed other groups of friends.  This year, she has formed friendships with three girls in her class whom she plays with and talks to on a daily basis.  I was delighted to hear that Morgan had found her niche in the third grade.  Yesterday, Morgan woke up with an unsettled stomach.  There were no signs of actual sickness, and I almost sent her to school, knowing that she tends to have a weak stomach, and remembering previous times when I had kept her home for what had turned out to be no more than "gas bubbles", as she calls them.  I almost sent her, but something made me pick up the phone and call her school instead. I informed the chipper woman on the other end that Morgan would be staying home.  As the day progressed, Morgan sat quietly reading, coloring, and snacking, with no apparent sign of sickness.  I had seen this pattern enough times in her to realize that the cause of the morning's stomach upset had been a) too much sugar (which I promptly ruled out because she hadn't even eaten breakfast that morning), or b)anxiety.  Sometimes Morgan's constantly working brain gets wound up so tightly that she can't sleep.  When she finally succumbs to sleep after hours of tossing and turning, she sleeps restlessly and often wakes up with a stomach ache.  I began listing off things in my mind that she might be anxious about- this was a very long list, as Morgan tends to worry about everything from what's for breakfast the next morning to what our family would do in the event of a solar flare.  I determined the field of possibilities was much too broad and decided to go straight to the source.  I asked Morgan how things had been going at school lately.  She didn't say much, but did mention that her Math Success Maker was getting a little tough now that she had reached a sixth grade level in the program.  She didn't seem overly distressed about it, as she often does, so I figured that wasn't the culprit.  I decided to let it go for the time being and hoped that in her own due time, she would confide in me.  She did so at an unexpected moment.  We were out enjoying ice cream as a family.  Out of nowhere, Morgan looked at me with a slight grimace and said, "Emma said that Brianna calls me weird whenever I'm not around."  That was all she said.  But as soon as she said it, my mother's intuition told me that that was the reason for the stomach ache that morning.  She hadn't wanted to go to school because one of her three friends was beginning to notice and point out that she was different, that she was weird.

     Hours later, ice cream consumed, prayers said, and Harry Potter read, Morgan slept fitfully in her bed as I stood in the middle of her room feeling like my heart would burst for her.  It wasn't that the incident which had occurred was so terrible.....ok, so a girl called her "weird".  It was more that I realized suddenly that this was only the beginning.  I glanced around her room at the walls bordered in butterflies and flowers, the bed lined with pink teddy bears and unicorns, The Little Mermaid piggy bank on the dresser, the pink Barbie convertible "parked" against the wall; it was every inch a little girl's room.  It was the room of a girl who still believed in fairy tales.  At that moment I wanted more than ever to shield her from the harsh and heartbreaking realities of life.  I wanted to stop time so that she could stay there, in her little girl's fairy tale.  Of course, I knew I couldn't, so I stood there and cried, willing all my love to form some sort of shield around her, even though I knew it to be impossible.  When Morgan was born, I experienced a new kind of love; the kind of love that every new parent experiences, I would imagine.  My world immediately shifted; she became it's axis.  My life instinctively began revolving around hers from the second her tiny fingers wrapped around my thumb.  I didn't realize at that moment that the love I felt would somehow grow stronger and deeper as years passed.  Morgan has become less dependent on me, and I now have two other little ones around which my world revolves as well.  But, somehow, standing there in Morgan's little girl room, in the glow of her pink flower lamp, my love expanded.  I knew that it was infinite.  I knew that I could never stop loving her.  I knew that if human love could take away pain, my love would surely wash her clean of any heartache.

     As I write this today, after a few hours of restless sleep, I think of my own mother, and I know that she loves me with that same kind of infinite love which both defies and defines humanity.  I wonder how many nights she stood over my bed, riddled with worries, her face stained with tears.  I wonder how many nights silent sobs shook her pillow on my behalf.  It is because of her love that I have made it through some of the most trying times in my life.  It is because of that same motherly love that Morgan will make it through her darkest times as well.  I have been called many names in my life, some much nastier than weird.  But the name I cherish above all others; the name which humbles me daily and gives me something magnificent to aspire to is mother.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Two Much

     I haven't written in a few weeks, owing to the fact that my brain has been unhinged by Monster.  For any who haven't been following my blog; Monster is my son, Ryan.  He earned his nick name at the age of 15 months, when he began having nuclear meltdowns (worse than regular tantrums- these are the Chernobyl of tantrums) and turning my house into a pile of rubble on a daily basis.  Monster will be two at the end of May.  The tantrums have only escalated and Monster has gotten stronger.  Last Sunday, he put on a mighty display for everyone in the hallway at church.  All eyes were on me as I walked toward the exit door wrestling a kicking, screaming, flailing, purple faced monster a third of my size.  I did this all in heels, I might add.  When we arrived home, I put Monster down for a much needed nap and sat down to rest my rubberized arms and blistered toes.  I realized that my two-year-old was beating me up, not only mentally, but physically as well.  In the past few months, I have been hit, pinched, pushed, kicked and bitten (ok- so the biting was only because I had on cherry red finger nail polish which Monster thought was a piece of candy).  Sounds like a case of domestic violence to me.  It's too bad the police can't arrest two-year-olds.  I think they could prove a valuable asset when it comes to prisoner interrogation.  Who needs water boarding when you have toddlers?  I think hardened criminals or prisoners of war should be tied up and locked in a room with ten two-year-olds, one binky, one ball, one sippy cup and one cookie on the condition that the toddlers be removed from the premises only after the prisoner has handed over the desired information.  They wouldn't last one hour.  This could also be a good solution to the teen pregnancy problem.  Forget the fake pregnancy belly.  Lock a fifteen year-old in a room with those ten two-year-olds, and she won't look at a man until she's thirty.  Last Friday, Monster cried the entire day.  I exercised to the sound of screaming.  I showered to the sound of screaming.  I made lunch to the sound of screaming and the regular rhythm of Monsters tiny fists pounding the backs of my legs. I folded laundry as Monster screamed and contorted his body into positions no Yogi master could have managed.  I made dinner to the sound of muffled screaming mingled with the sound of Florence and the Machine.  At intervals during the day I had picked Monster up and rocked with him, danced with him, read to him.  I had given him pain medicine and massaged his legs and tummy.  I had turned on lullabies.  I had taken him outside.  These tactics consoled him momentarily, but the second I put him down to go about my day, the demons were unleashed.  During this time, many thoughts crossed my mind.  I wondered how badly it hurt when Van Gogh cut off his ear.  I wondered how effective exorcisms were and how much they cost.  I wondered how long a human could scream before losing their voice.  I wondered how long a human could listen to screaming before losing their mind.  By the time Dirk got home, I was sitting on the couch staring vacantly at the wall while Monster lay screaming on the floor in front of me.  "Rough day?", he said.  I opened my mouth to answer and all that came out was a series of incoherent, blubbering sobs.  That night after the kids were in bed, I ate an entire XL Symphony bar in two minutes.  Earlier that day, I had shoved two Little Debbie Zebra Cakes in my mouth two minutes after telling the older children they couldn't have any sweets before dinner.  This was the day I realized I am an emotional eater.  I could be gaining some weight this year, though it could be offset by the calories burned wrestling Monster.  The next day, Dirk had family in town for his nephew's baptism.  That afternoon, we had a luncheon at the park.  Dirk's mom offered to stay with Monster while he napped so that Dirk and I could enjoy the luncheon together.  I was halfway out the door before she finished her offer.
      I sat on a blanket in the cool Spring grass letting my skin soak in the sun's warmth and watching the cotton clouds hurry across the sky.  I felt recharged.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, the sound of screaming still reverberated, but I had heard enough other pleasant sounds that I was no longer considering pulling a Van Gogh.  I'm not sure if God realized I couldn't handle much more, or if Monster finally realized that his tantrums were ineffective after an entire day of me ignoring them, but , whatever the reason, he has, mercifully, been much happier the past few days.  I have been able to enjoy his gap-toothed grin and ridiculously contagious belly laugh.  Today, there was a near nuclear meltdown when the "beepy" (aka Binky) was misplaced.  By the time the beepy had finally been located, Monster was verging on hysterical.  I sat on the floor of his room, handed him the beepy, wrapped him in his favored tattered blanket and rocked back and forth as his sobs began to dissipate.  A pair of his tiny white tennis shoes sat in the middle of the floor.  As I glanced at them, a wave of something like nostalgia gut-punched me.  I have mentally rolled my eyes as older women have told me to cherish these days because someday I will miss them.  I have had urges to bring Monster to the homes of these women during one of his worst tantrums and give them a good earful of just what they are missing.  But as I sat there, staring at the tiny white shoes and inhaling the scent of Monster's sweat-matted, tousled locks, it hit me.  I would miss this someday.  I don't know that any amount of years can blur my memory enough to make me miss the ear-piercing, mind numbing screaming.  But I will certainly miss that little boy/ wet dog smell, those slobber kisses, that irresistible chuckle and that heart-melting gappy grin.  I will miss the way his entire face lights up when he says, "mama", and how he stumbles into my open arms, his tiny white tennis shoes clunking across the wood floor.  Oh yes, I will miss those things.  And so, I resolve to try harder to cherish the little moments so that one day, when my teen aged Monster slams the door in my face and tells me he hates me, I can remember a time when he loved me better than anyone in the world.         

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Brown Bananas

     I buy bananas every week when I go to the grocery store.  I am the only one in my family who particularly likes them.  As a result, by the end of each week I have at least three or four soft, brownish black bananas adorning my counter.  This week was no exception. Most weeks the bananas get tossed in the trash or blended into a smoothie.  This week, I decided I was going to be ambitious, because, for me, baking is always a very ambitious undertaking.  My baking ventures don't often end well nor produce anything edible.  Quick breads I can handle as they do not mean baking from scratch and involve no rising or kneading of any kind.  So, on Friday, instead tossing my bananas (hey-  it's better than tossing cookies, right?), I spent fifteen minutes digging for my mother's yummy banana bread recipe.  As I began baking, a friend who had been on my mind all week once again entered my thoughts.  I decided I would drop one of the two loaves the recipe made off at her house that evening.  I added some chocolate chips and sprinkled brown sugar on the top to make it extra special (and extra unhealthy- but who really wants "health bread" when they're having a hard time?)  That evening, I dropped the loaf off at my friend's house.  As I sat and visited with her, I realized what a hard time she had been going through the past week.  I felt guilty for not having called or visited her earlier, but I felt good that I had gone over that evening.  As I left my friend's home, she gave me a heartfelt thank you.  She seemed so much lighter, like a small piece of her tremendous burden had been lifted.

     Sometimes I hesitate to serve others because in my perfectionistic thinking, I feel like the service I provide has to be a grand production.  I can't bring dinner to someone unless it is the most gourmet meal they've ever eaten. I can't invite anyone over unless I plan a Martha Stewart worthy event. On Friday I more fully realized the truth of one of my favorite quotes.  Mother Teresa said, " I cannot do great things; only small things with great love."  Something as simple as bringing a friend a loaf of banana bread had brightened her day and lightened her load.  Wheels started turning and I came up with a plan.  I realized that I threw out brown bananas at the end of almost every week.  Why not make a loaf of banana bread for someone different every week and bring it to them with a warm smile and a listening ear?  I am not a great baker.  Sometimes I feel I have few talents.  But this was something I could do. I could make a loaf of banana bread a week and I could let someone know I am there for them.  It is hard for me to relinquish control of things.  I fret and worry and try to please people because I have an insatiable need for everyone to like me.  I am finally coming to terms with the fact that I have absolutely no control over whether people like me or not.  But I have total control over how I treat others.  I can be kind.  I can seek out others who are struggling and let them know I am there for them.  And I can do this with chocolate chip brown sugar banana bread.

"Be kind.  Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

-Marjorie Pay Hinckley

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


    Warning: This is heavy stuff, folks.  As Lemony Snicket advised, if you want to read a post about a happy little elf, it's not too late to close the screen.  I am writing this because I feel that, as a writer, it is my duty to write about pieces of the human experience which are ugly and misunderstood.  Life is beautiful, but it is also hard.  First and foremost, however, I am writing this in the hopes that it may help even one person who reads it to feel hope, to realize they are not alone.  It was because of a woman on television sharing her experience with postpartum depression that I was able to find a light at the end of what I had thought was an endless tunnel.  I guess you could consider this post "paying it forward."  So, at the risk of becoming a complete cliche (who ever heard of a depressed writer), I will proceed in relating my journey with depression; postpartum depression in particular.  Please be advised that none of this is clinical or scientific.  It is simply my own personal impressions gained through my battles with depression.

     I have found that depression comes in waves.  The only way I can think to describe it to someone who has never dealt with it is this:  Imagine you are sailing along on a peaceful, calm sea.  The sun is beaming, the water glistening.  You are content with the world and with your place in it.  Completely without warning, a rogue wave envelops you and you can't tell up from down.  The sun is still shining.  The water is still glistening.  But you are trapped under a giant, 100 foot wave.  Having dealt with my fair share of waves, I can now occasionally see one coming.  Sometimes, if I catch it just before it crests, I can ride it out.  But sometimes I am still blindsided.  If depression comes in waves, then the year after my daughter was born was a tsunami.  Like most young, expectant first time mothers, I was giddy with anticipation in the months before Morgan was born.  I thought, shopped and dreamed in pink.  I couldn't wait to meet the tiny person who had been nudging me and rattling my belly with hiccups for so long.  I dreamed of walks and picnics and patty-cake and lullabies.  My dream of motherhood was about to be fulfilled.    True to form for my perfectionist daughter, Morgan was born on her due date of August 28th, 2004.  The labor was complicated.  I narrowly avoided a c-section.    After twelve excruciating hours, hurricane Morgan came into the world.  She was completely blue.  After a few minutes, the doctors had her breathing.  I loved her the instant she was placed in my arms.  That instant love between mother and child would later become my saving grace, though I did not yet realize it as I lay in a state of exhausted confusion cradling the one I had dreamed of meeting for so long.  The next few weeks were filled with the bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived, terrifying yet blissful stupor which always accompanies new parenthood.  They were also filled with a lot of crying.  By a lot, I mean probably twelve hours out of twenty four.  We tried every remedy known to Western and Eastern medicine to calm Morgan's "colic."  She still screamed, and usually projectile vomited the most recent remedy.  Dirk was working and going to school.  I sat in our tiny, two bedroom apartment and listened to Morgan scream.  I paced halls, danced, rocked, nursed, sang, cried, prayed.  I didn't have many friends around and my parents both worked during the day.  I rarely left the confines of the apartment.  Looking back now, this should have been a red flag.  Looking back from the end of the tunnel, I can now see that the fact that I was literally afraid to leave the confines of my apartment with my new baby should have been a giant, glaring red flag.  But I had no idea.  When I would go out, I would notice other mothers with new babies.  They sat chattering happily as their newborn slept contentedly in his or her carrier.  I watched them with something between envy and desperation as I wondered how their lives could still seem so normal when mine had been turned inside out and upside down.  I went home and repeated the same daily cycle of pacing, rocking, nursing, singing, crying, praying.  There were a lot of tears.  I felt, desperate, lonely, hopeless, terrified, and tremendously guilty all at the same time. There were also many days when I felt too despondent to even cry.  I was becoming numb to the outside world.  I would stare out the window at the sun shining with some vague recognition that there was a world outside my window that I used to be a part of.  Christmas has always been my favorite day of the entire year.  Christmas Day, 2004 was one of the darkest days of my life. We had spent the day at my grandma's house.  The sun had gone down and the excitement of the previous day was dying down with it.  It had been a wonderful day, full of distractions, away from the confines of my cage.  It helped to be around people, to hear sounds of laughter.  I had almost felt normal again; almost like myself again.  At about 5:00, Morgan started in on one of her regular evening "colic" jags.  It became apparent soon enough that no one else wanted to hear it.  Dirk had gone to my parents' house with my dad to watch a movie.  The rest of my family was engaged in a card game.  Morgan was engaged in a mighty display of the power of her lung capacity.  After a few irritated stares in our direction, I got the message. I loaded Morgan into her car seat.  I began driving in the direction of our apartment, but I couldn't bring myself to go back to my empty apartment with a screaming baby on Christmas Day.  The motion of the car had temporarily calmed Morgan, so I decided to keep on driving.  I drove the empty streets, looking at all of the lighted windows I passed.  Everyone was together, celebrating happily in warm, lighted houses.  I was driving the dark empty streets because I didn't know where to go.  I had never felt so lost; I had never felt so alone.  All of the conflicting emotions I had been wrestling with for months came to a head.  I passed rows of telephone poles on the silent country road.  I wondered at what speed I would have to drive into one to end my life.  My foot pushed down harder on the gas pedal.  Then Morgan began to cry.  The very sound which had driven me stark raving mad for the past few months, literally saved my life.  I realized I had to stay alive, if only for her sake.  I drove home, put Morgan in her crib and let the wave wash over me.

     That was my lowest point.  I never again considered taking my own life, but I was living a sort of half life, trapped inside my own personal Hell, with absolutely no idea how to get out.  It was the hardest year of my life, and no one had a clue. That's the thing about depression; it is often invisible to the outside world.  We put on a happy face; we try to act "normal" because heaven forbid someone unearthed our deep dark secret and realized that we were crazy, or of unsound mind.  And then there was the guilt; oh there was guilt.  This should  have been the happiest, most blissful time of my life, at least according to all the Pampers and Huggies commercials, and instead, I was a psychotic wreck, barely hanging onto my sanity by a thread, and literally within an inch of my life.  What was wrong with me?!!  My answer came courtesy of Mrs. Brooke Shields.  One day, after Morgan was a little over a year old, I tuned in to Oprah, as I did most afternoons.  Brooke Shields was talking about a book she had written which detailed her battle with postpartum depression.  As she began to relate details of her struggle, I audibly gasped.  It felt like I was exhaling for the first time in over a year.  Suddenly, I could see a light.  I could see the past year flash before my eyes as an almost out of body experience.  The insurmountable wave that had been beating me down was postpartum depression.

     When I was eight months pregnant with Hyrum, I began taking antidepressants.  I stayed on them for a full year after he was born. Aside from the fact that the medication made me feel a little like a robotic Stepford wife, my experience with Hyrum's first year of life was much smoother, with only a few small waves lapping at my heels here and there.  When I went off the medication, I had panic attacks for weeks.  After the panic attacks wound down, I finally felt like myself again, for the first time in four years.  Then came the tidal wave of dealing with postpartum depression after a miscarriage.  I didn't even have a new baby to offset it this time.  When I found out I was expecting Ryan, I decided upfront that I wanted to attempt to tackle the pregnancy and first year without medication.  The medication after Hyrum had helped keep me on an even keel, but as I mentioned, it was a little too even.  I went through daily motions with no psychotic impulses, but I also lost my passion for writing, music, for just about everything.  I wasn't me.  With this baby, I wanted to be me, and I wanted to be happy about it.  A few days after Ryan was born,  I felt that all too familiar, suffocating feeling.  The wave had come.  Only this time, I knew I would breathe the fresh air and soak in the sunlight again.  I had emerged from an emotional and mental tsunami stronger before, and I knew I could do it again.  With the support of family and friends, and especially my rock, Dirk, as well as the God I pray to, I made it through the first year of Ryan's life with only a little Perkeset (don't worry- it was for the c-section) and Ibuprofen.

     I now understand that depression is real, terribly, awfully real. It is not my choice.  It is not my fault and it is nothing to be ashamed of.  It is not something that can be driven away if our attitude is good enough or if we lose ourselves in serving others.  These things can be good distractions, but they won't cure the disease of depression any more than they would cure the Swine Flu.  I am tired of depression being whispered about behind closed doors.  It is not a mysterious, taboo mental instability.  It is a chemical imbalance.  It is not a choice.  I did not wake up one morning and think, "I do believe I will try feeling hopeless and despondent today and see how it works out."  I now thankfully realize that there is help, and that I don't have to be at the mercy of the waves.  Every time I have emerged from a wave of depression, the air has seemed so much fresher, the sun so much brighter.  If anyone reading this has ever felt any of the feelings I have described, please talk to someone about it.  It's nothing to be ashamed of.  You are not crazy.  You are not alone.  And I promise you when you emerge from this wave, the world will seem bright again.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What's in the Middle?

    In Oreos, it's the cream; in books, it's the story; in annoying keep away games, it's the monkey.  It's the part of your name that you don't want to tell anyone because "Erastus" was your great great grandfather's name that somehow got stuck in the middle of your otherwise perfectly lovely name.  In the average lifespan, it is the time of the dreaded mid-life crisis.  In sports, it's half-time; in plays, intermission.  In the family I grew up in, it's me.  In my children, it's Hyrum.  I had always planned to have four children mainly because I never wanted to have a middle child.  Then, along came Ryan.  After nearly two years, and maybe ten nights of unbroken sleep, as well as several tantrums that have caused people to ask me if my child has epilepsy, Dirk and I have decided our family is chaotically complete.  And this means Hyrum will get the distinct privilege (ahem) of being the middle child.  Sometimes people with more than three children try to tell me that they have a middle child.  A true middle child is a person with one older sibling and one younger sibling.  I am a true middle child, which is exactly why I never wanted to put any of my children in the same position.  I will expound. I had a wonderful childhood and the best parents anyone could ask for.  I can only imagine what being a middle child with crappy parents would be like.  My parents always encouraged me to pursue my dreams and interests and they were always there to support me in these sometimes crazy ventures.  It is because of them that my Middle Child Syndrome is as mild as it is. But it is still there.  It is a natural byproduct of being a middle child.
     When an author starts out to write a book, it is usually because they have a story to tell, not because they have a fabulous beginning and ending sentence.  The Once Upon a Time and Happily Ever After are integral parts, but the epic journey in the middle is why they write.  Families tend to be more about beginnings and endings.  When parents have their first baby, it is usually because they really want a baby.  Everything is new and exciting.  Every smile is photographed, every gurgle and coo is met with complete awe.  Every runny nose means a trip to the doctor.  Grandparents are called when the baby finally accomplishes the bowel movement they've been working on for five days.  When parents who desire a larger family have a second child, it is a natural continuation.  By the time number two rolls around, nothing is quite as impressive.  They've seen it all before.  Photographs are taken on holidays when the camera is remembered.  Gurgles and coos are nothing compared to the wise and wondrous musings of the genius older sibling.  Runny noses are wiped on sleeves and poops are further motivation to get the kid potty trained like their older sibling.  Then, along comes baby.  If the parents have set a three child limit, this is it.  Number three is the baby.  Every gurgle and coo is once again cherished because it is the last they will hear from any of their own children.  Not a moment or milestone is missed or undocumented.  Meanwhile, the oldest sibling is accomplishing new milestones on the other end.  The middle child can usually be found locked in his or her room pouring over Bernstein Bear books and thinking how nice it would be in a family of four (at least that's what I did).  When something goes awry in the home, it is most often pinned on the middle child.  The oldest child is far too responsible to have done such a thing, and the youngest could not have possibly figured out how to fit a hamster into the vcr.  The middle child is just young enough to have been that mischievous, and just old enough to have executed said mischief.  Once my brother actually tried to blame me for wetting his pants.  Thankfully my parents didn't buy that one, nor did they believe it when he later tried to blame it on our cat, Sam.  When my sister reached that special milestone of womanhood (which we are all excited about for exactly one day), she was taken out for a special mother daughter dinner and shopping trip.  When I reached that supposedly awesome but actually terrible stage of development, I was directed to the bathroom and told that Lindsey probably had some extra supplies I could use.  It was old news by then.  If me and my siblings were The Breakfast Club minus two members, my sister was the brain, my brother was the athlete and I was the basket case.  Sometimes acting crazy is the only way to get attention with a genius sister and a freakishly coordinated brother.  I also became the writer.  While my sister was off discovering the next penicillin and my brother was being recruited by every soccer team in town, I would write or act the lead in some dorky play.  
     My parents were in the front row at every one of those dorky plays.  I must reiterate, that I do not have a complex because of anything my parents purposely did or did not do.  Being in the middle is just hard.  I have gained these insights into middle childom partly as a victim and partly as a culprit.  As I looked back through some of my blog posts the other day, I realized that I had written a few posts each about my oldest incredibly smart daughter and my youngest remarkably coordinated baby, but only one about my warm, funny, helpful middle child.  Morgan gets a lot of my attention by default.  Between homework, reading, piano lessons and the 30 minute Success Maker computer program I am now supposed to help her with at home, I spend a lot of time with her each day.  We have celebration dinners for her multiple A report cards.  She is the princess of our family because she is the only girl.  Ryan is our baby.  We now cherish every little baby and toddlerism (save the epileptic tantrums) because we know we will never get to cherish them again.  And Hyrum sits and draws pictures of super heroes or builds with his blocks.  He is constantly showing me things he has made in an effort to keep up with his older sister.  Some days I can clearly see him competing for my attention, and yet I still feel helpless.  I try to spend one on one time with him whenever I can.  We play board games (I occasionally cheat to let him win) and we read together. Dirk and I take turns doing special individual dates with each of our children every month.  This month, I took Hyrum to  a special mother/'son Valentine dinner.  We have enrolled him in gymnastics, which he has really enjoyed, and he and Dirk sometimes do special "best buddy" things, like playing with tools or practicing golf swings in the front yard.  We try our best to make him feel like he is more than just the middle child; more than just a byproduct of our desire to have a larger family. And at least he'll never have the challenge of trying to compare with an older sibling of the same sex.  But I do worry that ten years from now, Morgan will be on the Dean's List and Ryan will be a star baseball player and Hyrum will still be struggling to find his niche.  I worry that he will feel inadequate and will act out for attention (wait- he already does that).  I worry that he will have these feelings and impulses because I understand just how naturally they occur.  If I still have a complex after being raised by such supportive parents, what chance does he have?
     My goal is to end the cycle of the Middle Child Syndrome with myself.  No, I am not planning on having another baby.  My only option is to try even harder to make Hyrum realize that he is very much a wanted and valued member of our family.  I will try to help him develop his own unique talents and interests and teach him to be proud of his siblings when they accomplish things too.  People can see that Morgan is a smarty-pants because she is more than happy to let the world know it.  And Ryan charms every person he flashes his gap-toothed grin at.  But Hyrum can be the strong, silent type.  There are so many facets of his personality that only I see.  A few weeks ago, he recited the entire poem, Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, in a British accent, none the less.  He has also been able to build amazingly symmetrical and detailed structures out of blocks from the time he was a little older than Ry.  He has so much potential that few others ever see.  I wonder if he can see it.  I hope I can help him to.  I can't imagine our family without Hyrum's warm, helpful, sometimes grouchy, often side-splitting presence any more than I could imagine an Oreo without the cream.