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.