Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"I didn't know vanilla made such a difference."

Every Monday night, my family meets together in a planning meeting where we review the calendar to plan for upcoming events, come up with ideas for dinner the coming week, make a personal goal for self-improvement for the next week, have a spiritual lesson, read the scriptures, sing and pray. For our lesson one night in May 2008, I decided to put the KitchenAid mixer on the table and all the different ingredients for cookie dough out too. We all took turns putting in the appropriate amount of flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, eggs, etc. True to their nature, some of my children complained that they only had "a small ingredient" like 1 little teaspoon of salt to put in whereas others got to put in 3 cups of flour, etc. Our lesson that night was on how we each contribute to our family and that no matter how big or little we are, we contribute to make up the end product - a yummy dough that makes yummy cookies.

I don't remember who had what ingredient but to this day, I thank the heavens that my 10-year old daughter was the one who put in 1 little teaspoon of vanilla. We ran out of vanilla shortly thereafter and the store where we usually shopped didn't have imitation vanilla but rather the real stuff - which is flavored so very differently. My children didn't like the next batches of cookies we made and so when we went to the store next, we found the re-stocked imitation vanilla, bought it and threw the other stuff away. My daughter's comment the next time we made cookies was "I didn't know vanilla made such a difference. It's just a little ingredient but the cookies taste wrong if you don't have the right stuff."

At the time, we lived in a semi-scary neighborhood (16 miles from the Washington Monument) in Maryland/DC. It wasn't NYC nor it's surrounding neighborhoods nor was it Inglewood, CA, but nonetheless it was scary to a mom of 4 young kids. I wouldn't allow my children to play outside without supervision. I bought two secure-locks for each of the windows. And I would lock my door before going next door to do laundry.

One morning, a month after the cookie dough lesson, my daughter and I got into an arguement about what she was wearing to school that day. I made a stupid comment to terminate the discussion, "Well if you don't like it, find somewhere else to live," and walked into the kitchen to get breakfast on the table and sack lunches made for school. While my back was turned, my daughter - that 10-year old beautiful but willful child - ran out of our apartment home. I was shell-shocked. What would she do? Where would she go? We were still new enough in the neighborhood that I didn't really know anyone she could run to nor anyone who could help me find her. In retrospect, it seems to have taken me forever to run after her. I had to put shoes on. And then I ran to the parking lot. I yelled for her. No answer. I ran farther toward the street and yelled again. Nothing. Complete silence. She was gone.

I was scared. She had taken me seriously and had left. But she had no where to go. What 10-year old plans her departure? I ran back to the apartment, threw a hurried breakfast on the table for my other children - to ease their bellies and distract their minds, left them with strict instructions to keep the door locked, tied my shoelaces, said a quick prayer, locked the door behind me and left to go find my child.

I had no idea where to start except that I knew that she was responsible and loved school. Hopefully she would go there. The only way she knew how to do that was to get on the bus. The bus stop was to my right but I felt/knew to head left - it was the bus stop that her friends used but I never allowed her to use because I couldn't watch her while she waited. I had to walk up a hill to get there and the sun was shining directly in my eyes. Although trying to blind the direct light by using my hand, I could not see her at the stop, only the silhouettes of 4 young girls. I kept walking quickly toward them. I reminded myself to get in shape so I could run the next time. Who plans for a next time? What kind of mother am I? If the girls hadn't seen my daughter, at least I could question them. The world around me seemed scary and silent in my quest, yet I could hear all around me the normalcy of an everyday morning. As I approached the stop, one of the silhouettes left the group and began to run toward me. I still can feel her arms wrap around me and remember her sobs as she ran into me. I was still sickened by the stupidity of my comment but so very relieved to feel her in my arms. I knew I had been blessed. I knew I had been told to turn left.

She stayed home from school that day. (So did my traumatized seven-year old.) We talked about my stupid comment and her stupid actions. She spent the morning cleaning baseboards, sweeping, cleaning anything I could think of that needed cleaning - the only consequences I could think of at the time to let her/make her know she had done wrong. And we talked about it again and again the next month so that she would know - and everyone in our family would know too - that running away from problems is never ever, never ever, never ever an option. And particularly because vanilla makes all the difference in how the cookies turn out.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Grandpa and I

The dishes need to be done. The laundry needs to be sorted. Clothes that are too small for one child need to be washed, folded, and put away for another child to wear when it's time. (No longer are they referred to as hand-me-downs, but rather a new & improved version of renew, re-use, recycle; you should see what we use ice cream buckets, formula containers, and detergent buckets for - we're not junky, we're "making do, using it up, doing with or doing without.") The bills need to be paid with the money we don't have. The house needs a pick-me-up hour. And I need to get out of my funky mood and get going and get doing.

On a normal day, I love my job. I love my office. I love the people I work with. I feel so fortunate to be where I want to be everyday. I'm a CEO - Chief Executive Office of our home. I'm a mom, and for me, on a normal day, it's a privilege to be called that and to do the duties associated with that very divine calling. But today and yesterday I was discouraged thinking that whatever I do doesn't stay clean or picked-up or fresh for use for the next time I use it. I know, it's part of the day-to-day raising of children. But all I could think of was "the damn dam needs to be fixed again."

Great, great, great Grandpa M. was a journal keeper, a civil engineer, and at a prophet's request he went to help in the colonies of Colonial Juarez. He and his son, George, worked together to build dams to provide water for the crops they planted. They found, however, that the dirt down south of Texas is different than U.S. farmland; it's filled with sand and difficult to work with. His journal entries were reports of their work:

"Built a dam for the crops."

(Two days later): "The dam broke. Will fix it with George tomorrow."

(Two to three days later): "The dam broke again. George and I worked to repair it."

(Two to three days later): "The dam broke again. Fixed it again."

(Again): "The damn dam broke again. George and I will fix it again tomorrow. We are not discouraged."

I guess I'm not that different from Grandpa M. The work I do requires that I do it then do it again and again and yet again. But I forgot the most important part of the work I do requires that I don't get discouraged in the doing of it. I guess I just forgot. But today, as I go about my duties, I won't repeat "the damn dam needs to be fixed again" but today, I will repeat - with meaning - "we are not discouraged." !

Friday, January 8, 2010

In regard to knowledge and context

In her effort to help us to realize that context helps in understanding, my High School Spanish IV teacher told of when she was in her first year of college, she wanted so much to get top grades in her Spanish class that she looked up in a Spanish/English dictionary every single word in the first paragraph of her first reading assignment. However, there was one word that was not to be found and she became frustrated, believing that it was significant to her total comprehension. She tried looking in a different resource, but again found nothing useful in translation of the specific word. But then she went back and read the paragraph, not reading to understand each word's meaning but rather the meaning of the entire paragraph, and she got it! She understood. That one word was useful to its neighboring word but not necessary to be understood by itself. It made sense in its entire context.

Two days ago we received in the mail a notice that we needed another document in regard to registering our vehicle, so yesterday I spent my day looking for that one piece of paper amongst all the other hundreds of pieces of paper from the last two years of our lives. (Obviously, filing is not my forte. Oh well.) I used the guest bed as my desk and began making piles of past bills, insurance papers, lease contracts, etc. etc. etc. Ugh. I also made a pile of garbage and a pile of things that absolutely needed to be shredded.

I began to remember the last time I did something like this approximately three years ago, and how I let my children - I swear, under my supervision!! - shred the documents that needed to be shredded back then. I shudder to think that I did that (s -h - uh - dddddddd -e -r) because although I was watching them and they were doing it just fine and enjoying it too, my 3-year-old daughter got her little fingers stuck in the shredder. The shredder stopped, probably "thinking" it was jammed. (Thank you for heavenly help!!) My husband tried to pull those little fingers out but they were stuck, along with the papers she had tried to shred. Using logic, he pushed the reverse button, and her fingers along with the paperwork came out - a little pinched, but nonetheless just fine. (Another prayer of gratitude is needed here again!! Again. And again!)

And that one incident made me begin to think of other incidents I've failed at while raising children these past twelve years. (I almost began to list them but I have no desire to receive a call from Social Services today.) Anyway, each unpleasant incident makes me wonder, "Heavenly Father, why was I trusted with these children?" Each thing wrenches my heart and makes me sick to my stomach to even think about them ... "my child could have been stolen that time in the park," "she could have drown that night," "I might be in jail if that had gone amiss," etc. etc. And yet I don't try to do wrong by these kids. I actually do try my very best. I promise, I do.

But sometimes things go wrong. And terrible things happen - just watch the news. (And I make it a policy not to watch the news because then I can't sleep at night thinking about "what if that was my child" ... It's handicapping, so I just can't watch the news. Seriously, don't ask me about any current events.) But then I think of my own childhood. There were no laws about child car seats, no laws even about seat belts, no guidance from the pediatrician about not allowing honey before the age of 2, no bike or skateboarding helmets, no concerns about eating deli meat when you're pregnant, and there was no warning from Oprah about miniature carrots - not even available in my childhood years - but are just the right size to fit down a child's throat and clog its windpipes causing death, and again with the etc. etc. etc. Yet we all made it to adulthood. Pretty much alright, right?

But times were different then. Innocence was the context. We didn't know better and our parents didn't know any better either. Today, the standard is higher: there is more knowledge and with that greater level of knowledge comes a greater level of responsibility. Knowledge can even send me to jail. Knowledge is today's context, and so when my mom gets after me with "Oh, for Pete's sake, all 10 of my kids ate it when they were his age, and they're still alive," I have to stand on my own and reply, "Well, I'm responsible because, Mom, I know better."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

On death

My daughter is a writer! I could say that I've been a good example and because of it, she will someday write the great American novel and support me in my old age. But that's not it. I think she writes because she's learned how to read and how to write and therefore, how to express herself. Those skills we adults now take for granted, are amazing, eye-opening, wonderful tools that clarify and illuminate her world. And I think she writes because Grandma and Grandpa gave her the tools to do such - a green pen and a big notebook full of empty pages - as a Christmas gift. And now she writes one-page stories about herself, her little sister and brother, the weather, and dying.
It's funny that such a little girl would write about death but all her stories end with one of the characters dying. I could say it's because she watches too much t.v. but she doesn't - she prefers to play outside or in our basement or in her room - all places where there is no t.v. Her constant companions are only (!) her imagination and her best friend - her little sister "M."
On one occasion, approximately two months ago, I asked my daughter "K.D." why she was being particularly mean to her younger sister. She said she didn't know. I asked her if she had learned it at school? From one of her friends? If people at school or in our neighborhood treated her like that so she treated her little sister like that? "No," she kept replying, "No, no, no." I asked her where the K.D. that used to be sweet and good was? Where was the the little girl that was complimented by her Kindergarten teacher (last year) for being so kind to everyone in the class? She said she didn't know where she was but she kept looking for her, and "Now," she said as she began to cry, "I can't find myself."
I'm sad for her. I know there are terrible, unjustifiable, and unspeakable things that happen to children but for today, I'll consider only my child - my sweet K.D. who lost herself when she left the confines of our home, entered school, and thus the larger world. And now, as I write about it, I understand why she writes about death. The child she once was is lost ... gone ...and never to return.
But perhaps she'll find herself in her own written word.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A mother bird's wing

My husband and I teach a children's class at church. Because the New Year began this last week, we said good-bye to our 6-year olds we taught this past year and then we welcomed a "new batch" of 5-year olds. There is a significant difference between the two age groups. The 6-year olds could sit down, could listen for at least a good 7-10 minutes without interrupting, and knew how to raise their hands to ask a question or take a turn. These new kids were constantly talking with one another and had no clue about the purpose of the class. We asked ourselves after church on our ride home, "Could one year make such a difference?" Apparently it does.

But our main concern with this new group of kids is that one of them, although 5 on paper, speaks as though he were 2-years old. The way he talks is the kind of language that only a mother, who is around him constantly, understands. We could not understand him a bit - not even when he spoke his name. The child next to him, getting frustrated when we asked the faltering child for the seventh or eighth time, "Don?" "Juan?" (seriously), answered for him: "His name's John." (duh!) It's a simple name and we seriously could not understand the child.

Throughout the course of the class period, we would ask each of the children their thoughts on the particular principle, this time "choosing the right," and each time we asked John, either my husband or myself would have to reply, "That's interesting" or "Really? That's nice." We just could not decipher what he was saying. And his peer, sitting next to him, kept looking at him with a questioning stare like, "Really, man? You talk like a baby?" It wouldn't surprise you to hear that after 15 minutes or so of class time, the kids laughed in ridicule at John. And John began to cry.

Today, in our periodic phone calls, my husband and I keep talking about John. Will it get better as the other children socialize him into a more appropriate and age-appropriate language? Why did his mother allow him to continue to speak like a baby? ....'cause it's only cute while a kid is 2, then it's just ridiculous. How much do we interfere/help the kid to speak? But then we starting talking about the other children in the class: How do we teach them empathy? And how do we help them to help and shelter and protect this kid from the scorn and mocking laughter that he'll get from his peers as he enters Kindergarten?

At dinner tonight, we spoke with our own children about this dilemma. We reminded them that we still have a baby in our home, and that it is never appropriate to speak to him in or mimic or encourage his babytalk. We explained, skimming over the details, about the child who speaks like a baby and is made fun of in our children's class. We explained to them how a mother bird protects her babies with her wing, and they, too, can protect those weaker than themselves. We asked them to practice empathy in their lives because there will be the geeks or the outcasts or the dummies or whatever they're called nowadays who just don't get it, but they - the E children sitting at this dinner table tonight - are never to be the mocking and laughing ones. They are to be the protectors saying, "Hey, man, that's not cool" or "Hey leave him alone" or whatever. But we gave them a goal and we gave them the vernacular to help them implement the goal. And we began the process of teaching them empathy for their fellowmen. We hope.

May one child's heart be sheltered because our kids know better ... at least we pray they do.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

If we fail, we fail with glory

Just over a year ago my husband accepted a new job managing a hotel in the Western U.S. Moving our family across the country from Maryland to Idaho was exciting for us; our stay in Maryland hadn't been long but it had been long enough, and we were ready to return to our roots. The actual move, however, was not exciting. In fact I was terrified about driving across the United States in our mini-van with four young children while my husband drove the moving truck - in the month of December. I couldn't sleep at night agonizing over what would happen.

One day, in a phone call with my brother, Austin, I lamented to him my fears. "Not a problem," he replied. "I'll drive the truck. Only one condition: no kids allowed in the truck with me." My first sentiment was of elation. I wouldn't have to drive the van alone in a separate vehicle from my husband. My second response was to question him. (No questions about his condition 'cause I understood perfectly. It would be close quarters, he's single, semi-trollish, and children are ... children.) My question was about him: "Austin, aren't you worried? Doesn't it scare you at all to drive a large moving van in wintry conditions? I've seen trucks tipped over on the side of the road, especially on large stretches of highway where the wind tips you over - like in Wyoming. It doesn't scare you?"

"A little," he answered, "but think of the stories I can tell."

Ultimately, we didn't take him up on his offer, and our move worked out for the best. But Austin's reply has lingered with me. It's flippant. It's fun. It's not at all cautious but rather its antonym of reckless. It's a means of trying something for the helluvit, for the adventure, for the story to be told later. Austin lives like that. I don't. Nor do I want to - well, I do ... but I have obligations that require a constance and a stability, and anyway, my circuit pack is wired differently than the Austins of the world. But I admire from afar, tip my hat toward and give a smile to the ones who do live like there will be a story to be told later.

Today in Church we sang a hymn with its second verse stating: "...Like the great and good in story, If we fail, we fail with glory. God speed the right. God speed the right." It made me think of my short conversation just a year earlier and the similarity-but-with-a-twist. God's ways are constant and stable and righteous yet require us to step outside of our cautious/just fit-in with the crowd natures to try living differently than the world around us - nay, not "try" but "do"-ing what the world in general mocks at, points at, and laughs at. He asks that we live differently than the party-going, promiscuous, "reality" obssessed life we view on our t.v.s and than generalize into the "everyone's doing it" world. I could go on but I won't. My point is made. Anyway, what if we tried to be "like the great" Daniel of the lion's den fame or David - the little geek who defeated the steroid obssessive-compulsive junkie giant or even Esther who didn't worry about what was politically correct in her kingdom and answered her uncle's question "who knoweth whether thou are called unto the kingdom for such a time as this?" with actions-speak-louder-than-words found on the front of the latest hollywood rags. What if we tried doing what is right and "if we fail, we fail with glory" thinking of the story that could be told ...

God speed the right. God speed the right."

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The canker sore

My 3-year-old has a canker sore in her mouth. It's not a big deal - to anyone but her. It hurts ... and it prohibits her from going to bed on-time, from eating her dinner, from getting dressed, from doing anything I ask of her. My first inclination was to leave it alone 'cause it would heal on its own. (I looked it up on web.md.)
But then I got to thinking about my dad. This man was a busy man - a workaholic, church-goin', supporting-and-assisting-in-the-raising-of-10-kids type of man. He didn't have a lot of free time. And what time he did have was sacred.
When I was a kid, I learned quickly that I didn't ask him to play board games. He wasn't interested. When "Annie" came out in the theatres, he took me on a daddy-daughter date. I remember jumping in his car, so excited to go and sitting there waiting and waiting and waiting for him to come. When he finally got in the car, I smelled minty-fresh breath. He had taken the time to brush his teeth. And in my exitement, I had forgotten to brush mine. I worried about bad breath the whole date. In fact, after the movie, we went immediately home. I thought it was probably because of either of my bad breath or because I was a bad date. (In retrospect, it's probably 'cause he didn't have any extra time or even money for a treat.) Anyway, the point is my dad was busy, and there was a lot of us and only one of him to go around.
But one time, as a young child - not yet in my teens - I went to him and told him how much my mouth hurt 'cause there was a sore in it. He explained that it was a canker sore. He then took me into the bathroom, got the Listerine out of the medicine cabinet, and taught me how to garlgle mouthwash. He explained that it was a type of medicine that would heal the sore. He then tucked me back into bed. It took only a few extra minutes of his time but the memory is so valuable to me, especially because I knew even as young as I was that this man's time was sacred.
I took my little girl into the bathroom last night. I explained to her that she had a canker sore and that Listerine was a type of medicine that would heal her sore. She's only 3 so I dipped a Q-tip into the mouthwash and set it on the sore for a minute. She hopped back to her bed happily, and I tucked her in.
And all day today I've thought about my dad and how much a minute of his time meant to me. It's a sacred memory.