Monday, April 26, 2010

When We're Helping We're Happy

But maybe not at first.

Our stake had set a goal to assemble 10,000 hygiene kits to send to the earthquake victims in Haiti and Chile. I thought this would be a great experience for the kids, so I signed our family up for a three hour shift. Problem was, I had signed us up weeks in advance, and though I had tried to build excitement, when the actual day came, I forgot and gave the kids permission to go to friends' houses after school. When I saw my calendar and realized my mistake, I knew I had set myself up for a battle. But these days I pick my battles, and I picked this one. I called one child and told them I'd be picking them up early. I drove down to another friend's house and waited outside for another child to arrive and gave him the news. They were not so happy, but they were reluctantly obedient. Grumpy though, and whining and complaining most of the drive down. When we arrived at the Stake center to find an empty parking lot, they thought they'd hit the jackpot of escape. But, no. A quick phone call informed us we were just at the wrong building and we set off, with a lot of sighing and more grumbling coming from the back seat.

Frankly, it was getting on my nerves. I was tired too. I had a million things to do too. The next morning, in fact, was our huge youth fundraiser and I had a lot to do to prepare. Lyndsay, in fact, stayed with a group of girls working on that service, but I knew once our shift ended at 9pm, I still had baking to do for the bake sale. I gave one lecture in the car, just a brief one, about how suffering people in the world are our brothers and sisters and we are responsible for them. They'd lost everything--everything!--and we had the privilege of offering a small amount of our time and resources to bring them some physical and emotional comfort. (So, shut up!) Well, that part was implied, but you get the picture. After that, I ignored the murmuring and stayed cheerful.

When we got there and saw huge trucks with boxes of supplies being emptied into the gym, and a room full of tables set up in stations and dozens of people, all giving up their time on a Friday night, the mood shifted almost immediately. We were assigned to the towel station, where we set to work (with many others) to fold 22,000 hand towels so that they could be added to the kits.

That's a lot of towels.

But it was easy work, and we got into a rhythm with the others assigned to the task, and as we worked, we talked and laughed.

A friend of Dylan's, from another ward, showed up, with his grandmother to help. That did a lot to impress Dylan and keep him engaged in the work. As did his iPod.

We folded, and folded, and folded. Seeing how well my boys could fold towels filled me with pride.

Even Conor proved helpful. Conor loves to have jobs to do, but I did wonder if he would be a hindrance at this activity. Nonsense. The sweet women in charge treated him like a capable little guy and gave him jobs. He got to carry over bags of towels from the boxes and rip them open and hand the stacks to folders. He also got to pick up all the trash from the floor and throw it away.

He even got in on some of the folding action.

And when he needed a break, he took one. But the entire time we worked, he never once got in the way or got into trouble, and he had a great time. He was a hit!

And when we finished, the gym was covered with boxes filled to overflowing with folded towels, all set to be added to the hygiene kits, which would be assembled in the morning. We exceeded the goal and ended up sending over 11,000 kits to the needy. It was such a blessing to help in that way. We talked about how every towel we folded would be unfolded by a person, a brother or sister, who would be so thankful for the chance to wash their face, brush their teeth, or comb their hair. Those little luxuries that we take for granted can really lift the spirits of those who are suffering and in despair. They were hours well spent, and we all left happy. Filled.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Green Stuff

I only remembered it was Earth Day this week because I walked into the bank and everyone was wearing green. (I'm on Spring break, remember, so I don't care what the date is. This week only.) I made a smart-alecky comment, and the reply I got pretty much clued me in. Got it. And I wasn't wearing green. Oops. (Do I even own any green? I don't think so, because I didn't wear green on St. Patrick's Day either.)

Anyway, I'm a big fan of Earth, so Earth Day is great too. Once I posted about my trip to Washington D.C. for Earth Day on the Capitol lawn. This year? We ate lettuce.

I thought to myself, "Green, green, green. . .What do I have that's green?"

a sampling of the lettuce varieties

My garden! Full of lettuce. Lots of lettuce. So, I went out and harvested me some lettuce. Eight varieties. And for dinner we had ginormous salads and a roasted chicken. Mostly salad. And my kids were great sports about the piles I put on their plates. (Well, except for Conor. He no likey "leaves".)

And for dessert? Well, it was Family Movie Night, so we had to have dessert, so in honor of Earth Day, we had a green dessert. It was yummy. You could make it too.

Cool Lime Pie

1 8oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
6 oz. limeade concentrate
4 drops food coloring
1 carton (8oz) frozen whipped topping
1 graham cracker crust
1 kiwifruit, peeled and sliced
mandarin oranges, optional

In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and milk until smooth. Add limeade and food coloring. Fold in half of the whipped topping (or you can make your own whipped cream). Pour into crust. Cover and refrigerate for two hours. Garnish with kiwi, oranges, and whipped cream.
6-8 servings

Friday, April 23, 2010

Will Work for Books

"Give me books, or give me death!"

I'm pretty sure that is a famous quote. Or at least it should be. It sums up how I feel, for sure. My mom recently posted a photo album on her Facebook page titled "Retro Family", in which she scanned and uploaded dozens of old family photographs, many of which I'd never before seen. I thought it was so cute how many there were of me as a little girl, with a book in my hands.

I clearly remember my love of Nancy Drew. I was seven and eight, and we lived on the banks of the Delaware River in a house called Rivercove. I remember how the mysteries swept me away and hours would go by unnoticed while I was immersed in my books. Sometimes I would sit in my little white chair and read them aloud, to a make-believe audience enraptured with the tale, as families of old would be, as they gathered around the prized radio listening to weekly installments of favorite broadcasts.

Then I had an obsession with all books written by Beverly Cleary. I would go to the school's library (which was also the public library) and check out book after book, working my way through the tales of Ramona, and Beezus and Henry, and the Mouse with his motorcycle. Such an inflated-deflated feeling once I had read them all.
But I didn't exclusively enjoy fiction. My mother taught me to love poetry and rhythms, and my dad to think in rhymes, symbols, and double meanings. My mom had a whole repertoire of poetry with bouncy meters suitable for entertaining children, and she often quoted those sing-song poems and enticed us to memorize them as well.

I also have always turned to nonfiction wherever my curiosity drives me. When I was in junior high, my curiosity had me wrapped up in forensics, and I read book after book about fingerprinting, ballistics, and crime scene investigation. I've got books to thank for most of my knowledge about horticulture, vegetable gardening, music, herbal healing, homeschooling, parenting, health, yoga, positive thinking, marriage, communication, homemaking and housekeeping, and finance, even though I have real-life experience with all of those things as well. Books paved my way. Reading opened my eyes.

I grew up in a reading family. Books were prized and revered, but they were also available and accessible, and shared. We were gifted books on holidays and birthdays. My mother read aloud to us, and both of my parents were avid readers with piles of books by their bedside. That love of books and reading is one of my favorite inheritances from them. I have sought to pass it on to my own children.

So today is Friday, the last day of my week-long Spring break. I had so many busy goals for the week, but when given any kind of free time or break from routine, I should know by now that I'm really only going to read. I'm reading a fantastic book recommended by my friend, Luisa, Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers, by Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D. and Gabor Mate, M.D. that has really widened my understanding of the importance of parental attachment in raising children. It will definitely be a re-read, and a re-re-read. I highly recommend it, as Luisa did.

I'm finishing up books here and there that I've started and not finished. I'm reading cookbooks and cooking magazines. I'm reading my scriptures. I'm reading old journal entries. I even bought a few new books which I'm anxious to delve into. I dream of a house with walls lined in bookshelves. Filled with books I love. I just can't get enough.

You understand.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Angry Letter

A few days ago I found a letter one of my children had written to me. It wasn't a nice letter. It began with,

"Dear Mom, I'm writing this letter so I can express my true feelings without being shot down or told that I'm wrong. . ."

Well, I read that letter, in utter shock. I have a feeling it was a venting letter, not a letter that will ever truly be delivered to me, but it broke my heart all the same. After reading it, I cried. I prayed. I cried some more. I wrote a pitiful entry in my journal about how now that I've failed as a mother I suppose I'm a complete failure, and what in the world is the point to my life. Then I cried some more.

I tried to remember back to when I was an angst-filled, disgruntled kid, and how I felt about my mother. My view was very selfish. I spent a lot of time criticizing the things she did wrong as a mother and deciding how I would do everything differently. I saw only my needs and my wants. I recognized only what appeared to be injustices against me. I saw her as "the mother" and not really as a person. I suppose in a truly honest evaluation I was horrible to her at times, for which I've long-since apologized over and over.

So, why did I think my children would be different? Why did I think I would be immune, passed over by the Blame Your Mother Angel of Hate and Hurt? I supposed I had it coming.

After getting past all of that, I read the letter again, just to really hear what was being said. I had to hand it to this child of mine, the letter was well-written, and well-expressed, even if often misguided and inappropriate, maybe even downright mean. Several times I found myself wanting to correct a perception, offer new information in answer to an accusation, but then I found myself right back at the opening of the letter, ". . .without being shot down and told that I'm wrong. . ." So, I let those things go. Kids aren't supposed to have all the information about their parents' lives. They see what they want to see, and what they are allowed to see, and some of what they shouldn't see, but it's always, always only the tip of the iceberg of what is real, and what is really there.

Of course, you try telling that to a teenager. Go ahead, I dare you.

I kept reading. Slowly. Trying to discern the state of the heart of the angry writer. I felt some shame with the recognition of things I am truly guilty of. I felt sadness at the hurt I have caused, unknowingly, and certainly against my intentions. I never wanted to fail my children or let them down in any way. I took some mental notes. I thought for a second about a tearful confrontation when the child got home, but what would be the point in that? Induce guilt for having and expressing feelings? Manipulate an apology and a false I-didn't-mean-it? Instead, I heaved myself into the load now in front of me, and decided not to give up. There are definitely things I can improve upon, and chances are (please, Lord!) this child still has growing and maturing to do too, which hopefully will bring with it a deepened perspective and an increased capacity to forgive. I'll probably never reveal that I even read that horrible letter.

And at least in the end, after all the blame and criticism, and even some hurtful threats, it ended with "I do love you, Mom." So, there's something there to work with. I guess?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spring Break

This week I am on spring break from my classes. I still have studying to do, but this is my most important To-Do list:

1. Serve somebody else.

2. Smile and laugh.

3. Focus on the positive.

4. Be cheerful.

5. Speak softly and slowly, and only after listening.

Of course, I'd also like to read some books and work in the garden, and get some organizing done. But I have a feeling I often focus on the wrong things, and a paradigm shift is in order.

Spring cleaning of my attitude, so to speak. I shall report back.

Friday, April 9, 2010


"Supey Conor"

Yesterday I was at the sink in the kitchen, and Conor walked over to the back door in the kitchen and picked up my keys from where I set them. He started locking and unlocking my car through the glass. I told him to stop it. He continued in his lock-unlock fest.
"Conor! Put those keys down right this instant!" (I'm always afraid he will push the panic button and I can never figure out how to get the darn alarm to quit.)
He set them down and trudged into the dining room and sat at the table where his dad was. He put his chin in his hands, and sat slumped down with a look of doom and gloom on his face.

Adam asked, "Doo-Doo, what is wrong? You look so sad."
Conor replied without even looking up, "My life is ruined."

Adam asked, without any judgment in his voice, "Why is your life ruined?"

And Conor said, "Because I touched Mom's keys. My life is ruined." And then he sighed. (He's very dramatic, that one.)
I was listening from my spot at the sink in the next room, and what I heard next really amazed me.

Adam said to little Conor, "Wow. That really stinks to be only 3 and have your life ruined."

And Conor said, "Yup."

And that was that.

This amazed me because I thought it was really beautiful that Adam gave Conor permission to feel whatever he wanted to feel, and just validated him in it. I wouldn't have reacted that way. I would have attempted to talk him out of feeling as if his life had been ruined. I would have tried to help him see the light, see things differently, and feel better. That's a mom kind of thing to do, I guess.
But sometimes people just want to feel the way that they feel, and not feel judged. Even if they're being a tad dramatic.

Later, when I tucked Conor into bed that night, and I leaned my face down to his to kiss his fat face and love on him, he reached up and put his hands on my cheeks, and looking deeply into my eyes (told you he's dramatic), he said, "I don't want a different Mommy. I always want you."
Back from ruined.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Discovery

I love my children. That part hasn't changed. I fell in love with them from the moment I knew each was being nurtured within my womb. When they exited my body and entered my embrace, I looked into their eyes and shared that unspoken communication that says, "Yes. I know you. And now you are here!" But I also added under my breath, "Hope I don't screw you up!"

I passed on lots of other dreams in order to focus on my biggest dream of being a mother. It is woman's greatest calling, and I am not ashamed to have claimed it with all of my energy. It wasn't many years into mothering that I realized something unexpected: Mothering is the biggest, shiniest, most accurate mirror into my soul, reflecting out who I really am. Throughout mothering I have discovered what is really wonderful and charming about me, like the fact that I will sacrifice for my children to create happy childhood memories. But conversely, I have also discovered what is not so wonderful and charming about me, like how my kids tease me that when they get hurt, I sort of toss their suffering aside just a bit and tend to worry more about whether they got blood on the carpet or if they broke something I'm going to have to pay for.

The other thing I've learned, and I'm not proud of this at all, is that while I love my children wholeheartedly, I do not love them perfectly. Rather, I love them perfect. I like it much, much better when they are behaving the way that I'd like them too. I even like it better when they agree with me and see things the way that I see things. I'm learning to love them just for them, for their big, bold, vibrant lives, that shine with or without me. Somehow, and this is probably a convoluted psychological web, because I have failed at other things very close to my heart and dreams (my first marriage, to name an obvious one), I have focused lots of attention on raising children that will not let me down. They will be my crowning achievement. They will be my hope in this world, and the witnesses that I am not all failure.

But, of course, I know this is the wrong approach.

Still, when I do anything, I like to do it right. Deciding what is right as far as mothering is a whole other topic, but I have done the best that I can to be conscientious, let's put it that way. When they were little, it was so much easier. They thought whatever I told them. They liked most of what I liked. They wore what I laid out for them. I read them classic literature, they listened to classical music, and they memorized poems, hymns, and scripture. They thought I knew everything! And kissing and dating were so gross.

Now I have those same little darlings, on the verge of being all-grown up. Things are a bit different. One likes his pants down around his butt. One likes kissing. One likes screaming music (at least that's what it is to me.) One likes to argue with every ding-dong thing I say. One likes to be contrary to everything serious, sacred, or spiritual. Actually, I'm only talking about One. He's not even in high school yet, and I feel impending doom.

Fortunately, one of the things I've done right as a mom, is that my children can talk to me. We have very open conversations. I hear things I thought I'd never hear come out of their mouths, which is both a blessing and a burden. But though we talk often, we don't always talk well.

Sometimes, our conversations begin with a teen telling me how he/she feels about something-usually-controversial, and I begin with a calm voice reeling them in and then I begin my courtroom scene, painting pictures of effects of bad choices and spiraling out of control with defense after defense that blocks them into a corner with my masterful logic and mature wisdom. It's me with excellent intentions of saving and guiding my children along life's choices, but misusing their trust in me in ineffective manipulation. And then there are elevated voices, and tears, and guilt. And for a time, distance. I hate it. It reminds me of everything rotten about myself, how much improvement I have yet to make, how little time I have to love these kids and help them to grow.

But another thing I've done right as a mom is that I always apologize. First.

The thing is, is that the teenage years are not an altogether complete picture of how well one has done as a mother. They're a rude interruption, though a necessary one, in the flow of life. I need to remember that the way a child feels at 13 or 15 is not necessarily the way he/she will feel as an adult. In fact, the way a child feels at 13 or 15 is more likely just the complete opposite of what YOU think.

So, rather than get into these heated "discussions" that go on and on and never really end with a winner, my sweet friend (who is also a psychologist) offered this tactic to me: When something is said, (which is usually something aimed at shock value), simply reply, "Well, that's one way to think of things."

And walk away.

Or this one: "Well, we each have our agency."

And walk away.

(I'm thinking tone of voice is still critical. It must be free from judgment and condescension. Maybe throw a loving smile in there. But the smile, not the battle, is all you give them.)

Revolutionary! (At least to me.)

And then again, my contrary son summed it up nicely too on one of his agreeable days when he said, "Mom, you've taught me my whole life what is right and wrong. You should trust that you did a good job."

Sigh. Maybe they are perfect after all. Perfect for me.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Making Easter

Easter holds greater spiritual significance than Christmas. I mean, it's wonderful and miraculous that Jesus Christ was born, especially in the beautiful, humble circumstances in which he came to earth, but what was he born for? To show us how to live, and then most importantly, to give his life for us, and rise again.

In my early motherhood, I used to really struggle with how to keep the focus on the real meanings of religious holidays, but that usually meant trying to smother the commercial, more traditional aspects of celebrating, and that didn't work well for me either. I grew up in a family where my mom loved to create holidays for us. We had traditions for each holiday and they were fun. I still knew what it was that we were really celebrating-- I never lost my love for the baby Jesus in hoping that Santa made his appearance, and I never confused the fact that Easter was about the Resurrection, not the Bunny who would fill and hide our baskets. So I've continued with that assurance, that we can have both fun and meaning as part of our family holiday traditions.

I've also learned that to try to compete with sugar is a losing battle when it comes to getting kids to sit still and listen, so instead we had a family devotional on Saturday night. I gathered the beautiful pictures from the Gospel Art Kit to tell the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We read from the Bible, and with the children sitting around, we remembered the last events of the Savior's life, leading up to his infinite sacrifice on our behalf. I had also seen directions for a cute visual aid on another blog, and had made one for our family so that Conor could have a strong visual reminder of what Easter is really all about.

When we got to the part of the story where Jesus' body is placed in the tomb and a rock rolled in front of it, I showed the little poster I'd made.

Then, on the third day, when Mary came to the tomb to find it empty. . .I had Conor roll back the stone and asked him if Jesus was still in there. Surprised, he said, "No! He's gone!" Inside is only the cloth which wrapped his body, because Jesus was alive again! (He loved that part.) We finished the story with his ascension into heaven and the promise that He will come again, and the truth that He lives! And we sang "He is Risen!" together and ended with a prayer. The visual aid stayed on the piano, next to the Christus statue, to remind us throughout the weekend.

Easter morning begins the traditions that I grew up with as a kid. During the night, the Easter Bunny fills and hides the baskets, and the kids get up early to search high and low for their treats. Lyndsay had gotten home from her road trip around 1am, after I was asleep, so my Easter present was finding her in her bed and hugging her.
We listened to General Conference together. (I'm so sorry for the rest of you that you had to listen to all those hours of talks written especially for me.) Lyndsay and I cooked our Easter Feast--she's my Lion House Roll girl, and the rest of the family watched The Blind Side while we worked in the kitchen. (Can I just say that I LOVE that movie? Love it.) We ate together and heard stories of Lyndsay's trip. Mostly about a certain boy who got up on the open-mic stage in the BYU-Idaho cafeteria and sang songs dedicated to her in front of everyone. Oh, how our hearts swooned! :)
Conor had his little Easter egg hunt in the backyard. We dyed our hard-boiled eggs in the evening.
The big kids never tire of the traditions. And the older they get, the prettier the eggs become!

Other things like frosted sugar cookies and Big Chocolate Easter Eggs keep me in the kitchen pretty much forever. But I want to create the feelings that my mother created for me when I was a child in the hearts of my children. And I want them to pass them on to their own children someday.
Creating holidays, carrying on traditions, instilling memories in the hearts of happy children. It's one of the best parts of being a mom.