On my way to work this morning I came upon this view. Smoke from neighboring states’ wildfires has drifted into our mountain range and somewhat obscures the view. This haze has lingered for days, or has it been weeks? It reminds me of a roadtrip I took through the Great Smoky Mountains, where fog cloaked the peaks, not smoke. The mist was beautiful and mysterious but also inspired meditation. As the day warmed the fog eventually lifted. Here, the smoke continues to cling—a sticky, choking cloud. These Uintas should trade names with the range back East, because of all the literal smoke.
People talk of rising above the haze, finding clarity, a better view. People find a way to ascend—hike, horse, plane—or they hope for this veil to lift.
To see. To see, and to breathe.
The path isn’t clear all the time. The religious rely on their faith to nurture what they cannot see into knowledge; the spiritual also have a form of faith that guides them. The rest of humankind also believes in the goodness of others and desires improvement in themselves, but without any post-life motivation or incentive.
This is overly simplified: there are more than these three groups of people in the world, and there are definitely overlaps between these groups. Lives and attitudes and philosophies are so different. I accept this.
How do I assess the meaning in my life? What is my why?
Do I contemplate my purpose because of the smoke, or because of what the smoke obscures? Because I know the mountains are there, does this sustain my hope for better things? Does this motivate me to rise above the current smog?
What if I didn’t know what was hiding in the smoke, would my plan of action be to wait until it clears?
Sometimes I wonder if I’m being faithful, or just naïve.
What is Mother’s Day to these groups? I may have missed some categories, but in general this is what I have observed:
Married women with children
Single women with children
Women with special needs children
Single women without children
Married women without children
Women who have lost children through tragedy: war, accident, illness, other circumstances
Women who have lost mothers
Women who don’t want children
Women who can’t have children but want them
Looking at this list, I know what it’s like to:
be married with a child
have a (relatively high functioning) special needs child
want another child but unable to have one (yet)
be single until the age of 36 until marriage stabilized my life enough to have children
This is my life experience so far, and I admit my empathy is limited to women who fit into these categories. Some fit neatly, for some the lines are blurred. I do my best to understand that, too.
I know women who:
are single with children
are single without children
have special needs children across a very broad spectrum
have lost children through tragedy
have lost mothers
don’t want children
can’t have children but want them
Every Mother’s Day I think about these women. What are their struggles? How do they cope? Is this holiday something they even care about, or is it just another day? It seems the world praises mothers as women who have children, but I’ve always felt strongly that to be a mother you do not have to have children. I’ve always cringed at that part of that (cultural/societal) definition of motherhood; I’ve always felt to side with those who may fall in the shadows of the child bearers.
Not that child bearers shouldn’t be standing tall, because they totally should. Raising children is never easy, and devoted moms everywhere should be extremely proud of their hard work. My mom is wonderful. She sacrificed and taught and nurtured and scolded and guided me to learn really important lessons about life. I will always be grateful for everything she’s done and is doing for me.
I know many wonderful women who qualify as “super moms,” because they’re doing it all. They overcome all obstacles; they push aside excuses. They bend the universe around their will. These women have determination and passion, and I know they have their own trials and internal conflicts, but to me they are unstoppable. I admire them, because I know they also have to be super tired all the time.
But you guys. YOU. GUYS. I probably know even more women who deeply suffer when Mother’s Day comes around. It seems they feel a lot of traditional moms look down on them. They feel inferior, less than; their divinities/self-worths don’t measure up because of their different life experiences. Feeling this way, year after year — or even every day for some — is really hard.
If we don’t dedicate this day only to women with children, are we dismissing them? Is this their one day to feel better than the women without children? To say, “I’m so much more like Christ now because I have children”? Is motherhood the only thing that matters to our (eternal) happiness?
Wouldn’t the womanly and motherly thing to do is to include and love women for their differences and experiences, no matter what they are?
Every ten years or so a good thought graces my soul, and four years ago on Mother’s Day I posted this on Facebook, and it still holds up:
As women are all descended from Eve, we all should remember our nobility as Mothers of All Living. Our stewardship, however we currently define it in our lives, is divine.
Happy Mother’s Day.
To my glorious mom, happy Mother’s Day. To all mamas everywhere, happy Mother’s Day. But especially to my dear women friends who face pain, loss, and sadness, and live with heartbreak: at the very least, you have nurtured and guided me and helped me heal in profound ways. If that isn’t being a mother, I don’t know what is. Happy Mother’s Day to you.
This post was written 10 April 2018, but I’m backdating it to Z’s birthday, 8 April.
Almost three months ago, you and I got sick with fevers, headaches, and congestion. You and I went to the doctor to see if we had the flu. The doctor sent us somewhere else to get a nasal swab to determine the flu. I’m not sure why he or any of the nurses in the office couldn’t swab us. I still might be a little bitter about it.
The doctor’s office wasn’t entirely clear on where we were supposed to get the swabs: do we get them at the hospital, or at one of the affiliated clinics near the hospital? I should have asked for clarification; part of our long day was that I should have gotten better directions.
We stopped by the hospital first. When we were checking in, the intake lady heard you coughing, handed me a mask, and instructed me to put it on your face. This wasn’t going to happen. I knew you weren’t going to keep the mask on. You sat on the floor, keeping mostly quiet, being very good for a sick 3-year-old.
The intake lady heard you cough again, and she reminded me to put the mask on your face. I didn’t do it, because that was a battle I chose not to fight: I’d rather you quiet than struggle to keep a mask on your face. She double checked our insurance and told us a flu swab wasn’t covered. I was irritated. My head was throbbing. I remember half-heartedly asking about the insurance, and the intake lady answered something. I took your hand and quietly walked away.
We eventually found the place where someone would be able to give us the flu test. We ended up both negative. That was a relief, but we’d spent a lot of the day driving around, feeling like absolute junk. I’m so sorry for dragging you all over Orem and Provo that day.
We both tested negative that grey January day, but I can’t stop thinking about my lingering negative attitude about that experience, especially at the hospital. What I wanted was not to have to explain why you wouldn’t wear the mask. What I resented was the assumption that you would wear a mask at all. Maybe the intake lady trusted that moms know the best approach for putting a mask on their children, since no “normal” sick child would cooperate wearing a mask. I didn’t know how to say I was clueless. What I wanted was an acknowledgement–at least from this healthcare institution, in a state that has a higher population of autistic children–or some sort of effort to accommodate, a simple “if your child has sensory issues, then [here’s an alternative].” That can’t be too much to expect at a hospital that probably sees hundreds of children every day.
But guess what? I figured it out. When we were at another waiting room, the receptionist asked me to take masks for both me and you. You started coughing, and I held a mask up to your mouth. Every time you coughed, I covered your mouth with the mask, and you were actually ok with it. I was so grateful for this!
Dadda and I have been your parents for four years now, and we’re still figuring it out. I’m still learning patience, but I’ve appreciated the process of learning to see the world through your eyes. I love how you’re never in a rush. How you give in to adult-perceived distractions, when you’re just enjoying your surroundings. How you run your hands over all surfaces. How sometimes you exercise your curiosity by sticking your tongue on things (which often grosses me out). How you run and laugh and sing–and spin, of course. How you verbalize your feelings even though you don’t have as many words as you’d like.
You’re working on getting more words, though. More skills, more coordination. More understanding. A greater attention span and focus. You’ve developed a liking for coloring and puzzles. You can sit with these activities for at least an hour sometimes. Your teachers have been so impressed with you over the past year. When you began preschool, you weren’t able to sit still, and you had no words. Now look what you can do!
We’ve taught you to repeat simple phrases like, “I’m cool” and “I’m smart”; Lola has taught you, “I’m beautiful,” and on your birthday you’ve been able to repeat, “I’m four.” Four. We can’t believe it.
You are adorable, and everyone loves you. Friends and family, definitely. It’s a little weird when strangers smile at you while we’re out or traveling, but most of the time you’re oblivious and could give zero cares. I need to find a way to live more like you.
It can be so hard being a kid sometimes. So many rules, so many boundaries. It’s been hard for me to reconcile your supposed limitations with your potential. Just thinking of your immense potential makes my heart full. But to you, you don’t have any limitations, other than your parents’ occasional inability to understand what you want or need. Such understanding often requires words. Which you are acquiring more of every single day. Your language–both jabbering and intelligible words–has expanded our minds and blessed our hearts in so many ways, made us better parents. We’re learning as we go. Just like you, we’re figuring it out. We try our hardest to open up the world to you. No limits, baby girl. No more assumptions.
We have you as our daughter, and you have brought us more than we could ever imagine. More love. More happiness. More life.
We walk from north of the Utah State Capitol. The first half of this walk is uphill, then it flattens out, then stairs lead up to the capitol building. We walk only as quickly as Z wants to go. She runs her right hand along fences and bushes, while her left hand hold a rock she picked up from a person’s yard. I encourage her up the hill; I tell stories, while Z chatters and sings. She smiles the whole way. It’s slightly breezy, and the sun begins to break the clouds.
We cross the street just west of the capitol, and we wind our way up to other demonstrators, counting our way up the stairs. We find friends. We find a spot on the grass where we’ll spend the next hour. The ASL interpreter ends up right above us.
The yard of the capitol is relatively empty, and I realize the marchers haven’t arrived yet.
Here they come.
A seemingly endless wave of student, parents, and other protestors make their way up the main stairs. They have a variety of chants, including:
“Save our students!”
“USA, not NRA!”
It’s electrifying. I chant with them. Z jumps up and down. The energy and passion cause tears to well in my eyes.
The current of students slows and then stops.
The crowd starts singing John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
Students speak. We cheer and clap.
I look at the people around me.
We have a picket sign. I put it down to keep a hold of Z. One side says, “Gun advocates – do you purposely misunderstand this issues? Gun control is not a gun ban. Protect our children, not guns.”
The other side of the sign, which is facing up, says, “Am I next?” Z stands next to it.
With my hands on Z’s shoulder, I continue looking around at all the young people. When my eyes come back to Z, a lady in a red sweatshirt is standing in front of us. She looks at Z, and then she looks at me.
She says, referring to Z, “I was going to thank her for coming. I’m a teacher, and this issue is important to me. I’m grateful that you’re standing up to protect our children.” With tears in my eyes and the thought of Z asking, “Am I next?” I thank her. She hugs me from the side and says she’s sorry I have to live with this fear.
Then she walks away.
Z then sits on the grass and plays with rocks. She reads the letters on our sign. She wants to get up and spin. Friends find us, and we chat for a little bit. We cheer together and admire all the signs. Z plays with a friend’s hat and the signs she brought.
The protest ends. Clouds begin to cover the sky again.
Z and I walk back to the car, mostly downhill this time. Generous friends who live close by let us use their bathroom.
We drive home.
We can change it all: The crisis. The violence. The lobbying.
Valentine’s Day is a colossally dumb holiday. Like a lot of “holidays,” much of Valentine’s Day’s finds meaning in how much you can spend. Supposedly we’re celebrating love and Cupid and being together. That’s nice. There’s chocolate and flowers and restaurants and jewelry. I like that singles call it “Singles Awareness Day”, and that girlfriends go out for Galentine’s. That’s fun.
This commercially dedicated day is framed in a way to appear the only day in a whole year to declare love. Or make some grand gesture of love. You don’t want to miss your chance. But it does seem to be the only day people will wait in line for hours at a decent (or even crappy) restaurant. New couples may get to see an ugly, dark side of their dates as lines stand still; seasoned couples may wonder why they didn’t stay home and cuddle in front of the television. Hello, it’s the Olympics! What’s more romantic than watching people at their peak athleticism and talking about how we’re so much cuter and stronger and, better yet, way more comfortable in our jammies? We (I) do love Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski, who may be the best commentators of any event in the history of humankind.
But it’s only coincidence the 2018 Winter Olympics overlap with Valentine’s day. And that the Winter Games only comes around once every four years, and Dumb Valentine’s Day (yes, that’s the name of the entire proper noun) is every year.
It’s possible not to celebrate Dumb Valentine’s Day, to make that very deliberate choice, but this is also dumb. If I’m being completely honest with myself, despite this holiday being overhyped and spendy and chaotic and commercial and exclusionary, I actually quite love it. Mostly because my love loves it. Reilly really gets into giving me flowers and chocolate and a perfectly written card. And we have fun giving Z little chocolates. I enjoy this overt expression of his deep and abiding love. Throughout the year he does so many little things to support me and brighten my day. Like laundry: for me, folding clothes ranks below going to the dentist, but Reilly speeds through washing and folding loads of laundry without a single complaint. That’s pretty hot, and just thinking about it makes me wanna …
I don’t necessarily expect a sweeping flourish for Valentine’s Day, but I certainly relish the moments where he puts forth a greater effort beyond his daily, loving actions.
We’ve learned not to go out on Dumb Valentine’s Day itself. We might go out sometime this week, but tonight, people be crazy, so we’re staying in. Besides, I like the idea of spending a quiet evening with my family, of celebrating our love doing something non-sparkly. That’s plenty special.
I love hanging out with my family. It doesn’t even matter what we’re doing: Driving without having a place to go (sorry, environment!), watching TV, eating, sitting around. We don’t even have to be talking. It’s nice to read in the living room near (it doesn’t even have to be next to!) my honeyman, while Z plays or reads or spins around.
In true, self-contradicting, Dumb Valentine’s Day fashion, to demonstrate my love for my family, I have a somewhat grand gesture of my own. (Insert evil laugh here.)
I have been listening to Lorde’s first album–PURE HEROINE–a lot lately. Something about the second song really catches my ear, and it was on repeat for hours at a time, several days in a row. It’s a cute little song called “400 Lux,” and it’s about young love realizing it’s evolved into something deep and real. The couple in the song don’t have to be going anywhere to feel like they’re doing something together. They don’t feel unpredictable and uncertain anymore; their love is stable.
I love these roads where the houses don’t change
Where we can talk like there’s something to say
I’m glad that we stopped kissing the tar on the highway
We move in the tree streets
I’d like it if you stayed
That’s where I feel we are.
Many of my guilty pleasures are often cheesy and awkward things that sometimes cross over into being uncomfortable. I like Hallmark and Lifetime movies. I like movies about animals getting lost so they talk to each other telepathically and find their way home. I have a feeling that I would really like This Is Us. Anyway, I edited together some footage of our family hanging out with “400 Lux” as the soundtrack. Dirty windows, cracked lenses, the works. The result is a cheesy, awkward, and possibly uncomfortable video that I hope you (try to) enjoy. I love our little dog and our growing daughter and my always-super-hot husband.
2017 has challenged us in so many ways. It has strained our rights as human beings, divided us from friends and family, tested faith, broken individuals seemingly past repair. It has taken my family down stressful paths. Although we have been blessed with quality time and other graces, others have suffered deeply, and often silently.
Some time during the summer someone from church asked me to help out with organizing potato dishes for funerals. Cheesy potatoes are important to any post-funeral luncheon. People gather after saying goodbye to their loved ones and find comfort in sharing food with those who also love the dearly and recently departed. Their emotional needs are met through one of their most primal needs, by eating something delicious, something made with love.
Cheesy potatoes are only one aspect of the meal, but it’s a favorite among mourners. Lots of starch, and lots of cheese. Those elements in that combination are meant to fire off certain neurons that translate to comfort, which tries to coexist with the burden of grief.
After receiving this assignment, a few months passed, and no funerals had been planned. The first half of the year had been replete with passings-away, but I was not yet part of the funeral meal committee. Then the last Sunday of October the lady who extended the assignment remarked how quiet it had been, and I thought to myself that this was a good thing. I wasn’t opposed to doing the work, but I was glad that people hadn’t experienced that kind of heartache in our ward, at least for a few months.
Go figure the moment someone mentions how a thing hasn’t happened, the thing happens shortly after that. Later that week our ward received an email about the passing of someone from our ward. I researched the person and found out that he had suffered from depression. His beautiful obituary profoundly saddened me. Usually during these times I feel the most helpless, but this time I could actually do something. Never had potatoes seemed more vital. If the other parts of the luncheon failed, cheesy potatoes had to prevail.
I had a list of sisters in the ward who were willing to make the cheesy potatoes. It was my job to call these ladies to see who would be available to provide the potatoes that weekend. I came up with a spreadsheet and kept track of responses and commitments, which would also help with future funerals. Here, I deleted names for privacy:
The sisters who were able to help that weekend were very kind. I had never really been an active part of this kind of effort, and their love and solemn treatment of this responsibility humbled me.
The ladies made their dishes and dropped them off at the church the morning of the funeral. It wasn’t until the following Sunday morning at church that I found out the funeral had gone well, that the food was delicious, that the family was grateful for all the help and support. I had imagined everyone eating and sharing stories and feeling a degree of unity that only comes with grief over a mutual friend and family member. Potatoes were all I could do—and I didn’t even cook them but just called people on a list—but for this moment, they mattered.
I have several close friends whose lives are entangled with depression and anxiety. They navigate their brain chemistry and the changing seasons and pollution and other circumstances with medication and therapy and exercise and hanging out with loved ones. It’s not easy for them, fighting the grey. But they are brilliant and creative and so passionate about the earth and humankind. They are the best readers and writers and experiencers of life; they are musical and endlessly curious and know all the best cusswords (and usages). I am so honored to know them.
Reilly’s mom has had every excuse to spiral into depression, yet she pushes through with such determination. And a smile. And enduring positivity. She’s coming up on her first full year of bi-weekly cycles of chemotherapy for stage IV metastatic colon cancer. It’s hard to imagine her daily hardship of increasing weakness and regular wooziness, but she has kept busy with work and doing as much as she can. She’s had excellent care with amazing doctors, and she knows she is surrounded by so many people who love her. Everyone faithing her well seems to be making a difference. Her strength amazes me.
She and her family have seen a pet cross the Rainbow Bridge this past month. A Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Maya was a boisterous and carefree and previously big dog, until diabetes caused drastic weight loss, blindness, then finally loss of use of her hind legs. No one likes to hear the vet say what the best course of action is to minimize suffering, even though it makes the most sense and really is the most humane for the dog. It’s painful saying goodbye to a pet, especially after almost ten years of companionship.
This year Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, and other ailments have ambushed or harrowed loved ones’ journeys.
My mom broke four toes when she slipped from an elliptical machine. But she hasn’t slowed down. This is both annoying and endearing at the same time. I love her for that.
Friends in Florida and in/near Texas or with family in Puerto Rico endured hurricanes and are trying to repair their lives.
Friends who married their high school sweethearts nearly 20 years ago have gotten divorced.
Other friends are enduring similar trials and heartache.
Earthquakes. Fires. Volcanoes. Shootings. Tax cuts. Health insurance. Church. #metoo.
How do people find comfort? What helps them in their agony and despair?
Z’s diagnosis was not as much of a bombshell as the anticipation of her diagnosis. This expectancy involved asking myself (after wondering what I did wrong) how I would handle this situation, what our “new normal” would be, how we would teach our innocent, nonreader of emotions to defend herself against monsters and assholes, among a plethora of other questions. But once we obtained a diagnosis, a wealth of resources became available, I found out several families are in our ward who have children with autism, and Z’s ABA therapy has helped her little personality emerge in ways that that weren’t obvious even six months ago. We have received an outpouring of support and love from so many caring people. You know who you are, and we are infinitely grateful. Thank you for your acceptance, kindness, and generosity.
This past year I have looked forward to Sunday dinners in Payson and Saturday donuts with my family. Family visiting from Florida. It has been nice to go on occasional movie dates with my perfect husband. To travel, to take long breaks and relax in our home. It has been rejuvenating to hang out and eat pizza with friends and discuss actions for lessening the hate in this world. Like a good nap or fresh air.
I have enjoyed picking apples and peaches and trying to make pies and making toffee and brownies and other little goodies to share. But I have also found calmness in literally tearing down walls (maybe figuratively, too?) and building shelves and painting and caulking. I have nurtured new friendships. I have explored more good music, movies, books, and television. I have discovered Twin Peaks while rediscovering the treadmill. My heart pumping, blood flowing, and sweat dripping are sometimes all I want out of life. It feels so good.
I have marched.
Contacted my senators and representatives.
We have also relished hosting a quarterly lecture series in our home, where we listened to speakers/friends talk about a variety of subjects: Satire (Reilly), the Poison Control Center (Reilly’s sister, Amber), Horror and the Family (Jon Smith), and Fan Studies (Melissa Beattie). What an exciting reason to gather with friends!
Yes, there’s a shload of darkness and nonsense in the world right now, and we make it through one day at a time. Probably more like an hour—or even a minute—at a time. Sometimes at the end of the day things don’t look brighter. We’re still sad or confused or hurt. It is ok to feel this way. And sometimes all we want to do is pull the covers over our heads and cry. It is ok to do this.
It is ok to bring this version of ourselves into 2018, because 2017 was ruthless. Pick your best cussword. You know: it’s complicated. I may spend the first part (or majority) of the New Year swimming in my covers, trying to find/push away sunlight and coming up for air/holding my breath.
This supply of oxygen, though, the most significant mercy that came out of 2017, was that many of us took the time to listen to each other. Even though we have disagreed on many fronts, a greater striving for understanding has risen from our immediate social circles, communities, and the world. This has sustained a hope I will always cling to.
I want to keep listening to you. I want to bolster the comfort and love of real friendship between us. I want to be there, to be the equivalent of cheesy potatoes for you. Something full of love.
Or I could just make cheesy potatoes. And hug you with them. In 2018, and in years to come.
When our family got home from church last Sunday, Lola and Papi were already waiting inside. The first thing Z did when she saw Lola was take her hand and lead her downstairs to play.
They have been inseparable for the past nine days. I’ve heard them talking to each other every day: Mom’s gentle voice and Z’s cute jabbering or imitating. These are happy sounds.
There’s this game where Z waits at the top of her slide while Lola counts to five, and then says, “Go!” And then Z goes down the slide.
There have been multiple viewings of Trolls and Moana and Brave and Shrek, but mostly Trolls. That’s what Z has been into lately.
The entire time we walked around Temple Square to see the lights, Z—in a stroller—looked behind her to make sure Lola was close by.
Lola has experienced telling Z to stop climbing the kitchen cabinets to get a sucker. She and Papi have taken part of our tradition of Saturday donuts.
If you believe in love languages, one of them is acts of service. My mom speaks this language loud and clear. In addition to being Z’s best friend, Mom has cleaned our house, done many loads of laundry, and cooked various meals for us. She’s done many things that have allowed us to relax. Papi has supported her in this visit and has told good stories and perfectly dry jokes. He is a wonderful man.
On Christmas, we had a fun day of opening presents and going out to breakfast and then spending dinner with Reilly’s family in Payson. Having everyone together heightened our spirits and the love we feel for each other.
A few quotes from the past week:
“You need to wax your moustache.” Mom to me, after looking at my upper lip.
“Ok, Papi, all glued.” Mom to Papi, after putting gel in and styling Papi’s hair.
“Do you sell pancakes here? Just checking.” Papi to the IHOP host, while getting seated for a Christmas breakfast.
“There you go!” Something Z picked up from Lola, when Z said something correctly. Z says this quite often now.
Right now, Lola is lying with Z until she falls asleep. They are talking and singing together.
Lola and Papi are driving back to Florida in the morning. They plan on sneaking out while Z is still asleep.
There will still be crying, though.
It is the morning, and Lola and Papi have left. Reilly and I woke up to send them off. During Mom’s tear-ridden, heart-bursting prayer, we heard Z talking to herself in bed. We said our goodbyes and hugged each other. Lola and Papi got into their car, and then they drove away.
We got Z out of bed and gave her some breakfast. We’re watching Shrek now, and Z has said “Ya-ya!” several times, asking for Lola, and I’ve had to explain that Lola went bye-bye.
The house is much quieter now, and I’m still a little teary-eyed. Thanks to Papi and Lola for visiting and giving us memories to reflect upon, their voices echoing in our minds, when the silence is too much to bear.