Jilting An Ally: How to String Along A Fully Qualified Job Candidate Only Not to Hire Him

Introduction

Corruption rises to the top.

It may disguise itself as righteousness or good intentions, or appeal to its own authority, and those at its mercy often have no choice but to comply.

But sometimes they turn away and never look back.

Corruption will meet justice: That’s what many of us hope for.

I have a story that is not mine. But I know the person involved, a victim of a system that hides behind piousness while ignoring basic rules of fairness and decency. And legality. The story appeals to a lot of people, and maybe writing is my way to stop being so mad about it.

This person gave me permission to tell his story. I know him, his family, his ambitions and his disposition. I express my gratitude to him for letting me recount his experience. While this person will verify the story, I am writing the story from the recollection of a secondhand account.

It is my hope that readers could apply his situation to their lives; perhaps many do not have to experience it vicariously and have indeed also become victims of this system. Names and other details have been changed. I’ve abridged the story somewhat.

Background

Some time ago Gary Avery was an alumnus working part-time during a winter semester at his alma mater in a department unrelated to where he earned his bachelor’s degree. The job often demanded of him to work many hours beyond his part-time obligations but still only paid him according to his contract. In addition to this job, he taught at another school and had other professional responsibilities that required him to travel.

The university was a private religious institution with a strict Honor Code; the university investigated Gary Avery’s life and discovered that he wasn’t attending church. As a result, the school put him on probation. He finished the rest of the semester and decided to quit and pursue other opportunities that meshed better with what he wanted in a career.

A couple weeks after the semester ended, Gary Avery planned a trip to another country to study with the native artists where a lot of his research originated. This gave him a rare opportunity to improve his skills at the feet of masters whose ancestors invented the art form. He would receive a deeper understanding of history, theory, and technique. He spent about five weeks in this country, from the beginning of May to the middle of June.

The Rest So Far

When Gary Avery returned to the United States, he considered what to do for work. He would continue teaching in various capacities and freelancing. As the new academic year approached, an opportunity arose for Gary to teach in a more substantial, full-time position at his alma mater. In the department where he received his bachelor’s degree. The faculty worked closely with him during his undergrad, and he kept in touch with them while he pursued a graduate degree elsewhere, so they knew of his talent and dedication to education. The faculty essentially created a niche position just for him, for which he was solely and uniquely qualified. In the years leading up to this point in his life, he established the best possible network for obtaining what seemed an ideal job.

Keeping Tabs

Gary Avery had an interview with a hiring manager who dug into his file and saw that he was previously on probation. This manager, Colburn Patterson, asked what Gary did after he quit. He explained that he went abroad to study. Patterson then said that there was no way to keep tabs on Gary while he was out of the country. There was no way to monitor his nonexistent reckless behavior that was discordant with the Honor Code. There was no way Patterson would take Gary’s word that his behavior complied with the Honor Code. Patterson seemed to rather assume the worst.

So, Gary Avery was still on probation. Patterson said that if he could get an endorsement from his church leader affirming that he was complying with university policy, he would be freed from probation and get hired. This meant that he wouldn’t be starting fall semester, but Patterson would revisit his case in time to start for winter semester.

Making Good

Gary Avery went to his local church leader and explained his situation. Pastor Parker understood and told Gary he would work with him to the best possible outcome.

Throughout that fall semester Gary attended church and checked in with Pastor Parker, who determined that Gary was complying with the Honor Code and gave him an ecclesiastical endorsement.

Gary Avery was now qualified for the position. He met the professional requirements, and his spiritual leader endorsed him. He was ready to be hired.

Stacking the Deck

In the last half of the semester Gary Avery learned the school added a separate position to the customized one he was applying for. This new position included more responsibilities and was opened to a larger hiring pool. Undoubtedly, Gary was qualified for this position as well, but was he supposed to apply? How would this complicate the hiring process in his situation? Gary wasn’t too worried, because he was still applying for the original position and knew most of the faculty supported him.

Tracking Emails

In November, Gary Avery gave Colburn Patterson an update via email. Patterson replied that he did not know the likelihood of reemployment at this point, that Gary was still close to an “unsuccessful probationary period,” and further decisions will be determined by feedback from Gary’s ecclesiastical leader. There were other clues in their email thread that implied that Patterson had not communicated with Pastor Parker. However, Patterson still encouraged him to apply.

Gary Avery was confused about his supposed “unsuccessful” probation. At the end of December he touched base with Pastor Parker, who confirmed by email that Colburn Patterson had not contacted him about the endorsement. Nothing else was keeping him from getting hired. The pastor further stated that he personally wouldn’t want to work anywhere that didn’t want to hire him, but that he’d love to talk to Patterson just to get a sense of his thinking, and so that Gary’s frustration with Patterson “doesn’t bug [Gary] the rest of [his] life.”

Reacting

The associate dean of the department, Jeremiah Strang, was particularly upset by the school’s decision not to hire Gary Avery. He knew that the department and students would benefit greatly from Gary’s contributions; he knew that Gary was a good man with integrity, that although he had not attended church regularly in the past, he never truly rebelled against his religion: Gary never smoked, drank, or partied. He worked hard and built an impressive resume all before the age of 25. The department was powerless; whom could they hire now?

December ended, and the new semester began. Jerry Hough was another one of the faculty expecting Gary to start teaching the first day of class. His personality and temper overshadowed his slight frame, and people around him felt his presence wherever he went. When Hough realized that Gary wasn’t teaching, much less hired as expected, he demanded a meeting with members of the hiring board.

Strang and Hough met with Colburn Patterson and his superior, Lenk Douzebach. They discussed Gary Avery’s qualifications and process for receiving an ecclesiastical endorsement. Sometime during this meeting Douzebach went off the record and said that it’s his personal policy not to hire someone who isn’t a return missionary and isn’t married. Regardless of meeting the terms of his probation, Gary wasn’t going to be hired because he was single and didn’t serve a mission for the church.

Conclusion

On paper, Gary is qualified for this job. He has the entire department as well as his pastor to vouch for his character and desire to improve spiritually. It was his pastor’s decision—not the hiring board’s—to decide whether he met the worthiness requirements to work at the university. The hiring board’s job is to hire based on qualifications, not to judge based on their perception of spirituality.

Additionally, being a return missionary and married does not automatically make someone a good person, and being single and not serving a mission does not automatically make someone a bad person. Being single and not serving a mission should not diminish one’s chances of being hired. At all. Isn’t using marital status as a basis for making hiring decisions against the law, regardless of the privateness of the institution?

Other faculty are not members of the church sponsoring this school, but they have committed to live according to the Honor Code. Combined with the rest of the faculty, should we assume that all faculty are good, upstanding people? What about a religion “professor” who makes offhanded, misogynistic remarks during lectures all semester? An instructor. Of RELIGION. There are probably other examples.

Some professors with prestigious fellowships have come to work there, being neither married nor a return missionary, because they also are not members of the church. It’s hard not to assume they were hired to bring prominence to the school. Ideally, these professors would also follow the Honor Code. Realistically, not all of them do. Not even all professors who claim to subscribe to the religion do.

Never mind the process involved in recruiting for the athletics programs of this religious institution. Never mind the school dismissing students who change their religion after having crises in faith. Those are discussions for another day.

The university made a big mistake. They may never be penalized for illegal onboarding procedures, but not hiring Gary Avery—fully qualified and supported by department faculty—just because he’s not married and didn’t serve a mission sends the wrong message to that department and the individual.

The university will hire someone less qualified, but married and a return missionary. Yet the department will suffer, because their new hire can’t fulfill all the responsibilities and perhaps disrupt their organizational culture: They were expecting Gary Avery, they got someone else instead. That someone else will have an unfortunate struggle to meet the Gary Avery standards the department expected.

If Gary Avery still can’t be hired making a sincere effort to return to good standing in the church, how does that encourage him to keep going to church? Church attendance is his choice, but the university clearly conveyed that they don’t really care.

The university won the power struggle but ultimately lost a phenomenal potential employee: Gary Avery has decided to stop pursuing employment at this institution for now. He is free to seek other opportunities that may turn out to be much bigger than his alma mater could ever offer. That may be the best justice anyone can hope for.

Speaking of Prayer

Or, By the Grace of the Check Engine Light

My own skepticism has caused me to hesitate sharing this experience, because when I hear people share their own experiences and draw what I consider to be specious conclusions, I fear that’s how people will perceive the lessons I learned one morning a few weeks ago. When returned missionaries come home and declare that they were good missionaries and kept the commandments, therefore they got engaged within a month of returning home; or when people assume everyone in an entire region of the world was wicked therefore a catastrophe leveled the land, I tend to wince a little. So what I’m about to share may prove a little hypocritical, but the Lord’s judgment is just and for me and me alone; nevertheless I’m willing to face judgment from my spiritual peers and superiors in mortality. Or just not care. I’m fine either way now.

It was a Tuesday night, and I decided to go to bed early, because I had to take my mom to the airport at 3:30 Wednesday morning. She came up to attend my graduation ceremony for library school and had stayed with us for a full six days. The car I usually drive had a flat tire, so we planned to take the other car instead. I headed to bed around 9:00 or 9:30, which would have given me a solid 6 to 6.5 hours of sleep.

In order to sleep, one has to be sleepy, which I wasn’t. I can’t even recall that I was all that tired. I lay in bed and tossed and turned. Every half hour or so I looked at the clock, which gratefully seemed to be creeping along. I played a few rounds of sudoku on the Kindle and read a few pages of The Screwtape Letters. I tried lying on my stomach and then on my back and then on my side. I turned the pillow when it got too warm. I attempted breathing exercises to help relaxation.

Nothing worked. My mind was too active thinking about driving to the airport and potty training Z and work and everything else I could possibly think about. Reilly said if I was too worried about being too tired on the road, we’d get the whole family in the car. But I didn’t want him to be too tired for work. I told myself I’d be fine.

Time went from crawling to running, and around 3:00am I finally dozed off to half-consciousness. My alarm went off at 3:20am. Reilly got up to scrape any ice from the car windows, which there was none. I threw on some jeans and a sweater, then my winter coat. I grabbed a Mountain Dew from the refrigerator. Mom and I climbed into the car.

The ride to the airport was uneventful. I pulled into the dropoff area and helped Mom with her suitcase. We hugged each other. I cried a little. After watching Mom walk into the terminal, I got back into the car.

Just as I had pulled away from the dropoff area and driven onto the road exiting the airport, the check engine light came on. A bright yellow-orange light shaped like a drawing of an engine.

I still had 40 miles to get home.

Sometimes the engine sounded fine. I don’t know anything about cars, but sporadically the engine sounded as if it was losing traction, like it lost its grip on a thingy but another thingy would keep spinning for 5 to 10 seconds until it gained traction again. This happened every few miles the whole way home.

Whenever this happened my stomach sank, and I would experiment with pressure on the gas pedal and vary speeds to see if that affected the traction thingy. The traction thingy happened no matter what I did. Yet I decided to drive slower than the speed limit most of the way; I don’t know why.

The whole time I watched the speedometer and the temperature gauges, and the check engine light stayed on. The whole time, my mind was alert, and I came up with an emergency plan in case the car stopped on the freeway.

The whole time my mind was spinning, with and without traction, much like the engine seemed to be. The whole time I was driving I was praying aloud. I turned off the radio so I could hear the engine, but also so that the Lord knew I was serious about needing to get home. There are worse situations than being stuck on the side of the freeway at 4:30am, but I wanted to get home. I made this desire known.

I talked about my family and my attitude and my current level of spirituality. I apologized for not praying as much and reading my scriptures as much. I started making those deals that people make about being a better person if they survive a certain situation. I expressed gratitude for blessings, for being able to drop off my mom safely at the airport.

The distance home shrank and I steered onto our exit. I asked and hoped that the car would make it to our apartment on the slower city roads and at stop lights. Soon I was just a few miles away. I pulled up to our apartment and parked the car. When I turned off the ignition, the check engine light also shut off. I sighed with relief.

Reilly was up when I walked in. I told him about the car. It wouldn’t be until the following Sunday when Reilly’s dad would look at it to see if anything was wrong.

But it occurred to me: What if nothing was wrong with the car after getting home? What if this was just a thing that happened to keep me awake on the way home from the airport? What if the check engine light turning on was all in my head? If nothing was wrong with the car, it might look like I was just telling stories, for what, attention?

Thankfully, something was wrong with the coil thingy in the engine. Yes, it’s a bummer, but I’m also glad I wasn’t imagining it.

Reilly said that if I had been worried about staying awake on the drive from the airport, the car issue and the check engine light had definitely kept me from falling asleep at the wheel. A blessing in a slightly conspicuous disguise.

I’m grateful the situation compelled me to utter a 35-minute prayer on the freeway in the wee morning hours. The act of praying aloud also had kept me awake.

But what if I had gotten a good night’s sleep? Chances are that the car would have still acted up, and my mind would have still been put on high alert, and I still would have made it home safely. I’d still have something to be grateful for.

Instead of a prayer of desperation, I offer a prayer of gratitude for the check engine light, for the reminders of temporariness of this life, the awareness of struggles in this world, the assurance that–even when we feel we’re losing traction, and I’m just now realizing the analogy of this situation and forthcoming bad pun–exaltation will come to this mortal coil.

Last Night During Family Prayer

Every night before bedtime we gather together to pray as a family. It’s the end of Z’s bedtime routine, and it’s something we’ve done since she was a newborn. We do this to help her develop the habit of praying and instilling the value of praying together as a family.

As I’ve mentioned before, our daughter talks, but there’s not much that her father nor I understand yet. She laughs and squeals, and her jabbering has the certain cadence and melody of sentences.

Last night, we formed our little prayer circle. Reilly swaddled Z and held her while either he or I pray. It was my turn. I gave thanks for a few things, and I asked for a few blessings. And then I said, “We’re thankful for [Zinger].”

Immediately after I said this, our daughter said, “[Zinger].” It was unexpected, and it was in her cute little voice. Reilly and I laughed for a few seconds and sporadically throughout the prayer. Z also said some other things–this time we couldn’t understand them, and I can only imagine that she was praying right along with us. As I finished the prayer, her little voice came to mind again and I laughed through the “amen.”

After we set Z down in her crib, Reilly and I reenacted this scene a few more times, imitating our dear daughter. We laughed, again and again. What a precious moment.

This is probably my favorite time of the day.

Hindsight is 2015

Whenever I think about resolutions, there are the standard goals of exercising more and eating better, reading more books and eating out less, waking up earlier and writing more, but my greatest desires for improvement always lie in relationships.

Back in August, Reilly and I gave talks at church about the complementarity of gender roles. We had moved to a new area of town at the beginning of June, and this was a way for us to bear our testimonies and for our fellow ward members to get to know us better.

(This reminds me that we forgot to tell people we’d moved, so we’ve received a lot of Christmas cards this week with yellow stickers reminding us to tell people our new address. Sorry, guys. If you still need our address, let me know.)

When the day came to give our talks, we’d already been in the ward two months, and that gave me a chance to observe the members and relate my thoughts on gender roles to our ward, which consists of a large number of nontraditional family situations. We were specifically instructed only to use the scriptures and General Conference talks in our remarks. This makes sense because I’ve heard people say some truly outrageous things from the pulpit. I referred to this talk by Sister Chieko N. Okazaki and emphasized this quote:

Here are two quilts. Both are handmade, beautiful, and delightful to snuggle down in or wrap around a grandchild. Now look at this quilt. It’s a Hawaiian quilt with a strong, predictable pattern. We can look at half of the quilt and predict what the other half looks like. Sometimes our lives seem patterned, predictable in happy ways, in order.

Now look at this second quilt. This style is called a crazy quilt. Some pieces are the same color, but no two pieces are the same size. They’re odd shapes. They come together at odd angles. This is an unpredictable quilt. Sometimes our lives are unpredictable, unpatterned, not neat or well-ordered.

Well, there’s not one right way to be a quilt as long as the pieces are stitched together firmly. Both of these quilts will keep us warm and cozy. Both are beautiful and made with love. There’s not just one right way to be a Mormon woman, either, as long as we are firmly grounded in faith in the Savior, make and keep covenants, live the commandments, and work together in charity.

The ideas in this analogy include and not exclude, and I want to apply them not only to my family but to every interaction I will face.

I described ways in which Reilly and I are compatible. We love books, music, good television and movies. We’re both short. But is compatibility the same as complementarity? Being a complement takes effort, it requires work to observe and a desire to understand; deep and meaningful relationships go beyond what we have in common. Commonalities are a good place to start, though.

At the beginning of November, we attended a friend’s wedding reception. We didn’t stay long because Z was struggling with the big unfamiliar crowd. It was wonderful seeing the beautiful couple so happy, so fresh. I’d seen pictures that hinted at a fun courtship; I’d seen participation in a well-meaning but poorly executed web reality show. The culmination of their experiences together ended perfectly in a new beginning.

Reilly and I reminisce about our courtship and wedding all the time. This discussion has expanded to reflections on our continued dating and pregnancy and major milestones with Z. The past makes me hopeful for the future and grateful for the now. This process of thinking and remembering makes time seem not as relentless and life much more enjoyable.

The end of November presented me with attending a friend’s father’s funeral. He taught at the same middle school Reilly attended, though Reilly was not in any of his classes. I made it to the last hour of the funeral, where family members told stories that demonstrated the remarkable life of a good man. The chapel was packed, and it was obvious that he was loved and that he left the world a better place, at least for those who knew him.

As tears streamed down my face as I listened to these stories, I realized again just how beautiful and uplifting funerals can be. Mount Timpanogos backdropped the quiet and sprawling cemetery where I had a chance to see my friend and give her a big hug. She lives in New York, and it had been a few years since I’d seen her. While I’m grateful to connect to friends through social media, I’m especially grateful a huge part of the legacy a man left for this earth manifests itself in his phenomenal children.

There is still so much to learn in this life, and I only took a few experiences out of the past year to discuss. I look at my husband and daughter and wonder how my attitude and philosophy and convictions will influence them. I wonder about my friends and other family. I wonder how I will become better in areas where I am inadequate. I want to be more thoughtful, a better listener, to solve more problems. My imprint on this world needs to mean something.

The last song in Patty Griffin’s most recent album, Servant of Love, is called “Shine a Different Way.” Some of my favorite lines read:

In more ways than one
Shine a different way tomorrow

Tomorrow is a new year–2016: Olympics, election, other significant stuff. But more importantly, it’s tomorrow, a new beginning, a fresh start, a way to contemplate and become a better person. There’s no one right way.

Let’s be better together, bask in inevitable cognitive dissonance, lift each other up. Let’s solve and re-solve and resolve with civility and love and kindness and find all the different ways we can shine.

Happy New Year.

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j,,,,mzz . Social Navigation

[The first part of the title is Z’s. I stepped away from the computer for two seconds, and she decided she wants to blog.]

The Saturday before Halloween our ward had a chili cook-off and Halloween carnival. Earlier in the day I had put Z’s costume on her to see if it fit and so she could get used to it. I’d taken it off so that she wouldn’t get too hot. When it was time to get ready for the party, I struggled with Z to put the costume on, but she finally relented.

She was cranky. She didn’t have much of a nap that day, and when I tried to paint her with a lion face–super simple, a short black upside-down triangle covering the bottom of her nose, a white snout, and black whiskers–she wouldn’t stay still. She looked like she’d eaten powdered donuts mixed with soot.

It’s two blocks to our church building, but we decided to go on a little drive to to fit in a little nap for Z. We drove around for about 10 minutes before pulling up to the church. Z was sleeping. We found a place to sit. Reilly held our dozing child while I stood in line to get us food.

rawr.

We made it through most of our meal before Z woke up. The moment she opened her eyes, she began to cry. She saw all the people and heard all the noise. I would have been overwhelmed as well.

We tried feeding Z, but she was too upset. Reilly took her into the foyer for a little while, and when they came back, Z was no longer wearing her costume. But she was still crying.

Time to go. The instant we stepped outside into the cool air and fuzzy ambiance of dusk, our little toddler calmed down. We went home and she played until bedtime.

The following Friday I decided to get our money’s worth out of Z’s costume, so I put it on her, and we went to the library. She likes climbing the stairs to the juvenile section.

On the prowl...
On the prowl…

Z especially loves to play in the courtyard between wings. It was chilly outside, but the costume seemed to keep her warm enough.

Bounding down the hill...
Bounding down the hill…

We then went to Provo Towne Centre Mall, where she could play in the kids’ area and walk around. She fell asleep in the car on the way, but I brought her to the kids’ area and lay her down to let her sleep. When she woke up, she didn’t move but watched the other kids playing for a while.

Just watching...
Just watching…

After walking and playing, we went back home to walk and play some more.

Lion slide
Lion slide

We checked the mail, and Z likes to see if we received any packages.

Where's our mail?
Where’s our mail?

Then came Halloween day. We were up until 1am the night before watching scary movies with Reilly’s brothers (Z was in bed), so Reilly and I were quite tired. But we wanted to do something for Halloween. We decided to accept an invitation to a party. We all got in our costumes.

Off to see the Wizard...
Off to see the Wizard…

We thought Z might have another tantrum, but she was actually very good. We were early to the party, so we left to get eat some pie and came back. But the person who invited us wasn’t there yet, and it was getting late (8:30!), so we just came back home and put Z to bed. I invited friends over, and we watched another scary movie and stayed up past midnight.

The following Tuesday we went to a wedding reception in Riverton. We stood in the reception line no longer than two minutes. When we got to talk to the beautiful bride and groom, Z began to cry. We wrapped up our conversation and found a seat and I got up to get some refreshments–s’mores. Perfect for a crisp evening. I thought Z might like the chocolate and graham crackers. Z ate quietly for a few minutes, but maybe it was the crowd of strangers and unfamiliar chatter and not being able to run around like she usually does before she started crying.

Again, once we stepped outside, she stopped crying.

She did really well her first time in nursery, but she’s had a rougher time the past few Sundays.

Then last night Reilly and I brought Z to a ward missionary meeting in someone’s home. She did fine playing on their carpeted stairs. She jabbered and checked in on us every few minutes. Someone else’s toddler was there. Once when he stood in Z’s way she looked at him and did something that looked like frustrated jazz hands before walking around him.

From these experiences I’ve observed:

  • Z likes small groups, especially with family. (Just like Reilly and I.)
  • Z likes being able to run around and explore.
  • Z doesn’t like a lot of noise or strangers.
  • Z isn’t sure what to think about other toddlers.

From these observations, maybe:

  • Z could adjust to being around people her age more often. (Just like Reilly and I.)
  • Reilly and I could have more creative solutions whenever Z doesn’t feel like being very social with us.

Times like these I wish I knew what I was doing, but we’re okay. We’re learning. And she’s only 19 months old, so there’s that.

Sunday Firsts

Yesterday was Zinger’s first day in nursery at church. Since our ward meets at 11:00 AM, our strategy was to get Z to sit long enough for us to take the sacrament, take her for a ride so that she can nap for about half an hour, then bring her back in time for nursery.

We were able to get her to sit for the first 25 minutes of sacrament meeting. She wanted to walk around and play in the chapel, but we held her close and whispered to her how important it was to sit still. As soon as the bishop dismissed the priesthood after administering the sacrament, Reilly took Z on a ride while I listened to people bear their testimonies. I may have also briefly scrolled through Facebook and read comments in a Salt Lake Tribune article about black women in the Church.

When sacrament meeting ended, I walked out of the chapel and found my family. I asked Reilly if Z got a nap. He said no. I was nervous. We walked our daughter to the nursery room. We let her walk around, and there were a couple of times she tried leaving the room. Once the tables were set up the nursery workers put out some books and puzzles, and Z began to play. She also saw some blocks and played with those as well.

The nursery leaders asked for her name. We told them Z was tired and wasn’t really used to other children yet. They assured us they were good at getting the babies to calm down in case of tantrums.

Before we left her, we decided to change her diaper so that the next two hours for her wouldn’t be interrupted. So I took her to the mothers’ room and changed her. Reilly and I took her back to the nursery room. We opened the door, we said goodbye, and there were no tears.

Suddenly, we were free.

Reilly and I headed to Gospel Principles class. We sat down in the middle of a story the teacher was telling. One of the first things we heard the teacher say was, “And [this guy], he was homosexual.” Then she wrote on the board: [guy’s name] – homosexul [sic]. Then she continued telling the story, which offered a few more highlights:

  • “Many of their kids were homosexual. I don’t know if it’s hereditary or what.”
  • “And [another guy] was 70 years old, and he’s still homosexual.”

The teacher kept making eye contact with me, so I didn’t want to give even the remotest sideways glance to Reilly to express how weird I thought the lesson was.

But then came a story that had some context:

  • “My son came to me and said, ‘I have to thank you for something, but I’m not sure it was even you. My brothers were always beating me up. I was always on the bottom of a pile. But there were times I felt someone lifting me up above the pile, and I could see my brothers below me, and the next thing I knew, I was at the table and there were milk and cookies. I want to thank you for that.’”

My impression was that the lesson was about families, but we missed the first ten minutes, and with 20 minutes left in the class, someone came in and asked us to be substitute Primary teachers. So we walked out of our Sunday School class, being somewhat amused but not knowing for sure what we were being taught.

We found out that we were teaching the CTR4 class, which consisted of three boys. They were rowdy, as boys between 4 and 6 years of age typically are. Between Reilly and me, our combined powers of persuasion made classroom management pretty easy. (If other parents saw us, they probably would have disagreed.) We had a short lesson about missionaries. We colored pictures of children holding Books of Mormon. One boy looked at the other boys’ coloring jobs and said, “Dude, that’s scribbling.” We folded these pictures into paper airplanes, and Reilly refereed the races. We also played football because that’s always an appropriate Sunday indoor activity. I interrupted their fun to remind them if their moms ask what they learned in class to say they learned about being missionaries. Wishful thinking, I know; I should expect them to tell their moms that they played with paper airplanes and threw a football in class. The final activity was drawing on the chalkboard, which surprised me with how long they kept quiet. We ended the class with a prayer. While one boy was giving the closing prayer, another boy was talking. To whom, to what, I don’t know.

I tidied up the classroom while Reilly picked up Z from nursery. I asked how she did, and Reilly said that when he opened the door, one of her shoes was off. One of the nursery leaders was blowing bubbles, and Z was trying to catch them. I imagined her reaching above her head, trying to grab those clear, drifting orbs. I smiled.

It seems Z had a great first day at nursery, with nary a tear. She also didn’t nap the entire day. (Reilly and I each took two naps.) And she cried for about a minute when she had to go to bed.

It was an eventful day for all of us. If today’s gospel principles lesson was about families, then maybe we could take our day and talk about how our respective experiences have brought us closer together, either because they were fun (stacking blocks and catching bubbles) or slightly chaotic (teaching small boys) or didn’t make very much sense (listening to bizarre stories in Sunday School). I don’t think there will ever be another Sunday like this one. I really liked it.

On Parenting and Villages

Today in Sunday School the little one was fussing a little, realizing she’d have to sit through yet another not-fun hour of church. I whispered to her that she was going to be okay, but she disagreed, as babies sometimes do.

Before she got too loud, a woman sitting behind me reached her arms out to Zinger and whispered, “Do you want to come to me?” I handed the baby to the woman, a new face with fun curly hair, big buttons on her collar, and a cool jangly bracelet. She’s been in the ward a long time and definitely one of the sisters I admire. I haven’t spoken to her very much in the past few years, but I’m glad she offered to hold the baby.

The woman played patty cake and chatted with Zinger while I got stuff ready for changing a diaper. I also took advantage of my free lap and a few quiet moments to actually pay attention to the Sunday School lesson. After a few minutes, I turned around and waited for Zinger to make eye contact with me. I asked her if she was ready, then I took her out to change her diaper.

Then Zinger and I roamed the halls for a while. Lately when she sees vast spaces to cross and long corridors to hike, she gets excited. When about 10 minutes were left in Sunday School, we returned to the classroom. I set her down on the floor with a toy and a book, but she wanted to keep walking. She headed toward another sister sitting two seats away. This woman picked her up and smiled and cooed at and nuzzled her. During the closing prayer, she made the baby laugh.

What a cool ward I live in.

A few months ago I read this blog post about assessing a situation and intervening when children are left unattended. The writer makes a good point about not judging the parents because we don’t always know everyone’s story, but if children are endangering themselves, then no one should watch and wait for them to get hurt.

I’m always worried about my child. My first attempt at parenthood is riddled with anxiety about being too cautious and not being helicoptery enough. Zinger began walking before she turned nine months old. In the past three weeks she’s progressed in her balance and speed. Part of that is not because I haven’t let her fall. Falling is a huge part of learning, but I or her father has been there when it happens. Falling is why she’s so strong. When she does fall, I talk to her about it. Sometimes she needs help standing up again, but more often than not, she can get up all by herself. I talk to her about that, too.

I try to talk to Zinger about many things. A lot of it is fun stuff, but some of it is serious, too. Kids are smart; kids are perceptive. I cannot assume that my child cannot pick up on what’s going on in the world around her. If there’s an opportunity to teach her about what she observes, I will take it. I will help her develop emotional intelligence. If anything, that will prepare me to discuss important lessons when she gets older. I have never imagined myself in a spontaneous, magical teaching moment like on cheesy family sitcoms. When Zinger asks me big questions, I want to be prepared to have a meaningful conversation with her.

She’s my first child. I’m surprised my blood pressure isn’t a lot higher with the anxiety I have. It’s hard for me not to imagine the worst-case scenario for every situation. After watching this video, someone asked if the bookshelves are secure:

I know the person meant well, but the question implies that we haven’t thought about the shelves. It implies that I haven’t imagined an earthquake and the shelves tipping, or the shelves even tipping by themselves. It implies that we leave the baby alone with the books. It implies that we don’t keep the bedroom door closed so that she doesn’t wander in and pull a pile of books on top of her.

It implies that we are negligent parents. I felt judged, and that really hurts my feelings.

I understand that it takes a village to raise a child, and I’m grateful for the village that has come together — inside and outside family — for Zinger’s sake. I just wonder what more I have to do be respected as a parent.

Last week I didn’t attend a funeral.

The bishop announced it the Sunday before. I wept.

A baby girl was born. Received a name.

The baby had a condition called Potter Syndrome. She had no kidneys while she developed in her mother’s womb. She could not produce amniotic fluid.

But she was born. And she spent 90 precious minutes with her family.

Her parents and older brother and sister held her. Talked to her. Smiled, took pictures.

The bishop said the family felt incredibly blessed to spend that much time with their baby girl.

After an hour and a half, her frail little body stopped working, and she returned home. To a sibling who also came home, but only 40 minutes after being born.

They’re home. Where they no longer have Potter Syndrome. Where they will have kidneys.

Where they wait to see the rest of their family again.

One Month (?!)

What the HECK, Zinger.

Two weeks ago when the doctor measured you, you were in the 94th percentile of babies for your height. Neither your father nor I can claim in good conscience that you take after us in that regard.

Also, you have mostly outgrown your newborn clothes. You can squeeze into the 0-3 months clothes, but we’ve broken out the 3-6 months clothes and have started to give your small clothes away already.

You can already scoot on your tummy. You can stand with our help. You look so much more grown up than when you were born.

I do not understand this. You’re only a month old.

Last week at your weighing, we hoped that you had finally gained enough to reach your birth weight. Well, guess what: You outshot that by eight whole ounces. Half a pound. I must admit that we did get a little zealous during the week leading up to this weighing. I pumped and we supplemented about half the feedings and crossed our fingers that it would be enough. It was more than enough. We are very proud of you.

Daddy and Zinger are so beautiful!

Your umbilical cord stump finally fell out, so your father and I gave you your very first non-sponge bath last Saturday. You liked the warm water spraying on you, and you seemed sad when the bath was over, because all of a sudden you felt cold so we rushed to dry you off and put on cute pajamas and prepare your outfit for Sunday.

Baby-bathwater situation?

Oh my heck this kid.

You received a baby blessing at church Sunday morning. I kept a prayer in my heart all last week and maybe I cried for most of sacrament meeting. Seriously, the opening hymn (which might as well have been the “Barney” theme song because I was emotional to begin with so it didn’t matter what the song was) set off the waterworks. And I didn’t bring tissues, so I just wiped tears with the back of my hand. Your dad did such a wonderful job. He blessed you with the ability to make good choices and understand and apply important gospel principles to your life. He blessed you with the ability to empathize and be a good friend. A decent human being with a caring soul. He blessed you to recognize the love your family has for you.

You already manifest these qualities. When you and your dad came back to the pew where the family sat, your dad passed you to me so I could hold you. You saw tears and love in my face and you calmed me with your deep, expressive, sort of bluish-brown eyes. Your countenance told me you understood everything your father declared to you.

The fam.

You may have had a blessing placed upon you, but we — your family — are the ones who are truly blessed.

So cute.

My favorite time of the day with you is the early morning. I bring you from your room to our bed and feed you and cuddle you until you fall back asleep. Your dad kisses you on the cheek when he leaves for work. It’s the sweetest thing. The other morning I nestled you and your little arm stretched across across my chest as you slept. I had read a chapter from the scriptures to you. I listened to you breathe, I smelled your skin and hair. Our moments — the ones I wish could last forever — are mornings like this.

You may have already noticed, but we are surrounded by people who love us. Family, friends, potential friends. Lola has helped a lot. A couple weeks ago I shared some early experiences of new-motherhood, and we received an outpouring of empathy and support. For those moms who need a little boost, read this blog post. I told some classmates about your birth, and one woman acknowledged that I had undergone major surgery and trauma. That really meant a lot. It’s wonderful that people are willing to help us in any way they can. You understand this best as a baby who’s so dependent on others; I’m slowly realizing as your mother who only wants to make you happy, that we do not have to do anything alone. You eagerly accept help and are grateful, so I want to thank everyone who has reached out.

I can't stand it.

 

Zinger, you have already taught me so much; you are forever an example to me. I want to be able to tell you to stop growing up so fast, but I fear it’s too late for that. Your father and I will enjoy every moment with you anyway.

Inconceivable cuteness

We’ve basked in the last four weeks with you. We’re excited to see what the coming months bring.

Love, Mom

Letter to Baby Girl: Week 39

Dear Baby Girl,

I didn’t skip week 38. Lest you think your mother can’t count, I need to explain a few things that happened at your ultrasound last Friday:

  • We confirmed that your due date is sooner than what the people at the doctor’s office originally determined. I mean, it’s only four days sooner, but four days is more than half a week, which prompts me to round up and move our weekly count up by a week. So that’s how I got week 39. Of course, you’re going to come when you’re good and ready, but it’s nice to have a more correct number out there. So it’s not me who can’t count; it’s the people with the science degrees. Blame them.
  • We saw your cutie-face profile. You had this smooshed-in nose and these puckered lips, and one of your hands was up by your forehead until you brought it toward your mouth. I wanted to cuddle you so much right then.
  • We found out approximately how big you are. The ultrasound tech measured your noggin and your tummy, and the computer calculated your weight. Of course there’s a margin of error, but I think you may be close to what the ultrasound tech measured, just because I know what it’s like to lift weights or other things of various hefts like bags of sugar or gallons of milk. You’re somewhere in between a bag of sugar and gallon of milk, little one. The perinatologist told us that you’d most likely pattern your birth weight after the parent who had the heavier birth weight. That wasn’t me: I was 5 pounds, 4 ounces. So you can blame your father. Well, “blame” might be too strong a word for you because you’re an innocent party, but I’m the one that gets to push you out, so I’ll blame him instead.
  • We learned that since you’d still be significantly far away from the 10-pound threshold by the time you’re born, that I can try to deliver you vaginally. If you were closer to 10 pounds, doctors would suggest a c-section. But both the perinatologist and the doctor have witnessed Asian moms successfully birthing decent-sized babies like you. This reassures me.

I told several people at church yesterday how big you are, and they either looked at me and said, “What?!” or they outright said, “But you’re so little. How can you be carrying such a big baby?” Well, I could be impressed with myself, but I’m more impressed with you. Impressed, enamored, completely in awe.

Your Florida grandma and her husband have started their trip out here. They should arrive by the end of the week, and they are very excited. Your Florida grandma has even gone so far to prophesy a little brother for you in the next two years. She’s already predicting siblings for you! What do you think about that?

Also, I think Florida Grandma would like for you to call her “Lola.” It’s a Filipino term of endearment for grandmother. And it’s a good way to distinguish between Florida and Utah grandma, though I doubt you’d ever be confused. Both are awesome ladies, though.

Today, the doctor checked me and said that I’m around two centimeters wide and 70% effaced. Is that too much information for you? This is especially helpful for me, since the last time the doctor checked I was totally closed for business. And yet, according to a nurse-midwife friend of mine, I could have today’s measurements for the next three hours or the next two weeks. It would be nice if my body cooperated sooner than later. Once you’re out, you can keep growing as much as you want!

I admit I’m getting a little more nervous each day, but we listened to your heart again today at the doctor’s office, and you sound as strong as ever. We’re going to be just fine.

Your father is a real sweetheart. He said he was nervous, too. He’s nervous about my pain and the uncertain date of your arrival. He really wants to give us his best possible support. Lola suggested that he give us a blessing, which is a mighty fine idea. Bless away, Dada.

Little one, we already know you’re a cool and remarkable baby. Everyone is so excited to meet you, but not as excited as your dad and I.

We’ll see you soon. Like, dang soon. Hopefully.

Love, Mom