I posted this on social media two days ago: Monday, 6/24.
Just keep swimming.
This past Saturday was three weeks since Nana’s passing; two weeks since her funeral. June 22 is Nana and Papa’s wedding anniversary. Z woke up, and she led me through her morning routine. I asked what she wanted for breakfast.
She looked at me and said, “Nemo.”
I very deliberately paused. “You want to watch Nemo? Ok, let’s go turn it on.”
We watched about 30 minutes of the movie when Reilly got home from the gym. After pausing the movie, we went upstairs and started eating the donuts he brought. Then Z headed back downstairs to finish watching. I followed her.
While the movie was playing I had my laptop open, writing and reviewing some personal thoughts. Then I heard Dory sing, “Keep swimming, just keep swimming.”
I stopped typing. This was the motto Nana had applied to her own struggles and afflictions the past couple of years. No matter the procedure, the pain, the fatigue, nausea, heartache: she pushed on. With a smile, even.
As Dory sang, I cried. As Marlin guided her through the swarm of Portuguese Man-o’-Wars stinging her, and Dory fought to stay conscious, she sang: Keep swimming.
After Finding Nemo, Z asked to watch Finding Dory. Young Dory sang “Keep swimming” when a current swept her away from her parents. She sang it throughout her search for her parents. That was how she survived. And succeeded.
I cried again.
It had been a while since Z watched either of these movies, and Reilly suggested she was feeling nostalgic. I agreed, but not just for the movies, but for Nana. I know she misses her.
Z knew what the day was. It wasn’t a coincidence she wanted to watch those movies.
Then while we were in Payson yesterday for dinner, Cousin Jessica made and brought these dogtags for all of us. A reminder of Carla; a talisman for how to live our own lives.
We’re gonna just keep swimming, Nana. We love you.
This was two weeks ago. I don’t know how that happened, where the time went. Not that it passed particularly quickly or slowly, but that it . . . moved.
The service at the church was beautiful. Poignant music. Heartfelt words. A lot of tears. Some laughs. Many hugs. There are a million stories that could come from that hour and a half at the church. And a million more that could come from the hour-long viewing beforehand.
Graveside. Sunny, mid-60s.
Z could not have been been better behaved. She understood the day.
Carla would have loved these flowers. A coworker relayed that Carla actually chose her spray. Her colleagues were more than eager and happy to oblige her. For this day. This one wish. Something in the way her coworkers regard her is particularly touching to me. They were also her friends, but there was something about their relationship that somehow resounds with me.
Two weeks sometimes feels like a million years ago. Sometimes it feels like yesterday. These perceived lapses occupy the same space. Or maybe they’re layered on top of each other. Or interwoven. I don’t understand it. Maybe a part of me wants to believe that understanding it will help me feel better. But what I should understand is that I’ll feel better with time. Whether that time is in slow-motion or warp speed.
And “feeling better” isn’t a singular event. I’ve felt pretty darn ok in certain moments. Laughed, even. I’ll take what I can get.
I’ll give what I can, too.
Today is Blake and Carla’s 41st wedding anniversary.
This isn’t an easy month right now.
We’re all going to watch Reilly’s brother play in the Utah Symphony as they accompany a screening of Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire.
Over the last few months. Probably the last year. Carla would say that right into Z’s ear whenever she gave her a hug.
Whenever this memory bubbles up, I hear her loud and clear, as if she’s in the very same room. As if the memory is present. In real time. The inflection. The tone. The depth and pureness and sheer truth of this statement.
I don’t ever want to not hear it, for it to fade.
At bedtime, I try to say it to Z the same way Carla said it to her.
I want to keep hearing it. I want Z to hear it. Forever.
Last night we met with Z’s preschool teacher. The first thing she asked when she saw us was, “Who’s Kevin?”
Well, Kevin could be a couple of things:
Z’s teacher said that Z often says, “Come on, Kevin” during class. Which sounds totally not out of the ordinary to us. We know who Kevin is (or could be), why doesn’t everyone?
We then talked about Z’s placement for kindergarten. The teacher said that she, the speech pathologist, and occupational therapist agree that Z is on the cusp of going either to a special class or an autism kindergarten class.
We forgot to ask what the difference is.
But her teacher said that Z catches onto academic stuff like reading and colors and shapes and math really quickly. In other areas Z is working on a few skills, and she still has social delays. She’s fine working or playing alongside a teacher or aide, but when another child/peer joins the group, Z leaves.
Y’all, sometimes I’m like that. But I don’t want to be the reason Z can’t interact with people. So we asked what we could do to improve her social skills. And we decided to try scheduling regular playdates with kids her age, just like we tried last year.
Sometimes I ask myself, “What’s kindergarten?” I don’t see a totally regular class full of typical kids–what I and Reilly grew up with. That’s not the normal around here. What I do see is the possibility of the bird from Up or one of the Minions. Both are equally great: Fun, goofy, smart (maybe not so much the Minion); generally happy and unassumingly generous with cheer. That’s our normal. I’m grateful to have accepted and live it every day.
From 2003 to 2009, I lived in New York City with 8 million people. Lights, traffic, construction, music, strangers everywhere. All the time.
Surprisingly it was easy to get lost and become invisible in that environment. It was easy not to be seen. It was easy to turn the noise to static and drown out my surroundings. If I wanted to be seen or heard, I could emerge from the sensory sludge, reach out to friends, go see some live music and chat up a stranger, go to church and smile at familiar faces.
The beginning of my time in NYC social media had just started getting its footing. I’d started blogging there. I jumped on the Twitter and Facebook bandwagons. In addition to the maelstrom in the streets, I felt the outside world invading my home. It would be a sea we’d all be learning to navigate.
For some reason tuning out the internet influences wasn’t as easy. They were ever present; so easy just to wake up the computer and find myself staring at the screen hours later. Sometimes I was justifiably enthralled, but other times I truly wasted time cramming my noggin with nonsense and noise. It was easy to get lost, but sometimes more difficult to emerge from that dimension to interact with actual humans for quality time. Solid connections. Real relationships.
And now, when I’m in a much slower-paced part of the world, in a pretty chill area of Utah–we live next to horses and sheep, for crying out loud–the internet manages to pound on my brain. What news? What gossip? What music? What bad information? MUST CONSUME ALL OF IT.
Except I mustn’t do anything, but moderate and be conscious of which influences enter my home. Which is especially important to the very impressionable mind under the stewardship of me and Reilly. That little girl absorbs everything. And while she can’t convey all that she consumes, it’s there, just percolating, waiting to manifest in who knows what way.
How do I do this? And how do we do this as a family? A few actions that work for us:
I always manage to find some time during the day for absolute quiet, where I can have time to sort my thoughts. Or just take a few deep breaths. For Z, it’s nice to not have a lot of stimuli around for a few minutes and just let her talk. Sometimes the best we can do is the car ride home from daycare. I’ll turn down the radio and ask a few basic questions, and let her think without expecting an answer. What did you do at school? Did you play with the teacher?
A huge one for me lately has been physical activity. Exercise clears my mind, and those endorphins make me feel great. We try to encourage physical activity with Z as much as we can. When winter limits our options, we take her to different play areas at different malls, or even fast food places. Give that girl a slide and some space to run, and she’s happy as a clam.
Finally, there’s bedtime. This ritual usually ends with us snuggling, watching the night light, and Z talking to herself, and me singing a few nursery rhymes. Her voice is the furthest thing from noise to my soul (except at other times of the day when it’s screaming or whining, then I want to pull all of my hair out SERIOUSLY), and sometimes I’m lucky enough to listen to her happy jabbering fade into deep, sleepy breaths.
There are things that a lot of parents also do: enable actual internet filters, set timers on screen time, help count to 10 during a meltdown/tantrum. Those are definitely helpful, and kudos to all parents doing what works for them. I do other things on my own, as well: Find time to read, limit time on the internet; limit news consumption. It’s nice to find moments to breathe, to appreciate beauty in its many forms, to be able to separate the noise from the music. These moments help me to focus even more on what’s important, to tune in to clearer frequencies.
To those who talk about the number of other people’s children or grandchildren with the word just or only in front of that number: don’t do that. Perhaps without meaning to, you’re inferiorizing them. They’re not below people who have more kids. And the folks with no kids (“no, it’s just us”) are no worse than those with children. Nobody’s worth or value is not tied to the number of children or grandchildren they have. Or don’t have.
[I’m aware of the single people who struggle and say, “It’s just me (for now).” I hear you, and I believe you when you tell me about your experiences listening to how people talk of marriage. You have my support, and I promise I’m not ignoring you; this post focuses on my annoyance with conversations revolving around how many children people have.]
I’ve always flinched a little when people flaunt the high numbers of their progeny. Yes, the numbers are impressive, and it must be something to be surrounded by all that youthful energy and innocence. There probably is a bond within really big families I admit I don’t understand. And honestly, I celebrate your happiness; I rejoice in your joy. But then the conversation turns, and then you’re saying to me, “Oh, just one?” or about someone else, “They have only two grandkids.” Without outright saying it, the subtext to these statements is, “How sad for them.”
And it might be they are having a sad experience, but the context of our conversation compares the number of your kids/grandkids to the number of my kids/others’ grandkids, and that actual difference in those numbers defines sadness to you. That single aspect convinces me that you do not feel empathy, but pity.
We do not need your pity.
Pity allows you to go right back to bragging about how blessed your life is, implying how much more blessed you are, because you have more children/grandchildren. Pity helps you dismiss our situation with platitudes: “Oh, you’ll have more someday.” “You deserve more children!” “Trust in the Lord’s timeline.” And other similar, general statements.
Perhaps well-intended, but really not helpful. Actually judgmental, and dismissive of individual situations. Ultimately hurtful to people like me who may not have toughened up to this kind of talk. As challenging as it is to give birth, it can be just as challenging to conceive. Or to find a good way to adopt or foster. Or stand by a decision not to have children. Any of these, without feeling guilt or shame.
On the other hand, I have had good experiences where people have used sensitive language, specifically at the doctor’s office. It’s possible to use better words, and it really does make a difference to me in how relationships form. The effort tells me you understand the value of my child.
Then again, maybe I’m too sensitive. Maybe I’ve put too many eggshells around me. Maybe I should learn to brush it off and be ok that people aren’t always going to understand my situation. But I want to be sure that my child understands she’s more than just one child, more than an only child.
Her understanding has to be a priority, so please disregard all the whining I did above.
Instead of complaining, feeling offended, and doing nothing, perhaps I can be a turning point to a heightened perspective in our culture/society, the presence my daughter needs me to be. For her. To help her understand her worth. To know she doesn’t have to listen to comparisons of others to her.
What I need to do more: When people ask how many children we have, or if we have children, I answer, “We have a daughter.” And if they say, “Just one?” I say, “Not ‘just.’ She’s really great.” She needs to hear that.
I posted this on social media 10/28/2018. It’s long enough to document here.
We went to a Halloween concert yesterday and as we got out of the car, a lady shouted, “Chucky!” As we entered the building, we got a few “Nice costumes, guys!” from people we passed. And Reilly said I made a toddler dressed as Black Panther cry.
Also, posting our costumes on a Sunday to get us wondering why anyone should live with near-paralyzing fear of getting murdered on their holy days. Or any day for that matter. That is where my heart is right now.
These characters from horror movies evoke the thrill of a good scare that we can turn off, recover from, and then carry on with our lives. Other real-life monsters, like those just from this past week, aren’t as easy to escape. But we can’t let them conquer us with fear. We can’t let their hate overpower us or ambush us through the mail, at the grocery store, or where we find spiritual strength or a sense of community.
We love these costumes, and we are so excited about showing them off. But costumes are all they are. And you know our hearts aren’t filled with revenge like Chucky’s, or incapable of distinguishing between affection and violence as Frankenstein’s monster’s, or deeply primally evil like Black Phillip’s.
We are here for you. On your holy days, and every day.
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.