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.
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.