May 19, 2019

Disclaimer: I’m grieving and have more feelings than I know what to do with. Writing is one way to sort through them. Not sure if they’ll make sense, but here they are.

We all went out to dinner to celebrate Mother’s Day at Ruby River Steakhouse in Provo. We were supposed to have gone to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse up in Park City on May 12 for the official Mother’s Day, but snow was (not) strangely in the forecast. Geez, Utah.

The whole lot of us. Eleven of us. We talked and ate. I sat at the opposite end of the table from Nana Carla. I looked over at her every once in a while, and I would see her sometimes lost in thought. Or nibbling at her food. Or talking to another family member. Or taking photos with her phone. More often than not I saw her smiling.

A deep, underlying sadness lay just below the surface of … me? My soul? The dinner? Did everyone know or sense this would be our last Mother’s Day celebration with Nana Carla’s actual, physical presence? I know we smiled for her, too.

On the morning of Monday, May 20, Carla sent five photos from the last night’s dinner to my phone. (Three not pictured here.) I replied.

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Ours, too, Nana.

We miss you so much.

Five Zinger Years

Dear Z,

Last Monday you turned 5 years old. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this little fact that you truly are a big girl. I look back often at your pictures from your first year, and that Dadda and I have been trusted with your life still overwhelms me in the best possible way.

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Look at that smile! Those peeking teeth. You looking ever so thoughtful just after you were born. Standing! You were an expert walker before you turned a year old, and now you strut around like you know where you’re going all the time. Like you own the place. This was the most sleepless year of my life, but thankfully you took to sleep training pretty quickly, and we’re just now feeling we’ve caught up.

You continued learning and growing your second year of life. You were fearless. You had an uncanny awareness of everything in your space. Your energy never seemed to run out, and we were learning that you needed some solid time with your favorite playgrounds and toys and books and splash pads to get you tired enough for the rest you needed.

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It’s true that most photos I included in these collages you look pretty dang happy, but it’s important to point out that you cried and were frustrated a lot, too. We shared these emotional states, because we’re trying so hard to learn each other’s language. For the most part we were able to figure out that most of your needs were pretty simple. As long as you were fed and dry and got sleep and enough play, you stayed pretty happy.

I love how much you love to play. I love how much you love to explore, even if it means that we’re constantly chasing after you and telling you what is and isn’t safe. Is this not a major part of childhood?

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In your third year, we pursued our suspicions about some developmental delays you were showing. We took you for an autism screening at the University of Utah, and they gave you an official diagnosis. Which, honestly, was the best news, because that meant that we could take full advantage of resources to help you communicate and develop in other ways.

You started ABA therapy the July after you turned 3 years old, and it has made such a difference. And you have been attending an autism preschool, where they reinforce a lot of the skills you’re learning in therapy. AND Dadda and I try to keep up with your programs and encourage all the little ways you’re learning to do so many things. These skills will continue to open the world to you, and you will get to explore all the opportunities available that accentuate your strengths and give your life meaning. This is so very exciting and completely terrifying.

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What’s so crazy about these years of growth is so much happens with you physically and mentally and emotionally. As you learn and grow, you’re showing signs of you really knowing who you are. You have a very Z personality; you have definite preferences; a way of speaking; a way of showing affection and manipulating people in your cute way to get what you want. Guess what? We’ve been there, kid. We know those ways, and honestly, some of us have never grown out of those ways.

We have two dogs, but the chiweenie, Sia, and you are true buds. She is your first dog, and you two have a special trust that I can’t quite describe. That makes me smile.

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Two weeks ago we went to Florida, and you got to go to Disney World. I dare say you were the most well-behaved big girl in all of the Magic Kingdom on the first day, and at Hollywood Studios the second day. You also got to go to the beach for a little bit, and you also loved every single moment of that experience. The way your senses process your world intrigue me. Just what does the water on your skin and the sand between your toes make you feel?

This past Friday I attended an autism conference at Utah Valley University. The keynote speaker stated as a general rule, the age of autistic people is about 2/3 the age of neurotypical people. In your life, this rings true that you’re about where most 3 1/2 year olds are in terms of speech and social skills. At your yearly wellness check up last Tuesday, you’re in the 60th percentile of kids your height and the 70th percentile of kids your weight. You’re gonna be taller than both your parents in a few years, but that’s where comparisons end. You’ve begun a path to your own life, and you’ll get to a point where you’ll make some pretty important choices that will shape your life the way you want. It won’t matter how other people your age are doing compared to you. Actually, age doesn’t matter at all. Live your life. You do you.

One of the biggest blessings we have from your supposed delays is that we get to cherish these extended development stages. We get to enjoy your childhood for longer: that curiosity, the amazement at the world; the hugs, the smiles, the wonder. Maybe these will continue on to your adult years, but we’re going to breathe it all in right now, in this very moment. We are present for this, this glorious moment of your turning and being 5 years old.

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We love you, big girl.

Love,

Mom

 

Making Friends 2.0

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Photo by Gaby Germaine

This photo was taken at a New Year’s Eve party to ring in 2009 in NYC. TEN years ago. Geez, Louise.

I’m actually not an incredibly social creature. Parties are fun, and I bring my own energy when I can. Usually I make the rounds to chat with individuals or small groups, instead of busting all the moves in the middle of the dance circle. But I do like to dance, and I’ll dance if the music calls, but after the chatting and dancing, I gotta get home and decompress.

I made some really good friends in NYC. And I liked spending time with them outside of the LDS social scene, which wasn’t really my thing. I mean, this is partly why I defected from a singles ward to a family ward. People met people and dated people and broke up with people and started over again. That nonsense didn’t appeal to me. I did like going on dates. I liked talking with individuals and a few people at a time, but yowza, it could still be a lot. Because people are different. And sometimes I needed a head’s up to prepare for certain personalities. Maybe you know what I mean.

When I returned to BYU in 2010, all I wanted was to keep my head down, finish my work, and finally graduate. Which I did, for the most part. But a weird, funky thing happened, called Making Friends. And I loved spending time with my new friends when I could. We went to concerts and readings and film screenings. I went to Senegal for five weeks with some of them. And we still hang out, long after graduation.

But we all have our own lives now, doing our own thing with jobs and relationships and whatever our goals are. And we try to get together when there’s an overlapping break in our lives. Most of the time that results in doing something at our house, which I don’t mind. The fewer places I have to drive, the better.

Man, I sound like a grumpy hermit. I promise I’m a real sweetheart, though. Promise.

For a while in my 30s it seemed that I’d reached my limit on good friends, and I would shrug off any opportunities to establish new meaningful relationships. But then it occurred to me that I was depriving myself of new perspectives and influences and chances to grow, and that maybe I was depriving someone else of a friendship with me.

That sounds conceited.

But I like making friends, and I do try hard to be a good friend. And being a good friend is something our daughter needs to see as much of as possible. We don’t have to be especially social or outgoing to be a friend. I have to work at making friends. Maybe it will come more naturally to Z. I’ve been a jerk to a lot of people in the past, and I’ve been trying to make up for that. I’ve met some really cool new people in the past few years, and it’s been fun getting to know them. They’ve become special to me.

All the socializing we’ve done throughout the holidays has made me grateful to be surrounded by people who accept me as I am. New and old friends alike. They don’t force me to talk if I don’t feel like talking. They let me listen and observe and learn. They let me hang out inside my own head until I’m ready to interact more fully. They get my sarcasm that often borders on biting wit. They are patient. They love me without judgment. They encourage me to become better.

I’m working on doing the same for them.

Four Zinger Years

This post was written 10 April 2018, but I’m backdating it to Z’s birthday, 8 April.

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April is Autism Awareness Month

Dear Z,

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.

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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.

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We have you as our daughter, and you have brought us more than we could ever imagine. More love. More happiness. More life.

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Happy birthday.

Love, Mom

Preschool – First Day

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Look at that photo. She looks so depressingly grown up. She does look pretty confident, though, which I love. Like she’s saying, don’t mess with me, mofos. I’ve been so nervous about today, Z’s first day of preschool. She had no idea what was going on. Reilly and I told her that she was going to a new school, and that she would ride a bus, and that she would have fun teachers. I made her try on her backpack several times yesterday so that it would be familiar to her and she would think it’s hers. Both Reilly and I like this backpack, but I don’t think Z cares very much right now.

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The day dragged on, and Z getting up at 6:30 didn’t help. We had breakfast and played and watched a few music videos. We hung out and cuddled and sang songs together. I reminded our little girl that she was going to school today, but I doubt she understood. She probably understands now that she’s there.

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It’s so weird thinking of our 3-year-old riding a bus. I mean, that’s what big kids do. Yesterday I emailed her teacher asking if an adult would sit with her on the bus to school. I totally stressed out about it. I know that if someone’s not sitting beside her, she would want to get up and wander around. But the teacher reassured me an aide would help Z with the whole bus experience. The teacher also said that everyone would make Z’s transition to the school as smooth as possible.

That helped me feel a little better, but just a little.

Grandma sent a text saying to give her a big hug and tell her she’s going to do fantastic. And that’s what I did.

Though the day seemed to drag, the time for the bus to arrive sneaked up on us. I helped Z put on her shoes, and we walked out to the curb. I sat on the ground and pulled her to me so she could sit on my lap. I held her tight.

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The bus pulled up to the curb. The door opened, and the aide stepped off. She said hello to Z and handed me a form to complete and explained some stuff. She helped Z onto the bus and guided her to a seat on the same side as our house. I took a picture of the bus, and the aide helped Z wave at me as the bus pulled away. I smiled and waved back.

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I went back into the house and cried. I’m still sort of crying.

She’ll be home soon, though. I hope she did okay.

Two Zinger Years

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Winter is finally starting to retreat, and the warm weather calls to you every day. When you lead us to the door to go outside, we are excited to help you put your clothes on and let you roam the great outdoors. Two years ago, you were a little too comfy in Mama’s tummy, and we coaxed you so to join us in this wonderful and crazy world.

Two years later you’re taking it all in.

Last week we were watching The Good Dinosaur, and one particularly sad part made me cry. You came up to me leaned your forehead toward me. You do this when we want you to give us kisses. We say, “Can I have kisses?” and make a kissy face. But I didn’t do this last week. I was crying quietly and wiping away my tears because the dinosaur was saying goodbye to the human. When you gave me kisses with your forehead, it was hard not to cry even harder.

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In the past year while watching movies, you often laughed at sad parts, but now you also get sad, and you scream when the little girl Merida screams. You are developing a sensibility about other people. You are developing empathy.

At the same time, you don’t like being around a lot of people. You’re still unsure of other little kids. You recognize them; you acknowledge their existence, but you’d rather not interact with them. You appreciate the safe place of family and familiar friends. I’m grateful you cherish this, and I hope you continue to do so for as long as you can, because there will be moments when the world seems a little scary, and we won’t be able to hold your hand or pick you up and hold you. We want to teach you how to handle those moments well. We’ll still be there, just not in the same ways we are now. This makes me profoundly sad.

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But I am so exquisitely happy that it’s your birthday. It’s hard to believe two years have already passed, because I was just reminiscing about my constant need to pee, which seems was only yesterday. (Which it wasn’t.) You’re saying a few words here and there. You’re getting stronger and faster. More curious. More mischievous.

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You love light switches and doorknobs. And bubbles. Climbing to higher heights. Sprinting between rooms. Squealing during sacrament meeting. Reading your books. Singing your favorite songs; chilling out on the floor for a few moments before another burst of pure energy. Basking in the sunshine. Giving Mama and Dadda hugs and kisses. And mastering potty-training all the while.

We couldn’t be prouder. Or happier.

This crazy world sure needs more people like you.

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You are a joy and a blessing, dear daughter. Wonderful Z.

Happy birthday.

Love, Mom

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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