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.

Stimuli – Three Weeks

Dear Little Zinger,

I don’t know when you’ll start reading these letters. For all I know, you’re getting up between your night feedings and staring at this screen sharing its soft glow with your already-beaming angelic little face. If you really do this, I would not be the least bit surprised.

Three weeks, little girl. It’s no wonder you or I don’t want to sleep: we don’t want to miss a single moment. The minutes pass so quickly and often blur the memories. After a while we might forget these early stages. Such is the nature of time and why I write you these letters.

We are observing some things about you, and we need to have a talk. Don’t worry, none of it’s bad at all. Well, most of it isn’t bad.

Quiet Mobile

Today I removed the music box from your mobile. You would watch the mobile go round and round for a few minutes before freaking out. I figured it might be the music. Now in place of the ever-violent and traumatic “Rock-a-bye, Baby” in an accidentally minor key is the low hum of the little wind-up motor. It’s a lot better. I mean, if you want a decent dark melody for a music box, people should at least consider “Danse Macabre” by Saint-Saëns. That playing over a crib with a sleeping infant doesn’t seem nearly as demented as “Rock-a-bye, Baby.”

Next, let’s talk about visual stimulation. I’ve searched the internet for fun little things that might help you develop your vision. I know you’re not crazy about this. Every time I try showing it to you, you’re like, “Meh.” I’ve tried it with and without the sound, and let me just say it’s so much worse with the sound. If you want your ears to bleed, make sure to turn on the volume:

As far as having something to look at, this always calms you down. Which, of course it does:

Of course.

We enter this room of books, and you see all the spines in their various sizes and colors. You get quiet — almost reverent — and your eyes get big and almost twinkly. Your dad and I read titles to you and wonder which ones you’ll read first, if you’re not already reading. For all we know, you sneak into this room between your night feedings, take a book from the shelves, crawl with a flashlight into a corner and devour all the words, even though you have your own shelf in your room of board books and classic picture books. We love that you love books. But it would be okay if you didn’t.

Finally, Zingster, we need to talk to you about your squirminess. You’re no longer an inert mass of cuteness. You’re a dynamic, sprawling, limby bundle of joy. Your eyes are more intent. You turn your head and stretch your arms. You smile more and kick those strong legs. But what’s curious is the way you grab a handful of your own beautiful, dark hair and PULL. And naturally it hurts and makes you cry. I wondered if you were trying to make yourself cry: an early experiment in manipulation. You’ve done this several times, and maybe that’s all it took for you to associate the action with the pain and stop the behavior. In case you forget, do NOT pull your own hair. At least pull mine. Or someone’s I don’t like. Or wait for a sibling to come along, since you can’t pull your dad’s hair. Unless he grows it out, which he probably won’t.

It’s fascinating and terrifying how quickly you’re learning and growing, and I wonder if your father and I can keep up.

That’s all part of the ride, though.

We love the ride.

Read this and believe it: We love you.

I cannot stand the cuteness.

Love, Mom

On Commuting

Dear Fellow Rider of the UTA Express Bus,

When the bus back to Orem is full and I end up standing in the aisle because it’s been one of those days and no one else wants to offer me a seat and stand for 40 minutes, and when your arm is hanging over the armrest into the aisle because the seats are too small and no one in Utah has the same concept of personal space/comfort zone as people do in New York City, and when the aisle is also too narrow because the bus itself has to be narrow enough to fit in a street lane, and when I have to stand for 40 minutes and shift my weight from one leg to the other, my butt will inevitably brush against your arm.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Yours truly,

May

I love public transportation. I appreciate paying less for gas/insurance/parking and getting to sleep and/or read on my way to work/home. Of course this way of commuting has its setbacks, but overall it’s great.

Here are a few comparison points of public transportation in New York City and Utah. These points are based on my experience. You may have a different background and observations.

Crowds
NYC: Reilly got to experience this when we visited in August. We went to a Yankees game and felt how tightly packed the subway can get. It’s the same during rush hour, except that people usually look really tired and cranky. Imagine when Yankees fans get to ride with the rush hour crowd.

Utah: I haven’t really experienced huge crowds on the bus or TRAX (the SLC public train thingy), since Salt Lake City and Provo/Orem are car towns and not pedestrian towns.  Also, I’ve ridden the bus on Jazz/Ute days, and because the bus I ride mostly serves people who work in SLC, I don’t have to deal with obnoxious fans.

Strikes
NYC: In December 2005, MTA decided to go on strike (even though many of us thought they were overpaid), and the subways didn’t run for a week. Because of good neighbors and home teachers with cars (friends from church who personally visit once a month), we developed a system of pick-up and drop-off spots at specific times, and I could get to and from work and home that week. When I first moved there in 2003, the monthly pass was $63. When I left in 2009, I paid $81. Now commuters pay $103.

Utah: I have so far only heard of all the money UTA gets, and that drivers/other UTA workers are overpaid, and people are angry because a lot of taxes or something goes to cushion the salaries of UTA workers? As a student, I started paying $50-75 for a semester, then $160 per semester (some contract with BYU had expired, and BYU encouraged driving to also pay to be frustrated with crowded and faraway lots). As a current rider of an express bus, the monthly fare is $189, which provides TRAX and local bus access.

Weather
NYC: Hurricane Sandy takes the cake. I’ve only experienced relatively minor tunnel flooding or little track fires that only delayed the train, or, at the very worst, these incidents caused me to walk to another station to take a different train. Once on an especially hot day I almost got into a fight with a guy because our hands kept touching while holding on to the same pole. We were both irritable.

Utah: I have yet to sit through a major snowstorm on the bus. The rain hasn’t been bad. Since I’m not the one driving, I get to nap or read.

Traffic
NYC: One great thing about the subway is not having to deal with street traffic. However, sometimes the bus was quicker than the subway. For example, church was only two stops away, but on Sunday, I would end up waiting for a subway longer that it would take to catch the bus. Also, when I lived closer to church, even walking was a much faster (and the only) option.

Utah: The bus is part of traffic, but there’s a lane just for buses, so often we clip along faster than the cars in adjoining lanes. Yet traffic sometimes comes to a complete stop, mostly because of accidents and rubberneckers and different bottleneck exits along the freeway. And Fridays, sometimes. Last Friday, it took an hour and 20 minutes to get home. It usually takes around 45 minutes.

Drunk/High People
NYC: These folks were sometimes scary. Sometimes entertaining. Mostly annoying. Once on a crowded subway (see above) I had to stand really close to a drunk guy. He breathed in my face, and I smelled his breath, and I probably would have failed a breathalyzer test from that.

Utah: Around the university, people act drunk or high a lot. But they’re just unbelievably happy BYU students. On the express bus to work, people are sober, mellow, sleeping, or reading.

Homeless People
NYC: All the time, everywhere.

Utah: On the Provo local bus, there would be occasional drifters that got on the bus. At the TRAX stations, I have walked by a few homeless people.

In NYC and SLC, I have walked the sidewalks and homeless people have asked me to give them money.

Lewd People
NYC: I’ve seen people making out, which isn’t that bad. The worst time was when I sat across from a man on the subway during my morning commute. His pants were undone, and he was stroking himself. I was reading the paper and he was in my periphery. Everyone else was reading sleeping. I quickly glanced at the guy’s face, and he seemed intent on my seeing him and getting a reaction from me. I raised the newspaper so I didn’t have to look at him. The next stop was mine, and I got off the train as fast as I could.

Utah: The worst instance I have witnessed was on a Provo local bus when some older, special needs guys sitting near the back were making loud fart sounds with their mouths and laughing. The bus driver told them to stop. Oh, also random anonymous people who leave random milkjugs of urine on the bus.

Panhandlers
NYC: Walking through the subway, asking for money: boys raising money for their “basketball team,” kids selling (stolen) candy, trying to stay off the street. People who say they have AIDS, armless people and war veterans, blind people, very sad people holding snotty-faced kids. Old ladies with cancer. People who just want something to eat. They always announce themselves with “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen!” Sometimes I gave them change.

Utah: Outside of sidewalk encounters in SLC, none.

Entertainers
NYC: Different than panhandlers. Dancers (hip-hop), singers (all-types), mariachi bands, instrumentalists, magicians. All on the subway. All skill levels. Sometimes I put change in their hats as they walked by me.

Utah: On different corners on different days in SLC, the same cellist. On BYU campus, wandering weird students with ukuleles and unicycles. I don’t give them money. No one on the buses or TRAX yet.

Other People
NYC: Random people at bus stops who tell me their life stories. Clowns telling me their life stories. The guy on the train that tried to flirt with me when he told me the Stranger (the book I was reading) was a good book. The guy who thumbs-upped at me when he saw me reading the Book of Mormon. People that I actually know, so we chat instead of tuning out the rest of the world. Tourists that didn’t know better about talking to me. People that I accidentally fell asleep on.

Utah: Nice people who offer their seats to standers. The senior missionary who asked if I was a student then seemed surprised when I told him I worked. The woman I sat next to one morning who decided to take off her shoes and try to sleep in an actual reclining fetal position. Her feet smelled and part of her body was on my seat. The woman whose arm my butt brushed against when I was standing in the aisle, because I shifted my weight from one leg to the other, and her arm was hanging into the aisle. We were both reading and she seemed to pretend not to notice. Maybe she liked it as much as I did.

Because Smartphone Apps Are More Important Than Nature’s Majesty

Wind and water. One wonders if the air really stays still, but hot air rises and cool air sinks, and sometimes these phenomena occur at the same time and air actually begins to circulate. Then humans, after millions of years, come to certain places on earth to observe that this air doesn’t always stop when it collides with rock; there’s actual friction, which causes actual erosion. The evidence speaks for itself.

And, it’s not just air that does this. It’s water. Rivers and rain penetrate and seep into rock. They carve and sculpt, and one cannot deny the artistry. Sheer cliffs, curved, sinewy surfaces, molded like pottery then baked in the sun as if fired in a kiln, only to show glazes in stripes, in chiaroscuric striations and slick-black facades. Against a blue sky, against a low, grey backdrop; at high noon, in front of a sunset, from one minute to the next, the art shifts and continually transforms. Crying, possibly, comes closest to expressing the inexpressible. Or perhaps holding one’s breath. Pictures of our hike in Southern Utah yesterday are coming soon.

Then there’s a smartphone photo application that can morph pictures of two different faces into one. Reilly’s brother downloaded it after dinner this evening while the family played Ticket to Ride. So he experimented with different couple combinations, and everyone was quite shocked at the hybridized photo of me and Reilly. The wave of laughter built in the order of those who saw it: first, his brother, then his nephew, then his sister, then he turned the smartphone display to us, then to his other brother and sister-in-law, then his parents.

Laughter is like happy mouth wind: the very action etches happiness at the eyes and the corners of the mouth. It makes the eyes shine, it tightens the face, it works the abs. When I saw the app-generated photo, I started to giggle, then the laugh turned silent as I could barely breathe and tears slid down my cheeks. I looked around to see that I wasn’t the only one crying. I loved it.

Notice the breathing and crying comparisons between the two experiences? Is there any comparison, really? Is it too much to mention it?

The pictures of the others are very funny, too – even cry-worthy, but I will only post Meilly Ray. Thanks to Gavin for forwarding this to us. Plus, posting it first preempts any possible blackmailing situations.

A Letter to Freshman May

Dear Freshman May,

It’s been a long time. I’ve been walking the BYU campus this past week, shopping for books, wandering the library, going to work. You’ve crossed my mind a lot.

It’s freshmen orientation time right now, and it has taken so much mental and physical effort not to burst into laughter every time I pass a group of wide-eyed 18-year-olds. Instead I suppress a mocking smile, and so I traverse campus looking smug. All those beautiful and nauseatingly eager freshmen, if they’re aware enough to notice me, might wonder who the short girl is with a seemingly permanent smirk on her face. That would be me.

What was it like, Freshman May? Did you ever act the way some of these kids do? Did you ask the same questions, play the same pranks, have the same goals?

You were smart enough to be admitted all those years ago. You should be proud of yourself.

You lived in Deseret Towers, U-Hall. Officially, Ballard Hall. Have you heard what they did to Deseret Towers? They demolished them a few years back and they’ve rebuilt – they’re rebuilding – them, except they’re not going to call them Deseret Towers. I wish I could tell you how and why I know that, but I can’t. But that’s the news.

You’re facebook friends with a lot of your freshmen friends, Freshman May. It’s so great that all of you are able to keep in touch.

I missed the freshmen deluge last year. I officially stepped onto the campus proper on the first day of class, and all the students milling around seemed perfectly normal.

Within the first few weeks of being Freshman May, you wrote an email to your high school friends. Remember Cougarnet, Freshman May? You told them that you had gotten engaged to a young man named Jordan Rivers. You said that you had made eye contact with him across the Marriott Center.

You never went ice blocking.

You hiked the Y at midnight. One time.

You took calculus in the Jesse Knight Humanities Building; you went to church in the law building. The planetarium section of the Eyring Science Center was under construction but you sneaked up there anyway with some new friends, and it was cool.

You passed the Smith Family Living Center all the time. You might not have been Freshman May when they began calling that building the SFLC, or “syphilis.”

The JKHB is now the JKB, and campus has a fancy, new humanities building, which I love and where I have most of my classes.

The ESC is also very sturdy and feels new, and it hardly resembles the place where you spent hours working on physics labs. Your FRESHMAN year. Physics 121 and 122, really? Freshman May, how did you even do that? What kind of energetic ridiculous idealist were you?

The SFLC. Does. Not. Exist. It’s as if whatever parts of your life that had anything to do with that building never happened.

So many more changes in curricula and technology and everything else, it seems.

Freshmen swarm this campus right now. Like some cheery scourge. They flood my computer labs and wander into alcoves I’d claimed for myself.

I’m excited for them though, just like I was excited for you. You had your whole life to figure out. You met people who’d be your friends for the rest of your life. You were righteous and eager, but you were also SO SO SO YOUNG, and you thought you knew everything, and I know you have stories about being taken down a few notches which is so important to growing up.

You’ve had quite the journey, Freshman May. I have nearly doubled your life, which seems so hard to believe. You’re there, I’m here. Can’t you feel the distance getting close?

Watching this year’s freshmen herds, moving about like worker ants, carrying books that seem to be twice their weight, getting lost and in my way and too scared to ask questions or too intent on their focused wandering, I’m just grateful you were a freshman only once.

That’s all anyone needs.

Class starts on Monday.

Thanks for … everything.

May

I Am Wearing A Snuggie

I am also about to watch another episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Sometimes I’m weird.

On Wednesday, I had a work bowling party. Nine of us came to the BYU Games Center, and I only knew one other person. We divided ourselves into two lanes, and I ended up going third out of the five people on the right lane.

So, at first, whenever it wasn’t my turn, I talked to the one person I knew, but as the game progressed, I loosened up a little and started at least commenting on other people’s games.

Also, I’m really good at being excited for people. I will cheer for you and cheer for you, and I will feel bad for you if I know that you really wanted that strike, or if the gutter was particularly merciless.

Anyway, all that outwardness didn’t stop me from winning. By 50 points over the 2nd-place person. Of course I wasn’t boasty (of course?), and I especially don’t like attention from people I don’t know, so I made sure to deflect attention and accept compliments and the quickly shoot compliments back. The outwardness didn’t help the awkwardness.

It’s sometimes really hard for me to accept compliments, but I do practice at saying “thank you” and actually feeling grateful.

Then later on in the week I admitted to someone that I can be anal retentive.

I spent most of this morning packing up my room before going on a bike ride with some friends. When we got back, I popped some popcorn and we relaxed a bit before moving my stuff to my new place. We laughed a lot about some things, and I laughed until I cried about a thing that I can’t talk about here just in case somebody’s somebody happens to come upon this blog. It’s just hilarious to me.

So, we packed up my friends’ van and moved a lot of things over to the new place.

Then we returned to the old place and saw that I left my NYC subway map on the wall. I removed the pushpins and took down the map and began folding it while my friends were telling a story or texting their family or something. When they finished, I asked them, “Do you know what makes me so happy?” And, they let me answer: “When I can fold a map, and it isn’t wonky and it can lie perfectly smooth when it’s nicely folded.” And they were like, “Uh, sure.”

Then we went out for sushi, because my friends are the best for helping me move, plus one of my friends received a text coupon for a buy-one-roll-get-one-free deal, so we had to take advantage of it. The food was great, and I might have eaten too much, because the rice in my stomach is staging a coup. Too crowded. Overpopulated. Not equal benefits for everyone.

After dinner, we stopped by the new place again to drop off a few other things. We looked at my bed, which was on cinder blocks so that I could store things beneath it. The bed isn’t pushed up against the wall, but a few inches from it, and I expressed a small fear that the bed might not be stable enough. I shook the bed, and the cinder blocks rocked a little. A friend asked if I was going to rock the bed like that, and I said that I wasn’t going to tell her. Personal stuff, you know?

Anyway, I ended up saying that I didn’t want to push the bed against the wall yet because I needed to make the bed, that I really like making beds, that once I make the bed and get all the hospital corners right then I’ll push the bed against the wall and it will be safer. I said that I make my bed every day, that sometimes I’ll completely strip my bed just so that I can make the whole thing over. I said that it is soothing and that it helps me clear my mind.

The same thing goes for most housework.

I can’t believe I’ve dedicated 700 words to how weird I am. Maybe I should scratch that and include the last eight years of blogging. Which is even harder to believe. Maybe not as hard if you’re not me, but maybe you should be grateful that isn’t the case.

Whatever. It’s time for Buffy.

I’m Supposed to Be Studying for a Midterm

I’ve been away from Africa for about the same amount of time I spent there. It’s weird. It’s just weird. You get used to seeing people every day for five weeks, and then all of a sudden, they’re not there anymore. Not to the same degree. I mean, the circumstances were unique: Senegal, close quarters, same exposures to culture and language and weather and disease. The same long hours on a bus or in a classroom or the same walk to and from the boulangerie or cybercafe. We all had the same cravings for familiar foods and cold drinks and English anything. A lot of American anything, for some of us. A lot of us came back with stronger convictions or different perspectives. I came back feeling indignant about a lot of things. It’s just weird. Pringles. The sprinkler systems at BYU. Small talk. Mental illness. Child abuse. I came back cussing more and wanting to argue more, about anything. I was on a date the other night, and I bit my tongue to keep from countering everything the guy said. And he was a nice guy, super nice, but I wanted him to stop saying wrong things. I still like talking about Africa to anyone who will listen. People who’ve been there with me, people who will probably never go. People who have maybe distanced from themselves the human parts of humanity. Who knows. I don’t know. I can’t let it go.

It seems silly, but I miss being able to walk into the hotel room next to me and plop myself on a bed and feel comfortable talking about anything. After a long day of long-day things, I miss that kind of decompression, the difference in what I cared about. What I think about. What I want to change.

Just weird. Seeing people out of that context is weird. Not that I’ve seen very many people, but I think about them all the time. All the time. I’ve tried to maintain the friendships I forged there. I’m grateful to have them, to be able to share, to have a way not to forget. I’m back to a school-work routine, but nothing is the same. I’ve wanted to hang on to so much from those five weeks. It’s constantly on my mind, all the stories and laughter and colossally hard times.

So much has happened in the last seven months. I’ve come to accept some pretty hard facts. I’ve learned to let some things go, and putting certain things on that list was not the easiest thing for me to do. Africa is not on that list. Other things are, and I’m finally okay with it. I’ve stopped arguing about those things. They pass; time fades them. It looks different, more manageable, like it’s supposed to be forgotten.

It’s becoming less weird.