Thursday, March 27, 2014

forget me not

Let it not be forgotten that right now

Porter calls Andrew and Will "Sugar" and "Buck" respectively, referring to their horsey names when they give him rides to bed or around the house. He corrected Will's classmates when they referred to him as "Willoughby" at dismissal, "Actually, his name is Buck." And referred to both boys again that way in a very sincere and long dinner prayer.

Porter's hair is way too long

Claire cannot be far behind Porter in weight. Now that he is closing in on 4 years old, I am feeling super motivated to pump up his weight gain. Carnation has been working well.

Will loves carefully going through his graded schoolwork when it comes home in his folder each day. We take about 10 minutes together to analyze every page and praise his achievements. He just moved on to the next level of reading books at school and is thrilled with himself. "I can't believe I am already in Stepping Stones!" Even though he is aware that he is not in the highest reading level, and he considers himself the in third place out of four kids in his reading group, he is totally pleased with his progress. As am I.

Andrew is exceedingly helpful with his younger brothers and sister, especially Claire and Porter. He relishes his role as older sibling and loves to play with Claire in rough and wild ways, which she also loves.

Claire is a thrill seeker. She loves going down slides, being thrown in the air, racing around in laundry baskets at high speed. She is sleeping through the night (mostly) in her own crib. Her routine involves patting her on the back and bum (bongo-style) while singing Frare Jacque. When I mistook her loud breathing for sleep-breathing tonight and stopping singing, she let out a disgruntled "Ugh!" to cue me to resume.

Andrew stays up late, sometimes until 9:45, to talk to me and Brigham. It is so nice to just chat with him over a bowl of ice cream that I don't mind the late hour. He always gets up in the morning on his own and gets totally ready, even if no one else is moving yet.

The boys are obsessed with listening to Top 40 radio. I have checked out some fun books on CD for them, but Porter hates them since they are geared towards older kids and I often cave to the demands for 94.7 FM. I kind of hate that.

Porter continues to have no fear. On Wed during Will's violin lessons at the school, Porter and Andrew passed the time sledding a very steep and windy slope. Porter rode that hill further even than Andrew and looked expert. They had a wonderful time and Claire and I probably had as much fun standing at the huge windows with a few other students watching the boys ride. We all, and I mean *all*, Claire included, laughed many times as the boys crashed or flipped or just the hilarity of Porter's grace. I loved that even the older students knew Porter's name. The smallness of that school really is special.

I think about my dad every day and dream about him every night. I try to not let thoughts that I will not see him again in this life enter into my brain. I think I am still in the stage of letting myself think he is just gone for a while. I can't bear to think that his physical body is in that grave in Quantico. I hate that thought.

I have spent most of this awful, long winter dreaming of our Florida trip. Then I have thoughts that we will all be killed in some horrific car accident on the way to or from our vacation and that all my longing for that week will be drenched in irony. I am pretty sure I am using irony in a very Alanis Morrisette manner, but you get my drift.

Claire is proving to be the easiest baby of the four. She is also entering a jealous stage. She does not like me to hold anyone else. I am crediting her with a vocabulary of 3 words: "Hi!" (first); "Bye!" (second); and "NNNNNNoo!" (third and most common). She doesn't say Hi and Bye much lately, but will wave excitedly (and kick her legs and bounce around) when I tell her to say hi or bye. She says NO! when she wants something I haven't moved fast enough to give to her / shove in her mouth. It is usually about food.

I am perpetually cleaning up and am usually annoyed by the toy and kid clutter, but its only for a little while. Andrew turning 9 at his next birthday is hitting home to me how quickly it is just over with kids. The days are so full and hectic and exhausting, but there just aren't enough of them. I want us to always remember what used to be normal.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The End

The kids keep doing and saying so many cute and funny things and I find them slipping between my fingers because I am failing to record them and they end up scattered and lost. I hate that. So even though my blog has been a source of pain for me, I am returning to it as a place to paste down our memories before they blow away.

October was obviously hard. But both the boys had birthdays that month. I let myself off the hook from throwing them a party with friends--we had cake and presents as a family, at least. But I find myself in awe of just how big and old they are now. Andrew is 8. Will is 6. And here in mid-Feb they are creeping up on being halfway to 9 and 7. Life has changed so much so quickly. It is all such a cliche until it happens to you.

I remember when I turned 7 I cried because my little A.A. Milne book Now We Are Six no longer applied to me. Now it makes me sad because it almost doesn't apply to half my kids.

Will, at 6, is extremely sweet and sassy. For this first time, I am able to get a more objective sense of him as a person. I was surprised this year at how extroverted he was at school, how social and happy and bubbly. As a much younger guy, and as a baby, he was so much more mellow and serious than Andrew, but I am realizing now that that was probably largely due to just being younger, a follower to his older brother's leadership. He's tough, too. He is laid-back about most things, pleasant and easy to be around. If he didn't have any issues at meal time, he would be my easiest child right now.

Andrew surprised me this year with how difficult an adjustment he had to Spring Hill. He was overwhelmed by the large size of the school and class. He didn't like how noisy it was; he rarely spoke in class. On the other hand, he made a lot of friends and was very successful socially. I was way off in my predictions. I was concerned that he could possibly be a discipline problem at school, when he was (thankfully) the opposite. But his reluctance to speak during class time worried his teachers and basically amounted to nonparticipation.

Andrew and I struggle when he does not want to do something that simply must be done (swim team practice, homework, chores), but he also has a sensitivity to him that is constantly catching me off guard. I was unloading dishes from the dishwasher last week--the week from hell when Brigham was out of town and I had a stomach bug. I was holding Claire on my hip and he knew I was sick. "Oh Mom, no! I hate to see you doing that! I will do it!" even though it was Will's job that week. He jumped up from his ice cream and took over the work. I realize that I often fail to give him credit for how remarkable and tender he is. It is like I expect all of that and am irritated when he falls short instead of the other way around. He is such a charming little guy, and I am sad to see a bigger boy emerging in his little face. 8 is young, but 10 is just around the corner. He has already left behind those really early stages of childhood and it breaks my heart to dwell on that thought for long because I feel that I didn't quite soak it up and treasure it as I ought to have. I was just so busy.

Those days when it was just him and me don't feel so long ago at moments like this when I am sitting alone and remembering them. I guess this is what life is.

So, as one dad, now gone, wrote long ago about a boy, also long since passed away, this is for my little guys tonight.

When I was One,
I had just begun.

When I was Two,
I was nearly new.

When I was Three,
I was hardly Me.

When I was Four,
I was not much more.

When I was Five,
I was just alive.

But now I am Six, I'm as clever as clever.
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.

If only they could be.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

My dad died early in the morning on September 30. A few hours later, we went on a walk down Old Falls Road as the sun came up. It was the only thing that felt right to do. Walks down that old street will always be his.

Later that day, Jessica ran into a neighbor on the street. He had noticed the hearse arriving so very early. Why was he awake and aware of things going on outside? His own wife had died of cancer a decade ago, maybe more. His twin daughters lived together in an apartment in a neighboring town, one of whom, it turns out, also has some sort of illness. How little we neighbors have shared of our lives. This neighbor is a thoughtful man, probably a little lonely, who goes on walks himself and will trap you in conversation if you aren't careful.

"I am sorry about your father," he started out. "You know, I always loved seeing you girls coming over and talking your father our for walks. It was such a beautiful thing."

"Thank you," Jessie replied.

"No more walks." He said sadly.

"No more walks," she repeated.

And with the first month of surreality and recovery from the exhaustion accompanying both caring for someone with my dad's condition and attending death, and then the handling the services, we are left with facing our feelings again, which is the harder part. I have wanted to try to pour them out onto the page, but when it comes down to it that small conversation of which I was not even a part sums it all up better than I could attempt with more words.

No more walks.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

my sunshine

photo credit to alisha lacey

Claire deserves a long, photo-laden post all her own, but my weariness will win tonight. I couldn't go to bed, though, without expressing how much I love this little girl. During a really sad, dark time in our lives as we lose our dad, Claire has been a deep comfort to me. I wish she could have known my dad, and he her. She has been the easiest little baby, from being healthy and chunkabunch to sleeping well and being endlessly content at all times. She is the light of our family. I will try not to eat her.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

the days pass slowly but the years fly by

First day of school this year sees Will off to Kindergarten and Andrew in 2nd. Porter is doing another year of preschool at Colvin Run and a little co-op style academic music program on Friday mornings, taught each week by a lady from church whom he loves.
I was especially nervous this year because somehow sending the kids to our local public school felt much more official than sending Andrew to the tiny Christian private school where he attended K and 1st.

Will was just excited, having been initiated into the routine of full day school by watching Andrew do it for the last two years. When he emerged from the building onto the playground at the end of his first day, he ran to me with a huge smile. He has remarked that they mostly doing things "involving scissors" in the classroom. He has two friends from preschool in his class, he is doing well with his meals (Carnation Instant Breakfasts) and seems generally really happy.
Andrew emerged from the school with less enthusiasm on day 1. "Too many kids, too much noise," was how he characterized public school life. His classwork so far has consisted of coloring gluing. "More like a craft day, really," he remarked. I am not in love with what I am hearing, but it is only the first week. He is making friends, including a kid named Luke who sits by him. "I talked to Luke today! Well, not really talked so much as listened. Well, not really listened so much as watched him put his finger in the pencil sharpener." So.
Porter was really happy to get back into school, despite his declaration over the summer that "it is more fun to stay home with mommies." On the way home from a chaotic first day, he looked out the window and said breathlessly, "I love mine teachers." Porter is the happiest, most loving kid I know. He will be moving from the morning class of younger kids to the afternoon class of older ones with his friend Spencer. I think it will be a wonderful fit. He already has a crush on the teacher!
It is hard to watch the kids get older. I was sitting in church and realizing that Andrew only has a few more years left in primary. It was an awful thought. I just want the time to slow down a bit so I can enjoy them at their sweet little ages. There is something contagious about aging: it isn't just the oldest one who moves up and onto the next developmental stage--he somehow pulls the younger siblings along with him. No one is ever as innocent or young as the oldest was at any given age. Porter and Will's interests have matured to keep pace with Andrew, and Andrew is trying to keep up with his older cousins. We are in the throes of the Beverly Cleary years and I want to keep it that way for as long as possible.
Our schedules are tight. Andrew and Will are doing baseball, Andrew is doing winter swim twice a week and once a week has a study group with friends from Oak Hill, which is really a nice way to keep up a wonderful friendship. We are doing our best to spend time over at my parents' house each day, too. It is nice to not be driving so much as I was last year, but I do miss the looser schedule, the later start time, the earlier release, the more time just with them all. Porter misses his brothers, Will in particular, since he can't remember a time when Andrew was home all day with us anyway. I know I got an extra year with those two older boys since they have late birthdays, but I still can't believe sometimes that they aren't supposed to be home with me.

Claire is a perfect fat angel all the time, and the boys are genuinely thrilled with her and proud of her. I have always thought babies were hard, and they are in a way, but perhaps I am just used to it now or perhaps I just know how fleeting the stage is or perhaps she is just a way easier baby (she is!), but I am feeling especially grateful to be at the very beginning of things with someone. Haven't screwed her up yet!
But that doesn't mean she won't be having some special time with the workers at the fitness center this month. Hopefully just not with this guy who was nice but clueless (he tried to plop her down on the ground to sit by herself). But if I must . . .

Monday, August 12, 2013

we shall know, even as we are known

As I was going through our Church bag in search of the tiny notebook into which I scribbled Claire's blessing to record in the computer before the household tide comes in and washes things away, I found my other church notebook. I had written down a bunch of thoughts I had on the subject I spoke upon in church back in March.

It was an embarrassing talk. I went on for so long. I ended up going into preterm labor later that day and I blame my high emotions and for that. I am cringing just typing this, but that little fact might be interesting to you someday. The subject matter meant so much to me and I dove into it in that rediscovering the wheel way I have.

The topic was the question: How do we come to know Christ in our temporal lives? The bishopric member who introduced the subject to me told me that it was a question he really wanted to find an answer to. I am still pretty convinced I did not understand what he really wanted me to talk about, or what his question actually was, so I just went with what made sense to me. Which is, as always when it comes to the Gospel, the broadest and most basic principle of all.

Once again, before the tide pulls this out into the far reaches of my home, tantamount to throwing it away, I want to record the thoughts I had on the subject. I don't even want to look at the talk itself, it was so rambling and embarrassing. But I want my kids to have some sense someday about how this ordeal with Papa affected their mom, and to have some written testimony of my faith.

So often in the scriptures we find examples of people who ought to know better failing to recognize the Savior. The reaction of almost the entire population of the New Testament to Christ in light of all the prophesies and testifying ceremonies of the Old Testament is just one broad example. How is it that we can be ever learning, even about the Savior, and never come to a knowledge of the truth?

I think part of the answer is found in another question: "For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served and who is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?"

There are many ways to serve, but the fundamental essence of any service, of any good we do at all, is love.

"For God is love and they that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God." (1 John 4:16)

There is a reason that the great commandment is that we love God with all our heart might mind and strenght and that we love our neighbor as ourselves, since it is from that basic principle that every other commandment proceeds, or hangs, as Christ worded it.

And this is what life is. We are given a commandment to love, an example of how, and a little bit of time to practice, and families, little laboratories of love, to practice with.

Life may seem long, but we see increasingly how the time flows away from as at an astonishing rate. We have a limited number of days in this life in which to learn of Christ, to learn to love as He did. As brief as a lifetime can be, the seasons within it are even more ephemeral. We are only living with our parents for a short time, and then it is over. Our time as missionaries will come to an end and we are left with what we did during that phase. Our season as parents of very young children seems to stretch endlessly but suddenly it too is gone, and our kids, soon, also. Our time on earth with our spouses, siblings and parents is a gift, and one we are promised will be joyful if only we learn of Him, and love each other as He taught. But it is a gift we can waste and squander. So many people do.

I don't mean to sound too dismal. It is appropriate that ours is a Gospel of infinite hope. His arm is always stretched out to receive us in whatever lost path we are wandering. We also know that death is not the end and our relationships go on.

But I cannot help but also feel a warning that at least the quality of our lives, our opportunities, and the depths of our joys are diminished by not using the time we have to allow Christ to enlarge our hearts. To simply love, forgive, accept, let go.

We cannot love in this life as perfectly as He did and does. But the more we strive after his example of loving the closer we come to Him and the better we can feel Him and understand Him, for God is love. And I now think that this is what Paul meant when he wrote:

For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. Now we know in part, but then we shall know even as we are known.

We cannot fully know Christ now, in our imperfect mortal state, just as, and also because, we cannot love perfectly as He did. But someday, the Gospel promises us, Christ will change our hearts completely, if we let Him. And it is in that day, in some day we cannot now envision accurately, that the darkness will scatter, the glass clouding our sight will evaporate and we will love and know as He eternally has loved and known us, though we never quite understood it until that very moment.

Until that day comes, it is for us to live joyfully, and while there are many deep mysteries to ponder, the way to be joyful is clear: love. So many people wander away from the Gospel table in search of a more plausible storyline or to escape looming doubts about histories or mysteries or even to just find an easier pathway. But there is no getting away from true principles, and whatever else is or is not true, is or is not discoverable, the most important feature of living a good and happy and meaningful life inescapably will have been the degree to which we have loved the people around us the way Christ told us and taught us and showed us. It is all there really is, all there ever has been. It has always been so and yet we can spend a lifetime searching.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

the little things

last summer, Glen Echo Park, Md.

Today a new bishopric was called in our ward. The new bishop had served as a counselor to my dad back in 2001. My dad had once observed that this man's daughters, he has five of them, were a decade younger than we were. Jessie pointed out that it was a decade ago that our dad was being called as the bishop and we were the college kids traipsing down the hall to his setting apart.

My dad no longer attends church meetings. This change took place suddenly. Two weeks ago he just didn't go. Maybe he will go again, but this Sunday Brigham and Matt administered the sacrament at my parents' house. Dad choked on the water.

I do not think it is bragging to note that many of my dad's finest qualities shone through during his service as a bishop, and so the reorganization of our ward has me thinking about some of his qualities that I would like to develop in myself and cultivate in my kids. Above all else, my dad was reliable. He did what he said he would do. Furthermore, he did what ought to be done. This kind of common sense competence is in surprisingly short supply, even among otherwise very respected and successful people. But my dad possessed it. I am not entirely sure how to develop this quality, but I thought there were some things I could do to otherwise follow his example.

1) Sending people notes of thanks or friendliness. He bought cards en mass at thrift stores--he was as cheap as he was a diligent pen pal to all.

2) Be on time to things. I am a terrible offender of punctuality, but I am going to make every effort to be better.

This list could go on forever but I won't be able to stick to a thousand goals, so these are my two for now. They are difficult enough for me as I seriously do not know the current price of a stamp.

Our new Bishop gave a nice talk and quoted a this scripture:
Wherefore be not weary in well doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great. Behold the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind, and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days.
I know that these verses are talking about missionary work and establishing the Church, but I think it is true more generally, too. We are all engaged in the great work of transforming ourselves. This is true whether we believe it or not, whether we try or not. We are forming who we are every day with all of our choices, and we can do so much to direct that formation in the very little daily decisions. My great work is turning myself, through the grace of the Lord, into His disciple, and of guiding my own little family in that same path. The overarching guiding principle is love, and the various instrumentalities are invariably small ones. It will be okay that I won't always do the right things in the right spirit, but if I can only just get into the habit of doing the right things, I hope to also create the habit of having the right spirit, and I can finally get these spiral situations to turn upwards instead of down. And my own Zion will simply be a state of grateful happiness of feelings the love of Christ. I will leave out all that business of eating the good of the land for Will's sake so as not to spoil the mood for him.