Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I had a friend in college whose high school English teacher nicknamed Pearl because every time my friend opened his mouth, the teacher explained, a pearl of wisdom dropped out. That story would not have charmed me the same way if 1) my friend were not a guy and 2) not a total socialist/anarchist/misanthrope who was also very funny but in a quiet and overlooked kind of way. But even after all those years (and it has been far too many) I cannot help but think of that little anecdote every time I feel I have stumbled upon my own pearl of wisdom. Most of my pearls are really obvious ones that others consider simply common sense parts of their ways and days, but I am alas laboring at the base of my organizational/parenting/acting like an adult pyramid and treasure other people's basic essentials.

Today Andrew refused, once again, to get out of bed. We were so late to school that we were almost also late to Will's first day of soccer practice which started an hour after Andrew's school did (and which I wanted to skip because it is outside and way too cold but that cursed little thing is so smart and remembered that I had told him the other day that he would start soccer on Wed and he got dressed in a track suit that would be "the perfect outfit to wear!" to his event. So we went. And the practice ended with bubble blowing, just saying.) I get so frustrated with Andrew over his inability to just get up and get dressed in a reasonable amount of time. Suddenly it came to me like a bolt of lighting that he just needed to go to bed way earlier (see paragraph above, final sentence). I put him in bed by 8 most nights but there are plenty of nights in there where I let him stay up to see Brigham or to cram in a reading lesson or extra reading time, because those things are important. But not, I realized this morning, as important as him getting enough rest to awake by 8 without the terrible trouble we experience most mornings.

So I decided this morning that he would go to bed very early tonight. Yes, it started out as a punishment, but then I saw the real wisdom in it. Simply by making his bedtime a rigid point on the clock, regardless of other circumstances, we could start out our days on the right foot for everyone. How easy, and yet it took me so long to figure out this simple solution to a chronic (really, daily) problem. At 7:30 tonight both boys were in bed and the baby was on his way. And an image of Mel Gibson with blue face paint and long hair immediately flooded my mind.

Another pearl I discovered this week was how to take a big step forward with Will's eating troubles. My friend was talking with me about it and she caused me to have a real breakthrough. Again, it should have been so obvious to me already, but I think I was sort of lost in a forest of too much medical information. No doctors have really thought, at this point, that Will had a medical condition causing him to refuse to eat. "If I have to give a name, I call it: Sensitive Boy Syndrome," my Thai pediatric GI concluded happily. But my friend had witnessed little Will vomit twice in as many days after willingly eating a very minimal amount of food and some of her remarks and observations led to me reexamine the conclusion that there is nothing medically wrong with Will. I knew that Will suffered from chronic stomach irritation caused by excessive acid in his stomach, but that was the only physical symptom ever found, and it was sort of ignored by the doctors. But the fact was that Will told me his stomach hurt when he eats and that his tummy tells him to stop. There is just no way to train a kid to eat when it hurts his body to do so. He is not some 16 year old cheerleader trying to lose weight; he is a little boy who has struggled since he was a baby. All the clues seemed to point to GERD. I began feeding him a special GERD diet (unfortunately it is a low-fat diet in addition to being low-acid) and he has gone from vomiting every other day and refusing food at all meals to eating mostly normal sized meals and drinking all his milk (6 oz). I will see what the doctor thinks on Friday.

One big failure of mine is that I have not been faithfully keeping a food journal for Will. I have a lot of excuses (we moved, I have a baby to care for, meal times are hectic and overwhelming etc) but the bottom line is that none of them are good enough to pardon it. I just need to do it.

It made me think about how my dad said that in the Marine Corps there are no justifiable reasons for failing to accomplish a task. You were either too lazy or too stupid and you were forced to admit to which. He has basically lived his life according to that principle, and once taught a Priesthood lesson on home-teaching using the too lazy-too stupid concept. The men tried to come up with a circumstance in which their home teaching neglect could be something other than their being too lazy or dumb, but at the end of the day the only justifiable reason was coma or death. What a great lesson, and my dad is a great guy to teach it since he happens to be a very nice person who everyone likes. They probably felt shocked that he told them they were too lazy or stupid to do their hometeaching, but I guess it was okay because he just made them see it (and say it) for themselves. Pearl. It still makes me laugh to think of some of the exchanges that went down in that lesson (my dad wrote me about it on my mission) and how my dad would ask, after being told that the failed home teacher explained that he was in the hospital, whether he didn't pick up the phone and call because he was too stupid to think of it or too lazy to do it. Double pearl!

I count it also as a pearl to realize that for me most of the time my stupidity and laziness are rivers that flow from the same ocean. Or into the same ocean. Or something like that. You know, symbiotic etc etc etc.

I am reading a parenting book that is going to change our lives and my children's future therapy needs. Brigham says that these books I read are just common sense, which is true. But common sense so easily flies out the window when everyone is naked, the house is a wreck and I am late. Basically, the bottom line is that as the parent you need to remain in control of your kids, in control of the situation and in control of yourself. If you lose self-control, you have lost the battle already. This is not new to me, but I need constant refreshers. This week, week the first after reading From Chaos to Calm, has been a really good one. It has been good to just look at each problem and trouble shoot it without letting the significance of why or what it will lead to spin out of control. Andrew is a pain in the morning, so put him to bed earlier and move on. No need to yell or get angry, just need to get him more time to sleep. Also, I need more time to sleep.

Well, it is nine o'clock which means I better go grocery shopping! Seriously. "But that's okay!" (Will's signature line circa 2009). It occurred to me today that Andrew's "I have a nice idea!" bit has fallen out of his phraseology. Sad. On the bright side, does that mean he will soon forget that unfortunate word I used in front of him that one time(s)?

Friday, March 18, 2011

happy birthday, john updike

I suppose it is strange to miss someone you have never met and to actually feel a little sweep of loneliness at the thought that this unmet person is not experiencing this weather, hearing these current events, just existing as part of this world with you, but that is how I feel about John Updike. I don't love all his books (I have actually only read a small handful), but his poetry and short stories are among my favorite.

Yesterday my dad helped me transfer a lovely dresser that my mom's dad had built for my uncle probably 50 years ago. Because it was hand-made and therefore the drawers could not be interchanged, each drawer had someone's (Papa's, probably) handwritten instruction as to which chest the drawer belonged (he had built three identical) and in which order it belonged. "Philip #2."

I liked that Papa could speak to me across time, though he never meant it like that and I am imbuing a sentimentality entirely inappropriate both for my relationship with him (there was not much of one) and the actual sentiment expressed. It was only telling me which drawer went where, after all, not some life guidance from the grave ("Marry for love!").

I hate that word (grave.) I don't like to think about things like that, probably because I do it way too much. I combat these thoughts with hobbies and frivolties about decorating or crafting, and I realize even as I write this that I don't really believe that those things are totally frivolous. Despite the fairly communist aesthetic I maintained for most of my life (that anything decorative was a waste of money and time), I have come to feel the opposite. Beauty isn't wasteful and materialistic (well, I guess it can be in extremes); it uplifts people's spirits and imbues the ordinary with a sense of . . . . well, happiness, I guess. It is just the way we humans respond. And now that I have children of my own and carry around this heavy sense that I am responsible for creating their little universe of childhood, I want all of that weather to be perfect. I want to make each event special, each day happy and light, so these color choices and flowers and meals and special little birthday signs or plates, they all matter. Maybe too much, I will one day look back and see. But I am working in my here and now and this is what my sense of things tells me to do.

But regardless of the fact that the dresser was made by a man I didn't know all that well and whose handwritten numerical ordering splashes me with a dose of sentimentality that is silly, I take a sense of happiness in knowing that little Porter has a dresser that was made by his great-grandfather and that people can be connected and remembered in these small ways far beyond what they ever would have imagined for things done for an entirely different purpose. Just like my flowers or birthday plate or whatever.

Which, I totally realize, is all the more reason for me to eliminate yelling and anger from the sounds of this little world I am trying to create for the boys. Yes, I suppose cutting out the yelling should take precedence, but we do what we can, right?

I often have compared my sentiments about Updike with those for Papa. I think that in the end, and for different reasons entirely, I miss them in rather the same way.

Missy asked us all to choose our favorite Updike poem to share and though I only read it for the first time today, I do think it is my favorite. It is one of those that heightens my sense of loss that his heartbeat isn't part of the massive throng down here. Sometimes I read things and think that writing is within my grasp, with enough work and time and effort. But every time I read Updike, I see that real writing is impossibly beyond me.

One size fits all. The shape or coloration
of the god or high heaven matters less
than that there is one, somehow, somewhere, hearing
the hasty prayer and chalking up the mite
the widow brings tot eh temple, A child
alone with horrid verities cries out
for there to be a limit, a warm wall
whose stones give back an answer, however faint.

Strange, the extravagance of it--who needs
those eighteen-armed black Kalis, those musty saints
whose bones and bleeding wounds appall good taste,
those joss sticks, houris, gilded Buddhas, books
Moroni etched in tedious detail?
We do; we need more worlds. This one will fail.