Let’s Talk Football


So. Football. After growing up in a home saturated with baseball, where Opening Day was a school holiday, where I knew how to read a box score before I lost my front teeth, and where the summer soundtrack of hickory on leather and background play-calling underpin every last one of my childhood memories; my son now plays football.

Since he was a nearly 9-pound newborn, people have been asking when he was going to play football. I would smile and nod and change the subject. I wanted my son to be whatever he wanted to be— funny thing about those liberal-arts ideals—kids tend to believe you, and then you have to mean it. Turns out he wants to play football. When is he going to play football? The answer is now.

I suppose it was inevitable. He turned 14 at the end of August, when he reported for practice. The youngest freshman at the high school, he’s also the biggest kid to make the team. He didn’t know anything about football when he showed up, but the coach took one look at him and told Jon he could teach him football; he can’t teach a 14 year-old to be that tall or that big.


Dropping him off at his first practice, I worried and fussed and double checked and made sure he had enough water and he rolled his eyes and said he’d see me later. Three and a half hours later, I picked up a drenched, muddy, hot, sweaty, exhausted kid who fell into the car, suddenly glad for mom and her air conditioned car. He had never worked so hard in his life. He also said he was going back tomorrow.

Frankly, I was surprised. Jeff is a kind kid. He reads a lot. He’s imaginative and likes Legos still. He likes to cook and hang with his family. He’s thoughtful and empathetic. He’s spent his whole life being aware of Bean, disability, autism, and he remembers hard things in our lives. He remembers David more than Bean or Abby, and he was less shielded by age from the struggle and pain. I wasn’t sure how he’d like the physicality of football. I honestly thought he might decide it wasn’t for him. I was wrong.

Turns out, he’s really good at it.

The physicality, the channeled discipline, the teamwork, the camaraderie, the friendships, and the hard work, have all helped him grow in ways I never anticipated. I see a kid now taking pride in overcoming something that was hard for him. He was acknowledged by his coach and team for that hard work. It’s not just that either- he’s actually good at it. He’s strong. He’s focused. And he’s happy.


Bean ran to meet him at the locker room the other day. A crowd of giant young men in pads and practice jerseys were milling about near the doors, filling water bottles and sitting on their helmets. From the car, I watched Bean approach, and the boys called out to him “Hey! It’s Little Jeff!” “Hey man, high five!” “Little Jeff!” and Bean just beamed. He came back to the car with a smile lighting his face. “Mom, maybe I’ll play football too…”

It’s been a learning experience for me, and probably a necessary and good one, to step back and allow him to venture beyond the bonds of my comfort levels. It’s not about me. This is something foreign to which I will never belong—and that’s okay. He and Jon bond over football. He says he can hear Jon yelling at every game—he’s an…exuberant and enthusiastic football dad. Jeff introduces Jon as his dad; he tells people he has two dads. (It’s fun to just smile and let folks wonder.)  He calls his grandpa to talk about the game or a play he made. He knows David loved football, and Jon and David’s favorite team happens to have been the same one. Jeff has now adopted it as his team, and this is a domain in which I am not included, and where I really don’t desire a place.

There is tremendous joy in watching him create his own room in the world, and forge his own relationships. He’s using tools I helped him develop, but which are now manifest in in ways totally unique and beautifully tailored to him. He did that. I helped him with the raw materials, but this is what he’s making from those materials.

This part of parenting is awesome; no one really tells you how much fun it is to watch them become independent people you not only love, but people whom you genuinely admire. So anyway. Football. It’s not my native language, but I’m learning.




In Brazil, there is a word, saudades. It doesn’t translate well to English, but it’s easily understood by anyone with a heart that’s been touched by life. It means a “love that remains after” a state of melancholy or longing, tinged with nostalgia.

One of the reasons it was nearly impossible for me to write when we got home from our trip to California and Utah is because I was swimming in saudades. My summer with my own family in Yosemite was the best of my adult life, followed by the rest of the month in Utah, where we were catapulted from the deepest grief to ephemeral happiness, and back again. And again. And again.

I felt like a person too-long on the calliope- spinning and disoriented, and I needed to get off, to find my center again, and hear my own heartbeat.

In talking to a childhood grief counselor about helping my children deal with their feelings, the idea of an animal– a dog specifically– kept rising to the surface as a way to help the kids heal.

I’ve wanted a dog for about 13 years, 8 months and 11 days. Give or take. My last (and greatest) dog, Jack, died of cancer when Jeffrey was just a baby. I knew I couldn’t handle a dog and a newborn, and then life just snowballed. I also knew, in the decade of upheaval that followed, that a I could not have given a dog a decent life. So I waited.

But it was time. It wasn’t just for the kids’ hearts, either. Clearly.

I started searching in earnest. Previously, I had longingly browsed the rescue pages, but always turning away. This time I started filling out applications and sending out emails. Jon and I talked about getting another rescue dog- he’d had one before, and I had had two- and they were good dogs. But they also can come with problems, and given the five kids in the house, and Bean in particular, the more we thought, the more we wanted to start with a puppy.

And if we were getting a puppy, there is only one puppy in the world for me.


That’s me, before Jeffrey was born, with my puppy… an English Mastiff named Jack Straw. Jon saw that picture and said he knew. He knew exactly what kind of puppy we’d be getting. He was right.

I found a family in Ohio (that sounds far, but on the east coast, it’s really not) with a mama dog that had a litter of puppies. Not a pet store, not a professional breeder, certainly not a puppy mill. They invited us to their home, where we met the mama and the litter of puppies. The kids spent a long time playing with the babies and with the children in the family, before finally settling on the puppy who would be ours.


We’ve had him for about two months now, and he’s the light of the family. We love and adore this dog like you cannot even imagine. After the early weeks of being up all night with him, and finally getting him housebroken, he’s now a teething machine, chewing branches, balls of yarn, shoes, and anything he can get his (rapidly growing) paws on. Everyone loves him. But mostly…really… Bean loves him.

His morning routine is with Jeffrey, but he waits by the door in the afternoon for Bean to come home. Wiggling out of his skin with joy, he can barely wait to let Bean in the door, and Bean drops his trumpet (swapped it for the cello *sob*) and his backpack in the entry way and falls to the floor in joy while he and the puppy welcome each other back after the eternal school day.


Bean, the child who has a hard time with people hugging or touching him, allows the puppy to crawl all over him, hugging, pouncing and chasing each other. It’s a joy beyond measure to see him like this.


So we have a dog. His name is Tiberius. He’s healing our children, and he’s healing me. I didn’t even know how much I missed having a dog. Jon wasn’t sure about getting a giant breed—just in case you don’t know, an English Mastiff is a giant breed—but I think he’s been won over. In that earthy, solid way dogs can do, he’s slowed time down, brought absolutely limitless love, and is a balm on our hearts. Dogs really are magical creatures.


The Happy Part


The thick, creamy envelope lay heavy in the open mouth of the mailbox. “Office of the First Presidency” was etched in the upper left corner. My heart raced and my hand shook as I handed it to my husband Jon, still standing in the driveway, his coat and satchel dropped on his shoes, not all the way home from work. We had been waiting for weeks—months, years, eons, eternity—for this letter to arrive. Our hopeful future rested on what was in that envelope.

I had not been sealed to my first husband. My children were not born in the covenant, nor were they sealed at any time after. There is no easy way to convey the magnitude of this to someone not of our faith. When I got divorced, I assumed this was a door that had been closed to us, and I tucked those hopes away, pretty sure God loved us anyway. I never expected to be holding one of those thick, creamy envelopes with my future in it.

My husband’s hands were shaking as badly as mine, keys still laced in his fingers, as he tore the letter open. Four sentences. Simple, spare words on a rich white page, signed, by all three of the First Presidency. Clearance granted. We would become Us, and my children would be sealed. Four sentences…

We cried together right there in the driveway while life swirled around us, holding each other up in relief and joy. Forever.


Thirty days later, I stared at myself in the silver mirror in the beautifully luxurious Bride’s Room of the Brigham City Temple. My sisters-in-law had insisted I have a wedding dress, since I didn’t have one at our civil ceremony the year before. My mother-in-law had carefully laced me into a lovely white gown we had rented the day before, and left me to have a few moments to myself. I was suddenly glad they had encouraged me to be formal.

My children—our children soon—were upstairs, being entertained by their uncle while waiting to be brought in for the ceremony. I looked into the silver mirror again. My nose was dotted with sweat, and my dress was covered in the temple robes. I was glad we had prepared the kids and told them what to expect. I fussed with the bows before gathering my skirts and stepping out. In the hallway, several sisters were waiting on another ceremony and smiled warmly the way you smile at a bride.

With my skirts in hand, I smiled back at the happy faces. My stomach was fluttering and swirling, an odd cocktail of ridiculously happy, nervously scared, and abatedly grieving.

The week before, our family had experienced the devastating loss of my children’s father. We had offered the kids the option of putting off the ceremony, of waiting for a time before moving forward. Each of the kids, without hesitation, said they wanted to do it. In retrospect, I consider this one of the greatest gifts their father gave them—he gave them permission to love. He had conveyed his approval, and his support, and his acceptance of their step-father. They knew they could love both men to the detriment of neither, and in the beautiful way only children can, they accepted that gift without reservation. It’s really been an ongoing miracle.

In the second-floor foyer, Jon met me and took my hand. Our family and the small group of friends had moved into the sealing room, and we joined them upstairs.

Only twice in my life have I done a Sealing Ceremony. I had stayed away—it was too painful to do for someone else what I could not myself have. The only other time was in Nauvoo many years ago. It was one of those rare experiences transcending description; it left me spent and changed, but filled my lamp with oil for years and through many dark nights. One of the friends who knelt with me in Nauvoo was now sitting in the witness chair alongside Jon’s father.

Nothing can prepare you for walking into that room; like so many emotionally intense experiences, the details are veiled now—but the impression of faces glowing with love in every possible direction is strong and abiding. Jon and I knelt, and the words were uttered and the vows made with each other and with God, taking us beyond the veil. All five of the children were brought in; my youngest son had prepared a paper with the name of his dad, and placed it gently on the chair to the left of Jon. Tears spilled down my cheeks, suddenly uncontainable.

The three children who entered the world through me were gathered around the alter with Jon and me, our hands interlaced, and the sacred words uttered, as a gift. In that moment, the children moved from mine, to ours, not just in the world, but in the eyes of the God we love. Forever.


Afterwards, our celebration was small and quiet, but very real and very happy. Jon’s family gathered around and joyfully welcomed me and my children. The kids and their cousins ran and played in the grass and poked the rocks and eddies at the edges of the slow-moving creek, while the grownups ate tart lemon cake and chatted, keeping one eye on the creek while the late summer sun sunk in the sky.

There is a lot I don’t understand about faith—any faith, my own faith, this faith to which I belong—but what I do know is something greater than my own understanding took place that afternoon. I felt people and love nearby in a tangible way that, again, like so much of the spirit, defies description.

Forever. Forever. Forever.



Approaching the Happy

IMG_4539Jon has asked me when I’m going to get to writing the happy stuff. I want to. There’s a lot of Happy Stuff that happened, and is continuing to happen. But every time I sit down to try and write it all, I slam up against a wall of unexpected grief.

Don’t get me wrong—I have never second-guessed the decision to divorce David and move on with my life—not even once. It was the right thing then, and it remains the right thing in retrospect. What may be unique about my situation is that David and I remained real friends after our divorce. We never stopped caring for one another, and we continued to try and place the needs of the kids above all else. We talked frequently, as friends and as parents. When Jon entered my life, David welcomed him, too, and they worked together to get to know each other, and to support the kids. I took this as natural, but I am realizing it’s kind of rarified air.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to pick up the phone to call David and tell him about something Abby did, or about Jeffrey’s football game (he’s playing football, did I tell you that?) or about Bean forsaking the cello in favor of the trumpet. And then my hand stops, and I hold the phone. My faith is shaky on an afterlife- I wish this kind of faith was among my gifts, but it’s not. I have hope. I want it to be true. I have to put my faith in people I trust who have stronger believe than I do on this one.

Jon is one of those people. He suggested I talk to David as I used to, when I would pick up the phone. So when I’m in the car alone, I sometimes try. Without fail, as soon as I do, the tears start. This surprised me; I’m fine, really. Life is normal, things are stable and good. The kids are adjusting, and why on earth am I crying? But every time, I do.

I’m not wishing anything was different- other than him not dying. I do wish he hadn’t died. I’m not missing him as a wife misses a husband- not even a tiny bit. I am missing my friend. I am missing the chance, the hope, my kids had to get to know the man I knew. I am so sad that he’s gone. I am so sad that his life ended the way it did, and that there was so much sadness for so much of his life. I did wish for him to have a happier second half. I did hope for him to heal, and for him to meet someone, and for him to be a regular part of his kids’ lives. And with his death, I am left with sadness, for so much is lost.

I know enough to just go with this. I know enough that I have to allow things to unfold and relax on their own time and in their own way. I’m just sort of curiously observing this process and trying to let the waves roll over me, and to be there for my kids when a wave catches them. We’re doing okay.

I find myself thanking the hand of providence again for Jon, and for his vast love for us. It’s a special man who can move past the conventional and can securely see beyond both beauty and sorrow, to what is real. I have been blessed twice.