Thanksgiving

This is a repost from 2009. It’s apropos today, on what would have been my Grandma’s 97th birthday.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade is on the TV, as it is every Thanksgiving morning. My grandma was a firm believer in this Parade, and would even get up early to watch it live, sipping her Sanka and making me a grilled cheese sandwich and frozen red grapes. As an adult, I don’t particularly care for parades, let alone parades on tv that are spliced and diced- but it would not be Thanksgiving for me without Al Roker yelling at me and the Rockettes freezing their cute butts off while they slip around in the New York cold.

My grandma died ten years ago today. Tomorrow would have been her 92nd birthday. In my mind, this time of year has become a mash-up of traditions- Thanksgiving, family, illness, death and birthday cake. It’s bittersweet- and sometimes I have to step back and catch my breath.

When my grandma died, the phone call came that time was nigh, and I rushed from my job to the care-home where she was spending her final months. I broke several laws and ran several lights in the five-minute drive, but I still did not make it. My family was gathered outside her room in the hollow, echoing hallway and I knew I was too late.

With trepidation, I gingerly entered her room, and stood by her bed, looking at her quiet body. Gently, I bent down to kiss her soft, relaxed brow. I’ve heard it said the dead look as though they are peacefully sleeping; I don’t think so. Even without knowledge of eternal things, it was clear my grandma was gone, her spirit was no longer in her tabernacle of flesh, and I was reverently and tenderly acknowledging the remaining clay.

In the days following her death, I was swallowed in grief. When your grandma wishes for no services, no memorial of any kind, it makes processing your grief and loss difficult. For the first time, I understood that funerals are for the living, that ritual is a balm for those left behind.

The day her ashes were scattered at sea, my family walked out on the Golden Gate Bridge with flowers we had collected from my mother’s yard, and bid our goodbyes to the mighty Pacific Ocean. Watching those flowers fall forever down to the cold waves below was bittersweet. I knew my grandma was not gone, but I ached for a way to hold her close, to keep the fleeing memories from floating away like the tide.

The blessings of my faith are countless, but the one I am most grateful for is hope. Hope springs eternal. Not the waves of the Pacific nor the refiners fire can take our souls, and that family is eternal. All family. The family of man IS the family of God.

So today, while Al Roker yells at me and the Rockettes slip and slide, I feel my grandma close. My daughter, who bears her name, bounces around on the bed next to me, squealing with glee at the cartoon character balloons floating high over the streets of New York. I’m going to fix grilled cheese sandwiches and frozen grapes for my children for breakfast, and tell them stories about my grandma.

Happy Thanksgiving. And Happy Birthday, Grandma.

Sermons and Step-Parenting

IMG_1654I gave my first talk in my new ward yesterday. It’s up at By Common Consent, if you’re interested. It’s difficult for me to know how much to share with new people; there’s a line somewhere between giving context, and giving oneself away. Of course, my modus operandi in my writing is being an almost entirely open book- but things are a little different in real life. Does one stand at the pulpit and pound a fist and say “Listen up! When I say I know what it’s like to be tried, I know what I’m talking about! And not just in the comfortable way of tight finances or a husband who forgets to pick up his towels!” Yeah… probably not. But sometimes I want to— I’m never dishing platitudes. Maybe that’s just part of getting older? I have less patience with people who love their problems, and more patience with knowing things usually work out, even when “working out” seldom means what we want it to mean. Anyway, that was the gist of my talk.

My husband’s ex-wife attended our ward yesterday. I don’t get nervous when speaking, so it didn’t really phase me on the stand- but it’s part of an emerging pattern of interjecting herself when we have the kids. A phone call each evening (which is what he does when the kids are not with us) is perfectly fine and reasonable, but half a dozen phone calls and twice as many texts in a few hours is a bit over the line. We clearly have some work to do.

I realize it must be very difficult to have another woman have access to and personal time with your children. This isn’t a challenge I’ve been given, but my capacity for empathy is decently calibrated, so I can imagine those shoes being uncomfortable, particularly at first. I want her to know that her kids are being loved and cared for with us.

Learning to be a good step-parent is like anything when you’re learning— you’re going to goof a few times, but sincerity and love go a long way towards cementing new bonds. I’ve never done this before, but I have been a step-kid and I have been a kid of a divorce, and I’ve been trying to remember what I needed; the answer always comes down to love. If I err on the side of love, I think it’s pretty hard to go wrong.

From day one, I decided all children in our new family would be treated and loved equally. There would be the same set of rules for all the kids. They are radically different children, and all five have wildly different needs many days, but it’s possible and necessary to make the family a place where everyone is loved, and everyone’s input is valid, and most importantly, wanted and heard. Despite the fact my own kids are here every day and my step-kids divide their time between two homes, all kids have dedicated space and a dedicated voice here. Taking the time to listen— really listen— has already opened up some unique and healing conversations with my step-kids and with my own kids, as we navigate combining families.

The kids are getting along better than I ever dared hope. They’re 17, nearly 13, 11, 10 and 8. They’re playing together, working together, helping each other, giggling a lot, staying up way too late talking, teasing each other, and now, even solving problems together. Just like siblings. At first everyone was understandably careful, but I see the problem solving and relaxing as evidence of feeling comfortable and safe— and that’s a good thing.

I haven’t been writing about this much because honestly, I haven’t known how to navigate the new interpersonal byways. My kids are used to being part of my narrative, and while I give them veto power now over anything I write about them, they still are used to being part of a somewhat public story. I’ll clearly be more careful with my step-kids’ privacy, but I simply cannot ignore the impact and beautiful part of our lives they are becoming. My husband encouraged me to just write; to do what I do best. So here it is.

For their mother, I want her to know what their father already knows— maybe it will help her feel more comfortable: They are safe and loved here in this newly formed, unconventional family. I will love and protect them as if they were my own. And that’s saying something.

Utterly Fascinating

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Today is Bean’s birthday, but we spent yesterday at the County Fair to celebrate. Why? Well,  we had free passes for yesterday, and it would have cost us $32 to get in today. Yay for free passes!

It was hot. And the Fair was full of… “Fair” people. Oh man, is it fair for me to even say that? But dude, honestly, you know what you are thinking when I say “Fair people” and it’s not pretty. I spent half the afternoon trying to shield my kids from things, well, unfair. Oh, kids! Look over here at these newborn piggies- not at the barely dressed couple dry-humping by the camels. I’ll just let that one stand for what it is.

With a few diverting tactics on our part, the kids were oblivious to the seedy underbelly of the carnival, and they blew their entire Fair budget on the sling-shot thing that bungee’d them high into the sky. I think it was worth it- way better than the dirty ferris wheel. (Have Fairs always been so scungy?)

We looked at the 4H and Grange displays (cool) and walked through the event centers with the infomercial guys yelling at everyone as they passed (not cool). Beanie is coveting a Snuggie (what IS it with kids and those things?). Jeffrey thinks the Slap-Chop demo is the best invention EVER, and Abby wants stamps for her fingernails. Time to go look at the sheep kids!

The sheep were gone already. That’s what we get for waiting for the last three days of the Fair. The bunnies were gone too. Instead we got lots of chickens, enormous geese, some alpaca, a ton of cows and horses, baby pigs (for sale!) and, um, the aforementioned camels.

After the barn animals, the midway, the expo centers, the bungee jump and some salt water taffy, it was time to go. Waaaay past time to go. Which of course means both Beanie and Abby thought it was a great time to go all rubber-band noodle kid and liquify their bones while they turned on both the waterworks and the air-horns.

Nothing more fun that dragging three hot, tired, sugared up, crying kids through the Fair parking lot. The very big, very dusty, very hot, very stinky Fair parking lot. The car was a million degrees when we finally found it, and Bean was screaming this was the worst birthday EVER because we wouldn’t (pay $24 to) let them ride the dirty ferris wheel.

I wonder if some of my fun childhood memories were actually nightmares for my mom…

p.s. While at the grocery store last night at 11:30 to get “whipped spray creamy stuff” for Bean’s pancakes in the morning, (because of ongoing goal to ruin my kid’s birthday, right? yeah) they had the Snuggies in a display by the register. $19.95 at the Fair- $12 at Kroger.  Oh yeah. It’s wrapped and on the kitchen table right now. Becuase I love ruining my kids lives.

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Runaway Bunny Bean Style

runaway-bunnyReading “The Runaway Bunny” to Bean is an exercise in, uh… well, I don’t know. It has to do with the Aspergers- while in some ways he’s like every other kid (OK, not really) How bout this: In some ways, sometimes, he’s like other kids his age. Other times, the Asperger’s comes blasting through. As I learn more about the way his mind works, and put more tools in my parenting toolbox, it gets easier to anticipate and occasionally (glory be!) knock out problems at the pass. Sometimes, even, they become kind of amusing. Like tonight.

Tonight, Bean snuggled into bed, his mini-fan adjusted just right, his pillow right, his entourage of animals all accounted for, I began to read his story:

Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away.
So he said to his mother, “I am running away.”

Bean: Mama, bunnies can’t talk.

Mama: I know, but it’s a story, just listen.

“If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you.
For you are my little bunny.”

Bean: Mama, bunnies can’t talk.

Mama: I know Bean. It’s OK.

“If you run after me,” said the little bunny,
“I will become a fish in a trout stream

and I will swim away from you.”

Bean: MOM! He can’t become a fish. He is a bunny. And bunnies can’t talk!

Mama: Yes, Bean, bunnies are bunnies, but he’s using his imagination. It’s OK.

“If you become a fish in a trout stream,” said his mother,
“I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.”

Bean: MOM! Bunnies can’t FISH!

Mama: Yes, Bean, I know. It’s a story. It’s OK.

Bean: If she is pretending to fish, is she going to pretend to eat him, too? Because when you fish, you have to eat what you catch.

Mama: No, Bean. She is just using her imagination to tell him how much she loves him.

Bean: That’s weird.

“If you become a fisherman,” said the little bunny,
“I will become a rock on the mountain, high above you.”

Bean: Mom!! Bunnies cannot BE ROCKS. They ARE bunnies.

Mama: Yes Bean. Do you want me to stop reading to book?

Bean: No! I LOVE this book!

“If you become a rock on the mountain high above me,”
said his mother, “I will become a mountain climber,
and I will climb to where you are.”

And on it went. Every. Single. Verse.  He takes things very, very literally. It’s easy to forget that sometimes. Other times, it’s painfully clear. I read him the rest of the book, and he snuggled down happy as could be, and he’s already asleep.

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Interview with the Beanie, Age 5

If you could change your name, what would you choose? Drago

What do you love about each person in our family? I love snuggling up with mama and go swing on my playground in the backyard.

Where would you like to go on vacation this year? California on an airplane, to play with Christopher (his cousin).

What are some of your wishes for this year? Um, I wish for a toy that I really want. I want a remote control thing.

What are your favorites:

TOY:  My Rocket Launcher

TV SHOW:  Tom and Jerry, it’s really funny and is my favoritest show

GAME:  it is not a game, it is a Rocket Launcher

BOOK:  Thomas and his new Snowsuit

RESTAURANT: Krispy Kreme doughnuts because they have creme and chocolate

HOLDIAY Christams because Santa gives us toys

ANIMAL:  a zebra because they’re cool, the stripes are…

Bakin’ a Cake

A day or two ago was David’s birthday. It was my Mom’s birthday as well, and since she was in Disneyland, our only option was to bake a cake and celebrate ourselves. Originally, I was going to try and make a really nice cake. A cake with smooth icing, piped edges, pretty script and some buttercream roses. Then the kids decided they really wanted to help me. And here are the results:

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Evidently, David is 613, and really, super likes yellow sugar crystals.

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David says it was the best birthday he can remember. Me too.

Slice O’Life

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Our house, about 2 this afternoon. Mo is dancing with Flat Daddy, Abby is reading a book with the Creeper close at hand, Mira is patting juice on the table, and my darling Mr. M is doing the dishes. ‘Caus that’s how I roll.

It’s Friday, things are mellow, and other than the Lite Brite pegs in the dishwasher ($$ we don’t have; thank you Abby) all is well. Or at least what I’ve come to accept as well. We are not sick, we have our home still, we have no job, but we’re kind of getting used to it, and that’s it’s own kind of scary. Poor is the new Black. Or something.

And yes, I realize our version of “poor” is a far cry from real, bone-numbing poverty. We have food, water, shelter, clothing, faith and love. We also have the priveledge of paying a repair man $100+ to have him fix the Lite Brite peg-filled dishwasher motor, which some would argue is not a need at all, to which I would challenge them to a duel at dawn. That’s a long, long way from the poverty that grips souls the world over. And I am grateful for that grace.

So Friday night finds us at home. David is taking Beanie to the store to splurge on a piece of watermelon, which Bean has been craving,  and we’re have leftover carnitas tacos for dinner. We’ll probably catch a movie on the couch, and be in bed by 9. Happy Friday.

The Journey Home

Thursday afternoon, January 1: Begin scouting around mom’s house for all the stray detritus small children leave after visiting grandma’s for two and half weeks. Realize we have room for only 739 pounds of junk, and begin to pare down the piles. Mom’s garbage can and recycle are both overflowing, and I’m only down to 912 pounds of junk. Crap. Ask to borrow retired neighbor’s half-empty cans, and fill to overflowing.

Thursday night, January 1: Exasperation is my new BFF, and boys just don’t understand that I HAVE NO IDEA which bag the RED spiderman jammies are in, just wear the BLUE ONES I LEFT OUT and NO I AM NOT UNPACKING to look for them! Grandma and grandpa are clearly frazzled by the extended invasion of their quiet, peaceful lives; at this point, no one can even decide on dinner.  Grandpa opts to run for the Border, I do a drive-by of my favorite Chinese place, the kids do leftovers, grandma raids the freezer for any leftover frozen yogurt, and Cousin Michael eats my Chinese leavins. This is the dregs of a vacation.

Friday morning, 4 am, January 2: Abigail decides sleep is is meaningless, and chats cheerfully for the next two hours about the state of my eyelids, daddy’s snoring, Mickey Mouse and how much she likes the “magic” noise her stuffed bunny makes.

Friday, January 2, 9:30 am: Thank you, mom, for letting me sleep and for feeding the boys breakfast. Wave buh-bye to the noon departure plan, and usher in the 2:00 idea. Check the online weather and DOT traffic cams- our plan is coalescing; all systems go.

Friday, January 2, High Noon: I forgot to tell all the fam about the change in times, and people stop by to wave us off, only to find chaos, confusion and delay. Welcome to my life! Cousin Michael drives me to the market to pick up bribery food for the drive, while David backs the ‘Burb into mom’s driveway and begins the schlepping.

Friday, January 2, 2:00: Hot damn, we actually hit a target! The kids are wedged in, buckled down, and as long as no one moves, the colossal amount of stuff packed to the rafters should be fine. I’d feel like the Beverly Hillbillies, if we could tie a dog or small child on the luggage rack. Or maybe a rocking chair.

Friday, January 2, 2:08 pm: Hugs and kisses and tears. We are again a soverign nation unto ourselves.

Friday, January 2, 2:28 pm: Our first phone call to tell us what we forgot. My sneakers, and a double-secret recipe of Sourdough starter from my uncle. The starter originated in Alaska in 1975, and I’ve been begging some for years and years. He finally gave in, and I FORGOT IT. Mom will look into shipping live cultures. Crap.

Friday January 2, dinner time: Been on the road six+ hours, pull into Wendy’s for a potty break, some hot dinner, and to get the wiggles out. When we pull into the parking lot, it is empty. Looking back at Abby, I swing my door open, and BASH my heavy Suburban door into the car that pulled up while I was turned around. Awesome. Turns out the lady was mellow, and in a rush to get HER kids to the potty too. We end up talking and exchange road condition info, not insurance cards. Whew.

Friday, January 2, late: Been on the road around 8 hours. Kids are beginning to whine and are on their fourth or fifth movie, and it has begun to snow. The chain-checkpoint waves us through, despite our lack of chains (we have them- somewhere under all the packed crap in the back…) Tender Mercies. It doesn’t snow long, but road conditions are sketchy and snowy for many miles. So much for Interstate speed. Go to sleep, children. Please?

Friday, January 2, near midnight: Fog. Icy fog. Frozen fog. 160 MILES of fog. Oh yeah. The roads are clear and mostly dry, but the fog is causing me to screw my face into tight little knots of geeked-out stress. Fantastic. At 40 mph, we ought to be home next week!

Saturday, January 3, 1:30 am: Abby wakes and decides she is DONE being in her carseat, DONE being in the car, DONE with buckles and driving and roadnoise and car food. DONE.

Saturday, January 3, 2:00 am: The Beverly Hillbillies pull into a Holiday Inn Express somewhere in Oregon (Oregon is an odd place; I think it has middle-child syndrome) and at 2:10 am, fall into beds. Very, very awesome beds. Either I was too tired to care, or HIE has the most comfortable hotel beds ever. We all slept in our clothes. No one cared. I’m still waiting to feel smarter.

Saturday, Januray 3, 9:30 am: Commiting the Cardinal sin of waking sleeping children, we pile all the whiny, prickly, tired children back in the burb and bounce off down the road. But what’s a morning without a fight? DH and I are bickering, as I am now driving, and he keeps attempting to drive from the passenger seat. No matter how hard he stomps on his imaginary brake, it doesn’t work, but instead is a direct line to my Annoyance Button.

Saturday, January 3, various: Ooohing and aaaaa-ing at waterfalls, rivers and lakes that were unfrozen when we left, but are now frosty wonderlands of delight.

Saturday, January 3, 4:12 pm: David promises the boys they can do anything they want when we get home, only just be quiet a little while longer. Desperation sets in. The sun is setting, the roads are icy. We see two spin-offs. David’s brake still doesn’t work, and my Annoyance Button is set to Hair-Trigger. Vacation is FUN!

Saturday, January 3, 5:30 pm:  Have to use 4×4 powers of the super Suburban to breach the berm in our driveway. The Deacons (teen boys) at our church have shoveled our walkways and drive three times, but the snowplow left us the 4′ berm. Holy crap, the only place I have ever seen so much snow is in Tahoe while skiing. Unreal.

Saturday, January 3, 5:32 pm: We all sit in garage for a second… Home? oh, sweet, sweet home! Funneling from the car like ants in a poked anthill, the kids swarm the house. DH turns the water back on, the pipes are mercifully fine, the house is warm, and my mother-in-law has thought to bring over fresh milk, bread and bananas. Hallelujah, I don’t have to go to the store! I take back everything I ever said about her!

…wait a minute….? Nah.

Saturday, January 3, 6:00: We are all as far away from each other as possible in our house. DH is watching football while Abby is in the bath, I am fixing dinner, Jeffrey is in his room, and Bean is in the living room. Siiiiiiiiiiiiiigh.

Saturday, January 3, 6:01 pm. The phone rings, and it’s some lady from church who is annoyed and needy and starts in on me about things out of my control. I am not even unpacked yet. I don’t know where my toothbrush is, and I haven’t even fed my kids yet, and she wants me to answer complicated questions I cannot even process. I think I am rude to her, but I can’t remember exactly. I turn the phone off for the rest of the night. We don’t unpack more than the bathroom bag, and let the rest slide until morning.

Sunday, January 4, 8:15 am: I slept like a rock. Like a log. Like the dead. Like a mother who had been travelling in 12-square-feet of car with three little kids and a husband for two solid days. I slept goooooooood.

Sunday, January 4, 9:00 am. Oh yeah. We switched to early church January 1st. Ooops.

I have 161 emails, 17 messages on the machine and 2’ pile of mail. Oh, and my Christmas tree and decorations are still up. There were half-a-dozen packages waiting on the porch, and a ton of thank-yous to write…

So we’re home. Home really is the sweetest thing.

Mom’s Front Yard and Other Stuff

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I did it!

This is the only shot I could use that didn’t give away details, but I think you get the picture, right? My kids think this is the best thing ever, and evidently, so do the minivans of people that stop each night and get out to take pictures with their kids in the yard. This is only part of the yard.

Yesterday I had the most wonderful visit with Bek. I got to meet Ace, her baby, who might be the cutest little girl ever. We had dinner at Max’s, and then did a little window shopping at Stanford. If you ever have the chance to eat at Max’s, I highly recommend the Ruben or the Cobb Salad. Mmmmm. Seriously good stuff.

For anyone with a little extra goodwill, Mo needs a boost. She’s been trying to get out of town for two solid days. Due to snow, ice and flight cancelations, she’s been bumped several times, all with three kids and a husband deployed to Iraq. Last night she was on standby, (with three kids!) and running to grab the flight, to have only two seats available. Three kids, two seats? Yeah. They ended up going home and trying again this morning. Travel with kids is brutal enough, without the fun of standby and snow. So do a little moon-dance for her, will ya?