Tag Archives: Family

The Year We Changed Our Lives

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After months of deliberating, strategizing, decision-making and then fine-tuning those decisions, Scott and I are finally on the brink of a dream we’ve wanted to achieve for many years: we are taking our family to England.

We gave away our cat, loaned out our dog, put our house in beautiful North Carolina on the market and just finished driving across the country. All of our things are going into storage, and now the only obstacle between us and the biggest adventure my family has ever had is 8 days.

Scott will be working at Oxford for only a semester, so we will be back to the States in December, but it will be enough time for us to have a wide range of experiences in the United Kingdom and surrounding areas that we would not have if we were simply tourists. To make things even more interesting, we won’t have a car and we will be living in the middle of a city.

If you are wondering how we are feeling about all of this, imagine you are about to jump off of a bridge, step into the gladiator’s ring, or are standing on a street in Pamplona, Spain just before the bulls are released and you will have a good idea.

Wish us luck. Updates to follow.

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Book of the Month: Charles and Emma, The Darwins’ Leap of Faith

darwins

Recently I found this gem in my library. It is a YA biography about Charles Darwin and the relationship he had with his wife Emma. Theirs was a marriage perfectly matched in every way but one: Emma believed firmly in God and Charles believed in science. Yet together they had ten kids and they were completely devoted, even through illnesses, deaths of children, and Charles’ growing ambivalence toward religion. Despite their theological differences, his wife read and edited every one of his papers, and never stopped gently trying to persuade him that some truths were found through “feeling, not reasoning.” By using many quotes from letters, diaries, and from Darwin’s own papers (which he let his kids draw pictures on the backs of), the author portrays Charles Darwin as a devoted family man who preferred to be with his Emma above all others. Although I felt the author was a little presumptive at times, and I have no idea why it is categorized as a YA, it was a fascinating read for me and gives the reader a human side of Charles Darwin beyond the image of the walking fish that gobbles the Christian symbol on cars. Most of all, I was very moved by the depth of appreciation and respect Charles and Emma had for each other. Truly they showed that two people who don’t share profound beliefs can still share a profound love. A great read.

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When a 12-Year-Old is in Charge of a House Full of Dying People

I heard the rumors.

Something was going around at school. Also at church. They said it attacks like lightning and leaves you feeling like a grenade just went off inside your body. The only merciful part of the ordeal is that it only lasts for 24 hours.

Perhaps my home will be spared, I thought.

But then, last Wednesday, just after lunchtime, the school called.

It is never a good sign when the school calls. And somehow I knew before I answered what it would be.

It was one of my daughters. And she had it. (She will hereafter be known as THE FIRST, since she was the beginning.)

I went to the school and picked her up, spoke comforting words, and brought her home.

Later I waited for the bus to come, bringing home my younger kids. I waited and waited. Strange, I thought. This bus is never late. All of the sudden I had that terrible premonition again: the bus is late because of my child.

Sure enough, when the bus finally arrived and my younger two children got out, one of them shouted up the driveway, pointing to her brother, “Mom! Guess who just threw up on the bus!” (She will hereafter be known as THE TATTLER and he will be known as GUESS WHO.)

But I didn’t have time to answer her because just then, THE FIRST threw up again. She had almost made it to the toilet. Almost.

THE TATTLER and GUESS WHO walked into the house, and GUESS WHO told me, “Mom I’m not sick. I just don’t feel well.” After which he went to my bedroom and threw up on my gliding rocker.

I put GUESS WHO in the shower for safe keeping while I attended to the messes. Meanwhile THE FIRST was now curled up in a ball on the couch, while THE TATTLER  told me in detail about what happened on the bus. “We had to climb over the seats to get off!” But in less than an hour the dreaded plague hit her, too.  At least she made it to the toilet.

Now even I was starting to feel woozy. Would I be next? But I couldn’t get sick–I had a critical rehearsal that night in preparation for a huge multi-denominational concert and I was the director. My choir was not yet ready, and there would be hundreds of people in attendance. I couldn’t back out and no one could take my place. But how could I go when my children were unraveling before my eyes? My only comfort and hope was that soon THE SPOUSE would be home and he would be able to help me fight this battle.

In between washing and sterilizing and more vomiting (from all three) I went outside to get some fresh air and lo and behold THE SPOUSE rolled up in his truck! Salvation! He got out, his shoulders slumped, his feet dragging, his face as gray as a sidewalk. “I don’t feel well . . . ” he said.

So now there were four. If they were not vomiting they were writhing in pain or moaning into their pillows. At one point there was a line for the toilet.

Yet there was still one more child left to arrive home. When she walked through the door she gazed in astonishment at her deteriorating family.

“What’s up with everyone, mom? They all look sick.” (We shall call this child THE LUCKY, for the Black Angel of Gastrointestinal Rage had saw fit to pass her by.)

I could only give her a look of desperation and go back to my work of caring for the sufferers.

For the next two hours the battle raged. The horror! The horror!

Finally the time came for me to leave for my rehearsal. I knew I needed Extra Help to get through this rehearsal, least I be victim #5. When I finally found a room where there wasn’t someone laying on a bed groaning I hit my knees and asked God to preserve me for the next two hours so I could direct this choir. After that He could do whatever He wanted with me. Just please help me make it through this rehearsal. I got up feeling a little better.

Now there was just one more thing to do.

I located THE LUCKY who was trying to escape the horrors of reality via a computer and headphones. I took her headphones out of her ears. I grasped her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes and I said:

“I am leaving. You are the only one in this house who can help people. You need to take care of everyone. If someone throws up while I am gone, you have to be the one the help them. I am counting on you.”

She looked afraid.

And I left.

I conducted the rehearsal without an incident, though it went longer than I anticipated. Afterwards I thought I better go to the store and get Gatorade to help replenish dehydrated bodies. When I got back it was very late. As I turned off the car I sighed. I would have a lot to do when I walked in that door. I had left the house in shambles. I hadn’t fixed dinner (what was the point?) and I knew that dishes and cups and crumbs littered the counters. I knew I would have to start the laundry, especially if there had been more accidents while I was gone. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Miles before I sleep, miles before I sleep.

The house was dark and—mercifully—quiet. I walked into the kitchen and received the shock of my life: The counters were clean. The table was clean. The dishwasher had been emptied. The kitchen was spotless. Not only that, there was this on the counter:

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It was hot chocolate–still warm–covered in marshmallows. The living room had also been tidied and put in order. Had THE SPOUSE done all of this, even in the throws of his tribulations? Since my last memory of him was staring at the ceiling moaning, “Death come quickly,” that seemed unlikely. Did he somehow rally the other suffering souls into making an effort to clean the house?

I crept into the bedroom where THE SPOUSE was resting uneasily on the bed.

“Thank you for cleaning the house,” I said.

“The house is clean?” he croaked.

“Yes. It wasn’t you?”

“No. But I know THE LUCKY was doing something in the kitchen for a long time. And when GUESS WHO threw up in his bed THE LUCKY took his sheets down stairs and put them in the washer and started it.”

Really?

As I lay down to sleep that night I couldn’t help reflecting how often we underestimate the potential of others. Especially those who are young. I have asked, begged and pleaded with children many times to clean this and clean that, watch out for your siblings and take care of each other, and there are times I feel like I am shouting into the wind. “Mother deafness” I think they call it.

But when a person, even a child, knows that they are depended on, that they are counted on, that all hope is riding on their shoulders, they find an inner motivation . . . not from obligation or force or even a sense of duty. But a motivation of pure love. That is when someone goes from being THE LUCKY to becoming THE HERO.

Thank you, Sophie.

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The Godsend: The Gift of a Second Marriage

Mom and Terry on horses

Photo by Bill VandeMerwe

Today, eight years ago, my mother eloped. Goodness knows she would have never let me do such a thing.

My five siblings, their spouses, and her 24 grandchildren were not invited to the wedding. Neither were any of the groom’s seven children, their spouses or his grandchildren. It was just the two of them, in the temple, married for time.

The two had been introduced to each other by a family member. Their first date had a stunning backdrop:  a huge reservoir in Wyoming, surrounded by rugged, snow-capped mountains. He was there on his boat, and she was to meet him at the dock at a predesignated time.  From the lake, he could see my mother’s little red car drive across the dam. He gunned the engines towards the dock and trolled up to the platform just as she walked up.

From where she was standing she could see that he was tall, robust, and handsome.

“You must be Terry,” she said.

“You must be Patsy,” he said.

“Are you a good guy?” she said.

“Depends on who is keeping score,” he said. He helped her into the boat and off they went.

My mother had been a widow for four years.  She moved to a new home in town, she dated, and she even served a mission to South Africa. And although she filled up her time with worthwhile things and was surrounded by good people who loved her, including forests of relatives, that didn’t take a way the fact that she went home to an empty house every evening, slept in a bed by herself, and woke up staring at an empty pillow. She had no one to make plans with, no one to share meals with and no one with whom she could anticipate the future. Sundays were the hardest. For my mother, this was like never waking from a bad dream.

Being single is hard at any age. And being an older single person comes with its own unique challenges. By that time people have lived pretty full lives. They’ve collected a lot of memories, children, and survived a variety challenges. It is different than two young 20-year-olds falling in love and building a life together. When you are older, lives have already been built. Change is not just hard, it is titanic. It is hard to find someone with whom you can relate and who will be willing to merge your lives together.

So when Terry came along, he road into my mother’s life like Zorro, saving the day. He owned horses (a passion of my mother’s), he was a crack-shot with a gun (I know some of you out there might not find this attractive, but we westerners do) and he could fix anything. My mother and Terry found they had much in common. They both had seven children. They both had the same beliefs. They both liked popcorn.

They were married by fall.

Surely it took adjustments for them as they settled into being married to a new person. I know it did. And their most stressful adjustment was probably us adjusting to them.  When a new person comes into a very old family, the transition can be tricky, and it goes much further than do we call him by his name or do we call him “Dad.” There is an unspoken resistance by the adult children that is painful and takes work to subdue.

Am I being disloyal to my father if I accept this new man in his place? Will Mom love him more than she loved Dad? Can we still tell stories about my dad?  Or do we have to stop talking when Terry enters the room? All we have left of my dad are the memories. If we can’t speak of him, and sing his songs, will my dad be forgotten? Oh the pain!

In an ironic twist, Terry’s name rhymes with Jerry, the name of my father. And to twist it even further, my dad was also good with horses, a gun and could fix anything.  My children would always see this newcomer as their grandfather. Who is this man to come in and take the place of my father? Not only that, but to elope with my mom like they were a couple of rebellious teenagers!

But I will admit the truth, that after observing the loneliness of my mother, and despite my fears, which I knew were 95% selfish, I was happy to welcome Terry into the family. But Terry still had to show us what he was made of. There were a lot of eyes watching him.

Was he a good guy?

My mother loves perfume. My father’s favorite scent on her was Beautiful, and my mom wore it all the time, even after my dad passed away. Terry, however, is allergic to Beautiful, and most of my mother’s other perfumes. But knowing that this was something important to her, he went to the fragrance counter at the department story and wheezed and choked through a half dozen bottles of perfume until he found one that didn’t make his eyes water. This he bought for her, and this is what she wears.

On Memorial Day he and my mother went to visit cemeteries. First they went to the cemetery where his wife is buried. Then they went to the cemetery over the mountain, where my father is buried. My father’s headstone was covered with dead grass. Terry got down on one knee and cleaned it off.  He noticed that the headstone had started to sink and was crooked, so later he brought a crowbar and pried it up, shook in some fill, giving it an new foundation. What kind of man does these things? A darn good one.

From the very beginning Terry made it clear that he was not a replacement. He was a bonus. And that is what we call him: Bonus Dad.

Ultimately, if an adult child wants peace and tranquility and if they desire to continue to have a relationship with their parent, they must humbly admit defeat: My dad is not coming back, my mom is alone, and God has sent us this gift. If our hearts only had room enough for a certain amount of people that would be a very sad thing. Fortunately, hearts can stretch. Infinitely.

Just before she met Terry, when my mother came home from her mission from South Africa, she sat on my couch and told me she felt as if she were at “rock bottom.” That is a scary thing  for a child, even an adult child, to hear from their parent. But since she married Terry I have watched her become a phoenix. They have served two missions together, built a house together, they ride horses, they go out on four wheelers, they eat popcorn for dinner . . . sometimes just popcorn. They are more like teenagers than teenagers. He is my mother’s elixir of life, she is his foxy lady. You can live a long time with that combination.

Terry and I have a joke. He always tells me “I love you” and I say “Thanks.”  I cannot return the sentiment. I just cannot. The words do not come out of my mouth.  I know I do love him (did you hear that, Terry?), but I can’t say it. And I won’t for a long time. I need to keep him waiting. Because the longer he has to wait for my “I love you” the longer he will have to stick around. And I want him to stick around as long as he possibly can.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Terry. I am happy for you, and I am proud of you.

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The Holiday No One Knows About

Today is Grandparents Day. Betcha didn’t know that. It is not a day people normally pull out the streamers for, but I think my kids have some pretty fantastic grandparents. Let me show you my brag book.

DSC02159This is Doug. He knows how to have fun. He owns four wheelers, go-carts, ping-pong tables and makes ice-skating rinks in the winter.

 

IMG_5269Here are Patsy and Valerie: leaders, mothers, missionaries, and birthday rememberers. They know just what to say at any given moment and can make any home smell delicious in under 30 minutes.  They make mothering seem simple. And they tell you so, too.

 

IMG_5038This is Terry, our honorary grandfather, keeper of horses,  healer of broken hearts, and family godsend. Tough and tender-hearted and generous to no end.

 

SONY DSCThis is Jerry, fireworks salesman, world traveller, problem solver and celebrated slayer of nightmares.  He has shared a pillow with my daughter for years, even though they have never met.

 

Our kids have always lived over a thousand miles away from their grandparents, but that hasn’t stopped them from creating great relationships together. No one can leave an imprint on a child’s mind the way a grandparent can.  We are grateful for ours.

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A Day In The Life of A Kitchen

We GoPro-ed our kitchen. Here is my day in 3 1/2 minutes. You can see it best if you watch it on YouTube so that you can see it full screen.  I’m interested to know if this is as fascinating to you as it is to our family 🙂 .  Make sure the volume is up!

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Strange Mormon Customs: Big Families

Once, when my husband told a co-worker that he had four children the man joked, “So are you Catholic or Mormon?”

Ha! And that was only for four.

It is obvious why devout Catholics end up with big families. But Mormons? What is their deal? Do they not use birth control either? Do they get a tithing discount for every child they have? Are they doing it for tax incentives?

Or are they trying to take over the world?

Perhaps.

Or perhaps it is because it makes us happy. My husband’s mother bore six children and my mom had seven. We both loved growing up in large families.

I have three amazing sisters to laugh with, cry with and swap kids with. I have older brothers who picked on me mercilessly but also stood by me when I was in trouble. Growing up, I adored my many cousins and still keep in contact with them.

As a child in a big, loving family I never even considered having less than twenty.

It is no secret that our church leaders tell us regularly to “multiply and replenish the earth.” The fact that we would take such counsel seriously makes some people squirm.

But before you think we are all just mindless rabbits, let me assure you that we are faithful people, not stupid people.

There is no quota. We are not asked to procreate at will without considering the mother’s health (physical, mental and emotional) and many other factors that may make it difficult to support a large family.  Whether or not birth control is used is up to the couple’s agency and discretion. In my opinion, to keep adding children into a family without thought and planning is as bad an idea as using abstinence (in marriage) as birth control. Having a child is a huge decision, but having a healthy relationship with your spouse is paramount.

Church leaders are simply asking us to not let selfishness or fear of the future overcome our desire to have children.  Once, when Scott and I were deciding on when to have our third child, it seemed as if there was always some impediment nine months away that would make it difficult to have a baby. But we decided that if we waited for the “perfect time” to have a baby it would never happen at all.

More often than not babies find a way to be welcomed, cared for, loved, and never regretted–even when at first it seemed like it would be impossible.

Many people who don’t have large families can’t understand the desire to have one. My grandmother, for instance. Each time my mother would call my grandmother–who was not a Mormon–and announce  she was again pregnant, my grandmother would tell her she was a “glutton for punishment.”

Since I am number six, I’m glad my mom didn’t listen to her.

I have found that the blessings of having a big family are innumerable. When you have a large family you are automatically part of something. You belong. (And if you have a big enough family you are sure to have at least one sibling that you like.) Everyone needs to belong, to be inherently admired and loved…not because they have done something special, but merely because they exist.

That is why people who don’t have supportive families join gangs.

When you have a big family every day is a party. There is always someone to play with, to serve, to talk to, to commiserate with, to make you laugh.

There is a reason why they call families of lions “prides.” You feel great pride when you are part of a large, respected family, headed by a matriarch and patriarch who lead and teach with love and a great affection for their posterity. You feel that you have a stewardship to your family and you are constantly encouraged to honor the family’s name, to keep it untarnished.

People who have never grown up in a family like this don’t think that it is possible.

But it is.

I do know of one Mormon friend who felt “lost” in her family. She felt like there were so many kids that she didn’t matter. She was one of 15. All the more reason for parents to be wise and thoughtful when making decisions to have another child.

Another reason we have lots of kids is because Mormons are alwasy on a quest for self-improvement. We have a great desire to become better, to refine ourselves, to achieve excellence. Is there no greater refiner’s fire than to raise a child? 

Peter de Vries wrote “The value marriage is not that adults produce children but that children produce adults.”  I know of no other occupation that demands so much focus, creativity, endurance, wisdom, unconditional love, selflessness, generosity, humor, patience, sacrifice, kindness, innovation, organization, composure, self-control, cleanliness and tolerance. The more I try to “master” my children, the more I learn that it is more about mastering myself.

It is true that kids can be a pain sometimes, but they are also a lot fun.  They are fun to tickle, to teach, to hold, to laugh with, to cuddle, to sooth, to heal, to learn from. They each come with their own very unique personalities–even my identical twins–and it is fascinating to get to know them as they grow and mature.

As Latter-Day Saints we believe in the eternal nature of families. The family relationships we nurture here will be one of the few things we can take with us to the next life. If being with your family forever and ever and ever doesn’t give you motivation to get along, nothing will.

I used to think that the things that would give me the greatest joy would be to sing on big stage in front of thousands (which I’ve done) to go kayaking on a glass-smooth river (which I have done) or to publish a novel (haven’t done that one yet). But the greatest joy I have is to hear my kids laughing  together. To watch them playing together. To witness them doing something kind for a sibling without being prompted.

That is true joy.

Perhaps I will change my mind when I finally publish a book, but I doubt it.

 As I sit here and finish this post I am entering my ninth month of pregnancy.  I am large and so obviously pregnant that it is no longer taboo for perfect strangers to ask me how far along I am. And they almost always add, “Is this your first?”

I love to smile and say, “No, this is my fifth.”
This post was first published on February 26, 2013 on Turkeyboys Girls

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