Friday, December 27, 2013

On Staying Silent...

I know I’ve been blogging about exercise and fitness for the last few months, but I’m going to switch it up this month. A lot. People who know me the best will probably be a little (or a lot?) surprised by this entry, but I feel compelled to write it.

Something pretty momentous happened on December 20, 2013. In Utah, arguably the most conservative state in the nation and my former home for nearly 10 years, a judge struck down the state amendment banning same-sex marriage there. Let me back up a little.

 When I was 18 years old and a freshman in college, I went to a photography exhibit called, “Love Makes a Family.” The was the year 1997 and the idea of gay Americans raising children was a hot-button issue. The pictures touched a chord in me somewhere very deep. They were families just like mine. Families who loved each other, parents who were trying to raise their children and do the best they could. I was aware of the widespread prejudice against homosexual couples. Fueled mostly by ignorance, the AIDS epidemic and misinformation, this prejudice grew and marriage equality became a controversial issue for the next 15 years.

Now, I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints my entire life. I believe in the Gospel taught there with all of my heart. My faith is firm and something that is at the very core of who I am. Most of you know that the Church has taken an active role in the ‘defense of traditional marriage’ for many years. And this has bothered me since high school when the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed.

Being a Latter-Day Saint, I have been taught from an early age to trust the Spirit. That in times of trial or confusion, I should turn to the Lord and trust the feelings and promptings I felt when I prayed. For many years, I have felt that the push against gay marriage was a misdirection of resources, for myself and for my church. It’s been a difficult position to be in, feeling that the Spirit was guiding me to embrace my brothers and sisters (gay or otherwise) and love them and the general consensus amongst Mormons that ‘defending’ traditional marriage was more important. I don’t personally know anyone who dislikes or hates gay people, who are unkind to or actively discriminating against them. They feel that the defense of traditional marriage is important. My point of view is that it is MORE important to love our fellowmen than it is to make sure that only men and women can marry each other. I have strong feelings that the old ‘hate the sin, love the sinner,’ adage is outdated and a nearly impossible position to maintain or defend.  I know many people, in and out of the Church, whose position against gay marriage has colored their thinking and actions in a way that makes it impossible to love their gay brothers and sisters. I testify that the Gospel  of Jesus Christ is about love, inclusion, understanding, respect and the power of the redemptive love of our Savior and Heavenly Father. Many of you might not understand how I can reconcile my support of gay marriage and my testimony, but I have the similar feelings about the opposing view. How can we keep the second great commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves, when our efforts are being directed in such a way?

I have felt for a long time that there was something wrong with the way that I felt. Those of you who know me know that I’m not one to shy away from a debate, but this is something I’ve stayed quiet about until now. It’s something I’ve only discussed with my husband in the privacy and confidentiality of our relationship. Utah can be a scary place to live when your ideals differ from the ‘norm.’ I have sat on the sidelines for too long. I firmly believe that the Spirit planted and encouraged these feelings in me and a number of my LDS brothers and sisters in order to help us help ourselves. The number of gay LDS young people who commit suicide is staggering. The fact that these young people would rather die than be who they are, who they were made to be, is appalling. I feel a certain amount of shame that I didn’t do what I feel I was called to do: stand up and let my voice be heard on the matter. So, I’m doing it now. To anyone who will listen and open their minds just a tiny little bit: I support gay marriage. I support people being able to have what I have: a loving marriage in which people build and raise a family, where they help and support each other and become better because they are together.

So there. J

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Few Lessons...

It’s been a little while since my last post, so I figured it was time to start another one. I’ve actually been working on this for a while, as things come to me. Now that I have 2 hours of uninterrupted thinking every day, it’s not as hard as it used to be. J I’ve been working out regularly for nearly 3 months now. I’m down, as of yesterday morning, 35 pounds. I’m a weight I haven’t been since high school. I have half a wardrobe that I can no longer wear because things are so big on me now. I have also learned a lot of things that I thought I’d share here:

1. Even if you don’t have your iPod with you or turned on, wear your earbuds. Usually, I go to the gym between the hours of 8ish until about 11:30. This time of the day, there are LOTS of women about my age or older there. Unlike the 18-22 year old crowd, these women are super-chatty. Usually I’m super chatty too. If you have ever ended up in front of me in a grocery store or Post Office line, you are aware of this fact. But when I’m at the gym, I really would rather not hear about your job, your husband’s truck or your kids’ schooling. It is my sacred thinking-time. I talk to Peter when we’re there at the same time, but most of the time I am totally silent and in my own head. And I like it that way.

2. That being said, I can’t understate the importance of music while you’re working out. For a number of reasons. Now, I’ll admit: some people are music people and some people just aren’t. I am. The type of music is really important too. I love going to the gym really early, like at 6am when they have ‘90s music playing. Makes me feel like I’m back in high school! There are lots of songs with strong, up-tempo beats that are ideal for timing your stride or speed on a spin bike. Also, the song Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-A-Lot was made in the ‘90s. Despite the general offensiveness of the lyrics, it’s a great song for working out for a couple of reasons. The first is that the beat is the perfect tempo for running or spinning. The second is that there are few things more hilarious that watching the little white-haired ladies plodding around the walking track while “I LIKE BIG BUTTS…!” blasts over the speakers all around them. An amusing juxtaposition of sounds and sights, for sure.

3. Some days, the shower is the best part. Only the mother of small children can appreciate this, but there are some days and some workouts that are downright crummy and the shower after the workout far exceeds the workout on the ‘Things-I’m-Glad-I-Did-Today’ scale. For the mother of young kids, an uninterrupted shower is like seeing a unicorn and Bigfoot at the same time. Add in the fact that there is unlimited hot water and you can use towels that you don’t have to launder yourself, and we’re approaching straight-up nirvana.

4. Never pack your gym bag when you’re tired. This seems pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised at how little time I spend not-tired. One day this week, I packed my backpack up the night before and didn’t give it a second thought until I was standing, dripping wet, in the shower the next morning after my workout and realized I had forgotten a few things. Like underwear. And a shirt. There are few sensations as unpleasant as putting a sweat-funked, damp sports-bra and shirt on your freshly showered body. So, really, make sure you’re awake and alert when you pack that punk up.

5. Try new things, however intimidating. So for the first month or so of my daily trips to the gym, I did the same thing. I pretty much avoided the weights, and the treadmill, and the upright spin bikes. I stuck exclusively to the recumbent spin-bikes, the rowing machines and the walking track. It was fine, for a while, but I got bored. Fast. I guess I’m kind of like a little kid that way, but I really need to be… entertained? I was very intimidated by the treadmills. I had nightmares of being thrown, flailing, off the back or somehow getting a foot wedged underneath it where the belt would quickly skin the flesh off my ankle. But one day, bored to tears with the bike, I decided to give it a go. Now, 6 weeks later, it is a staple in my workout routine. I started out just walking on it, and then doing HIIT on it, now I’m doing a 30-20-10 interval and running faster and longer than I ever thought I could. Don’t get me wrong, I still HATE running while I’m doing it, but I LOVE the number of calories I burn and the stamina I build. And I finally understand the term ‘runner’s high.’

6. Do strength-training.  I started doing weight training after about a month of going to the gym. Mainly, because I really like to eat. J Everybody knows that the more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate is. So, gotta build more muscle to burn those calories. I have been using the machines, mainly because I’ve had a shoulder impingement for years that I don’t want to aggravate and using the machines it’s easier to ensure that I maintain proper form and don’t injure myself. Another thing I learned is that if you’re not breaking a sweat or getting a little winded while you lift weights, you’re not lifting enough. I completely hit a weight-loss plateau a few weeks ago where I didn’t lose any weight or inches for almost 2 weeks. It was frustrating, to say the least. I did some research, spoke to a friend who’s a personal trainer (thanks, Mary Estep!!!) and switched some things up. One of those changes was by increasing my lift to a weight that really made me work for those last 3-4 reps. It made a big difference and I overcame my slump. J

7. Don’t deprive yourself. I know this seems counter-intuitive, but really it’s not. As I stated before, I love to eat. I also love to cook, and after cooking comes eating. I could never sign up for a life in which I never had another slice of birthday cake or Snickers bar. I couldn’t and WOULDN’T do it. I love baking with my kids and our weekly nacho picnics and wasn’t willing to nix those either. I had to get creative.  Instead of making a fabulous, indulgent meal every night of the week, I stuck to once a week. Sundays are my free days. I don’t count calories, I don’t work out; I just rest and enjoy my time with my family. My kids and I usually bake something (a small amount) for a treat that night and then I cut up the rest and send it with Peter the next morning. He leaves the leftovers in the law school cafeteria for whoever wants one. Our Friday night nacho picnics are still on. I still make and eat nachos, but now they’re made with ground turkey breast and reduced-fat cheese instead of ground beef and full-fat cheese. The kids haven’t even noticed a difference and they taste fantastic. After dinner, if I’m feeling a sweet-tooth craving coming on, I’ll do something about it. Instead of having the entire chocolate bar, I’ll have one square of super-dark chocolate melted with a spoonful of peanut butter. Then I slice up a banana and dip each slice in the chocolate. It’s divine and totally satisfies my craving. So, the moral of the story is this: don’t deprive yourself! You can eat what you like, just don’t the entire freaking table!!

8. The first place I lose weight is my boobs. I don’t know why this is the case, but it’s true. If my husband loses 10 pounds, he looks like a different person. He looks like he’s lost 20! When I lose 10 lbs? I go down a full cup size. L I’m waiting for medical science to invent a way suck fat from one area on your body and put it somewhere else. Seems like a simple enough concept?

9. No amount of exercising can overcome a crappy lifestyle/diet. About mid-September, my little sister told me about a Facebook group she had joined called “Healthy Habits.” It was actually created by our sister-in-law’s sister.  The premise is simple, really. There are 7 habits ranging from ‘drink at least 64 oz. of water’ to ‘no eating after 7pm.’ You get 1 point per habit daily (if you do it) and you can earn extra points for doing extra exercise. At the beginning of a cycle, you pay in $10. At the end of the cycle, if you have accrued a set amount of points, you get your money back AND if there are people who didn’t make their points then all the people who did get to split their money. It sounds complicated but it’s really not. It’s made me very aware of all the different ways there are to nurture your body (and your brain.) I can’t stress enough the importance of a food journal. I have written down every freaking morsel of food I have put in my mouth for nearly three months now. It’s made me really think before I eat something. “Do I really want to write this down?” It’s cut back on a lot of unconscious ‘grazing.’

So, that’s all I can think of right now. I’m sure I’ve learned more than that, but really that’s all you have time for reading right now. Adios and happy exercising!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

These Times, they are A-Changin'

Well, my life is definitely changing! After 10 consecutive years of having children in diapers and/or in a crib, we are diaperless and cribless here. J The kids started school a couple of weeks ago. All of them. Brandon started 5th, Nathan 3rd and Ian 1st. They are all three gone ALL DAY. The twins also started preschool three days a week. So, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday between the hours of 9am and 11:30, I am without kids. Hmmm. Not sure how I feel about it, but I’m definitely taking advantage of the time. This is a hard entry for me to write because of some of my deepest insecurities. So, here goes.

My entire life, I have felt like I was fat. It’s hard for me to admit here, even though only a couple of people even read my blog besides me. J I went on my first diet at age 9. So for the last 26 years I have been obsessing, to some degree, about my weight. It’s heartbreaking for me to look back at pictures of myself and see that I was a perfectly normal and acceptable weight until I was 16 or so. I remember all the way through junior high and high school, continually making deals with myself that I would lose weight over a break or the summer and then I would enjoy high school. I didn’t date much because I figured no one would want to date someone like me (read: because I was fat) so why even open myself up to that kind of rejection? Finally, between my junior and senior years of high school, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy and I put on A LOT of weight. I graduated high school at about 200 pounds.

During college, my weight parked itself at about 200 pounds, give or take 10. I was so busy working, going to school, working some more and worrying about money and everything else in general that I rarely thought about my food. My senior year of college, my school schedule was so demanding that I wasn’t able to work as much as I had previously. Because of that, I had less money to spend on groceries and so I lost weight simply because I didn’t have the money for it. It brought the term ‘starving student’ into very sharp focus. I lost about 35 pounds by graduation.

The year before I met my husband, I was working and single and went to the gym regularly. It wasn’t unusual for me to hit the gym 4-5 days a week. I felt good, accomplished, but it was more about how I looked. I didn’t date much during college either, because I felt unworthy of anyone’s attention. I wanted to prove to myself and others that maybe I was a desirable person. Maybe someone would want to be with me?

Falling in love with my husband was a dream come true. Still, to this day, I pinch myself. He has loved me through 4 pregnancies and even more clothing sizes. He has never once fed my insecurities or made me feel unattractive or unworthy. He has encouraged me through countless diets, exercising binges, and New Year’s resolutions. He has been, and still is, my biggest fan.

So now, here we are. Age thirty-five. Middle age? Maybe. But once the twins started preschool I realized that it was time for me. I have spent the last 10 years completely focused on others. And that’s the way I intended for it to be. I knew that when I became a mother, my needs automatically shifted to the bottom of the list of priorities. I chose that and I stand by that choice. But now that the twins were in school a few hours a week, I could take care of myself guilt-free. J

The university where Peter attends law school has a state-of-the-art rec center. Because Peter is a student, he can go for free and I can go for a very reduced price. I started going only during the twins’ school hours, 3 times a week for about 2 ½ hours. For the first time in my life, I found that I enjoyed it. I usually hate exercise. In the past, I would always find (or create) a reason that I couldn’t exercise that day. Now, I find myself going to some effort just to make it happen. I started trading babysitting with a friend so that I could go on Tuesday and Thursday as well. I get up early on Saturdays so I can get in a workout before Peter has to go study.

Initially, Peter showed me around and gave me some pointers. He’s been going for a year or so and showed me how to use the equipment, where things were, etc. We often work out together. Though we’re doing different things (he’s into running right now, I only run if someone is chasing me) we’re there together. J It’s almost like a date, just with lots of sweating and no makeup.

That’s another thing. Going to the gym in the mornings has meant something else: I have been seen at preschool drop-off, regularly, without makeup. This may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but I haven’t been seen in public without a full face of makeup in about 20 years. Definitely a little scary, for me and for them, I’m sure.

It’s also been an exercise in not caring what other people think. I didn’t realize how much of my time was spent worrying about what other people thought about me until I started going to the gym. I was worried about what people would think if they saw the chubby middle-aged mother of five sweating it out next to the 22-year old coed. Did I look ridiculous? Would they laugh? Was I using the equipment correctly? Did I give myself away as a newbie exerciser? Would they know how many hours and years I had spent neglecting my body? Was I wearing the right thing? Did I look like I belonged? It was exhausting. So, right along with my sweating and lifting weights and clocking endless miles on the spin bikes, I have exercised my mind in the arena of not caring what other people thought of me. Frequently, I actually have to whisper to myself: “It doesn’t matter. You don’t care what they think.” It’s been pretty cathartic too. And you know what I’ve realized? They probably think about me as much as I think about them while I’m there, which is not a lot.

That being said, I do care about a few things still and that’s not likely to change. Even if I were to get into phenomenal shape, I would NEVER prance around the women’s locker room buck naked. Getting showered and dressed feels a little like a laser obstacle course. Showering then dressing without any of the 22-year-old beach bodies seeing me in all of my stretch-marked glory can feel like Mission: Impossible some days. Especially when I forget something in my locker or it’s super-crowded.

But, overall, I am really enjoying my newfound freedom. I haven’t focused on myself in years and it feels good. It feels amazing to exert myself physically and mentally, to see my body and stamina change. I have developed a new appreciation for my body and all that it has done and can do. It made five people, for crying out loud! Even two at once! My body has given me so much and I haven’t been very nice to it. I’m down 16 pounds now. I can wear my wedding ring for the first time in almost six years. I can fit into clothes that have been gathering dust in the back of my closet for at least that long. Last week, Peter and I completed a 10K bike ride in about 40 minutes and I came in fourth! And there were more than 4 people racing!

Probably the most exciting change is that this doesn’t feel like a temporary thing to me. It doesn’t feel like a ‘diet.’ It feels like the way my life is going to be from now on. It feels like it’s finally time to take care of myself a little now that my kids are getting older and can take care of themselves a bit more. Sunday is my day to rest, so you won’t see me at the gym tomorrow. I can’t wait for Monday morning. J

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Another Word on Marraige

I know, this is weird. Two blog posts from me in less than a week?! What is this madness?! Well, I had an experience this morning that really got my wheels turning.

As you know, Peter was out of town for school for over 2 months (see previous post). Upon his return, the inevitable happened: readjusting to life as a father of five young children has been challenging. J He has been away for so long that the little things that kids normally do, things that a seasoned parent has developed a thick skin toward, are driving him up the wall. His patience has definitely seen better days. We both knew this was going to happen and expected it.

Last night when Peter was dealing with one of the twins who had kicked off (mind you, we had been dealing with copious amounts of barf and diarrhea the entire day from 2 kids, so both of our nerves were shot) he was pretty close to losing his temper and was dealing with the situation in a way I didn’t like. I thought he was being way too hard on the little guy. And I told him so. Right there. In the middle of the exchange. I know, probably not the best place to do that. Anyway, a spat between the two of us ensued. We both went to bed in silence, fuming a little.

Now, I know the whole adage about ‘not going to bed angry,’ but this saying was coined by someone who doesn’t know my husband. In the early days of our marriage, I would push and push for us to ‘resolve’ every disagreement immediately. Which basically meant, when I wanted to resolve it. After nearly 12 years together, I’ve discovered that if I try to force Peter to ‘talk it out’ before he’s ready, it will all just blow up in my face. I have to let him (and myself) cool off, think about things, then talk it out. This approach may not work for everyone, but it has worked for us for years now and I’m not going to mess with what works.

Anyway, this morning as I was driving a close friend called and we talked on the phone for a bit. This particular friend knows me very well. She knows Peter very well also and knows all about our history together, including the few years during which we struggled. She asked how things were going now that Peter was home. I was still a little upset about the spat from last night and briefly described the exchange to her. I didn’t rail about it, or badmouth my husband, and I was really fair about describing my contribution to the whole thing. Then she says, “Wow, do you think you should go talk to a marriage counselor?” And she was sincere. For a split second, I thought she was joking. What? Counseling?! Over a silly disagreement about parenting? No, I said, I didn’t think that was necessary at all. “Well, I just don’t want things to get hard for you again,” she said.

This exchange has been on my mind all day, for a couple of different reasons. The first thing is something that has bothered me for years: the people who I’m closest to (friends and family) who know about Peter’s and my history will forever hold it against him. It’s really my fault, I guess, because they were my shoulders to cry on during that time and they got my ‘side’ of everything. But (and this is a big ‘but’) Peter and I have worked everything out, I have forgiven him and he has forgiven me for the things we both did and said during those 2 rough years. That’s all that should matter to anyone else. And it was nearly five years ago, for crying out loud! J Anyway, I can’t really change anyone’s opinion now, no matter how hard I try. But every time I’m met with this bias against Peter from my closest friends and family, a single thought penetrates my mind. That is not the Lord’s way. And it shouldn’t be ours.

When we mess up, as we humans are apt to do, and we sincerely repent, the Lord doesn’t remember our sins anymore. They are wiped clean. If we truly believe in the absolute power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, when people we love mess up and ask our forgiveness, we should extend it. Wholly and completely. If we are true Christians who are trying to become like Christ, isn’t that the least of what we should do for those we love? Peter and I have spent the last 4 ½ years making right our past mistakes, so much so that we hardly remember them. Neither of us ever even brings it up, so when friends and family do, it’s a little jarring. And it’s unfair, as well.
Another thing it’s made me think about is other peoples’ marriages. Do they all run off to a marriage counselor when they have a spat? “Honey, you left your socks on the floor again. Time to call the counselor,” or, “Dear, you didn’t rinse your whiskers and shaving cream out of the sink. I’m calling a therapist.” No, it’s ridiculous to even say. One HUGE thing we both learned in counseling was that a good marriage does not mean you never fight. It means you fight in the right way. That was big for me, because I honestly went into it thinking that a ‘good marriage’ meant that you never argued. It was a revelation to me that that was just not the case. And it took a huge amount of pressure off me, too.

Now, this is just my own personal philosophy, but I really believe that every marriage should have disagreements. If you don’t, that means that someone (usually the same person every time) gives in and is not heard, all in the name of ‘keeping the peace.’ Maybe that works for some people, but I can’t help but think that it’s a very temporary fix. Eventually, all of those times of giving in, of not letting your voice be heard, of not compromising so that both people can be happy, will wear down the relationship. It creates a fundamental imbalance in a marriage that can’t be sustained. One person is almost always getting their way, calling the shots, steering the ship. The other is always allowing that to happen, not taking an active role in family decisions, not asking for their needs to be met too. These two people will eventually, in my opinion, come to resent each other. I would imagine it’s very isolating and lonely in a marriage to either a.) have to make all the decisions alone without the input of your partner, or b.) feel like you don’t have a voice or that your voice isn’t important. I can’t imagine that a relationship like that is fulfilling. Or fun. Or viable.

When I look back on our marriage, I can see how each experience, good or bad, has helped us grow. Even the really bad times I can look back on and, in retrospect, be extremely grateful for. If they hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t be where we are now: happy, together, steering our ship as a team. If I had always ‘given in’ in the name of keeping the peace, where would we be? I think we are commanded to marry because that relationship almost forces us to grow up, in a sense. If we don’t take those opportunities for growth that are a natural byproduct of living under the same roof with our spouse, then we are stunting our own growth.

So, no, we won’t be going back to counseling now. J Just as I thought, we patched things up before lunch and by tomorrow morning it will be a distant memory. I’m really glad, too, that my husband will disagree with me. I’m glad that he has an opinion and that it’s not always the same as mine. Some of our best conversations are about things on which we do not agree. It’s a wonderful thing to have someone love you enough that they still love you, even when you ‘win’ and make them see a chick flick instead of an action or sci-fi movie. J

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Song of the (Temporarily) Single Mother

Well it’s been a few months since my last post and, while I don’t have one specific topic to address, I have had a few things on my mind that I thought deserved to be written down. So I hope this post doesn’t seem too scattered; here goes.

This current summer is our last one in law school. This time next year, Peter will have taken the Bar and we will hopefully be settling down somewhere in a new job. I’m really looking forward to being ‘normal people’ again. J But Peter and I knew this summer was going to be important for him professionally. It’s his last chance to make connections and network before he starts looking for a job. He started thinking about his summer externship last FALL. Yeah, I know it seems premature, but really it wasn’t. He couldn’t really find anything listed that caught his attention. He applied for a bunch, and was offered a few, but none really felt right. He ended up fashioning his own summer clerkship with two district court judges down in Utah. He found out that both of these judges were men he had known growing up and they were more than happy to have him come and clerk for them. The justice center where he would be working was less than 3 miles from his parents’ home. He could stay there for free all summer.

We were both really excited when all the details of this summer work opportunity were hammered out. But then the reality of what it was going to mean for the kids and me started to trickle into my awareness. Me. Alone. With five kids. For 9 WEEKS. Yes, the thought of it was daunting, to say the least. I knew I could handle it, but I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to. What I knew I didn’t want was for Peter to be preoccupied with home and worry while he was trying to dazzle the judges in Utah. So, while I shared some of my concerns about the summer with Peter, I tried not to focus on the negatives. I didn’t complain or bemoan the situation. I think if I had known what was in store for me, I would have complained a LOT more.

Peter left shortly after he finished finals, the last week of May. The kids didn’t get out of school until the 5th of June, so my routine didn’t really change that much the first few weeks. I continued on with my regular schedule: chores, laundry, cooking, church, kids’ homework etc. I stayed pretty busy with all of their end-of-year events and activities. Honestly, being the wife of a 2nd year law student is pretty good training for being a single mother. J

Since I knew in advance we were doing this, I started scouring Pinterest in December for ideas for summer activities, homeschool material (I’ll blog about that later), and art projects. I had a huge bevy of material ready by the time Peter left and the kids and I hit the ground running.

For the first 4 weeks Peter was gone, I found myself thinking more than once, ‘Wow, this isn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be! I got this.’ I’m normally a total morning person. I get up very early and am super-productive until about 4 pm. By 6 pm, I hit a wall and am fairly useless for the rest of the night. But those first 4 weeks, I had energy to spare! I actually had to take a sleeping pill many nights just to get to sleep, which is unheard of for me. I also discovered who was making all the messes and eating all the food around here. The place was immaculate and we had leftovers running out our ears. J But I was really honestly amazed and how well things were going. I even found a gig watching a couple of extra kids (ages 8 and 12) during the week which put some much-needed cash in my pocket. I was feeling pretty much like Super-Mom.

Then, around mid-June, Peter came home for the weekend so we could baptize Nathan. It was a very special event for Nathan and all of our family. We were all so relieved to see Peter and happy to have him home, even if it was just for a couple of days. He drove all night so he could pop in early and surprise the kids. There were many tears of joy shed that morning by all of us. It was a great weekend!

After Peter’s visit, with 5 more weeks stretching out in front of us before we’d all be together again, things got more difficult. My energy started to wane. And by ‘wane’ I mean, completely disappear. I was exhausted from the minute I opened my eyes in the morning. The kids started to have some unpleasant behaviors which I’m certain were their way of expressing the feelings they didn’t have the words to verbalize. My potty-trained-for-months 3-year-old twins were suddenly peeing all over the place. Which doubled and sometimes tripled my laundry workload. The boys were picking at each other and getting pretty lippy with me. Their homeschooling work, which they’d been excited about and eager to do before, was now something they whined about incessantly.

I couldn’t figure out what to do to get things back on track. I racked my brain for what I was not doing or doing differently now. I continued to push on, not wanting to give up, but my phone calls with Peter became more and more negative as I had a hard time being positive about anything. I could hear concern in Peter’s voice. He felt helpless because he was so far away and I felt guilty that I was burdening him like I was when there was nothing he could really do to help. We kept going, having our good days and bad days, until I threw in the towel and limped down to Utah with the kids a week earlier than planned, exhausted and completely spent.

Now that we’re home and I can look back over the experience objectively, I can see where I went wrong. The first half of this experience I was on my knees a lot, asking for help and guidance… I got a little cocky when things were going so well. I thought I was doing such a great job, I was really keeping things together. As I relied less and less on the Lord and looked more and more to myself, I was like a drowning person who, when thrown a life ring, decides after a few minutes of holding on that they really can swim out on their own and heads out foolishly into the riptide. What was I thinking?! I can’t think of the exact scripture right now, but it goes something like, “Lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths.” I think they should have added, “Sarah” to the end of that. I seem to get sucked into this every time I am going through challenges. Why do I think that when things are going right, I am the sole cause, but when things are going wrong I get on my knees and beg the Lord for help? It’s made me a lot more aware that the good things in my life are there because they have been bestowed upon me by God. And the challenges are there because they have been bestowed on my by the same God.  To teach me, to smooth off the rough spots on me. To hopefully make me more like Him. Thirty-five years on practice and I still seem to get it wrong nearly every time! It’s a good thing the Lord is patient.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Invisible Mom?

About a month ago was Mother’s Day. Ugh. I really dread Mother’s Day, not because I don’t love being a mother; I really dislike it because it’s honestly a really disappointing day for me. I have a wonderful husband who has so many good qualities I can’t even list them all here, but ‘makes-a-big-deal-out-of-Mother’s-Day’ is not one of them. My five lovely children have inherited this from him as well. Don’t get me wrong, they all have good intentions, but this last Mother’s Day was fairly standard. I got up at the same time (early), made the same breakfast for everyone (cereal), got myself and the kids ready for church, and away we went with almost no fanfare. Dare I say, I’ve never had breakfast in bed in my life.

I was feeling pretty unappreciated this Mother’s Day. As the day continued on my dear husband made dinner (I had chosen a recipe in his skill level and purchased the requisite ingredients the day before), and I opened a cute homemade keychain that my Nathan had made in school. It was my only gift that day. No card, no flowers, no breakfast in bed. I seethed a little as I saw a few women in church wearing a fresh corsage, read more than one flowery description of Mother’s Day breakfast on Facebook, and viewed friends sporting a new handbag or blouse. I knew that we didn’t have lots of disposable income for fancy gifts, and that’s not really what I wanted or expected. I just would have liked someone, anyone, to put pen to paper and just say ‘thanks, mom.’ Is that really so much to ask?

When I think back to Mother’s Day when I was a kid, my mom had similar requests. Usually her big one was “Please don’t fight all day.” We typically tried for a few hours, then by the time breakfast in bed was over, we were back to our old antics. All in all, it was another disappointing Mother’s Day. I went to bed feeling completely invisible.

Oddly enough, a couple of days later my sister brought over a book for me to deliver to my own mother on an upcoming visit to my parents’ house. It was called “The Invisible Woman” and it was written by Nicole Johnson, a Christian writer for women. My sister has a copy of this book that she lent me a couple of months back but after I got a few pages in I was so depressed by it that I stopped. Now, already feeling a bit depressed and wanting to marinate in it a little, I picked it up and began to read.

It follows a woman, Charlotte, who has 2 sons and a husband and feels like she’s completely invisible.  A friend gives her a book about the great cathedrals of Europe and, at first, Charlotte can’t see why her friend would think that this book was applicable to her, but as she reads she discovers the meaning. When men were building the great cathedrals, they did their absolute best work, they carved intricate patterns and statues in places that were never going to be visible to anyone in the cathedral, or anyone outside either. When asked why they were expending so much energy on things no one would ever see, the response was “But God will see.
Now, the woman in the book really needed to teach her kids a thing or two on gratitude and how to say thank-you, for sure. But the point really hit home for me. Do I need thanks, and cards, and flowers, and breakfast in bed one Sunday in May to make me feel appreciated? Do I need all the effusive flattery and thanks to motivate me to do my very best with my children and husband each day? Sometimes, yes J but that is my ‘natural man’ (or woman) peeking through. I didn’t have children so I could parade my family around for the adoration, I had children to serve and grow and build an eternal unit with my husband.

So, since I finished the book, I’ve kept those themes in mind. Rather than expecting thanks and praise, I am trying to remember that everything I do to serve and love my family is a prayer to my Heavenly Father. Every pb & j I make, every nose I wipe, and meal I prepare, and crumb I wipe up; every article of clothing I wash, skinned knee I bandage, and shoe I tie is something I’m doing not for recognition, but for love. As a thanks to my Heavenly Father for the gift and privilege of being a mother and of having these precious souls in my life.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

We Never Know the End from the Beginning

I thought, now that the initial emotion of the situation is over, to add an update to my last post. It has been an incredibly difficult month and one that I am glad is over. I have never thought of myself as a particularly naïve person. I’ve been around the block in more ways than one. But these last few weeks have shown me that maybe I’m a lot more naïve than I thought I was.

Our two ‘inherited’ daughters are gone from our house. It is a long and complicated story, but the condensed version is this: after YEARS (literally) of inactivity, CPS sprang to action about 4 weeks ago. The girls were formally removed from their mother’s custody. Although we had been told differently on many occasions by a few different social workers, the girls were both split up and sent to different homes. In spite of their patronizing explanations, their smug and condescending looks, I have bouts of nearly-uncontrollable anger when speaking with the social workers involved. They had turned me into a liar in the eyes of the girls. I had always told them that if they were honest and spoke up, that I would protect them and that they could stay with us. Now, they are apart and alone.

The way the ‘dominoes’ fell, the older daughter left us on a Wednesday and her little sister left us on the following Friday. All weekend long, my husband and I struggled with our own grief and consoling our children, who were afraid that the social worker would come to take them next. My husband is a tough guy; I’ve only seen him cry a handful of times in the nearly 12 years that we’ve been together. But he cried for hours that week. He still seems sad a lot. The girls’ absence has left a gaping wound in our family that I’m not sure will ever completely heal.

I’ve really thought a lot since then, about what the Lord would have me learn from this whole experience. It’s been a struggle. My faith has wavered more than once. I have been driven to my knees in sadness so great I wondered how I could ever be happy again. I think it’s really hard for reasonable people who are trying to do what’s right, to see things turn out so wonky. Reasonable people expect reason to prevail. We expect right to win. I guess that’s where my naïveté’ showed through. The real world is harsh and people are fairly unforgiving, generally speaking. I’m not trying to be pessimistic, but that’s what I’ve learned.

But, I have also learned about the capacity inside me to love. I love these two girls just like they are my own daughters. I love them to the point I would lay down my own life for them. They are my heart and soul, just like the children I bore myself. Loving anyone like that is a calculated risk: the more you love, the more it can hurt. If you ask my oldest son, he’ll tell you that family isn’t just the people who are your brothers and sisters; family is about the people who God sends into your life to love you. In that way, they are my daughters too. Just as literally as if I had given birth to them myself.

We’ve been able to keep in fairly regular contact with the older daughter. She is struggling, much more than we are I’m sure. I feel such guilt that I wasn’t able to deliver on my promises to her. I hope she knows that if it were under my control, she’d be here safely tucked under my wing with the rest of my chicks. The younger daughter went back to her mother yesterday. It’s, again, a long story, but I doubt if I will ever have the opportunity to see her again. I hope that she will remember us. But, I will think of her, of them both, and worry about them forever. I will pray for their happiness and safety every day. I have to believe that the Lord has them in His hands. That He will watch over and protect them, even when no one else will. I have to believe that He knows what is in the future for all of us, that He can see the end AND the beginning. I have to believe and I DO believe that His will will always come to pass, even if it takes longer than my mortal heart would like.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Other People's Children...

This is probably not the best day for me to be writing this post, or maybe it’s the perfect day. Sundays are rough… between getting kids up and dressed for church, to church on time, behaving through 3 hours of church, and then having them get along at home together for the rest of the day. Yes, Sundays are rough. Today, particularly so. I guess that’s beside the point though.

Most of you know that I have five young children, 4 boys and 1 girl. When my oldest son, Brandon, was a baby I had an experience that profoundly changed the way I thought about children. I was watching a news magazine (Dateline, or 20/20 or something like that) about foster children. It was heartbreaking. I will never forget the profile of a 12-year-old boy who was living with his elderly grandmother after being shuttled through 5 or 6 foster homes when his mother went to prison. The boy was sad, lonely, shy, withdrawn and had never been hugged in his life. I don’t know why this affected me so much, but it did. I thought of my own son. Being a new mother, the intensity of the feelings I had for my own child were new to me. I was absolutely and profoundly in love with him, committed to him, desperate for his happiness and health in a way that scared me at times. While I was watching this little boy on television, it was apparent that no one had ever felt those feelings for this child. The injustice of it haunted me. And then, something amazing happened. I imagined my own little boy as this one. I imagined what if some mistake had been made in Heaven and my child had been send to this other home (or one like it) where he was never hugged, loved, cherished, doted on, taught, disciplined or worried about.

The thought nearly crushed me with its’ sadness. Why was my son so lucky, so blessed? He had a mother and father who were married, who loved him, who would do anything to ensure that he was happy and well cared for. Growing up, I naively assumed that most parents loved their children like my parents loved me. Boy was I wrong. I have come to know that the home I grew up in and the home I strive to provide for my children is the exception rather than the rule. “Normal” is a term that has lost all weight and meaning.

After I watched this program, I talked to my husband at length about it. It was difficult for me to get my feelings across to him because I was so emotional about it. We promised each other then, that when our children were a little older, we would become foster parents. Since then, it’s something I’ve thought about often and looked forward to. A large part of the reason we chose to go to law school is so we can provide for foster children without having to rely on the state supplement. As soon as law school is over and we are settled somewhere, we plan on going through the training and beginning immediately.

Over the last 4 months or so, we’ve become acquainted with a 17-year-old girl and her 5-year-old sister. The older sister babysat for us a few times and the family was members of our church, though they rarely attended. I won’t go in to the particulars of their situation other than to say, Mom is single and struggling and has untreated mental health issues and both girls have absent fathers. As the months have gone by, these girls have spent more and more time in our home. We’re to the point now where they are both living with us more than half the time. Mom rarely calls to check on them or inquire about their welfare. The younger of the girls calls Peter ‘daddy’ and my boys are her ‘brothers.’ They each have their own bed, toothbrush and chores at our home. Despite their difficult upbringing, they are remarkably well-behave and loving girls. But I fear for them in the future. Child Protective Services have been notified, but it’s a frustrating bureaucracy with no real power to do anything to better the lives of kids, at least here in the state where we live. On the rare night when the girls are not at our house, I worry about them constantly. Are they safe? Warm? Happy? My heart breaks for them as they are continually disappointed by their own mother’s disinterest in them. It’s a difficult situation for them and for us; they don’t have any real stability going back and forth between our home and their mother. It’s difficult for our family to have them come and go and worry about them when they’re gone. On more than one occasion we’ve had to interrupt family events or outings to run and get them. The kids sometimes feel possessive of us as their parents, our time and our attention. I have been in uncomfortable positions as friends and acquaintances familiar with what’s going on have gushed about what an awesome person I am to do this.

So. Please, please, please if you see me at church or the store or anywhere else, don’t tell me what a great person I am for taking them in. Don’t tell me I’m a great human being for being the mom these girls need and don’t have. Don’t compliment me on my ‘selflessness’ or ‘service.’ I am a regular human being just like you. But I’ve been given a rare insight from my Heavenly Father: the ability to see other’s children, ANY children, as my own. It’s an insight that’s available to any and all of us if we ask for it and can open our hearts to receive it. Please, don’t tell me I’m some great person, because I’m not. I am just doing the least of what our Father in Heaven expects us to do for His little ones.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My Kids Are Awesome

                My kids are awesome.  They are funny, talented, caring, intelligent, and they are great little buddies for almost anything I want to do.  As I sit here, wrapped in a blanket in the middle of a frozen January, I am already starting to compile a list of things I want to do with them this summer.  Last summer was epic for us.  It was the first summer of my life that I was a stay-at-home mom and I didn’t have much else to occupy me other than mothering.  Peter was doing a legal externship with the city attorney 45 miles from our house, which left the kids and I by ourselves for around 10 hours a day.  I was determined to not let this time slink by, spending hours in front of the television or busied with Legos.

                As soon as school was out, we made a list of things we wanted to do.  Most afternoons, we headed to a local school and took advantage of ‘lunch in the park,’ a federal program that provides a free lunch to any kid under 18 years old.  No paperwork.  No ‘qualifying.’ No kidding.  It was the best.  We’d run our errands in the morning, and by the time we were done we’d swing over to the school playground.  The kids would eat, I would chat with other moms, the kids would play on the playground until they were good and tired and then we’d head home, exhausted, for naps.  There were never fights over who was going to sit in what chair, who wanted their sandwich cut in triangles instead of rectangles, and there was no mess to clean up afterward!  I loved it.

                We also learned basic American Sign Language together.  We had become acquainted with the Signing Time DVDs when Andrew was in speech therapy.  When the Signing Time website had a sale, I snatched up 6 of the DVD’s and we watched them pretty regularly all summer.  By the time school started, most of my kids could communicate with some fluency using ASL.  It opened a lot of conversations too, like how everyone is different, that some people have ears (or eyes, or legs etc.) that don’t work like theirs, that it changes the way they speak if their hearing is impaired.  My 7-year-old also had a light bulb moment when he was told that people who are hearing impaired aren’t ‘death,’ they are ‘deaf.’ J

                I started cooking with my kids a lot.  Each of my older boys had a night of the week when they got to help plan and prepare dinner.  It was pretty exciting for them, especially little Ian, my budding chef.  It helped them learn about the food groups, the way food looks, food safety (no we don’t cut the tomatoes for the salad on the same cutting board we used for cutting the raw chicken!), and general kitchen safety.  They also learned how to read a recipe and fractions (we double A LOT of recipes!)  At my birthday Sunday, I received a citrus reamer from my 5-year-old.  He knew I needed one. J

                We went to most of the movies in the children’s summer cinema series.  Our local schools partner with a theater and offer a series of 8 childrens’ movies (all older movies) for $5.  They were on weekday mornings, concessions were cheaper, and the kids always had fun.  It was a good opportunity to start to introduce the twins to ‘movie theater behavior.’  It was rough at first; trying to get them to not run all over the theater, but the winter series just started last Saturday and they didn’t budge for the entire movie!  Success!

                Again, I have to sing the praises of Pinterest. J  I found a ton of simple kid-level science experiments to do with basic household items.  We usually did one a week and usually on a really hot day when you couldn’t really play outside.  We made ‘elephant toothpaste,’ dissolved the shell off an egg, made our own bouncy balls with Elmer’s school glue and borax, and wasted a few dollars on the thrill of some Mentos in Diet Coke (if you don’t know what I’m talking about here, head outside with some and see for yourself!)

                All in all, it was an awesome summer.  When my kids were babies, it was hard to imagine a day when I would be able to do fun things with them, carry on a conversation with them, or even sleep through the blasted night!  But now that it’s upon me, I can see how every stage of parenting has its’ own downside and its’ own rewards.  Do I have any babies to snuggle and hold anymore, a little one who is just discovering the world and how it works?  No.  But I do have kids who laugh, run, play, are excited to learn, always want to have fun and know a ton of good knock-knock jokes.

                A couple of months ago, I was standing wearily in the grocery store check-out line.  It was nearly the end of a long day and the kids were being loud.  The babies were fussing a little in the cart, the big boys were asking for candy in the line, Nathan was telling jokes and Brandon and Ian were cackling hysterically… the typical grocery store bit.  There were a couple of young 20-something girls behind us, eyeing the kids, waving to the babies and talking to each other.  After we checked out and were crossing the parking lot to the car, the big boys hopped on the sides of the cart and said, “Run, MOM!”  I smiled, and took off at a full run, my cart weighted down by groceries and five kids yelling, “Faster, FASTER!”  As we hit the speed bump, the cart bucked satisfactorily.  We finished making our way to the van.  I loaded in kids and groceries and took the cart to the corral a few parking spaces away.  Parked next to it were the same two girls who had been behind us in line.  The one in the driver’s seat opened her door, got out and ran over to me.  Breathlessly, she cried, “Your kids are AWESOME!”  I smiled, “I know!  I’m so lucky!”