After a solid week of rain, both children and dog were in need of some serious outside time and running around. Saturday turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous day, so we loaded up said children and dog, grabbed some lunch and headed to Mooney Grove park for a few hours. These are the days I live for. . .
We made cinnamon rolls today (and some stew--between the baking bread, the smell of stew and the cozy, warm, clean house and the torrents of rain outside, I'm just about ready for hibernation).
I grew up thinking I loved cinnamon rolls. As I got older and started trying other people's cinnamon rolls and store bought cinnamon rolls, I discovered it was actually that I liked my mom's cinnamon rolls. This is one of the things she baked fairly regularly, and it seemed to frequently be raining when she did, so as we were growing up the joke became, "Hey, mom, its raining. Are you going to make cinnamon rolls today?" Most cinnamon rolls are far, far too sweet for me. Too sweet and sticky and gooey and soggy. So if you're a Cinnabon fan, these aren't your thing (and Cinnabon is not mine!). But if you like bread first and foremost, with a little sugar and cinnamon to give it a little sweet and a little flavor, these are right up your alley. I love them. Nothing fancy, just some good old fashioned roll dough and a bit of brown sugar, butter and cinnamon. Comfort food.
Meet Princess Kylie McBossyPants, of the Land of Mine. This is how she looked at me after I told her she could not have any more toothpaste (which she considers a snack food). She has most definitely hit toddlerdom. She went through a brief phase (a few weeks) where any time anyone told her "no" or "don't", she would stick out her fat, pouty lip and then burst into tears. When that stopped getting enough attention for anyone to comfort her, let alone give her what she wanted, she gave up on it and moved on to glaring and scowling, which she is bizarrely good at for such a young child. She does have a very strong bossy streak, but she usually figures out very quickly just how far that will get her and changes her approach, so I still have hope.
I started this particular blog for very specific reasons a couple of years ago. I was maintaining a blog on my MySpace page, but felt a need to move to this blog, which has a decidedly different tone than that one did. Suffice it to say I felt prompted to make some of the moves that I did.
I blog for a lot of the same reasons that everyone else does: to keep far away friends and family (and even some of the closer ones) up to date on what's going on in my family, and to serve as a more in-the-moment family journal, as I write quite a lot for myself, but have been somewhat slack about maintaining a more general family record off-line. But I write for other reasons, too.
I can't tell you how many times since starting this blog I have received comments, emails, phone calls, etc., saying things like, "I felt like you wrote that for me" or "This is exactly what I needed to hear today" or, my personal favorite, "I felt like you were chastising me", always when the person sending the message had never even entered my thoughts when I wrote my post.
I think of myself as a unique person (and, yes, I prefer "unique" to "weird", the favorite of my friends and family members) and I am a distinct, individual soul separate from every other person out there, but the simple fact is that most of my experiences are not all that unique. Most of my struggles and successes are very similar to most everyone else. For all our individual differences, the vast majority of human beings share a great deal in common. So I use my own experiences, what I'm going through at the moment or have gone through in the past, as a jumping off point, as an example to help make what I'm writing about more real and personal, but I try to speak primarily in principles. I have no need to maintain a blog for my own sake. I write to maintain my sanity, but I am perfectly happy (and, in fact, usually much prefer) to do so away from the public eye. My hope is that if I am willing to expose a little bit of myself in order to discuss the principles that affect us all, perhaps those experiences and my (at times feeble) ability to relate those experiences and the insight I gain from them can help someone else going through something similar. I generally weigh what I write very carefully before I post, considering all the people that could possibly read it. And those of you who are long time, consistent readers know that I am the queen of the "disappearing post". Sometimes something is up for only 10 minutes before I decide that maybe it isn't the wisest thing to put out there for the world to see, or maybe on the off chance that Person X might read it and it would be unnecessarily hurtful or uncomfortable for them. What we say and write, the words we choose, the order we put them in and how and where we say them matters. Too often, particularly in the internet age, people are unwilling to take responsibility for the effects of their words. As long as I can remember, I have loved words and been tremendously sensitive, and so I have been very conscious of the effects of my own words in my better moments.
I know that when I do it right and for the right reasons, I can move people. Some of the things I have written here have already ranged far wider and affected more people than I ever would've guessed. The Lord has blessed me with certain talents, and I am finally developing enough humility to recognize that and use those talents in the ways that He directs me to, even if it means living one small piece of my life always outside my comfort zone.
This is my new Friday ritual, because I just decided right now that it should be.
Yesterday morning I went to the dentist (that's not my good news, though that's pretty good news, too. No more temporary fillings covering precious, precious root canals). That means that Kylie and Dylan went to auntie Amanda's house for a couple of hours. Kylie did her usual no-holds-barred screaming, pathetic cry as I left. But she stopped. For the better part of two hours she was content and played happily knowing I was gone. Major progress, people.
Need I remind you that this was the baby who cried when I handed her to a stranger at 2 months old? The kid who cried pretty much the whole time I was gone at 3 months old? The child that has been only willing to be cared for by myself or her daddy and none else?
I'm not generally one to spend my time justifying or explaining myself to others (an odd comment coming from someone who blogs regularly, but that is not the intent of my posts). I long ago let go of most of my concern for what others think of me or my decisions. I still care how they feel for their sake, but not usually because of how it affects me (as with anything, I am not perfect in this respect. I have my moments). Sometimes, however, I do feel like I need to make a statement regarding who I am, or want to be.
This one may seem a bit odd. I won't delve into the particulars, though I imagine there will be some who understand why I feel pushed to write it.
My family is the "Clark family". My kids are the "Clark kids". We are "the Clarks". What that means to me is. . .
adventure. It means people who like to go exploring at the drop of a hat, whether that means spending 20 minutes or 10 hours in the car or on foot. We love to get out and do stuff.
fun-loving. Good-natured teasing, playful flirtation and happy, loving affection define our daily habits of interacting with each other in our home.
energy. It means intense, wonderful personalities all more than not successfully nurturing and taking interest in each other's diverse interests and talents.
communication. It means usually understanding each other pretty well, and taking time to make the effort to get patiently, calmly and lovingly through the rough patches where we're not understanding someone. It means some hard conversations between parent and child, child and child, or husband and wife, but overall very little angry yelling, sad sulking, or neglectful ignoring.
striving. It means recognizing that our Creator blesses all of us with individual talents and it means appreciating those gifts, rather than hiding them or boasting about them. It means trying to find the best ways to make the most of those gifts in order to serve Him and our family, friends and loved ones. It means recognizing that there's always someone better than you, but that that should give you something to strive for, something to be inspired by, to remind you that you can always grow a little more.
animal lovers. Whether it means our little girl snuggled up with the cat, our son hugging the dog, or daddy trying to find a way to get a horse, we are a family that loves creatures and critters big and small.
content but not complacent. It means a family full of people who generally lack much envy, but who always have goals.
devotion. Doug has a lot of friends, I have a lot of friends, and both our oldest children have a lot of friends, but the people we spend by far the most amount of time with, who we speak with the most honestly and openly, who we feel closest to and comfortable with, are each other. Loyalty, in thought, word and deed, is of the highest importance in our home. I hope that we can maintain that closeness as our children grow older and have more interests/friends pulling them in a thousand different directions. I hope that the balance of individual freedom and coupled devotion in our marriage will set an example and tone for the rest of the relationships in our family as our children grow.
kids. It means focus on babies and children, and, eventually, teenagers--focus on teaching and loving. I spend 90% of my life with people under 6, and I couldn't be happier. Doug admittedly struggles with patience with most people, and I've decided its because he saves all of it for his children--they are the lucky offspring of a man who is patient, attentive, affectionate and playful with them. Every decision we make always factors in "How will this affect the kids? What will it teach them?" Though we often struggle with it with others, our hearts are soft toward our children. Ours is a home where all children are welcome, and extras are often found hanging about.
gratitude. It means a house where most prayers have more, "We thank thee"s than "We ask thee"s. It means recognizing that we have been tremendously blessed, and focusing on that instead of the few trials that come our way. When we went to Disneyland for Doug's birthday, Keilana was pretty whiny the day before, getting ready. I said, "Keilana, should I just leave you here? You're a pretty lucky girl to get to go Disneyland. You should be happy." The day after we got home, I thanked her for being such a good girl on the trip (its pretty amazing that any 5 year old would spend 12 hours on her feet and not whine once). She shrugged her shoulders and then said with some enthusiasm, "Thanks for taking me to Disneyland!" Most of the time, they're both pretty good with the "thanks you"s.
There are many other things that define us as a family, of course. And we have many flaws, too, both as individuals and as a group, but I think its more productive to work on the flaws without dwelling on them. Miserable people always remind themselves how they're failing. Happy people recognize failures, address them and find joy in their little victories. As a very wise woman once said, "Ideals are something to strive for, not beat ourselves over the head with."
My sis-in-law and I are planning a baby shower for my other sis-in-law, who is having identical twin boys. Just looking for any thoughts on decorations, games, favors, food, etc., that I haven't already seen/done 9,867 times (and if goes well with a twin theme, so much the better). Send bright ideas my way via comment/Facebook/emails. Please!!
Last night after my workout, I took the long way out of the building. I went out the doors on the second floor and walked out and looked over the soccer fields below. I wandered down the stairs and watched the soccer practice going on for one of the league teams, and looked up at the huge banners hanging down next to the giant sequoia tree. They are logos for two of the semi-pro teams that play at McDermont. Doug designed both the logos, and they're fantastic. I was thinking to myself that it was so cool to have some of what is essentially his artwork so prominently displayed, and then I remembered where I was standing.
McDermont and the city have been such a huge and often overwhelming and stressful part of our lives that sometimes for a little while I forget. Doug designed pretty much that whole facility. Much of it came from Scot's vision, but before it ever existed, Doug conceptualized it in his mind and then modeled it on his computer. I walked through Building C, visually, before they ever even poured the footings. That's both an incredible talent and an amazing opportunity to use it. I know that 99.5% of the people who step foot in that building will never have any idea who Doug is or what he did, or even that he exists. As it is now, half the staff members don't know him. But I know what he put into that and to see something that he created come to life (through the hard work and creative efforts of a lot of other people), is sort of an astonishing thing and an opportunity a lot of people never get in life.
I hope he gets many more opportunities in this life to use his amazing talents for good purposes, but even if McDermont is the only opportunity he gets, I'll still be grateful for those talents. I wish I wouldn't let stresses get in the way of my gratitude.
The manual for RS/Priesthood this year is Gospel Principles. The first lesson is "Our Heavenly Father", about the nature of who God is and His relationship to us. That's something I've thought about quite a lot the last few years.
The prophets and General Authorities have for years counseled young people in the Church not to put off marriage, and once being married not to put off having children. Even before I was married or had any kids, I assumed a big part of the reason for that is that the longer you go along in life having only yourself to worry about/take care of, the easier it is to become prone to habits of selfishness and/or short-sightedness. When you have someone else whose happiness and (in the case of a child) overall well-being depends so heavily on you, on your choices and actions, it leaves a lot less wiggle room for selfishness and you must think more carefully through your actions and what the consequences may be, intended and unintended. The stakes are higher, if you will.
I still think that's true, and is part of the reason for that counsel from our leaders. But something I didn't consider as much before I had kids (at least not as consciously) is how much better you understand who God is and what your relationship with Him ought to be like after you become a parent. Its significant to me that the title of that lesson wasn't "The Nature of God" or something along those lines. It was "Our Heavenly Father". As you experience the ups and downs of parenting and the joy of loving your children, you come to better understand what it means to have heavenly parents, and how much they love you. My relationship with my Heavenly Father has grown tremendously since becoming a mother 5 1/2 years ago and not just because the challenges of raising kids drive you to seek more help, but because I understand better how He sees and feels about me, because of the love I feel for my children.
I watch my five-year-old. She's learning so rapidly and growing so fast. Right now, she's so young she doesn't have a very good grasp of what her own strengths and weaknesses are yet, but she's old enough that most of them are quite apparent to me. I know her better than she knows herself right now, and I can imagine quite easily where she's going to have struggles (and successes) at 13, 18 and 25, so how I address certain behaviors, attitudes and personality quirks is shaped by a future she can't possibly imagine yet. Consequently, the things I ask of her don't always make sense to her five year old brain, and yet I am constantly amazed by the complete trust she puts in me by being obedient. She doesn't always understand, but she does believe that I love her and am trying to help. That's enough for her.
I've been trying to emulate her trust, because I am more confident than ever that I have a Father who loves me, who knows me better than I know myself and can see the bumps down the road that I can't see. So sometimes He asks me to do things that don't make sense to me at the moment, and it is much easier than it used to be to simply trust that He knows best and wants only good things for me.
Keilana loves to confront physical challenges, to learn how to do new things. When she was first learning to go across monkey bars she would want me to hold onto her legs so that she learned the motions for her hands. She grew stronger and more confident and let me inch away. She still had a lot of falls, and it was pretty painful to fall from those high monkey bars, but she knew that I was there. She knew I wasn't going to catch her every time, so she was going to take some hard falls and get some painful bruises, but she knew I'd be right there, ready to comfort her and help her get on her feet again and back to the top. She persisted, with me kissing a lot of owies and picking her up again and again until she'd made enough progress to do it on her own.
That experience kept coming to mind the last two weeks. My lessons the past two Sundays with the youth have been on the Plan of Salvation. I thought, "This is what sets us apart. This is what makes what we know so much different than others." As I looked at this marvelous plan, diagrammed out so nicely, it was so clear that here was the portrait of a loving, kind and patient parent. He doesn't send us down here, knowing how hard its going to be, let us muddle through and then if you're 51% good you go to Heaven and if you're 51% bad, you're out of luck. Two sons came forward and said, "Here am I, send me". One of them said he'd stand there and hold our legs the whole time. Sure, we'd never fall, but we'd also never learn to cross those monkey bars ourselves. But the other Son said, "Its OK, you can try it on your own. I know you're going to fall, but I'll make up the difference. I'll be standing there to pick you up, comfort you and get you on your feet again." And a loving Father, knowing full well what it would cost, gave us that opportunity. And He didn't stop there. He knew some would pass through this life without having the opportunity to know Him, or would have the opportunity but wouldn't recognize it. So He extended that period of probation and organized a way for all His children to be taught and to progress. And even at the great judgement bar He offers one last chance for Redemption. And then you are rewarded with a kingdom that suits your level of righteousness and progression. So few of His children are truly, completely cast out.
So many pieces of that truth were lost, and so much confusion ensued about and throughout Christianity. But here is the complete plan, which testifies so marvelously of how deep and forgiving and patient is our Father's love for us. Here is the plan of a parent who treasures each of His children and does all He can to ensure their success and happiness. He lets us take our bumps and bruises so that we can learn, but He never leaves us without a way to find comfort, strength, understanding, and redemption.
It is not natural for me to ask for help. In fact, its quite opposite my nature. But I am much more willing to do so than I once was, because I know how willing--and not just willing, but anxious--I am to help my own children. All that I ask is that they ask me nicely and show a little appreciation now and then. Sound familiar?
I was told I send "mixed messages" about my, um, oh let's say "family planning". I have often said I'd like to have a big family, and have even remarked on many occasions that I'll be the chick that ends up with 12 kids just because I really like babies. On the other hand, I've made a lot of jokes about how I'm done now, and we can just stop at three kids. I'm not sure why anyone would really care what our plans are, but let me set the record straight a bit.
I would love to have a really big family--I absolutely would. I mean, like 8, 9, or even 10 kids. I would do that and I'd love it. Oh sure, it'd been insanely intense and I'd be a haggard old woman by 40, but I'd love it. I love kids and I love big families. If I'd done things the way I wanted, Kylie would've been born more than a year earlier than she was, we'd have a fourth kid already and would likely be gearing up for number 5 (alas! the Lord had other plans, and now I see why).
At this point, I don't know how large our family will be (likely not 8 or 10). We're both pretty darned sure that there are at least two more coming at some point. After that, its hard to say because we just don't know yet. Here's the problem: kids are expensive. I don't even have a problem scraping by our whole lives because we've got a large family. I don't care if I never have a fancy house or nice things or travel much; people never seem to believe me when I say that, but I really don't care (of course I'd love to have all that, but its just no big deal if I don't). And I trust that if we accepted the responsibility of all those children, the Lord would ensure we had the means to provide for them. What I don't trust is our ability to develop the self-discipline necessary to stretch those means to care for a large family. Maybe as I develop better financial management skills, I'll develop that confidence.
But here's the bigger problem (and this really is a really big deal for me, even though I know it sounds ridiculous to a lot of people): once you get past six kids, you have to either spread them way out, age-wise (and I much prefer them all scrunched closely together--I feel like the almost 3 year gap between Dylan and Kylie is huge), or you have to take two cars every time everybody goes together. Or (this I hate almost as much) you have to get a ginormous vehicle, like a 12 or 15 seater van.
So there you have it. My biggest obstacle to a gigantic family is transportation. Call me selfish, but there it is.
About a year and a half ago, I took a line from a little-sung Christmas song and tried to make it my personal motto:
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.
Since then, there have been times I've done better than others. As a whole, I think I've been become better at peacemaking as a lifestyle. Where I have undoubtedly struggled with it most is with my in-laws, who have had the misfortune of seeing more of the worst of me and less of the best of me than just about anyone else in my life. But since I have the good fortune of having in-laws who love me in spite of that, I'm getting better with them, too ('cause, really, they are pretty awesome, all in all). I have not been great about that in the last few months, but I've been better in the last two weeks than I have in a long, long time.
So I want to add to that resolution, in hopes of continuing success in that personal progress. And I admit that I'm ripping off another song lyric to do it. For 2010, the idea that I'd like to apply to my life is:
With my own two hands
That encompasses all the things I want to accomplish this year so well. I want to learn to knit (seriously, for lack of time, money, space, energy, you-name-the-excuse, I have horribly neglected my own skills and talents in some ways in recent years). I want to practice photography more and take the time to apply the knowledge I've accumulated (and accumulate more knowledge) to get it right and get the pictures I want, rather than doing things haphazardly and getting almost the picture I want. I want to brush up on my writing, rather than always waiting until I'm exhausted to put pen to paper. I want to get more consistent with family home evening, and finally have a clear game plan on how to do that. I want to get better at reaching out to people--about stepping outside of myself to take the first step. That is not something that comes naturally to me, and it is something at which I quite frequently fail. I'm not always very good at reaching back when someone else takes the first step, frankly.
I know that's a lot to bite off in one year. But none of these things are 12-month skills, they're all lifetime goals. I just want to start doing better this year, because I finally have a clear picture of what I want, how to get there, and what my personal weaknesses and obstacles are in the way of those things--and most importantly, I finally have a clear picture of how to get over those obstacles and the confidence to do it.
What happens in my life and who I become are on me. Not my parents, friends, husband or kids. So I want to start making my little world (and, hopefully, the big, big world as a result) a little bit better, with my own two hands.
"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so."
~One of the many brilliant writers at Pixar
"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out howthe strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
to all the teenagers, young adults and preteens out there:
skinny jeans look good on almost no one.
If you are male or even 3 pounds overweight, you can be guaranteed they look horrendous on you. So don't try. Its just not good. Please, for the sake of my retinas, let go of this ridiculous trend. And the saggy pants thing, while we're at it. I mean, come on, if you're a guy it must be uncomfortable to have those low riders sitting where they do, let's be honest. And every time I see one of you dressed like that I want to stop and pull your pants down. I refrain because I assume since you are intentionally showing the whole world most of your boxers, you wouldn't care anyway.
On the other hand, walking home in the cold, misty fog after a 35 minute run, just sweaty enough to make that fog bite a little bit, but still hot enough that that bite feels fantastically refreshing--while listening to a favorite song--makes the world seem like a pretty perfect place. Even if it is filled with foolish teenager wearing skinny jeans and baggy pants. What's wrong with clothes that actually fit?
Do you have anyone in your life that you maintain a very friendly relationship with, and even love very much, but below the surface there's actually a huge chasm between you? And furthermore, because you maintain a friendly relationship and love them very much, they're mostly unaware of the chasm, or just think its a little crack?
Have you ever had a moment with that person where you said just the right thing about just the right subject to cause a small landslide, forcing them to look down and take notice? All of a sudden they're like, "Oh, hey look! Chasm!" and you're standing there thinking, "Oh, I know, friend. I've always known." You're only about five feet apart, so they never noticed the separation before--just overlooked that gaping crevasse that makes you darn near unreachable to each other. Once you both know the chasm is there, you can do one of two things: you can build a bridge and cross it so that the closeness that you thought was there really can be there, or you can continue to walk parallel paths five feet apart, with a big crevasse in between. The latter is terribly frustrating, but it takes two to build that bridge.
Tonight my house is clean and dusted and mopped and scrubbed, the Christmas decorations are all put away and fasting has commenced. So I'm going to sit down, relax and try not to fall asleep while reading and thinking about how marvelous my life is.