Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Facing Reality

We don't have regular television.  We stream Netflix and Hulu, and so my husband and I have a handful of current shows we watch (things like Parks and Recreation and Downton Abbey), and we watch older sitcoms or shows sometimes (along the lines of Frasier, Scrubs, Magnum, P.I.). My kids have a pretty set list of shows they watch: Wild Kratts, My Little Pony, Justin Time, Bo on the Go, a few others.  We see, on average, a few dozen movies a year at home, mostly kid fare.  There's no regular radio in our house.  I listen to Pandora stations that I have created (country that is mostly old Cowboy music, a Billy Joel station that throws out some Beatles and the like, Classical Music [primarily Chopin], and a more current station that plays things like Adele, Josh Groban, Michael Buble, etc).  We stream our iTunes through the TV, so all that comes out is music that Doug and I have specifically purchased.

The result of all of this?  I (and, thankfully, my children) are largely out of the pop culture loop.  Due to headlines that I find deeply uninteresting, I am aware of the existence of people like Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, but I don't have any familiarity with their songs, much less their videos.  I find that people who make a point to stand out through outrageous behavior or dress don't generally have much of substance to offer, and so aren't worth paying much attention.

I was reading an article today by a favorite columnist, and she was referencing the Miley Cyrus song/VMA performance in order to make a bigger point about the state of our culture in general.  Finally, curiosity got the best of me, and I watched the music video.  I didn't find myself shocked and scandalized--its been obvious for most of my life that our culture was on a steady downhill slide, and the overt, promiscuous sexuality and rampant drug use/reference can hardly be called shocking anymore, even if its brashness increases--but I was caught off guard by the song and video's seeming self-awareness.

The lyrics, tempo, and minor key of the song itself were pathetically sad, but coupled with the imagery of the video, it was deeply depressing.  Two of the primary visuals of the video, together with the refrain "We can't stop" seemed to acknowledge its own emptiness.  A taxidermied sheep--dead, stuffed with fluff and doused in chemicals to stave off rot--stands surrounded by mirrors, to make it appear as though it is surrounded by similar creatures when it is, in fact, alone, wearing sunglasses to hide its dead eyes.  In another scene, the beautiful young girl at the center of this mess is in a swimming pool surrounded by beautiful people, and yet she seeks affection from a doll--a lifeless, wooden reflection of herself.

We can't stop.  As I watched the video, I wondered how many people are living such a life:  hopping from party to party, drug to drug or sexual encounter to sexual encounter, because if they stop, the veneer of happiness crumbles and they find themselves miserable and alone.  How many people are living a life so lacking in substance that they must keep themselves constantly physically stimulated in order to convince themselves that they're having fun and enjoying their lives?  How many people are conveying the message, intentionally or unintentionally, to children and teenagers that constant partying, and the attendant sexual degradation and recreational drug use, are fun?  People only need such things in life when they don't have deeper, more important things to build their lives around--things that give genuine, meaningful joy to life.

My kids are still pretty little, and so protecting them to this point has been easy--I have largely been able to control not just who they spend time with, but what media they are exposed to.  I have started to realize how much I loathe relinquishing some of the power to provide that protection, as my tween daughter starts talking about some of the music she has listened to with friends, or movies she has watched in other people's homes.  I haven't always been thrilled with what other parents--good parents, good people--allow their kids to watch, listen to and play.  I have started talking to my older kids very explicitly about what we do and don't watch, read, or listen to.  I have started talking to my oldest daughter (only 9!) about polite, unobtrusive ways to excuse herself or steer the choices in a different direction if her friends are watching or listening to something inappropriate.

So far, both my older kids have been receptive and happy to oblige.  I know a point will come when they will realize that they are more naive, innocent, or ignorant on some things than many of their classmates and friends.  I hope that they will be able, with our help, to appreciate the differences, but I know its much more likely that they will resent me for them.  There will be some pretty hard and fast rules about the media that is allowed in our home and on their musical and/or mobile devices, should they have any, and I imagine that there will be times when they will be angry toward us for that.  But that's why kids needs parents--as vital as I believe closeness and affection is to good parenting, kids already have lots of friends.  They need someone who has been there, done that, has the wisdom of experience and the perspective of age to guide them in making wise decisions--something they simply don't always have all the tools to do on their own yet.  Kids need someone in their lives who sincerely and consistently has their best interest at heart, and is willing to be uncomfortable themselves--including sometimes holding firm and allowing a child to be angry at them rather than cave in and give them what they think they want--in order to best serve their needs.  Yes, it may put you out of step with other parents a little, and it may put your kids a little out of step with their peers, and that's not a pleasant place for either of you to be.

But any parent who has watched the "We Can't Stop" video and seen Miley writhing around suggestively on, well, everything and everyone in sight should agree that there are worse things than your kids being a little more innocent and a little more naive than their peers.

Monday, August 26, 2013

First Day Thoughts

Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the love and support on my first day of school.  I've got the best people in my corner, seriously.  A few random thoughts:

1.  Classrooms are fun.  I love to learn, I always have.  I quit school 9 years ago so that my husband could go to grad school and start establishing a career (and so I could have more babies and have my family young:) ), but I never stopped my education.  I've done lots and lots of reading about all kinds of varied subjects over the last 10 years, and love striving to put pieces together into a comprehensive whole.  Most of the conversations I overheard between other non-traditional students today (have I mentioned that I don't talk to strangers?) revolved around learning how to learn again.  Thankfully, that's not an issue for me.  I have my parents and some very good teachers and professors to thank for that.  I forgot that college is so much easier than real life.  Books and labs and papers are nothing compared to the baptism-by-fire lessons we've been learning the last 7 or 8 years.  Especially since most of my classes revolve around science and math.  They still appeal to me for the same reasons they did a dozen years ago:  they are concrete, reasoned and sensible.  I like that something in life has fairly definitive answers.  If I can stay on top of the time management and logistics, it should be lots of fun.

2.  Standing in line at the bookstore for 40 minutes today surrounded by 18-20 year old males reminded me why I hated dating when I was young.  Bleh.

3.  When I was in school as an 18-year-old, I had neither a car nor a computer to call my own.  I really couldn't do school this time around without both of them, and I'm terribly grateful to have them.

4.  I am almost never alone in a car for more than 5 minutes at a time these days.  My reaction to having to drive anywhere is almost always, "Ugh, I hate driving."  I forgot what a pleasant thing it can be to drive alone.  Its only about a half an hour to and from school, but it was kind of awesome to be able to spend that time in total silence with my thoughts, or jamming to whichever music I choose, at whatever volume I prefer.  I think I might end up loving that commute instead of resenting it (though remind me I said that in February, when its dark and icy).

5.  There are many things I love about living in a time where technology is so advanced and so readily available.  One that is perhaps less "necessary" but one of my favorites is when my iPod is randomly jumping around on shuffle and one of my brothers' songs will come on, and suddenly there I am, driving down the road alone, singing along with my brothers.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Deep breath. . .

On Monday, I start school (I start a week before the older kids and two weeks before Head Start, but I think we've got the logistics worked out, thanks to some good friends).  I never wanted to do school full-time while I still had littles home during the day, or have an outside job while I still had kids at home, period.  Part of me keeps wanting to panic, but every time I pray about it, I feel calm and at peace--this is a good plan, time to get school done.  This semester and the next I will only be gone, including driving time, about 20 hours a week.  Nearly all of that time, the older kids will be in school, and the younger kids will be either at Head Start (in Kylie's case) or in the home of a good friend that I trust.

I have fallen into my old habit of trying to see/anticipate/plan for everything down the road for the next 5 years (and, believe me, I'm not good at that, but I keep doing it anyway), and my husband is thankfully here to remind me that we can take life one semester (or one week) at a time.  I'm trying to figure out how to navigate this semester while also trying to figure out what my schedule is three semesters from now.  I've got to slow down a bit.

Despite the logistical hurdles and the time demand, this semester should be pretty fun.  My science and math credits had expired, so I'm taking a human cadaver Anatomy and Physiology class again.  I enjoy learning, I enjoy being in a classroom with other people who enjoy learning, so I need to remember that and focus on it.

But, if I want to spend the drive to Butte crying once in a while, because I have to kiss my 2 1/2 year old and 4 1/2 year old goodbye, that's OK, too.  For the next 3 years, I'll have to drive to Butte and sit in a classroom or work in a lab for a few hours most days and do lots of homework when the kids are in bed, but hopefully after that I should be able to return nearly all of my time and focus to being with my kids and helping them to learn and develop (don't get me wrong, I don't plan on taking my primary focus off of that the next 3 years, its just that I won't have other things pulling at me in the back of my mind when school is done), with the added assurance that if anything ever happens to their dad, I will be able to provide for them without missing a beat.

Wish us luck.  Its gonna be a long 3-5 years.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rethinking Love

For all my hermitishness, I put a high value on communication: on expressing myself articulately, in a way that is easy for others to understand, whatever their relationship to me; and on understanding other people accurately and compassionately, whatever their personal communication style or emotional make-up.  That has meant a lot of time reading about and practicing different communication styles, often forcing myself rather far out of my comfort zone.  It has meant a lot of time listening carefully, and watching, often much more closely than people realize, the relationships between an individual's words (or lack thereof) and actions, the relationship between their emotions and their words or actions, or even in figuring out which emotions are honestly behind various words and actions (which are not always the same as the emotions that appear on the surface--anger, for example, is often a mask for hurt feelings or deep insecurities).  It is quite a difficult thing, human communication, and no two individuals are the same. On top of that, my own communication style, feelings and emotions, and personal frailties all affect my perceptions and actions, but I try very hard and am getting better. I still have a long, long way to go, but  I seldom have miscommunications with people any more, and when I do they are generally minor.

But there are tough cases for me, people that I really struggle to communicate with.  There are individuals that I can enjoy time with, as long as we stick to simple, easy stuff. I have never figured out how to communicate with them when there is any conflict or difference without hurting their feelings or angering them.  I have tried to make changes in my communication approach or my perceptions many times, and I have tried to understand how things must look from their perspective, and yet somehow one or both of us still ends up angry or hurt.  Despite my efforts, there must still be big blind spots, because I keep failing. I realized recently that part of the problem is that such individuals are usually assuming the worst possible things about my motivations, intentions, and attitudes.  That was a discouraging revelation, though upon reflection I had to admit that it was at least partly my fault.  When I get frustrated and angry, my default mode is self-righteous condescension.  Too many times I let my patience expire and got snarky because I was tired or frustrated or angry--I can hardly fault someone for losing patience with me when I was doing the same thing.  However, when you have never ascribed malicious or intentionally self-serving motives to someone else, no matter how frustrating the differences, its really disheartening to find out that they have ascribed such motives to you.  Really, really disheartening.

As I thought about the various conflicts that I have had with such individuals over the years, I realized that part of the reason for the conflict was that I was trying to force the communication, force the relationship: I was, subconsciously, working from an assumption that we needed to communicate thoroughly and efficiently enough to be intimate friends.  It finally dawned on me that, while that may be the "ideal" for such relationships, it wasn't necessary, at least not now--ideals are something to strive for, not beat yourself (or someone else) over the head with.  You can love someone without being their best friend.  I kept thinking we needed to be close friends in order for the relationship to be successful, but all I really needed to do was be loving, and that can mean something much simpler than being intimates:  listen, enjoy their company even if its restricted to talking about and enjoying little things, let unintentional slights go without ever addressing them, be charitable enough to forgive rare intentional slights without confrontation or discussion, and be there if they truly need me for something.  That's it.  That's all you really need.  Hopefully, if you can be kind and patient long enough, the other person will eventually gain enough trust in your character that you can be close enough to discuss the stuff that matters, and you'll gain enough trust in their character to pull down some of the boundaries.  If you keep praying for compassion and enlightenment, and then act on it, treating those individuals with kindness, forgiveness and softness, perhaps the Lord will grant you a bit more understanding into their heart, or how to best communicate in a way that is comfortable and familiar to them.

In the mean time, remember that not all love requires intimacy--at least while we're still trying to learn how to love one another with all our human frailties.  As usual, the scriptures say it best:  "Charity suffereth long and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;  rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."

And, taking the long view, of course, "Charity never faileth."

I need to remember that.

Friday, August 16, 2013


All the kids playing in the girls' room, Dylan begins discussing some sort of truck shipping something or other.

Keilana: "You know about a lot of things, Dylan!"

Dylan: "I get all my knowledge from books."

Keilana:  "I get all my knowledge from books, too.  And from teachers."

Dylan: "I learn some things from teachers, but I get more knowledge from books.  And TV."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

On Big Families

A question I get fairly often is "How do you do it?", "it" meaning raising 4 kids.  The question tends to come from two different kinds of people: other young moms who only have one or two kids and feel like they're overwhelmed or drowning (to whom I say "Hang in there! It gets better! It gets easier--or at least a different kind of hard."); and people who have no children, or only one or two, and can't understand why I would even want lots of kids. I was raised in a family of five kids (where we often had "extras" in the form of foster kids, semi-adopted friends, or cousins), so it took me some time to adjust to the mindset that, by today's standards, we have a "big family".  Four doesn't feel that big (ask me if I still feel that way when they're all teenagers).  When I mention that we might want to have one or two more when I'm done with school, people sometimes look at me as though I've just declared that nuclear war really wouldn't be so bad.

From a parenting perspective, I certainly understand the appeal of having only one or two kids.  There are so many things that would be easier, especially from a financial and logistical standpoint.  Our kids certainly don't have as many things or participate in quite as many activities as kids from smaller families.  Of course, since they have three playmates at home, they don't usually miss the stuff or the structured activities, either.  I don't mean to imply that parents of small families are selfish--people and circumstances are different, and each couple must decide what is right for them, and I don't know anyone that makes such decisions lightly.

But from a kid's perspective, even an adult kid, I can't imagine life without a big family.  When I was pregnant with Keira, I got one of those more-bewildered-than-admiring "I don't know how you do it"s, from an only child who only raised two children, and it instantly clicked for me why the big family was so appealing to me (or at least one of the reasons): "I loved growing up with so many people who loved me all in one house, and as an adult my siblings have been my favorite people and the greatest support system, and I'm grateful that my parents gave that to me, so hopefully we're giving that to our kids, too."  I was the youngest of the five, so maybe as the baby I'm biased toward big families because mine took such great care of me.  It was not easy for my parents to provide for all of us, but I am more deeply grateful with each passing year that my parents made the sacrifices necessary to raise a big family and to help us build good relationships with each other as we grew.  As an adult it is easy to recognize that, aside from my life itself and their love, the greatest gifts my parents have given me are my brothers and sisters.

When my kids have driven me near the breaking point of sanity with their fighting or bickering, I remind myself that.  I remind myself that, on the whole, they spend much more time happily playing than they do arguing or competing.  I'm sure my siblings and I had times when we bickered, fought, picked.  But that isn't what I remember.  I remember Christa hauling us to the lake and softball practices with her friends;  I remember Gwen helping me learn to read, and organizing games and dance parties; I remember my big brother bringing me a corsage that perfectly coordinated with my dress one year when I went to prom stag.  I remember my twin brother being my security blanket whenever I had to interact with the big, scary world, and always being an example of generosity, especially in the way he treated me.  I learned most of the best things I know about how to treat people and how to build and strengthen relationships from my brothers and sisters.  (And let's face it, the hardest parts of living with lots of other people teach you to buck up, be resilient and get over yourself).

I once had a childless woman tell me that I didn't know what I was missing.  Hogwash.  A successful career, financial ease, movie nights, nice dinners, traveling and actually being able to stay awake long enough to finish a good book are all fun--sometimes even rewarding--but in and of themselves they hold no real, lasting joy for me.  Yes, you childless souls know you're missing sleepless nights and financial and time restrictions and messy fingers all over your new clothes.  But you really can't conceive of the joy you are missing.  Each child brings immeasurable, and indescribable, joy to their parents.  As you add more kids, the increase in joy is more exponential than arithmetic: each child brings as much joy to their parents as the last, but it isn't merely doubled, because that child brings so much joy to each of those who came before as well.  No joy can really compare with that of seeing your children's love for each other in action.

And then when you start adding aunts and uncles and cousins to the mix. . . .

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Conscientious Objector

I oppose the "gender war".  I think it is an immoral fight, and I refuse to participate in it.  I have unspeakable gratitude and respect for so many diverse women in my life, who have been my friends, supporters, mothers, sisters and leaders.  I don't know what I would do without the incredible courage, strength and love of the women I am privileged to know.

I am just as fervently grateful for and deeply respectful of the men in my life.  I would not be who I am, where I am today without their love, generosity, affection and leadership.  Men are awesome.  Growing up, I often spent a lot more time with males than I did with females.  It was apparent from a very young age that the differences were not merely physical, but I came to love all the rough and tumble boys in my life (as well as the quieter, gentler ones).  I have been tremendously blessed by the presence of so many good men in my life.

Today, I was reading a blog post about cookies of all things, when the the poster took the opportunity (yes, even when talking about something as innocuous as cookies) to rag on men a little bit, and then said this:  "Using brute force to prove a point rather than strategy or reason, which most women employ to prove their point, according to me is not manly but plain crude." I honestly laughed out loud.  Though I have, unfortunately, known several abusive individuals throughout my life, I have thankfully witnessed relatively few incidents of anyone using "brute force" to make their point, and those incidents are roughly equally divided between male and female offenders-.  What's more, I have witnessed dozens and dozens of incidents where a woman has used blatant emotional manipulation or abuse in order to make her point.  Both genders have their flaws, but, much more to the point, all individuals do.

Just as one does not truly empower oneself merely by standing next to someone and pointing out what their weaknesses are, neither does one empower one sex by calling the other stupid, mean or irrational.  People can be stupid, mean or irrational, and that is likely to manifest one way in men and another in women, but all individuals struggle with the natural man.  We help each other overcome that carnal nature by building and supporting, not by tearing down and belittling.

Men and women are different.  It is mind-boggling that so many of the same people who insist that being different doesn't make you less than someone else miss the flip side: that being different doesn't necessarily make you better than someone else, either.  You're two sides of the same coin, you can't do much about that;  you do have the power to decide, however, whether that coin is a dirty, grimy nickel or a piece of shining gold.  Eventually, the equation has to balance: you can't spend all your time zeroing out one side of the equation and expect everything to keep running smoothly.  Don't expect the men in your life to treat you with respect, dignity and kindness if you have no intention of returning the courtesy.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A suggestion. . .

for my church-going mommy and daddy friends.  If your child has an iPhone, iPod, iPad, Kindle Fire, or other smart phone or tablet device, leave it home on Sunday.  Yes, I realize that it is very convenient to carry one small thing that has all the scriptures and manuals and everything else on it.  It really is wonderful.

But do your kid (and their teacher) a favor and just leave it home.  There is something wonderful about the heft and navigation of an actual book--of printed scriptures.  I guarantee you that your kids will get to know the scriptures comprehensively better if they are required to spend at least some of their scripture time with actual books rather than electronics.

More than that, however, the distraction factor is just too high.  They have two 40-minute classes a week at Church.  When you think how much time they are focused on and influenced by other things, its not a lot to ask that they leave the rest of the world outside for 3 hours once a week.  In fact, if you want them to really learn the material, and really learn to hear and listen to the Spirit, its essential.  Its really, really easy (even for adults--take note of that) to be reading along in the scriptures or manual, but to gradually drift off and end up texting, or searching the internet, or doing puzzles or flinging angry birds, or reading something that has nothing to do with what's going on.

They may whine at first, when you tell them to leave the gadgets at home, but someday they'll likely thank you.  If you find yourself distracted, or spending the whole meeting "multi-tasking" (no matter how worthwhile the other tasks), you might try leaving your own devices at home, as well.  If there's one thing where a few hours a week of single-mindedness could be useful, it is studying eternal truths.  Surely we can turn off our smart phone for 2 hours a week if it better prepares us for eternal exaltation?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Believing the Best

In any given relationship, the only thing that you can control is you.  The only person you can fix is you.  I have found that, though there are exceptions, by and large, people will rise to your expectations of them--for good or ill.  I have tried very hard for nearly as long as I can remember to assume the best of people, of their intentions and motivations.  I was a sensitive child, easily hurt, but I refused from a very young age to ascribe to malice what could easily be explained by stress, unintentional thoughtlessness, or even just awkwardness, fatigue or hunger.  Consequently I was hurt less and less, as it turns out that very seldom did anyone actually intend to hurt me.  I found that if you believe the best of people and respond to them compassionately or patiently, they will usually respond in kind.  If people feel that you will give them the benefit of the doubt, they will extend it back to you.  When you never start with the assumption that someone has tried to cheat you, deceive you, or hurt you, you will find that your best assumptions are usually the most accurate ones.

As I said, there are exceptions.  Some people are so broken, so angry and/or hurt, that there is little you can do.  A few years ago, we tried to help a loved one, and to that end extended quite a lot of time, energy and generosity, because we loved her and, what's more, genuinely liked her. It seemed to go well for a while, but as time wore on, it eventually became clear that, with Doug particularly, no matter how much he tried to be a good friend, she would never see him for who he truly was, for who he was trying to be to her.  He reminded her too much of men that he only superficially resembled, and so she always assumed the worst about his motivations and intentions.  No matter how much he tried to be a good friend to her--no matter how often he succeeded in doing so--their relationship was held hostage to the pain and fury that others had caused her.  In the long run, neither of us held that against her, because the hurt and anger she felt for those people was entirely understandable and neither of us cared to think about how we would've fared had we been in her position.  Nonetheless, it was disheartening (and yes, sometimes infuriating--forgive me) to watch her allow that pain and anger to affect the other relationships in her life and her decisions.  Our relationship with her ended completely, because her lack of trust was so profound that it made her actions and reactions unpredictable and sometimes destructive, and so we couldn't trust her.  Her being a part of our lives became unhealthy for our family.

When kids grow up--first form their identities and establish their earliest relationships--in an environment where there is a lot of conflict and contention, it usually takes time--years, or often decades--to learn to engage the rest of the world, let alone those people they grew up with, in a meaningful, contention-free way.  Emotional trust is low for people who spend their early lives in such environments.  They tend to either become ostriches and bury their heads in the sand, hoping to avoid conflict that way and often unintentionally inflaming it with their selfishness, or they subconsciously expect conflict, expect those around them to expect the worst of them, and consequently react to the worst assumptions about what other people say and do, because their environment has taught them to do so.

I have seldom had much difficulty getting along with people in my life, largely for two reasons: I am loathe to get in the middle of things that have nothing to do with me; and when someone says something that I don't like or that is hurtful, I try to take it with a self-critical eye.  Is there some truth in what they said?  Regardless of how or when it was said, is there something worth hearing, that I should address in my behavior or thoughts?  Is there something here that I do need to apologize for, or seek help in changing?  I knew, but perhaps have never appreciated as much as I should, that it was possible for me to approach the world that way because of the very conflict-free, emotionally safe environment of my earliest years.  The adults in my life were not prone to conflict, much less contention.  Frustrations or tensions that were between adults stayed there--they did not become the kids' problems, and I am doubtful that, as emotionally-driven and sensitive as I was, that it was simply because I didn't notice.  I am more deeply grateful to my parents with each passing year for giving me that in those early years--I was able to focus on mastering my own emotions and passions, because the adults in my life were in control of theirs.  That is no small thing in a child's life.  I could teach myself to be self-critical because, as tremendously sensitive as I was, I did not constantly feel the need to be on the defense (which usually grows into feeling a need to constantly be on the offense--strike first, or be struck).

And with that in mind, with each passing year my respect for some of my closest friends grows tremendously.  I have many people in my life who grew up with a terrible lot of contention in their home, who consequently struggled to not always feel defensive and on edge and feed the very problem they thought they were trying to avoid.  Yet, in their 20s and 30s, they have come much farther in mending those things, in reducing the conflict and building meaningful, relatively low-conflit relationships, than many people I know who grew up under similar circumstances and are struggling to make as much progress in their 50s and 60s.  I have watched as they've gotten married and had children and tried earnestly, with often painful self-honesty, to break this cycle.  They have been kind and forgiving with their spouses, affectionate and attentive with their children, and as they have found the peace and emotional trust that comes with those relationships, they've looked to their siblings and said, "Well, maybe he's right, maybe I could be better about this," or "Maybe she reacted that way because she's concerned, and didn't mean that as a criticism." or "Well, I can see why she feels hurt by what I said or did here, I should've been more thoughtful or patient."  Slowly, they have begun to extend that trust to each other, and it has been extended back to them, stabilizing and building affection in relationships that were, through no fault of their own, established in an environment of distrust and contention.  There is still work to do--still places where communication is difficult, or where relationships have languished in distance or virtual silence for too long--but there are already many relationships within their family that are close and meaningful and have virtually no conflict at all.  That is something that seemed nearly impossible to all of them just a decade ago.

If you want a relationship to work, at some point you've got to put enough trust in the other person to sincerely take responsibility for your own shortcomings and not expect them to use that honesty against you.  On the other side of that, you've got to be willing to be able to accept an apology or admission of wrongdoing in humility, and not use it to justify your own unrighteous behavior.  Assume that, imperfect though they may be, the people in your life love you and don't mean to cause you hurt, and don't emotionally hold them hostage to your past.

I've watched some of the people I love the most succeed wonderfully in doing that: in letting the past go, in being brave enough to put a little more trust in someone that they've had a difficult time with, in making building a relationship and believing the best about someone they love more important than winning an argument, or even than feeling validated at one particular moment.

I am grateful to have such examples in my life of forgiveness, personal responsibility, maturity and personal progress.  Hopefully, I am worthy of such associations.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Long Distance

I'm terrible at long-distance relationships.  I've never been good at it, even when I truly miss people a great deal.  When I was in Hawaii, I sent out mass emails every few weeks (pre-blogging days) to just about everyone, and I had 2 or 3 friends that I was pretty good at writing to every other week or so.  That was it, though.  I never talked to anyone on the phone except my mom, and occasionally my grandmas.  Yes, to my eternal shame, I wasn't even all that great at keeping my grandmas in the loop.  For the decade that I lived in California, I rarely talked to anyone from "home" except my mom, and, with rare exception, it was she who called me.  I am so grateful for that.  She called me weekly for the first several years, and at least once a month, if not every other week, for the rest of the time I was in California.  I emailed my girlfriends, or sent text messages to Sam, at completely random times, and I did try to call my Grandma pretty regularly.  I never talked to my brothers and sisters (though we did interact online a fair amount after Facebook took off, and a couple of them were great about packages and stuff here and there), and only called or emailed my dad a handful of times in all those years.  As much as I missed home, I wasn't great at staying in touch with all the people who lived there when I wasn't physically there myself.

When I left California, it was even worse.  By the time that we left, I was worn so very, very thin.  I was angry, exhausted and my heart was mostly broken, and to top it all off I had to upend my whole life and my children's lives--for me it was "going home", to some degree, but for them and Doug, it was starting over completely, and with no solid future ahead of us yet, or even enough money to buy groceries.  On top of that, it had been 10 years since I had spent more than 5 consecutive days with any member of my family or in Montana. I retreated into that.  Church on Sunday was about the only time I socialized with anyone other than my family.  I really made no effort to see even extended family that I had wanted to visit with for years.  I spent most of my time with my mom and my brothers and sisters and their kids, and my grandma.  I spent very little time talking to anyone else.  My phone broke rather completely on the drive up (it was shattered and squished all at once), so I quickly lost contact with most of the world.  Most of my writing revolved around intense focus on the things that I loved and missed about Lindsay, most especially the amazing people there, in hopes that with enough effort and focus on such things, eventually the love and gratitude for what I was blessed with there would overcome and wash away the anger and hurt.  And it did.  It took time, but it did.

I am so grateful for all the individuals in my life who succeed where I tend to fail.  Above all else, my mom, who always made the necessary effort to stay in close contact with me, and did everything she could to spend as much time with me and her grandkids for all the years we were far away.  But not just her.  Despite having no phone and not being great about checking my email, so many friends found ways to reach me and stay in touch.  Amanda regularly called Doug's phone to talk to me.  Angie, Emily, and Karen all sent Facebook message or emails just see how things were going and to let me know they were thinking about me (us).  Julia and Emily sent Christmas cards and left comments on Facebook posts and photos.  Once I got a phone again, I started getting text messages fairly regularly from my closest friends (all of whom are as phone phobic as I am), and, of course, phone calls from Amanda :)

Sam is always the best.  We won't hear from each other at all for months, or even a year, and then one day one of us will text the other and the conversation is off and running as though we'd just talked last week.  We ended up being able to make our Utah trip long enough that we were able to run up and visit her, and its so wonderful to have someone in your life that, no matter how long its been since you've seen each other or talked, you can start right where you left off as though the intervening months had just been a blip.  No getting back into the groove, no feeling each other out, just at ease.  I had actually had a difficult morning before getting to her house, and was a bit out of sorts, but that just didn't quite matter any more once I got there.  

I was reminded of all this again this last week, when my sister-in-law called.  We moved from California in November 2011, and then she and her family moved the following March.  We haven't seen each other and have scarcely spoken (save for Facebook interaction) in all that time.  She called me last Sunday to tell me the funny small-world news that, having just recently moved to Reno, she ended up in the same ward as my uncle, and we ended up talking for a while.  She was the first of Doug's sisters that I came to love, and though they have all been good friends to me in various ways, she is the one that, in many ways, has felt the most like a sister to me.  As we talked, I realized how much I've missed her, and we both talked about how we're not great at long-distance communication and need to be better.

And I do need to be better, because there are a lot of people in my life that I love and miss, whose lives and welfare I am interested in, and they deserve to hear it more often.  In the era of email, Facebook, telephones and Skype, what excuses do I have?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Too clever by half. . .

Keira is pretty verbal.  At not quite 2 1/2, even strangers usually understand everything she says.  Most of the time, this is really nice: her being able to communicate clearly prevents a lot of frustration for all of us, and her speech and understanding makes teaching discipline relatively easy.

But sometimes she uses her precocity against us.  When we were at my mom's house, she was eating dinner at the table one night while I was sitting in the living room.  She came and asked me for a popsicle, so naturally I asked if she ate her whole quesadilla.  She thought for just a moment, and then responded with a smile, "I'm done with my quesadilla."  This was an answer she thought would satisfy me, and skirted actually answering the question I asked.

She's also been using a rather amusing, if a bit frustrating, avoidance technique lately.  We saw Despicable Me 2 while we were in Utah, and all the kids loved the part where the minions are repetitively saying, "Beedo, beedo, beedo".  The last couple of weeks, any time I ask Keira a question that she doesn't want to answer, she suddenly transforms into a minion and can't answer me in English. "Keira, would you please let Dylan take a turn?"
"Beedo beedo beedo"
"Keira, can you share with Kylie please?"
"Beedo beedo beedo".

I can't decide if her cleverness on this front is cute or worrisome.