Friday, February 20, 2015

This Is Why Parenting Is Like Running an Insane Asylum

I asked Ji if he wanted to eat daal or pasta for lunch.
Ji said, "pasta!"
I asked Rah if he wanted daal or pasta for lunch.
He didn't answer, so I asked if he wanted beans with yogurt or pasta.
Rah said, "Beans! Goyurt!"
They each broke down in tears when they saw their lunches.
So, how did I get them to eat lunch so happily?

I call it sleight of hand.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Live Lug munch

After all of the paperwork and waiting and signing and consulting, we were given the key to our first home.

But it didn't feel like home yet.

I approached the vinyl sticker in the living room "Family Means Love" and tore it off.

"Home Sweet Home" had to go, too.

The last one inspirational sticker set was not immediately removed. It was first maimed. Severely.

The original stickers read "Live Well Laugh Often Love Much." They forgot the "Puke Frequently" sticker. But I guess that doesn't have such a nice ring to it.

 It took several weeks before the work was done and our new house felt like home. But we adjusted quickly.

Boo's Warm Shop with Ji in their little house

Cozy Christmas

Original artwork by Nick Stephens, The Garden Gate

Space to dine!

Spare Oom

Boo's magical, colorful room
We opened up the kitchen and added the dishwasher

Ji and Rah's room turned from blah taupe to primary colors haven.

Unfortunately, Ji scratched off some of the yellow paint within our first week or two at the house.

My mom was extremely generous with her time and input, but when I told her my vision for the kids' playroom--Wonderland we like to call it---she looked at me like I had been sniffing paint.

But we love our Wonderland.

 Color scheme inspired by Baby Lit's Alice in Wonderland: A Color Primer .

We were comfortable inside for the winter. Our home is colorful, spacious, and full of natural light.

When spring came, we had some more surprises---and more work.



Boo counted fifty-six daffodils and tulips in the early spring.

There are several plants we still haven't identified. Some surprised us (Wow! This enormous hedge is a lilac bush?), and others that had devoured everything around them. The black heart of the relentless vine is resting in peace in the compost pile now.



Our neighbor had told us that if we could clear out the incessant, intrusive vine, we would find we have some of the most beautiful roses around.

What do you think?

After pruning the rose bushes that had been buried beneath the strangling vine in our front corner, I found that two of the bushes were completely dead, hollowed out and lifeless. So sad. I figured the same fate had been thrust upon the four or five bushes we had on the north side of the house. That fence line would just have to wait until next summer, I thought.

And this is what happened.

I didn't know that roses could grow up to fifteen feet tall. I never would have imagined that the roses would survive to that height. But there they were, climbing above our roof, tangling into the tree.

Each time I come to those roses with pruning shears and gloves, I think of The Secret Garden and how amazed Mary was that the roses survived even though no one had been inside for ten years. (It's also convenient to have a secret gardener in a secret garden.) I wonder how Mary would have responded to half-dead rose trees taller than the ten-foot wall with trunks as wide baseball bats. Would it have been a magical place? Or would she have gotten stung by shark-tooth thorns that tear the skin and leave one's arms looking abused, turned around haughtily, and never gone back inside?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Addressing a Few Stereotypes

For some time now, I've wanted to write a few thoughts about women's roles in the LDS Church, being a Mormon woman, growing up Mormon in Utah, and the stereotypes that surround all of these things.

Let's start with the last: Many people believe that Utah Mormons are the most sheltered people in the world. Yes, there are people who live in communities surrounded by actively participating and religious Mormons. These places exist in some towns or neighborhoods in Utah. My hometown was not one of those places. I have m any friends who grew up in different cities or small towns throughout Utah. Most of them had good friends who were LDS; even those who grew up faithful had  traumatic experiences with friends or family. Some have parents or siblings with mental illness. Financial struggles, marital hardships, abuse, abandonment by a parent, or drug addiction within the family are realities in the lives of Utah Mormons. These people are not ignorant. They are diverse.

In seventh grade I became friends with a girl who was outgoing, fun, thoughtful, and sexually active. This was 1990. She wasn't the only person at my junior high who was having sex, either. I didn't think a lot about it at the time since most of us feel rather mature at age twelve. But I look at my nine-year-old daughter now and think, I was a baby. I was a baby who didn't understand any of the implications of sexuality, even though I knew how sex worked, I understood moral and health consequences of sex, and I even understood that people like the feeling of sex. What I didn't realize--until much later--is that sex matters. That a twelve-year-old who has sex is likely to suffer from all kinds of mental and emotional damage. I didn't put together that the older guy (was he fifteen or sixteen?) who was having sex with my friend was taking advantage of her inexperience.

I was fourteen the first time my friend's brother offered me a joint. Fortunately, I had already decided that I wasn't supposed to use drugs; it wasn't part of my destiny, so to speak. Throughout my teenage years I was surrounded by drugs and alcohol: friends were trippin' on acid while I fell asleep in the other room, joints were lit and passed while the small cluster of the sobers chilled in the backyard, alcohol was served while I went on walks with other people. This was in the heart of Utah Valley. Many of my friends who grew up outside of Utah were excused from drugs and alcohol because they were Mormon. People never even asked. My greatest fear in raising children in Utah is that being Mormon isn't enough. Most of the kids who were getting high had grown up LDS. I had conviction that drugs weren't my thing, and I hope and pray for the same conviction in my own children.

I think of my twleve-year-old niece who bore her testimony a couple of months ago. She had never stood before the congregation before or borne her testimony aloud, but she gave such a powerful, miraculous testimony. She had gone to church that morning with a good friend of hers who attends a non-denominational Christian church. Apparently, her friend has pressured her to "quit being Mormon" and go to her church. This is a church where people come in jeans and they play guitars and drums during worship. Frankly, this is an atmosphere most twelve-year-olds would consider cool. But my niece said, "I am not going to give up my beliefs. I am going to stay Mormon." She has a genuine testimony amidst the pressure. I hope my own children can say the same thing.


Misconceptions about Mormon women aren't new. From the earliest establishment of the LDS Church, slanderers have claimed Mormon women are repressed, oppressed, abused, and ignorant. I am not going to make any blanket statements about what or who Mormon women are. First of all, Mormon women span the entire globe and live and thrive on every populated continent. Mormon women are Nigerian, Indian, Czech, Peruvian, Australian, Japanese, Mexican, Croatian, English, Brazilian, Jamaican, American, Kenyan, Argentine, German, Thai, Samoan, and almost a hundred other nationalities.

We are not all the same. I am not even the same as the women with whom I attend church each week. But we are not all completely different either. Here are some of our commonalities:
We believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior.
We believe in the Restoration of the Gospel.
We believe in living prophets and modern revelation.

We also belong to the oldest and largest women's organization in the world, the Relief Society. We are committed to service, uplifting those in need, sharing our talents and time, and growing personally and spiritually. Some women may think that service and relief as a code of a women's organization is backward. But, that's only because our society has devalued charity. We have devalued domesticity. We have devalued cooperation. We have devalued community. We have traded these things for personal ambition, career, personal gain, and extreme individuality. Now, don't get me wrong. I am ambitious and attached to my career, like making my own money, and I am attached to my individualism. But, I love the Relief Society. I love having spiritual discussions with women, working with other women, learning from other women, and worshiping with other women. 


So, what are women's roles in the LDS Church? There has been a lot of controversy lately about women who wish to be ordained into the priesthood of the LDS Church. No, we are not bishops, high priests, or elders, but what many who want women to be bishops, high priests, or elders might forget is that the men who serve in the bishopric are released after a duration of time (usually five years) and serve as Sunday school teachers, primary workers, or cub scout leaders. These are the same callings sisters will have after being Relief Society President or Young Women's President. A lay leadership does not accommodate a life of prestige for those who are called to lead for a short time. No bishop is perfect; priesthood does not mean perfection. Men and women are given the same blessings with each of our ordinances: baptism, confirmation, sacrament, endowment, and sealing.

I also think the rites of passage that young men and young women undergo in separated groups is important to the development of youth. Twelve years of age is significant for both boys and girls in the LDS Church. The boys move from Primary to Young Men's; the girls move from Primary to Young Women's. Yes, boys begin to pass the sacrament to the congregation at twelve, but I wonder if our friends who feel this elevates boys above girls realize something: these boys are learning domestic service. They are, essentially, serving food to a large group. They are doing this reverently and quietly.  If young women were silently serving food to a large group of people, this may be seen as oppressive rather than empowering. Young men need to learn that domestic service is important also. Young women live through this lesson as they see their mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers devoting endless hours to feeding their families. Young men should learn the value of service in the same way. I strive to teach my young sons about responsibility in the home, and they see their father preparing and serving food in the home. I hope the passing of the sacrament feels normal and natural for them because they have already learned how to serve.


Perhaps this comes down to what we value. If we value only the perception of power and individuality, perhaps women in the LDS Church are limited. But, if we value service, charity, community, home, family, and individual progression, women and men are equal in every opportunity. If we approach every role, every calling with respect, we will more clearly see their value. When my sister-in-law was recently called to serve in the library, I was so excited for her. Some may think it's a "pity calling," but it is a great opportunity for her to meet people in the ward and to get to know people with whom she may never have known otherwise. This is how a community is formed and nourished.

Our focus needs to shift from individual empowerment to community nourishment. Then, as Eliza R. Snow said, we can all "sit down in heaven together."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Comfort and Heartbreak

The Newborn Intensive Care Unit is one of the most hopeful and hopeless places I've ever been. Tiny bodies fight so hard to survive, to live, to thrive. They want to breathe, to heal, to move.

The day after Baby Rah was born, he was cut open and repaired. He could not move for the first week: he lay still, ventilated, sedated. The first time I held him was one week after he was born. The nurses kindly resituated the dozens of tubes and cords that connected him to monitors, oxygen, hydration, nutrition, pain medication, and one that drained body fluids. His body was so light and tiny, so worn out, so beautiful and heartbreaking.

Two days later he underwent his second surgery. His face was swollen and bruised. His nose was enlarged and his lip bloodied. We joked that he looked like he'd been in a bar fight. But I knew this meant we'd be in the NICU even longer. Longer hours, days, weeks, months.

The longer we stayed, the more jealous I felt of those families who left so soon. The baby who was hooked up to ten different machines when he came in was home within ten days. The baby whose parents giggled through their discharge training left after a day. Even the baby with spina bifida who had fluid on his brain was discharged after two weeks.

Discharge is an emotional time in the NICU. Everyone is so happy for the family whose baby finally got to go home and be with his or her family. But it is such a reminder to those of us who stay that our babies are still there, still on pain medication, still not eating or breathing on their own. I must have listened to the infant CPR video six times before our official discharge. I can still hear the speaker's voice in my head: "Say it like you mean it: 'Hey you! Call 911 now!'" While it seems silly in the video, our nurse Jane made sure we understood that if we don't say it like we mean it, the other person may stop and say, "What's going on?" We need to be forceful, so we don't waste time.

Baby Rah has given us plenty of scares in this last year. He was five days old when the nurses took him off the ventilator and he stopped breathing. Jane kindly looked at me and gave me permission to leave while they revived him. He had such severe reflux in the spring we wondered if there was a problem with his esophageal repair and rushed to the surgeon for another esophagram. He had even inexplicably passed out a couple of times. It was May when he had a sedated echocardiogram. I couldn't believe how emotionally taxing it was. He was sleeping, but looked so much like that baby we couldn't hold, who stayed so still for his first week. Then there was the night in August Ji decided to bring Rah up onto his bed, which Rah immediately rolled off and hit his head. That's what I get for leaving the room for one minute.

It was mid-September when James rushed into the room with a limp baby in is arms. He recovered quickly after a few chest compressions and blowing air into his face. The next morning it happened again. My dad's doctor referred us to a gastroenterologist to try to figure out the problem. We were given stronger medication.

But the problems didn't stop with the new medication. The day before his first birthday, we hit crisis.

It was around 3:30 Rah finished eating his bottle, and I laid him in his crib for a nap. Ji was asleep in the room, so the room was dark. He cried for a little but then quieted down. Not long after the crying stopped, I stood outside his door and heard gagging and gurgling sounds. I turned him on his side so he could throw up. He was vomiting most of the milk he had just drank, but I then noticed he hadn't inhaled since he started throwing up.

I carried him to the hallway and performed about four cycles of CPR on him before he revived. He was grayish-blue and limp. His eyes had rolled back. Boo came home in time to call 911. She was so brave. She told them what was happening and gave them our address. Ambulances, police cars, and a fire engine showed up outside our house. Our dear friends and wonderful neighbors, the Wilsons, brought Boo and Ji to their house.

We spent some time in the local ER, but they transferred us to Primary Children's within about an hour because of all of Rah's complications. He took a good nap on the ambulance ride, so he was cheerful and cute by the time we got to the hospital. I'm sure the staff was thinking, "What's this baby doing here?" He had a bottle at bedtime and, once again, started vomiting and turning blue. The medical staff revived him, and we were sent to intensive care.

Baby Rah spent his first birthday undergoing a series of tests and being deprived of food. We started with another esophagram. His esophagus appears to have no strictures or leaks or lesions. He had a swallow study done that showed his delays in swallowing and risk of aspirations with thin liquids. But the swallow study didn't explain the apnea episodes. Rah's good friend, Dr. Meier, came with his ENT team and did a larynoscopy to check out his nose and throat. Still, no answers.

At the end of the day, he was finally able to eat four ounces of milk.

As suspected, Rah's episodes were likely a combination of several factors. We were never given one explanation because one does not exists, as far as we could tell. He had a mild cold and parainfluenza 4, so the viruses likely contributed to the problem.

Not everyone will have these kinds of experiences; I realize that. But last year before this baby was born I didn't suspect we would spend forty-seven days in the NICU, put him through four surgeries, or have to revive a blue baby.

So here's some advice:

Learn CPR. Everyone should know CPR. Everyone who ever takes care of an infant should know infant CPR. 

Stay calm. Once everything is under control, you can lose it. Cry your eyes out later, but don't freak out until the situation is handled.

Pray. A lot. The Lord brings us comfort even in those hopeless moments when we wonder if this is it, we may not be able to do any more. Because even if we can't, He can. And He does. Even if it means letting go.

Just remember that life is a blessing. That blessing may be brief or long. It may be joyful or tragic. But we are blessed to live, every moment we are given.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Things Have Changed

Music is an inherited passion. My dad is a guitarist; my mom is a singer. My siblings and I grew up with Devo, Frank Zappa, The Beatles, The Cars, and even Adrian Belew blasting from the record player and eight-track.

Music is more than soundtrack for me; music is memory. It's the reminder of the first boy who said he loved me and gave me "Something." It's the mad heartbreak that drove me to "Precious Things" and the loneliness of "Circle." "Marrakesh Express" is my sister dancing with a green sweater at the thrift store. "I Want You" is the hope of a life I never lived with a boy who gave me more disappointment than faith.

As a teenager I gathered friends who shared my musical passions: The Beatles, Tori Amos, Grateful Dead. I once collected CDs---singles, rarities, anthologies, anything---from my favorite artists. There once was a time when I would follow the careers of a several musicians and make sure I never missed out on new albums or concerts.

Last year, about ten days before Baby Rah was born and our lives went into a tailspin, I went with my sister, Kirstin, to see Garbage . . . and an unbelievably happy/drunk Shirley Manson forgetting the lyrics to her own songs.
Kirstin in her Garbage shirt

Despite, or because of, Shirley Manson's whiskey-inspired declarations of love for her band and lying on the stage with a drunken cat caller and explaining "this is my show," the concert was unforgettable.

Two days later Kirstin texted and told me Aimee Mann was performing in Salt Lake---that night. I've never seen Aimee Mann in concert, even though I've been a fan for more than a decade. That was the first time she had come anywhere near where I lived, and I had no idea she was even coming.

Check out my favorite Aimee Mann video (from her latest album):

Aimee Mann "Charmer"

I hadn't really thought about concerts this past summer, but then at my dad's birthday party Kirstin mentioned that Bob Dylan was coming to Salt Lake . . . in five days.

The first time I saw Bob Dylan in concert was summer of 1999 when he was touring with Paul Simon. I woke up early on a Saturday and stood outside Smith's with my boyfriend at the time, waiting to get tickets first day they were available. I was nervous the show would sell out before we made it to the ticket window.

This time we bought James's ticket at the door.

Bob Dylan doesn't play guitar anymore. He didn't talk to the audience. He didn't jump around. He never showed any enthusiasm. He played piano. He sang. He changed the tunes and lyrics of his songs. I'm not even sure he ever smiled.

He opened with an unfamiliar rendition of "Things Have Changed," the Academy Award-winning tune from the Wonder Boys soundtrack. This was the first new song Dylan released after the end of a relationship that I had thought would be forever. All other Bob Dylan songs were connected with the boy who had gone. "Things Have Changed" helped me move forward, accept the change of plans---maybe in the most cynical possible way. (The chorus is, after all, "I used to care, but things have changed.")

But on this breezy, summer night, I felt it. I found the change all around me---in the wind and the scents, the arms around my waist. Things have changed. Everything had changed. In the fourteen years since I first saw Bob Dylan on stage, I have discovered which things really matter: God, family, stability, confidence, real love.

We stood on the grass and fell into the music. I was wrapped up in James's arms and feeling the words seep into my skin, pulse through my veins, and tangle in my hair.

The power of the moment didn't come from the stage. It came from the intimacy of sharing my self with the man of my life, willingly giving myself wholly to another, sharing the songs of my past with the present and letting myself be led to the future.

I hope eternity is as beautiful as that moment with my love.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

More Not-Really Classics

I think my attention span is failing.

And my reading rate.

And my vocabulary.

And, maybe, my ability to analyze and interpret the deeper, more philosophical and cultural meanings under the layers of story and allusion in literature.

Because even though I started reading Vanity Fair for fun after finding a cool eighty-year-old copy at an estate sale, I haven't really gone back to it in the last several weeks.

Instead, I'm making more recommendations for reading classics that aren't really classics. This time, though, we're going to the board book section.

One compound word, folks: BabyLit.

A series of colorful primers based on classic literature. Don't expect a story, but your small child will learn colors, numbers, opposites, weather, and ocean words.

Personal favorites:

Wuthering Heights is the ideal place to learn about weather. Lots of atmosphere.

Wonderland: the most colorful place in all of imagination.

Two very different sisters are the greatest teachers of opposites. Let's hope each one learns her lesson by the end.

I'm really looking forward to some of the new primers that have just come out, particularly Jabberwocky: A Nonsense Primer.

Every child should be primed for nonsense.

Find more titles at

Friday, August 9, 2013

How to Read Classics without Orphans or Undiscovered Uncles

Imagine a world where people actually cared about literature. A world where an entire government agency was created to protect literature.

In this world Baconians knock on doors and hand out pamphlets that explain why Sir Francis Bacon was the real author of Shakespeare's plays. And people could easily give evidence as to why he was not. For a few cents, one can watch puppets recite a scene from a Shakespeare play.

This is a world in which no one would ask, "What do you do with a B.A. in English?"

Maybe a few of us would like this kind of world--despite the cloning of extinct creatures like dodos and mammoths, and the overbearing corporation that pretty much runs everything. Well, maybe not.

But I, like most others who have whiled away the hours with Dickens, Melville, and the Brontes, would like a little more credit for the power of literature. Except we don't actually want to keep reading classics over and over. And really, we might not want to read Bleak House or The Mill on the Floss. Man, life is too complicated now to get bogged down in all of that misfortune and infidelity.

Thank you, Jasper Fforde, for coming along with a quirky alternate 1985 and giving us Thursday Next of England's Special Operations Literatech Division.

The series starts with Thursday Next jumping into the original manuscript of Jane Eyre to stop a supervillain from murdering Jane and destroying the book forever. Instead, Thursday manages to change the ending of the book (from the bland ending in which Jane joins St. John in India), and facilitates the destruction of Thornfield Hall, the blinding of Edward Rochester, and the dramatic death of Bertha Rochester.

Oh, the great Gothic romance has never been greater than Jane Eyre.

We later spend time with Miss Havisham in during Thursday Next's Jurisfiction training, hang out with Hamlet, get to know Miss Tiggywinkle, and listen to Beatrice and Benedick bicker in high Tudor English.

I am on book five of seven, which is Thursday Next: First Among Sequels. Confusing, I know.

If anyone is interested in reading about classics, but not reading classics, or reading about writing, but not actually writing, then I recommend Thursday Next. Since it took me a while to figure out the order of the books, I will list them for you here:

The Eyre Affair
Lost in a Good Book
The Well of Lost Plots
Something Rotten
Thursday Next: First Among Sequels
One of Our Thursdays Is Missing
The Woman Who Died a Lot

Now, I need to go back to the world where earning advanced degrees in English literature means grading punctuation worksheets and giving advice on MLA format.