Monthly Archives: February 2010

On Cookies and Toenails and Stepping out into the Dark

Every Monday night Mormons have this peculiar tradition called Family Home Evening. We gather the children together, sing some songs, say a prayer, attempt to teach a moral principle in terms comprehensible to all of the age groups present, have an activity and a treat. 
Every Monday, the burning questions for those under the age of twelve are always, "What's the activity?" and "What's the treat?"
This week I made cookie dough–the ploy being to answer both questions at once–and I was prepared when the six-year-old began his weekly interrogation. 
"We are going to play checkers with sugar cookies," I told him. "Little ones, like this. And if you jump the other guy, you get to eat the cookie."
I expected excitement, joy–acquiescence in the very least. 
I did not expect a full-fledged tantrum.
"That's dumb!" he exploded, scowling. Tears threatening. 
"Why is that dumb?"
"I won't get any!"
"Um. Well. There are lots of cookies and I'm sure you'll get–"
"But everyone else will get more than me!"
Who thinks like that? My son, apparently. I remember doing this when I was a kid, playing this game, and the burning concern was not How many cookies is my older brother eating? but I might get a cookie! Hooray!
Realizing he was hot and tired and probably hungry, and really hoping I don't actually have a sociopath on my hands, I attempted to tease him out of his post-school-bus-ride funk by asking if we should just throw the cookie dough out and clip our toenails for an activity instead. 
He insisted that this was my best idea yet. 
I've been mulling over this conversation. This propensity toward selfishness. But today I rather think the motivating factor is fear, isn't it?
I'm not going to try, because everyone else is so much better than me, that I'm certain to fail and I'm certain to fail so miserably that the resulting humiliation is going to crush all the joy out of any crumb of success I might achieve.
Who thinks like that? 
Oh, I do. I do, I do. 
Maybe it's fear as much as pride that comes before the fall–or just a really boring session of group toenail clipping.
Boyd K. Packer once said that faith "is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and step into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two."
I want to have that kind of faith. And when it's just me stepping out into the dark, I think I do–I'll stride forward without a second thought. It's when I've got others in tow that I find myself at the edge of the unknown, paralyzed with fear. I'll go through all sorts of contortions in order to avoid inconveniencing or endangering someone else on my journey. 
But then maybe nobody gets the cookie, you know?

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Well Witched

Read another of Frances Hardinge's books this weekend. Well Witched was every bit as good, maybe better, than The Lost Conspiracy
The story starts when three stranded children swipe some coins from a wishing well to pay bus fare home, unknowingly taking on the responsibility of granting the wishes behind the coins. 
Hardinge did an amazing job of bringing complex characters to life, of recognizing the kernel inside of every wish (I want a Harley Davidson/I want to be the kind of person that rides a Harley Davidson) and of solving difficult conflicts through believable, if startling twists. No easy answers, no trite characters, no neat endings, and powerful in a way I haven't seen in many young adult novels. 
Some of the character interactions nearly stunned me to tears–not because Hardinge was trying to wax poetic or sentimental, but because I know these people–we all do, and it is stunning to find that an author knows the people you know, and can pin them onto the paper so precisely. 
Near the end, Hardinge captures a complicated mother/child relationship in a few deft sentences. The boy has always bowed to his mother's strong will in the past, but while his adventures have helped him find his voice, he has also developed a respect for why his mother is the way she is. 
And so he asks her what she would wish for, if she had one wish:
          "'What? I've never done anything of the sort, how should I know …?'
          No, you wouldn't, would you? Too busy rampaging through the world, granting your own wishes … 

          Ryan regarded his mother with exasperated pride as she narrowed her eyes at the odds and ran a red light."

Yeah, you know her too, don't you?

Good book, definitely a keeper. 

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Mislaid 911 Memos and Note to Self

3 a.m.
"911, What is the nature of your emergency?"
"Uh…it isn't an emergency, exactly. I'm pretty sure my friend needs to go to the hospital, but there are two flights of stairs between her front door and my van and I don't think I can get her down them safely."
And yes, she'd already tried crawling. She's a tough one.
So I chat with the dispatcher for a few minutes, establishing that her symptoms aren't immediately life threatening, but that she does need to be seen sooner than tomorrow. (And that I was not, in fact, named after the gun.)
I did ask him if he could have the ambulance crew please not use their lights and sirens, so we don't scare the children. Not to mention wake  up the entire neighborhood.
Apparently the driver didn't get the memo.
(And since when do like, twelve year old children drive and staff the ambulance? Not to mention half the nursing staff at the ER. Am I getting old?) 
I'm no stranger to hospitals; I have six kids. 

But during a long night/morning at the hospital, seeing all the testing and whatnot going on, for the first time in my life the importance of healthy living really hit home. Like never before.

I know all the facts and the statistics and what have you. But for the first time it was like this could be you, this could be one of your children. 

Dear self: YOU ONLY HAVE ONE BODY! Take care of it!

Now to actually do something about the realization…….

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Another, Better, Favor Story

Did a favor for a man I have never met the other day. A man on the telephone looking for childcare which I could not provide (due my new hours–which, by the way, are awesome) asked me for other recommendations, if I had any. 
My first thought: Are you kidding? Not in my job description to help you find childcare!  But I said, ummm…I could probably refer you to some people. I wrote down his email address and promised to forward him some information when I had a second and two free hands.
After I hung up, I plead guilty to thinking, "I really could just 'forget' and not get around to it."

But I looked up some numbers, made some calls, etc. Got him some information.
And today, the guy called me back. 
Just to say thank you. 
Nothing else. 
Just wanted to thank me for helping me out. 
How do you like that?
It surprised me how much I appreciated it.
Life Lesson: Say Thank You, even when you don't have to.

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Of Seagulls and Impossibilities

My eight-year-old son began poking me in the side with his pencil last Sunday at church. 
"Hey, Mom. Mom. Mom!!"

I leaned over in the pew and whispered back, "What?"

"How do you score points in football?"

"Uh. I think there are lines on the field and you have to move the ball over them. Or you kick it through this big white thing… I think."
I've attended a football game on two occasions.
Once in high school–it was Canadian football, in the middle of winter and all I can remember was how cold it was.
The next time, as an exchange student in Toronto–it was warmer there, but that game was on a Sunday, and I was terrified that God, in His omniscient wrath, was going to strike me dead for breaking his Sabbath.
He sent a seagull to do his dirty work–as in dirty work–like the entire contents of its intestines dirty, all over me. Out of twenty thousand screaming fans, it picked me–and I was doing my best to be invisible. Don't remember much about that game, either.
Point being: I know nothing about football. 
I never, ever use football metaphors, and when someone else does, my eyes begin to glaze over.
Having said that, I just read a gripping one by Joseph B. Wirthlin. It's kind of long, but I couldn't cut it down any further:

"I’ll never forget one high school football game against a rival school. I played the wingback position, and my assignment was to either block the linebacker or try to get open so the quarterback could throw me the ball. The reason I remember this particular game so well is because the fellow on the other side of the line—the man I was supposed to block—was a giant.

Lucky for me, I was fast. And for the better part of the first half, I managed to avoid him.

Except for one play.

Our quarterback dropped back to pass. I was open. He threw the ball, and it sailed towards me.

The only problem was that I could hear a lumbering gallop behind me. In a moment of clarity, I thought that if I caught the ball there was a distinct possibility I could be eating my meals through a tube. But the ball was heading for me, and my team was depending on me. So I reached out, and—at the last instant—I looked up.

And there he was.

That day, during his half-time speech, Coach Oswald reminded the whole team about the pass I had dropped. Then he pointed right at me and said, “How could you do that?”

He wasn’t speaking with his inside voice.

“I want to know what made you drop that pass.”

I stammered for a moment and then finally decided to tell the truth. “I took my eye off the ball,” I said.

The coach looked at me and said, “That’s right; you took your eye off the ball. Don’t ever do that again. That kind of mistake loses ball games.”

I respected Coach Oswald, and in spite of how terrible I felt, I made up my mind to do what Coach said. I vowed to never take my eye off the ball again, even if it meant getting pounded to Mongolia by the giant on the other side of the line.

We headed back onto the field and started the second half. It was a close game, and even though my team had played well, we were behind by four points late in the fourth quarter.

The quarterback called my number on the next play. I went out again, and again I was open. The ball headed towards me. But this time, the giant was in front of me and in perfect position to intercept the pass.

He reached up, but the ball sailed through his hands. I jumped high, never taking my eye off the ball; stabbed at it; and pulled it down for the game-winning touchdown.

I don’t remember much about the celebration after, but I do remember the look on Coach Oswald’s face.

“Way to keep your eye on the ball,” he said.

I think I smiled for a week.

I have known many great men and women. Although they have different backgrounds, talents, and perspectives, they all have this in common: they work diligently and persistently towards achieving their goals. 

I urge you to examine your life. Determine where you are and what you need to do to be the kind of person you want to be. Create inspiring, noble, and righteous goals that fire your imagination and create excitement in your heart. And then keep your eye on them. Work consistently towards achieving them.

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, “and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

In other words, never take your eye off the ball."

To my little brother and to all who are struggling with the choice between muddling through, surviving one more day and one more day of mediocrity, or taking a stab at the impossible dream just beyond your reach, this one's for you. Figure out what that dream is. 

And for heaven's sake–do what it takes to knock it out of the sky and pull it in towards you. 

You can do this.

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Pecking Order, Established

Just listened to a message on my answering machine. An female acquaintance of ours, asking for a favor. 
I mull it over. 
Hmmm. We could probably do that for them. 
So I call back.
The husband answers. 
"Oh wait. I've got another call, can you hold on a minute?"
And am favored by their hold music for about fifteen seconds before he comes back on.
"Yeah, I've got somebody more important on the other line." Click. 
Direct quote, I kid you not. He actually said that and hung up.

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The Case for Taking a Practice Exam

Today during nap time I decided to take a practice math test before going in to take the real one required of all potential teachers in Washington state.
My brain. Wouldn't. 
The first two questions took me almost 45 minutes.
Until I realized they just wanted a simple ratio, and that the dot meant to multiply. 
No need for all my complicated, panicked formulas. No need to Google obscure math symbols.
Not exactly confidence building.

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Way to Go, Frances

Read possibly the best book I've read in years the other day. It was filled with descriptions like this one describing the birth of a mob:
"These were no longer people. A new expression buckled the crowd's features until their faces looked like fists."
And this one, describing the eruption of a volcano:
"There was a hushed half second like a gasp, a sense of some tiny but momentous change, of something cracking silently like a heart. The next instant, through that hidden crack beneath the surface, an oozing, millennia-old fire met dark, lucid water. And in that meeting, water and fire loved each other to destruction."
It was published under two different names: The Lost Conspiracy, and Gullstruck Island, by Francis Hardinge. 
When I read things like this, I wonder how some of these other books got published… Because obviously somebody still knows how to write.

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Crackin’ the Whip

I came across a news clip a few weeks ago exposing some blueberry farmers back East for using child labor. They had footage of these little kids hauling buckets of blueberries that were nearly as big as themselves-one in each hand. I mean, these kids were tough. Built like bricks and quick.
I know, I know, child labor is wrong and somebody will surely be outraged when I say this, but my first thought when I saw these families out there working together was, Where do I sign up?

My kids could totally benefit from some serious manual labor–from knowing that if they didn't work, and work hard, together, that they probably wouldn't have enough to eat tomorrow.
I realize that these children are probably not in school and that they have little hope of escaping the generational cycle of poverty they are part of and I don't think that's right, but I know that the generational cycle of entitlement and laziness that my own children are part of isn't right either. 
Maybe I should get a cow and some chickens and a big old garden and have my kids haul water up from the lake all summer to water it. Just because. It would probably cost more than buying the milk and eggs and produce from the store and they'd hate me with every exhausted breath but I bet they'd quit whining about going to school.
The problem is, they're all bigger than me and they might just roll over in bed and refuse to get up.
Maybe I could learn to use a bull whip…

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The Phantom Brake

"Will you back out of the driveway for me?"
"You can do it. Just keep your foot on the brake and go slow."
"Um. Where's the brake?"
I'm thinking she means the parking brake. "Right there. You kick it to release it."
"No. Like the regular brake."
"That big one in the middle. Keep  your foot on it."
Okay, so maybe having my daughter's first driving experience consist of pulling backwards down a hill out of a driveway with twelve-foot drop off directly behind it and a mailbox to the right and a brick post to the left wasn't the greatest piece of parenting I've ever attempted.
Because shouting STOPSTOPTSTOPSTOPSTOP!!!! doesn't actually help them remember which one is the gas and which one is the brake. Nor can you point frantically to the left as a ditch approaches–as she reminded me, the student driver finds the view out the windshield slightly more critical than the hand motions of a parent.
When I signed her up for Driver's Ed, I remember thinking that the instructor seemed like a really grouchy old lady. 
Now I know why.
At least she gets her own brake pedal and a sign warning everyone else who, exactly, is operating the motor vehicle. Shouldn't one of those STUDENT DRIVER trunk stickers be included in the tuition for the course?
I spent an hour and a half treading the fine line between making my daughter feel like an idiot and speaking up enough to keep the vehicle on the road.  During the straight stretches I told her about my first attempt at driving: I had to sit on my brother's lap because I couldn't work the steering wheel, the gas, the brake and the clutch all at the same time. I assured her that she was doing much better than I did my first time out. 
There were minimal tears and my right leg will likely recover from the strain of trying not to stomp on a phantom brake pedal for 90 minutes. At any rate, nobody died; no mailboxes have been tagged; and the lady with the mutt lived to walk away.
She has her first of six driving tests on Monday. In town. Turning out onto Pioneer Way.
Oh boy.

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