Memoir Project: Sweet Timothy

Sahuarita, AZ; Sandy, UT, 2005-2015

Sweet Timothy

Timothy sat down to play at the grand piano in his pajamas. At age 4, he wasn’t taking lessons yet, but his siblings had taught him to play the tune that Big Ben chimes and the opening notes of “Jingle Bells.” It was the night of the filming of the annual Christmas video and we asked him to play his songs for us. We could tell that he wanted to because he was nervous at the thought of doing it. “I only know how to play the first part,” he said, twirling the hair near the crown of his head with his fingers. With our encouragement, he played for the camera, and when he finished, he quickly slid off the bench, trying to hide his smile of triumph and began twisting his hair again, nervously.

Timothy’s challenge while growing up is to reconcile his natural sweet disposition with his desire to be independent. Of all the children, Timothy gives himself up to joy and humor and love the easiest. But to smile is to be vulnerable, so when he was little, he would jam his tongue into his cheek to suppress it if he thought he was the only one smiling. Sometimes, even now, I will catch him doing it again, hoping to avoid detection. He’ll tell me something funny with tight lips to keep himself from giving up the joke too soon.

He was best friends with the girl across the street in Arizona who had some developmental delays. She was 4 years older, but their matching sweetness, humor, and open hearts made them close friends. He played with Littlest Pet Shop animals with this girl for 6 years, even though he preferred Legos and other games. He never teased her. He never asked her why she didn’t play with the girls in Paige’s room. I saw a degree of strength in Timothy as he dealt with her, but it wasn’t an effort for him. He just loved and played and enjoyed his time with her. One day he realized that she was growing older, but didn’t act like other girls her age and he mentioned it to me. As I explained that she just grew at a different rate, I felt foolish. He wasn’t looking for an explanation. He was just making an observation and it didn’t matter to him that she was different. I suspect that Timothy will have many people in his life that will be drawn to him because he provides a safe place.

When he was in fourth grade, I met Timothy and Mark after school each day to walk with them. Without fail, Timothy gave me the biggest smile and a hug every day when he saw me, right in front of his friends, even if they were talking to him. Without words, he said, “Excuse me, but I see my mom and I always give her a hug. Your story will have to wait until tomorrow.” With these hugs, all of his attention shifted from his friends to me and Mark and we walked down the hill together. This touched my heart each day.

In February of his sixth-grade year, he hinted to me meekly that he was playing his trombone in a band concert during school. I wasn’t sure if he wanted me to be there so I asked him on a scale from one to ten, how much he would like me to come, helping him avoid having to say the awkward, “Please don’t come, Mom.” To my surprise, he said, “8 or 9.” So, I went, and I was one of four guests, three of whom were grandparents. In other words, I was one of the privileged few. He even let me take a picture.

He is growing up, but he still lets me be in love with him. I am glad when his sweetness wins out over his independence. It’s a strength that will make a difference for others.

Memoir Project: Little Daniel

Austin, TX 2002-2004

What was Daniel Like as a Child?

Daniel had a sparkly, verbose, and outgoing personality as a young child. He made friends everywhere we went. Newly-met playground friends were mourned by him in the car as we drove away. We would probably never see this-or-this friend again. He spoke to be heard and to share his thoughts and designs, and inward scenarios. He found order in talking. He could enchant adults by his precocial and erudite vocabulary and clear, precise pronunciation. He could talk for a long time about things that interested him.

When he was three, he loved to dress up as a firefighter and the vacuum hose was his favorite accessory. Sounds of toy firetrucks and sirens were common at our house. There were two large firetrucks, and a line of smaller firetrucks, like a family, which he would line up in descending order of size. Common book choices were about fires and firetrucks.

His Spiderman costume was his favorite costume the next year, and he would wear it to climb up door jams. He would walk his way up a door jam, with one foot on either side. At the top, he took away both hands from the sides of the door while his feet supported him. Next, he held the sides with his arms while he clapped his feet. In a dramatic finish, he dropped to the soft carpet below, triumphant, the stuffed muscles of his costume bulging at the arms and chest.

Seeing Paige learn to play the piano first, Daniel matched her songs by composing one of his own. His first composition was meant to be scary. He played the same notes in a minor key beginning at the bottom of the keyboard, moving up the octaves all the way to the top. When Paige performed her songs for others, he made sure to play his song, too. Here was our first glimpse of him as a showy piano performer.

We gave him some PVC pipe, cut in short sections, complete with T and L-shaped connectors so he could build “machines” with them when he was three-years-old. Sometimes he would choose our largest room and set up an intricate machine spanning the length of the room. He incorporated not only pipes, but vacuum hoses in his designs. Everything was connected and had a purpose. I remember sitting down with him at his desk and teaching him about basic machines when he was about four-years-old and he memorized everything, with his blue eyes wide open. Levers, wheels and axles, pulleys, inclined planes, and screws were incorporated in his creations from then on. He was a natural engineer. Coming into his room was like walking into a cluttered laboratory, full of his inventions. We bought an 8-foot long banquet table for school work, which we ended up giving to him for his projects. At any time, this table would have dozens of Lego buildings, piles of collections, trains, and puzzles mixed together. He liked to listen to music as he worked on his projects, and his tastes ranged from kid CD’s to Mariachi band music.

Daniel was Daniel from the start: temperament, interests, intellect, and abilities all showed themselves when he was very young. We marveled that he could do so much.

Memoir project: Daughter

I haven’t been able to write here for a while, but here is something I am working on:

August 1996


I lay awake in my room at the hospital, and watched our new baby Paige as I wrote in my journal. I watched her facial expressions, and made note that her hair was the same color as mine. For a time, she lay in the crib, calmly looking about with wide eyes, and I wondered what she was experiencing. I saw Richard’s eyes and nose in her features, but claimed her mouth to be like mine. Her round face is imprinted in my memory. Clichés and effusive expressions about Paige and Richard were all that I could write to mark the day. I was twenty-one years old, and had gained a new title of Mother. I have spent the rest of my life since, trying to master the words to describe what this role means.

Paige was the anticipated first grandchild for my parents. My mom, who left me with a kiss on the cheek, and later, my brother Paul came by the hospital during my labor. Paige was born on a Tuesday afternoon, after several nights of little sleep and false alarms. I felt Richard’s concern for me in the days before she was born, and needed his support at her birth.

Richard went with the nurse to give Paige her first bath and was gone for a while. My room was near the nursery, and I peeked in to find him watching her, intently. When he returned to my room to check on me, he smelled of Johnson’s Baby Wash after holding her for so long, a smell that will always evoke images of our babies.

We named our daughter Paige, after one of my Young Women leaders. This leader was educated, beautiful, and a dancer. The name Paige means “young helper,” and I knew she would be a help to our family.

That night I thought about where her spirit had been before she arrived. Richard’s maternal grandmother passed away just before Paige was born. My Great-grandmother Spencer passed away earlier that year. I wonder if there was a crossing of paths, with hugs, a cheer, and encouragements for Paige from these women as she made her journey to us. It takes courage, I think, to choose to be born, to choose to become a parent, and to choose to embrace the role of women. Yes, I am sure we need the strength and goodness of those on the other side of this journey, and they are with us, not just at the crossroads, but steadily through our days.


Sometimes when there is a special sunrise or sunset, eclipse or meteor shower, I figure it is Heavenly Father reminding us he is there.

Sometimes the word, “remember” is important, because when we are in the moment, we can’t see where we are. Only as we look back can we make sense of things.

Sometimes I see how much I have changed since the children were young. I speak a lot less, but really think about my words when I do.

Sometimes I walk through the toy aisles because one of my violin students wants to talk about Shopkins each week, so I do my research.

Sometimes when Paige is home, I forget that she ever left us, until she leaves again, and I wish we had gone out to lunch together or spent more time talking while she was home.

Sometimes I am surprised when I am practicing the violin and Daniel walks in to accompany me on the piano. I will miss our impromptu concerts.

Sometimes I watch Timothy during the funny parts of movies, because he gives himself to delight so easily.

Sometimes Mark is all I need in the world to be happy. He asks me about my day, offers empathetic encouragement, and makes me laugh. I look at his profile and can’t find the little boy he used to be.

Sometimes Richard and I feel old together, whether it is complaining about aches after working, stumbling around in the middle of the night looking for the Excedrin, or choosing to watch documentaries.

Sometimes I remember that this is the last day, holiday, or season with Daniel home, but I put those thoughts away quickly. I learned with Paige that the parade of lasts can be painful, but this just means the parade of firsts will begin soon.

Sometimes I see so many needs in my circle of influence that I spend a day writing letters to people, since there is no way I can visit everyone.

Sometimes when I run into someone I know out in public, I remind myself that just like the sunrise and sunset, they are a reminder that Heavenly Father is there, and he thinks we should talk. Today at the store I saw a young mother in my ward and another Relief Society president in my stake. Thank you, Heavenly Father. It was important to talk to each of these women today.


Thanksgiving guests

The line from scripture that stays in my head lately is, “learn to impart one to another as the gospel requires.” (D&C 88:123)

To impart is to “make known or communicate.”

I don’t think I have much to impart lately. Perhaps the lessons I need in order to be effective are still making their way into my heart. I hope that it is enough to post a scripture on social media or to reach out gently to someone.

I hope the extra hours pouring my heart and energy into our home and celebrations instead of my usual hours of study and writing will impart love, or whatever God wants someone to understand.

I am only beginning to trust that there are many ways to impart gospel principles. Many don’t require the knowledge I am continually chasing, but they always require a healthy portion of self.

An adoption, a wedding, and a dance

From my parents’ patio today, the smell of leaves decaying on the ground and a wood burning stove was enough to make me stop and breathe deeply. The garden was covered in leaves, ready for a covering of snow and a tiller in the spring. Something about autumn forces us to look forward, in preparation for winter and holidays. I feel the tug of holiday expectations early this year, and grateful for the smells of autumn that initiated some minutes to reflect.

On Thursday, I drove to the now-familiar courthouse in Ogden to see my sister and her husband adopt their third baby. Grace was sleepy as I held her during my sister’s sweet, tearful testimony to the judge. To keep the children safe, I don’t post photos of their faces, just their feet. Can you spot the tiniest feet? Those are Grace’s.

In St George this weekend, Richard’s parents’ house seemed more empty during our visit, as Rebecca’s family didn’t stop by. Cancer shows us the gap one person leaves when she is unable to attend. The family rallied for a big wedding celebration for Andrea, twinkle lights and green boughs everywhere. All hands were needed, and this brought out the best in many who sometimes stay in the corners.

When I look at my own wedding photos, it is the faces of grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles that I study, not friends nor countless pictures of the couple. I wish wedding photographers realized this, and took a few more pictures of the extended family.

Speaking of memories of grandparents, Daniel wore his great-grandfather’s cowboy boots to a dance this weekend. I think that would make Grandpa smile.

Last roses of the season

I cut the last roses from the bushes this morning. They were a little frost-bitten, and I wonder if the warm house will encourage the buds to open. Sometimes a little shock is all we need in order to bloom.

I continue to feel the shock of new experiences in motherhood. This weekend I watched a son get injured at an athletic tournament, and saw his hopes of playing taken in his first minutes on the field. I haven’t felt that disappointment and sadness before. One night last week, I tried to wait up for a son, only to awaken at 4:00 am on the couch, stiff and incredibly sad. I had missed his homecoming. Fatigue is happening, but I hope the accompanying display of my heart is like these roses, showing their struggle in blooming, vibrant array. I may not be beautiful, curled up on a sofa or sitting bundled on the sidelines, but they are exercises in blooming, and they mean, “I love you.”


I have watched his face this year, and for a little while, his cheeks were sunken and his eyes seemed dull. I have worried and prayed. I’ve had to trust that others would step forward, as my own legs were not made for this journey with him. But my heart has traveled in his shirt pocket, close and warm. It has flown above him, hovering just above his bright hair in hallways, hills, and classrooms. I gauged his strength by the notes on our piano. For a time, there was no music.

“Wait,” is all I hear from heaven.

Quietly, steadily, I watch grace unfold its pattern, like the snowflakes I cut out each winter. No matter how many I make, I still feel wonder when I open the folds.

“Look!” is a common word spoken by angels.

I didn’t have to wait for winter this year to reveal a pattern in the cuts and winnowing. It wasn’t a snowflake this time. It was a jack-o’-lantern, every feature smiling, especially the eyes.

My son is happy.


My current tool kit

My current tool kit for life includes:

Tissues: I sense over time that there is a correlation between trust and the number of tears I witness as a Relief Society president. When I hand a sister a tissue, I know her tears are precious, and I am honored to share the moment with her.

Chartreuse, Olive, Purple, Tan, and Silver Thread: These are the colors needed to sew on Scout patches. Recently, I transferred Mark’s patches to Daniel’s old shirt and moved Daniel’s old patches to a larger shirt. Timothy needed me to sew on about 15 merit badges. I do this sewing so they are prepared for big evenings like we had this week. Daniel completed his board of review for Eagle Scout rank, and I was asked to give a few words about his scouting experience. I shared a little of what it is like to send my 11 or 12-year-old to Scout camp for the first time, and to hear later from a leader that he did well. I shared what it feels like to let go, and see a son grow in leadership and ability because I allowed him some danger and adventure.  I didn’t earn Daniel’s Eagle for him. What I did was watch, wait, and encourage. This was the longer and more difficult path, but better. Later, I noticed this was the shirt I was wearing beneath my sweater for the Eagle board of review. Perfect.

One, Three-ring Binder for Each Child: When a child comes home with a certificate, report card, recital program, or blue card for a Scout merit badge, it goes in a sheet protector in this binder. When college and scholarship applications are due, this is a great reference for what they have done during high school. To keep merit badge blue cards organized, I use plastic sheets made for baseball trading cards. I can’t emphasize enough how important it was for me to keep track of these, through a move and changes in leaders.

Small notebooks: I carry these around with me so I can keep track of ideas, which swirl around me and are fickle about staying in my head very long.

Sugar free Ice Breakers Wintergreen Mints: because I talk to many people.

Small fabric bags with zippers in my purse: I have one for keys, and one for pens. They keep me organized.

A great phone plan for texting: for teens and church work

Laser printer: I am learning that writing a book means endless drafts.

Paper scriptures: Lately, I gravitate toward paper over electronic, because I have 20 years worth of notes in the margins of these scriptures. They have been steady friends during times of change.

Yearly tasks written on a calendar: In January, when I put up a new calendar, I took some time to write in the margins some hints about what needed to happen each month. For November, I wrote that during the first week I needed to go to a certain store for the best selection of Christmas cards. Another week we needed to do the Christmas picture. This has been so helpful! (And I realize probably everyone does this already.)

Less: Our family doesn’t need as much as it used to. Toys, art supplies, curriculum, and smaller clothing need to make steady exits from our house… as I have the courage to part with them.

If I think of you, I will make some effort to contact you: This isn’t a tangible thing in my tool kit, just an idea that I have recommitted to this month. Basically, I trust there are reasons I think of random people in a day, and make efforts to find out why.