Memoir project: One About Richard

Austin, TX, 2001

A Kiss for Each Page

I had three major abdominal surgeries, one year apart, beginning in 1999. We learned during my first hospital stays that I did so much better when Richard was in the room with me. So, in 2001, he spent extra time with me before and after the surgery, spending long hours through the days in a dimly lit, lavender-papered room. He was needed at work, the kids needed him at home, and I needed him at the hospital. He balanced these demands without complaint.

His calming influence was so helpful. I felt less pain when I was with him. I didn’t feel anxious, which is what happens to me when I take pain medications and I am separated from the kids. My mom stayed with our kids so Richard could be with me during the days.

One day he sat down on the bed and read Tuesdays with Morrie aloud to me. Although this was a book about dying, it was a good choice because it also reminded us to celebrate life. He read for a long time, eventually resting against the pillow with me, bringing his legs up on the bed. At each page turn, he kissed me on the cheek. I felt so much love and fulfillment through his kindness to me that day. I felt loved, absolutely. As a mother, I have struggled to make room in my life to receive. One lesson from my illness was how important it is to allow myself to be loved.

When we were married, there was no thought of potential illnesses and hospital stays. These experiences showed me how much I need Richard on an emotional level. He has always been a good provider, but it’s not just in temporal things. He is also a provider of peace.

Last Week

Last week was a wrestle. I wrestled with church dilemmas, the clock, illnesses, and expectations. But there was a three-tiered cake one night, and clean surfaces everywhere, evidence that when I am doing mental work, physical work goes right along with it.

Last week,  there was so much calling me to stay home with the family. They needed my skills, my advice, my health, my early mornings, late nights, afternoon errands, and my touch.

Last week’s lessons:

  • Don’t bury concerns. Express them.
  • BYU application essay editing is a good way to spend a LOT of time with your senior. BYU requires six, people. Six!
  • You can’t wash your hands too often during flu season.
  • The boost in morale will come.
  • It’s ok to choose the less time-consuming option.
  • Conversations happen away from screens.
  • I experienced a miracle.
  • Everyone’s faith is a little different, even within the same church, and that is ok.
  • God knows ahead of time when I will fail to act, whether from laziness or pulls from different directions. He prepared a contingency plan or two last week so people were still cared for.
  • Life is long. I don’t have to do it all at once.
  • To write is to be vulnerable.
  • The sacrament is so precious to me.

Come walk with me

The annual bouquet in our front yard tree is in bloom, and as I sit in the living room with it right outside the window I think there couldn’t be anything more lovely. We celebrate our anniversary this weekend. What has the past year brought in our lives?

Places we have been together: Fish Creek, the Weber, San Diego, Sparks, St George, Moab

Recreation: Scuba diving (Richard), racquetball, walking, hiking, skiing

Projects: garden, 4-wheelers, wiring, humidifier, furnace, painting, quilts, dolls, books

Disagree about: piano lesson times, entertainment, the allure of rock shops

Agree about: most things

Difficulties: watching children go through trials; sometimes feeling disconnected because of full lives

Happy things: watching children overcome challenges; annual family Christmas video; trips with the family; watching our children sing, draw, paint, dance, excel in school, and show responsibility at work and church; dinner dates

Things we need to improve: temple attendance; time together

Things I admire about Richard: he is a faithful, regular blood donor; he enjoys being Scoutmaster; he always has a project; he kisses me goodbye every morning; he drives a terribly uncomfortable car with only a tape deck to work, over an hour a day, and doesn’t complain. He is married to a sometimes aloof, always sensitive, high-strung person and is still standing. I try to make up for my faults by occasionally baking brownies, lemon bars, and cookies.

People at work

This is what Paige moved home to last week, but we finished and she has a bedroom again.

So much of my life, our lives, feels like it’s under construction right now. We are stretched. We are challenged.

Paige finished her second year of college, moved home for the summer, and begins her job search tomorrow.

Daniel learned to dance the Lindy Hop in ballroom. This is a seriously difficult dance.

Timothy is filming sketch comedy each day after school. I knew he would be drawn to this eventually.

Mark and Paige painted her room with me.

The boys have a big piano ensemble performance this week.

AP test weeks have arrived.

Richard left in a snowstorm to go camping with the Boy Scouts on Friday and came home happy.

Life is full. I am learning that many things I spend my time doing, thinking they will make the family happy, don’t do this at all. A few examples:

Clean house? Not important to them.

Clean clothing? Important to them.

Conversation at 11pm? Important to teens only.

Talking TO them? Not welcome.

Listening to them? Always important.

Milk and cereal always on hand? Important.

Telling them about what I am reading? Not important. A real turn-off.

Using what I am reading to be more empathetic? Important.

Seasonal decorations? Not important, except at Christmas time.

Freshly painted baseboards? Not important to them.

Much of what I do is just for me, after all. It’s ok to do what I love, but I need to be honest about who I am really serving. Wrapped up in things only I care about under the guise of serving my family is counterproductive. This makes me unapproachable and busy. This is not how I want to be.

Arches National Park

We spent a couple of days at Arches National Park this week to replenish our spirits. We did this by depleting all the energy in our bodies. For me, I was pretty depleted to begin, but I made it up the trails. I felt fear like I never remember before, the kind of fear that zings through the body and comes to rest, hot and electric in the feet and fingertips, as I watched the boys climb and jump over rock faces. I felt my spirit expand as I looked out over vistas. Concerns that felt so heavy moved to their proper place in my mind, less prominent and less pressing. We enjoyed our time with Shari’s family. We spent money at a rock shop and ate pop tarts. Comic books and AP History papers littered the back seat of the truck. We played card games in the tent trailer at night and made jokes about signs we saw. My boys said, Look, mom!” a dozen times (My favorite phrase). Food was often the topic of conversation when we weren’t eating. Mark swam at the campground pool until we had to leave. I read four whole pages.

These kite string moments, where we watch the boys soar, are different for Richard than for me. He photographs everything and urges us to do more hikes and make the most of the time. I sit and watch, allowing time to be insignificant, focusing on small moments of how they looked and talked on this day. Then I set the memories away gently in my mind. My favorite moment was sitting under our last arch of the trip, watching the crowds and the boys, Richard and I resting in our little niche in the rock. All was well.

This woman needs a laptop

I read a memoir this week, one with a similar style to the book I was going to write in 2015. I knew it would be emotional for me to read this book because it would awaken the ache to write my own story.

At the bookstore, I bought a stack of copies of this book to give to friends. When the cashier saw them, she said the cover was beautiful. I agreed, and then she asked if I was the author.

I was completely affected by this. “No,” I stammered.

“But I should be,” I thought.

The same day someone invited me to a writing retreat. I didn’t dare say yes. But I took it as another sign.

That evening I was surprised by my tears when I told Richard how I ache to write. He just said, “It’s a good thing I just ordered you a new laptop. It arrives tomorrow. That should help.”

Some truth to replace a lie

So far, my 2017 has been about rededication about my use of time. It’s been about simple things like putting my phone down and keeping it on silent. It’s been longer and deeper study of the Book of Mormon each day. I gave up some screen habits that have been numbing me to what is going on.

Along with my feelings of needing to rededicate my life to good things, it has been a rocky few months at home. We have some family concerns which seemed to justify the creeping notion that it is impossible to be a good wife and mother and be a good Relief Society president at the same time.

Things are getting better now, some simple truths having won out.

On Sunday as I partook of the sacrament, it became clear to me that it’s a lie that it’s impossible to be a good wife and mother and serve in the Church.

The truth is, the Lord just needs my dedication to living commandments and for me to give simple acts of love and he will work miracles. I have seen many.

People feel my love when all I can do is pray for them each day. 

Deep scripture study has given me answers to impossible questions and helped me articulate answers to dilemmas in meetings.

I have felt a heightened awareness of who I need to talk to, sometimes based on a simple expression on a face and no verbal cues.

I have felt the power and influence of good counselors and a secretary to know who to serve each week.

Writing a short note has been a powerful way to communicate with those who are not open to a visit or when I can’t visit. Short notes don’t take much time. They just require love.

The names, direction, and action items that come to my mind when I partake of the sacrament on Sunday are incredibly accurate. When I act on these impressions, I see that God is making me a better wife and mother, minister, and witness.

Next to my relationship with God, being a wife and mother is my most important work. As I improve my relationship to God and family, I feel more confident in my church service. There is no way to measure a person’s influence for good in the lives of others, but I believe it grows as I draw closer to the Lord. I am grateful to a few friends who reassured me of this on Sunday. I feel a new energy to keep trying.

Finding Joy in the Desert

My early years in Arizona were intense and isolated. I didn’t have a lot of friends and I was with the kids all day, every day. I was home schooling and Richard had many church obligations on Sunday and some weekday evenings. One evening, Richard took the three boys camping and Paige was at a friend’s house watching movies. I realized I would be alone all evening, and none of my children needed me.

I sat on the couch, and the silence hovered all around me. The piano wasn’t being played. The dishes were done. No one was asking me for a cup of milk or a bowl of goldfish crackers. The accumulated fatigue from my lifestyle seemed to settle like a frost, and my body, used to constant motion and focus, took its cue and didn’t feel like doing ANYTHING. I couldn’t settle on what to do with this time alone. I had lost excitement for things other than parenting that I loved to do.

I had hit a wall of exhaustion, and it would take more than one night alone to sort things out. But I did. I wasn’t always exhausted, but there was a pessimism that hounded me. I hope my experience can be helpful to someone else.

Now that the fog of those early parenting years is gone, I see more distinctly how stretched I was. To be clear, I loved playing with, teaching, reading to, and spending time with my children. But it was also very difficult. Writing my worries about the kids and my doubts in my parenting choices in my journal was a healthy outlet. I’d come away from a good journal-writing session feeling like the problems were expressed and solutions were on the way. I rarely took time to write about the good things about parenting in my journal, though, and that was something that needed to change.

Being tired, even exhausted, is a real part of being a parent of young children. Difficulty doesn’t necessarily mean something is bad. Those early years are a temporary marathon. If I could do it again, I wouldn’t feel ashamed of my personal need for solitude. I didn’t want to give the impression to anyone, especially the kids, that I saw parenting as a burden. But parenting IS a burden; it is a worthy, beautiful burden, and like any burden, it needs to be set down sometimes. I was wrong to think that taking some time away from the kids was selfish. It taxed my mental health to deny myself time with Richard and deny myself time alone. It created impossible dilemmas in my marriage. My prayers suffered. I could physically do the things I needed to do, but my spirit was faltering. I had developed a bad attitude about so many things.

I found my way out over the next few years by making some very minor adjustments in my life. There is nothing religious in my formula except a search for joy. I didn’t pray more or make huge efforts in temple work. I just decided to focus on the happy side of my story. I was still a stay at home mom with 4 children to educate. Richard was still busy at church. We were still living in the desert. All that changed was my attitude. The change came gradually because I did the following (these are links to old posts)*:

*If you are a parent of young children, perhaps your needs are different than mine. While I needed solitude, maybe you need more time with friends. I needed independence; a housekeeper or regular babysitter would have been too hard for me to accept. You may be different. Perhaps help around the house would be just the thing. Pride and comparison can get in the way of finding joy, too. It seems to me that the best thing to do is make a list of your interests, gifts, limitations, and dreams and make a plan. Finding joy can be as basic as smiling at a belligerent toddler instead of getting angry, or finding time to do something you love, even for one minute.

Hello Halloween

I realized the following:

  1. We haven’t carved pumpkins.
  2. I haven’t bought Halloween candy.
  3. Only one boy is dressing up this year. I think.
  4. I am ready to put up my Thanksgiving decor as soon as we stop seeing trick or treaters.
  5. I might like to dress up this year. I am thinking Rosie the Riveter.
  6. Paige is having fun being an illustrator and got her first commissioned project. Her Instagram feed this month has been whimsical and cute.
  7. Mark decorated his room with spiders and 6-inch plastic skeletons. Hanging just inside the door is a spider with a full human skeleton in its grasp. It’s so morbid that I can’t bring myself to take a picture.
  8. I have been sick and Richard took good care of me. Now that I am feeling better I will need to start cooking again.