Saturday, April 30, 2016

War, Wisdom, and Great Grandpa Alder

I-15 stretched before us for miles and miles and the children were quiet in the backseats.  Through the radio the sounds of Christian lyrics and gentle harmonies helped bring about the stillness and reverence that I love and anticipate come each Sabbath.  Our wheels were rolling south, away from the small farm-town of Malad, Idaho where, tucked away in the sleepy streets, we had found the old home of Great Grandpa Alder and had taken our children in to listen to his stories.

Ninety-four years of experience and wisdom hide in this kind, humble man. An air force pilot who flew in World War II, we asked him to tell us some war stories but, smiling at the invisible memories, he flicked his wrist dismissively and said, "Oh... well... that was a long time ago."  We pressed and out came a most humble retelling of a beautifully heroic story in our own family history.

It was a story that took place in a B-24 bomber, in the air, over Nazi Germany.  It was his B-24 bomber, of course, and he, dressed in uniform and sitting in the pilot seat, was working to fulfill the mission he had been sent there to complete.  But they "hit some flak" as he said (which I had to ask about in order to learn that that means 'shot from the ground by Germans with anti-aircraft guns'), and it did enough damage that they found themselves spiraling out of control towards the hard, enemy land.

His co-pilot panicked as they dropped 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 ft. from the sky, "and I had to... to reach over," he demonstrated by reaching his arm out to his side, "and hit him just as hard as I could.  Just... just like this," he slammed his fist into his own chest and relaxed back into his living room chair with an amused laugh. "It worked," he shrugged.  They regained control of the aircraft and hobbled the damaged plane over the Alps to the safety of Switzerland where he spent the last 6 weeks of the war as a POW.

I thought about this story as the mini-van carried us further from the inviting warmth of his living room, and it became more and more real as the miles between us increased.  How remarkable, I thought, that he was able to keep his head clear through that whole thing and save the lives of all the men in his plane...  As the facts replayed in my mind, I saw true heroics in it all.

But his voice had been so quiet as he told the story, and his tone so humble it made me feel as if he might have been recounting what he had eaten for lunch that very afternoon.  No fancy phrasing, no heroic words, just simple facts from a humble heart.  Simple facts that, when strung together and played with a measure of feeling, leave me rather breathless at the suspense and true fear he must have faced in those moments - and so many others - in the war.

There must be millions of stories like this from World War II alone. Beautiful, terrible, hard stories that add depth and meaning to families. Stories told in English, and in German, and Japanese...

Thankfully Great Grandpa Alder's story ended well.  He returned home to his wife and they built a beautiful family in which I am lucky to take part.

He has children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren who have all played at his feet.  

As I watched Miles play this paper and cardboard basketball game, the same one that Brian played with as a child that has somehow, miraculously, survived the years, I wished that he could just stay there and soak up as much wisdom as he could from the old man sitting only five feet away.

But the time for goodbyes came, and Great Grandpa Alder wrapped each of us up in a hug, squeezed the children tight and said his traditional, "Ohhhhhhh, baby!" in their ears.  We waved as we stepped out on the porch with promises to visit the next time we were in the area.

"Well, don't wait too long!" he called with wink and a smile, 

He said the same thing to us the last time we saw him, I remembered, the side of my head resting against the glass of the passenger side window, just a few months ago.  The trees outside moved so quickly across my view, each individual tree blurring so completely with the next, that my eyes didn't even try bringing them into focus.  Instead, they rested in the blur while my mind analyzed how wonderful it would be if we all could live in a large family community - great grandparents and great grandchildren, parents and grandparents, children and grandchildren, all mixing together and sharing, as only families can, the walks of their daily grind. The young sharing energy.  The old sharing life.

But the car traveled on,
putting miles
and miles
and miles between
the kids in the car
and ninety-four years of wisdom.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A New Kind of Beauty

We used to live on the beach, you know.  A real beach with soft sand and crystal clear water.  With dolphins and sting rays and manatees visible from our back porch.  With gentle, rolling waves and soft breezes.  With rainfalls so hard they made you laugh and winds so strong they made you fear.  My big camera lived on my shoulder that year and never felt like a burden because wherever I went there was something incredible and beautiful to capture.

This is not that place. 

I knew it wouldn't be, of course.  

The colors here feel a bit muted and noticeably lacking in green.

But I'm starting to see it.  I kind of feel like a newborn puppy - born to this desert home with my eyes tightly shut to the beauty around me.  Did you know that puppies are born with their eyelids closed because their eyes are not developed yet?  And even when their eyelids do start to open, their eyes are still developing and will not see well for several weeks to come.

I get that.

I've accepted that the desert will never be the ocean, a lizard will never be a dolphin, a desert shrub will never be a sand dune, and orange will never be green.

But that's okay.  There is beauty here, too.  The sunsets alone can carry me for days.

We have rose gardens in our yard exploding with hundreds of silky bright roses in stunning colors, we have a pomegranate tree speckled with fluorescent red flowers that shine through its gentle green leaves, we have lavender and basil and oregano and mint adding sweet fragrance to the air.  This is not their natural habitat, but their beauty can thrive here and add itself to the unique beauty of the desert.

I think I get that.

Maybe I can, too.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Scrambled Thoughts XV

*Teeth Glasses.  It's a thing.

Maybe you can't tell from the photo above, but this girl got braces. (Also pictured in the photo, she got her Daddy's face.)  There was a lot of excitement and anticipation in our home in the weeks leading up to the event - and the morning of the appointment she came down the stairs to breakfast and confessed, "I am so nervous.  My stomach feels all weird - like butterflies."  She handled the appointment like a champ, even though there were a few tense moments that were rather uncomfortable.

Teek didn't know what to think about the whole situation.
"Hey, Ken-zee, what is doze sings on yohw teese?" (*What are those things on your teeth?*)
"Hmmmm.... I don't know, buddy.  Can you guess?"
"Is dey gasses?  Gasses on yohw teese?" (*Are they glasses?  Glasses on your teeth?*)

*Well, why not play cards in costume on a Wednesday?

This kid kills me.  He is such a character.

And so fun to have in this house.

*Feed them and they will come

I may have mentioned this before, but this table full of kids is one of the reasons I LOVE living where I do.  This was just a regular night, and when the neighbor kids found out we were having waffles, they stayed.  It made me want to make waffles every. single. night. (Who are we kidding?  I want to make waffles every single night anyway.)  A table full of happiness.

*Guess who has two thumbs and signed up for a 70 mile bike race.

This girl!  Here I am after my first bike ride - that's how you know I'm telling the truth.  The girls in the neighborhood took me out on a 20 mile ride one Saturday morning and I fell in love with it.  Here's to hoping that I actually have 70 miles of leg power in my legs. Go legs!

*Guess who has two thumbs and knows how to open up a bottle full of sprinkles.

"Can I has a cookie?!"
"No, not this morning."
"Can I has a jelly bean?!"
"No, buddy.  No candy this morning."
"Can I has some sprinkles?"
"I know you want some, Teek, but no sugar this morning."
It was the morning after McKenzie's birthday, and all the sugar was still just sitting around.  What's a boy to do when his mom turns her back for a minute?
"TK, did you get into the sprinkles?"
That Face. The one up there. That melts my heart every time I look at it. Staring back at me. Hoping he's not in trouble.  Slowly nodding his head, truthfully responding to my question.  What's a mom to do?  Hug him and kiss him and praise him for his honesty, then tell him about the importance of obedience while cutting him a giant piece of cake, that's what.

Friday, April 8, 2016

May I have this... dance?

"Is McKenzie going to the dance tonight?"  It was an innocent question posed by my neighbor, a question that was intended to provide just a small bit of information, a simple question that required nothing more than a 'yes' or 'no'.  But my answer froze in my throat as the gravity of that question hit me.

McKenzie had JUST turned twelve less than a week earlier, and the very first YW activity she was invited to happened to be a stake dance.  Usually (in fact, before this event I would have said always), the youth dances are held for all youth 14 years of age or older.  So even though McKenzie had just aged into YW, I hadn't even started to process the idea of her going to the dances quite yet.

"Uh, yes... she is," I finally croaked out.

A week before, McKenzie had come to me as I was working in the kitchen and asked, "Mom, what do I do if a boy asks me to dance?"  My eyebrows shot up in a look of You-Caught-Me-A-Little-Off-Guard surprise before I recovered and answered her question.

"Well," I began, turning to her with a smile.  "You say 'yes'.  You always say yes if a nice boy asks you to dance.  Think about how much courage it would take for you to ask a boy to dance!  So, if a boy has enough courage to come up and ask you to dance, make sure you respect his courage.  And then, you just kind of slowly spin in a little circle, like this, and you try to make him feel very comfortable and happy that he asked you in the first place.  Ask him questions and listen to his answers, and then at the end of the dance make sure to thank him."  I put a calm smile on my face even though my insides were screaming at the injustice of Growing Up and continued, "but... I really don't think you have to worry about that right now. Those twelve year old boys are just as scared of you as you are of them and I doubt any of them will be asking girls to dance.  So, the best part of the dance is just hanging out and being silly with your girlfriends."

"Yeah..." she laughed in response.

She came f.l.o.a.t.i.n.g. in the door at 8:30pm the night after the dance.  She had had a wonderful time.  "So, you were wrong, Mom," she said with a smile on her face.  "I got asked to dance twice."

"Wait, you did?!" I asked, a little too surprised.  "You said, 'no, I'm way too young,' right?!"
"Nope," she replied with a little teasing lilt. "I did what my mother told me... always say yes."

We lay in her bed that night, side by side, and talked about the whole evening. About her girlfriends. About Cute Boy.  About the three slow songs, and about the awkwardness she felt in being the only girl in her circle to be asked to dance.

Anyway, the point of this post is really that I fell asleep that night, and many nights following, not sure that I had made all of the right parenting decisions.  I kind of think I maybe should have said no to the dance altogether? She's so young, and while dances and flirty feelings are fun and appropriate at times, I'd rather her not have been introduced to them quite this early.  Or, instead of saying 'always say yes' to a boy who asks you to dance, I maybe should have added the disclaimer that you should never say yes if you feel truly uncomfortable.  During our debriefing of the night maybe I should have given a little more attention to the topic of Cute Boy. Or maybe less.

They were right, all those people who told me that parenting gets harder.

Valentines day was a few days later, and McKenzie came home from school cradling a paper and plastic rose from the 99 cent store that had been given to her by Cute Boy.  We put it in a vase and stuck it by the window for a couple of days and I wondered, again, about my role in all of this.  

I think my role is to teach her to be wise.  Teach her to be kind.  Teach her to be joyful.  Teach her to listen for, to follow, and to obey the quiet promptings of the spirit.

The Spirit.

That's the answer.  Isn't it. Because he will teach her what I can't.  He will see the dangers more clearly than I ever will.  And he will be there, warning and guiding and confirming and comforting her all along the way.


I think my role is to remember to be wise.  Remember to be kind.  Remember to be joyful. Remember to listen for, to follow and to obey the quiet promptings of the Spirit.  The Spirit is always the answer. Because I know he will teach me what I need to know.  He will see the dangers more clearly than I ever will.  And he will be there, warning and guiding and confirming and comforting me all along the way.

One thing's for sure - I'm so grateful I have McKenzie to teach me about this.  I have a feeling this will not be the last time I lie awake wondering if I made the right parenting choices.  Seeing my own flaws and mistakes affect the life of one of my children has always been a terribly humbling and painful experience - but I have faith that McKenzie will be able to succeed in spite of all of my flaws, and I have faith that I can be helped to overcome those flaws, all through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

The further I get along in this parenting gig, the more I start to wonder whether parenting is more for the children, or for the parents.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Lake Mead

The Lake Mead Marina has become one of our favorite spots.

We took Grandma and Grandpa there on their last visit to feed the fish and the ducks and the seagulls, and it was a most beautiful day.

I couldn't get over the shadows that the sun was casting.

Something about watching Timothy's shadow get longer and longer throughout the afternoon pricked my heart.  I could almost see it growing... and I realized that he was growing almost as fast.  

The light was beautiful that afternoon.

And my kids were happy.

The lake was a beautiful blue and I kind of love this selfie that came out of it.

It was an afternoon of Beauty.

It was an afternoon of Happy.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Dribble, Dribble, Dribble, Shoot!

Basketball is kind of taking over our lives.  

We signed both Carson and McKenzie up to play on the rec teams this year, and it ended up swallowing us whole.  Two weeknights a week, they said... I was okaaaaaay with that, though it certainly was on the verge of being Too Much.  Is anyone else as protective of their evenings?  They are so very precious to me, I hate to fill them with Things.

But, in the name of Recreation is Important, Too, we signed away our Tuesday and Thursday nights to spend them at the rec center with Carson, cheering him on.  I was so proud of how hard he worked.  And I was so impressed by how much he improved during the short season.  That boy learned how to hustle!  And, two nights really wasn't that bad.

What I didn't realize when I signed them up was that McKenzie's two nights would not line up with Carson's two nights.

So every Monday and Wednesday night we were found at the rec center cheering her on.  Which, in case you weren't paying attention, meant that every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night had me sitting in the bleachers cheering my heart out for one or the other awesome kid.  Not cheering my heart right out loud always, but always cheering.

Turns out that McKenzie is quite the great defender.  That girl could move across the court, I tell you.  She worked her tail off and absorbed all of her coach's instructions.

Sorry, ladies.  This coach is taken.

Kenz took her games very seriously, and I was proud of her.

Those boys up in that doorway up there?  Love it.

And Miles?

Well, he was a bit angry most of the time that he was too young to play.  He would sit on the bleachers with his arms folded and his eyebrows turned down in a scowl muttering 'It's not fair' six hundred and forty eight times per game.  Sorry, bud.  I learned that encouraging him to be happy for his siblings was not effective... but when I suggested that he use this time on the bleachers to study the game and get pointers for himself, he took that to heart.  This boy loves basketball.  You will find him out on the court behind our house every afternoon, by himself, shooting and dribbling.  He's on track to be tall, too.  We'll see where this current passion takes him.

And Timothy?

Well, he spent the time in the bleachers perfecting tricks of his own.