Wednesday, February 27, 2019

You don't have to learn through wooden blocks

I remember the first time a pediatrician ever asked me, "How many blocks can she stack?" I was holding my 2-year-old McKenzie and I didn't really know how to answer that question. I didn't know I was supposed to even know that information, and I wasn't exactly sure what he meant. The only perspective I had was from a set of ten plastic stacking cups that we owned, each cup getting smaller as the tower grew, and fitting snugly and solidly on top of the cup underneath it. McKenzie was a champion at it and had mastered the art of stacking all ten cups, in order, without help. So, I said to the pediatrician, "Ten." His eyebrows shot straight up into his head and he said, "Really?" His surprise made me second-guess my answer, and it was at this point that I remembered about the little, square wooden blocks with the numbers and the letters... and I realized that he probably meant that kind of block that didn't have decreasing sizes or ridges to lock one on top of the other.

I didn't know.

And after that visit, I promptly went out and bought a set of blocks because, I thought, all good moms must have them and know, at all times, how many their toddler can stack.

Now, of course, I wish I could talk to that 22 year old mom. I'd tell her from the lens of perspective that the wooden blocks she just bought would sit on her toy shelves for more than a decade and would see five children through their toddler years, and that - while she'd be glad she had them - they'd never be a favorite toy, and would only get played with a handful of times.

And you'll never actually know how many blocks any of your toddlers can stack at any given time.

I think of this story every time these blocks come out.

About how important I thought these blocks were going to be in order for me to raise my children. That they, somehow, would hold all the answers to the questions of how successful my children were becoming.

And about how wrong I was.

The truth is that they do provide entertainment from time to time... They'll spark a smile, or a bit of laughter... They'll help refine a fine motor skill...

But, the lesson I've learned most frequently throughout the years is that there are handfuls of ways to learn the same lesson in life. God has put opportunities into every step, every circumstance, every thought, to help us learn and grow. And if we don't learn how to control our fine motor skills with building blocks, it doesn't matter. Because there will be another mode of teaching right around the corner to teach us that same lesson.

For me, this thought takes the sting of discouragement away when I don't seem to be learning a lesson as fast as I'd like.

On another note, Eliza is obviously developing into quite the successful adult judging from how many blocks she can stack...

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Day Camping

It started with just our family and an idea. It was a free Saturday and we were in the mood for a camp out. But we didn't have enough time for a full camp out, so we went on a day camp out instead. No tents, no sleeping bags, no lanterns. Just wood and hot dogs, good shoes and a taste for adventure.

At the last minute, we decided to invite the Yeates family to come along with us. They have 8 great kids and a giant 12 seater van. When they moved in last year, we became fast friends, and many of their children line up with ours. Here's Max and Eliza walking through the mountains:

Six of the eight Yeates kids took us up on the offer to come along and they joined us along with their dad, upping our numbers to 11 children and 3 adults.

I then thought of my good friend Christine who is currently going through rounds of chemo for breast cancer while still striving to parent her five young kids at home. Knowing she needed some quiet time, I extended the invitation to any and all of her children who wanted to tag along, and the three youngest joined in the fun.

Vans almost full, we began to pull out of our driveway to head into the mountains when the youngest Shamo kid came running up our sidewalk. Brian and I gave each other a silent glance before we both nodded our heads and Brian rolled down his window, "Hey, Crue! You guys want to come day camping with us?! We're leaving right now - go ask your dad and see if Chandler and Kendall want to come along!"

Crue hopped three feet in the air with excitement and turned as fast as a snake to spread the word and soon we pulled out with a grand total of 17 kids, 3 adults, and zero seatbelts to spare.

We tried hard to keep our adult eyes on all of them, but mostly the big kids disappeared and reappeared according to the food availability. There are five of them playing on this rock below:

Eliza was the keeper of the waterbottles. It's because she thinks they're all hers.

Also, I'm pretty sure that apple rolled around on the ground seventeen times before she finally ate it all.

Carson has landed in such a great group of friends who are all far too cool to smile for a picture, but who are also not too cool to be great examples to each other about how to be kind and to stand up for what they believe.

Their favorite past time (besides the hot dogs) was the BB gun.

The fresh air felt great and we all brought a small mountain of red dirt home in our shoes. Successful Saturday.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Snow Day

School was canceled. They say it's because of snow... they're even calling it a Snow Day. We did see snowflakes the night before, and they were big and beautiful, so, there you go. Apparently that's enough to call the whole thing off.

I remember being amused at the snow days in North Carolina when you could still see the grass poking through the snow. But this? This was even better because you can't even see any snow. Unless you squint and look hard at the tops of the little mountains.

Don't get me wrong... we aren't complaining. We're cheering. Only, also a bit confused.

We made the most of it... threw the bikes and the boys in the back of the mini-van (side note: mini-vans are so amazing) and drove five minutes up the mountain to unleash them all.

The older boys were so good to Timothy. This is the first time we've taken him up there since he could ride a two-wheeler, and he had a few, what he would call, epic falls. You can see Miles cheering Timothy on in the foreground of this next picture.

Miles and Timothy have a rather tumultuous relationship, so I'm hanging onto this picture for dear life to prove that they weren't always at each other's throats.

Carson was fun to watch. That kid is growing up - he looked like a teenager out there attacking the jumps and using his strength to catch as much air as possible.

And, once we returned home, this also happened.

I'm really not sure you'd see too many kids jumping into pools during snow days. And, honestly, this kid didn't really want to. But he had wanted to see if he could launch something all the way over the pool (he couldn't) and promised that if it didn't make it, he'd jump in to get it out (he did). It was cold, though, and he didn't stay in for more than three seconds.

Happy snow day!

Monday, February 18, 2019

On the Road for Volleyball

McKenzie has been doing volleyball this year. Club volleyball, to be specific, which is different than school volleyball, or rec volleyball, and while we're on the topic of there being many different kinds of volleyball teams out there, I'm feeling pretty proud of myself for increasing my fluency level in the language of sports lately.

I didn't do sports growing up... unless you count a season of tap dancing when I was six. Or my two years of track and field in high school. But I don't count either of those because the former was really more about the excitement of owning a pair of tap shoes, and the latter was all about trying to get out of having to run during practice. So, clearly, I missed the point of both of them.

But McKenzie is doing sports. And after a few trial and error sports, volleyball has hit and sunk into her heart. She loves it. And I love it for her.

She found it late in life, if you're going by the timeline of childhood sports, and came to me just two days before the high school tryouts last year to say, "Mom, I think I want to try out for the high school volleyball team."

I tried not to act surprised, but my eyebrows betrayed me by shooting way up into my hairline. "Oh!" I replied. And then, recovering from the fact that I'd never even seen her hit a volleyball before I continued, "Well that's cool. Do you know the rules?"

"No," she said. "But Kaitlyn does, so maybe I could go over to her house tomorrow to learn."

I've learned through the years that I need not be apprehensive when my kids want to try something new, so I gave her two thumbs up and a month later was cheering in the stands for her as she played for the freshman team of her high school. She was a natural and shortly earned herself a starting position for the front line. And after the school season was over, it became clear to me that we had found something special. She loves the game. She loves playing, she loves being on a team, she loves competing, she loves practicing... and I knew that if she wanted to continue on in this (which she does) we'd need to get her some real experience so she could catch up to the other girls her age who had been playing for years.

Enter, club volleyball. She tried out for several teams, and ended up making it onto one of them from the wait list. We were so proud of her!

Part of the club volleyball gig is that we get to travel to a few tournaments. And Arizona was first on the list. We left the boys home with friends and took the little lady along with us.

And a few of her closest friends.

Baby has been Eliza's sidekick ever since Christmas, and Lion and Monkey (we're really good at creative names over here as you now know) are currently close seconds. But as much as she loves her friends, they can't compete with a phone when there are pictures of herself all over the screen

I think she knows how cute she is.

Brian and Eliza were only able to stay for one of the three nights because church responsibilities called Brian back home for Sunday and he (and Carson) were kind enough to make the rest of the schedules work so that Eliza could go home too. As much as she loves staying confined in a giant gymnasium when there are a hundred volleyball games going on around her...

Right. So.

They left on Saturday after McKenzie's day of games and I stayed up way too late that night searching for some Ben and Jerry's and binge watching America's Got Talent. I know how to party y'all.

So when my alarm went off on Sunday morning, I should have jumped out of bed to get to McKenzie's hotel because the plan was that I was going to meet her there to take her with me for the day (it being the Sabbath and her keeping it holy), but instead, I snoozed it and woke up in a panic 5 minutes before I was supposed to be there. I jumped out of bed, put on my sweats and flip flops, poured water on my bedhead and flew out the door without even putting on a bra or brushing my teeth.

So, you can imagine the state of me when I got to the car and realized I had left the runner lights on all night long and that the battery was dead. D.e.a.d. Deeeeeeaaaaaaaaad. Not even a click.

I had to approach people in the parking lot with frog breath. And then I had to go inside and bug people in the lobby. And then I had to plead with the front desk for help...

Turns out that most people who are staying in a hotel don't pack jumper cables to stow in their rental cars, so it took a surprisingly long time to to find someone who was able and willing to help. Bless that kind hotel worker who had a million other things to do that morning but who spent the better part of an hour helping me get on my way. It took two cars and what seemed to me to be a rather intensive seek and find for the keys to the hotel van (which was eventually the only vehicle that could jump the curb in order to get into the proper position to be helpful). I was insanely grateful to him, and also apologetic to McKenzie's coaches who were a bit inconvenienced since I met McKenzie an hour and a half after I was supposed to. Still looking like I had just woken up.

Once back in the hotel lobby with McKenzie in tow, I realized that my hotel room key had not made the journey with me out of the room, so I had to - yet again - approach the front desk.

"Um, I'm sorry," I began. "I'm having a bit of a rough morning, apparently, and I locked my room key inside the room..."

The girl at the desk looked up at me and suppressed a laugh. "Wow," she said, "you really are having a rough morning. I'll print you another one. Did you get your car situation figured out?"

Kind of her to ask.

I took the room key in hand and minutes later tried to use it to pay for my breakfast, thinking it was my credit card. By this time, McKenzie was in hysterics, thankfully finding the whole thing humorous instead of humiliating, and when I finally put my key away in the perfect little pocket in my purse, I slid it down alongside my other room key.

Clearly, I had not forgotten it after all.

McKenzie's laughter was uncontrollable.

Thankfully the day turned around when I was finally able to brush my teeth, put a bra on and go to church.

Sunday night I made sure to go to bed much earlier.

Monday morning, McKenzie's tournament ended earlier than we were hoping (because they lost), and we decided that we weren't really ready to drive all the way home yet. So we looked up a local movie theater and killed some time in the parking lot with a picture scavenger hunt we created ourselves.

Take a picture with a handicapped sign:

Of something symmetrical:

Of rocks:

Of you with a solid colored background:

You, upside down:

At the end of a line:

In a corner:

And, finally, in the theater, about to watch the movie:

I'm proud of this girl and all that she stands for. And I absolutely love spending time with her.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Church and Change

I didn't really want to go to church today.

I mean, the long-term part of me did want to go because, importance, but the short-term part of me felt tired and overwhelmed and discouraged at the thought of it.

There is so much change going on in the church, you know, and while I'm excited and passionate and supportive and dedicated, I'm also just tired.

Specifically, tired of trying to make the new home curriculum work well for my family. Because it turns out that children don't really want to sit down day after day and study the scriptures. Mine don't, anyway. It's not that we haven't had success with scripture study in the past, but lately (now that the big kids are going all different directions in the evenings, and the little kids (and me) like to sleep in the early mornings before seminary) it's gotten much harder to be consistent. So our studies are splotchy at best and are squeezed and molded to fill in cracks of time here and there whenever we can manage. And without the consistency, the children feel surprised and often offended when I show up at the table with my bible and the Come Follow Me manual, and I can then expect an unleashing of emotions from them that, honestly, I'd just rather not unleash.

Part of the discontentment that I feel comes from the fact that the idea of studying the New Testament with my children fills me with such passion and excitement, but the application of it has turned out much, much harder than I anticipated.

Earlier in the year a wise Relief Society teacher talked about earthquakes. How some earthquakes rattle beneath our feet without us even noticing, and others are strong enough to shake the plates in the cupboards, and others are so strong that they change the landscape of our cities and destroy things we've built.

"The church is going through an earthquake," she allegorized, "a big one. And the landscape of our homes should change. Some of the strong things and habits we have built through the years should crumble, and as we rebuild we should take care to rebuild according to the blueprints we have been given."

Yes! I thought. I can't wait to build my family back stronger.

But building something out of rubble is actually quite hard. You have to work at it. And I'm feeling a bit discouraged because of all the resistance I'm running into and all the time it seems to be taking, and I'm just not seeing much progress.

For all these reasons I just kind of wanted to shut myself up in my room today and let other people go to church. All the other people who are doing it right and doing it well.

But I kind of had to go, you see, because McKenzie had made the choice to skip all of her volleyball games today and go to church instead. We're in Arizona, she and I, for a three day volleyball tournament and when we found out it would be spanning over a Sunday I left it completely up to her whether or not she would play, watch, or even hang out with her team today. And as much as she loves playing volleyball, she hardly gave it a second thought and was confident and unshakable in her decision to skip all the games and go to church with me instead. I say she didn't give it a second thought, and that's true, but I don't mean to minimize that it was actually quite a hard thing for her to do. Not to make the decisions themselves, but to let the team and coaches know about her decisions. She received some judgement and teasing. Some of the girls aren't religious and they thought she was weird; some of the girls are also members of the church and McKenzie worried what they would think. But she did it anyway.

So with her as my example, I wasn't about to say that it was too hard for me to go to church today.

So we went.

We took the sacrament and we listened to the speakers and wouldn't you know, it was one of the greatest sacrament meetings I've been to in a long time.

Each speaker stood and spoke of the prophet, which was appropriate because apparently last Sunday President Nelson came and spoke in this area (in the very same venue that the girls played their volleyball games yesterday), so the speakers all had fresh testimonies of what that had been like and what they had learned.

They all shared the messages that had been most meaningful to them and I felt so much of the power, even second hand, that must have been there that day. The speakers first offered to me a message from President Oaks's wife who had said "living the gospel is hard," which I appreciated, and one from President Nelson's wife that reminded me that I need to be more diligent in seeking personal revelation in my own life, and that as I do that I will discover how the Lord wants me to handle this new church program in my family. I came away with a message from the bishop who reminded me that I stand behind our prophet, that I believe in him and trust him with my whole heart and that I know he is taking us to higher places if we follow him. The bishop also reminded me that the Lord is asking us to 'forsake all and follow Him' which, put in the words of that wise Relief Society teacher, means He's asking me to change the landscape of my home and my heart and to rebuild according to His blueprints.

McKenzie came away with a message from the prophet who had said, "You can stand for righteousness by being where you are and by not being where you aren't." She felt the spirit confirm that, for her (and her only - no judgement for any of the other girls), she was standing for righteousness by being in church and by not being in her volleyball game. And another message from President Nelson who had also said, "When people call you weird, wear it like a badge of honor."

My heart was so full by the end of the meeting, and when we sang the closing song, I couldn't sing around the lump in my throat.

Savior may I learn to love thee.
Walk the path that thou hast shown.
Pause to help and lift another
Finding strength beyond my own.
Savior may I learn to love thee,
Lord, I would follow thee.

After church, Kenz and I had a really great conversation over lunch and I got to thank her for being such a great example to me. I told her about all the feelings I had been having and that if it hadn't been for her example I probably wouldn't have gone to church today and would have missed out on so much. And when I mentioned to her that I felt like everyone but us seemed to be doing a great job with the home study, her eyes widened in surprise and she said, "Mom, no. I don't see that at all. You are encouraging us, day after day, to study on our own. You're helping us find time to do it and reminding us that it's important. You pull us together for family devotionals more than once a week... I'm not seeing that in other places. You are doing a great job. You're just seeing what you're looking for, and not the reality."

So I'm going to try to reach out and encourage those around me who may be feeling the same way. Maybe we're all feeling that way, and we don't realize that we're not alone. This is hard. Teaching the gospel to your kids is hard. Creating a Christ-centered home in the society of today is hard. But I'm going to do my best to do it for my own family and to help others do it in theirs.

Because it's so worth it.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Timothy's birthday

I remember my 6th birthday. I remember the scooter with the giant wheels and the freedom I felt navigating our brand new neighborhood with it. I remember my hair pulled up in a ponytail, and that there were enough strands falling out of the elastic that I had to stop my scooter every once in a while to brush the loose hairs away from my eyes and my lips. I remember what my mother looked like that day... her golden hair curled away from her face and her red, shiny lips, always parted in a smile, framing her perfectly white teeth, and in that smile I believed that all the love in the world belonged to me that day...

6 year old birthdays are magic.

This year it was Timothy's turn to have one. And, let me tell you, he deserves every bit of birthday magic. He has a gift in being able to fill places with love, and we benefit from that all the time. In fact, I frequently get comments from school parents about how Timothy has a special place in the heart of their son or daughter, and I'm not ever one bit surprised. So it was a great thing to celebrate his birthday and make him feel as special as we could for a whole entire day.

And, as luck would have it, his birthday fell on a Saturday this year, which made it extra perfect because Daddy was there for all of it.

We opened presents early, and everything was a dream come true. Six year olds are my favorite that way.

After presents, we headed to Shark Reef. Yep, he was just there the month before, but it had been such a hit for him as his Christmas present that he wanted nothing more than to share it with the rest of the family.

While Brian stood in line to get us tickets, the kids and I walked around the Casino and happened upon a window with gorgeous light streaming in. I immediately wanted a Birthday Picture with all the kids, which ended up not being much of a Birthday Picture since the Birthday Boy wanted nothing to do with the camera.

And that mentality lasted for most of the rest of the day. Any time I pulled the camera out, he would slink away and sulk, seeming to think, I can't believe she wants to take pictures today of all days. Doesn't she know it's my birthday?

McKenzie tried to convince him to come in for just one shot, but he would not have it.

Which was fine. I had other cute subjects to work with.

Eliza doesn't like to go many places without her blanket. And McKenzie will often tie it around her like a cloak, which she loves. Also pictured above, the boys wrestling. Always.

After the tickets were purchased, we found our way inside and Timothy began leading us in an official tour of the place. He is an expert, of course, because, he was here last month.

Again, I tried to get a picture of Timothy with the kids.

So then I decided to honor his birthday wish and stop trying to get him to cooperate for a picture. And I focused most of my picture taking efforts on the littlest of the bunch who, along with Baby, was absolutely enamored with all of the ocean life.

She couldn't stop pointing and watching and gasping. Adorable.

And I eventually sneaked in a picture of Timothy without him seeing.

Screens have the effect of making him oblivious to his surroundings, you know.

Eventually we had seen all the things we could see and it was time to head out to his favorite lunch spot, Zupas, to continue the celebration. After one pause at the friendly turtle for a family picture which consisted of Timothy burying his head in defiance against the picture, and Eliza screaming her protests, and Miles poking the poor friendly turtle in the eye, and the mother of the family completely missing, we were on our way.

I promise we were all happy - it's jut that the camera somehow made everyone so unhappy that you wouldn't know it from the pictures.

By the time we made it to Zupas and filled our stomachs with soups and salads and sandwiches, Timothy had stopped resenting the idea of a picture quite so strongly, and even conceded to get one picture of all the kids before McKenzie and I headed off to her volleyball tournament for the rest of the afternoon.

So much love in this picture.

Kenz and I then went to her tournament where I watched her play three games (which they lost, unfortunately) and then we rushed home to do cake.

For his cake, Timothy requested 'a Mario cake in the shape of a 6 with a 6 poking up, and, like, with a track for Mario Kart and lots of the characters'.

Bless that internet. I barely had to lift a creative finger.

I knew our Birthday Saturday was going to be full of chaos and fun, so I made his cake the night before and let it sit out in the open air all night and throughout the whole next day.

I know you're probably thinking this was a terrible idea because dried out birthday cake is disgusting. But see, birthday cakes are less like a dessert and more like a decoration and a show of love around here. Around here we think that un-dried-out birthday cake isn't really all that much better than disgusting, anyway. And so, figuring out how to wrap up something like that when we weren't even going to eat it seemed like quite a waste of time.

When we walked in the door we were happy to find the whole place teeming with kids and energy. It was a fun change of pace to have Brian in charge of birthday hours and he did a great job. A couple of the friends stayed to sing happy birthday and to have a cupcake or two or three - and no one seemed to care at all that the cake was a little extra crispy.

He is such a loved little boy! And at the end of the day, he went to bed feeling all that love and feeling quite a bit older.