Friday, April 26, 2024


Our friend group has a new name. 
We call ourselves the Gnomies.

For Laurie's birthday we dressed as gnomes and Roamed the Gardens. 
We started at the Olive Garden, where our server seemed genuinely disappointed to learn that we didn't have another gnome set for her to wear.

We all decided that eating with beards is absolutely the worst thing ever, and we cannot understand why anyone would choose, on purpose, to have hair on their faces for more than one silly evening.

After our fill at the Olive Garden, we drove to the Cactus Garden at Ethel M. Chocolate Factory. Every December the chocolate factory decorates their cactus garden with Christmas lights (which... yikes. Can you even imagine that job?!) and we felt it would be the perfect place for gnomes to roam, but as we pulled into the parking lot, it became evident that hordes of other people wanted to roam there, too (though, not as gnomes). So, like good little gnomes, we swallowed our disappointment and turned around, unable to wait in the long line for tickets if we wanted to stay on schedule.

No worries, though. We're good at thinking on our feet, so we drove to the nearest Home Depot and roamed their Garden Center instead.

And we agreed that Home Depot was probably far, far more fun than the cactus garden would have been anyway.

I hope I never forget the way the garden center employee's eyes lit up as she saw us approaching. She tried to hold in her laughter until we engaged in conversation with her and broke the ice. Then, her laughs were free, and it was clear that her stressful, boring night had turned completely around.

At one point, while we were all heading to the bathrooms, we passed by an employee who stopped dead in his tracks and unabashedly watched us pass with a surprised and goofy smile.

Laurie turned to whisper in my ear, "We are bringing joy to people tonight."

And I almost cried with how true her statement felt. 

It was an extremely quiet night at the Home Depot, which made each encounter meaningful. Throughout the night, parents would point us out to their children ("Look! Gnomes!"), others would point their phones in our directions to take pictures, and everyone seemed genuinely delighted to see us. 

It was just what I needed to get out of a funk I'd been in for a while.

Because it feels good to make people laugh. It feels good to see their tired, bored eyes light up with some excitement.

And it feels good to be surrounded with good, wholesome women.

It was a magical night.

And, I did just learn that McKenzie whips the following picture out whenever someone in Chile wants to see a picture of her mom:

We then headed to the movie theater to see the new Trolls movie. Which, I know. Trolls are not exactly the same as gnomes, but we figured it was close enough.

The teenager at the ticket booth made us laugh because he remained stoic and didn't acknowledge anything odd about the situation when six middle-aged moms dressed up as gnomes approached him and bought tickets to the show. We even had a real conversation with him because we had mis-read the time, and he held his composure the whole time. After we purchased the correct tickets and turned our backs to the booth, the ticket guy slowly reached for a paper gnome that had been sitting out of our sight and sat it where we could see it.

He spoke no words about it, just held it there quietly waiting for us to notice. When we did, we laughed and rushed back to the booth to greet our gnome friend, and the teenager in the booth finally cracked a smile.

He told us after the show that we had made his night. His boss had come in earlier that day and hidden lots of those paper gnomes around the theater for the employees to enjoy, and he said when we showed up it brought the whole night together. When he learned that we had not been planted there by his boss, he laughed even harder.

It was certainly a night to remember.
And I will be forever grateful for my Gnomies.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Timothy in December

1. When You Have a 10-Year-Old Comedian in the House, You Learn to Roll With Things.

Is it so wrong to want my home to speak words of encouragement and love?
BELIEVE, is a beautiful message at Christmastime! Believe in the Savior, Believe in the magic, Believe in the miracles.
But Timothy thinks differently. 
Back and forth, back and forth, all throughout the month the red-letter message changed to reflect the last occupant of the room.

2. Sometimes Our Small Town Events Feel Straight Out of an Episode of Parks and Rec.

It's charming. Timothy and his elementary school choir sang at the Luminaria this year, a celebration to welcome the Christmas season to Boulder City. Put on by a local Christian church community, Luminaria is everything you would want an endearing sitcom to be. Held on the recreational basketball courts and the adjoining stage with a hand-painted mural on the back wall (because a basketball court with a stage and a hand painted mural is a thing here), there was live music featuring folky sisters and their ukuleles, a shaky spotlight that illuminated just the area around their faces, candles in white paper bags arranged in m.o.s.t.l.y straight lines, a theatrical rendition of the Christmas Story with adult actors no more polished than your average primary kids (tinsel wings, shepherds missing their cues, lines delivered to the back wall)... it was all spectacular. 

And one of the featured gigs of the night was Timothy's choir.

Timothy was my favorite, dressed up in his gray suit jacket and singing his soul. My second favorite was the kid standing next to him in what most certainly must be his father's shirt.

3. The Atmosphere in Your Heart Can Feel a Lot Different Than the Atmosphere Around You.

And sometimes it's really hard not to let one negatively affect the other. Those eyes on Timothy up there tell a story a mother can hear - maybe you can hear it, too. His fifth grade experience has been hard. From his perspective, the kids are unruly and loud, and the teachers are frustrated and harsh. His gentle heart feels sandwiched in the middle, concerned for the teachers who are trying to manage the chaos and concerned for the students who receive yelling and punishment; concerned for the kids who are being bullied by the bullies, and concerned for the bullies who are being bullied by the teachers. 

In addition to all of that, he feels invisible. The teachers are so busy disciplining the trouble makers that the good kids go largely unnoticed.

He's been frustrated about it all year, and we have talked extensively about how to have charity for all involved.

I'll admit I had my doubts about what the 'real story' was... as trustworthy and observant as Timothy is, I'm aware that hearing everything from the perspective of a 10-year-old doesn't always paint the clearest picture. So when the opportunity came to spend five whole school days with his class on science field trips throughout the month of December, I was in.

In general I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I was sure Timothy was exaggerating about how bad things were - at least a little. But after spending time with the class I was shocked to find that Timothy was, unfortunately, under exaggerating. 

I spent those five days with wide, disbelieving eyes, and my heart hurt at the end of every day. My own, adult nervous system was all buzzed from having been in an atmosphere where the teachers did not lower their voices, and it was no wonder to me that the kids felt anxious, too. One teacher in particular spoke to me and to the other adults in a normal tone, but I literally, in five whole days, did not hear her hold a conversation with a student that wasn't yelling, punitive, demeaning, or followed by an eye-roll to another adult.

To her credit, the kids are loud and unruly, but I don't feel that they are excessively so. They are fifth-graders for heaven's sake, and I think they have simply learned to tune her out in order to maintain some sort of peace within themselves. I'm guessing this has caused her to become louder and more stern throughout the year, and I think that's probably how we've gotten to where we are now. Her behavior, their behavior... one is the chicken and one is the egg.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of unkind behavior going on between the students, too, and I can't help but wonder if it's in response to the example being modeled.

At the end of the experience, I am still coaching Timothy on how to exercise charity for all involved. He wants for me to get him into another classroom, and while I deeply understand why he wants that, I am generally not one to fight for circumstantial changes. I have found so much personal growth and peace in learning the art of self-mastery under difficult circumstances, and I want that for my kids, too. And Timothy is in a pretty great classroom for some intense learning opportunities currently. 

But I'm also trying to be a lot more responsive to him at home, giving him good attention and building up his character as much as I possibly can.

It's hard to send your kid out into the world when you know their world is hard. 💔 But he is strong and capable and kind, and I know he's making a difference in that classroom.

4. As Hard as Any Circumstance May Be, You Can Always Find Flecks of Light.

Choir is one of those flecks for him. He adores his choir teacher, Mrs. Coker, and Mrs. Coker adores Timothy. In a choir of a hundred students, he often receives personal recognition and has landed every solo and part he's auditioned for. During Christmas-time, he played Santa Clause, and regularly made people in the audience laugh with his comedic timing. 

Feeling a little bashful about the amount of recognition he receives at the hand of Mrs. Coker, I mentioned to her in passing that she didn't need to give him solos in every show, to which she replied, "I do not give solos; the students earn them. Timothy is deserving."

Bless her for seeing his light at a time he needs it most.

5. Just Leaving This Here:

6. Performing for the Polar Express

Somehow we ended up at this school event with just Timothy- which made the whole night extra special. His hair is sweaty and matted because he had just performed in his Santa suit. Aside from the whole 5th grade teaching situation, one of the things I love most about Boulder City are the schools... they are poured into by so many great leaders and families, and the events they throw are creative, dynamic, and fun.

Our principle dressed up in a conductors suit - hat and all - and greeted each child with a conductors greeting as he punched their ticket to board the Polar Express (which was a Country Club Clubhouse.)

Inside they had dinner, hot chocolate, entertainment, and crafts, and it was a great way to spend a December night with our favorite 5th grader.

7. Another Awesome Thing About the School Community

I would choose to live in a small town again and again and again. Every year, the 5th graders have a unit on money management where they learn about earning, budgeting and spending. Through October and November they look for little 'jobs' to earn spending money, and then spend December drawing up a proposed budget for Christmas gifts, getting the budgets approved by parents and teachers, and taking a full-day shopping field trip to downtown Boulder City.

They walk the few blocks from their school to the chamber of commerce building where the mayor starts their morning talking about how important it is to support local businesses and how the taxes they pay there benefit the community they live in. We spend a few minutes getting the students into small groups of 5 or 6 with chaperones, and then we walk the streets of Boulder City all. day. long. We visit the local shops in town (there are many) perusing and searching for the perfect gifts to wrap for mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, etc. Most of the shops have coupons and discounts for the kids, and they have 'Welcome 5th Graders!' signs in their windows to greet them. The kids feel special and use their own money, counting out their quarters and pennies to patient cashiers. 

We stop for lunch somewhere along the way, and after every stop we pause to record their expenses on a budget sheet. By the end of the day, their purses are lighter, and their bags are laden with gifts for the people in their lives that they love. Everyone feels happy and successful.

It's my favorite field trip to chaperone. They all know roughly what they are looking for (it's part of their planning assignments), but it's fun to see the excitement when they lock in their gift. One kid jumped up and down when he saw that the hardware store sold water bottles in red because, "My dad loves to drink water, and he loves the color red!!!" Slam dunk. The hardware store, a gem store, antique shops, a comic book shop, boutiques, a toy store, a homemade soap store, an alien store, Boulder City is a treasure trove for fun and unique gifts.

At the end of the day, just before we were supposed to meet back up with the rest of the school, all of my boys had just enough money left over to visit Grandma Daisy's candy shop.

It's taken me a few thousand beats, but I'm really starting to love living in this place.