Sunday, June 26, 2011

Galaxy Quest: Advice for Parents Who Want to Know

It feels so good to be with my grown children back in the USA this week. My oldest son and his family have been spoiling me rotten, and as I was wrestling this morning with a title for this musing, I remembered our perfectly American Saturday night last night: a mega bowl of popcorn and a popular movie silly. "Galaxy Quest."

My son gave me a stack of photos yesterday – you know, the old fashioned kind, the ones you have to hold in your hand or paste in a scrapbook to look at. He had come across a roll of film and, curious about the contents, had it developed. The pictures were from Christmas 1992. What struck and relieved me most, as I sorted through these hard-copy memories, was that no one posed with their new toy like a fishermen beside his trophy tuna. Instead, in every picture, my children were hugging somebody.

To have physical evidence that my kids really loved and appreciated each other as children, and that we -- all the adults in their lives -- found joy in their childhood, meant a lot to me, for my memory is aging and I am well aware that I cannot trust it completely anymore: either I get little too rose-colored, like an old love-letter curling slightly at the edges, or I become critical of my past, like an old epistle, read so often it takes on too much meaning.

There are some things, however, I remember with absolute clarity. This is the biggest: I LOVED being a mommy. I loved every stage of being a mommy: infants, toddlers, elementary school, tweens, teens, young adults: bring it on. However, I am sure now that I am different now. That is what going through all those stages does to a woman. Grandma’s hair turns silver so that her children will know she is different; so that, as adults, they will forgive and revere her. The wiry head is a lopsided crown proclaiming: I did it. I was imperfect, but I did it.

Two-Plus (today's name for the precious person who married my second son), is about to give birth to her first baby. Evidently, at her recent baby shower, a well-meaning mommy-peer, who is also new to the ranks, gave her this earnest piece of advice: Do not listen to anyone else’s ideas about parenting. It’s your baby, and no one else can tell you how to parent. My darling Two-Plus was amazed.

Her friend’s green-counsel reminds me of a Jerry Seinfeld routine about helpful aliens parking their spaceship in the yard just as Dad is putting everything in the car for a family road-trip. Surrounded by too much luggage for the trunk, Dad says: ‘EVERYBODY STAND BACK. IT GOES IN A WAY ONLY I UNDERSTAND.’ ‘But Dad,’ you whisper, ‘they came from another galaxy! I think they know how to pack.’

I admit I am increasingly wrinkled, shrinking, and poofy, but I am not an alien. Whatever worthy advice I can offer younger mommies and daddies is because I am human too. It’s not because I was Mother-Extraordinaire, but because I was Mother-Pulling-Hair. I over-extended, over-expended, and over-expected. Most of my mistakes, the kids and I grew through, but some of them had consequences that echo in our lives today.... Buuuut if you aren’t interested in becoming the wiser-then-I-was (because the only “how-to” you trust is the book you wrote yourself) then all I can tell you is how it feels to live with the consequences.

I have, and will continue, to share my parenting experience (good and bad) at Musings and in other ways with younger mums and dads who want to know. But for today, standing here in the driveway, surmising all the bags and equipment you have yet to pack, my best advice is to go get some more. ADVICE that is. The parents who have earned their silver crown have a wealth of valuable information.

Toss the “feed-Baby-pureed-liver” prattle if you want (I'm not talking about heeding Know-It-Alls) , but listen for the meaningful stuff from meaningful people. Ask ‘em ('cuz the worthy ones won't necessarily tell you unless you ask) how they got across the galaxy, make notes, and then -- if I were you -- take a picture together. When younger people come to you for your experience someday, you’ll need proof that the kids were once short; natural color hair was normal; and -- though they have long since returned to the stars -- it was wizened, generous aliens who helped you sort the car for that family trip.

Muse with me: What's the best parenting advice you have ever received?

Related Musings:
everything under
Musings On Our Relationships with Kiddos
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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day Detour

Thirty-four years ago, a boy who made me laugh, promised to make me laugh forever. We both knew he had no idea how to deliver, but at 19, laughter cannot be supplanted by practicality.

To see what has become of us, or rather, what has become of HIM, please visit my Father's Day musing at Mona's Musings with a Hint of Romance.

Happy Father's Day my Friend, my Friends, my Brothers, my Priesthood Brothers, my biological Fathers and Sons, and my Fathers and Sons in spirit!

May the women in your life appreciate and respect you.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

You're Home Now

“This was a real, truly live place….I remember that some of it wasn’t very nice…but most of it was beautiful. But just the same, all I kept saying to everybody was, I want to go home. And they sent me home… And this is my room – and you’re all here! And I’m not going to leave here ever, ever again, because I love you all! And – on Auntie Em! – there’s no place like home.” Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz

Raising children in one corner of the United States, when everything I knew and loved best was 3,000 miles diagonally in the other corner was hard.

When parenthood overwhelmed me, I needed my mommy but this was before MMB, FB, AOL or IM (“long-distance” meant an expensive phone call and “leavin’ on a jet plane” was still exotic enough that the radio played songs about it).

And where were my friends? After high school or college, we’d scattered like the children of Israel.

Not only was this emotional terrain challenging to me, I refused to get comfortable with the physical environment. Palm trees, in my opinion, could never replace evergreens, and water in the air could never compare to water from the sky.

It scared and dismayed me--being so far from “home”.

This sickness turned toxic when it began to affect the precious relationships that had taken me to Oz: my in-laws, my children, my husband. At that point, Heaven knew it was time to intervene for their sake as well as my own, so a good fairy was sent on the errand; an angel named Aunt Athlene, my mother’s sister.

We talked for a long time over the phone —I mean, I talked for a long time, and she listened. After my whimpers were extinguished with just the right dose of sympathy, she turned me upside down with this profound perspective:

What you need to understand, darling,” she began gently, “is that you do not have “A” home. Rather, you have many homes -- or you WILL have many homes -- as a woman. There will always be the “home” of your childhood, but you also have the “home” of your college years; the “home” of your early married life; now another “home” of your young family life; and perhaps another in your mature years. They may even put you in a “home” when you’re an old grandma like me!”

She laughed.

“You will see with time,” she continued, “that each “home” in your life becomes saturated with its own memories, its own traditions and its own purpose. Think about this: your babyhood home must have felt very strange -- so different from the one you left in heaven – but aren’t you glad you made THAT move?”

I have mused a lot this week over that advice from long ago: in ten days we are leaving this little London flat for our three-story house, and I can hardly believe it was thirteen months ago I was leaving the U.S. for a place called England.

Experiences still too fresh to be called 'memories' are flooding me like the waters of the Red Sea on the armies of Pharaoh; I could almost drown in them. It is comforting to know that most of those experiences have been packaged in words and photos, blogs and journals. Even so, it is discomfiting that the flesh of it all, the people, cannot be shipped with the furniture. The only place for them is in my heart.

Aunt Athlene was right: life is all about creating a home, wherever you are and for however long, and the sooner you accept that and get on with it, the faster you can grow and the more love there is in the world.

So say it I must: good-bye wonderful London --you're (another) “home” now.

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”
Maya Angelou

Muse with me: are you "home"?

Click on the ruby slippers to watch a music video you may get as hooked on as I have:
"There Is No Place Like Home"

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Colleen's Gift

And again, verily thus saith the Lord: Let the work of my temple, and all the works which I have appointed unto you, be continued on and not cease; and let your diligence, and your perseverance, and patience, and your works be redoubled, and you shall in nowise lose your reward, saith the Lord of Hosts. (D&C 127:4. See also D&C 97:8-9)

She had raised her family in exotic places all over the world; wherever Conoco Phillips sent her engineer husband. As long as she could remember, they had worshiped and served in the “emerging church”; filling in the gaps where called; using their background as Americans to help the Kingdom grow and stabilize in corners of the vineyard light years away from Salt Lake City.

When she walked to the pulpit on Fast Sundays, her straight back, long neck, and slightly tilted chin gave her a grace that only those trained at the ballet bar can have. (Though Ballroom Dancers were a long time ago for Colleen, she’d kept the lithe body and enthusiastic heart of her youth; all the more beautiful in maturity.)

And when she reached the pulpit and opened her mouth to testify, it was with such sincere creativity and charming conviction, no one could resist giving her rapt attention. The Bishop called her to teach Seminary and to preside over the Young Women organization (concurrently!) and I asked her to visit teach Maureen, Belinda, Sarah, and Erin. (Would you be surprised if I told you that she was the dearest, most vigilant, most caring visiting teacher I have ever known?)

Twice at my request, Colleen allowed me to tag along on her route (or “root” as they pronounce it here) and each time I marveled at the tenderness of her ministrations and the thoughtfulness of her preparation. The privileged sisters she had watched over loved her fiercely, making it extremely difficult when it came time for Colleen to follow her husband to their next assignment in Spain.

I was with her when she said good-bye, one-by-sniffly-one, leaving in their hands a token of her love – some little gift, usually an item destined for a charity shop, but which suddenly had great meaning because of the personal story Colleen would attach to it: a book, some beads, a toy. I was mesmerized by this talent for gift-giving (one I have never really mastered) and considered it my gift to have witnessed Colleen in action. As we pulled into to the train station though, my dear friend had one more surprise: the last good-bye and final delivery of the day.

When you came to England from the states, Mona -” she said - “I know you were expecting a very different experience. Things have not turned out the way you and your loved ones back home thought they would. You have done some traveling with Dale for his work, but not near as much as you might have...

"I know too, that you believed the day had finally come when you could indulge in study and writing and theater-going, but instead your days are taken up meeting the needs of dozens of people who were strangers to you until recently. You cry yourself to sleep for them and your prayers have never been so full of so many. Most days end with the feeling that you couldn’t possibly give any more, but the next morning, you wake up and give again.”

Disarmed, but swallowed up in her love, all I could do was cry. Colleen was a warm blast of sun, illuminating and healing at the same time.

“In Seminary last week,” she continued, “we learned all about the Kirtland Temple. I told the kids about the sacrifices the Saints made to build it: how in their poverty, they raised the most magnificent building ever seen in those parts. We talked about how the women spun cloth and sewed for the men who labored in the construction and how those women also gave their treasured, beautiful china to be smashed to smithereens so that the stucco on the temple exterior would literally glisten.”

I nodded thoughtfully, having told the same story myself in Seminary and Gospel Doctrine classes.

“The kids were interested,” she smiled, “when I produced a cup of my own bone china.” (I could easily believe Colleen had bone china: her collection of internationally-acquired valuables was exquisite.) But boy were they surprised when I also brought out a hammer!” Colleen laughed at the memory. “I coaxed each one of them, but they all refused to break the cup. ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I’ll have to do it myself.’ And when I did--when I smashed the cup to pieces--they just sat there in shock.”

I was incredulous too: I have longed for a bone-china tea set since childhood. “You broke it?!”

“Oh yes,” she affirmed, “and I saved the pieces in the cup’s original box. Now, I wondered, what shall I do with this broken china?

She pulled out a small blue box and rattled the contents.

“That’s when I thought of you, Mona; of your dreams in pieces for the sake of something bigger; the dust of your dreams sparkling in the lives of your brothers and sisters in England.”

That blue box has sat on my bed stand ever since. The shippers came on Friday and tried to pack it up, but I rescued it just in time, from what – I couldn’t say. I just knew the broken cup couldn’t leave. It’s taken two days of musing and prayer for the reason to catch up with the decision, but I’ve finally got it.

I’m going to give Colleen's gift to the new Relief Society President.

Muse with me: What about your broken china?
(If you have a related post on your blog, please share.)

Watch "The Building of the Kirtland Temple"

What You Don't Have or Have Lost

Beautifully related musings by fellow musers:
Visiting Teaching at LDS Women of God