Jan 30, 2022

Silas was born last Saturday on January 22nd. We really wanted that 22nd number for a birthday, and we thought it would be easy to get since it was a planned induction. But as the hours ticked by and the progression that normally happens in labor for me did not, we thought we might actually end up with a baby born on the 23rd instead of the 22nd (which, I'll admit, was a hugely disappointing thought for me). However, Silas pulled through and made it happen--in the 22nd hour, no less! 

I will of course be sharing more about the actual details of his birth in a future post. Those are probably my most treasured pieces I've ever written, and I return to them often--on birthdays or before births, as the case may be. They always bring back the sweetest feelings and make me weep. I love my kids so much.

Speaking of tears, there have been a lot of them this week--some from Silas, but mostly from me. I keep telling myself this is normal (because I know it is), but it's still a little unnerving to feel like I have no control. They just turn on with the least provocation, and I think my older kids (and even Mike) have been a little dismayed by their frequency. I just assure them that everything is fine and try to smile even as the tears flow without stopping. 

Some of those tears came because I fell headlong into thinking about Silas' journey through the veil from pre-mortal to mortal life. The first week in all of my boys' lives have been treasured, joyful times for me where heaven has felt so near. And it has been the same with Silas, except that I've also examined it from his (possible) perspective. And when I look at it through his eyes, earth looks kind of harsh and cold and painful. I have cried as I've considered what an adjustment this must be for him.

We're all over here totally smitten by him, our hearts almost bursting because of the increase in love (Maxwell said, "I just want to hug him so tightly, it scares me"), and little Silas is trying to figure out why there are little hands all over his head (Ian's) and why the car seat always leads to pain (first a circumcision, then multiple bilirubin checks) and why there was not enough milk at first and now there's too much and why a diaper change is so darn cold. 

I think his first few minutes of life are haunting me. I felt such a rush of joy; I couldn't stop beaming and smiling. Silas, on the other hand, whimpered and repeatedly stuck out his bottom lip in a gesture of confusion and grief. There was no joy on his countenance. 

One of my favorite essays on birth is called "Two Veils." In it, Heather Farrell discusses the first veil into mortality (birth) and the second veil into immortality (death). She says that women have stewardship over this first veil: "The only gateway into this mortal world is through the strait and narrow way of a woman's body and the shedding of her blood. There is no other way." 

She also paints a picture of the time leading up to birth: "If we could only glimpse into the premortal world and see the other side of the veil, might we see a world that is very female centered because the focus is on preparing children to go through the first veil?" Whether this is true or not, I pondered this scene a lot in the weeks leading up to Silas' birth. I thought about who might be on the other side helping him to get ready to join our family. 

I remember reading another description of birth and death that really resonated with me, which was that these two transitions are often like an hourglass where the sand gradually shifts from one realm to the other rather than a single, sudden event (although it can certainly happen that way). Death is one of those things that we dread when we are here on earth but which must be so incredibly joyful for the person when it actually happens. I actually think birth might be the opposite: it is perhaps one of the things that we joyfully anticipate on the other side, knowing that it is a key part of the plan of salvation, but once we actually cross the line, might we not want to turn right around and go back? 

I kind of think that might be what Silas was thinking as his bottom lip trembled while the nurses forcefully suctioned out his mouth and nose: This is not what I thought earth would be like . . . 

But we are doing our very best to smooth out earth's rough patches and show him there's actually a lot to love about being here:

There are brothers who have to take a peek at him before school and who argue for holding rights when they get home. There are cooing words, soft kisses, gentle pats on the back, sweet caresses, nuzzles, and snuggles.  There are secure swaddles and warm milk and a plethora of smiling faces to slowly examine. There is an abundance of love that saturates the air and follows him around no matter which room he is in. 

As he has become more alert, his bottom lip no longer quivers and his eyes have an undeniable spark. Sometimes he looks at us, and there is just a hint of a smile, almost like he is saying, "I've given you all a chance, and you're not so bad after all."

Welcome to the world, sweet Silas. 

Look Forward and Not Backward: Intentions for 2022

Jan 16, 2022

As 2021 started winding down, I felt an undercurrent of perpetual panic. Instead of looking forward to a fresh new year, I felt overwhelming trepidation and fear. The unknown was not sparkling with new possibilities but rather seemed made up of nefarious twists and turns that blocked my view of what was coming. 

A few weeks before the new year, I saw a meme that summed up the way I was feeling: "Nobody claim 2022 as 'your year.' We're all going to walk in real slow. Be good. Be quiet. Be cautious and respectful. Don't touch anything."

Part of my panic could be attributed to the way 2021 started. January last year began so bright and hopeful and ended with Aaron in the hospital with his bone marrow failing for a second time. I felt like I'd been lulled into a false sense of security, and I was scared to let that happen again.

During the week between Christmas and New Year's, we watched the movie, A Boy Called Christmas. (I read the book to the boys a few years ago, but I actually liked the movie quite a bit more.) It starts out with  a great aunt (played by the ever-amazing Maggie Smith) coming to look after three children for the evening. She begins to tell them a story, and they are quickly captivated. However, they recently lost their mother, and so they interrupt her frequently: "Is the dad going to come back?" "Is he going to be okay?" "I don't want to hear a sad story." Their need to know the end from the beginning is all-consuming; their real life has delivered such a horrible, unexpected blow that they can't handle something similar in a story.

I related to this so much. I'm scared of 2022. I don't want to start it unless I know that things are going to work out in my favor. I'm continually revisiting the past as a warning to my future self to not get too comfortable, too content, too hopeful. 

Obviously, this is not a healthy mindset, but I'm having a difficult time relaxing my grip, even as I continually remind myself that it's actually not doing anything productive to help myself or my family.

I have always loved setting goals for the new year, but after having them derailed over the last three years, I've become more wary and less ambitious. It feels less fun to come up with grand plans of self-improvement and achievements if you think you're just going to be beaten down before you even get started. But making plans is in my nature, and as the final bits of 2021 faded away, I found two phrases that resonated deeply with me and seemed to be just the answer I was looking for as a guide for my 2022. 

The first found me while I was preparing a little FHE lesson for my kids. It was at the beginning of December, and I was hoping to instill in them a desire to give instead of get. I came across an obscure verse of scripture in Deuteronomy 15:11. It said, "Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother." I immediately latched onto that phrase--open thine hand wide. The imagery was vivid.

The virtue of being generous is one I think about frequently because it is not a gift I naturally have but it is one I aspire to. I am not the type of person who passes out snacks to all of the kids at the park or spontaneously drops off dinner to someone or gives birthday gifts to every acquaintance or offers to babysit multiple children for multiple hours or donates to all of the worthy causes. I tend to hoard money, time, resources, service. I can blame this selfishness on many things (I am afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing; I don't even think about it until it's too late; I find it stressful if it's not part of my routine; I get easily overwhelmed if I commit to too many things; etc, etc.).

But as I've thought about what I want my future self to look like, I've realized more and more that I want generosity to be a natural part of who I am. But since it's not, I'm going to have to make a conscious effort to seek it out and take advantage of opportunities and practice, practice, practice. I've also realized that I'm going to have to accept certain personality traits and figure out ways to positively use them rather than letting them be a handicap. (For example, I don't think I'll ever be comfortable with inviting over a crowd of people at a moment's notice; but making a decision to have a family over on, say, the third Sunday of every month sounds totally doable.) 

This is not the first time I've had the goal to become a more generous person, and I'm sure it won't be the last. However, at a time when I'm feeling so insecure about the future and seem to waste all of my time on worrying, I know that turning outward is just what I need.

The second phrase I found came during the first week of January. I was sitting in church and someone mentioned the importance of looking forward instead of backward. I recognized this from scripture and searched for it when I got home. It comes from D&C 128:22: "Shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, . . . and on, on to the victory!" But in my reading, I also found these verses from Philippians, and I might like them even more: "But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark . . . " (Phil. 3:13-14).

In light of everything I've confessed in this post, I think it's obvious why these verses struck such a chord with me. I can't let the past dictate how I live the future. I need to make exciting plans, jump into new experiences with both feet, and recognize the good even when life isn't perfect.

I'm reminded of a post I wrote several months ago that I revisit pretty regularly. In it, I answer the question, "What would I do if I had more faith?" The answer is, "I would submit." I will trust that God will not abandon me even if we have another year that feels a lot like 2019 . . . or 2020 . . . or 2021. I will remember that there is good even among the hard. I will be grateful for the friends, family, and angels who are beautiful examples of generosity. I will strive to be a light for others as so many have been for me.

Perhaps it is not wise to have two different themes for 2022. If my attention is divided, maybe I won't make progress with either one of them. But I couldn't choose between them. I felt led to both, so I'm sticking with them and waiting to see what will happen. 

I have specific goals that go along with both of these themes, but I'm not ready to share them yet (and maybe never will be). Some of them are fixed and settled, and others are still fluid as I try to figure out the best way to implement them. I'm very aware of the importance of keeping my expectations realistic and manageable, so even though there is so much I want to do, I'm limiting the number of concrete goals I allow myself. 

Thanks for sticking with me through this ramble. If you read this post and thought, "It sounds like she should see a therapist," don't worry, that's definitely on my to-do list. I haven't found the right person yet, but I'm hoping that's one of the things that 2022 brings me because I have a lot to unpack and process, and I know a therapist can help me with this goal to look forward. 

A Little of This and That in December

Jan 9, 2022

December was busy but laid-back, loud but quiet, festive but routine, energetic but contemplative. We filled it up with lots of simple things that brought us joy. I was so grateful for all of the time we got to spend together. These are my favorite people. The month was a mix of . . . 

Building . . . the Home Alone Lego house. Aaron got so many big Lego sets when he was in the hospital that our basement has become something of a Lego museum. I told him not to expect any more big sets because 1) we don't have room for more and 2) it is not an economical activity since he can do a set that has thousands of pieces (and costs hundreds of dollars) in just a few hours. But just because I said we weren't getting any new sets didn't mean he wasn't still regularly checking the Lego website for new releases. And what did he find? In November, Lego was going to release a 4000-piece replica of the Home Alone house, which would feature tons of little details from the movie. I had to admit, the photos on the website made it look really cool. And then Aaron informed me that it was divided up into 24 bags, effectively making it a giant advent calendar. I didn't reveal my true feelings to Aaron, but I was sold: yes, it was big and expensive, but the fact that it would be guaranteed to take 24 days (instead of less than 24 hours) was a huge selling point for me. So on the very day it was released, I bought it. But I didn't tell Aaron, and he continued to badger, plead, and cajole me throughout the rest of November. December 1st rolled around, and I presented the kids with a Harry Potter advent calendar, and I'm pretty sure I dashed all of Aaron's hopes at that point because he was certain that was his consolation prize. But then that evening as we finished up all of our advent activities for the first day, Mike said, "We have one more advent countdown. Follow me." When he pulled that big Home Alone set out of the box, I have never seen Aaron more excited. He gripped the box, and everyone jumped around; he hugged me and told me thank you over and over. It was so fun. But that was only the beginning. Aaron, Max, and Bradley rotated through the bags during the weeks leading up to Christmas. It was the first thing they did when they got home from school or got up on the weekends. Because they only did one bag per day, we got to fully appreciate every fun little detail in each new addition. Slowly the house came together until it was finished in all its glory on Christmas Eve. It might sound a little silly, but it was one of the major highlights of December. I'm so glad I just decided to go for it even though it seemed rather extravagant and unnecessary (I was especially glad I hadn't waited when I found out that it quickly sold out and then doubled in price). And on New Year's Day, the boys actually disassembled it section by section and put it back into 24 bags so that they can do it again next year, so they're maximizing the fun from it even more. 

Bumping . . . shoulders with thousands of people at the German Christmas market. Mike, Aaron, and I went to the Christkindlmarkt on an early Friday afternoon. I thought we would beat the crowds, but I was so wrong. Mike and I have been going to this market for years, and we have never seen it like it was this year. Normally, we leisurely stroll down the path, popping into booths that interest us. But everything was so crowded, I didn't even look at any items and consequently didn't buy anything either. We did squeeze in to get some food (waffles and stroopwafels) and then walked far away from everyone to eat it. I think too many people have heard about the market, so this might be our last year trying to go. It was a disappointment. (Don't be deceived by the lack of other people in these photos.)

Earning . . . Peeps. I'm not talking about the gross marshmallow Easter candy. A couple of months ago, Ian was at the toy store and saw a little white chick. As you might remember, he already has a yellow one (Peck) that he earned when he gave up his binky. I have mentioned Peck (as well as Waddles) many times on the blog because they have been Ian's near-constant companions. Anyway, he saw this other chick that looked like a brother to Peck, and he wanted it so much. I told him he could have it if he finished all of his reading lessons from the book How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. He talked about this chick all of the time as he finished up the last ten lessons and even picked out a name for him (Peeps). He was thrilled to finish off the last lesson and finally get a new little friend (who, admittedly, has kind of given Peck and Waddles the boot). For my part, I'm more thrilled about the reading progress than the new stuffed animal, but to each his own. 

Babysitting . . . for the first time. Maxwell has been babysitting his younger brothers for quite awhile, and he really wanted to hire himself out to other people. One of my friends gave him his first chance and let him watch three of her kids for a couple of hours. He took this job very seriously, and at the end of it, he said, "I have a new respect for parents. I'm exhausted!" He loved earning his own money and feeling like he had a real job. (So if anyone is local and wants a babysitter, Max is available!)

Winning . . . Reflections in the music category. Clark entered an original musical composition in the Reflections Arts competition this year. The theme was "I Will Change the World By . . . " and his song was meant to show the way he and another person came together to form a friendship. His composition won at his elementary school, so then it went onto the council level where it also won. He got to go to an awards night where they played a portion of his piece and he received a little plaque. This was quite thrilling for Clark. He hasn't ever won anything like this before, and he was all about the recognition and award. (And, spoiler, we just found out that he won at the region level as well!) 

Receiving . . . a dumping of snow. At the beginning of the month, we got a few inches of snow. It was our first real snowfall of the season that amounted to any accumulation. Then, just a few days later, more snow came. It started in the late evening, and by the time I went to bed, everything was white outside and our bedroom was bright with that magical snow light. It didn't stop overnight, and by the next morning, we had over a foot on the ground. This led to . . . 

Moving . . . school to virtual for the day. Our district decided to switch to a virtual learning day because the roads were impossible to navigate until the snowplows could deal with them. I was a big fan of this option and hope they continue to utilize it this winter as needed. The boys spent several hours in the snow--shoveling, digging out snow caves, and building a sledding run. Then they came inside to warm up, drink hot chocolate, and do their schoolwork. The snow stuck around for awhile, and they took advantage of it by going sledding a couple of times. I have a volatile relationship with snow, but I quite like it in December. It definitely added to the Christmasy ambiance. (Too bad it had all melted by Christmas Day, and we didn't get any more snow until the day after Christmas.)

Attending . . . a Christmas band performance. Aaron and Max had their band concert at school. The program was full of fun Christmas music. Max played his saxophone with the foundations band, and Aaron played his trombone with both the concert and jazz bands. This was the first time we brought Ian to a band concert. As I expected, he was a bit wiggly but eventually settled down and actually fell asleep. I was so grateful that he went to sleep . . . until he started coughing up a storm. It has been very typical for him this winter to cough a lot at night but then be fine during the day. But no one sitting around us knew that, and I was pretty embarrassed to have brought a coughing child to a public event. My parents also came to support the boys, and it was fun to have them there.

Skipping . . . a Christmas band performance. In contrast, we actually ended up not going to Bradley's very first band concert. He started learning the trumpet at the beginning of the school year. His first concert conflicted with the swim team Christmas party. Normally I would say that a performance gets preference over a party, but I've been to elementary school band concerts before, and they're a certain form of torture, so I wasn't exactly anticipating it with much excitement. So when Bradley expressed a lot of disappointment over missing the party, I told him the choice was up to him: concert or party. He chose the party. Maybe I should have encouraged him to be committed to band, but there will be many more opportunities, and I'm actually really glad that he's enjoying swimming so much (and I'm happy to give the elementary band a few more months to practice before I have to listen to them). 

Wondering . . . why my kids can't seem to remember that it's winter. I am continually baffled and amazed at the attire (or lack thereof) they think is appropriate for this time of year. One example: Mike and I were walking Ian home from preschool, and Clark saw us coming. He ran to meet us in shorts, a T-shirt, and no socks or shoes. And yes, there was snow on the ground. (I had to document it because it was so unbelievable.)

Trying . . . to track down a missing package. I'm sure we're not the only ones who had a package disappear this month. I ordered a stroller for the new baby and got a notification that it had been delivered, but I couldn't find any evidence of it. At first, I thought it must have been stolen, especially since it had been signed for by a person named Kevin and it had come at a time when Mike and I were gone. But after doing some investigating and sending multiple messages, it seemed more likely that the FedEx driver had gotten behind on his deliveries and prematurely marked it as delivered (that, or he delivered it to the wrong house). Either way, it showed up a few days later. Crisis averted.

Going . . . to not one, not two, but three church Christmas functions. Apparently, our ward has some long-standing Christmas traditions (something we were not fully aware of last year when many activities were still virtual). They do an adult-only dinner, a youth choir program (and fundraiser), and a family breakfast (and service project). At first, I thought it was a bit overkill, especially during such a busy month, but I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed each event. I loved being able to talk to other adults in our neighborhood during the dinner; I marveled that all of the teenagers in our ward participated in the choir (Aaron played a piano solo at this event as well); and I was grateful for the opportunity to donate much needed items to people in our community at the breakfast. All in all, these events just really helped me feel the spirit of the season in a variety of ways, and I appreciated the efforts of so many to make them happen. 

Sending . . . ugly Christmas cards. Instead of ugly Christmas sweaters, we did ugly Christmas cards. Not really on purpose, but we hadn't had real family photos taken this year, and I wasn't about to go to the trouble of it at eight months pregnant. So we decided we better just use our family photo from Halloween. And as long as we were wearing costumes, we went all in and totally played up the theme of Emperor's New Groove . . . from the design to the font to the little blurb on the back. As I addressed all of the cards and sent them out, I laughed when I thought of our card sticking out like an eyesore amid all of the beautifully curated Christmas-themed cards. Also, I realized that probably a third of the people we were sending them to wouldn't even understand all of the movie references or costumes, and so not only would it be ugly but also terribly confusing. Regardless of all of these things, it was still fun (and this was maybe our all-time favorite Halloween theme so it need to be immortalized somehow).

Sledding . . . in Neff's canyon. Mike had a bunch of days off over the holidays. He took advantage of all that downtime to take the big boys and a couple of their friends up Neff's canyon to go sledding. They hiked up quite a distance and then had the thrill of a good, long run all the way down. 

Playing . . . the piano at my parents' musical Christmas party. This is always a highlight of the season for my kids. They love taking their turn playing a piano piece along with their aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents (it's totally just for fun--not a performance for other people). They like playing the traditional games of pass-the-present and charades afterwards. And they love the treats. 

Performing . . . for an assisted living center. My sister-in-law scheduled a time for her kids to perform Christmas songs on the piano for residents of a local assisted living center. She invited my kids to perform as well. It was so much fun. The audience of seniors was very engaged and appreciative. Each of the kids played two songs, and I ended up performing too (a duet with Aaron and a solo). My kids were a little nervous to go, but it ended up being a very positive experience for them. We only had one mishap when the digital piano randomly turned off in the middle of Addie's performance of, "I'll Be Home for Christmas," but other than that it was a seamless program. 

Making . . . Christmas ornaments. The boys made macrame stars this year. They ended up being slightly more involved and complicated than I thought they would be, so I had Ian make a simple Christmas tree instead (which was still a bit too hard for him). They were the perfect addition to our rustic Christmas tree, but I failed to get a picture of them. On Christmas Day, I settled down with my knitting (as has become a tradition) and made a new Christmas ornament. It was a Scandinavian Santa Claus this time. Even though I only knit one new ornament each year, at this point, I'm getting quite the little collection of ornaments, and they bring me a lot of joy. 

Sleeping . . . under the Christmas tree. Every year I think my kids are not going to want to do this, and every year I'm wrong. This time, Mike and I were actually gone for the evening, and when we got home, we found that they'd found all of the sleeping bags and set up everything on their own. 

Acting . . . out the nativity with cousins and participating in a service project. We had a Christmas party with Mike's family, and as part of that, we assembled weekend food kits for a local school district. The younger nieces and nephews also reenacted the nativity. Mike's mom and one of his sisters painted a cool backdrop, which really upped the effect. Bradley was a sheep (his costume consisted of a white piece of fabric thrown over him), Clark was a wiseman, and Ian was a shepherd. Seeing these cute little kids act out this beloved account was just really beautiful.

Watching . . . Disney's Encanto on Christmas Eve. It has become a tradition for us to go see a movie on the afternoon of Christmas Eve to help pass the time. We were planning to see Encanto in the theater, but when we realized it came out on Disney+ that same day, we decided to switch venues to Mike's sister's newly remodeled basement. Best. Decision. Ever. It was so cozy and comfortable with a great new TV and sound system. Also, we absolutely loved the movie. My kids have been listening to the soundtrack nonstop ever since and have at least three of the songs memorized. (After the movie, we stayed and had dinner with them; Mike cooked prime rib, which ended up taking longer than he expected, so we didn't get the kids to bed very early on Christmas Eve.) 

Dubbing . . . this the year of "Functional Christmas." Because we had Aaron's Make-a-Wish in August (which was basically like five Christmases), I told the kids to try to ask for useful items and things that they actually needed rather than more toys and games. Because of this, they ended up with such things as camping chairs, a music stand, bathrobes, a swim parka, dressers (which they all helped assemble), pillows, bedspreads, clothes, and a Gabb phone and watch. Of course, there were a few fun things thrown into the mix, but amazingly and thankfully, no Legos (we are at capacity here). 

Having . . . a nice, slow Christmas Day. It was actually so lovely. No snow, unfortunately, and the big snow from the week before had all pretty much melted, but we were still cozy (and Mike, Clark, Ian, and I actually went on a walk later in the day because the weather was so nice). All of the presents had been opened by mid-morning, and after that, everyone just played new games, read books, ate treats, and lounged around. In the afternoon, we watched a movie (The Man Who Saved Christmas), and we finished off the day with a simple shepherd's meal. Such a nice way to spend Christmas.

Sending . . . off 2021. We had our friends over for the evening, and we counted down the hours by eating, playing games, chatting, reading Dave Barry's annual recap, watching movies, coloring, and playing. At about 11:30, Ian said he was just going to "take a little rest" in his bed, and of course he was completely out within five minutes. But the rest of us made it all the way to midnight. We threw confetti, made a lot of noise outside, and watched some fireworks before heading to bed. Although 2021 was not my favorite year, it was a great way to finish it off.

And that wraps up not just this month but also this year. I have a lot of things I've been thinking about in regards to 2021 as well as thoughts and goals for 2022. Hopefully I'll have a chance to write about them soon. 

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