Improvising

If everything had gone according to plan, I would be in southern Utah tonight with all my boys, celebrating Wensley’ fifteenth birthday. But Wensley’s kidneys gave out in February. I kept the trip on the books because I’ve been so sad without him and I thought it would be good to get away. Then last week I experienced both my first pandemic and my first earthquake. It was like a biathlon of terror.

After Wensley died, I had been saying that maybe we would get another dog for Christmas, after a good long grieving break. Then school was canceled and Matt, Ethan, and I have been stuck at home getting on each other’s nerves all day. Then I said that if school was canceled for more than the two weeks they originally announced, we would get a dog for Easter. Something to distract us. Then I woke up to a 5.7 earthquake and stumbled through hours of aftershocks as I tried unsuccessfully to focus on work. I went for a walk to calm my nerves and found myself tempted to steal every dog I saw.

So, yeah. We got a puppy on Friday. Nothing is going according to plan right now so I said “fuck it.”

Meet Murphy, the 10 week old Goldendoodle that I found through a friend. He’s a sweetheart and a good monster and sometimes he makes me cry because I still miss my dog terribly and I feel like an unfaithful A hole for getting a new dog less than six weeks after I lost my Wensleydale.

I told my therapist about it yesterday. He was kind and said he was surprised I lasted this long. Then we talked about Murphy as a new chapter, and not a replacement. That reminded me of something I read in a David Sedalia essay once, about the way the lifespan of our pets put a tidy parentheses around eras in our lives. It’s so true. I like thinking of it that way.

This morning I was sad because I realized that today is Wensley’s birthday. Murphy was being adorable and I was resisting his charm, feeling a longing that is unfair to him but articulated itself as a rebuke that said “you aren’t my dog.”

Then he did something that Wensley used to do that I had completely forgotten about. He ran over to his food bowl which I had just filled, took one bit of kibble in his mouth, then ran back to the carpeted area of the room and ate it there. Then he did it again, and again. I don’t know how common that is with puppies, but I always thought it was hilarious when Wensley did it. “Does it taste better when your paws are cushioned?” I used to ask him.

Wensley was my dog. But Murphy is our dog. This new era is off to a weird and wonky start, but it has begun. And Murphy is not a replacement. He’s a new member of the family that belongs in this era. But if he helps remember some joy from the last era, that’s fine too. It wasn’t the plan, but as I’m learning… nothing goes according to plan.

Wicked Stepmother

Ethan (seven) has been having a little trouble at school. He’s bright and motivated and his teachers love him. He has lots of friends. AND (I’m deliberately not saying “but”) he has really big feelings. He gets frustrated when something happens out of the usual order and he doesn’t feel prepared, for instance. We (both our family unit and the family unit of his mother’s and stepfather’s house) have always made sure he knows that it is okay to cry. We set the example; we show our emotions and encourage him to check in with and express his own. Unfortunately, some of his fellow classmates (you couldn’t hear it but I just sneezed and it sounded just like ‘dumb boys.’ It was weird) have started calling him “cry baby.”

We talked about it a lot over the weekend. His school is supposed to have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bullying, which seems nice. When I was in school in the 80s, bullying was a perfectly acceptable hobby for a lot of kids, encouraged by parents and gym teachers alike. But really there’s zero-tolerance for bullying that happens directly in front of an un-distracted authority figure, which typically isn’t the setting the these little butt holes choose. So we discussed some strategies that he could try, such as going to a teacher if the issue persists, and gave him some reassurance that he’s fine, just the way he is.

I hate this stuff because it brings up my own childhood crap. But also because I HATE the way school breaks our kids. I see it with my nieces and nephews and my friend’s children. Everyone starts out confident and quirky and excited about school and then they get dumped into the sausage machine and the shitty little kids who need everyone to be the same will appoint themselves the gatekeepers of what is allowed and beat the quirks to a pulp. It makes me so sad.

In response, I did something bad. I knew it was bad, and I did it anyway. I was driving Ethan to school so it was just the two of us and I brought up the situation. I waited so that I could get him to myself and not have his Dad hear me and have to correct me for my terrible advice.

“You know,” I said, stopping at a traffic light. “I was thinking of something you could say to [Kid’s Name].”

“What?” Ethan asked.

“Next time he calls you a crybaby, say ‘yeah, but I can stop crying and you will still be ugly.”

“Oh, Rachel!” Ethan said, his eyes bright with a smile, but shaking his splayed hands in front of him, as if refusing another slice of cake. “I would get in so much trouble!”

This is the problem with zero-tolerance policies. The kids who don’t care about following the rules won’t be dissuaded, but the kids who just want to do the right thing won’t even defend themselves.

“You could tell your teacher that I told you to say it,” I said. “I will take the blame!”

“Actually, I thought of something else I could say,” he said.

“What is that?”

“I’m just going to say, ‘how would you feel if someone said that to you?’ And then they will realize it isn’t nice.”

I made myself say, “Yeah… that’s good… too.” I checked the rear-view mirror. “But you could still think about my response. It might make you laugh.”

I got a good smile and a little chuckle then. “Yeah,” he said. “It is funny.”

We don’t get him again until the weekend so I won’t get to check in with him for a few days. I feel so much pressure to enjoy him now, while he is cute and sweet and small. And as purely him as he will be again. Every day those shitty little dumb-asses change him a little more. This is the price we pay for being social animals, I guess. Now I understand why people choose to home-school. I wouldn’t go that far, however. At the risk of offending someone, I’ve met home-schooled kids and some of them could stand having some weirdness smoothed down in the sausage machine.

Thanksgiving Crafting

Growing up, Thanksgiving was spent with my large extended family and, while food was the main event, football was also central. If my uncles didn’t get into a fight about something (it’s not just drinking families that argue; Mormons do it, too), like which of them loved Ronald Reagan the most, then they would hunker down around TV and the children (and there were oodles of us) needed to stay quiet. If not quiet, then in the basement. Preferably both.

One year we did a craft around the kitchen table while the menfolk watched football and talked politics. And I loved it! I couldn’t figure out while we weren’t doing that all along! Granted, you can’t do elaborate crafts with babies and toddlers, so I guess there is my answer. But it was so great to have my mind and hands occupied and not be endlessly shushed for a change.

I’ve made the post dinner craft a part of my Thanksgiving traditions. I think the adults enjoy it… some more than others. But the kids always get really into it. A few years ago I brought a roll of butcher paper and gave everyone a large sheet to decorate as wrapping paper. The great thing about that one was that the end product was used up by Christmas and no long term storage was needed. Last year we made ornaments, which require minimal space.

I googled ideas for this year, but didn’t really find what I was looking for. Not that I didn’t find any…. there are tons of them! But, heavens to Betsy, there a lot of crap out there! Too many materials, too much mess, and then what do you do with it when Christmas ends? Also, who are these people who give children glitter? And why do they hate themselves so much?

Though, I will admit this glittered tampon garland caught my eye. Not only would it horrify my mother (my favorite!), but it would finally give me a way to use that Costco size box of tampons that I bought before switching to a silicone cup (Yahtzee!)!!!

But no. Maybe if I save them and trade them for bullets and vodka during the zombie apocalypse.

Instead we settled on Sculpey Clay ornaments. I didn’t want to do the same thing as last year, but I also love to compare the kid made ornaments over the developmental years, so I got over it. I got a pound of white clay and a bunch of other colors for around $20 with a Joann’s coupon. (I also brought screw eyes to make them easy to hang.)

It was perfect. Not too messy, easy to make, and they bake quickly. The kids had a blast and they made a bunch of ornaments. We made some for our own trees and a few to send home with the grandparents for their trees, also.

Here are the three I made:

Best of all, the kids were entertained for over an hour! Maybe that is second best, if you consider that no one glitter-glued a tampon to anyone’s forehead. Depends on how you look at it.

Either way; there is much to be thankful for.

Chicken Tenders

The other night, we were having roast chicken for dinner. Matt went back to carve off some seconds.
Ethan (age 7): Dad, are you cutting the off the chicken’s “tenders”?

(“Tenders” is his word for the male genitalia, which he learned from the Kung Fu Panda Movies).

Matt: Chickens don’t have “tenders”.

Ethan: I eat chicken tenders all the time!

Me (putting my hands in the air to make the “time out” gesture): Wait… wait… wait… this whole time you have been eating chicken tenders, you thought they were a chicken’s “tenders”?

Ethan: Ye-ah! (Said in two syllables, like “Du-uh!”)

Oy Vey. I blame Jack Black.

He’s Back! (And so am I)

I took a hiatus from blogging for a bit. I’ve been traveling for work and for fun and it’s been difficult to write. I’m home for the foreseeable future, however. So here’s to getting back into the routine!

More importantly, Owlbertson is back! I saw him in his tree a few days ago! I stopped to get a photo of him to post here, but as soon as I got out of my car he jumped down into the hole he likes to perch in and disappeared. So maybe that’s why I haven’t seen him in such a long time; it turns out he has a basement!

So, no photo. Sorry about that. Instead, here is a description of a conversation I had last night with a ten-year-old.

I went to see the Avett Brothers with some friends.  They were playing at this huge venue here in Utah called USANA, which is far away from downtown Salt Lake City, near the foothills of the Oquirrh Mountains. My friends each brought one of their children, which was fun. It also made us behave a little better than we sometimes do when we go to see live music when we are completely off Mom duty.

It was between sets and I suddenly smelled a cloud of marijuana funk wafting over from nearby. I could see on the kids faces that they registered the stink, and for some reason I decided to tell a fib about it. Maybe to protect their innocence just a little longer.

“Oh no,” I said. “Smells like there’s a skunk!”

“Yeah,” said the ten-year-old girl. “But where could it be?” looking around at all the people and wondering how a skunk could possibly be mingling among us without a mass freak-out.

I pointed toward the mountains just beyond the stadium. “Out there, somewhere, I guess.”

“Huh,” she said. “Must be. But the funny thing is, I went to a country music concert a few months ago, and there was a skunk there, too!”

“That is a coincidence!” I said.

It’s a lot harder to protect kids from the “skunks” of the world now that it was when I was growing up. Then again, I grew up in Utah County, the capitol of Mormondom, in the 80s, and we truly did have more skunks than joints. *Sigh.* It was a simpler time.

 

An Update on Frog

Last year, I wrote about my nephew, who we call Frog. He was born early, at just 25 weeks, weighing about 2 pounds. I had just come back from meeting him and was feeling assured by his fighting spirit.

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I’m happy to report, a little over a year later, he is home and thriving. He had is first birthday over the holidays, when he was still wearing 9 month old clothes, but he’s happy and goofy and a delight to be around.

My sister just sent me this photo of him playing with the felt activity book I made for him last Christmas. Apparently he is a big fan of the red shiny buttons. Can’t say that I blame him; they are mesmerizing.

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I don’t know if activity books (I’ve also heard them called “busy books” or “quiet books”) are a thing everywhere.  When I was growing up, it was something you gave a baby to keep them occupied during long church meetings. I had kind of forgotten about them until I was looking for a good DIY present for Frog and Matt’s nephew (who also turned one over the holidays) last fall. I purchased the pattern on Etsy from LindyJDesign. I thought, “Oh… that will kill a cold autumn weekend or two.” But I’m not great with the sewing machine and making the books turned into a part time job for a couple of weeks.

Don’t let that deter you, however. It was a lot of fun. Here are a few more photos of some of the pages:

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And as long as I’m doing a humble-brag post about my Auntie craft projects, here is another recent photo of Frog wearing a hat I made many years ago for his older brother. This pattern is by Mamachee and can be found here (what would I do without Etsy?). I don’t know how much he weighs now, but look at those gloriously chubby pink cheeks! I know I said I made the hat for his brother, but it really suits our Froggie.  He’s a warrior, for sure.

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My Pioneer Stock (A Pioneer Day Re-post)

Ever since I left the Mormon Church to join the Church of Sleep-in on Sunday and go to Brunch, I have experienced a significant improvement in quality of life. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still love my Mormon ancestors. I am particularly proud of the Mormon women. The men did a lot of interesting stuff, and the polygamists are just wacky fun. But the women? The women could give birth in a back room with nothing for pain management but a stick between their teeth and not even wake up the other wives sleeping upstairs. And then they got up and washed the sheets. Those women were ballers.

In honor of Pioneer Day (or, as we heathens call it, Pie and Beer Day), I want to write a brief biography of my Great Great Great Great Grandmother, Phebe Draper Palmer Brown. Phebe was the daughter of William Draper, for whom the town of Draper in Salt Lake County is named (or for her brother William Draper – I have heard it both ways). She was born 1797 in Rome New York. The Drapers moved to Canada when Phebe was a girl and she married her first husband George Palmer at the age of 18. The Drapers joined the LDS church a few years later (though George never did) and Phebe was baptized by Brigham Young. George and Phebe had six children and another on the way when he up and died on her in 1833. She was 38.

Phebe packed up her family and followed the Drapers back to the states. They met up with other Canadian Saints but were driven out of Ohio and then Missouri by Mormon-haters. They eventually settled in Nauvoo, Illinois. She received a patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith who told her to be good and that she would get another man. This was a little ahead of the polygamy trend, but I don’t think Joseph would have snatched her up in any case. He preferred 14 year-olds who had not yet pushed a half a dozen babies out of their vaginas. Phebe was 40 and she looked like she had pushed two of her seven children out of her eyes.

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My sisters and I often joke about having inherited our looks from Phebe.

Phebe worked hard to support her family and I have read she had some talent for nursing. Luckily she wasn’t too good at it, because after Phebe failed to nurse her friend Ann Brown back to health, she married her widower, Ebenezer. That was in 1842. Ann left him with four young children and it just made sense to join forces. He was a looker, also.

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The Mormon situation in Illinois was becoming untenable. In 1844 Joseph Smith was killed. In 1846, Phebe and Ebenezer joined the group of Saints who were following Brigham Young (now president of the church) west to the new “Promised Land.” They were passing through Council Bluffs Iowa in July and were met by US soldiers. The war with Mexico was in full swing and the soldiers asked Brigham to give them 500 men to take to California to fight. He complied – hoping to obtain government aid for the migration (because he was a “taker”).

Along with another 550ish Mormons, Ebenezer and Phebe both volunteered – probably to get away from the children. Actually, Phebe’s 14 year-old son Zemira Palmer joined also. They pawned the younger children off on relatives in the wagon train.

What would come to be known as “The Mormon Battalion” marched 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego, California. Phebe worked as a cook and laundress and Zemira served as a Colonel’s aid. The trek was pretty miserable, by all accounts. They walked through the deserts and mountains… for a year. Phebe was one of only four women who made the entire trip and at 49 she was by far the oldest of the four (the second oldest was 22).

Considering the distance and the difficulty of the terrain, they actually made pretty good time. But by the time they got to San Diego, the war was over and the Battalion was dismissed. (There is one story about a herd of wild cattle attacking the Battalion as they crossed through Arizona, so they did see some action.)

Ebenezer and Phebe were out of money so they re-enlisted for another year. They were sent to Sutter’s Mill and were among the group who found flakes of gold in the American River, a discovery the led to the California Gold Rush. They collected a small amount of gold but then received the call from Brother Brigham. It was time for them to re-join the Saints in Salt Lake City.

On their way back through the California mountains, they were part of the group that discovered the remains of the Donner-Reed party. (I know what you are thinking. “What? Not possible! Was your GGGG Grandmother Forest Gump?” I don’t know how much of it is true. I just know what I have read.) The survivors and rescuers of the Donner Party had been unable to bury the dead due to the ice and snow, so the Mormons stopped and buried all the bodies they could find before pressing on to Salt Lake City.

Phebe, Ebenezer and Zemira arrived in Salt Lake in 1848, at the end of a 3,000 mile journey. Phebe had a mule to ride by then, so that’s nice. They settled in Willow Creek, which would later be renamed as “Draper,” as I mentioned before. Ebenezer became the Postmaster, but he couldn’t read so Phebe (who was well educated for the time) served as Postmistress. She also ran a school for small children. Zemira was sent to work in Orderville, which was Brigham Young’s big communist experiment. Two guesses as to how that turned out.

Unfortunately, Brigham Young wasn’t finished with the Draper-Palmers yet. Brother Brigham told Ebenezer that he wanted him to become a polygamist and have more children. Phebe is said to have approved, and in 1853 and 1854 Ebenezer married two more women. One of them died a decade later, leaving Phebe with yet another brood of small children to raise.

Phebe died in 1879 at the incredible age of 82. (Granted, in the photo she appears to be about 127, and it looks like she made at least part of her 3,000 mile march by walking with her face.) That lady was a stone cold badass, and I’m proud to be her descendant.

Also, in reading up on all of this stuff, something has occurred to me that may be a brilliant bit of insight as to how Mormon services are operated. Perhaps the reason that those damn meetings are three hours long is because it was the only time those poor people got to sit down! It HAD to be as long as they could possibly get away with!

One more thing – this is a letter from Zemira to Phebe from Orderville. I think it is adorable in its presciently passive/aggressive tone, which is still the Mormon modus operandi.  I especially love the way he waves off his inheritance and then signs the letter from “your unworthy son.”

Letter from Zemira Palmer to his mother Phebe Draper Palmer Brown

None Shall Pass… Without Cake!

When I asked Ethan what he wanted his 6th birthday party theme to be and he said “knights,” I had to double check that I understood.  After all, it wasn’t that long ago that I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he responded, “Nocturnal.”

“Knights? Like, Knights of the Round Table?” I asked, knowing there was a better way to phrase this to a kindergartner.

“No,” Ethan said.  “Like knights that fight.”

“Okay,” I said.  “I got it.”

I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find good decorations easily.  At least, not as easily as if he said, “Starwars,” for instance.  But it wasn’t a problem.  I ordered a dragon pinata, foam swords for a melee, and foil crowns and stick on plastic gems for a craft station.  Easy peasy.

There were about 40 people on the guest list, so we had the party at a park in the neighborhood.  This took care of seating and shade.  Also, I thought if no one wanted to sword fight or decorate a crown, there was a playground.

I’ve never thrown a child’s birthday party before, and I admit I stressed over it more than I should have.  I didn’t sleep much the night before and then I went to the park early and claimed some tables (they don’t take reservations).  I did my best to plan for all contingencies, but there are always things beyond one’s control.  For example, a block away, a sewer pipe burst and each time the breeze shifted there was a distinct barn-yard smell.  I could have been upset, but I decided that it gave the medieval theme an air (pun intended) of authenticity.  Hopefully the guests felt the same.  (They did not, but they were very polite about it.)

The final touch were two figurines to decorate the cake – a knight and a dragon.  Once everything was set up and we were waiting for the guests to arrive, there was nothing to do but sit and wait.

“You know,” Matt – my history teacher boyfriend – said, pointing at the cake, “there is a historical problem there.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked.  “What’s that?”

“Yes, I think the knight should have a sword.  I was just reading that knights, who usually came from the aristocracy, actually looked down on archery.  Archers were from the lower classes.”

“That’s interesting,” I said.  “Also, there’s a dragon.”

“True,” Matt said.  “Very true.”

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Auntie Fail

Auntie Rae tries to talk to the kiddos about bullies:

Me: So she bullied me from second grade through the sixth grade, and it was terrible. And I didn’t handle it well but I learned from it. And then, the last I heard, she was a single mom, working at the American Fork Walmart. The end.

My Nephew (9 years old): I don’t understand. How can you be single and a mom?

Me: um…. what? I don’t think I said that. Time for bed!

Sisters in Seattle

I went to Seattle for a few days to visit my sister Andrea and meet my brand new nephew who arrived too soon – at just 25 weeks – over the New Year’s weekend.  I flew up to help out while her hubby was traveling for work.  Mostly I went to give my five year old nephew some attention.  Also I talked Andrea’s ear off.  (I really need to call her more.)  I also cooked a little.  I loaded the dishwasher once.  I barely helped at all, truth be told.  I always think I’ll be more helpful when I’m projecting the future in my mind then when I get into the future and see what reality allows.

Still it was a great trip.  Frog (my new nephew’s nickname) is so tiny!  Just 2.7 lbs when I left, but growing a bit every day.  I was watching him fight against his breathing mask and squirming to get his arms and legs free of the swaddling wraps and I was amazed.  He is so little and he looks so fragile – like a pink baby bird that fell from a nest – but he is fierce!  He can lift his head already, and he can voice his displeasure.  It made me happy.  I don’t want him to wear himself out, but I can’t describe the joy I felt watching him fight.  I’ve been so worried about this kiddo for weeks but now that I’ve seen him, I’m reassured.  He is a warrior and he is firmly in this world.

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My other nephew, the kindergartner, is really struggling with the changes.  He seems angry.  He’s not listening or asking for things with politeness or patience.  He is demanding things with a force that suggests his wants and needs are consuming him.  I’m not sure he gets what is wrong exactly, but there is a level on which he is aware.  He even commented on the fact that there are suddenly a number of photos of his brother on his mom’s phone.  “Why are there so many pictures of Frog on here?” he asked like a jealous boyfriend.  Like, “Who is this guy and what does he mean to you?”

Oof.  Just wait until the little one actually gets sprung from the NICU and comes home!  Then the real pain will begin.

On one hand my heart is breaking for him because it is hard to see him hurting.  But on the other hand, the one where I’m looking at it from the perspective of a second sibling, I’m less sympathetic.  “What? You don’t get to have your parents all to yourself? What would that be like?” [insert eye roll]

I’m told that when I came home from the hospital my older sister tried to smother me with a diaper.  She was wearing it at the time, just so you understand.

He is such a sweet kid and I believe he will be fine once he has had time – lots of time – to adjust.  He’s so funny.  I’m not sure how to describe him except to say that he has a dynamic inner life.  He is so imaginative and precocious.  He spent one entire day of my visit dressed as Yoda.  Not for any special occasion.  He just loves Yoda.  When I arrived he presented me with a drawing he did for me at school.  It’s a portrait of me.  “What’s this red part?” I asked.

“It’s a bloody thumb.”

“Of course it is, kiddo.  Of course it is.”

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What I wouldn’t give to spend some time in that kid’s head.  Frog is going to have the best playmate in the world.  Maybe not soon, you know.  But in a little while.

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