Part of the "fun" work involves a new blogging venture. A good friend, Annie, and I have cooked up the idea to start a mommy blog for families with older children. I do love a good mommy blog, but I also want one that addresses the stage my life is in at the moment. Life with teens is cool, and I just don't think that coolness is getting the proper attention on the Internet. Am I right?
We are still in the "soft launch" stage, so be kind. But please do let me know your thoughts -- what kind of content you might find especially interesting.
I'll continue to blog personally here. So, yes, there will be more whining, HAVE NO FEAR.
Check it out, my peops: nestandlaunch.com. (Be sure to read the 'about us' tab for more information on what we're doing.)
My Maddie turned 18 on the 27th (just last Wednesday...I know, I'm behind). Sterling and I got up early, ahem ... 5:30 AM, to make her breakfast before seminary (normally we are still asleep when she leaves...cuz we are bad parents). Anyway, as I was waiting on the hashbrowns to brown I checked my e-mail on my phone. At the top of the list was an e-mail from Walgreens. The title was "Madison has been removed from your account." I clicked on the title and this little gem appears:Dear Sarah,
Madison Jones has been removed from your Family Prescriptions account because he or she has turned 18 years old. As a result, you can no longer access Madison's pharmacy records and manage his or her prescriptions.
Really Walgreens? Have you no soul? No empathy? No compassion? Must you taunt me in such a cold, cruel manner? And I just want everyone to know, I've spent ALOT of money at Walgreens over the past 18 years. Like, enough to redo my living room in the chic, yet cozy, contemporary eclectic style I've come to admire. Enough to put a sizeable down payment on a luxury vehicle. Heck, maybe enough to buy the whole darn vehicle. And yet, YET! Walgreens chose to destroy my flimsily held illusion that my baby was still a baby. On her birthday. I don't think I'll every be able to forgive them for that.
Madison found out just a few days before her birthday that she had officially been admitted to BYU. I know this sounds super snotty (this is an ode to Madison, remember?), but there was never any real question that she would get in. She has always been a hard worker when it comes to academics. And it doesn't hurt that this kid has the mind of a steel trap. Nothing brought that home to me more than her recent oral surgery. After the surgery, on the ride home, suffering from the after effects of the IV sedation, she was INCREDIBLY loopy...talking some serious crazy talk...and in the midst of this (wherein she declared she was a "STRONG AND INDEPENDENT WOMAN") she was also throwing off facts and quotes like no one's business. She told me the exact scripture verses she had recited that morning in seminary. She remembered the exact level and parking spot where we had parked at the oral surgeon's office -- and chastised me for not remembering. She was recalling movie titles and old friend's names. And yet...she bawled like a baby when she remembered that she didn't have as much time to play the piano as she would like. It was a difficult time, and I'll just leave it at that. Also, there is a video.
I was interested to see how this year would play out, the year when Maddie would be the oldest. She's had to play number two child (only 14 months younger than Jordan) for her whole life. I think this year on top has been good for her, but I can't offer up a whole list of observations or anecdotes, because she's spent most of her time on the run. She's either at school, or choir, or church, or piano, or fish club, or out with friends. She has taken on a lot of responsibilities this year, and she takes these commitments VERY seriously. So seriously in fact that in her post-wisdom-teeth-loopy state, she insisted she drive to Walmart to pick up brown lunch sacks for a Fish Club activity. And while I can see that all of this commitment makes her tired -- as in exhausted -- I'm happy to see her plan, commit, follow through, and even suffer the consequences. Because just as Walgreens finds her old enough to manage her own prescriptions (dumb), I can see her growing in ways that will make her a successful college student, and missionary, and citizen, and employee, and wife, and mother.
In terms of downright honesty, I will let you in on the little known fact that Madison leaves her STUFF all over the house. Those tangly white headphones, books, miscellaneous papers, and hoodies take up residence downstairs, and everywhere really. Also, she leaves her laundry in the laundry room for simply inexcusable periods of time. And...she can be pretty darn grumpy in the early morning hours. But, other than those negligable faults, I'd have to say Maddie is a true star. She is thoughtful and earnest and cares so much (too much really) about the feelings of others. She is super fun...and funny...and has this surprising mischievous side that I outwardly discourage but secretly find amusing. She always wants to do the right thing and is so appreciative of everything we do for her. I can unequivocally say that Madison has been a bright spot in our lives since that rainy day 18 years ago when she made a quick and fantastic entrance into our family. I think back on those early years -- when I was a young, inexperienced mom with two small babies. Sterling was traveling a bunch with work back then, so often it was just me and Jordan and Madison. Sometimes the remembering hurts...I miss those baby girls so much. But mostly, the remembering amazes me. They are still the same sweet, fiery girls that baptized me into motherhood with a torrent of needs and demands and tears and the most beautiful of spirits. And now? I can see the smallest piece of an incredible arc...from infancy to young adult, from toddling to running, from board books to calculus, I've seen all of this...and so much more...and I realize how precious and exquisite is this life we live...and how much more there is to learn and accomplish and be. That is the gift my Madison has given to me.
Happy Birthday Madison!
Okay. I'm not abandoning the blog just yet. Currently, I'm working on starting a new blogging project, because when you hit the wall on one blog it seems only reasonable to just move on to a new one. Yes, I'm like a three year old. When I get tired of a toy I just throw it down where I stand and move on to something newer and shinier.
But I'm not doing that.
And even I if was going to do that, I couldn't leave without telling the barbie laptop story. I posted the above picture on Instagram today. And those butterflies were just screaming for the story to be told. Screaming butterflies. How quaint.
Anyway. Here's how we acquired the barbie laptop:
Despite the fact that we have three good, solid desktop computers in our house (along with ipads and assorted ipod devices), Sterling got it into his head that he needed a mobile work station. He tried to resurrect my old Dell laptop (which isn't really that old, Boo Dell). But after several hours of wiping the hard drive clean, and reinstalling and upgrading software, the old dinosaur was still just an old dinosaur...and by that I mean S L O W. So Sterling put the dinosaur away where old dinosaurs in our house go to die -- the master closet.
And then he gave up on his mobile workstation idea for a time. UNTIL....(are you hanging on every word yet?)...a friend of his passed along an e-mail from someone who worked at HP. The HP guy was telling about this laptop that was a great machine...but that was apparently being closed out. You could get it at the Walmart, and it had plenty of RAM and megabytes and other techy stuff that I don't care about unless my Internet gets S L O W.
Sterling ran down to the Walmart and picked himself up this humdinger of a deal. He was patting himself on the back. He was strangely excited, which is super weird because he has only gotten excited over a purchase one other time in our 22 year marriage...and that had to do with a whole carton of Good N Plenty. But that's another story entirely.
So, I'm sitting on the couch in the living room (NOT watching LOST on Netflix) and he sits down across from me and starts opening up his new great laptop. And all the while he's waxing poetic on the great deal he got, and how much storage, and quickness, and all about these acronymns that I couldn't quite place. He finally disengages the laptop from all of its packing and flips open the top...and facing me head on? The most bee-autiful purple AND pink AND blue butterflies fluttering all over -- INSIDE AND OUT.
Then I fell off of the couch because I was laughing so hard.
Sterling huffed and puffed and started wrapping those darn butterflies back up. He carefully replaced each and every cardboard filler piece and headed back to the Walmart to get himself a super-special-closeout-laptop deal WITHOUT butterflies.
Too bad our Walmart only had butterfly computers.
So he went to other Walmarts. Lots of them. And you can now guess why they were such a super-special-closeout-laptop deal. Seems like someone severely overestimated the preteen laptop-purchasing audience.
But Sterling, being the logical soul that he is...decided that for such a great deal he could deal with the butterflies. And me? Being the considerate and gentle soul that I am, I started calling it the Barbie laptop. And, of course, the name stuck. I think Sterling's used that laptop all of eight times...but I've found it's great for working poolside. Or for torturing one's husband.
Yes, it's the little joys...
Sorry for all of the technical difficulties with the video I posted below. I can watch it on my desktop Mac (but not on my Windows laptop). I actually stole it from Jordan's FB page, but since I'm not friends with the creator I couldn't share it on FB. Anyway, for those who couldn't view it I'm going to post my own, poorly conceived video, below. It's a video (from a weird angle) of skype on our tv. Not great, but I think it becomes especially explosive when she announces her call, and I throw the phone. I enjoy it.
For those of my friends who are not Mormon, perhaps a little background is in order. I'm fairly certain most of you are familiar with Mormon missionaries. We have several boys from our community who are currently serving two year missions, so we've talked about that a bit. Until very recently (October 2012) boys were allowed to serve missions at age 19 and girls at age 21. Don't ask me why. I could give you lots of facts and feelings on the age discrepancy, but the bottom line at this point is that girls can now serve at 19. And thousands of girls have stepped up. Within the first month of the age change, missionary enrollment grew by 400%. Girl power is a terrible force. And by terrible I mean wonderful.
Jordan, my ever-anxious firstborn, was torn at the announcement. She was on the precipice of 19 and serving a mission at this point was not on her radar. And she was understandably anxious about it. A bit of a wreck really. Sterling and I remained neutral, committed to supporting her in whatever decision she made. She wrestled with her options for a bit (not long really) and then decided to serve. She made all of the required appointments, filled out the lengthy paperwork, and moved the process along. When she was home at Christmas we visited her doctor, dentist, and an oral surgeon to complete the packet.
Missionaries are called to serve all over the world, and you have absolutely no say in where you go. There is no protest process. You can't really receive your call and reject it on terms of location. Of course, no one is forced to serve a mission, but the understanding is that once you commit to serve the Lord, you'd be willing to do that anywhere. Certainly the people of Provo, Utah are no less deserving than the people of Rome, Italy. And Jordan assured me she would be fine wherever she was called. She had a great attitude.
As a mom I was suspicious that Jordan's health issues might keep her stateside. We talked about how cool it would be to experience life on the east coast. Maybe Maine. Or Vermont. Or NYC. Lots of cool places in the United States.
Her dream, of course, was to serve a French speaking mission. She took four years of French in high school. Tested out of French 101 and 102 at BYU. Took 201 last semester. And is currently slugging through 202 -- French literature. When we were in France last summer she did a bang up job of conversing with the locals. But keeping it real? There are very few French-speaking missions. And you don't get to make any requests. (She did, however, indicate on her application that she had taken French in school.) So...we weren't holding our breath. She kept saying, "I'll be great with wherever I'm called."
We planned to open her call on Wednesday -- that's typically when mission calls are delivered to the dorms. But Wednesday afternoon came and went and no calls arrived at the Cannon Center (where Jordan eats and gets her mail). Jordan was convinced the call would come on Friday. We started making plans to skype at our house Friday evening. So Thursday, just as I arrived at the junior high for a meeting, I got a semi-hysterical call from Jordan telling me the call was in. She was ready to open it RIGHT THEN.
Except I wasn't home. Neither was Sterling. Or Madison. We made plans for 7:30, and through the miracle of texting, everyone showed up on time. I'll be honest, I was nervous for my kid. Not in the sick-to-my-stomach kind of way. But in the I-hope-this-is-everything-she-imagined kind of way. I just wanted her to be happy. And excited.
Everyone gathered around the tv. We got hooked up with Jordan via Skype, and from her dorm lobby she read the papers. "Sister Jones, You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. You are assigned to labor in the FRANCE, LYON mission."
And she screamed. And I died. And then I must have thrown my phone -- although I have no memory of that. We googled the mission boundaries, finding it takes in most of southern France, Monaco, the Isle of Corsica, and a sliver of Switzerland (including Geneva). And we dreamed of boulangeries and fine cheeses and imagined our girl walking through the quaint villages of France.
Of course, there is lots of hard work involved too. And she has to leave us. And completely dedicate 100% of her time to serving others and teaching the French people about the gospel of Jesus Christ -- all in French, of course. She'll be gone for 18 months. We can e-mail her weekly, but we can only phone her on Christmas and Mother's Day, so it's going to be a long haul from June 26th, when she enters the Missionary Training Center in Provo, to December 25th. If you guys thought I was whiney when she left for college, you are probably expecting some tantrum and fit-throwing over this. I promise to spare you. (My husband is fair game.)
Ahhh, I'm so proud of my girl. So excited for her next adventure...
After a couple of sleepless nights and many anxious phone calls, Jordan finally received her mission call late yesterday afternoon. She called me (screaming into the phone) while I was at a meeting at the junior high -- so I spent the rest of the meeting madly texting family members, apprising them of the call, and making arrangements to meet at our house to skype the opening. Strangely enough (because I'm about the most high strung, anxious person I know) I wasn't freaking-out-nervous. I was just so, so excited for her. Here's how it went down:
As I mentioned yesterday, we took our kids on a ski trip last week. In my opinion, this was probably the best family trip yet, and I'm going to tell you exactly why. Not that you asked...but I figure we are all looking for that elusive bit of family fun. So here goes...
Let me just be clear. We are not a family of uber-skiers. We are Texans with very little experience with snow or sliding upon snow. As I type this, I have on a t-shirt and flip flops, and aside from my stint at BYU...I've spent my entire life WITHOUT snow. Plus, when I was a BYU student I was too poor to buy food regularly. Such poverty prohibited skiing...because skiing costs money. I didn't have money. You get the idea.
This was our second ski trip. The first trip, last Christmas, involved lots of bumbling and figuring out how to handle the equipment, how to ride the lift, and how wedge down a steep mountain with one's thighs on fire. It was fun because it was novel. We wanted another shot at it.
This time there was less bumbling. There was, instead, lots of shuttling. Getting the equipment, transporting the equipment, storing the equipment. Getting lockers for our snow boots. Trading our snow boots for ski boots. Traipsing the kids and their equipment to ski school. Losing equipment. Finding equipment. Losing more equipment.
But then...you finally get on the snow. You click into your skis, and you plummet yourself down the mountain. As for me? my toes are scrunched up in my ski boots in a desperate attempt to turn myself back UP the mountain. My mind screams "STAY IN CONTROL. STAY IN CONTROL. STAY IN CONTROL." And when I'm in control? It's super fun. I desperately wish I was more coordinated. And more gutsy. But I'm determined, and that seems to count for a lot in skiing.
My kids though, skiing comes naturally to them. Rebecca, in particular, was bored with the green runs by the first day. My long, gangly 15 year old girly girl needed more speed and more excitement. And the other kids weren't far behind her. Parker, who snowboarded last year, loved skiing. He wasn't worried about staying in control; he was worried about going faster and further and on more difficult runs. Madison and Jordan were the same. And EVERYONE was happy, which I find an elusive element on the family trip. It's difficult to please various ages and interests all at one time. If we are shopping, Sterling and Parker are bored. If we are doing eleven year old boy things, the girls are disinterested. Heck, over Thanksgiving we couldn't even agree on a movie to see. But everyone likes to ski...sometimes together...sometimes on different runs...togetherness, space, all outdoors. It's a win/win.
Here's another good thing. Skiing is physically exhausting. Like, so exhausting that you feel kind of floaty and ethereal once those boots come off. After the first day of skiing, and dinner with my aunt and uncle (the BEST ski hosts ever), I went to the basement to see what the kids were up to. The entire basement was silent. ALL of the kids were in bed, asleep. It was probably 9. Ski and sleep -- no time for whining, or bickering, or complaining. Not that my kids EVER whine, bicker, or complain. They are perfect in those ways. But still, skiing helps with their perfection.
And in the end, you are left with SKI STORIES. Like the one time I got caught up in this ski obstacle course designed for toddlers. And I was stuck. And everyone else was at the bottom of the hill (so they couldn't come help me) and were laughing and videoing me. And this four year old girl screamed at me to get out of her way. Yep, good times, good memories.
In the intervening month or so since my last post...some stuff has happened. Here it is:
So Christmas came and went. The real, actual Christmas day was tucked so closely to school letting out that if you blinked, you might have missed it. This meant the last few days before Christmas were so full of rush and prep and last minute Christmas-light-watching, that when Sterling and I carefully placed the final wrapped present under the tree on Christmas Eve, I collapsed in heap of gratitude and exhaustion. (The exhaustion was magnified by a mammoth cold the whole weekend previous.)
Still, it was fun. I did all of our traditional things -- the cookie making, the shopping, the wrapping, the gift delivering, and so on. And even with all of that I couldn't quite feel the Christmas spirit. Once Jordan got home we started listening to Dolly Parton's Hard Candy Christmas incessantly, and that helped a little, but something still seemed out of the ordinary. Was I missing something?
Luckily, there was little time for reflection, so I kept singing carols and wrapping presents and trying to do some good in the world. I even gave blood. I was serious.
As is traditional, we hosted my family for Christmas Eve -- 23 folks for a tamale dinner. Each year I order the tamales from a great little shop close by and then shore it up with queso and pico and guac. This year we added PW's apple dumplings for good measure. Sugar and butter and crescent rolls smothered in Blue Bell are always a good idea. For decor...I wanted something along the lines of magical. Somewhere in the deep recesses of Pinterest I had seen hanging marshmallows and knew, that in our snow-less clime, hanging marshmallows would meet of all of my magical requirements. So, on the morning of Christmas Eve I was stringing and Sterling was constructing tiny marshmallow mobile arms. We hung ten "mobiles," each containing four strands, each strand holding five marshmallows. So that's 200 marshmallows suspeneded in mid-air. I think it looked even cooler on Christmas Eve than in the picture above. The drum light lit the mallows from below, and with the candles lit...it was...well, marshmallowy in a snowy, cool way. A little like stop-action photography. They're still hanging if you want to stop by.
The marshmallow installation took about two hours. Sterling did not complain one little bit, although he became a bit grim face when at one point I handed him a complete mobile in a sweeping motion that caused the four long strands (threaded with actual sewing thread) to swirl and twirl and tangle ALOT. He just quietly (and with his head about to explode) pulled the mobile down and started untangling. By the afternoon he was quite pleased with our marshmallow exhibit. I like to think I'm the vision and he's the execution, but really...he's just a very kind soul.
The girls and I worked steadily all afternoon on our party. Maddie helped me with place cards. I set the tables. Becca made the guac. Jordan made the apple dumplings. Sterling picked up the tamales and then jumped in to help with the dishes before everyone arrived. After dinner Jordan played the piano while Madison and Becca led the little cousins through a nativity play. Parker and Jordan played a duet of the first Noel, with Jordan on the piano and Parker on the cello. After everyone left we all hurried around the kitchen finishing up the dishes so the kids could give each other their gifts.
The next morning we opened gifts at about 8 -- a very civil hour. The kids took turns unwrapping, throwing away the paper and yarn and ribbons after each turn. They were happy and grateful. Sterling and I made breakfast: homemade cinammon rolls (made the night before) with bacon and hashbrowns. Afterwards the kids watched a new movie.
It was all so nice, and in the "niceness" I realized that what had been "missing" was the excitement of surprise, the pure wonder and magic of a child on Christmas who believes. There had been none of the lore of Santa, no leaving out cookies, no discussion of the measurements of his sleigh, no faithful expectation of magic. With the exception of Parker, the girls pretty much knew what they were getting...they had made specific lists. There was no fluttery feeling in my stomach the night before because I just couldn't wait to see their expressions when they ran down the stairs.
But in my realization of what was missing, I could also see what we had gained -- and it was a whopper. The feeling of Christmas had actually become a family affair. Everyone pitched in...which, if you are a mom, you know is HUGE. We made Christmas together. We enjoyed each other. We thought of others. Sweet kids wandered in to the kitchen asking if there was anything they could do. They went out on shopping excursions. They secreted themselves in their rooms with rolls of paper and tape and excitement over giving to others. And, in a way, Santa was more real this year than in all of those previous years of Barbie and American Girl and Hot Wheels. What he stands for...generosity, and good will, and even magic...became a perspective instead of a commodified frenzy. And in this, the dichotomy between Santa and Christ's birth became a little less stark. And I could feel peace and joy...in my kitchen...where everyone had helped load the dishwasher.
Yesterday I was at the grocery store picking up all of the supplies for our family gingerbread house making party (and by family I mean 16 people). I had a list. I had carefully and calmly contemplated what I needed. I came home and put everything away, separating out what I'd need for the evening in neat piles on the counter. Then I picked up Becca from choir rehearsal. Came home for 17 minutes. Then I picked up Parker from some after-school science thing, drove straight to Becca's guitar lesson, helped Parker study in the car for his drama terms test the next day, drove home, and started getting the table ready for big time gingerbread. Becca put together the little smokies wrapped in crescent rolls. I was making the Pioneer Woman appetizers with the bacon wrapped around a club cracker. Except I somehow forgot those require two hours in the oven. And it was 6. And everyone was arriving at 6:30. So I jumped in the car and ran to HEB to grab a block of cream cheese, some raspberry chipotle sauce, and some crackers to fill in for my bacon-wrapped thingies...since I was out of time.
And as I drove I realized I'd failed in my create-a-stress-free-and-peaceful-holiday.
Lately, on blogs and in magazine articles all I read about are the virtues of a stress-free holiday. Keep it simple. Don't overload yourself or your kids with too much: too many presents, too many activities, too much pressure to make the holiday perfect. Also, be sure to have EVERYTHING finished before December 1st so that you and your family can relax in the joy of the season and bask in the peace emanating from every corner of December. Also, cuddle with your little ones, watch a holiday movie, bake cookies in the glow of the hearth. Enjoy a cup of hot chocolate while exuberantly playing board games. Drive through the softly drifting snow to gaze, with wondrous awe, at the holiday lights. But don't, under any circumstances, get stressed out...or pass that stress on to your kids.
I'm here to say this: THIS EXPECTATION OF NO STRESS IS CAUSING ME STRESS!
First, let me agree that any encouragment to focus on people rather than things is always sage advice. I'm all for simplifying. But let's be logical. Our lives are already pretty busy. We have piano, and choir, and cello, and guitar, and church activities, homework, dinners to make, friends to invite over, cars to repair, and dishwashers to unload ON A NORMAL WEEK. Once you add in a few Christmas concerts, Christmas parties, gazing (with wondrous awe) at Christmas lights, and playing board games, you are edging towards LOTS OF STUFF TO DO. It's all good stuff. I want to do it. But the ideal of slow-paced DAYS spent contemplating the reason for the season doesn't really work. I'm more in line with carefully carved out HOURS of trying desperately to feel the Christmas spirit. I feel it...but then I've got to get to the gingerbread.
My point is that experiencing the hustle and bustle of December is okay. It's okay to freak out at 6, when your gingerbread house decorating party starts at 6:30, and run to the store for a cheese ball rather than hand prepping 6 dozen appetizers. It's okay to stay up till your eyes are red and dry and your stomach kind of hurts wrapping presents or finishing off your homemade gift. It's okay to knock yourself out putting on a grand shindig for the people you love. Because guess what I've also learned? The quiet twinkling lights and calm morning spent fireside absolutely require a lot of work. Someone has to to find the lights, and drag them down from the attic, and possibly displace some other attic junk while doing so. Someone has to hang the lights and find the right extension cords and fight with those darn tiny bulbs when JUST ONE goes out. Someone has to locate wood, and haul it in, and start the fire. And how calm are things when the house is a wreck? So someone has to clean and scrub and organize and declutter before any of this calm joy can even begin.
So let's not pretend that the season isn't a lot of work. Let's just agree that it's worth it.