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Guest Post: Daughter

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Amy Felix Stewart grew up in a large family in a small Utah town. She earned her BA in English from BYU and is an intermittent editor, technical writer, and piano teacher, but she spends most of her time either trying hard not to mess up her three darling children or sneaking off to binge-read beautiful prose. She recently started posting at wordsandawindowseat.blogspot.com, and now she knows that life is a lot better when you write it down.

We move from the theater to the minivan in a happy little group, kicking loose rocks and giggling about the antics of Lego guys. I slide open the door and everyone scrambles in. Everyone but you, that is. As I look down on the top of your golden head, I can almost hear your tiny teeth clench. You flash me the look that sets my own teeth on edge and then stare at the ground, heels digging into the gravel.

Danger.

“C’mon, let’s go get pizza! Yum!” I chirp.

“No,” you declare. “I don’t want to.”

“Everyone’s waiting. Get in the car. . . . Okay, I’m going to count to three and then I’m going to pick you up. One. Two . . .” You climb in with a growl and slump into your car seat. I move to fasten the chest clip.

“NOOO I WANT TO DO IT!” you shriek. I stand back to let you try, but you don’t. You fix me with your steely baby blues and move not one single muscle.

“That’s it,” I huff. I click your buckle and dive into the passenger seat before the maelstrom can begin. But begin it does.

“Noooooooooooo!” you shrill as your dad pulls the minivan out of the parking lot and I slowly close my eyes. My eardrums protest as you pause to refill your lungs. Your next blast puts the first to shame.

Your siblings, who have inconveniently low tolerance levels for sudden, distressing noise, react as I predict. Your brother immediately slams his palms against his ears and yells at you to stop. Your sister yells at him to stop making it worse. Soon we have three kids in tears, one of them under so much duress that he gives himself a nosebleed. And still you scream and flail, kicking the back of my seat, growing hoarser yet louder by the second. Your dad mutters something, eyes on the road, hands at ten and two, intent to reach the end of this happy family outing.

I make no effort to quell the rage. My voice would not be heard if I tried. I slouch in my seat, my powerlessness engulfing me, the walls of the minivan closing in as we move too slowly and sit too long at stoplights. I know this is just a tantrum. Because you’re three. But it feels like a warning siren, a harbinger of some dire future. If I can’t handle you now, what will become of us?

The second the engine turns off, your sister flies out of the van and takes off on her bike, as far and as fast as she can go. Your brother runs to his bedroom and slams the door. Your dad stomps into the house in frustration. As I hastily unbuckle your cursed straps, I spend one second thinking about that Internet article entitled “Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child,” the one that told me to remain calm, to sit with you and hug it out and give you a safe place to release your emotions. The very next second I flee, leaving you to wail and gasp in a soggy heap on the floor of the van.

It’s the next afternoon. Sunday. We’re sitting on the creaky old bench on our front porch, just the two of us. The hazy sunlight warms our skin and makes jewels of the nail polish bottles lined up at our feet. Just when I’m almost too hot, the late-spring breeze comes along, rustling the leaves that hide us from view of the street. The light seems thick and lazy, like a golden blanket muffling the sounds of distant children and lawnmowers.

You plop your grubby little feet with their flip-flop-shaped tan lines on my lap. “I want pink sparkles on my toenails, Mama.” (“Pink spock-ohs on my toe-nay-ohs.”) I apply said sparkles to your specks of nails, and while the breeze lifts the purple leaves and trails your long, wispy curls across my face, we converse. We talk about birds, and Elsa, and the sounds of trains and ice cream trucks. Your nose scrunches up as you scrutinize my work. When I’m finished, you rest that creamy cheek against my arm and announce with a sigh, “Well, actually, I wanted blue on my toes.”

Not again. “No, you can’t change your mind once I’m finished.” I brace for a meltdown. Wait a beat. Then—

“Okay. I will get blue next time.”

I look at you, this little creature I know intimately, who is in my face for half the day and at my feet the other half, this flesh of my flesh, this chocolate-mouthed monster with whom I have shared my oxygen, my minutes and years, and my last bite of everything, whose tears mingled with mine in the colic days, when we would pace the floor together, me trying every shushing technique in the book.

I gaze at you, this perfect little stranger.

And now you are on your feet, smudging your still-wet pedicure, performing a new dance that is all the rage in nursery. “You put your hand in, you put your hand out, that’s what it’s all about!” You hokey-pokey around, toenails sparkling in the sun, hair lit up in a halo of tangles, eyes alive with everything. You’re not three; you’re just you. Timeless. I flash forward to other years, other new songs, other Sunday afternoons of talking and nail polish and wonder.

This is the picture I’ll keep. The next time you’re straining against the belts that hold you in, curled up in ear-splitting anger as the walls threaten to bury us all, I’ll reach into my emergency reserve and call you back, this you in the sun, arms outstretched, eyes alight, turning yourself around as though the world isn’t big enough to contain you.

Secrets of Past Lives

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I have a box in my garage labeled “Past Lives”. In it are beribboned tufts of my horses’ manes, old high school dance photos and programs, a few dried corsages, a pile of yellowed letters, some notebooks with adolescent poems written in pink ink, old passports. And a photo of him.

Today is his birthday. You know – him, the One. If you’re very lucky, you’re married to him. But for most of us, he’s a lost love. Often, he’s a secret we hold onto deep in our hearts. And on certain days of the year, it’s an ache that can’t be dulled.

Sometimes he’s called The One That Got Away. But how did that happen? Why did that happen? I have very few regrets about my life. I just don’t go there; what’s the point? But if I did, I would regret leaving him. I would mourn what is lost. I only allow such painful reminiscing on certain infrequent days. Today is one of those days. Continue reading

Father’s Day Non-Scents

Teresa with her late husband and his last bottle of after shave.

Teresa with her late husband and his last bottle of after shave.

Freelance editor Teresa Bruce enjoys sniffing out and writing stories ranging from spiritual to silly to sinister. In spare time (ha!) she gardens in her chemical-free Florida backyard that feeds more uninvited critters than people. She’s proudest of raising three dynamic daughters—and a pillow-stealing rescue dog. From experiences of young widowhood she shares “What to Say When Someone Dies” at TealAshes.com.

Last week I stalked a middle-aged man up and down the Publix aisles. I didn’t know him, and (I hope) he didn’t know me, but I hastened nose-first into his wake. He smelled delicious—better than the still-steaming bakery rolls at the entrance or the sizzling deli chicken at the back. I wanted to step into that scent, to ask him what it was called, to put my face near his and—inhale!

The roots of this most recent supermarket stalk-a-thon sprouted when I was young. Every Father’s Day and Christmas, Great-Aunt Ginny gave the men in our family a brand new bottle of Old Spice. It became the aroma of Granddaddy on his way to and from selling furniture and of Dad going to and—even better—coming from church. I’d choke at the stench of kinswomen’s hairspray, but Old Spice was the scent of security. It wafted from the most important men in my childhood. Continue reading

A Joy and A Chore

Megan Goates is a Salt Lake City native with degrees in English, teaching, and writing. She blogs as a form of therapy at tooursurvival.com about raising boys. Two of her four sons have special needs; four of the four have lots of opinions. She likes it that way.

photoThat September morning, piles of dirty carpet and crumbling carpet pad overwhelmed my house. The combination of exposed tack strips and little bare feet turned the dreamy event of getting new flooring into kind of a nightmare.

As we watched for the bus and I kept my mentally disabled nine-year-old son Jack from menacing the tools which littered the floor, the carpet installer watched Jack with curiosity. He nodded and told him hello, then asked where he went to school.

After Jack left on his bus, the carpet man went to his truck and returned with a laminated obituary of a woman with special needs who had passed away a couple of years ago in her early fifties.

“That’s my little sister,” he said.

The high points of this woman’s life were written by someone who knew her well. Some of my favorite parts: she liked Big Red gum, Pepsi, eating out, singing duets with her brother (our carpet guy), and shopping at the dollar store. She had more friends than anyone else in her family and always had to have two dollars in her purse.

Her personality shone from the laminated newsprint.

Later, my toddler and I left for a walk and I considered the carpet man’s sister and her list of simple pleasures.

When we passed the school where the sixth-graders were wrapping up recess, I casually tried to spot my kid in the sea of navy and red polo shirts. I wanted a peek of my eldest in his element. Just before I rounded the bend in the path, half of the sixth grade spotted and recognized me, yelling, “Hi Henry’s mom!” Henry gave me a wave and a “Hi Mom!”

I decided that moment was worthy of a laminated obituary. My simple pleasure: being known as my kid’s mom by a happy crowd of sixth graders.

Before the walk and my celebrity moment by the school, when I finished reading the obituary of a woman I didn’t know, I thanked the carpet man for sharing it with me and handed it back to him.

You know.”  he said. “You understand.  She was a joy…….and a chore.”

At this statement my mind raced through myriad images of my family’s life, like the shuffling of a deck of cards.

I saw myself holding my redheaded baby as a geneticist diagnosed him with a rare syndrome.

I imagined every time a Code Brown covered the carpet, walls, and furniture and squashed my will to live.

I remembered feeling like I lived at Primary Children’s Hospital and at Early Intervention, or at least on the freeway which ran between them.

I recalled kneeling helplessly beside Jack’s toddler bed as he cried, listening when the Spirit whispered “Jack is a child of God.”

I pictured the after-bath miracle when three-year-old Jack, who had never before mimicked things we tried to teach him, imitated my husband opening and closing his mouth, saying “ah” to his hooded-towel clad reflection in the mirror.

I grimaced at the memory of ten years of difficult Sundays with Jack kicking me in the church foyer, screaming during the sacrament, and having no place to fit in during the two long remaining hours.

I tasted the sweetness of the evening two Christmases ago when my family sat together on the couch through an entire viewing of Fantastic Mr. Fox without a single person freaking out.

I swelled with emotion remembering when the bishop asked me at Jack’s eight-year-old interview if I believed Jack knows his Savior, and deeply knowing that he does, even though he can’t say it.

I recalled the recent day when my boys and I walked the long gray windowless hallway leading to the university behavioral health clinic, and I realized that place no longer holds any power over me. Victory and acceptance have replaced anxiety and despair.

I felt the lightness that accompanied a dream I had where a neighbor leaned over and whispered to me at church, “You don’t need to worry what people think about the challenges you have raising your children. You’re doing a good job,” and knowing it was actually God saying it to me.

On that September morning, my mind fanned through the everyday images of parenting a joy and a chore. I solemnly nodded at this knowing man stapling carpet to our stairs, who in five words summarized the essence of my life.

What things in your life are ‘a joy and a chore’?  Also, like “Big Red Gum,” and “being called my kid’s mom”, what are your simple pleasures?  How do life’s simple pleasures make the difficult parts more tolerable?

 

Thinking about GOOD ENOUGH

Today’s Guest Post is by Lauren Elkins, who is surrounded by computer programmers by day and two handsome men (her son and husband) by nights and weekends. She writes on her personal blog, The Sciolist, so that her Mother-in-law in Texas can keep up with their lives in Salt Lake City. 

Good EnoughGood enough.

When you hear that phrase, what do you think of?

“He’s not good enough for her”?

“I’m not good enough at my job”?

“My dirty house isn’t good enough”?

My friend, Megan, shared a link to an article on Facebook the other day: Blessed in weakness: a good enough mother.

This phrase, this good enough, is something I have used often. It all started when I was in a singles ward and the Bishop rounded us up for a Relief Society lesson on dating. Those are the best, right? The nice Bishop, who’s been married since he was 21 and has 9 kids, all happily married, corrals all of the awkward single women in his ward in their regular meeting place to tell them how important marriage is and how amazing his wife is.

Turns out, this Bishop was different.

This Bishop did an excellent job. It stuck. At least with me, it did. The heart of his message was to be looking for good enough. I guess he’d sat down with enough young women who couldn’t find Mr. Right, or were turning down dates with Mr. Not-Right-Enough. Their lists were too long, too demanding, and too unrealistic. Continue reading