Monthly Archives: January 2019

Big Beautiful Breakthroughs

I don’t care much for January, but you guys, this January has been rad. Allow me to explain.

After throwing daily tantrums or silent/Ghandi-esque protests about going to school for six months, Truman up and decided to stop doing that and to instead walk into school like the warrior man he is.

I mean, granted I did have to bribe him with a mythical-sounding 100 MINUTES! of unfettered video gaming after school that day, and I did need to flag down our neighbor, Will, who happened to be walking past our car at dropoff, and I did happen to beg Will to walk in with Truman, and I definitely did vehemently remind Truman about that 100 MINUTES! But the upshot is, Truman did it. For the first time ever, I didn’t have to drag him into first grade in my bedhead and my sweatpants.

When I picked him up that afternoon, he told me, “I’m not scared anymore, Mom.” And also, “I’m ready to go home and have my 100 minutes! of video games.” Hahaha.

Sometimes parenting is slogging through 10,000 miles of frozen/muddy tundra while dragging a belligerent kid along. Occasionally, parenting is a ride at Disneyland–all speed and exhilaration and happiness. And the rare Disneyland rides are that much sweeter because of those 10,000 figurative miles on foot through the frozen north.

I can’t adequately describe my lightness of being at this development.

Around the same time as the school-autonomy breakthrough, Truman also managed to begin staying at church the entire time. For the sake of context, I will simply say that this has been an impossibility for all of Truman’s seven years, plus most of the years Jack lived with us. I’m not asking for pity (nor judgment). This is just how Sundays have been for us. For, like, ever.

But between us learning about how to manage and respond to his sensory processing disorder, and shorter church (the church is true, the book is blue), and Truman deciding he isn’t scared anymore, we are now in the midst of a sea-change, and it’s glorious.

Finally, to complete Truman’s trifecta of amazingness, he decided to stop fighting us at bedtime and just go to bed every night like a docile little sweetheart lamb. Why? I don’t know. How? I really can’t say. But please note that I’m over here giving major thanks for all of this blessed progress.

These developments are undoubtedly related to each other, as they emerged at the same time. They seem to have resulted from Truman turning some developmental corner. Are these positive changes simply the result of time and the river (of parenting) flowing?

Or, I’ve been asking myself, are they somehow connected to the way I have spent my January, which has been to fling myself into devotion and spirituality. Correlation, yes definitely. But causation? I have no idea. Am I being weird in feeling that my attending the temple once every 5-7 days and thus entering a state of deeply instructive openness to spiritual things may have some relationship to Truman’s progress?

My own personal January breakthroughs have been wrapped up in an intense state of inner instruction, which has been my winter camp. The temple has been one major avenue of my own deepening spirituality. The other paths have involved praying to understand and refine my spiritual gifts, writing down any sudden or recurring dreams and impressions, and delving wholeheartedly into scripture.

None of this is groundbreaking. The change is in my enthusiasm for it.

I’m eager to learn.

I think my Heavenly Parents know it, because they’ve responded with SO MUCH INSIGHT.

I hope this all doesn’t sound self-congratulatory. I don’t know why I’m hungering so deeply for more understanding at this point in time. And I don’t know why I’m receiving an outpouring of spiritual instruction, other than I’m asking for it.

The miracle is that my Heavenly Parents are giving it to me.

Maybe there is no connection between my bare-naked cannonball into the figurative pool of spiritual growth, and Truman’s propulsion into greater independence, other than the fact that I feel strongly that they both originate from heaven, and are both real proof of divine love.

That Gauzy Curtain

All right, gather round people of the internet. It’s story time.

Way back when I was a chubby and opinionated preschooler, I had a friend named Alyssa. She was tall, like me, and had deep brown eyes, also like me. We remained friends through elementary school, before aging into different friend groups in junior high and high school. Four years ago, we found each other on social media and have been keeping up with each other online ever since.

But I haven’t spoken to her in like thirty years.

A few weeks ago, Alyssa sent me a Facebook message saying she had a big crazy story to tell me. She proceeded to say that her dad’s wife has a grandson, who we will call Cole, who has autism and who recently moved into residential care. Alyssa happened to hear that Cole lives in the same town where Jack lives. She said to her stepmom, “I have a friend whose son lives in a group home in that same town.” She showed her a picture of Jack from Instagram or wherever and LOW AND BEHOLD, this lady (the grandma) recognized Jack as Cole’s housemate BECAUSE THEY LIVE IN THE SAME HOUSE, PEOPLE.

She told me Cole’s mom (we will call her Catherine) wanted to talk to me because hello, we’ve been through the same mad/wild/heart-wrenching experience of raising a nonverbal, super special, super high-maintenance son and then having to place him in a group home in order to a) survive, and b) get the care he required to be safe and happy. We have literally been there and absolutely done that.

I got Catherine’s number and we started texting each other. Last week, we met for lunch.

It turns out that our lives have followed strikingly similar patterns of making enormous sacrifices in the service of parenting our particular boys. We know all about sitting out from events, trips, family parties, and outings because our boys couldn’t manage it. We understand the difficulty of having to split up constantly with one parent taking the other kids to do “regular family” things, and one parent staying home with the special kiddo. We know the isolation and the cultural gaslighting (if we only used xyz supplements or specialized water or voodoo chants, we would solve all our boys’ problems, so really guys, shame on us). We know from experience that caregiving is an ongoing, emotionally draining, and physically exhausting thing.

We just KNOW.

The long and short of our conversation was this: our boys are exceptionally unique. Raising them has been the fulcrum around which all other points of our lives have moved. Now said boys live in the same house (!) and we have also met (!) which makes us friends for all eternity (!)

But wait, this story continues.

Today I went to Costco, where after checking out with my groceries, I saw ALYSSA OF SAID JACK/COLE STORY in the food court. I haven’t spoken to her since I was eleven. And there she was, right in front of me.

We had the most delightful conversation and I was able to embrace her (twice!) and thank her in person for seeing this connection between our two families. She was the link between us, and she noticed it and brought us together. The emotions were bubbling all over the place, with a fizzy tank of gratitude dominating the entire encounter.

On the drive home, I thought about the errands I’d run that day, and the billion people at that particular Costco at that exact moment, and the beauty of ME seeing HER in a serendipitous meeting of once-childhood friends whose families are now unexpectedly united.

My soul felt alight.

It was incandescence emanating from a deep-seated awareness that what had transpired wasn’t coincidence.

It wasn’t even just God being mysterious and lovely.

It was people who love Cole and Jack–relatives, ancestors, our kindred dead, angels beyond the veil, call them what you will–who rallied to identify the link in our families. And having found Alyssa, they nudged her to reach out and bring us together.

This is how it happened. I know it.

How do I know it, you ask? Keep listening, I’m not done.

There’s one more part to this story.

Last night I dreamed I opened my dad’s journal and was excited to finally read it.

My mom gave me his journal when he passed away. It’s a gorgeous leather number filled with handmade paper. He wrote exactly three entries in it in 2012. I hadn’t read it because I couldn’t bear the thought of reading those three pages and having it be over. That would be it. I just could not do it.

But then I had that dream, in which my mom was standing in front of me and we were both so jazzed at the prospect of reading those three entries.

I remembered this as I drove Charlie to school in the 17 degree morning. I remembered it again as I did my workout. I remembered it when I went to the school a little later to volunteer. I remembered it yet another time as I drove to Costco. I thought about it after I ate lunch and sat down to write, at which point I finally retrieved the journal from my desk drawer and opened it up.

I read it.

It’s all about his family. Us.

He wrote two of the entries while visiting Yellowstone, reminiscing about the decades of memories in that most magical of national parks. He loved it there so much.

The other entry he wrote on his 43rd wedding anniversary. He expressed deep thankfulness for my mother and for the loving and good person she is. He spoke of the astonishment he felt at his life. He did not anticipate so much beauty and happiness.

I almost wanted to be a little cross, and lecture him for not filling that lovely leather-bound book with hundreds more entries. But I did not feel cross.

I felt tranquil.

He delivered a message to me and the message was this:

I’m still here.

I see you.

I know what’s happening in your lives.

We are a family, and I am working from my new estate to help all of you.

Jack, Cole, Catherine, Alyssa, my dad & who knows how many others I can’t see–we are all players in this unfolding romance.

Jesus wrote the script and our loved ones are saying their lines from behind the gauzy curtain that separates us.

It’s a play about love and it’s real because, you guys, “angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost” (2 Ne 32:3).

They are speaking to me. To us.

When I still myself enough to listen, I can hear them.

Winter is Tricky

Ye olde January fugue has descended on me, much like a murky/gloomy inversion (which also literally descended on the valley today, blech). I went from 60 miles per hour post-holidays to <5 mph, and that’s caffeinated. Yikes. I’m stunned at the audacity of winter, and it’s ability to stomp all over my emotional state. *shakes fist at winter*

I went to the temple twice in the last three days, along with the majority of Utahns, apparently. It was like temple Disneyland. Except without toddlers. And with whispering, not happy screaming. But no churros. I’m not going to get into how I felt about the changes in the temple ceremony itself, other than to say I HAVE FELT AN ARRAY OF EMOTIONS. All of them, basically. I’m processing them.

As I sat next to my mom, I felt my dad’s presence in the session we attended today. I don’t mean that in a general sense. I mean, I specifically felt his presence with me for a few moments in time. I inwardly asked, “Dad, is that you?” And there was a corresponding swelling/burning/fullness which (to me) confirmed it. This isn’t something I’ve experienced with him before. But I’m paying attention now. I’m listening, more with a neutral, day-dreamy openness, which seems to be the only way I ever get any answers or experience anything spiritual.

Then my mom and I went temple dress shopping at QNoor, since my current temple attire had a sad early-aughts Deseret Book vibe, and my mom’s outfit required excessive ironing (are you kidding me? Nope. Temple clothes spend much of their lives squashed in bags and should look effortlessly crisp after being wadded up in a tote). We ended up buying matching dresses which are soft and adorable (just like us, hahaha). We also ate cheeseburgers and my mom told me that she felt like a weight was lifted from her.

I came home and KonMari-ed my closet. You know what sparks joy in me? Having a tidyness guru’s permission to donate all the clothes I spent money on that don’t fit well or aren’t comfortable or just remind me of bad times I was forced to tackle and restrain Jack so he wouldn’t beat up his brothers. Some things just have to go, and it’s better when they do. My closet is so organized now. I want to sit on my bathroom floor and gaze at it. Do you see what January has done to me? Yeesh.

All of this is to say, I won today. January didn’t.

Books are Life

Shall we chat about books?

My reading speed slowed considerably during the end of last semester and the holidays, but I did finish a few books, which I will discuss in no particular order.

The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah

Hannah also wrote The Nightingale, a hugely successful World War II-era novel set in France, and a book which possibly every book club in America at one point read. This book is quite different, yet told in the same forthright manner as The Nightingale. It’s set in the 1970’s and features a family living off the grid outside Homer, Alaska. While the unforgiving Alaskan landscape could provide ample tension for the story, it is merely a player in the story of a mentally-unstable, alcoholic, and severely abusive father to the book’s teenage main character, Lenora, known as Leni. The relentlessness of her family’s turmoil made this a difficult, yet engaging story of living amid danger–both within and without one’s home. Survival is a major theme of this tale.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

This is Morton’s first novel in several years, and while I really don’t like the trope-y title, it was a pretty good read. As she always does, Morton weaves her story with many characters residing in various time periods, who are all connected by a big old English country house. I feel that all her books should be made into films, mostly so I can SEE FOR MYSELF these houses. I love old architecture and period pieces and drama. The end. The level of character/time period weaving in this book is next-level and was a tad confusing for me, at times. I would have benefited from an outline of characters as an appendix. It’s that complex. The story resembles her other books in that she follows mostly female characters who face loss, poverty, and various freak accidents which shift the course of their lives toward tragedy. I mean, she’s not going to win awards for this, but its quality is leaps above the 2.5 Hallmark Christmas movies I watched last month.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

This is the first book in the much heralded Broken Earth fantasy series. I just kept hearing about these books, so I took a giant leap and purchased them en masse. This can be a tragic move if one ends up not being a fan. It is a genius move if it turns out you’re sucked in and MUST read them all, ASAP. I’ve finished the first book and have this to say:

  • It’s creative. This is post-apocalyptic in the sense that it isn’t humans destroying each other, but it’s the earth actually making life physically pretty uninhabitable with the advent of “seasons,” which create centuries of ash and severe seismic activity.
  • Jemisin is a skilled writer, maintaining suspense and exposing depth in the characters. Did I like the characters a whole lot? No. Did I read until the end? Yes.
  • And yet….I wasn’t in love with it. I kind of had to force myself to sit down and consume it in chunks. I’m not sure if I will finish the series. I just don’t know if I care THAT much. Also, it’s January. And bleak. And I need really engaging/chipper/colorful stories. The moral of this review is: don’t buy the entire series up front, mkay. FYI, this book contains salty language/some sexuality.

The Half-Drowned King and The Sea Queen by Linnea Hartsuyker

I’m apparently a weirdo because books about ninth century Vikings are my thing. These are the first two books in a trilogy which are kinda brutal (Vikings, remember), but also really humanizing to these warring characters. These books remind me of The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell, which have been made into a series which has been on Netflix, of late. That story was set in England, though. These books take place mostly in Norway and enchant me in an otherworldly kind of way. Don’t ask me why I like stories about medieval warrior culture. I just do. And in a similar vein, there’s:

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

This one is YA, and I LOVED IT. It’s so exciting and beautifully written. It draws liberally from Norse mythology and brings all other parts of Viking life (in addition to raiding and fighting) to life. I found this one randomly at the library and was like, “THIS IS THE BEST KIND OF BOOK WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE I’M GOING TO PUT MY LIFE ON HOLD WHILE I INHALE THIS WHOLE THING.” But again, I’ve learned that not everyone loves what I love, and you may not dig it.

What are the zippiest/best/funniest/most engaging books you have recently read?

Light

My mom said something in passing recently that has stuck with me. I don’t remember her exact words, but the effect was this: Life isn’t always what we want. 

It just isn’t. Sometimes it’s rosy; often it’s raw.

It’s an obvious, yet profound sentiment which I have been mulling over through the holidays and now into the new year, including when:

• I talked to a friend whose mental health is currently not optimal. It’s actually oceans away from optimal. Her ongoing strenuous struggle is something I really can’t comprehend. It’s so hard and it’s so much. Did she choose this? Is her life unfolding as she hoped? (Answer: no) Or is she doing the only thing she can do, which is to bravely accept the challenges she’s been given? It’s a humbling thing to see the magnitude of a friend’s pain.

• I listened to another friend talk about some major parenting challenges–the kind that aren’t entirely foreign to me. Of course, I can’t fully understand her experience, but the vast unsolveable-ness of her family’s challenges resonates with the way my life has unfolded over the last fourteen years. Do any of us actually sign up for this massive emotional restructuring? Or is it simply the nature of mortality to get in deeply over our heads? And what do we do with the lessons we learn in the midst of this pain? Do they harden and embitter us? Or do we cull wisdom and empathy from them? (I realize there aren’t easy answers to these rhetorical questions, but I’m asking them anyway.)

• I learned about Sensory Processing Disorder. I thought I knew everything about special needs parenting, which is a stupid thing to think because the universe can hear you and then it laughs. I didn’t envision this part of raising my youngest boy. Something that’s emerged from this process is a sense of empowerment for both me and the seven-year-old. We understand it better. We can manage it (mostly). We are agents acting intentionally, rather than pawns or victims of circumstance. This is a big gift.

• I read an essay by a fellow Segullah writer who said her spirit thrives when she pursues the things she wants, as well as the things she needs. This rings true in my experience, because we’re all so focused on meeting our basic needs that it’s easy to get caught up in surviving, basically. Where’s the joy in subsistence living? My parenting life has been an exercise in learning to look beyond the daily struggle to identify that which is satisfying, sustaining, renewing. There’s enough hardscrabble plodding forward already. We need more moments of spiritual sustenance. This is how we manage weathering the hard things. And I am here to emphasize that WE ALL HAVE HARD THINGS.

I don’t make new year’s resolutions. Every year with Jack, my word for the year was “survive,” and that’s no joke. It was all I was focused on.

If I had a word to strive for this year, it might be “incandescence,” or the quality of being incandescent—light-filled. That’s my goal.

I finished reading the Gospels in the New Testament today and felt a big infusion of light from hearing about Jesus’s mortal sojourn in quadruplicate.

I felt lighter after texting with a new friend, whose son happens to be housemates with my son. We are at different points in the journey out of the abyss that severe disabilities punched into our lives. We understand each other.

I feel emotionally lighter when I do my PT-prescribed exercises. Movement as medicine, as they say.

I’ve also been noticing the winter light. I’m seeing how the skies have wispy pink clouds in the morning at school drop-off. I notice the blue sky more. I especially like the indigo mountain skyline at dusk, this time of year. There’s less light in January, but it’s pretty stunning in its transient way.

Lightness of being, people. I’m hunting for it in all the places.