Saturday, December 27, 2008

Perspective is everything

Last night, as I sat in the temple, what really matters came into sharper focus for me. When you think about the grand scheme of where we came from and where we are going, suddenly the little details like spots on the carpet or drawing on the walls, or my weight or whether we have just the right clothes for church can be seen for what they really are--insignificant and unimportant. I love the quote by Elder Packer that I put on the blog today. What really matters to is nurture children and people. What really deserves my time and attention are the things that will make a difference in the future. I have a hard time with this. My natural inclination, which I follow too often, is to get all the work done before I slow down and take the time to really meet needs. The problem is that the work never ends. I think that is doing things in the wrong order. Love first, then do the work with whatever time is left. I think that is what it means to be a well of affection rather than a fountain. It means allowing children to draw upon our love when they need it rather than when it is convenient for us. One of my favorite literary quotes is from Les Miserables. Jean Val Jean says, "Love each other dearly always. There is scarcely anything in life that matters than that--to love one another."

A child's effort

Tonight, the children were working for the right to select one of the candy bars that we had been given in a Christmas gift. The harder workers got to choose first. Adam was helping me do dishes by drying them and stacking them on the counter for me to put away. It was a sizeable job for a 7 year old, and he recognized that. "I am working harder than anyone else," he informed me. I chuckled, thinking of the big kids downstairs who were picking up and vacuuming whole rooms. He was working hard, for a 7 year old, but not harder than the big kids. Then I though of myself. Do I think this way? Do I look at my efforts in the kingdom and think I am working harder than anyone else when I am really giving a child's effort? Maybe so.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


It was a busy week leading up to Christmas. I think everyone (or maybe every woman) feels that way as we try to manage all the details of showing our love for other people. At one point, I was feeling especially impatient with the demands and craziness of this large family. As I knelt down to say my bedtime prayer, I expressed my frustrations to the Lord. A gentle answer came to reassure my heart. "It will all be worth it."

On Christmas morning, I received a reinforcement of that answer. It had been a tough night. Including us, we had 23 people at dinner Christmas Eve. We had a great time, but everyone was tired from all the fun. We climbed into bed at 11:08 pm, a record for Christmas Eve, but that unfortunately didn't lead to extra sleep. Anna had been sick with an ear infection and the flu, so she was having an ususually hard time sleeping. Apparently Josh got the flu too because he felt terrible by bedtime and eventually threw up. Jeffrey woke up around midnight and came to get in bed with us. A storm was raging outside, and I could hear things banging around the backyard. Neither Rich or I got much sleep. At 5:30 am, just as I thought children were maybe going to sleep in, I heard footsteps on the stairs. I groaned inside at the lack of sleep and early hour, but then I smiled as I heard excited giggles and shouts. I shut the door but could still hear running up and down the stairs and lots of laughs and shouting. The rule is that they can look at their presents and sort out the gifts, but we don't have to come out until all the little children wake up. Their excitement was contagious. I wished so much to have a video camera so that I could see each child as he or she discovered the unwrapped gifts that were waiting. I was worried because Santa hadn't left much in the stockings, but nobody cared. At 6 am, Anna woke up and wanted a snack. Rich took her out, and Daniel came in to lay in bed and chat with me. He told me all about how excited everyone was. He even told me how cute Beth was when she discovered her Nutcracker, "big enough to crack real nuts" she exclaimed. Daniel doesn't think anything Beth does is cute, so that shows how happy he was feeling.

I lay there listening to the fun going on out in the living room, and I felt overwhelmed with gratitude. This is worth it. It is worth it now, and I believe it will always be worth it. I am so grateful for each of our children and for the opportunity to be their mother. I am grateful for the fun and joy of family life and for the struggles that make these happy times especially sweet. I heard Elder Boyd K. Packer say once that someday we will really understand what the name father means, and then we will have captured the true pearl of great price. On Chrismas morning, I understood what he meant just a little more.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I was making dinner when I heard Jacob yell, "Mom, Joshua just stood on the footstool and jumped over the loveseat!" Our living room is mixed up right now, with the footstool hiding behind the loveseat instead of in front of it to make room for the Christmas tree. This makes jumping over the loveseat from behind even more tempting than usual. It's pretty darn cute when Anna climbs up on the footstool and then dives over the back of the couch. It is dangerous when big boys do it. And I don't mean dangerous to them so much as dangerous to the couch, not to mention the Christmas tree! So my reply, with a sigh, was "Josh, please don't jump over the couch." I guess I should get them in trouble or make a big deal when they do this if I want the behavior to stop. Any seasoned parent knows that you have to give some kind of consequence that is more painful than the fun of breaking the rule. The problem is that most seasoned parents are often too tired to follow up with consequences! Anyway, this parent is too tired tonight!

So what is the deal? We are beaten down when they are rowdy, energetic children, and then, to really suck the life out of parents, there is early morning seminary when they are teenagers. It almost seems like there is a conspiracy! I ask myself, is there purpose in the wearing out of parents? And yet, maybe there is. Maybe, by the time they are teenagers, we need to be so mellow that we only get upset about the really important things because that's all we have the energy for. We have to pick our battles because the rest of the time we are sagging on the sidelines watching as, with unlimited energy, they use this moral agency they've been given to make some real life choices. And it's not just whether or not to jump over the couch but whether or not to do things that will really affect their lives. I guess they are past the lecture stage and into the life lab session--how to choose the right. I'm not saying that we give up on parenting, just that we are forced to learn the difference between the things that matter and the things that don't.

Phyllis McGinley calls this casualness. She said, "God knows a mother needs fortitude and courage and tolerance and flexibility and patience and firmness and nearly every other brave aspect of the human soul. But...I praise casualness. It seems to me the rarest of virtues. It's useful enough when they are small. It is important to the point of necessity when they are adolescents."

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Perfect Plan

Tonight Rich and I were in the temple to seal together a couple and most of their children. It was a great experience, but I was feeling slightly frustrated beforehand because we were missing one son. We had not been able to get that endowment done and couldn't include him in the sealing. I was hoping to do the whole family, so it was kind of bugging me. During the sealings, the sealer said something interesting. He was doing some Danish couple sealings for another family, and he was butchering the names. None of us spoke Dutch, so we couldn't help him. He pointed out that it is good to have the problems. He said that if we came in and everything went perfectly, we would go out so proud of ourselves for getting all the work done, thinking how great we are. Instead, we are imperfect and there are problems, so we remember that the Savior is the one who is perfect and who made all this work possible with His Atonement. The work is accepted, even if our efforts are imperfect, because of the Savior. That really made me feel better.

Later, I thought of that concept in relation to motherhood. It is the same thing. Often, parenting can be so painful and so humbling. We see our weaknesses up close as we lose our tempers or handle things poorly or whatever. However, if we didn't have the problems, we might think we are so great and that we have it so together. We might never rely on the Savior and on His Atonement. We might never turn to the Father and benefit from His infinite knowledge and wisdom. It really is a perfect plan, weaknesses and all. And the great thing is that the Savior makes up the difference so that our imperfect efforts are good enough. Wow! Don't you just love the Gospel?!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A thing of joy and beauty

Rich's patriarchal blessing says that our family home evenings will be a thing of joy and beauty. When I think about what that means, I expect evenings where we quote scriptures, sing lovely songs, and have deeply spiritual Gospel discussions. It would look like one of those pictures in the Primary lessons with everyone sitting around listening attentively.

That is not what our family home evenings are like. Our family home evenings are loud. There is a lot of Rich and I going, "Shhhhhh!" There is a lot of wiggling and funny comments and poking siblings. There is also a lot of fighting. Family members fight over who gets to sit next to Mom or Dad, why it isn't their turn to conduct, who gets to lead the songs, which songs we sing, and which person gets to be the last speckled frog left on the log. Lessons must be pretty short or we begin to lose people. I have heard that children learn to sit reverently by practicing it in family home evening. We can't seem to manage reverence. We are more worried about managing the crying. If everyone is happy, then we call it good, even if they are loud.

The other thing about our family home evenings is that the dishes are never done beforehand. It is something like a family tradition now. It seems we can we can either do the dishes or have a family night. When our oldest children were little, the First Presidency made a statement that inspired us on this point. It said, "“We counsel parents and children to give highest priority to family prayer, family home evening, gospel study and instruction, and wholesome family activities." We decided that highest priority meant more important than anything else, even the dishes! I was so grateful that they didn't say to give highest priority to a clean house or a consistent, orderly bedtime. We never could have done that. But neglect the dishes for family time? Alright!

So I was thinking last night about the description "a thing of joy and beauty" as we struggled through another family night this week. We were making a Christmas CD for grandparents who are serving a mission far away. We only had one hour before basketball practice, even without doing the dishes. Our opening song was almost ridiculous. Some children made faces for the camera, while others sang opera. Unfortunately, things seemed to go downhill from there. Anna cried because she wanted to hold the video camera. Jeffrey cried because he didn't think he was going to get a treat because he never ate dinner. Siblings bugged other siblings. Siblings ran through the scene when other siblings were performing violin or piano or harmonica pieces. I am sure you get the picture. I am guessing you have been there. Please tell me someone else has been there! Anyway, I love the scripture in Isaiah "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord." I guess this chaos and craziness is a thing of joy and beauty. I guess families who love each other, even when they fight like crazy in a small space a lot of the time, are a thing of joy and beauty to the Lord. So are parents, and children, who are doing the best they can. I guess it doesn't have to perfect, or even quiet, to be pleasing to the Lord.

Monday, December 1, 2008

To laugh or to cry: that is the question!

It can be hard to find a secret closet around here. One day, when I was at my wits end, I snuck into my bedroom closet for a little pity party by myself while Rich had the kids picking up the house. Within one minute, someone tried to open the door. "Who's in there?!" the child shouted. I was quiet. "Who's in there?!" the child shouted again while trying to force the door open. "Someone's in there." I heard the first child tell someone else. The door began to open again. It caught on my feet and stopped. The child pushed and pushed. "I can't get it open! Who's in there?!" I said nothing and waited. I heard the child walk away. I breathed a sigh of relief and settled in to the quiet. The quiet lasted about 30 seconds. The door opened just a little and someone dropped something into the laundry hamper. Then the door closed. It opened again. More clothes dropped into the hamper. This happened about ten times before I finally gave up, chuckling. I headed back out to be with the family again, giving up on the pity party.

Sometimes we get to sneak away and cry. Other times we have to pull ourselves up by the boot straps, forget the crying and try to laugh. I like what Marjorie Pay Hinckley said. “The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache."