I recently purchased a pair of reading glasses which bore out the adage: you get what you pay for. As they were not terribly expensive, I suppose I shouldn't have felt swindled by the fact one lens very quickly established itself as a non conformist and refused to fit in the frame.
Luckily, I got over my grievance in record time with the discovery that by popping out the other lens, I was now in possession of an accessory which makes me look as I've always aspired to look: like a stern and forbidding librarian.
Roger is a bit incredulous I would humor myself in this way and while I do see his logic, I'm more taken with my own--that if one small, granted silly whim can afford such secret happiness, then perhaps it's worth the slip in decorum. Perhaps I got more than I paid for, after all.
I've been cleaning out the studio lately, making room for a piece of furniture which came to me recently through my mother's estate. Its presence is bittersweet, bringing an association of sad memories which I'm trying to amend. Combined with the general upheaval in the house brought on by putting Christmas decorations away, going through Sophie's things, and changing bedroom arrangements upstairs, I'm left feeling more disoriented than usual.
This is a time of transition for me...and by transition, I think I mean confusion. I'm still needed at home, or at least to be available at any given moment, but with the greater stretches of free time which are also coming along, I find myself wondering if I should do something more with my time.
Should I go back to teaching? Could I ever consider myself a writer...as in, an employable one? I read over the current draft of my novel and feel increasingly out to sea. Though I haven't yet charged a battering ram at the fortress of the publishing industry's door, the few times I've knocked have been politely refused.
It all looks like shadows at the moment, with no clear vision revealing itself before my eyes.
I came across this photo while organizing the studio. The weird thing about it is I can almost remember the exact moment it was taken, how Caroline wriggled in my arms, how Izzy was wearing sunglasses in the dark. I was on my way to a wedding reception and felt anxious about leaving the girls with a sitter.
I can't quite account for the stretch of time between then and now. It all feels like one fluid whole.
People ask how I'm doing with Sophie being gone and I don't think I've quite managed to realize that, either.
What am I trying to say here? My head feels a bit crowded today.
The good news is Sophie has gotten off to a great start at BYU. She loves her roommate, loves her classes, loves her teammates...her schedule is rigorous and she seems to be managing well. I spoke with her the other night and she seemed so happy, happier than I've heard her in quite some time.
When I think of that, my head feels more clear. Sometimes, when I'm feeling unsettled and can't determine why, it helps to focus on one good thought.
I won't say it helps to wear a pair of fake glasses, but I can't discount how it makes me smile when I do.
Over the weekend, Higgins passed away. I could kind of see it coming, though it was hard to discern whether he was truly on the wane or proceeding through life in his usual, delicate manner.
With Higgins, I never had to worry about calls home from school: Come get your mantis, Ms. Tollipop. He pushed his way in line.
Or: Come get your mantis, Ms. Tollipop. He just said a bad word.
No, with Higgins, it was all calm seas and smooth sailing. Not a cloud on the horizon.
Except for the fact he didn't particularly care for my company...but that is a trifling concern! Hardly worth the mention! I was never one to foist myself upon his presence, mind you, unless you count my penchant for dropping in unannounced whenever I found myself in the vicinity of his pied-à-terre, even though he expressly stated his wish for me to make other arrangements.
When I asked what he meant by "other arrangements", he made a face as if I'd squeezed too much lemon in his tea and muttered something beneath his breath which I could not distinctly verify, though it sounded very much along the lines of: Go away. I don't like you.
But these are not the moments to dwell upon when recalling one's rich association with a dearly departed friend! Nor should we summon the memories wherein he flinched from my touch or raised his forearms in that classic mantis threat pose which is typically interpreted to mean: get lost, but I determined to take in good humor.
He was, after all, a sophisticate in the most extreme sense of the word. So I could never be sure whether he genuinely loathed me or if he was merely being sarcastic, wherein telling someone you can't stand her is actually a very complicated way of expressing hidden admiration.
Deeply hidden admiration.
Never let it be said I failed to give Higgins every benefit of the doubt!
Over the weekend we took Sophie to BYU.
That sentence stares at me from the screen, leaving me blank in terms of what to add. I can say I'm deeply grateful, excited for her, and filled with the peace which comes from knowing God is near and over all. But I can also say these past few weeks have been shaky in unexpected ways...feeling fine one moment and then, without warning, plunged into an awareness of impending change, of something so dear and elemental not quite leaving, yet still dislodging from its usual place in my heart.
As we drove to Utah, however, I felt calm in much the same way I felt while driving to Canada to visit my dad in the hospital...it wasn't an innate calm but rather one which came to me through the kindness of others, through friends who remembered me in texts and emails, thoughts and prayers.
That awareness made all the difference. It was like an ocean wave propelling me forward, lending strength, grounding me in the goodness of the moment, assuring me this could be done.
If you are someone who happened to wish me well during that time, I'm telling you: it worked.
It helped that I got to spend time with my sister while we were there.
It also helped that Sophie's excitement to begin this new chapter of life was nearly palpable.
Throughout the weekend as we set up her dorm room and walked around campus, purchasing textbooks and locating classrooms, I was reminded of Sophie's very first day of school when she jumped out of the car and started running down the sidewalk, her enormous backpack dangling from her shoulders. I was struggling with my emotions, struggling to get Caroline out of her carseat, and felt aghast my little girl would take off like that without me. Didn't she need to hold my hand? Didn't she need me to walk her into the school? Didn't she need me to be her shield and protector??
I called out, my voice catching, feeling both ridiculous and panicked at once. Sophie turned around, her eyes wide and face bright, exclaiming, "Oh, Mum, I just can't wait to see what's ahead!"
I've reflected many times on that moment, as it has been a template for Sophie's life. She is independent, forward facing, and engaged. I've spent the last seventeen years trying to catch up.
And so we are all moving forward, as there seems to be no alternative. I don't think Izzy and Caroline anticipated the reality of the situation until it was upon them; it didn't quite click until the last actual hug. It was a tough moment, but I see their relationships will grow in new ways, with added appreciation. The house feels different now, the dinner table is set with one less place. Winnie is more loved than ever, especially, I think, by my husband.
Yesterday I went for a run in the desert. With all my acknowledgements of faring well, it felt uncommonly good to face the sun, breathe the air, and fling myself into the middle of nowhere, to feel the old, ancient magic which has always beckoned me out of doors, into my secret places to be alone, wild, and free.
On a Sunday evening shortly before the holiday break, Caroline approached me with tears in her eyes. She was overwhelmed by the prospect of the upcoming week, by the demands of her school schedule peppered with concerts and extra events, with looming tests and projects piled high on her plate. She was exhausted, not feeling especially well, and I could see she was on the verge of losing all hope.
How do you rally someone in such a dark moment? How do you access her will to fight on?
Well, when that person has passed the point of reason, when logic has long since flown the coop and all forms of stoicism or wheedling pep talks have disintegrated like ash in the face of her awful despair, then only one resort remains while the entire universe hangs in the balance.
Some call it bribery. I prefer: enticement.
But it can't be something vulgar and banal like cash, cars, or ponies...though I could certainly be enticed by a pony!
No, when it comes to Caroline, it has to be destination enticement. It has to incorporate collaboration, creativity, and fun...and it's best served up with plenty of options.
So I wiped her tears and whispered: Caroline, if you can get through this next week then you may choose one of three things: 1) a trip to Sprouts to buy gummy worms which we'll take to the library and hide away for the rest of the afternoon, 2) watching a cooking show together, then we'll make the dish they prepare, or 3) taking a long walk in the desert, then we'll come home for hot chocolate.
She perked up right away, I could see it. It wasn't like she jumped up and started marching around the room, mind you. No, she continued to lay there like a limp noodle. But I could see it. I could hear the gears moving.
Of course, by the next day I'd completely forgotten my promise according to the capacity of my brain, which rarely retains anything beyond a period of five minutes. Not Caroline, though. She clamped onto my words with a vise-like grip and didn't forget them for one minute. They must have burned brightly in her mind, illuminating her spirits through her darkest moments, because on Friday after school she burst into the house exclaiming, "I made it! I made it through the week! And now I can't decide which of our three activities to choose!"
I stared at her blankly.
But as Caroline has a tendency to speak every thought aloud, it wasn't long before she brought me right back up to speed.
After much deliberation and second guessing, she settled upon the cooking show option.
So we sat down and watched our very first episode of The Barefood Contessa. On this particular show, Ina Garten demonstrated how to make her world famous chocolate cheesecake. It was marvelous! It was divine! We watched in wonder as she melted chocolate in a bain marie, as she reached into a large glass bowl filled with luminous eggs, as she pressed a button on her food processor and zap!--instant graham cracker crumbs.
We heard her say: clean hands are a chef's best tools. We gazed at fresh bunches of herbs and beautiful frying pans. We saw her husband Jeffrey appear out of nowhere just in time to sample the finished product.
In short, we were completely smitten.
But time got away from us and even though I collected the ingredients and secured a springform pan, it wasn't until last weekend, the day of Sophie's graduation dinner, we found a free moment in the kitchen to make a world famous cheesecake for our dear graduate.
We had clean hands. We had luminous eggs. We had the time of our lives.
And that cake was something else, I'm telling you. By way of warning I recommend the slightest pinch, the faintest sliver. In fact, I recommend admiring it from afar. Better yet, run for the hills. You are completely over your head with that cheesecake, dear reader. You are like a lamb in the lion's den. You think you're going to eat it and move on with your life, but that creation has other plans. Even now, as I write this, I feel something watching me and I know it's the cheesecake.
But the promise of that cake got Caroline through a week she was certain she could not survive. And the serendipity of making it on the occasion of her sister's graduation party was almost more happiness than her little heart could bear.
Which was almost more happiness than I could bear, too.
It's been a lovely Christmas season, dear reader.
Izzy made the acquaintance of ice during her orchestra trip to Chicago...in fact, I'd say they grew to be on rather intimate terms.
She also had the chance to play a Stradivarius violin, estimated to be worth over eight million dollars. She liked it and all, but to my relief professed greater enjoyment at playing her teacher's violin. I don't know why I find that especially consoling, given neither violin belongs to her.
I guess it's just good to know there's life beyond an eight million dollar violin.
Over the holidays the world's cutest Christmas carolers came to our door.
Cookies were baked and sprinkled.
After much deliberation, Winnie decided to let my little brother into her circle of trust.
There was a dear birthday girl...
whose friends who came over to celebrate and try my magic pancakes.
There were cousin sleepovers,
early morning wake up calls,
and more coolness than you could shake a stick at.
We wore pajamas and basked by fake fires.
Puppies made their debut,
as did polaroids.
And pink-eyed rats...though we only took care of them for a friend and were met with expressions of incredulity when we asked the family if we could get some for our own.
But we do have our dear, sweet Winnie, and as I look back on these photos I see she has managed to find her way into almost every one...an apt expression for the effect she's had on our family.
I hope you've had a nice week, too. I know it's a meaningful time of year for many people but often a difficult one, as well. Though I just laid out an array of pretty pictures, these are the thoughts which occupy my mind: gratitude for the deeper meanings, concern for those who struggle. Seeking for peace in my own heart and hoping to share it with others.
These are the thoughts which interest and challenge me...because they require action, they require time and means, they require wisdom, compassion, and selflessness. I watch myself and wonder how I'm doing in my efforts to find a good balance. Am I doing enough? When I see an opportunity to make a difference do I reach out, roll up my sleeves, get to work?
I have a long way to go. I hope I will get there.
Perhaps that is my greatest personal hope.
Last night I received a text from Sophie's youth leader asking for my thoughts (to be used in her lesson today) on how I create a home centered around Jesus Christ.
I'm not going to lie...for a minute I sat there thinking: good question.
I appreciated the chance to formulate a response, to think more clearly on ideas which are part of my daily navigation but not always consciously mapped out. It was a good exercise for me, as someone who tends to exist in a nebulous state. Whether you share my tendency or if you get stuck defining your game plan for some other reason, perhaps this can help you think more consciously on what you're trying to accomplish in your life, your home, your various roles and relationships.
It's good to articulate such things from time to time.
If you were to ask my girls now, or years from now, for their greatest impression of the feelings which exist in our home, I hope they'd be able to say it's one of love.
1. This picture makes something inside me leap with an old, childhood joy. While I feel lucky to be raising my girls in this beautiful desert within the United States of America, this particular moment makes me feel they could have just as easily come out of the tall, silent forests of the true north, strong and free.
2. Sophie and Winnie, helping me organize the studio. Feel free to visualize quotation marks around the word helping.
3. My Izzy--mostly sweet, a little wild.
4. I think I speak for everyone present when I say that is one utterly charming tattoo!
5. In the sage words of a dear little friend: Winnie is a good dog, a bad dog, and a nice dog.
6. The Tollipop Beetle Club continues to grow with two new members, a boy and girl, joining last week. Jess named her beetle Cleopatra the Coleoptera (taxonomy for beetle), while Nixon named his Crunch. And if that doesn't make you smile, I don't know what will.
7. Lunchtime (and first) rehearsal of a piece Izzy picked up three days earlier. She is learning with increasing speed and acumen these days, deciphering new musical passages with long invested, hard earned instinct. Also, that teenagers would choose to spend their school lunch hour thus engaged...pretty cool.
Dear reader, how are things? How is your December going? Are you having a legitimate winter? Are you enjoying hot chocolate? Do you have a moment to say hello?
A few evenings ago my husband and I went out for dinner at a sushi place and found ourselves sitting up to the bar. Three high school aged boys were seated to my husband's left and it wasn't long before we struck up a conversation. When they mentioned their high school, I asked if they had attended the same middle school as my daughters did, (as that particular high school admits a large percentage of students from there). Two boys had, so I went out on a limb and asked if they had known Izzy during that time. I started to describe her but they instantly exploded with recognition, calling out her full name. One of them gestured to the heavens.
"She's a god on the violin!" he exclaimed.
When I saw there was such fervent recollection, I asked if I could take their picture and text it to Izzy so she could say hello. The look on their faces immediately turned to horror and they waved off the suggestion, protesting Izzy had no idea who they were.
It's kind of a funny story, but at the same time it left me a little sad. Just...sad for the way this world seems to work. I have a certain peace in knowing Izzy would have been delighted to say hello to those boys but the point is, in their minds it was impossible, the futility of connecting between imagined ranks a foregone conclusion.
Recently I was reminded how unkindness between children can create such strife for everyone involved. Parents agonize on behalf of their child, not wanting to create waves with other parents, yet feeling conflicted and helplessly protective all the same. I've waded through this experience several times myself and find it both maddening and painfully bewildering. I don't think I handled it especially well but to this day, I'm not sure I could have navigated better, or if anything could have been done to achieve a better outcome.
All I can say is...parents should place a premium on working with their children to develop attributes of kindness, warmth, and empathy. We should hang onto this pursuit with tenacity, we should go to bat for it, it should be an ongoing quest through the years.
I say this, of course, on behalf of children who are teased and bullied. But I say it perhaps with greater concern for children who fall into the trap of being the aggressor, who allow cruelty to hold sway in their hearts. I realize this is often (though not always) an extension of issues in the home, but either way such behavior carries its own set of consequences and the potential for years of regret down the road.
I'll stop here, as this can be a complicated, case-by-case issue and I lack the time and insight to treat it fairly. But it disheartens me when I see a child being mean to another child. It disheartens me when I see one person assume he is not on equal footing with another because of some warped social hierarchy. It makes me unhappy whenever the assumption is made one human being is of greater or lesser value than another.
It seems we could do much better than that.
I want to end with two quotes recently shared by women who read this blog. As I reflect on these words, I am filled with hope. I have confidence we really can do better. I feel greater understanding we are works in progress, meant to keep trying, and I can be stronger than my moments of loneliness, self doubt, or whatever keeps me down on any given day.
"Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can."
"This Christmas, mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again."
Howard W. Hunter
Dear reader, I want to share with you this beautiful message about the spirit of Christmas. It reflects some of the deepest feelings of my heart.
I know recently I've been more open about discussing my thoughts on spirituality, but I feel a certain degree of apprehension in so doing. Not because I doubt my beliefs or worry how they may be received, but because I doubt myself and cringe at the discrepancy of believing such beautiful principles while falling short of them or failing to understand, at times, their application in my life.
Still, with such imperfect faith, this is what I believe. With all my heart I believe in God, a heavenly father who loves us and yearns for our return. I don't always understand Him, I probably don't even come close to understanding Him, but I believe I know something of His nature through this magnificent world and His workmanship upon it, through my efforts to follow Him, through the people I love and the experience of having children of my own.
I believe His Son, Jesus Christ, is the Savior of this world and have found peace in trusting He alone understands the sorrows I've experienced, and that this understanding came about because He took upon Himself every anguish and disappointment, every bitter moment and injustice, descending below all mortal suffering in order to know how to comfort and heal us.
This is what I believe.
And the part I see with greatest clarity is to look out upon this world with love, to follow the Savior's example by striving to see the great worth of each soul, to be gentle and kind, to reach and help others as He would do. This is the thing which gives me the greatest peace and it is what I think about when I consider what Christmas means to me.
Another mean text from my little brother this morning:
Hello, update your blog. I know you have material you're just sitting on.
Oh, Jonny...I seriously can't wait for you to come visit next week. I'm going to put you to work writing for Tollipop on an hourly basis!
I don't really feel like writing about the bustle of the season, dear reader. It's been busier than usual lately, but to debrief myself here only feels like prolonging the chaos. I'd rather be peaceful in quiet moments. I'd rather talk about something wondrous, like Higgins and his shimmering wings which unfold before my eyes and flutter like a fine, whirring mechanism.
I'd rather tell you most nights, very late, I sit in front of this computer in a state of bleary fatigue and stare at the revision of my story, tinkering with phrases and feeling secret passages open when I discover ways to say things more clearly.
For me, this is writing at its most sublime: when it is so simple, clear, and visceral that you would trust yourself to be held in its hands, going to whatever world it takes you and wishing, in a way, you could stay there forever.