Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Volume X, issue ix, September 2014

Love's Labor's Found

The heat wave on Labor Day this year had the kids begging to fill up the two hundred water balloons their Aunt Noelle and Uncle Marvin had left behind for them this summer. It took them more than an hour, but eventually they had large buckets filled with balloons just waiting to be thrown into the faces of the people they love the most. Luckily, I was one of the elect few, so they waited for me to come outside in my fancy swim trunks so they could pelt me with their finest water balloon specimens.
The shrieks that were such a mixture of delight and terror had me dashing inside to grab my camera, and I snapped several shots of the kids and Eric mid-fight. Then, in an uncharacteristic moment of selfie-confidence, I asked Ethan to take a photo of Eric and me. Before we could muster up our best pose, Ethan starting snapping photos as fast as my camera could manage on the "sports' setting, which meant he caught about a dozen or so completely candid photos of me and my sweetheart. 

I've never liked photos of myself. In the scrapbook I made when I was in high school, I even wrote the caption "A face only a mother could love" next to one of my chubby and cheerful baby pictures. Eric has to pester and prod me to place myself on the other end of my beloved camera because I would rather be capturing photos than posing for them. I was sandwiched between two gorgeous sisters, which didn't help my shyness or my ability to love who I was. For years I was convinced that I was just a bad version of my beautiful older sister. 

But when I look at these photos, I don't see the face that received so much derision from me during my adolescence. I don't see the body parts that have been individually categorized and catalogued and critiqued until they are no longer body parts, but parts of self-loathing. What I see is absolute joy. I see freedom. 

In these photos I see the way Eric looks at me and how he makes me feel about myself. I've felt it for years--the complete happiness and the ease of just being who I am when I'm with him. But I never knew what it looked like. 

Here I am with no make-up, no shower, and no posing. I'm au natural. And this is how he makes me feel. It's written all over my face. And for better or for worse that face is mine. The smile and the happiness and the absolute carefree grin I see are mine, all mine. 

Charlie didn't enjoy getting pelted in the face the way the rest of us did. 

Charlie Gets Schooled

Charlie's world is like a famous speech from Shakespeare's As You Like It--"All the world's a stage" and he is constantly in the center of it. The rest of us "have our exits and our entrances," but Charlie is always in the spotlight. 

Despite his permanent protagonist status, Charlie has a way of making the rest of us minor characters feel pretty satisfied with our supporting roles in his play. When I return from teaching my classes or running errands, Charlie runs up to me and yells, "You're ba-ack!" 

On Charlie's first day of preschool, it was his first turn to return to us after having been somewhere on his own. He marched in the house, stood center stage and yelled out to the house and to the world, "I'm ba-ack!"

While the rest of the kids are at school, we occasionally try and perform some parenting "catch-up" to make sure that Sir Charles' constant state of spoiling doesn't ruin him permanently. The other day, he was eating lunch with Eric and me and was throwing a Charlie-sized fit about the unacceptable lunch we had provided. It was a perfect time to parent.

Eric walked over to Charlie's side of the table, leaned down so he was face to face with our tantruming toddler and started the classic disciplinary countdown: "One! (insert dramatic pause). . . . Two! (insert another dramatic pause)." Eric stopped counting and looked at Charlie with a serious fatherly expression and said with increased volume and intensity, "Do you want me to get to 3?" 

Apparently Charlie had never heard of the magical method of counting to three. With all of the enthusiasm he could muster, he nodded excitedly and looked up at Eric with anticipatory glee. He couldn't wait to see what wonder and delight might come next. 

Eight is Enough

At Peter's eighth birthday party, we all took our turns telling him what we love best about him. Peter beneficently nodded in agreement to each each statement.

When it was Marie's turn, she said, "Peter sits by me at lunch in the cafeteria and helps me open stuff."

We all sighed at the sweetness of that fraternal image.

Peter nodded solemnly and said slowly,"Yes. I do."

As we inhale dinner together each night, we ask the kids questions so that each of them has the chance to pitch in to the familial conversation. After a couple of days of school had passed, we asked each child to share their "best" and "worse" from their day. 

Peter moaned with all of the pain a second grader can manage and said, "I have so much homework!" 

Eve just shook her head unsympathetically and said with her middle-school wisdom, "Oh buddy! Just you wait!"

Cry the Beloved Cross Country

I woke up in a panic the day before school started because I suddenly realized that Holden needs to start worrying about college applications in a few years. It was the last day of summer, my last day to sleep in, and I just stared at the ceiling in my room as the sun came up outside. Poor Holden was kind enough to meet my maternal anxiety and natural tendency to overdo everything with a sort of mediated acceptance.

I waved my arms frantically as I talked to folks in town about what sports might be fitting for my oldest born, and Holden's characteristic calm helped to balance me out. We finally settled on Cross Country for his sport of choice and the next day he was out running the streets of Rexburg with the rest of his clean-cut, squeaky-clean and health-conscious gang.

One of his best friends is on the team and has been for years. As I dropped Holden off for practice, I saw his more experienced friend ask if Holden wanted to run with him. Rather than looking back at me and searching for pity as I would have done at that age, he just started running.

Holden's first official meet was a couple of weeks ago. He told us the meet was "far away, like Pocatello," so we didn't try to watch him run. We waited for him to get back from the meet, and I even checked my phone several times to see if he had called for a ride home,  but he didn't walk in the door until nearly ten o'clock that night. He walked in the house and I asked him where he had been.

Without a trace of accusation in his voice, he told me how most of the kids had gone to the Homecoming Dance after the meet. He had borrowed someone's phone to call us to come and pick him up, but the message had never come through. He had walked the 4.7 miles (!!! I just googled it to see the exact measurement. Eeek.) home from the high school. . . in the dark. . . after running his very first competitive 5k!

I was more than a little freaked out. I gave him a big hug and told him how sorry I was. He just looked at me and said calmly, "It wasn't that bad. I'm just a little tired."

We were all there to cheer him on for his second meet, of course. Our gang yelled and cheered and danced as soon as we saw our boy emerge through the sage-brush laden field (we decided they should call in "Cross Sage-Brush" instead of Cross Country in Idaho). When Ethan reached out to slap Holden "five," our intense competitor barely looked up at his brother and said, "Talk to me later!" and just kept on running.

Idaho Spud Stud

He walked into that potato cellar a boy. . . and he will walk out a man. . . a stinky, dirt-covered, Idaho man! Here's to Holden's first real job and to the nostalgia that blasted through my nostrils as I smelled those deeply earthy, tangy scents that linger so vividly of my own first job in those same fields.

His first day on the job, we navigated our way through a sea of potato fields, trying to find which of the large cellars emerging from the waves of brown and green belonged to his employer, who is a good friend from our ward. Holden gulped nervously and asked me what he should call his boss. "Should I call him Brother Jeppesen or should I just call him Sir?"

Eve's prayer on Holden's first day working in the spuds: "Please bless Holden that he will be strengthened to do his work in the potato fields."

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