Friday, December 31, 2010

Holding on and letting go

"You cannot always be torn in two," said Frodo.
It’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m thinking again about what my goals should be and what my life will be like in 2011. Change is imminent for many people close to me whose life changes will affect mine. 

In three days, my two college boys will leave for school; in the same week my dear friend of over 20 years will move to Southern California; six weeks later my daughter will leave for her 18-month mission in New Zealand. Other changes, though not quite as clearly marked, have been ongoing and will also affect next year. My mother-in-law, once the lively hub of our extended Perry family, has had a series of strokes and is now content to be waited on almost entirely. Her husband, once the quiet, independent patriarch who now shoulders all the caregiving, accepts with alacrity any offer of help.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful"

We "come and adore" in many ways

Every Christmas Eve my siblings and I used to put on a live nativity for our parents, an audience of two. We spent most of our practice time running around the house, dredging up old costumes or articles of clothing that could pass as costumes. Because of all the last-minute preparations, we rarely had time to actually rehearse the play. So, although we always used the same Luke 2 narrative, ad-libbing and other elements of surprise livened up the show from year to year. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Making big cities feel small-town

I’ve lived in this city for more than half my life, and yet it still doesn’t feel quite like home. Don’t get me wrong: Fremont is a great place—it has been the hometown of my adult years where I have raised all five of my children—but it’s a big place with lots of people.

Fremont, incorporated in 1956, spreads over almost 77 square miles and is home to almost 220,000 people, giving it the dubious distinction of being the largest suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

In striking contrast, South Pasadena, my hometown in Southern California, is almost 125 years old, covers less than three and a half square miles and, since I left home 30 years ago, has only grown by a few thousand residents. My hometown houses only about one-tenth the number of people who live in Fremont. This sleepy little bedroom community, although it sits just 10 miles from the heart of Los Angeles, felt worlds apart from the mega-metropolis.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

It's all downhill

Relationships forged in difficulties outlast the challenges

A couple of nights ago I needed to get out for a walk, but it was kind of late and it was darker than usual because of the Daylight Savings Time change. My husband was relieved when my teenage son Mark was willing to tag along and keep me safe.

We have a regular little route, Mark and I, where we take our walks. He likes to ride his skateboard while I try to keep up, clipping along at my usual walking pace. Most of our path is relatively flat with the exception of the last half mile or so that has a gentle downward slope all the way back to our house. So, at the end of our walk, encouraging him to go on ahead of me, I called out, “It’s all downhill from here, Buddy. Enjoy!” Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, if, from here on out, his life would be a downhill ride he could just enjoy? But, alas, going downhill is a temporary thrill, a hiatus from all the uphill climbing required for us to grow. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Wiping away tears

Wiping away tears is an intimate experience
Recently, I saw a photo on Facebook of my brother with his daughter on her wedding day. If I'm not mistaken, she is crying and he is tenderly wiping away her tears.

Wiping away tears is an intimate experience shared between very few people. Yes, occasionally we’re honest enough to cry in front of people. But to let them into our personal space and allow them to physically touch us in order to comfort us marks an entirely different level of intimacy. Think about it: When was the last time someone actually touched your face and wiped away your tears? Most often this act occurs between mother and child. Why? For several reasons:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Doing double duty

Opportunities to nurture pass quickly
One night about eight years ago, everyone was upstairs watching T.V. while I was downstairs cleaning. After about an hour, my youngest son Mark, who was five years old at the time, came trotting down to find me in the laundry room trying to remove stains. He tugged on me a little and said, “Leave it for tomorrow. We don’t want you to be alone down here.”

As a young mother, being alone was something I actually fantasized about, longing for the day I would have enough time to really “get something done.” I was touched, though, that this little boy cared about me enough to leave the pull of television and seek me out. Mark has always been concerned for me. In fact, when he was old enough to go to school, he would pray specifically for me during morning prayers: “Please bless Mom that she won’t be lonely at home.” The truth is, when I finally did have some hours alone, I felt a sort of guilty pleasure; every day was a private party of sorts. So, both our prayers were answered: I was alone but not lonely.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dads and daughters

As a very little girl, I used to love playing in a closet just off the back stairs. If I closed the door, I felt alone in a house otherwise teeming with people but safe in a world full of potential adventure and hidden treasures: hundreds of worn paperbacks, my mother’s colored array of high-heeled shoes, and stylish hats in hatboxes from another era.

Exploring in the closet one day, I played with the door’s heavy, brass lock and accidentally locked myself in. Suddenly, I didn’t feel safe anymore. My fun and adventure quickly turned to fear and isolation--feelings mostly foreign to me as a child. Even those dearest to me couldn’t help me escape. My mother couldn’t explain how to unlatch the lock, my brothers couldn’t unlock it from the outside, and my sisters couldn’t comfort me with their kind words.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Leaving something behind

Write to change the world
Not long ago I listened to an audiobook called Sweet and Low, the story of the Brooklyn-based family that created the artificial sweetener by the same name. These family members, unfortunately, through time, allowed selfishness and greed to destroy generations of love and family ties. Author Rich Cohen, the inventor’s grandson whose own family was cut off from inheriting any money, realizes as he writes the memoir that his inheritance was not in the millions of dollars but in the story itself. Words and stories alone can be a legacy bequeathed.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Born to sing

"All God's creatures got a place in the choir"
The other day, after five years of recalcitrant piano practicing, my 13-year-old son asked me (once again) why I want all my children to play the piano. “Five reasons,” I told him. Then, right off the top of my head, I listed these
  1. It helps coordinate your hands and eyes.
  2. It helps make connections in your brain that you might not otherwise make.
  3. It gives you a creative outlet.
  4. It gives you another language--another mode of communication--to express yourself.
  5. It allows you to serve others.
It’s that fourth reason—another way to express yourself—that really sells me on the idea of music in general. Although I’m not a pianist, I still express myself through singing. Moreover, I believe everyone is wired to sing. In fact, one of my favorite children’s tunes affirms this idea:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Leapfrogging mistakes

Sharing mistakes helps others avoid them

One autumn day my friend Judy gave me some of the most delicious, moist pumpkin bread I had ever eaten. Turns out it was baked by Gayle, a culinary veteran. I thought, “Maybe if I get Gayle’s recipe and hear any tricks she has, then I can skip over a lot of bad recipes and make my own scrumptious pumpkin bread.”

Soon after, Judy’s husband Doug taught a class on making homemade rolls. When he was first learning, he consulted with the experts, including his mother who showed him her way then counseled, “You’ve got to find your own recipe, Doug.” So, he made rolls every day for a month, each time making adjustments to measurements and oven temperatures, changing pan sizes and types, and so forth. By practicing over and over, he discovered his own recipe for perfect rolls. Because he was willing to share both what did and didn't work, it’s now easier for me to make great homemade rolls.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A customized democracy

Families used to spend time together listening to the radio

When I was 15 years old living in Cody, Wyoming, I distinctly remember my sister turning off the vacuum at 10:00 p.m. She wanted to hear the final radio broadcast of the day. If she missed those moments, she would have no other way to recover the news until the morning newspaper arrived. Today, such limited access to information would be unthinkable, inconceivable.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

You can't take it with you

Above all, relationships matter most

A few days ago I went jogging and stopped in front of my parents’ former home in Holladay, Utah. This was their residence long after I left home for college, so I have relatively few memories attached to that place compared to those I have of Tanner Manor, my childhood home in Southern California. My children, however, remember it as their grandparents’ home. It’s the last place we saw my father alive. So, I stopped in front of the house for a brief moment to feel a little sad about good times never to be recaptured.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The power of art

Winged Victory of Samothrace

The first time I saw her, she took my breath away. The second time, she made me cry.

The first time, I was only 22 years old and visiting Paris, France. I had never been surrounded by so much art--really fantastic art! How could I possibly take it all in? My sister, an art collector and history buff, tried as best she could to prepare me and her seven children for our first trip to the Louvre. Highlighting several famous pieces such as the Mona Lisa, she gave us all something specific to look for, but nothing she said prepared me for the moment I turned the corner and looked down the long, marble arcade to see Winged Victory of Samothrace. Perched high on a mass of stone, she was stunningly strong, remarkably powerful, and utterly undaunted. Instantly, without warning, something about the statue resonated in me. Whom did this statue represent? Where did it come from? And the most pressing question of all: Why had I never even seen a photo of her before? 

I was breathless, speechless.

Friday, July 16, 2010

What keeps me young

BYU Campus at Night
A month ago, my middle child graduated from high school, and four days later he started college. He joined his two older siblings at the same university. His departure marked the official day my nest tipped, leaving it now more empty than full. I'm not sure how it happened. I'm not sure when it happened. Just a moment or two ago, I was in my son's place--even at the same university--taking mind-expanding classes, washing dishes in the dorm cafeteria, having late-night conversations with roommates, spending long yet fascinating hours head-down in the library, walking home barefoot on intoxicating summer evenings, dancing in the street...all the while trying to figure out my future. Those were pivotal years marked by many seminal moments of learning and of making key choices. 

And just like that, three of my children have taken my place.