Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Stretch Assignments

When I was in college, I took a two-week trip to the Bolivian altiplano, which is a whole story unto itself. I was with a humanitarian group, and we helped build a schoolhouse and wells in a very remote village. It was a great time.

But a few days into the trip, I noticed that I was feeling…less than exuberant about my adventure. Instead of feeling joyful and energized, I was sort of generally exhausted and run down and overwhelmed. I concluded—with some wisdom for an eighteen-year-old, I think—that I was just depleted by the newness of everything. (And possibly a little intestinal distress.)

In those remote, preindustrial villages a continent away from home, every sight, every sound, every taste, and every locale was unfamiliar. All day every day my senses were barraged with things that—no matter how wonderful—were strange. Nothing was routine or familiar. My auto-pilot was offline. And it was depleting. Not bad. Good, in fact. But draining.

Some of the wonderful, unfamiliar people I saw.
I think of this experience sometimes with my kids. Being a kid has got to be exhausting. Every year they are a whole new person being thrust into new responsibilities and situations. In fact, as a mother I’m constantly (gently?) prodding my kids into what my HR sister calls “stretch assignments.” Starting a new grade, learning a new skill, taking on new responsibilities.

It's all so exhausting!
Here’s an example: Jesse’s about to start third grade, which means multiplication. So this summer I’ve tried several times to broach the topic. For example, he was counting something, and I pointed out that if he knew multiplication he could save some effort by multiplying 3 rows times 4 columns and it would be a snap. Blew his mind. And sort of freaked him out. At this point, multiplication is terrain as unfamiliar as, well, the Bolivian altiplano was to me in 1991.

So much to learn, so many YouTube videos to watch.
Levi feels gypped that I used to fold his laundry but now I just plop the basket in his room to fold himself. Jesse is stressed out because this year he has to take piano lessons. Haley is excited but nervous that as a sixth grader she’ll rotate through four classrooms each day. And Betsy’s sad because I used to hold her on my hip while I make dinner, but now I won’t.
Haley and I share the belief that new crayons and expo markers make work more fun.
I try to remember this when I’m tempted to feel irritated with a child’s struggles. I try to remember that their struggles are real. They live in a world where their bodies and their friends and their perspectives are constantly morphing, where each season brings whole new vistas and expectations.
New braces.
From this vantage point, my kids seem like intrepid pioneers.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

McGee Golden Anniversary Celebration

We just got back from a weeklong reunion with Mark's family at a huge house up near Park City. Thirty parents, brothers, sisters, in-laws, cousins all together for a whole week. We took hikes, played in a reservoir, went to the pool, played games, and had dance parties. I thought a lot about how lucky me and my children are to be part of a family with so much love, loyalty, commitment, and fun. And so many great examples of building strong families.

Last night for Family Home Evening, I asked everyone to share some positive examples they saw at the reunion. Here are a few:

- When Aunt Vanessa came out to the car dressed up for church, Uncle Ken leaned out the van window and shouted, "Time out! Way too hot!" Which earned him a big smile from Vanessa. Levi commented, "Relationship goals."

- Even though he lives in a different state from his two daughters, Uncle Bruce stays totally committed to keeping their relationship strong. He calls every day, drives several hours to visit every other weekend, and blesses us all by bringing them to reunions. What an example of dedication.

- Skip and Brenda have ridden out the challenges of years and family life in their 50 years of marriage. To me, they appear to be stronger and closer than ever.

- We had something like 19 kids and only a handful of minor quarrels in 7 days. With very few exceptions, the kids were obedient, pleasant, cooperative problem solvers. What a testament to the good work of their parents!

- Jesse and his little buddy cousins Alex and Nico wanted to have  sleepover in the bunkroom attached to Grandma and Grandpa's room. We told them they could give it a try but that they had to be quiet and go to sleep. They did! Every night of the reunion!

- Haley observed that whenever her mom told her no, cousin Ariana obeyed without argument.

- Aunt Laura and Uncle Troy worked together in the kitchen to make dinner with lots of fun and cooperation.

- When Logan performed a (somewhat horrifying) screamo rendition of Let It Go, Uncle Ken and Uncle Bruce joined in to keep it fun.

- When Zach was about to fall off a boulder, Uncle Troy leapt over a fence in a single bound to rescue him.

- Uncle Markus helped plan activities and venues so everyone could have fun.

- Cousins Betsy and Allie played together and didn't fight.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

From the Other Side

I don't think it makes me an unsalvageable pessimist to say that life at all times is pretty much made up of vast expanses of tedium and challenge interspersed with bright moments of triumph and joy. The ratio is all that really varies. (And the degree to which we let the moments of joy be the ones that define our worldview.)

These days I feel like I'm standing on more verdant ground, where I can see a particularly vast and rocky expanse in my rear-view mirror.

To explain why I've been a terrible blogger and to remind myself how far we've come, here are the Top 3 Lame Thing about Last Year That Have Now Abated:


Mark's $$#!*% foot. It wasn't just that he was out of commission, literally lying in bed for most hours of every day. It wasn't even the natural grumpiness exuded by anyone who is in near-constant pain.

It was also that Mark is not a multi-tasker. His mind does one thing at a time (and does that one thing comprehensively and well). For months and months, the main thing he could do was fret about his foot. How was it feeling today? Was it getting better? Becoming again worse? And why better or worse? A few days I had to ask him to please not talk to me about his foot. I just couldn't take the endless, pointless speculation.

We feel so incredibly blessed that the surgery Mark had on New Year's Eve was an emphatic success. Now, five months later, he walks around normally for day-to-day activities. No long walks or hikes, but an operational, functional, happy man is a huge, huge blessing.

Logan. Let me say this, being a teenager is not easy. I have a lot of compassion for the tricky process of becoming one's own self separate from parents. And especially for doing so when said parents are as emphatic in their values and religious beliefs as Mark and I are.

And let me also say this, I love Logan, part and parcel, with all my heart. He is and has always been a bright light. I am and will always be his biggest fan.

But there's also this: He's about the most stubborn person EVER. He can turn ANYTHING into a knock-down, drag-out argument. My favorite example: He once showed me a picture that he managed to get backstage after a concert with him and one of his favorite musicians. I commented that one of the two people in the picture looked like a rock star and one of them, in comparison, looked like a trying-too-hard poser--and that Logan was the one who looked like the real rock star. This, I thought, was a pretty stellar compliment, but it elicited from him a huge tirade on how I dis his bands and don't support his musical dreams. *sigh*

Keeping composure, staying on point, and engaging on a non-defensive, loving, authentic, good-faith footing with him takes vast reserves of emotional energy.

These days I am officially the mother of  "wayward' son. And it has been hard. Heartbreaking. But mostly, I am grateful for who Logan is and cherish even the small ways I can help him along his path.

At the same time Mark and Logan's dramas were at their peaks, Jesse was also imploding. An adjustment to the dosage of his ADHD medication led to a meltdown that at one point earned him a diagnosis that was described to me as justified because "we don't like to diagnose children with bipolar."

He spent about two hours every afternoon in frothy-mouthed, screaming rages. I once grabbed my camera to document the intensity of his fits. What is most chilling about the resulting video is all the other children, calmly going about their business, eating popcorn, doing homework, practicing piano, while this little red-headed demon thrashes and screams. He would say things like, "I can't take this anymore. I would rather die than live like this." Yeah.

Long story short, he's much better now. We put the dosage back to its original level and added a new medication. Shepherding Jesse through life--even things like putting on a clean shirt in the morning and locating his shoes--remains an incredibly intensive process. But the fits? Never happen anymore. Progress has been made. And I adore progress.

Perfect? Who needs it. Who wants it? Progress is all I need.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Hot, Buttered Rolls and other acts of betrayal

My lands, that was a rough one. Dentist appointment, doctor’s appointment. Tantrums from teenager and elementary schooler (both of strikingly similar tone and rationale). Gnashing of teeth over math problems, by two children. I drove about five loops around the neighborhood, doing Pikov Andropov (you know, a la Car Talk with Click and Clack).

But it’s not the busy that makes it exhausting. It’s not even the pushback—the stalling, the arguing, the backtalk. It’s that my children seem to spend so much of each day feeling that I am somehow failing them. Not being available enough, responsive enough, permissive enough, generous enough.

For example. Last night I baked rolls, and at one point in the evening, carried a hot, buttered roll on a plate downstairs to Logan in his room. He took the opportunity to chastise me for, as far as I could tell, both 1.) not helping him with things he needs and 2.) hassling him by involving myself in his life. It seemed unjust for him argue both sides. “At least pick one,” I thought.

The “conversation” culminated with his passionate pronouncement, “You really don’t help me with anything at all.” Which stung at that hour of night when I felt pretty depleted from a day’s worth of helping with things.

Only later did I realize that all this had transpired when I was in the act of delivering a hot, buttered roll. An act which I believe is universally and in all epochs and eras recognized as generous and helpful.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

In which I demonstrate a firm grasp of the obvious

Okay, 2014 was a bit of a slog. The endless disappointment of Mark's foot never healing was only the most visible of several challenging, energy-sapping struggles around here. I worked hard to soldier on, but by the end of year, my mental image of myself was of a shrunken, shrewish hag. Rushing from one task to the next, barking orders.

(Of course, that's not a totally fair assessment. But that image is reflected back at me from my children's eyes.)

Around New Year's, as I was driving across the valley to refill pain meds following Mark's surgery, I told my sister on the phone that I was in search of a New Year's resolution--or theme, or word of the year--but I just couldn't think of something that would save me from being such a horrible person.

After much pondering (and more chats with mom and sisters), I did choose a theme for the year and accompanying resolutions.. But here's my favorite. For me, it feels the most revolutionary. And it's the simplest.


Stop trying to do impossible things.

Genius, right?

Impossible things like being three places at once. Like doing everything everyone wants me to do, all at the same time. Hard things, yes. Many things, fine. But impossible things. No.

Monday, December 8, 2014


I hope one day he looks back and realizes that in his greasiest, grumpiest, prickliest teenage days, his mother was always happy to see him.

I hope one day he looks back and notices that his mother came to very nearly every single one of his many, many games. And that every time he looked her way after an especially awesome play, he could catch her eye, watching him.

I hope that one day she looks back and can see all the encouragement, instruction, structure, consistency, and correction from her mother as a form of love.

I hope that one day he looks back and is grateful that his mother made him believe he was a special gift (no matter how rowdy, disregulated, or behind the curve he fell).

I hope she's always my best friend.

It is a huge bright spot in my heart that he now sees his mother as the wind beneath his now spread-wide wings.


Jesse is trying to teach Betsy math:

Jesse: What's 1+1 ?
Betsy: I don't know.
Jesse: So if I have one, and then I get another, then I have two. So 1+1=2. So what's 1+1?
Betsy: I don't know.

I usually work on my resume business for a few hours a day. Maybe an hour in the morning responding to emails and taking client calls. Two, maybe three, hours during quiet time in the afternoon. More if Betsy has preschool, some work in the evening if I'm swamped.

Today I didn't work at all. And it's amazing what I've done around here. A couple coats of paint on the stairs. Mopping floors. Washing walls. Cleaning the laundry room. Even an episode of Project Runway. And it's only 3:00!

Also, this morning Mark and I went to another doctor's appointment regarding his torn tendon. Which has caused to him be on crutches since January. Today we scheduled a surgery.

Boo: Surgery. Painful. Expensive. Long recovery.
Yay: A plan. An end in sight. Hope for recovery.

More pros and cons:

Boo: Yesterday I completely lost my temper and hollered at a recalcitrant kid.
Yay: I realized I couldn't remember the last time that had happened.


I took Jesse out for lunch today to have a little heart to heart. Highlights from our conversation:

"I know the first kind of bug you should eat when you're trying to learn how to eat bugs. Ants."

"Have you ever eaten an eyeball. You should; they're good. But don't use a fork. The fork would get nasty."

This was not actually my planned topic of conversation.