Saturday, January 31, 2009

For Nancy*

Today began like any normal Saturday around the Qshurst-McGee house. The kids woke up early to watch cartoons and play computer games while Mark and I slept in until 9:30 or so. When we got up, fresh and well rested, Roscoe had made omelets and was serving the little kids fresh-squeezed orange juice.

After Jesse finished doing the breakfast dishes, we decided we should get out and do something fun for the day. At that moment, the doorbell rang. Haley ran to open the door and found a golden envelope lying on the mat. Inside were 7 tickets to the circus. Perfect! We all ran to get dressed. When we emerged from our rooms in gowns and tuxedos, our limo had just arrived.

Turns out our limo driver was none other than the Queen of England. (Apparently everyone can use a bit of extra cash during these lean times.) Logan and Elizabeth immediately hit it off, what with all their similar interests and talents: tea pouring, crowd management, rules of etiquette, castle living. They chatted happily all the way to the circus and exchanged email addresses and the promise to twitter frequently.

We enjoyed our front-row seats, though at one point Levi did have to divert a train of charging elephants. But we were happy to help. Shortly before intermission, we noticed a flurry of activity in the wings. Jesse went over to investigate and returned to report that several key circus performers had gone missing. Apparently the clown’s staged romance with the tightrope walker had turned serious and the two eloped. The troupe of fire jugglers took off in pursuit to protect the tightrope walker’s virtue, the tiger trainer rushed to pronounce his own intentions, and well, things just snowballed from there. The backstage was empty save for confused roustabouts and a red-faced stage manager.

“No problem!” shouted Roscoe, always helpful in a pinch.

I’ve never been more proud of my children as they cheerfully rose to the challenge. Roscoe hopped into the cannon and Jesse brandished a silver sword before lighting him off. He soared across the sky and flashed the crowd a toothy smile before landing neatly in Levi’s outstretched arms as he swung across the trapeze. Just then, Haley rode in on a unicycle balancing a bear on her head. When Logan cracked his whip, 7 tigers and 3 hippos rose onto their hind legs and did Head, Shoulder, Knees, and Toes. Of course, the crowd went wild.

Before the show was over, Mark and I were surrounded by a throng of PR reps, talent scouts, and TV producers shouting offers. A modeling contract! Your own TV show! A how-to book on how-to-raise-exceptional kids! Two millions dollars just because you’re so dang cool!

Mark and I just shook our heads. “Why would we want any of that” we asked the enraptured crowd, “when we already have the key to happiness?”

“What is it?” they pleaded. “Oh, please tell us!”

Mark and I smiled and opened the limo door. Cameras flashed like lightning upon the 5 children inside, contentedly munching on Happy Meals.

Thanks, Elizabeth!


* In response to this post.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sunny Day

Today dawned a bright new day.

This week, first Logan, then Haley, then Levi came down with a stomach flu. A mild one, but still. By yesterday, I hadn't eaten much of anything for three days--I chalk it up to my own touch of the flu plus the appetite-deadening effect of watching others have the flu. I was sick of being sick, sick of grossness, sick of sitting quarantine in our house, and sick of the gray, polluted days of Utah winter.

Today I woke up after a night's sleep uninterrupted by puking children. I felt fine! The sun was shining! I feel like I got more done today than the rest of the week combined, and I feel more relaxed and pleasant.

p.s. Are you shouting Amen and Hallelujah that Rod Blogojavich was ousted? Sheesh!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Inquisition

Sometimes it comes to this.

For the second day this week, I found, uh, urine in the bathroom trash can. Last time, I casually mentioned the hassle and grossness of cleaning it out. This time I asked more pointed questions, and everyone denied involvement. Including Levi, who was the most likely culprit.

My questions became increasingly, uh, pointed, and I became more irritated about the patent dishonesty involved. Eventually Levi and Haley were commanded to sit on the bottom step until someone confessed. Levi cried. Haley fretted that she was being made late for preschool. Levi concluded he should make a false confession to end the torture. I demanded nothing but the honest truth.

Then Logan emerged from his room with big, brown teary eyes and confessed that he had accidentally done it the night before. Fishy. So he got sent to the steps of torture. (By now, I had set Haley free to go to preschool because, really, the simple bathroom logistics of girls pretty much exonerated her.)

I let the boys stew for a while. I called Mark to complain. (He hates those calls. I’m just looking for some sympathy and a sounding board; he ends up wondering if he needs to rush home before my emotional abuse of his children produces long-lasting effects.)

Then I went in, sat on the floor in front of the boys, and began in my dripping-with-doom calm voice, “Levi says he didn’t do it—and I don’t know if I can believe him.” Dramatic pause. “Logan says he did it—and I don’t know if I can believe him.” Four big teary brown eyes stare at me. The boys whimper.

(I like the line "I don't know if I can believe you." It in itself demonstrates the real natural consequences of dishonesty.)

Turns out, my instincts were right: They were both lying. Levi did the deed. Logan staged a false confession out of some warped sense of helpfulness.

We discussed how dishonesty erases trust, and how boys who can’t be trusted don’t get privileges. And how all those sincere, tearful lies make it harder for me to give them what they want in the future.

Then little Levi scrubbed that bathroom, which I think he did not enjoy. And Logan cleaned Jesse’s room, which is a punishment that doesn’t really fit the crime but did compensate me somewhat for having to spend my morning on this stupid inquisition. Both boys were grounded from the computer, as an example of privileges dishonest boys do not receive. So now I’m looking for any tiny instance of the boys keeping their word so I can tell them they’re building trust.

Sheesh! What a waste!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Third Anniversary

Yesterday was the third anniversary of the day Haley first arrived on our doorstep. And though I'm so proud of all Haley's beauty and growth and blossoming, today really reminded me of all that's not yet right with my relationship with her.

Haley was sick with a little stomach flu she got from Logan. The poor thing made several unpleasant trips to the bathroom in the night and by morning couldn't hold down even a mouthful of water. Even so, she begged for breakfast when the other kids were served and was genuinely offended when I told her she shouldn't eat. I explained and explained how first she must hold down a sip of water and then she could be upgraded to toast and that this is how we teach our bellies not to throw up. Nevertheless, she looked at me like a traitor all morning. And by afternoon, when I did serve her that coveted piece of toast, she wouldn't eat it.

I've noticed that no one likes it when I talk about the residual effects of Haley's troubled start in life. It's true that she is normal, or better than normal, in almost every way. And yet, all the things you do for your babies and infants, all the love and consistency, all the times you respond to their needs and do what you say you will--you do those things because you believe they'll have an effect, right? And a baby who didn't get those things--whose mother dropped her off at auntie's and didn't come home for days, who fed her either not at all or until her teeth rotted out, whose own life was so unhealthy she couldn't give baby what she needed--well those have an effect, too. Pretending that those issues don't exist does no favors for me or Haley as we work to grow her into a brave, strong woman.

Attachment theorists talk about "attunement" and "the secure base." When Haley arrived, she didn't have those with her birth mother, and today she doesn't sufficiently have them with me. Yesterday Haley didn't trust that I was giving her loving, well-intentioned care. The care I offered, she didn't receive. And my care for her wasn't as natural and effortless as it should be. I've been hoping that our relationship would naturally deepen and mellow over time, and to some extent it has. But not enough. This year I need to figure out some strategies to build a more secure base for Haley. It’s time.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Allāhu Akbar, or a Strange Route to a Sabbath Testimony

I'm cleaning up from our Sunday supper pancakes and listening to Mark and one of his colleagues being interviewed about the Joseph Smith Papers on a local radio show.

The interviewer opens the phone lines, and the first words from the first caller are, "Allaaaaaahu Akbar! Allaaaaaahu Akbar!" What the caller says next is a jumble to me, but he concludes by asking, "Do you worship Joseph Smith?"

There is an awkward pause. I can picture Mark and his friend raising their eyebrows at each other. Finally the interviewer says, "Well, he asked a question and I'm going to let you answer it."

Another pause.

Then I hear over the radio waves, "This is Mark Qshurst-McGee, and I do not worship Joseph Smith. I worship the Lord Jesus Christ."

Mark's colleague says, "Amen." They move on to the next question.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Lull

Nothing much is happening around here and it's kind of freaking me out. I'm never sure quite how to operate when there's not some pressing event or challenge at hand. I'm not gearing up for anything, I'm not winding down from anything, nothing is broken, and no one is sick. I know--wa wa waaah.

So the mundane things going on are:
  • After three weeks as the Primary president I think I've finally got things organized--all 10 Sunday classes and most of the 30 staff.
  • Tonight Roscoe has karate at the same time as ward council and I'm not sure how we're going to work that out.
  • Mark had a performance review at work today and did get advanced into a higher tier but may not get an actual raise because of the economy. Figures.
  • I cleaned out behind the playroom couch, which was a much bigger job than it should have been.
  • I made zucchini bread from last summer's zucchini, which I had grated and frozen.
  • I'm working on making a Blurb book out of my 2008 blog.
  • Mark is addicted to Burn Notice, which we watch on hulu or order from Blockbuster.
  • Last night we had dinner with Mark's colleagues at the home of Salt Lake's most famous millionaire.
  • The Joseph Smith Papers is vastly exceeding all expectations for sales.
  • We have major honesty issues with certain members of the family.
  • We have major hygiene issues with certain members of the family.
  • A certain member of the family believes that "I think that's a bad idea" is a highly offensive comment.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Winter White

Why wear them...



...when you can fling them?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Octopus

This is the final project Roscoe brought home from his art class.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Progress

Progress! I know where they were a month or two ago, and I see where they are now and it's pretty nifty.

Logan
He's fulfilling his basic responsibilities with much less drama and resistance. Sometimes these days I say something to Logan and a crystalline drop of silence follows, and I realize, "He didn't argue with me."

Levi
A few months ago, coaching Levi to sound out three-letter words was torturous. I'd teach a bit and he'd internalize some and lose more. These days, each time I sit to read with him I see he has bounded ahead and knows things he has never been taught at all. His little brain is pulling all the pieces together and reading skill is flowing like water, "distilling upon his soul as the dews from heaven."

Jesse
It's not just that he knows more words, it's that he knows how to use them. He says things like "Let me do it!" "Don't push me!" "I'm sad!" "I want the door open!" He can express himself, and in reverse, he can be reasoned with a bit. I feel strongly that the way to teach little toddlers not to throw fits it to make certain you listen and respond to everything they say. If saying "Put me down" gets them no results, they'll scream and push. If you stop and look at them and say, "You me to put you down" (even if the answer is no), then they learn that their words are powerful and worth using.

As a bonus, little Jesse can be very polite. He uses lots of, "Thanks, Mom!" and "Okay!" and "Peeeease!" Whenever the boys are heading out the door somewhere, poor Jesse clasps his hands under his chin (no lie!) and chirps, "Can I come? Can I come?"

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hits

Many objects move in and out of this house. Someday I'd like to do an official tally. Tiny Bionicle pieces are drifted like fall leaves in the corners of every room. And then there are hundreds of Legos and Imaginext and K'Nex and Heroscape. We own 4 versions of Monopoly. And 34 Magic Treehouse books. All the boardgame pieces and dice and Hotwheels and light sabers.

Some objects are loved and used over and over by successive children for years. Others are highly coveted but ultimately less successful. Like this object:
(Thanks to my model Haley, who was a cooperative if confused partner while I took photos of random objects. Here she is showing her sad face at the sad ball.)

Logan wanted it so badly! He saved his money, brought the ball home, then took it to school against Mom's orders. Unfortunately, Mom saw him with it on the playground, so it was banished. Months later, he begged for it back and I relented. He took it down in his room and somehow popped himself in the eye with one of its tentacles, which earned him a late-night visit to the ER, where the doctor did something to his eye that left it hugely dilated for 2 whole days and made him pretty discombobulated. Cursed ball.

I carefully managed and scaled down our Christmas list this year. But still, a few things times 5 kids still equals a lot of stuff. Of all we scored this year, here are the stand-outs.

1. Blink
This clever game in this tiny tin is a hit from Aunt Ruthie. It's a cross between War and Uno. You lay down cards as fast as you can, matching by color, shape, or number. Big and little kids can play. In fact, Haley and Roscoe are our family's biggest fans. Each game lasts about 30 seconds.

2. Tooth Tunes

I think these are ingenious and wonderful.
Press a button and your toothbrush plays music for 2 minutes. Touch the toothbrush to your teeth, and the music vibrates in your head. Brush until the music stops. Logan's plays, "We Will Rock You." Levi's plays the Indiana Jones theme song. Jesse's plays music and gives periodic pep talks, like, "Keep brushing!" The era of the two-second teeth-brushing is officially over in this household. (Praise be!)
Update: Haley says actually her Tooth Tunes no longer plays music since Jesse flushed it down the toilet and Mark retrieved it with a snake. Mark swears it is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Still, who votes that Haley gets a brand new one?

What were the Christmas hits and flops at your house?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How I saw myself, age 3-17

Inspired by--
  • the graphic memoir Persepolis, which made me think that I should describe my own childhood in visual form.
  • the blog Indexed, which gave me a helpful strategy for accomplishing the above, given that I have no drawing skills.
  • the memoir Little Heathens, which shows how enjoyable it can be to read about the details of even a common childhood.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Answer...ish

I made the call.

So I'm pregnant, foster-style. Meaning I'll probably have a new child within nine months, but no one knows when. Last time around, I got a phone call around noon and Haley arrived on our doorstep around 4:00. By the time Mark got home from work, she was sitting at the dinner table in the spot she still occupies.

However, we did request only a girl age 0 to 2. We've narrowed our range so much that we probably won't get a placement any time soon. And recent changes in our county's placement policies mean that we're much more likely to get short-term placements.

So don't hold your breath--and I'll try to do the same.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Monday, January 5, 2009

Dilemma

Tomorrow is supposed to be the day I call our foster care worker and tell her we're ready for a new placement. But Saturday morning I went to my beloved yoga class and I cleared my mind and focused on breathing, and into the stillness came the realization that if we adopt a foster daugher now, I will probably never get pregnant or have a baby again.

Because I'm 37 and my days are numbered. Because our family is definitely reaching maximum capacity in terms of temporal and emotional resources. While it's possible that one day down the road we'll feel there's room for #7, don't bank on it.

Mark and I both feel strongly that we need to adopt another foster daughter. So Haley will have a sister. So Haley isn't the only adopted child, the odd one out. So Haley can be the mentor. So the boys don't see girliness as a disease specific to Haley. Our overall family dynamics need another girl. (And with our current record, I feel zero confidence in the probability of our producing a girl the old-fashioned way.)

As Mark hastens to point out, there has to come a time when there are no more babies. True 'dat. But to me, having a baby is about the most fun, beautiful, fulfilling thing there is. And I guess I'm realizing that being in the active child-bearing stage of life is a big part of my identity. Closing that door feels like a very, very big deal.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

"That same sociality"

In 2003, my beloved Grandpa Benac died and I gave this little talk at his funeral. We had car trouble on the drive from Utah to Texas and ended up having to drive all night long to make it on time. At some point during that long, stressful night, this story came to my mind as the perfect representation of Grandpa's life. I shared some of this in Primary today as an introduction to the new theme "My Eternal Family."

My mother, Liz, asked me to give this talk in her stead in the fear that she wouldn’t be able to get through such a talk herself. [At this point, Angela starts to cry, probably worse than her mother would have. Oh, well.] I’m grateful for the opportunity to do something for her after all the service she has done for our family. Mom hoped that because I am the oldest grandchild, I could appropriately represent that generation.

I want to talk about one of my most cherished memories of Grandpa. Christmas before last, my family came to Dallas for Christmas, and so did lots of Benac cousins. So one day we decided to make a trip to the temple. We had enough people in our group that the temple workers gave us our own session. No one was in the room but us—and my Grandpa was the officiator of the session.

As we filed into the room, Grandpa stood at the front, watching us, dressed from head to toe in white. Some people in our group had become endowed only recently, and I enjoyed noticing how our family’s numbers in the temple were growing. I was pregnant with my third son at the time, and I sat next to my cousin Alison, who was expecting her Olivia. So if you count those babies Allison and I smuggled in, our group had four generations of Benacs whom Grandpa had led to the temple.

As he looked over our group, Grandpa had a beautiful expression. He was happy. He was pleased with all of us. He savoring his role. But his expression was also showing something more.

As I went through the temple that day, I thought about the family web we had formed on earth and that would continue beyond—because of the ordinances of the temple.

I thought about the meaning of a patriarch in the gospel—a father who leads his family to righteousness.

Sometimes I feel like I have to work hard to have the Spirit in my life, but in the temple it seems to come easily. I always feel a distinctive joy and peace in the temple. On that day I had an added feeling that I had never had before.

In Doctrine and Covenants 130, Joseph Smith wrote: “When the Savior shall appear we shall see him as he is. . . . And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.”

No one can doubt that we have established a happy and pleasant sociality in our family here on earth. But as we sat together in the temple, I almost could feel that eternal glory—that it was only a few shades away. I was getting a sneak peek of that eternal glory we do not now enjoy to its fullest, and I understood why I have organized my life to try to lead me to it.

And at the head was Grandpa, leading us in the gospel, from the time he was baptized in 19__, to the time he attended my baptism in 1979, to the dozen or so sealings he has performed for his grandchildren. And on that day, leading us through the temple ordinances, acting out my best understanding of what my Heavenly Father is, and acting out my most cherished hopes for my eternal future.

During our family reunion last month, more than once Grandpa tried to emphasize to us his testimony that the way to find happiness is to live the principles of the gospel. This advice comes from a man who has experienced tragedy and love, plenty and privation in his life.

When I got the call that Grandpa had passed, the image that came to my mind was of him flying forth to meet the next stage of that happiness. His life is a monument to the power of the gospel to create happiness that outlasts trials, setbacks, time, and even death.

My life and that of my children is blessed every day by the gospel path Grandpa set us upon. I am grateful for his influence in my life.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

Last New Year's Eve, I refused to stay up late because I knew the next day I'd stand alone to face five kids. This year, our party (mostly thanks to the yellow talents of Uncle Troy) looked like this:


And today, Mark and I took care of some chores, did some errands, played some games, took some naps. And we weren't in a mad rush. I needed to deliver new lesson materials to all the Primary teachers, and Mark drove while I navigated and checked my lists. It's like we were partners.
2008 was way too much work for us. Here's to 2009!