Monday, December 26, 2011


 Grumpy angel from our Nativity.
 Dramatic wise man.
 Holy family (Ken, Joshua, and Arianna) with visiting shepherds (Roscoe and Vanessa)
 Mrs. and Mr. Claus have finished their work and can go to bed.
 Miss Elizabeth's first candy cane.
 She was a fan.
 Sisters in matching dresses from Grandma.
Just Dance on wii.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Nineteen Years

It was a bit of a night.

Poor Haley paid many visits to Dr. Ralph in the dramatic way that is her specialty. You see the obvious implications there. Miss Bits woke with a diaper load. By early morning, Jesse was snuggled up with the wet wipes package in Mark's vacated spot in the bed.

I shuffled downstairs with a squirming baby in one hand, a redhead trailing behind. And there on the counter was a CD from Mark. I grinned in recognition. Because it was our anniversary, and Mark--'80s boy as he is--is an aficionado of the commemorative mixed tape (or CD as they call them these days).

Our long row of stockings makes me feel proud of what we've built together.
I grinned all morning as I listened to each song. I've been the recipient of enough of these CDs to know that in Mark's highly ordered mind there's a reason for each song and its place in the playlist. I could identify the phrase, band back-story, or prior conversation that merited each song's inclusion. At one point--during The Smith's There Is a Light That Never Goes Out--Haley asked me, "What are you laughing about?" Morrissey wailed "Take me out, toniiight."

"Dad is sending me a secret message," I said.

So take him out that night I did. We saw the new Mission Impossible movie. (Our review: meh.) I love watching movies with Mark. We can make inside jokes to each other about improbable plot twists or gagworthy acting with just a glance or a hand squeeze.

When I was at BYU I took a New Testament class from Wilfred Griggs, the scriptorian and Egyptologist who says the GR notes with Greek translations in your LDS scriptures really stand for "Griggs." One day in class he hit a tangent and told us about driving to work that morning with his wife and having some conversation that involved perfect understanding and love. He told us that while he and wife thought they knew each other and loved each other as newlyweds, that was nothing compared with the understanding and resulting deeper love they enjoyed after years of marriage.
I agree. Mark and I loved each other deeply in those early days. But after nineteen years, I know Mark. I know his dreams and fears and inner workings. So even the parts that drive me batty--I see how those fit into the whole package of the man that I love, even more now than before.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Haley Turns 8

Last week Little Miss Haley hosted a party to celebrate her eighth birthday. We made felt flower hair clips and beaded bracelets.

I wanted the girls to take their time and create pretty bracelets rather than just quickly stringing random beads together. My sister Nancy gave me this great idea to draw a little paper template to help each girl select her beads and plan how they'd look together. After they chose their main beads, I helped them choose spacers or tiny beads to flesh out their design.

There was cake with lavender frosting flowers, curled hair, jewelry, dolls, craft kits, wrapping paper, candles, singing, pink bows--the whole bit. But the hard-to-speak truth is this: When it was all over, Mark and I could remember only one real smile, one moment of genuine joy from Haley. 

People never like it when I talk about the damage Haley sustained in her first few years of life. They are right to point out all the ways she is lovely, sweet, strong, thriving, and normal. And all of that is true. But it's also true that my love for Haley has never been the same easy-as-breathing variety I have for my other children. Not less, but certainly different. And her love for me is much more fraught as well.

I think every mother learns that the Hallmark version of love disintegrates in the face of real in-the-trenches parenting. True love isn't perfect. It includes anger, disappointment, frustration. Our children never are exactly as perfect as we'd like them to be, and we are never the ideal parents we would like them to have.

I feel I've learned a lot about true love from being Haley's mother. Our Haley is a holey bucket. The love and attention we pour into her often seems to flow right out the bottom, leaving her no more full than she was before. 

But in some ways, the more imperfect is my relationship with Haley, the more dented our love, the more fiercely I love her. No matter if she idealizes her birth mother and fantasizes about her "real" home and remembers only my failings and rails against me as a mean mom. I will love her and try to fill her and teach her and throw her pretty parties over and over and over again. And I hope that one day she will see that the love we gave her was enough. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Little People Christmas

Our Little People nativity is one of my favoritest things ever.
Every child of mine has enjoyed lining Little People in a row on the edge of a table.
One of Mark's colleagues once came up to me after Christmas and asked me if any of my kids got something from Fisher-Price for Christmas. "It's a sad day when no one gets something from Fisher-Price," he told me.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Evening

Church, ward council, home teaching, dinner, cookies, the dishes, a backyard fire--all done. So they mound together on the couch to phone some uncles and grandmas.

Roscoe's production of Aida ended last night and it was glorious and his high school does the best off-Broadway productions you've ever seen1 and all that, but we're just happy to have him home.

1. Okay, an exaggeration. But barely.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Betsy, 7 and 8 months

At seven months, Betsy worked diligently on learning to crawl.

Apparently crawling is harder than it looks. Trying to keep her balance and move an arm thisaway while a leg moves thataway--it reminds me of trying to get into a tricky yoga pose.

The moment she got crawling under control, she immediately began pulling up to stand, crawling up the stairs, and cruising. For several days, she fell constantly and was covered in little, black bruises. It was parenthood in microcosm: There was no way to both keep her safe and let her chase her dreams (of climbing up the stairs like everyone else in the family).

She wore these little pads to protect her knees. I think they make her look like a roller derby queen. We thought maybe "Thunder Thighs" could be her handle.

She's a little music lover. She squirms and bops when she hears a catchy tune and she's very diligent about her piano practice.

She still has a special place in her heart for Logan, who will stop at nothing to get a giggle from her.

 She's settled into a pretty predictable sleep schedule, but she still frazzles by dinnertime.
Today she's a pro crawler. She easily crawls all the way up the stairs and rarely loses her balance. Her dandelion hair has settled down. She's the most scrumptiously chunkalicious thing we can imagine and we all think every Betsy day is a treat.

Friday, November 4, 2011


Today Jesse went to school early to attend a special assembly and receive an award for being an example of the IB trait of Inquirer.

There are many things for which Jesse will not win an award this year. (Most Distractable? Least Likely to Know His Letters?) I'm so grateful he has a teacher who can recognize the strengths and talents he has.

He stood in the front of the gym looking bemused, confused, but proud.

I posed him next to this statue, but he was more interested in examining it.

As we walked to the car, a gust of wind blew his award certificate high into the sky. He walked the rest of the way discussing kites.

As I buckled Betsy into her seat, an updraft of wind blew my hair out of its bun and around my face. "Your hair looks like fire," Jesse commented. I caught a glimpse of my shadow and saw that sure enough, the blowing tendrils looked like flames.

We drove past a lighted construction signs flashing merge arrows. "How do they make the lights move?" Jesse wondered.

Inquirer indeed.

Unable to suppress of a moment of smarm, I said, "Jesse, have I ever told you that I love you?"

"Uh, one day you did."

"One day?"

"Well, maybe two."

Thursday, November 3, 2011


I am sewing dozens of tiny rings on the back of fabric panels to make roman blinds, while supervising the creation of a Jackie Chan biography poster.

I am spooning smooshed banana into Betsy's mouth, while correcting Haley's piano practice.

I am nursing Betsy, when the orbits of Levi and Jesse collide and from the playroom I hear escalating screams.

"Levi, be a peacemaker," I call.


"Be a peacemaker!"



"Sheesh, Mom."

I am wallowing in irony.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


I am now forty years old. It feels good. I have six children--one of whom is sixteen--I've been married for nineteen years, so it's time for me to be forty. In many ways, my thirties felt so much easier than my twenties. I don't miss all the looming major decisions and transitions of young adulthood. My thirties also really feels like a decade of growth--sometimes literally: our house got bigger, our family got bigger, our kids got bigger--and my capacity to deal with all that grew too. I'm planning on my forties being fabulous.

Several weeks ago, Mark announced he was throwing me a birthday party. "What kind of party?" I asked. "I was thinking chips and salsa," Mark replied. (He now says that was a joke.) I let Mark take the lead on invitations, but I took over as party planner, and we threw what I think was a delightful chocolate tasting party.

I strolled the chocolate aisle at Target and bought two of everything that looked yummy. I sliced them into small slivers and arranged them on little saucers I found at DI.
I made little spreadsheets for taking notes on the taste of each chocolate, and Haley sharpened ten new pencils for us. By the time you worked your way down the table, you'd know your favorite chocolate.

I put each chocolate wrapper in a numbered brown paper sack in the other room so partiers could identify the chocolates once they had finished the blind taste test. You voted for your favorite by writing your name on the bag.
It made for a great party. Should the conversation lull or strangers need an icebreaker, they could chat about chocolate for a minute.

The real crowd-pleasers of the night were:

Dove Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate. It really was smooth and dark but not too dark. I don't believe anyone disliked it.
Lindt Excellence Black Currant. Mmmm.

But the most wonderful part of my birthday was this:

I was standing in the kitchen during the party, when suddenly Mark rushed up to me. He led me around the corner, and there mother. From Dallas. With no warning to anyone, that crazy girl woke up on Saturday morning, bought herself a plane ticket, and showed up for the party. I burst into tears right in front of everybody. Not much better than seeing your mommy on your birthday.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Little Bit

I end the day as I began it: by padding into Betsy’s room to retrieve her sleep-warmed self for a feeding. I hold her head against my cheek as I pad back to my bed. I put her in the warm spot and curl around her, tucking her body against mine, belly to belly. Her sweetness wafts up like steam off a cinnamon roll.

I’ve had my fair share of babies, and yet it feels like it’s all whooshed by leaving hardly a trace. My memories are so few. I know the drill—I’ve said it myself to other mothers—you’ve got to enjoy each day, they go by so fast. And I do! Every day there are moments when I’m bowled over by the sweetness and light of holding a baby. I’ve gazed into Betsy’s mystic blue eyes for hours. I carry her to my bedroom mirror; I want to remember not just her, but me with her. But still, it’s not working. Each day, yesterday’s Betsy has disappeared and already the memories are melting into goop.
This week someone sent me this article by a mother whose child has a rare disorder. Instead of growing and progressing each day, her baby regresses. He’ll eventually reach a “vegetative state” and doctors expect he’ll die before he turns three. Of course I can’t imagine the heartache of mothering a child who has no future. But this mother’s essay highlights a truth every mother faces. The truth is, every mother’s child is disappearing day by day.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Deep, Dark Confession

The year after Jesse was born, I seemed to go into a frenzy of scheming. I launched my business, put together a gift book, and developed a few product ideas that I still believe would make us millions if someone with a little business know-how ran with them. Oh, and started this blog. Now, even though I still have a baby who nurses frequently and sleeps irregularly, I’m again jonesing for new projects. I guess once the baby-cooking is over, I’m on the lookout for other ways to be creative.

I pretend to be a person who, given the opportunity, would keep a perfectly clean house and peaceful, orderly life. But the truth is that whenever the pressure lets up a bit I get antsy and go in search of something more. Foster kids or new jobs or, if all else fails, new slipcovers. Home and family remain my main gig--an engrossing, demanding, fulfilling one. And  I'm a bit suspicious of women who constantly justify self-indulgences in the name of feeding their inner fire. But sometimes I feel the need to stretch my view beyond the front door.

So a few weeks ago I sent out a plea for friends to form a writer's group with me. And two smart, creative, empowered friends took the bait. Last night we met to describe the writing projects we'd each like to work on. We agreed to post progress updates on a google doc once a week and meet once a month to report and offer advice.

I’m really, really, really excited about this. I drove home last night whooping for joy. Saying that I want to be a writer feels lame, narcissitic, and immature on the level of saying I want to be a movie star. But I do want to be a writer. So this year, with the help of my writer’s group friends, I’m gonna do it. So there.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Inspired, I think, by pinterest, my new online addiction, I'm in a little frenzy of home design projects. I'm about to freehand paint vines all over my laundry room walls--I think. And last week I sewed a slipcover for a chair that I found on the side of the road and then let sit in my garage for...possibly years.
Before: chair as barricade to keep Betsy from squirming through the middle of Levi and Haley's game of Sorry! It doesn't look that bad from a distance, but upon closer inspection... 

I decided that even though my work wouldn't be perfect it would be good enough and I'd enjoy the pretty chair even if it had crooked seams or whatever. I totally scored on fabric in just the right colors and a sort of vintage throwback design for only $12/yard--a steal for good-quality decorator fabric.

With Betsy's help, I started draping and pinning the fabric into place, too lazy and/or unskilled to think through the whole pattern from start to finish.

Then I used a technique I learned on pinterest--to baste the pieces right sides together using black thread. Then I could remove the slipcover and machine sew along the basting.

A couple naptimes, an evening, lots of trips up and down the stairs, some emergency inserts from where I misjudged the curves and cut my pieces too small, and voila.
Levi volunteered to model the new chair.
It's not at all perfect, but the whole thing cost $15 and I like to see it each time I walk by.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

In a Nutshell

This morning I growled at my perennially tardy children on their way out the door to school. Thus sending my precious ones into the world with their mother's exasperation ringing in their ears.

Despite being strapped to my chest all morning like some kind of Tibetan princess whose dimpled feet must never touch the ground, the ever-lovely Betsy is screaming and squirming. And has opted out of her afternoon nap for the last two days.

One of my children has devoted an extraordinary amount of work, dedication, energy, and time to an extracurricular activity. And the coach who should be a dedicated mentor in not. He's made it clear that he can't be bothered to think twice about this child.

To quote Despicable Me, "In terms of money...we have no money."

Yes, I still wear retainers. I keep them on a high shelf in the medicine cabinet. They have disappeared. Mark says he has a vague memory of some hooligan toting them around the house.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Busy Children

While Roscoe was at theater rehearsal and Logan was at the temple with the young men, here's how the other Qshurst-McGee children filled their afternoon.


...played piano. She is now the proud graduate of three lessons.


...worked on refining her army crawl. My attempts to document this were foiled by 1.) her trying to crawl to the camera rather than for the camera, and 2.) her helpful siblings, 3.) her failure to follow instructions.


 ...made final adjustments to his train track.

 ...decorated his raingutter regatta boat.
Which went on to win second place at Cub Scout pack meeting. It was a momentous occasion for all of us since it marked the first time any Qshurst-McGee cub has won anything at any pinewood derby / raingutter regatta / space derby.