You guys! I love getting Christmas cards in the mail. Over the years, the number of cards that our family receives has dwindled. I get it. I haven’t sent a card out in over ten years. So, consider this my huge THANKS for those of you that still send us some love even though you know it won’t ever be reciprocated in the form of envelope, stamp, paper, or photostock. With all the posting I do here and on my social media accounts, and with my limited funds going towards playing Santa for six kids, I just can never seem to justify spending another $50-100 on this out-dated tradition.
Please consider this my most sincere apology. I want to make your pantry door look as festive as mine (and let’s face it, my kids would look really good up there), but I just never do it. I’m sorry for being the epitomy of The Christmas Card Scrooge. Always receiving, never giving. My guilt is as unpleasant as the grinch’s termited smile.
Over the years, Christmas cards have got a bad rap — that they are only for the prideful braggers. A family member and I chuckled the other day as I mentioned how lovely their Christmas cards were on their wall. They mentioned that they were all the cards from the spouse’s side of the family because they were the only ones still playing the game of having it all together. I laughed because LG and I had the exact conversation the day before; we wondered why a large majority of our cards come from his side. This year there is literally not a single Christmas card up from my family. Is it really because my family can’t keep up? Is his family just more traditional? Do they have more money to throw around? I have a few pretty well-to-do family members. Do they have more to brag about? Surely it can’t just be that certain people buy into the picture perfection more than others. Doesn’t everyone buy into that? I got some pretty real cards this year from the hubby’s side that made me chuckle and even breathe a sigh of relief. (I’m talking to you Julie and Newell -thanks for the wandering children stories.) I felt solidarity in the insanity we call parenting. My sister-in-law whose husband is in the Air Force has literally hundreds of cards on her wall every year. LG and I always laugh because we don’t have friends. “Is it just a military thing?” we always wonder. Or is our bare wall just evidence of our social ineptitude. Probably a little of both. Probably also, her wall is the result of her consistent Christmas card tradition.
Well, as in everything in life, I am learning to accept it is what it is. Whatever that is, I don’t really know, but I need to let the Christmas card mystery die. It’s most definitely monopolizing a little too much of my mental capacities…and let’s face it, those are already a little limited.
As I was doing the dishes last night, I constructed our real Christmas card in my mind. I thought you all might like to hear it.
LG had a midlife crisis in May. He quit his job which was promptly followed by 5 months of grueling unemployment. As least it wasn’t with a mistress. Ha. He’s finally employed again, and 2017 was the year we discovered that it only takes exactly 5 months of unemployment to make it okay that he now lives two hours away during the week. In the good news, he’s mentally healthier than he ever has been. Some therapy and anti-anxiety meds have made him happier than ever, and he’s really enjoying his work and the challenge of being a .net programmer. He is the primary pianist at church which has been an awesome reprieve from scouting, which we aren’t really sure we want to support anymore unless they let our hetero daughters in.
AG got a great compliment from her literary theory professor. The fifteen-page paper she turned in about postcolonialism in collegiate humanitarian travel may be publish-worthy with just exactly eighty more hours of work. Yahoo! But really, I survived this year which is major bragging rights. It was a doozie. Thanks to all my friends who chipped in one-week post LG’s mid-life crisis, so that I could travel to Nicaragua on a once-in-a-lifetime collegiate humanitarian trip that I would later write about. My consensus was I loved the trip, but I definitely was guilty along with the rest of my group of postcolonialist oppression. I’ll send the paper your way if you offer up some free editing! This year I got my first passport, and I also was hired by UVU’s Art and Design Program as an administrative assistant. I can’t wait to work for my beloved university while I finish my degree. Just 40 credit hours left. My running is still hanging out in the wings waiting to be reclaimed. One of these days, I’ll wake up at 5 am to do it. Or not.
Abigail got married! Yes, you read that correctly. My first married kid did it exactly how I I didn’t want her to….at EIGHTEEN years old. However, we do love Kaleb, and after about two and a half years of courtship, it was time for them to make it facebook official. Their wedding was all the brainchild of Abigail and it was perfection from top to bottom, except for the bridal bouquet that we had to start late for. We all have ADHD, I consider only one small glitch a major victory. For my Mormon friends still waiting for their kids to go to the temple, know you aren’t alone, but learning to accept others’ choices seems to be a trend of this Christmas card, eh? Kaleb is our family body-guard and personal trainer. He’s a sensitive and loving and generous soul, and treats Abigail so well. Abigail has been working at a local vintage toystore called Blickenstaffs, and she has generously offered to provide daycare for Max twice a week when I go back to work. She may never go to college, and I am working on being okay with that. They have the cutest new puppy named Kita who is the proud owner of her own Instagram account.
Sophia is the amazing eclectic fun-loving care-free girl that she always has been. Her spirit animal is a rainbow cat that pees diet coke. After losing our cat, Kit, to a random accident where she got stuck in our fence that needs to be replaced, Sophia begged me for another. I refused. We still had Rufus and our dog, Olive, which I felt was plenty. It took only exactly 24 hours of me being out of the country for her to convince her dad to adopt the desperate cat in a box at Walmart. They wanted to name him Nic, after the place that made his adoption possible, but we settled on Charles Barkley, the best rebound cat of all time. Sophia continues to pursue her art and occasionally cares about her grades when she isn’t wasting her time on her iphone playing Sudoku or Sandbox. She is a music and technology aficionado, like her dad. She worked at her Uncle Bubba’s restaurant for five months until he fired her. True story. She didn’t deserve it, so I guess we’ll just call it being laid off. But she got an even better job the day after being fired. She now works at Utah Idaho Supply Map World. (Funny story: one hour after posting this, we read this article online. I guess Sophia will be looking for another job!) She’s enjoying dating, driving, and kissing. I asked Sophia what she would have me say about her, and her reply was, “She’s smokin’ hot and ready to mingle.” She’s only partially joking. She really is pure and meek and mild. When LG and I had a really rough summer and quit going to church for awhile (don’t judge until your marriage is in shambles and you are 43 with an above-average-energetic 3-year-old), her and Bella would go all by themselves.
Bella woke up one morning in a model’s body. We aren’t sure what exactly happened, but we blame her friends, the Lawrences, who only eat organic food. Bella is a mini-Alice, but much more gorgeous and taller. She also has way bigger feet. She gets that from her dad. She wants to be an astrophysicist — also gets her science smarts from her dad. She’s obsessed with Wonder Woman — she gets that from her feminist mother. Bella has managed to secure exactly a 4.0 for her first two terms of high-school, and she promises me she will graduate from college, so that I can feel like I actually taught one of my kids something. A school teacher has to have at least one of her own five children graduate from college. Bella is hilarious, and she often gets roped into helping Sophia with cleaning her room as payment for free rides wherever she wants to go. Bella rocked it onto the sophomore volleyball B team, and she’s only a freshman. She rarely got playing time, but she loved making new friends. We think her new coach didn’t quite see all of her talent that her recreation coach Alice had instilled in her. She wants to play club volleyball, but she can’t afford it with her babysitting funds. Bella is a great kid. She often begs LG and I to take her and her friends to the temple at 5 am before school. She might need some sanity meds, too, like both her mom and dad. Who voluntarily goes to the temple at 5 am?
Caroline is an eighteen-year-old stuck in an eight-year-old body. She is obsessed with YouTube, probably because her parents don’t monitor her screen time as well as they should. She prefers videos about scavenger hunting, get-out-games, kid-toy-reviews, and The Pearl Dude. All of her dreams came true this summer when I found out a neighbor was selling and opening live pearls at a local street market. She became the proud owner of exactly two pearls — twins! Because of all her YouTube watching, she knew exactly which oyster to pick. She is still learning Mandarin at her Chinese-Immersion school, and she has gained a lot of independence this year walking home from school with her friends. She was baptized in July. She starts playing basketball for the first time next week. LG is so excited. She has taken a liking to reading with mom every night because we are working on the whole Battle-of-the-Books list, and she got glasses this month which have helped her significantly with her reading skills.
Maximus is a walking hurricane. He tried to tackle a complete stranger at a restaurant last week, and almost succeeded against the 6-foot-man. He was so close. Just a few years away from his NFL goals. Max loves throwing, hitting, jumping, shooting, climbing, and pretty much every other action verb. He is killing us. We get ten years older every day. We are convinced God waited to send us a boy until we were too old to hurt him. It’s true what they say: Boys are the little devils that can melt their moms hearts. One minute he smacks me across the face with a toy gun, and the next he is kissing my cheek telling me how much he loves me. I feel like I’m in an abusive relationship. He is a sweetheart that doesn’t sit still and refuses to go to nursery. Next week, he’ll be a Sunbeam at church, so I’m really looking forward to LG taking him to primary and watching him run back and forth from his class to the piano instead of clinging to my skirt while I’m trapped in a tiny room with 30 toddlers. Max really is exactly what we always wanted, but we often wonder why we wanted a boy so badly? He is more challenging than all four of his sisters put together, but he brings us all a lot of joy each time he wrestles one of our cats.
So, there you have it. Our real Christmas card. We really don’t have much to brag about, except for a new awesome son-in-law and Bella’s 4.0, but we do love each other, and like it beautifully showcases in the newest Pixar movie, Coco: family is a pretty great thing to have.
We hope you all had a Merry Christmas because so many of you made our Christmas the most remarkable we’ve ever had. Who knew 5 months of unemployment would end up with so many Christmas presents from generous friends? It almost makes us tempted to try that again next year…or not. Here’s to 2018 being the best year ever. We’re hoping that by next Christmas, Max will be able to sit through a whole movie.
Here’s a photo, in case you forgot what we look like.
, tIt wasn’t the place I expected any kind of good news. It was at my dad’s funeral. We had all gathered at the church after the burial for a luncheon with the crack-infused food (Oops – I mean the love-infused food. Crack just seems more affectionate). Nothing tastes better than ham and funeral potatoes freely made and donated with loving hands for the grieving. If you’ve never been able to eat church ham and potatoes as part of the 10% tithing package, you’ve never had the best food mankind has to offer.
Anyhow, I had run out in the hall to find my wandering 2-year-old. And there it was…the best compliment ever. As I was heading back to the cultural hall empty–handed wondering where in the world that little devil Max had disappeared to, the compliment came in the form of Brother and Sister Atkin. Okay, okay. Their names are Roy and Pat, but we have this brotherhood thing in the Mormon church. I’ve called them Brother and Sister Atkin my whole life, which is kind of weird because they are like second parents to me.
Brother and Sister Atkin were heading back home to California. We exchanged hugs. I told them how much we appreciated them being there. They had traveled ten hours. They insisted they would never miss it. Then, Brother Atkin hit me with it.
“Alice, you really are the best of both of your parents!”
Sister Atkin then agreed.
I did my best to hold back my tears, but I probably failed. I thanked them, and I’ve continued to think on that compliment for the last year and a half.
The best of both my parents.
There isn’t a better compliment than that. If you don’t believe me, it’s only because you’ve never met my parents.
Let me tell you about my parents.
My dad was (as I am sure he still is in some spirit form waiting to be reunited with his body) the strongest man I know. I’m pretty sure he could lift a car all by himself. We affectionately called him Superman sometimes and McGyver others. Yes, it takes a superhero who can fly and throw planets around with x-ray vision as well as a man who can fix anything with a piece of bubble gum and duct-tape to describe my dad. I could count on my dad to do anything and everything he promised. He even seemed to be able to time-travel: working a full day 45-145 minutes (depending on the traffic) away in downtown San Diego, while driving a commuter bus there and back as his second job and still making it to my volleyball and softball games often. He would leave us donuts and $3 for lunch on the kitchen table every school day. He would always have pink bubble gum sticks in his briefcase for each of us every day he arrived home from work. He went to the convenient store on the bottom floor of his building every day on his way home. He knew the worker by name and she knew that he was looking for that pack of gum to take home to his 7 kids. He would need a new pack tomorrow because they may or may not sneak an extra piece or two.
My dad was also a gentle giant. He was an animal whisperer. Dogs took to him as if he was a combo of Cesar and Bert from Mary Poppins. It’s like he danced through life singing “Feed the Animals.” He had a huge soft spot for others. His hard abusive upbringing made him extra aware of everyone around him. One time I woke up to find that he had taken my best friend Kristen’s car and put four new tires on it. When I complained that I needed new tires and he got her some first, he reminded me that he was never far away to rescue me when I got a flat, but Kristen’s mom worked full-time and her dad lived 2,000 miles away. Wise and kind: my dad. He was a combination of Joseph, the father of Jesus, King Solomon, the wise judge, and Sampson, who could move mountains. My dad would wake up early every Saturday (after working a 60 hour week) and do 6 loads of dishes by hand and then make a buffet-style breakfast for his family + whichever kids happened to be spending the night. My dad built on three bedrooms and a bathroom with his own two hands to accommodate anyone and everyone who needed a home. One time he let some immigrant workers sleep in our shed in the backyard. My dad was the adventurer extraordinaire. When I was terrified, he insisted that I climb on top of the floating iceberg in the Prince William Sound because it was a once-in-a-lifetime and a great way to die if we were going to die, and he always took a bucket to the beach so we could take it underwater like an antique diving helmet. He would always use his last $5 to buy us ice-cream on the way home from the beach.
My dad’s the greatest guy. When I sang this song as a kid, I knew it was written about my dad. No other dad was as amazing as mine.
That’s my dad. Compliment enough already, right?
So, let’s move on to my mom.
I’m not sure my cheeks can handle the tears that the rest of this post is going to require. I’m all cried out.
Just those two words will have a lot of my friends shaking their heads in laughter. There is no one in the world quite like my mom. She’s that crazy lady you saw at the wrestling match waving her sweater around her head in circles while whooping it up as if she wasn’t actually Caucasion. She would cheer for our team as much as she would cheer for the opponents. My mom is as beautiful as my dad is handsome. Look at them on their wedding day. They were high-school sweethearts, and never quit being in love like they were 16.
My mom’s best meal was something she made up on the fly one night. It’s called Porkchops and Noodles. She was always making do in the kitchen. Feeding seven kids is not cheap! One night, while cooking, she found that she didn’t have any canned soup to make a sauce for the noodles. She threw a little butter in the pan and then the noodles and wha-la, the most delectable pork-flavored butter noodles were born. They live on to their fullest potential in my kitchen. My mom single-highhandedly (with a crew she organized) did all the make-up and hair for the Buena Vista Elementary School play called Rainbow Connection. She had 5 kids in it, so of course she wanted to help. There were about 300 of our classmates in that play. As we were leaving the cafeteria and walking to our car after she provided three hours of the finest Broadway-inspired gussying, I was terrified because she passed out in from of the school office from exhaustion. Somehow she picked herself right back up, went home and cooked dinner, got her own kids ready, took pictures, and showed up with a smile on her face to the auditorium where my brother Adam starred as Mr. Coleco. I was an old lady. Shannon was a dancer. I can’t remember what Sarah and David did. To top it all off, Mom makes friends wherever she goes. She talks to everyone! She tells them they are important and they are loved. She always has a word of advice, whether you want it or not.
My mom can find anything at a thrift-store. I mean ANYTHING! I have a fancy portrait on my living room wall. People always compliment me on it. I tell them with pride that my mom found it at a thrift store. This woman knows how to get it done. She took great care of her kids with a husband who was almost never home and very limited resources. She loves books and knowledge. When we were kids, we had this train with the circus alphabet peeking out from the twenty-six separate train-cars hanging like fancy crown-molding all around where the dining-room walls met with the ceiling. She would take out the old family Bible and point to a verse just so we could see how we could apply it to our current position. She made a literary analyst out of me. My mom made Christmas a big deal. I really big deal. We would spy on Santa every year. Oh what fun! Like my dad, she taught us to take care of all the people around us. I can’t tell you how many times I would find my mom making a meal that looked exquisite only to be told that it was going to a neighbor. Something in my heart knew my mom had it all figured out as I reached for the mac-n-cheese or cereal for the umpteenth time. As animals took to my dad, plants took to my mom. Not that the animals didn’t love my mom too, but her real secret lied in our whole house smelling like fish food at least one day a week. My mom taught all of her kids to sing. Car rides were never complete without at least two songs: On Moonlight Bay and 100 Bottles of ________________ (fill in the blank, we always did). My mom is the reason, I always sing to my kids one of my favorite songs from Sesame Street.
I don’t have enough internet to write all that my parents are to me. I appreciate them more every day. What a lucky girl I was to be born Alice Elaine Wills.
Being the best of both my parents is too high a compliment. In fact, it’s impossible to live up to. I would have to be double super-human. But, it’s a compliment I’ll never forget. And, I’ll gladly keep striving to live up to it.
BY RUDYARD KIPLING
(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Week fifty six!!! I don’t want it to be true. 23 weeks since my last letter. Shame on me. But, a whole year and month without dad. Shame on God. Yes, I just said that. People can get over it. God can handle it. I’m angry. I want my dad back. I’m stuck in the anger part of the cycle. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I feel like I am trying to stay in denial, but I’m really just stuck in anger. What is there to bargain for? It’s not like God is going to bring him back to me. And I want my dad. I need my dad. I especially need my dad this year. It’s been a hell of a year.
I love getting stuck in anger. I’m like The Incredible Hulk. Anger is where I am comfortable. My kids have started to refer to me as The Hulk when they want me to tone it down. I find this practice a little relieving. It simultaneously gives my weakness permission while calling it to order in a humorous way.
Dad was a hulk, too. I always wanted to be just like him. He’s my hero. Dad’s anger actually scared me many times in my life, but I came to accept it as a necessary flaw to an otherwise perfect man. I guess that’s why I justify my own anger.
Man, I am angry. I hate everyone right now. I am especially angry at God. I’ve tried to give Him my whole life, and look how it has all turned out for me!
Last week, LG and I had the honor of attending a family sculpture therapy session for a friend of LG’s. She was molested by her brother as a kid. Her family swept it under the rug. The secret needed to be kept at all costs. This brother of her molested many of her 10 siblings, and she has never talked to her family about her turn at his hand. She was near the bottom of the pack and violated starting at such a young age that she doesn’t remember a time when she was actually safe. Anyhow, the therapist is trying to work with her to get her anger out. She is suppressing it like the good little Mormon girl that she is. They used me to act as her sister. I was letting my anger fly around like a cornered raccoon, calling the acting pedophile a monster and yelling at LG and the other dramatic mom for being the worst neglectful parents of all time. Our hurting friend couldn’t get anything out but a polite, “I don’t understand.” Our other friend at the session told her that she needed to get to the stage of anger with her past. She needed to go through the stages of grief for her past. I never thought of the stages of grief being applicable to anything but death. It opened up all kinds of emotional possibilities.
I’m good at anger. I will never need any help with that…unless it is to escape it. I need a full-time life staff doctor to cure me. Please, doctor! Do you have a magic pill for my green skin, bulging muscles, and raging scowl?
I guess I like anger because it’s a productive emotion. Unlike shame or sorrow, which feel totally wimpy. I’m all about productivity and being capable. Just like my dad. Get out of my way. I will get it done. Even if I have to plow over your reluctance.
I think that someday on my tombstone, someone might write, “Forever angry.” I’m serious. I’m so close to the dark side that I can feel its embrace. I don’t even want to turn to the light. I just want to disappear into the dark, and talk like Darth Vader for the rest of eternity. I’m going to go kicking and screaming and raging that life was not fair.
Then maybe dad will know how much I need him, and he’ll brave the divide to come and give me a comforting soft therapeutic healing hug. If his black hole and mine combine, maybe we’ll figure out light, instead of running from it with our fists outstretched. Two negatives make a positive, right?
I couldn’t make breakfast last Saturday. I laid in my bed and trembled. My body convulsed as I explained to LG that breakfast was all wrong without my dad. LG told me I never had to make breakfast again. That’s true love right there. That man loves his breakfast.
And when we were prepping the pavilion for Abigail’s wedding, Darolyn showed up. She marched over and declared that Rick would be right there in the middle of all that chaos. And he was. I just couldn’t see him. And I was stuck doing the work of two mighty humans. Mine and his. No wonder I am angry.
I’ve taken two trips to your house since the last time I wrote, so that has to count for something, right? It’s been ten weeks since my last letter. So much for every week. In my defense, it seems like it’s only been one week. My life is so crazy, time beats me to the finish line every day. I sure love you. I love how I feel at your house. I feel like I matter. Like I mean everything. I don’t feel like that at my house. I never feel like that at home. I mostly just feel like everything would fall apart without me, but I never feel like anyone really cares about me. I know it’s not true. I know LG loves me and I know my kids love me, but LG is modest in his communication and sentiment and the kids are…well, kids.
Thanks for making me matter, mom. I need to come to your house every day about dinner time when I am in dire need of a nap. HA! I have been thinking a lot about home lately. Not your home or even my home, but HOME, home. I use my keenest imagination to picture my Heavenly Mother and Father’s family room couch. How far is my room from theirs? What does the kitchen smell like? How do I get one-on-one attention when there are so many others? Is it boisterous like yours and mine? Is it the peaceful perfect quiet that I wish I could command? All I am left with is clouds and gold. That’s it. And light. I don’t know anything else. I can’t even conjure it up from any storybook.
I was thinking about how I love Chocolate Malted Crunch from Thrifty’s. When I eat it, I feel the joy of a long day well-spent with family and friends at the beach. I feel sand in my hair and sun on my nose and shoulders. I want to walk straight to the car and be the first to dib shower number three. My kids think I am so silly with my sentimentality. LG thinks our whole family is a little weird about our attachments, but I think that they are the ones who don’t really get it.
I know without a doubt (well, maybe with just a tiny doubt) that someday I will sit at God’s table and eat something that I can only get in His realm. I will close my eyes and feel all the feels that I love. I will remember all the other times that I sat there eating the same thing and feeling so wonderful. I will wonder how I could ever let it go again. I will want to stay right there forever. And, then God will send me away on another mission, and I will have to wait years to get that taste again. The taste will always be my favorite, and the view from Her window will always feel like clouds and gold. Someday, you and me and dad and everyone else will laugh about how I thought chocolate malted crunch was as good as it would get. We will laugh because we will be glad that we can remember now. Remember it all, including the malted crunch, but laughing at it’s inferiority to whatever it is we get at God’s house. We’ll be glad that the veil is gone. And, then I will take a walk to dad’s dairy and you will consult with the Barsons and make up a batch for Family Home Evening.
I cannot wait for that reunion. I will ponder it the rest of my life. How I miss my daddy. It hurts at every skin cell. I feel like I will never be whole again. I will never be totally happy again. I used to think you were overly emotional when you talked about missing your dad. I get it now. There is a hole. Not just in my heart, but everywhere. There is a hole in my peanut butter jar. There is a hole in my jumper cables. There is a hole in the green frog tape on my garage table. There is a hole in my cedar jewelry box on my dresser. It says Valdez. Dad mailed it from Alaska. There is a hole on my porch where he jimmy-rigged some wood slats to keep my screen door from opening too wide. There is a hole in my dog because dad loved her. There is a hole in the house down the street because I used to walk past while they were building it and smell the sweet scents of construction and think about dad. That hole happened after he was even around. There is a hole in the Pacific Ocean the size of the Pacific Ocean. Because it is dad’s ocean. There’s a hole at Disneyland because he took me there. There is a hole in Abigail’s car because one time dad bought me a new tire when it was flat. There is a hole EVERYWHERE. A hole only he fills, and I need him here to fill it. Not there. Here. So my tears roll down my face as fast as they can trying to make their way to the Pacific. They feel gravity pulling them to fill up the hole. They will never succeed. The hole will remain until I am gone to a place that I no longer have to feel it. A place where he will be.
Oh mom. I hate this. I hate living without him. I know you feel the emptiness thousands more than I do. Thanks for letting me write to you about it. It helps. A little bit. I hope it helps you, too.
This array at your house helped me a lot. Thanks for your lovely storytelling, mom. You always know the most important things to say. Sometimes without saying a word.
The Home I Can’t Remember
The home I can’t remember
seems too far away.
Especially since you beat me back
You always win – touche.
Someday instinct will find me there
You’ll be the first I’ll find.
We’ll deserve our rightful place
on our favorite restful couch.
Yet, we will know it won’t last long.
No one there dares slouch.
Mom is always up there cooking.
Dad is usually off at work.
You and me are now like them.
Never will we shirk.
Yet, before we run off to help,
we eat our favorite treats.
We breathe, we sigh, we reminisce
from our favorite seats.
We won’t miss home down there on earth,
there’s no need to even visit.
This best home of gold and clouds
is the most affectionate.
“Thee world” is a term I just accidentally formed while writing a post over on facebook. I typoed an extra “e” on “the,” and then when I went back to delete it, I realized how much that extra “e” actually worked with what I was saying. You see, “thee” is a scriptural word reserved for when we want to reverently address deity in our prayers. I thought it a fun little play on words when describing the church-world problem of self-preservation that ofttimes shows its ugly face as self-righteousness. Here, you be the judge if it works:
I really wanted to include this in a blog post I am working on this morning, but it’s stuck in the FB interface, so here it is. I will direct my blog post this way. I believe strongly in this message. We all have stuff, and the people who talk about it, make “thee world” a better place by offering hope. The problem is that a lot of people won’t be brave because they are afraid of the backlash. If there is anyone out there who really needs to talk about any hard stuff in a safe place, I am here with judgement-free open arms. I believe that to be the pure gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here is Dan Workman’s original post (as my facebook is private), in case you’d like to watch the video I reference. If you don’t want to take the time right now, your loss. The essentials are that Dan Workman is a recovered heroine addict. He talks about this “perfection syndrome” that we’ve let grow out-of-control within the LDS church. He pleads with Utah to open up and be real because the “white picket fence syndrome” is “killing our kids.”
I would argue that “white picket fence syndrome” is not just happening with us in the LDS church, but that it’s a problem in every social construction out there. Anyhow, Dan’s a little brash (which I personally love about him), but I can see that he might turn off a lot of my “church friends.” I may get backlash from sharing his message here, but I must share it because I think it is so vitally important for everyone to hear. The change has to come from the inside and the only way we can make change happen is to first create awareness. I applaud you, Dan Workman. I hope you know that there are many of us, still inside the church, who are trying to fight the good fight with you. We don’t judge you for leaving, but we do wish you would come back and fight along side of us.
Many times, I fight the fight knowing the result will be my personal social ostracization, yet I still fight because I believe so strongly in the truth of what I speak. I love this meme below by Dwight. It explains me to the core. It takes special people to get past my brashness, but I keep at it because I know that the one person I have to answer to is not any mortal being but my Savior Jesus Christ. He loves people, and if we want to truly love people like he did, we need to first offer a safe space. A safe space cannot exist in a world where everyone can’t allow one weed to grow in their yard! And I can hear the argument now, it’s not like I am out to grow weeds on purpose, people, but weeds happen. People are not perfect. They will never be perfect, so how about we talk about that?
Right now, there is a culture within the church that is “killing our kids,” and “our kids” are really all of us. As Dan made mention to, Utah is #4 in the nation in drug overdoses. I think we need to honestly ask ourselves why so many people are falling into that terrible trap. What are they trying to escape? And why can’t they get help to escape once they realize they are in big trouble? On the uptake, why do so many people love Jeffrey R. Holland? I personally believe the reason that Jeffrey R. Holland is so powerful is because he “gets it.” He talks about his own struggles. He sets an example for the rest of us. However, we need to recognize that it’s a lot easier for Holland to talk about his struggle with depression (which is now generally socially acceptable) than it is for others to talk about their addictions, their marital issues, their apostate children, suicide, eating disorders, etc.
Whenever I am given the chance to speak in church, I always try to include a personal story of triumph over my own issues. It’s so funny because inevitably I get a handful of people that thank me profusely for my honesty, but in general most people seem awkward after I reveal something personal. They don’t know what to do with it. Why? Because it NEVER happens. When I was in the MTC, I was taught to “never reveal past transgressions.” I understand the reasoning behind this, but I wholeheartedly and adamantly disagree with what we’ve created using this harmful socially-constructed rule for decades. The Book of Mormon is replete with PROPHET after PROPHET who have repented. They are the true victors. They are the ones who applied the atonement and moved forward. When we don’t tell our own stories of triumph, we are creating a church for saints, not a church for sinners. Then we wonder why so many people leave the church. Why are so many sinners leaving the church? Because they feel like the only ones who belong there are the saints. How pathetically true this has become.
If only all of us could really be more like Jesus!
2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
I have so much studying to do. It’s my second night at the library this week. I have to read the entire novel Sense and Sensibility before Tuesday. I am just getting set up in a study room for another four consecutive hours of reading. I talked to you on the phone yesterday and told you how on Tuesday night after an 18 hour day I was completely shaky and nauseous and had to quit my studies early at 11:30. I hope to quit tonight by 10, so I can go home and see LG before he falls asleep. That is the the hardest thing about being in school and working. I feel like I never get to see my family, and when I do, I am taking care of so many needs at once it doesn’t feel like quality time. I’m damned if I do, I’m damned if a don’t. I know Abigail gets mad at me for pushing and pushing her to make sure she gets her college done early in life, but I need to stop. She has her own journey, and if it isn’t a priority for her right now, maybe she too will have to do it the hard way at 43, like me.
Enough about me. I just wanted to explain quickly (mostly to LG if he ever reads this & for my future self) that right now I needed to not study for a minute. I was drinking my smoothie and hunkering in, but as I was checking some e-mails, I was drawn to my blog URL in my signature line. I wanted to check how long it has been since my last letter. Remember my original goal of writing every week? Well, I guess that is a monthly goal now. Ha. Welcome to my current life. I am barely surviving. I definitely don’t feel like I can thrive in any area. Home, work, or school. But, I keep plugging along. Nothing is going to stop me. And, tonight my hours of homework are also not going to stop me from writing to my mom.
Every time I sit down to write you a letter, mom, I have to calculate what week it is. How long has it been since dad actually died? What a horrible exercise. I hate it. At the same time, for me, it seems necessary. I don’t want to not keep track of every single day that I have lived without my dad here with me. On August 25th 2016, my life changed forever. I have my days before that. Not enough. And, my days after. Every day is a strange mixture between being too long (as he isn’t here and that is excruciating to rediscover over and over again) and too short (because every day I live is one day closer to my children experiencing the same loss).
So, we are at 23 weeks. If I got pregnant around the time dad died, I would now know the sex of the baby. I would have gone straight to the store to buy something baby blue or pink by now. I would be thinking about names. Instead, all I have is an amputated womb (thank you, hysterectomy) and an only son not named Richard (after dad), like I wanted, but Maximus because it sounded better with Gold, meant the greatest, and wouldn’t be shortened to Rich. Rich Gold. Ha. 23 weeks! Too long. I love my little Max, but every time I look at him I think I should have tried harder to convince LG to name him Richard. It would have been the perfect way to honor dad. Maybe someday, one of my girls will give us a Richard because if/when they get married their last name will be something other than Gold – a horribly comical match for Rich. The thought of having a grandson named Richard is making me all kind of weepy right now. Life really does keep moving forward. And, so many people right now are obsessed with politics. It’s not about Trump. It’s about family. My grandkids will hardly know the name Donald Trump, but they will Richard, and LeGrand, and Maximus.
Butterfinger bites were my hard moment last week. Bella had no idea that they were the treat dad wanted more than anything while lying in his hospital bed when she suggested them to me at The Dollar Tree. Also, Krispy Kreme donuts. I went to get some for my kids as a special treat. I was initially bummed that the “hot” light wasn’t on, but immediately relieved when I thought how sad I would be to not share with dad his favorite.Also, whistling. Someone was whistling. I told LG how I wanted to hear him whistle more. LG has a great whistle. Dad’s was better. I just want to hear dad whistle, right now. Avocados are in danger because of Trump’s tariff. That would not make dad happy. Dad wanted to vote for Trump, but dad would never want his cherished avocados to be messed with. How that man loved avocados! It is like he was half Mexican. Full Mexican if we consider how hard he always worked. If I had two minutes more with dad I would give him an avocado and let him eat it while I hugged him the entire two minutes. Why didn’t I hug him longer before I left that hospital room? I hate that regret. I hugged him good, but no hug is ever good enough to be the last.
I was thinking about our avocado tree in CA. I wonder if it is still there. It was a good little tree. So, was our peach tree and our apricot tree. I was wishing I could go back in time and watch the day(s) that you and dad planted all those trees after buying that house. How I would love to observe that happy time. I can imagine in perfect detail, dad in his twenties with a shovel. He was so strong and capable even in his seventies, but he was a handsome devil in his twenties. No wonder why you guys had so many babies. One of my favorite things were apricots off our very own tree. I used to feel like that tree was just mine, as it was on the north side of the house, and I convinced myself that everyone else forgot it was there. Then, thinking about our fruit trees makes me think also about geraniums and gardenias. You see, you and dad, are inseparable. Just like fruit trees and flowers. You planted them together. You enjoyed them together. Now, your kids reminisce about them without being able to separate the two of you in them. Maybe 100 years down the road your great-grand-kids will be reading about them, straight from this page. I hope they will know what wonderful people you and dad are. I hope they will be convinced of a little house in heaven surrounded by the same exact trees and flowers. I can’t wait to smell the gardenias dad is planting right now. It will be one of the last things I think about before stepping through the veil.
Right now, I will be starting Sense and Sensibility imagining dad after a hard Saturday of yard work. He’s dirty. The entire broad back of his thin cotton button-up is drenched with sweat. He comes into our tiny kitchen with a proud smile from ear to ear. He looks satisfied and content. You are cooking dinner. He comes up behind you and waits for you to turn. He holds out the flaps of his shirt and reveals the source of his pride. 8 or 9 perfectly ripe avocados. As big as softballs. He says, “Sharon, I don’t know what you’re cooking, but whatever it is, can we have avocado with it?” You shorten the distance, ignore the dirt from his shoes on your recently mopped floor, admire the avocados, then you meet his smile. Your smile is as proud as his. You say, “Maybe I should quit cooking and we can just eat those. There is just enough for the whole family. Oh Rick, look what you’ve done. These are the most beautiful avocados I’ve ever seen.” His smile gets bigger. The look on his face reveals the way he feels: all powerful like nothing in the entire universe could grow without his intervention. You reach for the salt and pepper. Mom, I didn’t know it until right this second, but that’s the kind of wife I want to be. I want my husband to beam with pride, just because I state his name and follow it with, “Look what you’ve done.” That’s grace. You gave dad a gift like that every single day. I will try to do better.
At the center of the universe.
There is family on the left that
equals the family on the right.
They go before.
They come behind.
Together, they get the job done.
And make their father proud.
Telling His story is their task.
It’s not the attendees,
but their father,
who was listening,
still very much alive,
that should give pause
at the enormity of task.
We should all want to be
just like him.
The nights might be slumber-less.
What story to tell?
The scaling of buildings?
The flying through skies?
The magic better than duct tape?
The smile of his eyes?
is a man full
of great power
and even greater love.
He will tell us what to say.
Brother one is a leader: faithful and wise.
Brother two: generous and kind.
Sister one: loyal and capable.
Sister two: organized and creative.
Brother three: handy and humble.
Sister three: enduring and strong.
All of them are
JUST LIKE MY DAD.
All, flawed by earth,
seeking the right,
a remarkable force for good.
Our favorite people are
Jolting our hearts
and paralyzing our tongues
is often one pathetic truth
that we dare not say.
No matter how remarkable we are,
It takes all of us
to make one of him.
Dad is a superhero.
A mortal and a God.
When people question Him.
Why doesn’t he alleviate
all the war?
all the suffering?
all the pain?
I think of Superman.
Who always did.
just like Dad,
maybe Superman is busy,
To do His job.
it’s up to
His formative children,
to fill his shoes.
When one child suffers,
his brothers and sisters bury their heads
instead of praying for the strength necessary.
To be just like their dad.
*Dedicated to my dad and my Father: the best Superman who ever lived. And, to the God of the Universe who also calls me His daughter.
Wow, I’m fired from my weekly writing duties. I don’t even want to apologize because it seems so trite. I know you don’t expect an apology anyhow. You, of anyone, have an understating of my time constraints.
I know I already told you this on the phone, but I just think it means something more to read a sentiment in words. I hope you know how much you are the highlight of my life. My conversations with you have become one of my Top 5 life joys. I’m so glad we battled our wills and differences out to get to this point. It is such a powerful place to be in a relationship where there is full honesty, yet no enmity. I hope and pray I can reach this same place of pure acceptance and love in all my relationships. I wish it didn’t have to be such a struggle.
Joy is the word of the month. I already posted on instagram and told you over the phone about my Christmas decorating epiphany, but I want to write it here as well. Please humor me again. For the record. I know you, like me, are a fan of the record. It’s probably ingrained in us to write things because of our lack of memory.
As I was decorating for Christmas, the word joy kept repeating. Over and over again. I started to suspect the universe was trying to send me a message. I then chuckled thinking of dad controlling the universe in his new elevated state. Immediately, I was dumbfounded. If dad was controlling the universe and its messages to me, why in the world was he exaggerating the idea of joy? That seemed so awful. Surely, he couldn’t expect me to be joyful this Christmas. Not when he isn’t around. He couldn’t be joyful either, could he ? Yet, it kept coming. In tree ornaments and on the new wall vinyl. Joy. Joy. Joy. It was shouting at me. I shouted back from the grieving recesses of my heart. NO JOY. NO JOY. Go away. I have no need for you this Christmas. I just want my dad back.
I had already decided that I wasn’t going to unpack my precious Willow Tree Nativity because I was sure Max would destroy it one crushed figurine at a time. But, something kept biting at me. Mom and dad wouldn’t care if it was broke. They don’t care about materialistic things. They wanted that unpacked. They wanted it to be enjoyed. So, I started unpacking. One box at a time. Abigail helped. We marveled again and again at each and every piece, and there was a palpable feeling of reverence as we placed each piece on my beautiful turquoise buffet. The buffet that is also a gift from you and dad. (It’s hard to remember that we all worked on it together just six months ago. Dad wrestled with the shoddy hardware and told me what to do in the future in case he wasn’t around. I thought he would always be around.) I especially love how Mary is cradling Jesus in this set. I pondered in my heart about the baby Jesus and how grateful I was for him and what he grew to do.
I got to the last box and immediately noticed one significant difference from the rest. Each box had my name written on it in black sharpie. With your signature angled cursive, you had labeled my boxes to be differentiated from the 6 identical ones meant for my siblings. But, the last box had my name, yet it wasn’t in your deliberate and feminine scroll, it was written in dad’s boxy and rushed block letters. It was as if he was in the room with me. My eyes welled with tears. “Oh dad, I wish you were here. I don’t want this box with the last remnants of your handwriting. I want your hands. I want your voice. I want you!” I hugged the box to my chest, and the name of the contents on the top of the box slowly focused upward through my tears. One tear dropped on the spacing of the letters. S-O-N-G O-F J-O-Y A-N-G- E-L. The universe whispered. “Hey it’s your dad here. I’m right here. I’m an angel now. And angels only declare one thing. JOY. Glad tidings of great joy.”
I placed the angel among the other figures in her place of honor. Looking down on mortality. I quietly thought about her singing with dad – the glad tidings of great joy. What exactly were those tidings? Why should I be joyful when my dad and I were separated? The answer came powerfully. The joy is that because of Jesus, you will see your dad again. Jesus paved the way. Jesus opened the way. Jesus made it all possible. I alarmed Abigail as a loud weeping escaped my mouth. I sat on the couch. She stared, not knowing what to do. I told her I was okay. I was just thinking about my dad. She’s gotten used to the sudden outbursts. I showed her his handwriting on the box. I told her how he used to write me letters from Alaska and how he always included a smiley face and an X and an O. Max climbed up on the couch beside me. He pointed to our family picture. He was listening to the message from the universe. His chubby finger announced, “Families are forever. Because of Jesus.”
Thank you for teaching me, mom. Thank you, dad, for indulging mom’s wishes to get all of her kids a nice nativity. It was your last Christmas gift to us. And it is everything. Literally everything. You are both so wise. You always had your priorities straight. You weren’t perfect. No one is, but you had perfect perspective. You still do.
I love you, mom. Merry Christmas. I hope you will feel the joy that dad is shouting from the heavens. It rings crystal clear.
I know you can’t watch the video I am including here. It shows dad as he talks to all of us at Erick’s house in 2014. (I’ll show it to you next time I see you.) It was the very last time we were all together. You and dad had just handed out all of our Christmas nativities.
I quote dad: “Most of all, I want to thank you all for staying close to the gospel, and bringing it to a setting like this today. You cannot imagine what it means to grandparents to know that all of our children are close to the gospel. And are being taken care of by Him. I don’t have anything else to say except I love you.” I love you too, dad.