Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Claire's Baby Blessing Day

We blessed Claire on July 14. We were lucky to have Grandpa Joe, my dad, Uncle Matt and Uncle Mark there to participate.

We were lucky to catch a shot of almost the whole group after church was over.

Claire's blessing dress was a subject that weighed heavily upon my mind for a couple of months. I really wanted to get her an old-fashioned blessing gown with a bonnet, but the ones I loved were way way too expensive, even for my tastes in baby girl fashion. I then decided to go with a gorgeous pink and grey dress I found on sale. But in the end, Brigham assured me that classic white was the best, and that this dress, though purchased at a thrift store before she was born, would be very nice. I somewhat regret that I didn't find an old fashioned gown, but on the spectrum of regrets it is a fairly forgivable one. She looked beautiful.

When Andrew was blessed 7 years ago, Grandpa Joe waltzed around my parents' house looking into every available mirror with Andrew and I have a few cute, funny little shots of them doing this. I thought I ought to catch him at it with Claire, too.
Claire really looks a lot like Andrew did. I especially see it in photographs.
We had everyone over to dinner at our house afterwards, where we ate peach cobbler, cafe rio chicken and fixings and summer vegetable soup. I did everything the night before so it was stress free.
In baby blessing past, Brigham has consulted me about what I wanted him to say. I used to joke that we needed to arrange a live feed from my mouth to his ear. Of course, he really just went with what he felt impressed to say when he was giving the blessing (like that they would be star athletes and wealthy businessmen). I love him especially when he blesses our babies because he is so earnest and thoughtful about it, and it is one of the few occasions on which he gets somewhat emotional. Claire, your blessing was beautiful and your daddy was concerned he wasn't going to make it through without crying. Don't worry, he held it in until he sat down on the pew, still holding you. We love you and I promise I will get the blessing I transcribed out of the kids' notepad in the church bag and record it for you in a more permanent way. Love, Mom

Monday, July 29, 2013

So what was the deal with the Skittles then?

I can be clueless. Sometimes I need people to just give it to me straight: you are acting inappropriately, weirdo! I wish that someone had been around whatever day it was in the early 80s when I decided on Jo from Facts of Life to be my role model. They could have even advised, "Just go with Tootie" and that might have been enough. Really. That one message, clearly delivered, could have altered the course of my life.
My previous TMI post about my high conflict relationships gets an update. It turns out that being polite really is a good way to live. I feel great and I have found very little conflict exists at this point. Which means that I think I was probably the real source of all of that, so good thing I figured that out!

Sorry world and all the people in it who have interacted with me a lot! Can we start over? I am going to be nice this time!

The lesson in church today was about coming unto Jesus. I missed half of it because I stayed home with napping Claire and made bread. But it is a subject I have been thinking about a lot, and I even had a nice conversation with the boys about it, sort of, today. It started out with Andrew making a fuss over wearing a tie and for some reason I thought it might be helpful to tell him about the angel of death passing over the doors of the homes with lamb's blood on the frame and the deaths of the first born sons of those homes without the blood. I think I was going to pretend that ties were the modern equivalent of blood on the door. But before I could get to that tie-in, the conversation took off.

The boys were very interested and we talked about how God used strange, symbolic things like that (and Abraham and Isaac) to emphasize to the people that Jesus was His Son, that He would die for us and that this sacrifice was a very painful, difficult one for Heavenly Father. We got into the sheep and the goats, and the way to be a sheep is to essentially just be kind to people. Will wanted to know if a goat could turn into a sheep. I loved the entire conversation and was glad it proceeded away from my original intention of teasing Andrew.

Anyway, during the lesson the teacher asked if anyone had an experience with service that brought them closer to Christ. I didn't want to share this there but I will record it here.

Before my dad got sick, I was not super enthusiastic about our ward. I missed my old stake and all the many families in it with kids our kids' ages. But I am now so grateful to be back in the ward in which I grew up. The support we have received in the last few months has been overwhelming. We have had a few mornings or evenings gathering in small groups of old friends, and while we initiated these events in order to cheer my parents and help people more comfortably visit with my dad, they have turned into something more, at least for me. The love that I feel from these people is very moving.
It sounds dramatic to say, but the way people from so many areas of our lives have reached out has changed the way I view really fundamental things, like the importance of friendship and the small things we can do to lift the people around us. I have learned even more about my dad as these people come forward with their stories of him: cards he wrote (for every single member of the ward, kids included, on their birthdays--and these were often very thoughtful), support he gave to people struggling, one-on-one Sunday School sessions he had every Sunday with a young man he was trying to help stay in the church. And these people who have known me my whole life (embarrassingly) and whom I have somewhat taken for granted, these people love my parents and they love us, too, despite how well they know us. We sat in the living room of one wonderful family hosting a gathering for my dad and the uncritical, genuine love in the room just washed over me. This sense of community, of shared pain and joy, how could I have so long basically ignored it all? I feel like my friend's little boy who thought his Sunday School lesson was about Skittles. Or like myself when I was studying for my Civil Procedure exam using a commercial outline when it hit me: this class is about how to file an action in civil court! I have been exposed to all the right, essential messages and I have somehow succeeded in not comprehending the point at all.

I think I have found my way out of the Gospel forest, where I get lost amongst all the doctrinal trees. And it is to Just Love. Studying the scriptures, prayer, church attendance, tithing--these are all ways to get there, or things you do when are are there, but without love it really is just a tinkling cymbal, meaningless. All the things we do and say and become have no value to us if we don't feel love for other people. Kind of makes you want to re-do your whole life. Bear with me while I rediscover the Gospel wheel on the Atonement.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A little memory, for your memory

Even though I feel like I remember my entire life in one long stream of experiences, I realized that I have also selected, randomly(?), a few sharp, short gestalts that stand in for years of my life. This happens every time I go to the library and take a certain pathway to the wooded park behind it.

I took the kids there on Thursday to meet Dad, Mom, Katie, Jessie and her kids. Dogs were also involved. This is the library I have visited since I first ever was brought to a library and I have thousands of experiences there. The library was the next stop every Saturday morning with Dad after hauling our trash to the dump at Cooper Middle School. After we got books, we headed back to the park, by way of a trail through the woods that used to seem so much longer. I remember Dad enjoying our terror as he gradually increased the gyrations on that springed square platform thing he would try to knock us off of. I remember coming here when we first moved back from Utah, pre-ambulatory Andrew crawling all over the jungle gym while my dad and I threw balls to Charlie (I miss that dog still). My instinct then was to assist Andrew; my dad assured me it would be better to let him learn on his own, to my cheering. A thousand memories in between, and since. After all, this became our library again 2 1/2 years ago.

But for some reason every time I take the path from the basketball courts (where the ghost of Carter Swift will always be playing pick up, since I saw him doing that one apparently very impressive day in the early 90s), walking between the chess table and the tennis courts, I am always back to the August day in 1995 when I was reading Margaret Atwood short story book (The Martian is the story that pops unfailingly into mind). Why that memory out of the thousands? I cannot fathom. But there it is, even Thursday almost 20 years and a whole new life later.

None of this is very interesting or remarkable, but I wanted to record it anyway because it teaches me something important about life in general and raising kids. While I do think our minds tend to latch on to the happy memories and bury the more unworthy ones, it is also true that some of these random ones will be the one illustration we have for a place or a period of time. We don't know which they will be. Already I have been surprised at some of the things that have impressed into my kids' little memories. I want their lives to be so flooded with an ordinary happiness that the random snapshots in their minds will tend to be sweet.

So in case you boys happen to remember anything about this day, or in case you don't remember it at all apart from the hundreds of other trips to that park, let me include some details to sharpen the memory's relief: Andrew ran ahead of us all and was on the jungle gym before I got past 17 year old Carter Swift. After Will and Porter split the hot dog I had wrapped in tin foil, everyone was in the trench. Nana and Papa showed up with Emma, Katie and her dog. Papa sat on the seat of his walker and watched you guys. There was a huge spider web stretched in the sun over the tree roots at the top of the trench; we noticed how many catches it had made. Will had to leave early for camp, and when I returned with McDonalds drive through, Nana and Papa had gone and everyone else had taken the trench out to the creek. Porter was half naked, having thrown his shorts into the creek and buried his underwear, logically, in the sand. You ate cheeseburgers in their wrappers since I thought I didn't have hand sanitizer (I did).

You looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting as you threw rocks and used the McDonalds cup to dredge for tadpoles and polywogs. The weather was 72 degrees and sunny. You probably won't remember it was summer because it was so perfect. Porter never really repented of his naughtiness but Andrew, you felt bad because Porter had been acting on your orders. The mosquitos became too much and we went inside the library for books. Andrew, you have been listening to The Lightning Thief for hours on end in your room ever since. When we went to Nana and Papa's later that day, you sat and read Judy Moody almost straight through. Porter, you had to wear a size 3 diaper to go inside the library. You rode there on your scooter. We got frozen yogurt after we left on our way to get Will, whom you were forbidden to tell. Claire, you were perfect the whole time.

It was just a few hours. I hope you remember.

Monday, July 08, 2013


There are many Sundays when I end up spending the Church hours in the mothers' lounge, listening to the single's ward sacrament meeting, from which there is much to be learned, actually. But I was really grateful yesterday that I made it to Relief Society, because the lesson was one I really needed to hear. It was based, really, on a recent New York Times article about how family lore binds us together, making us feel part of something larger than ourselves, a very important element in children's resilience, confidence and emotional development.

I have for several years been trying to create traditions in our little family. I have learned two lessons on achieving this:

1) Be your real self. Sometimes we try to get ourselves to enjoy things that really don't come naturally to us. We might wish we loved museums more than the movies, for ex, or whatever. There are a lot of traditions I would love to instill in my family that we probably are just not ready for right now. The best traditions stick when they come easily and naturally. Therefore, I give you the Cannon Family Traditions as of 2013:

a) Saturday Boys' Breakfast: Brigham began this before Porter was born to allow me to sleep in on the weekend. Every Saturday morning he packs up all the kids and takes them to McDonalds. They love it. I am sometimes invited. I am not sure how Claire will reconfigure this (maybe it will turn into Kids Breakfast), but we have about a year before that gets sorted.

b) Friday Night Movie Night: For years now I order or bake a Pizza, which the kids eat while they watch a movie. This was an easy way to make Fridays special, and we never miss. We have been able to incorporate nice family time with my dad on Friday nights now, too.

c) Big Family Beach Trip to Topsail Island: rent a house with my parents and all my sisters and kids. Walks on the beach with glow sticks, trips to the pier to spot sharks, the 50s style diner. It has its own traditions, too. It is time to start up playing cards, now that many of them are old enough to learn Hearts.

d) Songs and Rubs: at bedtime, after stories in Andrew's room, we sing from the same basic rotation of songs while we rub their feet, backs or heads. Will sings along. Originally we sang Amazing Grace and As I Have Loved You to Andrew. Right now Will requests hymns in Polish or Spanish--Onward Christian Soldiers, High On A Mountaintop, Armies of Helaman, The Baptism Song--Rainbows, I See My Mother Kneeling. He also likes the Marine Corps Hymn. A couple of years ago he like Octapus' Garden. Porter right now requests a scary story, which he dictates to you--usually about "ghost-es" vampires zombies or werewolves. He has nightmares about "Foxes."

2) Sometimes you have to make an effort. I know this is contradictory to the first rule, in a way, because some things are a pain but are worth it. I suppose it is not entirely contradictory, though, since they ought to still be things that people honestly enjoy and not things that you force yourself to pretend to like.

a) Annual Halloween Party: We have only done this twice and we missed in 2012 because of Will's rehab program, but this is a really fun one even though it is more work that the other two. We set up the moonbounce in the back yard, I prepare cupcakes for kids to decorate in Halloween style, we provide mummified hot-dogs and the kids make invitations. Kids come costumed and we have a fun little Friday afternoon. We will do it again this year for sure.

b) Botanical Gardens Classes for kids: Ever since Andrew was old enough, I have made sure to each year have one kids enrolled in a month-long, weekly-meeting, class at the BG. It is a pain to get to and park, esp with younger siblings in tow, but I am always glad I did it, and especially so now that we have been doing it for years. I feel like it will always be a part of their childhoods. My dad used to come with me, and even came this last spring when I took Porter and Will. He could no longer participate like he used to, but he wrote to me on our last day that he used to come here on his lunch break (he worked right next door in the capitol building) and relax and read. He had never told me that before and it adds another dimension of meaning for me to that place.

c) Christmas in Washington: On the Saturday before Christmas, we spend the entire day enjoying DC holiday festivities, starting with the Childrens Nativity Play at the National Cathedral and including the trains exhibit (Botanical Gardens) and the national Christmas Tree.

d) Mom-Kid Date Night: On Tuesdays, I have started rotating btwn Andrew and Will for a weekly date night. I have only just barely started this (tomorrow will be Will's first) but even though I have to arrange for a babysitter, I think I will always be so glad I did this with the kids. I have found it so hard to give them individual attention, but if I can institutionalize it and formalize it, at least they will *think* they are getting lots of special attention, and I am convinced that what they perceive to be true is way more important to their psyches than what actually is true.

I read a wonderful book about training kids to in chores called The Parenting Breakthrough, written by an LDS woman, which I found extremely inspiring and useful, but at the end she cautions that the most important thing to do is Family Home Evening, and that for all the value of her chore system, if you aren't doing FHE, you ought to simply put your efforts there instead. I think she is right, and while Brigham is simply never home in time to hold it regularly, we have decided to do it on Sundays instead. Not ideal for a few reasons, but better than never.

I want to make sure my kids have a sense of their history and a sense of belonging to a really cool and fun group (our family, both immediate and extended) so that whatever comes their way in the form of social rejection or athletic failure or academic struggles--all of which come to us all, typically--they can feel buoyed up by that sense of belonging, that sense of perspective. The article talks about how this can come also by simply telling stories about ourselves, so that is what we did yesterday, both in our home and then with my more extended family when we went to my parents' house.

I don't have many regrets when it comes to my relationship with my dad. I really don't think you get much better than what we had, and my children, too--they saw him at least 5 times a week, and spent real quality time with him. Many people just get a few visits a year. But I do regret that I didn't get more of his stories. When we shared stories yesterday (prompted by the Friend magazine suggested questions), I wished I could have heard my dad's answers. I know many stories, but there is always something more. And I ought to write them down before they slip away.

I would love to hear other people's traditions to incorporate!

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Meeting Myself Half Way, or My Own Law of Moses, because I am not yet ready for the higher law of Christ

Lately I have been waking up with headaches after a long night of dreams in which I am fighting, sometimes physically, with another person. I was experiencing entirely too much conflict during my days and it was spilling over into my nights, as well. I woke up basically as exhausted, emotionally, at least, as I had felt going to bed.

I tried to do something about this. I began reading more Church talks, listening to podcasts about charity. I began really focusing on my goal to just love the people around me. The only problem was that, when it came to my high-conflict, high-tension circle of loved ones (and I designate them as such not because they are high tension or high conflict, but our relationships were) I just couldn't succeed. Charity was a bridge too far. It was setting the bar hopelessly high and inviting failure.

The other day I was thinking about a wonderful family I knew growing up who treated one another with an abundance of politeness. Not to give too much of in insight into my dysfunction, but as the stupid, surly teen that I was, I looked down on this as inauthentic and even a bit cold. How could they be close when they tiptoed around each other? What I had mistaken as cold politeness, of course, was really a healthy and appropriate respectfulness of one another. (My inability (perhaps disability?) to see this explains far too much.) I decided to try it. I could not have the pure love of Christ for my high conflict circle, particularly when the conflict was turned on, but I could meet myself half way. I could be polite. I had to be.

It has only been a few days. I ordinarily would not write about this, but my high conflict people do not read my blog and I also want to hold myself accountable to continue with my Miss Manners routine. My first day of it was successful beyond my wildest imaginings.

Provoker: "I am not only totally ungrateful for your efforts at this moment, but I am going to storm around you angrily and criticize you in small, annoying ways. I hope we can fight."

Me: "I am pretending you are the lady next door, whom I really like, and you are having a terrible day. It would be really awkward to call you out so I am going to ignore you."

Provoker: "I would like you to feel that you are unwelcome and I think your kids are the worst. Scream."

Me: "In fairness, I might not like my kids if I were not their mom, either. We'll work on it. But again, since you are the neighbor lady and I know you are otherwise a really nice person, I am going to politely apologize and continue to help you."

Provoker: "You aren't doing it right and I want you to leave. Or tell me you hate me."

Me: "Awkward. I better not saying anything and hope this stops."

Provoker: "Thank you."

Me: It feels good not to feel bad. Let's talk about the weather. "Sure is rainy!"

My first realization upon successfully staving off conflict was that I played a major role in the fights. I may have felt provoked, but I certainly fed a fire that otherwise would have died out. I couldn't take refuge in blaming the other person for conflict that could only exist with my participation. And second, I began to have genuinely positive and empathetic feelings for my most high conflict person. It was startling. Brigham witnessed the interaction and praised my efforts to avert a fight, so that felt nice, too, since he is the epitome of a nice, normal, likeable person. I trust his instincts and reactions. How did I end up with someone so healthy?! Thank you, Heavenly Father!

Some people turn the other cheek, or walk two miles when constrained to walk one. I am not ready for that. But if the pleasant feelings I experienced while treating my loved ones like I barely knew them but would have to interact with them socially on a regular basis and in public is any indication, this whole charity thing must be mind blowing and soul expanding. Hopefully I will find out some day. I plan to inch my way to there by way of Emily Post.