The Honorable Graduate

I used to say that my little brother was a good candidate for the Hitler Youth. He always pestered me about my Mountain Dew habit, and referred to my black sheep-ish status in the family. To many, I am quite, quite conservative, but within my birth family, I am, shall we say, something of a radical. My brother, born fourteen years after me, is an Eagle Scout who probably earned twice as many merit badges as needed and argues sometimes when I mention supporting mothers breastfeeding freely in public because he is the sort who knows that looking at breasts, in however nurturing a capacity, might bring impure thoughts to the mind of the normal eighteen-year-old male that he is.

I have a good friend who has spent most of her life in Utah, and who doesn’t have very fond feelings for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), the church I belong to. I know how (unintentionally, I hope) oblivious we can sometimes be to the feelings and preferences of people who don’t belong to our church, especially in Utah, where many or most people do belong to the church. I think that my friend and I get along well because a) we don’t get to see each other very often, so when we do we have other pressing things to talk about and b) I’ve lived in several places where I was the minority, so I understand how she feels.

But today I want to talk about my little brother, and the two-and-a-half-minute address he gave at his high school graduation last Wednesday. I confess that there were a couple moments when I thought that, if my friend Laura had been there, I would have been worried to see how she was reacting to Ryan’s speech. I might also worry how Dick’s family (who are also not Mormons) would have reacted.

ryan-framed

You see, Ryan talked about God in his Salutatory remarks. His English teachers, who reviewed all the speeches before they were given, told him to take out the references to God, and when my mom reported this heinous attempt at censorship, I was ready to organize a sit-in and a nurse-in (Spot could pretend) and a march on the school campus. But Ryan’s principal read over his speech and said that it was fine. I didn’t even get to tell Ryan to remember that his nieces would be in the audience and to not let them down. (Also that he is all set to attend BYU, like his four siblings before him, and really, what could those power-hungry demagogues do to him?)

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Ryan spoke third, after a nice speech from the Valedictorian and an entertaining piece from his co-Salutatorian (both bright young women). His was pretty standard stuff: remember the lessons of the past, set high end-goals for the future, strive to be happy, and then he quoted from . . . no, not the Book of Mormon, or even the Bible, but from Benjamin Franklin (he also quoted the Scout Oath and Muppet Treasure Island):

I believe in one God, creator of the universe, that he governs by his divine province, that he ought to be worshiped, that the greatest service we can render to him is in doing good to his other children.

and later

That God governs in the Affairs of Men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid?…Our Lives are comparable with the Empire Benjamin Franklin references. He continues, without his concurring Aid, we shall succeed in this political Building no better than the Builders of Babel.

It is often said that terrible things are done in the name of God, and I find myself too often apologizing for being a religious — or “organized religion” — type person. Maybe I don’t apologize verbally, but I wince or wish someone bearing testimony of Christ in a place where I don’t expect that sort of thing — I wish that perhaps they would just do it a little quieter, so that my friends and family who don’t believe as I do won’t think we’re so weird or so fanatical, or so, so irrational as to suppose that there is a Higher Being who concerns Himself with the affairs of the people on this earth and who also at the same time, allows such terrible things to be done in His name.

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And here is what I have concluded, and what I hope Ryan has learned, and will continue to learn and practice and preach as he goes on to college and then to serve a mission for our church in a year.

It is right and good to be bold in the faith, for me to be bold in my faith, to proclaim, yes, this is what I believe, and I am not embarrassed to say that I believe in this faith of my youth, more with every passing year, in fact, even if that marks me as hopelessly unsophisticated. But, it is right also to be humble (even uncertain) about our personal righteousness, our individual right-ness, to be meek, and timid about ourselves, and repentant of our shortcomings and sins. Bold about Christ and retiring about Jane. Putting God first and on our sleeves, and not trumpeting our own accomplishments. Concentrating wholly upon the beams in our own eyes rather than the motes in others’.

I think Ryan is learning this, and I wanted to give him a standing ovation, but that felt a little over the top. If nothing else, the people gathered that day to commemorate graduation knew what Ryan believed. He spoke with such conviction, such earnestness that they would remember devotion to this “divine being” along with honor and integrity as they begin their adult lives. Who can argue, even the greatest of atheists cannot argue, I wager, against worship of a God who decrees that the greatest service we can render is “in doing good to his other children.”

ryan-and-me

I guess I could have figured this out sooner. The first two principles of our religion are faith and repentance. Some are called to call others to repentance. Ryan will be called to do that as a missionary. I hope he remembers to preach faith first, and to never forget his own repentance as he invites others to join him. He will be a wonderful missionary, because he is not afraid, and is not ashamed of Christ.

“And you: friendless, brainless, helpless, hopeless!”

It has long been my goal to raise self-entertaining children. What some see as neglectful-parenting, I hail as “imaginative-exploratory-self-reliance fostering.”

So I don’t really play with my kids. This is, in fact, why I had more than one kid, so that they can play with each other. You won’t find any cute posts here about me running through the sprinklers with them or playing Barbies or suffering through Candyland 500 times (though we do break out Old Maid on Monday nights. Sometimes).

But I am good at reading to them and, more than anything, I like to talk to them.

Today at lunch Susan and Spot were fighting. That is, Spot said Susan was fighting, and Susan rejected Spot’s overtures to introduce their plastic Ikea forks to each other (“Hello, my name is Sparkle Fork, what’s your name?). I suggested they not sit right next to each other at the kitchen island, but for some inexplicable reason, even when Susan expresses utter loathing, Spot prefers to be right next to her big sister.

I asked if they needed time-outs, and Susan said we should send Spot to timeout in Greenland because it’s really cold there. I wondered if she’d learned about Greenland this morning at her last day of preschool, but Susan reminded me of the evenings we spent at Grandma’s house this past winter, when she watched an old vhs copy of The Princess Bride multiple times. I didn’t watch with them, though I did wonder what a four-year-old found so fascinating about Fred Savage. Susan said that Sally watched with her once and explained, during the scene where Vizzini threatens Fezzik, that Greenland is a place where it snows all the time.

Today when I picked Susan up from school, her teacher said that I must be the best mom (oh, ye-deluded-but-don’t-stop-now flatterer) because Susan is always talking about how awesome it is to be the middlest child. Spot may be the littlest and Sally may be the biggest, but Susan is the middlest.

“Congratulations. In the history of this camp, that was the most infamous, the most disgusting, the most revolting display of hooliganism we have ever had.”

My favorite part of The Parent Trap is when the evil step-mother-to-be Vicky asks Hailey Mills and Hailey Mills if they share everything, and they say they do, and then she says “Well you give your sister her half of this,” and then slaps them across the face.

I’d feel bad about liking that scene, but my kids insist they love the part in Bambi where his mother dies and that they don’t think the part in Dumbo where Mrs. Jumbo is in solitary confinement and sticks her trunk out to cuddle her baby is very sad at all, either. Insensitive clods.

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Today we took the kids to the botanical gardens, one of my favorite places. Dick and I have been to botanical gardens all over — DC, Brooklyn, on an island in the Nile near Aswan, Butchart Gardens in Victoria — and the gardens in Utah (Red Butte and Thanksgiving Point) are not an embarrassment to our state. I think public gardens in general are a good sign for civilization. Maybe it’s just that we wish we worked with our hands more, or maybe it’s that a people who will dedicate time, money, and effort to something that is merely ornamental (yet ornamental to all the senses, and the spirit), are not irredeemably consumed with plastic toys and electronic gizmos.

(I don’t categorize the Internet under “unnatural electronic gizmos.” Surely if the Good Lord had wanted us to surf the waters of the great deep instead of the world wide web, He wouldn’t have invented roller skates.)

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Susan scraped her knee on the sidewalk outside the gardens. She wailed and carried on, tensing her body from any casual contact with the offended limb. She demanded a bandaid, which I had none. We showed our pass and made the required bathroom stop and passed out hats, all to the accompaniment of Susan’s wretched cries.

At the top of the hill overlooking the gardens, the crying suddenly ceased. I looked back and saw that Sally had taken the bandaid from her own knee (applied there myself not forty minutes earlier after an unfortunate bicycle incident) and cured Susan’s bleeding knee and bruised feelings.

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It is heaven to spend a couple hours walking among flowers with minimal whining about tired legs and only occasional demands for peanut butter sustenance — and no stroller! Why didn’t we get older kids sooner?

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They’re not that old, of course. Spot’s newly-learned potty-training requires plentiful opportunities to practice, so she and I visited every bathroom in the place. At the third bathroom she showed me a wad of gum: “Look Mommy, I got some gum,” she said, and I recoiled. “You didn’t pick that up off the [gross, dirty, bathroom, cement] floor, did you?”

Oh, no, she assured me: “It was Sally’s.”

girls

When a tantrum (sadly) won’t do

designbyalma

I’ve been working with a (talented, patient, spectacular) designer on my new blog header. Alma is worth every penny she charges, but I was lucky enough to promise Dick’s firstborn child (and some ad space on his blog) for most of the cost.

But poor Dick. He has been my whipping boy for blog-and-all-purpose technical help for a long time. I have gladly turned in my Independent Woman card in exchange for a man who will set up our computers, deal with the “router” and negotiate with those pesky pixels.

Interacting with a professional (almost-stranger), therefore, has been a real eye-opener for me. It has taught me a lot about design principles and styles and how to articulate what appeals to me visually, but most of all, it’s made me reflect on how different it is to deal with someone to whom you cannot offer exotic connubial favors in one breath and berate hysterically for “not getting it” the next. VERY disconcerting. (Also, I’m sorry, Dick. I’ll try to treat you like the professional you are in future.)

I am so pleased with how the banner turned out. My new name, Seagull Fountain, is a reference to the rural town we live in, and also to everyday life in America, sort of a Lake Wobegon thing and a Jane of Green Gables Seagull Fountain thing. (I know, I know L. M. Montgomery was Canadian. I’ve named two of my daughters after her, after all. Just work with me here.)

I tried to buy the domain Groundhog Day when I was ready for a change from What About Mom? I do love Bill Murray, but also, isn’t almost every day of our lives like Groundhog Day? Isn’t every day exactly the same, in the ways that really matter? Don’t we see the same people (or the same sorts of people)? Don’t we make choices about how to act or react, how to focus our energies and our times and our talents? Not on the big days that we give birth or do something heroic that saves a life or the day we discover Duncan Hines bulk brownie mix at the WalMart. But the other days. The going-to-work and taking-care-of-the-kid days are all the same.

I want to change myself, improve gradually, just as Bill Murray does in Groundhog Day, without needing the slap in the face of a cosmic wakeup call.

Anyway, Seagull Fountain is a small town, my blog is a small blog. My life is a small life, and I love every bit of it. Somedays I wish I could do something bigger, make a larger impact somewhere, do something about the women and girls in Africa who suffer so incomprehensibly. I hope to someday. For now I am called to spend most of my time and energy and care and thought on the four people I live with, and see every day. People who don’t change much from day to day, small challenges and triumphs that vary little but are no less amazing when viewed with love and humility.

Geez.  Getting a bit maudlin in here.

Where was I? Oh. The blog and related identity crises/name changes. I enjoy blogging because it adds to my life, especially to my relationship with Dick. He makes me feel that I, and my hopes/dreams/outlandish ideas are important, and interesting. This is all very self-centered and me-ish, but isn’t feeling important, and interesting, and necessary, just about the best thing a life-partner can give you?

Last night I was on a panel about Women in Social Media at the Social Media Club of Salt Lake City. It was fun, not least because I got a babysitter for the kids.

dick-and-jane-at-mannheim-event

Wow, my teeth are pretty white! And my neck, is, uh, pretty fleshy!

Dick said he was worried about me as the introductions were made and as the first three panelists gave their spiels. Each of them had such impressive resumes and honors, he said. What would I say? (Thanks, Dick {shrugs wryly}). Luckily I blog, and attend events and twitter and meet new people and talk blogging because I enjoy it. I am blessed (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) to not have much of an agenda when it comes to these things. I mostly find it all horribly intriguing and fun. And Dick does too, so then we have even more to talk about on date night.

(And I recently read Penelope Trunk’s great post about introducing yourself by telling stories, so my slim resume wasn’t too much of a handicap.)

Of course, the best part of blogging, no matter what your name or schtick is, is meeting people around the world. Like Kirsty from Australia. You can get a sense of who she is and why I think she’s fabulous (and revel in that accent!) by listening to Dick’s podcast with her.

So that’s it, basically. Love what you do and do what you love, or something.

And if you’d like to display one of my gorgeous new buttons, please do.

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<a href=”http://www.seagullfountain.com/”><img src=”http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3554/3553932419_855a875c90_o.png”></a&gt;

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<a href=”http://www.seagullfountain.com/”><img src=”http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3643/3553926315_96e7db3616_o.png”></a&gt;

We are NOT calling them Calvin and Luke

Since good leadership is all about delegation, Dick is in charge of putting the kids to bed. But Dick is a little bit soft-hearted (not to be confused with soft-headed, though they’re not exactly mutually exclusive, are they?). Which means he doesn’t enforce vegetables before dessert, and that he has always been morally opposed to locking the kids in their rooms. What if there’s a fire, he asks? What if they suffer irrepairable psychological harm from being locked in a (well-lit) (filled-with-books-and-toys) bedroom?

I don’t know Dick. What if their frustrated mother snaps the fifth time she hears “But I’m hungry” and starts pulling out toenails with a pair of rusty pliers?

Of course, being soft-hearted is not the worst quality in a man with three daughters. However, besides being a fine father, a delectable lover, my best friend, and something of a minor blogebrity in his technical writing niche, Dick is also a contender for the title of Mr. … Oblivious. I know, ladies. Your husband is probably a contender too. What man isn’t?

But let me tell you why Dick is in the finals this week.

On Sunday night I was whipped. I spoke in church that morning (post in the hopper, about ten down), and was tired and just not feeling very well (not pregnant, not yet). Dick put the kids down and was working on the computer upstairs in the loft outside their rooms while I read a book on the couch downstairs, and moaned occasionally.

We have always been very serious about bedtime and naptime, and our children know this. But whenever a new milestone hits, it seems we go through a couple weeks of reminding them just how serious we really are. Last week Spot learned how to climb out of her crib — at two and a half, she was the youngest to ever learn this most alarming skill. Before this, Susan had no incentive to leave her (well-lit) (filled-with-books-and-toys) bedroom because the only other free person, Sally, was invariably buried in a Trixie Belden book and completely uninterested in playing toys.

Spot, though. Ahh, Spot. She and Susan cannot get enough of each other during the day, what with the playing for twelve hours straight and the nonsensical screaming and the loving each other one minute and wanting to steal each other’s boyfriend on purpose the next. When I have discovered them playing together in Susan’s room after she has goaded Spot into escaping her crib, the wailing as I tear Spot from the bosom of her loving sister languishing from the consumption would make Louisa May Alcott swoon.

So on Sunday night, I yelled up a few times, helpfully, that Dick should lock the girls in their rooms. He declined. They all fell asleep eventually, and so did Dick. I dragged myself upstairs and stopped short at the sight of several brown curls lying on the floor of the master bathroom. And were those … straight blondish-red strands on the tiles?

Yes, yes they were — not to be confused, of course, with the short brown clippings in the sink from my latest go at my do-it-yourself ‘do. Just as a reminder, here is how my girls looked before the Great Hair Butchering of ’09:

pre-haircut1

A great abundance of hair does not run in our family. We have been growing out Spot’s bangs for a year now, and she and Susan are both blessed to have much more hair than Sally did at those ages. Susan’s even has some body for Medusa’s sake. But while we may never look this good, things could always be worse. Right?

Right:

spot-haircut

Susan says that Spot just kept cutting more and more and more. “She doesn’t want to grow her bangs out anymore, Mommy,” says Susan. And Susan, who the day before chose to grow her bangs out (meaning she has to wear pigtails for a year) over getting them cut again, chose to grow them out, so she merely cut the side of her hair:

susan-haircut

The moral of the story is, of course: Never trust a Sicilian when death is on the line. Also, lock up your scissors, lock up your wife, lock up your daughters and run for your life.

I trimmed their hair up a bit, but maybe I should’ve just left it long with the bald patches:

spot-hair-final

It’s amazing how little kids can get a horse’s butt of a haircut and still be criminally adorable. I’d have to shave Spot’s hair with a number 2 guard to get it even. I might still do that. Because I am the m-0-m.

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Susan has a pixie face and didn’t scalp herself, so she’s still cute. Just more pixie-ish, and her scar is visible, but I think that lends an air of mystery, don’t you?

I didn’t, because I couldn’t, get mad at the girls. Besides the fact that a bad hair month (or five) doesn’t compete with real tragedy, I have shaved my own head once or twice, and not at the innocent age of two-and-a-half or four-and-a-half.

I was too mean to Dick about this. I’m sorry, Dick. (I’m glad you’ve come around on the locking-them-in-their-bedrooms issue.)

As much as I love Susan and Spot’s basic innocence, I love when my daughters conspire together. I hope they never think of sneaking out together to borrow the car, because it might be hard to work up the necessary ire, so long as they are intending to go somewhere together. I also love that they are completely oblivious to any alteration in their looks. They think they are still beautiful, and they spend no time in front of the mirror. How do they know they’re still beautiful if they don’t spend any time in front of the mirror?

Finally, I cannot get mad at Spot for anything right now, because she is potty-trained. Here is what I know about potty-training after three kids: A) Wait till the kid is ready and excited about it. B) Find out what they want and give it to them as a reward. C) Go overboard on the praise; skip the criticism. For Spot it took princess panties and gumballs.

And sisters who are as maniacally enthusiastic about her new trick as I am:

big-girl-panties

Even if they did use MILK chocolate

Last Sunday I stayed home from church with a pink-eyed and minor-ear-infectioned Susan. It was no hardship to abstain from my least-favorite service of the year, though Dick reported that our congregation’s appointed Mother-praisers did an above-average job. (I know I should say I missed hearing the kids sing Mother Dear I love You So, and if I had heard them I would have cried, but the truth is I didn’t miss it.)

Brother W. called me after church to ask me to speak next week. He first asked how my Mother’s Day was going, and I said, “Fine. About as well as can be expected.” And he said, “Oh of course, you’ve got some sick kids at home. How are they feeling?”

Now here’s where I would normally enlighten this poor, clueless male as to the complexity of my disdain for the Mother’s Day holiday, which starts with things as petty as a husband who is so righteously helpful to unload the dishwasher for once but ignores the stacks of pots in the sink and the clothes on the floor, and ends with the nagging feeling that, short of undergoing a personality transplant, I’ll never be exactly the sort of mother I want to be to my kids.

And in the middle is this great example of why Mother’s Day never quite works: My good friend Chrysanthemum had a rare date night planned with her husband the Saturday before Mother’s Day. She had arranged for a babysitter, and the date was simple: ice cream and a walk SANS KIDS. Then her husband was called to go help with the strawberry-chocolate dipping for the mothers’ gifts at church the next day. So instead of a date night with her husband SANS KIDS, she got to stay home and put the kids to bed by herself (a chore her husband normally does himself to give his wife her one break from the kids all day).

Now of course, the one redeeming part of that story is that Chrysanthemum is blessed to have a husband so faithful to the Lord that he would give up his Saturday night to do the service that the church asked of him, a service that was well-intentioned by all involved to show appreciation for mothers.

Still. You see why Mother’s Day is a bit fraught.

But, Gentle Reader, fear not. Before I opened my stupid mouth and explained all that, I remembered that Brother W. and his lovely, lovely wife adopted their first baby several months ago after years of waiting for a child, and I bet you —

I bet you all-the-potty-training-progress-that-Spot-has-made —

that she doesn’t hate Mother’s Day.

“If you got your point across so well, how come you only got 6 comments?”

Sometimes I absolutely hate writing, and at times like that I wonder why on earth I bother, because it’s not like the world needs another maybe-sometime-aspiring writer. H-E-Double-Dandelions NO, we do not need one more person saying “If only I had time, I’d love to write.”

Dick didn’t like my Rory post, the post that gave me FITS. He said I didn’t make the epiphany part clear enough or engaging enough, and he hated the first paragraph and I should’ve included examples from the Reviving Ophelia book of what truly bad bullying looks like because to him the stuff I said Rory did sounded plenty bad.

So here was my point:

For years Rory was THE Bad Guy in my mind. Whenever I thought about boys teasing girls, or church youth activities, or riding the bus, or walking the halls of my high school in my bathrobe after swim class, or Survival, or juvenile espionage, or Sally entering junior high school, or about driving past the K. home on my way to see my parents, I always thought about Rory and what a terrible, awful, no good, very bad kid he was.

He was THE PITS.

Then Sally got punched in the face, and I stupidly provoked my middle school mean girls on Facebook, and my mom and my good friend from that same middle school recommended the book that gave me an incredible epiphany.

Which epiphany was this: Rory was actually not quite as terrible as I thought. In fact, compared to the book’s description of sexual harassment, the grabbing of breasts and pressure for meaningless sexual encounters and physical objectification and demeaning of mental aptitude and basically treating of young women as stupid, shopping-consumed, fluffy, inane, valueless sexual kleenex —

COMPARED TO THAT?

Rory was . . . someone I almost wish I had gotten to know when we were young.

Oh, fine, I’ll say it:

COMPARED TO THAT?

Rory was a nice boy.

And you might think, well, things have changed: that book is probably describing what goes on in schools today, so of course Rory’s hyper-juvenile pranks would look endearing and Wally-from-Leave-it-to-Beaver nostalgic.

But that book was published in 1995, the year we graduated from high school. Now, I know that not everyone experiences the sexual harassment-type bullying. I didn’t, not really. And trying to avoid it is one of the reasons we moved to a small town in Utah for our daughters to grow up in. I expect that if there are problems at school or church, I will know the parents of the kids causing problems, and I will have some say in how things are handled. (Oh, will I HAVE SOME SAY.)

Mostly, though, the point is that I would love for the neighbor boys to toilet-paper our house when my daughter is thirteen, and for the sex talk she hears when she is seventeen to be about NOT HAVING SEX ON YOUR WEDDING NIGHT BUT JUST HOLDING EACH OTHER INSTEAD.

What mother wouldn’t want that for her daughter?