Paternity day! (Our first ever)

In December Qualtrics announced that it would give ten days of paternity leave! This is a huge deal because almost all of the sales people and engineers are men, and most of them (at least in the Provo office) are LDS men. Generally speaking, these LDS men are doing their gosh darn best to “multiply and replenish the earth.”

The introduction of paternity leave might potentially devastate the Qualtrics work force.

As recipients, we are grateful from the bottom of our hearts. Thank you, Ryan Smith. You are our hero!

Until now, our family has never gotten paternity leave, ever. For the first two kids Abe was still at Guardsmark and on the phone taking work calls while I was in active labor. (Births also recall to mind our wedding day, upon which Abe was in charge of a long-distance security special and obligated to answer every phone call, no matter what time of day–or night. [Posterity, your inference is almost surely correct.])

After Ammon was born, Abe was at Qualtrics but had almost run out of personal days because we had had so many family funerals that year. As soon as he went back to work, (thank goodness Ammon was born right before a weekend!) I was left alone to figure out how to handle three kids and lice round #3. Oh, and he had to take a work trip about week or so later. The current tone here is one of my faves: Me, the Martyr. I love it so much and will miss it when therapy starts doing its job.

In contrast: My brother gets so much time off that he, Swathi, Soren and Meera are literally spending months traveling through Europe and Asia  before they return to work. The fact that I am not beside myself with envy is a testament to my undying love for them and their darling children.

SO: Four months after Clarissa was born, paternity leave was announced!!! Abe gets TWO pro-rated days of paternity leave that expire at the end of this month. Since he is going on a work trip for almost all of next week, he is taking those two days this week.

So far, it has been heaven. There are almost no words. I can’t even. It has been, just…

GLORIOUS.

Such an improvement on the whole “by the sweat of man’s brow” thing. Can’t we be done with that by now?? It’s 2018. Yes, it surely is!

One heavenly moment from Tuesday: Abe and Ammon playing contentedly before nap time. Clarissa was asleep, the girls were at school, and we could all just relax and be a family of three (so cute!) playing pretend for the better part of an hour. As you can see from the pictures and observe in the video, this game of pretend was largely parent driven. Ammon watched in wonderment as his toys reached new heights of imaginative potential.

In the evening Abe had to go to a work dinner, but before then we got the kids fed, ready for bed, and the house COMPLETELY clean. I mean, the floors were even mopped. It was amazing. I had a great evening at home and was thrilled when Abe came back with tales of his evening adventure. We were in bed by 9:30 and ready for Insanity by 5am the next morning.

It was a great day.

President’s Day

Abe had the day off for President’s Day. We have been planning this day for a while, and we started off our dream day by watching the Olympics together. We haven’t watched the Olympics at all this year, mostly because we don’t get TV. We had to sign up for Cable and made immediate plans to cancel the minute the Olympics are over.

After we watched the Olympics, Abe got to live his dream and build a snow fort with the kids. Clarissa and I watched from inside. I didn’t get a picture, but they had a ton of fun. The neighbor kids came running and they all had an intense snowball fight. Abe won. (He kind of felt like Kramer from Seinfeld, beating all of the five year olds in karate.)

Then the kids came in for hot cocoa.

After hot cocoa, we rested while Naia and the girls played together.  Ammon also “baked” some cookies with the leftover linzer dough I made for Valentine’s day.

Before we went to bed, Abe and I watched the Olympics ice dancing competition. I asked him if we can be ice dancers in the next life. It is such an amazing sport.

 

RS lesson on spiritual eclipse

On Friday I was in the middle of a completely different activity when the Relief Society lesson came to me in a flood. This doesn’t happen often to me, but it was a very real experience, and by the way the lesson went, I felt assured that God had given me the lesson plan as a gift.

As part of the lesson, I made a worksheet for the talk, “Spiritual Eclipse”. I then completed it myself to see if it was helpful. It was helpful for me. I didn’t share almost any of my own answers in the lesson because I was learning from all of the wise sisters in the room. But I’m posting my answers here for the sake of family history.

How do you feel the “sun” of the gospel in your life? Is it a feeling (e.g. hope, faith, peace) that you carry with you through the day? Is it an ability to remain calm? Is it an enhanced capacity to love? Can you give a specific example of how you felt the gospel sunshine recently?

  • For me the “sun” of the gospel is feeling calm and reassured that God loves me, that He AND She are nearby, and that they will help me with my problems.
  • I feel the sun when I honestly engage with the scriptures and receive insight into the nature of God.
  • It’s also an ability to extend grace and forgiveness to others, even when I feel misunderstood—or even worse, when someone has understood me all too well!!
  • I feel the sun in my life when damaged relationships are repaired.
  • I feel the sun in my life when I go to the temple and feel the love of God there.
  • THIS WEEK: I felt the sun in my life this week when Julie came and stayed with me for a couple of days and we got to lovingly reconnect through a couple late night, marathon conversations. I felt the sun when I had a play date and talked for a couple non stop hours with Heather Anderson. I felt the sun when my visiting teacher and neighbor, Laurie Moran, talked with me on the sidewalk for half an hour. I felt the sun connecting with my therapist. I felt the sun while Shauna and I visited on the couch and she serenaded all of us on the ukulele. I felt the sun when Abe and I talked on the couch and before bed multiple times throughout the week. Loving, vulnerable, authentic conversations are a primary way I connect with others, feel charity, and receive revelation. I felt the sun when I received personal revelation on how to plan this lesson. I felt the sun when I prayed and felt that Heavenly Mother was there for me. I felt the sun when I prayed and felt grace from Jesus Christ. I didn’t feel much sun during my scripture study this week, but maybe that’s because I am in Leviticus.

What is your “moon”? What blocks you from experiencing gospel sunshine? Is it comparison to others? Using social media to compare yourselves to others? Ambitions related to your talents, gifts, or education? Goals for your children or spouse? Is it fear (e.g. of not being good enough, of failing, of not being loveable, of letting others down, of the future)? Is it difficult questions about the Church?

  • Comparison to others.
  • Difficult questions about the Church, its history and its culture.
  • FEELING NOT GOOD ENOUGH. This affects almost every aspect of my life (relates directly to “comparison with others”, being mean to my kids, and being uncharitable in relationships) and does a very effective job blocking out gospel sunshine.

“Do you recall my description of special eyewear used to protect those viewing a solar eclipse from eye damage or even eclipse blindness? Looking at a spiritual eclipse through the protecting and softening lens of the Spirit provides a gospel perspective, thus protecting us from spiritual blindness.” What are your “glasses”? Are they reading the scriptures regularly, keeping a prayer in your heart, taking the sacrament? Are they your loving investment in relationships with others? Are they service? Are they self-acceptance? What helps you overcome “spiritual eclipse” and experience the joy of direct, gospel sunshine in your life?

First, I’ll write what “glasses” can help me gain perspective on the “moons” listed in the question above.

  • (Comparison to others): For this reason I finally started more seriously curating my social media feed this week! I now only follow people who post interesting, thought provoking, vulnerable, and, most especially, authentic posts. For a long time I thought that if I liked the real life person, I should probably follow their posts, but I don’t think that anymore. I can love a person and unfollow their posts. If I have a friend who seems bent on using social media to portray perfection, I can unfollow them, forgive them for this weakness, and forgive myself for not having a life that mirrors the perfection encapsulated in their curated posts. And above all: Don’t go seeking out blogs or websites that will get me down!!!! (I do this occasionally and it is never a good idea.)
  • Difficult questions about the Church, its history and its culture: I have a LOT of those. One thing that has been extremely helpful for me is to realize that the Church itself is not my sunshine. It is not where I get my warm fuzzies, although I do like the comfortable, familiar feeling I get when I step into a physical church building. I get my gospel sunshine from God, from the scriptures, from prayer, from divine reassurances and revelation. The Church is not in its final iteration, nor has it ever been. It will be perfected when Christ comes again, and until then, it’s a wonderful place for all of us to optimize our relationship with God and with each other.  The Kingdom of God is established–often in Church–by relationship and community building. Church is the appropriate place to take the sacrament, encourage each other in our faith, and prepare ourselves to make and keep temple covenants. Our culture and history are imperfect and marked by human error and sin. We can accept this while still believing the scriptures to be true, believing Joseph Smith was called by God to perform the work that he did, in fact, accomplish, and believe that our current leaders are chosen and inspired (even if we don’t agree with everything they say).
  • FEELING NOT GOOD ENOUGH. THIS IS THE REASON THE SUNSHINE EVEN EXISTS. GOD LOVES ME AND HAS JUSTIFIED ME THROUGH JESUS CHRIST. BECAUSE CHRIST AND I ARE ONE IN COVENANT, I AM GOOD ENOUGH. I AM ETERNALLY LOVED AND CHERISHED AS A DAUGHTER OF GOD.

On the concept of “gospel glasses” in general: I put on the gospel glasses when I take time to kneel, physically kneel, in prayer and acknowledge God’s role in my life. I put on gospel glasses when I keep a prayer in my heart by yearning for God and God’s help throughout the day. I put on gospel glasses by studying the scriptures with a seeking, humble heart. I put on gospel glasses by prioritizing the mediums through which I most strongly feel God’s love—namely, loving, real, live, authentic relationships. Insofar as I can swap out social media for the life-giving relationships found in person, on the phone, and through written exchanges, my life will be filled with that much more sunshine.

How do your glasses affect your “moon” and your “sun”?

First of all, there is purpose to those moons. This life is supposed to have challenges and obstacles, even those that potentially block us from walking around on a perpetual spiritual high. Moons are not only purposeful, but they are also inevitable. We are human, imperfect, and we live in a mortal world. We will never live directly and eternally in the light until after death. Even the tropics aren’t immune to an eclipse.

That said, my gospel glasses can help me feel so much more sunlight, joy, peace, and happiness than I would otherwise feel. Prayer is an unspeakable comfort to me. The scriptures are an irreplaceable source of wisdom for me. Loving relationships are the stuff of life to me.

I can feel the sun more when I put on my gospel glasses, and my loving, heavenly parents want me to enjoy as much sunshine as I choose to access in this mortal journey.

What can you do THIS WEEK to wear your glasses more often?

I am pretty inconsistent when it comes to physically kneeling for prayer. I need to KNEEL in prayer twice a day this week. This physical, symbolic act can change the tenor of my days and my life, and my goal this week is to bookend each day with it.

 

Shauna’s songs

Saturday morning saw the girls doting on Clarissa.

And in the evening Shauna, who arrived with Jeff on Friday, serenaded us on the couch with her ukulele, which she JUST started playing for the first time ever last month. I was blown away and delighted, but not the least bit surprised. I literally do not know anyone as creatively talented as Shauna. It doesn’t matter if it’s photography, crochet, art, any type of craft, or music–she is bursting at the seams with creative talent.

Ammon was so delighted that he sat still for all of her songs. He never sits still. This was amazing. Also, at the end when Abe took him to bed, Ammon looked intently at Shauna, sputtered a bunch of heartfelt gibberish that no one understood, and finally ended with “THANKS!!!!” while pointing excitedly at the ukulele. He shared and augmented all of our joy in that moment.

This is a song she composed for Jeff.

The most amazing harp concert

On Friday Jessi, Henry, and Vika came over for a lovely play date.

We started by playing a bird matching game. It was emotionally difficult for Ammon to grasp the concept of turn taking.

I then called Abe and asked if there was any way we could go to the Sasha Boldachev concert at Temple Square. Anamae, Lydia’s harp teacher, has had the concert info posted for a while, and even though I didn’t know anything about Sasha, I wanted to go.

I believe this desire was divinely planted. Anamae often has upcoming concert info posted, and I usually just take a wistful glance at it and figure it doesn’t work with bedtime. For whatever reason, this time around I felt an almost visceral urge to attend.

Anyway, of course, Abe said we’d make it happen. He took Clarissa, Mary, and Ammon to his parents’ home in the Avenues while Lydia and I went to the Assembly Hall, my favorite building on Temple Square.

Once the concert started, I knew that God had planted the desire in my heart to attend. The whole concert, from start to finish, was a gift. It brought me to tears to see such an abundance of talent poured out onto one beautiful soul. I felt like I was looking at the Pieta for the first time. I know for a fact it’s the first time I’ve heard the harp played like that in person. In the two short years Lydia has been playing the harp, we have been to a fair number of harp concerts, and I have amassed and listened to an even fairer amount of harp music, but never, never have I heard anything like what I heard on Friday.

My favorite piece was the Sheherazade. This YouTube video doesn’t capture the exhilaration of seeing and hearing this in person, but it’s an approximation, I guess:

After the Shererazade, Sasha Boldachev played us a piece he had composed for President Monson when he heard that our prophet had passed away. Sasha is not LDS, and I was so touched that he would do something so heartfelt and kind for our people. I actually cried during that piece.

It was such a spectacular concert. I am going to stop writing about it because I just can’t do it justice.

While Lydia and I were at the concert, Abe and the kids had a great time with Tom and Suzanne. The kids were so happy to see their Baps and Bapa!

Happy Valentine’s Day, 2018!

On Valentine’s Day the girls had a blast exchanging valentines with all of their friends.

Abe came home early so I could see my new therapist, Mary Lou Smith. The first thing that she said when she saw me was, “Now you don’t look at all depressed!”

I sheepishly explained that I might be the happiest I have ever been, but I am still somewhat dysfunctional. Also, I added, Abe just wanted to snag a spot with her so we could each trade off weekly sessions so that we’re already in with her (she is tough to get in with) in case either of us have a crisis or meltdown. Abe needs stress and anxiety management help, and I just need….help.

Anyway, after the session, Mary Lou must have been convinced because she asked me if I felt okay waiting so long until our next session!! I assured her that I would be perfectly fine. [laugh-cry emoji’s here.]

When I got home, the girls were going nuts excitedly eating through their Valentines.

This is a Valentine craft Lydia made at school. She grabbed my phone to take a picture of it herself.

Then I made dinner, and we all had chocolate fondue for dessert.

Mary is pouting about something. Lydia is happy. This is the normal dynamic in our house as of late.

late night chats

Normally Abe and I are pretty good about getting to bed early, but when Julie arrived I couldn’t help myself. We were up chatting until past midnight on Sunday, and then last night we stayed up until…2am. We were discussing religion, motherhood, and our kids. Julie and I were companions twice on the mission, and talking was such a joy that we couldn’t stop!

I wish Julie lived closer. Even though I’ve only met her kids a couple of times, I love them. I am especially over the moon about Caleb, who is just so adorable. It’s lucky I have Clarissa otherwise I might try to steal him!

So today was a pretty low key day. My mom left for Pittsburgh early in the morning, Julie and Caleb were out all day for her grandfather’s funeral, and I was kind of a zombie at home. I did keep the house clean, bus the kids to and fro, make sure my girls did all of their homework, oversee Lydia’s two hour harp practice and Mary’s one hour of piano. Now I have the choice to read The New Yorker, The Atlantic a novel, or…plan my lesson this Sunday. Shauna is coming to stay with us right after Julie leaves, so my windows of opportunity to plan this thing are limited.

I should probably be responsible and plan.

My darling friends

Today was a friend bonanza. It was so fun! Julie and her newest baby, Caleb, who is three and a half months old, got in last night. By some fluke Clarissa was also awake, so we introduced them to each other.

By this point Clarissa was trying to joyfully claw Caleb, and Caleb was a little scared. Julie and I pulled the babies apart as Abe took the pic.

Julie and I stayed up past midnight discussing my favorite topics of late, sex, religion, and, occasionally, the intersection of the two. It was so fun, even though we were both dying of fatigue.

Julie has four kids, and her husband is the bishop on top of his insanely demanding job. Julie and I have been chatting online a lot recently, and we didn’t realize an in-person reunion was just around the corner! It’s been so wonderful.

My darling friend, Heather, also came over with her daughter, Olivia, this morning. We had the most wonderful conversations about motherhood. I love friends that are willing to be vulnerable for the sake of connectivity. We all bonded over our individual frustrations and weaknesses–and it turns out that the hard parts of life which make us feel alone and crazy are exactly the parts of life which bond us most to each other.

In the afternoon I had a wonderful visit with my neighbor, Laurie. We also have a deep bond, and we catch up regularly on our mutual struggles and occasional victories.

In fact, I was so plugged in to these wonderful women that by the end of the day I was…on my period. I haven’t had this happen since October. I honestly think it is because I felt so perfectly connected and deeply in tune with my beloved friends.

A full Sabbath

First off, Abe had to wake Clarissa up in time for church, and he took a really cute video of the process:

After church the kids and I made more savory hand pies. When I made them on Friday, I was in a rush and didn’t let them help. Today we had lots of time, so I let the kids help a lot. Most of the time Lydia and Ammon were playing together, so it was a Mary-Mommy date. Mary told me that her favorite thing about cooking was being together. [I feel so stunted without an emoji option in WordPress. I would put ten heart-eyes emojis right here if I could.]

Then for FHE we started off with the kids giving us a dance show:

Then Mary gave us FHE. She planned the whole evening herself. My mom took dictation for the questions she asked us, and my mom typed them out and helped create the puzzle, but Mary did everything else. She created a puzzle out of a picture of Jesus’ baptism, and on the back of each piece she glued a question she thought up. When we drew the puzzle pieces from the bag, we all had to answer the questions as a family. It was SUCH a thoughtful FHE.

Some questions Mary asked: “Why did God give us bodies?” “Why did Jesus die for us?” “Why did God create the earth?” “Why did God give us families?” “Why did God give us brothers and sisters?””Why did God give us a spirit?” “Why did God give us a house?” “Why did God give us food and clothes?”

And now we are waiting for the arrival of one of my favorite mission companions, Julie Grant, and her newest baby. They are in town for a funeral, and they’ll be staying with us until Wednesday. I can’t wait to see her!!

Performance, practice, and pie

Saturday Mary had her first piano competition. Her age division was the five-eight year old range, and she was the youngest competitor in her category, so she got to go first. We practiced all morning and then drove to the Piano Gallery. The competition was in the basement, and Mary was so cute. The judge thought the door monitor needed to give him a signal to start, and the door monitor thought the judge was in charge of starting…so Mary just waited sweetly on stage facing the judge for about five minutes.

After their silent face-off, I remarked in the hall that the room was remarkably sound proof. That’s when we peeked in and realized what was happening. Mary was just standing there, smiling shyly at the judge. My heart just melted. And after the judge finally gave her the signal to play, she played her pieces as perfectly as she knew how. I was so proud of her.

I gave her the rest of the afternoon off, which was great for me because I needed to help Lydia practice for the next three hours. She learned all of “Little Playmates” in one sitting! I was so proud of her hard work, but by the end my heart was racing and I was breathing shallowly. Practicing with my kids feels very stressful to me.  But Lydia was a superstar! She took a five minute break when I was done and then  insisted on practicing for another thirty minutes on her own so she could fill out her 100 chart, which she also completed all in one sitting.

After that she drilled her sight words with my mom and practiced her reading, and before all of this she did her morning chores. By the time she was done with chores, practice, and reading, it was 4pm. At that point Abe went to the basement and played a fun pretend game with the kids. Lydia ran upstairs breathlessly to tell me how much fun it was, and then she ran back down. I joined them and took this video and these pictures:

In the afternoon I finished my book and made two pies for the pie social Abe was putting on as an Elder’s Quorum activity.

In the evening we went to the social and I chased the kids all around while Abe visited with ward members. Normally he chases the kids in social events, but since he was in charge of the activity, we switched roles.