This was a pretty nice Christmas, all told. We had a hard time falling asleep last night, then were woken super early by Kidling. This is the scene pre-gift unwrapping:

You like Kidling’s goofiness? Yeah, he’s adorable. Anyway, we unwrapped our gifts , then spent the morning alternating between napping and playing with Kidling’s Nano Hexbug Habitat.
Around 2 p.m., we went over to Missy, John’s sister’s place, to have Christmas dinner with his family and exchange gifts. It was pretty fun, very low-key and nice. John is still having a hard time chewing, so he couldn’t eat much (which frustrated him), but Kidling and I both ate our fill. There was turkey and stuffing and olives and cranberry sauce and a fresh fruit salad, plus home-made pies.
Then we exchanged gifts. Now, I have to admit — gifts are a weird psychological thing for me. I don’t really know how to explain it. I friggin love giving gifts — and receiving them (who doesn’t) — but I have this weird double-standard where I feel like I’m an awful person if I don’t attempt to give an expensive, extravagant gift. At every gift-giving occasion, John has to talk me down from buying ridiculously out-of-our league gifts — not just one or two, but for everyone. I keep wanting to get the people I love things like $100 gift cards or high-end electronic equipment. Hell, I keep wanting to buy presents for people who smile at me on the street. I really like giving gifts. but the socialized tendency for me to equate the financial worth of a gift that I buy someone with the amount of love I am expressing always completely stresses me out this time of year.
The double-standard part is that I’m hugely uncomfortable with receiving expensive gifts. I like thoughtful, homemade gifts, or inexpensive quirky gifts, but I’m really uncomfortable with receiving expensive gifts. For instance, this year John bought me a set of multi-colored coffee mugs. I actually let out a squeal of surprised delight when I unwrapped it, because I hadn’t realized he knew I wanted some. I guess he overheard me telling Tobiah about the sad state of mugs in our cupboard and that I needed new ones. Anyway, this is a perfect example of a low-key, practical, yet fun and thoughtful gift. So typical of my husband. 🙂
Gourmet Basics by Mikasa coffee mug set
So I always have to remind myself, when gift-shopping, that the type of people I associate with are similar to me in mindset, and they aren’t any more interested/ comfortable with receiving ridiculously expensive gifts than I am. That we all know the real wonder of the holiday season is found in relationships, friends, family, and good deeds. That none of us particularly care about the material goodies, but instead about what the giving of gifts expresses — love, affection, appreciation.
So this year, to counter my tendency to buy presents we can’t afford, I put John in charge of buying gifts for friends/ family. To my family, I sent cards and small home-made gifts, or just called and chatted. I did make some home-made peppermint bark for my in-laws, just because I love giving home-made treats to people. John and Kidling picked out some small, fun and/ or useful gifts for the family gift exchange — light up yo-yo’s, a bouncy ball, and some reading lights for his parent’s e-readers — and I helped wrap them. As usual, we still splurged on Kidling a bit, even when consciously trying to restrain ourselves, but overall I think we held ourselves in check fairly well.
After the gift exchange, my sister called. I found out, much to my chagrin, that two of my siblings were sick today. My older brother apparently was unable to attend the holiday celebrations at my sister’s place, due to illness, and my kid sister went to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy today. That really had me worried; not so much for her physical health, since we have a health care system well-equipped to deal with appendectomies, but for her psychological well-being.
I mean, it’s Christmas. Her roommate was out of town, and she was going to be spending it with our aunt and uncle, but instead she ends up in the hospital sick? This is a holiday we’ve traditionally celebrated surrounded by family, and it just made my heart hurt to think of her alone in the hospital. It’s bad enough to go to the hospital for surgery — major or minor — by yourself, but to have to go on a holiday? That just sucks. I couldn’t help thinking how miserable and lonely I’d feel in such a situation, and I wished I had some means of getting to her so I could sit by her bedside and tell her silly stories and hold her hand. Several hours later, I learned (much to my relief) that she wasn’t all alone — the bishop’s wife drove her to the hospital, and our aunt and uncle were there for her when she woke up. I should be able to talk to her tomorrow.
Then we went home and watched a Dr. Who Christmas Special and napped for a bit. We just woke up, and John has left to go squidding (this is apparently an activity best undertaken in the dark, and squidding season is in the winter). I really adore my husband — I love that he’s not only the smart, funny kind of guy who will discuss E.U. sanctions with me while cuddling, but that he’s also sexy, handy with engines and electronics, and totally into outdoorsy fun stuff like crabbing and hiking and riding motorcycle — but some of his outdoorsy enjoyments just boggle my mind. Then again, although I may not ever join him on a cold dock in mid-winter to dangle glowing lures in the hopes of catching squid, I have to admit that I love the culinary rewards of his efforts. I have another tab open and am browsing squid recipes right now. 🙂

yet another list of common internet mistakes

I know there are innumerable lists floating around the internet that detail common spelling and grammatical errors, such as this one and this one. Since these errors have been addressed repeatedly and in great detail, I’m not going there/their/they’re (get it? That’s a joke. I know it’s “there.”). Instead I’m listing some minor and frequent errors that irritate me personally.
  • Ad/add
  • Ridiculous/ rediculous
  • Loose/lose
  • Per se/ persay
1. Ad/add.
An “ad” is short for the word advertisement. It refers to media of some sort that is advertising a service, product, or campaign. For instance, Rick Perry recently released an ad that many have found offensive (including me). I flagged this ad as offensive.
Although I flagged this ad as offensive, I did also add this ad to my page, via the above link. To “add” something means to unite or join something, to say or write further on a topic, or to find the sum of two numbers. See how “ad” and “add” are different? Ad is a noun while add is a verb. You can’t flag an add as inappropriate, nor can you ad something to the conversation. So please stop trying.
2. Ridiculous/ rediculous.

Ridiculous is a word. Look it up. Here, I’ll link to three different online resources. Rediculous, on the other hand, is not a word. Look it up. That last link, by the by, is a google search. I intentionally searched rediculous, and it directed me toward ridiculous, with the correct spelling. It is ridiculous that so many people can’t spell this word correctly, when they’re on the internet and google will correct their spelling.
3. Loose/lose.

Something that is loose is unbound, unfettered. Loose is an adjective, or a descriptor. As in:
  • My hair is loose. 
  • The rope came loose. 
  • The cats are loose. 
When you lose something, on the other hand, it is lost. Lose is a verb to be used with an object.
  • How did you lose your hair tie? 
  • Did you lose the camping gear tied on by the rope that came loose? 
  • Where did you lose the cats? 
Also, these words are pronounced differently. When I read a sentence using “loose” where they meant “lose,” it sounds all wrong in my head. I visualize and hear the word “loose,” which is pronounced around here a bit like looos, with a long vowel sound and a soft “s”. The word “lose” is pronounced more like luze, with a shorter vowel sound and a hard “s”.
4. Per se/ persay

This is just a case of don’t use the word if you don’t know what it means. Per se is Latin for “by itself,” and is currently define as meaning, “intrinsically by, of, for, or in itself.Persay is not a word, and if you spell per se as persay in a written debate, you look ridiculous.
I hope this little lesson was as fun for you as it was for me! English is a living language, and I’m not generally a stickler for grammatical errors. My thinking is that as long as you’re consistent in your mistakes, then we’re all good — e.e. cummings and Emily Dickinson, among others, have shown us the benefits of flouting commonly accepted forms. Shakespeare invented several unique and beautiful words. That said, we also came up with dictionaries for a reason. Dictionaries standardize spelling and definitions. Our language — like all spoken languages — continues to grow and evolve, and that’s awesome. We continue to add new words to the dictionary, and continue to shift and alter the meaning of other words, such as gay or nice. 
But standardized spelling and definitions do serve an important purpose, especially into our modern world of primarily text-based communication. These forms allow us to communicate effectively. So if you’re typing on the internet and you aren’t sure if you’ve got the correct spelling, google it. Seriously. You don’t need to find a dictionary, you don’t even have to go to a specific dictionary website. Googling it will find the correct spelling.

my beliefs, in great detail

Well, I’m an atheist. I used to be mormon. I always had questions, and when I finally started researching the answers, it pretty quickly became clear to me that on the historical inaccuracies alone, mormonism was false.

I was okay with that, though. The way I figured it, all religions were probably false to a degree. I figured an ineffable, infinite, immortal, all-knowing being would be unable to properly communicate with finite mortal beings. It is, in a word, impossible. It would be like us trying to communicate with ants — we might be able to figure out some workable methods to get basic information across, but the intricacies of religious instruction? Bound to get all mangled in the transmission. The brain capacity is just too different. If an immortal, infinite being actually did talk to us like equals, I’m pretty sure our minds would just explode.

So I decided to research every religion I could and find out which was the most accurate. I didn’t get much past the big 3 (Christianity, Islam, Judiasm) and a little into some of the Eastern religions before I realized a few things:

  • All religions appear to believe that man should be good — do unto others, love thy neighbor, etc. etc.
  • All religions appear to promote showing respect and love to their deity/ deities.
  • All religions have very different formulas on how to be good.

The different formulas + god(s) seem to be what cause the conflict. Everyone wants to be good and kind, we just have (as a species) really different ideas on what god/ religion says the best way of achieving said goodness and kindness is. So we (as a species) fight and scream over what an all powerful, invisible, infinite, immortal being may or may not have said.

I got to thinking about this immortal, infinite, omniscient being. I wondered why said being didn’t just prevent the strife. My religious upbringing gave me the answer — god believes in free will. Except, god gives us nothing we cannot handle, and god knew us before we were born, and god knows the path of our lives. By definition, god knowing everything means we cannot have free will. It’s impossible. Think of it this way — say you drop an egg. Now, you know the egg will fall to the ground and break. You know the path of the egg. You are the one with all the knowledge and all the power. So you can do three things:

  • Drop the egg and watch it break.
  • Drop the egg and catch it.
  • Don’t drop the egg.

What happens to the egg is in your power, because you’re the one with all the control. You may be saying, “But we’re not eggs. We’re human beings.” Fine, awesome. Is god a human being, or is god an infinite being with perfect awareness of the past, present, and future? Does god know what choices we will make?

If god does not know what choices we will make, then god is not infinite and all-knowing. If god does know what choices we will make, then free will does not exist.

If we assume that god does know what choices we will make, then that means that god not only knows things like who will accept him/her into his/her heart, but god knows things like who will rape children, who will exterminate entire peoples, who will kill for fun. God knows all the awful things that will happen in the world, and god’s stance on this is apparently, “Eh, it’s for the greater good.”

Now, people often say that god’s ways are mysterious, and we won’t know the fullness of his/her plan until we die. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn’t want to know the fullness of his/her plan. I don’t want to ever be in a situation where I can look at all the tortures, rapes, murders, sickness, and sorrow and be like, “Oh, now I get it — good show, god, good show! Brilliant!”

Anyone who can look at infants in Africa dying of HIV and say, “Gods ways sure are mysterious,” baffles me. No. That’s not “mystery,” that’s just straight-up horrific. Anyone who can look at the war rapes in Bosnia, or the acid attacks in the Middle East, or the witch killings in Africa and be like, “God has a plan,” is ignoring the larger question of what plan could possibly justify this kind of horror?

I mean, a being would have to be sociopathically evil to incorporate that kind of suffering into their plan and do nothing to prevent it. God could prevent it, right? Because god is all-powerful, so it’s god’s choice to prevent or not prevent it. And when you cite free will or these “rules” that god has, um, god wrote the rules, supposedly. Supreme creator of the universe and all that. It’s up to god on whether or not he/she has to follow the rules he/she wrote. If god can’t break his/her own rules, then god is clearly not all powerful.

But neither could god be sociopathically evil. The world could be a lot worse. We have things like love, and learning, and science. We have gorgeous scenic vistas and literature and friendship and random acts of kindness. We have charities — entire organizations of people who band together to help the less fortunate. We have a lot of darkness and horror in our world, but there’s a lot of kindness and beauty, too.

So the only logical conclusion is that god, if he/she does exist, is neutral. Indifferent to our struggles. Uncaring. A vast cosmic awareness that neither helps nor hurts. After I came to this conclusion, I began defining myself as an agnostic — someone who thinks there may or may not be a god, but that it doesn’t really effect our earthly lives.

Then I found a definition of atheism that basically said atheists are those who do not feel the current evidence is sufficient to prove the existence of a god or gods, and that until sufficient evidence presents itself, there is no reason to believe.

I really identified with that definition. I’m perfectly willing to believe in god, if verifiable and replicable evidence presents itself. Until such convincing and incontrovertible evidence is presented, there is no basis for belief. So I’m an atheist.

solstice celebration

We don’t have a Christmas tree this year. I’d like one, but buying a live one just seems like buying a really expensive dead plant. I keep meaning to buy a fake one, but I’ve pretty much decided at this point to wait until January and buy a fake tree during the post-holiday sales.
So instead, I’ve hung the boughs of (fake) holly, strung the (fake) garlands wrapped in holiday lights (they call them fairy lights in Britain, which is utterly adorable), hung the stockings, and decorated some little twigs and branches from the yard. There’s still a holiday vibe to the house, but no tree this year.
We’ve bought Kidling some gifts already, which I plan to wrap festively and pile beneath the stockings. John doesn’t really seem interested in gifts (as usual), which means that (as usual) I’ll be hunting up or making him something quirky and inexpensive to try and surprise him. As usual, I bet he won’t be surprised. It’s becoming a tradition. 🙂
I’m not really expecting many gifts, either. I think it’s just part of being an adult, or maybe a parent? I don’t know. Every year, we spend all our money on gifts for Kidling and any extra on extended family, so we don’t get presents for each other, really. I generally assume we won’t be getting gifts, since  all our loved ones are subject to similar financial restraints during the holiday season (lots of siblings, in-laws, and kids). This assumption is actually a good one to have, because it means that any presents or cards John and I receive come as a surprise and a delight, and bring that much more warm cuddlies of expressed affection with them.
Last year, dad sent me a B&N card, and sent John a Starbucks card. Another year, he sent us a Red Lobster card. I love these gifts — sweet, a date night with my husband? Awesome! Sweet, an afternoon outing with a hot drink and a muffin? Awesome! And you have to know the person’s preferences to get them the right sort of gift card, too, so it’s really not like taking the easy way out. I mean, if I gave, say, my brother (who’s not a prolific reader) a B&N card, he probably wouldn’t be quite as excited as I would be. Now, if I gave him a Cabela’s gift card, he’d probably like that more, since he could use it on ammo and gun-related stuff. So every time someone rolls their eyes and says, “Gift cards are so unimaginative; talk about taking the easy way out,” I just smile and shake my head. Gift cards rock the hard core.
Kidling apparently made or bought some present for me this year, which he is hiding in his closest and I have restrained myself from peeking at. He’s super excited about it, and to be honest, I am, too. When I was a kid, I always felt like a jack-off giving my parents homemade gifts. As a parent, I’m surprised to find I have a completely different view. I adore them — the little alphabet-letter beaded keychain Kidling made for me, the painted plate, the hand-drawn and lettered calender — these things are treasures in my eyes. So I’m looking forward to whatever handmade craft he’s created this time. I’m actually excited the way I used to be as a kid; I keep wanting to peek and not peeking because I don’t want to ruin either the surprise or Kidling’s pleasure at my reaction.

a moment, in great detail

I couldn’t sleep last night. I lay in bed and stared through the darkness toward the wall, listening to Sirius snuffle and wheeze as he dreamed. In the kitchen, the dishwasher shushed rhythmically, and the walls creaked and groaned as the radiant heating kicked on. It sounds like ghosts walking through the house, voices loud but unintelligible.

My hip dug into the hard mattress and throbbed in pain; if I flipped to the other side the same thing would happen. I tried to talk myself to sleep with a story, but I got too involved in developing my protagonist — a young female soldier named Randy, who lives in a dystopian futuristic society where one must either serve a term in the Defense or the Breeding Houses to become a citizen. The story was taking shape in my head; Randy’s unexpected skill with weapons, her ability to repair weapons and even reverse-engineer the enemy weapons. Why she chose to join the Defense instead of serving a term in the Breeding Houses. How she was captured on a simple recon mission while trying to diffuse a whisper-bomb.

So I crawled out of bed and wandered to the living room, where John had fallen asleep on the couch several hours before. I’d left the Christmas lights on, and they glowed soft and warm in the darkness, comforting and radiating memories of Christmases past. They seem to chase away the shadows with their color, making a darkness that usually feels sinister into a welcoming friend. I thought maybe a drink would help, so I went out to the garage, tip-toeing so my bare feet wouldn’t touch too much of the chilly concrete floor. I grabbed a hard cider out of the fridge and went back inside. I didn’t want to turn on the t.v. or open my laptop, because the noise and light might wake John. Instead, I grabbed a cigarette and went outside.

I started smoking again the night John’s jaw was broken. I’d stopped in August, bought a pack that I never finished near the end of September, and stopped after smoking only a few cigarettes from the pack. The night John’s jaw was broken, I started again and I haven’t been able to properly stop. I think I might be spinning into a manic state. I always smoke more when I’m manic, and I think about death constantly. I found myself wondering how to purchase a gun without anyone finding out the other day, and then I wondered what was wrong with me. Another indicator is the insomnia that dogs me. I haven’t sleep a full 8 hours a night — or even 6 — in well over a week. I’m always tired, but wired. The world seems so bright and loud, and the dark softness of the night is the most bearable time of day.

Outside, frost has already formed on the ground. The fallen leaves are laced with white, the grass tipped in silver dust. A slight breeze whispers through the trees, rattling dead branches and rustling evergreen needles. From out of the shadows, a raccoon hesitates toward me, his eyes bright and clever in the dark mask of his face. Another joins him, and they peer at me curiously for a moment. I back away slowly, aware of how vicious raccoons can be, and one of them turns and runs to join a third raccoon, lurking back in the shadows unnoticed. The other stares at me a moment longer, then he too runs off to join his comrades. I can hear their peculiar whining bark as they lope across the neighbor’s lawn, and I wonder if they’re chittering to each other about the wildlife they spotted.

It’s cold out tonight, and I can’t sleep.

Last year’s moment.

my definition of love

Today’s entry is Day 5, my definition of love. Now, although I’m linking last year’s entries, I’m trying not to read them before I write this year’s entry. So I may echo myself occasionally, but then again, I may be chronicling a change in mindset over the past year. I kind of hope it’s a little of both. Anyway.
Love, to me, is when the good outweighs the bad. It’s when the benefits of the relationship far outweigh the difficulties. I mean, all relationships are difficult, whether they’re familial, friendship, love, or parental. It’s just the way things are. Different personalities and different backgrounds butt heads. I think love is when you’re not just willing to look past those differences, but actually value them. I think love is when someone matters so much to you that you want to put in the effort of making the relationship work.
For familial love, I have (obviously) my siblings and dad. My family and I differ greatly in our political and religious views. I used to say we never talked about them, but that’s not entirely true. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize that my origin family and I discuss politics and religion pretty damn frequently. The great thing is that we disagree with each other, but that doesn’t stop us loving and respecting each other. I had a several-hours long discussion with my dad on corporate taxation the other night. I vote Democrat, but I lean far more left and socialist than the Democratic party is willing to go in America. I’d prefer to live in Germany or Norway, quite honestly. My dad, on the other hand, is an interesting mix of values. He’s a Tea Party-supporting, Republican-voting, Glenn-Beck-listening guy, yet he has a firm grasp on history, is a lawyer, and possesses slightly socialist (in the true sense of the word; not the Americanized Glenn Beck, proto-communist definition) values. He lived in Germany for 5 years, Norway for 2. He understands political systems elsewhere in the world, and doesn’t suffer from the blind ethnocentrism that colors so much of American politics and voters.
As a result, although we disagree on how certain things should be achieved, we both agree that changes should be made. We can have a lively discussion ranging from corporate taxation and the history of labor unions to whether or not gay marriage is a state or a Federal issue, and although we have completely different ideas, we’re able to have a vibrant discussion based on facts, not emotion, and end the conversation with respect and affection.
I really value that about my family. I really value that we disagree, but we can (usually) discuss our disagreements. I really value that we love and respect each other. I really value that our disagreements don’t shape our interactions; that our commonalities do. And the thing is, although right here I’m focusing specifically on a conversation where we did disagree, but treated each other respectfully anyway, that’s not the majority of our conversations. Pretty much all the conversations I have with my family members — sisters, brothers, and dad — focus all the minutiae of daily life. We talk about the kids, our daily activities, our struggles, our hopes, our dreams, and our shared history. Maybe 10% total of all these conversations focus on our political and religious disagreements. I talk to my dad, on average, twice a week. I talk to my siblings at least twice a month (maybe not every single one gets two, or even one, conversation a month, but if you average out the total time talking to siblings, there is a conversation with a sibling at least once a month.)
Friendship love is different. Unlike family, there’s not the vague sense that you have to have a relationship, even if they say or do something that bothers you. Friends are the family you’ve chosen, and those bonds can be surprisingly and disappointingly easy to break, as I’ve learned in the past. Now, my closest non-familial friendships are of the variety that we can pick up conversation without a hitch after weeks to months of not talking. My friends are very similar to me — in political/ religious values, in communication style, and in hobbies/ interests. This is awesome, because those quirks that can cause problems in other relationships (retreating from the world for weeks/ months at a time) are accepted as normal by my friends, because they do it, too. There is no oddity in us calling each other after an extended period of non-communication and us picking up the conversation without a hitch.
Parental love is, to my mind, the most difficult. The problem is mainly in discipline — on the one hand, you love your child and want the best for them and want them to be happy, but on the other hand, you aren’t their friend. You’re their parent. You can’t be the buddy or pal, you’re always in parent mode. Even when you’re having fun and playing around with your kid at the zoo or the museum or what-have-you, you’re still the parent. Still the discipline. Still the person who has to stop the game when it starts escalating or getting out of hand. You have to be the responsible one now, and that power dynamic prevents a true friendship until your child grows up, moves out, and supports themselves.
Parental love is difficult because it’s so unique. In all other relationships, it’s generally accepted and understand that we make our own decisions. Example: Say I have a friend in college who never does their homework, but always complains about bad grades. I may tease them about how their lack of completed homework directly correlates to their bad grades, but that’s the extent of it. If my son, on the other hand, starts getting bad grades because he’s slacking on his homework, I’m not going to react at all the same way I reacted to my friend in the exact same situation. I have the ability to influence and discipline my son, and I will. I don’t have to — I could choose to react the same way I did to my friend, and preserve a buddy-buddy “cool parent” dynamic with my son. But in the long run, that would be detrimental to my son’s success in life, so instead I discipline him, even if it means he gets upset at me and thinks I’m lame.
Finally, there’s romantic love. Possibly the most difficult and the most rewarding. My husband and I come from completely different backgrounds. I don’t mean financially, because we were more similar in that regard than appearances initially led us to believe. I mean in regards to personal interaction, communication, and religious beliefs. We have very different ways of dealing with emotional turmoil, and our communication styles have caused some pretty painful misunderstandings and conflict in the past. The judicious application of patience, forgiveness, and marriage counseling have helped us overcome a lot of our personality misunderstandings. It was a lot of work, but it was (and is) totally worth it. My husband is my best friend. He’s an amazing, incredible, patient, funny, intelligent, and sexy man, and the rewards we reap from our relationship are more than worth the problems we’ve overcome. I trust my husband more than anyone else in the world, but that level of trust comes from having to reforge our relationship from what (at times) felt like ashes. It’s a level of trust and love that can only come from going through the fire together.
A few weeks ago, we were talking about our wills and power’s of attorney. I said, “If I die, obviously I won’t care if you get remarried, because I’ll be dead. But it’d be nice if you could wait longer than 6 months before getting remarried.”
John started laughing, and he said, “No offense, but I’m never doing this again. I’ll stay married to you, obviously, but if you die I am never going to get married again. This is just way too much work.”
I couldn’t help it, I just started laughing with him. He’s right. I’d come to that conclusion myself years ago — that if for some reason, the unthinkable happened and John was no longer in my life, I would never again get into a serious relationship with marriage and forever as part of the deal. It’s a lot of work. It’s insanely rewarding, and I’m glad to have John in my life — but I don’t think I have it in me to put this much effort into another relationship ever again.

Your Parents, in great detail

My parents are the best. They’ve always been incredibly supportive and loving. My parents taught me compassion, patience, open-mindedness, and the indescribable value of learning. I have never felt as though my parents favored one child over the other, or thought any of us were “smarter” or “better” than any of the others. Even things that other people might have called flaws, my parents would put in terms that seemed to indicate they were proud of these traits.
My dad likes to say I’ve always, “marched to the beat of a different drum.” He usually accompanies this statement with a story about how, when I was about 5 years old, I walked into the living room to see my eldest brother had his feet on the table. I put my hands on my hips and said very firmly, “D—- G——-, you get your feet off the table right now!” And he did. Dad’s point with this story is that he feels I’ve always been outspoken, stubborn, and more than willing to speak up when I feel someone is wrong.
This is funny to me, yet at the same time very gratifying. See, I tend to think of myself as a passive, quiet person who doesn’t stand up for myself. My dad apparently sees me as a strong, principled person who is not afraid to say what she thinks and ask questions. In fact, when we talk about my childhood, nearly all his stories about me seem to be some variant of me asking questions, giving orders, or arguing my way out of a punishment. And one of the most amazing things to me is the utter pride in his voice. My dad loves me, and is proud of the person I am.
I know this for a fact, because dad told me so. Last year, during one of our many conversations (we talk, on average, once or twice a week), my dad said, “Laura, I just want to tell you, I’m really proud of you. You’ve come really far. You’ve faced some really difficult things in your life, and you haven’t given up. You keep asking questions, and you keep working hard. You’ve worked hard on your relationship, you’ve worked hard on being a great mom, and you’ve worked hard on figuring out your house situation. And while doing all that, you earned your degree. You stand up for your beliefs, you stand up for the people you love, and you don’t give up. You’re a great mom, a great wife, and a great daughter. I’m really proud of the person you’ve become.”
The very best thing about dad saying that is that he knows I’m an atheist, and it doesn’t figure negatively into who I am, to him. To him, I’m his daughter and I’m awesome, and he’s proud of me. I love my dad so much, and I’m so glad I was lucky enough to be born into his household.
My mom was awesome, too. Unfortunately, as those who know me are aware, mom passed away in 2003. But the lottery of life was kind enough to not only give me a fantastic dad and awesome siblings, I also won the parental lotto in my mom. Mom was . . . well, she was incredible. She struggled with bipolar most of my life (diagnosed when I was about 3 or 4), and it wasn’t easy for her. In addition to managing bipolar, she raised 5 kids, was a stay-at-home mom, had a full meal on the table every night, instilled a love of reading, history, and ongoing education into me, home-schooled me through the last part of high school, sewed our Halloween costumes and prom dresses and pioneer outfits and innumerable other bits and bobs, taught me to bake, and was always, always supportive of my hopes and dreams. Through all this, she was also highly active in church and the community. Mom helped my brothers achieve their Eagle Scout awards and worked with me to get my Young Woman’s Award. She went with me to antique shops to collect the old-style dolls I liked, she comforted me when I was lonely, she supported my writing, and in general she was the kind of perfect mom you used to see in movies and sitcoms. She set the bar really high on what it means to be a mother, and sometimes I find myself wrestling with guilt because I don’t plan themed birthday parties or sew my son’s Halloween costumes.
Then I remember that as much as I loved the themed birthday parties and stuff, what really made my mom a great mom was how supportive and loving she was. I mean, even when I was doing all this awful stuff as a teenager — kicking teachers, smoking pot, getting arrested, getting caught smoking cigarettes — I knew my parents still loved me. Sure, they punished me and lectured me and guilt tripped me. Sure, I got the tough-lough and I got the love-and-logic treatment, and I got just straight up guilt trips. But when I look back on what a horrible teenager I was, the thing that sticks out the absolute most to me is how much my parents loved me. How much they wanted me to be happy and successful, and how even when they disagreed with every action I was doing, they still believed that I was an essentially good person, and that I would eventually find my way. They believed in me, and they supported me, and I cannot express how important that foundation was.
When I was 20, I had been inactive from the LDS church for nearly two years. I’d spent that time dating an abusive jerkwad who my parents (justifiably) disliked, drinking, and smoking cigarettes. In February 2000, I returned to the LDS church. I wanted to break up with my boyfriend, but didn’t know how to end it. I came up with an idea — I thought if I went to school in another state, it would end the make-up/ break-up cycle. Unfortunately, I’d reaped the rewards of screwing off in high school — a 2.6 GPA that wouldn’t get my into the colleges I wanted.
So I decided to apply for 3rd summer term at both BYU and Ricks (now BYU Idaho). I needed a letter of recommendation from my bishop — basically an ecclesiastical endorsement — to even have a chance. The programs were, apparently, highly competitive, and being a “good” mormon vastly improved your chances. My bishop said I probably wouldn’t give in, given that I was (at the time I applied) repenting of sexual sins and given that I had been inactive for the 2 years previous. Even mom said that my chances were slim — but she also said that I would never know unless I tried, and the worst that could happen would be that they said no. She helped me fill out the paperwork and gave me advice on what to say for my interview with the bishop and when I was accepted, she helped me pack and find a place to stay.
My mom could have said there was no chance for me to get in. She could have pointed out that with my inactive past and low GPA, I shouldn’t even bother trying because failure was pre-determined. Privately, she may have thought that. But she didn’t say it. She supported me, and if I hadn’t gotten in, she would have comforted me. That’s just the way my parents are, they way they have always been. The way parents should be.
My parents aren’t perfect. They’re people, and people aren’t perfect. My parents have (and had) their flaws, and I’ve never pretended otherwise. Somehow, though, it makes all the happy memories and love they’ve given me that much sweeter. It’s encouraging, too, knowing that my parents aren’t perfect and have made mistakes, yet they did an overall fantastic job as parents. It really drives home the point to me that I can be a flawed human being, I can make mistakes — and I can still be an incredible wife and mother.September 2010 entry here.