Daily Affirmation

The best things in life are free.
The second best are very expensive.
- Coco Chanel

Friday, May 23, 2014

To My Dad Who Is Finding Life A Little More Painful Than He Bargained For

Dear Dad,

I see you struggling with a body that is betraying you.  Bravely fighting to come back from a rough bout of chemotherapy.  You are 83, and it's not easy.  Chemo took your hair, your lovely wavy white hair, and it came back super curly, although it's growing in softer now.  It took eyebrows, fingernails and toenails. 

All have grown back, but there was a cost.  Your joints hurt, your knees ache and crack. (I can relate to those things!)  It's hard to stand up straight.  You are having a hard time accepting what most of us accept way before the age of 83.  Body aches.  Knees giving out.  A fickle, tricksy memory.  You are used to being the smartest guy in the room.  The brilliant mind.  A body that was in such good shape it denied your years.  Cancer and The Cure has robbed you of some of this.  You are in denial.  And you are angry.  Justifiably?  Perhaps.  But life happens, one way or another, to most of us.  It pounds, and jabs, and teases us.  You are not alone, although I suspect you think you are.  It makes me sad to see you struggle to be what you think we all want to see.

You deny being tired.  You deny that you hurt.  You hate taking that wheelchair through the airport.  And you get quite angry about it.  Sometimes you are not very nice to people, and it's usually people who don't deserve your anger.  People who have nothing to do with the reason you're lashing out.  Are you frightened?  Do you think we, your family, will love you less, admire you less,  if you're suddenly vulnerable?  If we see that you need some help?  Do you think that we will lose respect, or dismiss you as no longer viable?

You're wrong, you know.  There is no shame in asking for or accepting help.  It's the smart thing to do.  It makes more sense than spending 5 minutes struggling to stand up from a chair unassisted, when any one of us would be honored to be the one to give you a hand, a steady arm.  Just as you always have to us.  It makes more sense to let yourself be pushed through a crowded airport in a wheelchair (and boarding first!) than it does to wear yourself out trudging through and then you can't enjoy the rest of the trip because you're too tired.  We are watching you, taking notes on how to age gracefully and wisely.  And the pitfalls to avoid.  Like pride that makes you deny what we all can see.  It turns you into an angry, ranting, frightened child.  Personally, I think it's okay to shake your fist at disease and a body that won't cooperate.  In private.  Perhaps in prayer.  But after girding your loins to continue fighting the fight, take a moment to be grateful for all that you do still have.  All you've been blessed with that no disease, no cruel aging process can steal from you. 

You have a wife who has stuck by you through thick and thin. 

She loves you, and is fiercely proud of who you are.  She was and is an incredible mother to your four children, and worked with you to raise us to be solid citizens.  We have been blessed with good fortune and good health.  No one died young.  Your have a lovely group of grandchildren who love you and think of you often.  You've given them memories of taking long walks with Grandpa, and yearly weekends in Palm Desert with the whole family.  They were so lucky to have grandparents who came to their many games almost every week, and cheered them on.  You've seen most of them graduate from college and into successful lives. 

And now there are great grandchildren.  And at least one little almost-8 year old girl who is soooooo excited for Nana and Papa to come to her baptism and birthday party next month in Arizona.  So much to be grateful for.  Life has been good overall.

I know it's hard for a man who rarely ever took so much as an aspirin, to suddenly be required to take lots of expensive medications just to fight off the evil C.  It stinks, quite frankly.  You don't feel well most days, and to top it off, the world has evolved into a confusing whirlwind of technology consisting of confusing computer programs, iPhones, and oh so much more that we don't even want to think about.  But this world has also wrought some amazing things that really do help us if we're not too stubborn to learn.  If we can lose our fear and pride, and just try. 

One of those things is called Advil.  It's an amazing little pill, that taken as lightly as possible, can ease some of those aches and pains, and turn that frown upside down.  I am the poster girl for Advil.  I am it's champion.  We should always try to avoid taking medication needlessly, but when you're hurting?  For heaven's sake, do yourself and everyone else in the room a favor and pop one or two.  Your knees and whatever else aches will thank you.  You can enjoy life a little bit more, and find that elusive energy you thought deserted you.

Don't be afraid to learn.  You can't always be the teacher, the family sage.  Sometimes it's a blessing to learn from others.  Be teachable.  Learn to use that iPhone for everything it can do.  (It's so much more than a phone - it's an indispensable tool!)  That smartest guy in the room that you're so fond of being?  He's overrated, between you and me.  He is obnoxious a lot of the time, and I don't know anyone who likes a know it all.  It's a great thing to be blessed with intelligence, but only if you use it to lift others up.  Concentrate on doing that.  Other people have ideas and opinions too.  They won't always agree with yours, but that doesn't make them less valuable.  Or interesting.  It can be fascinating to explore why people think the way they do.  (It can also make you throw your hands up in exasperation, but it's best to do that when they're not looking. ) Be approachable in your discussions with others.  And patient.  And most of all, kind.

Now back to that guy you think we all expect you to be: strong, who we can all lean on.  A man who has no weakness or fears of the unknown future.  News flash:  he doesn't exist.  Never did.  You are a real person, with real insecurities and viable fears.  You're our dad.  You're the guy who got up every Saturday morning and made waffles from scratch.  No mixes for you.  (Did you know that the very first Saturday after I got married I half woke up, and in a dreamy haze I could hear you and the boys down in the kitchen making waffles.  Measuring spoons clanging, fuzzy conversation I couldn't quite make out.  A homesick dream.)  You're the dad who made runny pumpkin pies from whole pumpkins, and biscuits with jam inside from a recipe you made up.  (The jam was a little burned, but that's okay.)  You're the monster chasing us through the house in the dark when Mom was at a meeting.  You're the fireworks master, lighting the biggest, most exciting box of fireworks we'd ever seen. 

You're that Baby Lover guy, the one the grandkids loved to play with and swim with.  You're the Dad who so kindly let his daughter bumble through learning to join the work force.  I learned to use a computer while selling Mustang parts at Larry's.  Worst parts girl ever, I'm sure, but at least I never packed styled steel wheels in the same box as a windshield and shipped them to Australia!  (That was a brilliant GUY.)  And I tried so hard to please... so you wouldn't be disappointed in me.  In a weird way, I have you to thank for the good jobs I've had since.  I learned to survive in a tough work environment, learned to work with, and enjoy, all kinds of people from all over the world.  I learned selling skills as well as computer skills.  It was hard, but it made me tough, which I most definitely was not when I started.

The point being, I suppose, is that after all of the help and guidance, and financial support you've given to each one of us over the years, it would be our honor and pleasure to help you now.  I beg you not to think you can't show pain or exhaustion in front of us.  That would make you inhuman, even if you could pull it off.  And mostly, it's just making you crabby.  It's keeping you from enjoying the beautiful experiences that are still coming your way.  While I can't relate to what you've gone through in the last year, I can relate to having pain, and feeling like I don't want to walk across the room.  Give yourself permission to give in to it when it's bad.  Use a cane.  (Get a fancy cool carved wood one.  It will give you some swagger.)  Take a painkiller or two when you feel bad.  Write down in your journal what you're going through, what you're afraid of, and how you are working through it.  (This would involve writing about feelings instead of facts and figures, which are boring and no help to anyone.)  Much of this is not in your nature, but it's like a refiner's fire, I've heard (according to Neal A. Maxwell).  The hardships reshape you, polish you, refine you into someone who is pure, and fine, and exquisitely priceless.  You'll be blessed with experiences you would never have otherwise, that will change you for the better.  Take the challenge.  Make goals.  Who do you want to be at the end?  What do you want to learn?  You've always had that curious mind - something I've always loved about you.  Don't let your fears and insecurities or pride keep you from the knowledge you want to have.  Let your imagination soar.  Be open.  And most of all, remember we love you and are always here to help.  We WANT to help.  You can let your hair down with us.  Because we've known each other forever, and that will never end. 
Love you, Dad...

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sweetness, Sassiness & Everything In Between

Back from a whirlwind trip to Colorado for Lexi's baptism.  Where do I begin?  How do I even start to describe an amazing little girl who was so excited for her baptism day that she took 5 invitations to hand out at school, and came home needing 10 more?  (And many of them came!)  A little girl who took the responsibility of the choice she was making very seriously, and was beyond excited to share the day with everyone she loves.  In a word, the day was spiritual.  I watched her face during the opening talks, and it was one of rapt attention, drinking in every word.  Sweet doesn't even begin to describe it.  It brought tears to my eyes, and thankfulness to my heart for such a special little girl.  She greeted each and every person who came, and thanked them for coming.  She was gracious and attentive to everyone in her white dress and matching white purse.  She looked every inch the pure little soul.

After the baptism ceremony, we headed back to Lexi's house, where her mother had prepared a little brunch for everyone who attended.  There were cinnamon rolls, fresh fruit, a delicious blueberry bread pudding, and (the favorite of all of the kids) powdered sugar doughnuts - white, reflecting the occasion.  Lexi opened gifts, and thoroughly enjoyed the time with her family and friends.  I was so surprised at the variety of people who came in honor of this little girl - everyone from daddy's friends at the gym to school friends to the usual church friends.  It was a very good day for a very good girl.

In the afternoon, the little ones, Travis and Skylee, went down for naps and Matthew and Lexi wanted to come with us back to the hotel for some swimming.  They each packed up a change of clothes and some toys they wanted to bring and we were off.  Of course, L didn't bring a bathing suit, so it was just me, myself, and I in the pool with two rambunctious kids.  L did toss Matthew in a foot or two from the steps, which scared him at first until he realized he could swim/walk back to the steps. (He spent the rest of the afternoon bragging about what a great swimmer he is - HA!)  For the first couple of hours we had the pool to ourselves, and we had a great time.  They decided they would be Mr. Shark and Miss Mermaid, and they were in school together.  First it was Kindergarten, and then we rapidly went through the next few years in mere moments.  At one point they decided they were going to put on a show to "raise money for the school."  First Lexi sang a song from Frozen (of course).  All of the verses.  Good stuff.  And then it was Matthew's turn.  He decided to sing the "Let It Go" song from Frozen.  The whooooole thing.  It's quite long.  Lexi, not to be outdone, decided she would accompany his singing with a little water ballet.  It was all quite impressive.  A 5/almost 6 year old boy belting out the entire, full-length version of "Let It Go" in a clear, unselfconscious voice, complete with the last line "The cold never bothered me anyway."  All the while Lexi was leaping and turning and pirouetting through the shallow depths.  I would have paid to see it if I hadn't landed in the middle of a free performance.  It was awesome and so, so sweet.

About that time, L/Papa came back with our "school snack" - Subway sandwiches and chips.  I got all the way out and ate mine.  The kids got out, took a bite, jumped back in and swam, and repeated.  During the third hour of swimming, their dad arrived and another couple of families also arrived with kids in tow.  So for that hour Mema got a reprieve while the kids all played together.  Soon enough their dad was ready to go, and two bleary-eyed kids straggled out to the car after him.  We would meet up at the house in a couple of hours for dinner at Wahoo's.

After a Wahoo's feast we all went back to the house for chocolate cupcakes.  (Chocolate makes Matthew's eyes go all dreamy.)  Matthew had shown us his bunkbed, very proud of his perch on the top.  It's a queen size, with plenty of room for toys, his beloved video games, and - holy of holies - his box of candy.  Now, this little boy knows exactly how many pieces of candy he has (3 pieces of Easter chocolate, 3 Starburst, and 5 Skittles) and he keeps careful track.  According to his dad, standing in front of all the candy in a 7/11 puts him into a trance.  I love this kid.  A sweeter boy was never born, no pun intended.  Before we left for the night we discussed church the next day and Matthew said he never wears a tie.  But then he looked at L and his dad and said he would wear his the next day, to which L and his dad said "Yep - we'll all wear ties!"  It was a cute moment with 3 of my favorite boys.

We said our goodbyes for the night and headed back to our hotel.  Where everything went horribly wrong.  We watched a little TV to settle in, and got to sleep around 11.  At 12 we were awakened by a weird "tone" noise.  There were two clear tones, followed in a few seconds by 3 other tones.  Silence for about 40 minutes.  This went on for the next 3 hours, only by that time the "tones" were coming about 5 minutes apart.  We tore the place apart trying to figure out what it was, finally determining that it was the smoke alarm.  (It was one of those sounds that seems to come from everywhere and nowhere.)  Finally at 3am I told L to call the front desk as we weren't going to be able to sleep anyway.  Aaand of course, there was nothing they could do about it right then.  So they moved us to another room at 3:30am.  I think we finally slept at about 4am.  And then my alarm went off at 6:30am for  9am church.  I almost cried.  I struggled but I just couldn't get up.  My eyes felt like they'd been sand blasted.  So at 7:00 I texted Rex that we wouldn't be coming.  So sorry.  And so I missed Lexi being presented in front of the congregation, and her giving her own sweet testimony of her beliefs and love for her family.  Brief moments, but I am so sad to have missed them.

We met up later in the day (everyone needed naps - especially L and me!) for a barbeque.  Rex had a hankering for buffalo burgers so that's what we had.  And they were really good!  I didn't have long to enjoy mine because as soon as Lexi and Matthew were finished eating they wanted to play Crazy 8s and Go Fish.  I'm sorry to report that Lexi is a shameless cheater, and I'm happy to say that Matthew is honest and innocent with his cards laid out for all to see, but it was all in good fun.  Even Travis joined in the fun:

 Teaching Travis all of my card skills - HA!

Before the sun went down I tried my best to capture a few memories with my camera to last me until the next time I come visit.  Skylee loved it.  There was a rabbit in the yard and she chattered endlessly on about it.  She moves very fast, and it was hard to do her justice, but here are the best two:

Lexi is very easy to take pictures of.  And these reminded me of the fact that she's not such a little girl anymore.  That makes me sad, but it also gives me a lot to look forward to as this beautiful 8 year old turns into a young lady.

And Matthew.  Who can forget that happy little face?  That sweet chattering little voice?  He's smart and funny and tons of fun.

And he was Papa's little pocket pal all weekend.  I loved seeing L having fun with this little live wire.

One of the first things he told us after he arrived was that he was a very fast runner.  And I believe it.  I saw him in action:
He can run like that All.Day.Long.  But he never forgets to be a good big brother to Travis.

And Travis.  What a mellow baby.  He rarely changes expression.  Just don't take his food or bottle away.  A young man needs his food and drink.  Other than that, as long as you're holding him, and especially if you're viewing "Frozen" for the oh... millionth time, he's entranced.  Tickle his bald head and he's yours.

 Papa and his boys

I have one picture left to share.  It may seem ordinary.  A bit strange to put here on the blog.  

But I want to remember Skylee forever jumping into the little car and, when asked where she was going, she announced in a clear voice "I'm going tanning!"  How quick they learn...  She is at that funny age where everything they say is hilarious.  When asked to sing a song she would say "I can't - I'm too busy!"  But other times she would belt out every song from "Frozen."  That's the current favorite.  At Christmas time it was "Brave" and the character Merida.  I was told that during that phase she would walk around the house yelling "Curse this dress!"  I love 2 year olds - especially chatty ones.

I left them with a heavy heart, but a tired body.  Mema isn't used to running with the younger crowd.  But it was the best kind of fun.  We stopped by on our way to the airport.  All of the littles were home except Lexi, who was still at school (Oooooh how I miss that girl already!)  I will miss Skylee, still in the stubborn throes of being 2, and Matthew completely charming and irresistible.  And mellow little Travis.

So long for now Colorado family.  As usual after a visit, I can't wait to go back again.  There just aren't enough dollars in the bank for all the traveling I need to do.  I hate missing all of the fun, and all of the funny things they do.  But they are in capable hands.  Rex and Ronna are the best sort of parents, and I am so proud of the way they've taught these little ones.  My heart is just bursting with pride over the great work they do.  Makes the separation a little easier.  But only a little.

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