“It’s pronounced L’wah. It’s French,” proclaimed the guy sitting next to my son, Aaron. Aaron gives him side-eye. The guy and his girlfriend are studying the bios of the authors seated on the platform in front of the room. It’s the first day of a writers’ conference and I’m here to talk about how to write children who sound, act, and think like children instead of mini-adults. Seated in the middle of the table, I figure I’m in a power-spot.
“No, says the woman, spotting a dark-haired, olive-skinned author seating herself to my right. “It’s Native American. It’s Leh-huish-hah.”
Aaron tries not to snicker.
“I’m telling you it’s French. L’wah!”
“Welcome everyone. Let’s start by having each of our panelists introduce themselves.”
“Aloha! My name is Lay-who-ah Parker and I write…”
When they hear me say my name, they both shake their heads. “No,” the guy says, “she’s wrong.”
At first glance you’d think my fourteen-year-old daughter is a pretty, self-confident jockette and honors student growing up sheltered and cherished in ways only the truly privileged take for granted. But get to know her and you’ll realize that she’s a deep thinker who knows how to blend. At her core she’s a can-do, no-nonsense, uber-competitive, authority-questioning young woman with the analytical brain of an engineer.
It’s a potent combination that usually leaves people underestimating her until she eviscerates them with her tenacity and logic.
Last night she came home spitting nails from her weekly teenage girls’ church youth group activity. “You know what we did? We made little toy lizards to go on backpacks.”
“Okaaayyy,” I said. “And you didn’t want one for your backpack?”
“The lizards weren’t for us; they were for kids in Africa. It was a service project. I asked how tiny beaded lizards were a service project—wouldn’t starving kids in Africa rather have a sandwich? And they said these were to go on the outside of the backpacks that other people were filling with things kids need. This wasn’t a service project—this was decorating someone else’s service project.” She was deeply and thoroughly disgusted.
I totally got where she was coming from. I also understood why the adult youth group leaders thought this was a brilliant idea: weekly activity, check; service project, check; fun thing to do, check. Now who has an idea for next week?
There is one inescapable fact of a lay ministry—it requires a lot of volunteer work from its members. And sometimes people don’t grasp all of the purposes and reasons behind what’s being asked of them.
Too often in teen girls’ programs the focus becomes what’s cute, easy, and fun instead of worthwhile. Somehow the idea that we’re supposed to be helping girls grow into capable young women of faith gets confused with entertaining them. We avoid asking more of them out of fear that they’ll stop coming and lose sight of why we want them there in the first place.
Combine a skewed focus with a checklist mentality, and you’ll understand why so many church youth camps are held in somebody’s vacation cabin, meals are pre-prepared off-site by other adults and ferried in three times daily, and a twenty-minute hike is deemed as good as the five-mile requirement. We all know it’s a serious pain to set up tents in the wilderness. It’s also far easier if adults plan, shop for, and cook all the meals—double-bonus points if leaders can avoid doing that over a smoky campfire or wonky propane burner. Throw in some spiritual thoughts, a couple of crafts, and check, check, check—girls’ summer church camp is done.
But that’s not the point.
Young women need to do hard things in order to learn that they can. They need experiences that teach them that their service has real value. And that takes time, effort, and a non-checklist mentality from the adults. To do less is to underestimate them—and ourselves.
God never said it would be easy, only worth it.
I know my daughter dutifully made as many of the lizards as she could to the best of her ability. I suspect the whole time she was calculating the man-hours and hard costs that went into them, figuring if they’d sold the lizards for $5 apiece as a fundraiser and then taken the money they raised and…
But beyond asking why they were making the lizards, I doubt she said a word. Like I said, she knows how to blend.
On her way up the stairs to her bedroom she paused. “You know, Mom, when I’m grown up I hope I get to work in a girls’ youth ministry. That way I can make sure we do something real.”
Lately, behind me in the shadows and corners of dimly lit rooms, Death stalks softly.
I’m uncertain if it’s simply the rule of three—three good things in a row, three bad—or if having my foot in a cast has made me more aware of the inevitability of age and the gradual entropy that all things slid toward. But in the past few weeks I feel like I’ve been confronted with too many near misses—a friend diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, but cured with surgery; a niece in a car accident escaping bruised, but not broken—along with the death of a dear colleague’s spouse from complications of lung cancer and the death of the father of one of my high school friends.
It feels like Death is gliding by, culling whom he chooses, his chill fingers caressing the back of my neck.
Things come in threes.
How far back can I go to round out the threes? How far removed is too removed to count?
As much as I want this grisly set of threes to be done, I know that this trio’s ending is really just resetting the countdown clock. It’s the illusion of completeness that brings a sigh of relief.
The PiBs are back in town. You can spot them in a New York minute or L.A. heartbeat, the People in Black, dressed for an ice age in 30+ degree weather—a bleak, but chic ice age—walking very quickly and importantly wearing bright Sundance badges, drinking skinny lattes, and talking a little (way) too loudly about Bab, Mark, and JJ on cell phones. They park anywhere they please, cut in line, and will run small children over to get to the counter where they take forever to order because they have to know the provenance of every item on a burger so that they can order a salad, sans croutons and dressing, with an organic cruelty-free lemon-wedge on the side.
Gotta watch the carbs, you know.
To save us all time and misery, I’m telling you upfront that our Heber mom and pop burger joints don’t have dairy-free cheese or sugar-free ketchup or free-range pickles. Part of the adventure of traveling is eating new food. Branch out a little, PiBs. Try the fry sauce.
Like the swallows and Capistrano, for the past 30 years the PiBs have annually flocked to our little town chasing the magic of the Sundance Film Festival. And yeah, I remember the first one—I was a budding director and writer myself attending a nearby university and was bribed with free tickets to point people in the right direction and to keep the riff-raff like me out of dimly lit rooms over-crowded with non-fire marshal compliant rows of folding chairs.
Since those college days I’ve been to some of the big galas and events as both a paying and comp’d guest. Meh. The food’s always pretentious, tiny, and undercooked—something you’d forgive and forget if you were there to stargaze instead of to sample the celebrity chef like I was. I’ve seen remarkable movies—and a lot of crappy ones, too. People forget it’s a film festival, not the Oscars. Best way to tell if you’re in for a stinker? Average the age of the people in the theater around you. Sub-25? It’s really going to suck. You’ve got average at least ten years older for it to be any good.
But back to the PiBs.
Am I glad that they spend money in my town? Abso-danm-lutely. I love to see jets worth the combined GNP of most third-world countries lining the tarmac of our small town airport. I like watching the local fuel truck filling them up and all the taxi cabs buzzing in from Salt Lake City. Our quaint artisanal cheese, jams, jellies, and candy shops sell out. It’s a post-holiday season boon to local ski instructors, photographers, and restaurants. I have friends who rent out their houses and escape to the beaches every January—double score.
I know that the benefits continue when attendees see the quality of our ski slopes, hiking trails, and reservoirs and come back for a vacation when the craziness is over. I’ve even met people who moved here after attending the film festival.
There are clear benefits to having Sundance here, check.
And if it were only about watching independent films, I wouldn’t mind the crowds. We get crowds with all our world-class athletic events, too. My real problem isn’t with the films; it’s with the wanna-bees and their assistants. I’ve actually been in line at Wal-Mart trying to buy the kinds of things Moms need to keep on hand when a gaggle of gel-slick hipster PiBs demanded their own checkout line because they were in a hurry. Didn’t we know who they were?
Seriously? You pulled that line while shopping at Wal-Mart for bottled water, folding chairs, and cheap Park City sweatshirts?
And then there are the people who wail and gnash their teeth in the street, shocked that their car was towed after it was parked under a no parking sign. Once a guy actually called the cops and complained that towing his car was rude and demanded they bring it back.
Yeah, good luck with that. Our sheriffs don’t know (or care) who you are either. They’re too busy making sure the emergency service vehicles can make it down the street.
Now that I don’t work in Park City, most of the time I can avoid the worst of the plague, but this year with a foot in a cast, rocking a knee scooter and a daughter who would rather ski than breathe, I’ve been spending too much time around them. My favorite recent run-in was at a movie theater where my husband and I went to kill some time before dragging the ski fiend and her friends off the slopes. (We were watching a non-Sundance film at a mixed use venue.) I was trying to maneuver through a crowded hall lined with double red velvet ropes that cordoned it down to a narrow one person pathway. (Fire marshal, anyone? Anyone?) A big guy was headed toward me, noticed my predicament, and stepped to the side to let me by. At least five Botox betties and two skinny jean wearing dudes with tasteful grey temples immediately leaped through the gap, blocking me from going anywhere. Big Guy rolled his eyes.
“Can you see me? ‘Cause I can see you,” I said as each person shimmied by.
It wasn’t until Big Guy growled, “Don’t worry. I got your back. Next one I tackle,” that someone woke up from his it’s-all-about-me daze long enough for me to roll by.
Yep. It’s the yearly PiB plague. I much prefer the Olympic athletes and their crew. They always grab a door for me. “Bummer man,” they say with a headshake, “And during prime ski season, too.”
Well, yeah, I did, but that’s another blog post.
Life lately has been full of small victories and accomplishments that on the surface don’t look like much. When you’ve got a foot in a cast that you can’t put any weight on and are congenitally crutch-challenged, things like stairs and showers and cooking a meal feel like summiting Mt. Everest, swimming the Atlantic, and feeding the 5,000 with a couple of fish and a loaf of bread. You know it can be done—you even remember doing it, but the complications of managing too many things with too few hands and keeping track of things that can get wet vs. things that can’t become like solving a physics problem.
And I never liked math.
Yeah, I knew about the surgery a month before it happened and prepared for all the anticipated things, but of course, it’s what you don’t expect that bites you in the butt. Along with stocking the fridge, I should’ve headed to the gym and built up muscles in arms, shoulders, and gut. I should’ve practiced standing on one leg while the dogs and cats swarmed underfoot. But one thing I did get right was preparing for showers.
Here’re my tips to make bathing with a cast easier.
This is genius and will work for any cast you can get a garbage bag over. You will need:
- A kitchen garbage bag
- A roll of stretch plastic wrap, the kind that’s used to wrap things for shipping.
Put the bag over the cast and fold it tight against the skin, getting most of the air out. Take the plastic wrap and wrap the edge of the kitchen bag against the skin several times. Make sure you’ve stretched it tightly enough that it creates a waterproof seal. The best part? After the shower you can simply lift the self-sealed edge, unwind it, and reuse the bag.
If you can’t stand on both legs, having a place to sit makes it much easier to manage soap and water. A snazzy official chair like this one is really cool, but any water safe seat—like a kitchen step stair—will work, too.
A hand sprayer is not absolutely necessary, but it does help with getting shampoo out of hair and soap out of all the crevasses. Several years ago we installed a combination hand and wall mount shower in the guest bathroom so we could more easily bathe the dogs. My husband handily swapped it out for the one in our master bath. If this isn’t an option, have a small bowl or big cup handy to fill and strategically splash.
It all sounds silly, I know, but never underestimate the healing power of good salt scrub and freshly shampooed hair. Guaranteed to wake the dead.
Days since heel surgery: 7
Days drug free: 2
Days attention span longer than a goldfish: 2
Books read: 0
Books started: 4
Chapters written: 0
Attempts at writing chapters: 733
Random checks of Facebook and Twitter: 2587
Catan/Candy Crush/Carcassonne games played on iPad: 7256
New York Times crossword puzzles solved: 5
History documentaries watched: 41
Movies watched: 1
Movies started: 15
Real Diet Cokes drunk: 1
Days family filled sippy cup with caffine-free Diet Coke and lied: 6
Ice packs filled: 47
Max number of pillows propping leg: 9
Number of times knee scooter needed but being used by kids doing wheelies: 13
Times ran over own toes with scooter: 5
Falls with crutches: 2
Attempts with crutches: 3
Days to walking cast and being able to sit at desk: 21
That’s my most pressing problem right now with my right foot in a cast and needing to be propped higher than my heart. The ice bag takes up what little room I have between my gut and knee and reclining half on my back and leaning on an elbow, I’m at a loss at how to balance the computer and type at the same time. Cocooned in a pillow nest, I’m tired of taping out one letter at a time on an iPad. Serious writing needs ten fingers.
It’s my fault for always writing at a desk with a chair and keyboard and two big monitors in a room where I can shut the door. Like a jock with lucky socks, I’ve trained myself to think that it’s all about the quiet room and the ability to use a mouse. Writing on the living room couch is a cramped affair filled with scraps of other people’s conversations and too loud music.
Adapt or die. Right now death is winning.
Being cooped up the past two days has built up a torrent of words and ideas that want to pour like water over a cliff, but they will have to wait until my foot no longer needs elevation and ice or I master some new yoga poses.
It’s going to be a long two months.
I have a favorite Sunday joke that goes, “A mother left church to look for her son and found him sitting on the curb in the parking lot. ‘You need to come back inside,’ she said. ‘But Mom, nobody likes me. Nobody talks to me or wants to sit by me. It’s boring going to meeting after meeting. I’d rather be outside enjoying the sunshine. Isn’t that a better way to feel God’s love?’ ‘Son, there are two reasons you need to come back inside,’ she said. ‘The first is that you made a commitment to God. The second is that you’re the Bishop.’
I often feel like that bishop.
Of course, you can change bishop to pastor or priest or rabbi or even Relief Society President or PTA Chair. The reason I like this joke is because at its heart it’s really about reluctant leadership and obligation. Even the most stalwart on the outside can have internal doubts.
There are many people in my church who would find that sentiment horrifically unsettling, but I consider it marvelously humanizing. I feel like I can lend a hand to a human. I can also forgive humans for making mistakes.
My husband and I team teach Sunday School to fourteen year olds. Some days it’s like trying to raise the dead. They constantly beg for treats and want to take naps instead of participate in discussions. It’s a lot like helping in the nursery but without diapers or Goldfish crackers.
One Sunday when I was teaching alone I walked out on them, saying I refused to believe they were truly as stupid as they were pretending to be when they insisted Catholics crucified Christ.
You don’t even have to be Christian to know that’s impossible.
But calling their bluff and storming out was probably not one of my more Christ-like moments. I even told them that if they didn’t want to learn, I’d wheel in a tv and play a video each week while I sat in a corner reading a book. Surely that would bring more Sunday peace to my life than struggling with these knuckleheads.
After stomping around the hallway and grinding my teeth to hold in the inappropriate words that bubbled up to the surface, I realized what I needed to tell them.
God only had one perfect person to do his work in the entire history of the world—and even Jesus had days where he wept in frustration. If our faith rests in the infallibility of a single person or group—bishop, scout leader, parent, Sunday School class—we’re guaranteed to be disappointed, possibly angry, and sitting on the curb while the meeting is going on. Our fragile, tempest-tossed faith has to be more resilient.
Faith is something that grows not because of all the good we’ve experienced, but in spite of the bad. It is the fervent belief that no matter now big or insignificant our contribution seems, no matter how little progress we seem to be making, faith is knowing the journey defines the destination.
After nine months of cajoling, badgering, challenging, and insisting that kids think beyond easy answers like prayer and reading scriptures when we ask them about how they will tackle life’s curve balls, I realize that I’m going to miss them when a brand new class takes their place in a couple of weeks. More surprising is that they say they’re going to miss us, the mean teachers who insisted their weekly treat was having us as teachers.
Evidence of God’s power and grace, if you ask me.
When my son was eight years old, we made a deal that he would take piano lessons until he was sixteen or could play all the songs in a simplified hymnal, something I guessed would take three or four years at the most. By then I figured he’d love music and would want to continue to play.
Not so much.
I made the fatal rookie mom mistake of underestimating the power of the truly unmotivated. I once caught him practicing the piano while standing next to me in my office. He’d recorded himself practicing weeks ago and simply had the piano playback the tracks.
That was the first and only time I regretted buying a digital piano.
Now sixteen, a month ago he told me he was ready to quit. With a gun pointed at his head, I think he can manage a couple of hymns and a classical piece or two, but it’s obvious he’s not going to be tickling the ivories for pocket change at a piano bar or subbing for the church pianist anytime soon.
I was seriously bummed.
You see, I always wanted to learn to play the piano.
The closest I came was in fifth grade when a band teacher starting coming to our school twice a week. Only two kids from each 5th and 6th grade class could join the band. Since it met during regular school hours, teachers had to approve who could miss valuable class time. I begged my teacher Mrs. Goo to let me go. I said my parents insisted that I be in band. I promised to bang the erasers to rid them of chalk every day before lunch, that I would stay in from recess on band days to read and do extra math, and the kicker, I would never ever ask another question in class again. Eventually, a boy no one liked and I got chosen. I think Mrs. Goo was secretly relieved to be rid of us a couple of hours a week.
At the first band meeting the conductor said if we played the sax, clarinet, or oboe we had to buy reeds. If we played the trumpet or trombone we’d have to buy a mouthpiece. Drummers needed to provide their own drumsticks. I raised my hand.
“Is there an instrument that doesn’t cost anything to play?”
“The flute,” he laughed. “The school has a few you can use.”
Score! “I want to play the flute,” I said.
“Hell, no,” my father said.
“There’s no rental fee and band is during school so I don’t have to go early or stay late. I can still ride the city bus with Heidi.”
“Band? Like marching around on a field? What about uniforms? I’m not paying for that.”
“It’s free,” I said.
“Fine,” he said. “You want to look like an ass marching around in the rain, that’s up to you.”
To keep the peace I practiced before my parents came home from work and saved all my babysitting money for three years to buy my first flute, a crappy Artley that I was so proud of in eighth grade. I played all through high school, marching in the rain at football games and teaching at summer band camps. As a freshman, I earned a chair on a competition symphonic wind orchestra that traveled all over the United States performing at places like Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Rockefeller Center, the Rose Bowl, Disneyland, and the White House—all major multi-week adventures when you’re a bunch of teens traveling from Hawaii. Jazz, classical, baroque, pop, movie scores, ballads—I played them all, including ballroom waltzes and be-bop oldies for the Waikiki tea time crowd at a fancy hotel. By the time I was a high school senior, I could sight read and play just about anything a conductor threw at me.
But as a freshman in college, I psyched myself out and didn’t even audition. Since I wasn’t a music major I didn’t think there was a place for me to play. Life went on with less and less musical joy in it until I turned around and realized I hadn’t sung in a choir or played more than a token note on a flute in more than 25 years. It didn’t seem possible.
The lessons are already in the budget, I thought. But so what? I’m the boss of me now.
“Okay,” I told my son. “If you really don’t want to play, you don’t have to. But I’m talking to your teacher about taking your spot.”
“You can’t do that!” my thirteen year old daughter shrieked. “It’d be too embarrassing!”
“Oh, for me because I’m old?” I asked.
“No! For me because you’re old! Moms don’t take piano lessons! What about recitals? No way!”
Yes, way. With three lessons under my belt, I’m already tackling beginner’s Christmas music with simple three and four note chords that I fumble my way through. According to my teacher, it’s actually easier to teach an old dog new tricks, especially when the dog is used to pounding on a different kind of keyboard for hours on end and can already read music.
After all, somebody’s gonna have to play the piano when the kids are gone. Might as well be me.
Holding my breath and staring at the light fixture, I waited.
Dang, I thought. Late last night I didn’t double-save my manuscript.
Beep, beep, beep nagged the UPS in my office like a toddler’s persistent Mom, Mom, Mommy, Mom. I know nothing’s foolproof. All the UPS really does is allow me twenty minutes to gracefully shut down the server and computers—assuming I’m even home. During an outage smart money always unplugs everything from the wall to protect delicate electronics from a power surge meltdown when the electricity comes back on.
Most days I choose lazy over smart. When I realized I’d have to move my desk, I just turned my computer off.
I can always write another novel. Hernias are forever.
With the UPS no longer beeping at me to do something, anything, quick, I considered my next move.
No writing on the manuscript, I thought, not even on my laptop since I can’t get to my most current files on the server. No social media stuff either unless it’s from my smart phone. Yuck. There’s a headlamp hanging on a peg in the mud room. I could—horrors!—clean the bathrooms. No laundry. No vacuuming. I could empty the dishwasher and wipe down counters.
Oh, joy. Without my favorite electronic gadgets to lean on, I’m like a housewife in the 1890s, but without a snazzy rug beater or ruffled apron.
Or maid. In the 1890s I’d have a maid, a nice homely hardworking lass who cost me 5 cents a day. I’d totally pop two bits a week for someone else to clean. There’s probably a month’s wages in the couch cushions. With Ella scrubbing her heart out, I could recline on the fainting couch all day and read trashy novels while snacking on chocolate bon-bons.
Wait. Do I even like bon-bons? Not the chocolate and fruit kind, that’s for sure. And when’s the last time I read a book on paper? There’s not a printed book in the house that I haven’t already read.
What if this power outage never ends? It’s November. We’ll freeze! No, we’ll just put more clothes on. It’s fine. Eskimos lived without central heating for thousands of years and they didn’t have ski coats or thermal underwear.
Dinner! Well, at least last night’s bread is still fresh. Peanut butter sandwiches. Blah. The kids will just have to deal with it. Hubby’s out of town. Typical. I wonder how the camp stove works. Last I saw it was piled under all the scout stuff in the basement. Propane canisters are green, right? Maybe I can build a fire.
I glanced through the window.
“Oh, #@^!$*!! The horses!”
Out loud it sounded worse. How am I going to water the horses? No power, no automatic watering pump, no heat. The water trough will freeze solid. That means we’re back to filling buckets and breaking ice like the pioneers. Horses need at least 5 gallons of fresh water a day. Six times five plus spillage—
Damn. That’s a lot of buckets. The kids will have to get up really early to get that done before school.
But if the pipes freeze, they can’t get water from the tap. Where’s my nearest water source?
The hot tub.
It’s insulated so it should stay above freezing for several days. The kids can dip buckets out and carry them down to the horses. Maybe it would it be better to bring the horses to the deck. Can horses climb stairs? Should we even give spa water to horses? It’s a salt system, not chlorine, but salt’s hard on kidneys. People lost at sea go crazy drinking ocean water. That settles it. The horses are crazy enough already. Hot tub water is for washing dishes and clothes.
Did Eskimos wash clothes? The wore furs, right? Do you even wash furs? Cats lick themselves clean.
I’m not licking anybody’s parka. Seriously. I’m not.
So no hot tub water for the horses. That leaves Deer Creek Reservoir. It’s what? Ten miles each way? Twenty miles on horseback will take most of the day. We’d have to start at dawn.
But really, when did anybody last add salt to the hot tub? Maybe it’s still an option.
I sighed. Too bad my daughter loves them. It would be easier to set them free. Worked for Willie.
Holy crap. Twenty miles each day. After I get snow pants and a jacket on, I’ll dig the ax out of the mess in the garage and use it to break ice and chop wood. The kids and I are going to need water, too. I better figure out a way to tie coolers to the horses. I think we’ve got bungee cords in the truck. Maybe take fishing poles—
Huh. Power’s back on. Guess I’ll shower and write a blog post.