Wednesday, August 24, 2016

In which it's a dangerous business, going out your door.

I've decided to take Ann Dee Ellis' 8-minute memoir challenge. Basically, she posts a writing prompt on her blog. And we all write for 8 minutes about that prompt. I might not be consistent. I might forget about it after this one prompt. But we'll see, won't we. This week's prompt is to write about a time I had an adventure.

When I hear the word "adventure," I usually envision a positive experience. Traipsing over new territory, catching my breath at gorgeous vistas, feeling the thrill of discovery. Sometimes I forget that a true adventure carries an inherent risk-the chance that something horrible could happen at any minute. I remember huddling in prayer with some girls from my high school track team at the start of the meet. There were storm clouds threatening, and were dreading the prospect of running in the rain. The girl giving the prayer started out normal, asking that we would be given mental and physical strength to run our races. But then she added, "And please bless that this will be an adventure." We all audibly groaned. We didn't want an adventure at that moment. We wanted the rain to go away so we could run our freaking races.

I didn't want an adventure that Tuesday in May. My little brother and I were going rock climbing for the first time this season. I met him up in Rock Canyon, and we hiked up to Red Slab, one of our favorite spots. Spencer opted to lead the first climb, and I was relieved because lead climbing is terrifying. He got a few bolts up the route, clipping in his carabiners as he went, before realizing that this climb was a little bit out of his comfort zone. I was belaying him from below and could see his feet start to slip. I couldn't decide whether to start pulling in the rope; if he wasn't about to fall, pulling in the rope would make sure he actually did fall, but if he was falling, pulling in the rope would let me catch him faster. And then...he was falling and I could feel the rope feeding through my hands and he was screaming and then...the rope caught and he was hanging and everything was okay. I caught him. He was okay.

But when I lowered him, he wasn't okay. He had kicked the wall hard on the way down and couldn't put weight on his foot. He winced with every step we took down the mountain trail, and by the time we'd made it a hundred yards, I could see he was crying. My tough, triathlete brother was crying. And it was my fault. I was his belayer. I was his big sister. It was my job to keep him safe and I had failed.  If I had started pulling the rope in sooner, would he have been okay? Could I have made sure we started on an easier route? Some good Samaritans on a morning hike helped me carry him down the mountain and into my car, where I drove him to the urgent care clinic. I texted our parents and my husband, terrified that my mom would be mad at me for letting her son get hurt. I tried not to let Spencer see me cry. I think he was doing the same for me.

The X-ray revealed a broken ankle, one that would probably require surgery. I had to explain to every doctor and nurse we saw that Spencer is my brother, not my husband, we don't live together, so maybe giving me the instructions about his pain medication and what specialist to call was a bad idea. And then we were back at his apartment, eating ice cream with his roommates, and I was finally able to go outside and call my husband and burst into tears of guilt and fear and too much adrenaline.  And Aaron came home from work early just to give me a hug (I married a good one), and my mom came over to check on Spencer and also to make sure I knew it wasn't my fault and nobody was mad at me. And Spencer, the eternal good sport, made jokes and smiled and helped me feel okay.

And now it's been three months and he's out of his cast and doesn't even hate me. Even though having a broken ankle could have ruined his summer, he just kept going: SCUBA diving, traveling the wold, even competing in a triathlon (minus the running portion). But I've let it get to me. I haven't gone rock climbing since it happened. Maybe I need to. Because having adventures does mean something terrible might happen. And sometimes, something terrible does happen. But what kind of life is it if you let that stop you from stepping out your front door and doing the things you love?


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

In which I eat the breakfast of champions

I had ice cream for breakfast today. And also yesterday. And I know that's super unhealthy, and I'm trying to make better choices and lose weight, and all of that, but hear me out. We were out of all of the breakfast foods. No cereal or milk. No bread for toast. No eggs. No yogurt to put in a smoothie. All we had was oatmeal. Don't get me wrong, I love oatmeal. But the past several times I've tried to make it, it has exploded all over the inside of my microwave. It even happens if I take the oatmeal out and stir it halfway through cooking. Maybe this microwave is hotter than my old one? I don't know. Maybe I've wronged it somehow and this is its revenge. So this morning I was sitting in the kitchen trying to decide if it was worth it to make a bowl of oatmeal when most of it would end up splattered around the inside of the microwave when finally, I got too hungry to make the decision anymore and just got myself a bowl of chocolate ice cream instead. And then another bowl.

And by golly, it was delicious. So there.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

In which I am dissatisfied

I did a lot of things this summer.

I completed the second level of my Kodaly teaching certification. I grew a vegetable garden. I volunteered at a community center near my house. I went to the zoo. I planned a birthday party for my husband. I went camping. I spent time with friends. I visited the Dominican Republic. I went on a road trip with my in-laws. I went to two different family reunions. I joined a Masters swim team. I got caught up on doctor's appointments (dentist, gynecologist, eye doctor, voice therapy, etc)  I went to Idaho and back in one day for a friend's wedding. I started teaching piano lessons. I completed hikes that had been on my to-do list for years. I saw Mount Rushmore. And I read a ton of books.

And yet, when I think back on my summer, my brain skips over all of this and gets stuck on the days I spent binge-watching "The Office" (I watched all 9 seasons this summer). Instead of remembering the new friends I've made in my ward, I remember the days I failed to find anyone to hike with me and instead bummed around at home by myself. Despite the obvious list of things I did with my vacation, I can't shake the feeling that none of it counted and I actually did nothing all summer.

This would normally be the part of the post where I'd reveal the grand epiphany I just had about how everything I thought before was wrong. Unfortunately, I'm writing this pre-epiphany, so here's all I've got: I don't know why it's so hard for me to recognize my own accomplishments. I don't know why I beat myself up so much about perceived wastes of time. But I do know that it's not okay and that it doesn't make me happy. And I'm working to adjust my attitude, so that when work starts this week and my summer ends, I can look back with satisfaction at how I spent my time.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

In which I don't know how to do friendship

Before I got married, I used to swear up and down that Aaron and I would never be one of "those" couples. You know, the ones who, upon getting married, retreat into their married bliss and completely ignore their friends forever. No, I was sure that I'd spend just as much time with my friends after I got married as I did before.  I was wrong.

I've been married for a year and a half, and I rarely see or talk to most of my friends. Many of them have graduated and moved away, some have had babies, and some I just....haven't made time for. My ability to make new friends also seems to have completely disappeared. I can do small talk and casual aquaintanceship just fine, but moving to actual friend level? I have no idea how to make that happen.

There are a few reasons for this. First, before I was married, I lived with some of my best friends, so it was pretty easy to make time for them. The friends I didn't live with still mostly lived within a few blocks. It's a lot easier to call someone over from the next room or to walk across the street then it is to drive for half an hour to see a friend.

Also, before I was married, I was attending a singles ward (a Mormon congregation made up of young single adults). In the singles wards, there were constant social activities: FHE, Break the Fast, dinner groups, Institute, and plenty of game nights, dances, and ice skating activities. The family ward I attend now probably has one ward activity every few months, which means if I want to be social, I have to actually plan it myself.

But, if I'm being honest with myself, I can't blame my poor friendship skills on my living situation or on the number of activities my ward has. The reason why my friendships are faltering is that I haven't been putting effort into them. The reason why I haven't been making new friends is because I haven't developed the skills necessary to do so. I've let myself get complacent and lazy with my friendships, and as a result, my friendships have not been flourishing the way I'd like them to.

But I'm going to do better. It's hard and scary, but I'm going to do it. This week I have plans with an old roommate to go to the temple after work, and I have pending plans to go to the gym with a few different people(...still need to follow through on that...). It's really difficult for me to get up the courage to call someone and make plans (what if they don't want to hang out with me? What if they think I'm weird? What if the activity I suggest is one that they hate?) but it's worth it to me. I need the enrichment, the trust, the fun, and even the vulnerability that real friendships provide. I don't really know how to be a good friend in this stage of my life. But I intend to figure it out.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

In which a xylophone changes everything

I have a student (let's call him Max) who has been giving me trouble all year. He is often defiant, refuses to participate or to follow any directions, and stirs up the other kids to make mischief as well. On multiple occasions, he's started running in circles around my room screaming to avoid doing what he's supposed to be doing. Nobody has known what to do with him: not the classroom teacher, not the principal, and definitely not me.

Last week, after a particularly rough class, I kept him after class to talk about his behavior. I tried to explain why his behavior was inappropriate and unacceptable while he kept dinking away on a xylophone he'd pulled off of my shelf--without my permission, I might add. I was getting frustrated that he wasn't listening when he suddenly looked up at me, no trace of anger or defiance on his face, and said, "Mrs. E, I just really love playing instruments."

Well, I was floored. I wasn't aware that "Max" loved anything at all except causing mayhem. To be honest, I had long ago stopped seeing him as a child and instead thought of him as more of a...chaos machine. But here he was, a kid with way too much pain and sadness and confusion in his life, who just wanted a chance to play some musical instruments.

So we made a deal. If he could follow directions, participate, and be respectful in music, I would let him come hang out in my room during my prep time and play any instruments he wanted. It's been a week since we started this system, and he's earned "instrument time" twice now. While I mostly leave him alone to explore the instruments on his own, I've taken a little bit of time to talk to him and get to know him as well. And it turns out that "Max" is a really sweet kid. He loves action movies, he adores his little brother, and he wants to be a police officer when he grows up. He'd rather be in school than at home, and he wants to learn how to play the piano someday. When I showed him how to play one of the songs we'd been learning in class, his face lit up in the brightest smile I'd ever seen.

I don't know how it happened, but in just a week I've gone from feeling nothing but frustration for this kid to loving him so much it feels like my heart is going to explode.  I had been seeing him as a problem, an obstacle toward my teaching. He will probably not have perfect behavior for the rest of the year. I will probably still have to struggle to help him make better choices in class. But for just a second there, I was given the chance to see him as a person, as a child of God. And that has changed everything.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

In which I was a teen psychic

Last week, my mom had me go through some boxes of my stuff from junior high and high school to get rid of whatever I didn't want anymore (apparently my parents' house doesn't have infinite space?) In the process, I found something bizarre. Something glorious. Something I had completely forgotten existed.  It was....the Man in a Can!

So, the Man in a Can was an activity we did for my church Young Women's group when I was 14. We cut out pictures of wedding dresses, color schemes, and rings, made lists of attributes we wanted in a future husband, and picked out names for our future children ("So, basically pre-Internet Pinterest," says my brother). Then, each of us sealed up the contents of our wishful wedding planning in a Number 10 can, to be opened only when we had become engaged.

So here I was, face to face with my DIY Pinterest Time Capsule, opening it a year and a half late. I remembered the activity; I also remembered having a really bad attitude about it. I'm pretty sure I sat in the corner with some of my friends griping about how it was dumb, and styles were totally going to change between now and whenever I got married, and what if some of us never got married, and I wanted to go rock climbing for our activity but no, we didn't have the budget for that. But I eventually sucked it up and clipped a few things out and put them in my can, and I think at some point I actually started enjoying it. 11 years later, I was a little bit anxious. What if I opened it and saw a picture of the perfect dress, and had regret about the dress I actually wore at my wedding? What if I had found the perfect color scheme back at 14, and all the time I spent agonizing over my wedding colors had been completely unnecessary? Who knows what kinds of long-buried expectations and newly discovered regrets this tin can would stir up?

Still, it had to be done. With Aaron's help, I opened the can, eager for a glimpse into my own adolescent mind.

The first thing I learned was that as a teenager, I had way different taste in jewelry. Here are my prototype wedding rings:


They're just so...boxy and clunky and...eugh. Not my cup of tea. And diamonds aren't really my thing either. Here's my actual wedding ring.


Next, I looked at my wedding dress choice. Teenage me was actually pretty close to adult me in this choice. I really like the bodice and the overall shape of this dress. And it doesn't actually look much different than the one I ended up going with.


But then I pulled out my list of attributes for my future husband, and it got really weird. 

Most of these are pretty generic Mormon/teenage girl answers. Who doesn't want a partner who is loving or patient or smart or respectful or sensitive? All of these apply to Aaron, but that just means he's a good guy. Then I started to notice that some of these were a little more specific: "Spontaneous and fun-loving," "funny," "loves music." Again, still nothing highly unusual. But then I noticed two things "will sing to me" and "brown curly hair would be nice." Whaaa? First, Aaron sings to me almost constantly. It's possible we sing to each other more than we talk to each other. And I mean...brown curly hair? Aaron is literally the only person with brown curly hair I've ever been romantically interested in (besides like...Josh Groban....) How did I call that as a 14 year-old?

The only conclusion I've been able to come to is that I had latent psychic powers as a teenager. How else would I have known that I'd marry a music-loving, curly-haired man, and wear a drop-waist, butterfly sleeve dress for the occasion? It's spooky, man.



Saturday, January 30, 2016

In which I feel the burn

This year, I set a New Year's resolution that I've been trying to bring myself to set for a few years. I decided that I would lose 20 pounds by the end of the year.

For the past three years, I've been skirting around the issue, pretending I don't care, and basically doing nothing. So what that I'm almost thirty pounds heavier than I was five years ago? Bodies change, man. I was training for a half marathon five years ago, and I sure don't have time for that now. I would tell myself that the only healthy outlook was to love myself as I was, which meant accepting those extra thirty pounds as a welcome part of me. I told myself that trying to lose weight would only lead to extreme dieting, anxiety, and probably profound disappointment. I reasoned that it was just too hard, I couldn't do it, and it would make more sense to just accept my new size as normal.

And I was ready to leave it at that, except that I couldn't. It kept nagging at me. This extra weight doesn't feel like a part of me. I don't love how I look, I've had to say goodbye to some of my favorite clothes because they don't fit anymore, and I'm just not comfortable. A few months ago, my weight finally crossed from the "healthy" BMI zone to the "overweight" zone, which was kind of a rude awakening. I have a family history of serious health problems caused and aggravated by obesity, and while I'm healthy now, I'd rather not have to deal with any of those down the line. Further, I've realized that my weight gain is a symptom of some really unhealthy eating and exercise habits that I should probably work on regardless of the numbers on the scale.

Most of all, I've realized that yes, loving someone means you accept them and love them where they're at. But it also means that you support them in their goals for self-improvement. You don't enable them in stagnation. You encourage them to be better. I can love myself and my body and still set goals, change my habits, and get healthier.

A lot of my friends who have been successful in losing weight have done so by enrolling in exercise programs, following a strict dietary regimen, and otherwise making drastic changes in their lives. While I respect and admire their tenacity, I'm almost positive that approach wouldn't work for me. I would burn out within days and jump right back into eating ice cream for dinner every night. So I'm going to focus on making small, sustainable changes and turning them into habits. Right now, that means only eating sweets on the weekends and exercising five days a week. When that becomes easy, maybe I'll pay attention to the kind of exercise I'm doing or work more fruits and vegetables into my diet.

Even though the changes I'm making are tiny, sometimes they feel so. so. hard. It physically pains me when there's a package of cookies up for grabs in the faculty room and I'm munching on my carrots instead. In the middle of a Utah winter, it's really difficult to convince myself to go running when I could be on my couch watching Netflix. But there's a kind of a satisfaction that comes when I do make these choices. In a yoga class I went to the other day, the instructor talked about the concept of tapas. Tapas literally means heat, and refers to the friction generated by going against the grain of what is easy. It's a purifying fire generated by letting one's will rule over one's desires. In an LDS context, it might be described as allowing the spirit dominion over the body. My instructor described tapas as "a fiery discipline" that allows people to transcend themselves. And every time I turn down a brownie, change into my running shoes, or eat an apple instead of a bowl of ice cream, I'm cranking that fire up just a little bit hotter.