Sunday, February 24, 2013

Side by Side

My children turn 7, 13, 18, and 23 this year. The youngest lost her third tooth last week. Son #3 recently gained bragging rights as the tallest family member living at home. Son #2 might suffer an ego blast at the need to look up to his younger brother, except for the fact that, like many teenage boys on the brink of adulthood, he is immortal, invincible and untouchable. Meanwhile, I continue to marvel at the fact that while I was distracted by football games and report cards, Son #1 grew into a man. This year I will exactly double his age, and that milestone has me glancing backward at my own life, setting it side by side with the lives of my children.

Juliana in 1st grade
Kristina in 1st grade
At seven, like Kristina, I looked forward to the end of first grade and the beginning of another glorious summer. It was 1974, and I attended Stewart Elementary School in Yankton, South Dakota. Every schoolday morning I walked down the alley behind our house to the school. It was a 5-minute walk, and back in the old days I made that 5-minute walk again at noon to go home for lunch--except on taco days. I loved the greasy, hardshell tacos, just as I loved playing on the bars at recess or those wonderful days when the P.E. teacher brought out the parachute and we made a "mushroom" or played popcorn with gym balls. On Sundays we attended church in a rented chapel in one of the buildings on the Yankton College campus. It was at church that I met my best friend of that period, Jenny West. She lived a half hour away, in Vermilion, but church formed the centerpiece of our lives and besides, our mothers were friends. With my neighborhood friends, I organized clubs in the schoolyard or played across the street from my house at Fantle Memorial Park. We climbed trees and played make believe for hours on end. All the while, I looked up to my older sister. She seemed impossibly grown up, finishing her first year of middle school and playing violin. While Daddy taught English at the college, Mother taught piano lessons in our living room, and I drove her crazy trying to chat with her students. I think of that now when Kristina interrupts my own music lessons.

Jared in 7th grade
Juliana in 7th grade
By the time I turned 13, we had left the Midwest and traveled south. Like Jared, I enjoyed seventh grade. With the other kids in my suburban neighborhood, I boarded a bus every morning to travel downtown to Capitol Heights Junior High, an imposing three-story school with considerably more diversity than the early days up north in South Dakota. We had lived in Montgomery, Alabama for nearly two years by then, and I loved my time there. I lived and breathed ballet that year (1980), dancing with the Montgomery Civic Ballet. It was my second year with the company, and I began to land some good roles. Outside of the studio, I had good friends in the neighborhood and at school, but my lasting memories are those of my best friends: Miriam Henderson and Cathy Brett. We took turns hosting sleepovers, made sugar muffins and flour tortillas, worked on Young Women's projects together at church, played in the ditch behind my house, rode our bikes on the paths through the woods, giggled about our sisters' dates and checked out the cute boys at the Friday evening baseball games down the street. Rather to our surprise, the end of seventh grade brought an end to the trio, as I moved to Kentucky, and Cathy abruptly moved to California within a week of each other. Fortunately, we have connected periodically through the decades since then, and I still count those two among my short list of lifelong friends.

Alec as a senior
Juliana as a senior
Another five years took me from Montgomery to Frankfort, Kentucky and on to Mesa, Arizona. Looking back on the spring of 1985, I can empathize with Alec's current case of senioritis. Like Alec, I took a mid-winter trip to Utah State to check out campus and came home energized about the excitement of college life. Like Alec, I tried to keep my mind sufficiently focused to prepare for Advanced Placement exams. Dates with college boys distracted my focus, as did my plans to leave home as soon as the ink dried on my diploma. I loved the opportunities available to me in a metropolitan area, but I hated the desert. I had secured a summer job near Yellowstone National Park and could not wait to head to the mountains and live on my own. In the meantime, I enjoyed the chance to see my cousins in the halls of Mountain View High School, and I worked with a great group of kids on the LDS Seminary Council. I spent occasional afternoons pretending elegance in the ritzy stores and cafes in Scotsdale, and I relaxed in the pine woods near my grandparents' cabin up in Strawberry. I owned life, and everything felt possible.

Juliana and Devin 1990
As the late 1980s flew by, I grew up (a bit), graduated from college and settled into the beginnings of a career and married life. Like Devin, at 23 I began to see glimpses of what I might make of a life that, up to that point, had mostly provided me time and space for adventure. I worked as a technical writer for a small software company in Logan, my first real job. We lived in a mobile home in the married student trailer park, and Brady tried valiantly to attend school, although the after-effects of a brain tumor and two brain surgeries impeded that process. That August, I gave birth to my firstborn.  When I returned to work a few weeks later, Brady and I tag-teamed the parenting duties. Devin was a nearly perfect baby, as all first babies should be, and I confidently planned out the next decade in my head. I would work while Brady finished college. We would move to some beautiful suburb and raise a beautiful family. I would teach Sunday School, earn accolades in graduate school, publish something besides computer manuals. Oh, how God must have chuckled at my feeble attempts to plan! And yet...for all of its twists and turns, God's version of my life has given me such magic and memories.


  1. It's beautiful to see how each of your children resemble you. You are a talented writer. I am very inspired by you.

  2. It is amazing, the characteristics they all share! Have you read the poem that begins, "My life is but a weaving, between The Lord and me..."? Your sentiments at the end recall it to me. It has been a favourite reminder of the Father's plans in my life versus my own.