Thursday, July 1, 2010

Summer Rocks!

With the sudden entrance of what has finally become a sizzling summer, I have found myself caught up in all its respective pleasures--lazy mornings, swim lessons, dressing the baby in nothing more than cotton onesies, the fresh smell of new tomato plants, reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with the kids, listening to our distant neighbor bagpipe Amazing Grace from his back porch, hot concrete under leathery feet, playing with long-lost cousins, local concerts in the park, watermelon by the bucketload, regular picnics, and lots of dazzling sunsets in the face of balmy wind.

In the process of taking extended family photos on Tuesday night:

I love watching the adults make fools of themselves to get the kids to smile.

My kids have relished in the goodness, and I have in turn savored their enjoyment. Truth is, my biggest goal as a mother this season has been to keep things around here as simple as possible. I have actually planned for us to be lazy, (sans media distractions, of course), so that all the summer magic can happen on its own without "plans" getting in the way. Some days have been more successful than others. . . , We did manage to finally landscape the backyard, and Pearly-Q and I did get away for a short Vegas stint to see Cirque du Soleil, but other than that, things around here have slowed way, way down . . .

It's just one way I love to celebrate all my exquisite freedoms.

Happy 4th of July, everyone.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Bitty and his best friend from preschool, at their very important preschool graduation ceremony. (Too bad this buddy will soon be moving to Dubai!)

This time of the year for any mother can be a bit crazy. It's funny because I distinctly recall how the months of May and June used to be a happy, carefree season in life. Don't get me wrong--I still enjoy the glorious warmth peeking through the clouds, with all the refreshing laughter of flowers and the happy smell of blossoms. It really does feel like a rebirth . . . And yet, ironically it is also the time that so much effort is poured into celebrating progression and all sorts of different graduations. Today we finished the LAST of these--the boys' piano recital. Phew! I guess now I can finally say I have graduated myself--from all the graduations, of course.

Now for a tribute to some of the fun milestones as of late:

Big-O & Bitty finally finished out their soccer season. Big-O in particular knew how to tear it up out there. Pearly-Q and I seriously were constantly amazed by the child's raw talent--something neither one of us will ever be able to take credit for. Check him out:

The Sass completed her first year of dance, (something she has adored). She performed in her recital to "Five Little Monkeys," as what else? Oh, a monkey. Man, did she love to swing that tail!

The piano recital. Ta-da! We did it. Actually, I have to just say right now that this what made COMPLETELY possible by my amazing husband who practiced with the boys every day and attended their lessons every week since Coco was born. He is seriously the man! As a musician who understands how much work this really takes, I have to admit nothing endears me more to him than what he does for our sons in this respect. It is incredible, and makes me so grateful to be married to him.
Do you think they're proud of themselves? They really should be, though.

Coco moved on to ribs. Just thought we'd start her early. (Hey, she's got to cut her teeth on something. )

Our kids officially survived the first six months of having a crazy mother who survived 3 young children & a baby. Though there were some hard days, some holding-on-by-our-fingernails days, and some pathetically ridiculous spacing moments (like missing Big-O's end-of-the-year Kindergarten program), on the whole, our time as a family since Coco's birth has been more glorious than any of us could have anticipated. Our four children have officially become their own tour-de-force. Though they definitely have their typical sibling squabbles, I am amazed to see how much love they express for each other, especially as their mutual love for Coco has literally exploded. Just the other day, Sassy said, "Dad, you know why I love Coco? . . . Cause she's da best!" Fortunately, we all feel the same way.

I mean, who can seriously resist this?


Saturday, May 22, 2010

My Notebook

I cannot believe that it has literally been over three weeks since I have posted anything! Craziness . . . The need to do so has sat repeatedly at the back of mind, and repeatedly it has been shelved because of so many other pressing concerns that surround any typical mother of young children. You know the list:

  • Laundry
  • Cleaning
  • Cooking
  • Teaching kids to clean
  • Practicing
  • Reading with the kids
  • Getting to all the end-of-the-year school programs
  • Birthday cards/gifts
  • Laundry
  • Weeding/mowing the lawn
  • Soccer games
  • Dance classes, Music classes, Chinese classes
  • Fitting in individual time with each of the kids
  • Planning out meals
  • Grocery shopping
  • Planning out summer schedules
  • Organizing playdates
  • Dentist/doctor appointments
  • Mothers' Day gifts
  • By the way, did I mention laundry? (Made worse of course by Sassy's insistence on wearing at least three different dresses/outfits per day).
  • Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. (I envision the adults in Peanuts here, cause that's how I feel even looking at this list).

Sometimes what requires my time is enough to make me wacky, and I wonder how to fit all of it in with some sort of serenity. Then, when I allow myself to take a giant breath, I remember that there is indeed someone who has the capacity to help me.

There is a scripture that reads: Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good . . .

I believe that there is more wisdom in that statement than meets the eye.

Think about it. If one truly believes that God lives, that we are His children, and that He absolutely loves us, then it stands to reason that He is indeed willing to guide us in even the tiny particulars.

And with that in mind, lately I have decided to take Him at His word.

For the last couple of weeks, each morning starts off with the same domestic chaos of feeding children, dressing them, overseeing the completion of chores and practicing, etc. But, as soon as they are shuffled out the door or dropped off at school, and I have put the baby down for bed, I pull out my notebook.

"A notebook?" you may ask. "So big deal . . ."

Actually it is a big deal, because that trusty little spiral bound number is where I begin to write and write and write. I list all the items I need to logistically accomplish that day--everything that comes to mind.

And then I start to pray. Actually, like the scripture says, I begin to counsel.

"Is there anything I have forgotten to include on the list?" I ask.

I note the changes.

"Is there anything else I should consider?" I inquire.

Again, I write the response. Sometimes the answer doesn't include just logistical items, but things to consider or ponder upon in my relationships with others as well. . . Particularly my husband and children.

"What items on my list are the biggest priority today?"

I star the items He feels are most imperative.

And so the process continues, while I glean more and more and more information.

Pretty soon I have a pretty good-looking list, with a peaceful picture of what I really need to do that day, and, best of all--the preferred way to go about doing it. Inevitably after a "counselling session" like this, I can expect all sort of magical moments in my day--like the moment I hear that still, small voice in my mind that says, "You have an extra 10 minutes to spare right now. It's the perfect time for you to stop at the store and pick up a gift for Big-O's birth mother for Mothers' Day." . . . "Thank you very much," I say.

Or the moment when I hear, "The kids are doing well downstairs for a minute, now is the perfect time to call the individual I mentioned this morning." . . . "Wow," I think again. Or, "Aren't you forgetting to call and reschedule those appointments?" . . .

And the list goes on and on.

Over and over I am astounded at the degree of help I receive for things that may seem meaningless to others, but are incredibly important to me. In fact, the process is often so personal that it often brings tears to my eyes as I marvel at His awareness of me as an individual, and the love helps center me in a way that nothing else can. As I stop to consider this process, I can say with absolute certainty that God hears and answers my prayers on a daily basis.

And, most importantly, the guidance He is willing to provide is constrained only by my own limited expectations--not His.

Friday, April 30, 2010


The word "laoshi," (pronounced lao-sure) is the romanized version of the Chinese word for teacher, an incredibly respected and beloved term in their language. Were you to visit China, rather than seeing athletes on billboards sponsoring a product, you would instead observe photographs of well-known professors. To the Chinese people, the regard for educators hearkens back literally thousands of years--something our materialistically-driven cultural could definitely learn from. For our family, the word also holds reverential meaning, as the laoshi for my children has made all the difference in our world.

When I first met Laoshi 2 1/2 years ago, I immediately liked her. Bright, kind, happy, and unassuming, she felt like the perfect person to assist me in my goal of helping my children learn Mandarin. Knowing full well the limits of my own ability to shoulder the reponsibility alone, we quickly arranged for visits three times a week to her home (which is just several minutes away from mine).

Quickly we became friends, and I learned that she moved here from Taiwan 20+ years ago (where she had previously been a kindergarten teacher), and she married a long-time resident of what used to be our "little" town, and then started a family. Unbeknownst to me, I was just beginning my mommy burnout, and the chance to regularly meet with someone and witness a part of myself steadily improving (my language ability), rather than rapidly declining, meant more than I explain.

Each week we drove to her house, and I began to let my hair down as I watched her engage my children in singing, dancing, and playing in this wonderful language. Gradually it gave me permission to play with my kids in a way I hadn't allowed myself at home. (Can you believe I had never played hide-and-go-seek with my kids before I met her? Pathetic.) For whatever reason, pulling away the distractions of laundry, dishes, and cleaning, and placing me in an environment where the whole point was to involve my children in a lighthearted atmosphere in order to learn, allowed me to finally relax and enjoy my kids in a way I hadn't before.

As the months passed, and I began to hear more and more Chinese expressions escape my children's lips, I also discovered how Laoshi's quiet, genteel approach to living affected my soul. Surrounded by horses on own side, cattle on the other, with a large garden and chickens in the backyard, Laoshi lives peacefully. Whenever we enter her home, there is a calmness that I love. I never hear television, radio, or other distractions that get in the way. As part of this, she also has a love for children that is tangible. Her patient understanding of how they think, why they behave the way they do, and how easily they respond to her authenticity moves me, and over the years I have taken quiet notes as to how she approaches her own mothering. Interestingly enough, she also has four children of her own, now ranging in ages from 19 to 11--two boys and two girls--just like me. Each one of her kids is amazing, and I take pleasure in observing how much she savors the opportunity to be their mother.

Thankfully for us, sometimes this spills out in her devotion to our family. Without equivocation, I can proudly say that she is a second mother to my children. (Just the other day, when Sassy got in trouble she sobbed and cried out, "I want Laoshi!" Meanwhile, you should see how the baby lights up like a Christmas tree in her presence.) I relish in the fact that they adore her so much because her uplifting influence on their lives bolsters mine. How many people do any of us know who truly has no guile?

When at look back on my relationship with Laoshi, I often consider the phrase "hindsight is 20/20." Uttered so often, it can lose some of its significance, and yet I feel like it describes so much of my experience up to this point of my life. As I look back upon being guided to Laoshi, I feel more gratitude than I will ever be able to convey to either Diety or human being. Though I initially believed I had acquired a wonderful teacher for my children to learn a language, I now realize that in all actuality Laoshi has been graciously willing to become my teacher.

May God always bless her for being my angel. We love you so much, Laoshi! Xie xie ni!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ni Hao

This picture was taken last year at Disneyworld's Epcot Center with MuLan. My kids have only seen that movie in Chinese (many times over, to be honest), and naturally assumed that she would only be able to speak Chinese. (She is Chinese, after all). You can only imagine the look on her face with my three little caucasian children busted out in Mandarin. It made my heart swell with pride.

As most of you familiar with our family know, I am one of those curious mothers who insists are her children sometimes doing strange things. Depending on the day, some would say the constant drive to feed my children fresh vegetables would be enough to qualify for the title, "off-her-rocker." But no, it gets even more bizarre. I have decided that I want my children to learn a foreign language, Mandarin Chinese to be exact.

Now why in the world would a mother of small children ever have the desire to do something like that?

Well, there are a myriad of different pieces that answer this question, actually--the least of which includes the amazing experience Pearly-Q had with learning Spanish as a preschooler. That has, I believe, resulted in his insane ability to pick up foreign languages like nobody's business. (And his accents are awesome, I might add . . . His Chinese sounds better than mine).

Combine this with the enormous gift it is for anyone to speak a foreign language and expand their perception of the world, along with the uncanny ability young children have to pick up any foreign tongue when exposed to it, and voila--thus enters into this momma's heart an ardent desire for her children to learn another language.

Incidentally, Chinese turned out to be the language of choice b/c I actually speak it . . . Kids progress much better the more someone speaks to them consistently in the foreign tongue, so I figured we'd better stick with what I knew. That aside, who can fault Mandarin for being an incredibly & important language? Since my LDS mission I have more opportunities to speak it than anyone would ever occasion to guess.

These are the answers I give initially others whenever I get the funny looks about why in the world I would do something like this with my kids . . . all incredibly viable and important reasons that I stand by these 2 1/2 years laters since embarking on this journey. Funny thing is, now that hindsight becomes clearer, I understand so much more about why I felt so compelled to do this. There is much I have to say about this, and I will continue blogging about this tomorrow, because it has much to do with the peace I have found in my life. In the meantime, jia you and zaijian!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Five Months

Who can resist a roly-poly baby girl who lights up like a Christmas tree every time you even glance her direction?

One who loves to carry on with thunderous, squealy discussions and who enjoys to creating her own unique piglet-like grunting noises?

Whose sapphire baby blues are mesmerizingly pure, and her squishy flesh absolutely delicious. (I know . . . I've tested).

I can't. That's for dang sure.

Consider me officially wrapped around her little finger. . .


By the way, can you tell we're finally over the bias of not smiling for the camera. I think she's figured out it is actually friend, not foe.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Evolution of a Mother

Snapshots of the Big-O and me taken on the morning of my law school graduation.

"To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy not rich, to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages . . . with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasion, hurry never.

"In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconsious, grow up through the common. This should be one's symphony."

--W.H. Channing

Twelve years ago, at the outset of my LDS mission to Taiwan, I wrote this wonderful quote in the opening folds of a beautiful, leatherbound journal someone had given me. The journal accompanied me everywhere on my mission--through the rain and blazing heat of that island, and through the ups and downs of one of the most pivotal experiences of my life. For whatever reason at the time, Channing's words really resonated with me, and each time I read those words it would cause me to reflect upon what really brought me happiness. It is now interesting for me to consider just how much those words would most powerfully apply to my mission as a mother.

For those of you who know me well, you will also know that mothering for me has brought with it some exultant peaks, and it has also delivered some difficult days of paralyzing darkness. Ushered in with the incomparable miracle of Big-O's remarkable adoption, I was only six weeks away from graduating from law school. Thrilled to have this experience, I rejoiced at the blessing of having the chance to embrace such a beautiful little baby, and though I wrestled with how I was now going to make things work with my new career and my new role as a mother, I felt confident that I would be able to figure something out. After all, I'd felt strongly that I had been guided into the path of pursuing law school, so it seemed to make sense that all of this would synchronize in a way that would make sense.

Well, as the story goes, I became one of those bizarre adoption statistics--where adopting a baby also invites a miracle of conception along with it. Just three months after we'd adopted Big-O, and as I was studying for the bar exam, I couldn't understand why in the world I was feeling such intense stomach cramps. After a couple dollar-store pregnancy tests, and a doctor's confirmation, we realized that I was really pregnant.

It's difficult to explain what I felt at that point . . . I felt both guilt for worrying that our darling adopted son would be shortchanged with individual attention from us, as well as relief for the fact that he would indeed experience the blessing of a sibling . . . I felt great marvel and wonder at the miracle of a previously long-awaited conception, as well being overwhelmed at the thought of having tiny two babies to take care of all at once. I felt both thankful, and bewildered. Between these emotions, the stress of studying for the bar in the midst of caring for a newborn, and the hormones of pregnancy, I cried every night for a month. (Poor Pearly-Q.)

Suffice it to say, I did pass the bar, got sworn in with many of my law school classmates who were more than shocked at my new bump, and faced the oncoming storm. At the encouragement of a wonderful law school professor who became my mentor, I made efforts to pursue personal legal work in estate planning, (I know--useful, but boring), while caring for our son. Soon after, little Bitty was born, and my life was once again transformed. Unfortunately for me, beyond just discovering another little person who would become another center of my universe, I also faced the most horrific recovery (including raging insomnia) that led me down a path of ill health that continued for well over a year, further complicating my abilities to pursue the career path I'd originally intended.

And the story gets more crazy . . . 10 months postpartum I went into a checkup with my fertility doc to try to understand why I was having all sorts of unexplained bleeding. Turns out, my infertility issues appeared to be getting worse, and he recommended that if Pearly-Q and I wanted another child, we'd better try soon since our window seemed to be disappearing . . . I cried all the way home from the appointment. Yet, we couldn't deny that we felt like we needed to have another child, and that in the long-term picture we really wanted another child, and so . . . our darling Sass showed up 10 months after that.

Are you getting the picture? It seems like overnight we went from facing complete uncertainty over whether or not we would be able to experience the blessing of parenthood, to facing life with three children, age 2 and under. . .

I guess its no wonder that right before Sassy turned a year old, I hit a serious wall. It seems that the giant adrenaline rush that I'd experienced since adopting the Big-O finally gave out, and was left with unbelievable exhaustion, and what felt like a complete loss of identity. . . I cringe to think about it now, because it was just that bad. Looking back I think I was probably depressed, and thankfully I did seek out help. Between seeing a counselor, and searching desperately for divine help and guidance, (which often manifested itself in the form of many ministering angelic friends), I gradually climbed out of the cave I had fallen into.

Suffice it to say, many miracles led Pearly-Q and I to the pivotal decision to have another baby. It was no flippant matter, I tell you, to decide to take the plunge again. In fact, it required complete and total surrender on my part.

Uncertain of my own capacities unlike any other time in my life, I moved forward with faith, and one step at a time, I gradually stripped away all the excesses in my life that I could, trying to include things that would add more to who I was as a person--I decided to give birth naturally (in the face of great familial disdain), I put my joyless legal career officially on hold (a true sign of failure to many that I know), I decided to write (both for causes that I believe in and for my own introspection), and--heaven forbid--I even allowed myself to nap every day when my children did (while my household duties lay continually fallow)! With every effort to simplify, I became increasingly determined to savor what I thought may be my last experience with a baby. In short, I made room for the essential quiet space in my life, and this has made all the difference in my experience as a mother.

Recently for my book club, someone suggested that we read a book entitled Mitten Strings for God--Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry, by Katrina Kenison. (I cannot say enough about how much I recommend it as a vital read for every mother that I know.) The book resonated with me on so many different levels, and yet it did so mostly because much of what the author discusses were truths that I had discovered on my path back to joyful mothering. Here are some golden nugget examples, courtesy of the author who is much more able to express much of what I have felt in this last year, and especially since Coco's birth:

"When I clear a quiet space for my family, I make room for our souls to grow."

"When I stop speeding through life, I find the joy in each day's doings, in the life that cannot be bought, but only discovered, created, savored, and lived."

"In stillness, we find our peace. Knowing peace at home, we bring peace into the world."

"In simplicity there is freedom--freedom to do less and to enjoy more."

To say that I have enjoyed this stage of my mothering would be a serious understatement. The kind of soulful transformation I have felt cannot be conveyed, and I cannot express enough gratitude for the change.

It's strange because I often look back at who I was at the height of my "mommy burnout" and I hardly recognize the feelings that I had then. It pains me to think of what I put my husband and children through, and I find it ironically easy to judge how shortsighted I was during that time, (even when this same kind of judgment infuriated me beyond measure during that very stage of my life).

I suppose the best way I can reconcile it is this: I believe that facing those demons allowed me to savor this period of my life that much more. Like a chiaroscuro painting, the areas of brilliant illumination would not appear as breathtaking without the contrast of the shadows behind them. The silhouette emerges when the two forces blend, allowing one to fully comprehend the presence of the other.

I feel like I have finally stepped out into the light, and I must say that I do not believe the sun could ever be more warmly welcomed. Praise be to the Lord for that.