Monday, November 26, 2012

Tailgating, and not for a football game

I went to Costco tonight all by myself. I wandered through the food, the gifts, the clothes (which at my Costco seem to be tailored to middle-aged women with no fashion sense, and a propensity toward layering). It felt like such a luxury to take my time and not have to run to the potty or wipe up anything that spilled or buy anybody a hotdog.

On the way home I drove down the country road that connects Costco to our town. The speed changes a few times reflecting how close you get to civilization. At one point I was pulled out of my serenity when I looked in my rear view mirror and saw the car behind me following quite close. I looked at my speedometer and I was going the speed limit, maybe even a mile or two over. I tapped on my breaks and said aloud "Get off my tail."

Suddenly I remembered the first time I had ever been aware of a tailgater. I was 10 and we were staying at the Homestead Resort in Utah for a family reunion. It was the last reunion I remember that involved the descendants of my maternal grandmother and all of her 8 sisters. It was a big deal, and we were excited.

My cousins were in town from Arizona and somehow, my oldest brother Nathan was driving our light blue Oldsmobile up Provo canyon filled with kids. My cousin Jim was in the front seat next to him, the bench behind them filled with probably two more of my brothers and another cousin. My sister Liza and I sat in the back. Not in a seat, just in the cargo area (because you could in those days). And we listened to the boys talk.

Our car was slow and heavy and it didn't like climbing those canyon roads. Especially with such a load. Suddenly I heard Nathan comment on how close the car behind us was. He said he was going to tap his breaks and tell the guy to back off. Jim said something like, "I'm going to flip him off" and I saw his arm go out the window.

Immediately, I looked out the back window at the guy in the white Cadillac and I gave him the bird. He pulled out and sped past us as soon as it was legal and gave Nathan a dirty look. I came to find out later, (after Liza ratted me out) that Jim had been joking. I didn't know what the middle finger meant any more than I knew that riding someone's bumper like that was dangerous. I was just caught up in the moment.

Once I neared the lights of my little town tonight, I looked again in the mirror at the car behind me. I saw he was turning left as I was turning right. I kind of hoped that as we came up to the line I would actually know him and laugh at tapping my brakes and putting him in his place. But I didn't.

And then I went home. Still glad that I hadn't flipped him off.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


In case I haven't mentioned it, we're moving.*

Last week, we took a scouting trip to find a place to live when we arrive. We packed up the mini-van (which we call the Pirate Car, because you can't have a boy Van and car Van in the same family), and made the 11 hour drive (12.5 for us) from Davis to Salt Lake City.

The kids and I spent a few days up at my parents' mountain house playing in the snow while GK worked his new territory. Then we spent a few more days looking for a place to live. It was a fun trip, making the big move much more real. More exciting, and more terrifying.

I spent much of the drive home in the back seat addressing various requests. Juice, a book, milk (in Augie's case this meant huddling awkwardly over his carseat trying to nurse him while we were both strapped in).

Around hour ten, I found myself on the back bench wedged between two carseats. Augie was clinging to my right pointer finger, Van was holding my left hand with both of his, Josie and Delia each had hold of one of my feet as I propped them up on the inside armrests of their seats, and they were all fast asleep.

It's hard to leave the house these days without someone commenting on how full my hands are. We are not a subtle group and there are many days when I wonder how well I am juggling the needs of my four little children. But then, there are moments like this when I am connected to each one, and that connection has met their needs with perfection.

At that moment in the car, I realized again that it's all about perspective. Little moments that bring it all into focus. Sometimes it takes chaos and catastrophe to see the silver lining. Sometimes the catastrophe doesn't seem to have a silver lining, and the other way around.

I've decided to start recording my moments of clarity. Just so I don't lose perspective.

A few months ago, the Utah territory in GK's company became available. His boss (also a Mormon, who lives in Utah) knew that we have family there and asked if GK was interested in taking the position. After considering the offer, and weighing it against another possible position with the company, we decided to make the move.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Today I had a moment that I wanted to hold onto forever.

After a very pleasant morning playing at home. Dancing and singing and playing (mostly happily) together. We finished lunch and it was time to put Delia and Josie down for their nap.

Van is often at school for this ritual, but this week is his break between spring and summer school. So he often reads a book, or watches a few minutes of "the kitties" (Busytown) while I read "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" (at the frantic insistence of both girls) and sing a song or two.

If Augie is awake, he sits in his bouncy chair in front of me and I bounce him with one foot, a girl on each knee, and we try to make it through our ritual before he starts to fuss and the girls insist that he needs "boke" (according to Delia) and "gook" (according to Josie)__milk.

Today, Van came in the room as we finished the book and were about to sing. Vanny won't let me sing to him. It's a phase, but an insistent one. I said to him, "Vanny, the girls and Augie would like to hear the temple song (I Love to See the Temple, a favorite song from church)."

"No! No Temple song!" he insisted.

"They would like to hear it, so if you don't want to, you can go into the Living Room and read a book and I will be right there." I said, and I started to sing.

Immediately, he joined me. He sang every word. Perfectly on pitch and with such sweetness.

About two lines in, Josie took her pacifier out of her mouth and started singing too. Then Delia.

I kept singing, not wanting to call attention to what was happening. Trying to just enjoy this perfect moment as we all sang together. Recognizing again that everything we teach our children, in the moments of chaos, sinks in. Every time I wonder if they're hearing what I say, or if anything is getting through... it is.

And moments like this, frozen in time amid the routine pandemonium, are precious reminders.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Wild Places for Wild Things

Found a remote location and set them free.
They went to bed still talking about it. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012


It's a reality. We have four kids. Under four.
August Gordon Risser
Born May 13, 2012- Mother's Day
7lbs. 12 oz. 21 in.

Needless to say, our three ring circus just got a little more intense.
 So far everyone is happy about the expansion. But believing, as we do, that there is an opposition in all things, the equal and opposite sadness/whining/tantrum-throwing rounds out our days so there's never a dull moment.

More details (and pictures) about Augie's arrival and adjustment to come. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Thank You

To everyone who listened, to everyone who expressed concern, to everyone who has and continues to donate to the children left behind, and to everyone who goes forward more aware and willing to help and inform someone in danger, thank you. My mother says that the funeral today was full of friends, and as the hearse drove through town the streets were lined with strangers standing in support of my sweet cousin Morgan's family and against the crimes committed. The state has mentioned capital punishment. It's an honest test of my personal politics and morality and makes me wonder "What is justice?" It's so desperate and incomplete. I don't know what to say. Most importantly, take care of those around you. Thank you, again. We have wonderful friends and acquaintances. Call us if you need us, ever.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Matter of Serious Consequence

This is G.K., Susanna's husband.

In our home, writing is a sacred human act. We write a lot. We always have. Before the web, we were both prolific journal keepers. I still have an affinity for hand written letters. Our shared love of story and words and expression acted as a catalyst in bringing Susanna and me together in the first place and it continues to help solidify the bond we enjoy now.

It seems everyone enjoys writing these days like no other time in the history of mankind. There's a power in writing that the world is excited to finally experience. All of us are writing to record what we don't want to let slip by unnoticed, to capture things we wish would remain forever, to report and announce what is important to us, to express what we feel that's otherwise intangible, to make each other laugh, to explore our thoughts and the world we experience, to share our love and connect. Much of this writing we do publicly. It's created a conversation that has the power to bring us all together and, literally, it has made the world a better place.

Tonight, I write briefly with a howling pain inside me. I write this to try and wrap my head around it, to let the pain leak out, to warn everyone I can, and to just be able to do something. But it feels burdensome to write about such a horrible event, and I am actually embarrassed to be so public with it. Please, beware if you choose to read on. The topic is grievous, but I feel more strongly that it's a crime in this case to be silent. I'm so afraid to make this seem like it's about me. I don't want it to be about me in the least part. I just want the world to know. I'd walk the streets and shout it in people's faces if I were a better man. That would probably be more sane.

Today, my sweet cousin became a fatal victim of violence at the hand of an intimate partner. A man she had been dating proved himself to be dangerous and she'd become afraid and was trying to avoid him. The unthinkable occurred, in the middle of the day and in public. Without exaggeration, she was a sweet and gentle woman, the mother of 4 children, 30 years old. But for me, she will forever be my little cousin, sitting up against me in the Datsun, sucking her thumb and playing with the lobe of my ear as if it were a soft blanket. That's how I've always remembered her. I loved her. She deserved to be loved because she was human.

In the past, I've heard statistics that seemed too high to believe, but tonight I've found sources that I consider credible, such as the Journal of The American Medical Association. For simple, non-graphic, starters: 1 in 5 teenage girls in the United States reports having been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner. I can't imagine this. 1 in 5...and still so young. 1 in 4 will experience this in their lifetime. 1 in 4. Violence against women is commonplace right here in the United States. Violence in general is commonplace. It's a sickness.

Please, love each other. Please, teach your children love. Please, teach them respect. Please, respect yourself. Please, teach your children to protect and defend these things, and please defend them yourself. I don't pretend this is a simple matter. But I am also certain that we can all develop these powerful tools. We can't afford not to. They are all that makes life worth living. If you know someone who needs help, please be responsible and reach out to help them. If you come from a culture of violence yourself, that's not your fault. Seek out help to change. There are willing resources and it can end with you.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

For Grammy

A long overdue glance at the perfect Easter dresses. All day, the girls would point to their dresses and say, "Mammy." They knew they were from you and they knew they looked pretty.

 Thank you Grammy. We miss you and can't wait to see you!!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Just keep bringing them...

I've expressed before the challenges that are often involved in our Sunday Mornings. Today was pretty typical. My girls, particularly Delia, have entered a phase of interdependence with me that is endearing in some moments and a bit stifling in others. The morning was full of dramatic cries of "Mama!" any time I tried to accomplish anything that required both hands and even part of my attention.

We made it through the morning. Lunches packed (church goes 11-2, right through lunch time), quiet books selected and packed, three kids bathed and dressed, one husband shaved and dressed (he did that himself, thank goodness), my own self dressed and brushed and looking as presentable as a nearly 9month pregnant woman could expect.

We climbed into the Pirate Car (more on that later) and shuffled off to church. We got there with enough time to change a diaper, climb the pile of mulch out back of the church, hold the door for a couple of older ladies, and still find a pew in a good location for minimal distraction of others and maximum containment. Whew.

As the meeting starts I often miss the announcements, but today as the man conducting announced the sudden passing of Addie, one of the older sisters in the congregation, I gasped audibly. I couldn't prevent the tears from welling up in my eyes and the more I tried to stop them the harder they came.

My reaction caught me a little by surprise. Our congregation is made up of a large number of older couples, widows and widowers. Many of them have lived in Davis for decades. As horrible as it sounds, it's sometimes hard to remember who's who until you've had some interactions with them. This can be tricky when you go through the three hour block of meetings trying to keep three small children quiet. I have to make a conscious effort to take my blinders off and even notice who else has come to church.

Addie was a quiet but fiery lady. Her comments in the few adult meetings I managed to attend were always thoughtful, yet provocative. She brought us dinner after the girls were born and again when Van broke his leg. She had led a full and interesting life and raised five children of her own.

My church going experience of late is not always spiritually edifying in the traditional sense. I don't sit through thoughtful lessons participating in discussion. I don't even always hear what is said during the meetings I do get to attend. My focus right now is often on helping my children feel and recognize the importance of being there. I try to help them see (in an age appropriate way) why we do the things we do, and understand the basic tenets of what we believe.

It's not an easy task. Several months ago, I explained to Van's school teacher about our church attendance. I wanted her advice on what length of time I could reasonably expect him to focus on an activity or lesson. She said, "A well prepared, age appropriate lesson? Ten minutes." We talked a little more and she finished by saying "That's why a lot of people just stop taking their kids to church at all."


The following Sunday as we herded our brood out of the chapel, I saw Addie in the hall. She looked at me, knowing nothing of the exchange at school, and said, "Just keep bringing them." This was typical of Addie. Our exchanges were rarely lengthy or even numerous, but her thoughtfulness made an impression on me. I felt a keen loss today when I heard of her passing and with it a renewed determination to do just that. Just keep bringing them.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Circus

No matter whether our day looks like this:
 Or this:
 It often feels like this:
Happy Wednesday world. Thanks for the sunshine.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday: a day of rest

This morning started out promising. I began coming to consciousness in my bed to the sounds of three happy, laughing children. They awaken each morning almost like a programmed clock, within minutes of the same time. I don't know how long Van has been awake when Josie and Delia begin to make noise from their cribs, but as soon as they do he goes into their room and climbs into one of their beds. At his entrance they all begin to bounce and chirp, "Hi" to each other and laugh (or on some less cheerful mornings, they cry at his invasion and try to get him to climb back out of whichever crib he has decided to empty of all contents).

Today started out with cheerful chattering and laughing, but by the time the little band had made its way to the kitchen for breakfast, the crying started. Sad, personal, wounded crying at every step. Wrong dress, wrong book, wrong look, wrong diaper, done eating, not done eating. You name it, it was the cause of back-arching, kicking, eyes full of giant pain-filled tears, and wailing. 

Every once in a while it would subside for a few minutes. But the quiet only lasted long enough for the betrayal or dissatisfaction to move efficiently from one little body to the next. Out of the blue, the previously pleasant looking child would suddenly, as if possessed, respond to some minor offense by crying or throwing his or her little body on the ground.

We only made it through part of church, and as I came home I wondered to myself if it really was that much better to even go to church if I left feeling so defeated and deflated. I mean, I don't need the scores of well-meaning widows to tell me I'm getting bigger and bigger. I know it when my pregnant body is on the floor trying to pull one of my children out from under the church pew for the fiftieth time, or when I'm carrying two of my flailing children through the hall of the crowded church. It should be a not-so-silent warning to move out of my way. But there are always those same few folks who think they can brighten the day or lighten my squirming burden by stopping me to chat and see how things are going.

Today it felt obvious. Things were not going well. It was one of those days when I hear those same words that I hear every time I choose to go out in public, "Wow, you have your hands full!" and I just want to hide under a rock. But now that they are all sleeping peacefully, there are a few things I will remember and cherish about today.

1. Taking Van to primary (the childrens' meeting at church) and seeing his little face light up when the piano started playing "Choose the Right". Then watching as he participated in the actions and the marching and the popping out of his chair whenever he heard the word "right". 

2. Hearing Delia's insistent little voice naming every object she saw and repeating it until someone confirmed her genius.

3. Sitting in the girls' dark bedroom holding them in my lap. They didn't nap well. They cried off and on through the whole thing. And when I finally went in to find them still tired and splotchy-faced, they sat on my lap and just laid on my chest. I kissed their heads over and over and whispered into their wispy hair how much I loved them. To which Josie looked up into my eyes and put her pudgy little hand on my cheek and just  held it there for a while. 

It was a rough day for all of us. I know their cries are little distress signals. I try to receive and decipher them and treat them with the gentleness and love they are asking for. Tonight I'm filled with gratitude that tomorrow is a new day and that I have the chance to recharge a little before it starts. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Josie has an announcement to make

It's a BOY!
I think we've got just about all the girl we can handle around here.
With these two little beauties.

We are thrilled beyond words (hence the short post) to welcome another little boy into our family. Vanny has been predicting it all along.

And although I have decided not to make any final decisions about numbers while I am hormonally altered, this rounds out our little family quite nicely.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


After writing the last post, I started reading backwards through some of the entries on this blog. Each one brought back memories of the event or situation that had prompted the post. It actually made me wish I could find make more time to write. It's an important way for me to process and catalog my experiences right now. Every day moves so quickly and slowly at the same time, and the contradiction makes it blurry in retrospect.

One thing I realized (again) is that many times I write about Van. I don't mean to. It's interesting because my sweet girls occupy much of my time each day. They are growing and changing so much every day that sometimes they wake up and seem older than they were a few hours before. They are learning the influence they have on the world (me) with their words and their cries and their tantrums. Van's requests are simple and consistent.

"Mama, did I want some apple juice in my Lightning McQueen cup?"
"Mama, did I want to listen to dancing music?"
and lately
"Mama, did you want to play with me in my room?"
To which the answer is always, "Yes!"

I am going to make a concerted effort to diversify my subject matter, but the last two weeks have been a relief from an issue weighing on my heart and mind for a long long time.

Van has been unique his whole life. He hit his developmental milestones, but strangely. He skipped some like pointing, clapping, and later jumping. His pediatrician once said, "I have never heard a child with intonation like his." Vanny was less than one but would speak in full sentences of jargon. His nonsense words sounded so convincingly like language that people would often look to me to translate as if I could understand.

As Josie and Delia began to develop their communication skills (both verbal and non-verbal), concerns we had with Van deepened. We recognized the significance that Delia could follow my point and retrieve a specific object, but Vanny could not. He seemed to grow increasingly frustrated with his inability to express himself, and his requests and conversation seemed limited to a template of sentences that he would rearrange to fit his need. It's been almost a year since we started seriously considering the possibility of Autism.

When I mentioned my concern, many people would say, "He's such a good boy. He plays so well on his own. He seems to speak so clearly. Kids develop so differently, and you know boys just do things at their own pace."

He does play well on his own. But he can't relate to kids his age. He doesn't know how to join in games or even really parallel play. Kids at the park often come up and ask me why he won't talk to them.

After many appointments with Dr.'s who were completely unhelpful and uninterested in anything but the bills we received, and after many nights of taking turns in tears worrying about how we could help Van live a full and meaningful life, GK and I finally feel like we're making headway.

As the daughter of two public school teachers I know the complaints about the public school system. But luckily for Van, our school district has provided unbelievably thorough evaluations and testing. Meetings with Psychologists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Speech Therapists and Special Education Specialists.

After two weeks of Early Intervention Preschool, I'm seeing parts of Van I wondered if I ever would. I honestly go to bed at night wondering if I'm imagining things or if he really could be making as much progress as I observe.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Rites of Passage: I

I have come to this blog a million times since August with the intention of writing. With the idea of recording and sharing what was going on in our lives. A lot has been happening.

Since perhaps the very day of the last post, I'm pregnant. So that explains, perhaps, why a new post never actually occurred. Autumn came and we temporarily stopped gallavanting all over the Western United States, and moved across town. Halloween came and went, and Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and New Years, and new teeth, and new toys, and a new... well you get the idea.

In spite of all of that change and experience and life, I could never jump in mid-flow, mid-nausea and get back on track. But today all that changed. Today marked a rite of passage that has come sooner than I thought it would.

Today was Vanny's first day of school.

I imagined the picture of him standing in front of our front door with his new school clothes and his new backpack grinning at the camera in his excitement. You know, the picture I've seen of every other kid on his or her first day of school. But I knew I'd never see it. Not from my boy who hates cameras.

So after a first day of school lunch at In-N-Out, we went to his classroom and I tried to capture a bit of the experience. (Partly for GK who is out of town on business, and partly to stop time for just an instant).

His cute teacher Johana took a picture of us when he suddenly got nervous, then tried to escape to the playground.
But once inside, after finding his own hook for his own backpack... He decided the classroom was as good as any playground!

Vanny is such a special boy. He is tender-hearted and curious, he loves music and people. Over the past few days we've tried to help him get excited about the prospect of school. I'm sure it will be a bit overwhelming, but I'm looking forward to seeing what he learns.

At least for today, 2:30 can't come fast enough.

*Post script: Observations on revisiting this post. 
First and most important: Van has passed the stage when going to bed with wet hair is easily solved.
Second: That leg coming out of the open car door is Mimi (GK's mom) here to save us all while GK is out of town.
Third: Vanny's backpack turned out very cute. It's even cuter than I imagined when I started out. 
Fourth: Thanks mama for the sweater. He was proud to wear it on his first day!