I surrender.

Today was one of those days. The kind that ends with me eating a handful of chocolate chips like they were tranquilizers and wondering what would be cheaper; checking myself into a hotel, or checking myself into the looney-bin. I think hotel food would be better. I could take my own chocolate chips…

I can’t even begin to say why today was so hard. A little of this, a little of that. It all adds up. I asked my son to plant a little tree for me in the front yard. Three days later, the tree is nearly dead and my front walk looks like this:

We seem to have a bit of a communication problem.  Apparently one of us does not speak English. Or yard work. Or laundry. Or dishes.

He really can’t be singled out, though, especially on a day like today. Because today, everyone took a turn at sucking Mom dry. Even the dog joined in all the fun and chewed up everything in sight. Sometimes it just happens like that. I think it’s kind of like all the elements of a weather system combining to create a hurricane or a tornado; it doesn’t happen every day, but when it does, run for cover!  I should have checked the moon cycle…full tonight?

I’m not saying all of this to elicit sympathy or to bring anyone down. I’m just saying that sometimes, the day ends with a white flag and a handful of chocolate chips. It seems to be a better choice than, say, tequila. I’m going to close my bedroom door, put on a movie, and channel Scarlett O’Hara. “I’ll worry about that tomorrow. Tomorrow’s another day.”

A word on faith…

We often say we have faith in people, in God, in ourselves. It sounds so benign and somewhat cliche to say, “I have faith that everything will work out.” When I sent my daughter overseas, I had “faith” she would be safe, that God would watch out for her and protect her; she would behave well, perform well, and have an amazing experience.

Two days into the trip, she became sick. Really sick. Unexplainable symptoms came suddenly, rendering her helpless and afraid and completely dependent upon those around her. The midnight phone call that every parent dreads came.  “There is an emergency with your daughter. We don’t know what to do. We are going to take her to the hospital in Beijing.”

This began my three day conversation with God. “Faith” seems too simple a word to describe my complete dependance on Him for those few days. Nothing could be explained, competent medical care could not be obtained, she could not leave and I could not join her. This was a problem that I could not solve, and I was painfully aware of it. God was in charge, He had the answers, and I knew He would  help my husband and I make decisions and help those who were with her make decisions to restore her to health and bring her home safely.

Sometimes the experiences we expect and have faith in don’t quite materialize…sometimes they become what we need instead. I can’t really say my faith was tested, because it never occurred to me to give up faith or hope or my expectation that God would take care of her. On the contrary, when things became difficult my expectations became greater and my requests more insistent. I called upon my family, friends, and even acquaintances to pray for her, connect me with translators, doctors, and information. I sat up at night by the phone waiting for updates. I called upon the powers of Heaven to hear our cries and make my daughter well.

Our cries were heard, and she became well and enjoyed the rest of her trip. As I write this she lay upstairs, sleeping off the jet-lag, strange beds, weird food, toxic pollution, and exhausing schedule. Her faith, without a doubt, has been strengthened. She has recognized her own strength, felt the love of those around her, and most of all, acknowledged the power of God in her life.

What if she hadn’t returned home safely? Would I still have faith? I’d like to think that I would.  I hope I never find out. C.S. Lewis said,

“The work of devils and of darkness is never more certain to be defeated than when men or women, not finding it easy or pleasant but still determined to do the Father’s will, look out upon their lives from which it may seem every trace of God has vanished, and asking why they have been so forsaken, still bow their heads and obey.”

There is something personally powerful about continuing in faith even when we question the necessity of certain circumstances in our lives. I’ve seen many examples of people in my life who have done this and emerged strong despite dissappointment and difficulty. Yes, I believe that God is omniscient, and therefore I believe that he really knows what experiences we must have to grow, even if those experiences are painful and deny us our expectations. Faith in God as an omniscient and loving Father helps us align our expectations with Him. Understanding that trial is a part of the process that brings us closer to Heaven. We only see a pixel at a time in our lives, but God sees it all, and he sees what we can become if we follow him and continue to have faith no matter what. Becca’s trip may not have been what we expected, but in the larger scheme I couldn’t have asked for a better experience spiritually for her. I’m grateful she’s home and safe, and I look forward to being an anxious spectator to more of her amazing experiences.

There she goes…

I cut the apron strings today, in a big way. Now I’m standing here with the scissors wondering what to do.

Letting go was a progressive effort, really; a toe-dip into reality that all parents must experience. It began with dropping her off at Grandma’s as a newborn for a few anxious hours, followed by a half-day at day care, then an overnight stay with Grandma, a few days at Disneyland with the grandparents, a week at camp, and now ten days in China. As in the continent Asia. Across the polar ice cap and over an ocean and into a country with billions of people swarming around her five-foot-seven-inch blonde self. (Breathing in the paper bag now…)

The truth is, Becca has been trying to leave me for a long time now. As a toddler, she used to crawl out the doggie door, slip through the side gate, and run down the street. Naked.

“Excuse me, ma’am, are you looking for a little blonde girl? She’s…naked?” (said the Sparkletts delivery man)

“YES! Have you seen her?” (said the frantic, breathless mother)

“She’s ringing your neighbor’s doorbell.” (Sparkletts man)

“Oh. (*puff *puff) Thank you!” (frantic mother)

She was so fast! She could shed her clothes and get out that little door in seconds, usually right after I sat on the toilet.

On her first day of kindergarten, she very firmly told me NOT to hold her hand as we walked up to the classroom. She marched right in and never looked back, leaving me staring, bewildered, at the other children clinging to their mother’s legs and crying.

This independent spirit has been both horrible and wonderful, depending on how she has used it. We were joking the other day, remembering that she was one of those kids who actually wore a leash at Disneyland. It saved her life more than once that day. Now we just track her via GPS on her cell phone.  It’s not that she’s disobedient or untrustworthy…she’s just…forgetful and adventurous.

Now she’s off on the greatest adventure of her life so far. I say “so far,” of course, because a girl like this doesn’t have just ONE great adventure in a lifetime. I have a feeling I need to get used to this anxious worry in the pit of my stomach; get used to wondering where she is and what she is doing and if she has any money in her purse and who is talking to her and if she’s wearing clean underwear and eating vegetables and remembered her retainer and brushing her teeth and saying her prayers. This time, she’ll be home in nine more days. A year from now, she’ll be leaving for college and life. I don’t know if my Mama-psyche can survive something like that. It makes me wonder…who is really wearing the apron, anyway?

“San Quentin” Middle School

“How was your day today?”

I thought I’d take advantage of a long drive across town last night to connect with my daughter; a rare bit of one-on-one time with one of my children.  She’s finishing up her final year in middle school and actually really likes to talk to me. Alot. So, it was no surprise that the flood gates open and she barely took a breath for 30 minutes. I was not prepared for what I heard.

I was expecting chatter about who likes who, who isn’t friends anymore, which teacher is piling on the work, and what everyone will be wearing to the spring dance. Cute, innocent little middle-school drama that I could secretly chuckle at and marvel at the irrelevance of it all.

She started with a description of the school’s new “anti-vandalism” policy, which includes a bag search on the way into school. Apparently, the students file into the school and place their bags on tables. The bags are looked through and searched before they can enter the courtyard.

“What are they looking for?”

“I don’t know, Sharpie markers or gum. Everyone knows you test better when you are tasting mint, so I think not allowing gum is a really dumb policy…(on and on for several minutes.)”

“So…back to the markers. You can’t have markers at school?”

“No, because kids draw all over everything.”

Next, she described a  girl at school who is a self-proclaimed lesbian and enjoys sharing her recent sexual escapades with anyone who will listen. My daughter tells me that a friend of hers was ‘cup-checked’ by this girl. From what I understand, this means that the self-proclaimed, sexually promiscuos girl grabbed the breast of another girl without consent. To my daughter’s knowledge, this was not reported or noticed or known in any way to school administration because kids just don’t report things like this, I guess.

And last, but not least, was the story of a girl who was suspended for bringing a toy gun to school with the intention of playing a prank on a teacher.

Let me just clarify that this school is not in the “inner city;” it’s not in a poor socio-economic area, and is generally regarded as being one of the “good” schools in town. Nope, it’s right here in middle-class suburbia. What was most striking about this conversation was the manner in which my daughter delivered the information. The information I’ve given was actually secondary to the plot of her story, which I can’t even remember and is too long to repeat if I could remember it. She was not alarmed, surprised, angry, scared, or worried about these things. In fact, she exhibited little emotion about any of it.

I’m alarmed, surprised, angry, scared, and worried. I can’t decide which is worse: the fact that these things are going on in my child’s world, or the fact that she is so accustomed to the situation that she thinks nothing of them. What I do know is that I have a greater respect for her and all of the other children who put up with these indignities just to get an education.

 Suddenly her D in math doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore.

Parent for Hire

Someone asked me the other day if she could hire someone to parent her daughter, or at least take her somewhere and have it done. Here’s the kicker: she was serious.

In jest, I told her I would do it for her, but she probably couldn’t afford me. The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that I hire out the parenting of my children often. In fact, I work part-time to cover the cost of having other people train my children, and I make no apology for it.  I have six children, and it is physically impossible for me to meet all of their needs all of the time, not to mention the emotional strain of it all. My solution is to hire it out. Here’s a breakdown of the costs:

Preschool: $30.o0 a month (a screamin’ deal!)

Piano lessons: $100.00 a month (another screamin’ deal)

Violin lessons: $45 a lesson, about $180-$225 monthly, depending on the month

Cello lessons: $75 a lesson, about $300-$375 monthly, depending on the month

Soccer: $200 a season, plus equipment

Cub Scouts: nominal

Boy Scouts: a few hundred a year, including trips

Church youth groups: free

In the past, we have also had the kids enrolled in swimming lessons, tae kwon do, flag football, basketball, cheerleading and dance. We have sent them to church camps, and this year we are sending our oldest daughter to China with her youth orchestra. This set us back about $3900. Ican’t even BEGIN to estimate the cost of the gas and tires I have burned through to get the kids to all of these activities. We aren’t wealthy, but I have the opportunity to earn the money to cover these costs, and at times we have had the kids help pay for their activities through fund raisers.

What we get for the investment:

The kids learn to play a musical instrument. Research states that the study of music will help sharpen math skills. I’m not sure if it works that way for my kids, but I do know that it sharpens other skills that may be even more useful in their lives. They are required to spend time every day to practice these instruments. They are expected to progress and produce results and to respect the knowledge and authority of their teachers. Through music lessons, my children expand their brains and creativity and learn to keep going, and they learn that quitting is not an option when things get difficult. This is money well spent.

The kids learn the skills and rules associated with several sports. They gain an appreciation for physical fitness and what their bodies are capable of. Sports teach them to work with others, be part of a team, and to follow rules. The kids learn to respect their coach, follow directions, and they begin to understand their responsibility to others socially. They learn to show up, even when they’re tired or don’t feel like it. They learn how to win gracefully, and they learn how to lose, again and again, and still have their dignity and self-respect.

The scouting program is incredibly valuable in raising boys! My boys have learned skills that will come in handy in their lives, but more importantly, they learn what it means to be a boy and eventually a man.  The Boy Scout Promise states,

“On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

Furthermore, they are taught that a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Why wouldn’t I rush my boys to the front row of an organization that teaches these values and character traits?

Through our church youth organization, my children make associations with other kids who share their values and beliefs, and gain support in living these values and beliefs. They build a social network of people who are trying to do the right thing.

I’m not naiive enough to think my methods are fool-proof; I know my children are individuals and that they may not choose to follow the path I’d like them to. But, when I look outside my front door at the kids hanging out on my street until all hours of the night, bragging about their multiple suspensions from school and their latest escapades of disrespect, I’m grateful that I have hired out a little bit of my parenting to give MY kids something better to do. I’m spending a little money to increase my chances of producing six amazing people who will make a beneficial contribution to society as a whole. I think I’m getting a GREAT deal!

Forever Friends

Jennie, my best friend from high school, lost her mother last week. The sting of death is tempered by the belief that her mother isn’t really “lost,” and she will be her mother forever. Because of the kind of woman Becky was, those who know and love her are certain that she is exactly where she should be, reunited with those who have passed on before her, in the presence of the Savior. But she will be missed by those left behind; her husband, her sons, her daughters, her grandchildren, her friends.

There are a few people in my life with whom I have an enduring friendship. You know the type–you can go months without speaking and then get together and it is as if nothing has ever changed. A phone call reconnects lives in a matter of minutes and the history you have together serves as a reference for the present. Jennie is one of those friends. We met our freshman year in high school, but went to rival schools. We went to the same church, took a two-week bus trip back East, danced on a dance team together, and were part of the same group of friends throughout our teenage years. We went our separate ways for college, but have always kept in touch and visited when we could. Jen deserves more of the credit for this than I do; she has always made an effort to stop by when she was in town, or call with important news of babies, jobs, moves, etc.

What I love most about our friendship is how we’ve shared so many “rites of passage.” Boyfriends who became husbands who became the fathers of our children who became the focus of our lives, giving us endless things to talk about on those semi-annual phone calls or visits. Family happiness and family struggles, worries and stresses, and successes and failures have all been a part of the lasting connection we have.

This new “rite of passage” is the most difficult one yet. Her mother became ill and was hospitalized for a month, yet Jen still made time to get together with our friend Marianne for just an hour. She texted status updates on her mom, and I prayed and hoped for a recovery. Then she texted me and said the recovery didn’t come, and her mom was gone. I cried off and on all day. Not for her mother, but for Jen. My heart aches for my friend, my sister, my teenage BFF. This sadness is something new to share, and something we are sure to share again and again as life progresses. I feel blessed to know that she will mourn with me when my parents pass on, and she will know just what to say to comfort my aching heart. That’s what forever friends do, and I am lucky enough to have several.

Love to you and your family, Jennie.

High School

Jennie, Marianne, & Me


The rain in Spain falls mainly…in my house.

Last July our house flooded. Mechanical error combined with human error, and in a few minutes it was, as Trevor so passionately exclaimed, “raining in Michael’s room!” I ran to Michael’s downstairs bedroom, and it was indeed raining. Water was pouring from the air vent, the ceiling fan, the walls, and the floor. I immediately thought of the bathroom directly above and ran upstairs to find the toilet overflowing. Guess what? No shut-off valve on the toilet. Why hadn’t I noticed that before? I ran back downstairs to Michael’s closet where the water shut off valves are. There are a bunch of them.

Get your dad on the phone!” I screamed to one of the kids.

How do you shut the water off to the upstairs toilet?” I screamed to my husband.

“What’s going on?” he calmly said.

I repeated myself. “Just hurry and tell me how to do it!”

“Why do you need to know that?” Once again, he was so nice and calm.

I’m standing in water in Michael’s room. JUST TELL ME HOW TO SHUT IT OFF ALREADY!” (Let me just say, that at this point, I was not only standing in the water (toilet water), but it was raining down on me (toilet water) and I was soaked (in toilet water) and not calm.)

 “Gee…you don’t have to yell at me!” I love him. Really, I do.

None of the valves were labeled correctly, so they all had to go off. It took superhuman strength to shut them off, but it was still raining, and it continued to rain until all of the water that had pooled upstairs found its way downstairs.

No amount of towels, shop-vac, or tears could stop that water from destroying my laminate flooring. I’ll spare you the details, but our insurance company replaced everything and it was a happy, happy thing. I will comment, however, on the drying process. The restoration specialists brought in 11 (or was it 15?) high-powered fans and pointed them here, there, and everywhere to dry out my house. The noise was unbelievably, inescapably DEAFENING. For 5 days, 24 hours a day, I endured the roar. I couldn’t just leave all the time; there were things to be done at the house and a captain never leaves the ship, right?

Conversations went something like this:




And so on. But by the end of the day I needed ibuprofen and a lobotomy.

We survived, replaced the toilet, floors, and baseboard, put the house back together, and went on with our lives.


Hard to believe, isn’t it?

The contents of Michael’s room are now piled in the living room, the fans are back, and I am in the market for an outhouse, because apparently, you have to be over 21 to use a toilet properly in my house.

P.S. Eric was spared the drama of flood #1 because he was at work, and came home after everything was under control. He witnessed flood #2. This time, he was not nice and calm. Ha!

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