Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Dancing Irish"

Here is a strange one -

Last night our three oldest children walked on stage at Chandler Hall in front of a couple hundred people and danced.

They danced.  Well, Jonah and Caroline danced.  Cecily kind of bounced up and down with the idea of dance filling her head.

The most notable part of this, for me, is the turning of the corner from parent-and-child, to just child.  Standing alone, being whoever child is when they are not parent-and-child.  They were doing something I don't know how to do.  What must it feel like to a an accountant when their child becomes a cardiac surgeon?  I know their little brains grew inside of me, but today the world grows inside of them and they decide where they will fit in it.  I taught Jonah to read and now Jonah teaches me about the salinity level of a certain part of the ocean and how that affects a particular fish, or that Hatshepsut is the Lady Pharaoh who ruled in the Eighteenth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt.

The thing is, they are snipping the apron strings on me and I'm not quite sure if I keep handing them the scissors, or if I should be, or if homeschooling means they're really more like apron-tie-down-straps and I should be sharpening the machete in preparation for my children's looming adulthood.  The mysteries of parenting only become more mysterious with time.

On another note - Cecily might have been converted to the stage last night.  The audience went crazy for her little wave as the Irish dancers skipped their way off stage.  Later, during intermission, Cecily ran across the stage looking for someone and about two thirds of the way across she stopped in a sudden realization that the wild cheering, clapping and hollering of the entire room was for her.  Heaven opened up a permanent spotlight on a four-year-old that only days before was paralyzed in uncontrollable tears at the prospect of doing her little dance just in rehearsal.  Somehow she overcame her fear the following day and waltzed on stage just as confidently as any mouseketeer in their day.

I filmed at the dress rehearsal so I could get closer and not be bothered with it during the actual performance so you won't get the full sense of the audiences reaction to our local Irish Troop.  But they were well received.  Gloria Bowden, who you will see holding Cecily's hand, is the genius behind it.  And Southern Virginia University is the "genius of small," which fosters a connection with community and students that will bless our family forever.

while I write this Cecily is trying to teach Ewan to Irish Dance.  Her lessons go like this - "See Ewan, skip, two, three, then switch."
Ewan starts, back to the wall saying "skip, three three," then falls down and she chastises him, "No, like this . . ."  While all her moves look remarkably similar to bouncing.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Denomination of Daughters

{on a bench outside Jefferson's Monticello}

Susie is my Mother-in Law.  She calls me "Be-fessica,"  or "The Incomparable Jessica."

I can't think what I might have done, or been, or said to earn the latter.

The former came by way of birthing one Jonah, who for lack of a 'j' sound early in life called me Be-fessica, and himself Fwonah.

Susie says I am a daughter to her as much as any of the five she bore herself.  What can I do with this?  What do I say between the space of good fortune and friendship that is mine and hers.  I love her.

I love you.

Susie thanks my Mother for Susie's ability to love me as she does.  This is why - my Mother loved my Dad's mother as only a Ruth loves a Naomi.  All my years of growing up I saw my Mom wash dishes in my Grandma's kitchen.  I watched her laugh with my grandparent's, and talk, and seek advice, and accept help when help was all that would keep our family from glimpsing the edge.

To love the mother of the man you marry is a good plan.   And Susie is right, it was seeing my Mom's love - determined and constant, reaching out beyond herself which planted in me the expectation that when I walked into the Rasmussen home for the first time, I was coming to join, not to divide.

Matt told me early on that his Mother's only advice to him about who to marry was to make sure he chose an orphan.  I am hardly an orphan.  Oh grief, I am a Leavitt - a passel of kin, a parcel of generations that claim me up tight.  And despite that moment of hesitation at the Social Security Office just weeks after we married, I was able to slide out of the name that had cradled me for 23 of my own years and who knows how may hundreds of the years that came before me.  I tried on Rasmussen, filling out the paper and passing it over to the woman at the desk who seemed desensitized to the transformation taking place in front of her.

I am a woman.  I am a Jessica.  She is a Susie.  We both tucked away the name we brought to courtship and wed ourselves to a husband and a name.  Father - Son - Grandson.  Someday Jonah will  offer the same name to another woman, who, like us,  a daughter in her own clan, will find that there is room and to spare under the shelter of this name.

Funny how we women go about trading a name for a name, an identity for an identity.  One might be tempted to think that the moving about and the scramble of families and generations and alphabetical segregation would leave us feeling isolated.  But I don't.  I feel like the jumble of appellations untangles into one metronymic name that lets us be sisters, that lets us love.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Extra . . . Something

At the beginning of the school year I had intended Cecily to go to a local preschool.  After looking at the options and visiting a school, I decided on St. John's Methodist preschool which is just a few blocks away in Buena Vista.  

Both Jonah and Caroline attended the West High preschool near Rose Park.  This was a good thing for both of them for different reasons.   And knowing that I would shortly be adding Cecily to the daily mix of lessons at home I felt she needed the opportunity to learn how to do something on her own with other people.  

As school approached the apprehension among the children grew.  They all knew Cecily was destined for the newest, most foreign experience yet in our Virginia life.  They all anticipated Cecily's first day of school with varying degrees of excitement and anxiety.  

Huddled together just days before school began, Jonah whispered to Caroline "Cecily is going to preschool in a church."

"Oh Cecily," Caroline exhorted, "you have to be extra good."

"And extra normal," added Jonah.

"And extra Mormon," Carlo concluded.

As it happens, she ended up joining a preschool co-op of all LDS kids and Moms, so she didn't need to worry about being extra Mormon or extra normal.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Becoming a "Townie" in Buena Vista - The Library

We lie in my big king-sized bed this Wednesday morning and breathe a bit as a family after the running of too many days on end and the puking in between the running.  We should be able to ignore the calendar when we are sick, but somehow we don't.

Cecily brought the virus home having picked it up on the dangerous streets of downtown Buena Vista . . . or possibly from some sneezing child at preschool - one can never be sure where they unknowingly consent to host a virus.  Cecily shared it with Ewan.  This is no surprise as Ewan is forever seeking hugs and kisses we are bound to share a bit of whatever it is that lurks on us.  Ewan shared it with Jonah.  This is no surprise as Jonah cared for Ewan so tenderly at 11pm when he was throwing up in his bed the night before.  Jonah shared it with Matt, but Matt has not puked since 1991 so his will has become stronger than any virus that has made the attempt on him in the last twenty-one years.

So far Caroline and I remain undisturbed, but for the puke on my shirt and neck, sheets, towels, floors, rugs, beds, and toilets.  It's just not my puke.  While Jonah slept in my bed yesterday Caroline and I did two math lessons.  Jonah woke up periodically and read enough to finish The Two Towers and then gently beg me the rest of the day to pick up The Return of The King for him which was on hold at our local library.

Finally, around 3:00 pm the girls and I walked into the library where Tori, the twenty-something librarian was waiting at the counter.  Before we could even say "hello" she had fetched our book for us, laid it on the counter and asked with incredulity "He's finished The Two Towers already?"

"Yep, he's been sick today, laying in bed either reading or sleeping and then begging me 'Mom, please go get my book for me' ".

"I love this kid," Tori exclaims.

I love this town, I think.  Much as I miss, pine for, yearn for, try not to think too much about the Salt Lake City Library, no one ever knew my name at that library.  We had to have been some of their most frequent patrons, but no one ever saw us come through the door and had our books picked up and checked out for us without us so much as having to produce a library card or even give our names.

Susie is the sweet forty-something librarian who is a "townie" through and through.  Which is to say she is pure Virginian, mumbles softly in southern drawl such that one westerner must lean in closely and listen hard to translate the loosely shared English.  She wears cable knit sweaters with flowers or seasonal decor such as reindeer or elves on them.  Tori calls her 'The Goddess of the Library' because she knows all the answers - even if you have to listen hard to discern them.

Several weeks ago I had all four kids at this very small library in the middle of the day.  As I was checking our books out Susie leaned in close and whispered "Your kids behave real good."
"Thank you," I replied as we watched a band of children who did not belong to me stomp through loudly, throwing fits and pulling books off the shelf.  They are not bad kids, just unsupervised kids who spend the limbo hour between school and Mom-getting-off-work at the library because they have nowhere else to go.

Recently Jonah returned a movie (The Secret of Roan Inish which you should watch if you have not).  He jumped out of the van and ran in to deposit the movie which we are not allowed to put in the book-drop.  He came back saying "Man, Tori was in there.  I wanted to stay and talk.  For several days after I kept checking our account to see when they would apply the four dollar fine I knew we owed on the movie.  When it never appeared I knew Tori must have had a hand in it.

A few months before that Susie took pity on me when I was trying to pay my library fines which, at twelve dollars, were alarmingly high to her.  Again she leaned in close to me and said very softly "Don't tell nobody, but I'm gonna take half that off for ya."
"Ok, I won't tell nobody," I whispered.  "Thank you."

So consider yourself not told, because I don't want to betray The Goddess of the Library's trust.  Bad things might happen, and we can't live without the library.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Clint Eastwood Has My Phone Number

I have learned the profound difference between Utah and Virginia.   If you look at the following map closely you might see it right off the bat, whereas clarity came to me only after fifteen months in The Commonwealth and a presidential election.  

Matt and I are registered Independents because the only thing we can unabashedly affix ourselves to is our faith and each other.  I will tell you up and down and seventeen days from Thursday that I am a Mormon.  I will also tell you with as much gusto that being Mormon does not a Republican make of me . . . or a Democrat.  What it makes me is a believer in Jesus Christ.  Politics, with all its exclamation points, does more to threaten my inner-discipleship than persuade me to align with the many and varied philosophies of man.  

When Matt and I bought a house in a Salt Lake City neighborhood we had a kind fellow from our church who lived nearby stop at our door to welcome us and get us registered to vote.  How very helpful I thought him.  How very petulant he thought me when, knowing I was a Mormon, I refused to mark the box that declared me a Republican also.  My 'X' by Independent was nearly as offensive/disappointing as it would have been had I just out and told him I was a Democrat.  

The heart of the problem is this: how can one party possibly represent my mind on every issue?  Can I not be of one mind about immigration, while being of a very different mind regarding healthcare?  And being of such disparate minds how could my legs straddle the grand canyon of thought and opinion beneath them.  So there I stand - in a camp of my own making.  Independent.

Utah has no time for me.  The sheer crimson-ness of it swallows up politically independent citizens.  "We don't need you," declares the machine.  "We have all the votes we could ever want.  Go ahead and set up your tent in any corner of the political landscape that suits your fancy."  Which means my phone never rings.

Virginia is desperate for me.  The first I heard of this development was when Malina Mara from The Washington Post came to Buena Vista looking for people to interview and take photos of for a piece highlighting Virginia as a "battleground state."  We have a good friend at Southern Virginia University who called me with about an hour's notice and asked if I might represent what he considered to be a thoughtful and moderate Mormon voice on the roll of faith in an election.

You can find a brief excerpt of that interview along with a photo of me at the following link.

It was through this conversation I began to understand that my registered independence might be viewed differently by the political machinations of "Old Dominion." And so my phone rings.

My phone rings with unprecedented frequency and urgency. 
I get calls from 
Mitt Romney
Ann Romney
Paul Ryan
Clint Eastwood
The National Rifle Association
The Republican National Committee
Americans For Responsible Leadership
The National "Don't Forget to Vote" Association
Republicans For No Taxes
Republicans For Government So Small There's Hardly Any Left
Republicans Who Tolerate Mitt Even Though He's Mormon
Republicans Who Hunt Large Animals 
Holly Brisburne, an actual person, who called last night hoping I would be voting for "our President" today.  I wondered if she knew that her eleventh hour call came on the heels of two weeks of at least a dozen calls a day from the Republicans.   My phone number is at the top of the Possibly Persuadable list and the Republicans must have spent a whole lot of money to that end. 

So the Democrats were a little short on the phone campaign.  They must have spent their money elsewhere, assuming they would catch me while browsing YouTube, or countless websites whose creators might have felt a twinge of irritation that they had become a canvas for democratic appeals.

Not only did my vote this morning count - it could possibly count BIG TIME.  I live in an unpredictable state that could, ostensibly, decide the next president.   

 I have voted.  I feel good about that.  I am not going to reveal my vote as means to maintaining my true independence.  Or really just because the notion of defending my political thoughts and actions to anyone but Matt gives me the heebie-jeebies.  And you are anyone-but-Matt.  Much as I love you.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Virginia's Fruit

Virginia has brought us a good many things, and fruit is one of the most heavenly.  I'm sure there were more opportunities for picking in Utah than I took advantage of, but here it seems the thing to do.

When the seasons of berries, and peaches, and apples roll through, the neighbors start heading out "over the mountain" into Amherst county to get a bushel of whatever is hanging ripe from the limb or vine, or bush.  They stop at my front door and ask "shall I bring some back for you?"  Or they offer their juicers and canners with a clear expectation that this has been on my calendar all winter.

So I have started to put it on my calendar.  And we have started to make the trip over the mountain ourselves.  And we have begun to put strawberry jam in the freezer and homemade applesauce in jars on the shelf.  We are preserving, eating, delighting in what the earth gives us.

This year I didn't take from the earth all that it would have happily given me.  I spent all of the months of May through mid October abstaining from fruit and my weak will could not have borne the hardship of letting the juicy stuff go from my hands to bottles bypassing my mouth entirely.  But I am happily eating fruit again with a new and appreciative tongue.  This comes at apple season which means we are up to our ears in apples.

April gave us strawberries.  October gives us apples.  The months in between would have offered raspberries, blackberries, grapes, pears, and peaches.  Since we have none of these to keep us happy through the long winter we are marking the months of 2013 according to what fruit will fill our kitchen, stain our hands, and grace our pantry.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

SLC to D.C.

So many babies, so many little people, where once there were just those three Rasmussen kids being their own kind of little people.  Such a cyclical and multiplicative thing is life.

It felt good and nostalgic to be in the same room as so many of my family at one time.  I am grateful to Emma for coming all that long way with the most extraordinary baby Colin.  I am grateful to Katie for being brave enough to let us all descend upon her at once so we could enjoy the visit together.  

Matt and I tried to make our clan a bit scarce the two days we were in D.C. while Emma was there.  Babies need a bit more peace than our four feisty little people can offer.  So we took the Metro in to the Smithsonian stop on the National Mall and took Matt to see a few things he had never seen before.