Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Looking Back, Reaching Out

My cousin is getting married in just a couple days. 

I have a love-hate relationship with the marriages of people I'm close to: I'm always excited for the couple and their new life together, but I'm also a bit sad for me. Change is hard, even good change, and even though I'm married myself, I mourn the loss of care-free years past and the inevitable shifting of priorities and relationships.

My cousin is halfway between me and my sister in age, and the three of us played princesses as children and stayed up all night giggling as teenagers.

When I was young, we donned my mom's old prom dresses and paraded through our grandma's beautiful house, lounging sophisticatedly (or so we imagined) on the elegant couches in her formal living room. We stood over the heating vents on the floor, the warm air filling our voluminous skirts and billowing them out around us. We did our best to dodge our little brothers who were invariably playing pirates, sword fighting with empty wrapping paper rolls, and protecting us, their lady-loves. We sneaked Hershey's Kisses from Grandma's large bowl on the coffee table and hid behind the furniture as we ate them, stuffing the balled-up silver wrappers under the couch (when my grandma had to sell her grand house, she found the large stash of foil when the couches were moved, bringing a laugh during a sad time). 

My uncle would play "Shark" with us in the family room, chasing us around on his hands and knees as we sought sanctuary on various pieces of furniture. We shrieked when he pulled us to the floor. My aunt spent hours painting our nails and teasing our hair into intricate braids and exotic hairstyles. 

My cousin introduced me to Harry Potter in high school. We were lying in slumber-party state on the floor of my grandma's living room, reading by weak light. Since I am a book hijacker, I started reading the magical beginnings of the first Harry Potter book over her [admittedly slightly irritated] shoulder, and I got hooked. I begged for the Harry Potter books for Christmas and devoured all three over the break.

One night in our later teen years, my sister, my cousin, and I stayed up into the deep hours of the night obsessively watching Pride and Prejudice (you know, the five-hour BBC one) and Wives and Daughters while playing distracted games of Hand and Foot and Progressive Rummy. We all got several joker canastas apiece by way of begging and blackmailing each other to "please, don't go out!" As the night progressed, we took turns taking snoozes as exhaustion swallowed us, and my cousin's confused but earnest dialogues when she woke, her mind caught somewhere in the middle of dreams and reality, made for one of the single most hilarious inside joke had-to-be-there moments of my life. 

In college, I met up with my cousin several times at BYU. We made dinner together and met for lunch on campus. On occasion we watched movies or exercised together. Always, we laughed together. 

My cousin is absolutely lovely. She has impeccable taste in everything and is unfailingly, sometimes even obnoxiously, kind. She has a rare tenacity when it comes to achieving goals. Her manner is genteel, but her laugh is unexpectedly unrestrained and boisterous. She is at once goofy and reserved, driven and scattered (have I mentioned she can belch the alphabet? So gross, but so cool). She is meticulously organized and methodical, but she combines responsibility and spontaneity in a way that imbues her life, and the lives of those around her, with verve. I smile as I write this, because thinking about her makes me happy.

I haven't spoken to my cousin in over seven years. While I understand some of the reasons that her family chose to sever ties with all of the extended family, the completeness of it and the duration of it continues to break my heart. There are no Christmas cards, no birthday calls, no condolences given when loved ones die, no joy shared when babies are born or missionaries are sent off or marriages are entered. I have run the gamut of emotions, from hurt to angry to disconsolate to bereft, and I still, even now, notice myself pendulating between them all. Most days, I find time has leached my anger to a paler, more brittle substance, creating cracks where wistfulness, nostalgia, and even hope burn through. 

I wonder sometimes if she ever thinks of us, if she or her family would be surprised to know how often we speak of them fondly, how much they are still missed, still remembered. 

I don't know if this closed door is barred for her. The more time that passes, the more I doubt there will ever be a phone call or an email or a facebook friend reinstatement. 

But if, in a moment of yearning, she or her family ever--days, months, or years down the road--draws the lock, opens the door, even looks through the keyhole, they will see us standing there, smiling, open armed. (We might be crying, too, because we're totally like that.) Regardless of what's to come or what's past, we are and always will be family. Though there is a consciously created chasm between us, the sea of pain and misunderstanding that once filled it is displaced more and more each year by love. The fissure may never go away, but I believe we can build a bridge.

Still my cousin, still my friend. Merriest of Christmases, most joyous of felicitations, best of wishes.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Snow Canyon Hike

{In Snow Canyon state park, October 2013}

We took a St. George trip a couple months ago so my mom could watch Kate while Jay and I saw a play at the Shakespearean Festival (Peter and the Starcatcher, and it was pretty good after the first 20 minutes). We got a couple other outings in and spent some time with my brother Steve who was down on college break. My dad was in Dallas for most of the weekend, so we didn't see much of him this trip.

We went on a hike to Johnson's Arch in Snow Canyon. The vast sky was vivid blue, the red of the towering cliffs was offset by ancient black lava flows, and the spaces between scrub oak and sage brush were carpeted with flowering yellow grasses like a two-seasons-too-late desert spring.

{Johnson's Arch}

My mom had to wear a large boot due to a stress fracture in her foot, but she gamely stumped along with us and introduced Kate to the wonders of sand while Jay and I finished the last bit of the hike ourselves. 

Kate does love me, I know this to be true, but she mourns my absence more keenly than she appreciates my presence. For Kate, a perfect mother is one who is always silent but close, content enough to be near her that offense is not taken when Kate's affections are lavishly bestowed on every other person in the general vicinity. 

This is evidenced in many situations: In church, Kate sits with her dad (or her grandparents, aunts, or uncles). Not with her mom. Friendly advances from Mom are met with yelling and hand-waving. But if ever I get up to use the restroom or sit on the stand, she panics: "Mama! Mama! Mama!" she cries loudly, often accompanied by noisy tears. Jay wrestles her out of the chapel, her arms outstretched and aimed at the last place she saw me. 

{The soundtrack for these two pictures is "Dada! Dada! Dada!" Waaaail, squirm squirm squirm... "DADA!"}

We recently had family pictures taken, and Kate would hold hands with her dad and/or the photographer, but not with me. It was unfortunate the photographer was not her mother, because I could have gotten some adorable hand-holding shots of the three of them.

When Jay and I run, sometimes Jay will stop with the stroller to tie his shoe and I'll jog on ahead. Kate worriedly calls after me until Jay catches up again (which only takes about five seconds because I am molasses and he is quicksilver). 

Trying to hold my girl and having her scream and reach for her daddy is admittedly not my favorite thing, but I am glad that I am around enough and she is secure enough in my love for her that she feels she can take me for granted. 

As much as I sometimes long for the green lushness of the Northwest or the Southeast, there is something in these stark, minimalist landscapes, this sharp and hardy vegetation, and these dry, sand-laden breezes that whispers of home.

Monday, December 9, 2013


{First haircut, October 2013}

Kate perched uncertainly on the salon chair in my friend's house, a box boosting her up. She sat more still than I'd imagined she would, bribed with various combs and clips. She flatly refused to wear the proffered cape, but submitted surprisingly well to the spray bottle to dampen her hair. She held her head mostly still (though "still" is a relative term when speaking about a 19-month old) until it was time to trim her bangs: she pressed her chin into her chest and shook her head from side to side.

The next Sunday, I put Kate's hair up in a ponytail for the very first time. Kate doesn't take kindly to me messing with her hair, but I still managed to get a decent ponytail in. It lasted about 30 minutes before the hair on the top of her head slipped out and flapped above her right ear.

She moved from room to room, from toy to toy, as I followed her to get these pictures. She is busy-busy-busy, go-go-go, all the time.

And she is loved, loved, loved.