The revolving door

I've been so unexpectedly AWOL here lately that I neglected to tell you that Lauren got back from her mission a few weeks ago! We have been luxuriating and adjusting ever since. When I run into friends (knowing how I was counting down the days) they usually ask a variation of this: "how does it feel to have all three of your kids under your roof again?" It is divine. And celebrated. And bittersweet. And fleeting. 

It's been spectacular. Not that there aren't tough parts to all this, especially readjusting to each other again and allowing for the growth and change that has taken place in each of us. At one point Lauren commented "I feel like a page that's been taken out of a book for a while and is trying to get stuffed back in place." I can totally relate to that feeling! But I've come to believe that families are connected differently than rigid, unforgiving book bindings: we are constantly evolving and accommodating change. After many years in one configuration (or at least a very gradually changing one), we are now a building constantly under renovation, not a static old book. 

Truth is, we've all been adjusting to the new reality of these years, which is that our family structure has renovated and reshuffled and installed a virtual revolving door: lots of transitions in and out, varying lengths of stays, and they're off again. That turning, pirouetting door provides constant opportunities to go off to new adventures and equally many welcome invitations to come back in. 

Tomorrow we head off on a long weekend trip together and then we begin another leaving season: first Lauren, off to spring term at university, then Maddy a few months later to her new university. I can almost feel the airy woosh of the revolving door slightly rustling my hair. They'll be back.

I went to France

Lyon, France

Lyon, France

Just to catch everyone up: The husband and I flew to France two weeks ago to pick up our oldest daughter, Jordan, who was serving an 18 month mission for our church. For the duration of her mission, our communication was limited to e-mails and real-life, written letters -- oh, and those two sacrosanct, one-hour, Skype calls on Mother's Day and Christmas. All of this to say, it had been a long time since I'd seen or even really talked to my baby. I intended to march over to France, collect my child, and eat as many patisseries as humanly possible.

A few months before the completion of her mission, we received instruction that we should pick Jordan up at the mission president's home at 9 pm on Monday, November 10th. And since I didn't want to be stalker-mom in Lyon, France, I scheduled our flight to arrive that same day at 4 pm. And folks, we made it work! Both of our flights were on time (Houston to London, and London to Lyon). We made it through immigration in under five minutes, and our luggage came flying down the shoot. We rented a car (through some lovely ladies who spoke very little English), and jumped into the car with French-only instructions on how to operate the GPS. [Also, a public service announcement: If you rent a car in France, it's going to have standard transmission. In order to put the car in reverse, you have to pull the gear-shift-thingy UP.] So, yes, we were the clueless Americans in the Enterprise parking lot who couldn't reverse their car. But I was going to collect my first born, so I didn't care one bit! I'm clueless. I'm fine with that!

This is the bridge we walked across to get to our apartment. Pretty impressive, right?

This is the bridge we walked across to get to our apartment. Pretty impressive, right?

And then, after months of waiting and more months planning, and many a night of anticipating, we were there -- just Sterling and I driving through French toll roads and roundabouts and then on the tiny cobbled streets leading into the heart of Lyon. We found the apartment we had rented on AirBnB quickly but got ourselves completely lost and befuddled trying to find parking. We may or may not have driven onto a square where cars are not allowed. Also, we may have driven the wrong way down a one way street (or two). But we found parking in the nick of time, and set off at a run with our luggage across a long bridge spanning the Saone River. We stashed our belongings, tidied our hair and clothes, and then ran back across the bridge to the car and set off for the mission president's home. We found it easily. Two missionaries met us outside and led us into a downstairs rec room. Two other sets of parents were already waiting. So we all stood around and made nervous chit chat, knowing good and well that our kids were just upstairs. After about 20 minutes Sterling and I were led up the up the stairs, and before I found my bearings on the next level . . . she was there. Walking towards me. Tears in her eyes. I just grabbed her up and held on. 

And then we were laughing, and the other parents started coming up behind us. We met the mission president and his wife and many of the other missionaries who were leaving with Jordan's transfer. And here's the strange part -- as she stood there next to me, my arm around her shoulders -- it was like I'd just seen her yesterday. Intellectually, I knew she'd been gone for a year and half, living an entirely different life in an entirely different country. But my heart didn't recognize those differences even one tiny bit. Maybe this is cheesy, but it was sort of like the bond between us, once stretched from Texas to France, immediately resumed it's original shape. And there we were -- the same but different. And honestly? Even though she has been forced to transition from missionary to mere mortal, I'd think she'd agree that with the people she loves . . . there is no gap in the relationship. We just take back up with our girl -- even though now she eats cheese and yogurt, which is a COMPLETE and BEFUDDLING surprise. 

Ta da! Upon entering the apartment in Lyon.

Ta da! Upon entering the apartment in Lyon.

Up next: Part Deux: Eating our way from Lyon to Bordeux


Be still, my heart

"Making the decision to have a child -- it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." --Elizabeth Stone

I've always thought that quote was a bit over-used and cliche. That is, until last Saturday when I received a phone call telling me Jordan had an infection in her leg. It was her mission president who called -- and in case you don't already know, a call from the mission president is never good news. When I realized who was on the other end of the phone, I took a deep breath and braced myself.

It was all a bit confusing at first: She'd been to a doctor. She was seeing another doctor. They'd call me on Sunday and update me.

I instantly felt uneasy, sick to my stomach. But I did my best to push my fears aside. I'd wait to hear good news.

Sunday morning I woke up early. France is seven hours ahead of us, so I figured I'd hear something early. My anxiety was increasing as the minutes ticked by, so I started straightening up, putting dinner in the crockpot, anything to keep my mind from resting solely upon the what-ifs of Jordan's situation. By 11 AM my time, I decided I'd have to call (or run screaming into the street).

Guys, they were still trying to get her admitted to a hospital -- essentially begging for IV antibiotics. Meanwhile, her leg is now an angry red from her toes to the top of her thigh. The mission president and nurse were working different avenues to help her. There was even talk of putting her on a fast train to Paris. My first instinct was the grab my purse and head to the airport. But time wasn't on anyone's side. She needed attention quickly. Not in five hours. Or twenty hours. Also, I don't speak a lick of French. So, instead of doing anything, I relayed the information to Sterling and cried in my bathroom.

And I prayed. I prayed fiercely. I prayed that the infection would slow. That the doctors would use the right medications. That her body would be healed. And my heart, the one that was now in a hospital in France? It hurt.

The good news is that the antibiotics seem to be working. Her biggest problem right now is an intense case of boredom and the hospital's reticence to use the air conditioner. Word is that she may be released on Thursday -- that's almost FIVE days in the hospital. And all the while, I've been a world away, biting my fingernails, working myself towards an ulcer.

This part of my heart walking about, unprotected, is my hardest part of being a parent. I want to take all of my hearts, wrap them in bubble wrap, and lock them in a room upstairs -- taking them out only when the weather is perfect, the alarm is engaged, and I've fully got my wits about me. But those darn hearts won't be contained. Already they are wandering off into the world, seeing Broadway plays, walking home after dark, mucking about in piles of germs. I'm not exactly sure what to do about this. 

I suppose there is nothing to be done but to train my hearts towards love and away from fear and bitterness. To truly observe the joy that they bring me. To invest in a good colorist (many gray hairs this week). And to close my eyes and hold on tight.

What would you say?

If you have been hanging around here for any length of time, then you know that Annie and I both have daughters serving missions for our church. The mission itself requires hard work, perseverance, and a good deal of moxie -- since a missionary's main occupation involves approaching complete strangers to talk to them about their religious beliefs. In Jordan's case, she has to do this in French. When I think about her chatting up random French people about such personal topics, I can't help but chuckle since prior to her mission Jordan was reticent to tell a fast food employee she'd been given the wrong order. "Can't you just do it Mom?" Those words still ring in my head.

I wouldn't necessarily call myself a helicopter parent, but I'm definitely hands on and Jordan thoroughly enjoyed me navigating the red tape of her life. Often, I encouraged her to work out her own issues -- like selecting classes, or fixing personal misunderstandings, or negotiating work schedules -- but I was always available for lengthy consults and planning sessions. If she was sick? Shoot, her freshman year in college I flew all the way to Utah to take her to the dermatologist (although, in my defense, her hair was falling out). The weeks before she left for her mission I laid awake at night trying to plan for every last contingency -- umbrella, boots, over-the-counter medications, lotions, prescriptions, bandages. Maybe she'd need antibiotic ointment and bandages! You just never knew.

And then she was gone. LDS missionaries can write letters home, and they have 1.5 hours of computer time per week to send e-mails. Oh, and they can call home for one hour on Christmas and Mother's Day. Jordan left home in the beginning of June 2013. We talked to her for an hour on Christmas day. Also, we knew this Mother's Day call would be our last before she returns home in November. So, last Sunday, at 12 pm central time, my little family huddled around the computer, waiting anxiously for Skype to ring. 

If you could only speak with your child one hour every six months, what exactly would you say?

On one hand the sheer rarity of the situation seemed practically overwhelming. I mean, with only an hour I didn't want to talk about what's for dinner. But at the same time, it's not the moment for big decisions or deep, revealing conversations. My sister jokingly called it a 'proof of life' call -- we could see Jordan was happy and thriving and, at the same time, reassure her that home and hearth were patiently awaiting her return.

In the end she told us about the people she is teaching and what it is like to live in Bordeaux -- the food, the culture, and something about dropping a large, glass container of yogurt while getting on a city bus. Her brother and sisters told her what was going on in their lives here at home. We talked a little about signing her up for classes and where she would live when she returned to college. But mostly, I just sat back and marveled at the can-do woman she has become. She can cook. She can move herself all over the south of France. She is getting ready to renew all of the paperwork for her visa. I realized (shockingly) that she could even procure bandages should the occasion arise. Most importantly, she is happy, which means she knows how to find joy in life -- even without her momma. And while this thought gives me a sharp pain right behind my watery eyes, I'm proud of her. So, so proud.

Now. If I can just make it till November.

Plugging snail mail

frenchmail01 web.jpg

I've had an epiphany of sorts lately. Let's file this post under 'unexpected joys' or 'bulking up your teen's writing skills,' but it's all about going old school. Yep, I'm talking snail mail. First off, you have to know that I enjoy technology like nobody's business. I'm all about using technology to organize my disorderly self and improve efficiency. Do you know there's a breastfeeding app that times how long your baby nurses and then keeps track of which side you fed on last? If I had babies during the iphone age? I would have been ALL OVER that. And it goes without saying that I can send and receive e-mails in mere minutes. So, except for receiving packages via Amazon Prime and proliferating artsy Christmas cards, I wasn't entirely certain of the value of the USPS.  

I know. I think deep thoughts. 

But then Jordan left for France, and I was relegated to one measly e-mail per week. Don't get me wrong. The e-mail is fantastic, and I wait anxiously all Sunday evening, knowing it will arrive in the wee hours of Monday morning.  But I read the e-mail, sigh in satisfaction, and then have the hideous realization I'll have to wait another seven full days to hear from my very own baby girl. Luckily, Jordan inherited my wordy gene, and so we usually get a real-life, paper-and-envelope letter from her every week as well. Here's how it goes down: I open the mailbox and pull out the stack of catalogues, bills, and junk mail. Standing barefoot in the street, I shuffle through the junky advertisements until . . . YES! . . . an envelope all the way from FRANCE!! Then I calmly walk back inside, put the other pieces of mail in their respective places (ie mostly in the trash) and sit on the couch to S L O W L Y open the letter. The letter contains her handwriting. And sometimes pictures. She decorates the envelope with stickers and makes our address all scroll-y and fancy. There it is. It's tangible. I leave it on the coffee table for the rest of the family to read. I show it to strange repair people who are in our home. I re-read it several times throughout the week. Guys, it's an utter delight.

And you know what else? I write her back -- usually once a week. But if I suddenly think of something I want to tell her . . . I might send a random letter just because. I include recipes for her to try (she is always asking for more). Sometimes I print out instagrams, trim them into tidy squares, and send them along. Today I printed out this awesome monster coloring page, because even if she doesn't have time to doodle on it, I know she'll appreciate the sentiment. I'm constantly on the look out for funny/cool cards to send, and I have a healthy collection in my desk drawer -- ready to go. 

It turns out that even if I'm not good at quitting sugar, or exercising everyday, or writing on my dissertation as much as I should -- I'm a darn good corresponder. Does that count for something? 

Here's something else. This correspondence is SO good for my sophomore and seventh grader here at home. They are writing! With a purpose! Which often turns out to be the very best kind of writing. Granted, I have to make this a specific activity wherein I pull out paper and pens and markers and stickers and sit them down to the table, but once I've done all of the prep work -- they comply very amiably. (Story of my life.)

I've been thinking about how much happiness these letters have brought to my daily life. Perhaps I'm a nineteenth-century girl at heart. So, I'm working on bringing back the letter -- quality paper, fine penmanship, messages from the heart. Just today I sent a letter off to Annie -- all the way to Australia. Wonder if she'll write me back.

Update on letting go

It's been six weeks now since we launched Jordan off to Lyon, France. I'm not sure if you remember, but she gets exactly 1.5 hours of computer time PER WEEK, so we get a weekly e-mail (on Mondays), and she has also been sending a real-life, paper letter that generally arrives around Saturday. I'm not sure how long she'll keep up the real letter writing, but I'm hoping for FOREVER.  Other than the e-mail and letter, she's on her own. This kills me a little bit. Okay, a lot. 

I'm going to be real honest here and tell you that at about the three week mark, I fell apart and spent the better part of two days in bed. My personal method for dealing with difficult situations generally goes something like this:

I'm okay. 
I'm okay.
I'm okay.
I'm fine.
No problems here.

I'm crying on the bathroom floor, and I have no idea why. 

I like to hide my problems from myself until they either go away or punch me in the face. Currently, I'm of a mind to pick myself up and work towards moving on. So that's what I'm doing here . . . dusting myself off and looking around for more productive options. 

The good parts? (all quotes from Jordan)

Reading the weekly e-mail. Typically, it includes PICTURES. 

SoeurStevens web.jpg
Lyon web.jpg

Learning about her experiences living in another country:

It is HOT HOT HOT here. It’s been in the high 90′s almost every day since I’ve arrived. I was not prepared for that. Thanks for getting my mild summer hopes up Southern France. The weather’s about like Texas, except there is NO AIR CONDITIONING ANYWHERE!!!

 Laughing. She's funny:

We do SO much contacting. We contact on the bus, on the metro, walking on the street, streetboarding. I’m still not really over the awkwardness of it all. Our goal is to contact and talk about the gospel with 350 per week, but this week we talked to 570 people. Streetboarding is my favorite way to contact. We go to one of the squares or plazas in our area with this giant board that has a google map on it of Lyon and it says “You are here….. WHY??” mahahaha I think it’s soooo funny. (Oh no. I’m already weird and I’ve only been a missionary for one month…) But then we just talk to every single person that walks on that sidewalk. Sometimes people say really funny things when we try to contact them like..

“Hi, we’re missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Random man: “Me too.”

We were caught so off guard that he just ran away.


“Hi, we’re missionaries, and we’re here to share a message centered on Jesus Christ.”

Random man: “Oh great. I’m having him over for dinner tonight. I’ll tell him I saw you.”


“Hi, we’re the missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ- What are your thoughts on God?”

Random old man turns to me and says, “Vous avez les yeux d’une Spaniard.” (You have the eyes of a Spaniard.)

Enjoying her descriptive writing:

Soeur Stevens got a blister yesterday, and today it got totally infected. Her entire leg is swollen and red, and the blister is like the most mutated, disgusting thing you’ve ever seen.

And really? Deep down I know that living in another country, dedicating herself full-time to serving others, even being away from her mom, is invaluable life experience. But I also recognize that there is an inherent contradiction for me, as the mother, to simply set down the charge I undertook 19 years ago to care for this child. So I'm caring in my mind. And in my prayers. And in the $47 I just spent to send a FOUR POUND package.

And life goes on . . .