Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Like my Sister

I often joke that Heavenly Father knew what he was doing when he sent me Adam.  My traditional punchline states that between me and Adam both, we make a pretty decent mother for the other two kids.

When Adam was born at a whopping 9 lbs 5 oz, he already looked like a 3 month old.  The doctor and hospital staff were understandably surprised when he lifted his own head off the mattress at one day old.  And the pattern continued as I have watched my son grow up, always ready to shoulder more responsibility than would seem appropriate for his age.

At the Dickens Festival cast party, I gave a special award to each member of the cast who had been involved in the production for 5 consecutive years.  Adam was one of those individuals, and I got the opportunity to present him with a gear, symbolic of the fact that my world literally would not turn without him.  He is the stage manager and sound guy for my after school show choir.  He reminds me to give the younger kids their medicine when they are on a prescription.  He is my right hand.

I often joke that Heavenly Father knew what he was doing when he sent me Adam.  Heavenly Father knows each of his children, and I believe he carefully considered when to send each of us to earth and to which earthly family we should belong.  And I am grateful every day that I am the one who gets to pretend to raise this special child of God who, short of not being able to drive a car, has rarely ever seemed to even need a mother.

When I first approached Adam about Skye and Michelle's request that he speak at Tyler's funeral, I came knowing I was asking a lot.  In fact, my first request was met with a swift and solid, "No."  However, when I explained Skye and Michelle's reasoning that Adam had been one of Tyler's very favorite people, he changed his tune.  "Under two minutes, though," he explained.  "I don't think I could handle any more than that without crying."

As I have done with Adam's talks over the last few years, I sat down and helped him brainstorm an outline.  Then I left it up to him to share in his own words.  Among Adam's gifts of the spirit is his confidence and poise in public speaking, and as he had recently spoken eloquently at a cousin's baptism and delivered a nearly 10 minute talk in Sacrament meeting (expounding on the outline we had planned), I knew I could trust him to deliver the message he wanted to share.

I had planned to try to write this out from memory, because I thought someday Adam might like to have it.  But then I found out that the funeral home had a recording, and I decided to wait until I could transcribe it word for word.  These are Adam's memories of Tyler as he shared them at the funeral.

Even though Tyler was my cousin, she felt like my sister.  I also lived kitty-corner to her, and I almost got to see her every day on the way home from school and at church.  One story of me and Tyler was at Halloween when Tyler was walking early and we were a little behind, so I picked her up and put her on my shoulders.  And we went around trick-or-treating.  We almost made it through the whole neighborhood.  I had a great time.

Another story was when we would go home from school, we would go past 7-11 where they have a sign with fruit in it.  And there was one fruit that me and Michelle and nobody knew what it was.  We thought it was a mango.  And Tyler would point to it and yell, "Nana," because she loved bananas.  And we would all laugh.

And also sometimes on the way home if I would give her a hug when she had learned to say "ouch," she would say "ouch" a lot.  And we would play games with her in the car and she would laugh.  

And I know that I will be able to see her again.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Not only did Adam have the honor of speaking, but Skye and Michelle also chose him to participate as a pall bearer.  As I watched my son, two days shy of his tenth birthday, carry the casket of his cousin/sister, I couldn't help but consider the word "bear."  In the gospel, we often talk of "bearing one another's burdens."  Several definitions exist, among which my favorites include:

  • to move while holding up and supporting (something)
  • to support the weight of 
  • to hold in the mind or emotions

Looking back, I recall how Adam chose to fill this role from the first moment we told him of Tyler's passing.  He made it his personal mission to make me smile at least once per day during the ensuing week.  On my first day at work, he gave up his afternoon recess to come to my classroom to check on me.  That is an awfully big burden for a ten-year-old to choose to bear.

I used to joke that Adam used to do resistance training inside my stomach, pushing against his surroundings repeatedly in an effort to build his muscles.  I remember exactly what it felt like to push gently with my fingers on the heel he frequently smashed in under the right side of my rib cage.  I would carefully knead the area, coaxing him to retract the limb, only to then feel a palm push out the other side.  He was pushing against me already, just begging for a chance to be on the outside where instead of being nurtured, he could be the rock.

I often joke that Heavenly Father knew what he was doing when he sent me Adam.

But it is really no joke.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

When Dylan Speaks

Oh, how fondly I sometimes recall the early years when I wondered if Dylan would ever learn to talk.  It's not that he even talks that much now.  It's just that his call-it-as-he-sees-it approach has a tendency to leave me feeling a bit raw.  And now that he's old enough to spend more time at friends' houses, I'm learning it isn't just me who can leave an encounter with Dylan feeling a bit like I was on the losing side of a war.  These stories have recently become a hit at book club, and I figured I had better write them down before I start forgetting them.

I guess technically it is Alex's eighth birthday, and I should probably write about him, but I've never really liked to do something just because it is expected.

Instead, here is a collection of as many Dylan stories as I can recall (or as many as I can write down before Kirk and the boys get home from baseball practices).

Between the Lines

Within the same week as Dylan's 5th birthday, Adam was invited to his friend Trae's birthday party.  I already knew Dylan was disappointed with the small gathering of family I had invited to have the family tradition of cake and ice cream.  Let's face it - Dylan is frequently disappointed with my plans.  When we drove into the parking lot of the skate park, the party's location, D took one look at the large number of people (and did not at all account for how many of them just happened to be at the skate park) and stated, "Wow!  All those people seem to be having so much fun at Trae's birthday."  Sure, the words are pretty innocuous, but the meaning was easy to infer... "And the lame party you planned for me will clearly pale by comparison."

Just My Size

Dylan loves to go shopping with me, but I really don't know why I let him come.  He has incredibly strong opinions and horrible taste!  I had a bit of birthday money to spend and had decided I wanted a pair of fun, casual pants to help fill the gaping void in my wardrobe that falls between pajama bottoms and business dresses.  Dylan walked through the stores with me, pointing out every bright, multicolored pair he saw.

At first I didn't want to hurt his feelings, so I tried just telling him the pants weren't my size.  But then he started measuring me.  He would hold two fingers up at the height of my waist, then count aloud while he moved his fingers down to the ground.  Then he would start again at the waist of the hideous pants, counting as he ran his fingers along their length.  Somehow, every pair of pants seemed to be exactly my size!

So I started to tell the truth, admitting that I really just didn't like the pants.  "But they're beautiful, Mom!  I just want you to buy something beautiful."  I soon discovered that his definition of beautiful seemed only to apply to wild patterns featuring many colors.  And if there was velvet to be had - all the better.

We left the second store without finding anything that fit his needs and mine, and I announced that we would probably just head home.  He burst into tears, explaining once again his strong desire for me to leave with a colorful purchase.  Thank goodness for the teal skinny jeans with contrasting mustard colored belt that happened to be on sale at Forever 21.  Fun, bright colors for Dylan - wonderfully solid for mom.

But It's Funny

Dylan recently spent a few days of preschool hanging out with his BFF Emily.  During one visit, Emily's mom, Cheryl, was working at her computer.  Dylan walked by and noticed an unflexed tricep hanging below her raised arm.  He walked up, poked it, and giggled.

"Hey, stop that!" Cheryl laughed back in surprise.

"But it's funny!"  He replied, as he continued to tickle her arm fat.

She's Stronger

During recent one-on-one outings with Grandma and Grandpa Casdorph, Adam and Alex have each constructed an item of their choosing out in Grandpa's shop.  At the conclusion of Adam's special day, he brought home a birdhouse, ready to hang from the front porch.  Unfortunately, our porch has no exposed wood into which we could screw the hook.  So the birdhouse sat on the ground inside the entryway, waiting for a home.

I guess I wasn't all that surprised, then, when at the conclusion of Alex's big day, he and Grandpa unloaded a tree they had built.  Grandpa stepped onto the lawn with a post hole digger and got to work.  The first few inches went well, but then he found the fun layer of rocks that seems to lurk under every inch of dirt in our area.  Working a little harder, he was starting to make progress toward breaking through this layer when Dylan decided to offer his advice.

"Maybe you should let Aunt Michelle do that.  She's stronger."

Judgement Seat

Pretty much everything Dylan says is dripping with judgement.  He even has a special way he scrunches up his face when he is about to let you know how much of a disappointment you are to him.  At least I can occasionally feel comfort from knowing he does not reserve these judgements exclusively for his mother.

About a month ago, Dylan found out that Michelle is pregnant and will be having a baby girl in May.  Curious about how these things work, he asked Michelle, "How did that girl baby get in there?"

Tactfully, Michelle responded with a question.  "Do you remember how you used to think that Ryder got in my belly?"

Dylan's response was simple.  "Yes.  You ate him."

I imagine Michelle smiled as she continued the conversation.  "Well, then how do you think this baby got in here."

"You ate her?" he asked, pausing thoughtfully to process before calling it how he saw it.  "You seem to eat a lot of babies."

More to Come

Of course, for all the funny things Dylan says, I have at least one funny story about something Michelle has said to him.  Like the time she refused to tell him that the meal between breakfast and dinner is called lunch, because she felt she had told him enough times already.  Or the day she wouldn't let him say "basically," requiring him to restart his sentence each time he forgot.  Or the day when I told him he had to be nice to her, and she replied, "It's okay.  We're kind of fighting today.  I don't want to be nice to him, either."

Michelle and I have been telling these stories at pretty much every social function for the last few months.  So if you have a Dylan story that I didn't cover, please share it in the comments so I can do a follow up post.

Because I'm going to cross my fingers and hope that his fine-tuned ability to make me (and occasionally others) feel small and incompetent is just a phase I'll look back on fondly.

If not, I'll just keep this handy as blackmail.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Dear Travis Wall

Dear Travis Wall -

According to the famous French painter Edgar Degas, "Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do."  My only real experience with painting was a summer painting playground equipment during which more paint probably ended up in my hair and on my clothes than anywhere else, so I'm pretty ill equipped to comment literally on his perspective.  But I've recently gained some difficult experience that allows me to allegorically expand.  If, by some miracle, you're actually reading this, bear with me as I use far more words than probably necessary.  I have been told that words are my paint brush.

There is a small intersection in the neighborhood where my sister and I both live.  Each day on my way home from work, I stop briefly at the same stop sign, pausing for traffic that never exists.  If I turn right, I will end up on the street I called home for ten years.  The second-to-last house on the left is the house to which I brought each of my three sons home when they were born.  It is also the house I shared with a steady stream of family and friends, frequently teased by neighbors for our apparently revolving door.  

In July of 2013, my sister and her family entered that door.  And in April of 2014, my family left it, bound for a brand new address one whole street over.  Poets have written about the importance of the dash between the two dates on a headstone.  The most pivotal dash in my life thus far is the 9 month period between 7/13 and 4/14 during which two families became one.

There are eight supporting characters in this story: myself and my husband Kirk, my sister Michelle and her husband Skye, my three sons (Adam, Alex, and Dylan), and my nephew Ryder.  Each of us played a distinct role in the household.  I was the whirlwind, blowing in and out as my job a teacher and hobby of community theater often require.  Kirk was, as always, the kite string that tethers me to our home and family.  Skye was the party, filling our home with laughter and conversation every evening.  Michelle was the glue, loving my children as her own as she cooked and cleaned and shuttled, never once complaining of the extra burden.  The star of the story, however, was named Tyler Marie Davis by her parents and Princess Ty by my husband. And Tyler was the light.  

One of my favorite things about our shared home was Tyler's enthusiasm each day when a member of my family would return home.  I fondly recall scooping her tiny one-year-old frame into my arms at the end of a long day, then turning my head to the side so she could inspect my daily selection of earrings.  I would often come around the corner to my bedroom and spot that sweet little girl snuggled up to her Uncle Kirk eating Funyons and watching tv.  I have countless pictures of her seated proudly in the lap of one of my sons, and I finally gave up even trying to pretend that she was their cousin.  In fact, when my family full of boys would beg me for a sister, I would remind them they already had one. 

On January 14, 2015, I came to a stop at the familiar stop sign, ready to drive straight to my new home instead of turning right to Michelle's.  I glanced to the right, a motion I've since come to believe was instinctive not only for checking for oncoming cars, but also to look fondly toward my sisters home in gratitude to continue to have her family so near even though we no longer shared a roof.  On this date, however, my gaze fell on a scene now etched permanently into my mind.  There, at the end of the street - my street - my sister's street - was an overwhelming amount of emergency vehicles.  In a moment of panic and selfishness, the thought pounded so loudly in my head that I am not certain if I may actually have been speaking it aloud, "Let it be the neighbors.  Let it be the neighbors."  

There are seven houses between the intersection and my sister's home.  A lifetime seemed to pass as I drove past those seven houses, my heart pounding and my brain racing faster than I seemed to be able to drive.  Somewhere in those agonizing moments of uncertainty, I unrolled my car window.  I wanted nothing more than to somehow be closer to my sister.  I arrived as close to the driveway as the emergency vehicles would allow and saw her there.

On the driveway sat my sister, dressed in polka dot pajama pants and tears.  The world spun as I tried to comprehend the words she spoke to me.  Skye appeared seemingly out of nowhere and cried words into my ear as he hugged me tightly, "Pray - just pray."  My husband, who had responded to Michelle's terrified phone call, was already there.  I took a deep breath, pushed the emotions back, and started to do what had to be done.  

Ryder needed to put socks on.  The emergency personnel needed to know Michelle was pregnant.  Kirk needed to get Skye to the hospital to be with Tyler.  Adam needed a ride to scouts.  Alex and Dylan and Ryder needed a sitter.  Michelle needed our mom.  My hands shook as I dialed, trembled as I texted, and balled up in frustration when I couldn't reach the people I desperately needed.  Eventually, I took to the streets - a crazy person knocking on the doors of neighbors, explaining frantically that there was an emergency, and I needed them - now.

And then the call came.  My husband, the one who bragged constantly about his little Princess Tyler, gave Michelle the news that Tyler would not be life-flighted to the children's hospital.  There was nothing more that life-saving measures could do.  Her response echoes now in my mind as clearly as in the agonizing moments during which she first verbalized it, "She's gone?  How can she be gone?  She was just here."

And for me now, two months later, that's what hurts the most.  Last week, I sat up late at night with my son Alex who couldn't sleep because he was missing Tyler.  We looked through pictures together and told stories about our favorite moments.  I came across a set of pictures from January and noticed the corner of a game piece in the picture's foreground.  Curious what game we'd been playing, I peered more closely.  Tears sprang to my eyes as I realized it was a game we had gotten after Christmas.  After Christmas.  How could a game we'd purchased only two months ago be in a picture with Tyler?  It seemed somehow unfair - a cruel reminder that somehow she is gone, even though she was just here.  

Tyler and Adam - January 1, 2015

But I have my words.  I talk to my husband and my friends incessantly about Tyler.  About what I miss and how I feel.  About my guilt, about my pain, about the happy memories I have.  And when talking isn't enough, then I write.  Even though sometimes it is difficult to express the things I need to say, I have my words.

Michelle, though, has never been much of a talker.  I worry a lot about all the emotions trapped inside of her with no real way to get out.  Those of us close to her have been grateful for the occasional truth she has posted on Facebook, knowing that these snippets are as close as she can come to voicing what she is feeling.

February 9, 2015: Surprised by how much better I feel after repeatedly belting out (through the tears) "Your Daddy's Son" from Ragtime the entire 30 min. drive to my parents' house.

February 14, 2015: The best way that I can describe how I feel at any given moment of the day is that I constantly have that nagging feeling like I have forgotten something.

February 19, 2015: Just had a memory of something Tyler had recently started to do. She would put one hand up in front of her chest an in imitation of Mom say, "Be right back." If only.

March 9, 2015: I really want Travis Wall to choreograph a dance about Tyler to John Mayer's "Dreaming With A Broken Heart". Someone get on this.  

"Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do."  My sister now knows everything there is to know about pain, and that knowledge makes it impossible for her to express it.  I would give my sister the world if I could.  But no matter how many words I write, I will never be able to tell the story she wants told.  I know she wasn't serious when she posted on Facebook, but an old boyfriend of mine always used to say that behind every joke is a little bit of the truth.  If there is any chance that a Travis Wall dance about Tyler would help her say what she can't paint, then I can't stop myself from passing along that message.

Travis, if this somehow actually reached you, and you would like to capture a vision that my words just can't paint, just watch this little ball of fire living it up in the short life she was granted.  And if you see a story you could paint through dance, words would fail me in my efforts to express gratitude.

P.S. Michelle posted in a comment, "I will also accept Derek Hough or Sonya Tayeh."  So, ya know, feel free to forward this if you aren't interested.  :)