Tuesday, October 4, 2016

So They Had 8 Hours of Screen Time...

by Andilyn Jenkins

Aaron texted me from work and asked, "How are bills coming?" My response was this picture. It was a rough day. I knew it would be. I knew my kids would be in front of the TV or sitting in my lap for most of it because I was behind in reviewing our finances, and in my mind, it had to get done. So I pushed in movie after movie and yelled at my kids when they started directing their attention-seeking misbehavior on each other, getting in fights and trying to discipline each other.  I knew the whole day long that their bad behavior was my fault. I knew they were acting out because they felt neglected. But I didn’t care. I needed them to be quiet and obedient and stay alive. And those were my objectives regarding motherhood that day.

And ya know? I beat myself up about it. I was frustrated. I wasn’t accomplishing anything. Tasks that take me an hour in a quiet, uninterrupted room were taking me four. The day came to a close and I had barely skimmed through the mail pile, let alone reworked my excel spreadsheets. I was deflated. I counted the hours of television my kids had watched and the number of times they walked away from me slunch-shouldered because I said I couldn’t read that book or play that game. And I wanted to cry. Or scream. Somehow, I had sacrificed my children’s well-being for a task that wasn’t getting done anyway. It seemed so pointless. And when I looked at that picture, all I saw was my grumpy, beaten face. But searching for some solidarity, I posted the picture to Facebook.

And then, I got a notification and looked at my phone again, and as luck would have it, at first I didn’t realize the comment was for that post. So when I saw the picture, I saw it with fresh eyes. And, man, my kids are so darn cute. Look how happy they were climbing all over me! I was so focused on myself I had disregarded the expressions on their faces. They are happy!

And that’s when I realized: moms, we have lives. I’m not saying I made the best choices that day. Maybe I should have put the bills away and focused on my kids. I see those blog posts all the time. Time gets away from you. Don’t blink. The television is not a babysitter. Put down your phone. You won’t get these moments back. More than an hour of screen time a day will make your kids' heads explode. Mostly sound advice. But, people? I'm not okay with the self-abuse here. Because half of the sickening knots in my gut today were legitimately from trying and failing to get my work done. But the other half? Was from guilt. And I gotta say, moms, we put enough of that on ourselves. So let’s be real.

You might feel sick if your kid will sit still through Big Hero 6, followed by The Incredibles, followed by Letter Factory, followed by binge-watching Sofia the First on Netflix. But, honey, do what you gotta do. Hopefully not every day. But I promise your kids' heads won't explode. And, bonus, you might get a nap or a shower or poop cleaned up off the hallway floor or the cookies baked for that party tomorrow night. You can always start the day at the park tomorrow.

You might yell. You might lose your patience and tell your kid to sit in timeout for things you know are minor infractions. But, hey, there might be a thread of wisdom your child can gain from going to timeout when she stomps her foot at you because she’s had to say your name four times and you haven’t responded. And, ideally, when you pull her out of timeout, you apologize for not responding sooner.

You might indulge every request for snacks, juice, and milk. You might get to the end of your day and realize your kids ate half a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, m&ms, freetos, goldfish, cheesesticks, cupcakes, and a gallon of chocolate milk a piece. And because you were busy, your GI track is reminding you that your diet wasn’t much different. But it will pass. Although, I don’t envy you the diaper changes.

Moms, we all have these days. The sick days. The busy days. The lazy days. The rainy days. The midnight, 2, 4, 6 a.m.-feeding days. The bored days. And the unmotivated days. Leave the guilt in the dirt where it belongs. You can trample it tomorrow when your kids go build mud pies in the garden. And for crying out loud, leave the mom-shaming in the crapper. We’re all fighting personal battles.

Because, as you might have noticed, this wasn’t a great day. But, by the end of the evening, I had made a sizeable dent in my work-load, even though I felt as though I had done nothing. And my kids? You saw them in the picture. I was doing my darndest to ignore them, but they were still goofy-happy hanging on me and getting spoiled with snacks and screen time.

So take your days as you need them. Play hard on the rest. You are not a bad mom. You are a human being. And that means giving yourself the chance to put your needs first.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Why Auditioning for the Mesa Easter Pageant Was a Terrible Idea

by Andilyn Jenkins

This year our family is in the Mesa Easter Pageant. We auditioned in October, received the cast list in December, and began rehearsals the first Saturday in March. In October when I first heard about auditions, I was hesitant to bring up the idea to Aaron. I know the time commitment a play takes, and I wasn’t confident our young family could handle the stress that late nights cause. But a friend of mine encouraged me, promising me that anything we sacrificed would be replaced by immeasurable blessings. So I took a step of faith, spurred by my own burning desire to be back in a show, and brought it up with Aaron expecting resistance; after all, he’s been a show-widower before and knows probably even better than I do what kind of sacrifice theatre is on the family.

I researched the show, read the requirements, checked the dates, asked lots of questions, and then presented the idea to Aaron, prepared for any response.

“Aaron, auditions for the Easter Pageant are next week. I think it would be an incredible opportunity for our family if we all auditioned together now while we don’t have any kids in school,” I said, waiting for his fact-gathering-mode to kick in.

“That sounds like a great idea.”

“Oh. Well,” I said, unprepared for that response, “yes. It is. Cool! Let’s do it, then!”

And that’s how we got to rehearsal on a sweaty Saturday in March in front of the temple standing on the stage with a crying 15-month-old and a four-year-old swinging from my arms whining, “Mom, when will we be done? This is so boring!”

And I kept wondering . . . where are all those blessings?

The weeks leading up to and following the first practice, my patience was thin at-best, Evan the toddler came down with a fever, and Evelyn was obstinate and moody—reflecting my own mood like a big, whiny mirror.

This pageant was a terrible idea. Look what I did to my family. We are all stressed; I have no energy left to deal with kids, and I have fifteen other things that need my focus beyond this.

So I prayed. I prayed for patience. I prayed for sleep. I prayed for strength. And I prayed for optimism. And nothing changed. Until that Wednesday night. We left Evan at home with my mom while Aaron, Evelyn, and I went to rehearsal to block the “Jesus with the Children” scene.

The scene felt so familiar. I’ve been at many playgroups where Evelyn’s quiet first impression leads to invisibility, and she watches from the wall while the kids play a game. Rarely, a kind child notices Evelyn and includes her. And so it was here: all the young children circle around Jesus Christ and dance, and Evelyn lacks the courage to be included. She stands and moves closer to me instead of meeting Jesus. And my heart breaks because I know what she’s missing, but this time it’s not Candyland. She’s missing a chance to hear her name from His lips and feel that He loves her infinitely more than Aaron and I are capable of.

But I try to console my motherly heart. Evelyn doesn’t know what she’s missing. Plus, she is healthy and whole; there is no reason she deserves to meet Him more than any of the other children.  We can see Him. We can feel the Spirit. Surely, that can be enough.

But as the group retreats, Christ momentarily turns away from the crowd to seek out my girl. And I give her away. He brings her to the heart of the group of children and places her on His knee then gives her a squeeze. And Evelyn, feeling His love for her, treats Him like her own big brother, even though moments before He was a stranger, and gives Him a kiss. End scene.

And that's when I knew this Easter Pageant thing was a terrible idea—because it kidnapped me. And I was powerless to loosen its grip. This was not a one-year experience like I originally proposed to Aaron. I would do whatever I needed to be in this show again and again. 

From that first week, our trials have only increased. Twice, one of our kids unexpectedly threw up backstage into our cupped hands only to go home, sleep poorly, and throw up more. I've packed adult and children's Tylenol and Saltine crackers to every performance. My house is in shambles and we've had ham sandwiches for lunch and dinner more times than I care to admit. But the increase in struggle necessitated an increase in priesthood blessings and prayer. So not only were we testifying of Christ's atonement each night, we actually used its enabling power. And as we did, we saw no decrease in trials but a strength and peace in our home as we handled them. 

So, as the pageant comes to a close this week, I testify through both faith and experience, that Christ loves me and you. He suffered for our sins, pains, and afflictions because of that infinite love. And He knows you by name and finds you when you are alone to give you a hug from a big brother.

There's my baby girl on Christ's knee! Click on the pic to get redirected to the Mesa Easter Pageant's Facebook page.

Please come support the volunteers who have sacrificed to make this season's production possible. Please come see a beautiful witness of Jesus Christ and refocus on Him this Easter. This week is your last chance to see the show. We perform nightly between now and Saturday. For more information on dates and times click here.

The original copy of this post can be found on my writer's group blog, for which I write bi-monthly. Go check it out: ANWA Founder & Friends.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Reviewing Being West is Best

When asked to read Being West is Best for a blog tour, I thought, "Children's/YA novel, clean, fun, easy read--sure," and signed up. I wasn't expecting to get hooked like I did. Being West is Best turned out to be a book I didn't want to put down.

Displaying BEING COVER.jpg

Being West is Best deals with two twelve-year-old BFFs, Ginnie West and Tillie Taylor, who previously matched up their single parents, Ginnie's dad and Tillie's mom. Now everything seems to be working out for the girls when the families get an unexpected phone-call from Tillie's ex-father, claiming he's cleaned up his act and wants to make amends. The girls worry that long-lost-dad showing up will ruin their plan to become sisters, so they fight the reunion, while the well-meaning parents, uncles, and grandparents try to help them see that there is enough room for everyone in the West family.

Being West is Best is a book full of classic 12-year-old drama and high family values while dealing with adult problems. It brought me right back to my uncertain, brace-faced youth and kept me locked in with delightful characters (Ginnie's long, lost aunt being my favorite), just enough plot twists, and a healthy serving of girl power. It took me about a day-and-a-half to read it (sticking to after kids went to bed and nursing the baby for reading time), but the story and lessons still stick with me, even having read it a month ago.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

While Cooking Sunday Dinner

Outside, the wind shakes the orange trees’ branches and they shimmy uncomfortably like busty old women. And before I hear the pinking on the roof, I see the grey spots appear on the cement patio. “It’s raining!” Aaron announces to the house as he heads for the backdoor and slides it open. I pick up Evan from his Bumbo and sit him in my arms, facing out. 

                                                                                                                   I found this picture here.

The monsoon weighs down the Arizona heat, so when Aaron opens the door, the air swims powerfully over my face and through my nose. It wraps itself intimately around me, folding warm blankets fresh from the dryer but still damp from the wash around my index fingers, ears, calves, knee caps, neck, hair roots. I step barefoot onto the warm concrete and walk just far enough to get dusted with the starter rain drops. Then I inhale the dirty rain. I have loved the smell of rain wherever I have lived, but in Arizona, my home town, it smells like baptism. The dust, dirt, and oil washes the streets, bubbles in the gutters, and floods dry, grassy retention basins.

Evan feels the raindrops tap his arms, feet, and face and blinks into the sky, making sense of the heavens. With a furrowed brow, he reaches one hand out and tries to capture a drop in his squishy fist.

I blink the rain from my eyelashes and look out, making sense of the earth. Sunshine in Arizona bleaches my perspective. But overcast days unveil the desert’s colors: green leaves, magenta bricks, white trunks, orange, brown, red, blue, silver, grey, rust, yellow. The swimming pool reflects what it sees like a pair of sunglasses and turns deep grey as the water rustles and plops, churned by wind and raindrops.

Tasks wait inside—dishes, cooking, playing. But here, mother and son get polka-dotted by the rain. While I drink in smells, colors, and sounds, Evan concentrates on the sky and plays catch with angels pitching him raindrops.

(Another piece I wrote for the ANWA Founder and Friends blog.)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Utterance: My Sliver of Eternity

by Andilyn Jenkins (I originally wrote this piece for the ANWA Founder and Friends blog who invited me into their ranks. Check them out.)

Five foot and three inches at 118 pounds, I sat on the laminate wood floor in my black leotard and mustard yellow Sofie shorts holding my slippered feet and leaning forward in the butterfly stretch. My hairline and back were misty from a hard workout as we sat in a small half circle cooling down and stretching before heading home.

I don’t remember how the conversations began, but they were always thought-provoking and nourishing. Several years later, I have to Google “ballet terms” to recall the pirouettes, piques, and rond de jambs, but I always remember listening to my dance teacher Julie open my eyes to the limitless possibilities of the eternities.
Ballet Stretches for Beginners
                                                        I found this picture here.
Julie wanted us to understand why she worked us—why she pushed us further when our muscles trembled and our breathing huffed, the precision required seemingly beyond our physical capabilities. She wanted us to understand the beauty of dance that was linked to our souls.

“Our bodies,” she encouraged, “are imperfect. We are fallen. But when you and I are resurrected, our skill with our bodies will be limitless because we trained them in their fallen state.” She visualized that we would feel our ankle weights drop off as we leap with the grace of queens.

Julie chases dance because her spirit hungers to reconnect in mortal measure what she knew and will know in eternity—a link we could all feel for dance but one that I suspect is magnified for her because she has cultivated it. Because when you drill a fouetté jeté thirty-two times only to complete it perfectly once, you feel for a moment what it is like to be perfect. But the beauty of the connection she has for dance is that we can all feel it for something. We are all created eternally, which means we lived before the world was and we will live again after death. And in the infinite befores and afters, we did not and will not sit endlessly on feather pillows gazing listlessly into infinity. Surely, we danced, sang, wrote, acted, taught, painted, and built.

Pondering Julie’s lesson, I realize that what is true for her in dance is true for me in the written word. I mine my soul for nuggets of truth that I must craft into language. And in the crafting, I am foiled by my mortal education and a fallen language. I pause when the stuff of my spirit knows the right words to unroll the truths stuck in my core, and yet, the frustrating state of this fallen place hold me back from reading the word etched on the tip of my spiritual tongue, and I feel a phantom itch on that part of my brain encasing the memories I no longer have. So in a yearning to articulate those truths, I dig to the bottom of my pit and crudely describe the dirt under my fingernails because the dirt is all I have left to taste from the eternities.

                                                                          I found this picture here.

So I must breathe every fallen, imperfect word because it is all I have. And much like a plastic bottle of Coke, only if I wrestle my mortal brain vigorously enough, will my words reach the heavens when I remove the cap. Until then, my hungry soul will grumble for the words it knows and cannot utter.

Julie dances. I write. Where is your sliver of eternity? Feed your soul and prepare to lose your ankle weights.

 “Nevertheless, so great and marvelous were the words which he prayed that they cannot be written, neither can they be uttered by man” (3 Nephi 19:34).

Friday, May 9, 2014

My Gut

To all the mommies who do their job with no vacations or sick days.

If you didn’t like this poem, don’t share it. That would be dumb.

If you did like it, or—better yet—if it rang true, I invite you to share it. It would certainly make my Mother's Day.

I met Daddy and his smile made my knees buckle,
so we buckled down,
and now we tell you to buckle up.
And the swish-clicks of the car seat and booster seat and seat belts
tell me that we’re hittin’ the road for a journey that I am evidently on
but unprepared for.

Unprepared to lose the backs of my diamond stud earrings
because they slipped through your fleshy, fumbly fingers
when you “helped” me accessorize.
Unprepared that I would comb through carpet fibers looking for those escape artists
not because I cared whether or not my earrings were in-tact,
but because my gut said, “Kneel. Comb,” when I saw your apologetic eyes filling up with tears.

My gut.
My gut told me I was missing you, then filled with you, and now extends to you,
always aware and never free from the deep purple scars that reflect in the bathroom mirror
and announce, “I have a child.”
My gut churns on date nights with Daddy hoping Grandma remembered to put your pink blankie on top of your covers instead of under them
so your fingers can sift through the minky fabric until the steady waves in your sea-green eyes break in sleep.
My gut holds me prisoner to those eyes.

And I can’t help but feel like I’m giving
and swinging and hugging and praying,
drying tears, sewing tears, painting pictures, buying stickers, fixing lunches, stopping punches,
nursing—no cursing—and I’m short. I run dry.
Because no matter what I give, I never finish.
So I wonder why I don’t fly and live the dreams that filled my gut before Daddy smiled.
But you were once a part of me, and now that you’re apart from me, you’ve taken part of me 
and my gut
will never stop looking after those missing pieces.

So at night when I write and I think all I want is escape,
I realize that if I sliced off my left leg, I’d most likely want it back because how else could I dance?

So baby, remember that I yelled when you asked me to help you put on your socks,
remember that I fell asleep on the floor playing princess, using my plush steed as a pillow,
and remember that I locked the bathroom door to cry because these shoulders you rely on aren’t always strong enough to carry the weight that they bare anyway.
Don’t forget those moments. Hold onto to the truth.
Because it too easily slips through fleshy, fumbly fingers when you read too many posts and blogs and tweets.
And you’ll find yourself on your knees combing through fibers of self-doubt and insecurities when you think you’re not supposed to break.
Good mommies don’t break?

Here is the truth:
Baby, you broke me. My body, my sanity, my soul, my dreams into play-dough pieces
that you ripped and rolled and stretched and stacked
because I am yours.
And, while I fantasize flight—a daytime me-time world with blank pieces of paper and pens that work—
I stay.

Because my name is Mommy.

I fought with this poem for about five months before I thought it said what I wanted. After I had my second baby, I felt a lot like Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree. With my resources exhausted, I started writing this poem wanting to pen motherhood in real light because I was getting tired of the memes that end, "But when I see them smile, it's all worth it." Because that didn't make it all worth it to me. And I became fascinated with the realization that moms just do it. No one teaches a mom to love her children more than herself. No one tells her that she must give over her body and dreams to children. In fact, there are those who choose alternatives. But those who stay, plug on. Why? Because we understand the work we do and choose to do it. We are mommies.

And, finally, a special thanks to Laura Crandell over at Crandell Corner: budget-friendly video for life's happy moments. (www.facebook.com/crandellcorner) It's thanks to her mad skills that my poem finally came alive.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Raspberry Chat

He pulls his legs up and flop-flop-flops,
they gleefully thump the ground.
With an open, toothless grin, he ska-waaks,
delighted that he has been found.

I scoop him up from his little blue chair
and smash lips to his squishy cheek.
I breathe in baby soap and pears,
planting three kisses to hear him squeak.

We laugh and blow raspberries, our own secret chat.
His hands sloppily seize my chin,
locking my face and requiring that
I stay in this moment with him.

          And I wonder if the adoration I see
          is my baby boy mimicking me.


I was playing with my boy and the moments turned into words which turned into a Shakespearean sonnet. Thanks to my sister-in-law, Shalee Jenkins, for the stunning photos of my baby boy.

Find me later this week when I post some slam poetry about being a mother. With the help of the very talented Laura Crandell, we're recording tomorrow. Wish us luck! You won't want to miss it.