Friday, December 16, 2011

Dental Drama

As a general rule, I'm pretty quick to confess my many mess-ups, mishaps, quirks and idiosyncrasies. Laugh with me, laugh at me--I don't care. It just feels good to laugh. That said, I've felt reluctant to share my most recent embarrassing moment, even though Jason's been begging me to blog about it. Not only is it really embarrassing, as in honey-I'm-sorry-but-we-have-to-move-because-I-can-longer-show-my-face-in-public humiliation, but it means I have to reveal one of my darkest secrets:

I have a pathological fear of dentists.

Seriously. I'm neurotic. I think my terror may be connected to having the anaesthesia wear off early when my wisdom teeth were taken out at a dental school. Or perhaps my psyche was damaged when my first cavities were filled immediately following my first gynecological appointment. (Two unenviable pre-marital tasks before being booted off my parents' insurance.) Jason, however, is convinced that my angst stems from singing about a sadistic dentist during a high school production of "Little Shop of Horrors."

No matter what the cause, I absolutely dread going to the dentist. After an appointment a few months ago, I told the receptionist that I'd rather go through labor than sit in a dental chair. She thought I was joking, but I was dead serious. The papery bibs, the dehumanizing masks, the harsh noise, the sharp instruments, the acrid smell of fluoride--it's enough to make my heart race just thinking about it. All of which probably explains why my girls never had a proper dental appointment-- until Tuesday.

Even though I knew that a check-up was long overdue, I kept procrastinating because I simply couldn't stomach the thought of visiting the dentist any more than absolutely necessary for human survival. Finally, I lighted upon a solution: my husband! If I scheduled the appointments far enough in advance, Jason could take the girls for me. All went well with my scheme until Monday when Jason learned of an unexpected, last minute business trip to Salt Lake City. I was trapped.

Now, at this point in the story you have to understand that Jason and I go to separate dentists. Jason goes to a super nice dentist who lives up the street and has an office around the corner. A family man, this dentist is regularly seen strolling with his wife and their dog. He and Jason shared a tent during a scout campout last year. On Sundays, I sing with this dentist in our church choir and teach his daughter in Young Womens.

Even though our neighborhood dentist is both skilled and friendly, I, on the other hand, choose to drive across town to a dentist where I can slip by incognito. His brusque, somewhat cold demeanor is more congruous with my imaginations of how a proper dentist should act. Moreover, I can suffer through the appointment privately and leave it all behind me, at least for another six months. To me, baring your dirty teeth is like baring your dirty underwear. The last thing I want is for someone I respect to get stuck examining my nasty plaque. When I go to church on Sunday, I have plenty to feel guilty about without seeing my dentist at the church organ. Every note seems to ring, "Repent and floss much more."

So, you can imagine my horror when I realized that I not only had to take my kids to the dentist, but to the dentist who plays the piano for them in Sunday School. I was mortified. I had nightmares. (Seriously, I really did.) I nearly canceled the appointments all together, but finally decided that was ridiculous. My personal neuroses had interfered with the oral health of my children long enough. I was a big girl, and I could handle this. We went to the appointment.

From the moment we got in the door, I felt anxious. The girls, on the other hand, were amazing--chipper and excited. When the hygienist came out and asked who wanted to go first, Talia raised her hand and squealed "Me, me, me!" Mercifully, I was not asked to accompany her back to the chair. Even in the waiting room, I was uptight and distracted. I tried to read a few magazine articles, but soon found myself pacing. Nothing on TV could hold my interest. Eli's chatter went unnoticed. Time crawled. After what seemed like an eternity, Talia and Brooklyn traded places. Eager to escape the office for a few minutes, I drove Talia up the road and dropped her off at preschool. When I got back, I overheard a few snippits of conversation. "Cavities." "Both girls." "Need filled."

My heart raced. My stomach sank. A lump formed in my throat. Despite my best efforts to keep my composure, I knew I was losing the battle. You see, it's one thing to let your morbid fear of dentists rot your own teeth. It's quite another to allow your psychosis to affect your children. And, let's face it--when you're the Mom, it's always your fault.

I was a horrible mother. My kids' teeth were rotting because of me. The whole world knew. And worst of all, we would have to go back to the dentist.

When the hygienist finally came out to say that the dentist was ready to speak with me, I knew I couldn't handle it. Like a crazy woman, I begged them to please just give me the paperwork and let me go. My husband would call, they could give him the full report, schedule any return appointments, whatever. (Even in my disheveled state, I knew one thing quite clearly--I wouldn't be back.) As for the dentist, I asked them to please send my kindest regards and apologies. I'd talk to him in church on Sunday.

And with that, I gathered up my son, my purse, a few tattered shreds of dignity, and fled right out the front door. But as I was loading Eli into his car seat, the receptionist came flying after me. Couldn't I come in for just a second? The dentist at least wanted to say hello. Trailing behind this woman was something I had forgotten.

My daughter.

I completely forgot my daughter. In my neurotic attempt to flee the office as fast as humanly possible, I left her sitting in the dentist's chair. While I presume that I would have noticed her absence soon (if not, I suppose she could have walked home), my neglect is concrete evidence: when it comes to dentists, I absolutely cannot be trusted.

And so, face burning with shame, I slunk back into the office for several minutes of the world's most awkward small talk. Muttering incoherently about dental offices and dirty underwear (why would I say that!), I foggily tried to answer questions about choir and plans for Christmas. Meanwhile, my brain is misfiring, trying to grasp how this nice, friendly man in front of me can be the mean, awful dentist with the terrible dental report for my children. Finally, in a moment of mercy, Kevin (no longer a dentist) remarked, "You can't even concentrate in here, can you?"

And with that, I was dismissed. Let go. Freed from the dental prison. This time, I carefully gathered up all my children, sank into the car, and realized there is only one option. We have to move.

Anybody have a spare basement?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Running Epiphany

One of the reasons I love running is because it clears my head. Occasionally during a long run I will have an epiphany of thought--an aha! moment that allows me to see from a new perspective. While running through Snow Canyon early this morning, I was blessed with such a moment of clarity:

I don't want to run a spring marathon. Or, perhaps more accurately, I don't need to run a spring marathon.

This revelation might seem rather banal for someone in the process of tackling seven hilly, chilly miles. But far from being unpleasant, this morning's run was marvelous. The crisp air, the rising red cliffs, the peace, the solitude--the moment was perfect. Even my iPod seemed an intrusion. This morning I realized that I really do love running--which is exactly why I don't need a spring marathon.

After decades of defining myself as a non-runner, it's taken great effort to redefine my self image. With time, patience, and practice, I think I've finally arrived. Physical exercise has become a piece of who I am. I crave the opportunity to move, and miss it when I don't. Running has become a priority, and I work hard to make it happen rather than simply squeezing it in if I have time.

Race training has provided great motivation along the way, giving me small goals to work for every day in the pursuit of something impossibly big. While training for Utah Valley, I found great satisfaction in carefully tracking my mileage. I needed this tangible proof that I was becoming healthier, stronger, faster. Similarly, I benefited from the accountability that came from sharing my efforts (or lack thereof) with others. Lately, however, I haven't felt the same desire to quantify my progress. Working out is intrinsically rewarding enough that I no longer need to show anyone else (myself included) what I've done.

Thanks to Utah Valley, I learned that even the impossible can happen with enough determination. The marathon was a great experience for me. Even during those last difficult miles, I hoped to run another some day. I still do.

But today is not that day. While running through Snow Canyon this morning, I was impressed that for this moment in my life, training less will give me more. More flexibility. The flexibility to wake up on Saturday morning and decide how far I want to run instead of having it dictated by a training schedule. The freedom to choose whether to run or bike or swim or hike--or even all of the above. Training less equates to more energy, for as invigorating as running five miles may be, running twenty is exhausting. Energy to romp with the kids, flirt with my hubby, fix a healthy meal, organize the closet, or heaven forbid, grocery shop.

Above all, by choosing to forego a spring marathon, I am choosing more time. Time that I can dedicate, at least in part, to serving others. During today's running epiphany, I was reminded of the inspiration I felt last April about developing a Spanglish class. For the past few months I've been fretting about how I can balance teaching and training while still meeting the needs of family, friends, and church. Already I feel relieved that I needn't try to do it all.

This spring, my personal test of endurance will not be about running 26.2 miles, but about seeing this class through to the end. While the number of students may be small, the effects ripple farther than immediately seen. One morning during class, I realized that every woman present was mother to three or four. Even though our group all fit comfortably around a small table, a multitude of children were learning through the examples of their Moms that education really matters.

And so, even though I still call myself a runner, I am setting aside the racing for a time--to make room for more.

Friday, December 09, 2011

A Phoenix Thanksgiving

No matter how hard I try to simplify, the Holiday season always catches me off guard with the sheer quantity of stuff to get done. Caught up in the trees and lights and gifts and carols, I consistently pass over Thanksgiving on this blog. This year, however, I'd like to reflect on our celebration of gratitude before losing myself in the trappings of tinsel.

For our Thanksgiving celebration, we traveled south to Phoenix to spend a sunny holiday with Justin and Brianna. Grandpa Charles and Grandma Susie traveled down with us and Lance flew in from DC, so we definitely had a house full. Even so, we missed Christy and Ben.

Brianna and Justin were super kind and let us crash their townhome, even though Justin was working nights at the hospital and might have benefited from a bit more quiet. Here's Brianna giving Eli's toes a tickle:

Thanksgiving day was spent at the home of Brianna's parents. Between their ping pong table, putting range, and even a racquetball court, a great time was had by all.

Here are Brianna and her Mom Diane in the kitchen.

Susie lends a hand with the delicious meal.

Meanwhile, Charles snags a snooze while watching Eli.

Brooklyn and Talia designed their own placemats.

Table's all ready, and something smells delicious...

At last, it's time to carve the bird. Here's Brianna's Dad, hard at work.

Dinner was delicious, especially since we were able to share it with so many. In addition to hosting the Wheeler clan, the Stokers also shared the table with the missionaries who live in their basement. Once our tummies were stuffed, we took a moment to share different things we are grateful for. Responses ranged all the way from family and friends to toothbrushes.

During our Champaign-Urbana Thanksgiving celebration four years ago, Justin and Brianna started a fabulous tradition with their well-designed pink pig pinata. (We couldn't quite figure out how to hang it, so we punted the pig instead.) Two years later, we continued the tradition in Ohio by bashing a paper-mache bumblebee. This Thanksgiving, however, Brianna and Justin outdid themselves by creating a saguaro cactus. While it may reside in the rubbish heap now, this fantastic pinata will certainly be remembered for many years to come!

What beauty!

Brianna pledges her undying affection.

Justin prepares the noose.

And Eli deals the final death blow. (Well, almost.)

The next morning Justin and Brianna outdid themselves yet again while hosting the biannual Wheeler Wobble in Papago Park. While I unfortunately don't have any great photos, you can trust me when I say the race was awesome. Papago Park is beautiful, the post-race muffins were delicious, and we all walked away with lots of great swag. Socks, headbands, finisher pins, granola bars, kleenex, tissues, and more. Justin and Brianna sure know how to host a great race!

And yes, much to Jason's chagrin, Justin did pull ahead for the victory during the final stretch, with Lance close behind. Way to go, Tio Queso!

Given the beautiful weather, we took advantage of the chance to spend lots of time outdoors. Here's Jason swimming with Brooklyn at the hotel where the rest of the clan was staying.

Susie sure enjoyed splashing around with Eli as well.

On Saturday morning we got out the door early once more to do some hiking up Camelback mountain. Apparently we weren't the only ones with this idea--the place was packed!

Brianna was a real trooper helping Talia through what turned out to be a rather lengthy and challenging hike.

Charles likewise deserves major kudos for toting Eli most of the way up.

Everybody say cheese.

Cheese! (Susie-style.)

Fortunately, we all made it to the summit eventually and enjoyed the 360 vistas of the city from the top.

The ladies take a little rest.

Here are Justin and Brianna, looking stylish in their shades. Thanks for tolerating our rather chaotic crew on the trek both up and down.

And here are Charles and Susie, looking mighty thankful to have each other.

Jason and Kara snag a couple photo as well.


Yet the day's fun still wasn't done. After some delicious tacos in downtown Phoenix, we took a trip to Scottsdale to meet Santa and his reindeer. Well, at least Mrs. Claus and her rein-ponies. Eli was terrified, but Mrs. Claus kept a firm grip so he wouldn't run away. :)

Given the charm of Scottsdale, we just couldn't resist pulling out our best model poses:


Justin--brilliant or baffled, who knows?

Beautiful Brianna.

Talia--tranquil. (Wait! Who is this girl, and what happened to my daughter?)

Brooklyn--going for sultry.

Smiling Susie.

Eli of the ridiculously long lashes.

And Jason. I'm not quite sure what angle he's going for...

Some time to smell the flowers...

A leisurely stroll...

And we were all tuckered out.

Yes, Thanksgiving gave us much to feel happy about. We're especially grateful that it will come again next year.

Until then, keep smiling!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Talia's Five

With one hour left in the month of November, it seems wise to finally blog about Talia's birthday.

Just over two weeks ago, our sweet Talia Lily turned five. The celebration began a couple days early with some yummy carrot cake for our princess, courtesy of Grandma Susie.

Although we hadn't originally intended on traveling north, we ended up passing through Hyde Park while driving to and from Idaho for my Uncle Darrell's funeral. While my uncle is dearly missed, the chance to see so much family was a happy occasion.

Eli seems delighted to be back in the arms of his Grandpa Charles...

...while Charles seems equally happy to hold his grandson.

A very happy Grandma Susie as well.

Opening presents in Hyde Park. Too bad I forgot to take a picture of the adorable puppy purse!

And here's Talia getting a special sisterly hug on her first morning as a five year-old.

Talia awoke to discover that ten special presents had been hidden all around the house in the most unlikely of places.

After hunting for all the gifts, Talia opened her special Dora the Explorer doll and accessories from NomiAnn and Papa Kay. Thank you!

As luck would have it, Talia's birthday fell on a Tuesday--our family's busiest day. Still, we managed to celebrate here and there all day long: Papa K-cakes for breakfast, party hats in Spanglish class, mac-n-cheese for lunch, cupcakes at preschool, play time at gymnastics, lasagna for dinner, birthday songs at Girl Scouts--the fun went on and on. Once the chaos finally died down, Talia found time to open a few presents from Mom and Dad. Good thing gymnastics is building her muscles!

Puppet theater for our poppet.

When time runs out for birthday cake, sometimes a candle in ice cream has to suffice. Better hurry up and make a wish before the good luck melts!

In an effort to simplify our lives, our family recently decided to switch off years between friend parties and family celebrations when birthdays roll around. Since this year is a family year, Talia got to choose a restaurant and activity. Later in the week, we all dined at the Brick Oven and played at Fiesta Fun in honor of our favorite five year old. So wouldn't you know, hers was the only face that got cut out in the family photo! Go fig.

Sometimes I've worried about Talia being squished in the middle of two other wonderful children. I've hoped and prayed that her unique talents and abilities won't get cut short because she must share so much attention. Fortunately, our little Redi-Whip seems to have found a niche all of her own. As of late, she's been flourishing in her own unique Talia-style.

At this age, Talia will forever be etched in my mind as a white blond with crazy fly-away hair, a brightly colored T-shirt, a mismatched knit skirt, and scuffed-up black dress shoes, invariably on the wrong feet. Totally Talia.

Yet despite her wild appearance, Talia is definitely maturing. Academically she's really progressing, thanks to her afternoon preschool at Dixie Sun and an UPSTART computer school. During her morning preschool at the park, she interacts with her peers so easily that I'm almost envious. A natural musician, Talia loves to sing and is quite talented at picking out harmonious chords on the piano. And of course, this bundle of energy is constantly escaping out the front door so she can scooter all around our driveway.

Happy Birthday, Talia Lily! No matter how squished the photos may be, our family would never be complete without you.