family

A Brief History of Mother’s Day Drawings

My wife badgered me about Mother’s Day something fierce this year.

“You always do it,” she said. “Every two years.”

“Every two years,” I said. “I don’t remember committing to that. I don’t have any ideas this year.”

“It’s my favorite thing. Please?”

That was the first conversation about five weeks ago. We revisited the conversation every few days after that, and each time I insisted that just because I did a cartoon drawing of our family every two years in the past, that didn’t constitute a promise for the future. Erin was not persuaded. In her mind, I will be doing these drawings until the day I die. Maybe even after that.

So, I gave in. I did another drawing, I gave it to her this morning, she gushed, and Facebook nodded their collective approval. And then I sat down to write this blog and I discovered I’d been swindled.

I have literally NEVER made Erin a cartoon family Mother’s Day drawing two years after the previous one. I’ve drawn one four years after the previous one, and I’ve drawn one three years after the previous one, but until today I have never put myself through the hours and hours of work it takes to make these thing a scant two years after the previous one.

Well played, Erin.

* * *

This is more for me than anyone else.

I put a lot more thought into these drawings than it may first appear. I see them as capturing a moment in time, and I try to fill them with details that speak to their respective moments. Thought it might be fun to try to do a little recapturing. Let’s go back 9 years.

2007:

MothersDay2007

Full disclosure: this drawing makes me cringe. Literally, the only thing I think I pulled off well was my own face. Everything else is garbage. My opinion.

Subsequent Mother’s Day drawings would stick to a “sitting on the couch” theme (my wife calls them “couch drawings”), but with this first one I didn’t have anything like that in mind. I just wanted to do a drawing of my family and I wanted it to be simple and I wanted it to say something.

2007 was a rough, rough year for my little family. Cami, our youngest, was just 2-years-old. Very shortly after she was born in 2005, we discovered she had some severe physical and mental disabilities that, honestly, even as I type this eleven years later, still does not feel totally real.

In 2007, Erin, my wife, was not okay. It would be another three years before she could totally accept Cami’s differences and in the meantime she filled her days with doctor visits, physical therapy sessions, trips to specialists in San Francisco, battles with the school district, and just trying to remain positive and healthy in the face of the realization of her greatest fear. We just wanted to know what was wrong with Cami. We wanted a diagnosis because the limbo of not knowing is a true, ugly, tear-filled Hell. We never got that diagnosis, and it took a long time to come to terms with that. This drawing was made when we were still in the thick of the pain.

I drew us happy and smiling. I drew Erin and I protecting and encircling our two girls. Our world was small at the time, and intentionally so. The more we kept to ourselves and away from the reminders of how different and disabled Cami was (i.e. all other typical children and their parents), the happier we were.

Cami did this thing back then where if you asked her how big she was, she’d raise her arms up high. Elora, our oldest, was an adorable, typical four-year-old with one killer dimple. Erin, apparently, had anime eyes. I had a big, floppy wave of hair. A lot of that would change.

2011:

MothersDay2011

This is a bit more like it. The first “couch drawing” came just after we had finally become the family we were supposed to be as Violet’s arrival that year opened up the world in a way we didn’t expect. Suddenly, the family and Erin’s attentions weren’t all about Cami anymore. This was needed. The hyper focus on Cami and her needs left little opportunity for Erin to actually be a mother like she wanted to be. Violet, a bright, sparkly breath of fresh air, gave Erin a chance to step back from Cami and get reconnected to her as a mom and not just as her doctor or therapist or teacher or lawyer or any other of the thousands of roles she was asked to play for Cami’s sake.

I decided to depict both Erin and Cami, 6,  as extremely happy. Cami had just gotten her haircut and donated her hair to charity, so she had this crazy cute short cut. In her hand is a duck toy she played with constantly… whose name I can’t remember now. Cami is a champion fidgeter and always needs something to whip back or forth or she’s just not happy.

Erin is holding Violet, 3 mo., who was basically a lump of smiley humanity at that point. She didn’t give me much to work with. I generally try to depict us in the actual clothes we wore at the time, but for some reason I chose to have Erin wear the shoes she was wearing when I first met her back in 1998. Somehow, I still remembered what they looked like.

Elora, 8, was big into peace signs at the time, and a fashion style we not-so-lovingly referred to as “hobo chic”. The child had nice clothes, but she refused to wear them in nice combinations. Since I was the artist, I chose to put her in her most fashionable outfit she had, but it certainly wasn’t how she always looked. Now, I kind of wish I had given her something a little more accurate and ratty.

As for me, I look way cooler than I actually did at the time. The frayed pants and sweet shoes are very true to the too-long pants and wife-selected shoes I wore at the time, but I hate, hate, hate clothes shopping. I generally hate all my clothes about two seconds after buying them. So, in this drawing I’m wearing a shirt I have never actually owned. But I thought it would be cool if I did, so…

2014:

MothersDay2014

Everything was going so well that year. In the time between this and the previous drawing, I’d been promoted to Art Director at work, Erin had started doing work as an on camera talent at the same company, we bought a new house, Elora was elected as Student Body President, Cami found a place to call just her own at the Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch, and Violet was Violet. And there’s no getting Violet down. Erin and I even got the chance to vacation in Europe, a first visit for both of us. It was an incredible time.

I let Elora, 11, choose her own outfit for the drawing. It’s hard to tell, but her shirt depicts a dog riding a surfboard. It was her favorite. I have no idea why. She was also really into fluffy skirts and tutus at the time.

Cami, 9, experienced a serious growth spurt since the last drawing, and now her fidget toy of choice was a little Brobee (from Yo Gabba Gabba) doll. Her shirt shows off her newfound love of horses after her first year as a regular rider at Heart of the Horse.

I don’t know why I never thought to put our pets into the drawing before now, but I went for it this year. Oz, our dog on the couch, will never stop licking. He’s gross. On the floor, Batman the dog chases King George the cat–a daily occurrence.

Erin is wearing my favorite t-shirt of hers and a necklace with the first letter of each of our kids’ names on it. The necklace is tiny, but if you zoom in you can actually see it. Even though she was working part-time for the first time since Elora was born, she’d really come into her own as a mom and the pains and trials of yesteryear had developed into a strength. She’s an amazing woman.

Once again, save for the pants and shoes, I’m not actually wearing what I wore at the time. Also, I lost a lot of hair between the last drawing and this one, so I pushed my hairline back a bit and shortened it. I’ve also got a bit more going on in the chin–as in, I’m doubling it up a bit. Just a bit though.

Violet was a crazy person two years ago. Still is. She’s a spunky little thing and climbing around on the couch like a little gremlin absolutely fit her.

2016:

MothersDay2016

Here it is, the drawing I gave to Erin just this morning.

Hoo-boy. Shortly after the last drawing the world blew up. My wife and I both lost our jobs within 24 hours of each other and we’ve been rebuilding ever since. Going back over these drawings, I’m impressed by the ebb and flow of life. Ups and downs are just part and parcel, but in revisiting them I’m impressed by how much that plays out over the long term. It gives me hope, honestly, that we’ll be back on top in no time… and then we’ll probably fall again, somehow. This is just the way things work. There’s comfort in that.

This couch is crowded, and that’s even after having taken off the dog from last time. I’ve drawn us more closely together, like we’re circling the wagons a little bit. We endure our challenges and trials together.

Elora, 13, is quite the poised young woman now and I needed to find some way to represent that, so I gave her a regal pose. She’s only an inch shorter than Erin now, and I think you can pretty much tell that just from this drawing. Once again, she picked out her own outfit.

Cami, 11, I chose to keep largely the same, save for a little weight gain. Cami looks like she’s five or six years old. She’s a bit perpetually frozen in time. Her shirt reads “Team Happy” and that’s the effect Cami has on people, and certainly on us. Last Fall, she donated her hair again, so she’s back to the short hair.

Our pets are no longer allowed on the couch, so they’re all stuck on the floor. Oz is particularly saddened by this.

Erin has returned to school this year to get her Master’s Degree in Communication. She’s our professional, so now she gets a dark, professional look (this drawing is darker overall, which I think fits with how beaten up we all feel at this point). At her feet is her book bag. Also, after having drawn it on the wrong side for the past two drawings, I finally got the part in her hair going the right way.

I’m dressed like an 8th Grade boy, which is accurate to how I dress right now as I fulfill my role as a stay-at-home dad and work on various projects. The hat I wear has the Tremendum Pictures logo on it, where I work (mostly at home) as a writer (among other things). My shirt is actually a real shirt, one of very few I enjoy wearing. I don’t really care that it says Batman, I just like the fit. My shoes, you’ll notice, are the same from last time. My wardrobe is deteriorating. My hate for clothes shopping coupled with our financial challenges leaves me with little motivation to improve or update my wardrobe. Also, you can barely tell in the drawing, but my temples are now gray.

Violet has been just OBSESSED with Star Wars this past year, and particularly with Rey. She actually does own and wear this costume, and she has a light saber, too. Her enthusiasm is adorable. Even if she grows out of it later, the is the Star Wars year. (The fever extends to Cami as well. They’re the only movies she asks for and her new fidget toy is a little Stormtrooper.)

* * *

Just to bring it back, I’m so grateful for my amazing wife and for this little family we’ve managed to create together. Giant, giant Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! You do a great work.

I get asked all the time what I charge for “couch drawings.” They’re labor intensive and not cheap (ex. I’d have charged about $500 for this latest one), but if you’re interested in exploring the possiblity, feel free to drop me a line at bwhheasley (at) gmail (dot) com. 

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Day 46 – Is It Time to Move Away?

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Monday – October 13, 2014

After receiving my call to the Elders Quorum Presidency last night, I did a bit of work for the calling this morning, to prepare, then immediately headed out to our local Social Services office to take care of some stuff there. Part of my responsibilities as the new President is to assess needs for poor or needy families, particularly welfare needs. It’s more than a bit odd to be one of those needy people at the same time I’m supposed to be helping them.

Odd, but not a bad thing. My empathy level is certainly through the roof right now.

All of this contributed to some severe whiplash today. In the afternoon, I had an interview with a company in Salt Lake City. This is a new, fairly big company that has a real need for additional personnel, particularly a creative type who can lead a team. Seems like a terrific job I could be very, very good at.

But living in Utah? Is that really something we’re prepared to do?

Utah, aka Mars

Utah, aka Mars

Yeah, sure, I always said I’d never do it. “Too many dang Mormons,” I’d say. I mean, when the religion becomes the culture, how can that not be a potentially toxic combination? One of the reasons I love California is that we Mormons stick out a bit. I think that makes is easier, not harder, to stay true to our beliefs.

We’re different, and that difference gets highlighted in the oddest of situations. When I was in high school, for example, everyone knew what I believed. One time–only once–I left the F Word slip from my mouth and you’d have thought the Apocalypse had arrived. I mean, I felt terrible about it, but those who heard me say it were beside themselves. It was like they’d seen a unicorn fart in the wild. They held me to a certain standard, and that made it easier for me to hold myself to that same standard.

I want that for my kids, but I know–when I’m honest–that that kind of fidelity to my religion doesn’t just happen in California, or even come from living here. It comes from how I was raised and my own personal testimony. Unless I’m doing a poor job as a parent, my kids should be able to benefit from similar checks and balances, but within themselves.

The reality is, moving to Utah? It’s not impossible. We could do that, and we could be happy doing it. That’s a change I and my family would be willing to make.

And that’s terribly hard to take in and process.

Since I basically knew the changes in the Stake were coming and that we’d be shifted over to a new Ward, I’d been anticipating what my new role in that Ward would be. I thought knowing what calling I would have might be some indication of whether we needed to stay in town or move on to something else. I thought some clarity would come from having somebody, somewhere say, “We want you here.”

This is exceedingly stupid.

I knew it was stupid, and I still thought it. Callings are temporary and I could do this job for just a few weeks and be done with it. That might just be the entire plan. I don’t know. I don’t know what the Lord is thinking and how this is all supposed to play out.

What I do know is this: I’m more conflicted now than I was 48 hours ago. I want to be part of the all the exciting changes and stay here and serve. I want to move away. I want to stay here and serve. I want to do something new somewhere else.

If anything, I have less clarity than ever.

But no matter what–no matter what–moving away will/would be incredibly difficult. Moving away is to leave behind not only family and friends and stores you like and restaurants you frequent and side roads you know to take and that park nearby your daughters love and the house you’ve imprinted yourselves on, but also all the things you were going to do. All the things you could have done had you stayed. All the friends you would have made and all the ways you could have contributed and helped someone.

Those are the things that are hard to think about. Usually, I don’t. But today, it’s like the universe is throwing it all in my face.

At the Crossroads and Frustrated

You may have noticed I haven’t been exactly present on this site for the past week. Some great comments were left on my post Should Adults Wear Shorts? and I didn’t respond to any of them. (Just so you know, message received: wear shorts, stop being a jerk about it.) I’m not totally sure why I didn’t respond, but I think a lot of it has to do with the incredible amount of frustration I’ve been feeling lately.

This is gonna be tricky because I don’t think the time to get into specifics is right now. Basically, I’m at a crossroads.

In all of the most important ways my life is better than it’s ever been. My wife and I have always been strong partners and very much in love, but now, even after 12 years of marriage, we’ve managed to discover a new peak. Our kids are fantastic and healthy. The emotional stress and confusion and doubts that have been with us ever since our daughter with special needs was born have largely subsided. Honestly never thought that would happen. New responsibilities at work have given me a new sense of purpose there. I love my calling at church. They actually made an Avengers movie. And it’s good.

So what’s the problem? Sorry, that’s just for me. Suffice it to say, the dissatisfaction and lack of direction in another, critical area of my life is leaving me frustrated and, at times, angry. Great change is coming, for good or ill, and I’m at the very tipping point. Plans I made have not worked out like I thought they would and I’m facing an undesirable alternative I’ve been avoiding for a long time. I thought I was on the path I was supposed to be on. It is hard, now, to see how things could possibly work out in my favor.

I’m being vague, but it doesn’t really matter what I’m talking about.

I seek God’s counsel continually. I thought He was backing me up on this one. Crud, I thought it was all His idea in the first place. Am I mad at Him? Of course not.

This is where my true frustration is coming from: underneath the disappointment I feel for my situation, I’m more disappointed with myself. How many times in my life have the dark and grim things later revealed themselves as just steps on the path to something great? Many times. Many, many times. God tests our faith continually, but it’s pretty much always the same test.

So, I have to wait this out. But waiting at a crossroads is pretty much the most stultifying thing a person can do. Instead of moving forward or backward or left or right, I’m left at the fork in the road to ponder and pray and scold myself for being so dissatisfied when I have so much that is so great. In the moments of my deepest frustration, I feel unworthy of the blessings given to me. There’s nothing I hate more than ingratitude, both in myself and in others.

I know this is only a moment in my life. I guess I just wish it was over by now.

More than that, I wish I didn’t wish that.

Being the Parent of a Nonverbal Child

An hour after I’d put her down for the night, Cami started thrashing and wailing on her bedroom floor. I knew that cry. It was the no-frickin’-way-am-I-going-to-sleep-because-my-world-is-ending cry. This cry is distinguished by its ability to travel the entire length of the house and reach my wife and me in the living room even while the TV is on.

I went in to see what was the matter. Cami sat up, tears streaming down her face, and calmed down instantly. She pointed upwards and uttered one, sweet, unintelligible syllable. When I couldn’t understand and didn’t respond properly, she repeated the movement and sound. I told her I didn’t know what she was trying to say. She did it again. And again.

And again.

Cami just turned 7. In some ways, I feel like I barely know her. In her eyes and her embrace, I can see her heart. But her mind? How she perceives the world? I have no idea. Thoughts are best communicated with language. Cami can sign a few words and say a few more, but that’s it. There’s not enough tools in her kit.

I think she’s said “Dada” a few times, but I’m not really sure. Same for “Mama.” “Hi” is her favorite and clearest word. She makes lots of other sounds that don’t sound anything like actual words. She certainly seems to think she’s saying something, but it’s all gibberish.

And her range is limited. Forget the question of what her brain can process (no one knows the answer anyway), evidence suggests that many sounds are simply beyond her physical capabilities. For example, she’s never made any “T” or “K” or “M” sounds. Surely, for all her babbling, she would have stumbled on those at some point. But she doesn’t.

Erin and I have both had dreams where Cami could talk normally. Those are both wonderful and heartbreaking because we always wake up. Our beliefs allow for the idea that one day, in the next life, we will have long conversations with her. We always imagine her first words to us will be “Thank you.” We both work so very hard to be worthy of that moment.

I don’t want to get stupid about this and admonish every parent out there to take the time to appreciate the fact that their child can talk to them. What good does that do? My wife and I also have two typically developing kids and I know there’s a burden there as well. When your kid can talk, you spend a lot of time telling them to shut up. Kids can be so noisy.

But not Cami. If the past seven years are any indication, Cami will never use profanity. She’ll never lie. She’ll never tell us she hates us. Sometimes, I think she’s got it all figured out. Cami uses hugs, not words.

I finally brought Cami out into the living room. She still pointed skyward and uttered that syllable. I still scratched my head. What did she mean?

We went back through her nightly routine. She watched some TV, had a snack and drank some water. I never figured out what she wanted, but she was satisfied. She gave me a hug and went right to sleep in her bed afterwards. She had done her best to tell me what was wrong and I had done my best to satisfy her needs as best I knew how.

I guess that’s enough.

The Monster Among Us

Last week, a longtime teacher at an elementary school near where I live was arrested on child pornography and molestation charges. Thankfully, he was not a teacher at our local elementary. But his wife is my daughter’s principal.

My heart immediately went out to her. I can’t imagine what it would be like to discover your spouse has that dark a secret. I wondered how much she knew or if this was a total surprise to her. I wondered about her two children. But, initially anyway, there wasn’t much to know. Only what the News was telling us.

Yesterday, my wife and I attended a special meeting at the school. Select parents were invited and told that recent events would be under discussion. When we got there, the meeting turned out to be a regularly scheduled parent-teacher meeting, this time with police. Ten minutes had been set aside for a representative from the school district and the Captain in charge of the investigation to speak and answer questions. Whoever thought ten minutes would be enough was clearly delusional.

The Captain explained that Mrs. Yang had no knowledge of her husband’s true nature. He was a predator, and a smart one at that. He’d used a school laptop but switched out the hard drive and did all of his illegal activities away from the school’s network. There was no way for anyone to know what he was doing. He truly was “a monster among us.” The only reason he was discovered was because a student he moletsted spoke up and her parents called the police, launching the investigation.

The district representative told us Mrs. Yang was on leave, but her job was secure and she’d be back at work once she felt able.

What came next was a bloodbath. Hands shot up and voices rang out in opposition to the very idea that Mrs. Yang would ever be allowed back into the school. “How could she not know?” one parent asked.

“What does it say about her that she didn’t know?” said another.

“We’re really all just assuming she didn’t know, wouldn’t we rather be sure? Shouldn’t she not be allowed to keep her job so that we can be sure?”

“If she couldn’t figure out what her own husband is doing, how is she going to protect our kids?”

The Captain assured everyone Mrs. Yang was just as much a victim in this as anyone else. He sees it all the time. Predators are good at what they do. They can hide things from spouses, colleagues, friends. Anyone.

Didn’t matter. When one parent finally said that the school district would break a fundamental trust with the parents in the community if they allowed Mrs. Yang to keep her job, the applause shook the room.

I was seething. I get concern, but this was just fear run amok and turned ugly. Blaming the victim for anything–and Mrs. Yang is absolutely a victim in all of this (I take the Captain in charge of the investigation at his word; I assume he knows more than me) and you don’t heap more abuse and suspicion on the victim.

I raised my hand. I wanted to publicly support Mrs. Yang. I don’t know that she’s the greatest principal ever–I’ve even been a little critical of her since she took over in August–but the pitchforkery on display in the cafeteria yesterday was clearly, unequivocally, wrong. I was disgusted by what I heard and disappointed in my fellow parents.

As it happened, a friend of ours sitting next to us, Kristie, was called on before me and said exactly what I was going to say. Then another parent raised her voice in support as well.  Many, louder voices went up against hers and there was a clear divide in the room. The meeting was ended abruptly and any parents with further concerns were told to see the district representative afterwards.

As Kristie headed out, a parent representing the Hmong community thanked her for speaking up. They were afraid that this had become a racially charged issue. Kristie could only say that, at least within her circle, that simply wasn’t the case.

Now, a day later, I’m just sad. If I were Mrs. Yang, I’d take my two kids and move. Far, far away. I don’t know that I’d want to swim against a tide that strong and I don’t know what the point of that would be. But if she chooses to come back to work? She’s got my full support.

I hope what I heard yesterday was simply unprocessed fear. I hope that, with time, those parents can calm down. My heart goes out to the brave little girl who spoke up and her family, but Mrs. Yang has suffered and will suffer much in the next several months. She and her family remain in my prayers as well.

Why My Kids Have the Names They Do

I always hated my name. “Brock.” It sounds like you’re starting to say a vile word and then got punched in the throat. I think it’s that hard vowel sound followed by the rock solid wall of double, redundant consonants that does it. And then there’s the “broccoli” thing. When you’re five-years-old, the last thing you want to be called is a vegetable.

So, when it came to naming my own kids, I had some rules.

1. It must not be a name that can be made fun of easily.

2. The name must be unique but not overly strange.

3. The name must be wonderful.

And then I got married and another rule had to be added:

4. The name must be decided by unanimous vote. 

So, no Apple. No Moon Unit. No Pilot Inspector. But also, no Michael or Hannah or Hailey or Andrew or Megan. If the purpose of a name is to differentiate oneself from others, then what’s the point of a common name? I’ll tell you: it’s to be like everybody else. Not my kids. Not on my watch.

ELORA

I wanted our first daughter, Elora, to be named “Tendra.” My wife, Erin, wouldn’t go for it. No way. She hated it. Tendra is a Spanish word meaning “will have” and ever since I learned the language at 19, I liked the sound of it. Also, I was nuts.

“Elora” (pronounced Uh-laura) I got from Elora Danan, the infant everybody is after in the 1988 fantasy movie Willow. Even though I was only 11-years-old when the movie came out, I remember thinking quite clearly that Elora was a great name for a girl. I never thought Erin would go for it, but she LOVED it.

I loved that it was a name I’d never heard used outside of the movie. The universe, less impressed, put a little girl named “Alora” in Elora’s class this very year. Same pronunciation. Go figure.

CAMI

Cami’s real name is Campbell, after my wife’s maiden name. We thought naming her Campbell was a great way to pay tribute to that side of the family. Plus, it’s very different from Elora. That was our fifth rule: our kids can’t have names that begin or end the same way. We didn’t want our kids to ever be confused. Elora got the “uh” sound. That was all hers.

We knew of a few people with Campbell as a first name, but most of them were male. One TV reporter, Campbell Brown, was female, and that was enough for us to think it a worthy girl name.

Besides, dude, if your name ends in “bell” then you’ve have a girl’s name. That’s a fact.

The problem was that Elora, who was just 2-years-old when Cami was born, couldn’t say “Campbell.” She called her “Camel.” This would not do, so Campbell became Cami. I must say, despite our hard “no nicknames” rule, it works. Cami has special needs and doesn’t grow like other kids do. She’s super, super tiny. Cami is a little pixie name. Fits her perfectly.

VIOLET

Our newest addition, not even one year old, got her name from a dream. Having another kid after Cami was a big decision. We love Cami, but her needs took over our lives and emotional states the day we found out she was different from other kids. Could we risk doing it again? Then Erin had a dream in which she held a beautiful, healthy little baby named Violet.

Rule number 4 was broken. We were going to have another baby, a girl, and her name would be Violet. End of discussion.

It took me a while, but I love the name now. Yes, it’s an old name everybody knows. Most people associate it with Willy Wonka, but that’s okay. It’s a beautiful name and we’ve never told it to someone without them remarking how wonderful it is and how well it suits her.

Names are extremely important to me. I think a lot of our identity comes from the sound and appearance of our names. Brock, as a name, is much more in fashion now (making me appear younger on paper), and yet is still unique enough to make me stand out. What once sounded ugly to me, now sounds strong and powerful. To my mom I would say: Sorry for all the grief I gave you over the years about it. And… thanks!

Hopefully my kids will one day be able to say the same.