Category: family

Tribute to Laurie

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My step mother passed away yesterday. I’ve mentioned she was dying on Facebook and perhaps tangentially on my blog, but I haven’t really gone into any details, mainly because I haven’t felt like it was my place to go into detail. As anyone who has dealt with cancer will tell you, the path from diagnosis to where we are now was a rocky one. First it was “There’s something that’s not quite right. We need to run some tests.” Then comes the diagnosis itself, then trying to treat it, then discovering it can’t be treated, followed by an estimate on life expectancy. But that estimate is just that: a guess. We’d been told she had months to live, and so we planned a trip to Utah for this June/July.

Two weeks ago, “months” was changed to “weeks.” We planned to leave last Friday to see her. Then the estimate changed from weeks to days, and we moved the trip up a day. We got here in time to say goodbye.

When I made the plane changes, it occurred to me that I’d be writing another tribute post on my blog in the not too distant future. Somehow, that realization made everything much worse. I’ve written tributes for my grandparents as they’ve passed. My Grandma Moore died before I was really into blogging, but Grandpa Moore, Grandpa Cundick, and Grandpa Coltrin each got their post, one by one. I’d write about the memories I had of them, and what they meant to me. The posts have been cathartic in some ways, but they’re incredibly draining to write, for obvious reasons.

Here it goes.

As I’ve thought back over the experiences I’ve had with Laurie over the years, there are just so many to think about. I must have been about ten or so when my dad remarried. (I’m bad with ages in my memories.) They lived in Utah, and I lived on the East Coast, so I’d see them for a month every summer, and then every other Christmas. When I was out at BYU I saw them much more, of course. There’s always been that “step” in her title. Step mom. And every step parent relationship is different, and people have seemed hesitant to know how to react when I’ve mentioned that she’s passing away. “How close were you?” is the question that often comes up.

I’ve explained it like this. Imagine someone who has been in your life for more than twenty-five years. A close friend you’ve talked with regularly. Exchanged presents on birthdays and holidays. A person who’s been a grandparent to your children. Who’s offered love and support and advice. Who watched you grow up. Who helped you move dorms in college. Went with you on family vacations. Cooked you birthday dinners. Flew out to visit you wherever you were living. A person who’s incredibly close with most of your family.

That’s who Laurie was to me.

I remember finding out my father was remarrying. It was a strange concept, just like the divorce had been strange in the first place. I went to the wedding, and I mostly remember it as the time I began my life long love affair with chocolate eclairs. (Seriously. They had a ton of them at the reception, and I think I ate around fifty.) But the wedding was one thing. My siblings and I had flown out for it. We were there, and then we flew off. Things didn’t get real until that summer, when we moved out for a month.

It must have been incredibly difficult for her, though most of that blew over my head at the time. Having three kids show up for a month? Kids she doesn’t really know? Hard stuff. She handled it very well. Here’s a sampling of memories I have of her over the years:

  • When we’d visit in the summer, my father had a house that had two floors, but the lower floor had been sealed off as a rental before he’d bought it. The only way to get between floors was for us to go outside and around the house. He decided to fix that one day. He sawed a hole in the floor, right behind the front door, and built a ladder going between the floors. There was a trap door and everything. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Laurie was less than enthralled with the idea. As a homeowner now, I can’t really blame her. (I wonder if that ladder is still in the house. They moved. What did the later owners think of it?)
  • We would go on trips around the west. Phoenix. Southern Utah. Las Vegas. My father had a Jetta, and my brother and sister and I would pile in the backseat and drive for miles. We had our Gameboys. Laurie was skeptical of those Gameboys for years, it seemed. I remember trying to teach her how great Tetris was. In the end, she came around. Sort of. She’s been an avid Free Cell player for what seems like decades now.
  • Laurie has always been a big fan of discussion topics at the dinner table, or at least when we’ve all been together for Christmas dinner or Easter or the like. I, on the other hand, have not. I think I moaned and complained about those conversations over the years. Now, of course, I try to do the same thing to my kids. Come up with a topic to discuss. I definitely see the value in it, and she’s been the best example of it to me. (That said, I still tend to check out when the discussions go on too long or get too sappy. Some things never change.)
  • She had a sports car when she married my father, and the for the first while, they kept it, even though there wasn’t really enough room in there for the family when we visited. I remember getting into the back window to drive places. I’m sure we were breaking a million traffic rules. I thought it was pretty awesome, though. What other kid got to drive around in the trunk of a sports car?
  • When we were kids, Laurie would send us “candy grams” on holidays. Cards with candy bars on them in place of words. She’s always been incredibly creative.
  • She was also a huge fan of oldies music. I was always impressed that she seemed to know the words to any song that ever played on an oldies station. Seriously. We used to test her. Turn on the radio at a random time. She was able to sing along to the song, every time.
  • I sort of had a rep for being non-emotional. (Probably still do, I guess. I’m not one for tears or breaking down in public, for sure.) Laurie’s father passed away while I was still in high school(?), and years later she found a letter I wrote to either her or her mother (I’m not sure. Memories and me aren’t the best of friends, I suppose.) She commented to me how impressed she was that I’d written it, and how nice and caring it seemed. I’ve always felt bad that I didn’t even remember writing the letter in the first place. Then again, people will often say to me that something I’ve written on the blog touched them or helped them, and I don’t remember writing it. So maybe I just have a crummy memory.
  • When I was moving out of Deseret Towers after my mission, I got a migraine in the middle of the move. Laurie was there helping me schlep boxes up and down from the sixth floor of the dorm. Fun times.
  • We went camping one year, right before Denisa and I took Tomas and moved off to Maine. We were up near Mount Timpanogos, and Tomas was having a great time. Until it started raining caterpillars. They were all in the trees. Tons of them. Whenever the wind would blow, they’d showed down  on your head. Tomas freaked out, each time. We all thought that was pretty amusing.
  • Whenever we would drive up to our family’s cabin in the Wasatch Mountains in Utah, we’d pass through Peoa. She had a Peoa fight song she’d typically sing then. I don’t remember most of it, but I do remember “Our colors are brown, brown, and brown. It’s the best darn school around!” For years I thought that was the actual fight song, and that they were pretty silly to have such a strange song.
  • When Tomas was born, she came over to our apartment to get it “babified.” We had one big room and a bedroom, so we had to somehow turn that big room into a bedroom and a living room. She helped put in a wall of bookcases and a changing area. She was always great at interior decorating.

I could keep rattling off memory after memory, but I have to cut this to a close. It’s been a rough few days. The viewing is tomorrow. The funeral is Wednesday. There’s been a tremendous outpouring of support from family and friends in the area. Banana bread, dinners, snacks, and treats appear like magic, left outside the front door or side door. Laurie was always organizing meals for people in troubled times and constantly reaching out to support others. It’s touching to see so many reach out in return at this time.

I don’t know how to end this post. Writing a final “Goodbye” feels incredibly depressing, so I won’t. I’ll just say I was grateful for all the support and love she showed me and my family over the many years I knew her.

She will be missed.

Sixteen Years of Marriage

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I was terrified of getting married. It’s something I think I’ve discussed here on the blog before, but it bears repeating. My parents had divorced when I was young, and it really threw me for a loop. It was no fun at all, and I wanted to do everything I could to ensure I spared my kids from having to go through that. But how in the world could I know the person I was marrying was the *right* person?

I’m a planner, and so I had come up with lots of different plans to be certain. I would have to know the girl for at least a year. Probably more like five. We’d date for a long time, and I’d want to get to know her in all sorts of situations. I’d want to meet her parents. See where she grew up. Have many long conversations about everything under the sun. I’d want to date widely, so that I had as much experience with different personalities that I could. What if I met someone after I got married that I ended up being better matched with?

There was just no way to know. I was convinced of that. It’s why I went on so many dates after I got back from the Jerusalem Center. There was one girl I thought I’d end up marrying. That had been the plan, at least. I’d known her for years. All the dates were just there to make 100% sure I knew what I was doing.

And then I went on the first date Denisa, and all those plans went out the window.

Our first date was November 4, 2000. We were secretly engaged by New Years. We eloped April 25, 2001, less than 6 months after that first date. I hadn’t met her family. I hadn’t even been to her home country before, let alone her home city. We’d had plenty of discussions, but as for knowing and seeing her in tons of different situations? I didn’t have any of that.

Anyone who’s met Denisa obviously knows why that all got forgotten. When you meet someone like that and discover she’s actually in love with you back, you’d be certifiably insane to let her get away. And when I look back at 16 years of marriage, I realize how little all my planning really would have come to.

So much of marriage is about adaptation. Encountering surprises and changing. Parenting adds a whole new dimension. The big takeaway is you aren’t marrying that person for eternity. That person will change. You will change. Marrying, in my experience, turns you and your spouse into something else. You are no longer the single version of you. You’re a team. I don’t mean that in any sort of creepy way. I don’t mean you give up your individuality or anything like that. But your priorities change. Your definition of success changes. You could plan for all the different situations that might come up in life, but in the end, all those plans don’t amount to much, because you realize how little you knew at the time.

I was 22 when I got married. I had no idea the sort of challenges that would end up facing us. Family passing away. Career plans drastically changing. Figuring out that whole “parenting” thing. Moving states. I get a real kick out of the thought that I could plan for all of that when I was that young. I don’t think I could plan for all of it now, even with 16 years of experience under my belt. And as time goes on and I see how much still lies in store for us, it would be even more daunting. As I see my parents and friends deal with changes and tragedies and blessings and more, it just shows me how little I know, even now.

If I knew what being married was really like, I think the younger version of me would have been even more terrified. Overwhelmed. But even knowing all of that, I think that younger version of me would still have jumped at the chance to marry Denisa. Sometimes great ideas just glow with how wonderful they are. By far the best decision I have ever made in my life was to ask Denisa on that first date. Everything else changed because of that.

Happy anniversary, Denisa. I love you.

Happy Birthday, Tomas!

It’s finally happened. I’m the parent of a teenager. Tomas turned 13 yesterday. Write a blog long enough, and you start to run out of new material to cover. I’ve written multiple posts on his birthday over the years. (For the record, here are my posts when he turned five, six, eight, nine, ten, eleven, and twelve. Somehow I skipped seven.) Looking back over them, it’s interesting to see how he’s changed and how my posts about him have changed. I’ve tried to chronicle what he’s interested in from year to year, so I’ll keep that up now.

Many things haven’t changed from recent years. He’s still a big Doctor Who fan, loves watching Star Wars and Marvel movies, has a great time playing Magic and other board games, and loves to read. But like me, his particular focus from time to time changes and morphs. He had his BeyBlade stage years ago. There was his Cars stage. Pokemon. Transformers. 3DS.

These days, his two main passions are his Minecraft YouTube channel and his Nerf guns. He will happily tell you all the many tweaks he wants to make to his current pride and joy: a Nerf Stryfe he purchased a few weeks ago. He’s planning on upping the motor, swapping out the trigger lock, and repainting it eventually. He did a ton of research to figure out which Nerf would be the best for him, eventually settling on the no-longer-manufactured Stryfe, and buying it when he could find a new one on sale. He got some add-ons for it yesterday for his birthday, and he was very pleased.

But the Minecraft YouTube channel gets even more of his attention. One of the first things he did yesterday was set up a Patreon account for himself, since they have a rule limiting accounts to those age 13 and up. So the very second he could get on the computer (he had to wait until 4pm, which is when we let electronics start being used on Sundays in our house), he went straight to Patreon and registered. He takes these videos very seriously, doing his best to come out with a new one every Wednesday. To make that happen, he has to record the video, edit it, compose music if he needs to, and then find a time to upload it to YouTube. He tracks his views and his subscribers like a hawk, and he’s always doing whatever he can to make his subscribers happy.

So if you’re looking for something to get Tomas for his birthday, the thing he would probably love would be for you to subscribe to his channel (free!) or (better yet, he would say) support him on Patreon. After much deliberation, he decided to base his support tiers on a monthly basis. In other words, you can sign up to give him $1, $5, or $10 each month. At $1, you get behind-the-scenes info on what he’s up to. $5 gets you an exclusive video, and $10 gets you all of that, plus a shout out in his videos and your name in the credits. (He had made abut $1.50 through YouTube ads up until a few weeks ago, when YouTube changed its rules so that only people with 10,000 views can monetize their videos.) So Patreon is his only hope of bringing in money for now. (He’s had about 1,000 views so far. 9,000 more to go!)

In any case, it seems like he had a good birthday. We watched the first part of Iron Man 2, played some Magic, had boxed mac and cheese for dinner and chocolate chip cookie pie for dessert. He’s definitely growing up: becoming more serious about school and his responsibilities around the house, and holding his own in any game he plays on the planet.

Happy birthday, Tomas. Here’s hoping your Patreon just explodes with success.

Our Latest Four Year Old

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It’s always fun to see how excited kids get for birthdays. The younger they are, the more excited. (Well, up to a point. They have to have a concept of “birthday” to really get into it. One year olds? Not so much.)

I think MC is at the “Peak Birthday Excitement” age. She’s turning four, and she’s off the charts hyped for it. Some of that is no doubt that she’s also had the chance to see other people have birthdays in the family so often. People her age. I remember it took Tomas a while to catch the “True Spirit of Birthdays,” meaning realize it gets to be a day all about him, where people bring him presents, and he gets to have a party and pick the food. But it wasn’t like he had examples to check. Parent birthdays are different beasts, really. MC has been able to see Tomas and DC get birthday parties, and so she knows what to look forward to.

What does she want out of the day? “Bags of presents,” she said. I think it’s because DC had some presents that were in gift bags, rather than “Garbage bag-sized bags of presents.” But you never know. We’ve been trying to manage her expectations on that one. She also wants a chocolate cake with strawberries and raspberries on it, going in the vein of DC’s birthday cakes. So Denisa’s taking care of that. Beyond that, I think she’s just looking forward to people singing her the happy birthday song.

So a few presents, a chocolate cake, and people singing to her. Maybe we all could learn a thing or two from how excited four year olds can get for relatively little investment, and how pleased they can be by it.

Really, she’s a fantastic little girl. I still remember how calm and quiet she was right after she was born. No crying at all. She was just looking around, interested to see where she’d ended up. Four years later, and she still(!) takes a two hour or more nap each day. The girl prioritizes sleep, and I fully support that. She has a strong independent streak in her. but she’s also very happy to know her place in the family and to fill it.

Her idea of a perfect day right now would probably be waking up, having sweet cereal for breakfast, watching Netflix, and playing games. (She’s on an Octonauts binge at the moment. She also loves Little Einsteins.) She’s both sad the snow has gone (meaning she can’t ski) and through the roof hyped for flowers incoming. She loves dressing up as a princess, and loves Disney princess movies. Cinderella is her favorite, probably because it doesn’t really have anything scary in it other than a mean woman who’s handily dealt with by some mice.

Hard to believe Denisa and I were wondering if we wanted to have a third child. The family feels perfect with her addition. Happy birthday, MC! You’re awesome.

Proud Parent Moment

You might recall we signed Tomas up to take the SAT this past January as part of the Center for Talented Youth (CTY) program. My brother and I had both done this back when we were Tomas’s age, and I thought it would help him to be prepared to take the test later on, when it really counted.

From what I remembered, I’d done a fair bit of practice and preparation for the test, back when I was in seventh grade. We had a teacher who went over tips and tricks of the test for weeks? Months? (Time always seems longer in hindsight. For all I know, we had a single after school prep session, and that was it.) Either way, Tomas didn’t have much of that. Instead, he and I used Khan Academy’s practice tests to make sure he had an idea what to expect. Beyond that, it was me just basically telling him how to approach the test.

But there’s a difference between knowing the theory and actually applying it. Case in point: I discovered this was the first scantron test he was going to take. So the night before we went over how that worked. How to fill in bubbles. How to follow the directions. Good times. And then when we actually went and I dropped him off at the test, it was intimidating. He was there with a whole bunch of older students, of course. A few of his friends who were doing the same thing he was, but by and large it was high school Juniors or Seniors. You could tell Tomas was worried about it all. Who wouldn’t be?

I tried to do everything a good parent should do. Remind him to try his hardest. Remind him that this was just practice, and that for now, the grade he got really didn’t matter. He came out of the test feeling good about things, and we really thought no more of it. Project successful.

Yesterday he finally got his grades back. The SAT has gone through changes over the years since I took it. Back in the day, the best you could get was a 1600. Then that became a 2400, and now it’s back to a 1600. The average score a BYU accepted student gets is a 1280. The average score to get into the university where I work is a 1050.

Tomas got an 1130.

Denisa and I were, of course, very proud of him. But it was even more rewarding to see him be proud of himself. Not that I want to raise little stuck up humans who think they’re all that and a bag of chips, but I think it’s important to be able to know you did a good job. Tomas beat my score from back when I took it. (I think I got around a 900.) In fact, he even earned “High Honors” through the CTY program, which means he did better than 70% of the other CTY students who took the test. Middle School can be tough times. There are many reasons to feel down about yourself. It’s great to have tangible things you can look at that help you feel good, instead.

Anyway. He qualified for any CTY program he’d care to enter. Of course, the question now is if he wants to go to one, and if Denisa and I can afford it. The answer to the first is probably, and to the second is probably not. It costs about $5,000 to do a summer camp. That’s a lot of dollars. On the other hand, his scores also make him eligible to take AP classes through CTY, and those AP classes just cost about $1500, which is much more doable. I’m not honestly sure what AP classes our local high school offers, but it’s nice to know that if Tomas wants to, he’ll be able to end up supplementing his education with additional content.

In any case, it was a great day in the Bryce household yesterday. Thanks for letting me share, and go Tomas!

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