Living Happily Ever After


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First Date

“If you’re a young Mafia gangster out on your first date, I bet it’s real embarrassing if someone tries to kill you.” (Jack Handy)

Who can forget their first date?

My mom fondly recalled her first date many times over the course of my life: she was 5 years old, and went to a movie at a movie theater with a boy and his parents. She was a friendly gal, and dated a lot during her childhood and early teens, and then it was recommended by L.D.S. church leaders that dating be delayed until the age of 16 so she stopped dating–until she turned 16 years old!

I remember my first date: Derek.

It was late August 1983 after I had turned 16 years old. The boy I’d had a crush on since the moment I first laid eyes on him (at 14 years old) had asked me out and my friend, Carrie, had come over to help me get ready. I talked and hung out with her while I did my hair and makeup and decided what to wear–and she gave me a pedicure, which I promptly covered up when I put my Topsiders on! It was the 1980s, so of course my hair was something to behold, and accented by the skinny tie (anyone remember wearing those?) that completed my ensemble. We saw the movie, “Strange Brew,” and had a great time. It was a first date with no regrets, or embarrassing moments, that I can recall.

My daughter’s first date was an entirely different experience: Eric.

She went to a school dance with the boy she sits by in Chemistry class, a fun and casual friend. Watching my daughter get ready, and helping her, was a total flashback to the 1980s as she was headed to a decades-themed dance and she and her date had chosen 1980s exercise wear. I helped her find a Jelly belt, tear her sweatshirt to hang off the shoulder, find neon-colored tank tops to layer, get her hair in THE  high side ponytail, with her green eyeshadow (what can I say, we couldn’t find any blue eyeshadow in the house!) and with her hot pink headband (just like Olivia Newton John’s in “Lets Get Physical.”) It wasn’t in the original plan that my daughter drive on the date, but due to car troubles of other parties involved, she ended up driving her car. And accidentally, while slowly backing up, she backed into a friend’s car.

It was dark. Neither she nor her date saw the other car. Thankfully, she backs up really slowly. Thankfully, no damage occurred to either car or to any living being. In fact, the driver of the other car got out, hugged my daughter and told her it was no big deal. I was very relieved there was no damage to people or automobiles; but my daughter was so mortified about the whole thing she wasn’t even dwelling on that. That event overshadowed every other aspect of her first date. That event was what she talked about when she got home. Even late the NEXT evening she was still worrying about it, alone in her bedroom, so I went to check on her.

She was absolutely humiliated, mortified, and didn’t want to show her face anywhere, ever, again. I tried to help her put it into perspective so I said, “Sarah, you can survive this. Just think of other hugely embarrassing things you’ve overcome.”

“Like what?” she asked.

I was stunned. Had the events of 2009 faded that fast in her teenage mind? I clarified, “Like discovering a family member stole millions of dollars, was heading to prison, it was all over the national media, we lost everything and had to watch the government come into our home and take our possessions, some people were mean to us, other people were kind to us yet we had to rely on the charity of others…ALL of those embarrassing moments we endured. If you can survive that humiliation, you can get through anything! This is nothing compared to that.”

Adding that last sentence reminded me that embarrassment and humiliation is all in your perspective. It was also a mistake; add it to the many that continually stream from my mouth, far too often, as I say what I think pretty much as soon as I think it. Call it one of my many weaknesses.

My daughter countered that her experience was far more embarrassing than the one I referenced. I was stunned! I couldn’t believe she really thought that, but she did. She drove her point home (no pun intended, lol!) when she added, “And Mom, if you think criminals, Ponzi schemes, publicity, divorce, prison, crime, government seizure and everything else is more embarrassing than backing into another car on a date…you don’t know ANYTHING about teenage girls!”

Wow. How could I have gotten so old and so far removed from being a teenage girl? And how could I have failed my daughter like that?

You see, one of the great things about being my mother’s daughter is that no matter my embarrassing moment, when I returned home mortified about something that had happened to me, my mom could totally commiserate and share an embarrassing moment from her life that absolutely outdid mine, made me laugh and made me feel so much better about my humiliation! In fact, she survived such mortification that as an adult, friends would call after something embarrassing and ask, “Tell me a story about your mom to make me feel better so I can get through this most recent humiliation.” I thought that’s what mothers are for–and I wasn’t able to do that for mine! (Although I must be blinded by my past, because I could swear 2009 is the ultimate in humiliation. I can’t see myself ever being embarrassed about anything again, after that one!)

So I quit trying to reason with my daughter, stopped attempting to help her put embarrassment into perspective and just empathized with her. I promised that someday, we will look back on her first date…and laugh; we’ll even be the better for it, and we’ll be strong.

“But I learned that there’s a certain character that can be built from embarrassing yourself endlessly. If you can sit happy with embarrassment, there’s not much else that can really get to ya.” (Christian Bale)

Now if we can only be totally hot when we have as much character, strength and wisdom as Batman, we’ll be absolutely set for…The Unexpected Life.

Smarter Than You

“Girls have an unfair advantage over men: if they can’t get what they want by being smart, they can get it by being dumb.” (Yul Brynner)

Except where preschoolers are concerned, if you happen to be their mother.

My youngest was chatting with me over dinner when out of the blue he said, (and I promise I didn’t say or do anything “dumb” before he shared his observation),”Mom, my teacher is smarter than you.”

“Really? How can you tell?” I asked.

“My teacher knows ALL her ABCs!” he replied. “And can count to 100 and 80…even a thousand!”

“Wow, that IS smart,” I commented. But try as I might, I could not convince him my intelligence level was anywhere close to that of Miss Wendy’s.

The irony of my debate with my youngest regarding my intelligence is that when I was thrust into my unexpected life, I took a lot of heat from many people who insisted I had to have known a Ponzi scheme was taking place because “I was TOO SMART not to have known!”

You can’t see what is intentionally hidden from you through layers of deception and lies carefully crafted for more than a decade. And sometimes, even the brightest of people, can’t see what isn’t right in front of their eyes. Even Andrea Merriman, with all of the intelligence, genius, brilliance and “smarts” I’ve been accused of possessing!

You win some, you lose some, I guess. As evidenced by my unexpected life…and motherhood.

“I am so smart! I am so smart! S-M-R-T! I mean, S-M-A-R-T!” (Dan Castellaneta)

Today’s Crisis Is Tomorrow’s Joke, I Hope

“I don’t know how to drive a car.” (Javier Bardem)

However, my daughter is learning to. She’ll be 16 in two months, so despite the fact she’s had her learner’s permit for almost a year, we’re feeling the pressure to get her as much experience behind the wheel before her birthday as we can. Easier said than done, though. Especially when I work full-time in another city.

So tonight we combined a driving lesson with a quick errand. Note to self: it would probably be wise to never attempt teenage daughter driving lessons after working all day and commuting both directions in traffic!

She drove. When I instructed her to turn right, she turned left–like she didn’t know her left from her right. (She really does, and she’s a smart girl, but I think she gets a little flustered behind the wheel.) One time when I instructed her to turn left, she hesitated so long the car behind her got in the turn lane, pulled up beside her and she nearly hit them when trying to get in the lane to turn.  After taking the LONG way to our destination, and experiencing her struggle to both use the turn signal and to change lanes, I admit it wasn’t my finest 20 minutes as a mother.

So by the time she ran a stop sign, cut off the car who actually had the right of way, forced them to slam on their brakes to avoid an accident, which apparently angered them because they tail-gated our car all the way down the street until they could whip around us, cut in front of us and slam on their brakes (to reinforce their anger at the way our driver was driving, I guess) I was completely out of patience.

I lectured her thoroughly (and loudly.)

Upon arriving home, my daughter went straight to her room, crying, committed to never getting behind the wheel of a car again. I make an impressive driving instructor, don’t you think? Or at the very least, an impressive mother. (Not.)

Ironically, tonight a friend told me that I have a very nice daughter and that I’m a good mother. Of all the days to tell me that! I had to confess how not true that is today. I can only hope that, “The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow.” (H.G. Wells)

Or that she’s at least speaking to me by then, so we can laugh about it!

I apologized to her several times tonight, but I’m thankful “tomorrow is another day,” a new opportunity to stand up and do things better as a mother and as a driving instructor–if my daughter will consent to drive again.

“If you fell down yesterday, stand up today.” (H.G. Wells)

Just don’t run any stop signs.


“Her godmother simply touched her with her wand, and, at the same moment, her clothes were turned into cloth of gold and silver, all decked with jewels.” (Charles Perrault)

I’ve probably mentioned it before, but I was a girl raised on fairy tales. My mom read them to me every day. In fact, my earliest recollections of “art” are the illustrations that were in my fairy tale books. I loved every magical ending to every magical story. And I confess, I think fairy tales contributed a little bit in the formation of my dreams.

Ah, happy endings and fairy godmothers!

Have you ever wished you had a fairy godmother?

I have—on more than one occasion. As a little girl, I dreamed of a fairy godmother who would instinctively know when I needed her (aka. when I was alone and crying in my garden, let’s say), who would show up in the blink of an eye, transform me into a beautiful woman with a dazzling wardrobe, jewels and even a pair of my very own glass slippers; and then would vanish with a “poof” and maybe a little trace of glitter. But everything would be all right again. (Translation: easy.)

As I got older and life got a lot more real, visions of a way out of some of my challenges with a simple wave of a wand overshadowed any childish fantasy of fashion. Wouldn’t it be a dream to escape a trying circumstance without having to pass through it, via a magic wand? Bummer to not have a magic wand when you really need one!

The reality of life, especially the unexpected one, is that “There is no magic wand that can resolve our problems. The solution rests with our work and discipline.” (Jose Eduardo Dos Santos) Our magic wand is actually our labor. The “magic” we put to work to better ourselves or our situation; what we do to help create our fairy tale ending despite the loss of our prince, castle or pumpkin coach.

And as I think about that, and what my unexpected life has taught me is…that’s really all you need. A willingness to work hard, carry on and to never give up despite the setbacks.

Oh. And maybe a little bit of pixie dust.

Everything Else is Just Figure Skating

“High sticking, tripping, slashing, spearing, charging, hooking, fighting, unsportsmanlike conduct, interference, roughing… everything else is just figure skating.” (Unknown)

My first (and last) attempt at figure skating took place in Sun Valley, Idaho, when I was approximately 8 years old. Unfortunately, I didn’t progress beyond gripping the wall’s railing to stay upright, and even then it was a challenge to stay on my feet. It didn’t come easily at all. It just wasn’t my thing. (Meanwhile, my mom–who had never been particularly athletic–glided gracefully around the rink, skating backward and doing figure eights and other moves I’d observed watching the Ice Capades.) Lets just say I didn’t anticipate ice, skating on it, or ice rinks would ever be a part of my life beyond that one experience.

But then I grew up and became a mother.

Of sons.

Who love ice hockey.

That makes me a hockey mom, I guess.

“I love those hockey moms. You know what they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is? Lipstick.” (Sarah Palin)

I just hope I’m a lot more lipstick than pit bull!

My oldest is particularly passionate about hockey. I can’t remember a day in his life he didn’t have skates on or a stick in his hand, practicing shooting or other moves he’d seen professionals do on t.v. I discovered his dedication the day I heard a suspicious thumping in our Colorado basement. I went down to find him practicing shots against the wall of our home! We quickly established some hockey rules (ie. no hockey in the house beyond taping your stick) and he took his devotion outside, rain or shine. Snow or cold. In daylight and darkness.

Countless winter days he voluntarily shoveled snow…to clear a spot to practice hockey. Every winter he tried to talk us into flooding our yard for an ice rink. And every birthday or holiday, he asked for hockey equipment.

I remember his first hockey game. He was in 5th grade. His team lost. And for the first time in his sports life, he came away from a game loss absolutely BEAMING. I didn’t expect that. I asked him how he felt and he replied, “Mom! Hockey is so amazing! It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s just so fun to play the game!”

Now he is growing up and the hockey experience has changed. He plays not just for fun, but to win. As a high school senior, he is captain of his high school hockey team. He was also invited to practice with the BYU Ice Hockey Development Team and hopes to play for BYU next year. He was chosen to play in the Utah All-Select High School Hockey exhibition game. On New Year’s Day he was selected to play in the Utah High School 2011 All-Star Hockey Game.

On the way home, he looked at me and asked, “Mom, did you ever think it would all come to this?”

Honestly, I never did.

I guess life is a little bit like hockey.

You never know where it’s going to take you. It can be rough, you fall, sometimes it’s messy, things get broken, and like the unexpected life experience of my family, there’s even a penalty box! (Prison. Lol.)

But there’s nothing more exciting, fulfilling, rewarding and skill building. Some days, “Half the game is mental; the other half is being mental.” (Jim McKenny) And the best part? It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s just such a privilege to be a part of it, to play the game.

“…In a land so inescapably and inhospitably cold, hockey is the chance of life, and an affirmation that despite the deathly chill of winter we are alive.” (Stephen Leacock)

Hamsters Do It All The Time

Q: “Is there any living species of animals that feed on their young?
A: A lot of them. Many invertebrates (like insects and spiders) will eat their young…most fish will eat the young as they do not distinguish their young from others. Some mammals will kill and eat the young if stressed.  Hamsters do it all the time. As a kid I raised mink and we had problems. In a thunderstorm the female may devour the young. Much of the cannibalism among mammals is caused by stress and not hunger.” (

I’m pretty sure there’s a Proverb about “One bad apple spoils the whole bunch.” And since I’ve never taken the time to thank that one bad apple, I thought I’d do it now.
I was snuggling with my youngest before bed recently, which led to an interesting conversation. His arms were wrapped tightly around my neck, squeezing almost to the point of choking me (anyone who has hugged a toddler/small child knows the kind of hug I’m talking about!) He had just finished whisper-singing a few songs in my ear and we lay face to face, chatting about anything and everything and soon, our talk turned to love.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too, Mommy.”
“I love you more.”
“How much?”
“I love you SO MUCH…I could eat you up!” And I kissed his cheek, his neck, the top of his head, and tickled him a little bit for good measure. (Ok, and I admit it, I may have pretended to gobble him up, but only a little bit.)
He stopped, released his hold on me, pulled back, looked me right in the eye with a bit of suspicion, trepidation and uncertainty and clarified, “But you wouldn’t ACTUALLY eat one of your children…would you, Mom?”
No, I would not. I promise I will not. In fact, I can guarantee it. But how remiss of me to never have thanked the spiders, insects and other creatures who apparently do and who have given the rest of us mothers a bad rap. Thank you. And despite the fact that apparently hamsters do it all the time, I promise I don’t. And won’t.
“I love running cross country…On a track, I feel like a hamster.” (Robin Williams)

The Secret To Staying Young

“The secret to staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.” (Lucille Ball)

Or if that fails, you can try this:

It was spring break. Bachelor #5 invited my little family to join his family and extended family for the break, but we already had plans so we went on our spring break and he went on his. He wanted me to meet his mom, brother and sister-in-law and extended family, so we made arrangements to meet the final night of break in St. George, Utah.

It led me to discover the secret to youth, no fountain involved, or at least the secret of feeling young. And no, it isn’t to date someone older than you. (That just makes them seem old! Lol.)

If you want to feel “young” again, get divorced in your 40s and then meet a new man’s family! The whole night, as I looked around the clan gathered, I kept thinking, “This is NOT me. I should not be here, I should not be having to do this like I’m in my 20s again!” But in reality, that was exactly the position I was in and exactly what I was doing.

At my age, and after 20 years of marriage, it had been decades since I’d been the “new” person getting to know an established family. It was a disconcerting position to be in and I felt every bit of my single status that night. The unexpected bonus was how “young” it made me feel! Lol.

So I met his mother. She was nice, made me feel welcome, complimented me on my children, invited us to visit her at her home, and she went out of her way to speak with each of my children; I liked her and felt very accepted by her and comfortable around her.

His family and relatives were polite and kind to me, but they seemed to keep their distance. (As did I, I admit. I had a hard time getting past the strange position I felt I was in that night.)

After meeting everyone, late that night when we were alone after not seeing each other for one week, he hugged me. It must have been SOME hug, because I felt like crying when he hugged me! I’d never had that happen. I didn’t know what to think of that–was I was a crazy, divorced woman? Or, maybe it was more like this: “Millions and millions of years would still not give me half enough time to describe that tiny instant of all eternity when you put your arms around me and I put my arms around you.” (Jacques Prévert)

Ever had a hug like that? If so, you know what I’m talking about.

But the real shock was yet to come.

One of the first things out of Bachelor #5′s mouth after he hugged me was, “I know I said I would wait as long as you need me to, and I will, but I’m thinking September.”


I probably looked like a deer caught in headlights, but at least I didn’t throw up this time!


“Make measurable progress in reasonable time.” (Jim Rohn)

MAC Lipstick And One Water Ski

Our relationship continues.

Every time we talk, text or see each other, she continues be so friendly, kind, patient and loving. She hugs me. She doesn’t miss a chance to express her love and gratitude for me. She shares her perspective and experience with me. She isn’t afraid to tell me, honestly, what she thinks. She is accepting of everyone. She is beautiful inside and out. She is a positive force for good in the world, in my life and for my children.

We’re getting to know each other. We even had our first “sleep over” last month, just she and I–going to dinner, soaking in a hot mineral tub at The Homestead and chatting about anything and everything until late at night.

My children are getting to know her and getting used to her. The first time they met her, they stared at her. A lot. I couldn’t figure out what their problem was, but every time I’d look at my two oldest children, they’d be raising their eyebrows at each other or laughing. On the way home, I asked them what was so funny.

My oldest son said, “Mom, it’s like you two are the SAME person! You do EVERYTHING alike. It’s uncanny!” And he listed the many similarities he had observed in the short time he’d spent with her–right down to the way we both speak, to the way we get side-tracked in a conversation, to the way we talk with our hands (even on the phone), to the way we both have to have lipstick on all of the time, to the way we apply our lipstick in the same way,multi-tasking, while we drive a car! (To the fact that both of us carry and use MAC lipstick without the lids–we lose them.)

“I drive with my knees. Otherwise, how can I put on my lipstick and talk on my phone?” (Sharon Stone)

Although we have our differences.

My birth mother took me out in her boat the other weekend. She is 66 years old now, still really trim and very fit and athletic. She easily got up on one ski (something I’ve never been able to do), skied all around the reservoir (I’ve never been able to do that–I crash before I make it that far!), and then took one foot out of the ski so she could do stunt poses while the boat towed her. (Something I’ve never thought to do and wouldn’t be able to even if I wanted to!)

When she held on to the tow rope with her toes to free her hands so she could do even bigger stunt poses, I had to shake my head in awe. I thought everyone had been joking when they told me she’d water ski with her toes given the chance! Nope.

Clearly, I got ripped off in the genetics of water skiing department!

But that’s ok. She has two skis in her boat. And apparently, I’ll be the only one using two skis as I maintain a death grip on the tow rope…with BOTH hands.

“How about that? That squirrel can water ski.” (Ron Burgundy aka. Will Ferrell, “Anchorman“)

Things You Never Even Knew

““A good friend is a connection to life- a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world.” (Lois Wyse)

There was a lot we didn’t know about each other, but it wasn’t like being with a total stranger. There is some type of connection there. She said, “It’s just so strange having a daughter I have no mother-daughter history with!” That probably said it all.

At one point I noticed I was sitting on her couch with my feet tucked under me and to the side, like I always do. It dawned on me: I was putting my feet on her couch! How rude! I quickly moved to put my feet on the floor, hoping she hadn’t noticed my bad manners. And then I noticed the way she was sitting. With her feet tucked under her to the side. She had her feet on the furniture too.

Meeting a birth mother is like that. You see why you do things you never even knew you did.

A Message

“Did you ever walk into a room and forget why you walked in? I think that’s how dogs spend their lives” (Sue Murphy)

That’s how I’ve spent quite a few moments of my life.

I forget about things sometimes. Sometimes, even important things. That impulsive act of attempting to contact my birth mother, believe it or not, was no different.

Impulsively, I had done something huge; I sent a message to my birth mother and then…I pretty much forgot about it. (Either that, or such is the life of a single mother, the sole parent and support of four children, working full-time, busy, and tending to homework, housework, never-ending laundry, keeping track of the bills, and everything else. It’s easy to forget things.)

And then just as I’d forgotten about what I’d done a few weeks earlier, I got an unexpected message from Facebook:

“Oh my gosh! Are you who I think you are?”

My birth mother.

I NEVER expected that.

The message couldn’t have been more friendly, loving, and willing to share information. My birth mother even gave me her phone number and encouraged me to call. She was absolutely friendly and nice and welcoming!

I was stunned.

It was completely unexpected.

I had been prepared so well my entire life for rejection that I was shocked at not being rejected!