Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Mighty Snake

We've made our way back to the Wasatch Front to our little nook of a town edged in the side of Mount Timpanogos. We enjoyed another fine year of Spudman, the best triathlon race in the world. My two younger brothers took first and second overall, and you can read more about it here.

B.J. has been chasing the dream of winning the Spudman since he was in high school. As every year, I passed Ed on my way toward the run. By the time I start the run, they're usually finished. So I asked Ed the usual question, "How'd you do?" Ed answered enthusiastically, "I got second and B.J. got first!" I let out a loud holler. I was so proud of B.J.'s dogged accomplishment, and of Ed's fine performance as well. Ed is 11 years younger to B.J., so if he can keep improving, he can match or even beat B.J.'s triathlon prowess.

They insisted in racing in only Speedos, much to the complaint of my mom and dad. It must have worked, though.

Kulani bested his previous best time by about seven minutes. His master's swim class has really paid off. He'll likely be writing a hilarious post on his blog about the various spellings of "triathlon" he saw around town this weekend. But he's currently sleeping, as it's early on Sunday morning, and though we've been encouraged by the bishop to "get back to basics" and make it to church on time and not late, the Fishers will probably still be rushing due to my sleeping beauties and my long-winded blog posts.

I also had a good race. I passed my oldest brother Doug, age 40, at mile three on the run. He was suffering mightily. He started about 10 minutes ahead of me. As I passed him, he says, "I'm just going to take a quick break and look at some of these rocks here. Don't tell anyone you passed me!" He's the funniest person I've ever known.

After the race, I was talking to a competitor who parked his bike next to ours. I asked him how he liked the race. Most people are pretty happy after the race, but this guy was rather sullen. He didn't look especially happy, despite his team taking first place overall. During the awards ceremony, I found out this guy was part of the team of the Don Moorhouse Memorial. I assumed he was somehow related, perhaps a son, to Don Moorhouse, who died last year during the swim of the Spudman. It made me reflect on how the Spudman, and specifically the Snake River, must hold a sad part in this family's life.

The Snake River is a glorious thrill for those of us who grew up in the Mini-Cassia area. In other parts of the state, the Snake is shallow and rocky, but as it winds through Rupert, Burley, and Heyburn, the river is wide and perfect for water skiing and water-associated sports.

I took the girls down to the boat docks to drape their feet in the cool water. Nohea, the daredevil of all the girls, quickly wanted to get her feet wet and squirmed to try to get me to take my arms off her. Lilia timidly scooted to the edge to feel the water. And Melissa was content to sit on Dad's lap far from the water's edge.

Kulani is a great daddy bear, and kept warning me to keep a hold of Nohea. He reminded me of the river's heavy current and the murkiness of the water. If she went under, we may never find her again. The thought chilled me, and I didn't loosen my grip.

When I think about it, it's amazing there aren't more reports of drowning in the Snake River. I fell into the river once when I was 5 or 6 years old. I fell between the gap between the sidewalk lining the park and the boat docks. A stranger fished me out almost immediately. Stories of near death on the Snake are rampant.

My grandma would tell us to stay far from the river, because there were "mysterious undercurrents" that would pull us down to our deaths. When my grandma would talk about it, I imagined this great pull on my legs that would drag me to the bottom and not let go. Now that I'm older, I realize the undercurrent wasn't mysterious at all; it was just the big, huge current of the Snake. But the "mysterious undercurrents" did strike fear into our hearts, and we stayed far away from the Snake River unless we were boating as a family.

In my high school graduating class of about 300, three people have died from drowning accidents. One died in one of the canals connected off the Snake and used to water farmers' crops. Another died cliff jumping in an area of the Snake we've all been known to frequent. And a third died in a lake near Logan.

Thank goodness the Spudman didn't take any lives this year. We live for the next Spudman, which for me is just an excuse to be with the best people in the world: my family.

All the Christensons (and spouses) who competed this year. Left to right: B.J., me, Kulani, Hetty Gower, Jeff Gower, Doug, Ed, and Wayne. Hetty, Wayne, and Jeff took first place in their team division.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Left Out

Question: Who would you consider to be the middle child in a family of 10? Would it be child #4, #5, or #6?

In the family I grew up, the middle-child-syndrome crown landed squarely on the head of my older sister Kathy--child #4. I believe I was ACTUALLY the middle child (#5), but she definitely took the title from me in attitude.

Our friend Ben's mother did her graduate work on the affects of birth order on people's personalities. As you can imagine, the middle child is comfortable in a victim's roll: perceiving that she never gets as much attention as the oldest child nor the youngest child. Ben's mom told me that in big families, you see the oldest-, middle-, youngest-child scenerio repeating itself, often many times. In popular culture, Miss Jan Brady exemplified this phenomenon best with the following phrase: "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!"

For a long time, I had few sympathies for this sister. If she thought she was lost in the shadow of our oldest sister Amy, I was completely hidden by the redwoods of Kathy and Amy together (and don't even get me started about poor B.J., child #6,--who was once left at a water park because we simply forgot about him; a half hour later someone remembered). It personally thrilled me, actually, when people would stop me in the halls and ask if I was Amy or Kathy's sister, or when a teacher would accidently call me "Amy." I didn't have the brains of Amy or the brawn of Kathy, but I liked who I was, and I liked being associated with them.

Kathy, on the other hand, seemed to be annoyed to be my sister. I would pass her in the halls at school and instead of "hi" or "hey, little sis," I would get a look of scorn and avoidance. I really can't blame her, though. I could barely be my own friend back then. I was the type of girl that went around talking in a British accent and wearing too much make-up and really loud clothes. A total misfit.

And Kathy was NOT the picked-on one, from my point-of-view. My dad was sucker punched by her big eyes and pouty attitude at every turn. He once got a used, black Porsche on his carlot, and he let Kathy drive it to school for a whole semester ... during the winter months. Have you seen my sister drive? Worst ... driver ... ever--even worse than my mom. And Grandpa McEuen dubbed her his favorite and took her to the Estee Lauder counter at the University Mall and ordered her a facial, telling the esthetician "I'll buy everything you put on her face."

However, recently dealing with my own three girls, I've had a small change of heart towards my sister. Nohea, my youngest, is 2 years old going on whatever age the older two are. She wants to do everything like them. She likes to say that she "goes to kindergarten." And she thinks she should be able to go to friends' houses like the other girls.

Yesterday I dropped the girls off at Tiana's house, and Nohea wailed and wailed about also wanting to go. It brought me back to a memory I have of Kathy.

It was the summer the first Batman movie (the one starring Michael Keaton) came out. My three oldest brothers and sister made big plans to go to the opening showing of Batman. They all bought Batman shirts and spoke non-stop about the plan. Kathy, who was just two years younger than the youngest of the oldest siblings, felt she should be included in the plans. My mom put her foot down and told her she couldn't go with them: this was their activity.

My sister Kathy was heartbroken, and I think in a lot of ways, it was the last straw. She always wanted to be included in the going-ons of the older siblings, but she was excluded often with the excuse of "she's too young." After that, I think Kathy just stopped trying. She started cruising Overland in Burley and found her own clique.

Years later she famously had a break-down at Amy's wedding. After a lifetime of wanting to be able to be old enough to hang out with the "older kids," she thought she'd finally get an opportunity when Amy got off her mission and would be finishing up her last two years at BYU. Kathy hoped they could be roommates or live in the same area, and they could finally hang out. Her dreams were once again shattered when Amy decided to get married instead. Kathy was pretty sullen and uncomforted during the whole wedding. My cheerful words of "you can be roommates with me" didn't help.

Watching and listening to Nohea cry made me more sympathetic towards my sister. It's hard to be left out. I've always been of the opinion that if a group didn't want me in it, than I'd find new friends and make a new group. But then, I'm not the "middle child," and playing the victim roll is not where I'm most comfortable.

And now Kathy has her own posse of three girls, soon to be four. I'm sure she'll be more sensitive to her middle child. I smell a Porsche in the future of one of those girls.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cleaning Adventures

Growing up in a family of 10, you can imagine that most summer days were filled with ... cleaning the house, cooking, and cleaning the house some more. My best friend Keri, who was over at our house like Eddie Haskel was to the Cleavers, says that our house would stay clean for all of 10 minutes, and then it would be back to its original chaotic mess. You know, take the cushions off the couch, build a high tower, and play "king of the hill," sprinkled in with popcorn and a smattering of shoes, books, and puzzle pieces all over the floor.

We'd always try to make games of cleaning. Sometimes it was "clean during commercials." Other times we'd put on music and try to clean to the beat of the songs. (I've always loved cleaning to the Bee Gee's Saturday Night Fever album.) We'd try dividing and conquering: sister would clean living room while I cleaned the kitchen. We'd try the team effort: we all clean one room then advance to the next room. I don't remember my brothers helping much, nor do I remember where they'd be. I know they were in charge of the lawn, so I'm not complaining (too much). I mostly remember it being just Mary and me. My older sisters had "real" jobs. We'd try to make Hetty work, but she was under the age of 6 and not the best help.

Another technique we used a lot was to pretend a certain drink was a "power" drink, and if we drinked it, we'd have the energy to clean the house. I've enlisted that idea with my girls as of late to get them to help me around the house.

Patrick works for Xango, and he dropped off a few bottles at our house. Kulani loves the stuff. The other day I poured some Xango in a special teacup and told the girls that drinking a swig of it would give them ultimate powers to clean. I demonstrated for them by taking a swallow, then proceeded to clean like a mad woman. The trick worked.

Then yesterday, Melissa swaggers into the kitchen with boots on and a red cowgirl hat saying, "How can I help ya, ma'am?" I almost died of laughter.

So I answered her: "Well aren't you the rootinest-tootinest little cowgirl I ever did lay eyes on. By golly, you'd better take you a swig of this here power juice and get ta cleaning up your room, you gun-slinging rascal."

Worked like a charm. After drinking her power juice, she goes off to clean her room. She comes back to tell me her room was clean and says, "I cleaned my rootinest tootinest room, ma'am."

So, yeah, I'm teaching the girls that "power juice" will help them with their performance. I'm sure Barry Bonds' mom did the same.