Monday, April 28

Promoting a Passion

I am the Skit Master. Music and dramatic performance speak to my soul.

I fell in love with a musician, poet and 2 time Phoenix Little Theatre actor. I didn't know all this when I generously cast him in a Stake Young Adult skit. I tried to encourage him to play his bit part with enthusiasm. He seemed a very quiet and "shy" returned missionary. I thought I was helping him by including him in my important presentation. He was supposed to interrupt the other actors by piously quoting scripture several times. On cue, he leaped to his feet and then ranted like an electrified Southern preacher ~ threatening the unrepentant with brimstone and a wild eye. We all cowered and laughed until we cried. I decided I seriously needed to get to know him better.

Growing up in the Church Glory-days of real pick-up truck competitive Road Shows, Quartet, Speech and Dance Festivals ~ we were trained “on the job” by some of the best and I loved every minute of it.

Our weekly M.I.A. opening exercises (and ALL our youth firesides) regularly featured a dramatic recitation or musical performance by our peers. We learned how to soft-shoe from Sister LeSueur who once owned a dance studio. Other choreography moves came from a Sister who had enjoyed a long career on Broadway. We learned how to sing in four-part harmony by women who used to perform on the radio, Andrews Sisters style. Talented seamstresses transformed us in crisp taffetas or ruffled calicoes. Our introduction to classic literature and arts themes was considered every bit as ‘gospel’ as the Holy Writ itself.

It was extremely rare when we witnessed a fellow teen deliver a talk in Church with their nose in a paper that they read from – badly. To avoid eye-contact, mumble, utter “uh” or begin a talk with the forbidden, “My talk is about...” was to risk a Divine lightning strike.

Disciplined public speaking skills were also reinforced at school; oral book reports qualified as an art form. More kids than not were studying an instrument, ballet or sang in chorus, and the arts were considered an essential part of proper development. There was a very high standard in how we presented ourselves and wonderful opportunities at every turn to expand our self-expression in the traditions (and budgets) of those former days.

Our children have not grown up in the same world. If I hoped for a stage opportunity for them at all, I had to be the one promoting it.

So ~

I began collecting props and costumes. I frequented the public library for monologues and simple scripts to modify. I coached not just my kids, but other children at church and at school how to speak, to move, to sing and experience the Joy of performance. I gave them excerpts from famous speeches; Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Lincoln, King Arthur, Jefferson, JFK and Chief Joseph. The magical poetry of Silverstein, Langston Hughes, Christina Rossetti, Robert Frost, Ogden Nash, Longfellow and Robert Louis Stevenson were assigned as solo, duet, trio or quartet performances. All of it was what I called, “beautiful language”.

The children came to stand under the lights with varying abilities and strengths, fears and preconceived notions about who they were as themselves, and who they were in front of other people. Three even came with absolutely no English language experience. I gave them an excerpt from The Gettysburg Address. They were ¡fantástico!

The kids wore hats, cat’s eye glasses, bow-ties, roman togas, African wraps, knickers, cravats, vests, a paper maché saguaro and a pinned-in bridesmaid dress. They were awesome. I was surprised and thrilled when the following school year several of these students ran up to me and sang out their former lines, word perfect and at 100 decibels just for my benefit.

Always “in the wings”, my own children were my not so secret weapon. Highly convenient and talented, I employed them to spearhead an act, say something in an accent, sing like an opera star going painfully sharp only on the high note (that’s control!) or deliver the black-out punch-line ~ and they did. (L - R = Asia, Leiland, James, Robin ~ comedy Christmas recitation, & me adjusting the mike.)Their natural sense of timing and stage confidence prompted other kids to be more flamboyant. Ready for anything Amazing Joey McKellar added to the Tanner ensemble made for a winning team. ("Rocky Top" bluegrass tune with my new lyrics honoring our Camelback Ward: L-R = Leiland, Asia, Rachel Blakey & the Amazing Joey. I'm behind one of the 5 guitarists on stage with my mouth wide open. That's Larry Johnson on harmonica and Betty Jo behind him.) (3 of the 4 are really feeling it...)

Although, I doubt if anything could ever top 11 year old Asia playing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” on the recorder, through her nose at the GW Ward Talent night. Bishop Dudley Barnum almost had a coronary.

There were some truly great times: David in full Phantom of the Opera garb singing “Music of the Night”, or hosting a ward Karaoke night in Las Vegas lounge-lizard tuxedo cummerbund for “Mack the Knife”, “My Way” and “New York, New York”. Then singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in thrilling harmony with his brother at their "Cruise Ship" ward party. When David wheeled in a Karaoke machine and began “working” the crowd – “Hey! How ‘ya doin’? Tell us where you're from? Lookin’ good! (wink) So nice to be here!” the sheer panic on the face of a sister who loudly blurted, “Isn’t this what they do in BARS?!” was absolutely priceless. Sometimes I feel wistful these things are mostly memories now.

Robin moved on to magnify her gifts in student government leadership, choreographing our Stake production of “Women at the Well”, and pursuing a career in Broadcast Journalism. James used a lot of his skills in Scouts; playing trumpet, directing drill teams for formal flag ceremonies and telling dramatic stories for merit badges or campfire programs. Leiland was the only freshman ever accepted into the Camelback High A-Jazz Band on saxophone and competed in a school-wide Rap contest and won. Asia was the only freshman ever accepted into Arcadia High’s ACE choir and is still singing. And Rachel is unstoppable singing to the car radio to what seems like every song on every station.

After all this ~ and for different reasons ~ none of the kids have been on stage yet in high school or college to the extent I sort of thought they might (other than band, choir or dance), and they certainly were capable of. Robin was a dazzling Glinda in a grade school version of The "Wizard of Oz", and in North High's "Mid-Summer Night's Dream". She and Asia both longed to be in a musical, but either the school wasn’t producing the opportunity or there was a serious interference – like surgery. The play James got a part in was canceled the week it was due to premiere. This was after both boys had given me notice they would not be in any more of my projects. I accepted this, believing they would one day heed the call of the stage.

Sometimes my family teases me about my costume/props closet and my thrift store “treasures”. Sometimes my recommendation for costuming or preparation for something they are doing in class is rejected. They are not interested in all the details. They believe my passion for how the presentation could be presented is unnecessary, the audience undeserving and uninterested. They are usually reluctant to stand out from their peers. On a family level, we rarely sing together anymore. (Robin's wedding reception was a wonderful exception; featuring James , Leiland , Asia & their dad as a little family band). I never did anything really remarkable, it was mostly just small-scale...but you hope your children will love something as much as you do.

Then, a few weeks ago ~ newly married, super focused on school and work 23 year old Leiland casually mentioned he and his wife Chelsey were in their Stake’s production of “Joseph and The Technicolored Dream Coat”. Completely shocked, I gasped, “What part do you play?” He answered, Joseph”. I asked him what the director was like – he said, “Mom, she’s really good. She’s like you on steroids.” Wow. I think that’s a good thing. I mean, I sure hope so.
(that's Chelsey flourishing his coat)

Chelsey & her mother, Kaye

Tuesday, April 22

Anthropological Motherhood Again

Part Three
Raising children and entertaining parasites is a form of negative reciprocity an anthropology course fails to address. It is nonetheless an inescapable issue within the public school system, the undisputed arena for transference and exchange of said “goods”.

It was 1988. Bidee ("Bee-dee") was in 5th grade and well into an illustrious student government career inaugurated two years earlier. James was in Kindergarten the first few weeks of Fall semester at Frank Elementary. The standardized form Robin handed me was appallingly casual as it began: ‘Head lice has been discovered in your child’s classroom...’.

I was a young mother of three living in a double-wide green shag carpet mobile home at the intersection of the I-10 and the Superstition Freeway (across from vacant property destined to become the Arizona Mills Mall). The school was part of the Tempe School District, but located in the heart of Guadalupe; a Mexican-Yaqui Indian town plucked straight out of 3rd world decay surrounded by White, suburban sprawl of population-exploding Tempe. The introduction to blood-sucking vermin and my babies as their human host was not something I was prepared for.

Heart pounding, I had to read the notice twice. Advised to check the children’s scalps and hairbrushes for lice, I rallied myself. I examined each – not knowing what to look for except the clownish illustration of a common louse about the size of a VW. There did not appear to be any danger. I felt hugely relieved. Robin was nervous. James was hungry.

Next, I approached the bathroom – and the hairbrush. Raising it slowly but not too close to my face for a look see – the blonde hairs on the bristles seemed to be moving . . . a generous sprinkling of exultant bugs were swarming like miniature figure skaters across their glistening gossamer rink. Horrified to the core, my scream sounded almost simultaneously as the phone began to ring. A girl in the ward I visit taught had 3 little girls at the same school, all of whom were similarly afflicted. She didn’t have a car, could I come and get her so she could buy the shampoo at the store?

Both of us were much too afraid and definitely too ashamed to step into the store alone and buy the de-lousing products. We were also loathe having any of our children out of our sight for a moment. Incredibly, we squeezed all of us into my tiny 2 door Toyota for the 10 minute trip of a lifetime. Two adult women openly in tears and hyperventilating, clutching buggy children self-sacrificingly close to our bosoms on a mission to Walgreen’s. We knew we were the bravest women on the planet.

Thankfully, Robin’s platinum shoulder-length hair was thin and princess delicate.

James had a typical boy buzz-cut. It was not much trouble to wash and comb and reassure the newly nitless.

I felt sorry for my friend. Nina’s girls all had impossibly ultra thick, fine hair – but naturally curly and cascading in golden, luxurious ringlets renaissance-like clear down to their waists. Their Sunday ribbons, bows, jeweled barrettes and sweet little girl hair styles were the talk of the Ward. I tried not to think about what was happening at their house.

The next time we saw each other, we didn’t speak of the experience at all, not one word. I made sure to compliment her little girls on their cute, new, short hair cuts.

Saturday, April 19

Moe & the Mystery of the Back Porch Day

We are going outside. We are going outside to visit the back porch. See Ellie waiting for us to come out! Oh! She has a new little friend.

See Moe. Funny bird! He is a cocky Cockatiel. He can bite like the dickens. Bad bird! He can shriek all day long. Can you say “insanely annoying”?

Cindi let Moe go 3 times. He always came back - so sad, so sad. This time a cat got him, but Ellie the Hero Dog chased away Mean Mr. Naughty Cat. Moe is hurt, but getting better. He is thankful Ellie came to the rescue. Happy, gimpy bird!

Now we have a confused cross-species relationship that cannot be explained. Moe thinks his bff is a dog. This could be a mystery - if I had not just explained it to you.

Moe thinks he is a doghouse bird.

Moe thinks he is an attack bird. This is the target of a Moe-attack...

watch out!

Mostly he is a hungry bird.

See pretty Skittles. Skittles is happy to be rid of her bossy cage-mate. She lives outside on the back porch, too. But she is not free to poop everywhere like Moe.

See the nasty butt. Tanners do not smoke. Is this the mystery? No! Chinese roofers smoke a lot.

See the pretty petunias. We have not killed them yet...but we will. See the stylish Calla Lillies.

Look! How lovely are the Aloe Vera blooms.

This could also be called a Lazarus plant, because you can’t kill it if you tried.

Here is a blossom from the sweet, purple vine Mrs. Li had the Mexicans hack to pieces.
Ha, ha, Mrs. Li! Everyone knows ~ tyranny cannot long endure.

Here is something very interesting. Is this a mystery?
No! It is a grapefruit tree that has been drilled by something else that is always hungry, like Moe.

Hello, big fat carpenter bee! Ellie tries to eat you, but she’s just kidding.

Here is Ellie’s dead monkey. Sad monkey. It is not a mystery who has killed the monkey. Ellie has been trying to tear his squeaker out. This is an innate canine urge called “must get the squeaker to justify my existence”.

Ellie is justified many times over.

Play dead, Ellie. Play dead, Moe.

Play with your toy, Ellie. Play with the hose, Moe.

Maybe Moe would like to gnaw on the bone Ellie has. Yummy bone.

See the vintage ‘50’s metal porch support cemented into the wall years later. It goes up, up, up. There is nothing at the top! Silly previous homeowners.

Goofy things like this give a home “character”. Our house can out-character your house.

Look! You can see Cindi’s beloved chicken house framed inside the support. The turquoise of the chicken house is the same exact color as what’s left of the paint on the support.

This is the mystery of the Back Porch Day.

Tuesday, April 15


The big day came and went. I didn’t even think about it. Neither did Asia. David did, but he didn’t say anything to anyone. April 6th dawned and then faded away into another anonymous day of the week without fanfare or disturbance.

If I had remembered, I would have looked at the clock at about 3:40PM; 4 years ago Archie Emmanuel Ruiz failed to execute a turn to escape pursuing Phoenix P.D. and rocketed a stolen Silverado pick up truck into a bus stop in excess of 75mph. The police transcript records the police helicopter pilot's description of the aftermath of that shattering impact with dizzying understatement: “...we've got pedestrians down...”.

Page after page of depositions from eye-witnesses expose the chaos much more graphically. Many people we will never meet describe the "young girl" lying in the parking lot on her back with a "massive leg injury", "open to the bone" and "missing pieces of flesh". Asia was wondering why she couldn’t get up off the ground. She asked the anxious faces that peered down at her, “Is this a dream? Is this really happening?”

In varying ways, we have all asked ourselves the same thing ever since. It has been a nightmare of inexplicable proportions to experience the agony of a gravely injured child. We couldn’t have possibly understood what was meant by the initial prognosis – that it would take a minimum of 2 years for her leg to heal. It was a little longer. There was an open wound for almost 3 ½ years. One inspired head hospital trauma surgeon, two miracle “magic man” plastic surgeons who have our love and respect forever, about 10 different pediatric and surgical nurses, one amazing trauma counselor, two angel-sent home-bound school teachers and 14 major surgeries later, Asia is still with us. So is her leg.

After the shock and panic of the first 2 extended hospital stays (about 2 weeks long a month apart), Asia gradually began to accept the give and take of a very protracted surgical calendar with her name on it. Waking her up before dawn on the day of the surgery was the worst. Her little, sleepy face had that confused and blessed blankness for a few seconds, until she remembered what was happening, and where we were going. I would have given anything a hundred times over to be the one snapping on the hospital gown. Robin thought about this aspect of the Atonement winging her way across the continent to be here and join our bedside rotation, and think of fun things to do with Rachel. The whole five 1/2 hours flight she wished it was her leg instead. So did David. But that was not meant to be.

Bravery is only 14, 15, 16 and 17 years old, wearing a hairnet and waiting mostly cheerfully for hours in that special torture known as “pre-op”. It must mean something good that the infamous date innocently slipped away from us this year, totally unacknowledged by us all.