Another year. Wow. Where did it go? Jason and I keep staring absently at the calendar. Sometimes I catch him mouthing the words as he counts how many days of 2008 we have left. He looks incredulous. And I have to wonder how many times he's caught me doing the exact same thing.
When I was a child, and time couldn't pass fast enough, and 2 weeks until Christmas might as well have been 2 centuries, my dad would sit me down and give me some story about time passing faster when you're an adult. He would say something like: "Soon, when you're all grown up, you'll look back on your life and wonder where it all went." I was pretty sure he was full of it. After all - this was the man who told me he had to walk to school in the snow, barefoot, and going uphill both ways. The man who said he didn't NEED fancy toys when he was a kid...just rocks and sticks. The man who claimed to have super-sensory hearing and eyes in the back of his head. I knew he was telling stories...hadn't I sneaked into his room the other night while he was sleeping and looked CAREFULLY at the back of his head for extra eyes? They weren't there...I was sure of it. So I figured this yarn about time speeding up was another one of his tall tales. And I took up a vigilant post by the calendar to wait for the days to crawl by. Funny...I'm still in front of the calendar...but I'm not bored. I'm completely panicked.
My gosh...he was RIGHT. And I'd been to his hometown...and it WAS pretty cold and hilly, and there WERE a lot of sticks and rocks. So...does that mean he really DOES have eyes...no, no, no...I'm pretty sure that one is still untrue. I think. I hope.
I wasn't going to write a letter this year. It costs too much to print and send...and you all know that I can't write a short, sweet note. I'm a writer...and I write essays. I have yet to compose a Christmas letter shorter than 3 pages. I try...I REALLY do...but I CAN'T!!! I figured everyone hated my letters anyway - hardly anyone has time to sit down and READ anymore - and I always got a lot of complaints: "Do they have to be so LONG?!?!" So I figured one year off wouldn't kill anyone...they might even be grateful!! But, as my Christmas cards have reached their destinations...letter-less...I have gotten MORE complaints. Accusatory e-mails, concerned phone calls, all asking: "Where's your Christmas letter?". My goodness people - MAKE UP YOUR MINDS!!!! I've already SENT my cards, and it's too late to mail a letter separately, so, although I am ardently opposed to e-mail holiday greetings...this is the best I can do. Please forward it to anyone who might not be on my e-mail list, but who would still like to read about the exploits of the Johnson family. And I promise not to skip a letter again...no matter how much you groan. You're just going to have to suffer. Just tell yourself that I wouldn't punish you all so if I didn't love you. That's another story my dad used to tell me...and I think he wasn't lying about that one, either...
Contrary to plans, the Johnson's DID NOT return to the West over the summer. We tried. We REALLY tried. But the economy and job market and a host of other reasons prevented us from coming home. We miss you all so much, and wish we weren't so far away...but the Lord's plans and ours don't appear to be the same. This isn't actually a new phenomenon for us, and we're learning to just go with the flow. So, we are enjoying paradise longer than expected. To be truthful, it is nice to not have to up-and-relocate again this year. We have spent Christmas in a different state for the past 4 years...it is a very peaceful feeling to have our second Christmas here in Florida. We have made friends that we're not ready to leave, and who, apparently, aren't ready to let us go. The kids are established in school and had friends to return to in the fall. All these things had become luxuries the past few years...luxuries we weren't privy to as we tromped around the country. Although this is not where we ultimately wanted to put down roots, it is where we have found ourselves planted. And as you all know, I'm a "Bloom Where You're Planted" kinda gal.
And now - on to family updates...
Kaitlyn is 14!! 14!! 14!! (Do I need to say it again?) Can you believe that? She is a freshman attending Miramar High, where she was accepted into the International Baccalaureate Program. It has been a bit of a bumpy start, as her professors treat her (and all the students) as college-bound. There is no slacking...no extra credit...no messing around whatsoever without severe consequences. Kaitlyn is pretty used to getting by with minimal effort, and applying herself has been a challenge. Her teachers could care less that she is smart...ALL their pupils are smart. They only care about dedication...and Kaitlyn has had to develop some. Her first semester grades were disappointing...she was shocked that she couldn't get by on charm. So its been a character-building experience, and I can see a marked improvement in her focus this next quarter. She still has a way to go - but I believe she will ultimately be successful, though a little bruised, by time she graduates. She still LOVES to read, and I still struggle keeping her in books. She loves music and is discovering a new passion...photography. She was able to visit Washington D.C, in the Spring as part of eighth grade graduation, and enjoyed the trip. She is eager to try new travel opportunities, such as being an exchange student, and has decided she wants to pursue acceptance at Cambridge University in the U.K. I've started teaching her to drive. She has almost mastered the church parking lot. She has made lots of friends, enjoys church, tolerates early-morning seminary, and babysits as much as she can to buy herself the things she wants. She serves as the first counselor in the Mia Maid Presidency at church. She's a good girl...learning to be whoever she will be. Although the teenage transition can be painful, awkward, and confusing, I can occasionally get glimpses of the amazing woman she is turning into...and I'm filled with surprise and wonder at the metamorphosis. Can this really be my little girl? Like a rocket to the future, it's both terrifying and exhilarating to watch.
Joseph is growing like weed - I cannot keep that boy in clothes or shoes. I actually had a breakdown in Payless as I shopped for his back-to-school tennis shoes and discovered that he had graduated into the Men's section. I stood there, blubbering over the size 6 shoes, while Jason and Joseph looked at me with incredulation and humor. To Jason, its a rite of passage. He was proud. To me, its akin to a funeral...my little boy...my buddy...crossing into manhood. He already reaches to my chin and scoffs at my kisses in front of his friends. If it weren't for his tender good-night assertions that he loves me, I might not be able to go on.
Joseph is growing in other ways, as well. In the past, he has always been teased at school...his speech delay and other learning differences set him apart, and we all know how kids treat other kids who are different. He had a hard time making friends. In April, both he and Kaitlyn got glasses, and I was certain that that would just increase the attacks against him. But, on the first day of fifth grade, he signed up to run for Vice President of the student body. Although he didn't win the election, he was diligent in making posters and gave a speech in front of the whole school. Then he signed up for an after-school sports program run by the local law enforcement. He was always picked last for the teams, but he kept going and tried hard. Today is the final game of the season, and he was actually chosen to play, and is so very excited to have us come and watch him. He joined a Beginning Strings Orchestra that meets at 7:30 in the morning, and rides his bike to school all alone in the mornings so he can learn to play cello. He also joined an after-school Environmental Club, and remains very active as a Webelo Scout in his Cub Scout pack. He is well on his way to earning his Arrow of Light Award. I am SO proud of him...he is such a special kid. He has been so brave this year, and I've seen his self-confidence increase. He has many friends at school and church now. And he is still a hard-worker...diligently plugging away at the things that are hard for him...like reading and writing. I cannot believe that next year, when I write this letter, he will be in Middle School. Looking at him is like staring into the sun...it's beautiful and painful all at once.
Savannah is now in third grade, and has Josephs teacher from last year (she moved down a grade). She LOVES school, and wants to be the best in everything. She loves to read, and loves to study. She LOVES seeing those "A"'s on top of her papers. She has to work especially hard at math and spelling, but she puts in the time, and recognizes the feeling of accomplishment when she succeeds. She's always so sweet and sunny - still a big helper at home and at school, and a champion of all that's good. Savannah had a BIG birthday this year...she turned eight, and as is our religions' belief, she was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It was a VERY special day for all of us, made even more so by my parents flying out from Utah to be there.
Savannah loves to sing and dance, and is one of my strongest voices in Primary, where I still serve as the chorister. She joined an after-school Drama Club, and loves to practice the songs and plays in mini-performances she puts on for us. She has taken to writing little plays that she tries (sometimes with success) to get her brothers and sisters to star in. She loves attending Achievement Days, now that she's eight, and is active in her Brownie troop. This year she was able to go to Girl Scout Day Camp, the Renaissance Fair, and will be attending a ballet of Cinderella this Saturday with Girl Scouts, and she loves the camaraderie of girls her own age. She loves anything that is girly and fun. She still loves to craft, and I often find beautiful cards and notes on top of my pillow from a "Secret Admirer". She always knows how to brighten my day. Everywhere we go, if we bump into a classmate, boy or girl, they rush up and hug her and talk to her...always so excited to see her, so I know she's quite popular in school. My guess is because she's just so nice. If it were possible for a child to be made entirely of sunshine and rainbows, Savannah would embody that child.
Brigham started first grade this year. He really loves school - he keeps himself very busy. In kindergarten, he discovered that he loved centers - and was delighted to find that he would still be able to continue with centers in first grade. His teacher says he is never a problem.
"Now, wait one minute!!" I can hear you say. "Brigham has ALWAYS been the trouble-maker!! Mr. Mischievous!! Brigham Dennis the Menace!! What happened to all the great Brigham stories?"
Don't worry...I don't aim to disappoint. Now, let me make myself clear on something...Brigham IS mischievous, and fiercely independent, and apt to disobey. But he is also extremely tender...he is always the first one to crawl into my lap for a " 'nuggle", and he is loving and tender with animals. He wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up, and spends long hours in his room with all the stuffed animals lined up on his bed, teaching them all how to read. Sometimes I sit in the doorway and peek around the corner to spy on him, and I watch him help his cheetah sound-out a particularly challenging word, or discipline a naughty froggie who isn't listening, or hug a great German Shepherd who feels frustrated. It's amazing and inspiring.
But this summer, we discovered a new character trait of Brighams'. Jason took it upon himself to teach the kids to swim and play the piano this summer. All the kids did beautifully...Joseph really excelled at swimming, his strokes are beautiful. Savannah is especially good at piano, mostly because she REALLY likes to practice. Part of the swimming lessons was practicing holding your breath under water...and the kids would have competitions to see who could get from one side of the pool to the other without a breath. Now - this isn't an average pool...it's a HUGE pool for our entire community, and NONE of the kids could get all the way across without a breath. But every time they tried, they'd advance an inch or so, and we'd all applaud their efforts.
Well - one day Joseph and Brigham were playing the game to see who could go farthest, and Brigahm made it halfway. Then Joseph went and made it about a foot further. Not to be outdone, Brigham tried again and barely inched past Joseph. Joseph asked me to try, so I did - and I passed both Joseph and Brigham by a good two feet, but I was REALLY winded. At the other end of the pool, Jason was working with Nicolette on diving to the bottom of the pool for rings, and I got distracted watching them, and didn't notice Brigham get out of the pool, or jump back in and start swimming across. It wasn't until Joseph yelled: "Mom, look at Brigham!!" that I saw him passing me.
The amazing thing was...he's not a GREAT swimmer yet, so he kinda swims a doggie paddle under water. And I could tell that his WHOLE BODY was fighting for air...his survival instinct had kicked in and was trying to FORCE him up to the surface. But through sheer will he managed to repress the involuntary instincts of his body and stay under and paddled, and we all started screaming and chanting his name...and wouldn't you know that little bugger made it ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE POOL...a length of almost 50 feet...without a breath?!?! When he reached the wall, he popped up, climbed out, threw his goggles on the ground, and collapsed in a chair. I was screaming, "Brigham, are you all right?! Brigham!!", but he didn't answer. He just sat there, breathing. Jason ran to him and I could see Brigham closing his eyes and shaking his head, and after a while, with Jason kneeling in front of him and coaching him to breathe, I finally saw his skin turn brown (I hadn't realized how pale and blue he was until his color returned) and he smiled. He finally spoke and said he didn't want to swim anymore, and Jason got up and came over to the edge of the pool where I was holding on, using every ounce of my strength to restrain myself from leaping out and rushing over to him to perform CPR. Jason looked at me with HUGE eyes and a smile that was a cross between respect and shock and said: "I don't know how many brain cells he just killed by oxygen deprivation, but that is one seriously competitive kid we've got."
Nicolette is four years old, but because of a late birthday, she won't go to preschool until next year. That makes her my only little at home during the day, and we spend a lot of time together. She helps me with chores, and we read books and have tea parties and play with My Little Ponies. On Thursdays we attend a Play Group at the park. She doesn't like her hair brushed, and her legs are usually covered in bruises. She loves it when "her kids" come home from school, and can't wait to join this exclusive club of "School". Never one to be outdone by bigger brothers and sisters, she ditched the floaties this year and INSISTED that she be taught to swim. By the end of summer, she could swim half the length of the pool (doggie paddle), and dive to a depth of 6 feet to retrieve rings from the bottom of the pool. She has been learning piano and her name and coloring in the lines, but she seems to care less about form and more about just doing it "herself"...she constantly asks how many more birthdays she has until she can do the grown-up things..."Momma, how many more birthdays until I go to school?" "How many more birthdays until I'm baptized?", "Can I go to my friends house on my bike when I'm this many?". Once, I told her that soon she'd have so many birthdays and be so grown up, that she'd move away and live somewhere else and I would be all alone. She looked at me a second, and her bottom lip started to pout, and her eyes filled with tears. She put her arm through mine and looked up at me and said: "But mommy, I promise to visit you!!" *Sigh* I'm sure it won't be often enough.
Nicolette loves puzzles and coloring and especially painting. We were given a big trampoline in the spring, and all the kids LOVE jumping on it, but she loves to go out and lay on it and stare at the sky and talk to herself. She loves to play dress-up, and often decides to spend her entire day in character. I often have to run errands with a ballerina, or a princess, or a cat, or a pirate in my shopping cart instead of my little girl. With her constantly messy hair, dirty face, and bruised and battered knees, there isn't much that even a Princess dress can do - but she FEELS Princess-y, even if I think she looks like Ragamuffin Royalty. She wishes for nothing more to grow up and be JUST like Savannah and Kaitlyn, and I'm glad she has two big sisters who love her and are patient with her.
Jason is still the GM of The Grand Lux Cafe, and still working crazy hours. He was recently released as Elders Quorum President in our ward, but asked to serve as the First Counselor in the Young Men's Presidency...so there's no relief there! He is still learning to wake board, and loves all things beachy. He spent another summer snorkeling with the kids and getting a tan, on top of teaching them to be better swimmers and play the piano. He goes to the gym as much as possible...it is still his best way to relieve stress.
I am at home with my Nicolette during the day. I'm not volunteering as much at the school this year, but still working hard in my Primary calling. I also help out with Joseph's Cub Scout troop and am the troop leader for Savannahs' Brownie troop. A couple weekends ago I had the pleasure of going with Joseph AND Savannah on a 14-mile hike. While many of the boys in Josephs pack complained, Joseph and Savannah were excellent...in fact, Savannah never complained ONCE. It was a lot of fun.
My mom and dad were able to visit us in Florida twice this year...once in April and once in August for Savannahs' baptism. We miss them so much. Jasons' mom was also able to visit in January, and surprised us with a day-trip to Orlando to go to Disney's Animal Kingdom. The kids were THRILLED, and we had a great time, although the weather did not cooperate for the rest of her trip. We try to keep in touch with everyone through phone, mail, e-mails, and blogs as much as possible.
We hope that you have all had as wonderful a year as we have had, and are just as excited about 2009!! We hope you're happy, healthy, and filled with the magic of Christmas this season. Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers as we've barrelled through this year, with it's many ups and downs. We're so lucky to have so many good people in our lives.
God Bless You and Merry Christmas...Shannan, Jason, Kaitlyn, Joseph, Savannah, Brigham, and Nicolette
We're on the web!! See www.thejohnsonsjungle.blogspot.com