Monday, February 08, 2016

Meet a M.O.M.: The Undaunted Cheryl Savage

I'm excited to introduce you today to my friend Cheryl for this M.O.M. interview.  She and I met back when I had just three little ones and I was trying to fit in exercise with everything else that goes along with having three kids in three years.  Her cousin taught a free aerobics class at a Church building near my house, where we took turns taking care of each other's children and sweating it out.  In the years since, she and I have been great friends, even as we have both added to our families and she has moved her family from Utah to both coasts and is now in the process of moving to the mid-West.  

Tell us about yourself and your family. Where are you from, where did you meet your husband, what did you do before kids? 

My name is Cheryl S. Savage and I was born and raised in southeastern Idaho. I met my husband, Brandon, while working on campus at BYU the summer after my freshman year. He had just returned from serving a mission to Australia and decided to go back to school in the summer instead of waiting for fall. It’s a good thing! We met in May of 1998 and were married in January of 1999. We both graduated from BYU in April 2001 –six days after I gave birth to our first baby, a little girl! I majored in Marriage, Family, and Human Development and minored in music –which has blessed my life continuously. One of the happiest memories we have as newlyweds are when we worked two summers in a row at BYU’s Aspen Grove Family Camp! It was so much fun.

Tell us about your kids. What are their ages and genders? What led you to have a large family? Do you think your family is complete?

We have seven sensational Savages! We had two girls, then four boys, and then a girl on the end. Their ages right now (but will change with birthdays during the next few months) are: 14, 12, 11, 8, 6, 3, and 11 months. What led us to have a large family? Honestly, when we were dating, we were both eager to have a lot of kids. We didn’t have a set number, although I do remember thinking it would be nice to have 8 or 9 kids. Brandon is the oldest of three and I am the oldest of four, so it definitely didn’t come from tradition! I do remember one incidence, however, that will always remain a turning point in our family. We had two girls and two boys; our youngest was just about a year old. Life was comfortable and everyone around us assumed we were finished having children because we had the perfect number and equality in gender. I remember telling Brandon that we needed to ask God if our family was complete, because it felt really easy and comfortable at that point! But I wanted to make sure we included God in our decision. I had always been taught that the decisions to have children (when, how many) was between the husband, the wife, and the Lord –and I wanted to make sure that when we made our choice, it was because the Lord wanted it for us, too, not just because it was what we wanted for ourselves. He needed to be a part of it! So, we both went to the temple and prayed about it, and we both had a distinct impression that we would have more children (not just one!). Since then, we’ve just taken it one at a time, always seeking Heavenly counsel with our decision. Is our family complete? Truthfully, we aren’t quite sure, yet.

Tell us about your faith and how that has influenced your life and family decisions.

If it wasn’t for my faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, I don’t think I would have had more than a few children. In fact, I doubt I would have married as soon as I did, either. I wouldn’t have attended the university I attended, too! I probably wouldn’t have met Brandon at all. So, I would say that it has influenced every facet of my life and in every possible way. Every big decision in my life has been made after seeking God’s will. From where to live, what to study, how many kids to have, when to have those children, the friends I have, the choice I made to stay at home to raise our children, the way we raise our children –everything comes back to my faith and testimony in the gospel. I’ve seen close family and friends who do not believe as I do (and that’s okay), and I imagine my life would be a lot more like theirs. It would have probably meant a cleaner house! Haha!

I admire your blog and your openness about your struggles with mental illness. Can you tell us a bit about your journey, healing and what you’ve learned from your health struggles? 

I think that my health struggles have been one of the best educations I could have received. I have chronic asthma and I’ve been diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety. Luckily, both of those things are under control! But for a long time, I never really knew what was wrong with me. It started as basic post-partum depression, but I didn’t realize what was happening until after my fourth child. Since then (about 9 years), I have worked really hard to overcome my mental challenges. I once wrote a blog post about how grateful I was to have depression (I’ll link to it at the bottom). People think that’s weird, but I realized if it wasn’t depression, what would it be? Trials are here to strengthen us and teach us things we could never understand otherwise. My depression has taught me how to slow down, be patient, be grateful, and ask for help. Currently, I’ve been able to see the same psychiatrist and therapist for 2 years. The consistency in medication and therapy has meant an incredible increase in how I’m able to cope!

What do you consider the most difficult aspects of having a large family? 

 Aside from the laundry (seriously, so much laundry!), I would have to say just being personally available to my kids for conversations when they want them to happen. There are other things, too, such as not being as involved in volunteering at their schools because I have little ones at home, or the cost of doing things. Keeping track of what everyone needs, too, can be daunting at times. Oh, and the grocery bill is high!

What do you do to get through the tough days?

Usually I will just declare a day off. That means I’m not allowed to feel guilty for not cleaning, making frozen pizza, and letting the kids watch TV. But on days when that doesn’t happen, I do better when I can read my scriptures, take the time to pray, drink some herbal tea, read a book, cuddle with my kids, phone a friend, or hang out on Facebook. ;)

What do you cherish most about your life? 

Oh, that’s easy! My husband and children, of course! And I would also include the gospel of Jesus Christ, which strengthens us and protects us from the evils in the world. I love those moments when we’re all together and we’re not arguing or yelling, but just laughing and laughing and laughing…

How do you and your husband keep your marriage strong? 

We go to bed together at the same time. We go on weekly dates (usually just dinner and we talk for hours). We go away together overnight at least once a year. We text each other throughout the day. We sit by each other at the dinner table, during family scriptures, in church (when he’s not on the stand, like he has been the last few years –he’s in the Bishopric of our ward), and whenever there are family events. We always say, “I love you” and kiss each other hello and goodbye. We hold hands a lot, too! One big thing we do is we forgive each other. We argue and disagree as much as any other married couple, for sure, but we’re getting so much better at apologizing and forgiving. And I think that’s the key –forgiving each other quickly.

What are the essential routines that help keep your life and family running? Can you give us a peek into what a typical day for you is like? 

I think the beginning and endings of days are the most essential. We start early and we try to get to bed early, too. Right now my husband is traveling for work, and so he’s not here during the school week (it will change soon!), so I’m up at 5:45 to drive our oldest to early morning seminary. I’m back by 6:10AM and that’s when I read my scriptures before I wake the kids up at 6:30AM for family scriptures and family prayer. I help get the kids ready for school; middle schoolers leave at 7:20AM and elementary kids leave at 8AM. Then it’s the 3 year old and the baby with me for the day! Cleaning, shopping, playing games (Memory is his favorite right now), blogging, reading, Facebook, phone calls, more cleaning, etc. –and then the kids start coming home at 2:45PM. From then until bedtime it’s pretty chaotic! Homework, chores, dinner, activities, friends, and then bedtime... Bedtime is simple, but it works. Everyone gets ready for bed and then we have family prayer. I tuck the boys in and say goodnight to the girls (they stay up later in their room), and then the baby and I go to bed –I nurse while I read. If Brandon is home, we’ll watch TV or just talk.

What tips do you have for managing a large family? 

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Like, ever. It’s something that has taken me a long time to realize, and it’s made me a lot happier! A clean house is nice, but not essential. It’s more important to teach the kids how to work together, pick up after themselves, and that means the house is a constant work in progress. Letting go of my unrealistic expectations for the type of cleanliness I had envisioned was very freeing, that’s for sure! Another thing I would suggest is to stay on top of laundry and organizing their clothing. I’m not always good at this, but holy cow, if you can do it, do! One other thing –have the older kids help out with the younger kids. I don’t mean for them to replace mom and dad, I mean for them to learn how to change diapers, feed toddlers, play games, and just enjoy their siblings.

Each family has its own personality and a lot of that has to do with traditions and the many different ways we find to spend time together. What is your family’s personality like? What do you enjoy doing together?

Well, we’re a bunch of nerds, first! We love to watch Star Trek and Star Wars, and truthfully, we love to watch shows and movies together a lot. We also enjoy playing games (card games and board games). We like museums, hiking, trivia, and being lazy on holidays. We really enjoy camping together and taking trips together. In fact, this past summer, we drove from our home in Pennsylvania out west to Utah/Idaho/Alberta to visit family and friends for a month and then we drove back. We camped along the way and saw some pretty amazing things! People probably thought we were strange, what with our 12-passenger van hauling a big utility trailer, pulling into KOA’s to set up the tent at 9PM every night… We had so much fun!

What activities are your kids involved in? How do you handle the logistics of getting everyone where they need to be in the course of a week? How do you decide what activities are worth your family’s time?

Honestly, our kids aren’t involved in many activities that are outside of school and church. Moving here to Pennsylvania and coupled with our personal (religious) agreement not to participate in certain activities on the Sabbath means our kids don’t do very much. The most we have are after-school drama rehearsals or student council meetings. Cello lessons are actually during the day at school, and they are not currently in piano lessons (even though I was a piano teacher for a decade!). So for us, it’s easy! For about a year, I felt I was depriving our children because they weren’t doing as many of the activities they were doing when we lived in Utah, but then I realized that I didn’t do anything outside of piano lessons as a child, and I had a very happy life. If one of our kids came to us and begged us to be in something, we’d definitely re-think it, but so far, so good.

How do you find balance in your life? How have you fit in the time for your own personal development?

I’ve been better at this in the past, but I do it by going to Book Club, weekly date nights, playgroup, taking the time to read books, write, play the piano, and for years I would get up early and exercise. I also believe in encouraging my kids to have some independence –they don’t need me to entertain them every minute of the day, eh?

Besides the scriptures, what books have had a great influence on your life and your parenting?

That’s a really hard question because I read voraciously. Poetry, historical fiction, memoirs, etc. I really love to read! I don’t remember where I learned everything in regards to my parenting, but I do know that Jane Austen changed my life personally. That sounds cliché, but it’s true. But I think the books that have influenced my mothering have been books about parents who have faced really hard situations and still chose selfless love. “Mrs. Mike” by the Freedmans, “A Lantern in Her Hand” by Bess Streeter Aldrich, and “These Is My Words” by Nancy E. Turner are some of those.

If you could go back in time and whisper encouragement to yourself at a younger age and stage of life, what would you say?

I would tell myself that it works out. Stay close to God, and everything will work out! And it always will.

What are some of your favorite posts from your blog?

My Personal Journey and Epiphany With Motherhood

Don't they Know How Gross They Look

In Which I Spoke to Women about Womanhood and Motherhood (Note from Christina:  I got to be there when she gave this presentation.  It is WELL worth your time to read!)


Thanks so much for letting us get to know you better, Cheryl!

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