I'm sure that most of you are completely burned out from all of the year-in-review letters and Christmas cards that you've received over the past couple of months, but for the sake of posterity and the people out there who are actually interested in hearing how the Todd and Betty Mack clan is doing, here you go!
In some ways it feels like an eternity ago, and in other ways it feels like yesterday, but 2013 was a huge year for our family. After slogging through the academic job search and a number of close calls, I was offered a great job as a professor of Spanish language, literature, and culture at Southern Utah University in Cedar City. Honestly, as I look back on 2013, that's pretty much all I remember. There were loads of stress throughout the year as several jobs looked promising and then failed to pan out, then the late-summer offer at SUU, the move in August, and the blur of my first semester on the job.
2014 has been an absolutely miraculous year for our family. As many of you know, in 2012 our two oldest kids, Kimball and Anahí were diagnosed with autism. Since then we have worried and prayed and worked to find the best ways to help them to be happy. Early in 2014, just as we were starting to home school our kids, we decided to look into the Brain Balance program, and in March we took the plunge. Brain Balance is an amazing program that empowers parents as they implement a simple but very effective program based on exercise, a very healthy diet, and removal of electronic screens from the lives of our kids. From spring to late fall we ate, breathed, and slept the program, and the kids have made amazing progress. They are better able to focus, they are progressing in school, they are learning to make friends, and their bodies and minds are getting stronger every day. They are still our sweet Kimball and Anahí -- a bit quirky at times -- but they are enjoying life more because of the program.
As we were getting started with Brain Balance, I decided to create this blog as a way to share information about what we were learning and the way the kids were progressing, as well as a way to raise funds to pay for the very expensive program. Our family and friends have pitched in to contribute over $11,000 this year to help our cause. It's humbling and gratifying to receive such an outpouring of love.
You can read all about the Brain Balance program and Kimball and Anahí's progress throughout this blog. Here are some quick updates on each of us.
As I mentioned above, I am grateful for my job at SUU. My colleagues are awesome, as are the students I work with. I love being at a smaller school because I feel like I am already making significant contributions to the institution. Along with starting this blog in 2014, I also spent a lot of time working on my professional website at toddkmack.com. At the end of last year I started my newest project, a podcast called The Protagonist where each week I sit down with my brilliant friend Joe Darowski to talk about a great character in a great story.
During 2014 I served as the Young Men's President in our Spanish branch (congregation) of the LDS church, but just last Monday I was set apart as the branch president of that unit. (A branch president is similar to an LDS bishop, the difference being that a bishop presides over a ward while a branch presides over a smaller unit called a branch -- our branch has about 200 members and covers all of Cedar City and the surrounding towns about 30 minutes in each direction.)
While my life has been complicated and my time is spent in diverse projects, Betty's life is relatively simple (not to be confused with easy). Simply put, Betty has poured as much blood, sweat, and tears into helping our children over the course of this year than many parents do in a lifetime. She has become a fearless advocate for our kids, an excellent coach and tutor, and a nutrition guru. She also logged thousands of miles driving back and forth between Cedar City and St. George as she ferried the kids to and from exercise sessions at Brain Balance. She is truly a remarkable woman and deserves every ounce of praise a husband could heap on his wife. She has been tenacious in her work with our kids, and it has blessed every person in our family -- not just Kimball and Anahí. We don't have a perfect family, and Betty is not a perfect woman, but I am so grateful for the amazing work she has done to bless our lives.
Kimball (8 years old)
Kimball is currently in third grade at East Elementary School, where he is enrolled in the dual-immersion program. He does half of the day in Spanish and half in English, and he is doing really well -- especially in reading. He loves to sing, and he does it well. He also has a freakishly good memory for freeway exit numbers and primary songbook and hymn numbers. The highlight of Kimball's year was when he got baptized in March. He also loves participating in Cub Scouts.
Anahí (6 years old)
Anahí is now officially doing kindergarten after her redshirt year last year. Because of the hard work she put in at Brain Balance, things are really going well this time around. She loves books, and is already reading quite well. She also loves all things Frozen, and riding on the new bike she got for Christmas. She is very loving and is the snuggliest of all of our kids.
Alicia (5 years old)
This little lady is pretty great as well. She is smart and funny and articulate. One friend told us a few months ago that she feels like Alicia is "an old soul." That's a great description. I just forget how young she really is when we start to have conversations -- nobody is as good at it in our family as Alicia. She is really looking forward to starting school this fall. They won't know what hit them.
Ian (2 years old)
For a while we thought Ian might never talk. Let's just say that is no longer a concern. The last quarter of 2014 saw him really come into his own. He actually enjoys going to nursery at church now, and he jabbers and jabbers all day long. He received some Spiderman boots and jammies for Christmas, and now he is obsessed with all things Spidey. I took him to DI the other day to find some Spiderman t-shirts because he was battling us every morning to wear his jammies all day long. Perhaps Ian's best friend in our family is ...
Buffy (1 year)
This year we got a new addition to our clan -- Buffy the dog. I'm still not entirely sure how the question "Dad, can we get a turtle?" turns into the next morning me telling the kids that we are going to get a dog, but I'm pretty sure it was a preemptive strike made in hopes that I will never come home to a random gifted pet. But we love Buffy. She is big and she has energy, but she is moving out of puppy stage and is Anahí's only rival for cuddliest member of the family. She has helped all of our kids overcome a pretty debilitating animal anxiety, and in the evenings she helps Betty and me to relax. I never knew having a dog would be so much work, but she is part of our family now.
So there you have it. It has been a wild couple of years, but through it all we have been grateful for dear friends and loving family, and especially for a loving Savior and a Heavenly Father who has never once left us comfortless or hopeless. He is our guiding star, and the light of our lives.