Saturday, December 15, 2018

Genderbred Houses

My 14-year old daughter invited friends over tonight to make gingerbread houses. She's our oldest child, and it was the first time she has hosted both boys and girls. After everyone left and my husband and I were scraping up piles of candy and frosting, we invented a new Christmas game I thought you might enjoy.

It's called "Girl or Boy?"

To play, all you have to do is identify the gender of the following gingerbread house architects -

1. Girl or Boy? 

2. Girl or Boy? 

3. Girl or Boy?

4. Girl or Boy?

5. Girl or Boy? 

6. Girl or Boy?

7. Girl or Boy?

8. Girl or Boy? 

9. Girl or Boy? 

10. Girl or Boy?

* All answers were confirmed by the hostess 
1. Girl
2. Boy
3. Girl
4. Boy
5. Girl 
6. Boy
7. Girl
8. Boy
9. Girl
10. Boy 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Presence of Presents

Every December, when Christmas shopping becomes the default topic of conversation among moms at class parties and playdate pickups, I find myself apologizing, in one form or another, for the number of presents I plan to buy my kids. 

Usually it's the moment someone declares their adherence to the 'Four Gift Rule' - Something their kids want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read, and I hesitate to admit that I follow more of a "Four (hundred) Gift Rule," which includes something they certainly don't need, something they already have several of, something outside the budget, something Jack tried to talk me out of, etc. 

But this year, I've turned over a new holly leaf. This year I'm coming clean with the fact that I spoil my kids on Christmas, and won't let anyone bah humbug me about it. 

Now, if the four gift rule works for your family, I applaud you. I like that it's simple, budget-friendly, and sets clear expectations. If limiting your number of purchases decreases your stress level or makes you feel like you're gleaning more from season, by all means! Just please don't assume that the ever-growing stack of Amazon packages on my doorstep in December, on the other hand, mean that we've lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas.

Both Jack and I grew up in hard working, middle class families. We had parents who were disciplined, self-sacrificing, and taught us all about charity, gratitude, and delayed gratification.  But when Christmas came, all bets were off. Every December, my mom stopped at nothing to make our house look, smell, taste and feel like magic, and piled so many presents under the tree they climbed halfway to the star. The year Cabbage Patch Dolls were sold out across America? My sisters and I opened NINE OF THEM, collectively. Jack also remembers all his dreams coming true on Christmas morning, and we both recall fondly the thrill of being unable to sleep the night before, and the giddy anticipation of lining up in the morning, youngest to oldest, waiting for Dad to return from his scouting mission and declare that Santa had come. And boy, had he. 

Doing the same for our kids allows us to relive a bit of our own childhood through their eyes.  Because let's be honest, being an adult is hard. With age come burdens, worries and responsibilities that evolve, but never leave you. Childhood is the one and only shot we are given in life, and it is such a quick one, to experience pure, unadulterated wonder. If you're lucky enough to have such a childhood, the magic of those memories can sustain you well into adulthood. Go big I say, as there will be plenty of opportunities later to learn about deprivation.  

I believe that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ, and of everything that entails - forgiveness, salvation, love, and service. I also don't think that any of those gifts can be negated by one morning of being buried in wrapping paper. Must there be a linear relationship between how minimalist we are, and how well we're teaching our kids about charity? 

So when I hear it suggested that Christmas gifts be kept to a minimum to avoid raising spoiled or materialistic children, I always wonder why that lesson has to be taught on December 25th? I spend 364 days a year saying no to my kids. I say no at the grocery store. I say no at Target. I say no when they beg for the same toy their friend has. They do extra chores to earn privileges, save for their own purchases, participate in charitable causes, and offer daily prayers of gratitude. Surely our collective efforts to raise hard-working, generous humans build a foundation that can't jeopardized by a single morning of indulgence. 

At least, I sure hope that's the case. Because of all the hats I wear as a mother, Santa's is my favorite. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

November 1st

November 1st is my dad's birthday.  For years after he passed I would try to come up with creative ways to make the day feel happy, but always fell a little short.

And then ten years ago, on November 1st, this boy was born, and every November 1st since has been so effortlessly happy that I refuse to believe it was a coincidence.

Happy Birthday James, and Calvin James.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Priority Four

When my kids were all small I knew that reading to them was essential, but struggled to fit it into our exhausting days. One night I was feeling determined, so I gathered them up and announced that we had four priorities to accomplish before bed. We said a prayer, read scriptures, wrote in their journals, and I read aloud to them from a chapter book.

That night, without intending, the phrase "Priority Four" stuck, and years later it is still how we refer to our evening routine.  On any given night in our house you can hear someone say, "Is it time for priority four?" "Can I have ice cream after priority four?" "Eddie, you have to wear clothes to priority four," etc.

It's one of those things we say automatically, without thinking about it. Although lately, I've been thinking about it.

Because here's the thing - I'm a morning person, and one of the downsides to being a morning person is that you are not a night person. Ask me to mop the floors and finish a school project at 5:00 am and I'll do it while singing Disney songs.  But ask me to get the kids a drink of water after 8:00 pm and I'll flatly refuse while muttering to myself that I never liked you and you're ruining my life.

So when they ask me to read in the evening, when my patience and motivation have depleted, my impulse is to decline in favor of a bath, ice cream and Ross Poldark. But, hearing them request that I attend to a "priority" on the other hand, puts alternatives in their proper place.

Deepak Chopra has said that "language creates reality," and I think maybe this is what he meant. The word priority is defined as "highest in importance," and when I hear it my brain seems to respond by moving it to the front of its queue.

Priority four has evolved over the years, and can change from day to day. Sometimes we skip the journaling, or watch a YouTube clip instead of reading a book, and some nights all we can pull of is priority one or two.

But we persist in doing it, and referring to it as priority four, because if there is anything in life "higher in importance" then gathering children (and now a tween, and a teenager) with their family to learn or read or pray or talk, I have yet to discover what it is.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Vote Mitchell

I received my absentee ballot this week, and wondered which is a more exciting mailbox discovery - Christmas cards when I'm missing faraway friends and family, or an absentee ballot when politics has had me banging my head against the wall.

It's a midterm election of course, which is when voter turnout typically falls, but by all accounts this one is gearing up to be the exception. A record number of new voters registered last month on National Voter Registration Day, there are a record number of women on the ballot, unprecedented amount of money being spent on campaigns, and Kanye West has been sporting his Make America Great Again hat way more times than anyone expected.

It seems unlikely to me that many, if any, voters who also opened absentee ballots this week are undecided. Whether driven by feelings about immigration, the Trump administration, or handling of the Kavanaugh confirmation, I personally don't know anyone in the political center at this point, or looking to be persuaded from across the aisle.

But let me try and persuade you anyway.

Rozan Mitchell is running for Salt Lake County Clerk against the current Clerk of 28 years, Sherrie Swenson. I had the privilege of working with Rozan during her tenure at the State Elections Office, and over the last couple months as a campaign writer, and can personally vouch for her integrity and unparalleled knowledge of the Utah election system.

But what I most want you to know about Rozan, is that she's fearless.

Since 2004 she has worked under Swenson as the Salt Lake County Director of Elections, which means that her decision to run for Clerk was a decision to challenge her boss of 13 years.

It is not easy for a subordinate to challenge her boss. Not easy at all. In fact, Mitchell had to take a leave of absence shortly following her declaration of candidacy, after being frozen out of decision making and many of her usual responsibilities.

I mention this not as gratuitous political gossip, but as an indication of how committed Mitchell is to implementing long-overdue improvements in Salt Lake County. After serving on the front lines of Utah elections for two decades - including her work in the State Elections Office prior to her appointment as County Director - she knows better than anyone what improvements need to be made, and is so committed to ensuring a more a secure and efficient voting process, that she is willing to endure the personal setbacks it has cost.

At the top of her agenda is the implementation of a new voting system. As the largest county in Utah, Salt Lake should be at the forefront of acquiring and implementing progressive voting technology. Instead, we are lagging behind. Eighteen of twenty-nine counties are transitioning to new voting equipment this year, and Salt Lake is not among them. This is not only embarrassing, it’s unacceptable. The touch-screen machines we currently employ are aging and outdated, and our current clerk plans to wait until at least 2021 to implement a new system. With growing concerns recently over hacking and meddling, we cannot afford to wait until an election is slowed or even compromised to take action.

In addition, Mitchell also plans to implement a mobile-first approach to voter outreach, including the ability to search polling locations and check wait times from your phone. This is another change our current clerk has still not explored, after 28 years in office. She also has groundbreaking ideas for expediting marriage licenses and passport administration, to name a few.

It has been said that it’s not the people who vote who count, but the people who count the votes. Granted, it’s rumored to be Joseph Stalin who said it first and I don’t think he cared much for democracy, but I do agree with the sentiment.

And there’s no one I trust more with my vote and yours than Rozan Mitchell.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Kavanaugh for Kids

I was twelve-years old when Anita Hill testified against Clarence Thomas. My parents followed the proceedings, so I remember being aware of the names and basics, but didn't have a clue how salacious it all was until I was an adult.

Back then, you either turned on network television or you didn't, and if you preferred your kids not asking you to explain what Thomas found on his Coke can, you just tore that particular page from the newspaper before they got to it.

Today, we don't have that luxury. Today we have constant, instant access to information and as a result, are raising a generation more aware than ever of what's happening in the world around them.

So we talk about it.

And while I would certainly prefer that a discussion on Supreme Court appointments was simply an explanation of our independent judicial branch, checks and balances, and upholding the Constitution, this one also happens to involve drunken minors and accusations of groping and gang rape.

With our daughters, the discussions we should have when stories like this arise are obvious. Unsafe behavior. No means No. Never feeling ashamed to report something that makes them uncomfortable. Bonus points if they tolerate your rendition of the Girl Scout classic, "Stop! Don't touch me there! This is my no no square!"

The discussion with our boys, on the other hand. Now that's a different story.

Google "How to talk to boys about sexual harassment," and you'll find endless advice based on the assumption that sexual misbehavior is inevitable. Our sons have been conditioned, after all, by a culture that condones violence against women. Even more frightening? Someday they'll grow up to be (gasp) men.

One article, published by The Globe and Mail, says that a discussion with young boys about acceptable behavior toward women is "urgent," as though they're all little misogynists just champing at the bit, waiting for their chance to make unwanted advances. It says, "When powerful, prominent adult men are groping their coworkers and exposing themselves to interns, how can we expect our sons to act any differently?"

To which I say, speak for yourself.

During the Kavanaugh hearing yesterday, a group of protestors stood on Capitol Hill wearing shirts that said, "Men are Trash," and I wasn't the least bit surprised. The last couple weeks have demonstrated that it's no longer enough to assume that all women are innocent. We also have to assume that all men are guilty.

Of course I want my daughters to understand that some men are predators.  Of course I want them to be able to protect themselves, and to know their rights. But I also want my sons to understand that most men are not predators, and to know that they have rights too.

They have the right, for instance, to be unapologetically male.  I want them to grow into men who aren't ashamed on behalf of their gender, or sorry for crimes they haven't committed.

When I was 9-years old, a man exposed himself to me and my friends after school.  We were walking home and just as we passed his house he appeared facing us from his garage, naked. We ran home and told our parents, who of course unleashed fury and all of their legal rights, and found us a new route home from school.

What they didn't do, is generalize his behavior in a way that made me fearful of all men. Never once after that incident did it occur to me that because one idiot exposed himself, that every man I met wanted to expose himself. I understood him to be an isolated nut job, and experience since has taught me that women are also capable of disgraceful conduct.

Yes, men start wars. Men commit crimes. Men sexually assault women. But not the men I know. The men I know are respectable, and respectful. They are strong, self-sacrificing gentlemen. They are providers, protectors, and defenders of their families.

This is the conversation I have with my boys.

Because as troubling as it is to imagine my daughters feeling like they can't speak to defend their rights, I also find it troubling to imagine my sons feeling like they can't speak to defend their rights; to not be slandered or dragged through the mud by a culture of guilty until proven innocent.

I have two daughters and two sons, and when people hear this they often make friendly jokes about how lucky we are to have a level playing field. I tell them I'm doing my best.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

One Man's Trash

It was about 11:00pm, 

and I was on the verge of a meltdown. Jack was in graduate school at the time, and consumed with his dissertation. We had a two-year old and newborn, no money, and lived in a tiny, old apartment without a washer, dryer or dishwasher. I was tired, had just put the baby down to sleep, and the combination of all of it suddenly caught up with me as I confronted a pile of dishes in the sink.

Jack, finding me in tears, did what good husbands do. He listened patiently to my laundry list of complaints, rational and otherwise, and then he offered solutions.

Now normally when I'm in such a state, offering solutions is the worst possible thing he can do. Normally all I want is for him to tell me that I'm absolutely right about everything, and then offer to go buy me Ben & Jerry's. But this time, I was all ears.

He brainstormed a number of time-saving ideas. Among them, he suggested, "What if we didn't have to wash dishes? What if we used paper plates and cups instead?"

He may as well have offered to hire a full-time housekeeper. With that one suggestion, the clouds parted and life seemed manageable. We went to Costco the next morning and stocked up on disposable bliss.  "Don't worry about putting those in the sink after you eat," I would announce dramatically at dinner.  "JUST THROW THEM IN THE GARBAGE." As though I was referring to my problems, and not the dishes.

A couple weeks later, 

I attended a gathering for mothers in our student housing complex, and decided to gift everyone with my new life hack.

"So you know what's made a huge difference for us?" I said, as I buckled the two-year old into a swing. "We started using paper plates and cups, like all the time, and it's just really simplified my life."


Until, I swear on my life, one mother burst out laughing. "Wait, are you serious?" she asked. "Like, every meal? All that garbage!"

The next couple minutes were so awkward I started to second guess whether I had accidentally said, "So you know what's made a huge difference for us? Every night when the kids go to bed, we pull out a ouija board and use it to summon Satan! You guys it's the best!"

In retrospect, I understand that my declaration was a bit naive. These were graduate students and spouses of UC Santa Barbara. Our complex boasted a community garden, extra recycling bins, a center for exchanging used clothes and furniture, and weekly rounds made by a cloth diaper truck.

I was instructed that morning on sustainability and environmental impact and and couldn't come up with a single intelligent response. I just smiled, and nodded, and confessed to what I hadn't realized was a sin. And then I went home, and Jack once again found me in tears.

Now, I mentioned before that Jack is a good husband. Jack is also an economist. To his core. He sees the world objectively, in terms of opportunity cost and competing preferences, and it is from this perspective that he absolved me of my guilt.

The decision to use paper goods, he explained, is simply a choice between disposable and reusable. It is not a choice between good and evil.

During an overwhelming time in my life, those stacks of paper plates and cups were like towers of support. We were choosing to sacrifice the extra money they cost in order to have extra time for sleep and children. My critics on the playground, on the other hand, were choosing to sacrifice their time and dishwater to fulfill what they felt was a moral obligation to the earth.

But what about the earth? 

The earth can handle my paper plates. According to New York Times science columnist John Tierney, all of the trash generated by Americans for the next 1,000 years would fit on 1/10 of 1% of land available for grazing. And much of that will be covered with grass and converted to parkland, like beautiful Freeman Park in Idaho Falls.  Did you know that the US Open is played on the site of a converted landfill?

But what about the trees? 

The trees will also survive my plates. Jack explained that this is a simple matter of supply and demand. Paper products come from trees, many of which were planted for the purpose of becoming paper. The more paper that we use (and throw away), the more trees that are planted. As more trees are planted, more carbon dioxide is absorbed, thus making the air cleaner, a concept known as sustainable forestry

Jack also drew a parallel to beef, and cows.  The reason we have so many cows is because we eat so much beef. More beef consumption means more cattle, just as more paper consumption means more trees.

In fact, he said that scientists are now able to produce cultured beef - meat produced synthetically, in labs, and that if this were to take off, it would cause the population of cattle to go down, and not up. So, recyling paper may actually reduce the number of trees. I think I just wrote a new verse of Ironic for Alanis Morissette.

But what about recycling? 

The best reason for recycling that I've been able to find is that it makes people feel good. Aside from that, it doesn't make a lot of sense.

According to William Shughart of Utah State's Hunstman School of Business (among many others), the cost associated with the process of recycling almost always outweighs the benefits. He says that it is actually more expensive and resource intensive to recycle paper, than it is to cut and replant trees. It is also cheaper to make new plastic containers than to recycle old ones and again, we have more have enough space to bury them and convert the land.

John Tierney also says that, according to environmental author Chris Goodall, the simple act of rinsing cans and bottles before putting them into the recycling bin can actually release more carbon into the air than recycling itself.

A few years after the paper plate incident, 

we moved from California to Virginia, and learned that the school our children would be attending was "Green Flag Certified," an honor bestowed for their eco-friendly efforts. In addition to learning to read and write, they also sang songs about recycling, participated in composting, environmental poetry contests, and learned to associate guilt with their carbon footprint. Sometimes we wondered whether we had registered for a public school or private religious institution.

The kicker came late one October, when we received a notice form the principal requesting that children wear green to school on Veterans Day, where they would honor our veterans...with an assembly celebrating recycling and the environment.

We scratched our heads, gathered every red, white and blue article of clothing that they owned, and explained to them that one thing veterans fought for is our freedom from participating in rituals that we don't agree with.

To be clear, I love the earth. 

I am in awe of how beautiful it is, and what it has to offer us. I try to teach my children to love the earth. We hike mountains, explore deserts, swim in oceans, and follow the Scout law of leaving no trace when we do.

We also fill our green recycling bin every week, but we do it as a matter of economic preference and not morality, and we don't judge our neighbors if they don't fill their recycling bins, or compete with them to see who has the smallest bag of trash.

And when my friends have a new baby and are feeling overwhelmed, I always bring them dinner, a stack of paper plates and cups, and permission to use them without feeling like they've done something wrong.

Friday, September 7, 2018

D I Why

A new Del Taco opened a mile from our house, and it's been a game changer. On Tuesdays their tacos are three for a dollar, so basically free.  Every week I order fifteen of them, which in Utah is actually considered a modest request. Once in fact, I said "Fifteen tacos please," and the guy thought I said "Fifty tacos please" and I swear he didn't even flinch.

Now, I'm perfectly capable of making tacos myself on Tuesdays, but certainly not 15 of them for $5 in under 5 minutes, so I keep going back every week and plan to for the rest of my life. I'm an American after all, and we pride ourselves on thrift and efficiency.

Which is precisely why I found it curious, while scrolling through Pinterest the other night, when I came across a recipe for homemade sprinkles.

Fascinated, I tapped on the link,  The instructions call for powdered sugar and powdered egg whites (whatever those are), pastry bags with couplers and collars (whatever those are), food coloring, a full two days to complete (!!), and includes the warning that it "may leave your arm aching from all the beating and piping."

Would you like my recipe for sprinkles?

(1) Go to Walmart. (2) They are $0.98.

Maybe homemade sprinkles are your thing though, and if so I say go for it. In fact, after you've finished the 48-hour backbreaking process, Pinterest suggests that you continue your party preparations with homemade confetti.

Unlike the elaborate ingredient list of homemade sprinkles, the only thing homemade confetti requires are colored paper, a hole punch and an increased risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. Can't you just imagine the doctor of this poor person, as he wraps their aching wrist in a bandage, leaning in and compassionately asking, "Was the $0.79 prepackaged kind really outside your budget?"

Let's keep going!

Are you sitting down for the next one? Sitting down for breakfast perhaps?

Homemade. Cheerios.

Not many things surprise me, but I was pretty shocked to learn that there are people out there making homemade Cheerios.

Instructions for these include extracting hundreds of tiny circles from rolled dough with a tiny cutter, then carefully punching a hole in each one with a lollipop stick and removing the microscopic center before baking.

What the instructions don't tell you, but which as a mother of four I can add with scientific certainty, is that only 8% of Cheerios given to children actually end up in their mouths. The rest find their way onto the floor, or highchair or carseat, or smashed into the motherboard of valuable electronics. I say it's hard enough to yell at kids over these kinds of incidents without having to also add, "DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW LONG IT TOOK ME TO MAKE THOSE!?"

So maybe not homemade Cheerios. But how about homemade Cinnamon Toast Crunch?

Just add milk!

(After mixing the dough in a food processor and dividing and kneading and rolling it as thin as you can and cutting tiny squares with a pizza cutter and using a thin spatula to scrape them off the counter and transfer them to a baking sheet and then repeating the process three times with the remaining dough and then adding the cinnamon and sugar and then baking and letting it cool.)

Then just add milk!

How about homemade Fruit Loops instead?

Don't let the picture fool you. Those are not made from play dough. The woman who posted this recipe said she always makes a batch before vacation, to have on hand as an alternative to hotel breakfasts, and I spent a full five minutes wondering what exactly about a hotel breakfast she is saving us from. The fact that's free? Or  convenient? Or doesn't look like play dough?

If cereal isn't your breakfast of choice though, don't worry. Pinterest also suggests homemade Pop Tarts.

And I suggest that making homemade Pop Tarts completely defeats the purpose of Pop Tarts.

How about Twix Bars?

My favorite line from this recipe is that they "taste exactly like the original!" Finally. The exact taste of a Twix Bar, without the overwhelming burden of having to tear off a wrapper.

I could go all day. Down the Pinterest rabbit hole that is, not making homemade Twix.

It's an interesting paradox I think. As a society we're busier than ever, with all kinds of conveniences and automation to accommodate our nonstop lifestyles. And yet, it seems like DIY has never been more popular.

But maybe the fact that we're so busy is the very reason we want to create. We have an inherent need to be creative, and to design and construct, and I think it's filled when we paint furniture and bake cookies and photograph and write captions, and it's wonderful.

All I'm saying that if you've spent half a day cutting out tiny Cheerios, maybe leave that to the good people at General Mills, and take the time to discover what you really have to offer. It's a question I try to ask myself on a regular basis. When I'm not busy making tacos.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Shopping for Masculinity

I wasn't looking for a soapbox.

Just some school clothes for my kids. I took my girls shopping at Old Navy, Target and Children's Place, among other stores, where they were presented with an endless selection of graphic tees boasting slogans of female empowerment. "Girls Run the World," "The Future is Female," "Strong, Brave, Smart, Girl," etc.

Here are just a few examples - Shirts currently available at the aforementioned stores that I curated from their websites.

Adorable, right? The idea of empowering young girls this way. Catchy, glittering slogans that remind them and everyone they see of their strength and potential as females. These are certainly messages I hope my daughters will internalize.  I mean, who can argue with shirts like this?

Well, me, actually.

In part, because another search of the same sites resulted in the following options for my two boys. These are very typical of what they've seen in stores.

Girls are the smartest and bravest! They are the future! They rule the world!

Boys? Eh. They chill, and play video games.

Now before anyone beats me to it, I think I understand the catalyst here. Girls today have been born into a society built on thousands of years of patriarchal dominance that has favored males in realms of eduction, politics and business. This has placed females at a obvious disadvantage, and left them underrepresented in Congress, among CEOs, soldiers, scientists, etc. Girls need extra encouragement!

Do they?

A quick Google search reveals that girls are outperforming boys in elementary, middle and high school.  There are more girls than boys serving in student government and as members of National Honor Society. College campuses are 60% female. Women make up the majority of the nation's law students, and in the last several years have been awarded more doctorates than men. Dropout rates, juvenile detention and prison statistics? Girl, please.

If the intention of girl power campaigns is to compensate for the privilege enjoyed by our boys, I have to wonder. Is this what privilege looks like?

My boys are 6 and 9. I can assure you they have no concept of historical patriarchal domination. They do however, understand clearly what they see at school and in stores - a barrage of slogans, on shirts, notebooks, backpacks etc., declaring that girls reign supreme. They see commercials on a loop reassuring girls that they can be anything, hear politicians announce that the future is female, and Beyonce sing, "Who run the world? Girls." OK, I lied. My boys don't actually listen to Beyonce.

Considered through the eyes of my daughters, I couldn't agree more. How fortunate are they to be born in a time and place that provides limitless possibilities, and the assurance that they can do anything boys can do? We should remind them often.  I just wonder if perhaps by doing so we're overcompensating a bit?

Is it possible that in our crusade to empower our girls, we have marginalized our boys? Or at the least, encouraged them to compete. One of the most important things I've tried to teach our children is that men and women, boys and girls, are intended to complement one another's unique characteristics and cooperate as partners. Not to engage in a battle of the sexes.

Should we boycott these shirts? Of course not. In fact, my girls have a few of their own hanging in their closets. The only protest I would suggest is the next time you see your boy absorbing the message that girls are the best and the smartest and the future, remind them that they can be too.

Besides, who am I kidding. A shirt declaring that "The Future is Human" or "Girls Rule and PS Boys Also Have Great Potential" is going to end up on the clearance rack.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Finding Girl

First it was my car keys. It was time for school and I couldn't find them anywhere. The desk, my purse, the car itself, anywhere. Exasperated, I told the kids we were going to be late, when then five-year old Leah swept into the kitchen, looked under a pile of dish towels, and rattled them victoriously in the air. 

Next it was an overdue library book, which she found under her brother's bed, and a missing church shoe she spotted in the nick of time under the trampoline. 

"Again Leah?" Jack said as she brought it in from the backyard. "Wow, you are a finding girl!" 

And with that, her superpower was born. Finding Girl. 

Anytime something goes missing in our house, we call for Finding Girl and she leaps into action. Her siblings have been known to chant along as she races through piles of laundry, baskets of toys and under stacks of papers in search of her elusive treasures. "Fin-ding girl! Fin-ding girl! Fin-ding girl!"

I don't know whether she actually possesses an innate ability to locate things, or if her success rate stems from the confidence born of a name like Finding Girl, but I'm telling you. Behind those blue eyes is some kind of GPS thermal sensor that has never failed to hone in on a target. 

This weekend she turns 12, and we are going to celebrate. We are going to celebrate Leah, and everything she has helped us find over the last 12 years. Car keys, earrings and remote controls, but also patience.  She's helped us find humility, tolerance and compassion. 

Without Leah, we wouldn't always find the candy aisle and dessert menu, the fastest roller coaster, or the kid at school who needs a friend. She's helped us find exceptional doctors, loving teachers, and connection with parents who share similar struggles. 

Happy Birthday to the girl who has helped us find joy. Around every corner.  

Click HERE to play "Mouse or Leah?"

Friday, August 17, 2018

This is 40

40 Things About Jack 

1. His first name is actually Christopher

2. He is among the 33% of people who suffer brain freeze while eating ice cream

3. Is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being part of the largest bingo game in the world. Dodger Stadium, 2006

4. You know how, when you make microwave popcorn, you wind up with a bunch of kernels at the bottom of the bag? Jack eats those

5. The title of his doctoral dissertation was "Accurately Sized Test Statistics with Misspecified Conditional Homoskedasticity ??"  (Question marks added for emphasis)

6. His score on is 5/5

7. Has carried the same wallet for 19 years

8. Drafted his 2004 Fantasy Football team at home while I was in the hospital in labor with our second child

9. Favorite pastimes include watching injuries occur on YouTube, and controlling the sprinklers from the Rain Bird app on his phone

10. His only B in college was in Child Development. Turned out to be a remarkable father anyway.

11. Jack was quarterback of his high school football team, and the only player to get pumped up before games by listening to Lionel Richie

12. Led the team to the State Championship game two years in a row

13. Has been in the same room as Beyonce and Jesse Jackson, on two separate occasions. One of the rooms was a bathroom.

14. Served a two-year mission in Santiago, Dominican Republic for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

15. Often told he looks like Urban Meyer

16. Has seen the Big 5 Game on safari in Africa - lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and cape buffalo

17. Jumped off a 200 foot gorge swing without his wife's permission

18. Also done without his wife's permission - Helicopter waterfall tour, lion encounter, joining a second Fantasy Football team

19. Has the entire script of Top Gun memorized. Willing to recite upon request

20. Other favorite movies - Braveheart, Contact, Minority Report

21. Favorite books - Rainbow Six, Da Vinci Code, Applied Predictive Modeling and Elements of Statistical Learning

22. Favorite child - Jolie

23. Built an AR himself, piece by piece

24. Loves climbing. Favorites include Mount Whitney, Olancha Peak, Half Dome, Mount Timpanogos and Table Mountain

25. Can navigate to any attraction in Disneyland with his eyes closed

26. Pet peeve - Misuse of the term "price gouging" 

27. Favorite teams - LA Lakers, Chicago Cubs, Denver Broncos, Arizona State

28. Repairs successfully performed after watching YouTube tutorials - Garage door opener, oven, dishwasher, HVAC, automotive breaks and window motor

29. Number of times I've taken him to the ER - 3

30. Concussions sustained - 5

31. Still wears his BYU Intramural Championship 2002 shirt

32. Met his wife in second grade

33. Sole annual birthday request is a no-bake cheesecake

34. Refuses to share his straws. Willing to share his life with me, but not his straws.

35. Invented the word "Wowsted." Only his teenage nieces and nephews can explain exactly what it means.

36. Did you know that celery is the most hated vegetable among adults? Also among Jack.

37. Can play Journey's "Faithfully" on the piano

38. Surprised me once in high school with a doll he sewed out of a pillow case, on the condition that I not tell the baseball team.

39. Happiest when he's playing ball in the front yard with his kids.

40. Is 40. And we adore him.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Scissors Certified

I was emptying my first grader's backpack this morning as he got ready for school, and came across this vital document.

"What does this mean, buddy?" I asked him.

He took a bite of his toast. "It means I can can cut stuff," he said. And then, like a well-trained soldier, "But ONLY paper."

Well sure you can cut stuff, I thought. We can all cut stuff. But according to this you can't just cut stuff. According to this, you are SCISSORS CERTIFIED.

It seemed so monumental that I made him take it upstairs to show his father, then hung it on the fridge. I texted the news of his achievement to his aunts and grandma so they could congratulate him, though I did excuse them from feeling obligated to purchase gifts.

Should I order a bumper sticker to brag about this, I wondered? Or maybe have it framed? He's not just scissors certified, I would tell the employee at Michael's. He is first generation scissors certified.

Oblivious to the significance of his achievement or my pride, he and his brother hopped on their bikes and left for school, leaving me with the breakfast dishes and so many unanswered questions.

What exactly does scissors certification involve, I wondered as I put the cereal back in the pantry. Are applicants required to consent to a background check? Is the training performed at their desks, or does the school provide some kind of cutting range?

And what about advanced certification? Maybe some kids are content with the typical first grade safety scissors, but what about those who wish to wield fabric blades or even guillotine trimmers? And what about those who want to conceal their scissors, or take them outside of the classroom to, say, the library or playground?

As I moved from dishes to laundry I imagined the training, and in my mind it was intense, and competitive. "THUMB IN THE FRONT HANDLE!" the teacher shouts, as she marches up and down the aisles. "Elbows close to your body. Index and middle fingers in the back, ring and pinky fingers on the outside. The outside Matthew. OUTSIDE!! For heavens sakes Matthew how will you ever make a paper snowflake with that kind of form?" She gets in his face. "Do you plan to lick and tear for the rest of your life!?"

The thought of little Matthew in tears had me wondering about all the other kids who failed to receive their scissor certification. Where exactly did they go wrong? Did they hold them backwards? Upside down? Buckle under the pressure of their evaluation and cut the leg off a gingerbread man? Maybe they twitched and ended up impaling the kid sitting next to them. Yeesh, I hope there aren't any scissors-uncertified thugs running around MY neighborhood.

I moved the clothes from the washer to the dryer, and onto proof of status. In this scenario, I imagined Eddie sitting in front of a worksheet filled with shapes. They have all been counted and colored, leaving only one thing left to do. Slowly, he reaches into his desk for the pencil box and opens the lid to retrieve his cutting apparatus. Just then, the principal walks in. Spotting the move, he runs toward his desk as though in slow motion, racing past cubbies and over lunch boxes in a desperate attempt to thwart the potential violation. Children gasp. Pencils drop. Breath is held, until the teacher heroically throws her body between them. "It's okay!" she shouts. He's SCISSORS CERTIFIED."

Eddie presents his one-dimensional neon green trophy as proof.

It's okay. It's all going to be okay.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Short Sighted

This summer, my boys decided they needed reading glasses. They had seen their aunt wearing a pair, and were fascinated by the fact that such a disability could be diagnosed and treated at the dollar store. After begging for weeks through eyes squinting so dramatically Helen Keller would be embarrassed, I relented, and we headed to Dollar Tree in search of the cure they claimed to desperately need.

If you've never seen the display of reading glasses at Dollar Tree, I recommend at least three years of optometry school before attempting to navigate it.  In addition to a variety of styles, there are strength options that range from +1 to +4 in .25 increments, and something called a diopter test chart, which allows you to try the strength of the lens before, heaven forbid, you blow an entire $1 on the wrong pair.

After painstaking deliberation, Cal chose black frames with a +1 magnification, Eddie blue 2.25, and the two of them emerged proudly, looking like a cross between hipsters and elderly women.

Eager to put this miracle cure to the test, we drove straight to the library. While Cal went in search of the smallest typeface ever printed, I followed Eddie and his blue frames to juvenile fiction, where I watched him flip through a couple of books briefly, put them back on the shelf, and burst into tears.

"What's wrong?" I asked, thinking "Besides the fact that you look ridiculous in those things."

"They don't work," he said tossing them on the ground, his confidence gone.

"Let me see." I retrieved, cleaned, and tried them myself. "They seem to be working fine buddy," I told him.

And then,

"But I still can't read."

It took me a minute to realize the cause of his disillusionment. Wavering between amusement and pity, it occurred to me that he thought that when you put on Dollar Tree reading glasses, you would SUDDENLY KNOW HOW TO READ.

I scooped him up, carried him to the car, and made the mistake of explaining what had happened to his brother, who laughed the entire way home.

While Eddie pouted and Cal tried to suppress his hysterics, I thought. There's a lesson here, isn't there? There's always a lesson.

Is it any surprise that he thought such a quick fix was possible? I am raising my children in a world of instant gratification.

Do you want to have more energy? Take this pill! Need more money? Swipe a credit card! Lose weight? Surgery! Longer hair? Extensions! Dinner? Drive-through! ITS BEEN 36 HOURS, WHERE IS MY AMAZON PRIME PACKAGE?

Want to learn how to read? All you need are glasses from Dollar Tree.

To be clear, I have nothing against drive-throughs, or hair extensions or credit cards, and if you have pills that will legally give me more energy please slip them under my door. But I'm afraid that the cumulative effect of instant meals, instant cures, instant cash, and instant success is a growing impatience that doesn't serve us well.

Here, instead, is what I hope my children will grow to understand.

Learning to read takes time.
Saving money takes time.
Healthy bodies take time.
Making friends takes time.
Forgiveness takes time.
Good marriages take time.
Everything about children takes time.
Grief takes time.
Dreams take time.

Eddie and I have since been spent hours improving his reading, and celebrating the little milestones and achievements along the way.  I once heard it said that what comes easy won't last, and what lasts won't come easy, and I think he understands that now.

Or he will, eventually.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Load-Bearing Walls

Leah struggles with coordination. Before we understood the nature of her challenges, we just thought she was clumsy. Adorably and sometimes maddeningly clumsy. Genuinely baffled when she was about three, Jack once asked, "How is it every time she's in her room getting dressed, it sounds like she's taking down load-bearing walls?"

By the time she was four, she had chipped two teeth from falling on her face, self-sustained enough bruises to call our treatment of her into question, and was the first child in history (of which I'm aware) to sustain a black eye while serving as the reverence child

But this post isn't about Leah. This post is about Jack.

I was sorting old pictures the other day, and found a sequence of three from about ten years ago, that perfectly encapsulate his relationship with her. 

In the first picture, we see her typical path of destruction. I can't recall exactly what happened before it was taken, but it appears that in the process of getting in or out of the bath, she managed to detach a shelf from the wall. Naturally.

The second picture breaks my heart a little. It's the familiar realization of what she's done. Hiding behind her tiny arm, and naked to boot, you can see in her eyes the fear of the crash and the consequences.

The third picture explains, in a single moment, why she has grown to be so self-assured and resolute, in spite of her limitations. In the third picture, her dad enters the scene.

He arrives just after she (and the bathroom) (and probably her mother) have fallen apart. He steps over the damage and scoops her up to make sure she's okay. While I don't remember exactly what he said, I'm positive that he told her that he loved her. That she was his "Perfect Leah Lou." At this point in her life, he's starting to get her. He understands that bathroom shelves can be repaired. Little girls hearts, not so easily.

And before long I'm sure she was off and running, the bathroom aftermath fading into the background. Probably knocking a picture off the wall as she went, but off, and running.

I've read that fathers, more than anyone else, set the course for their daughter's lives. I believe that's true, for better or worse. Girls may take their mothers for granted, but are never ambivalent about their fathers.

When Jack speaks, my girls hang on what he says. They love his attention. When he's teaching them something, they're laser focused, wanting so much to make him proud. When we attend their performances, their eyes always find him in the audience.

I'm painfully aware that not every girl is as fortunate to have a doting father. It's something I have never taken for granted myself, nor have I as I've watched Jack raise our daughters.

In the structure of their lives, I pride myself in providing them with a good foundation. And rooms to explore, so to speak, with pretty coats of paint. I'm the blankets that cover them at night, the kitchen table around which they gather, and the fireplace that warms them when the outside is cold.

But their dad, he's the load-bearing wall. He sustains the weight of the elements above it. The load-bearing walls, more than anything in the house, provide a sense of security. Good fathers provide their daughters with a structure that can resist buckling under pressure, of detached bathroom shelves, or mistakes, or broken hearts, or life.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Penny For Your Thoughts

One of the most valuable lessons I learned in college was also one of the simplest.

A religion professor once asked me to describe what I would see if I held a penny directly in front of my eye.

A penny, I answered.

What else, he asked?

Probably nothing, I said. If it was directly in front of my eye it would eclipse everything behind it.

Then, he asked what I would see if I took the same penny, taped it to a wall, and looked at it from across the room. I would still still see the penny, I said. But it would look much smaller, and I could also see everything around it.

He was illustrating the ability to keep life's challenges in perspective, an imagery that has always stayed with me.

My favorite kind of people are the ones who don't hold pennies in front of their eyes. Those who are dealt the inevitable challenges of life, but who refuse to be defined by them.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I heard of the passing of of Charles Krauthammer, one of my journalism idols. He was a brilliant psychiatrist, turned political speechwriter, columnist, pundit, and diehard Washington Nationals fan. I devoured everything he wrote and said, following him in print and on television for years

before I realized he was paralyzed.

It turns out, I was surprised to learn, that when he was 22 and in his first year at Harvard Medical School, he was in a diving accident that severed his spinal cord, and left him paralyzed from the neck down. After 14 months in the hospital, and adamant that the accident not define who he was, he returned to medical school and went on to graduate, marry, have a family, work as a speechwriter for the Carter administration, write a weekly editorials for Time Magazine and the Washington Post, earn a Pulitzer Prize, and unknowingly accept me as a member of his fan club.

A severed spinal cord is certainly a penny he could have held in front of his eye, and no one would blame him for it. To quote Cameron from Modern Family, "If an accident does happen, I hope it kills me, because I don't think I would be a very inspiring disabled person."

Charles Krauthammer, on the contrary, once said of his paralysis, "All it means is whatever I do is a little bit harder, and probably a little bit slower. And that's basically it. Everybody has their cross to bear - everybody. It's very easy to be characterized by the externalities in your life. I dislike people focusing on it. I made a vow when I was injured that it would never be what would characterize my life."

One of the best tributes I have read since his passing came from Chris Wallace, who said, "In all the years that I knew Charles, I never heard him express any sense of pity, or why me. He led his life fully, vibrantly. Yes, he was very bodily disabled. No use of his legs, almost no use of his hands, and yet he lived a full life...a life of passion and great consequence."

I'm no Chris Wallace, but wanted to add this simple tribute of my own to such an admirable man. Grateful for what I learned from him about journalism and life, not up close, but from across the room, so to speak, at a distance.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Humpty Dumpty

My dad passed away 16 years ago, but I still consider Father's Day an occasion to celebrate. I plan a favorite dinner and pick out a gift, just like everyone else. The only difference is that instead of the golf balls or guitar picks I used to buy, my gift now is a favorite memory that I take the time to write. 

This is one of my very favorites. 

Dad was a logophile - A lover of words. When I was a girl, he used to teach me "Sesquipedalian Nursery Rhymes" - Classics like Little Miss Muffet or Jack and Jill, that he would translate into sophisticated language, and we would memorize together. For instance, 

Little Jack Honer sat in a corner 
Eating his Christmas pie 
He put in his thumb
And pulled out a plumb
And said, "What a good boy am I!"


Little Jack Horner was seated in a mutual intersection
Masticating pastries
He inserted his opposing digit 
And extracted a genus prunus
And exclaimed, "How astonishingly precocious!" 

We thought we were so funny.

When I was in fifth grade my teacher, Mrs. Olson, announced one day that for our English assignment we would be using classroom dictionaries to transcribe the words of nursery rhymes into synonymous terms. 

Wait, did I hear that right? My moment had arrived!  

When she finished explaining, I pompously raised my hand and pretended to be confused. I told her I didn't quite understand the assignment, and asked if I could run an example past her. She consented, and doing my best to sound off-the-cuff, I said, "So, like, if we chose, say...Humpty Dumpty, would we write something like.....

And then, just as Dad and I had practiced all those nights at the dinner table, I said, 

"Humpty Dumpty placed his nether portions upon a barricade. 
Humpty Dumpty suffered a descension of an immense precipitation 
The entire standing army, and the retinue of the Emperor 
Were unable to reassemble the outer extremities of the unfortunate Humpty Dumpty"

I can't recall exactly how Mrs. Olson reacted, or when and how I confessed to her the story behind my theatrics, but I'll never forget the moment Dad came home from work and I told him what had happened. I don't think I'd ever seen him so proud, and boy did we laugh. 

This was our bond until the end. When I was in college, my friends and I invented a game, wherein we would go through the dictionary in search of the most obscure word we could find. I would call him on speaker, and if he knew the definition, I won. I was undefeated. Sometimes he would have us in stitches by inventing definitions that were better than the original. When asked to define "gerenuk" for instance (a breed of antelope), he said, "It's a pacifier for old people." 

When Dad passed away, there were three of his possessions I had to keep for myself. 

A crossword puzzle, Six Weeks to Words of Power by Wilfred Funk, and a box of English vocabulary cards. 

Words are the things that help me feel close to him, so more than anything on earth I treasure his collection of thousands and thousands of words. Words to describe every thing and place and thought and experience and human emotion. 

And yet, not a single one that can adequately express how much I miss him. 

A Brother Like No Other

(Written by my mother Susan Foutz, who would like to clarify that she actually has two brothers like no other ) If you lived in Arizona in t...