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. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Fancy is Fun

I had not planned to publish a post today. The kids got out of school for the summer this week, so there's that, and I've been busy copywriting for a new project, so there's that too. Cal was also in a baseball tournament, and Jack was out of town, and excuse after excuse.

But now here it is, Friday night at 8:36 pm, and it occurred to me that if I don't publish something I will be breaking a 12-week effort to write consistently, which felt defeating.

So, I thought I would drop in briefly and share three thoughts that always motivate me through these types of scenarios. I have an all-or-nothing personality, so it's typical for me to be paralyzed by the idea of doing something haphazardly.

Whenever this happens, I try to remember the following -

1. Done is better than perfect 

I wondered where I first heard this, and according to Google it's a quote by Sheryl Sandberg. I love me some Sheryl Sandberg wisdom, but have a hard time believing she was the first to say it (fake news!). She undoubtedly coined "lean in" though, and I applaud her for it. 

2. Perfection is the enemy of progress

Google credits this to Winston Churchill, which I do believe. I'm not a Winston Churchill expert by any means, but I did see The Darkest Hour. And am not afraid to "lean in" and say I thought it was slow and overrated. 

3. Fancy is fun, but simple is done 

I first heard this from my friend Nanci in Santa Barbara. It's nowhere to be found on Google, so I'm declaring it her original thought. Nanci, you are the best! You also need to file for trademark protection. 

And finally, a quick illustration from earlier this week. 

On Wednesday night, we were at a baseball tournament until 8:00 pm. Jack was out of town and we hadn't had dinner when we returned home and I remembered that Leah's last day of school was the next day, and she didn't have a gift to give Ms. Pettibone. This certainly wasn't a crisis, but WE'RE TALKING ABOUT MS. PETTIBONE

When you have an all-or-nothing personality, there are two options in this scenario:

(1) Drive to Target. Wander for twenty minutes searching for the perfect present, and another ten looking for the perfect greeting card. Drop by Bath an Body Works afterward, just to be sure there isn't something better. Spend a half hour composing a letter that adequately expresses my gratitude, and another twenty minutes helping Leah make an elaborate homemade card of her own. Wrap the gift, arrange for a town parade in Ms. Pettibone's honor, including fireworks, write an essay nominating her for Presidential Medal of Freedom, finish and go to bed at 4:00 am. 

(2) Do nothing. 

It's times like these when the three above quotes came in handy. Perfection is the enemy of progress Katie! Fancy is fun, but simple is done! Done is better than perfect. Sheryl Sandberg said so herself. 

So instead, I took Leah down the road to my sister's to raid her craft supplies and creative mind. She gave us shrinky dink paper, picked up a chain from Michael's, and twenty minutes and $3.00 later we had this. 

Leah was so proud, and we were in bed by 9:30. 

Speaking of which. My inclination at this point is to attempt some type of clever conclusion, but am instead going to follow my own advice. 

This post is done. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Look at Yourself

My parents, bless them, had three teenage daughters at once.

When I turned 13, my sisters were 15 and 17.  We shared clothes, friends, inside jokes, an older brother, and a bathroom. And in that bathroom, we shared VervĂ© perfume, Paul Mitchell hairspray, Avon makeup, and a Nike ad.

The ad was placed there by our mom. She had torn it from a magazine and taped to our mirror. It featured a woman in Nike leggings and a tank top, running alone down a wooded path, and across the top it read:

I believe that if you can look at yourself and see what is right, instead of what is wrong, that is the true mark of a healthy individual

From my freshman year until I left for college, this quote stared back at me every time I looked in that mirror.

Four years of waking up at 5:00 am for early morning seminary. Four years of transitioning through adolescence and navigating precarious teenage relationships. Making new friends, losing old ones. Dating, breaking up. Four years of testing boundaries, developing a sense of autonomy and dealing with teenage insecurities. Braces, breakouts, perms and unflattering trends. Four years of high school tryouts and elections with all of their inherent vulnerabilities. Of summer camps, first jobs, and college applications. Four years of both achievements and rejections, underscored by all the emotion of leaving behind my childhood.

Four years.

Look at yourself.

See what is right.

Instead of what is wrong.

I'm no biologist, but I think there are times in our lives that our brains visit neurological tattoo parlors. Certain phrases and life lessons we pick up along the way are permanently etched in our minds, in scrolling fonts and sometimes with iconic symbols like bleeding hearts, angel wings, roman numerals or Smokey the Bear's face (a childhood story for another day).

That Nike ad is tattooed in my mind, with the image of the woman running alone down a wooded path. It's not a concept I've perfected by any means, but it has been a significant contributing factor to my happiness. After reading it, over and over, for four formative years, my brain seems to understand that my emotions aren't dependent on my circumstances, but are instead shaped by my perspective.

Am I self-conscious of my worst features, or proud of my best ones?

Do I focus my energy on people who don't accept me, or count my blessings for the ones who do?

Should I mutter about the messes and unfinished projects in my home, or delight at the sight of the paintings I have hung, and evidence of a thriving family?

Do I complain about our student loans, or am I grateful for our education?

Bemoan the division in our country, or celebrate the freedom to disagree?

Indulge in self-pity over my child's deficiencies, or pride in her accomplishments?

I think that the true mark of a healthy individual, according to Nike in the 90's, is worth some reflection. Perhaps the one your teenage daughter sees in the mirror.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Toss Your Hats and Your Heroes

Next week is high school graduation here in Utah, and also for my niece in California.

This has prompted me to consider what advice I could offer the Class of 2018, should they ask, and I decided if the opportunity presented itself I would begin by telling them about Joe Paterno.

Joe Paterno, as they may not be aware, was head coach of the Penn State football team for 46 years, and is the second winningest coach in college football history.  In 2001, a 7-foot bronze statue of him was unveiled at Beaver Stadium in recognition of his contributions to the university and because, well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Ten years later, in light of his involvement in the Penn State child sex abuse scandal, the statue was removed, and replaced by trees. The lesson? Don't erect a 7-foot bronze statue in someone's honor while they are alive, and still have a chance to prove you wrong.

I learned my own Joe Paterno lesson in 1993. At the time, I was finishing 8th grade and asked to give the commencement address at the Copperwood Elementary School graduation. My speech, like Joe's statue, seemed like a good idea at the time.

Here is the introduction to it, which I excerpted from what was then my favorite book by Dan Clark. Keep reading until the end. The end is the best part.

"In 1957, a ten-year old boy in California set a goal. At the time, Jim Brown was the greatest running back ever to play pro football, and this tall, skinny boy wanted his autograph. In order to accomplish his goal, the young boy had to overcome some obstacles.

He grew up in the ghetto, he never got enough to eat. Malnutrition took its toll, and a disease called rickets forced him to wear steel splints to support his skinny, bowed-out legs. He had no money to buy a ticket to get into the game so he waited patiently near the locker room until the game ended and Jim Brown left the field. He politely asked Brown for his autograph. As Brown signed, the boy explained, "Mr. Brown, I have your picture on my wall. I know you hold all the records. You're my idol."

Brown smiled and began to leave, but the young boy wasn't finished. He proclaimed, "Mr. Brown, one day I'm going to break every record you hold!" Brown was impressed and asked, "What is your name, son?"

The boy replied, "Orenthal James. My friends call me O.J."

O.J. Simpson went on to break all but three of the rushing records held by Jim brown before injuries shortened his football career. Goal setting is the strongest force for human motivation. Set a goal and make it come true."


Ah, my hero.

Susan B. Anthony? No. Martin Luther King? Nope. Sandra Day O'Connor? Keep guessing!

Oh I don't know...the first woman in space??

No sir! MY hero was OJ Simpson.

A year after I gave that speech, on a blazing hot day in June, I returned home from summer camp to find my family glued to a white Bronco chase on TV. In the backseat of that Bronco, I was told, was my hero, having been accused of murdering his ex-wife and her companion. A year and a half after that, sitting in the back row of a portable classroom at Ironwood High School, I watched as his verdict was read, and heard an outcry of reaction from the diverse group of students around me.

Thirteen years to the day after that, while my two young children played in the next room, I read on The Drudge Report that he had been found guilty of twelve counts of robbery and kidnapping, and sentenced to a minimum of 9 years in prison.

He was my hero. Until he wasn't.

In light of this turn of events,  I would like to offer the Copperwood Elementary School Class of 1993 the following addendum to my commencement address, which I hope can also give the Class of 2018 something to think about.


There was a time when "famous" and "hero" were synonymous, because people became famous for doing heroic things. Abraham Lincoln was famous, because he was a hero. So were Susan B. Anthony, Helen Keller, Amelia Earhart and Neil Armstrong.  All heroes. All famous.

Today, it's different. Today, all you need to be famous are a cell phone and a social media account. As a result, we are living in a culture saturated and obsessed with celebrity. A 2012 UCLA study found that becoming famous was the number one aspiration among children 10-12 years old, surpassing their desire for financial success, achievement, and a sense of community.

That group of children, who were 10-12 in 2012, now comprise the Class of 2018.

So Class of 2018, what is your number one aspiration today? Are you more concerned with your future success, or your Snapchat streaks? Do you dream of being a YouTube star, or a youth leader? Followed on Twitter, or as a teacher? Do you spend more of your time seeking inspiration, or scrolling Instagram? Counting likes, or living life?

Being famous is easy. Being a hero is hard, and we could all do well to identify the ones that most people have never heard of. Your mother, who taught you the value of sacrifice. Your father, who taught you the value of hard work. The coach who pushed you to be better, youth leader who inspired you to be kinder, or teacher who motivated you to dream bigger.

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "The hero is commonly the simplest and obscurest of men."

In 1862, he died.

A century later, a 7-foot bronze statue of him was unveiled at his former home on Waldon Pond.

It still remains today.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Habitually Truant

My oldest child has a criminal record that begins when she was in kindergarten.

That's the first time we received a letter from her school, informing us that she was habitually truant and in violation of California Education Code 48260.

According to the principal, who signed the notice, her attendance was so deficient that if we "continued to fail to meet (our) obligation, (we) would be guilty of an infraction of the law, and subject to prosecution pursuant to Education Code 48290-48296."

Then, she levied the following shocking allegation.

Four days. WITH FAMILY.

So egregious we posed her for a mug shot.

That kindergartner is now graduating from 8th grade. She's too old to pose in a wife beater with a placard (5 is such a precious age!), but I'm pleased to say we have come a long way. In kindergarten, she had 5 unexcused absences. This year, she had 29.

In the past nine years it seems, we have progressed through the seven stages of truancy. They range from shock, shame and guilt, through questioning and resistance, to planning a seven-day trip to Disneyland in the middle of October.

When we lived in Virginia, where she attended 1st through 6th grade, absences were reported to a voicemail that required parents to specify their child's ailment from a list of options that included fever, vomiting, rash, diarrhea and sore throat. My kids always begged me to make this call on speaker. Evidently there's something about hearing the school secretary say "diarrhea" that just never gets old.

Once, when I called and honestly reported that she had a "stomach bug," I received a call back a few hours later, requesting more specific details. This struck me as so intrusive that I reacted defensively by giving the information they requested, and then some. I think it was the point when I offered to provide a stool sample that they marked her excused and ended the call.

Last year, the Washington Post published a list of acceptable reasons for a child to miss school. It included strep throat, influenza, pink eye and hand foot and mouth disease (which, by the way, included the caveat, "especially if they are unable to control their drooling." Gee, you think?).

Our family also has a list of acceptable reasons to miss school. Over the years it has included visiting Gettysburg, the Grand Canyon and Statue of Liberty, solar eclipses, weddings, mission farewells, visits to grandparents, the beach, Disneyland, and their mother's PMS.

Before proceeding, I must clarify that this post is a confessional, and not an advocate. I completely understand the reasoning behind truancy codes, and importance of consistent attendance. Absences create an undue burden on teachers, who are my HEROES, and require them to invest time and attention that diverts from other important aspects of their job. Also, it is my understanding that most schools are funded using a formula that incorporates average daily attendance, so that absences mean fewer dollars allocated.

But. Watching my daughter turn from a kindergartner to a freshman faster than I can say "habitually truant" has also taught me that childhood is crushingly fleeting. The joy and heartbreak of watching her and her siblings grow and gain independence has prompted me to adopt a "What will we remember more?" approach to raising them. Whenever the option of a second-grade history lesson or day at a museum presented itself, the museum always won. And when we've had opportunities to take vacations that create memories beyond recess and worksheets, we've taken them, even when they haven't fit within the confines of winter break or early release days.

Also, when they are in school (which is the majority of the time!), I make a concerted effort to compensate. I love their teachers exceedingly, and shower them with gratitude. I'm the first to volunteer to assist, and provide classroom supplies, cupcakes for parties, and children who are prepared, respectful, smell good, brush their teeth, and never tattle.

Which is why, at the beginning of this school year, when mothers I follow on social media were posting their inspiring annual family mottos I decided that we need one too, and selected after much consideration, "Erbs have Unexcused Absences."

It may have been deprecating at first, but as the year has progressed it has evolved from evoking feelings of sarcasm to sentimentality. Jolie is on the precipice of high school, and with the pressure of college acceptance on the horizon I know that soon we'll no longer have the luxury of of compensating for absences with a simple stack of makeup work. In four years she will be out of the house, and when she is I know I won't regret a single call to the absence voicemail to excuse her to spend extra time with us.  She missed 29 days this year but is ending it with a 4.0, which makes me proud, and an accumulation of family memories, which makes me prouder.

Earlier this year, after back to back trips to California, Arizona and Idaho, her younger brother came home from school one day to tell us that a boy in his class had never missed a day of school. "Not one in his whole life Mom," he said, "Not even since kindergarten. That's called perfect attendance."

And then, just as I was beginning to feel guilty and a little defensive he said, "Isn't that sad?"

Friday, May 11, 2018

38 Things I Learned From My Mother

1. Listen more than you speak

2. Write thank you notes

3. Wait a few seconds after the light turns green before proceeding into an intersection

4. Get ready every day, even if you have no plans to leave the house.

5. There are few problems that can't be solved by a day at the mall with your sisters

6. The best food is Mexican

7. How to make the perfect chimichanga

8. Be your child's parent first. If you do that right, you can be their friend later.

9. Never leave for vacation with a messy house

10. Always have one book on your nightstand that you're currently reading, and one on hold at the library that you plan to read next

11. Control your day, or it will control you. Before you do anything else, make your bed and a to-do list

12. Iron your clothes. Rowenta irons and velvet hangers are best

13. There's a Seinfeld quote for every situation

14. The most important occasion of the day is family dinner. Make something delicious, set a beautiful table, and don't let anything take priority over it

15. Stay informed on world affairs and current events

16. Wrap presents beautifully, and when giving someone food you can do better than paper plates and saran wrap

17. See's Candy has medicinal benefits

18. Lock your doors

19. Dress according to your season. Warm undertones look best in warm colors, and cool in cool

20. The person in front of you takes precedence over the person calling on the phone

21. When your house is clean your mind is clean

22. Family before friends

23. Quality friends above quantity

24. Things are funniest when they're not supposed to be funny

25. Homemaking is a science guided by the five senses. What does your house look like? How does it smell? What do you hear? What do you taste? How does it make you feel?

26. There's a season for everything in life. The season for raising young children is fleeting and critical, so go all in. There will be plenty of time later for other pursuits

27.  It's better to be overdressed than underdressed

28. Lipstick isn't for everyone. Just people with lips.

29. Isn't your dad wonderful? Aren't we lucky?

30. Vacations aren't about where you go, but who you're with

31. Beaches are nice. Mountains are better.

32. Less is more. If you don't love it or use it, donate it

33. Children gain confidence from predictable routines. They should always know what to expect, what comes next, and what are the consequences of their choices.

34. Santa Clause is generous

35. Work before you play

36.  When your husband or children walk through the door, stop what you're doing, welcome them, and let them know you're so happy they're home

37. You are only as happy as your saddest child

38. Call your mother every day

Mom, thank you ♥ (#2 ✔️)

Friday, May 4, 2018

Ms. Pettibone

My 11-year old daughter Leah has had quite a year. There has been school of course, and her weekly tumbling class, but she also learned to fish. And came within three feet of a brown bear. After that she got her first job, at a bakery, but took time off for a trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and then CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. In between those, she managed to squeeze in a Queen P concert, trip to South Korea, where she competed in the Winter Olympics as a figure skater, and shuttle to Mars.

Really though.  I can prove it.

To do so, I have to go take you back to August and set the stage. Literally. A black, wooden, custom-built stage with glittering tassels and bright lights that sat in anticipation, ready to illuminate the stars as they arrived.  Not actors in a play, but ten and eleven-year old children who had been cast in the coveted role of students in Ms. Pettibone's fourth grade class.

Leah is one of those students. The stage is just one of countless ideas dreamed up by Ms. Pettibone to allow children like her a chance to shine. When another teacher asked why there was a stage in her classroom, she replied, "Why isn't there a stage in your classroom?" It's part of her daily, tireless effort to ensure that every student feels important, appreciated and capable.

As the mother of four children who have attended five schools in three states, I have observed over 30 classrooms, and never seen anything like the phenomenal environment created by Ms. Pettibone.

Ms. Pettibone or, I should say, whoever happens to greet the students on a given morning.

Once, for example, it was Her Honor Pettibone, sitting at her judicial bench ready to to prepare the class for a writing test by hearing persuasive evidence they gleaned and presented from a text

On another day, it was Queen P, a rapper whose forte is multiplication 

and PV, a bear who roams the forest teaching place value 

Last week, students arrived to discover that she had mysteriously been replaced by Nikki Watts, a special agent from Washington DC. The classroom had been transformed into the CIA, and as they entered it they were digitally "fingerprinted," issued security badges, and given the task of saving hacked files by practicing their language arts. With highlighters. Beneath a black light. After navigating through a maze of glowing lasers. 

In February, they stepped through the doors of Room 304 and into South Korea, where they were named athletes in the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games. The wall was covered with pictures of every student as a gold medal athlete. Each subject was tackled as an event, and thunderous applause could be heard as they beat personal records.

On another occasion the room was "Text Structure Raceway." Students sped around the room with toy cars, reading and studying informational text in order to cross the finish line and earn a trophy. 

Or the time they left earth, landed on Mars, and were challenged to find their way home. 

I could go on, and on. Leah and her class have also learned while baking pies, completing scavenger hunts, and fishing from inflatable pools.

Ms. Pettibone is remarkable.

And, remarkably, her creativity isn't the quality that impresses me most.  She once said that she understands the struggle with self-esteem that can affect her students, and has therefore made it her mission to ensure that each of them feels important.  She writes  heartfelt personal letters enumerating their strengths, attends their extracurricular performances on weekends, and makes sure they have a friend to play with at recess.  At parent teacher conferences, she goes beyond test scores and quantitative measurements, and talks to parents about their child's kindness and confidence, the joy they bring to her life, and their unique talents and potential.

Once, Ms. Pettibone mentioned during a lesson that she needed a good night's rest to be ready for her job, and a baffled student replied, "You have a job!?"  It was the perfect indication of the way she is perceived. Not as someone who simply shows up for work every day, but as a beloved part of each child's life - Teacher, mentor, advocate, cheerleader and friend.

When you have a child that struggles academically and socially the way Leah does, the thought of sending them to school can be agonizing. The gift of Ms. Pettibone is that her classroom is the place where Leah feels most confident. She has made more progress this year than any prior, and I can say that without considering a single grade or test score.

They say that teaching is a thankless job. Thanking this teacher enough is an impossible one.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Dr. Shame

When my daughter Leah was in first grade, she was prescribed a patch to correct the vision in her left eye.

The first time I put it on her, I told her two things.

First, I promised that if anyone made fun of her for wearing it, I would personally come to the playground and watch them "accidentally" trip and land on their face.  She was horrified, but I swear I meant it.

Then, I told her that I was so, so sorry.

Leah has a neurological disorder. I could write an entire book about her, and someday might, but for now suffice to say that she is the most adorable thing you'll ever meet, but that life has handed her a multitude of hurdles to clear.

Her deficiencies manifested one by one from time she was born. It took years to diagnose her, and just as long for me to obsess over where I had gone wrong. First, I decided it must have been mercury exposure from the tuna I ate when I was pregnant with her.  When that theory didn't pan out, I decided it was the medication I took for morning sickness. Or the helmet therapy we elected to correct her skull shape.  Maybe exposure to mold in our California apartment? For every moment I watched her struggle, I found new ways to incriminate myself.

Then, when she was in first grade, we added vision to her list of battles. Her pediatrician noticed her straining to read the eye chart and suggested we have her evaluated, so I scheduled an appointment with a pediatric ophthalmologist at Children's National Medical Center.  This is where she was diagnosed with amblyopia, a condition where the brain favors one eye over the other, and prescribed a patch as treatment.

I had never heard of amblyopia and had a thousand questions, none of which the doctor had much patience for. He spoke mostly over my head except for one thing he made very clear. "You shouldn't have waited until she was seven years old to bring her in," he told me. "If you hadn't, this could have all been avoided."

Then he handed us a box of patches, told us to come back in six weeks, and left the room.

I hated that doctor, whom I would thenceforth refer to as "Dr. Shame," and Leah hated those patches. They gave her headaches. They hurt to peel off. Kids stared at her when she wore them. And it was all my fault. If I had brought her in at an earlier age, like he said, like a good mother, it could have all been avoided.

It weighed on my conscious for years. With every patch, pair of glasses and ophthalmologist appointment, Dr. Shame's admonition echoed in my head.

Until, one evening, I went to dinner with my cousin.

Her challenges are far more consuming than mine. Thirteen years earlier she received a misdiagnosis during pregnancy, and as a result has a child with a serious disability. His diagnosis was followed by years of whys, what-ifs, medical record procurement and malpractice attorneys. She said she became obsessed with receiving justice for her son until one day, after another legal dead end, a nurse at the malpractice firm told her that in her opinion, what had happened "can only be classified as a fluke."

That was the turning point for her. After all the confusion of consultations, files, x-rays, lawyers, etc., she said the only thing she knew for sure was that her son was not a fluke. No child is a fluke.  He is exactly the person he is supposed to be, and even with all of his challenges she wouldn't trade him for anything. She said she hung up the phone, dropped the case, and made the decision that from that moment on she would transfer all the energy she had exerted seeking justice for her son, into loving and enjoying him exactly the way he is.

This was a turning point for me too.

I wondered, what if Leah is exactly the way she's supposed to be? What if the eye patch, the amblyopia, and the learning disabilities are all perfect components of the life she was meant to live? And subsequently, what if none of it could have been prevented or changed, no matter how much tuna I ate when I was pregnant, or what age I took her to the ophthalmologist?

When I considered it from this perspective, I could say without reservation that I wouldn't have Leah any other way. She tests my faith and patience, but is the very reason I've been able to develop both. She thwarted my plan to be a perfect mother, but instead allowed me to raise a perfect child. She's naive but innocent. She's often ostracized, but is incapable of excluding others. It takes her longer than most to understand things, but when she does the joy is tenfold.

My opportunity as her mother isn't just to tolerate her challenges, but to embrace, learn from, and celebrate them.

I am the luckiest.

I suppose I can even celebrate Dr. Shame. Depending on how I reflect on his comment, it can either be a prescription for resentment or healing, and I choose the latter. At the end of the day it's all patchwork isn't it? I'm grateful for what he helped me see more clearly.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Yawn Effect

When I was sixteen, my parents went to dinner at the Red Robin where I worked as a hostess. It was a Friday night and we were slammed, which meant that even with the preferential treatment I was not above administering, they waited in the lobby for over twenty minutes to be seated.

As they did, they said, they noticed something strange. The couple in front of them both yawned, as did members of the family next to them, and several people that walked in after.  Yawns are contagious of course, but this was more like an epidemic.

Just as they were beginning to suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, I called their table. As they stood to follow me they turned, looked past the partition adjacent to which they had been seated, and saw this

It was was an enormous print, framed and hanging just within eyesight of everyone that had been facing them as they waited.  They were so amused, that my mom tracked the picture down and bought a copy for me to hang in my room at home.

She gave it to me with a lesson. This, she told me, is to remind you that you're affected by the people around you, whether you realize it or not.

As I mentioned, I was sixteen at the time, an age when friends can make you or break you. And this wasn't just wise parenting. It was a scientific fact.

Research suggests that others' moods can spread as infectiously as their germs. Psychologists call it emotional contagion, a process by which feelings and emotions transfer from one person to the next, causing them to unconsciously copy one another.

Or, as I've heard it put another way, spend time with bank robbers and pretty soon you'll be driving the getaway car.

We've all felt it. People can inspire you or deplete you. When I spend time with someone whose spirit animal is Eeyore - pessimistic, gloomy, complaining - I notice every dark cloud on the way home.  On the contrary, what a joy are people who are joyful. I have smiled because someone else was smiling, heard laughs that have elicited my own, and caught the bug of other people's infectious enthusiasm, optimism, or capacity to dream big.

This phenomenon also applies to social networks. A 20-year Harvard study concluded that if neighbors within a mile of you see an increase in happiness, you are 25% more likely to see one too. Your tribe matters. I never thought I would get hooked on dirty sodas or wear jandals with socks, but I moved to Utah two years ago and guess what?

For better and worse, I have seen evidence of the yawn effect throughout my life. It's been said that you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with, which means that when I was a teenager, I was the average of Katie D, Amy, Tanita, Jack, Stacey, Jeffrey and Eli (I never was good at math). They were happy, confident, inclusive teenagers with an unwavering sense of right and wrong. To this day I'm grateful for their influence.

When I went away to college and my circle of friends changed, I developed a more competitive nature. After moving to California and enlisting with yet another tribe, I learned to be more laid back. Surrounded by accomplished mothers in DC, I tended more toward self-improvement.

In no other circumstance however, has the yawn effect taken on as much meaning as it has since becoming a mother. When I yawn my kids yawn, proverbially. When I'm unhappy they're unhappy. When I sing along to the radio and point out how beautiful the mountains are, they sing and appreciate mountains. When they step on a Lego and mutter an expletive? Yawn effect.

Twenty-plus years later, the yawning girl is now the screensaver on my phone. She still serves as a reminder of the effect we have on others, though when I look at her these days she doesn't elicit a feeling of caution as much as she does a sense of responsibility.

Friday, April 13, 2018

In with the Old

My husband and I both grew up just west of Phoenix, in Glendale Arizona. Our neighborhood was suburban, but if you were to drive about ten minutes north when we were kids there was nothing as far as the eye could see. Nothing but orange groves, cotton fields, and a few old farm houses scattered here and there.

Then about 30 years ago, developers bought up most of the land, built Arrowhead Towne Center - a million square foot shopping mall, and from there it was a domino effect. Arrowhead was followed by a megaplex, strip malls, restaurants, hotels, MLB spring training facility and eventually NFL stadium (go Cardinals!).

But right at the center of all this change, there was a little broken down farmhouse. And somehow, with everything changing around it, this home managed to stay put. I have tried unsuccessfully to find records of the eminent domain battle that must have taken place over that house, but I can only imagine.

Because literally, on one side of the avenue was the mall, south of it a movie theater, then on the corner of the intersection was a brand new shopping center with a Jack in the Box. And in the PARKING LOT of that Jack in the Box sat this house. With people living in it.

I used to sit in a line of cars at that drive through and scratch my head wondering how on earth the house remained. At some point in my adolescence, while waiting for my tacos, a thought occurred to me. That house taught me a lesson that I'm now trying to teach my children.

At the time it was built, it blended in with its environment. It looked like it belonged. But as everything around it changed, it began to look more and more distinct. Conspicuous. Odd even.

There have been occasions in every phase of my life that I have felt distinct, conspicuous, and even odd because I believed or acted in a way contrary to what was popular. Having survived high school, I can look back now and be grateful I held my ground, and credit parents who taught me that when deciding what to do, one thing I didn't need to take into consideration was what everyone else was doing.

I want my kids to be confident, comfortable farmhouses. The moral compass of society is changing at a rapid pace, and as the definition of right and wrong evolves I hope they will be more concerned with standing the ground of their principles than with trying to blend with their environment.

When they were babies and we lived in Santa Barbara, I was fortunate to be surrounded by mothers much wiser and more experienced than I. There was one in particular, Leslie, who has raised her children into five confident, accomplished adults. I remember when they were in high school, she would have them repeat, over and over and over, "It's okay to be different, if different is good."

The Jack in the Box farmhouse is no longer there. I wish it was, and that I could go back and knock on the door. I would ask its residents why they held out for decades. What was it about the house that was so dear to them, that they insisted on staying put? How did they withstand the pressure of developers for so long, and how did it feel to see the surrounding landscape change so drastically? I'm certain they would have something to teach me.

I would love to visit the old Jack in the Box itself while I was at it, but it's also gone. It too was demolished, and replaced with an In-N-Out, appropriately. Out with the old. In with...

I'd like to go back there anyway and buy my kids hamburgers.  Through the window we can look at the corner of the parking lot where the house used to sit, holding its ground. And hopefully, between dipping fries I can help them understand the difference between things that should evolve throughout their life, and things that never will. Truth. Principles. Right. Wrong.

Although as much as I enjoy an In-N-Out burger, nothing compares to the Jack in the Box tacos of my youth. Am I right? It's an inconvenient truth, but no one has been able to convince me otherwise.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Six Honest Men

My mother raised her children on the philosophy of Rudyard Kipling. He once wrote -

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who

At any given moment, and of any of her four children, she could tell you

✔ Where we were
✔ What we were doing
✔ Why we were doing it
✔ How we were doing it
✔ Who we were with, and
✔ When we would be home

I admit there were times, particularly in my teenage years, that I found this exhausting. There were of course no texting or Find My Friends apps then, so I was always excusing myself to find a borrowed phone to update her on my plans, and answering to her six honest serving-men before, after (and sometimes during) dates, parties and dances.

Now of course, looking back, it's among the laundry list of things that make my sisters and I say, "Oh my gosh, Mom was right about everything."

I now have a teenager that I'm raising in the age of smartphones and social media, and feel like the six honest serving-men that were sufficient for my generation need to train as six merciless tail-kicking ninjas.

Which leads to my daughter, and her cell phone.

But first a disclaimer.

**Disclaimer** I'm about to tell you how my husband and I are raising our child. I am not about to tell you how to raise your child. I understand that cell phone and social media use among youth is an emotionally-charged subject, and wouldn't dare offer advice because I don't know your family, and I don't know what works you. I'm aware there are parents who do not allow their children to have cell phones, and I think it's commendable. I'm aware of others who only allow flip phones, which I also find commendable. Parents who install monitoring apps, or prohibit access to social media? All of it, and every parent doing the best they can, commendable.

None of that, however, is what works for us.

We have a 13-year old daughter. She has her own iPhone. And Instagram and Snapchat accounts. And we do not employ monitoring apps.

And this is why.

When she (I'll call her "Jolie." Because that's her name) was in elementary school, her academic performance at one time was dismal. Her grades were below average, and she was perpetually procrastinating and neglecting assignments. As our oldest child, this was new territory for us and my first instinct was to intervene. Crack down. Take away privileges. Establish an accountability chart. Rule with an iron fist.

My husband's (whom I will call "Jack," for the same reason) response to this proposal was that it would probably work. Hovering over Jolie would without a doubt bring up her grades, guarantee completion of her assignments, and alleviate my concerns. In the short term. But would do nothing for her personal development, or long-term fostering of self discipline.

Instead, he suggested, we called to duty the six honest serving-men.

We began asking her questions -

✔ How are you doing in school?
✔ How does that make you feel?
✔ Why do you neglect assignments?
✔ What do you think would turn that around?
✔ What is the purpose of homework?
✔ What happens to people who succeed in school? And those who fail?

And on, and on.

We asked the questions, and she led the discussion. Our goal was not to impose solutions, but to create an atmosphere where she devised them herself.  She made the rules, and we provided the accountability.

Then slowly, we began to see a change in her. She started making to-do lists and prioritizing homework, all of her own accord. She's now entering high school, and is a remarkable, self-motivated student with a 4.0 and enrollment in all honors and AP classes. She's also adorable and a friend magnet, but that has nothing to do with this post. I just wanted to brag about her while I have your attention.

When Jolie became a tween and her room was a disaster, we didn't make a chore chart or stand over her while she cleaned it. Rather, we summoned the six honest serving-men.

✔ How do you feel when your room is messy?
✔ How do you feel when it's clean?
✔ What habits prevent you from keeping it clean?
✔ What strategies do you think would work best?

And on, and on.

Again slowly, but internally, a change took place and now we never have to remind her to clean her room. Of course gets messy. But when it does, she notices on her own how it makes her feel, and uses strategies she has developed to clean and maintain it.

And then, we entered the age of cell phones and social media.

This summer Jolie will turn fourteen, which means we are on a four-year countdown until she is an independent adult. Four short years until she is out of the house, on her own, and absolved from our perpetual influence whether we like it or not. And for the record I do not. Sob. But when she inevitably does leave, she will have unlimited access to a cell phone and social media.

We see this window of time as an opportunity, not to sequester her, but to train her.

So we gave her a phone. And we allowed her to join social media. And sometimes at the dinner table, or occasional nights when we're sitting at the foot of her bed, the six honest men come to visit.

✔ What accounts are you following on social media?
✔ Which ones make you feel better about your life? Which make you feel worse?
✔ What can you do about that?
✔ What have you seen that resembles pornography?
✔ How did it make you feel?
✔ What did you do about it?

And on, and on.

The objective isn't to know every move she makes on her phone. The objective is to help her develop the internal compass she needs to navigate the waters of technology.

And over time, with mistakes and lessons learned, we've witnessed the rewarding path of her navigation. When she sees something inappropriate on her phone, she shows it to us and we talk about it. When she's bothered by a social media account, she unfollows it and articulates why. Without being asked, she has put her phone away because she can recognize the symptoms of having been on it too long.

We do have passwords to all of her accounts. She charges the phone in our room at night, and we perform random checks of her messages and activities.

But aside from that, we allow her independence.

With the aide of six honest serving-men.

In hopes of raising one honest self-sufficient woman.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Easter Bear

My dad was not a collector of things. When he passed away, there were very few treasures to sort through - some favorite books, his baseball mitt, golf clubs, guitar, and a handful of sentimental novelties, including this

A souvenir polar bear, purchased from the San Diego Zoo in the 1950s.

I first held this heavy pewter bear sometime in the mid 80's, when I was about 5 or 6. It had arrived in the mail in a small box, hand-addressed to my Dad. On the return address label was the name Joe Jeffries.

This was curious. The Jeffries, Dad recalled, had lived down the street from his family in Phoenix when he was a boy. He and Joe had been occasional playmates, but weren't particularly close, and hadn't been in touch for over 20 years. What could he possibly be sending him in the mail?

Inside, wrapped in newspaper, was the bear, and a handwritten note. In it he reminded him that when they were young, Dad's parents had taken him to the San Diego Zoo to see the polar bears, and that he had come home with this souvenir. Joe recalled how much he loved that polar bear, and wished that it was his. And that one day, when my dad wasn't looking, he stole it from him.

Since that day, he said, and for the next thirty years he felt guilty. He had carried the bear with him through every move and phase of his life, and was happy to have finally tracked him down to return it and ask for forgiveness.

Of course my Dad carried no ill feelings. He had forgotten all about the bear, and wrote back immediately, expressing his gratitude and how touched he was by the gesture.

I love this bear. It was one of my favorite things to play with as a child, and I especially love the memories it triggers of my dad telling me the story of its return to him. But it also makes me sad. I always hated picturing little Joe Jeffries encumbered by his mistake, and carrying it into adulthood.

It's such a small thing, and seems like such a futile burden to carry. And yet, I wonder how often I've needlessly carried burdens of my own. Stupid things I've said that play in my head like a broken record. Mistakes I made years ago that still haunt me. Arguments I wish I didn't have, guilt over missed opportunities, or blunders as a parent that keep me up at night with remorse.

This Sunday I won't be telling my kids stories about the Easter Bunny, but we will be talking about the bear. Of course they'll be spoiled with chocolate and eggs and baskets and that stupid grass I'll be vacuuming up until December, but they will also be reminded that Easter is about the Redemption made possible by Jesus Christ, and that because of Him they don't have to live their lives burdened by the mistakes they will inevitably make, or the mistakes of others.

He paid the price for all of it, so they won't have to. There is always hope. There is always change. There will always be fresh starts and second chances and new beginnings.

I was curious what connection there is between bunnies and Easter, and the best I could find on Google was their identity as prolific breeders, which I think would resonate with my children about as much as Easter grass resonates with me.

Bears, on the other hand, emerge at springtime from the hibernation of winter; rested, renewed, and ready to welcome the beauty and demands of a new season.  I find this far more symbolic, and another reason to adopt them as our family's new Easter mascot. This heavy statue that for so long symbolized the weight of Joe's mistake, now represents for us the gift that makes ours bearable.

Related: Dad

Friday, March 23, 2018

I Could Never Live in Utah

Two years ago, our family made the decision to move from Northern Virginia to Utah. My husband had spent six years working for the federal government in DC, and decided to make the switch to the growing technology community in Utah known as the “Silicon Slopes.”

Leaving the DC area was gut-wrenching. We had fallen prey to “Potomac Fever,” and couldn’t imagine a spring without cherry blossoms, weekends without national museums, or our favorite nighttime walks around the monuments. Surely no other city had as much culture, energy, and patriotism, and don’t even get me started on the friends we were heartbroken to leave behind.

Amid the tears though, was an excitement for the prospect ahead of us. When we broke the news to our friends and family in Virginia, most were benevolently sad to see us go, but supportive and eager to share our enthusiasm.

More than once however, the response to our decision was something along these lines - “Congratulations! Good for you! Not for me though. I could never live in Utah.”

This always took me back. It didn’t offend me, but it did make me wonder. What is it about Utah that makes it exempt from social protocol? I can’t imagine anyone saying to someone who just made the decision to move to, say, Michigan, “Congratulations!” and then, “I could never live in Michigan.” But for some reason Utah is free game, and I was surprised how many people were comfortable expressing their aversion to the place we had decided to raise our family.

Not that I blame them for thinking it. Utah is a quirky state for sure. It welcomes you with fry sauce, dirty sodas, and alternatives to the F word (flip, fetch, freaking). It’s true you can’t buy a lottery ticket here, and that drivers don’t let you merge. The rivalry between its universities is a legitimate holy war, and I’m still trying to figure out what happened to letter T in the middle some of its words (Lay-on, moun-ain).

But. After two years as a resident here, I can now say with some authority to those who “could never live in Utah,” that you actually could. And I feel so incredibly lucky that I do.

First of all, have you seen this place!? If I don’t eventually crash my car because someone won’t let me merge, I will very likely crash it because I’m continually awestruck by the mountain views out my window. They are breathtaking in every season, but I’m partial to the snow capped vistas that reveal the first evidence of winter, and the fading of it into spring. Google any list of the most beautiful states in the country, and you will without fail find Utah in the top five; always number one among those without a coastline. And it’s not just the mountains. The red rocks and desert views of the southern region are my favorite scenery in the country.

And then there’s the climate, which is also unequaled. The beauty of all four seasons, but with zero humidity, and no matter how hot the summer day, the nights are cool enough to open windows.

I love Utah’s grid-system streets. I love the charm of downtown Salt Lake City. I love the soda shops on every corner, immaculate gas stations, the sight of wholesome teenagers on creative dates, and that Pet Shop Boys and They Might Be Giants play on the radio.

I love the women here. They are warm, giving, and remarkably creative. When they bring you a meal, plan a neighborhood playdate or host a book club they go all in. I’m continually inspired by the high density of educated, committed mothers here, who run the schools, rally together for charitable causes, and oversee homes where my children are welcomed, fed, and entertained.

Utah also has the largest average household size in the country, and trust me this has its perks. Children aren’t perceived as an inconvenience or annoyance, but rather are expected and graciously accommodated in meetings, waiting rooms and restaurants. They are also cheap to entertain. After living in Southern California and DC, we went hog wild when we moved here and discovered the comparative cost of sports leagues, bounce houses, roller skating rinks, etc.

I could go on, but I’ll leave it at that, and I’ll leave it here. I realize there's no point making a case for Utah to the next person who pities that I live here, because I understand it’s not for everyone. I’m just fetching grateful it’s for me.

Related: An Insider's Guide to Santa Barbara 

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