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.

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...