Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Bummer Lamb

A couple years ago as I was hauling Christmas decorations up from the basement, Eddie offered to assist. I knew this wasn't about being helpful as much as it was about being the first to claim the favorite seasonal toys - a Polar Express compass and stuffed Rudolph that sings and dances - but I took him up on it anyway. 

The first storage bin he opened had a nativity set in it, as did the second and third. When he opened a fourth bin and discovered yet another he slammed the lid down and said, "Whyyyyy do you have so much Jesus stuff??"

It was not our finest moment.

This year he was once again at my side, opening bins. We rummaged for the toys first to avoid a repeat of his sacrilege, then I put him in charge of setting up the nativities.

He took quite a bit of creative liberty as he did, placing the African wisemen in the Pilipino stable, and giving a couple of the Josephs a break from paternal duties to hang out with the shepherds.

He also gathered all the sheep into one place.

After he went to bed I rearranged things to my Type-A liking, but left the sheep as they were. I liked the sight of them all gathered together, and it inspired me to think about the symbolism and significance of the lamb.

Over the next couple weeks I read and learned more about sheep than I ever cared to, sharing the most interesting finds with my kids. Their favorite so far has been the story of Chris, an Australian sheep who went viral in 2015 when he was found suffering under the weight of 90 pounds of wool, because he had been lost and forgotten. There's a lesson in that, isn't there?

But my personal favorite discovery has been this.

According to sheep industry websites (seriously, that's how far down the rabbit hole I got), ewes will occasionally give birth to a lamb, then immediately kick it away and reject it, refusing to meet its needs.  This can be for various reasons. Occasionally the lamb will be one of twins and the mother is incapable of feeding both. She may also detect a birth defect or sign of weakness, or perhaps is just old and sick of this whole baby business.

Lambs that are rejected like this are referred to as bummer lambs, and unless a farmer or shepherd intervenes, they will die.

The sites I browsed explained in detail how to care for bummer lambs. They have to be bottle fed, for instance, and kept warm, usually by being wrapped in a blanket and held, or placed near a fire. When they are finally strong enough to survive on their own, they will be returned to the field to join the others.

It's said that when a farmer or shepherd calls his flock to gather, the first to come running are the bummer lambs. To them, his voice is the familiar. They know him from experience, and they trust him.

This is Christmas.

Someday when I meet Jesus Christ, I want it to be as a bummer lamb. I want to have lived a life with enough pain, rejection and helplessness that when I hear His voice it's familiar to me, and I recognize Him as the only one capable of rescuing me from death, suffering and everything I don't understand, when I'm not capable of rescuing myself.

"To him the porter openeth, and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice." John 10:3-4

This is not a scripture I've ever associated with the Christmas story, but I do now.  I've also never thought to arrange the nativity sheep into a single flock, but it appears Eddie has started a new tradition.

Monday, October 7, 2019

V Formation

This month, Cal surprised us by auditioning for a part in his school's production of Willy Wonka

He is always surprising us. 

On the one hand, he is a typical 10-year old boy. He loves playing sports and Castle Crush, and on any given afternoon can be found wandering the neighborhood on his bike with friends, in search of any excuse to use a power tool, put out a fire, or bury a dead animal. 

But when you get to know him you might be surprised to discover that trapped inside his adventurous 10-year old body is the temperament of a cynical 45-year old man. From the time Cal was a toddler, he has complained about the cost of living, advised us against risky behavior, muttered under his breath that children throwing tantrums should "man up," and has spent more time disciplining his siblings than his father and I combined. 

Last year, as part of a unit on entrepreneurship, his teacher told the class to pretend they owned a hot dog stand, and asked them to name potential problems their imaginary business might encounter. She said that answers from the students included rainy weather, running out of supplies and competition from other hot dog stands, until Cal raised his hand to suggest that, "We could get nuked by the Russians."

On another occasion, I was told by a friend that her son had always dreamed of being a professional baseball player, until he made the mistake of telling Cal. This led to a lecture on the difference between childhood dreams and realistic ambitions, and the poor kid coming home to Google more practical options for providing for a family.

Or there was the time I woke up to find a pile of dollar bills on the kitchen table, and was told that he had solicited it from kids in the neighborhood who came over to watch a movie, because why should we pay for it ourselves. He is constantly calculating, speculating, and trying to stump me with questions like, "Mom, what if you had to choose between me, Eddie, and Jesus?"

This summer, I had a moment with him that topped them all.

He had become fascinated with the migration of geese, and learned that the reason they fly in a V formation is to distribute the burden of travel, which can be up to 3,000 miles a year. As the geese in front flap their wings, they produce air and lift that carries to those behind them, allowing the birds in the back to coast, and fly with greater ease.

When the goose in the front wears out, it leaves its position and goes to the back, and the next in line takes its place.

One day, Jack had been traveling for work and the kids and I had an overwhelming afternoon. Nothing major, just an accumulation of petty annoyances that culminated in me leaving them alone after dinner to attend a meeting, with the house in a state of chaos.

A few hours later I returned home bracing for a late night of catch up, and was shocked to walk into a perfectly clean house. Dishes done, laundry put away, stairs vacuumed.

I was able to determine pretty quickly that Cal had done all the work and found him in bed, nearly asleep. I told him how much I appreciated it, and that it must have been hard for him to do it all himself.

His answer?

"You've been flying in the front for so long, I just thought it was your turn to go to the back for awhile and glide."


Related Post: According to Cal 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Jim & Susan

My parents were married 50 years ago today, on July 24, 1969.

In Utah, July 24th is a major state holiday - Pioneer Day, which commemorates the settling of the Salt Lake Valley. Businesses are closed, and celebration commences across every city, in the form of parades, rodeos and fireworks.

That my mom and dad were married on a holiday is purely a coincidence. Just like it's purely a coincidence that Jack and I were married on May 4th, which is Star Wars Day, and I don't know how much longer I can fake a smile when people tell us, "May the 4th be with you" as though we're hearing it for the first time.

Still, I've always thought that Pioneer Day was the perfect occasion for celebrating my parents' marriage, and not just because of the fireworks. On a day that people are honoring the foundational beginnings of such a beautiful, thriving state, we get to honor the foundational beginnings of a beautiful marriage, and all that has come from it.

Their story began during their freshman year in high school. They were in the same seminary class, where Mom quickly developed a crush on quick-witted, popular Dad. She was shy, and for the next four years tried unsuccessfully to get up the nerve to ask him to Sadie Hawkins.

By senior year Dad was class president and homecoming king and mom had all but given up when, out of the blue one day, he approached her locker after school to ask her on a date. From that moment on, they were inseparable.

Months later she asked him what, after four years, made him suddenly decide to ask her out.  He told her that he had had the same dream three nights in a row. In it, he saw the two of them walking had in hand, laughing. He couldn't get the image out of his mind and decided to pursue her.

I love that story.

After two years of dating he left to serve a mission in Brazil, where he proposed in a letter, and they married six weeks after he returned.

The secret to their good marriage wasn't any single dramatic event, or sweeping, monumental gesture. Rather, it was a lifetime accumulation of all the little daily choices, habits and acts of kindness.

Dad, for instance, was always complimenting Mom. There were several familiar phrases he liked to use, few of which were politically correct. In a poem he once wrote her for Mother's Day, he said -

"You're a good looking broad," I always say
As offensive as that may seem
To the world at large with its liberated way
But inside it makes me beam

When she entered a room he would whistle so loud I'm sure the neighbors could hear. Mom was flattered and appreciated it at home but when we were out in public, it was a little embarrassing. Especially when we were at Church.

He was always giving her gifts. Not flashy jewelry or elaborate vacations. Better gifts, like the heart shaped rocks for which he was always on the lookout to give mom. She keeps some of them displayed in this box.

He would also write little poems on index cards or the backs of printed church programs. One of his favorite tricks was to hide them in the refrigerator or freezer for her to find. It was not uncommon to scoop ice for a drink during the hot Arizona summers, and end up with one of dad's love notes in your glass.

His specialty was rebus - puzzles in which words are represented by combinations of letters pictures. These are a few of my favorites that he gave her -

My childhood memories of their romance aren't necessarily of red roses or candlelit dinners.  It was things like the nightly dinner routine. My mom loves to cook and dad loved her cooking. As she would scurry around the kitchen in a whirlwind, Dad was right behind her, putting things away and cleaning up.

He also loved running errands with her, and joked that his role in their marriage was to "drive and pay."  Every Saturday they grocery shopped together.  He would do produce, dairy and drinks, and Mom took care of the rest. Then they'd meet up front, where she would sift through his cart and take out some of the junk he had snuck in.

Their nickname for each other was Pal, and it fit them perfectly. They were one another's greatest friend and champion. Mom supported dad through years of schooling, long days at work, and late nights fulfilling Church responsibilities. Free time for him was rare, but when he did get it she attended all his softball games, made ASU football a priority, and was genuinely happy when an opportunity arose for him to golf.

They were married 33 years before his passing, but there is no end to effects of the life they built. So today, we celebrate. Happy anniversary!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Thank You Thirties

I remember distinctly the day my mom turned forty.

I was eight at the time, and had always perceived her as younger than my friends' moms, a fact that made me proud. She was energetic and glamorous, taught aerobics, and frequently mistaken for Kathie Lee Gifford in the mid 80s.

On the day of her fortieth birthday, she was scheduled to teach an aerobics class and I asked if I could tag along. She had been teaching for as long as I could remember, so a good portion of my early memories consist of attempting headstands on bench presses to a soundtrack of Whitney Houston, Belinda Carlisle, and calls to grapevine to the left.

On this particular day, just before class was over, a few of her friends slipped out the back door and emerged to surprise her with a traditional fortieth birthday celebration - Gifts wrapped in dark paper, black balloons, and a cake decorated with a headstone that pronounced her "Over the Hill."

I had never seen such a display and while they all had a good laugh, I observed the scene with a terrible feeling of apprehension. Birthday balloons were supposed to be the colors of the rainbow. Bright, happy celebrations of your life. What were these morbid omens of impending death? How dare they throw her a funeral instead of a party?

It must have been a formative moment, because since that day I have subconsciously designated fortieth birthdays as the onset of a person's mortality. Like we're all born with clocks that countdown to our expiration, but they don't actually begin ticking until thirty nine ends, and someone hands you black balloons and a headstone cake.

Today it's my turn to turn forty, and if I could I would go back and assure my eight-year-old self that it's all okay, and mom is still young. It does feels like a milestone, certainly, and has prompted quite a bit of introspection recently, but none of the thoughts swirling in my head have been about death.

Mostly, turning forty has been a chance to reflect on my thirties as I leave them behind, and I'm glad to say that my thirties were kind to me. In the last ten years I have experienced a good range of happiness and challenges that have all taught me a thing or two, or thirty, about life.

Thirty Lessons 
I Learned in My Thirties

1. Little girls are easier to raise than little boys

2. And require less supervision

3. Chicago is a great place to buy big, cheap bombs.

4. Thirty five is not too old to take your first ballet lesson. But it is too old to show up for your second or third ballet lesson. 

5. Sometimes clothes look better on the model

6. George Washington's false teeth are on display at Mount Vernon, but don't ask me to prove it.

7. Children should be expected to contribute at a young age. 

8. Snowmen can pack heat without melting

9. "La Tina" is Spanish for ringworm. This is helpful information, but not the first thing you want to see when you arrive at the maternity ward to deliver your baby.

10. Men will do almost anything for a new set of golf clubs. 

11. They also need time after returning home from Church to relax and unwind  

12. Butterflies with disabled wings are the most fun

13. Approach the lego table with caution

14. Some kids will volunteer to have their picture taken. Others must be drafted.

15. The nuances of a Japanese steakhouse should be explained to children ahead of time. 

16. No one warns you about the amount of human waste you’ll encounter on the sidewalks of San Francisco.

17. When your caller ID says Prince William, don't get your hopes up and make a fool of yourself. Prince William is a county in Maryland. 

18. Little brothers don't always do their chores, but will be the first to assist you with discipline

19. Nothing beats a cousin sleepover

20. The 2010s were a rough decade for Big Bird

And Dora

And Mickey 

21. When 711 says you can fill any container on free Slurpee day, they mean it.

22. Wearing a University of Utah sweatshirt will help you make new friends in Salt Lake, but not if you're wearing it to an ugly sweater party

23. Life will never get worse than the moment your sister found the golden egg on Easter. 

24. Don't forget the letter G at the end of your sentences. 

25. Teach your kid sports now, and humility later. 

26. When your cousins offer to bury you in the sand, check them first for bread crumbs.

27. The best time of day is when dad gets home from work.

28. If you wear a fur-lined coat and mittens to the World War II Memorial, your shadow will look exactly like Dora the Explorer.

29. If you don’t feel like smiling, by all means don’t

30. Happiness is finding the right balance of chasing your dreams, and living in your reality. 

Friday, May 10, 2019

Election Results

Ironwood High School Homecoming Parade, 1996

After conveying in my last post how important I believe it is for girls to participate in student government, I thought I would share the story of my own high school campaign.

At the end of my junior year, I talked myself into running for student body president and decided to file early, knowing I could just as easily talk myself out of it.

Applications became available on a Monday morning. I picked one up before school, quickly collected the requisite signatures, then waited anxiously for Friday's deadline, wondering who would file to run against me.

The week dragged on with no news, and by Thursday afternoon I was still uncontested and breathing a sigh of relief. No one to run against meant no campaigning. No posters. No speech. No self promotion or trying to convince anyone I was a superior choice. This might have been bad news for the democratic process, but it was great for my limited comfort zone.

And then at the eleventh hour, on Thursday afternoon, a baseball player showed up on his way to practice to throw his hat into the ring. He had been recruited by the student government advisors to run, and they couldn't have picked a better candidate. He was popular and well-liked. Smart. Good looking. Quarterback of the football team. Kind to animals. I was toast.

It's remarkable how quickly a person can turn from reluctant dreamer to Tracy Flick, but that's exactly what happened to me. For every poster he hung, I hung five. I crafted and distributed 500 neon paper neckties with my slogan on them. Did you know that six rolls of butcher paper will cover an entire wall of the cafeteria? Neither did I, until he decided to mess with me.

As the week went on he campaigned casually, maintaining the breezy demeanor of someone who was only running because he'd been asked to. I, on the other hand, was sleepless. Think Hilary Clinton in October, when the Access Hollywood tape hasn't deterred Trump and Comey suddenly decides to investigate your emails. I lobbied the cheerleaders, rallied in the quad, and delivered my speech like Winston Churchill before the House of Commons.

In the end it all paid off I suppose, although I was too exhausted to even enjoy the victory. My opponent conceded and congratulated me like a gentleman. I thanked him, and apologized for hiring someone to run over his dog. I'm kidding!

A month into my term however, there were fireworks. Literally. My vice-president, whom I will call "Phillip" was implicated in a scandal that involved the homecoming bonfire and dynamite, and asked to step down from office. Looking back on it all, I gotta give Philip the credit he deserves. The bonfire incident made for a night none of us will ever forget, and as a politician if you're going to go down in flames, why not literally go down in flames?

After the ashes settled, the student government advisors were tasked with filling his vacancy, and decided to do so by appointment. Their choice was obvious - The guy who had run against me. He accepted the position and was sworn into office. We shook hands, buried hatchets, and posed for this official yearbook student government photo which, for reasons I honestly can't remember, we thought would turn out best if we stood behind dead bushes.

As the year progressed, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this vice president and I actually worked really well together. So well in fact that at the end of the year he asked me to prom.

And four years after that, asked me to marry him.

This month marks twenty-three years since that campaign, and there's still no one I'd rather have as my second in command.

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...