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.

Friday, April 26, 2019


It's student government election season at my daughter's middle school. Because no proper American campaign is without a good controversy, I always find myself instinctively trying to sniff one out - even if it is among ninth grade candidates whose chances hinge on how much glitter they use in their cafeteria posters.

In the case of this campaign however, controversy presented itself without any effort at all.

The election process began a couple weeks ago, when all interested students were encouraged to fill out an application that included teacher recommendations and questions about their qualifications. Next, each applicant was interviewed by two teachers and asked to role play scenarios that included, for instance, how they might help a new student feel welcome on campus.

Of the applicants, these teachers were tasked with selecting four finalists to appear on the ballot, two of which would then be elected officers by popular vote of the student body.

On the day the applicants were notified who had been selected, I happened to be on campus. It was after school, and an administrator announced over the loudspeaker that anyone who applied for student government should report for the results. Always a sucker for breaking news, I followed a few of them to watch. I should note here that my daughter was not among the applicants, so I was able to observe what happened next from a pretty objective standpoint.

Thirty students had applied. As they entered the room they were each given a sealed envelope that revealed whether they had been selected or not. Four emerged with congratulation letters. All of them boys. Every girl - and the majority of applicants were girls - was rejected. Smart girls. Kind girls. Well-liked girls. National Junior Honor Society girls. All of whom will be casting votes next week on a boys-only ticket.

I tried so hard not to let this bother me. I really did. I went through all kinds of justifications in my mind, about how the deciding teachers must have known more than I did, or maybe the boys really were more qualified than the girls. I reminded myself that I wasn't a fan of gender politics anyway.

In the end however, I couldn't shake the feeling that a mistake had been made, and wrote the following letter to the principal.

Dear Principal (--) ,

I'm the parent of a 9th grader and am writing, first, to express my appreciation for efforts that have been made at (--) Middle School to encourage female students. I applaud your decision to participate in SheTech, and display empowering messages throughout campus. It has been wonderful to have a female principal who serves as such a positive role model for girls of confidence, leadership, and what is possible.

I also wanted to respectfully convey my disappointment upon hearing that only boys were chosen to appear on the student government ballot this year. I worry that in denying female representation, you have missed a great opportunity to send an encouraging message to all of your female students, whether they have political ambitions or not.

As you're aware, women are decidedly underrepresented in politics at both the local and national levels. When they do run for office, they are just as likely as men to win their elections. The reason they are so underrepresented is because they are far less likely to run in the first place. Two of the most frequently cited explanations for this are the fact that females are less likely than their male counterparts to be encouraged to run, and that they are less likely to consider themselves capable of doing so.

It takes a lot of courage for girls in middle school to decide to run for student office. Presenting them with a boys-only ballot could perpetuate their self doubt, and make them less likely to consider it as an option for themselves. It's discouraging enough when boys self-select more frequently than girls, but particularly disheartening when teachers are the ones who have done the selecting.

I hope that in the future, you will consider ensuring that those who oversee this process take advantage of the opportunity to empower young girls to perceive themselves as capable of campaigning and holding leadership positions on campus.  So often what happens in school can shape what happens in real life.

Thank you,
Katie Erb

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 commemorat...