Mother’s Day Talk

This is a talk I gave on Mother’s Day last year.

On this mother’s day, I thought about what I could share with you that would provide meaning and proper respect for the day. As mother’s day approached, I began to think of the many lessons and skills I’ve learned from women and mother’s in my life, and that’s what I’ve decided to share with you today.

Gandhi said, “My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet.”

My skill at finding my own mother’s imperfections peaked right around the time I got my driver’s license. I loved my mother, but I felt she relied a little too much on Oprah for guidance on how to raise her five children.

I recall one evening when my mother called me upstairs to sit at the kitchen table. Every serious discussion in our family began and ended at the kitchen table. If all the kids were in trouble, my parents called it a “Family Council”. But this time it was just me and mom. She sat across the table from me and stared at me for what felt like 10 minutes.

Finally, she explain that a guest on Oprah had counseled parents to take any and all measures to make sure their children were not taking part in any illicit activities. Being this took place during mid-1980’s I knew exactly what she was referring to. I felt confident I was in the clear until she explained one measure this guest recommended was reading your child’s journal.

As you might imagine, this set off a heated discussion because I’d been keeping a journal about four years and felt anyone reading it without my permission was invading my privacy. As luck would have it, the worst bit of information my mother had gleaned from my journal was that I’d gone to see the movie, Rambo, without her permission.

Years later I sat next to my mother at the computer. She’d been given a new MP3 player but had no idea how to get music on it. So we began the painstaking process of going through folder after folder searching for her favorite songs when my mother took my hand and said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I made so many mistakes as your mother. You are my oldest and I often had no idea what I was doing.”

It would be a number of years later, when I had children of my own, that I’d begin to understand the importance of those words my mother spoke. She didn’t have to apologize to me, but she did and it made an impression on me. Seldom does a week go by where I don’t think, “I have no idea what I’m doing” while trying to help raise five children of my own. 

At the time, my mother was doing the best she could, with the knowledge and resources at her disposal. My father was a teacher at the local high school and he often shared stories with her about what students had gotten themselves into, some of which were life-changing.

As a 16 year old, I didn’t fully understand that, but as a father I do. When I hear that a friend of family member has acted in a manner contrary to what I would have done, I try to remind myself that person is doing the best they can and it’s likely I don’t have all the details. It’s not always easy.

Yet those two words, “I’m sorry” are two of the most powerful words in the English language. They calm, they diffuse. They redirect the conversation towards resolution instead of feeding the conflict. If my children learn to use these words regularly, I will have succeeded at least in one area of fatherhood.

This past week, I was upset with my oldest daughter over something trivial. I’d taken a minor issue and extended throughout the morning until she was ready to leave for school. We headed outside to the car and my daughter opened the door behind me. For a moment I considered asking her to join me in the front seat, but then realized if I’d been treated by my father how I’d treated her that morning, I’d take the seat right behind him so I didn’t have to speak or look at him while he drove me to school. But the short drive through the neighborhood gave me time to put the issue into perspective and, more importantly, calm down. As my daughter opened the door, I rolled down the window and used the same words my mother said to me as a young man: “I’m sorry”.

The ability to not only know I was wrong, but to verbally express that to my children and spouse is a skill I learned from my mother.

I learned another lesson in an unusual manner shortly after I had been ordained to the office of a deacon. My mother had recently taken me to Sears where I picked out a light-blue suit to go with my first non clip-on style tie. My father was in the bishopric at the time and seldom home before church. Each Sunday morning I’d get frustrated attempting to make the tie knot look presentable without choking myself.

One Sunday I had miraculously managed to twist a knot into place that I felt gave my dad’s knots a run for their money. I couldn’t wait to show my father as we pulled into the church parking lot. I ran from the car into the church and up the unusually wide staircase leading to the chapel.

As I got to to the top of the stairs, taking them 2 or 3 at a time, I came face to stomach with Sister Jacobson. She was the wife of the bishop and a no-nonsense woman who always wore a bright red dress and intimidated me.

As I slowly took a few steps back, I expected Sister Jacobson to commence with a lecture about my lack of respect for the Lord’s house. I looked up at her and flashed a grin hoping to lessen the blow.

But it never came. Instead she put her hand on my shoulder, bent down to my eye level and said, “Your smile makes my day.”

That day I was excited to show my tie to my father,  but those kind words from Sister Jacobson brought even more joy to a young man going through an awkward stage of life. I learned that a few kind words could go a long way towards bringing joy to others.

The last mother I want to share with you is someone who lived her entire life in Utah but would only step inside a church to see her grandson’s mission farewells. She spent her career teaching third grade, but was incredibly uncomfortable around groups of people. She was well educated, but not entirely well-spoken. Her tone could be considered blunt if not entirely misunderstood.

This woman is my grandmother.

Summer days were often spent doing yard work and chores for my grandparents. I wasn’t an expert math student but I was wise enough to realize that grandparents paid significantly more than minimum wage so I spent as many days in their service as possible. My father would put me on a bus in downtown Ogden and I’d listen to my Walkman on the hour long ride up through Farmington, around Lagoon and eventually set down in Bountiful where my grandparents lived.

The bus would drop me off near this amazing candy shop in town, where I’d then run the remaining two miles to their house. My grandfather would have the lawn mower oiled and gassed and sitting in the driveway by the time I arrived. I’d mow their lawn, trim the bushes and sweep away the clippings before taking a break in the shade under their plum trees in their backyard.

That’s when my grandma would emerge from the house with a cold bottle of Coca-Cola in her hands just for me. It was the best tasting beverage on the planet made even more special because it was not allowed in our home back in Ogden. But this was grandma’s house and we’d play by her rules and that included the real thing instead of that cheap knock-off Shasta stuff my parents loved. 

My grandfather would often retreat into the home at this time in order to cool off by the air conditioner. This allowed me time to chat with my grandmother. Although she was shy around large groups of people, she opened up to me on the back porch and would ask how I was doing in school.

I couldn’t just dismiss her questions with a “I’m doing fine”. No, my grandmother would go through each of my classes and demand to know what grade I was earning. I recall one afternoon I told her I was looking at a “C” grade in keyboarding and she nearly fell off her chair. “You’ve got to do better than that” she’d tell me in her loving but firm voice.

Education was paramount to success in her mind and she wasn’t afraid to share that opinion with her grandchildren.

When I finished my Coke and was about ready to tackle mowing the the back yard, my grandmother would say, “You can be anything you want to be.”

That stuck with me on the bus ride home each day. You can be anything you want to be. Maybe that was important to my grandmother because she joined the workforce at a time when women filling full time jobs wasn’t looked upon favorably.  Whatever the reason, her words have stuck with me over the years and I’ve given thought to them recently when we decided to leave Seattle and move closer to family here in Utah.

I’ve spend the bulk of my career working for some of the largest technology companies that have helped me provide for my family. But that’s not what I wanted to be, and I often wasn’t happy in that line of work that required travel and a lot of time away from my family. For the past two years I’ve worked to find a job I could do from home. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I’d already found the job. All I had to do was ask.

There have been many women who have influenced my life for the better. I could tell you more stories about each of them before naming another dozen that had as profound an influence on my life.

Finding Home

“Doesn’t this feel just like Seattle?”

Those were Kim’s words last night as we stood on our front porch and watch the wind whip leaves down our street. For the first times in months, the temperatures dipped into the high 60’s.

And yes, it did feel like Seattle minus the $1000 worth electrical bills we rang up over the past two months. In Seattle, we stayed inside due to rain whereas here we remain in an air-conditioned home due to the heat.

With most the of 100+ degree days behind us for the year, I look forward to getting back into biking. The heat plus the higher elevation (620 vs. 3031 feet) has resulted in a lot fewer rides than I was used to.

Our children are back in school and have transitioned well to their new surroundings. They miss old friends but have made a number of new ones. They love living close to cousins and their grandparents. When I ask them today if they want to move back to Seattle they at least hesitate now instead of making a mad dash to the car.

It takes time, and we knew that going into this. We’ve found it best to talk through their concerns, and help them understand that it may take a while before it starts to feel like home. What we didn’t plan on was that those talks being more beneficial to the adults than the kids.

Seattle still feels like home. And I imagine it will feel like home for a long time.

The Disease of More

I once knew a man who decided he wanted a dog. So he spent months researching various breeds until he finally decided on one. He then found a breeder and paid $400 cash for the dog.

Over the next few weeks he bought food, treats, dishes, collars, leashes, toys, grooming tools and lotions to keep the critters away from the new family member. Of course, he didn’t want his dog reproducing with the neighbor’s mutt so off to the vet he went, only to return a few days later with a lighter wallet and a few pats on the back from the vet for making the reasonable decision.

It wasn’t long before he realized the dog needed crate for his home to assist in puppy training. The dog liked to tag along so another crate was purchased and installed in the car.

But the crate took up most of the luggage space so he began researching new SUVs that would give him and the dog more room. It only made sense. And why stop there when a storage carrier could be purchased providing even more space for longer trips.

Of course, the new SUV didn’t come with decent floor mats so he ordered special heavy duty mats that could handle anything he dog could do to them.

Within a few months a $400 pet had turned in to a $40,000 pursuit.

You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m the person in the story.

I’ve often thought back to this experience because it explains a theory I call the Disease of More.  What started out as an honest desire to own a dog quickly turned into a much larger and unplanned expense. Taken individually (outside the purchase of the new SUV), none of the purchases were excessive. But each item built upon the one before it and left a void filled only by purchasing another item.

The Disease of More is a cycle that feeds off itself. It often starts small, such as the purchase of a new phone. The phone works and looks great, until you see some cool new cases at Amazon and add them to your cart. But wait, Amazon says that people who bought this case also bought this car charger, and before you know it, you’ve dropped $300 on a Bluetooth speaker you’ve convinced yourself will be perfect at the beach.

I’ve been down this road before and can tell you it’s a dead end. More stuff doesn’t bring happiness, it only encourages acquiring more stuff. Before long, you’ve got a garage full of crap, most of which you’ve forgotten about.

The good news is the the Disease of More can be eradicated by replacing it with the Cure of Less.

As I’ve mentioned before I took up cycling two years ago. The bike I ride today is 13 years old, and a week doesn’t go by where someone cruises past me on a newer, fancier bike. For a moment I think, “Man, I wish I had a new bike” and then my mind springs into action trying to justify such a purchase.

But, as I learned with the dog, purchasing a new bike doesn’t stop with the bike. I’ll need lots of new gear, and equipment and clothing. Before long I’ll have dropped five grand on a $1500 bike. And I can’t afford that right now.

So I’m learning to celebrate how much I save by riding my old bike. My bike runs fine because I’ve taken care of it. All my gear is fine too. I won’t be competing in the Tour de France, and my bike and gear don’t need to reflect that level of performance.

When you live with less you’re able to focus your attention on those things that matter most in your life. Last month I sold my iPad assuming I’d purchase the new smaller version this fall. But I’ve found that having one less gadget to babysit feels fantastic. I’ve proven to myself that I can live better without a device I deemed necessary not long ago, which has me searching for other time-sucking items I can remove from my day.

Last night Kim and I went for a bike ride. We didn’t go far because the temperatures were in the mid 90s and, frankly, we are in the process of getting back in shape. We biked through neighborhoods taking our time and chatting along the way. When it began to get dark we headed for home.

As much as I’d love a new Cervélo or Specialized bike, I don’t like the idea of working longer hours to pay for such a purchase. The time spent with Kim on my old bike is worth far more to me.

Since Moving to Utah

A few things that have been on my mind the past month since moving from Washington to Utah.

  • One of the best side benefits of moving is not being able to bring everything that’s accumulated in your home over the years. Sure, I’ve had to replace a few items, but starting with a clean slate is good for the mind.
  • I wasn’t looking forward to the 20+ hour drive in the moving van, but being able to spend those hours with two of my sons was fantastic. We stopped along the way to look at rivers and bridges, and take in a few sunsets setting over this gorgeous country of ours.
  • Travel tip: don’t stay at smoke-filled hotels just to save a few bucks. Part of the fun was staying a nice hotel that’s nicer than our home.
  • Four of my last five bike rides have ended with a flat tire. I’m certain I’ve walked my bike more miles than I’ve peddled around town. In Auburn, I couldn’t go out for a ride more than a few miles without someone yelling or throwing a water bottle at me. Nothing like that has happened here.

Splash Pad in April? You bet!

  • The elementary school my kids attend has four large bike racks out front and all four are filled with bikes each morning. The city of Ivins has built bike lanes that feed each of the schools in the area which is a wonderful idea and makes it much safer for the children to ride to school. And ride they do!
  • Facebook, Twitter, texting, and email don’t begin to replace seeing my friends in person. I knew leaving friends would be difficult for my kids, but had no idea how much I’d miss my friends in Auburn.
  • Everyone should have a chance to live a few years in a small town. People tend to treat you differently when they know they will see you again at the school, church or grocery store. There are a goodness and honesty that rubs off on you. Life slows down. What you give up in big city excitement you gain in a peaceful calming of the soul.
  • A bigger home sounds wonderful on paper, and most of the time, I’m thankful for the additional square footage compared to our home in Auburn. But it also means you see and hear less of your children which means you know less about how they are doing.
  • I don’t want to know how many hours I’ve spent shooting hoops in our backyard. The two spotlights off the back of the house allow me to play at night when the temps subside from the upper 90’s.
  • I don’t know if we made the right choice to move to Utah. But I stopped second guessing my decision the first time I saw my kids playing hide-and-go-seek with their cousins outside while their baby brother was asleep in grandma’s arms inside.

A Week Left

I had a lot of time to slow down and think this past week as I packed box after box in preparation for our move next week. A number of items were still in the same box from our last move over seven years ago. I’m at a loss to explain why I held on to a number of items including a broken VCR and DVD player. I tossed both in the trash and moved on.

We arrived in Auburn in 2005. Or I should I say, I arrived in Auburn and bought our current home while Kim and the kids were still in Utah. That’s not a decision I would recommend to anyone, regardless of how many pictures you take and send. But overall the home has worked well for us. We arrived as a family of five and will be leaving as a family of seven minus one boxer.

But one thought I had today was how blessed I have been to have lived in the Seattle area for 17 of the past 18 years. A number of events had to line up  to get and keep me here including taking a job in Wyoming, going through a divorce, and meeting Kim in Las Vegas. I hope my children have a chance to live away from the area where they were raised. I believe that moving outside your comfort zone and familiar surroundings can make a person stronger in many aspects.

I can’t imagine living in the same area or home for 20 or 30 years. Not that I want to uproot my children from their schools and friends, but I want them to have some of the same experiences I value such as making new friends and seeing different areas of our country. Ideally, I’d like to move to a different area of the country every four or five years.

I’m certain my family could be happy living in many states. But we know we like the weather and slower pace of southern Utah.  Our children are at ages that match up well with with cousins whom they will be able to see often. And Kim’s parents are close-by as well so the kids will be able to spend a lot of time with their grandparents. Both my mother and my mother-in-law have health issues that prevent them from doing much travel so it will be nice to be closer to both of them.

In just over a week we’ll be making our way through parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and then on in to Utah.  I hope as many good memories are ahead of us as those we’ve made here.

Too Much Of A Good Thing

On Christmas morning I checked my family’s Facebook page expecting to see pictures of decorated trees or excited cousins opening gifts. Or maybe a picture of my mom and dad who hosted a Christmas day party at their home.

But that’s not what I found.

The only picture that had been posted on Christmas morning was a picture of my sister holding a large assault rifle in her home.

I thought the picture was odd, but figured maybe that’s what she wanted for Christmas. Only later did I find out the picture was several months old and posted as an obvious statement to the few (OK, just myself and Kim) who don’t believe the answer to violence against children should be met with even more weapons in our schools.

A few years back I wouldn’t have known the political views of most of my friends or family. Sure, my close friends would know where I stood on some issues, but Facebook has made it incredibly simple for everyone to share where they stand on any issue.

And sometimes it’s not pretty.

I’ve seen people I though I knew well express racist and sexist views. I’ve been told I’m not a “good Mormon” because I’m not a Republican. And last week I was told to stay in Seattle because my views on gun control don’t match up well with those who live in Utah. One benefit of having written a blog for so many years is that I’ve become accustomed to such criticism when I’ve written about my views that weren’t universally popular among my family or friends.

I’m certain that I’ve posted links to articles or expressed views that offended others as well. Although I’ve written about many of my beliefs here on this blog, Facebook makes it easy to jump into the middle of a discussion and voice a dissenting or unpopular opinion. Add in difficult to understand privacy settings and you have an environment that’s ripe for misunderstandings.

There’s not going back to how it was though. Most of the time I enjoy keeping in touch with friends that I’d otherwise not hear from if Facebook were not around. In fact, I have very little interaction on Facebook with my closest friends. Most of the people I follow and those who comment on my updates are former coworkers or distant acquaintances from high school or college. I text my closest friends.

Last night I sat at the dining table laughing with my two daughters, one of whom had convinced me it was a good idea to warm a can of chili at 11:30 pm. Neither of them have asked to join Facebook. I’m sure they will eventually, but I’m glad I have some time to think about it.

Before I went to bed last night, I took another look at the picture of my sister holding the assault rifle.

And then I uploaded a video of my daughter playing “What Child Is This” on the piano.

Butter Mints

The only time of the year mom bought butter mints was for Thanksgiving. She poured them into a crystal bowl that appeared far more fancy than needed, but no one can blame her since it was be the only day of the year the bowl would be used.

When mom placed the bowl full of mints on the table we knew the turkey was almost ready. No matter how early my father arose to start preparing the turkey, we always sat around the table and chatted about football and food, while waiting on that bird. 

I spent many Thanksgivings with my grandparents. When I was younger, my parents hosted Thanksgiving, and my father’s parents were always invited. As my mother’s health deteriorated, her father would invite the family to Salt Lake for brunch at the Marriot Hotel.

But the hotel didn’t have butter mints, nor were we able to sit around the table and chat for hours. The early years were more about the conversations while the later years were mostly about the food.

This year we drove north to spend the afternoon with Kim’s brother and his family in Lake Stevens. As we left home, I handed Luca my phone and asked her to read aloud the tribute my uncle wrote about his father.

I hoped the others would find the stories of my grandfather interesting enough that they’d listen, but was surprised when it actually happened. I filled many summer days working alongside him on his farm he tended to after he retired from Hill Air Force Base, yet most of what my uncle wrote was new to me.

It’s natural to think about my extended family this time of year, and I still can’t get used to the fact that my grandparents have all passed away.

We’ve begun our own Thanksgiving traditions, like staying up late the night before making pumpkin cream pies. We made five of them this year and all that remains is a bowl of left over whipped cream.

I hope your Thanksgiving was full of conversation, good food, friends and butter mints.