Half My Life

Give or take a few years, about half my life is over.

Of course, I have no guarantee I’ll live to be 90 years of age. None of us do. But I suspect most of us can picture ourselves living into our 80’s or 90’s. I tend to see myself living at least as long as my grandparents did.  That’s the best case scenario anyway.

Certainly genes have a say in it as does my level of exercise and diet. I’ve read that those who own a pet or believe in God also tend to live longer. If that’s true, then I can tack on a couple more years.

Speaking of diet, I took my kids to McDonalds for breakfast this morning. Don’t worry, I ordered a fruit and yogurt plate with walnuts which was just too healthy so I added a large Diet Coke to my meal after telling my children could not have root beer because nobody should be drinking soda for breakfast.

While we sat at our table waiting for our breakfast to arrive, my daughter commented that we were “surrounded by seniors” as she calls people who look older than her grandparents. She was right. Most of the tables were taken by people about twice my age. Between sips of coffee, many were in lively conversation. And they all seemed to be enjoying themselves.

I sat there wondering what amazing things these people had accomplished in their lives. The advances the world has seen since they were my age are mind-boggling. I wondered how many of them knew their way around a computer. I figured my kids probably knew more about the web than they did.

Our food arrived. Once the kids stopped fighting over who took greater portion of syrup we played a game where I ask them oddball questions such as, “Would you rather be chased by a bear or a hippo?” Of course, the answers are even less rational than my questions.

As we began to clear our table,  I heard my phone ring. I was about to pull my phone from my pocket when I heard an older man answer his phone. I turned around to see he was speaking into an iPhone 4. I guess his hearing is better than mine.

If I live to be 90 years old, I can only hope that I’ll be hanging out at McDonalds with my friends, taking calls on my iPhone 45.

The No-Fly Zone

A few months ago caught up with a friend with whom I served a mission with from 1987-1989. He told me about his schooling, career and family. Over the course of twenty minutes he brought me up to speed on what he’s doing today and we laughed about our many shared experiences trying to convince German we weren’t crazy for attempting to teach them about our beliefs.

When it was my turn, I began telling him what I’ve been up to for the past dozen years or so.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that I told him what I did when we immediately returned from Germany before skipping ahead six years to 1995. I’m certain this isn’t the first time I’ve done that because I’ve worked hard to erase that six year period spanning from 1989 to 1995 from my mind.

But talking about it again would give it life. Possibly even meaning.  I’d better slice it off like a cancerous tumor before it returns.

For the past sixteen years I’ve tried to forget about period because it’s a reminder of the darkest time of my life and ultimately my largest failure. Of course, it’s foolish of me to assume I can simply erase a stretch of growth and conflicting actions. We tend to remember the spikes.

Then last week Kim and I had lunch while the kids were in school. On the drive home I referenced a concert we attended together. The long pause that followed give me time to reconsider my memory of the event which, on second thought, took place a few years before we met. I’d accidentally referenced an event that took place during the No-Fly-Zone of my life.

In years past, I would have quickly changed the subject or done anything to remove the awkward silence that follows a miscue of that degree. In all honestly, I would have done that on this day as well.

But that wasn’t how it worked out because Kim giggled, then turned to me and said, “Ha! That must have been someone else!”

The levity she brought to that drive home was much appreciated. And what I’ve realized since is that she’s always accepted not just the person she’s known since 1997, but the person I was before we met. Including those six years.

We accept not just the person we’ve known for a short period of time, but also the years and experiences leading up to that time. I’m slowing coming to terms with that time of my life I’ve tried to erase. Yet I understand that many of the decisions I made back then are a directly related to where I am today.

There’s time to sort through it. And I need to sort through it because I know the day is coming where my children will have questions, and I can’t just skip over that part of my life like I did with my friend.

Yesterday I brought up a video of Wonderwall from Oasis on my computer. Luca pulled a chair next to me, and we watched together. I told her this is one of my favorite songs, and explained how it reminds me of the year I left Utah for Seattle. She recently began playing the cello and was thrilled when one showed up on screen just before the chorus.

When the song ended, she asked me two questions:

“What year was it when you moved to Seattle?” and “Will you play that again?”

Perfection is Overrated

I’m not interested in perfection especially when it comes to people. Like the girl I had a crush on in high school who seemed entirely too perfect. Certainly too perfect to ever notice me.

Years later I found out out that she struggled through life like everyone else. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but she now seemed far more interesting.

Tonight over dinner my brother shared an experience with me about running a business. He probably doesn’t realize it, but I feel more connected to him than before. He’s always seems so calm, but underneath that exterior, he has the same questions I’ve had during my career.

Being perfect is boring.

Friends and family who go to great lengths to hide challenges and the rough spots end up with less intense relationships because it’s difficult to relate to perfection. And it’s exhausting keeping up the facade that nothing goes wrong.

As a young boy my father seemed perfect to me. I began to wonder if he’d ever made a mistake until I watched a cop pull him over for speeding in his Plymouth Duster, and he let a “damn” fly.

The wrapper of perfection was off, and I began relating to him as my father, imperfections and all, instead of the robo-dad.

I gravitate to bloggers who are not afraid to detail the bad with the good. I wish I was able to balance this better with my own blog, but I seldom feel like writing when a part of my life is spiraling down the drain.

Yet those are the times I should capture and share.

Family Vacation

This is the first family vacation we’ve taken where I haven’t had a boss breathing down my neck, waiting for my input on a critical matter such as the color of our new company shirts.

Or the bored coworker who adds me to the cc: line of every email so I know how hard he’s working in my absence.

Or the client who ignores my OOF and expects me to attend a meeting to discuss a project six months from now.

The most difficult part of this vacation was leaving our 11 year old boxer at home. She has a tumor above her right eye, and we know it will likely end her life. Before we left our home Kim and I gathered the kids and said a prayer asking God to comfort her.

It worked because our neighbors have provided her with excellent care. I know some may shrug, but we can’t wait to see her.

Spending 22 hours in a minivan with four children probably sounds like more nightmare than vacation to many. I knew it was time to pull over for a break when, after watching my 3-year old son toss his flip flops at his sister, I began reaching for my own shoes.

We spent the last week in St. George visiting with Kim’s family. As I sat in the van calling for the kids to get in their seats, I watched them hug their grandmother and grandfather, their arms forming a circle around their legs. Nobody wants to be the first to let go.

That’s the scene I’m replaying in my mind 14 hours later. It helps erase the memories of the arguments over the Nintendo. Or the “I have to go the bathroom” five minutes after the last stop.

One day I want to be the one the grandkids form the circle around.

Trust Issues With The GPS

“Only 799 miles to go”, I said as I looked at Kim who was already giving me the “shut up and drive” look.

I started off our trip to Utah giving mileage updates. Every few miles.

The Magellan calculated 804 miles from our home to Utah which I sort of trust. But it also says the trip should take about twelve hours which means the engineers at Magellan must not travel with children.

And yet I have only myself to blame.

I’ve lived in Seattle for seventeen years. In that time I’ve made the Seattle to Utah trip at least twenty times. One might assume I know the shortest route between these two points.

And yet when the GPS told me to turn right I turned to Kim and said, “Screw it, I’m taking a left.”

That ill-advised left added at least another hour to the trip as we backtracked through towns I’ve never heard of. Kim made sure to read the town names aloud so we’d all know that maybe my directional instincts are not as powerful as a network of global satellites.

The problem comes down to the fact that I don’t trust my GPS. Each year I read about the driver who blindly followed the polite GPS voice right into a lake and drowned. And each time I see a makeshift memorial near a body of water I think to myself, “Another death by GPS.”

So I follow my Magellan just enough to get pointed in the right direction, but not enough that it saves me time or an ounce of grief. I’ll follow the sultry voice like a lemming from my home to the freeway making every right and left turn as if my driver’s license was on the line.

But put me in a city I’ve never been to and I’m muting the GPS, cranking the Zep and proclaiming, “Stand back, I’ve got this one!”

Less than 400 miles from our home, we pulled off the freeway and into the parking lot of Best Western. I called the reservation line and was thrilled to hear they had a room for us. I must have been tired because, when asked how many children I have I replied, “Three”.

For the next twenty minutes our four children debated who had been booted from the family.

Simple Living

In 2004, we sold our home and moved to southern Utah. We rented a small home, owned one car and my commute to work took less than 10 minutes.

We had no mortgage or large loans hanging over our heads.

What we did have is freedom. We’d signed a month-to-month lease on the home so we felt as though we could pack up and leave at any time. That’s such a wonderful feeling, yet it’s one I’d forget less than a year later.

 ivins

When the air conditioner broke down, the owner picked up the tab. There were no major financial surprises like a $3500 water heater replacement.

Because we lived under our means, I didn’t feel compelled to spend my nights and weekends climbing the corporate ladder. There was no pressure to inflate my billable hours. My work remained at work.

We spent our free time at the swimming pool or the park. And Kim’s parents lived around the corner so we spent a lot of time chatting over dinner. I formed a strong relationship with my in-laws that remains today. I can’t overestimate how much my children enjoyed living close to their grandparents. They would move back today.

A year later we left the gorgeous red mountains of St. George and returned to the Seattle area where I haven’t been as successful living a simple life. I continue to reflect on the lessons taught in one of the most influential books I’ve read, The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs.

I picked up the book over ten years ago on a recommendation from my brother-in-law and have thought back to the many people profiled in that book who had few possessions yet lived happy and fulfilled lives. More than one example has stuck with me over the years, but I remembered one specific story as I spent the afternoon working on my twelve year old car.

Luhrs tells a story about how she saved money by driving older cars. One morning around the breakfast table, her teenage son begged her to trade in her older car for a new SUV. Over the next few days, she test drove new SUVs that would accommodate her family. She got a firm price quote that included trading in her older car. She also called around to find the best loan terms.

Then she gathered her family explained in detail the new SUV she’d found. Of course, the children were thrilled and wondered how soon it could be parked in their driveway.

That’s when Luhrs began to explain how taking on a new car loan and higher insurance premiums would change the family. In order to afford that new SUV, she explained how it would require her to work a few extra hours each day so not to expect help with homework. She also wouldn’t be able to attend their soccer and baseball games because she’d need to work Saturdays.

Her children began to understand the sacrifices they would need to make in order to afford the new SUV. Luhrs presented the facts and allowed her children to decide what was more important: new SUV or time with mom. Put in those terms, their older car didn’t look so bad.

In many ways, I’ve tried return to return to how I felt in 2004. Kim and I often discuss why our family was happiest during this time. I know part of it was living so close to family. That’s a major benefit especially with younger children. But I’m convinced that’s only part of it.

St. George is much smaller than Seattle so we had fewer distractions pulling us in many directions. In Seattle, I’m more likely to spend my free time at a tech gathering or sporting event. In St. George, that time was spent pulling my kids around the park in a wagon.

I wish I were better at finding balance because I know it only gets more hectic as children become more involved in school and church activities. Although it can be uncomfortable, I have to say no more than I’d like. Over-committing myself, be it with work, church or friends, takes the same toll on my body and mind that debt does. They zap both time and energy.

I look at my calendar this weekend, and it contains not a single event or commitment. Maybe I’m beginning to make progress.

Time to pull out the wagon.

Another Father

I was asked to speak in church on Father’s Day. I’ve written much about my father so I decided to share how another father has influence my life.

In the summer of 2005 I accepted a job in Seattle while our family was living in St. George, Utah. The job started immediately which meant Kim and our three young children would remain in our home for over a month while I got settled into my new job and searched for a place to live during the crazy run-up in home prices.

Although I was able to fly back to Utah a few times, it was a stressful time for us, especially Kim who was on her own to pack our belongings and clean our home on top of raising our children. It was August when temperatures in Southern Utah can soar to well over 110 degrees. I lost track of the number of times I scorched my hand that summer while grabbing the car door handle.

We owned one car at the time which remained in Utah. I got around Seattle by bus which gave me a lot of time to reflect on my decision to uproot our family. I wondered if I was making the right decision to move our children away from their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. I wondered if I’d accepted the right job at the right company? Was the timing right? As the primary financial provider for my family, I wondered if making the move would eventually result in a wider selection of career choices. Given the ebb and flow of the technology sector, there were no guarantees.

I called Kim each evening to hear how things were going back in St. George. We’d chat for a while. I wanted to be there to help but couldn’t. But what I didn’t realize until later was that my family was watched over by another father, my father-in-law who lived a few blocks away.

Without waiting to be asked, he stopped by our home each day. One afternoon he replaced a burned out light bulb on our porch. Another time he brought over a phone when the battery ran out on our cordless model. And when I reminded Kim that the next morning was trash pickup she went outside to find that her father had come by, taken the cans to the curb, and returned home without saying a word.

My father-in-law stepped in to provide assistance when I wasn’t able to. This is an example of one father who understood that fatherhood requires leadership and offered it unconditionally to his extended family.