Lumberjacks, Cartwheels and Soccer Trophies

Dear Will:

In spite of our best efforts—or perhaps because of them—we are compelled to admit that we live in a fairly strange place. For instance, earlier today Seth was playing a matching game called Husker Du. He said he was winning, which seemed a little strange inasmuch as it appeared that he was playing alone. He soon clarified: “I have 4,” he said, “and my soccer trophy has 2.” (Immediately you think to yourself: “Ah, so the kid learned all of his social skills from his old man.” Perhaps so, but you’re missing the point.) Seth’s imagination is only limited by the number of hours in a day. It’s all fun, with or without a living, breathing friend to play with.

For instance, every day when he gets home from school Seth goes directly to the back yard to play whichever sport is in season. It’s more important than lunch, even if—and this should give you some idea of his fervor—lunch is at McDonald’s. He plays all positions on both teams (so far the trophy has not been invited to join in) and also serves as the announcer. Thus, rain or shine, you’ll hear backyard play-by-play delivered (who knows why?) in an impassioned falsetto: “Three-pointer by Seth! UCLA leads the Pistons 57-23! . . . Pistons have the ball. SETH STEALS IT! Slaaaaam dunk!”

Although he is only five, Seth has already revealed himself to be the most ardent sports nut in the household—which, though cute, is also irritating if you’re hoping to read the sports page before you go to work. Each morning he examines the box scores as if he were checking the status of his Wall Street investments, reading them out loud, one-by-one, under the apparent assumption that everyone cares deeply whether the Hornets beat the Warriors and by how much. “Dad, the Pirates lost to the Expos!” he’ll shriek, and then he’ll run into the other room to share with Mom the shocking news. His favorite teams include some obvious ones (Angels, Lakers, Bruins) and a few not-so-obvious ones (um, the Toronto Blue Jays?–don’t ask). Also, if there’s a game on—no matter what the sport—you can pretty much count on him rooting for whichever team is ahead and becoming distraught should they fall behind, even if he never heard of them before he turned on the TV.

Speaking of falling behind, we tried to send Bryn to bed an hour ago and she still hasn’t so much as brushed her teeth. We’re guessing (hoping) that’s fairly normal, but what we suspect is not normal is that it took her 7 ½ minutes to go 10 feet down the hallway to get her toothpaste. How is that even possible? you ask. (Well, maybe you didn’t ask, but we ask it all the time.) The simple yet maddening explanation is that there is nothing linear about Bryn. For instance, she cartwheels everywhere she goes. Down the hall, into the kitchen, across the crosswalk, even heading to the bathroom at a highway rest stop, Bryn twirls and spins and does one-handed round-offs as if it were the most practical mode of transport available. It may make it harder to finish your homework, but isn’t life about more than just homework?

Apparently so. Thus Bryn’s hyper-imaginative, ten-year-old mind has her alternately composing music, producing stage plays, writing poetry, devising recommended reading lists—all while (supposedly) doing her chores. She organizes, plots, devises. Plays the piano and (squeak, honk-honk, screech) the clarinet. Sings Broadway showtunes. And more than anything, she dances. Beautifully.

In fact, Bryn is at the ballet studio so much (about five days a week) that Luke insists that she is never around. (“It’s a good thing too,” he says in typical big brother fashion, “because she is so annoying.”) All that time at the barre is paying off (not literally—it’s costing us a fortune) as Bryn has begun dancing en pointe and was recently cast for the first time in her life as a soloist in her company’s winter concert.  No doubt Seth is hoping she’ll get a trophy out of the deal, and Luke is hoping he doesn’t have to attend. As for us, we’ll be satisfied if the discipline she is learning as a dancer at some point will help her brush and floss in less than 20 minutes.

Luke’s passions are no less obvious than Bryn’s, but they produce a wider range of emotions in his parents:
1—writing (thrilled, proud); 2—computer games (aggravated, intolerant); and 3—girls, or should we say, girl (panicked, hyperventilating, freaked out big time). Since he’s fourteen we shouldn’t be surprised by any of this, of course; but at the same time, did we mention that he’s only fourteen!? (pant, pant, palpitate).

To better cope with his reactionary parents, Luke has enrolled in the Orange County High School of the Arts, a secondary school dedicated to the production of actors, dancers, and other future restaurant workers. To be fair, the kids there are fun and quirky and extremely talented, making OCHSA a very cool place indeed. Luke is enrolled in the Creative Writing Conservatory, through which he receives 12 hours a week of after-school writing instruction. This semester his coursework includes: Literature into Film, the Art of the Short Story, Screenwriting, and Hiding the Fact that You’re More Articulate than Your Parents. (OK, so we made that up, but we’re hoping they’ll offer it next semester.) It makes for very long days, but when you consider that’s three additional hours of parent-free existence, you might go for it as well.

Besides, attending school with a bunch of highly creative people has its perks. For instance, every Tuesday Luke attends the weekly meeting of the Lumberjack Club—which we’re guessing you haven’t signed up for yet. The purpose of the club is a little fuzzy, but it seems to involve a secret handshake, flannel shirts, eating flapjacks (“not pancakes,” we are reminded), and watching “lumberjack movies.” (Question: Lumberjack movies?) Like we said, these kids are quirky—and probably having a lot more fun than the rest of us. Kind of annoying, isn’t it?

Sort of like this letter. Rather than put you through any further misery, then, let me conclude by making it clear that the eccentricities of this threesome have almost nothing to do with genetics (although Dana can be a bit bizarre from time to time). Dana and I continue to try to set an even-keeled example for them, but it is for naught: they quit paying much attention to us several years ago.

Finally, on behalf of all of us—the parents, the kids, the dog, and the soccer trophy—may I wish for you more of what you need, less of what you don’t, and a generous smattering of what you want.


Still Not Sure What the Point Was

Dear Will:

I’m getting old. I am reminded on a daily basis that I’m not the kid I used to be. In fact, I’m beginning to doubt that I ever was a kid, which we all know is a surefire sign that you are, indeed, getting old.

This growing consciousness of age has little to do with my receding hairline because, to be honest, my hairline finished receding long ago—a tide can only go out so far, after all. Still, I did find myself being counseled by the barber just the other day that it was time to buzz the top of my head clean because the few stubborn follicles that remained up there just looked, well, awkward. OK, so I admit it: that did bug me.

The flecks of gray in my brown beard, however, don’t bother me in the least because, I’m told, they look “distinguished.” (“Flecks?” my wife hollers from across the room. “They ceased being flecks long ago. Try flecks of brown in your gray beard!”) See what I mean?

One place in which it is especially apparent that there is a growing divide between me and youthful vitality is in my son’s carpool.  A few days a week I drive Luke, my ninth-grade son, to school along with three other high-schoolers. When I suggest that from time to time they bring in a CD of music to share, they gladly oblige since they have long ago tired of my hit list of songs from 25 years back. Can’t say that I blame them. But what I do find a little troubling is that there is rarely even a single song in their collections that sounds familiar to me; rarely a group they like which I have ever heard of; rarely a riff in a song that I find even somewhat palatable. And in those moments of self-realization, I find myself exclaiming: “Egad! I have become one of my parents!” To which they respond: “Egad? What’s ‘egad’?”

And so it goes. I’m writing this to you from a hotel room in San Francisco where I am attending a trade show. This evening I wandered down the street to Old Navy to buy myself a new shirt. Now I knew before walking in there that I wasn’t their target market, but I figured: a shirt’s a shirt, right? Surely I could find something that suited my dull sense of fashion. But as I wandered the aisles, I couldn’t help but think that having a bald, gray-bearded, middle-aged guy wandering around had to be bad for their business. Imagine if I had gone into an especially trendy establishment! They might have called security.

Which would have been OK with me. Those night security guys are looking more and more like my peers with each passing day.

I am reminded of an old joke: There are two problems with growing old: One is that you lose your memory; and I can’t remember what the other one is. The reason this joke comes to mind is that when I started writing you this letter I had a specific point to make, but now that I’ve arrived at paragraph seven, I have no idea what that point was.

Have a good week.


To See Farther and Better and More Clearly

Dear Will:

A couple of years ago there was a movie out called The Other Side of Heaven. The film stars mostly people you and I have never heard of (I think the only recognizable name might be Anne Hathaway, who has made a name for herself playing princesses in The Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted). The movie tells the true story of John Groberg’s experiences as a missionary in the South Pacific (Tonga? I can’t remember for sure.) It’s an amazing tale, full of drama and miracles. And while a cynic like me would guess that a movie about a Mormon missionary would be a low-budget disappointment, I thought this film was pretty well done. Although it didn’t enjoy huge box-office success, you can still rent it at your local Blockbuster. I would recommend it—it’s worth the three bucks for the rental in any case.

The reason I bring this up is because I wanted to share with you one of Groberg’s stories, here now in his own words:

I was assigned as a district president to administer the affairs of the Church and preach the gospel in a group of fifteen small, scattered islands. We traveled almost exclusively by sailboat. . . .

On one occasion, we received word that a missionary was very ill on a somewhat distant island. The weather was threatening. . . . Extra heavy seas slowed our progress, and it was late afternoon before we arrived. The missionary was indeed very ill. Fervent prayer was followed by administration, during which the impression came very strongly to get him back to the hospital on the main island, and to do it now! . . .

There was much . . . talk about the darkness, the storm, the formidable reef with its extremely narrow opening to the harbor . . . but soon eight persons, including an ill missionary, a very experienced captain, and a somewhat concerned district president, boarded the boat. . . .

No sooner had we made our commitment to the open seas than the intensity of the storm seemed to increase sevenfold. . . . The thick clouds and driving rain increased the blackness of our already dark universe—no stars, no moon, no rest—only turmoil. . . .

As we rolled and tossed closer and closer to the reef, all eyes searched for the light that marked the opening—the only entry to our home. Where was it? . . . The rain slashed at our faces and tore at our eyes—eyes vainly searching for that life-giving light.

Then I heard the chilling sound of the waves crashing and chewing against the reef! It was close—too close. Where was that light? Unless we hit the opening exactly, we would be smashed against the reef and ripped and torn by that thousand-toothed monster. . . .

Some began to whimper, others to moan and cry, and one or two even to scream in hysteria. At the height of this panic when many were pleading to turn to the left or to the right, . . . I looked at the captain—and there I saw the face of calmness, the ageless face of wisdom and experience, as his eyes penetrated the darkness ahead. Quietly his weather-roughened lips parted, and without moving his fixed gaze and just perceptibly shifting the wheel, he breathed those life-giving words, . . . “There is the light!” . . .

I could not see the light, but the captain could see it. And I knew that he could see it. . . . And so with one last great swell we were hurtled through the opening and into calmer waters. . . .

We were in the protected harbor. We were home. . . .

And so the great lesson: There are those who, through years of experience and training, and by virtue of special divine callings, can see farther and better and more clearly—and can and will save us in those situations where serious injury or death—both spiritual and physical—would be upon us before we ourselves could see (in Ensign, Nov. 1976, pp. 44–45).

I bring this up because General Conference will be on this coming weekend. The Prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, will be speaking. Hope you get a chance to tune in.