Monday, May 1, 2017

The Cowgirl's Daddy

Looking back now, she can’t remember if she wanted to be a cowgirl because she loved to go for rides out in the desert with her daddy on his bike, a little-girl-friendly Honda Trail 90, or because she and her daddy watched a Clint Eastwood movie together.  All she knows is, when she was a very little girl, that’s what she wanted to be.
Of course, this changed time and time again, and today she is most definitely not at all, even a little bit of a cowgirl - at least not on the outside.  
Her earliest memories, though, include many adventures with her daddy (and her mom, and her dog) out in the desert and the mountains of Arizona.

There was the time they left their house while it was still dark to cook breakfast out in the desert at sunrise, and they saw a gila monster for the first time in the wild.  There was the time they went camping with friends who covered the little girl with horned lizards (possibly at her request, or at least with her approval) and thought it was the funniest and best thing.  There was another time they went camping and she grabbed a hot lantern and burned her hands, and had to sit with them down in a cooler full of ice.  There were wonderful summers in Greer, going on horseback rides through the woods, and hiking Mount Baldy, and watching afternoon thunderstorms.  And there was the time she went fishing with her daddy, and another boy and his dad, and she thought her line had become hung up on a rock, but when her daddy came to check, it turned out to be a fish so big he had to land it for her, and the boy was so mad that a girl had caught the biggest fish that day.
She always thought it was amazing that they would take off on the bike for a ride (she sat behind her daddy with her arms around his waist), head out into the desert until she was sure they were lost and would never be able to find their way back, and would then pop out at the Pinnacle Peak General Store (where he would buy her an Ol’ Bob Miller’s Sasparilla) before heading home.  So many times in the desert, in the woods, up on the rim (the Mogollon Rim, a favorite place of his) she would be absolutely sure they were lost, but her daddy always, always knew exactly how to get home.

When she was just nine, she and her daddy and her uncle hiked the Grand Canyon - down the Kaibab trail, camping at Phantom Ranch, and ascending the Bright Angel.  She felt like such an accomplished outdoorswoman, but, much later, she realized that her daddy must have carried the bulk of her gear, and the food, and the water.  

When she got older, and “Daddy” became “Dad”, and she wanted to have adventures of her own, he encouraged her every time.  His favorite photos of her would be the ones she took in Mexico with a goat, and in Kenya, and even later, with her own children when they traveled the world together.  He told her once that he was proud of the way she and her husband took their children all over, because traveling is “how you really get to know the world, and people, and yourself.”  

Like her daddy, she loved the adventure of books.  She thinks now that it must have amazed and slightly confused her more social mother that she and her dad could sit in quiet companionship, happily reading their own books, for quite a while.  
And, like her daddy, she loved riding through the countryside, looking out the window at all of creation for hours, quietly imagining the events that might have occurred there, or what it would be like to live in that place.  Driving the back roads became a favorite way to relax and have fun.

Before he walked her down the aisle on her wedding day (she would realize later that she had chosen to marry a man who was a lot like her dad, with his love of the outdoors, of fly fishing, of backpacking, of old cars, and of doing things right), the cowgirl’s daddy leaned down and kissed her on the cheek and said, “You chose well, kiddo.”  
When she turned 40, her parents came to her house to help her celebrate, and her dad wanted to get her a special present, so they headed to the Boot Barn to purchase a pair of genuine cowboy boots.  After trying on a few different styles, she found a pair of Ariats that looked they had already been nicely worn in, but also had a pink lining that appealed to the girl in her.  When she showed her dad the ones she had chosen, he said, in his humorous way, “Those will help you to keep kicking ass in life.”  She came to wear those boots when she had to do something scary, like give a talk in front of a crowd for the first time, and needed the extra courage the boots gave her.  Every time she wore them, she was reminded of her dad, and how much he loved her, and how proud he was of her, and it made her a little less afraid.

Five days before the cowgirl’s daddy died, he called her on the phone to ask for her okay to print copies of a little article she had written so he and her mom could show it to their friends.  He told her how much he liked it and what a good job she had done, and then, just before saying goodbye, he said, “Love ya, girl.”  She remembered this later and considered it a huge gift, because although she had never, ever doubted that he loved her, he wasn’t one to say it out loud very often.  And that, it turned out, was the very last thing the cowgirl’s daddy said to her.

So, when it came time to say goodbye to him on this earth, for this time, the cowgirl pulled up her boots, gave her daddy an eskimo kiss on the nose, and thanked him for making her who she is, grateful every single day that the cowgirl’s daddy was hers.  She will always consider herself the most blessed daughter in the entire world. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

In Defense of My Millennials

I have heard so many people complaining about "those lazy, self-absorbed millennials" and how they are going to drive this country into the ground, and it makes my mama-bear tendencies come out in droves, because I am the actual, real-life mother of two of them.  "Well," they say, "We aren't talking about your children." Excuse me, but if you aren't talking about my children, you are probably referring to my students, or to their friends. So in their defense, I would like to just point out a few observations:
Yep, I've met a few who are lazy.  And there are a few who are self-absorbed.  I am prone to laziness, and I most definitely am often self-absorbed.   I went to school with a few lazy and/or selfish people.  Some of their parents were lazy and/or selfish.  And grandparents.  You get the picture - it's so easy to generalize and assume, but it does nothing helpful to do either of those things.  There are amazing and not-so-amazing people in every generation.
I also get my hackles up when we (and by 'we' I mean people over about 40 who rant about millennials) make statements like, "they all got participation trophies for just being on the team!" as if they, as little children, demanded such things.  If I remember correctly, we are the ones who gave them those trophies and prizes; and do you know what I see now in my grown-up children?  They have learned that everyone is valuable whether or not they are the most skilled, or the biggest, or the best.  This is a beautiful thing - it has taught my children and their co-millennials to be way more inclusive and compassionate than I ever was at their age.  My students regularly give up their summers to serve orphans overseas, to participate in helping women leave lives of prostitution, to work with doctors in developing countries to provide life-saving and life-altering surgeries on children, to dig wells to provide clean water for people who have no access, and so much more.  Two years ago, through the non-profit Journeymen International  (started by one of my millennials when he was still a student), three of my students designed and then saw the construction of: a community center and storm shelter in the Philippines, a church and youth education center in the Dominican Republic, and an education and community center in Sierra Leone.  Three students. One school.  One year.  Imagine what happens through all of the students like these, all over the world.  My students are generous to all, and know way better than me how to truly love people who aren't like them no matter what.  They share extravagantly - over the long weekend, in fact, at a student conference we attended, 1000 students gave an offering to help refugee children. And $50,000 was collected.  The way my children and my students care for the marginalized and outcast often puts me to shame in the best of ways - I strive to be like them.
"They are always looking at their phones and taking selfies" is another good one.  We say it like it's their fault that all of this technology has happened, and that they should be ashamed of using it.  Do they take selfies?  For sure.  When I was younger, all I could do was call a friend on the land-line phone (for hours!) or write a note or letter.  Now my kids can take a picture of themselves to show their friends exactly what they are doing or how they are feeling.  And we get angry at them for doing so.  Yes, they use their phones to get the news (so do I. Every morning.)  When I was young, the only option was local news broadcast on radio or TV.  Now they get news from all over the world and are way more aware of what is going on globally. This is technology. This is a good thing.  As for "fake news", don't even get me started.  I have observed that my kids are WAY more savvy about rooting out the real from the fake than most of the 'old people' I know.  Remember that Millennials have been advertised to and sold to their entire lives.  In my experience, they are excellent at discerning the real from the fake.
"We gave them everything!" To be sure, we have given them a lot. Many good things; many things we never had.  So let's not forget that besides all of the great stuff we've given them, we've also given them incredible pollution, an unstable health care system, and crippling debt. Last week I gave a student a ride and when I was asking her about her schedule, she explained to me that she holds down two jobs while being a full-time student so that her parents, who are having financial trouble since her mom was laid off from the corporate job she had for 15 years, don't have to take out more loans for her.  This is not the first, second, or even third time I've heard this same story.  It is sadly common. When I was in college, my tuition was $485 a semester.  My daughter paid that much in rent. Per month.  And she was getting a good deal.  Last month a former student of mine posted on Facebook that he had paid off his college loan and was celebrating the freedom he felt from it - he graduated 13 years ago.  That is not uncommon, and it is not the result of bad financial management - that's just how long it took. The debt this generation will inherit is unimaginable to me.
We've shown them that what we say and do are often two different things, and then we are angry at them for being skeptical people.  
We've shown them that big business can't always be trusted, and that money doesn't make everyone happy, and then we are mad at them because they don't want "normal" corporate jobs.  This doesn't make them lazy - this makes them brilliant.  Redefining what the "American Dream" is so that it fulfills more of the soul, for more people.  The more time I spend with those dang millennials, the more I actually understand, relate to, and actually like them.  Go figure.
I might be the only old person who feels this way, but I have so much hope for the future because I actually know real Millennials and I for one cannot wait for them to start ruling the world.