No such thing as a “Dad Job”

Today I fixed the chain on my littlest Pioneer Girl’s bike.

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There used to be a time when, in a fit of not-wanting-to-do-that-right-now, I told my little kids that that sort of thing was a “Dad Job,” and they would have to wait until Dad got home and ask Dad to do it.  That went for such things as getting the screwdriver to remove the battery cover to change the batteries in the loudest favorite racecar, or fixing the squeaky drawer, or starting the grill for dinner, or anything that made me go outside and work where it’s hot.  (This is Arizona, people.)

Then one day I thought about what I was teaching my kids about what girls can do.  And it wasn’t the right thing.  Blergh.

I grew up in a house with no boys.  It was me, my mom, and my little sister, and we did everything.  My mom was especially great about it.  If there was something she needed done and she didn’t know how or didn’t have the right tools, we had an amazing Grampop a few miles away who had the tools and the knowledge to do pretty much anything.  But my mom never asked him to do it for her — she always asked him to show her, so that she could do it next time.  And he was super supportive of her and patient as she learned.

I watched my mom do everything, from running both an office and a household on her own, to cutting pieces of wood with heavy machinery in our backyard to create art,  to things as simple as arranging the logistics of our annual vacations.  Eventually she passed some of those jobs down to me.  I remember all three of us sitting around the cordless phone with a notepad (pre-Internet, people!) as I called and got rates, compared locations and prices, and then finalized the hotel and rental car arrangements for our trip to Seattle the summer that I turned 12.

And now I’m telling my kid that I can’t use a screwdriver to change some batteries?  Dude.

So a couple of months ago I stopped saying “Dad Job” to my children, and I got out the tool box.  My girls see me get my hands dirty and fix their bikes.   My boy knows that I can run the lawnmower or jump-start a car. They’re learning, by watching me and working with me, that there’s no such thing as a “Dad Job.” Girls can do anything.

Something to Read: The New Small Person

Here’s a book about two little black boys that I think all kinds of kids should read:


“The New Small Person” by Lauren Child

I picked up this book because it’s by Lauren Child, and in our house we love Lauren Child.  I also picked it up because it has two little black boys on the front, and there are not enough little black boys, even in books, in our house.

My favorite thing about this book was what happened when I read it to my five-year-old and we got to the third page.

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Even though my boy is pretty white, he looked at this picture and he said,

“That’s me, right, Mom?  Because I like jelly beans, too.”

And, you guys, when a little white boy immediately identifies with a little black boy, whether in a book or on a playground or at school or whatever, that’s the beginning of the fix of a lot of our problems.

*     *     *     *     *

This article published in Slate last year has some great ideas about thinking about race and then talking about it with kids.  Black kids get race talks from their parents all the time.  I think white kids should, too.

*     *     *     *     *


Lola and Lotta

Lauren Child is one of our favorite children’s book authors.  She writes the
Charlie and Lola series, which we all adore.  The kids love that Charlie and Lola are funny; I love that Charlie and Lola are funny while being kind to each other.  The big brother doesn’t pick on the little sister or call her names.  They are nice.  Charlie and Lola are white, and Lola’s best friend, Lotta, is black — and a great recurring character.

(Bonus: My kids start speaking in tiny British accents after watching episodes of the TV series based on the books.  “It’s an absolute disaster, Charlie!  What are we going to do???”)

Big ideas, little books.

Last weekend our family was invited to a birthday party for my friend.  It was Pi(e) Day so we all brought a pie to share and she brought in barbecue from our delicious local barbecue joint.  It was totally low-key and lots of fun and a great way to celebrate with a good friend.

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Juice’s homemade birthday card – his idea and his design!

My kids know this friend from church where she serves in the Primary, our children’s ministry.  They love her because she’s great and because they always hear me talk about what a blessing she is in her service, so they made her some pretty sweet birthday cards.  When you’re old (like we are), birthdays become less about gifts and more about friends, but I still wanted to give her a little something to let her know how much I do appreciate her friendship.  I like to write (obvs), and I love a really good pen and notecards or a notebook, so I thought maybe I’d give her something like that.

I found a small notebook that was the perfect purse size (Juice helped me pick out just the right one for this friend), and then I grabbed one of my favorite pens from the secret stash that no one in my house knows about (because hands off my pens!).   We tied it up with a little string and attached my own birthday note to it and headed out to the party.

We had a wonderful evening, but the best part was the next day when I got a text from my friend.  She said:


“I have to tell you: ever since I can remember and still to this day, my Mom carries a tiny notebook (like the one you gave me) in her purse with a blue bic pen.  When she thinks of things, needs a reminder, wants to write something to remember, or whatever, it’s right to that notebook.  When one gets full, she writes the important things (passwords, bill due dates, phone numbers, emergency info) in the new one and puts the old one in a drawer.  My siblings don’t know it, but I’m fighting for those notebooks and her calendars someday!  So thanks for evoking some very sentimental and heartfelt feelings for me!”


So first, I loved receiving this text and feeling like a small thing that I did for my friend ended up being very meaningful for her.  That made me feel good.  Score!

Second, I love how much she cherishes these notes kept by her mother.  Don’t we all love these little insights we get into people by examining what they choose to record?  Not to mention the life-changing experiences we get to read about, or the moments their faith was tried and shaken or strengthened.

These things, whether recorded in a small notebook or on a blog or in a formal journal (or even on Facebook!), can become great memories or inspirations to those we choose to share them with.  The experiences we record can inspire our future selves, remind us of lessons we’ve learned, or become ideas we use to teach others.

My mom was looking for a misplaced copy of her grandfather’s life story the other day.  As she was going through her box of family history notes and photos and journals, she came upon an old journal she had kept at a particularly hard time in her life.  She called me the next morning to tell me about the evening she had spent reliving those difficult days and the relief she felt that they were behind her.  There was also a sense of pride there, the affirmation that “I can do hard things.”  There were notes on conversations with her husband, who has passed away, and memories of ways she helped and was helped by her children.  She’s still talking about how wonderful it was to read those words again.

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A page from my missionary journal – eating ice cream in -25C weather with my beloved companion, Tatyana Sergeeva, in Novosibirsk, Siberia, Russia. December 1998.

I’ve been a sporadic journaler myself.  I journaled a lot on my mission.  I had a blog when my first kid was little, but after we moved closer to family, and then added Kid Two and Kid Three, the time I had to devote to the blog became more sparse and my posts became intermittent at best.  Scrapbooking became too time consuming, but eventually I found a new great system that has helped me record our family memories.  (More on that later.)  My people love to look at our family photo albums and the old blog.  They love to hear stories about “when you were little” and about when I was little, and about their grandparents and great-grandparents.

I hope that the stories and photos I record for my family will inspire them someday, and that telling the stories of our family members will help them develop a sense of their history and heritage, and that these memories will both ground them and encourage them to pursue their dreams.


A Grateful Heart

So last week I introduced you to my kids.  That was really just a preface to this post, because I’ve noticed this character trait in one of those kids, and I love it, and I wanted to write about it, but I thought you should probably know that I have kids before I started expounding their virtues.  (Also, you should know that they’re real kids and they wake me up too early in the morning and they throw toys over the back fence into the neighbor’s yard almost every time they go outside, and one of them won’t fully potty train [not a sore spot, obvs] and sometimes they sneak ice cream sandwiches in the morning before breakfast, and too often they sass me.   But I love them and they’re great, and here’s a story to prove that.)

Last week Miss Pickle had a field trip to our city’s Science Center.  Our family bought a year-long membership through one of those discount sites, so instead of applying to chaperone (they have so many parents that want to go that there’s a lottery, people), we just decided that I would just go and take the little siblings and we’d all have fun at the Science Center for a day.  We tagged along with Pickle’s friends and talked about desert roadtrips with another mom and the kids played with physics and it was fun.

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RoRo and her magnetic dancing “ghosts.”

Then it was over and it was time to go.  The schoolbuses left and took the big sister, and I told the preschoolers they had time for one more activity before we had to go to.  Of course they chose WaterBalls, so they would be soaked when it was time to leave, but they met their deadline with happy hearts, so, fine.

We walked out the door and into the sunshine.  Juice chased some pigeons.  RoRo held my hand.  We got to the parking garage and Juice took my other hand and stole my heart.  “Thanks for bringing us to this museum, Mama.  This was a really fun day.”

Oh, spontaneous gratitude from a preschooler!  This is not an unusual thing for him to do, but it just never gets old to me.  Nearly every time we get done with something fun, there he is, grabbing my hand or hugging my leg, his naughty (naughty is also one of his character traits) little face beaming, grateful for the little joy he just experienced.

This boy of mine simply came with a grateful heart.  It is just one of his gifts.  It comes easily and naturally to him, and I think it will make his life better.   My girls have their own gifts (more on that later), but this one is particularly his.

What is also beautiful about this to me is that he is giving this gift to his little sister.  RoRo emulates his example.  It is less spontaneous for her, but when she sees him thank me, or anyone, for something, she repeats it, and it’s real for her.  She is developing this trait that she sees in him.

As I compliment the other two on their good manners and point out to them how good it feels to express gratitude, the big one is catching on, too.  Miss Pickle is finding ways and moments to offer thanks.  She is very proud of herself when she does it, and I am deliberate in pointing out to her how good it feels because I want it to become one of her character traits.  I think that Pioneer Girls have these good traits, and they can learn to develop those that they value.

As I’m encourging the development of this particular trait in my big girl, I’ve found that the gratitude journal really works.  (Thanks, Oprah.)  Our girls’ group at church has repeatedly helped the girls create different kinds of gratitude journals to promote both personal journaling and an “attitude of gratitude.”

A couple of years ago a friend of mine mentioned that she had a journal that she shared with her son, who is a few years older than our Pickle.  The two of them passed this journal back and forth, asking each other questions, answering, doodling, just communicating.  I loved the idea and as soon as the Pickle had some writing skills, we started the same exercise.  It has been a lot of fun and helped our relationship grow.

Last week I ordered this gratitude journal to continue the tradition in a more focused way.  We’ve only started to share it, but I already see the development of this attribute in my beautiful girl.  The journal has prompts, which she does really well with, and it’s fun for us to both take a little bit of the page and share our happiness with each other.

Our boy has brought a good gift into our home.  I’m grateful for him.

Family Future and Family History

This weekend I did something that I thought was going to be a charitable act but turned out to be amazing and wonderful and a little overwhelming.  It connected me to some people that have been lost to me for a while, and I am very glad to have them back.

One of the aspirations of the Pioneer Girls project is to connect children, especially girls, with their ancestors and heritage in a deep and meaningful way.  My Pioneer Pickle had a great experience learning about our own family history on a daytrip to the mountains.

In a beautiful little town a couple hours north of my home, my favorite Grampop’s brother lives in an assisted living facility.  Uncle Jack will turn 95 years old this summer, and he doesn’t get around so great anymore.  My Grampop, his younger brother and only sibling, passed away a few years ago.  Jack’s wife died a couple of years before that.  His daughter and main caregiver died rather unexpectedly a few months ago, leaving my mom and her brothers his closest living relatives.  His loving son-in-law is still managing his care from his own home out of state, but we are now geographically Jack’s closest family.

My mom had been feeling a pull to get up there to visit him for a few months, so when we found ourselves each with a free Saturday (when does that happen?), we decided to make the drive up and visit him.  We loaded up my kids in the minivan, turned on Lightning McQueen and headed up the road.

A few hours later we found ourselves walking into this facility, tracking down a man I hadn’t seen since my very early childhood.  Grampop and his brother had been estranged for nearly all of my life because of some misunderstandings and the famous Gephart Hard-Headedness.  They had reconciled about a year before my Grampop’s passing, and it was sweet.

We found Uncle Jack in his room, asleep in front of Lonesome Dove on his small personal TV.  My mom woke him up with a one-armed hug and “Uncle Jack! Do you know who I am?”  Luckily he is a light sleeper and a sharp man — he recognized her right away and welcomed her with a hug.  She turned his wheelchair around so he could see me, a great-niece he hadn’t seen since I was maybe eight, and meet my kids.  His face lit up at the sight of this small group of children.  You know those old people miss the excitement and happiness that follows preschoolers around.

My mom gave him some treats and my kids taped the pictures they had colored for him — bright, colorful rainbows for springtime — to his walls.  They sang “America the Beautiful” and “I Am a Child of God.”  As they sang other residents came out of their rooms and maneuvered their chairs down the hall so they could see the faces and hear the voices of the “little angels” (their words, not mine :)).  My mom snapped a picture with my phone because she loved the look on his face as my kids sang to him.

Uncle Jack is an old cowboy.  He was never a particularly tender man.  His language is rough, like the desert country he grew up in.  But his humor is still quick, and sharp, and he was so happy to see us.  I saw my Grampop in him, in his eyes and in his mannerisms.  It was good to see him again.

We took Uncle Jack outside for some fresh air.  He watched my kids turn cartwheels and flip somersaults in the grass.  Juice was excited to learn about the model train room Jack had in his cabin years ago, and that my mom has video of the setup he’ll be able to watch.  We took pictures.  The kids took turns giving him hugs and telling him things they want my Grampop, their “Cowboy Grandpa” to know.  They know this is Uncle Jack and not Cowboy Grandpa, but they also know that the two are brothers, so Jack will get the message to his brother, right?


We took him back inside and set him up with his lunch and said our goodbyes, promising to mail copies of the photos we took and to come back soon.

It’s hard to see people living in those sorts of facilities.  It’s hard for me to leave them there.  But I was so glad we went.  I felt like it was meaningful to him to connect with his family again, and it certainly was wonderful for me to get a glimpse of my Grampop through him.

I didn’t look at the photos my mom took until we got home that night.  I got the kids to the table with some dinner and then pulled my phone out to email the pictures to her.  As I did some quick edits on them, cropping and lightening, I swiped to this photo and had to stop.


It’s nothing fancy.  The lighting’s not great, and I’ve certainly looked better.  But as I looked at that picture I had the distinct feeling that my Grampop was happy, that we had done something good for his brother and he was happy about it.

I’m so glad we went.  I hope we brightened his day a little.  I hope my kids will remember the feeling of helping a good man feel loved and appreciated. I hope they will remember this trip and meeting their Uncle Jack, and that they’ll connect that memory to all the stories I tell them about their family and who and where I came from, and they’ll take that history with them as they create the future of our family.