Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Goodbye, Big Red


Eleven years ago we bought a GMC Savana 12-seater van. We had Lucy that year, and she was our seventh child. If you haven't noticed, society has drawn a line in the sand and decided that if you have more than six children, you are a freak show and no longer allowed to fit in a minivan. So we were now a mobile circus. We named our van Big Red, and we were completely in love. We even took a photo with it to capture the beginning of a new era for the Craig Family.

Big Red has seen some things, my friends. In the past 11 years, Big Red has made three separate cross-country road trips and has visited 37 of our 50 states. It's been the backdrop for countless family lip sync parties and videos. It has been changing room and moving van. It has served as a “tent” a number of times, when I’ve gone on campouts with church youth groups and preferred the comfort and insulation of Big Red over an actual tent. And a clothesline for the times that the tent and sleeping bags got drenched and needed an elevated place to dry out. And it might surprise you to learn that Big Red had a starring role in the movie “Once I Was a Beehive” – where it transported the young women and their leaders for their annual Girls Camp trip and even towed the Ark. Big Red really nailed that role, I must say.

My favorite thing, though, was whenever we all piled into the van together, and to make sure all children were accounted for, the little drill sergeant in Katie would come out and she’d look over her shoulder and yell, “Count off!” “One!” an enthusiastic Abbie would answer. “Two!” Garren would yell. “Threeee,” Connor would respond, not enjoying submitting to authority. “FOUR!” Roxanna would rally, excited about almost everything at that age. “Five,” Tanner would calmly answer, not wanting to draw too much attention to himself. “Six!” Becca would cheer. “Pffft,” Lucy would offer up – because even though she was very advanced, she was only months old and didn’t know words, you guys. Lower your expectations, please. And then, Katie would turn and face forward again … and about 82% of the time, she’d be crying. It's only gotten more intense as we added Hillary and even in-laws to the count. It’s an emotional thing, to recognize that you have birthed enough people to fill a bus. And it's an emotional thing to have your people all together – this team of wonderful people you love with your whole soul.

Alas, the time has arrived where Big Red has moved on. Our family is at a different phase of life. Gas prices being what they are, I also find myself swearing every time I have to fill the tank, and that’s probably not a habit I need. Big Red is showing its age, too – the paneling on the inside of the van is falling off and has been comically held together by – I hate to admit this cliché – duct tape. There’s an abundance of dents and dings on the outside of the van as well as those quirks that will never be explained and we have quit trying to remedy. (Back blinker lights, we're talking to you.)

We sold the van this weekend – but before saying goodbye to Big Red, we decided to take a few photos for posterity. Everyone tried to reenact their expressions from 11 years ago. So much has changed in the last 11 years – for our family personally, and the world at large. But one thing remains constant. When we are all together, there’s a really good chance Katie is going to cry.

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

You Have Goat to Be Kidding Me


In the part of my brain that makes up alternate realities for my life, there is one where I live on a farm. Not a farm farm, where you actually have to get up at 4:30 a.m. to get under a cow, grab its “things” and squirt milk out into a bucket. Not the kind where you can discern what part of the farm you are standing on based on the particular stench that is permeating the area and the number of flies building cities on piles of manure. And certainly not the kind of farm where I call Katie “Mama.”

I mean the kind of farm where I am magically and effortlessly living off the land, eating the freshest food, and enjoying the stillness of being removed from the hustle and bustle of city life. The Field of Dreams kind of farm, where the wind gently blows the cornfields at sunset and my dad walks out and plays catch with me. Where Katie and I sit on the swing on our front porch and drink lemonade with lemons from our lemon tree and we don’t feel the sweltering Iowa humidity. The farm where we go to the county fair to check out Zuckerman’s famous pig, who is a cartoon and isn’t gross. The farm where my neighbors are Amish and come over to help with a barn-raising.

In short, a farm that doesn’t exist; but I wish it did.

The allure is strong enough that last week, when Katie texted me about taking in a baby goat for a while, I was up for it.

We have some friends – Dave and Rachell – with a farm in Payson, and one of their new baby goats was “failing to thrive.” It was tiny and wasn’t eating or growing quickly enough. The usual remedy for this, according to our farmer-friends, is to give the baby goat extra love and attention and to diligently try to feed it. Our friends were also getting a flock of baby lambs that required a great deal of attention, and on top of that, Dave is an accountant and was incredibly busy at work. They were worried they would not be able to provide the care that this baby goat needed if she was going to have any chance of making it. And that’s when we stepped in.

I’ll be honest: it was the limited commitment that made me willing to roll with the situation. And then … well, if you’d seen this tiny goat, you’d know it was about the most adorable goat you’ve ever seen. We immediately loved Pinky. Sidebar: have you noticed how baby goats – which are objectively cute – get older and turn into hideous creatures known as “adult goats?” It is one of the most tragic metamorphoses to occur on this planet, but it is true. Of course, it’s not limited to goats. Lovely young creatures that turn into appalling old creatures is a marvel that has been well documented and is known in the farming world as “the Disney Channel Phenomenon.” (Hey-o!)

Pinky came to us on a Friday night. We bottle fed her and she ate a little. At bedtime, we laid out some puppy pads and closed her in her little kennel. Initially, we placed her in the living room and our three little girls – Becca (13), Lucy (11), and Hillary (8) – made little beds by her in the living room. We thought if she could see them, she would be comforted. Maybe she was … a little bit … but the unrelenting bleating that literally sounds like a baby crying “Mom” for hours and hours convinced us she was not that comforted. We eventually placed her kennel in another room, further away, and had the girls go to bed. She finally fell asleep. Then we finally all fell asleep.

On Saturday morning, she seemed a bit out of it. (You know, compared to all the other goats we were nurturing.) She ate only a little and was content to spend the day being held. And between our three younger girls, plus Tanner (16), Roxanna (18), and even Connor (20), she was held constantly. Our neighborhood was having an Easter Egg Hunt, and a baby goat seemed the perfect feature, so we brought her out in the front yard with us. Every neighborhood kid and most adults stopped in our yard to see her. Goats are super social animals, and we hoped the steady flow of attention and positive strokes would somehow be beneficial. Like magic.

That night, we put her back in her kennel and put the kennel in the kids’ room. We thought that being surrounded by the kids who she knew well by now would be enough to console her. We were fools. After a while, we put her back in the same space as the night before – far from the bedrooms – and she finally fell asleep.

Sunday was the best. She was the liveliest she’d been, she ate well, and we were thrilled. We put a diaper on her and let her walk around the house with us. She followed Hillary everywhere. Wherever Hillary went, Pinky was determined to be with her. Like they were instant BFFs. Pinky never showed interest in dressing like Hillary, and they didn’t braid each other’s hair, but they were inseparable. It was really, really sweet. Like a friendship you’d read about in a children’s picture book.

That night, instead of putting Pinky back in the kennel, Becca made a bed on the floor and Pinky snuggled up next to her. She even tucked her head under Becca’s chin at one point. She slept there all night. We all slept better. It had been a good day and we all felt encouraged.

Monday was … not encouraging. Pinky wouldn’t eat much, and that became our greatest concern. Katie and the kids went to visit Rachell on the farm and took Pinky with them. I think there was some hope that she might feel encouraged by the familiarity of the farm. But nothing measurable happened. If anything, she seemed more depleted. And for the first time, we were more concerned than hopeful.

Pinky slept on the floor with Hillary that night. By Tuesday morning, we had to accept the direction Pinky was heading. Katie was regularly texting with Rachell, giving her updates, expressing our concerns, and asking questions. Rachell was encouraging, quick to respond, and reassured us we were doing all the right things. (Regarding Pinky, I mean. We didn’t run the rest of life plans past Rachell to see if she thought they were “right.” I think we already knew what she would say about our bedtime routines, and I know she would not agree that all farms should be odor-free.)

I was working from home and was in the office trying to distract myself with work. When I walked out into the living room, Connor was holding Pinky. He was lying on the floor, and she was lying on a heating pad on his torso. He seemed acutely aware of her, even sympathetic. The three little girls were busy with school, but kept coming into the room, looking at Pinky, letting a wave of acceptance and sadness wash over them, and then going back to their work.

I sat by Connor and watched her. Katie got off the phone with Rachell and came over. “Rachell says if the inside of her mouth is cold, that’s bad.” She stuck her finger in Pinky’s mouth, then looked at me and her eyes watered. We weren’t sure how much longer she had, but we decided we’d tell the girls to come say goodbye.

I’m not a big animal enthusiast. I didn’t grow up loving pets and while I can appreciate other people’s connections to pets or animals in general, it’s never been a part of my own personal life. But I looked at Pinky and my heart hurt. We had volunteered to care for her. I assumed that meant nursing her back to goat-health, and while I knew there was a risk of that not working out that way, I liked thinking it was low risk. I’ve just always struggled to accept possibilities that I don’t like or want, I suppose. And now here I was, running my hand over this tiny living thing at the end of her very short life. Her breath was shallow, her head was laying on Connor, and she was letting out these occasional small cries, trying to communicate … something. I don’t know what. A request that we stay close. A declaration that she was still here. A goodbye. An expression of gratitude.

I looked up at Connor, who had tears coming down his cheeks. “I’ve felt like this before,” he said, looking down at her. Connor has gone through some eras of depression over the last couple of years, and something about this baby goat lacking strength and ability to thrive was relatable to my son. That hurt my heart too.

The girls came into the room and gathered around Pinky. They were bawling, and being the sympathetic crier that I am, this was my final attempt at keeping a composed face as well. We watched her breathing grow more and more shallow until it finally stopped, and her neck sagged – all life having left her little body.

It might be the strangest connection I’ve felt to another life. I like to think that no matter the medical reason behind Pinky’s failure to thrive, she felt cared for and loved and comfortable. She impacted our family for good. She also added another feature to my unrealistic dream farm. It’s a farm where the animals are all happy and thriving … and maybe wear diapers, so when they become BFFs with your kids, they are easy to clean up after. 

Thursday, December 09, 2021

You're Gonna Need a Younger Boat

There’s a scene in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws – the movie about a misunderstood great white shark who just wants someone to love him – where two hired hands, Quint and Hooper, out at night on a boat, begin drinking and comparing their wounds. Hooper shows Quint where he was bit by a moray eel, and Quint in turn shows where he was injured by a thresher shark’s tail. Hooper shows Quint where a bull shark scraped his leg, and then Quint tells the story of the U.S.S. Indianapolis.

It’s an unnerving, harrowing moment, where you feel the fragility of mortality, a sense of impending doom, and the connection between two people with a shared experience that cannot truly be understood by the masses. 

It’s also a lot like when my friend Tracy and I recently had lunch at Kluck’s Krispy Chicken. 

We both turned 50 this year. The terror is real. 

“You wear glasses?” I asked, inhaling my fries and trying to decide if I’d be in any shape for dinner after eating this much grease for lunch.

“Yes. In the mornings, when I’m reading. You?”

“Not yet. I mean, I need them for reading, for sure. I’m just holding out … for some reason. But it’s coming. Like, I probably won’t make it through next week without them.”  

“Look at the font on my phone.”

“What is that at, 48?”


“Cripes. How about your hearing?”

“Awh, that’s been going downhill for ten years already.” 

“Same. I remember my dad’s hearing going. He would kind of cock his head to the side, leaning his ear in. And then if he didn’t understand me, he’d just nod his head like I’d asked him a question. A question that he apparently felt deserved an affirmative response.” 

“Do you do that?” 

“Not yet. I like to put it back on the other guy. ‘You need to stop mumbling’ is my go-to. But also, like, my dad was in Vietnam. His hearing was damaged by combat. Mine is from going to rock concerts without ear protection. Mine is because I’m an idiot.”

“Oh yeah, you do love concerts.”

“I did. Well, I do. I just want good seats, or it isn’t worth it anymore. I’m not paying money to sit in the back of a stadium and look at a screen from a mile away. I can just sit on my couch at home and watch a screen.” [Even as I say it, I realize it’s the oldest I’ve ever sounded. I’ve crossed some kind of line.]

“What about your memory?” asked Tracy.

“Stop mumbling,” I tell Tracy.


“Oh, sure,” I say, nodding my head. 

“I have the hardest time recalling the names of actors. Actors I LIKE.” Tracy makes a frustrated face. 

“Mine is just words in general,” I tell him. I’m trying to make a point – or worse, say something clever – and I can feel my mind searching for the perfect word…like it’s playing a matching-pairs game, and I keep turning over a card going, ‘Is this the word I was looking for?’ and it’s not. It’s never the word.”

We eat in silence for a moment. 

“At least you’re in great shape,” I say. 

“I’m scheduling a hernia operation.”

“WHAT?! But you do CrossFit!”

“That’s where I got the hernia.”

“Stop mumbling.” 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Nailing It & Failing It & Fumbling It

Garren and Katy's wedding. May 14, 2021.

Somehow, almost poetically, Katie is out of town over Father’s Day. Leaving me to get a very clear and accurate sense of my fatherhood prowess. 

Is there a way to measure your dad-ness? 

Like, as an employee, at work, you get a raise or a promotion. Or fired. In a relationship, you love spending time together, even doing mundane things – or you even have that more visceral “gaze factor,” where you are looking at each other and you know you’re seeing your whole world. Or you get fired. 

But parenting? 

Unofficially, somewhere in my mind, I keep undocumented notes of three areas: 1. Have I done what I can to make sure my kids know I love them? 2. Have I done what I can to create memories with them? 3. Have I done what I can to apologize when I get it wrong? 

I can tell you that for me, like most of life, these things are measured in the small, little moments (cue Rob Thomas’s Little Wonders). Not that you can total them up and if your ledger is in the black then you’re a good dad. “Oh, look, I am 51% nailing it – my kids are so fortunate.” Each moment stands on its own, and I suppose I take stock in the times when I sense that my kids feel loved. I certainly notice when I feel loved, too. 

I feel loved when Abbie walks into a room I’m in and no matter what else is going on, she comes over and rests her head on my chest and hugs me. Or like when Garren invites me to come play racquetball with him and his friends, knowing (or hoping?) that I won’t embarrass him. Or like when Connor was neck-deep in the doctrine and principles of all things Marvel Universe and he left a note for me on my bed that said, “Dear Dad, you are my favorite superhero.” Like when I come home from anywhere and Hillary (age 7 and keeping me young), will scream, “Dad!” and come running to hug me. And like every time one of my children says, “Dad, can I talk to you?” because they know I’m on their side, in their corner, and love them so ridiculously much that their problems are my problems. And that I’ll even usually put my phone down to talk to them! Those are all moments of success to me. 

I don’t think I need to assure you that I have a bumper crop of Parenting Fails, as well. Like the time somebody called our home and one of my little kids answered it and just put the phone down without telling Katie or I, so my friend on the line could overhear me lecturing one of my kids for a world-record amount of time. The time one of my kids was in tremendous pain and crying about their stomach so persistently that I began to wonder if it was appendicitis and took them to the ER to find out that it was absolutely nothing – and instead of being relieved, I thought to myself, “Well, you little punk, your little tummy-ache just cost me $1,500.” Or the time my daughter went through a major break up and I thought she might enjoy watching 500 Days of Summer together. Or every time I buy Little Caesar’s Pizza, which is for sure slowly killing all of us, slice by slice. 

For the sake of time – and so that you can get to your Father’s Day Nap – I’m going to share three moments on my mind today: A time I nailed it, a time I completely failed, and a time it could have gone either way. I’m a little embarrassed to share these, as they are close to my heart and not exactly flattering. I realize nobody is forcing my hand, here. I guess I just feel like sharing, if you feel like listening. 

Nailed It

In May 2017, U2 was touring in support of their 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree album. The album of my youth … and pretty much every year since my youth. I had raised my children on this album, and they knew every song. This was “our band.” The closest concert to us was in San Francisco, at Levi’s Stadium. And with the help of my brother, we secured general admission tickets and were standing directly in the action for one of the most incredible concert-going experiences of my life and theirs. There were literal tears. This was logistically complicated, financially irresponsible, and an incredibly difficult feat to pull off. It was effort-full. But it was amazing and absolutely worth it. It was a memory that my older kids will always keep. 

Failed It

Years ago, when Becca was 3 years old, we piled into our 12-passenger van and drove to the other side of Las Vegas for an event. It was a hectic day and we were scrambling and actually arrived to our event late. I started hollering out commands before we even parked – to “grab your things” and “make sure you are fully dressed” (summer in Las Vegas leads to various levels of undress when you’re in a car). We parked and climbed out of the car like we were firemen running to a fire. We sped into the event, found our seats, and began to catch our breaths … when after a while, an internal alarm went off, and I did a headcount. We were down a child. After a moment, I realized Becca wasn’t with us. I made eye-contact with Katie and with my shoulders shrugged, mouthed, “Where’s Becca?” Katie’s face immediately matched mine, and my stomach sunk. 

It is generally a group effort when we go anywhere – to grab the necessary props and to help younger kids get unbuckled from their car seats and get shoes on, etc. But in the bustle of not being any later than we were, it had become an “every man for himself” situation, and it dawned on me that of course Katie would be attached to the baby (Lucy) and it was assumed by the rest of us that “someone else” would help Becca. It should have been me. Whenever there’s a baby, Katie is attached to the baby, and I am assigned Former Baby duty, watching over the next youngest who still wants to be attached to Mom, but it’s now somebody else’s turn. 

I sprinted from the building to the van faster than any human has ever run anywhere. I ripped open the side-door of the van, frantic. Becca’s head whipped around to meet my eyes. The sound of the door being yanked open had startled her. She had fluids running from every orifice of her face, but she had passed the point of crying and was now doing that thing you do when you’ve finally stopped crying and your entire body is hiccuping. (This memory pains me so much, I am sincerely crying again as I write this, and it’s been 10 years.) She started crying again and in this apologetic tone, said, “I had an accident. I wet my pants. I was crying and crying for you, Dad. But you didn’t hear me.” Is there anything more painful than a child – at any age – telling you that they needed you – that they cried for you – but you didn’t hear them? There. Is. Not. 

Fumbled but Stuck the Landing
[My apologies for mixing sports metaphors]

Some years ago, when Tanner was 10 years old, there was a morning when he was particularly pushing my buttons. Our neighbors, an elderly couple, had called and asked Katie if we could send a couple of our kids over to help in their garden for an hour or so. No, we don’t live in Mayberry, but isn’t that the sweetest thing? Doesn’t that take you back to a simpler, gentler time? Well, 10-year-old Tanner was unmoved by the request. Katie had asked Tanner and a couple of his sisters to go help. Tanner flippantly said, “I’m not doing that,” and walked off. Katie let Tanner know that yes, in fact, he was going to do that. He still refused. I firmly told Tanner, “Look, your mom has given you ‘an instruction,’ and you don’t have a good excuse for why you can’t help – so you’re going over to help.” He walked off. A few minutes later, the girls were on their way out the door and called back, “We’re going over to the neighbors to help in the garden.” “Is Tanner with you?” I yelled back. “No,” said Roxanna, “He’s in his room. He said he wasn’t coming to help.” This blew my mind. What, in the name of all that grows in a garden, did he think he was doing? And on a morning when I was already out of sorts? He picked the wrong day to draw this line in the garden sand. 

I marched up to his room, making the loudest footsteps I could to communicate my disbelief and fury, and kicked open his door as I raised my voice. “Get your shoes on and get over to the neighbors – NOW.” He didn’t jump up and with the speed of a cartoon character to run past me and out the door to the neighbors … but he didn’t roll his eyes either. He moved reluctantly, but he moved. This didn’t temper me. I watched him walk out the door and I updated Katie and told her, “When he gets back, he and I are going for a little drive so I can talk to him more about this.” 

I know this entire scenario seems like the smallest of infractions. He hadn’t lied or hurt anyone or stolen something or anything like that. He just copped a huge attitude and he seemed pugnacious about the entire situation. And oh, you guys, I was cooking up a Grade A lecture for him. When he got back from helping the neighbors, I was going to give him the business. 

Tanner walked in the door with his sisters, came right up to me, hugged me, and said, “I’m sorry I had a bad attitude earlier, Dad. I’m glad I went. I feel really good about helping.” Isn’t that exactly what you’d want to hear? Oh, but it was too, too late for my sweet boy. I was not about to let my lecture go unused. “Go get in the car and let’s go for a drive,” I told him. 

We drove down the road a bit and I pulled into Ripples, for ice cream shakes – because maybe I needed to teach my son a lesson, but I’m not a monster, you guys. Everything goes smoother with ice cream. We sat down on a bench outside, across from each other. I was seconds from launching into my tirade when I heard a voice so clearly and so directly, I will never forget it. It said, “Praise your son. Praise your son right now … or he will lose confidence in you.” I didn’t know what that meant, exactly, but I knew it wasn’t good and it wasn’t what I wanted. 

“Tanner,” I started, “I want you to know how much I love you. And I want you to know how important and valuable you are to our family. Your influence in our family is part of what makes us who we are.” And I watched tears suddenly stream down my little boy’s face. Tanner is the fifth of eight children. Maybe he needed to feel seen or understood in that moment – or more often. Maybe he needed to know that apologizing for a bad morning is easily met with forgiveness. Maybe he needed to know his dad thought he was pretty amazing and important. Maybe his dad needed to recognize how blessed he was to be Tanner’s dad. 

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there who are nailing it, failing it, and fumbling along the way. What a gift, to be a dad. What a wonderful, heavy, hilarious, exhausting, beautiful, inspiring, heart-wrenching gift. 

Yes. I took a photo of the moment. I didn't want to forget it. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Did You Watch That Movie Without Me?

I think one of the worst (yet most frequently played) games couples find themselves competing in is, “Did You Watch That Movie Without Me?” Or you might be familiar with the slightly altered knock-off, “Weren’t We Going to Watch That Together?” – which is somewhat different because in that version no one ever wins.

“Did You Watch That Movie Without Me?” can be played at any time. But for the greatest entertainment and highest stakes, it’s best to play it at a social gathering in front of a crowd of people. The game starts on a whim when somebody in the crowd refers to a movie and you foolishly take the bait and add your commentary, forgetting that you actually viewed this movie when your spouse was out of town, at a class, or worst of all – stuck at Girls Camp – while you were lounging on a couch with the remote control and a pint of ice cream.

You’re about halfway through your comment when peripherally, you feel her head whip in your direction and her eyes pierce into your mind, as if the movie is currently playing in your head and she’s caught you in the act itself. The only way out at this point is to grab the person next to you and kiss them full on the mouth. Sure, it’s inappropriate and you’re going to get slapped by at least two people, but everyone in the room will immediately forget what you were talking about and your chances of getting out alive increase by a factor of ten.

“Did you watch that movie without me?” she asks, moving her game piece onto the board. At this point, it’s all about bluffing. “NEVER. I just remember that part from the preview.” Or “No, I just read an article about it, preparing for when we go see it ... you know, together ... the way God intended.” This is your best move. You can also pretend you didn’t hear her. It’s risky, but if you’re like me, this is the only perk to aging and actually experiencing legitimate hearing loss. Or play like you’re just so enthralled by the crowd-conversation that you didn’t notice someone was speaking directly at you.

Your other move is to say, “I didn’t think you wanted to see that movie.” This is dangerous because you leave yourself wide open. No matter what the movie is, her move is going to include her claiming, “I would have watched that!” Now it’s your turn to call her bluff. “You would have watched Anchorman 2?” “…Yes,” she answers. (There’s a slight hesitation from your spouse – this does not mean you’ve won yet; it simply means you’re still in the game.) “That movie came out seven years ago and we’ve never watched it!” you point out. This is where you finish your solid move by adding, “It wasn’t very good – I hated it and you would have, too.” Check. Mate.

The problem for me is that I occasionally travel for work and end up on an airplane about every four to six weeks (not since March, obviously). I am not a great flyer. I get motion sickness fairly easily, and my one way to dodge it is to immediately focus in on the little screen in front of me and watch movies the entire flight. And the issue for Katie and I – and I will freely admit this is not the case for all couples – is that our tastes in movies really do overlap. We both like rom-coms, psychological thrillers, comedies, and good drama. The thin margin of what I can safely view without her really only includes “scary movies” or “bland, formulaic action movies.”

For example, when I came back from a trip and told Katie, “I watched that Tom Cruise Mummy movie without you,” her response was, “Good call.”

But was it? I didn’t even want to see it. I was actually just worried I might accidentally watch another good movie because of the huge mistake I had just finished enjoying before watching Mr. Cruise embarrass himself. Right before watching the bland, formulaic Mummy, I had rolled the dice and watched Sing Street, expecting a harmless, forgettable, independent Irish movie.

Big! Mistake!

That delightful homage to eighties music made me feel way too many feelings during my flight from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. After watching that movie, I knew I was doomed. I had totally just lost at our next match of “Did You Watch That Movie Without Me?” because I would totally spill that I saw it because I had to talk to somebody about this movie because I loved it a whole lot.

(This is the scene right here. When the boys are jamming in the living room at 2:06 and my brain says, “My word, this is making me so inexplicably happy right now —” and then ten seconds later it clips to Raphina crying and tears start comin’ out-ma-face and I’m like, “Thanks a lot Delta Flight 467 – this is totally unprofessional of me and now I’ve also lost the next round of “Did You Watch That Movie Without Me?” Katie is so going to love this movie.)

I also lost when I watched this little gem on my last trip. 

Now, there are times when I’ve won “Did You Watch This Without Me?” because I stuck to the “scary movies” and “dumb action movies” genres. However, those victories come at a cost. I think if it’s choosing between airplane-induced nausea or watching that Tom Cruise Mummy movie again, it’d be a toss-up for me. (Pun intended.) I also watched The Conjuring on one flight. Have you seen this movie? Good luck sleeping FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. And this was an edited-for-airplane version of the movie! I was so creeped out I added some more special editing myself by occasionally looking away from my screen to watch the Korean soap operas my neighbor was enjoying.

Yes, “Did You Watch That Movie Without Me?” is not a game for the timid. And if you hate this game, you should for sure avoid “Did You Finish All the Ice Cream?” and “Did You Stick to Our Christmas Budget?”

Monday, August 17, 2020

25 Years in the Making: An Inconvenient Gift


This is one of Katie's favorite pics from our wedding. Sneaking a kiss, so stealthily. 

Katie and I are celebrating 25 years of marriage today. Some of you may think that sounds like I'm bragging. [I'm not.] Some of you might be condescendingly thinking, “Hmph, that’s cute. Tell me when you get to 40 years.” [I will.] Some of you may wonder what 25 years looks like. Well, I’ll tell you. At least, I’ll tell you a little of what our 25 years looks like. 

There’s the emotional shorthand of being able to skim or completely skip details because we already know the history, backstory, opinions, and feelings about sooooo many things. There are the millions of inside jokes, quips, and idioms … and for some of them, you really can’t remember how they began, you just know they’re a thing you say to each other. There are the hundreds of subtle, non-detectable-to-the-public glances you share that indicate, “We already know our feelings about that” or “That’s not how we would do this, but whatever” or “We’ll talk about this later” or “We’ll talk about this person later” or “I’m so grateful you’re the one I’m going home with after this party.” 

• We’ve been married 25 years. A quarter of a century. That’s 9,132 days. 
• We’ve lived in 9 different houses/apartments. 
• We’ve had 8 children – all 8 with a midwife, and 7 of them at home. 
• We’ve owned six cars – three of them vans, and one of those a 12-passenger van. 
• We’ve owned one cat, two goats, a dozen chickens, one guinea pig, two mice, one rabbit, and several subpar goldfish. 
• We’ve homeschooled all of our children since 2003. 
• We’ve watched the entire series of The Office, Seinfeld, Chuck, Cheers, and Parks & Rec. [And ER, but I don’t want to talk about that.]
• Together, we’ve been to Grenada, Israel, Portugal, England, Scotland, Canada, and 40 of the 50 States. [We were supposed to be in Europe for our 25th, but COVID punched us square in the throat, instead.] 
• We’ve had careers or side-hustles in copywriting, doula work, improv/acting, public speaking, account managing, philanthropy, and sales rep’ing – with three separate stints of unemployment. 
• We’ve lived in Las Vegas, where we never thought we’d live, and in Utah, where we never thought we’d live. And we've realized we don’t want to live in California, where I grew up and always thought I’d live. 
• We’ve met and fallen in love with some of the loveliest people that we get to call our friends. 

There are a lot of memories crammed into those 9,132 days. A lot of moments. Some of them are these unremarkable moments that somehow punctuated a feeling or an impression in that instant and stayed with me. Taking the kids trick-or-treating and looking over my shoulder at Katie, standing in our doorway to hand candy out to the trick-or-treaters coming to our house – both of us loving our stations for the evening. Holding each other’s hands at concerts. Making a meal together that we’re both excited about. Or like this one time when Katie and I were watching Saturday Night Live and fell asleep, spooned on the couch. I woke up when the musical guest was performing. Katie was still asleep in my arms, our house was quiet and still, the kids all asleep in bed – and I felt this warmth come over me like a blanket. I don’t know how else to describe it – it was just a sense that everything in the world was right. I didn’t move, worried that I would disrupt this glow. I just felt grateful.

There are other specific experiences that stand out as marriage moments. Those sometimes predicable or expected life moments that you share with your partner, because you are on this path together – but they are uniquely yours, because it’s your path. When we got to honeymoon in Hawaii and it literally felt like the world paused just for us. When we hid in the bathroom at my parents’ house on Thanksgiving Day to take our first positive home pregnancy test. When we bought our first house and realized we were committing to staying in Las Vegas longer than we’d planned. When Katie had a miscarriage between Becca and Lucy. When we decided to move from Las Vegas to Utah. The moment we both knew we were done having children and cried. When my dad suddenly passed, and I’d immediately left to be with my mom, and Katie joined me three days later and we found our way into a bedroom so I could tell her about the last 72 hours and I completely came undone and was unintelligible and just sunk my head into her chest. 

Twenty-five years holds a lot of unpredictability, with the occasional plan coming to fruition. When Katie and I were dating, I knew it was different from previous relationships. I had this spiritual, visceral confidence that we could build something happy together. And that was everything to me, because I have never had the gift of “vision” – being able to see what the future could look like. I’m not that savvy or wise – especially if you’re comparing me to Katie – but from experience, I can tell you that we’ve built our life and our home on faith, laughter, compassion, and quick forgiveness. And ice cream to fill in the cracks. And I would say we have definitely built something happy. 

As one of those non-life-events that was unremarkable and extraordinary to me, I thought I’d share something that I wrote for Katie some time back and never published. Please enjoy! Or don’t, I’m not the boss of you. [But you should know that this is the only thing I got you all for our anniversary.] 

An Inconvenient Gift

Timing is a crucial ingredient for romance. 

This is what Katie tells me every time I grab her bum in the kitchen and there are one or more of our children around. (And there is always more than one around.)

Timing hasn’t always been on our side anyway. Like, since day one. The day I met Katie, I was dating someone else. The day I decided I wanted to ask her out, she was dating someone else. And I’m not kidding, on the very day I mustered up the courage to ask her out, in the precise moment I walked up to her on our college campus with concert tickets in hand and my mouth open to say the words, she turned to me and with all the excitement of someone who had just figured life out, she said, “Hey! So, guess what – I decided that I’m going to serve a mission, so I’m not going to date this entire semester!” “That’s awesome,” I said, one hundred percent certain it was the least awesome thing I had ever heard in my entire life. And I had heard a lot of bad a cappella music in college. Including an a cappella version of U2’s Mysterious Ways that still offends me. 

Fortunately for me, Katie was easily worn down. And by “worn down” I mean I waited 24 hours for her to change her mind and/or completely forget that she’d said anything. And then I asked her out – and she said ‘yes.’ 

See?! Timing!

Decades later, the struggle is still real. 

It was early evening in late October when we met up with some friends for dinner in downtown Provo. Station 22. A restaurant that is so contemporary that it gives you one of those electronic buzzers that light up and vibrate to let you know your table is ready. This means you have the convenience of cruising around downtown Provo and visiting the cute shops instead of just sitting in a crowded restaurant while everyone except you is eating and enjoying the merriment of no longer waiting for their turn to eat. Oh, red vibrating buzzers … where were you in the mid-90s?! And why didn’t you stop that a cappella group from arranging Mysterious Ways?! Or at least Enya’s Book of Days, which was also not ok. 

Katie and I wandered into a nearby store called Here, a quaint little place that, among other things, featured art from local artists. Sadly, the store has since closed, so Here is actually no longer There. I was casually browsing pithy greeting cards and Katie was thumbing through some books when we suddenly found ourselves staring at the same painting … and we both stopped moving as our hands found each other and locked. 

Right before us was this painting, by Brian Kershisnik. It’s titled This Splendid Inconvenience

Let me tell you something. You don’t get something that accurate without having lived it. Dear Brian, we get it. That exact moment? We get it. The trying to take advantage of those last few minutes of snuggle time, only to be interrupted … but to be interrupted by your other favorite people? Timing is indeed everything. 

And without a word between us, we both immediately welled up. 

I knew in that moment that I was going to buy that painting for Katie for Christmas. Sure, it would be the third Kershisnik painting hanging up in our home. But so what? We aren’t hurting anyone. It’s not like we arranged an a cappella version of the Pointer Sister’s Fire and made people pay money to come listen to us sing it. (You also don’t get that kind of detail without having lived it.)

I wanted to surprise Katie, so I knew I needed to keep the purchase off bank and credit card statements. So I did what every single citizen of Utah County has done at some point in their life. I donated plasma. I donated a lot of plasma. This painting wasn’t cheap. But I was so excited to surprise Katie with this painting that resonated so much with both of us. 

On the day I wondered back into Here and purchased This Splendid Inconvenience, I felt like I had just won Christmas. It was worth all the times some random teenager with weird facial hair jammed a thick needle into my unsuspecting vein and promptly forgot all about me as he or she went off to flirt with coworkers. 

Here was kind enough to giftwrap the painting for me. It was a plain brown paper, but the string was tied in some fancy way that made the whole thing look pretty. I kept it at my office, safely hidden from Katie throughout the entire season. Each day when I walked into work and saw it by my desk, I got excited all over again. 

On Christmas Eve, I brought it home from my office and hid it in my closet. I was so stealthy, you guys. Like an a cappella group who decided that now that they had your money, they were going to blindside you with their version of Suzanne Vega’s Blood Makes Noise.  

Christmas morning had exploded all over our living room, and with wrapping paper everywhere and candy already eaten for breakfast, and toys and gadgets being played with … I turned to Katie and said, “Oh, I still have my present for you.” To which she literally, physically jumped up and responded with, “And I still have mine for you! Me first!” And she ran into the other room … and came walking back in with some very familiar-looking packaging. Brown paper with decorative string. The Christmas tree lights were dim compared to the light in Katie’s face. She was so excited for me to open my present. 

I tore off the paper – and there it was, in all its glory. This Splendid Inconvenience. I stared at it, and apparently my expression was not what Katie had anticipated, because she started to coax me. “Don’t you remember it? We saw it in that little store last October! While we were waiting to go to dinner! We were, like, both emotional! Remember?!” Of course, I completely remembered. Katie went on, “I babysat for our neighbor for the last three weeks so I could have the cash to buy it without you knowing. I wanted to surprise you!” 

I looked up at her and we smiled huge at each other and I hugged her and kissed her and thanked her and gushed. I was thinking how now I didn’t have this surprise gift for her … but I also so completely loved that we were both on the same wavelength and had the same idea and made similar secret plans to surprise the other one. I retrieved her gift, and as I walked it over to her and she recognized precisely what it was, her eyes grew even bigger, and I wryly commented, “You…don’t need to open it.” 

It was this uncanny Gift of the Magi moment. 

Maybe the timing was actually perfect. 

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Sunday Will Come

My dad has been gone a year today.

I have replayed in my mind, countless times, the moment I got the phone call from my mom. Her voice had a tremble, and her breathing was uneven. She had come home and found him on the floor. His heart had stopped. With impeccable health and physical and mental strength that defied aging, it was simply his time to go.

I’ve missed my dad. And it’s an ache that is hard to describe. I don’t just miss the 2019 version of my dad. I feel like I miss the entire 48 years I knew him.

My dad was a presence. You knew when he was in a room.

I miss that.

And yet I can tell you at least three specific times in the last year when I knew he was in the room. And not just that he was there, but where he was. I couldn’t see him. But I knew precisely where he was in that room. Each time. It is reassuring, it is comforting, and it’s a gift I wouldn’t dare ask for – because I don’t feel like I could reasonably expect such a thing. It’s this generous tender mercy.

April 2019 feels like a lifetime ago, because so much has changed in that year and my family doesn’t look the same. Lucy was baptized, Abbie went through the temple and got married, Josh joined our family, Garren came home from his mission in Brazil, Connor went through the temple and left on his mission to Washington, Roxanna had a distressing brain injury, Tanner’s voice is continually lower and his tallness is continually higher.

You naturally expect the emotion of certain “firsts” without your dad. His birthday, Father’s Day, Christmas, weddings, etc. With the expectations of those moments, you can somewhat prepare yourself. Not that they aren’t emotional, but you anticipate it and brace yourself.

It’s the moments that catch you off guard that really do a number on you.

When you come across someone – anyone – who knew your dad and they take a moment to tell you why they thought your dad was great. I was recently in the temple here in Provo and a man came up to me and asked, “Are you related to Ken Craig?” (I was named after my dad, so I had no idea if he meant my dad, if he had me confused with myself, or if he meant somebody else entirely.) I just stared at him, so he continued, “From California … he was a CPA.” “Yes, that’s my dad.” “I knew it. You look just like him.” This man had done some computer work for my dad back in the early 1980s. It caught me so off guard, it had an emotional impact on me that was different from missing him on a holiday.

My brother, Dehn, was in town one afternoon, for work. He texted and asked if I wanted to grab lunch before he left. Sitting across from each other at this quiet restaurant, we started talking about our kids. One of mine was heavy on my mind. It was something that I would have shared with my dad (and mom), but not too many other people. I felt vulnerable. But as I looked down at my plate, picking at my food, I started telling Dehn about it. When I looked up at him … I promise you, I was looking at my dad. It was Dehn, with my dad’s eyes. The softness and empathy. The concern, and also the confidence. Then Dehn started talking and he made this distinct movement that my dad always made. I could barely – barely – hold it together until I got out to my car.

Another time, I walked into a small post office to mail a package to my son in Washington, and playing over the sound system was Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night, his live recording from the Greek Theater in 1972. All my growing up years, it was Dad’s go-to album. My earliest memories have this album in the background. And it was this particular part of the album that you really just have to be a superfan to know. (It’s the very beginning, when the string orchestra is playing the prelude, before the drums kick in for Crunch Granola Suite. Do you know the part? If you do then you should know that you and I are instant best friends.) This is not an album that gets radio play, and it is certainly not a part of the album that gets radio play. It had no business being played over a speaker at a post office. I had to excuse myself from the premises.

And most recently, I came across this photo of my mom and dad laughing together. Do you see this? Can you feel it? No matter my age, no matter what else was going on – when I would see my parents laugh like this together, everything was right in the world. They were united and they were in love and they were joyful.

I hope my kids feel that when they see Katie and I laugh together. I hope that is part of the legacy I am leaving for my children and eventual grandchildren. I value this part of my dad’s legacy more than I would have thought.

I do feel like he is just around a corner, waiting for me. This is a temporary separation, and that offers more comfort than I know how to express. It is the thing that makes it all ok. It strikes me as poignant that today, this Saturday, is the one-year anniversary of his passing, and it falls on that “waiting day” between Good Friday and Easter. I am waiting to see my dad again – though I am grateful I don’t have to wait until then to feel him nearby. I love my Savior, Jesus Christ, and the peace that is always, always offered.

“We will all have our Fridays, but I testify in the name of the One who conquered death, Sunday will come.” – Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin.