Sibling Identities

June 22, 2010

I am the youngest of six kids. Because I’m bringing up the rear I missed the opportunity to watch my siblings grow and develop themselves. In my mind my siblings have always been fully solidified individuals with their own unique interests, opinions, humor, moods, preferences, biases, strengths, and faults. It must have been a very different experience for my oldest sister to watch us younger siblings as we learned and grew and established our identities and world views. But for me it seemed that my siblings had always been the way they were. And thus it seemed to me that identity was something that is discovered more than it is created. Probably the truth lies somewhere in between.

As an adolescent when I became fully engaged in the business of discovering/creating my identity I frequently used my siblings as a means of validating myself. When something grabbed my attention I would ask “Is this something my siblings do? Is this something they would approve of?” Occasionally, it wasn’t me asking, it was them saying, “No, we don’t approve of that. That’s low brow. You’re better than that” And with this help I gradually I formed a crude identity.  I was Paul Gardner the boy that likes music and books, just like one of his brothers, and skiing, just like the other.

I have no doubt that I got that I got those three things right, my love for music, books, and skiing hasn’t slackened since my adolescence. But overall using your siblings to discover your own identity is not a process I would recommend. There were some things that I probably should have pursued more but didn’t (horses, football) and a few things I wasted time trying to be interested in (rock climbing, music without swear words)but didn’t. The more damaging effect though, was that my siblings became a crutch that kept my identity from becoming fully developed. This focus on discovering myself prevented me in some essential ways from creating myself. Case in point, when I returned from my mission I chose with very little deliberation to live in the same apartment complex as 3 of my older siblings. Nothing terribly wrong with that, except that it reflected some closed mindedness, and a timid desire to follow in footsteps instead of blazing my own trail. Kind of behind schedule for a 21 year old.

But since then I have grown and now I have no confusion about who I am. There is no self deception, or imitation in my identity. I like what I like. I do what I do. I am how I am.  Now when I recognize a shared interest, or personality trait, I know it is a genuine commonality, one that links us together from our true natural center.

when i was growing up, girls didn’t join sports teams…they took dance classes. they didn’t play video games…they played with dolls. and they DEFINITELY didn’t watch teenage mutant ninja turtles. in short…girls were sugar, spice and everything nice. that’s just how it was.

my older sister is 14 months older than me. as children, we played school about every other day. she was always the teacher with me as the dutiful student. she was my big sister and therefore much more knowledgeable and better than i was at everything. so when she had a crazy idea…i just went with it.

on one of our days off from playing school, we were watching tv together and teenage mutant ninja turtles came on. i couldn’t believe my eyes…it was TOTALLY AWESOME. how had my parents decided to forbid us from watching such a wonderful television program? there was action, adventure and (most importantly) so much pizza. after the episode ended, we turned the big black box off and proceeded to play together, business as usual.

but that day, things were not quite as they usually were. our mom realized this when she noticed how quiet we were being and stopped to check on us. what she found would have left many mothers in a state of shock: her second (and surely, most favorite) daughter was blindfolded, tied up and gagged — unable to breathe very well or remove herself from the chair she was attached to with bed sheets. and her older (not-quite-as-adorable) daughter was laughing and dancing around with a make-shift eye mask made out of pink dance tights and a green backpack on her back, humming the teenage mutant ninja turtles theme song.

needless to say, we were really never allowed to watch tmnt again after that.

Second Daughter Syndrome

June 13, 2010

(This is an old post I wrote for an old blog of mine, although it’s been slightly updated. Sorry, I’m a slacker.)

I’ve always felt there should be a book written about my family. There’s something enamoring and captivating about an all-girl family — how each daughter is so different in personality yet all are united by the unmatchable bonds of sisterhood. Literature has proven it.

I’ve also always imagined that I would be the heroine, or at least the narrator of the story.

Before you start rolling your eyes at me, let me present the evidence for this. Think of the other stories about all-girl families you’ve read or heard. The most famous are probably the Bennett sisters in the much-loved Pride and Prejudice and the March sisters in Little Women. There are even the five daughters of Fiddler on the Roof (I can’t think of their surname off the top of my head.) Now, who is the main character in each story? (Disregard Fiddler for now.) Elizabeth Bennett and Jo March, right? Both are the second daughters. Like me. And it doesn’t end there.

You know the first daughters, Jane and Meg, and even Tzeitel? They are the role models, and always remind me strongly of my older sister, the first daughter of our family. They are obedient and wise and prettier and more practical than the second daughter. Thus, they don’t get into as much trouble, and have the sense and good fortune to marry the first good, hard-working young man they meet. I’m not saying that my sister didn’t have her share of challenges, but she has an impeccably cleaner record than me: she has never gotten a speeding ticket, been in a car accident, failed a class, gotten in trouble at school, been in debt, missed a deadline, or really been careless and irresponsible in any way. She always remembers to send everyone a birthday card right on their birthday. Basically, she hasn’t done anything to cause my parents grief since she was a newborn, and even then I hear she was really good at sleeping through the night. Nobody really has to worry about the first daughter. I, on the other hand, have been and still am the complete opposite.

But I also like to think I possess some of the good qualities of the second daughter: the dreamer and schemer with a love of writing, getting into scrapes but learning from them, taking risks, and in the end finding a man who adores her imperfections. Now, I would be pretty happy with myself if I could also acquire Lizzie’s wit, Jo’s intellect, and Hodel’s grace. There’s always room for improvement, right?

So there you have it, some of the foolish and slightly narcissistic thoughts that go through my head as I go through this thing called life. You can agree or disagree with me, but I firmly hold that second-daughter syndrome exists, and that I am infected with it.

Now you can start rolling your eyes at me.

on sisterly love

June 11, 2010

I graduated from BYU in August.  Let’s not say which August, let’s just say an August in the past.  Like most college graduates, I had no idea how to go about finding a job.  But that didn’t stop me from trying.  I started several months before the end of the summer sending out resumes and registering for job sites and asking people to be references for me.  The whole gambit.  Then August came and went and I was still without a full time job.

The focus of my job search was outside the great state of Utah.  I have nothing against Utah.  I quite enjoyed it while I was at BYU.  But I grew up in Ohio and never considered myself much of a Utah girl.  I was ready to flee the state and try something new.  Or so I thought.

At the time that I graduated, my student job had been working as a computer programmer for the Missionary Training Center for the last several years.  Seeing my plight, in June my boss told me that if I needed to, I was more than welcome to stay on as a three-quarter time employee for as long as I wanted after graduation.  Of course, I would have no benefits, but I wouldn’t have to move back into my parents’ house.  Having no other options, I decided to stick around the MTC while continuing my job hunt.  The whole experience was very frustrating and worrisome.  Was I not good enough for a job?  What could I do to improve?  Why did I even pick this stupid major?  I didn’t know the answers to these questions.

(Wait, just a minute, you are saying to yourself right now.  Doesn’t she know that graduation was the topic of April?  And we’re already in June!  She should be writing about siblings, not graduation! Well, just hold your dang horses!  I’ll get there!)

The fall of the year that I graduated was the same year that my younger sister started at BYU.  The baby sister.  The youngest of us all.  She drove out from Ohio in two days with my dad.  He dropped her off and was off on a plane the next day.  Of course being the baby, she needed much help from me.  I helped her find her way around and figure out how to eat on her own and which boys she really ought to stay away from.  She told me that she was grateful that I had stuck around Utah while she was getting used to being an independent* adult.  In fact, she confessed to me the source of all the consternation I had been feeling in my inability to find a job:

She said, “When I found out you’d be staying at the MTC if you couldn’t find another job, I started praying that you wouldn’t find another job, so that you’d stay in Provo and help me.”

Thanks, sister.  I have your overall well-being at heart in my prayers too.

*used loosely.  She is the baby after all.


May 31, 2010

I have two siblings, brothers only. I used to think I didn’t have enough brothers and always wished I could have more.

This week (or maybe next), my son will be getting his very first sibling. Now that I’m a mother, one sibling sounds like more than enough.

Graduation is an interesting topic. Graduation speeches are also quite interesting. Some of the best talks I’ve heard are graduation talks, like Steve Jobs talk at Stanford’s commencement some years ago. I was recently the center of something of a scandal at my medical school because of an inflammatory email I sent out after I found out there was no student speaker at our hooding ceremony. I think a student speech at the students’ graduation seems like a nice way to showcase what the students have become, and a symbolic way of the professors welcoming the graduates into their new role as quasi-peers. Alas! even after my half-hour reprimanding by one of our deans, we will not have a student speaking and I also do not feel any reproach over my “unprofessional” email.

It might seem that at this point I should be posting the speech I think should be given at that ceremony, but instead I’m going to post the one I thought should have been given at my undergraduate graduation ceremony for the College of Science. Alas! I was the runner-up in this, too. But now that I have you as a  semi-captive audience, I thought I’d share.


Dean Stang. Chairs. Thank you for this opportunity.

Today I would like to share two stories with you. The first is a tragedy. The second is about a dream.

The tragedy started with me as a wide-eyed Sophomore. The very prospect of Organic Chemistry scared me. As the first exam approached, I began studying more and more. I reviewed problem sets, reread chapters, and studied lecture notes. The night before the exam, I was driving up to the University for a meeting. I had my book open on my lap, and would glance over a reaction chart at stoplights. Don’t worry, only at stoplights. Well, mostly only at stoplights, at least.

As I drove up South Temple, I realized I needed to get gas. I slipped over to First South. Stopping at a gas station, I got out of the car, put my book on top of my CMRY (The “A” fell off of my camry), started pumping, and returned my attention to my book. After the pump stopped, I got back in the car and continued on my way to campus. About a block and a half later, I realized my book was not in my lap.

A terrified glance in the rear-view mirror revealed a scene reminiscent of an old Western movie. A few sheets of paper rolled along the ground in the light wind, modern- day tumbleweeds. An open book lay in the middle of an intersection. The book lay there, taunting the only car on the road. The man in black, or rather the approaching black car, grew larger and larger in my mirror, the headlights brightening to a frightening, blinding level. As I stared with horror at my mirror, I watched that car swerve and purposefully trample my beloved book. Then I watched with dread as the car stopped, and quickly reversed, driving over my book again, only to stop. With tears blurring my vision, I watched the car, for a third time, trample my copy of Solomons & Frhyle. Okay, so the car only ran over the book once, but it felt like three times. At least.

Quickly, I flipped a “U”ie. Though I was too late for the book’s spine, the life was not quite gone. I quickly recovered my tortured companion and gathered up the scattering papers. With a heavy heart, I stumbled back to my car and continued on my way to campus.

We have all had challenges during college, academic, social, or otherwise.   Some may have been as nightmarish as the one endured by my poor text book.  But, let’s be honest. College, overall, has been a dream.  A happy dream…. One I am about to wake up from. And I am sure most of you would agree: this has also felt like an extremely long dream.

Now please don’t mistake my meaning. I don’t mean a dream of someday attending college, I mean the dream of LIVING college. I mean four great season of Utah football; I mean late night cramming sessions; I mean eating entirely too much Kraft Mac & Cheese.

I have a friend, (shocking, I know). I have a friend who, when asked how things are, invariably replies, “Just living the dream.” Whether sick or hale, at a party or about to be run-over by exams, he is always “living the dream.”

This attitude begs a question: So what is this dream? This dream comes disguised as a 12 and 0 football season; standing victorious over BYU four years running. [SEEDED APPLAUSE] The dream dresses up as parties and concerts; a social life – existent or [PAUSE] otherwise; A dream camouflaged as cheese pull-aparts at the Pi. But these only represent symptoms, not the essence of the dream itself.

The dream is intellectual illumination and educational enlightenment; the dream is an awakening to absolute scientific truths and exploration of new philosophies. The dream is finding new friends and the gaining the confidence that comes from accomplishment. The dream is the achievement of goals and the conception of new goals. In brief, the dream is the university experience.

Now that we are about to wake and leave this dream, what comes next? Let me answer this by talking about something other than this esoteric philosophy. I want to talk about what comes next by talking about something we are all a little more comfortable with math.

The hardest mathematical principle I ever learned was taught by Mrs. Kimball in First grade. Division. I could not quite wrap my head around it. The stuff before long division I had mastered. Addition was tough, sure, but subtraction seemed a bit easier. Multiplication was manageable, but division was just a big brick wall. The teacher kept saying it was multiplication in reverse, but I didn’t get it. For a while, at least. Eventually, however, I finally mastered long division. It took a lot of work for me to understand the concept of long division. However, everything since then: algebra, geometry, trig, calculus, and even, according to Dr. Grant, the partial differential Schroedinger wave equation, has been easy. Or, if not “easy,” at least never more difficult or challenging than the step before. Nothing has felt that much harder to learn to me than learning division was in the First Grade.

In our college stint, we have all learned a fair bit of math. If your math exam marks were anything like mine, you all know, then, that there is a lot of math we do not know – or even understand. Similarly, we have all faced a lot of challenges during our college experience; and, since we are all here, at graduation, we have overcome many of those challenges. Which brings me back to my initial question: what happens when we wake from this dream?

The answer, I think, is that we start a new one. And just like our college dream, we get to choose what this new dream is. In industry or academics or wherever, we can continue “living the dream,” though, hopefully, a different dream than we enjoyed while we were here. But make no mistake, we must each choose, for ourselves, what our dream will be. As we choose this dream, we also choose what will power its pursuit.

And what about those text books that lie bleeding and alone in the intersection?  Do we run back to these faithful sidekicks that have accompanied us through all our college adventures?  Well, the answer is found in those Western Movies. Sometimes a sidekick and a hero will part ways, but not without having learned the lesson. As frightening as it can be to leave behind the friendly trappings of education, we can have confidence in the knowledge we gathered from our professors and our trusty texts, preparing ourselves for the challenges the new dream will bring. Before we leave this dream, we ought to recognize our professors, family, and all those who have made contributions towards our tuition, our learning and our lives. Our thanks to all of you!

We now stand at the threshold of our new dreams.  These new dreams will be as challenging as the college dream, I think, and as difficult as long division was in the beginning; Make no mistake, however, that we can make these dreams our realities as well. and hopefully, this dream will be as incredible and exciting as the Fiesta Bowl or graduation.

I will close with this anonymous quote: I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.

I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.

Each of us holds our own future. We control our dreams

YOU control your dreams.

Go Utes!

Siblings. We all have them, except for those of us who don’t. If nothing else, they make for interesting case studies. Here are individuals with nearly identical DNA, and raised in the same physical environment. But sometimes they are remarkably similar to us, and sometimes entirely different.

Because of the shared family experience, our relationship and connection to our siblings is unlike any other relationship in our lives. Through intention or happenstance we can end up with people who are “like a brother” to us, but the close “like a brother” relationship isn’t really the same one as an actual brother. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s worse, but the very fact that we use siblings as a comparison brings us back to that unique relationship.

Whether we have numerous siblings, one, or none, there’s something about that dynamic.

this is for real.

May 11, 2010

i just graduated from college. you’d think that because of experiencing this monumental milestone in my life that i would have a ton to write about. but i don’t. mostly because it still seems so surreal.

done with college? i’ve been going to school for the past 18 years of my life. what else am i supposed to do?

every time i talk to my friends who graduated with me, the comments seem to be the same: no one can believe that we are actually done. and maybe that is why colleges / schools / etc create so much hoopla for graduation…convocation…commencement…whatever you want to call it. because maybe without all the bells and whistles, we wouldn’t believe it was really happening at all.

i was at the ceremonies. i walked across the stage when they called my name. i got my fake diploma. and i shook hands with a lot of people that i couldn’t tell apart from adam. because that’s just what you do. and now…something else. something real. because this is it. the beginning of the rest of my life.

…so why don’t i feel any different?

This post isn’t going up late because I forgot about it. I live about 30 feet from a large university and have several close friends that graduated from college last month. I had plenty of visual reminders to cause me to reflect on my own graduation. I thought about the topic often last month, but I didn’t think about it much. For me there simply wasn’t much to think about. I honestly don’t even remember much at all about graduation. My guess is I went to commencement but not convocation, I’m not sure that I’ve got that terminology. I don’t remember walking across a stage, and think that’s something I might have remembered if I had done it. I have a vague memory of moving a tassel from one side to another, but I’m not sure about that either.

Basically for me graduation was of very little importance. And why shouldn’t it have been. I had got my first full time professional job a few months earlier before I even had a college degree. Graduation signified little change in my daily life.

As I considered writing about the topic of graduation there was little that I had to say. I was tempted to use it as a spring board to write about my own educational theories, but that wasn’t really the topic and I would feel like it was cheating. I was also swayed from taking the easy route by the memory of a very poignant essay my brother wrote about his graduation from dental school. My brother is not a sentimental person, he’s probably even less sentimental than I am, yet he had generated some substantial thoughts and emotions on the subject. I began to think about why it was so difficult for me to do the same.

The most obvious reason was that my graduation didn’t cost as much, and consequently didn’t value as much as my brother’s graduation. Dental school had been extremely hard, and when he had walked across that stage he left behind a life of sleep deprivation and debt for a life of setting his own hours and making lots of money, a stark contrast.

I am about the same age that my brother was when he graduated from dental school and I don’t have a hallmark event that I can point to as my moment of arrival. I have had no poignant ceremony to recognize my growth and accomplishments. Perhaps I never will. It’s not that I haven’t grown or accomplished anything worthwhile, it’s just that in the path that I’ve taken there have not been any obvious moments to stop and say “Look what I’ve done. Look how I’ve changed.”

I believe that recognition is important. It’s easy to give up on progress when you believe that no one notices. And it’s easy to overlook or downplay your own progress without a dedicated moment for evaluation and reflection. The completion of an academic is glaringly obvious moment for reflection. It’s a small distinct plateau on the path of progress. I believe that it’s wise to take advantage of those opportunities when they present themselves, because sometimes the path to progress is a long gradual climb, with no landmarks to cause reflection or celebration.

It’s April, which means, well, pretty little. Showers and promises of flowers. But for some of us, we’re getting into graduation season. For some, graduation is a BIG deal. Remember that friend back in highschool? Their parents, perhaps unsure that they ever would graduate, throw the giant party with cake and balloons and free cars for all the guests. For others it’s not such an event. A couple hours spent waiting for a couple seconds of walking across a stage. Maybe they say your name correctly, maybe they don’t; it doesn’t matter much to you either way.

But graduation, whether overly-celebrated or underly-celebrated, is inherently an event. You are changing, from one category to another. Maybe it’s just one level of schooling to the next, maybe it’s from pupil to judo grandmaster. If you’re graduating, something is changing, and even though you may feel the same from one side of the stage to the other, you’ve added some title, accredidation or qualification. In the eyes of society something has happened, apart from moving from stage right to stage left.

Tell us about it.