“You shouldn’t play with your food.”

Since I was a kid, I spent time all over the rez during the summers. Some summers I spent with my Nana, some summers I spent with my Uncles and Aunts. And then some summers I spent with my parents traveling to reservations across Turtle Island. We always ate traditional foods and such, and as a child, I would sometimes refuse. I would occasionally push the food around with my fork to make it look like I ate, but I remember my Mom telling me, “Don’t play with your food.” It was a lesson that followed me in my adult years.

One of my college summers I spent in Nebraska for an internship. Quite honestly, I wasn’t doing much with the internship but it gave me a chance to chill with one of my bros. He was like a big brother and I think just about anybody who spent any amount of time with him has a story about his shenanigans. He always liked to be on the move, drive his war pony around and keep busy.

One day we were out and about and we met an older woman. She was super kind and inevitably invited us to her grandson’s 18th birthday. Keep in mind, we just met her that day. My bro said, “Sure, we’ll go.” And before I knew it, evening struck and we were talking with strangers outside a trailer house along the Missouri River. We ate, talked, played guitar and fished. It was a beautiful evening with some awesome Native people. We were swapping stories and toward the latter part of the night around the fire, a little German Shepherd puppy arrived. It was the cutest little dog. My bro saw the little puppy and started to pet him and wrestled the little dog with his hand. He was smiling and while keeping his eyes down fixated on the dog below he asked, “is this puppy for the birthday boy?” The rummage of party noise waned and the sound of night and moonlight replaced the talking. No one answered my buddy. He was still smiling but simultaneously looking around confused. Then his smiled turned into sole confusion.

I was also confused, did we do something? Both of our eyes wandered through the party, and eventually, the lady who extended the invitation walked in our direction. She motioned, and we learned in. She covered her mouth and in a slightly loud whisper said, “it’s for the sacrifice.” My bro who still was petting the puppy until the moment of her whisper immediately stopped and said, “oh.” We were a little taken back, or at least I was. I never heard of that, just because we don’t practice that in our tribe. When we left, I was still confused, but my buddy explained to me they were  Sioux and it was part of their traditions. I told my bro, “You shouldn’t play with your food.”

“DON’T LOOK, DON’T LOOK!”

We were headed to the White Mountains to promote the college on the Apache reservation. I was 8 years old during that hot summer June, so it was going to be nice to head to cooler-warm weather in Cedar Creek, AZ. A place that I loved to visit as a kid because of the tarantulas, cliff jumping, and chance to chase cows. We jumped in our blue Astro van and cruised on the 60 from Phoenix to Globe, AZ. A trip we had taken a million times before.with my Dad… my Dad who has always been interesting to take road trips.

When we were little he never stopped unless we had been on the road for a minimum of 3 hours. One time, my sister Camie had to stick her butt out the window because we weren’t stopping… I peed in bottles and we always had a plethora of snacks. We listened to the same cassette tapes and I remember drawing in my notepad for most of the trips. I often collected coke bottles and used my pocket knife to make gadgets and what not. We never sat in our seats. We always had these makeshift beds of layered blankets laid between the rubber floors and seats. It’s where we slept for our longer trips. It was a different time back then.

The trip to Cedar Creek wasn’t a long one, it took us about 4 hours with a stop in Globe. After our stop, we headed through the beautiful windy Salt River Canyon. The drive through the canyon was filled with sheer cliffs, flowing waters, and on occasion, waterfalls would burst through the plateaus after heavy rains. After our quick stop in Globe, we embarked on the scenic drive. My sister Camie and I crushed a family size box of cheez its in the beginning half of our trip. About halfway through, just over the Salt River, I felt it coming. My stomach turned, and the cheez its turned on me. I threw up a good half box of cheez its on the rubber floor of our blue Astro van. There’s not really pull-offs, especially then, in the Canyon. So my Dad kept driving. My oldest sister Joy grabbed Camie, and yelled at her, “DON’T LOOK, DON’T LOOK!” But Camie looked, and she threw up the other half of the box of cheez its. Bits of cheez its were running back and forth on the floorboards as our van slowly climbed up the canyon. We pulled off, my Mom got a towel and cleaned as much as she could. My Dad was a little flustered, just because we always ran tight schedules during those trips. Once we finally got to Cedar Creek, my Dad asked his friend for a hose and sprayed the floor clean while my friends and I built a wikiup in their yard.

My Dad is much different to travel with now. He stops every hour or two, he doesn’t get flustered during traffic, car wrecks, or missed turns. He also flies whenever he can. I tease him about changing his road warrior ways, but he told me, “I don’t get flustered or mind getting lost because it means I could have missed a wreck or someone may need me on the other road.” So if you get a little lost, take a few wrong turns or someone delays your trip with throw up, don’t get flustered. It’s just part of the journey you’re meant to be on.

Camie and I still love cheez-its and to this day… Joy can’t be around them.

“I stood on the giant boulders; then started jumping…”

I think we all had and have moments in life when we didn’t listen to someone’s warning and ended up embarrassed. Sometimes those warnings come from friends, mentors, siblings, and especially from parents. And there’s been a few times in my life I didn’t listen to someone’s warning.

Coming from the Sonoran desert, I’ve had my share of stories involving cacti. When my parents would take us to the southern part of the state, my siblings and I would get a chance to eat prickly pears. Anytime I had a scrape on my leg, my Mom would send me to our front yard to break a piece of the aloe vera cactus, and then rub the broken end on my cuts and scrapes. My sister and her friends once pushed this jerk kid into a patch of prickly pears. I’ve ran into small saguaros with bare feet more times than I would like to count. I once got a jumping cactus stuck in my leg when I tried out for my high school golf team (needless to say, I didn’t make the golf team and played football). But probably the most memorable experience was when I was 6 years old.

I stood on the giant boulders; then started jumping from one boulder to the next pretending there were giant alligators beneath me. My Dad said, ”Don’t play on those rocks.” I said, ”Okay,” and got down. My Dad went to his faculty and staff meetings and I climbed back on the rocks. No sooner than I started jumping again, I fell off one of the giant builder. I scraped my leg through my jeans and could feel the warm blood start to drip down the side of my calf. No big deal. My jeans would stop the bleeding. I started jumping again and the second time around, I would regret it.

I jumped and I fell, but this time to the backside of the boulders. Where there was an abundance of barrel cacti. Thankfully I only rolled a few times, but it was enough for thorns to get stuck all around my legs, butt, and back. I wobbled over toward my Mom and let he know what happened. My Mom took me to the room we were staying in, and plucked as many thorns as she could find. I don’t know if it’s more embarrassing to have your Mom pick thorns from your butt with your pants down. Or admitting you didn’t listen to a warning you had minutes earlier. Either way, both happened to me. And anytime I don’t heed someone’s warning and end up embarrassed, it’s another reminder to stay off the rocks.

“how much do you charge to landscape the front yard?”

I was 12 when my Dad became president of American Indian College. He wouldn’t get any type of raise for a few years. The board at the time knew that he would need supplemental income because the president would have to raise money for the college as opposed to personal finances, since he was under a mission’s appointment. The board failed to act until a few years after he took the position when faculty and staff advocated for us because they saw our family struggling. My Dad, and even myself now, have always taken the position that people will take care of you, and that if people fail to pay your worth, it’s a reflection of their own integrity.

When my Dad got a raise (just enough to get us over the poverty line) my Dad continued to live like we didn’t have the money. I turned 15, and using the equity from my childhood home and the money he saved from his raise, we moved to Anthem, AZ. I stepped in the house and looked at the 20ft vaulted ceilings and thought, “we can afford this?” First my dad was frugal, we stayed out of debt, and lived below our means. We moved into that $225,000 in the middle of July. My Dad was still working as president, so he was traveling frequently. It was the first time I was in charge of moving. My Dad borrowed Big Red, an old maintenance truck from AIC, and said, “there it is, thanks.”

I love moving. And I’ve moved more people than I can remember. There is something about moving in 110 degree weather with a sweat dripping shirt that makes me feel good inside. It would get so hot, to the point your body would start to get chills, and I could feel the heat radiating off the top of my head. It took me two days to load and unload most of our stuff. But it was the craziest thing, because for the first time in my life, we could afford a few nicer things.

Before the raise, we hardly ate at restaurants unless it was Taco Bell. We would each get a hardshell taco and bean burrito. If we ever did go to Denny’s, we shared plates and only drank water. After the raise, coincidently when my oldest sister Joy was still in college, we could go to the Sizzler buffet and even order soft drinks. Eventually we ditched the foil antennas, and vice grip tv, and got a new 32 inch tube tv and cable.  It was an exciting time in my life.

After we moved our stuff into the house, we started looking at the landscaping. I had worked a summer job and laid flagstone for a few years, but my Dad wanted to get professional landscapers. As he was out front looking at the yard, a lady approached him and said, “how much do you charge to landscape the front yard?” My Dad smiled and said,  “I live here.” She apologized and went on. A seemingly innocent mistake, but this happened all the time. We could now afford a few nicer things since the raise, but the family was still treated like we were incapable of living in a nice house, having good jobs, or eating at a few nicer restaurants. This certainly wasn’t the first or last time someone would mistake our family for not belonging, and it happens even in places meant for Native people.

The landscaping interaction wasn’t the worst thing in the world. As a kid I remember walking with my Dad up the hill at AIC. I was about 15. A well respected White minister was at the top. As we got closer my Dad called out his name and asked, “It’s good to see you, how’s it going?” The minister just glared at us and walked away in disgust. I asked my Dad, the most reputable man I know, why that minister did that, he shook his head and said, “some people are just like that.”

I asked why my Dad put up with so many people like that, especially being underpaid for the job he had at the college and often being treated poorly. He told me, “It was never about any glory or recognition, we will do anything and put up with anybody to help Native students. Secondly, if I leave, nothing will change.” It was the first real lesson I had in commitment. It was good reminder the work isn’t about myself, the institution, but about the people and especially Native students.

“…this must be how Angelina Jolie’s adopted kids feel.”

Growing up I was never curious about what it would be like to be adopted by White parents. One, because I had great parents and two, all the White parents I knew from school were mostly mean to me. But as an adult, I wonder what it would be like to be adopted by a White person. Like, if people were going to throw a racial slur at me, would they call me a, “cracker.” Or would I still be considered an apple? Would I still get followed around in WalMart? Would I wear polo shirts? Honestly, I would probably still get followed in WalMart. And honestly, I couldn’t imagine being adopted by a White family because of my childhood experiences with my classmates’ parents in school.

I remember the first time hearing a White Mom tell her daughter not to talk to me. I was walking out of class near the student pick up area with my friend. I overheard her Mom say, “he doesn’t look friendly, you shouldn’t hang out with him.” Almost like that Mom was fearing I was a big Brown monster or something. I didn’t understand. But my neighborhood and childhood experiences were filled with White Moms like that.

Middle class working White Moms. The Moms who came to pick up their kids in pant suits driving an SUV. The ones who told their daughters not to talk to me. They locked their car doors when I was on the corner of a street light. They moved their purses to the opposite arm securely tightening it under their armpits when I walked by. I intentionally avoided middle-class White Moms, not because of hate or disdain, but because they made me feel like I didn’t belong talking to them. Unless they approached me, then I was friendly. It was hard for me to trust them, but as I grew up, I realized they’re not all like that. And especially while in graduate school.

I had a very intelligent and classy professor who fit the profile, and I thought she might be like those moms of my childhood. I wasn’t sure how the professor would treat me, mostly because I’m this Native guy who grew up eating fried bologna sandwiches from empty happy meal boxes. But the professor was nice to me, helped me with my writing, helped me get into a conference, and publish a paper. The professor didn’t want or ask to get recognition or exploit the relationship for credit. When she was kind to me, all I could think was,  “this must be how Angelina Jolie’s adopted kids feel.”

But then again, I’m definitely glad I wasn’t adopted by a White family. Mostly because it’s been done in Native communities for a long time. And especially In 1958, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs created the Indian adoption project to take Native kids from their parents. This was an attempt to continually assimilate Native kids into mainstream culture and many of the kids from this era, now adults, suffer with traumatic childhoods of being raised in abusive non-Native homes. Those kids raised by non-Native parents are still trying to figure out their identity as Natives in White communities and Natives in Native communities. I’m glad I had two awesome Brown parents, and I wasn’t put up for adoption, or else I may be wearing polo shirts.

“…Natives don’t wear pajamas.”

When you get married, and subsequently start living life as a husband or wife, you absorb tremendous amounts of knowledge about your partner that you never knew. I only knew Vanessa 4 months before I proposed and we were married 5 months after that proposal. I deployed 3 months later for a year. There was an extensive list of things we didn’t know about each other. But that’s okay, because we were in love and still are. But you do find out stuff they really don’t like about you.

My opinion is that we don’t always know what others dislike about yourself because we put our best foot forward in the dating process. You want that person to like you. I always tried to do things how I always did, and be who I was. It seemed to work, but a few years into marriage I found out that I would have to change my ways. Because the proverbial saying, “Happy wife, happy life,” is true. And the things I thought my wife didn’t mind, actually bothered her, or maybe it was that we are never quite the same people when we first get married.

I’ll keep the story light, because I know better than to publicly acknowledge our “disagreements.” But I made a short list of habits I would have to change, that Vanessa doesn’t like. I would also like to add the caveat that Vanessa has a similar list of her habits that I don’t like… but it’s my blog hahaha. So here we go:

  1. (Occasionally) I would leave my clothes on the floor for multiple days
  2. I take solid bites out of blocks of cheese, then put it back. (I still do this, but I use the cheese grater to smooth out the ends)
  3. I taught the kids to get the remote for me
  4. I leave my hair in the shower (occasionally)
  5. I don’t make the bed correctly (Ironic, considering I was in the Army. But I don’t line up the sheets and put the comforter on sideways. Plus in the Army, the crisp bed was just for show. I actually made my bed once, and then slept in my sleeping bag on top of the bed the whole time)
  6. I don’t wear pajamas to bed, I wear jeans, and/or regular clothes to bed.

I got in trouble a few times for doing these things. And a few times Vanessa asked me to sleep on the couch. But little did she know I actually like sleeping on the couch. And the first time I was kicked out of the room I made a blanket fort in the living room… not a good idea, but it seemed funny at the time. Okay it’s still funny, and I would probably do it again. But it’s nice sleeping in the living room. The TV is bigger, the fridge is closer, and it reminds me of my Army days. I loved sleeping on top the tank, and the hood of HMMWVs. The warm exhaust would rock me into a coma full of vivid dreams. The perfect escape. But it got me thinking, why did I like sleeping in the living room, and why do I still like wearing jeans to bed…. I think it’s because it reminds me of my childhood.

I remember long trips and church services on the rez my parents would take me too. I always fell asleep during the loud alter calls somewhere in between pews and wood chips. I would feel the occasional spider or bug crawl across my arms. My Dad would pick me up and carry me to our blue astro van. I would sleep the whole way back to wherever we were staying and I would either sleep on the couch, or some other make shift bed on the floor, always in my jeans. I don’t ever remember having pajamas. I don’t even remember my parents ever wearing pajamas. We probably all did, but Camie is the only one I remember having them. She had this light blue green night gown from her birthday when she had a slumber party. But it makes me wonder if most Native don’t wear pajamas.

But I liked sleeping in my jeans. I would take a bath and change into the clothes I was going to wear the next day, so I could just get up and go. It was efficient. Just like we all didn’t grow up with our mattress on the floor. I also liked my mattress on the floor though, because monsters could never live under my bed. My bedroom was scary enough. It was in the middle of the house in the darkest room, with a wobbly wooden fan barely hanging on by electrical wire. There were no pictures on the wall, just these mickey mouse curtains. But they weren’t real Mickey Mouse curtains, they were from Mexico. They were bootleg Mickey Mouse curtains. If the mickey on my curtains had a show, it would be called Mickey Mouse Meth House.

The real reason I loved sleeping like this is because I knew my Mom had a much tougher childhood than me. And I always loved her stories. She told me about having her make shift bed, running around with no shoes, eating crickets with tortillas, among many things. And I wanted to be like my Mom, so I love make shift beds, I still walk outside with no shoes, and ate a few crickets. I never had a childhood like my Mother’s but I had my own. I still like wearing jeans to bed because it’s a profound personal reminder not to get too comfortable, and reminiscent of happy times when we had much less in life, like pajamas.

“WHAT’S YO NAME?????!!!!!”

If you don’t know, Native boarding schools still exist, although not like those of old. And one of the most memorable times I went to a boarding school was when I was 16 years old. My friends’ band was playing a concert in the Spring of 2002 for the students at Sherman Indian high school in Riverside, CA. I normally didn’t play with the band, but they needed an extra guitar player at the time. So I went. It was fairly calm. I remember walking on campus, I saw some kids my age studying studiously, some kids playing ping pong, some other kids snagging under a blanket in the grass area, and some other kids playing basketball with hickies. It seemed like a cool place to be. The show went well, we met some kids, and then our host took us on a tour. The tour was rather dull, but whatever. I was 16, and there were Native girls all around. So like I said, it was a cool place to be. Well we were nearing the end of the tour and they were going to give us sandwiches in the kitchen and send us on our way.

We walked up to this old brick cafeteria, trying to avoid breathing in the asbestos. Looking back, and just judging by the state of the infrastructure, the school was underfunded. To the point that it felt like you could get hepatitis C from touching the walls. This place was old. Anyways, we’re about to walk into the cafeteria and of course one of the doors was broke. It meant there was only one way in, and one way out. All of my buddies were in college, and I was the youngest, so I walked in the middle of the pack. When it was my turn to cross the threshold into the rundown cafeteria, this Native girl was coming out from eating lunch. She had on a green t-shirt and was with a bunch of other Native girls all wearing green t-shirts (someone told me the green t-shirts meant they were on discipline, but I’m not sure). But I didn’t know what the green shirts meant, but they were walking and talking loudly. At the time I was extremely shy, and as I tried to pass through the threshold, that pretty/ scary Native girl with corn rolls wearing a green t-shirt, stepped to my face. She stood in the doorway squarely looking at my eyes, and in a deeper tone than what I can even speak now as a man, said, “WHAT’S YO NAME?????!!!!!”

I was extremely intimidated, and bashful. I didn’t have the slightest idea what to do. I looked in front of me, and my bros looked confused. And I looked behind me and my other bros shrugged their shoulders without any counsel. I looked back at the girl for a second, because it was all I could muster to do, and looked down quickly in what felt like fear of my life. And I pushed myself against the wall, taking chances at getting Hep C, and tried to squeeze past her. It didn’t work, she stepped in front of me again, and I wasn’t about to risk getting worked over in front of the school. So, in a quiet voice I gently responded, “J.D.” In that same deep tone she said, “ALRIGHT,” and some other things I can’t remember. She moved through the threshold first, and since then, I have never lived that moment down.

And now, every couple of years or so, I’ll get a message from my bros that reads, “WHAT’S YO NAME!!!!???” And it adds to these reasons why I can never forget about boarding schools.

“Look at that bear sleeping out front.”

During my childhood, we spent most of our Christmases and New Years on the rez. After the New Year, I always had my own thoughts, especially being an urban raised Native kid. The first thing I remember was all the broken Christmas toys left out in some of the yards. I never got much as a kid, so I always wondered why it was like that. But it wasn’t just the toys out in the yard, it was some of our tribal members passed out in the yard. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to feed into any stereotypes. And I would encourage anyone who thinks that Natives have a drinking problem to read Cunningham’s (2016) article on drinking that found White people often drank the same or more than Native Americans. Not to mention the propaganda that was used to brand Natives as alcoholics during the 1800s. But it doesn’t negate that today, alcohol in select families seems to be a bit of a negative concentrated effect in our communities.

Our family was no different. Like some of my cousins’ toys that I saw left in their yard, I would see our relatives left in the yard. Most notably was my Uncle. It was the day after the New Year, and I was probably around 8 years old. We started to walk out of my Nana’s house to our blue astro van, when we thought we saw a bear. My Mom went out first, because at first glance we didn’t know what it was. Me and Camie said, “look at that bear sleeping out front.” But that couldn’t be right, our rez is in the desert. My Mom got closer. As she drew closer she saw it was my Uncle Lorenzo.

My Uncle Lorenzo (like my Mom, Uncles, and Aunties) had a rough childhood. They grew up in a mud house wracked with alcohol and abuse. My Uncle turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with those issues. Whereas my Mom turned to education. My Uncle wasn’t fully lost through his entire life though. He was a part of the decade of dominance at San Pasqual Valley High School, and a documentary is currently under development by Dan Golding that highlighted our reservations state football championships over a span of 10 years. He was a beast of a tackle, and the family stories of his athletic ability are spoken almost in reverence. He later became a hot shot in the White Mountains, hanging out with my parents, and putting out fires with the Apaches. But during the fire off season he would return to our rez to the same destructive friends, to the same detrimental environment, and would end up turning to the same drugs and alcohol. But he made that decision, as my Mom made her decision to get her education.

But in the New Year, and especially as everyone is making their annual resolutions that will be broken by month’s end, I am reminded that our decisions matter. Whether it’s a daily decision or life decision, our decisions are important. Sometimes our decisions are made for us through our circumstances, but like in my Mom’s situation (and my Dad’s also) they were strong enough to make life changing decisions with what they were given at a young age. If we’re lucky and strong enough, we will be fortunate to make decisions that can change the legacy and outcomes of our families. So I pray that I have my Uncle’s talent without distraction, my Mother’s passion, and my Dad’s wisdom so that I can face those decisions fearlessly, without hesitation, and have a chance to change the course of my own life. Here’s to a New Year and to the blessing of having choices with our only crazy beautiful complicated life!

“Before I knew Santa was fake, we had drunk Santa.”

One Christmas Eve (around 8 years old), I asked my Mom if Jesus and Santa were friends, she said, “yes, they are close friends.” That night I was going to bed and my sister Camie saw me and said, “JD, Santa isn’t real.” The rest of that night we spent sneaking in the hallway watching my parents and older sister Joy wrap our presents.

Now, Vanessa and I have two kids, and I’m not all that excited about them believing in Santa. Partly because I don’t want them sitting on Santa’s lap…. 1. because you have to pay money to do it, and 2. because I don’t like the idea of the kids sitting on some old White dude’s lap who asks them, “what can I get you for Christmas.” (sounds too much like these White politicians). Especially Luna, she doesn’t need to be sitting on Santa’s lap asking you for some presents. I feel like this would be the start of some bad habits. So no Luna you can’t sit on Santa’s lap and no Gordie, I don’t want you sitting on Santa’s lap either. We don’t need to reinforce that White savior mentality (Brilliant White person comes and saves the poor, needy minorities who earnestly need saving). But I need my kids to know that it’s Brown faces gave them these presents, just like I had a Brown face bringing me presents when I was little. We didn’t have White Santa, we had Brown Santa… and sure he may have been drinking a little.

Before I knew Santa was fake, we had drunk Santa. I think every family occasionally had a drunk family member and one of ours came at Christmas time reincarnated as drunk Santa. I actually never knew which family member was drunk Santa… my cousins probably would, but I was too little to really remember. I thought he was for real Santa.  But I remember every Christmas we had a gathering at my Nana’s house on Christmas Eve and my Nana would make us wait until midnight for Santa to bring presents. Santa would come and bring us presents but he never came on time. So around 1:30 am, throughout my childhood, we would meet Santa. He would stumble out of his sleigh, and walk towards the house. I would be jumping around because I was happy to finally be opening presents. He was always a character, one year he fell out of a lawn chair and in his slurred words he would ask us, “what do you want.” And coming from a Christian home and not ever really smelling alcohol ever in my life, I always knew something was weird. But I would go with it. And I would take my turn going to sit on Santa’s lap. Let’s be clear, this Santa never brought what we wanted. These Christmas’ were really about family. Normally Santa, or my Nana, would buy us stuff like tube socks or soap on a rope. Not complaining, but all those years Santa never brought us our heart’s desire. It was our parents that brought us our presents. But I would go sit on Santa’s lap, get my present, open it and then head to bed.

I’m still reluctant on letting the kids believe in Santa. I would rather them just know it’s us. And if you don’t behave this year, Dad and Mom are the ones not giving you anything. But I guess I would let the kids ask Santa for presents if we had a relative willing to dress up… even if they had a few.

“The moment my boss busted out the hot plate… I knew I could belong in academia”

My family took a trip to Montana when I was 6 years old. It was my parents, sisters, and me. My oldest sister Joy is 9 years older than me, and my sister Camie is 3 years older than me. Making me the baby of the family, and everyone knows it. I got lots of attention from my Mom… it helped that I resembled my Mom’s younger late brother, my Uncle Lorenzo, who my Mom took care of when she was a little girl. But I was spoiled by my Mom most of the time, minus the time she tried to spank me and the wood spoon broke. That’s what happens when you buy yard sale cooking utensils, they break easy.

Anyways, my older sister Joy and I didn’t have a lot of childhood memories together like me and Camie.  Mostly because Joy was 9 years older than me, and like any teenager, stayed mostly with her friends. Half way through a trip back from Montana I didn’t even notice Joy had left to hang out with family friends in Washington state. We drove almost to Utah, before I asked, “Where’s Joy.” But it’s interesting to me how when we’re kids, we tend not to think much about those who we’ll miss. I find it opposite as an adult, I often think of people I miss and especially when I don’t know when I’ll see them again. One of those people is my research supervisor.

I was saving all my graduate college education stories until after I graduate… because I don’t want a professor to get mad at me before I’m supposed to defend my dissertation. However, this professor is leaving, and she made a big (positive) impact in my life as a graduate student. I was extremely grateful to have her as a boss because of her expertise in research, mentoring, and for creating so many opportunities for me. Especially since there were plenty of moments when I felt like I didn’t belong in academia. But one of the most memorable meetings I ever had was during our research meeting.

I’m normally awake by 4:30-5AM, so my supervisor liked to schedule our weekly meetings around 7-7:30AM. During our research meetings we mostly went over the research agenda, progress in the projects, and she would ask how I was doing in the graduate program. Well one particular morning as we were walking into her office she asked me, “JD, are you hungry.” I said, “sure.” I didn’t eat breakfast, so I thought it would be a good idea. She asked if I wanted a breakfast burrito, and I said, “of course.” Well at this point I’m thinking that maybe we would head out of the office to go grab something nearby, but we continued walking into the office. I thought maybe she had to grab something before we headed out, but then she reached into her bag and pulled out a big hot plate like she was Mary Poppins or something. Mind you, while she is doing all this she is talking to me about our research projects. I can’t focus at this point, because I’m trying to figure out what’s happening. And then all of a sudden, she busts out some eggs from somewhere, and potatoes from somewhere else, and then some tortillas. She is not skipping a beat, and still talking about our research projects as she starts making breakfast burritos. I couldn’t believe what was happening. My brilliant research supervisor was making me a breakfast burrito in her office while talking about research projects. My first thoughts are: 1. Is the smoke alarm going to go off (because that would be hilarious) 2. Can we get in trouble for cooking in an office (not that I cared) 3. This is going to be the best breakfast burrito of my life. Well she finishes cooking and we eat and talk more about the research.

I think about the experience every so often, and it’s a great assurance to my reoccurring mild case of imposter syndrome. Although I didn’t think I belonged in our graduate school, the moment my boss busted out the hot plate to make a breakfast burrito was the moment I knew I could belong in academia.

I know you’re moving on to bigger and better things, but I’ll miss you, your expertise, mentoring, and breakfast burritos professor!