The Force Awakens

force awakensIt’s hard to fully tell just what the Star Wars franchise meant to me growing up. For most, if not all, of my elementary school years, it was a huge part of my childhood. The first movie came out when I was 4 years old, the second when I was 7, and the third when I was 10. I had a Star Wars lunchbox, one of those metal kinds that come with the plastic thermos. I had the plastic guns and even tried on my mom’s knee high boots so that I could look like Han Solo (she wasn’t thrilled about that one). Star Wars was a mainstay to my generation and when we found out that episodes I, II, and III would finally become a reality, we began to dream about all the possibilities.

Needless to say, that didn’t go as expected. While you might agree that Episode III was a worthy effort, there are hardly arguments when criticism is heaped at the first two (if not all three). A generation who had become cynical based on what they were experiencing just found one more reason to maintain that same cynicism. The possibilities that seemed endless had actually ended with a less than stellar result.

Meanwhile, book after book was published about the characters to whom we were introduced in the original series. No one ever wanted to read about Jar Jar, but they could read about Luke, Han, and Leia until the cows come home. Stories were written and it seemed that every fan of Star Wars would be doomed to be left with the bad taste in their mouths after hearing that dumb Gungan speak his backwards form of English. At least Yoda’s backwards speak has an endearing quality to it, Jar Jar’s is just plain annoying.

Enter Disney.

In 2012, Disney bought Lucasfilm, the company behind Star Wars, for $4 billion. Some of the greatest loved characters of all time were now being combined together through ownership and many wondered what that might mean for Star Wars.

Well, if Star Wars was second nature to me as a child, it’s hard to describe just what Disney was at the same time. I grew up going to Disney World. I still have the 8MM films that I can play on my projector of our jaunts to Disney World when I was barely the age of my youngest child. While Star Wars was a mainstay in my life as a child, Disney seemed to be a permanent fixture as well, not only to my generation, but to my parents’ generation as well. It had an intergenerational connectivity and quality about it that was rarely seen by others. But we had been burned by Star Wars before and the thought of the House of the Mouse taking over at the helm of Star Wars seemed a bit worrisome.

At first, the connections were subtle. You go to Disney World and you see the hybrid of some of your favorite characters from both Disney and Star Wars. A little kitschy, but not a deal breaker, after all, Lucasfilm began the animated series “The Clone Wars” before Disney had made the deal. Then came the rumors…..rumors of another trilogy.

My son claims that I first mentioned the prospect of another Star Wars trilogy to him around 2010 or so (he claimed that he had been waiting half of his life for “The Force Awakens “ to become a reality and he was born in 2006). In early 2013, rumors that J.J. Abrams (of TVs “Alias” and “Lost” fame) would be directing the first in the new trilogy were confirmed, and the Star Wars universe went a little crazy. What had been dreamed of would become a reality.

Nearly three years later, “The Force Awakens” broke box office records by bringing in a record $238 million on opening weekend. Just two weeks prior to its December 18th release date, I took my oldest son, the one who had been waiting half of his life for this event, to buy tickets at the theater.

Standing there at the theater with my nine year old son, holding tickets to a first run Star Wars film seemed a bit surreal to me. Was this really happening? If it was, would it (could it) live up to the hype? Could millions of fans really be satisfied by the outcome of this? Should it even be attempted?

In 2009, J.J. Abrams had successfully rebooted the Star Trek franchise, overhauling the cast and characters to bring them to a new generation. In geekdom, how would he fare at taking over another beloved franchise, not for a reboot but for a continuation?

When December 18th finally came, when I finally brought my boys to the theater, I wasn’t sure who was more excited. These kids got out of school early for this, not too early, and it was the last day before Christmas break, but early nonetheless. There was excitement in our house all week long. Even our beloved Tinsel Trooper (our own geek version of the Elf on the Shelf) had gotten in on the action. We were excited, there was no doubt about it.

I can’t remember the last movie that I saw in the theater where there was as much clapping throughout as there was in “The Force Awakens.” The familiar “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…..” appeared on the screen and the theater erupted in applause. Familiar characters appeared on the screen and the theater erupted in applause. Even X-wings and Tie Fighters got in on the action, not garnering nearly as much applause as the Millenium Falcon, but still it was applause.

We all say glued to that screen for the just over two hours that the movie ran, and as the final moments of the movie played, as I felt the action slowing to a stop, something inside me welled up. I realized that I was experiencing this with my boys. MY boys. I was sitting in theater, watching Star Wars with my two sons, and we were all seeing it for the first time. My eyes began to well up a little themselves and I put my arms around my boys as we walked towards the exit.

My oldest, always displaying the typical birth order characteristics of an oldest, announced his sheer approval of the film. He was satisfied. My youngest son, also fitting into all of the stereotypes of a middle child, cautiously opined over the film, expressing his approval, but not too much, just enough to still be safe should anyone else have anything not so positive to say about it.

We walked into the night towards our car and I still was processing what had happened both on and off the screen. It was a powerful moment for me, not one that will easily be matched or forgotten, that moment when I experienced this movie with my sons. I couldn’t help but think about my older brother and me walking out of the theater with my mom who had taken us to see the original trilogy’s second two films. The picture in my head made me smile while at the same time caused me to hug my boys just a little bit closer.

“The Force Awakens” was more than a film to me, it was an experience that held so much nostalgia. It’s almost unfair to tack so much weight onto something, but somehow it managed to hold that weight. My boys are still talking about it and I’m feeling the need to see it again with my wife just so that my middle child doesn’t explode at the prospect of keeping everything secret for any length of time. My four year old, she’s still got a little time before she gets there, but once Mommy sees it, for these boys, I think all will be right with the world…….and I just can’t wait!

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Lost

dollhouse-newSometimes, I feel lost. Sometimes, I feel as if I’ve lost something.

Star Wars was big when I was a kid. I collected all the figures and trading cards. I would spend hours upon hours using my imagination to create scenarios with blocks and figures. I didn’t need a screen to show me what to do. I didn’t need someone to show me how to pretend. I just did it!

I also grew up with an older brother. It was just the two of us, no sisters. So, other than my mom and my wife, the idea of relating to a woman in the same house as me is a bit foreign.

I can pick up a football or a baseball or a Frisbee and throw it around with my middle child. He’s content to throw back and forth for hours. I hope that more conversation will develop as we spend time doing that in the future. It’s something that I never really shared with my father, so I’m excited to be able to share it with one of my kids.

If I bring home a new video game or book, I can spend time with my oldest talking about the game or the book. I can hear his perspective and let him try out his strategies on me before he actually tries it out in the game. We can sit on the couch and play through a videogame and be perfectly content. It’s also something that I never really shared with my father, so I’m excited to be able to share it with him.

My daughter’s a different story. When I play with her, I begin to wonder what happened to my imagination, what happened to my childhood. She can sit there content with her dolls for hours upon hours and in five minutes, I’ve checked out and lost my patience. I muster up enough to continue playing, but then I run out of steam. I find some excuse to get up and check on something else.

I was never like this. I never had a hard time using my imagination. I never struggled to relate to my own flesh and blood.

There are plenty of places where we connect. She loves to cuddle. She loves to have me read her stories. She loves to be part of the things that her big brothers are part of. So, the struggle with relating isn’t as great as it feels, but it’s still there.

In the midst of my urgency to be moving and my discomfort in pretending, I realize that there is a stillness and quietness that I need to find. It might not be so much my imagination that’s been lost or my sense of pretending, but my sense to know and understand how to simply sit and be, enjoying the company and presence of this precious gift that sits just feet away from me.

I think I can keep pretending and make up stories, it’s the stillness and stopping that I need to work on the most. I am grateful that kids are resilient, they keep coming back even if we don’t “play” right. So, here’s hoping for second chances at helping with princess dress-up, to imagining a kingdom made of blocks, to seeing mermaids swimming through an imaginary ocean, to dollhouses that are strangely inhabited only by children. If it can be imagined, we can play it, and I’ve got to just let myself go.

These moments are precious and fleeting, they won’t be around forever. The last thing that I want is to wish that I could play dolls again, not only because that’s just creepy for a middle-aged man to wish, but also because the day will come when my daughter won’t want to play with them anymore. Until that day comes, here’s to seizing the moment!

Slowing Down

2015-07-24 09.39.48I am in constant need of reminders, be they subtle or not, to slow down and enjoy life and its little moments. I have heard the phrase on many occasions that we are human “beings” rather than human “doings” and every time that I hear it, it jolts me awake to the point of realizing that things are passing me by and I’m missing them. I need to be reminded that there is only one day like today, it will never happen again, I will never be able to relive it or recapture it, I will never be able to come back and pretend that I’m Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” replaying a day endlessly until I finally get the desired outcome.

Recently, I was on vacation with my family. We didn’t go anywhere exotic, unless you consider Connecticut exotic. We took nearly two weeks to spend time with our family. Over the course of those nearly two weeks, my wife and I attended both a wedding and a funeral, two life events that are almost certain to jolt you awake from any slumber of complacency that you might have been enjoying.

As we spent time at my in-law’s house, I realized that the daily routine that my kids had adopted at our house in Virginia had easily been adopted in Connecticut. They woke up and ran downstairs to sit in front of the television, ingesting all that Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and the Disney Channel had to offer them. If there was no intervention, they could have easily stayed put like that for the entire day, allowing their brains to be numbed and melted by whatever meaningless drivel and fare that was being spewed out from the flat screen television.

At one point, I can’t remember which of us, my wife or I, had gotten fed up and turned the television off. The kids who are smart, creative, and funny, somehow forgot that there was a world outside of television. They had forgotten to use their imagination to find a world outside of one that was created for them. They had forgotten what it was to discover, to learn new things, to try new things, and it was most likely a result of me forgetting the very same thing.

The TV went dark and they began to complain about there being nothing to do.

It’s a dilemma that every parent who loves and cares for their children eventually faces. This parenting thing isn’t for the weak of heart, but for the courageous, the brave, and, sometimes, the stupid. In those moments as parents face those dilemmas, they need to think fast on their feet, generating new ideas and plans at the drop of a hat as they do their best to fend off the impending boredom that is sure to face their children (tongue planted firmly in cheek).

The sun was shining outside and there was a whole stack of paper in the printer, so, I thought, it seemed the perfect time to build paper airplanes. After all, their father was a paper airplane champion, to the point that I had been banned from the last day of my 7th grade Spanish class in our third floor classroom after having been involved with what my 7th grade math teacher had deemed “the beginning of World War III.” On the second to last day of school, I joined a few of my friends to fire paper airplanes out the third floor window of the classroom when the teacher’s back was turned.

I imagine that as my math teacher, as he stood three stories below, may just have heard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” in his head as he watched the onslaught of paper airplanes descending upon the courtyard in which he stood. Needless to say, my friends and I, although expert airplane builders and flyers, were not welcomed back to our Spanish class for that last day but instead were forced to walk the school grounds picking up trash to pay for our transgressions.

But I digress….

As I recounted this story in my own mind, I grabbed some paper and began to fold and fold and fold some more. I helped my older two children as they followed suit, showing them the intricate folds that were required to construct our very own flying machine. The excitement was palpable as the folding came to completion and we ran into the driveway to test out these flying machines that we had made.

For the next hour or more, we stood in the driveway watching these airplanes zoom and swirl, spin and plummet. We laughed, we ooohhhh-ed and aahhhh-ed at the flight paths of these airplanes that had been created by our own hands.

We grabbed more paper and made more, altering the design here and there to see the difference that it made in the flight of our planes.

In those moments, those simple and innocent moments, we were all experiencing pure joy. It didn’t require electricity, it didn’t require a controller or joystick, it just took some paper, some time, and a little patience and imagination.

I was reminded once again that I can prepare and plan all I want to create an experience for my children that I consider to be awesome, but some of the best and most memorable moments and experiences are the ones that just happen, the ones that spontaneously emerge from “boredom” or from a fast from television.

I wondered to myself how I could rediscover this same joy and simplicity in all of the things that I do. In disconnecting, I found myself more connected. In being “bored,” we all found ourselves completely swept away in the excitement of the moment.

I think I’m going to have to find a copy of Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries” and try this again. Maybe a little background music will add to the excitement of the moment. Either way, I know that I’ll be capturing a moment, a moment that I’ll never be able to find again.

Stuff or Experience

Not sure whether it was the Memorial Day holiday or lots of alone time or what it was, but I’ve been feeling fairly introspective lately. Maybe it’s just what happens when you get over 40, you consider that you’re on the “back 9” and you start to reflect more often about what you’ve done, what you’re doing, and what you still need to do.

Somehow, in the midst of these introspective moments, I somehow manage to find my way to Mark Batterson. Might be a question of the chicken and the egg, you know, am I introspective because I’m reading Batterson or I’m reading Batterson and that makes me introspective. Regardless of cause and effect, here I am, in the middle of introspection.

As I read through Batterson’s latest book, the focus is mainly on what you collect. Do you collect stuff or do you collect experiences? Do you approach life living from adventure to adventure or do you avoid risks at all costs?

Growing up the son of a pastor, I felt like there were a lot of moments that my father missed. It may account for why I felt a closeness to my mom that I didn’t share to the same extent with my dad. She braved miles, bad weather, and a whole lot of inconveniences to show me how much she cared and loved me. There was never any question in my mind that she cared for and loved me, she showed it with every action that she took.

My dad was fairly risk averse as well, a character trait that did not serve him well in his later years. I see that same character trait rising to the surface when faced with uncertainty in my own life. Trying to embrace the need to take care of what is necessary while also leaving things free and open enough to keep it interesting is a challenge.

As my kids grow more comfortable in their own skin, their personalities are all being cultivated and formed. It’s great to watch and observe, to see how they become individuals and how their personalities shine through in every circumstance. I am doing my best to remember to find time for each of them individually and Batterson’s reminder to collect experiences rather than stuff has been resonating a lot lately.

I’ve already determined that when my boys turn 13, we will do some kind of trip to usher them into their teen years. My wife will take care of the same trip with my daughter. I certainly don’t want those days to get here more quickly than they need to, but I don’t want to be caught off guard when they finally do arrive.

My middle child has taken to asking my wife and I to tell him childhood stories as we lie in bed with him at night. It’s really forced me to excavate the recesses of my mind to remember the most significant stories of my childhood. Of course, those stories all revolve around people and places rather than things. I’m not recounting stories of what I got for Christmas or my birthday, but moments that burned their existence on my memory, moments that significantly impacted me in some way, shape, or form.

My kids are going to remember the moments of throwing around the baseball or playing hide and seek well before they remember what I gave them for their birthdays. With that being said, I am trying to train myself into thinking about moments and experiences, creating the memorable from the ordinary.

The funny thing is, as intentional as I try to be with this, it ends up being way more spontaneous and spur of the moment. It’s closing my laptop and heading to the pool for an hour with my youngest. It’s putting down that book and grabbing my baseball glove to throw with my middle child. It’s trading my guitar for a Wii controller to join my oldest in vanquishing some fantastic opponent.

I’m learning to take myself less seriously. I’m learning to embrace the chaos as it comes at me and try not to let structure suffocate spontaneity.

I’ve heard it a thousand times from everyone who’s older and whose children have grown, these moments are fleeting. One day, I will wake up and be walking my daughter down the aisle and I will wonder how I got there.

In the meantime, I’m going to do my best to suck out all the marrow of life, to soak in every moment and make it count, not because of what I have, but because of what I’m doing.

Open the Gates

2015-01-04 14.56.14Call it the letdown of the holidays. Call it the pent up emotion of the past four years. Call it simple nostalgia working its magic on one who’s a closet sap. Whatever you call it, I have to confess, something happened to me this weekend.

As a child of the 70s, I grew up on vinyl records and 8 track tapes. Vinyl has made a major comeback, but 8 tracks met their demise and haven’t reared their ugly heads since. Not sure who thought of that technology to begin with, but listening to 2 songs at once (unintentionally) was probably not the best end result for what they had expected.

I grew up in a split level house, meaning you come into the front door and can either go upstairs or downstairs. Up the stairs was the living room, an open and spacious room with cathedral ceilings. The faux beams on the ceiling were actually made from Styrofoam, at least that’s what I think they were made of.

A lot happened in that room. As big as it was, it’s a bit ironic that the Christmas tree my parents chose for there was a three foot fake, plastic tree which sat upon a cedar chest that held quilts, blankets, and a sundry of other stuff.

The piano that I grew up playing was in that room, decorated with little nic nacs and ornaments that my mom had acquired over the years. It was still in pristine shape when my parents got rid of it. In all of the 36 years that my parents were in that house, I think they only were on the third generation of furniture in that room. If my mom had had her way, she would probably have had the original furniture; that would have meant she had taken care of it well enough that it didn’t wear out.

In the corner, by the railing next to the drop off that led to the front door, was the stereo. I only remember 2 or 3 of those as well. Mom didn’t like to part with things, not because she grew attached to them, but simply because she was a child of the Depression who cared for things as if you could never replace them. In fact, her family probably never had the money to even consider replacing some of the extraneous stuff that people acquire.

The stereo wasn’t anything special, not even a brand name that I can recall, maybe a Soundesign or something like that. The stereo wasn’t so much the point as was the music that was played upon it. I remember a lot of Andrew Sisters, Perry Como, Andy Williams, and the Carpenters. There were some Christian records by family friends and some obscure performers of the 70s.

I remember so much about sitting in that room, taking in the sounds that Mom would play on that stereo until I began to find some sounds of my own. I remember Christmas mornings with Evie’s “Come On, Ring Those Bells” playing in the background. I remember rainy days and Mondays when I would listen to Karen Carpenter sing about those very two things. When I was homesick in college, I asked Mom to send me a tape of the Carpenters. I think the snap, crackle, and pop of the record’s recording was enough to assuage my aching heart.

Over the years I’ve maintained a healthy little collection of records, nothing compared to the 2000 plus CDs that I have, but enough to not give up hope that I would one day have a turntable upon which to spin these records again.

Through 3 states and nearly 14 years, I’ve carried these records and turntables. Not exactly the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness into the Promised Land, but a journey nonetheless.

While visiting family in Connecticut, my wife discovered some of the record albums from her own childhood and all of a sudden, the impetus to find out how to make this happen became greater for me. I’d put it off before, maybe thinking that my wife wouldn’t be as supportive of the idea. Maybe, now that she had her own little store of nostalgia, she would be more supportive than I thought.

I took to the internet to do what cheapskates like me do best: find a deal!

And find a deal I did.

Just like those credit card commercials from a few years ago, what I found was priceless. Sure, there was a dollar amount associated with the receiver that I bought from a friend, but it was almost like I had purchased a time machine. Just call me “Marty McFly!”

Instantly, I was transported back to that living room, hearing the same sounds. I was fairly unprepared for just how it would hit me. Tears were coming to my eyes and it was hard for me to really understand why. Like I said at the beginning, you might just call it the culmination of the last few years and the last few weeks. The holidays can have that kind of nostalgic affect on me.

So, there I sat, in my own version of a Man Cave, listening to vinyl on my “new” record player and receiver. I couldn’t just do it randomly though. What good DJ (or former DJ) would ever consider randomly picking albums to play.

At first, it was only one song at a time:

Steve Winwood’s “When You See a Chance”

Star Wars “Main Title Theme” (at the request of my middle child)

But then, I had to listen to whole sides:

Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisted” Side 1 (to which my middle child announced to his friend, “This is Bob Dylan” [this writer wipes tear from eye]

Dan Fogelberg’s “Souvenirs” Side 1

Petra’s “Washes Whiter Than” Side 2

And so began my journey into further nostalgia. Here’s to more Sunday afternoons listening to those snaps, crackles, and pops!

The Window

Open-WindowMy family and I recently took a trip to Disney World. I don’t know that it can be adequately termed a vacation as vacations are usually relaxing. It certainly couldn’t be termed “Sabbath” in the sense that it was not a rest. It might better be called a distraction from life, but it was certainly fun.

We had been planning this trip for a year. After my parents died, we kept going and going and going and going and never stopped. My wife and I realized that we needed something as a family to enjoy…..together. We knew that it would cost a lot of money (that’s an understatement) and that a lot of planning would be involved, but we were up for the challenge.

I should really say that my wife was up for the challenge, she’s the one who did the majority (if not all) of the planning. It spoke a little to my own personal growth that a control freak like me was willing to relinquish planning to my wife. I guess that I can chalk that up to 13 years of marriage and the fact that God has actually accomplished something in my life during that time.

Not sure about you, but sometimes, when there is such anticipation and planning involved in something, the expectations that are set can be so high that it might almost seem impossible to live up to them. How do you expect that 6 days can really accomplish what you think it will accomplish, even at the “happiest place on earth”?

Our kids were excited, to say the least, and we talked it up for a whole year. I pulled out the home movies from when I was a kid at Disney, showing them what my experience had been. My wife and I had both had our own personal experiences with Disney as children and had even taken one last trip there together, just the two of us, before we started our family. I think that we both realized early on that there was a possibility of trying to duplicate our own experiences at Disney as children rather than allowing for our children to create their own.

Surprisingly, my expectations of how things would be were not so impossibly high. Like I said, I think that I’ve experienced some amount of personal growth in the last few years, enough to be able to put aside certain things and try to enjoy the moment. If there is anything that can help a person do that better than children, I’m not sure what it is. As I had heard countless thousands of times over the months leading up to our trip via Disney’s own animated feature, I knew that I would need to “Let It Go” in order to really have a good time.

My youngest turns 3 next month, so we knew that she would be free. My own experience of Disney happened at that age (and younger), so I knew that it was possible to enjoy the experience at that age, but I wasn’t sure to what extent. If you’ve been to theme parks before, you’ve probably noticed those parents who want to get the most out of their money and who drag their kids around the parks, completely exhausted and melting down, with an almost Clark Griswold-esque approach, expecting that they had paid the exorbitant fees to get in, so they were going to have a good time come hell or high water.

I had vowed that I wouldn’t do that, but there’s a fine line there. Spending $100 a day to “enjoy” a theme park is a little excessive and I can totally understand a parent’s desire to get the most for their money. Thankfully, I didn’t have to face kids melting down too much. I was super proud of my children (and completely relieved) at the way that they handled the exhausting marathon with much more simplicity than I had expected. It’s a lot to expect, but we had tried very hard to make sure that our kids, at least the older ones, knew what to expect. This trip would involve a lot of physical energy, and we all needed to be up for the task.

We knew that my youngest could be oblivious to some of the things around her, but we hoped that she would connect with at least some of them. I wasn’t really worried going into it, it would be what it would be and there was no amount of worrying or stressing that would change that. After a few hiccups and stressful moments in the first days, we settled in to a groove and found that the kids setting the pace for the experience would be the way to experience it most successfully. Still, I wondered how “successful” this would be. Would they appreciate it as much as I hoped, even the little one?

My fears were never realized, and I think that I figured that out on Day 1 at our dinner experience. We ate at Chef Mickey’s, a character dining experience where we were able to meet Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto. My daughter was wearing her Minnie Mouse dress and when Minnie Mouse came over to our table, I saw my daughter’s eyes light up. It’s hard to fully describe what I saw in those beautiful blue eyes. It might only be described as “magic” as dreams and wishes of a simple few years began to be realized. She looked up at this mouse with such wonder that I realized in that moment that we had made it through “the window.”

You know “the window,” right? The window of opportunity. The one that everyone who has children going off to college tells you about. They tell you that you will blink and that same little girl will be walking towards the podium with her cap and gown to receive her high school diploma. That same little girl will be announcing her engagement. That same little girl will be telling dancing with you at her wedding. That same little girl will be calling you on the phone to tell you that you’re going to be a grandparent. Sure, I may be rushing things along, but from what everyone else keeps telling me, this window of opportunity is small, you can only capture that magic for so long before the window closes and the opportunity is gone.

Ironically, it’s never the stuff that you think that your kids will appreciate that they really hold on to. “What was your favorite part?” is answered with, “swimming in the pool” or something like that. You realize that you could have done that at home for a fraction of the cost, but you also realize that the memories created around this experience are priceless, they can’t be bough or manufactured. You realize that the more you embrace these experiences, the less painful that “blink” will be when you find that your kids are grown up and leaving.

Sure, I’ve got a long way to go before that time, but I’m going to do what I can to keep climbing through those windows of opportunity. It might be awkward sometimes, and I might not always get through the window the way that I thought that I would, but in the end, it’s the fact that the moments were captured and experienced, not how much money was spent or whether everything was perfect. Even in those simply moments, even when nothing seems to be going the way that you planned, those are the moments and experiences that your kids will remember the most. As I look back at my own experiences, the greatest memories were in the journeys, not always in the experiences themselves.

Here’s to climbing through those windows!

Through the Eyes of a Child

No matter how many times I tell myself that simplicity is a good thing, there is nothing that can drive that point home better than watching my children experience something for the first time. The innocence, joy, and wonderment that overcomes them is enough to make the most cynical and unemotional among us become weepy. It’s just priceless to see it, because it’s been a long time since I experienced things that way.

Do you remember when you experienced something for the first time? In the last few months, there was a video going viral on the internet of two women who were experiencing flying in an airplane for the first time. I imagine that one of the reasons that it went viral was because of the way that it reminded the viewer of what it looked like to be captivated by the wonder of something experienced for the first time.

What has that impact on you? Are there things that can make you feel like it’s the first time all over again? Are there experiences that can bring back that childlike innocence and wonder, no matter how many times you’ve experienced them?

I hope to God that I can always find a way to get back to that place again. I hope that I can still look at things from that “first time” perspective….or at least try to remember what it felt like. The minute that I stop doing that, that I stop remembering what it felt like, is the minute that I need to have someone remind me. That someone has usually been my kids, and boy am I thankful for that.

In Summer

Summer. Long days full of all kinds of activities. Running through the sprinkler, swimming in the pool, riding bikes all over town. Nights spent catching fireflies or playing flashlight tag throughout the neighborhood. It seems that so much of the spirit of youth can be captured in memories and thoughts of summertime.

I remember summer days when I felt that the world was completely open in front of me, waiting for me to wrangle it and make out of it whatever I wanted. I remember days spent collecting cans and bottles to redeem for a nickel a piece. That was my first unofficial part-time job.

While some people can’t stand the heat and humidity, I’ll take it over the cold any day. There’s nothing like sweating so much that your clothes soak through. Then, you step into the oasis of an air conditioned room, covered by cool, refreshing air that restores and rejuvenates, preparing you to once again face what once seemed oppressive as you walk through the door into the outside world.

When I was young, the summer seemed to be a “pause” for me, a time to stop moving forward in rat-like fashion and collect my thoughts, regroup, pull myself together. It almost felt like a “timeout” from life while I had a little fun. Somehow, I’ve managed to maintain a little bit of that feeling as I’ve gotten older.

Obviously, things change. It’s not like one can just stop showing up to work in the summer months and expect to remain gainfully employed. But it’s not so much about the time as it is about the attitude as you go through the summer. Work goes on, but it doesn’t seem to feel quite as hectic and urgent as it does from the months of September through May. Responsibilities are still there, as are deadlines and goals, but somehow the urgency of certain things doesn’t feel quite as…….well, urgent.

Laying with my 7 year old the other night, he hugged me and I told him that there would be a day when he wouldn’t want to do that any longer. He just kind of smiled at me with that look that said, “Whatever you say, Daddy!” I hugged and kissed my father until the moment that he breathed his last breath. I can only hope that I can instill in my children the same affection that my mom and dad instilled in me.

But lying there with my son was a reminder to me of how fast time goes. I don’t expect that he’ll want me to lay with him as he drifts off to sleep when he’s fifteen years old……and if he does, there might be a some people who just think that’s weird. The moments that are before me are unique, ready and waiting to be seized. After all, those moments won’t be there forever.

Yet, somehow on summer days, especially when we are young, we feel that those days will last forever. Although they don’t, we can seize every moment and make a memory out of as many of them as we can. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my summers. I want to do whatever I can to make sure that my kids can make the best memories possible with their summers as well.

So, while I can’t play hooky from work for the next two and a half months, I can breathe a little bit while I go about my day. I can start a little earlier and leave a little earlier, seizing those moments that will melt away like the popsicles in the summer heat. I can kick back and watch my children drink in the innocence and joy of the summer. Sure, you can call it living vicariously through them, but if I’m ever going to live vicariously through my children, I think the summertime’s a good time to do it!

KISS

kiss-destroyerI’ve mentioned (probably multiple times) that I was forbidden from listening to certain music as a kid.  My parents wanted my brother and I to stay away from rock music.  To be honest, I think they were right in some ways, some of the themes and overtones in music would probably not have helped my developing hormones.  But, throwing the baby out with the bathwater isn’t the best option.

Music has sure come a long way as well.  It seems that where once stood innuendoes that might easily fly over a young boy’s head, there’s not a lot of room for imagination today as things are spelled out pretty clearly.  Simply listen to a little Kanye West or Eminem and you’ll understand exactly what I mean.  Here again, can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Even though we weren’t allowed to listen to certain music, my brother and I always found ways.  Our neighbors across the street were big fans of KISS.  Our friends from school listened to all kinds of stuff.  Even our cousins in Massachusetts were big Aerosmith and Boston fans.  So, we would find ways.

It’s amusing to revisit certain music after a long hiatus.  Sometimes it sticks and sometimes it doesn’t.  For me, KISS was the mysterious and forbidden music that it took nearly 20 years for me to actually give a listen.  It didn’t help that I was mildly terrified as a 6 or 7 year old boy of seeing these crazy make-up ridden characters on the posters of my neighbor’s room.  The images were so indelibly marked on my brain that I even had a nightmare about them that I still remember to this day, more than 30 years from when I actually had the dream.

When I finally gave them a listen, it’s hard to say exactly what my reaction was.  I think I was a little disappointed.  By the time that I listened to this “heavy metal,” I had already sufficiently immersed myself in bands like King’s X, Megadeth, and Metallica.  Aurally, KISS was toned down from what I was used to.  That didn’t stop it from being kind of fun.

But I remember listening to them for the first time in my 30s and realizing just how thick the lyrics were with innuendo.  I wasn’t naive in thinking that stuff like this didn’t exist.  My best friend in elementary school had introduced me to AC/DC with the album “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” so I was sufficiently shocked when I heard “Big Balls” on that album.  While KISS didn’t seem mild compared to that, the “cheese” factor between the innuendoes that both KISS and AC/DC used were mildly amusing.  Really?  People used to listen to this stuff and think it was cool?

KISS still stands the test of time.  There are legitimately well-written songs when you cut past the glitz and glam.  Detroit Rock City, Beth, Rock and Roll All Nite, and Shout It Out Loud, just to name a few.  It’s fun music that was enhanced with a stage show and costumes to send it over the top.

As I think back, it’s probably a good thing that my parents had restrictions on what my brother and I could listen to.  Yes, we still found ways of listening and I was still introduced to KISS through the incredible marketing efforts that were made on their behalf in the late 70s, but by the time I was introduced to their childish innuendoes, I had a much deeper understanding than I would have had when the music was new and fresh.  Then again, it all might have just gone over my head.  I guess I’ll never know.