Monthly Archives: June 2015

The opposite of everything

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The opposite of everything

I’ve just returned from a week long vacation in Costa Rica with my three daughters and a family friend, who came along to provide additional adult support. I can’t really remember what it is like to travel as a traditional family (meaning two adults in a committed relationship and children). I’ve seen travel brochures, those people seem ridiculously happy, and I can’t help but fantasize about that brochure vacation…
Everyone’s smiling and eating mangos, our perfectly tanned, beautiful bodies are laying poolside as an equally happy waiter serves my charming husband and I fruity adult beverages. The children laugh and frolic in ocean waves, or slide down pristine slides. The weather is a delightful 80 degrees, even the birds seem happy just to fly through the air that we breathe. Later, the children urge my husband and I to take a walk on the beach as the sunsets. We dance and laugh in the waves. Everything is perfect. Absolutely perfect.
There are no meltdowns, no bee stings, no budget concerns, no tears, no moping, no sun-screened eyeballs, no fights over restaurants, no rationalizing the cost of a bottle of water, no bargaining for alone time, no messy bathrooms, or clogged toilets, or stomach viruses. There are no impoverished neighborhoods as you drive out of town, no stray dogs, no trash, no rainy days and no single parents.
There is certainly a gap between fantasy and reality, for all of us. Vacations (like holidays) hold a lot of pressure, because you are SUPPOSED to be having fun, frolicking, smiling and laughing. And you’ve invested a fair amount of money ( as well as taking time to plan and taking time away from work and household duties) to ENSURE that everyone is having a fun, PERFECT time. But life goes on whether you are at home or abroad. People get tired and grumpy and irritated. You can leave your home behind, but not your idiosyncrasies, your dysfunctions, your communication issues.
I’m fortunate. I can choose to go on vacation. I can afford to take all three of my daughters and we have a lot of choice in what we do. We can eat delicious food and see monkeys up close and I can send my daughter to zip line through the rain forest. And we make memories, some of them involve bee stings and sickness and crying and some of them involve the generosity of strangers and the kindness of siblings and the laughter we generate over sliding on a tile floor in my frictionless flip flops. These are our stories.
I doubt I will ever have the kind of vacation that brochures are made of, nor will most of us. But the opposite of everything, isn’t nothing. It’s something. Something that is beautiful in its imperfections, it’s struggles, it’s messiness. It’s something that whether I am in my own home or across the equator I get to keep. It is my beautiful, broken, dysfunctional family. I don’t love every minute, but I do love the whole thing.

Kites, shoe strings and stars: or the secret to why my Dad rocks

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Kites, shoe strings and stars: or the secret to why my Dad rocks

When I was about four years old, my dad took me out one afternoon to a nearby park. We flew kites that day. The sky was blue and the wind speed just right. My parents both worked a lot, in order to help make ends meet. So a day together was important. I said, ” I’ll remember this day forever.” Well, I have remembered it for nearly forty years, which I’m sure is much longer than “forever” was to a four year old.
My dad taught me how to ride a bike, and tie my shoes. He taught me my multiplication tables (or tried to in one marathon session the night before I started third grade and we realized I needed to already know them). He taught me to drive, which only now that I have my own teenage daughter to teach, do I understand what an accomplishment of patience this was. He showed me constellations and plants and birds and flowers. He explained inert gases and chaotic molecules. He demonstrated how to make chemical reactions, and safe, colorful fire. He taught me to be thrifty with my money, to work hard, to save. Dad encouraged me to be independent and have hobbies and skills and always seek to learn more. By example, he taught me how to be punny, and is largely responsible for my own dry sense of humor. He inspired me to be well balanced, and to never burn bridges (particularly with employers, ’cause you just never know when you might need them), to consider my choices, and to speak boldly when necessary.
Perhaps, most importantly, he taught me that I was important and worth his time. For all the material that he shared with me, the real lesson was that I mattered. I’m glad I learned long division and difference between a male, a female and a juvenile bird, but really what I learned was how to be a good parent and a good person. Because the best gift my dad gave me was being there. He taught me that the real trick is to simply be present, to feel the wind on our faces, the warmth of the sun on our backs and to take time to watch kites fly.