The Twelve-Year Streak Lives On….

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The streak remains intact.  Clean and unbroken. Impossibly consistent. My kids haven’t missed a yellow schoolbus ride to their school in 12 years.  I swear it.  This award-worthy achievement came under scrutiny this morning, however, as my 6th grader evidently cannot wrap his little mind around the scope of this beacon of pure perfection. He peppered me with, “Are you sure we’ve never missed the bus, ever? Like, never? You sure? Hmmm.”  

The interrogation’s intensity — calling into question my punctuality and credibility — nearly broke me.  My breathing grew shallow. My face froze in a familiar “There’s-no-credit-card-in-my-back-pocket-to-pay-for-all-these-bagged-groceries-and-Oh-God-look-at-that-huge-line-of-exasperated-shoppers-behind-me” expression.

Is it possible that I am mistaken? Have I overstated my case?

A ninety-percent bus stop success rate is admirable. Likely something Everett’s Head of School would point out in front of a couple hundred super-impressed parents at an upcoming All-School Assembly. Eighty-five percent probably means inclusion in a congratulatory remark in the next school newsletter.

Why did I feel the need to throw down the gauntlet and lay claim to supremacy? To risk snatching defeat from the jaws of easy victory?

Is it because I can’t bear the thought of losing yet another argument to my 11 year-old? Or because I resist any further chipping away at my eggshell-thin patina of parental invincibility? Or because, honestly and objectively, I fear I have achieved so little in my life that this feels like, well, a major achievement? All of these are true, at least in part, to be sure.  

But mostly, my tight fists and their white knuckles clutch at the end of a rope; a fading connection between father and sons. 

After all these years of harried, stressed, often argumentative sprints to the bus stop just around the corner, I realize now that our morning ritual will not last. I’ve begun the migration from numbly going through the motions of the daily schlep to recognizing the feeling of yet another schlep falling through my spread fingers.  Looking down at my hand, holding far fewer schleps than those piled in the seemingly bottomless mound at my feet the day when my now 16 year-old scrambled up the kindergarten bus steps for the first time. So many years ago, suddenly.   

There will come a time when 7:43am no longer jolts the adrenals, slowly receding back among all the other unremarkable minutes in a day. When no Beadling boy climbs those three black, rubberized steps that had seemed to shrink in size from one school year to the next.   When no Beadling parent strains to glimpse through tinted windows a familiar, hat-wearing silhouette shuffling back through the rows in a southerly direction.  When I look down to see that my hand is empty. When I am left only with my own, increasingly fleeting recollections, and a handful of iPhone photos hastily taken along the way.  

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But for now, the streak lives on.

Thanks for reading.  

iPhone for Flu Shot: Quid pro Quo

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Everett Baker Beadling is in for a big surprise. He won’t know what hit him.  Couldn’t possibly have seen it coming.  Simply not a sufficient number of neural connections in his developing brain as of yet to compete at this lofty level.  My brain and his mother’s brain combined boast 200 trillion synapses; Everett’s a paltry 100 trillion.  Pfft, this is gonna be like taking candy from a baby.  That is a terrible analogy, actually, since my own instinct for self-preservation overrides anything so reckless and suicidal as taking Everett’s bag of remnant Halloween candy.  

But we are not above deploying blatant, ugly bribery with Everett from time-to-time in order to achieve what we believe to be ends sitting squarely in Everett’s own self-interest. When I say “we,” in this particular case I mean “I.” Hilary must maintain plausible deniability on this one, just in case our sophisticated plot — I mean my sophisticated plot — falls flat, requiring a separate battle plan to be drawn up and executed by a separate commander. 

Most parents set lofty life goals for their children, imagining a “sky-is-the-limit” future. Hilary and I simply want our 6th grader to steer clear of type 2 diabetes and stay properly inoculated.  Is this too much to hope for? 

Apparently so, as Everett has proclaimed a standing prohibition on shots of any kind for any purpose, whether the shots purport to be painful or painless.  We don’t even utter the word “shot” around the house, for fear of triggering a fainting spell or Grand Mal seizure on Everett’s part. It’s like the one person in the hypnotist’s audience who is hooked, dropping to the ground like a rag doll upon the invocation of the secret word.  Saying aloud “shot,” or anything that rhymes with “shot,” and you will hear Everett crumple to the carpet with a “flummpf” in another room. This poses a real problem this time of year, in particular, since Hilary keeps trying to add “Get Everett a flu shot” to my to-do list. 

Then there is exercise. Well, any physical movement, really.  Anything requiring more metabolic processes and involving a higher caloric burn rate than those associated with binge watching “The Flash,” or “Stranger Things,” or pretty much any things, whilst sitting dead still on the living room couch.  Add in the seasonal, bulging, orange pillowcase of Milky Ways and Nerds and Gobstoppers surgically attached to Everett’s wrist, and you can start to appreciate our concern for his spiked insulin levels.  We wouldn’t dare flush his Halloween treats, but we would love for him to move his arms and limbs on occasion in order to stave off Gangrene.

Alas, my timid suggestion the other night that Ev play in a winter soccer league was not well-received. Sitting at a restaurant’s dinner table on Chestnut street, he reacted as though I told him he arrived on our doorstep from outer space and then farted on his pizza. Shock and disgust.  He nearly bolted out of the restaurant and sprinted off into the night, maybe to our house, maybe to who knows where. 

So no flu shot, no futsal. 

But now everything has changed.  Due to the sudden serendipity of some new mobile phone program at my wife’s work, we have ourselves a bargaining chip: A near-obsolete-but-brand-new-to-you iPhone, just waiting for a new owner who is just about to turn 12 years old.  Most parents would bestow such a big moment gift with pomp and circumstance. Proud smiles. High-minded speeches.

Not us.  

Our birthday gift presentation will go down more like a hand-to-hand narcotics transaction in a dangerous neighborhood —  

“Psst. Hey kid, you want this iPhone? You do? Sure, sure, it’s all yours. But first, you gotta have this flu shot.  And then, you gotta go into that gym and play some indoor soccer.  And you gotta act like you like it — the flu shot and the futsal.  Then and only then, you’ll find the iPhone in a brown paper bag over there behind the dumpster in the parking lot. You got it, kid? Yeah, you better.”

Quid pro quo

At least this is the plan. Wish me luck.  

Thanks for reading. 

Rise and Shine

Just about a year ago. Seems like yesterday. Still working on all this stuff, it ain’t easy.

The Lemonade Chronicles

I woke up crying, and for a moment or two, couldn’t figure out why.

The last time I woke up choking back tears was the morning after my grandmother died in a small Upstate New York hospital bed surrounded by family. Years ago, now. How strange to experience profound sadness as the first emotion of the day. And these are not two isolated, unconnected incidents. Because my grandmother — my inspiration for starting this little blog — taught me how to make lemonade from lemons. Hence, “The Lemonade Chronicles.” So, good people, it’s time to make some lemonade. Here, squeeze this lemon, stir it up, and maybe even drink some along with me….

It would be easier to lash out. Point fingers. Assign blame. Cry foul. Demean and malign. I admit to giving expression to those base instincts in the last 24 hours. I am angry, for sure. But I…

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Attention Shoppers, Daylight Savings in the Bubbling and Boiling Beneath Department!

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All this writing is getting in the way of my writing. I have been revising the living daylights (pun intended, sort of) out of my “Lemonade Chronicles” book manuscript for the past few weeks. That process is pretty much all-consuming, it turns out. And it does little to soothe the savage beast when it comes to actually churning out new content and releasing the pressure valve on what bubbles and boils beneath.

People like me experience great difficulty in keeping their ideas to themselves.  I know — we know — that our ideas are, objectively speaking, highly unlikely to hold more merit than those of anyone else. Moreover, we are downright mystified by normal people’s ability to contain their own ideas, never uttering a peep, not poised to burst at the seams, completely uninterested in unleashing their thoughts on the world the moment those thoughts take an even vaguely coherent form.  Shoot, I rarely even have the patience for the coherence stage; let ‘er rip! The start of this blog post is a fantastic case in point….

The more I write, the more I must come to grips with the fact that I have little else other than words. For example, I have a need, an apparently compulsive need, to scratch them nightly into my too-small journal until my hand muscles cramp.  Actually, I push beyond the cramps, which may explain the illegible handwriting.  On the plus side, no need for a secure padlock on one’s Daily Journal, if one’s Daily Journal bears chicken scratch incapable of being deciphered or decoded by anyone. I even get pissed at myself, muttering curse words surrounding by my first and/or last name, when I revisit some now thoroughly unclear thought crampedly-scrawled only last week. What the hell is the point of all this writing, if even the writer can’t read it?

And yet, I write. 

Except when I don’t. 

I realize this book “revising” process is an absolutely necessary stone along the path to getting one’s book published. So I’m hopscotching on the mossy thing with the best of them. River-dancing on top, even. Big smile forced across my face.  Look at me! I’m writing a book!

Except that it feels like I’m not writing

So I’ve resolved to pull my attention from the two overflowing shoeboxes holding book drafts 1A and 1B and, when inspired, crank out a little something new here and there. Again, I remind you that this drivel is drivel.  No better than your drivel.  But I can’t function, it seems, without driveling on a regular basis. Like the mushy jack-o-lantern on my neighbor’s railed front porch, I gotta be free!

And so, with that, I have some bad news: We’ve been saying it all wrong. To our mates, to our children, to our co-workers, and to our neighbors. Some of you have even involved your postal carriers in this, I know.  It’s “Daylight Saving,” not “Daylight Savings.” My wife dropped this bomb on me Sunday morning, crushing my fragile position as our household’s Commander of Words. So you can thank my wife for setting me — and thus all of you — on the righteous path of straightness and narrowness.  Sitting here now, I’m reasonably certain that neither “straightness” nor “narrowness” are proper words.  But I am so out of actual writing shape, I don’t care.  I was up at 3am working on my godforsaken book.  So I haven’t the energy nor the patience, nor any of the other necessary ingredients, to tidy this up.  And to add insult to injury, not only have I now been officially dethroned as Resident Wordsmith by my missus, I have also come to the painful realization that I have actually achieved no daylight “savings” of any kind. Ever. Nothing. 

But at least I feel a little bit better now regarding the Bubbling and Boiling Beneath Department. 

Thanks for reading. 

 

Time-Hopping

I have become an unabashed devotee of a relatively new iPhone app known as TimeHop. I don’t really get the T-Rex with swim goggles and heart-print boxer shorts brand logo. In fact, I experience mild annoyance with a touch of embarrassment when I daily interact with the app each morning, painfully aware of the TimeHop T-Rex’s resemblance to Barney. I avoided Barney like the plague when my sons fell in his target age demographic. Snobbishly opting for “Mozart for Babies” over the thick-tongued and goofy purple brontosaurus. Well the chicken (pterodactyl?) has come home to roost: My kids despise classical music, and I endure begrudging eye contact with a cartoon dinosaur and his useless swim goggles. In his damned underpants. Every day.

Because I genuinely enjoy perusing the digital images scraped by the app from among the various repositories where my memories lie. At least those memories within the past 10 years. Dutifully date-stamped by the dinosaur, reminding me of this family wedding in New York City during a September 11 weekend, that walk on the beach with my dog whilst chewing through a tricky work situation, or my younger son’s first official soccer practice in which he finally deigned to actually participate, or my elder son’s greenstick-fractured wrist bone from an ill-advised and unsupervised jaunt on the treadmill in our garage.

The images that tickle my belly or leave me staring in awe, I “share” those immediately via text message. I am well aware that my wife is beholden to the almighty billable hour and that she cannot bill “looking at a TimeHop photo my husband sent to me of my son Everett grotesquely twisting one of his front teeth” to any of her clients. So by definition, my “Do You Remember” iMessages are interfering with my wife’s job.

And I have read every word of my older son’s new school’s Parent Handbook. I am fairly certain my TimeHop text messages this morning pinged the iPhone in his pants pocket smack in the middle of Precalculus. This sort of thing likely explains why parents are generally forbidden from communicating with their children in this manner, save for elusively narrow windows of the day that I have yet to figure out. Rationally, this policy makes complete sense to me. It does. But when I get emotionally overwhelmed by a parking lot shot of Max’s first of many travel baseball games after our first of many 5am drives to Stockton, I just can’t help myself. And part of me wants to believe that Max’s Precalculus teacher, upon discovering a pic of my fresh-faced cherub in his new uniform when Max is supposed to be sketching some Euclidean vectors, would smile knowingly and cut Max a break. He might even invite Max to deliver a moving PowerPoint presentation to the entire class regarding my first born’s obviously perfect childhood and father. This is the stuff of which valedictory speeches are made!

Anyhow, today’s trip down memory lane has reached its dead end, as it always does. Marked by the sneering T-Rex, Barney’s cousin, who knows that I will be back again tomorrow. Perhaps by then, at long last, he will have found his pants.

Thanks for reading.

You and Me Against the World.

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I clearly have a lot to learn when it comes to parenting.  Well, a lot to learn when it comes to just about everything. But let’s focus on parenting for now.  Bite-sized pieces.  

When I was a boy, my mom and I adopted a poignant Helen Reddy song as our theme song.  It was called, “You and Me Against the World.”  The song was released in 1975, so I must’ve been about 8 or 9.  That would make my mom something on the order of 29 or 30.  I had a pretty pleasant childhood.  No complaints.  Certainly didn’t harbor any notions of the world being against me, or against me and my mom.  Nor did my mom harbor any such notions, I don’t think.  Instead, our affinity for the song probably had more to do with a short-hand way of affirming our bond.  Of her assuring me that she would always be there for me. No matter what.  By the time our pushbutton car radio gave currency to “You and Me,” my mother had only been a mother for 8 or 9 years.  That is roughly half the amount of time that I have now been a father to my own children.  And I started the parenting thing later in life, so in theory, I should have a pretty decent idea of what’s what.       

But this morning’s walk to the school bus stop revealed yet another parenting failure on my part: No theme song.  As a direct result, my children have been completely deprived of the “I’ve-got-your-back-no-matter-what” sense of security that my mom lyrically guaranteed me as a child.  To my emotionally-neglected sons, the entire world is against them.  As am I, apparently.  

I lump myself in with the rest of the world in opposition to my kids because my 11 year-old told me so.  This morning, maybe in a tiny bit of a rush out of our flat and up the street to the schoolbus (blinking its lights impatiently), Everett absentmindedly neglected to close our garage door.  He pushed the proper keypad buttons in the proper sequence, mind you.  And the garage door, in fact, obligingly started down its path to 100% city living security.  But just as Ev bounded out into the driveway, already onto the next thing, the door bounced right back up again. Leaving our little home completely vulnerable to the sharp-clawed raccoons I read about on the NextDoor app, and to the elderly ladies who crunch recyclable cans underfoot curbside on garbage day.  I can’t have any raccoons pilfering our dog’s gourmet treats we keep in a plastic container on the garage’s workbench.  Not to mention the horrors that would befall my household if the can-crunching lady began crunching cans in my garage.  What would be next? Locusts? Horsemen?    

So with this parade of horribles in mind, I said to Everett, “Hey, careful bud, you didn’t quite close the garage door there.  Your backpack or your heel must have triggered the sensor.  Kind of important to make sure the door closes, you know?” Pretty sure this is exactly what I said to him.  Pretty sure I said it, too, in an intentionally calm, measured tone.  I didn’t want to indicate to Everett the true enormity of this event. The unimaginable catastrophes that would surely transpire due to an open garage door.  

But alas, we have no theme song.  So Everett’s immediate response? “Dad, why are you always against me on everything?!” And then he stormed off up the sidewalk towards the waiting bus.  I follow behind him, more or less speed-walking to keep up.  The thought crossed my mind of humming a few bars of “I Am a Gummy Bear” — perhaps the one song that Everett might associate with his father from my playing it for him once or twice many many years ago.  But there is no real message in there, I quickly concluded, at least not one that would fit this moment. So instead, still walking at a brisk clip on my son’s heels, I try logic.  I even manage to turn the thing totally around, a little impressed with myself, such quick thinking on the spot and on my feet: “Ev, I’m actually not against you on anything. I’m trying to help you out.  This is called ‘parenting.'” My explanation — perfectly rational, probably 100% factually accurate, too — was a remarkably poor substitute for Helen Reddy. No doubt Everett climbed the school bus steps feeling totally alone.  Abandoned.  Theme song-less. 

So now I will spend the next several hours scouring the Internet for an age-appropriate, non-explicit, secular, non-mysogynistic, non-materialistic, not-about-gummy bears song that I can use to make my son believe that I am a good father.  I do have his back, of course. I just don’t have a theme song.  Yet. 

Thanks for reading. 

 

And then there were three….

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We’re down to three sentient beings under our roof on a regular, expected basis.  Well, four, if you count the dog.  So let’s go with four.  Our fifth (fourth, if you for some reason don’t count the dog), now resides 2,584 miles away from our roof.  As a seeker of the bright side and maker of soothing lists, I have, predictably, begun to compile a number of consequences of this attrition that slot into the “positive” column —

Example: Our younger son, Everett, now picks up the slack in the household chores department.  And he does so happily.  No he doesn’t.  Actually, he disappears into some unknown hiding spots in our home when he rightly senses that a handed-down task is coming his way.  Fortunately for us, the Santa Claus jig is up with respect to Everett, or else he certainly would have found our top-secret Christmas presents hiding spots whilst burrowing under the turf in our backyard.  Or wherever the hell he is hiding instead of setting the dinner table.  And by “setting,” I mean putting forks and knives on either side of the place settings, set roughly 7 steps away from the kitchen’s silverware drawer.  And now he has just 3 settings to set, what with our 4th lying idle. 

Another example: Last night, my wife Hilary gave Ev “a lesson” in how to roll our bins curbside for the morning Recology visit. I realize now that the way I worded that last sentence may conjure up images of hickory switches and welts on butts.  Not the case.  Rather, young Everett was supposedly indoctrinated into the business of Green, Black and Blue Bins 101. And the truth is, the bins did somehow magically end up neatly aligned out front, ready for pickup. But I’m not as confident that our elder son’s least favorite aspect of this particular chore was wholly handed over to his younger brother.  The part where you have to scamper all over the house, collecting yucky stuff from an endless array of little trash cans, sticky little recycling bins or wet paper bags.  Or nightmare-inducing compost bags threatening to burst at any moment.  Who am I kidding on this last point; I alone shoulder the bomb squad outfit for the compost transfer.  My children are not ready for that horror. But Ev is certainly capable, apparently, of lining up the bins on a Monday night.  The militaristic set up out there last night, though, with all 3 bins so perfect.  I’m not buying it.  I’d bet everything currently stuffed into our kitchen compost can that Hilary “taught” Everett how to line up the bins outside.  And Everett merely “learned.”  I.e., she did the dirty work, and he watched.  How very Tom Sawyer of him.  

Another example: The standing requirement that one of sentient beings number 1-4 must occasionally walk sentient being number 5.  When Max bore this responsibility, the dog, miraculously, never seemed to do anything.  This defeated the purpose, with the predictable result of unreasonably early bedside whimpering (Wailea, not Max) the following morning.  I suspect that Max’s habit of effectively sprinting around our block leash-in-hand proved an insurmountable hurdle for a dog interested in peeing.  It remains to be seen whether Everett will have the patience for a sniff of every bush, and the mental fortitude required when Lea takes care of business in the middle of the street while a MUNI bus rapidly approaches.  For now, it appears that I am pretty much the only Beadling family member managing the bushes and buses in the afternoons.  You might say I’m “teaching” Everett the ropes here. 

So you see, there are so many positives flowing from sending your child off to boarding school.  Why didn’t we think of this sooner? Well, I’ve gotta run now. I have a number of Everett’s chores to attend to.

Thanks for reading.  

Lists at 4 in the Morning

I make lists. People with brains that work like mine make lists. Constantly. Lists upon lists. Lists of lists. A trusted technique to manage the whirlwind of jointed and disjointed thoughts and notions swirling about my head. Well, not actually about my head. Rather, within my head. The former would represent a whole ‘nother thing (no disrespect intended to those actually struggling with myriad actual thoughts regarding their own actual cabezas).

In my case, especially in sensory-overloaded times or moments in my life, the compulsive list-making is soothing. Allows me to impose some sense of order or organization on what otherwise feels disordered or disorganized. To take a moment to ensure I am processing current events so as to maximize the value of the important ones. And equally important, to recognize the unimportant ones, and discard those. To be able to articulate, at least to myself, that there is some logical and positive and hopeful thread connecting all of it. A rational narrative unfolding step-by-step. Building through some meaningful highlights, or lowlights, even. I like to think the lowlights are actually just highlights that require a little extra effort to pull reluctantly out of the shadows. Sometimes yanked by the wrist. Sometimes coaxed over the passage of time.

For some reason, this morning I find myself compiling a “Fall Stuff” list. Usually I am far more specific with my titles (e.g., “Karaoke Songs,” “Groceries,” “Vet Visit Deliverables,” etc.). The uncharacteristic ambiguity here suggests I am wrestling with something. I know what it is, of course: Dropping my eldest off at boarding school on the east coast. It’s not a lunar mission. Or the Peace Corps in a far off third world country. Or cancer. It’s just a major stretch of the rubber band that connects us. The rubber band has deliberately been stretched before, to be sure. Over greater distances by an order of magnitude. Or tested via long-running arguments over messy bedrooms or unwashed dishes. But this gap is yawning. I can’t see the other side. Not sure there even is an other side. Just an elastic pulled nearly to transparency.

Knowing what troubles me, what wakes me at 4am two nights in a row on one coast and then the other, doesn’t make it any easier.

That’s where the ham-handedly named “Fall Stuff” list come to my rescue. A stream-of-consciousness, meandering recitation of things I love about this particular season. Of things I want to do. People I want to share oxygen with. Places I want to go. Things to look forward to. I’d like to visit Yosemite again. Gasp at the grandeur of Half Dome with my wife and younger son and maybe my dog if she’s up for the trip. Start envisioning the shape (as in, the venue and participants) of our Thanksgiving table this year. Also, I’d like to reconvene the hodgepodge group of friends with whom I swim in the Bay — not frequently enough of late. I’m looking forward to watching my younger son’s new travel baseball team’s machinations. Silently from the stands of the brand-spanking new field. And not as silently, stealing away for an hour while catching up with a buddy at a brewpub nearby. I’d like to successfully navigate the labyrinthian process for reserving overnight camping spots on Mount Tam.

Much of it wishful thinking. Not gonna happen. Mindful yet not mindful. In the moment yet not in the moment. But the list serves a purpose, to be sure — savoring moments yet to come, or maybe yet to come.

And to help me appreciate in hindsight the good parts of recent moments that seem, at the time, mostly, to just plain old suck. Like the photo at the top of this post, taken just last week during a father-sons surf session. Max and Everett were at each other’s throats. Soiling what should have been a beautiful experience (our last for some time) with heated accusations of who snaked whom. Vitriol that has no place on a beach after riding salty waves for free. And triggering a regrettably epic string of profanities from their dad during the car ride back home. Fortunately for me, the cursing dad had also managed to capture a lasting image worth keeping while standing on the sand. Preserving the good stuff and discarding the ultimately unimportant stuff.

These mental gymnastics and manic list-making? Seems to work for me. A device to help me swallow the rubberband-stretching moment tomorrow that’s sure to stick in my throat just a little bit. In the meantime, I’m back to my list.

Thanks for reading.

The Important Stuff of Surfing

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It’s easy to malign surfing. A seemingly whimsical endeavor evoking images of far-off sandy beaches, warm sunshine in tropical destinations, seas teeming with leaping dolphins, and an enviable apparent disregard for what’s going on in the “real world.” An irresponsible undertaking. Polar opposite of a structured, land-based existence — the only one that truly matters.  An exercise in frivolity. What’s the point?

I’m glad you asked. 

I consider myself a surfer, though my skills in the water are meager.  I believe the skills part may actually be of secondary importance. And the perceived whimsy has, more or less, nothing to do with it. Rather, I reckon it’s a classroom out there. And I’d like to think that introducing my own sons to surfing has delivered up a host of genuinely important, substantive, life lessons. Vital, timeless stuff to be handed down from one generation to the next.

First, there is the commitment and suffering part.  You must shoulder (or armpit, or head-balance) your own board for the schlep from the car to the beach. Sure, it’s heavy, and your arms ache, and it’s not easy to sprint past the breakwall when a wave at high tide is about to slap you and your board against it.  But that ache with a touch of suffering marks your investment in this. Anything lastingly worthwhile requires some tolerance for suffering. Embrace it.

Second, slow down, breath, and take it all in. No matter where you actually are, this is the place to be.  How lucky are we to be striding out into this water?  Straddling a board in the flat of a channel.  Feeling the sea undulate beneath you.  Smelling the mix of saltwater, seaweed, organic decay from the receding tide, surf wax and neoprene. Absorb what your eyes see — the divebombing pelicans, curious seals, and the landscape sliding by as the tide and current have their way with you. Inhale.  Listen to the waves’ roll and delivery to the land. Hear the seagulls squabbling for the darting sardines. Inhale. Exhale. Slow down. And take it all in. 

Third, face your fears. Feel the tickle of anxiety and nervousness and uncertainty as a wave rolls up behind you, suddenly much more menacing than it appeared from shore.  Know that you are not even close to being in charge out here. Face that fear.  Welcome it, even.  It means that you are alive. Alive in a way where the deluge of Instagram updates, goofy Snapchat lenses, and group text threads fades into the background. Alive in a way where the only moment that matters is this moment. Fear is your friend here. 

Fourth, be humble. Observe the conditions, and the actions of other surfers out there, as you stand on the shore, so as to keep your own role low-profile and studied. Take pleasure in the earlier-arriving surfers’ pleasure. Understand that you are about to slide into territory that doesn’t really belong to you.  Be humble, whether you bob in endless lulls, get spun and pounded under a wave, or manage to stand up and glide for what seems like an eternity. It’s not about you out here, and that is a good thing. 

Fifth, don’t be greedy.  Leave something in the reserve tank to fuel your post-surf obligations.  If you can’t muster the strength to reach up and around your shoulders to unzip your wetsuit back on the beach, well, you probably stayed out too long.  I’ve been there.  Maybe you unwisely ignored the unfavorable current, in the throes of your gluttony for more waves, and spent your reserves fighting back across the channel. Know when it’s time to go.  There will always be more down the road and on the horizon (at least I hope so). And on this note, don’t forget you’ll need to wrap your leash tightly around the fins and cart your own gear back to the car once again. This time with tired shoulders, cramping hands, ear canals stuffed with sand, and saltwater in your belly.  The session’s not done ’til we’re back in the car, locked and loaded.  And remember it’s your job today to hose down the wetsuits at home in the backyard.  So pace yourself out there, and save a little extra for after. 

Finally, experience real fulfillment and gratitude. All of the above ingredients, mixed properly, will produce an overwhelming sense of well-being and satisfaction. A new collection of memories, just forged, swims in the head. A well-earned, deep physical fatigue sets in. The bloodstream seemingly spiked a bit from the saltwater immersion. Give in to the exhaustion.  Go ahead, son, fall asleep suddenly in the backseat. Mid-conversation. The hint of a satisfied smile playing across your face.  I’ll grip the wheel for the winding ride home along the coast, grateful for this singular experience.  Marking the occasion in my mind.  Hoping you’ll pass these same lessons along to your own children. After all, this is important stuff. 

On that note, it’s just about time to strap some boards on the roof rack, fill up some old milk jugs with warm water, and saddle up.  Class is in session. 

Thanks for reading. 

 

It Apologizes (My Path of Totality)

At last night’s family dinner table, something apparently rarer than the total solar eclipse occurred: I apologized. Said I was “sorry” to my entire family. It was an off-the-cuff confession. Sincere, but not intended as a conversation stopper. I figured my flash of genuine contrition would be politely acknowledged and accepted, and we would all simply move along to the next order of business. Instead, I got stiff-legged cardigan-vested yuppie walking into a biker bar with the “zeeeeerrrriiiiiip” of the needle pulled off the vinyl record.

I have been a little extra cranky of late, you see. An expected but still unpleasant side effect of this Whole30 “diet” that reduces its adherents to The Great Santini, more or less. I arguably lean Santinian by default, too, if you believe my son Everett’s claim that I generally possess only two emotions: Angry and asleep. So if my mood swings swing beyond their already sizable parabola such that even I notice something is amiss, well then, something must really be amiss. So I owned it. Stepped into the breach with aplomb…

And was unceremoniously shoved over the cliff.

My wife Hilary has trained our children to respond to an earnest “I’m sorry” with an equally earnest “That’s OK.” It is a beautiful thing and it works. And I was counting on that ingrained behavior in that moment.

Instead, Everett waited a beat to leverage the pregnant pause. Then cooly observed, “Hmmm. It apologizes.”

You see, he got me twice: Once on simply pointing out that I am, apparently, insufficiently remorseful in general. And then again by calling attention to my sub-human, recent behavior. On par with other inanimate objects in our house. The car. A lamp. The TV. The toilet in the guest bathroom. And way beneath our dog, mind you — none of us would ever call her an “it.”

So there I was. Slump-shouldered. Empty-lunged. Forced toothless smile put up to give me time to process what had just happened. Trying to come up with a chuckle. Hoping someone would rise to my rescue to tell me what the hell Everett was trying to say. Alas, I sat unrescued. And it got me thinking.

Even above and beyond my hunger-driven antics, it occurs to me, I have plenty for which I should apologize: I frequently force my sons to eat Brussels sprouts, beets and bok choy. Sometimes all on the same dinner plate during the same dinner. I often drag one or both boys to some seemingly unpleasant physical chore: Pulling on a tight wetsuit and reluctant booties to surf, say. Or pumping up knobby tires for a brief mountain bike ride perfectly calibrated to reduce the odds of lactic acid to 0%. (Actually, I am the designated tire-pumper, so there is no cause for complaint in this instance.) Holding the dog’s leash for a millisecond during a hike while Hilary or I corral dog poop in a dog poop bag. And for sure I should apologize for not pulling Everett off the mound mid-inning when he requested an intervention during a poor Little League pitching outing.

If I think about it, I probably should apologize for just about everything. All of it. The totality, you might say. Yes, Everett, it most certainly does apologize. Though not nearly enough, historically. And I’m sorry about that. Fortunately for us, tonight will bring some new culinary horrors involving shaved carrots and sweet potatoes, I’m thinking. Wednesday looks perfect for a long bike ride on sore butts to the ballpark and back home again. And Friday? On Friday, we surf (with still-damp wetsuits and booties). So rest assured, my boy, there will be many more dinner table apologies to come.

Thanks for reading.