Category Archives: Parenthood

What Makes You YOU? Contradictions & The Trouble With Boxes

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large–I contain multitudes.” –Walt Whitman

Hello friend,

I am a combination homebody and adventurer. When I am home–that is, in my house–I don’t want to go anywhere. I cannot stand running errands, don’t like going out to eat, and think that the time driving anywhere local is a waste. I don’t go to social events and wish I could work from home. Basically, my house is where I want to be. Unless, that is, I have the option to explore the world and see something new (especially if it is outdoors). Then I want to get on the plane, train, car, or boat and start the adventure! I love road trips cross-country, hiking trips into the mountains, and bopping around Europe on the train. I dream about Tanzania, Brazil, Iceland, and Belize; about the Ganges, the Amazon, the Danube, and the Nile; about the Rockies, the Alps, the Himalayas, and the Andes. I want to go! I want to be out there covering every corner of the planet. Everywhere except my town. Because when I am there, I want to be at home. I am one or the other.

Well, I suppose I am, more accurately, one AND the other. I am both ends of the spectrum, but not the middle. A walking contradiction.

And this isn’t the only characteristic on which I seem to compete with myself. The list goes on!

I try to spend just about every waking minute with my children. I want to take in every moment of their beautiful, little lives. I have plunged headfirst into the waters of fatherhood; I am fully immersed. I also love my wife and appreciate all of the richness and meaning that our marriage has brought to my life. I am all about this family thing! I can see how much bigger and better it has made me, despite the reservations I had before I dove in. I encourage it to anyone who asks. I am here with all of my heart and for the long haul! And yet, if you offered me a second, parallel life to run alongside this one–one in which I might double up on the pleasures and fulfillment that I presently derive from my roles as happy husband and father–I would instantly turn you down and go with a life of solitude. I would live alone, work alone, travel alone, everything. Before I met my wife, I expected a long life like that. I looked forward to it. I knew it was far to one side of the spectrum, and that was just fine with me. I now see that the lengths to which I go to be completely immersed in my kids’ lives is very far on the other side of that very same spectrum, and that is also just fine with me. I am fairly sure that there isn’t a middle ground for me in this deal. It is a peace that I have had to make with myself.

I think that most people that I come in contact with–outside of a work situation, where I am supposed to be “on” in my role–would say that I am either shy or unsocial, perhaps even rude in the distance I keep. It is true that I can be very quiet. I told you that I don’t often go to social events; most of that is because I cannot stand small-talk and other superficial interactions. And I definitely fall on the Introvert side of the Introvert/Extrovert spectrum, in that my energy grows when I am alone and tends to drain when I am in a group. That parallel dream life of solitude I mentioned above was no joke. I like my alone time. And yet (there it is again!), I absolutely LOVE talking to people. I want to dive deep into your experience of the world–your passions, your influences, your heartbreaks, your beliefs, and your dreams–and learn about all the nuances and contradictions that make you YOU. I might grill you for hours if you let me. But just you. Not you and a bunch of friends at once. And not if I see you out at the store or the gym or a party. I don’t want to chit-chat with you or trade witticisms about passersby. I want to connect, and for that I need to get below the surface. So, while it is true that I don’t really want to talk to you, it’s also true that I want to really talk to you.

As I uncover these contradictions within my personality, I find it remarkable how accepting I am of them. I shrug my shoulders and think, “Why not? I am a complex guy. OF COURSE I am capable of occupying both ends of the spectrum simultaneously!” And I move on. No big deal.

What concerns me about that realization of my easy acceptance of my complexities is the idea that I might be much less broad-minded and open to something bigger when it comes to other people’s personalities. I definitely see that characteristic displayed by the people I know: an unwillingness to let someone play outside the box we have placed them in.

We like to make cartoons of people. Drama Queen. Dumb Jock. Gentle Giant. Sweetheart. Loudmouth. I know those are oversimplified, but consider other ways you think of people or the way you might describe them to a friend who is asking. “He’s really smart and pretty nice once you get to know him.” “She’s sweet and loves kids.” “He’s gay and super-sarcastic.” “She’s serious and really into her career.” These are boxes and caricatures as much as the other labels are. When we think this way, we miss out on so much of the richness of the people around us. We don’t get a chance to appreciate all of their nuances and complexities. In shortchanging them, we shortchange ourselves.

If I considered you a friend and all you had to say (or think) about me is, “He is a homebody who doesn’t talk much but is always with his kids,” I would laugh at how little you knew about me. I understand that not everyone occupies the same extremes on so many spectrums as I do, but I have no doubt that they have their own extremes and are more complex than I usually make them out to be. I cheat them and me by simplifying them. That’s a disappointing realization. I plan to work to do better with that.

Our job here–yours and mine–at Journal of You is to ask and answer the questions that will reveal our Truths. If we do our job well, we come to know ourselves deeply, including all of the quirks, nuances, and contradictions that make us US. We come to understand that the idea that we might fit neatly into a box is foolish, almost nonsensical. How much of our broad, beautiful mosaic of a personality we reveal to others is up to us, but how much of it that they absorb is up to them. You may put your elaborate beauty on full display, only to have them grab a few snippets to squeeze you into one of their boxes so they know how to treat you. Let that be their issue, not yours. I hope that if you have come to Journal of You often enough, you know you are so much bigger than boxes. You are complex and contradictory and capable of occupying more than one position on any number of spectrums. And you are beautiful just as you are. I am going to get to work on seeing people that way. Not just myself, but everyone else too.

How about you? Which aspects of your personality seem to contradict one another but are still completely YOU? Open up your journal and explore all of your uniqueness. What characteristics seem to be in complete contradiction with each other? Is it more personality traits (e.g. you are super laid-back but have a crazy temper when it fires) or habits (e.g. you almost never cook, but when you do, it’s a gourmet feast)? How do you explain your contradictions? Do the people in your life know about your contradictions, or do you tend to only reveal one side to the public (e.g. people see the laid-back side but have no clue about the wild temper)? How big of an effort do you make to let the people around you know who you really are? What are some things that make you unique? Do you appreciate those unique traits? Do you put them out into the world as often as you put out your “normal” traits? If someone asked your family, “What is (s)he like?”, what would they say? What would your friends say? Your neighbors? Your co-workers? What would people who met you at a social gathering say? How different would all of those responses be? Which would be closest to the “real you”? Taken together, would they form a fairly accurate picture of you? What part of your personality do most people not know? Why don’t they? What do you wish people knew about you? Do you fit into a box? How would you describe your box, your “What is (s)he like?” answer? Are the boxes you make for the people in your life as big and generous as the one you make for yourself? Do you need to do away with boxes altogether? How can you better embrace your complexity? Leave me a reply and let me know: What makes you YOU?

Be unabashed,

William

P.S. If this topic resonated with you today, please share it. Let’s know ourselves and each other better so we can better care for each other.

P.P.S. For a deeper dive into who you really are, check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailer.

Happy Mother’s Day!!! A note from the heart

Hello and Happy Mother’s Day to you, friend.  What follows is a post that I wrote four years ago on the afternoon of Mother’s Day as I thought about my amazing Mom.  I happened upon it this week, and it gave me a good cry.  Enough time has passed now that it feels okay to put it out there again.  I hope it gives you a smile, maybe even a good cry, but definitely some thoughts of gratitude about your own mother.  All my best to you and yours.  –William

“All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” –Abraham Lincoln

Hello friend,

Happy Mother’s Day! Last year at this time, I actually got to spend the weekend with my amazing Mom. I admit that I haven’t always given Mother’s Day its just due as a holiday—often lumping it in with “greeting card holidays” like Valentine’s Day, which I mostly ignore—but having that time with my Mom on a day made just for her was pretty darn cool. Maybe I can appreciate it more now that I am a parent, or maybe it just hits home a bit more now that we are both old enough to realize that these earthly lives don’t go on forever. In any case, Mother’s Day is important to me now.

Holidays and birthdays, for me, have kind of taken on the role of “good excuse to let someone know how much I care”. I know that it is pretty lame that I don’t have the guts and/or don’t make the time to do that often enough in my day-to-day interactions, but that is where I am right now. This is why I have come to appreciate these holidays: I need the excuse to share my feelings. These days are helping me out.

So, in honor of Mother’s Day, here are some of the reasons I love my Mom so much:

  • I love my Mom because she birthed me and raised me. That may sound obvious, but really, having now witnessed a couple of births in person, I know that every mother, no matter what they did afterward, deserves a thank you. And to think, that is the easy part! Raising kids is hard!!! My kids are absolutely fabulous and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world, but raising them is still the most taxing thing ever, too. So I am so grateful to my Mom for just hanging in there with me through it all. I didn’t know what a trooper she was—and I may not fully know until these guys go through the teenage stuff—but I know enough now to say she has my utmost respect.
  • I love my Mom because she was crazy enough to have five of us. Who does that? Seriously, I have two kids and can hardly see straight. How did she turn out five of us—four, including me, in very rapid succession—and keep it all together? As many times as I have probed her and other parents of big broods to figure it out, I simply cannot wrap my mind around the idea. But my Mom pulled it off. Even though I am stopping at two, I am so glad I had my many siblings all along the way. Amazingly, we actually still like and respect each other. My Mom is a wonder!
  • I love my Mom because I have always been her little boy. I admit it, I have always been a Momma’s boy. I was the fourth kid, and my little sister didn’t come along for seven years after me. I don’t know if that explains it, or if she just somehow knew I had a unique path that required her special support, but she always provided it. Even at this age and with me about twice her size, she has a way of making me feel like her special little boy. I love that.
  • I love my Mom because we have been lifelong roadtrip partners. In my previous post “Roadtrip Down Memory Lane”, I shared with you how my Mom would throw us five kids, a cooler of soda, and an Alabama cassette into our van and trek across the country. Those trips were amazing, but they were just the beginning. She toted—“tolerated” is probably more accurate—my friends and I around to every little town that had a Summer tennis tournament. Even as an adult, she and I have covered this great country on adventures up and down both coasts and seemingly everywhere in between. She even made it through an epic day in which I dragged her to every possible site in Rome, finally limping up the Spanish Steps in the dark of night. We have shared a lot of beautiful miles.
  • I love my Mom because she shows me how to be a good spouse. After all these years, I am pretty sure my Dad realizes that he landed a good one. I learned the most from my Mom in her most trying times as a wife. When I was wondering, “How in the world is she holding up and hanging in?” she was a rock. She never wavered. I am still amazed by that, and I always return to it whenever I have a “Darn, marriage is hard work!” moment.
  • I love my Mom because she is a fabulous grandmother. My kids—and all her other grandkids, really—totally adore my Mom. She gets right down to the level of whoever she is playing with and really digs in. She snuggles with the infants, plays on the floor with my kids, and reads novels aloud to my teenage nieces (yes, at their request!). I am in awe of how connected she is to each of them. She is the grandma version of the kind of grandpa I want to be.
  • I love my Mom because she showed me how to be the adult child at the parents’ end. My Mom’s mother—my sweet Grandma Jeanne—had a long bout with cancer and needed a lot of care. In what had to be the toughest thing for her to witness, she sucked it up and did it all. I am sitting here bawling as I think about having to do that for her one day. I can only hope I do half as well. She then spent so many more happy years with her father, becoming his best friend and constant source of support, even as his mind began to betray him. She was, again, the rock, right to the very end. How lucky my grandparents were to have her.
  • I love my Mom because she has been, through it all, everything I would want in a best friend. In life, you want someone who is going to love you no matter what. You want someone who is proud of you even when you aren’t proud of yourself. You want someone you can have a great time with. You want someone who will tell you their Truth. And you want someone to be your biggest fan. My Mom is all of that to me. I love her without end.

This morning, as has become her habit in recent years on Mother’s Day, she sent an email to me and my siblings. It was titled “Your Mom”, and here is how it went:

Ahh, it’s my favorite day of the year once again! And now that I say that I know it’s not totally true, my favorite days are when I actually get to see you! But today is the day that I feel like I can take some of the credit for the 5 greatest people the world has ever seen and I do mean that! I know that without God taking care of you every day and your Dad’s help I couldn’t say that and I am just so very thankful that I can. I really couldn’t be more proud of each of you than I already am for everything you have accomplished and everything you have become. You truly are the 5 greatest people I know and you are raising 14 of the greatest kids there are anywhere. Mom or Dad, you should be as proud of yourselves as I am of you for doing such a great job and having so much fun with all of them. Nothing makes me more proud of you than to see what great parents you are and the love you have for your children….that really is the most important thing in your life as I know you can see even now. They are and always will be the greatest source of joy to you even in the difficult times so treasure each moment…it doesn’t come again. Thank you all for making my life so special…..you will only know how much I love you as you experience your own love for your children.

All my love, Your very blessed Mom 

Oh yeah, I love my Mom for that letter, too.

How about you? Open up your journal—or better yet, a letter or the phone line or her front door—and write down all the reasons you love your mother. If you are anything like me, it will be a tear-filled entry, but, trust me, well worth your time. I bet your Mom would think so, too! Leave me a reply and let me know: how awesome is your Mom?

You are loved,

William

The Inspiration List: What Motivates You To Be Better

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hello friend,

This week, I was fascinated to read about James Shaw Jr., the man who, during the “Waffle House Shooting” in Tennessee two weeks ago, wrestled the killer’s AR-15 assault rifle away and forced the shooter to flee, saving numerous lives in the process.

I admit that I purposefully avoided the entire Waffle House story when the tragedy first occurred. I felt like my system was just not ready to take on the emotional toll of another mass shooting. I saw the typical headlines on the television at the gym and in my Newsfeed–the young white male, the assault rifle, the victims–and figured that I knew the story all too well and could save on my mental health by avoiding this one and taking on next week’s shooting instead. It was all too depressing and too numbingly “normal.” I kept my distance. I wanted that sinking darkness to pass me by this once.

What finally drew me to learn the full story, however, was a piece on James Shaw Jr. and his humble generosity. I had seen Mr. Shaw’s picture after the shooting–a photo of his arm that had been grazed by a bullet in the attack–and knew that he had stopped the shooter, but what I learned this week is what truly captured me. You see, he not only saved all these lives, but he also then started a GoFundMe crowdsourcing page for the families of the victims who died in the shooting. His original goal was to raise $15,000. Well, word got out, and as of the last time I checked, he had raised an amazing $225,966.

When I read that story and researched the number on the GoFundMe page, all I could think was, “Now THAT is how to do it! THAT is a light that brightens us all! Bless you, sir!”

James Shaw Jr. is an inspiration to me. He has filled my heart with hope and made me want to be a better human.  

The whole situation of the awful-yet-familiar tragedy at the Waffle House and my accidental discovery of a new source of inspiration this week has caused me to pause and ponder about Inspiration itself and where I can find more of it in this world where conflict, corruption, and calamity that grab the headlines.

I am tired of being weighed down, tired of examples of our failings and our helplessness at the hands of the dark, cold world. I want to feel lifted. I want to feel awe and hope. I want to be reminded that I am magnificent and that I am part of something even more magnificent. I want to believe in a bigger, better me.

In short, I want to be inspired.

So today, I am making an Inspiration List. On my list will be anything and everything that makes me feel all those ways I just described. You know, inspired.

With that, here goes one beautiful brainstorm:

  • The sun, moon, and stars. Everything that goes on out there in space–and just thinking of the unfathomably large magnitude of the Universe–electrifies my spirit, but I am extra moved by those celestial bodies that are part of my daily consciousness. I love driving to the gym in the pre-dawn darkness and having my breath taken away at my first sight of the full moon, then watching the magical light show of sunrise on my way home. And nothing beats a night under the stars to remind me that I am part of something truly awesome. It is in these moments of looking past our Earth that I am most convinced that there is a God.
  • Jimmy Carter. This guy is building houses for the homeless in his 90s. Enough said.
  • My kids. Everything about parenthood is being my best and giving my best. When you realize that every moment of your life is an example for both how they ought to behave immediately and how they will remember you eventually, you better step up. My kids have raised the bar for me in every way imaginable.
  • Water.  In all its forms, water is a true wonder for me. The ocean all by itself is enough to leave me in amazement every time I lay eyes on it, or better yet, swim in it. The amount of life there, the power of it, the enormity. It boggles my mind in the best of ways and leaves me in a state of Peace I can find nowhere else. It is that Peace that I love best about water. Streams, lakes, even puddles. I am drawn there and revitalized upon my arrival. I have always been mesmerized the fact that the percentage of the Earth covered by water is almost the exact percentage of water that makes up the human heart and brain. That connection inspires me.
  • Libraries and bookstores. It is the artists who wrote the words and the sacrifices they made to get the books published. It is the knowledge and wisdom contained in those books. It is the words themselves. Being surrounded by books gives me the good goosebumps.
  • Protest marches and marchers. I have been deeply moved by the marches of this era–the Women’s March, the #RedForEd teachers marching for funding, the Science March, Black Lives Matter, etc.–in their attempts to create awareness and change. It lifts me up to see regular citizens rising to the challenges that their “leaders” have failed them in meeting.
  • Quotes.  People from all walks of life across human history have said and written the most beautiful words. I read them and rise.
  • Quantum Physics. I love how something seemingly way over our heads can deliver us the most simple and powerful Truth: We are ALL connected to ALL THAT IS.
  • The teachers where I work. I am in an elementary school five days a week, and every day I am impressed and humbled by the way the teachers (and aids) navigate the minefield of our children and guide them toward a better future. It is so hard to be good at that.
  • My Facebook friend Josie. I have never even met this woman, but even electronically she oozes optimism, kindness, and authenticity. She posts several uplifting memes every day–I steal most of them for my Journal of You page–and shares all kinds of personal stories and photos from her view of the world. She is my example of how to change the world with your being and your little actions. The image of her in my mind literally glows.
  • Glacier National Park. I can hardly think about this place without getting misty. It is my symbol for the natural beauty of this Earth and the gifts we earthlings have been granted in being born here. It is why we need to do better with what we have.
  • Leonardo da Vinci. This guy was absolutely amazing! Of course, genius is always amazing in its way, but I so admire the tremendous breadth of this man’s explorations of his talents. When you are known as “The Father of…” multiple scientific disciplines and one of the best painters of all time, you are awe-worthy in my book. When people wonder why I write about so many different things instead of finding a niche, I think of Leonardo.
  • The Parkland kids. I take so much encouragement from these young people whose friends were murdered while at school and then had the gumption to use their moment to push for a positive change, proving to us all that you are never too young to use your voice.
  • Barack and Michelle Obama. This is not political. This is about character in the face of antagonism, cruelty, and outright bigotry. When I think of the Obamas, the two words that come to my mind are Class and Grace. And I also think of Michelle saying, “When they go low, we go high.” I aspire to that.
  • The idea of a Divine Creator. I won’t try to tell you that I am certain that there is a God and that this God has a plan and created all of this beauty and magnificence for us to play in. However, I am attracted enough to those ideas to let it sway my soul into being inspired by it. As I have alluded to earlier, I am deeply moved by both the magnitude of the Universe itself and by the natural beauty and power of the “Nature” found on this planet, including the oceans, the mountains, the plants, and the animals (including us!). The idea that there was an intelligent Designer gives it all that much more Life and meaning.
  • Michelangelo’s The Pietá and David. When I first happened upon The Pietá in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, I was struck motionless by it. My eyes welled up. I was absolutely spellbound. By the time I saw the David in Florence, I had seen so many replicas and pictures of it that I wasn’t anticipating much. Still, I could not take my eyes off of it. Michelangelo is an artist perhaps without parallel in history, and these sculptures are just two reasons why. I am inspired by his genius.
  • The nonviolence and strength of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. These two great men top the list for me when it comes to heroes. Both fought unceasingly against injustice–both ultimately being murdered as a result–and yet both did so without the violence that their oppressors used and that so many around them called for.
  • Teaching. At various points in my life, I have stood in front of college kids to teach them Philosophy, elementary and middle school kids to teach them World Religions, and everyone from ages 3 to 93 to teach them Tennis. And every time, my heart has been filled by the teaching, the love of the subject matter, and my immense joy at helping to expand the world of my fellow beings. Teaching gives me life!
  • My cousin Heide. She died of cancer several years ago, a beloved teacher, wife, and mother of two little girls. Her death at such a young age–and how she left behind a life quite similar to mine–has served as a constant reminder to make the most of the time that I have, as more is not guaranteed.
  • The books of Steven Pressfield. He writes in more than one genre, but the two books of his that I tell myself that I should read every year are The War of Art and Turning Pro. As a writer, these books remind me to dig in and work at my craft, to sit down every day and put words onto paper, no matter how difficult the process or how awful the result, because the world needs my gifts. I need to hear that.
  • Music.  Whether live in concert, through the speakers filling up the house, or coming to me personally through my big headphones, there is nothing like music to fill up a soul. When the first notes come through to me–whether it is the dramatic organ and monologue of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” the tinkling keys of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” the unmistakable beat of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” or the dramatic violins of Beethoven’s 5th symphony–my spirit soars.
  • Dan Rather. Growing up, we were more of an NBC household, so my news came from Tom Brokaw. But this late chapter of Rather’s life, where I have come to know him as a passionate social commentator on Facebook and a brilliant writer and patriot in his new book What Unites Us, has brought me to a man who has done and seen just about everything in his lifetime and has come away more empathetic and grateful for the process. His thoughts give me necessary, humble reminders and also great hope. So does his life.
  • Publishing my work. I will never forget the feelings of exhilaration that came when I put my very first blog post out into the world on this site. It was my reach-out to you, and hitting that “Publish” button felt like exactly what I was meant to do. I still get a charge every time I hit that “Publish” button in the early hours of Sunday morning, releasing my heart out into the world in hopes it makes someone else’s life better. Publishing my book was that way, too, only with a lot more relief after the many painstaking hours that project required. The feeling of sharing my Truth in the service of making others’ journeys more rich and full is enough to propel me to do it again and better. After all of the ways we beat ourselves up in life, it is a priceless treasure to occasionally be our own inspiration.
  • Science.  I absolutely LOVE to learn new things and get a little closer to the truth of how this Universe operates, so Science is my friend. One of my favorite things is the Ted-Ed Facebook page–I highly recommend following it–where they regularly produce these amazing little 5-minute videos, usually with animation, teaching us all about our world. Recent topics: “What’s the difference between hibernation and sleep?,” “How do touchscreens work?,” “The evolution of teeth,” “What happens during a stroke?,” “Why can’t you divide by zero?” Learning this stuff excites me, but what excites me even more is that every day scientists are discovering new things about how our world works, how we can better operate in it, and how we might eventually have to save it. That lifts me up.

That’s my Inspiration List! My spirits are lifted just by writing it all down and thinking about these wonderful gifts. The list has become the final item on the list! It reminds me of Itzhak Stern in Schindler’s List when he says, “The list is an absolute good. The list is life.” It certainly feels that way for me.

How about you? What’s on your Inspiration List? Open up your journal and think about what lifts you up, excites you about life, and moves you to be a better person. Write down that list. What comes immediately to your mind? Who are the people on your list? Are they more people that you know–family and friends–or famous people? Are the famous ones from the present day or are they historical figures? Are your categories more general–like movies or music or books–or is your list full of specific songs, movies, and book titles? Which places are on your list? Are they places you have been or places you dream about going? Is there a spot on your list for spiritual practices? Are YOU on your list? How does it make you feel to make the list? Does your list inspire you? I hope so! What have I missed in my list–what do you recommend? Leave me a reply and let me know: What fills up your Inspiration List?

Do great things,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, I would appreciate if you would share it on your social media. And if you are comfortable sharing your list, even better!

P.S.S. Dive deeper into your whole life–past, present, and future–with my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering the Beauty That Is Your Truth. Available at your favorite online retailer.

A BOLDER LIFE: Are You Existing or Adventuring?

“I refuse to walk carefully through life only to arrive safely at death.” –Paulo Coelho

Hello friend,

About 25 years ago, I was about the most stable, on-the-right-path guy in the world. I knew exactly what I would be doing in two years, twenty years, and any other year before or after. How did I know? I had been planning it ever since I was little. Everyone I knew was sure of my plan and its success. They, too, had been in on the idea from the beginning. None of us doubted it.

I was pegged as a smart, achieving kind of kid at a young age, and in the small town I came from, the richest, most envied people were the doctors. So, I was going to be a doctor. No question about it. My Dad told me so at an early age, and I never forgot or considered otherwise. Elementary school and high school sailed by with complete clarity about my future, and Pre-Med was in full swing, the Road of Life paved smooth in front of me. Set in stone. I was about to tell the most boring, predictable life story ever.

But then, I changed it. I decided that my life should be a tale of adventure instead.

Well, I didn’t exactly think of it in those terms. I mean, I didn’t say, “My life is now an adventure!!!” It was more like, “I am scared to admit that I have a different dream because then I would have to take a big risk by jumping off the safe path, but I am more scared of living that nice life everyone has always had planned for me but that doesn’t light me up inside.” 

I suppose it sounds weird that the safer, more predictable path was the one that eventually frightened me the most. But it’s true. I guess the lure of my dreams just became too enchanting once I finally admitted to having them. I became addicted to that feeling of giddiness–and yes, even anxiety–that bubbled up when imagining how my life could be. It was more risky, sure, but so much more exciting.

You know, like an adventure.

So I did it. And for the next several years, it really felt like a big adventure.

I bounced around the country, living in iconic cities and meeting fascinating people. I acted in the theatre. I learned to surf and practice yoga. I traveled the world. I discovered my journal. I found my spiritual foundation. I read. I wrote. I fell in love.

It was fantastic! Scary sometimes, and almost always uncertain, but every minute engaging and enlightening and invigorating. I was most certainly alive. And I never once regretted jumping off the safe, predictable path (though that doctor money sure would have been nice!).

It is amazing how you can start to clamor for stability and certainty–and doctor money–when suddenly you have other lives depending upon you for cereal and new basketball shoes.

My wife was always the one in our relationship who sought the most stability and provided the most stability. She always had the steadiest job with the insurance and the retirement package. She seemed to like it that way, even as I gave up my career arc and slashed my working hours (and dollars) when our kids were born to maximize my time with them in these irreplaceable years. She was our rock and put up with the silly adventures of her three kids (me and the two little ones), sacrificing some of the fun stuff in order to do meaningful work and keep us in cereal and basketball shoes.

I thought that she would be content on that stable path until she retired. She was so good on it, and I figured that maybe she was just genetically inclined to like that stuff better than I could. I admired her for it and was grateful that she could bear a burden I didn’t seem wired for.

Then, several months ago, she jumped off the stable path, too. Overnight she became an entrepreneur. She had been on a regular salary in a low-risk career her entire adult life–and as a guy who has lived with her for 18 years, that shoe seemed to fit–and BOOM, she decided to take on a new career and no guarantees. Talk about an adventure!

I can’t begin to tell you how impressed I was by this move. As the guy who thought he owned the rights to “trust your gut, dream bigger, take a chance on yourself” in the relationship, I was absolutely tickled to see that side of her emerge. I was so happy for her, and proud. Very, very proud.

I’m a little scared, too, I admit. After all, if you are on the whimsical, perhaps-artistic, not-so-inclined-to-grind side of the spectrum, it is reassuring to be partnered up with someone who is better at enduring the dirty work than you are. But this is what makes her all the more worthy of my admiration: because she was brave enough to follow her heart off the safe and secure path even without a safety net. She is braver than me!

And now, my friend, we are on a real adventure! Who can say how it will turn out or what new ways our family will adapt and grow: new skillsets, new attitudes, new sources of income, new opportunities for play and family togetherness.

That family thing is crucial for us. And even as we try to navigate this new era of uncertainty in our little corner of the world, we use that home base of family as our rock. Now matter how adventurous you are, it is nice to have a few bases of certainty. These people in this house–and indeed, the house itself–are definitely that for me, for us.

So there I was last week, wading these uncertain waters of our new life, when my wife says to me out of nowhere, “Seriously, name a state you are willing to move to.” Like many of us in northern states at this time of year, the bitter conditions outside had pushed her just far enough that day to question her sanity for living here and consider leaving for good. She wanted an answer.

I giggled and decided to play along, sure that nothing would come of it. “Oregon,” I said. Rejected! “Okay, how about Colorado?” “Hmm….” So, right then and there, she hops on the computer and starts researching. And not just for a few minutes, but for over an hour! She gives me stats on diversity, school rankings, all kinds of stuff that matters to us. I actually started getting a little freaked out. In my head, I was like, “Who is this new, ready-for-change person? And are we seriously talking about moving???”

I am relieved to report that nothing has come of it in the ensuing days. I have put it out of my mind. Well, not true: I have sort of put it out. Suddenly, I am not so sure of just how adventurous this lady I live with has become. Might she want to roll the dice and make an even bigger change in our life? And while that is a bit unnerving, I have to admit that it is exciting, too. Invigorating. The overall air of uncertainty about the specifics of our future has sparked something enchanting about our life together. There is intrigue. There is fantasy and dream-building. There is a sense of the potential that we have only just begun to tap.

There is a true sense of WONDER that is nothing short of intoxicating.

I have this sense that, even though I haven’t a clue as to what our future holds, somehow it will be truly magnificent and saturated with blessings. So, let’s throw off the bowlines and let this ship sail in the big waters of LIFE. I am feeling ready for an adventure!

How about you? At this point in your life, are you more drawn to the stable and secure path, or the uncertain and adventurous one? Open up your journal and trace the path your life has taken to this point. Has it always been fairly clear where you are headed, or have you taken some bold leaps off the path and brought a sense of adventure to your world? When you were in elementary school and high school, how did you imagine your adult life? How about when you were in college: was your career path clear in your mind? How accurate have your visions turned out to be for yourself? Do you work in the field that you went to school for? Have you ever switched career fields entirely and started fresh? If so, how difficult was it to arrive at that decision and take action? Are you currently on a career path that is satisfying to you? If not, how likely are you to do something bold to change paths? How soon will you take action? How brave will you need to be? How about the place that you live? Are you satisfied? Have you considered moving to a different area of the country or a different country altogether? Have you done it before? What are the chances? How would you describe your relationship with Uncertainty? Have you made friends with it? Do you fear it like The Plague? On a scale of one to ten–with one being “Bore Me With Stability” and ten being “Bring On the Change and Adventure”–where has the path of your life revealed you to be naturally drawn to? How has that changed as you have aged? Generally speaking, why do you live the life you live now? Is it because you don’t dare to try another one? At the end of your days, is that answer going to satisfy you? Leave me a reply and let me know: Is your life a daring adventure or a safe walk? 

Be brave,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it. A world full of authentic people would be a grand thing!

P.S.S. My new book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering the Beauty That Is Your Truth, is available in paperback and ebook formats from many retailers. To get yours on Amazon, go to http://www.amazon.com/author/williamrutten Thank you for your support!

Grading Your Year: A Personal Report Card for 2017

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Hello friend,

The year 2017, as told through the screens on my phone, tablet, computer, and television, was just about the most absurd, infuriating, and demoralizing year imaginable. I had the feeling so often this year that, if we were being studied from afar by alien scientists, they would report that we are clearly devolving as a species, degenerating into a lower state of intellectual and moral being. I suppose there are plenty of “Year in Review” types of shows airing this week, but I don’t even dare to watch. I don’t much care to relive anything that people were talking about this year. It was pretty darn awful out there. I fear that if I admit to just how awful or try to delve into it, I will make for a most depressing companion at the New Year’s festivities. No, I think I will pass on assessing the great big world this year.

But how about my personal year in my little corner of the world?

That doesn’t seem nearly as depressing or daunting a task. After all, as I sit here in these final moments of the year, I still have a smile on my face and a mind eager enough to learn and grow from the lessons this year has provided. It helps, I know, that I process it every day in my journal, so I have some sense of how my report card will come out–I guess I can sense it was not all rainbows and butterflies, but I know it was one I would not trade, either–but I am open to being surprised by my assessment of the various aspects of my existence and how they were shaped by the events of 2017.

Hindsight has a way of casting a new light on things, dusting off some of the emotions and baggage of the moment and revealing its true essence and its value in the grand scheme of our lives. I think I am due for some of that clarity after what has been a most unusual year in the History of Me.

So, how did I do?

Well, maybe it is healthy to admit to a failure right from the start. I know I deserve an “F” in the Finances/Career departments. I was horrible at that from start to finish, truly. Starting the year out having just lost my job last Christmas was certainly a harbinger of things to come. I struggled to find my way all year into something that both paid the bills and met my family’s other needs. Though I have tried to maintain my general positivity and my big picture perspective through it all, I admit to falling into moments of shame, frustration, and disillusionment regarding my aspirations and failings on this front as the year passed. I have chastised myself for both my failings as a breadwinner and my weakness in allowing those failings too much control over my emotions. So, definitely an “F” here.

Another thing I did not do very well with is my Friendships. It is true that as an unsocial and introverted cat, this has never been my strong suit. So, it isn’t as though I had a very high standard from which to judge myself. However, I found myself thinking more and more as the year went on that this is an area I want to do better with: both in making new friends and in staying well-connected with my old friends. Truth: I didn’t do very well with either. I am most disappointed in myself for doing a poor job of keeping up with my best friends, letting too long pass between visits and calls. Maybe a “D” here. Not good.

Okay, this report card is not looking so good at this point! I must have done something well….

How about Family? Yes, the family stuff was quite good this year on the whole. Though I again did poorly with calling my siblings and parents, I made a bigger effort to travel to spend time with them. That was immensely rewarding, both for me and for the children. Speaking of the children, the one thing I think I do consistently well is fatherhood. That was the case this year; we have had a great time, and my relationship with each kid is strong and loving. I wish I could say I did as well as a spouse, but I consistently fail to live up to my expectations there. Still, I have had fun with my wife and have tried to be supportive while enjoying watching her grow and blossom in her new endeavors. All in all, a good score here (let’s say “B+”).

As for my Health, I am grateful to say that I would give that a “B”. There are reminders everywhere of how dramatically one’s quality of life diminishes when health problems arise, so I feel quite blessed that my issues this year have been small. I have had little nagging injuries that have kept me from some activities, but no injury has shut me down entirely. As a guy who needs to be active to remain sane, I will take that as a blessing.

Looking back, I realize that I did not do quite as well as usual with my Spirituality, which also dictates my Psychology. I seemed to be less mindful during the day, less aware of the beauty and wonder of the Divine all around me. With that, I was somewhat less grateful than normal, having fewer of those bowled-over-and-humbled-by-the-absolute-magnificence-of-the-Universe moments than I am accustomed to. I have long believed that Gratitude is the mother of Happiness, so maybe I was a bit less happy this year than my usual state of Bliss. I can make lots of excuses for this distraction from my spiritual home base–joblessness, financial strain, self-induced pressure to finish my book, etc.–but the fact is that it is under my control, and I did not live up to my high standards this year. I would say “B-“.

As someone who spent all of his school years as a “Straight-A” kind of guy, these grades for 2017 are not looking very good to me. There is a ton of room for improvement! And though I am definitely disappointed in myself on multiple fronts, there is something that sneaked into the picture late in the year that softens the blow and even puts a smile on my face.

Is there a spot on the report card for “Fulfilled a Lifelong Dream”? If so, I want to give myself an “A” there. While I had worked on it for years, it was only in this year when I truly devoted my focus to not just working on the book but finishing it. It had been my biggest goal when 2017 started, and I felt the weight of that as Autumn came. The clock ticked loudly every day, and fears and doubts screamed at equal volume. But I reminded myself that, coming into the year, the way I said I wanted to feel all year was BRAVE. On I went. Then, finally, it was done.

Of course, there was relief for being finally finished, and there was excitement about seeing my creation out in the world. But the best part was the feeling it gave me way down deep inside, in a place that I would venture to call my soul. I guess I would describe it as feeling “solid” there, like a deep confidence at having done something substantial toward my life purpose. My foundation was cemented. That is quite a feeling. I hope that you will feel it one day if you have not yet. It will change your world.

I know that this effort and its incalculable reward came at the cost of some of those low grades in the other categories. And though I certainly wish they weren’t so low–I like to have my cake and eat it, too–I have to admit that, in the end, doing the work of my soul and cementing a foundation piece of my purpose made all the sacrifices worth it.

2017 was obviously not the year in which I sparkled across the board. It was, however, the year that I built a lighthouse, one that will keep on shining, providing me with a guide during the many storms that the coming years are sure to bring. I am at peace with the sacrifice and grateful for the light. Bring on 2018!

How about you? How would you grade your 2017? Open up your journal and ponder all of the various aspects of your life over the last year. Even before you dissect each one, how do you feel, generally speaking, as you sit here at the end of your year? Satisfied? Relieved? Stressed? Elated? Indifferent? If you had to describe your year in a word, what would it be? Okay, now look at the different areas of your life and build your report card. You can just go category by category, or you can start with all the good or all the bad. How was 2017 for your job and career path? Closely related to that, how was it for your finances? Better or worse than your expectations? Why? Did it have more to do with things under your control or out of your control? Did you remember that you are in charge of your attitude no matter what the circumstances were? How well did you choose that attitude? Okay, how about your friendships? Were you as good a friend as you want to be? Where can you do better? How about family? How happy were you with your relatives this year? Did you strike the right balance of time with them: enough to deepen your bonds, not so much to drive yourself crazy? How was your health and fitness this year? Did your body hold you back from doing things that you wanted to do? What grade would you give your spiritual life this year? How about your psychological state? Were you grateful? Did you feel connected? How much awe did you experience? Okay, big picture: how does your report card look? Do your scores in those main categories make it seem like a good year, or not so much? Now consider this: was there something else–some bigger event or accomplishment–that overshadowed the main categories and colored your view of the year, either for the good or the bad? Perhaps it was a major personal achievement that brightens the rest–like me with my book–or perhaps it is something like the death of a loved one, which darkens the rest. Now that you have considered the categories and graded your year in each, what grade would you give the year as a whole? Was it twelve months that you would gladly relive, or are you eager to move on? Leave me a reply and let me know: How does your report card for 2017 look?

Make each moment count,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. Let’s make LIFE together!

P.P.S. You can find my new book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at http://www.amazon.com/author/williamrutten and many of your other favorite booksellers, including barnesandnoble.com and iBooks.

The Happy Place: Where are your fondest memories?

“The past beats inside me like a second heart.” –John Banville, The Sea

Hello friend,

Have you ever had that day when your whole system is simply flooded with memories? You know the day: when every turn of your head reveals yet another precious ghost from a golden time in your life. Have you had that day? I had it just last week.   I think I am still floating there.

My Dad’s birthday was coming, and it just happened to coincide with my kids having a couple of days off of school. So, my siblings and I decided to make the most and venture back to our hometown and the house where we all grew up to celebrate my old man and bask in that rare and precious gift that is time together.

After school on Wednesday, my kids and I loaded up the car and headed across the endless prairie, finally turning into the old cul-de-sac in the midnight hour. We awoke in the morning to the sun shining and the sound of my nieces and nephew playing. It was going to be that kind of a day.

Amidst the morning hum of excitement of all the little ones being together, my sister was the one who instigated the nostalgia-filled day by plopping down on the floor in the middle of the great room with several boxes of old pictures from our own childhood days, when we were the age that our kids are now. Of course, I was sucked in immediately.

The first thing that jumped out at me from the photos was all of the physical things—the changes to my house, my neighborhood, and the people in the photos.

I marveled at the vegetation! When we built the house when I was three, the neighborhood was new and bordered farmland. We had a big yard with a wide parkland behind it between us and the next “addition” of our neighborhood, with a series of ponds connected by a stream splitting the grassy expanse. We had so much space to play! One year we turned the parkland into a multi-hole golf course. The photos showed me why: it was so bare and treeless when I was a kid, both my yard and the park. The pond directly behind my backyard was wide open for us to swim or skate, depending upon the season. Now it is socked in with cattails and lined with trees on one side. Our long, flat yard was the home of most neighborhood games, and the football endzones were between two trees on one end (a bird bath and a tree at the other). Now those trees span the entire width, leaving no room to throw the ball through. Those photos brought it all back, though: the golf, the swimming, the skating, the daily games of football or Capture the Flag or Kick the Can, and the view across the park to my buddy Red’s house, just a quick run across the old red bridge that no longer exists. So many vivid images, so many smiles.

I had a good laugh at how my house—I still call it my house—has changed through the years of photos, too. The linoleum floor made to look like bricks in the kitchen. The spectacular red carpets and wallpaper (so much wallpaper!). The gold sofa that lived for generations in different rooms. The original microwave (which we saved and actually had to use on this trip when the modern one broke!).

Of course, all of the changes in the people and the blasts from the past kept a grin plastered across my face the entire time. There was “the ugly phase” that we all took a turn at, usually in early adolescence. There were the mullets, the wonky glasses, the splendidly awful fashion choices. We did it all!   And there were all of the old friends and cousins, most of whom I have not seen in decades but all whose photos made me smile and laugh. You know, like the shots of my birthday parties, where we would always have the challenge to eat all of our cake—angel food with raspberry sauce–and ice cream without hands.

I messaged a couple of the photos to a few of the old friends, but mostly I lamented that I have lost touch with almost everyone. Still, I was reminded of what a glorious childhood I had, filled with amazing friends and so much family. There in the house that I grew up in—the center of the Universe, it seemed as a kid—those photos had nostalgia coursing through my veins by mid-morning.

I got up from the photos to venture out to the yard to enjoy the children. They had already hooked up with the kids next door—nieces to the very kids I grew up with—and were playing kickball in the yard where I played so many neighborhood baseball games when I was their age. I grabbed my daughter and walked her over to show her the dry stream bed that I crossed every Summer day to get to the tennis courts that were always my happy place. I was a little emotional sharing the memory with her. How do you adequately convey to someone that they are walking right in the footprints of your happiness?

After lunch, we all walked on the road over to those tennis courts. On the way, my sister and I marveled at “the big hill” of our neighborhood, the one that was so big and daunting that we dreaded the thought of climbing it and usually ended up pushing our bikes up. It reminded me of the time when a neighbor kid and I sat sideways on our skateboards with our feet on the other guy’s board and rode down that hill in what I was sure would be the most dangerous feat of my lifetime. My sister and I laughed at how tame that little rise looks now. Perspective.

We arrived at the tennis courts, the site of so many memories and countless hours. Each Summer day, my brothers, neighbor boys, and I would cross the stream and play for hours and hours. I remember nights playing until it was so dark that we couldn’t see the ball until it almost hit us in the face. I thought of all the battles we had. I thought of old Mrs. Wade, who lived across from the courts, hanging out in her garden just in case anyone swore. I laughed at the thought of the Ovind boys, a couple of older, hockey-playing brothers from the other side of the neighborhood who would show up once in a while with their racquets and shout swear words and insults at each other all the way through their grudge match, drawing the ire of old Mrs. Wade. Ha!

I remember meeting another little kid from the other side of the neighborhood there one day. He had called me to arrange a match, and when he showed up, he had the fanciest racquets I had ever seen. I was in awe, as I had just graduated from my wooden racquet to my Mom’s metal one, and his were “boron” (the equivalent of gold, as far as I knew). He talked like he was a pro, too, since he played in real tournaments already. I was completely intimidated by his wealth and experience. Still, I kicked his butt, and he acted like a spoiled brat the whole time, throwing his racquets and screaming enough to get Mrs. Wade outside for a warning glare. I would never have believed that that same punk, about a dozen years later, would become my best friend for life. Life is so weird! Beautiful, but so very weird.

That tennis court is grown over with weeds now, and the neighborhood has built a playground on half of it. Still, the fences are there, and as I sat there on the bench looking out across the old court (and on to Mrs. Wade’s house—she is still there!), I was nearly overwhelmed by all that was flooding my heart and mind. How does a kid from frigid, windswept North Dakota find his home on a tennis court? Sitting there last week, I was so wildly grateful that I did. I was on the verge of tears, but for some reason I laughed instead. Happy tears.

Though it was late in Autumn, the day was unusually warm, giving me the rare gift of a flood of Summertime memories. I don’t get back to my hometown in the Summer anymore—usually just Christmas—so perhaps the avalanche of memories was due to a backlog of Summer images just waiting to be released. Whatever the case, I loved it.

We picked some apples at an old family friend’s house by the tennis courts, then walked home and played basketball in the cul-de-sac where I learned to ride a bike (and later broke my arm falling off a bike while trying a foolish trick).

It was still a balmy, glorious late afternoon when I escaped the crowd and set up my portable hammock in the corner of the backyard, hitched to the tree that marked a corner of the old endzone, the spot of my very first career dreams: the future John Stallworth or Lynn Swann for the Pittsburgh Steelers. As I lay there and tried to write in my journal, I kept being distracted by my surroundings. Literally everywhere I turned, a new wellspring of memories flooded my system. I could name who once lived in every house across the park, all the games I had played in the backyard, all the times I had thud-thudded across that old red bridge with my sleeping bag under my arm on the way to Red’s house for a sleepover.

Everything. I remembered it all.

“I have so many emotions swimming around inside of me,” I wrote that afternoon. “It feels that way, too, like my stomach is being used as a pool and the memories and emotions are literally swimming around in there. It is all a lot to process. It knocks me off-center a bit.”

I suppose it is good to be shaken in that way from time to time. As often as I dispense advice about being present and living in the moment, I realize that some of best present moments involve looking back at past moments and having a good belly laugh or a contented grin. Maybe even a good cry.

So I let myself swim. I admit: I am hopelessly nostalgic when the moment sneaks up on me. Often, the memories come to me unbidden, usually when something in a journal entry sparks a happy thought. What I learned last week, though, was that to get the full effect, to be truly flooded with the memory, I need to go to the source. I am just grateful I still have a room there!

How about you? Which places in your world spark the fondest memories? Open up your journal and wander through the settings of your life story. Which spots hold the most memories for you? Your childhood home? A grandparent’s house? Your school? A Summer camp or lake cabin? A park or sports field or theatre where you spent lots of time? A workplace? A vacation spot? A whole town? What about those places draws out so many memories? Is it just that you spent a lot of time there, or was it something special that you did there or the special people attached to the memories? Do your best memories come from the place you spent the most time? Who are the people in your favorite memories? Are they still in your life or just in your memory? How about the place itself? Is the place of your favorite memories a place that you can still return to? When was the last time you were there? When you are there, do the memories come flooding back to you in an overwhelming way? Do you try to take it all in and let it affect you? How nostalgic are you? How much effort do you make to visit places that hold good memories for you? Is there one place in particular that you have never been back to that you would most like to visit again simply for the rekindling of memories? Are you good at going places in your mind and feeling the full effect, or do you need to really be there to relive your best memories well? Leave me a reply and let me know: Where is the place of your favorite memories?

Light up the place where you are,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. And share your memories. Tell your story. It is the best way I know to build bridges across difference.

The Belated Summer Reading List

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.” –William Styron

Hello friend,

You know those Summer Reading Lists you see in the magazines and on websites around Memorial Day? I love those lists! You know the ones: they assume you have unlimited time in the Summer, so they tell you all the cool books to read by the beach or pool as you chill your way through the season. They give you some hot new authors and some literary giants, some fiction and some nonfiction. Everyone has one of these lists: Oprah, Amazon, Goodreads, The Washington Post, PBS, you name it. They always get me so excited about my favorite thing: books!

Well, I am sorry to say that you will not find one of those great Summer Book Lists on this page next May!

I have never been one to plan my reading. I go by intuition. When I finish one book, I just scour the shelves and the lists and choose the one that feels right to me. Before I look, I cannot tell you if I will be choosing a title in Teen Fiction, New Age, Classics, Self-Help, History, Humor, or Memoir. I find something to love in all of them as long as I trust my gut in the choosing.

So, my apologies for not providing you with yet another prescription for your Summer reading. Because guess what: September is here, and Autumn is knocking!

Thus, the best I can do for you is to tell you about all the great stuff I read over the Summer. Like the usual lists, I have a mix of genres for you and a mix of authors new and old. So, lets get started!

I came into the Summer reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. I had seen the movie years ago when it came out, not knowing it had been a book. Thankfully, though, by the time I got around to the book, I had no recollection of the movie, except a few of the stunning visual images. I always enjoy a book that has something of the spiritual woven into the story, so this was a good start to my Summer reading. It also helped that much of it took place in hot climates and on the water, which put my mind in the right spot for the season.

Alongside my personal reading, I also read every night at bedtime with my daughter, who just turned nine during the course of the Summer. Our very first book of the season was Roald Dahl’s Matilda, which was fun. We then moved into the complex web of people and places in Middle Earth with J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings. The book is enormous and not exactly in my genre wheelhouse, so I was relieved when we finished the second of the six “books” in the book—enough to get us through what would have been the first of the three movies—and my daughter decided we should move on to something different. Maybe some day we will return for the rest. It won’t bother me if we don’t.

The next book for me was James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain. I had recently watched the magnificent and moving documentary about Baldwin, “I Am Not Your Negro”, and was eager to get into his writing. I knew he was famous for his nonfiction essays and his fiction, and though I figured the nonfiction would be just my speed—I was drawn to The Fire Next Time–I decided on this more famous novel. I should have gone with my gut. Though I certainly appreciated his writing and very much liked certain chapters, the subject matter just didn’t hold me very well. I was ready for something new.

It was not lost on me that perhaps I was striking out because I was trying out novels. Though I enjoy all genres, my go-to areas tend to be autobiographies and nonfiction (self-help, spiritual, or anything that expands my knowledge). I generally spread out my fiction attempts.   For whatever reason, though, I was in the mood for more fiction.

After these misses and with my determination to find a novel that I loved, I was beginning to wonder if my Summer reading was going to be a giant FAIL. How wrong I was!

It was just at that moment of doubt that I struck literary gold (er, purple). It was Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. I had seen the film version many years before—it is my wife’s favorite movie—but had forgotten most of it (which I always think is a godsend). It was brilliant on so many fronts and I was completely moved by the story and the complications of social injustice. It is a true masterpiece for any season.

I thank Alice Walker for starting my Summer hot streak, because I came into some wonderful words after that one. I always love when someone gives me a book, because I know it is, quite literally, meant for me. So it was with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, a book about keeping curiosity and artistic expression in your life forever. I don’t know if everyone would connect to this book, but I surely did. It helped me to put my writing habit/passion into perspective with my bigger life. Truly, it changed my thinking. Behold, the power of books!

As I read that one, I also started a novel recommended to me by my teenage nieces: Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay For Now. It may have taken me a couple of chapters to warm up to it, but then I was in. It is books like that one (probably aimed at early teens) and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars (both categorized as Teen Fiction) that prove to me that “great books for kids” are truly great books for adults. I will read Okay For Now with my daughter in a couple years, no doubt.

Speaking of my daughter, we moved from The Lord of the Rings to Island of the Blue Dolphins. It was interesting, not mind-blowing. Then we went to the Deep South with perhaps America’s signature novel, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. I had last read it in high school and—surprise, surprise—had forgotten what the story was all about. Though we both liked it, in hindsight I would have also waited a couple more years to read this one with her. It forced some discussions that would be better suited for the light of day rather than in a dark room at bedtime. But still, a great book.

While that was going on, I was engrossed in an absolute gem of a book, Between the World and Me. Written in the form of a letter from the author, Ta-Nehisi Coates, to his teenage son, this book is simultaneously enlightening and devastatingly sad. And the quality of the writing is unparalleled. It is an essential read for anyone trying to deepen their empathy, and particularly trying to understand what it feels like to be a Black man in America. It gripped me completely and remains with me weeks later.

So grateful for this beautiful stretch of reading, I moved into the final days of Summer with three of my pet topics: death, religion/spirituality, and the Holocaust.

My niece, also a student of religions, gave me a copy of Peter Rollins’s The Orthodox Heretic, a book of modern parables and commentary. It touches on a topic that often riles me up, which is the incongruity between the teachings of Jesus and the actions of his followers. I am plodding slowly through this one and am only halfway there, but I quite like all of the things it stirs in me. It is wonderful fodder for journal entries.

I happen to have a perhaps-unhealthy fascination (maybe obsession) with death, especially “premature” death and how to come to grips with it. With that, I selected Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, which tracked the strange tricks her mind played on her in the year following her husband’s sudden death. I came away with more empathy for those who have lost loved ones and a greater understanding of the enormous power, longevity, and unpredictability of grief.

Staying with the Death theme, I moved to Tell My Sons, by Lt. Col. Mark M. Weber. I was drawn to it because it was written as a letter of advice and guidance from a father who was dying of cancer to his three sons. That is the kind of thing I imagine myself doing if such a dreadful diagnosis arrives at my doorstep. I am still in the middle of it, but it has already led to lots of morbid daydreaming.

The last book on my Summer list, which I will finish today, is Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry. I am reading it with my daughter, as the protagonist is a girl only a year older, whose family is helping their friends, a Jewish family, to escape the Nazis during World War II. It is well done, another “kid book” that is appropriate for adults.

That’s it! That was my Summer of Reading! Well, of course, I read hundreds of articles to keep me informed on the madness that is our world today, too, but I love the books so much more. I learned from each one and would recommend each (but to different people). If you made me choose the ones that impressed me the most, I would go with The Color Purple and Between the World and Me, for both their ideas and the quality of the writing.

I don’t know why I chose so many fiction titles—nine of the fourteen—compared to my usual pace. Perhaps it was the spirit of the season, the way those Summer Book List articles glamorize the “page-turner” novels as poolside reads. I don’t regret it, though. It was fun! I don’t have a clue as to what I will read and suggest to you for next Summer. Tell you what: I’ll let you know next Fall!

How about you? What have you been reading all Summer? Open up your journal and make a timeline and some book reports. What is on your list? Did you read mostly fiction or nonfiction? Is that normal for you? How did you decide what to read? Did you take any recommendations from the “Hot Books for Summer” lists from the magazines or websites? Did you use your social media community? I always love when I see a post where one of my friends asks for book recommendations, because I then scour the Comments section for ideas. Did any of your books open your eyes to the way other people live and see the world—The Color Purple and Between the World and Me did this for me—or change the way you look at the big things in your normal life, like Big Magic did for me? What else did your Summer books do for you? Give you an escape? Teach you a new skill or idea? Remind you of what is important? Make you treat yourself better? Make you treat others better? Frighten you? Inspire you?  Which will you recommend the most?  Which is your favorite?  Aren’t books just totally amazing??? I love them! Is there something different about Summer reading? Leave me a reply and let me know: What is on your Summer Reading List?

Live a thousand lives,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. Let’s get our lists together!

The Best Day Of Summer

“This is a wonderful day, I have never seen this one before.” –Maya Angelou

Hello friend,

This week’s Back-To-School photos on Facebook marked the first sign of the end of my favorite season. Though I am always tickled to see all of those smiling faces looking so much older than the same photos last year, mostly I hate the accompanying thought that my precious days of Summer Bliss are almost gone.

But, since my kids don’t start until after Labor Day, I try to remain in denial. There are still a handful of “Summer things” I hope to do with them, and in my mind, there is still time to make it happen. Honestly, though, I can feel the tick-ticking of the Summer clock winding down and, with it, a rise in my panic level.

It is tough to keep the anxious thoughts at bay: Were we at the lake enough? Did we do enough new stuff? Did we see enough family? Have we had enough adventures? Did we get enough exercise? Have we done enough quintessentially Summer things, like swaying in the hammock or roasting marshmallows? Have we connected enough with Mother Nature? Have we connected enough with each other?  

But the question that intrudes most into my consciousness as my season closes is this: Did I often enough feel that combination of true Bliss and Gratitude that comes in those magical moments that cause me to note, with a smile plastered across my face, “THIS is what it’s all about!”?  

Luckily, just as the panic of that question was about to set in, I happened to stumble upon a WHOLE DAY like that last weekend, just in time to improve my grades on Summer’s report card. It is amazing how one day can transform a world!

We had driven to my sister’s family cabin late Thursday, arriving amidst a cold, howling wind in the black of a backwoods night. Hoping for a hot Summer weekend at the lake, prospects were not looking good when Friday remained dark and windy. I used the day to get my bearings, catch up with my sister, and find the most comfortable spots to read and write. It was good company and a treat to be by the water, but I longed to engage with it they way I can only do in warmth and sunshine. I was wanting.

Ah, but then Saturday came around, and I wanted no more.

I opened the bedroom door in the morning and was greeted by the most wonderful light. My sister’s cabin has wall-to-wall windows on the lake side, and that light was an almost overwhelming beauty each morning. Like stepping into a healing bath of Divine Grace. I was instantly happy and full of a Peace that would linger all the day through.

After an amazing breakfast of homemade waffles with vanilla pudding and raspberries on top—trust me, this little family recipe of my brother-in-law’s is a delight—I convinced my wife to go out on the double kayak with me. Not much of an outdoor adventurer or risk-taker by nature, my wife’s acceptance of such an invitation was a treat all by itself. And when we got out on the calm lake with nothing but blue sky above us and the pine trees towering over the little cabins on all horizons, I was blissfully in my element. They only allow motorized wakes on their lake between eleven and three, so the quiet of the morning only amplified the beauty and serenity of the scene. As we paddled around the perimeter of the little lake, I noticed my grin and the sense of abundance and contentment welling up inside me. I was already oozing gratitude.

By the time we returned from our kayak ride, the sun was just warm enough to call for a swim, and my son was waiting for me on the shore so we could go together. He did flips and tricks off my shoulders, alternating turns with his cousins jumping off me into the refreshing water. Soon it was eleven o’clock, and the kids were ready to tube. I watched and took pictures from the boat as they giggled their way around the lake at top speed. I remembered the bonds I made at their age playing with my own cousins at a different lake, and how fondly I still remember those days and those special people. I was so pleased to be passing on that priceless gift to my kids.

After lunch on the balcony overlooking the lake, I got to get back in the water to help my daughter learn how to waterski, which again brought back so many memories of my youth. Some technical difficulties caused us to abandon the job, but since I was already wet, I joined the kids on their next tube ride around the lake. Though I am probably “too old” for that sort of thing, the exhilaration of the speed—and the crash–was an unadulterated joy for my still-young heart.

Following tubing and the noise of all of the ski boats, I was relieved at the quiet of mid-afternoon. I grabbed a floaty from the boathouse and floated lazily as I watched the kids play Whiffle-ball on the beach. Then I hopped on a single kayak and paddled out to watch a little sailboat race in the middle of the lake. On such a small lake, with all of the boats parked in the middle watching the sails gliding smoothly across the water, it felt like a regular small-town gathering. So intimate and quaint. I felt completely at ease. No threats, no worries. Just peace.

Riding the serenity of my solo kayak voyage, I came ashore to find the kids eager to get back in the water. With quiet hours in full swing on the lake, they opted for “slow tubing,” a delightful little cruise around the lake, with the pontoon dragging the tube and a knee board on separate ropes. The kids dove off the tube and board at their whim and hung onto the rope as we chugged along at a snail’s pace. They were having an absolute blast as we chatted on the boat, and soon I was feeling like they were getting the better of the deal. Off came my shirt and sunglasses, and I dove in to join in the kid fun as the boat trolled on. It was fantastic—exhilarating and soothing all at once.

As we pulled into the dock, my kids asked me if I would take them out on the double kayak. Nothing would please me more, I was thinking. Off we went, and soon their cousins joined us in the middle on two kid kayaks. It was that time of day when the sun is sinking and everything is colored in the most beautiful light. There was water, the beauty of Mother Nature, and the magic of children. That is my kind of paradise!

We returned to the cabin for a sunset dinner on the veranda before strolling down to the fire pit by the beach to roast marshmallows and make s’mores. Those marshmallows had been waiting too long on my Summer To-Do List, and they were heavenly!

That was all warm-up, though, for the grand finale: star-gazing! This may seem like nothing to you, but I can’t tell you how long it has been since I sat out under a clear sky at night away from the lights of a city. Years! I was absolutely mesmerized by the clarity and endlessness of it. Even better was seeing my kids get a big thrill at seeing the Big Dipper and North Star. We were thoroughly amazed by the magnificence of it all.

Though it was definitely bedtime for my body, my mind was on fire with wonder and gratitude. I hated to look away from the night sky. But as I said goodnight to the kids and lay my head down on my pillow, the visions left over in my mind from all I had basked in that day were enough to carry me smiling into dreamland.

From the moment I rose in the morning to the moment I drifted off to sleep, that day was one for the ages. There was no one thing that made it so. It definitely wasn’t some blockbuster event or moment. No, it was a million little things. It was all these perfect, can’t-stop-grinning moments in succession set in my kind of place with my kind of people. It was the small size of the lake, its restricted speed boat hours, and the resulting intimacy that made everything feel so quaint and low-key. It was the middle-of-nowhere sense of where we were, and the feeling of endless beautiful forest around us. Reinforcing that feeling was the fact that we had no cellular or Wifi service, so we were totally disconnected from the chaos and foolishness that defines America lately. It was certainly the water, which always woos me. It was the company: my wife and kids and my sister’s family, all who are very dear to me and don’t do much to push my many buttons. It was also clearly the atmosphere that my sister sets at her place, too: no set schedule or expectations for joining activities, easy meals, no obsession with neatness, just be kind and enjoy yourself. It was seeing the world of my wife and kids expand: new place, new activities, a new adventure. I always love being a part of that. It was nostalgia. And finally, it was that priceless and indescribable sense of enchantment I experience amidst certain settings or activities: the glassy water, the night sky, campfire, eating a roasted marshmallow right off the stick. These are things that fill me with the kind of tingles that I can only translate as a big thumbs-up from my soul, letting me know it is being taken care of.

Saturday felt like an entire day of those tingles. I think of it now, and this grin that cannot be wiped from my face tells me that it was surely my best day of the Summer.

How about you? What was your best day of the Summer? Open up your journal and your mind and walk yourself through those special moments. Which day was it? Does the exact date come immediately to mind? What was it about that day that makes it stand out from all the rest? Was it anchored by a big event (e.g. a concert, family reunion, vacation, or party) that defined the day, or was it quite unspectacular on the surface? Which people were involved in your best day? Are those people regulars in your list of favorite days from other seasons and years? Was it the people that made it the best day? Had you looked forward to that specific day for a long time, or did it sneak up on you like mine did? How early in the day did you know that you were a part of something special? How big of a role did the setting play? Was it a regular spot for you (e.g. your home) or somewhere new? Did food play a role? How about activity? Was it more about what you were doing or how you were feeling or being? How do you think the day rated for the other people who were involved in it? Was it fantastic for everyone, or maybe just an ordinary day for some? Did you talk about how contented or joyous you were at the time, or did you keep it to yourself? Could you create that same type of experience again, or was this a one-shot deal for which everything just fell into place perfectly? What is it about that day that you could put more of into your normal days? Does your best day make you smile just thinking about it? I hope so. Leave me a reply and let me know: What was your best day of the Summer?

Savor your moments,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please pass it on. Let’s celebrate our lives!

The Dream Summer Road Trip

Hello friend,

“To travel is to live.” –Hans Christian Andersen

My sister sent me a photo this week, and my mind was instantly transported back in time.

It was the Summer of 1993. I was 21 years old, and my best buddy Johnny and I were embarking on a grand adventure. He had a blue Chevy Blazer—“The B”—and we packed that thing to the gills! We pictured ourselves as these rugged outdoorsmen, ready to sleep with the animals, catch our meals, and tear up all the trails of the great Rocky Mountains. The truth is that we were complete amateurs at everything and thus basically packed every item we owned into that car–you know, just in case—so that there wasn’t an inch of space left anywhere, including on my feet and lap. Camping gear, fishing gear, groceries, cooler, big garbage bags full of clothes, and a sweet, old-school camera that belonged to John’s old man (we thought we would become a couple of modern-day Ansel Adamses). Oh yeah, and our bikes on the back. You might have thought we were leaving for a year. We figured a few weeks.

As any two fools would, we set off on our eleven-hour first leg of the trip around ten o’clock at night. It was a narrow, two-lane highway across the pitch-black night of the empty prairie, lined with occasional white crosses where people had gone off the road and died, which served as not-so-subtle reminders to stay awake. There was no one out there but us, but our souls were on fire with visions of the mountains as we made our way through the night powered by Mountain Dew and Chicago’s “Greatest Hits 1982-1989” album. A couple of flatlanders headed for the high country.

In life, there are a small handful of exquisite moments when you are on the cusp of something truly game-changing. Something deep inside you is doing cartwheels because it knows that what you are about to experience is so special that you will never look at the world the same way again. Driving West across the black emptiness that night, I knew I was in the midst of one of those moments.

Those next few weeks were pure Bliss for me. I felt so much like a kid in a candy store every second of the day. Glacier National Park was our first and most-dreamed-about destination. Though I had skied every year in Montana when I was a kid, Glacier was like nothing I had ever seen before. The sheer majesty of the place was absolutely heart-stopping. I felt drunk as I climbed the steep trails, jumped across boulders in the middle of the rushing streams, and dipped my feet into the icy-cold, crystalline waters of the mountain lakes. I had found my Paradise.

It pained my heart to leave Glacier after those dream-like days of exploring, but I was buoyed by thoughts of all the unexplored miles ahead of us. We were just getting started! In the days that followed, we made our way through Western Montana and down to the shores of the Madison River, where my brother happened to be living in a tent for the Summer. He schooled us in the beauty of fly-fishing for a few days and led us up a crazy trail on our mountain bikes. After that, we headed South through the jagged Tetons and on down to the Great Salt Lake in Utah, where my other brother lived (not in a tent). Then it was time to turn back North and start for home.

On our last night on the road, again in the dark of night, we pulled into a remote Forest Service campground on one end of the Beartooth Highway outside of Yellowstone. The rain was pouring too hard to even attempt to get out and set up the tent, so we laughed at our luck and stayed right there in our seats for the rest of the night, because, as I mentioned, there was not even a hint of open space in the car, not even to recline our seats. It was a short, uncomfortable night, and we pulled out of our spot at first light to climb the Beartooth Pass, one of the most beautiful drives anywhere in the wide world. At the other end of the pass, all that was left was the last nine or ten hours to home.

It was truly one of those epic, journey-of-a-lifetime kind of deals: adventure, bonding with friends and family, and episodes both touching and silly, all set against a backdrop of Mother Nature’s most spectacular beauty. It was the best of times.

So, when my sister sent me a photo a couple days ago of her passing through Glacier National Park with her family, the memories came flooding back. It reminded me of all of the great Summer roadtrips I used to take out there. After that first trip 24 years ago, so enchanted was I that I made a point of getting to Glacier every Summer for several years in a row. It always left me completely spellbound.

Then my life changed. I moved further away and took on more commitments. I hate to admit how many years it been since I have been to my Glacier, or even to any of the mountains of the glorious Western range. So many years.

What my sister’s photo produced, in addition to the glow from thoughts of those halcyon days, was a fantasy of another epic trip to the mountains and open spaces of the American West. And the road.  

As much as I would love to do it again with my old buddy Johnny—and he would be up for it—and as much as I bask in a solo adventure, my life these days is about building wonderful memories for my kids and expanding their view of the world. So, this time anyway, this fantasy is a family road trip.

Here’s how I see it. We load up the car—though, maybe since it’s a fantasy, we say it’s a small RV–with camping gear and cool beverages and venture the two longest, least scenic days of the trip across our Minnesota, North Dakota (spending the night at my old house so it is just like leaving on my trip with Johnny), and Eastern Montana. We spend a day in Lewistown, Montana with my brother’s family. From there, we go straight for Glacier, where we spend a few days hiking in my Paradise and driving the Going To The Sun Road, stopping at all the scenic lookouts and taking in the bears, mountain goats, and big horn sheep. We may even give my wife a break from the tent and stay at the Lake McDonald Lodge.

Fully refreshed and invigorated from Glacier, we will head South through the Flathead Valley, through Missoula, and down through the Bitterroot National Forest into Idaho along the Salmon River. We will cut West across the Boise National Forest and into the middle of Oregon, turning South at Bend and through the forest to Crater Lake and beyond.

Leaving Oregon, we will come into all new territory for me (I have done the California coast, but never the Sierra Nevadas). We will travel inland through the many National Forests of Northern California before hitting the big National Parks: Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia, finally cutting across Death Valley and zipping past Las Vegas on our way to the Grand Canyon.

From the Grand Canyon, we will turn back North to check out the National Parks of Utah: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches.

By that point, I will be in serious need of seeing big trees again, so we will drive a little faster North through Utah and back into Idaho, veering slightly Northeast toward Jackson, Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park. Grand Teton is connected to Yellowstone, the oldest National Park in the world. We will spend a couple of days in that geological playground before getting on that same Beartooth Highway that Johnny and I took all those years ago. But instead of heading for North Dakota this time, we will turn back Southeast out of Montana, through Northeast Wyoming, and into the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota, where we will check out Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse carved into the hillsides. And from there, it is a mere 600 miles straight back home.

Boom!

Now, I realize that would get to be a pretty long trip (I am guessing a solid four weeks). I only know a few people who vacation for that long, and I am not one of them anymore. I have a shorter, smaller/“realistic” fantasy, though. In this case, I would start the same way through Glacier, but instead of leaving for Idaho and the West Coast from the Bitterroot Valley, I would work back toward Yellowstone, then hit Mount Rushmore on the way home. That could easily be done in less than two weeks. We would see a ton of beautiful country and make memories that would last a lifetime. I am grinning from ear to ear just thinking about it!

How about you? What does your dream Summer road trip look like? Open up your journal, your road atlas, and your Google Maps and start plotting the route. What part of the country comes immediately to your mind? What gives that area such a spark for you? Is it a famous landmark? A happy personal memory? Somewhere you have always wondered about? Somewhere a friend recommended? Is your fantasy trip to one main spot or a multi-spot journey like mine? How long will your trip take? Could you imagine moving to a spot on your trip? Have you been on this trip before? If so, how long ago was it? Who would you take along, if anyone? Who has been your favorite road trip partner in the past? What makes a good road companion? Does the vision of a long road trip stir the same type of romantic notions in you that it does in me, or are you more like, “Just fly me to my destination as quickly as possible.”? What would an adventure like this mean to you? Describe your most epic road adventure to date. How does your fantasy trip compare? How likely are you to take this dream drive? How soon can you make it happen? Leave me a reply and let me know: What is the itinerary for your dream Summer road trip?

Grow your world,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, pass it on. Happy trails!

Other People’s Children (And Other Things I Can’t Stand)

“It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.” –Roald Dahl, Matilda 

Hello friend,

It is VERY easy for me to see why people who don’t have kids look at the other schmucks, like me, parenting and think how unappealing (maybe even awful) it seems.

You know what I mean? Say you don’t have kids, and you get together with these family folks occasionally. The only time you might notice the kids (unless you are really into kids) is when they are getting scolded or needing their diaper changed or spilling on your clothes or breaking your electronics or screaming or crying or swallowing your loose change and trinkets. And you think to yourself, “That looks like CONSTANT WORK! And NOT fun. And these poor suckers are stuck with these kids for like 20 YEARS!” And it all just seems so other-focused. Your “own time” falls away, and you can’t do whatever you want all the time.

I can see how this looks like a bad gig. The truth, however—and this is something you only learn by having them—is that the appearances were almost completely wrong.

Sure, parenting is totally exhausting and often frustrating, but it is also infinitely rewarding, soul-stirring, and heart-filling. And once you have your own kids, you are thinking, “This feels like CONSTANT LOVE! And SO fun. And I get them FOREVER!” 

It actually comes to be seen by the parent as a rather one-sided trade: “All I had to give up was some ‘freedom’ (which I wasn’t actually using very well) for a lifetime of love and connection, of family. That’s a steal!” 

At least that is sort of how it worked for me. Sort of.

I never wanted kids. Though I always liked hanging out with the kids rather than the parents at family gatherings and other social events, I never imagined having any of my own. I think it was because I never imagined myself “settling down” and getting married. If I wasn’t ever getting married, I surely was not ever having kids.

I never really had the “Those poor suckers…” thoughts about parents, though. I guess I never realized how challenging it is, so I never felt bad for them. The parents I knew seemed happy to be doing it, but like I said, I knew it wasn’t going to be for me. The path I imagined for myself was much, much different.

Of course, you know how that turned out! It’s amazing what meeting an amazing woman can do to shake up a world and a plan. Once I finally surrendered to the idea of becoming a husband, it was a given that I was also going to be a father. It was a bargain I understood going in, and once I agreed, I was all-in. I knew my limit for kids was two, and that was not negotiable. But I was going to give those two kids every bit of my love, my time, and my patience.

And I have. It has been rewarding beyond anything I could have imagined and beyond anything I have the words to describe to you.

I know it sounds so condescending to people without kids—and I apologize for that–but I really think it is one of those things you cannot understand unless you go though it. Unless you have waited for that child to come into your life. Unless you have rocked that sick baby to sleep and fed her on your chest. Unless you have encouraged those first steps and held onto that bicycle seat until you knew he was ready for you to let go. Unless you have shared your ice cream cone and held her hand on her first steps into the ocean. Unless you have been the only one who can make him feel better when he gets hurt on the playground or scared by a nightmare. Unless you have heard those joyful squeals and seen those eyes filled with sheer delight as they run to you upon hearing you come through the door.

Without the accumulation of these moments and a million more just like them, I think it is difficult to understand. But that doesn’t matter. My point is the same: in return for making the difficult decision to give up my single and childless life, I got this little window with these few people to make an unfathomably beautiful brand of magic. And though I admit to occasional wistful thoughts about the old days of blissful solitude, I would not trade this beautiful window for anything.

Including more of it.

Earlier this year, I came home one day and my wife asked me if I was willing to adopt an orphaned baby whom she had heard about that day. “Not in a million years!” was my automatic reply. It took no thought, and even when I did think about it, my sentiment was exactly the same. No chance.

Then last week, I got two babies dumped on my doorstep along with all of the paraphernalia to raise them for a few days. I had known it was coming for a while, and “dread” is not too strong of a word to describe my anticipation of the weekend. The kids belonged to my brother-in-law: one was seven months old, the other two-and-a-half years. An infant and a toddler. Oi!

I could not begin to imagine what was inside my wife’s head when she agreed to babysit for multiple nights for such creatures. Whatever it was—saintliness or insanity–I was buried in babies for the duration of their stay. It was exhausting! Even though my kids are only a handful of years past that stage, how quickly I had forgotten how absolutely NONSTOP it is with babies and toddlers. Constant vigilance. Constant play. Constant laundry. Messes everywhere. It is a crazy lifestyle.

And even though I grumbled in my head about being volunteered for this duty, I had vowed to myself that I would not take that out on the children. I would be present and joyful and engaged. I was, too. We all had a good time.

But. (There just had to be a “but”.) But I could only stomach it knowing that it was all going to end in a couple of days. I can’t imagine actually parenting like that, half the time thinking two major thoughts: “I am too old for this!” and “When are they leaving?”

I thought about my brother-in-law, who had two kids when he was in his twenties with his first wife, raised them to teenagehood and certainly figured he was done, then divorced, married a younger woman, and now has a second pair of babies in his mid-forties. Is he not constantly muttering, “I am too old for this stuff!”? He is not the only person I know who has had two distinct rounds of kids, either married to the same spouse or a different one. I have seen some who seem to resent the younger ones—or at least resent the grind of raising them–and are less engaged than they could be because, in their heads, they were done with their duties after the first round of kids. That’s not good for anyone involved.

I guess you have to decide on your limit and your window for having kids, then dive in head-first and enjoy the exhausting-but-wildly-rewarding ride, and then just chill until grandparenthood comes along. Have you noticed how people love grandparenthood? I am quite sure I will be ready by that time to go all-in on my grandkids, if I am so blessed.

But babysitting? Especially multi-day babysitting? At this point, I am just not there. I have no patience for their demands, quirks, and messes, even if they are just a different version of my kids’ issues. Play dates are the same, and now especially that my daughter has begun sleepovers. It is just not in me. Grrr.

Maybe it is because I had to initially grapple with the idea of having my own kids in the first place before finally embracing the plan fully, but it feels like by going completely all-in with them, I have somehow reduced my tolerance for the challenges of other people’s children. I have to smile through my grinding teeth during certain play dates when the other kid is acting up, and I would be quick to pass on any babysitting opportunity. At the same time, I am still completely patient and engaged with my own kids’ development, including when they are acting up.

It’s like my window for all of this stuff was only so big, and I have already squeezed every inch of my kid tolerance into it with my own pair of rugrats. As I wrote into my journal on the final afternoon of babysitting, “Two days is about 1 ½ days too many.”

I hope my brother-in-law is thrilled with his life choice. It is plainly not for me, though. I will gleefully pilot my two kids all the way to adulthood, but there is definitely no Round Two in my future. See you in grandparenthood, friend! That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

How about you? How tolerant are you of other people’s children? Open up your journal and take yourself through your recent experiences with kids. How would you categorize your patience level with them? How closely related to you were they? Is your tolerance level directly proportional to how closely related you are to the children (or at least how much you care for their parents)? If you have kids of your own, do you find yourself to be pretty accepting of their quirks and issues? How much different is it with other kids? Are you more or less tolerant with other kids? In your most private moments, do you wish you had fewer kids than you do? More? If you could give your younger self advice on how many children to have in order to achieve the right balance for your personality, what is that number? How much does that number differ from your significant other’s number? Who compromised the most? Do the effects of that compromise ever show themselves –e.g. lack of patience—in interactions with the kids? Do you like babysitting? How open would you be to my situation of taking on an infant and a toddler for a few days? Could a child’s story be told to you that would be compelling enough to adopt a child(ren) or become a foster parent? Are there other things in life that you sign on for, accept all of the frustrations and issues that come with it, but have no tolerance for beyond what you signed up for? Pets? Yard work? I used to deal with tons of financial figures at an old job to the point that I could not so much as open a bill at home. Similarly, I worked for years in service industries and had to not only tolerate but smile through just about every level of human nonsense imaginable, and I think I hit my quota and have lost my lifetime’s allocation of tolerance for pettiness, narrow-mindedness, and superficiality. How is your tolerance for those? I just had a revelation! I think this is the foundation of me as a grumpy old man. In recent years I have come to much greater understanding about what I love and what serves my soul and my greater good. Along with that comes clarity about what doesn’t. I have no time and patience for those things anymore, and I imagine my impatience for them will only grow as I age and refine my tastes. Thus, the grumpy old man. What do you think? Do you tolerate less and less as you age? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are the limits of your patience?

Smile at Life,

William

P.S. If something in today’s letter hits home with you, I hope you will share it. Peace to you.