Friday, July 19, 2013

Many the Miles

            I’ve been thinking about marathons lately. I’ll explain why in a bit, but first to the brainstorming. I’ve realized that I’m no stranger to long races. I teach, after all, and the school year is nothing if not a marathon. Twelve months are condensed into ten, complete with opening-day jitters, ambitious autumn months, sluggish winter days, and a wall of fatigue that must be overcome to reach the spring homestretch. By the time June arrives, my colleagues and I are exhausted from running these many miles at a sprinter’s pace.
            I also follow baseball closely, and the ol’ ballgame is the marathon of team sports. A month and a half of spring training is followed by six months and 162 regular-season games, followed again by a month in which the championship team plays anywhere from 11 to 20 postseason games. When the season ends in late October, some players will have suited up for nearly 200 games of nine innings or more. Those of us who play and follow baseball have learned the importance of patience, both within a single game and within a long season.
            Beyond the game, I’m also married, and that ring I wear represents a marathon of a different sort. It’s one with challenges and joys I cannot anticipate, but which I also can’t navigate safely without being present, patient and passionately in love with my wife. There’s nothing more difficult than growing up with someone, but marriage is just that. We’re not the same couple we were in 1995, but it’s kind of amazing to look back and know that my wife and I have been running this race together for almost 18 years.
            The marathon of parenting is perhaps the most difficult of all, as you have less control over where that race goes. You give everything you have along the way, and sometimes it feels as if you’re running with the weight of the world (or at least a couple of kids) on your shoulders. And then, after all the miles of nurturing, you realize at a certain point that you must let go. You stay ready and willing to parent when needed, but you also realize that it’s time to step back and let them run free.
            Life itself, of course, is the grand marathon, the one we are running, walking, skipping or crawling through each day. This is the mystery race, as we don’t get to pick the distance. Perhaps it will be 88 years, as it was for my grandfather, who would have turned 95 today. Or perhaps it will be a much shorter 42 years, as it was for my dear childhood friend David Ross, who passed away on Monday. We get what we get in this life, and we hope we can spend it enriching the lives of others – which both my grandfather and David managed to do in abundance.
            I’m thinking in all these marathon metaphors because I’m running a literal marathon this year. I’m training for the New York City Marathon, which I have long dreamed of running. I’ll traverse the five boroughs on the first Sunday in November as part of the Arthritis Foundation’s marathon team. I’m using my race to raise money for this organization’s enormously important work. My mom has had rheumatoid arthritis for almost four decades – a marathon much more impressive than anything I’m doing. She’s kept her spirits high and inspired others during her race, so the least I can do is jog for a few hours in honor of her.
            We try, as we move along this road of life, to make meaningful connections before we reach the finish line. It’s what makes it all worthwhile, from the grueling stretches to the steady miles to the moments of euphoria. In the spirit of marathons, life and connections, I’m going to take a moment to share with you the link to my marathon page. If you’d like to make a donation to the Arthritis Foundation, you can do so there – and if you do, I thank you so much. Meanwhile, let me hit the road again, and let us all continue the many marathons of life.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Parenting from the '80s

When my daughters heard that I had changed my ringtone to the opening bars of a-ha’s song “Take on Me,” they didn’t look at me quizzically, nor did they groan or shake their heads. They just nodded, and the older one sang along.

I am a child of the ‘80s, and there is nothing that can change that. The fact that I chose a 1985 pop song by a Norwegian trio for my cell phone is not something I’m actively choosing – it’s more a part of the fabric of who I am. From parachute pants to Cosby Show re-runs to Back to the Future films, I am forever attached to the decade of my coming of age.

My girls know this, and they live with it. They know that I don’t love every movie, song or TV show from the ‘80s, but they know that I like more movies and songs and pop culture tidbits from that decade than I do any other. It’s as much a part of me as my affection for the Yankees, New York City or pizza; I grew up with it, and it helped define me.

When it comes to the business of parenting, I have learned that it’s best to use what you’ve got in your arsenal of experience, as you never know what your kids are going to present to you each day. I’ve got a treasure trove of 1980s pop-culture nonsense swimming around in my head, so I figure it’s best to use the stuff as best I can when raising my daughters.

So, without further adieu, I present to you my own top-10 list of advice from parent to child, straight out of the 1980s. Enjoy.

        1.    “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” - Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: Girls, there will be so many days in your life when you’re tempted to check off the items on your to-do list. But true joy and fulfillment comes with living in the moment. At the end of your days, you will savor those memories far more than you will the countless errands and chores you’ve completed. I’m not saying you should cut school, as Matthew Broderick’s Ferris does in the 1986 film. But look out for all the ways you can savor the world around you.

        2.    “I wanna be the one to walk in the sun.” – Cyndi Lauper, Girls Just Want to Have Fun. The clouds are always out there somewhere, and you can always feel as though your days have been marred by challenges beyond your control. But if you’re actively seeking joy, you can find a way to bring the sun into your life, no matter what’s going on around you. It’s not easy, but if you want it badly enough, happiness is always within reach.

        3.    “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” – Back to the Future. When Christopher Lloyd uttered these infamous lines at the end of this classic film, the tires of his car folded up and the car soared in the air, into the 21st century. Nearly 30 years later, there are no flying cars yet in our world. But there are pocket-sized computers, cloned animals and electronic cars. There may always be roads in your life, but be ready for the changes, because they are most definitely going to keep coming.

        4.    “Every breath you take / Every move you make / Every bond you break / Every step you take / I’ll be watching you.” – The Police, Every Breath You Take. While we’re on the subject of technological advances, let’s talk about social media for a second. Every year, more and more venues open up for people to share their lives with others on the Internet. Choose wisely when stepping into this fray; know that when you share something, it’s out there for people to see forever. Guard your privacy carefully, posting and tweeting within your comfort zone.

        5.    “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.” – Michael Jackson, Man in the Mirror. Always give of yourself, and help those in need. There is no other way to live this life than to care for those around you. This ranges from thinking about how you can help large-scale issues such as the environment and economic disparities, to how you can help individuals, such as the elderly neighbor across the street or the classmate struggling with an illness. Keep your eyes open, and be ready for the ways in which you can make a change.

        6.    “Get on your feet / Get up and make it happen.” – Gloria Estefan, Get on Your Feet. Whatever you do in life, make sure you don’t become a couch potato. There are just too many awesome things worth doing out there, and not enough time to do them. Don’t spend your days sitting in front of the TV, or the tablet, or the smart phone, or whatever device is around you. To truly live, you must get up and get outside. That will never change.

        7.    “We’ve gotta hold on to what we’ve got.” – Bon Jovi, Livin’ on a Prayer. There will be times in your life when you feel the tug of your career, social adventures, or financial opportunities. Just remember that these things will ultimately pale in comparison to the tug of your family and friends. The people who love you are with you for the long haul, no matter what you accomplish at school, or in your job. Hold them close to you, and don’t neglect them.

        8.    “Now I think it’s time I led my life on my own / I guess it’s just what I must do.” – Human League, Don’t You Want Me. There will come a time when you will tell me you’re ready to move out of the house, and start your own life. I will try to talk you out of this at first, but I promise you now that I will come around and support you. Because I will know, deep down, that it’s time for you to take your own, independent steps forward. As a parent, it will be so difficult to let go, after raising you for so long. But I promise, I will let go.

        9.    “I’ll be right here.” – E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. When you grow older, there will be days, weeks and perhaps even months when we’ll be apart. But whenever you think of me, I will be with you. And you can rest assured that you will always be at the center of my thoughts. That’s the beauty of good parenting – we set an example for you, and then hope that you’ll follow our lead for the rest of your days. In that way, we are always there for you. Saying goodbye will never be easy, just as it was hard for E.T. and Elliott. But true love transcends any separation.

        10. “But I’ll be stumbling away / Slowly learning that life is OK.” – a-ha, Take on Me. So we finish where we begin, with the cell phone ringing and the one-hit wonders from Scandinavia singing. I leave you with their advice – that no matter how hard life seems at times, your struggles will not last forever. This too shall pass, folks often say, and they’re right. Whenever it seems that life has handed you another hurdle, and you find yourself stumbling, remember that things will ultimately resolve themselves. It may take awhile, but things will work out in ways you never could have imagined. Just take a deep breath, and keep moving forward. It will, in the end, be OK.

It’s often said that the 1980s were a shallow decade. I beg to differ – if you look hard enough, you can find a lot of golden nuggets out there among the seemingly trivial pop culture of the decade. Wisdom can be found in all kinds of places. Sometimes, it’s even enough to raise a child on.