Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Read Me a Story

The best time of the day is when I have the opportunity to tuck the kids in bed. We have a little ritual that starts with them crawling under the covers, with me tucking them tight. This is followed by prayers. Then they look up at me with their bright eyes and utter those magic words, "Read me a story! Pleeeaaase!"

I can't resist and ask one of them to get a book.

Off fly the covers as one after another jump out of bed, looking for the biggest book they can find. Little do they know I have pulled all the thick books from their shelf, leaving only the quick reads for them to choose.

They negotiate briefly, grab their top choice, hand it over to me, and hop back in the sack.

I proceed to read the story, and they point out the pictures. If I should happen to skip a page, they know it. They demand I stop and read that which I missed.

Once the book is finished we go through the sparring of "Read us another," followed by "I need a drink." Eventually, I reach the point of getting them tucked in, giving them a kiss, and making my stealthy exit.

Research says children who are read to will be better readers. Research says children who have adults talk with them will be better at social interaction.

Now that's research I can get behind.

But the fact is whether or not research validates this bedtime approach with my kids doesn't make any difference. The time I spend praying and reading with them before they drift off to sleep is one of the best times of the day. Not surprisingly, just being with them leaves me with a warm spot in my heart.

I'm already thinking about the time -- in the not-too-distant future -- when they won't want me to tuck them in or read to them.

I will miss it.

Maybe I can take him fishing then.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Over My Head -- Under Water

When I was a boy my mom took us to Jones Beach, Long Island, New York. This beach features miles of white sand fronting the Atlantic Ocean. We spread out our blankets and mom proceeded to lecture us about the dangers of the ocean: rip tides, killer waves, and fish big enough to swallow little kids in a single gulp.

She then set up her chair and took out her book as we ran for the waves. Her caution to stay within sight was lost as we plunged headlong into the waves, feeling the shock of the cold water hit our sun-baked bodies. Life was good that July day.

As was my custom, I ignored mom's warnings and headed down the beach out of her sight.

I happened on an area without other swimmers and ran into the surf. The wave hit me and carried me out, tumbling me head over heels. I held my breath and started to be dragged down into the depths of the water. My toes searched for bottom without finding it.

My lungs ached as I reached my hand upwards.

A strong hand held me and pulled me up out of the ocean. I gasped for air. This man had witnessed my wave encounter and swam out to pull me up and tow me to shore.

My experience of being in over my head -- under water is one I never wish to repeat.

Over the years I have had the same feeling of helplessness as I found myself in situations where I was in over my head.

Even if I can't always avoid these circumstances, I've learned to survive them. I relax and let go of my concerns, issues, worries and frustrations. When I stop trying to control the situation I experience that same feeling of a strong hand guiding me to the air.

Sometimes less struggle is the best way out.

It also helps to learn from our experiences to avoid repeating them -- like I did. From that day on whenever mom said to stay within sight ... I did.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Road Construction Ahead

In the northern half of the continent, there is phenomenon known as the "fifth season." There is summer, followed by fall, then winter and spring. That's four. But then there's the dreaded fifth season: road construction. At the height of the season, orange barrels, reduced speed zones, flashing marquees, cones galore, and restricted lanes offer ample opportunities to stretch the limits of one's patience.

It's interesting to observe how the rituals of road construction season are observed by some. For example, there is the "dance of the merge." This dance commences with the passing of the sign that proclaims a lane closure ahead. If the sign announces the left lane is closed then the alpha racer speeds forward in the left lane, cutting off fellow travelers who have dutifully lined up in the right lane. The dance is reversed if the right lane is closed.

Another ritual is the ever-popular "follow the leader." This game becomes more interesting when construction barriers tighten lane size, and traffic is narrowed into a single lane. The object of this competition seems to be to get as close to the person in front without actually touching them.

One situation not often seen is the "rolling barricade." This uncommon event happens when two semi-trucks ride side by side, forcing traffic into one lane producing the usual dance of the merge opportunities. Now the rolling barricade sometimes gives way to "shoulder rolling." This happens when a driver creates a new traffic lane by cruising the shoulder. Sometimes this move leads to an incident of "stopped by ambulance."

"Hide and seek" is a law enforcement twist added to some construction zones too. Here patrolmen lie in wait for those practicing "follow the leader" or the ever-popular and age-old "speeding game."

As a veteran of the fifth season, I've learned the smoothest way to navigate this periodic phase is to allow extra time, slow down and, above all, bring along lots of beefy snacks and CDs. Nothing removes the grating inconvenience of loony drivers or standstill traffic from road construction like an ample supply of beef jerky and some choice tunes.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

I Haven't Heard That One Before.

The other day I was standing in line waiting to board a flight and started a conversation with the man next to me. We talked a bit about where we were headed, where we live, why we were travelling, a little about our families and, finally, what we do for a living. He told me he's had the same job for 23 years. He then said something I haven't heard before: "I'm content."

A moment later his group was called to board, and I didn't get a chance to follow up on what he meant by that statement. That is, until I found my seat and saw we were sitting next to each other. As I was settling in, I turned to him and asked, "Did I hear you correctly about being content?"

He replied, "Yeah, you did. I'm really happy with my life. I like my job, my home, and my future."

Soon the flight attendant started her announcements, and the din of two jet engines curtailed further investigation. As the plane moved along the tarmac, he had given me something to ponder: how content am I?

For the most part, I'm content. However, there are days when a little dissatisfaction breaks through. This frustration usually stems from some decision -- or decisions -- I made in the past that have caught up to me now.

But then I sit back and think about it again, trying hard not to beat myself up every time I took the wrong fork in the road. When I remember that previous decisions were usually made with the best information available at the time -- and that I wasn't intentionally trying to make things difficult for me later on -- I can easily reflect on my life and be thankful that it is a really good one.

There really isn't much I would change.

So the next time I'm standing in line waiting for a flight and someone starts a conversation, I just might tell them something they haven't heard in a while: "I am content with my life."

How about you?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Road Not Taken

I'm one guy who limits his poetry reading to the occasional limerick or greeting card. Now don't get me wrong, I do enjoy some good word play, especially if it's been shaped into a song. Tunes like "Time in a Bottle," "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" are popular classics tying together catchy melodies and thought-provoking lyrics.

Notwithstanding what I just said about poetry, however, there is one poem that always gets me thinking about life.

Robert Frost, American poet extraordinaire, wrote a poem called, "The Road Not Taken," where he describes a man pausing at a juncture of two roads coming together in a wood. He details the man's thought processes, as he considers what path to embark on. In the end, the man opts for the path "less travelled."

Frost writes,

"I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

I know what he means. As I look back over my life, I see how choices I made have led to where I am today. For example, when I considered my undergraduate program I had to choose between a large state university and a small religious institution. While I'm convinced I would have succeeded at either school, the decision to trek the less-travelled road of the religious school led to the path that placed me in my current position.

But in everyday life I've been faced with travel choices too, as when driving in a city I do not know or confronting a detour without my GPS. Either way, I can follow the majority of cars, which I have done before -- only to end up someplace other than my intended destination -- or I could trust my instincts and my internal compass.

If I know I need to go north and west, I just keep turning north or west, whether there are people to follow or not. Most of the time I get where I'm going; sometimes I even find something interesting along the way.

The point is this: our choices have consequences. One decision leads to another. Each ends with a choice. The next decision does the same. Sometimes our choices seem obvious, a true no-brainer. At other times, we're faced with a gut-wrenching decision.

As the poet no doubt sensed, the clear-cut thoroughfare may be the easiest to travel, but upon arrival you may find your destination no different than that of the numberless masses.

Choose your roads (make your decisions) wisely. It could make all the difference.