Category Archives: Childhood

Quit It

“Nobody likes a quitter”.  This was the sentiment my mother instilled in me from an early age.  She identified what she saw as an emerging pattern during my childhood years that became cause for concern.  It started with Boy Scouts, after a poor showing at the Pinewood derby.  My dad didn’t have time to help me build my car and neither parent had the time or inclination to attend the event, missing the dramatic moment when my car lost a tire in the first race and flew off the track as I watched in horror.  For soccer I lasted a bit longer with maybe 3-4 seasons under my belt before realizing I wasn’t developing as a top-tier player, a fact I’d be reminded of daily when picked near last for scrimmage teams.  I saw no point in torturing myself or my teammates any longer so I opted out around the time I started middle school.   As the years passed I would go on to quit religious school following my Bar Mitzvah, the clarinet right before starting high school, and the cheesy karate class at the local YMCA almost immediately.

My mom called me a quitter, with nary a word minced or a feeling spared.  She said it had to stop.  I had to quit being a quitter.  The question is “when is quitting really quitting and when is quitting simply stopping”?  You can’t do everything forever, there’s not enough time in the day to continue on with every activity you’ve ever attempted.  There are some things you are just not well suited for.  You need to find your passion, something you have an affinity for and want to pursue indefinitely.  If you start something like martial arts or gymnastics what’s the acceptable endgame; earning a black belt or a regional championship, or do you shoot for grand master and Olympic medalist.  If you eliminate the option to “quit” what is the point at which you can say ‘I’ve given this a fair shot, I’ve learned what I can, I’m gonna move on’?

We can all agree that some things are good to quit.  We quit jobs we’re fed up with.  For Lent or New Year’s Resolutions we quit bad habits.  Smokers try to quit all the time with mixed success.  Actually in the case of smoking you have the opposite problem, where quitting isn’t even close to the endgame.  Every day you might be tempted to surrender the struggle to quit and just pick up the bad habit all over again.  You essentially quit quitting.

With all of that in mind, how does the concept of “quitting” apply to relationships? When is quitting really quitting and when is quitting realizing you are not the perfect match you once hoped for?  There are many opinions on the subject especially when it comes to divorce.  On the one side you’re advised to “stay together for the kids”, and told to work through the conflicts because “you made a commitment”.  On the other side you’re offered “happiness above all else” and “you only live once” as friends try to help you move on.  Blind commitment to a relationship seems to leave no room for the potential of a mismatch, whether it takes you seven days or seven years to discover it.  Certainly this sentiment can be overused and exploited as flimsy support of the male polygamy, but I’m talking about honest heart-felt relationships where a deal breaker surfaces for either party or someone simply falls out of love.  How much should you work through it in an attempt to keep the relationship alive and at what point is it time to cut bait and move on.    What is a valid reason to quit?  What differences are too different?  What offenses are too great to overlook?

A sense of commitment is the secret of a successful relationship.  Having a long view perspective on the relationship reduces stress and conflict in the daily grind.  If you can focus on the “we” and “us” in the long-term rather than the “you” and “me” of the short-term you will naturally approach hardships differently.  A national survey stated that 73% of couples sited “lack of commitment” as the major reason for divorce.  But what about conflicts with preexisting commitments; a friend they can’t stand, an in-law that doesn’t approve, or a child they don’t understand.  This leads to worse of all possible endings, where the love never quits.  The expression “sometimes love isn’t enough” sounds like a weak excuse until you’re grappling with it firsthand.  Conflicts with kids and parenting can cause a rift in a relationship that is elsewise resilient.  Can you justify breaking an earlier commitment to make a new commitment work?  How do you quit a relationship you don’t want to leave?

Oprah’s frequent guest, Gary Zukav, spoke of relationships in terms of growth and spiritual connections; a spiritual partnerships is a relationship between equals for the purpose of spiritual growth.  Each is responsible for their own spiritual growth but if the relationship should reach a point where one person is no longer able to grow then the relationship should be terminated.  Thus Mr. Zukav wisely provides a logical end point; when either person stops growing spiritually within the confines of the relationship.  Sounds great in theory but spiritual stagnation may be a difficult metric to measure. How do you separate stagnation from the many spiritual wounds a struggling couple may naturally inflict?

I become paralyzed in indecision, over thinking the whole dilemma but unable to ignore my mom’s voice in my head calling my childhood self a quitter.  I want to make sure it’s not true.  I want to be sure that quitting isn’t a faulty personal trait but a natural expression of free will.  There are plenty of things I didn’t quit.  I never stopped drawing. I never stopped gaming. I never stopped writing.  Some things, the important things, you don’t quit.  I will never stop loving my kids no matter what happens and I know I’m capable of a relationship I won’t quit.

I think in the end we never really know if the decision to quit is right, until after we’ve made it.  If quitting was the wrong call, we feel the strangling of our hearts almost instantly.  If quitting is the right call we feel a lightness in our hearts as it soars with relief and release.  Sometimes that choice is taken from us, and quitting is the only option. Either way we must continue forward.  We must continue to live, and to grow.  We will make mistakes and we will learn, hopefully, from those mistakes.  We must quit torturing ourselves for quitting, even if it was a mistake.

Share

Halos and Mickey Eyes

It was a typically beautiful spring day in Southern California; the skies were a clear, deep, blue and the soft morning breeze kept the heat at bay.   We had just entered the happiest place on earth, Disneyland, and paused to take our iconic picture in front of the Mickey flowers with the train depot backdrop.  I was filled with a sense of joy and nostalgia to be back on the sacred ground that held so many cherished childhood memories.  I turned around to share this joyous moment with my beloved children only find my six-year-old blubbering in tears.  She had been excited about the park in the days leading up to the trip and even moments before but apparently something had gone terribly wrong in the time it took to walk the 100ft from ticket booth to photo opp.  I leaned down to try and make out the soft mumbles between pitiful sobs. My sad little princess proceeded to tell me “there are no rides here, I want to go home”.  And thus our adventure began.

It was at the moment that I realized vacations are a lot like past relationships; regardless of the amount of grief you may have experienced at the time, it all falls away when you look back through the tinted glasses of nostalgia.   I read that for woman they describe a similar “halo effect” after giving birth.  Moms don’t actually forget the pain of delivery despite urban tales, but rather all the positive sensations that flood in following birth leaves a predominantly positive impression of the experience as a whole.  That, to a far lesser extent, is what happens on vacation.  Inching along perpetually winding lines in the heat of the afternoon sun for 60 minutes at a stretch feels downright torturous at the time, but once you finally board the boat and enter the swampy preamble of the Pirates of the Caribbean all that melts away and you’re left with the distilled thrill of Imagineering magic.

Of course when small children are involved the long lines become the least of your concerns.  I think I spent half of my time walking through the park backwards trying to wave my daughter along at a forced march; “Come on, keep walking. Yes, it’s a pretty butterfly.  No, you just had cotton candy.  Yes, there’s another bathroom just up ahead.  No, we’re not shopping for a toy.”  Though I must admit for all my impatience with her slothful speed she was the model of patience through those torturous long lines.  The questions “are we there yet?” and “how much longer?” were not uttered a single time in the park.  Lyft rides, yes, but park, no.

The requests that were ever-present were standard trio of hunger, thirst and fatigue.  Hunger was easily squelched with a backpack stuffed with store-bought staples, and thirst was managed by selling a kidney and investing a small fortune in bottled water.  But it was the fatigue that was hardest to deal with.  As an adult I’m thinking of vacation as an investment in fun and I had planned to suck every last once of fun out of the experience.  Wait, that doesn’t sound right.  What I’m saying is if it was up to me we’d be scurrying about the park from the minute it opened to ten minutes after it closed, having selected the most remote attraction as the final ride of the evening with a fleeting hope that we’d get locked in.  We’d stagger home, collapse into a dreamless stupor and wake up bright and early the next day to do it all over again.  With kids though I have to demonstrate a bit more restraint, lest my slothful rearguard become an unconsciously sack of potatoes.  Not only do we need to take breaks between rides but we also take mid-day breaks where there’s no expectations of movement or agenda and they can just veg quietly by poolside or bedside.  Once I see how much this recharging helps I realize how much we are taxing those little legs with an average of 25,000 steps each day; unless I want to do over a third of those steps with an unconscious sack of potatoes riding on my shoulders the down time is a minor concession.

Even with the rest stops we manage to rack up sufficient park time and all in all it turned out to be a really great trip; Ethan had memories of visits past and so got to enjoy the parks from a fresh teenage perspective while Emma had the height and the spirit to try every ride on our list, many for the first time.  After trying a warm up coaster in ToonTown we even tried her on Thunder Mountain.  This was quite a step up in intensity and I was worried it might be too much for her.  I needn’t have worried though; about half way through the ride I looked back to make sure she was doing ok and found her with arms waving in the air and a fierce smile shining on her lips.  The only hitch in the ride selection turned out to be the Matterhorn and the upgraded animatronics of the yeti; the previously laughable fuzzy dude originally only made a couple of appearances shifting stiffly from side to side.  Yeti 2.0 was transformed into a more terrifying threat jump-scaring around every turn.  Emma did not appreciate that one bit, and even Ethan thought it distracted from what was already not a thrilling ride.  I still liked it and one miss wasn’t such a bad thing.

We spent the final day exploring California Adventure.  At the suggestion of seasoned park goers we made our first stop at Fast Pass kiosk for the new Cars Ride (Radiator Springs Racer).  At the time we arrived, about an hour after the park’s initial opening, the Fast Pass reservations were already backed up to 6pm that evening.  Since we all had flights out later that night this was to be the last ride of the day.  Making good use of the Fast Pass system is key to optimizing your time in the parks, allowing you to alternate waits in the traditional lines with guaranteed slots in the express lines.  Even with the unexpected crowds filling the park on those non-peak Monday and Tuesday we still managed to hit most of the rides on our wish list, including two trips on the new and improved Space Mountain (now Hyperspace Mountain).  As the day wound to a close the only hold outs on our list were Peter Pan’s Flight and Toy Story Midway Mania.  What we did have though was a final golden ticket to one of the most popular new attractions in the park.  We returned to Cars Land a little early which was good because even the Fast Track lane was backed up beyond the ride entrance.   Progress was slow going and time ticked onward at a pucker-inducing rate; we still had to get out to the shuttle, back to the hotel, get a ride to LAX and catch the last flight for Sacramento.  As panic started to creep up the line finally surged forward and at last we were sitting in one of the shiny Car characters, looking around at the beautiful set design and anxiously awaiting the green light to race off into the desert scene.  Then we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Until finally the announcement was made; the ride was out of service with no estimated repair time.  The lights dimmed, the musical score silenced and the power flickered as they rebooted the Disney magic.  We filed out with the rest of the stunned crowd with a palpable sense of disappointment.

The chaotic ending made for a fitting bookend to the opening drama, since everything in between was filled with a wonderful collection of new memories.   We didn’t get that final thrilling new experience to instill a lasting halo effect, but all the bumps along the road way will still melt away with nostalgia to leave vacation memories I hope my kids will cherish for a long time,… until they can bring their kids and have them burst into tears in front of the happiest place on Earth.  Seriously?!

Share

Pretty in Ink

A couple threads of unrelated mental floss have recently intermingled in my brain.  On the one hand is the dissection of comedy at the hand of Steven Kaplan’s book “The Hidden Tools of Comedy”.  One of the concepts the book explores is that of the non-hero who, lacking sufficient skills to succeed, struggles against adversity but never gives up hope.  Lacking skills can be something as simple as not having the necessary knowledge to navigate a given situation like not being aware of something that’s plain as day to the audience but hidden from the poor chump in the story.  Mixed with that is a fictional piece I was working on which asks the question if you could go back and change certain aspects of your life, would you?  I think back to the various situations in my childhood that essentially fulfill all the requirements of a proper comedy, and left me mortified in the moment.  Little things like the time I walked into the plate-glass window at a mall that I was certain was an automated sliding door or the time I walked into the non-automated sliding screen door at my aunt’s house that I was certain was nothing but an open doorway.  In both instances I felt like a proper idiot at the time, lacking both the minimal perception to avoid the collision and the dignified grace to recover from it.  So I panicked.  Like any good introvert, I would rather peel off my toenails with pliers then draw unwanted attention to myself.  Had I been a quick thinking extrovert I might have hopped quickly to my feet, bowed with exaggerated flare and declared “tah-dahhhh” with a flourish of jazz-hands.  Instead I tried to swallow my head with my shoulders and quickly fled the scene trying to pretend as if nothing awkward had just occurred.  Of course after the horror had subsided it’s hard to deny the comedy of the situation.  What must I have looked like on the other side of that plate-glass window at the moment of impact?  I envision a pigeon, drunk on pyracantha berries, running into the bedroom window with a face flattening thud.  Do I wish I could have avoided that bit of theater?  Absolutely.  Would I chose to have those events expunged from my memory?  I’m not so sure.  These become defining moments in our past to be groaned about with friends over a beer or commiserated about with a therapist over a lumpy couch.  They add precious flaws to our developing personality.  They instill us with compassion for the foibles of others.  They make us more vigilant about plate-glass windows.

prettyink

That got me thinking of other moments I endured during adolescence that fit the bill of a non-hero struggling against adversity, lacking sufficient skills to succeed but never giving up hope.  One such event occurred just before my senior year of high school.  It was summer vacation and I was nursing some sort of stomach bug.  I had been popping chewable Peptos so I was feeling ok.  When we got back from the doctor I remembered that some of my swim team friends, including a girl I had a crush on, were doing the summer league around the corner from my home and they had a swim meet that afternoon.  School had been out for about a month, and while I can’t say absence made the heart grow fonder in this case, it did at least make my heart grow bolder.   With a dose of this uncharacteristic boldness percolating in my system I worked up my courage, and made the short trip to the pool.  The smell of chlorine brought forth a wave of nostalgic memories and my stomach flip-flopped with memories of meets past, nervous energy and lingering intestinal issues.  I took a deep breath and waded into the assembled teammates.  I did my best to be charming and in good spirits as I worked my way through the crowd.  I had a good visit overall, even getting some quality time to talk one on one with the girl of my dreams.  I returned home feeling pretty jazzed about the outing.  The euphoria, however, was short-lived.  Upon my next trip to the bathroom I looked in the mirror and discovered, to my horror, that the Pepto-Bismol had turned my lips bright pink all over.  Not just a little color around the corners of my mouth, but full on clown-faced pink lips.  Pink lips and no one says a word.  Numerous hours and conversations and not a single person was kind enough to point this out to me.

At the time I remember obsessing about the envisioned aftermath and how I was certain to be the target of everlasting jokes and insults for the remainder of my high school career.   It doesn’t take long though to realize that this type of embarrassment doesn’t last forever.  I could have faced far more embarrassing moments (and I have a few that I may or may not share), and a minor one such as this is quickly replaced by the next snafu that someone else will inevitably make.  Put in perspective the sting faded as summer rolled on.  In hindsight though, as a moment of my life, I wouldn’t give it up for the world.  Not only does it provide a great retrospective chuckle, but it was an instance of rare bravery that I am still proud of to this day.  That same introverted nature that would rather remove toenails then attract attention is not one to generally wade boldly into a crowd of people, friends or not.  This was an exception to be celebrated despite the outcome.  And so it is with many of our memories of embarrassing moments.  Each story offers insight into some significant aspect of ourselves.  Something we did.  Something we learned.  Something that changed.  If you removed every embarrassing thing you ever did in your life what would your past look like?

Another quote from Kaplan’s book is “Drama helps us dream about what we could be, but comedy helps us live with who we are.”  These memories keep us grounded by our imperfection and keep us hopeful from hardships endured.    Humor is vital for maintaining our happiness and keeping our sanity in a constantly crazy world.  So while we aspire to sophisticated greatness and unbridled bravery remember to smile at the painfully playful memories that made us who we are, bright pink lips and all.

Share

Right in the Prom Proms

The question was simple, “do you regret not going to prom?”  The answer is a fluffier bit of self-indulgent nostalgia.  I mean, really, in the grand scheme of things the importance of prom on my current life path matters not at all.  There was no pivotal scene from Back to the Future that would greatly alter my destiny if it played out one way or another, at least not one that comes easily to mind.  There are no lingering doubts or questions that perpetually haunt me to this day.  It’s just another pothole in the bumpy road of adolescence.   But let’s rewind and start with the backstory.

Hard as it may be to believe when you gaze upon my glorious adult form, I was not a child cover model for Teen Beat Magazine.  I was not among the popular crowd or a prized member of any jock-related subculture.  I was a typical nerd who spent the first two years of high school mostly hiding in the science quad to avoid getting my ass kicked.  Those same two years had me trying to free myself of glasses, braces and about 25 extra pounds I’d acquired in middle school.  By my junior year I had succeeded with 2 out of the 3 (the braces stuck around until the bitter end of senior year), but my emerging self-esteem was still making up for lost time.

When the junior prom rolled around my ongoing attempts to attract the opposite sex had remained fruitless. Turned out I was really good at forming solid long-lasting crushes, especially with unattainable girls like ones that already had boyfriends (often boyfriends that I was friends with) but what I wasn’t good at was actually having balls enough to approach any of these said crushes and make my feeling known.  This coincidentally made it very difficult to find a prom date, and the best option I was left with was to join up with a group and be a stand-in date with someone I didn’t really know and who had no interest in me whatsoever.  I pretended to be morally offended by this arrangement, insisting to no one out loud that I’d rather spend the night alone than be a generic token date.  Later, while I spent that night alone cursing my stupid insecurities and wishing I’d been used and degraded in any manner I’d been offered, I did regret the missed opportunity to be involved in the shared memories that were being formed by my less morally minded, or more social capable friends.

When the senior prom rolled around I was in-between girlfriends (literally, I had exactly two girlfriends in high school and this was betwixt the two).  I was however still quite proficient at securing multiple crushes.  The biggest crush at the time was on a freshman from the swim team who I nicknamed ‘Turtle” for reasons that escape me now, but at the time felt painfully adorable.  I had made a couple attempts to be witty and charming through the use of hand-written letters (god forbid I should actually speak to the girl in person), but as hard as it is to imagine, these attempts were vague and not backed up with any decisive action, like say, speaking to the girl in person.  As the prom approached Turtle was unable to read my mind and I took her lack of clairvoyance as a sure sign that she wasn’t interested and certain that if asked her in person she would surely embarrass me ruthlessly by pointing with mock laughter like all the kids do in that recurring dream where I show up at school without pants on, because that’s how I imagined all girls handled those awkward situations.

Remembering my regret from the previous year though I was not daunted by Turtle’s rejections and I instead turned to a friend of mine (and, as it happens, a friend of Turtle’s) to be my date.  She was also on the swim team and so it felt like it would just be an extension of the weekend parties we usually enjoyed together in the company of others.  It seemed like the perfect plan, except for one small detail; her dad.  For some reason dad, a devote Mormon (along with the rest of the family) was not thrilled with the idea of his 14-year-old daughter hanging out all night at Senior Prom, with a senior!  As a dad now, I’m honestly not sure what my response would be in a similar situation, but knowing my mindset at the time (how I valued my friend as a friend and she valued her values over everything) it would have been a pretty safe bet in every sense of the word, but the “no” was final.  This is where I could use a baseball metaphor and say I was down two strikes, and had to make the next one count, but there really wasn’t a next one.  In baseball terms I just sorta tossed the bat and meandered off the playing field.

I later found out that Turtle would have loved to have gone to the prom with me.  I’m pretty sure it was for the same reason as my prospective junior prom date, to tag along with the rest of our friends from swim team, but it would have made for an entertaining night none the less.  Even in this wild scenario though it’s hard to perceive an outcome that would have greatly impacted my future self.  It wasn’t going to be my first kiss, it wasn’t going to be my first sexual encounter, and chances are it wasn’t going to develop into a relationship to stand the test of time (since she still wasn’t clairvoyant).

I have a lot of good memories from high school.  I also have a fair share of bad memories from high school.  And then there are a great many things for which I have no memories from high school as demonstrated on several occasions at my 20 year reunion when stories, involving me, were recounted for which I had no recollection.   The point is high school was a part of my past, but I don’t think it was as pivotal as college or beyond.  I know there are a great many people who cherish their high school days as the best days of their lives.  Some may have held on to high school sweethearts or still live in the old neighborhood surrounding by high school friends.  For me the impact is not so great. So while I do feel I missed out on a rite of passage that is high school prom their absence is not a void I still ache to fill.  Other events since then have been more meaningful and more enjoyable.   I think it’s just as likely though my answer to this question may have been very different when I was still in my 20’s and maybe even my 30’s and the comparative evidence was more lacking.  I think like so many things in our youth this is an evolving perspective.

When I was eleven I recall telling my mom that I loved my then girlfriend.   My mom looked at me like she wanted to pat me on the head as she laughed, “Honey, you’re too young to know what love is.”  This statement still sits on the top 3 list of things I will never say to my children, but the point is at that age love was exactly what I thought love was, until it wasn’t and my perception changed.  By the same token I think the prom can potentially be the most significant event you will attend until it no longer is.  So whatever my experience was or how I may feel about it now, if I ever pat my child on the head and tell them the prom is no big deal they have my written permission to kick me in the prom-proms.

Share

My Porch Front Days

In January I teeter on the edge of my porch as sheets of rain flow from the overhang and beyond. It is my life raft amid the growing storm. I imagine sailing off on a grand adventure of survival, so I run upstairs to gather my supplies and my plastic glow-in-the-dark sword.

In February I sit on my porch eating Sweetheart candies from classmates as my dad parks the VW Rabbit in the driveway. He has the box of Whitman’s chocolates for my mom and sneaks off to the garage to swap out one of the chocolates with a gold chain before he presents it to her.

In March I run straight off the porch like Wile E Coyote running off a cliff. Behind me is my enraged grandmother in hot pursuit with a rolled up newspaper. I’m not sure what I did to make her so angry, I’m just thankful that I can still run faster than her. This will not earn me a good review when my parents return tomorrow.

In April Johnny West and Geronimo slug it out theatrically on the cliff of my porch trying the toss one another into the canyon below.   Old Mrs. Scott from across the street sees me playing and comes over to deliver one of the traditional sugar eggs with vignettes of little bunnies.

In May I sit on my porch playing with the miniature cap gun fashioned like a western derringer that I just got for my birthday.   The smell of fresh popcorn drifts from the front door as my sister comes out to join me. We wait for the station wagon to back out of the garage so we can pile in for the ride to the drive-in.

In June I fidget on the front step of my porch, watching my dad push the rotary mower. I’ve been pressed into service, required to rake up once he is done, and not permitted to play in my room while I wait; though it seemed a reasonable request to me.

In July I pound on the door frantically pleading with my giggling sister on the other side. After convincing me to play dress up she shoved me onto the porch wearing one of her old dresses and a gaudy assortment of costume jewelry. I need to get back inside before anyone sees me, also I think I hear the ice cream truck.

In August great armies of miniature plastic battle fiercely on the porch, trying to resolve the ongoing conflicts that have raged throughout the summer. A short-lived cease-fire is called so I can sample my mom’s macaroni salad and offer some expert suggestions for improvement.

In September as the acorns begin to fall tiny villages sprout up made entirely of acorn cap structures. I breathe deep the autumn air laced with damp leaves and wood smoke admiring one such village just below my perch. I launch off the step of the porch, crushing the puny village beneath my giant feet with a satisfying crunch.

In October I strike a heroic pose in the doorway before leaping over the already sagging pumpkin on my porch. The unseasonable heat has sweat and condensation already dripping from the inside of my Superman mask before I hit the grass. I press forward knowing there is candy at stake.

In November my porch is the distant safe haven as a neighborhood dog from across the street takes sudden interest in me on my way home from school. The dog gives eager chase to my fleeing form. After his hunt is called off I’m soothed with chicken noodle soup and, ironically, my favorite cartoon, Underdog.

In December the postman makes his daily stop on my porch to stuff our mailbox with holiday cards that we will later shake down for dollar bills. My mom rushes out with holiday greetings and presents him with a box of fresh chocolate chip cookies for his service.

In later years I teeter on the edge of my porch, remembering the fleeting joy of childhood, and wondering what lies beyond. I imagine sailing off on the grand adventure of life, and must leave the safety of the porch to pursue it.

Share