Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Sunday musings… 2/17/19

Sunday musings…

1) Metier. Trade, profession, occupation. More so, something at which you excel.

Not necessarily trade, profession, or occupation.

2) Rigadoon. A lively dance for couples in duple or quadruple time. Pick a headline of the coupled. Any headline.

See also, “Flaneur”. Because: duple.

3) Hope. “Hope is a waking dream.” Aristotle

To have hope is to have a reason to go on. The dream, as it were, is worth following in the hope that one will see it fulfilled. At the same time hope can be a bad dream, one that must be abandoned in order that one can begin anew. After all, reality awaits as we awaken, however fervently we cling to our dreams.

4) Gray. Where did all of this gray hair come from? In 6 months I’ve become…ahem…distinguished. The actor William H. Macy: “Treat getting older as a success. Celebrate it.”

Guess I’m sporting my own “silver medal”.

5) Destiny. Our oldest child, The Heir, is at this moment on his way west, transporting his little family to a new beginning in Denver. Like so many young people before them he and his wife will seek their fortune in the New Territories, hundreds of miles from their families and the land of their youth.
To be sure we did this, Beth and I, and we understand all that goes into the decision. Seeing them off is bittersweet. They, like us at their age, are strikingly independent. A little part of our souls is stashed in their luggage, just in case they need us.

With the rising sun at his back the dawn of our family seeks his destiny just beyond our view as Beth and I contemplate the sunset.

I’ll see you next week…

 

A Very Complex Sunday musings…2/10/19

Complex: consisting of many different and connected parts.

Complicated: difficult to analyze, understand, or explain.

This week’s epiphany: The National Enquirer engages in unsavory behavior. Shocking, I know. Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, has publicly accused the
Enquirer of threatening to publish scandalous pictures of him and of his paramour if Mr. Bezos failed to publicly state that the Enquirer was not participating in any type of political skullduggery as it related to stories published in the Washington Post. While discussing his ownership of the Post Mr. Bezos coined what looks like an entirely new word as he tried to explain the effect of owning a national newspaper has had on his life. He called the Washington Post a “complexifyer”.

I think he is trying to say that his ownership makes his life more difficult, though I can’t figure out if he means complicated, complex, or some amalgam of both.

Does he mean that the addition of The Post has increased the number of elements in his life that he is forced to address? That would, indeed, be an increase in the complexity brought on by owning the newspaper. One could easily see that his worldview was expanded well beyond the already enormous one that must exist simply by dint of the massive enterprise he has created and runs. Additionally, publishing a newspaper in Washington, D.C. probably brings him into close contact with a plethora of national and international issues, as well as the real, live people who are involved in them. Many more pieces parts now connected to him through the Washington Post equals more complexity.

On the other hand you might get a sense that he is describing his ownership of The Post as something that is making his life more difficult. Whether or not he has a hand in the general editorial direction of the newspaper, he is certainly being accused of directing at least some of the story lines therein (see: National
Enquirer, blackmail). For a guy who heretofore had been more than a bit reluctant to be seen as a public figure it has to be a shock to find oneself as such an “interesting” person. Of course, there are about 150 Billion reasons why people might be interested in his love life even without the hacking prowess exhibited by the Enquirer. [As an aside, can someone explain to me why so many otherwise really smart people insist on sending photos of their genitalia to anyone, anywhere, ever?] Mr. Bezos life is most assuredly more complicated now that he owns the Washington Post.

So which is it then? Is the Washington Post a complexifyer or a complicator? I love words, and I love the pursuit of the best word for a particular sentence. To be truthful I sat down to write this with the intention of declaring Mr. Bezos a faux sophist who chose to use a rather obscure word simply because it sounded good. You know, reaching for a 50 cent piece when a nickel would do. As I’ve worked through it though I’ve come to the conclusion that he is actually on point. Mr. Bezos is famous for being a jealous guardian of his time. For example, he does not schedule meetings earlier than 10AM so that he can participate in the morning routine of his family (likely to become more complex and complicated). Although it is a tiny part of his financial and business portfolios I think what he was saying is that owning The Post reduces his ability to manage the various and sundry components of his life and their attendant demands on his time. Ownership of the Washington Post is, indeed, a complexifyer.

Complexity Theory is the study of large systems that perform intricate and coordinated functions. Research in this field seeks to uncover the underlying rules on a micro level that govern these systems. Although in many ways larger than life, Mr. Bezos hardly qualifies as a “large system”. Neither do you or I, for that matter. Still, his experience of highly elevated complexity brought on by a single decision might be instructive to even those of us with far, far fewer zeros at the end of our financial statements. Complexity and complications abound for all of us. I wonder if it might be instructive to review our own acquisitions in the same light.

I’ll see you next week…

 

Is It Time to Leave Social Media? Sunday musings…1/27/19

1) Anoesis. A State of mind consisting of pure emotion or sensation, devoid of cognitive content. NOT what occurs while playing with the Man Cub.

Kid is seriously smart.

2) Greeting. “How’s it going?”

“Oh, you know, right between ‘don’t get your hopes up’ and ‘be careful what you wish for’.”

For the next time “OK” isn’t gonna cut it. (HT Frazz).

3) Social*. My Sunday newspapers are filled with articles asking whether one should uncouple from the various social media sites available to us on the internet. You know, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and their slightly lesser cousins Whats App and Snap. Visuals of index fingers floating over the “delete” button abound. Ever more earnest posts in all of the above ask for help in deciding if it’s the right thing to do, or if it’s the right time to do it. (As an aside, isn’t that kinda like asking the bartender and all of your barfly buddies if you should quit drinking).

Well…is it?

My initial foray into everything social on the internet was a blatant attempt to boost my business while at the same time creating a bit of a personal brand in that space. A funny thing happened on the way to that pretty blatant business play: CrossFit. Yup, my hobby and my fellow hobbyists all discovered each other “off-site” on Facebook. Where I once pretty much lived my CrossFit life only on the main page of CrossFit.com (and existed in a tiny little solo bubble as a CrossFitter in a large commercial gym), now the larger CrossFit community came to dominate my feed. Complicating this was the fact that the lifespan of my sons’ Box occurred in this period, and as any Affiliate member can attest, your gym experience extends outside the gym and into your social media worlds. FB was the same black hole that CrossFit.com once was.

Twitter is an interesting place. Here I’ve been a bit better at sticking with the original plan of using the platform for professional purposes. We post about our business, and my professional writing has found a nice little audience. Here, too, I have discovered a broader community of folks who share some of my other interests (economics, healthcare policy, sports), and these very interesting people make Twitter just as attractive as any other online experience I’ve encountered. There are times when I sit down to spend a moment looking at what’s going on there only to look up an hour later and wonder where the time went. I should note that I pretty much skip by any and all political commentary, and still Twitter devours time as voraciously as a Black Hole does gravity.

So what are all of these folks to do? Or me? Should I stay or should I go? The fallacy is that it has to be all or none for most folks. Only the truly addicted, those who ignore the humans in their presence in favor of the bits and bots on their devices need to seriously take on this question (and for the record, for them the answer is an unequivocal “YES”, you should delete all of that shit. Now.). For the rest of us, why is this any different from TV? Why aren’t we using Social Media in the same manner that we (used to) use the television? People never went to work, set up shop and turned on the tube. You watched it as a diversion AFTER work. Yeah, sure, maybe you gathered with friends to watch a show or a game, but you were interacting with people AND the TV, not the people ON the TV. Tough to keep a job if you spend 1/2 your time watching Wheel of Fortune.

Anyway, that’s my bid. Deal with SM like it’s TV in the 90′s. For what it’s worth it seems that I am the first person to propose that we look at SM this way. At the moment my FB usage is plummeting as I find that there are fewer and fewer people whose activity holds any interest for me. Like 99% of what’s in the old TV Guide. My slow withdrawal feels a lot like my experience with the comments and Message Board on .com. Twitter feels like a cross between business and research, both of which can be treated like “appointment TV”; I go there when it’s convenient. Neither one feels necessary.

There is an obvious benefit to a SM diet, and that is the massive number of minutes you free up for all kinds of other stuff. I experienced the exact same phenomenon when I stopped watching NFL football on Sunday afternoons. More time to read. More time to write. Full on commitment to each moment spent playing with the Man Cub, and for that matter talking with family members who now tend to gather for communal weekend dinners. Admittedly it can be a bit of a challenge to fill the time previously lost to SM, but so much of my sense of needing more time in my day to add something new or different or just fun really seems to have been artificial. How can I not have time to re-learn French when so much time has been spent in the FB rabbit hole? I’d made my minutes artificially scarce.

Today I built something with my hands. You can, too. Re-claim your minutes by putting SM in its place. Like TV.

I’ll see you next week…

 

* I acknowledge the inherent irony in the fact that most of you will read this through SM.

 

 

 

The Stages of Exuberance Sunday musings…1/13/19

1) Toddler. We are hosting the Man Cub for a few days as his parents prepare to move into a new house.

I. Am. Exhausted.

2) Strategy. Trample the wounded and hurdle the dead is neither a growth strategy nor is it a viable marketing tactic.

3) Snowpocalypse When I sit down to write I enjoy looking out over the lake as I wait for inspiration to sit down and chat. At the moment my view is blocked by 1/2″ of ice on all north facing windows at Casa Blanco.

The Ice Man cometh.

4) Irrational. Whenever a new technology or concept surfaces it is often met with irrational exuberance. Early adopters behave more like acolytes than simple adherents. Potential issues with the new idea are swept aside and those who propose that all is not so new or wonderful are labeled as too dense or simple to understand the brilliance of the new new thing. In a similar vein behavior by the creator of the new idea that would otherwise be a possible signal that all is not as it seems is either ignored or explained away without any real investigation. This particular phase is more intense and tends to last longer if it is associated with something that contravenes, and more so actively seeks to disrupt the status quo. A “cool kid” factor also magnifies the exuberance.

Rare is the new idea that does not then enter a phase one could call irrational dissaffectation in which both early adopters who become disillusioned and outsiders who become interested by the buzz created by the exuberance begin to look closely at not only the idea or product itself, but also at the behavior of both the “inventor” and the company that provides the service/product. The vehemence of this response is directly related to the buzz and fervor that exists among those who continue to be excited about the new thing. During this phase it is quite likely that there will continue to be newcomers to the technology who exhibit many, if not all of the characteristics of those people who claimed “first flag” discovery enthusiasm in the earliest days of adoption.

What comes next is either some degree of general acceptance of the new thing with a concomitant adoption into general use, or a slide into irrelevance as it becomes little more than a footnote in whatever historical space it inhabited.

As it happens both my professional life and a very large part of my non-professional activity each have a very significant player/thing that is entering this third phase. You may recall that I am an eye surgeon, in particular one who operates on the front of the eye. My expertise is in surgeries that both improve vision and liberate individuals from the need to wear glasses or contact lenses. In the LASIK world what was largely a PR battle between mechanical “flap makers” and those that created the LASIK flap using a laser was eventually won by the makers (and early users) of the laser. While I still feel that the introduction of the femtosecond laser to make a LASIK flap was a solution to a problem that had already been solved by 4th generation mechanical devices, the allure of an “all-laser LASIK” proved too powerful in the marketplace. Any “bad behavior” in the middle phase was marketing related. Even though it was more expensive, the laser won.

Cataract surgery also has a femtosecond laser entrant in the game. While the technology is actually quite stunning FLACS has never been shown to be more than slightly superior (if even that according to the most recent studies) to what it was developed to replace (the surgeon’s hands). Similar fear-mongering to the LASIK experience in the middle phase was buried in an avalanche of data reiterating the treasure trove of safety statistics and outstanding outcomes achieved with “traditional” surgery. Some really nice people got run over by some not so very nice people as companies were bought and sold. The most likely outcome as FLACS enters the third phase is that it becomes a niche procedure where hopefully the surgeons push back against industry in order to shield patients from predatory pricing; this laser is more expensive, and that has been its downfall.

When thinking about my non-professional activities over the last 12 or 13 years CrossFit is the obvious topic. In my entire life I have never been a part of anything quite so exciting as the first several years I spent in the CrossFit world. When I first found CF in 2005 there were about 100 gyms and maybe 5000 of us doing it on a regular basis. We were self-proclaimed fitness infidels, rising up against a cynical entrenched fitness orthodoxy and industry. Man, it was cool, and we were cool because of that. Not only did (does) it work if done properly, but we all had that same kind of first flag planted buzz you get when you discover something that becomes a phenomenon. Think being in your local in the 80′s and Nirvana is the house band kind of cool. It was like that.

CrossFit, too, is now in the earliest days of its own third phase. Having turned away from the strong (at least outward appearing) emphasis on CrossFit as sport, the company has pivoted back to something that sounds and feels more like what we all were doing prior to 2010 or so. Quite frankly I was personally too close to many of the primary personalities in phases 1 and 2 to objectively assess the players and how they played. Where CrossFit places its emphasis now is where I always felt it belonged, high intensity functional fitness as health rather than as sport. Which “laser” will CrossFit emulate as it leaves the stages of exuberance? What kind of laser company will CrossFit, Inc. be like if it, like the femtosecond laser, is proven to be only one among several ways to achieve the desired outcome in fitness and health?

In my day job phase three means a femtosecond laser for LASIK but not for cataract surgery. I am largely indifferent to the companies involved.

 

Sunday musings 1/6/19 An Older Me

Sunday musings…

Do you play the New Year’s Resolution Game? I do. Sorta. Kinda. I have a January birthday so it’s pretty convenient to work on being a bit better, or at least trying to be a little less aged (while rejoicing that I am still getting older) around this time of year. At the moment I am climbing out of the rat hole that is MyFitnessPal and trying to fit my numbers in so that I can track my actual nutrition consumption in my quest. To be honest I’m not sure if that was so much the beginning of a deep dive or a close encounter with drowning (in information).

Anyway…

Tomorrow I turn 59. Yup, that’s right…once again I stand on the cups of a “number” birthday. You probably don’t recall my angsty year as I was turning 50 (See: The Hard Turn at Mile Marker 49), but trust me, Beth sure does. “Are we gonna have another shitty year listening to you whine like when you were 49?” Or something to that effect LOL. For whatever it’s worth I really don’t see that coming this year. While I admit to a bit of frustration and a touch of sadness as my body takes on its new, decidedly more fragile mid-life form (bonus: soft = cuddly!), it all just seems to be OK. Just where I am at the moment.

Our lives are getting longer. At least for those of us who are not unlucky, that is. One need not be nearly as consumed with the fitness thing as I’ve been these last 10+ years to remain reasonably healthy and able. Really, all you have to be for the stage I’m entering is fit enough to walk after a tyke learning to ride a bike. Once your cubs have progressed past that stage you’re not keeping up, even if you fancy yourself a Masters athlete of some kind or another.

It’s easy to think of longer lives as being all about the years added on to the end and what they constitute. Natural enough, especially if you, like Beth and me, have aging or recently deceased parents and the endgame is forefront in your mind. In truth it’s probably more reasonable, and accurate, to think rather of those extra years being added to the middle of our lives, extending what may be the best part of the modern human existence (credit: Marc Freedman). Sure, we will all likely end up a shell of our former selves in most ways at the very end, just like our parents and grandparents, and probably for just as long. It’s that we are likely to enter that particular phase at a much older age, hence the “enhanced middle” years.

Turning 40 was pretty much a non-event for me for a couple of reasons. First, my darling Beth got terribly sick right around the time of my birthday. I mean ICU level care, are you gonna make it sick. That kind of thing really grabs your attention, especially if it is happening to the single most important person/thing in your entire life. That birthday pretty much never happened. But even before then a chance encounter on a chairlift in Utah had already smoothed out all of the speed bumps on the journey. A former NHL hockey player who’d found another success as a businessman shared his philosophy about being in his 40′s. He described this stage of life as the optimal intersection of experience and physicality. In your 40′s you are likely still rather fit and able, and you are therefore able to put into play all of the knowledge gained in the “learning decades”.

I liked that very much indeed, and it turned out to be pretty accurate as well.

So what about now, sitting on the cusp of 60? Good, bad, or indifferent it’s been quite a while since I’ve been on a chairlift, but if I were to close my eyes and imagine myself once again sitting next to this sage what might he offer about what comes next? Not gonna lie, I’ve given this quite a bit of thought. If your 40′s and maybe your 50′s are the stage where experience meets your physical self then I think your 60′s (and hopefully 70′s) are that part of life where you are blessed with wisdom and time. Wisdom in its simplest form is the result of experience and reflection. Freed (again, hopefully) from the pressures that earlier life stages present one has time now to employ that wisdom in any number of ways.

Most of us have spent at least a little bit of time looking for some sort of meaning, or meaningfulness in the daily living of our lives. With any luck as you approach 60 this is somewhat clearer for you. I know it is for me. Those first four decades were about gathering and growing, and the last two for consolidation and contemplation on what I’d accumulated. Knowing, or coming to know what seems to be important among that “collection” should allow me to shed that which lacks meaningfulness. For example, things like grudges and the fantasy that they might somehow be avenged certainly find their way quite easily to life’s trash heap at this stage.

Where am I now as I sit on the cusp of wisdom and contemplate how I will spend the (hoped for) riches of time? Older, no doubt, but perhaps only that.

I’ll see you next week…

 

Sunday musings…A New Year’s Compilation

2018. Each New Year’s celebration seems to bring with it some new manifestation of the wonders of family. The joy that is family, at least the good part of family. This certainly entails more than a bit of collective selective viewing and a willful effort to let pass transgressions that might at other times be the undersea earthquake that births a massive tsunami. Still, each year some lovely little something lights the hearth fire that warms our hearts.

This year was no different. Yesterday was spent in the tiniest of small town Vermont churches for a family wedding. Big city cousins invited all the kin to celebrate a marriage literally no one saw coming, in a way that not a soul predicted. And it was perfect. A new couple was ushered into familyhood by children, peers, and parents. Hope and love competed in a good-natured contest to see which would be the prevailing emotion.

All in all it was that most lovely of gatherings in which you arrived hopeful and left heartfull.

–There are certain weekends on which it seems OK to re-visit past thoughts. New Year’s might be one of them. In the spirit of the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal…

1) Hope. Chief Justice John Roberts gave a commencement speech to a group of 9th graders this year in which he wished them “bad luck”. Now, lest you think ill of the Chief Justice, that he was being churlish and mean-spirited, what he meant was that he wished that these young people would experience some degree of hardship in their youth so that they would develop tactics to persevere as adults when those same hardships inevitably arose.

“I hope you will be treated unfairly, to that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal, because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. I hope that you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life, and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.

And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so that you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you have just enough pain to learn compassion.”

My hope for each of you is encapsulated in Justice Roberts’ conclusion: I hope that you will have the ability to see the message in any of your misfortunes, and that you will express appreciation for the people who help you overcome them.

2) Indulgence. ‘Tis the season, eh? Indulgence at this time of year, at least in the Judeo-Christian world, is rather obvious. I watch my nutrition all year so that I can eat pie at Thanksgiving and cookies at Christmas. Neither of which I weigh or measure, by the way.

There’s an aspect of guilt when it comes to indulgence. It’s more than just the occasional treat. An inch of dark chocolate on your Paleo Diet doesn’t really cut it, and if you consider that an indulgence it’s probably time to loosen up a bit. I was thinking that the ultimate First World indulgence is the un-timed hot shower, but anything that occurs on a daily basis probably doesn’t count either.

Uh uh…indulgence involves a certain sense of not only excess but also a bit of “I really shouldn’t”. Jay McInerney: “I find the shadow of guilt always adds piquancy to any indulgence. It’s almost more pleasurable, feeling slightly guilty.” As a boy raised Catholic by a mother who openly admired the way her Jewish friends raised their kids (producing what I’ve come to call “double guilt”), I definitely get the “shadow of guilt” angle to indulgence, especially with ones that only occur on rare occasions.

Others, though, indulge in ways both frequent and grand. Indulgence writ large, if you will. Take, for example, Lilly Bollinger and her approach to Champagne: “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it–unless I’m thirsty.” Man, THAT woman knows how to indulge. Not much guilt evident, either. I’m sure my Mom wouldn’t approve, and I’m equally sure that Lilly wouldn’t care.

In a perfect world we would all be more like Lilly Bollinger, indulging on a daily basis in something that brings us pleasure with or without a side of guilt. The world, as I’ve said, is messy, no matter where it is you might live. Indulgence is what you make of it, and it’s probably a good thing that we have this Holiday Season during which we give ourselves permission to indulge a bit. Life is messy and life is hard–you’ve earned it.

[Raises flute]

3) Resolution. Let me leave 201[8] with a final thought, inspired by Ben Reiter’s review of the movie “I, Tonya”.

“Each of us, “I, Tonya” suggests, is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done–or, in Tonya’s case, the worst thing she might have done.” In our present days of instantly available and infinitely scalable opinion, we should add the worst thing someone says we did.

Let us, each of us, resolve that in 201[9] we will look first to that which is good about each other, and endeavor to see that each of us is more like the best thing we’ve ever done than not.

Happy New Year.

I’ll see you next week…

Eyecare Out Loud Episode 8 EMR Follies Part 2: Reclaim the Stories in Medicine

Episode 8 of my Ocular Surgery News  podcast. There is hope, however slight and far into the future. I think that hope lies in physicians and their patients reclaiming the stories that are the underpinnings of our relationships.

https://www.healio.com/ophthalmology/podcasts/eye-care-out-loud/episode-8

 

Eyecare Out Loud Episode 7: EMR Follies Part 1

Here is the direct link to my “anything goes” podcast on eyecare. In this episode I introduce the background behind EMR and computers in medicine in general.

https://www.healio.com/ophthalmology/podcasts/eye-care-out-loud/episode-7

Copy and past into your browser, at least until I figure out how to put a hyperlink into this blog!

Santa Will Always Be Real

“Santa is the Spirit of Giving. He is always real.” –Beth White

Once again my darling wife Beth knocks it out of the park. We have a couple of little ones again in the White house, and because of that we will have a healthy dose of Santa in our lives. While I realize that Beth and I will not really have a say in whether or not the whole Santa Claus story plays out in our grandchildren’s houses, what he stands for is important. Important enough for us to have had him in all his splendor and glory when The Heir, Lovely Daughter, and Lil’bingo were growing up. Important for us to draw out the time before Lil’bingo came to the realization that Santa was not a real person for as long as possible, so deep was his love for the furry fat guy he called “Key Klaus”.

Rest assured, the parental units in Clan White did struggle with how to handle the inherent subterfuge that is necessary to have the Santa Claus story as part of our children’s upbringing. From the very beginning, though, the message was about the giving, about generosity and caring enough about someone else that you not only gave them a gift, but you gave them a gift that let them know how much you cared about them. You know, the “spirit” in the Spirit of Giving, if you will.

No matter how you massage it, that day of reckoning when your child finally realizes that the character Santa Claus is nothing more than the figurative representation of the giving concept can be fraught with all kinds of emotional trauma. For sure you might get a dose of “you lied to me”, but in my now decades of experience being around parents it’s actually rather rare for this one to pop up. What you generally face is sadness, with maybe a touch of disappointment and even mourning tossed in just to add a little sting to the moment. Like so much else about parenting, or even just about kindness, these are times when you get to talk about and teach really important lessons. Here the lesson is about giving of yourself, with or without a physical gift to actually give.

While thinking about this we stumbled upon a lovely little story about how one family handled both the “Santa isn’t real” revelation and the “Santa is real” in spirit thing. Heck, the story may even be true! A Dad sensed that his son was pretty much on the cusp of discovering that the guy in the red suit wasn’t really the real deal. His approach? He talked to his son about how he sensed that he, the son, looked like he was not too sure about the Santa Claus character. The Dad complimented his son on being a caring young man: “Everyone who cares, who is generous can be a Santa. I’m very impressed by how kind you are. I think you are ready to become a Santa, too.”

The Dad went on to ask his son to think about someone in his world who looked like they were sad. Maybe a bit lonely even. He tasked the boy with thinking very hard about what that person might really like as a present. Something they needed, and something that would express that whoever gave it to them realized this need, and cared enough to give them a present that helped to meet that need. There was a catch, though: the recipient was never to know who gave them the gift. For the son the satisfaction was in the caring and in the giving, not in the recognition and praise that might follow.

It doesn’t really matter who the child chose or what he gave; you can trust that the story–true or not–is just lovely right to the end. What matters is that this very young boy is escorted through what can be a very sad stage in a young life by a caring and thoughtful parent. On the other side of this journey emerges a young man who has learned the true meaning of Santa Claus in the secular Christmas story. He has learned that what matters about Santa Claus is real indeed, and always has been.

Santa Claus is the Spirit of Giving. He will always be real.

Sunday musings… While Babysitting

Our little cottage is filled to the gills with a couple of our grandchildren while their parents enjoy a weekend away. I’ve forgotten how intense it is to take care of little ones all day for several days. Making things a bit more challenging, the Littles have some kind of bug that has laid both of them low with fevers and all the fixins. For all of my efforts to demonstrate my evolution as a partner in the parenting game a couple of things are starkly evident. I am much more capable of devoting the entirety of my attention to the blocking and tackling of caring for grandchildren. Despite that, just like it was with our own kids, 90% of the time only Grammy will do; my role is to be ever-ready on the sidelines in “point-and-shoot” mode when she needs me.

While I feel I should be doing more, that the bar for my success as a teammate is ludicrously low, in the end this is essentially what Landon, Lila, and Beth need from me this weekend.

Esquire has a cover article on Bruce Springsteen that I’m slowly working through, one that spends quite a bit of time on Springsteen’s lifelong quest to figure out who he really is. He has a funny little quirk. Each time the writer asks a question that requires a deeper bit of self-awareness Springsteen looks into a mirror in his office before he answers. It’s as if he needs to be reminded that he is answering as Bruce, or supposed do be answering as Bruce, not BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. Almost like he is parsing the question “who am I when it’s just me looking in the mirror” before each answer.

Making this an even bigger challenge, the whole “who am I” thing keeps changing. The longer we live the more versions of ourselves emerge. Some of them even real! Returning for a moment to our weekend with the Littles, Papi really is a different but altogether real version of who I am at this moment in life. For sure I am no less frustratable, and I probably don’t really have all that much more patience than I did as Dad. Oh no. I feel all of that now, too. The difference is that for whatever reason I have now essentially embraced these and other feelings as an essential part of an activity that I truly want to engage in. Today I acknowledge their presence and experience rather than avoid them.

Who does this make me now? Springsteen had a famously fraught relationship with a father who never really accepted who he, Springsteen, was as a child and a young adult. As a father himself Springsteen learned to be present in the lives of his kids, and to at least try to accept them for who they are at any given moment in their lives. No matter how well or how poorly we may be at either or both of those with our kids, grandchildren give us a Mulligan. A do-over if you will, at least if you are fortunate enough to have a chance to be in their lives.

Many years ago I wrote about a long weekend spent in the mountains of Colorado in the company of friends at the time. Adult weekend we called it. What I recall was a rare feeling that for pretty much the whole weekend I felt like I was exactly who I thought I was when I looked in the mirror. At least the good parts of who I thought I was then. Pretty cool weekend. Interestingly it was a pretty easy weekend, too. No posing. No trying to anticipate what others expected, wanted, or needed. I just woke up and gave everyone whatever felt like the best part of me available at a given moment. Though I had no idea of the changes that were about to occur I had a pretty good idea of who I was that weekend.

Now? Ha! I can’t even figure out what the mirror even is right now. Is it truly the mirror over my sink, the one that reminds me of all the miles I’ve traveled and hours I’ve flown in the memory lines of my face? Could be. Always has been. Still, it may never have been that at all. The mirror in the mountains may have been my friends, and Beth, and how we were, all together. Today it may be the face of the children, or of Beth, as we make our way through this feverish weekend.

Or it’s all of those. That’s probably it. All of them. The mirror in the bathroom is the measure of where we are at the moment. It’s a good thing to know who you are at any given time. There are mirrors all around us that show us where we are going, or perhaps where we should be trying to go. I really would like to be enough for the Littles, but there are times when it will be someone else who they will need to be their enough. My role is to be ready if it’s ever my turn. Their faces tell me if I’ve learned enough patience, or if I’m as “in the moment” as I think I am. None of the mirrors lie to you, at least they don’t if you have your eyes open.

As the years have gone by I’ve become better at knowing who I am at any given moment when I look in the mirror.  Who I still need to become is there too, just in a different kind of mirror.

I’ll see you next week…