Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

‘Tis the Season to Indulge

‘Tis the season, eh? Indulgence at this time of year, at least in the Judeo-Christian world, is rather obvious. I WAM 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 oft 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 exercise is hard–you’ve earned it.

[Raises flute]

Evaluating and Treating Stress

Let’s talk about stress, shall we? It’s the Holiday Season in North America after all. Frankly, it’s been on my mind pretty much all day, every day, for a couple of years now. Probably because it appears to have taken up permanent residence in my body and soul for that same couple of years. Lots and lots of talk about stress around me, too. Everybody is talking about “having stress” in their lives, especially as the holidays roll around, so let’s talk.

First of all, as in all things it’s important that we lay some ground rules, establish some definitions so that we are sure to be talking about the same thing. Stress is what appears in your body in response to stressors; stressors are what you have in your life that produce stress, like serving dinner to family on Christmas Eve. I know, I know, it’s a pretty fine point, but bear with me because I think it will make a bit more sense in a moment.

In my day job I am constantly asked if various and sundry ailments are caused by stress. The most accurate and honest answer, from a strictly medical/scientific standpoint, is “yes”. What people are actually asking me, though, is: are the ailments that they have a direct result of the stressors in their lives? Again, perhaps a bit of a fine point, but it will matter. Everyone routinely conflates “stress” with “stressors”.

You can reduce the stress in your body; you may or may not be able to effectively reduce the stressors that cause it.

Think about that for a moment. You can do quite a few things that will reduce the ailments you may have because stress has been induced in your body. The simple science is that chronic stress throws your neuro-endocrine “fight or flight” response out of whack. Our bodies secrete cortisol when faced with acute stress. This is in turn associated with a release of adrenaline. Your pupils dilate, your BP and heart rate go up, and you shunt blood to skeletal muscle in preparation to do battle or to flee.

Chronic stress, on the other hand, causes an increase in both the basal cortisol secretion and a blunting of the normal daily secretion pattern of more in the AM and less in the PM. You have a flatter curve over the day, and the whole curve is elevated. In time you have a chronically elevated BP, and your state of chronic “readiness” begins to affect all manner of the rest of your systems. Stress then becomes a stressor itself, a repeating negative feedback loop. For example, your sleep pattern gets fried. Heck you may not sleep very much at all. That makes stress worse. That “lump in your throat” feeling when you are just pre-panic”? Yeah, that can be there all the time. It even has a name: globus.

Rather ominous word, that. Globus. Stresses me out just typing it.

Here’s the rub: if you could avoid stress—the adverse affect on your body—who wouldn’t do so? When people talk about trying to have less stress in their lives what they are actually saying is that they wish they had fewer and less powerful stressors causing that stress. Work issues, illness, family strife, money issues…life would just be better if we didn’t have them. Pretty simple. Get rid of stressors, get rid of stress. Sadly, our ability to excise stressors from our lives, or even insulate ourselves from them, is somewhere beyond inadequate and approaches impossible.

What to do then? If we cannot avoid the root causes of our stress, how can we relieve it? It turns out that both the magnitude and particular variety of stress can often be measured. Specific symptoms (sleep abnormalities, globus) will point toward equally specific interventions. There are laboratory tests that can be ordered given your particular stress (e.g. midline fat deposition); nutrition adjustments can be made in response (elevated cortisol reduces insulin sensitivity->consume carbohydrates during periods of lower daily cortisol levels).

For me the bottom line is this: we likely have little to no ability to control stressors, those exogenous factors that incite stress. Further, left to its own devices, our body will respond with stress. We can manage that stress by acknowledging it, evaluating it, and then proactively going about counteracting it. You are a Black Box experiment with an n=1.

Attack stress in exactly the way you attack fitness or nutrition. Weigh it, measure it, analyze it, and then attack it.

Sunday musings 12/17/17

Sunday mornings are quiet mornings at Casa Blanco. Re-rack after feeding the dogs, catch up with newspapers that have piled up in addition to the Sunday papers, a third cup of coffee just for the linger. Over the course of a week I collect thoughts and ideas for either musings or an eventual longer piece here, but as often as not it’s something that I read over coffee that turns up in my little Sunday piece. One fertile hunting ground is The Ethicist in the Sunday NYT Magazine, and it is here that I found my muse this week.

I have offered, here and elsewhere, that it is perfectly proper to make an enemy as long as you do it with forethought, and do it on purpose. In my long-held opinion to make an enemy by accident is the second greatest insult one can extend to another human being; it suggests that the newly formed enemy was not even significant enough to consider that they existed prior to your actions (or inactions). This leads, of course, to the single greatest insult that you could ever foment: to actively and purposely choose indifference to the existence of another.

This is a part of a topic addressed by The Ethicist on Sunday. He defines a “decent person” in part by whether or not they have what philosophers call appropriate “reactive attitudes”. In short how we react to others, and by extension how we react to what others in turn display toward us. The philosopher Peter F. Strawson mentions resentment, gratitude, and anger that we may have in response to how we perceive that others have treated us, or treated someone who we care about. Simply feeling these emotional reactions acknowledges that we feel the others are a part of our lives. They exist. They matter.

This time of year is fraught with the entire spectrum of emotions as we come into close contact with family and others with whom we have history. The simple fact that we come together means that we are not, cannot be, indifferent to either them or their feelings about us. Now to be sure there are some among us who have family members who are truly disturbed and either cannot or will not extend any type of goodwill or positive emotion whatsoever. Those, I believe, are rare exceptions, and to you who may be in this position you have my deepest, heartfelt sympathy. For the rest of us, though, in North America the Holiday season presents us an opportunity to re-boot our “reactive attitudes” toward family and friends.

Do you remember what it felt like to go home those first couple of years after you got out of high school? Remember how excited you were to see your folks, your grandparents, and your siblings? There was a buzz in your circle of friends as you conspired to sneak away and re-convene right where you left off the last time you were together. Remember? Trust me, the feeling was at least mutual (if not even stronger) on the part of your parents (and grandparents).

Families are complex and messy, but for all of that no matter what your particular story may be families are never indifferent. You could certainly take the position that we should always be connecting with family, and that the pressure of the Holidays would be lessened if we made more of an effort to be with those who trigger our “reactive attitudes” throughout the year. I’m OK with that. Actually, as a son, brother, in-law, father and grandfather I’d be thrilled with that. But here we are during Hanukkah, with Christmas a week away, so how much we see folks over the year is a topic for another Sunday.

Today, it’s time to go home.

 

Holiday Passages

A pop psychology author, classmate of my parents, once examined life’s stages in a book titled Passages. While I am no fan of her work (somewhat shallow and bereft of any real insight), her choice of a term for major phases of our lives is pretty good. “Passages”. Kind of evokes a journey of sorts. That part of her writing was pretty good.

Our family  will gather this weekend and this has me thinking a bit about those passages. All of our children will spend part of the Holidays with their in-laws; our boys will spend a bit of time with us. Young people truly become a kind of real adult when they take on the responsibility of nurturing a third entity, their marriage. Beth and I used to joke that we would feel like we were “real” adults when we owned our own washer and dryer, but really, we’d gone and grown up as soon as we consciously put our marriage ahead of either of our individual selves. This realization is all we really ask of our young marrieds in these, their middle passages.

This year many of our Christmas tables will have empty seats, or seats that will empty earlier than usual. That final passage demands as much attention as the first one, childhood; it just doesn’t really end as well. Still, it’s also a miracle that we go so very long before that last passage begins, both for us and for those we love. I am struck this week with a single thought: slow down and stay. Stay tiny. Stay young. Stay vibrant. Stay here and now.

Just stay.

In the end all of these passages are a one-way trip. You never back up. You don’t stand still. There’s really no such thing as a Mulligan or a do-over. It’s amazing how much help we need as we start our journey and then again as our journey comes to an end. In the middle, well, we have control. Dwelling in either the past or the future diminishes our present. Doesn’t it make sense to look at each day as its own kind of little miracle? Perhaps aware of what came before (a baby) and conscious of what lies ahead (an empty chair), all the while rejoicing in the miracle of right now.

Safe travels to all on their Holiday Passage.

Santa Claus, The Real Deal

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

Once again my Better 95% knocks it out of the park. We have a couple of little ones again in the White family, 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.

Rest assured, the parental units in the White family 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 that 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.

 

Thanksgiving Exposes the Lie of Remote Connectivity

Oh man…what’re we gonna do with all of this soup?!

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. My favorite weekend of the year will be officially over tonight when Beth and I have turkey soup for dinner, likely alone save for our dogs. (As an aside, I am ever thankful that we still have our little 15yo Shitpoo, Tiny Tim). We’ll dawdle over the fixings and the trimmings of the Holiday as we pack it away in various nooks and crannies. Christmas officially started with the ceremonial playing of the original Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas opera. We careen out of thanks and hurtle into giving.

Each Thanksgiving has its own, special feel, at least around the White house. Two things come to mind this year, the first being that I had no idea what day it was at any single time other than during our family dinner on Thursday. Weird, huh? Usually my life is filled with some version of “if I’m doing this it must be” or “it’s Friday, so I’m doing this” time stamping. Not this weekend. There was so much coming and going, so many interlocking, intersecting, and ultimately connecting schedules I just went into “point and shoot” mode: tell me where to be, when to be there, and what to wear, and I’ll do my best.

Social media has been the talk of the nation for quite some time now. Thanksgiving reinforced something I’ve known for quite a few years now. Yes, we can certainly increase our ability to connect with pretty much anyone on stuff like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. We can reach out for a quick touch on text, or send along a longer message via email. All of these have increased in their perceived importance year over year, comically at the expense of telephone calls especially. It seems that more and more people behave as if all they need to do to nurture their relationships is send an occasional text or tag someone on a Facebook post.

Thanksgiving is the antidote to that kind of madness, at least the type of Thanksgiving we have at Casa Blanco.

Nothing can possibly take the place of a hug. No type of Social Media contact is as meaningful as looking into the eyes of a friend as you shake hands. We get a daily dose of the “Nugget” via text pics from her Mom, but come on, seeing that precious little face smiling up at you as you pick her up out of her little crib? It was too wonderful for words to have Dan and Brittany here for dinner Wednesday night. No amount of texting, calling, or SM was gonna make it sting any less when we had to bid them “see you later” early Friday morning because they had to be back home to Columbus (congrats on the ½ Marathon Brit!). Saying goodbye this morning to Megan and her Ryan, even after a 5-day visit, just gutted me.

I’m no Luddite; I love me some Twitter, etc., and using Social Media to enhance your closest connections is way more pleasant than the silly BS we’ve been subjecting ourselves to lately, right? Think about it, though. Think about how very wonderful it was this weekend if you had a chance to see some part of your family that DOESN’T live in the town next door. How great it was to see the twinkle in a brother’s eyes as he told your spouse about that time you fell out of a tree at Gram’s house. You had a drink with your best friend from forever and she could barely get through that story about that one night in college that you’ve sworn will never be told to your kids. Everyone held hands around the table as you said Grace and shared your favorite memory of Gramp because this is the first year he’s not with you.

They’ve not yet posted a Facebook memory that is as real, as meaningful as the one you share face to face with friends or family. Thank Heavens The Man Cub is napping at my house and will soon awaken and be ready for an adventure with his Papi. I’m already missing the kids who went home. Already counting the days until I get to snuggle The Nugget. Thinking of family members who celebrated in their own homes. I dream of friends from long ago and far away, dream of sharing handshakes and hugs.

Real, reach out and actually touch connections, courtesy of Thanksgiving. Hope yours was Happy and crowded.

 

 

Musings on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is by far and away my favorite holiday. Not even close. Maybe it’s because I’ve always had much to be thankful for, always had pretty much everything I need and at least a bunch of what I (thought I) want. Seriously, I can’t really remember a single Thanksgiving in my entire life where I thought the ledger was tilted to the minus side, where I just couldn’t find so much more to be thankful about than not.

You?

Oh sure, there’s always something to gripe about. I’m not really sure what it is at the moment, but Beth called me out last night for basically being an edgy grump. Guilty, but cluelessly in retrospect, even though I managed to come up with a reasonably coherent attempt at an explanation at the time. Still, it’s almost Thanksgiving, and I’ve gotta get my…ahem…stuff sorted out.

One of the attractions for me to the day is that there are no real obligations. No gift giving. No “X shopping days until” stuff. Heck, I’d love to see a bit of Thanksgiving cheer around town, in stores and restaurants and such. Like we didn’t know all of those Christmas lights were already up the week before Halloween just because you didn’t plug them in?! Sheesh. C’mon, throw me a bone. Gimme a turkey and maybe a pilgrim hat in the window, just for a couple of days. Let me revel in the holiday where there’s really no revelry, just for a moment.

Oops…edgy grumpy again. Sorry.

Thanksgiving is so much more precisely because it’s so much less. Your family, such as it is at any given time, gets together and you eat turkey. Simple. You gather around a communal table, pass around whatever traditional fare constitutes your family’s meal, and talk all over each other with your mouth full. Everyone is more pleased to be together than not, even your cranky aunt who always–ALWAYS–tells you to swallow your food before you answer. Even she is OK on Thanksgiving.

There’s a sameness to Thanksgiving, at least in our minds, and I think that’s part of the joy, the comfort of the holiday. Close your eyes, sit back, and just for a moment think about Thanksgiving at your house. Don’t pick a particular life stage, just let it happen. What do you see? Man, it’s like seeing my life scroll out before me in countless little pictures and video snippets. My timeline is notable for one very important thing: at no point, in no image that flashes before me, am I alone.

What do you see? There’s football in mine. Lots and lots of football. The first memory in line is football. It’s so cold at the Southbridge/Webster HS game my hands feel numb typing this. I had my first cup of coffee that day; they were all out of hot chocolate. You played and then came home, or went to the game and then came home. Yup, football and fires in the fireplace, and so, so much food. And there’s always that one, strange, once-a-year food, right? Peanut butter filled dried dates, rolled in pure sugar. Like a bite-sized PB&J. That’s the one I remember. It was always up to just one or two of your family members to make that weird little treat, too. I flash on my youngest sister as she rolls the dates in the sugar, feigning anger as her siblings snitch them off the plate as quickly as she rolls them. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth at the memory of those little sugar bombs.

As you sit there and move through your Thanksgiving montage you begin to notice something, though. At intervals that are not really regular, but they are there just the same, something changes. Maybe you moved, and the dinner table is different. There are some new characters around the table, a girlfriend here, a husband there. Sometimes something is missing. You run back the tape. You look and you look, but try as you might, someone isn’t there. All kinds of reasons for this, of course, but the first time you scroll through a significant change–venue, menu, cast–it shakes you a bit, right? Your brother got married and has to share the holiday with another family. Your sister was deployed. . Mom or Dad, Grandma or Grandpa, someone is no longer here to be there at all.

Here, I think, is where edgy, grumpy Darrell is probably coming from.  New families. In-laws. Another generation arrives. If you could somehow go back even further, before your own little Thanksgiving memory tree started to grow, you’d find that there’s nothing really unique at all in this little part of Thanksgiving. Change, growth and change, are also part of the magic of the Holiday. What was it like for my Mom to move with her new family to a Thanksgiving in her own home? Family lore has it that my Dad’s family was more than a little unhappy with his move all of one county away. What was he thinking those first couple of Thanksgivings at my Mom’s house? For that matter, what was it like in their homes at Thanksgiving when they were the same age as their grandchildren are now?

Did they have peanut butter-filled, sugar-rolled dates?

Every day is new. Each one is different from the last, and Thanksgiving can be no different. This week there will be much that feels like so many Thanksgivings of yore, yet it will be new as well. New babies and new lives and new places. New additions brought into our oldest traditions. Things and people to adopt and love as much as all we’ve loved before. Edgy? Well, it’s almost certainly because so very much will be new this year in our little home. New brings a bit of uncertainty, doesn’t it? Yes, for sure, it does. But with certainty I can say that once again, as with every Thanksgiving, I will have much more to be thankful for. The ledger will be long on thanks, needs comfortably covered, wants undoubtedly as well. I will be surrounded by those I love; when the scroll is run in the years ahead I will not be alone. Of this I am quite certain.

And there will be dates. Sticky, gooey memories to begin the next generation’s Thanksgiving story.

Happy Thanksgiving.

–bingo

 

Cape Week: In Memorium

The beach was chilly, the water a boiling mass of foam, yet the sand was smooth and calm.  Unaffected. Doubtless, it had seen this before. My eyes began to leak. It must have been the wind. Yes, that’s it. The wind. I stood there in silence, struggling to fix the image in my mind. I knelt down to kiss the sand of my beloved beach. With a shirtsleeve to stem the flow from my eyes I walked away from 25 years of family history and toward the beginning of a new story.

What does it take to bring together an entire family for 7 days under one roof, every year, for 25 consecutive years? Why even start in the first place? Once upon a time families were born, grew, and died in a single town or small group of neighboring towns. Getting together was a given. Holidays presented a challenge born of access: who would host whom for what occasion at what time and for how long? Your Mom or your spouse’s Mom for Thanksgiving or Christmas or whenever. A cousin’s graduation might be a life-or-death obligation, attendance mandatory. Proximity rendered this moot, but we moved away.

First borns both, Beth and I married first and had the first grandchildren. We hit every adulting stage before any of our siblings. This meant encountering in-law issues first as well. Where would we go and when? Sticky wicket, that. The solution, at least for the White family was the creation of a separate holiday totally removed from any established American tradition. We would all go to the beach together, just like we did as kids. Thus began “Cape Week”.

How do you get 4 young couples, all of which had multiple children to return time and again to the same place at the same time to do pretty much the same stuff each year for 25 years? It could be having a parent everyone was afraid of, or another no one wanted to disappoint. For sure having BOTH was a key component. Through every milestone each little family plowed through and found a way to make it to Cape Cod each year to spend every waking moment together in our little compound. Only serious illness kept anyone away.

Over the years change did eventually come in the way of summer jobs for the grandchildren, which led as such things do to real, live adult jobs with little vacation time. That and of course, another generation of in-laws for our children to now contend with. Whispers of change were on the winds these last couple of years, but still, almost everyone was there for almost the whole week each summer.

I know what you’re thinking. Somehow it must have been easy for us. There must have been some sort of massive bribe, or something. Nope. What it took was a ton of commitment and hard work by four (now not so) young couples to make Cape Week happen. One family came from California for several years, another from the Midwest. There were summer camps that were never attended, All-Star teams made but All-Star Games missed. The classic teen rebellions against family were quashed, all 10 cousins showing up many more years than not. Invitations to vacation alternatives were graciously turned down, and every “how come always your family” discussion always ended with some version of “we can do that, too, just some other week.”

Cape week itself took hard work and commitment. Four families, 10 kids, and two grandparents together for meals, beach games, TV at night, and forays en masse to the ice cream shop. It could be a little bit cramped, even with the addition of a second cottage in year 4. Those 10 cousins from homes scattered all over America have grown up to be friends who know an amazing amount about each other despite their age differences and lack of proximity. For instance, 10+ summers of having the “college talk” with their aunts and uncles is uniformly one of their WORST memories. Yet there they were as well, every summer in which there was no unavoidable conflict.

Until this year.

Why now? Why this, our 25th year, are we now closing the book on the last chapter of Cape Week? The easy answer is the loss of one of those grandparents, my Dad. It really doesn’t matter whether he was the one we were afraid of or the one we didn’t want to disappoint, I think it’s more a matter of needing both to make something like Cape Week a forgone conclusion. That one singular loss seems to have opened the door for each family to consider the value of Cape Week to their individual families.  To think the heretofore unthinkable: something is more important to our family unit than the annual assembly of the extended family.

Is that it then? Is it over, 25 years and out? It’s been an extraordinary run. Not a one of us knows a soul who’s even heard of a family that pulled off something like this. What is clearly over is Cape Week written in stone, and while that has always been inevitable if any of us ever really gave it any thought, it is quite sad nonetheless. We will continue to rent the main house, installing Gram for a week in the same chair at dinner, on the same spot on the beach. A calendar will say that it’s number 26, but it will be different. A new Cape Week, year number 1, invitations soon. Who will come?

If I close my eyes I can still see my beach. See it, as it has been these 25 years. With my eyes closed I see my Mom and Dad, young and vibrant, surrounded by babies and toddlers covered in sand and seaweed. There’s my brother and his wife, my sisters and their husbands, my darling Beth. We’re all together. My eyes have begun to leak again and it’s all a blur. There’s a breeze in my house; there must be a window open. Yes, that must be it, an open window has let in the wind.

The winds of change have finally come for Cape Week.

 

Sunday musings 12/20/15

Sunday musings…

1) Clishmaclaver. Foolish talk.

Synonym for Sunday musings.

2) Wedding. “The Heir” is hitched! My oldest son, Dan, married his fiancé yesterday. They are another CrossFit couple–they met at the original Comet CrossFit that Dan and his brother “Lil’bingo” opened 4 years ago. This is the 5th or 6th CF marriage I’ve been a part of but the first one I’ve actually attended. Everything about the CrossFit angle is really pretty cool. There’s no question that you will know how your mate will react to a stressful situation if you’ve met them in a CrossFit gym, eh?

Lil’bingo was Best Man and sent Dan and Brittany off with this final note in his toast: “Join me in today’s Saturday get my Big Bro married WOD in 3-2-1…Cheers!”

3) Miracle. Are you at a stage in your life where you are able to interact with a baby? It’s really quite astonishing, isn’t it? The whole 9 months of making the thing, and they come out just right an unbelievably high percentage of the time. I don’t think it really matters where you are on the almighty deity scale, but the simple fact of a baby is a miracle if you ask me.

Birth is when the fun just gets going. Now, I will admit at this point that I am looking at the whole baby thing a bit differently this time since I am a grandfather to the particular baby I have in mind, not the father. It’s all smiles and cooing and “will you look at that” for me. No diaper changes or fussy gas bubbles for Papi. All fun and giggles and hand ‘em back.

Still, even with and or all of that, a baby is nothing less than a miracle. I hope we get a bunch more Chez bingo, but for now I’m filled with joy whenever I see my little miracle.

4) Passages. A pop psychology author, classmate of my parents, once examined life’s stages in a book titled Passages. While I am no fan of her work (somewhat shallow and bereft of any real insight), her choice of a term for major phases of our lives is pretty good. “Passages”. Kind of evokes a journey of sorts. That part of her writing was pretty good.

Our family wedding this weekend has me thinking a bit about those passages as we careen north on one of Ohio’s super highways. Young people truly become a kind of real adult when they take on the responsibility of nurturing a third entity, their marriage. Mrs. bingo and I used to joke that we would feel like we were “real” adults when we owned our own washer and dryer, but really, we’d gone and grown up as soon as we consciously put our marriage ahead of either of our individual selves. This realization is all we really ask of our young marrieds in their middle passages.

Many of our tables at yesterday’s wedding reception had empty seats, or seats that emptied early. That final passage demands as much attention as the first one, it just doesn’t really end as well. Still, it’s also a miracle that we go so very long before that last passage begins. I was struck throughout the day with a single thought: slow down and stay. Stay tiny. Stay young. Stay vibrant. Stay.

In the end those passages are a one-way trip. You never back up. There’s really no such thing as a Mulligan or a do-over. It’s amazing how much help we need as we start our journey and then again as our journey comes to an end. In the middle, well, we have control. Dwelling in either the past or the future diminishes our present. Doesn’t it make sense to look at each day as its own kind of little miracle? Perhaps aware of what came before (a baby) and conscious of what lies ahead (an empty chair), all the while rejoicing in the miracle of right now.

Now is what you have. Treat it like the miracle that it is.

I’ll see you Christmas morning…

–bingo

Cape Week

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that the only constant is change; the only thing in life on which you can depend is that things will not always ever be the same. An important corollary to this is that all things, good or bad, will come to an end. So it appears to be in my little slice of the world. While it’s not quite clear exactly when, it is clear that a very important part of my adult life is near an end.

This is the weekend when Beth and I digest the latest iteration of the annual White Family Cape Cod vacation week. For 23 consecutive years all, or almost all, of my family has congregated in the same 2 cottages across the street from the ocean in the idyllic little town of West Dennis, MA. After that comes 12-14 hours of driving home, a rolling debriefing and decompression from a full-immersion experience into my family. For 8 years or so both vacation and the drive home have been fodder for my “Sunday musings”, some of my best. Although some aspects of the vacation were as immutable as Bill Murray waking up in that hotel room every day in Groundhog Day–a seeming violation of my “everything changes” dictum–each year has actually turned out to be a truly unique story told exactly once. For 23 years. It’s really been a remarkable streak when you think about it.

The genesis of this annual odyssey was my youngest sister’s wedding and the addition of a fourth set of in-laws to the family Holiday dynamic. Beth and I are both first borns. We were the first to marry and the first to bring members of the next generation into the family. We have always lived a mutually disagreeable distance from both families, in the backyard of neither, and no closer to either. Both families were equally unhappy with our zip code. Really a compliment, when you think about it.

As part of this it was clear right from the start that there would be no winning and losing when it came to family visits on the big 2 American Holidays Thanksgiving and Christmas. Nope, it was gonna be all War of the Roses, just degrees of losing. My proposed solution? We would declare a summer White Family Holiday and we would all convene in one place for a week together. Thus began 23 years of “The Cape Week.” When we began my caboose, Randy, was 6 weeks old, the 5th of what would become a gaggle of 10 grandchildren, the youngest of whom is now an 8th grader. Somewhere there’s a picture of him dwarfed by a 15 lb. lobster at dinner in year one.

For 23 years we distilled each year’s visits into a single week. We laughed and we cried, whispered and screamed. We loved and not-so-loved over each week as my generation fell into and out of our childhood family roles. It’s kinda like draft slots, right? You sit at the same place at the family dinner table and its even called “Beth’s seat”, or “Darrell’s seat”, or whomever. Whatever your place was in the family (agitator, comforter, achiever, slacker) at some point in the week you fell right into your allotted space. Triumphs and tribulations were tabulated as we offered each other all manner of advice and support. Some of it even solicited! In some years we single-handedly kept the vintners of California solvent with our dinner-time consumption.

So why now? Why is this summer the year that the end is nigh? Ah, it’s that old bugaboo, change. The younger couples and their children were paying attention and they have seen what it takes for the grandchildren to attend as they get older; this has (rightfully) given them pause. It’s hard, very hard, to make a week like this happen every year. As the kids get older, move through their school years and into real life, getting them to the Cape becomes ever more challenging, even when they truly want to be there. More than that, though, is the inexorable change wrought by time in my parents, Gram and Gramp. Soon, much too soon, the trip will either be too much for them to handle, or they’ll not be with us to handle it at all. All things come to an end, after all. Even something as unlikely and wonderful as a family of 20 meeting for a week on the same beach for 23 years.

The lessons are as obvious as they are at once joyous and sad. Good things are worth the effort it takes to keep them alive. My family, led by my brother, will likely try to do just that. Even good things, or the best of things, will eventually succumb to change and perhaps even come to an end. These realizations are bittersweet in our case for they bring along the dread for what this proxy for ultimate change portends. Late one night Mrs. bingo was awakened to the sounds of my muffled sobs as the end appeared before me. This year? Next? Change is the only constant. Everything comes to an end.

As I turned to leave, not knowing if I would ever return, I bent down to kiss my beloved beach goodbye.