So it’s been a couple of days since I’ve last been here. What, you think it’s been more than a couple of days? Really? Maybe you’re right. I’ll have to count on my fingers to check. Sometimes life gets in the way or I get distracted.
My mother in law passed away this past fall at the age of 93 and so we spent the rest of the year going through her home and preparing it for sale. Not an easy task. My father in law passed away twenty-six years ago and so she’s lived in this home for the last sixty years. Up until recently she was able to take care of herself but the last year and a half required some help. Her home was always meticulous, even at the very end. The only problem was, she never threw anything away. I think that’s somewhat common for that generation, who came from a time when everything had value. Nothing was wasted or discarded needlessly. Nothing had a shelf life. It’s something I understand but it didn’t make the process any easier.
We sometimes didn’t know, going through her belongings, what had real value, sentimental or otherwise. Did it have special meaning to her, was it worth something, or was it an item that was given away for free at gas stations back in the day. Some things were obvious, some not so much. And what about the photos of people from so long ago that we didn’t recognize. Did the people in the photo hold special meaning to her? Did they remind her of a special time? What do we do with them now?
And here’s where deconstructing a life comes into the conversation. Here are the decisions we had to make, whether they seem logical or not. We kept quite a few things, as did our children, who wanted remembrances of their grandmother. We donated quite a bit to various charities. We sold a few things. And unfortunately, we ended up tossing some things. For some reason, the photos were sometimes the toughest decisions to make. It seems sacrilegious to throw them out but why keep photos of people we don’t know, and if we do keep them, you just leave it for the next person to deal with when we’re gone.
The whole thing was just so surreal. I’ve known my wife since third grade and have been going to that house for over fifty years. I spent more time there over the years than in the home I grew up in. I knew every corner and almost every story. To take it apart seemed like a violation of her life. Every day another piece was gone, until nothing remained but the shell. Until the home became a house. A property to be sold.
But it seemed even more than that and I’m not sure it’s easily explained. It’s like someone who existed a short time ago, no longer does. Her “stuff” is gone. I understand about the memories we”ll have to hold onto and the items we have to remind us of her life, but there is a big difference between the body and the soul of a person. In certain homes, filled with years of love and memories, I believe the same holds true. Strip away what made it special, and the deconstruction is complete. Emptying that home was like emptying a life. It’s a strange feeling and I’m sure many of you have gone through similar moments over time.
When we were done, I joked with my wife about what our children may think or say when their time comes to do the same thing. What questions they’ll have that may remain unanswered. What photos they’ll find and wonder who those people were. What decisions they’ll have to make and if sentimentality or practicality will be the deciding factor. Probably a little of both.
I just know that a few days after we finished up we started going through our own home. If we can make it a bit easier for our children when the time comes, all the better. I just don’t want to make it too easy. After all, what fun is life without leaving some mystery and unanswered questions about your parents. I might even plant a few things around just to keep the conversation interesting. I wouldn’t want them to forget us easily.
It’s nice to be back.
This should help get your weekend off to a nice start…
I recently watched a show on HBO that explored Norway’s approach to youth sports. It was eyeopening. Anyone who has participated or been associated with youth sports in this country during the past thirty or so years will tell you, if they’re being objective, that the model is out of control. We train, pressure and attempt to develop eight year olds as if they’re pro athletes, so it should surprise no one that a study performed by the National Alliance for Youth Sports found that 70% of American children quit sports by the age of thirteen. One of the main reasons given for dropping out is that sports in no longer fun.
They basically take the approach that the United States is using, and do the opposite. Back in 1987, Norway adopted a statement called Children’s Rights In Sports. It governs how kids participate in athletics and all national sports federations are obligated to abide by the rules. The basic premise centers on making sports available for all kids with the goal of having fun. Instead of the pressure for kids to participate in one sport year round at an early age, like we do in the United States, Norway wants kids to play sports because its fun and they enjoy it.
By the way, 93 percent of children grow up playing organized sports in Norway, where there are no economic barriers, travel teams aren’t formed until teenage years and adults don’t begin separating weak from strong until children have grown into their bodies and interests. Leagues don’t keep scores until the age of 13, there are no national championships for teams younger than 13 and no regionals until 11. Once a child reaches thirteen, has begun to grow into their bodies and expressed specific interests, Norway’s sports federation make top coaches available to athletes skilled in those sports, but until then, it’s only about participation and letting kids be kids and have fun. Their belief is that it’s impossible to say at 8 or 10 who is going to be talented in school or sport. All children develop, physically and athletically, at very different ages.
What a concept!! Letting a child have fun, living their lives and playing sports for the pure enjoyment of it.
One would think that a system like this would come up short compared to our system of national championships for seven year olds, parents hiring coaches for nine year olds and families traveling across the country for tournaments. But Norwegian athletes get just as much physical exercise without having to play the same sports day after day, year after year, while they’re young. Their development is all encompassing and they are able to enjoy friendships and family without the stresses and commitments we see in this country.
Their goal is not to develop the best college or professional athlete, but the best well rounded person.
Oh, and if anyone thinks this approach doesn’t breed success, take a look at the last Winter Olympics in 2018. With a population of only 5.3 million people, Norway took home 39 medals, more than any country in the history of the Winter Games. And yes, they also have the best female soccer player in the world.
Is it any wonder that Norway always ranks as one of the happiest countries in the world?
Youth sports in this country is a 16 billion dollar industry bankrolled by parents who just don’t understand the long term impact on their children.
In a country where money speaks first, parents dictate direction and children have become a secondary priority, there is little chance that we will ever see the type of youth sports revolution Norway adopted.
And once again, children lose.
As a longtime Bruce Springsteen fan, I learned many years ago that there are two camps. You either like him and his music or you don’t. I’ve never heard anyone say, yeah, he’s just ok.
I’ve found the same holds true with Disney, You either enjoy going there or you don’t. For many I think it’s impossible to be a take it or leave it type of person with Disney. Some people are made for it and some are not.
Look, Disney isn’t for everyone. It’s not. You have to believe. You have to have the mindset of a child, not be bothered by ridiculous crowds, brutal heat during summer months and holidays, long lines, being cramped into shoulder width space during fireworks, long lines, exorbitant pricing, ridiculous crowds, and in your face marketing and commercialization. You have to be flexible, overlook and understand irritable kids, (most of whom are not your own), not blink at the price of a burger or drink, be patient with the transportation system and be willing to plan days and times for rides. Did I mention long lines and ridiculous crowds?
So why go? That’s a good question. One that everyone who enjoys Disney answers for themselves. You really do have to see it through the eyes of a child and not through the logical brain of an adult because logical adult brains would scream at you to stay away. But in some strange way, if you approach and plan it well, it can be a blast. For as much commercialization as Disney is rightfully accused of, they do so much well. Considering the number of people who move through the parks on a daily basis, I’m amazed it runs as well as it does the majority of the time.
When we went in November with one of our daughters, her husband and two young granddaughters, we caught the last few days of the wine and food festival at Epcot, which was a lot of fun. Crowded, but fun. The parks were being decorated for Christmas so we also got to experience that for the first time and it was really special to see. The music, the snow falling around you at night as you walk through lighted streets in different parks. Yes, it was crowded. But if you have the ability to overlook some things and focus on the magic through the eyes of children, it becomes very special.
Here are just a few photos of the different parks.
Outside of Magic Kingdom.
Hanging With a Friend in Animal Kingdom.
Boardwalk At Night
Castle During Fireworks Night (yes the crowds are crazy)
Christmas Tree In Hollywood Studios
Main Street After Fireworks
Making A Gingerbread Carousel
With The Following Ingredients
For me the best of both worlds would be walking the parks with Springsteen playing throughout. But I realize I can’t have everything I want, so I’ll settle for Disney music, hundreds of characters and princesses, smiles on the faces of children and Dean Martin singing Marshmallow World.
Disney is not for everyone and it doesn’t make you a bad person for not wanting to come. Just leave the bitter beer faces at home. You’ve been forewarned. My public service announcement is now complete.
“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
Thirty-nine years ago today my father passed away suddenly, less than a day after we buried my thirty-two year old brother-in-law who died of cancer. When you spend a week and half sitting in a funeral home making final arrangements for two people of your immediate family, life has a way of changing you. Not immediately, and sometimes not even in ways you can understand or explain. But it does change you.
It’s hard to believe so much time has gone by and even more difficult to think about everything they missed and everything we missed sharing with them. We lost a part of our future and past in a matter of days. I don’t know if we ever really recover from loss or just throw a blanket over it to allow us to function each day. We carry on, we laugh, we welcome new family members, we enjoy life because there is no other choice. We live for the living and for ourselves. Still, there’s always a hole, always moment in days where we stop and maybe smile at a memory or what they might have done or said about a family situation. Or the way life has changed so much over the years.
Here’s the strange part of the story…
A couple of weeks before my Dad died, I had a dream. In my dream, I saw him in a coffin at the funeral home, exactly as he appeared after he passed away.
Ten years earlier, my grandfather, (my father’s father), died unexpectedly. A couple of weeks before he died, I had a dream. In that dream, I saw him as he appeared in the coffin. My grandfather lived in Brooklyn so I had never been to that funeral parlor. And yet, when I walked in, everything was as I had seen it. In detail. I remember it very clearly.
A couple of days after my father was buried, I told my mother about both dreams. For obvious reasons, I had never told anyone about them before. She wanted to know why I didn’t tell her. She wondered if there might have been something we could have done if she had known. But as soon as she said the words, she understood.
You can’t alter your life chasing those types of dreams, just like you can’t alter your life chasing what might have been. There’s no time for that, no secret recipe for the secrets of life.
So hold the ones you love close. Those that are here and those who are not. And if the ones who are here don’t understand, hold them closer.
It’s not what you gather but what you scatter that tells what kind of life you’ve lived.
I was thinking about my childhood the other day and trying to remember how far back my memories went. I settled on somewhere between four and five years old but there were only a handful that were clear to me. That bothered me, especially when I took what was then and applied it to now.
Making memories with the people you love or care about is one of life’s greatest gifts. Some of the times we’ve laughed most were with our children and grandchildren, especially during their early years, when everything is on the table, learning is a daily adventure, innocent words are a sound byte and your sense of wonder sometimes equals theirs. Those are memories that we’ll keep with us forever. Unfortunately, it’s all one-sided. Because in those early years it’s not anything they’ll remember. Influenced, yes. But all the things that were said or laughed about until there were tears in our eyes will not be a definitive memory for them.
That shouldn’t bother me because it’s just another cycle of life, but it does. I remember things that we did with our children and now our grandchildren that were special moments, and though we can relay the stories, it’s not the same as being there in our mutual minds. I sit and have conversations now with our grandchildren, play games, tell stories, laugh at the silliest things, hold them if they cry and sit back and wonder if they’ll remember any of it.
I’ve always understood this but I suppose as I’ve gotten older, Helen Walton’s quote has taken on a different meaning. You want those you love to remember every last laugh and cuddle and hand holding because you know that time of innocence, like life, is so short. Eight or nine comes too quick and soon they’re moving on. Parents will always be more invested in the lives of their children/grandchildren than the other way around. That’s just the way it is. It’s not a matter of loving or caring, it’s just the emotional investment that begins long before they open their eyes and never goes away.
So selfishly you want them to remember it all. Every amazing moment. Big and small. Hoping that you’ve scattered enough love and joy into their lives that one day they may laugh at something silly for no reason at all. You may not know it or even be there. But if it brought them happiness, then maybe something in their two year old lives stuck, and you’ve scattered enough.
And maybe, just maybe, the shade of a memory will not only be yours.