When I grow up

FREIGHT TRAIN

You know you’re getting older when you find your birthdays barreling down on you like an out of control freight train….and you can’t get off the tracks.

When I was a kid, I loved birthdays.  It felt like a national holiday just for me.  Lots of presents, maybe your name would be mentioned on the P.A. system at school, and you had amnesty from your parents for those things that would get you in trouble on any other day of the year.

Pretty sweet!  You just had to avoid the ‘Patty-Whacks’…that part sucked!

Overall, I still like birthdays, but the amnesty thing doesn’t work so well anymore, and you NEVER want your name called out on any P.A. system.  Flying under the radar is the key to birthdays when you’re old enough to remember life before microwave ovens and computers.

The trouble is, now I spend more time thinking of what I dreamed of as a kid and just how far from that path I wandered.  That sounds more morose than it is….I wanted to be either Spider-man or Bat Man.  I probably would have ended up as some sort of mutant 8-legged bat super hero thingy.

I don’t think that would have worked out very well.

I do spend time thinking of what I really want to be when I grow up, though.  I know, it sounds stupid coming from a guy past the curve of his working life.  I guess I just never really gave it a lot of thought.

I always envied those people who just knew what they wanted and went after it.  It didn’t even matter if that’s not what they ended up doing – just the drive towards something they could see down the road always left me in awe.

My plan was probably a lot like a fugitives – stay one step ahead of trouble.  If I could do that, I’d be doin’ all right!  It also meant that I’d probably never reach any sort of destination.  Not sure if that’s good or bad.

But I think I finally got it down.  I think, that after 40 50 something years, I can say with some conviction that what I really want to be when I grow up is….rich.

That sounds pretty shallow I’ll admit, but honestly, I think I’d be really good at it!  I’m a fun-loving guy, and I’m generous, at times, to a fault.  I’d totally share in my riches….tithe, volunteer, help my fellow man and all that – even throw pool parties and invite people over, or have huge barbecues and feed the whole neighbourhood.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking Warren Buffet rich.  That’s too much pressure.  In fact, I’m not even talking ‘personal jet’ rich.  Just rich enough so that I don’t have to worry about prioritizing work over play. Doesn’t that sound great??

I don’t want to have to go to the grocery store in disguise, though.  I will – I just don’t want to have to.

bad disguise

Frankly, I don’t know why everyone else hasn’t thought of that as a goal for life.  I guess that’s what happens when you have enough time to contemplate your options, and have worked long enough to know what you NEVER WANT TO DO AGAIN.

Now that I have that figured out, all I need to do is get rich.

Who wants to help me?

Out of the nest

Out of the nestI’m not very nostalgic.  Purging old stuff from my basement and garage is usually only difficult because of the work involved, not because of the sentimental value of the treasures buried in dust and cobwebs.

I don’t attach much emotion to things – which is good from a hording standpoint, but probably not when it comes to kids artwork.  I remember getting caught by one of my kids once when I threw out one of their masterpieces from Kindergarten.  They were mortified that I didn’t want to treasure every object they came in contact with.  I’m just not wired that way.

The same ideology applied to how I raised my kids – there was never a time that I sat up late at night, rocking one my precious, fevered little darlings back to sleep where I thought ‘I wish this feeling would never end’.  In fact, I couldn’t wait to see what great adventures were laid before us – what these smelly little diaper destroyers would eventually become.

I also wished I remembered what a full nights sleep felt like.

When we brought our first-born home from the hospital, I remember sitting in the living room after the whole birth ordeal, wondering ‘what do we do with him now?’.  For me, it was far more exciting to see what would happen next, than clinging to things past.

I guess I just associate more with the here and now, than the days gone by.  I’m pretty sure all the Facebook psychologists will have a field day with these thoughts.

I don’t want to suggest that I’m not the proudest Dad in the world at how they’ve turned out.  I am!  Heck, based on how I saw my parenting skills, I’m actually surprised that they beat the odds!  I guess my wife was the tipping point factor for them.

We’ve been dealing with our Son’s transition to adulthood for the past couple of years as he’s been living in another city while going to University. This fall, our daughter will be doing the same.

Our ground school lessons are over – now it’s time for the kids to fly.  Amazing, exciting times.

We’ve been frantically completing all her applications, payments, etc., with a mix of frustration and excitement for the past few months.  These are incredible times for her and for us.  It’s also been hectic enough that we haven’t (okay, I haven’t) really stopped to think about what this means.

Yesterday though, it hit me.

We were at the store, getting some kitchen supplies for her new home on campus.  As we filled the cart with dishes and tea towels, the sudden weight of what was coming hit me like a school bus.  Our baby will be leaving home.

It actually surprised me, feeling like I did.  Maybe it shouldn’t have, but there I was, staring down at this pile of independence; cutlery, dishes, a can opener.  I think it was the stupid can opener that got me.  That’s the clear sign that she’s leaving.  You can mentally quantify the other stuff, but a kitchen gadget like a can opener means they’ll be doing things on their own from now on.

Again, I’m not nostalgic, so I’m trying to think of all the upsides of not having a kid in the house.

No more checking in to see that she’s up in the morning, or cleaning up the kitchen after you’re pretty damn sure you cleaned it up before you went to bed last night.  No more of your stuff being moved from where you left it.

No more lights left on all night, or having to close the bedroom door because the ‘night owls’ don’t sleep like normal people do, and they wake you up with their stomping around all night.

We’ll be able to eat dinner where we want, when we want, and what we want.  We won’t have to think about anyone else (except the dog, of course).  GROCERY BILLS CUT IN HALF!

So, why am I so stuck on that stupid can opener?  Have I suddenly tapped the nostalgic emotion, hidden away all these years? Will I suddenly find myself digging through old pictures and trophies, recalling how I felt at the time, creating a shrine of what my kids used to be?

That can opener, I think, is a metaphor for where we are with our kids.  They will use the tools we’ve given them to leave the ‘can’ and set out to start their own lives.  It’s out of our hands now.  They’re turning the crank, not us.

Like I was almost 2 decades ago, anticipating what will come next, I’ll be cheering on my kids and underestimating just how awesome they’ll turn out, but those 2 decades left a legacy.  You can’t ignore how profoundly your life changed because of them.  For the better.

Maybe I am getting a bit nostalgic.  Maybe I’ll spend a little time looking through old pictures, remembering how I felt at the time.  Maybe that’s what I’ve learned from my kids.  That time we spent together, figuring out life as we went along, was the stuff of life.  Those crafts from Kindergarten weren’t just construction paper and glue – they were the milestones that I kept looking for – those ‘next great things’ that I couldn’t wait to see.

Sure, having the house to ourselves will be great in many ways, but I figure it’ll be about a week before we wish they were back home again.  Maybe the can opener won’t work, and we’ll have to swoop in and save her from her independence.

As much as I might wish that, I sure hope it doesn’t happen.  Leaving the nest is just another step for kids.  A painful, thrilling, sad, exhilaratingly huge step.

And I couldn’t be more proud.

Kittens, Justin Bieber and Walmart – from cute to annoying

cute kittenSince I’ve joined the Facebook community, I’ve noticed just how many sickeningly cute pictures and videos there are of cats.  I’m pretty sure the people who were the brain thrust of the internet didn’t have snoring kittens in mind.

If you know me, you know I’ve never been much of a cat lover, but I do admit that kittens have their charm.  Those doey eyes, fluffy fur and curious nature are hard to resist…until they’re not cute anymore.  Then they just pee on your stuff and shred the corners of your favourite furniture.

Puppies, with their over-sized paws clumsily bound around the house, knocking over kids and plants, and they constantly fall down the stairs – adorable!  Then they get big, and they become a smelly, hairy pain in the tush.  Then, when they knock stuff over, it’s ‘outdoors, Rover!’

Even Canada’s You Tube export, Justin Bieber was cute at one point.  With his wispy hair-do and sickeningly sweet tones.  Not any more!  Now there’s a petition to have him extradited back to Canada.  Somewhere along the line, his irresistible charm tarnished badly.

It’s funny how we view things – there was an ad a while ago, I think for a car company, where they compared a squirrel to a rat.  Basically, visually speaking, they look the same, except that the squirrel has a nice big bushy tail.  Everyone loves squirrels but hates rats…presumably because of the tail.  The fact that rats live in the sewers, spread plague and eat garbage doesn’t help, either.

I don’t remember the car or what they were trying to explain.

I’ve been doing a bit of ‘entrepreneurial’ work lately (that’s a secret code word for ‘a couple hours of work on the internet followed by grass cutting, chatting with neighbours, wandering the aisles of Costco, and napping through home improvement shows’).

Everyone loves to hear about small business success stories.  Little Davids out there, taking on the giant, ugly Goliath’s of the business world.  ‘”Go get em’!”  I’d hear.  “What a great idea.  I’m sure you’ll make a killing at that”, and so on.

All very rah-rah, and good for the emotional soul.  I guess what I keep wondering though, is when does the rah-rah stop, and the web-bashing begin?  I mean, it’s not likely that I’ll be an overnight success and suddenly be subject to scrutiny over my hiring or wage practices, but still…

What got me wondering about this, is that recently I heard an argument that although we all love to hate Walmart despite the ironic fact that almost all of us hand over our cash to them every week, they too were a success story.  Somewhere back in little Bentonville, Arkansas, at a 5 and Dime store known as ‘Walton’s’, and founded by that kindly-looking country bumkin ‘soon-to-be billionaire’, Sam Walton was a small business owner who had his share of ‘rah-rah’ admirers.

But, like kittens and Justin, something changed.  Once they became big, or self-realized, or smug, or whatever, we decided they resembled the rat more than the squirrel.  I guess we all like a success story until it’s, well…successful.  Huh.

I read a book…well read most of a book called ‘The Tipping Point’.  Basically, it was trying to explain that at some point, a trickle becomes a deluge based on a slight change in the fulcrum of the balance of things.  I never did get through it, but I think it applies here.

There is a tipping point where children aren’t adorable any more.  We still love them and care for them, but they tend to drive us nuts a little more.  They tipped.

Maybe that’s what happened to Justin Bieber and Walmart.  They were cute and adorable, but the invisible pendulum swung a bit too far the other way, and suddenly weren’t lovable any more.  They abused or outgrew their cuteness and suddenly became annoying and ugly.

The success story that got them where they are was also their undoing in the eyes of public opinion.  The squirrel’s tail turned into an ugly, skin coloured whip, and we turned away in disgust.

Cute keeps you alive when you’re young – heck, even I was ‘cute-ish’ when I was little, in a freckle faced Ginger sort of way, but when my legs grew longer than my body, and my voice changed, little bits of that rat tail emerged.  You can’t count on your adorableness for too long, so you have to adapt.

I guess it means always looking like the squirrel, and not letting your rat tail show.  Maybe that’s what all those spin doctors are there for – to try to convince the public that your favourite celebrity or business success story still has a bushy tail.

For me, my self-employment venture is a very long way from ever looking like a rat, but if I’m lucky, a long way down the road, someone will point out that my tail is showing.  I’m sure my loving friends and family will ensure I stay ever so humble.

 

Here’s my shameless plug (while I’m still cute):

http://magicmats.net/

magicmats video image

 

 

The Bus Ride

This blog is a departure from my usual style, but I felt compelled to write it.  I hope you enjoy it, or at least see the metaphors in your own ‘bus ride’.

When you’re young and just starting out, you begin a long journey that will last the better part of your lifetime.  Everything you learned up to now was designed to prepare you for a long bus trip, and almost all of us will take that ride.

You stand, excited and scared at the same time, with thousands of other people, young and old alike, waiting to get on a bus.  Buses of all sizes, shapes, and colours, numbering in the hundreds, rev their engines and vie for a spot on the road, or are parked to let people on or off.  You wonder which bus you should try to board, or perhaps more importantly, which bus will let you on.

You stand at the doorway to a bus you seem to like, and the driver may talk to you.  If they like you, they may ask you to board, and travel with them, hopefully to your destination, although that destination hasn’t been determined yet – at least not for you.

You may have to talk to a lot of bus drivers.  Some will close the door without acknowledging you were even standing there.  Others say they have to make a stop first, but will come back for you, but never show up again.

In time, you will find a seat on a bus that will take you.  The bus is crowded, but you locate a seat at the back that you will share with a total stranger for some time.  The air is thick and hot back there.  No windows – at least not clean enough or near enough to see out of – and no air conditioning.  It’s not pleasant, but the promise of a journey into the future keeps you smiling, or at least tolerating it.

The bus begins to move, and you watch as the busy streets blur around you.  Any sense of direction is lost to you, but you put your trust in the driver, and know that wherever you’re going, it’s better than where you were.

There are buses everywhere, big and small – some slow and broken, others shiny and fast.  Most are just like any other bus, though, and that’s the kind you’re on – conservative and consistent.  Just like you.

The bus makes frequent stops, and some people are escorted off, crying or yelling.  Others jump off as soon as it slows down, and run to another bus.  No explanation is given, and you likely will never see them again.  An empty seat becomes a semi-civilized battle with the other passengers, especially those at the back with little air and no space.

If they’re fortunate enough, someone will move up to the vacant seat, leaving a bit more room for you to stretch out and maybe become known as a good passenger to the few around you.  Often, though, the seat is stolen by someone picked up along the way that the bus stopped for.

Not fair!

On the bus, you get to know the other passengers around you.  Everyone has a different reason to be on the bus, but in the end, they are all  looking for their own destination somewhere down that long road.

Some might become friends, although most will remain ‘that guy’ who says hello to you every morning but you still don’t know his name. Such is life when you are traveling on a great journey, and you begin to realize that the expedition itself is as relevant as the destination you were looking for.

If you’re lucky, seats will become empty further to the front on this very, very long trip, and as you move forward on the bus, you become more well-known and liked.  You try to keep in touch with those at the back, but its tough. The air is cleaner up here, and you can actually see out the side windows, although the path ahead is still not fully in view.

You feel glad you got on a bus that could go so long without any breakdowns or getting lost.  You praise the drivers’ skills and work with the other passengers to make sure the bus keeps on the road, straight and true.  Life is good.

Eventually, after a long time, you realize that your destination, although still an extremely long way off, is actually closer to you now than your starting point, and everything you dreamed of for yourself is coming to fruition.  You have moved a long way forward on the bus, and can even talk to the driver occasionally.

The bus still stops, and people get on and off – either voluntarily or by force.  You don’t make contact with most of them, but a few promise to keep in touch.  Most don’t, though.

The bus has become home.  In fact, you realize you’ve spent more time on the bus than anywhere else as long as you’ve lived.

Some people have changed buses many times, but you, with the exception of a few quick transfers early on, have remained on this bus the whole time.  Even the driver has changed over the years, but the bus has stayed, more or less, on the same path the whole time.

At some point, you notice, however, that the bus has begun to move more slowly.  Other newer, faster buses are better equipped for the road ahead, and pass you quickly.  The destination is not approaching at the rate it once was, and more and more seats are now empty.  Fewer passengers are picked up to fill them. The driver isn’t talking as much as they used to, either.

The bus slows even more, despite the lighter load, and people start to whisper about what the driver is going to do about it.  You all trust him – you have to!  He’ll figure things out and you’ll continue on our route like you always have.  You got on the right bus.

Then one day it happens.  The bus stops, and as you look out the window to see why, you find that you are the next one to be escorted off, along with a few others.  No explanation, or forewarning.  Just a somber handshake and some tips on how to find another bus somewhere else.

So there you are.  Standing on the side of the road, watching the bus amble along without you, shakily heading to the destination that you were sure it would take you to. Shock, sadness, and yes, even anger fill you, and for a while, you can’t even think about getting on another bus.  Even if you did, where would you sit?  Where would the bus be going?  Can you trust the driver and the other passengers?  No – just sit a while and think.

You decide to stay and play for a time – stretch your legs and smell the flowers around you that you sped past all those years.  If feels good to do this, but in the back of your mind, you recall just how much further you still need to travel to reach your destination.  That thought is always there, lurking in the recesses of your brain, like a sinister shadow, threatening to step into full view.

The thought of the long path ahead becomes overwhelming, so you make up a little sign “Great Passenger. Hard Working. Respectful. Loyal. Will take any seat”, and you stand on the side of the road, forcing a smile, waiting for a bus to see you and stop.

Buses pass by so fast that you’re sure they can’t even read the sign.  A few slow down and give you a quick glance, but speed off without stopping.  You stand on the side of the road for a long time, wondering how some people get buses to stop and pick them up, but you can’t.  Is the the sign wrong?  Do you look intimidating? Are you too old……?

A few buses stop, and even let you look inside.  They have an empty seat, and need someone to fill it.  You’re dressed well, and are groomed to give a great impression, but the seat they have is pretty far back, and it might not be a good thing for someone so well groomed to sit back there.

The bus leaves without picking you up.  This happens a lot.

Down the side of the road, you see one of the old passengers from your bus, pushing a motorcycle along the soft shoulder of the road towards you.

They stop when they reach you, and show you the motorcycle they have.  It’s not working, but maybe, with the two of you together, you can get it running and zoom right past all those stinky, noisy buses to your destination in record time.  No more bus drivers deciding who gets on or off, and when.  You’re the drivers now!

You have nothing to lose, but as you both push the old machine along in the soft sand, you tape the sign to your back – just in case.

The hope of getting that motorcycle running keeps your energy up for a while, but the tires don’t roll in the sand very well, and for some reason the engine just won’t start.  You keep watching over your shoulder, hoping another bus might just stop and pick you up.  It’s a tactic that’s mixed with wishful thinking and guilt, but one that you hope will pay off.

Others on motorcycles pass along the way.  You are conflicted with desire for yourself, and jealousy that they got theirs working while you still push yours along in the hot sun.  Still, the thought of being in the drivers seat brings new hope, and you push on, despite the odds.

At times, when you’re alone on the road, those dark shadows flow into the light like a river breaking its protective banks.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  The bus was supposed to carry you all the way to your destination.  How will you get there now?  It’s way to far to walk, the motorcycle idea doesn’t seem to be working, and despite a few stops, no bus has made a seat available to you.  How did this happen to a good person? It’s not fair.  But, as they say, life isn’t fair.  No one was out to get you.  No malicious intent was a part of anyone’s agenda. S**t happens sometimes.

In the end, there’s no guarantees.  You may never get on a bus to begin with, and even if you do, it might be a short trip.  You were luckier than most.  You had a good ride – and a long one.  Time to stop the pity party, and do what you’ve done before.  You’re smarter now than you were back then.  You know which buses to stay away from and which ones can get you all the way to your destination.

This is nothing more than another new adventure.  A bump in the road, and you should be excited like you were when you stepped foot on that first bus so long ago.

Except this time, the stakes are a lot higher.  You have more skin in the game, and more people are expecting big things out of you. Failure is not an option, and the bus drivers have a lot more questions now than they did back then.

Where will you end up?  Will you ever get that motorcycle running, or will you have to take a few buses to get there?  You’ll never know.  The only thing to do is to know that everyone you’ve ever met is rooting for you, and wants to see you get there, and that somehow, it will happen.

Leap and the net will appear.  Keep those dark shadows behind the banks as much as possible, and when you feel like they’re seeping in, run for the high ground of friends and family.  They’ll always carry you.

Have faith in God.  He has big plans for you.  This change is a chance to reassess your path and to listen to what he’s calling you to.  There’s a purpose for everything, even, if like that first part of your bus trip, you can’t see it yet.

I wish for your bus ride to be full of adventure, great friends, deep faith, and an awesome destination.  You can’t ask for much more than that.

Safe travels, my friend.

 

 

 

 

The cruelest “ism” of all

They roll their sarcastic little eyes while they try to explain to you for the 10th time what ‘tweeting’ is.  That look is deliberately designed to make you feel stupid.  And the kids are very good at it.   Don’t you just want to smack them?

I get this treatment a lot lately – not so much from my kids, although I did get some attitude last week during a family card game.  Good thing too, since I didn’t have a topic to blog about this week…Thanks ‘C’.

It seems that the most unchecked ‘ism’ out there is ageism.  That’s right – being treated unfairly, rudely, rejected, or outright ignored because of ones age.

The big problem here is that the age stereotype just gets worse with each passing day.  Let’s face it; you’re not going to get any more black, short, sexed (well, maybe a little), ethnic, or whatever, but you are definitely going to get older.

One friend always points out that getting older is better than the alternative…funny guy!  I want to smack him too.

I have a particular issue with other people who are already at this age, or are close enough that they should know better.  I thought we were supposed to support each other.

And we should stick together, right?  We should run out and get a great car insurance discount then brag about to a bunch of 20 somethings.

I was at an interview recently, and as it was winding down, I asked the gentleman across from me if there was anything in my application that was a problem for him.  He said the only potential issue was that I was ‘over qualified’.  Over qualified?  I thought being more qualified for a job was a good thing, but we all know what that really means, don’t we? It means we’re too old and can’t learn new things.  That we’re hard-coded to an old way of doing things and are too inflexible to learn a new job.

The kicker is, this guy was roughly my age. Way to stick up for your fellow discriminatee, dude!

That’s something else that is a complete ‘no-no’ for our generation.  We’re not allowed to say certain things, are we?

‘Yo! What up!’ is completely unacceptable when addressing your neighbour while putting out the garbage in your housecoat and slippers.

You can never say ‘That’s badass’ when describing a friends new golf club or riding lawn mower.

If someone is planning a long road trip to the coast with their kids and dog, you’re not allowed to say ‘That’s Cray Cray’.

You’ll never see anyone ‘Twerking’ at a curling club dance.  Okay, that one is probably a good thing…no one wants to see that.  Besides, there might be hip injuries.

But we should be free to do it if we like, right?  No discrimination.

I tried to do a ‘selfie’ but it just came out creepy…and I don’t know who I’d send it to anyway, but I should be allowed as long as all those teens are doing it, right?

Maybe that’s the key to this whole ‘ism’ problem.  We need to normalize behavior that might not fit our social norms.  Not because we really want to share photos of our lunch on Facebook, or ‘hashtag’ the Air Supply concert we’re at, but because we deserve the right to do those things that suppress us.

I could be the Rosa Parks of middle-aged men!  Who’s with me???

Oh wait – there’s a patio furniture sale on at Lee Valley this week.  Maybe we can fight for injustice next weekend…

 

 

 

 

 

The Red Suit Conspiracy – believing in Santa

WARNING:  THIS BLOG MAY MAKE FOR AN UNCOMFORTABLE CHAT IF LITTLE ONES READ IT.

As a kid, I was pretty gullible.  I tended to think that what anyone told me was the truth, otherwise, why would they say it?

I also spent a lot of time getting sucked in to things.  Maybe that’s why I hate gambling so much.  Not that I have a moral stance on it, but just because I’m lousy at it.

When you’re really little, like pre-school or Kindergarten aged, Santa is like God to you.  What an incredible being, who rides around at night in a sleigh being pulled by flying reindeer, leaving presents under the tree for every kid in the world. It’s no wonder kids run screaming from him at the mall.  He’s super human!

Of course, toddlers don’t think in practical terms.  We are told about Santa, we see the gifts, so therefore, Santa is real.  Simple.

As you get a bit older, you start to see some cracks in the Santa story, though.  Mostly, it’s from older kids laughing or beating up some poor sucker who blathered that they still believe.  Who wants that kind of Christmas gift?

I remember when I lost my ‘Christmas Virginity’.  It took a while, much like my rea…..never mind.  Anyway, it started out with little things like opening the gifts with Santa’s signature on them, then going to our cousins house to see similar Santa gifts with different hand writing on the presents.  That sure seemed odd.

Then there would be Christmas Eve when we were tucked not so neatly into our beds, and I’d hear what sounded like Mom and Dad stumbling down the stairs with something big.

I spent some serious time contemplating this dilemma.  I mean, on one hand, for every Christmas up to now, the manifestation of the great and powerful Santa was clearly evident.  Shopping malls had him on display, Christmas specials confirmed his existence, and our parents and older family members assured us that he was very real.  Then, as sure as the sun would come up, presents were littered around the tree.

Being the gullible kid I was, and knowing I was gullible, meant that I had to take serious stock of things.  I didn’t want to be that kid getting beat up in the school yard for believing – especially if it wasn’t true.

So, I weighed the evidence before me.  The gifts showed up as promised every year, with no trace of them in the house before I went to bed, and all the television, radio, and adult conversation said he was real.  It’s what I was raised to believe.

On the other hand, the idea that one man could circumnavigate the entire globe in one night flying around with magic reindeer, stopping at virtually every house on the planet, and little elves making cool toys like etch-a-sketch and rock-em-sock-em robots didn’t seem very likely.

So, it came down to one key factor.  Was the Santa story a magical truth or an elaborate hoax?  When faced with this at the age of 8 or 9, I decided that the only logical explanation was that he must exist, simply because I concluded that there was no way an entire adult world could support such an elaborate ruse for that long.  Not a chance!

I was happily resolved with my results until one day when I was playing at a friends house, and he said to me, “I don’t believe in Santa.  Do you?“.  Gulp!  The acid test.  Could I stand behind my conviction?

No!  Of course not.  I blurted out, unconvincingly, “No, I don’t either.

Just then, my friend’s mother walked in and scolded us for telling the secret when his little sister was just in the other room.

Wait a minute.  I was lying when I said that I didn’t believe.  Now, this lady unwittingly confirmed my worst fear.  Santa didn’t exist after all.

I was quietly heart-broken.  All those dumb adults really could keep the secret.  So much for logical deduction!

Through adolescence and early adulthood, I was wise and smug about Santa.  I would mentally criticize parents who tried to convince their kids that the jolly old elf was working hard up at the North Pole, so they’d better be nice…..or else!

That is, until I had kids of my own.

When you have children, your cynicism about things starts to soften.  You start to immerse yourself into their wonderful little fantasy worlds.  And along with that, you begin to rethink your stance on the whole Santa conspiracy.

I took a logical approach to Santa, just like I did when I was 8. Putting aside for a moment, just who Santa is, lets look at things:

  • He still comes late at night, delivering gifts to children – CHECK
  • He works all year in his ‘workshop’ so the kids will have gifts under the tree by Christmas – CHECK
  • He brings joy and amazement to little children on Christmas morning – CHECK

I think that if you put a few details aside, like the little reindeer, and the North Pole, Santa is every bit as real as us.  I think we, in our smug, all-knowing youth, had it completely wrong.  The little kids were right after all.

Santa does exist.  There is no conspiracy after all.

Great, old St. Nickolaus, the Bishop of Myra in Turkey who is said to have given gifts to children at the time, was only the first in a very long line.

Now, those honoured enough, and who have a hint of that childhood belief, work all year long in their own ‘workshops’ (office), along side the ‘elves’ (co-workers), and deliver gifts on that magical night to their little children.

What an awesome job to have.  Being Santa Claus. If all those parents slogging away all year, then standing in line at the mall don’t believe in Santa, they are as lost to the magic as any child who stops believing at an early age.

Let me stress that Christmas is NOT about giving and getting presents, or going into debt while burning through your credit limit at the mall.  Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  In that spirit, however, bringing joy to children seems like a pretty nice way to celebrate God’s love for us.

Don’t give up on Santa.  He’s real, and he’s in each of us.  The sleigh and red suit may be gone, but what he did, and what he represents is as real as ever.

Merry Christmas!

The Long Goodbye

I’ve been told that I’m not very good at saying goodbye.  It’s true.

In my younger High School and College years, when I was ready to leave a party, I would tell people that I was going to the bathroom or something, then slip away for the night.  I found this easier than having to deal with the awkwardness of justifying why I was leaving so early, being pressured into staying a bit longer, or feeling like I had to set up the next get together before I left.

Even now, I don’t have the leaving thing figured out.  I tend to linger too long at the door, or talk  too long with people with my jacket in hand.  I can’t just shake hands, say thank-you and goodnight, then leave.

It seems there’s a sense of urgency to cover all the ground you didn’t get to during your visit, and let’s face it, it’s a point in the get together when you have the hosts undivided attention.

I wish I could do it like they do in the movies.  Grab my coat and hat, open the door with a wide wave, and announce to the entire party, “Goodnight everyone!  Until we meet again”.  Then I’d take a deep bow, turn and leave.  That would be a classy thing to do, but it’s not very realistic, and my hosts would probably take away the car keys and call me a cab.

I feel like I have to tie up all the loose ends before I go – to reconcile my relationship, ensuring our next encounter starts on a good footing.

There’s a direct correlation between the length of the exit and the closeness of the people I’m with.  When meeting strangers, a simple ‘nice to meet you’ and a handshake is just fine.

For most other farewells, I stumble over the words, and linger too long.

Saying goodbye to our son when he went off to school last year was excruciating for all of us.  We all went with him and got his new dorm room set up, picked up some last minute things at a store, took him out for lunch, then headed back to ‘tuck him in’.

Standing in the lobby of his residence building, we hugged, and choked down our goodbyes, barely able to speak.  Finally, standing with tears in our eyes, I looked at him one last time and weakly squeaked out ‘Go’, then gestured for him to head back to his room.

It was a very quiet and somber drive home.  I can’t imagine what it will be like next year as we send our daughter away to school – our baby.

I know I’ll be seeing them again, but it still breaks my heart.  How do you say ‘goodbye’ when it will be the last one?

As my father’s health is stolen away from him, we visit him in the hospital, sitting next to his bed.  We talk to him, hopeful that he can hear us and knows we’re there for him.   We hold his hand, and feel the strength in his grip, even though he can’t really open his eyes or talk to us.

Dad is not a huge man, but was every bit a ‘man’s man’ when we were growing up.  He ruled our household as most fathers did back in the ’60’s, with authority and control.

With four sons and no daughters, our home was testosterone soaked, and Mom would do her best to balance things emotionally.  Family hugs were not part of the landscape, but we didn’t lack in connectedness.

Dad was tough on us, but he was also the first one to do almost anything for us.  Any sport we wanted to try, he would do his best to scrape together enough money to buy us the equipment, then stand, often in the freezing cold to watch us play.

Our house was loud and busy.  I was in our old neighbourhood a couple of weeks ago, and drove by the house we grew up in.  It’s still standing proudly, and has weathered the storm of 50 years of life and of us – a testament to the builder.

So many memories, both good and bad, came flooding back to me.  Playing in the yard, or on the street with our friends or getting into trouble with them.  I wonder what became of all of them? We’ve long lost touch.

One of the things that stands out for me, was how Dad was able to instill in us a sense of loyalty, pride and duty to our family.  We tried our best to stand up for each other, and were the first to call each other out when one of us went off the rails.  Nothing was more important than taking care of each other and keeping our good name.  One bad deed reflected on all of us.

We still have that instinct, many years later.

We come together, the ‘Pulchinski Boys’, to check in on him when we can, hoping that Dad will be awake and talking.  Those hopes are fading, and we know it.  I think the reality is that we are now gathering at Dad’s bedside, not so much to visit him, but to be together for him.  To show him that what he instilled in us so many years ago, about the importance of family, has not been lost or forgotten.

When words often fail us, actions speak.  We all probably wish we had that elegant speech or comforting word that you see in the movies, but the reality is, our most admirable, loving thing is to simply be there for him.

The word ‘goodbye’ will have to come soon enough.  For now, simply being present, either in person or keeping in touch with each other is about as noble an act as can be expected.

Until that time comes, I will linger at the door, trying to cover all that ground that I could not say during the party, making it a very long goodbye, indeed.