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Archive for July, 2008

Over the years, my 3 brothers and I have brought our families together most summers for a week at the beach. It used to be in Rhode Island (Misquamicut Beach – repository of many summer memories when WE grew up), but in recent years, we’ve gathered at the Jersey Shore. Long Beach Island, to be specific. In fact, if you drive down the main road in Beach Haven Crest, take a left on 76th street, and go a couple blocks, you’ll be on the beach…and there, last evening, you would have seen a volleyball net up, and two generations of players doing battle together in the sand.

The old-timers – Paul, John, Steven, and Tom – still game for the competition, but now a step or two slower, a bit stiffer at the net, not quite as agile as we once were. And suddenly, the new generation – who used to barely be able to get a ball over the net, now making acrobatic dives on the soft beach, and driving spikes into the midst of our softening reflexes. Ungrateful wretches!

Yes, we occasionally best them at the net, make our share of nasty serves, and dive for impossible shots, even miraculously preserving volleys in a flailing effort to deny the march of time and gravity, and recover lost youth. But it is not to be. Those who once had to be sheltered for their toddler naps on the sand now have the vigor and independence that we so fondly remember, but which seems now so distant. One 18-year old nephew even had the audacity to finally beat me in arm-wrestling, shredding the final thread of remaining uncle-dignity. Ungrateful wretch!

But these ungrateful wretches who now begin to overshadow us are why we’ve poured our our time and effort parenting over the years. The future is leaping and diving and spiking on that sand. Just as their grandmother now enjoys the love and care of her grown sons, so will we soon come to rely on our adult-leaning offspring, who teeter at the edge between aggravation and productivity.

I wish I could be young in body and seasoned in mind, together, right now, and stretching on into the future. But it cannot be. The spike is being passed, and the youth that I can re-live has to be vicarious, through five boys who now get their shot at life. The ungrateful wretches will one day be grateful, will one day look upon their own children on the beach and marvel at how time has passed, and one day will be a step slower on the volleyball court. But not now. They are reaching their peak, and I can still play on the same court for a while longer. And hopefully spike one down their throats one more time tonight!

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Early one morning this week, my bed-headed 6-year old came downstairs for the traditional morning snuggle and gradual re-entry into his world of simple questions and not-so-obvious answers.

We put our hands together and I noted for him that no-one else in the whole world had his fingerprints. Seth is unique. There never has been – nor will there ever be – another person with the patterns of his skin, his blood vessels, his eyes, let alone (and much more profoundly) his mind and heart.

And his four brothers are also unique. Because when you roll the procreative dice, in one of the most unfathomable mysteries of human existence, someone derived from you and another person, yet utterly different from both, is brought into being.

Line us up and we look like a family. Look under the hood, and you see quite a difference in make and model.

One of our boys, when a toddler, would go right up to people and charm them. His two natively introverted parents, who also don’t detect much of the “outgoing gene” in the close branches of the family tree, were astonished. From that time to this, he relates effortlessly to people.  Where did he come from? How did he end up with his senses tuned in so naturally to others? Out of all the possible sperm-egg combinations, there he was. All we did was roll the dice. I’m proud, humbled, amazed, and…truth be told…even a bit jealous!

The others? Unpredictable combinations of creativity, drive, passivity, brilliance, stupidity, sensitivity, self-centeredness (well, that’s predictable!), compliance, defiance, and a host of other attributes that both delight and perplex. Just when you think you have this parenting gig down – here comes the next curveball.

Even when the roll of the dice comes up with a troublesome result – a child with a disease, or defect, or incapacity – great levels of human love and nobility can arise as a result. The blind can cause others to see more clearly. The infirm can help others overcome their infirmities of self-centeredness. Those that die far too early can cause the rest of us to live more fully. You send the dice on their way – but you can never be sure, in the risky romance that is real life, what will unfold.

Now whether you believe in pure chance (I don’t), or divine providence orchestrating events that often appear random (I do), there is much room for amazement with every swim of the dice that comes up “lucky.” Locked away in that little helpless being, who can only cry, eat, sleep, and poop for a season, is someone who will quickly demonstrate to you an astonishing capacity for independent thought and action. Someone who will mimic you for a while, then, just when you figured they’d come up 3’s, they show you sixes. It begins to dawn on you that in the depths of DNA-driven mystery, joined to divine creativity, there are levels of wiring in your little offspring which you cannot reach with even the sharpest of parental pliers. You contributed one cell to the mix – now you stand back in awe and say, “Where in the world did this come from?”

And then, you gaze into your heart, and wonder – “where did this love come from?”

As a boy, I used to look up into the seemingly endless heavens with awe (I still do). Now, having rolled the dice with my beloved, we flounder through the joyous and exasperating and confusing and exciting lifestyle of parents, marveling at what has been wrought. If you have little ones under your roof, you know exactly what I’m saying…with every “lucky roll” you’ve turned your world upside-down afresh, but somehow, you wouldn’t ever almost never want to take that roll back!

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