Husband, Musician

Admiration for amateurs

Sometimes we’ll see a next-door-neighbor type everyman doing something — for their job, as a hobby, in an instructional video  — and think, “That’s easy, I could do that.” Or even, “They’re screwing that up; I’d be much better.” Entire TV series and YouTube channels, from gameshows to reality shows, are partially based on this concept. Can you believe he didn’t solve the puzzle? Why did she make that terrible decision? I wouldn’t screw that up!

But sometimes, you see someone you know accomplishing something, and you think, “Whoa. I could never do that.”

Like your wife painstakingly detailing the frets and strings on the guitar-shaped cookies that she’s making for the Rock of Ages middle school musical bake sale, “just because” she’s learned how to do it now and it’s fun.

Or your son, casually recording himself playing a portion of a complicated solo marimba piece that he’s working on. “Is this for an audition or something?” Nope – it’s just the next challenge for him and he wants to learn how to do it to get better.

We all know we’re good at a lot of things, from the career-defining to the trivial. And we can appreciate when “professionals” catch their Super Bowl footballs, sing their Met operas, bake their British Baking Show cakes, and otherwise perform at a high 99th percentile level that gets them on those fields, stages, and programs.

But there’s joy in admiring that mastery up close and personal, where you can see it developing iteration after iteration, and truly appreciate the work that it takes to get there.

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C Major Musser etude on Epic sauce rosewood

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Father, Husband

Leaving the birds in the nest

There’s an important joy corollary (joy-ollary?) to baby birds peeking out of the nest and then them coming back into the nest to snuggle. It’s being able to leave them in the nest.

When our kids are young and first mobile, we spend most of our time keeping an eye on them, because they don’t know enough about the world to take care of themselves. Every stray Lego, every staircase, every pullable tablecloth is a hazard that they can discover through experience or through coaching — and we’d prefer to coach them than to take them to the emergency room.

As they grow older and more self-sufficient, we struggle with the helicoptering. Can we leave them at home for 5 minutes for a run to the pharmacy? Can we give them time on the Internet without supervising every video and website? Can we trust them to be home alone all evening? The ponderables pile higher and higher. The answers require trying and holding our breath.

But as parents’ kids pass hurdle after hurdle, the parents discover new joys. The joys of going out on a date night. Of not puzzling over the logistics of which parent will be Home In Time. Of realizing that Finding a Competent and Available Babysitter has been downgraded from a major crisis to No Longer a Thing to Worry About. It’s the joy of reclaimed time for ourselves. Being able to leave the birds in the nest while we go grab a worm for a few hours is a joy unto itself.

 

Father, Husband, Son

Baby bird peeking out of the nest

The first sleepover. The first sleep-away camp. The second. The third.

As a parent, one can’t deny the fear and dread that comes with seeing your child taking on some measures of independence. There’s something about them walking away for that bus ride, for that camp registration desk, for that assigned cabin, that makes ever parent want to run over and hug them tight. Parent brains can come up with the worst extreme case answers to “what could go wrong.”

But the fear and dread gets overshadowed by pride and joy. Pride that your son or daughter has reached this milestone. Pride that they can function on their own, and be trusted to make decisions and take care of themselves. Joy that they’ve found new friends, new hobbies, new passions for life that they’ll pursue. Joy at their joy.

It’s a far cry from our original duties of keeping a constant eye on a walking toddler who’s exploring a dangerous world of sharp corners, hot stoves, small inedible objects, and gravity. But it’s a welcome one. And it makes you appreciate your own forays out of the nest long ago.

Keep peeking out of the nest, little birdies, because we know you’ll spread your wings and fly some day… but not forget where the nest is.

Father, Husband, Son

Family laughter around the TV

It’s surprising these days how much active fun can be had by getting the family together in front of the television.

Growing up, we’d gather around the TV to watch favorite weekly sitcoms together. Even though some of the jokes went over the heads of us kids, enough landed for us all to share the experience of doubling over with laughter from a good one.

Back then, as it often is now, screen time usually translates to “vegetation” down time. Brain off. Go away, and leave me here to drool. Many an hour has been lost to insultingly dumb shows, solo Xbox/PS/Nintendo gaming, or a diversion on a pocket screen. That’s a fake joy of stasis that can wear off quickly. Unless… you’re not watching alone, and you’ve got something good to watch. Then the equation changes.

First of all, the amount of streaming content available now – be it favorite classic movies like Naked Gun or Airplane!, or binge-watchable fun shows like The Good Place – means that the family can experience (or re-experience) great entertainment. We’re no longer trapped to the NBC Thursday night lineup. We can find good things to watch together.

Then there’s multiplayer video games. “Super” Nintendo games like Mario Party, Smash Bros, or Mario Kart get the whole room engaged. And, Jackbox has a bunch of hilarious party games (Quiplash, Drawful, Patently Stupid, to name a few) that have players doubled over with laughter at what friends (or kids!) in the room come up with. It’s astonishing how many evenings were livened up by a quick electronic game on the big screen.

There’s joy in shared experiences for any family… even if together in front of the TV.

Athlete, Human, Husband, Marketer

Out of sync with the world

You’re ready to go. You’ve got this. You come out of the gates at full speed. Chaaaaaaarge…!

But wait – the world has different ideas today. What’s the old Yiddish saying? “Man plans; God laughs.” Maybe the emails and calls you’re waiting for don’t arrive. Decisions aren’t made, leaving your work in limbo. The injury is worse than you feared. The cost higher than budgeted. The time it takes longer than expected.

It’s frustrating when plans change from things out of your control. What we can control is our reaction… which initially often has no joy in it. But the joy is there… because in deciding how to react, we take control of our reality. A setback is a chance to reevaluate. The forced replanning is an opportunity to make plans more impervious to disruption. The delay is a moment to breathe. You’re out of sync for now, but you know what flow looks like, what Felix Felicis tastes like, what the effortless effort of wei wu wei feels like when you’re totally in the groove. But not now. Not today.

Fine. Sometimes the joy plays hide and seek, and you’re “it.” Unfair? Maybe. So what? Count to ten and go find it — ready or not, here you come.

Athlete, Father, Friend, Husband, Marketer, Musician

Self-care and recovery days

There’s a lot on the calendar some weeks. It could be fun stuff like holiday celebrations and gatherings of friends. Or it might be a nonstop schedule of family chauffeuring. Sometimes it’s long hours at the job for a crunch week.  Sometimes it’s an array of previous commitments (choir rehearsals, weekly basketball, networking events) — chosen responsibilities that individually are worthwhile but eat up a lot of combined time.

Even for those of us who love being active as much as possible, over time all that activity adds up, like sleep debt. That’s when self-care comes into play. It’s up to us to take care of ourselves so that we don’t devolve into a harried state that prevents us from enjoying our chosen activities.

Over time, we learn where our limits are. Over time, our limits start to pull in. Over time, we begin to recognize when we need a power nap, a day off to vegetate, or a quiet weekend to recharge our batteries.

Be joyful whenever you have the luxury to take that hour, day, or weekend of self-care to recovery.

Father, Human, Husband

With and without family

For a good part of the next two weeks or so, I’ll get to spend a lot of time with my immediate family.

There were times before, and there will be times after, when I do not get to see my wife and kids nearly as much. Sacrifices from other commitments – job, friends, hobbies – take away from that time.

Many of those sacrifices, however, make the time with family possible. All of them make the time with family that much sweeter… with or without the cotton candy.

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