Tuesday, December 9, 2008


One of my favorite movies from the ‘80’s is Tom Hanks’ “Big”. His character, Josh Baskin, makes a wish on a bewitched arcade game to ‘be big’. This comes only after he, as a 12 year old boy, is given the brush off by a girl he likes, who is going on a carnival ride with a taller (and older) guy. I think many of us can relate to that feeling of anguish, and that moment in which we wish, with all of our heart and all of our soul, that our circumstances could be different. We hoped that we could wake up and magically become taller, smarter, thinner or with more curves. We wished we could run the race faster, score a winning goal or just manage to get through a day without adolescent humiliation. We long for more money, a nicer home or a ‘dream date’. We crave an instantaneous solution to our present life situation. Like Josh Baskin, we wish for an enchantment to make our heartbreak heal, and our lives perfect.

At the end of the movie, Tom Hanks’ love interest, played by Elizabeth Perkins, is invited to ‘come with him’, back to childhood. What I enjoy most about this scene is the expression on Tom Hanks’ face when she sadly says “no….I can’t go through that again…”. His character truly doesn’t understand that overcoming these trials is a part of life. No matter how big we get, there will always be someone smarter, someone wealthier or someone more talented. Part of our lives’ meaning is to learn to work through these complications and disappointments. Overcoming is rarely fun, and not often easy, but it does add to the sweetness of life. Because we learn our life lessons bit by bit, we have time to process each new step. We also have time to figure out what’s really worth worrying about. When I think back to the heartache I felt as a teenager, I wish I could go back: not to relive that part of my life, but to talk some sense into my younger self. Yet, at the same time, I know I wouldn’t have listened to ‘me’. It takes the journey to learn the lesson. And, it takes a life of learning to continue to gain insight into each new step of the journey. Just when we think we’ve made it, that we’re ‘there’, life throws us a curve ball: we graduate, we begin a new job, we get married, we become parents, our children grow up, we find ourselves with an empty nest. We become “freshmen” all over again.

In India, Ganesha is the God of Overcoming Obstacles. While I’m neither Buddhist nor Hindi, I have always found Ganesha to be a fascinating cultural study. His elephant head is clearly recognizable and adorns many places, from homes to businesses. Ganesha is not only the Remover of Obstacles but is also the God of Arts & Sciences, as well as, in Buddhist tradition, the God of letters and learning. Unlike Judeo-Christian traditions, Ganesha isn’t prayed to with the same monotheistic belief system we have here in the west. He is invited to join the seeker, as a helper, an aide and a friend. It seems to intruiging to have a God-friend who may miraculously remove the obstacles in our path. This thought makes me smile when I imagine Tom Hanks’ character going to a Hindi shrine and asking Ganesha for help, lighting incense and chanting. Does Ganesha really help those who ask him? I can’t answer that. It’s not my tradition. But, do I believe that there is a higher power who will walk with us every step of the way on our own journey, the answer is yes. He doesn’t look like an elephant. He doesn’t need elaborate rituals. I do believe that asking the God of your heart to stand with you through trying times, over hurtles in the road and during times of heartbreak is beneficial for all. But, will he magically solve all my problems ? No. But, I believe with my own heart in the right place, I walk in the direction that will bring about the most benefit.

So, if I had a wish, would it be to be young again ? Would I say “No !”, vehemently as Elizabeth Perkins did ? Would I wish myself older, and through these teen years ? I think one of the greatest experiences of my own life has been to appreciate right now for what it is. It may not be perfect. It may not always be pretty. My hair may have a little more gray, and my step might be a bit slower. But, I wouldn’t trade right now, pains and all, for anything. I appreciate how far I have come. But, more importantly, I appreciate all I have yet to do. And, I don’t want to skip over any of it. I want to experience every single moment of it. When we wish ourselvse out of the stage we're in, we're skipping over the sweetest parts; the good memories along with the bad, the sense of perspective we gain and the precious times we realize how fortunate we've been.

However, if you happen to see a Zoltan machine, make a wish. Just be careful what you wish for....

"Seek not that things which happen should happen as you wish; but wish that the things which happen to be as they are, and you will have a tranquil flow of life." ~ Epictetus

Monday, December 8, 2008

Family Time, Games and Stacking the Deck

"Life is the only game in which the object of the game is to learn the rules..." Ashleigh Brilliant

One of the downsides of the holiday season is how quickly it seems to pass. Parties to attend, presents to shop for and wrap, out of town guests to entertain and clean up for all the festivities. We rush and we toil and we spend time doing many things for people outside our homes. Giving our time is generally a positive experience if we see our energies blessing other people. But, what happens when our reserves our depleted and those we love most, our immediate family, get the short end of the stick? For too many holidays, when my daughter has danced in “The Nutcracker” and my son has had hockey games all over Maine, we’ve spread ourselves too thin. We go from one event to the next, barely catching our breath and chugging coffee to just get us to the point in which we can come home and collapse. It leaves our home celebrations to be low-key affairs. Low-key isn’t necessarily a negative thing, if that’s what we intend. But, if our time together is sporadic and exhausted, then our family holiday interactions will be grumpy and distracted.

This year, I’ve made a conscious effort for our family to remain cognizant of our time together, and to place our priority on one another, rather than on all the many choices pulling us apart. Now that my children are older, and my daughter goes to school out of state, this goal is even more difficult…but, it’s also never been more important. Our time together is precious and finite. I am both grateful for, and honored by, the fact that our teens have wonderful friends with whom they like to spend time. But, I’m also thankful when they want to spend time with us. I want to make these moments ‘count’. It’s tricky, however, to find the balance between actually making a difference in the time we spend together, and forcing it down their throats with “enforced family togetherness”, telling to them to “like it or else !”. Most parents of teens know that ‘togetherness’ is often a double-edged sword: we do spend time together, but the kids are straining to pull away. Or, the whole situation feels “forced”.

This is one of the reasons why I’ve taken a step back on my approach to family time. No more forced togetherness, no more “you will do this and like”…just figuring out what makes each of us “tick” and finding a way to feed that sense of enjoyment. For many families, board games are a great way to relax and have fun. In our family, however, competitiveness rears its ugly head too often over Monopoly or Sorry. My kids have even argued over spinning the dreidel! When my daughter was very young, we used to have the stack the deck playing “Candyland", or else there was hell to pay. She have to get “Queen Frostine” as a card she drew. That aside, my family loves to play cards. Everything from Pitch to Hearts to Poker to Spit, our family loves to use card games as times to laugh and enjoy ourselves. One of the aspects that I’ve enjoyed most about having ‘big kids’ now, is that they come home from school or camp or hockey trips having picked up new card games. For an evening that teen gets to be the ‘teacher’ and everyone gets to learn the new games they’ve picked up on the road. We have never made pronouncements, such “Now, Josh will teach us the game he learned in Quebec”. We just let the experiences unfold.

For my family, unwrapping a new deck of cards is a conversation starter. When we take a new set out of the box, it gives someone an excuse to say “Let me show you how to play International!”. It’s one of the reasons my mother in law gives us cards every holiday season. Each set is different, and I can remember different holidays by the different decks we’ve used. As we begin to play a new game, I realize how much my children have grown, and how much I enjoy learning from them. But, I can also still sink back into the memories of their small childhood, and the very first time I taught them how to play Crazy Eights and Uno. I remember seeing the wonder on their faces when they were down to one card and proudly called out “Uno !” the first time. Playing cards, for us, may bring out competitiveness, at times, but with cards in hand, it also seems to be a good time to talk…as we pick up and lay down cards, I can hear about their ideas, their thoughts, and what’s made them laugh lately.
So, this holiday season, take some time to play a game, one that has everyone sitting down at the same place, in the same time, but with the same frame of mind. For those reluctant family members, sit down with whomever you can grab. I’ll guarantee that, when the feet-dragger sees how much fun you’re having, he’ll want to join in too. Most of all, just enjoy the conversation that flows from your game.

But, don’t be too proud to stack the deck, if needed.