Monday, September 20, 2010

September Again, Simeon, and Red Rover

September Again
And so, we have come back around to September again. There have been 52 of them for me thus far, 19 for Oldest Daughter, 16 for Younger Daughter.  My lovely wife has had somewhat fewer Septembers in her life.  It's the first September for the new puppy, now 8 months old and sleeping at my feet as I write this. This can be a time of year to take stock of the summer past, and look forward to the fall ahead, and perhaps ponder our place in the Universe.

The end of summer.  Time to say goodbye to longer days, warm evenings; being able to jump in the pool at 8 PM and not get chilled after you get out.  Its also time for the start of school.  The streets in our neighborhood are again full of parents and kids, all walking to school. The 7:45 AM rush, a timeless tradition here for more than 50 years or so, I guess.  Strollers, little bikes, kids in helmets, small students with parents holding hands, backpacks and lunch sacks, moving slowly westward from the top of our street, daily participants in some not-so-distant Big Event.

It really is a Big Event, this life we lead, isn't it?   Full of millions of little events, like your first bike solo, your first day of school, and, as you grow older, heading back to college in the early fall.  All these seemingly little events that begin to pile up, and make something beautiful, or sad, or challenging.  Each step is important, and if we handle them with love and humor, perhaps the finished result might be something beautiful.

We participated in that again this year, for our second time, in the start of college thing. Three weeks ago, we were in Chicago moving Kelly into her completely hip college apartment. Four girls in three bedrooms (and what looks to have been the former den), ready for another year at school.  Trips to Ikea, and Target and Costco, gathering up the stuff needed to make the apartment work.  With my lovely wife along, I felt sort of like Cro-Magnon Man With Wallet.  Following wife and daughter to all these places, grunting occasionally at some decorating choice, and supply my VISA card at the crucial check-out moment.  Most of the sounds I made sounded much like the names of the products sold at Ikea, such as "Fnork", or "Trall", or "Glank".  This is my new roll as the Dad of a college aged daughter; follow, grunt, pay.

Its a gorgeous apartment in Lincoln Park, two blocks from school in one direction, and three blocks from Trader Joes in the other direction. That sounds like the perfect location to me!

As I followed the ladies around Ikea and Costco, I was also quietly reflecting on how life had led me to this place, and remembering, through the fog of middle age, my own college years.  What if I could relive those years, only with the middle life perspective I now have?  What would that feel like, and how might I experience those college years differently?  This is what I wondered, as I pushed the cart around Ikea.

As part of all this pondering, about college and daughters and life, I have been reflecting on the ark that the life of Older Daughter is taking as she reaches toward 20 years.  A sophomore in college now  As a young parent there was no way I could have ever know or fully understood who she was going to become as she grew.  No way I would have known that she decided in the fifth grade that she should become a teacher for her vocation.  So many things I could never have imagined, that have now come to pass.

This place of "not knowing" about where are kids are headed is as old as humanity, and reminds me of one of my favorite stories in the Gospels.  In Luke, where Joseph & Mary present their little child to the Lord, and a man named Simeon is present.   How would you feel if an old man took your child in his arms and pronounced clearly just exactly what his or her future would look like?  My favorite line in this story is:

"Jesus' father and mother were speechless with surprise at these words."

I can completely understand how they felt, those two very young parents.  What was this old man saying?  How did he know?  And for me, what would it have felt like to have been told the future and fate of my own child, when she was so very young?  What a moment.  What a life.  We parents, we need time to take it all in.  Learning it all too fast can break our hearts.

Red Rover
And then, several days ago, I stumbled on this beautiful song by Rosie Thomas.  It seems to connect the pieces together perfectly at just this point in life.  

When they are little, you want to hold them so tight.  I think Mary and Joseph felt that too.  I did.  But as time passes, our grip must loosen.  I keep telling myself that.  Loosen up, dude.  I said that to myself as I circled around inside Ikea.  Loosen up.

I need to remember, that, in spite of my own unconvinced heart, and sometimes undercover smile, that I need to just let her go.  She's beautiful.  Otherwise, she may never know.

Red Rover by Rosie Thomas

Red rover, red rover
Send Mary right over
School books in her hand
And her shawl over her shoulders
And let her run
Run as fast as she can
Don't let her grow up to be
Like her mother
Heart so unconvinced and a world
So undiscovered
And asking for forgiveness
Not knowing how to forgive.

And oh
Just let her go
And oh
She's beautiful
If you hold her back,
She may never know.

Red rover, red rover,
Send Daniel
School books in his hand
And a coat over his shoulder
And let him run
Run as fast as he can
Don't let him grow up to be like his father
Heart so set in stone
And a smile so undercover
And opening the door to love,
Never letting love in.

And oh
Just let him go
And oh
He's beautiful
If you hold him back,
He may never know.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Summer Staycation Reflections

This summer was different for our family. We didn't go anywhere.  And that was just fine for us.

In the past five years I have been keeping this blog, we have been to Toronto twice, Hawaii, England and France, and for variety, a lovely summer trip to Tennessee and Alabama.  Sheesh.  But this year, save for a brief trip to Chicago to help Older Daughter move into her college apartment (post coming soon), we stayed home.  That was just fine for us.  

Chalk it up the effects of the Bush/Obama/NINJA Loan aftermath summer of America's discontent.  The Recession that Will Never Go Away.  With one daughter in University and another in private high school, our summer plans were compacted to the not-even-close-to-purgatory of our own back yard.  A pool, a puppy, and friends and family, that is all you need to get away from it all.

And when folks are blessed as we are by good friends and loving family, a summer at home can serve as a wonderful chance to reconnect, and deepen friendships and family bonds.  Strangely enough, we ended up doing what folks used to do years ago in the summer, before the advent of jet travel and resort destinations.  We played together in the pool, or over board games after dinner (yes, I admit, I am not a lover of after dinner board games!), we laughed, we caught up on life.  We sat in the gathering twilight and talked.  For hours.  Just like 200 years ago.

June was graced by the visit of our one time house guest, now dear family friend Jill, who is a pastor in Austin, Texas.  Long dinners on the back porch, great conversation, and a couple of visits to In N' Out made for a wonderful time with a treasured friend.  A seminary student in a baseball cap on our front porch who turned into someone so close to our hearts.
July was a bit more quiet, but featured a visit to one of the most special concert venues in the world - The Hollywood Bowl.  Twilight, a picnic dinner of simple things, a bottle of wine, and friends together.  These are the things that last.  July was particularly slow at the office; the slowest month in a decade, and in my poorer moments, I let it get the better of me.  But recovery to the economy is coming, albeit at the speed of continental drift.  The future looks hopeful, and we are all still employed.  Again, thankful.

July was also the month of travel, for some, as Younger Daughter went off to Albania, and met people who changed her life and her heart.  My lovely wife spent a week in Arizona with teen moms, serving with Young Life - one of our favorite things on the planet.  Older Daughter and I stayed home, stayed employed (she as a children's swim instructor at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center), and kept the puppy (mostly) out of trouble.  Somebody has to hold down the fort.

August was the month of Atkins.  From Kitchener - Waterloo, Ontario, the visiting in-laws joyously came.  Five strong, and not a dull moment for 12 days of Southern California fun.  Hollywood, San Diego, the beach, back to the Hollywood Bowl again.  Three cousins, from 8 to 13 in age, and more fun than, well, a barrel full of Canadian monkeys.  Relations between our two nations were significantly enhanced.  My favorite part of the day was being able to come home and jump in the pool with Tim Man - 8 years old.  Mr. Tim, they call him, the only male Atkins progeny.   We invented a modified version of water polo and pool hockey that will soon sweep all of North America.  Look for it, soon on ESPN.

And in the background of all this blessing, there has been a new sound track to this Summer of 2010.  Mumford and Sons, from Great Britain.  Remarkable music from a collection of college friends - and lyrics that leaving you thinking for days.  See below.

Our wish is that your summer had some moments like these, the kind that get frozen in time in your memory.  These are the moments that make us smile, and remind us that we are indeed not alone, that we are loved, and created to love others.  If its only sharing a meal, laughing together, listening to beautiful music, or splashing in the water, we have purpose.  Together.

Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine
Together we can see what we will find
Don’t leave me alone at this time,
For I'm afraid of what I will discover inside

Cause you told me that I would find a hole,
Within the fragile substance of my soul
And I have filled this void with things unreal,
And all the while my character it steals

Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see

It seems that all my bridges have been burned,
But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive with the restart

Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see
Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I've seen

Stars hide your fires,
These here are my desires
And I won't give them up to you this time around
And so, I’ll be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul

But you, you’ve gone too far this time
You have neither reason nor rhyme
With which to take this soul that is so rightfully mine
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