Like Sands Through the Hour Glass…

Our water boy
Our water boy

Oh, boys. Today, Joe had a friend come over to hang out. Everything was going well until they decided to take a hockey stick and hit some home runs using Luke’s Lego models as the ball. The basement survived these antics, but of course the models did not. Luke, who was already feeling excluded and lonely, added furious to his list of emotions. We could not blame him. Demolishing Lego models, while impressive to friends, is not the way to keep peace with your younger brother. Now, we know that 1) Joe was just showing off for a friend and 2) his impulse control is not the best to begin with, but this was not the first time Joe has destroyed some of Luke’s Lego creations. He’s been punished for this infraction in the past. It hasn’t made an impression.

We decided to hold a family meeting over dinner to discuss what to do with the repeat offender. We offered Joe the opportunity to explain himself and argue his case. Then we asked Luke to rate his level of sadness about the loss of the models. With both boys still at the table, Steve and I began discussing punishments. Ultimately we decided that Joe would be allowed to rebuild the models to Luke’s satisfaction to lessen the duration of the punishment, which we determined was a week without his nightly baths.

Yes. It’s odd that our nearly 13-year-old son takes nightly baths in addition to his morning showers. As high as our water bills can be, it’s hard to complain that our son likes to be too clean because I’ve had the opportunity to catch of whiff of some other teenage boys and they smell. Badly. I write off Joe’s water obsession because he’s a Gemini with a Pisces ascendant and a Pisces moon, so water is his primary element. Joe says he’s water obsessed because he’s Sharkboy, and during the day he is just a fish out of water. We knew this would be a rough punishment, but we were determined to make it stick.

When we got home, Joe went to work rebuilding the models. He was able to fix one quite easily. The other one he recreated (albeit with modifications) to earn Luke’s stamp of approval. Joe came before the parole board, and we agreed to lessen his sentence to a meager two nights on Luke’s recommendation. (Luke, god bless his tender heart, hates to see Joe suffer.) The reduced sentence, which teetered on the edge of being way too lenient by our standards, did not appease Joe in the least. Nope. When he realized he still would not get his bath tonight, he perpetrated a sizable meltdown in protest. He wheedled. He argued. He cried. He wrote notes of apology. He wandered in and out of our room muttering curses until we were ready to tell him that although he couldn’t have a bath we wished he would go soak his head. Because we felt too generous already in the sizable reduction in his sentence, though, we held steadfast and refused to cave. He could live with two days’ punishment.

Joe’s meltdown continued for about 30 minutes. Finally I pulled out the Bunny Buddhism book and shared this doozy with him when he again wandered into our room in protest:

The wise bunny knows life is full of suffering and chooses not to create more.

He was not impressed with my bunny wisdom. Joe is the King of Drama. When he was younger and in trouble for a transgression, he would tell us that he wanted to beat himself as punishment. I started to wonder if he had been a member of Los Hermanos Penitentes in a former life and that was why he was advocating self-flagellation. It’s hard to know sometimes if his histrionics are the genuine result of his ADHD-enhanced lack of control or an elaborate ruse meant to elicit guilt. He is capable of working both ways.

I’m not sure why Joe insists on ratcheting his initial Level 3 DEFCON misery to DEFCON Level 1, but I keep hoping that he will learn what the wise bunnies know…that inventing additional suffering is ill-advised. So far that lesson has not kicked in, but I hold out hope. Hopefully he chooses to stop making unpleasant situations into unbearable ones. Hopefully he learns to channel his energy into reducing the drama in his life rather than creating more. If not, I guess there’s always a future on Days of Our Lives. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that. I’ve seen enough of Stefano and Marlena.

When The American Dream Becomes The American Nightmare

Two little things I’m grateful for every day.

Just finished a long phone conversation with my youngest sister, the kind where you talk about life on the grand scale, where you are, who you’ve become, and why. I like to have conversations like that every once in a while, a little come-to-Jesus meeting with myself where I take a good hard look at my life and figure out where I’m at. My sister is a person for whom “bored” is a four-letter word. On some level, I think she’s unintentionally sought out drama in her life because she simply doesn’t know how to live with dull, humdrum, it-is-what-it-is life. But, that is the stuff life is made of. Life is not always parades and fireworks. Sometimes it’s leftovers and dirty diapers.

I think that we Americans truly mess ourselves up with an unrelenting focus on the fabled “American Dream.” We’ve come to believe we’re entitled to life in the highest order. We expect that we will be able to have it all. It’s a tall tale. You can’t have it all. There’s not room in life for it all. It’s like trying to cup running water in your hands; you can only hold so much and what you don’t have room for will fall away. Most people on this planet pass quietly through their lives, and their names don’t go down in history’s annals like DaVinci or Aristotle. Most people touch only the lives around them. That’s it. Somewhere along the line that stopped being good enough. It’s too bad.

We should have dreams and plans. We should pursue them. But, we should also accept that life is beautiful even without parades and fireworks. We’ve lost the ability to treasure the little things because we’re waiting for the next big thing. When was the last time you sat down in a forest and paused to hear the wind in the trees and to smell the pines? When was the last time you watched a ladybug in your hand and wondered at it and appreciated its small life? When was the last time you stopped thinking about what you were missing out on and honestly marveled at how much you have? I think, for most of us, it’s been far too long since we last took the opportunity to be grateful for the down times. What we’re missing in our run-around, 24/7 active lives is the peace that comes from being still and not asking anything from life, but simply existing momentarily in it without demands.

The happiest people in this world aren’t the ones who have it all. They’re the ones who are sincerely happy with what they have. When we keep looking for the next big thing, we’re missing the myriad little ones that are given to us daily…the parking spot close to the store on a snowy day, the first cup of coffee of the day that someone else pours for us, the unexpected hug. It’s only when you stop expecting big things to fulfill you that you can let the little things that have always been there fill you up.