A brief story and a confession this week. One of those prickly memories that stand out from my childhood, not in a bad way, but just in a very memorable way, is my first R-rated movie. I remember my parents surprising me with a solo ticket to Terminator 2 while they took my sister to see Boyz in the Hood. Or maybe they were seeing City Slickers. My memory is hazy on those details. But I was excited (and a little nervous that the theater people would somehow know I was too young to be in there) to see T2.
No one kicked me out and I loved the movie.
So you’ll understand that I’m a little predisposed to be an Arnold Schwarzenegger fan. I didn’t even need to look up how to spell his last name. If you do not share my adolescent history with one of the world’s greatest actors, please don’t let it color this recommendation but even I was surprised how much I enjoyed his new book Be Useful.
Think what you want of the man, but he’s had an incredible life and you won’t regret reading this. Seriously. I’m not being sarcastic. His podcast and newsletter are also worthwhile. The man knows his Marcus Aurelius.
I didn’t expect to be quoting Ah-nold to my kids with parenting advice this week either, but if it works…
My favorite month is going by too quickly. It’s half over. The only thing I really don’t like about October is dressing up for Halloween and PSL flavors. Everything else, I’m all in.
A haphazard list of the good things I’ve enjoyed so far: waking up earlier than the sun, audiobooks and walks in the woods, Stephen King’s Holly, a new Thursday Murder Club to make me smile, baking bread, homemade soup, hot pizza from the Ooni, fire pits and a properly-toasted marshmallow, pulling weeds and cleaning out the garden pots, a 24-hour stream celebrating Thelonious Monk’s birthday, Oktoberfest beer, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, caramel apples, pulling out favorite sweaters, spooky movies, and waking up from a nap with your dog. Is there anything better than an afternoon fall nap?
As it grew darker last Tuesday, and the girls got their costumes ready, Ally asked if I believed in ghosts.
No, I do not believe in ghosts or spirits. But I do believe in memories.
I believe in the collective memory of all the people doing what human beings have always done before me. Being a parent, being a Dad, being a son, being a man. Getting it right sometimes. Screwing it up sometimes.
Whether spirits exist or not, we are never alone. Memories, for me, are a benign presence, not a haunting one. They exist to teach, advise, caution, and inspire with all that prior experience.
They protect us. They reassure us. They give us company.
We are just over a month into Ally and the trumpet. It’s noisy and not very good which is exactly how it should be right now. She’s loving it.
It’s also another thing that needs to be practiced.
As a parent, my job is to love and support the girls. To be their number one fan and help them find who they are supposed to be. But that doesn’t come without conditions or constraints. If she wanted to drop the trumpet tomorrow and pick up oil painting, that wouldn’t happen. At least not right away.
Conditions and constraints can be a good thing. They keep her accountable. They make her earn it—take the responsibility of her learning, her interests, and her potential seriously.
And maybe they can help Dads get over worries and doubts, too.
The school work is ramping up (even if it seems like they’ve yet to have a full week) and so is the homework. This often leads to some mild paralysis and procrastinating. Which in turn leads to some frayed parental nerves. Even if I can recognize what is happening. It’s the same thing that often plagues me when I need to get my own writing or exercising done.
Too much focus on the outcome makes the gap between now and being done seem much larger than it might be.
So we’ve talked to the girls about changing their focus from the outcome (being done and that yawning gap to get there) to what they can do right now. When you shrink it down to the next five minutes, doing what you know you need to do becomes much easier.
Don’t focus on writing a thousand words. Focus on writing the first five sentences.
Don’t focus on the entire packet of math problems, focus on the first one. When they focus on doing the first exercise, getting started is easier and action becomes inevitable.
Cecilia brought home a test recently where she did really well overall but struggled in one section. I asked about that section first. Cecilia got upset. And she was right. I assumed she knew I was proud that she did well on the other sections.
I sometimes get complacent as a Dad or just let the eye rolls wear me down. I shouldn’t assume. I shouldn’t wait. She gets plenty of instructions in school. And she’ll continue to get our help at home, of course, but I can’t forget to also be a cheerleader and their biggest fan, too.
You never know what moments are going to be formative or resonate with them, but I can guess it might not be the night of the big jazz performance, or after the dance recital. It might be a random afternoon when they need a boost and their Dad gave them a pat on the back.
Don’t wait and don’t assume.
Did you go a little overboard at the orchard? Is your fridge full of fall apples? This apple walnut date quick bread is simple and easy to make.
It comes together in about 15 minutes and will make your house smell like a late October afternoon hay ride. It might not even last as long as a typical hay ride. It’s that good.