Still so much to be thankful for

There will be no Thanksgiving family gathering this year. No real Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. No little feet running around our house emptying the toy box all over the great room. No toasts at the dining room table. And yes, no dropping of the apple crisp on the driveway. That would be a little inside family story for another time. The dinner will be replaced with a zoom family gathering, air hugs and a hope that things will change soon. Soon being a relative word.

In this year of the pandemic things have had to change. Traditions had to be put off for now and our routines have been anything but routine. In that setting, how can there be anything to be thankful for? That’s the challenge. In a year where nothing has been normal, where masks became a necessity and not just part of a Halloween costume, where travel plans have become “should we staycation in the kitchen or the living room?”, where a sneeze comes close to clearing the room, how can we find something for which to express our thankfulness?

I’ve been thinking about this for quite sometime; ever since my wife and I returned from an island trip in March. We returned to the states on March 13th, just as the pandemic, that thing in China, became our pandemic. I remember thinking this would be a short inconvenience and that all our summer plans would be just fine. That was then. Now we wonder if next summer’s plans will be altered. I for one don’t believe they will. Call it optimism, but that’s one of the things I am thankful for, but I will save that thought for now.

I do have things to be thankful for, our family is still intact. There were a few scares this year and my daughter and her fiancée did have to cancel their wedding, for now, but we have made the best of our family quarantine bubble and still managed some visits, limited, but still we got some time together. I am thankful that I have two beautiful, successful daughters who have chosen great men to be their partners. Two incredible grandchildren who never cease to amaze and amuse me. A wonderful wife who has been by my side for forty plus years and who has been my quarantine release and Amazon Prime binge watching date these past eight months. I am thankful for finally having the time to finish projects that have sat, sometimes for years, waiting to be tackled. They smile back at us every time we use or relax upon them.

I am thankful that we have rediscovered close to home destinations as airplane flights gave way to road trips, as exotic trips gave way to local parks, and, as hotel stays gave way to cottage days. I am thankful for so many things that I had started to take for granted. In our isolation, our world got smaller and we realized that there were so many amazing sites and scenes literally in our back yards. And I am thankful for my neighbors. With all the walks necessity made us take, I rediscovered my own neighborhood and the friendly people who lived inside those houses, the reason we chose this neighborhood in the first place.

I am thankful that the election is finally over. The painful political fighting, the divisiveness that any election creates, and all those irritating political ads we were subjected to, done, over and gone. Hopefully we can move on and find common ground and better causes to expend our efforts and resources on. And then there’s the vaccine, in fact the vaccines plural. This is not just a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s an honest hope for an exit from this isolation, soon. But most of all, I am thankful for the optimism. Though we sometime feel we can’t go on much longer, we always find some hope (the vaccine), some new way to do something (virtual learning, meetings and gatherings), some collective ways to pull together for a solution (healthcare workers and teachers). We are an innovative bunch. Setbacks are just forks in the road. We assess our problems, make our choice, and move on. We don’t live in the past but instead learn from the mistakes and vow to correct those that we can and set a new course to avoid the ones we can’t. I am thankful for that kind of optimism and the opportunities that it creates.

Thanksgiving won’t be the same this year, but it’s not gone and certainly not dead. We will find new ways to celebrate, to gather safely, to protect each other. We will find the things to be thankful for as long as we are willing to look for them, to recognize them, and to use them to give us the ultimate thing to be thankful for; HOPE.

Air hug your family, visit, if even just virtually, count your blessings and make a list of the things you are thankful for. You just might surprise yourself with the length of the list.

Happy Thanksgiving in the Year of the Pandemic. Look at it this way, we have at least made history.

It’s Playtime

On a recent weekend I found myself the designated grandchildren adhoc guardian for the afternoon while my wife and daughter went shopping. One hour they told me. Certainly I could handle the responsibility for one hour. Well, Jackson was easy. He lately has been into games of strategy and wanted to play solitaire on my phone and who was I to deny him that. Adela was a bit more of a challenge. She is into role playing, imagination and, as a three year old, silly games.

We began with a game I can only describe as “stay on your island”. She would sidle up against one wall of the hallway and order me to the opposite side. Without warning, she would leap to the opposite side and after several failed attempts, I determined I was to mirror the leap to the other opposite side and anticipate her next leap. This went on for, oh let’s say, longer than I was ready, when Adela eventually announced a new game.

Her new game would involve us throwing balls into the laundry bin, but not until she had ample time spent wearing the laundry bin over her head all the while bouncing off the walls blinded by its canvas sides. This new game of “laundry ball” wound up requiring several trips to the playroom to retrieve additional balls of varying size, “no taking the balls back out Opa.” Though interesting for a short time, it was no where near as fun as wearing the laundry bin and was thus not destined to last long.

After several trips to her playroom, sweet Adela emerged with two super hero costumes. She commanded me to put on the green one. I took one look at what she had rolled up in her hands and plotted my escape from this potentially embarrassing playtime activity. My poorly framed excuse was to announce that there was no way I would fit into whatever it was she had for me. With hands on her hips and a look of scorn that could bring down a charging rhino, she proclaimed, dripping with the sarcasm of a three year old, “It’s just a cape Opa.” Jackson, looking up from his solitaire intelligently affirmed that anyone could fit into a cape and warned me that I was going to do some running. Great, they have teamed up on me and I have become the victim.

After donning my cape and having my mask correctly placed on by Adela, how was I to know it was upside down, I was given my instructions. Over the next fifteen minutes we would circle the rooms of the house chasing away the bad guys as super heroes are destined to do. Up one hallway and down the other, through the kitchen and circle the living room, I was unsure I could last. But, I surprised even myself and managed to keep up with my relay mate, Adela.

As I drove home later that day, I mused on having been an almost seventy year old, playing unashamedly with my granddaughter. I started to think back on my own father and asked myself, did he play like that? Now it is only reasonable that I offer a disclaimer. I was raised on a small dairy farm and my dad barely had time to do much of anything other than run the dairy operation, crop the fields and hold down at least two additional part time jobs in an effort to give my five siblings and I the best life he could. It is hardly fair to have expected him to don a cape and run around the house with us, though I must say in hindsight that he deserved a chance to play and a cape for all he did. My dad instead spent his time teaching us how to manage our time, how to be responsible, and how to fix the things in life that kept seeming to break, lessons I have benefitted from throughout my life. He quietly, for the most part, left the playing to my siblings and I.

I am both happy and proud of the fact that I have the time to play. My generation grew up with parents who had been taught by their parents to work hard, to achieve and to survive, and that left little room for play. Though he may not have “played” with me, my dad taught me to fish, or should I say, he tried to teach me. He encouraged me to find time to do more than he ever had the opportunity to do and he taught me about family, about being there in work or play. And for that, I admire him.

I hope you all find time in your day to play. Play reduces stress and, in the case of chasing a three year old, provides great exercise. It reminds us to stop growing old but rather to grow bold, bold enough to play with a child even if it might make you look silly.

Go put on a cape, don a mask, and let a child fall in love with an oversized, slightly awkward, has to be told the rules, playmate. You just might find your imagination supersized.

Anniversaries

It’s an ingrained cultural tradition. We celebrate the passing of time by recording anniversaries. We celebrate New Year’s every year to say goodbye to the past year and to welcome the next. Last year we actually celebrated the passing of 2019 and unwittingly welcomed, yes welcomed, 2020. Of course at the time we were looking forward to a new decade, an election, and of course the Summer Olympics, an event we had waited four years for. No one could have warned us about what was coming. In hindsight, we all likely wish we had just skipped 2020. In truth, we will actually look back at it as a significant anniversary; the anniversary of us navigating a pandemic and accepting cancellation or delay of pretty much every event we ever kept track of.

We mark time by our events, including those we cancelled in 2020, like the Kentucky Derby, The Indy 500, The World Series and so many more. Now I know we didn’t truly cancel most of those but rather we delayed them or moved them to different dates, and does that change their anniversary? If we eventually held them, then the dates aren’t the important issue. It’s that we still celebrated them that counts, even if it was in the new, on the wrong date, socially distanced, crowd limited, everyone masked pandemic style. We will not soon forget this year and it will certainly become its own anniversary; 2020, the year of COVID-19.

And let’s not forget our birthdays. We mark another trip around the sun and vow to make the next one the best we ever had. I personally am going to subtract a year for 2020 and declare a mulligan. Maybe I should strive to live twice as hard next year in an effort to make up for this one. After all, this upcoming birthday is a milestone on its own. Anniversaries remind us of the past, of emotions we had when we were involved in something monumental, not that I remember my emotions on the day of my birth, that would have belonged to my mom and dad. I think the first one I really remember was my sixth birthday and my Howdy Doody party, but I certainly have memories of most of them that followed. Sixteen and getting my driver’s license, twenty-one and proving I wasn’t that grown up, but that’s another story that is best left never told, or twenty-nine when I suspect I finally became an adult, or thirty three when the birth of my first child completely rocked my world and changed me forever. So many years, so many anniversaries.

But I need to go back to twenty-nine. As much as thirty-three changed me, twenty-nine was the year that began that transformation. It was in that year, 1980, that my world began to change. Though I had met Deb three years earlier, this was the year we made a commitment to each other to travel the rest of our life, our anniversaries if you would, as a couple, a partnership in the game of Life. We bought our first home that fall and then on November 15th, 1980, Deb and I were married. With stars in our eyes and nothing but hope to set sail on, we ventured on this journey of making a life together, of perfecting our careers and beginning traditions. Of new cars, vacation trips and adventures in them, of exploring new opportunities, and of starting our family.

And here we are, forty years later, still together, still in love and still planning on the next best year of our life; COVID-19 be damned. As true as it was the day we said “I do”, we can never pretend to know what the future holds for us. But if the past is any indictor, that future will be so worth entering. And just like the forty years that have come before, we will enter it together, hand in hand, loving and trusting each other with every new day we are gifted.

Don’t let set backs, delays or even failures dampen your ability to celebrate those anniversaries in your life. Embrace the opportunity to relive what made them special, what set them apart as a date worth remembering. Let each anniversary remind you of the fullness of life and traditions and then look forward to the next.

This Sunday, if you would, think of us as we celebrate forty years together, and if you have been a part of our life journey, raise a glass in a toast to us. Know that we will certainly be toasting all of you and the roles you have played in our life together. Cheers