To Be or Not to Be: Committed

Commitment.

Throughout most of my son, Judd’s, youth, he has been skiing with the Aspen Valley Ski School, where he learned how to freestyle ski, performing tricks in the air like an acrobat. I’ve witnessed some jaw-dropping, gut-wrenching flips and spins as Judd jumped off large cliffs on his skis. I am grateful every time he lands safely, his body intact.

In the summer months, Judd and his friends enjoy doing the same acrobatic moves from the edge of a mountain into a deep body of water. Recently, he was hanging with one of his lacrosse buddies at a lake, and the boys were flipping off a high peak. That evening, Judd showed me video clips of himself and his friend taking turns leaping into the air in a front somersault and landing (thankfully, injury-free) into the water. Cringing, I watched his friend open his body midway through the flip, flailing as he splashed into the water. With all that adrenaline running through him, it probably looked worse than he felt.

Judd explained to me how he tried to teach his friend the proper front flip technique, emphasizing that to do it correctly, his friend had to stay committed, which, from what I observed, he didn’t do. The word committed struck a chord with me. When I questioned Judd about it, he said that was how his ski instructors had taught him to do many of the tricks he had learned over the years. To get a perfect acrobatic landing, one must stay committed.

For the next week or so, I couldn’t stop thinking about how powerful the word commitment is. Commitment is derived from the Latin word committere, meaning “to unite, connect, combine; to bring together.” Com means “with, together” and mittere means “to release, let go, send, throw.” (https://www.etymonline.com/word/commit)

The above definition makes sense as far as teaching someone how to perform a gymnastic move, but the word has so much more meaning when it comes to mastering life goals.

For example, I’ve been struggling the past few months, trying to finish revisions on the first draft of my latest manuscript. My procrastination skills are adept, and I’ve managed to come up with daily excuses, busying myself with minutia, doing pretty much anything but sitting down and completing my work. I now realize what my problem is: I’m not committed.

My weekly, and sometimes biweekly, round-trip drives from Aspen to Denver for my son’s lacrosse practices has put a lot of stress on my lower back. For over a year, I’ve been telling myself that if I spent a minimum of ten minutes a day doing core strengthening exercises, it would help alleviate the pain, possibly even diminish it entirely. Somehow, complaining about the drives seems to be a lot easier than putting forth the effort to fix the problem. Why? Because I’m not committed to helping myself get stronger.

A while ago, Judd decided he wanted to eliminate refined sugar from his diet and eat healthier. Like him, I too have a sweet tooth, and when he suggested that we do it together, I agreed. Three days later, I was caught red-handed in the pantry with an Oreo cookie in my mouth. Judd, of course, confronted me for cheating, mocking me for my inability to stick to our new plan. Once again, my issue had to do with commitment.

Coincidentally, a few days ago, I was listening to a podcast. The guy getting interviewed was talking about how he transformed his dead-end life into a successful one. He credited the significant change he made to the poignant question a wise man once asked him: was he interested in making his dreams come true, or was he committed to making his dreams come true?

I just answered the question.

I am finally committed to finalizing the edits on my manuscript. As for my other goals, the next time I savor the sweet taste of a rich, chocolate brownie, I will maintain full commitment to finishing it. Meanwhile, I’ll be sure to tell Judd that eliminating sugar from my diet sounds like a great idea, something that I’d like to remain interested in—for now.

The Dog Park Gives Life New Meaning

dog park

Finding meaning at the dog park.

When my husband, Michael, and I were newlyweds, we had two fur babies: a black labrador retriever named Brocco and a yellow labrador retriever named Homer. Treating them like we had birthed them ourselves, their happiness was intricately tied to ours. I even wore a picture of them in a locket around my neck.

Homer and Brocco were a funny duo. Their opposite personalities were reminiscent of the main characters, Felix and Oscar, from the classic TV show The Odd Couple. Although, unlike the show, one wasn’t neat while the other was messy, but rather, Brocco was food obsessed and a bit lazy, while his brother, Homer, ate only out of necessity and could never get enough exercise.

Michael and I spent a lot of time with our boys, taking them to local dog parks around New York City. Giggling from a corner bench, we would watch their double-team routine: Homer would distract a dog from the front, so Brocco, could hump the innocent canine from behind. Often, the dog’s owner didn’t think it was as funny as we did and would flash us an angry look, but for the most part, many of our dog park friends didn’t seem bothered by their shenanigans.

When our children were born, Michael and I did our best to continue showering our canine offspring with attention, making sure they were properly exercised. However, when the kids became toddlers, our dog park days were soon replaced with outings to the playground.

Fast forward nearly two decades, and I have found myself back at the dog park with our newest family member, Barry White, our fun-loving, spirited Old English sheepdog. Ironically, as I transition into a new chapter of my life, with my oldest child heading off to college, and my sixteen-year-old driving now, I feel as though I have come full circle to where I started in the beginning of my marriage—only this time, I’m much wiser, a lot older, and have a greater appreciation for the little things in life.

Barry White is the most social dog we’ve ever had. He’s happiest when he’s chasing and playing with his canine peers at the dog park. So, of course, I try to take him there as often as I can. While he’s running around having fun, I pass the time chatting with my new dog park friends.

Watching our canines goofing around, we anthropomorphize them. Barette is the mall cop, observing the others from atop a picnic table, only jumping off when he has to stop a dog that’s getting too aggressive. Barry White, a.k.a Dennis the Menace, chases his soul mate, Mia, around, like a desperate male trying to win the affection of his lady. Old man Baxter waddles in and hangs out in the back. The four-month-old puppy, Delilah, tries to keep up with the older dogs, and gives off her high-pitched bark whenever another dog gets too aggressive.

For an hour each day, while the dogs play, we humans get the added benefit of socializing with one another, an important ingredient for boosting our mental health, a win-win for everyone.

A motley crew, indeed, my new friends and I come from different walks of life, varying in age, appearance, socioeconomic class, etc. But, none of that matters. In fact, meeting people and sharing stories with each other is what makes the experience refreshing.

The unconditional love for our furry children serves as the common denominator that unites us. This is what life is supposed to be about, because deep down, on a soul level, we’re are all one, connected to each other, to nature, and to the animal kingdom. If everyone could maintain this philosophy, the world would be filled with a greater sense of compassion.

I invite anyone who needs more fulfillment in their lives to adopt a dog, or borrow one if need be, and head over to the dog park with an open mind and an open heart, and the odds are your serotine levels will dance in delight.

The Joys of Watching Television as a Family

Watching TV as a family.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, my brother and I didn’t have televisions in our bedrooms, so most of our TV viewing took place in the living room. We’d often watch shows together as a family, our eyes glued to the screen when our favorite hour-long dramas or thirty-minute sitcoms were on. We got to know all the characters in The Love Boat, Dallas, Hawaii 5-0, Remington Steele, Knight Rider, The White Shadow, and countless more. And we’d laugh at silly scenes during Three’s Company, Growing Pains, The Golden Girls, and Cheers, to name a few. We’d read TV Guide Magazine and plan our evenings around the scheduled shows we enjoyed. For the most part, we had similar television interests, but, like most siblings, we had our share of fights, particularly when we’d steal a special seat on the couch because one of us would forget to call out, “I get my place back,” before leaving to get a snack or go to the bathroom. As adults, we thankfully get along well, and to this day, we still reminisce about the shows that played such a big role in our upbringing.

With the availability of streaming services, along with an excessive array of shows to choose from, our children are growing up in an entirely different age of TV viewing than I did. Without a doubt, my children have surpassed me in the number of hours they’ve spent binge-watching shows on their electronic devices in their bedrooms. Who can blame them? Screen time has become an integral part of our culture.

The downside of my children’s TV-watching addiction is that, in our home, it has become more of a solitary activity, rather than something we do as a family. Every now and then, my husband and I will watch a series together or he’ll beg one of the kids to watch something with him. When the kids were younger, we spent a lot more time cuddled next to each other on the couch in front of the television. Back then, I never realized that family TV time would, one day soon, become rare.

Once the kids hit the teen years, their lives became much busier as they were trying to balance academics, extra-curricular activities, and social lives. Most evenings after dinner, the kids would head straight to their bedrooms to finish homework, and then they would spend ample time on their devices, watching shows, playing video games, chatting with friends, and scrolling through their social media accounts.

Even though our electronic devices are powerful tools to keep people connected outside the home, they also have the power to keep those living in the same home apart, which has been the case with my family—until recently, when I saw the value of watching a television show with my daughter, Taylor.

When Little Fires Everywhere first came out, Taylor and I were excited to watch it together, but since the series wasn’t released all at once, we had to wait each week for the next episode to come out. Initially, we were bummed that we couldn’t binge all eight episodes in a day, but in hindsight, it turned our shared viewing experience into a pleasurable ritual that we looked forward to every Wednesday. Afterward, we’d discuss the characters, the plot, some of the controversial themes, and how it differed from the book. When we finished the entire series, we felt a heavy letdown, not just because the show had ended, but because of what the show did for us—it had given us an opportunity to hang out and bond over a shared interest.

I’ve always considered watching TV as a perfect, mindless escape. It’s like taking a short trip into other people’s lives. For those few hours, staring at the screen, you tend to forget about your own problems while getting immersed in another world. But now I see that it can also serve another purpose, as an ideal group activity that offers a way to connect and spend time with others. While my kids are still under my roof, I’ll keep trying to find shows or movies that all of us would like, and when I do, I’ll be sure to relish the shared experience in the moment and be grateful for our together-time.

The Gift of Barry White

The gift of Barry White.

Back in 2018, I wrote a blog post about losing my best friend, Otis, my beloved Bernese mountain dog. He came into our lives when our children were ages six and four. Neither of them remember what it was like to raise him as a puppy, but for the rest of their lives they’ll never forget watching him take his final breath as tears pooled in their eyes.

After he left us, my heart was wounded, and I needed time to heal. I knew eventually I would want another dog, but I was far from ready.

The entire family had a difficult time shaking the pain. My daughter, Taylor, was convinced that we needed a new puppy in the house to help us move on. For weeks, we argued about it. I did everything for Otis when he was alive, and the end was especially difficult because he was in a wheelchair. I desperately needed a break from the enormous responsibility of taking care of a dog.

Taylor begged. She pleaded. She cried. But I wouldn’t acquiesce, until she reminded me that she would be leaving for college in a year and a half and that raising a puppy together would bring our family closer, strengthen our bond, and add more love to our home. I finally gave in to her relentless persistence.

I didn’t want another Bernese mountain dog, simply because I didn’t want to be reminded of what I had lost. So we settled on an Old English sheepdog. Taylor did the research, calling and emailing breeders all over the country. She eventually found a litter that would be born in the spring and ready to take home in the summer. When I put down the deposit, she was thrilled. My son was excited, too. But still mourning Otis, my husband and I were indifferent.

For the next few months, Taylor watched videos of Old English sheepdogs on YouTube and followed them on Instagram. She counted down the minutes until we got the phone call from the breeder announcing the birth of the litter, and that our pup was healthy. Meanwhile, I continued to maintain my ambivalence. Taylor called me heartless and soulless about my lack of enthusiasm for the upcoming arrival of our puppy. But how could I look forward to getting another dog when the spirit of Otis reigned supreme inside me?

Toward the end of July, I flew to Montana to pick up our puppy, who we decided to name Barry White. At only eleven pounds, he resembled a stuffed animal. Nestled in my arms on the way back to Colorado, he was sweet, soft, and cuddly. And of course, as soon as I brought him home, the kids were enamored with our new family member.

My daughter with Barry White.

For the rest of the summer, our lives revolved around Barry White. We stared at him while he napped, smothered him with kisses, spent hours playing with him, took turns house training and feeding him, and went on walks together. We even brought him with us on a beach vacation to California. We were obsessed with Barry White––and aptly named for the famous singer, we couldn’t get enough of his love.

At first, I convinced myself that he was Otis reincarnated. Believing he had come back to me washed away the guilt I had for getting a replacement pet. For months after Otis’s passing, I could no longer bring myself to walk around my neighborhood or walk into town, and I stopped hiking along the trails that he and I used to frequent together. It was as if I had put a piece of my life on hold, the part that always made me feel better: spending time in nature.

I’m not sure if Otis is inside Barry White, or if their predecessors, my two Labrador retrievers, are in him. Either way, it doesn’t matter. He is a gift to my family and me, one that I hadn’t realized I was craving. I get so much pleasure watching him hop around like a bunny rabbit, play with his toys, frolic in the snow, run next to me while I hike, and join me on daily walks near my house. Early one morning, I woke up to a spring snowstorm, but the blustery weather wasn’t going to stop me from taking my fur baby outside. He and I ventured to one of the ski mountains and hiked to the top. If it wasn’t for Barry White, I never would’ve motivated to go up there, especially by myself.

During the last two months of his life, Otis lived in the corner of Taylor’s bedroom, close to an exit door, to make it easier for him to go outside without having to climb the stairs. Having him by her side, day in and day out, strengthened their relationship. I like to think that maybe in the afterlife, Otis sent powerful messages to Taylor that we had to get another dog, knowing that it would fill the empty space deep within me. If that’s the case, then my angel Otis is still looking out for me, showering me with the same love he gave me while he was here. It’s the kind of love that’s transcendent, and Barry White carries it like a beam of light, illuminating our home and my heart once again.

Barry White with my kids.

The Upside of My Son’s Video Game Addiction

video games lockdown

Playing video games during the lockdown.

Ever since the lockdown, my fifteen-year-old son, Judd, has been playing countless hours of video games. He wears a headpiece when he plays, and I hear his voice reverberating through the house, sometimes talking, sometimes cheering, and most of the time yelling into the microphone at his friends who are playing with him.

The quarantine started right before spring break, which meant Judd’s lacrosse trip was cancelled, along with an early closure of the ski mountains. With not much else to do, I didn’t mind that most of Judd’s day was spent gaming. It kept him busy and happy, and he was interacting with his buddies.

As the days turned into weeks, I started to get annoyed that Judd would sit in his bedroom all day, still in his pajama pants, playing video games. Other than asking me to make him a sandwich, he and I rarely talked during the day. When the weather was nice, he’d go outside for a few hours to play lacrosse by himself, but as soon as he came home, he’d go right back into the gaming zone.

I wanted our family to make the most of this time together. I requested movie nights, but Judd would refuse to join, preferring to hang in his teen cave, playing Xbox. I assumed that when online school started, he would be so busy learning and doing schoolwork that it would cut down on his gaming obsession. It didn’t. The minute he’d complete his assignments, the gaming would resume.

A few days ago, I managed to convince Judd to join me for a walk with the dog. I was grateful to finally spend quality time with him. Chatting along the way, he shared two of his life goals with me. The first one he mentioned was to become a professional lacrosse player. Grinning, I told him he should focus on that dream and that he should continue practicing and working out. But when he also told me that he wanted to be a professional video game player, I flashed him a disapproving look.

For the rest of our walk, he lectured me on how much money pro gamers make, which is significantly more than a pro lacrosse player. He told me about a few of his gaming idols, one of whom, along with earning millions of dollars, is also a pro skimboarder. He went on and on telling me about his earning potential if he became a professional video game player. I wanted to tell him that I thought his fantasy sounded ridiculous and that he should consider pursuing an intellectual career, perhaps something in engineering or computer programing. Rather than speak my mind, I kept my lips sealed and listened to him as he bubbled over with enthusiasm.

For the next few weeks, Judd continued his gaming addiction, while I swallowed my irritation that he was wasting his life away in some imaginary, action-packed world in front of his monitor. Even though we live in the same house, Judd was spending so much time in his room playing Xbox that I missed hanging with him.

One afternoon, during a lunch break, he told me about a YouTube video he had watched the night before that he wanted me to see. He said it was moving, and knowing how much I enjoy inspirational stories, he thought I would like it. When I asked him to give me some background on the video, he told me it was about the number one Fortnite streamer who won three million dollars at the 2019 World Cup Finale. I rolled my eyes in annoyance when he turned it on.

Sitting next to me, Judd and I watched the video, highlighting the journey of sixteen-year-old Kyle Giersdorf, who goes by his gaming name, Bugha, to the World Cup Finale. Bugha is a clean-cut, well-spoken teenager growing up in the suburbs of Pennsylvania. Like so many of his peers, he’d been playing video games throughout his childhood, and with hours and hours of practice, he’d managed to earn his way to the super bowl of gaming. In the video, Bugha’s parents supported their son’s dream every step of the way. Speaking about their son, his father was bursting with pride, and his mother’s eyes were filled with tears of joy.

Learning about Giersdorf’s accomplishments changed my perspective on becoming a pro gamer. Like any sport, it takes skill, hard work, practice, and determination to achieve success. And it’s not a solitary activity; it’s interactive, allowing kids to play with each other and make new friends. Prior to understanding what it takes to make it in the gaming world, I was angry about how much time Judd spent playing video games, and I would have preferred that he practiced lacrosse for six hours a day instead. I now realize that my ignorance kept me from understanding the value that some video games offer and the difficulty it takes to master them.

As long as Judd’s gaming hobby isn’t taking away from his academics, and assuming he’s still getting fresh air and exercising, then why not let him pursue this fantasy—for now, at least? If I’m supportive, then he’ll be willing to talk to me about it, and the conversation will serve as an opportunity to spend time with him—which selfishly, as his mother, is all I want anyway.