As the nation waits to find out who purchased the Powerball ticket in Lexington, South Carolina this past week, I can start the elimination process with me. I have never been to Lexington – a small stop just on the western edge of Columbia – and didn’t leave Gibson County, TN, this week at all. Someone will come forward to claim the $399.5 million prize soon enough, and probably take the one-time cash payout of $233 million. After Uncle Sam comes to see them, plus whatever South Carolina also wants, they will still pocket around $150 million for themselves. Not quite A-Rod or Pujols money, but probably enough to slide by for several years. And what skill will this person possess to point to their windfall? I’m sure they’ll have talents and skills, but none of them will have contributed to their recent situation. The only thing they can point to is luck. Oh, they may have used birthdays of dead relatives, jersey numbers of their favorite Gamecock football players from over the decades, or some other form of numerology, but it is still going to trace back to a lucky moment on a random day in their life.
Now, I’ve been told more than once that I “married up,” which is to say that, to some, I “got lucky” by being paired up in this life with Jaclyn. I couldn’t agree more that I am married to the one person God designed for me. The fact that she is beautiful, fun, a great mom and wife, loves the outdoors, animals, and sports more than she does shopping and other girly junk, in addition to being a prayerful, Godly woman. . . . is just bonus-round material (thanks, God). But. . . . luck had nothing to do with it. I knew who she was in Kindergarten (Mrs. Priddy’s class was right across from Mrs. Robinson’s in that section of the building at Polk-Clark), shared a couple of classes with her along the way through school, and we were dating before our senior year in high school began. I could continue pointing out moments in my life that probably turned my course in a new direction, but none would point to luck. Every once in a while, I might find a dollar between the cushions of the couch, or strike a guy out on a change-up left a little too high, or maybe even get to Krispy Kreme right as the red light came on. All of those moments could be put in the category of lucky (especially when the change-up was to Matt Marshall. . . ), but nothing life-altering.
The most recent example of something fortunate coming my way happened back in April. For four of the past five years, I have attended the state Athletic Director’s conference in Murfreesboro. As in any profession, getting new ideas and building a network of others in the same profession is a good thing, plus I don’t mind not discussing dress code violations or teacher evaluations for two days either. The final afternoon of the conference is spent giving away prizes – smaller items like a hat, a gift certificate to a restaurant, or a new box of golf balls are the norm. The culminating prize is a pair of tickets to two Red Sox games, along with airfare for two to Boston. I’m sure you can imagine by now that, yes, I did win this year’s grand prize. Two tickets to two games over Labor Day weekend, and two seats on the plane, to Boston, MA, and Fenway Park – the oldest stadium still in use in Major League Baseball.
The first decision to come was – who to take with me? Three kids – all who would love to go – and Jaclyn, who would also (like me) jump at the chance for a weekend with one another. The very day before I won the tickets, we had to put down Gabe’s horse, Scout. Let me re-phrase. . . Gabe’s first horse, Scout. Freak accident – stepped in a hole somewhere on our property and broke his leg in half. Devastated is a word that can easily be used to describe Gabe’s demeanor in the days following. So, guess who gets to go to Boston? Hoping to heal wounds a little faster, and much to Kara’s chagrin, Gabe got the nod.
I honestly didn’t think much about the trip until the weeks leading directly up to it. With the ending of school, graduation, and then all the busy-ness of summer, it just wasn’t on the radar. School started back in August and it reappeared on the screen, however. I will be honest – I really started to wonder if we had made the right decision. I love spending time with my kids, especially when I get to steal a little individual time with one of them. But, two thoughts kept me thinking about whether or not we had made the right decision. One – with the adoption process almost hitting “full speed ahead” mode, when would I get the next chance to spend a couple of days with Jaclyn? And two – would an eight-year old really have full appreciation for a trip to Boston? Gabe loves baseball (even though he is a bit wishy-washy on what team he likes – depending on who is in first place), but what else would I find for him to do there? Not sure he will appreciate the Old North Church like I would. Now, a promise is a promise, so I never considered changing that, but I still felt like we probably gave him the sympathy nod back in April on getting to go, and that he may not like it.
You see, Gabe is our “home body.” We have really cut back on eating out in the past month to six weeks. We cook or grill more at home, both to eat a little healthier, and to save money. So, when we do offer to eat out, Kara and JP jump at it and start suggesting where to go. Gabe acts as if you have punched him in the gut. Even more reason to wonder if this was the right decision. Leading up to it, Gabe was excited though, mainly about the airplane ride (none of our three have been on one before), but also about Boston.
The morning of, we left Milan a little after 6:00 a.m. for a 10:30 takeoff from Nashville, direct to Boston, on Southwest. We stopped at Dunkin Donuts in West Nashville, so he was already winning. We parked, grabbed our bags, and walked into the terminal before 9:00. Gabe’s eyes lit up as we saw. . . escalators. Not one, but two to get from the parking garage entrance to the ticket counter inside the terminal. His comment was that he was making a list to brag to Kara about what all he got to see or do, and that he just got to start it by riding two escalators. So far, my take-away was that we could’ve started the vacation at Macy’s.
Just watching him in the airport though, I started to become more satisfied that he gotten to come with me. (Just for posterity’s sake, before any of the moms out there get their undergarments all wadded up against me, I never once had the thought that I wished he wasn’t going, or that someone else was going. I loved that he was, just worried that he wouldn’t get full enjoyment from the trip.) His eyes soaked in the airport everywhere we went, things that I had seen many times and simply didn’t notice or notice as closely as he was. He watched as our checked bag turned the corner on the carousel and disappeared into the tunnel. He worried a little as the ran the wand around him at the security checkpoint. He laughed at the fact that one of the “stores” in the airport was a “massage bar” for weary travelers (and also added that to his list to share with Kara). He didn’t understand why we couldn’t just go ahead and get on the plane once we had found our gate (we got to the gate by 9:30 for our 10:30 flight, so waiting 40 minutes to board seemed silly). Being our information hungry child, he stared at the flight board near our gate for minutes on end, looking where flights were going and coming from, their times, and all other data available. He would sit down for a few minutes, then go back to the board.
The only time he really seemed nervous, was in the time frame between boarding the plane and taking off. He chewed on his ID tag and glanced at the window. Mid take-off, I asked him what he thought about it and he said “this is awful.” A few minutes into the flight, however, he had the iPad out, playing Minion Rush. He liked the landing a lot more as he watched the tops of houses zoom by on our way to the runway and just laughed when we bounced. . twice. Once we de-boarded, he was back in intake mode, watching people around us, and heading to the baggage claim area convinced that our bag was lost, just like Willie lost his when the Robertsons went to Hawaii. (Duck Dynasty for those not “in the know”) Since probably 300-400 people were on this 747, it took a while for luggage to roll through. So, with each one coming off that wasn’t ours, he became more and more convinced that ours was gone. After about 10 minutes, ours came rolling off and we were in hurry up and wait mode getting to the line for a taxi. Finally getting into a taxi, he watched as we rolled through the tunnel under the harbor and as all the sights zoomed by again (quite possibly, just as fast as the plane came into town) as we finally made it to our hotel.
I can tell you, without giving you blow-by-blow accounts of the subsequent two-and-a-half days, that I couldn’t have come away with more joy than I did just spending those hours with my son. We walked from our hotel to Boston Common and back (approximately 3 miles round trip) without a complaint. We ate at a local chain pizza place that he declared “the best pizza I’ve ever had.” He marveled at the “workout room” in the hotel, and even ran on the treadmill next to mine. We spent the bulk of our daytime Saturday going to Maine. He liked seeing a real lighthouse, but was more impressed with the giant rocks he got to jump around on while there. He was pseudo-impressed with going to the Maine Diner, from Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, but more excited about beating me to the geocaches we found along the way. He liked seeing Fenway Park, and probably has more appreciation than your normal 8-year old for the history of it, but still was more excited that we saw “Big Papi” (David Ortiz) getting into his Escalade after the game. We went to a small, interdenominational church on Sunday morning before walking to Fenway for the day game, just to try to instill that Sunday’s are always a day set aside for God, regardless of where we are or what we are doing. After two days of Boston, he was still excited to go back to an airport (but thought we went way too early again) and this time watched a few international planes getting loaded up for takeoff and was really impressed at the size of the 777 headed for Ireland.
All-in-all, here is my take away: slow down and enjoy your kids. More importantly, let them enjoy being a kid. Too many times, we want to make sure that our children aren’t being left behind others in their circles, we jam things into their lives that aren’t necessary, or act as if they are already grown up, when they definitely are not. I have enjoyed just watching our kids play ball instead of being their coach in most sports. It’s not because I couldn’t coach my own kids, and not that I am too lazy, but I want them to go get instructions from someone besides me and have to follow them. I want them to enjoy playing things. Gabe is a pretty decent little soccer player and liked playing. He told us before the season was over last fall that he probably didn’t want to play the next year. So, why would I force him to do that if it wasn’t something that he enjoys? He has chosen to play tackle football instead and loves learning how to play. But, I watch as some coaches are yelling for them to run as punishment for being 10 seconds late in returning from a water break, or apologizing to parents for “our poor performance” when they lost in a jamboree. Down what crazy, winding road has my generation gone? These kids are in the 2nd and 3rd grade. Why isn’t it good enough that they are out there learning how to play a sport, having fun with each other, and not in the house eating candy and watching Phineas and Ferb? (Warning: this next one may step on a few toes and is not a personal attack on anyone, so don’t take it as such.) And, what lesson would my 10-year old learn from spending 9 out of 12 weekends at a softball tournament, especially those that cause her to be out of church on Sunday? I am afraid that the lesson would be that our faith and church attendance is important, as long as it fits it what we “want” to do. (Disclaimer – I know that there are parents that do this, and have made that decision prayerfully. Each parent has to make the best decision for their child.)
My kids are naive. I know that they are. Kara does not have a phone, nor does she have full and unbridled access to the internet, as many in her grade do. She has to leave her iPod downstairs at night, and give me passwords so that I can go through messages. Further, she has to get approval for anyone she would like to message before doing so. But, you know what? I love the fact that her innocence is still in tact, at least for now. She is miles behind the average middle school-aged kid with what she has seen and heard. But, she also loves to lay in the porch swing with her cat, or read about horses, or play “horse” with Jaclyn behind our house. Gabe has, unbeknownst to him (by the way “unbeknownst” passed spell-check) turned down three travel ball teams’ invitation to either play or try out in the past few months. But, I love the fact that he still loves to talk about trading with his Pop or ride on the wagon for hours with his Grandaddy. And JP still sits in his floor some mornings complaining about going to school or smiles really big when he plays a trick on you, and I hope that smile stays that way for a long time.
Our ways aren’t perfect, and I have often wished that I had reacted differently, said something differently, or made a better decision when it came to my kids. I probably will do or say something in regards to them by the end of the weekend that I wish I had handled differently. But I know that the lesson I learned in Boston will stay with me for a while. I want to enjoy my kids. I want them to grow up one day to become people who have an impact for God’s kingdom, doing great things in His name, in whatever field/arena/platform that He provides. But, I’m not in any hurry to rush that process.
Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable – if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise – dwell on these things.”