“Mamma, will you play with me?” There are three other children at school outside playing under the careful eye of their pre-school teacher. I briefly consider the deadlines, the emails, the phone calls. “Yes, Buddy, I will.” His face lights up and he runs to select a ball from the bin. We play “kick the ball” which could also be called soccer if we were a little more agile.
At first we are tame, kicking softly, rolling the light red ball across the cement in the covered area back and forth from my large feet to his tiny ones. One of us kicks it a bit too hard and the other laughs as the ball bounces off the divider and the wall. We kick with a twirl. We kick with both feet after jumping. We kick until the ball flies over our heads and we giggle. I am there, at the preschool, in the crisp autumn air with my son laughing while the inbox sits and the clock relents.
Finally it is time for me to leave. I hug, I kiss, I smother with so much love I hope he holds on to me forever. I pull away in my car and I see his small familiar face peering out from the fence. He waves, I wave, he blows a kiss and I blow one back. He signs I love you and as I sign it back my eyes fill with tears of gratitude and thanksgiving. Sometimes fifteen minutes can heal even the most busy of todo lists.
We are over Deluth. We are leaving the Big Apple behind in sunset lights and long shadows. I ponder the past few days, how a few days can be such a grand event, how every group of few days provides alternate versions of life. Carrying my camera down the streets of Brooklyn, watching with the eye of an observer, I pictured myself walking to the cafe to meet a friend on this sunny morning. I would know the cafe barista because this is what we do most Saturdays. I’m not sure if I own a dog, a small one, in this alternate life, but if I do, he walks with me as the kids run ahead. I can see this all through my lens, and my eyes tear up for a brief second with the thought of my children, how wonderfully in love I am with them, how deeply I miss them every single trip, and how desperate I am to show them these lives, even if we do not live them.
*I should always wear a Jenn Lukas as an accessory.*
It is not that I have such a wide array of worldly experience that these new places are becoming familiar. No, though I never travelled to Brooklyn or NY City before, there is an air of comfort to it. The subway is a strangely wonderful experience. The buildings are twice as tall as they seem on TV. The shops are so crowded, a way I only experience at holidays, I squeeze and bump body parts with several strangers in a stretch of three minutes. But they speak English, and for some reason this catches me off guard. The city, this experience, the bustle and tousle of humans in small spaces, the colors, the bricks, the small shops with outside seating: these qualities feel so European to me, my only experience in this environment having happened thousands of miles across an ocean or two.
*A Robert Eerhart and Louis sandwich, the founders of EECI.
No, I’m not sure if Brooklyn and New York feel familiar because of my traveling experiences or if they feel like home because of the people I see within moments of arriving. There is a band of brothers waiting for me at the nearest pub, ordering beer and waiting up well past the appropriate hour of dinner. There is greeting, smiling, hugging and limbs flying around necks. They are people I know beyond work, they are part of a bigger picture I can not possibly explain without bringing you with me. It is impossible.
*A few of the odd boys
As the MC of the conference, I take stage early on the first speaker day of the conference. I am nervous there, but in the crowd I see familiar faces. I remember something I read from Scott Burken, “Everyone in the audience actually wants you to succeed. They are breathlessly waiting for you to kick ass.” I’m not sure if those are his actual words, but those are the words that repeat in my mind as I introduce myself, welcome the crowd, and kick off the first speaker.
*Look! That’s me on stage! (I did that a lot)
It is this way for two days. The mic, the speakers, the people. It is a blur of puns and friends taking the stage next to me. We manage to make it to the second day, the very last speaker, a good friend of mine, and wrap up the event. It is a feeling of camaraderie, of faith in a community, of strengthening friendships and working relationships. Few conferences can compete.
*Brits who live in Canada still love to drink beer. This teaches us two things. 1. Brits who live in Canada like to drink beer and 2. So does everyone else.
So it is that I think of them as I fly over Deluth. My European friends. My colleagues on twitter. My peers from states and countries and time zones. We gather once a year, in different cities over the world. But we bring with us a sense of home, a sense of comfort, a sense of family. Because of this I know the next city I go to I will think fondly of taking the wrong subway or ordering the wrong menu item. I will laugh to myself quietly unable to explain an inside joke I share with a community thousands of miles wide. I will struggle to explain this to my children when they ask where I was. “I was at a conference, sweetie,” I will reply, “and I missed you very much.” It is that second part where they will hug me, waiting up past their dinner hour, with arms flying around necks. And I will know I am home again.
I remember the day I peed on a stick and shockingly read two lines. I remember the day we found out we were having a girl. I remember the long, difficult struggle of birth and the weeks and months following. The transition to being your mom wasn’t an easy one but those are all memories now.
I have completely, utterly, hopelessly, passionately fallen in love with you, my daughter, my pixie, my joy, my pride.
You grow every day to be a person I am proud of. You create, you laugh, you rejoice. You show me what living with imagination is. You teach me to ride my bike in the grass because cement isn’t necessary. You invite me in to your imagination of talking horses and pet shops. You warm me with your arms and your impossibly long legs, mygod how did they get so long, wrap around my waist when I lift you for possibly the last time of your life.
You love your brother with so much strength, allowing him still to climb in to your lap. You are patient with him, mostly, and I am grateful for your relationship. I watch you as you get on the bus, I send thoughts of strength and success as you smile out the window with your new adult teeth and wave the I love you sign.
You are faithful with your friendships, still enjoying each birthday with our closest and dearest. You are tender to your core and your love means more to me than a thousand successful clients.
One day I will successfully show you how much you’ve changed my life, LB. Until that time I will soak you up, each possible day, each available hug, each snuggle. We love you dearly. So. Very.
The alarm went off at 7AM for the first day of fifth grade. My dad was in his suit walking out the door as he heard me grumble and get up. “Life sucks and then you die,” he greeted me.
This is the first of a thousand similar morning greetings he would say as he suited up and walked out the door to work.
I always thought this was just my Dad’s “thang.” Like he loved the Aggie’s football or playing war games on the computer. I thought it was sort of just something he muttered like when he sneezed “Jesus Christ on a commode.” It was one of his quirks, those parts of Dad that made him… well, Dad.
Years and years later, at thirty-five, I sit talking across an impossible valley. As it turns out, my dad is not the only one to say this as he went to work each morning. In fact, it’s something many dads said as they embarked on their early morning trek. It was not just dads in suits, or dads at mills, or dads with fancy cars or frequent flyer miles. It’s an attitude of a generation. The norm for our children’s grandparents is a rut-filled expectation of misery and eventually death. Our children’s parents, now in their mid-thirties or early forties, are just now rebelling against mid-life. We are just coming in to our own careers and now, as we walk out the door in the early morning dawn, we are asking why. WHY do we have to live our father’s mantra “life sucks and then you die.”
It is a rare prophet who challenges and pushes for change.
In Steve Job’s commencement speech at Stanford, a speech filled with not just inspiration but several challenges, he urges the students to Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish. He shares, through his own experiences, the seemingly erratic life experiences that culminated in a respected, and revered, life of amazing.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Do not live our parent’s dogma. As Steve Job’s says, “Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” Life can suck and then you will die. Or life can be an amazing road, bumpy, rocky, long and winding. Death can loom like an escape, some future release. Or it can speak urgently to you: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.
I’m beginning to believe the words myself. I hope you will join me.
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