Since my son, Ben, has gone to Japan, I have learned how to skype. I have also learned that I can’t possibly look good when the camera is sitting just inches away from my face. No matter how hard I try to concentrate on my son, I stare at myself and mess with my hair, turning my head in an attempt to identify my best side. I’ve yet to find one.
This past week, during one of these skype sessions, we were discussing his future plans and what he wanted out of life, a conversation he started. I was certain his plan involved making lots of money. Even as a young child, he has known the benefits of having a piggy bank full of coins versus a pocket full of change. Imagine my surprise when he said it was about the experience—not the money.
“Money helps make the experience possible,” I declared. He agreed.
Then, he said something profound, thought provoking, and probably copyrighted, but it stuck with me all day and therefore, is the inspiration for this post.
“Mom, if your life was a book, would you want to read it?”
If you have been reading my blog for awhile, then you probably know how my thought process works. I tend to take a thought, run with it, and end up in Kalamazoo but eventually, I find my way back. So, stick with me and I promise I’ll bring you back too.
When I was nineteen, I had a list of things I wanted to do. It wasn’t a bucket list because at nineteen, kicking the bucket just wasn’t something I thought about. Somewhere between young adulthood and giving birth, I lost that list. My husband often reminded me of the few he remembered and I would cringe. After the birth of my third child, I developed a fear of heights so jumping out of a plane with a parachute and an instructor on my back was no longer a priority. I have since learned that sharks bite—hard—so scuba diving might not be high on my list either.
For years I felt obligated to fulfill these dreams, and guilty because I no longer wanted to. My list had changed, my life had changed, and all I wanted was for me and my family to be happy. A little over two years ago, when my son Justin died, I didn’t think that would be possible. My life book would not be a NY Times Best Seller and would probably be on the bottom of an agents slush pile. This is a good time to remind you of what my son said: “If your life was a book, would YOU want to read it?” Not the world, not anybody else, but YOU. Hmmm…
Of course I would!
I could throw a bunch of quotes and cliché phrases at you right now but I’m going to be good and just give you one. “Life is about the journey, not the destination.” For me and my family, that could not be truer. I have a friend, Anne, who drives a family of six from Colorado to Florida in a minivan. You might think it’s crazy. I think it’s awesome!
Why not buy a 1970-something Winnebago and drive from Oklahoma to Disney World with three young children? Find a nice KOA campground right on a beautiful lake and spend the night. Plug in the RV, set up camp, and take the kids for a stroll down to the water. Remain calm when you see the lake is a swampy moss covered pit with a rickety old dock. Just as your 4-year-old runs to the end of the dock, you read a sign that suggests you keep an eye on small children and a warning about feeding the alligators. Yes, that really happened. Sure, it would have been easier to hop on a plane and complain about a two-hour delay, but where’s the fun in that?
Justin’s life book was short, too short. But in the seventeen years of his journey, he saw many of his favorite bands in concert, went to Disney World three times, tubed down the Guadalupe River in San Antonio, snow skied in Colorado, and saw the end of “Lost” (a tv series we devoted six years of brain twisting madness). And that’s just to name a few.
The last winter of his life, we drove from Tennessee to New Hampshire to visit my family for Christmas. I thought it would be wonderful to show the kids New York City. My husband was adamant that this was not going to happen. As we drove by the City and cruised through the toll booth, my husband made a wisecrack.
“You see kids, there’s Manhattan.” He pointed to the city off in the distance. “And this is how you pay a toll.” He tossed the money and floored the gas pedal in an attempt to beat all the other cars and in the process, took the wrong interstate. Moments later, after emerging from the Lincoln Tunnel, we were stuck in traffic in downtown Manhattan.
“Now that we are here, we should get some pizza,” I suggested. I once lived in New Jersey and had been telling the kids for years that they have never had pizza until they’ve had NY style pizza.
“No,” my husband growled. “We are turning around and getting the heck out of this traffic nightmare.”
Much to his disappointment, the traffic kept pushing us forward.
“We are this close now; we should let the kids see Times Square,” I said.
My husband growled again. But after sitting at the same red light for 10 minutes, he suggested we could jump out of the car and walk to Times Square faster than he could drive us. Totally unprepared, the three kids and I jumped out of the car. Not a minute later, my husband (with a smirk on his face) drove right by us and waved. I don’t know why traffic decided to move after we were out of the car, but there was no turning back. Within a few blocks, Justin announced he had to use the restroom. We ditched into a small pizzeria on the corner. The sign near the restrooms read: For paying customers only. We had no choice but to order a few slices of pizza, honestly! After scarfing down our food, we hurried out into the cold on a mission. Ten blocks, two blisters on the heel, and numb from the cold, I posed my kids for a quick picture in the middle of Times Square! I won’t bore you with the details of how we managed to hook back up with my husband. Suffice it to say, that is another story. We call it “Lost in Manhattan.”
I have had my share of heartache and happiness, triumph and tragedy, tears of joy and tears of pain. But it is the mishaps that I love the most. I am thankful to have had that experience, even if it did delay our trip by 5 hours.
If my life was a book, it would be the best damn book I ever read!