Lessons Learned / Mike Turpin
Updated 11:08 am, Sunday, June 19, 2011
You arrived 18 years ago on a cool April breeze. You were late, as usual. The doctor swore that the ultrasound picture showed you with the umbilical cord connected into your ears. It was only when he screamed, "Bus, bus!" that you decided to grace us with your presence.
Some of you were our first kids, while others merely slipped into a birth order and immediately began throwing elbows -- fighting for food, attention and a sense of identity. We often watched you when you slept to make sure you were still breathing. It sounds creepy but that's what you do when you get handed a complex piece of machinery with no instruction manual.
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As infants, you won us over instantly with your first drunken sailor steps, gassy smiles, funny laugh, relentless requests for "Goodnight Moon" and your ability to look us right in the eye and disobey. For a brief time we were the center of your universe but somewhere along the way, we were relegated to the status of a distant planet.
In time, we annoyed you. We hovered -- a relentless helicopter thump of windy opinions, emphatic ideas, dogmatic directions, do's, don'ts -- forever laying out an endless highway of guardrails. You constantly probed the invisible fence line of our values probing for gaps and weak linkages -- all the while hoping for that one weekend when we parents would be dumb enough to go away and leave you at home swearing on a stack of Bibles that you were not going to have a party. Speaking of parties, we never understood how your generation could be so environmentally correct as to pack up all your beer cans in a Hefty bag only to throw them by the side of some random road. Yes, we bugged you. We were always running out ahead of you trying to remove obstacles or prevent you from making the same mistakes that we made in another time when society seemed more tolerant of the self-inflicted wounds of youth.
Our job has always been to love you until you learn to love yourself. If you don't believe us, it's in our job descriptions which are filed down at city hall.
You grew up during a time of silver technology bubbles, crimson red real estate busts and a great purple dinosaur named Barney. We taught you tolerance and tried to explain terrorism. Life swirled around you at fiber optic speed and as the language of society changed, you adapted faster than we did. You became our bridge to a new millennium -- fluent in a new castrated language called texting. You shared that The Shins were not just bones in our leg. You gave us endless, magical hours by your bedside reading of Muggles, wizards and Death Eaters. You were our eyes and ears helping us understand that we were literally the last family in Connecticut that did not possess an iPod, iPhone, iMac or iPad. Come to think of it, there seems to be a lot of "I's" in that list of essentials. No wonder the Wii did not get much traction.
We never shared that we have worried for years that you were schizophrenic as you often revealed multiple personalities in the course of a five-minute dinner conversation. You multi-tasked like an Isaac Assimov science fiction robot, studying, watching Hulu Plus, listening to iTunes, texting and looking at yourself in the mirror -- while still seeming in touch with reality. Most people of our generation are prescribed heavy doses of lithium to prevent this kind of manic behavior and claim to receive their instructions from an alien space craft hovering just over the tree line.
As your parents, we celebrated every one of your prosaic little accomplishments -- I mean every one. We attended more recitals, art shows, scrimmages, games and microscopic milestones -- not wanting to miss or regret a moment of your lives. We were and are your biggest fans. You taught us that material satisfaction has a brief shelf life while true joy that arises out of seeing someone you love get what they need, endures.
You are our chance to do things better -- to be kinder, more resolute, less selfish and more open and understanding of a hot, crowded world. Speaking of "hot," we are so much cooler than you think but we are not allowed to tell you these stories as it violates the terms of our parole.
We live in a time of viral information. Some of you learned the hard way that a reputation is easier to lose in a small town than your favorite hoody. But don't worry. One of the advantages of growing up in a small town is there are fewer witnesses. You may feel that you have not accomplished much but you are already ahead of 90 percent of the world just because you showed up. "And oh, the places you will go!"
To obtain your degree in Life, you are going to have to attend some night classes in the School of Hard Knocks. Bonehead 101 will teach you that your own best thinking can get you in trouble. Advanced Diversity prepares you for the fact that not everyone shares your values, politics or your belief that "The Hangover" was the greatest film of your generation. Tolerance 201 reveals that some may dislike you the moment they meet you because of what you represent or because you forgot to shower that morning. Don't sweat it. There are 6 billion people in the world -- most of whom do not bathe and who want the same things that you want -- happiness, security and 24/7 access to a secure wireless router.
You will need to learn delayed gratification. Whether you like it or not, everything gets a little harder from here and you will wait longer for things that you would like to have right away. There's more competition for everything -- education, jobs and natural resources -- many of the things that you always assumed would be there when you wanted them.
You will have to author your own definition of success so society does not typecast you into a role that leaves you unfulfilled. Your goal is to discover your passion -- this is your "avocation." Your mission is to find a way of getting paid for performing the aforementioned avocation so that we do not have to keep slipping you $20. This "mission" will be hereafter be known in paragraph three, subsection four of our social contract as your "vocation." The ability to combine one's avocation and vocation is the holy grail of life. Otherwise, you end up in the insurance industry. In parental vernacular, we refer to any form of compensation you receive from a third party for services rendered as "getting off the payroll." That should be our mutual goal.
We are proud of you. We have a lot of faith in you. You are smarter, more informed, more talented and more resourceful than many who have preceded you. You figured out how to avoid doing all your chores and still get an allowance. You see the world -- not in shades of black and white but as a broad palette of colors and possibilities. As your revered principal has always told you, every door is open to you from this point. It's only through making wrong choices that you choose to close an open door.
We will miss seeing you at Zumbach's and Tony's Deli. If you want to come back and visit, that would be nice. We will be hanging out down by the Mobil station. It is the greatest time of your lives -- a convergence of youth, strength, possibility, lack of inhibition and personal freedom.
And "Oh, the places you will go!"