When I was twelve I got busted for selling two dollar tickets to our school carnival for three dollars… and pocketing the extra buck.
The school freaked. In fairness this wasn’t the first… or probably even the second time we’d crossed swords. My mom freaked. She told me that I’d get what I had coming when my father came home.
My dad came home. Happily… for me anyway… he decided to figure out what I deserved before he gave it to me. He asked me what I was thinking. I told him that I was doing the same thing that he did… the same thing that everyone in America did (from my perspective anyway). Charging a fee for my services.
We reviewed the rules. They were clear. The school got two dollars for every ticket sold. Nowhere… and I mean nowhere, did it say that I couldn’t charge extra for delivery.
My dad agreed that no rule was broken. The principal half-heartedly admitted it too. Still… my dad felt that my small enterprise violated the intent of the rules… and the spirit of the event. He said that I should give the money back.
So I spent the next couple of afternoons giving everyone their dollar back. At the time I’d sold more tickets than anyone in our school. Maybe that’s proof of what they say about the profit motive. Some people laughed and told me to keep the dollar. I didn’t. I met more than one angry face that had a stern lecture for me.
The whole experience threw me. I got lectures about the importance of upholding the letter of the law for operating within the letter of the law. And complaints about charging a fee from people who made their living charging fees. 100% of my life I’d been thinking that adults had their shit together. Here I was finding that my twelve year old friends made more sense.
Shortly thereafter I read Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”. The timing was perfect. In this character I found a partner. His adults were just as crazy and inconsistent as mine. And he… like me, found the code of pirates preferable to the rules of hypocrites (you’re right… I didn’t know that word when I was twelve).
I decided that if I wanted my life to be a certain way… I couldn’t count on anyone but myself to make it that way. So… like Tom Sawyer I decided that creativity and a thirst for adventure would be the tools I used to cobble MY life together.
It was the first time I consciously chose a persona. My choice served me quite well for many years.
Then I had Wyatt. EVERYONE who had children told me that I couldn’t be my old self anymore. Never having kids before myself… I deferred to their “expertise” and re-invented.
The physicist Niels Bohr says an expert is simply someone who’s made every possible mistake in a narrow field. I wish I’d read that earlier.
Only a few years later I was a gainfully employed home owner. In California the term “home owner” is positive spin for being HEAVILY in debt. In my case it was just over half a million dollars.
My parent friends congratulated me by handing me a beer and welcoming me into their fraternity. It always feels great to be accepted. I sipped my beer and listened to their stories about the things they’d do with their lives… if they didn’t have kids and a mortgage.
I’d been bamboozled. My “experts” weren’t experts at all. They were nothing more than recruiters for the local chapter of the misery loves company club. I was twelve years old again.
It was like that moment in “The Shining” when Jack Nicholson’s wife sneaks a peek at the manuscript that he’s spent months writing… only to find there’s nothing there but the same sentence repeated over and over.
I had to escape… to find a passage back to the place I was before (thank you Glen Frey). But… would I make it? Would they let me out? We ran to the one place I knew they wouldn’t… couldn’t go. Because it was the one place that they told me that I couldn’t go. THE place that NO responsible parent would EVER take their family… Mexico.
We looked back as we crossed the border. We could see their silhouettes gathering on the hills. Their fists were raised. But they dared come no closer. The border zone is paradox country… a foe they fear more than even bankruptcy.
Like any good soul-less mob of the undead worth their salt… I knew these guys had at least one trick left up their sleeves. I warned my tribe not to look back… or try to hide amongst the chainsaws. Sure enough… their last ditch effort was to try to disorient us with a giant flash of reflected sunlight from their gold cards… which they collectively held aloft. It was to no avail… we were too far gone.
Thus began my latest re-invention. This time returning to the tools that have served me best in life… creativity and adventure. With three kids in tow the experience thus far has been everything that I never thought it would be.
Filled with so many different lessons and experiences than I could have imagined would come our way.
I make sure and tell our kids regularly that I won’t even pretend to know what’s next. That I likely DO NOT have my shit any more together than they do. And that I still prefer the code of pirates to the rules of hypocrites.
Last week we were crew… I should more accurately say Wyatt and Carson were crew, on Wind Song. Our great friends Ray and Lorie’s sailboat. Wyatt and Carson now know every line on a boat by name and purpose (did not see that coming). Far more than I can say for myself.
Incredible! We motored… and sailed… and motor sailed. Down the Rio Dulce. Into the gulf of Honduras. To Livingston, and a cool little hostel named Finca Tatin.
In the morning I watched our kids launching themselves off of a rope swing into the river.
Truly… enthusiastically enjoying their life… and each other. Laughing and crashing and thrashing about in a wild river in the jungles of southern Guatemala.
It was a scene taken from the pages of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. They’re living the childhood that I’d tried to craft for myself. Their lives are their own. Their minds are free… uncluttered by the wants and insecurities that bog so many down. Malia and I aren’t doing too badly ourselves.
I think it takes around four years to re-invent yourself. Four years to develop the essential daily habits. To learn the skills. To create the networks. To develop the vision of how to tie it all together.
We’re about half way there.
Life can change in an instant. We’ve seen it firsthand… and know better than to take anything for granted. Or claim to have anything figured out. But on this morning it was clear how far we’ve come. I sat back… thoroughly savored the scene. I admit to some pride.
It didn’t last long. Once they got sight of me everyone wanted to see if I could launch myself off the rope swing and into the river too… without busting my hip.
My hips are just fine thank you. But my back…. well, that’s a different story.