Our kids are 18, 15, and 11. Almost every year we spend a week at the beach, and most years my sister-in-law’s family is also there, including my two nieces—now 14 and 16. And for the last 18 years, there has been this green, vinyl drawstring bag from Benetton right there with us, a holdover from my wife’s days as a trendy teen in the ‘80s. The bag holds the toys: Shovels. Buckets. Rakes. Sand molds. Boats.
Though the contents have evolved over the years as new toys were added, as some disappeared into the surf or under the sand, and as others wore out and were thrown away, the Benetton bag has been a constant. But there’s one problem: Although no one has ever accused me of being a neat freak, sand that finds its way anywhere but actually on the beach is my proverbial kryptonite—an odd confession from a 30+ year volleyball player, I know. Perhaps I need help—or perhaps the sand just needs to stay where it belongs.
So for years I have more or less hated that Benetton bag. At the end of each day, someone has to carry the awkward bag full of toys that you can never get completely clean as you come off of a beach. Then there’s always the decision: Take the bag back to the room or leave it in the back of the van? Either way, sand is going to wind up somewhere it has no business being. If it gets on the floor of the condo, it will then find its way all over the unit. If it gets on the floor of the van, traces will still be showing up months later when I am looking for the ice scraper. It’s the Kobayashi Maru of beach vacations.
On the beach, it has been years since our now-18 year old has had any interest in playing in the sand. Castles and canals are all in her past. And this year, for the first time, our 15 year old and her two cousins spent all week playing in the waves and hanging out under the umbrella with books without ever touching the sand toys . Our son is now the only one. He once again spent hours each day on complex sand engineering and construction, drawing his grandfather, his parents, and temporary friends made on the beach into his projects whenever he could. I commented that if everyone worked as hard at their jobs as that boy works in the sand, we would do anything.
So on our last day at the beach, I wound up carrying the accursed green back to the van, trying not to get sand on my driving-home clothes. But on the way across the parking lot I wondered how many more summers the boy will use them. And I realized: I’m going to miss that green bag.
The Green Bag of Sand Toys
One of my messages to my kids has always been that it’s okay to get upset about how someone behaves, but that everyone has a right to think whatever they think. So if someone does not treat them well, they have both a right and a responsibility to address the problem, to confront the behavior and/or separate themselves from that person. But they do not have the right to impose their views on someone else.
Should we hide unpopular opinions in America?
Unfortunately, the rest of the world doesn’t always operate under those guidelines. All too often, people respect freedom of thought–so long as the other person’s thoughts match their own. Gun rights/control. The definition of marriage. Immigration. Healthcare. The topics are endless. From talking heads on TV to people I meet daily, we seem to have arrived at a point where too many people believe they have the only acceptable point of view.
Personally, I think extreme, all-or-nothing positions are usually intellectually lazy, but the truth is: I don’t care very much what other people think. Everyone is free to believe whatever they believe; and I’m pretty sure it’s all but impossible to convince someone to change ‘sides’ through a public conversation once they have dug in anyway. How many Facebook ‘wars’ does it take to demonstrate that? So all I really care about is how people ACT on their beliefs. I’m fine with ‘live and let live’–so long as how you want to live does not harm other people. And I expect to be allowed to do the same.
So in the spirit of acceptance, I have a few simple requests of the world this evening:
- Decide whether or not we are friends before you include me in your Facebook world. Simple, right? Then, if I take a different position than yours on a topic–live with it. If I mock you–feel free to unfriend me. If I get into an extended, unfriendly back-and-forth–unfriend away. And rest assured, neither of those will happen. But if I’m voting for a different candidate for governor or I have the audacity to post a status update from a steakhouse rather than liking your picture of a tofu sandwich–lighten up. (For the record, this one was inspired by a high school friend who decided there was only one morally acceptable presidential candidate in 2012. She unfriended me without even telling me she had done so, and I haven’t heard from her since. Really?)
- If you don’t know me, keep your thoughts on my Redskins t-shirt to yourself. I’ve been a fan of the team my whole life, and yes: as I do not live in a cave, I am aware of the controversy related to the name. Obviously I’ve made up my own mind. It’s fine if you disagree, but I will probably not react well if you decide to play t-shirt police. (This one?–Inspired by the stranger at a swim meet this morning who quickly re-thought his choice to voice a critical opinion of my shirt.)
- My wife and I will decide whether and at what age our kids are allowed to have cell phones, social media accounts, and pretty much everything else. Have I ever used the word ‘should’ in a conversation about your kids? (Easy answer: No.) That’s something to think about.
Actually, the best example of this philosophy in my own life is my relationship with my son’s godparents. We have been friends for over 25 years, and partly because of a 20 year age difference we see the world in almost completely opposite ways on almost all things political. So we do banter, but we also accept one another. It is still possible.
Earlier this evening, I read tweets by ESPN’s Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) quoting Michael Sams in response to Tony Dungy’s statement a few days ago that he would not have drafted Sams because of media distractions: “Thank God [Dungy] wasn’t the St. Louis Rams coach. (laughs) I have a lot of respect for Coach Dungy. And like everyone in America, everyone is entitled to their own opinions.” Well said, Mr. Sams. Well said.
My daughter’s college search came down to a final four of 2 very large state universities and 2 small liberal arts colleges. Since before she started elementary school she had talked about going to a big school, and her top 2 seemed to be obvious winners: our state’s flagship university (of which I am a proud alum) and an even larger public school in a neighboring state (where she had played volleyball tournaments over 6 Memorial Day weekends).
But last summer we mixed in visits to a couple of smaller schools and she started re-envisioning college life. In the fall, several small liberal arts colleges found their way onto her application list. Her two smaller finalists included her mother’s alma mater (a small liberal arts college 3 hours from our home) and a liberal arts college over 6 hours away that we had never visited–but which she loved from her college guides and online research.
The Big Visit
Over spring break my daughter and I visited that final school for the first time. Walking around in some of the heaviest rain I have ever seen, she was clearly on the campus she wanted to call home. Halfway through our visit she asked, “Can we stop by the bookstore before it closes?” I slowly replied, “Does that mean…?” and she confirmed: “This is the one.” At the bookstore she bought a sweatshirt and a lanyard, and then we finished exploring campus.
So WHY did she pick the smallest school on her list? Here are a few advantages my daughter sees:
- Value for humanities. Tour after tour of big schools last summer focused on science and engineering. But liberal arts colleges talked about their writing programs, humanities majors, etc. And she sees herself as an English or government major.
- Drama. My daughter loved her high school theatre experience, but she does not intend to major in drama. When she asked reps at the bigger schools, they told her theater majors had priority in casting. Reps at the smaller schools openly encouraged non-majors to audition.
- Sense of belonging. My wife attended a school of around 2,000. My school was closer to 35,000. She goes to reunions. I do not. She can tell you the names of everyone who joined the class after freshman year or who left before graduation. Impossible at my alma mater. If my wife runs into someone wearing a shirt from her school, it becomes a conversation. When I run into someone with a shirt from my school, it is more likely that it represents basketball or football fandom rather than a shared history. My daughter has chosen the small school community.
- Safety. Obviously, there are dangers on any college campus. But the smaller schools tend to be in small towns or–in the case of my daughter’s new school–in rural settings. Her campus literally borders a river, and the nearest intersection with so much as a gas station is a 5 minute drive. The nearest small town with a few stores is a 15 minute drive (or shuttle).
So how do her mother and I feel about our daughter’s choice? Surprised. But also peacefully happy for her. It is clear that she found her match….in a place where she almost never looked.