As I’ve mentioned this summer and last fall, our oldest daughter always thought she wanted to go to a big college, but she ultimately found her ideal match at a small liberal arts college. As a strong high school and club volleyball player, but not a superstar, she decided in 10th grade that volleyball would not be part of her college decision. She recognized that the huge Division I schools she thought she wanted–the Marylands and Penn States–were not going to have a place for her on their varsity-level teams, so she would play intramural ball if it fit her schedule.
Packed for College
But then she fell in love with the small schools. And then a Division III coach reached out to her to see if she might be interested in playing. She was flattered….and interested….but in the end she chose another D III school for academics and campus climate–without having made any volleyball contact there. She told me she wanted to focus on getting used to college life and exploring her new world for a year, but that she would probably try to walk on as a sophomore. As a former high school and club coach–proudly, my daughter’s first coach–and as her fan through 100s of matches, I knew she would probably be able to make that happen–IF she still wanted to after a year….a big IF.
A few nights before she left for college, we had dinner together–just the two of us–and I went out of my way to remind her that she should only come back to playing at a competitive level down the road if she really missed it: not just the rush of a big point, but also the grind of a long practice on some random weekday in October. She was sure she wanted to play sophomore year, but I had my doubts….Anyway, time would tell.
High School Days
Fast forward to her 8th day on campus, a Saturday–I get a text:
(paraphrased) I thought you would want to know that I met a girl who’s on the volleyball team and I have messaged the coach.
Uh, what?! Then, Monday:
Could you send me the Youtube link to the highlights you put together from last year’s playoffs? Coach ____ wants to see them since I can’t try out until Wednesday.
Whoa….Now she’s casually mentioning the coach by name? And she has a tryout?
Wednesday’s text was exactly 2 words:
So here I am, genuinely surprised. And proud. And, most of all, happy that she really is making her own choices.
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.