“No!” he said to me, his brow furrowed.
“What is it, buddy?” I ask.
“What do you mean, move?”
“Move, dada!” he said, fiercely, waiting for me to move several steps behind him as opposed to the usual ‘right behind him to spot him’ we’ve done since he started walking up those stairs on his own.
“You don’t want me behind you, buddy?”
I obliged and went three steps back. And wouldn’t you know it, every few steps, he would stop and turn around to make sure I was giving him that space.
And up-up-up he went.
How quickly the urge to declare one’s independence comes.
It has taken me many years to fully come to terms with this, and it is something I often have to remind myself of to this day. But it’s important. And, as I have since childhood, I’m going to frame it in the context of something that is easier for me to understand and explain – film.
You don’t need to be Sam Wainwright to matter.
In the film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey’s friend Sam is a successful businessman who has gone out into the world and made a lot of money while George has stayed in Bedford Falls and reluctantly carried on the family business of the Savings and Loan.
George Bailey had big plans for his life. He was going to see the world. He was going to have adventures across the globe. But he didn’t. He stayed in his hometown, married, fixed up a drafty old house, had a few kids, and did what he could to help his friends. There were times, though, when life got tough, overwhelming, and it drove George to really question his place in the world amid his friends who went off and did big things.
When I was younger, I used to think I was so important to the universe. That I was meant for great things, which led to massive bouts of sadness, frustration and disappointment when I would feel that I wasn’t living up to those expectations, especially as I got older and life changed, took off in various directions, etc.
But what I’ve come to realize is that we all are important to this universe, for different reasons. Sometimes those great things are on a smaller scale and not as grandiose as you may think.
I’ve sat and wallowed in disappointment that I’m not doing the big things. Not writing the great American novel. Not writing sought-after screenplays, television shows, mainstream comic books and cartoons. Not making big budget movies and kidding around with stars.
And that is all okay. You know why?
Because none of it matters.
The people I spend my time with, be they my wife, my son, or our friends and family, are genuinely invested in us and our lives, as we are theirs.
Someone famous or well-known may follow you on Twitter and hey, that’s cool. But unless they’re coming over to the house for dinner or helping you out when that flat tire comes on your car, the real-life relationships on your journey are what will matter in the bigger picture.
I’m not bashing those who get excited because someone with a blue check mark on social media gave them a shout out or a follow. What I’m saying is, don’t make it your world. Make those around you, really around you, physically and emotionally your world. That will count for more than any number of online followers, fans or likes. Trust me.
I’ll say it again because I can’t say it enough. Because I have to remind myself of it on those days when I wonder what happened, how did I get here, and wonder about my place in the world – You don’t have to be Sam Wainwright.
You don’t have to be the major success of your town, of your work, of your friends. Just be a George Bailey. Be a good friend. Be a good person.
Be the person who has been intertwined in people’s lives in a way that has hopefully made them for the better. Maybe it was introducing them to new people they would have never met without you who went on to become even better friends, maybe it was being the person who writes that great recommendation letter that helps get someone else a job, or maybe it’s just being a source of support when someone asks if you’ve got the time to talk or have a cup of coffee.
Judge yourself not on how many people know your name, or the names you can drop, but by the kind of person you are.
Looking back on my life, I was constantly looking to be a Sam Wainwright when I was younger. And yes, sometimes it still hits me and I wonder ‘did I head down the wrong path?’ ‘was there more to my destiny than this?’
And then I realize that being a George Bailey is pretty damn good. Because the quality of the life lived and the lives touched, will mean so much more in the end than any award on the wall, social media brag, or product sold.
One builds his house of straw, one of sticks and one of bricks and when the Big Bad Wolf comes calling, it’s only the pig in the brick house, who spent the time working hard on his home instead of goofing off and taking the easy way out like his siblings, who the Wolf can’t get to.
At least, that’s how I remember it.
But apparently, I’ve had it wrong all these years.
You see, our son recently received a collection of books based on Rand McNally’s Junior Elf book line published from 1947 to 1986. Some still maintain the original art while others have updated illustrations. And for some reason, our little guy frequently gets drawn to two, in particular, out of the entire set – The Three Bears and The Three Little Pigs. Maybe it’s a numerical thing, who knows.
Leaving the three bears in the woods for the moment, a few frequent readings of The Three Little Pigs recently got me thinking about the story on the page versus the story in my memory – as they greatly differ.
In this book version, recreated from the Junior Elf version in, I believe 1957, the mother pig can not afford to keep her three sons and sends them off into the world to find their fame and fortune.Rather than have any type of intention as to what to do for shelter, each one chances upon people carrying materials along the road – one straw, one sticks and one bricks. And they each build a house. There’s no lesson about planning or thinking ahead, or working hard. Just a chance encounter that leads to how they build their homes.
The story progresses as the Wolf arrives and Pigs One and Two lose their homes (but not their lives) and the Wolf heads to Pig Number Three in his brick house. Just as my memory recalled, he can’t blow the house down. But that’s not where the story ends.
The story then takes a turn as the Wolf, day after day tries to lure the pig out of his brick house.
By inviting him to go places.
The Wolf invites him to go pick beets from a garden and sets up a time to meet the next day. Because, why wouldn’t you accept an invite to meet up with a beast who is standing outside your door and threatening to eat you?
The pig shows up to the garden early and picks the beets before the Wolf even shows up. And when the Wolf tries the same trick with apple picking, the Pig does the same thing, showing up early, but finding the wolf showing up early too. The pig throws an apple at the Wolf and runs for his life back to the brick house.
At this point, you’d think he’d want to stay inside and away from this wolf, right?
No, no. Because the Pig then accepts an invite from the Wolf to go to the fair.
The pig goes to the fair, early once again – and by early, the books says 2 am early. What the heck kind of fair is going on at 2 am?!
And at the fair, the pig buys a butter churn which, when he sees the Wolf coming toward the fair, he hides in. It tips and goes rolling down the hill, scaring the Wolf, who later, for some inexplicable reason, stands outside the house of the pig and tells him how scared he was that a butter churn was rolling after him.
The pig laughs and tells the Wolf that he was inside the butter churn.
Shortly thereafter, the Wolf tries to come down the chimney of the brick house, where the pig has a pot of water boiling on the fire and the Wolf dies. I tend to skip this part (as I don’t think a two-year old really needs to know that) and just ad-lib that it was so hot the Wolf went flying back up the chimney and ran away.
Normally, I wouldn’t feel the need to write hundreds of words about an age-old tale like The Three Little Pigs but it has been handpicked so much recently by my son that I can not shake the strange deviations from the story I remember.
So, I did what I tend to do when something gets stuck in my brain and I just can’t get over the need for answers – I hit the internet.
While the Three Little Pigs was first seen in print in the 1840s, it apparently, is believed to go back even farther than that, but that original version is very much how the printed book we have at home plays out, which I never knew.
I had no idea and yet each time we would read the book, I kept muttering inside my mind “well, that’s not how it really happens. This is weird.”
Nope. I was just wrong.
It just goes to show you how much media can influence your own perspective and recollections, because I am confident I read the book as a kid, but have retained no memory whatsoever of these ‘foreign’ components I mentioned.
All I seemed to remember as ‘the real story’ is this:
So there you have it. Walt Disney has actually altered my memory perception. The Silly Symphonies version of this tale has superseded all recollection of any actual stories I read of this tale.
Regardless, of the three choices, I’ll still build my house of brick, thank you very much. :)
Since getting the results of my bloodwork that tell me I had high cholesterol, high triglycerides and High LDL, I have been working very hard to be disciplined about eating better. Much of that has been cutting out fried foods, processed foods, and as my doctor put it, “cutting down on all starches and sugars.”
I will admit it hasn’t been easy, but I have a feeling that the more I stick to it, the more it will start to just become habit. Instead of a sandwich, I’ll have a wrap or salad for lunch. Instead of some chips on the side, I have a stack of almonds.
For dinner, Meg’s been really good about switching over from rice to quinoa, more vegetables, and adding things like more fish to our meals. She’s really been coming up with some great, and delicious ideas that are still within the restrictions/limits.
Every now and then I like some ice cream, but instead, I’m trying frozen yogurt from Stonyfield. Great taste and much less cholesterol.
Going out to eat has been a bit more difficult, though. A day or so after I got my results, we were all invited to have dinner with my parents – who took us to a place that specializes in BBQ and Fried Foods. It’s a great place, but man was it difficult to look at that menu and try to find something that wouldn’t totally throw me off of the wagon. I settled on chicken, not fried, and cooked with rosemary and thyme instead of barbecue sauce or breading. For the sides, I skipped the french fries (despite loving fries) and went with a sweet potato, with no brown sugar and no butter. Just threw on a little pepper. And it was good. You get two sides, so I also made sure to get a salad and passed on the dinner roll, figuring it was probably just empty carbs and starch that wouldn’t help.
I’ve done lunch with a few friends since then at a local bar and grille and that has also tested me in terms of this new diet. Usually, I’d get anything from a bacon cheeseburger to a buffalo chicken sandwich. Just a few of my favorite things. Instead, each trip has been Soup and Salad. I once slipped up and got the Caesar Salad and French Onion soup, only to have Meg remind me later that the Caesar dressing is loaded with things I’m not supposed to have, and the cheese and bread in the soup is also not too cholesterol-friendly.
So, on my latest venture, I did the soup and salad with just an Italian dressing and got the french onion soup without the bread or cheese. Thankfully, it was still tasty.
I know. I know. I’m sitting here writing paragraph upon paragraph about what I ordered at restaurants. I think part of it is to help me track my progress as this is new ground for me. As I’ve stated before, I once had tried to eat healthier when I learned I had high cholesterol but quickly fell off the wagon after a few ‘cheats’ here and there. This time, there’s me, Meg, and our little guy involved, so I have to make sure I’m around for a long time.
And that means finally taking this seriously.
When I was a little kid in elementary school, I had a hand-me-down set of encyclopedias. I couldn’t tell you what brand, but I remember they had orange covers, littered with four or five photos contained in squares on each cover, giving you a hint of what’s inside. I don’t quite recall if they came from my parents or my grandparents, but they were either something a relative was getting rid of, or a good garage or book sale find. I know they were probably a decade old at the time, but I didn’t care. In a pre-internet age, this was a total fountain of knowledge and I can’t tell you how much time I spent just leafing through and reading that set of encyclopedias, just because I wanted to know.
Yes, I spent tons of my elementary school age just sitting in our house and reading encyclopedias (when I wasn’t running around outside pretending to be Inspector Gadget, Batman or a Ninja Turtle). You’d think that would’ve had some kind of effect, right? What the heck happened?
By the time I reached junior high, I fell into a trap I’m sure many do at that age. Coming out of elementary school with a history of As and A+s must have thrilled my parents and myself in my younger years, but at that oh-so awkward stage of new environments, new people, and new life changes, I felt…uncomfortable with having good grades. So, I started purposely answering questions wrong on my tests. A little here and there, just to bring the grades down so I wouldn’t seem like so much of an outcast. Average seemed pretty good looking compared to being a target for ridicule, or worse, the bus bullies that already were a thorn in my side.
At some point, though, that method started to just take over. Suddenly, I didn’t study as much, I didn’t put forth as much effort. Just getting by was all right, and before I knew it, my grades started dropping down to B or C level and I became just that – a very average student.
It’s something I regret oh so much to this day because I wonder just what type of person I would have been and where my life may have gone had I not taken that cliched detour off of academic row.
When I see my son, just about to turn two, ravenous for more books to read together, to want to know about things, pulling letter magnets off the fridge and telling me what letters they are, I encourage every moment of it, hoping deep inside that he will not follow in the footsteps of his father who, despite my own parents’ encouragement, decided I’d rather be accepted than intelligent. When you see so much potential, the last thing you want is to see it squashed. I can’t imagine how devastated my parents must have been when I started coming home with grades so lackluster compared to my earlier years.
I felt slight redemption in college. Looking back, I remember numerous discussions on philosophical levels that today I can’t even imagine getting into. I think of the bombardment of creative ideas and new ways of thinking that still seem impressive to me when I come across old notes or work.
But it’s often followed by the feeling of dread as I wonder just what happened to that intelligent person. Sometimes I feel so focused on my daily to-do lists of what needs to be accomplished, that my mind rarely has the moments of breakthrough it once did. Currently working at a university, I often find myself with this fear that I’ll be ‘found out’ as just a dummy faking his way through, unable to hold my own amid the academic minds I’m surrounded by.
I don’t know what quite happened, but what I know is that these days I look back and feel as though I was so much smarter at ages 7-12 and 20-26 than any other time in my life so far. And I sit here, at age 34, feeling as though it’s a lost era of myself. I hear things that I don’t quite comprehend, concepts that seem beyond me, and I can’t figure out if back then, I just had more confidence in what I knew (or thought I knew), or if I really am getting dumber and less creative with age.
Have I allowed myself to become content among a world where knowledge is a Google search away? Has the time I used to spend looking things up and reading about things, or having those intelligent conversations now spent online with a multitude of social media sites? Has the world around me just gotten smarter while I’ve stayed stagnant? Theories, all of them, but hopefully you get the point that I think about this a lot. There’s been lots of reports and criticism that the smarter the computers, phones, and other technology becomes, the dumber we as humans turn. But if that’s the case, am I not alone in my feeling? What does it mean as my life continues, what does it mean for my son?
Also, that whole Louis Armstrong lyric – “…they’ll learn much more, than I’ll ever know.” It seems so much more somber now than ever before.
Post Script – after writing this, I saw someone online share the following link, which made me feel not only better, but like a genius. So, please, if you ever feel like I did about becoming dumber the older I get, check out these - “Dumb People Across The Internet”