Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Effectual Stretch of Imagination

“He's got a road map of Jupiter
A radar fix on the stars
All along the highway
She's got a liquid-crystal compass 
A picture book of the rivers
Under the Sahara — 
They travel in the time of the prophets
On a desert highway straight to the heart of the sun
Like lovers and heroes, and the restless part of everyone…”

—Neil Peart

It wasn’t exactly the romanticized version of backpacking through an exotic land, especially if you consider a cheap roller suitcase a backpack, which unfortunately I did. But that was me then in 1998, when my then girlfriend (now wife) had bitten me with the travel bug. Prior to that my travel was limited and relegated to a few States, and then once to Hawaii, which when I was 13 I actually thought was another country, and then years later once to Mexico and once to Canada.

My wife had traveled extensively prior to us meeting, including the romanticized version of backpacking through Europe after college, only to get most of her belongings stolen in Prague after only two days into her trip. She could’ve got home after that, wanted to go home after that, but regrouped, bought a few new things, and went on to travel for another few weeks.

And so our first big journey together was to Costa Rica, about a year after we had met. A lovely country, it was the first time I had been to such an exotic land, and to travel with someone else who lived boldly, to experience such visceral sensations I had never before experienced was amazing in and of itself. But the meeting of people I had never met before, some of whom had alien worldviews compared to mine, and exchanging those worldviews with one another, was the epitome of the “effectual stretch.”

The “effectual stretch” meaning pushing oneself to learn and expand beyond what’s known and comfortable in a way that’s produces desired yet diverse effective results, whatever those results may mean to each person. It could mean the literal extremes of success or failure, or that fatty layer in between that gives sustenance to our tenuous journey of sinew and bone.

We’ve attempted to impress the same approach and attitude on our daughters, teaching them to be bold yet aware, to protect themselves but not live in fear, to keep getting back on the bull like they own the beast, horns held tightly in hands. This includes exposing them to travel, new locales and people, experiences that we hope will shape their adult lives and those they interact with for the better.

Listening to a recent Freakonomics podcast about empowering a better workplace and the cities where those workplaces are, which will take another article I'm writing in a tangential direction, I had to smile when I heard American economist and Harvard University professor Edward Glaeser talk about how he was taking a sabbatical while “…attempting to civilize my children by taking them to a variety of different cities.”

Yes, that's the idea of "civilizing" through the effectual stretch and why we're now taking the girls to the island of Manhattan and beyond this summer for our next family vacation. We've flown together already to visit my parents in Oregon and the Mama's family in the Midwest, flown to Sea World and the Zoo in San Diego, ridden trains together to San Francisco, ridden city busses in Santa Cruz, driven to Disneyland and back a couple of times already (and a few other road trips to visit our sisters in Nevada and Central California). And there have been a couple of international trips for me when I've extended the stretch of imagination for the entire B-hive by getting to go to Australia and more recently Ireland.

In every place any of us goes individually or as a family, the idea is to learn something new about other people and ourselves, and to suspend our disbelief about the lore of the land we're upon, especially for our girls. There ain't nothing wrong in believing in magical things. (And yes, I kissed the Blarney Stone in Blarney Castle.)

You can't get any more excited about something as magical as fairy doors. Really. The girls have been immersed in the Tinker Bell and her fairy friends reboot for a few years (great girl power stories by the way) and when my new friend, Gina London, whom I met in Ireland (an Emmy award-winning veteran CNN anchor and correspondent turned international executive communications consultant, one of many amazing people I met while there), told me about how her daughter Lulu adores the fairy doors, I just had to have them for Beatrice and Bryce. Fairies originated from European folklore and Celtic, Germanic and Greco-Roman beliefs.

These particular doors are made by the Irish Fairy Door Company and come complete with door, key and wooden steps for the front of the door. You then give your fairy a name, and this is how it went with us:

"Beatrice, what name do you want for your fairy?"

"Tinkerbell, because I love her."

"Bryce, what about you?"

"My fairy's name is Barry."

In all fairness Bryce most likely meant "Berry," but Barry is funnier, so that's what I'm going with. You also get a fairy lease agreement, which is really cute and comes with stipulations such as:

“If pets live with the home, please that they do not tinkle against the fairy door. Having a wee-covered door can cause your fairy to get quite upset.”

You then find a place for the doors in your house and decorate around them, leave the keys out overnight, and if they're gone in the morning, the newly named fairies are the family's new friends and will visit regularly. Tinker Bell and Barry not only have new homes within ours, but they have the makings of a new fairy garden in the backyard courtesy of Bryce. And yes, the fairies have visited more than once already.

What the Mama and I love about the whole idea is how stretches their imaginations and gets them excited about new experiences both near and far. Ever since we met one day at the beach nearly 18 years ago, it’s been one new experience and growth opportunity after another. Not always travel related, and certainly not always successful, it’s been more about having an explorer’s mentality and approach to the mindful and agile living of the effectual stretch.

That is the gift the Mama gave to me and now our girls, and I couldn't be more thankful and grateful. Here's an excerpt of a poem I wrote her on my way home from Ireland that sums it all up:

The moment we met that day on the beach became a stunning ache
That has never left me — the soft light of your moving presence, 
A welcome sun that never fails to rise and lift my heart, hold it high 
In the sky and remind me this is how it feels to live life with love,
To be in love, to live boldly and burn brighter with the happy ache of 
Never wanting to be without, for that would mean we were never real, 
that our fated meeting had never happened, our heartmeld fusion that had
Never transformed two halves into two wholes, birthing two celestial
bodies locked in each other's gravity, a brilliant sun and moon, lovers 
And friends who can't look away from one another, who look out for
One another, who live life unabashed and empower their children in kind...

Happy Mother's Day, Mama. We love you.

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