“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
Thanks to my father and son, I understand this verse better today, at the ripe old age of “over 50” than I ever could before.
It began with a simple phone call from my son, who wanted to know if I had ever seen the Gillette Castle which overlooks the Connecticut River. It took me a moment or two to answer because his question simply floored me! Many times when our children were younger, my husband and I took them boating to this very same Castle. Our children had picnicked on the lawn, roamed through the house, and enjoyed countless lazy Sundays floating alongside this part of the Connecticut River. He must have been around 9 or 10 yrs old at the time, and when I replied “of course we did – and you were with us”, he didn’t know what to say. What could he say? At 32 yrs old he had just taken his two future step-children to this Castle and wanted to share with me how exciting the entire day had been.
His actual reply I believe was, “Really? Are you sure we are talking about the same Gillette Castle Mom?” Like there are more than one in East Haddam, Connecticut.
I then proceeded to recount, in detail, how on Sunday afternoons we would drop our boat, Lucky Lady, (which he did remember) into the Connecticut River and motor down from Hartford to the Gillette Castle area; he and his siblings used to love running around on the grassy hills. We would spend the entire day relaxing, eating, and jumping off from the boat moored alongside the castle. I even have pictures…somewhere after all these years I am sure…of him playing on the grounds. How could he not remember, when those Sundays are so clear in my mind?
All he did was laugh, and say it truly is a wonderful place for families to visit. Not letting him off the hook that easy I then proceeded to ask him about other family trips we had taken, and I was surprised to learn he remembered very little. Towards the end of our “what about this trip” conversation he came to a conclusion I can only hope was said in jest: parents should Photoshop their children into vacation spots like Disney, place the photos around the house, and when asked about the pictures create funny stories to tell them. They’d save a ton of money, and based on his memory, children under the age of 10 would not know the difference anyhow. “It’s a win/win Mom” I believe he told me.
When I recounted our son’s idea to my husband he laughed. “Smart idea. Too bad we didn’t have Photoshop when our kids were small,” he said. I didn’t think it was funny.
Soon after my son’s revelation I went on vacation with my eighty-five year old parents.
Mom suffers from macular degeneration and my dad has mild dementia. Obviously these physical ailments have made traveling more difficult. Trying to coordinate/remember hotels, travel plans, passports, and other details which my father used to handle with ease, are now the province of my mother. So, when she asked me to accompany them and my older sister to Annapolis, I jumped at the opportunity. Since airports are too intimidating for them, and driving through the Northeast Corridor during the summer vacation period was not on my list of traveling options, my brother decided Amtrak would be the way to go. He could not have been more right!
Dad and Mom thoroughly enjoyed the high-speed train experience. They laughed, they giggled, and they delighted in pointing out the window at the scenery while trying to determine our exact location. When handed menus they were incredulous! “We get to choose anything?” I believe was their initial response. We all ordered something different, and when I tried to stop Dad from ordering an alcoholic beverage (doctor’s recommendation) my mom slapped me on my arm and hushed me up; “You let him have fun”, she scolded and then proceeded to order a white wine for herself. Not wanting to miss out, everyone ordered something to drink and toasted to the beginning of a wonderful week.
A little while later, mom leaned over and whispered to me how much fun dad was having; looking across the seat at him I fully agreed. He had not been this happy and relaxed in a very long time. Dad might not remember today a month from now, she confided in me, but that was okay because the man she loved was having more fun on this particular day than he had had in a long time. This moment made everything…planning the trip, the cost, the moving of schedules around… all worthwhile.
And then I remembered my son’s phone call and realized I had looked at his ‘Gillette Castle moment’ the wrong way. We, as parents, do not create experiences with our children because we have to…we do it because we want to. We do things with our children for our enjoyment as much as theirs. When they laugh, we laugh; their enjoyment IS our enjoyment. We are the ones who receive the blessings when we watch them having pure fun…the same way my mother felt watching her husband enjoying his train ride.
My son and my father were both, at their respective times, living purely in the moment. At different ends of life’s spectrum, each did what God wants us to do: be happy, trusting that all we need will be given to us. Each took an experience to the max, and made it something special for those around them…then let it go and moved on to the next experience. Neither had any concern about how they looked, what others thought about them, or worried about what was going to happen next.
They just enjoyed the ride, and left the worrying to someone else.
So too must we enjoy this life, sharing our joy with others without worry, and allowing ourselves to move on without remorse or fear. God, Our Father, is truly in control.