Monday, February 20, 2012


Last year I spent President's day weekend with Mike, chasing Tim Twietmeyer through the final 20 mile section of the western states course in the snow.  I remember pulling into the parking lot with Mike and seeing snow on the Placer High School track.  We ran the first few miles, chasing Tim in his green jacket, through snow flurries.  I was cold, but it was exhilarating, my first time running through snowfall.

This year, I wanted to go back and do the training runs so I tried to talk it up to Mike and The Yogger but it just didn't happen.  So, instead, I opted for a different kind of mountain trip this year, a more traditional route of snow seeking than the ultrarunner version.  My little brother, Cody, had never seen snow.  His mom, well technically his grandma, asked me if I'd take him because she thought that would be a great experience for him.  After I mentioned it to neighbor Brad, he got on board and booked a cabin at Big Bear for a couple of nights for his family.  The rules prohibit overnights, so I made plans to pick up Cody at 4am on Sunday, drive up to meet up with the Colberts, and spend the day playing in the snow.  I thought with 4 adults and 3 kids (they have a live-in family-member-nanny, Megan) we would be able to keep the 3 littles happy and still have time for a little fun ourselves.

Cody and his "mom" who is actually his biological grandma, Patty
I told myself I'd get to sleep early on Saturday night.  I took Tabu's class with Carrie and was on my way to grab a $50 salad at Whole Foods when my phone rang.  Jordan requested an extra set of hands to move a pool table the "old fashioned" way (meaning he hadn't rolled up the felt and chipped out the slate, so it was 600 lbs of pool table that needed to get shuttled out of his truck and into his front porch. Well, we got that table into the garage at least, but that was an hour or so, and it got us both thinking and talking (Jordan tends to do a fair bit of thinking which is one reason I enjoy conversing with him) so after I showered and packed and got to bed I noticed that I was looking at about 3 hours of sleep.  Oh well, better 3 than 0.  The alarm fired at 3:00, I finally got out of bed at 3:30, and I left the house at 4.  Not too bad overall, only about 30 minutes behind my own schedule, but this is the kind of perpetual problem with my lifestyle.  I get so caught up in the present, my mind is so engaged in what I'm doing, that I have difficulty shutting that down and preparing for the next event, hence I'm always late, and most people take that as a sign of disrespect.  In this particular case, I'm sure the extra minutes of sleep Cody and Patricia got were appreciated, and with clear roads and smooth driving, we arrived at 6:45am which was exactly the timeframe I had hoped for so it worked out well.  I mostly just have to set a time that is unnecessarily early in order to arrive at the correct time.  Some people do this by setting their watch 5 minutes early, but for me I would quickly adjust to the discrepancy.  I need to believe that I am late in order to arrive on time.

Matt and Nate eating breakfast at 6:40am
Carolyn, Brad's lovely wife, greeted us and as Cody went to play in the snow in the back yard, I sat with Nate and Matt for breakfast.  Cody came back in, but turned down my granola and almond milk, even though I asked him about 10 times if he wanted to eat anything.  Nate showed me how he drinks milk from his bowl after eating all the cereal by pouring it into his lap.  Matt was his usual self, meaning unusual compared to other kids I know, always a bit of the unexpected mixed in with all sorts of vibrant expressions.  I could see Nate playing football, having chiseled abs, and dating supermodels while Matt welds sculptures, writes poetry, and plays guitar.  Of course, since I don't spent much time with them, my assumptions about their emerging personalities are probably way off.

Matt calls me "Meester Daaave" 
Nate before dumping his bowl of milk in his lap 
Matt got his snow gear on and went out in the back yard to throw snowballs at Cody.  I stayed indoors, eating my hemp granola and talking with Carolyn and Brad who was a bit congested from the case of wine altitude and dry air.  Megan and Matt shared some precious moments on the couch, the tenderness of caregiver and child mixing together harmoniously, exchanging warmth without pretension or awkwardness.  I wondered, while watching that, what is it about me which limits my ability to engage with Cody in that manner?  Is it the whole man and boy situation?  Is it fear of coming off in any way as inappropriate?  Am I simply not an affectionate person?  Have I lost my inner child as my hair turns to grey?  We'll get back to these thoughts in a bit.

Cody and Matt throwing snowballs

Somehow, after the plan changed about 40 times, Brand ended up jumping in our car and off we went, first to rent a board, boots, and helmet for Cody ($25 for the day, it might as well have been free, shoot, I'd have paid $25 just to talk to that way-cute-but-way-too-young female who sorted it all out for us in the store.)  Then we were off to park, pee, hop on the shuttle, and finally arrive at the slopes.  I spent too much time getting my boots on (it's hard to drive in snowboard boots, so I had to put them on with cold hands in the parking lot) and I forgot sunscreen (huge oops) and food (I had a box of purefit bars I intended to bring with for food for Cody and I, and I forgot to stuff my pockets with them, hence the $35 lunch bill.)  Somehow, by sheer luck, I wound up dressed properly for the day, at times I was too hot, at times too cold, and most of the day just about right based on our activity level and the changing weather conditions.

Conveyer belts take a lot of the pressure off first timers 
We stumbled into the beginner section and Brad picked out the conveyer belt which was hidden on the side.  I didn't even see it, though it was right there in front of us.  Hooray for neighbor Brad.  I don't think I can overstate how awesome Brad is in the daddy role.  I see it all the time with his own boys, but watching him take care of Cody brought it full circle for me just as watching Shane demonstrate a pose brings immense clarity for how it is supposed to look.  Some people are genuinely capable of the calm confidence required to be a parent.  And while there is some leeway in the mom department (most of us as children have experienced our mothers in a moment of weakness, tears, or meltdown) the role of father is about being a pillar of strength and confidence and inviting everyone else to reach out and grab a handle for the ride.  Brad has these attributes.  In fact, Brad is strangely similar to the neighbor we had growing up in Kailua, David Mortensen.  Ask either Brad or David for help and they are there.  Ask them how to do something and they know the answer.  Unwavering, accepting, and encouraging without any hint of overbearing.  Such is the delicate nature of fatherhood.

Neighbor Brad in yellow 
Cody started off catching a few front edges and taking a few spills but he didn't seem to mind much.  He sort of smiles and laughs his way through things when he doesn't know exactly what he is doing.  With Brad and I together, we were able to simultaneously assist from above and below, so he knew where he was going and he also got some verbal advice along the way.  He didn't hit anyone else the entire day which is pretty remarkable given how crowded it was.  He was pretty smooth with his bailouts, and he didn't have much of any extra trouble once we graduated to the chair lifts.

By lunch, Cody was able to hold an edge
 By 11:00 am, he was able to make it down a basic green, and keep a steady pace without falling.  I won't say that he is able to crank out S turns, but this was day 1 of seeing snow and I remember how awful my first day of boarding was so I can't help but be impressed.  In the interest of honesty (and this blog is intended to be an honest reflection of my thoughts) I will take a quick tour of some of the things I see lacking in Cody and compare them to my own memories of my 10 year old self.  If my dad reads any of this, I'd appreciate him correcting anything I misrepresent as it's hard to take a 37 year old perspective and apply it to 10 year old memories which have been in storage for a quarter century.

The smile is the reason we made the trip
I think the photo above is my favorite one from the day.  That was probably the peak of Cody's efforts on the board.  And he is smiling.  I can't tell you how many times in my first year of practicing yoga that I was instructed to "soften" my face.  This face, this look, is the natural, uncomplicated look of youthful joy.  This is the look that we spend years in therapy trying to return to when our lives become a garbage disposal.  So, to witness that moment occurring, to see firsthand how a child perceives "fun" was a wonderful treat and the highlight to my day.  Cody is not extremely expressive with his emotions, he is very even keel, not much high, not much low, all sorts of raw energy but it is all released deliberately, metered out over time.  This smile is his version of pure joy, the equivalent of my dog, Hunter, bee-lining to the surf zone at dog beach.

Day 1 of boarding means a lot of time spent like this
I also don't want to sugar coat this too much.  The kid spent plenty of time on the ground.  He was as natural as could be expected, but it was a learning process and there was plenty of time to learn what not to do.  When I say I am proud of him, it is within the context of his background and his abilities.  I don't want this to sound like he is some 10 year old phenomenon on a snowboard.  Compared to other kids his age, who have perhaps more experience or exposure to winter sports, he's probably somewhere in the upper middle of the group.  Not overly fearful, definitely not timid, but in all honesty his ambition is very tempered and reasonable.  I think this may come from his environment, the expectations are not terribly high, so he is rarely stretched to his full potential.  To frame this back to me, because this blog is about my thoughts, I notice that when an instructor in a beginner class gives cues for trikonasana, they often suggest paying more attention to elongated side bodies and hips rotated in plane, reaching high but not worrying too much about reaching low.  When Shane puts me into triangle pose, he doesn't hesitate to tell me to peace finger my big toe which is almost a completely different pose for me, with bigger sensations and overall much more challenging.  It's similar to a beginner classes reminding us that it's OK to pause in one legged tadasana holding the raised knee and working on foundation, while Bikram has someone with a microphone practically yelling at you to lock your knee out with fingers interlaced and back straight or you might as well die trying.  Put in a different way, I think Cody would grow tremendously if he had stronger encouragement, if he had someone who expected a bit more from him.  And yet, I am hyper sensitive to this because I feel like I carry some of the burden of a childhood spent chasing expectations and accomplishments and I realize that direction did not bring any great perspective or unique happiness.  Put in simpler terms, who am I to say that Cody's ambition is anything but perfect?  At 37, do I honestly expect to know more about life than a 10 year old?  Perhaps it is the other way around, perhaps the student is really the teacher and the teacher is only beginning to understand what the lesson is about.

Lunch at the top
One other point I want to make.  Cody has great hair.  I am so infinitely envious of how great his hair is.  I am growing my own hair out partially in response to how cool I think Cody is with his long brown locks.  It's natural, it's got color, some texture, but not too much.  The kid is going to become a really good looking young man very soon.  I assume that means he's going to have a lot of girls interested in him.  I wonder how that will change him, I wonder how he will react to the attention.  I wonder if perhaps the time for my contribution, for my suggestions on how he can make decisions that will enhance his life, lies predominantly in the future during his upcoming, most likely angst-ridden teenage years.  Will he ever spend time contemplating the rejection of a father who decided he wanted to not have any part in his life?  Will he confront his biological mother who he has met but lives across the country?  And how will his relationship with his grandma, who is primary guardian and the #1 most important family member in his life, the only one who has unconditional and unlimited love for him, how will that relationship change over time.  Will he ever be upset or bitter about the hand he was dealt?  I sure think I would go through various stages of thoughts like that at some point.  So far it all seems like anything that might go on is going on well under the radar.

Brad rented short skis for some reason
When we stopped for lunch, Cody was a bit less regulated and a more free with himself.  Perhaps the location (out on the deck at the of one of the lifts) allowed some of this, or perhaps the vigor of a morning spent in active motion created a safe space for expression.  We assembled a tray together, and he picked out (in order) french fries, mac n cheese, a tri tip sandwich, and a caesar salad.  I picked out 2 hard boiled eggs and watched him make a suicide of Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, and Sierra Mist.

This was the punctuation between am and pm sessions
He got most of the mac n cheese down (thankfully since I wouldn't have touched it) but only half of the tri tip sandwich, offering up the 2nd half to me and I decided to eat it even though I have eaten red meat less than 5 times this year and I'm still trying to avoid wheat as well.  It wasn't bad for ski food, but I focused more on the boiled eggs and salad.  Cody took the time to unpack the croutons and spread them over the salad but ate none of it, funny how the least nutritious salad became my lunch, the one I've learned to pick last, primarily iceberg and parmesan, but I navigated my way around the croutons and shook off the cheese as much as I could while Cody went off to past the deck to make snow angels.  I remember so vividly how frequently my mom would tell me "your eyes are always bigger than your stomach".  Knowing this, remembering how frequently I felt such intense waves of hunger, I had tried hard to prompt Cody to eat that morning.  I could have been more forceful with him, I could have made demands or ultimatums, but I didn't.  I knew he would need to eat at some point but since he is not my child I don't feel it is my place to micro-manage him at that level.  I am not sure I would want to even if he were my child.  At the same time, paying $35 for lunch is something I'm happy to do at Whole Foods, but not on the slopes.  There was an opportunity here for me to step up and assume some measure of authority.  I sidestepped and went with the flow.  It's not a big deal, the kid is healthy, lean, and has very normal eating habits compared to others his age and I'm not scraping pennies at minimum wage, but it's not how I like to do things.  Still, who am I to demand more?  Who am I to suck the "fun" out of these types of things?  I remember with tremendous fondness one ski trip in college where Doug and I went to Killington, on our 2nd or 3rd trip, this time without any other friends, just the two of us in a stinky motel room.  It was the most efficient ski trip of my life, we spent every minute we could in motion, and every night we went to Taco Bell for 39 cent tacos.  It was the furthest thing from healthy I could imagine and yet I remember it with immense fondness.  I think it's important to give space to others, especially 10 year olds, to make decisions which may not be entirely in their long term best interests as far as health goes.  And I suppose I hope that he sees my example and develops curiosity with time, I hope that my silent leadership is having a subliminal effect.

Cody decided to bury himself in snow
Brad stayed to finish lunch with Megan who arrived for the afternoon after taking Matt and Nate tubing with Carolyn in the morning.  Cody wanted to get going again, so I went down the hill with him.  This was where things changed up a bit.  With Brad and I, Cody did not call the shots, in fact Brad, knowing the hill from the day before, was doing most of the navigating and doing a great job of gently guiding Cody through a beginners progression.  In the absence of Brad, there was no authority figure, and I assumed my role of enabler of whatever Cody wanted to do.  He first picked heading off back towards the conveyer belts, and then wanted to go play in the "soft" snow (soft meaning dryer than the heavy, somewhat wet and crunchy snow under the canopy of most of the trees.)  He spent 20 or maybe 30 minutes playing around with a frozen block of a pond/stream/runoff water spot, and kind of just goofing off.  I started to get cold, but he was really enjoying himself, so I toughed it out.  This was where I really started to switch over to the "I'm not really enjoying this all that much because I don't want to explore cold/wet snow, I'd really much rather be out on the slopes carving turns and generating body heat" mode.  And yet I felt it was important to give space to Cody to explore his internally generated motivations.  I remember how empowering it was when one of my high school girlfriend's moms once asked me a series of questions along the lines of "what would you do right now if you could do anything?"  I wound up building and wiring an audio system for their house, spending their money but completely enjoying the process of transforming their outdoor space.  So, I felt that Cody deserved to explore this new world of snow and trees and ice without worrying about the silliness of paying for a lift ticket and not using it.  I also realized he was nearing his physical and/or motivational limits for the day.

Sort of like being at the beach only colder (for me)
He would run or walk or jump for a bit and then just fall over into the snow.  At first I found it odd behavior even though he jumps and dives in the grass and on the beach, but the consistency and repetitiveness of his actions eased my concern with time.  I think he honestly did not recognize how his body was tiring out on him.  I remember how badly my muscles ached after my first attempts to snowboard, how strange it felt to balance leaning on the edge of a board instead of placing your weight on the entire surface area of your feet as evolution intends us to.  Watching Cody fall into the snowdrifts intentionally turned on a light bulb on for me, he was responding to a morning spent exploring the edges of his board and the limits of his physical abilities and he longed to feel grounded to the earth, supported over a large surface area of his body on flat ground.  It was time for Cody's savasana.

He said he wasn't cold at all
I took him back to the house, got him on the couch, got his boots off, and he passed out before I went back to the slopes to pick up Brad and Megan.  He wasn't admitting it, but the kid was cooked by 2pm. I did wake him up for dinner before we left, but he passed out again in the car.  I don't blame him, my triple shot latte barely kept me awake through the 2 hour drive, I would have loved to have slumped over against the window and released my grip on consciousness myself.

Now, on to the honesty part.  I'm pretty sure this is going to come out all wrong because I have a special talent for saying things that get interpreted as insults when I mean them as observations.  However, I feel compelled to draw some comparisons between my little brother and the child I remember myself as being when I was his age.  I'm not talking about any physical comparisons, if I remember myself as being slightly more physically fit at that age from running, water polo, and tennis, that's not exactly a difference worth mentioning.  I lived in a different state, with different weather, and I had access to facilities and coaches that Cody does not have.  It's a simple matter of doing different things, not all of which I actively decided to do at all times, that leads to whatever physical differences I might be able to discern.  An over-emphasis on athletic performance at an early age probably does more harm than good as far as adult amateur athletic performance is concerned.

What I am most interested in, however, is the mind of a 10 year old.  I notice some similarities in the things that tend to fascinate Cody and things that I remember fascinating me at that age.  I loved running and jumping and trying to catch a football in mid air.  I loved exploring the "woods" (which really means anything off to the side of the main track but within easy visual range of the masses).  I remember noticing a lot of the little things that I look past as an adult, having been trained to conform to all of the rules that each microcosm of the world has set up.  I used to see the journey of youth as a process of learning and understanding all of the rules of engagement I needed to know in order to meet and hopefully exceed expectations in the various measurements which would be taken along my path.  I now see how much can be lost in that process, how pure the heart and mind start off at birth, and how as we add structure we are effectively voluntarily placing blinders on which limit our natural tendency to see wide as well as far.

Regardless, society isn't going to do some massive rewind, and this blog is hardly the place for a thesis on the loss of innocence which seems to be increasing in the modern world.  Instead, I want to focus in on something that's been so heavy in my thoughts over the past few months.  I see a tremendous disparity between "finishers" and "participants" in the modern world.  When I saw Cody "quit" on the slopes yesterday, I knew it was perfectly reasonable, he was tired, actually quite exhausted, and he reached a saturation point and just kind of fell over.  He was maybe a little proud or a little insecure so he wasn't able to tell me directly, "hey big brother Dave, I know this trip costs you some $ and an entire day of your time and I really appreciate you doing that for me, but I'm really tired now and I think it'd be best if I could maybe go somewhere to take a nap because I don't think I can board any more."  I can read between the lines on that one, I don't expect such a level of self awareness at such a tender age.

What fascinates me, is how normal that reaction is in this world, and yet how foreign it seems to me.  I wonder, I truly wonder, how much of my perspective is genetic vs developmental.  Was I born this way or was I made this way?  If I had a child, would they be like me in terms of how they react at the breaking point, or would they be more "normal"?  I remember my grandfather's never-ever-quit attitude, mostly the annoying parts of it.  I know my father is successful because he doesn't give up on anything that is important, even though he's scaled back his physical ambitious to more reasonable levels as he ages.  But I think I may carry even more of a burden than my father or grandfather, or my mother on her own, because I got some sort of crazy combination of perfectionist and obsessiveness tendencies which leave me in a perpetual state of being overly unimpressed with myself and motivated to try harder.  Was I ever 10 and able to lie down on the slopes and bury myself in snow and chillax even while the clock was ticking and chairs still open for another run?  I don't remember it.  I remember competing in tennis tournaments around the state at that age.  I remember wanting to squeeze every last micogram of toothpaste out of the tube.  I remember wanting to ride my bike around the entire island and being disappointed that I wasn't allowed to.  I remember wanting to swim out to the islands in Kailua Bay, wanting to bring a full sized shovel to dig to China, and wanting to build my own anything and everything in the garage workshop.

I remember being mildly content with each forgettable W on the tennis court and completely crushed with every L.  I remember chasing the swifter runners around the track and the smoother swimmers in the pool, always expecting myself to be able to compete even if/when I couldn't, always looking in front and never once glancing back.  I don't remember many moments of just experiencing life through relaxation.  I remember a plethora of attempts to improve for the future.  I remember hitting tennis balls with my dad, and the ever-present opportunity to get ice cream afterward if I could keep a rally going for 50 shots, then 75, then 100.  That was one of the ways my father knew he could get me, I would rather die of exhaustion on the court than give up on returning a measly 25 shots in a row, and with each miss I'd double-down my efforts and be even more committed to hitting the mark.  I didn't like ice cream nearly as much as I despised failure.

Cody doesn't have this burden.  I don't want to put it on him.  But yet I do want to encourage him somehow, in subtle ways, just like Brad did, and like Shane does for me.  Because without encouragement, most of us don't self motivate at the right level.  That is why I blog, the one or two comments allow me to see my words and thoughts through an alternate perspective and this adds up to enabling the growth of my perspective as a writer.  It is why I long to be in a relationship, where my partner can offer me pure and honest feedback about how my actions and words affected them.  I don't want to infect Cody with any of my mental disorders I have, but I'd like to see him stretching towards his potential once in a while.  Because I do honestly feel that there is far more mediocrity in this world than excellence and I am supremely enamored with excellence.  I'd like Cody to choose that himself and I don't want to trick him into that choice either.

So, there you go.  I took a kid to the snow for the first time and wrote a 10 page essay on how I'm managing my disappointment that he didn't bust out a double McTwist in the terrain park even though he handled his first day far better than I did and I had the benefit of many ski days and twice as many years of age leading up to my first day on a board.  I'm so not fun to end this with my screwed up thoughts instead of a "life is roses and youth is all pure joy" sentiment.  I suppose deep-down I am worried that I do not measure up as a potential father, that I will never learn how to inspire without micro-managing, that I can lead only by example and not by instruction.  And mostly I worry that my leadership is lacking in the most essential ingredient of all, balance.  Perhaps that is all just my insecurity speaking today.


  1. Oh my goodness...take a chill pill. Life is to learn and be happy and see how you may be able to help improve the lives of others, not stress so much about over-achievement and perfectionism...what are you trying to prove and to whom?

    Inner motivation is something you can not give to someone or make them do, so knock off all that expectation before you become a father or your child will perpetually feel like a failure.

    If continually trying to improve brings you happiness, then have at it. Edison failed thousands of times before he made a successful invention but if he beat himself up over it every time and thought about what a failure he was because he needed to take a nap, then by golly, we might not have a lightbulb or many other of his thousands of inventions.

    Yes, we aren't born knowing how to do everything and we learn through trial and error and a little drive is a good thing because you are passionate about something and proceeding down the path makes you happy. But being able to just "be" is important too. Let others be their own person, including your kids. They will not be "mini-you." But even if they don't take on what you think are your best traits, they will have their own joys and bests and appreciate them as they are, not as you wish they would be...

    If this is helpful, great, if not, please disregard. It's probably a little harsh but you don't have to manipulate those in your lives so much to bring them up to your expectations...acknowledge where they are in life and smile and be happy for them even if they have not yet reached their potential. Guide gently and don't take it personally if they choose another path...Just my humble opinion and again, please disregard if not helpful. You'll probably feel a lot better if you don't worry so much about it and just see things as they are.

    1. It's funny, I feel like what you wrote is _exactly_ what I was trying to get across, exactly the things I am working on trying to understand and work on about myself as I pay more and more attention to my habits and actions. Questions like "why am I the way I am" flutter through my head constantly along with "why did I do that?" I wholeheartedly agree about inner motivation, pretty much everything true in life has to come from within, it cannot be forced or it is not true.

      I don't fully understand the Edison analogy but I'll re-read it tomorrow. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I have been continually amazed at how the kids are their own people, even from a very early age. that doesn't mean I haven't already passed on several of my own worst habits, nor does it mean we don't have a profound influence on them, but both science and my own personal experience supports the idea that innate temperament has the greatest impact.

    in other words, mom and dad couldn't possibly have made the mixed up wonderful brilliant foolish mess that is you. sure they influenced you, but you basically came this way. now it's up to you to figure out what to do with the second half of what you've been given ;). it's very nice that you're participating so closely with Cody. what a fun day that must have been!

  3. What a neat thing you are doing. Cody is super lucky to have you in his life. I totally get where you are coming from. Really. You just question these things as a parent and personally, it is frustrating. But, then you learn that you have to sit back just a bit and follow instincts that might be hidden. Each kid is different, some are born with more drive than others. That is what makes triathletes triathletes, Olympic athletes Olympians, school teachers school teachers. I also get where sometimes resources, environments may hamper the push. Providing some insight or encouragement might be all that he needs from you right now. Enjoy time with him; he may not show it outwardly, but what you are doing is really important. Being a parent, an authority figure, a loving friend is tough and so is being a kid. That is why we are continuously learning from one another.