Monday, February 23, 2009

Good Things Come in Small Packages

Who is Lindsay?

That’s what I keep asking myself. I hear the name in conversation, and it sounds familiar, but my mind can’t seem to place it. After a few seconds, it finally registers:

Lindsay is my newborn niece.

For the last nine months, the idea that my brother was having his first child was surreal. Sure, I saw the sonogram pictures, and my sister-in-law was sporting a stomach at Thanksgiving, but still, it seemed so…theoretical. I never fully comprehended that there’d be an actual person to come from all of this.

It didn’t help that the parents-to-be wanted to keep the gender a secret, lovingly referring to the baby-in-womb as “Papoose” and “Abu” – not exactly names that conjure the image of a little boy or girl.

The reality of the situation didn’t strike me until I got the call that my sister-in-law was going to be induced. Within hours, I was at the hospital with my parents, awaiting the arrival of our newest family member. This was really going to happen.

But Lindsay wasn’t ready to come out yet. And really, can you blame her? She had a pretty nice setup in there: she got to float around with no responsibilities; she had all the food and drink she needed; she could take a nap if she felt like it. It was like a leisurely, 40-week tubing trip down the Guadalupe River.

Come to think of it, I’d reserve a spot in my mother’s uterus right now if I could.

Finally, though, the doctors had to go in and get her. At 8:40am on Saturday, February 14, 2009, Lindsay Madison Flayhart Stoller made her entrance into the world. Named for her two great-grandmothers, you know that Lois and Martha – along with the rest of our family tree – were there watching over her, making sure she and her mother were safe.

When my brother came out of the operating room, bubbling over with his it’s-a-girl excitement, and my parents began crying for joy, I could tell that things were forever changed.

Like a presidential inauguration, there was a transfer of power in our family, and Lindsay was now the commander in chief.

Over the next couple of days, we just sat around the hospital, taking turns holding her and posing for pictures. Everything she did – every sound, every expression – was celebrated. Even her first diaper change was a momentous occasion, with the whole family gathered around the table like she was performing a magic trick. I may have even gotten it on video.

Lindsay, you better be nice to me, because I’ve got some outstanding rehearsal dinner footage.

A seven-pound football swaddled in a blanket, I couldn’t get over how tiny she was. Her hands, her feet, her hat…everything was so small. But that didn’t stop people from saying who they thought she resembled. To me, she just looked like, well, a baby. Adorable, yes; but still, just a baby.

She’d only been alive for eight hours…how could she possibly look like anyone at this point?

Having never held a newborn before, I was both excited and nervous when my turn in the batting order came up. I hadn’t been this worried about dropping something since being handed the Torah at my Bar Mitzvah. My mother only ramped up the tension by imploring me to “support the head,” as if it might actually fall off and roll down the hallway.

While I knew I’d be “Uncle Brent,” there had been a lot of back and forth over what Lindsay was going to call my parents. Friends had told them not to worry, that they’d be named whatever the baby could pronounce. I disagreed, considering I was one of the younger grandkids on both sides of my family, and I somehow learned the names of my four grandparents.

Finally settling on Gammy and Pops, their pride was obvious. It took my mom all of six minutes to declare Lindsay a genius (with my brother and sister-in-law’s brains, she’s probably right), and when she called all of her friends with the news, she beamed about how cute the baby was in an everyone-says-it-but-I-really-mean-it way.

The coolest thing, though, was seeing my brother with the baby. I thought him being a rabbi was strange, but the fact that there’s someone in the world whose father is Brian Stoller is beyond me.

Of course, he’s not alone in this. He and his wife, Karen, are a dynamic duo, and all you have to do is watch them with Lindsay – the way they hold her and talk to her and comfort her – to know they’re going to be great parents.

Disciplinarians? Well, that’s a different matter.

After all, how could they possibly say “No” to this face?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Every Little Step I Take

I’ve always been very mobile. A man of few possessions, I like the freedom of being able to pack up the car and be on my way at a moment’s notice.

That’s why my recent purchase of an IKEA dresser was such a huge commitment – and not just because it took me four-and-a-half hours to assemble. This was furniture…something that real adults buy, something they pass onto their kids. Up to this point, the only potential family heirloom I had was a worn pair of Old Navy jeans.

You’d think that by 31 I’d have accumulated more to give to my unborn grandchildren.

No, I’m not your typical thirty-something. Having monkey-barred between jobs at the bottom of the totem pole, my salary would make a school teacher blush – and I just got a raise. On family trips, I’m still treated like the “little kid,” relegated to sleeping on the foldout couch in my parents’ hotel room.

Forget love and romance…I think the biggest advantage to getting married would be sleeping in an actual bed.

I don’t know what it’s like to “feel” your age, but when I look at my contemporaries, I see people who, at the very least, appear to be living age-appropriate lives. They’re married or in serious relationships. They’ve climbed the corporate ladder or started their own company. They’re evaluating potential residences by the quality of school districts.

Because I’m not even close to dealing with this type of stuff, I oftentimes feel disconnected from my surroundings, like I’m watching a DVD of what life is supposed to be, each scene showing a different decade of growth.

Oh, I see…so this is what you do in your thirties.

I’m okay that my current reality doesn’t match up with society’s timeline. We each have a unique pace that needs to be respected, and I have a certain pride in taking my own path.

Still, when I look at my life through a wide-angle lens, the picture I see is somewhat troubling. Blessed with more gifts than a Jewish bride’s registry, I worry that I’m not fulfilling my potential. I have so much I want to accomplish – like going on Oprah, where I can be the focal point of millions of women – and I can feel the time slipping away.

I put forth so much effort into the everyday necessities – going to work to pay the bills, doing sit-ups to stave off a gut – I often lack the energy needed to apply towards my bigger goals. Sedated by the comfort of routine, it’s sometimes easier to just sit on the couch, watch The OC and postpone my aspirations for another day.

My biggest fear is that I’ll wake up when I’m 50 in the exact same spot, not having done anything at all. New age teachings, such as Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now,” explain just how destructive this thought process can be. According to Tolle, the only thing that is real is right now, and that’s where our focus should be. The past and future are just creations of our mind, and worrying about them is a waste of time.

And when you think about it, this makes perfect sense…all we ever have is the present moment. I mean, have you ever experienced something that didn’t happen in the “now”? Of course you haven’t…it’s impossible.

So instead of being haunted by regrets or taunted by what-ifs, my attention lately has been on being thankful for and appreciative of everything in my life right now.

But this has been a bit of a double-edged sword. While I’m stopping to smell the occasional rose, I fear I’m losing sight of my long-term goals. The fact is that I’m not getting everything out of life that I want, and being a Pollyanna, acting like everything is great is keeping me stagnant. I have to be honest with myself, or my “now” will never change.

I’ve realized there’s value in keeping an eye on the future. Making progress is dependent upon having a vision of what we want – it’s our road map. Staying hungry…keeping an edge…these things ward off complacency and keep us moving forward.

But most importantly, they allow us to be intentional, so that we use the “now” in the best way possible.

Because in the end, as my brother-the-rabbi taught me, the point of life isn’t to work towards some far-off place where we can finally be happy…it’s to actually take the journey itself. Putting one foot in front of the other – this is where true happiness and accomplishment reside. And every stop we make, every challenge we face serves as an opportunity to continue along our path.

We just have to make a commitment to take the first step…even if that’s nothing more than a simple trip to IKEA.

About Me

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"It's not a lie, if you believe it." Those were the words of one of my generation's great sages, George Costanza, and the more of life I experience, the truer they ring. And while I still haven't found what I'm looking for, the search for my own personal "truths" is never-ending. Care to come along for the ride?