The movie, Groundhog Day, was recently on television. Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, an arrogant weatherman who, during an assignment covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, finds himself in a time loop, doomed to live the same day over and over again until he gets it right. Ironically, as I sat there watching for at least the tenth time, I realized I could watch it over and over again and be quite happy. Our sons watched it once and made it about half way through before declaring it the worst movie ever. I now realize the predictability that I find so pleasing is painfully boring to our boys. And not just when it comes to movies.
It’s not that I want to relive the same day over and over again, but I do find comfort in consistency and reassurance in repetition. (You might have guessed that already from the absurd amount of alliteration I always apply.) Our kids, on the other hand, are insatiable adventure seekers always looking for the new and challenging. To be fair, when you’re young, almost everything is new and somewhat challenging. Every day brings the possibility of a notable achievement or a memorable first in your life, like taking your first steps or pooping on the potty. Sadly, no one is following me around the house with an iPhone expecting me to do something quite that astounding. But our children look for and celebrate those small triumphs every day.
Our boys often say, “This is the hardest thing I have ever done.” And they are usually referring to something like riding a unicycle, or attempting to make ten free throws in a row. They intentionally seek out the biggest challenges in their lives. In contrast, when an adult utters those same words, “This is the hardest thing I have ever done,” we are usually referring to a challenge we wish we could avoid, like illness or divorce. As adults, we don’t often choose the hardest things in our lives; they tend to choose us.
While there isn’t an exact cut off age, there seems to be a point in our lives when we go from anxiously acquiring new talents to being content with the handful of talents we already have; from being restless in approach to resting on our laurels. There are always exceptions, of course, like my sister who quit her job a few years ago to become a stand up comedian. And my husband, Alan, who is constantly challenging himself and simultaneously encouraging me to avoid the temptations of a life grounded in Groundhog Day predictability. In the twenty years we have been together, I have attempted all sorts of things because of him – like learning to water ski, snow ski, slalom, wakeboard, play tennis, and even play “competitive” ping pong in our basement. I have run a handful of 5ks (and I cannot stand running) and I even completed a Mud Run (and I cannot stand mud). And while my feats are nothing compared to his athletic accomplishments (he is a two-time Ironman finisher, among other things) I don’t imagine I would have even tried any of those things without his support and encouragement. Or if I wasn’t so stubborn and competitive.
In fact, this past summer I tackled a brand new challenge – wakesurfing. While our three boys were at sleep away camp, I was determined to master the sport, often going out at 6:30 a.m. to practice so I could be as good as they are. I was pretty impressed with myself and knew they would be, too. What I didn't expect was after spending a month perfecting my surfing skills, our boys would both acknowledge and dismiss my efforts in the same breath with, “Good job, Mom, but can you do this?” and then immediately one-up me by doing 360s and other crazy tricks.
There is something exhilarating about encountering the unexpected and something magical about mastering a new skill. I also know that raising three boys means my days are anything but predictable, repetitive, or the same. In a way, I am like Phil Connors, because as a parent I feel like every day I am doing this work over and over again trying to get it right. Indeed, this is the hardest thing I have ever done.